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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Review: Bossypants

Bossypants by Tina Fey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tina Fey is funny and smart, so it is no surprise that her book is also funny and smart. Bossypants is mostly a biography of the highlights of Fey's career. She briefly discusses her childhood, and then moves on to her career starting with Chicago's Second City, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock. There is humor throughout, as well as a health dose of feminism. I particularly enjoyed the audio book as it is narrated by Tina herself. The only downside of this medium is that, due to checking it out from the library, I missed out on the PDF she references for the visual aids. I would recommend this to anyone.

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Review: The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hyperion had a cliffhanger ending and for a while, I thought Simmons might just be stalling throughout The Fall of Hyperion. He created the captive audience with the first book. What happens to the pilgrims? Will they defeat the Shrike or not? Let me warn you that you are not going to get a quick nor easy answer.

I like these two books, and for very different reasons. Hyperion was almost a series of short stories giving us a rich background on each of the characters. Strangely, Fall turns them into pawns in part of a much larger plot. I enjoyed the second book for it's density, and it is _dense_. There is a lot going on, and while I originally thought that weaving of Severn's wakefulness as a way to provide political overview might be stalling, by the end I'm thinking that if there was any stalling it was his dreaming.

I have no appreciation for poetry. For that reason, I think there may be a lot of nuance or subtlety here that is lost on me. Both books have prose that, for me, did nothing. It was totally opaque. That is probably a fault with me, but it is the one area that I felt could have been trimmed and not reduced the story. I get the sense that Simmons is an enormous fan of Keats and this was his love letter.

Theology plays an even greater role in this second book than it did in the first. I had speculated that each of the pilgrims represented one of the 7 deadly sins in my earlier review. I'm not so sure, now, that each character was intended to play that role, at least not entirely. There are whiffs of The Inferno here, as Severn plays both Virgil and Dante. The Shrike metes out punishment paired to the sin of each character.

Hoyt: Pride - Dies at the hands of the shrike and is resurrected as Paul Dure. Dure later refers directly to his pride bringing about his fall.

Kassad: Lust - Dies in ultimate battle with the Shrike(s).

Silenus: Gluttony - He was a glutton for his poetry. His punishment is to endure constant pain, potentially for eternity, finding only small relief in reciting poetry that the Shrike may be feeding him.

Weintraub: Sloth - Refused to act on the command given him, and is left with nothing he can do after the Shrike takes Rachel from him.

Masteen: Envy? - Still not sure what to make of this character's story, although we do learn a great deal about the Templars and their motives.

Lamia: Greed? - the 7 sins metaphor really starts to fall apart here. Not to fear, Lamia still gets to participate in the biblical references, taking on the role of Divine Mother.

Consul: Wrath? - Yeah, the 7 sins metaphor is completely out the window here. homage to Dante, perhaps, or maybe I'm just not familiar enough with Keats. In any case, I would definitely recommend these first two books of the Hyperion series to my fellow sci-fi fans.

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Review: Hyperion

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy the way this story (or stories, as it were) are told. Seven pilgrims are on a journey to meet the Shrike, a mythical, murderous creature that can control time. Each member of the group must relate their story to the rest during the pilgrimage. Each of these stories is told in a different way, giving each character a distinct voice. Each story is also told during a particular leg of the voyage. I think each of the characters are intended to represent one of the "7 deadly sins".

Father Hoyt tells a story of pride while the pilgrims travel on a tree-ship through space. He bears the weight of his contemporary who was not satisfied to remain in ignorance but demanded that he learn the true nature of a small tribe on Hyperion.

Colonel Kassad tells a story of lust while they enter the atmosphere of Hyperion and land. He is enamored with a specter that only appears to him when he is surrounded by violence.

The poet Silenus tells a story of gluttony as they travel upriver. Gluttony here, not in the sense of consumption of food, but in the sense of selfishness. All other concerns are trivial compared to his quest to create the perfect poetry.

The scholar Weintraub tells a story of sloth as they sail the sea of grass. He dreams of the shrike, the Lord of Pain, and disobeys the shrike's order to render his daughter as an offering.

The templar Masteen is lost before he tells his tale. I'm left to assume that his is the tale of envy.

The detective Lamia tells a story of greed while they travel by cable car over a frozen mountain range. On the surface she is telling the tale of her client, Johnny. Johnny is an AI created as an experiment by the techno core, a collective of artificial intelligences. Really, though, this is the story of the fractured core, and their greed for ultimate intelligence. I really enjoyed the pulpy noir style used in telling this story.

The consul tells a story of wrath as the group retires in castle of the dead. He seeks retribution against the powers that led to death of his grandmother.

Unfortunately, we don't get closure as we're left with a cliffhanger leading into the next book. I'll definitely be reading it to see what happens next.

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Review: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls
Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a departure from my usual reading. I've heard a number of David Sedaris's essays on This American Life, and I've enjoyed them, so I thought I would try one of his audio books. This is a broad collection without any particular theme that I took away. There are a few gems here that gave me a chuckle, such David's experience waiting in line at an airline and the idle chit-chat with other folks there. Some of the essays were taped in front of a live audience, and I found that I preferred those. Overall I'm not sure that I would go out of my way to recommend this book, but it did help to pass the time during my commute.

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Review: Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this tale. Each of the characters has a distinct voice that I can hear as I'm reading them. I can see twitchy Mr. Croup fancying himself eloquent as Mr. Vandermar ambles along with him, at once bemused and bored. The environment of London below is visceral. It may be the heat of August right now, but I can feel the cold and damp as Richard and Door weave their way throughout London Below.

I've recommended Stardust to many folks, and I would recommend Neverwhere just as highly.

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Review: A Killing Frost

A Killing Frost
A Killing Frost by John Marsden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first book in the series was excellent because it introduced us to the characters as well as the invasion that changed these kids' lives forever. The second book was ok, but I this third installment was so much better. The group from Hell has taken on a much bigger target as they investigate Cobbler's bay, but the risks are also much higher as well.

If I had one criticism of this series it is that all of the character emotions are a bit shallow. That's not to say the characters are shallow. These teenagers are in an awful situation, and I would expect there to be some extremes to their highs and lows. Instead, everything seems to move along with only modest ups and downs. I was especially aware of this in the last few pages which involves a very dramatic turn but it seems to elicit little if any response from the characters.

I'm enjoying this series, and eager to see what the next installment will have the troop from Wirrawee doing.

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Review: Brave New World

Brave New World
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brave New World appealed to me so much more than 1984 did. They both deal with similar concepts: a controlling government that imposes its own will on society. The government of 1984 does so by oppression. The government of Brave New World controls through kindness. Humans are conditioned even before birth to be consumers. They are conditioned to lack a fear of death. Each child is born predestined for a particular role in society, and through careful conditioning, developed to love playing that role.

Brave New World is going to stick in my mind for a long time, and may be one of those few books that I go back to re-read in the future. If we don't see the cage, are we free?

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Review: 1984

1984 by George Orwell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lots of people are exposed to 1984 in high school as required reading. I wasn't one of those people, but I still was aware of many of the concepts of the story because they are part of our common discourse with regard to politics and government. I decided it was time to get the full story and checked this out from my library.

First, an explanation of my 2-star rating. I didn't enjoy this book. I didn't care about Winston, or Julia, or any of the other characters. I felt that it wasn't even really so much as a story as it was a loose framework upon which Orwell's thoughts on communism could be hung.

That aside, Orwell's thoughts on communism and power are really interesting. While I wouldn't recommend reading the entire book, I would highly recommend reading the book within the book (Goldstein's manifesto). It is a very frank essay covering how a body in power might abuse that power to remain in power forever, and purely for power's sake. It's terrifying. The behavior of the party and Big Brother is taken to an extreme, so I don't think it is fair to say that any current government has taken the tenets of that essay to heart. However, it is easy to identify various elements in place all over the world. Whether it is falsification of the past (holocaust denial), falsification of production (North Korea), or continuous involvement in warfare.

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Review: The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The same whimsical humor from the first discworld book is present here. We get introduced to a handful of new characters that I hope we see more of. I thought this book was entertaining, but not something I would recommend. This style of humor is great in small samples, but I grew tired of it after the first hundred pages. Still, I will probably continue reading the series.

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Review: Brain Jack

Brain Jack
Brain Jack by Brian Falkner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Have you seen the movie "The Net"? The one with Sandra Bullock? If you watched that and thought, "Wow, hacking is really cool" then this book is for you. If, on the other hand, you laughed yourself out of your chair at the ridiculous way hacking was portrayed, you may want to give Brain Jack a pass. The story builds momentum well, and there is plenty of action, but there were times when I thought my eyes were going to roll right on out of my head.

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Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In my experience, YA books fall into a handful of categories: short books with remedial language intended as throw away entertainment, coming of age stories that identify with the readers experiences, and thinly veiled parables. However, that doesn't mean YA books can't be enjoyed, and I did enjoy this book. Don't let the 3 star rating fool you, it is really more of a 3.5. A Wizard of Earthsea, for me, falls in the parable category, but it isn't heavy handed at all.

I wish I would have read this prior to reading [b:The Name of the Wind|186074|The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)|Patrick Rothfuss||2502879] as it has many of the same concepts. The two books provide a very clear picture of the different of writing for a young audience and a mature audience. Rothfuss's world is so much richer. I really appreciated the afterword in Earthsea by Le Guin where she talks about her initial reticence to do a YA book, and how she approached it. It's nice to see that the author is consciously making certain decisions in the writing of the story.

In a few years, I'm sure I'll be recommending this book to my kids.

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Review: The Dead of Night

The Dead of Night
The Dead of Night by John Marsden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I concluded my review of Tomorrow When the War Began with "I'm eager to see what happens next." Apparently I wasn't that eager, as it is now three years later and I'm just now finishing the second book in this series. This is a very brief episode wherein Ellie and her friends continue to adapt to life as guerrillas in an occupied nation. We get a bit more depth from each character, and the group goes on a few outings for both reconnaissance and attack. If you enjoyed the first book, you will certainly enjoy this one as well.

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Review: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I desperately wish this was a book that I could recommend, but I can't. I wish that the author built solid arguments based on proven research and logic. Instead, while I wholeheartedly agree with the main sentiment, I find myself at a loss at who I could recommend this to.

Last Child in the Woods sets out to demonstrate how the modern child, through a lack of interaction with nature, has experienced a development failure. In order to combat this problem, we must find ways to reintegrate our children with nature. There are tidbits of excellent advice based on research throughout, such as research that shows when children use all of their senses to absorb information they are much more likely to retain it. This is in contrast to our modern classroom environment where students are lectured to and observe examples on the board, then asked to repeat them at home. In this way, children are only experiencing one or two senses in tandem. Moving the learning environment outdoors exposes the child to all of their senses at once.

I was looking for this book to provide the following:
- A definition of the problem (identify specific developmental issues in children)
- A definition of the root cause (lack of exposure to nature), along with properly cited research to bolster that claim
- Proposals for addressing the root cause (public, private, and personal) as well as properly cited research that demonstrates how these efforts are effective

This type of structured argument is not found in this book. What the book does provide is unstructured rambling that tries to cover too much territory in too shallow of detail. It is for that reason that I can't take it to my local, state, and federal representatives. I can't recommend this book to the school board. Instead, I'm left with a book that appeals to me emotionally, but leaves me with no ammunition to argue that we should make broader efforts to expose our children to nature. If there is one element of the book that I would recommend, it would be the last 70 or so pages where Louv provides concrete recommendations on activities to undertake, community actions, and further reading.

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Review: Ship Breaker

Ship Breaker
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've really enjoyed everything I have ready from Bacigalupi. He has a unique way of painting a poisoned future that you can believe is possible. Ship Breaker is the story of Nailer, a young boy working salvage on a beach near where New Orleans once stood. He is tormented by an abusive father and struggles just to make it through each day. Nailer is surrounded by inescapable poverty, yet just on the horizon he sees the beautiful ships of the wealthy elite who control, or ignore, his ship breaking outfit. Presented with a strange twist of luck, Nailer must make some very difficult choices between saving a life or making his own life easier.

This is categorized as a YA book. Most YA books are categorized as such because they are providing blunt exposition of a particular issue, like fitting in during your teen years, or dealing with early romance. Ship Breaker takes on a much more difficult topic: invisible privilege. Nailer is a member of an extremely poor underclass. When the privileged and wealthy are forced to recognize him, they are shocked to find that Nailer lacks privileges that they take for granted. Literacy, food, education, current events....all of these are unreliable if available at all to Nailer. From my own experience I know that it wasn't until I was late into my 20's that I became truly aware of the extent of invisible privilege and how it can work to prevent the poor from escaping poverty. Exposing youth to this concept could do a great deal of good.

I listened to the Audible audio book version of this story, which was available from my library. The narrator does a fantastic job of lending a unique voice to each character. Even without prompts I was easily able to tell which character was speaking. The only voices I struggled with were the slight difference between his Irish and Indian accents, but these characters were rarely in the same scene together.

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Review: I Am Legend

I Am Legend
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm sure I'm not alone in being first introduced to this story through the movie Will Smith starred in. I really enjoyed the movie, but I never felt compelled to invest in any of the other adaptations. Then my buddy Steve read the original Matheson tale and let me know that the book was significantly different from the movie, and well worth the read. When I found out the eBook was available from my library, I really didn't have any other excuses.

The story presents an excellent perspective on the concept of the last man. How long would your sanity hold if you knew you were utterly alone, and that every day the world was trying to kill you? How long would you persevere, and how could you maintain hope? This story is much less about the vampire and much more about the human.

This is a short book at just under 150 pages, almost a novella. Given the small time investment, I can easily recommend it.

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Review: Flashforward

Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm really torn on how to rate this book. On the one hand, the concepts and science discussed here make for excellent thought experiments. Unfortunately, the social elements of the story telling leave a lot to be desired. Unless you had some cue to who the speaker was, you wouldn't be able to tell the dialogue of one character from the next. All characters have nearly identical voices throughout. In addition, the way these characters relate to one another is, well, bizarre to put it mildly. I had real trouble believing that people in real life would behave as the characters here. There is no character growth to speak of throughout. The female characters are largely immaterial to the story, acting as scenery or minor detail to a plot point.

Despite the poor attention to the human elements of the story, I did find myself eager to continue reading. While the book is a bit dated now, but it doesn't detract from the ideas. What would it mean for humanity to get a glimpse of the future? What would it mean to our scientific community? Is our future immutable, or do we truly have free will? These are questions we may never be able to definitively answer.

Overall, a decent read. There are a few more Sawyer books in my to-read queue. This one hasn't given me any reason to move them up or down in that list.

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Review: A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Fire Upon the Deep came highly recommended to me as one of the must read volumes in science fiction. It's easy to be let down when something comes along with such high praise, and that was the case for me. There were certainly quite a lot of elements that I enjoyed. I really enjoyed the way Vinge slowly introduces you to a new concept or element of the story without simply spelling it out for you explicitly. The subtle shift in the sex of pronoun usage and the way the tines are introduced really impressed me. There are some really interesting concepts here, and they are well realized within the story. On the other hand, the pace of this book is dreadfully slow. If you are looking for a high stakes, action / adventure story, this is not it. The ending really put me off, with the climax coming at a whimper rather than a bang. Overall, I liked the book, but it would not be in the short list of books I've recently read that I would recommend to folks with similar tastes.

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Review: The Strain

The Strain
The Strain by Guillermo del Toro

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first third of this story was really gripping. A plane lands at JFK, taxis part way to the terminal, and then goes completely dark. Unfortunately, once we move beyond the plane, the story devolves into a rather ordinary vampire story. There are a couple of ideas here that I hadn't seen before such as a stinger rather than drinking the blood, and the idea of the blood worms. However, all of the usual tropes appear. I enjoyed listening to this in audio book form, especially with Ron Perlman narrating, but I don't think I'll be exploring any future editions in this series.

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Review: Influx

Influx by Daniel Suarez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Suarez writes stories that I enjoy. Immensely. Influx is definitely keeping with that pattern. I love the concepts here, and it is easy to see how the themes apply in real life. The BTC regulates which technologies the world can have, and vanishes away any innovator who might provide the world with the next great leap forward. This agency may not really exist, but then I think about how some countries must view the USA. Our spy networks are unparalleled. Our technology fantastical. In addition, through trade agreements and tariffs, we largely regulate what technologies are available in some countries (for better or worse). In addition to this bit of introspection, I also came away with a healthy respect for the dangers of allowing an agency to have free reign to do as they please with a limitless budget. Of course, there is no such agency in the US that might have that sort of free discretion.

I'd highly recommend this book to most readers. It has quite a lot of action and some great insights into technologies that might just be around the corner. I read the first 100 pages or so as if the style were riffing on the humor of Men In Black. It got much darker, but I can definitely see a silver screen version of this film having some comical moments.

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Review: Crux

Crux by Ramez Naam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the follow-up to Nexus, the book that introduced us to a drug that brought about the post-human. I felt that the first few chapters were like reading a sales pitch on the technology. All of these wondrous potential applications for Nexus are touched on, along with a few of the potential pitfalls. This isn't a terrible thing, but it did take me out of the story. The first half of the book does a lot of scene setting that the second half really cashes in on. If you've read the first book, definitely pick up this sequel!

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Review: Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This.....was not a book for me. Everything was there that should have made it a good fit. There was the dystopian future, the reality bending simulations, the action of the main character's initiation, the comparisons to The Hunger Games. Unfortunately, it fell flat for me. There's a good bit of buzz surrounding the Divergent series, and with the movie coming out next month I wanted to read it before going to the theater to watch it. Now I'm wondering if I might just wait for it to come out on DVD.

There were a couple of things that put me off. First, I couldn't identify with Beatrice. When I was a teenager I was the rare bird who had a pretty solid idea of what I was going to do with my life. I was good at math and enjoyed tinkering with computers. Going into computer engineering was a pretty straight forward decision for me. I can see where this book would appeal to the YA crowd it is aimed at. Making decisions about a career and college before you turn 18 can be truly terrifying if you haven't already found what you want to do. Beatrice is looking for her aptitude test to tell her what faction she belongs in. If only life had some 30 minute quiz that could tell high schoolers what career to prepare for.

I also had an issue taking some of the concepts in the book seriously. Other reviewers here have touched on it, but I find the whole "Five factions representing five human qualities" concept pretty ludicrous. Furthermore, the idea that anyone who doesn't fit into one of these five tidy boxes becomes homeless and desperate seems pretty silly. Maybe the next book will discuss what lies outside the city and why this is so.

If I understood it correctly, all children of members of a faction in what's left of the city of Chicago must choose their faction at age 16. They become initiates in that faction and must earn their place. Given that, it seems strange that Beatrice's chosen faction only had what I counted to be something like 30 initiates to begin with. Let's just assume that each faction has the same number of initiates. That means that for the entire city of Chicago there are only 150 children that are 16 years old. Did the city have a massive die off? What's the point of setting up these faction if each will only have a few thousand people? I'm probably paying too much attention to details in what is meant to be YA book, but these are the sorts of disconnects that bothered me.

My wife has finished the next two books in the series, and it seemed like she struggled to get through them. I may eventually finish out the series as well, but given this first book I think the next two are going to be pretty low on my priority list.

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Review: The Postmortal

The Postmortal
The Postmortal by Drew Magary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How would life change if there were a cure for aging? I love philosophical questions like this and all of the interesting scenarios and possibilities they lead to. This story is full of humor, sadness, anger, and remorse. It is told as if you are reading the blog posts of John Farrell, a lawyer who received the cure in his late twenties.

I waffled between giving this story 4 or 5 stars. It isn't perfect, but it hits all the right notes for me. I know I'm going to be talking about this one to anyone who will listen, which is why I left it at a 5.

Would all that extra time allow us to lead fuller lives? Or would we treat it like anything that we have in excess: with little value. Is our mortality a gift?

Ok, some of the things that troubled me with this book. The collapse of man seems to go really fast here. I think the rate at which the population would expand is exaggerated. A quick look at the stats shows that the US had 4 million births in 2010 and just under 2.5 million deaths. The cure eliminates aging, but not death by other causes (violence, sickness, accidents, etc). The population would certainly increase at a fast rate, but the book indicates that overpopulation problems would be evident within ten years. I find that really hard to believe.

The greenies also seem sort of ludicrous to me. Internet trolls are looking to frustrate people for laughs. Physical harm isn't part of the repertoire. Sure, I could see independent individuals doing crazy things, but the description of the greenies indicates a collective behavior that I have trouble believing.

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Jade Mason