Computer and Steve Brust Geekery
Posted on October 30, 2006 Posted by John Scalzi 36 Comments
For those of you who were wondering what I was doing with myself yesterday instead of hanging out with all y’all online: I went shopping. Specifically, I went shopping for computer parts, because I had finally settled on what I wanted to do with my PC computing life and I drove down to CompUSA (which, as it is on the other side of Dayton from me, was not an insignificant distance) to see if they had everything I needed to build myself a bitchin’ PC.
To say I was disappointed upon my arrival is to understate the case rather dramatically: CompUSA’s selection of components pretty much sucked. For example, most of their motherboards are for AMD, which was not what I wanted, and those that fit Intel processors were not SLI-capable (or even Crossfire capable). They didn’t have any CPUs in stock, either. Basically, just a big fat waste of my time. I understand that people wanting to build their own computers are a relatively small segment of the market, but I would also think that those who do want to do so would want components that are at least up to date, so their home-built computers are not six months obsolete from the first moment they are switched on. This is what I get for wanting to give my business to a brick-and-mortar computer store; I don’t know that I’m likely to make the same mistake in the future.
Having thus been disappointed in my quest, I came home and started pricing out what I wanted and realized that for what it would cost me to build my own, I could get a computer maker to do it for me, and then it would come with a three-year warranty, whereas my own experiments would not. So I said screw it and ordered one online. For those of you who want to get your geek on the specs are: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600, 2GB DDR2/800 Dual Channel Memory, 350GB SATA-II 3.0Gb/s 16MB Cache 7200RPM hard drive (remember I have other drives I’ll be putting in as well), two SLI-compliant NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GS 512MB PCI Express x16 Video Cards (I went with less than top-of-the line here because as others have noted, DirectX10-compatible cards will be on their way soon; nevertheless, two of these babies working together will do me just fine), Creative X-Fi soundcard and 5.1 speakers, also from Creative, and then the usual bells and whistles as far as optical drives and media readers and so on. All for rather substantially less than I had budgeted to spend, so I’m pretty happy with that.
While I was out and about I also stopped at book stores to see if I could spot Android’s Dream in the wild. And lo, it was there: One copy at the Barnes & Noble, where I corrected its spine out presentation, three copies at Borders, where the staff had not only placed it face out but also put it on the top shelf in its own little presentation, so it was right at eye level, and none at my local bookstore, which is fine because, you know, it’s not officially out yet. Hopefully it will be there tomorrow. And if it’s not I’ll burn the place down. Actually, no, I won’t. They’re nice people and it’s a nice store and they have other books of mine, so, you know. Arson is not the answer. Now.
Thwarted though I was in building my own computer, I assuaged my need to contribute to the grinding gears of America’s economy by buying every single one of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels save Dzur. The first seven were helpfully compiled into three trade paperback-sized volumes, and Dragon and Issola were stand-alones. This was delightful for me because while I’m a big sloppy fan of Steve’s and particularly of the Vlad books, my own copies of the books have mysteriously vaporized over the years, and also a number of books have come out since I read the series, and I was always confused as to how many there were and in what order I should read them (Steve himself is notably unhelpful in this regard; he basically says to read them in whatever order one wants. Gee, thanks, Steve). But now I have them all, save Dzur, and I feel, you know, complete.
Why didn’t I also get Dzur, you may ask? Well, come on: I just bought nine novels. It’ll take me while to get through them, you know? Also, in buying these nine novels I pretty much depleted the Barnes & Noble’s Brust collection; I figured that taking Dzur as well would just be greedy. No worries, though; I’ll be getting it soon enough, I imagine. And don’t let me stop you from getting your own copy. Please, be my guest.
Now, let me get extra dorky here and say that what’s even cooler than buying a store’s worth of Steve Brust books is buying a store’s worth of books from my pal Steve Brust, because Steve and I have met on a number of occasions now, enjoy each others’ company and have a passel of friends in common. I’m still enough of a fanboy to get a hell of a kick out of the fact that I get to meet and spend a little time with some of the writers who were inspirations to me. Steve was certainly one of them and still is, so every time I see him, some part of my brain is still going coooooooooool. What can I say, I’m a geek. And it’s extra happy making that I’m now well on my way to catching up with his work. You can’t beat that, I say.
Just an FYI in the future, some brick-and-mortar computer stores are still worth it. CompUSSR isn’t one of them. Microcenter around here is the one I use. Their site lists three locations in Ohio – Columbus, Mayfield Heights and Sharonville. Not sure how close any of those are to you, but they might be worth a look if they’re close for future tech purchases.
They are commissioned sales reps, but the ones around here aren’t bad. They want you to buy their stuff, yes, but they’re not going to hassle you the whole way to the door if you say, ‘I’m gonna look around a bit more before I buy.’ Those types of CSAs (consultative sales associates – my title when I worked at Sears) are the reason I don’t go into Circuit City anymore. Microcenter isn’t like that.
ZipZoomFly and NewEgg are decent online retailers, too, but I’ve had some issues with NewEgg and some defective merchandise.
Specs on the machine look pretty good. The one thing I would recommend looking at is a 3¼” floppy drive with the built in card readers. They’re pretty cheap, and great if you’ve got digital cameras, personal disorganizers, MP3 players, et cetera that have different types of cards. And floppy drives do still come in handy from time to time.
Never read any of Steve Brust’s books, but he jumped onto my literary radar a bit back with an online review of Dzur somewhere (can’t recall where exactly). With the Scalzi stamp of approval, I’ll be looking at those next time I’m at Borders.
While the Vlad Taltos series is good, I like Brust’s other Dragaera series even better. It starts with The Phoenix Guards and continues with Five Hundred Years After, The Paths of the Dead, The Lord of Castle Black, and Sethra Lavode.
Those books were some of the most fun reads I’ve had in a long time.
JT, if you’re going to try the Vlad books, I suggest looking for The Book of Jhereg, which is the book that collects up the first three Vlad novels (Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla). The Borders I went to had it, as did the B&N, so I suspect it’ll not be difficult for you to find.
These are fun books. I hope you enjoy them.
You gotta just love the way Brust puts stories together. I’ll put in a plug here from one of his NOT Vlad books, The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. Damn, even thinking about it makes me jealous as a writer. If I has known you’ve pal-ed around with Mr. Brust my Hulk Green grow would have out-shown the Halloween lights. I’ll say I like the Vlad books better than his other Dragaera stuff (although the breakup with Cawti hurt), although the riffs on Dumas kept me giggling all through the others.
Through the happy accident of my last name, if I ever get my books done and published, they would actually sit on the shelf next to his. That’s probably the closest I can hope to come to his craft anytime soon.
Of all the Taltos set, my favorite is Teckla. Not so much of a fun romp as the rest of the set, but he tackles some deep issues within this one, and in doing so makes Vlad a much more complete person.
As far as brick-and-mortar stores for electronics, I’ve been blessed with living in the area where Fry’s started. It’s rare that I can’t find something I need for whatever electronic project is on the horizon. And they have reasonable prices and good return policies. But it’s almost a given now that building your own computer is not cost-competitive with having one made for you.
On the subject of not telling us what order to read series (seri?) in, what is it with SF/F publishers. Would it be so hard to print “Book 1” etc. on the covers? It’s a generalization, but there seems to be an aversion to letting us know a book is part of a series…or what number in the series it is.
So you look for clues. Turn to the page that lists the author’s previous work. Wow. Look at that page in two different books and you’ll find the books listed in two different orders.
Are the publishers afraid we won’t buy if we realize we’ll need to read 4 other books to catch up? I LOVE the prospect of discovering a series I can catch up on immediately.
“It’s a generalization, but there seems to be an aversion to letting us know a book is part of a series…or what number in the series it is.”
Not entirely sure I agree with this, since I see “Book x of the y series” all the time. But I do have to say that if I know a book is part of a series and I don’t see the first book of the series somewhere, I’m likely to put the book down. I don’t like jumping in in the middle of things.
Just a question, where did you end up buying the full PC from? I am planning on building one whose specs are eerily close to yours, but I haven’t been able to find a retailer who can match the price with the same features.
Nathan, I think the real problem with the Vlad series is that they were written and published out of order, including in these later books Mr. Brust finally showing us how and when Vlad met Morrolon. So some confusion reigns as to what order (published or story timeline) one should read. All are stand alone, there are through-line jokes, some of which I don’t think he’s yet to have explained. And as an FYI, I’m reading our host’s books out of order. I might have missed things, but they’re still good reads.
Out of curiosity, where did you order your computer from? I’m in about the same situation as you, and was considering building my own… but if it’s not cheaper, then I don’t see the need.
OOo! I’m such a fan-girl of Steven Brust and I’ll second the recommendation for The Sun, The Moon and the Stars. It is in the running for the book which I have read most often. I was an art major when I read it first and he nails it.
Dude, if you had mentioned you were planning to buy all that stuff from CompUSA, I think you would’ve heard the explosions all around the country from your home office. *shudder*
And a 350GB drive? What a weird size. I’ve seen 250, 320 and 400, but never a 350 – or is that a typo?
Anyway, congrats on the new beast. Use it only for good. Or, if you must use it for evil, be entertaining about it. There’s nothing worse than boring evil.
Funny that you just bought the Brust, I myself (re)bought Jhereg on Friday. I’ve read them all, but they were borrowed/library, so seeing Jhereg in the wild just reminded me that I needed to HAVE them and that it was time to re-read them.
I also teeter-totter on the issue of build it/buy it. On the one hand, I can usually get the EXACT parts I want, on the other, I have a warranty. Deciding factor for me is that by the time things start breaking and needing the warranty, it’s probably time for me to upgrade anyway.
I myself use NewEgg, and I can’t say enough of how great their returns process is. In building computers, you’re bound to run into some hardware problems eventually. My last problem was with my vidcard, which made a surprising “pop!” noise when I was testing it with Quake4 wide open. I cracked my case to find that a resistor had popped off. I went thru their return procedure and had a new one within 4 days! So I’m a big fan.
Anyway, your new setup sounds impressive.
And Mr. Brust’s “Cool Theory of Literature,” now *THAT’S* something that really should be taught in high-school and college English courses.
I’m a big fan of NewEgg, having had excellent luck with them in the past.
If you are thinking of ordering online from someone you haven’t done business with before, you might want to take a look at this site:
Just click on the “Store Ratings” tab.
First off, I wasn’t talking about the Vlad series. I’ve never read them (but I’ll put them on my ever expanding list). I wish I could come up with a concrete example, but I know I’ve read part-way into any number of books and gone “shit, I’m supposed to already know these characters”. I’ll admit that sometimes, on closer examination, I was just plain stupid and hadn’t looked for the clues, but, more often than not, there wasn’t “book x of y” or “long awaited sequel to..” on the cover.
All in all, its a fairly minor nit to be picking.
Myself, when I find something that’s obviously part of a series, and don’t see first book on the shelf, I make a note and then order the first couple of books from Amazon.
In addition to being plain damn brilliant, Steve was the first pro I ever met. So I am in utter sympathy with your cooooool.
Last Sunday night I lent my mom Jhereg. She called me up Monday afternoon: “Do you have any more of these?” Uh, yes. Yes we do.
I’d vote for reading Vlad books in the order they were written. They hang together as well that way as any other. I particularly like watching the evolution from “Heh, I’m going to write about an assassin.” to “Killing people for money is a pretty bad thing to do.”
I seem to remember hearing or reading that a lot of this change happened after a friend of Brust’s was assassinated. But I can’t find the reference and my memories of cons where I’ve met the man may be less than reliable, so take that with a grain of salt.
CompUSA is about the worst place to get computer componants. I know you live in the middle of nowheres, so maybe your choices are thin. We have Fry’s Electronics here, which is reasonable but going in there gives me a headache. Too much nerdyness, to many buzzing and glaring electronics for me. But my sig. O. is like a bird that has been rereleased to his native habitat when we are there.
But our last three computers we have built (I’m the hands and he is the brains of the ops, my fine motor skills work better, he has the computer dorkiness to actually know where things actually GO) were all done from a combination of NewEgg and Buy.com stuff. We have found that you can get the widest selection and best prices through these two guys. And they both have a decent and liberal return policy.
One thing you could do is have your computer builder build it in front of you, either at your house or wherever. It will give you a decent idea of whether you want to go it alone next time. It really is not that complicated. (If I can do it…) To really get the exact computer you want, it is the the cheapest way to go. We haven’t bought a store bought for probably ten years (except for a cool Mac powerbook recently.) we’ve never had a problem with them. (At least not the hardware, Microsoft Software is a whole ‘nother bag of hell.)
I love Brust as well. I second the suggestion for reading them in the order they were written. Especially the last few. It hangs together better and is the easiest to follow the character development of Vlad.
I have found Brust a fairly quick read for me so those 9 novels would really not last me all that long. Dzur which we just bought was an excellent read.
I will fifth (eighth? whatever) the recommendation for reading all the Taltos novels, and reading them in order. The first couple start out so light and fun — it’s very obvious that Zelazny (and specifically Amber) is one of Brust’s biggest influences, or at least was — but then they take such an amazingly deep turn.
It’s such a treat to read a fantasy character who evolves into a real human being.
Brust is one of the rare authors where I’d say it doesn’t matter *much* which order you read him in. Yes, things happen that affect all later books, but they aren’t one big book split into a dozen.
My problem is that I cannot remember which ones I have. Dragon is the one with the army, Orca is the one I read and got angry at because it was all out of order (I’m trying to get over this; many of the authors I’m reading now write out of order to begin with), Dzur just came out… but I know I only own a few, and I can’t always remember which few.
Nice choice on the PC!
I just got my Core 2 Duo from Dell tricked out with the same Nvidia 7900 GS. I think you’ll be very happy indeed John (more so than me, as you will have two cards – damn you!).
If you have a copy of FEAR knocking around (even if you don’t like the game), install that and give it spin on your new rig. There’s nifty frame-rate test build right into the video card (or advanced computer section) of the “Options Menu”. Basically the game flies you through a warehouse, shows you some particle effects and water, physics and what not – and then tells give the average frame rate.
I cranked everything in FEAR up the wazoo (like nutty/crazy 2800 x 1600) with everything turned on.
Then I basked in the warm afterglow of 113 average FPS.
It was *almost* as good as sex :-)
Our monthly reading group, roughly two years ago, read Jehreg at my suggestion. They were less than overwhelmed (and a couple of them flat out disliked the book). Then and now I do not understand this. The Vlad books are an easy read, move well and are just interesting. Perhaps they reacted badly to so overt an anti-hero as the lead character.
If someone found the series of books that start with the Palace Guard annoying it’s more understandable. If you are going to do an elaborate variation (pastiche?) on Dumas with much of his archness of style not everybody is going to like them. Personally I loved the Three Musketeers (in an old and elaborate translation) and love this Brust series.
The group is readinging OMW in April.
Oops. In my previous post – the Brust novel is not the “Palace Guard”, but the “Pheonix Guard”. Apologies.
your “coooooooooool” is seconded. isn’t it awesome? this is a business? love it.
If there is a Microcenter where you are, they are much better. So are the small, geek-run places.
I read the Taltos books in order of publish date, and I think thats betters. The early books jump around a time line a lot, only the last 4 I think are in actual chronological order(for dragaera chronology that is.)
As for them vanishing, you prolly lent them to someone and they lent them to someone else. Thats what happened to mine, I only have the paarfi’s and issola now.
I just blew through the Vlad series – I’d swear I got the recommendation to check out Brust from this blog. HIGHLY recommended. I found that reading the 3 trade paperbacks in order helped, followed by the stand-alone volumes in published order. I particularly enjoyed the way that Dzur picked up at the exact moment the previous book ended. And I want the next book NOW, dammit.
I’m about to start the other series (the Phoenix Guard, et al). I’ve also started checking out some of his other works, and enjoyed Cowboy Feng and have just started Gypsy (about 10 minutes ago).
John — If you’re looking to purchase computer components online, try visiting http://www.pricewatch.com (which is NOT priceline.com.) You can usually find some good deals there.
Mark me down as someone who LOVED Brust, and now sorta likes him. I actually felt kind of tricked by the later books in the Jhereg series….which has transformed them from books that I HAD TO HAVE into books that I might pick up, when I see them.
The tone and style changed dramatically, particularly in Teckla, which was just painful to read. I got the feeling that Brust had gotten tired of the series and wanted to write something else (or at least different stories in that setting) but instead of using different characters, he changed the whole tone and style of the series and it was both very jarring and felt wrong, to me.
I rather felt like someone had taken my light-hearted fantasy romp and replaced it with a humorless and gritty fantasy political tract…which might have been fine, had that been what I was there to read. It reminds me of the time I went to a Japanese mall in NJ and purchased what I thought were chichi-dango a riceball desert with a caramel syrup….but instead were an-dango, a riceball desert stuffed with red-bean paste and covered in a SOY-based syrup. I bit into it expecting one thing and got something entirely different and I DID NOT LIKE IT.
i may be weighing in a little late on this topic, but you can save a substantial amount of $ by purchasing components or bare-bones systems from tiger direct. no warranty on the computer but it can save cash.
I bit into it expecting one thing and got something entirely different and I DID NOT LIKE IT.
I’m never afraid to extend a thread past its death so let me tell you the story of a company holiday ‘goodie day’ where everyone brought a dish to share.
I got me a nice big slice of cherry cheesecake. Yumm. Except it was not cherry cheesecake, it was a dip for the chips with sour cream as the base and salsa sauce on top as the ‘cherries.’ Hey, they brought it in one of those disposable pie tins – how was I to know?
Talk about disorientation for a moment or two.
Steven Brust was my first sci-fi author, since then I have remained not only loyal to him but turned my husband and a host of military and non-military friends on to his books, that you know him and actually converse with him is most absolutely (with a high giddy cackle) Cooooooollllll! I hope to read your works one day and add you to one of my favorite author lists, to be other wise would be unthinkable.
I remember buying the parts of my last four (five?) computers at the Dayton ComputerFest (Yes, I’ve been going there that long and ago). It’s been 5 1/2 years since I’ve been to one (since I moved to Florida), although I’ve been told from my last trip up North that they’ve shut that down now (and the web site isn’t connecting, although it resolves).
That was the best place in the midwest to get computer parts. The MarketPro shows (a mere shadow of the ComputerFest) (available in Columbus, Cincy, and here in Jacksonville) were at least decent some times, but they’ve cut them down from once per month to once per two months, which doesn’t help either.
I haven’t decided if I’m going to go ahead and build my next one, or get it built. I’m in the market for a cheap box to get my wife off the laptop she’s using right now (Playing video on it has become extremely tedious).