New Dishes I cooked in Dec 2018

It’s hard to say which dish was the best one, because lots of them came out great. But it’s pretty easy to say which was the worst – the roti canai came out very much unlike what I was trying to replicate despite following a recipe that went along with a youtube video. Second worst were the English muffins, but they were WAY better than the roti was. They just came out more dense than I was hoping for and they didn’t quite have the nooks and crannies they were supposed to. This was a relatively fast recipe from my Cook it in Cast Iron book. I’ve got another in Bread Illustrated that has a longer rise overnight in the fridge so maybe that one will come out better. Lady Bird Johnson’s BBQ sauce came from Legends of Texas Barbecue, a part of a Humble Cookbook bundle. I took it with me to my mom’s house for Christmas. It was the first time I’d ever made it, but I thought it came out really well – it got lots of kudos. The ground beef enchiladas were a great approximation of the beef enchiladas which normally take twice as long to cook. The Egg and sausage McMuffin came from learning how to make the egg cook the right way by reading about it on Serious Eats. It was pretty good, but I was wishing I had some Canadian bacon instead so it could be more like the real thing. The Brussels sprouts with lemon was a dish I made to try something different with the veggie and it turned out great. It was a very simple recipe that I was able to memorize and so I also made it during Christmas at my folks’ and people really liked it – even those who professed not to like Brussels sprouts. The chopper winter salad with butternut squash came from Dinner Illustrated and it was a very fun, new type of salad that I’d never eaten before. Danielle has made roasted butternut squash before, but we usually consume it via soup. Finally, the two burgers. Of the two, the Bourbon burger was the more universal hit. Danielle was really impressed with my caramelized onions (given my newbie status on making them) and the horseradish sauce was pretty good, too. While I liked the Thai-style pork burgers, Danielle wasn’t quite into the taste of Asian-style pork in a burger. That said, I also cooked them in the carbon steel pan to try and get more use out of it, but it was just a little smaller than the 12 inch pan the recipe called for and so the pan was a bit crowded and I think that deterred some Maillard reaction from happening.

Overall a good month for new recipes and some good holiday hits, but still not doing as well as I’d like with yeasted breads.

Snack Time

While I was swimming last week I came to the realization that my daily snack between lunch and dinner hits pretty much all the food groups. I usually have some afternoon tea with milk (dairy – check!), a couple servings of whatever fruit we happen to have at the house (fruit/veggie – check!), and peanut-butter filled pretzels (carbs, protein, and fats/salts – check, check check!)

CentOS 7 works on Acer Aspire One D255E

Often people try and dissuade you from installing CentOS onto a laptop because they say the chipsets on the laptops are so varied it’s likely you will end up unable to use your laptop because the drivers aren’t there. Well, I don’t know if it’s because this netbook is so old (I mean, netbooks as a category don’t exist anymore – having been supplanted by tablets) or just uses common chipsets, but when I ended up with some Fedora configuration error that I didn’t want to bother debugging (I hate using the netbook on an everyday basis because the keys are too small and the screen is pretty low resolution), I figured it’d be a fun time to test if I could install CentOS on there. During the installation GUI the trackpad worked fine and WiFi connected just fine as well. So if you’ve still got one of these lying around and prefer the longer support windows of CentOS / RHEL – feel free to install CentOS on there.

2018 Video Games Report

In 2018 I played a little more than double the amount of video games as I did in 2017. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, now that the twins are older I don’t have to watch them as diligently. I can’t be as off-hands as I was when it was just Scarlett at this age, but I can spend a little more time on my hobbies. Second, a pretty good chunk of that time (15 hours) was spent playing video games with Scarlett so it just took the place of other potential Father/Daughter projects. That said, with me bouncing around various hobbies, it doesn’t matter that I have more free time now because of the kids getting older because I’m splitting it over more tasks. As I write this I’ve really gotten back into programming. It’s all I think about in the pool and whenever I’m not doing it. So much so that I’m 3.5 months behind on organizing and editing my photos. This bouncing around between hobbies is something I’ve documented many times on this blog. It happened a lot throughout the year so there were times where I’d play games for tons of days in a row and then not play video games (other than my Civ VI multiplayer turns) for months. I’d legitimately forgotten about having played some of these games until I went back to compile the list for the year.

Civilization VI (38 hr 17 min): Civ continues to earn its place as the one game I always buy when it comes out on day 1.  In 2018 I continued my series where I played as China in ever version of Civilization. I also played a couple single player games, including my first Rise and Fall single player game. The governor system was OK, but I’m not sure I used it to its fullest. And, of course, I continued to play my multiplayer games with Dan and Dave, adding some Rise and Fall games to the mix this year.

Pokemon Red (15 hrs): Now that Scarlett had learned to read I figured she could play her first jRPG. She was also really into Pokemon thanks to Netflix, so I thought Pokemon might be the best choice. Since I never played the original Pokemon (I was too old when it came out), I thought it might be fun to see what it was all about. So far it’s been fun, but Scarlett’s reluctance for grinding means she has not been trying to “catch ‘em all”.

Stellaris (8 hr 22 min): I wanted this game since I saw one of the Giant Bomb employees sing its praises. It would give me Civ or Age of Empires on a galactic scale. It would give me what Spore promised and failed to deliver on. So when it was on sale, I grabbed it. Real-time Civilization is way harder than turn-based. I didn’t stop playing out of frustration, though (as I would for XCOM 2 later), but because – like Civ – it seemed to suck up all my time and I needed a break. I’ll probably go back to it, but with how complex it is, I’ll probably have to rewatch my last video to remind myself what I was up to.

FTL (8 hr 14 min): 2018 was the year in which I seriously played this game and tried to win. Over the 8 hours I played, I tried lots of combinations of strategies. Towards the end I was doing well enough to be able to advance pretty far through the galaxy although I was never in the right shape to face the final enemy.

Civilization V (8 hr 3 min): I’ve mostly fully gone over to Civ VI at this point, but I did play as China for my China series. Also, my multiplayer games with Dan and Dave continue.

Spelunky (6 hr ): Spelunky is always a ton of fun because Derek Yu understands that the most fun and replayable rogue-likes make death trivial so you can jump back in rather than quit the game in frustration.

Civilization IV (4 hrs 45 min): I played this game as part of my China series and realized that Civs V and VI have ruined me for stackable armies in Civ. I used to do quite well in Civ IV, but the AI wiped the floor with me because I kept forgetting the intricacies of combat in the old Civ I-IV system with stacks of doom.

XCOM 2 (3 hr 05 min): I bought this game on sale and was excited to play the sequel to a game I really ended up enjoying before. But it seems that Firaxis went the Mario: The Lost Levels (aka Japanese Super Mario Bros 2) route and made this game for hardcore XCOM players. I was just unable to get the hang of things in the new system. With a very limited amount of time for playing video games, that kind of play just really doesn’t appeal to me. I will probably try starting again at the lowest difficulty setting to see if I can have it be just challenging enough, but where I’m not losing all but one soldier in the earliest levels.

Crypt of the NecroDancer (2 hr 29  min): I first saw this game in a short video video from Dan’s channel and I thought it seemed kind of fun. When it was on sale on GOG, I picked it up and both had more fun and advanced further into the dungeons than I expected to be able to. I was also inspired to play both this game and lots more FTL this year by reading Dungeon Hacks, a history of  rogue-likes that made me have a deeper appreciation for the conventions and tropes of the genre.

Witcher 2 (1 hr): My first year doing Extra Life I played the first Witcher game. I wanted to give the sequel a shot now that I had a better graphics card. But with the long opening/training scene, I ran out of time. I just don’t have as much time for these long games as I used to. At this point, I’d have to rewatch my first episode to remember all the shortcuts and commands.

Vertical Drop Heroes HD (34 min): I just wanted to revisit this game for fun. It was a good half hour.

Half Minute Hero (28 min): I played this game during the Extra Life game day. It was a fun little game. They essentially boiled JRPGs to the minimum and it was it interesting to see what that led to. I’ll probably come back to this game in 2019 if I remember I have it.

Pacman DX 2 (15 min): I’m not sure if my control was running out of batteries or (if it was the XBONE controller) if there were USB issues, but frustrating controls meant I couldn’t enjoy this sequel to my favorite PS3 game.

And that gives a rough total of 96 hr 30 min.

My favorite game in 2018 was Civilization VI for continuing to give me a very fun time throughout the year. However, I will say that my surprise hit of 2018 was Crypt of the Necrodancer as I didn’t think I’d really enjoy that game at all. I ended up loving the challenge of trying to make it past the first dungeon. I will almost certainly return to this game in 2019.

New dishes I cooked in Nov 2018

The biggest success of the new dishes in Nov 2018 was the grilled chicken fajitas. We already had a recipe we often used for grilled chicken fajitas, but I wanted to stretch out and used the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen Mexican Recipes book. The biggest disappointment was the Georgian Chicken Soup (Chikhirtma). It was almost universally reviled in the house. I thought ti was fine, but everyone else hated it. The Milk Street Barbecue Rub No. 2 gives poultry a taste similar to satay, so it works quite well with peanut sauce. The mushroom pork omelet was promising, but I added way too many mushrooms because they called for mushrooms by weight and I used dried mushrooms rather than regular, hydrated mushrooms. Everyone liked the chicken tonkatsu, but only I liked the tonkatsu sauce. Finally, the donuts were a bummer, but I think that’s because it didn’t rise as much as it was supposed to, leaving it a bit dense.

Attempting to use Clonezilla to clone my server

My main server, Tanukimario, has a 120GB hard drive in it and it’s started to become annoying to butt up against that limit. I have an 512GB SSD that I only used for a couple years that I wanted to use as a replacement. In order to reduce the annoyances that come from setting things up from scratch, I decided to try and use Clonezilla to copy the drive over. Since the hard drive is so small, it told me it would only take 40 minutes, so I was jazzed I’d be able to do it in the afternoon while everyone was out and I wouldn’t be inconveniencing anyone.

I came back after 40 minutes to see that it had died after 6 minutes beacause there were damaged sectors on the source drive. I tried telling it to run fsck first and then clone, but that didn’t fix it. So, as a final attempt, I used the -rescue option in the expert clone in Clonezilla. That actually completed after about 60 minutes and I was pretty excited when it booted. But, unfortunately, it would just crash out. I was getting fsck errors. I tried running it a few times (each time the text blurred past the screen for 3 or 4 minutes). After doing that a few times without anything getting fixed, I figured that at this point, if it actually booted I would probably end up with a bunch of weird glitches I’d never be able to figure out. So I aborted this attempt for now.

So where do I go from here? The server does use lvm, so I could technically do an lvm clone to the disk because if things are running, then at the userland level there shouldn’t be that much damage. It’s just that doing a dd was causing issues. But since that server started its life as the guest computer, there’s a lot of cruft on there despite my attempts to remove all the desktop software. So I think I’m just going to use this opportunity to do a fresh install of the Fedora Server spin. That way I’ll have the minimal packages (great for upgrades) and I’ll also probably eliminate a few little glitches that I’m dealing with for having been slowly upgrading this computer since Fedora 16 or so. Also, on the plus side, I’ve learned there are damaged sectors on the disk and so I shouldn’t take too long to migrate over. (And should be sure to keep good backups).

So while my immediate goal was a failure, overall it’s a good thing I finally tried it this weekend.

Sam and Stella enjoying the fall leaves

If there’s one pleasure I was denied by growing up in Florida, it was getting to play with the fall leaves. (Of course, I was spared having to rake them – something that takes me a good afternoon here if I do it well). But my kids get to enjoy it.

Sam in the leaves

Sam’s expression notwithstanding, I wonder what it is that kids enjoy about it. Is it making a mess of a pile? Is it the crunch of the leaves? The novelty of it all? Scarlett’s been doing it for a while and she still enjoys it. Whatever it is – I’m glad I get to be there to see it and enjoy their enjoyment.

Stella in the leaves
Stella in the leaves

HDRMerge and CC Extractor RPMs

A while back I created a copr repo for HDR Merge. I hadn’t kept up with it because there weren’t regular HDRMerge releases going on, but I noticed the git repo has been very active, so I decided to create a new RPM for Fedora 29.

And recently I learned that for the newest version of MakeMKV if you want to be able to extract Closed Captioning from older DVDs of TV shows that use an embedded CC track rather than subtitles you need ccextractor, but there wasn’t a package available for Fedora, so I made one.

You can get to both of my repos here: https://copr.fedorainfracloud.org/coprs/djotaku/

As of right now I’m trying to figure out what the build system needs to create the latest hdrmerge package, but the RPM builds on my system so it’s just a matter of figuring out how to specify the right package dependencies.

My Extra Life Donation Tracker gets a GUI Part 1

Three years ago I created ELDonationTracker to use the Extra Life API to provide donation alerts on my screen while I’m streaming or recording games. About a year and a half ago, I actually had to start using it because the previous donation tracker I’d been using stopped being maintained. Since then I’ve been steadily improving it, but there’s still a bit of functionality for the alerts when someone donates that I was missing by running a commandline utility. A year ago I tried creating a GUI with Tkinter, but I just found it too hard to figure out. What I really wanted anyway was to do it in QT or QML. A few months ago I saw that it appeared the company being QT was going to finally take Python seriously. While looking up some tutorials on PyQT I found out that I could use QT Designer to do a WYSIWYG design and then a simple utility to convert it to Python code. Since designing GUIs is a real drag and takes away time from doing the coding to make the GUI work, I was jazzed. So I threw this together over a couple days, copying the interface from the program that was no longer maintained:

EL Donation tracker in QT Designer
EL Donation tracker in QT Designer

After saving it as design.ui, I just ran:

pyuic5 design.ui -o design.py

And then I imported it into gui.py. Boom! I’ve got:

Extra Life Donation Tracker GUI
Extra Life Donation Tracker GUI

Now, I still have some coding work to do to get those buttons to do anything, but I was pretty happy not to have to waste time getting it to look like I wanted it to look. I definitely recommend using QT Designer and pyuic5 for quick GUI design and prototyping. Someone on the Python subreddit said he didn’t like the code that QT Designer produced, but you could always refactor it once you have it up and working. So it’s great if you’re doing an AGILE workflow and it seems to match the same reason a lot of people use Python – for getting something up and running incredibly quickly.

2018 in Books

This year I continued last year’s trends of reading cook books and stories I’d purchased as part of a Humble Bundle or Story Bundle. This led to some great surprises like Singularity Girl, which I really liked and Kissing Booth Girl which had a bunch of haunting short stories. Because it was the 200th anniversary, I started off the year reading Frankenstein for the first time ever. I read that together with the Sword and Laser book club. Much later in the year I also read Zer0es with the book club. This year I read my first Cuban SF novel with A Planet for Rent and that was a really neat read. But there were two big universes I tackled in 2018. I read nearly all of the novels in The Expanse and I read nearly all of the remaining books, short stories, and novellas in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere. In fact, reading all of Mistborn Era 1 and 2 and the Stormlight Archive books 1-3 (all that’s out now) took up nearly all of my reading time. I’d set a goal of reading 45 books. I read 81, but would have read many, many more had it not been for the 1000+ pages of each of the Stormlight Archive books.

At the time I write this (a few days into 2019) I have 985ish (because I have some Calibre catalogs in there) ebooks and emagazines. Of those, 704 are unread.

Some Goodreads stats:

  • I read 23,910 pages across 81 books
  • Shortest book was Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania at 40 pages.
  • Longest book was Oathbringer at 1248 pages
  • Most popular was Frankenstein also read by 1 million others
  • Least popular was Cook’s illustrated 2018 Annual only read by one other person
  • My average rating was a 3.7

My favorite book in 2018 was The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

So, here are the books I read in 2018:

  1. Chew Vol 4
  2. Cook’s Illustrated 2017 Annual
  3. Chew: Smorgasboard Edition Vol 2
  4. Holiday Entertaining
  5. The Mad Tinker’s Daughter
  6. Frankenstein
  7. Superman: An unauthorized biography
  8. Chew: Smorgasboard Edition Vol 3
  9. The Final Empire
  10. Kissing Booth Girl
  11. The Emperor’s Soul
  12. Murder at the Vicarage
  13. Amberville
  14. Chester 5000 XYV
  15. Chester 5000: Isabele and George
  16. The Well of Ascension
  17. Bitch Planet Vol 1
  18. Bitch Planet Triple Feature
  19. Bitch Planet Vol 2
  20. Sex & Violence
  21. The Secret History of Star Wars
  22. Beyond Lies the Wub
  23. Caliban’s War
  24. The Best Mexican Recipes
  25. The Witch of Portobello
  26. The Plot to Hack America
  27. The Hero of Ages
  28. Mistborn Adventure Game
  29. Cook’s Country 2016 Annual
  30. Ready Player One
  31. Megaman 3
  32. Cook’s Country 2017 Annual
  33. The Way of Kings
  34. Neon Noir
  35. White Sand Vol 1
  36. You’re Not Fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffee shop
  37. An Election
  38. Ultimate History of Video Games
  39. Food Processor Perfection
  40. Planet BBQ
  41. Prepare to Meet thy Doom
  42. Abaddon’s Gate
  43. Damnation Alley
  44. Singularity Girl
  45. The Perfect Cookie
  46. Words of Radiance
  47. The Future is Japanese
  48. Cibola Burn
  49. Edge Dancer
  50. Sixth of the Dusk
  51. The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone
  52. The Churn
  53. Altered America
  54. Dungeon Hacks
  55. Nemesis Games
  56. Legion
  57. Muffins and Biscuits
  58. Storm Front
  59. Legion: Skin Deep
  60. The Vital Abyss
  61. Batman Vol 1
  62. Batman Vol 2
  63. Batman Vol 3
  64. The Marshall’s Lover
  65. Dinner Illustrated
  66. The World’s Most Dangerous Geek
  67. Babylon’s Ashes
  68. Katamari Damacy
  69. Milk Street Tuesday Nights
  70. Zer0es
  71. Oathbringer
  72. Nightflyers and Other Stories
  73. Legends of Texas BBQ
  74. The Alloy of Law
  75. Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania
  76. A Planet for Rent
  77. Adrift on a Sea of Rains
  78. Shadows of Self
  79. The Bands of Mourning
  80. Shadows for Silence in the Forest of Hell
  81. Cook’s Illustrated 2018 Annual

Reviews: Babylon’s Ashes; Katamari Damacy; Milk Street: Tuesday Nights: More than 200 Simple Weeknight Suppers that Deliver Bold Flavor, Fast; Zeroes; Oathbringer; Nightflyers & Other Stories; Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses; The Alloy of Law; Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania; A Planet for Rent ; Adrift on the Sea of Rains; Shadows of Self; The Bands of Mourning; Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell; Cook’s Illustrated Magazine 2018

Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse, #6)Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is probably the most direct sequel so far in The Expanse. It pretty much picks up right where the last one left off (not counting the interstitial novella). One thing JSAC use for great effect in this book (and I think more than any of the previous ones) is to use the POV-ness of the chapters to jump back and forth in time. So chapter X ends and then chapter X+1 actually rewinds things a bit and provides a new perspective on what happened in chapter X. It mostly worked well.

I enjoyed that this was a huge reunion of all the great players of the series – Avasarala, Fred Johnson, Michio Pa, Anna the preacher and her family, the crew of the Roci, Bobbie the Martian Marine. Pretty much everyone got a POV chapter. And towards the end we even got a look into the mind of the enemy.

Great, fun moment for me was when Anderson Dawes is talking to people to convince them to believe in Holden and JSAC have structured the paragraphs to be a series of contradictory jump cuts. Equivalent to a move or TV show where a scene has someone insisting “I will NEVER be in a blue car”, next scene they’re in a blue car.

I think the ending continues JSAC’s realistic endings. There are some good things and some bad ones. Some things left unresolved. And a HUGE question mark on a certain group of folks. (view spoiler)

I wanted to add that the Filip chapters really highlighted a lot of the reasons of why we end up with irrational violence – people feeling ashamed or called out or trying to make their world view make sense.

I think the series continues to progress well and this one has the most organic reason for Holden to be involved in the future – as a charter ship for hire. After having been able to read these more or less back to back it’s a bummer there’s only one more novel out now.

View all my reviews Katamari Damacy (Boss Fight Books, #17)Katamari Damacy by L.E. Hall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I just had unreasonable expectations for this book. It’s one of my favorite games. The book was very late to be delivered which also made me long for it even more. While I learned some neat stuff in it, it didn’t quite have what I’d come to love from a lot of the other Boss Fight Books, like Chrono Trigger. Many of the other books were deeply personal, talking about how the games brought them closer to their siblings or helped them deal with being trans or blew them away. This one felt like it was at a bit more of a distance compared to the best of the books in this series.

That said, 3 stars in GR means “liked it” and I did indeed like it. It was neat to learn about the Japanese stereotypes that the King of all Cosmos was subverting, the way the game was somewhat of a tribute to the old rubber suit TV shows (like the one that became Power Rangers in America, but more like the ones from the 70s), the way that Takahashi’s brain as an artist and sculptor affected the game he created. It was incredible how there were so many reasons this game shouldn’t have happened, including because of Japanese business culture. And yet it came out and it’s one of my favorite games and it opened space in the video game world for quirky games when everyone was going for ever more realistic graphics and (often) violence (not that there’s anything wrong with that, one of my favorite games is Team Fortress 2).

View all my reviews Milk Street: Tuesday Nights: More than 200 Simple Weeknight Suppers that Deliver Bold Flavor, FastMilk Street: Tuesday Nights: More than 200 Simple Weeknight Suppers that Deliver Bold Flavor, Fast by Christopher Kimball
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again Chris Kimball and his cohort of recipe development chefs have put together a great cookbook. I’ve already cooked a few recipes from this book and they’ve been huge hits with the wife and our extended families. (Slightly less so with the kids, but the Milk Street philosophy is about bold flavors and the kids aren’t quite ready for that yet in most foods)

This book is similar in its raison d’etre as Dinner Illustrated (book insertion link not working for me as I write this) put out by his previous employer, America’s Test Kitchen. This book has a lot more recipes that are faster – in fact Tuesday Night’s chapters are Fast, Faster, and Fastest. Also, in keeping with the Milk Street ethos, the recipes are more from around the world and with boldly spiced flavors. Not necessarily spicy, just lots of spices – like Za’atar, sumac, or harissa.

I can’t help but compare the two as they both came out at the same time and Kimball used to work at ATK. I like the way Dinner Illustrated is organized better – by the protein in the dish. I also really like the style of their “Illustrated” line of cookbooks that takes a lot of guesswork out of how things are supposed to look as they’re going along. I also think that there are a chunk of recipes in Tuesday Nights (not too many) that are “cheating” in that they are done in less than an hour, but they require something to go along with them to be a complete meal like rice or potatoes or bread. In the case of rice or bread it’s not a big deal because bread you just buy and rice (at least the way I make it) is fire and forget in the rice cooker.

That said, I have really enjoyed the recipes I’ve made from this book. And some of them have inspired my wife who is much more of the off the script type of chef to come up with some great ideas, too. If you want to explore some food from around the world that tastes great and doesn’t take too long to cook, this is a great buy.

View all my reviews ZeroesZeroes by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(edit because the first review was written on my phone when Kindle was asking me to review for GR and Amazon)

There are a few things I knew about Wendig going in. I knew that he was mostly known for fantasy. I knew that I enjoyed his short story collection, Irregular Creatures. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1…) I knew he was known for bad language. I didn’t know how good (if at all) Wendig would be at writing a techno-thriller, “next Sunday” science fiction book. But it was the book of the month for Sword and Laser and Wendig was offering it as a huge discount to S&L readers, so I was game to check it out.

Wendig does a couple real hard things with this book. He writes a large ensemble cast where everyone seems like a fleshed out character. All too often, as the cast of characters grows, their personalities shrink. In the most extreme version, you end up with a cast of caricatures or archetypes. But with Zeroes I feel that Wendig does a pretty admirable job of giving everyone good personalities and backstories. It also helps to expand the notion of the type of person who could be a hacker to better reflect reality.

He also writes about technology intelligently. (The acknowledgement section shows that, hacker-wise) he’s kind of at Wade’s level. There is some techno-artistic license taken to make it more of a thriller (almost horror) but it didn’t take me out of the narrative. As someone who does computer stuff for fun and for a living, sometimes hacker narratives can really just dissolve to me just shaking my head and classifying the book more as urban fantasy. As for where Wendig took artistic license – well I often found myself thinking (and describing the plot to others) that this was kind of a modern (view spoiler) story using technology as the (view spoiler).

View all my reviews Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3)Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some people (both whom I know in person and on the internet) have said that Oathbringer is plodding. After dealing with the slow pace of the first two books, this is interminable. I can certainly understand the frustration given the waiting period between book releases. I think Stormlight Archive 4 is coming out in 2020 at the earliest. But one of the things that makes the first quarter different from most military fiction (fantasy or sci-fi) is that it is heavy with the periods between the action. Unlike stories where kings and queens argue for a day or two and then form alliances, we see Dalinar struggle to get anyone on his side. We also see what idleness does to the folks in the military and their camps. It makes things more real than even historical depictions of war sometimes are. In this way I don’t mind the pacing. It also makes the character evolution seem less out of left field.

It’s interesting that Sanderson originally intended The Stormlight Archive to be two five book cycles because this book definitely has the feel of a trilogy ending. While we still have plenty of questions when the book is over, most of the conflict introduced over the past three books has been dealt with in one way or another. There’s definitely a feeling of finality with this book. If something prevented Sanderson from ever writing more, it’s not a horrible way for the story to end. Our heroes have grown and learned and lived to fight another day. They haven’t won the war, but they’re in a place where you could maybe see a path for them to get there.

I think the biggest theme of this book is redemption and the search for it. Each book has involved a character’s backstory. Book 1 was about Kaladin. Book 2 was about Shallan. Book 3 is about Dalinar. He spends the entire book trying to earn redemption for his earlier actions. When we met him in book 2, he was an honorable man following the codes. It was someone Kal could finally trust. But we learn in this book what a journey that’s been for him. And it colors his interactions with all the other kings and queen around him. But he even needs to seek redemption from his nephew for the way he treated him in book 2. Shallan looks for redemption for her past and it threatens to break her apart. Kal continues his slow journey of self-forgiveness. Teft has to deal with his demons. And even Moash seeks a certain redemption after Kal showed him his selfishness in book 2.

The second biggest theme of the book is people acting from unknown ignorance. The humans as a whole don’t learn the entire truth behind the desolations until we do and it’s a big bombshell. (That also explains why Shinovar has normal animals and grass, etc) Dalinar is acting from ignorance of his past thanks to the actions of the Night Watcher. The Parshendi don’t know or understand most of the epic battle they’re now a part of and just want to live without being enslaved. Most of the new radiants start out ignorant of what their actions mean in spren-world.

Overall, this book was masterful in the way it unpeeled layers of ignorance as we (and the characters) learned the truth of what had happened on Roshar. Additionally, we had great character studies (many characters spend loads of chapters away from the others) and growth moments. Does Shallan get a little bit tiresome? Maybe. I think some chapters handled her issues better than others. But it’s clear that this is Sanderson’s Magnum Opus ad I can’t wait until book 4 in a couple years.

PS – Wit/Hoid continues to be amazing and I continue to love the tradition of his final chapter being a commentary on art/storytelling.
#####
Cosmere tropes:

Attempts by the force of good to trap the force of evil – Mistborn Era 1, Honor vs Odium in Stormlight First Pentology

The things the gods represent: passion, bonds, and change. Just like on Mistborn where Creation was not good on its own because some destruction is necessary.

Non-cosmere, but Sanderson: in this book Shallan is seeming a bit like Stephen Leeds.

#####

Some quotes from near the end of the book that didn’t make it into my status updates:

We took Shardblades from the women, he thought, glancing at the one hung on the wall above his desk. And they seized literacy from us. Who got the better deal, I wonder?
##
“It is obscenely difficult—if not impossible—to make something that nobody hates,” Wit continued. “Conversely, it is incredibly easy—if not expected—to make something that nobody loves.”

View all my reviews Nightflyers & Other StoriesNightflyers & Other Stories by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not the first time I’ve read George RR Martin’s science fiction. I’d read a story of his in an issue of Lightspeed magazine; I think the Lightspeed story was a newer story, though. (Also, Wild Cards if you consider that SF) Most, if not all, of the stories in this book were written in the late 70s. They definitely have a classic SF style similar to Asimov or Clarke where the characters have these long philosophical debates about whatever the moral or plot twist of the story is going to be. I enjoy it, but it may not be for everyone.

As it says on the cover, this book consists of the novella of Nightflyers and then some other short stories by GRRM.

Nightflyers: A good, classic SF novella with lots of foreshadowing, red herrings, and suspense. I got this book because next week (2 Dec, I think) the SyFy TV adaptation will be released. I didn’t want to be spoiled on the plot, so I read the book. Should make for a pretty great adaptation as long as they keep the season count low. Martin does a great job at his take on Alien, but written by him. One tiny plot point is a bit regressive sexually. (view spoiler). Describe the story in one phrase: (view spoiler)

Override: a short story on a planet where people control corpses to do manual labor. Skirts a lot of potential metaphorical issues in favor of a wild West story ported to science fiction. What I mean by that is that in other hands, or perhaps even if GRRM had written the story today, there would have been more of a social commentary involved in that. Instead with the wild west we get a fun story that gives you something to think about later.

Weekend in a war zone – a satire of work team building exercises that takes place in a future where people sign up to fight in a war for the weekend. It unfolds so well that even as I kept trying to guess the ending, it wasn’t until a few paragraphs before the end that I could predict it.

And seven times never kill man – while GRRM plants the clue very early on (like first couple paragraphs) the final plot twist was so brilliant. Definitely could be a twilight zone episode. The plot is, at a high level, a space version of the Catholic Missionaries who took over the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s.

Nor the many colored fires – the first one that I didn’t like. Didn’t quite get the point of it. It takes place on a station that studies natural wormholes, but almost nothing of the plot has anything to do with the setting.

A song for Lya – I predicted the ending, but it was still a fun read to see how GRRM would get us there. Humans are making a colony on a planet that had a metropolis before humans stopped being hunter-gatherers, but PLOT TWIST! the humans are somehow more advanced than the aliens. Lots of philosophy about happiness vs unhappiness in tech creation and what human interaction would be like with telepaths.

View all my reviews Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit BossesLegends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses by Robb Walsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have yet to make any of the recipes in this book, although I have added many to my internal wiki where I keep track of recipes I’d like to make and notes on recipes I have made. What makes this book special and warranted the 4 star rating is that it’s a book documenting the past and present of Texas Barbecue. So while my treasured Meathead BBQ book is about the science of cooking, this one doesn’t really guide you to BBQ; it assumes anyone who buys this book is already enough of a BBQ nerd.

It was fascinating to read about all the different cultures that came together to make the types of BBQ you can find in Texas: Mexicans, Germans, Southerners and their slaves, and the cattlemen of the 1870s. It’s also slightly sad to read about all these strains because many of them have disappeared due to various forces like tourists expecting southern style BBQ or the health department regulating away open pit BBQs. And so this book serves as a time capsule and a documentation of the way things have been and currently are in case anyone wants to resurrect a particular style in the future. As someone who’s both a history and a food nerd, it was cool to see how each style of BBQ came from certain needs and constraints. Either the food that was available to a class of people or the food they brought from the home country. Or, in the case of the meat markets, feeding migrant farm workers cheaply.

I’d recommend to any meat-eating Texan, any BBQ geek/nerd, and anyone who likes to know the history of the food they’re cooking. I may add a post script after I make some recipes on the recipes themselves. They definitely are less hand-hold-y than lots of other cookbooks I’ve been reading recently.

View all my reviews The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few reasons Mr. Sanderson should be happy with how I feel about this book: 1) it renews my faith that Eras 3 and 4 will be great 2) I couldn’t keep myself reading only during my lunch break, and 3) I can’t wait to get to the next one. Tackling these one-by-one: I really enjoyed the original Mistborn series. It was my entry into serialized Cosmere after having first read Warbreaker and Elantris. I thought it was very well done and pretty awesome how Sanderson kept overturning our expectations of hero’s journey fantasy. The Scadrial powers worked very well in a world stuck pre-industrialization, but could Sanderson make it work in a world with guns and modernization? And Era 3 is supposed to be a 1980s era Spy Thriller! But Sanderson did well here in a few ways. One, he didn’t nerf guns – even if the bullets aren’t made of aluminum, Coinshots can’t completely deflect them by making a spherical force field. Two, by (as of this first book) eliminating Mistborn (full-allomancers) among the human population, he makes things a little more balanced for our protagonists. Three, by projecting things out 300 years, there have been Terris-non-Terris births (in essence many of our protagonists are what the Lord Ruler feared – twinborn) giving some people access to two sets of powers.

My second point is both a matter of finding the fast pace and the story exciting and the fact that, at less than a third of the size of a Stormlight Archive book, it was something I could reasonably finish. And the third point just means he did a good job with the plot.

Speaking of the plot, while I was able to figure out ahead of time how they’d use Marasi’s power (although not until the melee at the book’s climax), I still didn’t 100% predict the way they’d use it. I thought the plot progress reasonably well. On the one hand, Sanderson didn’t have to explain too much to us about Allomancy, but on the other hand, it was in the context of the Industrial Revolution so there was a lot more going on with society that was new to us; as well as hints about how the religions had evolved since Era 1. The final plot twist of who the villain was is someone I was tempted to consider, although I thought perhaps (view spoiler) for a time.

I thought it was interesting that Wax is about a generation older than most of our protagonists in the Era 1 Mistborn books as well as older than many of the Stormlight characters. I think it wroks well in a few ways. First of all, for the reader it gives us a different perspective on someone with allomantic powers. Second, (also for readers) it gives us someone to identify with as we grow older. Third, it’s probably more and more in line with Sanderson as he continues to grow older himself. I found it played well with who Wax was and how he comported himself throughout the story. I’d love to see more fantasy and SF have older protagonists.

One thing I enjoy about Sanderson’s Cosmere relationships and love triangles is that he doesn’t always go for the easy ship. It puts a bit more realism into the stories vs what tropes will commonly dictate. I was happy with who Shallan chose (as of Stormlight 3) and I was also happy that (as of this book) Wax has chosen (view spoiler)

A few loose ends: what about puppet line in prologue? I thought we were going to end up finding out that Sazed/Harmony was being a little too forceful in prodding things along, but both his explanation to Wax and later from Ironeyes seems to be that’s against his code. Given the way Sanderson writes I expect it to be important for the trilogy.

I missed the chapter introductory sentences from a book or something – loved those in Era 1 and Stormlight Archive. Did really enjoy the newpapers, though.

I love Wayne’s ethical guidelines. And his wordplay. I’m a sucker for puns.

I missed spotting Hoid, I guess.

Ars Arcanum – Feruchemists have the ability to store investiture!?! Some of the metals are useless without mistborn. (like the flaring one)

View all my reviews Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania (Mistborn, #4.5)Allomancer Jak and the Pits of Eltania by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Incredible as it seems, he actually found the location of the Survivor’s Treasure. I take this as proof that Harmony watches over all of us, for only deity could have such a cruel sense of humor as to repeatedly allow a man like Jak to bumble into such remarkable success.”

Sanderson sounds like he had a blast writing in the style of the Victorian Adventurer, full of bluster. Also, it plays really well with the trope of the adventurer and his ethnic sidekick. In this case, a Terris steward who bucks the original trope by being a long-suffering second banana who’s much smarter than his “master”. The only example that comes to mind at the moment (although it isn’t a perfect one) is that of Penny and Inspector Gadget (from the original 80s cartoon).

As far as it goes for the Cosmere, it provides information on what the Koloss are up to in the new version of Scadrial that was created after the end of Mistborn Era 1. It seems to be an improvement over their situation as well as explaining the “Koloss-blooded” humans we were introduced to in The Alloy of Law (Mistborn Era 2 book 1).

If you’re into The Cosmere there’s no reason to skip this story (available either in Arcanum Unbounded or the second Mistborn RPG book). It’s a ton of fun and a chance to see Sanderson write in yet another style.

View all my reviews A Planet for RentA Planet for Rent by Yoss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book I’m rounding up on with the score because I’m not sure I would say it’s amazing (GR’s definition of 5 stars) but I more than just “really liked it”. With that out out of the way…

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that I listen to Escape Pod and listen to/read Clarkesworld Magazine. Both publications have introduced me to international science fiction. What I’ve found to be fascinating is seeing what different cultures do with science fiction. Some of the Asian fiction I’ve read has been indistinguishable from American/British SF. Other stories have been so strangely different in what they project about the future or how they view utopia or dystopia. The same has, of course, happened with continental African SF.

This book is my first Cuban science fiction story. Yoss makes such brilliant use of the form. For those of you who read my reviews often you’ll know that I always say that the point of SF is not predicting the future, but using an alien world (sometimes literally) to explore our present. With A Planet for Rent, Yoss essentially turns all of Earth into Cuba and gets the world to understand the situation by being able to see themselves as a citizen of Earth instead of Team First World vs Team Third World. (Which can get disgusting as described in Trevor Noah’s most recent comedy special in which they take a tour of someone’s home in a third world country) After opening with an ad for a rich alien race to buy Earth, the book alternates between a textbook-like description of various aspects of Earth under the alien regime and short stories. The textbook entries allow Yoss to do a lot of world building without interrupting stories with background information. The short stories allow Yoss to tell a series of self-contained stories that each showcase how the situation affects an individual. However, the reader quickly realizes there is a connecting thread running throughout the short stories, giving them way more punch than they would have on their own. The stories tell of corruption, of a government willing to do anything to keep tourists happy, of a resourcefulness because the citizens are denied technology and medicine that are common on the alien worlds.

It is biting commentary, but it is also great science fiction. I highly recommend it.

View all my reviews Adrift on the Sea of Rains (Apollo Quartet)Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this book in audiobook form as part of a Humble Bundle that had a bunch of other space exploration non-fiction books that I was interested in. The other day I had run out of podcast episodes so I loaded this into my audiobook program.

This is a very short book – probably novella length so it’s difficult to discuss without spoilers, so there will be some minor, unmarked spoilers ahead. The story takes place in an alternate timeline where the USA never stopped exploring the moon after the Apollo Project. In this alternate timeline, a group of men have become trapped on the moon and are trying to figure out how to get back home.

It is an old fashioned SF story that reminds me of the style of the short stories in GRRM’s Nightflyers collection. If the reader is a NASA nerd they’ll probably get a huge kick out of the technical details in the story. For me as someone who just casually follows NASA and was listening to a bunch of acronyms, it could become a little dense. For example, a regular book would have said, “Commander so-and-so pushed the ignition button.” But this book had text like, “Commander so-and-so pushed the BLAND (button lander alternative neutral dummy) button”

The glimpses we get of the world via the story are interesting. And I’m not against reading the rest of the quartet. But after the way this story ends, I’m curious where the author goes from here.

View all my reviews Shadows of Self (Mistborn, #5)Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sequel is so incredibly great compared to the first Wax & Wayne story that it really has me excited for the remaining two books and sad that book 4 was derailed by some non-Cosmere work. Still, today’s State of Sanderson revealed that he intends to complete book 4 next year for a 2020 release. I think what I enjoyed so much about this story is that it was both a great detective story and really pushed me to consider what difficulties Sazed may be having. Indeed, it made me wonder if this difficulty led to the original fracture of Preservation and Ruin.

I guess I’ll start off by tackling the Sazed aka Harmony storyline. I thought it was odd that Tan’s line about being puppets didn’t really have any consequences in The Alloy of Law, so it was great to see that Sanderson not only revisited it – it was the concept around which this entire book revolved. As readers of the first trilogy we knew that, thanks to Hemalurgy, God really was talking to Wax when he meditated with the earing on. But it is in this book that Sazed/Harmony reveals to Wax that he truly does exist and can communicate with his followers. And we learn that it is almost impossibly hard being both Preservation and Ruin. As both in one person he is able to realize the need for each. But where as Preservation and Ruin as separate entities could each focus on their own tasks singularly, it is painful for one being to have to shoulder both responsibilities. In the end, some of the conflict is not unknown to someone familiar with Christian Apologetics. Basically, why does God allow suffering? And the answer winds up being something along the lines of suffering being necessary for some great good. In fact, during one of Sazed’s dialogues, he reveals that he made things TOO perfect for humans, dulling their necessity to invent. This is something I’ve seen touched upon in various SF stories where we create a perfectly efficient society, often with AI, and the humans end up suffering for no longer needing ambition.

Going back to my last sentence in the first paragraph – in Mistborn Era 1 (and the history that led to the Lord Ruler) we learn that Preservation and Ruin were in conflict and were two separate entities. A seemingly throwaway line in the third book has a body materializing when Preservation dies. And we know that Sazed is able to give up his body to become both unified. So a question would be whether originally Preservation and Ruin were one and split because of the terrible situation of being both at once or whether Sazed is unique in Scadrial’s godly history. Of course, we learn of Trell at the end of this book. That would put Scadrial more in line with Roshar where Cultivation exists alongsiside Odium and (I can’t remember the Stormfather’s orignal god’s name right now).

Gong back to the detective story, Sanderson does a great job and does not cut corners here. The pieces are there for the astute reader to pick up and use to solve the puzzle alongside or before Wax. I was proud of myself at guessing the twist that is revealed just before the governor’s speech during the riots. Sanderson had left quite a few clues there. But, as is always the case with the best detective stories, the final reveal was amazing and I didn’t see it coming at all. It works so well to tie the first book into this one and allowed Sanderson to do what he does best with his characters – really put them through the ringer. It’s all I can do to write this review rather than jump right into Bands of Mourning. It’s going to be so hard to wait until 2020 for the conclusion to the story. Speaking of Bands of Mourning, it’s interesting that book got a title drop in this book. The Alloy of Law had its own title drop. But I don’t believe I saw one for Shadows of Self.

I think that brings us to the main and secondary characters. Lord Harms was more or less pointless in this book other than as a red herring. Sterris continued to grow on me. Sanderson already had some of that going on as Sterris made more appearances past her first one in the book, but in this book she really came into her own as someone I could root for. She gained some complexity explaining a bit of why she is how she is and once again showed her usefulness to Wax by making use of her understanding of high society. It also helps that the two of them have come to a sort of truce with each other on his behavior – just like a real couple. Sanderson has Harmony talk to Wax so that Marasi can finally level up out of Wax Fangirl mode. As he and others continue to respect her abilities, she gains confidence and is able to use that confidence to further gain success. Wayne reminded me a lot of Shallan as he used his non-allomantic powers of impersonation. He really becomes the characters and thinks a lot about how their accents say a lot about how they think. Of course, unlike Shallan, he’s not going crazy or suffering from disassociative multiple personalities (made worse by being a Lightweaver). I also liked Wax’s character arc in this book. He starts off quite sure of himself and even a little more emboldened by Sterris’ acceptance of who he is. Yet through his conversations with his grandmother and his uncle (to say nothing of the antagonist’s conversations) he begins to see some doubt. What I appreciate Sanderson doing here is similar in nature to what he does with religion in this series as well as generally across the Cosmere. In a normal Western book (and also in detective novels) we tend to unquestionably root for the vigilante justice. But by removing the western lawman from the western setting and making him more of a Batman-like character, Sanderson prompts us to think about vigilante justice in a democratic system. His arc actually has him wrestling with these ideas.

Finally, I’m pretty sure that in one of the newspaper accounts there was a story that included a perpendicularity – the lady who sees someone scary emerging from a pool.

View all my reviews The Bands of Mourning (Mistborn, #6)The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We are clearly in the second book in a trilogy (which makes sense, because I was informed that Shadows of Self and this one were created as books 1 and 2 in a trilogy that follows after the events of the Alloy of Law). This book teaches us A LOT we didn’t know about, but possibly could have guessed from clues dropped in both eras of Mistborn novels; the Wax/Wayne books, particularly have primed us for the big reveal via the newspaper stories.

Narratively, this book was a bit weaker than Shadows of Self. Our protagonists start off on one mission and are continually distracted from each subsequent distraction. It mostly works, but as the second book in a trilogy we’re left with way more questions than answers at the end. I also saw the twist coming a mile away.

However, this book contains some of the best comedy in the Cosmere. There are numerous examples, but it truly peaks when our group arrives at the hotel in New Seran and proceed to pelt poor Aunt Gin with their madness from Steris’ list of possible tragedies to befall the hotel, to Wayne’s attempts at trading, to MeLaan’s lack of modesty, and Wax destroying the windows to facilitate escape. I could just imagine what a great scene it would be… now I want someone to have created an animated scene of everyone walking in and out of the room while an increasingly befuddled Aunt Gin has to deal with it all.

The characters continued to have good growth. At the end of Shadows I actually enjoyed Steris, her list-making in this book not only makes for great comic relief, but it also makes her a valuable member of the team. I also think that it appears a mind for stats is an inherited trait from their father’s side since both she and Marasi seem to share it. Wayne continued to show growth while still being funny as heck. Also, I loved his rationale at why his relationship with MeLaan was not problematic. MeLaan had the least character growth, but she’s nearly 1000 years old. Marasi continued to move out of Wax’s shadow and be her own person. Wax came to terms with his feelings towards Steris and God. He also continued to mature in his war of pragmatism vs idealism as a law man.

Scadrial-wise we learned so much that I was sad we learned it so late in the story. I think Sanderson has done a very neat thing in having what appears to be a special kind of feruchemy in the south so that it’s not just another Mistborn society. Additionally, there’s an interesting tech mismatch that I think keeps things from being too one-sided in any confrontation. (Bomb, notwithstanding) Additionally, the epilogue throws some of the story we’re told into question. I think a lot of those questions will be resolved in Secret History. We’ll see. I’m excited to almost be caught up with the Cosmere.

Late 2019/early 2020 can’t get here quickly enough with the Wax/Wayne conclusion.

Cosmere tropes:
Long mustaches on Lord Harms and Thaylens in Roshar (actually from Shadows of Self, but forgot to include it in there)

View all my reviews Shadows for Silence in the Forests of HellShadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s a good thing Sanderson spoke of the way the magic system works on Threnody because I don’t think I would have realized, based only on this story, how magic worked. At any rate it was a great, great short story. It contained good twists, protagonists who were not all protected by plot armor, great villains, and more. It also hinted at a whole society beyond which I’m sure Sanderson intends to explore in the future. A great way to end my 2018 journey through the Cosmere.

View all my reviews Cook's Illustrated Magazine 2018Cook’s Illustrated Magazine 2018 by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, a solid set of magazine issues from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. I’ve already cooked a few recipes and some of them have been huge hits – such as a brussels sprouts recipe that everyone loved at this year’s Christmas party. Other have been incredibly tasty even if they only debuted among our family members. While not as organized around a particular topic as their books are, it’s a solid arrangement of recipes roughly tailored to the season in which any particular issue was released.

View all my reviews

Reviews: Muffins & Biscuits: 50 Recipes to Start Your Day with a Smile; Storm Front; Skin Deep; The Vital Abyss; The Marshal’s Lover; Dinner Illustrated: 175 Meals Ready in 1 Hour or Less; The World’s Most Dangerous Geek: And More True Hacking Stories

Muffins & Biscuits: 50 Recipes to Start Your Day with a SmileMuffins & Biscuits: 50 Recipes to Start Your Day with a Smile by Heidi Gibson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Written by the owner of a bakery, this book has relatively easy-to-follow recipes and beautiful photos of the muffins and biscuits. I’ve made one biscuit recipe in here and it’s already a staple of our weekend big breakfasts. Many recipes end with instructions for variants you could make from the base recipe. If you’re looking to expand your muffin and biscuit repertoire, this book is worth having.

View all my reviews Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)Storm Front by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book serves as a great introduction to Harry Dresden and the world he occupies. The prose follows the usual tropes of the pulp fiction hard-boiled detective noir updated with 2000s sensibilities and magic. As I mentioned in a status update and a topic on the Sword and Laser community here on Goodreads, Harry shares a trope with the protagonist of Angel’s Ink in that he’s a Wizard who’s been thrown out of the Wizarding community and has a magic probation officer waiting for him to step out of line. Unlike the main character of that other book, Harry is out of the closet (so to speak) about being a Wizard and is actually on retainer to the Chicago Police Department to work on mysterious cases.

Like any good noir detective novel, how good you are at predicting the twists depends on how familiar you are with the tropes. I’d say I figured out about half the twists and clues and was fairly surprised on the others. Somewhere (maybe a blurb when I was buying the book) compared the writing to Buffy and I’d say that is a fairly good assessment; although, it’s Buffy without a censor. There’s profanity (not too ridiculous to me and I think the people who are most against it probably wouldn’t like a book with occult things going on) and some sexual content although it’s all walked around – if you know what they’re talking about you’re old enough/mature enough to be reading that.

View all my reviews Skin Deep (Legion, #2)Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I mentioned in a status update, Sanderson gives the story twice as much room to breathe compared to the first story and it works a lot better. The mystery doesn’t seem as abrupt and things work out a lot better. The twist that gets him out of a pickle late in the story also caused me to literally laugh out loud. Luckily, no one was around to stare at me.

This time Sanderson moves from a more paranormal type of plot to more of a science fiction premise. It works a little better for me that it’s a bit more in the realm of possibility. Sanderson also plays with Leeds’ fame (or infamy) more in this story and leads to some fun results. The book is also filled with some more interesting characters.

There isn’t too much more to say when a story is only 129 pages unless one wants to spoil. While I prefer Sanderson’s Cosmere, I think these work well to showcase Sanderson’s storytelling in the “real world”.

View all my reviews The Vital Abyss (The Expanse, #5.5)The Vital Abyss by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

James SA Corey use this novella to explore both the present circumstances and the history of the scientists who worked on the protomolecule for Protogen. The narrative is very compelling – alternating between a desperate prison narrative and a biography of one of the scientists – Dr. Cortazar.

The story was very good at alternating between the present and past at just the right moment to create a tension to want to continue the story from page to page.

From the first novel we already knew that the scientist who set up the experiment on Eros had to be acting without empathy in order to be SO dedicated to science that they would experiment on humans. There were clearly meant to be parallels to Nazi scientists and other times throughout history that scientists have ignored human suffering. (view spoiler)

View all my reviews The Marshal's Lover (Numinous World, #6)The Marshal’s Lover by Jo Graham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I guess I’d forgotten reading at the end of the other book that this was more than historical fiction – it’s based on the memoirs of the real Madame St. Elme. That makes the story yet another example of how real life is full of exceptions to the rules we know that govern gender relations in the past.

This book was, once again, full of war, espionage, and sexy times. This is definitely not a book for your younger, less mature readers. I found it to have very uneven pacing. I enjoyed most chapters on their own, but sometimes they had lots of great action and sometimes they were simply contemplative. I guess because this is a long saga and because it’s based on historical events, there wasn’t any real resolution and I think that contributed to the uneven nature of the narrative. It is because I enjoyed the individual chapters that I didn’t give this book a lower rating.

But what about you, reader who has come to this review on Goodreads or my blog, is this a good book for you to read? I’d say that depends. If you like historical fiction, 1800s France, well-written sex scenes, spiritual magic, and spy thrillers – you will probably like it. Also, you’ll probably like it a lot more if you intend to read the entire series.

View all my reviews Dinner Illustrated: 175 Meals Ready in 1 Hour or LessDinner Illustrated: 175 Meals Ready in 1 Hour or Less by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again America’s Test Kitchen knocks it out of the park. I’ve already made a few recipes from this book and they’ve been hits with the wife and kids. I bought the book because most nights can’t take the 2+ hours that, say, America’s Test Kitchen Beef Enchiladas takes. This book claims that they tested with home cooks to make sure their times for the recipes were accurate. So far, they’ve been pretty darned accurate for me. Almost taking exactly 45 minutes or 1 hour. The photos and the way they’ve structured the book really helps. They tell you when to prep ingredients while others cook. That saves me 5-10 minutes of trying to figure that out on my own as well as the mental energy that sometimes isn’t there and that I think prevents a lot of people from cooking on a regular basis. The book claims to be “A meal kit in book form” and I think it meets that goal very well. I also bought Milk Street Tuesday night for the same purpose with a slightly different goal. While this book is pretty international in its recipes, it’s definitely more all-American. MS Tuesday Night is, on the other hand, very focused on international recipes and flavors. Depending on your kids and their open-ness to strongly spiced meals, I’d say Dinner Illustrated is probably the more family-friendly of the two. (But I’ve only begun to read through MS TN)

View all my reviews The World's Most Dangerous Geek: And More True Hacking StoriesThe World’s Most Dangerous Geek: And More True Hacking Stories by David Kushner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this book in the form of an audiobook from Humble Bundle a while ago. It’s a collection of essays by David Kushner about tech issues. A lot of it revolves around people who have some sort of connection to Anonymous. Some of these articles – like the one about Anonymous and Steubenbille and the wheelchair riding guy who was turning on webcams – I read back when they were first published. The essays are roughly in chronological order and I thought it was interesting to see how the intersection of technology, crime, and life changed throughout the years. There were also a few stories that had overlap with each other and that was also interesting to see. There was one essay – the one about the Caucasian guy who ended up in the Triads – that I’d love to see made into a a “based on a true story” movie.

Overall, it was an enjoyable collection of essays and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in “hacking” in the more colloquial sense of breaking into computing devices.

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Reviews: The Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about Japan; Cibola Burn; Edgedancer; Sixth of the Dusk; The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone; The Churn; Altered America: Steampunk Stories; Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games; Nemesis Games; Legion

The Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about JapanThe Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about Japan by Masumi Washington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another anthology. As usual, I’ve included my status updates with some spelling fixes. Overall it was a very uneven collection in terms of what I enjoyed. The stories all seemed to run hot or cold for me with nothing lukewarm.

Mono no Aware – a story about a generation ship, identity, and the world just before the end. I think I heard this on Clarkesworld Magazine’s podcast. It was still moving to read because I had forgotten the details.

The sound of breaking up – this story takes a sharp right angle. WOW. Where will it end up….great ending to that time travel story

Chitai… – I have no idea what that ending meant

The indiference engine – a haunting tale of NGOs doing what they think is best regardless of the info on the ground. The SF aspects really bring the message home

Sea of trees -a scary ghost story that takes place in a suicide forest in Japan

Endoastronomy – boy do I hate that story. I have no idea what the eff was going on and it didn’t even have an explanatory punchline.

In Plain Site – having tons of fun with this detective story – way more than the previous one. Didn’t like the ending, but leading up to it was fun

Golden Bread – A pilot accidentally crash-lands onto an asteroid. Interesting that the author has switched the cultures of the people involved in the story relative to how it is now. Finally, all the incongruity makes sense with the final reveal

One breath, one stroke – a lovely, whimsical tale of a house on the boundary between the human and non-human world. Great prose.

Whale Meat – it’s a touching story of an estranged father and daughter, but I’m not sure how it fits with the overall SF/fatasy theme of the book.

Mountain people, ocean people” – interesting twist to the story. Very ambiguous ending

Goddess of Mercy – this story seems horrifically more likely now than it did when written. the journalist had a strange was of speaking. But the story wound up pretty neat, even if it had the non-ending they many of the duties in this anthology do.

Autogenic Dreaming – a strange story that reminds me somewhat of that Jasper Fforde series. So it’s about Google under a different name. Still not sure I 100% understand what’s going on.

View all my reviews Cibola Burn (The Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this one more than the last one, but I think it’s simply because this one had POV characters that I liked more. It had a lot more Holden, who has actually learned a thing or two over the course of the last three books. It had Havelock who we hadn’t seen since Miller sent him off of Ceres before things went SNAFU there. And we had Elvi, who was a fun, nerdy character. And, while the plot of book 3 made a lot of sense – why wouldn’t Mao family members take revenge on Holden? In the real world, people who caused the financial crisis didn’t understand why people hated them. So why wouldn’t the Mao family see themselves as victims? – it just felt like maybe it should have been a novella because a lot of the climax for that book was stalled. This one had a much better flow with lots of peaks and valleys in the story. The heroes would succeed only to find another setback, ad nauseum, but realistically considering what they were doing – colonizing a new planet. I was also happy we advanced the alien storyline a bit more. I also thought a return to a sociopathic antagonist just seems to work so well against Holden.

But the capper – the thing that almost had me give this four stars (too bad there aren’t half-stars), was the epilogue. James S.A. Corey are very good about following the consequences – economic and political – of the events in their books. So the bookending of the book with Bobbie and having Christjen tell her just how screwed humanity has become was chilling. I’m antsy to get to the next book, but I’m taking a break to read some of the books that I’ve bought over the years via bundles and sales. Also, I’m already spending a lot to get caught up to Sanderson’s Cosmere, so I’m trying to spread out my book expenditures a bit.

View all my reviews Edgedancer (The Stormlight Archive, #2.5)Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Throughout the course of the interludes in the main series, I’ve grown to really enjoy Lift. This whole novella reads like some crazy anime. Her interaction with Wyndle also reminds me of my favorite Cosmere pairing of Lightsong and Llarimar. There’s something about the long-suffering buddy that is just so much fun to read. Sanderson imbues his cities with rich cultures so it was fun to see this city, made up of open-air tunnels and people who love trading for information.

Worth reading? Well, in addition to Life or if (as one of my employees who’s reading the Cosmere says) you don’t like Lift, it does forward the stories of Nalan, Szeth, and Nightblade.

Also, this is why Lift is so much fun:
“… [Lift] summoned Wyndle in the shape of a large, shimmering, silvery fork. A Shardfork, if you would.”

View all my reviews Sixth of the DuskSixth of the Dusk by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ll start by saying that I can’t decide if The Ones Above are people from Scadrial in Mistborn Era 4 (space-faring), people like Hoid (however they get around), or (view spoiler).

It’s interesting that I ended up reading this story and The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone at the same time. They both take place during the Victorian Era of exploration where people with technology exploit those without. While The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone is from the usual European perspective (although Ms Trafalger is a nice exception), this book is from the perspective of the less technological culture. Sixth (we learn part-way through the book the title is the name of the main character) is of that less technological culture. However, this is not a first contact story. The main conflict comes from the fact that his way of life is slowly becoming irrelevant as many in his Island chain adopt the new tech and culture. Indeed, contributing to the complexity is the fact that even Sixth has adopted some of the tech where it helps him do his job.

What elevates this story is Sanderson’s ability to create these complex narratives that transcend the usual tropes. Indeed there is a fractal story going on with The Ones Above and the planet that parallels the hegemonic culture and Sixth’s. That and the way that Sanderson thinks up super power for his characters and then finds ways for them to be limited and allow for tension to arise in the story. Let’s just say, there’s a reason for the horrific image that opens up this short story.

View all my reviews The Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady BooneThe Virtuous Feats of the Indomitable Miss Trafalgar and the Erudite Lady Boone by Geonn Cannon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What if Indiana Jones was a woman? And British? And gay? Then you’d have Lady Boone. This book sets up an interesting world in the inter-war period (like Indie) although with more fantastical elements like the Uncharted series. I got this book on Story Bundle’s Historical Fantasy Bundle, so I had no idea what to expect. That said, I do enjoy the Victorian Era as a setting and Mr. Cannon creates some pretty compelling characters.

If I have to criticize the book, it’s that it seems like an intentional introduction to a series. It’s heavy on setup and character introductions, but the actual climax and resolution are somewhat disappointing for the setup involved. I have the second book in the series and I’m hoping that with all the setup out of the way, the next book has a more realized plot.

Also, before I get into the spoilers as I discuss what I enjoyed about the characters (saving the rating of this book), I’ll warn for the prudish and/or those considering whether the young ones should be allowed access to the book – there is a sex scene early in the book. It’s get explicit, naming body parts and all that. The rest of the book is actually almost strangely sexless considering that scene early on. Perhaps that’s the reason Lady Boone ends up with her period. Because I found myself wondering early on whether it was Chekov’s Menstruation. On the one hand, good for recognizing something half the population deals with for 1/4 of their life (give or take). On the other hand, 100% of the population pees and poops and we almost never hear of it in books unless it’s important to the plot – eg in Game of Thrones Arya has to pee in the woods while pretending to be a boy. Shoot, even in the last book currently published from A Song of Ice and Fire it’s very important that Dany is having her period for the first time since she was cursed during the ritual to keep Khal Drogo alive results in her abortion. But Lady Boone’s period never matters. Unless it’s meant to be a reason to refrain from future sex in the book? Dunno…

Anyway, spoiler-time! The characters I really enjoyed:
(view spoiler)

View all my reviews The Churn (The Expanse, #0.2)The Churn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don’t read this until after Cibola Burn or at least Abaddon’s Gate if you want the full effect.

Because this is a novella and because what makes it work is spoilery, almost this entire review will be a spoiler. But before I get to that part:

The Churn offers us a view of Earth on Basic. It is bleak. This was not really directly mentioned during Bobby’s time on Earth during Caliban’s WarCaliban’s War, but it was mentioned by James S.A. Corey during an interview they did for Imaginary Worlds in which they discussed the unrealistic post-scarcity economy of Star Trek. It takes place near me – I’m about 15 minutes out of Baltimore so it was neat to recognize some of the landmarks. It is also a mafia story. That’s one place where The Expanse excels and must be so much fun for James S.A. Corey to write. Each novel is a different genre, but in space and with more advanced tech.

Book 1: Crime Novel/Corporate Thriller
Book 2: Space War
Book 3: First Contact/Revenge Story
Book 4: Colonization

OK, Spoiler time!

(view spoiler)

View all my reviews Altered America: Steampunk StoriesAltered America: Steampunk Stories by Cat Rambo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A reminder that I use the Goodreads definitions of star values and, at the time of writing this, 3 stars is “liked it”.

While I can enjoy a smorgasbord approach to a short story collection, I really appreciate that nearly all the stories in this collection take place in a shared universe. I think Ms. Rambo is a very talented crafter of environments and she creates great premises for her stories. I also like that the stories in this collection explore some characters that are somewhat rare in SFF (although getting more exposure with every passing day) like non-whites, trans folks, and others on the LGBT spectrum. Also, I know steampunk in America is definitely a thing, but I’ve been exposed to so much more British and European steampunk so it was fun to see some American stories.

My only criticism is that many of the stories end somewhat abruptly as though Ms. Rambo suddenly realized she had a character or page limit. After a lot of great build-up, it can just feel like the climax comes and is gone a little too fast. I’d like to read one of her long-form books to see if she fares better there or is afflicted by the same ailment that plagued many of Neal Stephenson‘s early work.

As I do with anthologies, here’s a slightly edited version of my status updates:

“Clockwork Fairies” – While it’s period-accurate, it’s crazy that our main POV character (so far) is attracted to a tinkerer, but at the same time is scared of her holding sufragist and scientific thoughts! Also, bravo on Cat making the heroine mixed race. Ultimately, not just an introduction to Ms Rambo’s steampunk fairy world, but also a great look at gender and race in the Victorian era. It’s crazy how much autonomy single women gave up on marriage back then.

“Rare Pears and Greengages” – This one is much more fairy than Steampunk. I feel like, as usual, it’s assumed that everyone understands how faerie stuff works. Over the past couple years I’ve picked up enough to know it’s probably bad that people are eating fairy fruit and to understand about changelings. But I don’t get the tears thing. I feel like I’m missing so much in this. In the end it’s a story of mothers and how hard it can be to deal with tragedy when you’re a mother.

“Memphis BBQ” – This is a REALLY fun story to read; my favorite story so far. Great tone and the suitor is awesome instead of a jerk. Love to read more from this universe.

“Laurel Laurel where do you roam?” – a tale of a train trip with the background of how Lincoln won the Civil War with necromancers”

“Snakes on a Train” – Another Baltimore to Seattle train trip with a necromancer. This time bodyguards are a Jewish mind-reader and an automaton. I surprised by the ending. Good job, Rambo

“Doctor Rapacini’s Crow” – scary story about how the war injured are turned into cyborgs and sent back to war until their bodies or minds are too broken to go on. The trans reveal makes sense with the time period. One of my undergrad electives studied this phenomenon and it was actually quite common back before SSNs.

“Her Windowed Eyes, Her Windowed Heart” – back to Artemus the automaton and his partner, Elspeth the psychic. This time the story is from his point of view. Neat ending. I want a longform Pinkerton story.

“web of blood and iron” – very fun caper involving betting with vampires, but I’m not sure I enjoyed the ending

“Ticktock Girl” – a neat combo of steampunk and superhero genre during the suffragette era.”

“Seven Angels…Pin” – the best retelling of Sleeping Beauty I’ve ever read.”

View all my reviews Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video GamesDungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games by David L. Craddock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this book as part of a Humble Bundle. I chose to listen to it because Dan (one of my younger brothers) had roped me into Rogue-likes via FTL and Spelunky! The book was a fun, quick read of the history of these games. Two things were fascinating to me about the events of the book. One is remembering how primitive early computers were and how long it took them to get anywhere close to modern. This, of course, led to creativity in how to create games when disk space, RAM, or processing power were extremely limited. What was more fascinating to me was to see that the legacy of Rogue, Rogue-likes, and Rogue-like-likes was not just in modern games like Vertical Drop Hero, Diablo, FTL, and Spelunky! Lots of these games are still actively developed! While my fondness for many of the modern Rogue-likes demonstrates that I’m not a slave to graphics or music, it was interesting to read that as late as 2012 there were people actively developing (and playing) the original games developed in the 70s and 80s – or at least the most recent releases of those old games.

View all my reviews Nemesis Games (The Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in The Expanse that doesn’t end neatly. At the end, there’s still A LOT that’s unresolved. In some ways, this book is about the non-Holden Rocinante crew getting their own POV chapters. Along with that, we get a little more insight into their pasts and how they think. But, really, this book is about Naomi. She’s always been (to me) the most enigmatic member of the Rocinante and I feel as though the information we learn about her past goes a long way towards explaining a lot of that and some of her actions with and towards Jim Holden.

The book also left me divided in my opinions about it. On the one hand, this is the best suspenseful writing thus far for James S.A. Corey. Starting somewhere around 30 or 40ish percent I didn’t want to stop reading. Starting somewhere around 50% the book just kept spinning to an ever higher climax. And that was a lot of fun. But as the middle book of the series, Corey was done finally having the Roci’s missions tie up into a neat bow. This book felt more the way the second book in a trilogy often feels. The battle was concluded, but the war remains. (Both literally and figuratively)

As usual I appreciated Corey’s ability to deconstruct and reconstruct tropes. Naomi’s is a very well-worn trope about returning to something you thought you left behind forever. But Corey strikes a nice balance in which (view spoiler)

As intrigued as I am to continue and spoiled in that nearly the entire series is out and I don’t have to wait that much – I’m going to take a short break from the world of The Expanse to decompress.

View all my reviews Legion (Legion, #1)Legion by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was too short to talk about while avoiding spoilers. So consider yourself warned – and I’ve triggered Goodreads’ “Hide Entire review because of spoilers”.

This is the first non-Cosmere Brandon Sanderson book I’ve read and it’s interesting. He builds up an interesting character in Stephen Leeds – a character that seems to be insane. And yet, his different personalities each provide him with different skills. I’m not too familiar with Marvel’s Legion (Prof X’s son who shares a similar name and a somewhat similar set of powers), but it’s too bad it already has a show because this character (Leeds) seems like he would lend himself to a weekly crime procedural.

Like a traditional noir pulp story, the clues are all there, but the twist at the end – it’s the flash, not the camera – was still done well enough that while I didn’t predict it, it didn’t seem to come out of nowhere.

It’s interesting that Sanderson has set this character in a short story trilogy (how common is that idea?) and I’ll be curious to see what we learn about Legion and his powers as we go through the trilogy.

I’ve got the next one already and the last one comes out later this year. Not too much more to say here, but maybe as the trilogy progresses I’ll have more to say.

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