book review: the girl in the road

One of my coworkers recently did a display in our library called “The One With The Girl” which was full of all these books with Girl in the title (The Girl on the Train, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, stuff like that). Weirdly enough, she missed Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road. But when I spotted it on a non-display shelf the Girl display had been replaced for World Water Day, so I was standing there with a book in my hand and nothing to do but read it. Oh woe. I had to read a book.

I really liked it.

There are two storylines, set in the mid-late 21st century. One is about a woman, Meena, who is fleeing her hometown in southern India because of a snake in her bed, which she is sure was an Ethiopian terror attack targeting her.

The other story is about a little girl, Mariama, in West Africa who stows away on a transport truck taking oil to Ethiopia. She’s looked after by the drivers and by the goddess they meet on the road.

Meena goes to Mumbai to start walking to Djibouti to find the person who killed her parents before she was born. Walking to Djibouti from Mumbai is a thing that might be possible because of the Trail: a multi-thousand kilometre long chain of solar- and wave-energy collector buoys strung across the Arabian Sea. Parts of Meena’s story really reminded me of Life of Pi, but she’s way more prepared, technologically speaking than Piscine Patel ever was.

This is very much a road novel, with the protagonists having encounters and moving along. I really liked it, and the pacing between the continent-crossing and the sea-crossing worked really well for me.

The biggest problem I had with the book is that it is a story about India and Africa written by a white woman from the U.S. Byrne thanks people with names that sound like they come from appropriate parts of the world in the acknowledgements, but I haven’t read reviews of the book by people of the cultures being portrayed. It didn’t seem objectifying or exoticizing to me, but I’m a white dude. I thought it was pretty good with the hijra character from a cultural perspective. But if you are sensitive to the “bad things happen to lgbtq characters” and “lgbtq characters are haunted by loads of trauma” this may be one to avoid.

book review: sleepwalk and other stories

Sleepwalk and Other Stories is a collection of Adrian Tomine stories. Tomine writes and draws realistic fiction short stories, kind of old-fashioned like Raymond Carver. I really liked these stories. There was one about twin daughters going to a comic-con with their dad which I really liked. They were all quite restrained (even the story about a guy getting curb-stomped ends before the worst of the violence) and made you feel lonely. Very good stuff.

book review: lost at sea

Bryan Lee O’Malley (best known for Scott Pilgrim) drew and wrote a high school road-trip book called Lost at Sea, and it’s fucking excellent.

The story is about four young people heading back to Canada from northern California. The viewpoint character is a quiet girl who doesn’t quite fit in, and she narrates how the difference is that she has no soul. I loved the inconsequential and the really important dialogue, the out-of-the-blue things that happen that follow the kind of road trip logic you abandon yourself to. It’s a different feel from Scott Pilgrim, much more realistic. And I love that the story ends before the road-trip is over. It just ends when the important stuff is over, and all the rest is what turns into road-trip inside jokes.

I think the thing I really appreciate about this is how so many road stories seem to be about guys going off to find something in themselves, but girl road-trips seem a bit rarer. In any case, this is a definite YA recommendation.

collaboration and cursing racers in google docs

The best collaboration tool I’ve used so far in library school is hands down Google Docs. I use wikis at work and we used BaseCamp for planning the NetworkEd UBC project, but nothing beats the big G on this.

The best part about it is when you’ve got five people collaborating on a document and everyone has it open on their respective laptop and everyone is editing the text at once. There’s a bit of give and take on that, since it is annoying to be working on the exact same sentence as someone else, but when something like deleting typos becomes a race that’s a fun tool.

When Google Wave came out I got in on the open beta, but there wasn’t a lot to do with it. My friends and I created a Wave to plan a road trip to Chicago, and while it worked, there wasn’t anything about it that was fun or useful. Integrating the best bits of Wave into Google Docs was a great step forward.

I think part of the appeal of Google Docs is that you are producing something, not just talking about producing something. I mean, it’s fine to use tools to chat and plan and such, but if it’s not integrated into the actual production, it’s just another step being pushed into your workflow. If you can collaborate directly on the work that’s a huge deal. You don’t have to reproduce your notes or people’s good ideas into the thing you’re producing, because it’s all right there.

Now, so far I’ve only handed in assignments straight from Google Docs for in-class types of things. Getting them out into LibreOffice is important to get the layout as right as I get fussy about. But separating out the layout/final touches kind of work seems far less onerous than separating the collaboration itself.

That’s what I want out of collaboration: actual work being done rather than having a separate step to talk about the work we want to do. I hate meetings that are just about assigning tasks when you could just be getting to it, right there. The rapid-prototyping model is built into this kind of collaboration. A person writes a sentence. It doesn’t work and gets rewritten right there. There’s chatting in the sidebar about why it doesn’t work and what would be better. “How about this?” someone can ask and you can see if it works or not. There’s no separate step of coming together to pull words apart and then going back to work on it again. Everyone sees the sausage being made, and that’s a good thing.

In my mind this also deals with a bit of the design by committee problem. You aren’t coming up with innoffensive ideas that’ll make it through, you’re putting stuff down with the knowledge it could get zapped straight off but if you delete something you’ve actually made a hole in the project that you need to fill. Maybe that’s not how it works for other people, but that’s the kind of collaboration model I see as a worthy goal, suggested by Google Docs. Collaboration can’t be a separate step, because that makes it easier to ignore.

Really though, I just like racing cursors.

book review: zombies of the world

Zombies of the World: A Field Guide to the Undead is Ross Payton’s “non-fiction” book about how to deal with the zombie menace facing the world. It’s an enjoyable read.

Payton is a roleplaying gamer (he wrote a couple of supplements for Monsters and Other Childish Things, an Arc Dream game I really like) and it shows. There are lots of good hooks for stories in these pages along with an evident sense of humour. There are several references to types of zombies that have a distinctive style of dress, and how strange it is that part of that zombie species’ characteristics is the ability to find such odd vestments. There are also a few references to Temporally Displaced Robots who caused the Aztec mummies to go extinct.

The book is filled with full colour illustrations in a clean comic-book style. Evidently there were a bunch of artists, but the pictures work very well together. I also really liked the advertising pamphlets from the North American Necrological Research Institute, who are out to understand the zombies of the world and communicate with them.

The writing style is clear and conversational, never dry. There might be a few too many winks to the reader (including the whole idea of the dancing zombie, which I do love) to really take it seriously as a fake reference book. You could completely use it in a contemporary roleplaying game as the work of a crank that turns out to be useful.

One of my favourite things about the book is how it describes a world in which zombies are a menace but haven’t driven humanity to an apocalypse. It’s very hopeful. There are people who are concerned about preserving them as a species (and not solely because they’re the source of almost unlimited energy, if the secret could be cracked).

It’s not quite as “practical” as something like Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide but I really enjoyed Payton’s book and would recommend it to fans of zombies in general, but especially if they’re gamers looking for a good undead-centric setting book.

Note: I received a free review copy of the book from the author.

book review: april 2011 bulk edition

I have been neglecting my reviewing duties. But don’t worry, I’ve still been reading. I haven’t given up on the printed word (and image). Just been slow in typing about them. So here is a list of the books I read before coming to Australia.
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