Reading Chronicle '97

A log of things I've read, particularly those that didn't generate enough thoughts to warrant a full page of their own. The purpose is to allow me to gain the benefits of having an internal conversation about each, but without the pretense that I have anything significant to say.

A summary of this page is available. For less recent readings, see the 1996 chronicle. For more recent readings, see the 2004 chronicle.

The Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, and Borders of Infinity
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Dec 30, 1997

Vorkosigan adventures. I like the first best, I believe it was the first written, but for whatever reason it has more careful pacing and intriguing character discovery than the others in the series. The others are good only if you like Miles and his clever way of talking his way into and out of jam after jam.

Beauty and the Beast
by Barbara Hambly
December 29, 1997

An occultistic novel from a fantasy author I used to like. This first book of her new romance/occult series has one idea: a hidden culture in the tunnels under NYC. Mostly boring; doesn't even build up any of that romance novel steam. Ok sci-fi of the one-of-the-crew's-a-saboteur genre. Mediocre in

Rocket Jockey
by Lester Del Rey
December 19, 1997

Perfect pulp sci-fi, of the young-adult genre. Jerry Blaine grows up while racing the Armstrong Classic, a rocket circuit from Earth to Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, and the moon.

A Fire Upon The Deep
by Vernor Vinge
December 18, 1997

It's not just the insights into the nature of intelligence, stirring space saga, unique aliens, and creative hard science; Fire mixes galactic scope and personal exploration perfectly. Exciting, intense, and thought-provoking, particularly for computer scientists. Of the myriad post-read impressions, the strongest is a staring awe at the immensity of Fire's universe, followed closely by regret that I'll never get the chance to live there. In many ways, the best sci-fi ever.

Queen Of Angels
by Greg Bear
December 10, 1997

Good cybernovel, with the usual unrealistically large near-future cultural changes (the Combs). Quite interesting for the ideas (e.g. therapied workers and Country of the Mind) and depth of character exploration. The final Country chapters are perfect cyberfiction, disturbing and cinematic. The science is pretty wimpy throughout, and the nano especially hamstrung.

The Tranquility Alternative
by Allen Steele
November 10, 1997

Ok sci-fi of the one-of-the-crew's-a-saboteur genre. Mediocre in all respects, but not outright bad. Eminently forgetable.

The Abductor Conspiracy
by Jonathon Frakes
November 5, 1997

The sort of sci-fi I'd expect from William Riker of Star Trek TNG. How UFOs affect present-day earth. Barely ok overall, with somewhat shallow main characters, a bordering-on-the-too-fantastic plot, and extremely weak supporting characters. No new science; better classified with the occult genre, except that they wouldn't want it either.

The Unlikely Ones
by Mary Brown
November 1, 1997

A simple story, gently told, with a most unusual cast; a satisfying romantic adventure -- except that it's quite an earthy streak. A girl and her friends (a bird, a fish, a cat, ... you get the idea) meet adventure and their destiny while traveling to free themselves of a common burden. The uncommon viewpoints of the uncommon cast make this otherwise commonplace fantasy world extraordinary. Would be great for kids if it weren't for the small amount of explicit and mildly strange sex.

On Writing Well, 3rd edition
by William Zinsser
October 15, 1997

A good book, filled with quotable, pleasant advice about nonfiction writing. Many of the chapters have gentle guidance for budding journalists: The Lead, The Ending, The Interview, Sports, Criticism, Humor. Of more interest to me were the insights on wordcraft, as well as on larger issues like writing style and retaining reader interest. Notwithstanding his stirring opening argument for brevity as the secret of good writing, Zinsser himself writes windily (page 63):
As for what point you want to make, I'll state as a rule of thumb that every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he didn't have before. Not two thoughts, or five -- just one. So try to decide what point you most want to leave in the reader's mind. It will not only give you a better idea of what route you ought to follow and what destination you hope to reach; it will also affect your decision about tone and attitude. Some points are best made by dry understatement, some by heavy irony.
I would prune this to:
Every piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one new thought. Not two, or five -- just one. Decide what point you want to leave in the reader's mind. It will not only guide your writing, but will affect your decision about tone and attitude. Some points are best made by dry understatement, some by heavy irony.
I won't comment more, except to reference my thoughts on other writing of the same New Yorker style, Nick Baker's U And I. Even though he doesn't follow it himself, Zinsser's advice is good: eschew adjectives, be organized, rewrite often. Just be sure to do as he says, not as he does.

The Crystal Cave
by Mary Stewart
October 11, 1997

Merlin tells the story of his boyhood, up to the conception of King Arther. He tells us what's really behind the fabled events, without the usual veiled mysticisms. The Crystal Cave has more focus on a-day-in-the-life-of than most of the swords and sorcery genre, but without the depth that makes Deed Of Paksenarion, reviewed below, so engrossing. But Crystal Cave makes up for the lack with the refreshing viewpoint on the Arthurian legend.

The Patchwork Girl
by Larry Niven
October 2, 1997

Gil "The Arm" Hamilton saves an ex- almost-squeeze from becoming ex-everything. Did she laser the Fourth Speaker from outside the view window of the lunar surface? The locked-room mystery, plus Niven's knack for combining strong science with strong fiction, blend to form a satisfying story.

Black Star Rising
by Frederik Pohl
October 1, 1997

His Chinese overlords oppress Anglo rice worker Castor, but he's too shallow to care. Besides the worth-a-glance,-barely ideas of a USA taken over by socialist China, and of Manyheads' penchant for brain implantation, the reader doesn't care about much in this book, either. Tsoong's infatuation with Castor is insulting to mature adults, Castor's ascent to President and alien ambassador is silly and unconvincing, and the final quarter of the book is plain ridiculous.

by Gordon R. Dickson
September 22, 1997

Unpretentiously pits our hero Jim the clever earthman against the superior skills and overwhelming power of the galactic empire. Jim's rapid navigation of Throne World politics advances quickly to the solution of several mysteries. A refreshingly simple first-person viewpoint makes this a fun adventure.

GanWold's Child
by Diann Thornley
September 18, 1997

A boy raised by savages finds himself near the center of an interstellar war. The story doesn't take Tristan very far psychologically, but he does give us a view of the opposing forces. Little technology, typical worlds, moderately well drawn characters.

The 97th Step
by Steve Perry
September 14, 1997

One man, three lives. Mwili escapes his cruel homeland; Ferret is a thief with simple dreams; Pen completes the journey for life's meaning. The varied cultures are mildly interesting, but the characters are flat, the adventure tame, and the philosophy long-winded.

The Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy
by Elizabeth Moon
September 10, 1997

Sheepfarmer's Daughter, Divided Allegiance Oath of Gold More involving than Modesitt's best, this series is tops for engrossing the reader in Paks' mercenary life, in a swords-and-sorcery universe. The first novel takes Paks from her father's home to company veteran, the second to a more solitary destiny, and the third to her place in legend. Be sure to have the third handy, you won't want to stop where the second leaves poor Paks!

by Michael Flynn
September 1, 1997

A struggle in the near future, for privatized high-school education and cheap access to low earth orbit, both brought about by the indomitable will of North America's richest businesswoman. The fine weave of the plot, and the involved characters, distract one from the unconvincing basic premises.

Of Tangible Ghosts
by L.E.Modesitt, Jr.
August 20, 1997

An alternate history of a Dutch-dominated low-tech Northeast where ghosts are scientifically accepted. The usual Modesitt protagonist's journey of self-discovery doesn't work as well in the murder-mystery setting, making the book slow, although the ghost premise is intriguing.

The McAndrews Chronicles
by Charles Sheffield
August 18, 1997

Jeanie Roker is a careful, professional spaceship pilot, dragged into testing experimental spaceships for the Einstein of the 22nd century. The five chronicles are chronologically successive short stories, with the hard science typical of Sheffield; the 50g drive is interesting, although he glossed over some of the details of tidal forces at full acceleration. The characters are unusually cookie cutter, since the chronicle format doesn't give room to do more than explore the technology and the basic story ideas.

Endangered Species
by Nevada Barr
August 10, 1997

Excellent Anna puzzles out the mysteries of the Georgia coast. The subplot with her beau keeps the series faithful on the edge of their seats. I can't believe he'd do that to her.

A Superior Death
by Nevada Barr
August 5, 1997

Even Barr's bleak novels have that special appeal. Firestorm made nature read better than it often actually is; this makes Lake Superior in winter much better than it actually is. Anna becomes a boater and scuba diver, but is otherwise her usual solitary, tough, inquisitive self.

Fall of Angels
by L.E.Modesitt, Jr.
August 1, 1997

The prehistory of Modesitt's Recluse world, with a starfaring engineer stuck with a new primitive life in a struggle for survival. Par for the Recluse course, but that course is certainly starting to have a lot of holes.

Midshipman's Hope
by David Feintuch
also Challenger's Hope, Prisoner's Hope, Fisherman's Hope
July 18, 1997

The series starts strongly, with young Nick Seafort the only officer left alive, seventeen months and lightyears away from the nearest colony. Perfect rousing Hornblower in space. The later novels are also superb, although the gnawing doubt and obstinate modesty transferred from old Horatio became hard to take. In other words, it's so like Hornblower you'll even tire of it the same way.

Cold As Ice
by Charles Sheffield
July 12, 1997

Hard sci-fi with interesting characters, Bat's a charm, plus intriguing ideas in astronomy, terraforming, and bioengineering. Excellent.

The Rising
by James Doohan and S.M. Stirling
July 11, 1997

The story that you'd expect Star Trek's Scotty (Doohan was the actor) to write. An engineer saves the day. Science is of the Trek variety, perfect for advancing the story, but where similarity to what our own universe might produce is not a requirement. Good action storyline.

Destiny's Road
by Larry Niven
July 9, 1997

A readable sf of the regressed-colony family. Not much science of interest, but what's there is of the hardest variety. Mildly interesting characters but somewhat lacking in dimensionality in the usual Niven style.

The Ship Errant
by Jody Lynn Nye
July 2, 1997

Ugh, what a sacchrine sci-fi. Simple minded plot of a brain ship that makes first contact with a world cut off by space pirates, with little action, too-sweet aliens, and generally little of interest. The other brain ship novels are similar but have just enough action/human interest to hold the story together, but without McCaffrey as even a co-author, Nye can't make it work.

by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
June 28, 1997

Modesitt's newest sci fi, depicts a future earth where the ecologists have taken over and tree-hugging is the key societal philosophy. Interesting ideas on what it really means for a society to live in concert with nature. A bit of character interest, just enough to let one ignore it and focus on the philosophy, action, and technology.

Mindstar Rising
by Peter F. Hamilton
June 21, 1997

A near future story of detective work and limited psychic powers. Adequate, with a plot that moves along and a glimpse of humanity behind some of the characters, but not enough to break it out of the dime action novel genre.

The Soprano Sorceress
by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
June 15, 1997

Modesitt's attempt at a different universe and magic system than his Recluse novels. It doesn't work; basing magic on the power of song ends up too trite, with too shallow an inner working to be enjoyable. And the heroine's instant adjustment to a world where magic works is just the most obvious sign that the book's characters aren't real people. A shame.

by Nevada Barr
June 14, 1997

Another excellent Anna Pigeon murder mystery. The nature prose, especially of wildfire, is the type that leaves me with more appreciation and wonder than if I'd seen it with myself. The bleak post-fire camp is a perfect background for the search through the group's stark motives.

Track of the Cat
by Nevada Barr
June 10, 1997

The first book in the Anna Pigeon series. This is finally it, a superb mystery equal to Sue Grafton's best! Barr has the same sideways view of the world (highways as "an endless buffet of roadkills"), with the added draw of the breathtaking venue. On a scale from pristine natural beauty to sordid urbanity, Barr's national park settings are first, Grafton's Santa Barbara is second, and Barnes is dead last in the belly of Boston.
    The same ranking applies on the scale of character development over the series. Small comments throughout each novel bring new interest to Anna's past history, informing and tantalizing the reader at once. Kinsey's background is not quite as cleverly explicated, but it's still unobtrusive. Then there's Carlotta, whose character is copied over from each previous novel in unimaginative word-processor-remasticated chunks, with undigestible side pieces thrown in for novelty, although it only strikes me so harshly in direct comparison.
    Track Of The Cat is better than Ill Wind with better plot timing, more natural wonder, and more likable characters. But both are good.

by Linda Barnes
June 8, 1997

No doubt about it; Carlotta likes to skulk around the seamy side of Boston. This third book will be the last of hers I read, reading these leave my mind covered with a gray film, all the color washed out of life. The cyber connection here is too trite and old-fashioned for the modern computer-savvy reader.

Ill Wind
by Nevada Barr
June 6, 1997

Another new author in the search for a Sue-Grafton read-alike. This one is very good, because any flaws in heroine Anna Pigeon are recompensed by her national-park settings. Here one visits the Mesa Verde National Park from the vantage of a park ranger's shoulder, moving from natural beauty to the age-old mystery of the Anasazi disappearance, to a much more recent murder.

by Linda Barnes
May 31, 1997

Still good (see entry immediately below) but too repetitious in the way serials can be. We learn again about her habits, her friends' habits, where she lives, why, etc etc. But a good plot, real characters, and a likable protagonist still hold it together. A big downside is the sleezy big-city focus of the cases our heroine Carlotta Carlyle takes.

The Snake Tattoo
by Linda Barnes
May 30, 1997

An author my wife discovered in the search for a Sue Grafton clone. This one's protagonist is quite good: a smart, independent, divorced female detective who used to be a cop, albeit located in Boston rather than Santa Barbara. The crime motive was a bit timeworn, but not too much so; the characters well done. Really quite good!

An Alien Light
by Nancy Kress
May 24, 1997

Aliens test the one race ever encountered that matches no patterns of behavior: humans (a la Hour Of The Horde). We ride along and witness the clash of primitive honor- and merchant-centered human moral systems. Involving presentation of the strange logic of human morality; for a nonfiction treatment of the subject, c.f. Systems of Survival.

Ancient Shores
by Jack McDevitt
May 18, 1997

Sci fi about the discovery of still-working alien artifacts in North Dakota. Several main characters, somewhat thinly drawn as is usual for such multi-protagonist novels, but convincing nevertheless. The reach is grand, but there's not enough science or romance or adventure to make this a real page turner. Still, it's not bad.

Ethan Of Athos
by Lois McMaster Bujold
May 17, 1997

Simple story of a physician from a womenless planet, forced into the wider galaxy to shop for spare ovaries to stock up Athos's dwindling supply. The hapless Ethan is taken under the wing of the redoubtable Elli Quinn, and plays cat and mouse with the bad guys. Mildly entertaining but with no science or philosophy of note; just trash sci fi.

The Parafaith War
by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
May 11, 1997

New-style hero sci-fi (compare to Hour of the Horde, below), the journey of a techno-soldier in a internecine war against a religious society. Pleasant reading like many of Modesitt's, good space battles, interesting technology, and enough philosophy for the reader to chew on. Thought-provoking and enjoyable.

Beggars Ride
by Nancy Kress
May 10, 1997

Final novel in the Sleepless trilogy, which is a little bit worn. Not much new, tired characters, and biotech/genetic engineering isn't as fresh a topic as it used to be. Not terrible, but not worth reading after the first two, either.

Hour Of The Horde
by Gordon R. Dickson
May 3, 1997

Old-style hero sci-fi, where human irrationality turns out to be a strong and unique force in the galaxy at large. Mildly interesting idea of hysterical creative strength. As with many such, too simple-mindedly heroic to be at all convincing to the modern reader.

Derelict For Trade
by Andre Norton and Sherwood Smith
Apr 29, 1997

Sci fi for juveniles, which in this case means a simplified plot and uncomplicated characters. The scenery is well done, leaving one with a cinematic image of space station life, but overall the story is too simple-minded.

by C.J. Cherryh
Apr 27, 1997

A hard sci fi/space opera, with a down-on-her-luck space soldier who finds a home with a semilegitimate bounty hunter and its tight-lipped crew. Good albeit simple action plot, with a bit more emotional discovery than most such.

Cyteen: The Betrayal Part 1
by C.J. Cherryh
Apr 25, 1997

A psychological sci-fi, long on talk and mental plotting and short on action. You know the type: battles between empires come down to boardroom and cafe verbal skirmishes. I liked this one, although the character's emotional development rings flat, not true. The technology of fast-growth humans (Azis) is fascinating.

Kingdoms of the Wall
by Robert Silverberg
Apr 24, 1997

A coming-of-age sci fi, almost a fantasy in disguise, like much of Silverberg's work. A culture of shape-changing near-humans sends disposable youngsters on a yearly pilgrimage to meet their gods. Not too exciting but the depicted cultural adjustments to shape changing are interesting.

The Ragged World
by Judith Moffet
Apr 22, 1997

A convergent novel seemingly formed from several shorts, nevertheless a pleasant sci-fi of shipwrecked aliens who have insinuated themselves into human folklore. The focus is on the humans whose lives are changed by encounters with the Hefn: an AIDS victim, an honest politician, a hiker, and a teenager. Excellent character development but no science to speak of.

Heavy Time
by C.J. Cherryh
Apr 20, 1997

A nice mystery sci-fi set in the restricted locale of a mining ship and a space station. Good characters, good portrayal of life in near future space, good tension.

The Element Of Fire
by Martha Wells
Apr 17, 1997

Your basic fantasy, with a beautiful young witch, a canny and stalwart royal guard, and a twisted mad sorcerer. Reasonably good mystery, good action/romance plot, and good magic fundamentals. Somewhat shallow characters, but perhaps that's as it should be for this sort of book.

by Ben Bova
Apr 11, 1997

Another near-future sci-fi following the Bova formula: science is good, politics inevitable, and scientists are people too. Perhaps, slightly more than usual, the characters are heavy handed, the sex obligatory, and the plot not thick enough to cover the plot sketch beneath. But, also in Bova tradition, it have tolerable depiction of the political consequences of a potential real science discovery (organ regeneration)

The Ship Avenged
by S. M. Sterling
Apr 5, 1997

Mindless action sci-fi, medium quality. Not quite as good as the others in the brainship series, not that any of them are great literature. This one is by the partner author rather than the proven Anne McCaffrey, probably accounting the the slight additional lack of depth.

M Is For Malice
by Sue Grafton
Mar 29, 1997

Better than the last few in the Kinsey Millhone series, which tried for novel status, this is simply a good detective story with Grafton's usual excellent character development and quirky observations about life, people, and places.

Fatal Defect
by Ivars Peterson
Mar 23, 1997

A light nonfiction about computer bugs that cause deaths or at least widespread difficulty. Makes it clear just how unsolved the problem of producing correct software really is. Covers the Therac-25 radiation incidents, the A320 fly-by-wire crashes, SDI, the year 2000, and telephone system failures, among others.

Write Your Own Business Contracts
by E. Thorpe Barrett
Mar 21, 1997

An excellent book for the business owner who wants to know what all those clauses s/he signs into contracts really mean. Unfortunately not quite specialized enough in software development to be right on target for me, but still indispensible in contract negotiations until something better comes along.
    There's no doubt that the best programmers ought to be great contract lawyers, because they use the same skills. The contract executes in the business world and courtroom in the same way a program executes on a computer, and as one would expect the typical contract has several holes because there's no comparable machinery to the programmer's compiler, computer, and debugger to help the author check for correctness. Only years later in court does one see how one really did. Even if you as a programmer don't want to be bothered with writing contracts yourself, I recommend that you check them carefully, as your attorney probably isn't as careful at such checking as you would be.

Legal Care For Your Software
by Daniel Remer and Stephen Elias
Mar 20, 1997

Another Nolo Press book, this gives the same consistent but somewhat shallow coverage as their others. Still, that's a fault of the genre of "overview" books, not of Nolo Press. Everything here is well presented and necessary knowledge for someone in the business, it just leaves you hungering for more.
    The section on software license agreements is interesting, detailing exactly how to write something that says "this product doesn't do anything" and get away with it. The section on contracts is very complete for its size, but that's a topic that requires a whole book.

Form Your Own Limited Liability Company
by Anthony Mancuso
Mar 19, 1997

Having homed in on an LLC as the best company form for my purposes, this book by the same publisher gives most of the details I need. A good compendium of LLC facts that one can pick up around the Web or in other sources, but still doesn't cover certain detailed questions. For instance, although an LLC must have two members, mightn't one get around most of the implications of that by having the percentage ownership be 99% and 1%? The book doesn't say.
    But that sort of question probably has no answer, as it hasn't been fought out in the courts yet, and this book certainly covers everything one needs to decided on and then set up an LLC, in any state.

The Legal Guide For Starting And Running A Small Business
by Fred Steingold
Mar 18, 1997

A shallow but informative overall coverage of all aspects of starting a business. My particular interest is in the section on choosing a company form: sole proprietership, partnership, LLC, C Corp, or S Corp. My main concerns are ease of maintenance of the company, tax advantages, and liability limitation so that I don't lose my house over some dumb contractual thing.
    A sole proprietership is best if you don't mind the lack of liability protection, an LLC is best if you need the protection and if it makes sense to have your spouse be your fellow member (LLCs require 2 members). Corporations used to be the best option but new law and rulings over the last decade have removed all of their advantages. Still, if you don't have someone to be your LLC partner, an S corp is the best remaining bet.

Once a Hero
by Elizabeth Moon
Mar 17, 1997

Standard Sassinack/Serano female protagonist action fare. Esmay Suiza is an up-and-coming Fleet officer who just can't help being a hero. Exciting battles, powerful psychological drama -- excellent space opera.

by Bob Shaw
Mar 14, 1997

An old-fashioned action sci-fi, where the super-capable-but-internally-just-another-guy captain explores Orbitsville, a shell around a star, with usable space equal to billions of earths. Unconvincing characters but acceptable action and science.

The Other End of Time
by Frederik Pohl
Mar 12, 1997

A good sci-fi of a small group's encounter with earth's first aliens. Sticks to the basics: people, mysterious other purposes, a clever twist or two. The technology is hackneyed but it fits into the plot well.

by Alan Dean Foster
Mar 10, 1997

Reasonable sci-fi action fare, a consistent Flinx book. Interesting world with an evolved jungle to beat all jungles. Unfortunately the overall direction of Foster's Flinx books is succumbing to the established author tendency to tie previously unrelated stories into a grand scheme.

Malice in Maggody
by Joan Hess
Mar 4, 1997

A not-bad resting point in my search for a Sue Grafton clone. This particular story is too tawdry, but the protagonist has the right Kinsey-like attitudes and the writing isn't bad. I'll check out Hess's later books in the series.

Remnant Population
by Elizabeth Moon
Mar 3, 1997

Moon is one of my favorite fantasy writers, and she's even better with sci-fi. The story of an independently-minded old women who lives, breathes, and ends up making a big difference, on a planet far far away. Very enjoyable, and with a good ending.

by Steven Gould
Mar 1, 1997

Tries for the author's Jumper's combination of trials of manhood and neat ideas. Flawed by having too many main characters (as compared to the single viewpoint in Jumper), and from a slow first half. Gets a lot better if you make it past halfway.

Incorporating Your Talents
by Robert Esperti and Renno Peterson
Feb 24, 1997

An interesting book for its initial chapter on how personal corporations came to be (the Charles Laughton story), but unfortunately the rest is obsoleted by the 1986 tax reform.

The Millionaire's Secret
by Mark Fisher
Feb 22, 1997

A thin story about the power of aiming for your true goals and concentrating to bring success. Very light.

The Revolutionary Cholesterol Breakthrough
by Robert Kowalski
Feb 20, 1997

Unusually for a part-2 book, this gives significant new additions to the author's plan for lowering cholesterol levels, as laid out in his 12-year-older The 8-week Cholesterol Cure (below).
    In addition to oat bran and niacin, Kowalski now recommends Sequester, a diet pill available at the drugstore. Each pill blocks 6 grams of fat from being digested. That's a minus-54 calorie pill! You can eat something with a high percentage of fat, along with a Sequester pill, and reduce its fat calories to make it a low percentage of fat. Similarly, he recommends phytosterol pills (one brand is called Sequester 4), to block the absorption of dietary cholesterol.
    Using these two products, he can now eat some fat and cholesterol and maintain even lower cholesterol levels than under his previously stricter diet! That's a big quality-of-life improvement. His recommended source for everything is Endurance Products Co., P.O. Box 230489, Tigard OR 97281, (800) 483-2532.
    There are a few more dietary infobits. He breaks a vitamin E caplet into newly opened cooking oil to slow oxidation. Two new oil types with benefits are becoming available: grapeseed oil raises HDL levels and has a high smoke point (the workhorse canola smokes too easily for some types of cooking); and rice bran oil lowers LDL.
    In addition Kowalski gives all the latest medical research, and makes the claim that it by testing for 10 different factors in heart disease, one can absolutely determine one's susceptibility. The other factors aren't as significant as are cholesterol levels, but being able to identify all of them is a new ability; there are no more hidden factors.
    There are more details about niacin, which comes in immediate-release and slow-release (trade name Endur-acin) forms. He recommends a schedule as follows: 500mgSR+500mgIR in the morning; 500mgIR in afternoon; 500mgSR in the evening. The use of niacin is the most complex part of your cholesterol reduction program, I recommend reading everything he says about this before doing it yourself.

The Microsoft Way
by Randall E. Stross
Feb 19, 1997

A sycophantic historian's view of Microsoft's practices. Stross goes over many of the "Microsoft is evil" issues of the last decade and adduces notes from Microsoft's archives that show that Microsoft in general and Bill Gates in particular have had perfectly acceptable moral behavior; companies that complain of unfair treatment are whiners.
    The book looks at a more interesting aspect of MS than most, focusing on strategic direction and how Bill and his helpers (Myhrvold, Glaser) chart company direction. Money and Encarta are examined in-depth. There are also interesting side stories about other players: Intuit, Oracle, Sun.
    MS's success is shown to be a combination of long-term strategy (Money might by losing money, but keep it up because it'll turn into big-bucks banking eventually) and turn-on-a-dime reactions. The recent attention to the Internet is an example of both: the massive MS machine has been retargeted nimbly, and at the same time a long-term goal is kept in sight, of being in the right place when movies over the net become feasible and some real money can be made.

Across Realtime
by Vernor Vinge
Feb 19, 1997

A pleasant "what if" sci-fi, with lives and loves revolving around the "bobble", an inpenetrable sphere that prevented nuclear war.

The Spirit Ring
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Feb 19, 1997

A classic fantasy with magic, warriors, and true love. Fiery Fiametta must save her Master father's immortal soul. Very different than the author's Vorkosigan devious dwarf series.

The 8-week Cholesterol Cure
by Robert E. Kowalski
Feb 19, 1997

An early (1989) trumpeting of the combined power of oat bran and niacin to reduce cholesterol by 40%, with many testimonials of drops from high-200s to around 150. The author is a science journalist reborn after his own heart trouble as a lower-cholesterol champion. Readable and relatively convincingly scientific.

Tog on Software Design
by Bruce Tognazzini
Feb 19, 1997

Darn, that Tog bamboozled me into buying another of his books. Another lightweight offering on UI design techniques with lots of overly-specific rules that repeat a few never-stated general maxims -- that everyone already knows. A companion book for Sun's Starfire computer-of-the-future project.

by Stephen Baxter
Feb 19, 1997

Hard science fiction of the sort we'd expect from Robert Forward. Life on the surface of a neutron star is different for engineered humans than we're used to, but it seems it can be thrown back to the horse-and-buggy by world-wide war, just as for us planet huggers. Not bad.

Heavy Weather
by Bruce Sterling
Feb 19, 1997

A Stephensonesque near future sci-fi where high technology helps a band of scrappy thrill-seeker/scientists chase the ultimate tornado. Not super convincing, and the characters certainly aren't very likable, but some of the tech is pretty neat. Asthma sufferers everyone will sympathize with the protagonist.

Five-Twelfths Of Heaven
by Melissa Scott
Jan 19, 1997

A satisfying adventure of the magic-as-physics genre. Develops the main characters enough to make one want to read the sequel; there are several books in this series.

A Programmer's Geometry
by Bowyer and Woodwark
Jan 17, 1997

A thin and dense reference on computing geometric relationships; tangents to circles, normal to a line through a point, that sort of thing. Well done and authoritative but too specialized for leisure reading.

Richter 10
by Arthur C. Clarke and Mike McQuay
Jan 16, 1997

An above average sci-fi about the near future and earthquake prediction. Almost entirely written by McQuay from Clarke's idea, good characters and representation of the enormous forces of nature, with a few ok technoideas thrown in.

Ship Of The Line
by C. S. Forester
Jan 14, 1997

From the original naval sailing series, the exploits of Captain Horatio Hornblower. The Aubrey-Maturin series is very similar indeed, the only differences being due to the personality differences of the captains; Aubrey is more earthy, Hornblower more of an intellectual. Since they're so similar, the entry on Master and Commander describes this book quite well too.

Society Of The Mind
by Eric L. Harry
Jan 12, 1997

An average sci-fi about an intelligent computer, with mildly unconvincing characters and occasionally interesting technology ideas. A reasonable story done by a mediocre writer.

Hand, Reef, and Steer
by Richard Henderson
Jan 8, 1997

A clear tutorial on the basic terms and practices of sailing. After reading this I understand about half the references from the O'Brian books that were stumpers before. Still don't know what "hand" refers to, though, except that it and the remaining stumpers are in reference to technical aspects of now-obsolete square-rigged sailing ships.

Post Captain
by Patrick O'Brian
Jan 4, 1997

The second book in the Aubrey-Maturin series (see my entry on Master and Commander), in which our heros have troubles over a woman.

The Engines of God
by Jack McDevitt
Jan 1, 1997

A satisfying intellectual adventure/mystery sci-fi. Earth archeologists work through alien ruins and discover things that affect them in the present. Good character development, reasonable aliens, good space science.

The Language Instinct
by Steven Pinker
Jan 1, 1997

A quite interesting book-length persuasive essay asserting thati human language is universal (i.e. all languages have strict underlying similarities) because our genetically-determined language ability has strict abilities and limits. An important restriction is that a human language must be learnable from the cradle: no matter how efficient first-order logic or calculus might be for its domain, it wouldn't cut it as a human language.
    A thought experiment that he doesn't explore is that evolution could conceivably provide us with a new language ability, such as the ability to keep track of clauses 10 levels deep rather than just 2, and languages might then adapt to use this, in this case perhaps by becoming more recursive.
    A few chapters on points of grammar are thrown in, with interesting viewpoints on issues such as his vs their, "hopefully", and double negatives. His point of view is that everyday users of a language are very accurate users of its grammar, and that the complaints of language mavens are either in reference to a different dialect, or are just plain wrong.
Substantive changes:
    Jan 2, 1997: created.
Copyright © 1997, Steve Colwell, All Rights Reserved
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