The Expert System’s Brother

I discovered Adrian Tchaikovsky back in 2010 when I read Empire in Black and Gold, the first novel in the Shadows of the Apt series. It didn’t take me long to read the rest of the series which remains, for me, one of the most original and effective sets of fantasy novels I have read in a long time. With the Children of Time, Tchaikovsky turned from fantasy to science fiction and showed that he has a sure touch in either genre.

This is useful because The Expert System’s Brother is a science fiction novella masquerading as a fantasy story.

After an unfortunate accident, Handry is forced to wander a world he doesn’t understand, searching for meaning. He soon discovers that the life he thought he knew is far stranger than he could even possibly imagine.

Can an unlikely saviour provide the answers to the questions he barely comprehends?

One of the many things I find so enjoyable about Tchaikovsky’s writing is the quality of his world building, and The Expert System’s Brother is no exception. The world in which the story takes place is rich, detailed and thoroughly immersive and all of this is integrated beautifully into the narrative. We are told only what Handry sees and knows but are able to understand so much more and it really is a joy to watch all of the pieces slot into place.

As a novella, this is not a particularly long piece but Tchaikovsky manages to pack a lot of detail into a very short work and paces it in such a way as to hold your attention throughout.

This all makes for an excellently told tale of humanity, how the struggle to survive can go awry and a thoughtful story about what it means to be human.


We don’t let the boys use their tablets on school nights which can lead to me feeling a bit bad if one of them wanders into the office and catches me looking at Board Game Arena. So today’s Wumo strikes a little close to home.


That said, I do stay away from the phone while the kids are around and I try to ensure that any online activity on my part is limited to stuff that actually needs to be done.


We lost a cat at the weekend.

On Saturday morning Eve let both cats out, as usual. We were out for most of the day and when we returned on Saturday evening, only Pepper came back.

A neighbour found Chili’s body yesterday. There were no wounds or obvious causes of death — he appears to have just dropped dead which, according to the vet, is a lot more common than people (or me, at least) realise.

The boys want to bury the cat — which we shall be doing tonight. To mark the spot, they are keen on planting a chili plant, which is suitably appropriate but something that will need to wait until spring.

Five things #5

“T. K. hates a lot of things, but at the moment, it’s how she becomes the #1 target during dodgeball at gym. Everything changes, however, when she discovers that she has the ace ability to direct spherical objects — and she makes her classmates pay! But her powers are made for more than petty revenge, as she soon discovers while on a family vacation.” How to Move Spheres and Influence People is a short story set in the Wild Cards universe.

In Arctic Siberia, Russian scientists are trying to stave off catastrophic climate change by resurrecting an Ice Age biome complete with lab-grown woolly mammoths. Welcome to Pleistocene Park.

“The space between fiction and reality is where economic bubbles take shape.” Brent Goldfarb and David A Kirsch explore The economics of bubbles.

Going back a few months, Salman Rushdie discusses what Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five tells us now.

And finally, Antergos Linux is dead, long live EndeavourOS. Antergos was my main operating system for several years — I keep meaning to take a look at how well EndeavourOS has picked up the baton of being a newcomer friendly introduction to the occasionally painful world of Arch-based distributions.

Two sides to every discussion

I have been trying to avoid obsessing over Brexit for the past few months. For all the shouting among UK politicians and all the breathless reporting in the press, nothing has really changed since December. A withdrawal agreement has been negotiated and Parliament still needs to decide whether to ratify it, or crash out of the EU with no deal or revoke Article 50 and bring this whole sorry mess to an end.

With that in mind, Chris Grey makes a point worth repeating.

An additional issue to consider is whether the EU would countenance an extension anyway

Much of the recent Parliamentary maneuverings have been around forcing Boris Johnson to request an extension to Britain’s EU membership before the exit date of October 31st. What no-one seems to be taking into account is that there is no guarantee that the EU will agree to such a request. Furthermore, given that the UK is still running around in circles, there is a good chance that leaders of the other EU countries will say no.

Back in March, when Theresa May asked for an extension, Macron was very vocal about not wanting the UK to still be sucking up the EU’s time and attention after the EU parliament elections in May. While he was the most vocal of the EU leaders, he wasn’t completely isolated and several other countries were leaning towards the view that, if the UK is going to crash out anyway, it would be better to cut the process short and get it over with.

After that extension was granted, Parliament immediately went on holiday and then the Conservative party decided that the best use of their time would be to organise yet another leadership election. And now the UK is stuck with a prime minister whose dishonesty is so bare-faced that no-one — not even his own brother — is willing to trust him.

Parliament probably is going to force Johnson to ask for an extension and, when he does so, the leaders of the other EU countries will ask what would be the point of such an extension. I am not convinced that the UK has a good answer to this.

On a related note, if anyone reading this happens to be a student, don’t forget to register to vote.

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season caused quite a stir when it was published, culminating with a Hugo award for best novel in 2016. Having finally gotten around to reading it, I can see why.

This is superb. It’s also quite difficult to talk about because the intricacies of the plot make it far too easy to accidentally give away plot spoilers, which is probably why the GoodReads synopsis is so vague:

This is the way the world ends…for the last time.

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.


This felt like a very dense story to me. There is so much going on here, and it’s intricately constructed in such a way that you can never quite see what is coming next, until it happens at which point it feels inevitable. That said, I did have a genuine “Oh” moment when the various plot strands started coming together allowing the full picture to emerge.

The world building also deserves a mention for showing the sort of attention to detail that made Frank Herbert’s Dune so memorable for me. Everything fits and it’s all shown to us naturally as the characters progress through the world of the Stillness. There are no info-dumps here, and the strength of Jemisin’s writing is such that none are needed.

With The Fifth Season, N.K. Jeminsin has pulled together several familiar fantasy tropes (far future, dying Earth), added her own original vision and twisted it all together into something utterly unique.

Now I must rush out and get The Obelisk Gate.

More pumpkins

A couple of weeks ago we harvested the first of our pumpkins and, yesterday I checked on how the rest of them were doing.

We have another monster in there.


It looks like we shall be very well stocked by Halloween.

Hendrick-Jan de Stuntman

I mentioned Kattenfeest yesterday, but not everything because Hendrick-Jan de Stuntman really deserves a post to himself.

Springtime is a romantic comedy in the tradition of silent films starring Hendrick-Jan de Stuntman and Merel Kamp. The thirty minute show follows the couple from their first meeting until the final “happily ever after”.

On springs.

Both of the characters are suspended from springs and this is what really makes the show into something utterly unique. The springs constrains characters’ movement, forcing them to deliver an exaggerated and often clumsy-looking performance. The fact that they can launch themselves somewhat also expands the slapstick possibilities of the show, something they take full advantage of.

They have taken this show to festivals around Europe and, if you do have the chance to see it I heartily recommend that you do so. It’s a physically impressive and genuinely funny show that is well worth seeing.

Street parties, spaghetti westerns and my new favourite IPA

Kattenfeest is a street party that takes locally every year on the penultimate weekend of August. It’s a day of music, street theatre and kids activities as well as an opportunity for local clubs and groups to generate some interest and raise a bit of revenue that runs well into the evening. We don’t tend to stay overly late (young kids and all that) but it is a pleasant way to pass a sunny afternoon.

We ended up at a bar being manned by the karate club which had put a mat out in order to perform some demonstrations. Here they were serving a selection of local beers, which is how I came to be drinking a Schieve Hop from the Brouwerij De Schieve. I think I have just discovered my new favourite IPA.

Schieve Hop is a very pleasant dark blonde beer with a flavour that is hoppy, but not overpoweringly so. It went down very well, and was much appreciated, on the warm summer afternoon and is a beer I will certainly look out for again. I also loved the fact that the glass was almost as slanted as I was.

And so to my discovery of the day.

I have mentioned the music and this takes the form of a series of bands that play throughout the afternoon and into the evening. One of these bands (Taat Zot & Jasper, I think) was playing a series of 1950s and 1960s covers, including a rather good rendition of the theme from A Fistful of Dollars (or something very similar). This inspired a brief YouTube search and the discovery that this theme has also been performed by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra.