Monday, October 30, 2006

Terry Hancock on Why Free Software is Important

In a recent blog post at Free Software Magazine, Terry Hancock explains (some reasons) why free software is important, and why we should spend our time promoting it and working on it, even though there are "bigger problems to worry about" in the world.

I would still point out that there are many other things that one could do, including protests (among others), although some are not terribly effective. Nevertheless, long-term planning and creating stable, ethical and expandable communities and methods for the future to build on is certainly worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thud!

Terry Pratchett

Thud!, a Discworld book, tells the story of Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork, and the events surrounding Koom Valley Day, which commemorates the Battle of Koom Valley, fought a thousand years ago when a band of Trolls ambushed a band of Dwarves (or maybe the other way around) in the treacherous Koom Valley. Vimes must solve the mysterious murder of a Dwarven agitator, and keep the city from descending into a troll-dwarf gang war in the meantime, not to mention dealing with the bureaucracy and, of course, Lord Vetinari, the city's Patrician.

Like most of Pratchett's novels, Thud! is not merely reflective of our own world, but highly entertaining. Dealing with themes of love, devotion, family, jealousy, prejudice, ancient grudges and more, it allows us (as good science fiction and fantasy do) to examine ourselves from the outside, in order to gain a bit of perspective. It also allows us to laugh out loud at Terry's imaginative and sometimes surprising turn of phrase. The book is easy and fun to read, but hard to put down.

I highly recommend this book, as well as the other Discworld books, to anyone over 13 (parents, use your own judgement for younger).

Edit: That should be Vimes, not Grimes. Dunno what I was thinking!

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Gregory Maguire

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is the story of Cinderella, told from the point of view of the Ugly Stepsister, in usual Maguire fashion. Set in 17th century Holland (about the time of the collapse of the tulip market), the story is not so much revisionist as a simple retelling of the classic story, removing somewhat the fantasic elements of fairy tales and making it seem, if not actually true, then plausible.

Unfortunately, Maguire's storytelling is merely adaquate. The ideas presented in the book are good, from murder and betrayal to sisterly love and devotion, but the entire book is rather bland, as if it were a story told a thousand times.

Although I enjoyed Wicked, Maguire's first novel, it, too, suffered from the fault that reduced the novel from adaquate to poor: near the end of the story, everything suddently twists around, as if he had forgotten that he was writing a retelling, a new telling, of a fairy tale, and suddenly has to make it conform to our memories of the story it is based on. Each of the novels of his that I have read, Wicked, Mirror, Mirror, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, has felt adaquate until this sudden, jarring, forced inclusion.

My advice, Mr. Maguire, is don't force it. It's a retelling. People have done it for thousands of years. Don't get hung up on the most popular details; make it your own.

My advice to the rest of you: don't read it. Go find a nice collection of Fairy Tales if you want a different version of Cinderella. You'll enjoy it more.