Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stylized by Mark Garvey

Stylized by Mark Garvey

If you’re the particular type of Word Nerd who is into Strunk and White, then you’d love this book. It fits on a shelf where it can rub elbows with Annie Fadiman’s Ex Libris, and Winchester’s TheProfessor and the Madman; for this is the detailed history of the creation of The Elements of Style.

Mr. Garvey’s love for the source material shines through, and his admiration for E.B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web and about a million New Yorker articles) is clear. He peppers the history of the book with interesting biographical snippets on White and his former professor and friend, William Strunk. Along the way, we get a variety of opinions on The Elements from various famous  (and not so famous) writers, like Frank McCord and Elmore Leonard.

Weighing in at only 200 pages, Stylized is still twice as long as the work that inspired it, but Garvey keeps it airy and fresh. I don’t know if his reverence for these two dead masters of modern style and language usage will win many new converts to their efforts, but if you already count yourself among their devotees, and the history of reference books is of interest to you then you’ll likely be delighted. 

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

When it comes to Chuck Palahniuk, I’m like an abused spouse. I’ll swear I’m done buying his crap, and then I'll be _________ if I don't myself walking out of a bookstore with a copy of his newest in hardback.

I read Damned in one sitting, in a bar. It tells the tale of a pre-teen who has landed herself in hell. It’s vulgar, clever, irreverent, and features Palanhiuk’s usual linguistic styling. (In this case, the trope is a recurring reference to sexually active girls as “Slutty McSluterson” or “Trashy vonTrollope” or similar.)

Chuck P’s eye for certain details of upper middle class ennui are still good, and he’s still smart. I’ll give him that. The notion of the “Lake of Spilled Seed” that has grown to take over ever larger hectares in Hell at a radically increased rate since the dawn of the internet is probably the cleverest bit in Damned.

There. Now I’ve ruined the punchline for you, so, unlike me, you don’t have to keep going back to this abuser and giving him your attention and your money. You deserve better. 

The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick

The Art of Deception by Kevin Mitnick

Mr. Mitnick, and his ghost writer, William Simon, take about 300 pages to warn you of the dangers of “social engineering” attacks. For those of you who weren’t raised on a Commodore 64 and an unhealthy infatuation with the alt2600 and Phrack scene, “social engineering” is a hacker’s way of talking about persuasion and confidence based attacks on a security edifice. So, for example, if I call your secretary, and convince her that we’re supposed to meet to play golf later, and she should give me your private cell phone number, that’s a social engineering attack. She shouldn’t give out your cell phone number, but I persuaded her to. Hack accomplished.

Kevin Mitnick was a notorious hacker and phone phreaker in the nineties. He gives about a hundred different examples here of the types of confidence hacks that can be pulled off, all without really ever touching a keyboard. While the book is written from the perspective of someone who hopes to help make you able to better secure your life, your business, your department, etc. one cannot help but have the feeling that Mr. Mitnick is really still on the side of the perpetrators; The Art of Deception reads as much like a “how-to” manual for con games and would-be social engineers as anything else. It goes on a shelf next to the Poor Man’s James Bond, The Negotiation Toolkit, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and a guide to lock-picking.  

Mockingjay by Susanne Collins

By book three, of The Hunger Games, the Districts are in all out rebellion against the Capital. Collins stays true to her genre fiction roots here and gives us a properly dystopic (if shallow) political analysis.

Unlike the grand finale of the Twilight series (to which Hunger Games is often unfairly compared), this is not a bloodless resolution in which everyone walks away happy.

I enjoyed all three of these books, though the style and characters are both presented at a fourteen year old level. It is surprising and strange that mainstream tween fiction will also likely be the best (and most popular) dystopian sci-fi of the first decade of our brave new century. 

Catching Fire by Susanne Collins

In the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy, Collins introduces us to the broader struggle between the impoverished Districts and the capital, whole malice and selfish largesse are embodied by the eeeeevil President Snow (and a cast of hairdressers, costumers, and the like.)

We get another round in the arena, and the Kat/Peter/Gale love triangle continues to exude dissonance without ever getting steamy. 

 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is now such a phenomena now that it hardly needs introduction. Katness is cool, if wooden heroine, and the first novel managed to really engage me in her struggles.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the novels is that they present, initially, as tween fiction. And on some level, they remain that way, by dint of sex or profanity. In fact though, this trilogy is pretty straight dystopian fiction.

And yes, we all know that there was a Japanese film called Battle Royale in which kids on an island kill each other. No, this is not just a remake of that, nerd trolls.   

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
High fantasy is cool. Fantasy this high is a little hard to take.

The Gardens of the Moon is book one of the “Mazalan Books of the Fallen” series, which is ten books long. And unlike most fantasy series, it is actually complete! (Jar Jar Martin and Robert Jordan, I’m glaring at you both.) So based on a lackluster recommendation from LT, I decided to give it a try.

The reign of the Empress is in decline. Assorted ancient demons, demi-gods, and other mega-powerful beings are involved in some complex scheming to… bring about or prevent the end of this dynasty, or some such. A few different unlikeable characters skulk around the kingdom unleashing Yu-Gi-Oh level magic powers against one another.

I wanted to like the whole affair, and some of the sequences involving troupes of flying assassins, their summoned minions, and high wizardry were pretty cool. But ultimately, I didn’t like any of the characters, or identify with this collection of Level 50 Immortals and their power struggle enough care enough to proceed past this volume. 
I first promised to get all the links to the Books widget on the side working in May of 2005.

They now all work! Turns out the way Blogger deals with permalinks is a bit wonky. It took three full hours to get all 281 reviews linked properly, but the page should be a lot more usable now. I recognize this is the digital equivalent of rearranging the sock drawer, but hopefully the occasional high school student will now be able to use the page more effectively to plagiarize something for a book review.

At least five new books posted tonight, I promise!
Has it really been more than half a year since I've posted. Terrible behavior, can't be tolerated. Life keeps getting faster and more interesting. Lots of interesting changes coming up. Still writing and reading lots. New chapter in a textbook on Game Analytics coming out soon. And, I just noticed that I've still never actually posted a review or my thoughts on Social Game Design & Monetization which I wrote with the terrific aid of BC and published with Focal Press around the turn of the year. I think this page is also long overdue for some usability layout and cleanup. Since the Dr. is away this weekend, perhaps I'll dedicate a little time to this project. First though, the rest of tonight on TheEndOfTheWorld. -tf