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eBook Review: Ex-Heroes

Talk about crazy eBook genres -- I started with Zombie novels; survive the apocalypse, rebuild society after the apocalypse, zombie break-outs through history -- you name it we got it. Then I was reading super-hero fiction that was surprisingly similar to the teen-angst magical powers; just replace the dark and brooding black outfits with capes and cowls. One totally mind-bending jumble of genres, however, is Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines.

Meet a whole bunch of super-heroes! Think they were useful before the zombie apocalypse? They seem to be the only thing standing between humanity and a really bad ending. We meet and learn the backstory of 5 or 6 varied heroes with great names like "Zzzap!" He has the power to make electricity! Very useful when the zimbos have shut down your generator. Anyways this LA-based group of heroes gathers a bunch of survivors at Paramount Studios and sets up a society. They fight off Zombies, LA Gangs, former LA Gangs turned Zombie and other heroes turned zombie.

This one is fun. I laughed out loud at how ridiculous the genre could get -- but the story telling is great and I was entertained.

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

Ken MacLeod's Intrusion: a surveillance and bioscience dystopia with the best of intentions

Ken MacLeod’s new novel Intrusion is a new kind of dystopian novel: a vision of a near future “benevolent dictatorship” run by Tony Blair-style technocrats who believe freedom isn’t the right to choose, it’s the right to have the government decide what you would choose, if only you knew what they knew.

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Wonder: tearjerking novel is an inspiring meditation on kindness

RJ Palacio’s new book Wonder is a middle-grades novel about August (“Auggie”), a young boy born with severe facial abnormalities who, at the age of 10, leaves the safety of his parents’ homeschooling and begins attending a New York private school.

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Truth and consequences: FRONTLINE's brilliant documentary on Fukushima

Nuclear Aftershocks is a new FRONTLINE documentary, airing tomorrow, January 17, at 10:00 pm Eastern. I watched an advance screener yesterday.

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Douglas Rushkoff's ADD: tight, smart graphic novel delivers a scathing critique of the commodification of youth culture

Douglas Rushkoff’s graphic novel debut, “A.D.D.” (Adolescent Demo Division) is a tight, action-packed comic wrapped around a serious, thought-provoking critique of the commodification of youth culture.

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Distrust That Particular Flavor: William Gibson's long-overdue essay collection

The remarkable thing about Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson’s debut essay collection, is that it was so long in coming, collecting two-and-a-half decades’ worth of nonfiction, opinion, travelogue, memoir, media theory, speeches, criticism, and miscellania.

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Empire State: a phildickian noir detective/superhero/pocket universe novel

Adam Christopher’s debut novel Empire State is a noir, Philip K Dick-ish science fiction superhero story about a pocket universe that’s created when two battling New York superheroes open a vent through spacetime.

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Walking Dead 15: We Find Ourselves - a moment's respite after years of grinding, terrifying hopelessness

I’ve been reading The Walking Dead comic series for years now, with the kind of sick, compulsive horror that is the mark of great dramatic tension in narrative.

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Patry's How to Fix Copyright: deftly argued, incandescent book on the evidence-free state of copyright law

William Patry is no copyright radical. He’s the author of some of the major reference texts on copyright, books that most copyright lawyers would have on their bookcases, books like Patry on Copyright.

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Rumpole at Christmas: curmudgeonly stories for a heartwarming holiday

I’m a lifelong fan of Rumpole, John Mortimer’s grumpy, poetry-spouting criminal defense barrister, star of books, TV, and radio. John Mortimer died in 2009, and Rumpole at Christmas was published last Christmas season, but I missed it then.

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Yellow Kid Weil: Autobiography of the greatest con man in American history

Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil may have been the greatest American swindler of all time. The Yellow Kid operated in the gold age of the American con, from the late 19th century up to WWII, and became a legend in his own time, immortalized in such books as The Big Con (the sociological study of con artists that was the basis for the movie The Sting).

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Moving House, sweet picture book about a house that lobbies to keep its family from moving out

Mark Siegel’s Moving House is a picture book about a house that decides to keep its family from moving away by aggressively lobbying the children.

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Paintwork: cyberpunk++ stories of killer augmented reality mechas and QR code graffiti writers

Tim Maughan’s self-published short story collection Paintwork collects three of his stories, including the British Science Fiction Award-nominated story “Havana Augmented.”

In an era of “post-cyberpunk” science fiction, Maughan is firmly cyberpunk — or maybe “cyberpunk++,” a genre that captures all the grit and glory of technology with a higher degree of plausibility and respect for real computers and networks than the genre had in its glory days.

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Fiskars ShopBoss: multiscissors to the limit

Writing for MAKE:, Gareth Branwyn reviews the Fiskars ShopBoss, a sucessor, of sorts, to the multi-scissors the company shipped last year. Fiskars is the Finnish giant of bladed tools, renowned for generations for its knives and other blades. Gareth really likes the ShopBoss though he has a few reservations:

The heart of the ShopBoss is a pair of titanium nitride-coated snippers/shears. The bottom blade is serrated and the snips are made to cut through light metals, carpet, cardboard, plastic stock, etc. They made easy work of most everything I chewed into with them, even some fairly thick acrylic. They cut CD media very easily and cleanly and would be a good tool to grab when CoasterBot building. It was a joy to process a giant pile of boxes, plastic banding, and cardboard destined for the recycling center.

Surrounding the snips are a number of other useful widgets: a wire-cutting jaw, a twine/binding strap cutter, bottle opener, and a pegboard hanging loop. The ShopBoss also comes with a plastic holster that clips onto your belt. It includes a pencil holder, a tape-cutting hook, and a metal deburring file (basically a piece of plastic rod).

Tool Review: Fiskars ShopBoss

Anatomy of a skyscraper: book examines skyscrapers as urban objects

Aggregat456 has a great review of a fascinating book called The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper, a heavily illustrated account of the underlying structure, social impact, engineering challenges and urban shifts of skyscrapers.

Similarly, The Heights uses its sumptuous graphics to present a performative and descriptive (i.e. anatomical) look at skyscrapers. To do so, Ascher abandons the impulse to conflate “skyscraper” with “architecture” and presents tall buildings more as urban objects. Repeating and elaborating the formula that made her earlier graphic study on infrastructure, The Works: Anatomy of a City (2005), so successful, Ascher offers the reader hundreds of drawings, as crisp as legible as anything offered by Ernst Neufert or Otto Neurath, all showing how skyscrapers are, in essence, compact, vertical cities. This emphasis on verticality goes well beyond the book’s title: The Heights is organized in a roughly vertical fashion, with some parts dedicated to the laying of foundations, and others showing how concrete is pumped towards upper floor plates via a complex series of compressors and tubes. (The table of contents even appears as an elevator control panel, which seems counter-intuitive unless one starts thinking of The Heights as vertical.)

Capsule Review: The Heights (via Crib Candy)

Sustainable Materials: indispensable, impartial popular engineering book on the future of our built and made world

Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen’s Sustainable Materials – with Both Eyes Open: Future Buildings, Vehicles, Products and Equipment – Made Efficiently and Made with Less New Material is a companion volume to Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air, one of the best books on science, technology and the environment I’ve ever read.

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Science Book Club: National Geographic's The Big Idea

I have a weird relationship with coffee-table books. In general, I kind of think of them as clutter—like a particularly heavy and ungainly pile of junk mail that you can’t just throw away.

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Boyett's Mortality Bridge: Rock n' roll Dante meets Orpheus

Mortality Bridge is Steven Boyett’s first book since his comeback novel Elegy Beach, published last year as the 25-years-later sequel to his breakout novel Ariel.

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Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions: awesomely dangerous pranks from the age of fraternal lodges

Julia Suits’s The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions: The Curious World of the Demoulin Brothers and Their Fraternal Lodge Prank Machines – from Human Centipedes and Revolving Goats to Electric Carpets and Smoking Camels is a history of those long-gone, much lamented days when Americans joined fraternal lodges in great numbers, and when those lodges attracted and retained members by subjecting new initiates to horrible, dangerous, violent pranks that often involved some combination of 35 cal blanks and high-voltage electricity.

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The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories: trove of lost Dr Seuss stories

The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories is a collection of “lost” Dr Seuss stories culled from short stories published in magazines like Redbook in the 1940s and 1950s, collected and reprinted for the first time.

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Machine Man: a discomfiting novel about the antihuman side of transhumanism

Max Barry’s Machine Man is a disarmingly funny and light-feeling novel about an antisocial engineer who decides to create his own prosthetic leg after he loses his own in an industrial accident.

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Bad As Me: Tom Waits's first all-new studio album in 7 years

Bad As Me, Tom Waits’s first studio album of new music in seven years, was released yesterday. I’m an enormous Tom Waits fan and never met an album of his I didn’t love, but I love some of the material more than others — in general, I’m fonder of his noisier, faster, more dramatic stuff, and less enamored of the ballad-y numbers.

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The Homeland Directive: taut technothriller for the paranoid era

Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston's stand-alone graphic novel The Homeland Directive is a tight, suspenseful technothriller (in Bruce Sterling's definition of the term: "a science fiction story with the president in it"). Mysterious government spooks are hunting a pair of CDC epidemiologists. One is murdered, the other, Dr Laura Regan, is framed for a variety of crimes and barely escapes in the company of rogue spooks who spirit her away to a safe house. The story that unfolds -- a plot to terrorize America into accepting an otherwise unthinkable authoritarian rule in the name of fighting terrorism -- is taut, filled with great spycraft and action sequences. A great, paranoid read for the modern age.

Steve Jobs bio out early for downloads; "60 Minutes" devotes entire episode to book

As every blog and news site everywhere has already reported (including Boing Boing), the definitive biography of the late Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, is out today.

Actually, it's out today in paper, but was released yesterday for download via Amazon and iTunes. I'm willing to bet it breaks some sort of download sales record.

Last night's edition of the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes was devoted entirely, 100%, to stories on Jobs and his products.

As Mike Godwin noted on Twitter, Steve Kroft asks during the segment how Jobs, "who dropped LSD and marijuana," goes off to India and returns to become a businessman. LOL @ "dropping marijuana." The show sure does know their demo. At least they didn't say he smoked acid.

Snarking aside, the 60 Minutes pieces are worth watching. Here's part 1, here's part 2, and here's 3 (!), on iPad apps for autism. In other news this week, Obama says we're bringing troops home from Iraq, and Qaddafi's dead.

Related: Dan Lyons, former Fake Steve Jobs, on the backlash.

Science Book Club: The Siesta and the Midnight Sun

Why did you choose go to sleep last night at the particular time you did?

Maybe you were just plain tired.

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Scenes From a Multiverse: wicked webcomic mixes science, net.humor, high weirdness

Scenes from a Multiverse, the delightfully weird webcomic from John Rosenberg (creator of the transcendently bizarre Goats, is now available in book form.

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The Revolution Will Be Digitised: how Cablegate, Facebook, Google and the regulation will shape the future

Heather Brooke is the American-trained “data journalist” who upended British politics when she moved to the UK and began to use the UK’s Freedom of Information law to prise apart the dirty secrets of power and privilege, most notably by exposing the expense cheating by Members of Parliament.

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Tempo: transformative, difficult look at advanced decision-making theory

As I’ve noted here before, Venkatesh Rao is a thought-provoking, profound thinker, and I always welcome his long, fascinating blog posts.

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Why I love Kate Beaton's "Hark! A Vagrant"

On April 6, 1909, Robert Peary claimed to be the first person to reach the North Pole. Of course, there were some issues with his claim. For one thing, Inuit had almost certainly been through the area before. For another, a guy named Frederick Cook said he'd reached the Pole in 1908. And, last but not least, the first person to the Pole out of Peary's own party wasn't even Peary—it was Matthew Henson, an African American explorer, sailor, and navigator who actually planted the U.S. flag at the Pole while Peary was stuck in a dogsled, too sick and/or frostbitten to walk.

This is why I love cartoonist Kate Beaton, whose second collection, Hark! A Vagrant, was published this week.

There are precious few artists who would (or could) turn the story of Peary and Henson into a hilarious comic strip. And even fewer who could do that with a style that combines careful realism and broad-stroke cartoonery. Would the strip be as funny if Beaton wasn't able to shift so effortlessly from serious Henson in the top right panel to the muppetish grin he wears in the lower right? I doubt it.

Really, the contrasting style of art Beaton uses kind of sums up Hark! A Vagrant as a whole. This is a comic strip that seamlessly blends the high-brow with the madcap. Sirens make MySpace ducklips at a horrified Odysseus. A tiny version of Gene Simmons sews glam shoes for a medieval cobbler. Jules Verne sends creepy fan mail to Edgar Allen Poe. Canadian politicians take their marching orders from the cheerful ghosts of dead terriers.

This is a comic about not taking anything too seriously—even the things we love to geek out about.

I you don't already read Hark! A Vagrant online, you should. If you've been reading for a while, buy this book.

Ry Cooder's Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down: lefty rootsy blues, rock and country for our times

Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down, the latest album from blues/roots legend Ry Cooder, impressario of the Buena Vista Social Club, is an unabashedly left-wing album in the tradition of the great titles of Woody Guthrie and Haywire Harry McClintlock.

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