Monday, March 28, 2011

Jane Austen Drinking Game

Official rules, per Mostly Water Theatre:

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posted by reyn at 12:40 PM


Friday, March 25, 2011

Gearing up for Tear

Title: The Dragon Reborn [find in a library]
Author: Robert Jordan
Series info: Book 3 in The Wheel of Time

Oh geez, what happened in this book? When each book in the series, in hardback, is 550-800 pages long it gets really hard to recall it all, or even remember what happened in the first 400 pages.

SPOILER ALERT, as per usual.

Thirteen Black Ajah, a group of Aes Sedai who follow the Dark One, leave the White Tower after killing several other Aes Sedai and stealing ter'angreal (artifacts that help them channel more power). Not coincidentally, it takes 13 Aes Sedai to remove a channeler's access to the True Source, so the fact that 13 left is worrisome at best.

The Amyrlin Seat, the head Aes Sedai, charges Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne with the task of tracking down any other Black Ajah that may have remained behind. As Accepted (one level up from Novice but not yet full Aes Sedai), no one will suspect them of this task. They find clues as to where the 13 have gone and decide to follow them to the city of Tear.

Elayne, daughter-heir to the throne of Andor, worries her mother, Morgase, will become even more enraged at the White Tower if she disappears yet again. So she requests that Mat take a message to her mother. Along the way, Mat picks up Thom, a gleeman (storyteller) who first appeared in book one. Upon his arrival at the palace, Mat overhears a plot to kill Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne. He soon finds himself feeling duty bound to save them and sets off toward Tear with Thom in tow.

Meanwhile, Rand has been having dreams of a sword that is not a sword called Callandor. The Dragon Reborn is the only one who can remove this sword from its location in the Stone of Tear. Rand grudgingly embraces his destiny and begins to make his way, alone, to the city of Tear.

Loial, Perrin, Moiraine, Lan, and a new recruit, Faile (a female hunter for the Horn of Valere who chose the name Faile because it means falcon. This is significant because a seer of sorts has told Perrin that there is a falcon in his future), are following Rand. To the city of Tear.

As the various groups travel, they discover that many of the Forsaken have taken positions of leadership in many cities, including Tear. The Forsaken are 13 Aes Sedai from the previous Age, when Lews Therin was the Dragon Reborn fighting the Dark One.

The travelers also encounter people of the Aiel race. The Aiel have not left their home in the Aiel Waste in many years. And they all seem to be traveling to one location: Tear.

What lies await in Tear? Will the Forsaken thwart the travelers? Will Rand claim Callandor?

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posted by Kate at 6:50 PM


Slightly off topic, but great for a Friday

Next time we, the bloggers of RitP, get together, I suggest we follow the lead of these fine gentlemen:


posted by ket at 1:51 PM


Friday, March 11, 2011

This was the best?

Title: Year's Best SF7
Edited by: David G. Hartwell

I've read other compilations like this, collecting the "best sci-fi of the year," but I think most of the collections I've read were from a different publisher. Maybe it's our nature to remember only the good stuff, but I think those were better. I read this long enough ago that already it's far easier for me to remember the good stuff, but I still remember that there were a few bombs, too. Several times while reading, I thought "this was the best? All those writers out there, and this was the best they could find??" but maybe it's a matter of the "best for which we were able to obtain publishing rights."

There were some very imaginative, clever, well written stories--but there were also some that seemed like half-efforts, or those few that seemed far too over-ambitious: someone trying to reinvent a genre by doing something really ridiculous.

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posted by reyn at 11:21 AM


Monday, March 07, 2011

How deep DOES the rabbit hole go?

Title: Blind Descent
Author: James M. Tabor

Everest is old hat. It's a tourist site. All you need is a big pile of money, and two months off work, and you can hire someone to guide your sorry keister to the summit, assuming you are also physically capable (but pretty much everyone uses bottled oxygen). Some explorers decided to go the opposite direction; they sought the deepest cave on earth.

Problem is, you can look at mountains and tell they're really big, and even get a good idea of which one is biggest (although some clever trigonometry settled it in the case of Everest), but you can't tell how deep a cave is--or even which caves might be promising--without trying to find the bottom and measuring. And finding the bottom of caves that big is a royal bitch. People die.

In Mexico, Bill Stone believes the Cheve cave system will win the title of World's Deepest Cave; in the Republic of Georgia, Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk believes Krubera will prove deeper. Both caves offer unique challenges; both men have very different styles of leadership and caving. The book covers both, and I'm a little torn on how I feel about it. The story is fascinating, but the writing was a little disappointing. Tabor spends a lot of time stressing how dangerous caving can be, but it feels a little like he's trying to crank up tension to drive the book, and the effort seems forced. If you're submerged in 40 degree water, belly-crawling in the dark, nearly a mile underground, you don't need anyone to tell you it's dangerous. At the same time, very little explanation is given to topics that need it--and that's coming from someone who's spent a lot of time dangling from climbing ropes. If I can't figure out what's going on, people who have never climbed or caved will be completely lost. There's a lot of good information, but it feels poorly organized.

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posted by reyn at 1:59 PM


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Detecting Murder by Poison

Title: The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York [find in a library]
Author: Deborah Blum

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Deborah Blum, details the fascinating tale of the "birth of forensic medicine" in New York City in the 1920s. Each chapter is entitled with the name of a poison and describes various murders using the poison, the poison's effects, and how forensic medicine discovered the way to detect that poison in bodies during autopsy. Poisons covered include chloroform, methyl alcohol, carbon monoxide, cyanide, arsenic, radium, and many more.

The book also chronicles the development of the coroner's office in NYC into a far more scientific medical examiner's office. Prior to this time, the city coroner was an appointed position in which medical knowledge didn't always receive highest consideration. The lack of knowledge led to murder by poison being virtually unsolvable and frequently not even suspected. When pathologist Dr. Charles Norris was appointed Chief Medical Examiner, he quickly changed all that. He hired Alexander Gettler, a great chemist, to head the toxicology laboratory. Together, the two solved many murders by poison.

One of the things I found very interesting and horrifying was the government's attempts to stop people from drinking during Prohibition. Drinking actually increased during Prohibition with people frequently consuming poisonous alcohol, either methyl alcohol or denatured alcohol - a byproduct of industrial processes that had been purposely poisoned by businesses at the government's behest. Prior to Prohibition, it was already a requirement for businesses to poison the byproduct alcohol. However, when they realized that people were willing to take their chances with this poisoned alcohol and that bootleggers were employing chemists to remove as many toxins as possible from the alcohol, government officials concluded that "perhaps the best way to enforce Prohibition was to make alcohol so deadly that even the sellout chemists working for crime syndicates couldn't rescue it. If alcohol was truly undrinkable, the argument went, even the most devoted boozer would have to give it up" (p. 153). In effect, the government was actively mandating the murder of its citizens because everyone knew that people were still drinking a great deal.

All in all, a well-researched, well-written, fascinating book. I highly recommend it to anyone even slightly interested in the topic.

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posted by Kate at 4:01 PM


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Saga Continues

Title: The Great Hunt [find in a library]
Author: Robert Jordan

If there's one thing Robert Jordan really gets right, it's the climaxes in his books. You may find yourself slogging along, and then suddenly you're cheering, fist pumping, or squealing in excitement at the fabulous characters and their heroic deeds.

I had to take a break from reading for a day or two after finishing The Great Hunt. The end was that good.

SPOILER ALERT: It is impossible for me to review Robert Jordan's series without spoiling the various plot lines along the way. If you have any interest in reading these books, you may not want to read further.

The Great Hunt tells the tale of the Hunt for the Horn of Valere (sorry, couldn't help myself, I love that it has a Wikipedia page), a horn that when blown will bring back historic armies of great strength and might. This horn will work for whomever sounds it, and therefore must not fall into enemy hands. So of course it does.

After finding the Horn (the first time), Rand and friends have very little interest in using it and simply want to pass it off to someone else who is worthy. Rand struggles endlessly with the fact that he has been told he is the Dragon Reborn. The one man who will "break the world" yet the only hope for mankind's defeat of the Dark One. Not a fate anyone would take lightly.

Then, the Horn is stolen by the unfathomably evil Padan Fain, who has been manipulated and imbued with various evil powers by The Dark One himself. Rand, Mat, Perrin, and an army of soldiers must follow the horn and retrieve it.

Meanwhile, Egwene and Nynaeve have moved on to the White Tower for training in becoming Aes Sedai. Until Liandrin (an Aes Sedai who seems likely to be working for the wrong team) informs them that Rand is in danger, and leads them right into the hands of those who wish to enslave them. Egwene is captured with Min (a friend who does not have the ability to channel the True Source, but who sees images around people that foretell their future, albeit not particularly clearly). Nynaeve and Elayne (a fellow Aes Sedai-in-training and daughter-heir to a throne) escape. Egwene's treatment during captivity leads the reader into a fist-pumping celebration at her escape (with Nynaeve and Elayne's help) and revenge.

Meanwhile, the hunt continues for the stolen Horn. Throughout the book, we learn that Rand is incredibly powerful and Nynaeve as well. Unfortunately, Nynaeve cannot channel the True Source unless she is incredibly pissed off. Luckily, that's a frequent state of being for her.

Will Rand, Mat, and Perrin retrieve the Horn? Will Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Min find them? I'm sure I'll have to reveal the answers when I review the next book....

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posted by Kate at 10:50 AM