In the current novel I am writing, set in the future, the dollar has collapsed and everyone uses something called "zons" instead, a currency backed not by gold or the full faith and credit of the US Government (lol) but on the stable pricing and the promise of redemption at Amazon.com. Yesterday, reality overran this admittedly small element of my story. I will need to write faster.
Archive for the ‘Books’ Category.
Apparently, the home in which L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology is right here in Phoenix. In fact, it is right by my kids' school and I drive past it almost every day. In the next few days I will take a camera and snap a picture or two.
I was a fan of Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth" (the book, not the movie) as a young adult -- it is a classic example of 1950's pulp science fiction -- though I picked it up a few years ago out of nostalgia and found that it did not wear very well. I do not know much about Scientology, though I wonder why folks who go all-in for it aren't at least a bit suspicious of a religion involving ancient aliens that was cooked up by a science fiction writer.
The whole thing makes for a fascinating story, and I think it would be fabulous book material for someone who is not either a proselytizing Scientologist or an angry ex-Scientologist with an ax to grind.
It appears that a scene in the Fountainhead that I thought was a facetious absurdity actually occurred:
No Cosmo-Slotnick building
Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story (I kid you not).
Some of the reviews are classic, though I am disappointed many of them are "please remove this book." Why should we let this jerk hide? The book up with its amazing irony and spate of scathing review comments is much better than being disappeared.
Well, I finished Reamde this weekend. It was only OK. It is a straight up modern adventure book, like perhaps a Vince Flynn novel, chasing terrorists around the globe. I enjoy Stephenson for his big, sometimes outrageous ideas, his witty prose, and his love affair with the geek culture. Except for the latter, none of this is in evidence in this book. It is certainly a more popularly accessible book, but that is certainly not what I want from Stephenson.
Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash are among my favorite novels. One of the reason I liked them were for the prose he brought to bear on even (or especially) trivial topics. His long passages on eating Cap'n Crunch or getting wisdom teeth removed in Cryptonomicon are classics. I got very little of this kind of thrill in Reamde, made worse by the fact that there were just too many main characters, none of whom were very well developed for me.
At some points, this book held my attention, and at some points it dragged. The book in some ways is almost the same structure as a comedic farce -- a whole bunch of characters who are dragged along by events into increasingly unlikely circumstances. There is no looming event or goal that drives the narrative in a, say, Clancy novel. Its just a lot of falling into one mess after another. Its also a bit unseriousness - it feels like the teens in Scooby Doo chasing terrorists. (One problem is that Stephenson's bad guys are too likable - they are always smart and ironic gentlemanly - so its hard to get as worked up about heading them off as one might in a classic thriller).
Some playwright or critic once wrote (sorry, can't remember the name) that if you put a gun out on the stage in Act 1, someone better use it in Act 3. (OK, it was Chekov, though why he said "gun" rather than "phaser" is beyond me). In this book, Stephenson leaves guns unused all over the stage. In particular, Stephenson comes up with one of his patented interesting-crazy ideas of using an MMRPG to crowd-source security analysis. I felt sure that in the manhunts that followed, that particular gun would be picked up and used to help drive to the climax, but we never hear of it again. In fact, we learn a lot of interesting things about this game in the book, which seems to be absolutely central to the plot, but in the end turns out to be entirely peripheral, an early macguffin to kick start the plot.
Another example is the HUGE amounts of the book go to talking about an interesting social realignment happening in the game, to absolutely no end. OK, so characters have abandoned the good and evil alignments put in by the game masters for a new emergent faction division. I thought sure we would see some kind of real-world parallel to this happening in the book, or some insight drawn from this that helps solve the real world problem. Nothing.
Overall, a disappointing book I would not have finished had it not been by Stephenson.
Postscript: If you become interested in the dynamics of the MMRPG in the book, where there are no character levels (only a skill system) and money and money making is central to the the game, the closest analog I have ever seen is not a fantasy game but EVE Online, a space-based game (also, to a lesser extent, Star Wars Galaxies as well, but that is now defunct). EVE Online probably has the most interesting economy of any MMRPG I have played and I know they employ an economist who sometimes writes articles about his work.
Amazon is promising textbook rentals on the Kindle that could save 80% over the cost of buying new. That is good news, and any competition to break up the cozy and price-inflated textbook market is welcome.
But Amazon is going to have to rethink the Kindle and its software before this is ever going to work. I am a huge fan of the Kindle (though I have switched my reading to the Kindle app on the iPad). But it works best reading a book straight through. Want to page back and find a particular section -- good luck. The iPad app actually works better, with a touch screen slider that allows a little better browsing. But for textbooks, they really need some kind of page navigation like coverflow in the iPod (which I hate by the way in the iPod but would love for pages in a textbook).
I have been an Amazon Prime customer for years, and have been very satisfied to get the free two-day shipping. And they have always done a good job with this, and in the past I have had literally hundreds of shipments in a row arrive on time.
However, two of my last three orders have been late, and the last order, which should have been here on Thursday, still, two days later, has not arrived despite the fact the system says it was delivered June 23 at 12:54.
But it is actually fairly easy to figure out why the service has deteriorated. On both these late orders, Amazon used the USPS to deliver the package. That explains a lot. The USPS has awful, unreliable service and has absolutely no package tracking capability. Not only is it my package missing, but neither Amazon, myself, or the USPS have any way to find out where it is.
This is awful service. I am not only a pretty high-volume customer, but I have paid an annual fee to get premium shipping -- and I can tell you that there is likely no one on Earth who considers the USPS a premium shipping option. If they keep sending my 2-day packages snail mail, there will no longer be any point to being a prime member. Maybe they will offer a super-prime membership sometime in the future that guarantees they will not use USPS (though I suppose I can get this now by clicking the one-day shipping button and paying the $3 or whatever it is extra).
I have bought numerous audio and video Teaching Company courses and have never been disappointed. Until tomorrow they are having a 70% off sale on many of their courses.
A few I have heard and would recommend:
Modern Western Civ (I am doing this one now)
History of Ancient Rome (not rated as well on this site but this is probably my favorite)
I am kind of amazed how long the list is, but I have actually listened to several others I would not recommend or that are not on sale.
Update: Use coupon code VFRC to get an additional $20 if you spend over $50. By the way, I don't get any commissions. I just believe in the product.
Last week I asked readers to help me remember the name of a science fiction book centered around an OCD man who has to carefully follow a specific routine or else reality unravels, an event that leaves the world subtly, or sometimes not so subtly, changed.
The book is called Resonance, and I re-read it this weekend. I had forgotten a lot of it but it really is a terrific, under-hyped book. There is real suspense as the unraveling of the world accelerates and our hero starts to better understand exactly what is going on. What I enjoyed the most was how there were two people in the book who had special, err, powers but who initially totally interpreted what these powers were or how they worked.
I have never seen a paperback version of it, but commenters tell me you can find it in the Baen free library (if so, that is a screaming deal because this is a pretty good book) and it is available on the Kindle.
I am trying to remember the name of a science fiction novel that came probably between 5 and 10 years ago. The novel centers around a man who is strongly OCD (or Aspergers maybe), who tries to closely adhere to a very set process and schedule for his life, else reality will "unravel," bringing both small and large changes in his life (ie he finds his home somewhere else). It turns out that what is in fact happening is that he can jump between parallel universes, and eventually he is called on to use this skill to save all the universes from some catastrophe. Does that ring any bells with anyone? I know a couple of kids who are old enough to understand they have similar traits that might appreciate them at the center of a novel.
By the way, I seem to remember Orson Scott Card (?) has a novel where the main character was OCD, where folks who had certain compulsions were treated as prophets. Can't remember the name of that one either. I remember the protagonist would trace cracks on the floor when she got upset.
Update: Found it: Resonance. Thanks to commenter Joe Martin. He has a link to it in the Baen free library.
In the spirit of 99-cent books on Kindle, I found an author on Kindle named John Locke, who has written about 6 books about his assassin-protagonist Donovan Creed (he also wrote a western, of all things, which was also very good). He seems to be a Kindle-only sensation. I have not seen him other places but a while back he had all his books in the top 100 at the same time.
The books are short and an easy read. This is not Hemingway, these are classic summer beach books, but I found him pretty enjoyable.
I had a nice Instalanche this morning on my post about the 99-cent price point on the Amazon Kindle for my book BMOC. I also got a bit of attention at the KindleBoards forum. So my book is nosing into the top 500 on Kindle, but until my kid noticed I did not see the other topical rankings:
LOL, #1 in Books>Entertainment>Humor>Laywers. #2 on the same but for business. Whole new niches beckon! (Actually, these categories kind of make sense, though I am not sure who chose them -- I am not sure I did).
For the second straight day, I have sold fifty copies of BMOC, for a total of a hundred in two days, at 99-cents. Fifty copies is more than I was selling in several weeks at the old price. Thanks to Glen Reynolds for linking the idea.
Well, it may only be a short-term kick driven by you fine readers (my thanks) but yesterday in the first day at the 99-cent price point I sold fifty copies of BMOC and jumped to number 2067 in the sales rank. Since my main goal is to be read, rather than make money, this is great.
My novel BMOC is now $0.99 at Amazon. With my second book coming out sometime soon (I hope) I thought I would experiment with online pricing models. I sold about 30 a month at the old price, but Glen Reynolds linked an article praising the 99-cent Kindle price point. So what the heck, let's try it. My loss is your gain, as the ads say.
Reasons you might like the novel:
- It's a sort of combination of Harvard Business School case study and murder mystery, with some humor thrown in
- The business at the center of the novel is actually the good guy (err gal, I guess, since the protagonist is female). While sympathetic to capitalism, the book is primarily a light crime novel, not some sort of Randian morality tale.
- The villains include a media mogul, a tort lawyer, a local news anchor, and a US Senator -- just like life!
- Several of the business models were made up on the fly when I attended boring cocktail parties and entertained myself creating whimsical businesses for myself. Since that time, readers of the book have emailed me with news stories of recent startup companies following almost identical strategies.
- 4-stars at Amazon
I asked Don Boudreaux his opinion of the best primer on public choice theory, a topic of interest to many libertarians. He recommended William Mitchell & Randy Simmons, Beyond Politics (1994). I have ordered a used copy from Amazon and will give my thoughts on it once I have had a chance to peruse it.
I was doing something today that I generally avoid, which is thinking about Sarah Palin. How bizarre would it be to wake up one morning and find that some random maniac you had never met in a city you might never have visited had gone on a killing spree and prominent people were all over the media blaming you for the killing. Not your political party, not all those who shared your views, not all those from a similar group, but you personally. Blood on your hands. How weird would that be (and how pissed off would I be -- I can say that I would have lashed out publicly early and hard and often, much harder than Palin's video, though no one ever has called me "presidential" in temperament).
Seems like there should be a novel in there somewhere. Yeah, I know the falsely accused thing is done all the time (e.g. the Prisoner) but I can't shake the feeling there is an interesting concept here.
This is probably the first ever inside reference to my novel. The funny part is that when I read TJIC's post, I thought "hmm, Preston Marsh, where have I heard that name?" LOL. By the way, the business idea Travis has is actually intriguing
Restaurants get napkins and linens as a service "“ every day, they trade huge bags of dirty whites for clean whites. They are in the business of cooking food and hiring wait staff, not in the business of knowing how to bleach things (or in the business of picking out linens that can stand up to bleach).
So what does clothing as a service entail? It could include cleaning, sizing, rotating wardrobes as fashions change, etc.
It removes some hassles, and bundles responsibilities in the place where there are economies of scale "“ people in the fashion industry can and will know more about sizing, cleaning, coordinating, etc. than consumers.
I and others have thoughts on the model in the comments.
By the way, for those who have not read my book, Preston Marsh is an entrepreneur who has made money in a series of sortof odd business models. Years ago I used to get bored at parties (actually, I still get bored at parties but I no longer use this entertainment technique) and make up occupations for myself. I remember convincing one woman who had recent evidence that I could not ski well that I was on the Olympic Ski Jumping Team ("You don't have to turn in ski jumping!")
Anyway, all the business models in the books are ones I made up for myself on the fly at parties. One involves building fountains in malls and then recouping the investment by harvesting coins from them. Another, which is central to the book, is a sort of guerrilla marketing startup which does some lifestyle consulting with teens but makes its money placing products in the hands of the coolest, trendsetting teens at high schools (a model that has since been emulated by a couple of real-life companies).
By the way, the book is still on sale at Amazon and available on the Kindle for download. Just search "BMOC."
My first novel, "BMOC," is now on Kindle for $4.99, a substantial discount off the $17.95 price Amazon has for the dead tree version. Incredibly, my author royalty is WAY more for the Kindle version even at that price than for the paper version.
Anyway, if you like this site, you might check it out. The novel is part murder mystery, party comedy, and part business book. I used to have fun with my friends at business school and later in nconsulting thinking up odd new business models (e.g. coin harvesting from fountains) and this book embodies some of the odder ones we came up with. Though as wacky as the business model of the main company in the book (called "BMOC" appropriately enough) was supposed to be, since writing it I have had a number of people send me stories of startups pursuing eerily similar approaches to marketing. Anyway, the book is a light read though with adult language and a tiny bit of sex.
Yes, I am among the geeks who miss Omni magazine. Is there anyone who remembers a short story in that magazine about a traffic jam so bad they eventually just paved it over, people and all? I am reminded of that given this story from China.
I am currently, finally reading a book that most of you who know how much of a geek I am probably already assumed I had read: Geodel- Escher- Bach. I guess I was turned off by how hip the book was when it came out, so I assumed it was some new age goofiness. As many of you know, it turns out to be a very readable book on modern number theory and all sorts of related mathematical topics. I'm really enjoying it.
But I would add that it is a blessing I waited until today to read it. 20 years ago I was way to impatient to really savor and appreciate it. The book is working on 3 or 4 levels at the same time at every turn, and I am not sure I would have been mature enough to appreciate it earlier. I can just see myself screaming, "and what's the deal with this stupid turtle?"
I had a similar reaction after recently reading Les Miserables. I couldn't understand it 30 years ago - a 100 pages in and we are still talking about this freaking priest and haven't met the main characters yet? What gives? Others may have been more mature at 17, but I needed a few decades to really appreciate it. This time around, I thought the book was beautiful. Really enjoyed it.
Next up in this vein? Probably Foucault's Pendulum, which I pick up and give up on every decade or so.
I am totally pissed off at the Glad Corporation this evening. For over a year, I have been advocating the Amazon Kindle book reader (I now have a Kindle 2) in part because it actually is superior to regular books for reading in the bath tub. Just zip the Kindle into a clear Ziploc bag, and it is waterproof and quite easy to read. And it is easy to turn the pages, unlike trying to put a regular book in a bag.
That is, until today. For some reason, I misplaced my usual Ziploc bag. So I ran to the kitchen for a replacement, and found to my horror the new bag design is no longer clear. There is some kind of pattern in the plastic that is still sort of transparent but is far less satisfactory for book reading. I wonder if anyone is selling black market old-Ziploc bags on eBay?
The never-ending need of American corporations to tinker with designs usually helps make for a better world, but it has a dark side too. First the Edsel, and now less-than-transparent Ziplocs.
Postscript: We also used to use Ziplocs for cheap underwater photography. It actually works OK, if you pull the bag tight across the lens.
Update #1: The freezer bags are thicker -- I am hoping that they are still clear. I will run to the store tomorrow to buy a box and let you know.