The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This SF story is set in a relatively not too distant utopian future when governments have been replaced by corporations akin to Google, Uber or Amazon. There is the archetypal mad scientist with delusions of grandeur who wants to unleash an untested form of teleportation that could herald the beginning of space travel or everything going pear shaped (particle physicists should get that allusion, if not, I’ll get the physics in at the end).
If you can differentiate between toothpaste foam and quantum foam and want to know the difference between a paradox and a conundrum, then this book is for you. There is an intriguing yet innovative way of pollution control using GM mosquitoes. However, the sheer number of footnotes tends to distract and to further obfuscate esoteric scientific concepts. The foot notes could have been incorporated within the main text thus making for a smoother flow.
The fighting and the consequent blood and gore were other needless distractions.
Now for that bit of promised physics: At the atomic level particles have the so-called CP-symmetry. CP stands for charge and parity. In C-symmetry, if you switch every particle for its antiparticle, they are expected to behave in the same way e.g., anti-hydrogen will behave like hydrogen The P-symmetry is about space: A system can be inverted, like in a mirror, and the physics should still be the same.
CP-symmetry suggests that for every particle spinning anticlockwise and decaying in a certain direction, there’s an antiparticle spinning clockwise and decaying in the opposite direction. Violation of C and CP symmetry are proposed and expected to explain the lack of antimatter in the universe, but so far only a handful of examples have been found.
The universe is symmetric under CPT (charge, parity, and time), which adds a time reversal condition. This implies that if CP is violated, then also the T symmetry must be violated so things don’t happen forward and backward in time. This is another example of an obvious thing at our level (broken eggs don’t jump back together) but not in fundamental physics. This discovery strongly indicates that time is indeed broken and it has a specific direction.
The isotope Barium-144 has been discovered not to be spherical or oval shaped. In this short-lived atom, protons and neutrons end up distributed in an asymmetrical shape, with more mass at one end of the nucleus than the other – hence the term pear shaped. This finding is in contradiction with some nuclear theories, and it could prove that time travel is impossible.
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Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The exigencies of an inter-stellar war against cancroid aliens led to the fabrication of a flawed AI that piloted a space destroyer. This AI named Penny Royal (as an allusion to the attempt of the AI to abort its gremlin-laced glitched software) eventually went rogue and launched on a career of inexplicable, whimsical and psychopathic exploits. It is aptly described by a fellow AI as ‘A potential gigadeath weapon and paradigm-changing intelligence.’
The book is ‘people’ by aliens and artificial constructs viz., centipede-like hooders, pyramidal gabbleducks, the antimalarial-sounding Artether, haiman, prador, the denticulate siluroyne, airborne heroyne, Jain spatterjoy virus and assassin snake-drones!
The fauna is equally weird – “They built sugars via induction shifts in the planet’s magnetic field. They also occasionally pulled up their roots and perambulated on a slug-like foot to a better position, after having drained the soil below of minerals. The offler weed was a particularly aggressive slime mould.”
There are Carrollenian ‘runcible’ teleport gate-ways, flippant AI entities that remind the SF fan of Iain Banks. The jaunty and jocular writing style echoes Banks and Douglas Adams. “the turd trajectory would be fanwards.” “‘When superior minds start stating the obvious,’ said Amistad, ‘I tend to start questioning the appellation “superior”.’ “I was seeing a gabbleduck thumbing a lift.”
All in all, a classic SF space opera! Immensely readable.
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Smile awhile and while you smile – another smiles
And soon there are miles and miles of smiles
And life’s worth while
Because you Smile.”
― Kathleen J. Edgar
Unidentified Funny Objects by Alex Shvartsman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When there is talk of humour in Science Fiction, the first name that springs to mind is Slartibartfast. The second name is Douglas Adams. Hitchhiker’s Guide had other memorable characters like Zaphod Beeblebrox, Eccentrica Gallumbits – the triple-breasted whore from Eroticon VI and Marvin the Paranoid Android. No one in recorded history has ever recovered from a hangover brought on after indulging in a couple of Pan-galactic gargle blasters.
On a less flippant note, Terry Pratchett, Piers Anthony (Up Schist Creek, Mini’s Crew with hilarious scatological and erotic content) are other SF writers with funny bone(r)s.
This collection of stories doesn’t achieve the risible levels of the above-mentioned exponents of SF humour but is still worth reading. The novella that turns Einstein and Himmler into magicians in a whimsical alternate universe is the only sour note – it is puerile, to say the least.
Snigger-inducing are the cartoons and the retelling of fairy tales – Sleeping Beauty, for example, is more concerned with her morning breath than Prince Charming’s kiss that will purportedly break her narcotic spell. Santa Claus prefers to give practical instead of childish toys to children ‘who have been good’.
OK for an otiose afternoon.
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