17 Mar

Quick Book Review: The Dance of the Possible

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I think this may be one of my favorite books about creativity yet.

One of the things that’s useful about the publishing landscape today is the ability to make books that are the size they need to be. I’m willing to bet in another time, there would have been pressure to bulk this book up, provide more anecdotes, to make it look beefy and solid on a bookshelf.

But this is an arrow of a no-bullshit, humorous book about how to nurture creativity without a lot of the woo-woo that turns me away from other books. Including the beginning that notices that by reading the book, you’re delaying on going and doing something, in search of the perfect tool.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Scott Berkun’s essays over the past years via his blog, and Ramez Naam mentioned how much he liked this book to me, so I snagged a copy right away.

This is a heavy practical guide to creativity by someone who makes a living teaching and talking about how to be more creative, and I made a lot of dog ears in the book for lines that are things I know I know, but often need reminded of. I may put a few of his choicer quotes around my office of reminders of how to get shit done.

I highly recommend it.

01 Mar

Quick Book Review: City of Stairs

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I have to admit to being a bit late to post this, as I read City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennet earlier last month but during my three weeks of being sick as a dog. So I didn’t get a review up.

This is a great example of what I would have called, prior to the early 2000s, “Urban Fantasy.” That is to say, a fantasy novel set in a city and influenced by historical cities. The genre label of Urban Fantasy was rebadged by publishers taking paranormal romance into a wider market a while back, so Urban Fantasy became something very different.

But City of Stairs is a great example of that sort of fantasy that resists the countryside and bucolic pastoralism that affects some fantasy. The city of Bulikov, a place ravaged by the impact of colonialism and war and once-great magic is as much a character as anyone else in the book.

Technology, magic’s side effects and implications, all of that is explored thoroughly, making for a book that reminds me of China Mievelle’s landscapes, or K.J. Parker’s rationalist worldbuilding.

Definitely worth a read.

06 Dec

Capsule Review: Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard

Several people hit me up to note that Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard just came out. It’s apparently the first biography of Louverture that’s English first that has come out in 80 years.

I snagged a copy that arrived last night and read the book promptly.

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It’s best read if you already have an appreciation of Caribbean history. Something like Carrie Gibson’s Empire’s Crossroads is a great start.

Haiti’s history and the US is so intertwined. I could write a large essay. But short of it: the entire Louisiana Purchase came about because Napoleon wanted to reinvade Haiti after Toussaint Louverture’s successful rebellion. Haiti was such an economic crown jewel that Napoleon jettisoned enough territory to the US that it doubled the size of the US, much to the shock of the negotiators who showed up. There is no modern US as you conceive of it without Haiti. The French gave up plans to invade the US as well, which was a war that had been possibly brewing.

See Haiti and the Founding Fathers.

Hamilton (yes, that Hamilton) helped Toussaint draft a constitution. Hamilton, famously finding democracy and liberty messy, basically suggested a highly centralized military run system and advised against an American styled system. We’re not sure how much that influenced Toussaint, but that’s what he went with.

I find the American blindspot to Haiti very frustrating.

Oh, yeah, and Jefferson as president actively supported the French attempt to retake Haiti (Sant Domingue) because he was just plain racist.

A lot of the American South reacted to the revolution and refugees by becoming super racist, setting the state not only for the American Civil War but to the Southern Strategy in US politics that just kicked our ass right now.

It’s all bound together. History still lies with us. The evil of slavery and the creation of racism as a major tenet of modern Wester Civilization still stains the body politic, so it’s important to read about one of the major figures in this long, sad history of the fight against slavery and its follow on effects.

So finally digging deeper into Toussaint is important, and I read biography last night in one big gulp. It’s not a hagiography, but then few really good delves into the complications of major historical figures are. While I learned some things I wasn’t expecting, I have a greater appreciation for the sheer unlikeness of what Toussaint did.

Here are some highlights I noted on twitter as I was reading:

05 Jan

Canadian libricide

Fuck…

“Back in 2012, when Canada’s Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned.

Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives’ war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.”

(Via Canadian libricide: Tories torch and dump centuries of priceless, irreplaceable environmental archives – Boing Boing.)

10 Oct

The right way to buy books, via Scott Lynch

Words of wisdom from Scott Lynch:

“Please don’t ever buy one of my books in a format you think will send me a maximal percentage of money. Please buy the format that is most desirable or convenient to you. Buy the format that will enable you to have the most enjoyable reading experience. After all, if I encourage you to buy an inconvenient or uncomfortable format for my own sake, I’m basically telling you to endure unnecessary bullshit for the sake of a few extra pennies or dimes in my pocket. I can’t stand that… no sane writer wants to achieve financial success by scraping it painfully out of their readers, one person at a time.”

(Via The Right Way to Buy My Books is Your Way | Lynch Industries.)

20 May

5 books that evoke life aboard a ship

Well, today seems to be the day for lists of five for me. A while back Locus asked if I’d write up a list of five interesting books. I decided to list five books that evoke life aboard the cramped confines of a ship for me:

I grew up on a boat. Tight quarters, sparse living. It wasn’t living aboard a spaceship, and it wasn’t military naval service, but it was a taste of what it’s like to keep your own environment with you. I also spend time working around crew on other ships of various sizes. And one thing that resonates with me are books that give me a taste of crew-life.

Merchanter’s Luck by C.J. Cherryh

Probably one of my favorite crew-life books, I encountered the Science Fiction Book Club edition of this 1980′s SF novel in the back of a storage room I was cleaning out for someone when I was a teenager in the US Virgin Islands. I lifted it for myself at lunch and it somehow found its way home with me.

The depictions of merchant crew life aboard the future’s version of aging tramp steamers grabbed me by the eyeballs and didn’t let me go. Cherryh thinks through the issues of watches, varying personalities, relationships, and the constant struggle of the little guy against larger corporations and military conflicts.

My biggest complaint? You can’t buy it as an ebook right now. Which is just criminal. I’d buy a copy in a split second.

You can see the other four books and why I listed them at Locus.

26 Jul

Selling copies of my books direct for this week

After I got back from Oddcon I sold some books direct via the website. Some others had hoped I would do it again, and I promised I would. Also, we’ve had a houseguest for a week holed up in my office, and after getting back into my office, I realized wouldn’t mind clearing out some more shelf space to store some of my non-fiction reference books in the large closet I use to house all the extra books I have hoarded. I’m trying to eliminate some shelves from my office with an eye toward simplifying my workspace from clutter a bit more.

With that in mind, I’m offering books for sale, hardcovers of the novels, and you can name your own price. I’m hoping to move a good shelf’s worth just to free up space, so as long as a fair offer comes in, I’m more than happy to get them out of here.

I’ll take orders until Friday at lunch, at which point I’ll be trucking these all up to the post office to mail them out in one big batch.

Step 1: The books for sale

Pick a book or two or more from the list here, add up your total…

Crystal Rain – hardcover – 1st edition – signed – $nameyourprice
Ragamuffin – hardcover – 1st edition – signed – $nameyourprice
Sly Mongoose – hardcover – 1st edition – signed – $nameyourprice

Halo: Evolutions – trade pp. – 1st edition – signed – $nameyourprice
Halo: The Cole Protocol – trade pp – 1st edition -signed – $nameyourprice

Step 2: Shipping

For one book:

Media mail – add $4 for S/H
Priority – add $6 for S/H

For two books:

Media mail – add $5 for S/H
Priority – add $11 for S/H

For three or more books:

Media mail – add $7 for S/H
Priority – add $13

update: for international shipping, use http://ircalc.usps.gov/ to calculate shipping (books weigh 1.3 lbs each).

Step 3: Payment and telling me what you’re buying

Add everything up and then head on over to Paypal where you can use any standard credit card or your paypal account via that link to send the total on over to me (if you want to use a credit card, look at the lower left area of the page it sends you to, where you can click to use a credit card instead of paypal).

When you do that, also include what books you’re buying in the instructions field (2 crystal rains, 1 ragamuffin, for example), as well as write down any special instructions you have. For example, if you’d like them signed to you, please say that, or they’ll just arrive generically signed. If you want them signed to a friend, etc, please include that.

Best,

Tobias