Worldcon Report from Timothy the Talking Cat

Worldcon Report from Timothy the Talking Cat: From the pen of Timothy the Talking Cat

Worldcon! The great science fiction gathering of the tribes! Of course, the many quasi-Stalinist squirrel lovers that now make up the membership of this formerly grand institution probably would have little time for a free-thinking, freedom loving feline like my self! But let not the stupid heads and silly bills of the world limit my adventures! Truly, it is like a vocation, nay! a calling for me to take the message of brilliantly editing science fiction of a kind only a hyper-intelligent 12 sigma IQ can do is manifestly what a cat once hailed as the new new new new Heinlein and a veritable maestro of the written word who treats grammar like the mouse-like plaything of an apex predator and cares NOT A FIG about those who moan and whine about overly verbose sentences as if I somehow can’t keep a train of thought together in one grammatical unit. It is the critics who don’t get me – I fully comprehend their dark souls in a way they never can.

I set to packing: fame my calling and Worldcon my destination! Enter Mr I-Hate-Freedom with his stupid questions.

What you doing? Asks Camshaft Flugelhorn. Packing for Worldcon – I explain with disdain because I would not remain in this terrain as I made plain (see: poetry – no word form have I not mastered).

“I think,” which he plainly doesn’t do very well which is why it is such a big deal when he manages it, “that was the other week.”

“No,” I replied with the deep abiding confidence of an alpha-male, “I think it is this week. Are you trying to say I don’t know how to read a calendar?” I gave a derisory sniff and returned to my packing.

“I think we both recall you shouting ‘FAKE NEWS’ at February 29, 2016, for at least two weeks.” said my Stalinistic interrogator, incapable of knowing how the truly free-spirited person is – untamed by STATE SPONSORED manipulation and artificial constructs like so-called “leap years”.

I sat on the bed next to the pile of half frozen fish fingers I was packing into my Louis Vuitton clutch purse and looked up at the dim-witted fool who was under the misguided impression that this was his bedroom. I explained to him how, aside from the fact that Worldcon needs my presence, that I also fully expected to win a Hugo Award for Best Cat Who Edited Something. Oh, Camtrak Freightrain then goes into denial spouting off all sorts of nonsense: there’s no such award he says, the nominees have already been published he says, the award ceremony already happened and it was in the news and everything he says – like that proves anything these days with the lying media spinning all sorts of wild stories. I patiently explained to the poor, poor intellectually limited creature about the role of write-in candidates, jury nullification and how, if you write your name in capitals like this -TIMOTHY THE TALKING CAT – then you get to win all the lawsuits and not pay taxes. “You’d have to start earning some money to pay taxes,” mumbled Camphor Flushwipe sarcastically, knowing he was beaten by a higher intellect.

There are seven stages of denial. I think the last one is grief. The first stage is stupid arguments about calendars. Even though he should have known he was beaten, we went straight to the infamous second stage of denial: pointing at a map and shouting about Finland.

“Hell’s Inky!” shouted Camisole Fellover.

“Is it? Is it the souls of bad squid? Or is it an ironic punishment for evil journalists?” I was intrigued by this sudden shift into descriptions of the afterlife.

“No, I said Hell Sinky.” He replied using a tone that implied that I rather than he was the exasperating one. “It is the capital city!”

“Sinky is the capital of Hell?” I said saidingly.

“No, Dis is the capital of Hell (according to Dante). Helsinki is the Capital of Finland” he replied dimwittedly and yet also pedantically.

“This is the capital of hell?” I asked, holding up a crumbling fish stick becoming confused by his irrational chain of thought.

“No this is just some kind of hell on earth for me. Look I get why you are trying to run away but you are just putting off the inevitable.”

I stared at the poor fool whose brain was clearly atrophying from reading far too many social-justice message fiction books about feminist zombie computer people being lesbians in space (or who knows what because really I can’t be doing with all that). A cat has to have standards and mine included a minimum number of space battles and vampires per book.

Then he hits himself on the forehead. This is how he gets ideas. He hits himself and that jolts the vestigial neutrons that otherwise just keep him breathing and they form an idea and then he explains it. Sometimes when I need him to think of something I hit his forehead but it doesn’t work when I do it – he just says “ouch” or “Go away Timothy I’m trying to sleep.”

THEN he gets this kind of sneaky look on his face and says “Hmmmmm maybe you SHOULD go to Worldcon after all…”

Well if that isn’t suspicious I don’t know what is, so I say: “Only if I get to meet Jim C Hines.” Why you may ask? Well, that was just the first terrible leftist author name I could think of who is the sort of terrible leftist author who would hang out at Worldcon.

“OK but there are two conditions. One you have to get into this special Worldcon travel pet carrier box – it is the only way to get to Finland because of um, Santa Claus controlling the airspace and he has, um, a fear of cats so I’ll have to put this dark cover over the box. Two, I have to make some phone calls first.”

Well, that was the first bit of good news I had had all day. Bless his feeble heart, he had coincidentally organised a special cat box that was perfect for taking me to Worldcon! Hoorah!

Cambodia Fenestrator bumbled off presumably to talk to the travel agent, airline and Hugo Award ceremony committee, while I hastily finished my packing.

Worldcon here I come!

The journey was surprisingly short and uneventful, almost as if we had travelled to just the next town over while strapped to a moped.

When the cover was taken off and I was released from the box, I got my first glimpse of the convention hall. It was disappointedly small. A few chairs around the side, an odd stand of dog food to one corner and posters for some weird new movies on the walls.

“Is Your Dog Overweight?” asked one poster – I’m not a big fan of dog movies but maybe that was an interesting premise. Another poster was all about terrible parasites that are planning to attack “your pets”. I felt worried for my pet human – I think he’d find that movie too scary. Less interesting was a poster for a movie that was just about dental hygiene in dogs – borrrringgg. When will Hollywood realise that films about teeth and dental decay are JUST NOT WHAT MODERN AUDIENCES WANT – we want action and big loud noises. I feel we need more films by Michael Bay but with cats in them: mainly space cats. The space cats could fight space vampires but then team up because the space vampires and the space cats realise just how cool they both are and then they are all friends and they just blow up planets for laughs. That would be the best. I’ve written to Mr Bay to tell him that but he must have lost my address because he didn’t write back.

Did I mention the convention hall smelled a bit of dog pee and disinfectant?

“Ah, there is the book signing!” I said as I spied a human sitting behind a desk, “Take me hither to meet Mr Jim C Hines!” for it was he – although he looked less beardy than I imagined and actually looked more like a receptionist and also wore a badge saying “Josh – Practice Receptionist”. I guess he must sometimes practise being a receptionist as a kind of method acting thing that big time authors do.

“Good morning. How can I help you?” said Jim C Hines to Camestros of all people – ignoring me for the time being. I guess he was too nervous to speak to me directly at first – my reputation proceeds me.

“Hi, erm, I rang ahead…you know about the um…thing and the other thing…” said Camestros cryptically. I think he was a bit star struck to meet a real live big shot science fiction author.

“Greetings Mr Hines, I know you are a big fan of my work. I’m here to sign your book.” I explained in a professional manner. Sure, he might not be writing the kind of books I’d like right now but I think with the help of the skilled editor I could help this fledgeling writer become a true great. My formula is simple: more explosions and maybe dinosaurs and vampires. These are the key qualities of great fiction.

“Hello, little kitty. Did you hurt your tail?” said Jim C Hines in a tone of voice that frankly I found unprofessional but is what modern publishing has come to. I turned to Camchatka Filofax to express my concern only to see him wide eyed and holding up a sign saying “PLAY ALONG!”. Frankly, the ways of human kind are a mystery to me.

“Oh, yes…sorry, you are that patient, I mean visitor and I am…” Jim C Hines paused to look at his computer which was displaying an email booking system of some kind, “um…famous author Jim C Hines.” He seemed somewhat unsure of this – maybe the whole roleplaying thing had got to him. I had to admire his dedication to his craft to immerse himself so deeply in his role.

“The um,…special panel on Cat Injuries in Military Science Fiction in Space, will be in room 3 just as soon as they are finished vaccinating a poodle,” said Jim C Hines, using some kind of millennial jargon for something or other – I don’t know, young people these days.

To my surprise, a short while later, a poodle did emerge from room 7 with a stupid goofy look on its face. I hissed at it and it flinched which makes me now the apex predator of the convention hall FOREVER. Camestros carried me in.

Again, I was disappointed with how small the room was for a major convention. There was only just enough room for me, Cam and a single speaker: “Dr Samantha” who was some kind of expert on cat injuries. A lot of the time she spoke from her notes, which oddly Cam had brought with him. Surprisingly the only attendee was me (oh and Camestros but he had to come because I was finding it hard to walk the past few days). Cam explained that everybody else at Worldcon was at a different session on Being Super Leftwing In Space – which was disappointing but not surprising!

Dr Samantha’s presentation was very good. Near the end, she asked for a volunteer from the audience but it had to be:

  1.  a cat
  2.  with a hind quarters and tail injury…
  3.  …as if an approximately 1-tonne reptiloid creature had kicked the cat up the bum in a fit of anger

Well lucky for her that I was in the audience!

So Dr Samantha showed us all how a Space Marine Medic might treat such an injury if it happened in space and the brave Space Marine Cat had inadvertently angered some kind of Triceratops-like alien who had then kicked the cat over a fence using its substantial and very stompy feet.

I did hurt a bit though because coincidentally I had sustained injuries not dissimilar to the ones Dr Samantha was talking about only the other week. Of course, Mr Nanny State has been trying to make me go to a veterinary clinic for days but I don’t hold with such quackery. No way am I going to go one of those butcher’s shops.

A few Space Marine pain killers later and I was feeling tip-top but a little tired!

I woke up the next day feeling suitably refreshed. I’ve decided to keep these bandages on for the time being as a memento of my time at Worldcon.

Overall, despite the tiny facilities and the persistent smell of dog pee, I had a great time. Well done Worldcon! Looking forward to next year when the theme is apparently “Annual Worming”.

Spotting Fakery?

I previously pointed to an article on people manipulating Amazon rankings for their books, today there is a bigger brouhaha on whether somebody has manipulated the New York Time bestseller list: http://www.pajiba.com/book_reviews/did-this-book-buy-its-way-onto-the-new-york-times-bestseller-list.php The method used (if true) isn’t new and political books have been prone to this approach before i.e. buy lots of the book from the right bookshops and head up the rankings.

One thing new to me from those articles was this site: http://fakespot.com/about It claims to be a site that will analyse reviews on sites like Amazon and Yelp and then rate the reviews in terms of how “fake” they seem to be. The mechanism looks at reviewers and review content and looks for relations with other reviews, and also rates reviewers who only ever give positive reviews lower. Now, I don’t know if their methods are sound or reliable, so take the rest of this with a pinch of salt for the time being.

Time to plug some things into their machine but what! Steve J No-Relation Wright has very bravely volunteered to start reading Vox Day’s epic fantasy book because it was available for $0 ( https://stevejwright.wordpress.com/2017/08/23/a-throne-of-bones-by-vox-day-preamble-on-managing-expectations/ ) and so why not see what Fakespot has to say about “Throne of Bones” http://fakespot.com/product/a-throne-of-bones-arts-of-dark-and-light

thronebonesFAKESPOT

Ouch…but to some extent, we already know that the comment section of Vox’s blog is full of willing volunteers ready to do sycophanting stuff and/or trolling/griefing at Vox’s request. Arguably those are genuine reviews, just that they are hard to distinguish between click-farm fakery. Think of it as a kind of Turing Test, which his right-wing minions repeatedly fail by acting like…well, minions.

How reliable is this? There’s no easy way to tell. As a side-by-side experiment I put in Castalia’s attempt at spoiler campaign versus the mainstream SF book they were trying to spoil:

http://fakespot.com/product/corrosion-the-corroding-empire-book-1

http://fakespot.com/product/the-collapsing-empire

Ironically, the reviews that Vox complains about, probably improve the Fakespot rating of the reviews – i.e. many negative reviews from people will make the rating of the quality of the reviews better. I also don’t see a way in general of Fakespot distinguishing between fake NEGATIVE reviews -i.e. showing that the poor ratings of a book aren’t genuine.

[A note of caution: the site doesn’t re-analyse automatically so the analysis you get may be out of date. The initial ratings for those two books were different but changed when I clicked the option to re-analyse]

I also don’t see a way in general of Fakespot distinguishing between fake NEGATIVE reviews -i.e. showing that the poor ratings of a book aren’t genuine. The basic report seems to assume that fake reviews are for the purpose of the seller artificially boosting a book rather than somebody maliciously trying to make a book look bad.

 

Binary Tree Maze

I’ve been playing with mazes because they are fun. In the workshop, I made a maze maker in Javascript that uses a very simple binary tree algorithm (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binary_tree ). This is a very easy algorithm to implement but it doesn’t generate very interesting mazes but they are good enough for a playing area in a Pacman like game. I added some symmetry and I quite liked the results visually with the first version of walls/background I’d made.

maze01

And some more – the second with a different skin I’d made:

maze02 maze03

Feel free to have a play here https://camestrosfelapton.neocities.org/mazemakerone.html

Because it uses the HTML5 Canvas the resulting maze is an image you can click on and download as if it hadn’t just been made by a script.

Review: The Stone Sky by N.K.Jemisin

The Stone Sky is propelled by its own gravity. As the Earth’s lost moon returns, the massive fissure across the planet’s equator continues to spew ash and lava-hot fragments. The sky is dark and the rain is acidic and survival rests on hard choices, discipline and stonelore. Independently Essun and her lost daughter Nassun are seeking the same answers and the same powers.

As with the previous books, we have three interweaved accounts. Essun and Nassun form two, continuing from the events of The Obelisk Gate. The third takes us thousands of years into the past, to an apparent utopia with a dark past, on the brink of creating unlimited power through the creation of gemstone obelisks.

In my first rambling review of The Fifth Season, while I was trying to get my head around a story that left me feeling shaken and awestruck, I talked about how utopian fiction is connected both to dystopian fiction but also apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. In Western literature, Plato’s Atlantis myth lurks at the root of each of them. For Plato Atlantis was a model of a better society, for modern readers that society and the rigid stratification of roles in Plato’s Republic can be seen as the prototype of fascism and fascist-like models that have plagued us for millennia.[ETA I mangled Plato somewhat there – conflating Atlantis with Plato’s ideal of ancient Athens. Apologies :)] In modern popular culture, Atlantis has been reimagined again as a parable of hubris or the sin of Frankenstein – letting intellectual desire surpass moral constraints.

Syl Anagist is N.K.Jemisin’s synthesis of the Atlantean tropes, less clearly regimented than the society of the Stillness we see thousands of years later, but still dangerous and brutal and willing to treat people as tools and objects. Syl Anagist is the source of the “Dead Civ” remains scattered through the first two books. Beautiful and majestic and replete with wonders, it is both a city, a nation and the whole world. We are constantly reminded that in Syl Anagist life is sacred.

It is no spoiler to say that Syl Anagist is doomed. The chapters detailing its demise are numbered as a count down, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. We know that the Earth will lose the moon and that the planet will become the tectonically seasonal monster of The Fifth Season. The fantasy elements (magical powers, sentient rocks) of the story become more distinct, while the science fictional elements (futuristic cities, incredible technology) become more overt. The human tragedy becomes more intense.

The future world, the one in which most of the books is set, has descended further into physical disaster. The former community of Castrima is now a band of refugees heading towards an empty city in a brutal march which many won’t survive. In a different novel, this struggle would be an account of good and evil but Jemisin avoids treating even monstrous people as monsters. There is no character that appears in any one of the trilogy who is not granted some compassion by the writer – not Schaffa the murderous guardian, nor Jija the child murdering father. Yet this compassion is not at the expense of a strong moral centre to the story and a channelled anger at the use of hate to dehumanise and to brutalise a society.

Is The Stone Sky as good as the previous books? I’m not sure the question can be answered or makes sense. It can’t possibly have the same impact as The Fifth Season but it feels to me like the right end to the trilogy. There is a sense of understanding of the world by the end of the book that feels like a resolution even though some questions remain. I’m not sure if the conflict between the Stone Eater factions is clear to me, nor am I entirely clear about the nature of the Guardians. However, some of that comes from reading too quickly.

It is not a happy end to the trilogy but it is a good end and an end that is not devoid of hope.

Review: The Defenders (Netflix) – minimal spoilers

inside-out-emotions-groupImagine Pixar’s Inside Out but for grown-ups – each character represents one of the four key emotions: Guilt, Petulance, Sarcasm and Luke Cage. Luke Cage is an emotion now or at least he should be – some sort of combination of every positive association with masculinity you might want, with a deeply smooth voice and an excellent soundtrack. In the early episodes at least, the soundtrack shifts whenever the focus is on Luke Cage – perhaps it does that for the other Defenders as well and we just don’t notice.

The colour scheme between Inside Out and The Defenders doesn’t quite match (there’s no blue defender) but they each have their own, which play out in the titles but also cleverly on screen. Daredevil red, Cage yellow, Iron Fist green and Jones purples – which is a bit unfair to Jessica Jones in that she gets her colour defined by her archenemy. Hiding out in a Chinese Restaurant, the four Marvel superheroes of Netflix’s gritty MCU-connected shows, initially have the neon lights of each of their colours casting shadows in the background.

But red is the main colour of the show because really this is a sequel to Daredevil season 2 and to a lesser extent Iron Fist season 1. If you liked either of those two or found them at least watchable then you’ll enjoy The Defenders. If you’ve only enjoyed Jessica Jones, then you may find the show less rewarding. I’m avoiding spoilers but I think it is no surprise to say that the immortal Ninja clan The Hand are the main villains – so the story connects most tightly with Daredevil and The Iron Fist. That isn’t to say Luke Cage and Jessica Jones don’t get plenty of screen time, just that the story isn’t particularly their territory.

Less brutal than Daredevil and less silly than Iron Fist, the show does strike a decent balance. However, where Daredevil 1, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage all dealt with threats that operated on a personal and social level, The Defenders is more conventional fare: evil people are up to no good and need to be stopped. Mind you, when the chief baddy is Sigourney Weaver that’s not such a bad thing.

Fight scenes are impressive and the pacing is good. The story is sort of silly but in a good way. But the main event is comic-book tradition: superheroes team up! The comic-canon combination of Luke Cage and Iron Fist works quite nicely – Danny Rand is still the same shallow character from the previous series but Cage makes him look more like an over-eager sidekick who is capable of personal growth.

Unfortunately, the strong supporting cast from the related shows get less chance to shine in what is already a crowded cast. I’d hoped that Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) would get a stronger role, given her appearance in each of the other Marvel Netflix shows but inevitably she has to take a backseat to the main superheroes.

Worth my Netflix subscription for this month? Yup.

Season Final! The Book Club Roundtable Discussion Club Non-Audio Podcast Club

atomicavatar[FIRST WITCH] When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

strawpupavatar[SECOND WITCH] When the hurly-burly’s done, When the podcast’s lost and won.

timavatar[THIRD WITCH] That will be ere the set of sun.

atomicavatar[FIRST WITCH] Where the place?

strawpupavatar[SECOND WITCH] Upon this blog.

timavatar[THIRD WITCH] There to meet with Camestros.

atomicavatar[FIRST WITCH] I come, Graymalkin.

atomicavatarstrawpupavatartimavatar[ALL] Fair is foul, and foul is fair, Hover through the fog and filthy air.


camavatar[Camestros] OK people! Today we FINISH this. Susan – ready?

susanavatar[Susan] Ready!

camavatar[Camestros] Timothy – ready?

timavatar[Timothy] Locked and loaded.

camavatar[Camestros] OK viewers,

susanavatar[Susan] listeners

camavatar[Timothy] readers

strawpupavatar[Straw Puppy] Woof

atomicavatar[Mr Atomic] …cleaning…

camavatar[Camestros] welcome to the final episode of this season of the Book Club Roundtable Review Club Non-Audio Podcast Club!

Continue reading “Season Final! The Book Club Roundtable Discussion Club Non-Audio Podcast Club”