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review 2020-02-16 14:51
Adventures of a Computational Explorer
Adventures of a Computational Explorer - Stephen Wolfram

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ve been mulling over this review for a while now, and have to conclude that I’m still pretty much on the fence about this collection of essays and articles.

On the one hand, it makes no doubt that the author is a smart and clever person, with such an insatiable curiosity for a lot of things, and this for his whole life, that in itself, his writing is lifting and passion-inducing. I was absolutely fascinated, with the first essay, where he chronicles his participation to the “Arrival” movie (he was asked to come up with plausible science to use during certain scenes), partly because I liked this movie, and partly because I love physics even though I don’t have an actual scientific background.

On the other hand, there didn’t seem to be any thread truly linking these articles, and I felt more like I was grabbing posts at random from a blog, some of which (like the one above) were really exciting, and some others I had no interest about. (I’ll be very honest and say that I couldn’t care less about his filing system, for instance, or statistics about his e-mail activity habits...) Because of the originally standalone nature of these “chapters”, there was also a lot of repetition and overlap, such as the many mentions to Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha. Again, on a blog with updates at different times, it’s OK, but as a book, it didn’t work so well. The whole, in the end, felt more “promotional”, where I had expected (and wanted) something that would appeal more to the computer/science geek in me.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. Had more of the “chapters” been on the level of the first one, I would definitely have liked this collection much more.

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text 2020-01-28 16:52
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review 2019-08-08 19:18
Tangle's Game
Tangle's Game - Stewart Hotston

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A techno-thriller with interesting AI-related themes, although in the end, I wasn’t awed by the story.

Set in a somewhat near future where transactions are handled through blockchain-based contracts and people’s quality of life is dependent on their social credit score as well as on their financial credit score, “Tangle’s Game” tells the story of Amanda Back, a successful investment banker who finally got a complete grip back on her life after an ex-boyfriend stole her money and left her betrayed. Flying back to London, and after an invasive search episode at the airport, she comes home only to realise that said boyfriend has involved her in a dangerous game where a mysterious USB stick and the information it contains is key. The only problem? Amanda isn’t a hacker, or a conspiracy theorist, or a whistleblower, and is probably the last person with the proper connections to do something with said information.

The premise really hooked me in, and I quickly wanted to know more about how this would all unfurl: who were the enemies, how would they try to get the info, what was Tangle’s exact part in that, who could be Amanda’s allies… Most of all, I was interested in Tatsu, the little AI contracted to help her decrypt the contents of the USB stick. I always have a soft spot for AIs, and Tatsu was definitely endearing.

By contrast, though, I never really warmed up to the human characters. Mostly they were “unlikeable” as people (Amanda is pretty much self-centered, Tangle is no better and probably somewhere on the sociopathic ladder…), but that in itself is not a deal-breaker for me—they can be the most rotten pieces of crap in the world, I can still find them likeable as characters, provided the execution goes this way. It wasn’t much the case here, in part because these characters as a whole made problematic decision after problematic decision, in a way that made me keep wondering how on Earth they were still alive. (I’ve been a tabletop RPG player for over 20 years. Trust my experience when I say that “’eceiving mysterious information and just hanging about in one’s own flat—where everybody know they can find you—while trying to come up with ideas about what to do” is a sure way of being assaulted at night by men in black or other unsavoury characters.) I was actually glad when one of the bad guys finally called them on their ability to come up with plans that may work in movies, but never in real life. And that was worth for pretty much the whole cast, not only Amanda, who at least I would’ve expected to be the most clueless.

The last 20% picked up, and with Tatsu still involved by that point, that made me want to read until the end at any rate. The ending itself is fairly open, and leaves much unresolved, but in a way, it also makes much sense: things got mired, then exploded, and now the world’s in turmoil… and the fragile situation at the end, teetering between hope and potential catastrophe, fits that pattern.

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. Mostly I didn’t care much about the human characters, and there were a few plot holes that annoyed me, but I did enjoy the part played by the AI, and the way Amanda (and Tangle, too, after all) considered it.

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text 2019-06-18 08:20
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review 2019-05-22 20:38
The Dark Net
The Dark Net - Benjamin Percy

(To be fair, I actually got a review copy through Edelweiss, but didn't get to the book at the time due to... probably too many other books to read. Story of my life.)

It's a decent novel. It didn't exactly deal with what the blurbs mentions. From the latter, you'd think it's a techno-thriller involving the Deep Web, groups like Anonymous, the Silk Road, and so on. But the 'Net, while playing a part, is not as much involved as more traditional urban fantasy/horror elements: 'the Light' vs. 'the Dark', an immortal who prolongs her body's current life through blood transfusions, an ex-child evangelist now running a shelter by day and hunting monsters by night, demons...

I did like the way the Deep Net was involved: as a new turf for a war between Light and Dark, with means of action relying on people's obsession with their smartphones, GPS, and connected technology in general. That was a good plot point. I also liked Hannah's 'Mirage' apparatus, in the first chapter of the book, where it is hinted that thanks to it, she's now able to see more than meet the eye.

The story is packed with action, the characters don't really get a chance to rest, and even when they think they do, well, Evil never sleeps, right? As a result, though, it was also difficult to care much about them—so when there were dead people, I barely noticed them.

The more traditional horror/UF elements were also a slight let-down. As much as I like these in general, here, I felt that the technological angle took the back burner at times (one of the characters is actually a technophobe). Perhaps I resented the blurb misleading me more than I thought, too? I would've been more interested in a truly cyberpunk-cum-supernatural angle, rather than the contrary.

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