Sunday, April 30, 2006

With No One As Witness, by Elizabeth George

With No One As Witness, by Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George has often stated that she wants to avoid creating formulaic books—she certainly succeeded here! At the end of the story, the lead investigator (and title character of the Inspector Lynley novels) has quit New Scotland Yard and his wife has been killed. She had been a central figure in previous novels, and I was really surprised at the way this was handled. Not the death itself (predictably caused by the serial killer being pursued in the A-story but in a fashion unlike his regular MO) but in the seemingly offhand manner it was presented. George had a serious case of Girlfriend in the Refrigerator Syndrome when she wrote this chapter!

The mystery that our band of heroes is trying to solve in this episode frankly isn’t that interesting. A serial killer is stalking young boys and the police don’t notice until the fourth victim is discovered, which also happens to be the first white one. This sets the press off on a hunt for racism within New Scotland Yard. Because we also see some scenes from the killer’s point-of-view we know that race isn’t a factor, but the media and police spin-doctors go wild. This topic could have been better developed, but was still more interesting than the manhunt itself.

If you are a fan of the Lynley novels, this is a good read because of all the major character development. (If you aren’t, start with an earlier novel where the plotlines are more interesting.) I am curious to see how these changes will affect the dynamics between the characters, but as the next book promises to be a prequel it will be a long time before we see what is in store for them.

First Sentence:
Detective Constable Barbara Havers considered herself one lucky bird: The drive was empty.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

If Chins Could Kill, by Bruce Campbell

If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, by Bruce Campbell

I remember watching The Evil Dead when I was in high school and thought it was fantastic. Horror movies aren’t my favorite, but this one was special. It was both funny and shocking, the perfect movie for a bunch of underage kids with a case of beer. Evil Dead II was even better; the scene where Ash chases his own hand around the cabin—finally securing it with a pile of books, the topmost being A Farewell to Arms—is one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever. While my best friend at the time raved about the director (the soon-to-be-famous Sam Raimi) Bruce Cambpell was the reason I kept watching. If Chins Could Kill is Campbell’s life story, and I couldn’t put it down.

After a brief background, he jumps into the story of how The Evil Dead was shot. These guys were pretty much making it up as they went and created a cult classic by accident! Not knowing much about film I found this really interesting. Buying every bottle of Karo syrup in a 30-mile radius to create the gallons of fake blood needed and creating a camera dolly with two-by-fours and Vaseline are just two of the many anecdotes presented. Groovy!

First Sentence:
There is an L-shaped scar on the left side of my chin.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Ring of Fire, edited by Eric Flint

Ring of Fire: Sequels to 1632, edited and created by Eric Flint

This is the most recent entry in the Assiti Shards series. The Assiti are aliens whose favorite art form is to swap sphere-shaped areas from different times and places and watch the resulting chaos unfold. So far the only swapped groups we have seen are centered on a modern West Virginia town sent back to the middle of the Thirty Years War. Apparently there are others planned, but this is the only one we’ve seen to date.

Ring of Fire isn’t a novel, but instead a collection of short stories by various authors. Shared universe yarns are usually reserved for minor characters and back story, and for the most part these are no exceptions. Tom Stone and his family are major characters in 1634: The Galileo Affair, but their introduction comes in the tale To Dye For by Mercedes Lackey in this collection. The navy is a main focus of 1633 and the decision process that resulted in the creation of that branch of the services is detailed in In the Navy by Eric Flint. However, a couple of these tales will have a direct impact on the mainline novels being written. The novella The Wallenstein Gambit is the best example of this: Abrecht Wallenstein (one of the major leaders of the era) moves from enemy to ally of the time-lost Americans. This will have serious repercussions in the fictional future of this universe.

The quality of these stories is much higher than the average anthology, as might be expected with the popularity of the series. The only one I didn’t like was Here Comes Santa Claus by K. D. Wentworth which illustrates the differences in our consumer-driven holiday and how it was celebrated in the 1600’s. When the Chips are Down by Jonathan Cresswell and Scott Washburn (about creating potato chips) was weak as well, but amusing enough.

First Sentence (from the preface):
The stories in Ring of Fire are all based in the alternate history setting I created in my novel 1632, which was further developed in the sequel I wrote with David Weber, 1633.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mission Road, by Rick Riordan

Mission Road, by Rick Riordan

Mission Road is everything that Tres Navarre’s previous adventure wasn’t. This had a strong plot and good characterization. While I wouldn’t call it unpredictable, the ending did surprise me a bit. Rick Riordan is on my list of must-read authors, and this book confirms why.

First Sentence:
Ana had to get the baby out of the house.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Revolution in the Valley, by Andy Hertzfeld

Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How The Mac Was Made, by Andy Hertzfeld

Andy Hertzfeld was one of the early Apple employees, and part of the team that gave birth to the Macintosh. Here Hertzfeld recounts the story of how that computer was developed in a series of vignettes. Interspersed with the stories are many, many pictures of both the development team (not the most attractive bunch you’ve ever seen) and Macintosh internals. The anecdotes run the gamut from deeply personal to highly technical, but all are fairly interesting.

Like Just a Geek, this is a reworking of text first found online. Unlike Just a Geek, the vignettes here weren’t reworked into a normal narrative but remain pretty much in their original form. This leads to a fair amount of redundancy, with bits of the same story told multiple times in different anecdotes. There are also a lot of see also links that refer to other stories—I found it disconcerting to find what screams for a hyperlink in a normal book. A bit odd, but overall it worked.

First Sentence:
Toward the end of my first week as an Apple employee in August 1979, I noticed that someone had left a black binder on my desk, with a handwritten title that read, Apple II: Principles of Operation.

Monday, April 03, 2006

How Would You Move Mount Fuji? by William Poundstone

How Would You Move Mount Fuji? Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle: How the World’s Smartest Company Selects the Most Creative Thinkers, by William Poundstone

A friend lent me this and I found it fascinating! It is both a brief history of the puzzle interview and a collection of brainteasers—and their answers, thank god! A puzzle interview is one where the candidate is asked questions such as, “Why are manhole covers round?” and the titular, “How would you move Mount Fuji?” Some of these don’t necessarily have a correct answer: “Design a spice rack for a blind person;” and some do: “How many gas stations are there in the United States?” All give not only the answer (where one exists) but the techniques to use for solving them. Very enlightening.

This is a really quick read, unless you try and solve all the puzzles! I’m embarrassed to say I only got about half of them right. Pick this up and see how you do!

First Sentence:
In August 1957 William Shockley was recruiting staff for his Palo Alto, California, start-up, Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory.

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