Petri Wessman's weblog

Pushing Ice (and mobile phone crimes against humanity)

I haven’t read all that much fiction lately; I’m a fairly slow reader compared to some, and I’ve also read a lot of roleplaying sourcebooks which further cut down on fiction. Anyway, the Akateeminen bookstore had (and maybe still has?) a 20% sale on all paperbacks, prompting me to pay them a visit and grab few – well, 8 or so – books that had been on my “should buy” list.

Last night I finished the first of those, Alastair Reynold’s Pushing Ice. Quite a ride. As one SF Site review says:

Alastair Reynolds’s novels are reliably fascinating at the “big idea” level. He’s got a truly first rate hard-SF imagination, and the chops to take cool ideas and reveal them via action plots, often hiding the really neat ideas convincingly until the end. He is a “light speed limit” author, and fascinated with Deep Time. And all this describes Pushing Ice quite excellently.

Quite. It starts off fairly low-key and low-tech, for a Reynolds book: in the year 2057, Janus – one of Saturn’s moons – suddenly starts behaving in a decidedly un-moonlike manner and accelerates towards Spica. The ice miner ship Rockhopper is the only ship in position to rendezvous, and despite some crew misgivings is diverted to investigate. Needless to say, things get dangerous and weird at a very fast pace, and without spoiling things I’ll just note that there are quite a few surprising plot turns along the way.

Central to the story is also the relation between captain Bella Lind and her friend, engineer Svetlana Borghesian. It’s perhaps not totally believable all the time and gets a little too long-term bitchy, but it still grounds all the ultra-tech in a human foundation. As always, Reynolds’ characters are not quite 3d enough, but it’s not bad – he’s a lot better at characterization than many other hard-sf writers are.

While I’ve always liked Reynolds (his debut Revelation Space kicked serious ass), this is maybe the most intresting thing I’ve read from him in a while; Century Rain, which I’ve also heard good things about, is still in the reading list pile. Sense of wonder, twists you don’t see coming, and enough action to keep things moving: what else can you ask of a summer book?

On to something else: I’ve always said that Nokia’s mobile phone UIs suck. I still hold by that claim, they suck mightily. Anyone who works at Nokia and has anything to do with UI design: game over, you’ve failed, sorry no bonus. Try sheepherding, it’s much more relaxing and people will hate you less.

The newer Symbian phones are actually more difficult to use than my ancient 7110 – and that’s no mean feat. My current theory is that the Nokia UI R&D department is actually manned by aliens who have no idea how actual humans think or work, but are trying to figure it out with fiendish experiments in UI design. That, or it’s drunk gerbils. Not sure.

Anyway… my “personal work phone”, a Nokia 6630, suffered a hardware breakdown during the weekend; the screen just started blinking and became unreadable. Luckily there’s still warranty left, so I took it to a shop and they sent it off for repairs, “it’ll take 2-3 weeks” I’m told. So we scrounged around at work for some phone I could use in the interim, and found an older Siemens phone. Mistake.

Now, as I’ve said, Nokia sucks in the UI department. But compared to the Siemens, it’s like sweet nectar from heaven. That thing is totally fucking awful, there is no logic to any part of it. Buttons change semantic meaning totally at random, the menus are confusing (if you can even find them), and to top it off, the damn thing just froze when someone tried to call it earlier, total software crash. It’s so bad that at the moment I’m charging the batteries on my ancient 7110 (yes, the “Matrix phone”, and yes, mine still works). I’d much rather use that stone-age piece of tech than suffer one more day with the craptastic Siemens.

Sigh. Why can’t we get a nice mobile phone that has both a good UI and reasonable technical specs? Don’t mention the iPhone, please, since in order for the iPhone to be even worth mentioning here in Finland it would need:

  • 3G
  • MMS
  • lack of lock-in to a single provider
  • reasonable price (300-400e max)

At the moment it looks like the iPhone will be a fancy dud, at least here in Europe where expectations of what a mobile phone needs to do are considerably higher than in the U.S. Pay 600-700e for a provider-locked phone without reasonable modern network support? What sort of idiot, other than the random Apple fanboy, would do that?

So the wait continues.

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