Short Book Review: The Magician King

I generally enjoyed Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. I was less impressed with the sequel, The Magician King. While The Magicians seemed largely about how magical fantasy worlds are no real escape from the harsh truths of reality, The Magician King simply seemed needlessly brutal to me. If you’re inclined to skip reading things that get introduced with the term “trigger warning,” then give this one a pass.

Lynd Ward’s Wordless Novels

Boing Boing brings word that the Library of America is offering a slip-cased, two-volume set of Lynd Ward’s Depression-era woodcut novels, edited by Art Spiegelman. The whole set is $70, but is a total steal at Amazon for over $30 as of now (for pre-orders).

I have a couple of the books collected in this series, and I can attest that they are stunning and excellent. I have been waiting for years for a collection like this, to see the images on fine paper and in a lovingly curated collection. Perhaps there’s something more “authentic” about seeing Depression-era stories told on the cheap, used, newsprinty-paper copies I have, but honestly, Ward’s work deserves the premium treatment.

These works were really influential for a lot of comic book artists (including Spiegelman, I’m guessing), and to me while I was first getting into my studies of visual storytelling and design. I had been counting the years until this material goes into the public domain (in a good long time), hoping that I’d be able to put together my own collection sometime, but I’m very happy that much more qualified people beat me to it years in advance.

Short Book Review: The Magicians

Lev Grossman’s urban fantasy novel The Magicians starts off reading like a self-aware, toughened-up blend of Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia. It ends up being a character study of a nerdy guy who likely reads as disturbingly familiar to a decent portion of the intended readership, and a metaphor for the existential dilemmas of the intellectual elite. It also contains the line, “Look, who’s the talking Bear here? … Is it you? Are you the talking fucking bear? All right. So shut the fuck up.” Despite the odd scene of animal sex here and there, I believe this warrants my endorsement.

The Year in Numbers

Or, a random assortment of things that I can quantify, though perhaps not 100% accurately.

12 Number of flights taken
411 Number of bylined Macworld articles I wrote
32 Number of [books I read](http://writeology.tumblr.com/tagged/book/)
3 Number of books I read that were graphic novels
45 Number of movies I watched
37 Number of *new* movies I watched
2 Number of Dungeons & Dragons adventures completed as DM
5 Number of Xbox 360 games purchased
4 Number of above games completed (for reasonable definitions of completed)
50,574 Number of words written [for NaNoWriMo](http://doombot.com/2009/12/03/five-writes-dont-make-a-wrong/)
84,508 Number of words written in non-NaNoWriMo novel
1,089 Number of [photos taken](http://www.flickr.com/photos/dmoren/) (not including iPhone)
1 Number of [spoof movies](http://fireball-the-movie.com/) produced
10 Number of [Doomcast](http://doombot.com/category/doomcast/) episodes released
2:55:17 Length of total Doomcast episodes

Five writes don’t make a wrong

nano_09_winner_100x100.pngWell. That’s over with then.

It’s December 2nd, and if you’ve ever met me, you know what that means: I’m in the throes of the post-National Novel Writing Month hangover, trying to find something to fill the now gaping void previously occupied by furiously concocting new ways to torture my characters.

In the preceding thirty days of November, I produced a 50,000 word piece of fiction which, I’m going to be honest, nobody will ever likely see. That’s by choice though; like a dented can of soup past its expiration date, I would not wish it on my next-to-worst enemy. Worst enemy? Totally.

I also think this will be my last year of NaNoWriMo.*

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And a merry Day of the Tesla to you, too

If you opened up Google today, you may have noticed the header background, indicating that it’s the birthday of noted Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla.

As we here at Doombot have long celebrated Day of the Tesla, we thought you, the readers, might enjoy partaking in some of the more time-honored festivities of this highest of holidays. As always, we perform the ceremony of failing to electrocute an elephant with alternating current (we use symbolic plush toy elephants, of course—this is no diabolical, hedonistic Edisonstravaganza), followed by the traditional viewing of Tesla biopic The Prestige.

Finally, the evening is concluded with a live reading of our award-winning* children’s book, Tesla and His Pigeon: A Children’s Story of Love and Loss in the Electric Age, based on Tesla’s relationship with his favorite creature.

teslaandhipigeon

Afterwords, the kids are sent to bed with the reminder that the spirit of Tesla won’t appear to deposit Serbian dinars bearing his likeness unless they are fast asleep.

If this is your first time celebrating Day of the Tesla, you might also wish to partake of these classic episodes of our podcast adventures, The Scrimshaw Meme and TMYK, in which we pay homage to Tesla through the deepest respect of humor.

Finally, the most devoted of Tesla followers undertake—at least once in their lifetime—a trip to the laboratory of the man himself, Wardenclyffe Tower, where the prescient inventor intended to pioneer the field of wireless communication, were he not dastardly foiled by the dark lord Edison.

And so we wish you a happy Day of the Tesla, and to you and your kin, we say: may the eternal peace ray shine down upon you.

* Tesla and His Pigeon was the recipient of the 2006 award for Most Promising New Children’s Book Involving a Historical Inventor of Serbian Descent, by the National Association of Serbian Inventors Whose Initials are “N. T.”. It was also on the short-list for the Newberry Award in the same year, though it was narrowly beat out by Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow

Sigh-Fi: Seeking Less Boring Books

Once upon a time, I asked you goodly people to recommend some science-fiction books to me to read. And so you did! And there was a nice little conversation about science-fiction (and fantasy) books in the comments.

Well, I read some of those books, and didn’t read some others, and I read some other books that I saw listed on “science-fiction novels that are super awesome” kinds of lists. I didn’t bother writing “short reviews” for most of them here because most of them bored me, but I’d like to get an updated picture of what sci-fi is supposed to be worth reading, and Amazon’s recommendation system turns out to be kind of sucky. So, I thought I might check back in to let you know how my recent reading has gone, and see if you have any other novels you’d recommend to me, to each other, or to the world in general. I also welcome you to use this opportunity to tell me I have crappy taste in literature, as I suspect that is what many of you may feel after reading this post.


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The Classics Treatment

Perhaps you’ve already seen one of the various links to (and blog posts about) Olly Moss‘s video game covers redesigned in the style of Penguin Classics book covers (link via Offworld), or the similar series inspired by this effort over at Something Awful (link via Kotaku), or M.S. Corley Harry Potter redesigns (which I can only assume were also directly inspired by these efforts; link via undrln). I wanted to keep track of these images myself, though, so I’m blogging them yet again right here.

My first reaction to the game covers was, I wish game covers really looked like this. Upon further reflection, though, I realized how misleading that would be. These look great—but by and large, they’re aesthetically disconnected from the games’ visual and narrative style. I could imagine some of the older games sporting covers like these, such as some of the Sim City covers and a Missile Command cover, and perhaps one Mirror’s Edge cover actually resembles the style of the cut scenes in that game. Many of these, however, are lovely but downright hilarious (and often intentionally so, I wager) in their stylistic incongruity with the original games. The Harry Potter redesigns, meanwhile, work decently well, in my opinion.

Part of the reason covers in the “classics” styles wouldn’t really work for games is that many of the featured titles have a clear visual style already, whereas the cover alone defines the visual style for most novels. (Notice that the game covers that might work are generally for games with much less developed or more abstract graphics.) But that’s not the whole story, I think. Part of the incongruity is that most games are still testosterone-soaked gorefests with no attempt to transcend their period or genre. It’s hard to see a work as a true “classic” when its greatest aim is to achieve a multi-generation franchise, and its greatest legacy will be as a piece of nostalgia.

Short Book Review: Anathem

It’s long. Really long. Nowadays, that’s par for the course for Neal Stephenson, whose books have tended towards the weighty since 1999’s *Cryptonomicon*. It’s interesting to see Stephenson’s progression: the technological fascination of *Snow Crash*, probably his most influential model, carried over into *Cryptonomicon*, which shared characters and some scientific elements with his subsequent three-part Baroque cycle (*Quicksilver*, *The Confusion*, and *The System of the World*), which began to veer into the philosophical. It’s the philosophical that’s front and center in *Anathem*, which takes place on the familiar-yet-alien world of Arbre. On Arbre, philosophers and scientists have largely been cordoned off from the “Saecular” existence of everyday people, leading to a “mathic” world that strongly resembles the religious in our own world. The plot of *Anathem* largely concerns itself with what happens when that equilibrium is disrupted from an outside source. In terms of action, the novel starts slowly, though it takes that much time to get grounded in Stephenson’s world. At first, I thought his constant re-branding of everyday objects and terms was merely, as Jason put it, wankery, but the more I progressed and got comfortable with the world he was creating, I began to realize how important this defamiliarization was. There’s a definite point to it in the plot, especially apparent towards the end of the book, but another facet of it is that Stephenson’s philosophical ideas are so *big* that it required the creation of this entirely separate foundation just to support them. I’d started the book thinking that perhaps Stephenson had finally jumped the shark, but upon finishing it I’ve concluded that he maintains his position as one of the most fascinating, versatile writers in speculative fiction.

The difference between write and wrong

nano_08_winner_100x100.gifAnother year, another 50,000 words. This is my fourth year finishing National Novel Writing Month and, by definition, the fourth year of performing a post-mortem on the experience (you can read the [first](http://doombot.com/2005/12/01/breaking-the-embargo/) [three](http://doombot.com/2006/11/30/victory-is-mineand-a-whole-bunch-of-other-peoples-as-well/) [years’](http://doombot.com/2007/11/29/write-on/) entries if you’re feeling courageous).

I’ve started to look at the NaNoWriMo process as an exercise, a chance to try out things that I wouldn’t otherwise. By this point, I’m pretty confident in my ability to write, regardless of what month it is, so it’s an opportunity for experimentation.

Last year, I tried to write a young adult science-fiction novel about a girl who discovers that her older brother is part of a secret organization that fights aliens and deals with the powers of the occult. If that sounds a lot like [*The Middleman*](http://doombot.com/2008/07/22/short-television-review-the-middleman/)…well, it is, but I hadn’t heard about it prior to coming up with the idea. *The Middleman* had roughly the same concept as my story, but with one major difference: vastly superior execution. That’s okay; I don’t regret the experience of writing that story—but I don’t think I’m likely to finish it either.

So, what have I learned this year that I didn’t know last year? Well, I’ve learned that even though I *can* write mainstream fiction, I seem to keep coming up with better genre fiction ideas at the same time (I thought of at least two premises for good stories that I’d like to write). I’ve learned that having an *entire* plot in mind—which I didn’t this time around—really helps not only the day-to-day act of writing, but also the emotional investment in the novel and characters, and I learned that I can produce 50,000 words without breaking too much of a sweat.
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