Monday, June 27, 2005

Lemony Snicket, The Unauthorized Autobiography,

Title: Lemony Snicket, The Unauthorized Autobiography
Author: Lemony Snicket
Rating: Poor

This book is probably not worth the effort or money.

It is essentially a cryptic set of chapters that bear some relation to the events in the actual series of children's books. However, it isn't at all clear what this book actually says or means. The author hints at underlying things going on in and around the fictional Snicket family, but nothing holds together.

It's only mildly amusing, and often confusing. The reversible dust jacket is the funniest thing about the book, and while it is amusing, it's not enough to justify the purchase.

However, if you're the kind of person that enjoys incredibly complex puzzles, it is possible that there is data in here that will help to unravel the various goings on in the Snicket books themselves. I haven't had the patience for that - in any forum, not just here - and so didn't find the book useful in that way either.

In short, save time and read only the actual Lemony Snicket series.

No Germs Allowed, Winkler G. Weinberg, MD

Title: No Germs Allowed
Author: Winkler G. Weinberg, MD
Rating: Good

No Germs Allowed is a good overview of various infectious illnesses, and how to avoid them. The sections of use will vary a lot based on who you are and your lifestyle, but I found the entire volume to be an interesting read.

Winkler's presentation makes sense - he doesn't say "Don't do X". Instead he says "If you're going to do X, then take the following precautions. yadda yadda yadda." X can be anything from walking in the woods, to traveling to foreign countries, to... well... more personal activities.

As I have essentially zero medical training, I found the discussions interesting and relevant in most cases. I don't do much overseas travel, but I live in an area with Lyme disease, so his comments on that are very interesting to me, for example.

If you're already relatively knowledgeable about infectious disease, this isn't the book for you. If, however, you're looking for a good overview, this is a great place to start.

Reviewing this also allows me to plug the magazine where I learned about it: Science News. That little weekly magazine is keeping me up to date in a lot of areas, and I highly recommend it.

The First 11 of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket

Title: The First 11 of A Series of Unfortunate Events
Author: Lemony Snicket
Rating: Good

I just read The Bad Beginning and I quite enjoyed it.

It was a fun, quick read, and it certainly isn't the typical children's book. My wife is ahead of me in the series, but I've heard her laughing out loud while reading the later volumes.

These books are clearly targeted at a younger age group than (say) the Harry Potter books, and that gives them a different feel and pace then that (deservedly) wildly successful series. Because of their subject matter, they may also be a bit more challenging. (Discussing having one's parents die in a fire might be tough for some people, for example.) Never-the-less, I think that kids who read at least the The Bad Beginning will be better off in the fullness of time. Exposure to all kinds of ideas is important, and these are fun.

Perhaps you need a certain cynical point of view to find these funny and (in an odd way) validating. Regardless, I am now starting volume 2, and I'll keep on reading unless they change in some fundamental way.

... time passes ...

I have since gone on to read all 11 of the available books. (Actually, I haven't looked for a new book in some time, and I don't know when #12 is due out. I'll have to check on that.)

What I can say in general about Lemony Snicket is the following:
  • They are targeted at pre-teen readers, in general.
  • My niece and nephew - ages 7 and 8 - are dying to read them. Last I talked to my sister in law, that was due to get rolling any day now.
  • I quite enjoyed them. In fact, I am on the hook to buy and read the next volumes as they come out, and then send them on to my niece and nephew, who find it very funny that their aunt & uncle want to do that.
  • The books get more complex over time, and the plot thickens and builds, particularly after the first 3 or 4 volumes.
  • I suspect that, somewhat like the Harry Potter books, there is a whole series of hints and clues about events and characters hidden in these books. I don't have the presence of mind to figure them out, but I believe they are there.
I know some people don't like these books, but I found the style amusing and the stories diverting. I hope the author resolves all the various loose ends well by book 13.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Madness Season, C. S. Friedman

The Madness Season
C. S. Friedman

I just posted a review of a series by C. S. Friedman. I bought The Madness Season at the same time, as the reviews on Amazon looked good. (Sorry, Doug. I buy from There are simply no good bookstores nearby, at least none that are any better than Amazon. Borders is an evil empire too, and I'm not driving 40+ miles to find a good bookstore.)

The story follows several characters, but the main one is at least arguably human. His name is Daetrin, and he lives on earth after it has been subjugated by the Tyr - an alien race of extreme power and a communal mind. Daetrin has to come to grips with his own very interesting past as he fights against the Tyr. In the coarse of uncovering his past, Daetrin encounters several other interesting characters and species. Friedman provides an excellent conclusion to this novel as well.

This was the best written of the 5 novels by C. S. Friedman I have read. As with the others, she doesn't draw a hard line between science fiction and fantasy, so some elements are less realistic than others, but I didn't find that a drawback in this case.

Overall I found it very good. Recommended.

The Coldfire Trilogy, C. S. Friedman

Title: The Coldfire Trilogy
Author: C. S. Friedman
Rating: Good

Years ago I stumbled across C. S. Friedman when I read In Conquest Born. I found that book to be interesting, with powerful characters and an interesting story. In short, it had everything going for it except a very weak ending. Regardless, I liked her writing enough to pick up a couple of other books by her at the time -- they turned out to be the first 2 volumes of the Coldfire trilogy. I'll review all 3 books here in brief, and that makes sense, since I only read the last book for the first time in 2005.

The books are:
  • Black Sun Rising
  • When True Night Falls
  • Crown of Shadows
These books straddle the Science Fiction / Fantasy boundary, crossing more into Fantasy in general. The world she creates is rich and deep, though not as deep as those created by Tolkien or Donaldson.

The main characters in the first book are an interesting pair: a hero (Damien Vryce) and an anti-hero (Gerald Tarrant) forced to work together by circumstance. I found Vryce appealing but slightly less well fleshed out as a character than Tarrant. When she writes of Damien's past experiences it seems he hasn't lived long enough to do all she attributes to him. Tarrant, however, is much more believable in that area. The third book adds another main character -- Andrys Tarrant. He is less well fleshed out than the others, but still acceptable in form and style.

The story spans several years on another planet, seeded by earth and then lost for reasons that are explained in some detail. This isn't as huge and sweeping a story as, say, Dune, but it provides lots of opportunities to meet new people, some interesting demons, and understand some of the world they live in (called Erna).

In all, I recommend these books for some light fantasy reading. The story is reasonably paced and the characters are interesting. The conclusion is reasonable, though there is a single syrupy chapter at the end of Crown of Shadows that I'd have omitted if I were the author.

The most disturbing thing about these books has nothing to do with the writing. The cover of each book has a painting of Gerald Tarrant by Michael Whelan. The cover of When True Night Falls clearly makes him look like John Travolta. That's just wrong, in far too many ways to itemize here, and it's entirely different from the other two covers. Ah well.

Give 'em a try if fantasy literature is your bag.