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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

Stepping away from writing about my recent reading, I’m going to talk about some recent viewing .

Arrival .  Based on a short story by Ted Chiang (“The Story of Your Life”), this is a film built around the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis – which I’ll summarise as the idea that languages you learn shape the way you think and perceive the world.

The film focuses on a first-contact situation in which a number of alien vessels arrive on earth, and the efforts made by both us and the aliens to both understand and be understood.

Those efforts are made more complex by some differences in perception which are not apparent at the start of the film, but gradually become so as things progress.

Amy Adams does a fantastic job of portraying somebody who is struggling to understand and come to terms with grief, whilst also working to understand a literally  alien language… a written language which is changing her perception as she learns to understand it and use it to interact with those who use it as their sole meaningful medium of communication.

It’s a slow paced, cerebral science fiction film. Whilst is has aliens (two onscreen), gunfire and explosions (well… explosion), it’s about as far from Independence Day as it’s possible to get. If you go in expecting an action-fest, you’re not going to come out with that expectation fulfilled.

This film has a small but strong core cast (Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker) who all do a fantastic job of being who they’re meant to be, but it’s Adams who really shines in a role that needs to display a more complex emotional state than is immediately apparent at the start of the film.

It also has some well thought out production design.  The alien-ness interior of the extraterrestrial vessel is cleverly portrayed, and the way that the story moves between the vessel and the research camp built up around it helps keep things tight and a little claustrophobic whilst also injecting a bit of comprehension and decompression time into the film.

If you like smart, earth-based, first-contact SF then you should absolutely go and see this at your first opportunity. Avoid plot summaries. Hopefully my description above is vague enough to avoid being too spoiler heavy.

If I had to give a rating, I’d give this a full-on 10/10, with a note that I want to see it again to see how my perception changes.  I suspect I may find it rewarding.

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

After my recent(ish) post about  Ninefox Gambit , I mentioned I’d be back to write about some other books. It’s taken a while to actually get back to the “add new post” screen of my blog, but I’m here now.

Slightly awkwardly, before I had a chance to write about Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff , they squeezed the sequel out of their brains and into mine via the publishing industry.  So I’m going to write about Illuminae and Gemina at the same time.

Illuminae Cover Art Gemina cover art

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

I’ve not posted here for ages, it seems.  Probably because my efforts have been going elsewhere, but I thought I might post something now.

A while back I posted about books and reading; what they mean to me and how I’d had some problems but was getting past them.  I’m still not reading anywhere near as much as I did before my brain chemistry decided to go onto a long, drawn out spin-cycle…  but I am reading a lot more than I was when I first started to recover.

So I thought I might start to write a bit about a few things I’ve read recently.

I’ll start with Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, which might be a challenge . It’s a book I liked, but I’m going to really struggle to explain the book itself or why I liked it.  But I’ll give it a go.

It’s a military SF space opera where the weapons are ideas and the armour is convention and consensus. Essentially, the story is based around an insurrection against a rigid and dogmatic understanding of what reality is and the time in which is happens… by a slightly different rigid and dogmatic understanding of the same.  It’s about how the powers that be go about trying to stop it without being tainted by it – how to fight against a differing perspective and a different understanding without acknowledging to society that it’s even possible for it to  exist .

Our view into this story is via Kel Cheris – a name which is one part person, and one part role or caste.  Cheris is the individual, whilst Kel is the role she inhabits.

As a Kel, she’s essentially disposable infantry, trained to act on formation instinct  – which is basically programming to follow orders and behave according to certain pre-defined formations which prioritise tactical results over personal safety or comfort.  For the Kel, combat is all about using well established techniques en-masse to achieve set goals for the collective rather than to ensure personal safety.

Having a slightly unusual history for a Kel, Cheris displays a bit more free and individual thought than expected… and is highly (and unexpectedly) successful in battle as a result.  Which results in her being benched pending a reprimand,  but also noticed as being effective .

So when the aforementioned insurrection begins she is asked, along with a few others, to put forward a plan to stamp it out with the minimum collateral damage and the minimum resource expenditure.

Her plan involves freeing Shuos Jedao – a disgraced, brilliant, insane and (more importantly)  undefeated general from… well, essentially from death .  It’s worth noting that if Kel  means something between “infantry specialist” and “disposable meat shield”, then Shuos Means something between “strategist” and “two-faced sneaky bugger”.

She plans on using his strategic mind to win the battle, and then putting him back into the library of available resources afterwards. It’s a plan which only involves one extra resource and a bunch of disposable Kel, but less than some of the other plans proposed as they’re going to be lead by the infamous Jedao.

What she didn’t quite plan for was for his revival to involve her mind and his mind getting joint custody of her body for the duration of the misson…

Needless to say, things don’t go 100% to plan. If I’m totally honest… I’m not sure I could give a blow-by-blow of the plot, and that’s not what I’m trying to do here anyway. This book requires the reader to be able to do a couple of things to be able to get along with it:  First, you need to be able to just accept and read on – when the characters are operating on what feels like a fundamentally different understanding of reality… you need to be able to accept that reality and run with it. Second, you need to be able to cope with the idea of two personalities sharing a body, and how those two personalities can have different perceptions of the same events.

Throw in some artful plans-within-plans, a dash of dire machinations and a bucketload of things going completely off the rails when things come to a head… and you’ve got a recipe for something that’s a challenging but fun read, if slightly arcane and obtuse every once in a while.

If I had to pin it down as being similar to anything else, I’d say it’s what happens if something like The Forever War were to get down and do the dirty with an Iain M. Banks novel… after a) reading a library full of fairly esoteric physics & psychology books and b) trying to understand timecube (which is apparently gone, alas…   but the wayback machine has it ).

To sum up: I loved it, but can’t really explain it.

It’s well written. It’s well paced, with compelling characters in a compelling culture in a compelling universe. The way the whole thing fits together works , even if it frequently leaves your brain just saying “wait a minute – run that by me again, please?”. If you pick it up, expect to wait for explanations for concepts that, if they come at all, don’t really help… but fundamentally don’t matter if you just accept them and keep reading.

Next up:

If I manage to keep up posting, I’ll also be writing about Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman , A Closed and Common Orbit  by Becky Chambers , Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and 14 by Peter Clines (if I can work out how to write about the last without spoiling it utterly – which so far, I can’t).

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

A few days ago, I returned from Nine Worlds 2016, aka: London Geekfest.

This was the third Nine Worlds convention I’ve been to, and true to form I enjoyed it a great deal.  That I enjoyed it in spite of a spot of sub-optimal health says a lot about the quality of the event.

Sketch-notes

As has become my habit at these things, I made some sketch-notes at pretty much every panel I went to.  I say “pretty much every…” because there were a couple that were either too dark or too crowded, and because I spent a couple of sessions lounging on beanbags watching…  well, I’ll come to that.

Some of the sketch-notes aren’t up to my usual standards.  In my defence, I wasn’t well and I was a bit out of practice.  But all the same, I’m uploading them here so you can see them.

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

Manchester. Mostly it impinges on my consciousness as being one-town-over from where a bunch of my family live, but last weekend it also impinged as the location of the 2016 Eastercon – the British National SF Convention (not the only one these days, but that’s what it’s called).

Rather than doing a full, end-to-end con report, I’m going to instead post up some sketch-notes I took in some of the programme items I went to and make a couple of comments along the way.

This won’t cover everything I did, as some of the programme items were too dark for me to take notes, some didn’t support it, and I didn’t sketchnote the bar or any restaurants for practical reasons. I spent a fair bit of the con chatting to some lovely people outside the programme items, so those are also not sketched.

There was also a panel on SF Music, which, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know is one of my “things” . I didn’t take many sketchnotes there because I was too busy talking .  I may have slightly over-contributed to that one.  I feel no shame!

One thing to make clear: These are live sketchnotes.

Most of the examples you see online are drawn after the fact and so are a lot neater and prettier – if you take normal notes and translate them to sketchnotes later, you can get a lot more opportunity to be clever or tidy. Doing them live

Another thing to make clear: If you can’t read my writing, that just makes you human .

The faster I scribble, the worse the writing.  Live with it.

On to the sketches, in no particular order…

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

This is the final writeup of my time at Nine Worlds 2015, and unlike the previous two, it’ll be quite brief and completely without sketchnotes.  This isn’t a deliberate absence of sketchnotes – I just didn’t really go to anything that made sense to take notes at!

In fact, most of my time was spent socialising – I think the only programme item I went to was the “Night of the Trailers – Morning of the Trailers” slot in the film festival.

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

This post is a follow-on to the previous one, in which I covered the Friday of Nine Worlds 2015 .   Saturday continued along similar lines, with sketchnotes along the way.

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

I’ve recently returned from the thoroughly enjoyable “Nine Worlds Geekfest” – a friendly, highly inclusive, mixed media / mixed genre geek/fan convention.

Whilst I was there, I spent many of the panels I attended scribbling some sketchnotes.  For me, sketchnotes are a way to force what I hear in panels to go through different bits of my brain, and to stay in my head better than they would if I just listened.

This post is going to be a con report, but unlike any other con reports I’ve written, I’m going to include scans of my sketchbook pages. So you have some context…  my sketchbook pages are roughly 12.5cm wide by about 17.5cm tall.  If things look a bit fuzzy on bigger screens, it’s because they’ve been blown up a bit in scanning.

So – on to the programme items for Friday – Saturday & Sunday will follow.

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