Review: Avogadro Corp

Avogadro Corp Avogadro Corp by William Hertling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Avogadro Corp is a cautionary tale of sorts. The corp, which is a not even thinly veiled pseudonym for Google, is the world's chief search engine and email provider. A group within the company has developed an add-on for gmail that can optimize the content for greatest success. When an engineer modifies the code to allow it to fully generate messages and gives it the goal of promoting the add-on's survival, it becomes incredibly successful to everyone's horror and fascination.

This story is on a seesaw between potential plausibility and utter ridiculousness. On the one hand, I can totally foresee a time when language analysis and processing leads to an engine that can analyze our messages and both effectively emulate our voice as well as assess the recipient and give guidance for best message reception. On the other hand, expecting any business arrangement, let alone government contacts, to be signed and completed in a week's time is completely unbelievable. Further, I can suspend belief that a language analysis engine might learn general topics that either improve or degrade the content of a message to a given recipient, but can't accept that the next logical step is that it would lead to that same engine understanding how to direct engineers to create an API to bridge security gaps and then utilize that bridge. I found the technical discussions of the concept for ELOPe to be mildly interesting, but much of the rest left me wanting.

The characters are bare sketches badly in need of color and texture. I'm not sure if this was the author's intent, but I get the sense that the central figures lacked a real sense of urgency when confronted with the rogue AI and it's actions. For instance, we find the team at a coffee house, espousing the quality of the bean just as they have gotten together to discuss how ELOPe has directed for it's own improvement. Perhaps this was intended to reinforce Mike's quirk of being a coffee fanatic, but it feels out of place. Gene is a Luddite in the most literal sense, and it grated on me that his interactions with others always used terms like 'boy' or 'kid' to help emphasize how out of touch and old he was. Worse was that in response he would get 'dude' from the coders, which was out of character from their other conversations.

In short, there's an interesting core to the story, but it is veiled in weak storytelling.

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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had an amazing grandma, and this book reminds me of her. My Grandma Jones always had a refrigerator with chocolate syrup and cold milk, and I was welcome to as much as I wanted. She never made fancy meals, but the simple dishes she prepared were amazing, like beef and noodles with mashed potatoes. She made me feel loved and protected.

The Hempstead women exude those same characteristics. They are strong, confident, independent women who take in a wayward boy without any hesitation and immediately make him feel safe and cared for. I'm grateful to this book for sending me back in my mind to being at grandma's.

Outside of that nostalgia, there is also a wonderful short story of a man dealing with his grief by visiting a childhood place of wonder. He recounts his adventure with a marvelous neighbor girl that led him to fantastical experiences. Gaiman has an incredible talent for filling your mind with the wonder and magic of an experience through word alone.

This is an quick weekend or even evening read that can be easily recommended, especially to those who may not have read Gaiman before.

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Review: Abaddon's Gate

Abaddon's Gate Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've really enjoyed the Expanse series so far. I like the pacing, the action, the characters. Even so, this third book feels like a well trod path. We're seeing a lot of the same sites on this third trip around; there's a Mao behind nefarious dealings, the protomolecule is enigmatic and deadly, there's a lovable new side character....yes, I've walked this path before. Of course, I like these things, so I'm not terribly put off, but I'm also finding I'm not as eager to pick up the book. I certainly get a lot of pages for my story dollar, but even with all of those pages the story arch is only advanced a tiny bit. More damning to me is that the new characters are starting to lose texture. Maybe I just chose not to see it earlier, but here Ashford is clearly a bad. Anna is clearly a good. Clarissa/Melba is clearly bad. I couldn't invest myself in these characters. Anna was terribly bland, especially appearing on the heels of Avisarala, who was so interesting.

All of that said, I'm definitely going to continue reading the series. It may be a well trod path, but I'm willing to continue walking it because I enjoy what I see along the way.

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Jade Mason