A while ago I had this story idea about a certain population that has something special that all others want and that they desperately need to consume. It's the exact premise of The Marrow Thieves, and the population in question is native Americans.

  Now, Cherie Dimaline is Métis herself, so I must trust that she knows what she is talking about, but from my standpoint, all the clichés I thought were stupid about American Indians are right there. It's like people have heard them so many times they started believing them. I am talking about calling themselves Indians, I am talking about the wise old man and wise old woman that guide (through restrictions of both knowledge and permission) young energetic youths, also the non violent Indian that knows responding to violence with violence makes him like the White man, the bow and arrow Indians - although they live in Canada, so who knows, the native people that are in harmony with nature, the betraying Indian - but only because of substance abuse, something the West has brought on them, and so on.

  In short, the book says "please take whatever you want from us, because we are nice, non violent and in harmony with everything. Even if we will eventually fight back, it will be only after we've been thoroughly defeated, humiliated and destroyed as a people". It's hard to empathise with such a moral for the story. I understand it was all mostly metaphor, but still.

  Bottom line: it was OK, but wouldn't recommend it.

  The reviews for this book are great and most of them say three things: it was inspired by the 1987 movie Near Dark, it has a different - realistic - take on werewolves and it's a coming of age story. As such, the main character in Mongrels is a boy that lives in a family of werewolves: people that occasionally turn into wolf like creatures, but that brings few advantages and a lot of trouble. Not only are their instincts frustrating in a human society, but turning takes a lot of energy and turning back pulls anything in the fur inside the skin of the human shape: ticks, elastic materials and as wolves they age with the speed of dogs. Since they can't adapt to the normal human way of life, they live on its fringes, as a family of white trash Americans. They steal, they scavenge, they kill animals whenever it doesn't get too suspicious, they move a lot and they are always poor.

  I can't say the book is badly written, but it's the equivalent of, I don't know, werewolf Kenny from Southpark. It's depressing, it's gray, it tries too much to make a social commentary by using the werewolf thing as a gimmick. Yes, it's a fresh take on the mythos, but it's a boring one. It certainly is not a horror book and too little of it is fantastic in nature. Instead it's the story of this boy trying to make up his mind if he is a wolf or a man. It could have just as well been a story about homeless gypsies, without any of the wolf thing, and it would have been the same.

  Bottom line: Stephen Graham Jones is clearly a good writer, but in this case he just wrote a smart book... about werewolves. And Near Dark was way better!

  Disclaimer: this is a Romanian book and I personally know the author.

  The book is a journey of a woman, starting from an 18 year old ingenue and ending as a mother and a wife considering her life choices. Perhaps ending is not the right word, since "the game" is about the journey, rather than a specific destination, and the character's story continues after the finale of the book. Split into three narrative flows, the story quickly switches between inner thoughts and external events, fantastical fairy tale concepts and their emotional connections to the character's real life.

  I started reading with dread. It's about women. They're crazy, right? And various sources, that I was actually trying to avoid in fear of spoiling the book, were whispering things that ranged from teenage sex scenes to dramatic philosophical musings. And it was all correct, only I actually liked the book. What I think happened is that it fell under the category of autobiographies, a genre that I am appreciating a lot as it opens my eyes to how other people see the world.

  Em Madara is taking pieces of her soul and crafts a dramatized version of life where she examines her life choices, but also goes further, taking the stratospheric view of people being possible versions of a single identity that they don't remember, of all life teetering between light and darkness, life or death, pleasure and pain, left or right, a choice and another.

  In Hide and Seek (the English translated title) you get hormonal infatuation, self destructive behaviors, temptations and hard personal choices, family drama, love for children, animals or life in general, self exploration, but also Daoist philosophy, Romanian, German and Russian folklore, movie, music and literary references, all bits and pieces of a mosaic that, in the end (Ende is goal in German), make up a single person.

  All in all, a solid novel and a very good beginning for a new writer.

   Has it been so long? It feels only yesterday I was reading Contagious, the second book in the Infected trilogy, and intending to read the third one. Now, more than ten years later, here I am finally finishing it. And it was pretty cool. I mean, it's no literary masterpiece, but it presents a consistent sci-fi future, compelling characters, action packed scenes, scientific accuracy. There was love put in this. Sometimes you just want to read something and not overthink it, like watching a blockbuster movie. And sometimes I wonder what do those people think when making those movies: Infected is much more interesting of a material. How come they don't make a series or film based on it?

  Anyway, as the title suggests, Pandemic sees the whole world in the grips of the alien contagion, with the same actors trying to save it. And as in the first two books, Scott Sigler mixes some great scenes with some really corny ones, some great human insight with silly lines like "Run to the chopper", "I'm getting to old for this shit!" or befuddling ones like "Seeing an American citizen being roast to a spit does that to someone". Too bad he was American, right? I have to say that most of the horror in this book comes more from the stupid decision top brass makes, rather than from the effects of the contagion. In the end, the brave souls on the ground save the day. The ending is epic and brings closure... up to the moment Sigler thanks people for carefully advising him about consistency in the 800 year spanning Sigleverse. Ugh! Sigleverse? Really? 800 years? Meaning I have to read more of this stuff to satisfy the completionist in me? Why did I have to read the Acknowledgements?

  Bottom line: action packed sci-fi horror alien invasion flick, split in three books. It is nothing if not enjoyable.

  Nice of the two authors pen-named James S.A. Corey to publish a novella to assuage the thirst for a new The Expanse novel. Auberon is pretty good, but on a human level, rather than on a science-fiction one. You could imagine the same story in a French or Belgian colony in Africa with minimal changes.

  The main focus is on the new Laconian governor of planet Auberon, arriving all smart and proud as the almighty representative of a regime that is rooted in discipline at all levels. Can he keep that up? No plan survives contact with the enemy, but how will things change?

  Bottom line: short, fresh, easy to empathize characters. A win.

I've changed a little the way the blog is being displayed. Now posts should present a more specific image than the general blog icon and the list of posts should display an image and then text, regardless of what is in the post. Let me know if anything goes awry.

  So I am reading this book about a Black gay man called Saeed, living in the American South and having a Christian grandmother and a Buddhist single mother and it doesn't bother me. It's personal, it's well written, it's real. It doesn't feel agenda driven, it doesn't make me feel guilty about not being Black or gay myself, it makes me feel close to the character/author. It's honest. We need more of this and less of *that*, you know what I mean and you know who you are.

  In this context, the title How We Fight for Our Lives might be a little misleading. While Saeed Jones does talk about the constant fear of being hurt, from the damning official pronouncements that hint you will die of AIDS if you are gay, to the racist or homophobic murders in the US, he describes his life rather than his worries. He is never truly assaulted or reviled. One understands how strong the concept of family is in his culture when you see how connected and even deferential he is to his mother and grandmother, even if his family is nothing if not uncommon. When he spends time with his grandmother, she takes him to Christian church, where everybody is aghast hearing that Saeed's mother is a Buddhist. When he spends time with his mother he goes to Buddhist temple and chants stuff. The author doesn't present this as an inconsistency, other than in the eyes of his grandma. The moment she realizes he is gay, her reaction is "No, no, no, no!" which is both terrifying and laughably ridiculous, depending on which side of history you feel you are.

  This is a short book. It is not something amazing, but I liked it. I liked how personal it felt, I liked that the author would focus on his thoughts and feelings, his literary heritage, his own person, rather than some mythical racial or gay social identity. I appreciated describing the sex scenes together with the conflicting feelings and thoughts he had about his encounters: part defiance, part shame, part longing, part hope. It must have been hard to describe his love for his mother and yet they kept each other at emotional distance and when she died, it was way too soon and with so many things unsaid.

  "I am a person! I am real!", Saeed Jones shouts with this book, and I feel I heard him.

When do children lose their rubbernecked quality? asks Scott Richard Shaw when talking about little children fascinated by bugs. It's a valid question for him, because Planet of the Bugs feels like a an eight year old in a toy store, switching attention from toy to another without purpose or sense, talking excitedly about each of them randomly and abandoning them in the middle of the story to start telling another.

It's not like the content of the book doesn't have the potential to be interesting, the author went to a lot of places and read a lot of material, as an enthusiast does, but with absolutely no narrative thread and no structure to the chapters, Planet of the Bugs serves neither as an anecdotal journey in the world of insects and spiders and the like, nor as a possible reference piece. I mean, even Shaw's reason to get into arthropods feels like a boring version of the Spiderman origin story. I am paraphrasing here: "One day I stumbled upon a bug and from then on I was hooked. It was a hook beetle, you see!".

Bottom line: I really wanted to like this book, but it was just not well written.

 The Blade Itself is a very nice book. Well written, complex characters, vast world and careful world building. The story, however, is not forthcoming from only this book. Joe Abercrombie has barely managed to present (some of) the characters, build them up and get them together in this first volume of The First Law series.

 What is it about? In a imperialistic feudal world that so far seems split into the North, the Middle and the South, a union of kingdoms has all the power at the center, while her bitter rivals in the south and north are doing everything to gain power. The union is complacent and rife with corruption and bureaucracy, as any rich and safe nation becomes, so much so that is has forgotten even the real events of its formation.

 And yet magic is not dead and the magi return, apparently gathering special people to prepare for a coming event. And then the book ends :) I am curious about the other books in the series so I guess I will be reading them next.

 I recommend this book for readers of good fantasy.

 The Hatching felt like a cross between The Troop and Infected, but not as cool. The premise, the style and the characters felt artificial, like someone writing by numbers. Common phobias as main subject: check. Characters acting all human and relationshippy: check. Women in positions of power and important characters: check. OK, spiders don't work that way, biology doesn't work that way. If large arthropodes would be capable of coordinating in swarms, eating people, invading a human body and hatching in a matter of hours, they would do it already. There are numerous reasons why they don't, so in fact it was a simple choice: write a less alarming story that is even remotely possible or write something quick, algorithmically and that hopefully sells. Ezekiel Boone chose the latter.

It's not that it's a bad book. Far from it: the familiar writing style and pace made it really easy to read and get into the mood of it. Unfortunately the details were all wrong: the biology, the way everything happens at the same time without any reason to, the politically correct setup that was still sexist because from three lead women characters all of them were sleeping with an underling or thinking about it, plus the extra characters including some gay ones that had no role in the story at all. Now, I understand this is a trilogy or something and those characters will probably play a role later on, but as it stands, The Hatching is simply a bland average book that doesn't even provide closure. If you were caught by the story, you will need to wait until the next book in the series comes out. And for what? To hear about even more people who can't kill spiders or study them in any scientific way until providence saves them because they love their children. Oh, loving ones children as a reason to survive: check.

Bottom line: utterly average and strangely not scary for such a horrific subject.

  What is burning so white? Love, of course. Brent Weeks ends his Lightbringer saga with a huge book that completes all started threads, brings closure to the grieving, love to the survivors, second and third chances to just about everyone. I liked it, as I did the entire series, but for me Burning White was the weakest book in the series.

  And it wasn't that there was anything wrong with the writing, there was just too much of everything. A lot of new information came along, as it did in many of the other books, but in this, everything was being upended every other chapter. People have lost their memories, then they remembered, then the memories were actually wrong, but they were right, and everybody was being connected, but they didn't actually exist, but they did and everything has a glorious design, but you never find out what the actual design was and what the hell white and black luxin actually do and why people don't use them on a daily basis, etc. There was so much to do in the book that the last ten chapters (three of them called Epilogue) were ALL epilogues and then a post credits scene and even a post book scene. And we still don't know who Kip's other grandfather is.

  I am the first to complain about straight lines in books, but in Burning White, lines go all over the place, loop back on themselves, different colors, shape of kittens, the whole shebang. So in the end, when everything has to come to a close, it all feels really really unnatural and even random. Why did that guy die? Why did this guy live? Why is anyone doing anything?

  I know I am filling this space for nothing. If you are going to read the book you probably read the others in the series and no one is going to stop you now. I am not even suggesting it; this is a great book. However, with great epic stories comes great responsibility to end them right. I don't know exactly why I feel so unsatisfied with the ending, but maybe because the author build up all of these grand heroes, only to kind of make them fail until someone changed their view of the world and helped them out. It invalidates a lot of the previous books. Also, less cool magical mechanisms in this one and a lot more talking and feeling.

Full title "Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund", this is a book that everyone should read. It's not a masterpiece, in fact it feels banal, but it's this banality that makes it so powerful. Hans Rosling is capable of showing with actual proof that your world view is really really wrong. And not only you, but also the politicians that are supposed to fix the world, the specialists that are supposed to find solutions to all of our problems, the reporters who are supposed to report on the news and the large majority of people are just as confused as you are.

And it is proof of the power of the book that someone like me, who knew who Rosling was and watched his very inspiring TED Talks, was still surprised by its content and teachings.

The book claims that the instincts that helped our ancestors survive are clouding our judgement of the much less dangerous, but more abstract modern world we live in. Rosling enumerates ten, with anecdotes that feel like scenes from TV dramas only to make you doubt who is the villain and who are the heroes. It is the main idea of book that only by working with fact based information we can make the best decisions and take the best possible action to move us forward.

This is not a book that will amaze you with its writing style, it will not make you laugh out loud, nor is it intended to make you feel good, although it probably will. It is facts about things that you felt you knew, but in fact were ignorant of. It is for example heartbreaking to read the part about immigrants in Europe dying and being taken advantage of because of really dumb European laws, not because of their destination countries regimes or from poverty. It is uplifting to know how much the world has changed for the better in just a few decades and all over the place. As a Romanian, I've always assumed that the rest of the world was rich and plentiful outside the Iron Curtain and that the recent improvements in life style were caused mostly by the fall of Communism in the area. I had no idea how similar life was for so many around the time I was born and that life has improved dramatically all over, not just here. It is empowering to know that women make more or less children in consistent correlation to their income and not their culture, religion or regime. When people don't need to have children, they don't make them, regardless of what Mao, the Pope or anyone else says.

Bottom line: you have to read this just as much as you have to get a general education. It simply should be taught in schools.

Permanent Record is a very well written book. Ed Snowden has the rare capacity of deep introspection and when he explains what happened and why, he makes connections to his upbringing, events in his life and the world and has a very clear view of his internal processes when making any decision or taking action. He also has a way with words. He's a guy easy to either hate or love, obviously, depending on how prone to envy one is.

There are several important takes from this book.

One is how extraordinary Snowden's position was to make him able to do what he did. Not only is he this brilliant guy who lives in his head and plans everything in advance, not only did he have specialized training on how to do what he did and get away with it, but he was given free access to the underlying technology of the CIA and the NSA. As he himself admits, he was on a list that probably contained under a dozen people, and that only from incompetence and lack of oversight.

Another is that every large organization is the same. Be it the NSA, the state run companies or private corporations in any country, they all impose hiring limits that they break by using contractors that don't affect the count (or their declared principles). It's amazing how similar my own experiences were, but in (supposedly) very different contexts. The contractor system is a global disease that too few benefit from and too many are affected by.

A more salient point is that technology is what happens when there is something we can do. We will ultimately do it, just because we can. As much sympathy I have for Snowden, his actions will probably have short lived consequences. The machine to get all the data from everybody is already there. No one will put that genie back into the bottle. If anything this book helps the very people who the author hopes to thwart by giving them valuable intelligence in the mindset of the whistleblower and on the limitations and vulnerabilities of their technical, administrative and indoctrination systems. As I was saying before, the chances that Snowden happened were astronomically small. Now they are orders of magnitude smaller.

It was devastatingly depressing to read how few places in the world are even marginally free of the American hegemony. Ironically, he had to go to Hong Kong to maximize his chances of remaining free. That says something terrible about the state of the world. I felt like the most hard hitting bits were those that explained what the government would do to discredit him (or anybody in their way), using deeply personal histories, fabricating evidence if none found or amplifying the one that does exist. This makes Snowden even more outstanding, for being a guy with very little dirt in his life to be turned into a weapon.

On a more personal note, it's amazing that reading Permanent Record, I was reminded most of Gary Sinise's autobiography than anything else. Thinking of what Snowden did, a family tradition of serving the country military and strong patriotic spirit is not what would first come to mind, yet that applies to him and he did what he did because he strongly believed in his country and in service to it. Even now, hunted by the US government in the most blunt, unimaginative, bureaucratic and cruel way possible, like big bullies do, Ed Snowden still loves his country and believes in it.

At a glance, Permanent Record is a book on hacking. As a child, Ed starts understanding how the world works and manipulates it to his advantage, only to grow up working in an organization that has hacked the Constitution and society as a whole in order to manipulate it to their advantage. People of our generation grew up with at least the illusion of a fair society, people who would take you at your value and judge you on it, whatever the outcome. The new hacked society cannot see you as you are, to the point that makes you doubt yourself of who you are. There cannot be a fair process of evaluation anymore because everyone comes out distorted.

This is a must read book and I recommend it highly to all adult readers of any level or education. It's easy to read, captivating and relatively small. Fair warning: it's not a happy story.

Welcome to my new blog!

Please let me know what you think.

I've had some issues with Blogger and that pushed me towards the step that I have been too lazy to make for so long a time: my own domain and hosting. So, from today on, my personal blog is at https://siderite.dev. I am working on it, still, so forgive the occasional hiccups.

Let me know if anything is wrong or, even better, that everything is right!