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Writing in my journal has been constantly lagging lately, as all of my free writing time has been going to D&D histories, and when I can manage it, a little something for Mechanics & Meeples. I think I may have turned a corner for that, but more of that in another (delayed?) journal entry.

For now ...

Last weekend, Kimberly and I celebrated our 17th anniversary. It's the furniture anniversary, and though we certainly have cat-scarred upholstery, we had no interest in buying anything new, because every new piece of furniture is something that needs to be expensively shipped to Hawaii on a container ship — or wastefully discarded.

I ran my Burning Wheel game at Endgame on our anniversary. How romantic!

But our celebration occurred afterward. Kimberly and I met at Millennium, which is now conveniently located on College Avenue, between Endgame and home (more or less).

We've eaten there for several celebrations over the years, and this is our third time eating there since they moved to the East Bay (and thus, our third year running). As usual, we had very tasty food ands great service (from our same server as last year, which Kimberly realized and I would not have). Very pleasant!

Since nothing thrilled us on their desert menu, we then went to Smitten Ice Cream a block away, which they slowly make your ice cream while you watch. It was tasty enough, but nothing amazing. But we're already spoiled by Ici, down the street. Mind you, the wait for Smitten to literally create your ice cream was shorter than the typical wait in line at Ici.

Then we had a romantic walk home through the mean streets of north Oakland and south Berkeley, with me pushing my bike and its pannier full of gaming supplies.

On Sunday, we continued our celebrations by taking BART out to Glen Park. This had been our plan, but Kimberly was somewhat reluctant because of the possibility of a big festival at Golden Gate Park making BART very crowded (especially now that they've stopped running more or extra trains for it, because BART sucks), and I was somewhat reluctant because I was feeling highly congested and wondering if I was coming down with something.

But, we persevered.

BART was crowded. And I was bemused how many dumb/new riders there were. Because if you're experienced rider going to Golden Gate Park you get off at Embarcadero, to catch the N-Judah line to the park as soon as you can, and hopefully get a seat. If you're a new/dumb rider you wait until the Civic Center, which is the last N-Judah crossover. Then you certainly don't get a seat on such a busy day, and maybe pay extra for BART too. So about half the crowd got off at Embarcadero, but about half waited until Civic Center. (And afterward the BART trains we were blissfully quiet, but we'd managed to get two of the last seats at MacArthur, so no biggie.)

We had tasty sandwiches out in the park and we enjoyed a walk out to the end and back along the bottom of the canyon.

And that was our anniversary.

Unfortunately, I indeed was getting sick. First cold in a couple of years, and in the middle of summer to boot. Very annoying! (But at least I didn't get a cold during any of my many travels last year or during this year's trip to Hawaii.)

It was never bad, but I was a bit under the weather throughout the week. Bleh.

Other stuff Kimberly and I have done lately.

We finally did another walk from our Berkeley Walks book. We had stopped around this time last year, because the returning students were making the local walks unpleasant for Kimberly, but in July we started with our third, the Berkeley campus walk. We finished it over two Sunday afternoons. Sadly, it was a bit disappointing. The authors seemed to totally punt all the discussion of architectural detail that made the southside walks interesting and also missed many historic details that we were aware of. Ah well. We did still find some interesting stuff on campus. I'd never been to the Women's Faculty Club before, because it's kind of hidden by Strawberry Creek, and I'd never been in the "new" business school, which has a magnificent court yard, where we read during our second walk.

And speaking of reading, we finished Assassin's Fate last night with a 2.5-hour marathon read, which concluded our massive 18-book read-aloud of the Robin Hobbs' 16-book Realm of the Elderling series. (We read two of the three newest books twice, once when they came out, and once as we were concluding the series, two or three years later.) It's our longest series ever to read-aloud (with the 11-book Gene Wolfe Sun series and the 10-book Roger Zelazny Amber series being next up, I think), and it's even more than that by page count, as the books tended to run 500-900 pages(!). Also a magnificent series, full of great characters, and sufficiently distant from the fantasy norm to be truly unique. We'll miss our Fitz and Fool reading, which has been part of our daily life since we started Fool's Assassin almost exactly three years ago. Whew
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Today we saw a play of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Berkeley Playhouse. It was a wonderful performance that left me in tears. And that's because it's a wonderful book. It's a bit harder to review the play on its own, except to say that it faithfully reproduces and abridges the book.

I thought it was pretty clear that lot of Harper Lee's prose was reproduced exactly. An older Jean Louise Finch shares the stage with the younger actors and as she narrates you can hear Lee's voice.

And it's such a wonderful story that Lee tells. About community and racism. About personal courage and personal cowardice. About innocence ... lost.

The staging by Berkeley Playhouse was also quite beautiful. There was a massive woodcut of a tree as the backdrop, with some sort of screen behind it that glowed with a variety of colors. In the first act, as Scout and Jem enjoyed their final summer of innocence, it was lit bright oranges and purples, and you could feel the sun-kissed days streaming by forever. Then we opened the second act on the trial of Tom Robinson, and a black curtain was pulled up behind the tree. It receded when the trial did, but the bright colors were gone. The backdrop was now gray, lighting up to a somewhat vibrant blue only when Bob Ewell tried to murder the kids. The wonderful staging made me appreciate the wonderful structure of the book even more, because you could see how that trial was the dividing point between innocence and maturity, as Scout and Jem were brutally thrust into adulthood by it.

The actors were great too ...

But the whole play was surprisingly subdued. It was offered as a quiet story, and that somehow felt appropriate, because it let the harsh edge of this story cut through. But it did keep any of the actors from being able to step out and really excel (though Jem managed to overshadow the stage at times).

Anyway, great book, great show. We actually didn't attend the last show for once (because I'll be in New York next Sunday), which means it's still showing for another week. And it's highly recommended.

The play made me want to reread To Kill a Mockingbird, which I don't think I've read since high school. Shockingly, I don't think we have a copy of this book in our house, despite it being one of the top books from American literature.

However last year I decided I had no interest in alleged sequel Go Set a Watchman. I don't really care about the hi-jinx involved in its publication, and whether Lee approved it. I lost interest when I learned that it assassinates Atticus Finch's character. Then I lost even more interest when it came out that the publisher was purposefully misrepresenting the book, and it was just an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. I generally don't feel the need to see the early drafts of any of the books I love; the polished, published one is good enough, thank you.
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So, we were supposed to be on a plane to Hawaii today. But drug side effects called it off, alas. (We'll go later this year, no thanks to the horrible bureaucrats and naysayers at Hawaiian Airlines.)

My digestion has actually been better thanks to adjusting and increasing my set of probiotics. But I'm still achey all the time and very careful about what exercise I do. As K. said, I wouldn't be happy spending the whole vacation worried about what I ate and what I did. Meanwhile, K. has also been having some side effects of her own thanks to changing meds. So.

Certainly for the best.

The sad thing is that I was mostly ready to go. I had lunchmeat, bread, and other such food products planned to run out just before I left. A bunch of library books were all due in the week beforehand, with no new ones ordered. I was even timing the books I was reading to finish up just beforehand.

But now it's back to groceries and books as I like. I've also pulled a few things off the pile of books that was to go to Hawaii. Empire of Imagination, a biography of Gygax, I wanted to read before March, so I'm reading it now. I also decided to read the fifth and final deluxe volume of DMZ rather than save it even longer. (Both because I didn't want to wait and have everything grow more distant in my head and because it's a bigger hardcover that I'd prefer not to heft to Hawaii and back.)

I'm sure I'll have rebuilt my just-in-time schedule by the time we leave for real.

SF Media

Jan. 10th, 2016 10:26 pm
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My media all seems to be science fiction lately:

The Expanse (TV). I've previously read the first four books of this series, and am very fond of them. (I'm awaiting the fifth book arriving in trade paperback.) Now, I've come to quite like the TV series as well. Its biggest problem is that it feels near-impenetrable. I have troubles figuring out what's going on sometimes, so I can't imagine how confusing it must be to a newcomer. But, I enjoy the density of the universe, I like its grittiness, and I enjoy the characters (now that we've got to actually know them, after a near-disastrous attempt to disguise who the main cast is in the pilot). Alex really stands out in a way he didn't in the books. [4.5 stars]

Orphan Black (TV). We've been watching the third season of this BBC America show after it finally arrived at Netflix. (They have trouble getting all the BBC DVDs for some reason.) This story of clones in the modern-day has a clever and unusual premise, and it's rather brilliantly led by Tatiana Maslany who regularly plays four very well-differentiated clones. Though I love arc shows, this one has a bit too much arc even for me, as it's all middle: not only is there no beginning and end to the episodes, that's also true for the seasons(!). I felt like we just dived right back in when season three opened. I continue to enjoy this show quite a bit, but it's a challenge for me too (and I don't love it quite as much as in the earlier seasons when it felt like there was more mystery in the air). Looking at GraphTV though, I see people thought the season improved as it went on. [4 stars]

Nexus (comic). I was thrilled to discover recently that a new Nexus collection was being published called "Into the Past", based on short serials that Baron & Rude had been producing for an anthology comic. This is a classic SF comic from the '80s about an empowered vigilante. It was brilliant in its original run, not just for its hero, Horatio Hellpop, but also for the SF universe it created. The newer stories lack something because the serializations don't allow for as much of that deep universe creation, but they're getting better as the creators adjust to the limitations of the format, so I'm looking forward to where it goes from here (and I'm also hoping that Dark Horse will at some point fill in the almost 20-issue gap of comics after the end of the original series that has never been reprinted in collections: #81 and #84-98 or something like that.) [3.5 stars]

The Dark Forest (novel). This is the second book in the series by Cixin Liu, where the first, The Three-Body Problem won last year's Hugo. I started the series in part because I was intrigued by translated Chinese SF and in part to give it support because horrible bigots in science-fiction semi-prodom were protesting against it. (They're real scumbags who did their best to stuff the Hugo ballot boxes, but more notably whine like little babies that all science-fiction isn't still written by overprivileged white men, like them.) Anywho, the first book was interesting; though this second one has some interesting bits, it's also mostly boring, the waiting for Godot of the alien set. [2.5 stars]

Star Wars: Aftermath (novel). After enjoying Star Wars 7, I picked up the first of the prequel novels. You see, my favorite type of storytelling is heavily sequential. That's what I'm a fan of comics and TV shows. It's also why I enjoyed long-lived licensed fiction, like the 60 books of Doctor Who: The New Adventures that I recently finished. Star Wars used to have that, before the Expanded Universe got the boot, and I enjoyed some of the far-flung stories I read (mostly comics), like Dark Empire and Legacy. I dunno, Star Wars may get there again as it expands out of its new foundation. But a third of the way in, this new novel hasn't grabbed me, mainly because it's about minor or new characters and because its setup of the new universe of the movies is moving at a glacial pace. [3 stars]
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The Cats. Lucy has started being increasingly aggressive toward Callisto lately. It's just hissing and growling, but there's more of it. Mind you, Lucy has never been very fond of Callisto, but this seems to be going in a bad direction at the moment.

I suspect that it's my office that causes most of the contention and annoyance, since both cats like to sit around my desk while I work, and there's also just one food bowl and water bowl in the room. So, I'm in the process of making my office last contentious.

To start with, I tried to deal with the boiling annoyance last week by locking Callisto out of the office during my Thursday and Friday workdays. Poor Callisto, but I figured she got the rest of the house and her mama. But, she yowled at the door for quite a bit. And then she started throwing herself at the door to try and open it (which actually works on our Family Room door, because it has an old lock).

And then she did the wackiest thing ... she ran into the Family Room and started trying to get into the closet that we wedge shut there. She indeed managed to get that door open, because it doesn't latch. Kimberly later said, "What was up with that?" My theory was this: in her little kitty brain, Callisto knew she was blocked by the door from getting into her office. So she ran to open another door, figuring it would lead the same place. Smart cat? Dumb cat? I think the former.

Anywho, this week I got in some cat pheromones to run in my office. I'm also encouraging Callisto to use an alternate lounging place and have moved a second bowl food and water in there.

So far, things have calmed down a bit.

The Bike. I bought my fourth bike computer last month. Those things keep dying. The first started responding incorrectly to button pushes, the second lost a button, and the third stopped recording the bike's movement. The cheapest one I had, by Schwinn, actually lasted the longest at about four years, while the better ones from Sigma lasted just less than two years and just less than one and a half.

Inexplicably, I got another Sigma. Well, it's not actually inexplicable. They have better feature sets, and their new one that I got has a feature I really wanted: an altimeter. Now, I looked quite a bit for bike computers before I decided on one, and quite a few of them have altimeters now, but they're almost all using GPS. And GPS sucks down energy like no one's business. So I decided I didn't want a bike computer that was unreliable because I had to constantly power it.

So I bought the new SIGMA ALTI instead. I have no idea how it actually measures altitude. Maybe atmospheric pressure or something? It's not entirely accurate. I find that it shifts quite a bit, just sitting in my garage. I might put it away at 180 feet and come back two days later to find it's now at 153. But, it certainly gives the general trends, and over the course of a single bike ride it stays reasonably reliable.

I've been enjoying it quite a bit. I've gotten to see the altitudes of many of the places I ride, and what the actual ups and downs are. (I wish it showed rise over time, so I could understand what slopes are the most difficult for me.) I've found it particularly interesting playing the what's-the-same-height game. For example I've learned that the Berkeley Rose Garden and Jewel Lake (on opposite sides of a ridge) are at about the same height. I've also been able to see which routes are more wasteful due to rise and falls. It's also served as encouragement ("Look at that, I'm almost up to 1000 feet, I can go just a bit further"), which is the same purpose served by the odometer on the computer ("I'm lagging, I should push up to at least 12 mph from this puny 10.")

Other Entertainment. I wrote this last section head just to be parallel to my last journal entry, where I wrote about "Other Roleplaying". So, what other entertainment have I been doing? As usual that's board games, TV, and books.

Board gaming continues to be my regular Wednesday + Thursday evening activity. My current obsessions are Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (which gets played once a month with my Thursday group) and Roll for the Galaxy (a great dice-rolling game).

TV is in the summer slumps, which means we're watching great things on DVD. Thus far this summer has included Good Wife (season 3), Newsroom (season 2), and Game of Thrones (season 4), with Newsroom (season 3 and final) and Dexter (season 3) on deck. We've also been slowly watching through Arrow (season 3) and Flash (season 1), now that summer reruns finally got us the start of the seasons on our Tivo Of them Good Wife slumped a little from its season 1 greatness and Arrow season 3 just hasn't been as great as what preceded it, while Flash is still developing its cast and mythos. But they're all at least good (with Arrow my least favorite of that bunch) and many are great. We're also watching the embarrassing Big Brother 14 because I can't give up my love of televised strategy games for the summer, even when the summer show is crap.

As for books: I continue with my massive Michael Moorcock re-read. I just finished Phoenix in Obsidian (1970) a couple of nights ago, and am working on my article for it. Other than that, it's what caches my fancy off my to-be-read shelf. I've just started one of the few Sanderson Cosmere books I haven't read, Elantris. Recently finished books include Ship of Magic (a reread of the classic Robin Hobb book, which is still classic), Scream of the Shalka (a Doctor Who book written just before the new series, by Paul Cornell, which was OK, but disappointing for a Cornell book), The Annihilation Score (the newest Scalzi Laundry book which was very disappointing because it took the series in an entirely bizarre and inappropriate direction), and The Girl with all the Gifts (a post-apocalyptic Mike Carey book which left a bad taste in my mouth).

Oh, and I've also been re-reading A Feast for Crows, following our conclusion of season 4 of A Game of Thrones. I pick it up every once in a while and read one or two hundred pages over the course of several days, then I put it back down and read something else. The problem is that nothing happens. It's just a bunch of people standing around and hoping that something happens, but with a few specific exceptions spread out over the book, it doesn't. So, there's no tension and no concern about putting the book down for a week or two. Pfah. The writing is still smart, the characters well drawn. But it makes me that much sadder that Martin lost his way and wrote these two books that just tread water without any purpose.

And that's some of my current entertainment.
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Did my best to have a relaxing weekend to bleed off the stress of recent weeks/months/years. From how I felt this morning (relaxed, energetic), it was successful.

Saturday: Point Pinole. We've had some troubles getting the RPG gang together this month, so on Saturday I again had a biking holiday. I considered SF once more, but instead decided I'd prefer to return to my beloved, quiet Point Pinole while the weather remained good. And so I did, and it was restful.

Sunday: Open Streets. Sunday was our third annual Open Streets in Berkeley, so once more Kimberly and I got out there at the crack of 11am, when the Streets Open, and walked Shattuck up to the Commons in North Berkeley. This year there seemed to be more activism going on, and on the way back we saw more music being sung. As with last year, we stopped at Saul's for lunch before heading back. The highlight of our day was definitely hearing a group called The Blondies sing at the Pedal Powered Stage. A cool concept (bicycle-backed audio) and a good band.

Monday: R&R. Today I mostly lazed around. OK, I biked up to Lake Temescal the hard way (up past the Gateway Emergency Preparedness Center and over 24, which altogether requires some 100 feet or so of climbing over where Lake Temescal is), but that was just a bit of time in the afternoon. Taco Bell for dinner; what could be better.

The Work. Lest you think I totally vegged, I did do some work this weekend. A couple of histories for DnDClassics, so I don't lose my lead. And a fair amount of work on the extra histories we promised for Designers & Dragons after the Kickstarter. I finished a draft of my history of my local gaming group (sponsored by Dave S.) and I started in on the history of women in the industry.

The Media. But, really, I relaxed a lot. Among other things I finished The Crippled God, the 10th and final book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Whew! 5 years I've been reading those books and they're pretty great, but very, very dense. And now I'm done with the core series. I also made some good progress through Kurt Busiek's Astro City comics; I'd been wanting to reread the fist five volumes, which I probably haven't read for a decade, and I'm now on the fifth. That stuff is so instantly iconic that a few of the stories actually felt stale to me, because they'd made such a deep impression when I first read them. The ones that felt fresher to me, though, were still great. Oh, and The Walking Dead season 5 premiere rocked!

And that was my three-day Columbia weekend.
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This is the place where I was going to write a synopsis of A Dance with Dragon, so I'd know where all the characters were, so that it'd be easier when I pick up the next book, in 2017. But, I find myself just not giving a flying fig, because George R.R. Martin offered up such a disresepectful novel that though I'm sure I will read book 6, it'll only be with a heavy chip on my shoulder.

You know, unless HBO actually manages to keep producing seasons and gets there first, in which case I may decide their version of Westeros is the real one, and screw George R.R. Martin.

Here's what I wrote about A Dance with Dragons over on GoodReads and Xenagia:
A damned waste of a book. Maybe I'll appreciate it more on a second read (if I ever read it a second time), but for now I'm just annoyed. Nothing happens for 600 hundred pages. It took me 5 weeks to plow through this book, mainly due to the fact that nothing compelled me to read on until near the end. 

Even then, half of the events just feel like the status quo being returned after pretending to move away from it, so that *something* could happen in the book. Worse, and this is the point that really irritates me, after wasting all those pages and all that time, Martin drops cliffhangers on us that are sometimes very nearly the same cliffhangers from book 4 or even 3 (written 11 years previous!!). I was the most pissed by Martin revisiting Brienne's cliffhanger from book 4 (which I found the most compelling) with one single page of text that tells us nothing. You wasted 600 pages and you still couldn't finish even this part of the story!?
I think you could have fit everything important in this novel into a hundred pages or so. Making me waste 950 pages of reading time on that causes me to feel very disrespected by the author.
Note to self: Here's a great synopsis-ish. Full of spoilers.
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Now personally, I'd have preferred to see another Queen & Country novel or another Atticus Kodiak novel, but instead Greg Rucka decided to start another series, starring Jad Bell, an aging military kickass.

Despite my preferences, this was a terrific book. Totally action-adventure, without a lot of depth to it, but very compelling action-adventure. It kept me reading at a very quick pace and I'll definitely pick up the sequel which is obviously coming (assuming the book does well enough, one presumes). Well, read it from the library, that is.

Rucka doesn't just have a gift for the action and adventure, however, he also engages in a terrific act of creation in this book, with "Wilsonville" and the Disney-like empire that surrounds the theme park. He makes it very believable, such that it actually becomes a character in the book.

If I have one complaint about Jad, it's that he's perhaps too superhuman in his special-force-edness. Atticus and Tara both seemed much more fallible (and even when Atticus headed toward invincibility it was only after some pretty hard work).

Still, a terrific book, and one that makes me want to pick up the couple of (licensed) Rucka books that I haven't read. 

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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.
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I finished my reread of A Clash of Kings today. 

I was pretty shocked by how poorly it compared to A Game of Thrones. It's still a great book, mind you, thanks mainly to the depth of its characters and the scope of its plot ... but the writing isn't nearly as good. A Game of Thrones was extremely tight writing, mostly in neat little 10 page chapters. Every chapter clearly had a point, and there's wasn't a wasted page.

Conversely, A Clash of Kings meanders a lot. Chapters flop all over, extending to 20 or even 30 pages with some regularity. Often it feels like not a lot goes on in the chapters and you don't have the same sense of something changing every 10 pages as you did in A Game of Thrones. In short, it read like a book that wasn't rewritten and polished ten ways to Tuesday, as I expect A Game of Thrones was.

After the first 200 pages or so, though, in which very little happens, it still kept me enthralled.

So with that said, I'm going to write-up my cheat sheet for this book, so that I can go back and look over it when book 6 is released, some 5-10 years from now. There will be spoilers, of course, so stop now if you haven't read book 2 or seen season 2.

spoilers )
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When I finished the third and fourth books of A Song of Ice & Fire (in 2004 and 2006!) I wrote up synopses to help me when I read later books in years to come. Having just finished a (third?) read of the first book, A Game of Thrones, I've decided to do the same. Suffice to say, this entry has extensive spoilers for the first Song book / the first season of A Game of Thrones, so don't read it if you still have those in front of you. spoilers ) I'm going to reread A Clash of Kings when we finish watching season 1 of A Game of Thrones on DVD, then I'll write it up here and have all four books in summary.
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Had the Wiedlins up here on Sunday for a typical birth day get together. We had dinner at La Med, then cake at home. There was much enjoyable talk with all the relatives. Kind birthday checks were also offered. As usual, I took the birth day gifting as a chance to get stuff I wanted but which might have been a bit more expensive than I'd usually put for. So, I got About Time 1 (so I can read about the early Dalek stories, which I'm currently reading novelizations of) and Songs of the Dying Earth and Moorcock's non-fiction collection London Peculiar and a few other things. I've still got about half the money to spend and am going to see if anything strikes me 'specially in the next week or so.

Since then, it's been back to work, except with much cake, as we had the remaining half of the delicious chocolate cake that the Wiedlins brought, plus the remaining super-rich cakes Kimberly and I had gotten at Berkeley Bowl. Whew.

Among the stuff I've been reading lately is A Game of Throne by George R.R. Martin. It's my third read, I think. I'm amazed how damned good the book is. Martin writes each chapter like a little short story with a beginning, middle, and end. Each chapter also gives us a strong moment of revelation or change, usually encoded right at the end of the chapter. The craft is just superb. I dunno how the same person who has written OK Wild Cards stories and nothing else that I know of super note is also writing some of the best-crafted fantasy out there.

Tomorrow: the birthday celebrations continue, as it's Kimberly's actual birthday. Delicious food is planned. At one of my top 3 restaurants. Stay tuned.
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Finished this mystery novel on the plane yesterday. It's been quite a while since I've read one of the Sharon McCone mysteries, mainly because my local library didn't have this particular book, so I could never pull it off the shelf spontaneously.

This was somewhat of a transition book in the metaplot, as it features McCone setting up her own agency and trying to come to terms with her relationship with her beau, Hy. I was afraid that the latter plot wasn't going to be finalized, but it came to a good end (if a cliffhanger, as Hy offers to talk about his secret background just as the book ends).

The actual mystery concerns a college chum who looks McCone up and asks for her help dealing with harassment he's been experiencing. It starts off really slowly, as McCone just treads water dealing with new harassment as it appears. I wasn't loving it much. Then there's an explosive conclusion to the first part of the book and suddenly McCone is on her own and investigating and all is at it should be.

This book was rather interesting for the fact that it sent McCone across the United States, which I think was a first, though it was still bookended with plenty of good San Francisco background. There was also quite a nice investigatory thread once things got going.

Overall, a good book, as I've found generally is the case for Muller.
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I just finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson, the third and (very sadly) last book in his Millennium trilogy.

It was an excellent book, better than the second, which was in turn better than the first. I was impressed by how carefully crafted the book was, opening up new viewpoints full of new info as the book went on, but still maintaining a wonderful balance with all the characters we were already following.

Looking back, I was somewhat surprised to see that Hornet's Nest was the only book of the three that wasn't really a mystery. We knew most of the facts beforehand, and the suspense was instead in whether our characters would be able to fend off the forces arrayed against them. There was, fortunately, considerable suspense in that regard, and it (along with the great characters) kept the book pushing forward.

One of the things I loved about the book was how it brought so many people together. When we opened with the first book, Salander was totally a loner, but here we had person after person lining up behind her. It was really ... uplifting.

As I said, the very careful construction of Hornet's Nest was one of the things that appealed to me. That's something it had in common with the writings of Gene Wolfe, who remains my favorite writer. However, if Larsson had had the time to write more books, I think he might have eclipsed Wolfe in my personal pantheon. That's because he went beyond the carefully constructed books. He wrote vivid and likable characters that far surpassed most other authors. And he did all of that with a real social conscience. It was really wonderful to see an author who wasn't afraid to put out such progressive views be so widely read.

I'm very sad now that I'm at the end of his very short completed corpus. 

(But I was also happy to see that Hornet's Nest was a good stopping point.)
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After a day of travel, we're back in Hawaii. The travel was relatively mellow, as I've done it enough and I've found ways for it to be more comfortable (not the seats, though, those never get comfortable enough for a ~5 hour trip). 

I had good books, and so I read the first 200 pages of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and also the comics Age of X and X-Men: Legacy: Aftermath

The Girl #3 is thus far terrific. I'd carefully rationed my books, so as not to start anything before we got to the airport, and The Girl was a terrific choice for that approach, because it was immediately engrossing, as it started so close on the track of The Girl #2. As was the case when I read each of the others, I mourn the fact that we lost Larsson after just 3 books (and that he never saw their extreme and deserved success).

Age ot X was the book that I'd saved the longest for this trip. I love reading long X-Men sagas on these long plane rides, and Age of X was the one that jumped out this year. The alternate universe story was great and if anything the X-Men: Legacy: Aftermath volume which interwove with it was even better. It was all told a Mike Carey smorgasbord, as I got to read 11 issues by him over the course of a few hours. I've loved having such talented authors as Brubaker, Fraction, and Carey writing for the X-Men, and I'm very sorry that the last of those--Carey--has now left (though there are still 2 trades to be released, I think). I'm hoping that rumors suggesting that Bendis is coming over in 2013 or so are true. (And I've been happy to hear that Aaron's work on Wolverine & The X-Men has been very good, as his Scalped is great, but nothing else has been particularly notable that I've read.)

Generally, the flight was uneventful. When we got to Honolulu we knew right to go to find the best food court with the nicest garden nearby. We had a few hours layover, but Honolulu is a very pleasant airport (in the right places), so it was no hardship. We had a bit of excitement at Lihue when it looked like our luggage was lost, but it turned out that the airport people had just pulled off our neon green strap (solely there to identify the suitcase) and stuffed it into one of the pockets. Dunno why. Plenty of other straps were in place.

Meanwhile, we heard briefly from our catsitter (who stopped by our house mere minutes after we left this morning for her first visit of the day) that the kitties were good. We are still concerned for Cobweb, but it's wonderful to get 9 days where we can be concerned without being responsible. We don't have to constantly monitor her food and decide if we want to try an ever-decreasing menu of new options to see if she'll eat better.

And thus I am already feeling more relaxed. I started feeling relaxed the moment I stepped on the plane, to a certain extent, but even moreso when we sat down in that garden at Honolulu and I could feel the cool trade winds blowing through the plants and blowing away stress and worries ... 
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)

Events of recent weeks led me to look for some light reading, thus I picked up the next Nameless Detective novel, Jackpot.

It was a pretty good detective story. Nameless sets out to discover why someone committed suicide right after earning a $200,000 jackpot and ends up scouring California for clues. There's enough good detective work in here, with Nameless finding different info from different people and putting it all together, that I was tempted to steal the framework for an RPG adventure. However, Kingmaker, my current campaign, doesn't really call for that sort of thing, so I let it be.

The most interesting element of the book was that Nameless realizes that he's really changed after the ordeal of his last book (where he was taken captive for 3 months and left for dead). He's more paranoid and angrier, but perhaps more notably, he's willing to cut corners and go outside the law, which he never has before. Pronzini correctly makes that change the crux of the book's plotting, and I found it very interesting to read. 

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)

Had a nicely relaxing three-day weekend. The last year or two, I've tried to be better about actually taking holidays off, and I think that's starting to pay off in my feeling more rested and balanced. It's now been two weeks since the Christmas vacation, and I still feel largely rested, while I've simultaneously been getting good work done.

Amusingly, this was both the weekend of time spent at Endgame and of boardgames.

Saturday I went there for a new session of our Dresden Files game, and when that fell through, our group instead played Small World: Underground and San Francisco Cable Car. Then on Sunday I went back to Endgame to talk with Fred H. and Evan about some of Evil Hat's upcoming board game work. When that ended earlier than I expected, Evan was kind enough to put Kingdom Builder on the table, and we played that twice before I left.

(Because I couldn't spend time at Endgame without gaming could I?)
(Actually, that's a rhetorical question, as I have at parties, auctions, and times I just stopped in.)

That brought my total plays of Kingdom Builder to four, and made me decide that I liked it enough that I didn't want to wait for the Endgame Auction to buy one. So I picked one up and brought it home, along with some tasty Dim Sum. Kimberly and I have already played it twice.

(The game, not the Dim Sum.)

The weather over the weekend was totally schizophrenic. On my Saturday ride to Endgame it was bright and relatively warm and beautiful. It felt like we were in a second Summer (which had been the case for a couple of weeks). Then on Sunday it was gray and cool. The sun didn't even come out until 1 or so. Tonight Kimberly and I biked over to Boston Market for dinner (thanks to a gift card from her brother which had been a Christmas present) and we both commented frequently on how friggin' cold it was.

(Still is.)

I also did some writing over the weekend. I polished up the second half of my Designers & Dragons discussion of D&D comics and I also wrote a couple of thousands words on iOS5 for an upcoming blog (which I did as much as anything because it was a nice way to get my name more noticed in the field). I still want to write a card game review for the week and I definitely need to write up the AP for our last Kingmaker game, but I think I'm saving those for tomorrow (and will probably finish up the AP later in the week).

(And after that, I need to figure out my Designers & Dragons article for March.)

Some reading too, of course. Right now my biggest project is the sixth Malazan Book of the Fallen. I often have problems with longer books because I have a flitting little attention span, so I'm really impressed by how much The Bone Hunters is enthralling me. I thought that Erikson was a strong writer from the first, but I think he may have gotten better as time has gone on. Though I've thus far pushed through the Malazan series at a rate of just two books a year, I may want to read more this year (but I have so much more that I want to read too: the Doctor Who series I'm working on, Wild Cards from the beginning, more Moorcock, Larry Niven's Known Space, the rest of Thieves' World, and much more, so that may be a reason not to read these books that take me a month at a time any faster).

Any way, good stuff.

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