inulro: (Default)
Whoops. I had quite a lot to say about some of these, but I doubt I'll be able to remember any of it now.

17. Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson

A collection of various articles and essays and a couple of short stories Stephenson has produced over the years. Fascinating stuff, for the most part. The longest piece is a series of articles he did for Wired about laying pipeline for telecoms, including the internet, in which he travels around the world following the path a line that was being rolled out at the time, and meeting the people who are responsible for it at all levels. Parts of that were less interesting to me, but switched off with things I found really cool, so I can't complain. Highly recommended.

18. A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn Shepherd

I went to an author event for this, and while I was a bit dubious about the concept, she spoke well and passionately about her work and I was convinced about the level of research she'd put in, so I bought it. It was possibly that she came tot he same conclusion about William Godwin - some good political & philosophical ideas, too bad he was a hypocritical ass and a leech to boot - that I did when I was working in the field that tipped the balance.

Set in London in 1860, her detective character, Charles Maddox, is hired by the descendants of Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy Shelley to find out what Claire Clairmont (who really did live to old age) wants from them, as they are desperate to preserve the carefully fictionalised versions of Shelley's life they've presented to the Victorian public. Maddox lives with his great uncle, who was a thief-taker in the 1810s and was involved with the Godwins and Shelleys then, and the very mention of their name causes the old man to have a stroke, so young Maddox just has to find out what happened...

I thoroughly enjoyed this - her research is good and she uses fiction to fill in the gaps in the documentation. Instead of writing in a faux-Victorian style she writes as a 21st-century author to a 21st-century audience, but doesn't do so explicitly too often.

The only thing stopping me buying her book based around Bleak House, Tom All-Alone's, right now is the fact that my to-read pile is still threatening to take over the bedroom.

19. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark

It's entirely possible the world doesn't need yet another book on the origins of WWI, but I got a lot out of it anyway.

The first section details the situation in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 20th century and is splendidly handled - incredibly information dense yet thrilling stuff. It's all conspiracies and secret societies. The rest of it is somewhat drier, where he examines the changing foreign policy situations of the major European powers in that period.

I had a lot of thoughts at the time, but the take away points seem to be:
Serbia and the Balkans were absolutely key. They were already being played down during the "July crisis" leading up to the declaration of war, but there's no getting away from that.
The assassins of Franz Ferdinand were demonstrably Serbian with links to factions in the Serbian government, as the Austrians asserted. However, starting with the Russians, all the Allied powers completely ignored this and refused to look into it.
There were already assumptions that Austria-Hungary was a dying power, long before the war.

Oh, and this book introduced me to my new favourite word: irredentism. Go look it up.

Long, lots of work, parts were not that exciting to me, but I'm really glad I read it. It took me a while to realise that he's the same guy who wrote Iron Kingdom, which I've been meaning to read since it came out; I'll look for it more actively now.

20. Fables from the Fountain, edited by Ian Whates

A collection of short stories based on Arthur C Clarke's Tales from the White Hart (with which I am not familiar, but hope to be soon) that has contributions from Neil Gaiman and Charles Stross. I somehow managed to miss it when it came out. Pat and I bought the only two copies as BristolCon, and otherwise it changes hands for ridiculous amounts of money.

It's based around a fictional pub on a back lane somewhere near Holborn, where a group of scientists and science fiction writers gather frequently to swap stories. They integrate into a whole really, really well. The Neil Gaiman contribution didn't do much for me, but the Stross story "A Bird in Hand", is hilarious. My favourite was "On the Messdecks of Madness" by Paul Graham Raven, even though the characters in it hate HP Lovecraft. The last few stories did less for me than the first, but there wasn't a really bad one in there. One is set in a pub in Edinburgh where a similar group gathers that includes Iain Banks, Ken Macleod and Charles Stross.

Thoroughly recommended if you can lay your hands on a copy. The only thing stopping me buying a copy of Tales from the White Hart is the aforementioned space problem.
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I just got back from a talk Neal Stephenson gave at the Watershed as part of something called the Festival of Ideas.

He's just released a collection of his journalism and was mostly discussing the ideas that he has written about in that.  It was all interesting - it's Neal Stephenson, even when he's wrong, he's interesting, and he's really thought a lot about stuff that most people take for granted.

The thing that really stuck with me was (I'm not going to do this justice), is that aside from the Internet, we as a society haven't accomplished much since the 70s.  The main example he used was why are we still using oil?  When he was an undergrad engineering student, lots of people were fired up about alternative fuel sources, but nothing's ever come of it.  We haven't been back to the moon.  We couldn't now if we wanted to.  Everybody's energy seems to be directed towards upgrading Farmville and Angry Birds, and figuring out how to get you to click on ads.

Um.  Well. You know, he's right.  The internet may have been my lifeline when I was not well, and my life would continue to be much less rich without it, but ... damn ... where the hell has human ingenuity and creativity gone with respect to solving big real-world problems?

He pinpoints part of the problem with trying to realise really outside-the-box projects are insurance and regulatory-related (he spends a lot of time with people trying to do things like go into space without conventional rockets, and this is where they hit a brick wall).  He recently suggested to a load of engineers at MIT that they should go into insurance.  It went down about as well as you might think, but it certainly bears thinking about.

One of his current projects is trying to find ways to encourage people to Do Real Stuff.  Which I think is a thoroughly fine idea, and more people should and society should get behind out-of-the-box projects etc. etc.

I, however, have come home and posted about it to the internet.

I feel that I should be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  However, being neither a scientist/engineer (and too attention deficient to ever become one), nor able to express myself creatively (thank you, head injury), I'm very much at a loss as to where to start.
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3. Reamde by Neal Stephenson

He's set a new record - this one is 100 pages longer than Anathem.  Having said that, it took me significantly less time to read this than Anathem or the Quicksilver series.  There's some ideas in it, but it's just a big espionage adventure book really.

My book club recently read one of Stephenson's earlier efforts, The Diamond Age, which I liked a lot less the second time round than I did the first, on reading Reamde I was really struck by how clunky in every way The Diamond Age is in comparison.

The book revolves around a massive multi-player online game and the family of its creator.  A bunch of hackers have created a virus that encrypts the victim's hard drive - in order to get the decryption key, the victim has to deposit a bunch of "gold" in a remote region of the video game as ransom.  When the victim is the Russian mob, they take a more direct approach to tracking down the hackers.  Things are made much more lively when it transpires that in the apartment above the Chinese hackers is a Al-Quaeda cell.  The chief terrorist kidnaps the niece of the creator of the game, and much adventure is had in getting her back (and her, escaping).

I loved this, especially the bits set in the mountains on the BC/Idaho/Washington State border.

inulro: (Default)
I had a lot to say about some of these, but it's been so long I just can't remember or be bothered.

28. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
Not as good as I remembered, but still worth while.

29. Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama

A pretty scholarly work for something that accompanies a TV series. As I'd seen the series, I had Schama's voice in my head as I read it - a poor woman's audio book.

Recommended.

30. Naked Pictures of Famous People by John Stewart

I can't emphasize enough how un-funny this is. Which is a disappointment as I'm a huge fan of the Daily Show.

Consider yourselves warned.

31. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber

Recent BBC dramatization. Enormous book. Really, really good.

32. Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Another day, another Sookie Stackhouse novel. Everyone who isn't a vampire is breeding, which is most annoying.

33.The Cassini Division by Ken Macleod

Left wing space opera. Interesting comparisons to The Diamond Age.

Probably the best of the series so far (though I've started the final volume and am loving that too).
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69. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I suspect that everyone who cares has already read this, so I'll just say that it's lovely. I've been saving it till I had a chance to read it all at once, which I did over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

(With an additional hooray for spending Chrismtas with people who don't mind you curling up with a book all day).

70. Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Finally! I got through the whole thing!

Which makes it sound like a chore, but it wasn't. I loved this book (no big surprise as I'm a big fan of Stephenson on the whole). A masterful bit of world-building - when you think you have it all figured out, something changes and you realise it doesn't work like you think it does.

71. The First City: St Augustine Saga of Survival edited by Jean Parker Waterbury

A history of St Augustine that I picked up when we were there. Surprisingly easy read. I was left wondering how the Spanish managed to hang onto Florida as long as they did. I have enough training to wonder whether they really were that incompetent, or whether, as history is told by the victors, it's Anglo spin. Though the evidence as presented is pretty compelling for the incompetence case.
inulro: (Default)
The very concept of Rednecks for Obama warms the very cockles of my little heart, particularly the quotes on the "who cares if rednecks support Obama?" page. If I had my own car, I might well buy the bumper sticker.

On a completely unrelated note, and terribly belated (to the point where if you're interested you've probably already read it), there's an interview with Neal Stephenson about his new book, with some choice bits at the end musing on the idea of mainstream literature vs genre. This linked to a New York times piece where Neal discusses what music he listens to when he writes. I've got to chase some of that up, as I love all kinds of chants, or at least what little I've heard.

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