I cannot wait to dig into this lovely children's book written by a good friend of mine Priya Chhaya. The art work looks gorgeous and I am sure the stoI cannot wait to dig into this lovely children's book written by a good friend of mine Priya Chhaya. The art work looks gorgeous and I am sure the story will be splendid....more
As much as most people think of spaceships and lasers when they hear science fiction, the heart of science fiction is a story about human nature basedAs much as most people think of spaceships and lasers when they hear science fiction, the heart of science fiction is a story about human nature based around some futuristic technology. Be it faster than light travel, artificial gravity, or technological immortality the essence of sci-fi is to explore how these changes impact human society. In this way 'The Three Body Problem' is a very successful science fiction story.
Before I get into the meat of my review I would like to highlight that this was originally written in Chinese for a Chinese audience. As such it doesn't have the same story structure and plot beats that most Western science fiction have. This isn't a bad thing, just something to note as the flow and pace of the story is quite different from most of the books I have read.
From here on out there are some minor spoilers, so tread lightly. But the nickel tour is this book is a really great story with a few clunky parts that nevertheless leaves me eager to get to the next installment. Highly recommended for the science fiction aficionado.
But first a three body gif:
(As far as the title goes, it is a reference to a famous physics/math problem called, not surprisingly, The Three Body Problem. This problem relates to calculating the movement of three bodies of mass in a space as they influence each other's velocity by their gravitational fields. The math is bonkers and has yet to be fully solved.)
So the question as the heart of The Three Body Problem is how would humanity react to the discovery of intelligent extraterrestrial life. How will that discovery make people view themselves, humanity, and humanity's legacy to earth. Not surprisingly there is a diverse reaction with some looking to the aliens as a hope to redeem humanity's failings, others hoping the aliens wipe out humanity, while others planning to resist in anyway they can.
But this isn't a straightforward reveal with a linear progression of the story. The reveal for aliens is pretty deep in the book while lots of weird things befall humanity's scientists leading up to that point. We get character flashbacks to the Cultural Revolution and see how that period influenced their outlook on humanity. While we mostly follow the perspective of one character, there are a fair amount of expositional passages that serve to fill in the reader on other events and happenings. I would say the only stumbling point for this book is the extensive use of expositional passages. I feel like there were more effective ways to get this information across then large passages of data dumping.
Still, the story is very compelling with lots of twists and turns. I had no idea where the story would be heading. Was the world really a simulation and the break down of our laws a physics just a glitch in the programming? Were aliens already among us? Were aliens just a cover story for an insidious human conspiracy? These questions and each new revelation kept me turning pages to find out when the next shoe would drop. Hopefully the success of this series will bring more Chinese sci-fi to English. This book was a thrill to read and if the Chinese have more of where it came they need to send it stateside....more
So this book was a complete surprise to me. I had no idea it existed until it started popping up on the GR feed (thanks GR feed!). I also wasn't sureSo this book was a complete surprise to me. I had no idea it existed until it started popping up on the GR feed (thanks GR feed!). I also wasn't sure what to expect form this book and from the sound of it neither was Sanderson. He sort of wrote this out over the course of many years and wasn't sure how it would work out once he strung together all the scenes.
First off, if you have not read any of the Mistborn books, avoid this book like the plague. It might as well be called Mistborn: Spoilers for people who haven't read the first three books yet. Though, as Sanderson cautions, you may want to hold off until you finish Bands of Mourning.
This novella takes place concurrent with the three original Mistborn books and supplements the reader's understanding of what was going on behind the scenes. We get some great exchanges with both Preservation and Ruin.
"We need a plan," [Protagonist] said. "A plan?" God asked. "To get me out of this. I might need your help." "There is no way out of this." "That's a terrible attitude. We'll never get anything done if you talk like that."
We see the extent and subtly of what Ruin planned as well as the relationship between Ruin and Preservation not to mention a boatload of other Cosmere connections and machinations. while not essential for understanding the original trilogy, this book does a wonderful job fleshing out the behind the scenes and bigger picture situation.
Probably the best part of the book, however, is seeing the protagonist deal with his new situation bereft of his typical tools and resources. He shows great cunning in maximizing the abilities he finds himself with and gives the reader a greater appreciation for the full range of talents, talents that were not in the forefront previously.
All in all this is a great supplemental read for someone who just finished The Bands of Mourning and needs another Mistborn fix. While I am sure the seeds this novella planted will bear fruit in subsequent books, it is a nice taste for what the greater Cosmere plot will bring to the books....more
This book struck me as rather similar to 'The Day of the Jackal'. They were international thrillers that made a few tweaks to history to serve an exciThis book struck me as rather similar to 'The Day of the Jackal'. They were international thrillers that made a few tweaks to history to serve an exciting new history and encompassed a wide range of characters. However, where 'The Day of the Jackal' failed because I had already seen the movie, my ignorance of this movie helped keep the book's tension ratcheted up. And really, that is the most appealing part of this book: the tension. What plans will go awry, how will small, seemingly insignificant, events impact the much greater flow of history, who will live or die kept me heavily engaged with the story. In 'The Day of the Jackal' these questions had already been answered for me because of the movies. In this case I was genuinely concerned that at any point the the alleged protagonist could be killed and one of the other characters would pick up where he left off. Really riveting stuff.
The story follows a young German journalist who stumbles across an account of a recently deceased Jewish concentration camp survivor who was convinced his camp's overseer (who was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths) was still alive and prospering in post-war 1960's Germany. Thus starts a hunt for Odessa that has significant repercussions on the international stage all nicely folded into the flow of actual history.
What I really enjoyed about this book is how every character had their own motivations and pursued them. Even people on ostensibly the same side had their own agendas and were more than happy to use their erstwhile allies to achieve them even if that meant screwing said allies over or getting them killed. It was also refreshing to see the bad guys actually be competent but also constrained by circumstances. These were all not powerful Nazis who turn out to be incompetent (you've got to have some smarts to outlast the Kennedy administration while being hunted internaitonally) but rather a highly organized network of fanatics who faced the same sort of technological and informational constraints a everyone else.
It was a pretty even match-up throughout the book which nicely contributed to the book's tension. The use of multiple characters; points of view was also deftly utilized to give the reader a greater context for the events of the book and raise the stakes above the simple hunt for an ex-Nazi officer. It was great to see why all these myriad characters were acting as they did and it really enriched the story.
While there were a lot of characters there wasn't really a ton of characterization. Like 'The Day of the Jackal' Forsyth gave plenty of background history to the important characters he introduced, but apart from the Journalist we don't really get a deep dive on any other characters. This is fine by me because the suspense of the story kept me turning pages instead of the characters and the Journalist pulled enough character development weight to carry that aspect of the story.
This is a great read for anyone who enjoys thrillers, historical fiction, or WWII history. I have a feeling that, if 'The Day of the Jackal' is any guide, seeing the movie ahead of time will significantly degrade the experience, so read the book first....more
I have been a long time fan of xkcd, a delightfully nerdy and funny webcomic that has a wonderful mix of science, humor, and the occasional pun. If yoI have been a long time fan of xkcd, a delightfully nerdy and funny webcomic that has a wonderful mix of science, humor, and the occasional pun. If you like science and humor and aren't reading xkcd you need to zip on over there stat.
When I heard that Munroe, the artist/writer of xkcd, announced he was going to put out a book explaining things using his simple, yet elegant art style, I was excited. Here was a person who knew science, had a passion for educating the masses about it, and had a subtle, but wicked sense of humor to help deliver the information. And for the most part I greatly enjoyed the book, all 64 (very, very dense) pages of it. But I felt the book hamstrung itself a bit too much.
In the course of trying to make this book as accessible as possible (a good thing!) Munroe limited himself to the thousand most common words in the English language. While I commend his enthusiasm and goal of making the book accessible to the masses I thought this tactic limited the book in several places. This book delves into both the common place (dishwashers, light, elevators) and the complex (nuclear weapons, biological cells, computers), and while it is nice to have components explained in straightforward ways some pieces are just so complex or specialized that using this plain language is either unhelpful or provides.
For instance, Munroe typically has to use the word 'water' for liquids and 'air' for all gases. Because they were used in some many places it would be easy for a person to get confused and mistake different kinds of 'water' and 'air'. In these cases the goal of simplifying the language for the masses could easily result in confusion. Maybe if he had upped the number of allowable words to 2,000 or 3,000 things would have been much clearer and probably still as accessible.
But that doesn't detract too much from some of the great great art and humor in this book. Munroe has some very straightforward but detailed drawings of the various subjects with some nice little humorous asides or pictures folded in. This book is quite educations and would be a great resource both for children just starting to learn about the world (sort of an updated The Way Things Work) and adults who just want to learn more about the world. Even areas I was already familiar with were shown in a new and humorous light....more
After the pure, distilled joy NPCs brought me, I was eager to dive into the next book in the series. While Split the Party (which is such a bad idea tAfter the pure, distilled joy NPCs brought me, I was eager to dive into the next book in the series. While Split the Party (which is such a bad idea there is even a book about aptly titled Don't Split the Party) was a great, action packed read, it lacked some of the charm the first book's premise brought to the table.
In this installment our once minions turned reluctant adventurers have more or less fully embraced the mantle of adventurers and all the baggage that entails:
Eric realized how crazy that last part made him sound, only to conclude seconds later that it would have only seemed crazy if they weren't currently in need of exactly such information. Paranoia was only a hindrance where it didn't pay off.
So our brave heroes are on the run from a power-mad king who wants to hunt them down for a magic item they had recovered in the previous book. Of course, being adventurers now in a world whose rules are bent to provide adventurers quests and challenges, they naturally stumble into those two things. Circumstances force them to, you guessed it, split the party to achieve their goals (which mostly involve staying alive).
As with NPCs, Hayes does an excellent job introducing both the reader, who may be unfamiliar with the cliches and tropes of RPGs, and the heroes to the life adventuring in a very seamless way. For most of their lives the heroes have lived in a town where a few gold coins was considered a lot of money. In adventuring a few gold is considered pocket change. When confronted by this harsh reality by the traveling merchant it becomes clear just how they are expected to build their wealth to be effective adventurers:
"Ah, just starting out then. I've seen plenty in that position on my travels as well. Nothing to worry about; once you slay your first dragon or mad wizard, there's bound to be a bounty of gold for you to scoop up. Not sure why they always have huge stacks of uninvested income lying around, but they do."
When the rules of a table top RPG are the physical laws of a universe very strange things happen.
Even with all the hacking and slashing Hayes still finds space to further develop and grow his characters. We see Gabrielle worry over her value to the team, especially after her pilfered ax breaks and she feels like the others are far surpassing her abilities. We see Grumph's iron determination to protect his friends by risking life and limb to becomes a member of the Mage's Guild:
After coming this far, there was no way Grumph would allow himself to be halted by mere drizzle and a chance of painful death. It took far greater dangers than that to dissuade a half-Orc with his mind made up."
We see Thistle continue to grow into his role as a Paladin and further his relationship with Grundle, the God of Minions whom he serves. Even poor, formerly mind controlled Timuscor begins to figure out what he really wants and how to achieve it. All said, as fun as the winks to RPGs were, the heart and soul of this series are the great characters and their relationships with each other. Even a person in complete ignorance of RPGs can appreciate the craft and care put into the characters and enjoy this for the adventure book that it is.
But is isn't all hacking and slashing and serious character development. Hayes expertly sprinkles in humor and real world wisdom as well:
"...They [undead] are by far the most dangerous enemy one can end up facing, and if you are lucky, you only end up being killed by them."
"Wow, that is really depressing. I was actually asking if you knew any ways to turn them back or drive them away. Glad to know we're in a 'hoping for death' situation, though."
In comparison to the multitude of plans that had been hatched throughout the history of their world, it was not a great one. In comparison to the ones created just in that year, it still fell pretty far short. In comparison to the drunken ravings of men soaked through with mead about how they would slay a dragon and become the new king, however, it was downright coherent.
Lying on the table as the priest removed his hands from the half-orc's chest and motioned for his sack of gold, Grumph realized that just because someone could call upon the power of the kind gods did not mean they themselves weren't something of an asshole.
Finally, on top of the great action, excellent character development, and well balanced humor, Hayes also advanced the greater plot of the series (how our world interacts with this fantastical one) and laid seeds for future developments (Gabrielle's new ax, MR. PEPPERS THE GREATEST PIG TO EVER BE SUMMONED, the machinations of gods, etc.). I wait in eager anticipation of the third installment, it cannot get here soon enough!...more
So 2015 was a very productive reading year for me. I logged the most books read in a year (55) and the most pages (21,255). In terms of quality it wasSo 2015 was a very productive reading year for me. I logged the most books read in a year (55) and the most pages (21,255). In terms of quality it was also quite good, clocking in at an average of four stars, the highest since I started tracking on GoodReads.
I think my biggest accomplishment was polishing off five Malazan books. I refer to reading this series as a project because it takes a lot of attention to keep track of the myriad plot lines and characters Erikson throws at his readers. I look to conclude it sometime in 2016 and will feel quite proud of accomplishing such a task.
I think the book that most delighted me was The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. It is tough to do time travel well and this book had such a deft touch with the subject it really made the book a joy to read and marvel at. If you are looking for a great meditation on immortality mixed with a trans-temporal thriller, this is for you.
The book that most disappointed me was Vanished Kingdoms. It had such promise and an awesome premise. But, like many passion projects, this sort of fell into what the author thought was interesting, not what he thought other people would find interesting. But such is life.
So yeah, 2015 was a darn good year for books. I got another installment in the Old Man's War series, the Expanse, and Mistborn, discovered a new series to get into with Great Coats, and great some really great history books. I can only hope 2016 will be as good!...more
Nostalgia is a strange thing, especially when it comes to popular culture. TV shows that, by all accounts, were commercial flops, lasting a season orNostalgia is a strange thing, especially when it comes to popular culture. TV shows that, by all accounts, were commercial flops, lasting a season or less can attract a rabid and devoted fan base. A fan base that hopes beyond hope that their beloved show will some how rise like a phoenix from the ashes and return triumphant. This is a book about one such show and its re imagining more than twenty years after its cancellation. That show is Battlestar Galactica* (or BSG to those in the know).
Full disclosure: I was a huge fan of the re-imagined series Sci-Fi channel. It was realistic, gritty, had absolutely stellar acting, a fast paced narrative, and brilliantly executed serial format which was relatively rare back then (though Babylon 5 did a great job in that format in the 1990's). It was also a critical success, permeating popular culture and capturing the public's imagination. Heck, you know you are a major cultural force when your imaginary swear words makes it onto the funny pages:
But at the same time I knew very little about the original, 1970's series the new version drew inspiration from. I vaguely recall it being referred to as cheesy and not very good. When I finally got the chance to with the miracle of Netflix I queue up the first episode and... well.. couldn't make it through the first ten minutes of it. It was just terrible. Like, physically pained me to watch terrible. It turned it off and never gave it a second thought.
Thankfully reading this book about the history of the show was nowhere near as painful (or, really, painful at all). It is very clear the author has a love for both the original show and re-imagining, lending an enthusiasm in how the material was presented. It does a great job explaining and filling in the gaps of the show's history, both what happened on screen (cluing me in to the themes and ideas that got carried over) and behind the scenes. After reading it I am convinced there are three good things about the original series: the word frack (or frak), it spawned the new version of the show, and the art of Ralph Macquarrie.
Remember him? He also did some fantastic art for a another little sci-fi property called Star Wars. His concept art for BSG was just gorgeous and evocative. But don't take my word for it, feast your eyes on these beauties:
However the original series fell prey to scheduling, budget constraints, tight production scheduling, and a continually declining ratings to face eventual cancellation followed by a few tentative restarts that did nothing to rejuvenate the series. But man, that art sure was pretty.
I think the strongest facet of this book was the pictures and art. In fact, I would say that roughly half of the page content of this book was pictures from behind the scenes or concept art from the various BSG shows (yes, even Caprica and the webisodes were discussed). The written material, while nicely arranged and drawing from a variety of sources, was mostly stuff in the public domain already. I didn't spot any exclusive or new material the author unearthed or tracked down. I would say a vast majority of the book can be gleaned from the Wikipedia page on the relevant topic or some Google searches for interviews with the key players.
It was, however, a very quick read and was efficient in conveying the story and substance of the BSG universe. If you liked either of the BSG series this book is worth checking out, if only for the fantastic art and photos.
*The whole cycle of BSG from a show cancelled after one season to a movie to resurrection 20+ years later makes me wonder if the same could occur for Firefly. We already have the cancelled season and the movie, in twenty years who knows. Will the current generation be outraged if Mal was recast as a women (given the Starbuck treatment if you will)? How much of Whedon's original vision will be preserved? Will the tone see a heavy shift? Or will we all just be happy to see Serenity flying across space again?...more
So this was a fun little read, with elements of sci-fi time travel, a Victorian era social comedy story, and a 1930's mystery with a very light touchSo this was a fun little read, with elements of sci-fi time travel, a Victorian era social comedy story, and a 1930's mystery with a very light touch of romance thrown in.
In the future we have mastered the ability to travel through time... only to discover we can't actually bring anything consequential back (sorry people who want to steal the Mona Lisa fresh off da Vinci's easel) and any attempts to change key events are thwarted by the space-time continuum itself. In this way is was a bit like Stephen King's 11/22/63, with coincidences and alteration of time jumps preserving the general thrust of history. Of course that doesn't stop us from studying the past, but there isn't much money in that especially when time travelers can't even get close to the good stuff since the continuum won't risk many changes. This, as you can imagine, leaves funds for time travel a bit difficult to get.
Of course this just makes universities and time travel organizations desperate enough to offer their talents to the super wealthy, in this case a rich American who is obsessed the Coventry Cathedral which had a major impact on the life of an ancestor of hers. She decides to spend lavishly to create a perfect reconstruction of it, down to every insignificant detail and harangues the time travel agencies to send their workers on time travel drops of every conceivable kind to get every little detail perfect.
The book opens with the main character and time travel historian Ned Henry in a bad spot, stuck on a seemingly impossible mission to determine what has happened to the Bishop's Bird Stump, a historic artifact that has yet to be located fro the reconsecration of the Coventry Cathedral. He is also suffering heavily from time-lag, a by product of too frequent time travel which affects the mind in a similar manner as extreme fatigue. He then finds himself on a bit of a misadventure as he is sent back to the Victorian era for an easy mission (which he does not remember) to meet another agent (whom he does not recall) and then spend the rest of the time relaxing.
Sufficed to say nothing goes as planned. He is still completely time lagged and has no idea what he is doing. He falls with a bunch of very colorful characters right out of a Victorian story: the matron obsessed with the spirits, a patron who loves his fish and finds spiritualism to be a bunch of hooey, the absent minded Oxford Don, the hyper efficient but constantly put upon butler, the romantic and poetry spouting undergrad who falls in love with the spoiled and pampered daughter of the aforementioned patron and matron, to say nothing of the dog. Ned and his fellow agent Verity (who he does meet up with) try to unravel all the many accidents and problems they inadvertently cause in the time line while navigating this tangled social web.
This was for the most part a really fun read. The characters were suitable absurd that I would often find myself laughing out loud at their antics. Willis does an excellent job balancing the time travel plot and the quest for the Bishop's Bird Stump with the Victorian era events that Ned and Verity end up mucking up a bit. By the end we discover the mystery behind all the tricks the continuum has been playing on the time travelers and just what happened to that wretched bird stump (a solution found using nothing but Ned's "little gray cells" as Poirot would say). I found the conclusion of the book quite satisfying with everything wrapped up nicely and logically.
While I did enjoy the book a lot I thought the beginning and ending dragged a bit. The beginning was a bit slow and then Ned gets hit with full blown time-lag so what was going on around him wasn't terribly clear. Things didn't really get going until he ends up on the Thames in the 19th century. The ending felt a bit rushed and cluttered but it did get the important points across
All in all well worth reading as the absurd characters, great writing, and time travel mystery really kept me engaged. Also, while this is the second book in the Oxford Time Travel Series, it is a stand alone book that doesn't require knowledge of the first to enjoy....more
This book was both a joy to read and quite enlightening. Not only was the writing engaging, but it did a wonderful job integrating the story of theseThis book was both a joy to read and quite enlightening. Not only was the writing engaging, but it did a wonderful job integrating the story of these various symbols into the context of the wider world of human affairs. While certainly intended for a popular audience, Houston took his task very seriously, drawing upon an enormous range of sources to tell the story of these symbols to the tune of ~67 pages of references. Houston tells the history of these symbols in a very economical way, not falling down any academic rabbit holes. Each chapter, which highlighted one particular symbol, was short enough to consume in one sitting, making it easy to put down and pick up the book as needed.
I think the most insightful thing I gleaned from this book was how much technology has influenced human language. When everything was written down there was little to no uniformity in terms of symbols and their meanings. Typically a center of learning (such as the Library of Alexandria) would introduce some technique that would slowly disperse across the greater Mediterranean area. The advent of the printing press brought a level of standardization to language, but also a winnowing. Printers were limited by the letters and symbols they cut so some things had to go. Symbols were lost, others re-purposed and life went on.
As much as the printing press limited what symbols made it into printed material, it was nothing like the symbol holocaust that was the typewriter. Where a printer could cut some custom pieces as needed, a widespread commercial typewriter solidified what symbols would be carried forward into the brave new world, limiting them to what could fit within the typewriter's limited space. This extended into the computer age, as well, as computer keyboards mimicked those of type writers.
The most interesting winnowing of symbols due to this technological constraint was the dash. There were apparently a whole bunch of different dash lengths used for different effects that have now all been reduced to the simple -. But at the same time the widespread popularity of novels and their writing style necessitated some mark that would denote a character speaking, giving rise to the popularity of the quotation marks; technology and social trends giveth and taketh from our language.
It was also fascinating to see how some symbols have changed over time, both in terms of their use (such as how the # has been from denoting pounds to tweeting) and their form (the quotation marks started existence two thousand years ago looking like >). Humanity has shown remarkable flexibility and innovation when it came to representing some non-textual intention, though sometimes it took a REALLY long time. Heck, just putting spaces between words took quite a while. The development of a line break and indented line effectively killed off the pilcrow and for a while quotation marks were made in the margin of a page.
And don't think that we've reached some end point in the development of the written word. Things are always in flux, and with the advent of cheap and widespread computing power there is no reason to think we aren't on the verge of a symbol revolution. Want an interrobang? You can get that. Want a manicule? Not sure why, but you can do that too. But language can also be a stubborn thing, with new symbols facing an enormous institutional and usage barriers.
In any event, this was a swell reading experience. Houston peppers his accounts with witty insights, humorous anecdotes, and plenty of self awareness ([In a footnote] "In honor of their [asterisk and dagger] role as footnote reference marks, I plan to fill this chapter with numerous lengthy and entirely tangential footnotes so as to take full advantage." ). If you love the written word (which, I would hope most people on this site do), this was a wonderfully illuminating work that will give you a greater appreciation for what we have today....more