The Punch Escrow

So, a month or so ago I came across this book, The Punch Escrow, that seemed right up my alley. I had also come across this really excellent book-review blog, Avalinah’s Books around the same time.  I discovered the writer there, Evelina and I share similar tastes in books. And she suggested we read the book and then ask each other questions about the book. These are my answers to her questions.

To see her answers to my questions, click here. She’s way more deep and smart with her reviews than I am, so I bet you will enjoy her take on The Punch Escrow.

First, a brief synopsis:

It’s the year 2147. Advancements in nanotechnology have enabled us to control aging. We’ve genetically engineered mosquitoes to feast on carbon fumes instead of blood, ending air pollution. And teleportation has become the ideal mode of transportation, offered exclusively by International Transport―the world’s most powerful corporation, in a world controlled by corporations.

Joel Byram spends his days training artificial-intelligence engines to act more human and trying to salvage his deteriorating marriage. He’s pretty much an everyday twenty-second century guy with everyday problems―until he’s accidentally duplicated while teleporting.

Now Joel must outsmart the shadowy organization that controls teleportation, outrun the religious sect out to destroy it, and find a way to get back to the woman he loves in a world that now has two of him.

 Now, on to my answers:

1. So what did you think of salting? (In the book the main character, Joel, is a Salter. Salters spent their days enriching the cognitive algorithms of artificially intelligent things (tricking them to help them learn to be more human-like).

I love the idea of Salting. I think that would be such a fun job.

2. How did you like the witty main character?

I liked the main character Joel. I think he approached most things with a logical frame of mind, something I can much relate to. I’m a computer programmer as a profession and although that isn’t the same as Joel’s “Salting” I think both use a form of problem solving in their application.

One gripe I had with the book that was minor but still there was I wasn’t sure why the protagonist cared about 1980s music though. Certainly by the year 2147 popular culture has come up with an answer to 80’s pop. That was depressing to me.

3. What do you think about the government situation, where corporations have taken over the rule of state?

I think this is eerily close to where we already are in the United States. I mean, I can draw a very short and straight line from where we are now to where the book is.

We have a for-profit “healthcare” system here as well as a growing for-profit prison system. And those corporations that benefit from these systems heavily influence laws that effect their industries.

 So yeah, this is not far-fetched for me at all.

4. In the book, the author often offers snippets that explain a certain scientific aspect of the world in the book. How did you love the science, invented and real, and how those meshed?

The science bits were probably my favorite part. I’ve always been fascinated by teleportation but have realized that the type in Star Trek for example “kills” the traveler only to reassemble them on the other side (how else can they de-materialize then re-materialize on the other side?)

I could spend all day talking about the tech. It’s my favorite part of the book, even more-so than the plot.

 In fact, I very much enjoyed the idea of the pee-ing mosquitoes that convert CO2 to water, saving us from global warming. Because, governments and corporations aren’t going to save us here. It will be up to science and human ingenuity again.

Okay, one more piece of tech. I particularly bookmarked a page in the book where they talked about deep-space travel and how they could just store all of the “astronauts” on a hard drive, send that somewhere, and when they got there they could just “print” the “astronauts” out. No need to bring along food for the trip, get rid of human waste, or deal with any of that human stuff on the trip. Of course, they would have to “kill” the originals before they traveled. Or would they?

Spoilers beyond this point:

5. The villains in the book – yay or nay?

I thought the main villain of the book was not the obvious choice at first and there were a few entities that were possible main antagonists. I thought the main dude at the end was a little one-dimensional and comic book villain-y, but this didn’t ruin the book for me.

6. Spoiler section. Which of the Mona Lisas would you deem real?

 Define “real” 🙂 . Actually, I would have to say that the “real” Mona Lisa was destroyed.

7. Spoiler section as well – would you say that the people die when they are teleported, or do you think that’s a bit far-fetched? It is kind of philosophical at that point.

I would say they absolutely die. Now, if you believe in a soul I would say they die and then a copy is made. But does that copy share a “soul”? That wouldn’t make sense because then the “soul” is just data. But even if you don’t believe in an idea of a soul you must admit the traveler dies, for a moment at least, before being reassembled.

Actually this is one other small part that bugged me about the book. I wasn’t sure how anybody in that universe could have ever thought they weren’t “dying” for a moment then being reconstructed. Or maybe most people knew this deep down but were fine with it because who wouldn’t want instant travel to any point in the world?

Thanks Evelina for this wonderful exercise. Seriously everybody, go check out her blog Avalinah’s Books. And go read The Punch Escrow.

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Goodreads Profile

Anybody else out there on Goodreads? I use it mainly as a tool for my old-man brain to keep track of what I’ve read.

I’ve given most of the books I’ve listed a four or five star rating because I only rate books I finish, and I only  finish books I like.

Anyway, for the curious, here’s a link to my profile on goodreads. Maybe you’ll find a book on there you’ve never read, but is the book for you. If that happens, let me know because stuff like that helps my Grinch-heart grow.

Book Recommendation: The Postmortal

I was up till midnight finishing a book I was reading, The Postmortal, and then up a couple hours after that just processing my feelings. If you like speculative fiction, and post-apocalyptic stuff, I recommend it. Here’s the review I posted on my Goodreads:

This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It’s speculative fiction. What would happen if there was suddenly a cure for aging. Like, you could never die from old age. People still die, from murder, illness, etc., but not old age. And not only that, but your appearance doesn’t change from the moment you receive the cure. So, people 100 years old walking around looking 25.

And it’s pretty bleak, to be honest. But never not entertaining. It’s well written and the protagonist is like-able.

But what happens to things such as marriage when you’re talking about a 200 year lifetime rather than an 80 year one? Can the planet sustain an undying population? And with the need for money (no cure for capitalism) and you live indefinitely, could you ever retire?

These are some of the themes in the book. It is worth your time, in my opinion.

Anyhow, it’s a good book. Let me know if you read it and what you think.

Don’t Read Books When You Are Sick

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I’m currently sick. It’s not a big deal. I just have a head cold. It’s more of a nuisance, just something that inhibits my sleep a bit (it turns out breathing greatly increases ones ability to sleep). I like to think of Winter head colds as my annual weight-loss program, as I instantly lose my appetite when I’m sick.

Unrelated: do those in climates that don’t really have temperature fluctuations in line with the seasons still get “Winter” illness?

Anyhow, the point of this post. Don’t read books when you are sick. Now, I don’t really believe that nor do I follow it. I’m currently reading an excellent novel by Drew Magary called The Postmortal.  But I know the risks involved in reading while sick.

A few years ago I had more than a head cold. Strep throat most likely. It was the worst. I missed multiple days of work. It was miserable. But at least I had my trusty book to read. Only I didn’t finish it completely while I wasn’t feeling well. And I haven’t looked at it since. Because my mind associates that book with that feeling of being sick.

Anybody else have a book ruined by the circumstances of when you were reading it?

Welcome To Night Vale (And Bizarrely Brilliant Sentences)

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So I’m currently reading the Welcome To Night Vale novel, inspired by the brilliant Welcome to Night Vale podcast. What is Welcome to Night Vale? Well, here is what The Awl says because I lack the proper skills to describe it:

“Welcome to Night Vale” is a twice-monthly, 25-ish-minute podcast featuring news, traffic, and weather out of a small town in the Southwestern corner of the United States that does not actually exist. The town’s dog park, which is forbidden, is fictional, as is the mayor, Pamela Winchell, who is probably demonic. The radio show’s host, Cecil Baldwin is real, kind of. One of his most-used words is “void.”

That doesn’t really do the show justice either. I would just say Welcome To Night Vale is insanely bizarre in the most joyous way imaginable. I only finally checked our the podcast last month but immediately fell in love with it. Hence the reading of the novel. Which is the whole point of this post.

It really is a joy to read. There is just so much weird stuff going on. Such as in the photo above. Libraries are described as one of the most dangerous places in Night Vale. Some where to avoid.

Particularly this bit:

 “The other option was to go to the public library. Few people came back from a visit to the library. There was one girl a few years ago that survived the Summer Reading Program at the Night Vale Public Library. The girl, Tamika Flynn, defeated the librarian that had imprisoned her and her classmates, using the switchblade hidden in every hardback edition of Eudora Welty’s touching homecoming novel The Optimist’s Daughter.”

The entire book is filled with stuff like that. If you like the absurd, you should check it out.

Books Glorious Books

As always, a bunch of books have caught my eye lately. So, I thought I’d share the awesomness. Apologies to your wallet in advance.

Close personal friend of the blog, Heidi Willis, has a book out titled Some Kind of Normal.

About the book (via Amazon.com):

How far would you go to save the life of someone you love? This is the question the Babcock family struggles with when 12-year-old Ashley is diagnosed with diabetes, which quickly turns deadly. A day or two in the hospital stretches into months as the doctors explore every medical alternative to find a way to cope with the mounting complications, but Ashley continues to deteriorate. If faith can cure Ashley, the folks at First Baptist Church are sure they have more than enough to keep her alive. But as Babs watches her daughter’s life and death struggle and sees her family start to unravel, she turns to the Internet and science to find a solution the doctors say isn’t there.

Here is the book’s trailer:

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

You can read the first chapter of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” here (direct link to .pdf)

Here’s a description of the book, but really it’s the 16th President, fighting vampires. Man I wish I wrote this one:

Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother’s bedside. She’s been stricken with something the old-timers call “Milk Sickness.”

“My baby boy…” she whispers before dying.

Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother’s fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.

When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, “henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose…” Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.

While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation..

A User’s Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty
About the Book

“A User’s Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty” answers the sorts of the questions that we (as physicists) have been drunkenly asked at cocktail parties, but lacked the wherewithal to coherently answer.

* “Can I build a time machine?”

* “What is the universe expanding into?”

* “Won’t the LHC destroy the world?”

Each chapter focuses on a single question, and in the process of answering it, we’ll take you on a roundabout tour of the surrounding countryside, with lots of groan-worthy puns and awesome cartoons to boot. In the process, we promise not to lie to you. No false claims about what physicists know; no describing by analogy; most importantly, no equations (save one famous one).
Excerpt

A cute book I’d like to get for my daughter is called The Soccer Princess: Josephina and the Crustacean King

After a soccer distraction at her home ball, Jo is sent off to the Perfectly Pink Princess Etiquette School, where she doesn’t know how she’s going to fit in and still be true to herself. But she is surprised to meet new similar friends: Football Princess “Mack” and Baseball Princess “Sam”! By day the girls learn princess traits and lessons… by night they practice their sport moves. But when the Crustacean King invades the school and robs the prized Pink Pearl, it’s the Sport Princess’ chance to prove whether their sport skills may pay off.

Author: Bethany Hegerhorst
Illustrator: Stephan Maich
Publisher: Leo Publishing Works, Inc.
Hardcover Picture Book and Jacket
Size: 11×10
Pages: 32

Eoin Colfer on New Hitchhiker’s Guide Book

For those of you who are on the fence about the new Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book, I found this video on Eoin Colfer’s (Artemis Fowl) website in which he talks about his approach to writing the new book. He also hints that Douglas Adams wife and daughter were happy with the choice of him as author.

In Colfer’s own words, he’s not trying to be Douglas Adams. Rather the book simply is “presenting you with a possible ending in a possible universe which you may find amusing”.

I think the book is worth a look for Hitchhiker’s Guide fans. It will not be Douglas Adams, of course, but it just might be an escape for six hours.

Autumn of Books

There are legitimately four or five books coming out in October that are on my “must read” list. Seeing as how I have MAYBE room in the budget for one new book a month, this could be a problem. Not all of them are going to make it to the library either.

Here are the books on my list, all of which launch in October. I list them to make you aware they are coming out and also so I don’t forget.

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  • Unseen Academicals
    This is the latest in the Discworld series. It’s soccer in the Discworld. It doesn’t get much better than that.
  • UnseenAcademicalsNoPadding

Right now I’m leaning toward either the Fables novel or the Calvin and Hobbes novel. Or a second job.

Naked Books

Well, that title should spike the old stats a bit. Anyhow,I read recently that the new trend is books without dust jackets. I for one am thrilled and hope the trend spreads.

I like a nice pretty picture on a dust jacket of a book as much as the next guy. However, they really do get in the way when you are trying to read. Plus the show smudges and just look bad over time. Yuck.

I mean, I love the look of old books. I’m not alone. There are places that sell old books in bulk to people to use as decoration in their homes, like pieces of furniture or something. That will not happen with today’s dust jacket books.

I don’t really think the trend will catch on because publishers are much too conservative to make this type of change, especially in this economy. Still, I can dream, right?