Monday, August 25, 2014

ALS, My Mum and My Ice Bucket Challenge

I know some of you find the Ice Bucket Challenge silly or childish. A part of me could probably have done so only if my mother weren't suffering from ALS.

She got diagnosed with ALS a year ago. As you can imagine it hasn't been easy since then. Not for her, not for us... I guess, only a fool would think that one is immune to bad things in life. But we are good at pushing away thoughts about bad possibilities. You hear these things around you. Terrible accidents, cancer, heart attacks... Then one day, this dark shadow, this bringer of bad news, is right next to you, in your house. You don't hear it from a friend or an acquaintance but it's your mother or father telling you about their condition.

Then you don't know what to say... for a while, at least. Normally, you never think of inquiring about your parents' or one of your family members life expectancy. You try to find encouraging words, ways to say "hang in there. Be strong. We'll fight it together." But in the case of ALS the fight is a downhill one. Many times, I envied, in my ignorance, cancer patients and their relatives. Just for their hope, their hope of beating their disease. Unfortunately ALS is not like that. It is a debilitating disease. Hope is not about defeating it but only about slowing down the worsening of the patient's condition.

Of course, this is the case today. I'm sure medicine and science will overcome ALS and many other things, given time and resources. This is where the initiatives such as Ice Bucket Challenge become very important. Not only they raise public awareness about these terrible diseases, they also create much sought out resources thanks to people's generous donations. So, please donate generously. You may be helping a relative or a friend who's going to be an ALS patient in the future.

Stay healthy. Stay happy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: Parasite by Mira Grant

Title: Parasite
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit (Oct 29, 2013)
Hardcover: 512 pages
ISBN: 978-0316218955
Series: Parasitology (Book 1)
Electronic Copy: Provided by the Publisher

"A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite -- a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the Intestinal Bodyguard worm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system -- even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives . . . and will do anything to get them."

I recently noticed that Mira Grant's Parasite had been sitting on my NetGalley dashboard for a while. And I knew it had been very well received by the readers therefore I decided it was time to wear my lab coat, safety goggles and rubber gloves to handle this specimen.

Parasite is narrated from the point of view of the main female protagonist Sal (Sally) Mitchell. When Sally was 20 years old she had a seizure while driving. She lost control of her car and drove straight into the path of an incoming bus. The two vehicles collided without slowing down and the impact sent Sally slamming into a nearby wall. After the accident she was pronounced "clinically brain dead". Her parents and sister hoped that she might wake up one day but the damage from the accident had been too great. She was gone. She was not coming back. Or so everybody thought. Thanks to her intestinal bodyguard, Sally (Sal after the accident) woke up with total amnesia, even unable to speak. She was born again.
"I am alive because of a genetically engineered tapeworm. Not a miracle; God was not involved in my survival. They can call it an "implant" or an "Intestinal Bodyguard," with or without that damn trademark, but the fact remains that we're talking about a tapeworm. A big, ugly, blind, parasitic invertebrate that lives in my small intestine, where it naturally secrets a variety of useful chemicals, including - as it turns out - some that both stimulate brain activity and clean toxic byproducts out of blood." 

You see... We think that there are going to be nanorobots controlling many aspects of our bodies in the near future but in Parasite, SymboGen do better than that. They genetically engineer custom tapeworms, SymboGen Intestinal Bodyguards, for each willing patient.
"Without SymboGen, I would have died. I needed to remember that. No matter how much I hated the therapists and the tests and everything else, I owed my life to SymboGen."

Parasite is the first book of Mira Grant's that I've read. Contrary to most bloggers around me I hadn't read her Newsflesh books so I won't be able to compare Parasite with her earlier works. But I can say that I was pleasantly surprised with her prose and her energetic dialogs. Opening of the chapters with descriptions of video footages recorded by various protagonists certainly added to the story and to the general atmosphere of the book. Unfortunately these weren't enough for me to love Parasite. It's such a pity that the plot couldn't be on par with the author's prose.

The story lacked considerable pace, especially at the first half of the book. Twice I thought we were shifting up gears, a third through and halfway through, to be disappointed shortly after. I kept waiting for the action during a story that mostly came across flat.

Furthermore, the plot was unable to convince me. I haven't done any research on it but most of the time, at least about anything that's not instinctive, I would have expected Sal to behave like a 6 year-old. She was far from that. Her speech, her thoughts and especially her analytical capabilities fully reflected her adult age.

I also felt like the profession of Sal's father and sister, and the introduction of a dog were too convenient... too contrived. Dad and sister's working for the San Francisco branch of USAMRIID - the United States of America Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases helped certainly the author in adding some twists to the plot. Introduction of the dog wasn't necessary in my opinion. It was a cheesy move. I would not have been too surprised about it if it were done 30 years ago much more skilfully by King or Koontz. Perhaps the dog has a role to play in future instalments of the series.

Parasite, the first book of Mira Grant's that I've read, was unable to satisfy me. The author's prose makes me certain that I will try another book of hers in the future, truly hoping that she can create better plots.

Overall: 6/10
"Roll the dice but count the cards,
Break the glass but keep the shards."

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review: Half A King by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Half A King
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Hardcover: 352 Pages
US Publisher: Del Rey (15 Jul 2014)
UK Publisher: Harper Voyager (3 Jul 2014)
ISBN-10: 0804178321
ISBN-13: 978-0804178327
Series: Shattered Sea
Electronic Copy: Sent by the publisher

"I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy."

Half A King’s setting is reminiscent of the Viking era. The main protagonist, Yarvi, is a prince. He is the second son of his father, trailing a strong brother groomed to rule one day. Yarvi has a deformed hand so he is considered unfit to rule in a land where physical power is what a great leader is expected to have.

Young Yarvi learns the death of his father and his brother when he is about to become a minister, readying himself for a life of celibacy. Because of his handicap he has never imagined he would rule. But when his Uncle comes unannounced and kneels before him saying “My King” he understands that his father and his brother are dead. And this changes his life forever.

"He had expected to be a minister. To give up wife and children with hardly a thought. Kissing the aged cheek of Grandmother Wexen when he passed the test was the closest he had hoped to come to romance."
In Half a King, Abercrombie has created a world with a hint of mythology that I hope we would discover in more details in the series' future instalments. In this world, Elves are the legendary powerful beings who lived a long time ago and who vanished leaving buildings and all sorts of artifacts behind. It is told that they haven't been seen "since the Breaking of God" and "for thousands upon thousands of years".

This world has also many gods: "409 small and 6 tall". I really liked how the author created dualities by calling the six tall gods: Mother Sea, Father Earth, Mother Sun, Father Moon, Mother War, Father Peace.

When the new book of one of my favourite authors lands on my desk I drop whatever I’m reading in order to savour this precious newcomer. However it is not easy to review such a book. Not because I feel like I have to write a good review but because of expectations and standards. To me, the book of a top author comes with a heavy responsibility: to live up to the standards set by the author in her previous books. And this is where it gets tricky because having high expectations is the enemy of great entertainment. Therefore, opinions expressed about such a book should be considered in this context where disappointments could seem much larger.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to say that Half A King is a bad book. But… (You knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you) since the moment I turned the last page of the book I’ve been telling myself “there’s something missing in Half A King. Something that made me love Abercrombie’s books”. It’s hard to put a finger on it. I guess what I missed the most in Half A King was the stomach knotting, gut wrenching, kick in the balls moments that leave you breathless and that make you shake your fist to the heavens. Those are the side effects of an immersive reading that usually earn Abercrombie 10/10 from me and I really missed them.

Then, maybe it’s also due to the “tone” of the story telling. I know some readers complain about cursing and sex in books but those are part of the reality, aren’t they? Think about the Viking era. Or about a medieval setting. Do you think that baddies, mercenaries, soldiers, sailors, slaves, whores talked like they were part of the royal family? No, of course not. Same goes for sex. They didn’t live their sexual lives like 13 year olds stealing kisses from each other. In my opinion those details add reality to a story and help in creating the immersive experience that I always look for in the books that I read. So maybe they were part of the things that I missed in Half A King.

Last but not least, the book also felt pretty short. I would have expected Abercrombie to develop certain parts of the story in more detail. I'm not sure whether this was due to editing or just due to the style of the story telling but that's what I felt. Now... this could also indicate a good story as in "pages turned themselves" or "read it in one sitting". You could be the judge when you read it.

I enjoyed Half A King but it didn’t satisfy me as fully as Abercrombie’s pervious books. It was like being very thirsty on a summer day, grabbing the last bottle of your favourite beer and finding it not as cold as you imagined it. Nonetheless, I would recommend it. It is a good story told masterfully by one of the best fantasy writers. You can’t go wrong with it. Get your copy, enjoy it and look forward to reading the second book of the series.

Overall: 8/10

Memorable Quotes:

"The fool strikes. The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns. Then strikes." - Queen Laithlin

"A king must win. The rest is dust." - Odem

"Enemies are the price of success." - Queen Laithlin

"The wise wait for their moment, but never let it pass."

"When a wise minister has nothing but enemies, she beats one with a worse." - Mother Gundring

"When you’re in hell, only a devil can point the way out." - Yarvi

"The great warrior is the one who still breathes when the crows feast. The great king is the one who watches the carcasses of his enemies burn." - Nothing

"You cannot expect all the heroes to survive a good song." - Yarvi

"You may need two hands to fight someone, but only one to stab them in the back." - Yarvi

"A wise king always has someone to blame." - Mother Gundring

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mobile App: Hairy Tales

I came across Hairy Tales last night. It is currently free on Apple's App Store. It is a great puzzle-action game and by the time you pass the tutorial you're addicted to it. I'm sure you're going to like the Hairys.

Hairy Tales by Josh Presseisen

Combining tile-dragging mechanics with fast furious action, Hairy Tales is a puzzle action game about the zany adventures of a group of not too bright folk spirits, as you help them puzzle out evil conundrums in their mission to save their tile-based world from sickening corruption.

It stars the Hairys, an excitable group of fairy folk who are so eager to clear their world of corruption that they simply don't watch where they're going. It's up to you to lead them to safety by placing tiles and power ups in their way.

It has 72 levels split across three distinctive worlds, where players must simultaneously save the Hairys from falling off the edge of the world by re-arranging the tiles on each level, while acquiring power ups, magic mushrooms and destroying evil enemy Kikimoras and their three powerful end bosses.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Winds of Change

I just hit the "PAUSE" button.

I'll be blogging only on Speculative Book Review for a while.

Thank you.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: Crash by Guy Haley

"Dariusz is an engineer whose career ended years ago; now, a man he’s never met sits in a bar that doesn’t exist and offers him a fresh start... at a price. Cassandra – ‘Sand,’ to her friends – is a space pilot, who itches to get her hands on the controls and actually fly a ship, rather than watch computers do it for her.

The ‘Pointers’ – the elite 0.01% who control virtually all wealth – have seen the limitations of a plundered Earth and set their eyes on the stars. And now Dariusz and Sand, and a half-million ambitious men and women just like them, are sent out to extend the Pointers’ and the Market’s influence across the galaxy.

But the colony fleet is sabotaged and the ESS Adam Mickiewicz crashes, on an alien planet where one hemisphere is seared by perpetual daylight and the other shrouded in eternal night. The castaways have the chance to create society from scratch... if they're not destroyed by the hostile planet – or their own leaders – before they can even begin."

"Why do you read fiction?" When I turned the barrel of this question to myself, my immediate answer was: "to be entertained". In fiction, entertainment is what I'm looking for and the overall experience is what I value the most. To qoute Jojen Reeds from Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire: "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one." So, when I turned the first page of Crash, I was looking to put another notch on the hilt of that sword.

Crash opens with a prologue that immediately hooks the reader.
"At first, Dariusz Szczeciński was dead, then he was not.
Machines hurried him to life more quickly than they should. Preservative fluids were sucked from his circulatory system with haste, warmed blood pumped in their place..."

The main protagonish, Dariusz Szczeciński, wakes up after, what appears to be, a crash. The dozen-page prologue is perfect to whet the reader's appetite.

Then, the author takes us to 22nd-century Earth where the reader remains throughout the first quarter of the book. Here Haley paints a very probable picture of our hurting planet that is damaged beyond repair. In that future, a handful of people forming the elite of the society, the pointers, live a dream life while 99% of the human population can barely survive. In this first part, the reader gets to know the backstory of the main protagonist Dariusz as well as some other important characters.

Maybe it comes with the age but as I grow older I lose my faith in humanity. We are not doing enough to protect our planet, we are wasting precious resources, in the name of dogma we are not educating our people in family planning. And one of the projections of our planet's current state could very well match what Haley describes in this first part of Crash. That probable realism glued the book to my hands.

And in the second part of the book the reader find herself back to the crash and the very important events surrounding it. That's where the story picks up more speed.

Unfortunately I hadn't read any of Haley's work before therefore I won't be able to compare Crash to his previous novels however I really liked his smooth, flowing style. The structure and the construction of the story is skilfully realised and Crash is somewhat reminiscent of some of Eric Brown's work. One or two characters failed to make an impression on me however, in general, I didn't have much difficulty in relating to them.

Crash is an action-packed, enthralling novel. I loved Guy Haley's storytelling and in Crash he gives us an adventure well-worth following. I am really looking forward to reading the sequel. And when I turned Crash's last page I knew I was going to read one of Haley's previous works very soon, while waiting for its sequel to be published. A copy of Champion of Mars is already waiting for me on my desk.

Plot: ............. 8
Characters: ... 7
Style: ............ 8

Overall: ....... 8.5/10

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cover Art: The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

We keep saying "don't judge a book by its cover" and we strive to be less superficial. Nevertheless, a first impression remains a very strong feeling. The covers that have the power to move each individual may be different but they are still powerful.

Obviously I missed the cover reveal a while back. But when I first saw the cover of The Emperor's Blades, I felt I had to drop everything I was doing to read the book. It seems to me that the cover alone wants to tell us a story that is worth listening to. Needless to say, I was very disappointed to see that we were 6 months away from the publication date (14 Jan 2014). Well... That's something to look forward to in the new year.


When the emperor of Annur is murdered, his children must fight to uncover the conspiracy—and the ancient enemy—that effected his death.

Kaden, the heir apparent, was for eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, where he learned the inscrutable discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power which Kaden must master before it’s too late. When an imperial delegation arrives to usher him back to the capital for his coronation, he has learned just enough to realize that they are not what they seem—and enough, perhaps, to successfully fight back.

Meanwhile, in the capital, his sister Adare, master politician and Minister of Finance, struggles against the religious conspiracy that seems to be responsible for the emperor’s murder. Amid murky politics, she’s determined to have justice—but she may be condemning the wrong man.

Their brother Valyn is struggling to stay alive. He knew his training to join the Kettral— deadly warriors who fly massive birds into battle—would be arduous. But after a number of strange apparent accidents, and the last desperate warning of a dying guard, he’s convinced his father’s murderers are trying to kill him, and then his brother. He must escape north to warn Kaden—if he can first survive the brutal final test of the Kettral.