A historical fact

Back when people were first switching from archery to guns, they encountered the problem of gunshot noise for the first time. It was loud enough to cause hearing damage, and because earplugs hadn’t been invented yet they were forced to compensate for the hearing loss by genetically modifying each soldier to have an extra ear. We learned about this practice from Alexandre Dumas’ classic book The Three Musket Ears.


Do you know what photobombing is? If you have, do not read the rest of this paragraph unless you really want to. Photobombing is when someone uses stealth or surprise to get into a photo, contrary to the wishes of the photographer and photographees. In so doing, one manages to appear in photos that were not intended to have one in it.

“That’s nice,” you say (unless you were one of the people who skipped past the previous paragraph). “But what is tuckerbombing?”

Tuckerbombing is like photobombing, but for tuckerization instead of photos. Tuckerization is when an author puts someone’s name into something they are writing, as a character in the book. Sometimes authors will do this for friends or family, or give away the privilege as a reward for a charity or something. But what do you do when your favorite author doesn’t know you from Adam, and you are too cheap frugal to contribute enough to a necessary charity? Tuckerbombing!

But how do you tuckerbomb? Photobombing is easy; you just need to jump into the picture as the photographer takes it. Unfortunately, this method won’t work for tuckerbombing. Suppose Brandon Sanderson is typing away on the next book in the Stormlight Archive, and you want to be in it. Jumping in front of his laptop right as he types a sentence will not result in you being written in to the story. It may result in Brandon calling the police because you’re in his house though. I don’t recommend this method.

Rather, you must subliminally lodge your name in the author’s subconscious, so they accidentally name a character after you. This is easier said than done, however. If you are rich, you could pay to run a commercial on Hulu or TV in which you say your name repeatedly, and hope the author watches it. But that is expensive, and will make everyone hate you. And some authors like Brandon Sanderson seem too busy to watch much television.

A slightly cheaper approach is to show up at a book signing with several hundred copies of the book. Make the author personalize each copy, so they have to write your name hundreds of times. This will get your name stuck in their head, and maybe your name will show up on an annoying yet financially beneficial character in their next book.

A better and cheaper approach is to go to conventions or signings with the author, and casually work your name into the conversation, repeatedly. Like if Brandon Sanderson asks the crowed if they have any questions, you can say something like this (we’ll assume your name is Bob Smith): “I, Bob Smith, enjoyed reading your novel which is called “Mistborn” (not “Bob Smith”) and which has many awesome characters, like Vin who is not named Bob Smith, and whose brother is also not named Bob Smith. I was wondering how Bob Smith, I mean you, came up with the idea for this character, and for not naming her Bob Smith. Also, what made you decide to make her an urchin, and not someone who makes the weights at the ends of pendulums, that is, a bobsmith?” It’s hard to think of any drawbacks to this method.

Finally, one other way to tuckerbomb is to repeatedly use the same author in all the examples in a blog post about tuckerbombing. This author’s pity respect for your determination will no doubt compel him to tuckerize you in his next book.

The best books I read in 2013

In 2013 I read a lot of books, thanks to my commute to work and the miracle of audiobooks. Here are some of the great ones I read this year. It was supposed to be a top ten list, but I narrowed it down to thirteen and didn’t want to leave any more out and hey, lucky number. So now you get a top thirteen list for the same low price! The books are listed in some particular order.

The Casson family series by Hilary McKay

These books are funny, heartwarming, and British. They follow the lives of a family with all ages represented, except elderly. Think Beverly Cleary’s Ramona for older readers, only more British and funny. Saffy’s Angel was published first, but I recommend going chronologically, starting with Caddy’s World. I highly recommend reading the audiobook versions Audible has; the narrators do an amazing job with the voices. Because really, you need good British accents to go with the funny British dialogue.

The Once and Future King

This is an odd book. It’s a bit all over the place in tone, as it is in five parts and some are very different. It begins with the part that was made into the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone. Then it gets a little silly, then more serious, and then ends with more of the philosophical stuff that the first part had (which Merlin taught via various transformations into aminals, if you remember the Disney film). I’m not describing it very well, but overall, it’s a really good retelling of the Arthurian legend, with a bunch of 20th century philosophy mixed in.

The Paddington Bear series

Paddington is super classic, so everyone’s probably heard of him, but have you read all the books? You should. They are funny, and enjoyable for adults as well as children.

The Riyria series

This is the best new fantasy series I found last year. It’s got swords, magic, political intrigue, wonderful characters, and masterful pacing. It was originally self-published, because apparently traditional publishers have questionable taste in books, as has been shown by the popularity and critical success of this series. After it did really well, it eventually got picked up by a publisher. It has great characters and each book has its own arc as it tells an overall epic story. Now two additional, prequel books have been released which take place back when the two main characters first met. I read them in publication order, but in the future I’ll read them chronologically; either way works. Although the main series (called the Riyria Revelations) is six novels, you will now find it as a trilogy of two-book omnibuses, so it’s a very good value indeed. I recommend the audiobook, which is available from Audible.

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

This is the final volume in the largest and most awesome epic fantasy series ever. If you’ve read the Wheel of Time series before, then I don’t need to tell you to read this book. If you haven’t, then you should start with book one, The Eye of the World.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

I decided to give Dickens a shot, because he is super famous and I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about. Previously, I’d only read A Christmas Carol. This tells the story of a chap named David Copperfield. It’s Dickens, so all sorts of depressing stuff happens, but there’s humor and inspirational awesome bits too, as well as many great characters, so while it’s not as exhilarating and fun as the Wheel of Time or something like that, it’s great and I can see why it’s a classic.

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

If you read my feature on the best books I read in 2012, then it shouldn’t surprise you that I’ve chosen a Shirley Jackson book. She’s my favorite author (taking the distinction from Robert Jordan, who previously held it and who in turn had taken it from William Sleator). This is not as good as We Have Always Lived in the Castle or The Haunting of Hill House, but’s still fantastic if you like psychological gothic fiction.

The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson

Basically, ditto. I don’t want to get into plot details because I think they are best discovered as you read the book. Kudos to Penguin for getting these back in print.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I like Steinbeck’s books; they remind me of Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century books and Michael Sullivan’s Riyria books, even though they are not fantasy or science fiction. I don’t feel qualified to explain why this is a good book, but it is. It’s about people who lived in California back in the day and is pretty epic in scope, covering about a generation while focusing on a couple families.

Hikaru no Go by Yumi Hotta

This is an excellent series, and I’m including it here with the caveat that while it is in fact a series of graphic novels, the animated show is better because the music and voice acting are really good. It’s about a boy who meets the ghost of a go player, who wants him to let him play go (the boy is the only one who can see the ghost, so the ghost needs him to place the stones on the board for him. It’s a great lighthearted drama and coming of age story, and it has a lot of go in it. Go is, in my humble opinion, the best game ever and anyone who disagrees is a dummy head. As opposed to chess, computers cannot beat strong human players yet, so it’s a deeper game. It’s big in Asia where it’s played professionally, but not as well-known in other parts of the world (although the US has now 3 pros with its own new professional system). I play go and study it under one of the strongest players in the US, and you probably will want to give it a try as well if you start watching or reading this series. It has that effect on people; the world go-playing population about tripled when this came out. You can watch the animation on Hulu or read the books on the Kindle (they are black and white so you can use a Paperwhite).

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar

This is a novel that is basically Hikaru no Contract Bridge, only instead of a ghost it’s a blind grandfather. It’s by one of the best children’s authors ever, and I think it’s his best. But I like mind games like go and bridge, so your mileage may vary. One thing he does that is cool is that it provides two explanations of whatever bridge concept is relevant to the story: one is short and just gives the basic understanding you need to understand the scene, and the other is detailed so if you want to take the time, you can learn what is going on in detail. That means if you don’t care about bridge you can just read the short versions, and if you think it’s interesting you can learn more. The story and characters are great, and all the characteristic Sachar-ness that made other books like Holes so good is there in full form.

Snow Day by Robert Hawks (writing as M. T. Coffin)

Looking at the cover, you wouldn’t expect this book to share a list with the likes of Steinbeck and Dickens. It looks like some Goosebumps rip-off about an evil snowman. To be fair, the Spinetinglers series is a Goosebumps imitation. However, it’s written by several authors, and one of them, Robert Hawks, was far better than a series like this has any business having. Also, take a good look at the evil snowman before opening the book, because you won’t see any more of him inside. It’s got nothing to do with evil snowmen. It is brilliantly written, with weird and awesome chapter titles that double as the first sentence of a new viewpoint or scene, and I think it was my first introduction to non-linear storytelling. I read it when I was a kid and it was weirder than the usual Goosebumps-type material I’d been expecting, and it left an impression. For that reason, I recently tracked down a copy of it and read it again. I was still impressed. I went and found some more books by the author, and I’m looking forward to reading them.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

This is another classic that I’ve always wanted to read. A graphic novel called Bone and another novel on this list, The Card Turner, both mention it, which motivated me to give it a try. It’s really good. Some people think it’s slow, and since Melville doesn’t do what Sachar does and let you skip the detailed whaling explanations (Sachar mentioned that he was trying to avoid that pitfall of this book), you better be interesting in whales and whaling, or at least willing to learn about them. There’s a good story and a lot of philosophizing, and even some humor at times, so as long as you are interested in the random tangents, philosophy, and whaling, it has a lot to offer. I can understand why not everyone can get into it though. One thing that really helps keep it interesting is the brilliant performance by William Hootkins that I got from Audible. The guy is an amazing narrator and really brings the story to life, even the bits about whale anatomy.

The Adventures of John Steinbook, chapter 1

John Steinbook looked at his watch as he waited for his bus. He wondered why it was on that man’s wrist. Then he realized that it was not his watch. But it still told the time. It was time for his egg.

He got his hard-boiled egg out of his pocket. Hard-boiled eggs for hard-boiled detectives, his mum had always said. Those were words to live by. So he lived by them. He gave hard-boiled eggs to every hard-boiled detective he met.

John Steinbook saw his bus arrive. He queued with the other people, including the man who was not wearing his watch, John Steinbook’s that is, it was probably the man’s watch, and got into the bus. But if it wasn’t the man’s watch, then it was stolen. John Steinbook was glad he had an extra egg to give to a detective in case the watch was stolen.

The bus stopped outside John Steinbook’s bookstore. He owned a bookstore. He was also an author. He would write books behind the till whilst no one was making a purchase. He wrote exciting books about adventures. Some were about hard-boiled detectives, and others were about other things. Sometimes people bought his books on accident because they got him confused with John Steinbeck, the famous American author. He tried to soften the blow by writing almost as good, about similar things, only more exciting. The Mice of Wrath was an exciting book about warrior mice who retrieved the stolen grapes and saved Oklahoma. It was popular except for the boy who’d gotten it mixed up with his assigned book and received a bad mark on his English essay.

John Steinbook unlocked his store and went inside. He set up for the day and flipped the “CLOSED” sign around. It was useful. It told people outside the shop that the shop was open, and he hoped they would get confused if they tried to leave his shop because the back of the sign said “CLOSED” and then they would think the outdoors were closed, and would stay and buy more books. He did not realize that this would mean they wouldn’t buy any books because they would have time to read them in the shop.

John Steinbook sat down at the till and got out his writing notebook. He was in the middle of his latest book, East by Northwest, and exciting adventure about Carey Grant in Salinas, California. He had just got to the part where Mr. Flask was chasing a cloned Alexander Hamilton with a crop duster.

The door made a ringing sound as a customer entered. He seemed an ordinary man, but there was one problem. THERE WAS NO BELL ON THE DOOR!

The best books I read in 2012

I am very busy, but I have a lot of audiobook listening time. I have a long commute and I always listen to books while I exercise (even while swimming, thanks to my waterproof armband and headphones). So I figured I could get through a lot of books this year, and in Goodreads’s reading goal thingummy I chose 100 books. By the end of the year, I had read 128. I liked most of what I read. On a scale of 1-5 stars, I only gave one book a 2, and the rest were 3-5. A book I think is decent gets a 3, a book I really like gets a 4, and a book I try to make everyone I know read because it’s so awesome gets a 5. The average for the year was 3.96, with one 2, seventeen 3’s, ninety-six 4’s, and fourteen 5’s.

Anyway, since I read a ton of books, I thought I would make some recommendations from some of the books I gave fives to:

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I was browsing Audible for audiobooks and saw this book recommended to me. The cover looked creepy but it was the weird title that really got my attention. The reviews were very positive, so I downloaded it and listened to it on part of my drive to Seattle last June. It was much better than I could have hoped. It turns out that Shirley Jackson is a classic author who gets read in schools (except my school dropped the ball and we never read her short story The Lottery). There is even an award named after her, and several of her books are published as Penguin Classics. This books really is a classic. It is told in the first person by an unreliable narrator who is an unsettling yet very likeable character. She is one of my favorite characters in any book, and it’s the way she sees the world that make the book so unique. She is hard to describe, so I’ll just give you a sample. The book begins with this paragraph:

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

After reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I had to read the other book Audible had by Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House was also narrated by Bernadette Dunne, who is brilliant with both books. I recommend both audiobooks, but this one should especially be listened to so that you can read it with all the lights off. It is a very scary haunted house story. Like the other book, it has a great unreliable narrator. It’s not a gorefest like modern horror movies; the horror is more psychological in nature, creating a sense of mounting dread in parts and just creepy weirdness in others, with some moments where you and the character come to a sudden horrible realization. It’s great. The Wall Street Journal said it was “now widely regarded as the greatest haunted-house story ever written.” Read it in the dark.

Railsea by China Miéville

This book is strange and awesome. It feels like an old literature kind of book, but takes place in a science fiction world where people live on mountains amid huge expanses of train tracks. The tracks are so thick that trains can go anywhere just by remotely controlling switches ahead of the train. Thus, this is a sea adventure, only with trains and no water. And instead of fish and whales, there are dangerous and huge creatures that burrow underground, so falling overboard is at least as dangerous as falling into the ocean would be. The book is inspired by Moby Dick, but different (it’s not the story of Moby Dick in another setting). While Captain Ahab was notable for his obsession with the white whale, in this strange world it is typical for captains to have an animal they chase obsessively. The story begins with a boy who works on a train with people who hunt for giant moles with harpoons. The story is good, but it’s the imaginativeness of everything, the brilliant writing, and fascinating world and characters that made this book stand out for me.

The Soul Mirror by Carol Berg

The Soul Mirror is actually the second book of the Collegia Magica, a fantasy trilogy. They are about magic users in the upper levels of the society, with the royal magician and family and friends of the king. I gave books 1 and 3 each four stars, but the second one had a particularly great story arc, so it made this list. The main strength of the trilogy is the characters. They are so believable and interesting. They have hidden depths that feel genuine as you discover them, so as you get to know them better they feel increasingly real. You learn where you had wrongly pigeonholed them as additional layers of their character are revealed, just as with real people. There is a mystery at the heart of the story, but it’s much more than just a mystery story. Read The Spirit Lens first. You must not read these out of order!

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

This is the first of a series of American steampunk books called The Clockwork Century. If you like steampunk, then you’ve probably already read them. If you think brass goggles and all the steampunk aesthetic are stupid, give this a try anyway. It’s really just a historical fiction novel with airships (whose existence is justified) about an alternate history of the later 1800’s. In this version of America, the civil war has gone on for a long time, so it makes sense for technology to have kept going (hence airships and other steampunkish machines). Some of the devices in the books are actually based on real historical attempts at making new machines. I picked up Boneshaker for two reasons: I liked the audiobook narrator, Kate Reading, and the book takes place in Seattle, my favorite city outside of Europe. The book was much better than I’d hoped. As the introduction explains, in this alternate frontier Seattle, a drill unearthed a poison gas that made the city uninhabitable, and turned the people who didn’t get out in time to “rotters” (i.e., zombies). The survivors built a wall around the city to keep the gas and rotters inside and live on the outskirts. Boneshaker takes place mostly inside Seattle, and has great characters and some awesome scary moments. Cherie Priest is brilliant at scary and suspenseful scenes, and she creates a wonderfully creepy sense of atmosphere. I like all of her books that I’ve read, but for now I’ll recommend this one and its sequels, which take place all around the country (or countries, since the confederacy and Texas are separate).

Authors Really Exist

One of my favorite activities is going to author signings. I have always loved books, and it seems incredible that the amazing people who make them can actually be interacted with in person. Well, obviously they can talk and stuff; what I mean is: their minds are the very same minds that came up with the dialogue for all the characters in their book, so it’s kind of like meeting the characters, as well as the creators of the worlds in which the stories happen (I read fantasy, not reality fanfics like non-genre stuff). So anyway, meeting authors is cool, because the world and characters and everything you come to love in a book, began in their heads.

When I was a wee lad, I had a couple authors come to my school and talk to us students. We had Bill Martin, Jr. come and read us his book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, which I thought was interesting. It was the first time I realized that authors had corporeal form. Then, Steven M. Newman, a guy who walked around the world and then wrote a book about it called Worldwalk came and signed a copy of his book for me. I then proceeded to draw in it with a yellow highlighter, since I was very young and stupid (I am no longer very young).

My next encounter with a real author happened by accident. I was at Barnes and Noble one day, and saw Marc Brown, the guy who did the Arthur the aardvark books, signing. I didn’t get in line because I didn’t want to wait in line and was high school age anyway, so I was not really interested in those books anymore. Still, it was neat to see him.

I really became interested in signings when my local library hosted Ray Bradbury and I got to meet him and get a book signed. That was an awesome experience. He gave a talk, in which he talked about his life and writing and things. He had an amazing presence, like he rolled an 18 for his charisma, and I was blown away by how awesome he was.

A couple years later, when I was in grad school, the LA Times Festival of Books had a panel of science fiction writers with Joe Haldeman, Robert Silverberg, and Harry Harrison. I had read books by Silverberg and Harrison, so I was excited to see them and get books signed by them. I also got The Forever War signed by Haldeman, since it’s a classic. I still haven’t read it, but the same is true of many of the books I have collected, before and since.

Sometime after this, I realized that you can follow authors’ blogs. This is useful when you want to read things they write but have finished all their books already. I started with Orson Scott Card’s blog, where I learned about an up and coming author named Brandon Sanderson. I began following his blog, where I learned he was going to come to Los Angeles to sign his latest book. I wanted to see him since I had just read all his books and loved them. It was a good signing, and it made me realize that if you pay attention, you can find more signings.

Brandon Sanderson is less blurry than me

The next signing I went to was for Brandon’s friend, Dan Wells, who writes awesome YA horror, humor, and science fiction novels. I brought the sequel to the book he was touring for, having ordered it from the UK where it was already published.

Then I moved to Seattle for the summer, during an internship at Intel Labs (RIP) in the U district. I quickly discovered that near my office was the greatest bookstore in the world, University Book Store, located just west of the UW campus. It stocks new, used, and signed books together on the shelves, so you can get discount, new, or collectible versions of the books. And they have a lot of signed books, since Duane, the guy who manages the science fiction and fantasy section, gets all the authors in the area and from elsewhere to do signings whenever they release a new book. Once I discovered the awesomeness of this awesome store, I went to signings for several authors, even those I had heard of but whose books I still haven’t read. Terry Brooks and Brent Weeks signed books for me, which I have yet to read since my to-read list is staggeringly huge. I also went to my second Brandon Sanderson signing. I was sad to leave Seattle, as the store had many other exciting events after I left.

Back in LA, I didn’t go to any signings until March, when Patrick Rothfuss’s new book came out. That was the most difficult signing I ever went to. I had to drive all the way down to Long Beach through LA traffic (note to readers who have made it this far: never live in LA, it’s rubbish). Then, when I arrived 30 minutes early, the chairs were filled and the line had gone across the bookstore and through the shelves. So while Pat spoke I was stuck out in the travel section, listening to his voice float over the shelves. Still, it was fun.

My next signing was a month later, with Patrick Rothfuss at another bookstore in LA. My friend, who had not been able to make it to the first signing, wanted to go, and it was much closer. Amber Benson, who plays a witch in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was also there signing her urban fantasy book. I wasn’t interested in those kind of books though, so I just got Pat to sign the rest of my books, since there had been a two-book limit at the previous signing.

The following month, I met John Scalzi at a signing on his Fuzzy Nation tour. I got his most famous book, Old Man’s War signed.

Then I got to go back to Seattle! This was exciting for two reasons; the first of which was University Book Store of course. The other reason was that the Locus awards were in Seattle, and LOADS of authors went to that. I went too. It was amazing. You couldn’t throw a brick without hitting a famous author (and thus, I refrained from flinging masonry about). On Friday night, there was a reading and signing with Terry Bisson (who wrote the classic funny short story They’re Made Out of Meat) and Connie Willis, whose I had recently discovered. I was super excited to meet her, since she wrote the Oxford Time Travel books, which are the best books I’ve read in over a year. They are amazing. I rarely give books five stars, but three of the four books in that series got them. So anyway, I was really excited to meet her and get my books signed. I also got Terry to sign a book of his stories. The next day was incredible. There were author panels, and a giant signing with tons of authors, and a dinner where I sat next to an author and had other professionals at my table, including a publisher of some well-known books. At the signing, I got to meet Mary Robinette Kowal, who recognized my name from the feedback I’d given on a rough draft she had posted on her site. I also met Nancy Kress, whose book I still haven’t read but since I’d downloaded a promotional e-book of hers, I thought I’d get the dead tree version signed. I also got a book signed by Paul Park, and he told me to let him know how I enjoyed it. I still haven’t read it yet; oops (remember that long to-read list I mentioned?). I saw some famous anthology editors, Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow, but since they didn’t actually write so much as choose stories I decided not to buy the heavy anthologies to get signed. I later regretted not getting a books signed by Bruce Taylor, since he subsequently sat next to me during the lunch and awards. He is a cool guy. I also saw other authors like Jay Lake and J.A. Pitts but did not get anything signed since I didn’t know much about them or didn’t think their books were my type of book. Ted Chiang was there; he didn’t sign books but he was there. Someone at my table explained how great he was. Having since read one of his stories, I concur with her (and the general) high opinion of his work. Another highlight was Connie Willis pinning a badge of shame on me (it said “I didn’t wear a Hawaiian shirt to the Locus Awards!”) because I hadn’t worn a Hawaiian shirt (obviously). I had a plaid shirt on, and told her that the stripes were the stems of the flowers on everyone else’s Hawaiian shirt. She said that excuse was pretty lame, but not the lamest one she had heard. After the signing we went in to the lunch. All the big shot authors sat together, so I sat in the back. Fortunately, cool people joined me, as I mentioned earlier. And while I was at the buffet table, Neil Gaiman walked in. I was excited to see him, since I really liked his young adult books and his Doctor Who episode, The Doctor’s Wife. Later on, I managed to get a picture with him right before he left. He had given the talk to induct Harlan Ellison into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and since Ellison wrote what many consider the best Star Trek episode ever (The City on the Edge of Forever) I thanked him for having performed a similar service for Doctor Who. He said he was also glad that the episode turned out well, and that when he wrote it he didn’t know if it would end up like Spock’s Brain (one of the least favorite Star Trek episodes) or The City on the Edge of Forever. I later realized that the woman who had taken the picture for me was Maria Dahvana Headley, who has written a historical fantasy about Cleopatra that I haven’t read. I will say that she has the distinction of being the only person ever to take a non-horribly blurry picture of me and an author. Well done!

Me and Neil Gaiman

Later that summer, I went to a signing with Kat Richardson, the author of the Greywalker series, which I love because it takes place in Seattle. I had previously purchased a book she had signed from a bookstore in downtown Seattle, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, that she mentions in the books (which is why I knew about the store). She had written the date in the book, so when she personalized it for me at the signing, she wrote about how she had gone back in time to sign the book for me.

At the next signing I went to, my third with Brandon Sanderson, I asked him to personalize the book with the entire text of A Memory of Light (the final volume in The Wheel of Time, which comes out next year). He did:

Just what I asked for…

Most recently, I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Orson Scott Card. He was friendly and when he learned I work in computers, he talked about how back in the day he was programming with registers and stuff. I got to thank him for introducing me to Brandon Sanderson’s work, and he was happy to have done so. He told us an alternate version of Ender’s Game that addresses his longstanding dissatisfaction with some details of the finale of the book It’s not a huge change and doesn’t affect the plot, it just explains how Ender does part of the thing that he does (I’m trying not to spoil anything). It may appear in a later version, and is cool.

Blurry picture with Orson Scott Card

I will update this post as I meet more authors. Next up should be Robin Hobb if I have time to make it down to Redondo Beach for the signing.

Were books always this difficult to use?

I have used the Kindle for over three years now, and hardly ever use paper books anymore. I still buy them, but they have several disadvantages that get in the way of me actually getting though them:
  • They are heavy. I read 200-300K-word books most of the time, and they can get pretty big. It’s hard to hold them comfortably.
  • They don’t save your place.
  • You need to keep the physical object with you; you can’t put it down at home and then resume on your iPhone while waiting in line at school.
  • They are two-sided. You have to keep shifting how you hold it, and rolling over in bed, as you move from one page to the next.
  • They don’t have lights built into the cover. Since I do almost all my reading at night before I sleep, this is a serious problem.

This is why I still haven’t finished the latest Alcatraz book despite Brandon Sanderson being my favorite living author. It’s just so hard to read physical books! I wonder how I did it all these years. Recently I won a book from a Goodreads giveaway and after trying to read it, I gave up and bought a Kindle version. I still love paper books. They look nice lined up on my shelves. They smell good. They have pretty covers. I really like looking at them and collecting them. But if I actually want to read a book, I’ll go with the Kindle every time.

I love audible.com

I commute over two hours per day, so it doesn’t take me long to go through all the books I want to read at local libraries. After I became frustrated with missing books in series I was trying to listen to, I decided to check out audible.com, which I had heard of, I think from Orson Scott Card’s blog. Audiobooks on CD are insanely expensive, but somehow Audible makes a profit with prices just above the cost of a paperback. Of course, to get that price, you need an annual subscription with 12 or 24 audiobooks. This is no problem for me; in fact, I renew my “annual” subscription with 24 credits multiple times per year because I go through well over 24 books. So I end up paying under $10 for new audiobooks, when the CDs actually cost upwards of $50.

At first, however, I was not a fan. Audible uses DRM (Digital Rights Management, or more accurately, Dastardly and Rude Mistreatment-of-customers) to “protect” their content. This makes it so you can’t listen to your audiobooks on your devices unless Audible supports them. Also, you have to use their software (or iTunes for applicable devices) to transfer books to devices. Copying an audiobook from one Kindle to another in windows explorer with USB mode will mean they are unplayable on the other device. You have to use Audible manager to load the audiobooks onto each device. Why the hassle? Like I said, it’s to “protect” the audiobooks from piracy. The only problem with this idea is that the books are already on all the torrent sites, so it doesn’t actually stop piracy. Also, pirates will have nice, DRM-free versions of the audiobook, so only those who pay have the headache of dealing with DRM. Brilliant, huh?

DRM lets Audible restrict burning of CDs to one copy. However, they needn’t bother. Burning an Audible audiobook (done with iTunes) is not an experience that is even worth the effort. It will forget to burn some of the CDs, and there is no good way to burn a disc that was skipped. You have to listen to the surrounding discs (and hear all sorts of spoilers) to figure out where the missing section is, and write down the times and then burn the disc again. This is way too much of a hassle to even bother. If you use must CDs to listen to audiobooks, stick to the library; Audible is not for you. I luckily had an iPhone and was able to abandon CDs, which ended up being cool since I could keep listening as I walked to my lab, and not just in the car. However, before I switched to using my iPhone, I almost cancelled my Audible account in frustration. Fortunately, Audible offered me a free audiobook as I was cancelling, and convinced me to stay. I’m glad I did.

Audible works pretty well if you want to listen to Audiobooks on a Kindle 3 or an iPod. It integrates with iTunes, which has a nice interface for audiobook management. You can also download books directly via the Audible app (which is also available for Android). Kindle 3, when connected with Wi-Fi, will see your Audible books and let you download them directly to the device without using a computer, as long as you have your Audible account connected to your Kindle’s Amazon account. This is easy since Amazon bought Audible.

With Apple encouraging publishers to shoot themselves in the foot with the Agency model, many new e-books are expensive at release and Audible has become the cheapest way to get the latest books. It’s an interesting turnaround since audiobooks are usually more expensive.

Audible also lets you download your books as many times as you want, unlike iTunes, where you are doomed if you lose your files.

In conclusion, here are some bullet points. Bullet points are cool.


    • Ridiculously cheap. The ridiculosity depends on how often you buy audiobooks.
    • Convenient. If and only if you have a compatible device.
    • High quality audio for a download. Get the enhanced quality version of the files and they sound quite nice.
    • Great website. The interface is very convenient and intuitive.


    • Trying to burn an Audible book longer than a few CDs is a torture that even the Spanish Inquisition would have balked at
    • If you manage to survive the process and then lose the CDs, you can’t ever burn them again. See next bullet point.
    • DRM is always there to get in your way and remind you how publishers love pirates, not their paying customers.

John Bellairs

John Bellairs was my favorite author when I was a child. He is still one of my favorites. I recently re-read his novels and found that they are still wonderful even though I’m over twice as old as when I read them the first time. John Bellairs started his writing career with humorous books like The Pedant and the Shuffly and St. Figeta and Other Parodies. The first is a silly short story, and I haven’t read the other. Those are not examples of what made John Bellairs great though. John Bellairs is one of the best horror authors ever. His first horror book was his last book for adults, The Face in the Frost. It is a slightly awkwardly-paced fantasy book with moments of genius that were the first indication of how good Bellairs was going to be. It’s a decent book, but it’s nothing compared to his next book, The House with a Clock in its Walls. House is the first of his books for young readers and is an excellent example of what the rest of Bellairs’s books were like: it takes place in an old mansion, has loveable characters, and is a horror/mystery. Bellairs wrote about many fascinating old mansions, so he must have thought they were as cool as I do. The protagonist is a young boy, Lewis Barnavelt, whose parents have been killed, so he goes to live with his uncle in a mansion. After this book, Bellairs wrote two sequels before creating a new protagonist, Johnny Dixon. Johnny, a Catholic boy, befriends a history professor, allowing Bellairs to bring lots of antiquity and history into the stories. Like with old mansions, I also share a love of these things. In fact, since I read these books at a tender young age, I am not sure if it wasn’t Bellairs who taught me to love old and mysterious things like mansions and medieval history. Most of the books Bellairs wrote were about Johnny and his friends. Bellairs created one other set of characters, featuring the protagonist Anthony Monday, and one of these books was my first Bellairs book: The Lamp from the Warlock’s Tomb. Although there are only four Anthony Monday books, and the first doesn’t even have anything supernatural in it, Anthony is my favorite character. His three supernatural adventures, including the first book published after Bellairs’s untimely death, are some of the coolest stories Bellairs wrote.

When John Bellairs died in 1991, he had two partially-written books and notes for two more. John’s son, Frank, got Brad Strickland to finish them. Strickland did an amazing job, and the first two are two of the best books in the series. In fact, The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder might be my favorite one of all, and Bellairs only wrote the first couple chapters or so. However, that gave him time to do what he does best and set up an excellent setting and atmosphere, which Strickland was able to use well to create an awesome adventure. It was a good combination of both author’s strengths. Strickland continued to write books about John Bellairs’s characters, and while not as good as the original Bellairs stories, they are pretty good and I hope they keep coming. It’s been over two years since the last one, so I hope he hasn’t decided to throw in the towel.

I discovered John Bellairs because the covers of the books were so cool. They were dark and fit the mood of the stories perfectly. They were done by the greatest illustrator ever: Edward Gorey. The subtly creepy drawings effectively screamed “READ THIS BOOK!!” to any young reader passing the juvenile section of the library. For me, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, somebody has decided that today’s youth are too stupid to understand atmospheric illustrations and have replaced the cover art with lurid cheesy standard scary kid’s book style pictures. It’s like plastering a billboard over the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. The new covers aren’t bad, but the publisher has Edward Gorey art for this series, so I cannot understand why they don’t use it.

As I mentioned earlier, I collect books. The treasure of my collection is a copy of The Eyes of the Killer Robot signed by Bellairs in 1986. Since he died 19 years ago, his signed books are hard to find, but AbeBooks had a couple when I checked. They also had The Chessmen of Doom, but that one was more expensive, and Robot is a better book.

If you haven’t read Bellairs’s books, give them a try. If you have read them and like them, Joseph Delaney’s Spook’s Apprentice series is the current successor to the awesomely creepy juvenile literature throne.