Monday, December 28, 2009

Inside the Publishing Revolution, by Pamela Pfiffner

Inside the Publishing Revolution: The Adobe Story, by Pamela Pfiffner

The history of Adobe Systems is surprisingly interesting. The founders, John Warnock and Chuck Geschke, were visionaries in every sense of the word and their imagination reshaped the publishing industry. PostScript changed typesetting, Photoshop changed layout and design, and PDF changed printing itself. This book does a good job of describing the history of this revolution.

Inside the Publishing Revolution is told from an unflinchingly pro-Adobe point of view, but because the author doesn’t pretend to be unbiased it isn’t annoying. Being about Adobe, a company known for imagery, the book is gorgeous. Pictures are on nearly every page, many being creations by modern artists using only Adobe products. Truly, this is closer to a coffee table book than a corporate history. If only the same care had been taking with the copy editing.

The text is presented in chronological order, with scattered sidebars and inset time lines highlighting key and interesting events. Unfortunately, at times the text and the highlights aren’t well coordinated. The most egregious example is the note, “Geschke held for five days by kidnappers” in a sidebar; this is clearly a pretty intriguing fact, but there are no other details. Eleven pages later the kidnapping is explained, but for all the care taken with the images I found this to be really sloppy.

First Sentence:
If the modern publishing era began when Johannes Gutenberg developed movable type in Germany in the 1450s, its successor was the transformation that took root in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, when John Warnock and Chuck Geschke formed Adobe Systems.

100 Crooked Little Crime Stories, edited by Dziemianowicz, Weinberg, and Greenberg

100 Crooked Little Crime Stories, edited by Dziemianowicz, Weinberg, and Greenberg

This was a pretty good grouping of crime stories. My favorite two were both extremely clever; Ferry Slip by Don James had a gas station attendant in the boonies trap a car full of armed bank robbers, and A Valentine From Teacher by Jim Knapp has the perfect crime solved without anyone knowing whom the investigator really was. New Blood by Gary Lovisi was another gem, where hunted nurses dole out a unique justice. Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart is another of my favorites included here, although along with Always Together by Allen Beck seems closer in theme to 100 Ghastly Little Ghost Stories than this volume.

There weren’t really any terrible stories here, although several were a bit pedestrian. One unfortunate bit of editing was Curt Hamlin’s All Sewed Up! and The Crimson Complex by G. Fleming-Roberts being just a few chapters apart; they both keyed on red-green blindness as a gimmick and could have used a lot more space between them. Overall though, a nice collection of short stories.

First Sentence (From the introduction):
How long does it take to plot and commit a serious crime?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Scourge of God, by S.M. Stirling

The Scourge of God, by S.M. Stirling

The second book of the series is another 500+ page brick which takes our intrepid heroes only as far as Des Moines in their trek to Nantucket. The action and adventure are still there, and I’ll pick up the third volume when it is out, but at the rate things are moving the last entry of the trilogy will either be a whirlwind or require yet another book (or trilogy!) to wrap things up. Stirling takes an unfortunate turn from science-fiction into fantasy here: the “big bad” is able to send psychic messages and mentally control others. The original appeal of this series was seeing how normal people react to massive change, but this development of magic hurts the premise. I’m definitely losing my enthrallment with this particular universe.

First Sentence:
“We’d be a lot farther east if we’d gone the southern route,” Edain Aylward Mackenzie grumbled quietly.

The Sunrise Lands, by S.M. Stirling

The Sunrise Lands, by S.M. Stirling

This novel starts a new trilogy, following the children of the leads in Dies the Fire. In the near-future all electricity and combustion has been rendered impossible forcing a devolution to near feudal times. The center of the event that caused this drastic physical change is located in Nantucket, and the younger heroes embark on a journey there starting from Oregon. The plot is a well-worn quest across a savage country, being pursued by minions of an over-arching evil. For an action-filled ~500 pages, the travel is quite slow; the team only gets as far as Idaho in this volume. I didn’t enjoy this as much as the earlier series of books, but getting to see more of the post-Armageddon world keeps me interested.

First Sentence:
Ingolf Vogeler slapped his horse affectionately on the neck; he felt a little better now that the rain had stopped, even though it was the tag end of a chilly October day with a ragged sky the color of damp raw wool rolling in from the west.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Valley-Westside War, by Harry Turtledove

The Valley-Westside War, by Harry Turtledove

Another book in the Crosstime Traffic series, and better than either of the other two I’ve read. The alternate earth here differs in there was a nuclear war in 1967, and now 130 years later California is split into city-states around former neighborhoods. 1967 was recent enough so technology is known in an historical sense, although virtually none of it exists in the present day; this knowledge makes for a dicey time when the time travel chamber is discovered by the locals.

The reason this book is ahead of the others is nobody is really portrayed as stupid just because they are uneducated. Instead of being labeled as “magic” or “witchcraft” when discovered, the electric lights, refrigerator, and voice-activated locks are recognized for what they are. Grasping the concept of time-travel as a reality not only happens but is seen as a reasonable explanation for the existence of tech that can’t possibly exist anymore. There is even a small bit of philosophy thrown in: “What was the difference between superstition and religion generally? ... So far, most of what they said boiled down to What I believe is religion, and what those foolish people over there believe is superstition.” Sadly this examination isn’t advanced any further, because it was the most interesting section of the book. A young adult target audience is made evident with the linear plot and one-dimensional characters, but alternate history always fascinates me and I don’t regret picking this up.

First Sentence:
As Dan neared the top of the Sepulveda Pass, he saw the barricade the Westside had built across the 405.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How Good Is Good Enough? by Andy Stanley

How Good Is Good Enough? by Andy Stanley

A good friend of mine that is very devout gave me this hoping to change my opinions about religion. He didn’t succeed, but I appreciate having people in my life that obviously care. I also love that we continue to be friends despite our very different beliefs. Stanley attempts to make the case here that “Good people don’t go to heaven. Forgiven people go to heaven.” This is exactly the sort of holier-than-thou thinking that irritates me about religion. Fairness—to me, anyway—would say that a “good” person would go to heaven and an “evil” person would not, regardless of asking God for forgiveness.

If there truly is only one heaven, is it really fair to deny admittance to a good person that honestly believed in Buddhism where there is no eternal soul? I certainly don’t think so. This system also seems to imply that heaven won’t accept you until you are aware enough to ask for forgiveness. My brief stint in Catholic school taught me a lot of rituals that I didn’t come close to understanding—and introduced me to my first bully. “Christianity is the fairest possible system in a world that is irreversibly unfair.” We both said the same things and were assured forgiveness. Clearly neither the bully nor myself understood what we were asking, but we did ask. The Buddhist didn’t, but he is the one left out. How is that fair?

Another line that particularly upset me: “And don’t make the mistake of lumping the disciples of Christ in with all the fine individuals who have given their lives for causes through the ages.” I guess in the eyes of the Lord we are all equal, except for the original disciples who are better than the rest of us. A willingness to die for a belief is a powerfully admirable trait, but you aren’t going to convince me that a soldier that lays down his life to protect his friends and country, or the firemen and policemen that rushed to the Twin Towers on 9/11 are somehow less worthy than someone that simply happened to be one of the first of many to be persecuted due to a belief in Christ. I find that flat-out offensive, and proof of the arrogance that pervades organized religion.

First Sentence:
The story is told of a Sunday school teacher whose assignment was to explain to the six-year-olds in his class what someone had to do in order to go to heaven.

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, by Tucker Max

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, by Tucker Max

Tucker Max is one of the most reprehensible human beings to ever write a book. It also happens to be possibly the funniest book I’ve ever read. I took I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell on an airplane and found myself literally laughing out loud more than once. The lovely British lady across the aisle asked to see what was so clearly amusing me and I passed her my copy. After she read the title and back cover, it was coolly handed back to me without a word—she wouldn’t even look at me for the rest of the flight. Yeah, it is that kind of a book!

Max sleeps with any woman he can, drinks himself to oblivion with his friends, and ridicules every one else he meets. He is rude, crude, and has an ego the size of New Jersey. Instead of these traits making him become that asshole at the end of the bar hitting on everything that moves, though, he started blogging about his exploits, turned the blog into this book, and the book into a movie. A big of a raunchy jerk as Max seems to be, I think I’m jealous!

Instead of a review, I will just post these quotes:

  • “I barely remember what she looked like (thank you, Dollar Beer Night).”
  • “We decide that we are starting to like Texas. Baby Dolls does nothing to derail our crazy train.”
  • “Don’t let anyone tell you different: The only good part about Duke is that it is 15 minutes from UNC-Chapel Hill.”
  • “He’s the type of drunk that makes you wonder why alcohol is classified as a depressant.”
  • “You have not heard a girl scream during sex until you’ve heard a deaf girl come. It was literally like a cross between a retard scream and the noise a horse makes when it’s being slaughtered.”
  • “She was 18 and had left Florida State two months into her freshman year because it was too difficult... She was literally just too stupid for Florida State. TOO STUPID FOR "FREE SHOE UNIVERSITY!"”
  • “If you EVER speak ill of the McGriddle again I will personally force-feed you one while I fuck you in the butt using the wrapper as a condom and then donkey punch you when the infused syrup nuggets explode in your mouth.”
These perfectly capture the tone of the book: offensive, misogynistic, and laugh-out-loud funny.

First Sentence:
I used to think that Red Bull was the most destructive invention of the past 50 years.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Memories of the Future, by Wil Wheaton

Memories of the Future: Volume 1, by Wil Wheaton

Wil Wheaton is a truly funny man. Memories of the Future is an hilariously irreverent collection of reviews of the first thirteen episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation—a show on which the author starred. Being both an actor and a fan of the show as well as a writer himself, Wheaton brings a unique viewpoint to all aspects of the show that are evident through the constant humor.

While reviewing episode Where No One Has Gone Before, when a warp drive experiment gone awry causes the crew to experience hyper-realistic visions, Wheaton pens one of my favorite observations: “Not all the hallucinations are bad, though: one crew member is seen playing a violin with a classic string quartet, another is dancing a ballet, and Picard stops to have tea with his mother. Of course, the audience’s suspension of disbelief is tested when Troi and Dr. Crusher walk past male crew members and remain entirely clothed. Picard figures out that what they think becomes reality, and he orders everyone to go to general quarters and concentrate on the 1976 Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders having a pillowfight.” This is a perfect capsule of what Wheaton imparts: thoughtful observations on the writing, an understanding of what the fans watching are really thinking, and snarky humor.

I’d seen early forms of these reviews on Wheaton’s blog and still found myself laughing out loud more than once when reading. The more serious sections are also really interesting, especially when he discusses why Wesley Crusher (the character he played on the show) became so widely hated by the fan base. My only disappointment is that there is no schedule for Volume 2’s release so I don’t know how long I have to wait for the next batch!

First Sentence (From the Introduction):
In August 2006, Brad Hill, an editor at Weblogs, Inc., hired me to write humorous reviews of Star Trek: The Next Generation from my unique point of view as an actor and a fan of the show.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

American Gods: A Novel, by Neil Gaiman

What if all the gods that were ever worshiped were real, but their power waxed and waned depending on how many followers were alive? Told with Gaiman’s typical wit and style, American Gods explores this idea. Not only the old gods like Odin, Kali, and Anubis appear, but the concept is cleverly updated to include the new gods of the Internet, mass media, and black ops. The plot follows Shadow, a recent ex-con serving as bodyguard and man Friday to the mysterious Mr. Wednesday; set against that journey is the larger story of a brewing war between the old and new gods for supremacy. The setting is almost a third character in itself: in the old world gods flocked to places of power like Stonehenge and the Labyrinth of Knossos, but here more eclectic places like the House on the Rock and Rock City are favored. The dichotomy of old and new pervades the book and adds a great deal of depth to the story. Even at close to 600 pages, the novel was a quick read and nearly impossible to put down. Truly excellent.

First Sentence:
Shadow had done three years in prison.

Search This Blog