Random Notes

New Year Resolution: Avoid trying to predict the future.

Bi-Annual Post
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Just missed the date for my bi-annual post.  Bi-annual as in "once every two years".

So, what did I miss?

Pizza Project
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What are you looking here for?

I'm over there (gestures at mazerlodge.blogspot.com like there is something to see), eating a different frozen pizza each day.  Call it an experiment, or just call it bananas, cause I bought those too when I got the pizza.

Book Reviews - Reviews that didn't get written in 2013
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I'm rethinking the whole review writing process.  Just for the record, here are the books and audio books read / listened to that didn't have a review written in 2013 but were finished during that year.

Audiobooks:

Butcher, Storm Front (Dresden #1) - Very good.  I was a little disappointed I had such a long audiobook queue at the time I finished, meaning I couldn't (shouldn't anyway) jump ahead and listen to Dresden #2.

Gibson, Distrust that Flavor - A collection of William Gibson articles from other sources.  I hadn't read the originals, so it was all new to me.  Interesting how Gibson was not very into tech while writing books that would later become loved by technophiles everywhere.

Wilson, Amped - Engaging, an interesting novel addressing the futuristic concept of people who are 'amped', that is having implants that affect mental function, either compensating for a deficiency or just to overclock natural ability.  The age old issue of humans dealing with people who are different, but with an interesting plot twist- who's behind the protests and revolution?

Scott, The Alchemyst - Also a very good book, and another where I wanted to continue the series. Alas, the queue gets in the way again.  Book 1 of a six part series with a fantasy topic set in the ordinary world.  Alchemy and witchcraft provide the action for a plot that involves the quest for a book and keeping that book away from the bad guy(s).  Are the main characters just caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, or is there more to it?  Not too much of a spoiler: there is more to it.

Alda, Things I Overheard - Alan Alda reads speeches he has given and ruminates on them.  This is the follow up to his memoir (didn't know that at the time).  Pretty good stuff, but some of the passion of  the moment of a speech loses its effect and feels awkward when read / heard out of that original context.

Camilleri, Shape of Water - An Italian mystery that feels older than it is, maybe because it's been languishing on my queue.  I listened to a different book by this author long ago, picked this one up and it sat, until I started this 'work through the queue' approach.  The main character is a detective who is a bit cynical but comes off as engaging.  It's an interesting writing style, possibly partly because of the translation from Italian but more so because of the authors talent at delivering raw and sometimes grumpy characters and making them endearing.

Ferguson, American on Purpose - A good book that comes off very well as an audiobook, read by the author.  It's a bit like sitting down for a conversation with Craig Ferguson and having him tell you the stories of how he arrived where he is today.  It wasn't a straight line.

Books:

Slouka, Brewster - This was a Powell's Indiespensible (yes, it's spelled that way- their thing).  Starting in 1968 and a coming of age story in Brewster, New York.  You either like this kind of thing or you don't.  One nice thing about this one, there is no dramatic event that turns the main character in a new direction.  This is more 'life creeps up on you'.  This book should also go down as the definitive work on how write about Track (as in the sport of running), an ever present topic in the book.  Distance running doesn't sound like a topic that would make for good reading, but this is the textbook on how to do it.

Brown, Inferno - Dan Brown's latest novel featuring Robert Langdon, not his best.  The mystery and adventure with big reveals of 'Angels and Demons' and 'Da Vinci Code', the symbolism background of 'The Lost Symbol', all are absent from Inferno.  In this book Robert Langdon wakes up with a head injury and memory loss.  He spends the next chunk of the book trying to figure out what has happened, then the next chunk trying to do something about it.  Clearly written to be converted into a movie, this may be one where the movie turns out to be better than the book.

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Audiobook Review: Scalzi, Red Shirts
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Red Shirts
John Scalzi

This book opens like pretty much any other spaceship based sci-fi. Things seem normal enough for Ensign Dahl, he and his fellow crewmen (and women) are on their way to their first assignment aboard the Intrepid. Upon arrival they soon find out that crew members die at an alarming rate when leaving this particular ship on away missions.

The title tips the book’s hand a little bit. For those not following Star Trek or what has become a bit of a meme it works like this; whenever a minor (or worse, unnamed) crew member left the USS Enterprise on an away mission wearing a red shirt they were certain to die on the surface of whatever planet they had just beamed down to.

Then the twist- in between avoiding being sent on an away missions, Dahl and his friends figure out what is so special about this ship, and hatch a scheme to save their lives and protect all future red shirts.

The audible book was very good, a big part of that coming from the book being read by Wil Wheaton (aka Wesley Crusher on Star Trek Next Generation, aka @wilw on Twitter, aka host of the You Tube show TableTop within the Geek and Sundry Channel, aka himself on Big Bang Theory)-- just noticed the Wesley Crusher character has a wikipedia page, and in the photo he’s wearing a red shirt- heh (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wesley_Crusher)

Throughout the book the author kept a good balance between not taking the story too seriously and at the same time putting in enough effort to build a quality story. The result is just the right mix of embracing the genre and mocking it. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so, the book won the 2013 Hugo for best novel.
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All Novel's Eve
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It's Halloween, and you know what that means.

Yep, National Novel Writing Month starts tomorrow.  I've tried in the past and haven't signed up this year.  My intent in to work on one I started in a previous year.  Since that's not really how NaNoWriMo works, I'm not throwing my hat in the official ring.

So grab your quills or keyboards or crayons or whatever you write with and go for it!  50,000 words in the month of November, that's a bit north of 1,600 a day-- and they don't have to be good to count.  Need encouragement or curious about what the heck is going on?  Pop over to www.NaNoWriMo.org  to check it out.
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Audiobook Review: Card, Ender’s Game
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Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card

An award winning book (both Hugo and Nebula awards) Ender’s Game recounts the story of the early life of Ender in a science fictionalized world where we (the humans) are continually preparing for a repeat of two previous wars fought against “the buggers”.  Not your typical sci-fi prep for battle saga, Ender’s Game has a big twist-- Ender has been inducted into the military training process at the appropriate age for the book’s society- when he was six years old.

All the students at the battle academy are children.  Society has changed.  Population is limited to two children.  Families that find themselves expecting a third have an option; terminate or sign a contract that in essence gives the military first right of refusal. These children are referred to derisively as “thirds”, and Ender is a third.

But it isn’t just the thirds that get shuttled off to the battle academy, both Ender’s older brother and sister were “tested” (via implants) but found lacking.  Put down as a third, even within his own family (his sister being his only true confidant), Ender has both little to lose, and yet everything to a six year old, by saying yes to the offer when it arrives.

Ender arrives and shines.  You don’t feel sorry for this little guy, I found myself grinning and cheering his creativity and pluck without being an over the top psycho.  But Ender (and this strange world where children are inducted and prepped for war) isn’t the whole story.  The characters surrounding him are also written in a rich and engaging fashion.  Even after literally leaving Earth, Ender’s sister and brother remain in the book, building a parallel storyline almost worthy of its own book.

This is a great story that is both fast paced and yet with depth, a tough balance to find.  Ender survives and thrives on his wits alone with lessons applicable even to those of us who don’t live in a science fictional universe.

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Book Review: Priest, Boneshaker
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Boneshaker
Cherie Priest

It’s been awhile since I finished this, so I checked the Wikipedia page to make sure I didn’t forget anything important.  The first line of the entry was a good tweet-sized book description; “Boneshaker is a science fiction novel by Cherie Priest which combines the steampunk genre with zombies in an alternate history version of Seattle, Washington. It was nominated for the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel.”

This book was in my queue for a long time.  It had been built up, lots of praise, and I wanted to give it my full attention.  It was excellent, and I have only one nit.  That being the title refers to a machine, The Boneshaker, that I was expecting would carry a bigger role.

The book is pure steampunk.  Probably reference-able as definitive steampunk.  It doesn’t throw steampunk into your face, steampunk tech is just the way things are in the book.  The book also has engaging characters with backstories revealed at a comfortable pace, a setting that is described in a way the reader can easily visualize, and steampunk tech that the reader can accept without stretching.

Boneshaker also includes a complete roster of humans in roles of adventurer, survivors, victims, and villains.  Some blurbs describe the victims of the blight gas as zombies, and that might put some people off with “zombie-fatigue” (they seem to be everywhere).  But in this case, in a steampunk novel these non-mechanical features are really neo-zombies (not the modern trendy version, but a sadder variety).  There’s also an interesting subtext; what happens when an entire section of a major city has been walled off due to a disaster.

The book starts by establishing the environment and some recounting of past events that led up to Seattle being broken so badly.  Then the plot transitions into a bit of an explorer’s story, which goes wrong and leads to a rescue mission.  Finally the book wraps with a daring escape attempt that has consequences (left out of this review to avoid spoilers).

Still catching up on reviews, next up is a serialized book I read in the newspaper.

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Audiobook Review: Stephenson - Anathem
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Anathem

Neil Stephenson

(Audible version: 32 hours, 30 minutes)

This is a big book.  It could’ve been done as a trilogy.  And it was good.

The book opens with intellectuals living in consents (monasteries, but with women- does the definition of the word allow for that?).  They aren’t pursuing faith, but rather “intellectual endeavors”. Prohibited from communicating with the outside world, they toil without technology aside from magic spheres that are pretty impressive.  The spheres serve as light source, pillow, tool, something not thoroughly explained in the book but a constant prop and surprisingly useful.  The prohibition on outside contact is lifted for 10 days, and the frequency of this period (referred to as apert) varies depending on the class of “avout” you are in (it could be yearly, once a decade, once a century, etc- these folks obviously can live for a while).

Alas, as with all novels, things cannot proceed without something going wrong.  In addition to apert, the outside world can call for help from the inside to deal with a pressing issue (referred to as an evocation, or as with many terms in the book simply a shortened form of the word- “Evoke”).  Of course, such a pressing issue arises, and a favorite professor of our lead character is evoked. As with typical (of late) Stephenson, all this is wrapped in a deep and thorough backstory, adding to the book’s length.

Long story short (cause I can’t say much more without giving away critical points) our heros are also evoked from the consent, and instead of following instructions take a side trip to pursue their favorite professor.  There they find out what’s really going on, reconvene at their appointed destination and take off on a (literally) out of this world adventure.   

Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough, this is a big and well done book.  It’s intimidating but worth it, and very much like reading three books from a series all in one package.  The audible version was perfect for me in that it worked out to be like listening to an entire season of a well written television show.


Still trying to catch up on my reviews.  I have a list of seven to do, next up (doing them in the order I finished the book) Cherie Priest's Boneshaker.  At last check, she still maintained a live journal (cross posting from her blog these days).
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Book Review: Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Anthony Marra


This was Powell’s Indiespensable #39 (yes, it is spelled that way-the focus is on independent, or ‘indie’). In this longer than typical book review I’ve captured four things about the book; the word craft, the topic, the structure, and the take-away.

Read more...Collapse )

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Book Review: Baldacci, Hell's Corner
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Hell’s Corner

David Baldacci

Book #5 in the Camel Club series revolves around a bomb detonation in Lafayette Park in Washington D.C.  Oliver Stone (aka John Carr), the Camel Club series main character, is in the thick of it, and the rest of the book is spent figuring out who did it and why.

Having the attack happen on a night the British Prime Minister is visiting the White House provides a plausible (sort of) reason for  Oliver to team up with an MI-6 agent while investigating.  The bits of the book that cover the investigation were well written, taking something that in an episode of CSI would be carried out with no dialog, just a music soundtrack followed by an explanation of what was found in a brief exchange back at the lab.   Translating that kind of visual discovery of physical evidence into the written form required multiple trips back to the crime scene, something that challenged the plausibility of the story (really? how long are these cops going to hang out at this park?), but the author made good use of new discovery and carrying out the concept of a person with a lingering doubt, that one thing in the back of their mind that doesn’t seem right but they just can’t put their finger on it.

I actually finished this book awhile ago and this is a make-up review.  Still working through my backlog, the next review will be of Anthony Marra’s “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”, something completely different.

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