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The Rebirths of Tao: Tao Series Book Three (Lives of Tao 3)
The Rebirths of Tao: Tao Series Book Three (Lives of Tao 3)
Price: $6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid continuation of the series, April 20, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
From the first scene in Deaths of Tao, to this book, this well-crafted story has all the ingredients of a successful action movie . In some ways, pacing and narrative are also inspired by graphic novels. And in this case, this a good thing. The author has steadily grown throughout and he was pretty darn good to start with.

Think Dan Simmon's Carrion Comfort with a dash of True Lies and James Bond and you get the idea. (yeah, I was still totally expecting laser-armed sharks at the end battle, must be the cold fresh water that kept them away).

Thankfully while there is a lot of action, it also never gets bogged down in unnecessary details and minutiae. It supports, but does not suffocate, the story telling.

The action is always there, yes, with larger-than-life heroes and villains. But so is humor, a solid plot and pacing. The series never comes off as dumbed down and the plot is always logical to itself. For example, while Enzo pulls off some rather unnecessarily risky moves at the end, it is clear that he does so because he is a egotistic sociopath and his lack of leadership, in the sense of delegating to his underlings, works against him. You know that because a lot a of pages were invested in making you know what makes him tick.

Unexpectedly for an action SF book, this is a series that breathes and lives character development. With (roll your eyes), the family dynamics of a teenager growing up with three parents and going through his first crush. But, again, it works.

Despite this being billed as the conclusion to the trilogy (now referred to as a 'series' instead), I really expect more Taos to be forthcoming. The ending is well done and doesn't leave you hanging, but is also clearly setting up for a continuation in the story arc. Normally, I tend to get annoyed at series that don't know when to stop. But all three books have been very enjoyable, quite different from each other and with varying character focus so...

looking forward to being surprised by book 4.


We Are All Completely Fine
We Are All Completely Fine
Price: $8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Quite a book., March 14, 2015
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An intriguing mashup of modern pop culture & horror with Lovecraft inspirations, very well done.

It is well written, with multiple POVs of radically different characters that get into your head. The use of weekly therapy sessions, with switches into different characters each time is a great trick to drive pacing and leaves you wanting to know more each time.

Creepy as heck too in a very understated fashion - think of some of Bank's works like Use of Weapons or Wasp Factory.

The only reason I am only giving it a 4/5 is that the end was a wee bit rushed. Given that it's short and cheap and most likely the first in a series, I didn't mind too much, but it was still a slight letdown after all the initial buildup.

4.5/5, really, highly recommended and I'll read other books by the author.


Ruby Programming Professional Made Easy 2nd Edition: Expert Ruby Programming Language Success in a Day for any Computer User (Ruby, HTML, C Programming, ... C++. C, C++ Programming, Computer Program)
Ruby Programming Professional Made Easy 2nd Edition: Expert Ruby Programming Language Success in a Day for any Computer User (Ruby, HTML, C Programming, ... C++. C, C++ Programming, Computer Program)
Price: $3.11

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Waaaay too light and short, March 14, 2015
This book didn't get as far IF-THEN-ELSE or WHILE coverage. Wow! It's basically a tour of Ruby's irb interpreter, about 3 pages' worth, max, for programmers. Returned for refund.

Wasn't asking for much out of this book. A quick reminder of the basic syntax so that I wouldn't be puzzled when reading Chef recipes, mostly. So, in a way, 37 pages and <$3 was a good fit because I didn't need, or want, to slog through hundreds of pages of Ruby arcana.

However, when the last page of the book concludes with suggestions for further studies and those concern control logic, you know it's a bit on the light side, dontcha?

Now, as far as folk who are new to programming, while I can't recommend a Ruby equivalent, I've seen a bunch of books in Javascript and Python that address that audience and assume no prior knowledge. RPPME doesn't help much there, it covers the first 30 minutes of discovering programming, max and then stops. Sure, it holds your hand and is helpful in doing so, but so will other books and they will not end at the first chapter. Better off googling "getting started Ruby" tutorials.

p.s. check the author's Amazon page. 16 "in a day" books on totally different programming languages all published between Nov 2014 and March 2015??? All with only glowing reviews, mind you. A little bit of cross-checking of these reviews is interesting as well. For example, Mr. Maik, reviewing PHP also managed to review 3 other books by Sam Keys. All with 5 star reviews. I definitely smell a scam here and I've notified Amazon of my concerns. This is not just one bad book, it's a pattern of gaming the review system by swamping it with 5 star ratings immediately after publication on multiple books that get almost no other reviews than 5s and very few 1s. And the reviewers doing it cross-pollinate ratings all over the place - lots of dietary supplements as well as at least one thriller with exactly the love/hate review profile you can see in the Sam Keys books.


King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
Price: $9.67

5.0 out of 5 stars quick read and a bit of a shock to my worldview, February 16, 2015
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Tempting, 60+ years after the end of colonization, to blame Africa's problems on the local elites, superstition, corruption and the aftermath of the Cold War, with massive stocks of obsolete AK47s and the like generally making life miserable for all.

Sure, Europeans have to admit to the imposition of arbitrary borders to suit European geographers and deal-making rather than taking into account local ethnic groups.

After all, how bad could it have been? To be clear, I generally subscribe to that view and am not usually disposed to worrying too much about European guilt.

Well, according to this book, Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now are directly inspired from the reign of terror by one rather trivial and silly king, Leopold II of a fairly insignificant country, Belgium. The body count resulting from his policies are estimated by some to number in the millions (in Belgium's partial defense, Leopold's activities are presented here as being a somewhat off-the-books quasi-private venture).

The book itself is well-written, interesting and fairly quick reading and includes a fair bit of general information of interest to any history buff.

You don't have to come out of it tearing your hair out about white guilt. That's not the point, or at least it wasn't for me.

But if your world view can tolerate a hit to its complacency, consider that Africa's nastiest ongoing civil war, in the Congo, corresponds exactly to where this bit of history was taking place. Is it too much of a stretch to suppose that the near collapse of an entire population would have affected the survivors for decades to come? (Rwanda is not covered but was also under Belgian administration and perpetuating Tutsi dominance was part of colonial policy).

This certainly made me rethink my position about European colonialism being unjustified, yes, but also relatively benign in general. 6-8 million deaths calls for a lot of blame and I was astonished that I'd mostly never heard of it.

Oddly convenient that we've generally forgotten about an extermination event roughly of the same magnitude as the Holocaust even though it made headline news until the early 20th century.

Last but not least - can this be generalized to Africa's colonization as a whole? That's a stretch, from the material in this book. One can hope that the Belgian Congo was an outlier and aberration, but to what extent did lesser atrocities take place elsewhere, under other colonial nations? That's for other books to bring to light or rule out.

One thing for sure, Africans, whether Congolese or not, who are aware of this episode will have their outlook of Europeans altered by it and one should take that into account before glibly dismissing their criticism of colonialism.


Echopraxia (Firefall)
Echopraxia (Firefall)
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bleak but not in a good way, February 9, 2015
This is really a book where I feel my low rating is as much a reflection on me as on the book. It is not a bad book at all and I get why others would love it, it just didn't work for me. It went largely over my head and it was a chore to read.

Bruk's character wasn't the problem, he is mostly there to allow us to witness the storyline and in a strange way he was even sympathetic.

I found the plot to consist of long coasting stretches in which

- the characters didn't communicate much and when they did it was to chide the protagonist, Bruks, for being a baseline human but without really engaging me with the alternatives.

- nothing happened, except for numerous did-you-know-that scientific asides. OK, I get it, Mr. Watts is clever. But, while science in SF is a good thing, it is not a substitute for advancing the plot. Probably better if one theme was truly dominant, like Blindsight's intelligence vs consciousness, but they share the limelight too equally here. For example... God as a computer virus? Well, if you gotta be offensive and provocative, the least you could do is develop it and incorporate into your story, not just have 2 paragraphs about it, one of which is in the afterword. Like I said, a number of asides, not a useful plot device.

- lots of descriptions of equipment, the surroundings or society. Well-written and, individually, they would be fine, but again, you need to move the story, not just describe. Here they ended up being rather sterile.

- you don't know what is going on, which faction is doing what and who is manipulating whom. Was Valerie gaming the monks or were they gaming her? OK, I get it that we are lost because Bruks is lost and I am not asking to be spoonfed, but cut the reader some slack. Plots within plots within plots => good potential for losing the reader, especially if they are not captivated.

Then, in the middle of those stretches, suddenly the story would go into overdrive, something massively significant would happen in a page or two at the most and I'd be totally going "huh? what just happened?". And, like a billiard ball after a collision, story direction is now totally changed and we go back into coasting mode again. For example, I still don't fully understand why Portia reacted strongly to Moore's son and why suddenly everybody was scrambling out afterwards. I re-read the relevant pages, but all I really got is that the story took a 180 degree turn, literally. I suppose there was an ah-ah moment for everyone else.

Granted, there were moment of absolute brilliance, like Bruks initial flight on his cycle. If that pace had been sustained, this book would have been of the greats.

There was little overall coherent vision, though individually the parts made sense. Even when the storyline was spelled out I neither really felt it reflected the buildup nor was I that interested in following the logic that had gotten us there.

Should I care? Well, maybe that's the part where my review is caused by my own shortcomings, but I don't get off on this whole "it doesn't have to be clearly-written and engaging because it is so clever" bit.

I don't read SF to read up on science. I can, and do, read science books for that. A good SF story might motivate me to read up on the science, but it still needs to stand on its own terms.

I get that the author wants to talk about post-humanism, very valid subject for SF. How will we evolve when we have the capability, one way or another, to increase our intelligence and take different decisions about enhancements? Computers are not the first new technology ever, no, but technology that enhances cognition is quite unusual. Biological manipulation of our brain, AI or direct interfacing will up that ante again. These are good questions and other authors manage to wrap them up in more digestible and reader-friendly packaging. I am thinking for example of Rainbow's End, A Calculated Life, Alastair Reynolds, Neuromancer, Nexus.

Are the ideas in Echopraxia interesting? Definitely, which is why I get the positive ratings. He's probably at the top of the author heap there.

Peter Watts can do deep, for sure. After reading Echopraxia, I just purchased Beyond the Rift. In a short story, you can get away with having just a clever idea and easing up on character and plot development.

In a novel, you need to leaven the bread a great deal more. This was a bleak story, as in mostly featureless, not just as in somber. 2.5 stars, rounded up but would have greatly benefited from a more critical big-picture editor.


Angel Station
Angel Station
Price: $4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Love. Betrayal. Survival., February 3, 2015
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This review is from: Angel Station (Kindle Edition)
When's the last time you read a SF book without guns or combat? I love both SF and military history, but except for short stories, there is almost always violence or the threat of it in SF.

Angel Station manages to be suspenseful, high tech, dystopian and cyber-punkish. All that pretty much without a gun anywhere to be seen. It's a classic tale of people at the end of their rope who get one more chance at salvation, not a far cry from a Wild West tale.

"He had expected more confrontations, drama, a Navy cutter swooping towards Runaway with alarms clanging, boarders armored and waiting in the airlocks, targeting computers reading data to missiles.

...

He was ready for a fight and everyone had surrendered.

"

As some have criticized, it mostly lacks action. A thoughtful and reflective book, AKA SLOOOW. Not that Mr. Williams hasn't written action books, he's done very well. Instead Angel Station rewards patient and inquisitive readers. There is a LOT of character development, cultural innuendos and introspection to get through. And no guns :(

But it's not unlike a poker game.

So you may or may not like it. I disagree with the low ratings but, on their terms, they are not wrong either. This is not like 95% of SF novels. As a short story, other excellent SF writers may have written this as a clever and clever first contact SF with a cute twist. As a novel, it's a harder shot to get right if you deliberately avoid action, but all the slow buildup at the start gives you the context for the masterful last third.

And it has aged remarkably well for its 1989 publication.

Third time I've read Angel Station since. Along with Voice of the Whirlwind (_combat_-oriented cyberpunk mercenary yarn), my favorite of his.

* to be fair, a few old Arthur C Clarks and A Calculated Life also forego direct violence.


The Peripheral
The Peripheral
by William Gibson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.69
113 used & new from $8.97

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Style 5/5. Writing 5/5. Substance..., January 18, 2015
This review is from: The Peripheral (Hardcover)
I have an on/off relationship with Gibson's books. The Peripheral drips cools and style and just generally very clever writing. Where it falls short is having much of a payoff at the end.

To be fair, 3/5 is a bit harsh. It is not a bad book and a lesser writer would deserve 4 stars, easily. But Mr. Gibson is capable of much better.

In criticizing the payoff I don't mean that it doesn't have a plot. It does, and, yes, it is hard plot to follow at the start. Characters come and go, without introduction. Often he seems to make deliberately hard to track who is speaking and who is who. For example, Flynn at the start refers to her mother, to a person called Janice and to a person called Ella. It took me some time to narrow down that Janice was a friend and Ella was the mother. No big deal, this book rewards paying attention and I had probably missed something in the initial presentation.

Eventually, by page 100 or so, the plot somewhat settles down. Vintage Gibson plot - multiple unrelated character groups, shadowy conspiracies. You get to understand that there are two different time periods, one in Flynn's time and one about 75 years in its future and their relationship is not your standard time travel yarn.

And, yes, that idea is just COOL.

Other things that are cool are Gibson's trademark capacity to describe the world in clever and thought provoking ways. That's where the good writing comes in - Gibson is a SF writer, sure, but he's got a style that can compete with many mainstream lit authors'.

For example - "this was a scuba documentary, one about Lower Manhattan". Other writers would have yapped at length about global warming, Gibson throws out a short elliptical quip instead. He is in form here and channels a fair bit of Bruce Sterling vibes about urban and rural nomads scraping by in a dispossessed and semi-functional society and environment. This has always been Gibson's strength but he's added a fair bit of Sterling's tech acumen. Truth is, he's done this all before but it is well done. That's what I read his books for, along with his quirky insights about people and things.

The problem is that Peripheral, as a whole, is hung up on the flimsiest of backstory.

There is an exciting action sequence at the end. But once that is done, we get a very pedestrian conclusion, with a justification for the plot that he is semi-recycling from one of his earlier books. The synopsis could fit in one paragraph and in fact Gibson barely bothers to make it any longer than that.

All this journey, to find out the whole fuss was about this??? Doesn't throw the reader much of a bone.

Frustrating to say the least. The time travel aspect had a lot more meat to it and is very inventively done. This is Gibson after all, he coined terms like 'cyberspace' and 'virtual reality'.

To put it differently, there were three elements to Pattern Recognition's success. The protagonist, Cayce, the recurring narrative about coolhunting, and the conclusion (which was also somewhat weaker).

Flynn has potential, sure, but, as written, is not as compelling as Cayce (Logo-phobia? Genius). Netherton starts out brilliantly when shown manipulating Daedra, but then kinda simmers down to be the anchorpoint in futureland.

The time travel angle, while clever, is nowhere as developed as coolhunting. More exactly we, the readers, got coolhunting. It was a super clever idea, but once it explained we could run with it. The time travel bit deserves a lot more attention than it gets in Peripheral. Or else it can't be passed as the main subject and there is no other main subject.

The scenes that make up the book are individually situationally clever writing but lack an overall soul. And the explanation for everything at the end is flimsier than Pattern's.


Fives and Twenty-Fives: A Novel
Fives and Twenty-Fives: A Novel
Price: $8.51

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading., January 8, 2015
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Gave me a small idea of what it might be like to serve in a war far from home with no obvious enemy but danger always. Kateb's character probably says it best - "I finally understood how good my father and brother had gotten at their war", but there are all sorts of matter of fact insights about what balls US servicemen and women had to keep on juggling each day to stay alive. Starting with the title itself. Yet it is not unsympathetic to Iraqis either.

You also get an insight of the responsibilities and, for lack of a better word, necessary remoteness, of a lieutenant's duties with regards to his platoon and how being out of the service changes everything in that regard.

Back stateside, the plot of the novel is driven by the main protagonists' attempts to get on with their life and the flashbacks to what happened to them in Iraq. Kateb's setting is the Tunisian Arab Spring of 2011. Simple device, but effective.

I confess that I didn't fully understand the ending, it seems some threads were left in the air, especially for Kateb, but it remains a thoroughly satisfying and intriguing book.


C.R.O.W. (The Union Series Book 1)
C.R.O.W. (The Union Series Book 1)
Price: $2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Grim & realistic ground combat only Military SF, January 5, 2015
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I have a confession to make. I do not, as a rule, really like Military SF.

Most writers in the genre rarely capture the feel or pacing that you get from reading combat memoirs or documentaries like Enemy at the Gate, Restrepo or A Bridge too Far.

Verdun, Stalingrad and Gettysburg. Meatgrinders, all and so are the 2-3 days covered by this book.

This is what CROW feels like once it gets going. Yes, there is a lengthy interlude after the start where Andy, the protagonist, recounts all the bullying he has undergone. Some reviewers have complained about it, but it sets up the background to how he reacts once combat gets underway and his comrades start getting shredded.

What keeps soldiers from collapsing when their unit has had massive casualties? How does it feel to go face nearly certain death? What might ground combat look like, if you have massive FTL invasion fleets?

The author clearly has been a career soldier, in wartime. Not just a wannabee a la Clancy or Weber - there are no glorious battles against overwhelming odds won bloodlessly by sheer awesomeness (*cough* Miles Vorkosigan *cough*). It's a bloody mess of a slugfest instead. You get the feeling that the reason Andy is the narrator is because he's the guy that made it out alive.

The doctrine, tactics and weapons he postulates are credible extrapolations of our current military trends - assault helicopters, airborne infantry, armed drones and smart missiles are all believably evolved into a lethal battlefield cocktail like a hi-tech WWI. The level of bullying seems a bit over the top, but some armies tolerate lots of hazing.

I am not giving 5 stars mostly because the book is so densely packed with firefights once it gets started that there is very little else going on. Combat-heavy, gear-heavy, world-light. The character development however is quite good - Andy is believable in his reactions, refreshingly vulnerable and sympathetically written.

Some reviewers criticize the grammar. It's not perfect, but this is a Kindle debut - you need to be realistic with your expectations. It is also clearly British English, so expect some clashes there. I've read some truly horribly edited Kindle books before and have not hesitated to criticize those. Here, I didn't notice very many errors, too busy with story, though I did catch a glaring "steal" vs "steel" homonym. And a fair bit of repetition. Easily improved by an editor, really, but not perfect by any means.


MetaGame
MetaGame
Price: $3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought but also enjoyable as a quick read, December 10, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: MetaGame (Kindle Edition)
OK, not quite, quite, a 5 star, 4+ really, but I'll round it up anyway because, like many other reviewers, I really found it quite unique.

I really wish the author wrote another SF novel. This one is not perfect, mostly it could use some extra work on characterization, but it's quite novel and thought-provoking. Basically, it packs a bit of "philosophy", sometimes a tad obvious, into a light and engaging story. Is the plot the greatest thing since sliced bread? Not really, but this is welcome change from the endless rehash of vampires, zombies and space marines more commonly seen in cheap Kindle SF and the author has a lot of room to grow.

Now, one thing you have to accept with it is that it is quite gaming and social-network oriented. You don't have to like those subjects to appreciate the story, but you need to be willing to see them put front and center. Oh, and a relaxed attitude towards religious musings is helpful as well.

You also need to tolerate a story which throws you in the middle and expects you to gradually puzzle things out. This is fairly common in SF, but if it gets on your nerves than MetaGame is quite possibly not the book for you. Slang is used right away, but typically gets explained a bit later on*. Sometimes with exposition, true.

- Work and life as a game. If you work in software, one buzzword we hear nowadays is "gamification", i.e. making mundane work less tedious and more engaging by adopting videogame reward strategies. Buzzword it is, definitely, but it has been taken to its logical extreme here.

- Popularity-driven life. That's the Facebook/Twitter aspect. Especially in the beginning, it is really emphasized. For example the scene at the congregation of a "church", after our hero kills an acquaintance and gets big rewards for it. I think the book would have been even stronger if it really emphasized this aspect, but that's also a big risky item to take on meaningfully.

- Should human clones/androids be treated as slaves? The core subject, in many ways. Well-done, but face it, hardly the first time it is done in SF. The bit where reality is essentially re-written is intriguing however.

- If someone or something can control your environment, grant you life and death and reward you with eternal life, would you be correct in considering them as God? I don't think so, but the characters in MetaGame certainly do.

Dystopian? Utopian? A mix of both, sometimes self-consciously so.

* "Grinding" for example is a term commonly used in current videogames for a repetitive activity you carry out not to achieve a specific goal or further the story but rather to gain more experience or treasure. "Spanker" (not sure if it a real-life term), seems to be the frivolous-only counterpart. Both are used early on, but only explained later.


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