Dec 172014

PoliisiJo Nesbø’s Poliisi carries on where the preceding part left off. And the author really milks the awesome cliffhanger for all its worth.

Poliisi continues the themes in several of the previous books, ties a knot on some of them, while leaving a couple still dangling loose. The main plotline, of a serial killer bumping off policemen that have been satisfied with incomplete cases in the past, introduces several potential bad buys, and builds up tension over and over again. As usual, there’s sideplots galore, both on a departmental and personal level.

As expected, there’s plenty of cruelty, questionable law enforcement methods, references to alcoholism, and one truly great plot twist that manages to pull the rug from under the readers’ feet.

A great book, and obviously one that keeps the reader in an vise-like grip until the dust has settled. But this is absolutely the worst book to begin experimenting with the series, I’m sure there’s plenty of impenetrable passages for the novices.

Dec 162014

On WritingStephen King’s On Writing is a book of multiple perspectives. On one hand it is first and foremost an autobiographical look back on the early days of his career, on the other hand he pounds on a concise set of instructions for writing clearly and on the third hand the book describes how the author survived an almost fatal hit by a car.

Of the three, the first is interesting and insightful, but the second is worth the price of admission. King advocates reading a lot and writing a lot. And then simplifying the language until it’s as simple as it needs to be. The instruction is paired with real-life examples which obviusly raises its value quite a bit. The chapters on getting published and dealing with agents seem almost quaint in the era of rampant self-publishing and exposure through social media and virality.

Not my favorite Stephen King book, but definitely better than most of his output.

Dec 152014

AaveAs stated before Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole-sequence brings out the worst voracious reader-habits in me.

The eighth in the series, Aave was no different. I consumed vast chunks of the novel in two days, and came off slightly dazed in the end.

The plot moves on multiple levels once again, and this time the crime touches Harry’s extended family closer than ever before. But that perspective is just one of many in a thick book that once again highlights cruel torture, corruption in the ranks of the officials and the need to make things right.

A perfect recipe for disaster for the protagonist, who has a close call with the reaper several times in the course of the book, and ends up in the hands of the juiciest cliffhanger in a long long while.

Aave is a great book, but doesn’t rise to the heights established by the two preceding Harry Hole-novels. But it’s obviously warmly recommended for all fans of the pseudo-suicidal norwegian policeman.

Dec 142014

Brick By BrickBrick By Brick goes much deeper than the usual fawning Lego as a business case study-books.

For a change, it does not get stuck on the common item #1: the rapid reaction of Lego to Mindstorm-hackers and continued peaceful co-existence. That point is covered, obviously, but it’s only a small detail in the tale told of how the company was almost capsized by clueless management and terrible product choices.

However, a lot of the pages are spent on general business strategy as opposed to analyzing its application in Lego’s case, leading to a slow pace and unfortunate abstraction of the message (though it does get drilled in at the ends of the chapter). The message is indeed muddled – prediction of success in a rapidly moving industry is impossible, but Lego did lower its batting average significantly by making terrible choices and hiring exactly the wrong people.

But all in all the book definitely is a worthwhile one to read, it’s mercifully brief and for a strayed long-time Lego fan, there’s a lot of interesting topics (and abandoned product lines) covered within.

Dec 122014

A Good Old-Fashioned FutureI’ve been a fan of Bruce Sterling’s pretty much as long as I’ve been aware of him. His A Good Old-Fashioned Future is a collection of short stories published in the late nineties.

The seven stories that form this book are of pretty even, high quality. The first highlight amongst them is the Littlest Jackal mainly on account of the plot and the fact that the story is actually set in Finland (with Flüüvins standing in for Moomins). The last three of the novels are semi-connected, and work well both independently and as a description of a world that’s increasingly off the hinges as time passes.

Though the collection is more than a decade old, the future it depicts does not feel outdated, just different.

Dec 112014

Ready Player OneReady Player One was my book of the year in 2012 and re-reading it was a true pleasure.

After all, it’s not often that a book arrives that wallows and revels in geekdom without being patronizing, shallow or in any other way bothersome.

Ready Player One sets out to explore the eighties, from a decidedly geeky viewpoint, but with a great eye for the mainstream culture as well. After all, in those days of the monoculture the mainstream was so ubiquitous even the steadfastest subculture-dwellers had no way to avoid it.

The book is a treasure hunt, a fact that is made obvious from its very beginning. But it’s not a conventional treasure hunt – success requires skill in videogames, memorization of movie dialogue and the ability to thoroughly think outside of the box. A beautiful multi-layered puzzle, that manages to delight and rouse interest as the protagonist stumbles through its labyrinth.

As is common in labours of love, the chase is better than the catch – and the finale of Ready Player One sadly dips from the lofty heights established by the preceding pages. But it does not dip much, and provides good closure on the plot and pretty much cements the fact that no sequel is forthcoming.

The book brims with cultural references – mainly from the eighties, but there’s plenty more. Unsurprisingly, there are multiple pages listing those some with elaborations on their meanings.

Ready Player One was movie-optioned by Sony pretty much instantly, but I’m skeptical about its chances. While the book is free to namedrop and utilize cultural references at every step, actually clearing those films and songs would be a massive undertaking. Also, the book is thick, and the story far from straightforward, hence trying to fit the 400+ pages into a movie of conventional length would require massive alterations.

Dec 102014

Kill DecisionDaniel Suarez made his name with the unexpectedly continued and initially self-published Daemon, one of the savviest technothrillers published in a long while has returned with a self-contained third novel.

Kill Decision utilizes a familiar plot device from the preceding books – but its take on autonomous predatory drones is far more deep-drilling, whereas they were just plot devices in Daemon.

While Kill Decision’s plot drives the book forward like a steamroller, the cast of characters pales in comparison. Motives are vague, and plenty of the characters are little more than one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. But nobody reads technothrillers for in-depth characterizations, and Suarez once again shines in describing the inner workings of drones – heavily lifting from the sciences of entomology and myrmecology to explain the algorithms developed.

Kill Decision is a great page turner, and heartily recommended for friends of the genre, others will quite likely find the threshold a bit too steep for comfort. Me, I’m looking forward to the arrival of his fourth book, Influx, in paperback.

Dec 092014

The Wasp FactoryThe Wasp Factory, the debut novel by Iain Banks is one I recall seeing in a book club magazine back in the early eighties. The book was billed as a nausea-inducing piece of modern storytelling, and unsurprisingly the characterization was not an endearing one with my parents. So, the clan library was not extended, and it took me way too long to actually get to read the book.

And the hype wasn’t wrong. Even though quarter century has passed and the norms lowered significantly, the Wasp Factory still provokes, prods and while it doesn’t really nauseate (apart from one scene), it consistently brings on the greatest literate unease in a good long while.

To say much of the titular factory, the plot or the characters would be considered spoiling, and I’d much rather everybody discover the multiple layers of truth on Frank, the protagonist who carries more baggage than a freight 747.

Nasty, brutish and short. Not an easy read, but a recommended one nonetheless.

Dec 082014

Getting RealGetting Real is a short anthology of collective wisdom on software development from 37 Signals crew (these days they’re called Basecamp).

Back in the days when I originally bought the book, the contents seemed almost alien to read – so far removed was Nokia’s mode of operations in software. Things got better, but obviously not good enough.

A lot of the topics are covered briefly and provocatively, leading to a somewhat perplexing reading experience – part revelationary, part shameful.

In the era that glorifies the leanness of business, this book was ahead both time-wise and content-wise. The authors pull only a few punches while extolling the virtues of going lean and adaptive.

Dec 072014

Terminal WorldAlastair Reynolds has redeemed himself multiple times over from the disastrous ending of the Revelation Space trilogy.

However, Terminal World had me worried for a while before the wheels started spinning righteously. The mainly low-tech environment and the very gradual exposition took its time to work things out.

But they did.

And what a deliciously good book Terminal World turned out to be.

There’s more cool things here than many other authors manage to fit in industry-sized series. And even when Reynolds packs in zeppelins with flesh-eating cyborgs and layers secrets upon enigmas, the flow of the novel is not impacted. The plot steamrolls towards its inevitable termination, and provides an awesome travelogue all the while.

Just like Century Rain originally proved, the author moves elegantly in genres other than purest hard SF, and here the wonders are piled on relentlessly. And while the ultimate twist towards the end is not that big a surprise, it is nonetheless handled very well and it caps the story appropriately ambiguously.

And just like with Century Rain, what we’ve got is what we’ll get – this slice of the universe will not be explored further in later books.