Apr 072014

Minä Zlatan Ibrahimović

The second book I finished in 2014 was a far more entertaining read than the dour Sagan classic. Minä Zlatan Ibrahimović is the autobiography of one of the greatest contemporary footballers (and definitely the loudest one).

The first pages prove the Zlatan pulls no punches – he essentially reduces celebrated Barça legend to a clueless spectator, and doesn’t let down the attitude for the next few hundred.

After the news-threshold breaking introduction the book settles down to chronologically lay out Zlatan’s progress into the finest teams in Europe.

The story of a Rosengård kid could have gone wrong on so many axis – a broken family, a wild youth and semi-criminal interests could have so easily ended up in a tragedy.

But they did not. Zlatan struck lucky, and to prove how much it means, the story of Tony Flygare provides a nice counterpoint. He missed one crucial penalty kick and essentially sank his career.

Zlatan’s career starts in Malmö and he hits big time first in Ajax. But keeps on moving from team to team, succeeding in all of them. Despite the constant heroics Zlatan comes off as a human, full of self-doubt, his own worst critic. A human with many faults and a superhuman skill in scoring goals and winning. The book describes far fewer feuds than expected. That is, feuds with other players. Journalists and managers get a broadside of abuse (which in most cases seems quite well-deserved).

From their days in Inter, Zlatan holds an odd fascination with Mourinho, possibly the case of two hard-headed individuals mutual respect for each other.

I hadn’t realized how many teams (and leagues) Zlatan had dominated, apart from the English Premier League he’s struck gold in all the majors.

Too bad Sweden is out of the 2014 games, as Zlatan’s career as #10 is unlikely to survive intact into the 2018 World Cup.

Man kan ta en kille från Ropsengård
Men man kan inte ta Rosengård från en kille

Lagercrantz, the author, has succeeded where many would have failed.
The book is well-written, rapid paced and authentically sounding – probably a great book to attract boys to read more.

The attached video – the first video attachment in a book review in this blog – proves the audacity of Zlatan on the field, a casual demolition of England, where he scored all the four goals for Sweden, including this beauty:

Apr 062014

Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the DarkCarl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World was hoisted upon me with the statement “you WILL like this”.

And I certainly did.

The book seemingly starts off as an intellectual scientific-method praising mega-debunko-rama, but that is a false impression.

Sagan doesn’t aggressively judge the people falling foul of hoaxes and pseudo-science, he sets off to educate the world to eliminate the possibility of such play. It’s more humane to say that healthy skepticism is the gist of understanding rather than attacking their entire belief system.

The array of the topics covered is large, and the chapters mostly short. Nonetheless, the author falls into a trap of repetition, not often and usually painlessly, but the book suffers a little as a result.

Demon-Haunted World is over ten years old, but its message is as pointful as it was when released. The rise of the internet and social media have proven much more effective vehicles for deception than disproving the deceivers.

His baloney detection kit is as necessary today as it was back when the book was written in the mid-nineties.

Apr 062014

Omertan LiittoOmertan Liitto, the annual Ilkka Remes techno-thriller embarks into a new direction with the familiar tools.

This time the plot concerns the murky origins of the European Union and the utterly unknown massive cash flows around the federation.

The plot itself borders on flimsy at times, whereas the characters have already crossed into the realms of implausibility.

Nonethelss, the book flows well, and mixed in with the chases is plenty of mostly unforced exposition on the fathers of the union in the fifties. Didn’t really check deep into the list of sources in the appendix, but it seems that there’s a lot that doesn’t withstand scrutiny or even daylight.

The author has been quite uneven lately. Some of the books are as tightly wound and imaginative as his first few novels, whereas others read as parodies of the genre and the authors’ mannerisms. Omertan Liitto is closer to the former, fortunately.

Apr 062014

Red Seas Under Red SkiesRed Seas Under Red Skies, the sequel to Lies of Locke Lamora, begins like the book everybody expected it to be, a quickly written cash-in copy of the original.

Initially the big con consumes the plot, but the book quickly turns to a far wider milieu, the open sea.

The protagonist duo are forced into piracy, and the buccaneering life takes up more than a half of the book.

That change, the education of the landlubbers, and the multiple kinds of complications rapidly reveal that Red Skies Under Red Skies is far from a carbon copy of the first Lamora novel. The city state of Tal Verrar is not as well realized as Camorr in the original, but that’s fair as a lot of the action occurs elsewhere.

As with the original, the best plans do not survive encounters with reality, but the planning and the resulting reactionary work is a wonder to read. Apart from the protagonists, most of the characters do not receive much development in the course of the five hundred pages, but they do not feel like cardboard cutouts. The narrative is again sliced into multiple intertwined plotlines, initially confusing, but converging to a satisfactoy conclusion towards the end.

The second book in the Gentlemen Bastards sequence is not as good as the first, but a very good heist novel nonetheless. After all, the debut was a hard act to follow.

Apr 062014

Canon Powershot S110We lost our Ixus in the move to the new HQ.

Not during the move, but likely in one of the open house days.

Picked up a replacement, a Powershot S110 the other day.

And it’s not only a replacement, but a significant improvement:

  • Instead of a laggy touchscreen UI, this has buttons. That click.
  • It does RAW.
  • It can go full manual, and has an awesomely haptic ring for adjustments.
  • It has a 2.0 aperture.
  • It’s small, and fits into a pocket.

Haven’t played with WLAN connectivity, but its time will come.

Yeah, in the age of ever-improving phone cameras this feels a bit redundant, but the image quality is significantly better than on my iphone 5. I consider them complementary. After all, the phone is ubiquitous, and the camera more home-bound.

Apr 062014

Hat Full of SkyHat Full of Sky is Terry Pratchett’s sequel to Wee Free Men.

Despite trying hard, it falls short of the original: the main plot is oddly long-winded, the B-plots feel like fillers, quite a few of the characters cliched and the grand finale is anything but grand. In a kids book all but the first are obviously more or less excusable, and there is hidden depth in the proceedings nonetheless. The Nac Mac Feegle are a feature of the series now (having been sighted in the adult side of the fence, too), and their background and characteristics remain interesting.

Not bad by any means, but a noticeable in dip the quality anyway.

Apr 052014

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Kurt Cobain‘s death.

He was the artist whose passing away was the first to really hit home.

I was in Utah in 1994, and the news that came in the afternoon on a Friday th eighth electrified the whole Austin Hall – Cobain was definitely one of the biggest voices of the generation and his sudden departure did not go unnoticed. I’m pretty sure the wake of sorts we organized was a Nirvana-only evening.

Apr 052014

Wee Free MenI re-read Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett’s second young adult novel after I figured I hadn’t touched the later volumes in the series.

And of a re-read the book remains pleasant. It’s obviously written for kids, but is neither watered down nor condescending.

The plot itself covers a lot of ground in less than three hundred pages (a lesser author could easily have pumped it up to a bloated trilogy) and as a bonus comes with a whole new species of faeries – Nac Mac Feegle, the titular wee free men, who dropkick their way into the brains of readers.

The book is could easily be mistaken for a bildungsroman, except for the fact that the protagonist is pretty well-defined in the beginning and only deepens during the pages. The proto-witch shows excellent initiative in protecting what needs to be protected, without ever even teetering on being an annoying superheroine.

Zoology, eh? That’s a big word, isn’t it?”
“No, actually it isn’t,” said Tiffany. “Patronizing is a big word. Zoology is really quite short.”

Bring on the later volumes, this was a true delight, head and shoulders above the not-so-good Adult Discworld novels.

Apr 022014

Witcher logoThe Witcher saga’s translation seemed hopelessly stalled, with years piling on the last volume published.

However, the success of the video games seems to have turned the tide, and two new volumes have appeared within months of each other.

Then again, having read the first non-anthology volume some five years ago, it’s a good time to restart the whole sequence.

Apr 022014

ExistenceDavid Brin’s Existence is his second thick story of the first alien encounter in a strangely familiar near future (the first, obviously, was Earth).

This time the story begins in a way familiar from quite a few other novels: the arrival of an unquestionably alien artifact. Though this is no Rama, no Eon – this is an appropriately modernized version of projecting alien knowledge into other solar systems.

The cast of characters is vast. Some members of the ensemble feature on a regular basis throughout the length of the novel, whereas others are given a single chance to shine or make a point.

The milieu of our planet strangely less well-developed than that of Earth, but nonetheless fascinating. The characters eking out an existence in regions teetering on ecological collapse are the most interesting ones in the mix. The language, especially in the color pieces, occasionally feels too artifical to engage, but it mostly stays credible. As with Earth, whose technological forecasts occurred decades earlier than projected, I’m sure that at least some of the most fat-fetched elements of the world will sneak into our reality soon enough.

Existence is worthwhile, but not effortless. Some sequences are jarring and ponderous, but mostly the text flows pleasantly well. The quantum shift in the end sequence feels alien, even more so than that of Earth. Though this time it’s executed far better.

Brin’s proven that he can still write fiction, I sincerely hope will he return to the sundered galaxies of uplift soon. From the subplot of artifically evolved dolphins, it’s clear that he’s not done.

Bonus point for a lenticular cover, it’s been a long while since the previous one.

Mar 242014

Once You're Lucky, Twice You're GoodSarah Lacy Hensley’s Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good provides another view into the entrepreneurship in the Silicon Valley from Launch Pad.

It takes a longer view, and concentrates on just a handful of companies and their founders.

The author very occasionally lapses into hero worship, but mostly this is a distanced take on the subject. Though namedropping is unavoidable, it quickly gets tedious.

Some interviews subjects and positions are familiar, and in most cases the years since publication have changed the covered companies significantly.

Learned quite a bit, especially on how easy it is to get screwed by investors and shareholders.

But I would have wanted to read more about the not-so-successful companies, too. And of people who are not part of the obviously powerful insider clique of the Valley.