I read the Project Gutenberg edition, linked at the bottom.
My low rating is not actually a judgement of the book itself, but rather an expression of dI read the Project Gutenberg edition, linked at the bottom.
My low rating is not actually a judgement of the book itself, but rather an expression of disappointment at the misleading title. This is not an attempt to present the complete epic of Gilgamesh. Rather, it is a scholarly work analyzing two newly-discovered (at the time) tablets, giving the transliteration of the cuneiform, and then an English translation, along with images of the tablets. As such it is very brief, and as a reading experience, wholly unsatisfying.
As a work of scholarship and documentation, it may be excellent. However, I was looking to read the actual Epic, not the homework that lead to piecing it together. As such, the title is false advertising.
An interesting how-to pamphlet on turning a big box store ready-made garden shed into a workable tiny house on a budget.
It has interesting thoughts anAn interesting how-to pamphlet on turning a big box store ready-made garden shed into a workable tiny house on a budget.
It has interesting thoughts and some good advice, along with a useful checklist at the end for people who haven't built anything before, so you get some idea of what you're in for.
However, it suffers from the author not really managing the transition from his experience (building one tiny house) to more generalized, useful knowledge --- sometimes he does it, other times it's all just what he went through.
Also, it's written in that grating, vapid, glib tone that apparently nonfiction must be written in these days, with "personal" asides that nearly always end in an exclamation mark ("We're outdoorsy people!") and are meant to manipulate the reader toward feeling "friendly" about the author, but succeeds only in the reader wishing the book had been edited more heavily, even at it's very short length.
If you're thinking of getting into the tiny house thing, and you have a very limited budget, this is definitely worth reading, but by no means should it be your only resource....more
I started reading S.L. Huang's Zero Sum Game for two reasons.
First, and most importantly, the premise had not one but two brilliant "high concept" elI started reading S.L. Huang's Zero Sum Game for two reasons.
First, and most importantly, the premise had not one but two brilliant "high concept" elements, either one of which would have been enough to make me want to read it, but together made it a must-read for me. "High concept" is a now-dated screenwriting term that can be defined a number of ways, one of which is: an exciting premise that can be stated in 25 words or less.
Huang's double-barrelled high concept is that her protagonist sees the world as math (I'm oversimplifying a bit), and that whoever or whatever her antagonist is, it gets inside the protagonist's head and can edit, delete, and plant new thoughts. So the protagonist has to figure out how to beat someone who is very literally inside her head.
I mean, damn. Right there, you should want to run out and read this book, knowing nothing else about it. (And if you don't, the failure is mine in communicating it, I promise.)
The second reason you might say is almost out of guilt. If you follow me at all, you know that I'm an advocate of the Creative Commons. My own work goes out under CC licenses, and I share all kinds of music I find in the commons that I think is worth telling people about.
But I haven't really done much regarding CC-licensed books. Part of that is that the ones of much quality that I came across were from big(-ish) names that published through major publishing houses. If you read SF and F much, you've probably at least heard of Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, e.g. And the few I've read that were totally indie were... not "bad", but each had idiosyncracies and self-indulgences that rubbed me wrong, and as an advocate, I want to share The Good Stuff, not rag on authors with different tastes than mine.
So when I came across the summary of Zero Sum Game at Unglue.It, I instantly downloaded it and put it into my (terrifyingly lengthy) to-read list.
And now I've read it.
Holy crap is it good!
S.L. Huang has, in her very first novel, completely mastered the craft of writing a thriller. On a chapter-by-chapter basis, it is a joy to read. The laying of hooks, the timing of twists, the deft handling of exposition that also reveals character. She is, first novel, indie published, absolutely professional.
Cas Russell is the narrator and protagonist, and we meet her in the middle of doing her job --- she's a retrieval specialist, and on the first page of chapter one, she's retrieving a young lady from a drug cartel's compound. In fact, we first meet Cas as she's punching in the face the only person in the world whom she trusts.
She hadn't realized when taking the job that this man was in fact undercover with the cartel on his own mission, but it makes sense to her, since he was the one who gave her name to her client.
Except, as it turns out a bit later on, he's never heard of her client and didn't give her name to anybody recently.
Again, I'm just completely in love with Huang's skill at putting this all together. The story starts off in the middle of an elaborate action scene, and only gets more tense once the action lets up.
I don't want to go into the plot much more than that, but there are several observations I must make.
Cas Russell's gift/curse of seeing everything as math essentially gives her superpowers. She sees, instantly and automatically, tiny little windows of probability, and how to use them, which (believably, within the story) gets her to such astonishing acts as breaking into a barred third-story window without any means of support or leverage, and figuring out a sniper's precise location and taking him out with a pistol.
The "telepathy" in the story is not anything "psionic" or magical. It's more like charisma at it's most extreme degree, something done purely through vocal and physical presence and interaction. I've never seen it handled this way before, and it was terribly interesting, had restrictions I hadn't encountered before because of its unique nature, and was made believable in part by the reader's buying into Cas's own gifts.
Huang is a fan of Firefly and the movie that followed it, Serenity. There is a character very much inspired by The Operative from Serenity, and this is acknowledged within the story by a nice reference, only once but enough to let the reader know that the influence was neither unconscious nor accidental.
If I have a quibble, it is incredibly minor and it is this: Zero Sum Game is the first book of a series, and does (excellent) spadework in establishing characters and relationships that are clearly going to play out over many stories. However, the nature of the story it tells feels, to me, like a story that should have occurred in an already-going series. For instance, the way that Cas is made to realize that some of her thoughts are not her own is dependent on a pre-existing relationship. As presented in the story, it's set up expertly and is effective. But, it would have worked better if the relationship had already been going, in the reader's head, for a book or several books already. There are a few other little details like this throughout the story. It's not that they don't work, because they do. It's that they would have worked better if the series already had backstory in the reader's mind. Again, this is an incredibly minor quibble, but I felt I should note it.
Finally, before going off on the political tangent, I'll note that the resolution is open-ended and some readers might find it less than totally satisfying. As will become clear by implication below, I do not consider this a flaw, but a necessary and intentional consequence of how Huang approached the thematic issues she's handling in the story. I won't say I found the way things end up in the story unsatisfying, I enjoyed the whole book right up to the very end. But I do hope, at some future point, that she returns to the situation at the end of this story and explores further the conflict between different, incompatible ideals that she seems to hold.
Political stuff: You may or may not know it, but I am a member of the supposedly-evil, supposedly-racist, supposedly-misogynist Sad Puppies campaign that led to so much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the media in the past few months, and exposed the folks behind the Hugo Awards to be the whiny, glory-grabbing twits that we always said that they were.
I didn't know it when I began the book, and only learned it inadvertently while reading, but S.L. Huang aligns with the "social justice warriors" of science fiction, the putative heroes saving the world from all the evils there are, especially racistsexistmisogynist Sad Puppies and other troglodytes. As far as I know, Ms. Huang was not involved in this past year's Hugo kerfuffle at all, but her sympathies are indisputably at odds with mine, and others on her side of things would say that I'm more interested in pushing minorities out of the genre than anything else.
Which is exactly why I wrote this ecstatic, laudatory, five-star review. Obviously.
Snark aside, there is a point in the story where Huang's social justice ideology comes up. The phrase "social justice" even gets used. And it's not an aside or a throw-away; it's inextricably tied into the theme of the book, to the point that the discussion gives the book its title.
If I were what the SJWs portrayed all the Sad Puppies as being (again, not Huang in particular, as I don't think she got much involved in the controversy this year), then I would denounce this intrusion of the author's axe-grinding into the story.
And if it did harm to the actual story, I would denounce it.
But it does not.
Huang grapples, in the story, with some of the negative consequences of her beliefs. Cas Russell is faced with a moral dilemma, and both possible outcomes offend her, in different ways. She has a choice (broadly and vaguely speaking) between enacting "social justice", explicitly stated to be what she considers a good, or defending individual free will, and thus permitting individual people to do evil and commit social injustices.
This is presented honestly and fairly, without the author putting her thumb on the scales or magically making her pet ideas work where they wouldn't and haven't in the real world. She explores the conundrum she sets in good faith.
And I can't help but think that she has problems with the choice her heroine makes. It's certainly not an easy choice for Cas, and one that sits uncomfortably with her after she makes it.
I applaud this. I can do nothing else.
(As a minor note, of course I think she gets things wrong, because she's proceeding from a false premise, but that's beside the point. She's dealing fairly, doesn't cheat, and it makes the story a richer and more interesting experience. One can hardly ask for more than that from anybody.)
David Burkhead's interests, based on this story, are very much in line with Jack Webb’s. He’s interested in How Things (Will) Work, and How To Fix TheDavid Burkhead's interests, based on this story, are very much in line with Jack Webb’s. He’s interested in How Things (Will) Work, and How To Fix Them When Something (Or Someone) Goes Very Wrong.
Furthermore, he expresses that interest in terms of an engaging, dramatic story that pointedly sidesteps the pitfalls of focusing too much on the “mystery” or the villain.
EMT takes place (almost entirely) on the Moon. We follow two characters who you might expect to be very different, but ultimately have the most important things in common.
Schneider is the CEO of a large corporation, who has come to the moon to track down the source of certain discrepancies between what his outfit has been reporting, and what the raw numbers are telling him. There is an accounting shell game going on, and he’s going to do more than stop it.
Kristine is an EMT on the moon, and coping with Things Gone Wrong is her entire job. Which is being made harder and harder by budget and staff cuts, meaning cheaper equipment, longer hours, fewer EMTs on duty, and just about everything else you don’t want for your emergency first responders.
If Burkhead had wanted to spin this out to novel length, he could have dug into the details of the “mystery”, added in more viewpoint characters, and made it all work.
But he’s not interested in the mystery or the villain. He’s interested in Process, in how things work, and how to get them working again after things have gone pear-shaped. There is little mystery in the cause of the problems, and even the details of how Schneider nails down the whole thing are basically in the background. What is important is that Schneider takes a look at the whole operation. He doesn’t just assume “it should work”, as many non-technical people assume these days. He cares about how.
And the story follows that theme.
It’s entirely entertaining, but you need to check some assumptions at the door. Don’t look for a mystery, or an obsession with villainy or human weakness. Don’t look for a shiny new, easy-to-render-with-CGI tech idea that you’ve never seen before.
What you will find, instead of those things, is a thoughtful look at how things can be made to work in a not-too-distant future on a private Moon colony.
I liked that. I liked it a lot. I was sorry there wasn’t more, but what is there is entirely entertaining and worthwhile.
This review is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike (CC BY-SA) 4.0 International License. It is adapted from a longer blog post available here:
As “One-Eyed Dragon” is a short-ish story, I don’t want to say too much about it.
It takes place in an unnamed Japanese village at an indefinite pointAs “One-Eyed Dragon” is a short-ish story, I don’t want to say too much about it.
It takes place in an unnamed Japanese village at an indefinite point in the past. We follow a tattoo artist who has lived there a short time, and is all but shunned by the villagers for reasons only ever hinted at. A small, mysterious lady comes into his shop and asks for an unusual tattoo. And that’s about all I can say without detracting from the delight that this story offers.
Sanderson’s writing is quiet, and she sets up all the elements of her story with perfect subtlety, all but effortlessly (to the eye of the reader, that is), so well that it makes this particular writer just a little jealous.
The other point that stood out for me is how well she evokes historical Japan. It’s not overt, just implied through detail and character interaction, but it is very effective and came off believably, though I’m not an expert in Japanese history. The only possible quibble is a reference to an artist with an obviously Chinese name (a real historical figure, as it happens, though Sanderson has distanced her story just a tiny bit by altering the spelling of the name), yet no mention is made by the character mentioning him that he is Chinese rather than Japanese. That an educated Japanese man would know about Chinese art does not a surprise, but that he would not make a distinction between the two cultures felt wrong to me. But again, I’m not an expert in Japanese culture or history, and the quibble is excruciatingly minor.
Even including that, I can’t recommend this story highly enough. It is lovely, just lovely.
Not a review, but a clarification of my rating. This book is NOT inferior to the first two books in the series. It might even be better. However, I diNot a review, but a clarification of my rating. This book is NOT inferior to the first two books in the series. It might even be better. However, I did not enjoy it as much, both because it is less clean in plot, especially the resolution (by intent and design, that's part of the thematic point of the book), and because it brings Vlad low enough that his charm is overwhelmed by his ruthlessness, and he permits the reader to seem him about to do something utterly abhorrent without any wit or charm to put a spin on it. This, again, was clearly the author's design, and a thing necessary to the series. But it meant that I didn't have nearly as much fun with this book as with the others....more