Listen up: you really owe it to yourself to read 15 Vlad Taltos novels, seriously

I have been reading Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels since I was a pre-teen and singing their praises on Boing Boing since 2006, and with the occasion of the publication of Vallista, the fifteenth and nearly final volume in the series, I want to spend some time explaining to you why goddamnit you should really consider reading 15 books, get caught up, and finish this sucker with me, because if there was any justice in this world, the Vlad books would have a following to shame The Dark Tower at its peak.

Volk: a sinister, Lovecraftian tale of eugenics, Naziism, and "radiant abomination"

Volk is the sequel to Eutopia, the brilliant, sinister supernatural tale of the real-world 19th century eugenics movement, written by Canadian horror great David Nickle.

Naomi Alderman's "The Power": in which fierce power of women is awoken

Naomi Alderman's prizewinning UK bestseller The Power comes to the US and Canada today, and you should just go read it right now.

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars: a child's garden of infinity

In A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, Seth Fishman and illustrator Isabel Greenberg (previously) present a the astounding, nearly incomprehensible size of the universe in a picture book that even the very youngest readers will delight in; when I blurbed it, I wrote "Dazzling: the astounding, mind-boggling scale of the magnificent universe and our humbling and miraculous place in it, rendered in pictures and words that the youngest readers will understand."

Lifelong Kindergarten: how to learn like a kid, by the co-creator of Scratch

Mitchel Resnick is one of the most humane, accomplished and prolific creators of educational technology in the world, one of the co-creators of Logo and Lego Mindstorms, and founder the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten group, where the open source, kid-friendly, open-ended Scratch software development tool was born; in a new book (also called "Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play") Resnick analyzes the extraordinary successes that have emerged from his kid-centered view of learning with technology, sketching out a future in which kids program their classroom computers, not the other way around.

William Gibson's Archangel: a graphic story of the unfolding jackpot apocalypse

William Gibson's 2014 novel The Peripheral was the first futuristic book he published in the 21st century, and it showed us a distant future in which some event, "The Jackpot," had killed nearly everyone on Earth, leaving behind a class of ruthless oligarchs and their bootlickers; in the 2018 sequel, Agency, we're promised a closer look at the events of The Jackpot. Between then and now is Archangel, a time-traveling, alt-history, dieselpunk story of power-mad leaders and nuclear armageddon.

Landscape With Invisible Hand: Late Stage Capitalism, by way of a YA alien invasion novel

In 2002, MT Anderson blew up the YA dystopia world with Feed, his zeitgeisty, prescient novel about "identity crises, consumerism, and star-crossed teenage love in a futuristic society where people connect to the Internet via feeds implanted in their brains" -- in his latest, Landscape with Invisible Hand, Anderson takes us to a world where neoliberal aliens have sold Earth's plutocrats the technologies to make work obsolete and with it, nearly human being on earth.

Lumberjanes 5 & 6: the life aquatic (with riotmrrrrs!)

The Lumberjanes (previously) are headed toward a TV screen near you, but despite the furious effort that must entail, it's a sure thing that no one is neglecting their duties to the comic book. Two more collections have been published since I last reviewed the collections, and they are pure Lumberjanes dynamite: anarchic, sweet, funny, and full of more memorable characters from more magical races than the entire Monster Manual and the Fiend Folio.

The Spider Network, a novelistic account of the mediocre rich men who robbed the world with Libor

In 2013, we learned that the world's largest banks had spent years rigging LIBOR, an interest-rate benchmark that served as a linchpin in trillions of dollars' worth of financial instruments, a fraud that could have cost the world $500 trillion, all to fatten the banks' bottom lines and bankers' pay-packets by paltry millions. In The Spider Network, Wall Street Journal veteran reporter gives us a novelistic and remarkably easy-to-follow account of one of the most baroque frauds in finance's history, and, in so doing, reveals the rot and mediocrity at the heart of the very financial system.

I found the worst K-Cup coffee

After an exhaustive and uninterrupted search extending over many years, I have finally determined the worst K-Cup coffee. Target's Market Pantry Premium Roast ($15.98 for 48 pods) is about as cheap as Amazon's popular 30-cent K-Cup, but is far worse. It tastes nearly as good as own-brand instant coffee from British supermarkets. It's flavorless yet vile, catching in the throat like air from a house inhabited by forty cats.

Imagine, if you will, old espresso grounds resteeped in sweat and sweetened with flakes of seborrheic dermatitis. You have imagined something no less unpleasant than Market Pantry Premium Roast.

But no snarky turn of phrase or revolting comparison can do it justice. The more you know (or think you know) about coffee—and the more you despise the entire concept of these machines—you owe it to yourself to experience just how bad the K-Cup experience can get, a place whereof one cannot speak, an invitation to the true friend that will never betray, a silence steeped in medium-roast horror.

Read the rest

Sourdough: a delicious story about nerdism and the flesh, by Robin "Mr Penumbra" Sloan

Robin Sloan's 2012 novel, Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, was as strong a debut as you could ask for, an instant geek classic of bibliophilia, magic and technology; now, with today's release of Sourdough, Sloan returns to the alienated, quirkily funny and brilliant lives of technology workers, in a tale of food, the flesh, novelty-seeking, ancient tradition, and immortal colony-organisms.

The best white pen is the Uniball Signo Broad

I tried a bunch of pens that promised an opaque fine white line on dark paper, and the only one that had an acceptable result was the Uniball Signo Broad. It was in a class of its own, superior even to markers (too chalky) and gloopy paint pens (hardly even work.)

I tried equivalent models from Sharpie (the water-based marker is too thick, and the metal-tube pen just doesn't flow well), Pentel (not remotely opaque), and Sakura (fine in a pinch.)

It wasn't perfect, though, and you'll have to write with more care than normal gel pens. In particular, the pigment dries fast on the ballpoint -- even as you write -- which can result in smudgy or lost corners or thin parallel tracks instead of the expected bold line.

I tried using it as white-out, too. It did OK over Pigma ink (not pictured), but was pretty rough over Higgins ink (below). Reinking over it with Pigma and Tombow pens was fine, but Higgins required a extremely light touch with a Hunt #102 nib.

UPDATE: My results comport with those of others! Here's Jetpens with a more exhaustive and illustrative roundup that nonetheless confirms that the Uniball Signo Broad is the best.

And here's a another roundup from Rachelle at Tinker Lab, which serves as an important reminder that craft store own-brand stuff is particularly terrible and that the best white pen is, you guessed it, sound the guns, stop the presses... the Uniball Signo Broad.

So, just get the Uniball Signo Broad [Amazon link]

P.S. Read the rest

Tim Harford's bite-sized "Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy"

Tim Harford (previously) is an economist with a gift for explaining complex subjects in simple, accessible terms: his latest book, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, uses 50 short essays about technologies as varied as Ikea's Billy Bookcase, the plow, and AI to illustrate the ways that the human race has transformed itself, its relations, and the planet.

Review: Oree wooden keyboard and trackpad

Wood signifies tradition, solidity and natural beauty, but these qualities are comically absent from computer peripherals made of it. Oree, a company out of France, set out to do better and have partially succeeded with their handsome keyboard and touchpad set.

Up close, the Oree gear looks much nicer than cheapo Amazon wooden keyboards. It's precisely cut, with seamless joins, Bluetooth, and none of the instant tattiness that afflicts bamboo once it gets knocked around. (There's also a matching dial peripheral, but I haven't tried it.)

The Oree keyboard comes in maple or walnut, with Windows and MacOS keycap options, and engravings for 22 different languages. Wireless pairing and battery life both met expectations; the keyboard charges via USB and the slab uses two AA batteries.

The legends are lasered into the wood, so wont rub off with wear.

How does it type? It's fine. It feels like standard rubber-dome switches under thick, distancing materials. For most people who type, it's probably better than the millimeter-travel chiclet keyboards in the newest MacBooks, but not quite as nice as say, a five-year-old MacBook Pro. It feels very similar to an old T- or P-series Lenovo keyboard. Soft and rubbery rather than hard and clicky. It's fine.

Given the high price, though, I feel at liberty to complain about details.

The keys' sharp (presumably laser-cut) edges mean that my fingers occasionally catch on them when brushing over the faces. It's not a big problem and will presumably go away as they're worn with use, but it's a slight discomfort I've not experienced on a keyboard before. Read the rest

OCTOBER: China Mieville's novelistic history of the Russian revolution

China Mieville is an unabashedly political science fiction writer, an avowed Marxist whose fiction is shot through with politics in the very best way; however, Mieville's politics are generally kept below the surface, influence rather than central fact -- that is, until the publication of October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, a masterful, novelistic nonfiction history of the year preceding the Russian revolution one century ago.

A new edition of Daniel Pinkwater's happy mutant kids' classic, "Lizard Music"

Back in 2011, The New York Review of Books inducted Daniel Pinkwater's classic Lizard Music into its canon with a handsome little hardcover edition; today they follow that up with a stylish, jazzy paperback, priced to move at $10. Read the rest

Bitch Doctrine: sympathy, empathy and rage from the Laurie Penny's red pen of justice

Before Laurie Penny was a brilliant young feminist novelist, she was a brilliant young essayist, blazing through the British (and then the world's) media with column after column that skewered social ills on what Warren Ellis aptly dubbed her "red pen of justice."

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