Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Nemesis, by Jo Nesbo

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

I thought I might have written about the first Jo Nesbo book I read, but it appears I haven’t. I don’t know much about Jo Nesbo, other than the fact he pronounces his name “Yo”, rather than “Joe”, being Norwegian, which I think is a cool name. This is the second book in his series about detective Harry Hole who works in the Oslo police investigating murders. Well, according to something I read, these are actually the 3rd and 4th books, but the first two weren’t translated into English.

The covers of most of his books have a sticker saying “The next Stieg Larsson”, which probably helps his sales figures a lot, being able to cash in on the success of “The girl with the dragon tattoo” et al. They do have a bit in common, in terms of being translated Norwegian books about investigators who are misfits. But other than that, they differ quite a bit.

Harry is a mostly former alcoholic, a detective who does things his own way and doesn’t really get on with most of the police force (now that I write that, it doesn’t sound very original, but it does work, honest). In this second book, he is brought in by the robberies unit because a bank robbery included the murder of a cashier, and an ex-girlfriend commits suicide hours after he is the last one to see her alive. The book entwines the 2 investigations as he pursues the truth through a complex and tortuous path.

I really liked this book, as I liked the first one (Redbreast). Nesbo’s characters are nearly all misfits in some way, from the police to the suspects. There’s not a lot of happiness in his world. But the books are real page-turners, and I sat up fairly late a few nights this week wanting to get to the end.

I’m not a major reader of crime fiction, but I like this. Recommended!

The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

India is a place that I haven’t seen enough of, and don’t know enough about. But at least I’m lucky enough to have been there twice. And let’s face it, you could spend a lifetime exploring India and not see it all – it’s a big place!

“The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone” has been sitting on my bookshelf for far too long (since my last trip to India in fact), but I finally got into reading it this year, and I am really glad that I did. Shashi Tharoor is a former UN diplomat, so he knows India, having grown up and spent much of his life there, but he also has enough of an outsider’s view that he doesn’t assume too much knowledge of the country for the international reader like me.

The book is a series of fairly short and easy to read essays on all of the major subjects of Indian life – politics, religion, history, economics, and of source cricket. What is clear is that the writer has his own opinions on Indian life, and although he loves his country and is very proud of it, he is honest about the good and bad of India in the 21st century. Although this is a forward-looking book, some of my favourite parts were about Indian history – the campaign for independance and the people who led it, the pain of partition, and the politics since then. I’ve always known a little about Gandhi, but not so much about Nehru and others, and I think my next non-fiction reading might be to find out more about them.

If the book has a central message, I think it’s the great diversity of India. When I was there, I was astonished by the profusion of languages as I travelled around, and wondered how a country could stay bound together without a single common language. But perhaps that question says more about me than India;  we struggle with division in Northern Ireland, even though it’s not that big and there aren’t that many of us. And Scotland isn’t much better these days…

His answer to that question is that India is at its best when it embraces the diversity that spans languages, religions, castes, ethnic types – pretty much everything. India is proud of its democracy, the massive exercise that ensures that votes are gathered from every corner of the country, and rightly so. And it’s proud of its secular society, where prime ministers, politicians, cricketers, and celebrities come from all of the different faiths.

India will be the most populous nation on earth before too long, and with its combination of science and technological leadership, and a massive diaspora of Indians all over the world, it’s a culture that we need to take notice of.

I really enjoyed this book, and it makes me want to find out more about a country that I have even greater respect for now.

Books

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Wired had a couple of articles in the past few days on the books that geeks should have read, here and here. Lists of books are obviously very subjective, but I did like these lists:

The first one is:

  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, Gary Gygax (1979)
    Okay, I don’t think I ever had a copy of the original 1st edition DMG, but I have certainly read through it, and its many successors through to the current 4th edition. I love how Wired describe it as a book for building worlds. But be warned that much of the charm of the first edition was the crazy tables for all sorts of things, which are handled in the modern editions in a much less entertaining way.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1979)
    An absolute classic, as a book, a radio series, or on tv. Really can’t be recommended highly enough – he really was a comic genius. Up until last week, I had the tv series on my iphone, for emergency watching in boring situations, since it couldn’t fail to cheer me up.
  • Watchmen, Alan Moore (1986 to 1987)
    Yes, it’s unpleasant in places, and the whole Curse of the Black Ship thing is a bit random, but as a study in humanity it’s a rich and interesting book, which happens to be told in pictures as well as words. Though I do feel that the conclusion of the film actually improved on the original.
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter (1979)
    The first one on the list that I haven’t read. Though I did search for it on ebay last month, so there is some kind of intention to read it sometime. All I know is that it was a course text at Queens for the History and Philosophy of Science, wchi has always both attracted and repelled me…
  • Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (1985)
    I read this a lot of years ago, and I remember it as a gripping and surprising book. I also remember that the sequels were very different, and a bit disappointing.
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson (1992)
    Another one that I haven’t read – possibly next on my reading list.
  • The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1954 to 1955)
    The one, the only, the classic. I remember reading it as a young teenager, and getting a bit bogged down in the middle book, but it is a great set of books, with an important message - little people are important!
  • The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte (1992)
    I’ve never even heard of this. Wired make it sound interesting, but I worry that it would only lead to fancy powerpoint slides. The one I am least likely to read.
  • Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
    Again, one I haven’t read. I’ve heard of it, and I suppose I the right time to have read it was 20 years ago when it wasn’t at all dated. I rather suspect it will have aged a bit, in a way that he Lord of Rings hasn’t ;)

And that’s all for the first list. Will get the second tomorrow perhaps.

    On the past

    Saturday, October 8th, 2011

    On holiday, I brought a couple of actual physical books, printed on paper with me. One of them was How to live safely in a science fictional universe, which has a great concept, and a lot of wit and charm in the early parts. As it goes on, it becomes melancholy, but remains engaging, and ends in hope.

    Alan (who I borrowed the book from) has already reviewed it here, so I won’t go through the whole thing, but I did want to talk about a few paragraphs from the end of chapter 8 that I found really intriguing. I’ve been putting this off for weeks, as it involves so much typing, but here goes:

    “A typical customer gets into a machine that can literally take her whenever she’d like to go. Do you want to know what the first stop usually is? Take a guess. Don’t guess. You already know: the unhappiest day of her life.

    Other people are just looking for the weird. They want to turn their lives into something unrecognizable. I see a lot of men end up as their own uncles. Super-easy to avoid, totally dumb move. See it all the time. No need to go into details, but it obviously involves a time machine and you know what with you know who. General rule is you want to avoid having sex with anyone unless you are sure they aren’t family. One guy I know ended up as his own sister.

    But mostly, people aren’t like that. They don’t want trouble, they just don’t know what else to do. I see a lot of regular offenders. People who can’t stop trying to hurt themselves. People who can’t stop doing stupid things because of their stupid hearts.

    My vocational training was in the basics of closed time-like curves, but what they should have taught me was how that relates to people’s regrets and mistakes, the loves of their lives that they let get away.

    I’ve prevented suicides. I’ve watched people fall apart, marriages break up in slow motion, over and over and over again.

    I’ve seen pretty much everything that can go wrong, the various and mysterious problems in contemporary time travel. You work in this business long enough and you know what you really do for a living. This is self-consciousness. I work in the self-consciousness industry.”

    I hope I’ve done that justice by keeping it fairly typo-free. I think it’s a great bit of writing. The time travel in the book has its limits (as time travel nearly always does) – you can’t make changes, so there’s no point going back to try and kill Hitler (though it makes a pretty good Doctor Who episode, obviously), and I don’t think you can go forward either.

    But even with those limits, I don’t want to believe that the author is correct. With all of the past to experience, all of the great events of history, the highs and lows of the human race, I can’t believe I would want to go back to the lowlights of my own life. And yet, given enough time, perhaps the lure of our own life would be inescapable. Not the first destination, but maybe an inevitable one, sooner or later. I don’t know. But I think it’s a great bit of writing.

     

    It finally happened

    Saturday, September 27th, 2008

    “The Midnight Falcon”, by David Gemmell, page 137.

    The first sentence that contains this shocking news is “Sole owner of a rundown circus with a mountain of debts and only two assets, the little slave Norwin and the aging gladiator Rage”.

    50 pages later, you’ll be pleased to known that Norwin is still alive. I will post further developments as I get to them.

    I always knew that sooner or later I would come across my name as a character in a fantasy or sci-fi book, it was just a matter of time.

    Books: The Protestant Revolution

    Sunday, March 9th, 2008

    Today I finished reading The Protestant Revolution, a book I got at Christmas. My knowledge of the history of my own religion is a bit poor, so when I saw this I thought it was a good opportunity to improve it. The book goes into reasonable depth about the theological twists and turns of the story of protestantism, from its difficult birth through to it’s impact on the world through some significant people like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King. It also goes down some of the side roads and dead ends along the way, which is always interesting. It’s definitely a history book more than a theology book, but it’s a good balance, and I know more than I did before I started.

    It’s interesting to note that Martin Luther himself only ever intended to
    reform the Catholic church, and never intended to create a split from it. It’s depressing to read about the history of the religious wars that raged across Europe as various rulers tried to assert their faith over their people.

    But the part that I found most interesting was the difference between the
    magisterial reformers and the radical reformers, and how that continues to echo through lots of contemporary situations. The magisterial reformers believed that all of society must be reformed, and so were compelled to force their beliefs on other people to “bring them into the light”. However, the radical reformers were happy to break off from the main body of society (or the church) in order to follow their beliefs on their own.

    I think this fits into a lot of situations where we have the choice of trying to change and improve something from within, or walking away and starting again. It also raises the question of trying to impose the rules of your religion on the wider society. If that is anti-slavery, it’s a good thing, but if it is anti-gambling, or against Sunday shopping, is it still as valid? And is it our duty regardless? Where does religious freedom fit in, and respect for other beliefs.

    The one good thing that all those wars did give us was that the people in charge decided that the cost of state religion was too high, and they gave us the freedom to make our own decisions on matters of faith. It would nice if that kind of freedom existing everywhere in our troubled world.