Radio Active #42: Geek Birthdays, Villian Talk, Fire Upon the Deep

Discussion turns to books and coffee as I reminisce about my 35th birthday, a geeky Christmas, and the surprising fusion of my Xbox 360 with a spiffy new iPod. In Net News I look at Villain Talk, the podcast for evil geniuses, take a bite out of a gingerbread TIE fighter and find out what geeky women at the She’s Such a Geek blog.

Finally, I review one of my latest reading conquests, Vernor Vinge’s space opera A Fire Upon the Deep.

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Show Notes

  • Intro: “Chiron Beta Prime” from Thing a Week by Jonathan Coulton
  • Site News
    • A Geeky Birthday
      • Turned 35 in December, one of those quasi-milestone birthdays that lets you know that you are now half-way to 40, and can’t even remotely kid yourself that you’re in the “youth” demographic (as you now move into the 35-50 checkbox).
      • Spent my birthday hanging out with my son — first a trip to Barnes & Noble to pick up some new paperbacks with a gift card from my brother-in-law. Picked up Learning the World by Ken MacLeod, The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and — in a bit of a break from my current scifi reading jag — Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind.
      • Happy birthday to Mick Bradley at the Harping Monkey, who turned 40 (and thus bravely breaking the trail for us younger geeks to follow).
    • A Geeky Christmas
      • The new NukePod: Got a new 30 GB black iPod, which will allow me to finally get caught up on my podcasts. Moreover, since my 360 will play music from my iPod, I can listen while I play games.
      • Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: I’ve been missing the role-playing time sink known as World of Warcraft, so I decided to pick up the next best thing: Oblivion for Xbox 360. Huge, expansive game that I’m almost lost in … and which should give me plenty of time to listen to podcasts.
      • Halo 2, Vol. 2 Soundtrack: The soundtrack Halo fans wanted when the sequel was released is finally out, and I got a copy via iTunes (thanks to the iTunes gift certificate from my sister.
  • Promo:
  • Net News
    • Villain Talk
      • A podcast for evil masterminds and their minions. Tongue-in-cheek, and sounds like a lot of fun.
      • (Internet Archive)
    • She’s Such a Geek
      • A collaborative blog written by a number of geeky women, who in turn published a book with the same name. Recent posts talked about Dr. Who, Gifts for Girls and women in academia.
  • Promo: GBN Goblin Broadcast Network
  • Book Review: A Fire Upon the Deep
    • Details
      • By Vernor Vinge
      • Publisher: Tor
      • Year Published: 1992
      • Pages: 624 pages
      • ISBN: 0812515285
      • Buy it from
    • Summary
      • The galaxy is far stranger than we know. It is divided into “Zones of Thought” with different physical rules applying in different Zones.
      • In Earth’s region of the galaxy — the Slowness — faster-than light-travel. In the Beyond, which lies above it, various levels of high technology are possible, including increasingly exotic and powerful forms of FTL traffic. At the highest reaches of the galaxy lies the Transcend and the god-like powers that in habit it.
      • As the story opens, a group of human in the Straumli Realm researches stumble across a long-lost archive in the High Beyond. Too late, they discover it is a trap — a trap so powerful that it almost instantly subsumes their civilization. A handful of humans, with a cargo of children in cryo sleep, flees the spreading disaster, falling all the way to the very edge of the Slowness.
      • Meanwhile, the thing they unleashed reveals itself to be a new Power … and one capable of not only murdering some of its God-like pears but also subjugating  the entire Beyond.
      • A handful of humans aboard the starship Out of Bound II, realize the danger, including one Pham Nuwen, formerly the avatar of a power and now a man on a mission to find the elusive countermeasure that just might be able to stop the new power’s expansion.
      • Nuwen and his crew race to the bottom of the Beyond, following the earlier survivors of the disaster in the Straumli Realm. They soon discover that the adults on board the fleeing ship were killed in its crash on an alien world. Now one of the surviving human children has made contact with the natives, pack-like, group-mind capable canines known as the Tines.
      • As Nuwen and his ship race to the Tines home world, they learn that the Tines medieval society is preparing for war … and that only the Out of Bounds and its advanced technology can save them from the brutal enemy coming to destroy them and steal the starship.
    • Review
      • I’ve been on a space opera kick, as my review of Pandora’s Star in Radio Active #40 illustrates.
      • It’s paying off. A Fire Upon the Deep was a fast, compelling read packed with all manner of high technology and a cosmological setup that I hadn’t seen before.
      • The “Zones of Thought” nicely solves the problems of galactic speed limit, allowing FTL travel to live along side Earth’s “Slowness”. Moreover, the transfer of tech from Transcend to Beyond to Slowness makes for some great stories — such as what happens to Middle Beyond worlds when the Gods that granted them their technology decide to turn things off.
      • Vinge does a great job of world building; even his tangential civilizations, like that of Nyjora, feel real enough to mourn when horrors befall them.
      • The flight of the Out of Bound is reminiscent of a similar flight in David Brin’s earlier Startide Rising, and evokes the same sort of thrills.
      • The crowning achievement is the alien culture of the Tines. Normally, group minds make me cringe, but Tines are different. Individually, each tine is like a wolf — animal like in its understanding of its nature, but limited. When they come together, the creatures form a group consciousness, but one that is an “I” rather than a “We” — each pack has its own unique sense of self, and that self can be expanded or distorted by adding or removing members.
      • Asks the fascinating questions of whether you’d rework your mind if it meant giving up part of who you are now. It also gives rise to a different kind of totalitarian who ruthlessly “flenses” packs, killing, torturing and otherwise experimenting with their make up to create ever-more useful individuals.
      • The interactions between the Tines and the human children make for an excellent read, and when Vinge lets us take on the perspective of the Tines, we see through the eyes of a society that is at turns alien and familiar. Great stuff.
  • The Vintage Gamer Podcast
  • Outro
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