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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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Money and the Modern Mind: Georg Simmel’s Philosophy of Money

February 27, 2015

Money and the Modern Mind: Georg Simmel's Philosophy of MoneyAt first, I approached this book because I am looking for an easier introduction before I tackle The Philosophy of Money (believe me, it is a difficult book to read). But, it didn’t turned out as I expected. I want to read Philosophy of Money because I am interested in, well, “money”. What Poggi offered is a bit different…

Poggi only discussed about money thoroughly in this book in ONE CHAPTER. The rests are the historical context of the book, the philosophical genealogy, and the impact of money to the modernity, as suggested in the title. Poggi is trying to put Simmel in a proper place among other sociological thinker, and he is doing it quite well. It is just that is not what I am looking for.

So, if you are looking for a genealogy of Simmel’s thought in Philosophy of Money, this book is perfect for you. But, if you are looking for a companion to read Philosophy of Money, like what I am trying to do, you would be disappointed.

My suggestion, if you want to read Philosophy of Money, read it right away. You can skip Poggi’s work. You are not going to miss much.

three star

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The Egg

February 11, 2015

17563539This is a short story, that you can read for free from the Internet (http://www.galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html). It is written by the new sci-fi sensation, Andy Weir. Although he is a sci-fi writer, I am not going to categorize this short story as a sci-fi. It is more a made up spiritualist story like a Coelho’s one.

The short story is really really short, using a common short story standard. Being a short one, there are not much to tell, and the author hit the sweet spot right away, with a twist in the end.

I cannot really discuss this short story without spoiling it, actually, so here we go…

WARNING, DO NOT READ THIS SPOILER IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE SHORT STORY, IT WILL SPOIL EVERYTHING SINCE THE STORY IS VERY SHORT.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
In the beginning it thought it is going to be a common after-life story, plus the meeting Your Creator, but not quite the ever-judging Abrahamaic God, but the indifference Hindu-Buddhist God (if you can call it “a God”). But in the end, it quite shocked me: the entire UNIVERSE is actually is just AN EGG, with me as the center.

Well, if you are not surprised enough, let me rephrase it. The entire universe is created ENTIRELY for me, as a playground for me to evolve until I reach my Godhood, which will let me to bring about another EGG UNIVERSE for another being to evolve within. This is quite a solipsistic philosophy with a twist.

So, everything that is good or bad in this universe, is created by me, only me. So I am Hitler, Caligula, Jesus, Martin Luther, the Playboy Bunnies, a no-one sitting next to me at the bus stop. They are all: “I”. If I did something good, I did it to myself, I I did something bad, I did it to myself. This is also quite a twist from the Christian teaching: “Everything that you did to my humblest servants, you did it to me,” said Jesus.

In the end this kind of story is the kind of story that provokes thought, not that you read for the plot. I actually want to give it FOUR, but being to short for any literary merit, I can give it only a THREE.

three star

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Half A King

February 4, 2015

23016966Half a King definitely set a new high bar in YA fantasy, that is going to be difficult for other works to follow, maybe including himself.

The story starts with a monarchy crisis following the dead of the king, and the heir, leaving the unexpected in line, Yarvi, a prince with crooked hand, to be raised as the new king, the Half a King.

The world building is Nordic, Viking type. But the socio-religion is a mix of Mediterannean and Northern Europe. The life is full with raiding party, but the trade is also lucrative. Slavery exists, if not rampant. All the region in Shattered Sea submitted to one High King, with several vassal as subject. Some regions are ruled by barbarians and do not bow to anyone (maybe with a price).

Despite aimed for YA, this novel did not follow the common trait of YA fantastic fiction. It is not tuned down for the half-a-wit readers, despite the title. It does not have the uber-romantic-love-triangle. It does not have Mary-Sue character. It does not have the typical teenage angst. In short, it is just as good as the First Law series, only shorter. And since it is shorter, the level of complexity is also reduced, but still to an acceptable level. The only thing that is tuned down is the violence.

The main power of this novel is its plot. Despite using just one POV, the main character POV, the novel is quite enjoyable. Using just one POV also provides an advantage; the main character is oblivious to the development of the story beyond him, which makes him vulnerable. Of course, it has several disadvantages also; the level of complexity is reduced, we have only one character scheming while the other characters waits.

It looks like that Abercrombie has a tender spot for cripples and bastards and broken things, to quote Tyrion Lannister. Yarvi is physically flawed, just like Sand dan Glokta in the First Law series. But the mind is the weapon, and he is wielding his weapon with expertise. And of course we love a smart and cunning character. But even with all the brain in the world, we are all under the spell of fate, which gives us no escape from it.

One additional praise to Abercrombie, I like that he reversed the common role of deity in this novel. The warlike is depicted as a female trait, while the peaceful to male. Sun is also a male, and moon is a male. Interesting!

I actually wants to give this novel only a four star, but the last chapter really hooked me as a bitter sweet ending, and I finally upgraded it to FOUR AND A HALF STAR, rounded down to FOUR STAR. Well, there is still room for improvement…

four star

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Echoes of Honor

January 28, 2015

77741The pace is already set from the previous book. The goal is clear, to escape from the prison planet Hades. The question is how?

Using his inner cadre that survived the death while escaping from Peeps prison ship, Harrington is making a plan. Fortunately, she has quite a resource with her. What she does not have is manpower, which are plenty in this prison planet.

At the home front, Harrington ideas are put into design, the new Medusa class Super Dreadnaught, the missile pod carrying dreadnaught, and the LAC carrier. Both are expected to change the playing field with the war against the Peeps.

The plot and pacing is already tense in the beginning, unlike the previous book (In Enemy Hands) that almost bore me to death. Even though there are no big surprises, the plot is satisfactory.

There is a change of form starting from this book for this series. Now Weber is using more multiple point of view. Some readers do not like the idea, since they don’t want to care what the enemy is thinking. I am clearly on the other side, I want to know what happened with the enemy. It makes the story richer. Anyway the enemy is not as clear as black and white. There is always a shade of gray in both camps. And this book supplies a good view on what happened in the enemy’s camp. Some characters are going to be influential in the next book.

Starting on this books also, the book is getting thicker. As long as it is not full of the hero worship and romance crap, I can take it.

Final verdict, it is way better than the previous one, which I think keep the series alive. Not the highest point, but certainly not bad at all. FOUR STAR.

four star

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A Princess of Mars

September 16, 2014

A Princess of Mars (Barsoom, #1)If I were younger, I would appreciate this book much better. It has lots of action, scantily clad woman, flying vehicle, sword and laser. What else would you expect? But, I grow up (old), and all these things has lost their magic.

The story is simple. A (brutish) man John Carter, somehow magically transported to Mars. Somehow he has a superpower strength, thanks to the fortunate luck of being born on the surface of higher gravity planet Earth (Mars is about 1/3 of Earth’s gravity). Imagine Clark Kent, but from Earth to Mars. And on planet Mars, he finds a princess in distress, falls in love, and rescue her. Typical knight-in-shining-armor in a fairy tale.

Don’t expect any “science” in this science fiction. It is almost indistinguishable from fantasy books. All the technology is just there without any effort of explanation. What you have is green men on Mars (although not little and with six limbs), with weird plants and animals, without any effort to explain the evolution or ecosystem of Mars.

To defend this book, at least the author tried to make this novel astronomically accurate. There are description on the canals of Mars, the two Moon of Mars which are pretty accurate. The crisis faced by Martian is parallel with the observation from Earth that Mars is barren and the atmosphere is thin.

There is one little hint that the writer is mocking the communal living usually practiced by socialist group. The green men of Mars is depicted as the Spartan-like society, with little familial love. And the conclusion is simple, love conquers all. Simplistic, but maybe that’s all that we need.

The merit of this book is that it is being a classic. At least we know what science fiction looks like in the beginning of 20th century. But only that. Compared to the pinnacle of sci-fi, there are many better books that this one. The book does not offered much compared with any other pulp fiction books.

PS: The mode of travel from Earth to Mars is not explained. But if you are familiar with astral travel, it looks like that. So actually it is not John Carter’s physical body that travels to Mars, but his astral body. In other words, he is just dreaming.

two star

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