The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Readings for January 2013

This month saw me finish up a Sanderson series and knock out a few more periodicals.

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

This is of course the final installment in Sanderson's Mistborn triology. Like all of his novels, I found this one to be an engaging, quick read. Just the thing for when you want a fix of good fantasy. Add to this that it is the series finale, and you've got a real page turner on your hands.

I will offer this one critique: Sanderson's plots in this installment seem a bit overwrought. There is a lot of complexity in the story,and though the series comes to a satisfying conclusion, I feel it could have done so without so much extra expository effort on Mr. Sanderson's part. Still recommended for any diehard Sanderson fans.

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

I could hardly resist the novelty of a short Sanderson novel. All of his other novels I am aware of weigh in at at least 600 pages in paperback, so these 325 pages seem slim. And since The Alloy of Law follows in the Mistborn universe, it seemed an appropriate follow-up to The Hero of Ages. I was not disappointed.

Sanderson does a good job refreshing the magical lore of the previous series by imposing some changes on the magic system itself, as well as introducing a new technological milieu (read: guns). I also found that it pulled off the steampunk feeling without being overly self-conscious.

Somehow I got the impression that this was a "stand-alone" novel, but the book definitely sets the reader up for subsequent installments. Rather than a short novel, it might be Sanderson's long prologue to a new series in the Mistborn universe. I am not sure where that all will fit in to the author's writing schedule, since he seems to have quite a few novels in the hopper from other series. Recommended, but maybe wait for the other shoe to drop.

Periodicals

  • Scientific American, September 2012: If you have a sleepwalking spouse and would like to be unsettled, read James Vlahos' account of sleep crime. It is a very fascinating read on the neurology of shut-eye.
  • Harper's December 2012: The short story "Christmas Party" by Russell Banks is quite simply the best I have read lately. The author really got my pulse running and my heart engaged in the short format, and that is a rare feat.

2600, vol 29, no. 4

I have long been fascinated with 2600, the Hacker Quarterly (read here if you need a remedial lesson in the classical meaning of the word "hacker"). Incredibly it is carried on the newsstand of a major national chain bookstore. After flirting with it a few times in the past, I finally bought one while my wife attended a book signing of a local author and friend.

Overall I was disappointed with 2600. The information was just plain old. Tor, openvpn, ssh tunneling, and proxy servers? Old news. There were a few fascinating nuggets, but for the most part, if you want to learn about new computer security technologies, look elsewhere.

One of my favorite quirks is the letters section. First, you have to love a magazine whose three personal ads are all published by incarcerated people looking for pen pals or debate partners. Second, the letters section is the largest in the magazine, making up for maybe 40% of the pages. Third, all kinds of zany topics are covered, because they have a fairly loose editorial policy (in keeping with the hacker spirit).

It is what it is. I hear that 2600 meetups are fun. But I won't be buying any more issues of the magazine.

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