Archive for science fiction

the calculating stars [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2021 by xi'an

This fist sounded like an interesting attempt at alternate history, when a massive meteor strike obliterating the Washington DC region in 1952 forced the World to change shift towards space exploration and the eventual evacuation of Earth. The story is told from a computer (or computress) viewpoint, who is a wunderkid, a mathematician, a physicist, a war (WASP) pilot, and more, with a strong will and an independent mind, hoping to become a female astronaut. If the setting reminds you of Hidden figures, a (great) movie about the true story of NASA black female mathematicians, it is no surprise and I wonder how much inspiration the author got from these historical facts, if not from the 2016 book itself. Despite receiving many awards, like the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards!, The Calculating Stars is somewhat of a disappointment to me, because of the highly single-minded perspective,  where everything (related to solving the forecast extinction) seems to happen with a small group of people, because of the confusion between a mathematician and someone who can do complex arithmetics by head, to the near-perfection of the central character, who can also hotwire a car, because of the anachronisms, incl. the prescience that the asteroid crash was going to cause a deadly rise of temperatures when the dinosaur extinction was not yet linked with a similar event, because of a rosy depiction of the World uniting towards racing against the Great Extinction, and, cherry on the pie, because French sentences found throughout the book mostly make no sense as literal translations of English sentences!

“Elle va le faire mais Dieu sait ce qu’elle va parler.” [She’s going to do it but God knows what she’s going to say.]

“Il est l’ordre naturel je pense (…) Il n’y a rien de naturel.” [It’s the natural order of things I think (…) Nothing is natural.]

“Ce ne fut pas une explosion ou nous aurions senti.” [It wasn’t a blast or else we would have felt.]

Locus awards 2021

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , on July 15, 2021 by xi'an

After the Hugos, the Locus(es)! Here are the winners for different categories

the rising [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2021 by xi'an

When I received this second volume of the Alchemy Wars, the rising, it was most fortunately a weekend, and I devoured it within the two days! As hinted at by the title, hence not truly a spoiler!, this book ends up with the rise of the robots, thanks to the main characters already there in the first volume, Jax (reXened Daniel) the freed robot, Bérénice [missing her acute accents] the French master spy (code name Talleyrand), and Longchamp the charismatic commander of the Montréal (renamed Marseille-in-the-West) fortress. While the author seems to have invested more in the language of the Dutch Empire than in the one of the remaining French exiled to Québec, I did not spot crimes de lèse majesté on my native language (except for the above accents). A mystery remains though as to how, when crossing the Atlantic ocean, fugitives end up in Honfleur, east Normandy, and far inside the Channel. Returning to the plot per se, while its pace is breathless, with the revolutions of the characters’ paths bringing them into predictable contacts, and the dialogues are still great, the recourse to a hidden subterranean complex irked me as usual, while the repeated escapes of Bérénice from certain death, capture, brainwash, are just too much, even with the help of dei ex machina. This second volume is also less into pondering the meaning of free will and freedom, even though the sad discovery by Jax (sorry, Daniel!) of Neverland being somewhat a mirror of Netherlands is well-thought. Now waiting for the last volume and another free wekend (or a trip to Marseille!).

a journal of the plague year² [or the unbearable lightness of staying]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2021 by xi'an

Read Haruki Murakami’s First Person Singular, a collection of short stories, some already published in The New Yorker, and quite diverse. Even with those I did not like much, I appreciated the enormous skill in making an uninteresting event or line of thought into something worth reading, while still keeping the thing utterly mundane. A super version of i-novel as well as a pastiche. Short stories like With the Beatles or Carnival are quite powerful. And The Stone Pillow even more. The cover of the book, with its  Shinagawa monkey reaching out for something adds to its appeal, even though the corresponding story did not really need the monkey [as a monkey].

Spent a whole Sunday morning preparing vegetables from the farmers’ market for the week, with mixed results as some turned sour before we could eat them! (No one got sick though!) And has a taste of our first strawberries [plentiful after a wet cool Spring], cherries [tasty, but which did not resist the onslaught of magpies, pigeons, and slaty-headed parakeets], rubharb, and potatoes [which grew on their own from discarded peel].

Watched Strangers, a 2017 Korean TV series. To quote the New York Times, “the murder mystery “Stranger” has less of the usual awkwardness and obviousness of many South Korean dramas as well as another big advantage: It stars the immensely likable Bae Doo-na as a fearless cop.” Indeed! Besides this central figure of Bae Doo-na, who also plays in Kingdom, the show is faster paced than others and steers away from both supernatural elements and romantic side-stories (if barely). The only annoying part is the constant upheaval of characters’ morals, who at one point or another are suspected of one crime or another. And the rushed final episode.

journal of the [second] plague year [away]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2021 by xi'an

Read Fred Vargas’s Seeking Whom He May Devour (L’Homme à l’envers), which I found on a bookshelf of our vacation rental in Annecy. And got more quickly bored by the story as it is plagued with the same defects as the ones I read before, from a definitive issue with Canadians (!), to an attempt to bring supernatural causes in the story and reveal them as fake by the end of the book, to a collection of implausible and caricaturesque characters surrounded by the usual backcountry morons that would rather fit a Paasilinna novel, and to the incomprehensible intuitions of Inspector Adamsberg. I also went through the sequel to Infomocracy, Null states, albeit this was a real chore as it lacked substance and novelty (the title by itself should have been a warning!).

Watched Night in Paradise (낙원의 밤), another Korean gangster movie, which seems to repeat the trope of bad-guy-on-the-run-meets-lost-girl found in my previously watched Korean Jo-Phil: The Dawning Rage, where the main character, a crooked police officer is radically impacted after failing to save a lost teenager.  (And also in the fascinating The Wild Goose Lake.) The current film is stronger however in creating the bond between the few-words gangster on the run and the reluctant guest Jae-yeon who is on a run of a different magnitude. While the battle scenes are still grand-guignolesque (if very violent) in a Kill Bill spirit, and the gang leaders always caricaturesque, the interplay between the main characters makes Night in Paradise a pretty good film (and explains why it got selected for the Venice Film Festival of 2020). Also went through the appalling Yamakasi by Luc Besson, a macho, demagogical, sexist, simplist, non-story…

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