Tuesday, December 28, 2010

[books] Containment

ContainmentContainment by Christian Cantrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good pulp fiction - fast read, interesting idea, though not exactly the most original, and generally well written. There is a bit of a mystery element to it, so I won't go deep into the story, but suffice to say that the synopsis on the book misdirects: I was initially put off by it and left this book lie for a while on my kindle after I bought it. I would recommend ignoring it and just dive in. You'll know within the first quarter or so if this book is for you.

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[books] The Big Short

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday MachineThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Extremely well written story of the financial crisis, from the insider's point of view. There is a bit of selection bias since all the "insiders" that Lewis interviews actually saw the crash coming and shorted the market. But don't let that detract from the book - its really well done and hard to put down. Lewis explains the various products and terms (CDOs, CDSs, tranches) quite well - most of which are different names for common sensical products anyway - and then goes on to explain how the mess was created, why it was very hard to value and where there was fraud versus bad judgement. He explains the greed factor - and the process of duping the rating agencies (S&P and Moody's).

The book reads like a fiction novel. Its fast, characters (all real people) are the kind you can relate to (like or hate). I loved this book and would strongly recommend it to anyone, regardless of your interest in finance.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

[books] Luka and the Fire of Life

Luka and the Fire of LifeLuka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not my favourite Rushdie book, but a pretty good one nonetheless. Think Rushdie crossed with Neil Gaiman and rather bright and written for children. Lots of mythological elements but explores dreams and families and has more fun stuff than usual Rushdie psychedelic strange stuff.

I cannot recommend an appropriate age for this book - certainly not too young since it could get a bit scary at times. All the usual Rushdie staples and extremely well written.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

[books] The Player of Games

The Player of GamesThe Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the best Ian M. Banks Culture novels I have read to date. Perhaps only Matter was possibly better.

Player of Games starts in the perfect Culture universe of parties and general good life - everything is provided for, there is no concept of money because its unnecessary and sentient robots are everywhere. It focuses on the protagonist, the best Culture player at any game ever designed. He has been studying and playing games all his life and is a natural recruit for Special Circumstances (Culture CIA equivalent) to go deal with a new civilization that centers completely around playing one game. This game decides who gets what post in their social and political hierarchies; all the way to the top: the game's ultimate winner is crowned emperor.

Interesting, fast paced, has many of the usual Culture elements of advanced civilizations meeting backward ones (but not willing to take them by force). Humorous sentient drones, interesting personality studies and a good story line make this book a very compelling read. Recommended if you like hard sci-fi, have enjoyed the works of Ian M. Banks, Vernor Vinge or Alastair Reynolds.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

[books] Pushing Ice

Pushing IcePushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pushing Ice is my first Alastair Reynolds book. I bought it because it was recommended by the editors at Powell's in Portland (the best bookstore in the western united states, but thats a different story). I'm a big fan of other hard sci-fi authors like Vernor Vinge and Ian M. Banks and this book seemed to have all the right elements of a space opera.

It did not disappoint: it is fast moving, well written, excellent story and it has it all - politics, science, personal drama, aliens. Everytime I thought the book fell into a "usual" mold, the story twisted and accelerated to some other realm. For example: the book starts out with a ship that harvests comets for ice. Saturn's moon Janus, decides to leave orbit and take off on its own - an alien artifact that was masquerading as a moon and nobody realized this. The Rockhopper (aforementioned comet harvesting ship) is ordered to take off after the artifact and figure out what it is. Feels sort of like Rendezvous With Rama doesn't it? Except that it isn't. Its much, much more awesome. Conspiracy in the ship, on earth, who knows where, some bad luck, some bad decisions and the story just keeps accelerating. Starts to feel like Tau Zero. But its not; nor is it fair to give much away beyond this, part of the fun is discovering what happens next.

Its a very fast paced book, really hard to put down. It focuses on a few characters that are developed extremely well - most of the book has a background theme of an ongoing dispute between 2 former best friends. Few things that aren't amazing: while the book is well written, the language itself is not going to win the author awards. This is not to say that its incorrect, just very matter-of-fact. The ending is a bit anti-climactic - but not bad.

Overall: an outstanding work of hard sci-fi. Highly recommended if you like Vernor Vinge and/or Ian M. Banks.

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