8 Science Fiction Books That Get Programming Right

I was sitting down with a couple of my fellow programmers after a long day of testing our new online shopping cart, and we asked ourselves a very important question:

Why don’t most science fiction books get the feel of programming right?

If you’re not a programmer, you’ll doubtlessly protest: “There’s a lot of programming in speculative fiction!” But there isn’t, actually. What there is is a lot of is hacking, which is to say breaking into established systems, usually with a lot of muttered techno mumbo-jumbo like “I’m in the mainframe!” while hopelessly-inept thugs spray the area with bullets.

[So which stories come closest to getting it right?]

Unpacking Truth in Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

Anyone who has spent approximately five minutes with me knows how much I adore Lindsay Ellis’ work. Watching her grow from her early internet days to the video essay behemoth has been so inspirational to me. She continues to keep me on my toes, keep me thinking, while entertaining and so many artists, writers, and creators.

So, naturally, I was over the moon when I learned that Lindsay Ellis was releasing her debut novel in 2020. I had everyone at the bookstore keep an eye out for an advanced copy. When several of them went to Baltimore for a conference, I sent our book buyer a friendly reminder with a picture of the cover to make sure that if they saw it, they would get me an advanced copy. Of course, this created a lot of pressure when I finally had a copy in my hands: this was my most anticipated release of 2020. I know I naturally have a lot of bias and adoration for Ellis’ work, but this was a debut novel, not a video essay. I felt a sudden surge of anxiety when I opened the book.

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The Unexpected Detections of Jeff Noon

The great thing about a high-profile debut novel is its ability to serve as currency going forward. Jeff Noon’s 1993 novel Vurt is the kind of novel that prompts impressed reactions from a host of readers well-versed in the science fiction and fantasy worlds—but it’s also picked up enthusiastic endorsements from friends of mine whose tastes head in more esoteric and psychedelic directions. Over the years, Vurt has prompted comparisons to a host of cyberpunk novels—largely because its plot involves using a kind of techno-organic substance to move between the physical world and a more layered, internal one.

But just as that isn’t quite the cyberspace of William Gibson, neither is Noon precisely a cyberpunk author—the portrait that he paints of England seems to be less of a near future vision and more one of a slightly altered reality, period. It would make for an excellent double bill with Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet—both are books set in a skewed world where all things mythical take on a heightened position, and the delirious manifestations of art resonate on unexpected frequencies. In the case of Vurt, that comes through the dreamlike realm that its characters enter, populated by beings from fiction, mythology, and the collective unconscious.

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Emily Tesh Talks Pratical Folklore, Fanfic, and How Witch’s Potions Relate to Worldbuilding in Reddit AMA!

Emily Tesh is the World Fantasy Award, Astounding Award, and Crawford Award-nominated author of the Greenhollow duology. It began with Silver in the Wood, her debut, and continues with Drowned Country, out from Tordotcom Publishing on August 18. In her own words, Silver in the Wood was about “what happens when the centuries-old Wild Man, the magical avatar of Greenhollow Wood, has his sedate existence of growing vegetables, doing DIY, and hunting monsters interrupted by a charming folklore nerd with no sense of self-preservation,” whereas Drowned Country is “the flipside of the duology…about what happens when you used to be a folklore nerd and now suddenly you are the folklore.”

This week, she dropped by r/Fantasy for an AMA, where she talked about folklore, practical folklore, drawing inspiration from stories about folklore, playing The Witcher 3 for 200 hours, classic nineteenth-century gentleman enthusiasts, fandom from an author’s perspective, great fictional forests, and much, much more. Here are the highlights!

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A Few of Our Favorite Devils in SFF

The Devil is one of the greatest literary characters in human history. From Dante’s slobbering monster to Milton’s charming tyrant to Goethe’s cunning trickster, He Who Has So Many Names is the perfect antagonist—or, sometimes, the perfect tortured protagonist. It’s no wonder then that Old Scratch shows up so often in SFF film and television, often stealing the spotlight in scenery-chewing performances. We’ve got nearly 30 devils gathered below, but be sure to add your own picks in the comments!

[Wouldst Thou Like To List Deliciously?]

The Expectations That Travelers Carried: The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun (trans. Lizzie Buehler)

The Disaster Tourist is a trim near-future speculative novel from Yun Ko-eun, the first of her novels to be translated and published in English. Ko Yona, our protagonist, has been an employee of the travel company Jungle for around ten years; Jungle creates “ethical” vacation packages to locations of catastrophe. Tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes, radiation, prisons and asylums, mass killings: the humans involved and the sites of their trauma become the consumables offered in trade for tourists seeking that authentic experience and a bit of moral righteousness to assuage the guilt of rubbernecking.

But when Yona begins to experience sexual harassment from her boss and assumes this means she’s gotten an informal “yellow card”—implying she’s on her way out of the company—she attempts to resign. Instead of her resignation being accepted, she’s offered a ‘working vacation’ to check out one of their failing packages on the island of Mui and review it for cancellation. However, all is not as it seems on Mui, and Yona’s own complicity in the broader systems at work in Jungle’s interventions on local spaces begin to dreadfully evolve.

[A review.]

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Series Finale: All’s Well That Ends Well

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have reached the end of their final season—a season which involved them traveling through time, visiting key moments in S.H.I.E.L.D. history, and as always, saving the world from destruction. The two-hour grand finale featured all the ingredients of previous season-ending episodes, including evil aliens, setbacks, tricky plots and counterplots, big fight scenes, and clever quips. It also had a much bigger budget for special effects, a cast and crew that have honed their skills for seven seasons, and writers that were more than happy to give the fans a happy ending. This was a show determined to go out on the top of its game!

[Read more]

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Blood Fever”

“Blood Fever”
Written by Lisa Klink
Directed by Andrew Robinson
Season 3, Episode 16
Production episode 157
Original air date: February 5, 1997
Stardate: 50537.2

Captain’s log. Voyager has found a source of gallacite, which can be used to refit the warp coils. The planet has a long-abandoned colony on it, so Janeway lays a claim. Torres and Vorik plan out how to set up a gallacite mine, and then Vorik surprises Torres by proposing to marry her.

[With Lieutenant Torres, “upset” is a relative term…]

Series: Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Five Times Harrow the Ninth Uses the Language of Fanfiction to Process Grief, and One Time It Doesn’t

Harrow the Ninth is one of the most anticipated SFF sequels in recent memory, weighted as it is with the expectation of living up to the cheeky, bonetastic glory of Gideon the Ninth. After crafting an incredibly complex far-future with necromancy seeping out of its every pore, as seen through the aviator-covered gaze of one Gideon Nav, the second novel swaps protagonists and propels readers into the even gorier, more existential setting of Lyctorhood that not even Gideon and its trials could have prepared you for. How can Tamsyn Muir possibly follow up Gideon the Ninth?

By retelling the story, over and over and over.

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A Post-Apocalyptic Quest Through the Wilderness: Hiero’s Journey by Sterling E. Lanier

In this bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books, Alan Brown looks at the front lines and frontiers of the field; books about soldiers and spacers, scientists and engineers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.

In 1974, I was a sophomore in college, and always looking for a good paperback to distract me from my homework. I found one that looked promising, with a rather audacious cover blurb: “In a holocaust world of strange beasts and savage men, he rode out. As fantastic a chronicle as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.” (It’s almost impossible to read that without doing an impression of the guy who used to do voiceovers for all the blockbuster action movie trailers.) So, I decided to give it a try, and was glad I did. It became an instant favorite: a fast-paced adventure built around a compelling character facing impossible odds.

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Designer Creates Shot-for-Shot Remake of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Final Scene in Quarantine

The final, climactic scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey confounded audiences when it was first released: Astronaut David Bowman enters a monolith orbiting Jupiter and after being transported through space, finds himself in an ornate bedroom, where he sees several different versions of himself.

It’s a powerful scene, and over the course of this past spring while in quarantine in New York City, designer  Lydia Cambron reimagined it (via Kottke) through the lens of COVID-19.

[Read more]

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