The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tag Brandon Sanderson

Readings for February 2016

In which I enjoy some pop novels.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

When in doubt, Brandon Sanderson. Shadows of Self is the next installment in the Mistborn series, and the second in the Wax and Wayne cycle: you know, magic in a steam-punk setting. And I'm OK with that. Sanderson in this novel is showing his increasing command of comedy - I had some honest guffaws. He also managed to find a way to write novels (for some series) which do not stretch the technology of book binding, so that is a plus. Recommended.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I saw the film The Martian in the theater with a friend and loved it. My wife picked up the novel recently, and it was even better. I really devoured it (and so did she, after I relinquished it). Most of the time I don't put too much stock in "real science" sci-fi, because to me the storytelling is ultimately more important than the genre bonafides. This story managed to blend both to perfect taste. Recommended, and I hope the author Andy Weir writes more to enjoy in the future.

Periodicals

  • Tin House #62

Readings for January 2015

My reading log is now seven years old. Pretty cool.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

The new novel Steelheart kicks off a new fantasy series for Brandon Sanderson. The twist is that this is marketed as young adult fiction (though I think it is being broadly read among adult Sanderson fans). I must admit I was taken aback by the "young adult" label, as this novel has more violence, particularly gun violence, than other works by the same author. Perhaps the descriptions are less gruesome? I don't know, but the older I get, the more sensitive I get to such things.

Oh yeah, the book! Hey, it's a Sanderson read. Maybe you can use this one to get the next generation hooked on one of your favorites. Recommended.

The Understory by Pam Erens

This slim novel is a treat. I was doubtful at first that Erens would be able to get me interested in her trust-fund pretender protagonist, but it all works out. Set in Manhattan and at an upstate Buddhist monestary, the reader follows a lonely soul who is desperate for human contact and determinedly trying to hang on to his rent-controlled apartment. Recommended.

I Will Fear No Evil by Robert Heinlein

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... This is the second consecutive Robert Heinlein novel I've rage quit, only to pick up and finish a year later. The last one, the Number of the Beast, should have been a lesson to me, namely that I've already read all the Heinlein novels I'll like. But no, I had to try one more time with I Will Fear No Evil (since it was already on the shelf).

The premise is decent: brain transplant. And imagine the hilarity and weighty implications if an old man acquired the body of a young woman. You can see the potential. But let me spoil a few things for you: After the transplant, the protagonist realizes he can communicate with the spirit of the former occupant of the body, s/he goes on to explore uncomfortable transformations of social relationships (e.g. business partner into lover), sleep with literally everyone who is breathing, and ends up impregnating herself with his own archived sperm donation.

Unfortunately the bulk of the novel is taken up with the copious, seemingly endless, expansive, vapid internal dialog of the protagonist. This of course serves as the primary vehicle for Heinlein's favorite authorial activity: letting the reader know about all the better ideas he has about everything, particularly in the realms of government, self-sufficiency, and sexual relationships. Just endless, ceaseless pages of the plot going nowhere, with zero character development despite all of the talking.

There is a decent twist at the end of the novel which I hope explains some of the worst features, though I am not sure of the scope. Nonetheless I'll take it on faith that this dialog between the old man and the young woman is not meant to be a faithful representation of a realistic relationship, but rather a satire of everything an old man wishes that an attractive young woman was thinking. If not, this goes from farce to tripe in a hurry. Definitely not recommended.

We Still Don't Get It by Douglas Moo

This essay arrived bundled with a Zondervan Academic catalog. It is adapted from a talk Moo apparently gave to the Evangelical Theological Society on the topic of Bible translation. I happen to agree with virtually all of Moo's positions there.

Given the publisher, you can probably guess that the product which benefits most from his praise is the NIV. As such I found it quite unseemly that Moo's talk, given to an academic meeting, had been repackaged as marketing material for a publisher. That feels like a betrayal of trust to me, and was in poor taste.

Periodicals

  • Journal of Biblical Literature volume 131 number 4
  • Harper's February 2015

Readings for May 2014

I am OK with having a back-log of periodicals.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson's new novel Words of Radiance is a book of feats. First of all, just look at it, if you get the chance. Take in its girth. The hardback is large. So large, that it defies binding. Yet somehow the good people at Tor found a way to make almost 1100 giant pages stick together in one book. And they even had to cheat a bit, removing the headers from the pages and slamming text far North into the traditional margins.

The second feat is that of storytelling. In adding a second volume to The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson is spinning quite a yarn. A huge story with many characters and plot lines is starting to converge. And Sanderson does a decent job making the reader care about just about everyone on the many pages of the book. At times I think the restrained scope and style of LeGuin is optimal, but I also like me a good, long fantasy novel. So recommended, but remember to read The Way of Kings first if you have not already.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

This is probably the most popular baseball book of the past two decades and somehow I had not read it yet. But I had the opportunity to borrow it from my father and dove right in.

I really enjoyed this outsider's look inside baseball. In following Billy Beane and the Oakland A's, Lewis does much to help explain the weird economics of Major League Baseball. Now a decade on from the book, it is interesting to look back at the players featured in the novel, as well as at the A's themselves. After a bit of a downturn, the club under Beane is back on top, and still with a very low payroll.

While I enjoy that low-payroll teams can be successful, I have been disturbed by another recent trend in the bigs: an owner can still make a profitable enterprise out of a non-competitive team. If that can be fixed, baseball will be all the stronger. Recommended.

Periodicals

  • Harper's June 2014 - "The Second Doctor Service" by Daniel Mason was a very compelling short story. I was engaged throughout, and left thinking about it for days.

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.

Readings for February 2012

This month I read three novels and four periodicals (well, four and a half). This was a good reading month overall. At the start of March my wife and I are choosing each other's selections. We're making it a new tradition. I report on her choice for me next month.

The Well of Ascensionby Brandon Sanderson

Here I am, reading more Sanderson. I could very well finish his entire published corpus in a single year (excluding his work on the Wheel of Time). Only two more books to go for that milestone. As usual, I love Sanderson's stories. This is a good middle chapter in the Mistborn trilogy, and I doubt I'll be able to wait long before moving on the the final installment, The Hero of Ages.

Shutter Islandby Dennis LeHane

I had the opportunity to get this book for free. Having seen and enjoyed the film, I decided to give this a shot. I liked it overall. There is a high degree of fidelity from the novel to the screenplay, which I take as a compliment to Lehane, given that Scorsese was the director of the film. Of course having seen the film there were no big revelations for me in the book, but it was an enjoyable and swift read nonetheless.

The Lathe of Heavenby Ursula K. LeGuin

The Lathe of HeavenPublished in the early 1970s, this is a fairly early LeGuin work. Of course I loved it. It is really a standout in the "speculative fiction" genre. The action takes place in Portland, which is even better. I found myself soaring over the protagonist's home whilst riding the Portland Aerial Tram the other day. It was also somewhat amusing to read a description of Mt. St. Helens as having a perfectly conical shape.

The novel takes place just after the turn of the century, so there are necessarily some expressions of LeGuin's imagination of the future. That future has become our recent past, and so we have hindsight. The result range between hilarity and just plain shocking wrongness. In writing fiction LeGuin was not making predictions per se, so I cannot hold them against her. Yet I am amazed by the outlook for the future in the early 70s. Of particular note is that the fictitious world of 7 billion humans is so scarce for food that Americans are skinny and distilled spirits are rare. As we all know, with a 7 billion mouths to feed, obesity in the US is higher than ever.

In spite of all that, the story is great. Suspension of disbelief was not a problem for me. LeGuin delivers again.

Periodicals

  • International Socialist Review, January-February 2012. I bought this on a random whim at the book shop, and I suppose I am on a watch-list or something now. 2011 was apparently an invigorating year for leftists, though the pages of this magazine seemed to be filled with uncertainty on how best to interpret and channel the rebellious energy of the Arab spring and Occupy Wall Street. The most compelling parts of this issue were the historical articles. I found the implication of violent revolution distasteful to my pacifist Christian sensibilities.
  • Harper's, February 2012. One of my favorite aspects of Harper's is its ability to take a completely obscure (to me) subject and make it incredibly interesting. Daniel Alarcón's write-up of an election in a Peruvian prison fits the bill perfectly.
  • Harper's, March 2012. "The Tyranny of Breast Feeding" by Elizabeth Badinter was a perplexing read, and not just because I disagree with her fundamental position. Essentially her argument is that La Leche League and other breastfeeding advocates have moderately overstated the benefits of breastfeeding and therefore their influence should decrease. I find it odd to imagine that subjecting the feeding of one's child to a formula producer is somehow throwing off tyranny.
  • Scientific American,February 2012. The careful reader will note that I skipped January 2012. In truth I read about half of it, but I marooned it on vacation, and my completion is probably delayed until late summer. As for this issue, I feel fairly certain that I want to keep my children out of hockey and American football after reading yet another article on the correlation between repeated head trauma and myriad health problems

Random Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson's Warbreakeris available online under a Creative Commons license, so I decided it would be perfect for use playing around with the Natural Language Toolkit. So here is some basic info based on the examples in the Natural Language Processing with Python book:

  • Total words: 201,388
  • Vocabulary size: 9,412
  • Lexical diversity: 21.4
  • Words longer than 7 letters appearing more than 100 times:
  • - anything - Bluefingers - Blushweaver - Hallandren - Lifeless - Lightsong - Llarimar - Nightblood - princess - Returned - servants - something - Susebron
  • Collocations:
  • - God King - Tonk Fah - [character] said (9x) - Pahn Kahl - fell silent - serving women - high priest - could see - God Kings - Either way - Iridescent Tones - someone else

And last but not least, some Random Sanderson:

Prologue It' s find out. "No," Vivenna said . "Oh, dear," Lightsong said as soon as they walked toward the royal family. Service for a few snips later, he was left chilled by how often she got used to moving with terrible speed. Vivenna turned as Denth. He took the evening off and do something? Was he chosen to sleep with the sword free of all those colors, even with awkward Commands. Blushweaver smiled. Vivenna didn't run from us."You saved."

Readings for November 2011

After a month off from reading I have started working my way back.

American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell

American Grace tells the story of religion in the United States as collected by survey data. It is a book with a lot of statistics and charts and graphs. Yet it does a good job of conveying the nature of American religion without getting overly bogged down in the details. As a reader I learned some new things and had some assumptions confirmed while others were dashed.

One of the best features of this book are the vignettes, which leave the abstract statistics in favor of focusing on some particular churches. Reading these was like reliving my own life - an evangelical megachurch was featured along with Episcopalian parishes. I also experienced a lot of intuitive agreement with what the statistics were telling me about the trajectories of those movements.

This book is of course based on surveys, so it only reflects reality insofar as people know themselves and tell the truth. I found instances in the book where I felt a sociological study of actual behaviors would expose hypocrisy among the respondents (e.g. regarding pre-marital sex).

In closing I'll share one of the more ironic factoids from the book: Black Protestant congregations, in spite of having an explicit racial identity, are more likely to be racially diverse than mainline Protestant churches. This must be a particularly deflating statistic for the mainliners because racial diversity is so coveted by that group. Recommended.

Periodicals

I managed to read a pair of Harper'smagazine issues this month, November and December. "I walked with a Zombie" by Hamilton Morris in the November issues was particularly amusing. It opened up for me the voodoo religion in Haiti and the origin of the zombie concept. In the December issues Ben Ehrenreich's "Drip, Jordan" stuck out. Apparently the River Jordan has slowed to almost nothing due to water redirection for agriculture and other needs. Sad.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of KingsIt took me a while, but I finished The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson's massive novel. At over 1,200 pages in paperback it may be the longest novel I have ever ready. It is the first in a planned series called the Stormlight Archive. (If Brandon Sanderson is for some reason unable to finish this series, will Robert Jordan be able to repay the favor?)

When I see a 1,200 page fantasy novel, the first word which comes to mind is "epic." But I would not really describe The Way of Kingsthat way. The story only follows a few characters in a relatively small milieu. Sanderson keeps his characteristic focus on a few characters. What makes the book long is not its breadth but the depth.

All the classic Sanderson elements are there, including the learning of a new magic system by one of the characters. I enjoyed the read, and I'll definitely be reading the next in the series when it comes along. Recommended, though probably only for established Sanderson fans. For first-time readers I would recommend Elantris or Mistborn.

Readings for August 2011

August was a rather prodigious month of reading for me. At the beginning of the month I was on a leisurely vacation, which always helps. I got through a lot, but there are always more books.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

If you want to read some straight-ahead sci-fi, Old Man's War is for you. Scalzi does an excellent job of mixing classical sci-fi elements with some unique contributions of his own. The novel is an engaging read, perfect for summer.

I did have some slightly different expectations about the significance of age in this story. Yes, the element of old age is integrated into the plot, but not into the theme in the way that I would have thought. But that is a problem with my expectations rather than with the book, so it is nonetheless Recommended.

All is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day by Jim Forest

[][]In my readings surrounding Christian pacifism and anarchism I have heard much about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. So when I saw that this revised and expanded biography was being published, I asked for it for my birthday, and was happily rewarded. I fully noted the irony of me reading about the life of someone who had taken a vow of poverty while spending a week relaxing on a houseboat.

The biography does a good job focusing on Dorothy up until the founding of the Catholic Worker. After that point her life and that of the movement become so entwined that it would be difficult to tell the story of one without the other. Still Forest is able to continue with enough personal insight into his subject's life in between the developments in the Catholic Worker.

The story is inspirational and challenging. Of tangential interest to me was just how alive and well socialism was as a political movement in the earlier parts of the 20th century in the United States. But Dorothy was about the practicality of helping the poor and resisting state power rather than promoting ideology. This is, I think, why she is being considered for canonization. Recommended.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I had not read Good Omens until now. Luckily my vacation made this an easy mistake to rectify. The book is downright hilarious. Christian friends: grow a thick skin and learn to laugh, and you'll love it. Recommended.

Periodicals

I finished the August 2011 issues of Scientific American and Harper's this month. The most striking article came in the 9/11 remembrance genre: an account of the distortions of the justice system which have occurred in the wake of the attacks. If you care about American political ideals, Petra Bartosiewicz' article will make you mad.

Sharing Possessions by Luke T. Johnson

I knew I would be in for a treat when I found that renowned Bible scholar Luke Timothy Johnson had released a revision of his work of Christian ethics. It is a good thing for scholars to cross disciplines and bring their discoveries to bear on other concerns. Johnson I think does a splendid job in weakening the myth that the Bible teaches a normative posture toward possessions. Neither the Jerusalem commune of Acts nor the wealthy patrons of Corinth are the only way.

The author recommends the giving of alms as the go-to practice for Christians. Probably my biggest take-away from the book comes in how Johnson attacks state socialism not from political-ideological grounds, but from the standpoint of ideology: to measure equality qua possessions is to give possessions too great a place in determining the worth of people. If your idea of a just society is one in which every person has the exact same amount of stuff, you are unwittingly materialistic, as Johnson argues. Recommended.

Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky

[][]On September 20th, 2006, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addressed the United Nations and commended to the nations a Noam Chomsky. This makes Hegemony or Survival very intriguing by default, and lead to big sales of the book.

I have yet to read a thorough criticism of a Chomsky book. I am sure they are out there somewhere. It could be useful since I sometimes get the feeling that Chomsky is pulling one over on his reader. The reliance on end notes and dismissing opponents objections with a casual wave of "does not deserve comment" seems like the tactics of a manipulator. Yet I have never found Chomsky's arguments nor evidence lacking, and he is compelling. My desire to doubt his work probably comes from the fact that his attestations and their implications make American patriotism incredibly uncomfortable.

This book is a bit hard to follow in its general scope, though it is quite understandable (if not dry) in the particulars. The basic theme is that the US is trying to dominate the world, and that for elite powers democracy (that is, the will of the people) is something which must be crushed when in opposition to official positions. I cannot really recommend this one Chomsky book over any other, but I think every American should read at least one of his books.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Once again Sanderson delivers. Mistborn happens to be the first in a trilogy, and I am lucky enough to have the next two volumes on my shelf. And a fourth in the Mistborn universe is coming out this winter. Oh yes, and there's The Way of Kings. Good time to be a fantasy fan.

Do yourself a favor and read Mistborn. It's not particularly sophisticated literature, but it is a good story and a really fun read. Recommended.

[]: http://thelibrarybasement.com/images/2011/09/Dorothy_Day.jpg []: http://thelibrarybasement.com/images/2011/09/chavez_chomsky_un.jpg

Readings for June 2011

I would like to share a bit about what I have been reading lately. This may or may not develop into a regular feature of The Library Basement.

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (May 31)

There is something quite pleasing in discovering a new author whom you love reading and who already has an extensive (and growing) corpus. Thus I was pleased to meet Brandon Sanderson. He writes great literature in the fantasy genre. He was chosen to complete Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. He was Jeopardy  champion Ken Jenning's college roommate.

My reader can infer from this last detail that Sanderson is a Mormon. It seems that being a part of the LDS church has empowered some really great science fiction and fantasy. Do not forget that Orson Scott Card is a Mormon as well. Both Card and Sanderson conjure universes where in men have been elevated with godlike powers. I see a parallel between these stories and the LDS theology of the Celestial kingdom, wherein the faithful attain godhood. My analysis may be overblown, but I sure appreciate reading good stories by imaginative Mormons.

As for Warbreaker itself, I really enjoyed it. It is a mystery which studiously avoids too many twists. The fantasy elements engage the imagination and have an original feel. Sanderson has good pacing, and the 600+ pages in paperback did not feel overlong. Recommended.

Periodicals

I fell a bit behind in my magazine reading heading into this month. I was able to finish Harper's June, Harper's July, and Scientific American June. That leaves me with two back issues of Biblical Archaeology Review and one more SciAm (with another round of monthlies on the way, of course).

Of note this month was a good essay in Harper's June about a trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Steve Featherstone tells one anecdote to highlight the paranoia of deadly radiation - imagine finding a burrowed tick after a day out in the hot zone. Yikes! I continue to find the puzzles in Harper's to be bewildering, though I do not expend any real effort on them. Maybe next month.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson (June 23)

My family was kind enough to give me another Brandon Sanderson novel to enjoy after seeing how much I liked the first one I read. Elantris is Sanderson's first novel, yet it is not too rough around the edges. I did notice some striking similarities with Warbreaker: a princess from a foreign land is sent by her father the king to fulfill a political marriage; people with extraordinary abilities are worshipped as gods; a few others. Yet there were sufficient differences that I found the similar premises to be quirky rather than repetitive. Recommended.

I found myself advancing through it at a good clip, reading over 100 pages in an evening to finish it out. Two great novels from Sanderson, so I'll plan on reading his Mistborn trilogy.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (June 29)

[][]Zeitoun is a fantastic book. It is the true story of a man's quest through the chaos of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Eggers' account is by turns heart-warming and outrageous. If you feel the need to read something to bolster your questioning of state power, this is your book. It is a quick and addicting read. I completed it in two days, including a final sitting of about 130 pages.

What's great about this story is that it is an intensely personal account in the midst of the regional tragedy and national shame of Katrina. We all know the story as a whole - it is larger than life. But here the reader gets to hear a real account of what it was like on the inside, and sees some of what the news never found. You'll come to really care for the protagonist as he paddles through the flooded city in his second-hand canoe. More importantly, Zeitoun causes us to consider how society can be so fragile and confront how those who are tasked with creating order can instead foster chaos. Recommended.

The Number of the Beast by Robert Heinlein (Abandoned)

The premise of the Number of the Beast is one of science fiction's best: traversing multiple universes. Yet Heinlein takes such a golden opportunity and muddles it. In a book which is marketed as an exploration epic, half is spent in only one alternate universe, and the narrative is mostly comprised of contentious bickering among the protagonists.

Moreover the characters are so smart, so skilled, so prepared, and so well-equipped that there is not any imaginable danger to them. This lends itself somewhat to a farce, but all the bitter arguing the reader is forced to suffer through nullifies any comedic value. I have about 100 pages left, and I'll probably finish it at some point, but I have laid it down in favor of better books for now.

I could go on and on, but someone else already has. Do yourself a favor and skip The Number of the Beast. Do read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land, which represent Heinlein at his best. Not recommended.

[]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zeitoun.jpg

Categories

Tags