Avatar

28. April, 2010

I just shut down my PS3 after watching Avatar (Blue Ray disk). Technically, the film is great. The plants, nature, everything looks just amazing. As had been said before, the story is pretty obvious and I was disappointed that there were no surprises at all (except for Pandora’s wildlife).

For example, they should have switched bodies before the attack. When the madman crashes the container, the vaults should have been empty.

The next thing I was hoping for was a surprise attack against the base while all the air support is elsewhere, using some kind of trick to avoid the satellites.

The only reason that I can think of for such a shallow script is that the director didn’t want to drag any attention from the fantastic nature shots. The flight scenes are grand, the surroundings look incredible detailed and believable. If there is an animal, it’s not just some puppet; it moves, it flows, it breathes. This guy found much better words than I:

… about 30 minutes in to the film, you realize that the marketing has undersold the movie. In an era when every great moment of a film makes its way to a trailer, Avatar surprised me with an endless amount of unparalleled optical overload.

Recommendation: Must see. Twice.


Glasshouse

8. April, 2010

I just finished reading Glasshouse by Charles Stross.

The book was advertised as the next great thing and it was a nice read. Charles definitely did think a lot of things through like what you will be able to do when you can manipulate matter to the atomic level. As in “manipulate the mind.” We know drugs can change how your brain works but how about you can modify each and every molecule of your brain?

In these terms, the book is a good read. People can backup themselves and if you get killed, you can suddenly find yourself in an odd situation because you don’t knew what happened just that something must have gone wrong. As we software specialists say: Backup early and often.

Overall, I like the book and the presented ideas. Some things don’t seem to make sense but eventually, all puzzles are resolved (with the exception why Robin suddenly wakes up elsewhere; my guess is that he got killed after signing the contract but I’d have expected a message from the people running the experiment in this case which explains the situation to poor Robin).

There is just one glaring bug: The bad guys left a really powerful device in a place where the protagonist has pretty much unlimited, unsupervised access. I understand that high level surveillance wasn’t allowed by the rules of the game at this place but a simple switch which sends a signal “trapdoor is open” would have been more than enough. Of course, the story wouldn’t have worked anymore. Oh well. If you can ignore this, you’re in for some fresh SciFi ideas.

Also, Charles likes deus-ex-machina, so you’ll have several situations where the heroes are in a deadly trap and suddenly, you learn that they did plan for this situation and they get away. Acceptable once or twice but not that often.

Recommendation: Consider to buy.


Nation and the 6th part of the Hitchhiker

1. January, 2010

Just finished reading two books: “Nation” (Terry Pratchett) and “And Another Thing …” by Eoin Colfer.

When I browse through my favorite book store here in Zurich, I’m always looking for something new by Terry Pratchett. I’m a huge fan of his Diskworld series and always torn when there still isn’t another volume out. On one hand, I really miss his witty way to look at the world, on the other, a good thing takes time. So this time, I ambled into the other works of Pratchett but after the the carpet people and “Johnny and the bomb”, I wasn’t too thrilled. But I couldn’t walk away from “Just possibly the best book Pratchett has ever written” (Fantasy and Science Fiction).

And it is. It’s a hugely different setting than Diskworld but as witty and smart as you’d expect. It’s the story of a boy who sets out to become a man and becomes so much more. It’s about standing up against peril, evil and bullies. If you like Diskworld, you must read this, too.

Eoin Colfer was a similar issue: Part 6 of the THHGTTG? You’ve got to be kidding! I loved the stories around Artemis Fowl but The Hitchhiker? Is Eoin out of his mind? Luckily, he asked himself the same questions.

The net result: Definitely not a book by Douglas Adams but also definitely a book from the Hitchhiker series. Ever wondered where the animals come from that want to be eaten and can argue in their favor? There must be herds, right? There are. When Thor (the Norse god) needs some aiming practice, they “provide moo-ving targets”. Just like Adams, Eoin (pronounced Owen) likes to take things to the tip and I mean the utmost protruding electron. It’s a book about a world where all your wishes were granted. And you know the old saying. A fun read and at least one good laugh on every page. To put it another way: The worst thing about the book is its title.

If you’re still worrying whether you should dare to complete the trilogy with part 6, stop and buy.

Recommendation: Buy. Both. Now.


The Temporal Void

3. January, 2009
Cover of "The Temporal Void"

Cover of The Temporal Void

Holidays. The only time where I can read or “dream with open eyes” (text from a bookmark). This year, it was “The Temporal Void” by Peter F. Hamilton. It’s the sequel to “The Dreaming Void” (my review).

Again, the series is coming along great (which Peter can probably see on your bank account ­čÖé Well deserved if you ask me). I like the rich characters, the story is sound and believable. Recommendation: Buy. Now.

There were three spots which I didn’t “buy” in “The Temporal Void”, places where I dropped from the story and thought “WTF?” Note: Only mild spoilers below; you can read on even if you haven’t read the book, yet.

  1. So Aaron is stranded on Hanko, the planet is about to blow up and the Navy scout is about to pick him up. After being warned that he’s dangerous, having the best sensors military money can buy, they let him simply walk on their ship battle ready and kill them. I mean, OK, shit happens and maybe these was the Omega ship with the best morons the Navy could find and such … but … nah, really ­čÖé With instant comm available at all times, no one is watching this important operation? There isn’t even a recording? Didn’t buy that one.The same happened in the first part when Aaron broke into the storage vault to claim Inigos memories. Why did you place the guards *inside* (where all that delicate stuff will break if they ever would have to engage someone)? Why not place them on the other side of the vault door where they can pummel any intruder against a foot or two of solid steel, without any cover?
  2. Edeard finds his childhood friend Salrana in the clutches of Ranalee and leaves her there. I never thought he would be the character to leave someone behind. He knows only bad can come from this; I mean it’s only the tenth time this happens, he got to learn something, right? If he dragged Salrana away, the girl would be mad but he could leave her with the Pythia and look for a solution if she doesn’t know one. If all else fails, he could simply blackmail Ranalee into fixing what she did. So I accept that he’s tired and worn out and all that but this just didn’t fit.
  3. Paula and the quantumbuster. So this thing really distorts spacetime to wreak havoc with matter. How can she get away when space is so twisted? How about just nailing her in place using the ships in orbit and blowing up the station the traditional way?

Other than that, the story is the usual perfect piece of work from Peter. I’ve posted the text above in Peter’s inbox; should I get a reply, I’ll post it here.


How to Cure a Fanatic

21. July, 2008

Like many people, I’ve always been wondering how the Jews, barely escaped from being extinct, can behave like they do in Israel and Palestine today. It seems, some of them wonder as well. One of them is Amos Oz who has written a wonderful book about fanaticism: How to Cure a Fanatic.

If you don’t understand that I’m arguing against violence here, get the book and read it.

According to the book, a fanatic is a person who cares so much about you that he’d rather kill you than let you be miserable.

Oddly, this makes sense. Fanatics want to make the world a better place — at all cost. In the second chapter of the book, Oz tells a short story why this doesn’t work. He does that in a way that even a fanatic might understand (translated into English by me; all mistakes are mine).


A friend of Amos Oz, the Israeli romancer Sami Michael once made a long trip in a car. During the ride, the driver gave him the usual lecture how important it was for the Jews to kill all Arabs.

Instead of harassing this guy with “What a horrible man you are! Are you Nazi? A Fascist?”, Sami listened. He had decided to try a new approach and he asked the driver: “And who, in your opinion, should actually kill all the Arabs?”

The driver replied: “What are you talking about? We! The Israeli Jews! We have to! We have no choice, just look at what they do to us every day!”

“But who exactly should do the job in your opinion? The police or maybe the army or the fire brigade or a team of doctors? Who should do the work?”

The driver scratched his head: “I think it should be spread among us. Everyone should kill a few.”

Sami went along with the game. “O.K., I assume you will pick an apartment building in the capital of Haifa, you ring the doorbell or you knock on every door and you say: ‘Excuse me, dear Sir or Madam, are you an Arab by any chance?’ And if he or she should reply with ‘yes’, you will shoot them. Then, you just finished your block and want to go home, just then, you hear a baby cry somewhere on the third floor. Would you go back and shoot the baby? Yes or no?”

There was a moment of silence, then the driver said to Sami: “You know, you are a very cruel person.”


Now, if your feel anger or disgust, you didn’t understand the point of the story, so get the book and read it. For everyone else, think about it. You’ll be surprised how many levels of understanding this simple story has and how well it explains the reasons and the fundamental flaw of a fanatic.

Disclaimer: No humans and no animals were harmed, tortured or killed for this blog entry. Only my cat is now mad at me because I dared not to devote her my full attention while I wrote this.


Hancock

6. July, 2008

Strange movie. Here in Switzerland, it’s sold as a “comedy” but it’s not, and people will be disappointed. Also, I’m unhappy about the amount of futile violence and gore in the movie. There are a couple of scenes where you’ll sit in you chair and think “What the f***!?”. This is bad. While in the theater, you should never realize that you’re watching a movie.

All in all, I think that the movie failed to deliver because it couldn’t explain enough. Maybe it was too short or maybe the wrong scenes were chosen, I don’t know. I left the cinema with a strange feeling of confusion, things just didn’t add up. Unlike in other movies, I’m not able to say what they could have done different. After the big surprise in the second part of the movie, the behavior of the characters is suddenly consistent and you know why Hancock is such a bastard. Only, I don’t know, it’s as if something is lacking.

Hancock is shallow and that fits for a comic character but he’s more a tragic character and this doesn’t add up for me. So in the end, even when he finds his only love and gets killed for her, I don’t really care anymore (as much as you care when Garfield gets flattened by a door).

See what others have to say.


Giant In The Playground

10. March, 2008

I enjoy the odd RPG session and I love comics, so it comes natural that I adore comics about gamers. There are the usual suspects like Dork Tower (“I kill Gandalf” – priceless) but there are also one or two gems to be plucked from the muddy seabed of the Internet.

Like “The Order of the Stick” from Giant in The Playground Games. Visuals that you either love or hate. Ignore them for now, it’s the texts that counts. A deep understanding of gamers and their troubles (“That’s not a core spell!”), a bunch of really great characters with a lot of hilarious weaknesses (height, family problems and laws) and cunning ways to deal with them (cutting enemies to size, meeting your ancestors in the after life and explaining why you’re keeping a mass assassin as companion who kills anything that moves and loves every cut while you’re being judged for afterlife). Way to go, Rich!