Archive for Joe Abercrombie

a journal of the [downgraded] plague and [mostly] pestilence year [from Belgium, w/o fries]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2022 by xi'an

While away for more than a week in Brussels, Belgium (for reasons I cannot reveal at this point!), I had various culinary experience ranging from terrible (in a ghastly Turkish pizza stand) to fabulous (at Ethiopian Toukoul), with a scandalously bland lamb vindaloo in the middle…

And found an historical (!) public swimming pool near my airbnb, namely the Bains de Saint-Josse, that dates from the 1930’s, with original changing cubicles where one can leave one’s clothes, great opening hours, reasonable water temperature, few swimmers, and cheap access. (The only negative point is the shallow end of the pool that makes turning awkward.) Which was fantastic as running options in the vicinity were limited and all involved 100% street trails.

Read Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovski, Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie, and the first two volumes of The Scholomance by Naomi Novick. The Scholomance has a rather difficult start with a complex setting only described by an insider (although an outlier in the school pecking order), hence less inclined to details. Then the central character gets more attaching and then a bit too popular. The series is (again) rather too YA-ish for my taste, with the now common pattern of a coming of age in a wizard boarding school, just without any adult in control, which makes it a most bizarre school. However, I am rather shocked by how of little consequence deaths of students are, incl. for the central character. Sharp Ends is rather aptly named since this a collection of short stories, it is inevitably mixed in quality. The setting is the usual (and by now solidly established) First Law World, involving some of the most famous Abercrombie characters like Glotka and Logen Ninefingers. Some I felt like having already read in other books, like the final story, some were too light for grimdark, and some were going nowhere. But when looking at the original cover,  I seem to remember buying it at a farmers’ market in Northern California! And Elder Race is a short novel on a theme inspired from the early Ursula Le Guin novels, namely the impact of an “advanced” civilization on a less “developed” former colony. Where an anthropologist (an homage to Le Guin?) gets progressively involved in the plight of a population he cannot any longer treat in a clinical and remote way. The core crisis initiating this epiphany is however rather poorly constructed, as the “plague” impacting the colony merges too many tropes of the genre, while clashing with the overal rationalism of the novel. In addition, the depiction of the depression symptoms of the anthropologist is overdone.

Watched three episodes of House of the Dragon, none of RIngs of Power (so far). Lacking somewhat in scale (except those on the dragon), but with a brilliant actress playing Rhaenyra Targaryen in these episodes.

the wisdom of crowds [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2022 by xi'an

As I had read rather negative reviews of the conclusion to Joe Abercrombie’s trilogy, The Age of Madness, which mixes the fantastic medieval universe of the earlier books with an industrial revolution leading to riots and the eventual overthrow of the aristocratic regime, I started reading the final volume with some worry that I would not enjoy it as much as the earliest masterpieces! However, the worry was not needed as I essentially read the book over two days, being stuck between two invasive neighbours in an eight hour flight being of course a further incentive..! Obviously, the series of trilogies has been going on for way too long and I have lost both track and interest in the genealogies of characters reappearing through them. Still, this conclusion (??) is rather neat, if somewhat less cynical and less brutal than for the others. Except of course that one very central character dies. And that another returns to her earlier self-enrichment tendencies by pretending to turn to charity work… The least cynical character ends up being Vic, the exécuteur des basses oeuvres (similar to Fouché who would end up being Napoleon’s chief policeman). The setting is very close to the French Revolution unraveling, with an out-of-touch aristocracy cannot handle riots fed by terrible working conditions (and fed by competing kingdoms and scheming mages). A first round in a search for a new (parliamentary) Constitution, à la Danton, followed by Terreur, a radical elimination of the State “enemies”, using a Tarpeian Rock rather than a guillotine, and then a successful counter-revolution supported by other states… The cover of the book actually uses a painting from the French revolution. This is however well-rendered, with great characters, little magic if any, and a parallel plot in the North following Rikke’s precarious hold through hilarious never-ending swearing dialogues. And a few unexpected turns. I thus really enjoyed the book. Except for the return of Bayaz which I would have done without as he appears rarely in the story and with no clear purpose.

are pseudopriors required in Bayesian model selection?

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 29, 2020 by xi'an

An interesting question from X validated about constructing pseudo-priors for Bayesian model selection. Namely, how useful are these for the concept rather than the implementation? The only case where I am aware of pseudo-priors being used is in Bayesian MCMC algorithms such as Carlin and Chib (1995), where the distributions are used to complement the posterior distribution conditional on a single model (index) into a joint distribution across all model parameters. The trick of this construction is that the pseudo-priors can be essentially anything, including depending on the data as well. And while the impact the ability of the resulting Markov chain to move between spaces, they have no say on the resulting inference, either when choosing a model or when estimating the parameters of a chosen model. The concept of pseudo-priors was also central to the mis-interpretations found in Congdon (2006) and Scott (2002). Which we reanalysed with Jean-Michel Marin in Bayesian Analysis (2008) as the distinction between model-based posteriors and joint pseudo-posteriors.

a little hatred [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2020 by xi'an

While the last books of Joe Abercrombie [I read] were not as exhilarating as the earliest ones, this first volume of a new trilogy brings back memories of the excitement of reading a radically new form of fantasy. Of realistic fantasy if both terms can be twinned together!

“Why folk insisted on singing about great warriors all the time, Rikke couldn’t have said. Why not sing about really good fishermen, or bakers, or roofers, or some other folk who actually left the world a better place, rather than heaping up corpses and setting fire to things?”

A little hatred (an obvious understatement!) takes place one to two generations later than the First Law trilogy. Meaning that the anti-heroes from the previous books have by now either died (a fairly common occurrence in Abercrombie’s universe) or aged a lot (more uncommon, except for magii—whose role is rather unclear in this story) and lost in influence for most of them. The new central characters are thus children or grand-children of these ancient characters as the clannish and feudal power structures of this universe do not allow for much social upheaval, except when workers unite and turn Luddites! The society has indeed evolved towards a sort of industrial revolution with landowners expelling farmers and turning them (as well as former soldiers) into cheap labour for emerging factories, just as in the historical England of the 19th Century… The rebellion of the workers in one of the factory towns is the main event of A little hatred and Abercrombie’s description of the event is fantastic (and ghastly). Much more than the millionth battle between the North and the Union, which ends up in a macho duel. And shows the clear superiority of female characters in that story.  I thus hope the sequel will keep up with this renewed creativity of the author!

blackwing [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2019 by xi'an

Another fantasy series of the gritty type, maybe not up to the level of the first ground-breaking Abercrombie’s but definitely great!  With some reminiscence of Lawrence’s first series but with a better defined and more complex universe and a not so repulsive central character. Maybe even not repulsive at all when considered past and current actions as described from his perspective…

“I’ve run the equations on it. It took me two days to plot them. Bear in mind that this is far, far beyond any light matrix that I’ve seen calculated before.”

The whole book is indeed written from Captain Ryhalt‘s viewpoint. A bounty hunter for a post- and pre-apocalyptic society, returning fugitives’ head to the central authorities but governed by a Nameless deity on top of everything (?). Appearing as a raven, hence the compelling cover, hence me buying the book! The plot is unraveling at such a pace that it keeps the tension going, especially since it is rather unpredictable. As noted above, it creates a fairly original universe and while magic is heavily involved, there are limitations to the powers of the sorcerers, witches,  half-gods and other entities that mean no deus-ex-machina last minute resolution, sort of. Actually (spoiler alert!) the machine at the core of the story is not doing too well… With repeated mentions made of mathematics governing the handling of the machine, including one over-the-top computation on the ceiling of a cell! It is only when I finished the book that I realised this was part of a series, as the story could have ended there. (Maybe should have, if the associated reviews for the next two volumes are to be trusted.)

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