io9's This Fall's Must-Read Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

Io9io9 is a blog that confuses me. The tag line is "We come from the future," which is open enough to allow them to post whatever they like (and who am I to tell them how to live their lives?) but to me I think of it as a science fiction/fantasy blog.

They do, in fact, post lots of SSF stuff, which is why I subscribe, but they also post random crap which I skip. No biggie, but it does confuse me.

Now, I'm afraid, I must question their SSF taste. Today Annalee Newitz posted this intriguingly titled post: This Fall's Must-Read Science Fiction and Fantasy Books. I love books! I love lists! I love the Fall! I dove into the list and found this:

Parasite, by Mira Grant (Orbit)

Grant is the author of the amazing zombie journalism series, Newsflesh — and now, she's back with a new series about a biotech dystopia. In the near future, everybody is free of disease thanks to genetically modified tapeworms that live in our guts. Unfortunately, it turns out that these little creatures have an agenda of their own.

I haven't read Parasite, since it isn't out and all, and it might be great. I have read the Newsflesh series (here, here, and here) and I can tell you one thing it is not: amazing. Unless, of course, Annalee meant "amazingly terrible."

I think I'll take this list with an iceberg of salt. I am looking forward to The Republic of Thieves, though.


Books from The Last Page

Book Haul: 8/17/13

I love the The Free Library of Philadelphia. Which is why I often shop at the two used bookshops the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia operate: The Book Corner right next to the main library and The Next Page at 8th and Chestnut.

Marisa and I found ourselves at the Chestnut Street location yesterday and within 30 seconds being in the store I found one book I had been wanting. I quickly found two more books and then decided I should leave before I found even more books!

The three books I picked up are:

I was surprised to see each of these books in the store since they are all pretty recent releases, but I'm not complaining. And after looking at Amazon, all these books are new enough that the price I paid for the physical copy was less than the Kindle version (and less than any of the used copies available on Amazon itself).

I get neat books for cheap and support the Free Library. What's not to like?


Meme me?

Memescott

The Internet is an odd thing. Case in point, the above picture.

My Internet pal, and yours, Grant Robertson tweeted to me:

I was not! It seems Reddit user KodyRite came across my picture somewhere on the Internet (it happens), and decided my face could launch a meme called "Downer Dave." The idea being: I congratulate someone on some good news, and then add some sad little sentence at the end.

I was amused (still am, really) and so I tweeted about it and went to bed.

The logical next step happened: Redditors in the comments section assumed this was a sad cry for attention from the person pictured (i.e. me) who must have submitted his own photo to create a meme featuring himself.

There are a couple of problems with this line of thinking:


  1. I am not KodyRite (as of a little while ago I am blankbaby on Reddit).

  2. Even if I were a frequent Redditor I would never submit a picture of myself to the site. Why? Because I'm a fat geek with a beard, the perfect target for untold numbers of insults from Redditors.

Today I went out to meet a friend and came home to find this in my Inbox:

Email

It seems the first post spawned another post on Reddit in the cringpics titled, "Guy on r/adviceanimals tries to turn himself into a meme called Downer Dave" featuring this picture:

Hitthatscott

The comments, as one might expect, aren't too kind to the chubby bearded fellow claiming to have had sex with some fictional lady. That being said most people seem to be more upset by the text alignment issues in the picture, which is pretty awful. Had I created this picture I can assure you that the text would have been properly aligned, and the joke would have been funnier.

My reaction to all this? Amused befuddlement. I did create a Reddit account so I could comment and say, "Nope, I didn't post this," knowing full well that it doesn't really matter if the story is true. To channel Steven Colbert: it feels true, and that's good enough.

Also, I look pretty good in that picture, don't ya think?


Read what we own month

Look at all the pretty books

Some mistake my love of Kindles for a rejection of traditional books. This is foolish. I love reading and therefore I love anything that allows me to read books: Kindles, printed books, libraries, bookstores, and so on.

When you couple my love of books with my slightly obsessive compulsive personality (BUY! ALL! THE! BOOKS!) you get shelves groaning with unread books.

All these unread books don't stop me from buying more books (mostly used, some Kindle books) and adding them to the shelves. It also doesn't stop me from taking out 2-3 books each time I visit the Free Library.

I guess what I'm saying is that I like to read.

Marisa, in reaction to this behavior of ours (she's also a bookworm, though since she's a fancy pants food blogger she also tends to get 3-4 cookbooks in the mail a week from publishers hoping that she'll write about them), has declared this month "Read What We Already Own" month.

The idea is simple: this month we'll only read books we own. No new books, no library books. Just books from the apartment.

Good thing we have hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of books to choose from so it won't be a hardship.

Of course on August 1st I'm totally buying Sacrifice of Fools at the very least.


Hugo nominated short stories 2013

HugoawardsThis year not only have I read all the Hugo nominated novels, novelettes, novellas, and short stories I even ponied up the dough so I could actually vote on which will win.

I won't let this AWESOME power go to my head. I promise. Not even a little.

Anyway, only three short stories were nominated this year which makes me a little sad. I'm certain that two more stories out there could have made the cut, but they didn't. This also makes me thing that I really need to start writing some short stories.

Random Scott Writing Aside

When Ray Bradbury died I started watching/reading about him. I'd read some of his stuff, and I knew he was a great writer but I didn't really know much about him. Someone once asked him how he became such a master at writing short stories. His answer, paraphrased, was to write a short story a week for a year. At the end of the year you'll have 52 stories and one of them is bound to be good!

This inspired me to start a file in Evernote with ideas about short stories, none of which I have yet written because I'm a horrible person.

/Random Scott Writing Aside

Since there are only three stories nominated (and one of those stories is very, very short) why not read them all? Here they are, freely available for your eyeball pleasure:

I'm not going to tell you which gets my vote just yet, since I spilled the beans about that on a not yet released episode of The Incomparable. Once that episode is posted I'll have a post with all my picks and the reasoning behind them (as if anyone cares).


Everything is coming up D&D

A d20 just like you want to see it

The last couple of weeks have been heavy on the D&D for me. First, the long time in the planning the Incomparable D&D session happened over the weekend. The podcast isn't up, but you can watch it on YouTube if you're into that sort of thing (and who isn't).

I also penned a piece for The Magazine about how D&D has shaped me as a person. The isn't my normal kind of writing, but I'm pleased with how it came out (thanks to Marisa for helping, and thanks for Glenn for accepting the pitch!).

Let me know what you think of the piece. I'm very curious because this kind of writing is outside of my comfort zone. I'm also concerned that the last section makes me out to be something of a sociopath, but I'm really not! You can trust me, I totally have "human" "emotions."


2013 Hugo Awards and my misplaced hopes

HugoawardsEver since I started a concerted effort to read all the Hugo nominated novels (check out the Incomparable episodes: 2011 and 2012) I've been disappointed with the awards in general for two reasons: my own misconceptions and Mira Grant. Oddly enough, they are related to one another.

In my mind the Hugo award nominees represent the finest, most creative and interesting writing done in science fiction novels during the previous year. While this is true for some nominees that's not what the Hugos are. The Hugos are voted on by the readers, which means that at the basest level the Hugos are a popularity contest.

Which explains why every novel in the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant has been nominated. I'm sure Ms. Grant is a lovely woman, and clearly there are people who enjoy her work. Kudos to her! But do her novels represent the best that science fiction has to offer? No, they do not. However, lots of people like her and her books are very easy to read and are fun if you don't mind overly repetitious prose, blunt force world building, borderline incest, cardboard villains, and rudimentary plotting.

I will be reading all of the nominated novels for the Incomparable yet again. Luckily I've already read 3 out of 5. Here's the list:

  • 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit): One of two I haven't read yet. I was going to read it when it first came out but my good old pal Glenn Fleishman said it was crap, so I passed. Looks like I'll have a chance to form my own opinion.
  • Blackout, Mira Grant (Orbit): Savvy readers might guess this is the other novel I haven't read yet. I'll go into it with an open mind, promise!
  • Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen): Bujold is a great writer, though this isn't a great book. It is fun, but I don't think it is award winning. You don't have to take my word on it, listen to the Incomparable book club wherein we discuss the book in detail.
  • Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor): Another fun book that isn't really a good book. Scalzi isn't shy about the fact that his aim isn't high literature but rather readable works that lots of people will buy. He did it in spades with this book, and I think his big old royalty checks are award enough. We also did an episode of the Incomparable on this book.
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW): I was surprised, in a good way, to see this book on the list. Out of the 3 I've read, this would be the one I would vote for. Sure, it reads like an awesome D&D adventure, but I really liked the setting and the characters.

Nine books that should have been nominated

It is all well and good to complain about the books that got nominated, but a real critic should provide some alternatives. Looking over what I read last year that were Hugo eligible, I've come up with nine books that should have been on the list:

  • The Dog Stars, Peter Heller: I didn't declare this book the best book I read in January 2013 for nothing, folks! Sure, it isn't as good as the Road but is far better written than some of the nominated novels. "But, Scott," you say, "This isn't science fiction!" Umm, yes it is, dude. The post-apocalypse thing is totally science fiction. Word.
  • Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson: I'm actually surprised this one wasn't nominated (though perhaps it wasn't in the running for some reason). Set in the immediate future, this story tells the tale of a hacker who gets into a mess of trouble. Wonderfully written, though I suppose some might argue the "science fiction" distinction here.
  • The Islanders, Christopher Priest: I love me some unreliable narrators, and this book is like a delicate cloud of unreliability. Billed as a guide to a series of islands, this book is so much more. Inventive and, dare I say, brilliant? Also, it isn't obviously science fiction but come on people, the genre is flexible!
  • Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone: A legal thriller with magic and dead gods? What's not to like?
  • The Fractal Prince, Hannu Rajaniemi: When I think about people pushing the boundaries of science fiction I think of Rajaniemi. This book is fantastic, cerebral, and unlike anything I've read (well, other than the first book in the series).
  • The Hydrogen Sonata, Iain M. Banks: Banks can write space opera, and this is one of his best.
  • Sharps, K.J. Parker: OK, so Parker will never be nominated for a Hugo for best novel (I'm willing to bet) which just makes me sad. Sure, he (or she) writes brutal stories with characters that you really don't like but they are so well done. Sharps isn't Parker's best but even at 75% of his/her best it is better than most of the nominated novels I've read.
  • The Mirage Matt Ruff: An alternate reality book which imagines what would happen is the Middle East had developed into the world's dominant culture and western terrorists crashed into the Middle Eastern World Trade Center. Thought provoking, well written, and worthy of an award.
  • Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal: I've read all three of the currently available Glamourist History books and I've really enjoyed them. The first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, was something of a small, quiet story. The second volume builds on that story and makes it much bigger and adds in a dash of action. Don't let the YA covers scare you off from these books, they are smart reads for discerning readers.

There you have it, add my voice to the chorus bellyaching about the Hugos. Of course, say what you will be the awards but at least they get people talking about, and writing about, science fiction. That can't be a bad thing, right?


Best Book I Read: February 2013

I read a lot, but I tend not to stray from the safe confines of fiction. I don't why, but non-fiction generally doesn't do it for me. This is what makes my choice for the Best Book of the Month for February 2013 all the more unusual.

CarthageNot only is Carthage Must Be Destroyed non-fiction but it also happened to enter my reading queue during the same month that Great North Road was released. Peter F. Hamilton (author of The Great North Road) is on my list of immediate reads, but his latest was soundly beaten by Carthage Must Be Destroyed.

I've long been interested in Ancient History. In fact, if I had bothered to fill out the paperwork I would have minored in it during college (I had enough credits but I also loathe paperwork). Generally, my reading/interest centers around the Romans which lead me to believe that the Carthaginians were just an also ran society that the Romans rolled over during their conquest of the known world.

And that speaks to the central thesis of the book: since Carthage was so completely destroyed everything that we know of it (outside of archeological digs) comes from historical sources that are decidedly biased (the Greeks and the Romans cast Carthage as their "other," meaning that even though for many years most of the trade in the Mediterranean involved Carthaginians they were not a well liked people).

I learned a lot of interesting things about Carthage including:

  • They had a handful of names that they used over and over again which vexes historians ("No, not THAT Hannibal. Nope, not that one either. Oh, never mind.").
  • They invented many ship building innovations which made them the unrivaled naval power of their time (until those pesky Romans ruined it all).
  • The book is a little slow to start but really picks up in the Punic War section when Rome and Carthage clash for the first time. It was incredibly interesting to see how Rome, a relative newcomer, was able to soundly defeat Carthage which was one of the superpowers of the Ancient World. It even inspired me to pitch an article comparing the Roman's use of a specific technical innovation to basically negate Carthage's naval advantage to the way Apple out foxed RIM (sadly the editor pitched said it was too obscure. What the hell are kids learning today if not about the Punic Wars?!).

    Anyway, the book is well worth a read if you're interested in a view of the ancient world from a different vantage point.

    The other books I read in February were:


    Thanks for Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, food scientists!

    Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper

    The New York Times has a great/terrifying article called The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food. You should check it out, however, my favorite beverage's origin story is revealed:

    The soda that emerged from all of Moskowitz’s variations became known as Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper, and it proved successful beyond anything Cadbury imagined. In 2008, Cadbury split off its soft-drinks business, which included Snapple and 7-Up. The Dr Pepper Snapple Group has since been valued in excess of $11 billion.

    Best Book I Read: January 2013

    DogstarsI've long had illusions that I'd write a review of every book I read, however, since I read over 70 books last year and wrote a review for one or two of them that goal seems unrealistic.

    Therefore, a new feature of Blankbaby is born: the best book of the month! Hurrah!

    Last month (January 2013) I read a total of 10 books, all fiction. There were a number of good books in the running, but the best book I read that month was: The Dog Stars.

    The Dog Stars is set in a world ravaged by a pandemic (an out of control super flu) which killed off lots and lots of the world's population. The story follows Hig whose wife and child died of the flu. Now he's holed up with Bangley who seems to have waited his entire life for something like this to happen. Hig isn't happy, but he's making a go of it with his trusty dog at his side and frequent trips in a small airplane to scout for dangers, and other survivors.

    I won't recap the story since there are some surprising bits, but it is well written and worth your time. I will say, however, that while I thought it was a good book it is unfortunate that it contains some echoes of The Road. Why is this bad? The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, is a brilliant literary achievement next to which most books would pale in comparison. Add in similar story lines and The Dog Stars just can't hold a candle to The Road.

    That being said, The Dog Stars is good it just isn't great.

    The other nine books I read last month were:


    Why I dread going to the Apple Store by me at Macworld

    Scott with the Apple Store

    That's a picture of me 6 years ago (and many pounds heavier… sheesh. I think I'm fat now but I forget how much progress I have made!) at the Suburban Square Apple Store grand opening. How times have changed.

    Not only have I lost some weight, and look much more handsome, I also don't like going to the Apple Store any more. The fine folks over at Macworld asked me to explain why, and the result was this: Why I dread going to the Apple Store.

    Somehow I don't think this is going to be popular over at Macworld.


    My favorite font: Calibri

    Calibri Whenever I launch an app on my Mac for the first time I immediately launch the preferences and change the default font settings. As I've aged so have my eyes, so I need to increase the size (the super high resolution monitors haven't helped my eyes, sure the picture looks great but everything is even smaller!). And I generally change the font face to Calibri which might be among the great things Microsoft has ever created. I don't know why I love this font, but I do. Good job, Microsoft typography team!

    Hawaiian shirt season extended

    Photo on 12-4-12 at 11.00 AM
    Generally come Decemeber it is time for me to put away my Hawaiian shirts (other than my Christmas themed shirts, which I wear to holiday parties) and surrender to the long sleeved shirt.

    Thanks to the unseasonable weather here in Philly (today's high is 65) Hawaiian shirt season has been extended. Look how happy I am!

    I'm wearing the newest addtion to my shirt collection to work today (the Moon Festival Camp shirt).


    Take a screenshot on a Kindle Paperwhite

    Mykindlescreen

    That image is from my fancy new Kindle Paperwhite (yes, that's an affiliate link). How did I take it? It is pretty simple:

    1. Tap the upper right corner of the screen and the lower left corner at the same time.

    2. The screen flashes.

    3. The image is saved at the root of your Kindle Paperwhite.

    4. Plug your Kindle into your computer and you'll see the images. Drag 'em on your computer and there you go.

    I tweeted this earlier (and was mentioned on Mac OS X Hints causing a bit of a stir) but I figured I'd post it here.

    I did try this trick on a Kindle Touch, and it didn't seem to work.