I'll be honest: between my sister visiting this week, and August already being a relatively busy month for me, I haven't made the time to finish reading Moonbeam yet. I'll have it done by Friday, but until then, how about some delicious filler? Way back in the misty reaches of, er, May, I listed the books I was reading at the time, and talked briefly about each. That seemed to spark some interesting discussion, so I'm going to go ahead and do the same thing again. Below, I'll put the title and author of each book, what my opinion is of it to this point, and a recommendation based on that incomplete reading.
Prisoner's Dilemma, by William Poundstone
What it is: In game theory, the "prisoner's dilemma" refers to specific conundrum that can occur when two individuals are offered a choice to either betray or cooperate with one another, and occurs when betrayal is always beneficial to the individual, but cooperation is better for the group (if that was unclear, the wikipedia article has an example). Poundstone chronicles the life of John von Neumann, the man who "invented" modern game theory, and interweaves the mathematical and social dictates which drive such choices with the Cold War crucible in which they were developed (von Neumann was working for RAND, a pentagon think tank).
How I'm liking it: Quite a bit, actually. I'm only a short way into it, but the book seems to strike a good balance between biography and math; it's not 'soft science,' but neither is it inaccessible to lay-readers. And I really like that it examines both the social and mathematical aspects of decision-making in game theory; too many times, one is focused on to the exclusion of the other.
Recommendation: This is an engaging and informative history of modern game theory, and anyone interested in that branch of socio-mathematics should consider giving it a look.
Medieval and Tudor Drama, edited by John Gassner
What it is: A collection of plays from Britain, circa 1200-1500 AD.
How I'm liking it: I've always found medieval art, music, and theatre to be extremely interesting, because so much that we take for granted in modern entertainment was just being developed in that time period. This is especially true in music, where the concept of polyphony was just beginning to bloom following the collapse of the Roman Empire, but other artistic fields also show a surprising amount of unbridled creativity, absent many of the tropes and patterns to which we in the present day are accustomed. That said, I understand that I'm one of the very few people interested in reading a passion play as anything other than a sleep aid.
Recommendation: This collection is probably not one that very many people would have an interest in reading for fun, but if you really want to know what theatre was like before Marlowe, Shakespeare, and the other renaissance authors came along, this is probably as good an introduction as any.
Conan of Cimmeria, by Robert E. Howard
What it is: What, you've never heard of Conan? Technically this is the second collection by chronology, but chronology was never very important to Howard (the shorts were mostly originally published separately, and were designed to be read independently).
How I'm liking it: As much as people like to credit Tolkien for creating the modern fantasy genre, he's only part of the story. While LotR may have given us the standard fantasy races and epic narrative on which so many stories now rely, it was the Conan short stories that laid the table for scads of muscle-bound he-men to come. And much like LotR, Conan is a lot better than most of the stuff that came after it. I've been picking my way through the old L. Sprague De Camp collections of Howard's stories at my leisure for a while, and on the whole I've been glad I finally got around to them.
Recommendation: These are very predictable stories, in a way: Conan has some task to complete or foe he must overcome, he goes out and does so, the end. But unlike too many imitators, Howard's original is more than just a musclebound killing machine: he's a brutally intelligent hunter and warrior, and the world he travels through is as interesting as any.
Maphead, by Ken Jennings
What it is: The biography of a topophile (spellcheck wants me to change that to "pedophile." Honestly...), and of mapmaking itself.
How I'm liking it: With the first book in this list, I mentioned the challenge history/science/math/etc. books face of balancing narrative with meat. This book, written by that guy who made a killing on Jeopardy!, contains too little of the latter, and ends up being too much about Jennings' childhood and, to a lesser extent, the lives of some of the major names in the history of mapmaking, and not enough about the history of mapmaking itself. This is a very readable, enjoyable book, but I'm not learning as much as I'd like from it.
Recommendation: In terms of entertainment, this is a perfectly fine bit of writing. But for folks looking for a more substantial read, it will probably prove disappointing.
Lord Foul's Bane, by Stephen R. Donaldson
What it is: The story of Thomas Covenant, a leper living in the near past, who is somehow transported to a fantastical world more vibrant and alive than he can comprehend.
How I'm liking it: Since it's one of my favorite books ever, I'm liking it quite well, thank you. The reason I'm re-reading now is because the final book in the Covenant series (spanning two trilogies written in the 70's and 80's, and a more recent quadrilogy) should come out in about a year, and I'd like to have re-read the other nine books before then. And since they're all absolute door-stoppers, I figure I'd better get started now.
Recommendation: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is unarguably one of the most influential stories in modern fantasy, and perhaps in modern fiction. It codified the anti-hero in contemporary literature, and has expanded many vocabularies (including my own) by leaps and bounds. That said, it's been said that there are three kinds of people who read Lord Foul's Bane: those who read it and love it, those who read it and hate it, and those who give up in disgust after chapter seven (of which I'll say no more, because it's such a crucial, dramatic scene). I highly recommend it, but clearly I fall into the first camp.