Celestial Weasel (celestialweasel) wrote,
Celestial Weasel

The Weasellies

Book - novel - more or less contemporary
Anathem - Neal Stephenson
As I said earlier in the year, this is a book for which the phrase 'if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like' could have been coined. However, I did, on the whole, although I remain convinced that it would have benefited from sterner editing and more reading through for inconsistencies. Not everything can be explained by there being an unreliable narrator, I feel.

Book - novel - older, read for first time
Summer Of Love - Lisa Mason
This is, I believe, out of print insofaras that means anything or has any significance in this exciting world of Abebooks etc in which we live. I can't remember where I came across this, I think in a list of time travel novels and what time the time travellers travelled to. Or it may have been something completely different :-)
Anyway, the story is set in the 'summer of love' in San Francisco. The main protagonists are a 14 year old runaway girl, a time traveller from the future ( 'Chiron Cat's Eye in Draco') and their land-lady. The summer of love is invoked convincingly. I would describe it as a cross between The Flip Side Of Dominick Hide, Twelve Monkeys and Tales Of The City (the invocation of San Francisco rather than the specific gay aspects).

Honourable mention in the above category
The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad - Minister Faust
I bought this based on a positive review by Abigail Nussbaum http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/ (who also comments on LJ as abigail_n). It is a modern fantasy set in Canada amongst the Canadian black community. In Edmonton specifically IIRC - her review is here (I see Mr Faust himself commented on that review). I bought three books based on her reviews because there seems to be some correlation between her thoughts and mine, notably on a couple of popular books that I didn't think much of and which she disliked or at any rate thought flawed for reasons very similar to mine. Of the three, this was the only hit. In particular I disliked The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, which was every bit as bad as, in retrospect, I should have guessed a book by a creating writing professor at MIT would be. However, one out of three isn't bad.
I have to say that the book is a bit of a sprawling mess, however it is a fresh and exuberant sprawling mess. The take on race is, I think, uniquely Canadian, very different from what an American novel would have been.

Book - short story collection - more or less contemporary
So Far, So Near - Mat Coward
I came across this in an SF bookshop in San Francisco which we were taken to be applez. I don't think I was aware that Mr Coward was an SF writer, though I was not at all surprised - much as I wasn't surprised when Neal Stephenson wrote an SF novel after Zodiac - I have been familiar with Mat's writing as a magazine columnist and writer for decades. His main markets are InterZone and BBC Radio 4, which is why I hadn't come across them before since I am allergic to both. The stories are very much in the old British SF style of the 50s, when British SF had more of a distinctive voice from American.

Book - short story collection - older, read for first time
Unforgivable Stories, Kim Newman
The best of Newman's collections apart from the first Diogenes Club one. From the point of view of people who don't own it, I would say that the fact that this includes Teddy Bears Picnic means that one needn't bother to get or read Back In The USSA. The 'Germany Wins' stories are both particularly fine, Slow News Day is perhaps one of the bleakest 'the Nazis win' stories ever written. Most importantly this collection has no stories with his major flaw, which is an aggravating knitting together of all his stories and characters into one giant continuity which doesn't really work.

Book - non-fiction - more or less contemporary
Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists - Reas, Fry and Maeda
Obviously with books on programming languages / technologies etc. one has the problem of separating the technology from the book. In this case the book and the technology are both excellent. Processing is basically a (thinnish) layer on top of Java, a simple development environment and a simplified graphical API. It is aimed, in some sense, at artists. The book is divided into sections about Processing and sections on the use artists put computers to (not necessarily in Processing). I feared the book might be full of irksome art jargon and rhetoric and although there is a degree of that (and a bit of irksome open source rhetoric) it was much less aggravating than I was expecting - actually much less annoying than the irksome 'geek' rhetoric one finds all over the interwebs.
The only time this year, and possibly ever, I have wanted a program for my own use - to display a subtitles file for a film where I had a DVD without subtitles (having failed to get any software that was supposed to be able to use the external file to actually work) - I swiftly decided that I would rather nail my scrotum to a plank with a rusty nail than use Manged C++ (I mentioned this before in the context of deleting crap Microsoft tools from my hard disk), and that C# did not look my idea of fun, so I decided to try Processing. I was expecting the file reading would be a pain, but actually to read the file into an array of strings I discovered I needed to say
 String [] rawlines=loadStrings("c:\\temp\\sa.srt");

Processing seems to me to be very much in the spirit of good old Basic, back in the days when software did things without needing some batshit mixture of languages, protocols etc. (and you kids can get off my lawn). I commend it to you.

Book - non-fiction - older, read for first time
The Computer in the United States: From Laboratory to Market, 1930 to 1960 - James W Cortada
I assume this book is aimed at students, though of what I am not entirely sure since I am not at all familiar with the workings of humanities degrees etc., as it is neither a popularisation nor one of the heavy academic press tomes I usually end up reading. I was familiar with a lot of the material, notably from Cortada's own 'Before The Computer' and 'IBM's Early Computers' which are both heavily referenced in this book. This book gets the title of the year for being the definitive skewering of the Libertarian myth of Silicon Valley. It makes it abundantly clear that the computer and computer business as we know it comes out of the office machinery business from the late 19th century coupled to massive government spending in WWII and the Cold War. As such it should be required reading for all 17 year old Slashdot reading weenies from Bumfuck, Ohio.

TV - more or less contemporary
A Canadian TV series based on Coupland's jPod novel set in a computer games company, revolving around 5 geeks, their boomer boss, the parents of two of the geeks and a chinese gangster. The plot is somewhat different and, on the whole, better (the material, permuted somewhat differently, also featured in the film Everything's Gone Green, also set in Vancouver). The level of polish and production values were infinitely better than British television would have lavished on something set in a, horrors, software company, yet has the off-beat wit you wouldn't get in American TV.

TV - older, seen for first time
Slings And Arrows (series 1)
Another Canadian TV series. This was lent to us by dolphingoddesss. Amazon.ca has been suggesting this to me for years based on my purchases from them. It is a comedy set in a theatre company - there are 6 episodes. Very witty.

I have read too many American academic press books about the history of computers, technology, O.R. etc. this year. Many of them have been a disappointment due to a poor number of words to what the book actually says ratio. There will be a strict(ish) moratorium on these for this year.
Why are the production values of British television frequently so poor?

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