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  Firstborn feels like a golden era sci-fi story, not like a Brandon Sanderson book. Every author has these kinds of stories they just want to write down and get out of their head, but this read more like one of those old thought experiments where a character solves a '60s space opera problem with a singular solution in just the right moment. The idea of the story was really not expanded at all, the characters were not fleshed out, the dialogues felt wooden and even the moment of emotional catharsis was a bit dull.

  Bottom line: not really bad, but not good either.

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  Defiant successfully captivates the reader and ends the Skyward saga in a satisfactory YA... err... way. I think I figured Brandon Sanderson out! He takes these ridiculously basic plots, like headstrong teen girl pilot saves humanity and the universe from evil alien bureaucrats, and makes them work. But how? I think the trick is that neither does he use cardboard hero/villain characters that can't change, nor does he flip them around from hero to villain and vice versa like a soft porn high school show. Instead, he makes relatable heroes and villains that are so close to the edge that it fills the reader with anticipation. Yet they will never cross that line, even while changing and growing during the entire story. It takes some talent to give your characters growth, but also a back bone.

  That is why I basically sacrificed my sleep on the altar of finishing this book in a day. Damn you, Sanderson! I need my sleep!

  There is not much to say about the plot. Some interesting twists and really lovely dialogue and prose, but the story is quite straightforward. I don't see how a sequel could be written, as all threads end in a satisfactory and definitive way, so I believe this to be the last in the series. It was fun, but it's time to move on. In that way, I am actually grateful to the author that he didn't leave me in one of those in-between states where your heart wants more and your brain thinks that would be stupid.

  Bottom line: if you've read all the books and novellas in the series, you will obviously read this one regardless of what I would say, but I will say it anyway: it was good and I am glad it's over. If you're new to this, start from the beginning, it will be a sweet ride.

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  This is one of those little gems that Brandon Sanderson creates in order to further flesh out a specific character or part of his fictional worlds. It acts like a standalone, but it also enriches an entire universe if you are willing to spend the time and effort.

  Edgedancer focuses on Lift, a young female thief that also has bonded with a spren because of her potential to life the ideals of the Knights Radiant. But really it's more about a little girl who in absence of any societal education, makes the rules as she goes along by listening to her heart. Typical Sanderson.

  It's a really nice, short read with compelling characters and the usual quirky fun dialogues that say more than what appears at first glance.

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  Tress of the Emerald Sea is a short standalone book about a girl from a strange backwater planet in the Cosmere who leaves her small insular birth town to save the man she loves. Adventure ensues and trials that she overcomes - a bit too easily - using her reason and strong moral principles.

  I was just talking the other day about how bad writers try to create novel narrative structures in an attempt to appear innovative, while great writers take tired formulaic ideas and make something better than anything else. Any other writer would have been accused of writing about a Mary Sue who can do absolutely anything while her man is a shy and ineffectual person. Not Brandon Sanderson. As usual his stuff is smart, funny and entertaining.

  Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, this book reads fast, ends on a positive note that also effectively closes all narrative threads and gives you no desire to continue reading about that part of the world, the characters or even remember the story for more than a few days. So depending on what you're looking for, this can be the right tool for the job.

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  There is a lot to unpack from this book. On the surface, Iron John is a richly symbolic analysis of a pre-Christian folk tale, using Jungian psychology and a lot of references, but beyond that it is an attempt to define masculinity and what good it brings to the table and how to heal it. Robert Bly started a "Mythopoetic men's movement" with this book that lasted (only) two decades in the United States. Some of the things he says apply eerily well to the present.

  The book is hard to describe. It's filled with unexpected connections between concepts, complete with references to philosophical works and poems, books and movies, mysticism and real events. The thing that it most reminded me of was the text the main character reads in House of Leaves. It was a text analyzing a video, but in such intricate detail: the sound, the frames, the hidden meanings, with scientific and cultural references linked to every little thing, that it becomes a larger and deeper work than its subject. This is an analysis of a fairy tale - itself a distillation of mythology, ritual and collective subconscious -  with minute attention to details that, honestly, I would have never even thought about. Some of the associations the author made felt really far fetched. I've seen people who make weird associations like that and they are either very mystical, schizophrenic or both. That made the read a bit difficult.

  I found it strange that Bly was talking about the societal malaise that turns sex against sex and the forces that try to convince men that they are toxic, useless and guilty, but he was doing it in 1984, when this book was first published. Now, 40 years later, that's weirdly prescient. He also makes some really good points about the role of the father in the family and society, the need for rituals that people have had since times immemorial and now abandoned or even shunned by modern culture, how we must recognize and embrace our feminine and masculine sides, our light and dark sides, respect the stages of evolution and maturity of the individual, family and society and so on.

  Yet at the same time it feels like an alchemical treatise, a book about tarot cards with deep meaning, ways to transmute copper into gold using mercury and ash, only psychologically rather than literally. I didn't know Bly was a poet, but it makes a lot of sense. He was presenting some ideas and to drive them in he would quote from some poem or another, but in a strange way, like a scientist would quote from science papers, poetry as source of truth. I got the feeling that for him reality had a much deeper meaning than for me, and that meaning may or may not have been purely imaginary. The alternative would be that he was talking about a truth I can't even perceive in myself.

  Anyway, I feel this review would never make justice to the book. It was both intriguing and annoying, eye opening and eyebrow raising, meaningful and meaningless. Magic made temporarily real through Jungian psychology. I suggest you read it, but take from it what you need rather than seek a general approval or dismissal verdict. 

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  I have not seen the Stanley Kubrick 1962 Lolita and I barely remember the 1997 one, nothing other than it starred Jeremy Irons (the roles this guy takes! :) ). I will have to watch at least one of them to see how they managed to adapt them for the ridiculous American screen sensibilities. However, even in its original book form, Lolita is not really a disturbing statutory rape story, as puritans want you to believe, as it is a situational dark comedy combined with some social satire. You can compare it with Dexter (the TV series, not the books) in the sense that it features a socially engineered villain as the hero who has to navigate the hurdles of polite society to achieve his dark goals. Only, in this case, instead of killing loads of people, he follows his heart to attain the love of his life - which is, of course, much worse, apparently.

  Anyway, in a sense, that's one of the messages of the book, at least as interpreted by me. If the girl would have been of age, this would have been a romantic comedy. Instead, it's a dark exploration of disturbing behavior or whatever. The artificial nature of social constructs is exposed again and again and again in the text. In that sense, I really liked the book.

  But here is where I start discussing the issues I've had with Lolita. The writing is terribly tedious. I have no doubt that Vladimir Nabokov is a great writer, however the complex words and phrases that his character uses with great verbosity to explain even the simplest of things make the read difficult and the character annoying. Yeah, I get it, he has a very inflated sense of himself, but why should I have to suffer for it? Try to listen to it in audible form and it just starts to rush by you. Try to read it from the page and the finger twitches to skip ahead to places where something else happens than the introspective thoughts of Humbert Humbert.

  Personally I don't enjoy awkwardness - in myself or others, which is why I don't find situational comedies that entertaining. This book is packed with this kind of situations. Structurally, I think the first part of the book was a lot better than the second. Basically, when the going got tough, it meandered and fizzled into a rather unsatisfying ending.

  To summarize: a man in his thirties with an unapologetic sexual attraction for "nymphettes" or young girls that have not yet matured into adolescents, but are not strictly speaking children, falls in love with innocent Dolores and proceeds to make rather clumsy plans to be near her and take advantage of her somehow. As we navigate the difficulties of nosy neighbors, teachers and friends, legal and social rules, luck, coincidence and a poor assessment of the situation, our hero swings wildly from knave to victim, from mad evil genius to ridiculous man, from jealous lover to loving father and then back again. The book explores the vast difference between our customs and social expectations and the state of the real world. It doesn't judge, it just describes, and that might be off-putting for some, for various reasons.

  I liked the book, I think it is worth notching it off the list, but it read like an overeducated Oba Yozo or Meursault falling in love with a wild child, and the whole world made a big deal out of the story subject. I enjoyed more the underlying notes of social satire (which are exacerbated by the reaction to the book) than the actual book. In current parlance, it's like a less entertaining YouTube video on a spicy subject which results in hilarious reaction videos.

Happy Birthday, LiChess Tools!

It was one year ago that LiChess Tools was first published on GitHub. It was like the birth of a child, having spent a few weeks in gestation as an extension I would only use for myself. It was doing just the simplest of things at the time:

  • opening friends box automatically on page load, so that you see if you have any friends online
  • making sound alerts when friends started playing, so you can watch your favorite chess players the moment they start a game
  • pressing Shift-Right to choose a random variation from current position in analysis or study
  • sticky Preview mode in studies, so that you can move from chapter to interactive chapter and keep playing without seeing the move list
  • setting a minimum engine depth, so that the local engine would run automatically if a lower cloud depth was displayed

It had the Preferences in the extension popup, because they were so few features. The code was so awful that I didn't dare tell anyone about it.

Now this has become a behemoth with close to 100 different tools and bright prospects for the future.

I would like to thank the community, such as it is, because even if only one person was giving me feedback in a month, it could have happened when I was feeling low or stressed or unmotivated and it would perk me up immediately. Thank you a lot, guys!

For some weird reason (all passionate devs are weird) there was nothing more motivating than some kid wanting a feature, first thinking it was impossible, then getting the nagging feeling that I should think about it more, then finding a brilliant lateral solution, implementing it, improving on it, then delivering everything within the hour only to get a bored "thanks" at the end. But that thanks was all I needed to carry on. Occasionally I get thankful notes from people and it makes my day.

Right now LiChess Tools has 2500 daily users and 26 ratings that average to 4.8 stars. It's not the quantity, but the quality, though. The extension is focused on chess analysis and ease of learning. It's basically a pro tool, aimed at chess enthusiasts, coaches, schools and chess professionals. With such a scope, 2500 users is huge! And we'll get even higher.

At the time of this writing, plans are in motion to use the OBS integration feature of LiChess Tools for the official Lichess Sharjah Masters broadcast on the 14th of May, presented by WIM Irene Kharisma Sukandar. Oooh, I hope it doesn't break midway 😱

[youtube:kslb3y4W7RM]

But there is more! I am working with the Lichess devs to streamline some of the more hackish features of the extension so that it can be used en masse without bothering the Lichess servers. I've received some suggestions from GMs and IMs and chess coaches that I will implement in LiChess Tools and I will support a plan to update the chess openings list in Lichess (as well as in Lichess Tools).

So there are some great opportunities open to the extension in the near future and hopefully they will make this blossom into something even more special!

The next major version (3.*) will probably restructure the features into more mature tools, focus on performance and adding more "epic" features, like:

  • full Client Side Analysis - including brilliant/good/best move detection ideas, statistics and charts
  • a more complete and user friendly Explorer Practice module
  • Chessable-like interface for Studies and spaced repetition features

There is also time for a rebranding. I am tired of people thinking I am talking about the Tools menu in Lichess. Right now the best idea I have is Prometheus for Lichess. I just hope Thibault is not going to nail me to a mountain and sic the Lichess owl on my liver. Perhaps you guys can come with better ideas.

Rebranding doesn't come with corporate goals and premium tiers, though. LiChess Tools will always be free, regardless of its name, so don't worry.

So, let's celebrate by singing along with the official LiChess Tools theme and hope for an even more awesome year!

It's made with AI, so it's cool by default 😁

Enjoy chess, Lichess and LiChess Tools!

P.S. Bring me your stories, people! I want to know how you use the extension. Join the LiChess Tools users team and share your experience with all of us.

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  Extra Virginity is basically a reportage, exploring the world of olive oil from its influence in antiquity on health, religion, economy and culture to the huge counterfeiting industry making billions yearly by selling us unhealthy crap under the guise of olive oil. It seems Tom Mueller specializes in this kind of report-books, having done multiple investigations into different domains, like health or whistleblowers.

  I was afraid the book was going to be too dry, but it wasn't. The author makes many interesting connections with people all over the world, interviews them and writes their story in the book with competence. If I were to complain about something, it was that some things were repeated throughout the book. Perhaps limiting it to just the essentials and editing more of the fluff would have resulted in a more impactful book, but overall I liked it.

  I also think it's an important book to read to understand not only oil, but our entire food industry and the supply chains that feed it. The most disgusting thing in the book, for me, was when it described how Europeans and Americans are being trained to associate olive oil with the bland industrially deodorized mix of different cheap oils, so when we get to taste the real thing we are shocked by its taste and believe it is counterfeit.

  Personally I've had the opportunity to taste and use regularly real olive oil and I can tell you that, yes, there is a big difference. The book goes further to talk not only of the taste, but the many apparent health benefits of real olive oil, which makes the counterfeiting industry not only guilty of fraud and wrong when they declare that if you can't tell the difference, why should it matter, but also enemy of public health, even when they don't serve you contaminated or poisoned oil (which also happened).

  In short, read this. It says a lot about the world we live in. Not a happy book.

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  I did not like this book. The whole idea in Primitives is that two relatively identical characters, in almost identical situations, somehow get together for a sequel. The rest is so pointless as to be irrelevant.

  Maybe I am being overly harsh, but consider this: the world has ended, a disease and then a universal antidote that had even worse side effects have seen to that. And so we are somewhere decades into the future, where some kids, raised by educated scientists in what's essentially a zombie world, show us that indeed there is no hope for humanity, because they are entitled, stupid and strong willed to make all the bad decisions they can make. Ugh! Long story short: the world had ended and our only hope are Gen-Zs. We're doomed!

  Erich Krauss' writing style is first person from the viewpoint of the kids, so it's really painful even if it's not technically awful. I almost didn't finish the book, but I chose the pain now rather than the regret that would always follow me around if I didn't find out for sure the book was shit to its very end. And what an end that was... Ugh, part 2.

  Bottom line: don't read this. It's not good.

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  Wow! This thing hit hard. In The Test, Sylvain Neuvel tells the story of a British citizenship test that a man has to take so that he is not deported with his family back to Iran, where it is not safe for them. The testing goes awry and nasty things happen. But the real important factors are the people involved and how, with often good intentions, they do terrible things.

  The story is deeply satirical without being amusing. The way form is respected in strict ways that are completely antithetical to the spirit or principle of the thing is especially gruesome. The ending is not even sad, it's devastating.

  Good stuff! And it's a short story. Read it. 

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  I wanted to start the review with the tired "A love letter to fungi" cliché, but I stopped because I realized the feeling I get from the book is not love, but awe. Merlin Sheldrake is indeed enamored with fungi, but Entangled Life shines with admiration and the amazement of discovery for this life kingdom. The thesis of the book is that everything alive right now is supported by the fungal network either from below or above.

  For example modern plants, and especially the ones we use for food, cannot even grow without mycelial networks. They exist in symbiosis by feeding fungi sugars obtained through photosynthesis and receiving from them minerals and other soil resources. It's not just a matter of supplanting resources, though. Fungi form complex networks that collaborate and share resources and information. They are more than alive, they are decision makers, choosing to feed one plant more or less, moving resources from healthy to sick plants, keeping tight and efficient portfolios (heh, folios) of different organisms that help it grow and survive.

  Is it really symbiosis or is it farming? Who is farming whom, then? And where one individual start and one end if their lives are strongly connected through the Wood Wide Web?

  Without fungi there would be no soil and perhaps we are unaware of how much of the human pollution is being offset by these master decomposers. Their influence starts from the very base of the food chain and ends with the cultural: without fungi there would be no alcohol, for example, and that seems to have been a very influential substance in our own evolution from monkeys to overthinking apes. That and bread, I guess...

  The writing style was a bit exuberant and sometimes repetitive, but this book is filled with information and not the one I had expected either. I've read some books about fungi and they all kind of revolved around some very common pieces of knowledge. Entangled Life seems to be complementary to those books, skipping over lazy common information and bringing hands-on and modern research knowledge.

  What can I say? I loved this book and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

  P.S. And it's not even that long. From the 800 e-book pages, 300 were end of the book notes, which BTW were very detailed and brought forth a whole new level of data. But if you just want to read a book about how important (and poorly researched) fungi are, you can just read the first 500 pages and be done with it.

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  It took me forever to read this rather short book, because I didn't want to. The Genocides features unlikable characters in a bland setting and written by Thomas M. Disch in a way that feels very religious, without also feeling spiritual. It was written in 1965, but feels older than that: it's unnecessarily dated, it brings nothing new to the table, it lacks any kind of moral or closure. Basically a bunch of rednecks die slowly as the Earth is choked by alien plants. The alien plants were the most interesting bit, but they were not really explored in any detail. I hated this book.

  In a way, it started really well. You have some spores that apparently arrived from outer space germinating like crazy into plants that choke everything, are not nutritious and adapt to anything people throw at them. The human response is swift: total societal collapse, followed by widespread famine, ecological death and ultimately extinction. And with humanity's whimpery end as the background we... read about a village controlled by a tyrannical religious patriarch as they... can do nothing about anything and die.

  The main characters are a family of hicks running the village and trying to save its people, a guy from the city bent on slow revenge, a bunch of cardboard people who are mostly represented by a number of how many are left. None of them actually achieve what they set up to do. They all fail miserably, disgustingly and pathetically, kind of like how the author himself died in 2008 when he killed himself. And then the book ends.

  The writing style was decent, but it was so obvious that everything was connected to some kind of biblical metaphor the author had in mind, even when it was not spelled out. It all felt like the sermon of that one skinny priest that doesn't seem to ever enjoy anything and resents it in other people. I don't know who recommended this book to me, but now I have a desire for slow humiliating revenge against them.

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  I really tried, but it was impossible to enjoy, especially after the second season started. It's like someone took the wrong bits of Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist and Bleach and mashed them together in this mindless story. I was pushed to it by the very nice writing YouTube channel Savage Books, but in this case they messed up. Or maybe they were talking about season 700, the manga or whatever.

  So in Jujutsu Kaisen there is this kid who is preternaturally strong, but also kind, good looking and loves his grandfather. In hospital, grandpa tries to tell him something ominous about the boy's parents, gets interrupted, then proceeds on spouting some nonsense about helping as many people as you can, even if it's just one, then promptly dies. And then it appears his friends in a spiritualist high school club are about to unleash an ancient curse, so naturally someone from a secret society comes to take care of it, the boy gets in the middle and ends up eating a mummified finger that gives him demonic powers but also a demon inhabitant of his body.

  All well and good, but then it's just one full season of Japanese Hogwarts, complete with one dimensional quirky characters, dangers that seem to be handled exclusively by untrained kids, manic teachers and disgusting evil villain who attacks randomly and usually pointlessly. The inner demon barely makes any appearance and to be honest, his allies and friends seem a lot more unhinged. I would have maybe watched the mind numbing uplevelling of the main characters some more if they didn't completely change page in season 2.

  The animation is different, the characters are different and, even if I know the regular ones will return in a few episodes, I couldn't make myself care. I understand that almost everything in Japan has a form and the more derivative and ritualistic something is, the more powerful - hell, it's the same in Western society, we just don't openly admit it, but this was being derivative in all the wrong ways, then changing things in the worst possible direction. And of course, it was terribly boring as well.

Bottom line: no more "Sorcery Battle" for me.

P.S. Oh, hell, it's even a sequel. Yuck!

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  I didn't know what to expect from Human Errors. Pointedly, Nathan H. Lents was describing the various biological systems that are not quite efficient in their functionality. But he goes further, explaining the molecular mechanisms that led to these errors, the evolutionary, sexual and societal pressures, all in a clear and understandable way. I've learned a lot from the book and I recommend it warmly.

  The book is structured into 8 parts: an introduction, six chapters on various themes, then an epilogue describing what the future may hold. The chapters talk about errors in: bones and anatomy, nutrition, genomics, fertility, immunity and the brain. Well researched and informative, one flaw of the book is that sometimes it comes up with very definitive explanations to something or some discussion about how a design should work, only then to add a small paragraph saying that maybe it's not so clear, but it makes the author feel a bit arrogant, like he wanted to shout from the rooftops about some things but he's holding it in.

  Ironically, this book was published in 2018 and already feels dated, especially the parts that talk about evolution of computer systems. If anything, it made me lose hope on biological solutions to the future. There is no fixing us, we need a complete redesign. The imperfections of living organisms is what gives nature beauty, but it isn't taking it anywhere. The Epilogue also talks about the Fermi paradox, which is, I believe, the perfect ending of this book about the mechanics of evolution.

  Bottom line: I liked it a lot, it's not hard to read and digest and very informative. Highly recommended.

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  In 2016 I started reading The Dread Hammer and almost immediately gave up. It felt like an adolescent female fantasy about a wild man in the woods. In truth, it may be that, but it had more complexity once I ended reading it. The problem, though, was that I felt always out of phase with what was happening in the story.

  So we meet this girl running from her father and the man she was forced to marry and meeting this man who could turn into smoke and kill anyone who immediately takes a fancy on her and, very seductively and romantically, kidnaps her and makes her his wife. Then there is this whole history of the evil militaristic misogynistic empire at the border of a smaller country, protected by fierce warriors and ancient magic. And then stuff happens, which oscillates between very dark magical blackmail horror and rather silly and random romances and clumsy politics. Honestly, it was like someone was trying to write teen Irish Tarzan, but for children.

  Somehow, when I was getting chills about the horror of a situation and preparing for the worst, nothing actually happened. When I was chilling and not expecting anything interesting to happen, something did happen. But mostly everything felt random. Add to this that the story doesn't actually end in any way with the book, and I felt little satisfaction reading it and even less getting to a completely bland cliffhanger. Or rather, the end of the first volume of a story.

  Now I feel like I've DNF'd the book twice, even if I did manage to get to the end and for some lengthy parts of the book I was actually invested in the characters. I liked The Red series by Linda Nagata/Trey Shiels, but I won't continue with this. And why the hell was it called The Dread Hammer? It has absolutely no relevance to the story for now. 

  Bottom line: not a very good book, but it had a lot of potential, which is sad. I will raise my original rating with a star, but I can't recommend it to anyone.