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Ziring Book Pages - 4th Quarter '96 Reviews

These are the reviews from the fourth quarter of 1996. For newer reviews, go back to the main book page.

Infinity's Shore by David Brin -
Bantam Books (ISBN 0-553-10173-0 hc)
This is book two of Dr. Brin's eagerly-awaited new trilogy. The first volume, Brightness Reef, was a stunning introduction, and Infinity's Shore carries the narrative forward like a cresting ocean wave. A lot of the open questions from the first volume are resolved, but many new ones are raised. Some fascinating new characters are introduced, but most of the players here are old friends -- deepened and realized more fully than in any of Brin's previous work.
The trilogy is built around the circumstances of the fallow world of Jijo, and set against the tapestry of Brin's "Uplift" universe. The crew of the starship Streaker (from the classic Startide Rising) plan their daring escape from the planet, while the inhabitants struggle against a mighty invader. The story is told in the first-person from the individual viewpoints of a few main characters, the balance between the various characters is very good, and their respective views of the events taking place on Jijo is fascinating.
Is there any downside to Infinity's Shore? If there is, it would be the extensive background that the reader needs before diving into the story. Like any sequel, the first few chapters of this book contain lots of flashbacks and other devices for filling in the background material; it's good, but it probably isn't quite enough. To really enjoy the wealth of themes and metaphors in this book, it is helpful to have read volume one. Ambitious readers who go to the effort of consecutively reading Sundiver, Startide Rising, The Uplift War, Brightness Reef, and Infinity's Shore will be well rewarded -- and left with a fierce anticipation of the trilogy's final volume.
Conclusion: Highly recommended, go buy the uplift books right now
Graphics and Web Page Design by Lemay, Duff, and Mohler - Sams.net Publishing (ISBN 1-57521-125-4)
There are a lot of books around these days about HTML, web graphics, web site design, and related topics. Sams.net's newest offering is very flashy, with an almost magazine-like design and published in full color. Two of the authors are professors of industrial design, and the third is one of the most well-known names in web-oriented books. The book is packed with useful advice, well-chosen examples, technical guidance, and helpful tips. Organized as a series of lessons, the book guides the novice-to-expert web page author though both design and production issues. It comes with a companion CD that includes a softcopy edition of the newest edition of Lemay's HTML book.
All this seems great, but the book doesn't quite fulfill its mission. There are three reasons for this. First, the technical information in the book is somewhat vague, sometimes incomplete, and occasionally inaccurate. Second, the lesson structure is overdone, detracting from the real meat of the subject without adding significant value. Third, the mission is just too broad -- it is not possible to pack an entire course on web page design and production into 340 extensively illustrated pages.
There are bright spots to Graphics and Web Page Design. Chapter 11 on avoiding the ten most common web page mistakes is very good, and Chapter 8 about web site structure is invaluable. The reference book on the companion CD is also very good.
Conclusion: Recommended, but buying several more-specialized books is probably better
The Nature of Space and Time Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose - Princeton University Press (ISBN 0-691-03791-4)
The qualitative structure of space and time is the subject of this detailed little volume. Seven lectures comprise the debate recorded in the book: three lectures each by physicist Stephen Hawking and mathematician Roger Penrose, and one joint lecture. Each makes a convincing case for their point of view, employing fairly little mathematics and relying for the most part on qualitative, conceptual arguments.
You can hardly go wrong owning a book by two such giants in the field of cosmology, but the reading is not easy or simple. While the two Ph.Ds eschew complex formulae in their presentations, they assume that the reader is familiar with a broad range of modern physical and cosmological thought. For the non-physicist, a basic introduction such as Hawking's A Brief History of Time might be considered a prerequisite.
Conclusion: Recommended, but some background may be necessary.
The Mathematical Universe by William Dunham - John Wiley & Sons (ISBN 0-471-53656-3)
The great idea, history, and personalities that make up the universe of mathematics is a very broad subject. Dr. Dunham approaches surveying that territory for the reader in a very pragmatic way: alphabetically. For each letter of the alphabet, a topic important to mathematics and loosely associated with letter is presented (one chapter covers one letter). Most of the selections are insightful, informative, and concise. For example, the topic for the letter 'E' is Leonhard Euler.
The alphabetical approach works, but not especially well. The chapters do refer to one another, but in general the book is a collection of 26 separate essays, some of them better than others. The sense of the majestic sweep of mathematical progress, and the tension and fervor of the participants, is not conveyed. (A better treatment is Davis & Hersh's The Mathematical Experience.)
Conclusion: Recommended for math history buffs
Creating Great Web Graphics Laurie McCanna - MIS Press (ISBN 1-55828-479-6)
This clever and helpful little book presents dozens of techniques and recipes for creating images -- in particular, images suitable for use on web pages. The reader is presumed to have access to either one of Adobe Photoshop or Corel Photopaint, professional-level imaging tools. While fairly specialized and technical, the book is enjoyable to read because of McCanna's light prose, and because of the excellent layout and color printing.
The only possible complaint I could level at this book is that it is a little too specialized. Web page designers looking for a little more general treatment might want to seek out Seigel's Creating Killer Web Sites.
Conclusion: Recommended for serious web page designers
Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook by Scott Adams - HarperCollins (ISBN 0-88730-788-4)
This is Scott Adams' second business text, and is more clearly humor-oriented than his 1995 book The Dilbert Principle. This book provides guidance for managers in how to:

As a manager, clearly you need help with your difficult tasks. Dogbert provides it, in the form of very clear guidance on a wide range of topics. Many of the recommendations are supported by Dilbert cartoons that show the beneficial effect of, for example, creating a false sense of urgency.
This is a funny book, but it works best for somebody how can relate closely to Dilbert's cubicle-filled workplace and his frustrations. The book is fairly well organized, but the themes become a little heavy at times. The cover illustration is hilarious. The Dilbert cartoons support the text effectively. Adam's distinctive wit is more clearly exposed in his prose than it can be in the dialog bubble of the daily strip. But ultimately, this second book is not as good as its predecessor.
Conclusion: Recommended for hard-core Dilbert fans

IDORU   by William Gibson - Putnam's Sons (ISBN 0-399-14130-8)
It is difficult to describe a book written by William Gibson at his best. Somehow, you just know the quality of the vision that unfolds as you turn the pages, just as the protagonist Colin Laney knows a nodal point when he finds one. The basic plot outline of the book resembles that of some of Gibson's other books: a couple of main characters caught up in events bigger than themselves, winding their way through a technically advanced and frentically paced information-based society.
The other main character, Chia, is a Seattle fan of the band Lo/Rez. She finds herself in Tokyo trying to track down rumors of impending marriage between rocker Rez and Japanese entertainer Rei, the Idoru.
As the forces surrounding Chia and Colin Laney surge forward over the real urbanscape of Tokyo and the virtual realities of the net, the book becomes a real page-turner. Prophetic, gripping, and insightful, Idoru shows the edge that made Gibson famous.
Conclusion: Don't miss it
Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card - Tor Books (ISBN 0-312-85395-5)
This new novel from Card is the conclusion of a long and involved story that begins with the classic Ender's Game (1977), and continues in Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide. The story centers around Ender Wiggin, a child in the first book, and middle-aged in the other three. The plots, characters, and themes in all of Card's work are complex, and the Ender book are no exceptions. Children of the Mind takes up right where Xenocide leaves off; and the resolution of the big open issues from Xenocide dominate this new story.
Synopsis of the plot of this book would be very difficult, but basically it involves two sets of main characters each involved in related quests to save a world and a friend, and also for their own identities. Understanding the plot and characters of this book pretty much require you to read the other books of the series first - for a fourth book of a series, only a modest amount of background material gets introduced. Children of the Mind is well written, thoughtful, and deep. Unfortunately, it is also somewhat slow-paced and introspective. It's a good book for fans of Ender Wiggin and his friends, but probably not worth the price of the hardcover edition.
Conclusion: recommended only for solid Card fans, everybody else should wait for the paperback edition.

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This page written by Neal Ziring, last modified 1/17/97.