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Snap Reviews: Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire Mar. 23rd, 2012 @ 08:31 am
Category: Books
Title: Discount Armageddon
Author: Seanan McGuire
Genre: Urban Fantasy

So, I became aware of this book due to the early release of print editions/personal abuse of the author by horrible people kerfuffle. While I regret the misery and pain endured by Seanan McGuire, I'm really rather glad I was prompted to buy the book out of sympathy, because the book is awesome.

Laugh-out-loud funny, in places. Not comedy, just contains wit that cracked me up on more than one occasion, and I am not an easy person to make laugh aloud via fiction. I have read every book Terry Pratchett has published - including the Carpet People, you understand, I'm not citing Strata for my "comparitively obscure, non-Discworld" books here, although obvs I've read that too - and laughed out loud maybe twice. I still enjoy the books, a lot, and appreciate the humour, but generally reading something funny, to myself, doesn't push me far enough from my locked-on-book state to laugh. This did.

It's also a ripping good story with a truly fascinating world setup, one that catches and drags at the imagination. I am in love with the world it presents. I want more of it. (Downside of getting into something at the point where the first book in a series is published: more not yet available.)

I recommend it completely and utterly.

Grade: A+

note: possibly, but I'm not certain, the first A+ in Snap Reviews history.

I want a replicator now Aug. 2nd, 2011 @ 09:05 am
Something I hadn't realised, until I started sketching and drawing constantly, is that standard pencils don't actually have quite consistent density in their graphite leads. The softer spots that are momentarily darker and smearier, the harder spots that catch on the paper and are momentarily harder and sharper - they're not really noticable if you're using the pen for writing, or even if you're sketching in lines.

If you're using it for shading, though... it's noticable.

Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils (at the steep, steep price of AU$1.94 inc. GST each, bought separately) don't seem to suffer from this problem, but I only have one, a B, and the extras I ordered in a range of grades haven't arrived yet. So for all my other grades I'm stuck with a mix of Columbia Copperplates and Staedtler Traditions, which just aren't as good. (Previously, I have selected pencils on the basis of: "It's a pencil, other than softness rating, what's the difference?")

Also, Lumographs are awesome because they have the grade stamped on *every side* around the base end of the pencil, so you don't have to pick them up, find the side where it's actually written, and peer at the tiny letters to work out which one it is.

Meanwhile I need another icon for art-related posts where I remember to change the icon. This one depicts a random doodle on a page of Linguistics notes, all done in ballpoint pen. (Even if the keyword I'm using is "creativity!".)

But then, I need to clean up my existing icons and make a bunch more at some point anyway. Seriously, this is a seed account, I get all the shiny DW features, and I basically never use them...

Books! May. 12th, 2011 @ 01:42 pm
So, a couple of days ago, I got a package in the post from Angry Robot Books. I was mystified. I opened it, and there was a slip reading, "With Compliments."

And then I remembered: Matthew Hughes offered copies of the book to the first 25 people to e-mail him, promising him they'd blog about it in return. I did just that, and apparently I was one of the first 25, because I got one - and the book doesn't even get released until the end of this month.

Somehow I'd forgotten all about it until the book arrived. Still, I did promise to blog about it - and I will. This is not that blog entry because I haven't finished reading it yet, although I am a chunk of the way into it. (You can read the first 10,000 words at Mr Hughes' webpage. I'm a bit further in than that, but it's enough for you to get a solid idea of what it's like, I think.)

It's been a long time since I read a new novel - I'm quite a rereader of fiction, and an extensive devourer of new non-fiction. I'd forgotten, therefore, the feeling I hate that is part of why I so rarely do read new novels: the twisting, anxious feeling that I don't know what's going to happen, and yet there's this complicated situation the characters are in, and - aaaahhh!

Plus novels are so long, something I don't care about once I start reading them, but which seems daunting at the outset. (For the same reason, I hardly ever watch movies.)

Anyway, based on my impressions so far, if I were to condense my forthcoming review of this book into one of those, "If you like X, you'll love Y," statements, I'd put it this way: If you liked Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, you'll probably enjoy The Damned Busters. It's not quite so apocalyptic - since, at least in part one of this trilogy, it's not so far actually about the Apocalypse - but it's the same kind of interestingly pretty-much-accurate-yet-unusual approach to theology and myth combined with wit and humour.

I like it, but I suspect I won't love it until I'm rereading it, and can appreciate it, engaging story and clever writing alike, without that anguished tension of not knowing what's going to happen.

I have to say, given I essentially have a review copy of this book and an obligation to review it since I promised to blog about it, I'm somewhat relieved that it's actually good.

I have some other books, too, but I actually paid money for them. I ordered some books from Amazon UK all of two days ago, taking advantage of the free shipping that now and for the time being extends to Australia, and they arrived today.

I have:

The Wonderful Future That Never Was, by Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics: visions of what the future would be like, from the first fifty-odd years of the magazine Popular Mechanics. Because that kind of thing is the kind of thing I utterly adore.

The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists & Secret Agents, by Alex Butterworth. Radical politics circa the turn of the last century, written as a sort of non-fiction novel.

Molotov's Magic Lanter: Uncovering Russia's Secret History, by Rachel Polonsky. Begun when the author was given access to Molotov's private library.

Red Plenty, by Francis Spufforth. "Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties' Soviet Dream."

Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962, by Megan Prelinger. I'm fascinated by the advertising of past eras - commercial or propaganda, but especially, really, propaganda, or propaganda-adjacent activities.

If I ever do get around to doing postgraduate work in history, one of my nominal thesis concepts is: How Vera Lynn Defeated Hitler: The Home Front of the Second World War, and it will be about the frequently-disregarded issue of how and why British civilians, especially the women who shouldered a burden that was almost without precedent, held it together and in doing so brought down the Wehrmacht.

Slightly belated: Movie Recommendation May. 4th, 2010 @ 04:12 pm
Because I'm gradually trying to reconnect with the world, and that includes online journal communities, and so on. My people, you're still out there, right?

Anyway, a movie rec.

A few weeks ago Chas, Dean and I went and saw How to Train Your Dragon (in 3D). I knew very little about it before we went. I was pleasantly astonished at how unremittingly awesome it was, not least because - at least as far as I could tell - while on the one hand it's a highly enjoyable story, on the other hand, it's also not offensive on any level I could think of.

Check it (as spoiler-free as I can make it):

- Is it sexist?

I would say no. Seriously. Because the major female character is awesome - when she's hostile, she has good reason to be from her perspective, and when presented with reasons to change her mind, she... does. She didn't have all the information, she got new information, she adapted. She's cool without being any kind of a stereotype. (The movie doesn't, for the most part, really trade in stereotypes, except maaaybe the geek - except he still gets to be awesome, too.)

- Is it racist?

Well, it's set on an island populated by Vikings, so all the characters are... Vikings. It's not exactly ethnically diverse, but given the parameters of the story, having anyone who isn't a Viking be in it at all would have required a lot of shoehorning and pure tokenism, since it's hard to conceive of why anyone else would have ended up at the remote, extremely inhospitable island inhabited by one Viking colony. They didn't do that; it's an island of Vikings. They all look Scandinavian, because they're Vikings - though the casting isn't all-white. For example, one of the lead characters is voiced by America Ferrera.

- Is it ablist?

No! The blacksmith has lost a hand and a leg. Disability such as this is not treated as the end of the world - he works around it. He's not even in a tragic retirement - as a battle rages around the village, he works in the smithy, getting everyone armed and armoured, until the battle seems to be going badly - and then he joins the fray, because he's needed. He still has vital roles to play in the village. Acquiring disability is, in this movie, treated as being unfortunate, but not something that reduces anyone's value as a person or member of the community.

It was really nice to see a movie and just enjoy it, without having to feel twitchy about blatantly skeevy Issues. I felt like it had Good Messages For The Kids. I'd go into more detail, but... spoilers.

Anyway, I recommend it.

Snap Reviews: It requires a humbling confession Nov. 24th, 2009 @ 03:47 pm
The thing, here it is:

I bought a PS3 yesterday.

It came bundled with several games, and this brings a touch of some feeling somewhere between "humbling" and "thought-provoking": so far, the games I've played the most and enjoyed tremendously are ones I would not have bought if they didn't come bundled with the console.

Need For Speed: Undercover is a racing game. The rest is largely irrelevant, so far - sure, there's a plot line about you being an undercover cop infiltrating street racing gangs to get information about their drugrunning and blah blah blah RACING GAME, OKAY. YOU RACE CARS AND DRIVE VERY, VERY DANGEROUSLY AND IT'S OKAY BECAUSE YOUR CAR IS PIXELS AND SO IS EVERYONE ELSE'S. B+

Bad Company: Battlefield is a first person shooter with tactical combat involving various combinations of blowing things up in different ways and repairing some other things and assaulting and/or using defensive positions to fight. All well and good, but the other thing about it is that it's legitimately funny. There is snark, there is wit, there is two of the other guys in your squad randomly playing rock-paper-scissors while the sergeant talks to command for orders. It's just really entertaining. A

Bad Company is the particular surprise. See, I know I like racing games occasionally. I have to be in the right mood for them, but I like them. I wouldn't have expected Bad Company to be something I'd particularly enjoy at all, let alone something that would make me leave Assassin's Creed II, which I actually bought on purpose, largely unplayed.

Snap Review: Red Bear Trading Company Guitar Picks Sep. 11th, 2009 @ 05:31 pm
So, as anyone who Knows About These Things can tell you, the best guitar picks were made of turtleshell.

However - again, as anyone who Knows About These Things can tell you - that's not exactly a cruelty-free source of pick material, and the sea turtles from which they were derived are now an endangered species. Some people still have decades-old picks but they're no longer produced legally.

Naturally, human ingenuity came into play, and you can get fake turtleshell picks. The material is an artificially-produced cellulose substance with properties very, very similar to the turtleshell, but without the "murder of endangered species" aspect.

I recently ordered a couple of faux-shell picks from Red Bear Trading Company. I went with Tuff-Tones, because they're cheaper and hardier, and I didn't exactly have a way to try one before I bought them. They arrived today, and I just tried them out.

They are amazing. They feel good on the strings and they pull a tone out of my Les Paul even more beautiful than I'd heard it make before - and added to that, strumming with a soft hold, as I tend to do when practicing (because I like the more mellow tones), they're very quiet over the strings, where all the other picks I've used click audibly in the strum.

They also feel nice to the touch, secure in hand without needing to be rough-textured, totally beautiful and wonderful.

They're expensive, of course, by guitar pick standards - Tuff-Tones are US$10, the regular ones are US$20 each, where plastic picks are readily acquired for an Australian dollar.

Totally worth it, at least on the assumption that you'll avoid losing them. Comments from guitarists who've used theirs extensively are that they can take a LOT of use without showing much wear. With mine I got one of the pick-holding key fobs Red Bear also sell - with my name engraved on it, which is just nifty.
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