Book List – September and October 2011

Am I late, or am I early? Do they cancel out? Does it matter?

The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead, by Scott Kenemore, © 2007. Finished September 25.

A self-help book crossed with zombies. The premise wears thin long before the end, since there’s really only so many ways you can go with the idea. The book could’ve had potential as a satire of the self-help genre, but it’s not played nearly straight enough for that to work.

Pay Me, Bug!, by Christopher Wright, © 2011. Finished October 19.

A starship captain pulls off an impossible heist against a heavily fortified facility, but before he and his crew can enjoy the spoils, they are blackmailed into performing an even more impossible caper against an even harder target. But with an assassin on their tail, will Grif Vindh and his crew survive long enough to try to make lightning strike twice? From the man who often brings you Help Desk and occasionally Kernel Panic comes Pay Me, Bug!

Seriously, though, it’s worth the price of admission just for the fight scene in Chapter 31 alone. But since the entire thing is posted online, I guess the price of admission is zero. But that just means you have no excuse.

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Book List – August 2011

Even later than before!

Moving Pictures, by Terry Pratchett, © 1990. Finished August 31.

The tenth Discworld novel, and the first in the series where Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler plays a prominent role in the plot. I thought for sure that elephants were going to play some important part in the climax, given the recurring imagery of them earlier on, but I was mistaken. I also totally missed one of the (fairly obvious) Hollywood references being made repeatedly until near the ending.

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Book List – July 2011

Late? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle, © 1892. Audiobook. Finished July 25.

Unsurprisingly, a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories. Less unsurprisingly, a couple of the stories seemed vaguely familiar — I’m not sure whether I’ve read them before a long time ago, or if (being in the public domain and all), the core of the plots of some of them got transplanted into other works. Surprisingly, Holmes doesn’t manage to win in all of them. More surprisingly, in one of the stories Holmes goes up against the KKK.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, © 1890. Audiobook. Finished July 25.

I came away from this one somewhat disappointed. A lot of the dialogue felt a bit contrived to fit in a bunch of witticisms, and there’s hardly a likable character to be found. OK sure, the reprehensibility of the titular character is sort of the point, but still.

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Book List – June 2011

Here’s what I read this past month:

Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !, © 2010. Finished June 18.

An anthology of short stories all based on the premise of a machine that, given a small blood sample, can predict with 100% accuracy how a person will die. You might think there’d be a lot of similarity between the stories given that unifying concept, but there’s a huge variety in how each of the authors build on that premise to create interesting and compelling stories. Thankfully, the only thing you’ll be hard-pressed to find is the obvious twist-ending-where-the-prediction-was-being-interpreted-incorrectly. Besides, any book that can enrage Glenn Beck has got to be worth something!

Them: Adventures with Extremists, by Jon Ronson, © 2002. Finished June 30.

A description of Jon Ronson’s experiences shadowing various fringe conspiracy theorists and trying to track down the truth, if any, underlying their beliefs. Despite the variety of groups he spends time with, from Islamic extremists to KKK leaders, he finds them unwittingly unified by the common belief that somewhere there’s a small cabal of wealthy Western businessmen secretly pulling the strings to control the world (and, to a lesser extent, the belief that many other conspiracy theorists are puppets of that cabal, trying to discredit them). He finds that it’s difficult to keep track of what’s real and what’s not once you go down that rabbit hole, when it becomes uncertain what is really a code word for what, or when you find yourself being tailed after trying to infiltrate a suspected Bilderberg meeting. The book reminded me of Michael Shermer‘s book Why People Believe Weird Things, in that once you get past the people who are just flat out crazy and/or evil, a lot of the conspiracy theorists fixated on a particular theory, and then became adept at finding ways to interpret any facts encountered after that as supporting their theory. This is particularly evident in the climax of the book, where Ronson and a couple conspiracy-theory radio hosts sneak into Bohemian Grove and come away with vastly different interpretations of what they saw.

Book List – May 2011

You know the drill by now:

Ship of Fools, by Richard Paul Russo, © 2001. Finished May 22.

A massive space ship, in operation so long that nobody on board knows for sure what its original mission was or where it came from, has gone fourteen years since its last landfall, until it suddenly receives a beacon from an unknown planet. The discovery of the signal, and whatever lies on the planet that sent it, threatens to decide the outcome of the brewing power struggle on the ship. But none of the factions are prepared for what awaits them. (There, I described the book in a much less spoilery fashion than the dust jacket.) If only there had been a way in the story to reveal just what the heck the antagonists’ motivations were, because seriously, who does that?

Faust Eric, by Terry Pratchett, © 1990. Finished May 29.

A lot shorter than all the previous Discworld novels, enough so that I’d be tempted to wish it were longer, if not for taking to heart the novel’s lesson of how careful one should be when doing something like that. Especially when you try to summon a demon to grant your wish and wind up with a wizard who’s a lot better at running away than at actual magic. Since finishing the book I’ve hardly made any summoning circles at all, just to be safe.

Book List – April 2011

Oh yeah, I still have this blog, don’t I? I guess I might as well post about April’s books:

Earth (The Book): A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race, by Jon Stewart et al, © 2010. Finished April 9.

A mostly comprehensive summary of human civilization, for the benefit of any aliens who happen across our planet after our inevitable demise. Sadly, I’m not sure they’ll have the context necessary to catch most of the humor. Hopefully they will, because then they’ll understand an awful lot more about us. Also, here’s how you can be sure I’m a nerd: on page 223, I readily noticed both that the chess board is improperly set up (the black king and queen are swapped), and that the box art for Metroid II: Return of Samus is improperly paired with a screenshot of the original Metroid, in the section awkwardly explaining to the alien reader about how many of our video games were about us killing them.

The Sign of the Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, © 1890. (Audiobook) Finished April 18.

The second Sherlock Holmes novel, and works better as a single cohesive story than its predecessor. In this one you get to see Holmes actually working, instead of somehow figuring out the whole thing right away but not telling anyone else until the last chapter or two.

Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll, © 1871. (Audiobook) Finished April 18.

The sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, though if your only exposure to the Alice stories is through the various adaptations of them, you might not realize that this is a separate story, since pretty much every adaptation takes things from Looking-Glass Land and throws them into Wonderland. I’m looking at you, Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain, © 1894. (Audiobook) Finished April 30.

A slave woman tries to secure a better future for her infant son by secretly swapping him with her master’s infant son. As one might infer from the title, things don’t go quite so well as expected. Today the Chekhov’s Gun established early on is painfully obvious, though given the time the book was written and the time the story takes place, perhaps it wasn’t originally so. Definitely my favorite Twain story thus far.

Book List – March 2011

It’s that time again!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, © 1865. (Audiobook) Finished March 18.

Good, but I strongly urge you to avoid the above-linked Librivox audiobook version. Unlike the others I’ve listened to before, here almost every chapter is read by a different narrator, and one of the narrators who does two chapters is absolutely horrible. He speaks as though reading to a two-year-old, with the style of someone who thinks kids are just dumb little adults. Cadences rarely match sentence structure, delivery is excruciatingly slow, and emphasis is extreme and all over the place. It’s bad enough to make those two chapters unlistentoable. Also, the audiobook is in dire need of volume normalization.

A Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, © 1887. (Audiobook) Finished March 20.

This is the first Sherlock Holmes novel. Unexpectedly, I thought the second half of the book, primarily told from a different character’s point of view and where Holmes and Watson don’t even appear again until near the end, was far more interesting a story than the murder mystery surrounding it. I wonder if that means I’d prefer reading Doyle’s other works more than the rest of the Sherlock Holmes series?

HTML5: Up & Running (published online as Dive Into HTML5), by Mark Pilgrim, © 2010. Finished March 29.

A good introduction of the new features of HTML5, aimed at people already familiar with HTML4 and JavaScript. It provides lots of examples of how to use the features, but doesn’t cover all of them, and doesn’t go into significant depth for any. Some of the sections, particularly on <video> and microdata, drag on as examples are driven into the ground — I don’t need to see how half a dozen different tools can be used to encode video, thank you. A good overview, but don’t try to use it as a reference.

Book List – February 2011

So yeah, I’ve been pretty light on the posting lately. Nevertheless, I’m continuing the trend I started last month.

All-in-One CISSP Exam Guide, Fifth Edition, by Shon Harris, © 2010. Finished February 13.

I’m going to go ahead and cite this 1,000+ page beast for the reason for the relatively low number of books this month and last month. Granted, I skimmed through several sections, but still. It’s about as readable as you can hope for from a book intended to prepare you for a certification exam. I could see this being useful professionally even after taking the exam; should all your physical perimeter security safeguards fail, you could definitely bludgeon the attacker with it.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain, © 1889. (Audiobook) Finished February 19.

A satire of the romanticized picture of medireview medieval England prevalent in Twain’s time (and still pretty prevalent today). A modern (well, late 1800s) man finds himself in Arthurian England, finds his knowledge of science and technology to be no match for the gullibility and superstition that pervades the kingdom, and promptly sets about trying to secretly transform it into a modern superpower 1300 years ahead of the rest of the world. Even given the premise, it can strain credulity at times (The main character happens to know the date of a solar eclipse 1300 years before he was born? That’s… convenient. But now I know where that one DuckTales episode got the idea from.), and some of the social commentary gets a bit thick approaching the end (Lynch mobs in Arthurian England?!) — and the ending just kind of happens — but overall it’s enjoyable. The downside to listening to it as an audiobook: you get to suffer along with the main character as a traveling companion rambles on at length with a story that goes nowhere.

Book List – January 2011

Reneé has challenged me to keep track of what books I read from month to month like she does. I know she has me beat for January in terms of how many books she’s finished, but then, I’m beating her in posting the list promptly, so I’ll call it even.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, © 1905. (Audiobook) Finished January 3.

From the first chapter, you might think this book is going to be an adventure story about a daring and mysterious figure sneaking aristocrats out of revolutionary Paris before they can be executed by the Reign of Terror. Then you hit several chapters of people in an English tavern having political discussions about the Revolution. Then the main character gets introduced, and things really slow to a glacial pace that persists through the end of the book. Then you realize it’s not an adventure story at all, but a romance novel, about a wealthy Frenchwoman who married into British aristocracy, is bored of her husband, and secretly longs for the daring and mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel who — spoiler alert — turns out to be her husband. The reader can figure this out many chapters earlier than she does. The worst part about all of it is the persistent feeling that there’s a vastly more interesting and exciting story happening in the background that gets shut out by yet another chapter of the main character going on and on about her feelings.

My Man Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse, © 1919. (Audiobook) Finished January 15.

Despite the title, only half the stories involves Jeeves and Wooster; the other half involves Reggie, a character roughly similar to Wooster, except that the situations he gets himself into are more serious and Jeeves-less. For example, Jeeves and Wooster might conspire to help a cousin by tricking a relative into thinking the cousin is living it up in New York, whereas Reggie might conspire to cover up a friend’s apparent drunken murder of a member of the local royal family. Kind of an odd shift in tone switching between the two characters from one story to the next. Not enough to ruin the collection of stories or anything, but if you’re like me, you’ll catch yourself at one point thinking, “wow, this Reggie guy is really a terrible person.”

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