shannon_a: (Default)
I'm playing around with goodreads, so I may stop using this journal to talk about the non-fiction I read. Here's what I wrote on goodreads about this crappy book:

A horrible book. I actually gave up after 50 or so pages, because it's so bad.

First of all, it feels like a regurgitation of historical facts that the author found, thoughtlessly vomited onto the page with little order and no care for whether they're important or not.

Second, the author often introduces topics without giving them a good basis, leaving the reader trying to figure out what he's talking about. (Frequent references to locations within the Park with no corresponding maps anywhere around often made this problem worse.)

Third, the author is terribly biased. He constantly whines about his hobby horse, that Golden Gate Park shouldn't have any buildings and should be exactly as it was planned in 1870. He also pretty baldly states that the people he doesn't like are bad people, without giving much of the supporting evidence (or, heaven forbid, letting the reader decide for himself).

Well, now I can stop wasting time reading this. Unfortunately, it's put me off a bit from reading the follow-up volume by Herb Caen.
shannon_a: (Default)
I was pretty excited when I picked up this history of the main "ages" of the comics industry by master writer Grant Morrison. Then it took me months to finish and now I can only say that it was alright

Morrison's writing really sparkles here and there. But the first part of the book, before Morrison entered the picture (in his own career), is deadly dull. That's what actually took me the longest to read; for quite a while I just read 5 or 6 pages right before bed. When Morrison enters the picture, the story because more vibrant and evocative, but it also starts splitting time between the history of comics and the history of Morrison. I would have quite enjoyed an actual history of the comics industry; I would have sort of enjoyed an autobiography of Morrison; but the combination is just a mishmash.

Meantime, while Morrison is writing about some pretty minor project like Seaguy and correlating it to the hippy/punk 22-year cycle caused by the magnetic pole of the sun flipping, Neil Gaiman's foundational Sandman gets all of one page. Yep.

Oh, and if it wasn't obvious by that reference to the sun's poles, there's a whole bunch of pseudo-science in here. Perhaps not a surprise from the man who brought us Doom Patrol,The Invisibles, and some of the weirdest Batman ever, but another disappointment given the advertised scope of the book.

Most of all, I think the book needed an editor, who might have commented on the sloppy focus on the book.

I give it 3 stars out of 5, 6 points on a 10 point scale, or a thumbs up, as you prefer.
shannon_a: (Default)
This was the one other major book that I found done by Josh Neufeld, who also wrote & drew the terrific A.D. and did the art for the very interesting The Influencing Machine. The subtitle says it all, "... and Other Stories from Southeast Asia & Central Europe". It's a travelogue of major events, in comic book form.

I agree with the introduction that says that comics are in an ideal form for travelogues, as they can not just tell you about a place, but show it too. My favorite story in here was of a 6-7 hour tour of some caves somewhere in Southeast Asia, which includes lots of wading through rivers and some crawling through really tiny spots. Other than that, I thought the book was mostly meh. I guess I'm not a huge fan of the travelogue form.
shannon_a: (Default)
I picked up this book from the library because I liked the author-artist's work in another book I recently read, and because the topic of New Orleans before, during, and after Katrina is compelling to me.

A.D. is a graphic novel about New Orleans and about 7 people who lived through Katrina, some of them staying behind and some of them leaving, but all of them being permanently affected by the storm. The people are real and the book is based on interviews with them. It's a brilliant book. 

The clean line drawing which I enjoyed in The Influencing Machine is here, along with a simple two-color palette. Though the color isn't as effective, the art still remains strong. In fact, there are several places where it's breathtaking, and overall it reminds me of why I like the graphic novel form: together its words and pictures combine to create a deeper resonance than either medium could on its own.

The stories are also personal and touching and do a great job of detailing the many different experiences that people had with Katrina.

Highly recommended.
shannon_a: (Default)

I finished my first non-genre book of the year a couple of days ago. It was a Christmas present from Kimberly called The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media. It's one of a weird little medium of books that I quite like: non-fiction books illustrated as comic strips. Scott McCloud's trilogy of books about comics are perhaps the best example nowadays, and pretty close in style to The Influencing Machine, as Gladstone takes a similar fourth-wall-breaking style of talking. It's quite well done and I liked the art (two-toned artwork, colored blue and black by Josh Neufeld) enough that I immediately ordered a book from the library that the artist had done on his own about New Orleans after the flood.

The Influencing Machine takes an excellent look at the media and it makes me both angry and hopeful. It does this by pointing how messed up the media has been over the history of man. In other words, the weak-willed lapdogs that we saw in Washington during Bush's administration weren't an exception. So, on the one hand, suckage, but on the other hand, it doesn't mean the world is going to hell.

Gladstone goes into lots of other details on biases, balance, and other stuff, and it was all thought-provoking. I should probably read it a second time to lock down some of the stuff she said (though not immediately).

The book does spin off into speculation about the internet and future technology at the end, which I don't find in line with the rest of the book, but interesting nonetheless.

Overall, a compelling and good read.

shannon_a: (rpg glorantha)
So I've got a new contract for my RPG History book. It's got a scheduled completion date of February 28, 2011--which means that it'll hopefully be out somewhere between GenCon and Christmas next year. That's way, way in the future, because I didn't want to run myself into the ground this time around (and you can witness the fact that I did last time by the fact that it took me years to even want to contemplate the book again).

As a result, I've been more actively glomming on to stuff that I think might be useful for the book and reading it. The first such major work is Dungeons & Desktops, a history of computer roleplaying games by Matt Barton. I was alerted to its existence by RPG Examiner, Michael Tresca. (Go forth and give him clicks; he looks at a variety of interesting RPG things on a regular basis.)

The book does a very good job of extensively crawling through every major computer roleplaying game ever, with brief stops with MUDs and MMORPGs. It does a little less of a good job of actually being interesting. The dig-through-every-game bit tends to occasionally result in page after page of dross, which might have been useful in an encyclopedia, but not a historical book. The methodology also sometimes manages to obscure the first-movers by talking so much about everything else.

And I think those are all good lessons for my own book too, though as I recall in my drafts I manage to talk more about the whys, hows, and wherefors than the whats.

(And I didn't really care about the sometimes boringness of Dungeons & Desktops, because if dull stuff was about non-RPG-industry games, I just skipped it.)

Dungeons & Desktops did suggest to me a variety of useful topics. I hadn't know, for example, that Paragon Software was pretty deep in bed with GDW, publishing games for Space: 1889 and Twilight: 2000, not just Traveller. I also now have a really nice and extensive list of D&D games and some of their stories dovetail nicely into the story of TSR's own fall.

So I've got about a week until the book is due back to the library to write about computer topics while I have a good reference on hand. I plan to get started with a revision and update of TSR tonight (or rather a start of that, as the TSR article is novella sized as I recall). It'll be the first active writing I've done on the book in years (minus a revision I did to two of the articles when I pitched it to the new publisher).
shannon_a: (Default)
I just finished reading The Coming Convergence, by Stanley Schmidt. It's a non-fiction book ultimately theorizing about a singularity, where the graph of technological change goes vertical, but doing so by talking about how technology has evolved in the past and may in the future.

I found the central thesis of the book the most interesting thing about it: that big technological changes don't usually come about by advances in a single field, but instead by advances in multiple fields converging together and creating something that couldn't have been foreseen.

I think that's a good point and suggests why futurist prediction is so hard.

I was less enthralled by his look at things that might be just around the corner, like nanotechnology, telepresence, true AI, and much more. But, I think that's because I've heard it all before. Ultimately, I think Schmidt is trying to get the message out to people who haven't thought about what the future might very quickly bring.
shannon_a: (politics)
This afternoon I finished Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, by Al Franken. It's a political book that dissects many of the lies that so many public Republicans tell (from Hannity to Bush). Like the movie Recount it was something I'd been interested in before but didn't feel able to deal with until after the election.

It was an OK book, funny at parts, but not spectacular.

What struck me the most was the longest chapter in the book, which was about the late, marvelously progressive Senator Paul Wellstone. Franken took real offense at the dishonest campaign waged by Wellstone's Republican opponent and the Republican party in general both before and after Wellstone's untimely death (which occurred just weeks before the election).

Of course the scummy Republican who waged that scummy campaign was ... Norm Coleman.

Who I think we can now pretty definitively say that Al Franken beat in one of the closest elections of our time. The rest of the Republicans may well try and sit on Franken's getting seated for a couple of months--but it turns out not to matter until a valid appointment is made in Illinois (short reason: because the filibuster-blocking number is at 59 votes for 98 senators, but 60 for 99 or 100 ... of course Harry Reid needs to find a backbone and make those Republicans actually read the phonebook if they want to try and block the legislation we Americans want rather than just continuing to allow them "painless" procedural filibusters).

In any case, it was nice to read about Franken's ties to and feelings about Wellstone, because it helps to tell the story of why he decided to run in 2008 for the Senate seat that used to belong to his friend (though it was written 5 years before he did so).
shannon_a: (Default)
A few days ago I finished reading [i]Alex & Me[/i], by Irene Pepperberg. It's her story of 30 years spent training an African gray parrot to a pretty amazing level of conversational and cognitive ability. It's also the story of how little support she's received from academia, due to some combination of the multiple fields she works with (from biology to psychology, while her degree is actually in chemistry) and the jealousy that her success has engendered in her colleagues (or so she says).

The book's a good read, mostly for the anecdotes about what Alex could do. He could identify numbers, colors, and shapes. He could measure whether things were similar or different. He could add small quantities.

What I was most impressed by were the things that he did spontaneously.

For example, he seemed to come up with the concept of "none" to mean zero all on his own (after having used it in a different context). On another occasion, when his trainer was teaching him phonemes he spontaneously started sounding out words.

As is often the case with animal intelligence work, there was disagreement over whether he'd been trained or just conditioned to respond to specific stimuli. Frankly, I think a lot of that disagreement originates in speciesism: people don't want to admit that creatures other than humans can be intelligent because it throws their whole world view into disarray. From what I've read, I'm pretty confident that Alex learned.

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