Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Title: Elevator
Author: Nancy Kress
Published: Eclipse Two, 2008
Genre: Fantasy, short story

Rating: 5/10

Thoughts: It's a commonly used plot technique: put a bunch of characters into forced confinement with each other and watch interesting things come out of it. Elevator begins with a number of people stuck together in a hospital elevator. No help comes for hours while characters deal with their issues. Typically, this is the sort of plot I enjoy, but I found these characters not very interesting and the story resolution rather anti-climatic. I am also somewhat opposed to the message as a whole, many problems are just resolved for the characters with no action of their own and at the end I didn't feel there was much to take away from the story.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Michael Laurits is: Drowning

Title: Michael Laurits is: Drowning
Author: Paul Cornell
Published: Eclipse Two, 2008
Genre: Science fiction, short story

Rating: 6/10

Thoughts: I have to get this off my chest first: this story is hard to read. The names feel awkward: Laurits, Lief, Nofke. There's also a lot of tongue twisting and just plain awkward phrasing. But in the midst of all that there is some interesting Douglas Adams style humour -- warring Atheist coalitions entering a minor war over whether an arrival of a messiah would change their views. Unfortunately, the funny background didn't have much to do with the rest of the story in which Michael Laurits while drowning manages to transfer his consciousness into a social network. The story has some interesting ideas, but it fails in execution and the ending feels off. Worth reading just for the one paragraph dealing with warring Atheist terrorists though.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Title: Exhalation
Author: Ted Chiang
Published: Eclipse 2, 2008
Genre: Science fiction, short story
Url: - Ted Chiang.html

Rating: 8/10

Thoughts: I've been looking forward to reading this particular story since I've consistently enjoyed all the other stories by Ted Chiang and this one has been nominated for Hugo award this year. While the story was excellent, unique, and thought provoking as most Chiang's stories, it is not my favorite. The basis of this story is a contained world where humanoid robots live, and continue breathing by pumping their re-attachable lungs full of argon every day. They live for a very long time, but don't know too much about themselves until one of them decides to conduct an experiment.

I won't spoil the story, it's absolutely worth reading. There are some clever engineering explanations as well as a more general message on the meaning of life at the end of the story. The reason I didn't like it as much is because I didn't feel very emotionally connected to the narrative. I think the attempt to make such a connection is made, but I just found myself somewhat indifferent and I am not even quite sure why. If you read the story, let me what you think.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The David Gemmel Legend Award for Fantasy

I am a big fan of David Gemmel, so I have been following the Gemmel Award progress for a while. The shortlist vote is now open to everyone for the following five books:
  1. The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
  2. The Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
  3. Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
  4. The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
  5. Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier
Out of these five, I've read two. One is Heir to Sevenwaters which I reviewed in January, the other one is The Way of Shadows whose sequel has been sitting in my reading pile for a little while now. I have read an earlier book in The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, The Blade Itself. And I have read an earlier work by Sapkowski, The Witcher. Though the latter fell into my hands so long ago that I barely remember anything about it. Brandon Sanderson is an author whom I haven't read yet, but it certainly sounds like I should judging by all the reviews floating around.

At the end I decided to vote for Heir to Sevenwaters. Now it's your turn, go forth and vote for your favorite fantasy novel.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Shadow of the Wind

Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2001 (in Spanish)

Recommendation: A treat for anyone who loves books. Buy it. Read it.
Rating: 10/10

Summary: It's 1945 in Barcelona, and Daniel is 10 when his father first takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There on his first visit he can choose a book, one he will adopt and keep alive in his heart for the duration of his life. Little does Daniel know how The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax is going to twine itself into his future.

Reactions: The reason I bought this book was an excellent review of it that I've read a while ago. Still The Shadow of the Wind exceeded my expectations. It's one of those books that just pulls you in, plunges you into its world, makes you worry, laugh, and cry. I read it late into the night and woke up thinking about each morning. It is completely engrossing.

A number of things make this novel outstanding. First is language. It's hard to tell in translated books whether it's the writing or the translation mastery that make the book what it is. Perhaps it's the combination of both. Either way the language is very lyrical, it conveys the mood exactly without being overly ornamental. It's easy to read, but it's not simplistic.

Second, I fell in love with the characters. Daniel is growing up in post-war Barcelona, his love of books, his friendships and his loves are so real and touching at the same time. Fermin, a friend Daniel makes, is courageous, funny, loyal, smart without being in any way perfect. And finally, Julian Carax, a mysterious enigma of an author who disappeared years ago and whose character we slowly learn through the narration of others.

To top it off, there is mystery, adventure, love, grief, and some humour. The plot weaves itself in an intricate fashion, tying threads of characters together into an exquisite fabric. There is a passage at the start of The Shadow of the Wind which draws out Daniel's experience of reading The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. It's a good example of the language, the plot of the book, and my feelings towards The Shadow of the Wind:
As it unfolded, the structure of the story began to remind me of one of those Russian dolls that contain innumerable ever-smaller dolls within. Step by step the narrative split into a thousand stories, as if it had entered a gallery of mirrors, its identity fragmented into endless reflections. The minutes and hours glided by as in a dream. When the cathedral bells tolled midnight, I barely heard them. Under the warm light cast by the reading lamp, I was plunged into a new world of images and sensations, peopled by characters who seemed as real to me as my room. Page after page I let the spell of the story and its world take me over, until the breath of dawn touched my window and my tired eyes slid over the last page.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Definitely the best I've read this year.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Candidate

Title: The Candidate
Author: Jack McDevitt
Genre: Science fiction, short story
Published: 2006

Rating: 10/10

Thoughts: Jack McDevitt is a pretty famous name in science fiction and since I've read and enjoyed a couple of his novels I jumped at the chance to read one of his short stories for free. The story is quite short, only a few pages; yet it manages to convey the idea and finish with a bang. The premise of the story is that an AI of George Washington enters U.S. presidential elections. Some basic knowledge of American politics is required, but it's a fun read even if you don't follow politics much. Very much recommended.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Title: Daemon
Author: Daniel Suarez
Genre: Techno thriller
Published: 2009

Recommendation: Good action, plenty of technology, but I wouldn't spend money on it.
Rating: 6/10

Summary: When Matthew Sobol dies, a daemon is unleashed upon the world. It's a distributed program Matthew Sobol wrote that now takes charge of the world and makes the protagonists play a role in its game.

Reactions: I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, the premise of the story is pretty interesting. Daemon is a distributed program that reads news and reacts to real life events to achieve its goals. It's able to manipulate people, events, and other technology in complex ways. There are many ways to go with that premise. Unfortunately, I feel the author took his ideas to extremes and lost me in the process. There were too many stretches in what Daemon could do, particularly in the second half of the book.

In a previous post, I shared my opinion that Daniel Suarez is looking down on sci-fi when he claimed this book not to be sci-fi. That was premature judgment on my part as the book is indeed a lot more of a detective/thriller novel than sci-fi. But that is what made the technology stretches stand out so much for me. The setting is very realistic, gritty, down to earth. It sets expectations and then breaks them. That just didn't work very well for me.

On the positive, the book is very well plotted. The pace is very good, the ratio of descriptions to action and dialogue was handled well. The novel nicely changed focus between different characters. And yet it took me a really long time to finish this book. While I felt entertained when I was reading, when I put the book down I didn't feel the pull to get back to it.

At least part of the reason I didn't feel the need to return to the book are the characters. I just didn't particularly care for any of them. Matthew Sobol's complete disregard for human life made me dislike him. Pete Sebek, the detective investigating Daemon, was mostly getting my pity. And most of Daemon's operatives were quite off-putting (intentionally, but still). The character that I feel I should have liked the most, Dr. Natalie Philips, a very smart NSA operative, was much too arrogant to be likable. I have to say Roy Merritt is probably my favourite character. He kicked ass. A lot. Sadly he is a fairly minor character.

Now to the technology aspect of the book. Daniel Suarez certainly gets props for knowing technology. At least for the first half of the book, he mentions methods and exploits that are very realistic. No one hacks into FBI in under 60 seconds while getting a blow job in this book. On the other hand, I felt there were too many technology segments present that did not actually need to be described. I knew what Suarez was talking about and I didn't care, so I don't see why people who have no idea what an SQL injection attack is would care that Gragg entered ' or 1=1 -- into the password box. On the other hand, maybe it's more fun when you are learning something new. I just found the excessive detail unnecessary to the story.

Overall, it was a decent read but it wasn't quite my style and I don't think I am likely to pick up the next book in the series.

Monday, April 6, 2009

New Acquisitions

I went on a tiny shopping spree at the other day and now there are four new books making their way towards me.

1. Eclipse 2 edited by Jonathan Strahan
I've been saying I'll get to reading this one and I finally ordered it. I am mostly looking forward to reading Exhalation by Ted Chiang, but I am sure there will be other excellent stories there as well.

2. Grimspace by Ann Aguirre
Sounds like a fun space adventure book. I've read a number of positive reviews, so I finally decided to pick it up.

3. The Briar King by Greg Keyes
It's a classic fantasy novel that is excellent by all accounts and I just have never gotten to. Time to fill up the education gaps and hopefully it will be as good as everyone thinks it is.

4. I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris
This is a completely random pick. I just followed a link and the description sounded fun. A book of tips about how to throw a house party written very tongue in cheek by all accounts. I have been having a lot of guests over lately...

So the books are in the mail and I should get going on clearing some bookshelf space for these.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Five on Kirrin Island Again

Title: Five on Kirrin Island Again
Author: Enid Blyton
Series: The Famous Five, book 6
Genre: Children's adventure
Published: 1947

Recommendation: a quick read for those who are already enjoying the series.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Julian, Dick, George, and Anne are back at the Kirrin cottage for Easter holidays. There George's scientist father took over the Kirrin Island to conduct mysterious experiments. However, Uncle Quentin seems to think there is someone spying on him at the island. There is also a new couple in town, Mr. Curton and his son Martin soon become acquainted with the children. And the father is awfully interested in what's happening on the island...

Reactions: This installment to the adventures of The Famous Five was an exceptionally quick read. I think It was almost half the size of the previous book and I had no trouble finishing it in one sitting. As with the previous book I enjoyed the characters and surroundings more than the plot itself.

I thought there were some pretty funny moments where the children discuss the experiment Uncle Quentin is conducting on the island.
I want to keep an eye on Father! I don't want him blowing up Kirrin Island with one of his experiments. You know he's messing about with explosives now, don't you?' 'Ooooh - atom bombs, or things like that?' said Anne.
The five also discuss what they want to be when they grow up:
'It's all very mysterious,' said Julian. 'Uncle Quentin leads rather an exciting life, really, doesn't he? I wouldn't mind being a scientist myself. I want to be something really worthwhile when I grow up I'm not just going into somebody's office. I'm going to be on my own.
'I think I shall be a doctor,' said Dick.
'Off to get my boat,' said George, rather bored with this talk. She knew what she was
going to do when she was grown-up live on Kirrin Island with Timmy!
It's funny to see the older boys have professions in mind and see George stick to a completely unrealistic idea. One of the great things about this series is that you get to like the characters so much you want to keep reading just to see them progress and develop even if some of the adventures are a little silly.

Other than that, there was again a lot of nice food, walks to the moor, and of course adventures!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

March Recap

An even slower month for reading than February! I got a bit bogged down with Daemon and eventually ended up picking up a couple of more fun/easier reads that suited my mood better. Still, a little bit behind on my 50 books this year reading goal.

Books Read: 3
  1. White Witch, Black Curse
  2. Plum Spooky
  3. Five Go Off in a Caravan
Favorite book: White Witch, Black Curse

Stories Read: 1
  1. How To Talk To Girls At Parties
Male: 1
Female 3

Posts: 8

Thanks to Carl V., wend, Andrey, and Seanpile for commenting!