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Eating Robots: And Other Stories (Nudge the Future)
Eating Robots: And Other Stories (Nudge the Future)
by Stephen Oram
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars 'Imagine being a hedonist forever’…, 31 May 2017
Eating Robots is a collection of 30 short stories, offering bite-sized future visions based on technological advances, while holding up a mirror to our current social tendencies.

Most often I find compilations of short stories a bit hit and miss: there are powerful pieces, but hidden among weaker ones. As such I end up stalling, and taking much longer than usual to complete a book. Eating Robots is not like that at all. It is a strong collection with no weak links, and I couldn't put it down. The stories are very short, sometimes only a page, and yet even in such brief pieces Oram manages to make a big impact. Of course, there is little space for character and plot development, but it is the concepts that are important here and they are conveyed in an innovative and distinctive way.

How do you think the world might look if we had an electronic universal credit system, whereby everyone received the same income? Where everyone would have adequate funds for food and clothing? It sounds wonderful. And yet maybe there would still be social outcasts; maybe new prejudices and poverties would emerge, because maybe that's the way the human race works.
What if we could live forever, but not repeat the same phrase to a person more than once every 1000 years? If we could be with others, but necessarily end up in silence with only our own thoughts as conversation?

‘Some days his brain would be so hyperactive that he’d skitter from one scrap of thought to another. And on others he was unable to process any thought at all.’

It seems to me like the complete opposite to the noisy world in which we live now, where all is retweeting and sharing and regurgitating opinion. It made me think about just how much of what comes out of our mouths has been said before, many times. Put like that we seem dull and repetitive, mechanical almost. And yet even as an introvert who would relish the opportunity to live in silence a while, reading books and creating and imagining; a world without conversation and comforting repetition for potentially hundreds of years sounds like hell.

Some of the stories are explorations into possible avenues for AI development, including the commonly discussed idea of sentient robots, and what that could mean for us.

‘He wondered whether she was human or gynoid, a female robot, and whether that mattered. Rationally, he believed that it was important to know, but it wouldn't alter his feelings. However the reality that he might be walking hand in hand with an artificially intelligent gynoid was testing those rational beliefs.’

There are also some radical examples of body modifications and enhancements here, including ‘Picasso’ people who go to extreme measures to show their love for their partners, brain altering pills to improve the performance of customer service operatives, and an unsettling way of obtaining meat without animal slaughter.

Then, just when the future of the human race was all feeling rather bleak, Eating Robots hit me with an old woman in piss-powered pyjamas who is over-protective of her robot helper, and a mischievous species of genetically modified moss. Very amusing, and welcomed for balance.

The last and longest story in the book - US - is also my favourite. It is full of feeling, expressing a harsh world of grief and pain in a minefield of defence mechanisms, enforced isolation and empathy. It describes the internal conflict between the need for human connection and the need for privacy, and shows the difficult truth of how the majority treat those in despair.

‘Agnature believes in goodness. She believes that, rather than a deliberate act of cruelty, they are so absorbed in their own lives and with their own struggles that they don't notice the grey skinned woman.

I can accept that up to a point. Surely they get a small pinprick of conscience? Maybe they're too lazy to engage with it. Although I also get a sense that the vibrations she's creating, which feel like a never ending pit of need, are scaring off even the most generous of people.’

There is a lot of depth to this story in particular, and I just know I will continue to ponder it.

At the end of the book there is a section ‘responses from the experts’ in which medicinal research fellows and robotics professors give their comments on some of the stories. This was unexpected, but it did add some dimension to the ideas by putting them into a real, present day context. The stories in Eating Robots are after all designed to be discussion points, and for me they have already lived up to that because I couldn't keep from reading parts aloud to my partner!

In summary, Eating Robots is a well-crafted, highly imaginative collection of ideas that are inescapably relevant to our era. At times it is terrifying. Other times it is whimsical. But every instalment is food for thought, and that is what I enjoy most in reading fiction.

Note: I was given a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature 260 ml/9fl oz Anti-Colic Plus Feeding Bottles (4-pack)
Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature 260 ml/9fl oz Anti-Colic Plus Feeding Bottles (4-pack)

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant for windy baby!, 25 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I have been using these bottles for my daughter for about a month now and they are working a treat. Previously she was an extremely windy baby and was using anti colic drops in each bottle. She was also being sick a fair bit when trying to bring up her wind which was distressing for her. Now we have very few problems at all and she no longer needs to take any drops.

The main criticism I have read of these bottles is that they leak badly. This is true, but only if the instructions are not adhered to and milk is allowed to enter the airflow system. This can happen if the slit in the valve is not clear before use, if the valve is not kept out of the milk as your are feeding baby, or if formula and water are mixed by shaking the bottle after the anti-colic system has been put in. The way I have found to prevent this is by using the Tommee Tippee bottle lids (unfortunately not included in this box) and then adding the anti-colic system and teat just before use. Don't worry - getting this right isn't nearly as complex as it might seem!

The other criticism I have read is that the bottles are expensive and involve more washing/putting together than standard bottles. Both of these things are very small factors in my opinion - it's definately worth a little extra effort and a few more pounds on a one off purchase that will make such a big difference to your baby.

Unfortunately the temperature feature does not work at all, though it would only be a 'nice to have' as far as I'm concerned. It is supposed to turn red to indicate too hot to give to baby, however if the anti colic system is put in the bottle while the milk is still hot, it does not turn blue again even when the bottle is empty.

In summary, I would recommend these bottles to anyone with a baby suffering from colic, wind and even reflux. They are not perfect but work extremely well if all instructions are followed.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Flamingo)
Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Flamingo)
by C. G. Jung
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.50

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Introspective Companion to Jung, 24 April 2013
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Although presented as an autobiography, 'Memories, Dreams, Reflections' was the project of German Jungian Analyst Aniela Jaffe, written with the permission and assistance of C G Jung in his very late years. It is not, at his request, considered part of his 'Collected Works'.

Jung's personal relationships are outside the scope of this book - rather he agreed only to share aspects of his life relevant to his ideas. To ensure this, Jung himself wrote the chapters concerning his childhood and school days, and also a chapter 'Late Thoughts' which is a commentry on how the carefully selected exposures are linked to his life's work.

Chapters primarily written by Jaffe cover Jung's divergence from Freudian Psychology, his confrontation with his own unconscious (which really helps unlock the meaning behind his famous 'Red Book'), influences from other cultures and summaries of his major works. All are illustrated using real case examples and vivid dream recollections and make for an enjoyable read.

Perhaps the most frank and revealing part of the book is the brief final chapter in which a somewhat solemn tone is taken in describing a path that was in many ways lonely to experience.

Whilst it is by no means a substitution for Jung's papers themselves, this book is a very compelling insight into the life and experiences that led to the development of his theories. It adds a new level of understanding to a serious student, and provides an easy to read account of a highly influential psychologist to many others.

Corset Making: For Beginners to Intermediate
Corset Making: For Beginners to Intermediate
by Julia Bremble
Edition: CD-ROM
Price: £18.00

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some useful tips but not the best guide, 14 Jan. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am an intermediate level corset maker and picked up a few tips from this book. I was glad to see it included information on rollpinning which is not often mentioned in beginners books but had I known about it I would surely have avoided some pitfalls. However I did find myself looking elsewhere for a more comprehensive explanation and demonstration. The information on how to adapt commercial patterns and different seam methods is useful.

There are lots of pictures on the disc, but even so I'm not sure that it goes into enough detail or explains things adequately - I probably would have struggled to use this as my sole resource as a beginner. I would recommend the Linda Sparks book 'The Basics of Corset Building' over this.

The main reason I bought this was that I thought the video sections would be helpful but there aren't many and there are better tutorials available for free on youtube. Having read it through I doubt I will look at it again.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 10, 2013 2:02 AM BST

These Dreams of You
These Dreams of You
by Steve Erickson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.17

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but not his best, 20 Nov. 2012
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This review is from: These Dreams of You (Paperback)
'These Dreams of You' is very much a Steve Erickson novel in terms of his melancholic exploration of human relationships - linking characters through seemingly coincidental actions spanning broad timescales and locations. There are also a number of recurring characters and themes in his novels which his faithful readers have come to recognise, and this is no exception.

However, the book is primarily a political commentry on race and the role it plays in family life in modern America. It asks questions of the reader - is it ok for a white novelist to make a character black for no other reason than that's the way he imagines her? Is it even relevant to point out the race of the character? As the novelist re-writes his own journey for culture, does a polictian re-live a fate predetermined by the same culture?

The story follows a couple, Zan and Viv, in their search for the biological mother of their adopted Ethiopian daughter. Their financial struggles and demands of parenthood colour their journey with desperation and determination. There are many references and integrations of real life personalities, politcians and pop stars along the way, who although are not named directly go undisguised. For me this deflects from Erickson's own ideas and narrative, and feels at times a little lazy for such a talented and imaginative writer.

The book is a very straight-forward read. Its short passages in place of chapters makes it difficult to put down, and the suggested character connections are less of a puzzle than some of Erickson's earlier works. Though it has to be said, this also makes it less rewarding.

To my mind, Erickson's talents lie in creating dreamlike scenarios - showing us worlds that are on the face of it our own, yet with subtle differences in their rules that make the reader feel they are somehow behind a veil. 'Rubicon Beach', 'The Sea Came in at Midnight' and 'Days Between Stations' are some of my favourite novels because of this. Recently though, it is as though Erickson is re-evaluating himself and his value as a modern writer and as a result his work is less adventurous and striking.

Enjoyable, at times thought provoking, but not his best.

Black Heart Revival
Black Heart Revival
Price: £21.33

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Revival Needed!, 7 July 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Black Heart Revival (Audio CD)
This release disappointed me. Red Silk Vow was an amazing goth/rock album - every track was powerful, dark and full of promise. The EP Nightmares For The Banished was equally as good. The band became more theatrical for the next album (Halloween Sex and Vegas), developing a goth 'n' roll sound, using samples and more tongue in cheek lyrics similar to the style of The Damned.

Black Heart Revival is very much in the same vein as Halloween Sex and Vegas, but isn't nearly as much fun. Edward's unmistakeable vocals are the same as ever, but they sound awkward and angular at the faster pace the band have adopted. Most of the tunes on this album seem to either just coast along or become annoying.

The opener, Kiss The Dead, and Devil's Point are high points, which give hope for the album. Buried and Anna are reminiscent of the earlier days, though perhaps not as dark. Rebel Dirty Rebel and Goddam sinner are faster paced, and I imagine could be good in a live setting.

On the whole I had hoped for more from this album. Although I like the concept of a theatrical goth rock 'n' roll band, in my opinion Seraphim Shock were better suited to dark, gothic moodscapes.

You Only Live Twice (Limited)
You Only Live Twice (Limited)
Price: £20.64

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Polished Release!, 30 Jun. 2011
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Pain is the solo project of Hypocrisy's Peter Tagtgren. And when I say solo project, I mean he does the vocals, guitars, drums, arrangements and production. Where Hypocrisy focus on extra terrestial possibilities and the dark side of society, Pain is all about human emotion and the everyday pains we go through. Pain uses electronic and industrial sounds, and mainly clean vocals unlike Peter's 'main' band.

It seems that every Pain album needs a few listens before I really love it - but they all grow on me in the end with their catchy lyrics and heavy, pacey, industrial musical feel. You Only Live Twice is no exception.

Instantly likeable tracks are Dirty Woman, which sounds like ACDC vocals over a Slipknot backing track, and The Great Pretender. The pacey opener Let Me Out is a great introduction to the album, but there is some irony in the title track sounding similar to Same Old Song. The final track Season of the Reaper reminds me of some of the slow paced Hypocrisy tracks such as Final Chapter. In fact, there seems to be more of Hypocrisy influence coming in on this album than previously - perhaps in Peter's vocal style and guitar impact. But on the whole, this is exactly the standard we have come to expect from the unique project.

My only real criticism is that it doesn't feel sufficiently new. It doesn't have quite the same exclusive and powerful feel that Rebirth had and still has for me, as though it is all becoming a bit routine and formulaic to make a Pain album. That said, it hasn't been off my car stereo since release date and I would definately recommend a listen to Pain fans existing and new.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 14, 2011 4:26 PM GMT

The Coma
The Coma
by Alex Garland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lacking, 31 May 2011
This review is from: The Coma (Paperback)
'The Coma' tells the psychological experiences of a man following a brutal beating that left him hospitalized. It aims to explore levels of human consciousness.

From its description on the back of being 'a bold step towards the creation of a new genre, an art form' along with words such as 'disturbing', 'unsettling' and 'mysterious' I was expecting a much darker journey. The story held no real suprises or emotion, and although the subject matter is of a psychological nature, the plot was relatively straightforward.

It is very short, and very quick to read having many blank pages, illustrations and chapters just a couple of paragraphs long. In its few pages it feels as though it is an outline of a story that could have been so much more detailed and gripping, and left me with neither a desire to read more of Garland's work nor a lasting impression.

Whilst the concept of this book is good, it just failed to deliver for me.

B-Sides: 1996-2006
B-Sides: 1996-2006
Offered by fun4yu
Price: £19.96

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 30 May 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: B-Sides: 1996-2006 (Audio CD)
I found this collection of B-Sides to be disappointing. I am a fan of all Placebo's main releases, and although B-Sides I was expecting a bit more from this - something in the vein of Suede's Sci-Fi Lullabies which is of equal if not superior standard to their usual is what I had hoped for.

B-Sides I think are an opportunity for an artist to record something of their own choosing, that is special to them but may not be chart/mass purchasing appeal. That is perhaps what Placebo have done here, but to myself as an outsider it seems as though they have recorded fillers without really trying too hard.

There are a lot of tracks containing unusual or experimental sounds, short tracks that seem to have little purpose other than a 'warm-up' or 'chill-out' session and don't really go anywhere, early tracks that were not recorded well.

I don't dislike all of this collection, there are some reasonable tracks admittidly mostly on the second disc such as 'Leni', 'Bubblegun', 'UNeedMeMoreThanINeedYou' and 'Been Smoking Too Long'. There is also some appeal in 'Ion' and 'Leeloo' instrumentals which have more pleasing compositions than many of the others.

But there are 28 tracks on this double release, and I have given them all a chance, I just don't feel that I will be listening to most of them again. I think the only real appeal of this is for Placebo completists.

Price: £6.93

2.0 out of 5 stars A Collection, Not An Album, 30 May 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Overflow (MP3 Download)
I bought this collection from Razed in Black without really checking as I thought it was an album I was missing. It is actually just a collection of songs from other albums including some remixes.

Although the tracks on here are still good, and even if you do not own Razed in Black's first two albums, I would recommend you buy the full releases instead of this collection as they sit together better and the mixes as originally released are preferable in my opinion.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 16, 2014 1:01 AM BST

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