review

Product Review: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air

When I was looking for a new case for the iPad Air, I decided that I wanted a keyboard. While I do use the Apple Wireless keyboard with my iPad, it is more often connected to my Macbook, along with my wireless mouse. Also, Apple's wireless keyboard isn't as convenient to use when traveling, or when you're not sitting at a desk.

There were a number of different options when I was looking, and all were in the same general price range. Some, like the ZAGG keyboards, provide extra features like keyboard illumination. This seems a little frivolous, as in most cases, the keyboard is going to be at least partially illuminated by the screen itself. Secondly, I'm a touch typist, so actually being able to see the keyboard isn't really all that high on my list of priorities. There does have to be some raised bumps so that I can distinguish between keys to find my place of the home row.

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air

So what features are important for me? Perhaps the biggest one is that I need to be able to switch between keyboard mode, and tablet mode, without having to remove the iPad from the case. A few of the cases only work in a laptop style mode, which just isn't going to work for me. If I was only going to use the tablet in laptop mode, why wouldn't I just use a laptop? What I'm looking for is flexibility, without having to remove the tablet from the case.

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio serves the requirements reasonably well. It can work in either keyboard mode, or tablet mode relatively easily. The keyboard is rather thin, so it still doesn't feel as bulky as my old first generation iPad. While the case doesn't fully protect the sides of the device to the same extent as one of Apple's smart cases would, it seems sufficient for normal use. I would suggest not letting children use an ipad with this case, however. Thankfully, I have older devices with more protective cases to entertain kids with.

They keyboard itself feels decent. The keys are easy to type on, with a few notable exceptions:

  1. The tab key requires the use of the function key in conjunction with Q.
  2. The number keys are shifted one digit to the right to accommodate the iPad menu button.
  3. There are a few other keys which also use the function key. The backtick (`) and tilde (~) are above the bracket keys. The iPad specific functions (lock, Siri, Keyboard, and media keys) are also function keys, paired with the number keys. None of these are a problem for me.

Of these two, I find the number keys to be a notable problem. While I don't always type numbers, I'm a touch typist, so when I try to type 1, I end up going to the home screen. When I try to type a time, like 2:35, I end up typing 1:24. They're just not the right size, and it's irritating.

For comparison, look at the photos, of the Apple Wireless Keyboard, and the Logitech. There are clearly compromises being made with the Logitech. Is it the right keyboard for you? That depends. For the most part, I'm really happy with it. If I did more numeric entry, this keyboard would quickly drive me insane. As it is, it's something that I can live with. The compromises made are easier to live with than most of the other keyboards in the range.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air, Carbon Black can be purchased from a number of places like Amazon, or a local brick and mortar store like Best Buy.

Star Trek DS9 Reviews: The Nagus

The Nagus was a much harder episode to watch than I remember. Wallace Shawn is as amusing as ever, but the multiple levels of racism in the episode is disturbing. There are obviously redeeming values in the episode, but they have to do mostly with the subplot. Grand Nagus Quark

You don't have to look back far in human history to see other cultures similarly vilified, with statements like "they just don't share our values". What a farce. In some ways, the regular Ferengi characters are more human than the other crew members, even if Rom is still woefully underdeveloped.

Quark and Rom

Maybe this was intended to be about the values present in the Star Trek world, which has long been sanitized of the more negative aspects of the human condition. The idealized Roddenberry vision did away with money and greed, something integral to the Ferengi. Just because they weren't in Roddenberry's dream of the future doesn't immediately divorce them from human values though, especially when presented to a modern audience. This is what bothers me.

Grand Nagus Zek

The other Ferengi are cardboard cut outs, and their council meeting to discuss the Gamma quadrant is cartoonish. This is the danger of relying on comedy at the expense of character development. Sadly, we don't really see much character development in Quark, despite many opportunities to do so. He gains great power (among Ferengi) but abuses his friends. He suffers treachery, including from family. He remains unwilling to ask for help. He fails to show gratitude. His pride and stubbornness match the Ferengi greed.

While I suppose there is value in showing how a character remains steadfast in refusing to change, it's far more interesting to show how events can cause changes. In this episode, we end where we began (the sign of an episode of the week) rather than drive forward on an important story arc.

Where we do see character development this episode is in the arguably more important subplot, with Jake and Nog. While the primary "Quark as Nagus" plot is a plot-of-the-week, interactions with Nog are of far greater value. We see the lengths that Jake Sisko goes through in order to remain friends with Nog, even after Rom pulls him from "that hew-mon school". Their friendship, the act of bridging their differences is an important story arc in its own right, and is further developed as the series progresses.

Jake and Nog

I can't understand why Chief O'Brien is allowed to teach the kids while Keiko is away from the station. It's not that he's incompetent, although he has little experience interacting with teenagers. The thing is, the station seems to always be on the brink of breaking down. How can he dedicate time to instruction when the station may finally fall apart? What this does bring us, is a reason for O'Brien to interact with Nog, and form some strong opinions. O'Brien dislikes Nog, and disapproves of his influence on Jake. In time, we will see his opinion change drastically. It's a good way to start things off.

The way that O'Brien states his opinions to Commander Sisko, that he dislikes Nog's influence on Jake, is also important, as it frames the episode's conclusion, where Sisko learns of Jake's influence on Nog. Jake's relationship with Nog is what redeems this episode for me.  There are some good moments from Commander Sisko, when he says that he trusts Jake's judgement (although later he checks up on him, you know, just in case), and the final scene, where he accepts that his son is friends with a Ferengi, but the momentum in this episode is all about Jake and Nog.

The Nagus first aired March 21, 1993. Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr, story by David Livingston. Directed by David Livingston.

Book review: Stealing Home by Hayden Trenholm

It took me a long time to get around to reading this book. It's been on my to read pile for about a year. As I've mentioned recently, I've started doing most of my reading electronically. In fact, I actually read an ebook version of this, even though I have a paper copy on my desk. Stealing Home book coverStealing Home (Kindle, Kobo) is the third book in the Steele Chronicles, published by Bundoran Press. The series started with Defining Diana, and following Steel Whispers, both of which I've previously reviewed. Through each of these books, I've found that the story becomes tighter, and more focused. While the stories can be read independently, the emotional punch of the third book is diminished if you haven't read the earlier books.

I read this book immediately after reading Robert J Sawyer's novel Red Planet Blues, another science fiction novel with a detective story. It's hard not to draw some comparisons. Stealing Home is much darker and grittier than Red Planet Blues. It draws on somewhat of a post-cyberpunk vibe. It feels much more like Blade Runner. The noir point of view wasn't as obvious reading Stealing Home as it was when I first read Defining Diana, and has been scaled back.

It was easier getting into Red Planet Blues. It has a much wider appeal. Once Trenholm gets your attention though, you get sucked into the story. Stealing Home seems to have higher, more personal stakes. Frank Steele seems more human, more relatable. Steele is far from a perfect person. His scars, both emotional and physical, are front and centre. This is part of what makes the story so very interesting.

Stealing Home is a complex story. There are several subplots that weave together, wrapping up several threads from the earlier novels. Like some of Sawyer's novels, one of the themes Trenholm explores is that of uploaded consciousness, something sought after as the ultimate goal of many of the Borg: the Hard Upload into the cloud. It's a kind of cultural myth, a promised homeland for those seeking to cut all ties to the biological body.

The world is a dark place, with large corporations fighting proxy wars across the planet, controlling governments, playing their pawns to gain advantage over others. It's a world full of prejudice, not altogether unlike our own.

Trenholm uses several other themes as well, namely politics and ecological scarcity. Hayden has edited an anthology of short fiction exploring conflict based in ecology, Blood and Water, and is working on editing Strange Bedfellows, a science fiction anthology of future politics, which was a successful Indiegogo crowd funded project.

 

Book Review: The Parasol Protectorate series: Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, Timeless

Back at the 2009 Worldcon in Montreal, I was scheduled to be on a Steampunk panel with Gail Carriger, who was unfortunately unable to attend the convention. It was still a blast, as I met Ann VanderMeer and Christopher J. Garcia (who is quite possibly insane, but in a very good way). Recently, I read Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate novels, starting with Soulless. The novels are a mix of Victorian paranormal mystery fashion and romance. There are bustles and décolletage, vampires and werewolves, zeppelins and robotic octopi.

The general setting is Victorian England, in a time where paranormals, such as vampires and werewolves, play an important role in society, even serving as advisors to the Crown. It's an interesting premise, but really starts to wear thin before the end of the series.

The series follows Alexia Tarabotti, a preternatural whose soulless nature renders supernatural creatures temporarily mortal, merely through touch. She of course has close friendships with both sets of immortals, the rogue vampire Akeldama, as well as the werewolf Lord Maccon. Alexia herself is, perhaps due to her lack of a soul, overly fashion conscious. A lack of natural creativity leads her to a series of social rules. It's hard to explain, but works out well in the novels. Just think about how often George RR Martin goes into excessive detail about battles, lineages, or day-long feasts, and apply that to Victorian fashion accessories, pastries, and fancy hats.

As the series progresses, Carriger builds upon the back story, gently teasing out some longer term plot elements. While the last novel finally manages to bring things to a close, on an upbeat note, some of the middle novels really start to drag on. In particular, Heartless lived up to its name, being considerably less enjoyable than the other novels.

Thankfully, Timeless was worth trudging through the earlier novels. Once again the wit was clever, and the plot twists interesting, once again on par with the amusements of Soulless.

Carriger creates some very amusing characters, and often their interactions are much more entertaining than the plot they're supposedly supporting. Her characterization is a strength, although all the talk about fashionable frippery can get a little old.

  • Soulless: 4/5 stars
  • Changeless: 3/5 stars
  • Blameless: 3/5 stars
  • Heartless: 2/5 stars
  • Timeless: 4/5 stars

Soulless was a fun read. It felt witty, and had a unique tone. The remaining books are worthwhile, especially the concluding book, Timeless. If you've made it to Heartless, push on. You're almost there.

Star Trek: DS9 Reviews: Past Prologue

Where Emissary focused on developing the character of Benjamin Sisko, the second episode spreads things out a bit. In Past Prologue, we get to see a great deal more of Major Kira in this episode, as well as have Dr. Bashir meet the sole remaining Cardassian on the station, Garak, a clothier by trade, as well as a potential spy. The theme of the episode is that of divided loyalties. Who do you place your faith in, who do you really trust?

Garak and Bashir

Garak and Bashir

When I first announced that I was going to be watching and reviewing Deep Space Nine, the reaction was pretty immediate: Garak is a real fan favourite. As I started to watch this episode, I was quick to remember why.

The opening dialogue between Bashir and Garak is a great piece of characterization. Once again, Bashir comes across as rather lacking in social graces, although we can see how he's trying desperately to come up with small talk. For his part, Garak acts the part of a skilled diplomat, smoothing over Bashir's confusion. Garak's dialogue is exceptionally crafted, playing upon multiple layers of ambiguity. Nothing is as it seems, which is exactly the point. When he calls himself "plain, simple Garak," the viewer knows that he is anything but a plain, simple character. When Garak "makes contact" with Bashir, we start one of the great friendships in the series.

Of particular note is that when Bashir heads to Ops to gleefully report this "contact" to others, including Miles O'Brien, he is essentially ignored by O'Brien, aside from rolled eyes. The O'Brien/Bashir friendship is one of the greatest in the series, and it pretty much falls flat at the beginning. Just as Garak and Bashir make unlikely friends, so too do O'Brien and Bashir.

As tactless and naïve as Bashir is in this episode, his enthusiasm is infectious. I still didn't get much of a feel of depth to his character in this episode, yet. 

Kira's Loyalty

The major part of the episode explores Major Kira's loyalties to Bajor, and the checkered past of the Bajoran resistance to Cardassian rule. As the liaison officer to the Bajoran Provisional Government, Kira's loyalty is not to Starfleet, as she has made abundantly clear. In this episode, her past loyalty to Bajoran freedom fighters such as Tahna Los is tested against her new position. This quickly becomes a moral dilemma for Kira, as she discovers that her old friend is planning further terrorist attacks against the station and the wormhole.

Kira turns to Odo for advice, revealing a deep, existing friendship between the two. She really opens up at this point, admitting her uncertainty about where her loyalties lie. Odo's enigmatic reply is that "the only important thing is not to betray yourself." Eventually, Kira turns to Sisko, revealing what she knows about Tahna's plans. In rejecting her friend, Kira chooses a society where Bajor can take participate on an equal footing with other galactic powers. Kira wants Bajor to be progressive, she wants to reconcile splinter groups, and help her people heal. Most importantly, Kira recognizes that their best chance to do so involves continued cooperation with the Federation.

One of the big takeaways from this episode is that Kira will really go to bat for a cause that aligns with her plan for Bajor. She will navigate any bureaucracy needed, and will quite forcefully argue for a cause she believes in.

Bajor for Bajorans

This is our first look at how different sections of Bajoran society have responded to the Cardassian occupation and withdrawal of Bajor. The wormhole's existence raises Bajor's importance in the quadrant, making an isolationist position more difficult to accept. Tahna Los represents the first of those who is fighting for independence from all outside influence.

Kira speaks passionately about Bajor becoming a power in their own right, although she admits that it won't happen overnight.

DS9 Ops

It was nice to see the writers and director using the raised command platform in DS9 Ops so effectively in this episode, when Kira thanks Sisko for his help in arranging amnesty for Tahna Los and other members of the Kohn-Ma. Curtly, he reminds her to remember that the next time she is insubordinate and goes over his head to Starfleet. With the camera angle, the viewer is looking up past Kira to Sisko in a position of power. It's a simple camera trick to emphasize power differences, but it's quite effective nonetheless. This power dynamic feeds into our understanding of Cardassian architecture, as noted in the previous episode.

Klingon Involvement

This is the first of many episodes which bring the Klingons into play. While the presence of the Duras sisters Lursa and B'Etor in this episode give some insight into the current state of the Klingon Empire, their role in the episode is relatively minor. This is a follow-up to the events from the TNG episodes Redemption and Redemption II, which saw civil war in the Klingon Empire, led by the House of Duras.

Their appearance in DS9 is another contextual link to TNG, without requiring a member of the main cast. It also widens the scope of the show, from dealing with the Cardassians and Bajorans, to a larger stage.

Past Prologue first aired January 10th, 1993. Written by Katharyn Powers. Directed by Winrich Kolbe.

 

ST:DS9 Reviews: Emissary

Galaxy_class_docked_at_DS9.jpg

The first episode of any television series is important. For completely new shows, it can determine whether a studio will buy an initial season. While the risks are less for a spinoff of a popular show with a built-in audience, especially a flagship show like Star Trek, there are still important tasks to accomplish. The pilot needs to give clear links to the earlier show, usually including cameo guest appearances from an actor on the earlier series. A pilot episode needs to set the scene and establish setting, and it has to introduce and characterize the major characters.

The Enterprise-D docked at DS9

As the pilot episode for DS9, Emissary establishes a number of major themes and story arcs. We also see the important links to TNG, most importantly The Best of Both Worlds, and Encounter at Farpoint. Perhaps most importantly, Emissary introduces the major characters, allowing the audience to identify with them. While it must introduce the main cast, there is a clear focus on the lead role, in this case, Commander Benjamin Sisko.

Characterization

While Sisko is fully developed as a character in this episode, the rest of the cast is filled in with brief introductions, giving us a taste for their personalities. Before we get to Sisko, here are some of the first impressions from how the characters are portrayed in this episode.

Chief Miles O'Brien is a character already familiar to viewers of TNG. Colm Meany is a great actor, and we finally get to see a lot more of his character in this series. A non-commissioned officer, O'Brien is the Everyman. He's instantly relatable, and acts as a bridge back to TNG. He really doesn't need that much introduction in the episode, and instead we see how he adapts to the changes in position. He takes on the "engineer" role, like Scotty from TOS and Geordi from TNG.

Kira Nerys is the Bajoran representative on the station. She comes across as fierce, proud, stubborn and angry. After fighting to free Bajor from the Cardassians, she is frustrated that they have immediately given control of the station to the Federation. We immediately get the sense that there is going to be intense friction between her and the Federation rules. She has vastly different motivations than Sisko, with different loyalties. A beautiful moment for her character is when she orders O'Brien to fire all six of the station's photon torpedoes across the bow of a Cardassian warship, hoping that she can bluff her way beyond any real confrontation.

Jadzia Dax is a joined Trill, a human-alien symbiotic entity, whose previous host had worked closely with Sisko in the past. Immediate impressions are of wisdom, age, and bemused detachment. In this episode, the writers use a religious artifact, an Orb, to present us with a flashback to the transfer of the symbiont from the previous host. There's definitely a sense of mystery with Dax.

Doctor Bashir is a young, brash, brilliant doctor, with little experience in the field. He's completely without any sense of tact. He definitely lacks McCoy's wry sense of knowing sarcasm.

Odo is the station's chief of security. As a shapeshifter, he's an outsider, very much fulfilling the same role as Spock and Data, with hints of an unknown origin story.

Then there's Quark, the Ferengi bartender, who is quite possibly one of the most amusing characters in Star Trek. Since the Ferengi were introduced in the TNG episode The Last Outpost, they were always conniving little creatures. While profit is certainly still an issue, we see already signs of the importance of the family unit.

Sisko

Finally, we get to Sisko. He's a complicated character, especially in this first episode. He's the lead character of the series as a whole, as well as this episode in particular. In this beginning episode, we see a broken man begin a path to healing.

The great tragedy in TNG was The Best of Both Worlds, when Captain Picard is surgically altered as Locutus of Borg. Here, the Borg represent a loss of humanity, a loss of individuality. In the opening scene of DS9, we see these same events through the eyes of Benjamin Sisko, where his wife Jennifer is killed in the massacre at Wolf 359. This very personal loss leaves Sisko to raise their son Jake alone.

This is a moment which defines Sisko. When he meets with Picard, we get a sense of resentment and anger towards the senior officer. To Sisko, Picard personifies the Borg, and is a reminder of what he has lost.

Sisko's loss not only defines him as a character, but also defines DS9 as a Star Trek series. TNG showed the Borg wreaking havoc at Wolf 359. DS9 shows the human impact. In the earlier series, events nearly always reset by the end of the episode. Even in the episode Cause and Effect, where the Enterprise is stuck in a temporal loop, leading to the destruction of the ship and loss of all hands multiple times, by the end of the episode, the disaster is averted, and everything has returned to normal. The only enduring loss in TNG is the death of Natasha Yar in the episode Skin of Evil. The most dramatic change in TNG is the assimilation of Picard into Locutus, which is ultimately reversed.

In Emissary, we Sisko finally come to terms with his loss, and start the healing process. We see this change framed by two conversations with Picard. In the first meeting, the audience can see a sullen resentment, as Sisko voices a desire to retire his commission, and live life as a civilian. During the second meeting, Sisko rescinds this wish, and voices a very strong desire to make a go of his new command. So what exactly happens in the meantime that we see such a drastic reversal in Sisko's outlook?

Some of the most awkward dialogue in DS9. Not that it's really terrible, but just awkward. This is a first contact event with an alien species that differs considerably from those that normally appear on Star Trek. While Star Trek has been criticized in the past for having aliens that are human, except for pointy ears, or a brow ridge, in this episode, the Prophets are extra-temporal beings: they don't exist in linear time, but seem to experience all moments at once. In a way, the relative similarities between the alien races in Star Trek has always been minor, emphasizing a common humanity. In DS9, we start to explore a consciousness without our common frames of reference, something truly alien.

Sisko tries to teach the Prophets about cause and effect, and linear time. The whole conversation is an analogy for the way DS9 itself will handle plot lines, with the long term effects of actions carrying on into further episodes. There are some useful analogies made here to the value humanity places on unpredictability, such as the enjoyment one receives from a baseball game. Every pitch is unpredictable, and it is the random nature of the game that gives it meaning.

While Sisko works to show them the value of a linear progression of time, he also comes to realize that he too is stuck in the past, at the moment of Jennifer's death. This is not only the moment where the healing begins, but also the point that the Prophets find common ground with Sisko, and by extension, humanity.

Story Arcs

The Prophets and their wormhole play an important role in the series. The wormhole obviously brings the Bajor system into play as an area of strategic importance, while the presence of the Prophets plays a religious role in Bajoran society, which is also an ongoing theme throughout the show. Sisko has been named the Emissary, a role that will deepen as the series progresses.

The role of the Federation, as part of the command on the outpost is also brought into question. How can Bajor gain independence while inviting the Federation to set up on their doorstep?

Despite the current peace, ongoing tensions with the Cardassians remain high. The presence of the wormhole puts Bajorans back into play, causing the Cardassians to regret relinquishing control. 

The Bajorans themselves see themselves as a recently emancipated group. The similarities to slavery in the United States are easy to see, especially with the racial tensions on DS9.

Many other themes have been suggested through the character introductions, and will be developed further in the next few episodes as the characters are fleshed out.

Emissary originally aired on January 3, 1993. Teleplay by Michael Piller, with story by Michael Piller and Rick Berman. Directed by David Carson.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine Reviews

Almost twenty years ago, the first episode of Deep Space Nine aired. For the first time, not one, but two Start Trek series were in first run syndication.  After The Next Generation ended, Voyageur started, and again, two series of Star Trek were in first run syndication at the same time. Star Trek Deep Space Nine header image

Deep Space Nine was a different show than the others. Most obviously, it took place on a space station, and not a starship. Unlike the other shows, where the location could shift drastically from episode to episode, in Deep Space Nine, the location remained the same, with a rotating cast of visiting characters.

When DS9 first aired, I was a big fan of TNG. While I made an effort to watch the new show, the first season was a little too slow for my liking. By the time things started happening, the serial nature of the show had developed in completely unexpected directions, I had no idea on what was going on.

In essence, I failed to watch DS9 because it was different. I had become accustomed to one-off stories with an alien of the week. I quite reasonably assumed that two or three seasons in, I should be able to pick up any random episode, and pick up exactly where I left off. I can't even claim that I wasn't warned. During the first episode, the merits of a linear timeline with real consequences for actions is highlighted as one of humanity's greatest strengths.

Deep Space Nine space station

One of DS9's greatest strengths is paradoxically also its greatest weakness: a complex serial storyline. This kept me from watching it faithfully in the first run, but also fascinated me on DVD.

How does the series hold up today? I've started to watch the series again, and plan on writing my response to the show. In particular, I'm going to look at the craft of storytelling. How did the writers develop the story arcs, how effective is their characterization, and how do they deal with relevant social issues? How effectively do they integrate previous Star Trek canon? What works, and what doesn't, from a writing perspective. While I may, from time to time, comment on some of the acting, especially when it comes to characterization, I'm not really going to comment on special effects, other than when required for story purposes. For instance, there's this big wormhole which appears in space near Bajor. This wormhole is important for the story, but very little about the special effects associated with it matter to the story.

This also isn't going to be a plot review, although I'm not going to hold back on any plot reveals. The show is nearly twenty years old. The statute of limitations on spoilers is long since over. Consider yourself warned. If you're really looking for a plot recap, check out Memory Alpha.

This blog series will quite obviously take a long time to complete. Some posts will be longer than others. The first post will review the pilot episode, Emissary. It will likely be one of the longer reviews, as there is much to cover in the introduction.

Nonfiction Book Review: Getting Started with D3 by Mike Dewar; O'Reilly Media

For the past several weeks, I've been working with some visualization libraries in JavaScript. There are a number of different options available, from using the bitmap graphics in the HTML 5 canvas, to writing vector graphics with SVG output. One of the more popular libraries at the moment is D3, which provides a flexible framework for visualizing large datasets in SVG. While the examples and API documentation available on the D3 website are helpful,  I have also found Mike Dewar's book, "Getting Started with D3" to be a helpful resource.

Cover for "Getting Started with D3"

Dewar uses a publicly available resource, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority Data Set, to demonstrate how the library can be used to present data in a number of ways. The book covers all the basics with D3, from the selection model, to interactive graphs, and specialized layouts, such as force-directed graphs. While it covers some of these concepts, it never goes into great detail about anything in particular. While this is a "getting started" book, it's very much an introductory title.

Still, this is a relatively short book. It's a good introduction to D3, but leaves a great deal about the library to be explored. In chapter 3, the author notes that the standard D3 visualizations are rendered in SVG, which limits the usage to modern browsers. While it is noted that Internet Explorer 9 (March 2011) provides SVG support, the book fails to explain exactly what that means today. As I've mentioned before, IE 8 is the most recent version of Internet Explorer that can run on Windows XP, which still has a sizeable market share. While there are workarounds, such as using d34raphael to render VML output in earlier versions of IE, or using svgweb to render the SVG output in Flash, these problems are glossed over with a simple aside.

In the end, D3 is a very useful tool, and Mike Dewar's book does a decent job of explaining how to go about using it. It's unfortunate that the book doesn't go into greater detail, especially since the book is so short to begin with.

This book was reviewed as part of O'Reilly's Blogger Review program. The book itself can be found on the O'Reilly website here

Book review: Enter, Night by Michael Rowe

I'm not really into the whole vampire craze. Zombies are more my style. I think I read some Anne Rice novels after Interview with a Vampire came out. The most interesting vampire literature which I've read would have to be The Stress of Her Regard, by Tim Powers. However, while at Ad Astra this year, I picked up a copy of Enter, Night by Michael Rowe.

Enter, Night Enter, Night is a much darker novel. It is grittier, more immediate. It evokes a primal response. Disquiet and fear. It makes me wish that tonight wasn't garbage night, and that I didn't have to step out into the forbidding darkness.

Chizine Publications Pin

I think what makes Enter, Night so effective is the careful blend of the familiar with the unknown. Instead of a straight up vampire novel, it blends the vampire mythos with native legends of the wendigo. The setting of a small, remote northern Ontario town gives a sense of isolation, allowing the major characters to interact with stereotypical small town conservatism. While familiar, they aren't the experiences of the reader, who is of course, intended to follow the returning urbanites. We are supposed to share their distaste at the ignorance, prejudice and hypocrisy in Parr's Landing.

The theme of prejudice against the other, the fear of being different, is woven throughout the novel. Whether it is through issues of premarital sex and pregnancy, sexual orientation, or racial status, Rowe shows the pain of being different. Ironically, the true Other in the novel is a vampire, who unifies his victims. A sense of personal identity is important in the novel, and the loss of that personal individuality is crushing. This adds a much richer fabric for the story, and issues to talk about. Speculative fiction is a literature of ideas, and Rowe's novel speaks on issues of importance.

It's refreshing to read a vampire novel where all the traditional means of defense exist: stakes, sunlight, crosses and holy water. Churches as places of refuge, and the need for permission to enter a residence. This is another sign of the familiar, balanced by the addition of the wendigo myths. Further anchorage is provided through comics, such as the very real Tomb of Dracula series published in 1972 by Detective Comics. It roots the story in the familiar, framing our expectations.

The story has good characterization. The major characters are well fleshed out, and even minor characters have well defined motivations, often based on strong inner conflict.

After the main story, the book also contains an additional story, a historical narrative, explaining the origins of vampires in the area which became Parr's Landing. It's a document referenced in the main text, and provides an interesting view of history, especially regarding Canada's colonization of the native tribes. It traces not just the history of the vampires, but also of the guilt that we should feel for the way we have treated others.

Enter, Night is clearly worthy of the Aurora nomination this year. Read it with a mind open to these ideas, but you might want to keep the lights on.

Book Review: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay's novel Tigana was first published back in 1990, although I first read it in 1999. It has remained one of my favourite novels. I have a signed first edition hardcover, in addition to my paperback reading edition. Tigana is a wonderful novel which examines the power of memories. The theme of remembering is woven throughout, starting with the opening prologue, where the Prince of Tigana muses on what legacy he leaves his country: "Oh, our pride. Our terrible pride. Will they remember that most about us, do you think, after we are gone?" to which his companion states that "the one they that we know with certainty is that they will remember us. Here in the peninsula, and in Ygrath, and Quileia, even west over the sea, in Barbadior and its Empire. We will leave a name" (16). The novel quickly opens to the tragedy of Brandin of Ygrath's great wrath, where in his magic he ripped away the name and cultural heritage of the province of Tigana, such that only those born in the province can comprehend the name.

There may be spoilers after the cut, but the book has been out for over twenty years. It's still a worthwhile read.

For the characters in the novel, memory is an important talisman, a connection to their past. During my most recent reading of the novel, I have been troubled by the narration of the flashbacks. They tend to start with a particular character, such as Dianora, who is thinking about some connection to their past. The flashback begins with a narration from their point of view. In Dianora's case, she remembers her plan to somehow gain entry into Brandin's castle, in order to kill him and redeem her province's name.

However, the narration tends to shift points of view, to the governor of the occupied province, and to that of the tribute ship captain who takes Dianora as hostage. The shift is subtle, and would fit within the narrative structure of the novel, except when one considers the nature of memory, and its importance to the text. This passage and others disrupt the flow of the story ever so slightly for me.

Kay explores numerous moral quandaries, often to do with the elements of choice and freedom. When Alessan binds the wizard Erlein to his cause through a magical connection, the issue of conscription is explored. Other differences of opinion are also explored, namely the different ways in which Brandin of Ygrath could be deposed, releasing the spell on Tigana's name. Alessan firmly believes that both Brandin and the Barbadian sorcerer Alberico need to be taken down at the same time in order to free all the provinces, which others, such as his mother, only care about the fate their own province has suffered. In a way, this reflects the differences between smaller city-states and a sense of growing nationalism which spread through Europe in our history. This is further complicated in the text when Brandin abdicates his throne in distant Ygrath, in order to fully commit to ruling the Peninsula of the Palm. The binding of himself to the lands which he conquered wins himself great praise from the people. In his stand against Alberico, a man who only seeks to gain power to return home and seize the Emporer's throne, Brandin can be seen as heroic, defending his newly claimed kingdom against an invader with no ties to the land. That he originally came as an overseas conqueror is of course another matter.

Possibly the most controversial aspect of the novel is the portrayal of the female characters. Many of the female characters use sex as a weapon, or tool. From Catriana's first encounter with Devin, to her later assassination of the Barbadior ambassador, or through Dianora's love for Brandin, who caused Tigana's name to be wiped from peninsula, the female characters tend to be at war with their own nature.

Possibly the best exception to this trend is that of Alais, who aspires to run her father's business, as a merchant ship captain. In the novel, she represents modesty and innocence, while still providing non-traditional goals and aspirations. As her character is more fully developed at the end of the story, Alais is a foil to the other female characters.

Rereading Tigana was enjoyable. it's not a story without problems, but Kay's novel successfully challenges several moral choices, prompting the reader to consider some issues of debate. It's worth a read.

Breakfast

Tonight I saw the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time. The images of Audrey Hepburn in this film have been icons in Hollywood ever since, and I think that I can understand some of this. The movie speaks to the American Dream, where one can aspire to reach the upper social circles despite one's humble origins. More importantly, it is a clear representation of the romantic ideal, at least from Hollywood's perspective. The male lead is a newly published novelist, and pursues a relationship with an eccentric socialite, who appears to be seeking money.

The ending is predictable, they end up together, as Hepburn's character learns to accept her vulnerability. The basic plot of the movie may have cliched elements, but the movie is beautifully executed, save one major exception.

The portrayal of Mickey Rooney's caricature of the asian neighbour upstairs is overdone, well past the point of racism. While it may not have been the recognized intent of the producers to do so, I cringed every time he was on screen. I fail to see adequate reason for this to be done the way it was. It may have been intended for comedic effect, and it may have been viewed as such when the film was released, but it brings a dark stain to an otherwise excellent film.

I think the most confusing thing about this casting choice is that it doesn't really fit the tone of the rest of the film. Even if one was oblivious to the racism in this portrayal,the intended comedy really doesn't mix well with the romantic plot. In the end, this was an ultimately disappointing element to an otherwise classic film.

Not The Oscars: Despicable Me

Since it's Oscar night, I thought I'd post about movies. However, since I've not really seen most of the movies, and since I'm watching the Oscars time-shifted on my PVR, I can't really offer much of interest there. This past week, I finally got a chance to watch Despicable Me. I'll admit that I'm not generally a Steve Carell fan. I'm not sure what aspect of his personality normally irritates me, but it wasn't in evidence in this film. This was a comedic gem.

Gru is a great villain character, if a bit inept. Many of his crimes are rather... minimal. Stealing the Jumbotron from Times Square? Stealing the Statue of Liberty, and the Eiffel Tower... replicas from Las Vegas?

I think the most compelling crime isn't the moon heist, or even any of the shrink-ray heists. The most meaningful act of mischief is when we first meet Gru, and he encounters a small boy crying over his spilt ice cream. Gru takes great delight in making a balloon animal, giving it to the overjoyed little boy, before crushing his hopes and dreams by popping it in his face. This petulant act reveals quickly what kind of person Gru is, and more poignantly, gives us insight into his character.

The movie later reveals that Gru's childhood is a series of disappointed incidents where his dreams are slowly crushed. This story then becomes one of redemption for Gru's lost childhood. For Gru, this is what his time with the three orphans, Margo, Edith and Agnes comes to mean. It's a reawakening of his childhood. When Gru's dreams appear all but crushed, it is the innocence of the children, their giving nature, that gives him the desire to fight on.

Review: Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

While I've read plenty of books with Jeff VanderMeer's name on the cover, it's generally been preceded by "edited by" rather than "written by". As such, Finch is the first Ambergris novel I've read. It's a very atmospheric novel, with a great deal of style. The city of Ambergris seems quite alive, just as China Miéville's Bas-Lag is a rotting corpse of a city. It's a gritty detective noir story, and the fungal atmosphere really works. While there is obviously backstory with some of VanderMeer's other Ambergris novels, each takes place at a different point in the city's history, which means that the previous stories are alluded to, rather than requiring knowledge. It works rather well for those coming to his fiction for the first time.

VanderMeer seems at home with the mystery genre, and the plotting makes sense once the story is done. The further I got into this book, the harder it was to set down, as if fungal spores had grafted themselves from the book into my hands. The plot tension of the novel ramped up, and VanderMeer's narrative kept pace.

VanderMeer plays with the liminal. The occupying forces are fungal creatures, not truly plant, nor animal. John Finch is a detective, but working for the occupying forces. Blending things even further are the Partials: human-spore hybrids, accepting greater power in the occupation, but equally feared by everyone. While there's a strong sense of independence and rebelliousness in the human detectives like Finch, the Partials strongly evoke the feel of collaborators in the war-time occupations in Earth history.

Finch is a very stylistic novel, with a near perfect mix of plot and characterization. It raises issues of colonization and living in an occupied state, something which resonates strongly in many areas of the world today. A very enjoyable read.

I Grew Up on Trashy Fantasy Novels

While I often write about science fiction, I actually grew up on trashy fantasy novels. Well, maybe not quite trashy. Certainly formulaic. More than one Dragonlance novel imparted a subtle grace to my bookshelves as I grew up. Seemingly the very definition of stereotypical characters, written as part of the TSR Dragonlance roleplaying game. This is certainly not to impugn the writing of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The character of Raistlin for example, provides an interesting look at the balance of morality. Long after I stopped reading the tales of Raistlin and Caramon, I've continued to read other series by these two. The Rose of the Prophet trilogy was particularly memorable, and took a somewhat more nuanced approach to morality and religion, showing the power of the gods as different aspects of an integrated whole, and the quest to regain balance.

The Darksword trilogy took a different look at magic and technology, again with elements of self-sacrifice. This series was memorable for me as being my introduction to the idea of a city inside a bubble.

One of the most important novels I believe either author has written is actually Tracy Hickman's novel The Immortals, which examines quarantine death camps for those inflicted with AIDS. This novel is actually science fiction, not fantasy, but the message it contains is a powerful message against hatred and brutality.

Other series I read growing up included Anne McCaffery's Pern novels. In grade 6, we actually studied the Harper Hall trilogy in class, which was the first time I studied a book for class which I had already read.

I was also a fan of Raymond E. Feist's Magician series. The Magician: Apprentice and Magician Master, as well as the Empire trilogy cowritten with Janny Wurts are still among my favourites.

David Eddings' Belgariad was fun, although again it tended to oversimplify some things. The whole "this country is a jungle, that one is a swamp" thing sort of seemed a little like the Ice Plant Hoth, the Desert Planet Tatooine after awhile. Definitely an epic fantasy.

Among the more recent fantasy series have been those which more closely follow historical periods. Guy Gavriel Kay's works are great. Tigana is a great novel about the importance of memory. His most recent novel, Under Heaven, is a great story influenced by Chinese history.

I certainly can't fail to mention Jack Whyte, who has written one of the most interesting tales in the Arthurian legend, covering the span of time before Arthur is crowned king. Whyte's novels are told mostly from the viewpoint of Merlyn, but in a way which completely avoids the use of magic, in a much more realist setting.

Review: The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is best known for his Mars trilogy: Red Mars (1993), Green Mars (1994), and Blue Mars (1995) chart the future trajectory of a martian colony, and the terraforming project that remaps the surface. It's a complicated trilogy, with a strong focus on issues of political governance and technological development. More recently, Robinson has published his Science in the Capital series, with Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007), which explores issues of politics and climate change. One of Robinson's more interesting works however, is The Years of Rice and Salt (2002), an alternate history novel where the Black Plague wipes out European civilization, charting the progress of a world dominated by Muslim, Buddhist, Daoist, Confuscianist and Hindu culture and philosophies. It's a long novel, spanning almost 800 pages. This book is composed of several smaller narratives, linked together by the reincarnation of the different characters, charting the time between 1405 CE to 2002 CE. I didn't find that the individual narratives linked together strongly enough, the piece as a whole felt rather disjointed.

Where Robinson's story excels is in the imagining of the development of this world. With the void left by European Christianity, a different form of colonialism takes place. North America is actually colonized from the west coast, by Chinese explorers.

While I appreciate Robinson's vision, the end result of his alternate history is still uncomfortably similar to our history today: "Things were better but not in any rapid marked way. Different but in some ways the same. People still fought, corruption infected the new institutions, it was always a struggle. Everything took much longer than anyone had anticipated, and every few years everything was also somehow entirely different. The pulse of history's long duration was much slower than an individual's time" (724). The later sections of the book tend to loop back, becoming ever more philosophical in nature.

Where The Years of Salt and Rice excels is in telling the individual stories which convey the different vector in which history takes. I found the Mars trilogy to focus too much on the long view of history, especially when genetic engineering dramatically lengthens human lifespans. By focusing on much shorter sections of the intimate lives of characters, this novel provides not only the overall trajectory of the story, but also the specific details that bring the world to life. However, as others, such as Jo Walton have pointed out, this devolves towards the end of the novel. It's a story with a great premise, but the narrative breaks down in the end.

Sadly, the sudden change in political climate post-9/11 limited the initial reception of the text. A novel in which Christianity is all but wiped out in the 14th century, and in which Muslims compete with the Chinese as the two major world superpowers would be seen as offensive in the sudden xenophobia that washed over North America in the wake of the September 11th attacks. While The Years of Rice and Salt won the Locus Award in 2003, the Hugo Award for Best Novel went to Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids. While I can't quite argue with this, as I believe that Sawyer's more personal narrative structure was more effective, I think that far fewer people ended up reading Robinson's novel than it deserved.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick's works have been quite popular for film adaptations, starting with Blade Runner, an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? starring Harrison Ford in 1982. Sadly, Dick died from a stroke four months before the film was released. Total Recall followed in 1990, based of Dick's story "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale", starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Screamers, based on the short story "Second Variety" was released in 1995, starring Peter Weller. Minority Report, based on the short story of the same name, was released in 2002, starring Tom Cruise. A smaller film, Imposter was released in 2002, starring Gary Sinise and Vincent D'Onofrio, based on a short story of the same name. The Ben Affleck movie Paycheck was released in 2003, continuing the more recent trends to leave the name the same. In 2007, Nicolas Cage starred in Next, a loose adapation of Dick's short story "The Golden Man". Before Next was A Scanner Darkly. While I have a particular fondness for Blade Runner, it's more clearly an adaptation than Scanner, which stays much closer to the novel. The movie is rotoscoped, each frame was originally shot on film with the cast, including Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Rory Cochane.

This is not the first of Richard Linklater's films to do so, he previously directed A Waking Life, which was done in a similar - albeit simplified - style. The visual style of the film is in a very large part what makes this such a compelling adaptation.

The story follows Bob Arctor/Fred, a junkie/undercover narc undergoing a steady drug-induced dissociate identity disorder. A combination of the drug, Substance D, and his dual roles as dealer and undercover agent cause him to lose his grip on reality. Particularly important is the so called "scramble suit" in which Arctor "cannot be identified by voice, or by even technological voiceprint, or by appearance" as it renders him "like a vague blur and nothing more".

The breakdown of reality in the story is perfectly suited to the visual style. The rotoscoping of the film acts in many ways like the scramble suit, carefully masking the reality beneath. Both of these effects are of course substituting for the "mors ontologica", the death of the subject experienced by those addicted to the drug Substance D.

Both the novel and the movie treat an important issue, as relevant in today's society as it was in 1977. It's in many ways one of the most humanizing of Dick's stories, and is clearly based on very personal events in his life. The story is one of my favourites, and I think the film is a very worthy adaptation.

Book Review: Dreadnought by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest's novel Boneshaker was released in 2009, and was an instant hit for it's dramatic engagement with many of the steampunk tropes. It was named Steampunk Book of the Year by Steampunk.com  The cover of the book was self-consciously taking on the standard elements of steampunk: brass goggles, airships. The novel introduced us to Cherie Priest's alternate history: The Clockwork Century, where the American civil war raged on for decades, and zombies roam the streets of Seattle. The book was fun, but there were some valid criticisms about the branching narratives. The storyline of Briar Wilkes was considerably stronger than that of her son, Zeke. In the sequel novel, Dreadnought, Priest uses a more traditional single-path narrative, and uses a strong female protagonist again. It's a very liminal text, with many borders and boundaries being crossed. In the tale, nurse Mercy Lynch must travel from Virginia across the continent by airship, and steam locomotive to the west coast. Along the way, Union and Confederate soldiers and sympathizers interact with Texans, and Mexicans. As the main action of the novel takes place upon the Union locomotive Dreadnought, the tension increases steadily as they approach the mountain passages through the Rockies. It's really effective plotting, as there are really no options for escaping from the oncoming battle. In these tight quarters, Priest still manages to weave together several interesting subplots, which link together with some introduced in Boneshaker.

While reading the novel, I quickly came to a point where I couldn't put the book down. At an even 400 pages in length, that's no mean feat. While Dreadnought may not have quite the same level of appeal as Boneshaker, especially for more youthful audiences, as Mercy Lynch is older than young Zeke Wilkes was, I think Dreadnought is ultimately a more finely crafted novel. The books can be read in either order, and while they do tie together, they are largely independent stories. I'm looking forward to reading more of Cherie Priest's novels. While Boneshaker and Dreadnought are published by Tor, Priest has also written Clementine in this alternate history, which is published by Subterranean Press. Unfortunately, the Kindle ebook isn't available in Canada, and the Subterranean Press book appears to be out of print.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Ok, so very late to the party here. I was going to ask how I managed to miss this until now, but from the box office receipts, I'm not the only one who did. I tend to think I have a slightly better reason than others, what with a toddler and all. If it's not made by Disney, I often don't get the chance to see things in theatres. I haven't really been a Michael Cera fan, I've never seen Arrested Development. While I thought Superbad was an amusing movie, Cera's role was eclipsed by Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, not to mention Bill Hader and Seth Rogen.

The only other Cera flick I've seen was Juno, where he again plays second fiddle, this time to the wonderful Ellen Page. I don't know. I guess Michael Cera just plays that shy guy, staying out of the lime light. He's never really been that big of a draw for my attention. If I had ever seen Arrested Development, maybe I'd think otherwise.

Back to Scott Pilgrim. Such a fun movie. Talk about rooting for the underdog. Seven evil exes? So much fun. Stylistically, this is a beautiful movie. The battle scenes are appropriately epic. I love the way they compressed and lengthened distance throughout.

The movie is touching, and mostly upbeat. I kept finding myself smiling and laughing throughout. The film is full of quirky humour. The casting is inspired. The Evil Exes include Chris Evans (Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies, as well as the upcoming Captain America), as well as Brandon Routh (Superman). Kieran Culkin being cast as Scott Pilgrim's roomate, Wallace Wells  was the coup de grâce. Every time he was on screen, smirking at someone was just too much.

While I don't visit Toronto often enough to recognize many of the scenes, those filmed at Casa Loma were instantly recognizable.

This movie is underrated in my books. It's high energy, and a lot of fun. Worth watching.

Federations: The Shoulders of Giants by Robert J. Sawyer

As I've already reviewed one of the other stories in the Federations anthology, I thought I would review "The Shoulders of Giants" written by Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer. This story was the lead story in Star Colonies, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, of DAW books, which was published in June 2000. It was a finalist for the Aurora Award, as the Best English-Language Short Story for 2000. It has since been reprinted in Federations (2009), edited by John Joseph Adams. The text for the story is also available on Sawyer's website, and has also been included in Robert J. Sawyer's short story collection Iterations, published by Red Deer Press in 2002.

The title of this story is an allusion to the words most famously written by Sir Isaac Newton: "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants" in a letter to Robert Hooke in 1676. The phrase can be attributed even earlier, as in 1159, John of Salisbury attributed this phrase to Bernard, a scholar in Chartes.

When one reads science fiction, it's often easy to see only the future, without considering the impact of the past. Science fiction actually has more of a claim on tradition, as it pays homage to many great scientific theories and figures.

Sawyer's story was not quite what I had first expected. There are no physical confrontations. When the people of earth aboard the Pioneer Spirit arrive at their destination in Tau Ceti after 1200 years in cyrogenic transport, they do not find alien beings, but instead other humans. As Sawyer notes, "while the colonists aboard the Pioneer Spirit had slept, some dreaming at an indolent pace, other ships had zipped past them, arriving at Tau Ceti decades, if not centuries, earlier -- Long enough ago that they'd already built human cities on Soror."

The theme that Sawyer presents is both ambitious and modest. The pioneers reached for the stars when they were first within grasp. They reached their objective, only to find their achievements eclipsed by the ones who follow. Sawyer pays homage to the greats authors of science fiction who came before, "Asimov, Clarke, Clement, Herbert, Niven, and all the others upon whose shoulders the SF writers of my generation are fortunate enough to stand."  More than just paying respects to the past, it's an acknowledgement of the importance of reaching for the stars. Without those few giants among us, there would be no stepping stones for future generations.

It's an appropriate story for this anthology, which John Joseph Adams notes in his introduction to the anthology that writers such as Sawyer "are keeping the tradition alive, building on what the generations before have laid out, innovating to keep the sub-genre fresh and vital".

The Gernsback Continuum

The lead story in Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded is The Gernsback Continuum, by William Gibson. This story is quite different from the Difference Engine, the novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. In this story, some sort of temporal rift enables the narrator to see a future that never was. All the great impossible dreams of the 1930s exist, beyond the veil of reality. In some ways, I felt like I was reading a Philip K. Dick novel, except in Gibson's story, the character never fully enters this vision of the past.

The Gernsback Continuum is a great story for introducing the concept of retro-futurism, one of the recurring signifiers in steampunk, according to noted steampunk scholar Mike Perschon. According to Perschon, "If a writer wants to convey the future without any nods to the past, they don't fly in airships. Airships are a failed technology that require fictional motive power or construction materials to be made viable." It's the sense of unharnessed potential that slipped away. In steampunk works, retrofuturism tends to emphasize the aspects of a proposed technology which are most impossible, like "a twelve-engined thing like a bloated boomerang, all wing, thrumming its way east with an elephantine grace, so low that I could count the rivets in its dull silver skin, and hear--maybe--the echo of jazz" (Gibson).

Gibson's story gives a glimpse of these grand visions from the past, and evokes a sense of nostalgia for these monuments to what might have been. This story is quite interesting when compared to the main body of Gibson's work, which rarely looks to the past. With the Gernsback Continuum, Gibson unleashes the limitless potential of the 1930s, were it not for the pesky laws of physics. It's interesting how much of the story is dedicated to the aesthetics, an important aspect of steampunk. Ultimately, this story is a celebration of the imagination, about the dream that never came to fruition.

It's a good opening to Steampunk Reloaded, giving a feel to the retrofuturistic aesthetics. Instead of going for the neo-victorian feel, Gibson instead evokes the unbridled optimism of early 1930s American architecture and design.