Book review: “Galápagos”, Kurt Vonnegut

I hate to give a Kurt Vonnegut novel two stars, but I seriously considered giving up on this one. Douglas Adams was a big fan of Vonnegut, and here the favor is returned as Vonnegut attempts to write an entire novel in the style of Douglas Adams — or at least, a mutant crossbreed of Vonnegut and Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide is replaced by the Mandarax pocket computer; the omniscient narrator point of view is provided by a ghost; and characters’ deaths are signaled in advance in the manner of the Magrathea attacks.

Amazon vs Hachette, part 94

Amazon recently published a post about their Kindle pricing, which John Scalzi has some disagreements with. There’s one particular disagreement that leaped out at me, though: Amazon’s math of “you will sell 1.74 times as many books at $9.99 than at $14.99″ is also suspect, because it appears to come with the ground assumption that books are interchangable units of entertainment, each equally as salable as the next, and that pricing is the only thing consumers react to.

Macmillan vs Amazon, Round One

According to Huffington Post, after the iPad launch Walter Mossberg cornered Steve Jobs to ask a pertinent question: Mossberg asks why users would want to shell out $14.99 for an ebook on the iPad, when they can buy ebooks for Amazon’s Kindle for $9.99. Steve Jobs’ retort: ‘Well, that won’t be the case.’ Mossberg presses him on whether that means Apple’s prices will go down, or Amazon’s will go up, to which Jobs offers a cryptic, non-committal, ‘The prices will be the same.

Borewell diaries

I was enthusiastic when the Orwell Diaries project started. It was a great idea–repost George Orwell’s diaries as if he was posting them live to the web through a 70 year time warp. Today, I finally unsubscribed. The main thing I’ve learned is that George Orwell was an incredibly boring diarist, mostly concerned with detailing what the weather was like that day, and how many eggs his chickens had laid.

Ender’s Game

A few weeks ago I read “Ender’s Game”. I think Orson Scott Card is a pretty loathesome individual, but it’s one of those SF novels everyone references, so I thought I ought to read it.

To my surprise, I discovered that the novel is full of homoerotic subtexts. Well, actually, sometimes they’re surface texts: The horrible alien creatures menacing earth are called “buggers”; the young boys trained to fight them sleep naked together in group dormitories; there’s a soaped-up wrestling match in the showers; and in one particularly touching scene, one boy gives another boy a forbidden kiss. Oh, and the teenage boys show practically no interest in girls.

Given that Card is infamously homophobic and against same-sex marriage, I’m going to guess that it’s all unintentional, and that in his case homophobia indicates what it usually does: repressed same-sex desire. It’s almost enough to make me feel sorry for him–but not quite.

As to the literary merits of the novel, I wish they had been more evident. The dialog is simply absurd. He tries to head off the criticism in the introduction, but I’m not buying it. No child speaks like the kids in “Ender’s Game”; not even a child prodigy.

[Spoilers follow]

15 books in 15 minutes

There’s a meme going around: in 15 minutes, come up with a list of 15 books that “will always stick with you”. Since lists on their own aren’t all that interesting, I’ve added some notes about why I’ve chosen these books. “The Man Who Folded Himself”, David Gerrold. One of the great SF time travel novels. Take one ordinary guy, a time machine, and the many-worlds hypothesis, and watch everything go completely nuts.

Book: “The Status Civilization”, Robert Sheckley

If you’re a Douglas Adams fan, Robert Sheckley is probably a good bet. He wrote mostly SF with a satirical comedy bent, and was widely acclaimed for it. I’ve found a few of his novels disappointing–“Options“, for example, seems to fall apart part-way through and meander around. “The Status Civilization“, though, is excellent. It does have a few visible seams from its original publication in magazine serial form, but they don’t detract too much from the story.

A rare excursion into memetic propagation

Ten books on my bookshelf which almost certainly aren’t on yours. “Threaded Interpretive Languages” by Loeliger. Describes how to build FORTH systems. Published by Byte back when FORTH was mainstream. (Why, yes, I am that old.) A.R.T.H.U.R. by Lawrence Lerner. Poetry from an imaginary AI. Much better than RACTER. “The Third Word War: Apostrophe Theory” by Ian Lee. Starts off as a catalog of grocers’ apostropes, mutates into a collection of photographic meta-references and arch puns.


Dear Amazon, You’re so almost there with your new Kindle e-book. There are just a few minor details you need to fix to get me on board. First of all, you need Mac support, and preferably Linux support as well, both for content creation and for reading books. There’s really no excuse for not having reader support, as you have a working Mobipocket reader in Java that will run on Mac and Linux, you just haven’t taken the time to package it up properly.

Life imitates Philip K. Dick

Washington Post: Finally it was down to one leg. Still, it pulled itself forward. Tilden was ecstatic. The machine was working splendidly. The human in command of the exercise, however—an Army colonel —blew a fuse. The colonel ordered the test stopped. “Why?” asked Tilden. “What’s wrong?” The colonel just could not stand the pathos of watching the burned, scarred and crippled machine drag itself forward on its last leg. c.f. Second Variety.