July 31, 2014

The Romanovs: Uncovered

I can say without any reservations whatsoever that John Boyne is now on my shortlist of favorite authors. The House of Special Purpose is an exemplary work of historical fiction that had me hooked from the very first page. The main character, Georgy Jachmenev, is a man that you have no difficulty relating to and that makes the story that much more powerful. The narrative begins in 1981 London and leaps around through time from World War I in Russia. (I've discussed before how this narrative format can be jarring unless done correctly and this is a perfect example of a story smoothly transitioning so that the reader remains in the story.) A nobody from a small Russian village, Georgy, is elevated to personal bodyguard to the future Tsar of Russia, Alexei (the youngest son). I don't want to give too much of the story away because its unfolding majesty, tragedy, and revelation should be experienced without being spoiled. I will only say that if you're looking for a story that has romance, bravery, suspense, and heart then this is the book for you. Also, if you have any interest in the history of Russia and the Romanovs then this is a must read for you.

Next up is Brida by Paulo Coelho. I'm sure many of you have heard of this author and some of you may even have read some of his work such as The Alchemist (which is fantastic by the way). This story is about a woman exploring the depths of magic and her place in the magical realms. Fans of Coelho know that he is a master at beautifully weaving tales full of awe and spirituality. I'm sure this will be an effortlessly executed novel which will touch the innermost regions of my heart and soul. I'll be sure to let you know in my next blog post!!

For those of you just visiting me for the first time, WELCOME!! For those who have been around from the beginning, HEY THERE BUDDY!! I hope that you'll do me the great honor of officially 'following' my blog so that you'll be updated whenever I make a new post. Also, I'd really appreciate it. :-) Until next time, HAPPY READING!!

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 theme. 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!!