New York 2140

March 20th, 2017

Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is out now and based on early reviews, you want to buy it. His last novel, Aurora, was the best SF novel of 2015 and this one looks to be equally good, based on early reviews. I am going to buy it, although it may be a couple of months before I get to reading it.

It’s 2140 and trillions of dollars’ worth of the world’s most valuable real estate is now submerged under fifty feet of water, resulting from two great “surges” where runaway polar melting created sudden, punctuated disasters that displaced billions of people, wiped trillions off the world’s balance sheets, and turned the great cities of the world into drowned squatter camps.

But it’s 2140, and the cities are coming back. The combination of financial speculation, desperate refugees willing to do anything to find shelter, and new technological innovations are spawning “SuperVenice”s where boats replace cars and high-rises connect to each other with fairytale skybridges, and pumped-out subway stations become underwater leisure clubs. No SuperVenice is more super than New York City, where the boats ply midtown Manhattan’s skyscrapers and everything from Chelsea down is an intertidal artificial reef where, every now and again, hundreds of squatters die as the buildings topple.

Another Court Case Hinges on a Comma

March 15th, 2017

Here’s another example of why you should always use the Oxford (serial) comma in lists to avoid ambiguity. A court case in Maine had to decide whether dairy drivers deserved overtime because of the ambiguity of the law; ambiguity that would have not been there had the writer used an Oxford comma. The drivers won their case, by the way.

There, in the comma-less space between the words “shipment” and “or,” the fate of Kevin O’Connor v. Oakhurst Dairy was argued. Is packing (for shipment or distribution) a single activity that is exempt from overtime pay? Or are packing and distributing two different activities, and both exempt?

If lawmakers had used a serial comma, it would have been clear that distribution was an overtime-exempt activity on its own. But without the comma, wrote US appeals judge David J. Barron, the law is ambiguous as to whether distribution is a separate activity, or whether the whole last clause—”packing for shipment or distribution”—is one activity, meaning only the people who pack the dairy products are exempt. The drivers do distribute, but do not pack, the perishable food.

McMansion Hell

March 14th, 2017

One of the bad things about the rapid growth of Toronto is the replacement of older homes by modern monster homes that both don’t fit the neighbourhood and lack any character. Carried to extremes, you end up with the monstrosities known as McMansions.

McMansion Hell skewers these modern blights on the landscape. The best place to start on the site is this post which explains, with numerous examples, the design principles that these houses are violating. You know they’re ugly – now you’ll understand why.

Sometimes people ask, why is xyz house bad? Asking this question does not imply that the asker has bad taste or no taste whatsoever – it means that they are simply not educated in basic architectural concepts. In this post, I will introduce basic architectural concepts and explain why not all suburban/exurban/residential houses are McMansions, as well as what makes a McMansion especially hideous.

The Blue Whale Tale

March 13th, 2017

The Royal Ontario Museum (AKA, the ROM), recently acquired the skeleton of a 23-metre long blue whale and it’s now on display. The Toronto Star has an excellent article about what they had to do to clean and mount the skeleton – imagine a streetcar-sized pile of rotting meat for a start.

March Is a Good Month for SF

March 12th, 2017

It looks like this month will be a banner month for new SF novels; The Verge has an annotated list. It looks like my “SF to Read” collection on my Kindle is going to have a few additions. These are the books I am especially interested in:

  • Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks
  • Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer
  • Chalk by Paul Cornell
  • New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
  • Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald

2016 AnLab Readers’ Awards Finalists

March 11th, 2017

Analog (formerly Astounding Science Fiction) has been conducting an annual readers’ poll since the founding of the magazine. This year’s finalists have been announced and you can read or download the 15 short fiction finalists as well as the poetry and science fact entries.

The poll is more than just a popularity contest – authors get a bonus.

It’s been a while (more than 20 years) since I read Analog regularly, but I will check out some of the stories, especially the ones by Michael Flynn and Stephen Baxter.

Update: Asimov’s Science Fiction publishes a similar readers’ poll. You can find stories by Alan Steele, Kristine Katherine Rusch, and Robert Reed, among others.