Archive for Brandon Sanderson

a memory of light

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , on February 16, 2013 by xi'an

It is now over: I have finished reading the last volume of the Wheel of Time, A Memory of Light. When considering that I started reading the first volume in Ithaca in the summer of 1990, while visiting George Casella, there is something momentous (and bittersweet) in reading the last page and acknowledging it is now over. For good. As many other WoT fans, I grew attached toJ some of the characters, despite the repetitions, the often immature psychology, and attitudes that varied from one volume to the next… It is thus a wee sad to see them vanish with the last page (or, worse, die within the last volume for three of them). Even though 14 volumes plus a prequel is more than enough. Of course, this feeling is nothing compared with what the second author, Brandon Sanderson, must feel! As he mentions on his blog, he had read the very final scene in 2007, soon after Robert Jordan’s death, when he was asked to complete the series…

I will not get into details about this last volume as I do not want to post spoilers. And because Leigh Butler did a much better job! (Warning: many many spoilers!) Let me mention however that the book stands to the previous volumes written by Sanderson, at the very least, and certainly above some of the weakest volumes written by Jordan. The battle that occupies a large part of the book has enough shifts and surprises to make it bearable, even though there are too many “happy endings” in my taste. Including the very final scene. Maybe not so surprisingly the two major characters in this volume are Perrin and Matt (thanks to the nice trick about the great captains). They have certainly grown in stature and depth from the first volume, even though they are not free from the occasional relapse. The roles of Rand, Nynaeve and Moiraine are somewhat anticlimactic as they seem to be doing nothing! (Of course, they only seem!) The forces facing each other sound very disproportionate and it is hard to understand why the dark side does not make use of those superior forces from the beginning. (The same question applies to the whole series, somehow!) I must also acknowledge being a bit disappointed by the (homely) final chapter. (Nothing terrible like the very final chapter of Harry Potter of course!) I can understand Jordan’s motivations in writing it and it somehow makes sense. Still, not the ending I would have liked to read for this superlative epic! Nonetheless, I think Sanderson did a magnificent job in merging the notes of Robert Jordan into a coherent and enjoyable ending. That it took three rather than one volume is more a testimony to the complexity of the universe Jordan created than a nuisance (now that the series is over!). May he always find water and shade!

A Memory of Light, Chapter One

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on September 29, 2012 by xi'an

After releasing the prologue to A Memory of Light, By Grace and Banners Fallen, for sale, Tor made a gesture to Jordan’s fans desperate for the latest volume of Robert Jordan’s and Brandon Sanderson‘s the Wheel of Time byputting the first (short) chapter on line a few days ago… (The following is obviously of no interest whatsoever to those who have no read the preceding volumes!)

“Feral dogs hunted through the rubble for meat. They looked up as the wind passed, their eyes hungry.”

The very beginning feels like a prologue, with the traditional image of a wind going across the land and reporting on the desperate prospects facing its inhabitants. Then it turns into the—as well—traditional feature of the main characters taking quick decisions on truly major issues and as suddenly discussing trivial matters. And arguing against one another, as they have been doing for the previous 10,188 pages of the series!

“Pregnant. Pregnant with his children. Light! He had only just learned of it. Why hadn’t she been the one to tell him?”

Maybe the most surprising item in the chapter is the fact that Rand only learns now about Elayne being pregnant. I do not remember anything about this from the previous books, but this late in the pregnancy, this sound inexplicable! Esp. given the Bond existing between them… And the way he reacts to Elayne having not told him is equally subdued. This whole chapter reflects what Leigh Butler called “the Jesusing of Rand”, going from half-mad to philosophical and collected in the previous volume, Towers of Midnight…. Making us feel like facing a new character! Anyway, the whole chapter fits into the style of those previous books, things happening at a reasonable pace but still hindered by unnecessary details and inane conversations. May the Last Battle come as quickly as possible!

the painted man

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , on June 9, 2012 by xi'an

Another of those fantasy books I bought on the spur of the moment, without prior information, and that I ended liking very much! Indeed, when I was in the UK in April, I bought a few books for my son in Fort William, of all places!, and The painted man by Peter Brett was one of them. My son got very enthusiastic about it and read it within a few days. Then kept asking about the sequel… (Note that the book strangely has an alternative title in the US, The warded man. With the same so-so cover. Why?! Because UK readers could not understand the word warded?! Because US readers would think The painted man was about American indians?!)

So I took the book with me to Guérande to see how good this was and I got hooked as well, finishing it in three days. The sequel, The Desert Spear, is already sitting on top of the to-read-pile! The central theme of the book(s) is a variation on the “fear of the dark” theme, when darkness is full of real dangers, also found in, e.g., Sanderson’s Mistborn series or Terry Goodkind’s (rather annoying) Wizzard’s First Rule or yet Barbara Hambly’s mosy enjoyable (if older) Darwatch trilogy. And, of course, the forerunner H.G. Wells’ Time Machine where morlocks feed upon elois… Not a very promising start, then, especially when the three main characters are three (pre-)teenagers embarking upon their own quest and of course doomed to meet at some point in the story. However, Brett manages to turn this classic in the genre into something different and highly gripping. One of the attractions of the story is that the demons (or corelings) that come out of the ground when the sun sets down are not described into painful details, only their deadly power matters and it seems so overwhelming that the notion of fighting them does not make sense, either to the inhabitants of this universe or to the reader. When one character, Arlen, decides to, nonetheless, it is a major surprise (mild spoiler warning!) that he survives the first night, the first month and then the whole book! Although there are several deus ex machina interventions to make this possible, the story flows rather nicely and Arlen turns into the major character in the book, Further, his growing powers against the night demons come at the price of distancing himself from the other people and (stronger spoiler warning!) getting more similar to the beings he obsessively pursues. Which is why the other characters are destined to meet him. And help him recover his humanity.

Of course, this is not a perfect book. Besides the recurrence of happenstance moments, some characters are too caricatural. For instance, as in several recent fantasy novels (Richard Morgan’s Cold Commands to just pick one!), one desert-related part of the world follows an Islamic-type culture that carries all the clichés about Muslim countries. This makes the book sounds quite ethno-centric, with the bigoted and superstitious but good at heart communities from the North getting the better part over the fanatic, sexists and untrustworthy denizens of the South. I am actually afraid the second volume The Desert Spear will see more of this simplistic opposition as the southern desert tribes start an invasion very much reminding me of the Muslim invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries… The female character, Leesha, is also rather inconsistent, from strong to weak to strong again, a flaw in the story, esp. against the much more coherent Arlen. But, all in all, this remains a terrific first book and many readers seem to have felt the same way from the mostly positive reviews on line. I am eagerly waiting to get my Desert Spear back so that I can read it!

And the cover is…just as ugly!

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2012 by xi'an

The cover for the final volume of Robert Jordan’s and Brandon Sanderson‘s the Wheel of TimeA Memory of Light, has just appeared. Although the artist has changed, from Darrell K. Sweet who passed away before completing his cover to Michael Whelan, I find the cover as appalling as the previous thirteen covers in the series… With the same frozen features and caricaturesque characters, unrealistic depictions (look at the way Rand holds this sword!) and women at the back. I know, I know, I should not expect highly creative covers for fantasy books, but other recent books have managed much better, from Sanderson’s Mistborns (other series of Sanderson do not succeed so well, incl. Elantris) to Abercrombie’s trilogy (and his The Heroes), admittedly the coolest covers so far, to Morgan’s The Steel Remains, to Karen Miller’s series of The prodigal mage … Even the alternative e-book covers for  the Wheel of Time are quite acceptable, so I really wonder why the publisher sticks at those ugly and outdated covers.  Anyway, this is now a sort of tradition! The final volume is planned for early January 2013, which is in tune with what Brandon Sanderson told us last year when giving a public lecture in Paris. There is much expectation about this book, the culmination of a series I started reading more than 20 years ago!

Cambridge blue

Posted in Books, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on March 18, 2012 by xi'an

No, this is not a signal for post-partum depression, even though I really enjoyed my time there!, but the title of a book I  got almost for free while in Cambridge Waterstone’s, at the desk as I was paying for The Alloy of Law (also on reduced price, thankfully!) and a Trollope I had not read… Cambridge Blue is a detective story written by Alison Bruce and entirely taking place within Cambridge, which makes for an additional attraction if you are familiar with the place. Overall, this is a pleasant thriller (if I may attach such opposite terms!) with a good if unlikely central character, as well as a whole range of plausible culprits. Maybe the strongest point remains that it takes place in Cambridge after all. (This is the first novel of Alison Bruce. I hope it does not end into a stale series as another Cambridgian series did, namely the initially superb Susana Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew that have gradually become so disappointing…)

The Alloy of Law

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on February 5, 2012 by xi'an

When I saw that The Alloy of Law was half-price in the Cambridge Waterstones, I did not hesitate long in picking the latest Brandon Sanderson‘s book! It is set in the Mistborn universe, with the same chemical principles directing magical powers (allomancy and ferromancy). A terrific concept by the way! However, The Alloy of Law reads much more like a steampunk novel. With a serving of wild (or weird) West. And, in short, it does not read very well… (Even though it reads fast, I was done with it by Sunday evening.)

“Numbers, patterns, movements. People seem erratic, but they actually follow patterns. Find the deviations, isolate the reason why they deviated, and you’ll often learn something. Aluminum on the floor. It’s a deviation.” (p.178)

In a sense, the novel The Alloy of Law best compares with is Gilman’s The Half-made World, that I read about a year ago. Same steampunk basics, same wild wild West atmosphere, same central characters of a female academic chafing at the Victorian constraints imposed by the society, same major role of trains… However, I feel The Half-made World is a successful and convincing construction, while The Alloy of Law sounds like an unfinished attempt. I have been amazed at the number of books published by Sanderson over the past years, especially considering the pressure he is under for completing Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I wish he had spent more time and care in polishing this book! Indeed, it greatly feels like it was rushed, with a neat idea for a backbone, but not enough meat to make the concept stand. There are too many dreary, repetitive, and overly precise descriptions of gun battles, the main male character is shallow (and only too well deserves his nickname of Wax!), the female character is more interesting but still caricaturesque, the overall plot does not make much sense, most of the dialogues are poor (e.g., when explaining “When you make an alloy, you don’t just mix two metals. You make a new one.“, p. 134), and the connection with the original trilogy is almost completely lost! (The fan-made trailer is actually quite well-made, by comparison. And covering about all main features of the book!)

I am certainly not looking forward the second volume in the series…., if any. In fact, the book is presented as a stand-alone novel, but the ending has all the loose threads (main villain still at large, love relations still unresolved, final appearance of a mythical figure, …) to proceed quickly (too quickly!) to a sequel of The Alloy of Law.

1500th, 3000th, &tc

Posted in Books, R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2012 by xi'an

As the ‘Og reached its 1500th post and 3000th comment at exactly the same time, a wee and only mildly interesting Sunday morning foray in what was posted so far and attracted the most attention (using the statistics provided by wordpress). The most visited posts:

Title Views
Home page 203,727
In{s}a(ne)!! 7,422
“simply start over and build something better” 6,264
Julien on R shortcomings 2,676
Sudoku via simulated annealing 2,402
About 1,876
Of black swans and bleak prospects 1,768
Solution manual to Bayesian Core on-line 1,628
Parallel processing of independent Metropolis-Hastings algorithms 1,625
Bayesian p-values 1,595
Bayes’ Theorem 1,537
#2 blog for the statistics geek?! 1,526
Do we need an integrated Bayesian/likelihood inference? 1,501
Coincidence in lotteries 1,396
Solution manual for Introducing Monte Carlo Methods with R 1,340
Julian Besag 1945-2010 1,293
Tornado in Central Park 1,093
The Search for Certainty 1,016

Hence, three R posts (incl. one by Julien and one by Ross Ihaka), three (critical) book reviews, two solution manuals, two general Bayesian posts, two computational entries, one paper (with Pierre Jacob and Murray Smith), one obituary, and one photograph news report… Altogether in line with the main purpose of the ‘Og. The most commented posts:

Post Comments
In{s}a(ne)!! 31
“simply start over and build something better” 30
That the likelihood principle does not hold… 23
Incoherent inference 23
Lack of confidence in ABC model choice 20
Parallel processing of independent Metropolis-Hastings algorithms 19
ABC model choice not to be trusted 17
MCMC with errors 16
Coincidence in lotteries 16
Bessel integral 14
Numerical analysis for statisticians 14

Not exactly the same as above! In particular, the posts about ABC model choice and our PNAS paper got into the list. At last, the top search terms:

Search Views
surfers paradise 1,050
benidorm 914
introducing monte carlo methods with r 514
andrew wyeth 398
mistborn 352
abele blanc 350
nested sampling 269
particle mcmc 269
bayesian p-value 263
julian besag 257
rites of love and math 249
millenium 237
bayesian p value 222
marie curie 221
bonsai 200

(out of which I removed the dozens of variations on xian’s blog). I find it rather sad that both top entries are beach towns that are completely unrelated to my lifestyle and to my vacation places. Overall, more than a  half of those entries do not strongly relate to the contents of the ‘Og (even though I did post at length about Saunderson’s Mistborn and Larsson’s Millenium trilogies). At last, the most popular clicks are

URL Clicks
amazon.com/gp/product/1441915753?ie=UTF8&tag=chrprobboo-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1441915753 1,243
stat.columbia.edu/~cook/movabletype/mlm 1,039
terrytao.wordpress.com 583
amazon.com/gp/product/0387389792?ie=UTF8&tag=chrprobboo-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0387389792 575
arxiv.org/abs/1012.2184 531
radfordneal.wordpress.com/2010/08/15/two-surpising-things-about-r 529
romainfrancois.blog.free.fr 505
statisfaction.wordpress.com 404
ceremade.dauphine.fr/~xian/basudo.R 395
stackoverflow.com/questions/3706990/is-r-that-bad-that-it-should-be-rewritten-from-scratch 372
amazon.com/gp/product/0387212396?ie=UTF8&tag=chrprobboo-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0387212396 298
radfordneal.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/fourteen-patches-to-speed-up-r 298
cs.ubc.ca/~cornebis 288
statisticsforum.wordpress.com 282
arxiv.org/abs/1001.2906 279
arxiv.org/abs/1010.1595 257
amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http://www.amazon.com/gp/entity/-/B001H6GSKC&tag=chrprobboo-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=390957 256
ceremade.dauphine.fr/~xian/BCS/solutions.pdf 253
rss.org.uk/main.asp?page=3005 243
www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/119424936/PDFSTART 216
stat.auckland.ac.nz/~ihaka/downloads/Compstat-2008.pdf 203

which include links to my books on Amazon, Andrew Gelman’s, Terry Tao’s, Radford Neal’s and Romain François’s blogs, the CREST stat students collective blog, and a few arXiv papers of mine’s…

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