The Andromeda Strain – Reread

When you’re graduating from reading young adult novels into more meatier fair, Michael Crichton is pretty much the perfect author to cut your teeth on. At least, he was back in the 90’s before the young adult genre exploded all over every dystopian future that ever existed. He was one of the first authors I read that didn’t write what amounted to Christian fan-fiction. No, Michael Crighton wrote about cloned dinosaurs, and alien artifacts under the ocean, and SO MUCH DEATH!

 

T-Rex roaring Do you have a moment to talk about Jesus Christ?

 

Rereading of one of my old favorite authors may seem like it might be connected to a recent Hollywood smash hit…but its not.  It’s simple ADHD in my Audible purchases last month.  They must have just re-released a bunch of the old audio books, because all of a sudden my recommended queue was full of Michael Crighton best sellers.  And one caught my eye.  Not the one with hungry dinosaurs, but rather the one with so many people dying from an alien virus: The Andromeda Strain.  I remember reading it when I was a kid, shortly after watching Outbreak and just gobbling it up.  To this day, my favorite kind of disaster / thriller is of the disease running rampant variety.

Just so’s you know, this is kind of a review of the audio book as well.  I actually do a lot of my reading via audio book, because it means I can code and read at the same time.  Also, I commute so basically I’m consuming stories all the time.  So, audio books, valid reading in my opinion.  If you don’t think so you can go to someone else’s blog and complain.

Anyway.  The Andromeda Strain was one of Crighton’s earlier novels, published in 1969 aaaaannnnnd it kind of shows. Crighton never wanted to be associated with the Science Fiction crowd, even though he was writing science fiction, if not straight up fantasy, but he wanted to be considered main stream and not genre.  Still, the science fiction vibe is strong with this.  Now, since the novel is fracking 46 years old, spoiler warnings don’t apply.  Really.  There’s a statute of limitations on these things.

For those who aren’t familiar, and have read my previous notice, The Andromeda Strain is about a team of doctors assigned to study an alien microbe that attached itself to a crashed satelite and killed at town out in Arizona.  Mistakes are made, the virus mutates, a couple more people die and it all comes down to the line at the end with our heroes almost destroyed by a nuclear detonation that would have kicked off World War 3 AND caused infinite propagation of the viruus.  Crighton has all sorts of elements in play here, talking at length about, what was, at the time, cutting edge technology, cold war paranoia, kinda-maybe valid science circa the 1970’s, and lots … and LOTS of description.

The big question is, did I enjoy the book? Yeah. It’s still a decent read.  But did I enjoy it as much as when I was a kid? Not really.  Having learned a lot more about writing and the construction of a good story, I’m finding its easier to pick things apart, and find ways to improve upon them.  For instance, The Andromeda Strain has a really, freaking slow start.  Crighton devotes a ton of time to explaining the Wildfire Initiative (the organization put together just in case an alien microbe ever started killin’ folks).  He talks about the history, the people involved, the facility they had built, and on and on before we even get our group of heroic doctors together.

The narrative skips between all of the doctors, who each kind of screw up equally in causing the near disaster, which is what drives most of the story.  And this is a great thing! It’s the good part.  But we don’t even interact with them until we’re several chapters in.  This is a book that really should have started, mid-crisis, as a tired and confused Dr. Mark Hall is dragged out to the Wildfire facility with little explanation, and then caught up on the shit that’s going down as they go through the quarantine levels.  They spend a lot of time talking about the quarantine levels of the Wildfire Facility… and very little story happens.  Its just kind of there for its own sake, because none of the things they go through impact the story in any real way.  The only thing that actually matters is the nuclear fail-safe, that only Mark has the key to for science reasons that they also explain in detail but aren’t really important.

 

4 doctors, standing side by side Three of these people made a terrible mistake.

 

But, in the end, it’s the nuclear fail-safe that might prove to be every bodies undoing, since they discover the virus would mutate uncontrollably and probably destroy all life on earth, if exposed to the energy of a nuclear detonation.  So, of course, the virus escapes containment, triggers the auto-destruct, and they have to abort the detonation sequence, which only Dr. Mark Hall can do.  Only, he can’t, because the government contractors who built the facility forgot to put the required number of safety stations into the place. Thriller!

No, it really is kind of tense there at the end…but not really because of the virus.  It mutates into a form that is deadly to polymers (a new technology!) but not to organic life.  So, its able to escape, but since it isn’t a threat anymore, its a non-issue once the bomb is defused.  In my mind, this is the weakest part of the book, since it literally means that, if no one had done anything at all, the threat would have passed and no one would have known.  The protagonists have literally nothing to do with solving the main conflict in the book.  The threat just goes away.

While The Andromeda Strain does take a while to get going, and has kind of a disappointing ending, it is still a pretty good read.  Although there are a few things kind of common to a Michael Crighton story; chiefly, the “person who does something sciency that everyone around them should realize is the dumbest thing ever”.  In Jurassic Park, it’s the idiot who kept breeding raptors, even after they discovered how magnificently deadly they were to have at a theme park, like hiring a guy to be Mickey Mouse even after you learn he’s a cannibal.  In The Andromeda Strain, it’s a general in charge of coming up with new biologic agents to use as bio-weapons, but darn it, they run into a wall and can’t create anything deadly enough from what’s on earth.  He read a paper that said there were probably super dangerous organisms in space, just waiting to be brought to earth that no one would have any resistance to and extremely hard, if not impossible, to cure.  So, this moron comes up with an idea to send satellites into space with the sole purpose of bringing back one of these super bugs, and NO ONE FIRES HIM ON THE SPOT! Or even protests.  His success condition is exactly the problem in the book…that still magically solves itself.  In the epilogue, no one mentions this guy getting fired into space himself…he apparently suffers no consequences.  Also, none of the main characters wonder just how someone that stupid could put on his own clothes in the morning, let alone be put in charge of a multi-billion dollar defense initiative.  Probably because Russia was just that scary?

Still, for all its faults, The Andromeda Strain is a decent read.  This is pretty much establishing Crichton’s great pattern of “kinda-science, isolation, people dying” but you’ll be able to tell its pretty dated.  I, for one, am happy that we don’t have automated doctor drones as standard in every doctor’s office, as was predicted. Now, every one go wash your hands.  And for Crichton’s sake, don’t use antibacterial soap.  We’ve got enough trouble with space rabies without all you people making super-bacteria here on earth! Put that anti-bacterial gel down! I’m watching you.

 


Fight for the Net: Round Frickin’ 3

I’m getting really tired of this bull shit.  We’re still 16 months out from the next presidential election, there’s five hundred republican candidates for congress, all of whom yammer on and on about “people”, “freedom”, and “protecting individual rights” but then we get crap like the fight over Net Neutrality.  How can any of you Tea Party losers even claim to support the people when the only reason this is a fight is because Comcast and Verizon spend hundreds of millions for lobbying (read bribes) in Washington.

Politicians. I’m looking at all of you. It is your job to protect us against giant corporations that just want to bend us over the barrel and shake us until all our money comes out.  I considered another analogy, but its less family friendly.  I’m sick of this.  I’m sick of you hypocrites pretending that you care about the American people.  You say one thing, then provably do another.  The American people want Net Neutrality.  We crashed the FCC’s servers telling you that in an OVERWHELMING volume.  You do, what we tell you to. Period. End of sentence. I don’t care how much the service providers contribute to your campaign donations.

The last few years have made it abundantly clear who has influence in Washington, and its not the people.  Between SOPA, PIPA, the latest trade agreement debacle and Net neutrality, its clear that our representatives and senators aren’t looking out for our interests.  They’re looking out for the corporate interests. So, bring pressure on these jerks. It only takes a few minutes. Write to your senators and representatives.  Come election day, remember who sold you to Comcast, then also remember how much fun you had the last time you called Time Warner Cable.  It’s time for politicians to remember who they work for.


My thoughts on paranormal romance / urban fantasy.

Here’s the mix: Take one private investigator, add city, mix with magic, vampires, werewolves and three tablespoons of fae.  Shake vigorously and let stand for three hundred pages.  Sprinkle generously with interesting personalites and serve with a side of sweet violence and sexual tension.  Feel free to substitute the first ingredient with a druid, necromancer, or whatever you have on hand.  Add grimdark to taste.  Enjoy!

Personally, I cut my teeth on Anita Blake, advanced to Harry Dresden (who just isn’t showing up as regularly as he used to), walked planes with Atticus O’Sullivan, with side helpings of anyone else who could keep my interest for a few books.  While I wouldn’t say that my taste is indiscriminate, I have sampled pretty widely in the genre.  Where there are series that I wait all year … sometimes multiple years (I’m looking at you Butcher!) for the next book in the series, there are others that just don’t catch me.  Maybe its the tone? Maybe its world?  Usually its the main character.  We’ll get into that.

Then there’s … paranormal romance. On the surface it looks like urban fantasy.  The book blurb on the back reads like it, but you probably know what you’re getting by the fifth chapter.  I know, I know…plenty of people love paranormal romance… but thus far I haven’t been able to make it through one.  I’m not saying that the genre’s bad.  Just like the corset and lace romance genre isn’t bad, in and of itself.  It just isn’t for me.  But, I’m a human being, and as such, I have … opinions.  And why have a blog if I don’t use it to toss an opinion or two out into the wild, where it can hurt some unsuspecting reader, here from WordKeeperAlpha?

So, paranormal romance, why can’t you keep my interest? Tropes.  You are just drowning in your tropes, and they make a hot sticky mess.  First and foremost: is the Perfect Female Protagonist’.  I don’t mean strong, I mean perfect, also known as a Mary Sue character.  Does the main character start off as a mousey nerd, but inside of six months is challenging established power houses within the world, making her a badass?  Does she master the katana (has to be a katana) in a short amount of time? Win the instant respect of beings who are ages older than her?

This isn’t even about the protagonist being female.  I LOVE me a kick ass woman main character.  Like I said, I got my start with the first five novels of the Anita Blake series.  All I ever wanted was Anita to stick around being a bad ass, killing monsters, taking names and … well, things got weird.  I had to start reading other books.  This isn’t a “I don’t like women as main characters thing” this is a “I don’t like main characters who are unrealistically perfect”.  

If further fairness, Anita Blake both spoiled and ruined me.  Ever since I hit that weird point in Anita Blake I’ve been looking for a main character who can take her place.  As a result, I’ve looked into a lot of series that, on the book synopsis, looked like urban fantasy, but turned out to be paranormal romance.  There is no disappiontment so harsh as expecting Anita Blake and getting Bella from Twilight.  Does she have a last name?  Bah! So, please, consider PFP to also be PMP, because I’m sure those are out there….probably angels or alpha werewolves of something.

Anita was great because she started off scared of so many things.  She knew that, even though she was a badass, compared to what she hunted she was pretty weak.  That means she had to be smart … or insanely brave … or have friends to back her up or just to scrape out no matter what.  Dresden’s kind of the same way.  He starts out a little fish in a very big pond, and some of the other fish that … ok, the fish metaphore is weird in this case.  Both Dresden and Anita are both their best when they’re out of their depth and if they get any respect it is grudgingly given.

The PFP/PMP enters the world of the paranormal either already Wolverine (the best at what he/she does) or as little Annakin (look at the MIDICHLORIANS on this one!).  Neither one of these is bad in and of itself…but when title character is already the best, there’s no where left to go.  Unless you tear them down to their roots and let them start again (this statement is in no way indicitive of what I’m writing now).  Its why I’m not a huge Superman fan, at least not classic Superman.  He’s been too good.  Too perfect.  And that’s just boring.

Wow…ok. So that went on for a bit longer than I thought it would.  I’ve got other things to talk about that seem to run rampant in paranormal romance, but if I went into them now, I’d be here all night.  Sounds like we’ve got the makings of a series!  Finally, something to talk about on my blog that’s actually writing related!  **does a little dance**  **falls**  **dies**

So, I’ve probably angered some people.  Here’s your chance to prove me wrong. Do you know a good paranormal romance book?  Something with a great MC, male or female, who just makes the book or story for you?  Leave a comment and I’ll try it out.  Really, just because I haven’t found my cup of tea yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t out there.  Educate me.

Honestly, I just want someone to leave me a comment.  I’m so lonely here.  So quiet and alone. 


WordKeeperAlpha – July Update (Comments requested)

Happy ‘Murica day, folks! Hope that you went out and blowed some stuff up last night, drank some tasty drinks, ate some meat what was cooked on a grill. June was something of a slow month on WordKeeperAlpha when it comes to updates.  I was kept pretty busy with a certain troublemaker, pictured below, my anniversary and various other things.  Oh, yeah.  And writing.  Can’t forget about writing.

Pixel Trouble Swanson Pixel Trouble Swanson

July, however, is going to be a much bigger month.  I got to finally dig into things again today and set about updating files on the site that were falling behind.  Updated my version of bootstrap, and the theme that uses it, along with all the javascipt it relies on.  Sadly, that took a while, but I am working on some big new features.  Here’s what’s coming this month: (hopefully)

Addressing one of the biggest requests that I’ve gotten from you fine people, I’m going to be doing a major revamp of the Goal and Project pages.  I’m going to be separating them into separate pages and adding a host of new features to each one.  Among those features, is going to be choosing what Goal and Project graphs show up on you Home page.

On the Goals page I’m going to be adding statistics, such as: your words per day on a goal, the words per day you need to succed, stats on recurring goals (maybe) along with graphs for every goal, which you’ll be able to mark as favorites to show up on your home page.

The Projects page will include all the statistics that you see on the current incarnation of Projects, but include some more helpful stats.  I’ll also be adding graphs to each Project that you’ll be able to mark as favorites and add them to your home page.

Until I have some screen shots to show you what I’m working up, you’ll just have to trust me that you’re going to like it.  Other things that I’m thinking about, but not actively working on:

  • That thrice damned error that keeps the ‘Remember me’ button from working correctly on login.  I’ve spent hours and hours on this and as near as I can tell, I’m doing everything right but it just won’t stick! URG!!
  • Finishing the API, making a WordPress plugin that uses it.  WIll let you put your Goal and Project Progress up on your blog or website.
  • Author pages, the beginning of WordKeeperAlpha social.
  • Writing Sprints – more social stuff.
  • Writing groups – even MORE social stuff.

Those are the things that are on my plate right now.  That and one other thing.  Its been suggested to me a few times that I should do something to make some money off of WordKeeperAlpha.  My vision for it has always been to keep it completely free, and ad free, maybe put up a donation page or start a Patreon.  Buuuuuut, there’s always the possibility that if enough people were using WordKeeperAlpha, I’d be able to make enough money with it to make it my full time job, OR make it my part time job and writing my full time job (if I can make some money writing too…which I still need to finish a book for).  Still, I’ve promised that WordKeeperAlpha would always be free, and I’m willing to stick to that.  In fact, I refuse to charge for the core features that I’ve already developed.

My question is, and I’d really love some feedback here, what would you, my users prefer?  If I started a Patreon and a tip jar, would you donate or participate in the Patreon, were I to keep all features free forever?  What if I supplemented that with some light to moderate ads?  I know nobody likes ads, but they might be needed when I need to move WordKeeper off of shared hosting and to a dedicated server somewhere.  That sort of support doesn’t come free.  I know, I’ve been investigating it.  Another option is having some kind of “Prime” membership where everyone gets the basic features for free, but maybe API support and some of the more advanced social options or other features require a monthly membership?  I’m really not sure, so I thought I would ask for some of your opinions.  What do you think I should do?  When the time comes, that is.  This is probably a year or more down the road.  Rest assured, I will not be taking anything away from my existing and wonderful users, but these are things I have to think about.

However, if you’re looking for a way to support me now, consider giving WordKeeperAlpha a shout out to your writer friends on Twitter, or following me on Facebook, maybe write a blog post about your own experience?  All of these would help me find some more users, and drive me to pay more attention to coding and less to video games.  I’m not saying that new features are dependent on you guys helping me out, but there WAS just that big Steam sale.  Just sayin’.


Tor Boycott: Or a follow up to my last post

If you read my last post, you already know that I think that Vox Day and his “Rabid puppies” are a bunch of shitbirds.  For the sake of keeping this post short so I can go and write other more fun words, I’ll be brief.  

Long story short, Irene Gallo, the creative director at Tor said basically called the Sad / Rabid puppies a bunch of rascist, misogynistic neo-nazis on her private blog.  She’s not wrong, by the way.  Still, the shitbird in chief, Day (also known as Theodore Beale), took a screen grab of the comment, then sat on it for a month.  Knowing the time was write do to the tingling of his doucebag-sense, he released it a bit more than a week ago to stir up the puppies again with an extra helping of GamerGate bile.  

Tom Doherty, head of Tor, made a basic statement that kind of threw Gallo under the bus, and she made a broad apology.  That didn’t sit well with pretty much everyone else and cue the next big Vox Day caused fight since the Hugo’s ended.  Of course, he and his minions weren’t satisfied that Irene wasn’t outright fired for the simple act of speaking her mind, so of course, Day is leading a boycott of Tor books. 

Don’t mistake him. Day doesn’t give two wet shits about what Irene said.  He might be personally offended that she dared say anything about her male betters (misogynist that he is) but he doesn’t really care what she said.  More to the point, this is at least the second boycott of Tor books that Day has tried to get going among the trollish parts of the internet.  He’s had some sort of ax to grind against them for years, and I don’t know if its because they won’t publish his books or because he has some weird feud with John Scalzi and it just spills over onto Tor.

I should point out that while Day views Scalzi as his arch-nemesis, Scalzi really doesn’t appear to care one way or another about Day, beyond wishing he’d just go away.  Still, it was amusing to watch Day nash his teeth and turn green when Scalzi landed a sweet deal (millions of dollars) with Tor.

I seem to have digressed.  Right! Boycott of Tor, Vox Day at fault!  So, basically I don’t want Tor to suffer because Vox Day is the rabid puppy currently taking a dump on their living room carpet.  I’ve bought a couple Tor books in the last couple of days, and I’d encourage everyone else to do so as well.  Your options are many, and just about every one of them is a winner.  If I may, a few personal recommendations:

John Scalzi

  • Locked In
  • Red Shirts
  • Old Man’s War
  • Fuzzy Nation

Brandon Sanderson

  • The Way of Kings
  • Warbreaker
  • Mistborn: The Iron Empire
  • The Alloy of Law
  • Elantris
  • Steelheart

Buying more books is always a good idea, but if you do it now, you can show a great publisher that it doesn’t have to worry about feculant little turds like Day.  Lets show him that he really, truly, doesn’t matter, and then read a few great stories.