Saturday, January 24, 2015


Mitosis is a short novella set between Steelheart and Firefight. Firefight has many references to it, so I was expecting something big. However, it is more of a comic interlude that helps set up Firefight.

The Reckoners now have the unenviable task of controlling the city that they have taken. Of course, the Epics don't like the idea of humans ruling a city, so it was inevitable that one come in to try to take it for himself. Mitosis wanders into the city and "divides" himself into many clones to try to find David to ask him questions. His clones can all communicate with each other, however, the clones seem to lose some fidelity and intelligence as they reproduce many times. Individual clones can be easily killed. However, they can all reproduce.

Before becoming an Epic, Mitosis was a classically trained member of a rock band. He hated his band's music, and the music ended up being the weakness that allowed him to be destroyed.

Once the destruction of the Epic was taken care of, people could go back to eating the authentic Chicago-style hot dogs. Yum!

This is the "TV episode" between the two movies. This is a universe that Sanderson can really have a lot of fun with.


In the typical superhero tale, the hero puts on his tights and goes out to round up the bad guys. Eventually, he may run into the "super villain", but that is not until after the "good guy" has shown his worth to society.

What if the tables were turned? What if the super villains came out first? And what if there were not any super heroes out there?

Steelheart is set in a near future Chicago that has been taken over by the eponymous Steelheart. He is an "Epic" with various super powers, including the ability to turn things to Steel. "Newcago" as it is called is now a city of Steel ruled by a super dictator. Steelheart does engage in acts of random killing. However, he provides general infrastructure and some sense of daily life for humans, making his city more desirable than many of the others.

David witnessed Steelheart killing his father a decade ago. In the intervening decade, David has been consumed by the thought of revenge. He had been spending most of his time researching Epics and finding their weaknesses, with a goal of eventually taking down Steelheart. He manages to meet up with the anti-Epic group, "the Reckoners" and help take down many of the Epics. Being a YA novel, he falls in love with Megan, a Reckoner with a few secrets of her own. However, here they are busy with the action.

The book is fast paced and loaded with plenty of twists and surprises that all seem to make sense in the end.

Each Epic has their own power and weakness, providing all sorts of fun in the story. David also has a knack for really bad metaphors, with explanations that manage to be even more over the top. Though Sanderson is best known for his Epic fantasy, he seems to have the most fun when he writes for younger ages.

Friday, January 23, 2015

QBQ: Question Behind the Question

You can be happier by not blaming others. This book is a power point deck of points that you can use to help take responsibility. Instead of getting upset trying to change others, you should frame questions and actions based on what you can do. That will make you happier and may even help others to be more likely to do what you want them to do. It makes sense. Doing it practice is the challenge.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Popular Tales from the Norse

Librivox can be hit or miss, even in a single book. Some "tales" in this collection were read with such thick accents I could barely understand them. Others had way to much "enthusiasm." There were even a few that were done really well. There were many short tales - some that seemed to have more space dedicated to the "librivox introduction" than to the actual tales. But, that is enough about the narration.

The book starts out with a long introduction. Then it jumps into a large number of Norse tales. Then we get a bonus West Indian tales featuring Anansi. (Scandinavia and the Caribbean. Uh, yeah, I see the connection.)

Some of the tales have been popularized (albeit in somewhat different forms) by Disney movies. Others seem to be half complete. There are plenty were the humble guy gets a great advantage by his smarts. There is also a good deal of supernatural behavior.

One tale had a man sell his soul to the Devil, then trick the Devil out of taking it. Since he was not a good guy, he was left without a place to leave and had to sneak into Heaven. The moral? Uh, not sure. But it is an interesting yarn.

While there are some moralizing, it seems that many of the tales are primarily for entertainment. Some are good, while some are bad. This collection would be better skimmed in print than listened to on audiobook.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Collected Fictions

I like Borges' style. I expected something much more pretentious, but I was pleasantly surprised. Borges has a playful knack for blending fiction with "nonfiction". The characters in a story may talk with an author. He may also provide a backstory for events in fictional works or even describe how something really happened. Characters may suddenly have something "magical" happen in a realistic story. This seems to be at the roots of magical realism, yet it is also reminded me of Kafka. In this collection we get the famous "Library of Babel" as well as many other "stories". There are a few that fall flat, but even those have their redeeming points.

Republic of Pirates

The original pirates of the Caribbean were the early new world democratic revolutionaries. They threw off the chains of repression and gave each man an equal say and his destiny. They achieved this destiny primarily by looting and plundering, but hey, you have to start somewhere, right?

The big pirates often started out with fairly normal "careers" before drifting into piracy. Some were originally privateers and then decided they could do even better without the official sanction. Others still held to some nominal allegiance to their comrades and the rule of law. Others were just in it for fun. What they all generally discovered was that you can appeal to a man's greed. By promising each man a significant share of the wealth and saw in the ship's activities, they were able to recruit and maintain a dedicated workforce. (They also resorted to conscription when they needed it.)

The Bahamas were once the headquarters of pirate activity. The rule of law was largely ignored and the pirates had their saw. The man that came in and finally cleaned up the Bahamas ended up living in poverty due to his efforts to support the "honest" population.

Alas, while the pirates achieved notoriety, they rarely got to enjoy their riches, often dying at the sword or gallows. At least they went out in flames.

Republic of Pirates attempts to bring this early pirate era alive by focusing on a few main characters (such as Blackbeard.) The story is a little more than a biography, but a little less than a history. I would have liked to have a little more of both.

Caves of Steel

Caves of steel in six sentences: A cop is assigned a robot for a companion. They attempt to crack a murder case in "space town". The cop goes down a lot of false paths, manifesting his robot prejudice. Eventually he helps crack the case. The robot was not able to identify the culprit because his brain analysis did not reveal the guilt. However, the human realized an accidental killing would not manifest the guilt.

Caves of Steel in six words: Human outsmarts robot, solves Turing test.

Caves of Steel is OK as a mystery and OK as science fiction.

I wonder if this was one of the things I read in my youth. I remember reading a lot of Asimov, but not reading the foundation books. There must be some good stuff out there. However, it seems a lot of this is merely ok.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Earth Abides

Earth Abides is an optimistic post-apocalyptic novel. Some disease sweeps through earth and wipes out almost everyone. It manages to happen very quickly, yet orderly. We just have to believe the author on this one. The narrator was out in woods when things happened, and nobody else seems to provide details. It seems there was time to properly bury everyone, but not to shut down stores or bring cars home.

Utilities were also still running. The hydroelectric power and plumbing still kept chugging along for a while, even without anybody to attend to it. Roads were still usable, though gradually tree-falls and floods cut off some routes. (However, long distance travels were still possible.)

The few people that remained tended to stay by themselves. Nobody seemed to ask why or engage in serious conversation. At first, they were mere scavengers trying to gather what they could and live off the working utilities. Eventually, things broke down and they found themselves returning back to nature. However, they do take shortcuts. Instead of going all the way back to stone arrowheads, they use the metal found in coins.

The new generations soon lose all contact with "civilization". They have become hunters, obtaining their sustenance from nature. The stored up knowledge of society had been gradually eaten away by nature. The old ones that remembered the civilization are treated as deities.

The novel seems to be attempting a connection between "savage" lifestyles and our more modern society. Perhaps the "natives" that had been encountered by Europeans had had advanced societies, but saw them quickly disappear due to the diseases that were brought in. By the time there was large-scale cultural contact, they had fallen into a pure survival mode.

The book paints the new society in an optimistic way. Rather than roving bands of thugs, we have people that want to work together and be happy. The one "bad guy" that they do encounter is quickly removed. People can still be happy even after the fall of society.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Gods Themselves

Asimov can get annoying. He spends too much time describing the science and the "people" and not enough time developing characters and story. However, he usually has an interesting premise and writes just well enough to keep things interesting.

Alas, in "The Gods Themselves" he managed to show us everything that can go wrong with science fiction. There are a few "deep thoughts" held together with a horribly executed story. The premise is a cross-universe energy exchange device that can seemingly produce endless amounts of free energy, with only one minor catch. Alas, the catch is that the sun in one universe gets hotter, while that of the other gets colder, eventually wiping out life in both universes.

The story structure seemed to serve the ego of the author. "I am so good, I can rearrange things just because." Long sections of the parallel universe and their "triad" relationships are just plain tedious. They may be computers or they may be slaves to the "hard ones". However, it didn't seem to matter much for the story. The section in our universe didn't matter much either. The people on the moon had some sci-fi utopia and helped "provide" for the earth. Most of the people in both universe enjoyed the cheap power and didn't want to change. (Asimov did add a quip about people trying to make "safer" cigarettes and more fuel efficient cars rather than smoking and driving less. It was a nice soundbite, but it didn't fit in with the story.)

Some beings in both universes decide to rebel and... the book ends.

Asimov thought this was one of his favorite books. This enjoyment must have been based on the writing process, for reading this book is pure tedium.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Random College Football Thoughts

So far the college football bowl season has been going good for a change. A few thoughts:

I guess they belong

Ohio State was the last of four teams in the college football playoff. Boise State was the "group of 5" team that squeezed into the access bowl. Both one close games, that really weren't all that close.

PR firms don't help on the football field

Baylor hired a PR firm to plead their case for inclusion in the playoff. They had only lost one game and beat the other one-loss team in their conference, therefore they should be in the playoff. What the conveniently did not mention was that they also lost by two touchdowns to West Virginia - a team that TCU beat. And that victory over TCU? Well, it was come-from behind win by 3 points at Baylor. If you go by Sagarin's example of a 3 point home edge, that amounts to a tie. A quick eye test shows that TCU looks like the better team. They also had a stronger non-conference schedule, with the game against Minnesota. The playoff committee saw that also and had TCU ranked higher than Baylor. Alas, Baylor played spoiled brat, and claimed it should be conference champion and thus be in the playoff. Luckily, Ohio State provided an easy way out. Its dominant performance in the Big 10 championship game allowed it to take the final playoff spot. The rankings could then show Baylor ahead of TCU. However, the result was largely meaningless as they would both make New Years games. TCU then pummeled Mississippi, while Baylor lost as Michigan State managed a come from behind win. The law of averages to the rescue.

Boise State to the rescue

Marshall had left the playoffs in a pickle. They were undefeated, but they hadn't played a strong schedule. The playoff rankings barely even included them. But they had not lost. Florida State was also undefeated and seemed a shoe in, despite barely squeaking by many of its opponents. Luckily, Eastern Carolina defeated Marshall in overtime, freeing things up. Boise State was conveniently the Mountain West champion and had only two loses. They had the brand reputation. Everybody heard of them and nobody would complain if they played in a "big bowl". It was also very convenient that they lost a game to Air Force early in the season. Without that loss, Boise's only loss would be to Mississippi. That's the same team that gave Alabama its only regular season loss. It would make for a nice controversy if Boise and Alabama both won. Luckily, the Air Force loss meant there was no argument for playoff inclusion. Boise's victory over Arizona further showed that Boise belonged with the Big Boys.

Florida State really was that bad

It was a good thing we had 4 teams in the playoff this year. Otherwise, we may have ended up with a Florida State/Alabama snooze-fest. One was the lone undefeated team. The other had a few recent championships under their belt. How could you go against either? Ugghh. Luckily, there were four teams. Oregon nicely avenged their lone loss to Arizona. Alabama and Ohio State were one-loss conference champions that were both playing well. TCU also looked great. That would make a great playoff. Alas, we still had to have some politics. Florida State was the undefeated defending champs. They had to be in, even though they were not that great. There was also the bickering in the Big-12. Put the two together and Florida State takes TCU's position. Oregon promptly destroyed Florida State and Ohio State held on to beat Alabama. Was the SEC really deserving of all its championships or did it just get the luck of the draw?

How do the conferences look?

Looking at the Conference Rankings, Conference USA was on top. Alas, none of their teams were ranked. Perhaps we will see some ranking love in the final poll? The Pac-12 was the best of the major conferences. The two loses were both by less than 10 points in Arizona bowls. Oregon also won a semifinal bowl game. The SEC was the next major conference. Alas, their position was held up by the bottom of the conference and the "weaker" eastern division. Ranked teams were 2-5, with all teams in major bowls losing. Big-10 ended up at .500, with victories in the big bowls. Sun Belt, Mountain West and American were all right at or below .500, with the lone ranked team (Boise) vindicating itself well. ACC and Big-12 did finish above the MAC. Can you say overrated?