Sunday, January 29, 2006

Gene Wolfe: The Knight

I'm a Gene Wolfe fan, I admit it. I've read most of his books and most of them are immensely enjoyable. This is in contrast to John Brunner, who I also like. I've read as much Brunner as I can find, but there are only 4 or 5 that are really great books. Beyond the top few, the rest of Brunner's work is seriously "B" material. Wolfe is different. He has quite a few really good books: The Torturer series is A+ level in my opinion, as is The Soldier of the Mist. The later series based on Urth aren't quite A+, but I'll give them A-, and some of the standalone novels are also A level. His short story collections also contain real gems (In particular, look for The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories and Endangered Species.

Even when Wolfe's writing misses the mark, his characters are fascinating, and you feel like you are seeing the alien world yourself. When he's doing well, you barely notice how well the writing flows, since the action holds your attention so well.

Wolfe's newest series is disappointing. I haven't been this dissatisfied with a Gene Wolfe book since There are Doors (2001), or before that, Peace (1995). Those were cases in which not enough happened in the book to keep up my interest. In The Knight (Part 1 of The Wizard Knight) Wolfe makes a different mistake. This is light fantasy, with a modern person transplanted to the land of faerie. Able, the main character has the ability to draw on magic, and call magical creatures to him, but he doesn't know the limits of his power, or how to exercise it particularly. The problem is that his lack of knowledge and inability to control his powers makes his successes feel like deus ex machina: he always seems to wait until he's in a really tight spot, and only then call up something powerful. And the powers he calls up and the creatures he enlists to his service seem to have a lot more power than is needed to win the battle. Able does get injured badly enough in some of the fights to require substantial time to recuperate, and each time, the recuperation ends up distracting him and sending him on a side venture that distracts him from his main goal. So each time it seems that Able could have solved the initial problem better by working harder on controllign his magic rather than trying to use sword, lance, and persuasion until things got desperate.

But even in the face of that, I like the way Wolfe writes. I like the characters, who grow, learn, and change through their struggles, and I like the way Wolfe paints a scene. I will probably read the concluding book since this one ends with Able's quest unfinished. I just hope Wolfe reins in the powers of Able's followers a little, and that Able gets a little more control. Since the second book is called "The Wizard", I think there's some hope of that.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fight Eminent Domain Abuse!

The Institute for Justice has announced a new website for their Castle Coalition project to fight eminent domain abuse at the state and local level whereever possible. You can join the Castle Coalition for free. (But why not donate too?) They promise to send regular updates about efforts to combat eminent domain abuse, and tell you about opportunities in your area to fight the land grabbers.

Their web site has information on what to do if you are threatened with Eminent Domain ("we'll only use it as a last resort" is a threat to take your land if you don't agree to their price), where eminent domain cases are active around the nation.

They also have a google map showing where abuses, threats, and events are taking place. Here's the map showing just California. There's a lot going on right here that we could help with. The rest of the country has plenty of reasons to fight back as well.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

How to Publish Your PodCast

I listen to podcasts (Real Estate, Science Fiction, Science, Blarney, economics), but have no desire to make my own. But I'd like to listen to The Real Estate Guys radio show more, and they already upload MP3s of their shows to the web. When I told Robert Helms on the Investor Summit at Sea cruise, that it would be a tiny increment over the work they already do to turn the show into a podCast, he asked me to send instructions.

I did a little bit of research, and discovered that most of the how-to articles on PodCasting focus on how to record your show. Since The Real Esate Guys are already recording, they need only the rest of the instructions. Here are the references I found that looked likely to be the most useful.

I hope that's useful to other people as well.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Steven Brust: The Paths of the Dead

Steven Brust's The Paths of the Dead looks likely to be a pivotal story in the chronicles of the Dragaeran Empire. Some new characters and some old characters are involved in an attempt to revive the empire, and of course intervention by gods and demigods ensues. It's a good adventure, and I (mostly) like the way Brust tells it. Like a couple of others of his recent stories, Brust has chosen a particularly wordy style for this story. In the Vlad Taltos stories that introduced this universe, Brust showed that he can switch writing styles whenever he wants, and that he has a good ear for choosing a style to match the story he wants to tell. Given that skill, I'm not sure why all the conversations in this part of the series are so long winded:

"That was well done," said Orlaan.
"Do you think so?""
"I am certain of it."
"Then I am satisfied."
"Come, sit next to me."
"Very well, you see that I am sitting."
"And are you listening"
"With all of my attention."
"Then I will tell you a story."
"I like stories, if they are good ones."
"I think mine is a good one."
"I will listen, and judge."
"I can ask for no more."
"Begin, then."

Every conversation seems to go this way. "Do you think so?" "I very nearly do." I guess Brust is trying to show that the characters are high born and flowery of speech, but he seems to go beyond what's necessary to make the point.

And somehow the story makes decent progress, with interesting characters being introduced and setting some events into motion that tie back into the main thread later. There's a plausible amount of journeying around with adventures en route. (The Empire was a large place, and it's plausible that when it was replaced with patches of local government many areas would be left unpatrolled and it would take a while for the local citizenry to find a way to enforce order.)

In this story, a coalition of local potentates with expanding realms decides that the portents are right for them to reestablish the empire. That requires a pilgrimage, and of course more adventures. In between episodes, we learn something of the history of Morrolan and other characters we've seen in the Vlad Taltos stories.

Even the sections that seem to be no more than backdrop are interesting and keep up the pace. I didn't pick up on any deep themes or resolutions of important crises in this installment, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless.

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