September 28th, 2014

Briana and Aunty Tara
  • blinger

Books 41 & 42 - 2012 (last update for this year!)

Book 41: Royal Observatory Greenwich: Souvenir Guide by National Maritime Museum, Greenwich – 78 pages

Description from
No blurb – its about the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in London. What more is there to say?

This was another of the various ‘tourist’ books I picked up while living (and therefore travelling) around the UK. This one is obviously about Greenwich, which is the home of the prime meridian of the world (the line differentiating east from west) and the establishment of a system to measure longitude and keep time in a simple and easy fashion. It’s fairly high level, covering off a variety of topics related to the site and the understanding of time and positioning, particularly for sailing. Fascinating and provides enough information for casual interest without expecting the reader to have a lot of background knowledge.

41 / 50 books. 82% done!

11614 / 15000 pages. 77% done!

Book 42: The Accidental Billionaires: Sex, Money, Betrayal and the Founding of Facebook by Ben Mezrich – 255 pages

Description from
The high-energy tale of how two socially awkward Ivy Leaguers, trying to increase their chances with the opposite sex, ended up creating Facebook. Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg were Harvard undergraduates and best friends-outsiders at a school filled with polished prep-school grads and long-time legacies. They shared both academic brilliance in math and a geeky awkwardness with women. Eduardo figured their ticket to social acceptance-and sexual success-was getting invited to join one of the university's Final Clubs, a constellation of elite societies that had groomed generations of the most powerful men in the world and ranked on top of the inflexible hierarchy at Harvard. Mark, with less of an interest in what the campus alpha males thought of him, happened to be a computer genius of the first order. Which he used to find a more direct route to social stardom: one lonely night, Mark hacked into the university's computer system, creating a ratable database of all the female students on campus-and subsequently crashing the university's servers and nearly getting himself kicked out of school. In that moment, in his Harvard dorm room, the framework for Facebook was born. What followed-a real-life adventure filled with slick venture capitalists, stunning women, and six-foot-five-inch identical-twin Olympic rowers-makes for one of the most entertaining and compelling books of the year. Before long, Eduardo's and Mark's different ideas about Facebook created in their relationship faint cracks, which soon spiraled into out-and-out warfare. The collegiate exuberance that marked their collaboration fell prey to the adult world of lawyers and money. The great irony is that while Facebook succeeded by bringing people together, its very success tore two best friends apart. "The Accidental Billionaires" is a compulsively readable story of innocence lost-and of the unusual creation of a company that has revolutionized the way hundreds of millions of people relate to one another.

I go through phases where I want to read about particular events or topics. Towards the end of 2012 I went through a phase where I want to read more non-fiction and I zeroed in on non-fiction related to the tech industries. This was the first of the books I read on that topic, after having seen the movie based on the book. If you’ve been living under a rock since about 2006, you won’t know that this insidious thing called Facebook now exists, slowly taking over every facet of our lives (I shouldn’t be so harsh – Facebook has many positives: the ability to stalk people you hated in primary school and know you are better than them, the ability to brag about all your holidays overseas while your friends labour along with their snotty little children, keeping in contact with relatives in distant countries so you have somewhere to crash when you end up there, etc). This is the story (how much is true is up to who’s side you’re on) of how Facebook came to be. Its pretty clear the movie follows reasonably closely to this book, but nonetheless its an interesting read. Anyone who’s anyone knows the ‘creator’ of Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg, but the Zuckerberg of this book comes across quite differently to the one you see in those little facebook posts he makes or in interviews (he seems less personable in the book). The treatment Eduardo cops seems pretty crap and those two giant rowing twins – I can’t decide if I feel sorry for how stupid they were, or annoyed at how arrogant. Its obvious why the story wound up as a movie, as the whole thing has a bit of a Hollywood feel to it. An interesting read about the creation of the most prolific social networking site in the world.

42 / 50 books. 84% done!

11869 / 15000 pages. 79% done!

Currently reading:
-        American Gods by Neil Gaiman – 588 pages
-        Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire – 495 pages
-        The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey – 457 pages

And coming up:
-        The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
-        The Odyssey by Homer – 324 pages
-        One for the Money by Janet Evanovich – 290 pages

Book #44: The X-Files Season 10, Volume 2

Elena Casagrande, Silvia Califano, Michael Walsh, Greg Scott, menton 3, Tony Moy

Number of pages: 128

The second compilation of stories from the X-Files Season 10 comic books, with four separate storylines.

First is "Hosts", the sequel to the classic Flukeman episode; I'd already read the second part of this story, but the first part had some significant plot points. It started off with a Jaws-like Flukeman attack in Martha's Vineyard. I liked the fact that continuity was paid attention to (one episode of the series had a visual gag in the form of a newspaper announcing that Flukeman had been found in Martha's Vineyard).

The story also introduced AD Anna Morales, Mulder and Scullys' new supervisor, as the agents were welcomed back to the FBI to work on the X-Files.

The only drawback in the first part was that, presumably for the benefit of anyone not familiar, Scully was forced to recap the main plot points of the original Flukeman storyline.

The second story was "Being for the Benefit of Mr. X". Mr. X was the nickname given to Mulder's second informant, who appeared in the second and third seasons before being killed off in the fourth.

It features a series of flashbacks to 1987, with a shocking opening scene that featured a Game of Thrones type level of violence that I suspect would have never been allowed on the TV series, as Mr. X arrives to clean up after a massacre at an elementary school, following some experiment using kids as test subjects for (evidently) the infamous black oil (a substance that on the show liked to possess human hosts).

In the present, Mulder starts to believe Mr. X is trying to contact him, particularly after the lesbian couple living in his old apartment find what appears to be a blood sample and also the X Mulder used to contact his dead informant.

The story features a couple more flashbacks, featuring the Cigarette Smoking Man and also the Deep Throat character from the first season. It was overall an interesting story that raised more questions than it answered, in a fashion that made me think of the show, "Lost". I loved the way that the incredibly harrowing first scene was followed up by a hilarious Mulder/Scully moment, not just for the fact that it bought back the show's running joke about Mulder getting pencils stuck in the ceiling, and reminding me that the show was always good at creating lighter moments in the middle of very dark storylines.

However, the ending was particularly bizarre:

[Spoiler (click to open)]After getting numerous phone messages in morse code, Mulder figured out it was the letter X that was being sent to him in code, and it all culminated in a meeting with X.

However, it didn't go quite as I expected, largely because as Mr. X talked about how Mulder's quest should not be turned into a crusade, he promptly dissolved into a mass of green alien blood. So, effectively the comic book series resurrected him only to have him presumably die right away. This will inevitably be explained later on in the comics.

The third story, "Chitter" felt like a filler episode; like previous stories, it was very cryptic and open to interpretation, but did return to the show's tradition of episodes that featured a lot of bugs (they did a memorable episode where people were apparently killed by cockroaches, and another where prehistoric bugs drained people of their blood).

The story features sacrifices to the evidently unseen "Chittering God", and I found it most notable for being very creepy, in classic X-Files style. My favourite aspect though was that the artwork was really good and made me want to see more of it; Mulder and Scully were drawn sharply, with the best resemblance to its actors I've seen in comic books for a while.

The final story, "More Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" revolved around Mulder and Scullys' long-term nemesis, a character who was usually a formidable villain, but shown here as often more vulnerable than usual.

The style made me think of Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse 5", as it jumped back and forth in time throughout the Cigarette Smoking Man's history, with a number of (often monochromatic) artistic styles. It featured a flashback involving his former wife Cassandra Spender, which got slightly disturbing (she attempts to stab her pregnant belly at one point before he stops her), and another flashback involving the young Fox Mulder and his parents. There was also a particularly scary flashback involving one of the "dino aliens" from the first movie, and a brief reference to a one-off character from the third season.

I liked the way that the style changed throughout, feeling almost trippy and surreal at times.

Like previous stories, it didn't exactly answer anything; it just made for some interesting storytelling, and developed the Cigarette Smoking Man's character a little. As for the final scene...

[Spoiler (click to open)]The Cigarette Smoking Man was shown to be talking to the mysterious figure he was seen speaking to at the end of the opening five-parter, who remains unseen. I thought at first it was Skinner, but I suspect I was completely wrong, particularly as this character seems to wield some supernatural powers, and was apparently the one who bought him back from being nuked at the end of the series TV run. Whoever he is, I am excited to find out.

Next book: Automated Alice (Jeff Noon)

Book 171: How to be Both by Ali Smith

Book 171: How to be Both.
Author: Ali Smith, 2014.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Contemporary. Literary. Art. GLBT themes.
Other Details: Hardback. 372 pages.

'How to be both' is a novel all about art's versatility. Borrowing from painting's fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it's a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There's a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There's the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real - and all life's givens get given a second chance. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This novel was published in two formats. In half of the editions the story of Francesco del Cossa, an artist in 15th-century Ferrara, comes first and in the other half the story of George, a teenage girl living in present-day Cambridge coming to terms with the recent death of her mother, is first. My edition had Francesco's story first though Ali Smith has said it does not matter in which order the parts are read. In the novel she explores the nature of art as well as the fluidity of gender.

My initial impressions were not favourable and the first few pages left me feeling that I was not going to enjoy this. I am not a great fan of stream-of-consciousness and even more so when it involves a 15th century painter as the anachronisms made it clear that Smith was not attempting to create a sense of the period. However, despite this shaky start I was soon drawn in by the beauty of her lyrical writing. I was happier with the second part set in 2014.

There is a great deal about art in the novel, especially of the Renaissance period, and that held my attention. There is one scene in which George visits a gallery to view a painting by the artist featured in the first section that captured perfectly the experience of spending quality time with a work of art.

Overall, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the novel once past those opening pages and letting go of my expectations about historical fiction. It was indeed a novel that was playful in terms of its structure and I may well re-read.