and has 0 comments

  I have recently read Adrian Tchaikovsky's Children of Time trilogy and, while it was good, it felt a little bit like a TV series: first season OK, the next one with more action and the last low budget before it gets cancelled. It also sharply contrasted with the hugely positive reviews for the series. But I liked the described universe and the writing, so I said let's give the guy a chance. Plus his name starts with A and I am lazy.

  And I was not disappointed. While Shards of Earth is a classic "team of misfits saves the universe" story, complete with space gangsters, larger than life henchmen and god like aliens, it's also very fun! I enjoyed it so much that I will continue reading the series.

  Was it better than Children of Time? Yes and no. I really hope the next books maintain this level of quality and enjoyment. If they do, then the series overall will be better.

  I feel like Tchaikovsky has found the formula for easily attracting the audience to his stories, but will he remain at this stage or evolve into something more? Only time (pun not intended) will tell.

  Not a perfect book, but a good and entertaining one. The addition of a bit of cosmic horror offsets the sometimes naive space and close quarter battles.

and has 0 comments

  If Then is a really weird book. It is based on some real people's philosophy on war, carefully collected by Matthew De Abaitua and reimagined in a scifi story. It reminded me most of the Pandora (Destination: Void) series, by Frank Herbert, only not so grotesque. As a big fan of Herbert's, this is high praise, even if Pandora wasn't his best writing.

  The subject is really weird and I don't want to spoil it, so I will keep it brief. After the end of democracy (not with a bang, but with a whimper), the world is in chaos. I particularly liked the reason everything failed: the financial instruments were doing great, it was just the people that had no money. A very cynical view on the end of the world, yet oh so familiar. In this chaos, some places decide to try something, anything, to keep the dark away. And in this part of Sussex, some villages accepted to be fitted with some biological implants that lets them be surveyed and sometimes influenced by something nebulous called The Process, a data driven system that works to maximize fairness in a world that is both extremely poor and having access to technology and manufacturing capabilities that can build anything. The result is a quasi feudal world, like a human zoo.

  Now, I am usually for software systems running things rather than people, however they are made by people, so bummer. Yet here "the process" is so vague and ineffable that people don't know what to think, feel and do. about it. Random people are being "evicted" from the village, whether they want it or not, for reasons unknown but that are supposed to increase fairness and compliance. Even the eviction process is done by a "bailiff", a man with an implant that, when doing away with people, he is not even aware of what he is doing at the time. This bailiff is the main character of the book, BTW.

  By now you are thinking that this is a sort of YA novel in which people revolt against an evil overlord. You couldn't be further from the truth. The pettiness and powerlessness of people is mercilessly dissected by De Abaitua as we read through the book trying to discern what the hell it is going towards. And perhaps that's my biggest criticism for the book: it starts as one thing, morphs into another, then abruptly ends. It examines humanity and technology in a philosophical way, muses about the engines of war and the source of identity then, job done, fucks off. Quite an unsatisfying ending.

  Bottom line: as far as I know this is the second novel from the author and as such, I consider it a great achievement. I really liked the writing and the exactness with which it magnified the intentions and feeling of the characters. I liked that the story was innovative and complex and weird as hell. Yet I can't say in good conscience that I enjoyed it. This is not a feel good book, just a good book.

and has 0 comments

  You know when you get a new Brandon Sanderson book and you start reading and at first you're all "Ah! He does comedy again. It's not even serious. I am not going to like this book!" and by the end you're in love with the characters and want to know more, regardless? That's what Justin Woolley pulled in Shakedowners.

  Starting as an obvious satire to Star Trek, with a lot of Lower Decks energy, it turns into a really fun and captivating "brave captain saves the galaxy" story. There were places where I felt the enormity of what was written did not fit at all with the laid back Aussie attitude, but most of the time it was just a lot of fun. I finished it in a day and I am curious enough to want to read the rest of the series.

  Bottom line: the perfect palate cleanser after a darkly satirical view of humankind that made me have misanthropic genocidal thoughts for days, a book that lifts spirits and reminds one that Trekkies are not gone.

and has 0 comments

  You might have heard of Chuck Palahniuk after he became famous with the movie adaption of his book, Fight Club. I certainly didn't read anything from him before, but I thought I'd give it a go. How can I describe The Invention of Sound? It's wild, it's fucked up, it is deeply satirical while at the same time being casually descriptive.

  Imagine L.A., a city so formulaic that it lost its name to two letters, a place for obsessed people: a woman who tortures people in order to get the perfect movie scream, a man who lost his daughter and now hunts the dark web for signs of her and catalogues child molesters with dreams of making them suffer, a starlet who waited her entire career to get kidnapped because it always increases visibility, people who care so much about their image that they fail to perceive reality, Hollywood societies with nebulous purposes, dark secrets, that kind of thing.

  There is that unreliable narrator again, because you can't believe a thing these people say or think: even if the writing comes from an internal dialogue, there is no guarantee that it has any connection to reality. Characters often don't understand what is going on around them or have false memories. Consuming large quantities of wine, Ambien and child abuse image doesn't help either. Neither do people constantly trying to manipulate them for their own purposes.

  The writing is very well crafted, there are so many connections being made, you feel that you are being there - just as confused as the characters. I liked ... the sound of the book, pun not intended. However I couldn't really connect to the story. Yeah, Americans are nuts and L.A. people the most, but then there was nothing else to enjoy other than the writing. The story just coils around itself and teaches nothing.

  Bottom line: a good book, but maybe not for my taste. I recommend the experience of it, but not much else.

and has 0 comments

  Microsoft Office is everybody's frenemy. You love to hate it, but you can't do without it. One of the things that annoys me most about the recent updates to Office is that it tries to save everything in the cloud (using Microsoft's OneDrive) rather than in My Documents or any other local storage location. This might make sense for a lot of people, but not for me. If this behavior annoys you, too, read on.

  Of course there is no nice UI setting to change this, instead you need to change the registry. You do this by running Registry Editor as an Administrator and adding a new "key". Here is how to do it, step by step.

Step 1 - open Registry Editor as an Administrator

Step 2 - go to the right place

Type or paste HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\16.0\Common\Internet in the top bar

Press Enter to navigate to where you should be.

Step 3 - add a new DWORD key called OnlineStorage

Step 4 - edit the key and give it value 1

Step 5 - restart your Office application

Now you should not see OneDrive locations when trying to save a file.


If you know what you're doing, you can also copy the following into a .reg file and open it:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00


More info

You can get more information from:

How to block OneDrive use from within Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise and Office 2016 applications - here you have a more user friendly way of doing the same, by loading a Group Policy template and using it

Keep OneDrive without integration into MS Office 

The OnlineStorage key is a sum of binary flags that are used to disable various locations from office storage. The list of possible values is:

  • 0: This is the default value Enables all services.
  • 1 Disables OneDrive Personal.
  • 2 Disables SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business.
  • 3 Disables SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, and OneDrive Personal.
  • 4 Disables This PC.
  • 8 Disables SharePoint On-Premises.
  • 16 Disables Recent Places.
  • 32 Disables SharePoint Online.
  • 64 Disables OneDrive for Business.
  • 128 Disables all third-party services.
  • 4294967295 Disables all optional services.

Hope it helps!

and has 0 comments

  Because of the Netflix adaption of this book, chess has had a resurgence in the last few years and that is because the story is wonderful: Beth Harmon, an orphan with a very analytical brain, but a rather frigid attitude to life, learns to play chess and then becomes the best in the field. The TV series follows pretty much The Queen's Gambit book, with just minor details or changes of perspective differing.

  The structure of the plot is that of a sports story: poor disadvantaged kid gets a break, shows they are great at something, then struggle to prove it. Walter Tevis writes a very compelling character, using an almost serial killer vibe. If you think about it a bit, the tranquilizers that the orphanage gave to the children to "pacify" them are probably the main cause of Beth's choices in life ;)

  Even if I saw the series before reading the book, most characters were just that, some characters. I couldn't remember who played them in the show and I didn't care. But for the character of Beth I can't imagine a better casting choice than Anya Taylor-Joy. While reading I was seeing her in my mind's eye.

  I hear that the show will have a second season. That's both good and bad. Good because I want to see more of Beth. Bad because there is no more original material, the quality of the story might suffer significantly.

and has 0 comments

  I loved The Expanse and I hoped for more like that. Age of Ash is not it. Extremely well developed world and characters, but a slow paced introduction into a story that is yet to be unveiled. If I had to compare it with something I would compare it with the animated show Arkane, which was amazingly good, but the book lacks the action and the sympathetic characters.

  I understand that this is Daniel Abraham's style: slow roasting the reader while he introduces enough of the world and people to initiate explosive events and epic action. However, this means this book is very difficult to rate or, indeed, to like by itself.

  The story revolves around two street urchins from the "bad side of town" who get involved into something grandiose that shows what they are truly made of. One of the girls is in full grieving mode after losing her brother, the other is doing everything because of love. Predictably, the positive and negative emotions are influencing the characters in their respective direction.

  What I loved about the book is the writing, the depth of the world and of the examination of the characters. It almost didn't need a story. Almost. But it did.

  I may read the next books in the series, just to see what happens, but I would not recommend this book as a standalone read. And if you like fast pace, read something else.

and has 0 comments

  The Drowned Woods is a young adult fantasy story. There is a very overpowered main character, a "water diviner", someone with the ability to control water. Although most of the time she seems to control the temperature of water, which is something completely different, but whatever. She has the usual sad story of someone coming from humble origins and then having bad stuff happen to her, usually because of rich and powerful folk, but in the end all of these events strengthen her enough to handle the weight of the consequences of the plot.

  Emily Lloyd-Jones skillfully combines Celtic mythology with Avatar-like magic (Avatar with the bending, not the blue people) and a heist plot in a fun enough story. Which means it has the typical heist structure: assemble the team, do a lot of flashbacks so we get to know the characters, show how their skills come together, start the mission, the twist, the epic finale.

  It's not like I didn't like the book, I just couldn't possibly love it. The reveal at the end is pretty interesting, but not unexpected. Most of the time our heroine is either handling everything, has someone help her in the 11th hour to handle everything or she is (or the reader is) misreading the situation, which means even what could be considered defeat can be retconned later into a complete victory.

  Bottom line: easy to read, reasonably interesting, but not very captivating.

and has 0 comments

  Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape is like a travelogue for places humans have abandoned, whether because of radiation, poison, extreme weather, natural disaster or depopulation. While I expected this book to be more about the nature reclaiming these places, with scientific emphasis on the species and the methods they use, instead it was a straight up documentary made by a reporter. You know, for the people, by the people, about the people.

  It's not a bad book, quite the contrary. Cal Flyn writes well and has no difficulties describing places and people from an accessible perspective. But that was the problem for me. I wasn't looking for an accessible human perspective from a book proclaiming to be about the "Post-Human Landscape".

  There are several chapters, each with its own theme. Some make you lose your faith in humanity, if you had any to begin with, while others make you actively want to destroy it. I found particularly poignant things like proposals to mildly poison or irradiate nature reserves in order to keep people and commercial interests out or the shooting of a particular breed of enwildened cattle on an island "by conservationists" or the chapters about factories making river water so polluted that it killed on contact and caught fire.

  However it felt a bit like a bait and switch. While a bit disappointed with their direction, I loved the first chapters of the book, relating to plants and animals reclaiming places like Chernobyl, but as the book was getting closer to its end, the chapters were more about people, their feelings, their reasons to leave, stay or return. The book still captures the magic of this wild places, but very little is about nature, the perspective is inherently humanistic and cultural, rather than scientific. Other than that, it was a decent book.

and has 0 comments

  The Humans started from an idea that I don't really like so much: an alien telling the story of how humans are. I've seen so many of these during the years and they are almost always boring, conceited and full of logic holes. Unfortunately this book is no different. Add to this I did not enjoy Matt Haig's writing style at all and you get a DNF.

  Bottom line: I will not be reading this book.

and has 0 comments

  The Anomaly is a very cinematic read in the sense that you can immediately tell someone was writing a movie they had in their head. And what a surprise to learn that Michael Rutger is a writing pseudonym for Michael Marshall Smith, who's a screenwriter. That being said, the book was OK. The pacing was good, the ideas interesting and the human aspect of the characters was intriguing. However I couldn't get out of that "pitch meeting" feeling that this is a "What if Indiana Jones was a YouTuber" idea, just filled in enough to be book sized.

  It starts with the members of an expedition trying to find an ancient site mentioned into an obscure and vague old text. These people have a YouTube channel focused on fringe science theories, urban myths and the like, only this time they caught a break when they found a foundation willing to sponsor their trip to the Grand Canyon to find this place. And of course they find it and of course there are some weird things in it and it keeps escalating to the point where "Oh, come ON!" is a very frequent thought.

  So the story was OK, the characters kind of cardboard, but fine, the plot a bit ridiculous - what can you expect, only I didn't really like the ending. The story had reached a place where the entire history of the world is in doubt and from that it dropped to the level of people going home and nothing else happening. What was even the point?!

  Bottom line: this is a perfect book to read in an airplane, where I actually did it myself. It reads fast, it means nothing, it requires very little from you.

and has 0 comments

  When I was a child, several decades ago, A.E. van Vogt was one of my favorite writers, on the same podium with Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury. Later, I was intrigued of how people never seemed to remember him, while praising loudly the others. So I got hold of whatever I could find written by him and started reminiscing.

  The Voyage of the Space Beagle is more of a short stories collection than a novel, even if it has the same characters spacing out on the same ship. It contains four stories:

  • Black Destroyer - a large cat-like alien tries to get the better of the crew
  • War of Nerves - an alien civilization makes contact telepathically, with unexpected results 
  • Discord in Scarlet - a red alien tries to get the better of the crew
  • M33 in Andromeda - a galactic sized alien tries to get the better of the crew
  • there are also some connective tissue paragraphs detailing a power struggle in the crew itself

  I know why I liked him when I was a kid. The people are all science and knowledge and decisiveness. They are impressive and sure minded and solve every dire situation with their power of their cunning. They also casually discuss and sometimes enact acts of genocide "on principle alone" because some aliens are too ugly, dangerous or of a different morality. It's an all male crew, chemically castrated like in the military, with not the slightest thought women could contribute in any way. They fly between galaxies with the strong sense of their own intellectual and (if proven wrong) moral superiority. The author puts out there the idea that the universe is several million years old and it cyclically explodes to create another one. The distance between stars and galaxies, as well as their number are ridiculously underestimated. Other knowledge we now take for granted is absent completely from the book.

  So it's a strange combination of strong people and ideas that look and feel ridiculous, insensitive, uneducated and even psychotic. The main reason is that the stories were not written at time of publication, but much earlier, sometimes in the '30s and then the author was constantly fixing them and mashing them together in fix-up novels. The scientific and social change in these 100 years is shocking. Hell, I was gleefully enjoying this 40 years ago! It has the effect of making me see our modern behavior through different eyes. We are as sure now as we were then that we are in the right and that we are a pinnacle of something and everything other is weird and to be changed or avoided. What will we think of present selves a century from now? How pathetic are the five minute dramas that occupy our awareness today.

  Think of this book as a precursor of Star Trek: valiant humans exploring the universe. Only they are as far from Kirk as he was from Picard. Quite intriguing an experience which I recommend.

  Van Vogt died in 2000, but his last short story was written in 1976. He was never considered a great writer even in his own time, despite my own childish preferences, yet he made an impact. I probably am going to read something by him again, maybe not immediately. 

and has 0 comments

  At the end of Children of Ruin I was bemoaning the fact that Adrian Tchaikovsky moved things too far, too fast, and I was happy to see things go down a notch in the beginning of Children of Memory. Alas, it was all a scam, like those Star Trek episodes when nothing makes sense for the entire show only to get explained by a Deus ex Machina and a bunch of McGuffins at the end, but most of it happens in today's Earth or on some farm or Western setting.

  Where could the author have gone from a multi species confederation of faster than light travelers, capable of eternally sleeping during voyages anyway and, barring that, construct any body and transferring any kind of knowledge back and forth? Just like Stargate (most notably) which started with stranded humans at the mercy of all powerful aliens and ended up defeating gods and travelling between galaxies, the only way was back or some kind of lateral jump, like making episodic books that need not connect except through a common literary universe. I really hoped that would be the case.

  And I feel even worse because, while I hated most of the book, with its Memento-ish rehashings of the same events and with the author himself explaining obvious things over and over again, at the end of Children of Memory was a glimpse of the philosophical underpinnings of the story, and I liked those. Unfortunately those are just at the very end, making the rest of the book mostly pointless.

  Bottom line: I couldn't wait for the book to end fast enough, just to get to understand what was going on, because even if I had an inkling of that, I needed confirmation. And the ending was both philosophically satisfying and invalidating the entire beginning and middle of the the story. So to me it feels like a bad elevator episode of the series, like Tchaikovsky had one more book to write to make this a trilogy and, like me, couldn't wait to get it over with already. 

and has 0 comments

  Children of Time was split into two stories, one rich with characterization, focused on individual people, and another that felt a little bit like a nature documentary, but was pretty good, too. The science was stretched a bit, but in the end you get a subtle exploration of humanity via another species. Children of Ruin is the equivalent of explosion porn for action movies, though: more, bigger, louder, thus drowning out the parts that came close to what I liked in the first book.

  Adrian Tchaikovsky starts with another pair of obsessive scientists, but there is less focus on their actual personalities and struggles. They become the cause and catalyst of what he really wanted to write about: a civilization of octopuses and a complete new alien species - which of course also reaches sentience. Strangely enough, these take a lot of the book without - to me - providing any insight into our own species or telling me anything really interesting and new about cephalopods or making me feel a lot about any of the characters. In a sentence: this book is less careful, larger but coarser, faster but less inspiring.

  This doesn't mean I didn't like it. The story captivated me and I wanted to know where it goes and how it ends, so I read it really fast. Yet the ending left me a bit disappointed, as I understood that the pyrotechnics ended and the story stands in ruin. Children of Memory seems to go back to the roots a little from the little I've read already, I hope it stays more true to the original concept.

and has 0 comments

Saturn's Children feels like a book that started as something and turned out to be something else in the middle of it. Charles Stross writes something that seems very fashionable this days: a novel from the point of view of a robot. And not just any robot, but a humanoid female sex robot in a world devoid of humans with which to have sex with. Add some solar system travel, spy thriller mechanics, the occasional sexy comedy, philosophical musings about the meaning of life and identity, even what some people might consider light horror and you get this story.

  Even if I enjoyed it, the book is a mess. The style changes, the metaphors change from something from this decade to something that would only make sense in the far future populated exclusively by robots and back again. The mood changes, the motivation of the characters change. You can't even tell who is who anymore because of the multiple "soul chip" identity swaps. It is all written as a letter, but you can't tell who the letter is addressed to, since it also explains to us stuff that should be obvious to a robot.

  I found the premise of humanity simply fading away into extinction, no war, no plague, no asteroid, just people too distracted to have sex with other people, quite satisfying. I know that Futurama did it too, but it makes so much sense as a solution to the Fermi paradox. The basic idea of the book (once it crystalized into one) was intriguing, but you have to read half a book before it turns that way. The writing was competent, but not really engaging or inspiring. The technical aspects were the same.

  Bottom line: more of a vacation book. You get it and you may even read it to the end if the vacation lasts long enough, but not memorable or interesting enough to care about what happens next.