Book Review – Under the Dome by Stephen King

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Under the Dome by Stephen King

The blurb mystifies:

On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when — or if — it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens — town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing — even murder — to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.

I read this book because we just started watching the TV program based on it.  Since the dome is the titular mystery, it seemed obvious that the TV series wouldn’t reveal the nature of the dome until the last few episodes (assuming the series didn’t get cancelled suddenly) so we’d spend years wondering about it (like Lost).  My wife wondered if since the TV series is based on a book whether we could find out what the dome was by reading that.  It turned out that I’d bought the book a few months ago, so I started reading it.  I didn’t have a lot of hope, since the TV series Haven is based on the Stephen King book The Colorado Kid, and that book doesn’t reveal the central mystery.

Predictably the Under the Dome book is quite different from the TV series, and although I was enjoying the series I think I prefer the book.  I can see why they made changes though – the book is a different kind of story, and one that might not have made a popular TV program.

I think the biggest difference between the TV series and the book is that the TV series follows the formula of solve a mystery/pose a mystery in each episode whereas the book is more about how easy it is for people to turn into monsters.

A lot of the characters are despicable people and they do despicable things, which I found made for a bit of a frustrating read.  The despicable people didn’t always get a Hollywood-style comeuppance, but  it’s probably healthy to get away from the Hollywood-style.

The book spends a lot of time in the beginning with people wondering what was happening (when it’s right there in the title) and the meaning of the book changes some at the end, but overall I still really enjoyed it.

Even though Stephen King is a famous author with a good reputation, I haven’t read many of his books (because I don’t find the horror genre attractive).  I will need to remedy this.

Book Review – Lye Street by Alan Campbell

Lye Street by Alan Campbell

Lye Street by Alan Campbell

The blurb briefs:

The Greene family is cursed. Every fifty years Deepgate’s scarred angel, Carnival, returns to murder another descendant. Now, five hundred years after the first victim’s death, Sal Greene is facing his own doom. His time has almost run out. In a desperate attempt to break the chain of violence and save his family, he summons a demon to the chained city: a warrior he hopes is powerful enough to stand against the angel.

Yet the creature which arrives in Deepgate is not quite the legendary mercenary Sal Greene was expecting.

I really enjoyed Scar Night (the first book in the Deepgate Codex by Alan Campbell) but the other two books Iron Angel and God Of Clocks less so.

Lye Street is a prequel novella set in the city of Deepgate, same as Scar Night.  Since the city composed a lot of what I liked about Scar Night I was glad of the opportunity to revisit it.

I did enjoy returning to Deepgate, but the fact that this was a novella meant that it was necessarily a brief visit, and the fact that it was a prequel meant that nothing too substantial could be changed without introducing retcons.

The Kindle version of the novella also included an excerpt from Sea of Ghosts by the same author.  I had been aware of this book but unfortunately passed over it based on its cover art.  Having read the excerpt I really want to read Sea of Ghosts, but for whatever reason it’s not available on the Kindle in the US (yet?).  I’ve seen this a few times recently with British authors (The Iron Khan and Tomorrow, the killing) and I assume the delay or problem is something to do with publishers and contracts etc.

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Book Review – Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

The blurb explains:

Four decades ago, Richard Forthrast, the black sheep of an Iowa family, fled to a wild and lonely mountainous corner of British Columbia to avoid the draft. Smuggling backpack loads of high-grade marijuana across the border into Northern Idaho, he quickly amassed an enormous and illegal fortune. With plenty of time and money to burn, he became addicted to an online fantasy game in which opposing factions battle for power and treasure in a vast cyber realm. Like many serious gamers, he began routinely purchasing viral gold pieces and other desirables from Chinese gold farmers— young professional players in Asia who accumulated virtual weapons and armor to sell to busy American and European buyers.

For Richard, the game was the perfect opportunity to launder his aging hundred dollar bills and begin his own high-tech start up—a venture that has morphed into a Fortune 500 computer gaming group, Corporation 9592, with its own super successful online role-playing game, T’Rain. But the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred when a young gold farmer accidently triggers a virtual war for dominance—and Richard is caught at the center.

In this edgy, 21st century tale, Neal Stephenson, one of the most ambitious and prophetic writers of our time, returns to the terrain of his cyberpunk masterpieces Snow Crash and Crpytonomicon, leading readers through the looking glass and into the dark heart of imagination.

The blurb is pretty misleading – it makes the book sound like it’s about a computer game, but really it’s more of a thriller.

This book is really long – like 1000 pages.  This isn’t a bad thing because I really enjoyed it, but just when I thought the plot was wrapping up there was a whole other 50% of the book left.

There are a lot of coincidences in the last quarter of the book.  The author goes out of his way to explain how it all makes logical sense for these things to happen, but still – it’s pretty unlikely.

I have a couple of other problems with the book.  Sexual relationships are portrayed a bit oddly – one of the characters just seems to sleep with anyone she meets.  Also the characters go from having never killed anyone to killing terrorist after terrorist without any problem, which doesn’t seem realistic.

This is the second book by Neal Stephenson that I’ve really enjoyed, the first being Anathem.  This one doesn’t have the steep learning curve that Anathem had, but it also doesn’t have as much of a big twist.

I think I’m going to have to start reading everything Neal Stephenson has written.

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The Meaning Of Life

“All is Vanity” by C. Allan Gilbert. Life, death, and meaning of existence are intertwined. (Woman gazing into boudoir mirror forms shape of skull.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like a lot of people (some? many? all?) I’ve been thinking about the meaning of life.

People with a faith already have something that they feel gives their life meaning, so they don’t need to look any further.  People without faith or people with doubts need to come up with a point to existence – some reason to keep going.

I wondered about the meaning of life as a child, but as a child life mostly consists of training for and waiting for adulthood, so that didn’t seem to provide any insights.

As an adult most of life seems to be maintenance – you work to earn money to pay bills, you wash and clean and cook and take care of responsibilities.  It seems like a lot of work goes into things just staying the way they are, and it feels like a treadmill.  This didn’t provide any insights either.

Life always felt like a waste to me – you spend all these years learning things and then you die and all your hard won skills and wisdom just evaporate, so what was the point of collecting it all?

When I had a child it became clear to me – if I passed on my skills and wisdom to my children then then it wouldn’t just evaporate, it would keep going after I died.  It makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary point of view too (see The Selfish Gene) because as well as helping my genes – my descendents – it strengthens human society as a whole.  We don’t rediscover everything every generation; we’re taught things that previous generations fought hard to discover so that we can build on them and pass on our hard won discoveries on to the next generation.

What about people who can’t have, don’t have or don’t want children?  I think then the meaning of life is to collect wisdom and pass it on to someone, anyone, everyone.  Write something, paint something, build something.  Get good at something, distill what you’ve learned and pass it on.

From this point of view a life spent treading water, just making it through the week, killing time until there’s none left is the ultimate waste.  If life has a meaning then not fulfilling that must be a tragedy.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t watch TV, play games, waste time with friends – everything feeds into our experience and potentially grows us into a tree that can bear fruit we share with humanity’s children.  But if at the end of my life all I had to show for it was a dent in the sofa I would be disappointed.

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do things worth writing.” – Benjamin Franklin

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My third Chrome extension – Link Shortener for Amazon

Link Shortener for Amazon

Link Shortener for Amazon

I’ve created my third extension for Google Chrome – Link Shortener for Amazon!

Recently I’ve been blogging a lot of book reviews, which include a link to the book on Amazon.  I also sometimes send people links to Amazon products on IM.  A lot of the time the links have a bunch of extra parameters which make them longer and messier than necessary.  Also I’m in the Amazon Associates program, so I’d like to add my affiliate code to the links.

After manually cleaning up the links and adding my affiliate code for months, I finally got around to making a Chrome extension to automatically do it for me.

When you visit a page on amazon.com that has an ASIN, the extension shows a page action icon (see screenshot).  If you click on the page action the extension creates a short link using the ASIN and appends your affiliate code (if you’ve configured one on the options page).  It puts the link on the clipboard and changes the page action icon to let you know that it’s done.

I’m thinking about expanding the extension in future to include pages other than product pages, and to use bit.ly to shorten the links.

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