Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Plague Forge, by Jason M. Hough

The Plague Forge (Dire Earth Cycle, #3)

This third entry of the Dire Earth Cycle neatly wraps up most of the mysteries while creating an obvious jumping-off point for the following duology. The plot is fairly straightforward, with three separate quests joining together at the conclusion. The action is non-stop and constantly moving, like jumping out of an airplane. Adventure is the focus here rather than character development, but the pacing is such that it isn't really an issue. I found the ending to be a bit abrupt; many of the big questions are answered, but in a mere handful of pages and a heavy dose of deus ex machina.

The recipe for this trilogy: one part Indiana Jones, one part Aliens, one part The Fifth Element; populate with Mary Sues and stir vigorously. The result: light and fluffy, but delicious.

First Sentence:
Seconds from collision the vehicle lurched.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Exodus Towers, by Jason M Hough

The Exodus Towers (Dire Earth Cycle, #2)

Ah, the middle book in a trilogy. From C. S. Lewis's The Space Trilogy to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games the second entry is often the worst. (Interestingly, for movies the opposite is often true; The Godfather: Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, The Road Warrior, and The Dark Knight off the top of my head are all the best in their respective series.) The first book usually has a solid ending, but the second book tends to end with a cliffhanger; coupled with the second book customarily existing simply to set up the third, when judged as a whole it generally appears lacking. While entertaining, The Exodus Towers falls into this trap.

Early in the plot a new band of plague-immune soldiers appears as a second (or third if you count the alien Builders) antagonist, but they are dispatched surprisingly quickly. A time-distortion field is encountered so while our heroes only experience hours, months are going by outside—while certainly a way of accelerating to the next Builder event, the idea that nothing important or interesting happens outside the time bubble seems a stretch. There is a nice use of the bubble during a firefight I thought was clever, though, so this wasn't all bad. Despite a plodding pace, Hough's writing remains engaging, including a near perfect description of what you see when your eyes are closed: "Radiant amoeba-like shapes swam in a sea of molten orange, and any attempt he made to focus on one served only to obscure it further." The strangest thing about this novel was that the author (and editor, I suppose) seems to think that a five-sided figure is a hexagon rather than a pentagon. Not a typo either; in chapter 50 the apparent importance of the number 5 by the Builders is realized when they discover a set of nested hexagons on a ship. Odd.

Overall I still enjoyed the story, but it suffers by clearly being a bridge to the third book rather than standing on its own merit. That said, I'll see this epic through to the conclusion in The Plague Forge.

First Sentence:
The girl danced for an audience of ghosts.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Codex Born, by Jim C. Hines

Codex Born (Magic Ex Libris, #2)

I read Libriomancer over six years ago and loved it, but never got around to the sequel for some reason. That was a mistake—Codex Born is great! Starting with magical librarians investigating a murder but morphing into preventing a supernatural armageddon this book starts fast and only picks up speed until the conclusion. Once again, the fun is seeing what items are pulled from various books (the particular form of magic here); authors like H.G. Wells, John Scalzi, Robert Heinlein, and Lewis Carroll all are (surprisingly) featured, but using a scholarly text named African Honey Bees in North America was both genius and hilarious. The reason I only give this four stars is the depiction of the villain; he is unbelievably powerful for someone that only had a year to learn magic and seems to hold a grudge against the hero that makes little sense. Regardless, a fun, fast read.

First Sentence:
People say love changes a person.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Domain-Driven Design, by Eric Evans

Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software

I first read this book several years ago. While recently cleaning the garage I found it again in a box from a previous job where I must have had it on a shelf. Flipping through it showed how much I'd forgotten, so I decided to read it again.

This is a great book, filled with deep concepts and clear examples. Evans says, "Software designs tend to be very abstract and hard to grasp. Developers and users alike need tangible ways to understand the system and share a view of the system as a whole." This is a great summary of what this text teaches. Many patterns are detailed, and approaches to design that are both simple and rarely found in the wild. Most software, even that with good initial design, tends to grow over time in ways that don't necessarily reflect the initial approach. This makes the code brittle and hard to reuse, the dreaded "code rot" problem. The impact can be greatly reduced with the creation of a ubiquitous language shared by all interested parties and a commitment to continual design, not just refactoring code. "One way or another, creating distinctive software comes back to a stable team accumulating specialized knowledge and crunching it into a rich model. No shortcuts. No magic bullets."

The biggest drawback to this book is that it is dense. Over 500 pages, and a lot of information is packed into every page. Makes reading it—at least at a pace where information can be distilled and remembered—take a long time. I suppose this is really a back-handed complement, as a text this complete should be expected to be substantial, but I found it took longer than usual to get through the whole thing. This is a book that every serious software architect should read, preferably on a regular basis!

First Sentence:
This eighteenth-century Chinese map represents the whole world.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The Atomic City Girls, by Janet Beard

The Atomic City Girls

During WWII, Oak Ridge was established as one of the main sites of the Manhattan Project. The facility was sprawling, springing up in a largely unpopulated area seeming overnight to house and employ 30,000 workers—almost none of whom had any idea what they were trying to build. This little-known setting serves as the backdrop for several (barely) intertwining stories of life, love, and growing up.

Despite the title, the narrative largely follows only four people, two women and two men: Sam, a Jewish physicist who is a key player in developing the bomb, June, a high-school graduate finding her way in the world, Cici, a gold digger searching for a husband, and Joe, an African American construction worker. Sam and June are the main focus, falling into an affair fairly quickly. Joe has the most interesting arc, with the horrible treatment of blacks at the time and the varying attitudes of everyone ranging from hostility to acceptance. Cici does have her own storyline, but largely serves as a foil to June, going from friend to enemy fairly dramatically.

While the plots are thin and characters are largely one-dimensional, the setting is what makes this a pretty good read. There are actual photos interspersed of Oak Ridge at the time which really helps set the mood. While reading I found myself going to the web and looking up stories and information about the plant; I probably spent as much time doing that as reading the novel! If you are looking for an historical fiction tale that sheds light on a new era this is a solid (if pedestrian) choice.

First Sentence:
The news that June's grandfather was being evicted had come from her older sister Mary, who worked in town at Langham's Drug Store.

New York Fantastic, edited by Paula Guran

New York Fantastic: Fantasy Stories from the City that Never Sleeps

This is an unusual and uneven collection of short stories, each with a heavy fantasy element and all set in New York City. In one memorable (but odd) story the city itself is a character; "The Tallest Doll in New York City" by Maria Dahvana Headley tells of a time when the Chrysler Building takes a walk with the Empire State Building. My favorite tale was "Shell Games" by George R. R. Martin; it details the origin story of the hero named The Great and Powerful Turtle from the Wild Cards series, a favorite from my college days. Another great one is "Priced to Sell" by Naomi Novik following real estate brokers trying to find housing for vampires and other monsters. Other authors I like that have stories here include Elizabeth Bear, Peter Straub, and N.K. Jemisin. Others aren't very good though; Seanan McGuire's "Red as Snow" and Peter S. Beagle's "The Rock in the Park" are especially mundane. Despite the irregularity of quality, I expect there is something in here for everyone to enjoy.

First Sentence (from the introduction):
New York City is a very real place, but no one can deny it is also somewhere magic occurs and all sorts of fantastical things happen.

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