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The fine folks at O'Reilly sent me reviewer copy of two books on Erlang

I am currently in the process of learning Erlang for a personal project. These books both measures up to the high expectations I have come to expect from Pragmatic Programmers Publishing and from O'Reilly Books.

Erlang is a difficult language to "sell", and is a challenge to learn.

Both books assume you have decently good programming skills, and don't need your hand held too much about the idea of programming, and instead show you how Erlang is different, it's unique and interesting features, and some of "how to think in Erlang".

Both are very good books for learning the language, and gaining basic skill in using it.

Both of the cover pretty much the same territory, in pretty much the same order. You only really would need one of them, but they are both equally good, so I can't recommend one over the other. Either get both, or pick one at random.

I wish there was more on "how to think in Erlang", especially since most programmer's intuitions about multiprocessing and concurrency, born of battle scars with multithreaded programming in C/C++, will be wrong.
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Rogue Shakespeare Stout. Really good. I've had 3 pints of it so far, and it gets better every time.

Elysium Brewing Company seasonal Pumpkin Ale. Yummy. One of the best ways to eat pumpkin, IMO.

Arrogant Bastard Ale. It's not as good as it pretends to be. It screams out two notes, very loudly, with otherwise nothing of interest. Musically, it's some wannabe punk rocker screaming into a mike and pretending that it's "edgy" and "real".

Black Boss Porter. Three notes of taste, two of nose. Nicely dark, but otherwise, kind of boring. Not very smooth.

About a dozen different IPAs, so far. Too pale, too thin, too watery, and usually too pissy. I suppose it used to be once was a good way to sterilize, store, and serve water in a high-disease high-temperature tropical third world hellhole, which is how the British got a taste for the stuff when they were running an Empire in India, but, like the "Gin and Tonic" for malaria, the time for the need for the stuff is past. A decent charcoal filter does the same job, better.
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Good things about the Olympic Coffee and Roasting Cafe in Burien:
  • It's close to the SEA airport
  • They place quiet calm classical music
  • The internet connection is fast
  • It's not crowded
  • It's very close to a friend's place, who like to host me for lunch
  • The chair is comfortable, and the table is large enough

Not-so-good things about the Olympic Coffee and Roasting Cafe in Burien:
  • It looks like it's trying to be a clean "corporate coffee" place, out-starbucking Starbucks.
  • The drinks are mediocre.
  • The tea is worse than mediocre. And after drinking at Remedy, my standards have gotten very high, especially for greens.
  • There is no eye candy. Instead it's full of little clusters of senior citizens. Even the barista is a older lady.
  • Did I mention how disappointed I am in the green tea? Both weak and scorched.

Update. And the worst thing about Olympic Coffee and Roasting Cafe, is they close at 3pm. WTF!
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I have watched the pilot to the remade "The Bionic Woman".

It wasn't great, but occationally it was good, and there is the potential to some good stuff.

It was better than the pilot episode to "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and the pilot episode of "Smallville". (Damning with faint praise.)

The pacing and cinemetography was just full of "pilot episode" problems, eg, as each character is introduced there is a big slow "camera spins around the character as they look off at the horizon". There is a lot of time fat there, and a lot of other moments, a second here, a half second there, that a rigourous edit would have served well.

The motivations are muddy. The characters lack much depth, and barely have promise of depth. We've got some cookie cutter "he slept with her", "angry teenager", "your skin reminds me of her", "tell me you love me", and such. But there needs to be some more energy and complexity.

Even our viewpoint character, Jamie, doesnt have much to her. We're told she is smart and stable, but not really shown it. Her sudden psychological toughening at the end isnt quite believable. That she won her first fight was also not so believable, given that her opponent was a lot less meat and a lot more violent than she was. At least give us some nod about her implants being a newer generation or something.

Her boyfriend is, well, boring, even despite being "a so called genius", "not entirely uncharming", and "the tortured son of a madman". Even Jamie's big reveal to him early on, where he got to demonstrate his caringness, came off more as him being a stock character in female pornography (by Harliquine Romance (the ones with the stork on the spine)).

The writers are at least somewhat aware of the issues of tech singularity, technology curve takeoff, and transhumanism. At least enough to have a scene in a bioethics course, and some nods toward just how much ubertech the "Bionic" program entails, and why its not out making wheelchairs and white canes obsolete. There is a rough suggestion of a shadowy inclination by Black Budget orgs keeping bits and pieces of ubertech under tight wraps, lest "the wrong people" have it, or it get out "too fast" (shades of the "The Future Doesnt Need Us", "Relenquishment", and "The Science Council Bureau for Appropriate Technological Deployment").

Back to the craft of storytelling. There is entirely too much "tell", and not enough "show". Especially about motivations, inner lives, and how the world works.

I will give it half a season.

It may be utter crap.

It could be good.

It might even be great. (Tho, most likely, it will be "almost great with fatal flaws", which will just hurt my heart.)

Maybe it will actaully make "ordinary" people start thinking more and talking more about the truely insane gonzo tech about human modification and upgrading that's going to be happening faster and faster in the real world.

(And I just noticed that Jamie's little sister is pierced and tattooed, much to her older sister's annoyance. Such simple body mods, compared to her own very nearly total rebuild and transformation, the comparison cannot have escaped the notice of the writers.)
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I think I may have found the computer I would have recommended for my grandmother. In fact, I think it would recommend it for my parents.

I would have to play with it some before expanding my recommedation, but I think that I would recommend it for most anyone who wants a home desktop machine, who's not doing heavy software development, heavy video editing, or playing super-graphics-cards games.

The no-moving parts, if it breaks, they ship you another one and you've lost nothing, is pretty cool.

And literally cool is that it's silent, and only draws 10 watts. The annual power bill for a desktop machine can easily be greater than the purchase price.

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I just unpacked and started setting up the Kysoh Tux toy that I got at OScon. The lucky folks with a press badge were given a free one. I had to pay for mine.

The good:

Physically, it feels to be well and solidly made. It didn't feel like they were being cheap with the fabrication. It weighs just over half a kilogram.

Physical setup is straightforward. Unstrap the parts from the box. Click in the US power module into the internationalized power cord. Plug in the penguin unit, to charge it up. It can operate both plugged in, and on internal batteries, which it charges itself. Plug the fish unit into your computer with the included USB cord. It uses a mini-usb plug.

The firmware running in the "Penguin" main unit, and the firmware running in the "Fish" USB/wireless transmitter unit, and the interface library and control software on the host are all written in C and in Python, and licensed under the GPLv2.

There is a programmer friendly website, with a community wiki, a blog, a SVN repository, some mailing lists, a public bug database, and the software packages, which contains both the official software, and community contributions. They also have a freenode channel, #tuxdroid. Included in the box is a programming cable, for reflashing both the penguin and the fish.

The "Needs Improvement":

The instructions in the box are not very good at "what to do next". They consist mainly of "go to our website". However, the website itself isn't very good at "what to do next". They should have a big noticeable link saying "Just get a Tux? Click here" which would lead to step-by-steps on downloading and installing the software.

Their website, tuxisalive.com, is very slow. Maybe lots of other people just got one at OScon as well, but those "lots" number in the dozens instead of the thousands. Kysoh needs to scale up their site, and increase their bandwidth.

Their registration isn't OpenID enabled.

Their software isn't distribution-oriented. They need to release Fedora and Ubuntu packages.

Instead, it was a flashback to the bad old days of UNIX software installs. Download and unpack a tarball, read a README file, then run an install script as root. Said script creates and the copyfills a couple of directories under /opt and then makes some symlinks into /usr/local/bin.

That script failed the first time, it was unable to install the Atmel USB device programmer stuff. Instead it just gave me a link to the dfu-programmer project on SourceForge, and quit. Fortunately, I was able to just download the tarball from that project, and do a standard "configure && make && sudo make install", and then go back and rerun the tux install script.

None of this stuff was hard for me, but it's an unnecessary challenge that would frustrate and stop most people.

The "How to use it as an audio device" information on their website is confusing and incomplete. If I didn't have a decent grasp of how my system was set up, and how Linux audio works, I would have ended up switching over from ALSA to OSS, borked it all, and still not got audio working.

The Text-to-Speech software is closed source. And it installs a license manager daemon! The only thing that makes this moderately forgivable is that TTS on this thing is darncool, and there is no acceptable open source TTS software. Yet.

The audio isn't exactly first rate. Which isn't really surprising, since the audio has to go thru the USB, then thru their custom wireless protocol. The D/As in the penguin unit are unlikely to be pro-grade. And the speaker/mike in penguin unit are, after all, buried inside a heavy plastic doll. (There are speaker and mike jacks in the back of the unit.)

The actuators that move the eyelids, beak, and flippers are somewhat noisy and slow. It really needs room to flap it's flippers. I discovered this, because it makes a really scary clicking grinding sound if you don't.

You can only control one droid. You can't have several fish units plugged into a USB hub, and thus control several penguin units at once. This is a known issue that should crack by virtue of the open source of the comm software and comm protocols.

But to counter all those "needs to be improved":

Kysoh feels to me as a not very large company. They've probably been spending their time working on the difficulties with firmware programming, and with dealing with fabrication contracts with contractors in China. Now that they are actually shipping, some effort can be spent upgrading the website bandwidth, and in fixing the software packaging and documentation. This last bit can be fixed by an open source developer community.

As for complaining about loud actuators, this is a sub hundred dollar toy made of plastic. If I wanted brass gears and precise motion-coded servos, it would have instead cost a thousand dollars, and I wouldn't have one at all.
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That Pixar's latest film Ratatouille is excellent is unsurprising. It's from Pixar. Directed by Brad Bird. It measures up and again surpasses the standard to be expected from that pedigree.

You want to go see this movie. If you've not seen it yet, plug it's name into the search bar of your browser and buy the tickets.

How great is this movie? I dislike both zucchini and eggplant, and can do without bellpeppers, and yet now I want a bite of the eponymous provençal dish. And the scene when the food critic character Anton Ego takes his first bite brought tears to my eyes.

(And the resulting review he writes is pure poetry, and should be read and reread by all realworld art and venue critics everywhere, present and future.)

Leading the movie was, of course, another Pixar short film. This one, Lifted, while funny and cute, I don't think was as good as their previous two, For the Birds and Boundin'. Also leading the movie was the teaser trailer for the next Pixar movie, WALL-E. I have high hopes.

Also leading the movie was the the trailer for Bee Movie. The contrast between Pixar and Dreamworks keeps getting wider. Pixar makes masterworks that are also popular. Dreamworks throws money at renderfarms, don't push the technology, and buys Big Name Stars to make films that will be forgotten a year later and won't make any sense at all a generation later.
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The Day the Earth Stood Still is a classic of the genre. This is an overused term, but in this case it's true.

Many parts of the movie that feel formula today, originated here. And were better done here than in any of it's successors.

While on one hand, it is a 50's SF B movie, on the other hand, it's actually reasonably well written, well directed, and well acted.

I couldn't help but feel that the a couple of the scenes were shot just to put into the trailer, as formulaic images of a 50s monster movie. (The Pretty Woman falling back screaming as the Monster and his Shadow Looms. The pretty woman carried unconscious by the monster to a Uncertain Fate. etc). But ignore those bits.

It's a truly science fiction story, which was not improved upon by it's successors for many decades, and in some respects, not improved upon even today.

Also, unusual for a movie, it improves on it's source material. I've read the original short story, "Farewell to the Master". The original story had elements of transhumanism and AI oversight that were never again properly mined for another generation, and were mostly only implied in the movie. However, the story was also clunky, hookey, and was in almost all respects an good example of the published SF writing at the time (e.g., not really all that good).

And now that I've praised the movie, there are several flaws.

This is the canonical original well-known First Contact SF story. One would think that Klaatu's organization had done the "First Contact with the Warning" mission many times before. And yet they utterly flubbed it this time.

Despite stating that they had been listening to Earth radio for years, and despite demonstrating that they had sufficient information processing power, analytic abilities, and effector capabilities to both map and manipulate every electric power circuit on the planet, and to reknit a human body, they didn't use that analytic ability to understand Earth politics at all.

In 1951, the frailty and at-the-edge-ness of Earth politics and the US military would have been clearly discernible. The fact that it was frail and becoming very very fraught, was, in fact, the reason he was there. And yet he flubbed it.

He was far far too insistent on a general assembly of all the heads of state. And dismissed the UN General Assembly, not because it didn't consist of heads of state, but because not every single nation was in the UN in 1951. While that may have been true, even by then, the ones that were not, really didn't matter, especially for the purpose of his mission. Everyone in or about to be in the Nuclear Club, and/or with the ability to pursue space or advanced physics, were in it.

Plus, calling the meeting would have been unnecessary. All he would have had to do was to speak, especially at any place accessible to the world press, and every single word would have been followed by the very close and personal attention of every advanced government in the world. Especially since he didn't need a dialog, he just needed to make an announcement.

I suspect that this failure of imagination on the part of the writers is from the fact that in 1951, people had not really quite fully realized just how electronic communications had shrunk the world, how mass broadcasting had replaced in-the-flesh public speaking.

It also suffered from the flaw that afflict most SF up until the New Wave, in that it excessively valorized the worldwide caste of scientists, and assumed and indirectly stated that they would be free from the political squabbles that were paralyzing the national governments. Right....

If Klaatu had, instead of shutting down power systems, commandeers the broadcast radio networks worldwide for 5 minutes, he would have been orders of magnitude more effective, and much safer.
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It's a beautifully groomed park, with a great location and a wonderful view of the Sound. Unfortunately, someone has dumped some ugly piles of concrete and steel randomly on it.
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"Needs more dead white guys."

I may be a "philistine", but I will stand by that review. The only stuff that I found good and interesting, would have been better placed in an "Exploratoreum" type setting (an exhibit that played with painted trees and carefully place cameras, that you could walk thru), or in a historial museum (a stunning collection of 2000 year old blown glassware recovered from the grave of a Roman artisan).
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[livejournal.com profile] krow and I have been sharing a subscription to Wired Magazine. I actually was an original subscriber to Wired, getting issue #1 in the mail, and remained subscribed for several years. I dumped all my old issues when packing to move to Boston back in 1996. The quality fell off, and I let my sub lapse. But, as I said, I'm trying it again, and sometimes the articles are better, but a key something has been lost. Specifically, the ads. Most of the ads in the latest issue looked like they were supposed to be GQ instead. Such a sad thing, for a mag that I used to read in part for the ads.

Wired? Still Tired.
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Getting caught up on my NetFlix.

The film of the day is Clan of the Cave Bear. One and a half stars. It wasn't actively bad, but it wasn't at all good, either.

It inherited most of what didn't make the book very good, and added to it that which tends to make movie adaptations of thick books not very good.

It was interesting and amusing that the script and the director "played it straight", with the People "speaking" mostly in gestures. They did leave in the two things I do remember from the book, from when I read it many years ago, that Alya could intuitively grasp the concept of "number", and that the "unusual" shape of her shoulders gifted her with the ability to use a sling.

I'm sure that there really are amazing and breathtaking and tearjerking true stories key to the rise of humanity and about the time when there were two human species. However, Clan of the Cave Bear is not amazing, is not breathtaking, and not tearjerking. Neither the book, nor the movie.
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I just got back from the second annual Seattle Science Fiction Short Film Festival. Like last year, it was a mixed bag.

Too many authors/scriptwriters see "SciFi" to mean "I can do anything. Consistancy? Who cares!". And the more they claim otherwise, the more guilty of that sin they are.

Under the heading of "Art with a capital A" (which means they otherwise utterly sucked), was Spaceball (I have this really cool lens to play with, but otherwise have no clue), Life Signs, which, if it had been entered unchanged in a contest for music videos, would have fit better, 13 Ways to Die at Home, which won one of the juried prizes, which really lowered my opinion of the jury, and finally Agnieskza, oh so very European, in all the worst ways. Textbook "artistic" lighting and camera angles, uberskinny supermodel actresses in panties and high goth babydoll tops, no dialog at all, and a theme of descruction and decay. Yuck.

For mildly amusing, there was The Incredible Bulk, basically "The Fly", but with broccoli, Atomic Banana, again with "The Fly", only with this time with a scientist, a chimp, and a banana, and The Tragical Historie of Guidolon the Giant Space Chicken, about a 1960s city smashing giant monster being allowed to make his own movie about his life. The best one in the "amusing" camp was Maklar, Anyone?, about a small Trekkie fan club, with a at least one member who really does belong there.

Under "heavy on the romance, lots of expensive FX, but pay no attention to the science", there is Mizar, about an estranged couple on a manned Saturn probe that suffers a mishap. And Face Machine, about a future so polluted that everyone has to wear environmental helmets, but for some reason it's utterly impossible to build a sealed arcology.

For heavily "inspired by Phillip K. Dick", we have Machinations, about a hot rising politico who turns out to be less than he seems, TV Man, something about impossible love and too many tv ads, Project K.A.T., which felt too much like a pitch for a TV show that would have been a natural fit on the bottom half of UPNs roster, and for best in this category, Haunted Planet, about a woman who's convienced that the world is a nightmare that her friend cannot awaken from.

For "the world is different, lets explore how, but not really think things thru TOO deeply", we have F*ck You, Pay Me!, where bad credit rating is a felony. The Un-gone, that tries to be about a creepy varient of scan/construct/destroy teleportation.

The most happy-making and uplifting was Fantastic Fortune, about a poor redneck `roid prospector that makes a First Encounter, that gets smoothed over despite some mishaps.

And for the best in show, there was Transgressions. It was a "world is different, and we DID think things thru", about a very shiny, very clean, very low-crime, VERY torturiously violent future. I was sick to my stomach (and not because of any splatterfest FX), but I gave it my highest rating on the ballot. It did very well both on the audience ballots, and on the jury.
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I got a pleasant surprise in the mail today: a tightly wrapped package stamped "MEDIA MAIL", containing a copy of Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science. [livejournal.com profile] gipsieee had lent me her copy. I read it all in one sitting.

I especially liked the chapter "Nine Thousand Surgeons", where he captured the feeling of attending Clinical Congress of Surgeons annual convention and trade show. His description of the joy of getting to play with beyond the state of the art machines, his reverence at discovering an antiquarian bookseller of the field, his giddy amazement at live demonstrations the shockingly rapid advances in the state of the art (in this case, growing synthetic livers), and most especially the close and warm camaraderie of people from all over the country who were perfect strangers who had everything important in common, the love of their craft, made it sound like the best parts of the best cons. (Especially when he compared it to the simultaneous in the same city convention of PR professionals, which was almost completely the opposite.)

It's an excellent book and it gives a great insight into a world that is very important but mysteriously distant.

I recommend it.
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I've been slowly watching A Clockwork Orange. Slowly, because it's a hard film to watch.

Not because the imagery is really all that shocking. At over forty years remove, the "shock" of the tittalating visual sexuality of that future (technically now an "alternate past") has been drained of most of it's energy. In fact, it's rather amusing and quaint, and oh so very "the future of 1970" in feel. And the portrayals of "ultra-violence" likewise. Alex and his "droogs" would have been chewed up as a light snack by any real-world contemporary urban street gang.

I think that's what makes it hard to watch, is that I can see what Kubrick and Burgess were trying to do, and they were being rather dumb about it. They were being so in the way that most every other non-genre writer is when they try to slum around in the SF genre neighborhood. Heck, SF writers from the mortifying era of Hugo Gernsback often did a better job of thinking their way thru the social implications of social and technological changes, and by the time that John Campbell was at the helm, quite a lot better.

Piers Anthony once wrote a schlocky SF novel titled The Ring, and everything that A Clockwork Orange was about, The Ring did better. (Otherwise, Anthony's novel was crap deeply flawed.)

Hell, Anthony even got correct the need for protective oversight of "the cured", and the deep social divide between "normal people" and "the cured", that the people in ACO were so surprised to discover and exploit.

This movie is important because of all the cultural referants based on it.

But as a story of ideas, it doesn't live up to the hype, and the older it gets, the less it does.
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A few days ago, while shopping at the market, I observed a waxed cake of Wensleydale, complete with a label showing Wallace and Gromit. On a lark, I bought some.

It's yummy!

(According to Wikipedia, Aardman had Wallace like Wensleydale merely because it was amusing to animate him speaking the word. This passing pop culture reference saved the Wensleydale Creamery, which was at risk of going out of business.)
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I have not seen a better "don't do drugs" movie than this one.

The best word for this movie was "tawdry". Which is exactly what the director was going for. It's a tawdry movie about a tawdry time about a tawdry subculture involved in a tawdry business.

I don't think there was a single character with a 3 digit IQ. This is not to say they were stupid dumb. This wasn't in the "Dumb & Dumber" genre. They were just, well, not really bright, in an average below average way, trying to get by on talents other than mental.
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I finally read my copy of The Speed of Dark, which has been sitting on my shelf for 16 months. [livejournal.com profile] gipsieee read this copy a few weeks ago, and it affected her deeply. It affected me deeply as well, but I cannot presently articulate just how or why.

But as for me, I would not have taken the treatment.

(The book is now part of the house's bookcrossing library.)
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One thing that I can do now that I have more time is work my way thru my NetFlix queue.

Last night was The Opposite of Sex, Christina Ricci's 1998 movie.

She plays a completely unlikeable and untrustworthy manipulative user, who wrecks the lives of her brother, her brother's boyfriend, her brother's deceased former boyfriend's sister, and her own old boyfriend. Most of them end up better off at the end, but only despite her own destructive efforts.

The best part was a rant in the middle, delivered by her brother, who is otherwise such a nice guy that it's almost painful.

Listen to me, you little grunge faggot. I survived my family, my schoolyard, every Republican, every other Democrat, Anita Bryant, the Pope, the fucking Christian Coalition, not to mention a real son of a bitch of a virus, in case you haven't noticed. In all that time since Paul Lynde and Truman Capote were the only fairies in America, I've been busting my ass so that you'd be able to do what you wanted with yours! So I don't just want your obedience right now — which I do want and plenty of it — but I want your fucking gratitude, right fucking now, or you're going to be looking down a long road at your nipple in the dirt! Do you hear what I'm saying?!

I loved that scene so much I burst into applause, then stopped the DVD and replayed the whole scene again.
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I just got done reading Rainbows End.

I think I'm going to buy a voting-only membership to WorldCon, just so's I can vote for it for the Hugos.

It's Vinge as he always was, only more so, more refined, and better.

The SF was crystal hard.

The characterizations and voices were perfect.

He reprises some of his familiar tropes, but does them very extremely well. His grasp of villany is utterly realistic, and even more subtle. (Great Villains are always Heros in their own mind, regretfully Doing What Must Be Done, with the Best of Intentions.)

Again, his protagonists are not Great Heros, but just ordinary flawed people, all trying in their own sphere to do what is right (for them), who are just sometimes lucky (and sometimes not).

The world does not start out a utopia, nor does it end as so. Saving The World for Freedom does not immediately make every thing All Right, and might not ever do.

And then I could go on and on and on about the wonderfully reflexive injokes and references, opportunities that are served up in multitudes by virtue of being a SF novel set in a world were there are novels, novelists, and where nearly everyone realizes they are living in a SFnal world, and have to and get to live with it. (And if Pratchet does write The Firey Crow in the early `teens, it will be wonderfully appropriate...)


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Mark Atwood

September 2017

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