Here's a list (via Bagcheck) of the books I read in 2012. For the most part, it was a great year. I had two stinkers (in a row unfortunately), but in general, there were some damn good books here. Some high level comments.
- "11/22/63" is easily the best time travel book I've read. If someone asked for an example of the genre, this is what I'd offer. It is light on the SciFi and heavy on the character drama, a bit unusual for King. (In comparison, "Under the Dome" was a good SciFi book with pretty shallow characters.)
- Speaking of King, his son, Joe Hill, is a damn good writer. I read two books by him this year and both were stellar.
- One of the stinkers, "The Witch of Hebron", was truly disappointing. The second in the series, it has a very detailed, very realistic view of a post-economic crash America. That aspect is very well done. But for some reason the author felt the need to include a bit of magic and to me, it ruins it.
- Speaking of apocalypse books, "The Last Policeman" was also a very well done book.
- I loved the Star Trek trilogy I read. I haven't read a Star Trek book since I was in high school and I forgot how much I enjoy it.
- Finally, the high point of my year, the books I devoured, were the Kingkiller books by Patrick Rothfuss. "The Name of the Wind" and "The Wise Man's Fear" are easily two of the best fantasy novels I read in my life.
If you've ever gotten me into a book discussion than you've most likely heard me praise China Miéville. In my mind, Miéville is the most fascinating author writing today. His works are difficult. Not in terms of language, although he does love to make up words quite a bit, but in terms of the worlds he creates. This is probably a poor analogy, but reading Miéville is painful in much the same way as a new exercise will hit muscles you don't use often. His stories involve concepts that your brain simply wants to reject outright, and that's what I love about him. To be clear, his books are not always great, and sometimes you can tell he is trying to be weird just for weird's sake. But when it works - his writing is absolutely incredible.
Railsea is loosely based on Moby Dick, a book I'm embarrassed to say I haven't read yet. The world of Railsea is one of large tracts of earth covered by a seemingly infinite collection of rails. Instead of oceans, there is simply the loose earth of Railsea and the harder earth of human civilization. The Railsea is a dangerous place. Large burrowing creatures live within the earth. I hate to make the comparison, but think Tremors. Walking across this earth is - essentially - a death sentence. People use the rails with trains of various sorts. Merchant trains, Navy trains, even pirate trains.
The main character, Sham, is on a "Moler" train - essentially this book's version of a whaling ship. Instead of a whale, they hunt giant, and deadly, naked mole rats. The description of the hunts, life on the trains, and the world of Railsea in general is fascinating.
The ending was a bit... off. While the book was weird, the ending was a bit... too weird. Miéville is not shy in hiding his political agenda, and I appreciate that, but the ending was a bit too blunt for my tastes. To be clear, it didn't ruin the book for me at all. I still loved it.
For folks curious - I'm now reading Ready Player One. (50 or so pages in and it's great!)
As a teenager, I was a regular, if somewhat casual comic reader. I picked up some X-Men, Spiderman, and, of course, Star Wars. However - I can still remember the day when I ran across this gem at my local store:
I had no idea comics could have such incredible artwork. Of course, I didn't even know what to expect when I actually read it.
I read comics even more then, and throughout college, but afterwards, I slowly stopped picking them up. Once Sandman ended, I felt like there wasn't much out there for me. (Obviously there was great stuff going on, I just didn't know.) Plus, I got tired of the whole "trying to get the complete story" thing by buying what felt like 30 different X-Men titles.
A few years back though I found myself drawn back. I'll be honest and admit it was due to finding out you could download comics online. I didn't even know digital versions of comics existed, but it was enough to bring me back to my local comic store and start a monthly selection of comics.
So - here is what I'm reading. They are in no particular order and are presented for you to comment, ridicule, and suggest.
One of my first discoveries was the new line of GI Joe comics. These include: GI Joe, GI Joe: Cobra, and GI Joe: Snake Eyes. Each of these comics share the same world (there is also a GI Joe: Real American Hero) and a much grittier, realistic version of warfare. (If you have a somewhat loose version of realism.) You won't see soldiers firing blue and red lasers. People, lots of people, actually die. The story is pretty damn incredible. In this version, Cobra was, until recently, an unknown entity. The story of how Cobra moves on to the world stage is pretty damn cool. I read GI Joe as a kid, and yeah, I still pick up the somewhat childish RAH one as well, but I definitely recommend this line. If you only select one though, get Cobra. As we know, the bad guys always have the best story.
Forget the horrible remake. Heck, forget the really good recent movie. This comic is a fascinating look at the Planet of the Ape's world and mythology. It has many threads tying it to the original movies but has a very unique take on the idea as a whole. Great artwork as well.
I just started reading Fantastic Four. I wanted to read one "mainstream" comic, and while I probably would have preferred an X-Men title or even Avengers, I thought I'd give FF a try. I never read them growing up, but something called me to it. I'm still not quite sure it's worth the money, but any comic that features Galactus every now and then has to be good. The issue I read yesterday was pretty damn incredible, so I'm going to keep it for a while.
If I had to recommend only one comic it would be "Locke and Key" by Joe Hill (who is also a damn good prose author as well). A very dark fantasy/horror series, it just wrapped up its fifth set and is wrapping up with a final story line. (I know some folks don't want to take a chance on a comic that never ends.) I'd also recommend "The Cape".
For my final recommendation, try picking up "Sweets". This book was written by a local creator, Kody Chamberlain. I've known Kody for some time now and his work is pretty damn stellar. I made him promise me to draw me into his next series in exchange for some software I wasn't using anymore. All I hope is that I don't end up as a murder victim.
Sorry, I don't think most folks care what I read in 2011, but I wanted to check out Bagcheck.com's embed feature. Nothing to see here. Move along. (And of course, I've pretty much now guaranteed this post will get 20-30 comments...)
I've recently completed two incredible books I thought I'd review today. As always I'm curious to see what others think so if you have read these as well, definitely chime in. I've also got two super quick video game reviews at the very bottom. Enjoy.
As it is a lazy Sunday morning I thought I'd share a few quick reviews on some games, books, comics I'm consuming lately. If you purchase any of these via the links provided I get a small kickback. (Just an FYI, not sure if I should 'warn' people about that or not. ;)
This is the second collection of short stores I've read edited by John Adams. His first collection (well the first I read) was an incredible collection of zombie stories. (The Living Dead) When I heard he was editing a collection of dystopian stories I figured it was a no-brainer. The collection is pretty good. I'd only read one story in the entire book and only recognized another one. There's quite a bit here to like and I definitely recommend it, but I have one problem with the collection. For some reason, Adams feels the need to provide - at least to me - spoilers for every single darn story. Not huge stories mind you. But consider this. In a zombie collection, you can be pretty assured that every story will contain, well, zombies. In a collection of dystopian literature, you really don't know much at all. Sure you have the broad strokes, but the details are where things will get interesting. Will it be a more bleak world like "1984" or something else entirely like "Brave New World"? The odd thing is - Adams introduced each story with - what I thought - a telling clue that ruined the surprise for you. Imagine seeing "Logan's Run" for the first time (see it - don't read it - the book was pretty awful) and having no idea what the "catch" was. Certainly you figure it out pretty quickly, but that's what Adams seemed to ruin before each and every story. After I noticed this before the first few stories, I simply skipped his introductions.
And now for something really different. Bulletstorm - AKA the game that got you the GOW MP beta - was a hell of a lot of fun. I can't remember the last time I laughed out loud so many times while playing a game. It's fun. A lot of fun. Is it as cool as "Call of Duty"? Nah. But for pure FPS fun, this was a great game. Every aspect of the game is focused on making shooting bad guys an enjoyable experience. From getting bonuses for shooting them in the no-no spots (yes, I said no-no spot) to additional bonuses for sending your target into a giant cactus. I didn't try the multiplayer so I can't comment on that, but the single player game was great and I'd recommend it to anyone.
Have you ever begun reading a book where you only had the vaguest idea of what the story was and found yourself completely surprised? That's how I was with the Hunger Games trilogy. All I knew about it was "young adult dystopian fiction". That's it. Within about 5 pages I was completely addicted. I honestly don't know how this could be young adult fiction. Sure the writing is pretty simple but the content is... well - not inappropriate. Just dark. Incredibly dark. I can't remember being so depressed by a book since I read "1984." They are making a movie out of this and I honestly don't know how I feel about it. On one hand if they truly honor the book and keep the incredible darkness of the novels intact, it could be too difficult to watch. If they neuter it though that would be a shame as well. Either way - I'd recommend the entire series. You can probably read them back to back over a week - just keep the Lithium handy.
And just to wrap things up - a few comics I'm reading lately:
- Sweets - a New Orleans-based crime story over 5 issues. Created by a guy local to me, the art is incredible and the story is pretty darn good too.
- GI Joe - there's about 4 lines out now. Some silly - some pretty darn cool - especially the Cobra titles. You should also check out the "Hearts and Minds" mini series that was created by the author of "Wolrd War Z."
- Fantastic Four (Future Foundation?) - I figure with the 'relaunch' after Johnny Storm's death it may be cool to start reading the series. I never read FF growing up. The first issue was neat so I've added this to my monthly collection for now.
- Y the Last Man - Yeah I'm a few years behind on this. Basic premis is that some disease wipes out all males on the planet - except for one human and one monkey. I'm on issue 30something now. (Affiliate link: Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned)
- Star Wars: Empire - I pick up a trade back collection of these about once a month. Basically "Empire" themed Star Wars comics and as we all know - the bad guys are always more fascinating then the good guys.
A few months ago, Brian Kotek recommended I pick up a book called "Clean Code" by Robert C. Martin. I picked it up, put it in my "To Read" queue, and promptly forgot about it for a while. Then one day I had a long plane ride coming up and as I was wrapping up another book, I threw in "Clean Code" so I'd have something to start reading. (Am I the only who absolutely fears being on a plane with nothing to do?)
Within five minutes of cracking open the book, I had dug into my backpack, brought out my pen, and was underlining madly. I had not known really want to expect, but it turns out that this is easily (for me anyway) one of the most important programming books I've read in my life.
I absolutely will not do it justice, but at a high level, the book concerns itself with the quality of the code you produce. This covers everything from variable naming, class and method structure, commenting, etc. Martin goes into a level of detail I frankly did not know was even possible. We all "know", for example, what makes up good variable naming rules, but Martin goes into the theory at a level I had not thought of before.
What makes this incredible is that after numerous chapters talking about best practices and what you should and should not do, Martin follows it up with an extremely in depth code refactoring. You see the original code and you get to follow the author's thought process as he makes changes. I'll point out that the code used in book is Java, but everything discussed is more than applicable to other languages, especially ColdFusion.
If there is one section I especially liked it was the one discussing method structure, including naming, their impact on the rest of your code, and even the number of arguments the method accepts. It really made me think that I need to reconsider how I use CFCs.
The book is not without controversy of course. Martin says right out (and more than once), that he expects you to disagree with him. I found his comments on, well, commenting, to be a bit extreme at times. I absolutely loved that section though (as a side note, it is the same reason I like listening to Rush sometimes - it's more fun to listen to someone you don't agree with!) This quote probably exemplifies Martin's core feeling on quotes: "Comments are always failures." Pretty strong, right? While he is certainly not against all code, I do think he isn't considering the situation I know others have seen - years old code that may have made perfect sense to a developer in 2002, but makes no sense 8 years later.
I strongly urge my readers to pick this up. It is not something you will likely "get" in a first reading. I'm planning on rereading it again in a few months. I'm also considering forming a presentation based on the material. But all in all I can think of no other book I'd recommend to a developer looking to raise the level of their craft.
p.s. Let me add that - in the same vein - Dan Wilson's CF Online Meetup presentation covered some of the same concepts yesterday. You can watch the streaming recording of it here.
I've mentioned my admiration for author China Mieville before. I think he is the best writer alive today. I've yet to read a book of his that wasn't both well written and incredibly fascinating. It's been a while since his last book so I was pleasantly surprised when I heard about his latest novel, "The City & The City."
At its heart, "The City & The City" is a typical detective/murder mystery novel. The protagonist, Tyador Borlu, is a detective in the city of Beszel. Beszel is somewhere in Eastern Europe and isn't doing so great economically. Its sister city, Ul Qoma, however, is prospering. Tyador is tasked with investigating a murder of a young woman and soon finds himself embroiled in a crime that spans both cities.
As I said - fairly typical. However - there is one important aspect to the two cities. They aren't "sister cities" as in two close cities. Both cities actually occupy the same physical place. Yes - the same physical space. But wait - it gets better. Citizens of each city are trained - mentally - to simply ignore the other city. So you can be walking down one road and have the other city, physically, five feet from you. If a person you know is walking in the other city, you can't speak to them. You can't wave. You can't do anything that acknowledges their presence.
If that sounds weird... well it is. Mieville never actually comes out and states if something magical is going on here. Rather it is left to the reader to determine if there is some multi-dimensional hocus pocus are simply a mass form of self-delusion.
Mieville does an awesome job of combing both a great scifi/fantasy story along with an intricate mystery novel. I strongly recommend this novel, especially since it is also one of the more approachable Mieville novels. If you like this, definitely check out "King Rat", and when you are ready, "Perdido Street Station."
Please consider yourself warned. This review will contain spoilers. If you had any plans on reading this book, you may want to stop reading now. On the other hand, since this book reads like it was written by a high school creative writing wanna-be fan boy, you may not really care. Ok, you have been warned...
One of the books that came up at the SciFi BOF back at CFUNITED was World War Z. The book is written as if it were non-fiction. It is a collection of numerous interviews from folks who have survived a zombie war. It's ten years past the end of the major fighting (although a few pockets of zombies still exist) but in general the view point is of a world that has survived the worst of it.
Consider a normal zombie film. The hero wakes up, sees that something is seriously wrong, runs to some safe haven (like a mall), meets a few other survivors, one of which who will do something dumb and force them to flee, and that's it.
When I watch a film like this (or really, any 'end of the world' type film), I know the geek in me starts going crazy. If the film centers in on one city, I wonder what's going on in some other city. If the film takes place over a few days, I wonder what the world likes 5, 10, etc years from then. Obviously most films and books will focus on one sort of characters, but what makes WWZ so amazing is that you get an incredible range of view points.
The book is roughly separated into stories from various parts of the war. From when things begin to go crazy, to the panic, the fighting, and the aftermath. You get views from everyone, and I mean everyone. From Asia to Russia to England to America (and they even mention Lafayette, LA!).
The book begins by saying it is an emotional view of the history, but really, for a geek, it's has an amazing amount of resources about what was going on. Some of the cooler aspects include a detailed look into how the military dealt, and adapted, to the zombie threat as well as how the government helped rebuild the country with a dramatically reduced work force.
So while I'm focusing on the geek aspect of the book - the emotional part works well. There is one interview - it involves a girl who lost her parents - and I don't want to say much more as it will ruin it - but it is easily one of the most creepy things I've read in my life. What happens at sea is also pretty darn scary as well. I know there are plans to turn this into a movie - and if they do - I hope they focus on the people and not some giant CGI-fest. If they could pull off the horror of the stories with good actors it could be a heck of a lot more creepy than Dawn of the Dead. I should say though - as I've gotten older I've really begun to get turned off by gore. Frankly I appreciate a movie that can do more with less. I know Blair Witch Project was way over-hyped, but it scared the you know what out of me without ever showing the big bad monster.
Anyway, I enjoyed this book so much I put down my current novel and finished the whole thing in about 2 days. Because of the nature of the book, a collection of interviews, it reads very fast and makes a great bathroom book. I'd definitely recommend it!