What I read in October 2019

  1. Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse: Native American mythology meets urban fantasy with climate sci-fi. It gives a new twist to urban fantasy, where usually the fantastical beings are fairies, vampires or werewolves. This book brings monsters slayers and Navajo people clan powers in a post-climate change world.
  2. Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy by  James Williams: A reflection on our technology and how the attention economy is do omnipresent today.
  3. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter: Good analysis of how some new technologies are addictive. It discusses the concepts of addition and how cues that are used in gambling environments (like casinos) are used in various technologies today to keep us hooked. That goes from cliffhangers at the end of a TV show episode to little rewards in a video game to notifications on our mobile devices.
  4. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik BrynjolfssonAndrew McAfee: An excellent account of the state of technology today and how it affects the work force. Full of new perspectives and ideas for the future.
  5. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke: Classic sci-fi, so it’s full of ideas that can be dated back to the 50’s. What if an alien superpower reaches Earth? Will we fight them? Will they destroy us? I thought the humans were too complacent accepting the Overlords power. There were riots going on and opposing groups but they seemed irrevelant. This is basically a tale of how humans will disappear, eventually, lead by an alien super power.

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What I read in September 2019

  1. Medusa Uploaded (The Medusa Cycle, #1) by Emily Devenport , 317p: I loved the premise: a generation ship in a 100 years voyage to a new place, augmented humans, classical music references, lots of visits to airlocks, a rebellion, deep sleep units and awesome semi organic-semi synthetic artificial intelligent units, called Medusas.
  2. An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) by by Sabaa Tahir, 446p : I felt there was a disproportionate level of violence on this one. And people being subdued by superior power structures. Impossibly dangerous trials that often result in death. But in the end it is a story about rebelling and destroying power structures, which gives a hint of hope when you get to the last chapters.
  3. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, 368p: It’s an excellent reference about the science of sleep: our biological needs, what sleep does to our brain and, most importantly, what are the negative consequences caused by sleep deprivation.

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My thoughts on “The Poppy War”

My thoughts on “The Poppy War”

“The Poppy War” by R.F. Kuang is a grim dark fantasy with war as a background. But the beginning of the book almost feels like a YA-Harry-Potter type of story. Until it isn’t. It’s definitely not young adult, although we follow a young war-orphan peasant joining a military school and going through all the discoveries and pains of growing up.

Rin, the main character, is goal driven and works hard to achieve what she wants: basically pass the hardest test of the Empire to join a prestigious military academy: Sinegard. She is smart. She is tough. She is focused. She is a quick learner. She becomes one of the few students to follow the path of Lore: an ancient skill that enables a connection with the Gods’ powers. And she is thrown into a merciless ongoing war between two Federations (Nikan and Mugen).

The writing is awesome and there are excellent dialogues between the students and the teachers about war strategy, logic and philosophy. There are references to Buddhism, Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”, meditation, shamans, martial arts. Also, the ugly brutality of war is there. War is not romanticized at all. There are gory descriptions of the aftermath of war. The decisions the characters have to make are not easy, there is no right or wrong, only what needs to be done to cause the less amount of damage.

The war described in the book was strongly influenced by the Second Sino-Japanese War during the Republican era (when Japan invaded China in the 1930s) and specifically the Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanking). It’s ugly. There is no better way of saying it. The third part of the book contains disturbing scenes that work as a reality check into humanity’s war history.

There is a passage when Rin tries to understand War:

“A rational explanation eluded her. Because the answer could not be rational. It was not founded in military strategy. It was not because of a shortage of food rations, or because of the risk of insurgency or backlash. It was, simply, what happened when one race decided the other was insignificant.” ― R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

The magic being derived from the power of the Pantheon of Gods was an interesting take on fantasy magic systems. It’s hard, drug ingestion is involved in the process and the shaman can’t always control it. It’s like a raw force that is channeled. It seems like all shamans go insane one way or the other.

It’s an excellent dark fantasy-military historical read that defies what is fantasy and what is a hero. Rin is a fleshed out strong character with her flaws, fears and strengths. The narrative is not worried about our pre-established notions of what is a hero. The world building is fascinating. Reality is tough and there are not shortcuts to solve complex problems. Only hard work and difficult choices.

“War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains.”
― R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War


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What I read in August 2019

What I read in August 2019

This was definitely a Graphic Novel month with Near-future politics, Grim-dark fantasy and a hint of Time Travel paradoxes.

  1. Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle, #1) by Malka Ann Older : This one is very social-political with interesting ideas of a different flavor of democracy. More thoughts here.
  2. One Word Kill (Impossible Times, #1) by Mark Lawrence: Time travel and Dungeons and Dragons, what could go wrong? Crazy, fun, and imaginative. How to time travel without creating a paradox? It’s a trilogy, so I’ll definitely grab the next one.
  3. Saga, Vol. 6 (Saga (Collected Editions) #6) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  4. Saga, Vol. 7 (Saga (Collected Editions) #7) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  5. Saga, Vol. 8 (Saga (Collected Editions) #8) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  6. Saga, Vol. 9 (Saga (Collected Editions) #9) by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples: I finished reading this excellent series!!
  7. The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang: grim dark fantasy with war as a background. But the beginning of the book almost feels like a YA-Harry-Potter type of story. Until it isn’t.

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Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older and democracy flavors

Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle, #1)Infomocracy by Malka Ann Older
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is very social-political with interesting ideas of a different flavor of democracy.

In a near future there are no countries as we have today, but rather groups of 100,000 people that make up a “centenal”. So while walking around you can cross various “centenals” on you path. Each “centenal” has its own political party. The political parties are like global governments, they can rule various centenals at the same time. Every 10 years there is a global election in which citizens choose their centenals governments. The most voted government becomes “The Supermajority”, but I could not understand exactly what is its power or its role in the global decision making process. It seemed a super important position to fight for, tho (maybe I have to read the next book in the series to find out).

Also, there’s “Information”, a large nonprofit organization that controls and vets what information people can access on their handhelds. I couldn’t help but think of Google. What if Google became a non-profit that everybody accepts as the only source of news, navigation maps, encyclopedia, social communication tools? That’s what’s going on here.

So there is espionage, political campaigns, activism and information censorship. Discussions about the elections process, democracy, monopolies, immigration, disinformation control, minorities representation, war, technology.

There is commentary about the Internet and how it transforms into an essential part of everybody’s life. How it is a tool to keep the system running and how it could be used to manipulate and control. Something that is actually disturbingly close to our present situation.

It’s a huge thought experiment on democracy and representation. We follow various characters, each one working for a different political government, or for Information, or just rebels that want to break down the system.

I thought the book was not so action-packed as I would like, but the thought-provoking ideas were worth the read!

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