Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures, edited by Sean Wallace

The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures, edited by Sean Wallace

As I've said before, steampunk isn't my favorite genre. When it is good it can be great, but often it isn't good at all. This collection is much the same, following the expected pattern. My favorite was Benedice Te by Jay Lake; it is an exciting tale of espionage set in the Texian Republic in 1961. Ticktock Girl by Cat Rambo was another good one, the tale of an android superhero told through memory logs. The rest were average to poor. If you are a huge fan of the genre then this book may be for you, but if not, I'd look elsewhere for entertainment.

First Sentence (from the Introduction):
What more can one say about steampunk that hasn't already been said?

Monday, February 15, 2016

How To Shit in the Woods, by Kathleen Meyer

How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art, by Kathleen Meyer

First, a story about how I came to have this book. My bookshelf at the office has a lot of appropriate texts for my job, such as Collaboration Explained, Manage It!, Working Effectively With Legacy Code, and Java Puzzlers. To see who paid any attention, I also have a copy of Young Stalin which causes the occasional raised eyebrow. (When asked, I just say it describes my management style...) A friend thought this was hilarious, and obtained a variety of out of place entries and peppered my shelf with them. How to Shit in the Woods is one of these.

I was surprised to discover that the title of the book is quite literal. Written by an avid outdoorswoman with a high concern for the environment, this is a guide to safely eliminating human waste when away from civilization. Considering the topic, there is a lot of humor here: "In some terrain, the high water line can be as elusive as the other sock — the one that went into the drier [sic]." Also somewhat irreverently funny are the descriptions of particular excretion failures, from a misaligned squat that unknowingly deposited the scat in the hood of a jacket resulting in the serious need for a shower, to "the unequivocal misery of being nailed by a bumble bee smack on the family jewels." While these stories were interesting, much of the thin tome is devoted to lists of holding tanks, decomposers, and other sanitary aids; while clearly useful to backpackers and wilderness enthusiasts it wasn't very interesting to the casual reader like myself. While not my usual reading fare, this book was anything but... shitty.

First Sentence:
In the mid-1800s in the Royal Borough of Chelsea, London, an industrious young English plumber named Thomas Crapper grabbed Progress in his pipe wrench and with a number of sophisticated sanitation inventions leapfrogged ahead one hundred years.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Coreyography, by Corey Feldman

Coreyography: A Memoir, by Corey Feldman

All I really knew about Corey Feldman before reading his memoir was I liked several of his early movies —Gremlins, The Goonies, Stand By Me, and my favorite, The Lost Boys — and like many child stars, he fell into a well-publicized spiral of drug abuse and unfounded arrogance. After reading Coreyography, though, Feldman comes across as a somewhat tragic figure. Yes, drug abuse is self-inflicted and not usually worthy of much empathy, but abusive parents and sexual molestation make the descent into addiction somewhat understandable, an escape from what must have been a horrible reality. His father was largely absent in Feldman's earliest days, leaving him in the care of his untreated schizophrenic mother and a family that looked at him like a paycheck rather than a person. Later, when his father returned to run his career, an assistant hired by his dad began molesting Feldman, starting a cycle of exploitation that lasted for years and included a couple of half-hearted suicide attempts. When Corey turned 15 he legally emancipated himself from his family, but he had already been introduced to cocaine and sadly found himself with his only adult role model being his friend Michael Jackson. Jackson was still a few years out from his own downfall, but still a long way from what I'd call a positive influence. Two failed marriages and a couple of stints in rehab later, Feldman appears to have gotten his life together and the book ends on a hopeful note, Feldman bonding with his son. This is a surprisingly personal and revealing memoir; I'd expected braggadocio and rationalizations, but instead got an honest look back over an amazingly unhappy life.

First Sentence:
I am three years old, sitting at the small round breakfast table in our tiny kitchen, eyeing a half-open box of cereal.

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