Wednesday, July 31, 2019

[Book] Every Tool's A Hammer by Adam Savage

Book Cover
Subtitled, Life is What You Make It, this is a book about making things.  It has many, many other components though.  It is partly a memoir of the author's career.  It is partly a book about management, especially the end of Chapter 4 which covers delegation and the importance of communication.  It is also very instructional, in that it prescriptively lays out a number of best practices for making, along with illustrative stories of why these practices are so important.

This book wouldn't be what it is if it were not for who the author is.  Adam Savage is best known as the more approachable co-host of Mythbusters, that aired for 14 seasons, but he is also a set designer, prop maker and miniature model builder on several movies.  Mythbusters was recently rebooted as Mythbusters Jr., and Adam Savage can regularly be seen answering questions and making things on and YouTube.

To help show how the book is organized, here is the chapter listing:

Dig Through The Bottom of The Rabbit Hole
Use More Cooling Fluid
Increase Your Loose Tolerance
Screw > Glue
See Everything, Reach Everything
Hammers, Blades, and Scissors
Sweep Up Every Day

The very beginning of this book defines making as any creative activity.  That includes sewing or coding, woodworking or electronics, writing or drawing, in virtual spaces or meat space.  To get down to it, I highly recommend this book for a maker (no matter how one defines it) or anyone who really likes Adam Savage.  If building stuff is not an interest, then maybe this book isn't either.  Reading this book has pushed me back towards making more things (which includes pre-publishing a number of book reviews (I was running low), but also doing some work on my personal web site.


To my readers (between 4 and 20 of you), feel free to send me a note or leave a comment if you have ideas about things I should add to my reviews, or even if you have a strong opinion about a book that you want me to read and review.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

[Book] Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray

Book cover
Set before the first prequel movie, this book follows Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, and his Jedi Apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, on a diplomatic mission set forth by the Jedi council.  They are sent to a planet, Pijal, that we haven't seen before, which really is a great way to see the author's creativity.

We are presented with a wide array of new characters on this new world, like the Jedi Rael Averross, who has been the regent of Pijal for the last 8 years, and the escaped slave Rahara Wick.  Count Dooku, Qui-Gon's former master also makes some important appearances in this story, which broadens the sense of the Title as well.

There is a strong theme around slavery in the Star Wars universe throughout this novel which is a fairly major plot point within the story and is shown as a shining red flag on the corruption within the late republic.  I feel I could write a lot about the dynamics of this theme, but it's better to simply suggest; pick up this book.

As in her previous Star Wars novels, Claudia Gray is a master at weaving the deep politics of Star Wars into the story.  To me, politics was the primary thing the prequels were not very good at showing in a compelling way.  Here, the politics really bring the Star Wars story out of space fantasy and firmly back into what science fiction is best at.  Here is a mirror to our current selves.

It turns out that Claudia Gray has become my favorite author.  I await each book that comes out.  Read this book if you like Star Wars and want more stories about the background of Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan.  I do not think it is necessary to know the characters before reading this book, as the movies did a poor job of really exploring their personalities anyway.  It is okay to skip this book if you aren't a fan of Star Wars.   That said, even though I'm not in love with the prequels, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it as a good piece of science fiction.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

[Book] Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Book Cover
Every once in a while, I try to get in a review of a classic.  Something that some of my readers are likely to have read themselves.  I do this, mostly, to help readers calibrate my taste...  That is, it seems likely enough that some readers are likely to disagree with everything I like, and might find it compelling to read a book that I really didn't like.

In this case, the publisher link below points to Project Gutenberg, which has free downloads, in multiple formats, for this fiction which is long in the public domain.

The story is set in the mid 18th century starting in for the first sections, but becomes a sea-faring story in the Caribbean.  The narrator (with the exception of two chapters), Jim Hawkins, is a boy or young man (the book doesn't make his age clear), though it is made clear that he is not grown to the size of a man, and lacks the strength of the adults around him.

Since this story has been in the public domain for many years, I found that every major turn of the story was predictable as I read it, as the story in whole and in parts has been used many times in many, many other stories.  That said, the world building is outstanding.  The topography, flora and fauna of Treasure Island was very carefully described making the island truly feel like a real place.  One quirk of this book, which authors typically try to avoid, is that there are three characters named Tom, and three named John, which I sometimes found to be a little confusing.

Overall, I'm very glad to have read this book, even though the story itself was familiar from other sources.  This book is the original origin of that now clichéd pirate with one leg and a parrot, and treasure maps with the treasure trove marked on the map.  It is a wonderfully told story and the language was wholly accessible.

Recommended for those that want a swashbuckling nostalgia trip ... due to the familiarity of story ... told in vivid details.  Skip it if a pirate fantasy just doesn't sound interesting.  Also skippable for those readers that cannot forgive the clichéd tropes (even knowing that this is the book where those clichés were fresh and new).

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

[Book] Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor

Book cover
This short book (novella) is the first in the trilogy.  Binti is the name of the main character.  This book starts on a distant future (unspecified timeline) Earth where humans are now space-faring, and alien races are known.

There is a lot to unpack in the world-building and the world is built along with the story.  Each chapter is unusually episodic, in that some small part of the last scene of a previous chapter will be often be repeated at the beginning of the next.  This took a little getting used to, but I imagine is much easier for readers who are going to read one chapter, and put the book down for a day or two.

Like much of my my favorite Sci-Fi, this book explores racial tensions and cultural wounds through the lens of the far off and vastly different.  The character Binti's understanding of mathematics and electronics is described as magical, as if some humans evolved to be able to create and control electrical currents in their mind.  It does a great service to explaining how distant future culture and humans have become from what we are used to now.

This is a great story, but is very brief, and suspect the book may have been better had it been a little bit longer.  More world-building could have dropped in the first few chapters before the story really got going.  The strength of this story is Binti's internal monologue, and how she navigates through harrowing tragedy and survival itself.  I look forward to reading Binti: Home, the second book in the trilogy.

Book 2 Cover
Trigger warnings for terrorist violence and detailed gore.  Read this if you like space-drama and stories that don't feature a love triangle (as so much YA does).  Skip if Sci-Fi really isn't your thing.


Binti: Home

Binti: Home picks up nearly a year after the end of the first book, and follows Binti and Okwa (her Alien friend) on a visit back to Earth.  The book is much longer than the first, and it does not have the episodic repeating of the last scene that the first book occasionally had.

There are seeds from book 1 that are mined and expanded, but the style of world building as the story unfolds is very useful as new elements are revealed and used as the story expands.  This book continues to follow Binti's internal monologue and highlights the amount of change in who Binti is after the trauma of book 1.

The themes from book 1 are still there, but this book's theme seems to focus more on family bonds (and family fractures).  This book ends on a very dramatic cliff-hanger, and really does not feel like a complete story.

While it is possible to read book 1, and be satisfied with a story I don't recommend reading book 2 unless you are committed to also reading book 3, and ... maybe read my review of book 3 (just below).

Book 3 Cover

Binti: The Night Mascarade

Binti: The Night Masquerade picks up a heartbeat after Binti: Home, and Binti is still on Earth, but as she joins the tribe of her paternal grandmother, her nuclear family is in dire trouble.  This third book is over twice as long as the first novella.

The first half of this book (maybe a little more than half) feels like the conclusion of Binti: Home.  The second half feels like a different short story.  I suspect that this book is delineated in the way it is because the theme focus is on intersectionality (and how much heartbreak comes from those who do not understand).

I would have been more satisfied with the story had this book ended in the middle.  The second half felt a little too much like it was pushing for a happy ending, and maybe in sensing that it was going too far, ended on a bittersweet note.

After three books, this universe seems very ripe and full of subtleties.  I really enjoy Binti's personality, but I feel like I was done with Binti's story in the middle of this book.  That is, I would live to read about other characters in this universe.  I want to know of the adventures of other alien races, some of which were even hinted about in these stories.

Overall, I'm happy I read these books, but I can't say I recommend the second two as much as I'd highly recommend book 1.  I think, perhaps, I feel the second half of this book really needed some technological foreshadowing.  This is a place where the unfolding of world building along side the plot does a disservice to the reader.  For me, at least, there is a point in the book that broke my suspension of disbelief.