Goodreads review: “The Last Human” by Zack Jordan

The Last HumanThe Last Human by Zack Jordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy from the publisher to see if I’d like to write a blurb for the cover. It sounded like a fun book, and it was, so here’s my blurb: “Brimming with sly humor, intelligence, and big ideas.”

Let me say a bit more about the novel. You can read the summary at Goodreads or elsewhere, and it’s accurate. A young human finds out why she’s the last of her kind, which leads her on a long, strange adventure to learn what she can do about it.

I especially enjoyed the way this book treats “intelligence” and the relationship between different levels of intelligence. Our young human has an AI assistant who isn’t as smart as she is, and she must also deal with beings, machines, and AIs who are infinitely smarter than she is. Every one of them wants something: perhaps to be as helpful as possible, perhaps to solve its own problems, perhaps to outsmart and control the lesser beings around it, or perhaps just to keep things working properly.

This is a new take on the technological singularity proposed by Vernor Vinge and others about what will happen when artificial super-intelligence advances beyond human understanding and control. In this book, it’s not the end of civilization, which Elon Musk has feared. Instead, it takes a turn that Zack Jordan makes logical, terrifying, and comforting at the same time. And he tells it in a way that from time to time might make you laugh.

View all my reviews

Fires in Australia, and one small way to help

Via Sherwood Smith, I’ve learned that Australian author Gillian Polack has been evacuated due to the fires.

What can you do to help? Gillian says this:

“What you can do that takes no money at all is suggest to people that they buy things i.e. keep income going even as the world falls to pieces. I counted ten Australian spec fic writers and artists affected by this yesterday and it’s about 100 people, so buying books or art from people who live in or near bushfire zones would help. Find your favourite writers (or writers who have lost everything — Mirren Hogan and Sulari Gentill are the ones on this list so far — Sulari Gentill is a particularly good writer and she is from Batlow — the whole town was wiped out yesterday by a 150 km front of fire).

“Suggesting that people buy books or art gives Australian creators income to come home to and a way of getting financially through a period when (to use local dialect, so this does not mean what it means in the US) bugger all can be done, workwise. Reading our books, finding favourite works on etsy, checking out publishers (IFWG, Shooting Star, and Twelfth Planet Press are the three small publishers whose writers are most affected so far) is a way of bringing money into an economy that is suddenly wrecked and a way of keeping friends of friends able to buy food. (I’ve been thinking about this a lot — community is what’s getting Australia through every day, so community from the rest of the world will help the good end of the impossible).”

As encouragement, here’s my Goodreads review of her book Lang[dot]doc 1305:

Langue[dot]doc 1305Langue[dot]doc 1305 by Gillian Polack

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a simple plan: A university team will travel back in time to 1305 France, hide out in a cave, take scientific measurements of the environment and ecology for nine months, then come back. The members will avoid contact with natives and make no changes in the course of history.

What could go wrong?

Even if the team had boasted of the discipline and leadership of a NASA project, a lot could have gone wrong. Instead, the team is made up of bickering and contrarian academics with an active disdain for history and the lone historian on the team.

Meanwhile, the local townsfolk have noticed the strange people living “under the hill” and can’t decide if they’re fairies, demons, or simply bothersome and probably dangerous.

As the months go on, everyone gets too frustrated in one way or another, and things go very wrong.

The book offers quiet humor, a deep understanding of academia and the Middle Ages, and characters to remember.

Reading at Tangelo on January 9

TangeloI’ll be participating in the Tangelo reading series, held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, January 9, at The Martin performance space, 2515 W. North Ave., in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago.

I plan to read from Semiosis and share a short essay — about what? I haven’t decided yet.

The event, the 23rd of the Tangelo series, will also feature:
Emma Casey, a writer and performer and maker from Chicago.
Levi Todd, a queer poet and lifelong Chicagoan, working as a healthy relationships educator with youth.
Jitesh Jaggi, a recent immigrant from India who uses storytelling, poetry, dance, and writing to share his narratives.

More information is at the Facebook event page and on Twitter. Free, but reserve your admission. A $5 donation is accepted at the door. Cash bar.

Spanish language’s Word of the Year: “emoji”

emojis_smallEnglish has made its choices for the most important word of the year for 2019: “they” by Merriam-Webster, “existential” by, and “climate emergency” by Oxford. These words, according to an opinion piece at CNN, show that “it’s Generation Z’s world now.” (As a Boomer, I resent that a little. I’m more than willing to keep up with a changing world, although I admit that some of my age cohorts are petrified and proud of it.)

In Spain, the Fundéu BBVA, which tracks and recommends word usage in the media, has chosen its word for 2019: “emoji.” (As a Spanish-speaker and translator, I need to keep track of new and trending words in Castilian, and I’m eager to see their choice each year.)

Why “emoji”? Because it — and emoticons in all their variety — “now form part of our daily communications and keep moving into territory beyond private conversations in chats and messages, where they started. Their undeniable impact on our daily life, their interesting relationships with other elements of communication (such as words, phrases, and punctuation signs) and the perspective they open to the future, have given the Fundéu reason to award emoticons and emojis the distinction of word of the year.”

They won’t replace words, the Fundéu says, but “in a world marked by speed, emoticons provide agility and concision. And in an environment where a good part of what we write, especially in chats and messages, is oral communication put into words, these elements allow us to add nuanced intention and gestures that would otherwise be lost.”

The Fundéu’s runner-up candidates for the word on the 2019 year in Spanish are:

Electromovilidad: Electromobility or e-mobility, the use of electric rather than gasoline motors for transportation.

Desglobalización: Deglobalization, the reverse of the process of globalization.

Neonegacionismo: Neo-negationism, such as the denial of climate change or other generally accepted historic or scientific concepts.

Exhumación: Exhumation, specifically the exhumation of the remains of the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco from the Valley of the Fallen monument in October.

DANA: Depresión aislada en niveles altos or “high-level isolated depression,” a weather phenomenon in Spain that brings big storms, often with flash floods.

Huachicolero: A Mexican word for criminals who steal gasoline from pipelines.

Seriéfilo: A new word referring to people who love television and movie series.

Influente: Influencer, someone who knows how to use social media to make their opinions influence other people.

Albañila: The female form of “bricklayer.” Women are moving into professions previously reserved to men.

Cúbit: Qubit. In quantum computing, a qubit or quantum bit is the basic unit of quantum information.

Superdesempate: Super tie-break, a term used in tennis.

Meanwhile, the Real Academia Española has chosen its fourteen words that best define 2019: progreso (progress), deporte (sports), feminizar (feminize), constitución (constitution), confianza (confidence — in political institutions), acogida (welcome — for immigrants and refugees), estado del bienestar (welfare state), elecciones (elections), inteligencia artificial (artificial intelligence), escuela (schools — education’s successes and failures), clima (climate), euroescéptico (Euroskeptic), autodeterminación (self-determination — in Catalonia), and triunfo (triumph — in a variety of fields). More about why, in Spanish, is reported by El Pais newspaper.

The Fundéu’s previous words of the year were escrache (a kind of protest) en el 2013, selfi in 2014, refugiado (refugee) in 2015, populismo (populism) in 2016, aporofobia (fear of poor people) in 2017, and microplástico (microplastics) en 2018.

Good King Wenceslas


10th century depiction of Wenceslas’s attempt to escape assassination.

Today, December 26, is the Feast of Stephen. You may have heard the Christmas carol:

“Good King Wenceslas looked out / On the Feast of Stephen / When the snow lay round about / Deep and crisp and even. / Brightly shone the moon that night /Though the frost was cruel / When a poor man came in sight / Gathering winter fuel.…”

Wenceslas existed. He was actually the duke of Bohemia (he got a posthumous promotion by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I), and he was renowned for his piety and generosity to the poor. In fact, he was made a saint and is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

Sadly, he died in September 935 when a group of nobles led by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel, murdered him in Prague. He fled from his assassins to a church for sanctuary — according to legend, he was holding the church door handle when he was struck down. That handle is preserved at the entrance to the St. Wenceslas Chapel in Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral.


Photo by Sue Burke.

The carol concludes, fittingly for a generous saint:

“Therefore, Christian men, be sure / Wealth or rank possessing / Ye who now will bless the poor / Shall yourselves find blessing.”