July 26, 2014

Conclusion: I wouldn't last long in the desert

If you have never read an immersive piece of fiction wherein the author creates an entire new vocabulary then Dune might be a bit of a struggle (at least at the beginning). Herbert has created a vast new universe which includes new religions, cultural mores, languages, and science. From the very start of the narrative, the reader is treated as if they are already aware of the world that the characters inhabit. Once you've gotten the hang of things you are in for a real ride. Herbert does not shy away from controversy or taboo. There's talk of rape, pedophilia, prostitution, addiction, and murder to name a few. Religion, politics, and ecology are the main threads interwoven throughout and are the driving force for the action of the story. It is easy to fall into this world and to become invested in the characters (especially the main character, Paul, who is basically the coolest guy ever (understatement of the century)). There is a saying used to quell fear and I kinda want to make it my mantra:
"Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear's path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
And luckily for us, this is just the beginning of the series. >_<

I can't remember if I've ever mentioned it here (or anywhere) but I have a keen interest in the Romanovs, specifically Anastasia (that sounded less creepy in my head). The next book to be reviewed is The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne (remember The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?) and it just so happens to center around a man who is bodyguard to the Tsar Romanov's son. Georgy Jachmenev has been living in England for many years with the weight of heartbreak and scandal pressing down on him. Now in his old age, he makes a trip back to Russia and memories from his past are brought into sharp relief. I'm already keen to get started!!

July 20, 2014

A brilliant, complicated mind diminished by over-the-top tomfoolery

A lot of people have mixed feelings about Russell Brand. I, myself, think that it would probably be difficult to contain an energy such as his in a 'real life' setting but I do find his book amusing and insightful. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
"Life is not a postcard of life, life is essential and about detail, minutia and trivia."
"If I should die think only this of me, 'I thought it would be funny.'"
Brand displays a strange dichotomy of reverence toward women to an unattainable perfection and a misogynistic viewing of them as simply a means to a (happy) end(ing). This sequel, Booky Wook 2: This time it's personal, was everything I thought it would be and more. Its main focus is his continuing rise to fame and his sex addiction. He continues to astound me with his insight and irreverence. The ending is bittersweet but I'll leave that a mystery so as to whet your appetite. ;-)  I look forward to hopefully reading more from him in the future.

Up next is Dune by Frank Herbert which according to the cover is 'Science Fiction's Supreme Masterpiece'. Well, that's a bit presumptive isn't it? I've seen the film and I bought this book several years ago where it's languished on my sci-fi/fantasy shelf ever since. I figured it was time to see what all the hype was about. The story centers around a boy named Paul Atreides who seeks to stop a villainous plot against his family. I should mention this is set on a planet that is not earth that is beset with all number of monstrous creatures and alien lifeforms (YES). I'm going to get cracking on it immediately!

July 14, 2014

Turing: The Unsung Hero

The message that I got from Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age is that he never got any of the credit that he rightfully deserved. The main reason for this is that a lot of the groundbreaking work that he did was at Bletchley Park and it had to be kept secret. Therefore, a vast majority of the credit for the development of the modern computer, stored programming, and artificial intelligence was given to others (both American and English). In fact, history books and textbooks on computer science up until fairly recently made no mention of the two men that were behind the development of modern computers: Alan Turing and Thomas Flowers. Turing was truly ahead of the times with his theories that computers could be 'taught' and that artificial intelligence was an inevitable part of our future (the fear is real within me, guys). Unfortunately, much of his findings on this went either unpublished or unseen and once again other scientists got the jump on him. (At this point, I have to say that this is just the opinion of one man but the overwhelming evidence backs him up.) I learned what the 'imitation game' is and also discovered I had read about it before in Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era by James Barrat. The author only briefly touched on the tragic end to Turing's life and suggested that the case may not have been a cut and dry suicide after all. You'll have to read the book to get the full details! ;-)

You might remember when I reviewed Russell Brand's My Booky Wook. If you don't I encourage you to click on the title of the book which will take you to that entry so you can catch up. Basically, it was a fantastic read and I somehow managed to finish it while on Thanksgiving holiday at all of the theme parks in Florida. *inspirational music playing* Therefore, I have high hopes for Booky Wook 2: This Time It's Personal. According to the book jacket the follow-up is going to focus on the sexual mayhem that only a sex addict can get up to and how the power of love (awkward now isn't it?) can cure all. I have a feeling this one will be anything but boring.

Update coming your way soon but until then happy reading!!

July 9, 2014

Technological progress from the modern computer to robots that have ethics

Well, it probably comes as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed I, Robot. This was my introduction into the genius mind of Isaac Asimov and I'm not going to stop here. I didn't realize until about midway through this book when I started looking at other books by him that this is the first in The Robot Series. The other three novels follow the detective exploits of a human and humanoid robot team so you know that's going on the TRL. As I said in the last entry, this book covers various scenarios in which robots acted outside of their prescribed programming. I liked that the stories were separate yet they had recurring characters and an overarching narrative arch. This kept things moving along and makes the reader invested (only if the author makes the characters likable or interesting which Asimov definitely did). By the end, you get the gist of what he is trying to say and most likely what the remainder of the series will explore: machines making decisions for humanity as a whole. For most, this fills them with a sense of horror that their lives are no longer their own to control. However, for one character in I, Robot this was almost comforting as robots had 'perfect logic and reason' and since one of the fundamental laws of robotics is to keep humans safe they will always make decisions in our favor. I highly recommend that you read this one to get the entire picture because I know I'm not doing it near enough justice.

Further in the vein of technological advances, my next read is Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age by B. Jack Copeland. I became aware of the name Alan Turing when I saw the trailer for The Imitation Game which is all about how he and his team at Bletchley Park cracked the Enigma code during WWII. It's a shame but I don't think many people are aware of this man despite his many accomplishments. Computers are based off of his invention the Universal Turing Machine. He was a leader in the field of mathematics, artificial intelligence, and biology. However, his genius was overshadowed for several years because he was convicted of homosexuality, chemically castrated (his choice instead of imprisonment), and then committed suicide by cyanide poisoning. More recently, there has been talk regarding the reversal of charges against him -- years too late. I have a feeling this one's gonna be a tearjerker, guys, so get those tissues ready!

July 6, 2014

Global warming and...robots?

Eaarth is at once hopeful and devastating. Bill McKibben doesn't pull any punches about the effects of global warming on our planet. The consequences of our pursuit for fossil fuel (and its burning) have made a lasting impact which is already effecting day-to-day living. The 'natural' disasters that we've been plagued with in ever-increasing frequency are a direct result of the imbalance which is a direct result of global warming. I say 'natural' because these freak weather events would most likely not have occurred if we hadn't pumped so much poison into the air and bumped up the global temperature (and it's only been pushed up one degree at this point). However, McKibben doesn't just harp on the horrors we've inflicted on the planet and its many inhabitants. He has solid ideas for ways we can adapt to our new environment on this completely new planet we created. His advice is to rely on communities and strive for living greener lives. (I've oversimplified of course because to give away more would defeat the purpose of you reading his excellent book.) If you're interested in environmental sciences and/or you're interested in the fate of our planet and our very way of life then I recommend you read this book ASAP.

Next up is a book I've had my eye on for quite some time: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. Originally published in 1950, I, Robot, was the first book to give the three fundamental laws of robotics which almost all subsequent authors have taken as gospel. The book is almost a warning to humans that robots are more than just mechanical tools to be used without forethought. Each chapter discusses when robots weren't the 'norm' whether this be through exaggerated humanity or a kind of mania. Five chapters in and I feel chills rolling up my spine (it should be noted that I have a kind of terror of robots that can talk and have a super intelligence) as the tales of robots circumventing their programming are described so realistically I would swear I'm reading true accounts. I can't wait to deliver the review on this one, guys.

Until then, keep reading and have a great week!!

June 27, 2014

Mary Poppins was not a particularly nice lady

I hate to spoil your image of Mary Poppins but...well, I'm going to spoil your image of Mary Poppins. The version that P.L. Travers created was very different from the one Disney dreamed up. She was a vain woman who seemed to be more concerned with her own appearance than with how she spoke to the children under her care. I found it almost unsettling how biting and cruel she was toward Jane and Michael (the twins John and Barbara featured in one chapter and were incidental to the rest of the story). However, just as in the movie version the children were in awe of her and loved her very much (her feelings about them were not quite as clear). I do think this is worth a read for anyone who grew up watching the Disney classic especially because it gives new dimensions to Mary Poppins AND details new adventures.

Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet by Bill McKibben details the consequences of dragging our feet on the issue of global warming. Changes are already occurring and as a result our once familiar planet has evolved into something entirely different: Eaarth. Now that this is our new reality, McKibben says that the only course of action is to alter our society to confront it head-on. Environmental studies and sustainability are both topics I find fascinating so I'm sure this is going to be a page turner.

June 24, 2014

It ends with a BANG!

So it's finally finished. The saga of Detective Henry "Hank" Palace has reached its conclusion and it definitely didn't go out with a whimper. If you've been following this series then you know that the last book, World of Trouble, sees our protagonist in the final days before the asteroid hits the planet. There are still unanswered questions: Where is Nico? Where did Nico get that helicopter? Were she and her friends able to find the astronaut who could supposedly stop the asteroid? All of these questions are answered and MORE in the exciting culmination of The Last Policeman series. I can guarantee that if you liked the first two then you will really love this one and there are some crazy surprises that you don't want to miss!

For a while now, I've been wanting to delve into the world that P.L. Travers created with Mary Poppins at its center. Apparently I wasn't the only one with that same idea because I had to way for months to get the first book in her series on my tablet: Mary Poppins. The story focuses on the children of Mr. & Mrs. Banks and their eccentric (but delightful) new nanny, Mary Poppins. I know already that it's going to be a bit different from the movie because 1. There are 4 children not two. and 2. Mr. Banks is not portrayed any kind of way like the movie version (he's imminently more likely than the mother at least at this point). I expect that I'll find it just as enjoyable (or more likely more so) than the film and I'll update you all just as soon as I've finished it. :-)