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’t want to play, and I can enumerate the reasons why, however I really want 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.”

The Anglo Files – Sarah Lyall

This book isn’t actually mine, it was loaned to me by one of the nurses at my allergy clinic, and boy does it ever illustrate why I like hard-copy books and the people who say “I think you’ll love to read this”. Are you a fan of British television, humor, or culture in general? Then I highly recommend this book as it will give you some startling insights! After reading this book I feel like I have a better grasp of the culture and comedy in British shows that I watch. I have to say that I’m even more confused about cricket though.

The chapters on the House of Commons and the House of Lords are amazing, just amazing! The chapter about the newspaper industry is terrifying. Some of the things that amuse me so greatly about British humor appear to actually happen in real life as well, such as the following correction in a newspaper:

Yesterday was Wednesday, despite an assertion that it was once again Tuesday.

There are a lot of interesting observations though. I didn’t know that the illusionist David Blaine did so poorly in the UK, but apparently people who are confident and show-offish about themselves are really not looked on too kindly! Taunting a man locking himself in a box without food for a week with hamburgers hung beneath RC helicopters is both rather cruel, and really rather amusing.

I want to remember reading this book, because if I ever go to the UK I’m going to want to re-read it as a refresher course. As similar as we like to think we are to each other this book left me feeling that were I to go to the UK that driving on the wrong side of the road would be one of the more normal feeling things going on, and I think I’d need some additional help in becoming mentally prepared for dealing with the place. This book really seems like an interesting start to that.

I’m still seriously confused about cricket however.

A James Morrow Late-Night Double Feature

In which I review not one, but TWO books, both by James Morrow.

Bible Stories for Adults

A series of short-ish stories always makes for an interesting review. The first story, “The Deluge”, was great, (It won a Nebula, it would sort of have to be!) but I have to admit I felt a bit mixed about some of the rest of them. I suppose I was expecting something more like Lamb, however one should really not go into something with expectations like that. The parody/alternate history stories like “Deluge”, “The Tower” and “Abe Lincon at McDonalds” will leave you wondering “what if”, and the philosophical stories like “Assemblage of Kristin” and “Diary of a Mad Deity” will leave you wondering what just happened. You know, in that good way where you aren’t quite sure where you are but you feel like the trip to get there must have been quite fun?

Some of the stories feel like you probably need to know the actual bible story. I’m not sure “Soap Opera” would be as good if you didn’t know the story of Job. Most of them though require no previous knowledge. The Covenant, probably my favorite story in the book, is an interesting analysis of the ten commandments and what the world might be if they had not yet been made public. “These rules are not worthy of you!”

Every one of these stories is thought provoking. Did I enjoy them as much as I thought I would based on the reviews I’d been given? Sadly no, as I was expecting more Christopher-Moore-slash-Tom-Holt style writing. I was left feeling thoughtful, but not like I immediately needed to read again to understand whatever it is I missed. Based on these stories I would say there is one thing James Morrow knows how to do exceptionally well: get his point across.

I would definitely recommend reading. I may even re-read someday. For now though, I think I know someone who will quite enjoy this book, I think I’ll give it to them!

Towing Jehovah

The plot is explained in the first few pages thusly:

“Our mutual Creator has passed away,” sad Raphael with a sigh compounded of pain, exhaustion, and grief.
“What?”
“God Died.”
Anthony took an involuntary step backward. “That’s crazy.”
“Died and fell into the sea.” Raphael clamped his cold fingers around the tattooed mermaid on Anthony’s naked forearm and abruptly drew him closer. “List carefully, Captain Van Horne. You’re going to get your ship back.”

So… What happens when god dies, his corporeal form falls into the ocean, the angels are literally dying of despair, and the vatican’s chief particle physicist goes riding on a supertanker captained by an infamous tanker captain out to the body? This book has it all, angels, bi-planes, cruise missiles, warped reality, and a recipe for Dieu Bourguignon.

I think perhaps Morrow’s pacing takes a bit of getting used to, but boy is it worth it. Ever asked yourself what happens to the world when god dies? More importantly, what happens to people when faced with incontrovertible proof that the god they may or may not have believed in is dead?

Believe me, the ending is worth it. Well, the almost ending. I really do think it’s Morrow’s pacing that throws me off. The extra bits make the world believable, but sometimes it feels like they lessen the impact of what he’s telling you. Once again though, I feel like I GOT? it. I know what he’s saying, I understand, and I’m not sure reading it again would do much more for me. Maybe that’s good in a book sometimes, but I’m really rather fond of that feeling that I should pick it up again and see if I can squeeze just a little more out of it. I don’t think I can however, and while I may read it someday in the far future, I think my plan for this one is once again going to be to give it to someone who I think will also enjoy it.

“Have you even waltzed naked in God’s navel Tom?”

Climbing Olympus – Kevin J. Anderson

The story starts with our hero on the slopes of Mt. Olympus, the largest volcano in the solar system…

Oh wait, no it doesn’t. In fact I have a hard time recalling if the venerable mountain was even mentioned before one of the characters began to climb it in the last 10 or so pages of the book.

Ah well, what’s in a name right? Kevin J. Anderson writes a pretty reasonable novel in my experience, and this one doesn’t let you down. Sort of the typical monster-of-the-week style story with the your average characters, and no real crazy plot-twists to throw you overboard, this one is a fun read. Poul Anderson did a quote for the cover:

An exciting story… one feels that this may very well be the way the conquest of Mars will happen.

Gotta agree. Unfortunately not much more to say. I enjoyed reading it, but I’m done reading it now and it doesn’t have anything else to offer me. I don’t even have a particularly memorable quote. With a very human quality to the characters, and an arid and dead feeling to the planet, it’s a gritty and realistic tale of homesteading the martian plain. Now, off to powells we go for a trade-in!

Anarchaos – Curt Clark

When this book was published it cost 40˘. Let’s see what it’s worth at the end shall we?

The cover is all flame and orange and yellow and zooming contrails + the main character’s name is Rolf Malone + chapter breaks are written in roman numerals. Presumption = brilliant.

Truth be told, I read this book for two reasons:

1) I had to make the decision to get rid of it (it’s only 143 pages),
2) The front cover tagline says,

On a world where nothing was illegal, the only crime was to be killed.

Can I pass that up? I think not!

The story starts out pretty well– our temper-ridden ex-con named Rolf is off to visit his do-no-wrong brother on one of the worst planets humans have decided to colonize. You see, this planet was born out of anarchistic ideals where one is out only for themselves. Syndicates created to provide services in exchange for goods have since collapsed due to (what ELSE?!) corporate takeover, so most of the planet lives in squalor killing and stealing to survive.

Of course, we find all of this out after our Plucky Ex-con™ suddenly kills his chauffeur. With his belt. Huh.

Turns out that the do-no-wrong brother was recently killed, and Plucky Ex-con™ now is on a mission of vengeance to Damn Well Find Out Who Did It.

What’s weird about this book is the character’s journey. On the one hand he’s Bad Ass enough that he can KILL A GUY WITH HIS BELT, but on the other he gets CAPTURED AS A SLAVE for FOUR YEARS and slowly loses his mind to numbness and drudgery. All throughout it’s as though things are happening to him, meanwhile he struggles with the idea that he no longer cares to survive. It’s not as though he voluntarily visited a planet with a 76% “What Ho! He’s gone missing– might he be dead good sir?” Return Rate™.

In the end Things™ continue to happen to him and our Plucky Ex-con™ continues to be iffy about it all. What is the reader supposed to do with that?

And here’s the really weird bit: at one point a character consoles himself with thoughts of his coming pension. But, but… I THOUGHT THIS WAS AN ANARCHISTIC SOCIETY? Since when is a corporation on a planet with no laws going to dole out pensions? Color me confused. I mean, if you’re going to go for a pension I think the most you can call yourself is Libertarian.

I will not give away the strange, detached ending that our Plucky Ex-con™ withstands except to say this: He makes a choice that has ramifications for the entire world because he feels that their system of government (or lack thereof in this case) is wrought with flaws and… bad morals? Something like that anyway.

But enough of that, it’s all a bit dreary isn’t it? Time for some scones, which we all deserve as this review is almost as long as the book itself.

CONCLUSION: SELL. TRY TO GET AT LEAST 30˘ FOR IT.

Best quote from the book:

Lingo looked like a shaved gorilla, wearing sunglasses and fondling an automatic rifle.