Tag Archives: future

Reviews: Smartbrain (Penchant Series Book 1) by G. F. Smith

51a-zv-JbCL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_As is often the case, I received this book for the purposes of review. Despite that immense kindness, I give my candid thoughts below.

The summary on this one is tough because it evolves quite a bit as it goes on. It starts out mildly creepy techno thriller and ends somewhere completely different with all manner of action bits. I won’t give you much more detail than that to avoid spoilers.

So to the positive, our author is a reasonably good writer. His prose is measured, well constructed and easily consumed. His characters are real and vividly described and you do begin to feel for them. Mr. Smith’s creativity is also obvious as he puts his characters through a dizzying gauntlet of situations and one is left with a sort of whiplash once all is revealed.

The negatives, however, left me gasping in annoyance at the end. This book is exceptionally long and not because of the complexity of what’s going on. His description of events and situations is almost Dickensian in scope but with none of the quaintness of the old classics. One eventually has to skim in self-defense and at the end of a couple pages finds that nothing much has really been missed. Further, the book changes gears dramatically at 37% through (based on my Kindle’s reckoning) and it takes a long time to figure out what’s real and what’s not. This is, I suspect, part of the author’s intent, to keep us a bit confused as readers, but it’s a major distraction in a book that has a lot of difficulty holding the attention of its reader.

Further, some of the book’s most obvious points are in need of a close examination. The cover alone made me fear for the quality of the book and it took considerable reading time to assuage those fears. Unfortunately, the author’s choice of proper nouns is overly simplistic and almost young adult so they add a major distraction. The name of the device, for example: Smartbrain seems like something from a 60s B-movie. Add to that names like Vectren, Athena and ‘Brain Computer Interface’ and the tone of the whole book seems to be in a bit of conflict about whether it’s trying to be mid-20th century or more modern.

In summary, I think the author has a solid foundation for this story but it just tries to go too many places at once and takes far too long to get there. I packaged away my incredulity during the first third of book only to have it all spill out repeatedly in the last two-thirds and have to be packed away again. As much story as actually resides between these pages it could be half the length and cause me much less impulse to sigh, “What? You mean there’s MORE!?!??!” and consider hurling my Kindle across the room and taking a belt of whiskey. To quote Emperor Joseph II, there are simply too many notes… or something along those lines.

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May 25, 2013 – Of Books, Bradbury, Artichokes and Teeny Tiny Theatres

So what are these posts about…?

From time to time I tell myself that I’m going to sit down each day and write about the various and sundry inputs that pass through my life and record some of the random rot that goes on from day to day.  In general, I don’t expect this to be especially interesting to anyone else unless they have a hidden streak of curiosity or voyeurism but both of those things represent a large proportion of what the blogging world is about, so mayhaps I err in my assertion.

On Books

As anyone who’s read this blog for a while will note, I have spent the past several months reading very current publications.  Thanks to GoodReads and publishing houses who are eager for readers to talk (and write about) their latest, I’ve had no shortage of books piled up on my shelves… and my desk… and the floor… and other people’s desks, shelves and floors.  It’s been gratifying, to an extent, to have anyone give a hoot about what I had to say about a book and it has satisfied my material urges quite nicely.  There’s nothing quite like having things just show up in the mail seemingly at random.  However, as I was moving some stuff about the apartment in preparation for actual furniture to arrive, I happened upon the pile of books I was working on before the glut of new material started showing up about a year ago.  This was chock full of booksale finds, old editions of classic literature and lots of very deep non-fiction titles.  In a fit of nostalgia I pushed aside the new and shiny and sat down with an old copy of one of Ray Bradbury’s short story collections and I can’t help but feel the proverbial worm has turned and the fad of new and flashy has passed.

Looking back on my history a bit, there was a time when I refused to read anything less than 100 years old.  The reasoning went somewhat along the lines that if people still bother to read it after 100 years then it MUST be worthwhile.  I don’t think I’m ever likely to go quite to that extent again, I have revived my appreciation for the old musty, dusty and trusty.

On Bradbury

In general, when I think of Bradbury, I tend to lump him in with the pulp sci-fi writers from the 50s with their robots and rocket ships but this is a misconception drawn from my failure to read him often enough. It takes all of about 10 pages to realize that Bradbury isn’t writing about technology at all really. He’s writing about people (and societies) and the way they change as their world changes and becomes more technological.  That’s a much deeper and potent conversation to have than anything you might get from the average sci-fi writer of the period.  In particular, three stories from the first quarter of the book struck me today as relevant to us today.  It should be noted that anything I write below will be a complete and utter spoiler so consider yourself warned.

In ‘The Pedestrian’ the year is 2052 and a man is out for a stroll.  He walks through neighborhood after neighborhood and meets no one.  The streets are quite as a morgue, the entire population tucked up in their houses watching the television as he makes his way along.  Finally, the police, or what little is left of the police force since everyone is so well behave, find him and arrest him for his non-conformity, assuming that if he’s out on the street then he must be guilty of something.  The world today, while not descended quite to this situation, seems well on its way.  Children no longer play outside; they sit on the sofa and play video games.  What will the world be like in another 40 years when those children grow up to all be adults who are sitting on their sofas doing whatever people will do with their time?

‘The Flying Machine’ is set in China in 400 A.D. and reads more like an Aesop’s Fable than a modern short story.  The story begins as Emperor Yuan awakes to find a man flying over the countryside in a suit of his own making.  The man’s clever invention gives him the power of the birds and invokes considerable envy from the Emperor.  Fortunately (or unfortunately as you choose to see it), the Emperor sees that no good will come of this and orders the man and his suit destroyed before the populace can learn of the invention and do insane with greed to all own one.  One can see easily the historical backdrop of the story as mankind develops newer and more effective bombs to blow himself out of existence throughout the 50s.  Times haven’t changed much since, sadly.

Lastly, we have the story titled simply, ‘The Murderer’.  The time is, from Bradbury’s perspective, the not-so-distant future.  I would argue that in many ways Bradbury’s prophesied time has come.  The protagonist in our story is a typical man of his times.  Everywhere he goes he is treated to music and advertising.  His house talks to him each time he comes in the door to make sure he takes off his muddy shoes.  His wrist radio keeps him in touch with his wife and friends every few minutes tracking their every movement from their progress on the way home to what they had for dinner.  His world is one of simply too much connectedness in which there is nary a moment of quiet to be had.  Finally, in a fit of pique he begins to take his vengeance and win back his freedom.  He stomps on his radio; pours ice cream into his car stereo, pummels the computers in his home…. until he’s carted off by the police as a deviant.  All this brought to mind our current world.  We are now so connected that I know what people have  for dinner despite the fact that I haven’t seen them in 20 years.  Thanks to Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare and a million other services, I feel like I have some connection to people that in reality… I don’t.  Some of them tell me every day about what they did that day yet I wouldn’t recognize them if they walked straight past me on the street.  After this I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone and haven’t looked back since.  There’s a place for connectedness but it really has to be on one’s own terms and at a time of one’s choosing.

Artichokes

Now, of course, in a fit of irony, I will go on about what I had for dinner last night.  Before the play, we journeyed to “The Chatham Tap” on Mass Avenue and had the most marvelous artichoke and spinach pizza in the known universe.  I’ve heard it said that “artichokes will substitute for any meat” but I am increasingly convinced of the truth of this.  It is my hope that the artichoke remains unpopular, however, so that more are left for me.  It would be regretable if they should ever reach $20/pound.  I might fritter away my entire salary on these delectable and under appreciated vegetables.

Teeny Tiny Theatres

After the delightful ‘chokes, we took ourselves to Theatre on the Square.  I’ve been a fairly consistent visitor there for a while and it never ceases to amaze me that such places exist.  As a rather shy person, I tend to worship anyone who can get in front of a crowd and speak confidently.  Because of this, it’s rather giddy to go see a play that is so close to your seat that you have to keep your feet under your seat for fear of tripping the actors.  It also makes me happy to go somewhere that the LGBT community is embraced and welcomed with such open arms.  This is Indiana so it’s far from a given that people are going to accept such differences.  It’s nice to know there’s an island of openness and sanity even in the heart of the Midwest.

OK, that’s it.  That’s what made me think on May the 25th.  Any feedback or commentary is, as always, appreciated.

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On Turning 40

Passage of Time

Passage of Time

A little over a week ago I passed the ripe old age of forty years of age.  In honor of the non-event I have a few observations to make which I will enumerate below.

  • On my fortieth birthday, people that I like, who I can honestly call friends, showed up to have dinner with me as arranged by my fiancee without my knowledge.  If I look back on my life five years ago… ten years ago… twenty years ago… I would have considered this impossible.  I am not, traditionally, a person who has been able to accumulate connections with other people.  I’ve desperately WANTED to do so but somehow lacked the ability.  I like people but in the past they have always gravitated away from me.  For the first time ever, I don’t feel completely alone in the world.
  • On my fortieth birthday, all the people that I’m related to completely failed to so much as speak to me.  My mother, who long ago asked me to leave her alone, didn’t say a word.  My father, who is busy in his own world, didn’t whisper a syllable.  It goes without saying that all the people to whom they are connected were similarly silent.  When it comes to family it would seem I am utterly disconnected.  I’m not sure I understand why exactly but it is clearly so.  Every time someone uses the phrase, “he has a face that only a mother could love” part of me thinks quietly that my face is worse even than that since my mother refuses even to speak to me.
  • On my fortieth birthday, I realize that my life has passed any conception that I would have had of it when I was young.  I remember as a teenager thinking about the transit of Venus in 2012.  To me, that was an event inconceivably far in the future.  As of my 40th birthday, I have passed that milestone.  There was nothing beyond it.  With the passage of 2012 we enter truly the undiscovered country.
  • On my fortieth birthday, I may remember my age without counting.  In every year before this one when someone has asked me how old I am it required an exercise in mathematics to determine the answer.  Now at 40 I think that I might just be able to remember.

The world today is much different than it was in 1972 or 1982 or 1992.  I believe personally that it’s better with easy passing decade and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store for us.

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