By Dan Simmons

After finishing my second series by Dan Simmons, I seem to be noticing a pattern. The first book has an interesting premise, is tightly plotted, and seems to be going somewhere good, but ultimately the series ends up being kind of disappointing. That was true of the Hyperion series, and I think it's even more true of Ilium and Olympos.

This duology is set a few thousand years in the future, when some humans have engineered themselves into god-like beings, others are living a life of ease and ignorance, and there are sentient robots living among the asteroids and gas giants of the outer solar system. There are a number of intertwining storylines--one involving a 20th-century classics scholar who is resurrected by what appear to be Greek gods who task him with observing their recreation of the Trojan war, another involving a group of the post-civilized humans on Earth questioning their existence, and a third involving a group of robots from Jupiter setting out on a mission to find out what's going on back on Earth and Mars. It sounds confusing, and it kind of is, but it starts off really well. And it's really smart when it starts, too, with both oblique and explicit references to literature from the Iliad to Shakespeare to Proust to Nabokov.

Unfortunately, the second book doesn't deliver on the promise of the first. It's just kind of all over the place--a bunch of stuff happens, but it all feels unfocused and scattered, like Simmons had loaded a bunch of ideas into a shotgun and let it spray. Every chapter ends in a cliffhanger, only to leave you to go back to a different plotline. It got kind of aggravating after a while, and the resolution left a lot to be desired.

I think that this is probably worth reading for the first book, but try not to let your hopes ride too high as you go into the second.

Started: 3/13/2009 | Finished: 4/3/2009

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Brokedown Palace

By Steven Brust

It seems like usually when an author continues to write story after story set in the same world, things get stale after a while. Steven Brust appears to be an exception to that rule, though. I've read ten of his Vlad Taltos books, two of the Khaavren Romances, and now this one, and the more I read about Dragaera, the more I want to read.

Unlike most of the rest of Brust's novels set in this world, Brokedown Palace isn't set in the Empire--the focus is on one of the Eastern Kingdoms. (Familiar readers will recognize the setting as Vlad Taltos's ancestral homeland.) The tone is also markedly different from both of the other series. The original series is told in a straightforward, sometimes sarcastic voice. The Khaavren books are modeled after Dumas. This one reads more like a fairy tale--in fact, it appears to be explicitly modeled after a certain oral tradition, which I can only assume is Hungarian as that is Brust's background. As fables go, I found this one to be quite well-written--tight, well-paced, and with a really nice overall structure. I was reminded a little bit of Tolkien's Silmarillion, except this was more fun to read.

The only thing that detracted from the experience for me was the title, which was taken from a Grateful Dead song and is shared with a movie that starred Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale, neither of which have anything to do with this book. But, anyway, overall I have to say I very much enjoyed this one.

Started: 3/9/2009 | Finished: 3/12/2009

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Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

By Chuck Klosterman

If you're at all like me, you have occasionally pondered the cultural significance of things like video games, movies, bands, and other pop culture phenomena. You may have even thought about writing down these ideas you've had, perhaps in a blog or book. If you're like me, well, reading this book may make you despair a little, since Chuck Klosterman does so much better a job with this sort of thinking and writing than I do.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is a collection of essays delving into such topics as what paying the video game The Sims tells us about ourselves, or the impact of MTV's The Real World on the personalities of young people today, or why Billy Joel is important despite the fact that he's not cool. It's sharp, funny, and, for the most part, spot-on in its analysis of American pop culture. The only drawback may be that Klosterman's touchstones are not universal--people below a certain age range were too young to be aware of these things when they happened, and people above that age range likely didn't care. So, if you're not between the ages of about 25 and 40, this book may completely miss you. If you are close to my age, though, I'd say this book is probably worth checking out.

Started: 2/13/2009 | Finished: 3/2/2009

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The Good Stuff

It's been four weeks since my last update and things have been pretty hectic. I've been putting in a lot of hours at work, and Jason hasn't been a very happy camper when I've been home. Between teething and ear infections and colds and everything, he's had kind of a rough few weeks. It's seemed that way to me, at least--he's been pretty fussy. Plus, with his newfound mobility, he's also gained new reasons to be frustrated--namely, that I won't let him do whatever he wants. Like when he wants to investigate the electrical outlets, for example, or when he wants to pull lamps down onto his head. And with that new frustration, he's figured out how to throw temper tantrums.

At times this whole parenting thing can be really trying. Sometimes I feel like I want to tear my hair out, others, I just feel really tired. So it's nice to be able to capture those bright moments, to be able to play them back and relive the bliss that the good times bring. Which brings me to the main point of this post: a video.

Jason's favorite toy is the little phone-shaped rattle that's part of his music table. He carries it around with him as he explores the living room, managing to push it on top of the stuff he's climbing on, or under the couch. A couple of weeks ago I was playing with him and showed him how I could make the rattle jump by slapping it with my hand. It was, as you can see, a big hit.