Archive for Lisbeth Salander

the girl with the spider’s nest [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2016 by xi'an

“..the Millennium Trilogy was messier and more eccentric than much popular fiction, a genre that can lean towards standardisation. Lagercrantz’s continuation, while never formulaic, is a cleaner and tighter read than the originals…” The Guardian

“…while Mr. Lagercrantz never makes the N.S.A.’s involvement in the case Salander and Blomkvist are investigating remotely convincing, he writes with such assurance and velocity in the later portions of the book that he powers through these more dubious passages.” The New York Times

Millennium is a bit like chocolate addiction, when I carefully pack away the remains of a Lindt tablet, only to get back to it for another row half-an-hour later… The style of the series is rudimentary, the story is just implausible, the message is shaky, as explained in my earlier reviews, and still, still, I just got back from binge reading a new volume, even though it was written by another author. David Lagercrantz. Who also managed to write a biography of both Alan Turing and a (former Paris) footballer competing with Chuck Norris…

I had misgivings, to start with, about another author taking over the commercial massive success of the previous author (towards a further commercial massive success, apparently, to judge from the 7,575 customer reviews there!). With much less legitimacy (if any) than, say, Brandon Sanderson taking over Robert Jordan to complete the Wheel of Time. (Although this sequel is completely legit, since Stieg Larsson’s family controls his literary estate and hired David Lagercrantz.)  On the other hand, I do not have the highest respect for the literary qualities of the series, beyond inducing a remarkable crave for the next page that kept me awake part of both nights when I read The Girl with the Spider’s web. A feature that, in my opinion, relates to the essentially commercial nature of the product (and that is compounded by the mere £3.00 it cost me in a Coventry supermarket!).

Without getting into spoilers, the current story revolves around the complicated family tree of Lisbeth Salander, the endless fight of the Millennium editors against market forces, the murky waters of hacking and of intelligence companies, plus some lines about NSA’s Egotistical Giraffe, quantum computing, public-key encryption, and resolution by elliptic curve factorization. Story that remains as enjoyable as the previous volumes, even though it may be lacking in the psychology of the characters.  Given the extreme implausibility of the intelligence central plot, I am rather surprised at the very positive reviews found in the press, as shown by both quotes reproduced above…

One of the threads exploited in the book is the threat represented by super-intelligence, that is when AIs become much more intelligent than humans. This should ring a bell as this is the theme of Super-Intelligence, the book by Nick Bostrom I reviewed a few months ago. Although this volume of Millenium only broaches upon the topic, and while there is no reason to imagine a direct connection between both books, even though Lagercrantz may have read the popular book of a fellow Swede, I find the setting both amazing and so representative of the way the book ingratiates itself into the main computer culture memes.

The Millenium Trilogy (tome 2)

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , on June 20, 2010 by xi'an

Salander was at a loss. She actually was not interested in the answer. It was the process of solution that was the point. So she took a piece of paper and began scribbling figures when she read Fermat’s theorem. But she failed to find a proof for it.

Enforcing a prediction made on the earlier post, I have read through the second Millenium Trilogy volume, Stieg Larson‘s The Girl who played with fire , due to a chance encounter in the convenience shop of the hotel in Benidorm. My overall impression is better than after reading The girl with the dragon tattoo, maybe because there are less raw cruelty scenes, maybe because the hunt-within-the-hunt plot is more compelling, maybe because the action mostly takes place in the present.

By the time Andrew Wiles solved the puzzle in the 1990s, he had been at it for ten years using the world’s most advanced computer programme.

The book feels much more fast-paced than the previous one, it only covers a few calendar days where the police is searching for the “asocial” Lisbeth Salander, who is searching for a Russian sex-trafficker, who is himself searching for Salander! The very first bit taking place in the West Indies is completely unnecessary and does not even play a role in the rest of the novel (except to let us know that Salander was away, can face a tropical storm, seduce a teenager, and kill an abusive husband!). This volume tells us a lot about Salander’s childhood and the reasons why she and her mother ended up in psychiatric institutions. I also like how the book depicts the way the gutter press presents the worst possible picture of Salander from the very few tidbits leaked by the chief investigator (“lesbian Satanist psychopath”).

And all of a sudden she understood. The answer was so disarmingly simple. A game with numbers that lined up and then fell into place in a simple formula that was most similar to a rebus. She gazed straight ahead as she checked the equation.

Now, the inconsistencies and implausibilities I deplored in the first volume are there to be found  as well. First and foremost, Salander is again acting as a super-woman in this novel, mastering parallel financial networks and computer hacking, fashionable clothing and German and Norwegian accents, home modelling (in case you cannot access an Ikea catalogue, the book provides the whole series of references, maybe a Swedish habit of replacing e.g. bookcase by Billy, etc…) and chess playing, fighting techniques (against two Hell’s Angels, no less!) and, best of all!, number theory. I do not understand the motivations of the author for including this mathematical connection (unless maybe he thinks autists all make good mathematicians [when the opposite is closer to the truth!]) but he presumably read some piece on Andrew Wiles’ resolution of Fermat’s Theorem and decided that Salander could as well get a go at it! Hence a sequence of (rather dumb) mathematical quotes about equations and a few idiotic sentences like the ones above. It sounds like the author (or at least Salander) believes that Fermat had a complete proof of his theorem…and of course that Salander, unlike the four-century-some of mathematicians who vainly tried before her, can recover this proof! I have no competence in hacking but the tricks used by Salander to penetrate the whole police force computer network sound rather primitive and unlikely to work, even when obtaining the password from a police officer. Similarly, the fact that private detectives get incorporated within the police team with no suspicion nor limitations and that the first leak ends up with one officer being incriminated instead of a private detective does not sound plausible. The greater picture, namely that all characters are connected, is a weakness of many detective stories, but the book seems to be recycling about every useful character from the previous volume! At last, the relation between Blomkvist and Salander is not well-done, as it is very predictable in Salander being over-reacting vis-à-vis Blomkvist’s long-term relation with Erika Berger and in Blomkvist being completely unaware of this…