Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sniper and Swordsman Join Virtual Forces

Sword Art Online 5 & 6: Phantom Bullet pose a conundrum: Someone is using his avatar to kill other players online. But that’s impossible. If your avatar gets shot, why would you die in the real world?

Kirito, a young man with a mysterious past, is recruited to enter the game and find out what’s happening. He possesses incredible sword skills, to the point that he can use a photon sword to slice bullets headed his way. He encounters a sinister figure who was part of a group he battled in his past—a group that succeeded in killing people in real life. But the old virtual reality headsets have been replaced with new ones that cannot accidentally/on purpose electrocute players. So can this sinister figure really be killing people again?

Sword Art Online 5 

Sinon wields a sniper gun with great skill and confidence. She has the build of an ordinary girl, but she uses most of her points for strength and agility, so she can carry around the immense gun as if it weighed no more than a backpack. If she can just win the Bullet of Bullets championship, she may attain the confidence she needs to overcome a real-life trauma.

She encounters Kirito, whom she mistakes for a girl, since he got stuck in a delicate avatar with long hair. After a rather bitter confrontation over that, she decides to join forces with him, even though she is putting her life on the line. Can they stop the sinister figure before he kills again?

 Sword Art Online 6

Sword Art Online 5 & 6: Phantom Bullet are light novels, which means they are mostly text with a few illustrations. They are written with a future virtual reality so realistic, the writing does not get bogged down with technical details. The players walk, talk, run, and fight with no extraneous explanation of how the tech works.

I mainly read these two works to get familiar with how virtual reality is written nowadays. But I found these light novels to be interesting and satisfying. Towards the end things were a little repetitive, but don’t stop reading—there’s a good twist.

For those of you familiar with Sword Art Online, this occurs after the Aincrad story, but it’s not the Progressive series. (Are we clear?) And now the manga version is coming out in America, which naturally would be more than two volumes. And I first became interested through the anime, but I will not even begin to explain the numbering system for those. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Of course it’s not Skynet

DeepMind. Perhaps the most powerful gaming artificial intelligence in the world. It is designed to learn organically, like a living creature. DeepMind just beat Lee Sedol, the world champion of Go—the board game that uses black and white stones.

The operators of DeepMind assure us that it is only used for games—for the moment—so it is harmless. Well, that’s comforting, and . . . hey, didn’t they ever see WarGames?

It was kind of funny to watch that and see nuclear missiles being targeted at Seattle.

DeepMind is part of Google. Their motto is “Don’t be evil.” And if you believe that, then you won’t fear that this worldwide network will ever become Skynet.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Music to give you chills

Ever hear music on the radio that gave you chills, so that you had to go out and buy the CD? That happened recently as I listened to a classical FM station. It wasn’t anything by Bach or Brahms. It was music from the movie GalaxyQuest.

I’m serious. Anyone who has seen the movie will associate comedy with the main theme, as Captain Nesmith (Tim Allen) and his alien sidekick (Alan Rickman), the engineer, the navigator, and the woman who did nothing but repeat the computer went off and . . . I’m not sure what they were trying to do. But behind, beneath, and above all that was the music.

The composer, David Newman, used to play violin for the background music for the old Star Trek, so you know he understands this sort of thing. He said in an interview on The Score (more on that show in a moment), that he did not set out to compose humorous music. He set out to write music for a great space adventure movie.

He succeeded. Beyond the main theme, the music he composed was remarkably complex. The piece that gave me chills was when they went in a shuttle down to the planet, then made their way to the mine. Yes, the actors were doing silly things, especially Tony Shalhoub looking weird, and Tim Allen diving around for no reason, but ignore all that. The music is brilliant.

I heard it on The Score, which plays on many classical stations. The host plays symphonic movie music, so it’s partway between classical and popular. He often has interviews with the composers, so it’s worth your time to see if it plays in your area. 


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