A Review of The Wall of Storms

The Wall of Storms (The Dandelion Dynasty, #2)The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I am giving it four stars because it is a strong book, but one with flaws.

Much like the first book in the trilogy, The Grace of Kings, I felt that the book lacked a certain polish. In fact I was much more pleased with this book (as compared to the first book) up until about half way through. Then it seemed like the quality of the book sagged. As I was reading the second book (in a hard-cover version) I initially thought that the difference might be that I had listened to the first book but read the second book. But then the sag occurred and I decided that it was the book and not the medium.

I am not sure how to describe my reservations about the books. I just had the feeling that the author had a checklist of different types of scenes that were stuck in a outline. There is just an organic seamlessness that is missing.

I will be reading the third book, to see how things turn out and to see if the quality of the writing goes up a notch.

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A Review of Uncertainty

Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of ScienceUncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science by David Lindley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am fascinated by shifts in world view. The world is still the same, but our stories about that world change. In effect, nothing is the same.

Issac Newton described a clockwork world as part of the Enlightenment. Einstein pivoted and described a world that was almost the same but yet different. Heisenberg pulled the rug out from both of them by saying that we could not know what the details of the world (at least at the quantum level) really were.

It is more complicated than that, but you need to read to book to understand why. Lindley tells a lovely story of the unfolding of this shift in world views. There is just enough science to be useful but not enough to confuse the reader not familiar with the subject.

Recommended for all readers.

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A Review of A Thousand Pieces of You

A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird, #1)A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well written but unsatisfying.

I picked this one up because of the multiple universes angle. I did not think that the book exploited that concept as much as I would like. The idea of consciousness being able to move between worlds is interesting, but assumes that there is a commonality between individuals in parallel universes that makes it possible. I needed some more techo-babble to have found that convincing as science fiction. It sort of works as metaphor but only sort of.

I will not be reading the second and third books of the trilogy.

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A Review of Dialogue The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen

Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and ScreenDialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I an a learner. My preferred mode of learning is to read and then try out simple examples of what I have learned. I am random, abstract. I am comfortable with bits of knowledge cluttering up my brain in apparent disarray. I knew that if I kept on learning things, at some point, an event would trigger a re-arrangement of that knowledge into a more useful form.

That re-arrangement would not make me smarter. If anything, I would be more ignorant than I had been before the switching around of concepts and facts. Holes in my knowledge and understanding, hidden by the previous jumble, would now be obvious. I could see the patterns that defined what was populated and what I needed to learn to complete the pattern. I would understand the questions that I needed to ask and when I needed to ask them. But I would also understand the situations in which certain questions had no relevance. Speed, effectiveness, and power were mine for the taking.

One such book for me was Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code by Martin Fowler. This is a reference book on how to re-arrange the code of computer software to make it better. There is page after page of techniques, each dry and detailed. But Fowler also explains, for each technique, why the change that the technique would effect would be an improvement, when it should and should not be used, and how the improvement might trigger side-effects. The unexpected effect of all that detail was to give me the conceptual structure that organized a dozen previous books on programming. I could never look at my code or the code of others in the same way after reading and re-reading this book.

My quest to become a (better) writer parallels my quest to become a better software developer. I have read many books on craft of writing. I have practiced on projects, small and large. The jumble in mind verifies the extent of my efforts. I have been ready for that organizing event to sort things into a recognizable pattern. Reading Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen is just that event. As before, my ignorance is made explicit and my needs for further development made manifest. I am not done reading about the craft, but I will be more focused than I was.

I have no idea of whether anyone else’s experience will parallel mine. No matter. This is a book well worth reading, well worth learning from.

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A Review of Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to ArmsA Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It has been decades since I have read any Ernest Hemingway. I thought it was time to refresh my memory. The book is nearly 90 years old and the language is odd to my modern ears. His language is simple but by the end of the book I wished that he would have looked up some replacements for “fine” and “grand”. The plot seems a bit padded as compared to any current book. Finally, the ending seemed a bit contrived. As if it was time to end the book and the author wanted to leave the reader sad.

I do not regret reading the book but I will not be passing this way again.

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A review of Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait

Time Machines Repaired While-U-WaitTime Machines Repaired While-U-Wait by K.A. Bedford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am of a mixed mind on this book. I liked the writing and the characters, but I thought that the plot had significant holes. I read quite a lot of time travel fiction and am more or less familiar with all of the relevant tropes in that genre. This book hits most of those tropes. My difficulty is that it does not do a good job of integrating those tropes into a coherent whole.

I will list three significant problems. There are more but these will give you a sense of the difficulties.

First, every Tom Dick, and Bubba can travel in time. In my mind, casual time travel should cause the whole temporal matrix to come crashing down. There are minor side references to paradoxes and such but the story never explores this aspect in any detail. A casual reader probably will not notice but a dedicated fan of time travel tropes will be left scratching various body parts, wondering about the magic glue that holds everything together without leaving a trace for the reader to detect.

Second, the main settings of the story are the “the near future” and “zillions of years later.” Some knowledge of history would make it clear that significant changes in viewpoints can occur in decades. Zillions of years should produce correspondingly larger changes. But the far future looks a lot like the near future. And yet another case where these changes are invisible.

Third, Dickhead, while interesting, is hard to believe. I kept thinking as I read the story, “How does an idiot like this become a Master of Time?” He sounds like a late twentieth-century used-car salesman who has delusions of grandeur, and is doomed to fall short of his dreams, again and again. This is the man who will serve as the master of ceremonies at the end of everything? Really?

Having said all of this, I will probably read the next in series. That book might drop a few more veils and reveal a few more secrets that will make light of my concerns.

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