Tim Powers’ new book Three Days to Never is a breath of fresh air. His earlier book Declare took a look at the Cold War from a supernatural perspective, but it wasn’t wholly satisfactory to me (a little bit long, a little bit turgid, not a very nice ending). Never deals in similar subject matter, a plot involving Albert Einstein’s other work, the stuff he was really working on, the stuff that was more dangerous than his theory that led to the Atomic Bomb. Well plotted and characterized, this reminds me more of Charles Stross channeling John LeCarre (or maybe Robert Ludlum). It has some funny bits, it has some terrifying bits. I recommend it.
On the advice of a couple of gaming technology web sites I picked up a copy of Frank Luna’s 3D Game Programming with DirectX 9.0C. This a major re-write from his earlier 3D Game Programming with DirectX 9.0, and note this: That little “C” is pretty important since it’s virtually the only way you can identify the newer book, which deals a lot more with high level shader language than the prior one. The first few chapters deal with the usual 3D math, plus some DirectX wrangling to get pixels on the screen and get input flowing, then it takes off into some very nice tutorials on how to do landscapes, mesh animation, shadows and so forth. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far the writing is clear, the examples are good and well typeset, and the technical level (ahem, math) is about my speed.
Peter Beagle has a collection of short stories out in The Line Between, which includes some prequel / sequel material to his previous books The Innkeeper’s Song and The Last Unicorn. Frankly, I didn’t like Unicorn all that much, but a lot of other people do and were apparently clamoring for the sequel story. I find it hard to judge. But I liked the rest of the stories, and the introduction is also worthwhile. (Incidentally, his prior collection Giant Bones is one of the best collection of fantasy short stories I’ve ever read, right up there with Gene Wolfe’s The Innocents Aboard).
There are some occasional good finds in used bookstores. A while ago I picked up some cheap Curious George books for my son (he likes two of them, doesn’t really want to be read the other two). Children’s books are cool; they’re a return to the past, and it’s fun to point things out to him (“Do you see a duck? What’s the duck doing?” / “Fwimming!”)
David Bodanis wrote some picture / “factoid” books in the 80s detailing everyday life at the microscopic (or at least, unseen) level; The Secret Garden takes a micro-tour of a British garden, while The Secret House runs us though the debris and trivia of a day in an average house, including what’s really going on in the kitchen (you may never eat chocolate cake from the grocery store again). His recent E=MC2 is a biography of Einstein’s famous equation; a light-weight, affable read about physics (that had me cracking open some of my old physics textbooks — did I really understand that stuff once?)
Also used: After many years of searching, I found a copy of the original 1953 edition of Scientific American’s three volume set Amateur Telescope Making. At ten dollars, and in good condition, this was a steal. My Dad and I were going to make a telescope once, but we never found the time to do the work. I don’t think I’ll ever get around to grinding a mirror (which is actually only a small, if critical, part of making a whole telescope), but reading about it is fun. Kits are apparently still available from places like Edmund Scientific (a couple of blanks, various grades of carborundum, and some pitch for polishing — you supply the barrel and the sweat). After the mirror, you have to have an optical flat for the secondary, and then you really have to buy an eyepiece (they can be ground, but it’s way finicky). Then, of course, you need something to point the mirror at, and since we’re in Seattle, well … I’ll just continue to read and enjoy telescopes vicariously. 🙂