March 3rd, 2006

Reading List: Dead Sleep

Read: Dead Sleep, Greg Iles.

Greg Iles is a shockingly good thriller writer, considering that I’d never heard of him before I got stuck in an airport somewhere and picked him up at random. Dead Sleep is by no means his best work (check out his WWII thrillers, which I read a couple of last year), but it’s still got some nice twists and turns to it. The premise? A woman recognizes her missing twin in one of the paintings in a mysterious exhibition, and reopens the case to try to track her down. The main character doesn’t suffer from Lara-Croft-ism as many thriller heroines do; yes, she’s smart and tough and cool, but she’s still believable. Well, for a thriller heroine, anyhow. While the final plot revelations seemed quite contrived, I loved the final confrontation in which she beats the bad guys with science, not fisticuffs.

You know, I think this was one of those books that’s more fun to read than write about. Thinking back, it really was implausible, particularly when the book took a turn from “hunting a serial killer” to parlor mystery at an unexpected point. But Iles is a good enough writer that you won’t notice the more jarring moments until you think about this book harder than it was probably meant to be thought about. Yes, it’s brain candy, but it’s well-done brain candy - and that counts for a lot.

Reading List: Collected Stories of Carol Shields (3)

Read: Collected Stories, Carol Shields. (Volume collects 3 books of stories.)

To call these stories “slice of life” or “vignette” stories is to do a disservice to Shields’ quiet perceptiveness about everyday life. There are no guns, no spells, no politics, no killers in these stories - just a subtle exploration of the meaning of the ordinary. The heroes (or, mostly, the heroines) of her stories buy new houses, cut the grass, or join nudist communes.  They struggle with love, death, age, hope, and despair, just like the rest of us do.  Nonetheless, Shields invokes a quiet magic in her stories, either through poetic exaggeration or through the mystery of coincidence.  “Pardon,” for example, escalates from a woman buying an “I’m sorry” card for her father-in-law to a meditation of what the world might be like if everyone forgave without stint or hesitation.

The writing is as beautiful as the stories and as sharply drawn as the characters.  This is a book to be savored, especially because Shields’ recent death means we can’t expect any more stories like these.
Though if life were a Carol Shields story, we might nonetheless receive more stories, pages floating down from the sky or words appearing to us in dreams, as unexpected and as heartbreaking as grace.

Game Genius

One last thing before Shabbat: go forth, all of you, and read the brilliant article on ideas for supporting role-playing in MMORPGs at The Escapist. The Escapist always has good stuff, but this piece outlines simple things that MMORPGs can do to increase the amount of actual storytelling and role-playing that goes on in-game. Whether that means better grouping tools so that the world chat channels aren’t full of “32 WARLOCK LFG!!11!!”, or helping players keep in-character blogs, every idea here is pure gold. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author’s own game, Pirates of the Burning Sea (oh, and ZOMG pirate MMORPG!) incorporated a lot of these notions. Yet another reason to sign up, I guess!

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