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  Matthew McConaughey is a well known actor that inspires different things for different people. He's attractive, but intense, easily switching from charming to violently wild. He was for a while the quintessential romantic comedy actor until he suddenly wasn't. He is active socially and spiritually, always coming with some emotional speech about some thing or another. So what would his autobiography be like?

  Well, it was good, but it felt a little too rehearsed even as it was constructed as a collection of unfiltered anecdotes from the author's life. The title, Greenlights, comes from the understanding that some things in life are opportunities for the future. They don't push you forward, but give you the green light to go, they are open doors. Each of the stories in the book represents a greenlight for McConaughey, regardless of how amazing, fantastical, horrible or dangerous they sound.

  In short, his crazy parents instilled in him the moral fortitude to choose and then stick with that choice. From a household in which all emotions were heightened - there is a story where his parents have a fight involving a broken nose and knife swinging, followed by wild sex, for example - Matthew learns to live and love wild but mind the consequences. And then, with a series of greenlight events, he gets into acting and fame.

  The way the author says it, his character was formed before he became famous. If you believe he does crazy stuff now, it's because he was always like this and he chose to do it. The wet dreams that also stand for premonitions on what he has to explore, the naked stoned bongo playing at night, the choice to not accept any rom-com scripts anymore, which led to him not working for two years until Hollywood finally managed to see him as an actor and give him other roles.

  Same thing with love. He had a lot of temporary relationships and sex until he met the woman he saw as "the one", wooed her, married her and they have been together ever since. When he won the Oscar, he lost 30% of his weight for the role. I know this doesn't a performance make, but it shows the way McConaughey makes a choice and sticks with it.

  A relevant quote: "What is success to me? Continue to ask yourself that question. How are you prosperous? What is your relevance? Your answer may change over time and that's fine but do yourself this favor – whatever your answer is, don't choose anything that would jeopardize your soul"

  Now, did I like the book? I feel conflicted about it, as it provided insights into how the man thinks and feels, but which also felt bland and processed. At no time did I feel I was really understanding the person or experience things together with him. As an autobiography it wasn't very effective, but then again the book was never meant to be that, more a statement of belief on how life gives you paths to choose from.

  Bottom line: good, inspiring work, but less personal that I would have liked.

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  Prions are a fascinating subject that we know almost nothing about. They are misfolded proteins that somehow proliferate inside our bodies and kill us with 100% efficiency. The diseases produced by prions are the deadliest there are, yet we know little about how prions multiply and even how they manage to kill us.

  Prions, a Challenge for Science, Medicine and Public Health System is a 2001 summary of works on prions. What does it say? That we don't know much. Then it gets terribly technical and, as I am not a biologist, I've decided to stop reading instead of pretending I understand anything. But I did scour the Internet for newer sources of knowledge and my finding is... that we still know shit about prions!

  So, what does misfolding mean? Prions are proteins, long chain molecules that are at the border of chemistry and mechanics in such a way that the way these molecules come to rest (fold) determines both their chemical and mechanical properties. Somehow (and no one actually knows how) a protein that is manufactured by our bodies (and that we don't really know what does) gets folded in the wrong way, leading to behavior that is detrimental to the body (in ways we don't really know). There is also a mechanism that turns proper proteins to this toxic form, much like a zombie invasion at nanoscale. And we don't know how it works.

  Why does it matter? Well, diseases such as scrapie in sheep, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle (commonly known as "mad cow disease") and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD), its variant (vCJD), Gerstmann–Sträussler–Scheinker syndrome (GSS), fatal familial insomnia (FFI), and kuru in humans are caused by prions. There is evidence that the same mechanism that destroys the nervous system in these diseases is also at fault with Alzheimer's. A biological weapon using prions, assuming it affects a large portion of a population, would kill 100% of the victims, decades after the weapon was used and without spreading the disease further.

  And why are prions so deadly? Because the immune system doesn't react to them. They are not viruses, they don't have nucleic acids, they are really tiny proteins that slowly but surely spread throughout the body and and up killing the brain of the victim (not unlike zombies, hmm).

  The leading expert in prions is Stanley B. Prusiner, the man who coined the term prion in 1982. The idea that a disease could be spread by just proteins was developed in the 1960 by people such as biophysicist John Stanley Griffith. Prusiner did a lot of work, but even so, there is little we understand about this, more than 70 years later.

  Bottom line: prions are fascinating and show us how much more we have to learn about biochemistry and disease vectors. Even if we hypothesized their existence in the '60s, we still don't know much on how they work. I welcome more research on the subject, as diseases caused by prions, even if rare, are deadly without exception.

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  Lightchaser is a story about complacency, one that faults not our silly human nature but an external alien influence. The "Domain" is the place where numerous human cultures live on thousands of planets and the Lightchaser is a starship pilot that moves from planet to planet giving and collecting "collars" which give the wearer extra status and record all of their life experiences. Further down the line, the company that builds the ships, controller exclusively by AIs, will buy the collars.

  I love Peter F. Hamilton stories because they go far, they allow the reader to dream of futures so vast and amazing that our own existence seems static and impossible to explain. Lightchaser is tiny, self contained, but it breathes the same concept. The book is not the best he wrote and in fact it is a short story with a singular idea, but I enjoyed it. Certainly a fan of Hamilton's, I am going to read everything he ever wrote at one time.

  Bottom line: good hard short sci-fi story. A light (heh!) read.

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  The Library of the Unwritten starts with a magical library which holds unwritten books, whether because their author has not written them yet or never got to before they died. And interesting premise, but one which made me afraid it was similar to Sorcery of Thorns. And I feel bad about it, but I did profile A. J. Hackwith before I started reading, which also filled me with apprehension (authors using their initials only make me suspicious). But the book was great! I am so glad to have been proven wrong.

  I don't want to spoil anything, but enough to say that characters like humans, muses, demons, angels, fallen angels, elder gods and literary characters who took shape in the real world are all characters in the book.

  While the story is a young adult fantasy, the writing is compelling, the characters complex and the plot quite refreshing and captivating. But I have to say I liked the characters the most: tortured souls (befitting a story which takes place in Hell most of the time) who have to resolve their issues in order to grow. All good characters are like that and inspire readers everywhere to do the same. The book also avoided getting mired in occult legislature (like defining a series of rules or a specific magic system) or pushing some gender agenda, instead focusing solely on story and characterization, which I applaud.

  Bottom line: not a masterpiece or anything, but one of the best books I've read recently and a very entertaining vacation read.

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  I want humanity to spread to the cosmos, to colonize the Moon, Mars, the asteroid belt or anything other than Earth in whatever order possible. Personally, I think asteroids are our best first bet, but it doesn't matter as long as I am presented with a well crafted argument and solution plan. Unfortunately, How We'll Live on Mars is not that.

  Stephen Petranek starts with the old idea that colonizing Mars will be a human endeavor that will bring glory and scientific evolution and the betterment of humanity. It well may be, but as history demonstrated no one cares about anyone else and certainly not for "the world"; they care for wealth. Until the ninth chapter, the author fails to provide any inkling on how a colony on Mars would generate wealth and even there he sees it as a port and manufacturing place for resources extracted from asteroids and nothing more.

  I was curious on how Petranek will solve some thorny issues like the chemical composition of the soil, cosmic radiation, medical emergencies and so on. Don't get me wrong, I think with 8 billion people to spare we can afford to lose as many as they are needed as long as they volunteer. I am a strong proponent of individual will and agency and so I despise people who stop progress for fear of losing a few lives. But the author provides nothing but wishful thinking and, when faced with a problem he cannot fix with a simplistic solution, he pivots to another, bigger yet unrelated, problem to which he finds even bigger solutions.

  In fact, without solving the basics, like how to get there in one piece and how to support life once we get there, chapters about terraforming Mars (in centuries!!) are completely useless.

  I like Stephen Petranek's optimism. It inspires me to want to look at space colonization more carefully, find solutions and finally do it. However, when that scrutiny is turned on the book itself, only dust remains. This book is more like a science fiction story from a guy who didn't know how to write fiction and not a realistic manual on how to achieve human expansion on Mars.

  Bottom line: I want us to get to Mars, and quick, but this book is nothing but day dreaming.

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  In a world where humans have solved the issues with biological-electronic interfacing you have people, electronically enhanced people, biologically enhanced robots and robots. One of these part biological robots is thinking for itself and... that's the story in All Systems Red. Some corporate shenanigans, some shooting, some world building, but in the end I wasn't charmed by the characters, the idea or the world itself. Probably it all becomes better in the next (at least five) books written by Martha Wells in the same series, but I don't think I am going to follow through.

  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading the book. It was fun, it was pulp, it was short, but I didn't feel that need for more when it ended.

  One of the things that turn me off from AI stories is when they act and feel and think exactly like a human. In this book in particular, this makes sense somewhat, because the main character is a mix of electronics and biological tissue, but I felt no real difference between the bio-robot and the robo-human characters. System AIs were stupid and robotic while Murderbot is watching TV shows for fun because... it has a skin?

  I can only assume that further down the line they discover it's a Robocop-like situation, that might fix this obvious issue with the story, but frankly I don't care.

  Bottom line: a short fun read that lead me nowhere, but was good while on vacation.

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  I only remember about Ready Player One that it was fun and pleasant to read, with kids exploring a virtual universe of cultural references to reach the magical MacGuffin. Ready Player Two is almost none of that, instead being boring, by the numbers and most of it written as exposition. It's like Sorento tried to write a Ready Player One book. I really did not like it. What was Ernest Cline thinking?!

  The exposition writing style is the thing that annoyed me first. You know when you are reading a book and it has to explain some thing that happened in a previous book, so it takes some well placed paragraphs to talk in the past about that? Well, this book starts with a third of it written like this. A complete third of the book is just exposition! And maybe it would have been OK if it were fun exposition, but no. It basically says "remember the good fun we had in the other book and the glorious feeling of victory? Well, that all went to shit immediately".

  It then proceeds on explaining (also in past tense) how two incredibly sci-fi things just... happened: first a complete machine to brain interface that is just there and you can put it on your head and then... an interstellar starship?! Which, BTW, does nothing for the entire book. It's an impossible to believe part of the story that then has no impact on it.

  Since the Oasis is basically Meta, with a working metaverse, the author does some lazy mental gymnastics to explain how it is still a good thing and how Wade is not Zuckerberg. Only it fails completely. I mean, we are meant to believe Wade temporarily joins the dark side only to recover later, while still remaining a positive character, but he comes up as a hypocrite who has no actual control over himself or what happens. After reading the first half of the book you hope Zuckerberg is going to take over, because Wade is so much worse. And then, the antagonist and a new quest are revealed by matter-of-factly presenting another impossible technological leap.

  No. This book is a total failure. Every character (including the wonderful do-gooder Samantha, voice of conscience and princess of awesome) is unlikeable, the writing style is amateurish and feels like an accountant explains in a board meeting what has happened while the plot is full of holes and deus-ex-machinas. But worst of all, by far, is that the book is not fun at all. 

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  Clive Thompson is a technology journalist and therefore perfectly position to write a book about how digital technology really affects us. Does it destroy the world? No! Instead, it makes it better. Most of the time and if used well. In Smarter Than You Think, we read about how computers take over some of our tasks, then enhance them when used cooperatively, how new ways of thinking, awareness and literacy are unlocked by technology and how education can be used to improve how we use tech which then in turn can be used to upgrade education. So this is one non fiction book that paints technology in a rosy light and looks forward to the future. We need more of these.

  A few things popped up for me while reading this book. First a quote about teachers and medics. If you reach into the past and you pluck a doctor from 20 years ago and bring them in the present, they will not function well, as they did not keep up to date with the latest discoveries and techniques developed. However, a teacher from 200 years ago can still find a job teaching children. The job hasn't fundamentally changed in centuries... until now. Reading about how good teachers have evolved to make use of digital technology is inspiring.

  Then there was the concept of pluralistic ignorance, where people choose to behave in ways they do not adhere to because they are unaware of the position of the people around them. It was sobering. The book shows how the Internet can help dispel this problem by sharing awareness. That is not the same as "spreading awareness", the governmental and social warrior mindset which requires all people to think alike, but the increase in transparency of what people really think.

  Finally there was a small bit about how pessimistic or negative views are statistically interpreted as more serious, realistic and intelligent than positive ones. Which makes writing the book a bit braver and also explains why everyone is whining all the time.

  Of course, this book was written in 2013. Many things have happened since and the toxicity of public discourse combined with the insidious techniques corporations and groups in power use to manipulate everything can sour even the most optimistic of people. However I found the book still relevant and bringing a fresh sense of hope, without feeling like someone tried to push their worldview down my throat or predict the future for me. Instead it studies the many and often unpredictable ways in which people use technology to make things better.

  I can't say it's a masterpiece, but I enjoyed reading a positive and realistic book like Smarter Than You Think. It was a welcome alternative to the gloom and doom we see directed towards us on a daily basis.

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  A Lush and Seething Hell is a collection of two novellas: The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, where vast magical forces play with death and torture in a fictional Chile inspired South-American country, and My Heart Struck Sorrow, a story of dark magic working through verse and song.

  John Hornor Jacobs writes well, dragging the reader into the worlds of his mind, however I found it difficult to stay there. Perhaps it's the alert lifestyle of today, full of interruptions and distractions, but it felt easy for me to stop reading and it needed some effort to start again. It took me two weeks to read it all and even then it required a conscious decision to push through, though it's not a large book.

  Both stories have a common structure: people who are following the narrative of another and thus are drawn into the same world. Reading about reading, so to speak. They have elements of cosmic horror, although most of it is implied or not clearly explained - the traditional way of approaching the genre - intimating that even the tiniest brushes with these hidden realms are terrifyingly dangerous. What they both reminded me repeatedly is House of Leaves, though not so convolutedly detailed, and only marginally of any Lovecraftian work.

  Bottom line: I liked both stories, the world building, the style, the slowly getting under the skin horror elements, but I did feel the writing dragged a little.

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  Something that feels inspired heavily by Octavia Butler, Semiosis starts with a very interesting premise and continues through generations of human colonists on an alien planet. However, each chapter introduces a new generation, thus abandoning characters and attachments introduced before. In the end it simply feels too clinical, with characterization lacking luster, while still remaining a captivating read.

  The plot centers around a human colony on a distant alien planet. There are only a few dozen people and, with some equipment failures, they find themselves at the mercy of the world's inhabitants. Which are intelligent plants! It is a very interesting premise and both the generational span of the story and the cold calculations of different species that must coexist despite their massive differences reminded me a bit of Xenogenesis. However, Sue Burke didn't have the cruelty required to thoroughly violate her characters that Butler had, so in the end the mood was more positive, perhaps reminiscent of '60s sci-fi, with lots of deliberations and rational arguments as a major part of the story.

  Bottom line: I liked the book. Could have been better, but as a debut it's pretty good. I will probably read the second book sooner or later, because the world of Pax is so full of potential, however I do believe Semiosis can be taken as a standalone story without the need for a continuation.

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  Edward O. Wilson was a biologist who died at the end of 2021, aged 94. Nicknamed "ant man" for his world renowned expertise of ants, he championed concepts such as sociobiology and biodiversity. Reportedly, he was a very nice man, beloved by most of the people he interacted with. And yet, I didn't hear of him because of his scientific writings, but because of a vitriolic article published by Scientific American. In it, the author used Wilson's death and the renewed interest in his autobiography, Naturalist, to decry Wilson's views ("problematic beliefs"). He had tried to explain everything through biological lenses, for example that individual characteristics are caused by evolution and those characteristics cause the characteristics of a group or society or race in a particular environment. The article's author considered that as proof of "scientific racism", but was immediately shut down by scores of scientists who debunked her entire article and pretty much proved she didn't even read the books she was supposedly basing her writing on.

  So even when I try to filter out the political idiocy that pollutes every aspect of modern life and try to keep up to date with science and technology, I still fall into these toxic holes. Ironically, one of the last chapters in Naturalist talks about how weird it was for one of his colleagues to try to explain biology ideologically (in that case Marxism). Anyway, so I decided to read the book. I usually love autobiographies, especially those of scientists and other driven people, because it makes me feel as they did. Even if prompted by an ugly example of human stupidity and malice, still something good could come of it.

  Alas, while the book is interesting and takes the reader through much of Wilson's life and work, it merely describes his passion for nature, rather than evoke it. Even as it starts with a personal history and childhood, it feels strangely impersonal. A small boy with hearing issues and partial vision in one eye (accidentally caused by him trying to handle a spiked fish), he was nevertheless taught to never run away from a fight by his father, partially schooled in educational institutions that prepared children for military careers and had overall the belief that anything is possible, once you put your mind to it.

  I have no doubt that his approach to life wasn't as analytical as it is portrayed in the book, but what exactly that was is hard to glimpse from this biography. Wilson published Naturalist when he was 65 and, while I am sure he worked some time on it, he treated it as any of his scientific books at the time: facts, history based on journals, actions, expectations, results. I liked the book and I liked Wilson, but I wouldn't particularly recommend Naturalist for anything than a glimpse in Wilson's nature (pardon the pun).

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  Strange the Dreamer was a book that, while not perfect, was well written and showing a lot of promise. If anything, I was surprised to see that Muse of Nightmares will be the second and final book of the series, because I couldn't understand how everything begun or hinted at in the first book could be wrapped up. And indeed it wasn't, which doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy reading the book. I feel the series lost a lot of unrealized potential, though. By focusing on the main characters, now starstruck lovers that would do anything for each other, Laini Taylor left all the others behind, without a growth arc or closure. Not only that, but she also brings in another antagonist, from the past of one of the slain gods, so she has even less space to work in.

  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the first book so much that I immediately started on the sequel and I've read this one really fast, too. It was entertaining, it was exciting and it was intense in places. But it wasn't better than the first book and the way it ended, with everything nice and cozy and people realizing their dreams and resolving their inner conflicts and helping each other and so on and son on, made have a feeling of jarring fakeness.

  In short, it's a decent book to finish the story, but it went by too fast, paying no attention to characters dragged along from the beginning and left in the dust, focusing too much on love scenes and less on consequential events, using McGuffins all over the place and making people not think of solutions that were employed just pages later by the antagonist using their own powers.

  Like Minya using her powers to force ghosts to do her bidding, regardless of their own desires, so did Taylor corral her characters through the narrow confines of her planned storyline.

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  Strange the Dreamer is a fantasy book with good writing, characters and story. I will probably start reading the second book in the series immediately. The style reminded me of Brandon Sanderson a bit: beautiful and imaginative world, empathetic and compelling characters who are mostly good at heart, even when they are villainous and a bright spirit that celebrates love, curiosity and exploration.

  More than that, this is a normal book, one that is focused on the plot and characters and has no agenda other than telling a good story. I had feared the worst when I saw Laini Taylor is a writer of Young Adult fiction, has bright magenta hair and started with comics. Glad to see my fears so unfounded.

  The main characters are Lazlo, an orphan boy with a love for knowledge and myths, obsessed by the existence of a mythical city of the desert, and Sarai, a half goddess with blue skin and a rather sad existence. But there is more: libraries full of mystery, alchemy, magic, gods, desert warriors, young love, explosions, a sky fortress and more.

  What I felt was the biggest issue with the book is the introduction of so many characters that had an episodic effect on the story or even none at all. There is a part of the story where there are hints of rivalry and intrigue with another character, then it escalates and then... months pass, on the road, and those two characters don't interact at all. The desert trip itself is less than fulfilling, after reading so much about how cruel and difficult the desert is. And then there are characters like the warriors or the girl who climbs things for fun. I hope they will have more of a role in the second book, because otherwise why introduce them at all?

  Bottom line: I feel great promise from Laini Taylor. I liked this book a lot and it's her second, but I expect even greater things from her in the future.

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  Dave Grohl sounds like a very nice person. He says only good things about people, he is passionate and goofy and everybody seems to like him. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music has a whooping rating of 4.5 on Goodreads with many stellar reviews, especially the audio version that Grohl is narrating himself. But I only read the book, which to me seemed to lack a lot of the strong emotions I am used to associate with well written autobiographies. And a book called "The Storyteller" should feel well written.

  It's not like I didn't enjoy the book, but it never goes deeply into anything. Made out of disjointed chapters that factually focus on various events in Dave's life, it merely describes Grohl's feelings, but doesn't make the reader empathize and feel them. There is a scene (I call it a scene, because it really does feel like a PG-rated movie rather than reading an honest self reflection) where the band is playing in Sweden, Dave falls and breaks his leg. He doesn't feel the pain, because of all of the excitement and adrenaline (ahem!) and gets back on stage and plays from a chair while a doctor is holding his leg in position. After the concert he starts feeling the pain but the chapter ends. The whole thing is related just as deadpan as I did here. You don't get to experience being on stage, singing with a broken leg in front of so many people, the concern of other people washing over you, the pain, the fear or even the effect of having to play the guitar and sing from a sitting down position. It all feels remote, curated, antiseptic.

  You know when actors talk about their involvement in a movie and they praise everybody and everything, making it sound all great and perfect? That's what The Storyteller felt like to me.

  And I did check out the comments and reviews for the book and, while others feel like me, most people seem to have emotionally connected with Dave Grohl and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Is it because they were already fans and loved any piece of lore they could get about their favorite performer? Is it because I didn't get it? The book told stories, but I didn't feel them true. A better title would have been: "A Birdseye View of Dave Grohl's life: Random Scenes Seen From Afar"

  Bottom line: an informative yet ineffectual biography.

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  I was expecting a deep dive into the fascinating biological realm of the fungi - I even postponed reading it until I could give it my full attention. Instead, I got a long string of tiny chapters, each telling some story related to fungi, but never going anywhere. A book that is part journal, part cook book and part history anecdotes and has the compelling title The Secret Life of Fungi cannot say so little about fungi and be so shallow.

  It's not even a long book, it's a one evening read, but it never explains enough to shed light on the subject, it brings in unrelated ideas from too many other directions and has no continuity or narrative thread. It's just a series of episodes that might be interesting, but most of the time are completely forgettable. I don't know what Aliya Whiteley thought when deciding on this format, but I personally loathe it. She doesn't love fungi, she loves hearing herself say things.