winter book roundup plus sodoku

December 26, 2005

in Books, Movies, and Music, Reviews

Six months ago I walked into Borders on a saturday after breakfast, as I do on pretty much every saturday after breakfast, and was greeted with a huge table display. The display said

NEW PUZZLE CRAZE!!

And there on the table were about 50 books for this thing I had never heard of called Sudoku.

Well, I like puzzles. I like puzzles a lot. I’m not so great at crosswords (ironic for the english major, no?), and there are some 3D spatial things I’m bad at (I’m told this is a male/female thing). But mostly I think just about any kind of puzzle is pretty darn great.

I went to a party once and I had intended to be social, really, but then someone handed me one of those old blacksmith puzzles where you have to get the ring off of the hooks or the loops or whatever and I promptly became the least social person in the history of the entire known world. Just me and the blacksmith puzzle in the corner, responding to greetings with grunts or not at all and refusing to come out of hiding until I had solved the darn thing. Days later I emerged from the corner, hungry but triumphant. I don’t get invited to so many parties anymore.

Oh, and there’s Tetris. I have this problem with Tetris. We will conveniently skip over my really bad Tetris addiction in college and I will note that I got a PSP just recently (Sony is Evil, I know, I’m sorry) and they have this game called Lumines which is like Tetris only blocks instead of lines and they flash blinky lights and play loud repetitive dance music at you all the time. Like Tetris at a rave. Anyhow I’ve been playing that game a lot and having conversations like:

Eric: Laura?
Laura: not now.
Eric: Laura…..
Laura: not now.
Eric: Laura, your hair is on fire.

But I digress.

So I picked up one of the sudoku books in the store and I thumbed through it. I read the introduction. Sudoku, in case you haven’t been assaulted by bookstore displays in the last six months, is a simple logic puzzle involving grids of of numbers. The numbers are purely symbolic; there’s no math involved. They could use random symbols but the numbers are easy to remember. All you have to do is fill in the grid so that all the rows and columns and squares all contain numbers from 1 to 9.

The book I had in my hand, the Book of Sodoku, was only ten bucks, so I figured what the hell, I’ll give it a try.

This is my really long-winded explanation for why I have only read five books in the last six months. But I’m getting really great at Sudoku.

Olympos, by Dan Simmons. Last year I read Ilium, the prequel to this book, and loved it. As I posted back then, I’m not a huge traditional science fiction fan, but Ilium was complex and well-written and just really well put together. Unfortunately, it also ended in a huge cliffhanger, and OIympos was supposed to be the book that resolved everything.

Um. Well, its a big book, and it continues all the big and complex storylines that Ilium started. But its a big fat longwinded mess. It just spins madly out of control, there are too many plots, nothing much gets resolved, and I ended the book thinking “I have no idea what just happened here.” Bah. Plus there was this big time Heinleinian Stupidity Moment: there’s this beautiful female character central to the plot, and she’s been put in a sort of suspended animation for thousands of years, and the only way she can be awakened is if the virile male hero has sex with her sleeping body. My eyes rolled so hard they popped right out of my head.

Thud! by Terry Pratchett. Yes, if there’s anything that can drag me away from an incredibly addicting puzzle book, its a new Terry Pratchett book. This one involves a long-ago war between the dwarves and the trolls, and the seething resentments that have resulted since then. Now a dwarf has been killed apparently by a troll and the Watch has to deal with it before a new war springs up.

I was kind of surprised that this book came out so soon after Going Postal and kind of concerned about it; the last time Terry P. started writing books really fast the quality suffered. And alas although this book was fun I don’t rank it among his best. It just didn’t reach out and grab me…in fact it took me a week to read it which is positively unheard of. It is definitely no Going Postal, or Night Watch.

My Work is Not Yet Done, by Thomas Ligotti. I have gushed about Thomas Ligotti before. I love this guy. He doesn’t write horror, really, he more writes dread, or loathing. He’s just immensely talented at setting a really dark mood.

In this book there are three stories of “Corporate Horror.” In the first, the dread and loathing and darkness take place in a perfectly ordinary company. The first half of the story is terrific; like some sort of horrible lovecraftian “Office Space.” The main character is oppressed by his co-workers in various tiny awful ways. His boss and co-workers conspire against him, and drive him to madness.

And then there’s the second half of the book, which turns into kind of a supernatural Kill Bill. The main character is run over by a bus and becomes an avenging spirit, picking off in various nasty ways each of his former co-workers who betrayed him. I found this second part of the book kind of disappointing, less about the dread and loathing and more straight-up horror. Its good straight-up horror but I prefer the more moody and less bloody Ligotti.

The other two stories in the book are shorter. The first, “I have a Special Plan for This World,” is chock full of mood. Deliciously so. Unfortunately the plot is also kind of muddled and I’m not sure exactly what goes on here. The last story, the “Nightmare Network,” has a unique structure: its just a series of mostly flat descriptions of ads, videos, events. Its kind of a non-narrative and I admit the style does not grab me much at all. I could not get into this story and I couldn’t tell you what it was about.

Anansi Boys, By Neil Gaiman. I suppose if you made a list of Most Predictable Books Laura Must Have Read in The Last Half of 2005 this book would be on it. Well duh, of course I read it. It was a good, fun, quick read. Not as complex as American Gods. Not as creepy as Coraline (which, despite it being a kids book, creeped the living daylights out of me). It was fun, but kind of Average Fantasy I’ve Come To Expect From Neil. I’m still waiting for the Neil Gaiman fantasy magnum opus and beginning to think maybe Sandman was it. Hm.

Spook, by Mary Roach. Gushed about Mary Roach previously, too, when she wrote Stiff. Stiff is about human bodies and the things we do to them after people have left them. Spook is about the other side of the equation: its about souls and ghosts and spiritualism; about the search for life after death.

I’ve been trying to figure out why it is I don’t like Spook as much as I liked Stiff. Mary Roach’s writing style and humor are intact, the characterizations are terrific and brilliant long-winded off-topic footnotes are just as frequent. Perhaps because souls and ghosts and spiritualism are just less shocking than corpses the subject matter is just less interesting to read. But this book just wasn’t as as much fun as Stiff. I really wanted it to be, but it just wasn’t.

Five books in six months and none of them were even all that great. Boohoo. I need to find something to read now that will blow the top of my head right off with its greatness. I’m not sure what that book might be. If you had to make the list of Most Predictable Books Laura Must Read in the First Half of 2006 you might think Feast for Crows was on there given that I am a big fantasy reader…except um I haven’t actually read any of the other books in the series. So maybe I will board that ship for my spring books list.

Right after I finish 40 more Sudoku puzzles.

{ 7 comments }

1 Chris Hanson December 26, 2005 at 7:55 pm

Actually, there is math involved in Sudoku. When you fill in a puzzle, you’re really solving a system of many simultaneous equations with a large number of variables.

Mmm, math.

2 rapier December 26, 2005 at 9:52 pm

If you are looking for good books I’d suggest Market Forces by Richard Morgan. The Takashi Kovacs novels he does are much more science fiction but really really bloody. Also, if you haven’t read Bellefleur yet by Joyce Carol Oates that would be another one.

3 Laura December 28, 2005 at 10:39 am

Dale (devster@cox.net) posted this comment and then I promptly deleted it because I had 128 pharma spams and I got confused. I’m sorry, Dale.

—-
Probably not doing you any real favors here but if you go to the sudoku web page you can get a free trial of some really cool sudoku software that will let you create an almost infinite number of puzzles of either easy, medium or hard levels of difficulty. Also includes some really nifty tools that make solving the puzzles a little easier.
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4 Andrew Pontious December 29, 2005 at 8:39 pm

I had a similar reaction to Thud! And I’m a fan of the other Pratchett books you mentioned. Night Watch for me could be the high point of the Watch series. The deepest and saddest entry, but with a dollop of Pratchett’s typical goofiness.

(As an aside, I think Night Watch and Firefly/Serenity are kindred spirits.)

But Thud! was the reason for him to make it out to California. I saw him at a talk/signing at Books Inc. in Mountain View, and he was wonderfully entertaining.

5 Matthew December 30, 2005 at 4:31 pm

One book that I always heartily recommend to Sudoku fans is MENSA Math & Logic Puzzles by Tuller and Rios (ISBN 0806941995). It contains twenty different non-language logic puzzle types like Sudoku, Cross Sums, Solitaire Battleships, and plenty of more exotic things. It has a bit less variety than the World Puzzle Championship books, but offers much to someone whose mind is sharpened by Sudoku but wants more types of challenges. (And it doesn’t really have anything to do with Mensa.)

6 Eric Siebert January 2, 2006 at 2:48 pm

check out Sabriel by Garth Nix. yeah, yeah … so its “young adult”. but i thought the series was very nicely done.

7 Laura January 9, 2006 at 8:05 pm

(making lists) Thank you for the reading suggestions. Currently I am working through the Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which is making me very, very happy. Although it is unfortunately very, very heavy which makes it difficult to read in bed.

I am astonished that Terry Pratchett was in Mt View and I didn’t hear about it. Chris Moore has been here like a dozen times and I never hear about that either until too late. I need some way of keeping up on these things, the equivalent of The List for geek book writer events. Darn it.

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