Archive for the 'Geek Joy' Category

“Spook Country” by William Gibson

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Spook Country, the 2nd in William Gibson’s “Bigend” trilogy, includes only one character (Hubertus Bigend himself) from and the briefest mention of Pattern Recognition, the first book in the series, so it could easily be read on its own or in reverse order.

Spook Country is told from three viewpoints: Hollis Henry, the former lead singer of a popular broken-up band; Tito, whose mysterious family ties are a mix of Cuban, Chinese and Russian. And Milgrim, a Russian translator addicted to Atavan kidnapped by some vaguely militaristic guy named Brown. All are mixed up in some way with covert intelligence and virtual reality locators on the GPS grid.

“Rausch,” said the voiced in Hollis Henry’s cell. “Node,” it said

She turned on the bedside lamp, illuminating the previous evening’s empty can of Asahi Draft, from the Pink Dot, and her sticker-encrusted PowerBook, closed and sleeping. She envied it.


The old man reminded Tito of those ghost-signs, fading high on the windowless sides of blackened buildings, spelling out the names of products made meaningless by time.


Milgrim, wearing the Paul Stuart overcoat he’d stolen the month before from a Fifth Avenue deli, watched Brown unlock the oversized steel-sheathed door with a pair of key’s taken from a small transparent Ziploc bag, exactly the sort of bag that Dennis Birdwell, Milgrim’s East Village dealer, used to package crystal.

As in Pattern Recognition, Gibson writes breezily about global business and emerging technologies, adding political fallout from 9/11 this book to make a headier mix. All three characters are engaging and sympathetic. Bigend’s motivations, and his behind-the-scenes manipulations, are as mysterious as they were in Pattern Recognition. This is heady stuff, well-written, that made my brain feel just a bit more alive and alert while I was reading it. I’ll be on to Zero History to finish the trilogy posthaste.

“Pattern Recognition” by William Gibson

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

I have something to admit. At the risk of losing my geek-girl cred, I had not read anything by William Gibson. Not even Neuromancer. Like many other books and movies, I’d always wanted to read it, but hadn’t yet managed to. Gibson’s Pattern Recognition started waving at me last year, when John Warner at the Morning News did a Biblioracle session; he asked readers for the last 5 books they’d read and recommended one to read next. He picked Pattern Recognition for me. Between one thing and another, I didn’t get around to it. A little later I noticed Pattern Recognition again on a friend’s Facebook page; she listed it as one of her favorite books. Third (and finally) my husband started the new William Gibson, Zero History, and felt he needed to return to Pattern Recognition, the first of the trilogy. As he re-read Pattern Recognition, then Spook Country, then Zero History, he kept telling me he thought I’d like them and if I read them we could discuss them. So, here I am, finally having read Gibson and Pattern Recognition. And I’m very glad I did.

Cayce (pronounced Case) Pollard is an advertising savant, hired for big bucks by global companies to evaluate logos and other marketing stuff. She’s also a “footage-head,” a devotee of found video clips from the internet by an anonymous creator. She’s doing work for the improbably named Belgian, Hubertus Bigend, when her worlds start to collide in intriguing and dangerous ways.

“The heart is a muscle,” Bigend corrects. “You ‘know’ in your limbic brain. The seat of instinct. The mammalian brain. Deeper, wider, beyond logic. That is where advertising works, not in the upstart cortex. What we think of as ‘mind’ is only a sort of jumped-up gland, piggybacking on the reptilian brainstem and the older, mammalian mind, but our culture tricks us into recognizing it as all of consciousness. The mammalian spreads continent-wide beneath it, mute and muscular, attending to its ancient agenda. And makes us buy things.” (69)

Gibson is shelved in sci-fi/fantasy, and while this book has elements of both, it’s much more complex than that. It’s also a mystery, with some philosophy, post-modernism and who knows what else thrown in. As I read, I was reminded of, among others, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49, Jasper Fforde’s Eyre Affair, and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I felt my brain twisting and turning as I read, firing synapses usually dormant. I very much look forward to Spook Country.

“Await Your Reply” by Dan Chaon

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

I re-read Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon, ostensibly for Books and Bars. But for those of you who don’t live in MN, we got a monster storm last weekend with 16+ inches followed by bitter sub-zero weather. The streets are plowed out mostly, but parking and the cold are still formidable. I skipped B & B and stayed home, snuggled down on the loveseat with my husband and 2 boys for The Muppet Christmas Carol. 7yo Drake remembered many details from last year. 4yo Guppy covered his eyes at the scary parts. And husband G. Grod didn’t quite stay awake for the whole thing. The Marley brothers, Jacob and “Robert”? Ha! It was a satisfying night.

But, back to Await Your Reply, which I read earlier this year and thought was very good. A re-read not only confirmed, but increased my high opinion of it. This is a smart, fast-paced mystery, with sympathetic and fascinating characters. Ryan is a young man who has recently met his birth father and established a relationship with him. Lucy is a high school senior who runs off with her history teacher from small-town Pompey, Ohio. And Miles Cheshire has been trying to find his missing twin Hayden for over a decade. The chapters alternate among these three tales and six characters. The momentum and connections build until the book becomes hard to, and irritating to have to, put down. I found it well worth re-reading, noticing many more small details that flew by me the first time, and making me wonder at all the things I still might be missing, including allusions Chaon refers to in the author interview at the end of the TPB.

Read this book. And read it again. I do not think you’ll be disappointed. Enthralled, rather.

Wondering: why was this book not included in the 2010 Morning News Tournament of Books? I think it could have handily bested the winner of last year, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Obsessive book-geek good news: The long list for the 2011 tournament was published this morning!

Obsessive book-geek better news: They’re accepting applications for a guest judge! I’m going to apply! I’m all aquiver with geek joy.

Battle of the Sexes, 1800’s style

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Bronte sisters Power Dolls!

Ah, Tor, thank you. I love me some geekiana.

“Far Arden” by Kevin Cannon

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

I knew I would read Far Arden sometime, as it’s a lovely looking book by a local author/illustrator of graphic novels. There was nothing to push it to the head of the TBR pile, though, till I was asked to review something for another publication. Then it jumped the queue.

Far Arden cover

Far Arden cover

Far Arden’s hero, Army Shanks, literally almost leaps off the front cover, surrounded by a lengthy (but not confusing) cast of characters, a complicated past, and a future in which he hopes to find Far Arden, a legendary idyllic island in the Northern Arctic Sea. It starts off as a swashbuckling adventure story: heroes! villains! ex-girlfiends! cute orphans! lost, legendary maps. In spite of many threads and characters, all of this meshes well and swept this reader along at a fast clip, not least because of a clever visual storytelling style and many humorous passages.

In the middle, though, this boys’ adventure becomes something more complicated and interesting. Tragedy intrudes on the characters’ adventures, and a thornier combination of story and emotion takes this in a bittersweet direction to a decidedly noir-ish ending. Fun and funny at the beginning, this goes beyond being a thumping good read. Recommended.

You can check out the whole book online, but if you like it, I recommend buying it. Not only will you support an artist and Top Shelf, one of the rare publisher’s encouraging artist-owned works, but it’s a gem of an object–small, solid, cloth-bound and covered in the colors of sunset and the sea. It feels great in the hand and will be handsome on a shelf. I’ve linked above to amazon, but recommend seeking it out at your local comic shop.

For a fitting explanation of the odd origins of this book, see Kevin’s unique explanation at Powell’s.

Sad Bookshelf

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

This bookshelf is sad because everyone (except me!) has an e-reader:

Sad bookshelf

“Tamara Drewe” by Posy Simmonds

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

My friend Big Brain pointed out Tamara Drewe, a graphic novel, to me when I was in the comic shop last week.

Tamara Drewe

I’d heard of the film (which has received mostly mediocre reviews) but he said the GN was well reviewed, which is almost understatement when I looked at the blurbs on the back. They are from reputable sources and aren’t stinting in their praise.

Posy Simmonds is a graphic artist who has done children’s books, this and a previous graphic novel, Gemma Bovery, and more. Tamara Drewe the book is a modern retelling of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. The setting is the English countryside, at a retreat for writers. I haven’t read the Hardy, but am now interested in it because of this engaging homage.

Simmonds combines the art, prose passages, faux tabloid excerpts and word bubbles to great effect. This is absolutely a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, in other words, a skilled execution of the medium of the graphic novel, made all the more engaging by its involving story and broad cast of characters.

Tamara of the title tempts all the men when she returns to the neighborhood. She begins a rocky relationship, but continues to attract attention from the men and bored teens in the neighborhood. Other’s stories circle around hers. Beth oversees the writers retreat, while her novelist husband Nicholas earns fame and money to make it popular. One of the residents, Glen, is long at work on his academic novel. Local Andy Cobb is trying to start an organic farm, and helps out on the grounds of the retreat. Two local girls, Casey and Jody, goggle at Tamara and her boyfriend and get into a variety of trouble.

Having recently read two 19th century novels, Villette and Madame Bovary, I found this work very much in the same spirit. Many characters, many characters, with crossovers and coincidences tying everything together in complex and interesting ways. Unlike the other two books, though, it didn’t contain any digs at the Jesuits. It’s beautifully illustrated, and is much more than an illustrated novel. Highly recommended, and I’ll be seeking out both Simmonds’ other work and potentially the Hardy because of it.

One piece of minutiae: Glen Larson is an American, yet used two phrases that didn’t ring true to me. He called his sweaters “knits” at one point, and referred to himself a few times as a “pantyhose.” If the latter is indeed English slang (I thought it was pantywaist, not pantyhose) then both are easily explained as Glen picking up English slang while he’s there. But if were speaking American, he would say sweaters and refer to himself as a douchebag.

Another, and this is me being especially nerdy. The main character’s name reminded me of Nancy Drew, one of the fictional characters for whom I took the name of this weblog. Glen’s last name is Larson, the same as Glen A. Larson, the man who produced the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery show that was a huge cultural moment of my childhood. A strange coincidence?

A third thing that struck me: the heroine of Hardy’s novel is Bathsheba Everdene. I’m currently reading The Hunger Games, whose main character is Katniss Everdeen. Again, strange coincidence, or just mega-geekery on my part?

“Sense & Sensibility” adapted for Marvel Comics

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

When Marvel Comics adapted Pride and Prejudice, I liked the cute covers, and howled with pain when my eyes were assaulted by the “art” on the inside. That plus too-free and unnecessary departures from Austen’s own prose made me swiftly toss it. Their recent miniseries adaptation of Austen’s Sense & Sensibility shows that perhaps lessons were learned.

Covers and interiors were done by Sonny Liew (who only did the covers last time) and the prose and dialogue were closer to Austen’s own. Liew’s manga-influenced style was a good fit for the tale of the Dashwood sisters: older, common-sense Elinor, and younger, hyper-sensitive Marianne. In addition to good characterization of the sisters, the other players characteristics are well drawn, both figuratively and literally: Willoughby’s charm, Brandon’s patience, Edward Ferrar’s reticence, Lucy Steele’s obnoxiousness.

As in any adaptation, a few things went missing: the troubling aspect of Marianne’s ending, their mother’s silliness. And one of my favorite bits of the novel, Mr. Palmer’s humorous comments are but touched on. Yet, they are still touched on, which I think shows how this adaptation has a much better feel for its subject matter than did the P & P debacle.

My one major complaint is that the individual monthly issues have ads interspersed through the story. The placement goes beyond distracting to possibly surreal.

(I will try to insert an example photo, except Facebook is not cooperating.)

I would highly recommend waiting for the graphic novel collected edition instead, scheduled for release in November 2010.

“System of the World” by Neal Stephenson

Friday, August 27th, 2010

New gap on TBR (To Be Read) shelf:

TBR shelf, sans Baroque Cycle

New residents of AR/IDCTR (Already Read/I Don’t Care To Read) shelf:

Baroque Trilogy on the ABR (already been read) shelf

We did it! My husband and I finished reading Neal Stephenson’s System of the World well before the end of August for my self-assigned Baroque Summer reading project. We read Quicksilver in June, The Confusion in July, and the third volume in Stephenson’s sprawling, insane, erudite and entertaining Baroque Cycle trilogy this month.

SotW continues with main characters Jack Shaftoe, Daniel Waterhouse, and Eliza, duchess of Qwglhm (which Stephenson says is a joke and not meant to be pronounced, but I hear in my head as the Simpson’s Chief Wiggum saying his name, but with a K sound in front of it ending with a mushy r: Kwiggulm”). And there are a host of other characters (Isaac Newton, Princess Caroline, Louis the Sun King) who are almost as entertaining as the ones Stephenson invented.

“Men half your age and double your weight have been slain on these wastes by Extremity of Cold,” said the Earl of Lostwithiel, Lord Warden of the Stannaries, and Rider of the Forest and Chase of Dartmoor, to one of his two fellow-travelers….

“I am astonished that you should call this an extremity of cold,” answered the old man. “In Boston, as you know, this would pass without remark. I am garbed for Boston.”

Stephenson is a huge geek, and the book is about (among many, many things) the rise of finance, philosophy, natural sciences, and computers. If you’ve enjoyed other Stephenson, like Snow Crash or Diamond Age, it’s likely your thing. It also reminded me, in its sprawling, inventive craziness, of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you liked any of these, and aren’t opposed to doorstoppy books, give the trilogy a look. If not, or if you don’t identify as a geek, this probably isn’t a good fit.

I had a good time reading these as a summer project. They’re so dense it was sometimes hard to keep track of the details and personae, but reading them consecutively and reading along with my husband helped a great deal. I was involved with the characters, learned things from the historic details, was eager to return to the book when I was away from it, and sad to leave it when it was done.

Geeky stats: Trilogy begun 4 June, finished 21 August 2010. Other books read in that time: 12, out of which 8 were graphic novels. Total pages (not including intro and outro material and acks): 2,618.

How long before we succumb to a re-read of Cryptonomicon, which the trilogy is kind of a prequel to? Not long, I bet, though as usual my TBR list is long.

Scott Pilgrim v. 1 to 6 by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Friday, August 27th, 2010

The Scott Pilgrim comic series by Bryan Lee O’Malley is about the 20-something slacker kid of the title and his efforts to woo and win the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers. There are many obstacles along the way, like his chaste romance with high schooler Knives Chau, and Ramona’s seven evil exes, whom Scott must defeat in combat. Lucky for him he’s the best fighter in the province. (He’s Canadian.)

I think my favorite is volume 1, since it epitomizes the out-there, wacky visual humor of the entire series, and often made me laugh aloud. My least favorite was volume 3, since it wasn’t as funny. My favorite character was probably drummer Kim Pine (below, left).

Scott Pilgrim

The entire series of six is a fun-filled ride of manga-inspired goofiness that I highly recommend.

Oh, and the movie’s good, too.

Jane Austen’s Fight Club

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

At Kung Fu Monkey, Jane Austen’s Fight Club. (HT G. Grod.)

Long Live the Colon!

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

For all my punctuation-geek friends, (of which I know there are many) “Colonoscopy: It’s Time to Check Your Colons” from the Millions (linked from The Morning News):

The jumper colon is a paragraphical Red Bull, a rocket-launch of a punctuator, the Usain Bolt of literature. It’s punchy as hell. To believers of short first sentences—Hemingway?—it couldn’t get any better. To believers of long-winded sentences that leave you gasping and slightly confused—Faulkner?—it also couldn’t get any better. By itself this colon is neither a period nor a non-period… or rather it is a period and it is also a non-period. You choose.

Skype Chat with Victor Lavalle

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I recently read and loved Big Machine by Victor LaValle, and was lucky enough to attend a Skype chat with him for Minneapolis’ Books and Bars book club. The video is at Mustache Robots, and is worth the ten minutes if you enjoyed the book.

“Howard’s End is on the Landing” by Susan Hill

Monday, May 17th, 2010

My friend A of New Century Reading and I have a semi-regular book swap going now. We lend each other books with overlong library queues, or, in the case of Susan Hill’s Howard’s End is on the Landing, ones that are otherwise not easily available.

I think it was at Pages Turned that I first read about this book, and knew I must read it, then was stunned to find it not at the library, as it’s not (yet) published in the US. I successfully fought down the “WANT IT NOW!” urge to buy it from some site I’ve forgotten the name of (probably for the best) that sells international books for only $25 and no shipping or something, and was thrilled to find that A. had a copy.

Hill is an English author. One day while looking in her shelves for a book she knew she owned, she instead found many unread books, and many more that she had formerly loved and wanted to re-read. Like I’ve done many times, she made a book vow. Unlike me, though, she kept it (or if she slipped, she didn’t admit it in the book.) Hers was to only read from her shelves for a year.

The journey through my own books involved giving up buying new ones, and that will seem a perverse act for someone who is both an author and a publisher…

I wanted to repossess my books, to explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading, and to map this house of many volumes. There are enough here to divert, instruct, entertain, amaze, amuse, edify, improve, enrich me for far longer than a year and every one of them deserves to be taken down and dusted off, opened and read…

There is no doubt that of the thousands of new books published every year many are excellent and some will stand the test of time. A few will become classics. But I wanted to stand back and let the dust settle on everything new, while I set off on a journey through my books.
(p. 2, 3)

The book is both an autobiography of the author’s literary life, including numerous encounters with famous figures in literature. At times I found the name dropping tiresome. But the book overall so engaged me that, like a friend, I accepted it on its merits, which are many. Hill loosely chronicles her year and the books she reads. All of those she writes about are re-reads of favorites, like those of Iris Murdoch or Elizabeth Bowen, or a defense of oft-maligned former favorites, like those by Enid Blyton and Anthony Trollope. She didn’t write about reading any books from her shelves that were new-to-her, however long they’d been sitting.

Hill writes clearly and with affection, both of the books she admires and the people she’s known. Many of the authors she mentioned I knew, but many I didn’t. Reading this was like spending several afternoons in the company of a bookish, learned friend. It reminded me pleasantly of Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. (Heavens, was that really almost four years ago?) The major downside to both of those, though? Now there are so many more authors I want to explore, beyond those already sitting on my shelves.

15 of 15: “Asterios Polyp” by David Mazuchelli

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

I did it! I finished 15 books in 15 days! Woot! And for those of you attempting this folly with me, thank you. For those of you reading along, thank you. For my family, who were even more neglected than usual, thank you.

I encourage everyone who participated in this project to comment. By everyone, I mean those who read 15, those who tried, those who considered it, and those who just read the reviews. What was your favorite, or least favorite? How many books did you move off your TBR shelves? What’s the biggest insight you take away?

And now, last but definitely not least, #15: Asterios Polyp. David Mazzuchelli was the artist/collaborator with Frank Miller on two of my favorite superhero graphic novels, Daredevil: Born Again, and Batman: Year One. Both are classics, and good examples of superhero books for those who dismiss superheroes. Asterios Polyp is Mazzuchelli’s first solo work, and it’s a masterful one. Having just finished it, I look forward to reading it again. It also made me want to read The Odyssey; few books have that power.

Asterios of the title is an Updike-ish architect. Recently divorced, his apartment building is struck by lightning. He grabs three items and his wallet, and takes a bus to the middle of nowhere. The story alternates between the present, where he works as a mechanic in a small town, and the past, his marriage to the artist Hana. Throughout, the art and story focus on duality, yet together they achieve something that transcends either/or.

The art is highly stylized (formalistic, the reviews call it) as is the use of color, playing with variations on cyan, magenta and yellow. Each character has their own font, as well as their own art style. The many layers of artistic variation are dizzying but exhilarating.

Asterios Polyp was just awarded the first-ever LA Times Book Prize for Graphic Novels. For more reviews, check out those from

New York Times
Scott McCloud
Entertainment Weekly
The Comics Journal

And, to sum up my 15/15/15 reading: In Other Rooms, Other Wonders; Shakespeare Wrote for Money; Eats, Shoots and Leaves; Mercury; Chocolate War; Unwritten; Ex Machina: Dirty Tricks; Buffy: Retreat; This is Water; Desperate Characters; Borrowed Finery; The Slave Dancer; Stitches; The Catnappers; Asterios Polyp.

favorite book read: can’t pick just one! Asterios Polyp, Stitches, Catnappers, Slave Dancer, Chocolate War
least favorite books read: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Retreat and Ex Machina: Dirty Tricks
# of books out of 15 moved off TPR shelves: 14, 5 of which had been there over a year
lesson learned: do this in winter next time–late December or early January
next book: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
book on deck: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
next book project: Baroque Summer

“Batman and Robin” by Grant Morrison

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I respect Grant Morrison’s work. But I don’t always get it. I’m fairly certain the deficiency is me, as I’ve read about the zillion obscure-to-me referents he used for whichever book I didn’t care for or understand, like his All-Star Superman. So I approached his take on Batman and Robin, Batman Reborn with trepidation.

From moment one, I was in the driver’s seat, first in the bad guys’ car, then in a Bat vehicle. Morrison tags between these two scenes, and quickly situates us in the Bat-universe:

Robin: I told you it would work. All I had to do was adapt my father’s blueprints.

Batman: I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Damian…

Robin: “Never use real names in the field.” Your words.

Batman: You’re paying attention. Good. You know, I’d have killed for a flying batmobile when I was Robin.

A few pages later, we learn which former Robin is the new Batman, because apparently Bruce Wayne is dead.

I have a passing familiarity with the Bat-universe. I knew who Damian was, and guessed who Batman was, before Alfred confirmed it, though I don’t know who all the Robins have been. This reboot, then, is not only for regular readers of the monthly Bat titles, but also for casual fans of the Bat. It’s quite good, and in the Morrison/Quitely tradition, often gruesome.

There are villains aplenty, like Pyg and the Flamingo, and a new antihero, the Red Hood. The first trade paperback collects issues 1 to 6, but doesn’t resolve everything. Even if you bought the individual issues, the collected edition is a good investment to avoid the ugly, intrusive ads. I look forward to the rest of the series; so far it’s a wild ride.

Upcoming Reading; Care to Join Me?

Friday, April 9th, 2010

So here’s what’s been rattling around in my head:

For now:

15 books, 15 days, 15 blogs
: In honor of the woman profiled in the New York Times last year, who read a book a day for a year and blogged each one, I propose reading a book a day from your shelf starting April 16 (the day after US taxes are due, so you should have a little more time plus be in a frugal mindset) till April 30, 2010 and blogging a review, however brief, the next day.

I would post my entries the night before, so you could link each day starting the 17th in the comments, through May 1, 2010.

Does this sound good to anyone?

I’m afraid coming up with a logo, spreading the word far and wide, and setting up a group on a site like Good Reads is just too much for me, now, though I’m happy to take advice or help on these from more seasoned book challenge folks. I know this is last minute, but that’s me–always running on the ragged edge of disaster. OK, perhaps that’s an exaggeration.

For later:

Call me crazy, but I had a blast last summer reading Infinite Jest, and was thinking of doing something similar: reading Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, or at least the first two, Quicksilver and The Confusion. They’re each about 900 pages, but so was Cryptonomicon and I loved that and read it at a brisk pace.

Anyone else interested in a Baroque Summer? I’ll probably do it in any case, but it would be way more fun (as Infinite Summer was) with a gang.

Geeking Out: A Game of Thrones at HBO

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

TV critic Alan Sepinwall, via Mo Ryan of the ChiTrib, confirms that HBO has given the greenlight to a series based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel A Game of Thrones.

The cast includes some impressive names, like Mark Addy of Shaun of the Dead, Jennifer Ehle of Pride and Prejudice, and Lena Headey of 300 and the Terminator tv series, but I was most surprised and delighted to see that David Benioff, whose City of Thieves I just finished and loved, is the Exec Producer and screenwriter.

A Game of Thrones was recommended to me in 1997 by two of my co-worker friends at a comic shop in Bryn Mawr, PA. I devoured it and passed it on to my then-boyfriend G. Grod, who also devoured it. We liked the 2nd book, but were disappointed that the third wasn’t the conclusion, and I never made it through. I wished for far less description of what people were wearing (sumptuous velvets embroidered with sigils) and what people were eating (savory meat in delicious sauce, and no vegetables; how did these people not get scurvy?) and more of the story and characters. I’ve been thinking for a while I’d like to revisit the series if Martin ever finishes the fifth book, so I don’t end up a victim of waaaant! because of the series’ IWantToReadItosity like Jo Walton at Now I’ve got even more incentive.

Less vs. Fewer

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Even though I know the difference, I made this grammar mistake recently, and thought it merited re-posting.

Use the word less for uncountable items: I ate less Jell-o than he did.

Use fewer for items you can count: I ate fewer French fries than she did.

This means that every single sign in stores that reads “x items or less” is incorrect. Instead it should read “x items or fewer,” as Mrs. Incandenza campaigned for in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

Related: the same rule holds for amount and number. Use amount for things that can’t be counted, like water, and number for things that can, like people.

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

This week’s selection for Books and Bars, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, is a sci-fi classic. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards when it came out. The short story it grew out of was published in 1977, the same year Star Wars came to theaters. Card expanded the story to a novel, published in 1985. Ender, a nickname for Andrew, is not unlike Luke Skywalker, or any number of other mythical heroes whose story follows what Joseph Campbell called a monomyth in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Ender’s Earth was attacked and almost destroyed twice within the last century by an alien race, called “buggers.” Since then, peace has existed among the countries. Children are monitored for excellence, and a very few are selected for the International Fleet’s battle school. Ender Wiggin is 6 years old. He’s a third child, a rarity, and something not allowed for most people on Earth. His parents were not only allowed, but encouraged to have a third child, after his older brother, Peter, proved a brilliant sociopath and his sister, Valentine, too pacifistic. In conversations between the military adults that preface each chapter, readers learn that Ender is a hoped-for synthesis of his siblings: brilliant and strong and empathic.

As Ender progresses through battle school, he is faced again and again with challenges, some of which are situational, and many of which are manufactured as the adults try to manipulate him into the military leader they hope him to be. Peter and Valentine, meanwhile, take on a challenge of their own when the fragile peace on Earth is threatened. They patiently and thoroughly build reputations for themselves online as political commentators known by the pseudonyms Locke (Peter) and Demosthenes (Valentine). Both siblings continue to affect Ender throughout his education. Peter is the violent killer Ender fears he has become, and Valentine is twice manipulated into urging Ender on in his training.

The book is a chilling meditation on the power adults have over children in the control of environment and information. It also ponders the relation between the military and the state, and what each person owes, or doesn’t, as a citizen. Ultimately, it wonders what it takes to be a killer, and whether killing is an inevitable result, whether out of fear, self-preservation or power. Card’s thorough and complex characterizations of Ender and his siblings, as well as the momentum created by a strong plot, make this an engrossing and provocative read for fans of science fiction and heroic myths, like the Harry Potter saga.

I am assured by fans of the series that the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, not only equals but surpasses and completes the saga begun in Ender’s Game. It, too, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, the year after Ender’s Game did. There are several more books in the Ender tale, and some about other characters.