Category Archives: Books

The Secret Library (The Secret Lair Episode 0002)

The second episode of The Secret Lair is available for immediate download. If you’re using one of those newfangled podcatchers (like iTunes), the dang thing may have done all the hard work for you; all you’ve got to do is listen. Why, in my day, we had to download files by FTP from a command prompt over a 2400-baud connection and we had to manually set the file type to binary and we liked it! You kids are soft! Soft, I tell you!

Before you had all these fancy Internets and your high-definition television sets and such, we got all of our information from two places: whores and books. Since the boys over at The Secret Lair ain’t whores (yet), they’ve decided to open The Secret Library, an online discussion group that combines the newfangled whizbangery of the Internets with the blood, sweat and good old-fashioned elbow grease of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press.

So listen to the episode, webalate yourself to Amazon.com or get off your ass and go to your local bookstore or libraryIt’s like a bookstore where all the books are free; perfect for all you left-leaning liberal Pinko wingnuts. and get yourself a copy of Fatherland by Robert Harris. Read all the words, then join in the discussion over at The Secret Lair’s official online community or The Secret Library BookReads group.

Don’t make me tell you again.

Bookstuff: Room to Read

The International House of Johnson, despite its impressive moniker, is not a grand palatial estate. It is, in fact, a three-bedroom, one-and-three-quarter bath, split-level ranch with approximately 1,100 square feet of living spaceI think. My recollection of the months leading up to and immediately following April 2001, when the International House of Johnson was purchased, is somewhat hazy; it is entirely improbable that our Realtor drugged or hypnotized me, but I have no other (interesting) explanation of my inability to dredge up the particulars of the sale from the nigh-infallible storage system that is my memory.. Laura and I have claimed the master bedroom and the second doubles as both Kyle’s room and our guest room. The third bedroom has been converted into an office, as has the family room; the former is used by Laura, the latter by me and the catsRosie and Gil, to the best of my knowledge, don’t perform any clerical work in the office we share. Rather, it is the site of their food and water dishes as well as their litter boxes. My office is their cafeteria and restroom..

In most respects, the International House of Johnson is the perfect size for two adults, one toddler and two cats. When I want to read, however, the compactness presents something of a problem. There are really only five places within the walls that I can comfortably read: the master bedroom, the living room, my office, and…well, I’ll get to the other two in a bit, but first I want to explain why I don’t do all of my reading in the other three locations.

The Master Bedroom

The master bedroom at the International House of Johnson is gloriously appointed with a queen-sized Select Comfort bedMy Sleep Number tends to be in the area of 55 to 65., two night tables, two dressers, two laundry hampers, and no chairs.

The lack of chairs doesn’t present a problem for bedtime reading, but I’m not particularly fond of lying down while reading during the day, so the master bedroom—while great for sleeping and other nocturnal activities—isn’t the ideal location for daytime or early evening reading.

The Living Room

One of the first things we did upon moving into the International House of Johnson was…well, that’s beside the point, but eventually we purchased two new sofas, both of which feature a recliner on each end. Laura and I sit at opposite ends of the north-south sofa when we watch television, while the east-west sofa is generally only used when we have guests.

My southside recliner is a very nice place to read; just yesterday, while my young apprentice napped and Laura was out shopping, I finished Robert R. McCammon’s The Wolf’s Hour there while sipping Lipton Instant Raspberry Iced Tea.

Unfortunately, if the television is on, I can’t read in my southside recliner. Whether the television is tuned to The Backyardigans, CSI or Eureka, I am almost entirely incapable of the maintaining focus necessary to ignore the boob tube and concentrate on the printed words marching across the page of a novel. The television is not only a distraction when it is on, but the twenty-plus hours of pre-recorded shows and movies on the TiVo are a temptation even when the idiot box is turned off (not to mention the siren call of the Xbox).

The Office

Formerly the family room, my office features a fireplace in one corner and a large, three-paned window that looks out on Laura’s rose garden. It should be a cozy den to which I can retreat for some peaceful solitude when I want to read. Should be, and would be but for a few minor drawbacks:

  1. First and foremost, I share the room with the cats. Take a cozy office family room, add a bowl of cat food, a watering dish and two litter boxes (not to mention two cats) and it becomes something entirely different. The fact that there’s nowhere in the room one can sit and be more than four feet from a litter box is a problem in and of itself; the carpeted floor onto which the cats scatter or track the litter (and food) is another issue all together.
  2. Second, my office is adjacent to the laundry room. The very small laundry room. Laura does a very good job with space management inside the laundry room, but there’s just no room to set up an ironing board in there. Sometimes, the ironing board gets hauled into the living room when it’s needed, but more often than not it is set up in my office.
  3. Finally, there is the matter of the crawlspace. The crawlspace is accessed through the laundry room, which is accessed through my office. Thanks to Laura’s space management in the laundry room, it can be a bit of a chore to get to the crawlspace on a regular basis. Thus, my office serves as a sort of storage purgatory; a place where Christmas decorations and baby clothes linger in cardboard boxes and Rubbermaid containers until I get off my ass, shuffle around the contents of the laundry room so I can get to the crawlspace, and put it all away. This, as you may have gathered, is my own damn fault; more a product of laziness than any true necessity.

Reading Rooms

If a man can’t read in his living room, his office or his bedroom, where can he go? That’s where those other two rooms enter into the picture: the master and guest bathrooms.

Now, I understand that there’s a certain amount of ickiness associated with reading in the bathroom (not that it’s ever hurt the publishers of the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series), but I’ve been in plenty of bathrooms that are furnished with a magazine rack, and I often find a copy of The Plain Dealer in the restroom at work, so clearly the practice is not entirely outside the realm of social acceptability.

That said, I do have my own personal rules as to what I will and will not read in the bathroom:

  1. Books I own. If I purchased it, chances are I’ll read at least part of it in the bathroom. I don’t generally disclose this when loaning my books to other people, but perhaps I should in the future.
  2. Books I’ve borrowed. Under no circumstances do I read borrowed books in the bathroom. This is one reason it takes me so long to read borrowed books.
  3. Library books. I waffled on this one for quite a while, but with the due date for The Wolf’s Hour looming and several hundred pages yet to read, I decided that I would allow myself to read library books in the bathroom. I have a feeling that being read in my bathroom is fairly mild compared to the unpleasant things that have been done to most library books.

Reading in the bathroom is not without its difficulties. Aside from the obvious desire to maintain a certain degree of hygiene, there is also the problem of blood vessels: after about twenty minutes of reading with my elbows firmly planted just above my knees, both of my feet fall asleep, resulting in a few minutes of post-bathroom pins and needles and the need to “walk it off”.

Perhaps one day I will devise an alternative solution to sharing my office with Rosie and Gil, enabling me to reclaim the space and make it truly my own again. Until (and probably well beyond) that day, the Reading Rooms will remain open.

Essay Questions

  1. Where do you do most of your reading?
  2. Do you have a special place set aside just for reading? What type of environment makes for a relaxing, satisfying reading experience?
  3. Do you read in the bathroom? If so, what are your personal bathroom reading rules?

Bookstuff: Transformers: Ghosts of Yesterday

Transformers: Ghosts of YesterdayTransformers: Ghosts of Yesterday by Alan Dean Foster is “[t]he story you must read—before Transformers rockets to the big screen!” Until I saw the book on the shelves of my local independent bookseller, I hadn’t been aware that there were prerequisites to seeing Michael Bay’s big screen treatment of my favorite childhood transforming-robot toys, ((I’m still waiting for the announcement that John McTiernan (Die Hard) will be directing the GoBots movie. Any day now…)) but I certainly didn’t want to show up at the theater bright-eyed with cash in hand only to be turned away at the box office due to my own ill-preparedness.

I think Paramount and Dreamworks dropped the ball on this; in all the Transformers pre-release hype—trailers, GM and Burger King tie-in commercials—there’s not a single indication that the audience needs to read a book before they can watch the movie. I can only imagine the scene that will play out over and over, all across the country (if not the world) tomorrow evening:

“One for Transformers, please.”

“Have you read Ghosts of Yesterday?”

“What?”

Ghosts of Yesterday; it’s the official prequel to the blockbuster film. Have you read it?”

“No, I—”

“Sorry, no one sees the movie until they read the book. Next, please!”

“Wait a minute! I want to see Transformers!”

“Sorry, kid. Rules is rules. You gotta read the book. Step aside, please. Don’t make me call security.”

The real tragedy is that Ghosts of Yesterday isn’t an especially good book. The story revolves around a top-secret space mission that coincides with the 1969 launch of Apollo 11, the not-at-all-secret space mission that first put a man on the moon. ((You know, if you believe in that sort of thing.)) While the world watches Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin make their historic voyage to a Hollywood soundstage Earth’s only satellite, a secret government agency known as Sector Seven covertly launches Ghost One, an experimental spaceship derived from alien technology. The source of the technology is “The Ice Man”, a giant mechanoid being, one of two alien artifacts held in secret by the United States government.

During its maiden voyage, Ghost One encounters an unexpected phenomenon on the far side of the sun: a wormhole that transports the ship and its crew to an unknown area of outer space, where they encounter two warring factions of sentient mechanical beings who have been exploring the vast reaches of the universe in search of a lucrative merchandising deal.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the powers-that-be decide to move The Ice Man from the frozen Arctic wastes to balmy Arizona, where there’s absolutely no chance he’ll thaw and wreak havoc on humanity; I mean, just put that thought right out of your head, it’s all perfectly safe. Unfortunately, it’s 1969, and no one’s thought to end the Cold War just yet. The Russians, perhaps a little annoyed that we’re about to beat them to a soundstage in Hollywood the moon, arrange for a little accident en route to Arizona.

It’s not a terrible story, but it felt empty to me. Maybe Transformers—perfectly suited to toys and comic books and animated television series—just don’t translate well to the realm of pure prose. Foster makes almost no effort to describe the giant robots, other than to say that they’re giant robots. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that if you’re reading the book you know what a Transformer looks like so there’s no point in wasting words describing them. And while the story certainly sets the stage for the movie, it really doesn’t accomplish much of anything else. The human characters, for the most part, are just sketches with little opportunity for any true development; of the Transformers themselves, only the Decepticon Starscream and the Autobots Optimus Prime and Bumblebee get much in the way of “face time”, but they’re in constant battle with one another and the only part of their characters that really comes across is the fact that they’d like to destroy their enemies.

I’m glad I read the book, if only because now I’ll be able to stride proudly up to the box office and say, “One for Transformers, please, my good ticketmonger! I have completed the required reading and am fully prepared to enjoy an evening of motion picture entertainment!”

Non Sequitur: Vuelva a la Biblioteca!

I’m back in good graces with my local library, so I’ve been a multimedia fiend for the past couple of weeks. Here’s a list of the audio, video and printified goodness that I’ve enjoyed recently or will be enjoying shortly:

  • Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. Read by Lenny Henry. Gaiman’s follow up to American Gods focuses on African and West Indian deities. Anansi Boys has a much more sympathetic main character (Fat Charlie), and the world felt much more fleshed out than the stark landscapes of American Gods. Top-notch narration by British comedian Lenny Henry adds even more flavor to the rich story.
  • Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen. Read by Lee Adams. I’m a little over halfway through this quirky tale of lust, revenge and the general decline of basic civility, but I’m enjoying it quite a lot. The main character is a bit of a nutjob, which makes her difficult to sympathize with at times.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Read by Simon Prebble. This will take a good chunk of time to get through, and it doesn’t help that it was Laura, not me, who checked it out of the library. I haven’t started listening to Jonathan Strange just yet; I’ll begin as soon as I finish Nature Girl, if Laura will let me.
  • M:I:III, also known as Mission: Impossible III, starring the actor formerly known as Mr. Nicole Kidman. I heard rumors that Tom’s talkshow antics really hurt this movie’s box office performance. I’d dismiss those rumors as whiny excuse-making, except for one thing: M:I:III is the best of the series. It’s got tons of over-the-top action, lots of super-cool spy gadgetry, and Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a damn good villain. I only wish I’d had the option to get a widescreen copy, as the pan-and-scan on the fullscreen version is practically painful at times.
  • The first season of Sledge Hammer! starring David Rasche. Sometimes the things that we thought were funny and cool two decades ago should be relegated to fond memories and not revisited on DVD. Sledge Hammer! doesn’t seem anywhere near as funny today as I remember it being. I got a few chuckles out of it, but the show feels incredibly dated today.
  • Date Movie starring Alyson Hannigan. Date Movie — along with its even more inane cousin, Epic Movie — are proof-positive that the writers (or some subset of the writers) of Scary Movie have shot their collective wad. Alyson Hannigan barely (and I do mean barely) makes this unfunny parody worth watching.
  • Smokin’ Aces starring a whole bunch of folks.
  • Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. The only ink-and-paper title on the list. I’m only a few pages into this tale of heroes and villains of the super variety. I like what I’ve read so far.

Moviestuff: Adaptations.

I knew I was forgetting a few things in yesterday’s Geekstuff post, so here are some tidbits about upcoming movie adaptations of comic books, graphic novels and cartoons.

Transformers: Ghosts of Yesterday, by Alan Dean Foster, is the “official prequel” to the upcoming Transformers live-action movie. I’ve got mixed expectations for the movie and I generally avoid movie tie-in books like the plague (ditto for comic book tie-in novelsA recent exception was Devin Grayson’s Inheritance, a novel set in the DC Universe. Unlike the handful of other comic book tie-in novels I’ve read, this one managed to make the jump from panels to prose pretty well.); on the other hand, I’ve enjoyed some of Foster’s earlier novels (particularly his Spellsinger series) and I do loves me some transforming robots. When a bookstore gift card was dropped in my lap earlier this week, I decided to give the novel a look.

Zack Snyder, who directed the brilliant, beautiful and brutal movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300, has apparently been tapped to helm“[T]apped to helm” is officially part of the Hollywood vernacular, it seems. another movie adaptation: Alan Moore’s Watchmen.The likelihood of Alan Moore’s name appearing anywhere on screen is slim to none, as Moore wants nothing to do with his works being adapted to film. Thanks to tricksy comic book companies like DC taking ownership of the works their artists produce, several of Moore’s graphic novels — most notably V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell — have been turned into movies without his consent. I thought 300 was a fantastic movie, but is about a stylistically removed from Watchmen as you can get; it will be interesting to see what Snyder does with a graphic novel whose fans are sharply divided as to whether it can (or even should) ever be properly adapted to film. It’s been a while since I read Watchmen, but I think Bruce Davison (Lathe of Heaven, X-Men) is well-suited to the role of Dan Dreiberg, AKA Nite Owl.

I had a copy of the new, extended cut of Fantastic Four in my hands twice a couple of days ago, but ultimately left it in the store. It seems that “Ultimate Collector’s Limited Edition” DVD — which came in a round tin that won’t sit nicely with the other DVDs on my shelf — isn’t quite as ultimateCome on, Twentieth Century Fox, get with the program. Once you’ve released an “ultimate” version, there should be no more versions. The word has a meaning; look it up! as one might expect, as the new release contains twenty minutes of previously unreleased footage and a second disc, undoubtedly jam-packed with new special features. Tempted though I was by this new version, I realized that those twenty minutes are far more likely to contain scenes of Johnny and Ben bickering than an extended battle sequence with Dr. Doom. I’m sure I’ll pick it up eventually, as special DVD features are like a kind of crack to me.

I’d say something about the Wachowski Brothers’ live-action adaptation of Speed Racer, but I’ve never actually watched the cartoon. If you’re the enterprising sort, you may be able to find a photo of Speed’s car, the Mach 5, on the Internets, perhaps even here somewhere.

Geekstuff: Superheroes in the News

My finger is, as always, on the pulse of entertainment newsTechnically, my RSS feed reader is on the pulse., especially where it pertains to all things superheroic. A couple of things have recently caught my eye:

Stan Lee has signed on to create superheroes for Disney. I love Stan Lee as much as the next guySo long as the next guy is a huge superhero geek., but I’m wondering if Disney has taken a good look at some of Stan’s more recent creations. Mosaic was decent, but Lightspeed (starring Jason Connery) was positively abysmal. I haven’t seen The Condor yet, but the trailers prominently feature a half-pipe and Tony Hawkish skateboarding sounds, all of which reminds me of Night Thrasher from the New Warriors, and that’s not a good thing (sorry Night Thrasher).

City of Heroes

Tom DeSanto (producer of the upcoming Transformers movie) is reportedly working on a live-action City of Heroes movie. City of Heroes is the MMORPG that sucked up massive quantities of my time a couple of years ago until upgrades to the game surpassed the capabilities of my computer and puny dial-up Internet connectionI’ve switched to a cable Internet connection, but my computer is still only barely capable of running the game.. One of the things I really liked about the game was the massive backstory NCSoft built around Paragon City and the surrounding area. Quotes from DeSanto lead me to believe that the movie will cover the alien invasion that takes place before the game begins. Color me interested.

Soon I Will Be Invincible @ Amazon.com

Soon I Will Be Invincible is Austin Grossman’s first novel, and there are already rumors that it is being adapted to film. Grossman is a game design consultant who has worked on two of my favorite video game franchises: Thief and Deus Ex. According to the official site, Invincible is “[a] wildly entertaining first novel, brimming with attitude and humor, featuring a cast of dozens of super-heroes and super-villains…” The buzz I’m hearing is very good, perhaps even good enough to make me break my “no hardcovers” rule.

Geekstuff: May 2007 Roundup

One of these days I’m going to write another real blog entry, but for now a little of the stuff that’s currently flipping my geek switch will have to suffice.

Star Wars Roleplaying Game. My copy of the core rulebook for the new “Saga Edition” has been shipped from Amazon and should arrive in a few days. I’m looking forward to digging into this one, as from most accounts the changes made by Wizards of the Coast make for faster, more cinematic gameplay than was possible using previous editions. Ken Newquist has posted a review on SciFi.com and more thoughts in two separate Nuketown posts.

Game Night. On the 29th, Chris Miller, Miscellaneous G™ and I got together intending to play Primetime Adventures, the roleplaying game in which players create a television series then roleplay episodes of the same. We got a little carried away during the creation phase and before we ever got around to deciding who our major protagonists would be we had outlined the major story arc for season one leading up to and including the cliffhanger season finale. I’m not sure whether we’re going to pull it back into Primetime Adventures or take it in another direction, but it was three solid hours of a very interesting creative vibe and we could all see a lot of potential in the end result.

Habeas Corpses by Wm. Mark Simmons. I bought this book at the airport in Oklahoma City because I didn’t relish the idea of three hours on two planes with nothing to read. Had I realized that Habeas Corpses is the third book in a series, I definitely would have bought something else. As it was, I was in a bit of a hurry and the cover doesn’t in any way indicate that it’s part of a seriesNot that I saw anything on the cover but cleavage and bare midriff., so I put my money on the counter and rushed to my gate. It’s a decent read that involves, vampires, werewolves, Native American tribal spirits and Nazis. I would give it a wholehearted recommendation except for one thing: the puns. I could understand giving the protagonist a propensity for punnery, but it seems like every one of Simmons’ characters spews puns left and right and after a while it just gets annoying and detracts from the story.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth. This is quite simply the best movie I’ve seen in recent memory. Over the past few evenings, Laura and I have been watching Pan’s Labyrinth with director Guillermo del Toro’s audio commentary. It’s clear that this project was a labor of love for del Toro, and his commentary explores everything from mythical elements in the story to how scenes were lit to how Doug Jones’ faun makeup changes during the course of the film. Unfortunately, del Toro has a voice that puts Laura to sleep after about fifteen minutes, so it’s taking us a bit longer than usual to get through the commentary track.

Bookstuff: Ancestor

Ancestor, the popular podcast novel by Scott Sigler is now available in print at Amazon.com. When Sigler originally released the novel in serialized audio form, it had an audience of over 30,000 listeners, including me. I got started a little late, but quickly caught up and—like so many other “ancest-whores”—found myself waiting very impatiently for Scott to release the next chapter.

Ancestor is best described as a blend of science-fiction and horror. Scientists attempting to create an animal whose organs can be transplanted into human beings inadvertently create a pack of monstrosities whose ravenous hunger leads them on a killing spree that leaves the snow-covered ground of a remote island in Lake Superior soaked with human blood. It’s exactly the type of story you’d expect to see featured on The Most Dangerous Night of Television, SciFi Channel’s weekly Saturday night monster movie marathon.

Ancestor is the second of Scott Sigler’s novels to see print; Earthcore (also originally presented as a podcast novel) is also available at Amazon.com. All four of Scott’s novels (including Infection and The Rookie) are currently available for free in audio form.

Netstuff: Podiobooks article in the New York Times online

There is an article in the Books section of the New York Times online today about one of my favorite websites, Podiobooks.com.

Podiobooks combines the concepts of audiobooks and podcasts to deliver free, full-length novels (fiction and non-fiction) in regular, bite-sized installments to your favorite podcatcher (I use iTunes).

After signing up for a free account, you can browse the site and subscribe to more than 90 titles. Once you’ve subscribed, chapters from the novel(s) are delivered to your podcatcher on a weekly basis. Feeds are customizable, so if you want to receive chapters more frequently you can tweak the delivery settings to meet your preference.

With most podcasts, when you subscribe your podcatcher downloads the latest episode; if you go to J.C. Hutchins’ 7th Son website right now and subscribe to his feed, you’ll get the latest episode of the second novel in his trilogy, which is definitely not where you want to begin listening.

On Podiobooks, when you subscribe to Hutchins’ first novel, 7th Son: Descent, (and you should), you get a custom feed that starts from the beginning of the book and delivers a new chapter on whatever schedule you like. That’s what makes Podiobooks unique.

Read the article, then go sign up for an account at Podiobooks.com. If you want some recommendations, I can suggest a few titles:

  • Ancestor by Scott Sigler.Am I the only one who finds the idea of Scott Sigler recording in a closet absolutely hilarious? I hope not. I want a poster made of that photo! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read the New York Times article, dammit! Most of the action Sigler’s second podcast novel takes place on a fictional island in Lake Superior, where scientists are hard at work creating beastly critters that want to eat us all. I enjoyed the hell out of this book, but I have one bone to pick with Mr. Sigler: No self-respecting Yooper would name his dog “Pasty”.
  • 7th Son: Descent by J.C. Hutchins. I’ve talked about this book on KJToo.com and on The Round Table more times than I can count, and with good reason: it rocks. After a four-year-old boy kills the President of the United States, seven men are suddenly ripped away from their ordinary lives to discover that they are all clones of the man responsible assassination, and only by working together can they stop him.
  • The Red Panda Adventures by Decoder Ring Theater. Radio drama in the style of The Shadow and The Green Hornet. The Red Panda and The Flying Squirrel use clever gadgets, hypnosis and fisticuffs to fight crime on the streets of Toronto. By day, the costumed vigilantes are actually one of the city’s wealthiest menUnless I missed something, The Red Panda’s alter ego is never named throughout Season One. I only realized this about halfway into the season, so I’ll admit I wasn’t listening for the name in the first few episodes. Very clever. and his sassy driver, Kit Baxter.
  • Voices: New Media Fiction edited by Mur Lafferty. A collection of previously-podcasted short stories from authors like Cory Doctorow, Tee Morris, James Patrick Kelly and Patrick McLean (whose “Death of a Dishwasher” is one of the collection’s highlights).
  • The Curious Education of Epitome Quirkstandard by A.F. Harrold. How to describe this one? At the risk of insulting the author and the citizens of the United Kingdom, I’ll call it “very British”. Epitome Quirkstandard is an English dandy who — thanks to World War I — finds himself without a cadre of servants waiting on him hand and foot. Simone Crepuscular ran away from home to join the circus and accidentally joined the army, instead. After a long tour in India, Crepuscular leaves the service and travels across Asia and Europe, eventually returning to England where he self-publishes an astonishing number of pamphlets that contain the length and breadth of his considerable knowledge and experience. When the clueless Quirkstandard passes out near Crepuscular’s pamphlet shop, it marks the beginning of his curious eduction.

Bookstuff: How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

A certain squeaky wheel took me to task for not providing a more detailed report of my vacation activities in the Upper Peninsula. Hopefully this bibliocentric update should provide a little grease.

I brought five books with me to the U.P.:

  1. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
  2. Inheritance by Devin Grayson
  3. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  4. Spicy Air Tales! Volume 1, featuring “Fortune’s Hunt” by Michael A. Stackpole
  5. Spicy Air Tales! Volume 2, featuring “The Great Helium War” by Robert E. Vardeman and “Manhattan Mayhem” by Loren L. Coleman

The Spicy Air Tales! series are short stories that take place in FASA’s Crimson Skies universe, a pen-and-paper roleplaying game that has been adapted to a miniatures game, an excellent PC game, and one of the best Xbox games I’ve ever played (Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge). The setting — an alternate history of the United States in which most major commerce and transportation is airborne — is brilliant, just the sort of thing that I hope to be able to create during International World Creation Month (more on that later this week).

Of the reading material that I brought with me, the only thing I finished was the Stackpole short story, “Fortune’s Hunt” (which I completed in the hotel room on the way back home Saturday night). Inheritance sat on the table next to my father’s recliner for nearly two weeks, while The Once and Future King sat about fifteen feet away on the table next to my mother’s recliner.

I did read two novels, though. The first I picked up on a whim from ShopKo, the second I happened across in my brother’s room while we were playing Burnout 3: Takedown on the Xbox.

  1. Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas PrestonThere is a testimonial on the cover of this book by Stephen Coonts, author of Flight of the Intruder:

    If John Grisham had written Jurassic Park, he couldn’t do better than Tyrannosaur Canyon.

    To me, that’s a tricky bit of praise; it almost seems like a back-handed compliment to mix references to Grisham and Michael Crichton. Nonetheless, it was a fun book and a quick read. The story involves a lost moon rock specimen, a murdered prospector, a greedy scientist, a hired gun, and a millionaire veterinarian; an interesting mix of characters, some clever science and a few twists. It’s a bit predictable at times, but still managed to pull the rug out from under my feet once or twice.

  2. Storm Front (Book One of The Dresden Files) by Jim ButcherTwo of my co-hosts on The Round Table have read this book and SciFi is premiering a new show based on the series later this month. That was enough to pique my interest, so it was a happy coincidence that my brother had a copy of the first book in the series.

    For those who don’t know, The Dresden Files is about a private detective who also happens to be a wizard. It’s Harry Potter meets Sam Spade, and Storm Front turned out to be a pretty good story.

I also bought three more books while on vacation, all from a used bookstore called Back Room Books. I worked at “the Back Room” for a few months before moving to Ohio in 1994. The owner has since moved and greatly expanded the store.

  1. Blood Rites (Book Six of The Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher
    This one will likely sit on my bookshelf until I read books two through five in the series, but I couldn’t pass up the bargain.
  2. Dance of Death by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
    I’ve read a couple of Preston and Child’s collaborations in the past (most notably Relic), so this seemed like a fairly safe bet. Turns out it’s the second book in a trilogy, which probably means I’ll have to pick up the first, Brimstone, in the near future.
  3. The Codex by Douglas Preston
    This one appears to be the predecessor to Tyrannosaur Canyon. Unless I miss my guess, the story will fill in the back story of Tom Broadbent, the millionaire veterinarian.

So, I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me. I’m not about to undertake one of those “50 Book” challenges I’ve read about, but I would like to do a lot more reading in 2007 than I did in 2006. Maybe I’ll even finish a few of the books I brought with me on vacation (I’m about a quarter of the way through The Once and Future King and halfway through Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom).

When I do finish a book (especially those I bought at used bookstores), there’s a good chance I’ll pass it on to a friend or even release it into the wild and use Book Crossing to track it. Book Crossing allows readers to register books, label them, and then track them as they travel across the country or even the world. If you see a book lying on a bench in your local mall or seemingly forgotten in a coffee shop, check inside the front cover to see if there’s a Book Crossing label; it might just have been left there on purpose.

Finally, I wanted to mention Book Darts, a unique, clever, unobtrusive bookmark that allows you to mark your spot in a book without sticking out or damaging pages. When I picked up a copy of 1984 from Half Price Books last year, there was a Book Dart already in it and I didn’t even notice until after I’d started reading. I had no idea what the thin, arrow-shaped piece of folded metal (brass or bronze, from the look of it) was until I stumbled across the Book Darts website today. You can pick up a tin containing 75 darts for about ten bucks, and I’m thinking they’d make a nice addition to books I release into the wild or give to friends.