To clean my palate after reading Comey’s A Higher Loyalty, I settled onto the couch on Sunday after my run and gobbled up John Scalzi’s Head On: A Novel of the Near Future. It was delicious and I gave it to my partner Ryan McIntyre at dinner last night (he and Katherine are in a nice rhythm of taking care of me Sunday night when Amy is away.)
If you don’t know Scalzi, he’s one of my favorite near-term sci-fi writers and joins a list that includes Hertling, Peper, Gibson, Suarez, Howey, Cline, and Weir. If those names aren’t familiar, and you like sci-fi (or want to get into it) that should keep you busy for a while. If you know those names and have others to add, leave them in the comments for me to enjoy!
Head On is the sequel to Lock In. But it’s a magical sequel (I think the official name for this is a “standalone sequel”, but I find them magical so there) – one that doesn’t require you to read the first book. If you want to quickly get into Scalzi, just read Head On, then go back and read Lock In. This morning, I discovered there is an adjacent book in the series called Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome which I just grabbed.
Here are a few tidbits for you.
Haden’s Syndrome results from a virus where 1% of people exposed become Locked-in and end up in a pseudocoma. The solution, in the near future, is surgery that results in a neural network implant, that connects the person’s brain to the Agora (a virtual world for Haden Syndrome sufferers) as well as a normal-ish existence in personal robotic transports (called Threeps).
Hilketa is a futuristic football-like game, but with swords and hammers. The two teams are made up of threeps and the only players – so far – are Hadens. The goal is to decapitate the “goat” (one of the opposing team’s players, randomly chosen throughout the game) and get it through the goalposts. No one has ever died yet during the game, until about page two of the book.
Just go read it. It’s awesome.
I’ve started training for my next marathon (number 26), which means its time to go running. Hopefully, this one will be a little better than the 5:59:59 last one in South Dakota.
My idea of a really good afternoon on a three day weekend is to lay on the couch and read a book. Other than a nap in the middle of the experience, that’s what I did today.
I read the Supersymmetry by David Walton. It’s the sequel to Superposition, which I read earlier this year. They are both excellent near term sci-fi in the action/adventure save the world while learning physics genre.
When I read Superposition, I was on a long airplane flight with Amy on our way home from Paris where we went for our Q2 vacation. We were both exhausted when we left for Paris so we mostly slept, read, walked around the city, and ate a little. Superposition was the last book I read on the trip and I liked it a lot, but the activity of re-entry after a week off the grid swept it quickly from my mind.
On September 1st, I got the following email from David Walton.
Just writing to let you know that Supersymmetry, the sequel to Superposition, comes out today. (It follows the story of the two girls, Alessandra and Alessandra, living separate lives 15 years later.) If you would like a promotional copy, I would be happy to send it to you.
I was so psyched that you read and enjoyed Superposition earlier this year. I’m sorry if I seemed to pester you about it at the time–I was just thrilled that you had picked it up and read it and actually *liked* it so quickly.
I went online, purchased a copy, and told David. I realized that I had never written a review of Superposition, which was a miss on my part as I enjoyed it so much. Within a few chapters of Supersymmetry I remembered why David is such a strong writer. He combines action/adventure with sci-fi with strong female protagonists who have an other-worldly backstory. The writing, like that of my favorite sci-fi writers, including William Hertling, Daniel Suarez, and Ramez Naam, could plausibly happen in my lifetime, but it’s a little distant from today so it takes the scientific leap that good sci-fi forces you to take.
What’s special about David’s work is that it is infused with physics. When I was a freshman at MIT, I thought I was pretty good at physics. In high school, I did well in AP Physics, although I only got a 3 on the AP Physics exam so I didn’t place out of it, which ended up being a blessing. MIT makes all freshman take a full year of physics, which for most is 8.01: Classical Mechanics and 8.02: Electricity and Magnetism. I felt like I was doing ok in 8.01 until I was ten minutes into my first exam and realized I had no idea how to answer any of the questions. Two days later I got my grade, which was a 20. Having never gotten a B on anything in Physics before, I did the only rational thing for a 17 year old freshman at MIT to do after getting a 20 on his first test – I went to my room, locked the door, and cried for an hour. The next day at 8.01 recitation I found out that class average was a 32, meaning I got a C, which wasn’t great but worked for the pass/fail grade that all freshman at MIT get to work under. At that moment, my belief that I was good at physics ended and my understanding of the MIT approach of being a daily assault on one’s self esteem began.
So, I have nostalgia for physics, even though I have no expertise with it. Superposition and Supersymmetry do a nice job of explaining some concepts in short bursts, unlike the pages that Neal Stephenson unfurls around physics in Seveneves, which I also loved but will admit to skimming in sections that were either tedious or too heavy for me.
It gives me great joy to discover new writers who I know I’ll be sticking with for a long time. I’m psyched to add David Walton to the list.
We started talking about sci-fi and Greg said “Are you into Ingress?” I responded “Is that the Google real-world / augmented reality / GPS game?” Greg said yes and I explained that I’d played with it a little when it first came out several years ago since a few friends in Boulder were into it but I lost track of it since there wasn’t an iOS app.
Greg pulled out his iPhone 6+ giant thing and started showing me. Probably not surprising to anyone, I grabbed my phone, downloaded it, created an account using the name the AIs have given me (“spikemachine”), and started doing random things.
Greg went down the hall and grabbed Brendan Ribera, also from Madrona Labs, who is a Level 8 superstar Ingres master-amazing-player. Within a few minutes we were on the Ingress Map looking at stuff that was going on around the world.
By this point my mind was blown and all I wanted to do was get from basic-beginner-newbie-no-clue-Ingre player to Level 2. With Brendan as my guide I quickly started to get the hang of it. A few hacks and XMPs later I was Level 2.
I asked Greg, Ben, and Branden if they had read Daemon by Daniel Suarez. None of them had heard of it so I went on a rant about Rick Klau’s discovery of the book and Leinad Zeraus, the evolution of this crazy thing into Daniel Suarez’s bestseller and the rest of my own wonderful romp through the writings of Daniel Suarez, William Herting, and Ramez Naam. It wasn’t merely my love of near-term sci-fi, but my discovery of what I believe is the core of the next generation of amazing near-term sci-fi writers. And, as a bonus to them having to listen to me, I bought each of them a Kindle version of Daemon.
Ingres completely feels like Daemon to me. There is plenty of chatter on the web about speculation of similarities and inspirations of Daemon on Ingress. I have no idea what the real story is, but since we are all suspending disbelief in both near-term sci-fi as well as Ingress, I’m going with the notion that they are linked even more than us puny humans realize.
This morning as I was walking through Sea-Tac on my way to my plane, I hacked a few portals, got a bunch of new stuff, and XMPed away whenever a resistance portal came into range. I’m still a total newbie, but I’m getting the hang of it. And yes, I’m part of the enlightenment as it offends me to the core of my soul that people would resist the future, although it seems to be more about smurfs vs. frogs.