Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon“Altered Carbon” by “Richard K. Morgan” is part of his Takeshi Kovacs series. I read the sequel to this book “Woken Furies” late last year. “Altered Carbon” had the main character, Takeshi Kovacs, noticeably less developed and much more of a psychopath in this earlier work.
The novels are entirely from Kovacs’ point of view so you need to be able to identify with the character on at least *some* level, something I was utterly unable to do with this book.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Morgan’s writing style, but I will be giving the remaining book in this series a miss and looking to see if his next offering is more to my taste.

Jumper Griffin’s Story

Jumper Griffin's StoryNot nearly as enthralling as the original “Jumper“, “Jumper Griffin’s Story” by Steven Gould was just “OK”. It was an enjoyable read but the story always remained at a superficial level for me. The book had indicated that it was driven by the movie. There was not much the book had to offer besides IMHO “same old same old”. I think there is a lot more that can be done with the “Jumper” universe. This book failed to explore any of that potential.

Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier

I’ve been working my way through Bruce Schneier’s book for a while. Not due to any shortcomings in the book itself, but rather other distractions have been interfering with my reading for the past few months and I’ve fallen well behind as my “to read” shelf has been growing steadily.

“Beyond Fear” should be required reading for EVERY SINGLE ONE of our legislators. Well… this book and the constitution. Knowledge of both of these tomes would go a long way towards stemming the tide of ridiculous, pandering, appear-to-be-doing-something-ANYTHING laws that seem to flood out of State and Federal government houses each month.

Combining relevant examples with 5 comprehensive steps that should be evaluated as part of any important security assessment, Bruce pragmatically walks the line between impractically crippling defensive measures and vulnerably insecure systems that must be used by myriad folks on a daily basis. He emphasizes our natural tendency to overestimate certain kinds of (ultimately irrelevant) risks while we casually accept on a daily basis risks that are of far greater likelihood and, ultimately, consequence than those we emotionally invest ourselves in.

While Bruce does not say this explicitly, the examples and figures in his book support the statement that I have heard made that “If you read about it in the newspaper, it’s not something you need to worry about.” (BTW, this can apply to positive things too, like reading about someone winning the lottery). The only reason it’s being reported is because it’s unusual or spectacular. That’s why the handful of deaths airplane crashes (631 in the U.S.A each year) receive so much publicity but the thousands of people dying in car accidents (41,700 in the U.S.A. each year) receive only the vaguest of coverage.

Perhaps my favorite quote in the book on this topic is that “More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks.”. To contrast with the numbers above, about 0.6 people are killed in the U.S.A. each year by sharks. That’s five orders of magnitude less than the automobile figure. Yet how many people do you know are fearful of going swimming, yet have no problem driving to the corner store for some milk?

Anyway, there are great examples given of computer issues, financial issues, terrorist issues and even beekeeper issues. You will not want for examples that you can relate to.

Definitely a starting point for a reasoned, rational discussion on how to make the best possible trade-offs for the most useful and unencumbering risk reduction in a world of finite resources.

Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan

Woken FuriesI originally heard about “Woken Furies” on a “Tech Nation” podcast interview with author Richard K. Morgan. The universe he described sounded intriguing so I picked up the book last December and have been slowly reading it ever since. I don’t tend to rush through books I’m enjoying as I like them to last as long as possible.

I originally did not realize that this was the third in a series or I probably would have gone and picked the others up first so that I could grow with the story. As it turned out the book does a very good job of standing on its own.

I won’t bother to summarize the plot here, others have done a much more thorough job on Amazon and elsewhere than I could hope to, what I am expressing rather are my impressions of the book.

It’s relatively and graphically violent in portions, which is fitting given the history of the pro-(an?)tagonist. In real life he would not really be someone you’d want to meet… ever. But it is interesting to spend the book inside his head as he recalls past experiences that involve quelling far-flung planetary uprisings with a ruthlessness reserved for those who are trained to kill and are very good at it.

Of greatest interest to me is the culture of a civilization where death is a rarity. By choice or by accident you can “resleeve” and have a brand new body to use to carry on your existence and that body can be tailored to your personal or business needs. Starting with that premise, how do casual folks deal with relationships and their attitudes toward the everyday travails of life?
Mutually agreeable divorce or separation is much more to be expected as it is possible for centuries to pass across which your growth as a person may be expected to diverge from that significant other with whom you shared so much so long ago.

I found this a satisfying read and have added the preceding books to my Amazon wish list and anticipate that they will be equally satisfying.

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

I think that the world created by John Scalzi in this book has a lot of potential. I did not realize when I picked it up that it was actually the second one that he’d created in this universe (the first being “Old Man’s War”).

But I also felt that he didn’t take advantage of the rich potential offered by the universe he’d created. There was really only one line through the novel and everybody and everything was dedicated to following that single thread to its conclusion. The protagonist (Jared Dirac) has a genetically-modified body that is detailed early on in the story but then is virtually ignored for the rest of the novel. Similarly, there are many characters introduced (his immediate commander, the various top brass folks) who hint at being very interesting and whose past and possible intrigues are not at all pursued. Maybe there is an intention to do so in later novels or these are elaborated upon in the earlier book but then there is no attempt to recap any of this in “The Ghost Brigades”.

Further, the relationship dynamics (conflict between Jared and team mates, interactions between the “normal” people and the “Special Forces”) are very simple with easy and final resolutions. It makes for a very comfortable read but a less richly textured story.

Finally, the story wrapped up very conveniently and neatly. Again, I felt, not taking advantage of the universe that has been conceived and is waiting for its potential to be seized upon. I tend to be a “happily ever after” kind of guy (too much Hollywood-style entertainment I suppose), but I realize that there are very few nice, neat certainties in the world, and certainly few situations where everybody’s goals all line up so that everybody will be happy at the same time or for the same reason.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book and the story immensely. I find Mr. Scalzi’s presentation engaging and I loved his exploration into consciousness and trying to grapple with the realities, both technical and moral, presented by being able to transplant consciousness from one body to another and some of the implications of literally creating soldiers (slaves) and convincing them that servitude is a noble life goal. I will definitely be picking up his other offerings. But I will do so expecting a quick, easy read rather than an in-depth, complex narrative.

Jumper: A Novel by Steven Gould

JumperI chose this book because the premise sounded interesting. You can read the synopsis of the book on Amazon if you’re interested, so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice it to say that I did enjoy the fact that teleportation was almost a background aspect of the story. There was no real attempt to rationalize or explain it. The story was more about how character(s) learned to deal with this abilty.

This is not a multifaceted, complex story like “Dune” or some of my other favorites, but Steven Gould’s writing style flows so effortlessly that I couldn’t believe how quickly I raced through the book. I will be looking for more of Mr. Gould’s works in the future. I’ve already added the second Jumper book (Jumper: Griffin’s Story) to my wish list.

A satisfying, entertaining read.

De-cluttering our home and our lives

Garage SaleWe’ve been a bit busy for the past little while. In the post renovation euphoria, we realized that we really like the quasi-minimalism that we had in our newly re-invented rooms. We can find what we’re looking for and we like the feeling of lightness that comes from just knowing that there is not a mountain of *stuff* either behind the closet doors or filling up the drawers in the desk/cabinet/you name it.

Add to that Mich has been watching various home improvement shows and eventually zoomed in on “Clean Sweep” and has even ventured so far as to buy the “Clean Sweep” book (It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff) and started taking it’s philosophies to heart.

So we’ve been working our way through the house re-evaluating EVERYTHING. We’ve been discarding old papers that at one time we thought were so important – who really cares about those pay stubs from 15 years ago? And re-evaluated our “time capsules”, which are boxes of items that we didn’t want to get rid of for one reason or another and thought that they’d be interesting to us many years in the future. We went down from 4 time capsule boxes to 1. It *was* a little interesting going through some of the items we thought were so precious 15 or 20 years ago, but it was much more cathartic evaluating them and either selling, giving away or discarding them.

On the whole, digital pictures and smaller mementos to trigger memories of good times past are sufficient for our purposes.

Our neighborhood has a couple of garage sales a year – where the homeowners association does some advertisement and folks know to come through ’cause there will be a lot of sales concentrated in the area. So we participated in the one that was held last week and divested ourselves of a BUNCH of stuff and cleared a modest profit as well 🙂

Combining this de-cluttering with the philosophies embodied in our focus on “Getting Things Done“, we’re finding ourselves much clearer in our expectations for our free time and our lives and goals in general.

We picked up DVD storage pages, the kind that fit into a 3-ring binder, and we’ll be collapsing our DVD collection down from a couple of shelf-fulls to a handy binder size. This AFTER culling the collection for the garage sale.

Today we’ll finish assembling the shelves we picked up yesterday and complete organizing the back room we’ve designated as our “storage room”. We have no basement and there are some things that you simply do not want to store in a shed or the garage (Christmas items, party supplies) and so we’ve designated a room in the house that will host such items. But only after a THOROUGH vetting – do we really want/need to keep these things?

It takes a LOT of energy and effort to work through this kind of project, the renovation was a good shaking-up / taking off point for us. Hopefully the momentum from this effort can roll through the rest of our life as the satisfaction of finding what you need when you need it as well as being pleased with how your place looks is almost beyond description.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself

I'm a Stranger Here Myself

I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson

Lent to me by a friend I read through about the first third of this offering by Bill Bryson and found I simply could not get into it. Written in the spirit of Dave Barry, Mary Roach and maybe Erma Bombeck, it is intended to draw humor from the little idiosyncrasies of daily American life as seen by an expatriot returned from years in the U.K.

Where I find Dave Barry’s turns of phrase highly amusing I tend to find Bill’s commentary more rankling than amusing. Each article highlights some aspect of American life that I find less than satisfying and the commentary, though trying to be amusing, simply comes off as frustrating.

House Corrino (Dune: House Trilogy, Book 3)

House Corrino (Dune: House Trilogy, Book 3)House Corrino

The final installment of the “Dune: House Trilogy”, this offering rounds it out acceptably and *does* tie up many loose ends that had been created by the previous two books. However I found the final third of the book to be a rush of bring-up-issue, resolve, repeat.

Also disappointing is that the richness of the characters was neither exploited nor acknowledged. Characters folded into single dimensional entities that acted and re-acted to situations in a way that was simply expedient to move the story along to its conclusion rather than with the greater depth and complexity that Dune readers would expect.

If you have read the preceeding two books of this trilogy then you’ll definitely want to read this book to wrap up the series. I would not recommend this as a standalone read, but as a cap it is quite adequate. If you’re a die-hard Dune fan, then I expect you’ll still enjoy this prequel that leads directly to the original “Dune” book. Personally I found the “Legends of Dune” trilogy vastly more epic and entertaining than the “House Trilogy”.

My recommendation? Read Dune first, then any of the other post-Dune books, *then* “Legends of Dune”. Only read the “House Trilogy” if you find you are so “Dune” mad that you begin suffering withdrawal without some kind of Dune fix. 🙂

Judas Unchained

Judas Unchained Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton

The conclusion of Mr. Hamilton’s most recent duology. I deliberately took a long time to read this book as I do so enjoy the universe that he crafts. I was less impressed by this anthology than by his previous offerings. There were many characters (Ozzie and Paula for instance) that I felt were never adequately explored. However in a universe as rich with characters as this, I suppose everybody has their favorites and wants to see them on center stage more than the others.

(***Spoiler Alert***) Don’t read further if you have not yet read this book and do not want any details given away!!

I also felt that the end portion of the book was not fully satisfying. Perhaps it was the intent, but I felt that the ultimate antagonist in this story was never properly realized. Also, the final conflict was somewhat contrived and unsatisfying.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully enjoyed the entire lead up and I do not read these stories solely for the ending. But usually the ending can be counted upon to be as satisfying as the experience of getting there. So I would still recommend the books based on that alone.