Category: Book Reviews

  • Clone Wars Watchlist

    The Martian
    The Martian by Andy Weir
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I won’t deny part of my motivation for reading this book is the impending release of the movie based on it. I have a strong preference for having read the book before seeing a film adaptation, and The Martian was both a book I’d been meaning to read and a movie I want to see. I think I managed to avoid picturing Matt Damon as the main character, despite having already seen the teaser trailers. The book also contains precisely the sort of descriptive action that maps well into visual storytelling on-screen. Part of me thinks it would also make a good adventure game (either text-based or point-and-click), in the way that its structure is largely a series of problem-solving exercises.

    Stylistically the first person voice took some getting used to. There was almost too much internal dialogue for our beleagured astronaut Mark, and a lot of it made him come across as a bit… macho? He’s certainly nerdy and resourceful, and has an engineer’s mind, things I identify with, but also seems like someone I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy hanging out with, personality-wise. The book is naturally primarily his story, but I found a number of the supporting characters potentially more interesting; they just don’t get much page time. I wonder how much of that was a limitation of the book’s original serial format? It definitely feels like there could have been a much larger story here, but on the other hand these short action vignettes are probably a more enjoyable read, and make for more nailbiting as Mark prepares to attempt various dangerous improvised survival techniques.

    From a technical perspective the book was excellent, at least as far as my own space aficionado knowledge goes. Pretty much any time I had a quibble with the science or engineering, or thought I had spotted a potential solution or technology-based plot hole, it was resolved within a few pages. Some aspects of their fictional mission profile reminded me of the Mars Direct program proposed in Zubrin‘s The Case for Mars, particularly sending cargo and return vehicles to Mars before any crew arrived; however it definitely differs in that the large interplanetary cruise module seems to be the more popular choice in fiction than in reality, where mass and cost matter a bit more. I also liked the callbacks to various past Mars missions.

    I don’t think you need a technical background to enjoy the book, but it probably would help to be familiar with the history and technology of crewed spaceflight to enjoy some parts of it. Overall it’s a fun quick read, and I’d recommend it.

  • Sunspot

    A small Yorkshire Terrier lies in a pet bed on a green upholstered chair in a sunny living room.

    I wish I could nap like Pike naps.

  • The Muppets Meet Murderbot

    For the last year and a half or so Andrle and I have been having a ton of fun as part of an online book club put together by my friend Tanya. Unlike most book clubs where you all read the same thing, we all just share things we love that we’ve been reading.

    One recommendation that kept coming up was The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and I’m glad we finally ran with it and started reading them. We’ve been bingeing the last few weeks and they’re really, really great. Highly recommend (even though I’m only on Book 4.)

    Unsurprisingly another thing I’ve been reading about and thinking about a lot is the advent of Large Language Models, particularly as manifested by ChatGPT. My past work life as an NLP practitioner has me a mix of curious, envious, and highly suspicious of what these are and how they’re being used. In the short term I don’t mind using them as a toy that I can play with for the purpose of a joke, which is what this post is about.

    A recurring topic in this book club is how we might have the Muppets interpret a particular book, or how we might recast a movie with Muppets (but keep one human actor). This provides a lot of fun discussions, especially since I grew up regularly watching the classic Muppet movies on VHS recorded off of TV, and I really like musicals.

    That all brings me to some prompt iterating that I did to get ChatGPT to write the painfully cliché finale to a Muppet musical featuring Murderbot. (Apologies to both Henson and Wells.)

    Verse 1 (Murderbot):
    I used to be a killing machine,
    A rogue cyborg, feared and mean,
    But then I met the Muppets and Kermit,
    And learned what friendship truly meant.

    Verse 2 (Kermit):
    I'm just a simple frog, it's true,
    But I believe in friendship too,
    And when I met Murderbot, I knew,
    Together we could do something new.

    Chorus (All):
    We don't need to kill no more,
    Our friends are all we're fighting for,
    With Murderbot and Kermit side by side,
    We'll show the world what we stand for.

    Verse 3 (Murderbot):
    I never wanted to be a tool,
    But that's all humans see in me, it's cruel,
    I used to dream of breaking free,
    From their endless schemes and greed.

    Verse 4 (Kermit):
    It's true, I'm always happy-go-lucky,
    But I've been through some tough times that were quite yucky,
    But now with Murderbot and the gang,
    I know our friendship will never hang.

    Chorus (All):
    We don't need to kill no more,
    Our friends are all we're fighting for,
    With Murderbot and Kermit side by side,
    We'll show the world what we stand for.

    Bridge:
    The past is gone, the future bright,
    With friends like these, we'll win the fight,
    Our love and trust will guide us through,
    Together we'll see this journey through.

    Chorus (All):
    We don't need to kill no more,
    Our friends are all we're fighting for,
    With Murderbot and Kermit side by side,
    We'll show the world what we stand for.

    Outro:
    So let's raise our voices high,
    And let the world hear our battle cry,
    With Muppets and Murderbot side by side,
    We'll change the world and turn the tide.
    OpenAI. (2023, Mar. 16) [Iterative prompt conversation starting with “This Muppet movie is about a rogue cyborg traveling to different space stations and learning the power of friendship from the Muppets” and “I need some lyrics for the big finals. The music is big broadway style number about how the rogue cyborg doesn’t need to kill bad guys anymore because it has friends.” and then encouraging more dialogue between Kermit and Murderbot] https://chat.openai.com/

    Yes, I looked up recommendations on how to properly cite ChatGPT output.

    Overall the result was mildly amusing. I couldn’t get it to capture Murderbot’s signature style, presumably because while information about the novellas are in its model training, not enough text from the novellas are in there.

    I’m still not sure what useful things I could do with this kind of tool, but in the meantime, I can make it make silly songs.

  • Fox Ferocity

    Pike playing with a toy almost as big as he is.

  • Groomed Pike

    Tiny freshly groomed Yorkie sits on a teal couch wearing a monstera bow tie

    I love this little gentleman.

  • The Kale Wanter

    A small black and brown Yorkie stands on a cream rug in front of a brown cupboard begging for the bunch of lacinato kale in hand in the foreground.