Book Review: The Book Thief by Zusak (5 Stars)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

5 out of 5 stars

Read in April 2009

This book is outstanding and well deserving of its many awards. Even better, it is classified as young adult fiction. And I hope one day, soon, The Book Thief is read and taught in classrooms around the world … because everyone should read this book.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow up and come of age in Nazi Germany during World War II? Not as a Jew, but as a German citizen – a foster child recently bereft of her younger brother.

Lisa’s coping mechanism is to steal books. In fact, her first theft occurs at her brother’s funeral. One of the cemetery workers drops The Gravediggers Handbook in the snow and Lisa snatches it up. Later, her new “papa” teachers her to read using this stolen book.

Her most daring theft occurred at a Hitler Youth Rally book burning. She rescued The Shoulder Shrug right out of the bonfire!

The story is narrated by Death who is the ultimate book thief. He stole Lisa’s autobiography when he collected her soul many years after the war. He has read her story so many times, the pages are crumbling in his hands. He admits at the end of the story that he no longer needs the pages because he’s memorized it from re-reading it so often.

I hope you will follow in Death’s footsteps and steal this book and remember it always.

Book Review: The Gods Hate Kansas by Millard (4 Stars)

GodsHateKansascoverThe Gods Hate Kansas by Joseph Millard

4 out of 5 stars

Read in June 2008

Even though this story was at times corny and a bit dated scientifically, it was a fast and enjoyable read. Only took me a couple of hours, but it was time well spent.  In fact it took me much longer to acquire a copy to read, through interlibrary loan.

Originally published in 1941 (and I didn’t read the original version that appeared in a science fiction magazine), this alien body-snatching story had a few new twists to what some may consider old and cliche.

Now I’ll have to add the 1967 move They Came From Beyond Space to my Netflix queue to see how well this novel was adapted.

Besides, I felt compelled to read a book about my home state — Kansas!

Ad astra per aspera!

Latin for “To the stars through difficulty!”

Article: Researcher’s Serial Port Scans Find More Than 100,000 Hackable Devices, Including Traffic Lights And Fuel Pumps

Researcher’s Serial Port Scans Find More Than 100,000 Hackable Devices, Including Traffic Lights And Fuel Pumps

Remember that old hardware in the dark closet buried in the basement? Might be time to upgrade.

Book Review (Anthology): I, Robot by Asimov (4 Stars)

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

4 out of 5 stars

Last read in March 2009

I re-read this classic science fiction anthology for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club at GoodReads (in March 2009). Here is a link to the discussion on the Three Laws and another for readers to post their favorites.  My favorite stories include “Runaround,” “Liar!” and “Escape!”

Below you will find my mini-reviews of each story (Spoiler Warning)

March 29, 2009: Re-reading this for a book club at GoodReads. I’m slightly annoyed with the library because they held the wrong version of this book for me. It’s the shorter version re-released at the same time as the Will Smith movie.

On “Robbie” . . . A demonstration of the First Law – Robbie, a non-speaking robot assigned as a nursemaid to a six-year old girl. The mother cracks under the mounting social pressure against robots and convinces her husband to have Robbie removed. The girl is devastated and doesn’t give up looking for Robbie until she finds him on a tour of a US Robots facility.  The family dynamics are very dated (they scream 1950s) but otherwise it’s a good story, especially the relationship between Robbie and the girl.

On “Runaround” . . . It’s always a good idea to be precise when giving instructions to a robot. This story demonstrates the irratic and irrational robotic behavior that can occur when the Second Rule and the Third Rule are in balance. It took two “brilliant” scientists several hours to reason out that only the First Law would break the cycle.

On “Reason” . . . Reason reunited us with the same two “brilliant” scientists from the Mercury mining mission in Runaround. This time Powell and Donovan are running a Solar Station #5 that beams solar energy to Earth. They have just assembled a new robot, designation QT-1, “Cutie” colloquially. The hope for this new model series was to replace the executive level humans on the Solar Stations (i.e. Powell and Donovan) so that humans were only required to visit the stations to make repairs. Cutie waxes philosophical and culminates his own theology, evangelizing the other robots. Donovan and Powell struggle to break the obsession but eventually come to terms with it’s potential.  This story reminded me of Cylons but without the darkness, danger and threat to humans.

On “Catch That Rabbit” . . . This story was entertaining but a bit weak on the “what if” premise. Donavon and Powell are back at a mining facility, testing a new model of robot – a multirobot – a master robot with six subsidiaries. As long as the robot(s) are watched by the humans (and the robots know they are being watched), they perform flawlessly. But when they are unwatched, they appear to go bonkers, losing track of time, unresponsive to radio hails, etc. Powell and Donavon eventually “catch the rabbit” i.e. the trigger point for the breakdown, but it just doesn’t have the impact of the other two stories.

On “Liar!” . . . I like this story because it is very emotionally charged and for the “what if” of what the definition of harm is.

On “Little Lost Robot” . . . This story changed the rules, literally. The “what if” deals with a modified First Law that contained only the positive aspect of the Law – “No robot may harm a human being” – leaving off the latter portion – “or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” The scientists involved in the Hyperatomic Drive project felt they needed robots with a modified First Law because they were constantly putting themselves in harm’s way, which forced the non-modified robots to “save” them. Dr. Calvin eventually convinced them of consequences.

On “Escape!” . . . This was another test of the First Law. Dr. Calvin also inadvertently made matters worse by trying to help the engineers solve the interstellar jump problem but also protect The Brain from destroying itself with a dilemma.

On “Evidence” . . . This story dealt with the “what if” a robot looked and acted exactly like a human. Reminded me of the “skin job” references in Battlestar Galactica (reimagined) but with less violence. A politician is accused of being a robot and refuses to submit to testing. The argument is raised that if a human follows the Golden Rule, he basically also follows the Three Laws. So without physical examination to prove otherwise, a good decent human could not be disproven a robot.

On “The Evitable Conflict” . . . This story finally gets to the crux of the matter in the evolution of the Three Laws. It’s an expansion of the First Law by the Machines (large super brain robots that shepherd the four Regions of Earth) as articulated by Dr. Susan Calvin: “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.” It is commonly referred to as the Zeroth Law of Robotics.

Book Review: Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman (4 Stars)

Good Omens
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

4 out of 5 stars

Read in May 2009

This was a hoot!

I thoroughly enjoyed this hilarious satire of Armageddon. The AntiChrist as an eleven-year-old boy with a Hellhound masquerading as a rat terrier mongrel. The Four Bikers of the Apocalypse easy riding to the End of the World. And it all started with the Serpent and the guardian Angel from the Garden of Eden. To top it all off, a 17th century witch named Agnes Nutter accurately predicted everything.

April 27, 2013 AlertGood Omens is today’s Nook Daily deal at Barnes & Noble!  Snatch your copy for just under two bucks today!

Book Review: The Mystery of Grace by de Lint (4 Stars)

The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint

4 out of 5 stars

Read in August 2010

I enjoyed this short novel, but found it hard to categorize since it crossed so many subgenres. Ghost, spirits or spiritwalkers, a smidgen of Native American shamanism, a pinch of paganism (Wiccans at the Witches’ Ball no less), Catholic saints, a peculiar Purgatory, existentialism, a dangerous delusional mother and a surprising touch of redemption wrapped in tattoos. Oh, and a brief romance kindled after the protagonist’s death. Trust me, it sounds strange (it is strange), but de Lint delivers.

Book Review: The Color of Magic by Pratchett (4 Stars)

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

4 out of 5 stars

Read in August 2008

Why did I wait twenty-five years to read this book? Of course, until recently, I wasn’t even aware of its existence. I have to thank the online Science Fiction & Fantasy book club at GoodReads for introducing me to Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series.  Follow these links to view the discussion topics:

SF&F Discussion thread for initial reactions at beginning of group read of The Color of Magic

SF&F Discussion after group read of The Color of Magic

It was a wild ride keeping up with the mad cap adventures of an improbable tourist, his indestructible over-protective luggage and his cowardly, incompetent wizard of a guide.

If you’re looking for wit, humor and head-spinning antics, this is the novel for you!

Article: Cheating to Learn: How a UCLA professor gamed a game theory midterm

Cheating to Learn: How a UCLA professor gamed a game theory midterm

Reblogging because it reminded me of my  son’s SMU Guildhall gauntlet and my daughter’s continuing pursuit of operatic musicianship in graduate school.

Cheers, Jon

Book Review: Heart-Shaped Box by Hill (3 Stars)

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

3 out of 5 stars

Read in October 2008

Warning: Spoilers

This book re-confirmed why I gave up reading horror two decades ago. Yes, it was a fast read. It would even make a good movie. But it’s not great literature. And it didn’t scare me, or thrill me, and it definitely didn’t stretch my vocabulary.

Jude is a fifty-four year old mostly retired grunge rocker who has a penchant for twenty-something Goth girlfriends. He also collects occult, grotesque and/or macabre items, including a real human skull for a pen holder and a snuff video. Danny, his personal assistant receives an anonymous e-mail with a tip about a ghost for sale at an online auction site. Jude can’t resist the temptation and uses the “buy it now” feature to purchase a haunted suit for $1,000.00. Several days later, Jude receives a package containing a black heart-shaped box with the black suit in it. Soon after, the ghost makes an appearance.

Eventually, Jude and his girlfriend, Marybeth, figure out who the ghost is and the rest is their journey of discovery and quest to flee and stop the ghost. The ghost is the stepfather of Jude’s previous girlfriend, Anna. Initially, you’re led to believe that the stepfather is sent to avenge Anna’s suicide. The sordid past proves otherwise.

It’s sad that I’m not even shocked anymore when I read profanity, or about child molesters, pedophiles, rapists/murderists, etc. The media and Hollywood have desensitized me, I suppose. This may be fiction, but it saddens me that parts of this story could very well be the next headline in the news.

Book Review: The Einstein Intersection by Delany (3 Stars)

The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany

3 out of 5 stars

Read in May 2009

Warning: Spoilers

This is the strangest science fiction story I have ever read! I spent most of the journey completely confused. Pieces of the puzzles fell into place as Lobey reached his destination through death, resurrection and rebirth.

Told by the descendants of aliens who occupied an abandoned Earth, I slowly discovered the current tenants tried to revive and relive human genetics and history (or mythology in most cases) to the detriment of their own future. A revolution roils beneath the surface between those who maintain the original mission and those who want to break free of humanity’s death throes to forge a new frontier.

The explanation for the arrival of the aliens is the crux of the title The Einstein Intersection:

“(T)wo mathematicians between them ended an age and began another for our hosts, the ghosts called Man. One was Einstein, who with his Theory of Relativity defined the limits of man’s perception by expressing mathematically just how far the condition of the observer influences the thing he perceives. … The other was Gödel, a contemporary of Einstein, who was the first to bring back a mathematically precise statement about the vaster realm beyond the limits Einstein had defined: In any classical mathematical system, there are an infinite number of true theorems which, though contained in the original system, cannot be deduced from it. … The visible effects of the Einstein theory leaped up on a convex curve, its productions huge in the first century after its discovery, then leveling off. The productions of Gödel’s law crept up on a concave curve, microscopic at first, then leaping to equal the Einstein curve, cross it, outstrip it. At the point of intersection, humanity was able to reach the limits of the known universe with ships and projection forces that are still available to anyone who wants to use them … and when Gödel’s law eagled over Einstein’s, its shadow fell on a deserted Earth. {emphasis added}

I read this novel to compare it to the other Hugo winners/nominee’s from 1968. I followed Lord of Light (the Hugo winner) with this one. I’m beginning to wonder if there was something strange in the water back in 1968 … perhaps Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?