Tuesday, August 28, 2007

HP7 JK Rowling

I've already posted on this book once, but that was way earlier on in the story, when all I had read was spoilers and the first 150 pages. Since then, I have finished the book and gave myself time to think about it. This one was another forced binge finish, because the Boy was coming back from camp "tomorrow" and so I needed to finish it "tonight". Tonight actually bled a little into the morrow as I finished it after midnight.

Since it's the last book, I would have liked to see more wrapping up. Maybe that's lame, I don't know. Sometimes the better book ends with questions (Tigana comes to mind, though I always loved the way GGKay wrapped up minor storylines in the middle of a book, to let you know that we won't be seeing a character again, but he did live happily ever after nevertheless. In fact, that's one of my favourite Kay-isms). Did Luna Lovegood ever find out what her father did? How did she react? She's clearly much more a descendent of Rowena Ravenclaw than the Grey Lady or her father, in terms of her intelligence and lateral thinking.

I was very satisfied with the outcome of Snape's storyline, though I understand other readers' annoyance with a trip to the pensieve at the climax of the book. My team leader sent me a link to the Leaky Cauldron chat with JKR about wrapping things up. I was disappointed in what she said about Snape there; I quite liked him and thought he had a pretty unhappy life, but maybe that's because I have always had a little infatuation for Alan Rickman.

There are a few convenient magical devices that I find to be annoying crutches:
The pensieve
The room of requirement (I don't think it should have been allowed to make a tunnel to Hogsmeade)
Portraits of the headmasters (why not get some chocolate frog cards, and communicate everywhere? And how much intelligence and free thought do those things get to keep? Where do they keep their brains?)
Polyjuice potion -- how long is this stuff supposed to last? I remember in Book 2, they had an hour. In book seven, they seem to have half a day, and wearing off seems a slower process.
Sometimes these devices seem like they were brought up earlier in the series just so they could reappear in later books. Not that that's a bad thing. I prefer that to the type of book where the magical device appears for the first time when it solves a crisis. I just would have a liked a more architectural framework.

The magic has always seemed a little too convenient, too. I much prefer something like the Bartameious trilogy, where the magicians are always trying to hide how little they can actually do, and all of their power is basically derived from summoning demons and then creating charges for them. I really like a consistently thought-out magic that obeys, you know, the laws of thermodynamics or something. Just you want until I publish my Best-Selling Fantasy Novel (BSFN for short) so you can pick apart my inconsistent magic.

Still, I'm glad I read it, if only because it means I can talk about it now.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Sarah" by JT Leroy (Laura Albert)

I read this because I had read on GalleyCat that the real author had been sued for some absurd sum like $1.1M by the person who bought the screen rights to the book. He sued her because he had bought the rights on the basis that the book was written by a 19-year-old transgendered ex-prostitute, and this was a semi-autobiographical work.

Let me say, if anyone thinks this was autobiographical, they are a sick, sick individual and America has way bigger problems than Iraq. And those problems seem to involve child prostitution at truck stops in West Virginia. Giveaways that it was not strictly true abounded, however. The patron saint of truckstop prostitutes is a magical jackalope that hangs on a wall with its ever-growing antlers, and they have to keep expanding the room it's in because the antlers are so large? Racoon penis talismans? A patron saint of truckers who protects them from speeding through weigh stations and from trouble over falsified logbooks?

That said, this was an excellent read. The ending was absolutely fabulous, way better than "Shooter" which I watched on the weekend (Shooter's ending was more suitable for a Steven Seagal movie, if you ask me).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"An Ice Cream War" by William Boyd

This book sat on my shelf for a couple of years. I think my mother read it with her book club. Then my sister read it while she was visiting, and so with no one else to give it to, my mother left it with me, saying "You might not like it." I started it while I was at karate camp. One of the black belts came up to me and asked what I was reading. I showed the cover and said it was about WWI in Africa, and he seemed impressed. He went on and on about how interesting it was that I was reading a book about war, and he'd like to read it when I'm done. And I finished it while we were camping, and gave it to Ed, who had finished the book he was reading (something about clans and the giant walking, fighting machines they ride in and the far future where humanity has divided into two streams). He finished it also, so we've gotten our money's worth out of this one.

The book is about WWI in Africa, and written in that British self-effacing style, very funny. That's probably why I could read it. There were sections where people walked around with guns and did strategic stuff, but perhaps not enough to appeal to my black-belt friend. More there were scenes where people coerced other people into doing things that weren't in their own best interests, and giving people poor advice, and debauching. There was some spying, and lots of grissly death.

The most frustrating thing about this book was that I never "got" the title. I went online trying to find out what the title meant, and eventually found a website that said something about fighting a war in Africa, the british were going to melt like ice cream. In the process of gleaning that, I read many reviews of the book and other books by Mr. Boyd, and apparently this isn't his best work. A lot of the reviews online were sort of the same which I found interesting, as if people can't come up with original reviews very often. That's sad. many of them referred to WWI in Africa as "a war they continued after the Armistice because no one told them to stop" which wasn't exactly my impression. I mean, maybe they kept fighting for a day or two, but that happens when there's a world war and poor communications, right?

And then my August issue of Fashion came in the mail, and it had a one-page article about him, talking about his newest book which just came out. Dunno if I'll read it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Dreaming in Code" by Scott Rosenberg

This one I picked up because I read an excerpt on Salon.com, which made it sound enticing. And the first half was. It's about a group led by the guy who invented Lotus 1-2-3 (the early dominant spreadsheet program). They are trying to create something that they never called an Outlook killer though it seemed like one to me, and they're having a rough time. The book is non-fiction, something I had to keep explaining to the people I was telling about. I write computer manuals and dabble in project management in my day-job, and a lot of the anecdotes told in this book made me chuckle and shake my head. They had problems with the word "item", which meant different things depending on the person using the word; we have problems with the word Devices, and the word Preset (we have a Preset folder on the interface, and then subfolders that are also called Preset folders, but those preset subfolders hold presets, and are also called presets. I rewrote the documentation using a hierarchy of Preset folder, preset subfolders, and presets which can be activated individually or in a subfolder group.) Anyway, this was a book that I kept referring to at work while I was reading it; a lot of it related.

And then, halfway through the book, the story disappeared. I don't expect a plot per se for non-fiction, but there were two chapters of summations from different experts about why software sucks, and how it should suck less, and the history of sucking software. These anecdotes were interesting, but they went on too long. I mean, Chandler, the outlook killer, was barely mentioned for about 65 pages. And then there were the last two chapters, which seemed like an afterword, really. I felt like the author had abandoned the team. And in a sense he had. They had been working for years, and they were supposed to have shipped product by now, but I guess the book had to go to print. The ending was totally unsatisfying. I'll ruin it for you: Chandler didn't ship as of the publication date. I just checked the project's website (yay, google!) and they released version 0.7 on November 30, 2006. I guess they missed their 1.0 release date of spring '07, because, well, Spring ended last week. Maybe I found the ending unsatisfying because the book was due and I had to finish it because the library wouldn't let me renew (someone else had a hold on it) so I had to finish it in a two-day 150-page binge.

I will still quote this book to other people -- I learned a lot. "Your project will take longer than you think, even if you take into account that it will take longer than you think." "Software is hard." But the first half is way better than the second.