I have heard about Jack Kerouac and his most famous book On the Road for as long as I can remember, but I had never read it until now. I did watch the 2012 movie with the same name, though, and I gave it the highest rating. I still believe Garrett Hedlund was amazing in it and that the guy needs more great roles like that. So, while whole books have been written about the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac and his friends and about On the Road itself, what did I, greatest book critic ever, think of it?

  I liked it. I can say that parts of it were lovely and parts of it boring. But consider this: Kerouac wrote this as a "scroll", based on a stream of thoughts randomly thrown on whatever paper he could find on his travels, shaped by whatever place he was in and what mood he was having and which people he was with and what substances coursed through his body. The scroll itself is twice as big as the book he eventually published and On the Road is considered part of the Duluoz Legend series, which spans 13 books. The thing to look for in his writing cannot be about specific details, but about the overall philosophy, the experience.

  That is why I can safely and with certainty say: I will not read the scroll version, I liked the book, but I loved the movie. And while this is not a review of the film, I did notice that many of its critics were mainly focused on "it's not like the book". Gentlemen, if the film would have been about other people doing other things, but in the same spirit as the book, it would still have been On the Road and just as entertaining. Because, while this is based on actual people and actual experiences, the specifics are quite irrelevant. Once you capture the spirit of the thing, the rest is just filler.

  So what is the book about? Jack and his buddy Dean spend the entire time moving from New York to San Francisco and back, using their own cars, car sharing, hitching, jumping on trains, buses, or however they could, enjoying each other's company and the feeling of being on the road and meeting interesting people and living life at its fullest. The film has a great female cast, but you will notice that they are barely doing anything. They are there in the background, because while the story contains them, it is not focused on them. It's even more so in the book, where characters jump in and out of the story: travel companions, drink and drug buddies, random sex, true love, marriages, children, people who let them sleep in their houses with or without pleasure. And while everything is told from the perspective of the writer and Dean has the next more important role, even then you cannot say the story is about them.

  The effect that both book and movie had on me was quite an antisocial one. They made me dream of travelling light, experiencing all kinds of adventures while caring about nothing and nobody, just living in the moment. It's a nice fantasy, one that breaks easily under the weight of my own nature and the oppressive organization of the present, but nice nonetheless. On the Road gives us a glimpse of what was gained and what got lost in 70 years from the perspective of people doing the living back then. There is no hero, no villain, no moral to the story and no mystery to solve. Just people being as free as the world lets them to.

Bottom line: not the best book that I have ever read, but also great, fresh, honest, worth reading, with characters worth knowing. It is important to know that in order to get to the curated, safe, stale world we live in, others had to try all kinds of other things, that freedom is something you feel rather than something given to you. This is a fantasy and an autobiography all at once. That's the part that I loved most.

  A while ago I started looking for books about microbial biology, for whatever reason, and so I also added From Bacteria to Bach and Back, without bothering to look at the description or any of the reviews. And it was a hard to find book, too! So here I am, happy to have gotten it and looking forward to its wisdom. I really try to finish books that I have started, so I did with this one as well, but just couldn't. I had to decide if I want to abandon this and read some other book or just find new reasons to scroll Facebook forever!

  And the reason is not that the book is not saying something interesting and important or that it is not researched. The reason for me being unable to finish reading it is solely based on the style of the writing. Imagine David Attenborough at his most pompous, writing something that has the scope of something Yuval Noah Harari would write and with the condescendence of Richard Dawkins because he wanted to outdo Douglas Hofstadter and you get Daniel C. Dennett writing this book, but without the charisma, conciseness or cleverness of either of the others.

  The book relates exclusively on how evolution leads to intelligence, how our conscious minds can be explained by evolution and mechanistic principles alone and that concepts like free will are not consistent with anything scientific. The problem is that after saying that, it continues to repeat it, more and more smugly, trying to dot every i and cross every t, until reading becomes unbearable. And yes, one could have expected something like this from someone actually named Daniel Clement Dennett the Third, age 75 and having dedicated his life to defining and researching consciousness, but it doesn't make getting through the book any easier. It has nothing to do with bacteria or Bach, other than empty correlations, either.

  Apparently, this should have been the distillation of Dennett's thinking. At almost 500 pages, this is not distilling anything! You don't go into a pub to get a distillate and ask for a pint. And while the subject is interesting and the conclusions iron clad, I do believe that a smart editor could have created a wonderful little book by deleting two thirds of everything written in this.

  Bottom line: sorry, but I couldn't finish it. I couldn't even reach the half point.

 

  Was I in a mood that I didn't enjoy Revenant Gun or has something changed in Yoon Ha Lee's writing? I can blame it partially on the fact that I didn't remember anything from the previous books, but I do remember I enjoyed them!

  Reading my review of the previous book I see some similarities in feeling: I don't remember much of the story or characters from before and it feels a bit sluggish at the beginning and rushed at the end. But the difference is that I had trouble finishing Revenant Gun and, instead of fondly remembering the situation where the other two books left off and getting closure, I felt like I had difficulty empathizing with any of the characters or caring about the story.

  And it's not like it's a straightforward book. It has two different threads, in one there is a resurrected Jedao reluctantly serving Kujen, the other is another Jedao, inhabiting the body of Cheris. Then there are a zillion officers, hexarhs, servitors, moths, lots of gay love that is unrelated to the story, but may have a place in the culture of this military universe and so on. The writing was decent, but it didn't blow me away.

  Bottom line: Perhaps the lucky ones are those who will read the entire trilogy at once and get both the freshness of the concepts and the closure of the story in one go. As such, I got almost nothing from this.

  It was very difficult to finish Bad Connections, as it is just a one sided view of the world from a very unsympathetic character. I understand the story was supposed to be a fuller portrait of women as a whole, but damn it makes them look dumb.

  So there is this woman who has to navigate through being the wife, the sexually unsatisfied, the adulteress, the divorcee, the single mother, the mistress, the woman on the side, the compulsive clinger and so on. I guess it was supposed to make the reader understand what it means to be female, yet Molly is emotional, compulsive, egotistic and ultimately weak. The scene at the end it written to provide some sort of feeling of emancipation, but in fact made me think she was even more of a coward than before.

  Bottom line: Joyce Johnson may be a big shot beatnik writer who hung out with Kerouac, but I did not like this book. It was short, yet unentertaining. It was full of meaning, of which I felt none was interesting or educational.

  In this trilogy, the first two books were filler promising much for the last one, The Saints of Salvation. And I had to force myself to read it, just to get it over with. Most of the book is about these people pointlessly living their lives and daring you to remember all of their names. I couldn't feel a connection with any of them, so all that was left was to bask in the space technology and the battles and the cathartic ending. Which was something brief and unfulfilling.

  I don't want to spoil this, just in case you like it and want to read it, but Peter F. Hamilton's knack for ruining endings is present here as well. Obsessively trying to close all the loose ends (that no one cared about) and make them connect to each other (for no reason whatsoever) after the unsatisfying ending makes things worse.

  If I were to guess, Hamilton searches for a new universe, one that is kind of inspired by the Commonwealth universe, but it is not as technologically advanced so that it can provide new interesting opportunities for story telling. Salvation was an attempt at a new universe, inspired by British history during the Blitz yet set in the future, but it got really fast into portals and exotic wormholes and gravitonic weapons and quantum effects and ineffectual aliens. Meanwhile the storytelling was lacking! I really hope he moves on to something else.

  I finally pushed myself to finish this book and I feel that reviewing it would not do it justice. Jennifer R. Pournelle really thought this story through, from places and history to biological adaptations and imperial politics, from religion (complete with hymns lyrics and music) to fully fleshed out characters of both genders (so to speak). So when I say that Outies carries out the tradition started by Larry Niven and her father, that's high praise. But did I like the book? That's a no.

  Just like the two books before it, the main character is not really some person or group, but rather the universe of humans and moties taken as a whole. Just like them it is very cerebral, with many facts, discussions, negotiations and considerations. And just like them it is slow as hell and people just come and go and you never know what and who to connect to.

  This sometimes works for me. I adored the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, which was kind of the same in terms of avoiding focusing on any one characters for too long, but those books had a rhythm that you could fall into. Outies, on the other hand, feels written more recently, but its pace is all over the place. And it was a very stressful period for me, too, so again, maybe I am not the best person to review this book right now.

  Bottom line: if you liked the other two books in the Moties series, this is a good continuation. Personally I had to really really push myself to finish it and I almost abandoned reading it a few times.

  The Moties series is a strange one. Written in collaboration by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the first book, The Mote in God's Eye, was released in 1975. The second book in the series, The Gripping Hand, was published in 1993, also a collaboration. The third one, Outies, was published in 2010 and it written by Pournelle's daughter. The action in the books is also happening decades apart.

  As I was saying some days ago, I liked the first book quite a lot. It was cerebral and carefully crafted. In a sense, The Gripping Hand is more than the first book, it's more cerebral and grips (heh!) the reader in even more details. But at the same time, they get to the Moties' star system only after two thirds of the book, a part of the story that is only about people discussing things and planning things and arguing things, then the last part is a prolonged space battle between so many parties that nothing is clear. Meanwhile, detailed negotiations and planning take place, so you don't get out of that for the entire length of the story.

  So, yeah, it brings some new ideas, but at the same time it's really boring and hard to follow. And it becomes especially jarring when you realize that the details in which the story is bogged are just a small subset of what could have been: the Motie culture, the way they spend their lives, the way they actually feel as individuals is completely missing. And, spoiler alert, Outies seems to be going in the same direction, although it does appear to want to address the lives of Moties outside the negotiations with the Human Empire. 

  Bottom line: I liked it, but much less than the first book. That doesn't mean it's not well written and that it doesn't add value to the universe created, but it needs significant investment from multiple writers to bring it to a critical mass so that people pay attention to it.

  Shorefall continues the story of Foundryside, but the careful plans of the characters are completely upended by the arrival of a terrible villain. And when I say upended, I mean almost nothing except the characters in the first book in the Founders trilogy remains relevant and by the end, which I don't want to spoil, even less is left. This is a cataclysmic book in regards to the story and therefore it feels like a rollercoaster ride. I just couldn't put the book down. It's fun and terrifying, it's smart and compelling.

  I was complaining in my review of Foundryside that the story and characters have turned formulaic and that the information given to the reader was too revealing. I guess in Shorefall these concerns are no longer relevant, since the characters have been already defined and knowledge is no longer imparted to the reader except when it is about to be used. Which is worse! Time and again the story seems to judder and change direction because of something a character suddenly remembers or reveals or gets a glimpse of in a vision related to some magical scriving. Scrivings don't work like that, they are code, they are careful imprintings of arguments designed to do a very very specific thing. There is no reason for them to contain personal memories. This is the equivalent of hacker films where the protagonist is using a graphical interface to break into a computer system and then gets a self playing video from the administrator on the screen.

  Bottom line: I liked the book, it entertained me tremendously and I will no doubt read the third book in the trilogy, probably due in 2022 if the same rate of writing is applied. However there is a vagueness in the scriving of the book that makes it vulnerable to argumentation. The next trilogy (one can only hope it would be a stand alone book) from Robert Jackson Bennett will probably prove what direction he is willing to take in his writing.

  I don't remember where I got the idea of reading Prosper's Demon, but I am glad I did! Having listened to it on my headphones I got to that part where they list other works by the same author and so I've learned that K. J. Parker is a nom de plume for Tom Holt. I hadn't heard of him until then, but the list of works went on and on and on. Probably I will have to read some other books from him now, but which one should I start with?

  Prosper's Demon is a novella about an exorcist that wanders the land in order to excise demons from living people, often leaving those people hurt, dead or insane. You get little glimpses of what this means as the story progresses, making it more and more clear that you have to be a certain kind of person to do a job like this. I don't want to spoil the ending, but I have to say that the writing was so good that I really wouldn't have cared much how the story ended. I had fun just seeing this anti hero's character unfold in front of me. The world building was also exquisite, considering the short length of the work.

  Bottom line: really good fun, mixing together logic, science, art and philosophy with pure unapologetic mischief and good writing.

  I wish I would have read Women when I was a teenager. I would have learned then that there is no shame in being a man and wanting women and not caring about their neuroses. They might complain about it, but that's their point of view. And in a way, that's the only good thing this book has to teach: how to live unapologetically, accepting who you are. Other than that, the main character, an alter ego of Charles Bukowski, is an old writer who drinks all day, fucks whatever he finds and gambles at the horse race track. By his own admission he only writes so he can do these three things.

  The prose is almost without introspection, just what people did and what they said, but when the character delves into analysing the situations, there are some brilliant passages, some hilariously funny. Imagine someone going through life like in a third person game. They see themselves do things, things that they just feels like doing, and feel little to no shame or responsibility. The entire book is dedicated to the women in his life which are, although very different from one another, easy, sexual, desperate and sometimes downright crazy. He never judges them, except for their sexual technique or pussy size and shape, but he never gets stuck with any of them, even the ones he is in love with.

  What I liked about the character is that he is never violent. Like a Big Lebowski kind of guy, he sails through life like a goose in water; nothing sticks. He loves and leaves, he cares but up to a point, he tries to be good to the people around him, but only after he takes care of his own needs. I had a friend like that once. He was caring and amazingly charismatic, but never right or reliable. Another similar character was Hank Moody, from Californication, which I really loved in the first two seasons.

  Did I love the book? I can't say that I did, but I did like it a lot. It was different from other things I've read and what I feel is probably gratefulness for having such a raw depiction of everything the character/the writer lived and felt. So many books are trying too hard to be smart and fail to pass that first bar of characters laid bare so the reader can fully understand them. There is absolutely no story in this other than the life of Henry Chinaski.

  Something else that I have to say is that the book is something that should be read in this period. It goes back to the basic essence of man and woman, without caring one iota about politics or correctness or trying to absolve the main character in any way. Just like the guy lives in the book, the writing is take it or leave it.

  I wanted to read something by Larry Niven, so I've decided to go with The Mote in God's Eye, written in collaboration with Jerry Pournelle. I may have read it a long time ago, decades past, because I remembered one particular line from it, but just that. And it is a wonderful book. I guess I appreciate it now more than I would have ever appreciated it in my childhood because now I know what kind of crap can be sold as science fiction and also how ridiculous most science predictions from 1975 turned out to be.

  This book stands the test of time and the test of writing and the test for science fiction. The first one, for me, it's the more extraordinary, but it is helped a lot by the second. It takes a certain amount of maturity to decide to write something respectful to the reader and only include the minimal technical and scientific descriptions required to fully describe the situation. As for the third, I think the genre is defined by asking "What if?" and taking it to a plausible technological extreme. And this book does it brilliantly.

  Imagine, if you will, what would happen when the Empire of Man will meet a race of aliens that are stuck in their solar system, but other than that older, smarter, faster and more advanced than we are. The slight anachronism of the book allows for people to discuss what should be done before anything is decided, that both military, political and civilian agencies get to have a say. To get the scientists be actual caring people who argue their cause and viewpoint, the soldiers actual caring people who think about what their best choice should be in concordance with their beliefs, thoughts as well as their orders and to have nobles that care about their empire and their people and listen before they decide. Imagine that in a recent fiction book.

  I don't want to spoil it. The species of the "moties" is defined and explored very well, as are the humans and their society. It was interesting to me that the less plausible things were not technological, but biological and medical. We've come a long way since fifty years ago in that area and I am glad to see it. The ending of the book had a much slower pace than the rest. I felt like it was going to end, but it just kept going. It is important to reach the end, but that's just about the only problem I have with the book: the pacing problems at the end.

  Bottom line: I forced myself to start reading another book because I wanted to immediately read the entire series, which contains an immediate sequel, a prequel and a 2010 sequel written by Jennifer R. Pournelle, the original author's daughter. I highly recommend it. 

  I found out Neil Gaiman when I read American Gods, which I enjoyed much more than the TV series based on it. Also a book about a parallel magical world that most people are not aware of, it was still something I felt was very American, very Western, even if it was telling the stories of a multitude of gods from all over.

  Neverwhere feels more like Spirited Away than a Western story, though. And it is funny, because the mythology used as its base is British and everything happens in a parallel underground London. The lead character is an anonymous successful dolt working in the financial system who is suddenly thrust into this magical world by a simple act of kindness.

  The book is rather short and the story, while extremely enjoyable and very well written, is not that important. I mean, it's a classic hero journey (I am a sucker for those) but the beauty is in the characters and the details. I still would have wanted the main character to do something about Anastaesia and the reasons why Door was alive, then people trying to kill her, then back again are quite dodgy when you think about it. Also, the Warrior? Seriously?

  Bottom line: if you feel like immersing yourself into a magical world that feels close and real, but also incredible and impossible, then that's the book for you.

  Finna is a novella of only 144 pages, of course the beginning of a series, one that I have absolutely no intention to read. To be blunt, the only reason why I didn't rate this booklet the lowest is that Nino Cipri is actually queer/trans/nonbinary and so I can't complain about the characters being that way with absolutely no relevance to the story. I probably fell (again) for one of those agenda driven fake reviews that recommended it.

  Speaking of the story, it's a rather refreshing concept but that can be explored in a single page. It's a variation on the "doors to other universes" trope. However, most of the short span of the book doesn't focus on the idea or on what happens or even on character development. Instead, it goes on and on about how offensive it is for people to not use the correct pronouns, how tough it is to be queer or mentally afflicted, which is the all the depth the two main characters ever reach. The writing style is telegraphic, almost report like, lacking anything to make me feel anything (good).

  It is a really annoying book because the leads are totally unlikeable. They work at an Ikea clone for minimum wage, they complain all the time, they couldn't care less about people around them except for the awkward romantic relationship they have and even then not much, they go through parallel universes without paying attention, they act and emote without considering the consequences of their actions then blame it on how their brain is wired and so on. It's a story seen through the eyes of teens who would rather spend time with their phone than wonder about the world. I wouldn't be surprised to hear this was one of those books written in tweets or whatever. Still better than 50 Shades of Grey, but that's not saying much.

  And yes, I sound like a grumpy old man because this is what this book makes me feel like: totally disconnected from the entire generation of the characters in the story. They don't even sound like real people to me. It's a story about exploring strange new worlds which pauses every time something could be interesting to focus on how the characters felt in the world they left behind and how their relationship should have, could have, will have...

  Bottom line: Minimum effort and maximum annoyance.

  I have heard about Kurt Vonnegut a few times, like someone I just had to read. So I started with Slaughterhouse Five, first published in 1969 and widely acclaimed as his best work. I guess for 1969 it was great. It is subtle, it is poignant, it is ingenious, it is satirical, it is anti-war. It is not entertaining, though. It's just really sad and bleak.

  Imagine if Forrest Gump would not have been a kind country boy with a slightly slow mind, but a guy heavily affected by PTSD after witnessing the horrific firebombing of Dresden, with illusions of alien abduction. Dresden was bombed in WWII into oblivion by British forces, some say as retaliation for the German rocket bombings of London, even if it was mostly a civilian city filled with refugees.

  But that part of the book, which is drawn from Vonnegut's own experience, even if it is the event that caused everything, is placed at the end of it. The rest of it is the story of the fictional main character who becomes (or believes he does) unstuck in time, which allows him to randomly travel back and forth into his life. He is also abducted by aliens who live in four dimensions, time being the fourth one, and to which time, cause, effect, action and consequences are nonsense. Every moment is unchangeable and set and they can just visit any of them. It is worth mentioning that one of the symptoms of PTSD is this very realistic recollection of past events. It also makes sense for a person afflicted by this to build a narrative in which everything that happens, no matter how atrocious, is not preventable. Anyway, this way of telling events adds an interesting way of understanding them, allows for comedy and satire, makes it all very personal, which is good, but that's about the only thing I liked about the book.

  Now, being studied in school, there are way too many commentaries and reviews trying to explain what the book was about and how brilliant it was. I can only say if I liked it or not. And the answer is that I understand why it is a highly regarded piece of literature, but I did not enjoy reading it. And not because it is terribly depressing, which it is, but because the main character is only interesting because he went through some horrific events, otherwise he is boring and worthless. This makes things even sadder, because this means a big part of the author felt that way about himself.

  Bottom line: It may be poignant, as the cover says, but it is not hilarious. Instead it is depressing and gets so more as one understands more of it. It is a personal expression of deep trauma, so if you enjoy that kind of thing, this is the book for you.

  Rarely have I read such a frustrating book. Civilized to Death is trying to show that our modern life and societal order is not the only solution, that progress doesn't mean what we think it means and that a lot of the things we take for granted about our (pre)history and path as a species is just propaganda. So on one side, I was fascinated by the concepts shown in the books. However the tone of the text is so shrill, inconsistent and self contradicting that I found it infuriating.

  Christopher Ryan is obsessed with hunter gatherer societies. He rose to fame with a book that covered the sexual behavior of our closest relatives: chimps and bonobos, as well as the information he had collected on our ancestors in prehistory about the subject. Again, he was trying to show that most of what we know or take for granted about human sexuality is self interested bullshit, beginning with the arrival of agriculture. In Civilized to Death he just moves even further to blame all the ailments of humanity on that same event and the hierarchical paternalistic profit obsessed society that arose since then. Progress, he argues, can only be measured in human happiness and well being and modern society sucks at that.

  You can skip reading the book and just read the cheat-sheet that the author published on his web site for it. The basic gist is that we were better off hunting and gathering and that modern society is just a self-sustaining meme that leads to our domestication for its own survival, not something that increases our happiness. It's a zoo for ourselves and we should take control over what that zoo looks like and how it treats us.

  I agree with that last statement, but I call bullshit on Ryan's arguments. He vilifies Malthus, but then he claims if we limited our population to 100 million, we would all have enough resources to live without effort. He attacks statistics and experiments as being biased or even intentionally skewed, then he uses statistics and experiments of his own that he likes better. He attacks globalization and how it forced the same narrative on everyone, but then he makes his research and his money with the help of the global communication network that technology provided.

  His worst sin, though, is how we so liberally uses the terms "we" or "humanity" to define the specific group of people that he likes. For example, people are slaves to the drive to work. If they try not to work, the entire society brings hell down on them, so they are forced into this horrific labor camp that the Earth has become. He completely ignores the people that absolutely love to work! Ryan mentions people who could very easily stop working and live a comfortable life, but they don't, only he puts this all on some perceived addiction to work, not that it gives people meaning and fulfilment if doing the thing they love. He talks about how egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies are, but he completely ignores what happens to the members of those groups who do not want to be egalitarian. And so on. He is furious against what he calls the Narrative of Perpetual Progress, which he then dismissively calls NPP in the rest of the book, but he doesn't really come with an alternative.

  And that makes the book very frustrating, because you want to believe what he says, you want to look further into the sources he mentions, but the way he puts everything together feels like very artificial cherry picking. And the ending is always something like "OK, I may have gone too far, but what I really mean is...". No! Just don't go too far. Make me trust what you are saying, not feel I am being swindled by a TED talking Marx!

  Bottom line: a very interesting premise, but poor argumentation. Still worth a read.