Reamde

Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson
Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson

Last week I took some friendly advice and dove into the novel Reamde by Neal Stephenson. I will admit to being a little nervous. My experience with Stephenson’s novels has been a bit hit and miss.

My brother gave me Snow Crash for my birthday one year. I don’t remember which year, but it was a good while ago. Definitely before I was married, possibly before I even met my wife. He pushed me to read the opening segment with The Deliverator on the spot… and he was right, it really was one of the better sci-fi sequences I’ve ever read. And the novel had quite a bit more of that flavor of insane fun to add. On top of that, it had some really interesting ideas. Believe it or not, some of those ideas played a serious role in my conversion not just to Christianity but to the Roman Catholic Church.

But it was also kind of a mess of a book. I used the term insane fun for a reason. The book was kind of insane. Stephenson has a knack for penning some of the craziest, wildest, most amazing sentences you’ll ever read. And he can, at times, chain these together into some of the most sequences you’ll ever read. But putting them all together into a coherent story… in some of his works, that hasn’t always happened well. Snow Crash all came together, but the book bogged down a bit about three fourths of the way in and the resolution all felt a little weak to me.

And yet despite these complaints, it was an absolutely amazing book. Truly, the good parts were so good that they really made up for some fairly serious deficiencies.

However… I didn’t have such good luck when I tried to read more of his stuff. The Diamond Age lost me altogether about a third of the way through and I never finished it – or really wanted to. I made it through the first book of The Baroque Cycle. I found the concept interesting, really enjoyed his depiction of Benjamin Franklin… and totally and completely couldn’t get into the second book.

So when I saw such high praise for Reamde, I was a bit cautious. I had high respect for the source of the recommendation… but Stephenson had burned me before, and burned me hard. But then, also – Snow Crash.

So I downloaded the free trial on my Kindle and gave it a shot. And then when I finished that part, I paid for the full book. And then I didn’t come up for air for about four days (it’s a long book – 1056 pages in paperback – and I had quite a bit of work to do in between reading sessions).

Not once at any point did I want to put it down. I was thoroughly and completely engrossed from the moment I picked it up until the very end. The characters were interesting, the background setup was interesting, the plot was interesting. Unlike some of Stephenson’s other works, it was entirely readable all the way through.

And it was one big giant bundle of insanity. It’s not quite as audacious as Snow Crash. But really, what is? To this day, Snow Crash is one of the most audacious pieces of science fiction I’ve ever encountered. But it carried the same bombastic spirit of over-the-top craziness that fueled Snow Crash, kept everything firmly rooted in the real world (as opposed to Snow Crash‘s somewhat… fantastical plot driver), and just never let up.

Before I was about a third of the way through, the book had completely changed on me about three times. I thought I’d figured out what I was in for and then boom – here’s this other whole new element. I enjoyed that I couldn’t quite figure out where he was headed. Not plot wise – the basic gist of the resolution is obvious from pretty early on – but how he was going to get there.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I loved this book and highly recommend it. I do have two complaints, though, and I think they’re worth noting even though they were far, far from ruining the experience.

First, one of the major characters – Richard – has an inexplicable character moment about three quarters of the way through the book. After he’s spent most of the story manipulating people based on their emotions and pushing them to do what he wants, we’re suddenly informed by the author that he hates manipulating people and is a “doer” kind of person. Well, yeah, he’s been a “doer” all book. But he’s also been cheerfully manipulating people as if he were born to it. I chalk this up to an editing issue – the book is so big that there were probably some changes made during its construction and Stephenson likely just missed this. But it was a little jarring.

Second, the resolution… he should have spent just a bit more time in the aftermath. It felt a bit like running a marathon and then just stopping without a cool down walk. Doable, and it doesn’t exactly detract from the marathon itself, but you feel a bit rough afterward.

But these are pretty minor complaints in a book that is otherwise so fantastic. This is one of the best things I’ve read in many years.

Yngling the Gnome Rogue

Yngling the Rogue
Yngling the Rogue

“I was always different. I was named Yngling, and that was the name I kept. I had no interest in learning fifty or sixty names for myself. If they did not call me Yngling, then I would not answer. The other children my age laughed and played pranks, while I sat in a corner and read or studied jewels and ignored them all. The older I became, the more of an outcast they viewed me. Then I just left, and hoped that there was a world outside my clan that would understand that pranks are more often annoying than amusing, two or three names at the most is enough, and reading is a tool rather than a hobby.”

–Yngling, one of eight playable characters available in Ghost of the Frost Giant King, an adventure supplement for the D20 Game System, available for pre-order NOW!

Happy Birthday, Morgon!

"Wishing Only Wounds the Heart" by Morgon Newquist
“Wishing Only Wounds the Heart” by Morgon Newquist

Today is my wife, Morgon’s, birthday! How about wishing her a Happy Birthday by picking up her short story, Wishing Only Wounds the Heart, for FREE today and leaving her a review on Amazon.com! It won’t cost you anything except your time – and not much of that, because it’s a quick read. And besides, what better way could you spend your time than reading a good story?

Second Chances now available!

"Second Chances" by K Bethany Sawyer
“Second Chances” by K Bethany Sawyer

The latest from Silver Empire, Second Chances by K Bethany Sawyer is available NOW from the Amazon Kindle Store!

A father wrestles with his daughter’s fate as she lies in a coma. He can save her body – but can he save her soul?

Pick up your copy today for only $0.99! You won’t want to miss this award winning story from an up-and-coming author!

"Wishing Only Wounds the Heart" by Morgon Newquist
“Wishing Only Wounds the Heart” by Morgon Newquist

While you’re at the Amazon store anyway, drop in and pick up Wishing Only Wounds the Heart. It’s currently ranked #5 in “Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 30 minutes (12-21 pages) > Science Fiction & Fantasy,” so you know you don’t want to miss it! And this weekend only, it’s FREE!

So drop in today and pick up both stories for only $0.99! And don’t forget to leave reviews!

Ukrainian Ceasefire Violated

It took even less time than I expected for us to see the Ukrainian ceasefire violated.

The city of Debaltseve effectively fell to rebel fighters days after the cease-fire was signed last week with the heavy involvement of European leaders.

I’m shocked, shocked to see that Putin signed a cease fire he didn’t intend to live up to.

But U.S. lawmakers say the latest developments only underscore the need for greater involvement by the U.S. and its allies.

Do they want a world war? Because that’s how world wars get started.

A Brief History of Time

Once upon a time (round about 2002 or so – ancient times) I had this little blog. Only the term “blog” hadn’t been invented yet. It was a “weblog” back in those days. Good blogging software hadn’t been invented yet, either. Nor had affordable web hosting. This little blog was put together by hand. Updates were coded by hand. New posts were coded by hand… Affordable web hosting wasn’t really a thing then, either. So it was hosted on a recycled computer running Linux and Apache in my spare bedroom. I used a dynamic DNS remapper to cover the fact that my ISP didn’t provide me with a static IP address.

Then things got interesting. Actual blog software became a thing. So I upgraded to that. My first “real” blog software was B2Evolution. And it was super awesome (for the time). Then I had to deal with things like comment spam… ugh. But eventually some plugins came out that more or less solved that issue and life was pretty good for a while.

At its peak, I was actually getting pretty decent traffic. Now… you have to understand what “pretty decent traffic” means on a blog. Most people would hear that phrase and think of somebody like Instapundit getting (sometimes) hundreds of thousands of visitors per day. Of course that qualifies as “pretty decent.”

But the actual reality is that blog traffic looks something like a power law curve. And getting more traffic than, say, 80% of the other bloggers, actually means something more like getting… 50-100 visitors a day, and having the occasional “hit post” that would bring in a thousand or so visitors in a day. That’s actually not too shabby for a blog.

Anyway, for various reasons (mostly to do with the headaches of hosting a site myself) I abandoned that blog and started a new one on Typepad.com. I ran that site again for a few more years and built it up again to pretty decent traffic. And then I let that blog go defunct because my day job went away and I suddenly found myself with more important things to worry about like, “how am I going to provide lunch for this new baby in the house?”

And the thing is, 50-100 visitors a day is pretty good, actually… but it’s not good enough to effectively monetize. Web ads on that kind of traffic will bring you a handful of dollars a month, which is nowhere near enough for the kind of effort that it takes to build and maintain that kind of traffic. So another blog bit the dust.

Over the course of the next few years, I blogged anonymously about a particular topic and became fairly decently known within that community and once again built up to pretty decent traffic. But the blog was anonymous because I wanted to be able to say things that aren’t easy to say under your real name, and now that blog is gone. Completely deleted.

Unfortunately, so are the other two incarnations of this blog. Mostly, anyway. The Internet Wayback Machine typepad version still has history of the Typepad version… but Typepad themselves are unable to recover it. It’s a shame because there were a pretty fair number of good posts from those incarnations of the blog and even a handful of really good posts.

But this blog is back, and it’s back with a bit of a purpose. I expect it to be around for a good long while this time. Mostly it’ll be new content, but every now and then you might see me salvage something from the Wayback Machine and repost a Blast From the Past.

To any old readers who might be returning, thank you for coming back! And for the new folks, thank you for giving this place a shot. Stick around for a bit. Things might get interesting.

Snow Day

This morning, the Tennessee Valley was hit by the Great Blizzard of 2015! Which is basically what we call it when we get a quarter inch of snow.

Picture taken by Vaughn Bocchino of Bocchino Custom Framing.
Picture taken by Vaughn Bocchino of Bocchino Custom Framing.

Of course, here in the south a millimeter of snow and ice shuts down everything, so SNOW DAY!

One of the nicest things about my day job (software engineer) is the ability to telecommute from time to time. Today I have had the very distinct pleasure of working while sitting on my couch in my slippers in front of a roaring fire.

Yeah, I can live with that.

One Bright Star to Guide Them

One Bright Star to Guide Them
One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C Wright

Larry Correia is dropping another book bomb today. Of the three novellas being bombed today, there are two that I haven’t read. Then there’s a third that I already own and have already read: “John C. Wright’s” One Bright Star to Guide Them. Since I already own it, I am contributing to the book bomb by writing this review – which I will also repost on Amazon.com.

John C. Wright is one of – if not the – best voices of our generation in science fiction and fantasy. And last year was a banner year for him – a quick search on Amazon reveals seven works he published in 2014:

One Bright Star to Guide Them is an homage and love letter to the works of CS Lewis. Bittersweet – but, importantly, never cynical – it shows the child heroes after they’ve won, returned home, and “grown up” – only to find that the evil they fought as children has returned, to the “real world” this time, and they must fight it again.

It’s a strong story, with a lot to say about the modern world. Yet it never becomes preachy or lets the message get in the way of an enjoyable story. John C. Wright has a wondrously insane (in the best possible way) imagination, and one of the most enjoyable things about reading any of his stories is just seeing where that imagination will take you next.

If you enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia, then One Bright Star to Guide Them is a must read story.

Update: And a very special thank you to Mr. Wright himself for linking back to this review!