A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

I bought this book from Audible and listened to it using the Audible app on my iPhone.

This book was a big surprise for me, the story is fantastic and the performance is top notch. Fisher Stevens does an amazing job bringing every character to life and delivering the dry humor in a way that makes it crack me up.

I have always loved stories about Death, Terry Pratchett’s Mort and Neil Gaiman’s various incarnations of Death are some favorites. And now Christopher Moore has added the Death Merchants Minty Fresh and Charlie Asher to my list.

WARNING: This book contains a fair amount of foul language, but I did not find it offensive or distracting. There is a scene in the book where Charlie’s daughter, maybe 3 or 4 years old, overhears something maybe she shouldn’t have and end up running around and saying in a sing-song voice, quot;not in the butt, not in the butt.quot; That made me laugh out loud and makes me smile ever time I think about it. But if you are easily offended by foul language, the seven dirty words really offends you, you should find something else to read.

From the publisher:

Charlie Asher is a pretty normal guy. A little hapless, somewhat neurotic, sort of a hypochondriac. He’s what’s known as a Beta Male: the kind of fellow who makes his way through life by being careful and constant, you know, the one who’s always there to pick up the pieces when the girl gets dumped by the bigger/taller/stronger Alpha Male.

But Charlie’s been lucky. He owns a building in the heart of San Francisco, and runs a secondhand store with the help of a couple of loyal, if marginally insane, employees. He’s married to a bright and pretty woman who actually loves him for his normalcy. And she, Rachel, is about to have their first child.

Yes, Charlie’s doing okay for a Beta. That is, until the day his daughter, Sophie, is born. Just as Charlie, exhausted from the birth, turns to go home, he sees a strange man in mint-green golf wear at Rachel’s hospital bedside, a man who claims that no one should be able to see him. But see him Charlie does, and from here on out, things get really weird.

People start dropping dead around him, giant ravens perch on his building, and it seems that everywhere he goes, a dark presence whispers to him from under the streets. Strange names start appearing on his nightstand notepad, and before he knows it, those people end up dead, too. Yup, it seems that Charlie Asher has been recruited for a new job, an unpleasant but utterly necessary one: Death. It’s a dirty job. But hey, somebody’s gotta do it.

©2006 Christopher Moore; (P)2006 HarperCollinsPublishers

I rate this book a 10 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good story about death and does not mind a dose of foul language.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

I bought this book from Audible and listened to it using the Audible app on my iPhone. Todd McLaren does a fine job in narrating the audiobook.

This is a solid science fiction who-done-it story. I enjoyed the lead character Takeshi Kovacs and his loose morals and ethics. I look forward to reading the other books soon.

The publisher appears to not have read the story, in the summary it says "assuming one can afford the expensive procedure" while in the story everyone has their mind stored as part of basic healthcare that everyone receives, but the wealthy are able to update what is stored more often so that if they die they will loose a lot fewer memories. Also the wealthy are able to have clones of themselves available so they may transfer themselves to a younger body on a whim and be perpetually young.

I enjoyed the exploration of what a culture would be like when the death of a physical body held very little negative consequences and how terrible a true death, where a persons mind and all backups are destroyed, really is.

From the publisher:

In the 25th century, humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N. While divisions in race, religion, and class still exist, advances in technology have redefined life itself. Now, assuming one can afford the expensive procedure, a person’s consciousness can be stored in a cortical stack at the base of the brain and easily downloaded into a new body (or "sleeve") making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen.

Ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his last death was particularly painful. Dispatched 180 light-years from home, re-sleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco, now with a rusted, dilapidated Golden Gate Bridge), Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats "existence" as something that can be bought and sold. For Kovacs, the shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning.

Altered Carbon is the first Takeshi Kovacs novel. Don’t miss the sequels Broken Angels and Woken Furies.

©2003 Richard K. Morgan; (P)2005 Tantor Media, Inc.

I rate this book an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to people who enjoy science fiction and crime books.

Portal 2 Video Game

I really enjoyed the first Portal video game, it was a much needed break from the first person shooters I had been playing that were focused on violence.

Portal did not disappoint, the levels grew progressively harder as the game went on and the payoff at the end was spectacular. The GLaDOS song at the end of the game is fantastic.

Now we have Portal 2, I played it using Steam from Valve on a MacBook Pro. There were no slowdowns, frame-drops, or stutters during the game, and the audio was great.

It took me about 50 hours to play through the game, there were only a couple of levels where I got stuck and spent more than 20 minutes trying to get past. There were also plenty of levels where I died a number of time, but death in Portal is no big deal, you start over in the same puzzle close to the place where you dies, you even get to keep a lot of your progress in many of them.

Another great feature of Portal 2 is that it is easy to create your own puzzles and share them with the world. There are tons of player created levels available to play and they are a great way to add re-playability to the game.

From the Portal 2 web site:

The sequel to 2007’s Game of the Year, Portal 2 is a hilariously mind-bending adventure that challenges you to use wits over weaponry in a funhouse of diabolical science.

Using a highly experimental portal device, you’ll once again face off against a lethally inventive, power-mad A.I. named GLaDOS. And this time you won’t be alone. Meet an expanded cast of characters as you think your way through dangerous, never-before-seen areas of Aperture Laboratories.

Break the laws of spatial physics in ways you never thought possible, with a wider variety of portal puzzles and an expansive story that spans a single player and co-operative game mode.

I rate this game a 9 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who loves first person shooters and puzzle games.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I bought this book on Audible and filled every free minute with it until it was over.

A tour-de-force for Wil Wheaton, easily the best performance I have every heard or seen from him.

If Cory Doctorow and William Gibson wrote a book together, I imagine that it would be a lot like this one. It has the fun and pacing of a Doctorow book with the environment and physical elements of a Gibson novel. But I am not saying that this story is derivative in any way, it is its own story in its own world with fantastic characters that I am going to remember for a long time.

This story really works for me because it is character driven with the science fiction elements playing important roles without getting in the way of the character’s lives. By the end of the book the protagonists are our friends and antagonists are the hated enemy, just as it should be in any great story.

I can’t wait to share this book with my 2-year-old son when he gets older, hopefully it will help create an appreciation of the video games and movies I grew up playing.

From the publisher:

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of 10,000 planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late 20th century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

©2011 Ernest Cline (P)2011 Random House Audio

I rate this book a 10 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction and video games, especially those from the 80’s.