My Favorite Android: The Murderbot Diaries

The first use of the word “robot” dates back to the 1920’s (robotnik or similar being a term for factory worker in many slavic languages), but the word “android,” meaning a miniature human-like automaton, is older, as far as 1863. A robot – a disembodied piece of machinery – does work for you – like a Roomba, or the useless rolling pest in the grocery store that spies on people who might steal things (at least Roomba can clean up a mess it finds, and doesn’t cost $35,000). An android looks like a human, moves like a human, interacts like a human (more or less), but inside is a machine.

That fact has led to a huge amount of introspection – how do we define Human? Is a self-aware, English-communicating Gorilla a person? What about our AI creations? When a computer becomes self-aware, does it have a soul? Is it “human”? At that point, is the use and ownership of an android slavery?  That question was battled in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Measure of a Man,” where Starfleet claimed to own Data the android and control him like equipment, while the case was made he was sentient and free. The movie(s) Blade Runner also focused on that question. 

I’m not a techie. Computers are great if they do what I need,  but I couldn’t care less about future tech, AI interfaces, androids, or streaming. Anyone who knows any science fiction knows you never trust AI or give it too much power. I like Data, I don’t love Data. C3PO is annoying. I hated Marvin the Paranoid Android. No matter how many times I watch Blade Runner, I think it’s one of the most boring movies ever (I still love The Six Million Dollar Man, but he was a bionic human, not android). So I was really, really surprised that I even picked up the book All Systems Red by Martha Wells, also known as The Murderbot Diaries #1. Not my kind of book. But from the first page, I could not put the book down. I read it while cooking. I read it while my kids were in the tub. I read it while walking. I had to finish it in one day. Thankfully, it’s a short novella, and that’s entirely possible.

Murderbot, as it calls itself (it has no gender. Murderbots are not built for sex; that’s a sexbot), is a Security Unit (SecUnit), a partly organic robot/android construct built to provide security detail for whoever rents or buys it. Of course, mostly what security entails is killing whatever might harm the persons it’s hired to protect, hence the term Murderbot. Murderbot, however, manages to hack its own governor module, releasing itself from control by the company who owns it. 

This starts Murderbot on a soul-searching (or soul-developing?) quest to find out exactly who or what it is now, all while working hard not to let anyone realize it’s free, because an uncontrolled killing machine is a very, very dangerous thing (to quote Kyle Reese from Terminator, “That terminator is out there, it can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop… EVER, until you are dead!”).  But Murderbot isn’t fond of killing. He’s fond of soap operas and TV serials (like The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon). All he wants is to be left undisturbed to watch his shows while he tries to figure out the human race. Life never lets him, and he feels obligated (like the heroes in the soaps he watches) to help while trying to solve the mystery of who is trying to kill the people he was hired to protect.

Murderbot is sarcastic, droll, funny, depressed, almost autistic in his stilted approach to emotion and interaction with people. He’s a fast thinker and an opportunist. He says s**t a lot more than Data. He doesn’t want to be human, yet is fascinated by them and can’t stop studying them. And he makes mistakes, just like a human. The innovative – and logical – adaption/hijacking of computer systems has opened my eyes to issues I’ve never given a thought to, such as the power of drones. With all the issues currently happening via ransomware, spying, and breaches, and the mass-market and miniaturization of drones, maybe we should be thinking more along the lines of Murderbot, as our military is also controlled by computers, and nothing but nothing is hack-proof. People mistrusted the NYPD robodog so much they had to send it back.

I had to read the second book Artificial Condition (possibly my favorite, because of ART, Murderbot’s name for the “A*****e Research Transport” ship computer), whipped through the third, Rogue Protocol , flew through the fourth Exit Strategy, (also possibly my favorite), and am now reading the fifth, Network Effect. The sixth and current volume is Fugitive Telemetry, with three more commissioned by the publisher, and a TV version is in the works (please, please don’t mess it up!). All Systems Red has won the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, the Alex Award, and the Locus Award. Yes, the stories are simple (good guy must take down bad guy) but the humanity and humanism throughout the series will keep you emotionally invested to the very end. 

Pure enjoyment, with no other agenda. Murderbot is my favorite android ever. 

 

British Mysteries from Book to Screen

Today’s post comes to us from our Deputy Director Deb, who loves a good mystery!

Many devoted mystery readers began with Agatha Christie’s classic golden age mysteries featuring Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. I certainly did! These distinctly British offerings are a perfect gateway into the world of mysteries. And like so many other British mysteries, they have been made into marvelous television series, which you can watch using the library’s new streaming video service, Acorn TV. Or you can download the books in e-book or e-audio from the library’s website.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are both well represented on Acorn TV and in our e-book and e-audiobook collections. Consider reading or listening to Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders or The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Check out Acorn TV and watch Marple, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime, The Agatha Christie Hour and Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Also try Christie’s classic locked-room mystery, And Then There Were None, considered to be the world’s best-selling mystery, available in e-book and e-audio and on Acorn.

The Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton features a middle-aged woman who sells her London PR firm and moves to the country (the Cotswolds, to be precise), where, in true amateur detective fashion, she encounters—and solves– murders galore! Try the first book in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, available in both audio and ebook. Or read any of the others—like so many long-running mystery series, it isn’t necessary to read them in order. Then watch Agatha Raisin on Acorn, a top pick for fans of cozy British mysteries.

One of my favorite village cozy series, also by M.C. Beaton, features the unambitious and charming policeman Hamish Macbeth who patrols the village of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands. I have listened to all of them on audio. The reader, Graeme Malcolm, imbues the audiobooks with such charm and personality that I’m betting you, too, will be hooked! We have more than a dozen titles available on e-audio, including Death of an Honest Man and  Death of a Gossip. Then check out Hamish Macbeth on Acorn.

The Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood, featuring a glamorous private detective in 1920s Melbourne, is actually Australian, but close enough to fit in with our British theme. The supremely independent Miss Fisher has class, sass and the means to pull it all off! Try Cocaine Blues, the first in the series, or The Spotted Dog. The clothes alone make the series worth watching Miss Fisher on Acorn!

Ann Cleeves’ series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope is considerably darker than the other series in this post. DCI Stanhope is a solitary, obsessed, caustic, brilliant investigator near the end of her career working in northern England. Try listening to the first in the series, The Crow Trap, or read The Seagull. And be sure to watch Vera on Acorn TV.

Set in Ireland, the long-running Jack Taylor series by Ken Bruen has been thrilling readers (and now TV fans) for years. Taylor is a classic ex-cop turned seedy private eye prowling the underbelly of Galway. Try e-book or e-audio  Galway Girl or e-audio Purgatory and check out Jack Taylor on Acorn.

Groovin’ with Pete the Cat

Children’s books are notoriously hard to get published. Everyone has an idea for a children’s book, and almost all of them will never see a contract. More than 21,000 children’s titles are published every year in the US, by a number of publishers, which is only a dent in the number of actual submissions. Scholastic, the one who haunts school kids with that monthly flier, publishes just 600 books a year, from board books through High School. So when a children’s book is self-published, sells 7,000 copies in its first ten months and is then signed on by major publisher Harper Collins, you know there’s something really good there. And in this case, the really good is Pete the Cat .

If you haven’t read him, Pete the Cat is a groovy large-eyed, laid-back blue/black cat who lives with his mom and dad and his tuxedo-patterned brother Bob. He has a host of friends (Grumpy Toad, Gus the Platypus, Callie, Squirrel, etc) and he loves bananas and surfing. His stories are mostly easy-readers that play to the 2-7 year old crowd, but he is infinitely more interesting than that. Pete is the kind of story you want your child to like, because you want to read more of his stories.

Pete is the creation of James Dean, whose early illustrations wound up as musically or rhythmically-oriented stories by storyteller/musician Eric Litwin. Litwin wrote four of Pete’s adventures (Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, Rockin in my School Shoes, I Love My White Shoes, and Pete the Cat Saves Christmas). I have to admit, these early volumes are my favorites, and I cannot help but read Pete stories as if he’s a surfer dude. Groovy, man. While Litwin and Dean split in 2011, Dean and his wife Kimberly have written more than 60 Pete adventures, with more on the way. Pete’s adventures range from curing hiccups (Mom knows best!) to sleepover friends who won’t sleep, to shopping in the grocery store and scuba diving.

The actual Pete the Cat

Being an artist was not Dean’s plan. His father was an artist, and he didn’t relish  reliving the struggle. While being an electrical engineer paid bills, art crept into his life more and more, until he began to pursue art full-time. When he adopted a tiny black kitten he named Pete, Pete’s antics crept into his artwork , and a legend was born.

Dean’s success is an author’s dream – self-published, picked up by a real publisher just two years later, a runaway success (more than 7 million copies sold), merchandise deals, and now a TV series on Amazon Prime, with voices by no one less than jazz singers Jason Mraz and Diana Krall (which totally fits, because Pete gives off that groovy chill of a cool jazz cat). They say self-publishing doesn’t pay, but Dean is one of those handful of lucky authors who won that lottery.

While I find some of the titles to be uneven and lacking the lyrical qualities of the bigger titles such as Groovy Buttons, Pete remains one of my current favorite preschool titles, stories you don’t mind reading over and over again, with subtle morals (family, keeping your cool, how to be a friend, sharing, learning, etc) that won’t make you roll your eyes with saccharine. Rock on, Pete!

Cheshire Library has more than thirty Pete titles!  Here are some of them:

Pete the Cat: Rockin in My School Shoes
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons 
Pete at the Beach
Pete’s Big Lunch
Pete the Cat: Scuba Cat
Pete the Cat: Snow Daze
A Pet for Pete
Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses
Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes
Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues
Pete the Cat Goes Camping
Pete the Cat and the Perfect Pizza Party
Pete the Cat and the New Guy

The big, BIG list of literary adaptions coming to screens in 2020

There are so many outlets for watching movies and series out there nowadays, the amount of content is a bit overwhelming! With the current glut of original content hitting our big and small screens, it can be a bit of a shot in the dark to find something to watch that’s actually good. Which is why literary adaptations are experiencing a bit of a heyday, movies and TV based on popular books have a built-in fan base from people who’ve read and enjoyed the books, and also introduce the source material to new readers.

Several book-based series are continuing with new seasons this year:  season 5 of the Starz series Outlander, (based on The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon), season 3 of BBC series C.B. Strike, (based on Lethal White by Robert Galbraith),  and season 2 of the HBO series His Dark Materials, (based on The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman) are all coming to the small screen in 2020.

Beyond that, the list of new movies and television set to be released in the coming year is  HUGE. Check out all this book-based programming :

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

APRIL

MAY

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

OCTOBER

DECEMBER

There are still more book adaptations expected to premiere in 2020, with release dates yet to be finalized:

This is not a completely comprehensive list, and is subject to change as the year goes on. What literary adaptations are you most excited to see this year?

 

Myth-ing Persons : Heroes of Myth and Legend

January began as one of the last months of year, not the first.  The start of the Roman calendar (and the astrological one) was March. Back then there were only ten months to the year, totaling 304 days. Between was a miasmic 66 monthless days of “winter.” According to legend, Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome (after Romulus himself), added January and February to codify that winter term (along with a catch-up month every other year of 22 days).

Was Numa a real figure? History leans toward yes, born around 753 BC. Both Plutarch and Livy (major Roman writers) wrote about him. He codified Roman laws and religion, so we know he actually lived, but like many legends, there are stories about him that are most likely fable.

Every culture has their grandiose heroes of myth and legend. Some we know are fantasy (Beowulf), while others we know are fact (Jesse James). Let’s look at some famous heroes that history can’t make up its mind about.

Mulan

Disney’s Mulan is based on a Chinese poem called The Ballad of Mulan. She is believed to have lived somewhere between 386 CE and 620 CE (if you’re not up on your history, Common Era has replaced the Anno Domini). She takes her aging father’s place in the army, and serves for twelve years without her fellow soldiers realizing she’s a woman. Depending on the source, her name might be Hua Mulan, Zhu Mulan, or Wei Mulan. Although she’s first mentioned by the 500’s, historians can’t decide if she’s real or just an interesting story.

 

 

 

 

John Henry

The steel-driving African American of song fame who managed to hammer more rock than the new-fangled steam drill before collapsing and dying was likely a real man. In the 1920’s, sociologist Guy Johnson tracked down not only people who claimed to have worked with John Henry, but one man who claimed to have seen the showdown. The front runner for the actual location is during the cutting of the Big Bend Tunnel in Talcott, West Virginia, around 1870, but no one has definitive proof.

 

 

 

 

William Tell

A folk hero of Switzerland, Tell was an expert bowman. When Switzerland fell under control of the Habsburgs, a magistrate put his hat on a pole and demanded all citizens bow before it, or be imprisoned. While in town with his son, Tell refused to bow, was arrested and sentenced to death – though, since he was such a marksman, the Magistrate would let him go if he could shoot an apple off his son’s head. Tell did so, was arrested anyway, escaped, and the people rose up in rebellion, in an act considered the founding of the Swiss Confederacy, around 1307. Some historians believe Tell is merely a new twist on an old Danish fable.

Robin Hood

     The story of Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Prince John, King Richard, and the Band of Merrymen has been told for almost a thousand years. We know King Richard and Prince John are real (Richard took the throne in 1189), but there is debate about Robin Hood. Most likely a yeoman, not a noble, the name Robin was about as common as fleas, and the word Hood (sometimes Wood; the Old English were creative spellers) simply meant a man who made or wore hoods – more common then than hats. History’s been singing about him since the 1300’s, but his true identity isn’t known. If you can, check out the BBC series Robin of Sherwood.

 

 

 

 

 

King Arthur

Oh, Arthur! How we want to believe! Of all legends, yours is perhaps the most influential of any! Your mage Merlin/Myrrdin is the direct ancestor of Gandalf, Dungeons and Dragons, Dumbledore, and more.  “Arthur” (depending on spelling) is believed to have actually been a military leader who fought battles against the Saxons around the end of the 5th century. The earliest possible references to him date to the 600’s, though some discuss a Battle of Badon but give no mention of a king named Arthur.  Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first to give a romanticized version in the 1100’s, then Thomas Malory came along in the 1400’s and standardized the legend. T.H. White called him the Once and Future King, and Lerner and Loewe put it all to music so we could remember it easier. Arthur was probably real, but not quite as mystical as we’ve been made to believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January’s a harsh month, but 31 days is sure better than 66, so curl up with a legendary figure, real or possibly not, and decide for yourself.