|Books and Puzzle Hunt
||[Mar. 3rd, 2009|03:00 pm]
#8: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
The setting for the Hungry City Chronicles, of which this is the first book, is a sort of post-apocalyptic future-steampunk setting in which most of the towns and cities of the world have made themselves mobile, and they run around eating each other for resources.
"But wait," you ask, "either they'd have to reproduce, which seems unlikely, or the supply of food is going to run out quickly!" And indeed, that's the problem that propels the plot of this book: the Traction City of London can't find enough prey in its usual hunting grounds, and has to seek out new resources. And of course there's the usual overlay of secret motives and corrupt officials and such.
The setting is interesting, but the writing is unsubtle and a bit dry. The book pairs a rather original conceit with a trope-heavy execution, and as a result it seemed at risk of boring me without ever actually doing so for pretty much the entire time I read it. In the end, I enjoyed it enough to not regret picking it up, but not enough to want to bother with the next book in the series.
#9: Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
Classic Pratchett. Chuck Rincewind into an intrigue-laden knockoff of Imperial China, turn the barbarians at the wall into Cohen and his geriatric horde being educated in the ways of Civilization, and watch the fireworks. Literally.
The Rincewind books are probably my least favorite subseries of Discworld. Pratchett being the writer he is, this renders them merely very good. All the same, Interesting Times is my favorite of the Rincewind books (which I've now read all of through The Last Continent, I believe).
If you know and love Discworld, you'll get what you're looking for in this book. I can't really put it any more succinctly than that.
#10: Banquets of the Black Widowers by Isaac Asimov
Asimov is renowned as a science-fiction writer; most people aren't aware that he was a writer of mystery stories as well. This book is an anthology of twelve short stories, most of them published in Ellery Queen at some point. The stories are formulaic by definition and intent - the Black Widowers are a group of men meeting at their favorite restaurant for a banquet once a month, and each time the designated "host" brings a guest who invariably has some problem or puzzlement for the group to extract from him, ponder, and then have solved for them by Henry, the waiter for their banquet and de facto member of the group. (Henry is as to the rest of the group as Jeeves is to Wooster, except rather toned down in both cases.)
The mysteries are more Encyclopedia Brown than Sam Spade. Each story is based around a clever gimmick of confusion or ambiguity, which Henry unravels with a question or two and a bit of seemingly trivial knowledge. For example, one guest is having trouble settling the question of what date Pirates of Penzance is set; there are sufficient clues to either of two answers within the show and the surrounding facts, and to answer the question is to pick out the correct bit of data and apply it like a scalpel. Each story is fairly short - just long enough to set up the mystery, bandy it about a bit, then close it out - which seems fairly appropriate given the relatively shallow depth to which the mysteries generally end up running.
It was a fun read, but more than anything it whetted my appetite for my substantial mysteries. I'll probably be picking up some Doyle or Christie soon enough.
Puzzle Hunt 12 had been announced at PH11 as being Jeopardy-themed, and that turned out to be half-right. It seems that the two groups working on PH12 and PH13 had both hit something of a wall in the planning process, and decided to merge their efforts. So we ended up with the Jeopardy-themed Puzzlehunt 12 segueing into the sinister Puzzlehaunt 13 upon the completion of the first metapuzzle.
There were a lot of really fun puzzles in this one. That said, between some extremely unclear messaging on Puzzle Central's part, and an assumption that we made early on that got propagated into truth for a long time, we finished the first meta probably three to four hours after we should have, and we just didn't have time to finish from there. The problem was exacerbated by the unlocking structure; we literally could not get more puzzles until the first meta was done, and so most of the team spent a few hours doing the last five puzzles they really didn't want to have to do while we struggled with the meta.