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Gathering Blue

August 25, 2015

Gathering Blue (The Giver, #2)I have to admit that I like this one better than The Giver. The writing is better, the pacing is also better. I finished it faster simply because I cannot help to find out what is going to happen on the next page.

Many other reviewers complained that they didn’t like this book simply because it is not continuing Jonas’ story line. I am not on their side. Lois Lowry is indeed continuing the story in greater scale, which means she introduced what is going on in the other community, in Jonas’ world. Of course the world is much bigger then Jonas’ own community. The story of Jonas will have to wait.

The story is told in a more sophisticated way. I like the way the author introduced “new” vocabularies unique within the community. I also like the way she includes puzzle for us to solve: (view spoiler). There is an aura of mystery also, in age proper description. And also the sense of adventure that is a bit missing in the first book.

I cannot help again by comparing this book with The City of Ember series. City of Ember, I would say, is better in the world building, and creating a technotopia (my own word for technology related utopia/dystopia), while The Giver series is a mystitopia (a mystique utopia/dystopia). The mystique is getting denser in the second book and I love it.

This book indeed creates a greater horizon for the series and I am greatly satisfied. This is indeed one of the best series for children that I would recommend for everyone.

four star

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Yesterday’s Kin

August 18, 2015

Yesterday's KinIt is everything that you can expect from Nancy Kress. It is a solid hard sci-fi, with some revelation made. I cannot help but to compare it with her previous novel that I read, Steal Across the Sky. I have the same feel when I read both novel. Both are related with alien encounter. Both also related with human genetics. Both also bring new revelation about our ancestor. I cannot help also to say that Steal Across the Sky has given me greater impact than this novel.

The novel is told using 2 POV, a researcher, stumbled on something that catch the attention of some aliens; and her son, an ignorant commoner. And the story is pretty much told from the circle of this family, and some closed friends. The story started with an alien encounter, with a hidden agenda. Once the agenda is not hidden, chaos followed.

First of all, this is a thin novel, only a little bit thicker than a novelette. I finished it in one sitting, without a sweat. I give a merit to Nancy because the flow of the novel is so great that it does not give me any speed bump while reading it. But unfortunately, being so thin, you cannot pack too may ideas inside it. Nancy has been doing well in packing all the necessary ideas inside this novel, plus the story, without making it too preachy with technical details.

Now, the down side. Nancy Kress has try to simplify the plot by ignoring all chaos that happened outside the labs. But even by cutting that parts away, she is still missing some interesting dynamics that might happened in her closed circle family and among her lab crews. It should be more interesting if she has more pages to write.

So, that is my final thought, it feels a bit incomplete. It feels that it ends too abruptly. And the final twist is a bit an anticlimactic. Sorry Nancy, only 3 out of 5 this time.

Additional Note (critical review with spoilers)

The hypothesis of Nancy Kress regarding the alien civilization is interesting. She hypothesized that due the more benign planet that the alien inhabited, they became a more cooperative society, compared to ours. And because they are more cooperative, they are far more advanced than we. That hypothesis needs to be explored at least another one hundred pages. Maybe in debates between alien and human, maybe in some scene when the alien are confused about our competitive, self-interested, individualized and obsessive behavior.

three star

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Worlds

August 11, 2015

WorldsWorlds is an ambitious attempt by Joe Haldeman. The title itself is revealing; it is a story of many worlds. Mankind is starting its next colonization, conquering spaces. Many giant space stations are built as new human habitats. Man also starts mining the moon and asteroids. A new interplanetary politics is building, between the old earth and the Worlds.

The premise is interesting, new politics caused by the new colonization, while the old earth is trapped in conservatism and ecology disaster. But it looks like that the author failed to capitalized it. I cannot help but to compared it with Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson. The premise is almost the same; the colonization of Mars creates a new tension in politics. Where Robinson succeed, Haldeman failed.

The first third of the novel is very good. The characters are properly introduced and the world building is amazing. Haldeman successfully captured the new culture caused by the separation from earth quite well. I would give FOUR STAR for the first third. But the second third, when the main character, Mariane O’Hara starts her campus life, it is plain boring. The details do not add well to the story. Instead of building the story, I find it as impediments to the main plot. The revolution spirit is not well captured. Maybe it is caused by the usage of just one POV, Marianne, which herself is almost oblivious the revolution. TWO STAR only for this part. For the final third, the story is improving. The revolution starts, and Marianne find herself in it, helpless and hopeless. The tension is well built. THREE STAR for the last part. So, on average, I give this novel a THREE STAR. Not great, but not bad as well, exactly is the middle.

I would say that this novel is not Haldeman’s best. Nice to read, but not really engaging.

(I GET THE COPY OF THIS NOVEL FROM NETGALLEY)

three star

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Half a World

August 4, 2015

Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)The timing of the publication date is just perfect, after I finished reading Half a King, the first novel of the series. So everything is still fresh in my mind.

I started reading this novel with high hope, to continue the misadventure of Yarvi, or now Father Yarvi. Unfortunately he is taken off from the center stage, just being a supporting role. The leading characters now are (typical) two teenagers, Thorn, a female fighter, and Brand, a big and handsome young boy. Somehow I always imagine Brand as Samwise Gamgee in LoTR or Samwell Tarly in GoT. For Thorn, a younger version of Angelina Jolie, perhaps.

And so, the story continues. Gettland is on the brink of war, and it is in desperate need of allies. Father Yarvi is on the mission. And accidentally he met these two outcast youngsters, and took them under his wings (one on each side, perhaps). It is supposed to be an interesting adventure, but somehow it is below par if you compare it with the previous Yarvi’s adventure. It is a typical coming-of-age adventure, without the wit, cynicism, and struggle like Yarvi’s. It does not differ much from any typical YA fantasy. Yes, of course, Abercrombie writes much better than a typical YA author, but still, it is below his standard form. Well, I miss Yarvi on the center stage, and those two teenagers definitely cannot replace him.

The plot is above average, you have many unpredictable twist, which is fun. Some small details are added, to be wrapped up beautifully in the end, with a fine knot. This is typical Abercrombie that I like. Unfortunately the plot still cannot save the weakness in the characters (Thorn and Brand). No matter how interesting is the plot, it feels like it still lacks some ingredients. In conclusion, this novel needs a major overhaul in the next installment, if Abercrombie wants to keep his throne as one of the best fantasy writer.

PS: Most likely, I can measure how much I like a book by listing how many memorable quotes from the book. And from this one, not many.
And I can create a quote which is better than Abercrombie’s too:

“Where can you find allies if half of the world is against you?”
“The other half, where else?”


(Original quote: “Where do we find allies?”
Father Yarvi smiled. “Among our enemies, where else?”)

three star

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Forever War

July 28, 2015

The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)This novel is indeed a classic. I can understand why it holds its place at the sci-fi hall of fame.

It is indeed the product of its age; America is deeply involved in the Vietnam war, many young men were conscripted, antiwar sentiment were raised due to the involvement of the unintended and unwanted war. You can see those parallels in this novel.

The story circles around a young (and then “very old”) soldier Mandella, who is drafted without his consent, due to the Elite Conscription Act, a law passed to conscript high IQ young men and women to fight extraterrestrials in another system far far away from solar systems. The first time setting is the near future, and then continues to about one thousand years. The military also has overcome the male-female bias. Each draftee is sterilized, eggs and sperms stored in cold storage for later use. The concept of “confraternity” is introduced, where male and female soldiers live in the same quarter. Promiscuity is actually encouraged to strengthen the bond, while exclusive partnership is discouraged because it will create tension and competition.

Since it is decades after the first publishing, I feel that the war issue is about outdated. The strongest part of this novel is not even the war scene. It is the social changes caused by war that is interesting. How the politics changes, the economy booms and collapsed, etc.

Despite the outdated war issue, the gender issue and clash of civilization are still contemporary. The heterosexual vs. homosexual orientation is widely discussed. Imagine when heterosexual became the outlier, while homosexual is the new normality. Imagine that you, being heterosexual is seen as an aberration and everyone wants to cure you. After reading this novel I can sympathized with my LGBT friends.

Clash between cultures (or in this case: species) is also the center theme. Many meaningless wars happened just because we cannot communicate with each other. Once we can understand each other, the war seems to be so puny. And in a long term, all wars might sound so silly. Imagine Japanese people that is portrayed as yellow skin savages that fight the allies. Now all of those image has lost, replaced by the uber-cute techno culture spread by the anime and manga. I can imagine that will also happened to the so-called Islamic terrorist right now. Imagine how would we see them decades from now.

The best part of this novel is the time dilation caused by the near-light-speed travel. It is something that is usually omitted in common space opera. It is just like the issue dealt in the movie “Interstellar”. It is something that should be faced by a star faring civilization.

Overall, a solid 4 stars. If Haldeman makes a more interesting war scene, I will give it a 5 stars.

four star

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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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