Category Archives: Books

Fiction books, programming books, etc.

Gardens of the Moon

On Tiu’s recommendation I read “Gardens of the Moon” by Steven Erikson. It also didn’t hurt that it had a recommendation by Stephen Donaldson on the cover (he’s one of my favorites). I picked it up at a bookstore called “Trade-A-Book” that I found while visiting Santa Clara, CA. It was a bit different than other bookstores I’ve been in since it was all fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, horror, and romance, almost kind of a “his and hers” bookstore. Unlike other bookstores I’ve been in, it was all fiction.

Gardens of the Moon is a sword-and-sorcery book in a world of its own, which is a nice change of pace — I’m a little sick of books that rely on things fantasy readers already know about, like Dwarves, Elves, and Ogres and their racial stereotypes. Even so, many “world cut from whole cloth” books tend to be awkward, ill-explained, and not very plausible, and this wasn’t one of them. I guess anthropologists know how to create new creatures and cultures pretty well.

Erikson is a good writer, definitely better than Robert Jordan, George Martin, or any of those other long-winded get-to-the-point-already writers.

There’s really only one thing that bugs me about his style — the way he introduces characters. They tend to come up in a way that their relevance to the story is not at all apparent, and in a way that is disruptive to the flow of the tale. More than once I found myself breezing through the story and then I hit a new character and stumbled in brief disarray before getting back up to speed. Maybe that gets better in his later books.

There are 9 books in the core Malazan Book of the Fallen series, with the 10th coming out this year. I’m hooked, so there’s some work to do…

The Rest of Shandril’s Saga

A little over half a year ago I posted some comments on Spellfire, book 1 of Shandril’s Saga.

I finished the second and third books, Crown of Fire and Hand of Fire.  In retrospect, that was a bit of a mistake.

The next two books had all of the flaws of the first book, while repeating the same events and situations over and over again.  There were so many dimensionless throw-away characters that it was hardly even worth remembering their names.

Essentially what these books were was a three-chapter plot drawn out into two full-length books.  I thought Robert Jordan could drag a story well beyond its useful life, but Ed Greenwood is even more hardcore about it.

It took an act of will to finish Hand of Fire.  One can only read about so many near-identical attacks on a caravan before falling into a coma, and it almost seems like the whole point of the book was to use the word ‘blandreth’ as much as possible.

It’s sad when the main characters of a book are so shallow and boring that you hope they’ll die so you can stop reading about them.  Two stars for Crown of Fire and 1.5 for Hand of Fire.  I hope Greenwood’s Elminster books aren’t this bad.

Terry Pratchett’s Latest Books

I just finished reading Thud! and Making Money by Terry Pratchett.  They’re both excellent books, and if you haven’t read any of his work you probably ought to.  It’s sort of that British-style Douglas-Adams-y thing, but applied to fantasy instead of sci-fi.

Thud! is about a racewar brewing between Trolls and Dwarves and the cops who are trying to prevent it. Making Money is the story of an ex-crook who is put in charge of a bank via inheriting the dog that owns it.  They both have plenty of comedy-meets-fantasy-parodies-reality to them.  All on a world riding on the back of a giant turtle, of course.

You could always start with The Colour of Magic at the beginning of the series, but you’ll soon reach some of the less-than-awesome books (like Eric). If you don’t start the beginning you’ll miss out on Rincewind the incompetent wizard, Death and his companion The Death of Rats, and some of the other great characters he hasn’t done too much with lately.  Most of the books are pretty standalone, so you could start anywhere.  If you’re considering reading Thud! I’d recommend Monstrous Regiment first, and for Making Money I’d recommend Going Postal first.  They’re not essential, but they develop the background of some of the characters a bit more so you get a bit better depth.

His books make good gifts for mudders and friends of mudders, so it’s something to keep in mind if you’re getting kind of last-minute on your holiday shopping.  They’re always in stock at pretty much every bookstore.

Visual C++ For C# Programmers

At my dayjob, I’m a C# developer. 2.5 years ago I was a C++ developer during the day. When I wrote C++, it was all for multiplatform applications that never touched any of the .NET libraries. When I switched to C#, it was all .NET. Never once did I try or even look into using any of the .NET libraries with C++. I knew there was something like __gcnew available, but I took one peek at managed C++ back in 2003 or so and got scared, running away because it looked so ugly.

I had heard that it was improved, but never bothered to look into it until now. I picked up a copy of Pro Visual C++ 2005 for C# Developers and in the first 50 pages I learned everything I need to know to be able to mix managed and unmanaged code in a C++ application, or to mix C# and C++ applications in a .NET project.  I’m not sure how much I’ll ever use that, since my main usage of C++ is for wxWidgets or Qt-based applications, but it’s nice to know, and the author, Dean Wills, did a damn fine job of explaining the differences between the two languages in a short amount of time.

The remainder of the book explains more of the intricacies and specifics, but any competent C# programmer can be writing C++ in only two hours with this book.

Shandril’s Saga Book 1: Spellfire

I’ve been reading The Harpers series from the Forgotten Realms books.  Next on my list was Crown of Fire, but it required reading the previous book, Spellfire, in order to really know what was going on.  So much for an open-ended series of books.  By “open-ended” they obviously didn’t mean “standalone”.

Spellfire was a very different book from the rest of the Harpers books in that the monsters were much more vicious — dracoliches, archmages, devils, beholders, and all manner of newbie-slaying critters.  It was a decent book overall, but the nonchalance that the epic foes were treated with took a little away from the book.  It’s obvious they expect you to have read a Monster Manual from cover to cover and don’t spend too much time on descriptions of creatures, their ferociousness, and all the horrible things they can do to a foe.

Most of the characters in this book are pretty one-dimensional, and the interactions between the main characters (especially Shandril and Narm) are pretty empty.  Even so, it’s a good adventure tale and I give it a solid 3 out of 5 stars.  I liked it well enough, but wouldn’t read it again.  At least now I can read Crown of Fire and continue the Harpers series.

Masquerades

I just finished reading Masquerades by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb, tenth book in The Harpers series.  I skipped over the ninth book, Crown of Fire, because I ordered it from Paperbackswap and it hadn’t arrived by the time I wanted to pick up another book.

I have mixed feelings on the book.  Most of the main characters are from Novak and Grubb’s earlier book, Azure Bonds.  The problem is, I didn’t actually like any of those characters.  They’re entirely too lifeless and one-dimensional and it’s not really worth caring about what happens to them.  Despite the characters, the book has a good plot and in defiance of the lack of character development and choppy dialogue, I had to keep reading just to find out what happened next and which factions were victorious and which were destroyed.  It wasn’t as bad as a George R.R. Martin book where the plot is enthralling but the writing is about what you’d get from a 5th grader, but it was still fairly dissonant.

Overall I’d give the book 2.5 stars out of 5.  If you actually like the characters from Azure Bonds, give it a read.  Otherwise it’s probably not worth it.  As for Azure Bonds, the gold box game (Curse of the Azure Bonds) was better than the book.

Elfsong

I just finished reading Elfsong by Elaine Cunningham, book 9 of The Harpers and the sequel to Elfshadow.  It was a 3.5-star book.  It had decent characters, and was your typical sword-and-sorcery novel.  A tale well-told, but not a tale you can’t live without.  Read it if you like the other Harpers books.

Soldiers of Ice

I finished reading book 7 of The Harpers — Soldiers of Ice by David “Zeb” Cook.  It was just as good as the previous book, but with a twist:  a plot that was pretty original for a sword-and-sorcery book.  I won’t give away the details, but I will say that it’s a solid 4-star book worth reading if you like the genre.

Crypt of the Shadowking

I just finished reading Crypt of the Shadowking by Mark Anthony, book 6 of The Harpers.  It’s been the best book in the series so far.  Unlike most fantasy, the characters are two-dimensional and the character-to-character interactions are natural.  It’s a shame the author has such a common name — he’s very hard to Google, but apparently he wrote a few more books for TSR and a series called The Last Rune that had some popularity.

The Ring of Winter

I finished reading “The Ring of Winter” by James Lowder yesterday.  It was your standard formula “fantasy in the jungle” novel, complete with dinosaurs, cannibalistic goblins, and mysterious artifacts.  I would rate it as “completely average”, three out of five stars.  If you like sword-and-sorcery fiction you’ll like it.  If not, you won’t.

Skip “The Night Parade”

I just finished “The Night Parade” by Scott Ciencin.  It’s book #4 in The Harpers series.  I liked the first three quite a bit, but this one just wasn’t all that great — characters were too one-dimensional, plot devices too ham-handed, and all in all it just wasn’t very good. It also had too much of a “dingos ate my baby” feel to it.

The Harpers

Believe it or not, before this year I had never read any of the novels in the Forgotten Realms series. I had always been more of a fan of Dragonlance.

Lately I’ve started reading The Harpers series. I started because I read and enjoyed the Dark Sun novels by Troy Denning. Since he wrote the first book in the Harpers series, I decided to give them a try. So far I’m up to the third book, Red Magic, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to eventually end up finishing the whole series.

Of course, I know it’s a gateway drug. Before long I’ll be reading all of Salvatore.