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Remember how I said I was wary about next year's Readercon? You may have seen some rather...spirited...discussions of the issue elsewhere on LJ, also.

I'm feeling much more reassured after [livejournal.com profile] sovay's post about Readercon:
Let us all agree that "This is your father's Readercon" is a really bad slogan. It has a deskful of negative associations and nothing to do with the current plan for Readercon 21, which is a temporary simplification of the program to something whose creation and coordination will not cause nervous breakdowns among members of the committee. Note that I do not mean simplified intellectually. The only issue is the density of program items. The dealer's room will contain its usual stacks of books. The traditional events—Meet the Pros(e), the presentation of the Rhysling, Shirley Jackson, and Cordwainer Smith Awards, and the Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition—will all take place. And please, if there aren't parties all over the place in 2010, something has gone terribly wrong with the whole de-stressing idea. Further information will be forthcoming as soon as I have it, i.e., after the committee has a chance to check its e-mail, breathe for the first time since mid-April, and perhaps water some of its plants or pets. For now, please repost and link as you see fit. And if you have any concerns about Readercon, ask.

Don't Panic.
This says to me that the concom knows there's been a screw-up, that they want to address it by fixing the communications channels, and that they're listening. This is a huge improvement over how things looked earlier. I'm still concerned, but even at the nadir I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt as much as I could, and this...this helps a whole lot.

I'm looking forward to the promised FAQ, which (while I don't expect it to answer everything or solve all the problems) should be another important step toward the better communication/better transparency side of things.
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Back from Readercon. Tired. Sniffling, which is allergies and/or a con crud cold. As usual, falling into the post-con "it's over? already?" blues...and looking forward to Worldcon.

Overall: This was another good Readercon.

Positives: I made it to several very good panels (which I have notes on and will put some reports together for). I got to see lots of great people I don't see often enough (and meet some new ones). I finally managed to get to the Korean BBQ place after years of not quite making it. (Mmmm, bulgogi.)

Negatives: There were too many people I didn't see: not everyone I would have liked to see made it to the con, and I didn't get enough time with several of the folks who did make it. The hotel Internet was $13/day and really bad; I heard enough complaints that I didn't even bother trying. I just used my cellphone data plan instead, and even shared it out over Wi-Fi for a few folks so they could get to sites that weren't working through the hotel wireless: you know, the really obscure and useless ones like Gmail. I was spoiled by the free and functional wireless at Fourth Street and Penguicon; if this had been either free or functional, I think a lot of people would have been at least marginally satisfied with it.

I'm really wary about the announced "no GoH, single track" plan for next year. It worked for Fourth Street, but that was between 1/3 and 1/4 the size of Readercon and probably would have been a problem had it been much larger. For the first time in a while I didn't pre-register for next year at the con, because I'm wondering if I'll want to go. Watching train wrecks isn't nearly as much fun when you're on the train.

I'm really glad I decided to (a) stay at the hotel again and (b) arrive Thursday. There was enough con on Thursday night and Friday morning to justify the extra day (to the detriment of folks who couldn't get there until after work Friday, unfortunately). I don't see going to a single programming track as likely to improve that issue either.
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Only a few days until Readercon!
[Poll #1425552]
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This isn't so much a con report as a collection of random reactions, but I'll post it anyway. (If nothing else, if I post it now I won't wind up waiting until after Readercon, which would be pretty silly.)

I had a great time. This was my first [livejournal.com profile] 4th_st_fantasy, and I was strongly reminded of [livejournal.com profile] farthingparty; a small group, a single track of programming, and many of the same folks were there. St. Louis Park is no Montreal, but there was still good food nearby, and the con suite was well stocked.

A+++ would buy again. FSFC is now firmly part of my plans for the Boskone-Readercon Calendar Gap of 2010. I'll probably try harder to avoid connecting flights next year, though.

Space/Logistics/Facility/Food

Absolutely wonderful. The staff were really helpful and flexible, the rooms used for the consuite were right near programming (and the smoking consuite was just a few doors down), and everything was easy to get to. The challenges are admittedly less than those at a larger con (such as [livejournal.com profile] arisia, where the staff are similarly helpful but the Hyatt has severe physical issues at that scale) but they were exceedingly well handled.

I was particularly impressed by the way dietary restrictions were taken care of by the hotel staff, both at the restaurant and during Sunday brunch. Hotel liaison [livejournal.com profile] jenett deserves some real credit for this, including the wonderful brunch. (I'm lucky enough to not have any major dietary restrictions; that just meant I had all the wonderful options to choose from.) Little things done right included the hotel being able to give me a 1300 checkout instead of a 1200 so I could go to brunch without needing to deal with my bags and the banquet manager (really) coming out to where we were playing Dominion on Friday night to ask if we needed anything, and bringing us water.

Program

Somewhat writing-heavy, but in a good way even for my determinedly non-writing self. I enjoy listening to writers talk about how they write, possibly all the more because I have no reason to worry about how I'm doing it wrong just because I have a different approach.

I wasn't taking panel notes, and there are much better panel reports over on [livejournal.com profile] 4th_st_fantasy anyway. Go read them.

Travel
travel griping within )
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25. The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life, Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot (hc)

A quick and breezy guide to better comprehension of numbers like "this project will cost $x billion" or "we measured y% improvement over the course of the year". Unfortunately, I suspect the people who really need to read it won't, and many of those who do read it will find the material familiar. (They do a good job on the bibliography, though, including classics such as John Allen Paulos's Innumeracy .)

The authors do a BBC Radio show (which led to the book), and many of the examples are still British even in the US edition; I consider this a feature rather than a bug, myself.

Recommended as a quick library read, or a gift for that family member who keeps saying "but that program is so expensive!" about things which equate to about $2/week/person benefitting.

26. Saturn's Children: A Space Opera, Charles Stross (ebook)

I was lucky to have switched to reading this just before upgrading my iPod touch to 3.0, since eReader broke and wouldn't go back to the book list (it's fixed now).

Another solid effort, this one mixes a post-human robolife solar system with Heinlein's Friday and Asimov's Three Laws. In some spots, it has a Galaxy Quest-flavored tone of "poking fun, but with love" but doesn't fall into the trap of becoming an inside-joke fest. (Admittedly, the "Scalzi Endowment Museum" was made funnier by knowing about this museum visit, but it's not a requirement.)

Definitely up with the other two 2009 Hugo nominees I've read (Little Brother and Zoe's Tale), it takes on questions of identity and the Meaning of Life while still doing the "romp through the solar system" well. Recommended.

RR41. Power, S.M. Stirling, Ed. (mmpb)

This mix of short SF and "science fact" articles reads like a theme issue of New Destinies edited by Stirling. The lead story (Poul Anderson's "Snowball", which I suspect inspired the Shipstones in Friday) is really the high point of the book; the articles on how coal-fired MHD should have Saved Us All, and if that didn't then fusion certainly would, are less so. Stirling's own story ("Roachstompers", which actually did debut in New Destinies) of how cold fusion power ruined the global economy, resulting in the US's southern border becoming a war zone (apparently Pemex was the only thing keeping the Mexican economy running) has his usual deft grasp of peaceful intercultural and interracial relations, as well known by those who've discussed the topics with him on USENET.

RR42. The War God's Own, David Weber (mmpb)

Second in his "Bahzell Bahnakson" fantasy series, which contrasts with his SF by having a protagonist who is actually generally distrusted by the rest of the universe (for historical/racial reasons) rather than having the Glow of Righteous Valor that causes even some of her enemies (the honorable ones, as opposed to the Eeeeeeevil Nasty ones) to respect her. Also, there are no huge broadsides of missiles.

A good light re-read, suitable for travel, which is why I brought it along.

RR43. Rude Astronauts, Allen Steele (mmpb)

Short story collection (with some nonfiction as well) of his near-future space and alt-hist space writing, plus a few other pieces. (I tend to like his short stories better than I like his novels.) The alt-hist in particular is enjoyable, with fun parallels as well as differences (in this case, WWII ended not with nuclear bombs, but with intercontinental suborbital rocketplane bombers...and the first moon landing was still in July 1969, but with a whole lot more than two people present).

Recommended along with his later All-American Alien Boy.
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(Currently in progress: Charles Stross's Saturn's Children: A Space Opera, since it's inspired by Friday which I recently re-read.)

24. The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life, Ben Sherwood

This seemed to be mostly about having a Survival Attitude (complete with an online quiz that lets you determine your Survival Style, though since this was a library copy I didn't dig the code out from under the dust cover to try it out). Sherwood refers to a few scientific papers on things like the "anniversary effect" (death rates going down before birthdays/holidays/etc and up afterwards), and it seemed like in every case there was also a throw-in of "and then this other group tried to replicate the results and couldn't". This doesn't inspire confidence in the rest of his conclusions. His focus on attitude and faith also seems to invite the failure mode of blaming victims for being insufficiently determined, which bugs me.

There were a few practical tips, though some of them are things I already do (air travel: count rows to the exits, wear pants and long-sleeved shirts made of natural fibers, and make sure your life vest really is under your seat) or knew (the rule of threes, though even there the formulation used adds "3 seconds without spirit and hope" and "3 months without companionship or love" to the usual air/shelter/water/food lines).

Not quite disrecommended, but I suggest a library pick-up rather than a purchase.

RR38. Zoe's Tale, John Scalzi (mmpb)

The fourth[1] "Old Man's War" book, this runs in parallel with The Last Colony but switches viewpoints to Zoë Boutin-Perry and brings in some new events that weren't seen in TLC. Despite the large amount of overlap in the events, the combination of the change in viewpoint, the newly seen events, and Scalzi's ability to create an emotionally engaging narrative makes it a very fine read. (It's good enough that I still teared up during my first reading, even though I already knew what was going to happen to one character...it being expected didn't diminish the impact.)

It's much more YA-ish than the others in the series, which I don't consider a criticism; just as Old Man's War will remind the reader of Starship Troopers, this has the flavor of an updated/modernized take on the Heinlein juveniles. I don't know how it reads as an entry into the OMWverse, but it works very well within the larger context. Recommended.

[1] Leaving aside the chapbook "Questions for a Soldier" and the novelette "The Sagan Diary", both of which I also enjoyed (and which also take on different viewpoints).

RR39. Wizard's Bane, Rick Cook (mmpb)
RR40. The Wizardry Compiled, Rick Cook (mmpb)
(read as the omnibus The Wiz Biz)

Humorous "computer programmer pulled into a world of magic" fantasies, with the protagonist using algorithms and the ability to combine primitives to build spells that work like code. Light and fluffy, but fun. In the first, he arrives and defeats the Dark League; in the second, what's left of it goes after him and he gets some help from home. Later books in the series weren't as good, IMO. Both books are in the Baen Free Library, so if they sound interesting give 'em a look.
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23. Bright Underground Spaces: The Railway Stations of Charles Holden, David Lawrence (hc)

Since it covers both architecture and transport, this was something I expected to be interesting. It was, though it suffers a bit (for me) in that most of the Holden stations are on parts of the Northern, Piccadilly, and Central lines that I've never actually been through so I don't have any mental images to compare them to.

His reworks of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, though, are ones I am familiar with (and rather pleased by), and I will have to make a trip to 55 Broadway next time I get a chance. (Note for fellow type geeks: Eric Gill, designer of Gill Sans, also produced three of the eight "wind" sculptures on the building.)

I also want to get out to the Moscow Metro-inspired Gants Hill one of these years.

RR36. In Fury Born, David Weber (mmpb)

An expanded (by adding a prequel) version of one of his pre-Honor Harrington books (Path of the Fury). I'm sure nobody will be terribly surprised to hear that the protagonist is a butt-kicking woman. It's the kind of thing you'll like if you like that kind of thing.

RR37. Friday, Robert A. Heinlein (mmpb)

Speaking of butt-kicking women....

I picked this up again based on a half-remembered comment about how the California Confederacy (part of a balkanized North America) was overly besotted with democracy as the sovereign voice of the people. (Oh, and also willing to take rights away from an "invisible" minority who can "pass" as long as they shut up and "act normal". Any similarity to recent events is completely non-coincidental.)

I also found the description of Friday's extended "random reading/research" work to be reminiscent of the way I've been using Wikipanion Plus's queue mode (with auto download turned on) to stock up plenty of quick reading on my iPod touch.

(Hmm... it's been a few months since my original iPod touch as a PDA post; I should revisit that, and cover some of the apps I have loaded. I'll wait and see what Monday's WWDC brings before writing that post, though.)
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Not much book reading lately. (Well, apart from looking stuff up in O'Reilly books for work; I don't count that as "reading" the books....)

RR34. The Aliens Among Us, James White (mmpb)

Not quite a Sector General book, though of the seven stories in the book one of them ("Countercharm") takes place at Sector General, another ("Tableau") predates it in the same universe (and eventually leads to the creation of Sector General), and a third ("Occupation: Warrior") was originally written as a Sector General-verse story but was de-linked by editorial request. (White later had the main character show up as a Monitor Corps officer anyway, in effect re-linking the story into Sector General continuity.)

The other four stories include two that are a bit too similar to really work well in the same collection ("The Scavengers" and "Red Alert"), the first contact story "To Kill or Cure" (which has a Sector General sensibility to it, what with the "injured aliens that need medical care" and all), and "The Conspirators" which reminds me most of Poul Anderson's Brain Wave.

I generally recommend White, though this is probably not the best starting point.

RR35. Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gene Roddenberry (ebook)

The novelization of the less-than-stellar first movie, this is better than one might expect based on the movie. It fills in some badly-needed characterization (explaining, for example, just why Kirk ever let them pry him out of a captain's chair in the first place) and also includes this classic "Take That" to slashfic writers:
[S]ince Kirk's and Spock's friendship was unusually close, this has led to some speculation over whether they had actually indeed become lovers. At our request, Admiral Kirk supplied the following comment on this subject: "I was never aware of this lovers rumor, although I have been told that Spock encountered it several times. Apparently he had always dismissed it with his characteristic lifting of his right eyebrow which usually connoted some combination of surprise, disbelief, and/or annoyance. As for myself, although I have no moral or other objections to physical love in any of its many Earthly, alien, and mixed forms, I have always found my best gratification in that creature woman. Also, I would dislike being thought of as so foolish that I would select a love partner who came into sexual heat only once every seven years."
Vonda McIntyre's novelization of The Wrath of Khan is my favorite of the movie novelizations, but this isn't too far behind.
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I've probably forgotten something, since it's been a while since my last booklog post.

18. Rogue Bolo, Keith Laumer (mmpb)

Really two unlinked Bolo stories; the first is written in the same style as "Field Test" (short snippets from multiple points of view); the second a more traditional one. Neither was terribly interesting.

19. Elsewhere, Elsewhen, Groff Conklin, ed. (mmpb)

An old Conklin anthology, with several stories I haven't seen elsewhere.

20. The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, Leonard Mlodinow (ebook)

A pretty good overview of both randomness and the history of the study of randomness, with some great historical bits about the folks who developed the science (Thomas Bayes, various members of the Bernoulli family, Blaise Pascal, and so on). Fairly short. Recommended.

21. Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average, Joseph Hallinan (hc)

This overlapped both in reading time and subject with The Drunkard's Walk, since one of the areas in which humans are prone to mistakes is estimating probabilities. The descriptions of some of the psychological experiments (like the "door test") are great. Recommended, especially if you liked Freakonomics.

22. Nation, Terry Pratchett (ebook)

A great non-Discworld book. The setup naturally brings the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to mind, and for me it was also hard not to think of Sir Terry's "embuggerance" while reading it.

Mau and Daphne are strong protagonists, the usual Pratchett "funny with deep philosophical underpinnings" is in full form, and like several other recent books it's both a good YA book and a just plain good book. Highly recommended.

RR33. The Cold Cash War, Robert Asprin (mmpb)

One of his older books, with none of the "Myth/Phule's" humor, this involves corporate conflict that becomes actual conflict (with electronic tagging instead of real bullets, at least most of the time). Some parts have aged really badly; salary offers that were pretty high in 1977 don't sound like too much in 2009. Not bad, but nothing special.
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14. Carrier, Tom Clancy (ebook)

A nonfiction book about carrier operations, the training and doctrine needed, strategic implications of carrier-based air power, and so forth. Naturally, the editorial bias is in favor of the whole thing (Tom Clancy: Definitely Not a Pacifist), though there are certainly criticisms leveled at the Navy and particularly Navy aviation for becoming too insular; this led to both Tailhook and problems during the first Gulf War when the Navy's aircraft couldn't participate in the common air tasking orders and were therefore much less useful than they should have been (both in the general sense and in the "justify our budget" sense).

The book's about 10 years old, so it's out of date in various ways but the general content holds up pretty well overall. Recommended if you like mil-techy infodumps, since it's basically a book-length collection of such.

15. How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle, William Poundstone (ebook)

Much shorter and lighter than Carrier. I was interested in both the puzzle aspects and Poundstone's take on the history that led to the whole "puzzle interview" process.

I'm generally a fan of Poundstone's nonfiction, and this was as good as I expected. Some of the puzzles were familiar (like the "four people, one flashlight" bridge-crossing test; here, the four are Adam, Larry, Bono and Edge); others weren't. (Some aren't even puzzles, but rather ways to figure out what questions you'd ask about the situation as given.) Recommended, along with his other nonfiction (with the exception of the Big Secrets series; they're not as good, and at this point badly out of date).

16. The Mystery of Flight 427, Bill Adair (hc)

This is more of a narrative than Gerry Byrne's book on the same topic; it starts in media res with the crash of 427 (rather than UA585), goes into slightly less technical detail, and concentrates more on the people involved (including the husband of one victim). It appears that Adair was writing newspaper articles throughout the process, so he had significantly better access to the investigators and other parties than Byrne did (in particularly, Byrne says that Boeing was unwilling to talk to him; OTOH, Adair is much easier on Boeing than Byrne is).

Recommended over Byrne's Flight 427 for readers who might be less interested in the technical aspects; people interested in the technical details of this and other crashes should read Byrne, and look for Macarthur Job's Air Disaster series as well.

17. The John Varley Reader: Thirty Years of Short Fiction, John Varley (ebook)

In the "air disaster/investigation" vein, Varley's Millennium is a pretty good novel (though he'd probably be the first to say "ignore the movie!") with good old SF time travel thrown into the mix. "Air Raid", one of the stories included here, was the original for the whole story, and is still my favorite of his short fiction.

As with Worlds of George O., the real gems here are the autobiographical segments between the stories.

RR30. Engaging the Enemy, Elizabeth Moon (mmpb)
RR31. Command Decision, Elizabeth Moon (mmpb)
RR32. Victory Conditions, Elizabeth Moon (mmpb)

The last three Vatta's War books. Any real discussion would get into spoilers; suffice it to say that I highly recommend the series to fans of military SF and/or Miles Vorkosigan. Ky Vatta's not Miles (she's her own person) and the mercenaries are rather more peripheral here than the Dendarii, but "smart Academy dropout goes into space, makes mistakes, learns lessons, and so on" works as a quick description.
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Thanks to [personal profile] emceeaich.

Nothing here yet, but I'm definitely interested in the idea of an LJ-alike that goes back to the original business model....
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10. Far Frontiers, Vol. VI: Fall 1986, Jerry Pournelle & Jim Baen, eds. (mmpb)

Another in this bookazine series. my thoughts, mostly about the nonfiction content )
11. Bolo!, David Weber (mmpb)

Self-sacrifice? Room for huge technical infodumps? Yeah, the Bolo universe was practically made for David Weber, or he for it. This is a set of Weber's stories from the sharecropped Bolo follow-ons, and they're pretty good, comparable to the better ones from Laumer's own work. If you like the Bolo stories, give these a shot. (Additional feature for folks who've given up on some of Weber's other series work: the Bolos don't have to go through all the angst and whatnot that Honor Harrington does. They just shoot stuff.)

12. It Looked Good on Paper: Bizarre Inventions, Design Disasters, and Engineering Follies, Bill Fawcett, ed. (tpb)

A collection of short essays on various notable failures, though not as limited in breadth as the subtitle implies; the XFL might be a "bizarre invention" (and that's stretching things a bit) but kudzu? Each essay is very short (67 of them in a 380-ish page book will do that) and none goes into any real depth. A useful book to keep handy for times when you want something short and reasonably funny to read, making it the perfect thing to leave in one particular room of the house IYKWIM. Not deep; buy cheap.

13. Flight 427: Anatomy of an Air Disaster, Gerry Byrne (hc)

This was very good on the technical details of the investigations of both United 585 (a 737-200 that crashed on approach to Colorado Springs in 1991) as well as USAir 427 (a 737-300 crash near Pittsburgh in 1994), though some illustrations would have helped the book significantly. UA585's investigation was originally closed after nearly 1¾ years of work with one of the NTSB's few "unable to determine a probable cause" findings; US427's investigation took over 4½ years and finally came up with a cause for both accidents.

It desperately needed a better copyeditor, though! Some examples: on one page the author refers to the crash of an "Air Austria" 767 in Thailand (though there's no such airline); 100 pages later he gets it right as Lauda Air. A mention is made of "Dallas-Forth Worth" [sic]. Within two sentences, a reporter's name is spelled in two different ways. There's at least one "hanger" that contains airplanes instead of suspending clothing. There are more.

RR26. Hospital Station, James White (ebook)
RR27. Star Surgeon, James White (ebook)
RR28. Major Operation, James White (ebook)

These are the three books included in the omnibus Beginning Operations, containing the earliest of the Sector General stories. These are fix-ups of short stories, so they're a bit more episodic than the later novels in the series and also suffer from a bit of repetitiveness. The first sets the stage beginning with the construction of Sector Twelve General Hospital; the second and third have somewhat more continuous plot arcs.

The Sector General books are among my favorite comfort reads. Recommended.

RR29. Bolo, Keith Laumer (mmpb)

I wanted to go back to the original stories after reading Weber's contributions to the mythos. They still hold up pretty well. The Retief/Bolo crossover is enjoyable, but my favorites are still "Field Test" and "The Last Command".

Coming up: Laumer's Rogue Bolo, which I've never actually read despite having the Baen omnibus that includes it.
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Law Dork, who (unlike me) is actually a lawyer, has a really good summary of the opinion written by the Iowa Supreme Court. If the 69-page opinion is TL;DR for you, I recommend reading his post for a quick overview of the key points in their argument.
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The Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous ruling on their same-sex marriage case just came out. (Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] tacithydra for pointing me at it.)

ETA: Of course, while I was reading it and writing this post, it's been mentioned a whole bunch of times on my flist. With, unsurprisingly, much joy.
some quotes from the opinion )
This ruling really takes on all the anti-SSM arguments like that; I can see this being more influential in the long term than Goodridge.
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The Elements of Style turns 50 years old this April. I used it as the subject of my college admission essay on "a book that changed your life"; it clearly worked, since I was accepted (and got the scholarship I was aiming for).

I can't condone theft from libraries, but this case might be the exception:
Strunk's "Elements of Style" probably would have vanished for good had not someone stolen one of the two copies in the Cornell library in 1957 and sent it to White.
Omit needless words. (If you can't, at least LJ-cut.)
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8. The Jennifer Morgue, Charles Stross (ebook)

Most of my new-to-me reading has been on the iPod lately. I have loaded the Kindle app on it, but the interface is terrible and the typography isn't wowing me either; I'm sticking with eReader. Unfortunately, while Ace and Del Rey and HarperCollins are all fairly good about getting their books onto Fictionwise in eReader format (and Baen, of course, has no DRM on their ebooks), my options for current[1] Tor books are either to buy Kindle editions and read them in the (IMO unusable) iPhone app, or to do without except for the freebies and just read other publishers' books. (There's also the not-really-an-option option of buying either the Kindle or Secure Mobipocket editions and stripping the DRM.) I'm just going to do without, and spend the money elsewhere.

This is the second "Laundry" book, with Bob Howard once again facing supernatural threats; this time, it's a James Bond mode complete with goofy gadgets. Like The Atrocity Archives, the book also contains a shorter story following the main title; this time, Bob gets a new intern. Hijinks ensue.

The combination of geekery, bureaucratic nonsense, spy spoof, and general humor is more than worthwhile. Recommended, though if you haven't read The Atrocity Archives you should probably read that first.

9. Far Frontiers, Vol. III: Fall, 1985, Jim Baen & Jerry Pournelle, eds. (mmpb)

One of the various iterations of the Permanent Floating Jim Baen Bookazine, Far Frontiers fell between Destinies and New Destinies (and pretty much morphed into the latter, as far as I can tell). This volume/"issue" starts strong with Vernor Vinge's "The Ungoverned", which I skipped since I just re-read it recently. The rest is hit or miss, with Alexander Jablokov's "A Wink in the Eye of the Wolf" the best of the batch and Rivka Jacobs's "Morning on Venus" totally lost on me; Thomas Wylde's "Space Shuttle Crashes!" reminded me of Allen Steele's short "Mudzilla's Last Stand" in tone, and was similarly enjoyable.

RR24. Marque and Reprisal, Elizabeth Moon (mmpb)

Second in the "Vatta's War" series. After surviving a more than usually eventful first cruise as a merchant captain, Ky Vatta gets some really bad news. Soon she and her cousin Stella are dealing with some particularly nasty characters as the implications start to build up.

I highly recommend this and the rest of the series; start with Trading in Danger.

RR25. The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross (ebook)

Re-read in preparation for The Jennifer Morgue. Bob Howard, IT support drone for Britain's secret anti-occult agency, winds up on active service...but still has to deal with his bureaucratic boss as well as an ancient evil entity from another universe; it's not always clear which is harder to deal with. Enjoyable and recommended.

RR26. Flare, Roger Zelazny and Thomas T. Thomas (mmpb)

It's a disaster novel... IIIIN SPAAAAACE!! The Sun's been really quiet for decades, so nobody's bothered rad-hardening their space gear; as you can easily guess, this turns out to have been a really bad idea. I don't know how much of this was Zelazny; it reads similarly to the other Thomas I've read.

Not bad, but nothing you should spend a whole lot of time or money seeking out either.

[1] There are some eReader format Tor ebooks which date from around 2002 and are still priced at the "hardcover" level, including [livejournal.com profile] papersky's The King's Name and Michael Flynn's Falling Stars, but none of the previous books in either series are available....
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Not much reading lately.

7. The Presidential Book of Lists, Ian Randal Strock (ebook)

This worked nicely as an ebook, since each list is fairly self-contained and short; quick snippets are no problem. Generally interesting, though it suffers from being written before January 20th and therefore has to include things like (in the list of youngest Presidents) "In order to join this list (and knock Cleveland off), the President who wins the election of 2008 will have to have been born after January 6, 1961. (Barack Obama is therefore now the fifth youngest President.)

RR22. Smart Dragons, Foolish Elves, Alan Dean Foster and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. (mmpb)

18 "funny" fantasy short stories, though including Avram Davidson's "And the Grasses Grow" stretches the definition a bit (as recognized in the editorial intro which says "Of course there are all kinds of smiles, and not all humor is light"). It's a heavy hitting lineup of authors, with Davidson joined by Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Robert Sheckley, and other big names, with a few lesser-known folks mixed in as well. Generally good, though not all the stories click with me; Ron Goulart's "Please Stand By" is my favorite of the set.

RR23. Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon (mmpb)

I'd planned on re-reading the "Vatta's War" books because [livejournal.com profile] mjlayman had started going through them last month and posted her review of this book. With her in the hospital with a stroke it's turned into a very bittersweet re-read. (Good thoughts and energy sent her way would be appreciated.)
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I want to get this posted before sundown, because the timing's too good to miss. (Also, posting my last booklog post late on Saturday night probably had something to do with the dearth of comments it received.)

6. I Remember the Future, Michael A. Burstein (ebook)[1]

Happy birthday, Michael!

I'll freely admit that I'm biased in favor of both this book and its author. There are authors whose work I enjoy, and authors whose work doesn't really click with me; there are authors I like as people, and authors who I would have a hard time getting along with. Michael is in the best quadrant of the truth table: an author whose work I like, and a person I would enjoy spending time with whether or not his work met my taste.

I enjoyed reading both the stories I had previously read as well as those I hadn't; I enjoyed the afterwords to each story even more, though. (Despite (or because of) my non-writerness, I really like hearing about how stories came about or how writers approach their work.)

[1] I have this in hardcover as well, but I'm much more likely to read an ebook than a hardcover when I'm reading in snippets, and short story collections are great for that.

RR20. Microcosmic Tales, Asimov/Greenberg/Olander, Eds. (mmpb)

100 short-short SF stories. Suffers a bit from Asimov's lead-in sentences, which are often both punny and spoilery, but still a good choice for extremely quick reads.

RR21. Ambulance Ship, James White (mmpb)

One of the mid-series Sector General fixups, from the timeframe where the stories within a given book were more closely linked than in the earliest books but before the point at which each book was a true novel rather than a fixup. Notable also for the "Secret History of Sector General" forematter, later included in NESFA Press's The White Papers IIRC.
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5. The Vondish Ambassador, Lawrence Watt-Evans (e-book)

I have a soft spot for the Ethshar books, even though (or because) they tend to run to a formula of "clever young person winds up in a situation where their cleverness is useful, and then rewarded". In this case the CYP is not the titular ambassador but an itinerant dockworker who winds up being hired as his aide, and who then proceeds to be clever as necessary. Light and enjoyable.

All of the Ethshar books (except for the two that wound up at Tor[1]) are available from Fictionwise, which is great for me; they're just about perfect comfort re-read material, and this will fit right in to the rotation.

[1] (Insert obligatory rant about Holtzbrinck's handling of e-book editions here.)
Rereads: Science Fictional Olympics, Heinlein, Wrede, Vinge, Scalzi )
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Back from Boskone, which I enjoyed despite the effects of the Viral Colonization Bureau's expedition to planet [livejournal.com profile] ckd over the past few days. (It's down to coughs and a bit of scratchy throat at this point.)

With that, my impressions:

Space

This year, the con was in completely new space (last year at con time, that wing was still being built out). The upper level had panels, registration, and bid tables; the middle level was for lobby access and also had the (now legally required in Boston) Chain Irish Pub Location; and the lower level had the Galleria area which had the hucksters' room, gaming, con suite, art show, and pretty much everything else that wasn't either "audience looking at a speaker/panel/dramatic presentation" or filking.

I really like how this use of space worked. The Galleria setup reminded me of the ConCourse from Noreascons 3 and 4 in a good way. (There weren't anywhere near as many couches, alas, but still.) There were the usual handful of issues with the first live run of what was effectively a new facility (in terms of space layout) that were brought up at the gripe session; I'm sure they'll be fewer in number next year. (If we're really lucky, the hotel will figure out how to make the escalators go in usefully coordinated directions.)

Program

As always at Boskone, a strong program; as always at Boskone, I went to fewer program items than I wanted to because I was doing something else (which includes "attending another program item"[1]) at the time. Particularly enjoyable items included the Alternate Alternate History panel and the dramatic reading of Shakespeare's play (known of only on Barrayar) Tam Lin.

Program suffered a bit from the Viral Colonization Bureau's other expeditions; a few other folks were also coming in under the weather, and so had to drop off some program items to conserve energy.

Misc

Dominion was this year's winner of the Race for the Galaxy award for the game being played the most. I think it's a good game; I'm still not convinced it's as good as most people think it is. I'd still rather play RFTG with the expansion (which also goes to 5 players, unlike Dominion).

Commuting is still annoying, but every year I do it anyway because I forget how annoying it is until I go to the con again. (It was easier when the con was still at the Sheraton, since I could just walk home if the T had stopped running.)

There's never enough time for me to see all the people who are there that I want to see, but that doesn't stop me from wishing a bunch of other people could have been there as well. Too much is never enough.

The Chain Irish Pub wasn't bad. I still didn't get out to Legal Test Kitchen; in fact, despite the weather being better than last year's, I didn't get outside of the hotel for a single meal. Next year I want to try ordering delivery from someplace and eating in the con suite.

[1] If I go to a con where I never have a "hey, I want to go to both of these" moment, there are two likely causes: the programming is not packed densely enough with topics that engage my interests (in which case I may be treating the con primarily as a gaming venue), or it's a single-track convention. Neither apply here.
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I've been sick, so falling back on lots of comfort reading that is both short and familiar.

4.1. "Damned If You Don't", Randall Garrett (free ebook derived from the Project Gutenberg version)

(Just a short story, so I don't want to count it as new read #5.)

I read this one, finally, through a concatenation of events. First, eReader 2.0 was released for iPhone OS, with my feature wishlist items included. After upgrading, I found that eReader/Fictionwise had reworked some of the ebooks with better metadata, so I wanted to re-download them; the easiest solution was to uninstall eReader, then reinstall and use "download entire bookshelf" to avoid duplication.

One of the books in my collection is The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge, and I wanted to check to see if they'd fixed a typo. (There looks like a badly-done search and replace that's replaced "gu" with "Gu", probably while doing some editing of Fast Times at Fairmont High, but which results in things like "AuGust" appearing elsewhere. Not fixed but hardly a real issue.) I got to the intro to "Bookworm, Run!" and was reminded that I'd never tracked down the Garrett story that Vinge refers to.

After a quick Google search I spotted it on Manybooks.net...which eReader helpfully has a shortcut to, right in the app. Soon thereafter I had the story ready to read. This is so much better than the usual process: check ISFDB, see if it's in an anthology, find the anthology somewhere in the various library systems I have access to, request the book, wait a few days, pick up the book, read the story (in 10 minutes), then have to return the book. In this case, a lapsed copyright renewal made it free, but I'd certainly pay for this kind of stuff. (Fictionwise sells a fair number of short stories by various authors. This is a good thing.)

As for the story itself? I've always liked Randall Garrett's short fiction, and this is no exception, even if the "surprise" was muted by having already read "Bookworm, Run!" Still, it's so unbelievable. The very idea that removing huge amounts of value from one sector of the economy would cause a widespread financial crisis! Who'd believe that one?
Rereads: Brust, Resnick, more Heinlein, George O. Smith )
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Between Arisia and Vericon, I've been shorter than usual on reading time (as well as on book-blogging time). Time to catch up!

Identity theft, popcorn prices, vampyres, AK-47s, lovable rogues, and the Sons of the Bird lurk within )
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John Siracusa's recent Ars Technica article on e-books gives me a convenient jumping-off point for some of my own experiences with (and random thoughts about) e-books.

I bought my first book from Peanut Press, as it then was, just over nine years ago. (2000-01-30, according to the bookshelf.) I bought my most recent ones from Fictionwise (who now own eReader, formerly Palm Digital Media, formerly Peanut Press) just a few minutes ago. I've generally stuck with the Peanut/Palm/eReader format, mostly because I like their reader software's better than other options (Mobipocket Reader on Palm OS or Stanza on the iPod). I've read them on everything from a Palm V (with a whole 2MB of memory and a zippy 16MHz processor) to an iPod touch, and even my oldest book is still usable on the newest hardware without needing anything more than a copy of the eReader software and the name/credit card used to lock the file. (Mobipocket's DRM requires you to reauthorize each file for each new device. Lame.)

Why do I read e-books on such a small screen? (The Palm V: 160x160 grayscale. The TX and iPod: 320x480 color.) Simply put, because it's always there. (I was amused by Siracusa's description of how he realized he'd switched, since the first advantage he lists is "I was more likely to have my Palm with me than a book. When I had an opportunity to read during the day, my Palm was there, and a paper book, had I been in the middle of one, would not have been." Yeah, that.) Sure, the Kindle has a bigger screen. Sure, a physical book never needs recharging. Neither of them is small enough to hang off of my belt, and the paper book is not guaranteed to be the one I've just decided I want to re-read; in fact, it's almost certainly not going to be.

I tend to read e-books as a supplement to (rather than a substitute for) paper books. (I own several books in mass-market and e-book, or even the three-fer of hardcover, mass-market, and e-book.) Because it's always handy, I can easily read a few pages while waiting for (or riding on) a bus or train, or in line at a store; I can read longer stretches over a meal or while relaxing on the futon. Because of the often interrupted nature of the read, this is particularly suited for re-reading certain types of books: episodic novels, short story or essay collections, or books I've previously read are all easier to "keep state" for in my head between times. Even so, I can and have read full novels first as e-books before even touching paper editions; I've also sometimes alternated between the two. (I read Victory Conditions, the final book in Elizabeth Moon's "Vatta's War" series, partially from the library hardcover and partially from the e-book; I'd usually read up to a chapter break to make the switch easier, but not always.)

One issue with different reader programs on the iPod is the scroll/page dilemma. eReader is very much a page-flip oriented program, and that's the paradigm I'm used to. (I also use the -c option to less.) Other programs like Stanza or Bookshelf can scroll in page increments, but it's still scrolling, and for memory management both of them need to "chunk" the book leading to either delays at chapter breaks (Stanza) or ugly seams at semi-random intervals (Bookshelf). Because eReader's doing the chunking by page, it's never an issue except for the first time I open a book (or change the font size/layout/etc) which will force the program to repaginate. Since it can do that faster than I can read, if I'm at the beginning of the book it's mostly unnoticeable; if I'm farther in, I just have to wait a bit for it to catch up. This was also the case on the Palm, but the faster processor on the iPod seems to help shorten the time. (I haven't done a side-by-side comparison or anything.)

I still need to get back to work on the toolchain I started work on that would convert non-DRMed Baen e-books from HTML to "PML" (originally Peanut Markup Language) and then stuff them into an eReader format PDB file.

Some wishlist items for the iPhone/iPod touch version of eReader:

More font choices. I bought both of the font packs for the Palm version, and I'd love to be able to use something other than Georgia (reasonable), Helvetica (not bad), or Marker Felt (WTF?) and have more size choices as well. Some of my gripe is with Apple; why didn't they put Gill Sans on there? Even so, having Verdana (which is on the iPod) as an additional option would be nice.

Smarter download behavior. Why doesn't it say "hey, you have a book by this title already, do you really want to download it again?" Even being smart enough to say "this seems to be a duplicate, keep or delete?" after the download would be useful, and easier to implement.

Metadata editing. The oldest e-books don't have the proper metadata fields, so they don't show the author's name; other books have mistakes (like "Evans, Lawrence Watt" instead of "Watt-Evans, Lawrence"). I might be able to fix the files if they're not DRMed, but many of them are. The app should at least let me override the file's own data.

Bigger targets for small links. Hitting the hotlink for one of Pratchett's footnotes is a frustrating exercise in fingerpoking. The Palm's stylus worked much better for this sort of thing. The app could have a minimum target area, or even just add a "follow link" button to the pop-up for "find in dictionary" etc if there's a hotlink within the selection.
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Five things of approximately equal likelihood:
1. Verizon starts installing FiOS in Cambridge
2. Mobipocket releases an iPhone/iPod touch version of their reader software
3. Apple releases an iPod touch with Bluetooth, including tethering/PAN profile support
4. EMI reprints Peter Wolf's Lights Out album
5. Godot arrives
ckd: (cpu)
Over the past few months, I've been using an iPod touch (2nd gen) as a replacement for my previous PDA, a Palm TX. It has been a generally positive transition, though there are things the TX can do that the iPod can't or that worked better on the TX.

I've been using it both long enough and intensely enough to get past the initial adjustment period; I've stopped trying to hit buttons that don't exist, and operations like "turning it on" (which is really just unlocking the screen) are now second nature.

I'd been using some kind of Palm OS PDA since the 1999-vintage Palm V (which replaced an HP 200LX). I ran through a series of Palm OS units until the TX, which is the last Palm OS PDA (and most likely the last PDA of any sort) that Palm will make. I never went for a Palm OS phone, because I don't like having everything tied in to one device (and often one network); the same thing has kept me away from the iPhone. (If they start selling unlocked ones in the US, I'll reconsider. No, third party unlocks don't count.)

A comparison of various aspects of the TX and the iPod touch )
Conclusion: All in all, the iPod touch is a respectable PDA replacement for the Palm TX. There are still areas that could stand improvement (Calendar, and to a lesser extent Mail, are the big culprits) and the major missing feature of Bluetooth support, but those are outweighed by all kinds of other advantages. It also lets me leave the iPod classic at home (except for long trips), since I can use the iPod touch for day-to-day listening.
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*thunk*

Behind like a very behind thing. I've skimmed back a bit on the flist, but having reached skip=300 and yet still seeing posts from early Sunday I think I'm just going to throw in the towel on this one. If there's anything you've posted recently that you want me to read, you'll have to tell me about it.

Also, next weekend is Vericon. I will fall behind, again. I will probably not catch up, again.

Con report: I went, I played many games, I saw folks, I had fun. Now it is over and I am tired. That's the con report. (Keith Olbermann's Moby Dick: "Call me Ishmael. This whale sank my boat. The end.")

Currently percolating posts: the iPod touch as a PDA (compared to/as a replacement for the Palm TX), e-books as a reading medium. Hooray for Xjournal, since it means I can save a half-baked post and come back to it later.

Other: finally planning some new userpics. (Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] yendi, who has acquired and delivered a fresh replacement shark.) I only have 184 available slots, after all.
ckd: (gaming)
2008 brought a couple of new (or in one case, "new in English") boardgame releases which have become two of my favorite games.

These are Agricola and Battlestar Galactica. ("Wait, what? A nearly pure Euro and a licensed-property Ameritrash design?" Yes.)

I'll talk about Agricola later. For now, suffice it to say that it redeems the worker placement mechanic from my dislike of Caylus, and it's good enough that I'll play it in preference to Power Grid.

BSG, though? With the right group, I'll play that before I play Agricola. (Tonight at [livejournal.com profile] pandemonium_bks I played both, but BSG first.)

The basic game design is a semi-cooperative, reminiscent of Shadows over Camelot with loyalty cards that mark you as either a "good guy" (human/loyal knight) or "bad guy" (Cylon/traitor), and there are hand cards with values from 1 to 5 in both games. However, that's about where the similarities end.

SoC's quests are pretty basic repeat-card plays, where you have to play 2 pair (Black Knight), a full house (Lancelot's Armor), a 1-5 straight (Saxon/Pict wars), or just a bunch of cards in a tug-of-war (Holy Grail/Excalibur). Very little is hidden, the quests themselves are fairly unthematic in their play, and there's often an incentive to lose a quest to end the game if you have enough of a lead to win without it.

With BSG, on the other hand, the theme is deeply embedded. The characters all have advantages and disadvantages based on their roles in the show; the bad things that will happen are based on events from the early part of the series (the miniseries, S1, and the early part of S2, I believe; I've actually only watched through S1 so far so no spoilers, please). There are two titles, President and Admiral, which can shift around through various events (elections, declarations of martial law, sending the current admiral to the Brig, one of them revealing themselves as a Cylon).

Each turn, after the player has taken their action(s), a crisis card is revealed and resolved. Some will involve a decision made by the current player, or the President, or the Admiral; others will just give the players a skill check, to pass or to fail. Some cards have both, where you have to decide whether to try for the skill check (which might be "gain a resource if you win, lose a lot if you fail") or the known quantity (often a certain loss, but less than a failed skill check result would cost).

[ETA: There are also Cylon attack crisis cards, which add some number of Cylon ships, some civilian ships that need defending, and (usually) a Viper or two to the space around Galactica. Cylon ships can shoot up civilians (usually costing population), Vipers (of which there are a limited number), or Galactica; there are also ships that land boarding parties if they get to the Viper launch spaces.]

The skill check is the central mechanic; most crisis cards involve one, and some actions (electing a new President, getting out of the Brig) require them as well. There are five types of cards (Leadership, Tactics, Piloting, Engineering, Politics) and each type has two different card abilities (a "weak" one on the 1 or 2 value cards and a "strong" one on the 3-5 cards). When played into a skill check, depending on the nature of the check, some colors will be positive; others will be negative. Piloting doesn't help you conserve water; political savvy won't rescue a downed pilot. The cards are played face down, along with two random cards to muddy the waters, then all are shuffled and totalled up. Did that 5 piloting come in from the Destiny Deck, or did Boomer toss it in instead of the Tactics card that would have helped?

The paranoia factor is increased at the halfway point, where an additional set of loyalty cards are dealt out. The Admiral was human before, or at least he thought he was; maybe he was just programmed to think that....

Unlike SoC, there will always be at least one (3-4 player) or two (5-6 player) Cylon cards dealt out by the end of the game. There are many ways for a hidden Cylon to screw things up, and when it finally becomes useful to reveal themselves they get an extra ability to cause damage on their way out the airlock (unless they were in the Brig at the time).

If any of the four resources (food, fuel, morale, population) reaches 0, the humans lose. If Galactica takes enough damage, the humans lose. If a boarding party manages to vent the air out of the ship, the humans lose. If they manage to jump enough times, they win.

Most of the games are close enough that the humans are within a turn or two of winning when they lose, or a turn or two of losing when they win...but it's not just randomness that causes it. (If it were, the game would be much faster and called "rock paper scissors" or "flip a coin".)

It's critical that you get good player interaction for this game; it's almost a very light RPG built into a boardgame. "He's a Cylon! Why else would we have failed that check?" "Why are you calling me a Cylon, you frakkin' toaster? You could have tossed in a bad card yourself."

BSG has already climbed well up the BoardGameGeek ranking charts; it's currently at 32 (Settlers of Catan is 38th; the top three are Agricola, Puerto Rico, and Power Grid).
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2. You're Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger, Roger Hall (tpb)

I originally requested this from the library in July, after Hall's death led to a number of blog posts and obituaries that mentioned the book. It finally arrived at the end of December. (There are still 17 holds on the book, with only five copies in the Minuteman system.) It was worth the wait, however.

This is nothing more, and nothing less, than his memoir of his days in the OSS during WW II; it starts with him transferring to the OSS, and ends with the OSS disappearing around him. The book was very funny, though not quite what I'd expected; I'd been thinking it likely to be more like Eric Frank Russell's Wasp with derring-do behind enemy lines, but in fact his adventures were generally in training facilities and the like. (His various visits to the British parachute training were quite amusing, for example.)

Naturally, his one big mission (a drop into occupied France to work with the Resistance) resulted in him winding up well behind the lines...the Allied lines. (Oops.) It was just his luck that the drop was made just after there'd been a rapid advance in that area that wasn't reported through to OSS HQ quickly enough to abort the mission.

RR3. A Matter of Metalaw, Lee Correy (mmpb)

Not one of my favorites of "Correy"'s work (G. Harry Stine's pseudonym for his fiction), this suffers badly from repeated "but if he'd only realized that he was missing the vital clue" asides and doesn't really ever gel for me. The far-future setting also seems to be weaker than his usual near-future SF (some of which is now not-so-near-past SF; Star Driver has a minor plot point hinge on the protagonist not being able to get time on the one available minicomputer!).

Of his other work, Shuttle Down (alt-hist after the decision was made not to launch the Shuttle into polar orbits from Vandenberg AFB) is probably my favorite, and gets a bit of a shout-out in David Brin's Earth. Star Driver and Space Doctor are both stereotypical Analog stories: the former portraying the invention of the Dean Drive a reactionless thruster; the latter a fairly standard (but well done) "life IIIIIN SPAAAAACE" story of medicine at an under-construction space station. Manna is what today I'd probably call Prometheus Award bait[1]; it's better done than The Probability Broach since it doesn't require a complete alternate universe, but the wonderfulness of the Republic of Mary-Sue United Mitanni Commonwealth is hard to suspend disbelief for.

Upcoming: Why Does Popcorn Cost So Much at the Movies?, as well as a re-read of Carpe Jugulum. The post may be delayed by Arisia and post-con recovery time, though. (I may get a boardgame post in about BSG before the weekend, if I'm lucky. [livejournal.com profile] yendi, we absolutely have to play this. It's made for your namesake House.)

[1] Looking it up, it was nominated in 1985 and lost to Vinge's The Peace War.
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1. Concorde (Frédéric Beniada, Michel Fraile) is a giant coffee table book (the sort that could be used as a coffee table); it's both heavy on the photos and just plain heavy.

The text content is fairly good, though for folks who've already read other books on Concorde there's little new in it. (There's also not too much of the text; maybe the equivalent of a handful of Neal Stephenson infodumps, if you don't count the photo captions.) Since the book's a translation from the French, it focuses more on the French contributions to the aircraft's design, construction, and operation than English-language books on the subject often do. (It still doesn't go in the direction of Donald Pevsner's speculation about Concorde's retirement, which I find rather believable.)

The photos are plentiful, large, and very impressive. This isn't necessarily a book to own, but if you're interested in Concorde and have it available in your local library system it's worth reading.

Rereads (which I'll keep in a separate numbering sequence):
RR1: The Phoenix Guards, Steven Brust (mmpb)
First in the Khaavren Romance series, set in the same world as the Vlad Taltos books. I suspect a large proportion, possibly even a majority, of my flist already reads Brust.

RR2: Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson (eReader)
The mere existence of this book (even without considering the Baroque Cycle) is one of the best arguments for e-books I've seen. Big huge tree-killer that you almost need a wheelbarrow to move around, or a set of bits that fit inside your 115g iPod touch? The words are the same....

Upcoming: You're Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger and Why Does Popcorn Cost So Much at the Movies?
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Snowy Smile
Snowy Smile
Porter Square, Cambridge, 2009-01-02

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I periodically decide that I should post more often. Usually this lasts for a week or so, and then fades off as I run out of ideas on what to post about. Since I don't have a cat, I can't even fall back on catblogging, or taping bacon to the cat, or whatever. (Pun intended.)

Maybe if I try for periodic posts on one or more topics, I can keep up some momentum.
obligatory poll inside )
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Check out the iPhone version of Adventure. Yeah. The Atari 2600 game.
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Looks like there might be more people in line right now than voted at all in this precinct in the unopposed special election for state Senate in 2007. Impressive.

ETA 1029: Voted, at the office now. Took about 20 minutes, but the lines were quite a bit shorter when we left than they were when we arrived.
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So there's this "post this sentence supporting same-sex marriage rights" meme all over my flist.

Instead of simply posting it, though, I'll say it in my own way.

I've made my opinion on the matter clear several times in various posts, including these as well as USENET posts from way back in 1994.

In the particular case of this year's election: California Proposition 8 doesn't "protect" a damn thing worth protecting, because the so-called "right" of bigots to feel superior through dog-in-the-manger removal of marriage rights from other people isn't any such thing.
ckd: (sharky tng)
When you see this, post in your own journal with your favorite quote from The Princess Bride. Preferably not "As you wish" or the Inigo Montoya speech. (via [livejournal.com profile] sweetmmeblue)

Man in Black: "Why are you smiling?"
Inigo: "I know something you don't know."
Man in Black: "And what is that?"
Inigo: "I am not left-handed."

I think TPB is possibly the most quotable movie ever, in that almost every single speaking part has at least one memorable quote. (I'm not sure the mother has any really quotable lines, but she's the only exception I can think of.)
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Even though a portion of my flist was also there (and not posting as much because of it), it's still time to bankrupt my pants.

No travel troubles either way; I knew I was off to a good start when my shuttle to the hotel pulled up just as a group of familiar-looking folks were entering. That let me get in on the Biodome expedition, followed by dinner at a Hungarian restaurant with [livejournal.com profile] mrissa and [livejournal.com profile] timprov, particularly appropriate since I'd been reading Dzur on the flight up. (No Great Weapons were in evidence at this dinner, however.)

Of the event itself: I thought the Good Reads panel went pretty well (it's always a bit unnerving to wind up the moderator of the first panel on the program); from there on to Sunday's * Panel (and the not-really-a-Dead-Dog-Party party that followed) it was all good. As always, it's never long enough, though each year I've managed to be able to stay longer than the one before. (By Worldcon, I should have some actual vacation time available....)

And, being Montréal, all the meals were at least good, and usually better than that. It's a mild shame that almost all the places I know are up on St. Denis rather than near the Palais des congrès; that'll make things a bit less convenient for Worldcon. I guess I'll just wind up having to go find more good restaurants. Heh.

Some culinary highlights: Hungarian sauerbraten; Suite 88[1]'s raspberry sorbet, strawberry and pepper sorbet, and that melted white chocolate[2] in a dark chocolate cup they brought out as a free sample for our group; the Asian fusion place's crispy spinach (even if they never did bring out the salmon tartare); Une Crêpe's "Germaine"; and Le Triskell's wonderfully tasty shrimp and scallops crêpe.

Next cons on the schedule horizon, with vague probabilities: Arisia (Jan. 16-19, ~100%); [ETA: Vericon (Jan. 23-25, ~100%);] Boskone (Feb. 13-15, GoH [livejournal.com profile] papersky, ~100%); possibly one (as yet undetermined) out-of-town con (March-May sometime, ~75%); Fourth Street Fantasy (Jun. 19-21, ~75%); Readercon (Jul. 9-12, ~100%); Anticipation (Aug. 6-10, ~90%).

[1] After the Sunday night dinner expeditions had split off, ours had speculated on whether we'd see another group walk by en route to Suite 88 as we were eating. We didn't, but when we walked in they were already there.

[2] White chocolate is normally an abomination. This stuff almost made up for the existence of every other piece in the universe. No, I don't know how they did it.
ckd: (sharky tng)
From an LA Times article about the aftermath of the DHL/Airborne Express merger:
"And that's the problem in our nation's capital. It's not just the Bush administration, and it's not just the Democratic Congress. It's that everyone in Washington says whatever it takes to get elected or to score the political point of the day," said McCain, who has served 26 years in Congress.
Mighty fine words coming from the guy whose campaign manager got $185,000 to lobby for the deal on behalf of DHL.
ckd: small blue foam shark (Default)
"Belated this post is. Post or post not, there is no draft."

Sunday basically involved two panels and a bunch of random con-ness. The latter included nice chats with a bunch of people, including some e-book reader hardware geeking with Robert J. Sawyer. (Oh, and breakfast. To my complete lack of surprise, the hotel's Eggs Benedict was passable; no worse, no better. The best non-home-cooked ones I've had in a while were at Sarabeth's on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It didn't hurt that I was eating those on someone else's dime, either; that place isn't cheap.)

1000: The Aesthetics of Online Magazines

The obligatory introductions/"position statements":
Ellen Datlow: involved with several online magazines over a long time, starting with OMNI Online. She didn't change her buying pattern when moving from print to electronic media. Designing for readability is very important.
Leah Bobet: managing editor of Ideomancer. Very interested in hyperfiction, and ways to use the medium that aren't necessarily practical (or possible) in print.
Ernest Lilley: senior editor of SFRevu and related efforts. Feels that you can treat the web as a piece of paper and "recapture the print experience". Sees experiments (like hyperfiction) as often being "too much work for too little payoff, like eating an artichoke." Aims for the "transparent experience" where the words flow into your brain, with no distractions in between.
Sean Wallace: senior editor at Clarkesworld Magazine. It's a fantasy magazine that "moved from print to Web". When buying, considers the commercial aspects of the story, particularly length; longer stories are harder to turn into podcasts, and take up more of the "best of" print book when that's done.

[ckd: I'm really pleased by the panelist choices here; we have a set of people all of whom have actually done this, and with significantly different viewpoints. Kudos to the Readercon program folks.]

My notes on the discussion don't go into deep detail, but touched on things such as the "5000 word attention span limit" (Bobet attributes this to the Internet being a two-way medium, which changes the reader's expectations), the issue of longer stories needing some way to "mark your place" (segueing into a discussion of PDA reading in an e-book format rather than as a web page), the question of how you do ads in a longer story (break it into multiple web pages?), the idea of serialization (Lilley: "they won't come back for the next chunk"; Bobet: "they will if it's good enough"), and of course a mention of Shadow Unit.

1200: Satire With and Without Freedom of Speech

This was both deep and fast moving; definitely "wear your life jacket" territory. (Appropriately enough, Jim "here are all the ways things can kill you, and what to do about them" Macdonald was on the panel.)

Quick hits: James D. Macdonald saying that magic realism was the Latin American version of the Lem/Zemyatin "sneak it past the authorities" trick. James Morrow: "Rush Limbaugh is the piano player in the whorehouse of the Bush administration." Macdonald: "There's a word for stories with only one level. That word is 'unpublished'." Paul Di Filippo, after a question on whether "satire exhaustion" had set in: "The Onion just did 'Whale Oil Once Again Economical'." Morrow: "Satire should be pointing up to a better world."

After that, I got my membership for next year.

That was the con that was. I didn't see everyone or everything I would have liked to, but I never do.
ckd: (sharky tng)
For whatever reason, it felt like Friday was the most programming-heavy day of the con; this made me very happy I'd taken the day off so I could get to more of it, but threw off my general feeling of the pace of a three[1]-day convention. (It also made me sad that folks who couldn't take Friday off were missing such a significant chunk of the con. The programming during Arisia's extension into Monday didn't seem like nearly as big a loss for those who couldn't be there.) The upshot of all of this is that Saturday, normally the day with the most going on programming-wise at a three-day con, got me to one panel and one event. (OTOH, lots of good hallway/lobby conversations ensued.)

Saturday started with a serendipitous breakfast meeting with [livejournal.com profile] enegim, D. (WINOLJ), Bob Devney, Michael Devney, and SFRevu's Ernest Lilley. That got the day off to a nice start with the informal Buffet Panel. (Among the topics: this discussion of McCain's citizenship status; there's an argument, that will probably never see a court, that he was caught in a corner case of citizenship law at the time of his birth and retroactively naturalized by a 1937 statute.)

1100: "Why Don’t We Do it in the Reformation?: Underutilized Historical Eras in Spec Fic"

I didn't take nearly as many notes for this one as I did for Friday's If Free Electronic Texts Are Good Promotion, What’s Piracy?, but did take some. Having finally had time to read through (most of) the comments on [livejournal.com profile] sartorias's Bittercon post on the topic (176 at last count[2]), I have to agree that the online discussion was more generally fruitful than the panel. (The topic may just lend itself better to a medium that encourages multiple discussion threads and more time available to think about responses.)

The high visibility of alt-hist in the genre as a whole seemed to weight the discussion somewhat toward that are. The general consensus seemed to be that there was too much WW II and too much American Civil War, with everything else underused to a greater or lesser extent.

Farah Mendlesohn ([livejournal.com profile] fjm) asked why the Spanish Civil War gets no love, especially since changing that would be one way to get a very different, or nonexistent, WW II.

Carolyn Ives Gilman (see? I'm not confusing Glenn Grant, Gavin Grant, Greer Gilman, and Carolyn Ives Gilman this year!) said that she thought wars were overused because war results in a much more stripped-down view of society (as depicted in fiction). James Cambias said that he didn't think that was as true for historical fiction as for AH.

Mendlesohn suggested (Readercon 20 Guest of Honor) Elizabeth Hand's Mortal Love as a "travelogue with a tourist of 19th Century England". Walter H. Hunt asked her if it was "like de Tocqueville"; her response: "at times, very much like that."

John Crowley mentioned Paul Parks's (?) four book "Roumania" series, but wondered if you had to know the real European background to appreciate them. Hunt said "if you don't, then what? Is that why nobody writes in these settings?" [ckd: see also Cambias's comment, later]

Gilman noted that there are fads and fashions among professional historians, also. Some eras and/or areas become more popular than others.

Mendlesohn recommended James Morrow's The Last Witchfinder, then suggested that the problem with many eras in Britain was "boring kings" and that there wasn't enough historical fiction set in Birmingham [ckd: or possibly even anywhere but London, really].

She then mentioned the earlier US civil rights era (running from the 1890s through the 1920s and 1940s) as being underused [ckd: I'd say it's also very very underappreciated in general]. I think there was some discussion at that point of some reasons it's less well known, mostly that those pushing for it tended to be socialists (or at least seen as such/associating with such) and therefore significantly de-emphasized in history class. Hunt said that John Dos Passos's USA covers this era. [ckd: also probably worth reading as a stylistic influence on writers from Brunner to Haldeman. I should read it....]

Hunt then made some comment about the naval portions of the French and Indian War being "all different" (from something), which I didn't note down any details of, but obviously thought interesting enough to note at the time. Anyone who does remember and could refresh my memory would be appreciated.

James Cambias noted that fiction set in a particular setting tends to attract more fiction in the same setting. [ckd: This of course leads to the problem of an author doing "research" by reading fiction and therefore getting it wrong.]

There was some audience discussion/questions, including such various bits as a mention of the blast furnace being invented in monasteries, but lost when Henry VIII destroyed them; Slavic history (Mendlesohn asked how many people know when the US invaded Russia, and was happy to see so many hands go up); and a question about "why not more English Civil War fiction?" Mendlesohn's reply to the last was that there was plenty of it in the UK, much of which still takes sides.

Ekaterina Sedia made a point that's similar to one made in the Bittercon discussion: "There are no unused eras, just overused time/place/people combinations."

Cambias closed out with a possibly telling point: using an obscure period means that you have to do a lot of research work for the few people who do know/care, but that for the majority of readers it's likely to be just as new to them as a completely fictional background.

My congoing day then wandered off into various trips through the Book Shop, hallway conversations, a dinner run, James Cambias's card game Bone Wars, the Kirk Poland Bad Prose competition, more Bone Wars, and then some sleep.

[1] As already mentioned, I didn't go to the con Thursday evening, so my experience was of a three-day con with an early Friday start.

[2] The second sentence of [livejournal.com profile] sartorias's post starts with "I don't know how much interest this one will raise--"; I think we have the answer, and the answer is "a whole heck of a lot".

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