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This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. -- Mark
But for true enthrallment, I have to point to that icon of adolescent true-believerhood, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. So help me, I read through my Signet mass paperback edition twice, underlining passages, and taxing the binding to the point that I had to rubberband my copy to keep its pages together. I may have been 16 at the time.
Is Atlas Shrugged a great book? Not as I see things now. But Ayn Rand had the knack of writing with a total conviction that appealed to teenagers seeking a grand belief system. She was also influenced by (and a defender of) novelists in the vein of Alexander Dumas, and some of this rubbed off on her novels. Engrossing reads, especially for the young.
But my favorite enthralling book is Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby. I came to Dickens late in life. I had to read Great Expectations and Oliver Twist in high school English classes, but I'd not been won over by either book. Decades later, I came upon a facsimile edition of Dickens' original Nicholas Nickleby's monthly chapter editions, illustrations included, and took a chance. Once I began reading, I was totally sucked in.
As I later learned, this was from Dickens' early prime period, prior to the death of his wife's sister, on whom he had a secret crush. After her very premature death, Dickens settled into a quasi-tragic mode in his books. But Nicholas Nickleby preceded that. Not that NN isn't full of tragedy and misery, but it is so over-the-top and the descriptions so droll that I found myself laughing out loud at the oddest junctures.
My enjoyment was enhanced by Phiz's illustrations which capture and drive home the book's overall farcical tone, and by the reproduction of all the ads that ran in the original periodical monthly chapters. (Aromatic Spirits of Vinegar! Labern's Botanic Cream! Eight Day Clocks!) It's a pity that this edition, originally published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 1982, is now out of print; it's the next best thing to time travel. As is Nicholas Nickleby, no matter what edition you pick up. If you've never read it, I encourage you to give it a go. You're in for a grand time.
Buy Nicholas Nickleby on Amazon
Update: I misread the article -- the same 17-y-o later sent some pretty dreadful threats to the Olympian in question: "i'm going to find you and i'm going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick," etc. My initial reading was that these were other peoples' harrassing tweets. #readingcomprehensionfail
Police in Weymouth, Dorset, England came to the home of a 17-year-old boy and arrested him, because he had retweeted an unpleasant sentiment to an Olympic athlete. The offending tweet? "You let your dad down i hope you know that." (This was a pretty dickish thing to tweet, as the athlete in question had previously dedicated his performance to his recently deceased father). The charge is "malicious communication." The law in question is the Communications Act 2003, Section 127(1)(a) ("a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character"). It's great to see that the spirit of the Olympics is alive and well: athleticism and international cooperation means that people are only allowed to say nice things or they go to jail. Just about the only thing worse than being a dick on Twitter? Being a loony authoritarian cop who arrests people for being a dick on Twitter. (via /.) — Cory •
The picture has already made the rounds on the internet, but in case this was the first you're hearing of this delightful Doctor Who news, I put it after the jump. Rumor has it, however, that a famous New York landmark (that is not in New Jersey, hint hint) might be making a cameo appearance in the show's upcoming seventh season as one of its most feared villains. And as we know, the Who crew were in New York earlier this year filming scenes that may or may not have been part of Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill's farewell episode, and that the Weeping Angels were involved in that episode. While this is truly exciting to read about, I'm more excited that I get to make -- hint hint -- Ghostbusters 2 references for the second day in a row. Picture and story after the jump, and I'll warn you: it's very cool.
Read the rest
Charlie Stross and I are hitting the road this September 5-9 for a mini, post-Burning Man, post-WorldCon book-tour for our collaborative comic novel of the Singularity called Rapture of the Nerds. We're coming to Lexington, KY; Brooklyn, NY (a stop at MakerBot's BotCave, where there will be a very special surprise!), Brookline, MA, and Rochester, NY. I've never been to Lexington or Brookline, so this is doubly exciting to me!
And tonight, of course, I'm appearing (solo) at a Long Now talk in San Francisco.
For some reason, and despite the test footage Edgar Wright presented at Comic Con, it still feels (to me, at least) like Ant-Man is still only rumored to be happening. But that feeling is finally shifting now that it's possible that the movie might start shooting as soon as Thor 2: The Dark World is done. Production on that begins next month, which is but a day away, so it's actually true! Ant-Man is coming! I'm finally convinced! No idea why it took so long!
The news comes from Latino Review, which has been so accurate about its Marvel news that Marvel actually threatens them. According to the site, Wright is apparently rushing to get the third movie of his "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy, The World's End, into production in London so he can transition right into Ant-Man as soon as Thor 2 is finished shooting next spring or summer. This means that 2014 will be what the kids call a "bigass year" for Marvel, giving us Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy in addition to Ant-Man, all in the same year.
All that awesome news, and still nothing about who will be playing Ant-Man himself, Dr. Henry Pym, or if Janet van Dyne (aka the Wasp) will be part of this story. But more importantly: How will Ant-Man, a founding member of the Avengers along with the Wasp, figure into the sequel to The Avengers? So much Marvel goodness, so many questions!
Marvel expected to release Edgar Wright's 'Ant-Man' in 2014 [Geeks of Doom]
Last night at dinner in San Francisco (I'm in town to give a Long Now talk tonight), our waiter noticed that I was wearing a ring made from an ornate spoon handle and produced his home-made money-clip, which he'd fashioned from an antique butter-knife he found at a pawn shop. He said he'd used a hand clamp to hold the handle, wrapped the blade in a cloth dishtowel, and used careful hammer-taps to bend it around. He also said that he flew with it routinely without any problems from the TSA. It was a really nice piece -- he wrapped his bills around his credit-cards and ID to create the necessary thickness.
Have I mentioned how much I absolutely love geneticist (and occasional BoingBoing contributor) David Ng? The fact that he designs awesome T-shirts while procrastinating just seals the deal.
USA Today's Nashville music critic Brian Mansfield was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 48. In a beautiful piece at USA Today, he describes a kind of "cancer honeymoon" just after his diagnosis in which he felt hopeful and eager to make changes in his life. That ended abruptly when further information about his disease showed that things would be harder. Read the whole piece, I don't want to spoil the story for you here, but this part really resonated with me:
Cancer has changed the way I hear music, more than any other life event except my marriage. Songs I once appreciated only on a surface level now strike deep at the core of my soul. Some inspire me; some terrify me. Others that I might have liked before, I've got no use for now. I've also got more time to listen, whether it's during my morning exercise time or while lying in a hospital bed.
These songs form part of the soundtrack to my cancer story...
Man. Same here, Brian. Before my mastectomy, someone on Twitter told me that some study showed that patients who were able to bring a CD of music to the operating room, to be played during their surgery, had better recovery outcomes. I made just such a CD and brought it to the hospital. Didn't end up playing it, and I recovered well, but I share this anecdote because there have also been certain songs that I play to and from important medical appointments, certain songs I've cried to or just listened over and over to, to jolt me out of the awful darkness that comes with cancer. And I'm going to play that "surgery" CD when I drive to radiation treatment this morning.
Anyway, Brian's Spotify playlist is here.
And read the rest of this story: My Semicolon Life: Cancer honeymoon's over. (USATODAY.com)The track at the top of his list is embedded above: "Dance in the Graveyard," by Delta Rae. Download it here, and the lyrics are here, and pasted below:
Sorry if you're getting sick of everyone raving about Sony's RX100, but this thing--the size of a deck of cards!--really is the dog's bollocks. With Canon about to hit town with an APS-C mirrorless, I reckon low-end Micro 4/3 models (and Sony's own sub-$1k NEXes) are done.
vN, Madeline Ashby's debut novel, drops today. I'm an immense fan of Ashby's work (I actually published her first story) and vN did not disappoint. The novel is set in a medium-term future where a race of self-replicating robots ("von Neumanns" or vNs for short) have been engineered to act as servile helpmeets by an apocalyptic Christian cult that wanted to leave behind a kind of relief mission for the unbelievers and heretics who'd be left behind by the Rapture. The vNs are engineered with a "failsafe" so that they cannot harm humans or allow humans to be harmed (sound familiar?). Even being in the same room as a human who has cut himself can send them into catatonia, and sometimes it's permanent.
The failsafe turns vNs into pathetic servants, sex-slaves, and whipping-posts. A nascent robots' rights movement has legitimized marriage between humans and robots, but these relationships are fraught by their vast power-divide. Meanwhile, all robots must watch their diets -- once they eat enough, they automatically bud off copies of themselves. Vast, vagrant hordes of vNs from uncatalogued clades and variants roam the landscape, scouring dumpsters and junkyards for electronics to consume. The copies that emerge aren't perfect -- rather, these "iterations" are randomly varied next-generations, and evolution is fast emerging every imaginable kind of robot.
Amy, the protagonist of the story, is the "daughter" of a robot and a human. Iterated from her robot mother, she is kept on a near-starvation diet to prevent her from growing up too quickly, and is sent to a human kindergarten where she must be treated with kid gloves -- one schoolyard fight or scuffed knee and she could end up bluescreened, catatonic at the sight of a human in distress. Very early in the story, Amy is cast out on her own, in pursuit of the dark secret of her maternal grandmother, the vN that iterated her mother, a freak of nature who has the power to harm humans, a power Amy may have inherited herself.
Ashby's debut is a fantastic adventure story that carries a sly philosophical payload about power and privilege, gender and race. It is often profound, and it is never boring.