Monday, August 25, 2008

Oh, me...

So I had a busy week. Meh. I hate, you know, actually working.
But now it's over, it's back to the grind, and I am now officially studying for level 3 of the JLPT.
I don't know why, my buddy over at Lost in Ube (By the way, thanks again for the application form) mentioned it, and I thought "Hey, why not." So now I'm all studying and stressing and stuff.

I mentioned this to my kind-of-but-not-really boss, and he tells me about his Chinese wife--she came to Japan 7 years ago, knowing 0 Japanese, studied three hours a day for two years, and took the Level 1 JLPT. She got such a high score she got a full scholarship to a Japanese University.

Two years.
I've been here for more than 4 and I haven't even taken the level 3.

God damn it.

Any study tips?


I've been trying to make a dictionary for my Zaurus. There's all kinds of information about how to do Japanese. So now, I am studying for the JLPT, learning to program in Ruby, writing several short stories, and learning how to make dictionaries for my PDA.
Any bets on which one I'll give up on first?

Yay, short attention span!
Click Here to read the rest.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Did I forget to mention...?

My story, "The Dueling Ground" was rejected by Abyss & Apex. Not a huge surprise...but the comments I received were puzzling.

The editor said " There's some beautiful language, but the opening has the character
pondering something that's happened, which means the story doesn't start
in the true narrative present."
Now, of course it was totally great to get a compliment like that, but...what, exactly, is the problem with not starting "in the true narrative present"? I've never heard of that before...


In other news, the Zaurus is taking over my life. I'm learning Linux, I'm learning Ruby programming to help me understand computers better, and I'm digging into the guts of the thing to figure out how it works. Oh man. Mild obsessions...story of my life.

A frustrating thing...the "grand open source community" is kind of hard to get into. There are tones of pages and sites devoted to the information, but they all have the same info, presented in ridiculously convoluted and/or illegible ways, and they all seem to pre-assume all kinds of deep working knowledge of the systems involved; there is no real intro, no newbie sites, no in-depth FAQs.

This is why Linux will never take over windows--in order to figure it out, you have to deal with other users....and there's no QA monitor making sure they can actually communicate in comprehensible English.

Come on guys, let's get it together!
Click Here to read the rest.

(Insert clever title about cleaning here) with the Laundry!

A while back I mentioned that I was reading The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross. That was the first novel dealing with The Laundry, a secret British agency dealing with threats to national security that fall on the more...esoteric...side of international espionage. And by esoteric, I mean "squamous and rugose", nudge nudge wink wink.

Since that time, I have also polished off the second novel in the series, The Jennifer Morgue (including the story "Pimpf"), and "Down on the Farm", a short story in the same world, available for free on
So, I figured it was time for a review--so here's a big ol' heaping helping of laundry for you!

Well, my (not really at all) patented 3 word review: Craptons of fun.
My More-Than-Three-Word Review:

First, perhaps a word about the "big idea." The Laundry books/stories are comic/dark fantasy/spy/action thrillers. The general concept is that all the major governments of the world have special secret agencies, blacker than the blackest CIA ops, that deal with security against demons, darkness, and the gibbering beasts from outside of time. They do this because, in the world of the Laundry, math=magic, and as computers=math, playing around with computing can summon up big nasties from other planes. And of course, governments don't like that kind of thing going on without their say-so.

The Laundry is the British version of this supernatural MI6, and the stories Stross has written all deal with a guy "named" Bob Howard, an agent/computer hacker/dark wizard (though the wizard bit isn't at all like you'd imagine) who is dealing with all the nasty business that can get stirred up when people dabble with higher math.
That's why I never studied calculus, people. Math is EVILLLL.

Basically, it's all about mixing tropes--Lovecraftian horror, cyber thrillers, spy novels, and good old fashioned action. The main stories, The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue are actually written with an eye to the styles of famous British authors: Len Deighton and Ian Fleming, respectively.

So, that's the big idea. So what about the stories?

Starting with The Atrocity Archives, Stross has created a persistent world that is perhaps more engaging, and more fruitful, than almost any in the comic/dark fantasy/spy/action thriller genre. Which, you know, might be pretty sparse, but still.

These books are a lot of fun to read, and as you go from one to the next you can see the growth of the characters, the maturation of the writing, and the deepening of the world right before your eyes. Apart from a bit of a boys club atmosphere in the first novel, the characters seem real, and likable, and all kinds of interesting. The plots move right along, and they lovingly play with cliche in ways that make you forget you've seen similar stuff before.

I can't really speak much to the parody/homage angle of the first story because I'm not at all familiar with Len Deighton's work, but the Bond stuff in The Jennifer Morgue is all kinds of cool. And even though it is forced within the story, it never feels forced to the reader. Very smoothly done.

I have only one real problem, and that pretty much evaporates after the initial reading of The Atrocity Archives--Charles Stross brings his vast computing knowledge to bear on the writing of this novel, and I do not share that knowledge. There's enough theorem name dropping to arm a Master's Thesis, and while I like the net, I don't like to take the time to fire up google to see if my novel is making stuff up or if there really is something called a "Dho-Nha geometry curve". Of course, you can still engage in the story and enjoy it without worrying about that kind of stuff, but it comes up. A lot. And it makes you wonder what you're missing out on when you don't recognize 60% of the names you read...or maybe that's just me.

So, in the end, try them out. They're lighthearted at times, thrilling at times, and almost always fun.

That's what I think. Maybe you don't agree. Wanna make something of it? Go ahead, comment.

Click Here to read the rest.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Old Man's War, a review

So, after finally getting around to reading John Scalzi's big breakthrough novel, I wanted to take some time and parse my reactions. Here's my review.

Three word Review: Mostly Kicks Ass.

More Than Three Word Review:
John Scalzi's 2005 novel, Old Man's War, shouldn't be anything new to you. After all, Mr. Scalzi has become a big name in SF fandom with his (highly recommended) blog Whatever, his reviews available at, and tons more. He just won the Hugo Fan Writer award (Congrats to that) and he was nominated for the Best Novel award in 2006--for this novel. (He didn't win, but he did get the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer that year.)

So neither Mr. Scalzi nor his series-introducing novel are unheard of. Which leads to the question, why did it take me so damn long to read the damn book, dammit?

Timezones. Or the international dateline. Coriolis effect?

Dunno, but anyway, I did finally get around to it. And I really wish I had done it sooner.
Old Man's War introduces readers to a world Scalzi goes on to explore in further novels The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, and Zoe's Tale. The central conceit of these novels is that the Earth has begun to colonize the stars, and the forces charged with defending humanity's place in the universe against all the big, nasty monsters that want to eat us is essentially made up of old farts.

I say conceit because, actually, the idea seems at once compelling and yet utterly pointless; I'll get to that in a minute.

Old Man's War
introduces us to John Perry, a widower from Ohio who signs up for the Colonial Defense Forces, and goes off to join the fight on his 75th birthday. In space, he meets a lot of new people, goes through a pretty cool rejuvenation/enhancement process, and kills lots and lots of aliens.

Along the way, of course he meets a girl (rather, girls) and of course he saves the day--this is a pretty heroic story, after all. But most of all, John Perry acts as our guide to the new realms of ideas Scalzi has opened up. We join him as he learns for the first time how humanity has beaten the galactic speed limit of C (i.e. it hasn't); why cute little deerlike aliens are never to be trusted (they like meat...); and how to kill inch-tall, spacefaring people (go Godzilla on their asses). Perry is our wide-eyed proxy, and he takes us on a hell of a journey. it's well worth the trip.

The book, and Scalzi's work in general, has gotten lots of comparisons to Heinlein, especially Starship Troopers. I think that's at least partially intentional, and completely fine. Nothing wrong with writing like a grandmaster of the genre, not even in reference to one of his less respected works (plenty of people think the work in question is pretty much a defense of fascism...but not all of them.)

There are similarities in the books--for example, the exploration of the effects of constant fighting on a person's psyche; the trauma of lost friends, and life after; the inevitability and necessity of war, and thus the nobility of those who sacrifice themselves in its service. But I find Old Man's War a much more fulfilling, and a much more readable, novel. The characters are more authentic, and the situations much more experiential, than Starship Troopers, mostly because any political content is in the background; this is very much an adventure novel, a semi-hard SF book, and it mostly rocks.

Of course, the book isn't perfect. It focuses a lot on the "Gee-whiz, them aliens is nasty" at the expense of arc, and the character development is incremental, at best. The thing that bothers me the most about it, and it really hardly bothers me at all, is that the whole concept of an army of 75-year-olds really isn't that important. At no point in the story did I think, wow, these guys are really different from all the other military recruit-characters in military SF stories. The kind of maturity, world-wisdom, etc. one would expect from 75 years of life doesn't really pop up at all...which, I guess, might have been intentional. The only time that this kind of history plays an essential role in the story is when Perry is describing his dead wife to another character--and, while this is essential to the continuing story (I guess...), it doesn't really need a 75 year-old; 30 year-olds can be widowed, too.

It just bothers me that the whole concept really isn't that essential to the plot, it's just a neat idea.

But really, there's nothing wrong with that. It, like other elements of the story, serves as an introductory point to this brave new world of Scalzi's, and the world is interesting enough, and exciting enough, to warrant the introduction. The continuation of the series, and its continued popularity and critical praise, is a sure sign that the depth that might be missing in this book is sure to develop; even if it doesn't, Scalzi's writing and worldbuilding are just too fun to miss.

In the end, I have to give this book a solid recommendation (not that it needs one from me) for one simple, but telling reason. Within minutes of finishing it, I desperately wanted to read the next book--I had to know what happened to John, and Jane, and the island of humanity in its sea of enemies. That hasn't happened to me since the first time I read Ender's Game, or The Eye of the World.

That's some pretty good company to be in.

All the opinions here are mine, and not yours. If yours are different, that's fantastic! Celebrate diversity! And take it somewhere else!
Click Here to read the rest.

Friday, August 8, 2008

So very, very shiny.

So I am now the proud owner of a Sharp SL-C3200 Zaurus PDA.
It's so pretty it makes the world bend around it a little bit, like a gravity well of shiny, touch screen goodness.
A singularity of Linux based enterductivity (see what I did there? Mixing up entertainment and productivity? Yeah, I bet you did.)
This thing...this thing...christ. I can't imagine why this thing didn't take over the world. It can do EVERYTHING a "casual" usuer needs! Word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, video and music playback, online capability (with a wireless card) and a metric crapload of potential. Sure, it's not the fastest thing in the world but the tech is already 3 years old--if they tried hard, they could make it all kinds of zippy.
And it fits in my POCKET.
In the three days I've had it, I've read three novels, a to0n of Manga, and practiced Kanji all in the palm of my hand.

Damn. I'm all tingly...


Speaking of reading three novels, I finally got around to reading Old Man's War by John Scalzi. Seeing as how I've been reading his blog for a couple of months now, I figured it was about time, so I loaded the free ebook copy I got from and read it in about 5 hours.
It's not long, but man, was it good.
Review shortly.


Hypocrisy, (n), see George W. Bush
Yes, China, stop all those illegal detentions and torture and stuff. Cause, you know, America is WAAAAY better than China.... Click Here to read the rest.