The Color of Magic

colour of magicThe Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett

Here is a fact that baffles me, and that I cannot explain.

I am a proud second generation nerd. I played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in middle school and high school. We had the complete five-volume Hitchhiker’s Trilogy at my house, and my dad can reminisce about the first time he read Tolkein and how it changed his life. My friends and I have had standing Battlestar Gallactica and even Stargate watch parties. I have opinions on the different Star Trek iterations, and I have read most Piers Anthony books. I am not a newcomer to nerdom and geekery. This is a way of life to me. And yet. Until recently, I had never read a Terry Pratchett book in my life.

I know! I know. It’s unbelievable. How this could be the case is beyond me. I feel like my parents have failed me, and I have failed myself. But I’m trying to make up for it now.

I figured if I had to know anything about Terry Pratchett I had to know Discworld, so I started with the first book in the 236 book strong Discworld series, Color of Magic. And I loved it. I’m hooked.

Color of Magic introduces Discworld and its bizarre physics and magic, with vivid and inventive detail. Discworld is a flat world that rests on the back of a turtle, the Great A’Tuin (and there’s just the one–it’s not turtles all the way down.) Rincewind, a not-very-competent magician, is hired by Twoflower a “tourist”, a previously unknown thing on Discworld, or at least in the city of Ankh-Morpork. What follows is a series of misadventures for Rincewind and Twoflower touring Discworld, playing with many of the standards of fantasy novels. It’s style will be familiar to those who have read Douglas Adams, but Pratchett is oh-so-very good at it.

This was a breezy, easily readable book, that still had quite a lot going on. The plot is rather quickly moving, with many twists and turns. Some of the Discworld books stand on their own, from what I understand, but this one leads straight into The Light Fantastic–which I then went and checked out from the library.

For anyone else who has somehow missed out on Terry Pratchett and has been wondering whether or not he’s worth the hype, the answer is yes, he is. The book was tremendously fun and I’ll be picking up others. Get it over the holidays. This is excellent vacation reading.



La’s Orchestra Saves the World

La's Orchestra Saves the World

La’s Orchestra Saves the World

La’s Orchestra Saves the World, Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith is known for his series, such as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, the 44 Scotland Street books, and the Sunday Philosophy Club Series.  I’ve picked up one or two from the others, but my mother and I particularly enjoy and share the 44 Scotland Street series with each other, which I first started reading when I was on maternity leave with my first child.  For the most part I enjoy McCall Smith, his books offering little slice of life vignettes, and providing light, pleasurable and easy reading.  I especially appreciate the way that he can sketch out a character with just a few lines, using just a brief spotlight on their activity or thoughts to provide an insight into who they are and allowing you to fully appreciate the person.  An author who is skilled with characters is a treat to read, and can often tell a whole story within a paragraph.

Unfortunately, I don’t think La’s Orchestra Saves the World, a rare stand alone piece from McCall Smith, plays to his strengths.  In the story, Lavender (La) goes to college in the years before World War II, where she is pursued by and quickly marries a man who soon runs off with another woman.  His family, embarrassed, takes care of La and sets her up in their country home, where she lives throughout the War helping with a local farm, meeting a Polish refugee, and creating an amateur orchestra from the community that brings people together and saves the world.  Near the end of the book, the Cuban missile crisis has recently ended and, with the Cold War in full swing and the threat of nuclear war hanging over everything, she reconvenes the orchestra with a concert for peace.

My mom loved this book and recommended it to me since I play violin and piano and am generally in favor of concerts for peace and other corny things like that.  However, this book just didn’t work for me.  I rather enjoyed the beginning of it, which was mostly painting a picture of La as a smart woman who wants to accomplish things but is not particularly driven to break from the mold in the 30s, which I found a rather poignant portrait indeed.  However, once she moves to the country, once the war breaks out and the story begins, it rather drifted away from me.

For one thing, the book felt slight.  McCall Smith’s books are, to a great extent, slight, little appetizers that you might read before digging in to a meatier novel.  But while that is suitable in something like a 44 Scotland Street novel, it didn’t seem to work in a book about war and peace and love where we never get below those surface sketches of the characters.  On a similar line, there really wasn’t much of a story.  The orchestra takes its time in getting there, and then doesn’t do much.  The number of characters in the book is low, and then there are suddenly these many, many people who play in the orchestra and turn up for its reunion concert when nothing has really been done to show how this has impacted the community before.  There are people referencing the orchestra throughout the book, for sure, but the old maxim of show don’t tell holds here as well as in most story telling endeavors.

La’s Orchestra Saves the World is pleasant enough, but I felt like it was floating above the surface of a story without ever settling in.  I never understood how the orchestra saved the world, or even just the small corner of it that it was meant to affect, and i just never felt the there there.  I suppose I’ll stick with the series from here on out.

A Win for Coffee Curmudgeons

As a long-time hater of K-cups and their associated machines, I feel quite vindicated after reading this:

In 2013, Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-Cups, enough to wrap around the equator 10.5 times. If Green Mountain aims to have “a Keurig System on every counter,” as the company states in its latest annual report, that’s a hell of a lot of little cups.

Plus, according to the article, with the single-serving k-cups, you’re probably paying over $50 a pound for coffee, which even most coffee snobs, such as yours truly, would ever do.

I’ve been a long-time hater of these machines.  For one thing, I have a knee-jerk hatred of single-serving things and our trend to take things that should be communal (coffee), and makes them individual.  For another, even as an individual, I usually want more than one small-ish cup of coffee at a time.  And lastly, as to that small-ish bit, k-cups prepackage the amount of coffee, so if you hit the “large” button or the “small” one there are the same amount of grounds; you’re just getting weaker coffee one way.  Bah.  A ridiculous device, and I don’t understand why people like them–it doesn’t take that long to clean out your coffee pot, people!

Well.  I’m glad to have some facts and Actual Reasons to use instead of just my crotchetiness* when we talk about potentially getting a Keurig in the office.

(via Grist)