Review: The Peripheral

The Peripheral
The Peripheral by William Gibson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

William Gibson isn't for everyone. His books don't hold your hand or spoon feed you the world he has crafted. Instead, you are thrust into am ongoing conversation as if you had been there all along. This can be disorienting and confusing, and for a lot of readers will be a turn off. I love it, though, and I think it gives his novels a lot of re-read value.

The Peripheral is probably the strongest example of this as it has two worlds for you to come to grips with. The first world is that of Burton and Flynne; a near future with rampant corruption, a drug driven Maker Bot economy, and a massive power gap between the wealthy and the poor. The second world is seventy years further into the future of the first. An event referred to as the Jackpot has the left the world in a technologically advanced state, but also...antiseptic? The world is clean and tidy to the point of being without soul.

The core of this story is a murder mystery. Flynne has witnessed a murder and must survive long enough to identify the murderer, who is bending his incredible resources in am attempt to eliminate Flynne before she has that opportunity. That would be interesting enough, but now compound that with the concept that the witness and murderer are living in two disparate timelines, where the future has access to life-like full body avatars and absolutely no qualms about destroying Flynne's alternate timeline. The concepts are fascinating, and I feel the effort of grokking the two worlds definitely pays off.

I highly recommend The Peripheral to any Gibson or SciFi fan.

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Review: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is your next read. I don't care what sorts of books you typically like, this is what you should read next. Not necessarily cover to cover, but get a copy, put it in your bathroom, and let your family / pets wonder why you are in there for so long...and giggling.

Randall Munroe (of XKCD web comic fame) maintains a blog titled "What If?" wherein he attempts to apply rigorous scientific methods to answer completely ridiculous questions. The book contains many entries from that blog (so go there and read some for a taste) as well as even more (51%) that are making their first appearance in the book. Munroe's sense of wit and insatiable curiosity shine throughout. Each question is answered in anywhere from 2 to 6 pages, and the reasoning provided is accessible to the layman. If you are curious to know more, Munroe provides a helpful list of sources at the end.

As I've traveled for the holidays I've had this book with me and it never fails to find a reader. I loved it, and I think you will too.

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Review: Robopocalypse

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you read the top reviews of Robopocalypse on Goodreads you are going to see some pretty low scores and some scathing criticism. Those criticisms are all spot on. Fortunately, they didn't deter me from enjoying this book. Sure, it is one bad cliche after another. The characters are flat cutouts that you never feel any true empathy for. This is the book of an action movie, but before the action movie is released. It tries to adopt the World War Z style of small set pieces as told by those who experienced it first hand....but it doesn't do it very well.

Archos, an experimental artificial intelligence, manages to usurp its creators and launch into full scale genocide mode. The overriding goal of the machine is to turn the world into a sort of zoo, with all life achieving what Archos believes is a natural balance. This includes humans, but only a very limited way. Thus, Archos goes about utilizing all automata available to end the overabundance of human life. The survivors of the initial outbreak of war band together to fight back.

This is not great literature. This is the book form of a SyFy channel original. Take that for what it is worth.

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Review: Bird Box

Bird Box
Bird Box by Josh Malerman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think folks are going to run hot and cold on this one. I enjoyed it, but as I gave my wife the synopsis she just chuckled and rolled her eyes. Bird Box asks the reader to accept that there is something that can be seen that will drive a person mad. Mad to the point that they do harm to others and themselves. That's a pretty big leap to make, but if you can hang on to that reality (and not get too curious) you will probably enjoy this book. On the other hand, if you are at all the curious or inquisitive type, this book is going to drive you bonkers. The characters can't see anything (or else they would go mad) so you don't get a visual picture of the environment...or of the characters for that matter. You would think the author would compensate for this by describing how the other senses come to describe the places and people of the story. Not so. What you are left with are blank slates that you can fill in with your own imagination. Characters are barely discernible (if you've read the story, try describing the differences between Jules and Felix...tough right?). Where the author excels is in tempting you into reading the next chapter. Present day and flashback are braided together through each chapter, and each chapter finishes with some sort of cliffhanger. That makes for a quick read, but not necessarily great story telling. Ultimately, I think this is a fine beach read, but easily forgotten.

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Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The Slow Regard of Silent Things
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rothfuss gives ample warning that this story is different. This story breaks reader expectations of what a book is supposed to be, and that may not sit well with everyone. He's right. I am intrigued by the character of Auri, so I was kind of excited to read a novella that dives a bit more into the essence of her character. I have been under the impression that Auri might be a Fae spirit. Would I find the answer here to Auri's mystery?

In a word: no. Unfortunately, I didn't particularly like this novella. There were times it seemed that Rothfuss were simply throwing a thesaurus at inanimate objects in order to compose a scene. This is a short story for folks who love words. There is no arc, no tension, no closure. We see Auri as she lives a week, preparing for a visit, presumably Kvothe. I did enjoy the illustrations, but would encourage those who are looking for more on Kvothe's work to simply bide their time to the next full novel. Perhaps the completion. Of the series will add some weight to the content of Slow Regard.

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Review: Energized

Energized by Edward M. Lerner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am interested in sources of alternative, and clean, energy. A friend of mine rightfully picked up on that interest and gave me this book as a gift. I like the premise: the world has experienced an upheaval in energy production and prices due to a catastrophe that has ruined the middle east's oil supply. Alternative energy resources (solar, wind, gas, tidal, etc.) are being actively capitalized on. In addition, the US is working towards a new orbital power platform that will beam power from space to the areas that need it most.

There is a lot of interesting science here, and a nice action story to frame it in. I wasn't entirely impressed with the character interactions in the book, but the legs of this story are the action and science. Given what it is, I was very entertained, and would easily recommend this story to anyone with interests similar to my own.

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Review: Lightspeed: Year One

Lightspeed: Year One
Lightspeed: Year One by John Joseph Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy science fiction, and I am definitely on the laser side of the sword and laser spectrum. I enjoy reading about interesting new ideas and conjecture about how future developments might shape our lives. I really enjoy dystopian novels, but I am actually quite the optimist at heart. For all of these reasons, Light Speed seemed like a perfect match to my interests.

Overall this collection is very, very dark. Many of the short stories paint extremely bleak pictures of a possible future. Loneliness, separation, abandonement...these are all central themes. A few of the stories here stood out. I enjoyed the Stephen King story, as well as the story from Le Guinn. Altogether, though, I have to say that this collection was too bleak for my taste. I like my dystopia with a dash of good, and you won't find any here.

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Review: Guitar For Absolute Beginners

Guitar For Absolute Beginners
Guitar For Absolute Beginners by Daniel Emery

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This year I have been trying to teach myself guitar. I picked up Rocksmith and had some fun with that, and tried my hand at playing from tablature found online. Unfortunately, I never felt like I was "getting it". On the advice of another self taught player, I picked up Guitar for the Absolute Beginner. It has a nice, conversational format, and takes you from the very basics of how to hold the guitar and how to use a pick, to your first chords. The book is intended to follow a class by a school in New York, but it works just as well for solo play. By the end of the book you are to be comfortable withe the CAGED chords, and have a few songs to play to practice each.

I am not sure that I would recommend this book. It isn't that the book is bad. Instead, I think you can get just as much use out of the Justin Guitar series of videos on YouTube.

So, can I play guitar? No, but not for any lack in the material. I can scratch out the chords, and sometimes even switch between chords in rhythm, but it will take a lot more practice before I feel comfortable.

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Jade Mason