About J.J.S. Boyce

I'm a freelance writer, critical thinker, science fiction fan, addicted traveller, and educator, with continuing interests in all of the above. Comments can be left on site or via e-mail, at jjsboyce (at) hotmail (dot) com. For a more detailed bio, see About.

Book Review: Starplex

Starplex has everything: a galactic empire; several human-comparable alien species; hints of at least one god-like, far-advanced race of beings; hyperspace travel and wormholes; space battles and time travel and the secret of the universe . . .

So by all means, read all about it (before reading “it”, itself, that is), in my review at AE.

Thanks, Baen

Somewhat out of the blue last week, I found myself thinking of picking up some Heinlein. Maybe it was because I’d recently started a re-read of Jumper (just finished tonight). I went back through my own reviews and realized the last couple of Heinlein books I’d read (a novel and a double-collection) were a good two years ago, when I went on a review request spree just before leaving for Costa Rica, and spent the next few months working through it all during the rainy, tropical days.

The Heinlein books I had requested from Baen Books, which does a lot of military fiction, but after covering those, I haven’t asked for anything from them since. (I was assigned Bujold’s latest some time after that but didn’t get it from directly contacting the publisher myself.)

I went back to Baen last week to see the new Heinlein releases they’d made available in the last couple years, and fired off a quick email requesting five books. I found a mid-sized package in the mail today and there was every single thing I’d asked for.

Baen, I think I love you.

I have a pretty decent-sized Heinlein collection already, including a couple of omnibuses from the Science Fiction Book Club which sometimes contain two, three, or four short novels in one volume. But I wish now that all of them were Baen editions, because with their steady release of new editions, they also get some nice intros and closing remarks, the latter from various individuals, the former from Heinlein’s biographer, William Patterson, who always has some interesting tidbits about the history of the writing of the work in question.

I started reading one of the juveniles tonight. With this latest batch, I have nearly every Scribner book, and the one major middle-period work my collection was missing. Expect to see reviews over the next few months as I’m able to cram the reading in. The old grandmaster has a way of fitting into the smallest cracks of time, so I don’t expect it will take long.

The Hugos! and Death

It’s Hugo nomination season again. That’s fairly coincidental to my perusing one of my more frequently-consulted Wikipedia pages: The Hugo Award for Best Novel. The reason I come back to this page again and again is that one of my long-term reading projects is to read all the best novel winners of the last 61 (and counting) years, as well as any notable books that were nominated as well.

I’ve read none of the handful of winners (and just one 1959 nominee) from the first decade. Half of the winners from the ’60s and ’70s (plus another half-dozen that were nominated). Only a handful of winners and nominees from the ’80s and ’90s. But almost every winner since 2000, and as many nominees.

It’s not an overwhelming task. The trick is to grab a book and read, and not let it go into a pile that I won’t touch in awhile. I’ll have to be equally careful for epubs, now that I’m making regular use of my new reader (a basic Kobo, if you’re wondering). It’s easy to quickly thrown a dozen digital books on there. Humble Bundles and all that. How long will it take to read them all, or will I?

This is the great tragedy of the reader who is also an existentialist: knowing you will never manage to read all those books. Sometimes counting the remaining years of my life in the books I could optimally read brings home the frailty of human life in a more immediate way than anything else.

This took a turn for the morbid, didn’t it?

When Nerds Collide: Grammatical and Mathematical Geekery

I stumbled upon this exchange while double-checking something on hyphen use. The full debate is here:

@whoa: It is relevant in that it was an example of where dozen isn’t really considered a number: All of math. 2 * 6 = 12 When choosing to write it out, you would write “two times six equals twelve” not “two times six equals dozen.” You could say “two time six equals a dozen” but now you have an article in there. If you feel comfortable calling that a number, so be it. I was just pointing out that it may be misleading to consider dozen the same kind of number as twelve much like a six isn’t the same “kind” of “number” as six or 6. –  MrHen Jul 26 ’11 at 22:35
@mrhen, That’s preposterous. “Jimmy has a dozen eggs, he gives Sally half, how many does he have left?”. Answer: 12 * 1/2 = 6. According to your logic, ‘half’ wouldn’t be considered a number either? A dozen is a real number, even in Math… –  whoabackoff Jul 26 ’11 at 22:50
@whoa: I am simply trying to point out the difference between dozen and twelve with regards to their qualifications for the label “number”. There is a difference and just calling dozen a “number” may be misleading. And yes, it would be just as misleading to refer to “a half” as a number. Or “a whole” or “first”. Do they technically qualify as numbers? You tell me. My point is that even if they do, there is a difference between those and numbers like 9, 10, pi, i. –  MrHen Jul 26 ’11 at 23:02
@whoabackoff: So, according to your definition of number, pair times pair times few equals dozen? Nevermind that you are ignoring the fact that pair, few, dozen, score, hundred, gross, etc. are commonly used as units of measure. –  Patrick87 Jul 27 ’11 at 1:05
Did you read the Wikipedia article? Clearly I’m not the only person alive who thinks calling “dozen” a “dimensionless unit of measure” is acceptable. If you accept this Wikipedia page to be at all authoritative, I don’t see how you can come to any other conclusion than that you are incorrect in this matter. –  Patrick87 Jul 27 ’11 at 15:13

Book Review: Lockstep

Karl Schroeder makes a living plausibly guessing at the future. This might seem like it should be true of all science-fiction writers, but it’s really not. Some use fantastic situations to put the human soul under the lens; others dream up future settings, not because they’re likely, but because they make good jumping-off points for obliquely considering present-day societal issues. Others just want laser blasts and space battles. Few are professional futurists.

As fans know, however, Schroeder actually is a professional futurist, which is perhaps why he’s the one who works out plausible (albeit, yes, futuristic) new ways of reordering all society instead of writing an adventure story on Mars and calling it a day. You can read about which long-standing conundrum in space opera Schroeder has solved by reading my full review at the Free Press.

Skip the Book?

Today on AE, five books you can forgo in favour of the film. I’m a die-hard bookworm, so when I say the movie’s better, well, opinion is still opinion, but you might pay a little closer attention. Of course, the films in question are all genre (with Fight Club perhaps straddling the line a bit). Here’s one more that wouldn’t have fit on the list at AE:

Non-genre Bonus Example!

Into the Wild. The film is a dramatized version of the true story of Christopher McCandless, a thoughtful, adventurous young man with an inspiring zest for life. The book is a stunning example of long-form journalism by a master of the craft. Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction account of the McCandless story grew out of an article he wrote for Outside magazine. The book is a mix of narrative, interviews, the history of adventure travel, and some of Krakauer’s personal anecdotes.

In fine journalistic fashion, speculations are clearly labelled as such, multiple theories are floated and batted around. But in the movie version, a single interpretation is taken, a single cohesive narrative emerges, and it really feels like we see things from Chris’ perspective. In the film, we have a protagonist. In the book we have a subject. Most of us would choose the former.

Booked Solid for Three Months

I have a couple of book reviews coming up for the Free Press in the next several months (both are being filed very early since I received the ARCs equally nearly six months ahead of publication). I’ve also submitted a non-review draft to AE, which will likely run sooner than that. Other than that, what I’m sitting on is a really impressive “to-write” list.

If, before spring, I actually get around to writing all the things I plan on writing — scratch that, if I actually manage to pitch all the things I’m thinking of writing, and perhaps end up writing even a couple of them during that time frame, I’ll be satisfied.

The thing is, I have so much commissioned work already, trying to sell additional stuff, even were it pure gold (and only an editor can make that determination), probably shouldn’t be my main focus. I’m so focused on trying to get “caught up”, I think I’ve missed an obvious but important point. The whole point of pitching, querying, pounding the virtual pavement, as it were, is to get work. If I have enough writing work, my focus should really be on turning it in in a timely manner.

As a fairly employable teacher in a, nevertheless, fairly rough hiring environment over the last five years, I’ve gotten used to applying to new jobs on a daily basis. When I finally ended up with a fairly stable position, I had to consciously break the habit of checking the want ads, anticipating unemployment. “You’re not on a short-term contract,” I told myself. “They want to keep you. Relax.”

Likewise with my writing. I’m working on, not one, but three concurrent projects, related to content and curricular development for private companies, each one of which will likely stretch from two to five months. And of course, I do still have that pesky day job.

All of which means, this is enough. If I have any spare time at all, I’d like to fit in a few articles for Care2, since it’s been months since I’ve contributed, and I don’t want them to forget about me. But I certainly don’t need to start any new working relationships or make any new commitments at this point.

As a side-note, it’s worth noting that much of my present contract writing work is at least partially related to either my educational or science backgrounds. As a writer, you need to use every working relationship and connection, draw on every talent and experience you have to get work. Spent some time as a wedding planner? Parlay that into a gig writing for a wedding magazine. Worked at a Radio Shack? Write for a technology website.

Every new item on your résumé, every new sample in your portfolio, every new connection on LinkedIn increases your chances of getting work. It’s an exponential process — well, sigmoidal, only because of the human inconvenience of sleep.

Why the NES Zapper is One of the Greatest Things in the History of Videogames

Nintendo wanted to draw on a broader range of human experiences.  With its motion controls and sensor bar the Wii created a new sort of shared space between our living rooms and the dimension implied by the glowing screen. The revolution was that anyone now knew how to play a videogame.

But here’s the thing, Nintendo already did this, without lasers or gyroscopes or accelerometers or even more than eight bits of memory. I’m talking about Nintendo’s 1984 creation: the NES Zapper.

You can read my full article at Unwinnable.