Tramp Royale

Monday, 26 May 2014 12:00
claidheamhmor: (Stranger in a Strange Land)
I've been reading Robert Heinlein's books all over again, and they're still eminently readable. I'm not sure why they're so readable; I suspect it's because of the conversational devices he used.

One that I hadn't read before was "Tramp Royale". It was not science fiction; it was the account of the round-the-world trip that Heinlein and his wife Viginia (nicknamed "Tickey") took in 1953/54. The book itself was only published in 1992, four years after Heinlein's death (he died on my birthday in 1988).

Tickey had a fear of flights over water, so they booked a trip mainly via ship, travelling to South America, through many of the South American countries, across the Atlantic past  Tristan da Cunha to South Africa, through South Africa (Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Kruger Park, Durban), Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand, before hopping over to Hawaii, then back to Colorado.

It's fascinating seeing a view of so many countries from 60 years ago, not long after World War II. Here's a quick summary:[personal profile] luthiea
  • They loved South America, finding everything very cheap, the people friendly and helpful, and accommodations comfortable and clean. One amusing anecdote Heinlein used in a book a few years later was getting the spelling of their surname of a South American women; the name was pronounced "Hone-ace", but it was spelled "j-o-n-e-s".Heinlein especially admired Uruguay. Even now, Uruguay has possibly the most down-to-earth leader in the world; José Mujica and his wife live on a small farm instead of the presidential palace, they have no staff, he drives an aged VW Beetle, and donates 90% of his small salary to charity.
  • South Africa: this was an interesting one. They loved the wildlife and scenery; however, even then, 6 years after the National Party was voted into power by only around 5% of the population, apartheid was in full swing. Heinlein commented on the terrible policies, and the effect on the black population, and he said he saw no solution for South Africa (thankfully, decades later, that was to change). He mentioned the beautiful houses in Johannesburg, hiding behind high walls and electric fences, owners nervous about being killed by their black staff. He and Tickey went to the Kruger Park, and had to deal with the terrible rail services (still bad), and the stupid bureaucracies of the government. He really, really didn't like Afrikaners, finding them unpleasant and difficult. One thing that came up several times was that people kept asking why the US wouldn't pay more for South Africa's gold.
  • The Heinleins found Jakarta dirty and unpleasant; they didn't stay long. By contrast, Singapore was clean, had excellent service, and some of the best accommodations they'd ever seen.
  • They caught a dirty ship to Australia, and found Australia riddled with bureaucracy. For example, on landing, they had to fill in income tax forms, and on leaving, had to get export permits for their money, including their own traveller's cheques, stamped in a couple of different places. They people, they found, tended to be friendly, but somewhat tactless. Hotels were awful, thanks to stupid regulations requiring bars to run hotels too and a condition of the licence.
  • Next was New Zealand. 
  •  could probably comment on how NZ has changed. Back then, the people the Heinleins encountered were dour, petty, and unhelpful. Hotels were the worst they'd encountered, to the extent that the best hotel they found in Auckland wouldn't have been as good as the average US backwater motel. Food was terrible; the New Zealanders kept the worst of their food for themselves, and destroyed it with their cooking; boiled beef, boiled lamb, boiled mutton, and for breakfast, boiled bacon. Petty bureaucracy was rife, right down to mealtimes; if your mealtime was 1PM to 2PM, you weren't allowed to be seated in the hotel dining room before 1PM, even if the place was empty, and you were obliged to be out by 2. Heinlein and Tickey saw only a bit of NZ's scenery, thanks to more ridiculous transport rules. At the time, NZ citizens weren't allowed to visit the US, and even if they got special dispensation, they weren't allowed to buy US dollars. The only highlight was a helpful zoo manager at the Auckland zoo.
  • NZ was so awful that Tickey was actually prepared to fly back to the US rather than  fight red tape to get a booking on a ship, so they flew (in sleeper berths on a DC-6!) to Hawaii, which they loved, and from the back to the US. 

Even though Tramp Royale was not published until decades later, Heinlein used bits and pieces from their trip in his fiction; one can see signs of his dislike for petty rules in almost all of his books, and bit and pieces obviously relating to Tramp Royale crop up here and there. 

Saintly

Tuesday, 2 July 2013 10:43
claidheamhmor: (Freudiana)
Book news:

I recently read Lauren Beukes's "The Shining Girls". It's a book about the survivor of an attack by a time-travelling serial killer, and her attempt to track him down. It's interesting, and fairly straightforward; quite a different style from the uncomfortably choppy style in Lauren's previous book, Zoo City. Enjoyable.

Apart from that, I've been nearing the end of Jonathan Kellerman's "Alex Delaware" novels, and after 25 of them, it's getting a little tiring; the plots a a little too complex, and the characters have become rather static.

The most enjoyable books I've been reading lately are Leslie Charteris's "The Saint" series, the series upon which the TV series, starring Roger Moore, was based. The books start back in 1928, and despite the age, don't feel dated. Simon Templar is an amusing character, and the books are surprisingly well written, for what one would consider a lightweight series; Leslie Charteris had beautifully descriptive prose.

The Wheel of Time

Tuesday, 5 March 2013 14:35
claidheamhmor: (Aes Sedai)
I  bought and read the final book of Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time" series, A Memory of Light. In many ways it was nice to get to the end of the series (though perhaps I should go and read the last few books again to get to grips with it properly), and I enjoyed seeing what happened to all of the characters, but on the downside, most of the book was about the Final Battle, and all the fighting really did take ages.

Still, I'm glad it's done. I will miss the anticipation of what was going to happen with each character though. What an amazingly complex series.

Atrocities

Thursday, 20 September 2012 11:52
claidheamhmor: (Vendetta 2)

I just finished reading The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities. Fascinating stuff. It starts off chronologically, so in a way it's a history lesson of the most unpleasant times (i.e. most of them), and it covers wars, genocides, man-caused plagues and famines, and the most unpleasant bunch of leaders. It shows a very different side to "civilised" countries too.

Riverting, and highly recommended.




Steve Jobs

Tuesday, 17 January 2012 14:37
claidheamhmor: (Blackberry)

I recently read Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. It was absolutely fascinating, and I found myself riveted from beginning to end.

Jobs was a complex man. A genius, certainly, but a horrible human being. For the first part of the book I couldn't decide whether to pity him, or just to be disgusted. For example, he believed his fruitarian/vegan diet obviated the need to bath more than once a week...and he wandered around barefoot in the offices. He believed rules didn't apply to him, so he drove at high speeds, without number plates, and parked in disabled parking bays. When he rejoined Apple in the late '90s, he terminated all charitable donations. (By contrast, the oft-vilified Bill Gates has sunk $28 billion into charitable causes, and is estimated to have saved millions of lives.) 

For a smart guy, he also seemed to be singularly oblivious in some ways. For example, when first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer his doctor was very relieved because it was the rare, easily curable variety. So Jobs avoided medical treatment for the next year, believing his fruit diet would cure it. We know how that ended...

His obsession with detail and his broad visions were his genius; he wanted everything just so. Of course, that meant that anyone who didn't want it that way was wrong - which is why Apple devices are so tightly locked down. I don't personally subscribe to the Apple way; I like my choices.

One thing I found interesting was the amount of emotion around Jobs. For example, there are numerous mentions of Jobs bursting into tears in board meetings or when arguing with people. Not just him either - it seemed to be a relatively regular occurrence with others too. 

I did think there was quite a bit of post facto revisionism in some ways. For example, the book talks about how long Steve Jobs took with the design of the case of the original Apple II, and how beautiful and elegant it was. I went and took a look at pictures of some of the Apple II's contemporaries, and to be honest, the Apple II doesn't seem any better than most (e.g. the early Commodores). The same applies to various other Apple devices mentioned: hailed only as visionary because they became popular.

One curious omission in the book was any significant mention of operating systems. There are a couple of brief mentions, but by and large, iOS, MacOS and MacOS X are pretty much ignored. I don't know why that is, given how tightly integrated the Apple hardware and operating systems are.

Anyway: highly recommended.


claidheamhmor: (Conan)
Interesting selection from this article:
10 Modern Must-Read Sci-Fi Masterpieces

Any discussion of science fiction invariably begins and ends with the masters of the genre. Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Phillip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, Frank Herbert, Jerry Pournelle and so on. But what do all of those authors have in common besides their sci-fi prowess? They all did their most significant work before 1980. Ironically for a genre that’s so much about the future, much of our discussion of the great work done within it seems to center around things written in the distant past.

People didn’t suddenly stop writing science fiction novels in 1980. In the past thirty-years a new group of science fiction authors has risen to make their mark on the genre, with their own masterpiece entries into the sci-fi genre. This list is dedicated to those writers, the modern masters who haven’t quite yet taken their place in the pantheon of sci-fi icons, but probably should. If you’re serious about science fiction, or just looking for a great book to read without all the baggage of something written in a long since bygone era, make sure you own a copy of these must-read modern sci-fi masterpieces.

The Dark Tower (1982 – 2004)
Written by: Stephen King
King is best known as one of the modern masters of fantasy and horror but The Dark Tower series is as much science fiction as it is anything. It all started with the publishing of The Gunslinger in 1982, a story which opens with these unforgettable words: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” He followed through seven epic books on a journey across dimensions and time and space. The gunslinger is named Roland and he’s a cowboy, sort of, from a dimension which is sort of like our medieval past merged with a Clint Eastwood movie. His world was destroyed by an evil force, and he’s on a mission to find a mythical place called the Dark Tower, which he believes is at the nexus of everything. He picks up companions along the way, and they develop a relationship with each other (and in the process the reader) that goes beyond mere words. Filled with violence and misery, and heart-wrenching beauty and joy, it’s one of the most emotionally moving works on this list. Read all seven books, and say thankee-sai.

Neuromancer (1984)
Written by: William Gibson
William Gibson created the cyber punk genre with Neuromancer. A story about a dystopian future where Henry Case is caught as a thief, has his brain interface with the virtual reality world of the “Matrix” removed, and is now a drug addict desperate to find a cure for his problems. What follows is a story of hackers going to battle, the effects of technology on mankind, and an exploration of what exactly defines reality. What really matters in geek culture is that Gibson developed the notion of the cyber punk world with this novel. The idea of AI constructs taking on humans, technology as a drug, virtual worlds where battles can occur, are all either originated or defined clearly within Neuromancer. The novel also established the noir tonal quality of the genre. Of course Neuromancer is most known as the blueprint for The Matrix, but has always been regarded as a seminal work in the sci-fi world.

Ender’s Game (1985)
Written by: Orson Scott Card
There’s never been anything quite like Ender’s Game, before or since. Not even the sequels. Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece tells the story of young children whisked away to a battle school for gifted minds where, humanity hopes they’ll be able to transform one of them into the military genius the world needs to save them from an impending alien invasion. It’s about kids but it’s not a book for kids. What happens in that battle school is brutal and brilliant, full of strategic thinking and mind games played the way they can only really be played amongst untested genius intellects. In the end all the kids involved are left warped, changed, and screwed up, but none worse than Ender. In a sense Ender’s Game is about how saving the human race ruined one little boy’s life.

The Liaden Universe (1988 – 2010)
Written by: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Agent of Change was the first book published (though not the first chronologically) in what would eventually become known as the Liaden Universe. The series contains nine books in all, all set in the same fictional future, but each book completely different from the other. Agent of Change, for instance, is an intimate spy novel focused on a small handful of characters engaged in a complex game of cat and mouse , set on a single planet. Balance of Trade, my favorite of the series, is the story of the crew aboard a massive, intergalactic merchant ship, making their way from one planet to the next. Others are romance novels and political thrillers, all set in the same fictional world. Best of all, it somehow all fits together. They aren’t random stories but larger parts of the same whole, each told in their own way and from their own angle.

Hyperion Cantos (1989 – 1997)
Written by: Dan Simmons
The Hyperion Cantos is actually four books. The first two, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion tell one part of the story. The second two, Endymion and The Rise of Endymion tell a completely different part. Together they form one, contiguous whole, the story of a future where man believes he has conquered the universe, but really hasn’t. It starts with the story of a few pilgrims, journeying to a strange planet called Hyperion. There they’ll encounter an impossible and seemingly all-powerful being called The Shrike, who captures travelers and impales them on his tree of pain (which is every bit as horrible as it sounds). Rarely has anything more thoughtful, imaginative, and emotionally wrenching ever been written, outside sci-fi or in it. Dan Simmons’s story challenges the very nature of humanity and the universe, while delivering serious sci-fi adventure.

Jurassic Park (1990)
Written by: Michael Crichton
Long since eclipsed by the still great 1992 Steven Spielberg based on it, Michael Crichton’s original novel is still worth a read. It’s by far the best work the rockstar-level famous author has ever done and, if you read it you can seem smart in front of your friends when they’re talking about the movie. The plot actually deviates from the movie in some pretty key places, though it’s still about a billionaire who builds a park with live dinosaurs in it, which invariably goes wrong when “nature finds a way”. All the familiar characters are there, but the whole thing gets taken even further, beyond the special effects budget of even a Spielberg movie. Crichton’s book is far more dark and dire than the film too, filled with even more violence and a lot more things blowing up. Spielberg’s movie is the better version I suppose, but Crichton’s book is good enough to be worth a read in its own right. It’s a cultural touchstone which deserves its place in the pantheon of iconic modern science fiction.

On Basilisk Station (1992)
Written by: David Weber
On Basilisk Station is the first book in author David Weber’s expansive Honorverse series, but I’m not going to recommend the entire series. Start with just this one book and stop reading them when its right. The first book is the best of the bunch and the quality dwindles as the series goes on, but that’s fine, because On Basilisk Station works even as a standalone novel. It’s about a female military commander named Honor Harrington and her ship, the Fearless on assignment, and in the heat of battle in a remote part of space where they’re the last line of defense against invasion. Weber’s depiction of Honor is one of the strongest female literary characters you’re likely to encounter anywhere, and his detailed yet entertaining grasp of strategy and tactics used in outer space is unmatched.

The Time Ships (1995)
Written by: Stephen Baxter
In The Time Ships, a critically acclaimed follow-up novel authorized by the Wells estate to mark the 100th anniversary of The Time Machine, British author Stephen Baxter explores the paradox unwittingly created by the original story. Picking up where the Wells classic leaves off, the Time Traveler returns to the future to save the girl he left to die at the hands of the Morlocks. Along the way he notices that time has changed. He stops to investigate and learns that he’s polluted the timeline and the future he left never existed. In trying to repair the timeline, he only makes it worse, even to the point of threatening his very existence and that of the human race. It’s a complex, thought-provoking adventure in true Wells tradition, questioning the moral obligations to one’s future and past. Baxter seamlessly slips into a nineteenth century “Wellsian” writing style while remaining as relevant to modern steampunk audiences as to fans of the classic Wells.

A Deepness in the Sky (1999)
Written by: Vernor Vinge
You can’t really go wrong with any of the books in Vernor Vinge’s “Zones of Thought” series and most people would probably put the older A Fire Upon the Deep here, but I’ve always been partial to Deepness. Both books are standalone novels, despite being set in the same universe, so pick either one and you can’t go wrong. A Deepness in the Sky is the story of what happens when an intelligent alien species is discovered on a planet orbiting around an anomolous star which causes their entire race to go dormant for long periods of time every couple hundred years. The story’s told both from the perspective of the humans in orbit, and from the perspective of the alien species as they prepare for their planet’s big freeze. It’s a great story, but it’s particularly noteworthy for it’s complex depiction of a completely alien species, the best I’ve read since The Mote in God’s Eye. Vinge’s approach is, however, completely different than the one used by Niven and Pournelle in Mote, instead he attempts to translate their completely alien thoughts and life into human terms… and it works.

Ready Player One (2011)
Written by: Ernest Cline
This is the novel that defines modern geek culture, and the impact of video games on our world. Although author Ernest Cline goes far beyond just extolling the greatness of classic video games, it’s within a virtual world that we get to love the oldies once again. Told from the perspective of 18-year-old generic everyman, Wade Watts is a kid who lives in a crime infested trailer park. He spends most of his time hiding out in a junkyard jacked into a school computer where he attends classes virtually. The novel mostly takes place within the virtual world of THE OASIS, a game that becomes so pervasive by the start of the novel in 2044 that it’s not just an online world but is really the whole Internet. Good versus evil, geek references to everything from Gundam to Ghostbusters, and a healthy dose of intrigue and action make Ready Player One not only a good bit of fun, but also this decade’s must read sci-fi novel.

Source: Giant Freakin Robot

Choose a book

Wednesday, 12 October 2011 21:11
claidheamhmor: (Conan)
A flowchart to help with navigating NPR's top 100 science-fiction and fantasy books.

Cut for image. It's big. )

My tweets

Tuesday, 16 August 2011 12:15
claidheamhmor: (Default)
claidheamhmor: (Conan)
NPR's survey of the top science-fiction and fantasy books was interesting. I was gratified at how many of the top 100 I own. There are a good number I didn't like personally, but acknowledge how influential they were. There were a good few of the newer books too - Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn, for example, was deservedly there. Some I missed - Earthsea, The Hobbot - but a good list.

Here's the list. I've bolded the ones I particularly liked. There are some suggestions for me too; I must pick through my ebook collection.
Cut for length )
claidheamhmor: (Guildwars Evaline 1)
Stolen from [livejournal.com profile] cuddlycthulhu. Thought this was brilliant!

My tweets

Saturday, 16 July 2011 12:00
claidheamhmor: (Default)
  • Fri, 14:57: RT @art2gee: My daughters suspect reading may be evil: "Books sneak up on you and teach you things." <- LOL.

Books, books, books

Thursday, 9 June 2011 16:15
claidheamhmor: (UnderworldEvolution)
I've been quite busy with reading lately.


The Southern Vampire Series
First I read the entire Southern Vampire Mysteries series, by Charlaine Harries, on which the True Blood TV series was based. The books are addictive; lightweight, but entertaining and easy to read. A different twist on romance novels. I really like the first-person view, and the attention to nominally trivial items and events; it makes the Sookie seem much more real.

Dune
Then I re-read Dune, which I last read some 20-odd years ago. Sadly, it appears that I remembered all the good bits; it wasn't nearly as interesting as I'd remembered. I did enjoy it, nonetheless. Plenty of stuff was derived from Arabic/Hebrew cultures, and it was interesting picking those out. I was also amused to note a fair bit that must have influenced Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time.

Dragonlance
Currently I'm re-reading the Dragonlance Chronicles. The writing (at least, in the initial books - it did get better) is as amateurish as I remembered, and you can see how much it was based on D&D characters, in that the books characters feel like D&D characters rather than living, breathing beings. Still, it's entertaining.

I've read all of these as ebooks; it's damn handy having a selection of books with me wherever I am, so I can just resume my reading while waiting in a queue, or sitting in traffic.

Zoo City

Wednesday, 4 May 2011 15:30
claidheamhmor: (Aes Sedai)



Many years back, one of the D&D players that played in one of my many D&D campaigns was a pretty teenager named Lauren Beukes; she moved on to university in Cape Town, became a journalist, and then started writing books, first Moxyland and then Zoo City.

The blurb for Zoo City reads:
"Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things. To save herself, she has to find the hardest thing of all... the truth. Zinzi has a Sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when a client turns up dead and the cops confiscate her last paycheck, she's forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons. Being hired by famously reclusive music producer Odi Huron to find a teenybop pop star should be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass, marked by their animals, live in the shadow of the undertow. Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the underbelly of a city twisted by crime and magic, where she'll be forced to confront the dark secrets of former lives – including her own. Set in a wildly re-imagined Johannesburg, it swirls refugees, crime, the music industry, African magic and the nature of sin together into a heady brew."


Last week, she won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction novel published in the UK during 2010, for Zoo City. That's certainly moving up in the world! Incidentally, the artist who did the cover, Joey Hi-Fi, won Best Art at the British Science Fiction Awards.

Lauren Beukes Talks (Channel24)
The Arthur C Clarke awards: why Lauren Beukes deserved to win (Guardian.co.uk)

I read Zoo City last year, and I must admit that I had some rather mixed feelings about it. On the one hand: it was really, really innovative, with its focus on Johannesburg slums and society, and many of the concepts were fascinating. The research done was extensive, and one could really get a feel for the environment. In many ways, it was very gritty and very real.

On the other hand, I found it very choppy and confusing (even for a native Joburger who understands a lot of the slang), and very difficult to get into. Reading it was quite hard work. [livejournal.com profile] ereneth, what did you think? Have you lent it to [livejournal.com profile] ihlanya yet?

My tweets

Wednesday, 20 April 2011 12:00
claidheamhmor: (Default)

On writing

Tuesday, 12 April 2011 14:04
claidheamhmor: (Witch King EE)
A couple of interesting links:

When Hari Kunzru met Michael Moorcock
Via [livejournal.com profile] erudito, an interview of Michael Moorcock, the British author who wrote the Elric and Hawkmoon books. I enjoyed those when younger, I must admit, but they were rather unusual, as fantasy goes. Here’s a quote from the article:
"On the other, he has a strong anarchist streak and is deeply hostile to the Christian pastoral fantasy tradition of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. His own fantasy writing has always delighted in ambiguity, in contrast to the nursery-school morality of much of the genre. In a 1978 essay he skewered The Lord of the Rings, calling it "Winnie-the-Pooh, posing as an epic." He derided Tolkien's "petit bourgeois" artisan-hobbits, who are portrayed in the novel as a "bulwark against chaos", standing for "solid good sense" against the evil industrial-worker orcs. Tolkien's work, he writes, is nothing more than "a pernicious confirmation of the values of a morally bankrupt middle class", something not so far from the fascism he had agitated against as a young activist."


Then [livejournal.com profile] montecook wrote a post on writing, Writing for Dollars, Part 1, which touches on 2010’s top-earning authors, and discusses writing quality vs. earnings from books (hello, Stephenie Meyer...). Interesting stuff.

Mistborn

Friday, 25 February 2011 15:48
claidheamhmor: (Aes Sedai)

Mistborn


By chance I stumbled across Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, and got to reading it. Brandon Sanderson was the author picked to complete the late Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, and he's been doing a fine job of it.

Quite seriously, I haven't read such good fantasy in quite a while. The world is well-developed, the magic systems are consistent and very, very innovative, and the characters well-drawn, complex, and sympathetic. Add a good bit of complexity, and some moral issues, along with some interesting plot directions (so, what do you do after you've saved the world?), and it makes for engrossing reading. Highly, highly recommended.

Here are a couple of the comments on the Mistborn Amazon page, and I have to agree with them:

By Timothy Doke (Dallas, TX USA)
I am a new fan of Brandon Sanderson; I never heard of him until I read book 12 from WOT, the Gathering Storm. After that book, I just had to go find out more about this author. I enjoyed his writing style in the Gathering Storm; it was very engaging. Then, I read Elantris, and really enjoyed it as well. After that book, I found out about Mistborn. I picked up this trilogy and I was hooked!

It is hard for me, in retrospect, to believe how good this series was, especially considering how fast Sanderson writes (how many large books ~700pg can one man write in one year??). To me, this is one of my favorite fantasy series I've read. And I hadn't heard of him two months ago! This series has something for everyone: a well developed and very well thought out, and original, magic system; the characters are complex and have different personalities; the story line itself is epic and gives scope to everything hanging in the balance; there is romance, lots of action; it was honestly hard to do anything else in my spare time while I was reading this series...

Some of the traps other fantasy authors tend to fall into -- dragging out climactic events over too many books -- did not plague this series. This trilogy was very well put together and the events were obviously preplanned. I have to give him credit because he did not shy away from not only killing off major characters, but he also had a powerful conclusion to each book. I kept waiting to be let down, but never was. This book series is quite tremendous. It should be a model for how to write a fantasy series.

S. Farrell (Omaha, NE USA)
Ordinarily, I will buy the first book of a series and then, depending on how it was, either buy the next book or abandon the series for dead. My advice to you, prospective Mistborn readers, is to cast that mindset aside and save yourself a few dollars by buying all three books in a box set. You will NOT regret it.

I will step out on a limb here: Mistborn: The Final Empire is, with the possible exception of A Game of Thrones, the best opener to a fantasy series I have EVER read (Particular apologies to The Blade Itself, The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Name of the Wind, Fellowship of the Ring and Assassin's Apprentice). Here's why.

No exceptions this time, Mistborn has the best, most well-thought-out, most original magic system ever written. Nothing comes anywhere close to rivaling its intricacy and intelligence. Despite its complexity, Sanderson has such a firm grasp on his magic system and is so clearly enjoying himself when he writes in it that it comes off the page so beautifully, so fluidly. Even if said magic system were in a stereotypical, recycled fantasy story, it would make for great reading, but the story is original and enrapturing, too. Sanderson has said that he meant to turn the fantasy genre on its head with the story - the dark, evil lord WON - with Mistborn, and he does it oh so effectively. Character development is strong, the world - a land of dismal browns and greys where ash regularly falls from the sky - is fascinating, plot twists are many times absolutely unexpected (NOTHING is obvious) and the characters are both lovable (Kelsier is one of the coolest characters ever written) and hatable. Not to mention, each book has an extremely satisfying ending - no cliff-hangers here. I hate to go to extremes but, in a word, the Mistborn trilogy is perfect.

It is one of the great mysteries of the world how Sanderson can kick out so much excellent material in so short a period of time, but his books are nothing but the best. I still consider the Mistborn trilogy to be his finest work, and I encourage you all to buy the books, get lost in his world, and proceed to embrace the 9-year-old inside you and spend the rest of your days wishing that YOU were Mistborn.

My tweets

Thursday, 13 January 2011 12:00
claidheamhmor: (Default)

My tweets

Tuesday, 4 January 2011 12:00
claidheamhmor: (Default)

My tweets

Friday, 10 December 2010 12:00
claidheamhmor: (Default)
  • Thu, 19:23: Excellent! I have book 13 of The Wheel of Time, "Towers of Midnight", in my greedy paws. #fb
  • Thu, 21:42: RT @DrTwittenheimer: My new computer has a huge number of bells and whistles on it.(The secret is efficient placement and a lot of hot glue)

Kindle review

Tuesday, 31 August 2010 14:45
claidheamhmor: (Blackberry)
I read an interesting review on the new Amazon Kindle, written by well-respected technology writer Paul Thurrott. According to the review, "This is an eBook reader designed for readers, not for trendy technology lovers."

Amazon Kindle 3

I write like..

Wednesday, 14 July 2010 14:51
claidheamhmor: (Aes Sedai)

I write like
J. D. Salinger

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!




Yeah, suuuure I write like J.D. Salinger...
claidheamhmor: (Pentagram)


I've just finished reading Ben Goldacre's book, Bad Science, and it's a fascinating insight into the bad aspects of (mostly medical) science, like nutritionists, pharmaceutical companies, alternative medicine and homeopathy, anti-vaccination campaigns, antioxidants, and suchlike, and the influence of the media in promoting them. He discusses those specifics, but delves into how many trials and studies are done and how they should be done, showing how study statistics are manipulated to meet certain agendas. He also has a chapter in the most recent edition of the book on the HIV/AIDS scandal in South Africa, where quack Matthias Rath influenced then-President Thabo Mbeki and his sidekick, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, into denying that HIV led to AIDS, and directly and indirectly leading to the infection and deaths of hundreds of thousands.

Some of the problems Goldacre touches on include stuff like press releases that talk about relative improvements instead of absolute improvments (e.g. "50% improvement" when talking about a difference between 0.4% and 0.6%, i.e. a 0.2% absolute improvement), presenting to the media instead of publishing in medical journals, deliberate faking of figures (e.g. Andrew Wakefield and the MMR vaccines), and comparison of treatments with placebos instead of with the current best treatment.

Highly recommended; this book is an eye-opener.
claidheamhmor: (Aes Sedai)


"The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass,
leaving memories that become legend.
Legends fade to myth, and even myth is long forgotten
when the Age that gave it birth comes again."


I spent the last couple of months re-reading Robert Jordan's "The Wheel of Time" series, books 1 through 11, plus the prequel, "New Spring". Now, I've read the whole series before, and I've read the earlier books in the series multiple times, and found parts somewhat long and complex; this time, I decided not to skim, but to pay attention to events more than I have done in previous readings. It made a difference; being able to keep track of the many events and characters made the story easier to follow.

Cut for length, ironically )

Robert Jordan wrote the books in a plain style; it's not as colourful as the writing of Robert E. Howard, as beautifully classic as that of Tolkien, nor as ornately descriptive as Jack Vance's; it's more than competent though, and given the elaborate detail of the setting itself, probably for the best. I know there are a lot of readers who aren't keen on the series, but as for me: I read them, and just want to read more. I don't want the series to end.
claidheamhmor: (Conan)
Nicked from all over the place. David Eddings is cool. Hell, imagine if I'd got Orson Scott Card!


Your result for Which fantasy writer are you?...

David Eddings (1931 - 2009)

-3 High-Brow, 15 Violent, -11 Experimental and 17 Cynical!

Congratulations! You are Low-Brow, Violent, Traditional and Cynical! These concepts are defined below.


David Eddings is the best-selling author of several series of fantasy novels, the most famous being The Belgariad (1982-84) and The Malloreon (1988-92). These books have become almost epitomic of the kind of fantasy that is fast-paced, full of humorous dialogue and written to entertain. And entertain they do. Few other writers have Eddings' ability to create characters that not only makes the reader feel as if he or she knows them, but are also very likeable. Perhaps this is due to Eddings unusual path to writing fantasy: he had tried writing in other genres with moderate success when he discovered that fantasy, a genre he had hitherto not been interested in, sometimes sells very well, and therefore started turning an old sketch of a map into a series of books. Without an interest in experimenting with form or pushing the boundaries of the genre, Eddings created the penultimate light entertainment instead, trusting his readers to keep reading because of charming characters and exotic, though not particularly original, environments.

After the success of The Belgariad and The Malloreon, Eddings turned to writing fantasy which was, supposedly, aimed at a more adult audience. The tendency towards violence as entertainment that had been present through-out his early works grew more prominent in the series of The Elenium (1989-91)and The Tamuli (1992-94). It was also around this time that David Eddings wife, Leigh Eddings, was credited as the co-author of his books, though they admitted that she had been contributing from the very beginning.

Though Eddings isn't the most high cultured of fantasy writers, few would dispute that when it comes to charm, he has no rivals.

You are also a lot like J R R Tolkien.

If you want something more gentle, try Robert Jordan.

If you'd like a challenge, try your exact opposite, Tove Jansson.


Your score

This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs. Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs. Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs. Traditional and 4) Cynical vs. Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetical, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you're at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn't mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.


High-Brow vs. Low-Brow

You received -3 points, making you more Low-Brow than High-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, while a typical low-brow would favour the best-selling kind. At their best, low-brows are honest enough to read what they like, regardless of what "experts" and academics say is good for them. At their worst, they are more likely to read what their neighbours like than what they would choose themselves.


Violent vs. Peaceful

You received 15 points, making you more Violent than Peaceful. Please note that violent in this context does not mean that you, personally, are prone to violence. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you are, and you do, then you are violent as defined here. At their best, violent people are the heroes who don't hesitate to stop the villain threatening innocents by means of a good kick. At their worst, they are the villains themselves.


Experimental vs. Traditional

You received -11 points, making you more Traditional than Experimental. Your position on this scale indicates if you're more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, traditional people don't change winning concepts, favouring storytelling over empty poses. At their worst, they are somewhat narrow-minded


Cynical vs. Romantic

You received 17 points, making you more Cynical than Romantic. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you'll find the sentence "you are also a lot like x" above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, cynical people are able to see through lies and spot crucial flaws in plans and schemes. At their worst, they are overly negative, bringing everybody else down.


Take Which fantasy writer are you?
at HelloQuizzy

claidheamhmor: (Guildwars Evaline 1)
Something else, while I'm on the topic of D&D: [livejournal.com profile] montecook had a bunch of recommendations for some cut-price D&D products, so I bought Castle Whiterock for only $5. I figure that at that price, it'll be worth it even if it merely gives me ideas.

Here's a description of Castle Whiterock:
Castle Whiterock is a complete campaign. This box holds more than 700 pages of material, enough to take new characters to 15th level and fuel a campaign for years. It contains:
  • Four books detailing the dungeon’s 15 levels and 14 sub-levels, colored according to level: red book, blue book, green book, and black book. Every map location is fully described with stats included.

  • A 56-page gazetteer of the Kingdom of Morrain, including the town of Cillamar.

  • A 48-page book of maps.

  • A 32-page book of player handouts.

  • A poster map showing Cillamar on one side and the final two levels of the dungeon on the reverse.

  • Six loose-leaf character sheets of the pregenerated heroes, ready to play out of the box, plus one blank character sheet to copy for later use.

  • A 16-page index and glossary.

I guess some of my D&D players had better get used to dungeon-crawls...
claidheamhmor: (Cylon Raider)
Here's a bit of a catchup on movies and books.

I saw Taken a couple of weeks ago. I must admit, it wasn't a great movie, but I like Liam Neeson, and I like revenge-themed movies, so it was a fairly easy movie to watch.



I finally got around to seeing Ultraviolet. Frankly, I wasn't impressed at all. I really like Milla Jovovich (hey, she's my #1 choice for Heinlein's "Friday", if it ever gets made into a movie), but the movie, bluntly speaking, was crap. A completely unrealistic character who gave you no sense of tension, a rather confused plot, and an over-stylised, fake-looking feel to it killed it for me. That said: I liked some of the background technology - things like a fold-up card mobile phone dispensed from a vending machine.



Then I watched the pilot for Knight Rider 2008. I must admit, I kinda liked it - but then, I'm a sucker for uber-cars. And the hero seems better than David Hasselhoff - that, to me, was always the weaker part of the original Knight Rider.



I just finished Roger Zelazney's "Great Book of Amber": it's a collection of both of his Amber quintologies. I found the first five books better than I remembered them from my youth, especially the last couple couple of books which I'd not liked much. The second quintology was also better than I remembered - but that's not saying much, because I couldn't get very far into it back then. The final two or three books were very complex, with a number of confusing characters and sub-plots, and much of that wasn't really resolved by the final book - a pity.
claidheamhmor: (Broadsword-blue)
Robert Jordan's family have been selling many of his hundreds of blades to fans, but sadly only in the US. I am so envious.

I would so love to buy some of these ones...
claidheamhmor: (Time enough for love)
Those who read science fiction will probably have read some of Orson Scott Card's books. I've read a few, but wasn't way keen on any apart from "A Planet Called Treason".

In his spare time, he's a conservative writer who writes a lot on Mormon topics. Here's his latest offering, on the topic of gay marriage:

State job is not to redefine marriage )

Card is definitely more than a little nutty. There are so many instances of faulty thinking, poor logic, and a desire to control the private practises of others that I hardly know where to start in commenting on it. Look at some of these excerpts, for example:

There is no branch of government with the authority to redefine marriage. Marriage is older than government. Its meaning is universal: It is the permanent or semipermanent bond between a man and a woman, establishing responsibilities between the couple and any children that ensue.

Now bear in mind that Card is a very active member of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which until 1890 practised polygamous marriages, until forced to stop by a law redefining marriage. Is anyone seeing the irony here?

The laws concerning marriage did not create marriage, they merely attempted to solve problems in such areas as inheritance, property, paternity, divorce, adoption and so on.

Well, duh. So, should there not be laws that solve these same problems in the case of gay relationships?

There were a whole bunch of comments on his article at Speaker-For-Himself. I especially liked this one:
As someone said, I think in some ways these closet cases are actually reasoning pretty rationally, they just start from false premises. The reasoning seems to go something like this:
  • I am a normal heterosexual guy

  • I constantly crave cock and only have sex with my wife due to social pressure

  • Without that social pressure, all us normal heterosexual men would ditch our wives and head straight for the gay bathhouses

  • Therefore, strong social (and legal) pressure is necessary for the human race to keep reproducing
You can see how it makes sense to them.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:01 AM on July 30

His name is Zim

Tuesday, 29 July 2008 16:59
claidheamhmor: (Stranger in a Strange Land)


A few days ago, I re-read Robert Heinlein's book Starship Troopers, and then for good measure, watched my copy of Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film Starship Troopers. It was interesting to see how the film failed, in many respects, as a film and as an adaptation of the book.

There were many downsides:
  • The biggest flaw, in my opinion, was the casting of the leads. Casper Van Dien, as the hero, was a perfect plastic Ken, to go with Denise Richards's Barbie. Despite the football-hero good looks, he was characterless and lacking in the charisma that makes watchers empathise with him. The movie needed someone grittier, not "Ken".

  • Almost anything to do with weapons and combat was ludicrous. One of the major points of the book was that the Mobile Infantry troopers were armoured trooped, encased in a ton of powered armour, laden with a variety of powerful weapons (rockets, guns with target-seeking bullets, flame-throwers, small nukes, etc.) and sophisticated detection and communication systems, enabling rapid, coordinated tactics with heaps of firepower in any conditions. They were fired in capsules from spaceships, and retrieved by landing craft afterward. By contrast, in the movie, we have infantry using 20th century equipment: a fancy gun that can fire hundreds of rounds of large, but ineffectual bullets, simple and not-very-good body armour on the chest, primitive 1970s-era radio equipment, and just about nothing else. For a movie set two centuries in the future, it's quite ridiculous. Then, to top that, we have our vulnerable, poorly-armed soldiers ambling about as if they're using World War 1 tactics; naturally, they have no backup from air, from armour, or from artillery - none of which the book's troopers needed, because they had the powered armour.

  • The "love story" was a little silly, but would have been far better if Casper and Denise hadn't been so preppy and vacant-looking.

  • The CGI was a little flaky even in 1997, but I did like the look of the warrior bugs. The huge bugs, though, were daft; in fact, the movie seemed to ignore the fact that the bugs were advanced, and space-faring.

  • Verhoeven seemed to have gone for the grossness factor, sadly. Almost anything to do with the bugs was squishy, slimy and gross; the brain bug in particular was truly gross, and nightmarishly Freudian. I thought that distracted from the movie; the brain-bug's proboscis/mouth, in particular, jolted the viewer straight out of suspension of disbelief.

The film did get some things right. Much of the early parts of the film ran well; I think this may have been because Paul Verhoeven only read part of the book (I must admit, I find it very strange that a movie directory would only read half of his movie's source material - a Hugo Award-winning novel). A good bit of the dialogue was lifted straight from the book, and I liked that. Also, the movie managed to bring across the whole concept of a society where the right to vote is gained by service to the Federation.

Cast-wise, Dina Meyer was excellent: she made a good soldier and a sympathetic character. Michael Ironside was superb too; in fact, when I read the book, it's his face I see on the characters he portrayed. Best of all, though, was Clancy Brown as Sergeant Zim; with his height and attitude, he made the perfect drill sergeant.

The FedNet "inserts" were really good; I thought they were a good way of feeding information about events.

One change from the book that I liked was that in the movie, men and women served equally, even to sharing barracks and showers (the shower scene was hot!).
claidheamhmor: (Fiday)
I've always had a soft spot for great ships. I think it started with my grandparents; they had a few books I read, over and over again. One was "The Vasa Venture", all about the discovering and raising of the wreck of the royal Swedish flagship Vasa which capsized and sank only 2km into its maiden voyage.

Another book (still in my bookcase) was "The Queen Elizabeth", published in 1947. It was all about the great ocean liner RMS Queen Elizabeth, voyages and wartime experience. The pictures and descriptions of the QE instilled in me a love of those grand ocean liners, and I'm fascinated by them My father was lucky enough to go to the UK on the QE in 1953, as a child, and he still has pictures of the fancy dress party he took part in at Christmas on the deck. I was very saddened when the Queen Elizabeth was destroyed in Hong Kong; it seemed so ignominious.

In the early 1980s, I won a scale model building competition (with a 1/72-scale Focke Wulf Fw-190D-12), and the prize was two models: the shuttle from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a model of the SS United States.



I loved that ship - elegant, technologically advanced (the superstructure was aluminium), and amazingly fast. It won the Blue Riband in 1952 on her maiden voyage, both east and west, for fastest transatlantic crossing. The eastbound record was only broken in 1990 by the catamaran Hoverspeed Great Britain, and the westbound record still stands, over half a century later. The United States could even do 20 knots (almost 40kph) backward! To reduce the risk of fire (perhaps the designers saw the gutting of the beautiful SS Normandie in New York), the only wood in the ship was in the bilge keels, the kitchen's butcher's block, and in a fire-resistant piano. Friggin' amazing.

Another beautiful ship I liked was the RMS Queen Mary, still preserved at Long Beach, California, and it's nice to see the pictures of her and the (less elegant) RMS Queen Mary 2 meeting up.

Cut for image )

One bit of trivia about ship's horns that [livejournal.com profile] vivian_shaw would probably appreciate: modern horn regulations require ship's horns to be in the 70-200Hz range for large ships, and the larger they are, the lower the frequency, so the QM2 has a 70Hz horn. The original Queen Mary, however, still has a 55Hz horn, designed so as not to be too painful for human ears. I would like one of those in my car, that's for sure.

Arthur C. Clarke

Wednesday, 19 March 2008 11:48
claidheamhmor: (EF-111 in the sunset)
I was sad to see that Arthur C. Clarke died; I loved his books and short stories as a teenager. I'm glad he lived a long, full life.
claidheamhmor: (EF-111 in the sunset)
I was reading a couple of nice Time Life books on the Luftwaffe and the RAF during WW2, and that got me on to looking up a whole bunch of things on Wikipedia, thinks like the Victoria Cross (did you know that only one has ever been awarded to a fighter pilot?), and entries on many of the great aviation heroes, such as Johnny Johnson, Pat Pattle, Douglas Bader, Guy Gibson, Leonard Cheshire, Sailor Malan, Hans Ulrich-Rudel (unsurprisingly, he was involved in the design of the A-10 Thunderbolt II), Erich Hartmann, Adolf Galland, Hans-Joachim Marseilles, and many others. They're virtually all dead now, over 63 years later, but it seems strange to know that many were still alive when I was a boy, and nuts about aircraft. My great-uncle Hugh was a Spitfire pilot; I wish I'd got to know him better. I met him for the first time in 1977, when I was on a trip to Windhoek; apparently he was astonished at how much I knew about WW2 aircraft.

I'm amazed at how those men all coped back then; it must have been so hard, getting back into a fighter or bomber each day, knowing that it was not unlikely that they'd not be coming back, and that it was quite probable that some of the comrades wouldn't.
claidheamhmor: (Pentagram)
I recently read Francis Collins's book "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief", loaned to me by my father-in-law, who gave it to me with a faint look of disgust (I was a little surprised, as he's busy with his Masters in Theology).

Anyway, I gave it a nice thorough read.

Francis Collins is a geneticist and leader of the Human Genome Project, once an atheist and now an evangelical Christian. As a renowned scientist and Christian, this book is an attempt to provide some scientific reason for belief in God, and to show that religion and science can co-exist.

He starts off by describing his journey from agnosticism to Christianity, invoking a "Moral Law" (in other words, that people "know" what's right and what isn't), then going on to explain that everyone has a longing for God, and that essentially those two constitute a proof for the existence of God.

He then heads off into genetics and DNA, and gives a reasonably nice introduction to it all, and essentially backs up modern evolutionary science as being God's way of doing things. He provides a really good smackdown on Creationism and Intelligent Design, basically saying that they're either ignoring reality, or using the "God of the Gaps" argument (and provides extensive proof of this). He makes pleas for Creationists not to ignore the science.

Finally, he invents his own synthesis of Faith and Science which he calls "BioLogos", essentially theistic evolution. As an appendix, he deals with some bioethics issues, like stem cells and genetic testing, but sadly ignores many other issues dealing with science and faith.

Criticisms:
Some of the criticisms I have of the book and Collins's arguments are:
  • For religious viewpoints, he relies heavily on quotes from Christian writer CS Lewis, and pays little attention to more learned philosophers, such as Plato, Maimonides, and St Augustine, and I'm not sure how valid CS Lewis's reasoning is.

  • While he talks extensively about faith and science, and so on, he's not talking about religious faith in a generic sense, he is talking specifically about the Judeo-Christian God, not about others; nowhere does he justify why he thinks God is fine, but Zeus, Ra or Odin are not.

  • He spends a lot of time talking about what he calls the "Moral Law", essentially saying that it's God-given because it doesn't exist in other animals and can't explain how it could have come about any other way. Unfortunately, his description of the "Moral Law" leaves a few gaps, and I think his reasoning there is faulty. For example, take a look at Solon's Ten Commandments, which rely on the Golden Rule, and were discussed long before Christianity. Also, I stumbled across a new article today in the New York Times by world-respected cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, The Moral Instinct, and that provides a much nicer description and basis for the moral instinct in humans (and other primates); given Pinker's credentials, I think it's far more authoritative too.

  • Collins's "Longing for God" as a basis for belief is dubious too; for example, he states that all human cultures have created gods, and that this "longing for God" is therefore a hole in the human soul that must be filled, and therefore God must exist. Again, he doesn't detail why longing for gods in general should extend to a specifically Judeo-Christian God, and he ignores the fact that many cultures have ancestor-worship rather than gods.

All in all, as a proof for God, I think the book was rather weak. On the plus side, it did provide a very strong argument against Creationism and Intelligent design, which I'm sure the Intelligent Design advocates like Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute will not appreciate.
claidheamhmor: (Conan)
I was saddened to discover that George Macdonald Fraser, author of the brilliant Flashman series, died on 2 January 2008.

He will be missed.

(Sorry, no links, it's a little difficult since I'm posting this from my cellphone).

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