It is said that a good writer can make anything interesting. I believe it. I also believe the author of #hashtagged is one of those gifted few. Pick u...moreIt is said that a good writer can make anything interesting. I believe it. I also believe the author of #hashtagged is one of those gifted few. Pick up the novel beginning, middle or end and its easy to find something interesting. So why only two measly stars? Because a novel must be more than the sum of its parts.
A nice setup and really superb writer's voice hooked me into the Amazon sample. The $8.99 Kindle price put me off. I've been disappointed too many times by a strong beginning on $1.99 books. After checking the authors bio, it seemed a reasonable gamble that she could pull off a techno thriller / dystopia so I rolled the dice. Now I remember why I stick to blackjack.
In spite of really great writing, a weak plot and structural problems made it harder and harder to stay engaged. I expect a few bursts of action and a twist or two in a thriller or I get bored. By the halfway point, I started skipping ahead in hopes of fireworks but only found smoke.
On the other hand, the good stuff about this novel is quit good. Fully realized characters and the author's chatty voice might appeal to many readers. Her prose is wonderful and the edit very clean. I only noticed three typos. If the price were more in line with a typical e book, I might go three stars but for eight bucks, I expect all the pieces to work. Brilliant writing hamstrung by a flawed plot only gets me halfway there. At the 40% mark, I suspected this story wasn't ever going to fly. The further I pushed on, the less reason I had to stay with it.(less)
Dead Beef makes a great first impression. Nicely drawn characters and first rate scenes with snappy dialogue hooked me immediately. But after the firs...moreDead Beef makes a great first impression. Nicely drawn characters and first rate scenes with snappy dialogue hooked me immediately. But after the first hundred pages, I started skimming ahead in hopes of finding a plot worth pursuing. No luck.
The problem with Dead Beef is that it's mostly banter and set piece action scenes. The barest bones of a story are hamburger-helped into novel length by action scenes that while good, do not advance the wisp of a plot. Hackers as tech gods is cliché and ooh-ah jargon just slows the pace further. The scene of bad guys supposedly hacking nearby wireless access points by working at a coffee shop with wi-fi made me roll my eyes. Last, a clever (at first) line of binary code that cyphers 'Dead Beef' is used as a scene spacer but quickly becomes annoying through overuse when a spacer isn't necessary.
My feeling is that a good editor could make this book rock. I'm not talking about spelling, grammar and punctuation problems. Those basics are accomplished reasonably well for an indi-book, approaching commercial quality. The author can clearly write. I'm talking about story structure, or more specifically, the lack thereof.
But then a funny thing happens. The end delivers a fairly good thrill. This is a common trait of an amateur writer with talent, the story works at start and finish but has a flabby middle. Again, this is something that an editor could fix.
Just because this isn't my cup of tea doesn't mean others might not enjoy this book. It's good points are quite good. For those who don't care about the difference between a hypervisor and a hay ride, if the Amazon sample looks good, have at it.(less)
Kurzweil's vision of the future is an entertaining read. The science is clearly laid out and easy to understand. This book offers a lot of intellectua...moreKurzweil's vision of the future is an entertaining read. The science is clearly laid out and easy to understand. This book offers a lot of intellectual entertainment and is a great launching pad for coffee shop debates about the future of technology and what it means to be human.
This is the deal; evolution has brought humanity to the brink of a knowledge explosion that will ultimately expand our consciousness to fill the universe with knowledge. First we will change our biology through genetic manipulation resulting in vastly extended life span and perfect health. Then nano technology will enable the manufacture of machines to enhance biological structures followed by atomic level by bio-mechanics that simulate and then surpass every human function. Humans will gradually morph into machines as more and more physical functions, including the brain are augmented and the improved. A gradual transition will make irrelevant whether our bodies are biological or technological. Finally, nano technology will allow us to turn matter itself into computational devices. This will further exponentially boost intelligence. The end point is the conversion of all the matter in the universe into quantum computers. Future human intelligence will have as much in common with today's thought processes as an amoeba has opinions about us.
What could go wrong go worng go werong[aoss[x?!?!
Kurzweil himself tosses out a few dangers. My favorite is the escape of self reproducing nano-bots that consume all the planet's carbon in a spectacular nano-population explosion and leaves Earth a lifeless globe (originally wrote blob, but physics rules) of gray slime whizzing through space; bummer. I also enjoy his argument against the existence of extra-terrestrial life. Odds are overwhelming that if other life exists, multiple civilizations would have long ago achieved the Singularity and they would be obvious!
Regardless of gray slime peril or the disappointment of accepting E.T. isn't out there, Kurzweil expresses his ideas with great optimism. He is personally looking forward to eternal life where his consciousness is machine hosted and every fantasy perfectly simulated. He claims to have slowed his own aging process by consuming 150 different supplements a day. Can I get extra cheese on that?
I have no doubt that many of his prophesies will come true in some form. But I don't see humans shedding biology and strapping into an eternal galaxy wide quantum computer.
I see two fundamental flaws with his prophesy. One is that not all technological advances are exponential. They plateau, generally when running into a natural constraint. Take, for example flight (the function of lift). This technology has grown exponentially during the twentieth century but is hitting the physical wall of moving a material (aircraft) through a medium (air), while resisting gravity.
My other objection revolves around the definition of a human being. For those who believe we are merely animated chemical and biological structures, the singularity is totally possible. On the other hand, I believe we are fundamentally spiritual beings and that reality is a lot weirder than we can imagine. A machine will never host a human spirit because a machine is a creation of human thought. Technology is the product of rules and order. It takes the randomness of nature to produce a truly living structure capable of hosting the spark of life. Human's cannot create true randomness, only simulations. At best we can sample it from the effects of nature or the meaningless (to functionality) defects in the stuff we build.
To sum it up, I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well presented and highly debatable vision of the future.(less)
A sailor pal recommended this book, so on a recent visit to B&N, I steeled myself to plunk down $25 for the pleasure of paper. I searched the shel...moreA sailor pal recommended this book, so on a recent visit to B&N, I steeled myself to plunk down $25 for the pleasure of paper. I searched the shelves. Then I got distracted. This cost me an extra $30 when I picked up a collection of essays about technology and security then couldn't put it back down. While on this tangent, I might as well mention that a few days later while browsing some web news, a targeted sidebar add suggested I might enjoy 'Advanced Security Strategies in Virtualized Data Centers- For Dummies'. Don't hold your breath for a review. Anyway, I couldn't find 'The Billionare and The Mechanic.'
I asked for help.
A kindly sales associate prodded some information out of the B&N computer. “Looks like it was returned to the publisher. I guess it didn't sell well.”
“Wow,” I said. As a wannabe novelist, that aspect of the business is spooky.
“Looks like we still have them here in the back room. Want one?”
I thought about the $25 and gulped. “Sure.”
The Billionare and The Mechanic is well written, but more interesting for what is left unsaid. The book starts with Larry Ellison's experience in the deadly 1998 Syd-Hobart ocean race. The full complexity of that experience is left out, but the point is that it changes how Mr. Ellison views the sport of sailing. He turns his considerable skill toward in shore events. This dot connects directly to his involvement with the America's Cup.
For those interested in wealthy folks antics, there are plenty of anecdotes; multiple multi million dollar homes with Monet's and Van Goghs on the living room wall, fancy cars, a private jet, celebrity pals, four ex-wives and of course, tales of the big league conflict that is central to America's cup battles. The ultimate wealth-war for fun, America's Cup campaigns require as much sailing know how as court room kung fu.
The most impressive aspect of the story is also the most depressing. Winning at the highest level is a brutal business. It's a mix of insane hours, yelling, demands and ruthlessly cutting any potential weak team member. Failure is not an option. But in the grand scheme of competition, failure, repeated until success is achieved is the only path to winning. Losers become winners through perseverance and experience. The driving force behind that is love of the sport. It's a weird dichotomy. Bottom line, this book is most interesting for what is left out, a read between the lines tease.(less)
A clear, non-technical illumination of how modern fear is subverted to tolerate technologies that maintain the appearance of freedom within an increas...moreA clear, non-technical illumination of how modern fear is subverted to tolerate technologies that maintain the appearance of freedom within an increasingly intrusive surveillance state. Data warehousing email, collecting phone meta-data and archiving every burp and fart laughingly recorded on social media is painless- until it is organized into a story to serve an agenda.
Full disclosure; I'm a republican who's shifted his opinion from 'hang 'em' to 'just maybe a hero' regarding the Snowden revelations. Ever had a credit card declined because of a security 'issue' or wasted time dealing with computer viruses? Get used to it. Even worse, privacy is becoming more illusion than fact. Is that okay?
'Carry On' is critical food for thought, a collection of bite sized essays anyone concerned with balancing risk and freedom should read. (less)
This novel is a sort of cross genre mash-up. The top level story is a techno thriller about bad guys using an online role playing game as a way to mic...moreThis novel is a sort of cross genre mash-up. The top level story is a techno thriller about bad guys using an online role playing game as a way to micro-steal a few pennies a month from tens of thousands of compromised credit cards. It doesn't take long before a mountain of illicit cash is hidden in the game. The game company's new CFO, a veteran scared physically and mentally by his military combat experience in Iraq, finds himself engaged in an entirely new kind of warfare.
Things go bad when a group of players discover the treasure and quest away to steal it, all part of the spirit of the game. Those sections of the novel read like fantasy.
Don't hate me, but as much as I love The Lord of The Rings films, I cannot gag down a single one of the books. Long sections of Armchair Safari are based in the fantasy realm of the role play game, a questy-destiny-magical world. Good characters and an imaginative story line with a twist here and there kept me engaged, provided I skipped hunks of that questy-destiny-magic stuff.
That leads me to my big problem with Armchair Safari. It's way too long. The Kindle description says 692 pages! Unfortunately, a lot of those pages are filled with redundant descriptions of setting. Long internal dialogues gummed up the story too. The author is obviously very intelligent and well informed but audiences attracted to a techno thriller would bring a lot of their own knowledge to the game. Geeked out explanations are tedious for everyone. Even though this novel's bloat-length hit square in my pet- peeve zone, maybe other readers can live with stuff that bugged me.
Last, amateur hour prose made those sections of bloat even more tedious and skip able. I propose all writers of action genres eliminate 'was' from their language. ANY verb is better than was!
But I want to finish this review on a positive note because this novel is head and shoulders above the typical e-pubed book. Well drawn characters, and a plot filled with imagination really work when the story is free to run.
Bottom line, if a competent editor trimmed away about forty percent of this novel, it's as good as any NY Times best seller.(less)
Fundamentals of good writing save the day in what I suspect is an unintended way.
A Swiss cheese plot (full of holes, cheesy), flat characters with unb...moreFundamentals of good writing save the day in what I suspect is an unintended way.
A Swiss cheese plot (full of holes, cheesy), flat characters with unbelievable motives, and a first person main character more concerned with bullet wounds to his tools than himself make this story seem too goofy to work.
On the other hand, clean prose, sharp, funny dialogue and most crucially, a deft hand at building tension kept me engaged. I’m not much for crime writing, so maybe the off kilter, ‘Coen Brothers’ vibe I got went a long way toward turning writing flaws that normally make me dump a book into assets.
If you’re up for something laugh out load funny, disconcerting and frequently quite gripping, take a whack at Dead Blow Hammer.(less)
I raced through this book cover to cover on a drizzly Sunday afternoon.
This is an exciting collection of survival anecdotes stitched together with the...moreI raced through this book cover to cover on a drizzly Sunday afternoon.
This is an exciting collection of survival anecdotes stitched together with the authors observation of personality traits common among those who survive.
Aside from one example, the book focuses on coping in the aftermath of an accident rather than avoidance. As one who enjoys sports like bicycle racing and ocean sailboat racing, I would love to read further work by this author exploring risk evaluation. When trained and competent people take incredibly stupid risks that lead to disaster, we all wonder why. An analysis of some famous go / no go decision failures would make fascinating reading. As they say, experience is the worst teacher.
Well written stories of survival and a surprising common personality trait among those who beat the odds make this book compelling reading.(less)