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All 50 Posts in the Category: Books

17
Aug 12
Fri

How to Read Victorian Novels

Victorian novels. I’m not literate enough to read them. I remember intentionally moving from 2 Unit Related English in Year 11 down a few classes to 2 Unit General English in Year 12 because Austen and the Bronte sisters were required reading. I found those early 19th century tomes impenetrable. Rohan Maitzen has written a guide on how to read them:

Take the book with you everywhere, that’s what. Bank line-ups, buses, bathrooms, those precious 8 minutes while the pasta boils — you know what to do! A few pages here, a few pages there, and next thing you know, you’re 500 pages in, with only another 200 to go.

This guide may have been helpful in high school, but more likely I suspect not. A friend bought me a copy of Middlemarch about ten years ago, and it still remains untouched.

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26
Sep 10
Sun

Through the Language Glass

I bought Through the Language Glass after reading this excerpt. The book is a mostly interesting read, tracing the shifting history of views of linguists on this question over time. The excerpt pulls out the most interesting bits so I’m not going to repeat them. However, in the book Deutscher does go into a lot more depth about how linguists’ thoughts have changed over time about how language influences the way we perceive the world (and how hard it is to figure this out). How different cultures “see” color is examined particularly closely, and Deutscher also keeps bringing us back to the insightful point that what’s important in the analysis is not what a language is capable of expressing, but what a language forces its speakers to express (e.g. in English we are forced to express time; Hebrew speakers are forced to express gender; and Chinese speakers are forced to express neither time nor gender).

If you can look past the author’s needlessly flowery language, and you have an armchair interest in languages, this is a decent read.

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16
Sep 10
Thu

Brothers

I ordered a copy of Yu Hua’s Brothers after a friend referred it to me as “one of the most brilliant books” he’s ever read.

The 600-page story recounts the divergent paths of two Chinese step-brothers as they grow up through the tumult of the Cultural Revolution, and burst into today’s age of rampant capitalism. During it, we get an insight into the Chinese culture and mindset, as well as multiple glimpses of how totally fucked up things can become.

I’m by no means a Sinophile, but there are some cultural aspects I can understand, if not empathize with. This book, however, takes things to extremes. I was warned it was a brutal read, and that it was. Many of the scenes depicted in the book are so extravagant, so excessive, so intense, so bizarre, and so surreal, that it seems a completely fanciful work of fiction. The opening chapter, for instance, starts off with the tale of our protagonist “Baldy” Li who is caught peeping at women’s butts in a communal toilet. His mother is distraught, since her husband had died years ago while doing the same thing (except that he slipped, fell into the muck and drowned). After enduring a lengthy public shaming, Baldy Li instead capitalizes on the event, telling his story to lecherous men in exchange for bowls of house-special noodles. The book is filled with stories like this.

Yet, I got this sneaking suspicion that in China especially – land of 1.3 billion and flush with money – truth is stranger than fiction and many of the events in the book – if they have not already happened at one point in history – are at least feasible.

Brothers is sometimes painful, often entertaining, and always interesting. It moves from tragedy to tragedy, interspersed with periods of fun, happiness, hilarity, and “WTF” moments. Black humor is pervasive. And you will never read phrases like “artificial hymen” and “straw-embedded bun” as many times as you will in this book.

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24
Mar 10
Wed

The Big Short

In The Big Short, Michael Lewis takes us through the GFC from the perspective of the people who saw it coming – an autistic doctor who ended up managing a $600 million fund that returned 489% (net of fees) over about 8 years, three guys who turned $110,000 into $135 million, a Deutsche Bank trader, and Steve Eisman. CDS buyers, and CDO and equity shorters.

Lewis took a while to write this book, and there have been many describing the GFC that have already been published. It’s definitely a good read, and written in Lewis’ typical entertaining, engaging style, but I didn’t find it as memorable as some of his earlier books (although there were still a handful of great passages scattered in there).

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6
Mar 10
Sat

Betting on the Blind Side

I have Michael Lewis’ upcoming book, The Big Short on pre-order at Amazon. Vanity Fair has an excerpt from it. Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

A lot of hedge-fund managers spent time chitchatting with their investors and treated their quarterly letters to them as a formality. Burry disliked talking to people face-to-face and thought of these letters as the single most important thing he did to let his investors know what he was up to. In his quarterly letters he coined a phrase to describe what he thought was happening: “the extension of credit by instrument.” That is, a lot of people couldn’t actually afford to pay their mortgages the old-fashioned way, and so the lenders were dreaming up new financial instruments to justify handing them new money. “It was a clear sign that lenders had lost it, constantly degrading their own standards to grow loan volumes,” Burry said. He could see why they were doing this: they didn’t keep the loans but sold them to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo and the rest, which packaged them into bonds and sold them off. The end buyers of subprime-mortgage bonds, he assumed, were just “dumb money.” He’d study up on them, too, but later.

He now had a tactical investment problem. The various floors, or tranches, of subprime-mortgage bonds all had one thing in common: the bonds were impossible to sell short. To sell a stock or bond short, you needed to borrow it, and these tranches of mortgage bonds were tiny and impossible to find. You could buy them or not buy them, but you couldn’t bet explicitly against them; the market for subprime mortgages simply had no place for people in it who took a dim view of them. You might know with certainty that the entire subprime-mortgage-bond market was doomed, but you could do nothing about it. You couldn’t short houses. You could short the stocks of homebuilding companies—Pulte Homes, say, or Toll Brothers—but that was expensive, indirect, and dangerous. Stock prices could rise for a lot longer than Burry could stay solvent. …

The vehicle for Lewis’ tale turns out to be an ex-Doctor with a very interesting background.

By the time Burry moved to Stanford Hospital, in 1998, to take up his residency in neurology, the work he had done between midnight and three in the morning had made him a minor but meaningful hub in the land of value investing. By this time the craze for Internet stocks was completely out of control and had infected the Stanford University medical community. “The residents in particular, and some of the faculty, were captivated by the dot-com bubble,” said Burry. “A decent minority of them were buying and discussing everything—Polycom, Corel, Razorfish, Pets.com, TibCo, Microsoft, Dell, Intel are the ones I specifically remember, but areyoukiddingme.com was how my brain filtered a lot of it I would just keep my mouth shut, because I didn’t want anybody there knowing what I was doing on the side. I felt I could get in big trouble if the doctors there saw I wasn’t 110 percent committed to medicine.” …

He’d moved back to San Jose, buried his father, remarried, and been misdiagnosed as bipolar when he shut down his Web site and announced he was quitting neurology to become a money manager. The chairman of the Stanford department of neurology thought he’d lost his mind and told him to take a year to think it over, but he’d already thought it over. “I found it fascinating and seemingly true,” he said, “that if I could run a portfolio well, then I could achieve success in life, and that it wouldn’t matter what kind of person I was perceived to be, even though I felt I was a good person deep down.” His $40,000 in assets against $145,000 in student loans posed the question of exactly what portfolio he would run. His father had died after another misdiagnosis: a doctor had failed to spot the cancer on an X-ray, and the family had received a small settlement. The father disapproved of the stock market, but the payout from his death funded his son into it. His mother was able to kick in $20,000 from her settlement, his three brothers kicked in $10,000 each of theirs. With that, Dr. Michael Burry opened Scion Capital. (As a teen he’d loved the book The Scions of Shannara.) He created a grandiose memo to lure people not related to him by blood. “The minimum net worth for investors should be $15 million,” it said, which was interesting, as it excluded not only himself but basically everyone he’d ever known.

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21
Feb 10
Sun

On the Brink

It’s been too long time since I’ve read a book. I picked up a copy of Hank Paulson’s On the Brink this week. It’s a very good read, and Paulson gives a gripping day-by-day account of his time as Treasury Secretary.

He received a lot of bad publicity over the closing months of his tenure for implementing TARP and other bailout plans, but this book puts into perspective just what he, and his department, had to contend with. In the last half of 2008, the financial world was rocked with crisis after crisis, and Paulson was at the center of it all – running around trying to do deals with banks, regulators, and Congress, while also in the midst of an election campaign. Many times Paulson was in the thick of dealing with one crisis when another hit. I even found myself thinking, “You can’t be serious!” whenever more bad news was delivered. Paulson and his team had to actually deal with it all.

He regarded that period as tougher than anything he ever had to do during his 30+ years at Goldman Sachs, and goes so far as to recount the occasional bouts of dry retching he endured as exhaustion and stress caught up with him.

Two interesting things occurred to me. Paulson goes to great lengths to cast President Bush in a positive light. Bush is depicted as always supportive, helpful, and even insightful. But to me the praise was a little too overdone to the point that it felt hollow. Bush’s credit mainly stemmed from him getting out of the way and letting Paulson do his job. Pelosi’s portrayal didn’t fare as well. (There’s a scene where his staffers are pulling all nighters in chaotic ad hoc offices on the Hill, running on take away pizza and diet Coke. Paulson goes to Pelosi’s office to speak with her, and everything there is prim and proper, and far away from the crisis happening outside the door. Someone takes his cup of Diet Coke away and pours it into a glass, and Pelosi says, “We don’t drink out of plastic cups here.”) Nonetheless, the book is still reasonably politically balanced as Paulson recognized that he needed the support of both parties to “save the US economy”.

The other striking thing was that many of the emergency powers held by the Fed and FDIC could only be exercised if there was a crisis that threatened the systemic integrity of the financial system. However, just about every institution mentioned in the book turned out to be “systemically important” – not just one or two, but over a dozen were on the brink of going belly up (and, as Paulson believed, the rest of the global economy along with them). There really are a lot of private institutions which are “Too Big to Fail”.

I recommend this book if you’d like a candid insight into what happens at the highest levels of the financial industry and political world. In early October 2008, I was in New York, feeling disturbed as I watched the markets turn to shit on Bloomberg. It was very late in the night, and I remember walking over to my hotel room window, which looked towards New York’s financial district. I wondered what the bankers were doing at that moment because I was sure a lot of them were pulling all nighters, trying to save something or other. I don’t have to wonder any longer, because this book tells that story.

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10
Jul 08
Thu

One paragraph book reviews

Books I’ve read in the first half of 2008 (in order of preference):

THE NEW NEW THING, Michael Lewis
Reviewed earlier.

SUNDIVER, David Brin
STARTIDE RISING, David Brin
UPLIFT WAR, David Brin
The first of Brin’s Uplift trilogies, this is very good sci-fi with a novel approach to galactic politics where patron races “uplift” animals into sentience. Startide Rising was a dual Hugo and Nebula award winner and is easily the best out of the three novels. Each novel is unconnected with the other, but they all are set in the same universe. Recommended.

THE LOGIC OF LIFE, Tim Harford
If you liked Freakonomics, The Logic of Life is similar. It covers some fascinating insights. I quite like behavioural economics books.

GROWING UP ASIAN IN AUSTRALIA, Alice Pung (ed)
This book is an anthology of tales written by Asian-Australians – from fresh migrants to x-th generation Australians. It’s a good idea, but a bit hit and miss. The misses are the boringly predictable stories. For example, the opening story is about the writer growing up regretting not being able to speak in her mother tongue. There are some try hard stories in there too, which are best skipped. One which raised my suspicions was written by a Thai chap whose parents ran a Thai restaurant. There’s a line in there about him rolling his eyes at whites not being able to use chopsticks… but of course the Thai culture doesn’t use chopsticks! However, there are more than a few diamonds in the rough, though – especially the stories that are just written without the writer being self-conscious that they are Asian. I found the stories told by Eurasians and other mixed race Asians fantastic. There are also several stories written by gay Asians which are highly entertaining – they don’t sound like they have a chip on their shoulder. Also features a cool story by Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatrist who is better known as the Bingo Commissioner with the put-on Indian accent (“Nooooo bingo!”).

BANK, David Bledin
A fictional account of life as an analyst in the M&A division of an investment bank. Light, entertaining reading.

HOT COMMODITIES, Jim Rogers
Jim Rogers co-founded the fabled Quantum Fund with George Soros and he’s bullish on commodities. He takes a look at how the forces of supply and demand – both at a global and local level – affect prices of various commodities around the world. It’s more interesting than it sounds, and Rogers has an easy-to-read writing style which is full of personal anecdotes. (I’m currently reading another of Rogers’ books, Adventure Capitalist, and it’s shaping up to be the best book I’ve read this year.)

RINGWORLD, Larry Niven
THE RINGWORLD ENGINEERS, Larry Niven
Ringworld is another winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Ringworld is pretty engrossing. The novel takes place on a ringworld so the setting is unique (if you’ve played Halo, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a ringworld). There are two more books in this quartet that I haven’t read yet.

GITTINOMICS, Ross Gittins
Gittins writes about various aspects of Australian life and how economics factors into them. Good, but not as good as his columns in the Herald. The Logic of Life was a more interesting look at behavioural economics.

DEN OF THIEVES, James Stewart
Den of Thieves recounts the insider trading days of the 1980s, centering around people such as Drexel junk bond king, Mike Milken and arbitrageur Ivan Boesky. Long, but quite interesting.

ABSOLUTELY FAKING IT, Tiana Templeman
Tiana Templeman won free accommodation at about a dozen really expensive hotels around the world. However, she didn’t have a lot of money so she went backpacking. Interesting concept with a lot of potential, but unfortunately the book isn’t very well written. There are some interesting bits, but for the most part, it’s a little too self-conscious and boring in places. And by the time she got to Hong Kong, she and her partner were so tired they didn’t even want to step out of the hotel. What the?

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28
May 08
Wed

The New New Thing

I just finished reading The New New Thing, Michael Lewis’s book tracking the life of serial billionaire tech entrepreneur Jim Clark up to 1999. Clark founded Silicon Graphics, Netscape and Healtheon, which all turned out to be billion-dollar companies (at least, at some point in their lifespan). Lewis is perhaps best known for Liar’s Poker, the investment banker’s must-read book, and of course the other interesting books and articles he has since published as a journalist (his NY Times article on catastrophe bonds was great). His easy-to-read writing style definitely comes through in The New New Thing. The book is a bit outdated as it was written before the dot com crash, but it is still an engrossing, intriguing and humourous read. It provides an insight into Clark’s unique and somewhat unpredictable personality as he interacts with engineers, venture capitalists, bankers, lawyers and sailors (yes, sailors) throughout the 90s. I think it’s a book that’s still very much relevant today. Highly recommended.

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13
Dec 05
Tue

Annotated Asterix

I grew up reading a lot of Asterix (and Tintin) comics in primary school. Whenever there was a library period, there’d be a mad dash for the comic book shelf and a bunch of ten year old boys would engage in a violent free for all for any book with more pictures than words. Knowing that Goscinny and Uderzo did not write Asterix in English, I always was curious at how translations were done so as to create the puns we read in English surrounding characters’ names (eg, Potbellix, Alcoholix, Monotonus). Adults always told me how reading mindless comics like Asterix which were “devoid of any intellectual merit” would rot my brain but as the years past, I also began to realise that there were a lot of in-jokes and historical references in it. However, not knowing anything about European history nor being able to read any of the many Latin phrases sprinkled in the comics, I was left to wonder about it all. I just stumbled on the excellent site, The Asterix Annotations which shows just how rich in references Asterix is. I have a few Asterix omnibus volumes and it’s pretty fun going through it all.

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23
Nov 04
Tue

The Da Vinci Code

Finally got around to reading The Da Vinci Code. It was really popular during the start of this year. It’s pretty engrossing and reasonably interesting. I think conspiracy theory nuts will especially like it.

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3
Feb 04
Tue

The Empire Trilogy

The Empire Trilogy (Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire, Mistress of the Empire) is a fantastic read. I really enjoyed it. Co-authored by Feist and Wurts, you can really see the impact a woman has had on Feist’s writing (and I’m sure vice versa, although I haven’t read any of Wurts’ novels). This is positive given the fact that the protagonist is a woman. The writing is much richer, more subtle and much more insightful from a character perspective than Feist’s other work. In my opinion, it stands on the same level as the classic Magician (indeed, the timeline of the Empire Trilogy runs concurrently with it).

The story is about a woman named Mara who lives in Tsurannuanni, a society with a long-established tradition of honour and strict social hierarchy. The trilogy examines how she discovers and overcomes the shackles of mindless adherence to tradition. The society portrayed is definitely inspired by Japan’s, with a figurehead Emperor and a Warlord presiding over several clans and houses (a Shogun essentially). Ultimately Mara begins, with some outside influence, to question the old ways. Traditions, without sound reasons to ground them, are a stagnating force. The justification that a break from tradition is undesirable because of the tumult that comes with change is not sufficient enough reason against it. Conversely, there must be also be a logical reason to break from the tradition which may be one as simple as that the tradition is illogical.

Freedom from authoritarian rule, emphasis on the Rule of Law and the abolition of the caste system are big social reforms that the authors think should exist in order for society to progress, and for fairness and equality. Through the three books, strong and reasonable ethical arguments are made for them. However, there are more subtle perspectives of the authors which show a Western mindset in a novel which is otherwise quite perceptive about cultural relativism. One of these is the tacit approval of the monogamy Hokanu practices with Mara.

But nonetheless, the book makes good comments. “Bad gut feelings” and “it doesn’t feel right” attitudes either spring from experience, tradition, or from experience derived from tradition. When those attitudes come from the latter two, that is when close-mindedness exists and reason falls by the wayside. Not to say that we should be all reason and logic like the Vulcans – intuition can be valuable thing – but that intuition always be tempered with reason.

One mundane, but relevant example, is the use of credit cards for payment. When younger, we are often taught that credit cards are an evil thing that will lead you to a lot of debt (and they do!). But, if used properly, credit cards come with benefits that outweigh paying in cash – interest free periods and frequent flyer points being the most obvious. However, once that first instinct of avoiding credit card use is overcome, a new instinct is formed. And that is to avoid paying cash where necessary, because you get points if you use the card. Especially for large purchases, and even if you have to pay a 2% fee for credit card usage. Points redeem at a rate of about 1%, and in a 45-day interest free period it is unlikely you will be able to earn 1% interest on money. That is, you actually lose out. Yet, somehow paying by cash is instinctually undesirable.

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25
Oct 03
Sat

Legacy of the Drow Quartet

Read the third set of Salvatore’s Drizzt books during the last holidays. As a quartet I really liked its variety, how it kept moving through different scales and environments. The fourth book, Passage to Dawn, was a really refreshing read (the wizard duel between Harkle and Robillard was a classic), although the “surprise” at the end during the showdown with Errtu was fairly predictable. Pirates of the Carribean actually reminded me of Passage to Dawn quite a bit, which is probably testimony to the rollicking good fun that Pirates was.

8
Jul 03
Tue

Shadow Puppets

Shadow Puppets is the third book in the Shadow Saga (see thoughts on the second book), the spinoff from Orson Scott Card’s brilliant Ender’s Game, centred around Bean.

Some of “>OSC’s writings make him appear intensely nationalistic. This attitude seems to have been toned down in this book, and we see the trilogy get wrapped up on more or less a happy note. My comments about the book moving away from sci-fi still stand, it’s a more a politically oriented book, which because it happens to be set in the future, has elements of sci-fi. It raises some intriguing propositions about how different countries may view nationhood differently, and what galvanises feelings of independence within a country. Card also describes a world where the Arabs have accepted the Israeli “incursion” onto their soil and dispensed with their calls of Jihad – an idealistic, almost impossible to imagine as occurring in our lifetime, but nonetheless attractively optimistic, antipode to today’s bloodshed (Card wrote this book during the invasion of Afghanistan).

This book is weaker than the other two. Shadow Puppets was not as skilfully written as the previous two books, lacking unpredictability and pace in many places. There are various points in the book where the super-human genius characters make implausible blunders. It’s still a solid book, albeit a short one, and quite entertaining.

26
Feb 03
Wed

Rogue Trader

Rogue Trader is the book Nick Leeson wrote when he was in jail in Singapore, after having traded the Barings merchant bank into oblivion. Fascinating read, and quite scary too – quite an insight into the crazy world of derivatives traders. Basically, due to gross incompetence of Barings senior management, breakdown of risk management and compliance, and Leeson’s deceit and foolhardiness, Barings ran up a position hundreds of millions of pounds into the red before anyone even noticed it (except Leeson, of course). Leeson, like a desparate gambler tried to double up each time to recoup his losses – but alas, unlike the casino where the odds are always static, Leeson’s gargantuan position in the market meant that his actions in effect also moved the market. He had bought all these futures in an effort to get the market to rise, and when it didn’t, he kept buying more. It didn’t work. This was compounded by the fact that rapidly unwinding such a long position would cause the market to dip and crash – so he was stuck with a lot of futures in a declining market, and having to make huge margin call payments. A very interesting read.

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3
Feb 03
Mon

The Dark Elf Trilogy & Fantasy Novels

I thought this trilogy (Salvatore – Homeland, Exile and Sojourn) was great. Quite a big improvement on his Icewind Dale trilogy. The challenge in fantasy writing is, because the moulds are more or less set (hero has to accomplish some task against overwhelming odds, often involving killing big things) what distinguishes fantasy novels is characterisation and, less commonly, consciously working themes into the plot.

We’ll take Lord of the Rings for example. Let’s face it, the novel is boring. It rambles. Its descriptions of the landscapes are mechanical. Tolkien doesn’t do detailed fight scenes. It has whole chunks of redundant material. The characters are archetypical. So why is it a classic? My opinion is it is because of the richness of the universe that Tolkien has created by himself. I mean, the guy invented a whole new grammatically correct language for Middle-earth! (That, and the fact that he got in decades before a mass of pulp fantasy writers did.) The scale and depth of the world and events is huge. However, when the movie was made, the richness of the creation of Middle-earth didn’t translate as much (naturally due to time constraints) and so you see the movie writers emphasising some themes that are less visible in the book (comparing Frodo’s personal conflict between good and evil with the larger conflict of good and evil, for instance) and inserting others (most visible in Sam’s closing statements, such as his none-too-subtle speech on clinging on to hope in TTT) to compensate.

However, when all is said and done, it takes something new and creative to make a good fantasy novel, and the Dark Elf is pretty good. Drizzt, of course, is a pretty intriguing character, which prompted Salvatore into writing this trilogy detailing the drow’s origins. In the trilogy, the plot is not to achieve a unique heroic task against overwhelming odds, just to achieve a task against overwhelming odds – to live life according to one’s own values and beliefs. The trilogy covers issues of heritage, racism and a critical evaluation of values as Drizzt grapples with his place in the world. A lot of it is about identity. The trilogy just doesn’t pit good versus evil, but asks what makes good, good; and why is it preferable to evil? Drizzt’s soliloquys add a pinch of sophistication and bit of introspection and insight into emotions and the human condition. While the ground this trilogy covers is standard fare for other genres, it is uncommon in fantasy novels (granted though, that my fantasy reading repetoire is quite limited!). And of course, detailing the workings of the Underdark makes for fascinating reading, too.

The Avatar Trilogy

The Avatar Trilogy, comprising Shadowdale, Tantas and Waterdeep (Richard Awlinson) is a strange series. Then again, anything directly involving fantasy gods in the Time of Wonders is. It’s interesting to see how tha Forgotten Realms universe ticks, but at times the books do drag. Waterdeep is the best out of them. Good for background reading on the Realms, but there’s better stuff out there.

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27
Jan 03
Mon

The Icewind Dale Trilogy

Been on a bit of a pulp fantasy reading spate lately. Haven’t read any of the Forgotten Realms books before, but I was recommended this book as it’s the first series in which Salvatore introduces Drizzt (pron. “Drisst”), the famous D&D drow elf. The writing is unsophisticated, but maintains attention. Each book only takes a day to read, which is a good length. Apparently Salvatore’s writing skills improve in other books as his experience increases. I’ve his Dark Elf Trilogy on the shelf waiting to be read, but I’ve started on the Avatar Trilogy for now. It’s pulp fantasy, but it’s good pulp fantasy!

1
Dec 02
Sun

Return of the King

After a year’s interruption, I concluded reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In typical Tolkien style, it meanders a bit in places, but soon snaps back to moving onwards. In terms of intensity and action, each successive book elevates the stakes and level of action, which can only bode well for the sensory feast that awaits us in the movies. It is interesting that Tolkien tends to step further back, the larger the battle is. The siege of Minas Tirith is mainly a summarised account, heard from behind the front lines, although if Tolkien had paused to describe the battle details, the book’s length may very well have doubled. For Peter Jackson, it gives him a lot more freedom in portraying the audio visual spectacle of war.

Although the writing style of Tolkien is somewhat aged (although this lends a medievalist feel to the tale), idiosyncratic, not always ‘exciting’, and mechanical in its descriptions of the environment, the work is definitely a classic – purely because of its scale, imagination, richness and depth. It’s true fantasy, unlike Harry Potter, which is simply competently written fantasy that has been marketed with inordinate skill.

7
Oct 02
Mon

Galapagos and Breakfast of Champions

I picked up Galapagos in Dymocks after Fuzzy mentioned it. I’ve never read any of Kurt Vonnegut’s books before, but after reading the first few sample chapters of it on Amazon, decided it was interesting enough to buy. Vonnegut is a highly satirical and highly cynical author, especially about contemporary American culture and society. Galapagos is a satirical, wryly humourous book about all of humanity. It’s about the evolution of humans who get stranded on Galapagos (where Darwin originally developed his ideas of evolutionary theory). The humans seem to “de-evolve” into seal-like creatures. Basically, the book takes a look at whether our brain really is the pinnacle of evolution or not, given that it is the sole attribute which has allowed us to rape our planet in the way we have:

To the credit of humanity as it used to be: more and more people were saying that their brains were irresponsible, unreliable, hideously dangerous, wholly unrealistic – were simply no damn good. In the microcosm of Hotel El Dorado, for example, widow Mary Hepburn, who had been taking all her meals in her room, was cursing her own brain sotto voce for the advice it was giving her, which was to commit suicide.

It also raises the question, why is the brain considered an evolutionary step forward? It’s thought provoking, enjoyable fun, although Vonnegut has this quirky habit of repeatedly telling us what is going to happen later in the book. But I guess it’s the ideas he’s raising and not so much the plot, which is just a ridiculous, fabulously interconneted vehicle used to get his message across. If you read it, you’ll see what I mean.

Breakfast of Champions is a weird book. It seems to be a mishmash of characters and ideas from other books he’s written, plus things from Vonnegut’s own life. In fact, he himself narates the story as a character within the story, but as also the author of the story. The epilogue actually has him screaming out to one of his characters, “I’m your creator!” Although the book has such a weird feel to it, you can still draw out his satirical observations on society and the people within it. Hard to explain, you have to read it. Breakfast is not as enjoyable as say, Galapagos, given its unconventionality (it gave me a headache at times), but that seems to be the way Vonnegut is.

Responses:

I own the collected works of Vonnegut for much the same reason as I own the collected works of Robert J. Sawyer, Orson Scott Card, Phillip K. Dick, J.D. Salinger and Stephen Chbosky (to mention a few). It is just the right blend of style and substance. too flashy, and its a pop phenomenon, too substantial and its a technical text. sometimes you can have all of both, but not often.

enjoy vonnegut, BoC is my personal favourite, although SF5 was a better novel… Player Piano is quite a read too…
- Kev

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2
Oct 02
Wed

Talon of the Silver Hawk

TOTSH is the first part of Feist’s new Conclave of the Shadows saga. It’s a novel about a single person, Talon, with a single non-branching plotline. Up until now, the Eastern realms of The Kingdom have been largely neglected in Feist’s books. In this one, however, we see Talon as the sole survivor from a community of mountain people in the East, grow up. The beginnings of this intriguing scenario, however, is not the best piece of Feist’s writings. When Talon starts his life debt, the book seems to meander along, without conviction or insight. A growing up tale without major significance. It’s only when Talon is brought into the Western realms, that things begin to get more interesting, and Feist slips back into his familiar writing style. Alas, we are again back in the Western realms, surrounded by the familiar figures of Pug and company. At the end, the story does move back into the East, setting up Talon for the rest of this saga. Talon’s a different sort of character in that he’s essentially a country boy, chockful of swordfighting and strategic talent. Hopefully, his roots play a large part in his future development, and he doesn’t turn into another Dash- or Locky-type character. It was a fairly enjoyable book, but it’s not Feist’s best writing.

25
Sep 02
Wed

The Prince

No doubt you’ve all heard of the term “Machiavellian”, after Niccolo Machiavelli, whose political worldview has often been summed up as “let the ends justify the means”. His most famous work was called The Prince, which is essentially a political guidebook on how a monarch should rule and prosper. Machiavelli presented the book in the early 16th century to his liege, Lorenzo de Medici. For a God fearing man (his discussion on ecclesiastical principalities includes this line: “But as they are sustained by higher powers which the human mind cannot comprehend, I shall not argue about them; they are exalted and maintained by God, and so only a rash and presumptuous man would take it on himself to discuss them.”) he doesn’t hesitate to assert, “But if once the [enemy] has been vanquished and broken in battle so that he cannot raise new armies, there is nothing to worry about except the ruler’s family. When that has been wiped out there is no one left to fear…”

It’s an intriguing book, and Machiavelli certainly has a gift for rhetoric. Although this world has a dwindling supply of monarchs with any real power, and anyone trying to annex a neighbouring state will have to deal with the US, I’m sure there are many parallels that can be drawn in the corporate world. You just have to translate the title to “The CEO” and you’re set. Finally, here are Machiavelli’s parting words from the chapter “How far human affairs are governed by fortune, and how fortune can be opposed”:

I conclude, therefore, that as fortune is changeable whereas men are obstinate in their ways, men prosper so long as fortune and policy are in accord, and when there is a clash they fail. I hold strongly to this: that it is better to be impetutous than circumspect; because fortune is a woman and if she is to be submissive it is necessary to beat and coerce her. Experience shows that she is more often subdued by men who do this than by those who act coldly. Always, being a woman, she favours young men, because they are less circumspect and more ardent, and because they command her with greater audacity.

15
Sep 02
Sun

Now Reading…

I was shopping for a 21st present last week and bought myself some books along the way, a bit of a mixed bag: Raymond E Feist’s new release, Talon of the Silver Hawk, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Kafka’s Metamorphosis (and other stories), and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The latter was referred to me ages ago by Fuzzy, who told me that unfortunately the book was now out of print but sent me an OCRed copy of it instead. However, the OCR copy was so riddled with digitisation typos, that it was pretty much unreadable. But as I was browsing the sci-fi shelves of Dymock’s, I spied one last aging copy of the book and snapped it up.

I didn’t regret it. I read through Metamorphosis (a short, curious, novelette) first, and then chased it up with Snow Crash. I’m not really going to go into what Crash is all about, other than its really easy to get immersed in the techno-world Stephenson portrays – just reading his descriptions of the dynamics of the Metaverse (sort of like a massively multiplayer VR world simulator) is entertaining enough. The story eventually gets tangled up in linguistics and neurolinguistic programming, religion, history, theories of propagation and obviously technology that’s all spun together in an intriguing fashion. The book is 10 years old, but there’s virtually nothing in it that shows its age – meaning that in the novel’s world of the future, nothing in it would be considered “old” or “outdated” in our reality’s world of the present. (Though the SmartWheels Y.T. uses did remind me of Segway technology :) If you ever come across this book, it’s a good read.

8
Aug 02
Thu

Dune

Finished reading the classic, Dune. The language does at times make it slow going (they have a glossary in the back of the book for a reason). I found myself quite intrigued in the constant political scheming and way the Dune universe is structured, as well as in the ecology of Arrakis. The mentats and their clinical political computations reminded me of Bean in O.S. Card’s novels. Game theory in action, really (“feints within feints within feints”). The only parts I really started to lose interest in were when religion impinged upon science with its drug-induced prescient visions. I must admit though, that the idea of the Missionaria Protectiva is quite ingenious. If you haven’t read it, you should get around to it sooner or later.

14
Jul 02
Sun

Looking for Alibrandi

LFA is the book I wish we had done in Year 12 instead of Educating Rita. We had to do something called a topic area. Our topic area was Crossing Boundaries and exploring all those issues presented in the text about crossing boundaries – physical, emotional, cultural, etc. I wish we had done LFA, which is about an Italian girl battling through Year 12 in an eastern suburb catholic girls’ school, because I could relate to it a lot more than I could to a middle-aged Pommie housewife attempting to get a university education. It’s a lot easier to write about something you can relate directly with. It’s a short novel, and I polished it off in about twice the time it takes to watch the movie. The novel was published in 1992, but it’s still fresh for now and offers a lot more insight than the movie. Movies adapted from novels can rarely hope to reflect the depth of a novel – movies do help visualise them though. Recommended.

9
Jun 02
Sun

Orson Scott Card

Two bits of news on OSC’s novels. His latest instalment in the Ender universe is Shadow Puppets. The first three chapters of it are previewable on his site. Secondly, Ender’s Game and Shadow are to be combined into a movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen. The only problem I would envisage is finding a bunch of 6 year olds that can act, but seeing Hollywood’s penchant for casting 20-something year olds as high school teens, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a 15 year old Ender. Will be interesting in any event.

6
Dec 01
Thu

The Two Towers

Finished the second book of LOTR a few days ago. Most people prefer Fellowship to the other two books, but I thought a lot more happened in this one than in Fellowship. It was an easier read. The tone of language of the 2nd and 3rd books is different from Fellowship (less casual and “playful”), but this doesn’t make a huge difference in readibility. More significantly, the plot begins to split up and we start to see the big picture – how war is progressing in middle-earth. Unfortunately, some of the suspenseful bits in the book are not as effective because, just like in any movie, you know (replace with protagonist’s name) is not gonna die. Not at this stage of LOTR, anyway. I think this book is a richer source for a movie than Fellowship – it’s more varied, there’s more action, and I really want to see Ents ripping up Isengard!

28
Nov 01
Wed

Fellowship of the Ring

Once past the prologue, the book is easy to get into. Tolkien has put an incredible amount of thought in creating his planet. The Lord of the Rings is apparently set on our world in an imaginary time period in earth’s distant past (hence “middle-earth” really does refer to earth). There is an incredible depth of history and intricacy of detail in middle-earth that sets the scene for the LoTR trilogy. The 100+ pages of appendices, maps, family trees and the creation of several fictional, albeit linguistically valid, languages (especially two of the Elven languages, Sindarin and Quenya) and accompanying scripts (runic script etc.) seem to point out that Tolkien planned out an entire world before starting to write the book.

Nonetheless, The Fellowship of the Ring can be read without any reference to the voluminous appendices, or even the prologue. It is a single-plot book that follows closely a single band of adventurers (the Fellowship) without much reference to the developments elsewhere in the world. Because the LOTR “trilogy” is not actually three separate books, but one large book split into three volumes for readability, Fellowship does not really have any large climaxes. In fact, in the end parts of the book, the Fellowship is unsure where they’re meant to go and what they’re meant to do – the buildup of events will occur in the next two books I’m sure. The interesting thing about this is that, very little is seemingly achieved in Fellowship, apart from journeying a few hundred miles to the South-East. I suppose the story is all in the journey. The history of the Ring and also of the diversity of races of the world are very engaging to read about. Tolkien spends a lot of time describing the surroundings as the characters trudge onwards. The description is very detailed, but I feel it does meander a little. It takes a little effort to picture the scenes Tolkien describes. However, it’s easy to see now why much fanfare was made about the settings of the movie in New Zealand. The rich landscapes will be spectacular I’m sure, and to be able to “see middle-earth” rather than imagining it, will lend a new perspective on things. Of course, 2-3 hours is not enough time for the movie to retell everything the book does, so obviously the book will be “better”, but I don’t believe that the movie should ultimately be judged against the book, except for accuracy of storytelling. (Books always win anyway.)

People lucky enough to see advance screenings of Fellowship of the Ring have been reportedly blown away by it.

22
Nov 01
Thu

LOTR

I must have tried to read Fellowship of the Ring four separate times back in school. Unfortunately, each time I found it just too boring. In the end I got so put off that I just gave up. Last night I decided, after a few years, I’d give it another go. I’m currently struggling through the 30 page prologue, which reads like a history textbook.

21
Nov 01
Wed

A new Douglas Adams novel, A Salmon of Doubt, will be released posthumously May next year. It forms the final book in the HGTTG series.

20
Nov 01
Tue

Shards of a Broken Crown

Warning, there may be spoilers in this post. Shards of a Broken Crown is not one of Feist’s best works. As the concluding book of the Serpentwar Saga, it has a host of parallel plots – more than any of the previous books. And, it turns out that all but one of these plots are inconsequential, save for the apparently meaningless deaths of high ranked characters that actually have little importance anyway. This in itself isn’t a big a problem as the fact that we know very early on that most of these plots are relatively unimportant. That doesn’t do wonders for maintaining interest. Yet, Feist spends so little time developing the “A-plot” involving Nakor and Pug. Actually, because he jumps between so many plots without really converging any, he has little time to really develop any single one. The story is somewhat anti-climatical, and as the book finishes, we leave a kingdom in tatters with a wrecked power structure in the West. There are no heroes left. Very few of those in command have much battle experience, and it looks as though political bickering will rule the day. It is an interesting development, such a bittersweet ending.

Chronologically, the Serpentwar saga is not Feist’s latest series, but in the history of Midkemia, it is the most recent one. I wonder what Feist will do with a kingdom without heroes?

13
Nov 01
Tue

Shadow of the Hegemon

Orson Scott Card is responsible for ruthlessly disrupting my sleep patterns this week. Straight after polishing off Ender’s Shadow, I picked up the sequel, Shadow of the Hegemon (“SOTH”) and polished that off in a day.

SOTH takes up where ES finished. However, everything has changed. For the start of the novel, the characters are the same people we know from ES. That is probably the only commonality between the novels, for the different settings of both novels causes the focus of SOTH to peal off sharply from ES.

SOTH is no longer a science fiction novel, but a historical one. Through it we witness the tumultuous changing face of the world – world history in the making. Now that the threat of the Buggers is gone, nations are vying for world power, each falling back on its age old beliefs that ruling over a global kingdom is their birthright. SOTH is almost like a history book, albeit with a few crucial differences so that it doesn’t read like one (these thoughts being echoed and confirmed in the book’s Afterword). Non-fictional history for us has always been seen as at a distance. We know what events have occurred, and the key figures who enabled them. We may even know the personalities and life stories of these figures, but one thing the history books do not know is the true character of them. What makes them tick, their motivations, their thoughts. Of course, this is impossible to do, and both Bean, Petra and Peter all realise that they cannot truly understand the character of others, because they cannot even truly understand themselves! The thing is, this is a novel. All these characters are a fabrication, but in weaving this tale, OSC is enabled to instill them with his own character. We know their true thoughts and motivations, why they do things. As a result, why things pan out the way they did all over the globe is put into context. This allows us to gain some insights on how things interact on both a tactical and strategic scale, both close up and at a distance (Locke) and on both a military and political level.

Bean as a character changes over the course of the novel. He becomes more human. He has feelings of compassion and guilt. His “selfish” instinct to put his survival as paramount priority is overridden by a higher cause. He learns to care about people, to make real friends. Of course, back on the streets of Rotterdam he saw traits like this only as weaknesses. But, it is these very “weaknesses” that give him the conviction to do what he eventually does. And on the last page of the novel, we see yet another character development – something we’ve never yet seen in any of the battleschool children, actually…

I do think, however, that OSC has placed too much reliance on kids and their brilliance and influence. In his site, the Ornery American, he has an essay whereby he hypothesises that the only way to destroy terrorism is to destroy the very foundations of what the terrorists are trying to protect (or take back). If they have nothing to fight for, then why fight? He calls for an invasion of any Muslim countries not in the US’ support. This is an extreme point of view, and racial/religious ramifications aside, going to war with the middle-east is a battle even America and its allies will suffer greatly for. Unless, of course, you had a team of battle school kids at the helm. Kids who are so brilliant, they can negotiate a non-aggression pact to calm a centuries old dispute between two neighbouring nations (read the book, you’ll find out) — when Germany and Russia took weeks to negotiate a similar pact in WW2. Kids so influential that even though they are European, Asian powers allow them to have such high levels of command within their own country. So visionary they can forecast entire war strategies and plan entire campaigns. A country would need people like this if you wanted to do what OSC suggests in his essay. Clearly in reality, however, this is not the case for any country in the world.

Nonetheless, the world as it stands in this ficticious future is plausible, and OSC gives us an insight into how politics and the military play together. What nations want, and how they wheel and deal to try and out-manuever each other. His knowledge of historical events and people is blended into the novel quite skillfully, fleshing the details out and adding feasibility. (Then again, I am not a historian, but it all seems quite convincing.) It is interesting to note that in this world, America is no longer a superpower. It is described as being in China’s pocket. Complacent. A nation where true patriotism has died, and patriotism that exists is all for the wrong reasons. The US hardly features in this novel. OSC is clearly disillusioned with America and its current leadership. History has shown that superpowers all must fall at some time, so why not in the world of this novel?

SOTH is the second book in a series of what OSC says will be four books (working titles are “Shadow of a Giant” and “Shadow of Death”). If they are anything like the first two of the series, they will be both great reads.

12
Nov 01
Mon

Ender’s Shadow

On 18/10, Fuzzy raised objections regarding the sequel to Ender’s Game. Although I haven’t read the other books in that series, I have heard similar viewpoints from other people that the vast tract of time between the first and subsequent books means that the character of Ender we have grown to know has changed. I gather the impression that the other books are much more introspective, measured and passive. This did not go unnoticed by Orson Scott Card (OSC), either:

I have never found it surprising that the existing sequels – Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind – never appealed as strongly to those younger readers. The obvious reason is that Ender’s Game is centered around a child, while the sequels are about adults; perhaps more important, Ender’s Game is, at least on the surface, a heroic, adventurous novel, while the sequels are a completely different kind of fiction, slower paced, more contemplative and idea-centered, and dealing with themes of less immediate import to younger readers.

Recently, however, I have come to realize that the 3,000-year gap between Ender’s Game and its sequels leaves plenty of room for other sequels that are more closely tied to the original. In fact, in one sense Ender’s Game has no sequels, for the other three books make one continuous story in themselves, while Ender’s Game stands along.

That’s from the foreword of Ender’s Shadow (“ES”), which is a parallel story to Ender’s Game (“EG”). It’s not a sequel. It’s a parallel story. We are retold the events of EG from the view point of Bean, which gives us a new perspective on everything. The story is wonderfully told in the manner made familiar to us by EG. This novel may be science fiction by genre, but it delves into sociology and psychology as much as science and the future. The psychoanalysis is readable and doesn’t get clogged by intricate language, or overly complex reasoning. Yet, it is highly insightful and thought provoking.

One aspect of EG that I could never get used to was the fact that a child of Ender’s age could be so brilliant. In the end, I just learnt to accept it. Ender was obviously special, and one of a kind. For that, I was willing to suspend disbelief. However, along comes ES where we soon discover that Bean may be just as brilliant as Ender, only younger. His ability to so precisely judge personality is unnerving, as well as his Holmesian capability for deduction. The fact that he is genetically engineered does little to assuage the freakiness of it all, because despite the engineering, he is still human. It is interesting to note that Bean is rarely portrayed to be in error, or in any situation of real weakness in this novel. While Ender was a genius, he had his physical limits, his flaws. Bean, on the other hand, even through the final Bugger battles, remains physically alert – and for someone so diminuitive! As the novel progressed, I was, as a reader, culturing a growing resentment against Bean. How can he have made insights that Ender never saw? How could he appear to be more astute than the great Ender? Moreover, how could he dare criticise Ender’s tried and tested (from EG) teaching methods? Surely Bean must have a weakness of sorts. But the more breakthroughs he made that Ender never did, the more I felt frustrated. I only realised all this when I finished the book. I had experienced the same resentment of Bean and respect of Ender that the battleschool kids felt. The same frustration and disbelief of the adults when Bean found out what no one else could, from so little information. I guess I got pretty involved in the story, but that’s what a good novel does. When you’re among an elite group of people – no matter what the field, sporting or academic or musical – when someone stands out from that group as being more elite, it does cause resentment. And you don’t have to be arrogant about it. Excellence alone is enough to create ill-feelings. The resentment can eventually turn into respect, given time. However, when you throw a second person just as good into the mix, allegiances and the respect formed are most likely to remain with the “original” person. This is one of the few interesting observations OSC makes about group dynamics. There are a lot more subtle ones in there.

Of course, in the end, Bean does have his weaknesses. As in the launch shuttle in the early part of the book where Dimak points out that there is no real “best” person when you combine all factors, Bean excels in areas where Ender does not (as much), and vice versa. In the final battle, Bean for once does not have an answer. He merely speaks a sentence which appears to give Ender the inspiration needed to implement a plan. Ender is both a strategist and tactician, as is Bean to a lesser extent, but Bean seems to be the strategist’s strategist. In the end, Bean gains our acceptance. He makes “friends”, he cries, and he no longer appears cold and calculating. He is “stung” by comments aimed at him where on the street he merely ignores them. In other words, he appears more human. That puts us at ease.

A lot of small nuances are covered in this novel. The witty, sharp, banter between the adults running battleschool displays this at the start of each chapter. OSC’s Mormon upbringing no doubt influenced the character of Sister Carlotta and the numerous references to religion. Then we have an interesting scenario of politics in the world – the idea of humanity degrading back into bickering when the unifying force of an interspecies war is no longer present. The breakup of powers into the lapsed-into-complacency US, a superpower China, a unified Europe and a scheming New Warsaw Pact (Soviet bloc, basically). This was all covered in EG as well, too of course. I’m not going to write about any of the other major themes or issues (there are more than a few salient ones) as I read the book within the last day and haven’t really had time to ruminate on it.

ES, at 550+ pages, is thicker than EG and thus delves into things with more detail. It’s written in the same style as EG which makes reading easy, but a lot more of it is narrative on the characters’ thoughts and less on describing the environment and surroundings. It’s not necessary, as people who have read EG already know how everything fits together, but for those who haven’t read EG, EG will flesh things out a lot more in terms of getting a better picture of the world. OSC has produced a first rate novel in ES which uniquely complements EG.

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23
Oct 01
Tue

The Universe in a Nutshell

The second of Stephen Hawking’s books, this’ll definitely be going up on the Amazon wishlist. (Of course, with the exchange rates and shipping rates as they are, virtually nothing is worth buying on Amazon from Australia these days.)

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14
May 01
Mon

Douglas Adams

So I’m driving back from Camden last weekend and Shish sends me this SMS… Douglas Adams has died of a heart attack aged at an early 49. Sad news indeed.

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1
Dec 00
Fri

Novel

Went out and bought Krondor: Tear of the gods today. I resisted reading it on the train (too buggered, luckily)… gotta hold out a few more days… will make good plane reading.

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25
Nov 00
Sat

R. E. Feist

I saw the third book of the Riftwar Legacy, Tear of the gods, in Angus and Robertsons, which was surprising since Amazon has its US release date as March 2001. I figure they are releasing it here before the US. I almost bought it, but that would invariably mean I would have to read it, and being smack bang in the middle of exams, that would not be a good thing (although exams haven’t stopped me before, from doing that).

14
Aug 00
Mon

Speed Reading/Talking

Theseus was questioning where my ability to read over a thousand words a minute came from. It’s a skill I picked up a few years back after doing a reading course. However, to hit those speeds you have to concentrate and focus a fair bit. For casual reading, the rate drops quite a bit. It’s a skill anyone should be able to develop. The world record holder can read a few pages from a novel every second (roughly 25,000 words/min).

Talking fast, however, is a slightly harder “skill” to obtain. This guy can speak at over 600 words per minute.

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5
Aug 00
Sat

Bill Bryson’s Down Under

I recommend this book (which has been alternatively titled, In a Sunburned Country in the US) to anyone, living anywhere. It details the journey and observations of Bill Bryson, an American, as he travels through Australia. It’s a thoroughly entertaining account, interspersed with history, anecdotes and humour. I’ve always thought Australian history was dull – but this book has shown that, if told correctly, it can be quite the opposite.

After reading this book, I came to the unsettling conclusion that, although I am Australian, and have been so for all my life, that this Yank – who toured the country for only a year – in fact knew Australia better than me. Better in an historical and geographical sense (although not culturally).

Here’s an excerpt from the book.

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26
May 00
Fri

Encyclopedia Brown

And while we’re in a nostalgic mood, read this: Encyclopedia Brown and Case of the Pirated MP3s. Bugs Meany… that’s a character I haven’t heard for yonks. I remember reading those books back in primary school (back when I actually used to borrow books from libraries :)… loved ‘em. This modern and matured-up parody of it is quite funny.

HGTTG

BAMF posted links to an online copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as a link to the old Infocom text adventure of HHGTTG. I actually bought that game for the Apple. Ageees ago from a computer store on Queen St, Campbelltown. (How the hell am I remembering this?) It’s sitting on the shelf. It shipped with peril-sensitive sunglasses (black cardboard “sunnies”), a microscopic space fleet (empty plastic bag), pocket fluff (really!), a bright red “Don’t Panic!” badge and of course, No Tea.

17
May 00
Wed

New “She Hates my Futon” Chapter

Nice and long, and it only took a whole year to get to us. View Chapter 23. What’s this I’m talking about? “She Hates My Futon” is a novella, which starts here. Be warned – it’ll chew up hours of your time before you know it.

26
Apr 00
Wed

Userfriendly.org

They can’t be serious. No, they actually are. O’Reilly Publishing is releasing Evil Geniuses in a Nutshell (A User Friendly Guide to World Domination), for “a newer, younger audience who are fans of User Friendly but are not as familiar with O’Reilly.” It would look odd, but damn funny amongst all the other O’Reilly technical books on the shelf :)

9
Feb 00
Wed

Tear Of The Gods

An excerpt (the prologue) from the new Raymond E. Feist novel is available for viewing here. The book isn’t out yet, but it will be the concluding novel in the second Riftwar trilogy.

22
Jan 00
Sat

Inferno’s Booklist

Thanks for all those recommending books. Here’s what I got. Problem now is deciding which one to start with. Might trawl Amazon looking for book reviews.

Critter
Neil Gaimen, “Good Omens and Neverwhere”
Anthony Burgess, “A Clockwork Orange”
Robert A. Heinlein, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
?, “No One Here Gets Out Alive”

Phil
Neal Stephenson, “The Diamond Age”
Iain M. Banks, “Excession”

Ben
Melanie Rawn, “Dragon Prince”
Kate Elliott
David Gemmel
George R. Martin
Margaret Weis
Janny Wurts, “Curse of the Mistwraith”
Robert Jordan

Paul
Sara Douglas, “Battleaxe” series
Terry Goodkind, “Wizard’s First Rule”

Noddy
Harry Turtledove, “Into The Darkness”

18
Jan 00
Tue

Recommendations, Anyone?

I’ve just finished the two Feist novels I bought last week. I need something else to read while I wait for Feist to complete his Riftwar Legacy trilogy. Can anyone recommend any good reading material to me?

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12
Jan 00
Wed

Books

Visited Dymock’s today and picked up two Raymond E. Feist books. A hardcover Krondor: The Assassins and A Darkness At Sethanon for $53. On hindsight I thought it might have been cheaper to get it from Amazon. To my surprise, it’s not really. By surface shipping (up to 12 weeks wait), Amazon works out at about $3 cheaper, and by standard air it’s quite a bit more expensive. I guess Amazon’s more suited for buying the more expensive books, like computer manuals.

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6
Oct 99
Wed

she hates my futon

sonic ICQed me a link to a site called My Boot. On it is a novella entitled “she hates my futon“. I just blew a few hours reading it. It’s that sorta thing where you read it with the intention of giving it a skim through, but end up reading the whole thing (all twenty something chapters!).

4
Aug 99
Wed

Silverthorn

Almost through the “second book of the Riftwar sage” (or was that the Riftwar legacy?). The local library doesn’t have the final book. It’s gonna cost money to get it in from a library in another suburb which my local library are partnered with. Huh. Damn I’m a cheapass :). While I deprecate myself, I might as well apologise for the lack of recent updates, too. Sorry.

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18
Jul 99
Sun

Project Gutenberg

From the Project Gutenberg site, you can download out-of-copyright “e-texts” of all sorts of literary works. All files are in plain ASCII text. Eg: Shakespeare’s Complete Works can be found there weighing in at around 5 Megs. I remember I did a project on Johannes Gutenberg a few years back. Father of modern printing, I think.



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