Back! (Pre-graduation)

Hey, everyone.

Having taken almost a full year (11 months)  to get back to posting on this little blog-o-mabob, I figure it’s about time  I get back to having some sort of presense online. That being said, I’m not quite sure I want my presense to be here–I’ve learned a lot about site design, etc. over the past year, and would really like a place to try it out, as well as some other things that I think would be really cool to have fun with.

I’m going to try and find a site with good features all around. I want to continue with my blog, but perhaps do a bit of stuff on the side. Reviews, some public discussion with other writers, maybe some podcasts, that sort of thing. Maybe (and I hope to do this) start some sort of writing journalism site of some sort. But that’s all plans for the future. The first thing to do is to get a good webhost, and putter around to see what I can do well.

Anyone know where I can find a good webhost?

Thanks–I hope to be getting more out soon.

GoodReads and Locus

So, I now have an account on Goodreads. It actually feels like a pretty slick setup to me. It’s user friendly and intuitive, so if you’re interested you should head on down and sign up.

If you do, add me as a friend, so I can pick your brain for good books.

I’m starting to post my reviews up there as well, but I looked back at two of my older ones, and they’re both pretty rough. I might be re-reading some things, and then re-reviewing them. But I need to hack through my current list, before any of that happens.

Also, I completely forgot to link to Locus, which is a partially online SF magazine. It’s a good resource. Go check it out.

In other news, I’m thinking of perhaps shelling out a bit of money to go independant. WordPress is good fun and all, but I’m starting to feel the cramps of not being able to design my own webspace. So, yeah. That’s that.

And now, I must now go and be a code monkey.

Good luck, all.

Some Links

So, I realized that if I’m going to be focusing more on reviews and the like, I’m going to need to expand my reading a bit. Three Stephenson reviews and nothing else does not variety make.

I spent the last couple days writing fiction, and looking around for different ways for me to find new authors. Found a couple things.

There a list of the top 100 SF&Fantasy writers that seem to include some good ones. I’m glad to see all my favorites are on the list. I’m not entirely happy to see a lot near the top who I don’t know: we’ll have to fix that. This list is, just so you know, compiled through popular opinion. When I first saw it, I started doing the thing where you complain about how He or She isn’t above Him or Her, and it just goes downhill from there. So as much as it irks me that Stephenson is only 45. on the list, I think it might be better for me to use this to look up some of the authors I don’t know, hunt them down, and start reading.

It was good to see that Tolkien wasn’t in slot number 1, though. Not that he doesn’t deserve it: I just feel that he’s gotten slot 1 on so many of these things that perhaps he should be disqualified by default, to allow someone else a go at it.

There’s also Goodreads, which seems to be a sort of reading recommendation site. I haven’t made an account yet, but if/when I do, I’ll report on how good the service is.

If anyone has any points around the web that I might be interested in, do let me know. I like investigating things.




So, today, I’m going to talk a bit about Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson.

Some information you might want to know before hand: this book was published in 1999, almost ten years ago. This was a fair bit before the time of blogs and, really, even before the time of popular internet usage the way we think of it today. This was back in the days when the gray blocks of Windows ’95 had only just been updated to the gray blocks of Windows ’98. A time when e-mail was still considered fairly impressive communication. Keep that thought in mind: focus on it.

Cryptonomicon, really, is two stories combined into one. Given that the book is 1000+ pages long, and very dense reading for most of those pages, this is a good thing—it splits the readers attention nicely.

One of these plots is set in WWII, where we follow the trail of Bobby Shaftoe, a United States Marine, and Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, a mathematician who finds himself in the Navy (as a Glockenspiel player), and then through an odd twist of genius, as one of the single most important mathematicians in the allied forces, working on decrypting enemy messages.

The other story is set in modern times (remember: 1999) and mainly follows the hacker Randall Lawrence Waterhouse—the grandson of our WWII mathematician friend—and the company he works for, Epiphyte(2), as they seek to 1) increase shareholder value, 2) prevent all future holocausts, 3) find an entire mountain full of hidden Japanese gold and 4) use it to fund an entirely online form of currency, completely independent from taxation or regulation by any of the world’s governments.

So, if you didn’t catch it yet, the plot of this entire thing is very complex. The 1100 pages is well spent on Stephenson’s part. There’s not a lot of unnecessary narrative, and I actually felt that if it were any shorter, the book would have been hurried and confusing. Don’t be misled though: this isn’t a page-turner, Barnes&Noble best seller we’re dealing with here. This book takes time and energy to read, and isn’t one to be rushed through in one night.

Those familiar with Stephenson’s writing will know that he is very, very technical in the way he works. His roots are in science fiction, and unlike some authors of the genre, Stephenson always goes out of his way to explain the science portion, instead of just making up whatever technology he wants to suit his plot. Most of his books are equal parts educational and entertaining. Just by reading this one, you will automatically get a crashcourse in: WWII cryptology, modern information technology, computer architecture, basic economics, and a certain amount of sociology. It’s like going to a liberal arts college, only you might learn something from the gen. eds.

But don’t be completely discouraged, the reading isn’t like slogging through a textbook. We’ve got a nice little setup here, to keep the reading from getting bogged down too much. On the WWII front, we have the dual adventures of Bobby Shaftoe—always narrated in a rough and tumble sort of way that is well suited to a Marine, but not so crass and foolish as to be annoying to read—and the work of Waterhouse—who’s narrated in such a mathematical way that it almost implies a mental disorder. Bobby Shaftoe’s scenes are always beautifully narrated. Stephenson has a real talent with the language, no matter what he’s doing, but one of the places he really shines is when describing action. Action scenes are hard to write, because language is a naturally an intellectual medium of communication, rather than an emotional one, but Stephenson handles things with such clarity that you are never once bothered by the fact that you’re limited to only reading what’s happening. And on the other side, the mathematics are handled with an ease of explanation that even a layman could get it—most of the scenes of really heavy mathematics are utterly hilarious, although the humor might be a miss for some.

Same applies for the present day story, where we have action in the form of business intrigue and treasure hunting (and a little romance between Randy Waterhouse and Filipino diver and salvage worker, America Shaftoe), and intellectual stimulation from Randy’s computer-and-math oriented friends and coworkers, along with a bit of reflection from Randy himself, who has a mind not dissimilar to his grandfather’s.

(There is, for instance, a segment of about ten pages devoted entirely to Randy reflecting on the proper physics and engineering of the preparation and consumption of a quality bowl of Cap’n Crunch. I don’t often laugh out loud while reading, but this is one of many points in this book that I was rendered completely unable to read further until I regained the ability to breathe properly.)

So it’s good. Really good. On a purely linguistic level, not many can touch Stephenson: his sense of word placement, sentence structure, and style are completely top notch. The composition of this story is really ingenious too: in addition to all the above praise, it’s also completely enjoyable to watch how the WWII plot affects the modern day plot. Many of the present-setting characters are descendants of the WWII-setting, and the events between the two stories are absolutely interrelated; the present-day folks keep looking for the treasure the past-day folks hid. And, even more happily, the pacing of the two plots together is such that any plot twists you do figure out ahead of time are pleasant, rather than predictable.

With all that out of the way, there are some gripes: firstly, this book is dense. I, being a bit of a techie, really enjoyed some of the more mathematics/engineering oriented bits. They are excellently done, but might not necessarily be for everyone. Stephenson might teach well enough that even non-math-oriented people can understand, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will want too. For some, this book might be a bit more work than they’re wanting to put into a read. And another thing Stephenson is pretty famous for are letdown endings, and this isn’t quite the exception. No spoilers here; the ending isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it feels like it could have been a bit stronger, with a few more loose ends tied up.

Nevertheless, a subpar ending is an unpleasant blemish on an otherwise good book: noticeable, but forgivable.

You should pick up a copy of this: it’s a good book. Healthy doses of treasure hunting, WWII submarine warfare, mathematics and apocalyptic economic theory makes for a read that is entertaining, rewarding, and thoughtful—and getting all three of those in one go is pretty good in anyone’s book.

Feeling better

Starting to feel a bit better. Strep throat is no fun at all. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.

But I’m back at work now, and I suppose that means that I’m not allowed to take any more time off writing either. So, back to the grind.

I used the opportunity of my little illness to finish up Cryptonomicon, so be expecting a little bit of a review on that coming up. I’ve got a couple other books I’m considering for review as well. I’m currently reading The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. A little bit of Steampunk going. So I hope to be able to get some news up on that too.

I think I’m going to try to shift this blog away from the dear-diary sorts of posts (even though I find that those do serve their purposes) towards a more industry sort of deal. Reviews, news, discussion, and the like. So hopefully you’ll be hearing less about my personal life (which, no offense to the entire genre of memoir, is not that interesting) and more about what I’m interested in.

I’m going to add a page at some point or another entitled ‘my library,’ which is a list of books I have currently on my shelves. I haven’t read all of them (thus the page will be different than ‘current reading’) but I hope to at some point. If any of the books on that page interest you, let me know, and I’ll post up a little review of what I have read, and if I haven’t read it yet, I will read it, and then post a little bit.

I hope to be able to get that up later tonight.

Also, I hope to be able to post about about my progress on Artifice. I haven’t talked about that in a while, because progress has been choppy at best, but I’m going to be able to start hacking a little more into it at some point. It’ll be good fun.

Now, back to work.

EDIT: I updated my current reading page as well, so that it was, well, current. Anything that’s on there that I’ve read, feel free to ask for a review of that as well. And if it appears I’ve never even heard of a book you really like, feel free to let me know. I’m trying to expand my reading a bit, so it’ll be a big help if I could get some input. Thanks.


Fever > 101.4

Strep Throat = very yes

Hatching Plans…

Well, I started my research today. It went well, but is very mentally exhausting. Writing code for a solid six hours is heavily taxing on the logic muscles.

In any case, I’m posting again out of habit. Nothing much to say, really. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to write proper, my mind is really far gone.

I read a fair amount today. Mostly I’ve been reading Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. It’s a monstrously dense book, but possibly one of the best I’ve ever read. I want to post a review of it, when I finish, but that’ll mean that all I’ve written as far as reviews go are Stephenson novels. Which could be worse.

I want to start doing more of such on this page. A little bit of news, reviews, and recommended readings. I’ve poked around considerably, and can’t find anything online that provides really good services and the like to writers. There are plenty of print journals and the like that do that sort of thing, but online seems a little lacking. If anyone else happens to know of something like that that I’ve managed to miss, let me know.

If such a thing really doesn’t exist, perhaps someone aught to get on the ball…

Oh dear…

It’s been a bit too long, cyberland. I’ve missed you.

No excuse, I just haven’t written anything on wordpress for a good long while. A few productive things got done otherwise, though:

The June issue of The Woven Thread is sent out. I’ll try and post some of the editorials I’ve written on this site, to see what you all think. The focus mostly on poetry, despite my being a fiction person, but them’s the breaks, you publish what you can, eh?

The new issue of Stonework is out, as well. We’ve got some really good fiction in this one, so be sure to check it out. Daniel Bowman’s piece is really top notch.

Artifice is coming along slowly, but surely. I’m dovetailing between writing the actual thing and writing little side bits to flesh out the perspectives of several characters. It’s turning very heavily economic and political, as is traditional for a work of cyberpunk/post-cyberpunk. I’ll post some status on that once I gather my wits about me again.

I’m mostly writing to give myself an excuse to start posting again. So this probably won’t be very inspired. I’m trying to spread out to a larger community, and start doing some news and the like in the fictive world. Book reviews and et cetera. I’m thinking of making my own website, as opposed to maintaining this via WordPress, but that’s news for later.

I’m starting some work as a research assistant tomorrow. Doing some number-crunching and paper-writing in the field of bioinformatics. I’m actually kind of interested: we’re studying the affects HIV mutations have on drug resistance. Real save-the-world stuff.

Other than that, I’ll hopefully be able to post a bit more soon.

Thanks, everyone.


Sitting in my Panera – 4/18/2008

Last summer, when I first came to Grand Rapids, I found a Panera Bread near my apartment, and adopted it. I would go twice a week, or so, get a bagel for breakfast, or perhaps a bowl of soup for lunch, and then sit and work, writing in this very blog, or on this or that short story.

At least one person behind the counter recognized me when I cam in by the end of the summer, and I was lonesome over the summer, so I appreciated that. The fact that she was a cutie had absolutely nothing to do with it, I swear.

In coming back here, I was hoping for more nostalgia than I found. Perhaps some warm welcome or something. They did ask me if I wanted my bagel toasted, but they do that to everyone. It feels like a Panera: familiar, but not special. But then, I’ve never been one for longlasting-profound feelings of anything. I get glimpses of them here and there, but any more than that and I feel melodramatic.

I do enjoy Panera, though. It has a nice, coffeeshop-like feel, that quiets me down. For those that don’t know me personally, I’m a loud person who talks too much, and so quieting me is a big thing.

Plus, just as I started that sentence, a lady walked by and asked me if I’d like a free sample of Panera’s new egg sandwich. It had bacon, and was very good. The girl might well have been the one who recognized me last summer—I can’t remember what she looked like, so it’s possible. I’d like to think it’s true: it’s the sort of thing that happens in novels all the time, but not real life.

I turned my ankle last night. I’ve got ice against it right now, and it’s starting to feel better. The irony, of course, was that I turned it while walking down steps, thinking how cool it was that humans were able to attain the engineering knowledge to be able to make things like elevators, wheel-chairs, etc. I’m not even close to needing any of those, mind: just hobbling a little, and that should go away by tomorrow. But it’s a funny story, non-the-less.

It’s 8:28, and the first session at Calvin starts in two minutes. I was planning on going to a poetry reading by Thom Satterlee and Paul WIllis. We’re featuring them in the next issue of Stonework, and I’d like to meat them in person. But I’m still in Panera, and I think I might sit for a while longer yet. The ice on my ankle feels good, and the drain of being at a conference, constantly getting academic input, is draining.

I have an idea for an essay. Perhaps I’ll start on that, now.

Hullo From the Grand Rapids (Redux)

Hullo everyone.

Sorry it’s been so long. I haven’t posted anything for about two weeks now. Been real busy.

So, when we last left off, I was planning the Houghton College Writer’s retreat. It went really well, and I got some good connections, but perhaps not as much discussion on the topics I would like. Mostly about the duality of the writer’s call to social action and the call to contemplation. I’ve already got my eggs all in a basket on that point, and thus it wasn’t as interesting to me as other topics might have been. A good time was had by all.

The reason I couldn’t post after was because my academic life was just one big sprint from then to the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, which is where I am right now. So, I’m back in Grand Rapids (for those that haven’t read from the beginning and don’t know me, I did an internship here last summer). It feels good to be back: not quite like coming home, but more like visiting a well-liked relative who has fun toys.

The discussion happening here is much more to my liking. There’s great variety, here, lots of topics to choose from. Plus, it seems I’ll be able to find time to write in the middle of it all. That’s a good thing. I find that if I don’t do any wordcraft for much more than a week, it’s hard to start up again.

Hoping to be able to write some reflections on some of the discussions that happen this week. On the table: genre fiction, and why it’s looked down upon; the publishing industry, and why writers should treat their art economically; joining into community the right way, or, shake a friend’s hand shake a hand next to ya.

So, yeah, those are things to look for. And more updates for Artifice. Eventually.

P.S. The Woven Thread now has it’s own website, which you can check out here.

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