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.