Archive for April, 2013

h1

Quantum Thief

April 30, 2013

The Quantum Thief (The Quantum Thief Trilogy #1)WARNING: this book is for adult. There are plenty of reference to sexual act and homosexuality.

First impression, by looking at the cover, the title, and the author, not impressive. I thought it is just a pulp fiction, using hackneyed “quantum” term freely like on many best sellers list, written by an Indian spiritualist author. Turn out that I am wrong. It is a very high end science-fiction, the term “quantum” is properly used, and the author is not an Indian; he is Finnish. I still reserve my opinion about the cover.

OK, now the content itself. I admit that this is a HEAVY read. Lots of term, unexplained by the author. Lots of reference to Hebrew words, Russian names, quantum physics terminology. Thank God for the Internet, that I can simply search the term on wikipedia. Usually I do not recommend readers to peek the glossary of term while reading a novel, but this time, I recommend it. Here is the link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_…
Believe me, it will help you a lot in understanding this novel.

The story is about a thief, Jean le Flambeur, recently busted out from a Dillema Prison (a reference in game theory, google it by yourself) by Mieli, an Oortian (a reference to Oort Cloud) warrior. They are with a mission, a very sophisticated heist, delivered for a high being, with an unknown motive. And it is going to be carried in the Moving City of Mars, which is the main setting of this novel.

The world created by this author is very rich and riveting, once you get the hang of it. For me, it is after about three chapters. It is like finding a new world for you to explore, try to figure out how it works. It is a very exhilarating experience. It has been a long time since I read a novel that made me this excited. It forced all the grey cell of my brain to full throttle, try to piece together all the information into a coherent story.

I would say that this novel is better than The Demolished Man, which has similarity, a detective story in a sci-fi world. Rajaniemi’s world is richer and more engaging, but more difficult to comprehend without the help of glossary.

The idea in this novel is also very rich that makes the Matrix movie like a child play. The whole idea of transferred consciousness, uploading mind, even copying and hijacking mind are explored. It explores the whole possibility of a post-human being, cheating death, and even a possibility of living for eternity.

The battle scene is dizzying. A lot stuff happened at the same time, a wholly different family of weapon: viral weapon, nanobots, information warfare, while fighting physically. It is going to be really difficult to visualize it, not to mention to make a movie out of it.

So, if you like a mind-blowing and mind-boggling book, this one is highly recommended. If you are not this type, better stay away from it.

h1

Shadow’s Edge

April 23, 2013

Shadow's Edge (Night Angel, #2)Brent Weeks definitely did not let me down. Not many times I read sequels with surpass the first book. This is one of it. This book expands the background laid in the first book, and brings it to a full bloom.

The story still continues on the life of Kylar, a full-grown assassin now. Cenaria had been fully occupied, the rebellion was forming, and Logan was still kept deep in the Hole. The Godking was tightening his grip on Cenaria, while Kylar was getting out of Cenaria to start a new life, just to realize that his past will always haunted him.

The first novel of the series is like the laying of the chess pieces on the board and some opening movement. One side was under pressure, and victory was on sight. But total destruction was evaded. The heir survived. On the second novel, the play on both side became more subtle. Each was laying traps for his opponent. The end game was difficult to predict. New players, initially not taking part in the first novel, were coming, bringing their own interest. The game became more complicated. The balance of the game was change. Brent Weeks was indeed the master of the game. He laid the characters like a professional chess player. The intention was hidden until the attack was commenced. And once the attack began, it was hell unleashed.

Brent Weeks succeeded in expanding the first novel, in terms of plot as well as tension. The new faction and point of view characters indeed make the story more interesting. Unfortunately, it is the main characters, Kylar, that somehow was not really grown. I expect a deeper characterization for Kylar. Fortunately, it is saved by the discussion of Caernarvonian culture, which is an important plot point. Logan part is much better, and of course Vi’s part. It looks like that we are going to have a trinity finally: Kylar, Logan, and Vi.

The dialogue is witty, despite some cliches. The pacing is good, not to slow not to fast. It is easy to get hooked when you read this novel. The best part I will say is the plot. All the plot device are laid carefully till they converged to the final event. The final conflict was indeed a very good climax, even though it was a bit predictable. Weeks was too obvious in showing the trail. I hope he can write with more subtlety (which he did, in his Lightbringer series).

Overall, a very good sequel, better than the first book. 4 star!

h1

Transformation

April 16, 2013

Transformation (Rai-Kirah, #1)My first reaction of this book is not good. First, the cover, it looks like a romance fantasy. Bare-chested good looking guy, with wing? I certainly will skip it, if not my reading group recommendation. Second, somehow some people tag this novel with M/M relationship. What the #$%!? No way I am going to touch this. No offense guys, it is just not my thing.

The story is about a ex-Warrior, who later became a captured slave, and his Master, a prince from the most powerful empire. Together they will determine the future of not just the empire, but the whole realm.

But, again, since it is a “mandatory” read from my reading group, I read it. After several pages, actually it is quite good. The writing is flowing beautifully, the characters are well placed. It is just the plot that is a bit slow in the beginning. For almost 200 page, the plot is so-so. And the tension is risen, and everything comes out with full blown blast. And it is good.

There are not too many characters to follow. The world is simple enough, so is the magic. The only genuine part is the explanation of the Ezzarian community. Even that is not very complicated. So, it is quite an easy read actually. It is using a common formula for a sword, wizard, magic and sorcery fantasy.

Now about the M/M thing. I cannot see a hint of M/M romance relationship in this novel. Yes, there are no significant male-female romance here, but it does not mean that the other explanation exists. Does all fantasy need romance (like all the YA fantasy)? Certainly no. Can’t you just accept that there exists another thing beside romance that binds two person strongly such as servitude, honor, duty, and friendship? Romance is not the only formula.

What kept me from giving the book higher that 3 star is the originality. While it is a good read, it is too formulaic. The slave-master relationship is original though, and well explored. But again, I need something more. And the cover does not do justice to the book.

h1

A Scanner Darkly

April 9, 2013

A Scanner DarklyI admit that this is a difficult book to read. It requires a higher state of concentration to fully appreciate this book, and I think I fail to do that. Some reviewers say that watching the movie (the one with Keanu Reeves) is helpful to  grasp meaning of this novel. I think this is the only time that I recommend watching the movie before reading the novel.

The story is about an undercover narcotic police agent. Deeply involved in his job, and actually too deep, he took Substance D, a highly addictive narcotics. He did not realize the side effect (or actually a permanent effect) of the drug until it was too late.

The science fiction theme of this book is not easily seen. It is hidden beneath the rambling of drug users. I myself might not see it as a science fiction novel. It is more about drug abuse than exploring the splitting personality because the Substance D destroys the connectivity between the left and the right brain. So instead of having one unified brain, the victim see the world using two brain, and sometime have conflicting information.

The complexity of drug user behavior, which the author captured perfectly, makes it even more difficult to follow the story of the book. Only after reaching the second half of the book, I began to grasp the story.

What I admire most about this book is the realistic approach of the writer, in describing the drug user culture. The dialogue is so real, that you feel that you are inside the story, witnessing everything. Only an accomplished writer can do such a thing.

This book was written in the height of drug abuser culture in 1970s. Simply because I do not belong to those era, it makes me difficult to really grasp the inner meaning of the story. If I understand the struggle, the atmosphere of those hippies era, maybe I will give this book an extra one star. Maybe if you get high you can understand it better (sic). Living in this new century, when the issue around us are environmental degradation, religious fanaticism, public ignorance, etc, I cannot really see the importance of drug issues in this era. At the end of the novel, the author stated that this novel is about many of his friends, those died and suffered because of drug abuse, and I fail to get that feel.

Notes: I just found out in this book that, the voice of your own, that you hear directly while you are speaking, is not the same voice as it is heard by other people (?)

Verdict: 3/5 as a sci-fi. But as a general reader I would give 3.5/5

h1

In Memoriam Roger Ebert

April 5, 2013

In Memoriam Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Among movie fans and reviewers, you will be greatly missed.

To quote the obituary from his website:

Roger Ebert loved movies.

Except for those he hated.

So long Mr. Ebert.

Roger Ebert (extract) by Roger Ebert.jpg

h1

Graceling

April 1, 2013

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)Another reminder for me to cautiously pick another YA books next time.

The story begins with a prisoner extraction mission. This prisoner supposed to be an important plot device in the later story. The main character who lead the mission is Katsa, a royal assassin, a super killing human machine. Later, because of her involvement in investigating the prisoner’s case, she will play a major part in the destiny of the realm.

OK, now the critics.

Firstly, the blend of teenage romance and fantasy theme in this novel is disastrous. I would have been better for the author to simply write a teenage romance with contemporary setting. It just does not fit. The fantasy does not add any spice to the romance, and the romance is ruining the fantasy. I have read some Harlequin type historical romance novel which are much better than this.

I cannot seriously think that this is a fantasy novel. The magic design, which is the Grace, in this novel is laughable. The author makes it more like a mutant ability rather than magic. (Does not mean that being mutant is wrong, but it just does not fit well into the story line.) There are no explanation and exploration of the Grace, except that you are born with one. And the ability of the Grace can range from utterly useless to almost demigod capability. This kind of magic without restriction is really bad in literary sense, because the author can wield ANYTHING to solve any plot in the novel. This kind of literary device can be devastating, because it can made the character unstoppable. The only good thing I can think of the Grace is the struggle of characters with their ability. Even this is not fully explored by the author.

Spoiler about the Grace:
The Grace, which is the magic in this novel, is a bit unbelievable. The main character’s Grace, Katsa, in the beginning of the story line is a fighter. Which mean she has perfect body coordination, fast reaction, and power, which are an excellent design. But half way through the novel, the author somehow decided that her TRUE Grace is not fighting, but SURVIVING, which means she can endure any hardship, have a GPS in her head, and can make fire quickly, just to serve the plot because she has to endure the hardship of winter of a mountain pass. Why not make her immortal, and can grow severed limb! It is simply bad character design. Please, decide what you want to tell. The Grace of the side kick, Po, is also unbelievable. Initially, his Grace is some kind of mind reader, which makes him an excellent fighter, because he can predict his opponent’s movement. But suddenly he later become a RADAR man, that can read his surrounding without opening his eyes, just to serve the plot because he becomes blind! Please, mind is not the same as object. We call it an object because it is mindless! And we suppose to sympathize with him? No way…

The world design is also raw, without any clear distinction of region specialty, except that one is the north, the other in the south, and mountain and sea, and so on. It does not serve as a focal point of the story. In a good fantasy story, the world itself IS a character.

Secondly, the character design. The character does not really develop in the story. The job of the main character as a royal assassin is not reflected in the main character. The main character is just another teenager with self-identity issue, another common term in YA. It is also simply black and white, without gray area. It does not mean that black and white distinction is always bad, it is just it does not fit well in this novel.

The usage of single POV from the main character give us the reader a single spotlight, and the author makes her always being the good-guy (to be exact good-girl) part. It is boring, knowing that she is always right, and will always survive no matter what. If she seems cannot make it, somehow MAGICALLY she manage it, because she is a survivor! Deus ex machina. Well, maybe not always survive in whole sense, because the author makes her HEART vulnerable (surprise… surprise…, something that you always find in YA novel).

Thirdly, the worst part is the plot of the story. The plot unwraps too fast. It does not give you a sense of wonder and surprise. The plot twist is not really interesting. Almost everything is told in haste. Even the romantic part is not surprising.

The solution of the story is also thoroughly simplistic. It strains my logic too much to believe to much. The author makes the villain very strong, but defeated easily. I feel cheated. If the villain can be defeated that way, it is a bit non sense to write a 300 page story. Too simple.

I do not give this novel a ONE star, simply because it is not repulsive to me. I still manage to finish it, despite I will think twice to touch another novel from this author.

My advice, if you want a fantasy novel, read a REAL fantasy novel. Maybe this novel is just for YA fans. Maybe I am too old already.

Verdict: 2/5