Yzabel

Book reviews, and my personal reflections about writing.

Bitch Doctrine

Bitch Doctrine - Laurie Penny

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Hm, OK, this is a little difficult to review, because… I pretty much agree with Laurie Penny in general in this series of essays (I can’t tell about their other writrings, as I haven’t read them at present). Most of what I’ve just read here, are things I was already thinking on my own anyway.

Maybe I also feel this hits closer to home because of Laurie’s gender identity. I, too, was born sexually female, but I don’t identify as a woman (nor as a man)… yet society insists on treating me like a woman nonetheless, so no matter what, whatever women in general have to face, I have to face it, too, with the ‘bonus’ of not even fitting in properly.

Political essays notwithstanding, Laurie makes fair points about quite a few things that may not be so apparent at first, but do make sense. For instance, the fact that Siri & al. are given female voices, making them closer to the stereotypical ‘female customer service rep (preferably with low wages, yes I’ve worked that job, too, can you tell?’). I don’t recall ever having heard a male voice used in that context. Except on my GPS. But then, I’ve uploaded Darth Vader’s voice to my GPS for the lulz.

While I usually tend to be moderate, or try to be, all the more on internet where just about anything can degenerate into flame wars… Well, I do understand anger. I do understand calling a spade a spade, because subtlety can only take you so far. Subtlety is also the perfect excuse we can serve to people who don’t want to acknowledge what we have to say, and can then easily pretend that they didn’t get the point, that we weren’t ‘clear enough’, that we ‘can’t express ourselves.’
(Note: I mean ‘we’ as in ‘people’, not necessarily women.)

So, at times, enough with subtlety. Enough with double standards and with a good deal of human beings having to shut up because otherwise they’d be threatening the ‘current order’. If people behave like turds and then feel offended to be called up on that, maybe they shouldn’t behave like turds for starters.

Perhaps it’s even more valid now, being angry and refusing to shut up: because we’re in 2018, and perhaps feeling that our Western societies have progressed much (I can’t speak for other societies, I’ve only lived in Western Europe so far). And there comes the false, lulling sense of safety: ‘surely things have changed by now?’ Yes, they’ve changed, but they could revert back insidiously if enough people start shutting up and be content with the status quo, which in itself is not equal (I completely agree that, once you’ve scratched the layer of varnish, it’s still about white men, most often older men, who keep hoarding power).

The essays here aren’t perfect; they won’t bring you that many new things if you’ve already read a lot on the topics they deal with; and sometimes, I felt like they were dragging in circles. Nevertheless, Laurie’s writing is powerful, and deserves to be read.

It's a Question of Space

 It's a Question of Space: An Ordinary Astronaut's Answers to Sometimes Extraordinary Questions - Clayton C. Anderson

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

I’m going to admit I had no idea who Clayton Anderson was when I requested this book, but it sounded interesting, and interesting it turned to be, indeed. There were plenty of little things I never suspected regarding life on the ISS, and in space in general, and I feel like I’ve learnt a lot. Which I’m sure is absolutely not going to be useful if I write a sci-fi story someday. Never.

It’s a fast read, in Q&A format, which is ideal when, like me, you read a lot during breaks at work, or while commuting. No long chapters that make it difficult to stop (almost) any time. These cover a lot of various things, from how the human body reacts in space to the kind of operations astronauts have to be trained in, from the former space shuttle program to little things like ‘how to you wash yourself in micro-gravity’.

While I felt that Anderson might have misinterpreted a couple of questions (I’m thinking more specifically about the one regarding ‘what do you think of people who say the moon landing is a conspiracy’), overall his answers were simple and often full of humour. The man doesn’t hesitate to make fun of himself, and admits when he goofed on the station. He doesn’t always get into details, and he doesn’t hide it when he doesn’t know something, so perhaps some of the answers were a little lackluster; still, in general, this was fairly informative for me.

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. And I wouldn’t mind reading his other book, for sure.

Nyxia Unleashed

Nyxia Unleashed - Scott Reintgen

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Usually, the second book in a series tends to be the one I find weaker, but here, I actually liked it a little more than the first one. Back then, the whole competition thing, while good at first, got quickly repetitive. Here, while the characters also go through some repeated motions (get to first mine, mine nyxia, get to second mine, etc.), there were enough plot-related events to keep me interested. All in all, I wanted to learn more about the Adamites, their society, and Babel’s goals, and at least we indeed get more here. The Adamites are their own brand of shady with their own agenda, and while it’s justified considering what’s at stake

Another peeve with book one, a.k.a. how nyxia explains everything, wasn’t present here, so this helped, too. The kids do use it to shape weapons, shields, items, etc., but this is something I expected, and more credible than nyxia allowing fast space travel for… reasons? We get a few more explanations about where nyxia comes from. I hope that book three will yield more information still.

I still find the romance part kind of bleh, in part because it has the potential to devolve into a trope I don’t like, that of “will do anything for luuuurve” (Isadora and Morning are pretty open about how they’ll always choose the boy over the group; how much do we bet that one of them will betray the group first thing because Babel will dangle the boy’s survival in front of them?).

Also, maybe it’s just me, but Isadora’s attempt at using her pregnancy to gain favour is… I don’t know. It felt much more like using the future baby as a pawn, rather than at loving and wanting to protect him/her. I think this ties into how we don’t know that much about the characters themselves in general: we get that they’re all of “poor” and “broken” backgrounds, but apart from Emmett, we still don’t know what are their deep motivations. I’d care more about the whole Roathy/Isadora thing if they were something else than just antagonists. And the same goes for the diversity aspect, which is even less mentioned here than in the previous book.

Conclusion: Still some peeves with this novel, but a couple of others that weren’t so present this time. In general, I enjoyed it more.

One Way

One Way - S.J. Morden

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

An enjoyable read—it has elements that reminded me of both “The Martian” (which I loved) and of investigation novels in general—, although I found myself able to predict the twists (the deal comes to mind, but it’s not the only one), so the mystery part wasn’t 100% a mystery for me.

I enjoyed the preparation parts: how Frank gets “recruited”; his training; meeting the other convicts/astronauts (as well as the crushing realisation that he wasn’t going to be “a real astronaut”, just a prisoner sent to Mars and not necessarily considered as a human being). I tend to enjoy the hard science/technical details in such novels, so I was glad that some was included here, and that it made sense. Then there’s the Mars ordeal itself, of course, with this little group of ragtags and misfits having to face unexpected shortages and various problems before their base can even start being built. I expected a story where things go wrong, where the planet itself will kill you at the first opportunity, and I wasn’t disappointed in that regard. Also, the XO company had been cutting corners, and it shows; and it makes more sense, in a twisted way, the further you keep reading.

The main character, Frank, was likeable enough. He’s a murdered, but he “only” killed once, to save his son, and his reasons were more born from despair than from any twisted desire to kill for the sake of killing. At times, I found him perhaps a little “passive”, in that I thought he’d get to wonder about the deaths of his fellow inmates sooner than he did; on the other hand, he’s an older man who’s spent several years in jail and learnt to keep out of trouble there, so it also made sense that he’d want to keep out of trouble on Mars, too, by putting on blindfolds and focusing on his building and maintenance jobs. I believe his lack of curiosity was more an instinct of self-preservation, an ingrained desire to keep his head low in order to survive, rather than get interested in things that could put him in danger much sooner.

I was less satisfied by the rest of the cast, though, mostly because we don’t get to know them very well. They were defined more by what had sent them to jail (the cyber criminal, the ex-Neo Nazi, the doctor who euthanised her patients, etc.), than by what made them as human beings. As a result, I didn’t feel invested in them, and when they started dropping, I founder myself not really caring; they were plot devices, rather than characters. I don’t approve of padding a novel just to sell more paper, but in this case, I’d have gladly taken some 100 extra pages to get to know the whole crew better.

Conclusion: 3/3.5 stars. Not a novel I loved, but I still enjoyed it, and would still recommend it to readers who don’t mind a bit of jargon, and are interested in the struggle on Mars as well as in the murder mystery aspect.

Thirteen

Thirteen  - Steve Cavanagh

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Hmm… The premise sounded interesting, for sure (the killer’s not on trial, but in the jury!). However, the execution made it a little too far-fetched to my liking.

I didn’t know the ‘Eddie Flynn’ series before—this is actually the fourth book, although it’s not a problem: it reads as a standalone, and whatever background you need to know about Eddie (ex-con artist, estranged family…) is mentioned soon enough for a reader not to be confused at some missing backstory. I also quite liked the character himself, who in spite (or perhaps because of?) his past displays a strong moral fiber, and doesn’t abandon his clients even when everything conspires against them. Maybe he had a slight tendency to boast sometimes, but nothing too bad.

On the other hand, many of the other characters were really one-dimensional, almost caricatures: the famous lawyer who pulls out as soon as the deal’s not so juicy anymore, the prosecutor who’s only interested in fame and winning all his trials, corrupt cops… I was hoping that things would go differently with the jury consultant, since Eddie and him didn’t like each other, but acknowledged their respective skills and made efforts to work together; alas, this didn’t come to pass.

Most of all, I had trouble with the killer’s part of the story. He was too much of a villain with everything going for him: special abilities, smart, always prepared, always one step ahead, with contacts on the inside, able to bug the lawyer’s office, etc. There were no flaws in sight, nothing I could really use to build hypotheses as to what would be his downfall… And yet, paradoxically, even with all those aces in his sleeves, Flynn was still able to guess he was on the jury. I think this would’ve gone down better for me if it had been Kane’s first time only; his plot is quite complex, and interesting. But as a repeat plot, it didn’t work for me—his successes vs. what happens in the novel don’t add up.

Writing: The book was a fast read, not difficult to follow at all even if you don’t know much to US law procedures. The writing style was OK in places, annoying in others (too many short sentences will kill the rhythm just as much as too many long ones). There were typos, too, but I don't know if I got technically an ARC, or the final copy; if they're in the final copy, it's not good.

The Equations of Life

The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution  - Charles S. Cockell

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Well, that was a pretty informative read. A little difficult to get into at times (although I suspect half of it was because I was trying to read it when I was too tired), but definitely informative.

To be honest, I’m not that well-versed in equations in general. I can solve basic linear equations with two unknowns, that kind of thing; just don’t ask me to memorise really complex ones. So, I admit that, at first, I was hesitant to request this book, thinking that maybe it’d be out of my reach. Fortunately, while it does deal with equations, it’s not just page after page filled with numbers and symbols, and the author does explain what each term of each equation stands for. In the end, this was all fairly understandable, both the math and the writing itself.

The book doesn’t simply deal with equations either, and delves into astrobiology and basic atomic and particles physics (electrons -are- subatomic particles, after all, and knowing what part they play in atomic interactions is useful to understand what exactly happens at the biological molecular level, too). In fact, I found that a couple of chapters do fit in nicely with quantum theory, if you’re interested in that as well, since they explain essential interactions at shell level. I hadn’t studied chemistry since… at least 21 years, but this sent me back to my old classes, and I realised that I still possessed the required knowledge to get what the author was talking about. Which is great, because 1) I’m interested, 2) I like it when I grasp something that old me would’ve dismissed as ‘too hard’, 3) did I say I’m interested?

Last but not least, the book also contains a list of references that I’ll try to check at some point. Not all of them, of course, but since he points to Sean B. Carroll and his works on evo-devo, that’s a win in my little world.

All in all, this was a set of really interesting and intriguing theories, theories that make a lot of sense when you think about it and take time to observe nature around you. (Why did animals develop legs and not wheels? Well, inequal terrain and all that… Logics, logics…) And if you’re wondering about the possibility of other forms of life, either carbon-based on other planets or not even carbon-based, the author also explores this, going to demonstrate why it may or may not work (hence why a basic lesson in chemistry is provided). A solid 4.5 stars for me (I just think it dragged slightly in the last chapter).

I Still Dream

I Still Dream - James Smythe

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Although I didn’t adore this book, I found it to be an interesting take on artificial intelligence; on what contributes to developing an AI; on the trials and errors involved, and on how the best intentions can be tainted by poor execution, like what happens with SCION. Because, to paraphrase what Laura says about it in the novel, if you teach a child to fight and retaliate, what does it teach them about life and how to react to whatever comes their way?

The story had its ebb and flow, sometimes a little too slow to my liking, but always intriguing. I usually don’t mind when a story jumps from one time period to another, and/or doesn’t always rely on the same narrator, as long as I can follow it. And here, I didn’t have any trouble following, even when the first person narrator didn’t introduce themselves at first (like what happens with Charlie or Cesar). This approach lets the author play with more than just Laura’s take on both Organon and SCION—which was good, since it’s easily apparent that Organon is built upon all that Laura poured into it, and having only Laura’s POV would have felt, to me, slightly… constricting?

My opinion about the plot remains mixed, though, in that the novel seems to hover between being character-driven and being story-driven, while not fully achieving either. I liked the take on developing artificial intelligence—I don’t know much about coding, and I wouldn’t know how to even start about something so huge, and it felt plausible to me. On the other hand, I kept thinking that I wanted the character development part to go a little further than it did, because I felt that there remained some invisible barrier between me and the characters.

This said, I still got to see enough about Laura and the beings (whether the people or the AIs) surrounding her to get a fairly good idea of the characters, too, and of their struggles through life, especially when it came to dementia and similar memory- and recognition-related troubles. So, I definitely wouldn’t say either that the book was a failure in that regard.

Perhaps the one part that really disappointed me was the last chapter, which dragged on making the same point several times. I think it would’ve been more powerful had it been much shorter.

Nevertheless, I would still recommend the book, for the way it puts AI creation and destruction in parallel with the growing up and the decaying of human minds. (Also, listening to ‘Cloudbusting’ while reading it doesn’t hurt.)

LIFEL1K3

LIFEL1K3 - Jay Kristoff

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Overall, I enjoyed this book, although ultimately it didn’t live up to quite a few of my expectations.

The worldbuilding isn’t tremendously developed here, but what is shown was enough for me to draw a satisfying idea of what it must be like. Post-apocalyptic future, in that, without surprise, humans have been destroying their planet to the point of tsunamis ravaging California (the story is clearly set in its remnants) and solar radiations giving anyone cancer if they walk out unprotected even for an hour or so. It’s a harsh world to live in, where people eke out a living by foraging scraps, prostitution, being in gangs, or competing in the WarDome game by piloting huge robots meant to punish AI robots who stopped obeying the Three Laws (yes, that’s Asimov’s Laws—they tend to work well in various sci-fi worlds, methinks).

Piloting one of those ‘machinas’ is exactly what Eve, the main character, does to earn money and pay for her grandfather’s medication, encouraged by her tiny robot Cricket and her best friend Lemon. Except that her latest fight doesn’t go well at all, and she finds herself manifesting a strange power that sends religious fanatics and bounty hunters on her trail… although not only. This is how she meets Ezekiel, the ‘lifelike’ (an android built in such a way that he looks completely human not only on the surface, since he has blood-like liquid in his veins, metal bones and not simply motors, etc.) This merry band runs away, trying to escape their pursuers as well as to find what happened to Eve’s grandfather, in a world that would look great on screen: radioactive deserts with storms full of glass debris, enemies on motorbikes with rocket launchers, a city made of a whole landlocked float, the ghost town of what used to be a powerful corporation, a living underwater ship… The author doesn’t disclose that many details about geopolitics or history in here, however what he shows us worked for me, and let me imagine this world where Eve and her friends have to live.

In terms of characters, mostly I didn’t care for them, except Lemon. She comes off as the most human and balanced (both strong and fragile), with a cocky attitude and a to-the-death loyalty that felt genuine.

Also, special mention for the novel crossing Anastasia with Pinocchio. I don’t think I had seen or read that yet, and I found the idea interesting, as well as working fairly well.

Where I wasn’t happy with the book:

1) The romance. As often in YA, it was too much of the insta-love kind, without chemistry, and since we get to see how it started only through flashbacks, there was very little in it to make me like it. Eve took a bullet to the head and her memories are sometimes frazzled, and Ezekiel is too many shades of ‘I love you and you’re the only one who gave meaning to my life so now I’m here and I’ll do anything for you’ (commendable, but not very interesting nor even plausible, considering we never got to -feel- how it developed).

2) Ezekiel. Here we had an excellent opportunity to show a character that is not human, yet was built to be like humans, only without the emotional maturity that we develop over ten, twenty, thirty years. Granted, this is mentioned a couple of times, when it comes to the other lifelikes and the way they learnt to love (quickly, brutally, in a way that could drive them mad if the relationship broke, since they didn’t have the emotional background to soften the blow)—but then, this came through -them-, instead of through Ezekiel’s experience.

I think part of the problem stems from the fact we don’t have chapters from Ezekiel’s POV. Eve, Lemon, even a few minor characters now and then: sure. But not Ezekiel. So, in the end, we really get that ‘doll-like’ character who, sure, is an excellent fighter, but whose motives to help Eve never raise past the state of plot device. I would have loved to really see his point view rather than been told about it, see his inner questioning, how he sees the world, how he accepts (or not) his condition of nearly-but-never-human being, especially since this would’ve worked with a certain plot twist also prompting another character to question what being human means.

(A note here regarding the sexual relationship between Ezekiel and Eve; we don’t see it, but it’s more than just vaguely implied. I know that for some people, this is a complete turn-off. I must say I did find it interesting, not so much abnormal and disgusting than intriguing and raising lots of questions about, well, being human, what it means, how it is defined, etc. Did the lifelikes have sexual relationships because they were programmed to, in a perfectionist desire to copy human biology? Was it something that developed ‘naturally’ in them because they looked so much like humans and lived among them? Did they read about it, and so were conditioned from the beginning to believe it was the next step, and from there, would it mean that they could’ve learnt other forms of physical love if given the chance? So many roads to explore, but that weren’t… -sigh-)

Conclusion: In terms of action and of a world easy to picture, this was a fun and entertaining read. However, I regret it didn’t go further than that.

Please Don't Tell My Parents You Believe Her

Please Don't Tell My Parents You Believe Her - Richard  Roberts

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher.]

The final instalment in this series, or at least for Penny’s arc. The story picks up right after the previous volume’s cliffhanger, with Penny having to contend with her family and friends not believing ‘the evil robot’. One can only imagine the pain and sadness this is for a kid. She didn’t spend time moping, which I definitely liked, and she kept acting and taking the matter into hands, finding people to help her, getting to know her other friends better (like Marcia and Cassie), and revealing both to the readers and to herself that she’s made of tough stuff… But when she started writing letters to her parents, pretending she was at ‘supervillain camp’, that’s when I knew where the hurt had gone.

Also, Gerty. That character was pretty fun.

While I enjoyed it as a light read, though, I must admit I was disappointed about several things, such as:

- The way Penny comes clear to her parents. That was so anticlimactic and infuriating, since this was, after all, quite a stake for Penny.

- Ray and Claire are even more out of the way than in the previous volume. Sure, Penny gets other sidekicks, and doesn’t have to do everything alone, but… That was really a let-down. I like the original Inscrutable Machine trio, and seeing it in that state was heart-breaking.

- Half of the book felt like a filler, which disappointed me even more that if not for that, there would’ve been room and time for meaningful character development.

- No one seemed to stop and consider the Machine’s role for more than a second. When it was obvious that it held the key to who the original Penny was.

- The ending was… predictable. It wraps things up nicely, however I can’t tell it held any surprise for me.

Overall, this is a series I’d still recommend, but I wish it had ended on the same quality as the first book.

Savage Prophet

Savage Prophet - James A. Hunter

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

Entertaining, like the previous instalments in the series. The author’s upped the ante when it comes to grit and violence, reflecting the increasing stakes: Yancy now has to face his own inner demon (literally) on top of the looming menace of the Savage Prophet, old enemies surfacing again, and his own people who don’t see him in a very good light. Good thing, then, that he can still count on Ferraro, as well as on the new addition, Darlene, who may not be a great fighter, but has aces of her own up her sleeve.

However, this book felt more like a filler: a lot of action, but comparatively little character development. In spite of all that happened, especially at the end of volume three, Yancy is still pretty much the same as in all the other books, when I would’ve expect an evolution of some kind. (I don’t want such a character to start moping and be completely broken, for sure, but I didn’t feel much difference between Yancy from book one and Yancy from book four, all things considered.) I admit I ended up skimming over some scenes.

Conclusion: 2 / 2.5 stars.

Les Fiancés de l'Hiver

Les Fiancés de l'Hiver - Christelle Dabos

Le livre se lit plutôt bien, en dépit de certaines maladresses stylistiques, et j'ai bien aimé la géographie du monde développé ici (monde au sujet duquel il reste sans nul doute beaucoup à découvrir dans les volumes suivants). De plus, les pouvoirs des différentes familles — lecture d'objets, transmission de pensée, illusions, mémoire... — se prêtent bien à pas mal d'intrigues et de développements.

Par contre, j'enlève de bases des étoiles ici car je ne supporte plus cette ficelle scénaristique maladroite qui consiste à faire de la rétention d'information sans raison valable. Ophélie se retrouve balancée dans un monde d'intrigues de cour où elle risque d'être au mieux déshonorée, si pas juste assassinée dans une alcôve, et sa nouvelle belle-famille l'y prépare donc en faisant... rien? Et lui reproche en plus de commettre des erreurs par ignorance. Ah si, elle reçoit des lecons de maintien et de diction. Super. Des leçons de diplomatie et de survie en milieu courtisan hostile auraient été plus utiles, ne serait-ce que pour la prévenir que "au fait, une de nos familles peut partager ses pensées, donc ce que tu dis à l'un d'eux, tous les autres le savent aussi". M'enfin moi je dis ça, je dis rien.

Résultat: l'intrigue se traîne, car en plus d'être enfermée la moitié du temps, Ophélie doit jouer le rôle d'une muette l'autre moitié (pratique pour poser des questions, tiens). Déjà pas bien bavarde à la base, pour le coup elle n'a vraiment plus grand chose d'intéressant, et subit les événements plutôt que de vraiment les déclencher pendant la majeure partie de l'histoire. Ses pouvoirs ne sont de plus pas vraiment bien exploités, à part quelques passages de miroirs.

Alors certes, cela permet de mettre en scène des actions et pas un énorme info-dump. MAIS. Mais. Il n'y a AUCUNE raison valable au silence de Thorn et de Bérénilde, silence qui met Ophélie encore plus en danger puisqu'elle reste ignorante des vraies menaces, et ne peut donc pas s'y préparer. (Ajoutons à cela le fait qu'Ophélie ne fait aucun effort pour essayer de connaître les gens et notamment son futur mqri, ce qui n'aide pas.) Ce roman n'est de loin pas le seul à avoir recours a cet artifice, cependant il serait grand temps que la fiction de facon générale s'en éloigne. En d'autres termes: c'est bien d'éviter d'avoir trop de scenes d'exposition, ce serait mieux que le moyen employé pour cela repose sur quelque chose de logique, au lieu de révéler un trou scénaristique.

L'autre gros problème pour moi a été la société, ou plutot les sociétes décrites:
- Anima: une matriarchie qui traite en fait ses femmes comme de la crotte. Aucun intérêt. En vrac: mariages arrangés, sois belle et tais-toi (ou bien tais-toi juste, en fait...), femmes "fortes" et "dominant leur mari" comme la mère d'Ophelie mais qui ne sont en fait que des caricatures dont le seul pouvoir se résumé a être épouses et mères... Si c'est pour véhiculer les mêmes clichés moisis qu'une société patriarcale, restons dans une société patriarcale, dans ce cas, ce sera un petit peu moins écoeurant.
- Le Pôle: toutes des salopes-courtisanes-intriguantes-séductrices. Sauf Ophélie, bien sûr, puisqu'elle est le seul personnage féminin qui ne s'intéresse pas au sexe, à l'amour, à la mode, et aux autres artifices "purement féminins". Déjà vu, déjà trop vu, on pourrait avoir autre chose que la trilogie vierge-mère-pute? Merci.

Ceci dit, au moins il n'y a pas de romance/triangle amoureux (pour le moment), ce qui est déjà plus que je n'ose en demander à un roman jeunesse ces dernières années.

The Feed

The Feed - Nick Clark Windo

I started this book beginning of March, I’ve just finished it now (mid-May)… I admit I had a very hard time staying focused and motivated to read it. Perhaps because of the absence of chapters (instead, we have scenes with breaks, and some of the scenes are pretty long), which was a bit of a turn-off for me.

The story has good themes: survival; the world as we know it ending; a technology (the Feed) both exciting and creepy; people trying to live in a community of their own after the fall; children getting abducted; and a mystery, a.k.a people being ‘taken’ in their sleep, effectively losing themselves and becoming someone else. And I admit that -this- part was fairly intriguing and interesting… once the book gets to it, that is, not before the 50% mark or so.

However, it just didn’t grab me; the plot was sort of meandering, with the effect that I was very much aware that there was a plot, and of what it was, yet it felt like there was no plot. I don’t even know how that could happen. I also didn’t connect with the characters, except one (and, here too, we don’t see this character until mid-book). Even writing a review about it kind of bores me.

The writing itself was fine, although the parts in ‘Feed-speak’ were headache-inducing, to be honest.

Human Errors

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes  - Nathan H. Lents

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I found this to be both an informative and entertaining read. While the author doesn’t delve very deep into details (each subject in each chapter would probably warrant a book of its own), and although I wish there had been more developed explanations at times, I’m also aware that one book couldn’t tackle everything in one go—and he nevertheless provides enough information for a reader to go on research some more later on a given topic.

I already knew some of the ‘human errors’ presented in the book (such as junk DNA and mutations), but definitely not others, such as why we get so many headcolds (our sinuses placed the wrong way), why we do actually make our own B12 vitamin but can’t use it (same with other vitamins—and this is why we need a varied diet, with all the problems it entails), or why our ways of procreating are, in fact, very inefficient compared to those of other mammals. So, discovering all this was fascinating, and the explanations provided also satisfy the unavoidable ‘why’ questions that rose immediately after (I’m very much a why person; every physician who attended me since I’ve learnt to speak can testify to this). For instance, we lost the ability to make our own vitamin C, whose absence will lead to scorbut and kill us; but the mutation that led to this defect wasn’t erased through evolution because it happened in areas where fruit was easily available, and a diet of fruit would compensate for our rotten GULO gene… until the latter stuck, happily passed around to descendants.

I liked that some explanations went a bit further: it’s not only about this or that physical defect, but also about how we’re still wired for survival techniques and reactions dating back to prehistoric times, and how some of our modern behaviours are thus impacted. An extended example would be gambling, and why people in general have irrational reactions such as ‘now that I’ve lost ten times in a row, I -must- win, there’s no other way’ (though statistically, you could lose an 11th time), or will bet more and more when they’re on winning streak, and risk losing it all or more, rather than save those earnings. Those would go back to the way we interpreted situations to learn from them and survive (man sees a lion in a bush, concludes bushes often hide a lion, and then avoids bushes). Same with optical illusions, due to our brains’ ability to ‘fill in the blanks’.

On the side of actual errors, I noticed a few (redundant words or phrases, that a last editing pass would probably remove). Nothing too bad, though.

Conclusion: Due to the lack of deeper details and general simple writing, this book is probably more for laypeople rather than people with a strong scientific background—but even then, there’s still a chance that some of the ‘human errors’ may still be of interest to them.

Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future

Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future  - Ashlee Vance

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

An interesting read for me, considering I never went in depth into what Musk has accomplished (to be fair, I came to this book because I find Tesla cars sexy and thought ‘well, why not read this, at least I’ll know more about the man’).

I’m kind of sitting on the fence about this book. I liked learning about how Musk’s companies came to be, the problems encountered along the way, how things were at times one inch from just failing, but worked out in the end, out of both luck and determination. In a way, it’s a positive ‘lesson’: that sometimes things fail, but it shouldn’t prevent you from fighting for them and taking risks, because they just may succeed as well.

I also appreciated that the author interviewed other people, employees, ex-employees, friends, ex-partners, etc., and that he made them part of the whole: people without whom Tesla Motors or SpaceX wOuld’ve never been able to take off, engineers and mechanics and designers whose role was absolutely not negligible. Since a large part of the book was focused on these companies, acknowledging more than just one actor was a good thing to do.

I would’ve d liked it to go more in depth about how exactly things worked out, when it comes to the science/engineering part. Elon Musk seems like he knows his stuff, too, and has learnt over the years what he didn’t know and made him shoot for impossible deadlines at first (now I guess they’re just improbable, hah), and… I don’t know, I expected something more detailed in that regard. Maybe less of the business aspect, and more about the engineering the way Elon Musk himself goes about it?

Also, for a biography, I think it didn’t go to the bottom of things either when it comes to the man, and lacks a certain detachment. Musk doesn’t come off as a very empathetic person, to say the least, and while objectively I understand his drive, humanely the way he treats his employees is, well, not great at all. So I would’ve been interested in seeing more reflecting about this: coming from him, but also coming from the biographer. There -is- something wrong in the way all these visionary projects have come to be, and it was pretty much glossed over. (In short, was the harshness really needed, does innovation has to come to such a price, and would things have tanked with just a bit more empathy?)

This was instructive, and I kind of liked it, so 3 stars… But while I know more about Tesla Motors, SolarCity and SpaceX, I don’t feel like I know -that- much more about Musk himself now.

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns  - Archie  Bongiovanni, Tristan Jimerson

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

This is a very short book in the shape of a graphic novel/comics, so there’s no excuse not to read it. ;)

While I’m not particularly vocal about it when I write book reviews, and while the name I use is ‘feminine’, I don’t identify as a woman—my sex is female, but my gender is non-binary (more specifically, agender). So, it’s always mildly annoying at best when people keep referring to me as ‘she’. Sometimes they just don’t know, and of course, if I don’t tell them, they won’t know… therefore I tell them. Sometimes, too, other people just don’t care, or it forces them to reevaluate their paradigm, and, well, things don’t go so well in such cases.

Therefore I truly appreciate such books as this one—short and to the point, again: no excuse—that explain what it’s all about, and why it matters. Because being called ‘she’ is as much incomfortable for me as it is for a man who identifies as a man to be called ‘she’, for instance. (Also, for the grammar purists who say that ‘there’s only he and she pronouns, and they as a singular isn’t right’: singular they has been in use since the 14th century or so. Just saying.)

To be honest, I’m not entirely fan of the graphic style here; however, it is cute, with fun moments, and the art IMHO isn’t what matters the most in this book.

Except for a couple of things I wasn’t too sure about, mostly the two characters (Archie and Tristan) run you through a quick explanation of non-binary vs. cisgender (‘quick’, because the whole thing detailed would take a book of its own), situations about how to use they/them pronouns, and examples of misgendering and how to react to it tastefully, whether you’re the one being misgendered or an ally. Among such situations, when loved ones misgender you, but you know they’re supportive in plenty of other ways, ranting is not useful. But sometimes, too, when people deliberately refuse to acknowledge you (binary or non-binary, this is part of your identity, after all), and make fun of you and/or are deliberately hurtful, it’s also good to be reminded that it’s OK to let go of what is, all in all, abusive. It’s not easy to accept… but it’s true.

This book is a good introduction to the matter, easy to follow and understand, and one that you can also apply to other pronouns like ze/hir (yes, there are more than just the few mentioned here). Even though it’s not exhaustive, it paves the way for further reading for anyone who’s interested.

WaR: Wizards and Robots

WaR: Wizards And Robots - Brian David Johnson, will.i.am

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

That was a quick and fun read, even though I think it was too quick, and could’ve been developed into something a little longer without losing its focus or just filling pages: there was definietely a lot going on in this story, what’s with robots and wizards, of course, but also aliens and time travel!

I found the plot easy enough to follow, which isn’t always the case when time travel is concerned. I liked the two (three?) worlds depicted, too: Ada’s ‘present’ with its computers, drones and technological feats; the future world, full of despair but also of loyal robots holding the fort until the end; and, in a way, the world of the wizards, in a ‘powerful beings mired into their own past and refusing to acknowledge changes’ way.

The main characters, too, all had aspects that made them quite likeable in spite of their faults. Sara’s mum may not be available for her family, but she wants to further the cause of knowledge and build a good future for humanity. Ada has her sulky side, but on the other hand she’s loyal to her friends, whether humans or robots. Kaku is powerful, but uses his power and intelligence to learn and protect. Geller isn’t strong, but when offered a bigger power, he clearly uses it to help, and not for his own personal gain.

I’m not giving the book more than 2.5/3 stars, because even though I enjoyed it, it was too short to properly deal with everything, and the ending raised so many questions, and left so many doors open, for something that doesn’t look like a sequel’s in the plans (I had that feeling when I was some 50 pages from the end, and wondering how on Earth everything could be wrapped up). So, yes, the characters were enjoyable, but not very developed. There’s no clear explanation as to why the Spawn is here (well, there is one, but we never get to learn why exactly what they wre trying to destroy was so dangerous -for them-). There are too many unresolved threads when it comes to Ada’s present, such as the future role of the anti-robots people, or what she’s going to do after such an end to the story; and what awaits Geller is too vague, too.

Conclusion: Good for a quick and entertaining read, but don’t expect well-developed characters or a tight plot.