I have been working on this adventure computer game that is a tribute to the history of adventure stories. One important part of that history is what we call a gamebook, a printed work that allows the reader to choose one of several paths to complete the story. Because of very aggressive marketing and copyright tactics, this is now almost absorbed by the Choose Your Own Adventure brand and for sure Bantam Books (now Random House) would like us to think that they invented the concept. In fact, the man who sold the idea to them, Edward Packard, was not even born when two American women collaborated on what is now credited as the first book in the genre: Consider the Consequences! from 1930.

  Now, imagine that you would know what is the first book in a literary genre, like the first horror book, or the first romance. You would expect to find pages and pages written about it, you would think others have mentioned it in their works in the field and you would certainly trust to be able to find it somewhere to read. Well, Consider the Consequences! has almost disappeared. A book that probably has a dozen copies left in the world and is carefully (yet greedily) hoarded by a few libraries and collectors.

  Go on, search for it on the web, the place where everybody talks about everything. You will probably find it on Amazon, where it is unavailable, and on Goodreads, where you have one rating and one review. Perhaps you would find mentions of it on a site called Gamebooks, which only seems fair, on a blog called Renga in Blue and a long tweet from a James Ryan. Then there are some context mentions and that is it! The first ever instance of a book in an entire genre is about to go extinct!

  Now, I don't know if it was any good or not. That's kind of the point, I can't judge this work because I can't find it anywhere. If I had lived in the US or the UK maybe I could have read it in the library of some university, although that is just a possibility and not something that I would expect to be able to do. I don't even know if it is in the public domain or not. The U.S. legislation says conflicting things and something written in 1930 may perhaps become free of copyright in 2026.

  And the authors were the real deal: activists, suffragettes and all that. Perhaps I should complain that the patriarchy is trying to stifle the roots of feminine literature and then something would happen. It's astounding, really.

  Update, September 3 2021: Andy Mabbett left a comment about a new Wikipedia entry for the book. Thanks, Andy!

  From the link, a partial play in a radio show, where you can get a feel of what the book was like. Revolutionary for the genre, to say the least! Here it is:

  [youtube:SWCu6PnK5ls]

  The Mother Code is not a terrible book, but it is certainly not a good one. It has problems of structure, story and characters. But worst of all, it is really not about motherhood.

  Imagine a world where Uncle Sam "tests" a biological weapon somewhere in Afghanistan, only later realising that they have doomed the whole of humanity. Their solution is not to create self sustained habitats that eschew the issue, going to another planet, moving to Antarctica. Instead they focus on two avenues: finding a cure and creating a fleet of robots that can incubate, raise and protect children that have been genetically manipulated to resist the disease. Yes, because that is doable if you put (just) a team of people to work. It gets worse. The only mention of other countries is in about three or four paragraphs. They don't exist in the American mind, other than an afterthought, and indeed that's the political response of the government in the book, working in secret even knowing they are the cause and that other countries might help. And of course, all the children are American, as are the personalities of the "mothers".

  And really, you might accuse me for nitpicking here, I mean, I've read a lot of bad or naive stories over the years, why be so upset with this? But Carole Stivers decided to also show what happens in the future in parallel to the epidemic story, thus eliminating any thrill of what might happen. The core of any sci-fi story, the what-if, was halved in the moment she presented the end at the same time with the beginning. And later on, when there was another serious question about the future of humanity, the author again chooses to show her cards early and resolve the tension before it even started building.

  So what's left? A deep and interesting analysis of what it means to be a mother, explored through the eyes of the children raised by machines? No. That's just an afterthought, instead the focus being on a group of people that just... exist, with no real consequences to the story until the very end. I understand the dilemma of the editor: should they remove the superfluous writing, thus ending up with a short story, or should they leave it in in hope people would buy "a book" and thus pay for their salary.

  And the whole "mother code" thing is barely touched upon, which is so very sad, because the concept of a software developer trying to understand and code a nurturing mother is amazing! Yet that part takes just a few chapters and it doesn't really feel like what would happen to a software person.

  Bottom line: a really good idea, wasted on a subpar book that buries it under a lot of unnecessary story and forgettable characters.

  I always appreciate autobiographies for the glimpse they offer into another person's life. Double points for something that is well written and, if anything, A Promised Land is well written. Barack Obama's voice makes everything feel present and personal, which is the hallmark of a good biography. Yet one has to wonder how much of the story has been left out, how many personal failures have been explained away by a personality affected by the hubris of being the president, particularly given the several sections of the book where political figures were criticized for speaking out of turn or saying too much to the wrong people. So am I conflicted about this. I liked reading the book and I am glad to have had a taste of the experience of being a president, but I cannot take anything else at factual value.

  The book only covers the first four years of the presidential term, starting before the Democrat candidate elections and ending with bin Laden's death. It portrays Obama as an idealist, a reasonable man, one of those few people that need the world to make sense. He tells the story of him becoming a candidate almost like he got caught up in a current.

  He then tells stories about his Democrat colleagues and Republican adversaries, taking great care to talk as nice of them as possible. Notable exceptions are Sarah Palin, which Obama sees as the prototype Trump: an uneducated know-nothing who gained political capital not despite, but because of her ignorance, and Mitch McConnell, who is for all intents and purposes the Palpatine of the story. Trump is also mentioned at the end, deliberately almost like a footnote and depicted as a mindless buffoon.

  Reading the book from start, when the hero is a young idealist who believes in America and its political system, to end, when the hero is a battered soldier fighting economic collapse, terrorism, Republican lies and suicidal policies meant to counter him personally, felt painful. A good kind of pain, like the one (I assume :) ) one would get after a good workout, but pain nonetheless. It also started as a manifesto of hope and kind of ended in a bunch of apologetic explanations on why the good things that he did were not noticed by people and why the good things he did not do had good reasons for not getting done.

  I liked that Obama is a politician who hates the way politics work. I loved that he is a principled man as it is my personal belief that only well thought and agreed principles should guide important decisions, not personal feelings. I liked that the book did not focus on racism or social justice and the few passages about that were well argumented and put in context.

  I don't think being president helped him a lot, it sounded like it was one of those soul sucking jobs that people get into for money and prestige and the hope of achieving something, but that get them exhausted and lifeless at the end. Even for a positive and hopeful person, his book leaves a bitter taste of disappointment in how the world works.

My conclusion: it is a long book, 1700 ebook pages, and it only covers the first term of his presidency and a few years before as a politician. It is well written and I imagine the audio book, which is narrated by Obama himself, has an even stronger impact. I liked that he tried to present himself accurately, with strengths and weaknesses, qualities and flaws. I do believe, though, that the narrative of the book and especially they way he sees himself is a bit fantastic. Some of the chapters felt like rationalizations of past failures. There were valid reasons for that, but they were failures nonetheless and it felt like he refused to own responsibility for some of them. I recommend the book, but for someone not interested in politics, it may feel a bit boring.

  Rhythm of War feels like a setup for something, like an interlude. Also, while it largely expands the scope of the story, it relies a lot of existing characters and their stories in previous books, without doing that smart thing Brandon Sanderson usually does to remind people what they were. I don't even know if it's possible with this large of a story. And remember, this is just the fourth in a ten book series!

  And so my reading of this book suffered from two things: I didn't quite remember what everything was about and the story just got too large! Meaning that I have to choose whether I care about individual characters and the sides they take or if I see everything as a big saga where people don't really matter. At this point, though, the choice is very difficult to make.

  To summarize, I loved the book, but not as much as I remember liking the previous three. The pace was slower, the implications grander, but also not reaching closure. A lot more characters, types of spren, gods, realms and bindings were revealed, but now I have to wait another two years to see what they were actually about. And Kaladin's pain now went into some weird directions, like battle schock and psychological help and accepting limitations in order to go forward. Was everyone depressed in 2020?! I thought Sanderson was immune to depression.

  Anyway, it seems to me that I will have to plan well the arrival of the fifth book in the series, probably by rereading the first four. Only then will the story click as it should and not make me feel like a stupid Taravangian.

  Winter Tide, the first book of the series, was a refreshing blend of Lovecraftian Mythos and a perspective focused on balance and peace, rather than power problem solving. So, a year and a half ago, while I said I enjoyed reading it, I was also saying that it was a bit slow in the beginning.

  Deep Roots has a few things going against it. The novelty wore off, for once. Then the characters are not reintroduced to the reader, there are no flashbacks or summaries, so I had no idea who everyone was anymore. Finally, it had almost the same structure as the first book, but without introducing new lore elements and instead just popping up new characters, as if keeping track of existing ones wasn't enough work. It starts slow and the pace only picks up towards the end. This made it hard for me to finish the book and maintain interest in the story.

 This time, Aphra and her motley crew need to stop the Outer Ones, ancient creatures with immense power, from saving humanity from extinction. Yes, it is a worthy goal, but they want to do it by enslaving and controlling Earth, treating us like the impetuous children that we are. With such a cosmic threat I would have expected cosmic scenes, powerful emotions, explosive outcomes, but it was all very civilized and ultimately boring.

  Bottom line: Ruthanna Emrys' fresh perspective persists in this second installment of the Innsmouth Legacy series, but it isn't fresh anymore. I am sure the experience is much better if you read Winter Tide just before it. As it stands, Deep Roots reads like a slightly boring detective story with some mystical elements sprayed in. I don't regret reading it, but I don't feel the need for more.

   This is one of those books that when summarized sounds a lot better than the actual story. In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, we discover a brutal medieval and magical world, where magic is related to people from the stars who are considered gods, but may just be very technologically advanced humans. Yet this is just a vague backdrop for a two hundred and something pages novel. The main focus is on a guy who alternates between a very rough vernacular Black English and technobabble which one else seems to understand, who has magical powers and is part of a gang of fighters that work as security for caravans. He is a demigod, the blood of the star people courses through his veins, but he hides that part of him from the world. He is also in love with another guy who has the blood and much of the text concerns this gay relationship, which he also hides from the world. There are also some brutal fight scenes, but they don't bring anything to the story other than to make it a fantasy.

  I saw other people just as confused as I am. Maybe there was some subtlety that I missed and that is why so many people praise this first novel of Kai Ashante Wilson, a guy who started writing in 2013. Why are the reviews so wonderful? To me it felt like an above average pulp story, akin to those about cowboys riding dinosaurs. The writing style is also difficult enough to make the book less entertaining that it could have been. It's like Wilson rubs our noses into some intellectual shit that I can't even smell. Or is it that is it just another mediocre book that gets positive political reviews because it promotes Black culture and features gay people?

  So my conclusion is that I did not enjoy the book. It took me ages to finish it and I couldn't relate to any of the characters. I thought the world was very interesting though, which makes this even more frustrating, since it was barely explored.

  It has been a long time since I've finished a book. I just didn't feel like it, instead focusing on stupid things like the news. It's like global neurosis: people glued to their TV screens listening to what is essentially the same thing: "we have no control, we don't know enough and we feel better bitching about it instead of doing anything to change it". I hope that I will be able to change my behavior and instead focus on what really matters: complete fiction! :)

  Anyway, Unfettered is a very nice concept thought up by Shawn Speakman: a contribution based anthology book. Writers provide short stories, complete with a short introduction, as charity. The original Unfettered book was a way by which writers helped Speakman cover some of his medical expenses after a cancer diagnosis and the idea continued, helping others with the same problem. This way of doing things, I believe, promotes a more liberating way of writing. There is no publisher pressure, no common theme, writers are just exploring their own worlds, trying things out.

  Unfettered III contains 28 shorts stories from authors like Brandon Sanderson, Lev Grossman, Mark Lawrence, Terry Brooks, Brian Herbert, Scott Sigler and more. Funny enough, it was Sanderson's own addition to the Wheel of Time literature that I found most tedious to finish, mostly because I couldn't remember what the books were about anymore and who all the characters were. But the stories were good and, even if the book is twice as large as I think it should have been, it was entertaining. Try it out, you might enjoy this format.

  There is this feeling in the online community that no matter what governments and corporations do, we will find ways of avoiding restrictions and remain free. Nowhere is this feeling stronger than in the media and software piracy circles. Yet year after year people get more and more complacent, moving from having to find and download the content they enjoy to streaming services that end up asking for more money than TV and cinema combined, moving from desktop games to mobiles, switching from software you own to software you subscribe to and lease. And every year more and more "hydra heads" get cut and none grow back.

  Today we say goodbye to HorribleSubs.info, a web site that provided a free archive of hundreds of anime show torrent/magnet links which were subtitled in English. "You could technically say COVID killed HorribleSubs.", the notice on the web site now says. If you think about it, it was difficult to understand how the site survived for so long, when my blog was closed for showing a manga image taken from Google and a YouTube video after a copyright request from Japan. How could these guys maintain a directory of almost every popular anime and get away with it? But they will be missed, regardless of the real reason for their disappearance.

  It's hard to say how this will affect people. TorrentFreak hasn't even written something about it yet. Will this mean that less translated anime will be available? Or maybe even make it harder to find anime at all? It's a shocking development... Hail Hydra!

  I've just read a medical article that seems to be what we have been looking for since this whole Covid thing started: an detailed explanation of what it does in the body. And no, it didn't come from doctors in lab coats, it came from a supercomputer analysing statistical data. Take that, humans! Anyway... First of all, read the article: A Supercomputer Analyzed Covid-19 — and an Interesting New Theory Has Emerged. And before you go all "Oh, it's on Medium! I don't go to that crap, they use a paywall!", know that this is a free article. (also you can read anything on Medium if it seems to be coming from Twitter)

  Long story short (you should really read the article, though) is that the virus binds to the ACE2 receptors - and degrades them, then tricks the body to make even more ACE2 receptors (even in organs that normally don't express them as much) to get even more virus in. The virus also tweaks the renin–angiotensin system  which leads to a Bradykinin storm which causes multiple symptoms consistent with what is seen in hospitals and leaves many a doctor stumped: dry cough, blood pressure changes, leaky blood vessels, a gel filling one's lungs (making ventilators ineffective), tiredness, dizziness and even loss of smell and taste. Also, because of a genetic quirk of the X chromosome, women are less affected, which also is shown in statistical data on severe cases.

  Quoting from the article: several drugs target aspects of the RAS and are already FDA approved to treat other conditions. They could arguably be applied to treating Covid-19 as well. Several, like danazol, stanozolol, and ecallantide, reduce bradykinin production and could potentially stop a deadly bradykinin storm. Others, like icatibant, reduce bradykinin signaling and could blunt its effects once it’s already in the body.

  Good stuff, people! Good stuff! The person responsible for this is Daniel A Jacobson and his research assistants should take all the credit! Just kidding.

  But how new is this? Bradykinin is not an unknown peptide and we have known from the very beginning what ACE does and that Covid binds to it. My limited googling shows doctors noticing this as soon as the middle of March. In fact, the original article that the Medium article is based on is from July 7! Here is a TheScientist take on it: Is a Bradykinin Storm Brewing in COVID-19?

  For more info, here is a long video talking about the paper: Bradykinin Storm Instead of Cytokine Storm?

[youtube:tDbRfur36sE]

  If you really are into medicine, check this very short but very technical video about Bradykinin, from where I also stole the image for this post: Bradykinin | Let the Drama begin!

[youtube:d39-IcoWHkY]

  I hope this provided you with some hope and a starting point for more research of your own.

  There are a lot of fascinating ideas and anecdotes in this book, especially in the areas which I wouldn't have considered interesting before reading it. Rabid is the type of book that I love, both because the subject is fascinating but also because of the effort the author made to research and write the content in a digestible format.

  In this book Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy describe the history of the rabies virus, how it affected humankind culturally, historically and, of course, medically. We learn in this book that there is a strong possibility that the myths of vampire and werewolf stem from the behaviour of people affected by rabies, the theme of beast biting person and turning them into one of their own proven irresistible even in times where no one understood how diseases work. Was Hector rabid when fighting Achilles? Were berserkers affected by rabies? Then we go into the actual zoonotic origin of the virus, a staggering 60% of infectious diseases affecting humans being of animal original initially. An idea I found extremely interesting is that farmers took over from hunter gatherers in so little time and so thoroughly because raising animals made them get new diseases to which they developed immunity, any contact with non farming populations thus fatally destroying them. Finally, a very nice perspective on Louis Pasteur, who is more popularly renowned for developing pasteurization and thus providing us with better tasting drinks than his final triumph which was a vaccine for rabies and an institute dedicated to studying infectious diseases.

  Bottom line: it might sound like a weird subject to read about or at least one hard to digest. The authors' writing is very good, the research splendid, and the book short enough to not take too much of the reader's time. I recommend it!

  The Book of the Ancestor trilogy consists of Red Sister, Grey Syster, Holy Sister, books that tell the continuous story of Nona, a girl with magical powers who is trained as a warrior nun by the church on a feudal world called Abeth. It feels almost the same as the Harry Potter books: a school for children where they learn only exciting stuff like magic and fighting and where the group of friends that coalesces around the main character has to solve more and more complex and dangerous problems. And it pretty much has the same issues, as any of the actors in the story could have easily handled a little child regardless of her powers because... she's a child! Also, the four "houses" are here replaced with genetic lines that provide the owner with various characteristics.

  Anyway, I liked all three books, although I have to say that I liked them less and less as the ending approached. Tools used to solve some problems were not used for similar issues later on, the girls were learning more and more stuff and become more and more powerful, while all of their opponents seemed to lack the ability to reach their level even with greater numbers and funding and, maybe worse of all, whenever it was inconvenient to detail the evolution of the characters and the story, Mark Lawrence just skips to some point in the future. Thus, each of the last two books is separated from the previous one by two years!

  Another qualm that I have with the series is that the author spent a lot of effort to create a magical world, with a dying sun and with a vague history that may or may not have involved spaceships and an alien race, with various magical tools that can be combined to various and epic effects, with several kingdoms, each different from another. Then the story ends, as if all we could or should ever care about is what happens to Nona.

  Bottom line: if you liked Harry Potter, you might want to read this series. It pushes the same buttons, while getting less and less consistent as more stuff is added, then leaving you wanting more of the world that was described, even if you didn't especially liked the characters or their choices.

  The Broken Ladder is a sociology book that is concise and to the point. I highly recommend it. Keith Payne's thesis is that most of the negative issues we associate with poverty or income are statistically proven to be more correlated with inequality and status. And this is not a human thing, as animal studies show that this is a deeply rooted behavior of social animals like monkeys and has a genetic component that can be demonstrated to as simple creatures as fruit flies.

  There are nine chapters in the book, each focusing on a particular characteristic of effect of social inequality. We learn that just having available a sum of money or a set of resources is meaningless to the individual. Instead, more important is how different those resources are from other people in the same group. Inequality leads to stress, which in turn leads to toxic behaviors, health problems, developmental issues. It leads to risk taking, to polarization in politics, it affects lifespan, it promotes conspiracy theories, religious extremism and racism.

  It is a short enough book that there is no reason for me to summarize it here. I believe it's a very important work to examine, as it touches on many problems that are present, even timeless. Written in 2017, it feels like a explanatory pamphlet to what gets all the media attention in 2020.

  I have to admit this is a strange time for me, in which I struggle with finishing any book. My mind may drift away at a moment's notice, thoughts captured by random things that inflame my interest. And with limited time resources, some things fall through the cracks, like the ability to dedicate myself to books that don't immediately grab my attention. Such a book is The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

  And you know the type. It's one of those where the way the word sounds as you read it is more important that what it says, a sort of magical white poetry that is attempting to evoke rather than tell, feel rather than reason, while also maintaining a rigorous intellectual style. Alix E. Harrow is a good writer and it shows, however she is too caught up in her own writing. This story features a girl with an ability that is manifested when she writes words of power. She is an avid reader and, in order to learn about her capabilities, she receives a book that tells the story of another girl who was similar to her. And the style of that book is, you guessed it, words crafted to evoke rather than tell.

  So at about 40% of the book nothing had happened other than a girl of color living in a house of plenty, but imprisoned by rules and starved of knowledge or power. Her captor and adoptive father is a white and powerful aristocrat, cold as ice and authoritative in every action or word, while she is a good girl caught between her desires and her upbringing. I've read books like this before and I liked some of them a lot. And this may yet evolve into a beautiful story, but as I was saying above, I am not in the mood for paying that much attention before something happens.

  In conclusion, while I get a feeling of being defeated and a desire to continue reading the book, I also have to accept I don't have the resources to struggle with it. I would rather find a more comfortable story for me at this time.

  The Authenticity Project is one of those books that got great marketing and so I got to read, so there is a little feeling of getting tricked to read it, but it's not a bad book. It is, however, terribly naive. It almost begs for the Brit-com makeover transition to the big screen with its physically perfect characters that feel their lives had lost meaning, but have all the resources to change them, the courage of telling the truth leading to strong friendships and not people taking advantage of them and the serendipity for all of them to meet each other and fit together. But it is a feel good book, so why not enjoy it?

  Clare Pooley graduated from a blog turned book about her own struggle with posh alcohol addiction to fiction with this book, after feeling inspired by the power of being truthful. In the book, someone decides to write their most personal truth in a notebook and leave it around so other people can read it and maybe also write in it. This brings together these people who have been living financially rewarding lives, but spiritually empty existences. The writing is decent, the story is obvious and lacking much subtlety, so if you want to read an uplifting fantasy about people getting everything right in their lives, this is the one for you.

  However, despite the book's premise that underneath the facade people are really different, the characters are quite cardboard. Instead of them having layer over layer of complexity, which would have made the story worth reading, it's like they hold party masks over their faces and when they drop them, you get to see all they are, vulnerable and normal while being amazing. There is a twist at the end that was kind of unexpected and a good opportunity to add more dimensions to the whole thing, only it fizzled immediately after the initial shock value.

  Bottom line: it feels as real as a fairy tale. The princesses get the princes, the dragons live happily ever after and everybody gets to keep the gold. It was not unpleasant to read, but I wouldn't recommend it, either.

  A few days ago I was stumbling upon a global pandemic book that I couldn't finish because it was avoiding the exact parts that would interest me in the scenario: the disease, the cause, the immediate aftermath. Instead it used the disease as a prop to describe a world in which only children survived. Disappointed, I randomly picked another book, this time one from Liu Cixin, the author of Three Body Problem, which I liked. Lo and behold, it was about a global catastrophe that kills all the adults, too! And while it started great, I have to say that it ultimately was also a disappointment.

  In Liu's defense, it is a story he wrote in 1989, only published in China in 2003 and translated to English in 2019 because of his success with other works.

  Supernova Era has a very interesting premise: a nearby star, occluded from us by a dust cloud, goes supernova, bathing the Earth in deadly radiation. People quickly realize that the genetic damage has affected everybody and only children under the age of 13 will be able to shrug it off, while all the adults will die. Children will have finally inherited the planet. What will the outcome be?

  Unfortunately, this is where the nice part ends. The genetic damage on animals and plants is swept under the rug, logistic issues such as how children would be fed and countries run are only touched upon, the actual effects of radiation damage, its long time effects, the way it would have affected people are completely ignored. And this, also, because the supernova was only a prop to describe a world in which only children survived.

  Liu had a really weird outlook on children back then. In his mind, children are lacking empathy, are only interested in games and even after a ten month training period from adults, they can only superficially grasp the nature of the world. And even if they are as old as 13 year old, they have no sexual drives. To be fair, I doubt that part would have passed by the Chinese censors, but not even mentioning it and portraying prepubescent teens as asexual feels even creepier than mentioning it too much.

  And I remember myself at 12: I was reading five books at the same time, was interested in natural sciences and was avid for knowledge. If people would have said "Now we will teach you how to do what we do", I would have been immensely happy, at least for a little while. But one thing is certain, I loved my friends without reservation and I was always thinking of how I would change the world when I would grow up.

  Not these children. They are written more as psychopathic caricatures of their nationalities. American kids start shooting each other for fun, Brazilians play games of soccer with a hundred thousand players and one ball and the Chinese succumb to fear when they find themselves under no authority and have to resort to a quantum computer to tell them what to do. They play war games that kill hundreds of thousands, but they are emotionally unaffected. They nuke their opponents for laughs. The ending is even more confusing, as it involves switching populations between the countries of the U.S. and China, for no apparent reason and ignoring transport issues and the immediate famine that would lead to.

  Bottom line: an interesting premise that fails miserably at the end, even though the author did make the effort to finish the book. But that's exactly the feeling one gets: someone struggled to finish this, changing direction, bringing in random ideas that are never explored and ignoring the obvious.