Well, made it to San Francisco, after the late arrival and subsequent jammed cargo loader for our 767. Managed to quickly get lost, the rental car’s “Just turn left at the exit” directions getting me nowhere (he must have just been trying to get rid of me, as there was no way such directions could have worked). Luckily Streets and Trips came to the rescue, and I made it. Hotel room is a bit of a dump, in that the windows/lights don’t work, the fride is full of somebody else’s half-full coffee cups, and there is hair everywhere, but I’ve come to expect such things. Can’t speak to the beauty of CA so far, as it’s been dark, but it appears I can see the airport and bridge from the hotel parking lot, so it can’t be too bad.
Read a few things on the way over before running out of reading material (I didn’t plan enough reading material for delays, whoops):
- Knife of Dreams, Robert Jordan’s 11th book in the Wheel of Time series. It was full of the typical overwriting nonsense, allowing the conscious reader to skip every other paragraph and miss next to nothing. A skilled editor could cut the entire series into a carefully crafted 5-pack, but I’m sure Jordan misses the point. In any event, the plots do advance, though as before when one is weaving some three dozen distinct storylines, it’s no surprise that it took almost 400 pages just to reach the first chapter discussing Rand, or that the prologue was 100 pages. This was an improvement over the last three, but that does not make this a good book. I hope the next book will be the last, as I doubt I can stomach another thousand pages of describing random plots of countryside for pages interspersed with two sentences of action. 5/10.
- Cookie Monster, a short story by Vernor Vinge, was excellent. This is no surprise, as Vernor Vinge is excellent. Being a short story, it’s hard to discuss it without giving much of it away, but I found it an amusing discussion of artificial intelligence, upload societies, and singularities, if at a slightly more opaque level than is typical of Vinge. It’s a quick and interesting read, and available online for free, there’s no reason not to read it. 8/10.
- At Bill’s recommendation, I gave Stross another chance with his novella A Colder War (also available online), in which he discusses an alternate history complete with aliens, singularities, and the end of the known world due to a hot microphone and a joke. He weaves a cautionary tale, but not in the way you might imagine (other than “don’t say we commence bombing in 15 minutes” as the president when there’s a live microphone around). An interesting debate not of the idea of a singularity, but perhaps of how the singularity could be a policing mechanism, a theme he revisits in Singularity Sky. Highly recommended. 9/10.
- The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition is, as many have said before me, an excellent text, smaller than you might imagine, and with more depth than one can absorb in one reading. I read it cover to cover on the flight over, and all I can hope is that I revisit it every few months or years in hopes of developing some manner of skill in style and mechanics of the English language. A little bit of the material is dated, and a little bit a clear matter of opinion, but it’s the opinion of a couple of bright guys. Go out and buy it today; it’s less than $10 and worth every penny. Unlike most books on style, diction, and so forth, this was an easy read and never failed to hold my attention. 9/10.