Monday, December 01, 2014

Book Review - Around the World in Eighty Days

Jules Verne is considered one of the early authors of the sci-fi genre. While Around the World in Eighty Days may not immediately fit our mold of "science fiction", when you figure that this was originally written in 1873, the science involved is pretty significant even if it is all based on accurate science rather than fanciful imaginations. Prior to reading, I knew the basic story and characters but not much more than that. Eccentric and meticulously orderly Phileas Fogg places a bet with members of his social club that he can travel around the world in 80 days. The date is chosen based on a loose claim listed in the newspaper based on the outlined timetables for trains and ships.

The first thing I found interesting was the character of Phileas Fogg. Based solely on my knowledge of the plot, I had expected him to be some wild and crazy madcap character with all sorts of outrageous behavior. Instead, Verne spends the first many pages showing us that Fogg is very much a creature of habit with ordinary behaviors. If anything, Fogg is a bit boring as a character. He has a precise daily and weekly schedule dictating when he wakes, when he sleeps, when he eats and everything he does in between. He doesn't have any extravagant hobbies or pastimes and doesn't do much of anything to engage in social events of the day. His flippant and sudden placing of the bet seems out of character and is quickly followed by quick adaptation to a new schedule as he immediately rushes home from his club, packs a quick bag, grabs his servant and proceeds to his first destination. Even in his quick trip, we seldom see him Fogg rushing or impetuous in any way. He is the picture of calm even as his trip faces adversity.

As a contrast to Fogg, his servant Passepartout is a very emotional character full of as much passion and frustration as Fogg is full of calm. Passepartout is stymied by his master's wager but rushes along with him on the adventure, excited to see the world. He is dismayed as he realizes that the whirlwind tour will result primarily in him seeing the cabins of ships or trains and very little of the world they're passing through. With each obstacle that comes their way, Passepartout practically shrieks in frustration and really adds to the sense of suspense and tension in the adventure. He is a great counter to Fogg's character and really helped make the book more entertaining.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Books Read in 2014

For the past few years (20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009) I've had a goal to read and review a bunch of books over the course of each year.

My goal has been to average a book per week and end up with 50 books read and reviewed at the end of the year. I usually don't include smaller books (early middle grade, picture books, etc) unless I feel really strongly about them.  In 2013, I was significantly below my goal.  Oh well.

This year (2014) I plan to improve on my downturn in 2013.  If I hit 50, great, but at the very least, I hope to reach 40 books read in 2014.  I will also try to share all of my reviews here so you can get a feel for what I liked or didn't like.  That said, I generally only pick up a book to read it if I feel like it "speaks to me" in some way, so chances are, most of my reviews will be fairly positive.  Even then, I'm sure I'll come across some stinkers.  :)

If you have any suggestions for books to read or ways I can make my reading goal more exciting, please let me know.

And now, without further ado, here's the list of books I've read so far in 2014:
(I will be updating this post each time a new book is read/reviewed)
  1. The Martian
  2. The Forbidden Stone (The Copernicus Legacy Book 1)
  3. At First Light
  4. The Orphanage of Miracles
  5. The High Druid's Blade
  6. The Conjuring Glass (The Phoenix Girls Book 1)
  7. The Bluest Eye
  8. Frostborn (Thrones and Bones book 1)
  9. Death in Venice and other tales
  10. Shell Game (Kingdom Keepers #5)
  11. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  12. Around the World in Eighty Days
  13. Finn
  14. The Rule of Thoughts (Mortality Doctrine #2)
And for additional reference, here's a link to my "to be read" list over at Goodreads. This list includes purchased books on my bookshelves (but not read) as well as tons of books that have been recommended to me over the years. As you can see, the list is huge...and never really shrinks since there are always new recommendations coming in. So tell me...what good books have you read lately that I should add to my list? Any that I "MUST" get to ~immediately? :-)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Review - The Rule of Thoughts

The Rule of Thoughts is the second book in James Dashner's new series "The Mortality Doctrine." For those who found Dashner through the recent exposure of the "Maze Runner" movie, you'll enjoy a similar level of writing and a similar general tone but a significantly different story. As with the Maze Runner series, our protagonists are teenagers and they are in a world/situation with motivations that aren't entirely clear. This series is set sometime in the future and involves a sort of "Massively Multiplayer Online Game" taken to the extreme and with a heightened level of "virtual reality" involvement. The gamers lay down in a box (which they morbidly call a "coffin") and through a series of wires and sensory mechanisms they are "dropped into" the game world with a full sensation of reality. They run around with the full sensation of being immersed in the program. Naturally there are gamers who are more technologically savvy than others and they find ways to hack through the game world and manipulate things to their advantage. Enter our protagonists.

In the first book, The Eye of Minds, Michael and his friends are having fun hacking through the game world and enjoying life to its fullest but they aware of rumors of some super hacker cyber-terrorist, Kaine, that's somehow killing people through the game program. Michael and his friends are approached by a government security agency and asked to help track Kaine.

SPOILER ALERT - (the next ~2 paragraphs contain spoilers from the first book which ends with some surprises)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving...jibjab style

Hope everybody has a wonderful Thanksgiving and remembers all of the things they're thankful for. I'm so thankful for my wonderful family. They are the best part of my life every day. I love you guys.

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Review - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

In spite of having been recommended my "classic 20th Century Sci-Fi" reading list has never included any work by Philip K. Dick. I've enjoyed a number of movie adaptations based on his work, so I felt like it was high time to give him a try. Not knowing the best place to start, I chose the iconic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

While I was reading the book, my 14-year-old son noted the title and said "That sounds either very silly or very boring or both." I was about halfway through the book when he made the comment so I was able to let him know that even the "silly" concepts were presented in realistic and serious ways and that while it might not be a suspenseful edge-of-your-seat page turner there were some intriguing action sequences that involved death and destruction. My son left the conversation more educated but still not entirely convinced that this book would draw him in.

Now that I've finished reading, I'm also not sure it would draw him in. While the book has a sort of futuristic detective Noir element, it's not exactly the snarky and explosive detective novel of a Dashell Hammett and it's definitely not the sort of sensory explosion that is working so hard to pull in the short attention span of 21st century kids. At the same time, I think he, or any reader, can really get drawn in if they were to approach this book not looking at it as an suspense-adventure mystery thrill ride but as a thoughtful psychological exploration of humanity, technology and morality.

This book is approaching its 50 year anniversary and, as is often the case with futuristic sci-fi, it's starting to show its age in a few aspects. At the same time the story and the technology is presented in such a way that makes the world real and believable. Some of the futuristic high-tech ideas are great. They don't yet feel quite as prophetic as some that I've read from Bradbury, for example, but the concepts and technology still have shadows and nuances that exist in our modern world.

Even more than the technology, I found the psychological exploration of humanity and morality to be very intriguing. The book takes place on post-apocalyptic Earth. Most of humanity has emigrated to Mars or other space colonies. Those who continue to live on Earth generally either do so because they can't afford to leave, are just too stubborn to leave or are prohibited to leave because of physical or mental limitations that society doesn't wish to "infect" the new off-planet environments. The story follows a bounty hunter, Rick Deckard, who works for the L.A. police department to "retire" illegal Androids in the area. Androids are used in the various off-planet colonies as laborers and companions for the humans but some androids become a little too willfully self-aware and they break away from their assignments and flee to someplace new where they try to "pass" as human and create a new life for themselves.