Posts for April 2004

2004-04-04: Some administrative notes

Well, changing the comment settings gave me a reprieve, but the spammers started coming back in ones and twos, so I finally upgraded MT, grabbed the blacklist plugin, and installed it. That should help quite a bit; we'll see if that will be enough. It probably will be, since it also provides a bulk delete.

I should probably go remove the banned IP address ranges at some point now that I have that installed.

I've also closed the review of The DaVinci Code to further comments, since this is my personal journal and not a debate forum for religion, I'm a little tired of the Christian religious fanatics and their superstitious nonsense, and I doubt anything relevant to the actual review is going to show up. I also closed the note about Progress Quest to further comments and deleted the last couple because I'm not particularly interested in hosting comments by people who can neither understand a joke nor be civil. Figures that anything mentioning an MMORPG even in the context of a joke would bring out people who don't understand how to have an adult conversation.

Despite the snippy tone, I'm actually in a pretty good mood. It just amazes me sometimes how many people there are on-line who contribute nothing other than pollution.

2004-04-04: Shards of Honor

Review: Shards of Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold

I have finally pushed myself to get through this book, sine the rest of the Vorkosigan series has been so highly recommended to me by multiple people. I had tried once before, but never managed to get past the first twenty pages.

I almost didn't manage again. The first sixty pages of this book are just horrid. There are the characters who are supposed to be braving their way through challenges but instead just feel like they're all surfaces without deep emotions. There are the stupidly cliched politics (oh, look, it's an oppressive monarchy without regard for human life up against the peaceful yet plucky scientific culture). And there's the pathetic excuse for romance elements ("he's a horrible person from an evil culture... ooo, rippling muscles").

Thankfully, some of these elements do improve if you can manage to stomach the beginning. The politics, for instance, become somewhat less cliched and some of the earlier parts could be written off as character bias (although the plucky scientific culture is arbitrary, inconsistent, and never adequately explored). But most of these flaws persist.

My enjoyment of this book was hurt most by the characters, who are sad, hollow creatures with emotions skittering off their surfaces and never reaching any deep significance. There were times when the characters were supposedly happy, terrified, or despairing, but I only know because that's what I was told by the narrator. It's one of the worst cases of characterization by telling rather than showing that I've read in a long time, and as a result, I never emotionally connected with any of the characters. The romance never became credible, remaining a bad example of love at first sight without adequate explanation, and without real character depth there was little hope of salvaging it. It doesn't help that there are only about four characters in the book that Bujold even tries with, everyone else given barely enough attention to let them fulfill their place in the plot.

That being said, the plot manages to pick up after the middle of the book and the last fifty pages of this book, if you can make it that far, do manage to pull something out of the arbitrary hash of twists that led up to that point. Right about the point that Cordelia starts breaking with her history and going her own way, I found it easier to start paying attention. Bujold does pull quite a bit together at the end, putting some meaning behind the title and giving some sense of why the reader should care, although rather late in the game to really help. It's enough to keep this from being a really bad book, but not enough to raise it above the level of purely mediocure.

I have to compare this book with David Weber's On Basilisk Station, another bad book, because it suffers from some of the same problems. Cordelia shares some of the self-insertion fantasy characteristics, particularly her plucky ability to brush off bad things that happen to her and the tendency for all of her flaws to end up actually being merits that people just think are flaws. Bujold is a clearly better writer than Weber, putting more philosophical depth in the ending, but Weber manages to grab the emotions better between bits of idiocy (in part by being utterly ham-handed about character emotions rather than short-changing them like Bujold does). Both are bad first books of series, probably best avoided. (My friends did warn me.)

Definitely not recommended, but if you absolutely have to read it, the pain of the beginning does recede somewhat.

Rating: 4 out of 10

2004-04-11: Book shipment

Just got a new book shipment in from Powell's. Mmm, lots more good books to read, and I have more shipments coming on top of this. I should take a vacation to just sit around and read fiction for a while.

Anyway, here it is:

Iain M. Banks -- Consider Phlebas
Iain M. Banks -- Use of Weapons
Gregory Benford -- Timescape
Ray Bradbury -- The Martian Chronicles
C. J. Cherryh -- The Morgaine Saga
C. J. Cherryh -- The Chanur Saga
Carol Emshwiller -- The Mount
Willian Gibson and Bruce Sterling -- The Difference Engine
Jack McDevitt -- The Engines of God
Robin McKinley -- The Blue Sword
Pat Murphy -- The Falling Woman
R. A. Salvatore -- Homeland
Robert J. Sawyer -- The Terminal Experiment
Karl Schroeder -- Permanence
George R. Stewart -- Earth Abides
Walter Jon Williams -- Aristoi
Jack Vance -- The Dying Earth

I'm buying books much faster than I'm finishing them, lately.

2004-04-16: filter-syslog 1.16

Modified to ignore a few more syslog restart patterns (this should pick up the Debian versions correctly), to not suppress duplicate program names in the warning output since it makes it harder to write ignore rules, and to not fully qualify configuration paths starting with "./".

Get the latest version from the filter-syslog distribution page.

2004-04-17: Book order #2

Second in a series. Unfortunately, the other shipments I was hoping would come in today weren't there, so I'll have to check again later this week.

I've been in the mood to buy books lately.

Alfred Bester -- The Demolished Man
Alfred Bester -- The Stars My Destination
Caleb Carr -- The Alienist
Philip K. Dick -- The Man in the High Castle
Neil Gaiman -- Coraline
James Alan Gardner -- Expendable
James Alan Gardner -- Vigilant
Daniel Keyes Moran -- The Long Run
Tim Powers -- The Anubis Gates
Frank M. Robinson -- The Dark Beyond the Stars
Thomas Perry -- Vanishing Act
J.K. Rowling -- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Robert Silverberg -- Sailing to Byzantium
Bruce Sterling (ed.) -- Mirrorshades
Connie Willis -- Firewatch
Connie Willis -- Passage
Connie Willis -- Remake
Timothy Zahn -- Vision of the Future

No one has been particularly annoying me about Harry Potter lately, for a change, so I figured that I'd pick up the first one so that I have it around to read when I feel like I can stomach it. It looks like Moran may be a writer that I really like, but I'll try this one and see if I like it before rushing off to get all of the rest.

I'm still missing a fair number of books by Connie Willis, but I think I have all the major ones at this point.

There are a few short story collections in this mix for a change. I've been reading novels pretty much exclusively for a long time, and I used to really enjoy the occasional short story, so I'm going to try mixing things up a bit more.

2004-04-18: cvslog 1.47

Lots and lots of changes in this version, which was prompted by an extensive set of patches from Dave Clendenan (thank you!). The main highlights are the addition of support for including cvsweb URLs and including version numbers in the summary of modified files.

Also fixed in this version is the handling of diffstat and diff output for binary files when multiple files are committed at once, the parsing of file names that contain whitespace or commas, and a few other more minor things.

Get the latest version from the cvslog download page.

2004-04-24: More book shopping

So, after having placed four Powell's orders in the past month, what do I do last night?

Yeah, go to a used book store. *heh*.

Despite not having my list with me, I still managed to knock four things off of it and not buy any duplicates, which given the amount of unread stuff I have sitting around is reasonably impressive. Here's the haul:

Isaac Asimov -- Prelude to Foundation
Karl Capek -- War with the Newts
C.J. Cherryh -- The Dreamstone
C.J. Cherryh -- Foreigner
Robert L. Forward -- Dragon's Egg
Robin Hobb -- Ship of Magic
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle -- Footfall
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle -- Lucifer's Hammer

The C in "Capek" above is actually a C with a caron (a downward-pointing circumflex accent), which unfortunately isn't one of the entity types recognized by HTML 4.01 or XHTML 1.0 (although apparently MathML adds the &Ccaron entity). I should really declare Unicode encoding on these pages or something....

2004-04-26: Emergence

Review: Emergence, by David R. Palmer

First encountered as short story, same title, January 1981, Analog, reprinted in Analog's Children of the Future. Anthology unlikely inclusion in tiny SF section, Yuba College library, discovered while bored.

Fell in love -- utterly, completely. Read repeatedly. Sparked first interest in journal, spawned experiment with personal journal written in clipped style, minimal words, echoing story. (Said journal now lost to operating system shift -- correction: location still known, contents difficult to recover without extensive work, condition unchecked. Multiple impeding factors: ancient disk size, use of obsolete software, stupid encryption decision. Moral for future: plain text always best choice, standard markup format acceptable, use of proprietary format bad decision for any reason.) Lost access to story with move to unversity. Never forgot.

Heard of novel years later, discussion with friends. Asked if read short story, informed of novel expansion. Immediately decided must acquire despite mixed reports of value. (Knew novelization frequent source of degredation of short story, didn't care. Affection for story borders on obsession, must read in all available forms.)

Have finally acquired novel as loan from friend (thank you!), settled in eager to read further adventures of heroine. Had been waiting thirteen years for continuation of story!

Have beem rambling on about me, not about story. Perhaps makes for interesting soliloquy -- horrible review. Must focus, start over, give faithful (and patient!) reader reason to care.

Emergence told as personal journal, one Candy Smith-Foster. All available review sources (not this one!) start similarly to previous line, proceed to immediately spoil short story (present as first 50 pages of book). Not this reviewer -- read short story cold, no expectations, no prior information, will treasure initial discovery process forever. Cling to faint but stubborn hope future reader will skip back cover, skip introductory blurb, go immediately to story, find similar joy. Chance of intersection between set of careful readers, readers of review small. Refuse to spoil nonetheless.

Sufficient to state basics: narrator is brilliant beyond human pale -- resourceful, intelligent, determinedly self-analytical. Narrative deeply personal beneath unusual style, thoughtful analysis. Emotions poured into journal as catharsis -- connection with reader startlingly intimate, gripping, memorable. Despite savant brilliance, broad-based extreme competence, idealized capabilities narrator incredibly real.

Multiple reviewers compare story to Heinlein, cannot disagree. Similar approach to competence, similar broad-ranging resourcefulness, similar glorification of intelligence verging on self-indulgent. Feel of story reminiscent of adventure yarns, hero bravely coping with unknown, finding solution to problem in nick of time, single-handedly saving self, friends, civilization, world. Etc. Perhaps overdone -- doesn't matter. Narrative voice so utterly present, captivating, present!

Style of review flawed attempt to echo style of story, give glimpse, provide taste. (Also prompted by desire to recapture earlier experiments of reviewer. [Inclusion of personal details part of narrative style -- deeply nested parentheses also.])

Short story remains simply brilliant, best science fiction short story reviewer has ever read. Book worth high price for first fifty pages alone. Expansion not train wreck feared -- faithful expansion of subject material, readable, interesting, engrossing, maintains original tone. Beauty and force of initial narrative not quite sustained, dulled slightly by additional material, words, events, but effective variety also introduced. Expanded story exposes far-fetched background more thoroughly, gives reader additional time to analyze, suspension of disbelief to suffer. (World background requires excellent suspension -- strong cables, tight fastenings, powerful winch, disbelief pulled firmly into air. Narrative style helps considerably -- too busy admiring language, identifying with emotions, caring about narrator to bother disecting details.)

Still brilliant. Novel revived complete love of style, language, story, main character. Very tempted to give perfect score despite flaws -- love of story that strong. Will refrain. Short story absolutely receives perfect score, novel very close. Refraining only because suspect love of material partly idiosyncratic, related to reviewer's background, personality, identification with aspects of character. Will have to keep self firmly in grasp, not overuse language style, not write next ten reviews like this.

Will find, purchase personal copy. Must own. Perhaps two -- frequent re-reading likely.

Rating: 9 out of 10

2004-04-29: Book order #3

The final order for a while. I think I have enough to read to last me for, well, frankly, the rest of the year. But it's so much fun unpacking boxes of new books and shelving them.

In this last shipment:

Karen Armstrong -- A History of God
Jane Austen -- The Complete Novels of Jane Austen
Dan Brown -- Angels & Demons
Lois McMaster Bujold -- The Curse of Chalion
Lois McMaster Bujold -- Young Miles
Jim Butcher -- Storm Front
Jane Jacobs -- The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Clifford D. Simak -- City
Joan Slonczewski -- The Children Star
Anne Tyler -- Breathing Lessons

More non-SF and even some non-fiction in this set. I'm looking at adding a bit more variety in what I'm reading regularly.

Reviewing Young Miles will be a bit of a challenge in logistical decisions. I generally review compendiums of several novels with individual reviews for each of the component novels (since people often buy them in that form), but Young Miles also includes a short story. Not sure whether to review it as a single book or to write a separate review just for the short story. Hm.

Oh! And I should mention the books that I have from friends to read right now, since that's the set that I'm actually working on at present:

David Brin -- Kiln People
Bill Bryson -- The Mother Tongue
Charles De Lint -- Someplace to Be Flying
Georgette Heyer -- These Old Shades
Robert J. Sawyer -- Hominids
Sharon Shinn -- Archangel
Sean Stewart -- Nobody's Son
Theodore Sturgeon -- More Than Human
Peter Watts -- Starfish
Peter Watts -- Maelstrom
Diane Wynn-Jones -- Hexwood

plus I'll probably get the third book in the Outremer series from the friend who loaned me the first two, at some point.

Last modified and spun 2014-10-22