Archive for March, 2013

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Headhunters

March 26, 2013

HeadhuntersThis is my first Jo Nesbø book. I read it in a high expectation actually, having read some crappy thriller novel. But I am disappointed.

The story is about a headhunter, whose side-job is also an art collection thief (that is not a spoiler, you get that from the first 10 pages). He is successful so far juggling between his “day” and “night” jobs. Until he find an excellent candidate to be headhunted, which turn his world upside down.

Labeled as a thriller novel, I find that the writing style of this book less thrilling. I cannot really pinpoint the mistakes. Maybe it is his first person POV style, or discursive writing. Even the detail seems to be annoying rather than thrilling. The plot is good, just somehow it does not come through. Only the beginning and the end is well written.

Maybe this book is written with a specific agenda his mind, to be made into a full feature movie (which he get it). The writing is too much graphic, and it does not serve for literary taste. If you ignore the words and see it as moving pictures, actually it is quite good. It is the image that is thrilling, not the words. It will be a good movie, I think, if directed properly.

Many reviewers in Goodreads as well as Amazon seem to share my conviction. This one is not one of his best. Instead this one is his worst. But that can be a good news, because all of his others works are better than this one. And I will just follow the suggestion of other reviewers to read his other works, especially the Harry Holle series, which they say are pretty good.

Verdict: 2/5.

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The Shallows

March 20, 2013

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our BrainsIt is an important book for our generation. Carr is continuing the tradition of media prophet such as Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman. It can be seen also that he is continuing the tradition of technology critics such as Lewis Mumford, and believe me or not Joseph Weizenbaum, one of the computer wizard in its early days, by creating one of the first AI: ELIZA, the chatterbots (google it by yourself). Later he became one of AI critics.

In this book, in which he goes to full length, he tries to argue that Internet is making us dumber. And in the long term, instead of serving the mankind, Internet will indeed do us harm, because we rely on it too much. By “outsourcing” our thinking ability to the Internet, we will eventually loose the ability that makes us most human: THINKING!

In the following I will emphasize some of his arguments:
1. All technology will change our brain and body structure, for better or worse. For example: the farming technology, will decrease our reliance of physical strength, while increasing the output of our work. By depending on technology, we can no longer rely on our muscle power. In other words, we are numbing our muscle. Is it bad? Not necessarily. Because we still can supplement the muscle power ability by lots of exercise (this line is my own argument).

2. But what about computer and Internet especially. Computer or in wider sense Information Technology (IT). By “outsourcing” our thinking ability, just like what happened in muscle analogy, we will numb our brain. So what? If computer can do the works better for us, why not? Why? Because computer can not replicate human way of thinking. Computer thinks in rules, specific predefined rule. While we, human, think by breaking the rule sometimes. There are no such thing as perfect copy when we are talking about human way of thinking. In computer, you can copy a file millions of times, and it is still the same file as the original.

3. So, is it a bad thing? The realm of sci-fi is a good way in exercising this. Once upon a time, one of sci-fi prophet, Arthur C. Clarke, wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey. In this novel, there was HAL, the supercomputer inside a spaceship, programmed for the ultimate success mission of the ship, AT ALL COST! And once the AI “thought” that its human counterparts were jeopardizing the mission, you can guess what happened next.

4. So, is computer all bad? No. But unfortunately it reshapes the way we are, for better or worse. Hopefully we can keep the better part, and get rid of the worse part. But I doubt it, the trend has already show that we are going to the worse part. And this is Carr’s argument: we have lost our deep and systematic thinking, the legacy of the typographic culture, and replaced by staccato and intermittent thinking, the one that is heralded by Internet. Look at Twitter! Who wants to read long arguments on Twitter! Do you want to have a discourse on Facebook? I wish you good luck! In the long term, we might lost the one thing that makes us human: THINKING.

One thing that kept me from giving him a 5 star, he is not coining any new thoughts. He is just compiling from many past thinkers. I am not saying that what he is doing is nothing, he still spend lots of time to present these thing in front of us in a coherent way. Without him, we might not aware of all of these stuffs. 4 Star!

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The Way of Shadows

March 12, 2013

The Way of Shadows (Night Angel, #1)An excellent start for the Night Angel trilogy. The first book of this trilogy, begins with the life of an apprentice assassin, Azoth. He grew up in a slum area, infested with thieves, whores, and all the filth of the society. His regular life as a petty thief and pick pocket changed when he met the real deal, a professional assassin, who later accepted him as an apprentice. Without the knowledge, that his apprenticeship would change his life forever, and made him into the pivotal point of the destiny of his kingdom.

I read this book after I read The Black Prism. The creation of the world and magic system is not as good and as complex as the world in The Black Prism, remembering that he wrote this series before he wrote The Black Prism (Light Bringer series). The magic system does not depart too far from the mainstream fantasy, even though I admit that Weeks added some original concepts in it, such as the “conduit”. But I guarantee you, the magic is not a bore.

The character, which is an assassin (or more precise, a wetboy), is also nothing new in the fantasy world. But again, Weeks is original in creating the psyche of the underworld, the world of beggars and petty criminals. It is eerily realistic. You would imagine the underworld of our today society like the one described by Weeks in this novel.

Even though Weeks did not really create a whole new system, I think Weeks can be very original. He used a lot of “big words”. He even made a pun out of it in the novel (hey, what do you expect, he is an English teacher). He also borrows a lot of foreign culture in our world in creating this fantasy world, including the vocabulary. He borrows heavily from Japanese Ninja culture in forming the world of the assassin, which I think is very realistic. The assassin is indeed a ninja, without using the word in this novel.

Final verdict, a strong 4 stars, not yet to be a fiver. Will definitely finish the entire series. And by this book, I am convince that Brent Weeks is my new favorite fantasy writer.

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A Canticle for Leibowitz

March 5, 2013

A Canticle for LeibowitzIt is not common for a novel to make me feel emotional. This novel is one of them. It makes me sad, as well as optimistic, pondering upon the fate of our human species. So special, yet so stubborn.

The story spans for millennia. It is divided into three parts, each forward the timeline about 600 years. It begins from the aftermath of a global nuclear war (a.k.a. the Flame Deluge) that destroyed all technological advance, leaving humankind to survive with medieval technology and scraps of advance knowledge, waiting to be awaken.

Spanning for such a long period, there are no characters for you to follow from the beginning to the end, except for one mysterious character that seems to be always there. But he is acting as a watcher, instead of the main character. There is only one thing that is common in the story line: the Order of Saint Leibowitz, an order of secluded monks vowed to keep the record of “ancient technology”, hence the title.

The tension in this book is heavy. You can see the tension between the progressive vs conservative, religious vs secular, peace maker vs military, militant vs opportunist. It is this kind of tension that makes this novel very interesting. And also seeing that our human nature does not really change, no matter what technological level we are currently in.

This novel also carries the same tone as The Foundation Trilogy: a small group of humankind, dedicated to preserve human civilization at all cost. I love the trilogy, of course. It feels like we are actually reading a real history. It makes you really respects the Arabs who translated the ancient Greek, the Renaissance movement who brought the Greek and Romans text back to Europe, the monks who kept the records and diligently copying them without understanding them. They are the true hero or our human civilization. Salute!

Finally, I will put this novel in the throne of the best post-apocalyptic science-fiction, side-by-side with World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. A 5 star!

Note: The heavy doses of Latin might hinder some readers to enjoy this novel. There are also a lot of references to the Catholic faith. Uncle google is always helpful of course.