Archive for steampunk

false value

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2020 by xi'an

A very pleasant eighth volume in the Rivers of London series after a few so-so episodes! The relentless deadpan of Peter Grant is back full shape, the plot is substantial and gripping, new and well-drawn characters abound, and the story offers an original retelling of the Difference Engine. (Not that I have reservations about Gibbson’s plus Sterling’s 1990 version!) Including mentions of Jacquard’s loom, card fed organ automates, Ada Lovelace and Mary Somerville. Plus providing great satire on Ai companies with a hardly modified “Deep Thought” pastiche. Enjoyable all along and definitely a page turner that I read within three days..! And being strongly immersed in the current era, from the passing away of David Bowie to the dearful impact of Theresa May as home secretary. Presumably missing a heap of references to geek culture and subcultures, apart from Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy. And too many quotes to report, but some mentions of stats (“the Red Army had done a statistical analysis with demon traps just as they had with conventional minefields. The conclusions had been the same in both cases.” (p.50) and “Beverley climbed into the bath with a second-hand copy of Statistics for Environmental Science and Management” (p.69), which is a genuine book.) As often the end is a bit murky and a bit precipitated, but not enough to whine about. Recommended (conditional on having read the earliest ones in the series)!

haunting of tramcar 105 [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2019 by xi'an

A mix of steampunk and urban magic in a enlightened 1912 Cairo sounded like a good prolegomena and I bought P. Djèli Clark’s The haunting of tram car 015 on this basis. As it happens, this is actually a novella of 123 pages building on the same universe as a previous work of the author, A dead djinn in Cairo, which however is even shorter and only available as a Kindle book… I really enjoyed the short read and its description of an alternate Cairo that is competing with Paris and London, thanks to the advantage brought by the supernatural powers of djinns. (And apparently also gaining the independence Egypt could not secure under the British protectorate.) The English suffragettes have also their counterparts in Egypt and the country is about to decide about women right to vote. The story itself is nice if not stratospheric, with mostly well-drawn characters and good dialogues. (The core of the plot relies on smuggling sweets from Armenia, though, a rather weak link.) As in an earlier order, the book itself was not properly printed, with a vertical white band of erased characters on most odd pages, presumably another illustration of the shortcomings of the  print-on-demand principle. (Which means that I sent the book back to Amazon rather than leaving it in the common room.)

The Bands of Mourning [and mourning we should]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2018 by xi'an

While in Brussels last week, I happened to spot a W.H. Smith bookstore near where I stayed and a “new” book on the Mistborn series, namely one I had not yet read. It was actually published in 2016 and is the continuation of the (homely) Shadows of Self, itself a sequel to Alloy of Law. Sounds like endless regress?! This time and this volume, it truly feels like it…

“But that is the sort of statistical anomaly that plagues my life, so I’ll plan for it nonetheless.”

The characters in the Bands of Mourning are pretty much the same as in Shadows of Self, the story being a continuation in another corner of the Mistborn universe. (Truly at a corner of the map printed at the beginning of the book.) Except for a few ones that in my opinion completely ruin the plot and the appeal of the story.

“The proof,” Marasi said, “will be in the numbers.” She leaned forward. “Do you know how many crimes can be proven by statistics?”

The link to statistics is continued as well, although pretty shallow when considering that almost every situation is dealt with by superpowers that get increasingly boring and predictable. When characters can [spoiler?!] resuscitate from about every possible form of death, one starts looking for another story and another book. But definitely not the next one in the series, The Lost Metal, not yet advertised for sale…

la belle sauvage [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2018 by xi'an

Another book I brought back from Austin. And another deeply enjoyable one, although not the end of a trilogy of trilogies this time. This book, La Belle Sauvage, is first in a new trilogy by Philip Pullman that goes back to the early infancy of the hero of His Dark Materials, Lyra. Later volumes will take place after the first trilogy.

This is very much a novel about Oxford, to the point it sometimes seems written only for people with an Oxonian connection. After all, the author is living in Oxford… (Having the boat of the two characters passing by the [unnamed] department of Statistics at St. Giles carried away by the flood was a special sentence for me!)

Also, in continuation of His Dark Materials, a great steampunk universe, with a very oppressive Church and so far a limited used of magicks! Limited to the daemons, again in continuation with past volumes…

Now, some passages of the book remind me of Ishiguro’s buried giant, in the sense that the characters meeting myths from other stories may “really” meet them or instead dream. This is for instance the case when they accost at a property where an outworldy party is taking place and no-one is noticing them. Or when they meet a true giant that is a river deity, albeit not in the spirit of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London novels.

The story is written in the time honoured setup of teenager discovery travels, with not so much to discover as the whole country is covered by water. And the travel gets a wee bit boring after a while, with a wee bit too many coincidences, the inexplicable death (?) of a villain, and an hurried finale, where the reverse trip of the main characters takes a page rather than one book…

Trivia: La Belle Sauvage was also the name of the pub in Ludgate Hill where Pocahontas and her brother Tomocomo stayed when they first arrived in London. And The Trout is a true local pub, on the other side of Port Meadow [although I never managed to run that far in that direction while staying in St. Hugh, Oxford, last time, the meadow being flooded!].

Looking forward the second volume (already written, so no risk of The Name of the Wind or Game of Thrones quagmires, i.e., an endless wait for the next volume!), hoping the author keeps up the good work, the right tension in the story, and avoids by all means parallel universes, which were so annoying in the first trilogy! (I do remember loosing interest in the story during the second book and having trouble finishing the third one. I am not sure my son [who started before me] ever completed the trilogy…)

Shadows of Self [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on April 8, 2017 by xi'an

“He’d always found it odd that so many died when they were old, as logic said that was the point in their lives when they’d the most practice not dying.”

Now this is steampunk fantasy, definitely! With little novelty in the setting of the universe. If mixed with a Wild West feeling, though, just like the half-made World

“Mirabell had been a statistician and psychologist in the third century who had studied why some people worked harder than others.”

Actually, this is the same universe as The Mistborn trilogy, but 300 years later,which allows for some self-referential jokes and satire. Including the notion that the current ruling class could be exactly what the heroes of The Mistborn had fought against!

“Not guns,” Wayne said with a grin. “A different kind of weapon. Math.”

More precisely, this is the (a?) sequel to the Alloy of Law, which I had almost completely forgotten, unlike The Mistborn trilogy, which does not help with the reading as the book refers rather insistently to this Alloy of Law!

“Sir, you said you hired me in part because of my ability to read statistics.”

Nonetheless, it is an interesting plot, with a very nice ambiguity of the main characters, who (again) often feel they may be closer to the dictature that set The Mistborn revolution than to the revolutionaries themselves! And one of the heroes is a statistician (as obvious from the many quotes around!).

“Wayne felt a disturbance stir within him, like his stomach discovering  he’d just fed it a bunch of rotten apples. Religion worried him. It could ask men to do things they’d otherwise never do.”

In short, good story, nice style, entertaining dialogues: perfect [mind-candy] travel novel!