A Cavern of Black Ice is a huge 769 page long book, but only the beginning of a story that happens in a fictional realm of feudalism and magic. You just have to have the classic hero journey, starting with a young man torn from the world he knew and was comfortable to him, partially mentored by a wise and hitherto unknown relative, given a reason to trek on a perilous journey and beset by powerful, yet strangely ineffectual enemies. Of course, Deus ex Machina abilities that help him and his quarry escape tight situations are also there.

  But there is more: various clans living in a cold inhospitable North, the ambitious ruler of a city coveting the resources of said clans, a mysterious and powerful entity chained by the ruler, a strange and magical race of people even further north, a secret sorcerous society, female assassins that you can't quite remember what they look like, a dark realm where dangerous creatures await release and so on and so on.

  The thing to understand here is that J. V. Jones set to create a vast universe in which multiple interests clash to create a captivating story. The writing is good, the characters are decent, but there is something missing and while I can't quite put my finger on it, I suspect it involves editing. There is too much text for what the story wants to say and when characterisation is concerned, some actions or even complete characters are just pulled out of a hat. And remember, this is just one of at least four books in the Sword of Shadows series and it barely scratched the surface of it all.

  Bottom line: I liked the book, but not so much as to be absolutely certain I will continue to read the rest of the series. When I finished reading it I felt actual relief. If you want to spend some time immersed in a fantastic fantasy universe, this might be a good fit for you.

  It's very rare for me to have such a strong reaction to a book as I has to The Shallows. A combination of high expectations from the people who recommended it and the ironically poor quality of the book almost forced me to stop reading it. It gives me a great and perverse pleasure to summarize this book into a single paragraph: the Internet is bombarding us with information and stimuli, therefore training our brains to skim the surface of things and depriving us of the ability to "deep read", meaning slowly digesting large blocks of text and fully processing what we read is now difficult to impossible for most people. That is it! There is nothing else in this book. And the reason why this book was bad is that it brings nothing more to the original idea explored by the author in an Atlantic Monthly cover story than quotes from other people who agree.

  Nicholas Carr decries (and cries and cries) the way the medium of the information we digest is changing the way we process that information. He uses page long paragraphs filled with big words meant only to make him look well read to repeat the same things over and over again, all the while complaining about people skipping to the juicy parts. I mean, I've been known to use a few pompous words myself, but I don't think I've ever went out of my way to use complicated expressions when simpler ones would do.

  The multitude of citations from people ranging from ancient Greek philosophers to Artificial Intelligence scientists are cherry-picked to make his case of the demise of the "deep read" in favor of meaningless web skimming. Carr makes the correct case that too much information trains us to not completely absorb the content of the things we read, but he completely misses the mark on why that happens, ironically made evident by his style of writing: boring, pompous, long, verbose. In a classic (by now) bubble effect, he writes a book about his fears that no one but people who share those fears would actually be able to read.

  Also ironic is that he makes some predictions (in 2010) about artificial intelligence and how people will use the various (and nefarious) web services like Google Wave that now make one laugh out loud.

  The point, Carr, is that people who are bombarded with lots of information learn to quickly categorize that information, then send it in the correct bin. You skim an article, see that it is mostly word filling around a central idea, you extract that idea, then move on. There is no deep reading because there is no deep writing. It happens with books, too. One is quick to determine when one book is captivating, engaging and well researched rather than repetitive, single-sided and written for the pleasure of reading oneself and looking smug rather than for knowledge sharing or the pleasure of others. The point (made clearer by research in how AI systems designed after brains function) is that this is how brains have always worked: filtered out as much as possible of the meaningless and tried to absorb as quickly as possible the meaningful. It is literally a search for meaning, you buffoon!

  So, yes, no one finds the time to laboriously study a book, annotate it, keeping well received paragraphs and quips in notebooks they carry with them. But that is because there is more information out there that brings more value through its diversity. In a very sad way, The Shallows reminds me of those religious people who complained about how laic books made people not study the Bible and absorb its teachings.

  Now, the book is not completely without merit. It's just very annoying. The way we use our brains does change the abilities we later have. It's what brains are meant to do: adapt.

  Would it hurt to regularly take a break from distraction, reading something that we have decided is important and high quality, then taking the time to think and absorb and maybe reread what we thought was valuable? No, of course not. I am intimately familiar with the restlessness that comes when trying to spend more than an hour doing the same thing or keeping my attention focused on one thing only. In this, Carr is not wrong. But in assuming that slowly and carefully navigating an avalanche of information is possible, he is definitely going too far.

  Instead of complaining about how we don't absorb meaning because we are too busy filtering out noise, one could be optimistic about the ability of people, helped by technology and not despite it, to improve the way they separate chaff from wheat. Instead of decrying the size and complexity of the information that one must use, making it impossible to hold it all in one brain, why not enjoy the ability to collaborate, network and share that makes it possible for that information to be well processed by groups of people?

  Bottom line: the ideas explored in this book are conservative in nature, fearful of change, focused on what drives that change yet blind on where it takes us. It is the intellectual pompous version of the old man wagging his cane in the air, shouting in anger at young people. It is a book that examines one phenomenon without bringing one any closer to an understanding of it. Woe betide things will change! Well, duh!

  It was more than two years ago when I was reading the first four books in the series and not being very impressed. Then there was a long break in which I wasn't really interested in reading the fifth and last: The Dark Talent. But I am a big fan of Brandon Sanderson so I finally read it. It's very short, pretty pointless and ends badly. And by badly I mean written in a bad way, which is quite unexpected, but even worse, it ends in a cliffhanger, pending a sixth book.

  The entire series is tonally all over the place, but I remember for the first books it kind of grew on me, even if it was funny one moment, tense the next, breaking the fourth wall immediately after. The Dark Talent, though, I hated! I couldn't empathise with any of the characters, I found the jokes elaborate yet dull and the twists were obvious chapters before.

  I guess Sanderson can't do only good. He has to vent the silly and the bad and the weird in order to write the good ones like The Reckoners and Elantris. I am pretty sure I will not read any of the books in this series.

  The first 20% of Gods of Jade and Shadow has nothing to do with anything fantastic. Since I have a large collection of books and choosing which to read more or less at random, I was afraid that I chose one of those young girl coming of age stories, because basically the first fifth of the book is a Cinderella story. Nothing wrong with that, just I didn't feel like reading such a story then and I almost stopped reading it. But a few days later I kept going.

  And the book picked up, with the introduction of Mayan gods, only that afterwards it all turned into one of the watered down episodes of American Gods from the TV show (not the book, which was great!). It's a big road trip, with enough information to basically know where the characters will end up and in what state they will get there. The only unknowns were the bits of Mayan mythology, which were nice, but not nearly comprehensive, and the final chapter. And the final chapter is full of symbolism, only I felt that it didn't have a lot to do with the rest of the book. Worse, a lot of the characters introduced in that first 20% were basically abandoned for the rest of the story. It was like Silvia Moreno-Garcia started to write something, then she thought of a cool ending and then she abruptly veered off and filled in the space to get to that ending.

  Bottom line: it was decent writing and perhaps in a more receptive mood I would have "got it", but as it is, I didn't. It seemed an attempt for something that the book never got to be, instead I got something fractured that didn't feel neither original nor magical.

  I don't remember why I thought this would be a good book to read. Perhaps because it was one of those "gothic novels" and I had just read one that I liked a lot. The Owl Service is a short novel, but it took me ages to finish it. Whenever I had the time to read/listen to it I always found something else to do. I think Alan Garner wanted to do right by the story, which is a reimagining of a traditional Welsh legend, but it ended up an opaque and pretentious mess with characters that you cannot stand. If at least the writing had called to me. Garner is not a bad writer, but the style of writing didn't capture my attention. I had to make efforts to stay in the story and not let my mind wander.

  The plot revolves around a valley in Wales where a British family owns property and where the locals are treated as uneducated peasants. The family comes to spend the summer and weird things start to happen. But they are either completely random or, when it comes to be some sort of possession or empowerment, there is always someone near to break the spell or destroy things in fear and righteous anger, which made it all rather boring. At no point there was anyone saying "Oh, that's peculiar, let's dig into it!" or "Hey, I can make books fly by themselves, let's see if I can solve world hunger or space exploration".

  The worst part was the characters, all entitled twats. Every single one of them believes he can order other around, force things upon them or do and say whatever the hell they want. And I mean everyone, including the Welsh help. If they don't insult you, force things upon you or treat you like scum just because you are different, they smack you upon the head with indignation for not having done what was rudely ordered to you. And that's the maid doing it!

  Bottom line: as a scholar of Welsh legend and the literary interpretation of myth in British literature I... hell, no! Just leave this book be! It's just bad.

  We are all racists. We belittle dinosaurs for getting extinct, we pump our chests and declare we are the highest pinnacle of evolution and they are inferior, failed experiments of nature, we, mammals, are clearly the superior product. Yet they existed and flourished and ruled every ecosystem on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. Even today the number of species of birds, the direct ancestors of dinosaurs, is more than double the number of species of mammals. Kenneth Lacovara starts his book with a similar assumption: Einstein was a schmuck! Every one of his great achievements means nothing because, in the end, Einstein died. If that idea is ridiculous for him, how come we still use it for dinosaurs?

  Why Dinosaurs Matter is a short book, one in the TED Books series, and it pretty much adds detail to Lacovara's TED talk, like all of the TED books. Frankly, I am not very happy with the series, as it often adds little to the ideas summarised in the talks themselves. Some people are spending a lot of effort to summarize existing books into 15 minutes bite size media and TED books do the opposite, adding fat onto already fleshed out ideas. That doesn't mean this book is bad. It is well written, it has a lot of useful information, but it felt disjointed, like a combination of an opinion piece and a history book of discovered fossils. It gets its point across, but that's about it.

  And the point is that we can learn a lot from dinosaurs, from how they spread around the world, adapted to all kinds of environments and the biological innovations they brought on with this. We can learn from their apparently absolute dominion and their immediate and humiliating downfall. Being at the top of the food chain is not only a matter of prideful boasting, but also a fragile spot with multiple dependencies. Once the natural order is disrupted, the top of the pyramid is the first to topple.

  Bottom line: it is a nice introductory book in the world of dinosaurs, but not more than that. It's short enough to read on a long train ride or plane flight and it can be easily read by a child or teenager.

  One Word Kill starts off like an episode of Stranger Things. You've got the weird kid, his weird friends and the mysterious girl who is both beautiful, smart and hangs out with them to play D&D, all set in the 80's. Then the main character gets cancer and his future self comes to save... the girl. There is also a school boy psycho after them. But that's where the similarities end... the rest of the story is just... nothing. People explain things that needed little explaining and make no sense, good kids and their parents run around from a school boy, as psychotic as he could possibly be, without involving police or gang member allies and, in the middle of all the drama: cancer, psycho killer, future self, time travel... they play Dungeons and Dragons, a game that promotes imagination and creativity that then the protagonists fail to use in any amount in their real life.

  Having just read Prince of Thorns, I really expected a lot more from Mark Lawrence. Instead I get a derivative and boring story that brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It's reasonably well written, I guess, but nothing Wow!, which is exactly the reaction reviewers seem to have about this book. Have I read a different story somehow?

  Bottom line: I am tempted to rate this average, on account of other raving reviews and on the fact that I liked another Mark Lawrence book, but I have to be honest with me and rate this book alone, which I am sorry to say, is sub par.

  While on the road with his mother and baby brother, a ten year old prince is attacked by an enemy armed group. Thrown into a patch of thorns from where he could not move, only watch, he sees his mother defiled and killed and his brother smashed on a rock like a toy. He vows vengeance. Such a classic story, right? Only we see him a few years later, leading a band of brigands, murdering and looting and raping, his vengeance all but forgotten and replaced by a desire to unite all the hundred little states warring against each other. Well, more interesting, but still pretty classic, right? Nope, stuff still happens that makes the lead character (and you) doubt his thoughts and the true nature of reality and retroactively explains some of the more incredulous questions that the reader is asking.

  I would say Prince of Thorns is all about revealing layers of this world that Mark Lawrence is still shaping. I quite liked that. The first book sets things up, but it is not a setup book. It is filled with action. Nor does it tell us everything, leaving a lot to be explored in the next books in the series. That's something that is sorely missing in many modern stories. In order to enjoy the book, though, you have to suspend your disbelief when it tells of an eleven year old boy smashing heads, swinging swords and leading men. Yes, in feudal times being 11 is the time to have a midlife crisis, but it is all a little bit too much for a child.

  It is a game of thrones kind of book, but mercifully from the standpoint of a single character. There is not a lot of lore, but there is magic and a mysterious connection to an advanced but now dead civilisation, plenty of violence and strategy. I will probably read the next books in the series.

  The Grace of Kings feels long from the very start. Ken Liu is starting off from a fictional empire of seven islands, but it might as well have been a historical book. Everything is mostly realistic, with very human characters that do what human characters do: harm and kill other people and find rationalizations for it. Some of them are heroic and occasionally think of other people, too.

  Half way through the book (which is one of a trilogy, of course) I couldn't keep up with all the characters that kind of did the same thing, the long expositions of why people did stupid or horrible things to others and the various anecdotes that made some of the characters heroes or villains. And I call them anecdotes because that's what they feel like: short moments that disrupt rather than enforce the long and unfortunately boring history of the realm.

  Bottom line, it feels like a Chinese Game of Thrones, with less interesting characters and no magic as of yet. It's not badly written, quite the contrary, but its subject is long winding and doesn't interest me. I will therefore abandon reading it.

  Wakenhyrst is very well written, but where it excels is the dissection of the hypocrisy of people. Michelle Paver is telling the story from the viewpoint of a young girl who must navigate the world and her own adolescence in the house of a father that has no love for her or for her mother, finds every reason to blame others for his shortcomings and deeds, and yet is untouchable because he is a man and the lord of the manor. What legions of screeching feminists could not do, Paver manages with her subdued, yet defiant description of how women are used and ignored and pretty much treated as glorified pets. It is impossible to not hate the father figure in the book, even as the main character is torn between wanting to forgive him and dealing with the creepy and sometimes evil shit he pulls. The ending is powerful, as the daughter finds the strength to sublimate her hate into an even more appropriate emotion: pity.

  But the story's power is not limited to the detailed analysis of the human psyche. It binds together Anglican folklore, medieval beliefs about devils and angels and art, whitewashed (in the actual sense of the term) by Puritans and systematically destroyed by Victorians, the power of untamed nature and the horror of the human complacency. How refreshing to have a very young girl be the rational and intelligent agent that fends for herself in a world of mystical belief and societal poppycock, so that we can identify with her and see it as it was. How wonderful to have Paver describe it all without any trace of anachronism, as if she has lived in that world herself.

  The story starts slow and the pace almost never picks up, yet the tension and the level of details are constantly increasing, managing to somehow convey at the same time two distinct and contrary feelings: one of slow burn and the other of untamed power rising to a crescendo. It brilliantly mingles the oppressive hot wet feel of subconscious fear and superstition with cold analytical reason as its adversary. In the beginning I wanted to rate it above average only, but now, the more I think about it the more I admire the writing and the way the book tells the story. Good job, Michelle Paver!

  Bottom line: move past the slower start, it is certainly worth reading. A gothic tale of subliminal supernatural horror and a very human and real one at the same time.

  Salvation Lost is the second book in the Salvation Sequence trilogy from Peter F. Hamilton. I was commenting on the previous book saying that it is mostly filler and action that is irrelevant to the larger story. This book is a lot more action packed and a bit more interesting, but ultimately just as pointless. A lot of characters that will only get relevant in the third book, if at all, a lot of stories that happen in the past as we know what is going 10000 years into the future and no closure on anything. The horror of the alien invasion is powerful, but not as much as it could have been. The story invests so much in some people only to kill them later with no apparent effect on the timeline of events.

  Bottom line: I will probably read the last book, scheduled sometime in Sep 2020, but I feel this series is one of Hamilton's weakest.

  I consider Peter F. Hamilton to be one of the great science fiction writers. Yes, he has a formula, yes he messes up the endings, but the ideas and worlds that he puts on paper have rarely disappointed me. I can't say that of Salvation, either, but I didn't especially like it, as it gives away too much too soon, then proceeds on boring or enraging the reader with police procedural vignettes that we already know will have no impact on future events.

  Hamilton has this method of combining at least two threads, usually one is hard science fiction and the other is fantasy or police procedural or something different, only to bind them together at some point in time. In this book, we see a group of people running away from an enemy species bent on exterminating humanity and also a peaceful future in which humanity has discovered how to create instantaneous transport portals to other places and was contacted by two different alien species. Somehow, how we get from one point to the other is the topic of the book, but the vast majority of it is about corporate security people that abuse their power to "get things done" or toxic cleanup people or other kinds of short stories that only bring some new information to light while eating up reading time. Then the book ends!

  And it's a bit annoying that even the technical aspects don't add up, like how you can know how to make portals, but you still rely on nuclear weapons or rockets to do war, or that people fear sabotage and terrorism, but don't see the possible threat posed by personal portals to other worlds. Gravity alterations, atmosphere loss or pollution, a portal from a star to an inhabited area would have been much more dangerous. Also some of the ways characters act are completely unnatural and it feels jarring to see them do things in a sequence (heh!) only to further the story and not consistent to their character and expertise.

  Anyway, I am reading Salvation Lost now, but in my view the first book in this series could have been a lot more, especially from a brilliant writer such as Hamilton.

  This is How You Lose the Time War came highly recommended by a Goodreads buddy of mine as the way to write sci-fi. I don't know what to say about that. He was so ebullient about how great the book was that there was bound to be some disappointment. It is nicely written and touches, under the guise of science fiction, the intricacies of human relationships and feelings. But other than that it was just one idea, stretched over 200 pages, in something that was both short and felt unreasonably long. Perhaps some time issues need arise when time travel is involved.

  What I found interesting is that it is a double author book. Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone worked on it together although I suspect it was mostly El-Mohtar with the story and Gladstone with the tech stuff, although I could be just stereotyping. To me, it felt like the story has a distinctly female vibe.

  Bottom line: it's a very humanist type of story: the time war, the tech, they are all props. One could have written the same kind of stuff about African tribes or corporate lawyers. After a while everything started to feel repetitive and stale only to reach the all too predictable ending. Nice book, but not great.

  A Short History of Nearly Everything is very well researched, subtly written and does pretty much what it says: explain the history of science up to the present as humanity is trying to figure out where it came from, how long ago it happened and how things actually work. It's a dense work, which makes it a long read. You either go through it and not retain much or you have to read bit by bit and think on each for a while. I read it bit by bit and retained little.

  Anyway, as I was reading The Invention of Nature, another great popular science book, I've stumbled upon this quote "There are three stages of scientific discovery: first people deny it is true; then they deny it is important; finally they credit the wrong person." and never have I thought about it so much as when reading A Short History of Nearly Everything. In fact, the same quote appears in the book near the end. As Bill Bryson describes it, most of science is accidental and has to fight a plethora of egos that believe they are better than you just in order to surface. Many times the work is lost, misattributed, stolen or sabotaged into oblivion by personal opponents. As such, the book has a wonderful freshness from the tired history of science that we are so often presented where very smart people think of something and then everybody applauds and accepts another idea that will further human knowledge. The book is also about how little we know about many things that usually are presented as completely clear, fully researched and completely understood. All in all, it's a book that needs reading.

  "So", you will say, "isn't this another Sapiens?". No. I liked Sapiens and its funny and accessible style made it an instant hit worldwide. A Short History of Nearly Everything is way better. It focuses more on sciences like geology and anthropology and abstract physics and on the personal histories of the people involved in the discoveries rather than on humanity as a whole, so it's a bit harder. When it does look at humanity it sees it as small, petty and destructive. Sapiens makes you feel good, this makes you feel ashamed and happy you are still alive.

  I have to say that I almost abandoned reading it; it is that dense and full of information. If I was reading a novel in three days, spending weeks trudging through knowledge made me feel both too stupid and getting smarter at the same time. Surely I could find a better way to entertain myself, I thought. This book is entertaining, but it requires focus to read and understand. In the end, I am very glad I've read it.

  This is a very short story that is barely science fiction. It describes a place of lowlifes, living on despair, terror and violence. Among them, a bland guy that seems to be unaffected by anything, but that can explode into violence in a second. If you just thought this character has similarities with Amos Burton, you thought right and the surprise is that he was not born with that name. This is kind of his origin story.

  I felt that The Churn was a bit lazy. A criminal boss character that calls his large underdog "little man" was also used in Gods of Risk, for example. Then there is nothing that binds the plot to space and time. It can be any place of ill repute, whether on Mars, Earth or anywhere else, in the future, the present or the past. Indeed, if you ignore the last pages, it's not even about Amos, but about other characters that have incidental contact with him.

  Bottom line: it brings nothing new to any table and it is barely an Amos story, clearly not an Expanse one.