Heart of the garden

A great deal spritelier than most ninety-year-olds, Sister Loyola is more likely to be found making compost or planting seedlings than idling away her days.

Read more of my review of Gardening With Soul at Green Lifestyle.


Zero waste

Cover image of Outsmart WasteFrom the economical principles behind landfill to the nitty-gritty of how to upcycle chocolate wrappers, Tom Skazy will change the way you think about rubbish.

Read more of my review of Outsmart Waste at Green Lifestyle.

Bring Mars to life

Waking Mars
Developed by Tiger Style Games (2012), for PC, Mac and LinuxiPhone and iPad and Android devices

This review was originally published in COSMOS Magazine, issue 50.

It’s a refreshing change to play a game that doesn’t involve killing things.

In Waking Mars, the objective is just the opposite – instead of slaying everything you come across, you must bring an ecosystem to life in order to progress.

Players control Liang, a softly spoken jet-packing scientist (aided remotely by ART, an AI unit, and tech expert Amani) as he explores a cavern on Mars where signs of life have been discovered. To safely exit the caves and do his research, Liang must help the ecosystem along. Each lifeform has an encyclopaedia entry in the game journal that is filled in as discoveries are made.

The soundtrack and graphics, while not flashy (this is an indie game, after all), fit the story perfectly. The mechanics of the game are easy to master and the interface is simple (even on computer, there’s only a slot for one saved game). As such, seasoned gamers may find this offering too simple at first – but they may still enjoy the delightful premise and unfolding science-based story, and strategy becomes more important as you progress. Casual gamers and those playing on phones and tablets will find little to complain about with Waking Mars.

Waking Mars from Tiger Style on Vimeo.

Harder, better, faster, stronger

better-human-247x373How to Build a Better Human: an Ethical Blueprint
By Gregory E. Pence (2012), Rowman & Littlefield

This review was originally published in COSMOS Magazine, issue 50.

Stay calm – the brave new world of post-humanism is further away than you think.

That’s the take-home message of Gregory Pence’s excellent guide to the ethics of human modification.

Pence’s approach is best summarised as pragmatic philosophy, if such a tautology can be forgiven. Rather than speculate about near-impossible hypotheticals, he focusses on what can be (and is) done now, or might be in the near future. As such, a great deal of the book is taken up with deconstructing the ‘slippery slope’ arguments against pharmaceutical, surgical and genetic augmentation.

In a conversational, easy-to-read tone, he cautions against “comic book stereotypes” and begs for nuance in the debate about what we should and shouldn’t do to better ourselves. He dismantles the protests of Alarmists and the fantasies of Enthusiasts (his capitals), arguing for a commonsense approach in place of either extreme.

After running through the viable techniques for enhancing adults, children and embryos, Pence offers practical suggestions for scientists, politicians and anyone else who’s interested. Clocking in under 200 pages, the broad appeal of How to Build a Better Human is impressive: experts, futurists and casual readers might not agree with everything Pence says, but they’ll enjoy the journey regardless.

Behind the veil

By Jo Anderton (2012), Angry Robot
This review was originally published in COSMOS Magazine, issue 50.

It took some time to convince me that Jo Anderton’s trilogy, The Veiled Worlds, was science fiction rather than fantasy.

With its heavy steampunk elements, the story’s sophisticated science can often be mistaken for magic – Arthur C. Clarke’s third law in action, perhaps.

Second in the series, Suited continues the story of Tanyana, once an elite architect of ‘pions’, particles that hold her world together and can be shaped into – well, anything – by those with skill. But a suspicious accident robs Tanyana of her gifts, and forces her to become a collector of ‘debris’.

Debris seems to be the antimatter to pions’ matter, pulling the universe apart with devastating results if not contained. In Suited, Tanyana begins to uncover the mysteries of how these particles and her special debris-collecting suit work, and who caused her accident and why – all while navigating trust, betrayal, unexpected news and even love.

Anderton’s take on steampunk is truly unique, with an Eastern European setting rather than the now-overused British backdrop, and tech of her own invention instead of clock gears and corsets. Add a sympathetic character with some big decisions on her plate, and a fast-paced writing style, and you have some great new sci-fi for your bedside table.