Blog posts tagged "books"

The Dagger and the Coin by Daniel Abraham are solid

June 23rd, 2012

Daniel Abraham’s fantasy trilogy “The Dagger and the Coin”: The Dragon’s Path, The King’s Blood, and forthcoming “The Poisoned Sword” are the most satisfying fantasy I’ve read in recent memory.

It’s familiar and unexpected, engaging and unchallenging, swords and sorcery and fallen empires, and deep history, but done well. Economics, and race dynamics, and religion, and archaeology all play roles. Solid multi viewpoint story telling add some novelty to the heroes journeys.

Also a quite reasonable 12-14 months between new books, the 2nd book lived up the promise of the first, and they’re available on Kindle. Really everything you could ask for if you’re looking for a good fantasy novel. Recommended.

I also tried reading some of this “Poet Books” (officially called the “Long Price Quartet”). They dragged considerably more, but a couple of interesting ideas in there.

(One of the many) Ebook Dilemmas.

January 25th, 2010

I'm going to need books, lots of books

How do I support and reward the excellent curation of the local bookstore if I want the ebook version of something I find? – Kellan

I am not a unsophisticated consumer of science fiction. And finding new material to feed the book addiction is something I spend a not inconsiderable number of cycles on. Yet, there I was standing in Borderlands last week, and books to buy were jumping off the shelves. 2-3 of “my authors” had new books out that I hadn’t heard about. (tho 2 of them are on low rotation right now, as they’ve disappointed me of late) A book multiple friends had mentioned but I’d failed to track was featured. And I found several other new promising options, none of which I had heard of, and several of which aren’t normally available in print in this country.

Low Paper Diet

And I was stuck. You see, I’m on a pretty strict dead tree diet right now. I simply don’t have to the space to store books. And while I’m at it I’d rather not incur the carbon debt of chopping down trees, mass printing on paper, warehousing and transporting a product which is statistically likely to be pulped before ever being purchased. Clearly I’m getting a huge amount of value out of Borderlands, but I didn’t really have a way to include them in the exchange. I wasn’t even sure I was really comfortable wandering next door to their newly opened cafe and settling in with my Kindle as I was inclined to do.

Micro-slicing the pie vs trickle down?

Charlie Stross wrote a really great post recently, The monetization paradox analyzing the value chain of content production right now, summed up as,

“Google could in principle afford to pay every novelist currently active in the English language out of the petty cash.” – Charles Stross

Amazon is doing something similar. Capturing greater value then they’re providing. (and I love Amazon) I visit, I visit the Kindle Store. And I walk away empty handed. Amazon captures the value when I buy a book for my Kindle, but aren’t providing sufficient tools for me to do this. Without Borderlands, Amazon would have gotten no $$ from me last week, as it is, they did all right.

So how do I cut my local bookstore/curator in? I asked on Twitter and the consensus emerged around “buy the book, steal the ebook”, or “tip the bookstore.” (thanks to waferbaby, dajobe, BOBTHEBUTCHER, benprincess, timoni, carlcoryell, bhyde, and rabble for feedback!)

One of the ways I know I’m getting old is most of the time stealing media isn’t worth it. This also is a product of consuming outside of the most mainstream troughs, and genuinely liking/respecting most of the players in my media supply chain. I’ve got sitting on my drive detailed specs for building a relatively high throughput personal book scanner, and in the moments when I’m honest with myself I’ll probably never build it.

Open Questions?

Which brings me around to, how do I tip bookstores? And if there exists a viable model of funding that allows me to express my generalized appreciation of the existence of these important curators while getting some specific value back, a Kickstarter inspired model if you will? Would anyone besides me use it I wonder? How does this interact with Charlie’s ideas of a subscription model for writers? Given a semi-hyphothetical open e-reader with a radio could we partially fund bookstores with a real world version of Amazon affiliate links?

Unfortunately I still don’t have the answers, but I wanted to write down the problem, am I’m going to keep looking into it. Meanwhile if you know of anyone experimenting with this, I’d love to hear about it.

(so concludes the latest in this week’s series of blog posts written by the simple expedient of scaling up a tweet by a 30x inflation factor)

(update: a few really interesting comments, thanks guy!)

Cataloging and Selling Old Science Fiction

April 13th, 2008

Both of my grandfathers were compulsive readers. They left behind large libraries. My Grandpa however was a life long fan of science fiction, and his library includes boxes, and boxes, and boxes of paper back science fiction novels purchased starting in the 1930s and running up until a few years ago.

Going through the collection some had been damaged by rodents, and weather, and had to be tossed, but even keep only those in good condition they filled 21 file boxes.

My brother and I spent a little while trying to identify software to help with the cataloging. We didn’t find anything useful. In particular most assumed that the bulk of your catalog had ISBNs (introduced in the 1970s), or even barcodes.

We ended up setting up a shared Google spreadsheet, and, along with our Dad, hand entered the first box. (thankfully the data is repetitive. One of the delights of the experience was going to type in an author or publisher, and auto-completing as someone else had already added a book by that author).

Now the question is, how do you go about enriching that data, and identifying which of the books are interesting. We found a first edition 1954 “I Am Legend” which a quick web search suggests sells for $50-$100USD. But we have no idea how many other interesting titles we were simply unfamiliar with.

And we have even reach the esoteric stuff, like the “double feature” printings, which can be read front to back as one story, or flipped around and read back to front for an entirely different pulp novel.

Are there books? Newsletters? Websites? God forbid APIs for doing this stuff? Alibris, and Abebooks seem to be the most prominent, but not terribly useful. Ideally there would be a database out there with confirmed first edition information, estimated value, cover art, etc.

Any ideas?

Anyway, the first box of 107 books is up and indexed, including a Matheson, Merrit, Moorcok, and Laumer.

Mark Kurlansky, The Big Oyster

January 7th, 2008

“If a fish market in the right Manhattan neighborhood today could get hold of “wild native oysters” and market then as such, because this is how New York operates, it would probably be able to charge outstanding prices and have New York Times readers, after the article on wild oysters came out, gladly paying the price. […] And for all that, they would taste like cultivated ones.” – Mark Kurlansky, The Big Oyster

On Listening to “Golden Compass”

January 3rd, 2008

I read “Golden Compass” 8+ years ago, but I remembered it vividly, or so I thought. Watching the movie was frustrating and disappointing, but hard to pin down exactly why. We picked up the audiobook of “Golden Compass” for our drive to Los Angeles, and finished the last disc just as we turned off the engine having made it back to SF. And I’ve got a scattering of mental notes to get down.

  • The recording is excellent. We’ve been disappointed by a couple of the audiobooks we tried recently, but not this time. The narration is read by the author, with a large cast of voice actors doing the speaking bits. Its really more of an old radio play. Excellent.

  • Except they should have gotten Ian McKellen to do Iorek Bymison, Weitz’s one master stroke.

  • They cut 45% of the story, jumbled the time line (thereby losing the symbolic structure of Pullman’s 3 parts), muddled the motivations, and turned it all very simplistic. (e.g. it was the Master of Jordan who tried to poison Asriel)

  • And they’ve really backed themselves into a corner with regard to the sequels. The transformation of kindly/cuddly Daniel Craig to Miltonian anti-hero is going to be a hell of hat trick in this black&white universe Weitz has constructed.

  • Was vaguely annoyed in the lead up to the movies release by the characterization of HDM as being anti-religion, but couldn’t articulate why until listening again. It isn’t that simple. In Pullman’s world the Church represents both established religion and scientific orthodoxy and reductionism. An incredibly difficult and fascinating pairing, almost entirely unique in my experience, and challenging for the reader.

  • HDM is a multi-verse informed by Einstein, multiplicity and complexity are its touch stones, and the elementary particles, multiple dimensions, and string theory play key narrative metaphors not to mention being well explained for both adults and children. The movie by contrast was more Newtonian, a world of simple perfections.

  • I loved Lee Scoresby as a Mark Twain cowboy, but this reading had me thinking more of Dean Moriarty. Unmistakably so. Fairly sure Pullman had a copy of “On the Road” by his side while constructing his Western vernacular.

  • “Golden Compass” is really a masterpiece, and should be taught.

  • I remember spending several years telling people, “Read the ‘Golden Compass’. Did you like Harry Potter? Yeah? Great, well its nothing like Harry Potter.”

  • Trying to figure out where we’re going to drive to next, so we can listen to “Subtle Knife”.

Spook Country: Who Runs the Infrastructure?

September 15th, 2007

Am I the only person bothered while reading Spook Country with the question of who is running the servers?

Put on a VR helmet and you’re jacked into an imaginary world where artists have the sort of funding necessary to build out and run a shared platform for pushing richly textured 3D worlds over wifi.

And that server has some sort of totally smooth handshaking protocol for geolocating you, and streaming back the appropriate scene, and while everybody can publish to this unified virtual landscape, there is no hacking/jacking/spamming going on?

Or am I misreading the technology, and actually the landscapes are stored and served from hacked up WRT54Gs?

How to Recomend Bujold

July 5th, 2007

The hardest part about recommending Bujold to folks (beyond my tendency to over sell) is figuring out where to tell folks to start. Clearly with the Vorkosigan universe, but where? And whence? This occupied us much on the way home Saturday night, without resolution. And came up again this evening, so I thought I’d externalize the debate.

Shard’s of Honor/Cordelia’s Honor is a good place to start. It really is the beginning of the Miles story arc. It features Cordelia, one of my all time favorite literary characters, and Barrayar (aka the 2nd half of Cordelia’s Honor) floats well above its pulpy genre roots, and truly, distinctively sings.

Of course Warrior’s Apprentice is the easiest entry point, the first book in the series published (presumably because of its obvious and wider appeal), and is the first Miles book. In addition it was written after the first half of Cordelia’s Honor, but before the 2nd half, and it shows. (at least if you’ve read and read and read the text)

Some people would say start with Floating Free, which after all is the first choronologically in the universe. And frankly it loses something when set in a familiar universe, rather then a strange one. (after all if you already know what quaddies are, why spend 100 pages describing them?)

I tend to want to settle the issue by telling people

“the first time through the series, start with Warrior’s Apprentice, and the second time through start with Shard’s of Honor“.

At which point people’s eye glaze over. So I risk it, and hand them Cord’s Honor, and hope for the best.

And the problems continue!

After all, do you skip The Vor Game, which is the weakest book in the series, but also contians much of the key foundation for the rest of the Miles books. How about Cetaganda which chronologically comes after The Vor Game, but is written much later? (okay, that is an easy one, clearly Borders of Infinity should be read after Vor Game, followed either by Brothers in Arms (soso) on the first reading, or Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos on the 2nd reading.)

And do you power though the inevitable mid-series lag to get to the power houses of Mirror Dance, and Memory, shading into her master works, Komarr, and Civil Campaign. (consider not reading Civil Campaign until you’ve read most of the series more then once, or you’ll miss half of it)

(Of course I’ve been informed that some folks hate Memory, and loved Diplomatic Immunity which I’d tell you to pass on, and under no condition read without first reading Cetaganda.)

And where does Dreamweaver’s Dilemma fit in? (um, after you’ve read the series 5 times or so).

Useful to also be caught up on your Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, Jane Austin, Patrick O’Brian, William Shakespeare, Robert Heinlein, and Judith Butler. (not that you have to like all of them)

Anyone else ever sweated this one?

Bujold @ Booksmith

June 29th, 2007

Bujold is reading at Booksmith on Haight tomorrow night at 7pm.

“Who?”, [name redacted] asked.


Whose Vorkosigan books are the best long form speculation on the role and future of reproductive technology disguised as military space sci-fi headed by a coded-female male solider protagonist (with incarnated other) over 9 volumes, with apologies to Austen, ever written.

And even Larry Wall likes her.

Recent Books, and Failings

June 2nd, 2007

Of the half dozen books I took to Paris I was looking forward to Ghost Brigades, and The Demon and the City, as two promising sequels to books I had enjoyed — Old Man’s War, and the truly excellent Snake Agent. Unfortunately they were both ho-hum, with Demon and City being particularly uncompelling. That said both were more grounded and believable then the labored and kind of silly Kite Runner. Godwin’s Law applies doubly in fiction.

Book Pairings

March 21st, 2007

Some books are just better read together (or serially if you don’t do the book rotation thing.) Ecology of Fear and Decoding Gender in Science Fiction is a favorite of mine, two totally different projects that happen to feature the same authors.

Picked up another Mike Davis at the Anarchist Bookfair this weekend, the Late Victorian Holocaust (for $3!!!), and while its still early, I’m finding it to be an interesting foil to Omnivore’s Dilemma, focusing as they do on the beginning and the nadir of the global industrial food system.

Wondering if its something in particular about Mike Davis?

Do you have favorite pairings?

When Computers Fail

February 12th, 2007

Dear Customer,

As someone who has expressed interest in books by William Gibson, you might like to know that “Religion and the Enlightenment 1600-1800: Conflict and the Rise of Civic Humanism in Taunton by William Gibson (Author)” is now available.

You can order your copy for just $71.95 by following the link below.

Funny thing is, it does sound like a book I’d be interested in.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

December 18th, 2006

by Charles C. Mann

A break-neck, intellectual joy ride very much in the spirit of Guns, Germs, and Steel (and significantly more fun then Collapse), I found it enthralling, and a page turner.

To his credit Mann manages to represent multiple confliciting views (even wrong ones alas!) in a balanced nuanced manner (guarenteed to drive experts crazy), delicate and fraught given how political charged the study of history in the Americas is.

These grand generalist histories, with millenial sweep fill the void of “just so” stories for the 21st century, explaing the big bad world in an engaging, entertaining way. Pure candy if you’re into that kind of thing.

Cloud Atlas?

November 30th, 2006

Did I lend you my copy of Cloud Atlas? Can I get it back?

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Slow Down Charlie! On Glasshouse and Merchant Princess

September 10th, 2006

Plot Spoilers Within

I really do love Stross’ work, he has several short stories that rank among my all time favorites, and his ideas are brilliantly silly, optimistic, and yet insightful.

But I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted with his novel length work. He keeps making scintillating implicit promises as the works open that dissolve half way through into frothy substanceless confections.


I just finished Glasshouse. Nice handling of what a post-Singularity society means for identity, multiplicity, etc. Brilliant to see Curious Yellow emerge as a plot device. (though oddly nothing by way of acknowledgment of the original, at least that I noticed)

But the implicit promise is that if we read through the somewhat awkward handling of 1950s fasco-dystopia (a 2006 fasco-dystopia would have been more interesting), and the even more awkward handling of “gender issues”, we’re going to find out what the “Censorship Wars” payload was. Maybe I’m too dumb to read between the lines, but by my reckoning the book builds, and builds, and then just fell off a cliff without any resolution, and certainly without delivering on answering that one big question.

Merchant Princess

Similarly Stross made us a promise that we were going to get ring side seats to watch Miriam go modern on the past’s collective mercantilist ass. Thats what I paid my ticket to see, a sort of what-if, “terra-forming” novel for capitalism, the game you always wanted to play with Civilization, but were never able to. The political viking in-fighting is fine and all for a couple of pages, but the story of the princess, the arranged marriage, and the evil prince really never needs to be told again, with or without blunderbusses.

So maybe slow it down? 10 novels in like 2 years might be pushing it a bit hard? I don’t know much about the economics of writing, but I’ll happily sign a petition to get you bigger advances, but take more time on the next couple.

That said, I’ll be buying Jennifer Morgue when it comes out. Call me a sucker.

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