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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Hello there, mates. How’s everyone doing thus far with this pandemic? I hope all is well with you and yours, and yes … I looking forward the return of Normalcy 2.0. Lets be real, normal will change for many of us, but enough of that. I came across this title during my monthly “vetting” of the booklist in order to decide what gets onto the stacks at my branch (and what does not). When you encounter a tagline, that reads “the biggest company, the perfect algorithm, what could possibly go wrong?”, on a book with a cover that is designed to parody the packaging of a certain well-known online retailer … well, an evil grin along with a good hunch emerge in my mind. And here we are. But enough with my usual bollocks and such and let’s get on with the blooming review. Yeah?
Qualityland is actually the name of a country in the (near, possible???) future. Somewhere along the line a certain country with a troubled history (I’m guessing Germany but don’t quote me on that … please) decided that they needed to change their name and voila … Qualityland. In Qualityland the citizens are known as QualityPeople that use QualityMoney (or Qualities) for currency and QualityPads for internet access (and just about everything else). TouchKiss is the way most digital transactions are concluded. Yes, instead of using fingerprint recognition, it is deemed more secure to use your lips since these are not so easily forged. A bit worrisome in the event of pandemics, if you ask me. AI along with realistic humanoid androids (apart and combined) are rampant and normal as everyday life. Self-driving taxis bicker and harass passengers to rate their service even though they may not carry you completely to your destination in what is determined as a red-zone (or unsafe neighbourhood). Yes, in case you missed that bit, algorithms have made self-driving cars very discriminating especially when it comes to certain neighbourhoods. It gets better. Daily or certain social interactions allow you to be rated. The higher your rating on Everybody (Qualityland’s version of Facebook and Twitter combined), the greater your access to jobs, medical care, and even wealth, fame, sex. If your ratings fall to 10 or less you are known as a Useless. Needless to say, your life becomes a crapshoot at that point. Oh, and another thing, surnames are based on parental or current occupations such as (for example) Melissa Sex-Worker or everyone that is unemployed shares the (indignity) of the surname, Jobless. And then there is TheShop, an online warehouse, with algorithms so tuned that they are practically psychic and knows (and delivers) what you (might) want or need before you even know it. And as it turns out they are usually correct. And for some strange reason Jennifer Aniston does not fare well and her rom-coms are seen as a celluloid curse that the world has to tolerate.
Peter Jobless, is an unemployed (shocker) slacker that inherited a scrapping business from his late father and also lives where he works. Due to some strange environmental law, repairs to any form of automatons (even Roombas) are forbidden and once discarded these devices have to report to the nearest local scrapper. Martyn Chairman is a sleazoid politician that cheats on his wife with every willing Qualiteen intern and loves browsing revenge porn sites … and also works for Conrad Cook, a celebrity chef turned president. Kiki Unknown is an enigmatic hacker that knows the ins and outs of most systems and makes a living through various unorthodox means (such as blackmailing men with videos of them self-pleasuring to revenge porn sites). Yes, I know you’ve just imagined one possible scenario in this book. Henryk Engineer is cross between Bezos, Musk with a hint of Zuckerburg thrown in, a recluse and the CEO of TheShop. And then there is John of Us, the first android poised to be elected as president of Qualityland. Somewhere along the way, Peter Jobless life hits the skids: first he’s dumped by his girlfriend since the dating app (called QualityPartner) advised her to do so and replaced him with a newer, exciting partner … whilst on an actual date (!). Then on a date with Melissa Sex-Worker (you can guess what she does for a living) he breaks a (Sex) contract by not (get this) having sex. This led to his rating plummeting and giving the status of Useless. Just when his life couldn’t get anymore complicated he gets a delivery from TheShop: a blue dolphin vibrator. To his chagrin and dismay, when he tries to return it, TheShop refuses to accept it since …well … algorithms don’t make mistakes. And so starts the strange odyssey to meet face to face with Henryk Engineer as Peter Jobless bumbles into love and unwittingly starts a revolution … all because of a blue dolphin vibrator.
Qualityland though set in the future, is a delightful parody and at the same time, a cautionary tale about where we’re actually heading (or already in). One of the most interesting moments in the book was the android, John of Us, speech about data-mining and not what but who is really the “product” that Big Data is selling out there. Not exactly earth-shattering, but enough to occasionally pop you out of sleep some of the nights and channel your inner Albert Finney (I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”). Throughout the book there are these little pop-ups of snapshots of web content, some humourous, some disturbing and some laughable … with comments (alas, there are trolls in Qualityland). A superbly hilarious, thought-provoking book with a wee touch of the disturbing (especially the obvious dislike for all things Jennifer Aniston), Qualityland has something for everyone of varying stripes. Dare I say, a nice beach companion for the coming summer (even if you’re a Jennifer Aniston fan and there is no more need of social distancing, or that coronathing hanging around).

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earthafire_cvr

Co-author: Aaron Johnston

Several months ago, Ender’s Game premiered on the big screen and it was quite the blockbuster. Written more than a decade ago, Ender’s Game was about a juvenile military officer (Ender Wiggin) and his strategic battle against the invading aliens known as the Formics. Of course, we all know how that ended (please tell me that you saw the movie, mates).
Earth Afire is the prequel to Ender’s Game and it introduces us to the Earth prior to and during its invasion by the Formics. The books opens with a precocious (and apparently wise beyond his years) teenager named Bingwen sharing a video downloaded on the nets (yes, I know they call it the nets, and not the internet). It is video of an actual attack by the Formics that was transmitted from a terraformed planet by a miner named Victor Delgado. Did I mention that he did this at great risk to his life? The problem is that many folks in the Lunar moon colonies (yes, we’re living on the moon and all that other bollocks) and Earth spent most of their time debunking the video calling it hoax leaving poor Victor aghast and losing his marbles. Either that or they were too busy catching up on the latest craziness of the Real Housewives Of the Orion Belt On Saturn and they couldn’t be bothered with some alien that is bent on ANNIHILATING the world. And the sad truth is that this is a workable possibility … alas , a slight detour, won’t you say.
In time the Formics make it to Earth and starts their attack on … China. Yes, I hate to break it to those of us that watched Independence Day or War of The Worlds, but this time the aliens decided to go east on us. And the fate of the world rests in the arms of an interplanetary, motley crew of characters: Mazer Rackham ( a rogue New Zealand SAS officer), Lem Ukko (the machiavellian son of a space mining mogul), Bingwen (an extremely brave and wise teen beyond his years), a defiant astrophysicist and a rogue government worker (and no she is not a postal worker). Interestingly enough, throughout the book as the Formics ravage the terraformed planets and Earth itself, one can only read on in complete and utter dismay as human beings still bicker over trivial and absolute bollocks. Sorry there was no Bill Pullman giving inspirational speeches about Independence Day that would whip the human race into some awesome unifying fighting force. Sorry mates, different sci-fi. And the sad truth is, it is not far from the truth. And we only need to take a nice glance at the wanks in Washington to confirm this harsh reality that is bound to keep most of us up at nights, huddled next to a bedside lamp as we clutch our beloved AR-15 rifle. A bit too dark on that one, wasn’t I?
Card’s Earth Afire is delightfully thought provoking, filled with intrigue around the bends of each page and with such intense action to set your imagination on fire. Sir Ben Kingsley plays the role of Mazer Rackham in Ender’s Game, but after reading Earth Afire most would find a fondness for the character. I promise you this. And yes, you’re gonna love Bingwen.

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Lagarta is a planet that is fourteen light years away from Earth. It is gritty place to live, and living in Lagarta is hard. Meet Juno Mozambe, a vice cop that makes a living shaking down brothels and other shady enterprises. Seems likeable. When his superior puts him on a homicide case, with a green rookie to add to his frustrations, Juno becomes cautious and wary of his new assignment. And he’s got good reasons, since life is cheaper than cheap on Lagarta and the corruption is rampant and normal as say … breathing. In typical fashion, KOP blends gritty detective noir with the likes of Blade Runner along with William Gibson-esque dystopic settings where life is nothing more than an afterthought and the action is lightning-speed, vicious, and heartless. The action and the suspense leaves the reader basically peering around each page in anticipation of what’s waiting to leap out and grab them by the throats … like a Lagartan dragon-lizard (which just happens to be a delicacy on the planet … sorry, I have detoured). Warren Hammond’s KOP is quick delightful read and it prepares the reader for the exciting sequel to this novel, EX-KOP … which, strangely enough, will be reviewed on this site. Bet you didn’t see that coming didn’t you. Ok, maybe you did. Bloody hell, even Stevie Wonder on a pitch dark night saw that coming.

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