Archive for Stieg Larsson

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 Redeemer (Jo Nesbo)

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , on April 28, 2012 by xi'an

I picked this book in Oxford two months ago with some reticence because of “The next Stieg Larsson” sticker on it… Indeed, I did not like the underlying message of the Larsson Millenium trilogy, even though I admired the efficiency of the story-telling. Now, The Redeemer is the first book by Jo Nesbo I read and I rather liked it, at least conditional on the serial killer genre. Maybe the fact that it takes place in Oslo, a city I particularly like, makes it more interesting. Maybe the convoluted psychological features of the detective Harry and of the killers are much more convincing than in Larsson‘s books.

And our prejudices solve cases. Because they are not based on lack of knowledge, but on actual facts and experience. In this room we reserve the right to discriminate against everyone, regardless of race, religion, or gender. Our defence is that it is not exclusively the weakest members of the society  who are discriminated against (…) Since we work with probabilities and limited knowledge, we cannot afford to ignore knowledge wherever we find it.” J. Nesbo, The Redeemer (p. 143)

The central character is the detective, Harry Hole, who is looking as much for his true self than for the murderer. He is fighting against alcoholism, which almost had him thrown out of the police, against religious fanaticisms, against corruption within the force, against turning sexual encounters into longer term relationships and against regrets about his separation from his girlfriend Rakel, but (minor spoiler!) falls short of winning all those battles. Other characters are also well-built, from the professional assassin to the highly various actors from the Salvation Army. And the underlying theme of young girls’ abuses make the quest for the assassin more dramatic, with the endings completely unexpected. (If somewhat unrealistic.) I also like the understated way the story unfolds, which sounds very suited to snow-encased Oslo (even though some of its harsher aspects emerge at times). I should have read the three previous novels by Jo Nesbo in the series, but The Redeemer can easily be read as a stand-alone. Not perfect, but quite enjoyable and definitely gripping.

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 1,243 1,039 583 575 531 529 505 404 395 372 298 298 288 282 279 257 256 253 243 216 203

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…

Millenium [end]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , on September 25, 2010 by xi'an

Unsurprisingly, having started it, I completed the cycle of Millenium by watching the number 2 and number 3 films. They rather accurately correspond to the books of Stieg Larssen, The Girl who played with fire and to The Girl who kicked the hornets’ nest. (I think the third movie is not out yet in the US, since the second one was played in a movie theatre in Banff last week… It is nonetheless possible to see it in Swedish or in French!)

While, once again, the acting of Noomi Rapace is truly as convincing in her acting (and as driving the movie) as in the first movie, the second movie is somehow missing the hunting feeling carried by the second novel, Lisbeth Salander appearing too relaxed in her own search for her father. Obviously, this is not a complete disaster: the final scene about Lisbeth meeting her father is well-conducted and in accordance with the book. Still… E.g., the police appears much more inefficient in the movie than in the book, being hardly seen across the whole movie.

The third and last movie is more confused, having to tie up many threads and, due to the inclusion of the lost secret-unit-within-the-secret-service, I am not sure someone watching the movie prior to reading the book could make (full) sense of the story. The evil psychiatrist is well-rendered but the trial and the sudden switch in power balance is completely implausible.  The perfect balance between Michael Blomkvist and Erika Berger is lost in the movie, when she tries to delay publishing the journal following anonymous threatening emails… Blomkvist deciding by himself on publishing the journal despite her order makes her seem much weaker than she is in the book. The final scene between Lisbeth and her half-brother does not have the same impact as in the book, maybe because seeing it kills some of the surprise created by the book… So, overall, I think the last movie is the most botched in the series, maybe a consequence of the last book being unconvincing, maybe due to the hurried production of the three movies… The Millenium product is in conclusion an efficient (and mildly enjoyable) commercial operation, even though it contributes little to Swedish/World literature/filming!

The Millennium Trilogy (tome 3)

Posted in Books with tags , , , , on June 26, 2010 by xi'an

“Trinity and Bob the Dog devoted the best part of a week to identifying and separating out Ekström’s mobile from the background noise of about 200,000 other mobile telephones. They used a technique called Random Frequency Tracking System.” Stieg Larsson, The Girl who kicked the hornets’ nest

While I was reading the second volume of The Millennium Trilogy, I [addictedly!] ordered the third volume , The Girl who kicked the hornets’ nest, and found it in my mailbox on my return from Padova. I started reading it on Saturday night and [addictedly!] kept reading and reading till it was over, on Monday early morning! The conclusion is that…The Millennium Trilogy is indeed truly addictive, although not very well-written nor even altogether convincing. In somewhat of a contradiction with several of my friends, I actually preferred the second volume of the series, the first one being too brutal and the last one too predictable.

Plague ran Ekström’s digitized voice through a program called V.P.R.. When he had five separate examples of a word, he charted it with respect to the time it took to speak the word, what tone of voice and frequency range it took to speak the word, and a dozen other markers. The result was a graph.” Stieg Larsson, The Girl who kicked the hornets’ nest

This last novel has several interesting literary features but still shares many of the defects of the previous volumes. For instance, the poor habit of launching into useless descriptions. This time, instead of the unabridged Ikea catalog, we are given the complete tour of the home protection company… Similarly, the sudden relation of Blomkvist with a policewoman has been announced by red flags for dozens of pages in advance (even though it is quite a hilarious tryst!). The gun-battle in the restaurant is rather implausible, even though its role in the plot is meaningful. Maybe the least convincing part of this plot is the counterstrike at the secret cell within the National Security Agency, S.I.S., coming from the same agency but from “good” agents, as they manage to dismantle a well-organised if small secret unit that has been operated for fifty years in complete anonymity. The pace at which this reaction of the legal side takes place is gripping and helps very much at making the book addictive!, but I feel the story is stretched quite thin at this stage. The [bad] secret [secret] agents are also a bit too stupid to have survived fifty years of this regime, while Blomkvist’ lawyer sister is [again] too smart for the defence of Salander (even thought the availability of hard proofs like Burjman’s video are a big help!)…

“She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.” Stieg Larsson, The Girl who kicked the hornets’ nest

On the positive side, I appreciate the return to the main characters Blomkvist and Berger acting as engaged journalists. The passage of Berger at the main Swedish daily, Svenske Morgon-Posten, is quite convincing, both in terms of handling a large team of professionals with short-term goals and of facing antagonism from male colleagues (and the resolution of the stalking sub-story is quite surprising!). The most appealing part of the book is the unité de lieu imposed on Salander by her stay in the hospital as this forces the author to focus on psychological descriptions of Salander rather than detailing her grocery bills… The trick imagined to get her to communicate with the outside world (incl. Blomkvist and Berger) is quite good and the connection she builds with the neurosurgeon is also believable. I also loved discovering the fact that Paolo Roberto is a real boxer (who also plays his own role in the movies!) while the book was making fun of a reverse situation where Blomkvist runs into an actor who plays the role of a detective. (I am not sure I am clear enough there!) The death of Salander’s father comes as a complete surprise (even though we have to surmise that the old security agent is deeply sick). And involving the Prime Minister is also a nice move by Stieg Larssen! At last, the final battle of Salander and Niederman is nailed down in the most original (if gory) manner! Even Fermat’s last theorem comes back with a twist that makes me reconsider the second volume in a much more positive manner. I thus [reluctantly] conclude at a good readable fast-paced story with the shortcomings of the genre (not only the inconsistencies, and the too many coincidences, but also the perturbing fact that the main characters have this vigilante impulse to make justice outside the legal system)… A perfect book for a long plane ride.