Inconceivable: Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

We recently watched Princess Bride. Matt hadn’t actually seen it. Inconceivable!

Like a good wine without iocane powder, it seems to get better with time.

Carey Elwes – Inconceivable: Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

Well, he’s certainly not wrong, it’s still as enjoyable as ever. Emily was telling me about the book, which somewhat surprisingly I’ve never read. I was looking at the Libby app to grab it from the library (not surprising, there’s a a wait list!), but in the meantime I grabbed the audio book of Inconceivable: Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Carey Elwes, read by Cary Elwes et al.

It was quite the fun couple hours. This is another prefer-the-audiobook recommendation. Carey Elwes reads most of it, but there are moments read by quite the cast of other members of the cast and crew too. There are some interesting stories behind the old favorite, and a few amazingly funny bits. The stories range from the personal to the technical, and there’s something in there for everyone.

I really want to put in a BUNCH of quotes here, and ruin all the hilarious bits, but if you’re a fan of the movie, you should absolutely listen to the book instead. It’s worth your 7 hours. (I didn’t have a problem listening at 1.25x, the reading has a lovely pace to it and so doesn’t sound distorted at the faster speed.)

I’d certainly listen to this again to re-hear a couple of the stories, but as I really have prefer the audiobook I don’t think it gets to sit on my shelf. Metaphorically though, definitely!

Book Review(s) – Murderbots for People in a Hurry through Mister Monday’s Autonomous Armageddon

Libby has been great. It’s so much easier for me to justify reading a book, especially a short one, when it just shows up on my devices ready to read. And a 3-hour plane ride turns out to be an excellent time to get some reading done, and since I finished that book let’s get some reviews of what I’ve read since I last posted one of these things, as there have been a few. This is a long one, sorry about that!

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries

One recommended book that I’d been putting off is All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries.

“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete Failure”

This novella is pretty much exactly what I love about Science Fiction. It takes an idea, doesn’t overburden you with details, and just explores the idea in a way that gives you some room to think and make your own conclusions. In short, I don’t want to be TOLD that a corporate overlord who’s a bit more concerned with being cost-effective than being safe is bad, I want to see the outcome. And this enjoyable little read did exactly that.

I’m not sure it’s one that I’d buy and put on the bookshelf, I’ll have to wait until I’ve gone through the rest of the series to know for sure, and I’d probably prefer to have an anthology edition anyway since it’s novella length, but this one is definitely worth grabbing from the library or used bookstore if you see it!

My only regret is that I only had a hold on the first book, and now must wait 3 weeks for the next book in the series. Time to hack the LibSystem’s governor protocol and download some media.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson

I couldn’t help but enjoy this, as it’s read by the soothing tones of Neil deGrasse Tyson himself. I don’t have much of a review other than to say: Does what it says on the cover.

The power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them. In other words, after the laws of physics, everything else is opinion.

Gives a really fun and up-to-date review of Astrophysics, without delving into too much detail. I think this book could be enjoyed by anyone, even if you don’t have a lot of background in this sort of thing. Tyson does a great job of making it accessible and interesting, and gives a lot of interesting little tidbits you can use to impress your friends. If you ever wanted to be able to prove why the Star Trek Warp Drive could be a real thing, there’s a bit in here that’d do it!

This one is definitely a fun read, and I highly recommend you give it a listen just to hear the man himself nerding out about what is clearly his passion, however I’m unwilling to give it the permanent place on the bookshelf, partly because the field can change pretty rapidly and I’m not sure it’ll be accurate about a few of the concepts in a few years?

Which will be a great reason to check out the next revision and listen to it all over again!

The universe may be under no obligation to make sense to you, but Neil deGrasse Tyson sure make it fun to try!

Mister Monday – Garth Nix

I’m a big fan of the Old Kingdom (Sabriel) series by Nix, so I wanted to try something else by him. I grabbed this one off the library shelf to see what was up. Turned out to be another fun romp in a very similar style to the Old Kingdom books.

One thing I like about both series is the fun combination of pseudo-modern sensibilities with some wacky magical type situation. It’s not the Harry Potter muggles-vs-wizards thing, it’s a lot more personal. I suppose kind of like Harry discovering he’s a wizard, but without falling into a whole new world of people prepared to support him. I find that more interesting. And the magic system is definitely unique and interesting, so that grabbed my attention.

Sometimes it is easier to see the light when you stand partly in the darkness.

I did feel like perhaps Nix wasn’t quite hitting the right tone for the age of the characters. Yes, it’s YA, but I guess I expected the dialogue to feel a bit more real given what I remember of Old Kingdom.

I did enjoy it, with the usual YA caveat, and I’ll definitely add the next book in the series to my to-read list, but I don’t think that I’m willing to put it on the shelf yet.

Autonomous – Annalee Newitz

Another one brought to you by Multnomah County Library and Libby, which suggested to me a book I’d never heard of: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

“Nothing like drugs to take the edge off drug problems.”

Fantastic world building, I definitely want more! First time I’ve had that Neuromancer/Snow-Crash feeling since I read those two I think, and I’ll say right up front that I’m pretty willing to grant this one a permanent spot on my bookshelf next to those two.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, one of the things I like about this sort of SciFi is the Black Mirror method of storytelling. Just show you the world, don’t make too many judgments about good vs. bad, let the world unfold and make up your own mind. Worldbuilding is one of the things I love most, and giving me a world that just flowers with ideas and opportunities pleases me, even if the characters don’t fill it out as fully as they might.

“He was a user of his own consciousness, but he did not have owner privileges. As a result, Paladin felt many things without knowing why.”

If I have a criticism of the book, I think it’s fair to say that the dialogue and pacing could be tightened up a bit. For all the lovely catchy ideas and exploration of the world it does come off a bit like a first novel. This doesn’t bother me really, as I was sucked in by the world. I think some people might put it down halfway through, but I really did think it was worth getting through to the end.

It’s a fun action adventure which has a nice fun balance between humor and adventure, both dark and grim, and full of hope. I think it’s the kind of thing I’d be happy recommending to anyone. Give it a go!

“Paladin had nothing to say to that, so he decided to pry. “What do you do?” “I make custom penises.”

Autonomous bio-hacking protocols engaged!

Off Armageddon Reef, et al (Safehold Series) – David Weber

It had to be the greatest irony in the history of mankind, he thought. The last Christian in the entire universe was a machine.

I have, over some time, read 9 books in this series, either by actually reading, or by listening to audiobook. I have enjoyed every one of them. I wish there had only been 6 of them.

It’s a weird situation to explain. This series was a lot of fun, an interesting mix of sci-fi, politics, military action, alternate history, and educational. It tickled me in a lot of ways, and has made a great series to listen to while out walking, however I really feel like it could’ve used from a bit of editing overall, and perhaps less of a sense that the author was getting paid by the word/book. Some scenes are tight, decisive, and convey exactly what’s going on, and some tend to start feeling rather excessively long. It kept me wanting more at every moment though.

I really enjoyed the sailing portions of these books. I’ve learned what a schooner sailplan is, what a topgallant mast is, some interesting stuff about signaling and communication via flags and lights, development of naval cannons, and more! And every bit of action was incredibly gripping.

And a bunch of the politics sequences were also very gripping. But some of them just… weren’t. The pacing lurching up and down really didn’t do it for me, and I found myself skimming sections to get to the next part of the story I wanted to hear about. I really enjoyed the big-picture conceit of the series though, the quest to take down the corrupt and dogmatic Church had a very Luther’s Reformation feeling to it which I enjoyed, but it just needed to be tightened up a bit.

The very first thing that happens with any zealot is that he removes his brain just in case any thoughts that might challenge his zealotry should happen to stray into it.

It also really suffers from the classic fantasy naming problem. “Lywys Gardynyr” or “Zhaspahr Clyntahn” definitely sound more fantasy-like, but it makes it rather harder to track who’s who. This was especially jarring to my as I thought I’d figured out the pronunciation for a few of them, and then I listened to one of the books as an audiobook and found out I was wrong, which took rather a long time to re-write in my head.

It doesn’t really have a lot of twists and turns. A few very memorable gotchas which was fun, but for the most part it’s fairly formulaic.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend this except to a very specific audience. You kinda have to want it. But if you do, and you don’t mind a bit of skimming and ignoring typos, it’s really quite good. If I want to read it again though, I’d just get it from the library again, no real need to have it on the shelf.

This Week’s Double Feature: Children of the Fleet & Artemis

It’s been so long since we’ve done regular reviews that I’d forgotten it was really a thing! Probably because reading has been taking place more digitally than physically recently, and it’s so easy just to move on to the next thing. Doesn’t mean we haven’t been reading, although the pile of “read this so we can decide to permanently find a shelf for it or sell it” hasn’t really been shrinking.

Two books I’ve read recently had enough similarity that it made me want to write about it though, so here we are!

Children of the Fleet by Orson Scott Card

I’ve been reading Ender-verse novels for a loooooong time now. I like the universe, and I like the questions Card asks of the reader. I had some trouble with this one though, in sort of a meta way. In the beginning of the book I really felt like I was re-reading a previous book, perhaps some sort of weird combination of Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow with the names changed. Then that ended and I immediately started having trouble with the characters being believable. I’m okay with the idea of a Mary Sue to a certain extent, but when they seem to have no flaw or weakness at all it really gets hard to identify with. Card uses the character to explore some interesting things, but it’s all addressed in such a matter-of-fact manner that I really can’t believe it.

I really like what he’s setting up here though. The idea of how different and difficult it is to manage an interstellar settlement is really interesting, and I’m hopeful that could be explored more. I also really like the continuation of Hyrum Graff’s story and another look at his child-rearing techniques. I’d really like a lot more explanation of both of these topics. I also really liked the new battle room concept, but it didn’t get explored as fully as I’d like either.

Ultimately the book was a short, enjoyable, fluffy read. I’d have preferred if it was either fluffier and had more fun playing with the characters, or less fluffy and dug in a bit more. This one isn’t going to be taking a permanent spot on the shelf next to Children of the Mind, but if you’re a fan of the ‘verse it’s definitely worth a quick read!

 

Artemis by Andy Weir

I probably made a mistake reading this as the next book after Children of the Fleet. Back-to-back Mary Sue main characters just left me irritated. At least in this case the character had enough flaws and challenges that by the end I wasn’t bothered by it.

Aside from that aspect though I really enjoyed it! It’s a fun read, full of science and technology, without getting either bogged down in it or hand-waving it aside. It’s the first time I’ve read something that felt like reading a new Heinlein adventure since I read Variable Star, which was actually based on Heinlein’s outline.

“Very few people get a chance to quantify how much their father loves them. But I did. The job should have taken forty-five minutes, but Dad spent three and a half hours on it. My father loves me 366 percent more than he loves anything else. Good to know.”

That quote is related to welding. A father is making an air-tight vessel which his daughter’s life will rely on. This is my absolutely favorite kind of Sci-Fi, it’s an adventure, fundamentally about people, politics, economics, and the human experience, but it includes real science and tosses in new science and technology that I hadn’t thought about before which makes me go “huh, neat!”. What will real people do in real situations, and how will our human experience be similar in these far-flung places, and what about us won’t change at all?

“I didn’t want to spend any more time inside the mind of an economist. It was dark and disturbing.”

This is the sort of thing we need more of. Near-term science fiction that makes the reader think about how viable this future actually is. How will this future and technology will impact the rest of our lives is certainly one of the very most interesting things about Sci-Fi to me. Far-future is a fun way to explore big ideas because you can change everything about the world, but at some point that becomes disconnected from what we are now, and makes it hard to put yourself into the situation. Absolutely not true in Artemis, I felt like I was a tourist on the moon the entire time, and now I just want to go there!

“There was something weird about being on the moon and fighting for your life with a stick and some fire.”

I read this book digitally (Thanks Multnomah County Library!), but if I saw a good-condition used copy at Powells sometime I think I’d definitely pick it up!

I blame Brian

It’s not my fault, I had to do it…

This is a nice tight little build, I really enjoyed putting it together! The actually-rolling wheels with really tight tolerances are pleasing.

I assembled the first bike per instructions and the second one freehand, so hopefully my pile of extras are truly extras and I didn’t miss anything.

Now if only I had a single shelf to display my collection on… Someday.

All in all this set is definitely worth it either if you’re a fan of TRON, or a fan of the LEGO Ideas series. Personally I love sets like this where every piece serves both form and function. Everything needed, nothing extra. The little details they included for faces, outfits, etc, are lovely little icing.

I wish I had a big collection of Lego pieces so I could build a Recognizer or something.

Edit:

I was breaking down the shipping box and found this on the inside of one of the flaps. Nice.

Never use FedEx

In less ambitious news, and the latest in the unending string of their fuckups, FedEx has been sitting on my package for 2 days simply because it’s not due. The best part, I find, is that they own right up to it! 

Two opportunities to get it to me, and yet there it sits… Why did I pay $25 for fedex delivery, I might as well just have let USPS do it at this point. 

6 to 5 and pick ’em that tomorrow FedEx shows up at our condo, doesn’t even try to use the callbox, and makes me drive to the facility anyway. Nitwits. 

No Child’s Game (Reality TV 2083) – Andrea White

In the continuing saga of trading YA books with Kelly I have read an interesting take on the dystopian future, based on the premise that the government decides to try and get >99% of the public to watch a reality TV show. This may be no child’s game, but it’s certainly a child’s book, so why exactly the government is doing this is not well defined. A (spoiler) large plot point becomes the fact that the cameras for this TV show are implanted in the children’s eyes. How, exactly, they make it non-obvious that the entire show is being shot first-person is also not discussed.

All in all it’s probably a much more simply-written YA book than some of the others we’ve read, and unfortunately I don’t think it manages to present the question of preventing the dystopia very well. I actually think the historical-recreation-using-kids was a fun angle, but I’m forever amused by YA’s need to cram a dystopian future into every book. Is there some kind of conspiracy to make kids believe that the world is definitely ending soon? Making you think is one of the things I love about YA books, especially because of the heavy-handedness, but you can’t just go tossing in dystopia like a scarf around the neck of the hero, you need to use it to bring some meaning to the thing. Decorative dystopia just makes me irritable.

I also have to say that there’s a stark difference between writing at children’s level, and writing poorly. To my mind writing for children, but writing correctly and well, is important. I read a lot as a child, and I’m almost certain that reading high-quality writing helped me to become a highly capable reader early on, as well as led to improved writing. I do think this book falls a little bit on the bad-writing side of the equation unfortunately.

All in all, an enjoyable read, but definitely left me wishing that the author had tried just a tiny bit harder to make it reasonable, believable, and well written.

He quickly changed the channel of his mind so that he wouldn’t have to consider the life of poverty he had narrowly escaped. He had almost been forced to play a real-life Survivor — a game with no rules, no fans, no prize money, and worst of all, no hope.
I have a job. A hut in Shanty Town. One hundred and fifty dollars in the bank, he reassured himself. Everything will be fine.

Spooky fun at a distance.

A little while back we got a WiiU, mainly because of the game Splatoon. We have some other games, but splatoon sucks up a LOT of our gaming time. Splatoon is a super fun game, with one amazing feature that I just can’t figure out: Splatoon is a very bad game.

The programming of the game is bad: The fact that it’s multiplayer-only is unbelievable considering how bad the netcode is. There are lag bugs, terrible server problems, lots of random disconnects (blamed on *my* internet connection, which I can assure you is untrue, I have logs to show it.) and so many fine-tuning issues in the UI that one or three lines of code could’ve made better.

The game-mechachnics are bad:

  • It’s unbalanced as hell (one weapon can act as both a sniper rifle and an alley-sweeper, all at the same time!)
  • the scorekeeping and matchmaking algorithms are not well defined, and easily lead players to feel like the game is “cheating” by manipulating the players onto the teams it wants or making what appear to be rather arbitrary judgments about who won
  • there’s functionally no ability to communicate with your team or even to choose your teammates, so it almost always devolves into every-squid-for-themselves.
  • the game modes are simple and skewed towards meet-in-the-middle gameplay which SHOULD keep everything evenly balanced but which can easily lead to one side utterly dominating the other if the matchmaking is unbalanced. (This has a couple of easy fixes. Multiple spawn points or unlimited ammo while on your spawn are my first ideas.)
  • There’s no compensation for the fact that if one of your teammates disconnects you WILL lose, 3-on-4 is just not going to be possible in almost any circumstance. (A team that’s suddenly 25% missing should get some sort of compensation in points or stats, or the game should kick a random person from the other team maybe?)
  • In ranked mode a win earns you 8 points. A loss subtracts 10. This makes losing very discouraging, and that’s ignoring the fact that your “rank” is based on how well your randomly chosen team did, and is no measure at all of your personal performance.
  • Stats are “fuzzy”, with no numerical values. Which is better, “use less ink” or “recover ink faster”? Dunno, you’ll just have to try out both and do whatever feels better. (Hint: It’s use-less-ink, we did the tests, you come out ahead for almost all weapons.)

The game feels like a really good idea, with everything else tacked on as an afterthought, beta-tested on the public.

BUT IT IS INCREDIBLY FUN!

This has lead me to wonder about the phenomenon of Spooky fun at a distance. The IDEA of the game is enough to keep pulling you in, even if the game is irritating once you’re there. I experienced this phenomena personally with both WoW and Eve years ago, where I really wanted to play the game, but by time I was actually playing it the game just seemed like a lot of work. In my head I know I don’twant to play, and I can enumerate the reasons why, however I reallywant to play!

I can’t figure out what the secret sauce is, but I’d sure like to, if only so that I could immunize myself somehow. Usually reason and logic are enough, but some things just manage to sneak through… Spooky.

Orphanage/Orphan’s Destiny – Robert Buettner

Once bitten twice shy right? I recently bemoaned having trusted the author blurb on the front cover of a book. Well, I did it again, and this time it worked out. So much for that theory.

Heinlein would have enjoyed this exciting homage to Starship Troopers… The near future Buettner paints is as believable as it is terrible. — Joe Haldeman

Well damn. Haldeman, the author of Forever War, thinks that this is on the level of Starship Troopers? That I will believe. In fact I put off reading the first book until I had the entire series. Boy am I glad I did that. I read book one, couldn’t put it down, read book two, realized I had a midterm coming up, and proceeded to painfully put book three back on the shelf until further notice. Aaaaaargh.

I could possibly see rating this series up there with Forever War, Starship Troopers, and Armor. I have a few problems with it, but it is an utterly enjoyable read. I think it lacks some of the deeper meanings are found in some of my other favorites. I would actually put this somewhere between Haldeman/Heinlein/Steakley and Webber/Ringo. It’s not pure fun fluff, but it’s not really that deep. At least not yet. It does have some of the things that I usually complain about, characters just falling into convenient circumstances, things so unbelievably lucky that suspension of disbelief doesn’t quite work… I’m willing to let it pass though due to mitigating circumstances. The action is not only fun, but believable, the science is believable, and the concepts realistic and possible. There are perhaps some underlying messages and lessons to learn, but it just hasn’t hit me as hard as Armor. I suppose not every book can be up to that level, but I really do enjoy books that encourage me to think differently or question things. I do like the worldbuilding though. Not quite post-apocalyptic yet, the mid-apocalyptic setting is realistic and interesting, although once again not terribly deep.

Whatever I may think about this series, it is indeed eminently readable. I will be undertaking to read the next three books as soon as possible. Very seldom do I find such a page-turner like this that I just can’t bring myself to put down. If it keeps up I believe this series will likely earn a permanent place on my bookshelf under the “Enjoyable, could easily read again” category.

Our [lounge] had a manual Foosball table with one of the little men broken off, a tray of yesterday’s mess-hall cookies, coffee, and ancient orange furniture covered in the skin of animals so extinct I’d never heard of them. Really. I read the labels. “Naugahyde.”

Eats, Shoots & Leaves ! – Lynne Truss

There are books that you know you’ll like, there are books you’re not sure about, and then there are books that you’re truly suspicious about. Now, when you come across a book with the subtitle “A zero tolerance approach to punctuation” I think it’s fair to immediately move towards the “whoa there nelly, what’s this?” side of the equation.

I am here to tell you that BOY HOWDY, THAT WOULD BE A MISTAKE!!!

This book is amazing. 100% first page to last page. That’s 204 pages of perfect, hilarious, informative, educational fun.
I can hear your skepticism, don’t worry. A book about punctuation, can it really be that good? Let me convince you:

Consider the difference between the following:

“Verily, I say unto thee, This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”

and:

“Verily I say unto thee this day, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”

Now, huge doctrinal differences hang on the placing of this comma. The first version, which is how Protestants interpret the passage (Luke, xxiii, 43), lightly skips over the whole unpleasant business of Purgatory and takes the crucified thief straight to heaven with Our Lord. The second promises Paradise at some later date (to be confirmed, as it were) and leaves Purgatory nicely in the picture for the Catholics, who believe in it. Similarly, it is argued that the Authorised Version of the Bible (and by extension Handel’s Messiah) misleads on the true interpretation of Isaiah xl, 3. Once again consider the difference:

“The Voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”
and
“The voice of him that crieth: In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord”

Also:

“Comfort ye my people”
(Please go and comfort my people)
and
“Comfort ye, my people”
(Just cheer up you lot; it might never happen)

Of course, if Hebrew or any other ancient languages had included punctuation (in the case of Hebrew, a few vowels might have been nice as well), two thousand years of scriptural exegesis need never have occurred, and a lot of clever, dandruffy people could definitely have spent more time in the fresh air.

It goes on from there, and gets even better as we learn that indeed, not only did they fail to have punctuation, but that theyevenleftoutthespaces. (theybelieveddifficultyinreading (argh, I’ll stop!) encouraged healthy meditation and the glorification of God. Something about how your heart lifted in praise once you figured out what the heck you were looking at.

Now, given the quote there I really shouldn’t need to convince you any further. This is a book you should read. However I would like to continue to try and wax eloquent about just how much I think you should read it. Do you really know how to use a comma? I mean really know? How about actually using an ellipses correctly rather than just indicating that you’re trailing off… Do you avoid semicolons because you believe that they are “middle class” or perhaps dangerously addictive? This book will solve all those problems for you.

The best part however, is that you will laugh while you learn. Really laugh. Lynne Truss is an amazing writer, and really does give you the information in a way that will stick with you. This is not dry, this is not boring, and this is very educational. I was already one of those people hates seeing quotes on signs like:

“Drivers” turn off your engines

(No kidding, this is on a sign I walk by every day. If I only had some green paint…)

Having read this book however I now recognize that not only am I not alone, but there are many other horrible grammatical errors common to signs and headlines everywhere!

This book was loaned to me and I will now have to return it, however I may need to pick up my own copy! I will leave you with the following quote, which has a handwritten exclamation point from the gentleman who loaned it to me. I couldn’t agree more with that thought. I would’ve used a highlighter.

A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: with her, man is nothing.

The Lost Years of Merlin – T.A. Barron

I’ve always been a fan of the Merlin mythology, so this trilogy seemed like one that I would likely enjoy, I just never got around to reading it. Madeleine L’Engle has a quote on the front, it has to be good right?

Well, I got through the first book. Now, don’t get me wrong, living trees, giant spiders, a tiny giant, that’s all fun and games! What I can not get over though is writing that just falls from one place to the next. Looking for a mythical creature nobody has seen in years? Literally falling into it’s cave is a bit predictable.

I’m tempted to call this sort of rigidly predictable on-the-rails writing “YA”, but to do so would be a disservice to some amazing YA books that have been written. I think the real problem is that a book like this just doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t make you think at all. I definitely love the mythology, and the creative retelling is interesting, but just not interesting enough to invest the time in the last two books. I think someone at Powells might like them a bit better. One of these days I’ll learn to stop trusting the blurbs by other authors. 🙂

The little man glared at me, pink eyes shining. “I is no dwarf, I is a giant!” his pride seemed to melt away “I is just a very very very small giant.”