Sunday, July 23rd, 2017
Wednesday, July 12th, 2017
Kate’s book—a “jolly dystopia”—will get published if enough of us pledge to back it. So let’s get pledging!
There’s a curiously coloured scheme afoot in Blighty. In an effort to tackle dispiriting, spiralling levels of crime and anti-social behaviour, the government has a new solution: to dye offenders purple.
Tuesday, June 27th, 2017
Here’s the website for Alla’s forthcoming book. You can sign up to a low-volume mailing list to get notified of updates.
Alla’s book is going to be a must-have (I know because I’ve been reviewing it as she’s been writing it). Pre-order it now. It’s out in September.
Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
Beautifully designed and typeset eBooks of royalty-free works—yours for the taking and reading.
There’s a styleguide if you want to get involved on the production side too.
Wednesday, June 7th, 2017
This is what Jessica has been working on for the past year—working very hard, I can attest.
This wrap-up post is a fascinating insight into the translation process.
Sunday, June 4th, 2017
I remember when I was first recommended to read Kim Stanley Robinson. I was chatting with Jon Tan about science fiction, and I was bemoaning the fact that dystopias seem to be the default setting. Asking "what’s the worst that could happen?" is the over-riding pre-occupation of most sci-fi. Black Mirror is the perfect example of this. Mind you, that’s probably why the ambiguous San Junipero is one of my favourites—utopia? dystopia? dystutopia? You decide.
Anyway, Jon told me I should check out Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias; one book describes a dystopia, one book describes a utopia, and the other—his debut, The Wild Shore—is more ambiguous. I liked the sound of that, but I decided that if I were going to read Kim Stanley Robinson, I should start with his most famous work, the Mars trilogy.
So I read Red Mars. I liked it, but I found it tough going. It’s not exactly a light read. I still haven’t read Green Mars or Blue Mars, though I plan to. I can see why Red Mars is regarded as a classic of hard sci-fi, but it left me somewhat cold. Jessica read The Years of Rice and Salt and had a similar reaction—good premise, thoroughly researched, but tough going.
When I heard about 2312, I couldn’t resist its promise of a jaunt around the solar system. Again, I enjoyed it, but the plot—such as it was—didn’t grab me. I loved the ideas presented in the book. Heck, it inspired one of my Science Hack Day projects. Still, I found that its literary conceit wasn’t enough to carry the book—a character from Saturn who’s saturnian in nature meets a character from Mercury who’s mercurial in nature.
So I was kind of bracing myself for Aurora. Again, the subject matter really appealed to me. I’m a sucker for generation starships. Brian Aldiss’s Non-Stop was a fun read, although in typical Aldiss style, it was weird to the point of psychedelia (even if it looks positively tame next to the batshit crazy world of Hothouse). I was looking forward to reading Robinson’s hard science take on the space ark idea, but I was worried about how much of a slog the writing might be. I read some reviews and listened to some podcasts, and my heart sank when I heard about how the story is partly told by the ship’s AI, who is simultaneously trying to work out how to tell a story. It sounded just like one of those ideas that would be fine for a brief period, but which I could imagine Kim Stanley Robinson dragging out for hundreds of page.
Imagine my surprise when Aurora turned out to be an absolute pleasure. Not only does it have the thoroughly-researched hard science angle of Robinson’s other books, it’s also a rip-roaring tale, in my opinion. I had read of misgivings with the structure of the book—complaints that the story climaxes before the book is halfway done—but I think that misses the point of the story. This is not your typical tale of colonisation. Far from it. Kim Stanley Robinson is quite open about the underlying idea here, that there are certain endeavours that are simply beyond our capacity.
I know that sounds like a very pessimistic view, but I found the book to be a real testament to human ingenuity. But it certainly ruffled quite a few feathers. Like I said, the default setting for most sci-fi is to go negative, but for a sci-fi writer to claim outright that something cannot be done is audacious, and flies in the face of sci-fi tradition.
Gregory Benford wrote a review over on one of my favourite blogs, Centauri Dreams. He takes Robinson to task for stacking the deck against the crew of the ship in Aurora—an inversion of the usual deus ex machina plot devices. I find that criticism puzzling when another review, also on Centauri Dreams, by Stephen Baxter, James Benford and Joseph Miller, takes the book to task for being scientifically naïve.
For me, Aurora was perfectly balanced. It simultaneously captured the wonder of scientific exploration and our own insignificance in the universe. Best of all, it featured central characters that I was utterly invested in—one human, and one artificial. Given my previous experiences with Kim Stanley Robinson books, that was perhaps its greatest achievement. Whereas I might have previously recommended something like 2312, I would have certainly caveated the recommendation. But I wholeheartedly recommend Aurora. It’s easily the best Kim Stanley Robinson book I’ve read so far, and one of the finest science fiction books of recent years. It makes a great companion piece to Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves—not only are they both dealing with space arks, they’ve also got some in-depth descriptions of angular momentum in action, and they’re both thoroughly enjoyable stories that stretch beyond a single human lifespan.
I’m looking forward to digging back through Kim Stanley Robinson’s back catalogue, and I’m very intrigued by his newest book, New York 2140. From listening to his Long Now talk at The Interval, it sounds like the book has as much to say about near-future economics as it does about climate change.
It’s ironic though. Kim Stanley Robinson was first recommended to me because he was one of the few sci-fi writers unafraid to depict a utopia. But his writing never clicked with me until I read Aurora, whose central message sounds like the ultimate downer …that some scientific achievements will forever remain out of reach for humanity.
Friday, June 2nd, 2017
…a full one-third of my window is covered by a pop-over trying to get me to sign in or sign up for Facebook. I will go out of my way to avoid linking to websites that are hostile to users with pop-overs. (For example, I’ve largely stopped linking to anything from Wired, because they have such an aggressive anti-ad-block detection scheme. Fuck them.)
Facebook forbids search engines from indexing Facebook posts. Content that isn’t indexable by search engines is not part of the open web.
And then there’s this:
And in the same way they block indexing by search engines, Facebook forbids The Internet Archive from saving copies of posts.
Thursday, June 1st, 2017
Oh my goodness! Maciej is channelling Jason Scott:
Delicious has over a billion bookmarks and is a fascinating piece of web history. Even Yahoo, for whom mismanagement is usually effortless, had to work hard to keep Delicious down. I bought it in part so it wouldn’t disappear from the web.
Friday, May 19th, 2017
But real problems are messy. Tech culture prefers to solve harder, more abstract problems that haven’t been sullied by contact with reality. So they worry about how to give Mars an earth-like climate, rather than how to give Earth an earth-like climate. They debate how to make a morally benevolent God-like AI, rather than figuring out how to put ethical guard rails around the more pedestrian AI they are introducing into every area of people’s lives.
Thursday, May 11th, 2017
This is a really intriguing book that combines design theory and programming—learn about contrast, colour, and shapes, with each lesson supported by code examples.
It’s still a work in progress but the whole thing is online for free. Yay for web books!
Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017
This is definitely the best review of any of my books.
So what happens when these tools for maximizing clicks and engagement creep into the political sphere?
This is a delicate question! If you concede that they work just as well for politics as for commerce, you’re inviting government oversight. If you claim they don’t work well at all, you’re telling advertisers they’re wasting their money.
Facebook and Google have tied themselves into pretzels over this.
Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017
Science fiction isn’t about technology, it’s about people …and how people change in response to technology.
So ironically, perhaps the only way that any piece of science fiction can be sure that it will remain resonant as the years pass is to make sure that any technical speculation can drop away once it’s no longer relevant. The science will fall back to Earth like an exhausted booster section, tumbling away from the rocket that will one day reach the stars. And then we’ll be left with stories about how people change when change arrives – and that, for me, is what science fiction is.
Monday, May 1st, 2017
Thursday, April 13th, 2017
Digital Assistants, Facebook Quizzes, And Fake News! You Won’t Believe What Happens Next | Laura Kalbag
A great presentation from Laura on how tracking scripts are killing the web. We can point our fingers at advertising companies to blame for this, but it’s still developers like us who put those scripts onto websites.
We need to ask ourselves these questions about what we build. Because we are the gatekeepers of what we create. We don’t have to add tracking to everything, it’s already gotten out of our control.
Tuesday, April 11th, 2017
I’m genuinely touched that my little web book could inspire someone like this. I absolutely love reading about what people thought of the book, especially when they post on their own site like this.
This book has inspired me to approach web site building in a new way. By focusing on the core functionality and expanding it based on available features, I’ll ensure the most accessible site I can. Resilient web sites can give a core experience that’s meaningful, but progressively enhance that experience based on technical capabilities.
Monday, April 10th, 2017
Brewster Kahle outlines his vision for library collaboration in curating and distributing digital works.
A jolly nice review of Resilient Web Design.
After just a few pages in, I could see why so many have read Resilient Web Design all in one go. It lives up to all the excellent reviews.
Thursday, March 23rd, 2017
That library was a Pandorica of fabulous, interwoven randomness, as rich as plum cake. Push a seed of curiosity in between any two books and it would grow, overnight, into a rainforest hot with monkeys and jaguars and blowpipes and clouds. The room was full, and my head was full. What a magical system to place around a penniless girl.