double up or quit, double stake or spit

A Fire Upon The Deep: Remarkable high-concept science fiction. In the far future, humanity has made it out of the Slow Zone near the galactic core and into the Beyond – where machines display intuition and FTL communication and travel become nearly effortless. Civilizations trade data in massive volumes, wage wars with death tolls in the billions and occasionally Transcend into Powers – supernatural entities that regard us as ants. When a human research station accidentally unlocks a malign Power in the High Beyond, it spreads throughout the galaxy like a computer virus. The only way to stop it may lie in the hands of two refugee children from the station, stranded in a medieval world populated by hive-mind wolves.

Not only does the concept work (and that, like a tap-dancing ape, justifies the price of admission), but Vinge makes it shine. He constantly sets up parallels between the not-yet-spacefaring wolves and the hyper-networked civilization looking for them: questions about the limits of consciousness and the ethics of technology. Every character – even the children and the aliens, two groups that writers historically have trouble with – has a real viewpoint and legitimate depth. Overlay it all with a view of the future of the Internet that was prescient for its time.

Recommended for all sci-fi fans.

Smokin Aces: Some hot mess. Joe Carnahan wants to have it both ways – a Tarantino/Ritchie-style film full of gory gunplay and quirky cartoon characters, plus a somber meditation on the costs and effects of violence. It doesn’t work. I don’t care about half the characters that the film wants me to invest in – why should I care if she finds love or if he gets revenge or if they get out alive? The result is a leaden build-up to a few very exciting minutes, and then an even rougher let-down at the end.

The Alchemist: The Secret, except it’s a novel, except it predates The Secret by about twenty years, which proves that you can’t lose money repackaging happy bromides if you have the right marketing. Don’t get me wrong – “follow your passion” is an important message, and one that the human race needs to hear constantly. But shed the mysticism, please: the Universe will not help you buy a house or find a wife or retire on a yacht. The Universe only has four jobs, and they keep It pretty busy.

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