Thursday, June 04, 2009

Last night, I finished The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks.

To read my general thoughts on Iain Banks, you can see the synopsys at the top of my review of his last book, Dead Air, here. This new book is again in a similar vein, more like The Crow Road than his stranger books. In this case, even more so than Dead Air, since both The Crow Road and The Steep Approach to Garbadale have a lot to do with family mysteries and conflicting romantic relationships. The newer book is structured very differently, with interlacing flashbacks and points of view instead of a consistent narrator.

Garbadale is a good book, if not quite up to the standards of The Crow Road. His characters never fail to be compelling and interesting, and the reader strongly feels their emotional struggles and dilemmas. The opening is weakened a little by the multiple, switching narrators and point of view, but once the main shape of the story is visible, it is quite engrossing. There is a minor revelation at the end that I had mostly figured out.

The one negative about the book were the anti-Bush/America diatribes near the end. Putting aside whether or not one agrees with their content, they felt out of place in the story and seemed to be their just so the author could vent his spleen. In the future, I'd recommend that he gets a blog for that purpose, and doesn't burden his characters, stories and readers with them.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I spent most of Saturday and a good part of Sunday at the Maker Faire in San Mateo.

This is my third Maker Faire (I missed the first one). Seemed to be a slightly smaller crowd this year, though still well attended and very crowded feeling at times. This year had fewer of the huge metal sculptures that seemed to everywhere last year, more sponsors and people selling things and fewer logistical problems than in the past. For example, all the speeches I saw were pretty much on time and free of issues with laptops, presentation software, video or audio that were prevelent at the previous two. Most of the major things seemed to be the same - the Crucible was there, the huge mousetrap, the dangerous rides, the incredibly expensive food. No sign of Robot Wars this year (or whatever they called it) but they did give a lot of space to Playing At Learning's displays on the First Lego League and First Tech Challenge. The music seemed to be a little de-emphasised this year, with a smaller stage and less shaded seating but still some good acts (like Culann's Hounds). This year also had less emphasis on steampunk, though there was a strong steampunk contingent, both costumers and makers, there representing.

Adam Savage's speech, although very different from last years, was a highlight again. Some of the other interesting speeches I saw were on DIY electronics prototyping, needs for better robotic manufacturing, a history of Silicon Valley before Hewlett-Packard.

Overall, very fun, but also getting very expensive and the crowds are still an issue for me.

(some photos here).

I wrote about the last two Maker Faires here and here.
Yesterday, I finished First Contract by Greg Costikyan.

Costikyan is best known as a game designer, including the wacky post-apocalyptic Paranoia. First Contract has a similar feel, in terms of wacky action, at time. It's the comedic story of the CEO of a high-tech company and what happens to him, his company, and the human economy after first contact between humans and a galactic federation.

The novel starts off weak, with some poorly developed characters and worse dialogue, but picks up after the CEO loses everything. When he gets caught up in a new business scheme, the book picks up pace and the comedic tone comes through stronger. The economics also strike me as a little unlikely, but they are necessary to set up the rest of the amusing story, so I guess it's OK.

Fun, but minor.