Thursday, March 13, 2014

Oh Hey, I'm Still Alive! Also, Have A Couple Book Reviews.

Not much blogworthy (and bloggable) has been happening here lately. Some frustrations, some good stuff, but none of it really pops out at me as something I really need to write about.

I will say that an event at work last week influenced me a bit on this post. I've been spending some time on the jail side of things down at the SO, and as you can imagine there are always those who don't like the fact that they're in jail. Can't really blame them there, though it does seem to be easier on everyone if all parties concerned can manage to be civil, if not pleasant. I haven't had any problems in that area myself, but I have had those situations where things are just a little bit strained. One gentleman had been something of a mystery to me, since he never really struck up a conversation or said much of anything to me at all, just stared at the TV and slept.

Until I saw him reading On A Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony. Now, I've read it and I liked it, but this tale isn't about that book so much as it's about the ability for books to forge a connection between people. Because of that book, I was able to make a small connection to someone who hadn't really had any way to connect to me before that. A stone faced yes or no answering man became a man who was capable of smiling. And he had something to smile about. It was, honestly, a very brief interaction, but it was important to me, and it reminded me of the impact the written word can have on us. And of the serious (and sad) decline in reading in our society.

So, I decided to do a couple of book reviews/promotions, to do my part to encourage literacy and connection. First up, in order of the beloved nature of the author:

The Grey Man

This is OldNFO's book, and if you read me and don't read him, you should fix that. I've always loved NFO's stories, and while usually I hear them over the phone or in person, I was delighted to get a fictional one in print. I've been privileged to read some of his writing before he got serious about this particular story, and despite some bumps in the road (once you get into a habit of writing in a certain style, it's really hard to break it even when you want to, I give him major kudos for the work he put in on this book) The Grey Man has finally arrived as a finished book.

I'm gonna confess right now that I haven't read the finished version yet. I did get to read earlier versions and provide my meager input, but I just haven't gotten to reading the finished one yet. Part of it is that things got a little hectic around here, and part of it is when I realized I could sit down and go through it again it was too late for me to be any help in the editing process, so I decided to set it aside for a while to come back at it with fresh reading-for-fun eyes instead of the same catch-all-the-typos eyes. I will be buying a paper copy, and probably a digital copy.

It's a wonderfully twisty tale with a little bit of everything: mystery, drama, humor, romance. I don't want to give away any spoilers so it's hard for me to talk about the book itself, but the story always had me coming back for more.

No matter what NFO might say about his alpha and beta readers being the ones to make the book any good, I maintain my stance that all we did was come along after and help polish it. Buy it, read it, review it yourself. I'm personally hoping that this is the beginning of a beautiful series. (And I will encourage and nag and poke and prod as necessary to make that happen.)

Next up is K.B. Spangler, and her two books Digital Divide and Maker Space.

Ms. Spangler (or Otter, which is name she started the comic under and how I still think of her) writes and draws the webcomic A Girl And Her Fed which I already adored. Almost from the start she realized that there were aspects of the story of this fantastic world she'd built that didn't quite fit into the comic, so she wrote a few short stories and sold them in her store. I haven't got them all, though I will eventually. What I do have are her two books that have spun off of the comic: Digital Divide and Maker Space (at the top of the comic page there's a link that says "Books!" and you should click it.)

Otter has some amazing fans, folks. Periodically someone will donate some money to her cause with the earmark of having it provide copies of the short stories or books to those who really want to read them but can't afford to buy them just now. She's run specials of her own for providing pdfs of her work to fans who are in a bad place financially, too.

Being in one of those hard financial spots myself, when I saw that someone had donated ten copies of Digital Divide two hours previous, I asked if there were any left. I was pretty sure the answer would be no, but miraculously I seem to have slipped in under the wire. Then I dove into the story and could barely come up for breath. When I finished it, I promptly went about (metaphorically) scouring couch cushions for loose change so that I could buy Maker Space.

If you're not familiar with the world, here's a quick overview: the back story occurs in the comic. A Girl And Her Fed is chock full of fantasy elements. The ghosts of dead Presidents, a genetically engineered smart ass evil thinking koala (god, I love Speedy) and a pair of protagonists that you can't help but root for. It's also chock full of social commentary, just heads up. The comic pretty well stands on a solid base of it though, and builds from that core premise, which makes the commentary far less of a metaphorical scream in your ear. I've plugged the comic here before, so I won't jabber on it any more than that.

The books expand the world that Otter built in the comic. She takes some of the side characters and builds their stories up, fills them out, and makes you adore them. The main protagonist of the book is Rachel Peng, who I was prepared to like from her brief appearances in the comic, but who swiftly became one of my favorite characters in that world once I got a chance to get inside her head a bit more.

The books are less fantasy focused than the comic. No ghosts, no Speedy, but you're still dealing with a world in which a few corrupt government officials have managed to come up with a chip that goes inside a human being's brain and connects them to every computer in the world, get it installed in a bunch of the best and brightest volunteers from across government service, and proceed to try to turn them into depressed, barely functional machines of human beings to control them.

The books tell the story of the Agents after they discover what was done to them and try to heal, and get on with doing the wonderful, awesome things they were told they'd be doing to serve their country when they volunteered. It's a tale of good trying, struggling, fighting to overcome the same kind of petty me-first evil that we see every day, on a grand scale.

You will find yourself rooting for the Agents, sometimes in spite of what they do, because they're wonderfully whole people, and they're functioning in basically the same kind of world that we are, where the right thing isn't always easy and we sometimes have to not do the right thing for one person because it would hurt a lot of others.

Highly recommended, both books. I gladly backed the Kickstarter that let Otter turn Maker Space into an audio book before I read either of them, and I'll gladly read anything else she puts out in the future.

Go forth, my minions, and read. Share a book with a friend, a family member, or a stranger. Make a connection, or just revel in the joy of a good story on a beautiful day. Or a nasty day, curled up with a hot drink and a warm blanket. Or a very late night when you didn't intend to stay up because you just have to know what happens next. Or... you get the picture.