Saturday, October 23, 2010

A story from yesteryear

George and the Dragon

By Brentus, circa 2009 at 2 AM

George was walking home from college one day. He saw a dragon. He looked to see if it had captured any princi (which, as everyone knows, is plural for princess). However, there were none to be seen.

“Now look here,” said George, “How the deuce can I rescue a princess if you haven’t captured any? Dragons these days don’t lift a claw to work. Do you expect the populace to terrorize itself? And how can I save a princess if there’s no dragon to save her from. I’ll never get married like this.”

“But I like princesses,” said the dragon, who had not been to school and was thus ignorant of proper pluralization, which is a word. “I wouldn’t want to bother them.”

“My dear boy,” said George, “I’m sure they don’t mind. Go ahead.”

“If they don’t mind, then why would you need to rescue them?”

“Well, they would mind, see, if I wasn’t going to rescue them. But I am. So they will understand that it is a necessary prerequisite to getting saved by a handsome prince, like me.”

The dragon looked pensive, because he was. “I must be missing something here, because that actually made sense, and I am pretty sure it shouldn’t have.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Writing Excuses 5.6 prompt

Those of you who have been faithfully following this blog, if existent, would remember that I said I would post things I write, other than just blog entries. So I will use this place to do the weekly writing prompts given in the excellent podcast, Writing Excuses. These stories are just quick practices, and will not be particularly good as I will speed-write them. This week's prompt is: "Two critics who reviewed Dan Wells' book and who had completely opposite reactions actually read two different books…". Allons-y!

The Book Identity

By Brentus

Mr. Fiend checked his watch for the third time and cursed. It was not a real curse, since Mr. Fiend was just a codename, and in any case, real fiends are more creative with their last names. He was running out of patience. The truck should have been here twenty minutes ago. He casually leaned against a street sign which gave the names of two streets at this T-intersection of the quiet suburban neighborhood. He hoped it wouldn't rain, but the clouds looked threatening. It was harder to look casual standing around in the rain. The street was deserted at this time of day, with all the children at school and the adults working or staying inside. He was just beginning to realize that leaning against a street sign for no reason didn't really look all that casual anyway when he heard the rumble of the truck coming up the hill. He started to walk slowly to the house where he knew it would stop, assuming Mr. Demon hadn't messed up the address again. Mr. Fiend wished there was a less awkward way of secretly sending packages than slipping them into delivery trucks while the driver was not looking, but their secret evil organization, EVIL, had limited resources and could not risk sending packages registered in the computer system or deliver them with EVIL personnel. But they had found that long-range trucks would sometimes make stops on their way out of the city if there was a delivery close enough to the route, so they would order packages sent to people living there so they could secretly stash their parcels in the truck as it left town. A similar method was used to retrieve them at the other end.

The driver got out of the truck, found the package, and walked up towards the door. Mr. Fiend dashed over to the truck, placed the package in the usual place, and then sauntered away as the truck driver finished getting a signature. His work here was done. The rest was up to the receiver, Mr. Monster.


Mr. Monster checked his watch for the third time and cursed. He wasn't any better at it than Mr. Fiend, but he was just as impatient. It was raining hard and his shoes were soggy. Soggy shoes were not in the EVIL pamphlet. "See the world!" It said. "And then rule it!" Well, when he was in charge, soggy shoes would be a thing of the past. He just wished they weren't such a noticeable part of the present.

Headlights suddenly sprung up through the rain. The truck came to a stop, but one house down from where he had expected. Oh well, he could still walk quickly and make it in time. As the driver headed up the walkway, Mr. Monster dashed through the rain to the truck. He cursed again when he saw the package was not where it was supposed to be. But then he saw a package labeled "Mr. Monster ARC" in the middle of the truck. It must have shifted during the drive. Mr. Monster ducked around the truck just before the driver headed back up the walk.


Mr. Monster sloshed in through the double doors of the local branch of EVIL. He nodded to the secretary, and hurried past to his desk. Finally, they would have the documents necessary to gain access to the FBI databases. He tore open the box, wondering what Mr. Fiend had meant by "ARC". He was impressed by the disguise. Usually Mr. Fiend sent him a book with papers sloppily glued onto the pages. But this one looked like it had been printed just for him. He began to read. It appeared to be in code too, as it cleverly disguised itself as a young adult fiction novel. He began to worry that the code might not be easy to break. But he was enjoying the story.


John Smith's scathing review of Dan Wells' new novel appeared on his blog the following day. It was the worst review by far that it had received. While Bob Jones had given the book a glowing recommendation, praising the clear prose and quick-moving plot, Smith's review was very different. It read:

"I hate to say it, but the much-anticipated sequel to I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells is a total flop. I began to worry before I even opened the book, since the publisher didn't even care enough to give it a real cover. They only scrawled the title of the book, Mr. Monster, on the shipping box. In fact, they didn't even print the book, they pasted the pages over the text of an existing book! I receive many advance review copies of books and never before have I seen such shoddy publishing. Unfortunately, that was one of the best parts of the "novel" (my apologies to the word). I would say that the plot failed to provide a compelling story, but there just wasn't one. And not only is there a lack of character development in the protagonist, but there is a complete lack of the character himself! Instead, Wells ignores the plot, characters, setting, premise, and genre of the first book and just gives us a bunch of secret FBI codes! The only mention of a villain is an address on one page of something called EVIL. This book is a disgrace. Let us hope that the third and final book gets the series back on track, since the first book left me wanting more. More story, not FBI codes."


Shortly thereafter, the members of EVIL were arrested by the FBI on charges of conspiracy. The bureau rewarded the critic for his help in uncovering the plot by giving him an actual copy of Mr. Monster.

Friday, October 15, 2010


"What's this?" you ask. "Another post about books? Isn't he interested in anything else?" Well, I am interested in lots of things, just not all at the same time. Right now I like books. It's important for bloggers to write about interesting stuff. Otherwise it's no good at all. For example, I will now write a paragraph on American football.

American football (which I shall just call football for the rest of this paragraph) is a popular sport in the United States. People like to play it and watch it on television, presumably because they find it entertaining. There are two teams, and they compete against each other. They play on a field with grass, or sometimes turf. The grass has lines on it. The lines are parallel to each other and run across the field from one side to the other. They are spaced 10 yards apart. The teams line up when they decide that's a good idea and then attempt to run into each other, unless they are holding the ball, in which case they try to not get run into. Sometimes they throw the ball, and sometimes they don't. Just when it starts to get interesting, the referee blows his whistle to make everyone stop attacking each other. Eventually, the teams move the ball to the other end of the field and receive points. Sometimes they kick the ball too. The ball is pointy on the ends so that players can throw it with one hand. The game is apparently so tedious that the audience has difficulty cheering. To address this issue, the teams employ "cheer leaders", who lead the cheering, like a conductor leads an orchestra, only their batons have exploded on one end and have streamers sticking out. The teams play the game until the timer says they can stop.

That is what happens when bloggers write about things they don't care about. So no more imaginary, hypothetical complaints out of you.

In recent years, there has been a revolution in the format of books the like of which has not been seen since the printing press. E-readers are changing everything, the good and the bad things. E-reading makes buying and reading books way more convenient. However, this is not without cost. As people begin to move towards e-readers, they consequently buy fewer physical ones. This means that physical bookstores are going to start disappearing, which means you can't go and peruse real books or have author book signings. Disneyland claims to be the happiest place on earth, but bookstores are even better. They are even better than libraries, which are the second happiest place on earth. Disneyland can come in third I guess. And since we are ranking happy places, the best bookstore I have ever seen is University Book Store next to the University of Washington in Seattle. But what can be done to save bookstores? I don't know. Hopefully we won't lose bookstores altogether. But I admit I am part of the problem, since I buy most of my books electronically now. There is an upside. E-readers are so convenient that people are more likely to buy a book rather than drive to the library, so authors and publishers should make more money, which is good.

Speaking of e-readers, there has been some confusion about what they are for. As more and more devices become integrated (e.g. phones, cameras, PDAs), people expect electronics to do everything. However, the Kindle, Nook, and other dedicated reading devices are really lousy at doing anything else. In fact, they are not even good at some kinds of reading. They are excellent for black and white, sequentially-read books. But any book you want to flip around pages in quickly (like a text book) is awkward since you can't just flip anywhere instantly like with a real book. And for color magazine articles, the screen is too small and not color. The Kindle DX fixes the size issue, but is still black and white. When the iPad was announced, Steve Jobs decided to try to break into the e-books market (he sort of broke in, but mostly he just broke it. See my first post). He touted the tablet as an e-reader, even though it does not have the e-ink screen that is the main feature of e-reading devices. LCD screens like the iPad has are good for lots of things, and are better for magazines and comics which need color. However, they are still backlit, which means that they are not as comfortable on the eyes as paper or e-ink. So the iPad is a tablet device that can display books, but is not really designed for reading novels. Remember, e-readers didn't even bother existing until e-ink came out just for this reason. But Steve Jobs said it was an e-reader and confused everyone into thinking it was a Kindle competitor, despite the very different goals of the devices. People even thought the Kindle 3 might "upgrade" to LCD (a much older and less appropriate technology), and Jeff Bezos had to come out and explain why the Kindle 3 continued to use e-ink screens (basically, so the Kindle would be a great e-reader, rather than a lousy iPad clone). It's kind of like the head of Honda explaining why the new Accords are still using engines. It should be obvious, yet enough technical writers questioned it that he felt he needed to offer a response (mini-rant: tech writers can be awfully dense at times, like the ones who jumped on the Vista-hating bandwagon and doomed the world to XP for 3 more years). Anyway, this is my attempt to clear up the confusion, for the 3 or so people who actually read this blog. Kindles are good for reading books page-by-page, and not much else. The screen really looks like paper with ink, so it is as easy on the eyes as a real book. iPads are good for everything except comfortable reading because they have the jack-of-all-trades but not-as-easy-to-look-at LCD screen. So if you plan on reading books electronically, get a Kindle. If you want to read mostly magazines and web articles or need a multipurpose device, then the iPad is a better choice because it has color and is faster at navigation. Basically, you are choosing between a book-like experience with the Kindle and a computer-like experience with the iPad.

So perhaps the one problem will help solve the other. People will buy iPads, try an e-book or two, get tired of reading novels on the screen, and go buy books at their local bookstore and keep it in business. Yay!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book collecting and various media

So last time I said this post would be about "book collecting and various media". I can talk about book collecting, but dashed if I know what I meant about "various media". I assume I was going to deliver a brilliant discourse on television reading (see last post) or something, but I must admit I haven't been brushing up on my various media lately. I've been sticking to books and Dr. Who. That's kind of various I guess.

So, book collecting. I like to do that. Books are just nice objects to have. They feel good to hold and peruse, they smell good, and you can read them. I have always collected books, although earlier in life my collection consisted mainly of Goosebumps books. I got rid of those when I outgrew them, but I continued collecting books. I started collecting hardcover John Bellairs books (the ones with Edward Gorey's awesome covers), although I only had a few until I bought the entire series from e-bay a couple years ago. John Bellairs shared my love of old houses (or maybe I got it from reading his books) and the setting and characters were great, so those books were some of my favorites when I was in elementary and middle school. But it was the amazing cover art by Edward Gorey that first attracted me to them, so it's nice to have those editions in my collection. I read them again in grad school and they are still great.

A few years ago I got to meet Ray Bradbury when he came to the local library. I got a copy of Fahrenheit 451 signed by him. Then, a bit later three big science fiction authors came to the UCLA book festival: Harry Harrison, Joe Haldeman, and Robert Silverberg. I got books signed by them too, and that got me interested in signed books.  It's neat to have a copy that the author has actually physically written in. is a good site for finding signed books, although it's more fun to get books signed in person. However, some people are dead so you can't do that. But when you can, it's cool to meet the people who wrote the books. They invented and created the worlds and characters that made their books so fascinating, so in a way it's the closest you can come to meeting the characters. I wish I had gotten to meet Robert Jordan. But it was cool to meet Robert Silverberg, Ray Bradbury, Harry Harrison, Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells. I met a few others but I haven't read their books yet (Joe Haldeman, Brent Weeks, and Terry Brooks). I just got books signed since I was at the signing.

Despite collecting books, I prefer to read them on the Kindle. It's way more convenient and comfortable than a physical book. There is only one side, so you don't have to reposition the book in your hands all the time. Also, remember that I read books by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. They are huge. But I can fit them all into a paperback form factor with the Kindle. And on vacation you can finish one book and buy another without needing to find a bookstore or pack a bunch of separate books. And for the lazy, a Kindle means you don't need to get up and go to the bookshelf to change books. So my bookshelf is full of books I have not physically read.

I also have a few old books, like a 17th-century math book and a French astronomy book printed on the royal press in Paris (back when there was royalty in France). Old books are really cool. They look like proper tomes that you'd see in games like Myst. And people back in the renaissance or other periods of history read them, and even wrote in them. As a European history lover, that is really cool to me. Last spring, I spent a day in Metz, France, at the home of my second cousin once removed, Jean Marc. He is awesome. I mention him now because he also like old books and he even had some that had belonged to and been written in by our ancestors. That was extremely cool to see, and I have some photos of some of them I might put up.