What I read in February 2020

This month was all about The Witcher books. I will definitely go through all the books in the series because: 1) I love the characters; 2) I like the writing style and 3) It’s classic D&D with a twist.

  1. The Time of Contempt (The Witcher, #2) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 337p: It’s an action-packed book with cool worldbuilding lore. Fun at times but also violent and dramatic. It left me wanting to jump into the next one right away.
  2. Baptism of Fire (The Witcher, #3) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 378p: This book has that vibe of a good old Dungeons and Dragons adventure. It has the best group of characters travelling together: Milva (a hunter and bad-ass archer), Dandelion (the curious and talented bard), Regis (a weird druid), Zoltan Chivay and his group (a resourceful dwarf who is leading other dwarves and gnome) and Cahir from Nilfgaard (although he says he isn’t). It was exciting, it had some gore, violence, but also friendship and happy moments.
  3. Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life by David Allen, 192p: Short chapters: each one exploring one aspect of the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology. It’s a collection of David Allen’s newsletters throughout the years. It contains various of his famous quotes and some of his A-HA moments working with the methodology.

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What I read in January 2020

This first month of the year I read way more than I thought I would. It was surprisingly very productive in this regard.

  1. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff : This one was a dense and dry read, maybe a little bit too long. It brings a detailed account of the emergence of Surveillance Capitalism and how it threatens democracy, privacy and information.
  2. Letters From An Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson : Such a delight! I listened to Audio book which is narrated by the author and it’s excellent. Clever answers to people’s questions about science and religion, aliens, life and the universe.
  3. The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less by Christine Carter: A productivity blogger recommended this book and it was okay. It’s basically a compilation of best practices that work for the author. It was a relaxing read that reminded me of how important it is to pause and rest. And to simplify things.
  4. Blood of Elves (The Witcher, #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski: This the first full length novel of the Witcher series (the previous 2 books are basically a collection of short stories). The story follows the aftermath of the attack on the Kingdom of Cintra by the Nilfgaardian empire. Ciri starts her training as a Witcher but she starts to demonstrate weird powers so Geralt asks for the help of Triss Merigold. They decide that Ciri needs a normal education as well as some magic training, so Yennefer starts training her too. The story and the world building are extremely well done. I couldn’t put it down until the end and then I had to continue reading the next book…
  5. Sword of Destiny (The Witcher, #2) by Andrzej Sapkowski: This one is a darker book where the characters are temporarily separated from each other, and some serious confrontation between the mages/sorceress take place. Everyone is looking for Ciri and she is on the run. And there are donuts in the Witcher’s world! Another read I couldn’t put down that lead me to Book 3 straight away.
  6. Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future by Andrew McAfee, Erik Brynjolfsson: A continuation of the “Second Machine Age” with focus on crowd-sourced technologies. Cloud computing, Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, network platform businesses. An up-to-date book about the decentralized technologies that are out there and how will they impact our future.

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What I read in November 2019

  1. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity by David Allen: I first read this book in 2012 and it changed my life. GTD is a method that helps me organize myself and reflect on my goals, values and purpose. This the 4th time I read this book. Every time I feel like I lost perspective and/or overwhelm dominates me, I go back to this book to make sense of it all. And it helps!
  2. Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1): A nice urban fantasy. It’s got magic and gory murder scenes with a sense of humour. I want to know more about the wizard Harry Dresden.

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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


Book info: