Archive for January, 2013

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Eye of the Storm

January 29, 2013

Eye Of The Storm (Sean Dillon, #1)A fast food book. Actually I read this book just because I get bored, and I want I light snack. And that’s what I get. A light snack.

The story is about a hit man, ex IRA enforcer, Sean Dillon. After disassociating with IRA, he became a hired gun, for anyone who can afford him. The background of the story is the First Gulf War, during Bush Senior administration. He was hire by Saddam Hussein regime to make a big hit, big enough to startle the West.

The story is quick-paced, you can read it without straining your brain or memory too much. But in some places, it is becoming too repetitive, sacrificing the thrilling effect for a supposed-thriller book.

And what really bothered me is the ending. It is anti-climax. It costs the book at least one-star in my review. It makes you say, “So after 300-pages of reading, just like that?”

Verdict: 2/5. I might from time to time try to read Jack Higgins again, when I get bored. Maybe I will try his other series, such as The Eagle Has Landed.

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The Player of Games

January 22, 2013

The Player of Games (Culture, #2)Some reviewer compare this novel with Ender’s Game. I guarantee you that the comparison is not accurate. It does not have the same spoiler as the Ender’s Game. They are not even about the same thing.

This is my first Iain Banks novel, and certainly not going to be my last. The novel (clearly stated in the cover and back-cover) is about a player of games, more precisely, of boardgames. The character is Jernau Gurgeh, the best board-game player of the entire Culture (a post-scarcity hyper-advanced civilization). Now, instead of playing against his own people, he is sent to play in another civilization, Azadian Empire, where they live and die by a board game named Azad. Seems like a dream (or nightmare) comes true.

The plot is a bit slow in the beginning, starting with the daily live of a over-famous game player, Gurgeh, until something went wrong! One thing leads to another, and by no time he became the gaming ambassador of the Culture. Once the journey started, the pacing of the novel is steady, leaving no room for unnecessary plot. You have the intensity of the game, the intrigue, the power play, the bluff, the cheat!

But the more important thing about this novel is actually about the clash of civilization. It is not just about the contest between game players, but in the end it is a contest between two radically different civilization. One that consider that a game is only a game, and on the other side, the game is the entire life. That is what makes the book so interesting to see.

The one thing that I still find it lacking is the sociology of the Azadian civilization. Banks had tried to explore it, but somehow I still find it not enough. You cannot get the full grasp of the alien civilization like the one you get from reading a Larry Niven‘s novel. But maybe that is not the intention of Mr. Banks. Anyway the explanation of the alien race is enough to serve the intention of the story.

Final verdict: a strong four star!

My own personal note: this novel affects me a lot. I, myself, am a board-game player. I can see the struggle of the character. I am even inspired to write one sci-fi story after reading this novel. One thing that I can suggest to Mr. Banks: I think he is not familiar of Eurogames, the board-game genre produced by Europe, mostly German. These kind of boardgames do not depend on luck, unlike the Ameritrash counter parts. Given Mr. Banks is familiar with this genre, he can write even a better Player of Games.

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Demolished Man

January 15, 2013

Demolished ManFirst thing to be said: huge spoiler in the last two chapter.

OK, now about the book. This is another unusual book in sci-fi genre. It is a detective novel, set in the future, when almost no crime can take place, because parts humanity has evolved into telepath, therefore any criminal intent can be predicted before it happened. The telepathy issue is also discussed pretty deep, using some of Freudian interpretation, which is interesting.

The case is murder, being done by Ben Reich, a magnate murdering his competitor after a failed merger. The case is investigated by a telepathic police officer, Lincoln Powell. Living in a society surveyed by many mind readers, Ben Reich has to tailor his murder plan to circumvent all the obstacles, making fail-safe plants, and he succeeds. The Big Question: Can he get away with his murder, with Powell in his tail?

The first part of the novel is the planning of the murder, and second part the investigation. It reads almost like a common detective novel, except the unique typography used by Bester in several section, the way Bester shows how telepath communicates with each other, with broken words and symbol instead of complete sentence. It is very unique and original, and I think the best gem in this novel.

Unfortunately, the writer let the story becomes too loose and protracted before tied them up neatly in the end. The plot is slow before reaching the end conclusion. It is much better if Bester already gives the hint of the ending, somewhere within the middle part of the novel, to keep the reader interested. I would say, the last two chapter (the demolition itself and SPOILER: *the Ultimate Sardine Game*) redeem the whole part of the novel, otherwise, it is just a common detective novel.

Believe me, the end is very good, and Bester should have make it a bit longer, instead of just one chapter. Because it explained everything that seems loosely scattered along the novel.

Four Star (3 1/2 actually). A classic that you must read. But it could have been better.

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Weapons of Choice

January 8, 2013

Weapons Of Choice (Axis Of Time, #1)This is my first John Birmingham book. I accidentally stumbled upon it, and once I read the first page, I cannot put it down.

Why? Is it that good? No. But because the background of the story is about my country Indonesia. The year is 2021, not so far from our current time. An American led (yeah, ho hum) multinational force is positioned near East Timor, just outside Indonesia’s territory. They are preparing to overthrown the Jihad rebellion who just won the civil war, by retaking Jakarta. Yes, Indonesia has become the next Taliban, in 2021. Maybe it is too far fetch, but still I find the story interesting.

The Background: Indonesian legitimate government (President and loyal staff) is seeking refuge in Geneva. Indonesian Armed Force (TNI) had been divided, some are supporting the Jihad. And the last standing force, protecting the legitimate government, is-yeah-the Marines (Marinir TNI-AL). I believe that the author has done his homework. He used to work as researcher in US Defense Department, and he knows the role played by Marines during 1998 Jakarta riot. Marines was the only effective armed force at that time, the other: army, police, were just disappeared!

And the story goes, the multinational force, accompanied by two of Indonesian frigates, KRI Sutanto and KRI Nuku (yes, the author is using KRI as the term), which are refitted frigates bought from East Germany during Habibie’s term as president (yes, he said that), which are a part of national armed force still loyal with the government.

Everything is ready, until something goes wrong. One ship, which is a research vessel is conducting a top secret science experiment, accidentally creates a worm hole which transports the entire fleet backward in time, to 1942, in the middle of Midway naval battle, creating huge confusion in the Allied fleet. The multinational force from the future, is destined to change the history of World War II. Will history repeats itself, or will it change forever?

Well, interesting, right? There are lots of characters, and some of them are historical figures, such as Roosevelt, MacArthur, Churchill, Hitler, Yamamoto, even Einstein. There are also a lot of tension because of the “clash of culture”, between the future American, and the old American. The author is also quite accurate in depicting Indonesian culture. The naval officer is hoarding pirated movie and music in his ship, for long period on-board entertainment! He also makes reference to clove cigaret, and rice cake wrapped with banana leaf (or lontong)!

Those are the strong parts, now the weak parts. Birmingham seems undecided about whether he will make this novel a “lesser history”, such as Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, as historical account of the foot soldier, or a “major history” such as The Second World War, as the account of generals. By mixing them, he is loosing the focus.

There are also too many point of view characters. By doing that, each characters only has small portion, therefore the character development is sacrificed. You cannot have a deep sympathy for the character, such as in Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest or A Game of Thrones.

The story also looses the steam in the middle, only to catch up near the end. Birmingham is genuine in creating the social tension caused by the “Transition”. But he just failed to blend the tension in the story; it felt like a nuisance instead of strengthening the story line.

Final verdict: 3.5/5. Potential to be a 4 star, actually. Just not enough.

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Hothouse

January 1, 2013

HothouseThis is an ambitious work by Brian Aldiss, trying to depict the life of the future Earth, nearing the last stage of our Sun’s evolution before it shut down.

The time is millions of years from now, the sun has evolve into a red giant, the Earth has stopped rotating, creating a perpetual day and perpetual night in the region of the Earth. Human has ceased to be the dominant species, many animal species have gone extinct, the dominant life forms are plants. The last remnants of human species live above the gigantic banyan tree. The sun is simply too hot to face directly forever trapping human to live under the shade of tree.

The story starts with a group of human, showing the details of daily life above the tree, which is nasty, brutish, and short (to quote Thomas Hobbes). Most predators are in form of plants. Animal predators had been long gone, only a very small numbers left. The world that is created by Aldiss is immense with details, and he gives the species very unique name.

Unfortunately, the story later loose the direction. The events portrayed seems to be trivial to interest the readers. Later, nearing the end of the novel, the plot picks up, thus saving the novel from becoming a total mess.

What interest me most is that Aldis used biology in building his sci-fi setting. This is refreshing because most sci-fi are playing with physics. His choice of setting in the near-nova Sun is also unique. In general I would say, the setting is the best part that you can get from this novel, because the plot of the story is not as interesting as the world building.

PS: This is the vision of future earth, if you have too much “mushroom” in your head!

Verdict: 3/5