This is the story of a family, holidaying in Nantucket over the summer each year. We’re getting an insight into their life during the eponymous “Summer of ‘69”.
Exalta, the grandparent generation, is the matriarch of the family. Her husband, Penn, passed away years ago and is idolised by Exalta who herself has been a prisoner of the (sometimes questionable) morals of the time but is on her way to make the best of the tumultuous times.
Exalta’s daughter, Kate, is part of the parent generation. Her first husband, Wilder, who served in the Korean War, died shortly after coming home while cleaning his gun. Wilder is the father of Kate’s daughters Blair and Kirby and her son Tiger whereas her third daughter, Jessie, is her second husband’s child. David, Jessie’s father, is a lawyer and made sure Kate got the life insurance payout after Wilder’s death. David is such a great guy, that instead of talking to his binge-drinking wife, he passive-aggressively avoids her completely – to which she responds by buying something huge…
Tiger has quit college to go to war in Vietnam and finds out that’s what he wants to do. Of course, he’s the good kind of soldier and rescues a young boy whose mother was killed (but she was Viet Cong, of course!) instead of massacring innocent villagers, using Napalm and Agent Orange like the rest of them (cf. My Lai).
Kate is so upset about his leaving that she starts drinking heavily. Well, Kate, wait till you see the pictures of what Tiger and his nice buddies did in Vietnam…
Her oldest daughter, Blair, is married to Angus (whose brother, Joey, she used to date) and is expecting their first child. Angus is mostly married to his job at NASA, though, and is working on the planned moon landing while possibly cheating on Blair.
Blair’s sister Kirby is a bit younger; a young adult with a secret that changed her outlook on life. Kirby strives to be more independent and, thus, finds herself a job on Martha’s Vineyard instead of summering with her family in Nantucket. From a young age on, Kirby wanted to be a rebel and, thus, went on a march with Dr. King and her teacher. She rather actively “befriends” the police (the nice guys routinely murdering coloured people in the USA, cf. George Floyd) while at it; slightly defeating the purpose.
She’s quite principled as well – unless the guy’s hot in which case she tells him off (his parents might not approve!) to later date him again when nobody will know it…
Finally, there’s Jessie: Jessie has just turned 13 and falls for Pick, 16, the son of the caretaker of her family’s summer home in Nantucket. Unfortunately for her, while he’s trying to get to second base with her, he’s working on another girl in parallel. Once that girl agrees to “go steady”, Jessie’s dismissed. Just in case, though, he keeps in touch with her as her penpal. Jessie also routinely steals when under pressure but her grandmother, Exalta, quickly fixes that for her to “save face”. Exalta doesn’t really want to know the reasons either, she just grounds Jessie for a week.
There are other characters like Bill, Pick’s grandfather, Bill’s hippie child-neglecting commune-living daughter Lorraine (AKA Lavender), the grabby tennis teacher, the pseudo-feminist tennis teacher, some of the “upper echelon”, etc. etc. but you get the gist.
Why do I tell you all this when I usually just skip to the nitty-gritty? Because you should know what this book is about before you stumble into it, knowing nothing – like I did. I have no idea why this book made it to my “to-read” list and I probably wouldn’t have read it in the first place had I known what I was in for.
By now, you might come to the conclusion that I’m not exactly fond of “Summer of ‘69”. Surprisingly (and somewhat shamefully), that’s not the case. In fact, I really enjoyed reading this multi-generation family soap opera of a book.
Sure, while writing this review, I feel like I should hate every single person that is even mentioned in passing in this book and, yet, it’s a feel-good summer read which is what I wanted. And now a storm is brewing here – must be karma for actually liking this.
“Ich nannte sie eine Schwärmerin und Kunstfee. Dafür nannte sie mich: Homo Faber”
Es muß in den frühen 90’er Jahren gewesen sein, als ich im Bücherschrank meiner Mutter ein Buch im recht nüchtern und sachlich gestalteten weißen Schutzumschlag sah – “Max Frisch”, “Homo faber” und “Bibliothek Suhrkamp” stand dort. Suhrkamp kannte ich – sonst nichts. (Heute weiß ich, daß es sich um die Hardcover-Ausgabe aus dem Jahre 1962 handelte.)
Ich war damals 16, ein seltsamer Vogel, der immens viel Zeit am Computer verbrachte und ansonsten viel las. So traf ich zum ersten Mal auf Faber…
Walter Faber, ein durch und durch unsentimentaler, nüchterner Techniker, der an nichts glaubt, sondern ein Mann der Wissenschaft ist, trifft nach diversen kurzlebigen Frauenbekanntschaften eine junge Frau – Elisabeth, von ihm jedoch Sabeth genannt- die ihn nicht mehr loslassen wird. Eine ganz besondere Liebesgeschichte. Doch letztlich ist dies eine auf vielfältige Weise tragische Geschichte. Wie hätte ich dem mit 16 widerstehen können?
Ich verschlang das Buch. Ich wollte Faber sein; natürlich der unantastbare, technophile Faber, der Ingenieur, der die Welt sieht, wie sie ist und sie verändert… Die weniger schönen Seiten des “Homo Faber” blendete ich gründlich aus.
Ich ging beruflich in die IT und wurde tatsächlich ein bißchen wie Faber.
Das Buch wurde eines meiner absoluten Lieblingsbücher – Fabers und Sabeths und ihrer Geschichte wegen.
Rund 30 Jahre sind seither vergangen. Ich bin verheiratet und habe drei Kinder, die jedoch keine Kinder mehr sind. Ich bin immer noch in der IT. Ein wenig wie Faber gewesen zu sein, hat mir nicht immer gut getan.
Aus Neugier habe ich “Homo Faber” nach all diesen Jahren erneut in die Hand genommen. Dieses Mal als eBook, auf dem Kindle. Walter Faber würde es zu schätzen wissen.
Ich war überrascht, wie anders ich das Buch dieses Mal erlebte: Faber, dessen Alter im Buch ich nun nahezu erreicht habe, kann ich besser verstehen. Seine Reise nach Guatemala, seine Unterbrechung eben dieser Reise.
Vor allem aber: Fabers und Sabeths Reise von Paris nach Rom hatte beim ersten Mal “gefühlt” sehr viel mehr Raum eingenommen. Im Grunde war es die Reise (sowohl die tatsächliche als auch die metaphorische), die mich faszinierte; die Figur des Faber und seine Sicht der Welt.
Die Welt vor Sabeth kann Faber verstehen – zumindest hat er eine ganz klare Idee von ihr:
“Wir leben technisch, der Mensch als Beherrscher der Natur”
Die Liebesgeschichte mit Sabeth ist immer noch schön, äußerst behutsam und mit großem Einfühlungsvermögen und Empathie erzählt.
Jetzt jedoch verfolgte ich geradezu schmerzlich, wie Fabers Welt nach dem Unglück vollkommen aus den Fugen gerät und er sie auch nicht mehr verstehen kann:
“Diskussion mit Hanna! – über Technik (laut Hanna) als Kniff, die Welt so einzurichten, daß wir sie nicht erleben müssen.”
Hannahs Kritik an “[der] Weltlosigkeit des Technikers” kann (und will) Faber nicht verstehen. Ohne wirklich zu verstehen, wie es geschehen konnte, ist Faber schuldlos schuldig geworden und zerbricht vollkommen daran. Die Welt, die er zu kennen glaubte, wird ihm fremd.
Mit 16 hatte ich am Schluß des Buches noch Hoffnung für Faber – jedoch mit älteren Augen gelesen, bleibt davon nichts übrig. So oder so wird es für Walter Faber keine Zukunft geben – ohne es zu wollen, hat er alles – sich selbst eingeschlossen – zerstört.
“Hanna hat immer schon gewußt, daß ihr Kind sie einmal verlassen wird; aber auch Hanna hat nicht ahnen können, daß Sabeth auf dieser Reise gerade ihrem Vater begegnet, der alles zerstört –”
Ein wunderbares, schönes, schmerzliches Buch, das jeder (mindestens) ein Mal lesen sollte.
“The past will hunt you down” it says right there on the cover and I wish it was sarcasm by Patterson to put it there. Because the past hunts only him down.
Let’s start at the beginning, though: In typical Patterson redneck manner, he lets Cross witness the state-sponsored murder of a killer he put away – right after Cross framed the guy… Cross himself about the framing part:
“You might ask if I believed the ends justified the means, and I’d answer that in this case, yes.”
Wow, just wow. But, hey, we’re not yet done with such crap because next to believing in state-sponsored murder, god and similar sources of evil, e. g. patriotism, Cross is just plain unbelievably dumb (how that reflects on his creator is left as an exercise to the reader…). An example: Right before heading deep down into an underground bunker (!) of one of those “preppers”, he asks his friend Sampson:
“I’m not back in an hour, use the Find My Friends app and come get me.”
Since our author obviously thinks he needs to be up-to-date with blackmail practices, he showcases his deep knowledge about crypto-currencies by letting a nerd (of all things…) say the following:
“The Ethereum stopped moving,” he [the nerd] said. “Okay,” I said. “Where is it?” “In two hundred and fourteen accounts spread out all over the world. Some of it has been downloaded to so-called hard wallets, but I have the codes for them. Not a Bitcoin of it has been spent, though. As far as I can tell.” “So it’s just sitting there?”
You’re not required to know but Ethereum and Bitcoin are two different crypto-currencies and the above is like saying “he didn’t spend a Dollar from the thousands of Euro”. It just makes no sense and simply displays how ignorant the author actually is.
But let’s put these blunders aside – is it a decent story? Well, it’s not too bad but, unfortunately, we’ve ready it all before – Jannie running? Check! Nana Mama being an annoying wise-crack? Check! Ali being… Well, I won’t spoil that one for you but, hey, “the (history) book on the shelf, Is always repeating itself” – WATERLOO! (Yes, Abba is much more entertaining!)
Patterson doesn’t stop at repeating himself, though, no: He even puts in large portions of previous investigations, including some Kyle Craig crap and other rehashed nonsense.
And then there’s the ending… Again, I won’t “spoil” (haha!) it for you but, honestly? How cheap can one author get?
Seriously, James Patterson is dead to me. And nothing of value was lost.
“(Confession time: that moment, when the humans or augmented humans realize you’re really here to help them. I don’t hate that moment.)”
It doesn’t happen often but I’m running out of words. So, go andreadmypreviousreviews first, I’ll be waiting here for you. Everything I stated before still holds true for this book.
This first full-length Murderbot Diaries novel proves that Wells can obviously write at any length without ever being overly verbose or even boring.
“Network Effect” starts (mostly) peacefully and pretty similarly to the previous novellas. It’s all there – Dr. Mensah, her family, friends, colleagues and, most importantly, Murderbot who (yes, “which” just wouldn’t do!) is still socially “challenged” with many but not with all…
“It was just me-the-SecUnit they didn’t like. (That didn’t apply to the seven kids. I was illicitly trading downloads via the feed with three of them.)”
… as is, as shown, the friendly humour. First and foremost, though, Murderbot keeps developing in several significant ways (none of which I’m going to spoil for you!) but keeps up with his “strong convictions”…
“Just clients. And if anyone or anything tried to hurt them, I would rip its intestines out.”
We get to know new “humans”, we meet another old friend and an original story I enjoyed a lot.
All in all, this novel left me yearning for more due to its cleverness, creativity, smartness and all the exciting and suspenseful action. Most of all, though, because Murderbot is one of the most relatable characters in a book I’ve ever come across.
In my review about “Exit Strategy” I wrote I don’t love Murderbot. I was wrong.
A Route 53 record set, to point to
the server (so I have a simple name to give to my son’s friends’
A custom record from the AWS Instance
Scheduler, so that
we can have the server stop automatically at bed time, and start up
again the next day (saving cost as well as being a parental control of
So, this stack has to be deployed along with the Instance
and it assumes that you called that stack “instance-scheduler” (should
probably parameterize that). But, hopefully this is useful to someone
Some tasks to do in the future:
Get the server to update to the latest minecraft server automatically
Push some of the configuration into the template: right now, the
template starts the EC2 instance but doesn’t auto-start the server.
It’s expected that you’ll want to customize the server.properties
before starting it the first time. Then, you can enable it with sudo
systemctl enable minecraft-bedrock-server.service and start it with
sudo systemctl start minecraft-bedrock-server.service
Whereas the latter is (almost) purely humorous, though, “The Murderbot Diaries” deliver on several levels:
– They most certainly are funny. Usually not the over-the-top thigh-slapper kind of funny but there’s always a bit of melancholy around the corner. Or the humour is laced with mild regret.
– While I have no clue who “NPR” is, I agree with him that “We are all a little bit Murderbot.“. At least we would like to be. Or maybe even strive to. Because Murderbot, in its ethics and morals, actually surpasses quite a few of us. (Unfortunately, if this applies to you, you won’t notice…) (Or because it can just download from entertainment feeds without worrying and binge-watch stuff that sounds truly cool. )
– Last but not least, Murderbot appeals to my inner nerd: A SecUnit! Super-human strength, reflexes, built-in weapons, travelling space (while binge-watching!), searching for meaning, for what it wants to do – who could resist?
– It’s exciting and you know what’s going to happen when Murderbot simplay states “I shut my risk assessment module down.”
Despite all the challenges it faces (battles, almost wiping itself out, etc.), the truly difficult situations are (seemingly) handled with ease: “I had a complex emotional reaction.”
The novelty has worn off by now, of course, but the thrill of something new, exciting and wonderful has been replaced by recognition, trust in a positive outcome and a feeling like coming home.
I wouldn’t go as far as Ann Leckie (“I love Murderbot!”; although, re-reading the previous paragraph… ) but Martha Wells and her Murderbot actually changed my mind about the entire Science Fiction genre (was: Staring elsewhere and hoping it goes away on its own; is: “Hm… Maybe there’s more like this?”) and – as whoever knows me will attest to – changing my mind borders on the Herculean efforts…
The Murderbot Diaries strangely appeal to me. As I’m still on my way to the full length novel, recently published, I’m wondering at the simple elegance and straightforwardness of the novellas.
This second instalment in the series is, thankfully, pretty much more of the same in a very good way. We still get a good view of a “construct” that’s basically a robot with human parts – and it shows: Murderbot feels slightly like it’s a person on the autism scale.
“I skimmed it but most of my attention was on getting through the crowd while pretending to be an ordinary augmented human, and not a terrifying murderbot. This involved not panicking when anybody accidentally made eye contact with me.”
This time, Murderbot is literally and metaphorically on a journey: Having recently run away from its benefactor of the first novella, Dr. Mensah, it’s now literally on the way to dig into its own – murderous? – past. Metaphorically speaking, Murderbot is on a journey to find itself, to find out what it actually wants – if having a guardian is actually the same as having an owner and other questions.
“On the way to this transit ring, alone on my empty cargo transport, I had had a chance to do a lot of thinking about why I had left Mensah, and what I wanted. I know, it was a surprise to me, too. But even I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my lifespan alone riding cargo transports and consuming media, as attractive as it sounded.”
Fortunately, it finds a friend in ART, a Research Transport, with computing power beyond even its own comprehension. When Murderbot gets itself hired by a human “crew”, things quickly become complicated because lurking beneath waves of “non-caring” is a complicated being that has more in common with us humans than it likes to admit. Murderbot feels more compelled to help its humans by them asking it to than it ever was by its long-gone governor chip. And yet it’s still the socially-impaired escapist media junky:
“I wanted to just sink into my media downloads for a while and pretend I didn’t exist.”
Murderbot acts uncompromisingly human and is just as full of flaws as the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, though, it transcends those flaws if it has to.
If that doesn’t give the rest of us nerds hope, what could?
“And in their corner all they had was Murderbot, who just wanted everyone to shut up and leave it alone so it could watch the entertainment feed all day.”
I’m not a Science Fiction fan. I’m not especially fond of novellas. This one, though…
I can’t even really explain what appealed to me about this novella: Murderbot neither really feels like a robot nor like a person but still strangely… plausible. Murderbot’s actions feel logical, yet simple. It does what it has to do. It’s ambiguity as an artificial lifeform makes it feel both familiar in, e. g. its shyness and some other emotions – not to speak of its entertainment addiction. Plus: An artificial lifeform that (sometimes) acts more humanely than its human counterparts? Fascinating!
Murderbot is literally strange enough to go through a contrasting melange of emotions as well. This contrast, the SecUnits conflicting feelings and survival strategies is probably what made this story so wondrously attractive for me.
All in all, the novella is based on an interesting premise with a good mixture of characters and a lot of suspense. Spice that up with Murderbot itself and its diverse clients and you get a modern, fresh approach to science fiction.
When I decided to read this book, I was expecting a light, funny romance before going back to more “serious” books. I basically wanted what the title promised – an early “Beach Read”. Unfortunately, this was obviously not to be.
First of all, January, our heroine, is annoyingly insecure. Her mother got cheated on by her late father and both the cheating and the dying entirely shattered a 28-year-old’s world. Right.
Gus, our brooding, “evil sexy” (repeated ad nauseam throughout the book!) hero is not only an embodiment of male clichés but pretty much behaves like an arse: he keeps pushing January away for no discernable reason, keeps alternating between giving obvious signals and pretty much kicking her out.
At times I thought we’d get to the funny, light beach parts but then they interview former cultists, visit the scene of mass suicide/murder (where they quickly proceed to entirely different kinds of “investigations”) and do their best to lengthen a mediocre story and book.
Over long periods, this book was simply boring. In fact, despite just having finished reading it, “Beach Read” is already fading from my otherwise perfectly fine memory. Which is, come to think of it, no loss at all.
Along came “Warden’s Fate” and with it, the final instalment in the series, Tony is back! Gone are (most of) the typos, the characters actually make sense and get sufficient room to grow.
Back as well is Tony’s humour and good-natured kindness in his story. The action is still there and this book is another page-turner but the pacing is much more even and “rounded”. We actually get to enjoy the book, its scenes and people which is really, truly nice.
There are lots of good ideas, presented in an engaging, suspenseful way and, mostly, in actually really well-chosen words.
Especially important to me: Tony gets the emotions right this time – we really feel with Tris, Kyra, Lukas and everyone else.
Of course, this isn’t high literature and it doesn’t have to be because this book is over-the-top action, fun, and just great entertainment!
I pretty much enjoyed every page which makes this book, astoundingly, a full five stars read – and I don’t even like the Science Fiction genre!
As much as it surprises myself, I’m most likely to actually read this crew’s further adventures.
In this article, we will be looking into how we can build a computer program
for solving arbitrary Binary Puzzles using the Python programming language, and
the Z3 Theorem Prover.
Z3 is a Satisfiability Modulo Theories (SMT) solver made by Microsoft Research.
It is cross-platform and is released under the MIT license. Z3 comes with a
Python API that we will be using. Our goal is to encode the rules of the
Binary Puzzle game in terms of mathematical equations that Z3 can comprehend.
Once we have defined the rules of the game for Z3, we want to use it to solve
any solvable Binary Puzzle for us or tell us if the puzzle is unsolvable.
I enjoy number puzzles such as Sudoku and Binary Puzzles. For some reason, I
always end up solving more Binary Puzzles than I solve Sudokus. Binary Puzzles
are more straightforward than Soduku and are thus playable in a shorter amount
of time. A Binary Puzzle can be played online from various websites or via
applications that are available for both Android and iOS. Look in the
application store on your preferred platform, and you will most likely have
numerous implementations of this uncomplicated puzzle available to you. The
example puzzles I use in this article are taken from
BinaryPuzzle.com, which is my preferred website for
playing the game in a web browser.
Let us begin by having a closer look at the Binary Puzzle game before we begin
implementing the solver in the Python programming language.
Rules for Binary Puzzles
The Binary Puzzle game consists of an NxN two-dimensional game grid with some
cells pre-filled with either zero or one. The rest of the cells remains empty
for us to fill in with either a zero or a one. The difficulty of the game can
be tuned by adding or removing pre-filled values in the initial game state.
The rules for the Binary Puzzle game are pretty simple: we must solve the
puzzle using the following set of rules:
Each cell must contain either a zero or a one.
No more than two identical numbers are allowed immediately next to each
other, both horizontally and vertically.
Each row and each column must contain an equal amount of zeros and ones.
Each row and each column must be unique.
An observation we can make from the third rule is that the smallest possible
game grid is 2x2, and each NxN two-dimensional game grid must make use of an
even N value. The 2x2 game grid is also the only size of a game grid where the
second rule does not have any influence on the game, and the second rule is
thus ignorable for this particularly sized game grid.
We begin with an easy 6x6 game grid with 14 pre-filled cells out a total of 36
cells. That is 38.9% of the game grid being pre-filled for us before we have
even begun. This example game will hopefully allow us to build up some
intuition about the game mechanics, and make it easier for us to understand the
rules we need to implement using Python and Z3 later in the article.
The initially pre-filled cells are the only cells that remain immutable
throughout the game while we try to discover the value of each of the empty
cells in the game grid. The pre-filled cell values are set in bold typeface in
all of the visualizations in this article to make sure we do not
unintentionally change any of them.
The initial game grid looks as following:
We look for the pattern where two identical numbers exist immediately next to
each other either horizontally or vertically in the game grid. Once we have
identified one or more identical pairs in the game grid, we know that the cells
before and after the pair cannot share the same value as the pair itself
because of the second rule of the game. We update the game grid with the new
We continue the search for patterns in the updated game grid. We have created
some new locations where two identical values are in a pair, which allows us to
repeat the previous step.
We can also look for a new pattern, which is when we have a horizontal or
vertical triplet, where the content of the first and last cells are identical,
and the middle cell is empty. Since we know from the second rule of the game
that no more than two identical values are allowed immediately next to each
other, we can deduct that the content of the middle cell in the triplet must be
the opposite of the first and last value of the triplet. The game grid now
looks as follows:
We can now fill in the remaining three cells using a mixture of the second and
the third rule of the game.
Now that the game grid is complete, and no empty cells remain, we can verify
that the game state satisfies each of the four rules. Each cell contains either
a zero or a one. No more than two identical values are next to each other
neither horizontally nor vertically. Each row and each column have an identical
amount of zeros and ones. Finally, each row and column are unique.
We have solved our first Binary Puzzle manually. We can now begin building a
model of the game using Python and Z3.
Building the Model
The purpose of this article is to build a Python program that can solve
arbitrary Binary Puzzles for us. We use the Z3 interface for Python to do “the
hard labor” of this task, but we still need to describe the game rules to the
Z3 solver before it can do anything useful for us.
Before we start defining the Z3 model of the game, we need to define the
representation of the game grid in Python. We use the same initial game grid as
used in the example game above. In Python, we encode the game grid as follows:
We represent the game grid as a list of lists of integers and N values in
Python. The N value is defined as the Python value None and is used
throughout this article to represent an empty cell. The task of the Z3 solver
will be to eliminate any N values in the game grid and replace it with either
a zero or a one.
If we were to solve the puzzles without an engine like Z3, but using “pure”
Python code, the naive approach would be to define several imperative steps
that try to solve the game by eliminating the empty cells one by one.
The way Z3 works is by us adding “constraints” or “assertions” that will make
it possible for its built-in solver to solve the domain-specific problem that
we are describing using our constraints. In this case, the Binary Puzzle game.
Once we have added all of the game rules encoded as constraints to the Z3
solver, we ask it to come with a possible solution for us. Z3 will try to find
a solution where all constraints are satisfied or otherwise notify us of its
inability to solve the given puzzle.
To implement the Binary Puzzle solver as “bug-free” as possible, we perform
some initial input validation of the input puzzle to ensure that it is
meaningful before we ask Z3 to try to do anything to it. We start by defining a
Python value representing the size of our game grid. We call this variable
size, and we define it as follows:
We want to ensure that the input puzzle is non-empty:
We want to ensure that the game grid’s size value is an even number in
accordance with the observation we made while going over the rules of the game:
We want to ensure that the NxN input puzzle has the correct dimensions, and
does not contain rows or columns of a different length than N. We verify this
by ensuring that each row is size cells wide:
Now that we have validated the input puzzle to avoid the worst mistakes, we can
start constructing the Z3 solver for the puzzles.
When we work with a constraint solver such as Z3, we do work with traditional
programming concepts such as “variables,” but we do not assign values to them
like we would in Python. Instead, we build up a set of equations that makes use
of these variables, and then we ask Z3 to give us a result where all of the
constraints are satisfied. If our input is impossible to solve because of
violations of the game rules, Z3 will be unable to give us a solution, and the
problem is considered unsatisfiable. However, if the problem is satisfiable, Z3
will have the correct value for each of our cells in the game grid.
The symbolic variables we define for Z3 has no structure, such as rows and
columns. Instead, we later define the structure using the equations we add to
The first task we have to perform is to build a list of all possible x and y
pairs we have in the game grid. We call these our “positions”:
We can now create the symbolic variables used by Z3. Each symbolic variable
must have a name, which we in Python can represent as a string value. The
string value allows us to later identify the specific variable during debugging
if that becomes necessary. We create a Python dictionary of (x, y) pairs as
key, and the symbolic Z3 integer as value for each cell in our game grid:
We have now defined a symbolic variable for each cell in the 6x6 game grid.
Each symbolic variable can now be looked up in our dictionary of symbols using
its x and y value as the key. We also named the symbolic variables “v0;0”,
“v0;1”, …, “v5;4”, “v5;5”, respectively. While we still have no
structure for the symbolic variables, we can visualize the symbolic variables
in the game grid in the way they will be used once we have build structure such
as “rows” and “columns”:
We do not have to inform the Z3 solver about the existence of each of the
symbolic variables. Instead, the solver will learn about their existence as we
use them in our constraints later in the article.
The dictionary of symbols allows us to build two Python lists representing each
row and each column in the game grid as lists of symbolic variables. The added
structure will make it easier to implement the rules of the game in the next
steps. We create the rows and columns lists in Python:
To avoid unnecessary duplications in our source code, we also create a variable
representing both the rows and the columns in the game grid as the rules of the
game often apply to both:
We can now instantiate the Z3 solver which we will add the constraints of the
Since some cells are already pre-filled for us, we need to inform Z3 about the
value of these cells. We do this by adding a constraint specifying the exact
value of the given symbolic variable using the equality comparison operator in
An important detail to understand here is that even if we apply the equality
comparison operator here, the Z3 variable overloads this operator. The operator
overloading ensures that it is the expression we add to the solver and not the
boolean result of Python comparing the symbolic variable with the content of
the value variable for equality.
Notice how we explicitly ignore the empty cells in our puzzle since the goal is
to have Z3 fill those out for us.
The first set of constraints directly related to the rules of the game will be
coming from the first rule: all cells in the game grid must contain either a
zero or a one. We add these constraints to all of the symbolic variables in the
dictionary of symbols as follows:
An example of a violation we could make now would be if our input game grid
contained a value such as two, which would be a violation of the set of
constraints we have added to the solver.
The next constraints we add to the Z3 solver handles the third rule of the game
and ensures that each row and each column have the same amount of zeros and
ones. Instead of counting each zero and one in each row and column, we encode
these constraints as the sum of each row, and each column must be equal to the
size divided by two:
The constraints needed to check the uniqueness of each row and each column are
slightly more complicated but required to implement the fourth rule of the
game. For each row and column, we ensure that each other row or column does not
contain the same values as the current row or column does. Remember that we
pass the Z3 solver symbolic variables such that the Z3 solver will check the
actual content of the variables when we execute the model. We implement these
constraints in Python as follows:
The final set of constraints we need to add to the Z3 solver are only necessary
for all NxN game grids where N is greater than 2. These constraints implement
the second rule of the game that says no more than two identical numbers are
allowed immediately next to each other horizontally and vertically.
We model these constraints using a set of “sliding windows” of three cells in
each window of the game grid: each triplet must not contain three identical
values in it. We can visualize the sliding window algorithm of three cells as
Implementing the sliding window constraints in Python looks as follows:
Another approach we could have taken here is to check each window if the sum of
the three symbolic variables is equal to 0 or 3. However, using equality checks
for these constraints seemed more intuitive to the author at the time of
Using the Model
We have now implemented all the game rules as mathematical equations for Z3 to
be able to solve the puzzle, but first, we have to check the solver if the
current constraints are “satisfiable”. We use the solver’s check() method to
If the input puzzle contained a violation of some of the constraints, such as
containing two identical rows, then the call to check() would fail, and we
would raise an exception.
Once we have run check() successfully, we can fetch the model that Z3 has
created for the puzzle:
We can now query the model for the actual value of each of the symbolic
variables stored in the dictionary of symbols. We build up a mapping between
the cell positions, and the result of the evaluation of the symbolic variable:
If we visualize the solution from Z3, it will look as follows:
We have successfully programmed the Z3 solver such that it can solve the 6x6
game grid for us, but we implemented all of the game rules such that they will
work for any NxN game grid with an even N value. We have specified the rules of
the game as a set of mathematical equations instead of specifying each step
Python needs to take to solve the puzzle.
It is much easier to write a validator for whether the game is correctly solved
or not than it is to solve the game itself. However, we will skip the details
of the validator implementation in this article.
Puzzles with Higher Difficulty
Let us have a look at how the solver handles a more difficult input puzzle. We
change the input puzzle to be a 14x14 game grid instead of the example 6x6 game
grid. In the new puzzle, only 45 out of 196 cells (23.0%) are pre-filled for
us, making this game much harder than the example game where 38.9% of the cells
were pre-filled. The new game grid looks as follows:
The Z3 solver can solve this puzzle in around 2.5 seconds on the author’s 2.6
GHz Intel i7 desktop computer from 2016. The result seems to be correct. The
solution looks as follows:
An interesting detail that is worth including here is what happens if we ask Z3
to solve an impossible puzzle. With the rules encoded as a set of mathematical
equations, we could try to build an input puzzle that passes the initial input
validation but would be unsatisfiable.
One of the most trivial puzzles we can construct that is unsatisfiable and
passes the input validation is this 2x2 game grid for which no possible
solution exists under the rules of the game:
This game grid will be a violation of the third rule of the game whereby each
row, and each column, must contain the same number of zeros and ones if we try
to solve it by filling in the two empty cells. Additionally, both rows of this
game would be identical, which is a violation of the fourth rule of the game.
Because of these violations, this puzzle will be unsatisfiable. Passing this
puzzle to the solver will make our program throw an “Unsolvable Puzzle Error”
Exploring Z3, together with the Python programming language, has been a fun
learning exercise. I could see myself use Z3 to solve various real-world
problems that I have historically relied on implementing manual solutions
crafted by hand to solve. Changing my mindset from trying to solve the specific
problem by hand over to modeling the problem in a declarative way is
entertaining and something I wish I could make use of more often in my daily
life as a programmer.
If you are interested in learning more about using Z3 together with the Python
programming language, I suggest you take a look at the excellent Programming
Z3 guide by Nikolaj
Bjørner, Leonardo de Moura, Lev Nachmanson, and Christoph Wintersteiger from
The source code for the Binary Puzzle solver, we implemented in this article,
is available from Github. The source
code is published under the BSD 2-Clause license.
“The stories I write might be fantasy, but the depiction of the feelings people share for each other is real.”
I’m cheating. The above quote is not from the actual content but from Michael’s afterword. I chose it for the simple fact that, to me at least, this is what makes Michael’s books “work” for me. But we’ll come to that yet…
First, I have to admit that I was actually afraid of reading this book. “Age of Death”, this book’s predecessor, was not exactly my favourite. It felt long, uninspired, weighed down by metaphysical mumbo-jumbo.
The creative playfulness, the lightness, was mostly missing and those were important reasons I really liked the books before it. Would “Age of Empyre” “fix” this and as easily achieve what the first four books did?
“Brin felt altogether miserable. The written language was her one thing, her life’s achievement. She’d spent years creating, refining, and polishing the system. It was the accomplishment she was proudest of, at least until a moment ago.”
… where early on the wheel was invented and Michael actually managed to make me believe it could have happened the way he envisioned it, this feels a bit more heavy-handed as you can see. And, yet, we do get a glimpse of the wonders that made the earlier books so good here as well.
Metaphysics are back as well but they feel less forced and actually intrinsically make sense – especially the idea of both literally and metaphorically becoming “light”(er) by freeing oneself from whatever bogs us down appeals to me.
Once more, Michael gets almost everything right – every loose end is wrapped up and seemingly disconnected events unavoidably lead to the brilliant conclusion not only of this book but the entire series.
Overall, all the choices Michael makes for his characters (and there are some I didn’t entirely like) are great. His way of telling his story is above reproach and I stick to what I wrote early about the series being his magnum opus.
Why is that? Because Michael.
The feelings he tells us are real, feel real. I don’t know Michael personally but after having read thousands of pages he wrote, I’ve come to see him as a bright beacon of hope, empathy and love.
In his protagonists’ darkest hours, there’s hope…
“That’s what stories are for, Brin realized. They are magic that aid people in times like this. They provide hope, a light to see by when all others are snuffed out.”
… and love of all kinds…
“A mouse trapped in a corner by a bear will still fight for survival. Love, he came to realize, was like that. No matter the odds, love refused to give up.”
… as well as empathy and forgiveness. That, basically, is what the tremendous and epic story Michael has told us is about.
The human warmth Michael’s books practically exude (combined with his good-natured humour) shine through in many places (major spoiler ahead so think hard before you reveal it!):
““Minna?” Suri said, and the wolf stopped to look back. “Would you like it better if I called you Gilarabrywn?” The wolf whimpered. “You like Minna better?” Yip. The wolf’s head jerked up with enough force that her front paws came off the ground. Suri shrugged and smiled. “Minna it is.””
The afterwords of both Michael and his wife Robin shed light on some decisions and opinions and greatly helped to get “the big picture”.
Michael, Robin, should you read this: Thank you for doing this and allowing me to help via Kickstarter. It was a wonderful, amazing, brilliant ride and please, please, please keep on writing – whatever it is, I’m going to read it.
You two are the real Legends – and you didn’t even have to die!
After not just one but two less than stellar reads in a row, I wanted to read something that was a) unlikely to disappoint (because I didn’t have high expectations in the first place), b) uplifting and c) easy to “digest”.
“The Happy Ever After Playlist” was almost exactly that. It started right by being funny…
“I snorted and descended into manic laughter again, putting a finger to my twitching eyelid.”
… and went on to be just “nice”, good-natured maybe or – as my daughter might put it – “wholesome”…
“Ten days. I’d had Tucker for ten wonderful, fur-on-my-bedspread, wet-kisses-in-the-morning, tail-wagging days.”
It felt pretty much like watching an old favourite TV show from childhood. Exactly what I wanted.
Of course, a (mostly) simple romance like this, featuring a hot bone-marrow-donating (to save a little girl!) rock star, Jason, and a curvy blonde, Sloan, who falls for him, is pretty much as cliché as it gets. Thus, I read this alternating between smiling (and sometimes giggling) and cringing (“I wanna get my hands on your pipes.”) – sometimes even simultaneously.
What helped was how effortless this book is written and, thus, to read. Even the constant switching between the perspective of both Jason and Sloan felt natural and made sense. Where other authors tend to be heavy-handed and “artsy” about such stuff, Jimenez got it exactly right.
Up until about the middle of the book, everything worked just great. It got slightly more complicated after as both Jason and Sloan mess up three times over mostly stupid issues. Maybe that’s “true to life” but one “crisis” is enough for me in a romance.
A minor detail but a nice touch were the song titles that precede every chapter. Judging by the titles they fit nicely and since I’d never heard of most of the musicians, I’m currently playing the eponymous “Happy Ever After Playlist” (which you can find on Apple Music here). (I must admit, I’m slightly disappointed now as the titles sounded more promising than what I’m hearing now. )
Ultimately, though, this was exactly the kind of literary junk food I was craving and what more could I possibly ask for?!
“If there was ever a candidate to be patron saint of computers then it would be Alan Turing. Mathematician, war hero and tragic victim of homophobia.”
And the above quotation is pretty much the only redeeming quality of this entire uninspired mess of a book.
As seems almost mandatory among “hip” authors these days, we have completely unnecessary jumps in the narrated time between chapters. Why can’t people tell their story linearly?! It’s not that hard and Aaronovitch stops jumping around the middle of the book and nothing of value is lost. So, why do it in the first place?
There’s no character development, no furthering any story arc, nothing. Not even the mediocre story of mixing magic, the generally supernatural and technology is fully explored but lacklustrely told and unconvincingly at that.
Even worse: Apart from countless allusions to the Hitchhiker’s Guide, “False Value” alludes to other works of Aaronovitch (probably those graphic “novels”) which I’m not in the least interested in reading.
This book was so boring, I’m surprised I managed to finish it. If you’ve been a fan so far, skip this one and hope for better times. If you haven’t read any “Rivers of London” yet, start at the beginning instead and, if you get that far, pretend this turd doesn’t exist.
Oder “Bullshit-Bingo mit Jussi” Oder “Alle Probleme dieser Welt – in einem Buch!”
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
“Erst da begriff Carl, dass Assad gerade auf der Kippe stand – der Kippe zwischen Mensch und Killermaschine.”
Meine Güte, Adler-Olsen, was tun Sie da eigentlich?! Sie haben unglaublich sympathische Protagonisten: Carl Mørk, behäbiger Ermittler, der gern mal an seinem Schreibtisch schläft und seine Fälle eher widerwillig, aber beharrlich löst. Assad, sein Kollege mit scharfem Verstand, viel Empathie und arabischem Migrationshintergrund, der immer wieder für amüsante Sprichwort-Verwechslungen sorgt, aber auch ein dunkles (?) Geheimnis mit sich herumträgt, das ihn schwer belastet.
Diese beiden eigentlich grundverschiedenen Menschen raufen sich Buch für Buch zusammen und lösen mit Verständnis, großer Humanität und Einfühlungsvermögen schwierige “Cold Cases”, die häufig auf Themen der Zeitgeschichte bezug nehmen. In bisher sieben Büchern habe ich Carl und Assad “begleitet” und es weitestgehend genossen.
Dieses achte Buch jedoch…
Lieber Leser, nimm Dir einen Zettel, und schreibe alle halbwegs aktuellen Herausforderungen der Menschheit des späten 20. und frühen 21. Jahrhunderts (außer COVID-19!) auf. Ich warte solange…
Na? Alles gehabt? Oder total perplex, so wie ich es war? Nicht mißverstehen: Über all das kann man schreiben, diskutieren und es auch in Krimis unterbringen, keine Frage. Aber muß man wirklich all das in einem Buch unterbringen?
Darüber hinaus sind ständige Perspektiv-Wechsel und Zeitsprünge natürlich auch aus der modernen Literatur nicht mehr wegzudenken – und manchmal ist das interessant und spannend! Hier jedoch ist es nur verwirrend, nervig und zeitweise schwer verständlich.
Was dabei herauskommt, wenn man all das in ein Buch zwängt, kräftig umrührt, mit ein bißchen unnötiger Gewalt garniert, schlußendlich noch ein bißchen Werbung für einen bekannten Computer-Hardware-Hersteller dazu kippt und die ganze Sauerei seinen Lesern vor die Füße kotzt, das sieht man an “Opfer 2117”.
Dazu kommt dann noch bemüht technokratische Sprache, wie nachfolgend sehr schön am Beispiel eines klingelnden Handys erkennbar wird:
“Sie waren bis etwa Kassel gekommen, als die Bluetooth-Verbindung auf Carls Handy reagierte.”
Warum einfach, wenn’s auch unnötig kompliziert geht?
Stalin, der Holocaust (!) und ein bißchen Satan runden das grottenschlechte Bild dieses Romans trefflich ab, so daß ich mich dem Wunsch eines unserer “Helden” nur anschließen kann…
“er wünschte, er könnte sich die Ohren zuhalten und einfach aus diesem satanischen Tableau verschwinden.”
… auch wenn’s bei mir die Augen waren.
Wer sich den Mist nicht antun mag: Natürlich geht ausnahmslos alles (!) letztlich gut aus und Assads Geheimnis ist auch eher mau.
Phew, Josie is back! After having been disappointed by Her Silent Cry, the previous instalment in the Josie Quinn series, this book brings her back on the right track.
This time, Josie investigates the murder of a couple and the disappearance of a friend of theirs, deep in the woods. A hermit, some creepy underground caverns and a strange cult feature prominently in this story and lend it a lot of atmosphere and, at least to me, a strong appeal.
Of course, “Cold Heart Creek” is the same literary junk food as its predecessors and, thus, you shouldn’t expect deep insights into the state of mankind, human nature or the question to 42 but if you – like me – enjoy a good thriller with likeable protagonists, despicable villains and some fast-paced action in combination with a good part police procedural, you can’t really go wrong with this book.
I have just one minor gripe: The resolution of a long-term dilemma of Josie’s is rather simplistic and, in my opinion, less than convincing.
“»Wo bist du zu Hause?« »Meine Sonne«, sagt Großmutter. »Meine Freude. Mein Esel. Begreif das endlich. Es zählt nicht, wo was ist. Oder woher man ist. Es zählt, wohin du gehst. Und am Ende zählt nicht mal das. Schau mich an: Ich weiß weder, woher ich komme, noch wohin ich gehe. Und ich kann dir sagen: Manchmal ist das gar nicht so schlecht.«”
Ein neues Jahr und die erste Rezension – zu diesem Anlaß habe ich einmal mehr in meiner Muttersprache gelesen.
Saša Stanišić war mir als Autor völlig unbekannt und nur durch die Vorstellung seines Buches “Herkunft”, das den Deutschen Buchpreis 2019 gewann, in “Druckfrisch” und das Gespräch zwischen dem von mir hoch geschätzten Denis Scheck und Stanišić, wurde ich auf ihn aufmerksam.
Um es gleich vorweg zu nehmen: “Herkunft” ist ein überaus persönliches Buch und erzählt aus Stanišić’ Leben. Insofern mag nicht jeder sich mit diesem Werk anfreunden können. Auch ich tat mich insbesondere anfangs sehr schwer mit Stil und Inhalt:
“Der Hund findet im Gebüsch einen Stück Stoff, blau, weiß, rot, wie die Fahne. Nicht zu glauben, flüstere ich. Der Hund riecht nach frisch gemähtem Gras. Ich langweile den Hund.”
Allzu merkwürdig anekdotisch und sprunghaft kam mir das alles vor. Ein Buch aus vielen Fragmenten mit Sprüngen quer durch Zeit und Raum, vor und zurück. Von den 80’ern bis 2018, von Jugoslawien (als es das noch gab) bis Deutschland. Seltsam, manchmal anstrengend und, ja, auch recht lang.
Nach knapp einem Fünftel des Buches war ich drauf und dran, aufzugeben und ein weniger anstrengendes Buch zu lesen. Doch der “erzählte” Stanišić (handelt es sich doch um eine Mischung aus (viel) Erinnerung und (wohl wenig) Fiktion) war mir ungeheuer sympathisch und so lehnte ich mich geistig zurück und ließ mich schlicht auf das Buch ein.
Ab diesem Moment wurde “Herkunft” zu einem für mich streckenweise ungeheuer ergreifenden Buch. Bei allem Witz (“Müssen Flößer schwimmen können?”) und Geist, den dieses Buch versprüht, so habe ich dennoch viele Taschentücher gebraucht und auch jetzt – in der Rückschau – “schniefe” ich vor mich hin.
Es sind gar nicht so viele “neue Erkenntnisse”, die ich diesem Buch entnehmen konnte; vielmehr verspürte ich eine merkwürdige Verbundenheit, was des Autors “Philosophie” angeht:
“»Ihr habt es mir nicht schwer gemacht. Das Dorf nicht, nicht die Schwiegereltern«, sagte Großmutter. Das gefiel mir: Es jemandem nicht schwer zu machen, genau darum sollte es doch überhaupt und immer gehen.”
Nicht “leicht machen”, aber es jemandem nicht schwer machen – eine einfache und doch überaus menschenfreundliche Einstellung.
Ich erwähnte bereits, daß “Herkunft” ein überaus persönliches Buch ist. Insofern steht es mir eigentlich nicht zu, mich über manche Längen im Buch zu echauffieren. Obschon ich zeitweise der Ansicht war, daß eine radikale Kürzungen dem Lese- und Erzählfluß vielleicht gut getan hätten. Andererseits bedarf es vielleicht gerade der Länge, um dem Sujet gerecht zu werden:
“Heimat, sage ich, ist das, worüber ich gerade schreibe. Großmütter. Als meine Großmutter Kristina Erinnerungen zu verlieren begann, begann ich, Erinnerungen zu sammeln.”
Auch sprachlich ist das Buch ein Genuß; noch nie zuvor habe ich beispielsweise vom “multikulturellen Faustdialog” gehört.
Bei allem Persönlichen bezieht Stanišić jedoch auch ganz klar politisch Stellung, was man ihm gerade heute hoch anrechnen muß:
“Welten vergehen, stellt man sich denen, die sie vergehen lassen wollen, nicht früh und entschieden in den Weg. Heute ist der 21. September 2018. Wäre am nächsten Sonntag Bundestagswahl, käme die AfD auf 18% der Stimmen.”
Eine erschreckende Erinnerung, daß die Herrschaft der Nationalsozialisten wohl doch schon für viele Wähler zu lange zurückliegt.
Der letzte Teil des Buches ist auch formal eine Zeitreise – wer um die 40 ist, wird sich wahrscheinlich aus den 80’ern an die sogenannten “Spielbücher” erinnern, die man “kreuz-und-quer” las – wer das nicht kennt, dem möchte ich die Überraschung nicht nehmen und allen anderen sei gesagt, das Stanišić hier noch einmal zu fantasievoller erzählerischer Hochform aufläuft.
Eine so schöne und persönliche Definition von Herkunft ist selten und absolut lesenswert.
“»Ein Stanišić, noch ein Stanišić und noch einer«, frohlockte Gavrilo. Sein Atem ging schnell, er stellte sich aufrecht hin, um sich Platz zu verschaffen. Die Luft wog schwer vor Ahnungen und Ahnen. »Und sie fanden den geeigneten Ort«, rief er. »Der Ort ist hier! Oskoruša! Hier schlugen sie ihre Wurzeln! Stanišić, Stanišić, Stanišić. Und jetzt – jetzt kommst du!« Um darüber zu schreiben? Über Vorfahren und Nachkommen. Gräber und Tischdecken und Wiedergänger. Überlebende. Und jetzt ja wohl auch über Drachen.”
The new year’s first review and, again, it’s a difficult one to write. In part because I did somewhat enjoy this latest instalment of “Ancient Guardians”. On the other hand, though, in spite of being a page-turner, I was constantly shifting between liking and hating this book.
First of all, it’s more of pretty much exactly the same as in the previous books – Tris is fighting for peace in the universe, tagging along are Kreon, Kyra and the others. There’s a new babysitter as well who remains pretty bleak and shallow, though.
The gore is back as well – not quite as annoying as in the third book but it’s still there, it’s still annoying and completely superfluous. I’m convinced it’s included for the kick some guys get out of such stuff.
Back in force as well are the typos, ungrammatical sentences, bad formatting, etc.; while I really think self-publishing is a great thing, one should at least make better use (or try to engage better) beta readers:
“One the one hand, a man like Gerian would demand the best when it came to his guards;”
Mistakes like that are just annoying and you’ll find lots of them – much more than in the previous books.
Exactly the same is also Tony’s tendency not to miss any cliché: – Blood-thirsty monsters with razors on their hands? Check! – Killer robots? Check! – Murderous emperors & their clones? Check!
We’ve seen all of that before in science fiction films or read it in other books – just usually in a more original way. The way Tony works with his material more and more feels like he has simply reached the limits of his writing skills.
Tony writes hilariously brilliant travel literature but I grow weary of his juvenile kind of story-telling. Once the novelty had worn off, the mediocrity began to shine through.
Tony very, very clumsily tries to address issues of morality when he makes Tristan kill someone but it doesn’t get beyond the most trivial observations:
“ had seen the darkness in him, and had called him out on it. And Tris had killed him for it. ”
Another huge issue for me was that our heroes – as likeable as they may be – seem to have no real discernible talents beyond very specific “attributes” – Kreon is pretty much “bullet-proof”, Kyra is a great pilot, Ella’s talents as actually witnessed seem to be mostly restricted to the bedroom – in spite of her claim to be an assassin priestess – and Tris acts first and thinks afterwards. But at least he has his glaive and now a brain implant. While they’re supposed to be high and mighty, what actually saves them is mostly dumb luck or the author’s liberal use of deus-ex-machina moments which Tony is at least not shy to acknowledge:
“Luckily, he had a miracle on speed-dial.”
There are tons of minor issues like the practically indistinguishable formatting mess that telepathic conversations are or stating the obvious: ““Guess we’re going that way,” Kyra said. And they did.”
And, still, “Warden’s Vengeance” with all its faults is a suspenseful, exciting book that I both loathe and like. Thus, I’m going to finish this series and will avoid any further fiction by Tony.
This was, unfortunately, a quick and painful read. We’re observing how Wren enters the big – forbidden and foreboding – forest despite her entire family having disappeared in it before.
Even worse: She goes into the forest knowing full well it’s a trap and, “being eight years old and small for her age” she has absolutely nothing to expect but being lost forever herself.
As if that wasn’t enough already, the story feels forced, a lacklustre piece that’s even gory in part which is something I’m definitely not used to when it comes to Michael’s books and other short stories.
Ultimately, it ends with a whimper of a solution that is as forgettable as the entire thing.
Just stay away from this short story and choose from Michael’s other works which are simply marvellous!
“Stories matter – telling them, sharing them, preserving them, changing them, learning from them, and escaping with and through them. We learn about ourselves and the world that we live in through fiction just as much as through facts. Empathy, perception and understanding are never wasted. All libraries are a gateway into other worlds, including the past – and the future.”
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that featured a passage good enough for an opening quote. And the above passage is just from the Cogman’s acknowledgements at the very beginning. Fortunately, the implicit promise given holds true for this sixth instalment of the series.
Originally, I intended to give this book four stars, maybe mention it’s more like 4.5 but when I thought about what’s missing in this book for the fifth full star, I couldn’t really think of anything. Yes, there’s not much “philosophical depth” to be found in “The Secret Chapter” but when I contemplated that, I realised I’m perfectly fine with that – the entire series is a lot of fun and yet gives some food for thought and sometimes that’s enough.
“The Secret Chapter” is much like its predecessors: Irene’s and Kai’s dynamics are there and some of the others, e. g. Silver and Vale, are making an appearance. Vale, unfortunately, doesn’t feature prominently in this book but considering what it’s about, this makes sense.
Because this time, Irene is sent to acquire a book by doing a Fae lord a favour by stealing a painting. Doesn’t sound very exciting? Well, Irene needs the book to save an entire world; in fact, a world that used to be her safe haven in complicated times – she went to school there and it helped in lot in shaping her. Thus, a heist is planned in the vein of the heist films of old, e. g. “Rififi” or “The Sting”, with a gang consisting of Fae, Irene, Kai – and a rogue dragon! Starts sounding more interesting, eh?
The job seems to go quite well up to a certain turning point at which an already suspenseful novel takes a turn into a fast-paced action thriller which is quite refreshing. Nevertheless, just as I would have hoped and expected, the aptly-named “The Secret Chapter” ultimately turns out to be much more than “just” a heist story or an action thriller. Satisfyingly, it succeeds as well in incorporating Irene’s parents into the story in a good and believable way.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the trademark humour of the series is there as well:
“‘Kai! There’s been a palace revolution and the peasants are attacking!’ Kai gave a deep shuddering sigh and finally opened his eyes properly. ‘Execute them all in the public square,’ he mumbled, clearly still half-asleep.”
If I had to find fault with this book, I’d probably point out that while Irene and Kai are obviously devoted to each other, there are reservations on both their parts. They keep secrets from each other and that’s fine – we all do. The motivation is what counts, though, and at least Irene’s reason to hold back is – at least in part – mistrust or maybe insecurity. I can’t really define it but by the sixth book, I would have wished for more trust and intimacy.
I also like Cogman’s take on Brexit – especially in the grim light of the result of yesterday’s (12.12.2019) general election in the UK:
“‘The United Kingdom?’ ‘Very strongly tied to Europe, which is why CENSOR has an English name and acronym. It did attempt to leave the European Union last year, but apparently that was prompted by demonic interference. A lot of politicians were subsequently tried for treason and beheaded at the Tower of London.’”
While I don’t condone the beheading, I certainly think the divisive short-sighted tactics of a certain hare-brained prime minister will lead to disaster for those who just elected him.
Anyway, coming back to the book, it ends with a twist that I didn’t see coming at all – a twist that isn’t a big deal in an immediate or urgent sense but it has the potential to upset the precious balance that has only so recently been achieved among the worlds and factions.
And yet, it all fits satisfyingly together naturally and in a strangely uplifting way. It’s probably helped by the personal growth Irene shows at the end:
“‘Mother, please, hear me out. If there’s something I’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that everything people do is important. I happen to have chosen this particular thing to do with my life, and I was lucky enough to have the choice.”
Whole-heartedly recommended without reservation to any fan of the series; recommend with minor reservations to those who haven’t read “The Secret Chapter”’s predecessors yet. You would miss out on a lot of minor things so go and read this entire series.
“‘Life was much easier before I had to worry about everyone else worrying,’ Irene muttered. ‘It’s called growing up, dear. It comes with staying alive.’”
It pains me to write this but I didn’t really like “Age of Death”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad book per se. It’s just that it feels flat and – ironically – lifeless. That’s probably why it took me almost a month to finish it.
“Age of Death” starts where Age of Legend, the previous book, left off with a huge cliffhanger. Now our heroes move on into, uh, a sort of different realm… No, this won’t do: If you haven’t read the previous book yet, stop reading this review here – afterwards spoilers for the series as a whole might lurk!
So, without further ado: Our heroes waded into the pool and died. They now enter the “afterlife” and meander through the different realms of it. This is my first issue: I’m an antitheist. Even if I suspend my disbelief and my opposition to anything related to faith, I’m simply not interested in any such ideas. Michael J. Sullivan is one of my favourite authors but even his ideas on afterlife are irrelevant to me even though I found myself at one time wishing he was right:
“In that world beyond the veil of death, we found that those we had thought to be lost forever had only been misplaced.”
The blurb tells me: “In the tradition of Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the most epic of tales transcend the world of the living. It’s time to see what lies in Elan’s Age of Death.”
I haven’t read either Virgil, Dante or Milton and I don’t intend to. You might consider me a barbarian or uncultured – whatever: I think the “classics” have mostly outlived themselves and belong to the past from which they originated. Amusingly, it was one of those classic authors who expressed a similar thought in a way that has imprinted itself on me at least 30 years ago and has stayed with me ever since:
“There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.” Voltaire, in a letter to Cardinal de Bernis (23 April 1761)
Keep your truths, Dante, and explore your hell but I’m not interested in it. Similarly, I found the ideas Michael expresses somewhat alluring but not really interesting – Brin, Roan, Gifford and the others move through Rel and Nifrel and, yes, have to overcome a lot of obstacles but everything feels slightly off: The pacing is very uneven – there are long passages during which hardly anything happens and then there are huge battles but even those feel somehow anticlimactic – they’re all dead already so what danger is there? Yes, there is the danger of losing oneself by not believing enough in oneself being but instead of exploring that idea, it’s simply presented and – seemingly – forgotten about.
And before I knew it, just before our friends reach their destination, the book ends with yet another cliffhanger. Ok, I half-expected that but in the previous book’s “Author’s Note” Michael explicitly warned us about it but didn’t do so this time so I was hoping…
Apart from the issues I’ve already mentioned there’s the fact that a lot of characters, e. g. Persephone, hardly make an entrance. Yes, we see Persephone “in passing”, so to speak, but she isn’t really around. Nor are many others, like Suri who might have featured very prominently but only did so shortly early on. It was disappointing for me.
And yet… Michael is an amazing author: Whatever he writes about, his storytelling is believable, full of warmth and, well, comforting. If Michael ever did a mystery kickstarter, I’d chime in. Even if I knew nothing and there was no information whatsoever. Because I love how and what Michael writes.
“You want to create?” Nyphron said. Malcolm ignored him. “Just consider what could be done if wars were a thing of the past and everyone worked together.”
Yes, “Age of Death” was a disappointment but I can’t help myself so let me go ahead and say it out loud:
Prerequisites: Basic knowledge of a Unix system architecture; init diversity initiative.
Devember1 it’s coming and for this year (which is also my first year participating) I’ve chosen something really close to me: the init and service manager (called init/rc for the rest of the post). Specifically I’ve chosen to rewrite 66 from scratch.
Notes: In the following paragraphs there is an explanation of what led me to rewrite 66. I was planning to explain this from some time and I’ve taken to opportunity to do so now.
I read one book at a time, always. I simply cannot just “switch” from one book to another anymore. So, if I hit a rotten tomato I tend to actually read less.
I’m typing this on my iPhone. A minute ago, I found myself wondering and thinking, “I usually read at a time like this.” – while I was playing a game. Then it began to dawn on me: ‘How much must you despise a book to fantasise about writing its review on GoodReads while actively trying to avoid reading said book?!‘
The answer in a nutshell: Very much, and the reason is that pretty much everything in this book is bland, wrong and unbalanced.
Let’s start with the supernatural aspects: While I’m in no way superstitious, don’t believe in anything supernatural, I actually greatly enjoyed the ambivalence of the previous instalments in this series. For McGray pretty much everything was at least supernaturally influenced whereas Frey never really believed in anything like that. The resulting strains between both and the different approaches made things interesting. It made for a nice balance.
Even better: De Muriel kept the ambivalence and we never knew for certain if there were supernatural elements or not. We, as readers, could make up our minds ourselves.
In “Darker Arts”, though, Frey and his no-nonsense philosophy clearly dominate the entire book. McGray basically only features as an unhinged clown who has a good idea at times but mostly raves or broods, sometimes attacking people.
Somehow, among complicated family trees, goldmines in Africa and lots of spiteful people the story meanders along, seemingly aimlessly and no progress is being made. At first, our heroes don’t worry but time passes and nothing really seems to be moving anywhere. Lots of false leads, a travesty of a trial and until the sensationalist ending during which Frey miraculously conceives the solution to the crime in a most unbelievable way, de Muriel obviously tries hard to bore us to death.
The solution to the crime is so complicated that de Muriel actually has to resort to having Frey spell everything out to his superior and, thus, us. If an author has to resort to such desperate measures, they’d better gone back and revised their plot.
Plus: Frey is basically constantly bemoaning his uncle’s untimely death during the previous book. The previous book, in fact, overshadows this one as it is being alluded to all the time. So often actually that I became annoyed about it. Yes, I enjoyed “The Loch of the Dead” but it’s not like it would garner de Muriel Nobel the Nobel Prize in Literature…
“Darker Arts” reads like de Muriel has spent all his good ideas. If it wasn’t for certain developments at the very end, I’d say this might be a farewell to the series – McGray receives grim personal news, Frey is impaired by the events of “The Loch of the Dead”, another important character leaves the scene…
Ultimately, considering the bland story, the bad writing and the fact that this book made me read less, I think that’s it for me – Oscar de Muriel just lost a reader for good. Or, to say it with McGray’s constantly repeated words: “Och nae…”
Wow, we’re already at the 18th instalment of this great series. When I picked this book up, I was slightly worried how I would like it, considering that I haven’t exactly had much luck with long-running series this year; the latest Dupin a disappointment almost as badly as the latest Bruno (review here).
Would Deborah Crombie let me down as well? Would she make me wish for Duncan and Gemma, whose exploits I’ve been following for years, to finally ride into the sunset?
The answer, fortunately, is a resounding “NO!”.
Set this time in the Cotswolds – and thus outside Duncan’s and Gemma’s jurisdiction – we find ourselves at Beck House, the summer house of Melody Talbot’s parents, Ivan and Addie. What was planned as a carefree weekend for Duncan, Gemma, Melody and Doug with a charity luncheon turns into something much more sinister when it comes to light that one of the victims of a car accident had already been dead at the time of the collision…
The other victim of said collision is actually Duncan Kincaid himself – fortunately alone in the car at the time. The fact that I just felt compelled to mention he was alone is a strong indicator for one fact: You know you really like a series and its characters when you’re actually truly worrying about what’s going to happen to one of the main characters.
During the entire book which switches perspectives frequently and naturally (meaning you don’t get confused at all!) I was wondering what might happen to Duncan. I was keeping my fingers crossed all the time and worried with Gemma about him.
I’ve always liked her as well and I sympathised even more with her during this book because she constantly has a lot on her plate: She has to organise the kids, has to be a “proper” guest of the Talbots, a friend to several characters in the book and takes part in the investigation with Duncan (both being supported by Melody and Doug, of course!).
It’s not only Gemma, though: Everyone – including even minor character like Kit – get a fair amount of “stage time” and, surprisingly, everyone is actually interesting.
This applies to the local cop, DI Colin Booth as well: Booth, who could have reacted territorially, gladly accepts the help he’s getting from his London colleagues and they, in return, don’t try to take over his investigation. I’m not sure how realistic that actually is but it surely helped with the lively atmosphere.
Booth is smart, down-to-earth and simply very congenial:
““Colin Booth, Gloucester CID. And you are?” Gemma noticed that he hadn’t used his rank, and that in the few moments since he’d arrived he had very unobtrusively loosened the knot in his tie. She was beginning to like Colin Booth.”
So did I.
Even the interludes – describing past events in the lives of some major characters – were actually enjoyable and helped understand current events better.
One sentence, early on, reminded me strongly of the entire series and, especially, this book…
“Down-to-earth food, and delicious, the sort of thing he’d grown up on in Cheshire.”
… which is similarly down-to-earth and delicious.
No, Crombie didn’t let me down and I’m happily awaiting the 19th book!
Let me state clearly where I stand when it comes to Alex Verus: I think he’s the greatest Urban Fantasy protagonist ever.
I’ve enjoyed every single book in the series and I enjoyed this latest instalment as well – just not as much as most of the others, unfortunately.
Why though? The trademark humour is there, Luna is there and so are Anne, Variam, Arachne and others. Sadly, they mostly take a place on the backseat this time.
Luna barely gets any serious “stage” time; she’s generally around and worries a lot but doesn’t get to do or experience much. For such an important character that’s pretty sad.
We do get to see more of Anne who has a more “active” role in the proceedings but she remains unrefined and pale compared to many other characters. Maybe part of that is my own perception, though; I’ve never felt that Anne added much to the books – she always felt like the obligatory love interest and I never found her especially interesting. It’s probably because of that I don’t care very much about the role she plays in this tenth book.
Personally, I think even the air elemental Starbreeze – who is FINALLY back in this book – is a lot more interesting and even more important.
The story is rather simple as well: The war between Britain’s Light Council and Richard Drakh is ongoing and Alex comes to realise he will have to step up his game and make some hard decisions in order to actually achieve at least some of his goals and protect those he loves.
And that he does: He plunges head first into the action and does what has to be done – the personal consequences – as of yet unclear – be damned. The personal and character changes these bring are subtly shown by Jacka and that’s a large part of why I still enjoyed this book.
One of the major downsides can best be illustrated by a direct quote from the book:
“I looked at the house for a moment longer, feeling as though a very old piece of unfinished business had just come to an end.”
Reading many parts of this book makes me feel exactly like that: “Being on a clock” (as Alex puts it) – because we’re nearing the end of the series – makes Jacka pick up loose threads from earlier books (so loose I often didn’t even remember them…) and put quite some effort into resolving them. That, in itself, is commendable but I’d rather have had some real character development beyond Alex himself and that is sorely lacking in “Fallen”, unfortunately.
Jacka is setting up his stage for the final books, makes previous characters reappear (cf. Starbreeze or Meredith), makes some others disappear (and that one character to boot! How dare he!) and is generally preparing to move on to greener pastures. That we feel this in the tenth of twelve planned books is a bit premature, I think.
Maybe, though, it’s again me who already feels saddened by the thought of having to say goodbye to Alex Verus whose adventures have brightened up my reading time.
Last but not least, don’t worry if you’re a fan – you will enjoy “Fallen” (aptly titled!) as it’s fast-paced, suspenseful and features much of what we came to love. I just wish it had been less of a “blast from the past” and more of a future-oriented book.
If you’re new to Alex Verus, don’t start with this book, though. This is one of those series you need to read in order.
“‘Who the hell are you?’ Geralt asked again, leaning forward. ‘What are you doing… in this forest? How did you get here?’ The girl lowered her head and sniffed loudly. ‘Cat got your tongue? Who are you, I said? What’s your name?’ ‘Ciri,’ she said, sniffing.”
Once more we return to Geralt of Rivia, the eponymous Witcher, and his deeds. Mostly, though, “Sword of Destiny” serves to define Geralt with respect to his friends. We get to meet Dandelion again, and, of course, Geralt and Yennefer of Vengerberg cross paths several times as they are… Well, whatever they are, they certainly don’t know themselves.
Most importantly, though, Geralt meets Ciri, the Child of the Elder Blood, for the first time. Ciri, who will become so important in Geralt’s life. We meet her three times throughout the stories in this book which are loosely connected to each other but mostly show us who Geralt truly is.
The more I read, the more loose threads I dimly remembered from the entire saga actually turned out to be picked up and resolved. I liked this book the first time I read it but I only came to really appreciate its narrative depth and immersion this second time around. Whereas Geralt – to me at least – was a very likeable person, he really grew on me and I deeply sympathized with this fictious man.
Especially fascinating were his travels with Yurga, a travelling merchant he rescues, and on whom he invokes the Law of Surprise (for those (yet!) unenlightened among you: That means Geralt – as a reward – asks for something his debtor finds at home but didn’t expect, e. g. a child.). What is revealed as part of that voyage about Geralt is fairly astounding and deeply moving.
I was engrossed with the switches of perspective – Geralt alternatingly hallucinating and being clear-headed. When the borders between what he imagines and what’s real get murkier, the story becomes almost philosophical and we cannot ever be sure what was actually real and what was not. And, in fact, this is not being resolved. It’s up to the reader to decide for himself which makes me feel the author takes me seriously and I greatly appreciate that.
Ultimately, this is probably the best introduction any fantasy hero could hope for. What starts lightly and with witty sarcasm by “monsters”…
“‘That is right,’ the dragon interrupted. ‘Well, it’s the times we live in. For some time, creatures, which you usually call monsters, have been feeling more and more under threat from people. They can no longer cope by themselves. They need a Defender. Some kind of… witcher.’“
… goes to great length to end on a very serious and positive tone:
“‘It’s like they said! Geralt! It’s like they said! Am I your destiny? Say it! Am I your destiny?’
Yurga saw the Witcher’s eyes. And was very astonished. He heard his wife’s soft weeping, felt the trembling of her shoulders. He looked at the Witcher and waited, tensed, for his answer. He knew he would not understand it, but he waited for it. And heard it.
‘You’re more than that, Ciri. Much more.’”
Neither Geralt nor Ciri actually know at this point how right they are and, thus, I strongly encourage you, dear reader, to join them on their journey…
“Der Blaue Lotus” entstand im Jahr 1934 und wurde bereits 1946 erneut überarbeitet und es wurden wiederum auch inhaltliche Änderungen vorgenommen.
Auch hier versucht Hergé wieder eine “runde” Geschichte zu erzählen, doch leider mißlingt ihm das gründlich: Die Story besteht in wesentlichen Teilen aus Tims fortgesetzter Flucht und Wieder-Inhaftierung. Ein Entkommen ist dabei absurder als das Vorangegangene.
Erstmals allerdings – und das spürt man wohltuend – hat Hergé sich nicht mehr einzig auf “Erlesenes” oder ihm Berichtetes verlassen, sondern hat sich – obschon nicht ganz ohne Druck – mit seiner Materie beschäftigt.
War also bisher der Kolonialismus und Imperialismus uneingeschränkt gut und allenfalls die “edlen Wilden” als Relikte einer im Untergehen begriffenen und “minderwertigen” Kultur geduldet, schlägt das Pendel nun mehr in die andere Richtung aus – Hergé versucht sich mit Hilfe seines Freundes Zhang Chongren, einem chinesischem Künstler, ein besseres Bild zu machen und sich von bornierten Vorurteilen zu verabschieden. Er tut dies auf recht “platte” und naive Weise, aber – und das muß man sich bei der Beurteilung immer vor Augen halten – Hergé ist nun einmal Kind seiner Zeit und muß jedes Quäntchen Freiheit mühsam erringen.
Daß Hergés Bestreben ernst und – unter obigen Aspekten betrachtet – grundsätzlich gelungen ist, ist schon daran zu ermessen, daß er den sog. Boxeraufstand von Tims Freund Tschang historisch korrekt als “Fäuste der Gerechtigkeit [und Harmonie]” bezeichnen läßt, womit er deutlich macht, die Geschichte nicht nur zu verstehen, sondern auch mit der Sache zu sympathisieren – in früheren Bänden hätten alle Nicht-Europäer in “Pidgin” vom “Boxlaufstand” (o. ä.) gesprochen.
So interessant all das auch ist – über seine Sympathie und Freundschaft ist Hergé leider seine Geschichte aus den Fugen geraten: Weder taugt die vorliegende Erzählung als alleinstehender Band, noch gewinnt sie durch die Einbettung in den Kontext der “Zigarren des Pharaos” dessen Fortsetzung sie eigentlich sein soll.
Schulze und Schultze sind auch wieder mit dabei; auch hier wieder zwar als Freunde, aber als Widersacher, die Tim im Auftrag einer korrupten Kolonialbehörde verhaften sollen und dies ganz im Sinne des “Kadavergehorsams” wider besseres Wissen versuchen: “Und um Ihnen zu sagen, daß wir Sie nie für schuldig gehalten haben! Aber Befehl ist Befehl!”
(“Bauz, Bitches!” – wie meine Tochter sagen würde)
Für Fans vielleicht das Richtige, für mich nicht wirklich.
In this sixth instalment of Regan’s Josie Quinn series a child is abducted in a rather complex way and more “surprises” await Josie and her team during the investigation because not everything is as it looks at the beginning…
At least it’s not like it looks to Josie or anyone on her team because very early on there is a horrible give-away as to the reasons of the abduction which made me see a lot of the things to come right from the start. That was a huge let-down and while there’s still a lot of suspense, it severely detracted from the potential this book showed.
This is especially disappointing for me as I’ve really enjoyed “following” Josie during her cases so far. While the books in this series never had much depth and were at no point intellectually challenging, they were suspenseful, often surprising and never dull.
Compared to other cases, though, this one – while not exactly dragging on – isn’t quite as fast-paced. All the more so if one considers the tumultuous events of the previous book.
What’s missing as well are the actual characters on Josie’s team: While Noah, Gretchen, Mettner, Lamay and Chitwood, are all there, they mostly seem to be lacking their earlier personalities. For some reason I don’t really understand Noah is still injured and while he was an idiot during the previous book, now he’s a softie. Gretchen hardly ever gets into the limelight; Chitwood, Josie’s boss, isn’t his usual abrasive self either and I had to look up the others as they were unrecognisably shallow.
There’s hardly anything going on in Josie’s private life and the one potentially major development that could have become great limps away whimpering because Regan didn’t have the courage to go through with it.
All in all, while this is not a bad book in itself, it’s just a disappointment as I’ve come to expect more from Regan. It’s a lukewarm instalment in this series that can be skipped without really missing anything.
Der vorliegende Band, “Die Zigarren des Pharaos”, entstand im Jahr 1932 und wurde 1955 überarbeitet und koloriert. Dabei wurden auch geringfügige inhaltliche Änderungen vorgenommen, die aber der Geschichte keinen Abbruch tun.
Tatsächlich ist dieser Band der erste, der eine konsistente und unterhaltsame Geschichte erzählt und nicht mehr die vorher übliche Ansammlung von mehr oder minder lose verknüpften Szenen.
Erstmals tauchen auch die ersten altbekannten Figuren auf: Hier sind es die tollpatschigen Detektive Schulze und Schultze, die jedoch über weite Teile des Bandes Tim festnehmen wollen und ihm – im Gegensatz zu späteren Bänden der Reihe – nicht oder nur aus wenig altruistischen Gründen helfen.
Auch eine Premiere: Dies ist der erste Band, der mich wirklich unterhalten und mir Spaß gemacht hat.
Basically, the blurb says it all – a (book) hoarder in a post-apocalyptic world lives among his tons of books and realises he’ll have to burn some of them. Unfortunately, he’s not the brightest bulb (not even in a world without power!) and, thus, disaster happens.
This is a nice-ish short story without any connection to Michael’s other works. It pretty much lives from the setting (books filling a small house entirely – sans a few “paths” – lovely though in theory!), the “name-dropping” (all the big post-modern names appear) and the central dilemma of burning books.
The latter is this short story’s saving grace in my book because as Heinrich Heine, the great German poet, wrote as early as 1823 (and, thus, eerily predicting the Holocaust):
“Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” (“Where books are burned, in the end, people will also be burned.”)
Might be worth a read if the above sounds interesting to you but, honestly, you won’t really miss much if you skip this one. If, though, you’ve reached the point at which you secretly (cough) adore the ground Michael treadslevitates above, it’s a must-read.
Two years ago, I somehow came across “Still Life”, the first in a series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec, Canada. It was a good book, no doubt, and I was quick to catch up with the series which I greatly enjoyed.
What I expected to be a standard police procedural turned out to be so much more. Gamache isn’t the young, enthusiastic investigator but a man in his fifties who has experienced a lot and instead of becoming disillusioned, embittered or hopeless as one might expect, he grows.
“Things are strongest where they’re broken.” is how Gamache puts it and how he lives – and he himself has been broken a lot of times. He’s not the “Gentleman police officer” that George’sLynley is (or used to be). He’s not Rankin’s cynical Inspector Rebus.
Armand Gamache is a literary unicum.
In this fifteenth novel of the series, Gamache investigates the disappearance of a young woman who is beaten by her husband. She is soon found dead and so is her murderer. If he can be convicted, though, is not quite as certain…
As always, Gamache’s home, the small village “Three Pines”, and its inhabitants play a role (albeit less prominently than in some of the other books) and we get treated to all the familiar characters like Ruth, the semi-insane poet, Clara, the artist, and, of course, Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste.
The relationships between the characters are another of the major highlights of this series: The closely-knit and yet open, welcoming and open-minded community of “Three Pines” is the fictious place we would love our kids to grow up in.
These books live from the relationships so lovingly depicted and the almost mythical quality of “Three Pines”.
As with every one of her Gamache novels, Penny has a fundamental topic which might not continually take a centre place but which will surface throughout the novel. In this case it’s vigilantism – how do the central characters deal with it themselves when most seriously tempted; when all it would take is looking away at the right moment…
“It was all Jean-Guy Beauvoir could do not to turn around. March back to […]. Tell Armand and Reine-Marie and Billy to look away while he forced […] to a kneeling position, took out his gun. Placed it at the base of the monster’s skull. And fired.”
And – how would we deal with it? Would we give in to the temptation? I’m going to admit it: I for one was sympathising with Beauvoir at that (rather early!) point in the story. I hope I’d do as he does…
Would we be able to face the consequences of our deeds?
““Consequences,” said Gamache. “We must always consider the consequences of our actions. Or inaction. It won’t necessarily change what we do, but we need to be aware of the effect.”
Ultimately, though, both Gamache and Beauvoir disregard exactly that advice and that’s part of what so greatly appeals to me about those two men: When they feel they have to act, they’re just going to do it – no matter the consequences because it’s the right thing to do:
“Homer plowed right through them, running straight into the Bella Bella. Wading in. Breaking through the thin ice at the shore, he fought his way forward. To get to his little girl.
Gamache and Beauvoir plunged in after him.”
Even if that means plunging into a flooding river – and Penny pulls that off effortlessly. She has given each character her books so much personality that we never – not for a second – doubt they would do this. It’s another one of the immense strengths of Penny’s story-telling – she is a master of characterisation.
As similar both Gamache and Beauvoir are, they are different kinds of investigators which is another highly interesting aspect of the Gamache novels:
“While Jean-Guy Beauvoir explored the tangible, what could be touched, Armand Gamache explored what was felt. He went into that chaotic territory. Hunting. Searching. Tracking. Immersing himself in emotions until he found one so rancid it led to a killer.
Beauvoir stopped at the door. Gamache went through it.”
All this may sound intimidating if you’re just in it to read a good mystery but do not despair because while there’s lots of serious wisdom and kindness to be found in these books, they never take themselves too seriously and there’s always a good portion of humour involved:
“Isabelle. Jean-Guy. Armand. Three colleagues. Three friends. A trinity. Sturdy. Eternal. Together. “Three Pines,” she said. “Three Stooges,” said Ruth as she walked by and entered the bistro.”
As usual, there are very few things not to like about a Gamache novel but there are two minor issues in this one: First of all, there’s a huge flooding. Basically, the entire province of Quebec is in a state of emergency and we get to read quite a bit about it in the first half of the book. This entire part of the story is pretty much completely neglected in the second half. It’s not a big deal but it’s a loose end that could easily have been avoided.
A little more annoying were the weird and superfluous injections of Twitter messages at the beginning of a few chapters. They didn’t really add to the story and they were an unwelcome distraction. I don’t get why some authors these days seem to believe they cannot write a good modern book without directly adding social media parts. Especially when they obviously don’t quite grasp how said social media work (in a technological sense).
Nevertheless, these are really minor issues that simply don’t matter considering Louise Penny’s achievement by writing yet another, the fifteenth (!), absolutely fabulous book.
Due to the attempts of an Exherbo user to get it supported in Bedrock Linux, I got curious about it myself. So, what’s Bedrock?
“Bedrock Linux is a meta Linux distribution which allows users to utilize features from other, typically mutually exclusive distributions. Essentially, users can mix-and-match components as desired.” (Source: https://bedrocklinux.org/)
To me, that was immediately interesting as I simply cannot spend as much time on Exherbo as I used to (which was a whole damn lot). Bedrock looked like a potential solution to basically run two (or even more!) distributions at once – and, thus, be able to actually run a binary distribution but to use (and maintain!) some Exherbo packages (or a subset of those).
Thus, I took a closer look, found it pretty easy to add “fetching” support (which means you can actually run a command that fetches our stage and adds it as a Bedrock “stratum”) for Exherbo. My first attempt wasn’t ideal but lead to a very constructive and pleasant discussion with Bedrock’s lead developer, Daniel “paradigm” Thau.
Ultimately, we figured out caching support in order to not overly tax our, Exherbo’s, ancient server, mucked around with user support and lots of other stuff which boils down to one simple fact:
Of course, this works in a virtual machine as well so you can try it out yourself without any risk.
For me, I’ve converted my current Fedora installation into Bedrock and, of course, fetched me an Exherbo stratum. To be completely honest, if that actually means I’ll be able (or willing) to put some real time into Exherbo again remains to be seen but at least I now have some way to try.
“That evening, the old lady sat in the best place for talking: in the kitchen, on the wooden bench beside the oven.”
In the street of the small village I grew up in, there lived (and lives to this day even though she is very, very old now!) a lady of sheer infinite kindness. During the 1980’ties she still used an old oven that burned wood in her wonderfully old-fashioned kitchen. I spent many days there doing my homework for school, warming up on a wooden bench next to said oven or just hanging around listening to her stories.
Thus, when I read the introductory quote, I felt immediately reminded of those days during my childhood and I was hoping for being taken back into those simple times.
Unfortunately, this was not really to be: Many of the slavic “demons” or rather familiar spirits appearing in this book were part of her stories as well so I did feel a slight connection. Nostalgia isn’t enough, though, and this turned out to be a very, very slow read. I almost lost patience with it and might have put it aside for good because too much irked me about this book even though the story is promising:
Vasilisa “Vasya” Petrovna is the youngest daughter of Pyotr, the local squire, and Marina, his wife, who dies giving birth to Vasya. Marina’s mother had special talents and Marina just knows that Vasya will inherit those.
In fact, Vasya is a wild child, a tomboy, very down to earth and connected to nature. Above almost everything else she values (her) freedom. Due to all this, she can actually see the familiar spirits she knows so well from the old stories told by her nurse, Dunya. She lives in harmony with them, feeds them and even talks to them and learns from them.
Doom is heralded by harsh winters, though, and the arrival of a new Christian priest who tries to “save” all those “heathens” from their worship of the old gods:
“He spoke of things they did not know, of devils and torments and temptation.”
And this is where things start to go severely wrong in the book: We’re exposed to tons of religious crap. Neither the villagers nor Vasya need saving in the first place – they used to live in peace and harmony with each other and nature and only the arrival of the zealous priest makes things go deeply awry.
Religion, and especially Christianity, pretty much poisons the local society depicted here and, true to life, is basically as much a cancer there as it is in our society today.
Vasya is the only ray of light in this because she is a free spirit herself:
“I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”
It takes way too much of the book to get to this point where Vasya finally declares her independence. Of the titular “bear” we first get to hear after almost half the book! The “nightingale” comes even later…
Until then we have to deal with religious nuts expressing all the things that are “sinful” and even the well-meaning people like Vasya’s father are contemplating how to “save” her:
“Marina, thought Pyotr. You left me this mad girl, and I love her well. She is braver and wilder than any of my sons. But what good is that in a woman? I swore I’d keep her safe, but how can I save her from herself?”
I wanted to grab Pyotr at that point and club some sense into his thick head! No matter the gender, leave people be the way they want to be and if that includes going wild, so be it.
Only when the book is almost over do we get some true development and, thus, a glimpse at how good this book could have been had it gotten to the point a bit quicker:
“Morozko spared Vasya a quick, burning glance, and she felt an answering fire rising in her: power and freedom together.”
At the end, we get to really feel that fire, the raw (narrative) power that could have made a brilliant book! Alas, it’s still too little and too late to raise this book above the two stars I can justify to award it.
And, yet, I might actually read the second book of the trilogy to see if it’s more of the long-winded same or if Arden actually succeeds in allowing Vasya and Morozko to roam freely and wildly as they should.
“Tim im Kongo” wird üblicherweise als der erste “wirkliche” Tim-und-Struppi-Band angesehen, da der eigentliche Vorgänger, “Tim im Lande der Sowjets” von Hergé lange Zeit als “Jugendsünde” abgetan wurde. Auch hat er diesen später meist als “Band 0” bezeichneten Comic nie mehr überarbeitet (im Gegensatz zu den meisten anderen Bänden).
Insofern darf der vorliegende Band “Tim im Kongo” wohl zurecht als erster “Tim und Struppi”-Comic angesehen werden. Nie vergessen darf man dabei, daß dieser Comic bereits 1930 erschien und insofern “Kind seiner Zeit” und darüber hinaus das Ergebnis einer sehr naiven europäischen Einstellung zu Afrika und den Menschen dort ist.
Die “Eingeborenen” werden in der vorliegenden 8. Auflage von 1981 – und bereits “entschärften” (!) Ausgabe – als geradezu kindlich (kindlich-einfacher Satzbau, einfachste Wortwahl – “Dingsbums” ist eines der häufigsten Worte…) und unendlich naiv dargestellt.
Ganz klar: Mit heutigen Augen gelesen, kommt man um die Erkenntnis nicht herum, daß dieser Band rassistisch ist.
Dann kommt der edle Weiße, Tim mit seinem weißen Hund, und bringt alles “auf Vordermann” – der Kolonialismus als Rettung. Mir dreht sich der Magen um.
Auch in jener Zeit sehr beliebt unter den herrschenden weißen Kolonialherren: Die Großwildjagd und so zieht natürlich auch Tim los und tötet einen Elefanten – seiner Stoßzähne wegen. Traumhaft.
Die zusätzlich wohl auch noch gewaltverherrlichenden Szenen früherer Auflagen kenne ich schon gar nicht mehr und bin, ehrlich gesagt, froh darüber, denn als Kind habe ich auch diesen Band gemocht und all das, was mir heute so übel aufstößt, gar nicht wahrgenommen.
Ich bin gespannt auf die nächsten Bände, auch wenn ich ein bißchen Angst habe, mir eine Kindheits-Ikone zu zerstören.
Nach vielen Jahren habe ich auf Empfehlung von Akash diesen “Tim und Struppi”-Comic mal wieder gelesen. Es ist das allererste Werk in dieser Comic-Reihe und sein Alter (Entstehungszeit 1929 bis 1930) ist unverkennbar. Die damalige Sowjet-Union, die als Heimat der gefährlichen kommunistischen Horden gesehen wurde, hat so natürlich nie existiert und der gesamte Comic leidet etwas unter dem Fehlen eines echten Plots.
Ja, man erkennt die Entwicklung Hergés als Künstler im Verlauf des vorliegenden Bandes, aber es ist doch alles sehr rudimentär und die späteren “Co-Stars” wie Kapitain Haddock, Professor Bienlein oder die beiden Detektive fehlen noch gänzlich.
Insofern sei interessierten (Comic-)Lesern oder Nostalgikern der Einstieg z. B. mit “Das Geheimnis der Einhorn” empfohlen.
I’ve first read “The Last Wish” in 2011. It was recommended to me by my friend Ingmar (who still has to read it, I suppose!) who – as it turned out later – used me as a guinea pig for books he intended to read but didn’t know if he would enjoy them and, thus, enticed me into reading them first.
Little did that scoundrel know that he had involuntarily introduced me to what is today one of my favourite fantasy book series.
It took a few years to really set in, though, because while I enjoyed “The Last Wish” well enough, at the time it was a three-stars-read to me – which means “it was ok’ish but nothing special”.
Nevertheless, I wanted to read more about that strange man, a witcher actually, who hunts monsters for a living. Unlike some other heroes in fantasy, Geralt is not a killer-for-hire and he won’t indiscriminately slaughter any non-human but consider them first – and sometimes confuse them:
“The monster shifted from one foot to the other and scratched his ear. “Listen you,” he said. “Are you really not frightened of me?”
– “Should I be?””
In Geralt’s open-minded world, “monsters” aren’t necessarily evil and if they aren’t, they don’t have to fear him because he’s more likely to sit with them and drink instead of mindlessly murdering them. A commendable approach. In other cases, Geralt may try to lift the curse or enchantment that originally caused the change into a monster.
If Geralt really has no choice but to kill, Sapkowski in turn allows even despicable monsters some degree of dignity (or maybe some remnants of former humanity?) which is something rarely seen in contemporary fantasy:
“She turned—and Nivellen forced the sharp broken end of a three-meter-long pole between her breasts. She didn’t shout. She only sighed.”
Geralt himself isn’t unaffected either: “The witcher shook, hearing this sigh.”
And in such rather unconventional ways, Sapkowski almost playfully and gracefully explores topics like true love, the monstrosity of man, the nature of evil and choosing between evils. Especially the latter is something that I had – regrettably – forgotten about because many of us should subscribe to the witcher’s philosophy:
“Evil is evil, Stregobor,” said the witcher seriously as he got up. “Lesser, greater, middling, it’s all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I’m not a pious hermit. I haven’t done only good in my life. But if I’m to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all. Time for me to go. We’ll see each other tomorrow.”
I’m not going to “see” Geralt tomorrow because before I read the next book of the series, I want something new and exciting but I’m as certain that I’m going to pick up the next book rather sooner than later.
I wholeheartedly recommend reading Geralt’s adventures to anyone who is even remotely interested in fantasy.
P.S.: At the beginning, when I talked about my first “encounter” with Geralt I neglected to mention I read the German translation at the time. Possibly because the German translations were publicised prior to the English ones. In fact, I started this second reading in German as well but – after having played the Witcher computer games in the meantime – found that I wanted the names and terms in their English variants even though I very slightly favour the German translation over the English one. So if you prefer reading in German, this book is also available as “Der letzte Wunsch”.
Vive la France! – auch wenn sich das etwas merkwürdig anfühlt, wenn man weiß, daß sich hinter dem Pseudonym Jean-Luc Bannalec der deutsche Literat Jörg Bong (schon eine Weile nicht mehr) versteckt. Merkwürdig fühlt es sich auch an, nach längerer Zeit der “Abstinenz” einmal mehr in meiner Muttersprache gelesen und, jetzt und hier, auch geschrieben zu haben.
Andererseits schreibt mit Martin Walker auch ein nicht ganz so “waschechter” Franzose (sondern ein Schotte!) über seinen Bruno und ist damit ziemlich erfolgreich.
Ähnlich verhält es sich auch in anderen Punkten, was beide Roman-Serien angeht: Beide, so scheint es leider, haben ihre besten Zeiten hinter sich. Denn der vorliegende Band “Bretonisches Vermächtnis” ist immer noch nett, Dupin als Figur weiterhin ausgesprochen sympathisch und auch gewissermaßen glaubwürdig; nur leider wirkt doch alles recht routiniert:
“Schon Hunderte Male hatte er hier gesessen. Er hätte die Augen schließen und den Raum dabei im Detail beschreiben können.”
Nun gut, hunderte Male haben wir Dupin nicht “getroffen”, aber dies ist bereits der achte Band und, ja, man kann schon leider zunehmend Parallelen zu älteren Fällen finden.
Na klar, mit den beiden neuen Polizistinnen LeMenn und Nevou hat sich Bannalec neue Randfiguren erschaffen, aber nach einem vielversprechenden Anfang, während dessen die beiden beginnen, Konturen zu gewinnen, gelingt es Bannalec nicht, sie wirklich mit Leben zu füllen…
“Kein Kaffee, kein Wein, Dupin machte sich langsam Sorgen um Nevou.”
… dabei kann ich diese Sorge nur allzu gut verstehen!
Stattdessen holt er den vorher abwesenden Riwal zurück an Bord der Ermittlungen. Ein Kunstgriff, der notwendig scheint, um der etwas verworrenen Geschichte und deren Auflösung ein bißchen Authentizität zu verleihen.
Auch eben diese Geschichte – schnell zusammengefaßt und in mehrerlei Hinsicht leider nur mäßig originell – kann nur bedingt überzeugen: Drei ältere Herren – ein Arzt, ein Apotheker und ein Weinhändler – aus Concarneau verbinden ihre langjährige Freundschaft mit dem Geschäft – sie investieren gemeinsam in die lokale Wirtschaft. Da wird der Arzt ermordet und ein eher seichtes Drama nimmt seinen Lauf.
Viele Nebenfiguren treten auf und wir lernen den stereotypen jung-dynamischen Bürgermeister Concarneaus ebenso kennen wie die Besitzerin einer lokalen Konservenfabrik und viele weitere Lokal-Größen. Leider ist niemand von ihnen wirklich interessant, aber alle irgendwie schwer verdächtig – für meinen Geschmack zumindest tummeln sich zu viele Figuren am Rand und die Lösung des Falles fällt Dupin plötzlich förmlich in den Schoß. Und, Deus ex machina, alles wird – zumindest für mich ebenso überraschend wie nur bedingt glaubwürdig – plötzlich gut, oder fast.
Vielleicht ist es das Gesetz der Serie (also, nicht dasGesetz der Serie): Je länger eine Buch-Serie Erfolg hat, desto höher ist die Wahrscheinlichkeit, daß es dem Autor nicht gelingt, ein würdiges Ende zu finden, bevor wir seines Helden überdrüssig werden. (Ganz anders übrigens als Henning Mankell, der seinem Kommissar Wallander einen etwas traurigen, dabei aber überaus würdevollen, realistischen und lebensbejahenden Abschied angedeihen ließ, was ich nach über 40 Jahren des Lesens so noch nie gesehen habe!)
Allzu oft wird es dann glatt und routiniert, wie hier – das tut keiner Serie gut.
So zumindest geht es mir – leider! – sowohl mit meinem geliebten Bruno als auch – wie mir böse schwant – mit dem mir so sehr sympathischen Dupin.
Allerdings – und das gibt mir ein wenig Hoffnung – tut Bannalec etwas, daß mir zutiefst sympathisch ist: Er läßt Dupin nicht nur den reinen Wortlaut des Gesetzes, sondern auch dessen Bedeutung beachten:
“Dupin hatte gegrübelt, wie er sich beim Verhör verhalten sollte. Vor allem: welche Fragen er stellen sollte. Um was zum Thema zu machen. Oder, andersherum: Was würde er […] alles erzählen lassen und wie ausführlich? Und – was nicht?”
Darin wiederum sind sich Walkers Bruno und Bannalecs Dupin sehr ähnlich – sie lassen nie die Menschlichkeit außer Acht, sondern verhalten sich jedem Menschen gegenüber anständig.
So lasse ich diesen achten Band aus Jean-Luc Bannalecs Dupin-Reihe mit gemischten Gefühlen zurück und werde doch nicht von ihm, Dupin, lassen und empfehle diesen Band all jenen, die meine kleine Schwäche für französische Kommissare teilen.
I’ve read this book because it sounded a bit like Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” which I like. And, indeed, there are similarities – the most important one for me was that I didn’t really like either series’ respective first book.
“Magic Bites” was a confusing read much of which is due to the messy style of storytelling employed here. There’s a knightly order that’s supposed to help people in case of magic disasters which seem to happen due to weird alternating “cycles” of magical and technological “dominance” which in turn seem to have devastated the major cities but not everywhere (?).
There’s a mercenary guild that somehow plays a role as well and of which Kate, our heroine, is part of. Somehow Kate is obviously “special” due to her father (?) but at least in this first instalment of the series we never get to know what the big deal is.
Lots of things aren’t explained or so badly explained that I missed those explanation or promptly forgot about them – none of that being very likely. I often felt like I was missing crucial information. As if I had started not the first but a follow-up novel in the series. But from some other reviews, I don’t seem to be the only one.
As far as the story goes, it’s simple, nothing new and, to be honest, rather boring: Kate’s mentor Greg, one of the more important and powerful knights of the order, has been brutally murdered and Kate is investigating what happened.
“Move over, Sherlock.” is how she puts it but that’s really not how I see things because Kate doesn’t seem to have much of a criminalistic sense or experience. At least, though, she’s lucky and so she somehow manages to solve the case and (barely) survive.
We don’t really get to know Kate, though: We rarely “see” her in her “natural habitat”; yes, she does go out with a potential love interest but while it starts out nicely…
“Would you go to dinner with me?” “I would,” I found myself saying. “Tonight?” he asked, his eyes hopeful. “I’ll try,” I promised and actually intended to do so. “Call me around six.” I gave him my address in case the magic knocked the phone out.“
… and I found myself smiling, what happens during that date feels artificial and shallow because Kate – who obviously really wanted to go – is suddenly greatly annoyed when they eat at a fancy restaurant and considers giving up on the guy entirely.
Harry Dresden at least whines and complains and while I didn’t exactly like him in the first “Dresden Files” book there was at least humour and cheesiness in a good way.
At times there are attempts at humour here as well but they often fall quite flat: Like calling a mare “Frau” (German for “woman”). It’s a small thing but it bothers me.
There are tons of loose ends as well:
“The fact that vampires weren’t supposed to have existed two hundred years ago when the tech was in full swing bothered me a great deal”
Ok, and what does Kate do about it? Does she follow up on this with anyone at all? No. She’s greatly bothered but promptly forgets about it. Wow.
In fact, who is Kate? Who was her father? What – apart from her mentor – was Greg to Kate?
Why does everything miraculously fall in place during the epilogue?
As if that wasn’t enough, the writing isn’t very good either:
“There was something so alien in the way he moved, in how he sat, how he smelled, how he looked at me with the eyes brimming with hate, something so inhuman that my brain stopped, smashing against that inhumanity like a brick wall. He made me want to scream.”
Sorry, what? Her brains stops but smashes itself… Sorry, I think mine is about to disengage trying to make sense of that.
Ultimately, I’m confused by this book but I’m told the series “gets waaaaaaayy better!” so – just like “Dresden Files” that took 9 books till I liked it – I’m going to give this series another chance. Not like Kate who has the last word(s) in the book…
“Tomorrow,” I said. “I can start tomorrow.”
… but once after I’ve recovered from my book-induced dizziness.
With 36 pages and about 10.000 words it’s a very short piece but it nicely “showcases” some of the “features” of the series which is currently comprised of four full length novels and two more in the making (not like Rothfuss or Martin, though…).
I’m usually not all that great a fan of short stories but I enjoyed this one.
This will be an untypically short review because this book was interesting enough but I had expected so much more: This books predecessor, “A Dark Lure”, was very, very suspenseful and exciting and told a really interesting story.
“The Dark Bones” features a few characters from the first book (namely Olivia and her daughter Tori) but deals with the murder of Noah North which his daughter, Rebecca, a white-collar-crime cop investigates. During the course of her investigation Rebecca meets her ex-boyfriend, Ash, again who quickly becomes a “person of interest” in this case and an older one about two missing kids.
As in the previous book, White’s career as a romance writer shines through and – again – her heroine falls for the handsome rugged second protagonist – it worked the first time so why not try to apply the successful formula again?
Which would be fine by me but somehow I was not as invested in both the story and the people this time around. Rebecca broke up with Ash because he cheated on her and met the girl again – she never asked him for the reason but just left. Ok, so some people do that, I get it, but if she really loved him so much that Rebecca never had any serious relationship again would she really just leave? Wouldn’t she at least ask him to explain himself before basically burning all bridges and leaving her home for good?
Either way, even when Rebecca becomes convinced of Ash’s innocence, she still feels that he harbours a huge dark secret – and instead of digging into him till he spills, she tries to distance herself emotionally – which didn’t work when he cheated and, surprise, surprise, doesn’t work now either.
The story takes a long time to pick up speed and when it does, it feels slightly rushed. The twist at the end doesn’t really feel right either – like it was “tacked on” in hindsight.
It’s pretty obvious what happened to the missing kids so that part of the story wasn’t as interesting as it could have been either. Among all the romance stuff and our heroine oscillating between loving her Ash and being wary of him I sadly sometimes lost interest in the entire proceedings.
Maybe it’s in fact that: The book is simply too long for what it has to tell us.
“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Videogames are the only thing that make life bearable. – Anorak’s Almanac, Chapter 91, Verses 1 – 2”
Actually, for me, being human doesn’t suck and yet I fully sympathise with the feeling that videogames do add to life – always provided we can agree that books count as well.
This book, in fact, made me smile a lot and remember a lot of things from my childhood and youth – during the 80ties which feature more than prominently in this wonderful geeky, nerdy story.
I’m three years younger than Cline but it seems we share a lot of experiences and, maybe, some notions about life:
“So now you have to live the rest of your life knowing you’re going to die someday and disappear forever. “Sorry.””
This, Cline says, might be one way to summarise what life is about and how it ends. It’s certainly a very sobering way of expressing it. Nevertheless, it’s true.
In 1979 in the hilarious “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” Eric Idle already sang “Life’s a piece of shit / When you look at it” and that’s pretty much the situation in which our hero, Wade Watts, finds himself: Living in 2045 on an Earth that has been devastated by climate-change, wars for resources, with his parents dead, he’s a loner.
Wade lives with his unloving aunt in her trailer but mostly stays out of her way in his hideout, hidden away in OASIS, an immersive virtual reality simulation that let’s its users escape from the harsh reality. By heart, Wade is an egg hunter, a “gunter”, who is searching for the Easter Egg in OASIS the finder of will inherits the entire wealth of OASIS’ founder.
“Ready Player One” tells the story of the hunt for that egg and the inheritance.
The entire book is full of references to the 80ties and I’ve had so many “WTF” moments, e. g. when Cline mentions FidoNet (in its time the largest private pre-internet network) – of which I had the honour to be a member (2:2437/209 and others) of for more than a decade.
For me, the book exactly hits its mark because of the many “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” moments: I’ve played most of the games, watched most of the films and have heard most of the music. Cline obviously knows his target audience very, very well, even quoting the right role models:
“I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal. – Groucho Marx”
I even felt like the author describes feeling at times and, I guess, that’s why this book made such an impression on me – I felt at home, it felt like the book was written for me.
Of course, we tend to whitewash our childhood, gloss over the rough patches we all went through. Maybe that’s why I like this book as much as I do and maybe I’m being played here but if that’s the case I’m going along willingly because everything feels so right.
I’d totally be a “gunter” in the scenario presented here, I’d certainly loathe the evil mega corporation and I’d love to be Wade.
I’m writing this review on Linux in text-mode (-nw) Emacs (not vile vim!) running in a Konsole (not a typo!) window with zsh; right after reading the book on a jail-broken Kindle. If you understood that, you’re my brother (or sister, for that matter!) and I guarantee you’ll enjoy this book.
If not, well, I’m not sure… I’m not sure what today’s kids will think of this book unless they’re totally geeky and/or nerdy because my very own offspring doesn’t really know most of the games and films mentioned throughout the book. They might still enjoy it for the action and adventure, for the unbridled joy this book permeates despite the dystopic setting.
At its heart, “Ready Player One” is more than a glorification of the “good old times” (which the author knows full well weren’t that great) or one of the escapism OASIS allows for (the danger of which the author recognises very clearly as we see when he introduces a certain “device” at the very end).
It’s a story of survival in spite of the odds, of true friendship beyond the confines of gender or skin colour:
“I understood her, trusted her, and loved her as a dear friend. None of that had changed, or could be changed by anything as inconsequential as her gender, or skin color, or sexual orientation.”
It’s a story of finding love and a bit of coming-of-age. And for me, it’s an instant classic (totally awesome stuff!) that’s going right into my “Favourites” shelf!
P. S.: “I’d heard all the clichéd warnings about the perils of falling for someone you only knew online, but I ignored them.”, says Wade at one point.
I did, too. I’ve now been married to her (in the real world!) for about 20 years and she’s hopefully still reading my reviews.
“Survival is a journey. It is the quest that underlies all stories. No matter the geography, or culture, or era, in one form or another, the story of survival is the same story we listen to, riveted, around the flames of the hunter’s fire. Or hear from the mouth of the astronaut returned from a burning spaceship, or from the woman who trumped cancer. We listen in the hopes of learning what magic they used to conquer a great beast, to deliver a decisive victory, to make it alone down the peaks of Everest alive . . .”
Wow, what a ride! This was probably the most suspenseful novel I’ve read this year so far.
Basically, it’s a story about survival: Olivia West, sole survivor of the “Watt Lake Killer” who died in prison, works anonymously on Broken Bar Ranch as its manager when a body is discovered. The victim’s remains have been put on display in the same way the dead killer used to do and weird things – coincidences? – begin to happen on Broken Bar Ranch.
A cop who worked on the side-lines of the original Watt Lake case – now dying from cancer – never believed the real killer had been apprehended and, thus, he’s out with his young daughter, Tori, to catch the right guy this time…
It’s hard to find fault with a book that’s as engaging and exciting as this one. Of course, it’s not high literature but it’s nearly perfect for what it is. At times, it shows that before this book, White wrote “romantic suspense” books for about ten years, e. g. when our heroine, Olivia, gets all excited reading:
“She was turned on by the masculine beauty of his prose, the clean, muscular sentences that bespoke a latent empathy in the author.”
Uhm… Right. This does read a bit weird to me but it’s easy to overlook because at no point does this book get boring: Frequent switches of perspectives and places take place but I always knew exactly what was going on which is a big plus for me. The backstory of the Watt Lake killer is told by means of a book written by Tori’s late mother and makes for chilling interludes.
Just like Tori…
“Tori’s vision was blurring, and she could hear her father’s deep, rhythmic snores coming from the other room. But she was unable to put her e-reader down.”
… this book kept me glued to my Kindle.
Highly recommended to anyone who likes to read a good thriller!
This was an amazing and deeply touching read. I was born in 1975 and, being the son of rather politically interested parents, I remember the Soviet-Afghan War and the Mujahideen and their respective roles in Afghanistan since about 1985.
I intellectually knew about the atrocities committed during that war, during the in-fighting among the Afghan warlords and, later, by the Taliban.
This book, though, tells the very personal story of Mariam, the illegitimate daughter of Jalil Khan, a prosperous business man from Heart, and Nana, one of his servants. While the early parts focus entirely on Mariam who desperately wants to be accepted by her father, we later get to know Laila and her parents (and a few other very memorable characters) as well.
Mariam’s and Laila’s ways cross when they both get married to Rasheed, the owner of a small shoe shop in Kabul.
When I started reading “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, I thought it was a bit slow but when I noticed I had finished about 75% of the book in one marathon reading session without even noticing the time passing, I understood how wrong I was. I had practically been glued to my Kindle even though reading what both women suffer through was, at times, hard.
I simply couldn’t help myself, though, because this book tells of suffering but is definitely not about it. It’s in fact a very personal history of its heroines, their loving, their losses, their children, and families. Neither Mariam nor Laila ever give up; they do what they have to do (and sometimes that’s horrible) and still manage to retain their humanity.
Since I always at least roughly knew what year I got told about, I could compare at which stage of my life I was at the time. It was shocking to read how people literally got shredded to pieces by rockets in Afghanistan while I was getting married and our first child was born. I did not only intellectually know what had happened but I felt like I actually got a glimpse of the personal tragedies.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” pretty much lets those splendid suns shine on those two women as fictional examples of what actually happened to thousands of Mariams and Lailas in Afghanistan.
This is the third book of the science fiction series “The Ancient Guardians” and – in a good way – it’s more of the same compared to the two earlier books. But this book has a few things going for itself.
It was a hell of a ride – quite literally for Tony and metaphorically for me because Tony is not only a semi-insane traveller and writer but has a very decent sense of humour, never shy to make a joke on his own expense. Meanwhile, I’ve read every single book he has published and I ended up liking all of them!
Why? Because we’re all a bit of Tony: He’s clumsy, does daft things during his travels, and has the most surreal accidents (a bear ate his pants…) I’ve ever read about. Tony being a nice guy, though, whom you wish to succeed: you hope for him when he meets his sister’s best friend, Roo, and likes her a lot, you cheer for him when they become a couple and you would have liked to congratulate them on their wedding day. And even if you’re Superman and, thus, Tony’s opposite, you can’t help but feel for him when he semi-fails again.
So, when Tony informed us about his writing a) a science fiction book, b) doing it to show his sister he can, and c) doing it in spite of never having written anything but his travel memoirs, I was sceptical. “Earth Warden” had a cheesy cover and a nice-enough but somewhat flimsy story – and yet it held promise.
“Warden’s Folly: A Sci Fi Adventure”, the second volume, still featured the same kind of cover art but the protagonists were developing, the story grew in a good way and I actually really enjoyed it – despite not reading science fiction at all. In fact, I liked this book so much I asked Tony when the next volume, this book, would finally be published – and, just as I had hoped, Tony answered pretty quickly because he is a nice guy and very approachable.
I was not disappointed in this book: The story is pretty simple – Earth has been abandoned by its former inhabitants in favour of us – humanity as we know it. The Lantians (the (mostly) good guys) and the Lemurians (the (mostly) bad guys), said former inhabitants, were warring against each other and decided they both had to leave Earth to prevent its destruction. The Lantians founded the paramilitary order of the “Wardens” and from its ranks installed an Earth Warden to guard Earth.
For a long time everything’s fine but, of course, things eventually go south and Warden Lord Anakreon (Kreon), his friends Kyra and Blas need to pick up Tristan (Tris), Tony’s alter ego, up from Earth to follow into his father’s – Mikelatz, another famous Warden – footsteps and save the universe from the antagonists, especially the Black Ships whom we don’t really know (yet).
All of this is nothing out of the ordinary; what makes it special is Tony’s trademark tongue-in-cheek humour, the “classic” science fiction feeling that we know from stuff like “Star Wars” and his basic good-naturedness that resonates throughout the entire book and, actually, the series so far.
I do have one small gripe with this book specifically: It’s somewhat gorier than its predecessors and mostly needlessly so. I do get that Tris sometimes uses humour (““Rest in pieces,” he murmured.”) to deflect and mask his true feelings in front of his friends but the solution to tricking an iris scanner is rather tasteless. Some humour just falls flat for me but your mileage may vary, of course.
All in all, I recommend “The Ancient Guardians” to anyone who has read at least one of Tony’s travel book because if you like his style of writing and the hilarious stories in those, chances are good you’ll like his science fiction stuff as well.
If you’ve never heard of Tony, start with the afore-mentioned “Kamikaze Kangaroos” – my daughter enjoyed it so much, Tony & Roo, that her entire class at school got to learn about your adventures!
““Is it true you haven’t read any of these books?” “Books are boring.” “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you,” answered Julián.“
“The Shadow of the Wind” is one of those books that leave me deeply satisfied and in tears. It’s a sweeping epic about Daniel Sempere, a bookseller’s son, who – by accident or preordained by fate – learns about an obscure and mostly forgotten author, Julian Carax, whose book “The Shadow of the Wind” will change Daniel’s life and those of pretty much everyone he loves.
Even though there are some rather exciting and suspenseful scenes throughout the book, Zafón takes his time to paint a broad picture of Barcelona, the narrated time (1945 to 1966) and people. And, yes, at times this does make the book somewhat slow but only by giving room to everyone in this book to gain a character of his or her own can we really appreciate the masterpiece this book actually is.
Because there’s not a single character to whom we cannot relate: Daniel, driven first by his desire to know and understand the secret he is chasing after. His father who understands him and – in spite of warning Daniel – lets the latter make his own mistakes. Fermin, the reliable albeit somewhat shady friend of the family whom Daniel picks up from the street.
Not only the major characters are fully fleshed out, though, but even a tram conductor on the sidelines of the story gets his chance to shine.
Zafón can do this because not only does he have a wonderful story to tell but he has the language to tell it as well:
“My voice, rather stiff at first, slowly became more relaxed, and soon I forgot myself and was submerged once more in the narrative, discovering cadences and turns of phrase that flowed like musical motifs, riddles made of timbre and pauses I had not noticed during my first reading.”
Nevertheless, beyond phases of untarnished happiness (“She looked intoxicated with happiness.”) there’s always a sublime threat lurking just beyond the page we’re currently reading. We always feel Franco’s oppressive dictatorship and the climate of denunciation, endangering whatever little peace the characters get.
Yet, there’s always hope and, often, a bit of comic relief:
“Isaac let out a snort of defeat and examined Bea carefully, like a suspicious policeman. “Do you realize you’re in the company of an idiot?” he asked. Bea smiled politely. “I’m beginning to come to terms with it.””
At the end of the day, this is certainly not a simple book; not one that lends itself to be read at the beach but more of one that should be enjoyed with a glass of wine, read amongst books because this is a story about books:
“About accursed books, about the man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about a betrayal and a lost friendship. It’s a story of love, of hatred, and of the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.”
“Because the lake’s been lowered by drought, the farthest-reaching branches scrape the bottoms of the canoes, sounding like fingernails trying to scratch their way out of a coffin.”
Wow, this was an unexpected pleasure!
Coming from the background of having read too many difficult books lately, I chose this book because it sounded like an easy, light who-dun-it with an interesting premise. Two truths, one lie: a) I greatly enjoyed this book, b) it was an easy read, c) it kept me glued to my Kindle for hours.
Of course, b) is the lie because this book was an excellent blend of who-dun-it, thriller, adventure and near-insanity.
Emma, a young painter of 28 years, gets invited back to the reopening of an exclusive summer camp for “rich bitches”. The camp was originally closed 15 years ago when – during Emma’s stay there – three of her fellow campers disappeared without a trace.
Emma, traumatised by the disappearance and what happened afterwards, comes back to deal with a creative blockage and to finally find out what happened to her friends all those years ago.
The book starts slowly; we get to know Emma and get used to the wonderful writing style Sager employs:
“I’ve heard Randall boast to potential buyers that my surfaces are like Van Gogh’s, with paint cresting as high as an inch off the canvas. I prefer to think I paint like nature, where true smoothness is a myth, especially in the woods. The chipped ridges of tree bark. The speckle of moss on rock. Several autumns’ worth of leaves coating the ground. That’s the nature I try to capture with my scrapes and bumps and whorls of paint.”
We also learn what and, partly, why she paints and, thus, get a first glimpse at the shadows in Emma’s life: Even after 15 years she still feels guilty about the disappearance of her friends and though neither kind nor extent of her guilt are clear at this point, we get a very good idea at the monstrous kind of feelings Emma harbours.
“Fifteen years. That’s how long it’s been. It feels like a lifetime ago. It also feels like yesterday.”
Thinking about that sentence, remembering the momentous events in my own life (first love, marriage, first child…), I found myself nodding agreement with that sentiment. In fact, it was quite often during the first half of the book that I found myself understanding our protagonist exceedingly, sometimes even shockingly, well.
It’s best not to talk too much about the plot because there are a few twists some of which I didn’t really see coming – that might, of course, be me but I really enjoyed them all either way.
The dense atmosphere of both the camp itself, the woods and the flooded valley helped greatly, of course, because just as my opening quote shows, the atmosphere is satisfyingly creepy at times and sinister, at least once even desperate.
All of that combined with using both traditional elements of the “great outdoors” stories as well as having Emma use her phone sensibly really kept me interested and at my Kindle with very few breaks for coffee, etc.
“I run my finger from the spot that probably-is-but-might-not-be the gazebo to the ragged triangles nearby. I assume those are rocks. Which means we need to make our way northeast until we reach them. After that, it looks to be a short walk north until I find the X. Our route now set, I open the compass app downloaded to my phone the morning I left for camp, rotating until it points northeast. Then I snag a handful of wildflowers and, with Miranda, Sasha, and Krystal in tow, march into the forest.”
A truly enjoyable book with very few flaws. Recommended to any reader.
“Why me?!”, I asked my wife, “Why do I always have to choose the worst books?!” – with the prettiest covers, I might add.
Because this book is a classic example why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – which, in this case, is beautiful whereas the contents read like they’ve partly been ripped out of the script to some mediocre horror b-movie and partly been born out of the brain of a pubescent teenager. Maybe a sadistic ecology freak was on-board as well because at times the book reads like something along the lines of “nature strikes back”.
The plot is simple and the premise interesting: A female-only boarding school on a small island; “the Tox”, some kind of plague, ravaging the wildlife, the girls and their teachers. Hetty, Byatt and Reese, three pupils and friends, are trying to survive. Suddenly, when Byatt vanishes Hetty learns something sinister is going on on the island…
I’m not even sure where to start with my criticism because this book has almost no redeeming qualities: The writing is weird and I found myself asking “what did she smoke?!”:
“And in the other hand, Raxter. No ferry on the horizon, mainland far and farther. Water and shoreline born new every day. Everything what it wants to be. Everything mine. I’m buried there no matter where I go.”
The wise old woman expressing the above is Hetty, a teenager of 16 years… Yeah, riiight…
The pacing is all over the place, too: Slow introductive scenes into the not-so-normal school life with the Tox dominate the first 50% of the book. Then, suddenly, things escalate quickly and we find ourselves in outlandish fights with cross-breeds between human and flora (!), and corrupted animals.
Then again, things come to a screeching halt and we’re back inside the school. As if that wasn’t enough already, we’re witnessing school girl tragedy, the evil headmistress, the misunderstood well-meaning teacher and lots of other characterless characters.
In a rather simplistic attempt to cater to a broader audience, there are some LGBT motifs tacked on to the story. Unfortunately, they feel completely artificial and add nothing at all to the story. The entire ménage à trois between our three lacklustre “heroines” feels completely off and weird. Worst with respect to that, though: I didn’t care one bit. Byatt? Reese? I couldn’t care less whom of which makes Hetty’s heart beat faster.
This entire book feels very bizarre but not in a good way. I progressed from “bizarre”…
““Don’t,” […] cries from behind me. But I can’t listen. It’s not him anymore. I lean hard, brace my hand on his elbow as I wedge the knife deeper and deeper and start to lever it up. There’s a heart to all this. There has to be.”
… by way of “seriously?!”…
“He’s rotting from the inside out.”
… to “disgusting”…
“Until finally. A snap. And inside his rib cage, I see it. A beating heart, glossed in blood. Built from the earth, from the bristle of pine, and inside, there is something else, something more, something living. I don’t think twice. Just claw at it with both hands, and it comes screaming out with a wet tear.”
… within this very scene and the entire book.
Especially the above scene made me actually think that these might simply be the feverish violent fantasies of a pubescent boy, tinged with bloodthirsty revenge.
Curiously, Hetty of all people sums up my feelings for this book pretty well:
“Person after person collapsing under the weight of this place, lie after lie, and I’ve had enough of this. Enough of these confrontations, of secrets spilling out of us like blood.”
“As these images were going through my head, my breathing suddenly went still. I looked at Jamie, then up to the ceiling and around the room, doing my best to keep my composure, then back to Jamie again. She smiled at me and I smiled at her and all I could do was wonder how I’d ever fallen in love with a girl like Jamie Sullivan.”
The story is as simple as it gets: Boy (Landon) meets girl (Jamie), falls in love with her (and she with him) but they’re star-crossed lovers.
I like this book and I don’t like it. I really like that it feels plausible and honest:
“She looked away. “Yes,” she finally said, “I’m frightened all the time.” “Then why don’t you act like it?” “I do. I just do it in private.” “Because you don’t trust me?” “No,” she said, “because I know you’re frightened, too.””
I liked how Landon basically fell in love unwillingly and reluctantly but will not and cannot stop once he’s embarked on the journey. I also greatly like Spark’s beautiful and elegant writing:
“The ocean turned golden silver as the shifting colors reflected off it, waters rippling and sparkling with the changing light, the vision glorious, almost like the beginning of time.”
And, yes, I’ve laughed with Landon and Jamie and I’ve cried about them. To the best of my knowledge I’ve never seen a film by this name or with this exact story but that’s part of it: The story – while moving and not without merit – is far from new or original. It’s executed well enough to get away with that in my book (sic!) but your mileage might vary.
I really like the depth of the feelings portrayed and I liked how I rooted for every single character in this book – even if some (Eric!) were unbelievably “good”.
Sometimes things were almost too sweet and heavy to swallow but for the most part, things were realistic enough to accept for me.
My second – and by far biggest – gripe is fairly personal: I can’t stand all this religious stuff. I’m an atheist. I’m done with what was once “my” church and I’m done with beliefs and I certainly don’t need those in my books. I’m not even sure why all that stuff had to be in this book because the book could have worked completely without it.
Maybe Sparks felt it necessary to describe a young man’s way to redemption – I don’t know. I can’t buy into it and in the end, the author can’t simply let go and let his work speak for itself; no, he obviously feels the need to preach to us simple sinners and that’s what soured the book somewhat for me.
Nevertheless, a book that makes me cry isn’t totally beyond… redemption. I can’t help it and do like this book more than I don’t. That’s what the four stars try to say.
Let’s face it – I’m not going to finish this weird book. I’m totally confused: I pretty much loved Marchetta’s earlier novel “Saving Francesca”. It was one of the best books I’ve read 2019 so far.
Thus, I expected to love “The Piper’s Son” as well but I never got into this book. Somehow, the entire book with its plethora of characters and jumps in time falls flat for me.
What I’m taking away for myself is this: Just as in music there are one-hit wonders in literature as well. To me, it seems like Marchetta is one of those – she wrote one amazing book in which she told the one great story she had to share with all of us and for that I’m grateful.
“– ‘What’s that?’ ‘A book. I borrowed it.’ – ‘Dead, I suppose.’ ‘Who?’ – ‘The Beaton fellow.’ ‘Oh yes. Everybody’s dead.’ – ‘Good show, though.’ And he went off to bed glumly singing ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning’ as the Queen opened her book.”
In this short novella, the Queen herself stumbles upon a travelling library and, pretty much accidentally, gets into reading. The entire concept, though, is so foreign to the household (who are annoyed by the more and more thinking monarch) and the family (who are fairly happy to be left alone) that everyone gets upset with her majesty. Hilarity ensues.
Well, maybe not actual hilarity but definitely some very amused smiling – with a stiff upper lip, of course. After all, the queen is portrayed as fairly human and sometimes, my own upbringing seems to make a cameo:
“‘To tell you the truth, ma’am, I never got through more than a few pages. How far did your Majesty get?’
– ‘Oh, to the end. Once I start a book I finish it. That was the way one was brought up. Books, bread and butter, mashed potato – one finishes what’s on one’s plate. That’s always been my philosophy.’”
That has been my philosophy as well and certainly is the main reason my DNF shelf actually consists of one single solitary ashamed book. Judging by the quality of many of the books I’ve read, I could have saved years of my lifetimes by actually DNF’ing more often. But I digress.
It’s all this books fault, though: It all but invited me to think beyond its edges, between the pages and the lines and let my thoughts fly, just like her majesty:
“What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.”
We – as readers – know exactly what she means and how one book leads to the next; opens up new (reading) paths to follow. This book for example came from a recent blog post on GoodReads.
Plus: This fictional queen has a wonderful take on books:
“‘Pass the time?’ said the Queen. ‘Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time one could go to New Zealand.’”
The entire book was a true breath of fresh air after the stocky, stuffy, simplistic confines of David Eddings’ Belgariad. It’s by no means a masterpiece or more than just highly amusing but I really enjoyed the entire literary journey and the coming-of-age of a reader.
The only issue I take is with the ending; but We will graciously overlook this slight demerit as one is wont to.
“‘I think of literature,’ she wrote, ‘as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach. And I have started too late. I will never catch up.’”