Friday, January 27, 2017

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, #1)His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The short description of this historical fantasy mashup is Horatio Hornblower with dragons.

And it works. Beautifully. Captain Will Laurence (gotta love the name) of the British Royal Navy captures a French frigate carrying a dragon egg. When it hatches unexpectedly and the newborn dragonet imprints on him, he is forced to give up his naval career to care for it and join the disreputable Aviator Corps in the fight against Napoleon.

Hornblower-like in his attitude, Laurence grows as a person as he bonds with Temeraire and learns about dragons and aerial combat.

Combat scenes are well depicted and are exciting and logical.

Besides the dragon Temeraire, there aren't other truly likeable characters, but there are funny conversations and insightful commentary from both humans and dragons. Oh, there is an absolute assh*le whom you will loathe, but I'll leave it at that.

Can't wait to start the next one.


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Friday, January 13, 2017

Dorothy Must Die (Dorothy Must Die, #1)Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mashup a standard Young Adult dystopian fare with a fairy tale, and you'll get Dorothy Must Die.

Amy Gumm, an outsider and loner at her Kansas high school, unwillingly travels to the Land of Oz via tornado, and finds things are not going well.

Dorothy, the heroine from the classical tale has turned evil and is draining the magic from the land, with the help of her now evil and cruel friends the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion.

Amy is recruited and eventually trained by the Evil Witches to infiltrate Dorothy's palace and assassinate her.

Along the way she will find some allies, but will also be constantly reminded everything is more than meets the eye, and no one can be trusted.

So far, pretty much what I expected. Towards the end, things got very interesting, nicely setting up the sequels in this series.

Originally I intended to read just the first one, but now I am genuinely intrigued as to what will happen next.

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Monday, January 02, 2017

Yiddish for PiratesYiddish for Pirates by Gary Barwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. In this weird, funny and sad book, Aaron, a 500 year-old parrot narrates the story of Moishe, young Jewish boy who runs away from home, becomes Aaron's companion, and together they run from the Spanish Inquisition, discover America, become pirates and look for love.

Ripe with satire and Yiddish commentary, I had trouble getting into the story, given the narrator's quirks. After a couple of chapters I internalized them, and had no problems picturing Aaron's and Moishe's story in my mind.

My only complaint is with the rather abrupt ending - Without spoiling anything I imagine it is to set up a sequel. Will look forward to it.


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Friday, November 25, 2016

Armada - By Ernest Cline

ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A teenage gamer discovers his favourite game is the real thing when he is called upon to help defend Earth against an alien threat bent upon our destruction.

Having thoroughly enjoyed Ready Player One, I was ready for more 80's pop culture love.

Armada continues the love letter to the 80's, throwing tons of music, movie and sci-fi references one after the other. But it feels shallow and more of the same.

Other reviewers have complained about the one dimensional characters, bad grammar and frequent deus ex machinas. These are real problems, but Armada manages to be a fun read in spite of it.

However, I hope Ernest Cline's next book is something completely removed from eighties pop culture, as he's at serious risk of self plagiarizing.



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Sunday, September 04, 2016

We Stand On Guard

How far would you go to get an invading enemy out of your country?

I was intrigued by the premise - A hundred years from now, the US invades Canada, ostensibly in retaliation for a drone attack on the White House, but in reality to steal Canada's water.

The story focuses on Amber, who is six years old at the time of the attack, and who has survived in the Canadian wilderness for 12 years.  She runs into a gang of undergunned and outnumbered freedom fighters who harass the invading forces.

I have come to expect only good things from SAGA writer Brian K. Vaughan, and I am happy to report he continues to deliver excellent work.

The art of Steve Skroce and Matt Hollingsworth is detailed and in-your-face.  The technology is extrapolated nicely from what is available today, and the attitudes of society and its leaders are chillingly contemporary.



Highly recommended.

Monday, September 30, 2013

E-Books and Paper books in today's linked world

During the summer, I was invited to participate in one of SFU's Philosophers' Cafés, to discuss e-books versus traditional paper based books, and ponder whether the former will replace the latter.

Below is an expanded account of our discussion, along with some links that provide more food for though.

A Dead Tree crowd

Out of 9 persons in attendance, only 3 owned e-readers --two Kobos and one iPad.

One of the Kobos is virtually unused, the owner citing difficulty of finding and loading books as the main reason.  The other one is used as a repository for PDFs the owner assembles out of articles that interest him.

The iPad is used heavily for e-book and other content consumption, such as web browsing, watching videos and listening to podcasts.

Photo © Devon Christopher Adams, Flickr

e-Readers are cool but they don't have that smell

Consider: George R.R. Martin's immensely popular Song of Ice and Fire books (aka Game of Thrones) each run between 700 and 1,000 pages on paperback, and there will eventually be 7 books in the series.

Paper books are bulky and heavy. Having read some of the series in electronic and others in paper, I prefer the former, especially with such a vast number of characters, where it is easy to lose track of who is who and doing what to whom.  The ability to look up a character by clicking on his/her name and searching online definitely enriched my experience. Having said that, I look forward to purchasing and rereading the whole dead tree set once Mr. Martin completes it, space, budget and spouse permitting.

Harry Potter on my iPad is great when travelling, but each physical book in my collection was obtained under different circumstances, which makes it so special to me, especially considering that moving to Canada meant letting go of almost all my physical library.  My sister owns a Kindle, which she uses on long trips, and has bought paper versions of books purchased earlier in electronic form.

In conclusion, the e-reader may be more practical and efficient, but the tactile and olfactory experience of opening up a new or old book brings about a sensation of ownership that is not there for bits and bytes.

Do you really own your e-books?

There was a lengthy discussion on piracy and Digital Rights Management (DRM).  Some vendors (i.e., Amazon) licence the e-book to you, which means you can't copy the book from a Kindle to a Kobo, and they can erase your purchase from your device if they decide you violated the licensing terms.

In contrast to Amazon's licensing scheme, Tor Books, a leading publisher of science fiction books, announced in April 2012 it would retail its books in DRM-free format.  Customers applauded this move, since they can copy their books between devices without restriction.  Apparently this move has not hurt their business.

Somehow, passing an e-book from one generation to the next does not have much of an allure.

The situation is in flux - just look at the music and cinema industries; the lawsuits have only recently begun in the publishing business.  For two excellent summaries, take a look here and here.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife recently ordered a paper book from Dogwise Publishing a small independent Norwegian publisher, and was pleasantly surprised when she discovered the price included a DRM free download of the book.  I hope more publishers follow their lead.

Do e-Readers really save all those trees?

Conventional wisdom says that e-readers benefit the environment, because of all the trees that are saved by having the books set in bits and bytes as opposed to paper.

One attendee asked what happens when we upgrade our device to the latest and greatest new gadget? If the device is not properly disposed of or recycled, and ends up in a landfill, does the ecological footprint outweigh all the trees it "saved"?

This is a concern, given our consumer society's appetite for the latest and snazziest devices.  The verdict is still out on this one.

In several countries, paper currency is increasingly made out of polymer materials.  I wonder what research, if any, is being done on sustainable eco-friendly paper-like materials.  After all, the written word has gone on a journey through cave walls, wet clay, wax, sheepskin, parchment, paper and now silicone chips; who knows what the next stage is going to be like?

Can an e-Book be as beautiful as the paper version?

E-readers cannot compete with coffee table books as decoration items or conversation pieces -yes, books are also frequently an ornamental (vanity?) statement.

Apps like Flipboard and photograph slideshows bring some of that experience to the more powerful gadgets, but it is not as powerful as a coffee table book.


e-Books: Nice and practical, but paper is here to stay (for the time being)

As a whole, the group leaned towards the traditional paper books, but recognized the convenience of e-readers.

The media for writing and reading has been evolving ever since man first etched signs on wet clay or wax tablets, all the way through the Gutenberg press and modern electronic printing systems.  From a historical perspective, it is very recent that books are massively available.

Electronic reading devices -in e-reader or tablet form- are not for everybody, for reasons of tradition or functionality.

The e-book publishing model lags behind the music and film publishing industries, which are still developing.

Fortunately the ability to carry thousands of books to read on the go, does not preclude cuddling up by the fireside with a paper edition of your favourite book, with a handwritten dedication from somebody special.


I want to give special thanks to Randall McKinnon for inviting me to participate in this exercise, and to Simon Fraser University for supporting the Philosopher's Cafés.

To learn more about SFU's Philosopher’s Cafés, visit their page at SFU page, and on Facebook.

A brief summary of this post was originally published in their Fall brochure, you can find it here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mis Lecturas de 2010

Esta es una idea fusilada del Diario de la Pelusa.  Se lo agradezco mucho

  1. La Amenaza del Caballo Oscuro - Marcus Sedgwick
  2. Cometas en el cielo - Khaled Hosseini
  3. Corazón de Tinta - Cornelia Funke
  4. La costa Más lejana - Ursula K. LeGuin
  5. El Rey del Invierno - Bernard Cornwell
  6. Starwars: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina - varios
  7. The Sandman: Endless Nights - Neil Gaiman
  8. High Five! - Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowles
  9. Starship Troopers - Robert A. Heinlein (reread)
  10. The Forever War -  Joe Haldeman (reread)
  11. Old Man's War - John Scalzi (reread)
  12. The Ghost Brigades - John Scalzi (reread)
  13. The Last Colony - John Scalzi (reread)
  14. Zoe's Tale -  John Scalzi  (reread)
  15. World War Z: An oral history of the Zombie war - Max Brooks
  16. La Puta de Babilonia - Fernando Vallejo
  17. Cómo Ganar Amigos e Influir sobre las Personas - Dale Carnegie (reread)
  18. The Zombie Survival Guide - Max Brooks
  19. The Secret Handshake - Kathleen Kelly Reardon (no terminado aún)
  20. Breathless - Dean Koontz (muy malo)