Published by António Lopes on March 30, 2013

Christopher Priest – The Prestige

My Review: The jury is still out on my favorite Chris Nolan movie, but The Prestige is definitely up there fighting for first place with Memento. So, it was no surprise that I felt I had to read the book that originated the movie. The book is quite different from the movie but the rivalry between the two performers is still the baseline of the plot. However, the storyline is presented by way of the performers’ grandsons reading their personal diaries, entry by entry and trying to make sense of the long-standing war between their families. I very much enjoyed the book as it presents a quite different story based on the same premise, but the delivery is not as good as in the movie. Nevertheless, it’s still a great read for fans of the movie.

My Rating: 4/5

Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter – The Long Earth

My Review: Imagine that there are multiple (possibly infinite) parallel earths that you can visit (“step”) using a very simple potato-powered device that you can build with rudimentary components. This is what this book is all about: setting the baseline for this kind of universe and how this affects society. The story then revolves around a small set of characters that step all over several different Earths in an attempt to understand and discover everything there is to know about this phenomenon. The idea behind the book is great and it definitely raises some interesting questions but the fact that this is only the first volume of a planned series is evident in the pace and continuity of the plot. I’ll look forward for the next volumes.

My Rating: 4/5

Max Brooks – World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

My Review: This book focus on a fake documentary that gathers witnesses’ reports from all around the world regarding the (fictional) Zombie War. It has the same problem as Robopocalypse: in stories based on characters reporting what happened, you already know that those characters didn’t die. And that kind of spoils the story on so many levels. Nevertheless, you still have some interesting twists that can save those story-telling chapters, but that doesn’t always happen and most stories are boring. I think the upcoming movie based on the book may have taken the right approach by focusing on a single character’s point of view (Brad Pitt) and therefore bringing in only the most exciting parts of the book.

My Rating: 3/5

by J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit

My Review: There isn’t much I can say about this book as it is a well-known piece of literature. I quite enjoyed reading it but it would have had a much greater impact on me if I had read it at an earlier age. The Hobbit is definitely a more fantasy/adventure story directed to younger audiences than, say, The Lord of the Rings’ books, which is a lot darker and more dramatic in the fight of good versus evil.

My Rating: 4/5

George R. R. Martin – A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire #3)

My Review: It’s pointless to try and say much about this book without shooting spoilers all around, so I’ll just say this: two thirds in on this book and I was ready to give it a 3/5 rating, mainly because almost all of the characters spend most of their time traveling and not much happens in terms of the initial development present in the first two books. However (and I can’t stress this “however” enough), the last third of the book is priceless. Huge turns, twists and developments make up for the rest of the book and leave you hanging for more developments (which I hope will be address in the next book).

My Rating: 5/5

Related: What I’ve been reading, Vol. I, IIIII, IVV, VI and VII

Published by António Lopes on March 9, 2013
Categories: Books, Funny, Geek, Images, Internet, Personal

I’m reading the third book1 now… guess which part I’m at!

George R. R. Martin will kill a Stark every single time someone asks him how long will it take until the next book comes out

  1. A Storm of Swords []
Categories: Books, Geek, Personal

Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

My Review: I wasn’t really impressed with the previous book (The Girl Who Played With Fire) and so, at the time, I wasn’t planning on reading the third book. But since my wife was reading the books and was then planning to watch the Swedish movies based on the books, I decided to also read it. Although the book is better than the second one, it’s not as good as the first, mainly because of Stieg Larsson’s investigative reporter-way of writing. Because of his background as a journalist, Larsson writes with the need to justify everything with facts that, although important to make sure there are not plot holes, becomes really distracting and tiresome for the reader that just wants to follow the thrilling story. That same story, written by someone else would probably have 150 pages less and you would still be able to follow every bit of the story.

My Rating: 4/5

George R. R. Martin – A Game Of Thrones (A Song Of Ice And Fire #1)

My Review: There was no surprise with this book, it was superb. I actually only read the book after watching the first two seasons of the Game of Thrones’ television series. But now I’m reading the remaining 4 books before the third season comes out (if time permits). The richness of the story and the characters is what makes this universe so wonderful and, although hard to follow sometimes (which is almost always the case with such giant fantasy epics), it is brilliantly written. I was also surprised to see how the adaptation to the TV series is so close to the original books. If you think about it, it actually makes sense considering that spreading the story through a 10-episode season per book is much better than condensing everything into a 2-hour movie per book and loose so many important bits of the story. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that The Lord of the Rings should have had the same treatment as opposed to having 3 movies that left the die hard Tolkien fans really upset. But I guess money always speaks louder. Luckily for Game of Thrones, that wasn’t the case… and fans rejoice.

My Rating: 5/5

Ernest Cline – Ready Player One

My Review: This is not a brilliant adventure story but the real value of this book is not in the main plot line, it’s in the surrounding universe. If you’re a geek between 30 and 45 years old, you need to read this book. The amount of references to movies, games, music and assorted geekery of the 80s and 90s is enough to keep a grin smile on your face most of the time you’re reading it. Bonus points to the audiobook version of the book read by Will Wheaton. He does a wonderful job impersonating all the characters and references throughout the book. Fully recommended.

My Rating: 5/5

Daniel H. Wilson – Robopocalypse

My Review: What bothered me about this book was not the fact that it decided to pick up on a fairly-old theme of robotic uprising against its fellow humans. It’s OK to use recurring themes as long as you bring something new to it. In this case, the author decided to introduce a Cloverfield-like view of the war against the robots, that is, we’re actually “hearing” the testimony of a surviving soldier that collected several testimonies from different people and robots. The problem with this (and this is not a spoiler) is that you already know that the humans won the war. That, again, may not be a problem as long as you provide a good story in between. But, unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case. The author doesn’t fully justify the robot uprising and when that is occasionally referred to in the story, it feels a bit rushed and like the old “You humans are bad. Must destroy.” story. Also, the surviving soldier’s testimony on each of the recording episodes always ends with his assessment of the importance of each event and the people involved. This completely guides the reader throughout the plot and we’re left without a single surprise in the entire story. You basically know everything that is going to happen before it actually takes place. The (very) few times that something interesting pops up, it is quickly dealt with and never to be spoken again, leaving the reader with that “That’s it?” feeling. With all its flaws, the story is still entertaining and I very much liked the robot-view of some of the episodes. And considering that Spielberg bought the rights to make a movie out of this book, I’m eager to see what he’ll come up with.

My Rating: 3/5

George R. R. Martin – A Clash Of Kings (A Song Of Ice And Fire #2)

My Review: Continuing with the brilliance of the first book, this second book does not fail to impress since it follows the multiple story-lines with the same greatness in writing. The characters and their personalities are so well described that you can’t help but feel connected to them, even the seriously disturbing ones. A small note of the TV adaptation of the book. While the first season of the Game of Thrones TV show was closely linked to the first book, the second season has taken several liberties by changing some of the characters’ course (but ultimately maintaining their endings) and, although, most of them don’t really matter to the character development, I can’t help but side with some of the decisions made at the TV show for being even better than the ones in the book. For example: the interaction between Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister in the second season of the TV show (and inexistent in the book) is simply brilliant.

My Rating: 5/5

Related: What I’ve been reading, Vol. I, IIIII, IVV and VI

Published by António Lopes on May 4, 2012

Isaac Asimov – Nightfall

My Review: The premise behind this plot is as simple as it is brilliant: a society living in a planet that is surrounded by several suns doesn’t know darkness, until a rare orbital effect causes a total eclipse every 2000 years. It is with this simple plot line that Asimov presents a brilliant story about a society that has to face its biggest fear, which, in fact, serves as a metaphor for any kind of catastrophic event that can launch a society into a primitive state and, therefore, is a great way of making the reader think about their own reality. However, I can’t help but feel that Asimov was a bit lazy about this novel. He does make a point about that in the foreword in which he states that the novel is based on a short story he had previously wrote and that he has made certain choices regarding the characterization of the people in that planet that were meant to simplify the reading process. But what he did was simply think of Earth, add a few suns to it and then describe what would happen if Earth’s population had to face darkness. But a society that never faced darkness would be completely different than our society. There simply wouldn’t be the concept of day as we know it, hence, there wouldn’t be a circadian rhythm. I just think it could have been developed into a full-blown sci-fi novel (probably his best) if only he had extended the idea a bit further. Also, the ending (which, obviously, I won’t discuss here) felt a bit rushed… as if the inspiration ran out or a deadline with the publisher was approaching.

My Rating: 4/5

Suzanne Collins – Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)

My Review: In my opinion, this is the best of the 3 books. It still suffers from the same problem as in the first book where some of the twists can be easily predicted but less so. But in any case I like the main idea of the plot (which I can’t reveal as it would be somehow a spoiler) and I think it’s quite well written. I also like the way it ends and how it leaves the reader eager to read the next book.

My Rating: 4/5

Suzanne Collins – Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)

My Review: Sadly, the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy is also, in my opinion, the worst. I don’t know if the intention of the author was to use the book as a personal manifesto against war (by implicitly stating that no one actually wins in a war and most of the times, nothing changes afterwards, in which case I think the book is actually perfect to convey that message) but the story is too depressing and completely different from the other two, in which hope was the main message. Perhaps that is a good thing, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. And I’m not sure that it’ll work as a movie to end a trilogy. Maybe they’ll change the plot a bit to conform more to the other two.

My Rating: 3/5

William Gibson – Neuromancer

My Review: This book was part of my quest to fill in my gaps in sci-fi classics. It is a well known and critically-aclaimed book that defined a new genre in science-fiction about a futuristic society where people have brain-computer interfaces to access a global network system called the Matrix (that rings a bell, doesn’t it?). The story is mind-blowing (yay for artificial intelligence) but a bit confusing and far-fetched at some points, but overall I totally understand why it is considered a classic. To have had the opportunity to read this in 1984 would have simply been a life-changing event. At the age of 33 in 2012 not so much so.

My Rating: 4/5

Isaac Asimov – Foundation #1

My Review: I love Asimov’s writing style and this book isn’t any different. He simply lays the plot’s premise at the beginning and then the reader just follows the story while mixing it with its own thoughts about that premise. That’s what I love about sci-fi, it’s the way it makes you think about those things you’ve never thought about before. In this case, it’s all about the use of knowledge and the power that comes with it, including predicting future events by making use of Psychohistory, a science that can predict the future but only in the large scale of a society, not at the individual scale. However, the book didn’t feel exciting enough to me, which perhaps makes sense because it was not meant to be read as a single book, it is part of a larger story. When I get the time, I’ll read the entire Foundation series.

My Rating: 4/5

Related: What I’ve been reading, Vol. I, IIIII, IV and V

Categories: Apple, Books, Geek, Personal, Technology

Walter Isaacson – Steve Jobs

My Review: I have conflicting opinions about this book. On one hand, it was great to come to know more about the life of such a prominent figure in the technology world as Steve Jobs, his personality, his goals, his quirks and what drove him. And the first part of the book is great for that. You get an interesting insight of the person he was, what led him to be such a driven person with a difficult personality but with an astute sense of taste and fashion towards the technology world. On the other hand, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Isaacson disliked Jobs and that is subtly shown throughout the book (especially, the second part) where he makes no effort to avoid describing Jobs as a petty man that most of the times acted as if he was a child with a tantrum. Sure, that may be true and I definitely believe that Steve Jobs was an extremely difficult person to work with. But isn’t it also true that everything Jobs touched, turned to gold? He led a garage-founded company into the company that fought the giant IBM. He bought a division of Lucasfilms special effects company and turned it into the leading company in the world for computer animation. He picked up Apple when it was near bankruptcy and led it to be the highest-valued company in the world. So he must have been doing something right. He deserves some credit for that, doesn’t he? At least to say that he had merit in choosing the people he worked with.

My Rating: 4/5

Jeff Lindsay – Dexter is Delicious (Dexter #5)

My Review: Having read the previous 4 books about the character that inspired the TV Show Dexter, I decided to pick up the series and read the remaining two books (so far). But this one was a total disappointment. The story was quite boring and cliché, plus Lindsay decided to use the very trending topic of vampires (not real ones, of course) that also happened to be cannibals and didn’t really help improve the story. Also, I still couldn’t decide if the constant witty remarks of the Dexter character are simple traits of his social-ineptitude and naiveness or just excessive sarcasm. Either way, I didn’t like it. Also, this was the first book after Debra (his sister) had discovered his “hobby” and so I was really looking forward to know how that would pan out (considering that is how [SPOILER] the tv show ended the last season). But it really wasn’t a big part of the story. And in the end, you can’t shake the feeling that Dexter got away clean from the huge mess he got himself into without really doing anything and just by being a huge lucky bastard.

My Rating: 3/5

Jeff Lindsay – Double Dexter: A Novel (Dexter #6)

My Review: Now this one was a pleasant surprise, at least compared to the previous book. Much darker and mysterious. The story delivers a different take on the Dexter series, one in which Dexter is now the one being hunted by a prey not that different from him. It still suffers from some of the aspects I pointed out in the previous book (the Dexter character is too naive sometimes, to the point of being dumb) but at least this one has a richer story with interesting developments.

My Rating: 4/5

Arthur C. Clarke – Rendezvous With Rama

My Review: This was one of those science fiction classics that I never had the opportunity to read. And since this year I decided to (try to) read all the classics that I never actually read before, this one was probably as good as any to start with. What a great choice I made. This book has everything you’d expect from a great science fiction novel: mysterious settings, unknown elements, stuff that stirs your imagination and a lot of food for thought. The end can be bitter-sweet, but it is only a reflection of the arrogance of humankind and the self-centric idea that we are alone in the universe. Fully recommended.

My Rating: 5/5

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games #1

My Review: This book was a mere curiosity. I had seen the trailer for the new movie a few weeks back when I went to the cinema and when I noticed it was based on a novel, I decided to have a look. The formula used is not new, but it mostly works: taking place at a post-apocalyptic America, a Big Brother-like fight-to-the-death game where the contestants are lottery-drawn teenagers from the districts that lost the war against the “Capitol”, the story develops through the eyes of one contestant in particular, Katniss Everdeen. And the choice of the author to use the first person approach works quite well because it creates a stronger connection between the reader and the girl and you’ll end up feeling as lost as her by not knowing what’s happening with the rest of the characters on the book. Unfortunately, as I said, the formula is not new and the story ends up being a bit too easy to predict. Sure, there are some twists but you’ll spot them miles away.

My Rating: 4/5

Related: What I’ve been reading, Vol. I, IIIII and IV

Categories: Books, Personal, Technology

Sarah Silverman – The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee

My Review: If you like Sarah Silverman‘s type of comedy (meaning rape or holocaust jokes, or basically anything controversial) and you can go past her huge ego (the book’s foreword and midword – yep, she invented that just so she could brag a little bit more about her book – is written by herself) you’ll love to hear about her life story. I, for one, am a fan and the book did not disappoint. But it’s not brilliant.

My Rating: 4/5

Al Gore – Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

My Review: This is the handbook that was missing in the “An inconvenient truth” feature documentary. The documentary was all about telling people how bad the planet was, climate-wise. It was alarming but it wasn’t very informative regarding our options or our choices (we won’t change global warming just by changing lightbulbs). This book fulfills that purpose by exposing every possible alternatives while discussing its pros and cons and it does so quite well (with a few exceptions).
I read the iPad app version that, except for some multimedia elements, fails at too many levels to justify this kind of format:

  • You can’t read it in portrait mode. For many people, this is simply unacceptable
  • There’s no clear way of assessing the reading progress. There are no page numbers, no reference to the current chapter and no table of contents for random access. That’s the most basic feature of books!
  • No customization whatsoever. You can’t choose font type, size or color (including for background). No brightness controls too.
  • Multimedia components do not follow iOS’ best practices. For example, there’s no way to control sound or video playback or volume. If something wasn’t clear at first, you have to wait until the video finishes to play it again and listen to the whole thing again.

My Rating: 4/5

Tina Fey – Bossypants

My Review: I’m a big fan of 30 Rock but I have to admit I didn’t quite know Tina Fey before that TV Show. So, obviously, once I knew she had a book coming out, I saw it as an opportunity to know a bit more about her. And I was not disappointed at all. This is the perfect example of what a biography should be: part life story novel, part comedian tutorial, part parenting manual, part LFMF book, all awesome.

My Rating: 5/5

Simon Pegg – Nerd Do Well

My Review: This one is not that different from Tina Fey’s Bossypants since it follows more or less the same approach in biography style. A lot of humiliating episodes, a lot of funny and hilarious moments but most of all, Simon describes his path towards success with constant wit and self-consciousness that really makes you crave for more. However, I don’t really know how to explain it but I didn’t like it as much as Bossypants. Perhaps they shouldn’t even be compared, but since I read one after the other, the comparison is inevitable. And because of that, Nerd Do Well falls short. But it’s still worth a read since it’s terribly hilarious sometimes.

My Rating: 4/5

Ray Kurzweil – The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

My Review: if you’re really interested in this kind of subject (the singularity and the general concept of the next step in the evolution of the human race), this book is definitely a must-read. However, Kurzweil fails in some aspects of the book although, luckily, not the ones that really matter. Kurzweil likes to call himself a futurist and, because of that, the accuracy of his predictions and his statements throughout the entire book are of the utmost importance…for him. That is, every statement that he makes on the likelihood (or the time-frame) of something happening has to be justified to exhaustion. And I mean, exhaustion in the most literal sense of the word. We get it, Kurzweil, technological advancements are exponential. But do you really need 300 pages to show us that? But as I said, luckily, after that phd-thesis period of the book passes, the rest of the reading is quite pleasant and totally fulfils its purpose: to speculate on the future of the human race if the singularity does occur. I still have some doubts that we’ll actually get there, but it’s always interesting to think/discuss about it 🙂

My Rating: 3/5

Related: What I’ve been reading, Vol. I, II and III