Friday, July 7, 2017

diamond age

Neal, Neal, Neal. You've done it again my man. 

The Diamond Age; Or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer is an older book from Neal Stephenson, in the same vein as Snow Crash. Whether or not this narrative takes place in the same, or merely a similar universe, isn't really important to the story.* It does seem to take place slightly further in the future. Technology (read: internet) has nullified the need for centralized geopolitical governments as we know them and world is populated by claves of typically like-minded people who live how they best see fit and guard their borders--and conduct their business--via nanotechnology. It buzzes through the air like smog and courses in their bloodstream. 

But change is coming. What form that change will take and how the people who strive for, and against that change, and how it might effect the societies that may be impacted by it, is where the story lies. Like many of Stephenson's stories, one of the main characters is a young woman, who as a girl derived certain benefits from her illustrated primer. 

The story is well paced, carefully plotted, and even though the prose is jargon rich, the human story shine through and the SciFinese falls away into the background. 

Stephenson has written a prototypical hero story a la Joseph Campbell, and as Campbell postulated in his book, we'll read it again and again. And provided it's well written, we'll enjoy it every time. 

Read this book.


* FictFact.com puts this book in a series with Snow Crash and some others.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

girlfriend 44

Mark Barrowcliffe is a funny guy. I guess he's also written some Viking style fantasy fiction under a pen name, and I think he also writes a column, or has written for magazines or something in the past.

Girlfriend 44 follows the escapades of a 32 year old Londoner and misogynist, named Harry. Told in first person, Harry explains why he's currently on the 44th version of a female companion, what its like to live in London as a 'lad' on the 'pull.'

Harry lives in a small apartment/house with his long-time roommate,
Gerrard, and their dog. Gerrard is similar to Harry in a lot of ways, but has his own approach to women, based in his theory of naturalness. So natural that I-shouldn't-have-to-try, if-she's-interested-she'll-let-me-know natural. Gerrard has NOT had 44 girlfriends. The naturalness extends to natural body odor vs. wasting water, soap and energy on bathing. Or washing your clothes. and still no dates?

What is funny is the constant bickering between Harry and Gerrard, and Harry's philosophy on life, which he expounds on whenever he has a moment. Harry may spin off on an observational rant in the middle of describing an intense conversation with someone. There may be a page or two of complaining about some demographic or particular type of aggravating person before you get back to where he was in his original tale.

You want to hate him; But he's just so amusing!

Read this book.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

notebooks of don rigoberto

I picked up the The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto at a library book sale. This novel by Mario Vargas Llosa—translated by Edith Grossman—is slightly surreal, and sexy enough to be called erotica. I haven’t read Mario Vargas Llosa before, but a search online about him confirms that this seems to be his style. A sort of positive or reaffirming look at the value of fantasy and a sense of adventure in adult sexual relationships.

Perhaps Don Rigoberto represents the author’s alter ego, or maybe even his avatar, as he makes his way through his notebooks each evening in his well healed home on the edge of the ocean at the outskirts of Lima. Rigoberto has sexual fantasies, but they are all about his wife. Some that they act out together.

Rigoberto is a well off, middle aged insurance company employee, who has been with the company long enough to be able to live very comfortably. He fills his house with works of art, but only a certain number. When he acquires a new piece, he has to decide which one goes to make room. This self-imposed discipline gives him pleasure, even if that pleasure is mixed with the pain of letting go of a piece of art he once chose to display in his home. 

Rigoberto also works hard on his theory of life, and uses this strict  set of rules to live by, and shows no patience for those who don't understand him. Going so far as to write letters to people that he sees as living their lives as an antithesis to his own beliefs. These letters are included complete in the text, read from Rigoberto's notebooks. He never sends them, because the recipient would be to stupid, to blind, to pigheaded to understand what he means, so he writes them to relieve himself of the pent up feelings, and doesn't send them.

The Notebooks is pretty dense, relentless, dedicated, and sexy. But it took a while to get through, and t was often difficult to tell where reality and fantasy met, but I'm sure that's the idea.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

united states of beer

First off, thanks so much to the folks in Erving, who were nice enough to bring this book for us to help celebrate my office's 20th anniversary. The book came with a wonderful bottle of beer for us all to enjoy as well.

The United States of Beer, sub-titled: A Freewheeling History of the All-American Drink, is by Dane Huckelbridge, and is a follow-up to his previous endeavor, Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit. I think that he learned a lot about beer, doing his research for his bourbon book, and luckily for us, he decided to turn that research into this fun little book about America's beer history.

For the uninitiated, bourbon and beer are related; The first step in making whiskey, is to make beer (without the hops) and then distill it. Beer is therefore whiskey's daddy. It also predates the development of whiskey by millennia. Seems like a good place to start any history project, but just how closely beer is intertwined in the history of this nation is remarkable. But its as simple as one of the first (of many) take-away facts from this book: 

TAKE-AWAY FACT 1: People couldn't drink the water, it wasn't clean in most of Europe. What people drank--men, women, children--is beer. All day, every day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At home, and at work.

For centuries.

Huckelbridge walks us through the history of the nation from New England, to the South, to the Mid-west, to the coast. Each of the regions begins with its history, and importantly, where the predominant immigrants come from, and the beer styles they brought with them. Huckelbridge describes the traditional European beer, and its own history, and then the version the new American make for themselves when they arrive, working with what they have.

TAKE-AWAY FACT 2: American versions of European beers were (and are) often very different from their beery ancestors, because the conditions, and ingredients in America are not the same as they were in the countries of origin. 

By the time we get to the Mid-west, America has been around for a while, and the Germanic folks who began to move into the Mid-west brought lager beers with them, and eventually the lighter, crisper Pilsner style beers. But these beers were not (NOT) the pale, yellow, watery beers that are the standard American Big Beer company products we have today. So you know what that means...

TAKE-AWAY FACT 3: American pale lager used to be deep, rich, and flavorful. We ended up with yellow, watery American beer--produced, by the way, by some of the same companies that originally produce those better beers--due to mass marketing, and cost cutting to stay in business through prohibition.

There are lots more, and obviously, the changes to the standard American lager happened slowly, and Huckelbridge walks us through it all, ending with the history of beer making on the west coast, and how a small company in San Francisco kicked off the rebirth of American microbrews in the mid 1960s.

Read this book, while drinking a beer.

 

Monday, May 22, 2017

rule of four

The Rule of Four appears to be the first book by Ian Caldwell, which he co-authored with Dustin Thomason. The info on the book jacket indicates that they wrote this over a number of years, in their twenties. I read his more current book last year, and that was terrific. I tried to find this book at the library then, but it was out. The reviews on this book were pretty good, and the publisher was then touting it as DaVinci Code-like. not really

Caldwell and Thomas have developed a really interesting story revolving around a mysterious 500 year old book called Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,* which is the subject of a Princeton senior's research paper. The story, told from the perspective of the researcher's roommate, spins a tale that goes back to his own father's obsession with the same book, and was the spark that united the two roommates to begin with. The researcher, Paul, recognized his future roommate's name from the dedication in his father book; Thomas Corelli Sullivan. [Paul: Are you that Tom? I'm a big fan of your father! Tom: Yeah, I am. But, he's dead. And that book is whack, right?]†

By the time Paul and Tom are seniors, they have two more pals, Gil and Charlie, and all four are fast friends and roommates. Paul has been cracking on Hypnerotomachia Poliphili for 4 years now, and has finally begun to make some headway. His interest in the story is what brought him to Princeton, where Vincent Taft is a scholar on the book, and an old adversary of Tom's father. The two started out as friends before Tom was born, but soon argued over the book, and ended up hating each other. Another guy who was also into the book, and was friends with both Sullivan and Taft also shows up as a patron for young Paul. Everyone is trying to get in on the action as Paul, with some help from Tom, starts to uncover some of the book's secrets.

So its intrigue, mystery, whodunits, back-stabbery, and bumbling campus police; uselessly yelling 'stop right there!' about 20 times throughout the book. The title appears to come from math, rather than the Supreme Court.

It was okay. They took a long time to write it, and it still ended up being a little jerky and fragmented feeling. You don't need to read it prior to The Fifth Gospel, its unrelated. in fact, you don't need to read it at all



* Translates as: "The Strife of Love in a Dream." 
† That's not a direct quote. More of a synopsis.



Sunday, May 7, 2017

darker shade of magic

I recently saw that V.E. Schwab has released the third book in her Shades of Magic series. I ended up reading the second book a little while ago, inadvertently. When I found out, I was a little grumpy about it, and then decided to wait for the rest of it before going back to the first book: A Darker Shade of Magic.

I guess I probably should have looked very carefully at the third book in the library to see if there is more coming, but I didn't do that, and I've already returned this book and picked up the third, so I'm afraid its too late for me. stay tuned, and I'll let you know when I finish number three

Darker Shade is where this story begins, and I found myself saying, 'ah, now I get it' or something similar, every time I ran into something I was expected to understand when I read the second book. Schwab has created a universe that has some depth and breadth to it. In a vein similar to Narnia and others, where there are alternative worlds one can get to, if only ones knows how. Schwab takes us to alternate versions of our own London, which seems to be a kind of city-based magical axis, about which the multiverse turns. I mean, why not London, right? Each of the worlds has the magical London at its center, but it is the capital city of differing countries, with very different cultures and languages in each world, some clearly more magical than our own--depressingly referred to as Grey London. They all seem to be based in the late feudal era, including our own, so, you know, swords and crap. schwing

Most of the action takes place in Red London, where the magical volume knob is turned up to 9. just for reference, 10 would be Wonderland, of Alice fame, with singing flowers, and opium smoking caterpillars There are some special and rare spell-casting types, called Antari, that only come along once in a blue moon (no, there is no actual blue moon in the story, at least not yet) and these folks are the only ones capable of passing between worlds. One of these, the mysterious Kell, is passing through on a diplomatic mission to our own Grey London, when he crosses paths with thief named Delilah Bard. Lila just happens to be looking for a fresh start, and even though its against the rules to bring even items across the boundaries between worlds, Lila ends up making the trip.

Schwab has done a good job of creating a fun, intriguing, and exciting story. I'm looking forward to finishing up in the third book (I hope!)



Friday, May 5, 2017

madame rose

Madame Rose - Belgian Style Wild Ale, by Goose Island Beer Co. of Chicago, IL, is not something that I would have gone out and purchased for myself, without knowing a little more about it, so I'm sharing my thoughts on this heady brew so that you'll feel more comfortable about picking up your own bottle.

And I think perhaps you should.

This fine bottle of oak aged wild ale was a gift of the fine folks out in Erving, MA on the occasion of my office's 20th anniversary party, held last week. Thanks to Barbara and Steve who came to help us celebrate, and carried this fine bottle (along with a nice book I'm looking forward to reading, complete with some bookmarks!)

Clicky-click on the picture of the label to expanderize mon frere! Its says that this is a 2016 release, wild ale, aged in wine barrels with cherries. Crazy, right? The rear label states that this was bottled a year ago, yesterday, and has an ABV of 6.7%, along with a suggestion to enjoy in a wide mouth glass (which we are), a warning that it contains wheat (good to know) and that it can be bottle-aged for up to 5 years (fat chance.) We all enjoyed a little of this here to end out the week, and the first sip was taken in a toast to Erving, and their successful town meeting on Wednesday night. Here are my thoughts on this beer:

Rich amber, honey color with a foamy, full, cream colored head. Active carbonation, that tickles the nose, similar to a natural sparkling water. The aromas are extremely bright: citrus, caramel, and jam, with background notes of the sea. The taste is very tangy; lemony in its intensity, lemon pith, steeped fruit, and tart syrupy quality. Smooth and sparkly on the tongue, but after further tastings, the carbonation drops off. The finish is long, slightly bitter and tart, with a soft oak and smoke taste that lingers pleasantly.

Update: After 15 or 20 minutes, after the oak and smoke fades, I was left with the taste of cherries. That deep, tannin laden taste of the red-black cherry skins. It just keeps on giving.

Thanks again to the folks in Erving, and congratulations to you all!




mr. fox

Mr. Fox is a (mid-century) modern fairy tale, written by English writer, Helen Oyeyemi. This one had some similarities to another recent book I read, but if anything, was even more surreal. Oyeyemi got the mid-century feel down cold. From the male-female relationships to the decor and the clothing; all subtly hinted at, but right on as far as I could see. It had the snap of 60s television or movies. And then, it just stepped off the edge.

Mr. Fox is a writer, and his muse, Mary Foxe, is a figment he's had for years, but has become so real, that Mr. Fox is beginning to see and talk to her the way a 4 year old may do with their imaginary friend. 

Mrs. Fox is not amused.

Mary Foxe has returned to visit Mr. Fox, in his study, after years of separation. Mary is concerned that Mr. Fox is increasingly misogynistic in his writing, or has maybe always been so, and as his muse, she feels obligated to lead him on a better path. What follows is a series of fables that Fox and Foxe write for one another, or together, or with the other's inspiration, in an effort to find a way forward. These short stories, fables and tales, are interspersed with increasingly strained scenes featuring Mr. & Mrs. Fox, and the 'other woman.'

Its not always clear whose voice the narrative is in, and I'm not sure it really matters, as the lives of this couple and their third wheel spin toward the future. The tales tell us as much about the protagonists as the main body of the text does, but in ways that aren't typically available to writers and readers.

This was fun to read, odd, entertaining, and ultimately, delightful. I'll keep my eye out for Ms.
Oyeyemi's work in the future.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

burning page

The Burning Page is installment three in the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. So this is it, its a waiting game from here on out. Books 4 and 5 are in the works.

The Burning Page brings back Irene's nemesis. He's the bad hombre that all stories like this need; one part selfish, one part smarter-than-you, one part disenfranchised, and two parts evil. You know the guy.

This time, our baddie has it in for not just Irene but the Library itself. And its up to Irene to stop him. We're led to believe that the higher ups in the library are actively working to prevent Baddie McBadguy from taking over the whole multiverse, and presumably they're pretty kickass themselves--having trained our Irene to kick some ass her own bad self--but what exactly they're up to, and how effective it might have been before Irene opens up the proverbial can o' whoop-ass, we're never really sure.

So I guess the secret is: don't look to hard. Pay no attention the man behind the curtain, and you'll have a grand time.

Cogman is not writing the great American novel here. This is YA-SF-BG* we're talking about here, so lets have some fun. 

spoiler ahead, y'all So, overall thoughts: book three and no movement, or not much movement, on romantic entanglements, exciting, and a little trippy, fun to read. I guess it is also telling to note that I have no idea when the next volumes come out, and I'm sure I could try and look that up, but really, I'm not sure I care that much. I'm sure I'll pick them up when they do come out, but I'm not Burning for it, as it were.

Peace!



* YA = Young Adult, SF = Spectulative/Science Fiction, BG = Bubble gum