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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

April 28, 2015

11Well, I have to admit that I have a bit of reluctance to read this book. If it is not for group read, I might have skipped it entirely. The reason is: The movie sucks!

So, I read it. It is pretty much better than the movie. It looks like that it is not easy to transfer a radio show into a good movie, but it is easier to transfer it to a book. I am still looking for the original radio transcript.

There are no obvious story line in this book, except that you follow two hitchhikers from Earth (one Earthling and one alien). The story is a satire, laughing at our daily life in a hilarious beyond Earth setting, with not-quite-intelligent alien life forms (in form of humanoids, reptiloids, and all other-loids), with exception of Zooey Deschanel.

There are plenty of English dark humor here that give me quite a laugh, but unfortunately not enough story line to get me hooked. I cannot help to compare it with Redshirts, with has better plot therefore much more enjoyable. I am not going to spoil the humor in this review, so read it by yourself. I also find that the first half of the book is funnier that the rest. So many clever jokes, especially when you can get out of your Earth-view, and laugh at those ignorant Earthlings (a.k.a carbon based oxygen sucker semi-intelligent life form).

So, the final verdict: read the book (or better get the original radio show), but avoid the movie like a plague.

three star

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War of Honor

April 21, 2015

77743This is the best book in this series so far. Everything is fully blown. And it is the thickest one also, which will make quite a bore if you cannot take the heavy stuffs.

Why I like it so much? First, politics! I know that a lot of people actually hate this book because it is 90% politics and only 10% actions. But this is precisely why I like this novel! Look at A Game of Thrones series, almost all of them ARE about politics, one scheming against another. The politics gives you the depth about the character and the issue, that makes the story much deeper and realistic feel.

I cannot believe that I quite enjoy the parliamentary debate in the House of Lords of Manticore. And also the lobbying and the political manoeuvrings. It is even more intricate than a clash between two battle-groups of navy. The motive is not easy to be seen, and almost everyone has something to hide deep inside. The character is not quite black and white anymore, even though you cannot help to scorn some characters, like you scorn Joffrey in Game of Throne.

And the best part is the diplomacy between The Havenite Republic and The Manticore Kingdom. Neither of them want to resurrect the bloody war. But somehow the internal politics takes over the international politics, not to mention some stupidity and personal ambition. All of them is a perfect ingredient to restart a fresh war that nobody would dare to comprehend!

The politics of media is also very good. Many characters are doing some back deal to hide the true motives. Add some polished media coverage, and you have a real political situation just like in our own world.

So, in the end, this novel is a full blown Honor Harrington series. You will have deep insight of the Manticoran politics once you finished this novel, and you will ask for more! Yes, it does not have a lot of battle, but it will make all the battle makes sense.

A solid FIVE STARS.

five star

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Little Brother

April 14, 2015

12664948This is easily the best book that I have read this year. It is clever, engaging, and believe me or not, it is a YA novel! (At least it is marketed as a YA) But being a YA novel, it is not your common YA novel. I can only name one YA novel that is not like other YA novel, Ysabel. This one is another one. It does not fall into the same pitfall which devoured all YA novel: teenage angst, Mary-Sue character, predictable plot, and overly romantic. It is geeky, rebellious and the most important one: subversive! It is more like a manifesto in a form of novel by Cory Doctorow actually. And if you believe it, you are a changed man.

The story is about a young teenager, Marcus Yallow, aka w1n5t0n, and later m1ck3y, a rebellious and geeky teenager, captured in a situation which has change his city, San Fransisco, into a surveillance state. Together with his geeky gang, he fights the Department of Homeland Security to regain their freedom.

We can easily see the resemblance between this novel and 1984. You can call it a 1984 version 2, or even 1984.net. The title “Little Brother” is a tribute to the 1984 “Big Brother”. In this novel, Cory Doctorow shows us how the government can go wrong using the current technology. What makes it so scary is that this kind of situation, given the current development of technology and politics, is POSSIBLE. The war against terror has show that such thing can happened. Many moslems are facing inconvenience situation just because they are on the radar of terrorist hunt. Snowden has already revealed that NSA is actually snooping into our email. It is just a matter of time that it can happened to all of us, unless we do something about the government.

Some people criticize that this novel is not a sci-fi, because it is not using any future technology. I think that they are missing the point. Sci-fi is not always about space ship and laser gun. Sci-fi is about seeing the what-if scenario, whether it is in the past, current or in the future. And this is novel is a perfect example extrapolation of what can happened to us RIGHT NOW! It is always the job of a writer to see what that public cannot see, and reveal them.

Actually I am expecting another scifi writer will comes up with another “current day” dystopia, about how our financial system can go wrong. And the protagonist is some kind of the we are the Occupy Wallstreet movement. It can be quite nightmarish to see the financial system collapse and in one second all the money that we have become valueless.

PS: in the introduction, Cory Doctorow is tackling another sensitive issue: Book Piracy. It is worth a reading. And he makes sure that he is consistent. This book, can be downloaded freely at http://www.feedbooks.com/book/2466/li….

If you are interested in this idea, I suggest you to read Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity.

five star

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The Giver

April 7, 2015

3636This book has been on my reading list for some time, but only because the movie shows up I decided to give it a quick read. And it is indeed quick because it is only about 100 pages.

The story starts in a community, with Jonas, an Eleven, anxiously waiting for his assignment once he becomes a Twelve. And all the story is told from the point of view of Jonas.

The story telling is quite interesting, showing a society that is not quite like ours. There are many unrevealed questions for an outsiders like us when we read it. I believe that the author will reveal it bit by bit in time.

For a preteen novel (I refuse to call this novel a YA, because it does not fit into the stereotype of a common YA), this book deals with many big thoughts: free will, controlled affairs of state, and (view spoiler). Even though the story telling is not too complicated, the story itself might trigger an apprehensive child to ask that kind of question to adult. Beware you folks if your younger children asks you this heavy caliber philosophical questions.

My complain is that it is too short. There is some feeling of un-fulfillment when I read this novel. If the author gives more room for the characters and the story to develop, I think it would make this novel better.

I cannot help to compare this novel with The City of Ember. The story begins with almost the same tone, young children waiting for their assignment. But their worlds are quite different apart. Somehow I like City of Ember better. It gives you more of a bitter sweet taste, a sense of adventure, and a deep lamentation of the lost good-old-days. It does not mean that The Giver is below par, because The Giver is indeed more philosophical. So I think it is just a matter of taste.

I think younger audience would love this book better and give it a FOUR. For me, I give it a 3.5 actually. But not quite a 4. But I am eager to read the next installment, because I cannot wait to see some surprises to be revealed in the next book.

three star

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Ashes of Victory

March 31, 2015

77742This book is a real turning point in this series. Before this book, everything is just about space battle. Our beloved Honor Harrington is just the pawn in the midst of the power play. This book marks when it started to differ. Dame Honor just liberated an entire prison planet and became one of the most decorated (and living) heroes in two systems. And she deserve to take a break after all her ordeals.

The beginning is a bit domestic, a warm hero welcome, plus an even warmer family reunion. Fortunately that warm welcome does not continue forever to make me puke, and she get right into business, became the instructor in the Royal Manticoran Naval Academy, the infamous Saganami Island. At the battle front, it has to be taken care by her proteges Alice Truman and Scotty Tremaine.

What makes it truly different is the portion of the story given to the other side, the Peeps, or People Republic of Haven. Their national political tension is cause, some are caused by the escape of Honor Harrington, which is supposed to be dead according to their propaganda. Actually most of the action in this novel I think is in this side, not the Manticoran side. This is the first time we have a direct view within the enemy’s camp. And it is worth it.

The tension is also increasing in the Grayson side. Nothing new happened there though, still the old enemy, the fundamentalist. But this time, they are helped by the Peeps, so they have extra ammunition. And they will do anything to stop Honor from “destroying” their culture and religion, even cooperating with their enemy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Even by leaving Honor Harrington on the bench during the battle, this novel is still very interesting. It also started to get more political, and I like it for that. All for all, a solid FOUR STAR.

four star

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Maze Runner

March 24, 2015

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)I admit that I read it because of the movie. At least I want to have a guide before I watch the movie, since most of the movie taken from book sucks.

The story, not surprisingly, is set inside a maze. You have several juveniles, living inside a maze, trying to solve the maze to return to their normal world. In addition to that, the whole inhabitants memory was wiped out before they enter the maze, supposedly to add the mystery of the novel. The story started with one character, Thomas, the new arrival in the maze, and this protagonist somehow will lead the entire group out of the maze.

To begin with, the puzzle in this book is below par, considering that it is using the word “maze” as the title of the book. My old school juvenile book: The Three Investigator Series, had much harder puzzle to solve. At least the author should provide us some picture of the maze for us to solve. No, he didn’t. He is too lazy for that.

The novel is plot driven, not character driven. I cannot attach at all with all the characters. What I see is just one character withholding information from each other, mad against each other, typical YA books, boring… Even the plot is not that intense. Yes, one or two characters get killed, but since I don’t care about any of them, well, I just don’t care. The author failed to make the readers care about the characters, either to love them, or to hate them.

I am also annoyed by the usage of new words like: klunk, shank, in this novel. It doesn’t play well, unlike let say in The Giver. In the Giver, the setting is hundreds of years from our common era, it makes sense if some vocabs are lost, and some new grammar is created. In this novel, barely 2 years or more. Not enough the create any new lingo. It succeed only to irritate me.

The style writing is just at best acceptable. I cannot find any beauty in it. So basically it is just a fast food reading, not a fine cuisine. You read it, and then you dump it.

And the spoiler:
If the goal of the whole maze is to find out strong, intelligent, not-giving-up individuals to help us to escape the cataclysm cause by the solar flare, we are close to doom. The solution is too easy, and the tension is not that much. The fight-to-the-death Battle Royale or The Hunger Games style is much more intense. Make an arena, make them fight to death, and take the last 10 survivors, for the example. The Creator didn’t care about any casualties to begin with, right?

The last several chapter is just pure info dumps. All that is hidden in the beginning is poured in front of us in one serving. Not a nice way to tell a story, by the way.

Final verdict, TWO STARS. I do not give it a one star only because I keep that place of honor only for the book which succeed to be so repulsive that I want to throw it away. This book does not belong to the category. It is not that good, but at least it is not repulsive to me. Do I care to read the next book? Probably not.

two star

 

 

Final Note:
Another proof of the laziness of the author. It is told that the author is using the name of famous scientist to name the character.
Alby : Albert Einstein
Newt : Isaac Newton
Gally: Galileo Galilei

So far so good.
Now what about this.
Thomas: supposedly from Thomas Alva Edison.
He is not a scientist. He is a tinker, an innovator. He is not in the same league with the name mentioned above.

Now it gets weirder.
Teresa: from Mother Theresa.
Since when Mother Theresa is a scientist. If the author wants to be consistent, why not using Marie, from Marie Curie.

And the weirdest of all.
Minho : what? Any Asian scientist named Minho?
What I can recall is a Korean actor named Lee Minho.
The author tried to escape by saying that it is named after a non-existent scientist, since the setting is the future. If that is the case, why not make up all of the name from the non-existent scientist. Case closed.

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Red Mars

March 17, 2015

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)This is one of piece of sci-fi that deserves to be on my all time favorite. There might be a bias in my review here, because I tend to like solar-system sci-fi. Maybe because it is closer to home, and we can relate better to it.

The story begins with the “first-one-hundred”, 50 men and women that will be the first permanent colonist in Mars, selected among the best mind on Earth, to form the first permanent human settlement in Mars, and be there for good.

The book is a bit of a collection of closely related short-stories, each of them has different narrator and point of view. It makes this book quite interesting this way, because you see different kind of truth from different beholders.

The book can be a bit boring in some part, especially the technical and geological part (hey, it is not like we are familiar with the maps of Mars!)

There are plenty of things in this books: environmentalism, prolonged life, international politics, theology, transnational capitalism, exploration, and of course TERRAFORMING! I definitely am going to major in Terraforming if it is available right now in the university.

The science part in this novel is also very interesting, even though it might not be plausible. Come on guys, it is a fiction, not a handbook guide to Mars! There are some parts worth mentioning: automatic robot construction, martian storm, and of course SPACE ELEVATORS! I wish I could see a space elevator before I die, but I think it is a long-shot.

Wonders how it might look like? Here it is:

description

The concept itself might not be created by Kim Stanley Robinson (the first idea might be coined by Arthur C. Clark in The Fountains of Paradise), but still the depiction in this novel is very interesting, both the technical and the economical impact. And since it can created a really cheap means of travel to the geosynchronous orbit (or in the story areosynchronous orbit, that is the analog of martian to earth orbit, you landlubber!), even NASA consider it. Check it out here:NASA space elevator

But I think the best part in this novel is the questions asked. The questions is the best what-if scenario that is the hallmark of a good sci-fi. What will happened if we have surpassed the Earth support system (the Maltusian)? What would life be if we can actually live up to 200 years old? Will the colonization of Mars actually repeat the mistake in the earlier colonization of the New World? These kind of questions really make us think, and that is why I give this novel a FIVE STAR.

five star

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R.I.P Terry Pratchett

March 13, 2015

You will be missed…

And finally Death said to him:

At last, Sir Terry, We must walk together.

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Old Man’s War

March 10, 2015

Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)As the first novel of John Scalzi, I am quite impressed. Maybe the novel is a bit Heinleinesque, but I think it is alright. What is new under the sun anyway…

The story is following a male protagonist, John Perry, who joined CDF at his 75th birthday, which is according to the regulation for an American citizen who wants to join the CDF. He met all his companion with the same ages, therefore created an army of elderly, hence the title.

The plot is interesting, at least for the first half of the novel. It is everything that you can expect from a military sci-fi. The boot camp (but for old people), the technology enhanced super soldier, and super weapon, and the camaraderie among the recruits. It is interesting to see that technological difference also alter the method of the military training, for better of worst.

As a single novel, I think it is very good. But if you want to make it a big space opera, I don’t think so. The world building seems lacking. The relation between Earth and the CDF is not really explained. It looks like the Earth is isolated from the interstellar conflict without any reason.

I cannot help to compared it with Starship Troopers. You have the same army recruit story, and the battle against aliens. The good thing about Starship Troopers is that it is not just telling us about the battle against the bugs. It is telling us about the human condition as well. The is exactly the weaknes in The Old Man’s War. It is not telling us enough about the human condition. There seems to be a break betweem the Old Man and the War. There seems to be almost no difference if the title is change to the Young Man’s War, except for the first half of the novel.

I am not saying that it is not a great novel. It is, and it is thoroughly enjoyable to read. But it is enough to make it to five stars. So, FOUR STAR it is.

four star

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The Martian

March 3, 2015

The MartianBelieve it or not, I have a calculator on my side to confirm all the calculation by Mark Watney in the novel. So far, all calculation are correct, until I get bored past half of the novel.

The beginning is very interesting. An astronaut stranded ALONE in the surface of Mars. He has limited food and water. He can manufacture oxygen by separating O2 from CO2, given the machine is not broken. This is the story of his survival, until he was picked up. Called it a Robinson Crusoe crossed with MacGyver on the surface of Mars.

The novel is definitely action packed, a perfect formula for Hollywood movie. It is not surprising that it is going to be made into a movie right away, starring Matt Damon. It is also plot driven, without any brain candy or philosophical problem. If you can pass through the technical jargon (which you can skip anyway), you can quite enjoy the novel actually.

The main weakness of the novel is that the character is too perfect. He is not depressed even though disasters hit him one after another. He, with his cool-headed-brain, simply attacked all the problems he encounter with a stoic attitude. That is almost impossible, unless you are a trained Zen monk, maybe. By that, you know that he is unbeatable, and therefore takes away the element of surprise.

The plot is interesting. However, after half of the book, it feels like a bit repetitive. Problem hits unexpectedly, Mark Watney figured out how to solve it, until the next problem hit. The sub plot in NASA is quite refreshing because it breaks the monotony. It has more elements of surprise compared to Watney’s plot, and it has more human elements.

Final verdict, it is a solid FOUR STAR, but not enough to make it a new legend.

four star

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