Friday, December 29, 2017

Book Review of "Legion #2: Skin Deep - by Brandon Sanderson"

"Legion: Skin Deep" - the second book in the Legion Series continued the fast paced, edge of your seat crime-thriller-science-fiction story initiated in the first book. This time, the plot revolves around a futuristic biotech company that has a product that - if misused - can have devastating effects on humanity. This is not your straightforward murder mystery story - there are elements of corporate espionage, some mad scientist level badass-ry and some shout out to open source software as well!

"Skin Deep" definitely has more meat than the first novella (which was really very short). We meet a couple of new interesting "aspects" of the protagonist. We get more clues about his hallucinatory multiple personality "condition", how it  works, how he has managed to keep it under control so far etc.

Just like the first book, more than the story, the interactions, the wise retorts and the overall snappy conversations between various aspects of the protagonist is the best part of the book.

All in all, this is a fun, light & entertaining read - perfect for the holidays.
5/5 from me. Just go for it.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Book Review of "Legion - by Brandon Sanderson"

Legion was my first Brandon Sanderson book and it was definitely one of the most epic short novellas that I have come across ! A crime/detective story with a backdrop of psychological disorder and a dose of science fiction ! And yes, this awful sounding melange has actually turned out quite well.

This is one of those books where unanswered questions and keeping things ambiguous has actually enhanced the impact of the story. Can't wait to pick up the next one in the Legion series !

5/5. My only gripe - wish it was longer than just 88 pages.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book Review of "Artemis - by Andy Weir"

"Artemis" by Andy Weir sadly turns out to be "just meh". If your first book was "The Martian" - by far one of the most entertaining, funny and popular Science Fiction books in the last few years - then any book that follows it was always going to be subjected to harsh scrutiny and unfair comparisons. The two books can not and should not be compared - the Martian was a survival story and Artemis is sort-of, kind-of a heist story. But with that being said, "Artemis" doesn't hold up on its own. It is not necessarily "bad" - but it is remarkably average. The Martian made me a fanboy of Andy Weir and I so very much wanted Artemis to turn out great but alas! Well, it is what it is.

The story takes place in near future at a time when a full fledged city (called Artemis) is established on the Moon. In typical Andy Weir fashion, the city is
described wonderfully, the author paints a perfect picture of the environment, the geo-political situation, the "economics" of a truly international Moon currency and the hardcore science that goes into making a functioning city sustain on the Moon (it is fascinating how he describes the way in which Oxygen is generated and provided for all the city residents for example). Weirdly, things start to go south once all of this setup is done and the actual story starts and the characters are introduced.

The protagonist is "Jasmine Bashara" (or Jazz as she is called by other characters) who - in the most unimaginative way - has the same exact personality as Mark Watney from the Martian - but with a vocabulary of a horny teenage boy. She is smart and creative yes - but only when faced with certain death, in all other cases she just comes across as a lazy person hellbent on finding easy ways to make money. I know these are sort of the unwritten must-have traits for the protagonist of your heist story, but here, it just makes Jazz cringeworthy to be honest. There are a handful of other characters - no one stands out particularly.

Andy Weir seems to go out of his way to ensure his characters are of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds - which is good. Jazz is a Saudi National for example. Story has a gay person playing a very important role, characters are from different nationalities and religions. But the thing is, all characters speak and interact with each other as though they are all American (and we have been told explicitly that they are not). Maybe I am being too much critical, but all of this just comes across as the author showcasing diversity for diversity's sake.

Anyhoo, with all of this said and done, Artemis is not a bad book - just not a good one. Its ok. You will be entertained in parts, kind of frustrated in parts - but overall it is "fine". 3/5 from me.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Book Review of "All These Worlds, Bobiverse #3 - by Dennis Taylor"

Bobiverse #3 - "All These Worlds" - ends the Bobiverse trilogy with a whimpering bang. Granted it ties up all the loose ends and gives closure to the most important plot-lines, but it all feels a bit cursory and a bit rushed. The book isn't really what it could have been I felt.

The first two books had introduced a multitude of jaw-dropping science fiction ideas, had set up about half a dozen different plot-lines involving numerous characters and had also put forth quite a few philosophical, moral and ethical conundrums involving AI, humans and extra terrestrial species. A well-defined, crisp, all-powerful antagonist was also setup nicely. One would expect a great showdown when all of these things finally converged. But alas, the "crescendo" isn't exactly greatly executed.

However, the book does work in a few cases - a couple of plot-lines are ended with a nice heart warming touch, the final space battle is skillfully outlined. But overall it doesn't do justice for being the final book in one of the most amazingly crafted science fiction trilogy.

3/5 for this book from me, but a big thumbs up for the Bobiverse Trilogy as a whole !

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Review of "For We Are Many, Bobiverse #2 - by Dennis Taylor"

Bobiverse #2 - "For We Are Many" is a fine-fitting sequel to the first book. Its fun, its fast and more action packed than its predecessor. But its strengths are also its weaknesses. This book feels very similar to the first one. Since the novelty has worn off by now, it seems kind of repetitive as well. There are hardly any new science fiction ideas introduced.

That being said, the AI characters, the nerdy-dry-sarcastic humor and the overall intrigue and strength of the story is enough to pull it off and not make this a dull read.

Just like the previous one, this book also has no logical end and no cliffhanger - it simply ends - just like that! It makes me think, if instead of the trilogy, there should have been a single book. Well, it is what it is.

All in all, Bobiverse #2 is good - not as good as the first but a decent & fun sequel nonetheless. 4/5 for sure.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review of "We are Legion, Bobiverse #1 - by Dennis Taylor"

Bobiverse #1 is a fun, fast and enjoyable read. Smart and snarky character voiceovers, some cool science fiction concepts and some entertaining nerd-humor & easter-eggs! Pretty good deal if you ask me. Thanks for the recommendation @Prajwalit !

The author weaves in some of the most believable and at the same time some of the most amazingly farfetched science fiction concepts in this story. The result isn't as bad as it sounds - quite the contrary in fact. The sarcastic and dry humor reminds you of The Martian, the space-operatic scale of the story reminds you of Star Wars and the crisp, fast-paced narrative keeps you on the edge. The protagonist is a full-blown AI (which you can't help but root for) and all the humans are war-mongering idiots bent on destroying the planet and the environment (so not that different than our present situation).

My only gripe with the story - the way the book ends. Rather it does not end at all. It just stops. I understand this is a trilogy and the author would want to keep the readers wanting more. But there is no cliffhanger, no logical break, the book just ends. Its actually kind of annoying and left a bad taste. You have been warned.

All in all, good, fun read - 4/5.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Book Review of "Jaya - by Devdutt Pattanaik"

I have seen roughly two types of Mahabharata books - the ones aimed at telling the story and the ones which don't focus on just the storytelling aspect of it but also on analyzing, theorizing and interpreting the Mahabharata text. Obviously the books which fall into the second category are way more interesting than the first ones.

Having said that, I felt that "Jaya" by Devdutt Pattanaik was neither here nor there. This isn't necessarily a bad thing mind you. Its just that, one gets the feeling that the author "holds back" or rather "dials down" on the interpretive aspects and chooses to go down the "tell it as it is" path. Still a damn fine book though, but can't help but wonder if it could have been a great one...

More specifically though, "Jaya" is definitely crisp, to-the-point, fast-paced and yet sufficiently detailed. Some of the footnotes and illustrations are astutely done. My favorite parts of the book are the regional variations & folk retellings of the well-known stories - many of them I had never heard of before. Very interesting.

To sum it up, "Jaya" gets a well deserved 4/5 in my view. 
Reading any book about Mahabharata never gets boring. Reading a good book about Mahabharata, a reader can't ask for much more.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Review of "DayTripper - by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá"

I dig comics and graphic novels. So when "DayTripper" showed up as a Goodreads recommendation to me a few days ago, I picked it up without any hesitation. But boy oh boy, was I utterly unprepared for it !

One doesn't expect a graphic novel to tell a story with 'death' as its pivotal theme, to leave a lasting impact without doing any emotional manipulation and also have a beautiful imagery that blends effortlessly with the narrative. "DayTripper" does all of this and so much more. Even with the subject of 'death' being an integral part, it still manages to paint everyday life as something immensely valuable and worth pursuing.

"DayTripper" is a graphic novel by Brazilian twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. The protagonist of the story, "Brás de Oliva Domingos" writes people's obituaries as his day-job and spends rest of his time dreaming about being a successful writer.

I kid you not, but the story that starts with a fairly mundane premise as this does not have a single cliche in it. Just go for it.

A definite 5/5.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review of "Forty Stories - by Anton Chekhov"

This was my first Chekhov book and I can't remember the last time I was so deeply moved by a short story collection. 

Forty Stories is a great read, Chekhov's acute observations of the human spirit, the beautifully portrayed 19th century Russian countryside and the gut-wrenching emotional turmoil of his characters leaves a lasting impact. 

In my mind, the first few stories didn't really seem that captivating and were somewhat off-putting but the last few stories more than made up for it. By the time I turned the last page of the book, I felt awestruck by Chekhov's ability to paint vivid and lasting images of his characters. Even though the stories are over 130 years old, each and every character feels hauntingly real and each story reminds us of the intricacies of human personalities.

All in all, 4/5, a great read indeed.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Book Review of "Dark Matter - by Blake Crouch"

"Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch feels like the book equivalent of a sure-shot, crowd-pleasing Marvel superhero movie. This isn't necessarily a bad thing mind you. The book is fast paced, action packed and entertaining. It falls under the category of "Science Fiction" - though I would say it is less "science" and more "fiction".

The premise of the book is based on the fairly well-known multiverse theory. So even though the science becomes outlandish after a while, the core of the story is good enough to pull it through. As for the characters, there is an underdog, easy-to-root-for protagonist, his love interest and a well defined crisp antagonist, completing the holy trinity that make a like-able story. And even with these basic ingredients, the book as a whole actually works ! It works as a perfect weekend read, it works as a perfectly adequate mindless thriller/action story, without getting too deep or philosophical.

Overall, a definite 4/5 from me. Fun and fast story without pretensions.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Book Review of "India Unbound - by Gurcharan Das"

"India Unbound" by Gurcharan Das is definitely an informative and eye-opening read for someone interested in understanding how the economic landscape of contemporary India came about, why and how the 1991 financial reforms matter.

Gurcharan Das writes with enthusiasm and verve, his passion for classic liberalism, his arguments for minimal government intervention and the detailed point-by-point analysis of 1991 financial reforms is fascinating to read. The incalculable and irreversible harm that was done by extreme socialist policies is captured very well in a chapter called "The Lost Generation". I think every working class Indian needs to read that.

But this book is by no means perfect. For one, it glosses over and sometimes conveniently skips the political & social upheavals that we as a nation were going through that made economic development difficult. Two, the writer prefers to demonize socialism and state-run industrialism fervently but that system did give us some semblance of economic backbone and it is unfair to completely disregard that.

The book explains using real life examples why promoting monopolistic public sector and discouraging private enterprise and discouraging competition in general was bad for literally every single Indian - most importantly the population below poverty line. We preferred socialism over capitalism thinking that it will help the population below poverty line but state-controlled socialistic policies only introduced more controls, more corruption and kept poor people poor. The book points out that what finally seems to have helped (at least based on the evidence of last 25 years) is opening up of the economy, allowing foreign investment and recognizing the importance of investing in education.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about India Unbound.
Is it a must read ? Definitely yes.
Is it an analytical and backed-by-evidence dissection of the Indian economic scene ? Definitely no. Is the writing heartfelt, passionate and sweeps you over ? Yes. But is the book objective and encompasses various orthogonal reasons for India's economic state ? No.
Overall, 3/5 from me.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Book Review of "Endless Night - by Agatha Christie"

"Endless Night" will probably go down as one of my least favorite Agatha Christie novels. Sure, the twist in the end is neat, but the overall pacing is so slow, the story so needlessly melodramatic that after reading about 60% of the book, I thought to myself "if this is a mystery novel, then where is the damn mystery!" 

Surprisingly and very uncharacteristic of Agatha Christie, but the main players in this story are uninteresting and quite predictable to be frank. The entire book is a first person narration from the point of view of a one Michael Rogers and granted that there are some intriguing shades to his personality, they are not enough to salvage the entire story. 

Feels kind of bad, but Agatha Christie's "Endless Night" gets only 2/5 in my opinion.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Review of "Predictably Irrational - by Dan Ariely"

Whether you are into behavioral economics or not, whether there are better books than "Predictably Irrational" out there or not, it is still a must read I feel. For one, it is less economics and more behavioral psychology (this would be considered good or bad depending on your expectations though). Two, about 50% of the experiments that the Author carries out and talks about at length in the book are fascinating and eye-opening. The rest of them, not so much. Three, the book makes you realize how complex human beings are, how the behavioral and emotional complexity makes us both more and less reasonable, both more and less predictable and hence effectively vulnerable as compared to the 'rational thinking human being' that was envisioned in classical economics. 

The good :
- Chapter about why and how we repeatedly choose middle path given several options.
- Clever decoys in marketing pertaining to "free stuff"
- Social norms vs market norms and how deceptively it affects us all !

The bad:
- Over-generalized, far-reaching conclusions based on small sample sizes. This was actually my pet-peeve with Freakonomics as well. I understand that it is very difficult for Behavioral Economists to run experiments on people from different cultures, different ethnicities and different countries. But "behavior" I believe, is tied closely to one's culture, upbringing, where they currently reside & work etc. What is "normal/rational" for an American consumer might be very different than what is normal for an Indian consumer - even though both have equal buying power. 

Overall, I would say Predictably Irrational is an insightful read. Not quite great, but good nonetheless. 4/5 from me.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review of "The Republic of Thieves, The Gentlemen Bastards #3 - by Scott Lynch"

If The Lies of Locke Lamora was great and The Red Seas Under Red Skies was okay-ishly good, I would rate The Republic of Thieves as passably adequate. Action packed with a few perfectly executed twists, some commendable skullduggery, some childish mistakes and about 700 pages later, you are still left with nothing but a feeling of "meh". Don't get me wrong, this is definitely not a bad story, great in some parts but equally slow, tenuous and just plain frustrating sometimes. 

Sabetha, the character that was teased and hinted at continuously in the first two books takes a center stage here. She is a bad-ass no doubt - smart, cunning and a bit savage. She makes our protagonist, Locke Lamora, behave like a one year old cry-baby whose bottle of milk has just been snatched away. This is all fun and games in the beginning, but then even after about 400 pages or so, when you still find them doing the same "dance", it starts to get repetitive and circuitous. I do believe length of the book is an issue here. 
The past story arc is about 17 year old Gentlemen Bastards told to run their first real "job" while pretending to be theater actors. The present story arc takes place in Karthain, the city ruled by the spooky, gritty Bondsmagi. Locke is tasked with rigging the city-state's election in favor of one political party. Sabetha has the same task - but she represents the other political faction. It would have been great to see this Locke vs Sabetha game. But the slow pacing, a couple of ridiculous twists and the fact that the past story arc is better than the present one makes this a messy affair.

Overall, I would give it a 3/5. Passable - yes. Great - No. Perfectly adequate. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Book Review of "Red Seas Under Red Skies, The Gentlemen Bastards #2 - by Scott Lynch"

After the amazing "Lies of Locke Lamora", I admit I expected a lot from "Red Seas Under the Red Skies".

And it did start off pretty good actually - the sarcastic banter, the wise-ass remarks, a couple of crisp, artistically crafted new characters, a new intriguing city-state as a story backdrop and the usual dare devilish and/or foolhardy schemes to pull off ! All was well. 

But after about 200 or so pages into the book, things started going downhill for me. The next one-third part of the book delved deep into a completely tangential pirate story. For no specific reason that I could fathom, readers are bombarded with a lot of naval jargon and some unnecessary maritime details.
Luckily for me, this detour of sorts did not last very long and the story resumed its total awesome-ness in the last act !

Just like the first book, the protagonists were embroiled in 3 or 4 different story arcs - all connected by a common theme - and all of these story arcs converged and concluded in a fairly well executed crescendo !

One great point to note are the female characters in Scott Lynch's fantasy world. Without making a great deal of it, without making any fuss, you would see the women characters doing jobs which are traditionally considered masculine in such fantasy fiction worlds. The women in this world are formidable warriors, bodyguards of important people, captains of pirate ships and also doting mothers and fierce lovers.

Overall, I would give 'Red Seas Under the Red Skies' a 4/5. This is a fiction, fantasy book and I believe it does deliver on its promise of entertainment and storytelling - just not in the same perfect way as the first book did.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Book Review of "The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Gentleman Bastards #1 - by Scott Lynch"

Insanely entertaining, fast-paced & action packed ! "The Lies of Locke Lamora", the first book in the Gentleman Bastards series, is part Ocean's 11, part Italian Job, part Robin Hood and part Game of Thrones. And if that isn't enough, it has some of the wittiest, sassiest & downright bad-ass characters who never miss a chance of giving out a good sarcastic burn! 

I have read my share of fantasy books, and Gentleman Bastards does have some similarities with other great fantasy works of fiction, but it is still so much different than many of them. The main protagonist, 'Locke Lamora' is - for the lack of a better word - a thief. Yes - he has a heart of gold and a sense of right and wrong - but he can also be extremely ruthless, downright cold & calculating and basically a bit of a jerk. I wouldn't go so far as to call him an "anti-hero", but his shades of grey make for a great story indeed !

The author, Scott Lynch, weaves his tale in the fictional city of "Camorr" - inspired after Venice, the city of canals. The language, the dialogues are excellent, character interactions flow effortlessly and you get hooked on to the story very easily.

Overall, a great read if you enjoy fantasy or fiction in general and even if these genres aren't your cup of tea, still worth giving it a shot for a good weekend read.