Thursday, May 28, 2020

Some Remarks: Essays and Other WritingSome Remarks: Essays and Other Writing by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's no other way to put this:

It's a grab-bag.

You have no choice what has been put in it and sometimes it's a few truly awesome short stories and sometimes it's an interview or two and sometimes it's light, almost spur of the moment ramblings and sometimes it's an in-depth essay (through Wired) the delves (or dives) deep into the history, present, and future of undersea data cables.

For some reason I can't quite fathom, my mind keeps swimming around the traveling hacker bits. On the one hand, I thought a great deal of it was delightfully quirky and it gives us a real backbone to the internet at large, from a physical perspective, but on the other hand, I thought it was JUST TOO LONG.

Not everyone is going to have the same mileage with it. I'm generally quite patient with tech stuff and it fascinated me to a certain point until I was just -- okay already, I'd love to have a story now. ;)

Here are some freaking fantastic highlights tho:

The fight between Neal Stephenson and William Gibson! Epic!

The debate between Vegging-out and Geeking-out.

Genre talk, book talk, book talk, and more book talk. :)

But those short stories? Damn... they got me going. And the unpublished book he said he would never finish? GAAAAHHHH!

I WANT MY SERIAL MURDERER IN THE SHIRE!

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Making Money (Discworld, #36; Moist Von Lipwig, #2)Making Money by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of all the recent -- or perhaps going back to the very start -- Discworld books, there has never been one that struck right to the core absurdity of our world more than this one.

Maybe that's just me. Or maybe I just find money outrageously funny.

It's probably just me.

Regardless of my little foible, Pratchett strikes to the heart of the matter, making fun of the gold standard and illustrating to us the absurdity of the IDEA of money, while all the while giving us golems, golden suits, clown guilds, a dog who runs a bank, and a very interesting con-man who keeps finding himself in bigger and brighter boiling vats of oil.

This might be one of my very favorite Discworlds. :)



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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The CroningThe Croning by Laird Barron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my first Laird Barron and it will not be my last. In fact, I'm very excited to grab anything else he's written for all kinds of reasons: beautiful prose, a creepy old-school horror mastery that straddles the lines between haunting images, idyllic life, and mind-destroying terror.

Indeed, I fell down the rabbit hole of this fantastic exploration of an *obviously* wrong interpretation of the Hollow Earth theory. I got caught up trying to piece together the many different time periods, the cross-sections of a single lifetime. The horror aspects were awesome but it was the mystery that kept me coming back.

How could everything return to normal? Again and again? What is the truth? Or better yet... how is the truth?

It's easy to wave a hand and say this is a Cthuhlu-ish tale. It's more interesting to call this a really dark retelling of Rumplestiltskin. But what is the truth?

This is a wonderfully dark and beautifully written work of cosmic terror couched as an idyllic life well lived... with strange gaps. :)

No spoilers, but I should mention that I guffawed and rubbed my hands by the end. :)

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Fire Next TimeThe Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, I was turned on to James Baldwin and specifically The Fire Next Time.

For very obvious reasons. Both are written the same way, deal with many of the same themes if not the same examples, and they're both written in a way that makes me feel like I'm the one it's written for. Gently, with love, consideration, and not a little wallop of anger against those who are perceived bad, but to the whole situation and how everyone deserves a small modicum of pity.

We are what we do, after all. We are as we are taught. It's up to all of us to think critically and don't ignore inconvenient facts.

In a lot of ways, this personal memoir-ish work of nonfiction is old-school. A lot of us have already internalized most of its teachings. But that shouldn't be so surprising... most of it is pretty universal and obvious. That's including the inherent anger.

A lot of us feel this way and it doesn't matter what your skin color is. The setup is just rotten.

The question is: where do we go from here?

I agree with Baldwin's sentiment: Understanding. It doesn't mean agreement, but it sure as hell means empathy.

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The Third ManThe Third Man by Graham Greene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised that Graham Greene's novella, (yes, the Orson Welles movie) was a very well-written and tight mystery/thriller.

I am surprised, however, at how relevant and interesting it is after all these years.

It's tight, interesting, fast-paced, and often surprising. But above all, it grabs you. :) It also happens to accomplish a ton in a short time, doesn't digress forever in weird, inconsequential directions, and it kinda shames a lot of the modern thriller models. :)

It makes me wonder if I ought to go on a true Noir kick and see just how good they really were... or if this just happens to be a truffle among pigs. :)


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Monday, May 25, 2020

Immortal in Death (In Death, #3)Immortal in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay. So. I'm trying to get into this the way that so many others seem to have gotten into it, but it just has a certain vibe to it. Not a bad vibe, but an AVERAGE vibe. The mysteries aren't anything special. We get similar police procedurals on tv anywhere you look. The romance isn't special. It's wish-fulfillment on a grand scale: a perfect bad rich boy who is absolutely one dimensional in his love for the emotionally damaged police heroine.

We aren't really supposed to ask why. You know. Chemistry, et al.

So what is this book really about? Wedding preparations and saving a friend from a murder rap. And more wedding preparations than saving her friend from a murder rap. And hot sex. And more wedding preparations.

Hmmm okay.

The SF in this is on par with a plopping in a random Star Wars droid and making the MC make a snide comment the way Harrison Ford was likely to do. Other than that, I can't really say this IS SF at all.

I'm not feeling it. I mean, sure, if all I wanted was a lightly decorated HEA among a few dead bodies and easy mysteries, then this is probably right up my alley. But really, it feels like it could be a straight-on cookie cutter from here on out.

Please, someone, tell me I'm wrong and I may continue on.

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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Social Engineering: The Art of Human HackingSocial Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking by Christopher Hadnagy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty good white-hat breakdown of techniques that exploit the more psychological aspects of hacking.

Indeed, while it does go into some really decent detail focusing on awareness of methods, it really shines in highlighting how one might go into business as an Auditor, themselves.

All in all, it is the modern confidence game. You've got thieves and thief-takers. You've got an amazing variety of people out there that simply don't take enough precautions and then you've got others that aren't paying close enough attention to the RIGHT kind of precautions.

Can you imagine having a multi-million dollar security system, teams of devoted security analysts, a fort-knox door, good key cards, and an excellent magnetic lock... all foiled by waving a t-shirt? Or because you helped a secretary out by warning her of her bad-mood boss... or by being an all-right guy helping you out of a jam?

But these kinds of things happen all the time. We've all heard of fishing. We know not to open untrusted pdf files. We know that we need to keep our software updated and relatively better protected from old exploits. RIGHT? Well, apparently not. Social creatures do as social creatures do. People who help you out of jams or mirror your expressions or appear out of nowhere with official-sounding titles and excellent business cards are always... TRUSTED. Someone with a CFO title demands that you do something or lose your job. What do you do?

The thing is, most businesses set themselves up for this kind of chicanery. If you instill respect and/or fear in your employees, don't be surprised when someone from the outside exploits the natural human reactions that come with being mistreated and/or indoctrinated. Being free to ask questions and verify credentials should be encouraged... even when an angry CFO keeps threatening an employee. (Real or not real, the terms of engagement ought to be the same.)

Alas. There's a lot more like this in the book and it's all pretty fascinating. It helps to be a genuine people person if you get into this line of work, but there are lots of different kinds of techniques. The point is to have a well-rounded toolbox and display confidence. Because you're a white-hat... right?

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