September 13th, 2002

The Backlog Reviews: Number Three - The Skinner

Neal Asher's first novel for Macmillan, Gridlinked, wasn't the world's greatest book. But it certainly showed enough promise for me to buy his next book, The Skinner.

The Skinner is another tale set in Asher's Runcible universe, where AIs and star gates link the many worlds of humanity, and man shares the stars with intelligent hornet hives. The isolated world of Spatterjay has a reputation for two things: its ancient and violent biosphere, and the immortality virus. Three vistors arrive on the same shuttle, all with different aims, but fated to work together to change their worlds. One is a dead man hunting a legendary killer, another a woman searching to find meaning in her immortality, and one a man who's carrying hornets from world to world.

The scars of the wars with the body stealing Prador are beginning to fade, but war criminals are still at large. Spatterjay is the home of Jay Hoop, the legendary skinner. We follow our heroes across the planet, searching for Hoop, while a Prador plot slowly starts to take shape. It's all good escapist fun, with AIs with a certain Banksian outlook on the world, and some of the nastiest monsters (human and otherwise) that you'll come across. (And it's worth reading the chapter introductions together, as they merge into a SF nature documentary of a world much more violent than the calm and peaceful Earth. You'll probably never look at a whelk in the same way again...)

A fun, light read, reminiscent of a cross between Peter Hamilton's blockbusters and Harry Harrison's Deathworld.
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The Backlog Reviews: Number Four - A Walking Tour Of The Shambles (Little Walks For Sightseers #16)

You might not expect Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe to collaborate on a travel guide, but that's what this small press volume appears to be. It's a guide to an area of Chicago that survived the Great Fire (apart from a still burning tree stump). And it's a guide that you're definitely going to need if you're going the visit The Shambles.

Originally produced for the 2002 World Horror Convention, this slim (it's less than 60 pages) and whimsical volume is a delightful read. Strangeness piles on strangeness, as both authors out do each other in inventiveness and off-screen menace. There's plenty of deadpan humour here, and off beat (almost off screen) references to Lovecraftian nightmares hiding just out of sight. What is it about the smell of the Church of the Sailor Return'd with its icthoid symbols, or the clocks in The House of Clocks (visit on the hour for an unforgettable experience). Other delights include a Petting Zoo, and what to do if pursued by the ticking crocodile.

Wolfe and Gaiman manage to mix elements from many different strands of horror and fantasy into their little book. If you enjoy Edward Gorey's books, or remember the Adams Family affectionately then you're going to have fun in Gaiman's and Wolfe's playground (if not in the Petting Zoo). A Walking Tour Of The Shambles comes from American Fantasy Press, and it can be ordered directly from the publisher's web site.

If you end up in The Shambles this is likely to be the last book you'll ever need. Even if you don't, it's very much worth tracking down and devouring. Just don't cook the recipes in the back, or attempt to track down the contents of the bibliography...

Don't say you haven't been warned.
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First smiley found

Vernor Vinge's A Deepness In The Sky includes a discussion on software archaeology, as the trade off between writing new applications and porting old code to new languages and architectures.

It's a very real debate, even today, though this piece of software archaeology isn't quite the same... as this was the hunt for the first ever smiley. And earlier this week they finally found a back up tape from the bulletin board where the concept was first discussed...

Follow these links for more on the story:
[Story spotted on Slashdot]

There's an interesting follow on thought - what if the tape reader for that tape had been lost, or broken? We're living in the digital dark ages, where dead media means that information is lost forever when proprietary hardware fails...
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