Semi/Human by Erik Hanberg—review and commentary

A Y/A science fiction yarn

As the pandemic has continued to plague businesses, many of them are accelerating their transition to robots and artificial intelligence, thus replacing or supplementing their all too frail human employees. Semi/Human is set in the near future, and in this novel Silicon Valley has finally written an adaptable code that makes most human employees obsolete. Vehicles drive themselves, dealers in Vegas are all robots, police have been replaced by armed drones, and so forth.

Main character Pen(ney) Davis is more than depressed, because like most other human jobs, her intern job at a Silicon Valley computer firm has been eliminated. However, Pen has come up with a less than practical scheme to steal a ridiculously expensive treasure from her former employer and get rich enough to care a lot less about being unemployed.

As Alexander Pope once observed, “A little bit of learning is a dangerous thing,” and recent intern Pen re-writes the code of a self-driving truck, intending to hijack it for a trip across the country, but ends up making the aforementioned truck autonomous instead. Fortunately for Pen, the truck, Lara B, is both friendly and grateful.

Lest I ruin this tale for readers, let me just say that this yarn is cogent, examining the societal damage which would ensue if gainful employment ceased, as well as the ethics of dealing with a self-aware, nearly omniscient super computer. There’s a dash of economic reality sprinkled in as well, because with no work, there’s no money coming in for the vast majority of the populace, so they end up fighting over whatever is left behind in the technological revolution.

There’s also more than a little suspense, as Pen and Lara B join forces to accomplish the original mission, wherein Pen hopes to acquire both riches and revenge in one fell swoop. Semi/Human is one of those rare books that blends a cautionary theme with an entertaining plot. Most of the characters are well drawn, and there is sufficient description of settings to keep the reader entertained but the plot never bogs down.

As a frequent reader of science fiction, it is rare for me to call a novel memorable, but for me Semi/Human is such a book. Perhaps I simply read it a the right time, or perhaps the book is really that good. If you like youthful, sassy heroines, self-aware computers (and trucks) along with a suspense filled story line, you really should try Semi/Human.

Jersey Boys on Netflix

Jersey BoysLike many of you, we use services such as Netflix rather than having a traditional cable subscription. At times, we miss the old TV Guide magazine, which would guide the viewing experience. Instead, with Netflix, there is some algorithm that knows my husband likes shoot ’em up flix, so I am not always happy with the suggestions. However, a couple of days ago, I noticed “Jersey Boys”as an option in our feed. I’m embarrassed to say that hubby actually, “What’s that?” I simply said, “Click on it and you’ll see.”

Anyway, fortunately for me, hubby likes music, especially vintage pop, so he was eager to take a look at the movie version of this musical, which had a great run on Broadway, and is still touring around the country. Jersey Boys tells the story the Four Seasons, featuring the fabulous Frankie Valli. Surprisingly, the film version is directed by Clint Eastwood. The cast is really great, with Christopher Walken in a small but pivotal role, and it also has the original Valli from Broadway, John Lloyd Young as well as Erich Bergen, who has a supporting role in another show we’ve watched on Netflix, Madame Secretary.

There is much to like about this film, which is actually a 2014 release, but I was most impressed with the sound track. And, as is possible when watching a film in the comfort of home, I paused it and did some research, finding that the cast sang, rather than having it dubbed by either the original band or by hired musicians. Many of the hits from the Four Seasons are present, including “Sherry”, “December 63 (Oh What a Night)”, “Walk Like a Man”, and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Valli’s solo, “My Eyes Adored You” is also in the film, as are other familiar tunes.

Although not entirely happy, for this film follows the rise and the ultimate fall of The Four Seasons, we enjoyed this film quite a lot. If you are a Netflix subscriber, the movie version of Jersey Boys is a great way to spend an evening. Toe tapping is optional, but recommended!

Where do you buy your car “farkles”?

cargo trayMy oh my, WordPress didn’t like the spelling of “farkles.” That’s more of a motorcycle term, I suppose, but it basically means shiny stuff that might actually do something to help the vehicle. My rather limited research indicates that this is a portmanteau word, based on sparkle and function. When hubby gets a new ride, he often wants to invest in some farkles.

Having bought (perhaps I should say perpetrated, based on its performance thus far) a new-to-us ride, I shopped online for some accessories. I began on eBay, but ended up purchasing via a site that insists I remove all links to its site. Anyway,  I wanted genuine Toyota items, and our local dealership isn’t known for giving big discounts on much of anything. Via a relentless online vendor, I got some All Weather Floor Liners (deeper and more sturdy than floor mats) and a Genuine Toyota Cargo Tray, which is also deeper than a mat, if not quite as heavy. While not exactly “shiny” these items are handsome and quite functional.

The car looks a bit better with these accessories. Now, if I could just buy a cushier ride….

Thoughts on Car Buying

2000My sometimes hated (but mostly beloved) minivan is no longer in my possession. After a few days of car shopping, I traded it in for a used Toyota. The van, a Honda Odyssey, was sixteen years old, so I suppose it was time. Still, it ran beautifully on the way to the dealership, so that drive was bittersweet. On the way, I passed by a yard sale, offering bikes and other things I might have purchased, because having things to do at Grandma’s house is where I am in life, but I didn’t stop, knowing that those items would probably not fit in the trunk of the sedan I was planning to purchase.

Buying a car has changed since I bought my first vehicle, that’s for sure. Now, the first contact is often online. Whether one picks the “chat” function or sends an email, there will soon be a contact. The phone starts ringing. Go in for a test drive, and (in Athens, Georgia) there is a mandatory meeting with the “sales manager.” Then, a couple of times, I got an email to see if the salesman met my expectations.

After I finally said I might be interested in a used Honda, I got an offer of $500 for my old van. As it has been more truck than family vehicle for a while, with the typical bumps and scrapes associated with that duty, I wasn’t expecting much. But, that deal had me paying more than the maximum KBB value on the seller’s car, with half the typical auction estimate on mine. Really, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

Eventually, I ended up at a more rural dealership which didn’t use the “meet the manager” approach. I got $900 for my old van, which was still a very low number, and a newer car for less money. Oh, and I got to keep the new to me car overnight and take it for an inspection prior to purchase. The dealer even gassed it up for us before the extended test drive.

After I’ve had this vehicle for a while, I guess I will know if it was a good purchase. But, I can say that the pressure to buy was less out in the country. In the mean time, I guess I’ll be looking for some accessories for the “new to me” ride.