Friday, April 30, 2010

reviews for Friday, April 30, 2010

 John Sandford - Dark of the Moon

Sandford writes a very nice Mary Sue. That is, in the "Prey" novels and in these Virgil Flowers novels (which are a spin off of the Prey novels), Sandford writes about righteous, hard-nosed cops tracking down brutal serial killers in the Twin Cities and environs - and there's a strong sense that these hard-nosed cops are more or less who Sandford would like himself to be, somewhat. We get lovely descriptions of the vehicles and weapons used by the protagonists, and they always solve the crime, frequently by killing the serial killer. The novels are very nice police procedurals, good description of how cops do what they do and think what they think. Not a lot of deep material here, though. Fluff reading; but very nice as a change from a deeper work. You know what you're going to get when you pick it up, and  you might be able to solve the crime before the cops do, which is always a nice treat.

Chris Anderson - Free: Future of a Radical Price

Anderson is an editor for Wired, and this book read like a series of magazine articles strung together. They chapters flowed nicely into each other, but each of the chapters could easily have been read by itself.  Anderson gives a brief history of the concept of Free (as in beer) in the United States - thumbnail; think of Gilette, giving away razors so that he could sell razor blades at a profit. Anderson contends that, in the Internet era, free is increasingly the marginal price for products - and, in a competitive market, prices tend to devolve to the marginal price. (The marginal price is the lowest possible price that the product can be sold at while not losing money for the seller - the price which covers production costs, basically). Because a great many things which the internet is good at distributing are produced for very little cost, they can be given away, and profit can be derived through different means.  Anderson highlights a large number of different ways in which this process works, and explains why older readers have trouble grasping the idea and younger readers have trouble thinking of the idea as anything other than normal. Interesting topic, format was a little tough.

One thing I have discovered recently is that I find reading non-fiction to be very much like work. I read fiction to avoid work, perhaps, but reading non-fiction is what I'm "supposed" to be doing on some level - keeping up with the current research, perhaps, or being ahead of where my students are (often a long way ahead). I don't even really like reading the news, although I do it. Anyway, I read A LOT more fiction than I do non-fiction.

Karen Miller - Innocent Mage

I stopped reading this book on Monday or Tuesday. I couldn't finish it. I didn't like any of the characters at all.  The "hero" is supposed to forthright, not cowed by society, capable of speaking his mind to all walks of society, and so he comes across as a jerk. Central to the plot is a prophecy which people around the hero are aware of, but requires not telling the hero about his role in the prophesy. Other characters - supposedly the hero's friends -  be-moan the fact that this means he might get hurt because he doesn't know what is happening.  My overriding feeling was "good, he probably deserves it," which is probably not what the author had in mind. Finally, it wasn't clear what it was the hero was supposed to be doing. He was a member of an underclass in his society - the ruling class have magic, the underclass does not - but there was no real sense of burden. The ruling class maintain a well protected realm with nice weather and good growing conditions. They limit childbirth, but they place the same limits on themselves as on the underclass. Perhaps I would have found some abuse the further into the book I went, but I honestly felt that if the prophets had told the hero that he was destined to overthrow the ruling order, he would have said, "but why?" Which, perhaps, was the point of not telling him what was going on.

Miller committed one of those egregious faults early on - she injected exposition baldly into dialogue - "as you know, this is why we're doing this thing, because this is the concise history of how things came to be the way they are, blah blah blah." Exposition, I think, is one of those things we only notice when it is done badly.

Julie Halpern - Into the Wild Nerd Yonder

This was a pleasant little trip back to high school. Halpern describes the plight of a sophomore in high school as she discovers that her friends are poseurs and generally unpleasant, and goes seeking new friends. She discovers a group of D&D players - nerds - but enjoys the experience, and falls in love. It was a little cheesy, but it was enjoyable. It was possible for me to recognize the titular nerds, and it felt very true to its material - that was what high school felt like. Finding yourself is always a tricky adventure, and Halpern describes it well.

In the same vein, this essay got tossed around my small circle of internet friends this week, and it fits very nicely into Halpern's description of high school.

Big busy weekend for me this week, so I don't really know how much reading I'll have done for next Friday. I suppose we'll see when we get there, won't we?