Monthly Reads – September 2017

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So September was a bit of a cleanup month literary-wise. As much as I wanted to get stuck into I Robot, I had one book to finish, one I started reading several months ago, but put on hiatus to read other things; namely Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. As I wasn’t needing the I Robot text until the second half of my robotics block, I figured I had time to finish off Harry Potter.

I’ve read all the Harry Potter novels before, but had begun re-reading them in the light of knowledge that having read them all before brings (i.e., being able to pick up on foreshadowing events and other little titbits). They’re standing the test of time, but dear gods I regularly want to give Harry a slap. He’s rather self-absorbed, and extremely slow on the uptake. Definitely not Ravenclaw material!

I think the reason I put this book down for so long is that I knew what was coming, i.e. the senseless death of Cedric (no spoiler alert! If you haven’t read the books or seen the movies yet it’s your fault for living under a stone!). It breaks my heart that a good-hearted Hufflepuff should meet his end like that. Thank you JK for the brutal feels! Still, I cracked on…. My chapter reading getting decidedly slower as I neared the inevitable betrayal. But I persevered and reached the end. But for now, I think I’ll leave the Order of the Phoenix for a while. I haven’t the strength to deal with Umbridge just yet.

Still, with The Goblet of Fire done and dusted, I can start cracking on (finally!) with I Robot.

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Monthly Reads – August 2017

Bit of a late posting for this one as the last book I read took me into September….

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August kicked off with me reading the novella Social Engineer (Brody Taylor Thrillers #1). I got it free for signing up to the author’s (Ian Sutherland) newsletter, mainly because, as an ICT student and social media fan, I was intrigued by the premise of the book, and who doesn’t love a freebie?

As a novella, it’s a short read, but that being said, it was a very good read. My reading of it happened to coincide nicely with the section in my Open University studies covering online security, and several times I nodded in understanding at the narrative.

The Novella is a pre-cursor to the main Brody Taylor Thrillers series, and introduces the main hero/protagonist; white hat hacker Brody Taylor, who uses a combination of hacking and social engineering to gain entry to companies as a means to ‘pentest*’ them. Ian Sutherland (himself an IT man) name drops the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn, and how important information can be gleaned from them for nefarious (or in the case of Brody, slightly more honourable) purposes. There are certainly some ideas included in the story to bear in mind next time you’re casually making those holiday snapshots public!

Overall, I found the story to be well written, enjoyable, and there was a good twist in it that I didn’t see coming. As an introductory novella, it’s certainly done its job, and I’m seriously considering reading the rest of the series in the future.

*”Penetration testing (also called pen testing) is the practice of testing a computer system, network or Web application to find vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit.” [Definition via WhatIs.com]

Although I had my eye on some other cyberpunk novels, I decided to save some cash this month. Also, allegedly, I get a copy of I Robot with my Open University module on robotics, so I have that to look forward to in September. In the intervening time, I decided to work through my Kindle backlog and read some of the free fantasy books I’d downloaded onto my old 3G.

17696116Using a random number generator gave me Bubba and the Beast (Maven’s Fractured Fairy Tales, #2). I had not read the first book. Turns out, this was even shorter than Social Engineer, and I polished it off in two nights. To be honest, it wasn’t that great. The story basically revolved around a disgraced fairy having to find a troll a boyfriend. The writing was chaotic, I had a hard time following the narrative at times, and it ended rather abruptly. I will not be bothering to read any more of the series.

17406473Next up, the Fates gave me Earthchild, by Allie Bates. This was a full-length novel, and it kept me occupied for the rest of the month and then some. It was fair to say that I didn’t know what I was about to read (again, I had downloaded years ago when it had been free). What I found myself reading was akin to a novel-length wet dream whose every other sentence seemed to focus on hyped-up sexuality and eroticism, specifically with a focus on the two main characters. There was some plot in there, something to do with Scotland, missing lairds, and castles, but the rest was pretty much erotica, and TBH a little bit rapey at times. That being said, it was an ok read, and it kept me gripped enough to finish it, but I’ll be glad when I get my copy of I Robot.

Monthly Reads – July 2017

So, I kept up my 1+ chapter a day reading (usually just before going to bed) and I’ve finished reading Snow Crash. In addition, I’ve played catch up with my X-Men reading, and have finished off the third volume of Death Note (a series that’s still keeping me gripped).

I need to get into better practice at writing book reviews so, with that in mind, I shall review Snow Crash….

July reads

Hiro Protagonist; hacker, pizza delivery driver for the Mafia, and soon to be the saviour of the US … or what’s left of it. Brace yourself for Sumerian and Samari swords!

I won’t go too much into the story. If you want a summary, you can read the book blurb, or check it out Wikipedia. Basically, there’s a virus that can affect hackers by rewriting their brains, it’s about to be let loose on the US’ general populous, and only our ‘Protagonist’ can stop it.

I suppose you could say that Snow Crash occurs in an alternative reality. The America of the 21st century in Snow Crash is a hell of a lot different than what we actually see, with much of America having been taken over by sovereign territories and franchises. Yet some of the ‘futuristic’ tech seen in the narrative can be seen around us today (or is in development). Take the Metaverse. It speaks of a mashup between Second Life and virtual reality; an immersive virtual world entered via customisable avatars. The wheels on Y.T.’s skateboard? They sound very similar to the idea shown in this video.

So, despite the landscape being very different, the tech aspects of the story are actually quite believable.

Snow Crash was, as I’ve mentioned previously, my first foray into cyberpunk, and overall, I found it to be quite an enjoyable read, however, I do have a couple of gripes.

Firstly, the story rests on the idea of an ancient virus being transmitted either visually (in the case of hackers), physically (via drugs), or verbally. Ignoring whether this would actually be possible (it is fiction after all), the hows and why of the ‘virus’ lead to some rather intensive, theology-driven chapters, incorporating Sumerian history, myths and legends, and at times, I felt I was reading a religious education textbook, as opposed to cyberpunk. I’m guessing Hiro had a background in R.E., because I was completely lost at times.

My other grumble is with the developing backstory of Hiro and Y.T., or rather, the lack of it. The two characters become a team, hunting for information to sell to the CIC, yet this part of their narrative wasn’t covered very much. I guess quite a bit of time passed with them working together, yet what they did seemed, for the most part, not worth covering, so this meant their closeness as friends came across as quite forced.

It also took me a while to get to grips with the tech-derived lingo, and settle into the narrative, but once things got going I enjoyed the story. Would I recommend it to other readers? Hacker-infused theology reading aside, as a first delve into cyberpunk, it was entertaining, so I’d say, “give it a go!”

Next up … Social Engineer (Brody Taylor Thrillers, #1)

Monthly Reads – June 2017

I’ve decided to put my re-read of Harry Potter on hiatus (I’m half way through the Goblet of Fire) and try something. What with seeing Ghost in the Shell a while back, and studying Information Computer Technology with the Open University, I had a hankering to try a Cyberpunk novel.

I’ve never read Cyberpunk before, so didn’t know where to start. Cue a lot of Googling of recommendations and reviews, after which, I decided that Post-Cyberpunk sounded like my kind of trope.

“Whereas cyberpunk is/was a Darker and Edgier riposte to older Science Fiction, intended to portray what might happen if we don’t all destroy ourselves, Post-Cyberpunk is intended to present a less pessimistic and more realistic vision.” tvtropes.org

Actually, Ghost in the Shell is considered Post-Cyberpunk(ish), so that helped affirm my choice. The TVTropes page also had a helpful list of media in this genre, and amongst the books was a title I’d seen elsewhere: Snow Crash.

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“The only relief from the sea of logos is within the well-guarded borders of the Burbclaves. Is it any wonder that most sane folks have forsaken the real world and chosen to live in the computer-generated universe of virtual reality? In a major city, the size of a dozen Manhattans, is a domain of pleasures limited only by the imagination. But now a strange new computer virus called Snow Crash is striking down hackers everywhere, leaving an unlikely young man as humankind’s last best hope.” Amazon

So this is what I’m reading this month. The main character’s name is Hiro Protagonist, which is as daft as you can get, but I’m trying to look past that. I’ve only managed to get a few chapters in so far, but I’m holding myself to reading a chapter a night before bed. It’s been quite entertaining in places so far, so I’m hoping for a good read. I’ll keep you posted as to what I thought of it.

Anyone out there read Snow Crash? If so, what did you think?

Monthly Reads – May 2017

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To be honest, I find it hard to moment to read these days. I have my uni course, my novel editing, my volunteer work, and my fitness stuff, and it all eats into my time. This will be the first in, what I hope will be, a regular update on what I’ve been reading. And with any luck, it’ll galvanise me into reading more…. Even if that just means X-men comics.

So I’ve been on a bit of a Manga kick lately. I guess watching the Ghost in the Shell film piqued my interest again (and not just in Manga, but in Japanese culture in general, but that’s possibly a story for another day). I’ve watched anime before, but never read Manga, as I had no idea where to start, and I didn’t want to read something rubbish and be put off the genre. So I did a bit of digging, and the title that kept popping up was ‘Death Note’.

The general synopsis of the book is this:

Light Yagami, a genius high school student, discovers the “Death Note”, dropped on Earth by the Shinigami Ryuk out of boredom. The notebook allows the owner to kill anyone whose name is written in it, as long as the writer has seen the person’s face. Light plans to use the book to free the world from criminals, and then rule over it as a god. His killings catch the attention of Interpol, and the world-famous detective “L”. L creates a small task force from the local police (including Light’s detective father) to help discover who the killer is. And so begins a game of cat and mouse between Light and L.

Death Note started off as Manga, and has been made into an anime series, a live-action series, several live-action films, video games, and is now being bastardised for American audiences on Netflix. Considering the time spent by various quarters into adapting it into different media formats, I figured this was the one to go for. That, and I only ever found good reviews about it. Therefore, I went and bought the first volume and got to reading.

The ‘books’ are collections of several chapters, each originally printed as standalones, and serialised in a Manga magazine. Each volume contains about 12 of these chapters, and run out about 200 pages. The interesting thing about this series is that the layout of the books follows the original Japanese format, meaning that it’s set out back to front, to be read right to left. As someone who’s used to reading her comics the ‘normal’ western way, it was a bit disjointing at first, but after a few pages, I got into it. And the story itself? Well, I bought and read the first volume in late April. It’s now mid-May, and I’ve finished reading the second volume. So it’s pretty safe to say the story has me hooked. Looks like the Death Note series is going to be part of my monthly comic purchase, alongside my Essential X-Men, for a while, especially as there are 12 volumes to get through.

So if you’re looking to delve into Manga, and aren’t sure where to start, I can wholly recommend picking up Death Note.