Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

May 27, 2007

Freedom and Necessity

When I first started reading this book by Steven Brust and Emma Bull, I was reminded of another novel that I read in high school, Dear Mr. Henshaw, because Freedom and Necessity proceeds in much the same fashion: it is a series of letters exchanged between the four principle characters. Over the course of these letters, the story unfolds. There the similarity ends.

Freedom and Necessity is a deep and twisting growth of plots, intrigues, violence, death and love taking place in Britain during the 1850's and vaguely involved with the Chartist uprising: Marx and Engels (the philosophers) are actually characters in the novel. It is effective in the novel, but someone more acquainted with history than myself may find it to be gauche.

The gimmick of the storytelling (the letters), tends to destroy some of the reader's involvement with the plot: hearing someone talk about what happened is entirely different than observing it while it is happening. The authors repair this with another gimmick: one of the principle characters is gifted with an unusually exact memory so she can report occurances verbatim. In all, this is a violation of the literary principle of "show, don't tell", and it means that some sections of the novel are a bit dull.

I think the rest more than makes up for this, however, and I liked this quote from the back of the book so I am sharing it:

And so the adventure begins . . . leading the reader through every corner of mid-nineteenth-century Britain, from the parlors of the elite to the dens of the underclass. Not since Wilkie Collins or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has there been such a profusion of guns, swordfights, family intrigues, women dressed as men, occult societies, philosophical discussion, and, of course, passionate romance.

If you like that sort of thing, give this book a try.

Rating: 3.0

May 22, 2007

Tiffany Aching

Terry Pratchett is definitely one of my favorite authors so I thought I'd say a few words about his newer books that are intended more for a younger audience. Granted, this doesn't prevent adults like myself from enjoying them, but the opportunity for a fun and worthwhile way to entertain your youngsters should not be ignored.

Pratchett is mostly a satirist and a lot of his work is derivative, but his slanted take on familiar subjects is worth a look--worth a second look, too, in fact. I mention this because the Tiffany Aching books (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith thus far) bear an odd superficial resemblance to the famous books of another popular British fantasy author that writes for the same age group . . . an author whose name starts with a J. and ends with a Rowling, if you get my drift.

The resemblance is odd because although the books share some faint surface details--Harry Potter is about a boy learning to be a wizard, the Tiffany Aching books are about a girl learning to be a witch--you couldn't find two takes on roughly the same subject that were more different if you tried. Harry Potter attends a school where magic is pinned down in books and readily accessable. Tiffany Aching discovers that the only school for witchcraft is the entire world and that no one can teach you the most important lesson: the real trick about magic is knowing when not to use it.

And, of course, you have the Wee Free Men, described by Pratchett as being like Scottish smurfs that have seen Braveheart a few too many times. They can make a special child that can talk to the fairies kind of wish she couldn't.

In the end, the Tiffany Aching books are good fun thoroughly mixed with good sense. Get them for your kids.

Rating: 3.5

May 21, 2007

Paper and Pen

I wandered down to the bookstore yesterday and paused in the stationery section (oops, I almost committed a faux pas there: stationary means standing still, stationery is writing paper) because I want to get back to work on my novel Ratbreed. So, I had to get a nice new notebook for writing in because nothing puts me in the mood to write like a nice new notebook. Plus, all the typing I've been doing lately has caused my right hand to start hurting and I don't really need to add RSS to my list of woes. (That's Repetitive Stress Syndrome, if you were wondering.)

That's when the influence of Toiler struck me, because there at the front of the stationery (look, I did it right again!) section was a display of Moleskine notebooks. Drat the man, after hearing his enthusiasm for his notebook-of-choice I had to take one down and have a look at it!

I have to admit it is a nice notebook. (Yes, I bought it, what were you expecting?) The thing I like most is that the paper is delightfully smooth. Any writer that's ever written on cheap paper knows the unpleasantness of frequent paper cuts, especially when you're packing up your materials quickly or paging back through your work to figure out where you thought this story was going three pages ago when you started it. No risk of that with this baby!

It also lies nearly as flat as a spiral-bound notebook, which is a huge plus. Frequently book-bound notebooks are worse than cheap books in that you can't actually write in them unless you have three hands or you crack the binding terribly, at which point the pages will probably start to fall out. Once again, not a problem here. Granted, this could probably be solved with a reporter-style notebook, but I hate those because you have to turn the book upside-down to write on the back of the page, and being the awkward person I am this usually means that eventually I wind up writing on the back of the wrong page and my notes are never comprehensible after that.

It's also delightfully spare in appearance. The one I got is plain black without any sort of ornamentation. If you found this notebook lying around, you would just have to open it and read it because anything that monastic-looking would have to contain strange writings of dark and eldritch purpose.

Oh, and I got a pen, too. It's black.

May 19, 2007

The God Delusion

This book by Richard Dawkins is intended to present the essential case against religion, however I think it falls short of the mark.

The best portions of the book are the ones that deal with elaborating on the various arguments for religion and why they are erroneous; faced with someone else's argument Dawkins has no problem bringing his ideas to bear. I actually found the chapter fairly informative, because I had not previously encountered some of the arguments and I could see why they might be difficult to counter on the fly.

The most bizarre factor I found in this section that Dawkins falls back on a "probability" analysis for many of the arguments . . . an analysis that is logically flawed. It amounts to relying on Occam's razor, which is not, in fact, a logical truism. You cannot discuss the "likelyhood" or "probability" of something that bears no relation to any known facts. Not to mention the fact that there must be a definable and identifiable alternative in order to discuss probability. I can discuss how probable it is that a woman will have a boy or a girl: there are two known alternatives and the result must be one of them. You can't discuss the likelyhood that God or Vishnu or Ashura-Mazda created the universe because you don't know all the alternatives or even that the answer must necessarily be one of these alternatives.

Dawkins just declares that we'll assign some random "likelyhood" factor to each alternative, but what does this amount to? Let me pull some stuff out my rear end. This is not the way to argue logic or use reason.

Dawkins also has a substantial problem presenting the case for atheism, however. Part of this may be the fact that it's difficult to be for a position that is essentially a negation (atheism is non-religion, it's not pro-anything). The other part seems to be that Dawkins has only vague ideas of what anyone should be for. In complaining about the morality evidenced in the Bible (particularly in the Old Testament), the best rationale he can come up with for why it is vile and destructive is that it is not compatable with the "changing moral zeitgeist". What, exactly, comprises that zeitgeist and why is that a better morality than the one of the Old Testament?

No answer is forthcoming. So, really, the book is kind of pointless unless you're already an atheist and can fill in Dawkins' holes for yourself, or you don't really care much for clarity of thought and communication and you base your ideas on whatever you've read the most recently.

Oh well. If you're looking for a real comprehensive case against religion and for an alternative, I suggest you look into Objectivism and the writings of Ayn Rand.

Rating: 2.0

May 17, 2007

Seven Possibly Interesting Things

I saw this meme on Gus Van Horn and I thought I'd give it a try since I'm too tired to come up with anything really original today. However, I'm having a hard time with it since I'm also apparently too tired to come up with anything that's possibly interesting about me, too. I'm probably one of the most boring people on the face of the earth.

Hmm. Does that maybe count as #1? Nah, I have to be able to come up with something better than that. Okay, let's try this:

1. I'm the only person in my family that cannot play a musical instrument. I can't sing, either.
2. I still haven't seen The Shawshank Redemption. I'm not sure why.
3. I'm an Objectivist. I love fantasy novels. I can't stand Terry Goodkind.
4. Red is my least-favorite color. Every car I've ever owned has been red.
5. I will hold long, drawn-out, loud conversations with myself when I think no one is listening. Frequently, I am mistaken. Maybe I can get a second job as a street mutterer or something.
6. I have never fired a gun.
7. I think glasses are sexy.

Whew. That was way more work than it was probably worth.

May 16, 2007


Well, here I am in New York with not much to do except work and no one to do it with. It always takes me a long time to get settled into a new place because I'm not very social under the best of circumstances and after a long day full of people I don't know very well I must fight a fierce desire to hide under the furniture.

Let this not be taken to indicate that I'm not enjoying myself: I am. Work is going good and I'm learning a lot of new things about a business that doesn't appear complicated on first brush but actually requires quite a bit of savvy and lots of organization. I'm finding my way around and I've located the absolute earthly necessities: Wal-Mart and Borders. I also found a movie theater and I went to see Spiderman 3 over the weekend.

Given ,I seem to have become a mass of physical ailments, too: after being absolutely fine for several years my allergies have come back with a vengeance and I spent several days stuffed-up and sneezing. Then, just as I was getting better I spontaneously fell over in the parking lot (wow, graceful) and tore all the skin off my knee. It's healing and it ITCHES. Then this morning I was ill, however I seem to have gotten over that much at least.

I have a lot of projects I'd like to work on, such as converting KloOge (more on this later perhaps) so I can run a 3.5 ed D&D psionics game online with all the bells and whistles. I've got novels to work on and I should start looking around to meet some new people. So, I thought, hey, I should blog. Blogging is a good way for me to get in the mood to start on projects and it gives me an incentive to look around for something to write about.