Book review time: The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2)

The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2)The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Final score is 4.5/5 stars)

What tells you I am liking this series? I am steaming through the trilogy, that’s right! Really liked The Last Empire, and I liked this one too quite a lot! This series is a very solid fantasy and intrigue one, with sprinkles of politics here and there.

In this book we get quite some more politics, and interesting parties enter the scene. Also, we get a closer look into old characters that only came in passing in the first book (Straff anybody? He’s so Tyrion Lannister… absolutely fantastic).
Quite some unknown Lore and story from the first book gets slowly revealed, but only little by little, and the sense of danger is definitely present in this book as well. What is the mist? What does it want? Is it sentient?

To do a similar bullet-point summary as last time, here goes a list (in no particular order) of what I liked, and what I liked less.

What I liked:

  • The politics, and the many different parties involved. The sense that money, power and control are first, and peasant’s well-being comes a long 4th in order of priorities to most parties involved.
  • The kandra, the contract. Very nice to get a bit more into detail into this.
  • Zane and his “inner voice”. This is gold. And his relationship with Straff is even better, I love it.
  • Allomancy keeps being an extremely interesting magic system. I like that we as readers get to know more and more about it, together with the characters, and that there is apparently more to learn about it.
  • Elend’s transformation from idealistic brat to charismatic leader.

What I liked less:

  • Vin’s annoying voice at times. I get it, she has a heavy weight on her shoulders. But the whole romance confusion is plain boring.
  • The koloss. How something so important was not even mentioned in the first book? Perhaps I didn’t pay enough attention, but then it would be Sanderson’s task to get them across to the reader. How something so central in this book is absolutely new is beyond me.

Rated this basically the same as the first book, and have jumped straight to the third installment of the series. This speaks to Sanderson’s addictive writing style, which keeps me hooked for more every time I read. It is action packed. I want to know more. Sometimes I wished my train commute was a tad longer ๐Ÿ˜€


Book review time: The Last Empire (Mistborn #1)

The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Final score is 4.5/5 stars)

This book kick-starts the Mistborn series, and I really liked Sanderson’s style. Can’t really wait to read the next books in the trilogy! And see where the story goes from here.

The setting is a totalitarian empire, where someone called the Lord Ruler, with the help of the nobility, his ministers and inquisitors, is ruling with and iron fist. The wealth of this empire is built atop the suffering and slavery condition of the skaa, which have been subjugated as long as everyone can remember.

The things I liked:

  • The magic system(s), specifically Allomancy. We are lucky enough to get a basic step to step explanation, video game like, since the main character is learning along with us the readers. One, if not the best, magic system I have ever read. And I do read lots of fantasy!
  • The action scenes. Dear Lord (Ruler)! They are vivid, vibrant, action packed, plausible with the powers. Action caviar, basically.
  • Some of the characters, and specifically the “adventurers group dynamics”. Whatever that is.
  • The lore. We only get our tiptoes into it, but so far I like it, and I would love to see more of it as the series advances. But to be sure I really am hesitant were the next books will take us.

The things I liked less:

  • The language was too simple and easy at times. It felt sometimes like a young adult novel, because of the language, but then you get mature themes and lots of violence. Not sure why Mr Sanderson achieves so much with so little, but hats off. It is just not my cup of tea, and would have liked a bit more complex language at times.
  • The “bad guys” and “good guys” were always clearly separated by a thick line. There was no shady grey character, which agenda you can’t decipher, and that go on either side depending on different agendas. So they felt a bit basic at times, that is all.
  • The love thought of the main character. This might be a personal caveat of mine, but it reinforced the YA novel feeling. It was too cheesy for me, but plausible given her age.

Don’t let my upper lists above discourage you. This book was a fantastic read all along, and would definitely recommend to anyone interested in fantasy, action packed novels, and cool magic systems.

P.S. as part of my new year resolutions I want to write reviews (even if short) about the books I read. This will help me recall in the future what I thought about them, and see patterns in my reading ๐Ÿ™‚

Book review time: Homo Deus

Homo Deus: A Brief History of TomorrowHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It has been a very long time since my last book review. Heck, since I last wrote in this blog. But better get restarted.

This book was a Christmas gift, from one of my best friends. He strongly recommended it, as a very insightful read. Have to admit, it has been in my “to-read” pile of books for a while. And as it is a hard copy, it is harder to carry this brick on the train.

The style of Mr. Harari is superb. You can tell this man has written a lot of high quality text throughout his academic career (he holds a PhD from the University of Oxford). It is crisp and concise, and gets the point with perfect examples.

The main objective of the text is to start from the premise that humanity succeeded during the 20th century to overcome famine, war and plague (as a whole, and in the grand scheme of things).
Then the question arises: what comes ahead? Lots of ideas from Mr. Harari flow through the text.

He argues that algorithms, AI, machine learning, genomics, bio engineering will have a huge role to play on it. The examples for these scenarios are alright (I guess), but in my opinion a bit vague, and sometimes lack plausibility because lack of detail. Perhaps that is the engineering mind in me wanting more specifics. Probably too many hardcore science fiction for me!

Another negative point for me was that I am tired of hearing these “catchy” and trendy tech words in the CS/engineering circles, Silicon Valley, Twitter feeds, etc. It seems nowadays it is in everyones’ mouths, and it is a bit too much. I have my opinion on this subject, but that is for another post!

All in all, and despite the above, I do highly recommend this book to all people interested in history, humankind, philosophy and more. It delivers. And all the claims and quoted studies are heavily cited and quoted, so you are free to thread deeper in to the details!

My new (custom built) PC: TheCube!

Ladies and folks! Finally the great moment arrived. After months of following Youtube channels, reading builds on and daydreaming about it, the build materialized.

Basically, I decided to pull the trigger and get the build below [1]. Let me tell you off the bat that I payed around a 10-15% more for the parts (luxury tax of living in Switzerland).

Anyway, I could not be happier! Despite the difficulty in using a very small miniITX case, and it being my first build, everything ended up going smoothly. Heck, I’m even writing this post from the damn thing!!

My long lived 2013 13” Macbook Air went to my sister. Never really adapted to the Apple ecosystem, but it served well during my late university stage. Hope she will make great use of it.

[1] PCPartPicker part list

Book review time: American Gods

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Neil Gaiman came to my attention many years ago through the excellent Sandman comic books. Since then, I read his Neverwhere novel, and although I consider myself a big fantasy/sci-fi reader, I wasn’t convinced. That booked lacked in my opinion a lot of the characters that made Mr. Gaiman’s Sandman excellent.

Luckily, there are second chances. And this one came through a discounted Amazon kindle edition. I had to fight a bit to get the book into my kobo reader (DRM protection, why?). In any case, after some fiddling, and probably doing some illegal stuff with my calibre copy, I was able to have (the legally purchased book) on my kobo!
And OMG did I read it fast. And enjoy it. Shadow, the main character, was a much Gaiman one. The story itself talks about gods, their meaning, mythology, religion, etc. And as every excellent genre book, arouse a lot of questions transferable to the “real” life (whatever that means) from the fantasical story. Another good example of such a case is in my opinion Foundation, by Asimov, where you can learn and think quite a bit about sociology from a fictional universe. Or Game of Thrones, where you can learn some about politics.

The best part of all? Neil Gaiman is British, and he completely captured the American spirit and culture. And one of the biggest struggles associated with the USA: immigration. And the fact that nobody is truly American, but descendant of European/African/Asian immigrants. This topic was, in my opinion, very well covered. And is also one that truly transcends time.

Book review time: Start-up Nation

Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic MiracleStart-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this one pretty fast.
To be honest, I was (am?) a complete disaster when it comes to Middle East contemporary history, Israel included. All my previous knowledge comes from scouring through a couple of Wikipedia articles and watching Waltz with Bashir (if you haven’t seen that movie, shame on you!).

In any case, a book with the catchy premise this one had really caught my attention. And it delivered. The facts were really well researched, and helped to throw some light on why a handful of circumstances have led Israel to be a start-up/venture capital/patents reference. I really wish my home country (Spain) could learn some lessons from the Israeli model.

The only point I don’t fully 100% agree is the need of a strong military/defense plan for a country to strive for innovation. The USA/USSR and their history prove me wrong once again, as does Israel. But I truly wish to believe that there is another way to foster R&D at gigantic steps, at a national level.
With what I do agree (and I know it might be controversial) is the need of a good down to Earth education before college. In Israel’s case, it is the IDF. In my case, it was elite basketball training during high-school, and the private high-school I attended. Those experiences, abilities learned, and networks developed have proven to be key in my adult life so far.

The Kobo Aura H20

I am an avid reader. Or at least I claim to be one.
In any case, after the hiatus of college, where my reading dropped to worrying levelsยน, I have been reading more and more. The train commute of ~30 minutes each way to and from work helps of course ๐Ÿ™‚

So these were the reasons why last Christmas I was in the hunt for a new e-reader, in order to replace my very old Sony e-reader, which I received from my father as a gift when I started college, in 2009 (!). It is hard to remember the exact model, but it had no touchscreen nor backlit screen (PRS-300BC maybe?)

But enough nostalgia! I’m here to talk about my decision of buying the Kobo Aura H20, instead of an Amazon Kindle.

Some of the nice things I like about this device, which I consider are greater than the Amazon family of products:

  • It is water resistant!
    Not going to see me reading in the bathtub with a glass of red wine, but it adds a level of sturdiness to the device. Want to take it to the beach without worrying? Gotcha ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • The screen is huge
    Specifically 6.8″ backlit. It is very comfortable to read, and very crispy and convenient to read at night. This might be personal, but I like this larger screen and that the menus allow for adjustment of letter size, line spacing, etc.
  • It has a Sudoku game built in!
    Not 100% sure if Kindles allow games, but I found it a nice touch for them to give you this installed. Might come in handy while waiting at airports.

And also some things I like, that both device families have:

  • Reading stats (yay!)
    This might be my geekiness coming out, but I love to be able to have my reading stats, and Kobo does well in this regard.
    Might work towards porting this to visualize it with a Python/Perl script. Would be nice if it could sync automagically my Goodreads bookshelves. Maybe a future post digging into these?
  • Battery and space
    This is of course the standard nowadays. And I like it. Just recently I went on a 2 week holiday through Paris and the East Coast of the USA, and never had to charge once. Just plain amazing.

Lastly, the biggest drawback that makes the Kobo a bit handicapped wrt the Kindle family:

  • The Kobo library:
    I mean it is not bad. It has many titles. But in this arena, Amazon is king. Period. And also, it is a pain in the arse to get a book from the Amazon store into your Kobo (you will have to fiddle with DRM etc. Calibre + some plugins might come in handy to achieve that).

ยน This seemed to be the normal behavior among my college peers. It is hard to concentrate after a long day of studying, and it is way easier to watch a TV series or listen to some music…