Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

October 22nd, 2007 at 10:44 pm

Widdershins by Charles de Lint

man and woman floating in the air flanking the oddly-twisted steeple of a churchLargely a sequel to The Onion Girl, but this one doesn’t start with Jilly Coppercorn. Instead, the entry to the story is when fiddler Lizzie Mahone, her car broken down at a lonely crossroads, disrupts a bit of rogue unseelie business making friends and enemies in the process. When the second fiddle player in Lizzie’s band is injured, the band calls Geordie Riddell to fill in and Jilly comes along for the ride. Mayhem ensues when Jilly and Lizzie both disappear in the night and the folks left behind have to try to find them and bring them back.

Widdershins is shaped very much like other de Lint books with a quick jump into a mystically complicated plot followed by a layered array of different groups working their way out of the mess from different directions. It’s an effective pattern allowing lots of character development and suspense as the groups all have to work with the information and personalities they have and as you read you can see where they’re headed for potential disaster or can wonder how the heck they’re going to connect in the end.

The book is a little bit more of a soap opera plot than usual with the eternally evaded romantic tension between Jilly and Geordie seeming like maybe it will finally be resolved, but it’s not at all clear in the course of the book which way it might go.

October 20th, 2007 at 12:36 am

Neighborhood watch

Cat curled in a fuzzy ring surveying his domain

October 14th, 2007 at 3:22 pm

Dreaming In Code by Scott Rosenberg

open laptop floating in a fogIn 2002, Mitch Kapor founded a new company to build a personal information management software product called Chandler. Rosenberg’s book uses Kapor’s company as an entryway into the big questions about software: why does it take so long? why is it so hard to make it good?

The book is one part history of software engineering and one part case study with a sprinkling of speculation about what the future holds. The case study turns out to be an excellent example because Chandler’s genesis falls somewhere on the less-auspicious end of typical. By the end of the book (published in 2007), Kapor’s team still hadn’t shipped a usable product, but they were still plugging away. At the beginning of October, a month after I finished reading the book, the team announced a “Preview” release that still isn’t a 1.0.

Rosenberg does a nice job on the history, talking about all aspects of development from architecture to UI design to people management. What comes out is that the advancements in the software art just don’t progress at the rate we might wish. While improvements in computer hardware design have allowed finished software to run ever more quickly, the creation of the software itself is still a laborious manual process. And there’s nothing on the horizon that looks likely to change that fact.

October 14th, 2007 at 2:57 pm

Penny Arcade 1 & 2 by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik

two guys being chased by robots with baconguys in armor with big swordsAttack of the Bacon Robots and Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings are the subtitles of these first two collections of the uber gaming geek web comic Penny Arcade. Each comic is accompanied by a bit of explanatory text to help make sense of the inspiration for that strip. This is an extremely useful feature! I frequently can’t make head or tails of the strips when they first appear. I’m not sufficiently steeped in gaming culture to get their references. Sometimes I’ll catch up with the references a day or a week later and the light will go on “oh, so that’s what that was all about.” I keep reading them because when I can make sense of the joke it’s usually very funny indeed.

October 14th, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

shooting star seen through a hole in a stone wallPicked this up for a reread after seeing the recent film version. This is one of Gaiman’s stream of consciousness books. It reads like he started in to writing one day with a vague idea of where the story would end up and inserted amusing or surprising events until the book was thick enough. Of course Gaiman is a good enough wordsmith to make the resulting book pleasant to read in spite of the potential for calamity in such an approach. Not a masterpiece, but an amusing diversion.

October 12th, 2007 at 11:52 pm

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