quarta-feira, novembro 27, 2013

"Hard Feelings: A Novel" by Jason Starr

Hard Feelings: A Novel - Jason Starr

My first Jason Starr. I'm reading this novel in tandem with "Light's Out" and I sense a running theme.

I'm always a sucker for novels with amoral characters, or unsatisfying endings. This one has plenty of that. Richard Segal looks like a normal guy in every sense of the word. He doesn’t manifest any overt psychological abnormalities if his life. At the beginning everything is running smoothly, but when problems arose, he reverted to his primal state of psychopathology.

Starr likes to draw his characters from everyday life, make everything seem pretty normal. And then he punches you in the stomach... He pushes his story lines and his characters to extremes, and takes it from there.

Character-driven fiction that starts bad and gets worse, but not necessarily with a dark, relentless tone. I don’t need to like the characters I’m reading about, but I need to understand them. That's fully on display here. I like reading about fucked-up characters...

He was able to capture the perverse pleasures, edgy excitement and dark humour of what I see as twenty-first century noir. I've been into 21st-century noir fiction lately, and I was told in vigorous terms that I should start reading Jason Starr. The vigour and diversity of recent literary noir are difficult to convey in a brief review. That's also not the point here. What's definitely the point here is that Jason Starr is worth keeping an eye on.

One of Starr’s strong points is his ability to make uncompromising pulp traditionalism seem both radical and fresh. More than most authors, Jason Starr uses the workplace as a setting to fuel tensions (vide Richard Segal's interactions with his boss Bob).

What definitely won me over was the abrupt ending. What a stunt. Fitting as he

segunda-feira, novembro 25, 2013

"The Web: Lightstorm (Web Series 1)" by Peter F. Hamilton

Lightstorm - Peter F. Hamilton


I stopped reading Peter F. Hamilton after trying to finish "Judas Unchained". Suffice to say I couldn't do it. When Peter F. Hamilton is on form, his work is wonderful — accessible, inventive, evocative and unbelievably daring. Sadly, getting to that stage tends to take Hamilton an eternity, and there's more roaming in his novels than in anything I've ever read.
Lightstorm is another disappointment. Mainly because it just doesn't hang together: it's too wordy, too slow and ultimately fails to convince. In fact, the whole scenario depicted in the novel isn't particularly convincing: a bit of localised pollution isn't exactly the worst thing a corporation has ever done. Another main grippe I had was with the boundaries between the real and the virtual worlds. The central question for me was, when Aynsley was confronted by Web-formed enemies, why didn't he just disconnected and concentrated on his real world problems? I know this was a YA novel, but even so Hamilton should avoid these kind of pitfalls.
On top of that the his usual world building comes again in the flavour of info dumps...

domingo, novembro 24, 2013

"Lexicon" by Max Barry

Lexicon - Max Barry

My first Max Barry. Maybe my last...

Suspension of Disbelief necessary to read the book.

The characters are overall pretty weak. The rest of the novel is not solid enough to compensate for this shortcoming. The particular of the central plot device is also way, way over the top.

This is one of those books where the sum does not equal some of the good of its parts. The idea is brilliant, the writing is somewhat solid, but the execution is quite flawed, and left me wanting.

Lexicon's gimmick plays on a premise that any lover of language will enjoy (I surely did), ie, that words have power, literally. 

Unfortunatelly getting into the science of this magic system quite in depth was not enough to save the novel. In fact, repeating this over and over again throughout the book became quite exhausting. While some of the ideas regarding how this magic system worked were quite scientific, the restatement of the details ad nauseum got exhausting.

I was constantly hammered over the head with all the nuances and details that went into how words functioned, and whatnot. By the end of it, I felt like I was reading more about psychology than magic. I like my magic systems to be logical and have science behind them, but I don't want to read a treatise on how they work.

Now, let's digress a little on the power words used in the book. On this topic the novel also fails miserably. Some of the power words throughout the book are just plain ridiculous and completely unutterable. They look like someone (a 5-year old...?)just put together a bunch of random letters together. That's why I've started this review by talking about the necessity of Suspension of Desbelief being necessary to try enjoying the novel. All this takes away the believableness of the magic system and the seriousness of it. 

In this internet age is language mightier than the sword...? The answer is no, if you go by this novel.

sábado, novembro 23, 2013

"Mission to Paris: A Novel" by Alan Furst

Mission to Paris: A Novel - Alan Furst
Ronald Colman
(as I read it, the Fredric Stahl character reminded me of the english actor Ronald Colman)

Furst has long been on my TBR.

As this was my first Alan Furst novel that I’ve read, the first thing that came to mind me was how it kind of kept reminding me of John le Carre’s works in a sense of the dark atmosphere, the smooth way in which the espionage business was carried out.

Besides that, there wasn't much in it. There was an awesome book lost somewhere in "Mission to Paris", but Furst did not find it. The end concludes too quickly, and characters are introduced and dropped. On top of that Paris as a setting was woefully wasted. 

Also hard to stand and understand was the way Furst tended to caricature most of the German characters. I'm not sure whether Furst stays on the right side of the line cliche-wise. The difference between a lazy cliche and a comfortingly familiar type can be pretty fine in fiction.

sábado, novembro 16, 2013

Project 13 - OwnCloud on Raspberry Pi - IaaS Cloud Service

OwnCloud is used primarily as an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud service. It's built on top of a MySQL database. The program itselfis written in PHP and JavaScript. It now has a new application programming interface (API). This should make it easier to build applications on top of ownCloud's built-in capabilities:

OwnCloud is also a free and open source alternative to services like DropBox and GoogleDrive. To setup your own OwnCloud you need to have a standard Linux Apache MySQL PHP (LAMP) server (see some of my other posts to see how you can about setting it up). 

Should I switch from DropBox/GoodDrive to OwnCloud? If you've got a Raspberry Pi the answer is clearly yes! 
  1. No Space Restrictions
    Services like DropBox give you anywhere from 2 to 15 GB for free but then charge if you want more. With OwnCloud the only limit on your storage size is the capacity of your server.
  2. No Max File Size Restrictions
    Having a "max file size" is one of the things I hate most about cloud storage systems. Some services limit you to a measly max file size of 25 mb!!! With OwnCloud you can decide what the max file size limit is.
  3. Privacy
    When you give your files/data to companies you can never be sure what they are doing with that information. Some companies use your data for marketing purposes or to sell information about you to third parties. Then there is also always the concern that a company may be forced to hand over your data to the government without your consent or knowledge.  With OwnCloud you control who gets the data and how it's used. Also, own cloud can be easily configured to send all client side data through a proxy.
  4. DIY
    Own cloud has a ton of features such as a Calender, Contacts, Music Streamer, Picture Viewer, and an Online Document Editor. But the best part is that there are a TON of additional plugins you can add to extend the functionality of your OwnCloud.
  5. Extra-Features
    Just like with other services you can share specific files or folders, but with OwnCloud you can go a step further and create accounts for your friends, family, or colleges to use.  Own cloud also has client side applications for every platform. You can download client side apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and I-Phone. Own cloud also has version control so that when you modify a file it keeps a copy of the previous version in case you want to roll back. I could go on about other features but needless to say OwnCloud does it all.

Secondly OwnCloud is not just an online locker you can through your stuff into, it has a host of other much smarter features, for example the OwnCloud music player which will keep you entertained while you are accessing your data from your cloud (my usual AOR tracks...):

Since OwnCloud can be accessed from anywhere it also integrates other things which you may need access to such as your calendar (16th November, the day I'm writing this post...), you can view this with your data:



More so it even gives you the option to save your important bookmarks which you may need since its no good having bookmarked something only to find out that you don’t have access to the bookmark when you need it. Bookmarks will be with you where ever you go on OwnCloud.

Let's get down to business, ie, setting up my ownCloud.

  1. Install with raspi-config:
  2. Package lists' update:
  3. Create ownCloud specific internal user:
  4. Package installation:
  5. Create SSL Certification (1 year validation
  6. Web Server configuration:

  7. PHP Configuration:
  8. Web Server and PHP Start-up:
  9. ownCloud Installation:
  10. I'm now ready to access my ownCloud (here I've already set up my own URL address to access my IaaS outside my private LAN). The first step here is to choose an user and admin password:
  11. For the purpose of this tutorial I've only used a 8-Gb-PEN, which I had lying around. For a produtive IaaS, just use a bigger disk...:
  12. Syncing ownCloud with my own desktop:

  13. Desktop Agent set-up (only 4.8 Gb available due to the fact that all the SW to make it run occupies around 3 Gb...):
  14. Media Streamer. Here I've used my own favourite (Tomahawk). On the picture down, one can see my own raspbery Pi server (rpibyte.no-ip.org), from which I can stream my own content, be it music or video:
  15. My own local ownCloud Drive:
  16. When accessing ownCloud through the web-based interface we have the same folder configuration as the one above:
  17.  http://rpibyte.no-ip.org/owncloud. And that's that!
Google Drive, SkyDrive Pro, Meo Cloud and now, my ownCloud!!!! Now I have two IaaS:
  1. My own Synology NAS: http://antao.quickconnect.to
  2. My ownCloud NAS: http://rpibyte.no-ip.org/owncloud
NB: Due to their nature they're not available all the time... LOL

quarta-feira, novembro 13, 2013

"Countdown City" by Ben H, Winters

Countdown City - Ben H. Winters

It's not easy to blend in a dystopic look at the future with a solid police story, but Winters has a lot of talent as the previous book fully demonstrated (See my review of The Last Policeman).

The plot this time round is darker, and though we still think of Hank Palace as a heroic and solid character who seems to be a lone voice of a serene rationality in a world rapidly going to smithreens, in truth he's anything but.

Ben H. Winters can mix-up several genres in a wonderful way in a way I've never seen before. On top of that he doesn’t let the end-of-the-world aspects of the book swamp the central mystery. It has it all: Crime drama, an emotional ride, and an extraordinary imaginative leap into a world on the edge of extinction.

Both "The Last Policeman" and "Countdown City" are speculative novels (the asteroid's presence means they couldn’t be anything else), but they’re less SF than they are crime fiction seen through a speculative lens. Don´t come looking for a hard-SF treatment of planetary collision a la "Lucifer's Hammer" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. This is something quite different. His treatment of hard-SF subject here is very loose. Fortunatelly that’s not what this book is all about (the same case with "The Last Policeman"). Not even close.

"Countdown City" is at its core a philosophical novel. Its particular aim is to examine why we do the things we do, and how we derive meaning from them, even in the face of certain death, how long are we bound by the promises we make, what is it that we owe each other, and how much our is our word worth. All of them fundamental moral issues concerning us all.

Aren't these the most important questions that Literature can help us understand?

At the end of it I felt it reminded me of "This Is the Way The World Ends" by James Morrow. Perhaps it's less intellectual, but it is much more realistic.

One of the best novels of 2013.

I'm eagerly waiting the next installment.

sábado, novembro 09, 2013

"Runner of Pern (Short Story in A Gift of Dragons)" by Anne McCaffrey



I don’t quite remember when I discovered Pern. I was young enough to think it was all very daring and edgy. I was reading books where the inside cover used the word "desire". I'm not kidding. Check it up yourself: old green cover of Dragonflight and the passage with Ramouth’s first flight with Mnementh. All of a sudden I had a book in my hands with Dragons and Sex... And then, wait a minute, those were all men with green dragons so that meant gay sex with dragons!

The Pern series was for me one of my first exposures to SF, and to adult literature that had more mature content in the background.

I haven’t reread any Pern in… It’s got to be close to a decade, but I remember coming to a shocking conclusion. The books were full of sexist remarks. They made me wince though I did not see it when I read them as a youngster. 

I’m really thinking a lot about how I condemn Twilight and a lot of what today passes as SF and have to say that Pern probably filled a similar hole in the lives of YA and we’ve all turned out just fine (I think ...). With the Pern books I didn’t notice the issues because I was young, it was a more chast time, and most of all the books had dragons in them. I definitely look at them now through the lens of that fond memory (as I did at that time, I still think F’lar is a total jerk LOL). It's quite impossibe for me to read them differently now.

And now I came across this story that I'd never read. It follows a young Runner, just on the brink of adulthood and just making her way into official "runner" status. They are highly trained couriers that carry letters and documents from location to location by distance-running on well maintained paths built specifically for them. And, no, no dragons this time round...

Read it if you want to resurrect the feeling of yonder days...

quinta-feira, novembro 07, 2013

"Wilt on High" by Tom Sharpe

Wilt On High - Tom Sharpedescription


Fast-paced absurdity multiplied to the nth power. 

Another winner from Tom Sharpe. The entire book is a rollercoaster ride through a bunch of well organised sub-plots and what makes it even better is that all of it makes sense in the end. Satire is the true essence of the novel.

Along with Joseph Connolly, Tom Sharpe was one of the two best comic british writers. His characters do not shy away from vulgarity. They embrace vulgarity and there is also a fair "small" amount of swear words. There is a lot of sex, some of which quite unpleasant. The story gathers speed pretty quickly and proceeds at a frantic speed.

What keeps me coming back to a Sharpe novel is just its unpretentiousness. So far I haven't been able to perceive a "deep thought" in any of his novels. Food for thought...? (Pun intended LOL )

When I really need a good laugh out loud or a light-hearted bit of reading I always revert to a Wilt novel. Too bad we won't have any more Wilt stories...

Sometimes life demands a funny but mindless novel.

segunda-feira, novembro 04, 2013

"Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Little Sisters of Eluria" by Stephen King

Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Little Sisters of Eluria - Robin Furth, Luke Ross, Stephen King, Peter David

I've never read the Dark Tower series, so it was with some trepidation that I tackled another Stephen King universe.

Suffice to say that by the end of it, I wanted to read the full series, which I've just added to my TBR pile.

It's quite noticeable that “Little Sisters” is nothing but an interlude in an overall broader canvas. Nevertheless I was hooked from the get-go of the story, despite the fact that's it has more action than I'd expect considering for much of the story Roland is bed-ridden and paralyzed by drugs. 

One of the things that I always tend to look for in a story is how well an author is able to depict a strong sense of place. In a King story the settings are so well portrayed that they expand like real and fully coloured vistas in the mind's eye. Stephen Kind can describe the natural world in a way that neither a geologist nor a naturalist might describe it. It's all in the architecture of the world that King is able to envisage. 

His descriptions have depth from which images arise in the reader's mind that are in fact quite poetic.

I intend to read all of the Dark Series before Ron Howard gets his teeth into it... I