Book Report: The Atrocity Archives

British Intelligence vs Secrets Man was Not Meant to Know. This was a fun read. Not Charles Stross' best work--so if you don't like his other stuff, I'd skip this one. But I liked his other stuff and I liked this one, too.

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Book Report: Chiaroscuro: Patchwork Book #1

It's a graphic novel about a whiny artist who hangs out in cafes and goes to parties. Occasionally, something strange happens. It's pretty; some of the banter is witty; I'm glad I read it. The plot advances slowly, but it's a fun ride.

There's more than one comic book out there called "Chiaroscuro"--no doubt this is a hazard in the comic book industry, populated as it is by artists. "Hey, let's name the book after a term of art of art." How many romance comics are titled "Two-Point Perspective"? Uhm, hmm. Now that I look, I don't find any. So much for that theory.

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Book Report: Iron Council

I read a lot on the bus. Today, I didn't take the bus and yet I've been able to get yet more reading in. My secret? I'm staying home today with food poisoning. I'm not trying to read anything too deep; my lack of caffeine isn't helping my concentration.

The book Iron Council is a fun piece of science fiction trash. it features popular uprisings, more than meets the eye, desperate chases across a mysterious and unforgiving landscape, and graffiti fashions which could lead to the downfall of a mighty civilization. You can't go wrong with that. Check it out.

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Book Report: New York Underground

You might remember a while back I read the book RE/Search Pranks 2 and found out about Julia Solis, who together with the organization Dark Passage set up a LARP based around New York and an abandoned subway tunnel. She also does a lot of urban spelunking. The book New York Underground is her ode to the tunnels beneath New York city. There are historically-researched anecdotes. Some of the anecdotes about train tunnels sounded familiar to me. This suggests that there aren't so many of these stories floating around; maybe if I'd read other books about New York's underground tunnels, these stories would all be old.

But I really like the photographs. Are the underground tunnels really lit up like that, or did she need to sneak lighting equipment down with her? The spooky green illumination of the cyclotron on Columbia University campus... But it's not just the lighting. There are the smooth lines of the tunnels, the broken debris on the tunnel floors, graffiti left by trespassers for trespassers. Go read this. Or at least look at the photos.

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Book Report: The Nautical Chart

You may recall that a few weeks ago, my simple plan to play the excellent game PsychoNauts hit a snag when I failed to rent an XBox machine. This weekend, I tried again. I'd asked around about XBox rentals. No-one knew of a place that rented any. So yesterday, I decided to buy an XBox. I shoveled big fistfuls of cash into my pockets and walked over to the local Toys 'R Us.

It was closed. I mean, it wasn't just closed for the day. This store was closed forever. It's like there was some malign cosmic force which had determined that I was not going to play the excellent game PsychoNauts, and that force was snuffing out businesses to thwart me.

I was feeling pretty shaken. My "Plan B" for XBox acquistion had failed. The whole point of "Plan B" is that it's not supposed to fail. "Plan B" is the plan where you buckle down and do things the safe way. I went over to the local Peet's to have some coffee and steady my nerves. Then I walked home.

I looked at the CompUSA web site. They said that they sold XBox machines, and that the downtown San Francisco store had them in stock. I called up the store and navigated some voice menus to hear... that they sold XBox machines and the downtown San Francisco store had them in stock. I wanted to talk to a human, to gain some reassurance that the malign force would not thwart me again. But I got over it.

CompUSA was still there. They did indeed have XBoxes. I bought one, hooked it up. My television did not catch fire.

Soon I was playing the excellent game PsychoNauts. It really is excellent. At least up until the point where there's a Psi Blast training level. I haven't got past that. I don't think I can get past that level on my merits. My merits as a video game player are pretty sparse. I tried looking up a cheat code, and couldn't even figure out how to enter that.

Meanwhile, I've had a fun time kicking virtual rocks, punching virtual hay bales, and looking at pretty glowy figments. But I think I'm stuck until I can get in touch with someone who can tell me the right way to enter a cheat code for this game.

But there are plenty of video game review sites out there. You didn't come here for video game reviews, did you? You came for the book report. OK, let's step away from this game which is excellent, but hard for me to access. Let's look at a book that's accessible, but not so good. Let's look at The Nautical Chart.

Take a simple piece of noir crap.

Dress it up with themes. The main character is a sailor, skilled at navigating. He thinks about objects to use as landmarks, to take bearings from. At the start of this novel, he gets rid of his sextant. He starts taking orders from a femme fatale. Towards the end, he gets some new navigation equipment, and takes control of his life back.

So navigation is a theme. And there are other themes. And so the reader can feel all proud of himself as he checks them off. I spotted that, he thinks to himself.

So reading this book was kind of satisfying in that I could go back and write an essay about it for a college-level course. But that doesn't change the fact that this book stunk on ice, and had the plot of a basic piece of noir crap. Not to say that all noir is crap. I'm just classifying the exact kind of crap that this book is a piece of. You understand.

It was translated from the Spanish. Maybe in the original Spanish, the language is more amusing? There were some passages that seemed like they were trying to be funny.

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Book Report: Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans

It's a collection of humor pieces from the McSweeney's web site. When I ride the bus in the morning, I don't have a net connection. Or sometimes I do, except that I didn't bring my laptop. Or something. Anyhow. I was glad to have these in book form.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but not in my apartment

Another thrilling tale of behind-the-scenes Game Control action from yesterday's YABA 2005 game...

Registration was done. Teams had their first batch of clues and were spread out on a lawn, solving like mad. But Game Control's work was not done. We had to set up the clue hub with the second batch of clues. I.e., we had to get me and a big box of clues over to a cafe. Also, we had to pick up food for the after party. I.e., we needed some people to scramble through CostCo, picking up food.

And thus I was soon hopping out of a van double-parked in front of my apartment building. Inside the van: Alexandra Dixon the hunt organizer plus Curtis and Dee Ann of Team Snout. I hear tell that Dee Ann has the logistical skills to make a tablefull of food appear under any circumstances. Nor storm nor sleet nor 24-hour games could prevent her from moving men and materiel into place to set up a great game after-party. The only thing slowing this crew down: they were waiting for me to retrieve a backpack from my apartment.

So I jogged upstairs, unlocked my door, turned the knob, stepped forward--and bumped into my door. When I turned the knob--it hadn't engaged with any locking mechanism. It was spun freely. Thinking back a few seconds--when I'd turned my key, I hadn't heard the deadbolt disengage. Uh-oh. I don't know if you've been trained as an engineer, so you might not understand the terms used to describe the techniques I brought to bear against my door knob: rattling, hitting, jiggling, jerking, cussing, cussing louder. Finally, I thought to try my key again, pushing against the door at the same time. The door opened.

I stepped in, wondering what was wrong with my lock--and noticed that some things in my apartment had been moved. Had someone broken into my apartment? Was some burglar in my apartment right now? At this point I simultaneously attempted to look behind my doork, look behind myself, look all around, jump forward, jump backward, and spin around. This maneuver convinced me that there was no burglar in my apartment. Not that I'd succeeded in looking around--but any burglar would have burst out laughing my spastic flailing of limbs.

So I looked around. What was going on here? I listened. It was quiet. Too quiet. No, really, it was too quiet. Why didn't I hear my kitchen sink faucet dripping?

Oh, a plumber must have come in to fix my faucet. I guess he hadn't bothered to obey that law about giving 24 hours notice before entering someone's apartment. But at least I wasn't about to get hit on the head by a burglar.

Suddenly, I needed to use the restroom. You've probably heard that people have this reaction when they listen to a dripping faucet; apparently they also have this reaction when listening to the lack of a dripping faucet. A skeptic might guess that this was just a post-stress reaction thingy. Whatever.

There were still folks waiting for me in the van--folks on a mission. I needed to act swiftly. I stepped into my dark bathroom, dropped trou, turned, sat--sat in the toilet bowl. That plumber had broken into my apartment, used my toilet, and left the seat up.

So it was a little while longer before I eventually made my way back downstairs with my backpack.

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Book Report: the Super-Scary Monster Show (featuring Little Gloomy) #1

Walker and Jones continue to explore the cute/horiffic world of Little Gloomy. I liked the stories in this issue. I liked some of the art. I think they need to find someone to fill in their blacks, though. A lot of the art in this issue was insufficiently gloomy for my taste.

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