Tuesday, June 21, 2005

War of the Worlds web comic

Over at the Darkhorse site, they're publishing a web comic adaptation of Well's War of the Worlds. It's a work in progress which is being updated every Friday. It's by writer Ian Edginton and artist D'Israeli, who also did Darkhorse WotW comics Scarlet Traces, and the upcoming sequel Scarlet Traces: The Great Game, which I will now surely have to track down.via BoingBoing.

She loves us, she really loves us

Margaret Atwood admits that she has actually written science fiction and that sf is itself a good and useful thing.via Locusmag.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Confessions of a book 'collector'

Via LISNews, can I ever sympathize with this guy: Confessions of a book 'collector'

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Hornby, Nick. The polysyllabic spree. San Francisco: Believer, 2004. 143pp.

First the annoying thing. Twenty bucks (Canadian) for 143 pages. I know the profits are going to a worthwhile cause, but they could probably sell more books (and give more profits) if the book was a better value for the dollar.

But never mind that.

A quote:

Shortly after the birth of a son, I panic that I will never be able to visit a bookshop again, and that therefore any opportunity I have to buy printed matter should be exploited immediately. Jesse ... was born shortly before 7 a.m.; three or four hours later I was in a newsagent's, and I say a small selection of best-sellling paperbacks. There wasn't an awful lot there thta I wanted, to be honest; but because of the consumer fear, something had to be bought, right there and then, just in case, and I vaguely remembered reading something good about Dennis Lehane's Mystic River. Well, the shop didn't have a copy of Mystic River, but they did have another Dennis Lehane book, Prayers for Rain: that would have to do. Never mind that, as regular readers of this column know, I have over the last few months bought server hundred books I haven't yet read. And never mind that, as it turned out, I found myself passing a bookshop the very next day, and the day after that (because what else is there to do with a new baby, other than mooch around bookshops with him?), and was thus able to buy Mystic River. I didn't know for sure I'd ever go to a bookshop again; and if I never went to a bookshop agian, how long were those several hundred books going to last me? Nine or ten years at the most. No, I needed that copy of Prayers for Rain, just to be on the safe side.

If that quote resonates with you, then this is a book you are really going to enjoy, 'cause this is one serious book addict writing for other serious book addicts. These essays are reprints of Hornby's column in Believer magazine, each featuring the books his bought in the last month and the books he's actually gotten around to reading. Let's just say I understand which list is longer on a very deep level. A short perusal of my own attempt to chronicle the same pattern (inspired by Hornby, natch) will reveal a similar predicament. I must admit, Hornby connects with me on another level. He constantly champions the accessible over the obscure, the deserving over the famous and narrative over style. He likes good books that are about something, that tell a compelling story in a clear style. My kinda guy.

A few items he recommends that I will try to acquire myself (just in case, you know, I run out of books by accident one day):
  • Moneyball by Michael Lewis
  • How mumbo-jumbo conquered the world by Francis Wheen
  • Prayers for Rain and Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
  • Blockbuster by Tom Shone
I have this button that says: "Of course you're out of space for books. Everybody's out of space for books. You're probably not worth knowing if you not out of space for books."

Preston, Douglas and Lincoln Child. A cabinent of curiousities. New York: Warner, 2003. 656pp.

What can I say about a book dedicated to "all the professors, teachers and librarians" in the authors' lives? This is the third in a very loosely connected series starting with Relic, follwed by Reliquary. Those were both terrific thrillers, especially the first, and this is no exception. Perfect mind-candy for a trip to the beach (or in my case, a trip to the conference in Quebec City) where some light reading is called for. Much derring-do, much scullduggery, much deep research in archives and libraries, much mysterious murder and mayhem.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Sosonko, Genna. Russian silhouettes. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2001. 206pp.

Chess books are boring, right? Dry tomes of bloodless strategic meanderings, chicken-scratch game scores and endless puzzles which no one can ever seem to be able to solve. There's some truth to that characterization, certainly. Even the best books on playing chess are going to be a bit lacking in the narrative drive of a good thriller. Sure, some have a bit of humour or combine the medicine with a few good stories, but in general, not really best seller material.

There are, of course, exceptions. And this is definately one of them. Genna Sosonko is an ex-pat Russian grandmaster living in Holland, who left Russian during the Soviet era. This books is made up of a series of biographical essays on various players from the Soviet era, most notably Botvinnik and Tal but also other including Levenfish, Zak, Geller, Polugaevski and others. The one outlier is an extensive profile of Capablanca's widow when she was living in New York. These wonderful essays very much give the human dimension to the game, giving the troubled and difficult lives of players who succeeded and suffered under the Soviet regime. In fact, the contrast between the perfect communist Botvinnik and most of the others is quite striking.

Great book. Highly recommended, even to non-chess players for the insights into life in the old Soviet Union.

Banks, Iain. Raw spirit: In search of the perfect dram. London: Arrow, 2004. 366pp.

Yes, that Iain (M.) Banks. The noted sf and crime fiction author. Well, this one is a bit different. It's about scotch whisky. Thinks about it. The perfect job. Banks gets paid to travel around Scotland trying all the different whiskies to try and find the one he like best and then write a book about it. Tough life. Anyways, what's the book like. More a travelogue than a dry series of tasting notes, Banks concentrates more on the experience of driving around Scotland with a series of friends, visiting the various distilleries, telling the tall tales. Digressions abound, on subjects like midges, American politics, different kinds of cars, his friends life stories, Australian wine, more politics and his own working and personal. It's all told in a great breezy style, personal and intimate, like Banks is your friend sending you a letter from a trip somewhere. Engaging and witty, sometimes some of the stories drag, but the narrative pulls you through the slow bits. Maybe 40% of the book is actually about scotch, so if you were expecting something more focussed, you might want to give it a pass. Some handy features include an extensive bibliography of other whisky books and a scotch pronunciation guide.

A warning. I almost chucked the book through the window at the beginning, it made me so mad. Banks begins his tale right when the war in Iraq got under way. He spends a fair bit of time in the opening explaining his opposition, which is fine by me. The part that got me mad was right after, when he goes on and on about what a "petrol head" he is, how he loves driving around endlessly in his monster Land Rover Defender station wagon. This vehicle is so big, it doesn't have to pay the London downtown toll because it's classified as a bus. He seems like a bright guy, but the fact that he couldn't make the connection between the war in Iraq and people driving massively gas guzzling vehicles turned me off the book initially for quite a while.