Once more the tinsel-clad juggernaut has rolled into town and Christmas time is almost upon us. I’m not religious but I am always grateful for the twinkling lights and good cheer of the festive season as a way to break up the darkest winter days because few things are more depressing than having to walk to work and walk home again both times in darkness. This year, however, I’m rather less excited about the holiday than I have been on many other years because unfortunately AddaltmodeB has to work until late on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We’ll be doing our proper family Christmas on Boxing Day and I’m looking forward to that. It won’t be quite the same but B works for the NHS and I appreciate that nobody chooses to be ill and hospitals can’t just magically close for public holidays. So here on Addaltmode we may have a few seasonal inspired posts for you over the coming week or so – and this is one such post. But I hope you’ll appreciate that we’re not going to go overboard on the Christmas stuff because it’s hard to feel truly festive with so much work on the agenda.
Optimus is more ready for season than we are.
My absolute favourite Christmas tradition is decorating the tree. We have a lot of individual baubles and trinkets on our tree, some tasteful, some tacky, and it’s always a delight to open the boxes, unroll the bubblewrap and reconnect with these festive knick-knacks after they’ve been in storage for eleven months. I tend to buy a couple of new decorations each year and these little bits and pieces are surprisingly powerful receptacles of memories. Hanging them up once again is a nice way to remember when and where I got them: the shopping trip with my parents, the stall at a convention, the gift from a rarely seen relative. The older decorations also remind me how far we’ve come, recalling mine and B’s first Christmases together many years ago now when we could only fit a few trinkets on the spindly branches of our miniature tree in the damp and weirdly-shaped flat that was our first home together.
Recently Diana from the Part-Time Monster blog did a wonderful post about Christmas decorations and the memories attached to them. I very much echo her sentiment that “the ornaments are like old friends, little tangible reminders of our interests and our life.” B and I can’t quite match the level of Diana’s very cool Star Trek and Star Wars tree ornaments we do have some fairly geeky stuff amongst our festive branches. Here are a couple of my favourites…
Title: The Stories of Ibis
Author: Hiroshi Yamamoto
Translator: Takami Nieda
Published: (Kindle Edition) 2011
Quotation: Why were there so many stories about robots and humans fighting? Did they only exist because that was how mankind had always lived? Did we simply see ourselves in these humanoid machines?
The Stories of Ibis presents a sequence of five short stories and two slightly longer ones, each exploring human relationships with artificial intelligence, or with other humans in a technologically-enabled world. Hugely diverse in setting, the subjects include the following: a group of bulletin-board users collaboratively imagining the adventures of a Star Trek-like fictional space crew (“The Universe on my Hands”); a tale of told by artificially intelligent space station on the edge of a black hole that provides a final stop-off for the adventurous and the suicidal (“Black Hole Diver”); there’s even a bubblegum anime-inspired world populated by powered up AI school-kid fighters (”A World Where Justice is Just”). Each tale stands alone, but scaffolded by an introduction and series of intermissions in which characters reflect on the story they have just heard, the stories combine to offer an impressively original exploration of the possibilities and perils of humans creating artificial life.
Kindle Edition cover
The creation of autonomous robots and the consequences of this for humanity as a species is a topic to which sci-fiction returns time and again. Yet Yamamato’s work never feels stale precisely because of the extent to which it recognises this fact. Artificial intelligences like the titular Ibis – the female AI who narrates each of these wide-ranging tales, rather like a robo-Scheherazade – are not simply the product of technical advancements, they are also born from stories and fictions that first imagined them. More concerned with language and psychology than engineering, this collection acknowledges the creative power of story telling, particularly those yarns spun about robots…
Author: Ernest Cline
First Published: 2015
So what do you once you’ve turned the final page of a book you really loved? If you’re anything like me the answer might be:
- Feel a little sad that such a wonderful reading experience has come to an end.
- Start recommending said book to everyone you know.
- Find out if the author has published anything else and if so, buy it.
So you can imagine my glee when I discovered that, conveniently, I had finished Ernest Clines’ superb first novel, Ready Player One, just 3 days before his second book, Armada, was due to be published. Talk about perfect timing! Ready Player One may have presented a dystopian vision of the not-too-distant future but as far as reading experiences go, it was geek nirvana, laden as it was with so many contextually-justified references to the games, technology and pop-culture of the 1980s and 90s. Just like that novel’s protagonist, Wade, I’d been reluctant to logout of the enjoyably escapist virtual world laid out before me. But with Armada touted as offering a similarly pop-culture savvy experience to its predecessor it sounded like I wouldn’t be logged out for long. While Cline’s debut imagined the possibilities and the Pitfalls (Pitfall! Get it?) of a MMORPG style online world, Armada looks to the skies, and beyond: it’s an alien invasion narrative that promised to draw on every space shoot-em-up you’ve ever played and to offer a different context for all the sci-fi classic movies with which I grew up.
That all sounded so promising, and so much fun. You should never judge a book by it cover, of course, but it looked oh so promising too: what a great jacket design!
Armada book cover
But…. while I can’t deny it was fun, overall, I have to admit I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so disappointed by a novel. I really wanted to like Armada but, though it does have some good moments, compared to the genius of Ready Player One, it just felt flat, forced and predictable. Son, I am disappoint.
What follows is a bit more on the novels’s themes as well as what I liked and the somewhat longer list of what I didn’t like about Armada. This is the kind of book that it’s hard to discuss without mentioning some key plot points so Rodimus is here to warn you that there may be one or two spoilers ahead.
Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
First Published: 2011
I’m not sure this should really count as a fully fledged Robo Read but I’m going to include it under the heading anyway. Reasons? Well, the novel does include one scene-stealing giant robot moment, and although artificial intelligence isn’t really its focus, Ready Player One certainly explores our relationship with technology and the potential of on-line / virtual lives. Indeed, in that respect Cline’s book rather put me in mind of John Scalzi’s Lock In, a great novel that was the focus of my very first Robo Reads book review on this blog. Scalzi is actually name-checked in Cline’s work and has himself sung its praises, describing the book as a “nerdgasm.”
It’s a pretty accurate description. While its “Robo Reads” credentials may be debatable, there is no doubt that Ready Player One fully deserves the accolade of “Geek Lit Classic.” It’s not without it flaws but these are more than compensated by an overall ride that manages to combine some all-too-grimly-plausible near future dystopian world building with a gleefully referential nostalgic pop-cultural odyssey that had me grinning from ear. You probably need to be a bit of a gamer and to have some affection for the 80s to get the most out of this novel but if you fit those bills and haven’t read Cline’s debut novel already I highly recommend doing so now, or at least before Stephen Spielberg’s film version of it comes out. So, you’ve got just under a year and half, which shouldn’t be too much of a challenge considering this is the kind of book I struggled to put down and devoured in just a couple of sittings.
It’s been a while since we did any music-related posts on here, so let’s rectify that. Now, my taste in music as a whole runs rather towards the bleak: gothic metal, post rock, dark wave, that sort of thing. My Dad once described an album I was listening to as “the sort of thing that would get rejected from Leonard Cohen’s funeral playlist for blackening the mood.” So, yeah, I’m a bit of a musical miserablist overall, but when I’m ready to go to my aural happy place there’s nothing I enjoy more than listening to chiptunes.
Which isn’t to say all chiptune sounds are upbeat. Chiptune isn’t really a genre so much as a way of producing music, using the technology and sound chips from old 80s consoles and computers. There are some wonderfully downbeat chiptune soundscapes out there too, some of which we may showcase another Tuesday. But let’s start with a project that does feel truly joyful in its nostalgia for the world of 8-bit gaming… Bring on Demoscene Time Machine!
Demoscene Time Machine band logo
We’ve just got back from a fantastic holiday in Germany which included some time spent in Berlin. We’ve made overnight stops in the city before but this was our first chance to spend a whole day there and begin to explore it properly. Berlin has a great vibe, and there’s so much to see and do: from the powerful experience that is visiting the remains of The Wall and reading its history at the Checkpoint Charlie exhibition, to admiring the iconic architecture of the Brandenburg Gate, soaking up culture on Museum Island, or laughing at the procession of animal-print styled Trabants belching out fumes as they drive in procession through the centre for a hilarious “Trabi-Safari.” But while we made time for many of these well known tourist experiences, we here at AddAltMode simply couldn’t resist the opportunity to enjoy a slightly less famous Berlin attraction and – in doing so – to cross off another wish from our geek bucket list. I’m talking, of course, about paying a visit to the Berlin Computerspielemuseum (Video Game Museum), also known as Geek Heaven.
Ooh heaven is a place on earth