Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Things to to when unemployed - Volume 2

Well I've had a couple of preliminary phone interviews, one has some real promise, but really that's not so much a "thing to do..." as it is a thing to stop being unemployed...

So in the past 24 hours I've read four books (well, finished one and read three really). My reading list was piling up longer and longer working at my old job, and now I get to plow through

Heres the reviews:

Black Rednecks and White Liberals - Thomas Sowell - Encounter Books, NF, 2005, 372pp

Thomas Sowell has frequently been called the smartest man in America, and I'm not going to argue, at least as far as social dynamics, and social economics go. I'm a regular reader of his columns, and essays; of which this book is an expanded collection.

Here Sowell is allowed to expand and fully explore the topics at hand (with detailed footnotes, references, and bibliographies - this book could easily be used as a social sciences textbook) and he does so to great effect. All told there are six extended monographs of 50-70 pages each, all centered on our perceptions of race and culture; and on how those perceptions have shaped society and history.

I was going to say "I especially recommend..." but honestly there was only one of the six essays (the final "History and Visions") that I didnt think were very good or excellent, and really thats only because I'd read some of the same points several times over in Sowells other writing, so the essay did not come across as fresh or interesting. The title essay "Black Rednecks and White Liberals", "Are Jews Generic", and "The Real History of Slavery", are absolute must reads

I wont deny, it's a thick read for all that it is only 3oo some-odd pages (the rest devoted to notes and ereferences), but it's very definitely worthwhile.

Now I need to find a copy of Bill Whittles "Silent America"

Tinker - Wen Spencer - Baen, SciFi, 2003, 438pp

The tag line on the book is a quote from publishers weekly "Buffy fans should find a lot to like", and while I am a Buffy fan, and I did like the book, they arent really connected; except that the main character is a spunky semi-sexy ass kicking teenage girl.

Oh and on the semi-sexy bit, there is more than a bit of eroticism in the book, perhaps a nod to the Laurell Hamilton/Charlaine Harriss crowd, but with pointy ears instead of pointy teeth. Unlike Hamiltons recent efforts though, the sex hasnt gotten in the way of the story, and it isn't really inappropriate or jarring.

The book itself was funny, with a fair bit of action, but a bit shallow in its characterizations. I like the premise (a dimensional rift causes Pittsburgh to move to elfhame, hilarity ensues...), and theres a good framework for building characters, but the book feels like a setup for a series.

Shallowness can be tolerated in a book if there is promise of more goodness to come, and it seems there is; though I have no idea if a series has been optioned for this book. Heck, I'm still hoping for another installment of the Aron Allstrom "Doc Sidhe" series which was written in a similar style.

Overall, I'd say give it a go. It's a light, fast read (about 3 hours), and it IS an interesting idea.

Into the Looking Glass - John Ringo - Baen, SciFi, 2005, 278pp

This is about the best Sci-Fi I've read in the past year; and that's really saying something. It's certainly the best SF of 2005 so far.

...And honestly, I'm not surprised. The best SF authors going today are probably David Weber, David Drake, Eric Flint, and John Ringo.

This book calls back a bit to one of Davd Webers (a collaborator with Ringo in the past) books, "The Apocalypse Troll"; but the premise iteslf is almost entirely novel...

Well let me modify that. There is no such thing as a new basic idea in Sci-Fi, it's all in how those major ideas already existing are fleshed out and implemented, and detailed etc... in that light, Ringo has this one LOCKED.

The details were all good, the physics were mostly correct, the weaponry was VERY well detailed and correct (a major sticking point with me)... and the dialog was GREAT (there jsut needed to be more of it.

As is so common in Military SF that isnt told strictly first person (first person SF tends to be focused on internal dialogue which by its nature forces character developement out in the text), the problem here is a lack of character developement. This is a pretty short book, and it feels like it was a short story idea that ended up too long for a novella, but it wasnt quite fully novelized. There's easily room for another 200 pages, and the characters deserved to play out those 200 pages. Also the book was clearely written as a closed story, so theres no real sequel possibility (which is too bad, Bill Weaver is too good a protagonist for just one storyline).

This is definitely a must read if you like military SF at all, and it isnt by any means traditional hard SF, but it should appeal to those across the spectrum (except the pournelle nazis). Read it.

Eleven on top - Janet Evanovich - St. Martins, Myst. Fic, 2005, 310pp

This was a fun, funny, fuzzy read; and I still love Stephanie Plum and her friends, but the last few Plum novels from Evenovich have really just been potboiler material.

Theres a lot more story to tell here, and I cant figure out if Janet is just trying to stretch out her money maker, or if she can't figure out how to tell it. Basically the last three books havent advanced the plotline any. We are pretty much where we were with "Hard Eight" and "To the Nines"; and "Visions of Sugarplums" and "Ten Big Ones" were barely even there.

Also, there has been an issue of time compression. This novel only covered a period of I think about 5 days (I'd have to leaf through to be sure, but it sounds right, certainly no more than a week); and other than the typical mishaps (two cars blown up in this one), they arent really fully fleshed out days.

Oh and she's running out of clever gambling based names. I'm guessing the next is going to be called dirty dozen or something similar, and the one after will be somethign to do with unlucky 13.

I like to call this "sitcomming" a series, where an author just kind of settles into a rhythm and pops out what is basically a short story, expeanded just barely into novel length; dealing with a short period of time, and not advancing the main story arcs. This lets you run a series on for a few years; much like sitcoms on television; so long as folks will continue to pay for new books. The thing is, sitcoms get stale, and so do series. As I said, I still love the characters and dialogue, but I could have skipped the last three books and missed basically nothing.

The reason I love series, is that they allow characters room to grow, and develop. You get to know the characters, their lives, their environments etc... Eventually you can probably write your own book in the series jsut by presenting a dilemma to the characters, and reacting as you know they would react.

And therein lies the rub. Eventually some authors do jsut that. They give up on originality, or advancing the story, or trying to surprise anyone etc... and they just write the same thing with different details. Worse, they make it impossible for new readers to enter the series, because they presuppose a complete knowledge of the world that has passed, and provide little or no new developement, so the characters seem wooden and two dimensional to those readers who havent "lived" through the previous books.

I can think of a very few long series that havent fallen prey to this (Robert Parkers Spenser, J.D. Robbs Eve Dallas Series, anything by W.E.B. Griffin up to the last few corps books), and many more that have (Robert Jordan, are you listening? Finish the damn series before you die of colon cancer).

Oh and to anyone who makes a crack about my liking David Eddings after writing that, you really don't seem to get the point THEY WERE WRITTEN WITH A REPEATING STORY LINE ON PURPOSE AS PART OF THE PLOT. Okay so maybe you dont like that as a plot device, but it wasnt jsut potboiling, it was actually done as part of the story.

Aaaaanyway, honestly, pick up "Eleven on Top" as a paperback for an airport read, but otherwise, I'd leave it.

NEXT UP IN QUEUE: The Hitman Trade paperbacks, Transmetropolitan trades, Haunted - Kelly Armstrong, "The Good, The Bad, and The UNdead" and "Every Which Way But Dead" - Kim Harrison, "By Order of the President" - W.E.B. Griffin, "Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception" - Eoin Colfer, "Ill Met by Moonlight" - Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis... ummm theres a big frikken stack of about 20 new unread ones actually...

Well at least I won't be too bored.