Books / Year 2014
Date: 2014-10-14 (permlink)
Author: Dan Simmons
Name: The Terror
Rating: 4 stars

One of the fastest 900+ page books I've read. I've always liked reading about polar exploration: they were the last unvisited places on earth and the conditions are so inhospitable that the stories achieve a unique quality.

This fictionalized book about the Franklin expedition's search of the North-West Passage aims high, almost gets there, but in the end doesn't quite achieve greatness.

The closer the book sticks to actual events and realistic problems, the better it is. The supernatural events do not really make any sense, and ultimately fail to adhere even to their own internal logic.

Date: 2014-09-25 (permlink)
Author: Steve Biddulph
Name: Manhood
Rating: 2.5 stars

Got this book since it was recommended on a blog I frequent. Overall it didn't measure up to what I was hoping it would be, too much psychobabble and not enough actionable content.

I do agree with him on several points about the modern world not being the most suitable for bringing up sane kids. Isolating kids so they only interact within their own age group all throughout childhood and the abstract nature of modern work both combine to leave kids completely unaware of how clueless they are, delaying their integration into the adult society into their twenties or even thirties, with disastrous results.

Date: 2014-09-15 (permlink)
Author: Po Bronson
Name: What Should I Do With My Life?
Rating: Reread

Fascinating rereading this a decade later. Back then I was still figuring out what to do with my life, whereas now I'm pretty much happily settled down. So while before the book gave me possible ideas to pursue and opened my eyes to possibilities I had not considered, now it's more like comparing my life to the end results of the people profiled in the book and measuring myself against them.

Date: 2014-08-20 (permlink)
Author: H.P.Lovecraft
Name: Omnibus 1 - At The Mountains Of Madness
Rating: 2.5 stars

Lovecraft works best in short stories. Reading all of his longer works collected together in one book is painful work: most of them consist of just repeating things and stretching things out endlessly, instead of the plot actually moving forward.

Date: 2014-07-28 (permlink)
Author: Iain Banks
Name: The Quarry
Rating: 2 stars

The last mainstream Banks book I'll ever read (I have two of his science fiction books still to read); too bad it's by far his worst book I've ever read.

As one reviewer of this book said, the last thing Banks would have ever wanted was sentimentality. His greatest gift was his inventiveness, but coming not too far behind was the realism and grittiness in his books: you always felt these were real people (and aliens) you were reading about, not some polished fictional beings.

So he wouldn't want us to sugarcoat the fact this book is, to put it bluntly, crap. There is no plot; nothing happens; none of the characters are mildly interesting; some of them are not even distinguishable from each other; and it suffers from what blighted many of his later mainstream books, excessive ranting about his political views.

Date: 2014-06-20 (permlink)
Author: Alice Schroeder
Name: The Snowball: Warren Buffett And The Business Of Life
Rating: 3 stars

If you're at all interested in the greatest investor who's ever lived, you should read this book. I thought I knew the basics of Buffett's story already, but there are huge, important things about him that he's obviously taken some pains to hide from the public, revealed here (well, revealed to me anyway).

Buffett's built-in importance is the only reason to read this book, however. The writer doesn't seem to grasp what's important, what's not. Huge amounts of pages are spent describing family members that are not important at all, and who you forget about immediately after they're described, because they play no part in Buffett's story.

The writer is also too nice. There are scandalous things happening, yet the writer goes to great lengths not to call them scandalous, or even spell out in plain English what's going on, just hinting around the events.

Date: 2014-06-03 (permlink)
Author: Lee Child
Name: Persuader
Rating: 1 stars

It's a good thing my holiday ended at the same time as my patience with Reacher novels did. This marks the last book by Child I will ever read.

The formula's grown old, the plots keep getting more ridiculous and less interesting, and the action scenes keep getting worse.

The final straw was the sadistic beatdown he had Reacher inflict on one of the bad guys, it was just torture porn.

Date: 2014-05-23 (permlink)
Author: Lee Child
Name: Without Fail
Rating: 2.5 stars

The Reacher novels stretch plausibility in many ways, but the biggest stretch is always the fact that Reacher never encounters any consequences for his actions. Most of the books are set in small towns in the middle of nowhere, where this can be ignored easily enough since it's just about theoretically possible.

But what he gets away with in this book is beyond all belief. You don't get to sweep under the rug events surrounding the assassination attemps on the Vice President of the United States, it just doesn't work that way.

Date: 2014-05-20 (permlink)
Author: Lee Child
Name: Echo Burning
Rating: 2 stars

The defining characteristic of the Reacher novels is their leanness. There is very little extraneous stuff going on, it's all about the plot moving forward through relentless action.

That formula breaks down however when there is no plot, as is the case in this book. It's like Child intentionally omitted it. Pretty much nothing happens except for one ridiculous shootout at the end.

Date: 2014-05-16 (permlink)
Author: Lee Child
Name: Running Blind
Rating: 2.5 stars

Now we know the answer. Child just drops the baggage Reacher acquired in the last book, like it never existed and goes back to his formula. Yet another gorgeous babe throwing herself at Reacher, and Reacher doesn't even bother to dump Jodie before hooking up with the new girl.

I haven't mentioned the plot because it's absolutely ridiculous and the less said about it the better.

I saw the twist coming very early in the book so it was a long slog until the end when Reacher finally got it.

Date: 2014-05-15 (permlink)
Author: Lee Child
Name: Tripwire
Rating: 3.5 stars

More focused than the previous books, which is good. Plot is non-sensical but that's expected.

I don't know why Child has to exaggerate stuff beyond all realism though. It's impossible to gain 20kg of muscle in two months, yet he claims Reacher does so.

The book also deviates from the pattern of one-girl-per-book, and no change in Reacher's status quo. Interesting to see whether this is temporary and these chains (girlfriend, house) are simply discarded in the next book or whether Child will actually use them to deepen the character.

Date: 2014-05-11 (permlink)
Author: Lee Child
Name: Die Trying
Rating: 3 stars

Even more preposterous than the previous one, but served as good holiday reading.

Date: 2014-05-03 (permlink)
Author: Neal Stephenson
Name: Snow Crash
Rating: Reread

Given that virtual reality is finally about to become reality (...), thanks to Oculus Rift, I thought I'd reread Snow Crash.

There's a bit at the start that's unintentionally funny, where it's talking about the VR tech in the book, and says a 2K display has enough resolution the eye can't see individual pixels. Why this is funny is because right at this very moment you can go over to /r/oculus/ and read people complaining about the screendoor effect on their 2K Oculus Rift displays and saying we need way more resolution before you can't see the pixels anymore. So it's a funny way of technology first catching up to an author's imagination from 20 years ago, and then us finding out that actually, the author was wrong, we need even better tech than he imagined.

The VR concept in the book, Metaverse, also feels dated. To put it bluntly, Metaverse sounds boring. Why bother recreating reality with all its limitations and problems in virtual reality, just so you can stand around and talk to people? Pointless.

As we've discovered in the 20 years since, it's much more fun to create virtual worlds that are completely unlike reality, or that allow us to do things we could never do in reality. We can stand around and talk to people in actual reality, whereas it's much more fun to do more interesting things in virtual reality.

Date: 2014-03-20 (permlink)
Author: Mike Tyson
Name: Undisputed Truth
Rating: 3 stars

I don't know anything about boxing, so I'm not qualified to comment on where Tyson stands in regards to history's best boxers, or whether he squandered his talents, but it's certainly interesting to read a first-hand account of how one can earn 300 million dollars, spend it all, and end up broke. I think every athlete, lottery winner, or anyone else coming into a sudden possession of a large amount of money, should read this book as a cautionary tale, and do the exact opposite of what Tyson did when it comes to managing your finances.

Date: 2014-02-11 (permlink)
Author: Lee Child
Name: Killing Floor
Rating: 3 stars

I don't normally read crime thrillers, but I have an upcoming long trip happening and I need to load some reading on my e-book reader that's entertaining enough to keep me distracted during long plane trips and airport layovers, while also being not too demanding so it doesn't actually take mental energy to read.

I had kept hearing about Lee Child's Jack Reacher books, and that he was up to 19 books in the series, so I thought I'd read the first one to see if that series would qualify for the above role.

The conclusion is that I think it does. The writing and plot is entertaining enough, Reacher himself is a badass character, and it certainly doesn't take too much brainpower to read.

The plot, as a whole, is completely unbelievable (especially the inciting incident, which is just too improbable), but I suppose a completely realistic crime thriller would be quite boring.

Date: 2014-01-10 (permlink)
Author: Cory Doctorow
Name: With A Little Help
Rating: 3.5 stars

Nice little collection of short stories.