Book Review: Contest

contest

Cover art for Matthew Reilly’s novel “Contest.”

Sometime last summer, I wrote a short piece of fiction on this blog, and one of the comments made about it was that it was vaguely reminiscent of Matthew Reilly’s novel Contest.

Intrigued, I discovered that my local public library system had a copy, so I checked it out and started reading (however, I forgot to write a review until now).

Actually, the novel was originally self-published in 1996 when Reilly was age 19. Then Cate Paterson, a commissioning editor from Pan Macmillan, found a copy of in a bookstore and subsequently signed Reilly to a two-book deal. Apparently, Reilly had success with later novels as well.

Reilly is an Australian, but he chose to set his tale in New York City, specifically the main branch of the New York City Public Library (which was featured at the beginning of the 1984 film Ghostbusters), and his main characters are New York natives, which is where he starts to get into trouble.

Actually, I liked the book, but he introduced plot holes big enough for me to walk through, and he occasionally called things like the trunk of a car “the boot,” not keeping it straight in his mind that the people thinking these thoughts were American.

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Book Review: “The Man in the High Castle

high castle

Cover image for the novel “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick

My son Michael and I were talking about the television series The Man in the High Castle, which is based on the 1962 novel of the same name authored by the late Philip K. Dick. I’ve never seen the television show (and probably never will), but I did recall reading the novel sometime back in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, that’s all I remembered about it. Curious, I decided to check a copy of the book out of my local public library and re-read it.

The novel is set in the year it was published and postulates what the United States would have been like if the Axis powers had won World War Two thanks to the Nazis having developed the atomic bomb first.

The US is divided into three zones, with the Nazis in control of the East, the Japanese in control of the West, and a sort of DMZ existing across the Rocky Mountain States.

The “Man in the High Castle” refers to the author of a controversial novel called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” written by the mysterious Hawthorne Abendsen. It postulates what the world would have been like if the Allies had won the war. The book is tolerated in the West, but the Nazis have made it illegal in the East and there are rumors that there’s an ongoing attempt to assassinate the book’s writer. Thus Abendsen is said to live in a fortress (“High Castle”) in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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Epilogue: The Dragon’s Library

gerliliam

© James Pyles

“Dragons roared and children picked up musical instruments and played. Many alighted to the ground to dance, and the singers clung to tree branches like birds. It was a moment of grandeur and promise. But as bright as it was in the city of Vovin, the city of dragons and children, a dark night was coming.

“The end.”

The ancient dragon Gerliliam reclined in his favorite chair in front of the fireplace in his library, and slowly closed the book he had been reading.

“What do you mean ‘the end,’ Gerliliam? That can’t be the end. What about the Grey God? How are the kids supposed to get home? Does that mean the demons are going to come for us, too?” The excitable and feisty sparrow hopped annoyingly back and forth from one of the dragon’s shoulders to the other. In ages past the dragon would have simply swatted him with one of his wings, but then, that was ages past.

“Excuse me, but I think he’s right. You can’t stop reading now. There’s so much more to tell.” Mr. Covingham, a brightly colored garter snake, was comfortably curled on a pillow set on the floor, not too close to the fireplace, but not too far, either.

“But that’s what it says, my friends, ‘the end.’ That rather means there is no more to read.”

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Last Stand

wave

© Sue Vincent

“Archers! At the ready!” Petran gave the command to his meager squad of elven soldiers as they formed a perimeter around the five Davidson children and the magician Raibyr. Nine-year-old Taylor was at the center with his siblings when he remembered he also had his bow and arrows.

The wind was frigid and fierce, which fortunately made the attacking Beelzebub horde uncertain in the air, but would also make accuracy with the bow extremely difficult.

The sense of the warrior Azzorh within Taylor came over him, and he nocked his first arrow.

The bat-winged demons were in as tight a formation as possible given the storm that was tracking toward the party from the west; a massive cloud of swollen, sickly green flies whose home was sewage, and whose taste was for blood.

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A Not Entirely Objective Book Review: “The Handmaid’s Tale”

handmaid

Promotional image for Hulu’s television series “The Handmaid’s Tale

I just finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and I can tell you it’s not a book you review without doing a bit of research. Of course I knew that going in.

I’ve been peripherally aware of both Atwood’s novel and the television series on Hulu but didn’t give either much attention. Then I read a few stories about this year’s Women’s March and noticed in the news photos amid women dressed in vagina hats and full-body vagina costumes, there were groups who wore the red and white wardrobe of the handmaids (I assume the protestors’ inspiration was more the TV series than the book but I have nothing with which to back that opinion).

Since the Women’s March largely is a protest against the administration of President Donald Trump, I became curious as to the connection (I already knew what the vagina costumes were all about).

Fortunately, my local public library system had a copy, so I reserved it and when it arrived at the designated branch, I eagerly began reading. I’m going to break down this review into sections both to make it more readable and to keep things straight in my head. It’s not that I found the book itself so complex, but there are wider social implications to consider.

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Prologue: Sophia

dna

Image credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology

Synthecon Corporation Research Campus – Near Livingston, Scotland, UK – 2002

“Now do you believe it, Davy? Hmmm? Now do you believe it?” The two men were standing in a lab contained within an expansive research complex located near Livingston in what was called Silicon Glen and Dr. Daniel Hunt couldn’t have been happier.

After all of the failures, false starts, and millions upon millions of pounds wasted, not to mention having his professional rival and closest friend David Killgrave rubbing his nose in it at every opportunity, he finally produced the first generation of DNA based artificial intelligence.

“I must say it looks promising, Danny. Still, I’ll have to run some tests. I’m not convinced that, what did you call it, is capable of all you say, even in potential.”

Sophia, her name is Sophia.”

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Mr. Covingham’s Secret

garter snake

How I imagine Mr. Covingham appears

Five-year-old Zooey’s eyes fluttered. She felt especially warm and cozy wrapped up in all of these blankets in front of Gerliliam’s fireplace. She opened her eyes just long enough to see that her four siblings were still sleeping all around her and that made her feel safe. The fire was the only light in the room, and since the dragon lived under a tree, she couldn’t tell if it was still dark outside.

Then she felt something moving against her arm and a small head protruded from the covers.

“Mr. Covingham,” she whispered not wanting to wake the others. “I thought you’d gone home.”

She had only met the blue and orange striped garter snake last night, but already she felt like they were really good friends.

“I intended to Zooey, but it was still so cold and rainy out. You know how we snakes don’t do well in the cold.”

“I’m glad you decided to stay. I wanted to get to know you better.”

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Another Update on My Proposed SciFi Novel

questor

Mike Ferrell as Jerry Robinson on the set of Gene Roddenberry’s “The Questor Tapes” (1974)

They are still in various stages of drafts, but I’ve got eight out of twelve chapters in Word docs. They still need a lot of work, but the basic story is there. I had to add what I thought of as an “experimental” short story as a chapter. I did it to add to the word count at first, but as it turns out, when I changed the chapter around a bit, it fits the flow of the rest of the book quite well, and introduces greater controversy regarding the relationship between human and synthetic beings.

I feel like I shouldn’t give away any more excerpts, at least for the present. I don’t want to publish so much of the novel here on my blog that there won’t be any interest in it when I finally get it published (boy, am I optimistic).

As I mentioned, there are twelve planned chapters plus an epilogue which either ties everything together or leaves one really big question unanswered…or both.

Remember, this is a novel that incorporates religious and spiritual imagery, it is not Christian or Jewish science fiction, so not all chapters will have the same emphasis on Biblical understanding from a synthetic intelligence’s viewpoint as the first few.

I do promise that the final chapter and epilogue do return to those issues in a very big way and the novel wouldn’t be complete without resolving them within my two synthetic prototypes as well as within their creator.

I’m having a lot of fun here, but so far it’s chapter by chapter, and as I add elements in later chapters, I’m going to have to go back and revise earlier ones for the sake of continuity. If this all comes together as I hope, I think it will be a very good story.

I can only hope that others will agree.

Writing a New Chapter for My Proposed Novel and Needing Advice

idea

Image: Clipart Panda

So far, all the work on this novel, which chronicles the emergence of a truly synthetic intelligence and its impact on the human race, has been on chapters I’ve already written and that need to be updated. Yesterday, I spent some time writing a completely new chapter.

It’s a first draft and it’s not finished yet. I found I had a general idea what I wanted to write about, but it was pretty ill-defined. I needed to create one new intelligence plus several new characters pretty much on the fly. Some old, familiar characters also make an appearance, tying events in the latest chapter back to earlier ones.

Once the chapter is complete, my word count for the whole book will be somewhere over 40,000. I’ve found out that 40,000 is the minimum word count for a novel (albeit a short one). But that’s only halfway through my proposed table of contents.

That means I have a decision to make. Do I keep on writing, creating a work that would end up being between 60,000 to 80,000 words (or more), or do I split my proposed novel in half?

If I do the latter, is my current ending chapter a good place to stop, or will I need to add more material to make it a “cliffhanger” and also a natural lead into the next novel? Another thing. If I do end it here, will the proposed first chapter of the second novel be a good place to start that story?

I do have to say that if I create two novels, I have two killer titles for them. If I keep it one novel, I’m still stuck for a title and sounds cool.

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Update on My First Novel

robot lawI spent the afternoon yesterday reworking chapter one of my novel about the emergence of an artificially intelligent humanoid. I’m tightening up how things are named to be consistent across chapters, as well clarifying the core directives hardcoded into each synthetic android’s core operating system. It’s more interesting when an autonomous synthetic intelligence can analyze and interpret its directives given changing circumstances rather than being forced into preprogrammed responses. That gives them a certain level of unpredictability right off the bat.

Of course, in chapter one, I throw a monkey wrench into the machine by suggesting that the directives programmed into the synthetic intelligence might be overwritten or at least modified by a higher set of directives, the directives God gave the Jewish people. Just how does an artificial intelligence created by human beings understand the nature of a God who created human beings?