Accelerando by Charles Stross

If you’re into AI or futurism I highly recommend reading Accelerando by Charles Stross, it is a brilliant example of science-fiction’s power to explore the “real” future. The first two thirds are the best living through the singularity fiction I have ever read. The progression is so reasonable, written mostly from the perspective of an entrepreneur working in the AI field. It actually gave me future shock at a couple of points and I had to put it down to work through the implications of what Stross had lead me through. A bit post-human, a bit trans-human and a bit cyberpunk in flavour but not transcendence thank god (pun intended).

The Lost Fleet by Jack Campbell

I don’t think I have read a more cheesy science fiction book since I was a teenager reading early Heinlein novels. The Lost Fleet series is pretty simple, a legendary war hero returns from the dead (found in a escape pod after 100 years) to lead a fleet trapped behind enemy lines.

The setting is well put together, two large human space faring civilisations in a drawn out war where neither side can hold sway. Each book is a series of battles in various solar systems as the fleet fights to escape largely intact.

These fleet actions are some of the best I’ve read, realistic, using believable technology and science. They’re sweeping battles spread across light hours of space employing clever tactics and it makes for some good clean fun.

However these epic battle broken up by some weak intrigue with characters who for the most part a little more than cardboard cut outs. Apart from the main character you never get a feel for the other characters, the few there are and what characterization there is can be stilted and painful at times. It really holds back the series from greatness which it a pity as the kernel is solid and enjoyable.

3/5 stars

Eating the Odd Bits

Odd Bits by Jennifer McLaganAs I told Thanh Do of the excellent Melbourne food blog I Eat Therefore I Am the other day, I had a bit of a boring anglo-Australian upbringing largely devoid of the odd bits of animals. The exception to this was beef/ox tongue, which I am ashamed to say was greeted with great disgust by my sister and myself. Our mother eventually hid the source of the meat when she served it lest we refuse to eat it. So I am afraid so say I have only the faintest of recollections as to its taste, let alone how it was prepared. How did you prepare it mum?

Since then I’ve dined on many so called odd bits, though always in restaurants. Chicken’s feet are a regular favourite at yum cha, dim sum for those of you in America. I also love a good lambs fry, though I rarely see it on the menu in Melbourne.

Thus after hearing about Jennifer McLagan’s new book Odd Bits I thought it was high time I start cooking some of these items at home. Nose to tail eating has a couple of attractions for me, it provides my foodie self more ingredients and flavours to enjoy and cook with, and my eating sustainably self a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

So to the book. It is beautifully presented with wonderful photos throughout, each “odd bit” introduced with a couple of paragraphs then sections on purchasing and preparation. Interspersed through the book are quotes by notable people of the food world lauding the tastes, smells and sights offered by the various pieces of animal under discussion. These quotes strike me as a useful aid for tempting the more recalcitrant diners in your home to trying the recipes contained in its pages.

The recipes themselves are excellent, with a low complexity and many of them taking familiar recipes and adding an “odd bits” twist. There is a surprising number of the “odd bits” which are actually familiar items, lamb ribs and necks for example already appear on my shopping list as do shanks and oxtail. I also love that some of the recipes have a delightful tongue in cheek title such as Headcheese for the Unconvinced of which my girlfriend and sister count themselves members of.

I will blog about it as soon as I cook some of the recipes, probably something in the liver or tongue sections given I’m somewhat familiar with those ingredients and flavours!

Update: I do remember our mother also did liver at one stage which was met with similar incredulity and ox tail braised in tomato sauce which went down pretty well from memory.

Book Review: In Our Hands the Stars By Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison - In Our Hands the StarsSo Harry Harrison is one of my favourite authors of all time. The Deathworld trilogy and The Stainless Steel Rat series, both by Harrison, are among my all time favourites. So it pains me to say I was underwhelmed by this book.

It starts promisingly enough, some super science with a bit of intrigue and mystery set during the cold war. But it fizzles out a third of the way through the book after an excellent and slightly surreal scene on the moon. Politics, spies and some poorly drawn characters take over and fail to engage. By the time the climax rolled around I didn’t care about the characters at all.

The book on Good Reads.