Category Archives: Books

Flaming the Kindle

John C. Welch on why the first version of Amazon’s e-book reader is not going to take the world by storm:

The other major problem with replacing books is that there isn’t an online store that you want to browse the way you will a book store. Jeff Bezos can hump his Kindle until it’s as sticky as a stripper’s shoes, but you don’t browse Amazon, not really. You might link-hop a bit, but face it, Amazon’s strength is that it lets you get shit done like a SEAL sniper. You find your target, take the shot, and get out. That’s not bad, not on any level. It’s one reason why I use, no why I love Amazon so much for buying gifts and the like. They have a lot of stuff, it’s easy to find, and it’s usually pretty cheap. It’s also really easy to get through the whole “trading money for stuff” part of the transaction.

Evil is due for an ass-poking

Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising is on its way to theater screens. Soon. I didn’t get goosebumps watching the trailer or anything. (“I’m an awful liar, aren’t I, darling?”)

If just one line from the first book makes it into the script, I’ll be happy. One line. “A foolish move, friend Smith. We shall not forget.” (And if it happens, it’ll be Christopher Eccleston delivering it. Could anything be more perfect?)


“The graphic novel will either complement the original text, or profane it. The prophecies are vague.”

(I like the rendition of Unwyrm on the cover — enough not to be too scandalized that the Gebling King’s been omitted. No matter — I eagerly await seeing Geblings depicted within, to say nothing of Dwelfs and Gaunts.)

Schrödinger’s Ball

The website for Adam Felber’s upcoming novel Schrödinger’s Ball has gone live. Adam is far and away my favorite of the Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me regulars, and his blog, Fanatical Apathy, is a treat in its own right; I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with a longer work.

Something that baffles me, though, is the incredible lead time for the book. It sounds like it was complete a while ago; reviewers appear to have gotten their hands on it, or at least a close-to-final version of the manuscript. We ordinary mortals are going to have to wait until August to sink our teeth into it. In an age of internet-based instant gratification, that seems almost archaic. Maybe it’s just me.

Octavia Butler, RIP and dammit

The enigmatic Octavia E. Butler has left us, and before her time.

Science fiction was her home turf, but she’d have done any field she chose proud. She inhabited the uncanny valley: she had a knack for coming up with premises that could make your skin crawl, and then spinning them, credibly, into something ultimately life-affirming. Her work often had the quality of dreams about it, and by that I mean that it could be both wondrous and disturbing, sometimes in the same breath. But then, that stands to reason: she never flinched, and she never cheated, when it came to following where the story led. The world could use more like her.

She will be missed, and I will now read the recently-published Fledgling, the first new work of hers to appear in seven years, with a slightly heavier heart, knowing that it will — barring the discovery of some lost manuscript — be the last new thing to appear under her name.

Ave adque vale, Octavia. Dream well, as you always did.


Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me! my favorite NPR program, has added a podcast; not just of selected highlights, but of the entire show. Now I can take Peter, Carl, Charlie, Paula, and the rest of the gang on the road without being tethered to a PC running RealPlayer. This is a fabulous thing.
In addition, my favorite of the regular panelists, Adam Felber, is apparently in the process of publishing his first novel, Schroedinger’s Ball. Fortunately, since it appears that it won’t actually appear in print until August, I have a little time between now and then to wear down the rest of my queued reading so as to make room for it.


A few weeks ago, NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday ran an interview with Frank Warren, creator/proprietor of the PostSecret project.

It’s essentially an anonymous postcard confessional, with the most compelling submissions displayed on the site every week. Some are funny; some are haunting. One of the latter is one I haven’t seen yet, which Warren selected to read on the air:

“I’d give anything for the opportunity to show even the smallest kindness to my ex-wife.”

I’d like to see that one. I suspect that I’ll have to buy the book to do so. I can think of worse things.

But it and the one reproduced below seem like flip sides of the same coin. It’s strange how kindness can sometimes cut deeper than cruelty.

I'm trying to forget every kind thing you ever said to me

Crusty Infantry

At several points in the course of the Discworld series Terry Pratchett mentions that Sam Vimes is fond of cutting his toast “into soldiers.” I had no idea what this meant: my mind’s eye envisioned the careful carving of paper-doll shapes into a piece of browned bread, which seemed like a lot of effort to go to at the breakfast table.

However, this morning I happened to run across a pointer, on BoingBoing, to an article about the genesis of a clever and handy toast-soldier stamp; it turns out that the soldier is a simple strip of cut toast optimized for poking through the opening of a soft-boiled egg to mop up yolk.

The new stamp improves upon the tried-and-true soldier by sealing the edges of the cut before toasting, supposedly producing a more structurally-robust unit. If I can find a vendor who’ll ship to the U.S., I might have to order one just for the novelty value.

Mister Moist

I have, since late May, been chugging my way through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, thanks in no small part to Jody‘s generosity in lending out chunks of her library. I’ve nearly caught up, but I’m jumping out of the sequence a bit right now, because the second-latest Discworld novel, Going Postal, has just come out in paperback.

Early Terry Pratchett is lighthearted fun, full of semi-disposable characters in ridiculous situations. Later Terry Pratchett… well, that’s something else again. The humor is as sharp as it ever was, but somewhere along the way, the characters stopped being mere puppets in service of the punch line, and started being the kind of people you find yourself caring about. Deeply. The result is magic — not the kind of flashy spellcasting that Pratchett’s wizards engage in, or are supposed to refrain from engaging in — but the kind that has you laughing, on one level, with almost every turn of the page, while on another it has you musing upon quite serious questions of right and wrong.

Up ’til now, Night Watch has been my favorite example of this tricky alloy, but Going Postal looks to equal if not exceed it. Moist von Lipwig is in some ways the perfect counterweight to Sam Vimes. Where the latter is a good, if gruff, man ever struggling to keep himself from crossing the line, the former is a bad, but charming, man trying desperately to claw his way across the line in the opposite direction.

I finished it this weekend; if I have any complaint about the book, it’s that it isn’t long enough. I could cheerfully have followed its characters for another few hundred pages at least. As it is, I can hope that Ankh-Morpork’s new Postmaster joins the lineup of regulars, and that we haven’t seen the last of him.

Neil Gaiman Week

I finally received my copy of the Anansi Boys audiobook last week, and so far it’s proving to everything I’d hoped for and more. I had known for a long time that Lenny Henry is a gifted comic actor, but even so, I hadn’t realized until now just how amazingly facile he is at slipping from one character voice into another, sometimes in mid-breath. He is, in a word, astounding.

Meanwhile, I picked up a copy of the short-story collection Smoke and Mirrors, which I’ve been reading slowly but with great pleasure. At the same time, I’m waiting for MirrorMask to make its bow in a theater reasonably close to me, preferably one of the Cameras.

And now, just to round things out, it turns out that Neil Gaiman granted an interview to Studio 360‘s Kurt Andersen. While I missed the Bay Area airing of that interview, being in a concert audience at the time, it turns out to be available as a podcast, from which it’s not too dificult to tease out the MP3. It definitely makes for rewarding listening. Having been a fan of his for years now, and even having seen him deliver a reading in person, I still manage to be surprised at just how much warmth and essential decency Neil Gaiman manages to convey with his voice alone.