Category Archives: Books

Ender’s Game Series

My reading lately has comprised of Orson Scott Card’s excellent Ender’s Game series. I got a copy of six of the books from an officemate a couple of months back, and I’ve just finished the seventh book today. I don’t usually go through books that quickly, so it’s a sign that I’ve really enjoyed this series. (If I don’t enjoy a series, I typically lose interest before even finishing the book – I have a copy of Sword of Shannara around here to prove that.)

The books are more-or-less sci-fi, the first book Ender’s Game taking place in a “near future” setting, where brilliant children are raised to help fight a war against an invading alien species. The later books branch from the original, with the Speaker for the Dead arc leaning towards philosophical meanings of life in outer space, while the Shadow series of books focus more on political and strategic stuff on Earth.

In the Speaker for the Dead branch (Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind), Card’s characters are usually placed in a series of moral and ethical dilemmas presented by the various sci-fi elements presented: metaphysical discoveries, sentient alien races, etc. The reader is really drawn in to the character’s situations, making the books quite the page turner.

The Shadow branch (Ender’s Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, and I have yet to read Shadow Giants) focuses less on the moral decisions, but more of political or military-related issues in a world divided after the defeat of the alien invaders. The story focuses on what happens to Ender’s companions after they return to Earth, and seem to be leading up to how Ender’s brother Peter eventually became the leader of the world. It’s a bit disappointing that Peter is so stupid in Shadow Puppets though, I hope he’s better in the next book.

The series is awesome overall, and I look forward to the continuation; supposedly Card is writing a sequel that will tie both branches together.

The Rock Says…

I was going through the bookstores at yesterday’s sale day at SM North, hoping to find some bargains. I found a copy of The Rock‘s book, The Rock Says going for the bargain basement price of 50 pesos (roughly 1 US dollar). What a steal!

In case you’ve been living under, well, a rock, you’re probably aware that The Rock was one of the most popular, most electrifying men in professional wrestling, lovingly termed “sports entertainment.” As a wrestling fan, such a book is a real page-turner for me. It details the story of Rock’s childhood, his football days in Miami up to his days in the WWE leading up to his historic Wrestlemania XV match with the Rattlesnake, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. As a fan whose view of the wrestling industry has been limited to what I’ve seen on television, the book gives a good look into the inner workings of the industry. The history, the way things are, the pitfalls, the demons of the wrestling biz are explored by The Rock’s stories, especially his days of growing up to become a third-generation wrestler.

There are people in the world who don’t “get” professional wrestling, wondering why others like to watch it when it’s “so obviously fake.” Those people miss the point entirely, and reading “The Rock Says” might do give them some insight as to why it’s called “Sports Entertainment” these days. But for wrestling fans, especially those who grew up watching the trade blows with the likes of Mankind and Steve Austin, the book is just one hell of a ride.

Dark Tower VII

What a long, arduous journey it has been for Roland of Gilead, last gunslinger, in his inexorable quest for the Dark Tower. And now that I’ve read the final volume of Stephen King’s magnum opus, I find out that it is an even crueler fate that awaits him at the end of the seven books.

I dare not spoil it, though Wikipedia has a nice summary, say thankya. Save to say that Stephen King seems to be correct – the ending of the Dark Tower series does seem to be the “correct” one, despite some disappointments in writing.

All in all, the Dark Tower series remains an incredibly good read, and Stephen King is admirable for having completed the epic story over a more than twenty-year period. People often know King as the “guy who writes those creepy horror stories”, but the Dark Tower series shows his bent is really towards a type of dark fantasy. I wish I had time to read his other novels, as many of them tie up with the Dark Tower story itself.

Dark Tower VI – Song of Susannah

I was holding off on buying the sixth installment of the Dark Tower until I could find a printing which matched the previous five books, but as I was browsing through the new Fully Booked at SM North I felt a compulsive urge to buy *something*, and lo and behold, Stephen King was on the shelf right beside me!

As usual, the tale of Roland and his party on their quest for the Dark Tower is quite the page-turner, especially since this particular piece of fiction intersects with the real world in an intruiging way…the author himself, Stephen King, appears in this book as the would-be creator of Roland’s world! Reminds me of one of those “self-inserts”, a term used for fanfiction where the author writes himself in.

In any case, one more book before the end of King’s epic twenty-years-in-the-making western fantasy saga. I’ll probably buy the next book this week.

Recent Reading 2006-03-12

Books I’ve finished reading in the past few months:

Rapid Development

by Steve McConnell – I was browsing through my company’s small library of development books and found this little gem among the usual language-specific tomes. A bit old, but I know from Code Complete that Steve McConnell really hits in the mark with regard to software best practices. This book is aimed mainly at technical leads — coincidentally, that was my role at the time. I picked up a lot of good ideas, hopefully I can start to make some interesting changes in the place I work at.

Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master

by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas – yeah, I’ve been in a sort of “improving my software development skills” mode lately, snapping up books like this and the previous one and going through them like life depended on it. Lots of sagely advice here, mostly stuff good developers know about inherently, and quite a few good ideas new to me.

Ang Alamat ng Gubat

by Bob Ong – literally translated, it’s “The Forest Legend”; the book is somewhat of a modern-day fable about how things are in the modern-day Philippines. I’m pretty sure each of the animals in the book represents some sector of society and its’ faults, but I don’t think I’m currently smart enough to identify them all.

Stainless Longganisa

by Bob Ong – I picked up this and the previous book on a whim at National Bookstore, because we were sorely in need of new bathroom reading material. (I’m not kidding, and bathroom reading material should be a treasured position among authors.) As usual, Bob Ong starts off with some hilarious real-life tales, before heading into some serious stuff about life in the Philippines. The main thrust of this book is to explain how and why he became a writer, giving the reader some insights into what aspiring writers in the Philippines can look forward to (or avoid.)

Equal Rites

by Terry Pratchett – I think this is the third Discworld book, but it’s only the first one I finished. I’m not sure, it seems like the Discworld books make relatively quick and painless reading. It’s light fantasy of course, much the same way that Douglas Adams is light sci-fi; not the sort of thing you should seriously form a whole range of theories about, but fascinating nonetheless. I believe I will try to read more of these books.

God’s Debris by Scott Adams

was Scott Adams’ first non-Dilbert book. If you’re used to reading Adams go on about Induhviduals and stupid managers, or if you’ve never read Adams trying / pretending to sound philosophical in one of his books, then this isn’t what you’d expect.

Adams describes it as a “thought experiment” of sorts, one where he tries to provide some sort of explanation for basically life, the universe and everything. Although it’s a work of fiction, it sounds like Adams is trying to see how people will react to his form of philosophy — it seems to be one of his favorite things to do something just to provoke reactions. (Yeah, he and I are alike that way.)

Adams starts from simple assumptions about the nature of God, and the nature of probability, and proceeds to try to explain everything from gravity to string theory to psychics to women. Yeah, women. You’d think a guy would know better.

It’s a thought-provoking read, as long you keep some of the skepticism down. Adams himself acknowledges that some parts of his book are just plain-old creative BS trying to pass itself off as something deeper. Smart people would appreciate it as quick and light-philosophical reading, but I don’t think it would survive serious logical scrutiny.

That being said, it’s definitely worth the read, if only to get inside the head of a popular cartoonist. I think this part of Scott Adams is the part that writes all those garbageman strips. =p

Books – Neverwhere

I’ve never really read much Neil Gaiman before — I’m not a particular fan of the Sandman series, for which he is most known. But I know some people who are big fans, so I respect his work at least. Neverwhere is only the second Gaiman book I’ve read (well, third maybe, I think I read that thing he co-wrote about the apocalypse), and I’m pretty much satisfied so far.

Neil Gaiman does fantasy. Not medieval fantasy or sci-fi or anything like that, but fantasy in modern-day settings. Neverwhere takes place in London, a place with which the author seems intimately familiar. Except that his fictional London is divided into two cities – London Above, which is the normal everyday London, and London Below, a temming network of underground locations where people fall through cracks and disappear. Something like that.

Our protagonist is an ordinary guy, who meets a resident of London Below, and is thereupon plunged into it’s mad, mystical world, where the familiar laws of reality seldom seem to apply. The plot is nothing extraordinary, one you may have read in some form or other: Our intrepid hero meets an interesting cast of unlikely allies and they band together on a quest, ultimately saving the universe. Something like that. It’s Gaiman’s writing that stands out though; his flowery prose and florid descriptions brings the fantasy world of London Below to life, presenting a striking contrast to the protagonist’s boring life in London Above.

All in all, a good read. Nothing extraordinarily deep, but enough to make me interested in reading more Gaiman.

Books: Dark Tower V – Wolves of the Calla

“There will be water if ka wills it.” – Roland of Gilead

I had a Powerbooks gift certificate the other week, and the Powerbooks at Megamall happened to have a sale, so I took a look around. And lo, I was lucky enough to find a copy of the fifth book of Stephen King’s epic western fantasy, The Dark Tower. It was a huge book, larger than my copies of the first four, but with the same cover style and by the same publisher, so it was the copy I wanted. I spent less than a hundred pesos on it.

And so it was that I once again journeyed into the world/s of the Dark Tower, following the path of Roland of Gilead and his ka-tet of gunslingers along the path of the Beam, heading inexporably towards the Dark Tower.

The Dark Tower series has always been a weird sort of hybrid. Primarily a western, set in a fantasy multiverse which intersects with multiple versions of our own reality, Roland and his posse find themselves facing robots, bears, wizards, psychotic trains, undead and such. This time they face “Wolves”, an unknown new enemy who plague a farming community along the path of the Beam. Like any good RPG-party, the gunslingers decide to offer aid to the people of the Calla, though not all would accept their help. In exchange, they are granted the power to travel back to New York, the nexus of all New Yorks, where they must protect the Rose, an incarnation or manifestation of the Dark Tower.

The one thing I did not like about this copy: It had illustrations. Normally, that would be a good thing, but I find I did not really want to know what Roland of Gilead looked like, even to another person, as it spoiled my own vision of what the book tells me. That’s how good the series is — it’s the type of series where you form your own version of it in your head and you are completely drawn into its saga.

As always, the book is dark and compelling. Despite the hectic work schedule last week, I finish the thick book in less than four days, and the volume ends in cliffhanger, as the ka-tet is broken. Two more books to go before the end of their quest; I can only hope the last two come out in my preferred format soon.

Wheel of Time 10 – Crossroads of Twilight

Haven’t read Robert Jordan in a while. Someone gave me Crossroads of Twilight as a gift, so I read it and hope that his pacing has improved. It has not. He writes well enough, dialogue is nice, descriptions are more than adequate, but I expect some things to happen in his books! He has so many plots running at once, he should at least resolve two or three per book. Perrin, Mat and Elayne get a lot of chapters, but they barely get anything done. Rand al’Thor himself barely gets one chapter, and I’m thinking it was just put in ’cause people would be pissed if he didn’t actually appear in the book. Egwene at least had the good sense to go out and try to do something. Not that she got anywhere sensible of course…

I swear, with so many things going on, it will take him forever to wrap up this series. And while that may be good for him, I wonder how many people will bother following the books for so long? Especially when they’re more of the same…

Books: Dark Tower series

“I do not aim with my hand.
He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I aim with my Eye.

I do not shoot with my hand.
He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I shoot with my Mind.

I do not kill with my gun.
He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
I kill with my Heart.”

–The Gunslinger’s Catechism

I’ve finished books 3 (Wastelands) and 4 (Wizard and Glass) of Stephen King’s amazing Dark Tower series. The sprawling worlds travelled by Roland of Gilead and his band of gunslingers continues to draw me in; I guess the romantic western atmosphere really appeals to me.

During these two books, we follow Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, Eddie and Susannah, gunslingers-in-training as they forge ahead on the road to the Dark Tower, where the fate of all worlds may be decided. Along the way, they gain new allies, one thought previously dead. They storm across the fallen city of Lud, blaze across the wastelands on an insane sentient train, and finally land in Kansas. It is in Kansas that Roland narrates a tale of his youth, and of his days and Gilead.

It is Roland’s tales of Gilead that I most enjoy in the series. Roland’s world, the world that has moved on, is a medieval-western hybrid of sorts. A world where people look to gunslingers with fear and respect, a world where a misspoken word in a tavern can get you killed, a world fraught with danger and adventure. In this tale we learn of what happened to Roland after he passed his rite of passage, his first love, and his decision to pursue the Dark Tower.

I look forward to the last three books…all of which are out in hard cover versions. Wizard and Glass ends on much less of a cliffhanger than Wastelands, so I’m willing to wait a bit for the paperback copies to come out, though I hope it doesn’t take too long.