Monday, December 29, 2014

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books (Part 16)

It's the week after Christmas, and that means it's time to take a look at that new crop of books I found under the tree!  Well, that I found in boxes on my doorstep and then placed under the tree until the 25th, anyway--you know what I mean.

The point is, let's take a look at some of the non-ponyfiction that I'm currently in the middle of reading.  As always, below the break.

The Ghosts of Cannae, by Robert L. Oconnell

What it is:  A history of Hannibal and the second Punic War, nominally focusing on the (relatively few) Roman soldiers who survived the massacre at Cannae.

How I'm liking it so far:  Oconnell has an annoying habit of lapsing into conversationalisms when he writes (e.g. describing the Roman senate as "probably freaking out"), but the actual material here is great.  The author does a great job of separating fact, fiction, and those depressingly wide areas in between where we have only accounts of uncertain and/or dubious veracity to turn to for information, and of teasing out and making clear what we know, what we think we know, and what might have happened.  2200 years is a long time, and the best thing about this book is how it never lets you forget that, nor forget just how different the cultural, military, technological, and even geographical climate was then compared to now.

Recommendation:  This is a great broad-strokes accounting of the Second Punic War, and I'd recommend it to readers looking for something engaging and wide-ranging (i.e. not solely focused on the battles themselves, but also on causes, politics, etc.), and which does a great job separating truth and speculation.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn: a Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle, by Dana Simpson

What it is:  A compilation of Heavenly Nostrils comic strips.

How I'm liking it so far:  I'm a big fan of the strip; I talked about it back here, in fact.  So yeah; this (along with the next book on this list) were the two books I specifically requested.

Recommendation:  You can read the whole run for free online, but if you're like me and have a strong preference for reading comics in a paper format, this is a wonderful, whimsical strip.

Morning, Noon & Night, by Michael H. Payne

What it is:  A story of the six Champions of Andeer--representatives of each of the six intelligent races--and the secret they discover about their role in the fate of their world.

How I'm liking it so far:  If the name "Michael H. Payne" isn't ringing any bells for you, you might recognize him better as Augiedog.  In fact, this story began its march to existence as a ponyfic, specifically as Half the Day is Night, which I reviewed way back here.  That's a fine story... but this one is much, much better.  Half etc. sometimes struggled to mesh its darker moments with its Equestrian setting, and freeing this story from its equine moorings proves a positive on that front, not to mention allowing Payne room to craft and explore his own original world--one very much worth exploring, and clearly more than a mere rotoscoping of the MLP setting.  There's a lot that's been added here (25,000 words, according to the author) and I haven't read far enough to see it all, but I'm very impressed with what I've seen so far.

Recommendation:  I highly recommend this to fans of original fantasy.  Or to fans of Payne/Augie, generally: this is a shining example of what he can do.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Kline

What it is:  A novel set in the near-future, about a young boy who's trying to solve a series of pop-culture riddles from decades past in order to inherit a massive fortune and online infrastructure.

How I'm liking it so far:  First off, if you haven't heard of this story before, I promise it's less stupid than that description made it sound.  This is a clever, quick-moving novel, which dives effortlessly from comedy to adventure to high drama and back.  My biggest complaint is that I feel like it's really aimed at readers about a decade older than me--or maybe readers my age who were computer-savvy in their childhood (or at least, who played videogames); a lot of the 80s gaming and computer references are flying right over my head, and I think I'd enjoy the story a lot more if I felt like I had a more reliable connection to the quotes and experiences being written about.  Ah well, at least I can still nod sagely along when it gets to the "easy" stuff, like Star Wars and Back to the Future.

Recommendation:  If you're up-to-date (snrk) on 80s gamer- and pop-culture, definitely check this out.  If not, this is still a fun story that's nostalgic and pulse-pounding at turns--just don't expect to "get" it all.


  1. Ah, I thought Morning, Noon & Night sounded familiar! Totally forgot Augie wrote that. "Champions of Andeer" makes me think of Zelazny's Amber series (which I've yet to read, but have heard great things about). I've been meaning to get back into fantasy, and I'm no longer hurting for cash, so maybe I should order a copy. Not too sure about that blurb, though

  2. I'm really surprised the aggressive Gary Stu-ism of Ready Player One didn't trip your alarms. It gets better as the book progresses, but I thought the first half was very blatant. Like newbie author level blatant. I mean, how many times did the character have the answer to some puzzle because he just happened to have spent all of last year studying ancient Sumerian poetry or some such? Too often for me, that's for sure. Combined that with generally being awesome at everything, and you get a character that felt very flat and boring to me. Of course, he has "problems" in the real world, but since nearly every important thing happens virtually...

    Still, it did pick up in the second half.

    1. "I mean, how many times did the character have the answer to some puzzle because he just happened to have spent all of last year studying ancient Sumerian poetry or some such?"

      That's always bugged me, but I've largely learned to tolerate it since it crops up in so many books and movies. Actually, I think some of my favorite childhood authors did that, but they usually taught me something in the process, and I love learning new things from stories

    2. I normally roll with it if it's just once or twice in a story. Each of us has our own weird expertise in certain things. It's just that the protagonist of that particular story was a ridiculous expert at so many things. After a while I just wanted to throw the book at a wall.

      Which is not to say the story is without merit. It's interesting in a lot of ways. But that hero... yeesh.

  3. "We must push through this pass and defeat the Romans!"

    "Ach, we cannae do et, Cap'n Hannibal! There's too many ghosts!"


  4. Half the Day is Night was the first MLP fanfic I ever read, and it was so enjoyable that it gave me enough inertia to plow through several less stellar fics until I got hooked on pony fic in general. I am certainly picking up Morning, Noon & Night!

  5. I've followed Heavenly Nostrils ever since you recommended it here, but I think I kind of stopped around the time it turned into mostly reprints for a long stretch and I never really picked it up again (though my lessened available free time thanks to attending university was also a contributing factor there). Is it still doing the reprint thing?

    And I didn't know that Augie adapted his ponyfics into original fiction. But good for him that he did. Not many authors are able to do that without gutting a story. To actually improve a story by doing that... doesn't say good things about the original fanfic version, for my mind, but takes skill nonetheless.

    Also, I find it funny that you're so used to referring to authors by their surnames that you do it even with a guy you personally know. I know that's the professional way to do it, but it tickled me regardless.

  6. Glad you're enjoying:

    The book! Lemme know if you find any typos, though. All the times I've gone through the text, they still seem to lurk in there...

    And if I might, I'll plug my other Pony-related book, Neighbors. It's the continuation of the short story I had published in Kazka Press's "Bronies" anthology which you reviewed here.