Mental floss: genius instruction manual

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Came across like a highly condensed Trivia Pursuit but in a self-depreciating/ irreverent way. Though I didn’t find the humour particularly funny, it’s a quick read of known and lesser-known facts.

Topics covered include events, personalities, concepts/ theories etc from various disciplines, E.g. Physics (Theory of relativity, wormholes, explained in a concise way), economics, technology, business, religion (patron saints).

I liked the chapter covering the greatest literary works (in the Western world) and why they were considered important. The one liner on Hemmingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls was the one thing that I laughed, for some reason (“because it rolls for thee, man”).

Brevity 2: Another collection of comics by Guy & Rodd/ Guy Endore-Kaiser & Rodd Perry

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Brevity 2: Another Collection of Comics by Guy and Rodd
ISBN: 9780740768408

Reminded me of Gary Larson. Mostly single panel captioned comic.

Good stuff when you want something to chill out after a day’s work.

Fables Vol. 9: Sons of Empire/ Bill Willingham, James Jean, Mike Allred & Joelle Jones

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ISBN: 9781401213169

Issues 52 to 59.

Following the pre-emptive strike by Bigby at the magic grove, the Adversary calls for a war council to plan on how to deal with Fabletown and the mundanes.

Side stories: the Three Blind Mice; an attempt to steal the list of “who’s been good and bad” from Father Christmas (and a few more).

Part one of “Father and Son”: detailing the stormy relationship between Bigby Wolf and his father, the North Wind. Bigby brings Snow and the kids for a short stay with his father. The kids/ cubs get into trouble (minor plot-giveway: it’s Bigby’s brothers!)

Book of the Future (Comic Relief)/ Phil Taylor & Nicky Ross

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ISBN: 0563487712

“The UK’s first democratically edited book”

Most entries seem to be written tongue-in-cheek. E.g. P54. Tattoos with a purpose, where the norm would be to identify yourself with tattoos. But implied is something more sinister, where bone tattoo is a means of identifying corpses against “illegal cremations”.

Sombre ones has an 1984 Orwellian undertone, like p 34. A Day in the Life of a 2020 GP (submitted by Dr. Trisha Macnair), where euthanasia is routine, and medical equipment help perform much of the medical diagnoses, freeing doctors to attend online lecturers (the author seem to wistfully hope for a change to the current 21st century workload, perhaps).

Seems that most view the future as like warning hazard sign.

“This book was Douglas Adams’ idea. He knew trying to predict the Future is a mug’s games, but he wrote that it is ‘increasingly a game we all have to play. The world is changing so fast… we need to have some sort of idea what the Future is actually going to have to live there,s probably next week.’

Started with collection of ideas at Douglas Adams’ hitchhiker’s website. The BBC took over after his death. People could submit specific predictions for the year 20120. http://www.bbc.co.uk/future (now redirected to www.bbc.co.uk/thefuture; last accessed 5 Jun 09) Entries, collected over five months, are rated. About 75 entries selected.

Topics range from social norms, to lifestyles, to the UK economy and politics.

A Separate War and other stories/ Joe Haldeman

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If you’ve not read Haldeman, start with this one.

If you’re a Haldeman fan, you’d definitely want to read this.

All stories are excellent reads. Typical of Haldeman, involving Hi-tech weaponry and technology all appropriately woven to enhance (rather than detract) the stories and ideas.

A solid 10 out of 5 (yeah, good reads like this makes me lose the ability to count!)

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ISBN: 0441014070

Short stories covering a 36-year span of writing.

Forward by Connie Willis. “… the first time I ever met Joe Haledeman was in the aisles of the public library, where I found his wonderful novel, The Forever War.” She writes of how Haldeman remained humble, never boastful of his writing achievements (awards and sales). That he still managed to churn out excellent works even after publishing a ‘classic’.

Introduction chapter (“The Secret Of Writing”). Joe Haldeman writes: “… there’s no “secret formula” to writing fiction, at least fiction that aspires to accomplishing anything beyond filling time for the reader.” Explains how writing novels is different from short stories. Keeps a “Crazy Ideas” file and retrieves ideas as he needs them.

Chapters:

A Separate War (1998)“Our wounds were horrible, but the army made us well and gave us Heaven, temporarily.” This is Marygay’s account of  her part in The Forever War (TFW). She is separated from Mandella and reassigned to another unit. Homo/ Hetero sex theme further explored. War ends when Taurans and Man reveal themselves. Sub-plot: Marygay takes on a woman lover but still finds herself pining for Mandella. Decides that it’s him or no one. Writes him a letter: “If I can’t be your lover, I’ll be your nurse”. Buys her place in a retrofitted starship serving as a time-machine. Consistent ending as with TFW.

Diminished Chord (2004) – A musician who meets a woman; the woman disappears but leaves behind a chitarrone. Playing it makes couples come together and find love. Except for the musician.

Giza (2001) – How two separate societies developed on Moon and Earth; those on the moon had to modify their phsyical aspects and gradually saw themselves as separate; culminates in an act of terrorism against Earth.

Foreclosure (2004) – Woman visited by an advanced alien specie, who claims to be the rightful owner of Earth. Demands all humans are evicted from the planet by 2017. A woman who’s a real-estate agent, unwittingly finds herself the official representative of Earth. She finds a solution at the end, by claiming Squatters Rights and who have profoundly changed the planet’s environment.

Four Short Novels (1998) – Short sequential stories revolving around immortality.

For White Hill (1995) – Earth is a disaster world as a result of a Human Vs. Alien species war. Artists from out-of-earth colonies invited to Earth, which has been devastated by nanophages. A romance blooms between two of the protagonist and another artist, White Hill. The group find themselves stranded on Earth when Earth’s enemies find a way to speed up the sun’s evolution and would go super-nova in mere decades. White Hill leaves the protagonist when she decides to accompany the last out-going starship, utilising her ‘jaturnary’ skills to maintain the psychic states of those undergoing cold-sleep.

Finding My Shadow (2003) – Set in future Boston after the city became the target of a terrorist virus attack. Protagonist discovers her lover is alive and the attack and subsequent quarantine of Boston was a conspiracy.

Civil Disobedience  (2005) – Set in future US where rising water levels have resulted in submerged towns. Main plot is about how the protagonist tries to outsmart the authorities after being picked up for questioning, but is beaten by the system and security/ surveillance. Story plays on the increased powers of surveillance by the US authorities and other political issues. End notes by Haldeman elaborates that this story was also in response to the tightening Homeland Security acts by the Bush administration following the 9-11 attack.

Memento Mori (2004) – Nano-tech interpretation of the vampire myth, though it’s inferred to be a vampire myth. Nanazooans, latin rites as instructional codes to reactivate the Nanazooans.

Faces (2004) – Subtly humorous. Two earthers encounter the equivalent of the Easter Island head sculptures. Except the statues compel those who see it to stay rooted without any thought for food or replenishments. Only way out was for another powerful distraction – someone you can fall in love with. The problem: the male protagonist is gay and the partner is a woman.

Heartwired (2005) – The shortest story, most humorous, and also the most subtle. Marriage and sex counselling that involves romance/ love/ sex inducing drugs. Couple uses it to embarrassing consequences.

Brochure (2000) – What a brochure would be, if earth was touted as a quaint primordial backwater world for alien tourists. An undertone is a condensed version of earth’s history and evolution of life.

Out of phase (1969) – Alien explorers on earth. Braxn, an adolescent G’drellian whose species is like the ultimate lifeform. Time manipulation abilities, morphing (some elements a little like Camouflage, as Haldeman explains in his endnotes).  All human life on Earth on the brink of being killed — part of a G’drellian ritual of creating “poetry”!

Power complex (1970) – This follows the earlier “Out Of Phase” story. Braxn continues life on Earth as the president of the USA, set in the 60s. Part of his species development, where he now needs to understand the manipulation of power (authority, political). Most profound statement on p.177 “most organisms who are relatively powerful, in relation to the challenges of their environment, are shielded from an appreciation of their power by an inability to directly feel the effects of welding that power.” Braxn’s powers of time manipulation is temporarily switched off. He can potentially die on Earth. As usual, Haldeman weaves in combat scenes well and appropriately (one scene was a firefight reminiscent of Vietnam War; Braxn stops time and heals the wounded; makes a statement about how military draft bill affected young men who had to be drafted to war). Political intrigue within the US presidency and senate. An assassination attempt. Braxn almost dies.

Fantasy for six electrodes and one adrenaline drip (a play in the form of a Feelie script) (1972) – Last story, written in a form of a “Feelie Script” is a SciFi script within a SciFi story. The play implies a technology sophisticated enough to incorporate sense of smell and touch to be experienced by the viewer. Written in 1972! Mega-billionaire holds party. An assassination seems to be on the agenda, when he spots a known hitman and his handler (an influential but aged woman). Hitman is subdued. Turns out the hit is on the millionaire. The handler is the backup executioner and he was the one who contracted the hit. Written in a play script format, and you get both the SciFi feel of future “immersive play technologies”. At key parts of the script, the (presumably) machine dispenses electrical and drug inputs to make the audience feel what the actors are required to feel (e.g. Heart rate, adrenaline levels, sexual tension). Hence the title!

Notes on the Stories – Haldeman explains how he came to write those stories, the thinking and ideas. Very insightful.

E.g. “Giza” arose from a writing assignment he gave to his MIT class. He required them to write based on a theme (chosen at random from the TOC of Peter Nichols’s “The Science In Science Fiction”). Students are required to research the science. As partial compensation students could assign him what they thought was the worse theme. Said the students that year were particularly cruel and gave him a made-up theme: “asteroid psychology”. Haldeman cites a technique from Gabriele Rico’s “Writing the natural way”, essentially a mindmap to outline the characters, ideas, settings etc. Haldeman wrote “asteroid” and then “psychology” and tried free-association to find a commonality. Took 15mins and came up Giza (an asteroid can’t have a psychology but could be toxic for people trapped on one). Says also partly inspired by Sept 11.

“For White Hill” was based on the opening 14 lines of Shakespeare’s sonnet no. 18. Says he noticed some sonnets had a “compelling narrative thrust”.

My favourites are the two stories featuring Braxn. P 177.

It inches: A stash of knitting cartoons/ Franklin Habit

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cover
ISBN: 9781596680937
NLB Call No.: 746.4320207 HAB -[ART]

The cover is a giveaway of the book’s content: a plump little lamb wearing a purple sweater, looking up at an older lamb with the caption “It itches”.

Classified by the publisher as “crafts/ knitting”, this book should really be classed as Humour.

A mix of single-panel cartoons (reminds me of Gary Larson’s style) and short stories/ essays that run from the informative to insightful. Inter-woven with humour.

Some of the humour may not be apparent unless you knit. Like the difference between Continental and English style knitting (I know this because my wife, in trying to teach me how to knit, explained the difference). Or the seemingly universal need by knitters to hoard and accumulate yarn!

Written from a guy’s perspective, the book is pretty refreshing. It’s an easy read too.

Last I checked the NLB catalogue, only one copy was out on loan and one was in-transit (this must have been my copy that I returned). I think there would be more people who would enjoy the book but they might not look for it at the Arts and Craft section.

Because your vampire said so/ Michele Bardsley

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I borrowed this book because I desperately wanted something to read for my bus journey home (I’m a book-addict!).

But also because I wanted to read something outside my reading comfort zone.

This is Chick-lit meets Fantasy meets Paranormal meets Romance.

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NLB Call No.: BAR
ISBN: 9780451223869

Patsy Donahue is a 40-year old single mother of a rebellious teenage son. And she’s a vampire, living in a secret enclave of vampires and werewolves.

Chick-lit: Story is about a woman, a single mother, in modern day US town. She runs a hairdressing salon.

Mini-family drama: She’s divorced from an alcoholic husband, suffers the anguish of an enstranged relationship with her teenaged son.

Romance: She meets this hunk of a guy. Who rescues her time and time again in the novel. But their relationship is complicated by them belonging to different racial classes. Romantic relations between the two are taboo.

Fantasy: She’s a vampire. Her beau is a natural-born Vampire-werewolf (an adbonnimation, it seems). An involuntary one, Turned after being bitten by a vampire. She lives in a village of vampires, protected by werewolves. Her life is in danger as a group of renegade Ancients try to obliterate her to rid themselves of a prophesied Queen to rule them all. Pasty ends up acquiring seven powers effortlessly, like shopping! Except it was for free.

Between chapters, there’s a narration by Raudan, the first of the Ancient vampires, about how he Turned the other original Ancients like Hua Mulan! (I found it weird but interesting that a Asian character is cast in an European paranormal story).

Some parts I found corny at times.

Like this line, when patsy simply got off the couch and commanded to the ghosts — “Only your fears and confusion hold you here,” I said to the ghosts. “if you want freedom, go to the light” — and then the ghosts left. Too easy!

The sex scenes isn’t anything to shout about. Seems like it was written because it was mandatory to include the typical explicit sex acts. They aren’t exactly crude or vulgar (depending on how much of a prude you are) but they aren’t eloquent either.

But I’m not complaining. I managed to read the book cover-to-cover. Plus, it’s my first Chick-lit novel and it turned out to be interesting overall.

The novel is a very straight-forward storytelling. No complicated subplots. Maybe it’s seen as shallow but I think it’s a fun and relaxing read if you want something quick and uncomplicated.

I’d give this a 2.7 out of 5 from me.

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