Scott Lynch‘s third volume of the Gentlemen Bastard series has seen many a release date fly by.
The current one, October this year seems to be reliable.
And there was much rejoicing.
Vadelmavenepakolainen by Miikka Nousiainen had been on my “todo”-list for a long while. Finally got to reading it while nursing a slight flu back in January, and was quite impressed. After all, it was the author’s debut.
The novel is a tale about a finnish man who is not happy with his nationality – he wants to be a swede, no matter what the cost. Not just a swede by nationality, but a man fully converted into one.
And while such an identity crisis is easily described, it takes a whole book to resolve matters. After all, it is a tremendous change.
And a humorous change, the story of the protagonist veers between absurdism and obsession, and the pages flow fast while reading.
Unavoidably, there’s some repetition, but that only adds to the manic nature of the changing man.
Vadelmavenepakolainen was a pleasant surprise, I aim to tackle the author’s later books with a shorter interval from the publication dates.
Steven Levy’s The Perfect Thing is yet another digital history book from the prolific author. The Perfect Thing chronicles the history of iPod (and leaves off with a short segue to the iPhone).
While the subject is far more common knowledge than that of his earlier “Hackers”, it’s nonetheless an interesting and enlightening book.
Desite its pedigree, The Perfect Thing is less about technology, and more about the people behind the device and its impact on society and habits.
But it’s not all about changes in music consumption – the first steps of the iPod’s history do contain interesting anecdotes about the technologies evaluated and especially about the comparison to competition.
The book has quite a personal perspective, the author talks about his own devices and music collection a lot, and a lot of the comments by industry players have not been gleaned from media, but from the interviews he conducted with them. The author regularly sounds more like a fanboy than an objective observer.
At least from my perspective (skewed very hard to pro-Apple camp) that’s but a minor fault.
The Perfect Thing is entertaining, I was sure of that. But it’s also rather shallow, and I kept expecting more.
Hannu Rajaniemi’s Quantum Thief was an unexpected breakthrough – a finnish science fiction author actually storming the bookshelves and kindles of the world.
The plot is told from multiple viewpoints with two clear protagonists. They, while initially independent, tangle towards the end of the book. Thus the narrative structure is a bit simpler than that of the first volume.
But that simplicity is an illusion. One of the many in this book. The Fractal Prince is packed to the brim with them. The plot is not that complex, but it is resolved in a very complex fashion. Multi-layered virtualities abound, and nothing is explained.
That complexity might actually be a concrete failure in the book. I’m not looking for a full walkthrough, but it would be nice to have a gallery of dramatis personae and a list of concepts spelled out. Preferably in an appendix so as not to clutter the rollercoaster pace of the adventure. Even if no such appendix exists in the book, I wasn’t too surprised to find one at the most probable location.
This book certainly is an adventure. The greatest thief of the solar system is on a mission, and any barriers, virtual, physical or psychological are just obstacles to be entertainingly overcome. But the tools and methods are at times bordering on the incomprehensible, and that sadly saps the entertainment value. There’s less science in the fiction, but that’s only to be expected since half of the storyline happens in a quasi-arabian-nights environment.
Fractal Prince is definitely more complex tale than its predecessor, and makes little sense without it (preferably re-read just before diving into this). The author has at least one more book planned in the series, and I certainly am looking forward to the conclusion. With the knowledge that I’ll have to re-read both earlier volumes before the conclusion to make the most out of it.
And it’s got Benedict Cumberbatch in it, he’s quickly evolving into Hugo Weaving of the tennies by his presence in high-profile genre output.
The best technology writing anthology seems no longer to be published.
Verge’s annual report on best writing is a reasonably good facsimile thereof.
Charles Stross announced today that the Merchant Princes will evolve into a nonalogy with three new volumes.
Given the rather explosive ending, it’ll be interesting to see how this kicks off.
I was never that much of a fan of the series, so this is not that great news to me – I’d have much preferred science fiction to fantasy.
This is not a long book. My edition clocked in around a hundred-odd pages.
And it’s not a book with a complicated plot or plentiful action. Nope. This is a two-act play in which very little happens. It’s like a slow motion two-part Seinfeld episode with an extremely low budget towards the end of the season.
The cast is tiny. Most of the time there’s just two men on stage. And even at its most crowded there’s just five people in the whole story.
The plot is almost inconsequential – Waiting for Godot is not about big deeds and bigger drama, it’s about – indeed – waiting for Godot. Who is, at best a remote acquintance of the two protagonists, but for unexplained reasons they are unable to leave without having a word with him.
What is left is dialogue. And there’s massive amounts of it, as the Vladimir and Estragon have nothing but words and shabby clothes. And almost the whole length is spent on the former (though the latter do put in occasional appearances).
But despite the overwhelming dialogue (it meanders, metamorphoses and catches the characters unawares at times) there’s no clarity or closure. The play begins and ends with us very little wiser on what is happening.
I’m sure the effect of the play would be even stronger on stage – reading just scratches the surface on what good actors can accomplish. Too bad there seems to be no local theatrest taking on Huomenna Hän Tulee this spring.
TL; DR: He doesn’t show up.
The first book I read this year was Anna Anthropy’s Rise of Videogame Zinesters.
It’s a short book on a very good topic: democratization of videogame creation.
In the age of expensive, publisher-driven, minimum-risk AAA games, there’s clearly a niche for interesting, topical alternatives written by a minimal team.
And that’s exactly what this book promotes: an era when videogames have been taken back from the few big publishers, when the barrier of entry has been lowered and the barrier of discovery kept really low symmetrically.
However, behind the admirable aims, the execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. Currently the outlook of gaming is far from the bleak present laid out in the initial chapter – the indie games movement has significantly expanded frontiers, and the era of the appstores has eliminated the need to court publishers for an audience. Even the basic premise “games are for white males interested in shooting each other in the face” is increasingly less valid even in the mainstream – apart from the annual Call of Duty-dose (and its colleagues), it’s quite a varied world out there (especially outside the consoles where both development and distribution costs are orders of magnitude lower).
The answer to the dearth of interesting games is for the gamers to create new ones and distribute them.
Certainly a noble target, and the author both describes quite a few tools to get started with as well as laying out her own experiences.
The former is an eclectic selection – it covers the obvious (Scratch and a few commercial toolkits), not-so-obvious (Inform and Twine) and downright awkward (ZZT, which doesn’t even run in modern machines without emulation). The role of programming (and even understanding the basics of the art) is not really described that well (and a golden opportunity for tools like Processing is missed altogether).
As is the latter – the author’s quite keen on highlighting the queer (her word, not mine) agenda of her games thus far. But in quite shallow fashion, she doesn’t describe how she crafted the games, but lays out her biography via them.
The book is short and quickly read.
It provokes the reader in many ways.
And while hardly a real manifesto for changing the industry, it’s definitely a worthy read.
I’ve been a generally happy, but very passive member of Librarything for years.
Their annual reading challenge nicely coincides with my “list the books that I read”-goal.
But… it’s hosted on their creaky forum, and I don’t really feel like jumping in. And the listing provides nice proper material for this blog that’s been on the anorectic side of meaningful content lately.
While movies and television have gone steadily downhill in time allocated to them, I’m still reading aplenty.
And to celebrate the fact I aim to cover every single book read this year in a separate entry here.
The fun starts soon with the first books I’ve finished this side of the new year.
As noted earlier, I re-read the entire Scarecrow saga in the summer. I planned on blogging about each and every novel, but the pace hasn’t been exactly Reillyish on this exercise.
The second volume of the series, Area 7, is even more of a roller-coaster ride than its predecessor.
The action occurs in a closed environment again. Here the scene is a secret desert base. Where the president inconveniently happens to be visiting. The setting is again beneficiary of maps, as the complex layout would be impossible to convey with words alone. And hey, the plot is mainly confined to the base – there’s an odd short journey to the lower earth orbit that would amount to a full novel in the hands of most other authors.
The plot is multi-stranded, though pretty easy to follow (as quasi-recaps occur every so often), even though it soon departs the realms of the sensible with over the top layering. Most characters teeter on the edge of a caricature and have an easily-remembered callsign as a bonus.
The mannerisms of the author remain the same. The pace is breathless, lives are taken away by the dozen, most chapters end in cliffhangers and sound effects keep interjected into the body of text.
As its predecessor, this is not a book anybody can enjoy. But for the fans of the ridiculously improbable techno-thrillers, this is quite a treasure.
An Arxiv paper on Possible Bubbles of Spacetime Curvature in the South Pacific takes on the abode of Cthulhu.
The mathematics alone are a cause for low-level SAN loss.
In an unexpected first time for everything (I guess), there’s a verbatim novelization of the Planescape computer game.
Exhibit A: first purchased fiction book on Kindle: the original Stainless Steel Rat. I couldn’t find the paperback in the house and resorted to an electronic alternative. Thus far the experience has been a pleasant one.
Exhibit B: Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. After giving up on the Quicksilver trilogy halfway down the stretch, this is a trial whether I can still read his output. The slow build-up and the awkwardly twisted vocabulary got off to a poor start, but things are interesting enough to persist. The 900+ pages length is a bit spooky, though.
One of many good books read over the summer was Emmi Itäranta’s Teemestarin Kirja.
It is a post-apocalyptic novel that moves with a slow, sad pace and paints a very bleak picture of what life could be in a few hundred years.
Following an unspecified eco-catastrophe supplies of fresh water are fast running out, and it has become one of the most important resources as well as as an instrument of power.
The sacred brotherhood of tea masters maintains knowledge of proper ceremonies, but they are increasingly obsolete in a world where everything decays and parched throats are the norm.
The novel paints an effective picture of a society that has slid into ignorant totalitarianism, where landfills contain treasures and where the past is forgotten.
The plot is tight, the book runs to a conclusion in under three hundred pages, and the prospect of a sequel is quite remote.
A very promising debut novel (whose author won the first Teos contest), and I look forward to seeing more.
And I really really need to either relocate my copy of Stainless Steel Rat or buy it again.
Back in 1998 (or thereabouts, the past is hazy) I picked up a random book from Akateeminen.
Matt Reilly‘s Ice Station was such a roller-coaster of a techno-thriller that I kept n pushing it to anybody even remotely interested in the genre. And like mine, their reception was enthusiastic, this was definitely a book head and shoulders above the common fare.
Ice Station has had three sequels. The newest one (Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves) was just published in paperback, and I decided to re-read the series before plunging into the latest installment.
The pacing is relentless, peril a constant companion, bad guys killed by a dozen, good guys not arbitrarily spared either, and massively overpowered cliffhangers encountered pretty much every eighty pages or so. The setting, an eponymous research station in Antarctica is well-realized (and the maps at the beginning of the book do come in useful).
The characters are slightly more than cardboard cutouts, and a lot of the story is just a vehicle to showcase futuristic military hardware.
But even worse is the author’s voice: the text is peppered by italicized sound effects, the dialogue distilled from a couple of decades wort of action movies.
So this is clearly not for everybody.
But those able to deal with the avalanche-style ride of the Ice Stations are rewarded with +d6 points in Special Forces-lore.
I have a great respect for his range, he wrote stories stretching from dystopia to far future, via horror and reality.
And an even greater respect for Fahrenheit 451. Which, ironically enough, has been attempted to ban in school libraries.
Considering that Storm of Swords, the third book of the saga, is way thicker than the first two – it will be interesting to see whether it fits into the traditional format of ten episodes.