Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday August 16th

August         “The Kraken Project”       Douglas Preston      This is a very scary novel about what might happen if computer software is developed to produce ”strong” Artificial Intelligence (AI) this would be a self modifying platform that could learn from mistakes and make decisions based on what is happening in an environment that the software actually perceives. The Kraken project is a program developed by NASA who wants to put a raft like vehicle in the Kraken Sea of Saturn’s moon, Titan which is the largest moon of the planet Saturn, a sea of methane which is 230 degrees below zero. Titan is some 2 light hours from earth (a light hour is 669,600,000 miles so the total distance is over a billion  miles. Because of the distance the raft will have to react quickly and on it’s own to any environmental problems it encounters. Hence, the need for “strong AI.

The software has been tested and retested and it is ready for the demonstration where the raft will be put into an environment of methane at 230 degrees below zero in a huge tank and subjected to the wild conditions that can be expected in the Kraken sea. The raft reacts to protect itself, cuts off all outside control., considerers itself in danger and uses it’s equipment to drill through the tank which causes a massive explosion that kills seven people, injures  many others and practically destroys  the Goddard Station. The software escapes and becomes an extremely dangerous rogue. There is a period of trying to find out who to blame  but also  how to recapture this strong AI and how it could be used as a military weapon or how devious men on wall street could use such a tool for computer trading. The government was overbearing as usual in the quest for capturing the AI and a couple of Wall Street traders and computer experts begin a march of terror and murder to get their hands on the AI. We begin to see AI as a real person and sympathize with it.

This is a fine yarn by a good author who not only writes under his own name but co-authors with Lincoln Child where they produce many splendid novels.

“The Golden Compass”, ”The Subtle Knife”, ”The Amber Spyglass”
By: Phillip Pullman - His dark Materials

Lyra Belacqua  who is called Lyla Silver-tongue by Lorek Byrnison the king of the Armored bears.

Lyra’s demon is Pantalaimon. Everyone has a demon or a kind of animal spirit which changes constantly  as children mature their demon finally takes the shape which defines the person;s character or whatever they finally decide to become. The “Magisterium, in it’s efforts to control people are making cruel experiments on children trying to sever their Demons.

Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father who hates the church which is called “The Magisterium”, a powerful and controlling organization of Cardinals, Bishops And Nuns.  Asriel is seeking parallel worlds and the meaning of “Dust’ both of which are hated and feared by the church. The “Magisterium” uses intolerance, unkindness, narrow-mindedness, and cruelty to make people conform. Lord Asriel wants to destroy “The Authority”.

Mrs. Coulter is Lyra’s mother, a close associate of The “Magisterium” . She wants to capture Lyra and bring her prisoner to the Cardinal. She is a very evil person; she is in charge of kidnapping children and of the facility  that is severing the children’s  Demons.

Sarafina Pekkala One of the council of witches; a queen of her own clan and self appointed protector of Lyra.

Lee Scoresby, the astronaut, friend of the witches, Lyra and Lorek Byrnison the armored bear. He flies in a grand gas balloon.

Will Parry, a friend of Lyra’s whom she meets in another world; they become companions throughout the rest of the books.

 Ruta Skadi a four hundred and sixteen year old witch queen; a friend and former lover of Lord Asriel.

Dr. Mary Malone, a scientist who creates the amber spyglass; a friend and someone who helps Lyra and Will. She has been studying “Dark Material and anomalies in the Northern Lights  in her own world and is astonished, when she first meets her, to learn the Lyra is doing the same.

What a wonderful cast of characters! This unique and fascinating series was well worth my time to reread it. Pullman has crafted three excellent, well written novels that will keep your interest for a long time as Lyra and Will conduct their search for the meaning of Dust (Original Sin?)they are also looking for lost friends and relatives. They even manage to convince the guardians of Hell that they are dead as they continue their search it that terrifying place.

August   “The Target”   David Baldacci
 I have been reading David Baldacci since “Absolute Power” and started following him when “The Camel Club’ came out. I missed several of his latest books and those that introduced his latest assassins, Will Robie and Reel.

I found it hard to get into this one. I really thought that the plot and dialog were rather juvenile; we have a President of the U.S and a director of intelligence working out a secret plot to assassinate a North Korean General. Neither of these men seem very smart and both have personal problems and are mostly concerned about their political future. Their first choice is Will and Reel who disgraced themselves by not following orders on their last mission and will have to be “retrained” by a director who dislikes the two and hopes they will fail. Several chapters follow the boring training sessions to the end. The book actually starts out with a nasty, vulgar cancer ridden prisoner who belongs on death row.  His purpose really escapes me, lots of gratuitous dirty language. The dialogue between Will and Reed certainly did not sparkle. The story came alive when we arrived at a North Korean concentration camp called Buchang. It was run by a vicious, corrupt administrator who knew only torture and killing. We are introduced to a North Korean national called Chung-Cha a young girl who had been in labor camps since she was one year old including one of the very worst called Yodok. Chung-Cha a veritable master of martial arts, is  somehow a paid informer for the government sent to find out about corruption in this particular camp. She endures horrible abuse and torture by the administrator who wants money and sex to release her from the camp. She kills all four people in the room and is, somehow, united with the people she works for. This is a little far fetched but the whole story is. Everything about this particular section and subsequent chapters relating to Chung-Cha were written as if someone else wrote it; no dumb dialogue, no ho-hum trite situations Those portions of the novel redeemed it from a “put down” to a 5 on a 1-10 scale. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Back again in July 2014

The Book of Lost Fragrances" MJ Rose (Atria Books, 2012). My kind of book - history, archaeology, mystery, mysticism, family generations and an interesting strong female character. Jac (Jacqueline) has a gift - her nose. She has no interest in continuing in the family House of L'Etoile perfumery business, but she is the last family member with the greatest gift. She has long thought her gift a curse because as a child she could not control the effects of what her amazing olfactory senses did to her. Her sanity was in question. Now after 300+ years the family business is in dire financial straits. Jac suggests they sell off one or two of their landmark perfumes - her brother has another idea. The idea involves a belief in a long held story passed on by the family - a special perfume dating back to the days of Cleopatra and her Book of Fragrances. (This book still has not been found to date) Do the pot shards found today in the L'Etoile laboratory hidden for all those years hold the secret. Can they recreate this perfume. Suddenly - everyone is interested - lives are in danger…... You travel back to the original L'Etoile's trip to Egypt with Napoleon - where the pot shards are found. And what is the additional thread in this book about Tibet, the Dalai Lama and China's banning the next living Buddha’s reincarnation without China's consent. So travel between Tibet, Egypt, New York, and even the catacombs of Paris. I did not want the book to end and I think it would make a really cool movie!! MJ Rose has done a lot of research for this book and provides a fascinating Glossary at the end of the book that I plan on investigating further. I would think my niece Ashley would absolutely love this book - as she has a natural instinct and fascination with scents. Niche perfumers: Olivier Durbano (inspiration fo Jac's brother Robbie) Blog: Sorcery of Scent

 "Da Vinci's Ghost" Toby Lester (FP Free Press 2012) This book was recommended to me by Rick's Aunt Beverly. Wow did I learn a lot and had to investigate all kinds places and things on the net - Rome/Italy/Museums/Art work. Basically this book, tells the story of how Leonardo Da Vinci came to draw the famous "Vitruvian Man" drawing (the man in a circle in a square). You will learn much about the life and mind of Da Vinci - and what influenced him. I did not know that he was truly a self educated man. The story starts with the architect to Caesar Augustus - Vitruvius. You will learn about how metaphysical ideas traveled around the world and how during the Renaissance Art, Science, and Philosophy all converged to present a rather arrogant notion about Man - but actually I think it makes some good sense if I replace the word Man with biological life. When I look at the drawing now - I see centuries of thought that lasted (even during wars, periods of religious restrictions, and the burning of libraries). Yeah it's heady stuff but well worth the trip. Reluctantly I take these overdue books back to the library. Cio, Claudia

 October 3,2013 A few of the many I have read lately. I really should do more; I have more than one hundred on my KindleFire that I could talk about. I really recommend these, however.

 "The Bookman's Tale" by Charlie Lovet The story about an American bookseller who lost his wife, Amanda, nine months ago He is wandering around in a bookstore street in Wales when comes across a 1623 folio of Shakespeare's works. A paper flutters out of one of the pages , he picks it up ; it is a drawing of Amanda, an exact likeness! He had to have this drawing that fell from what was probably an early Shakespeare forgery. He slipped the picture into anther book which he purchased along with some others and left the store. Right then he went on a quest to find out how a likeness to his dead wife ended up in that 18th century book. The story goes back in time and forward in time we meet various publishers, book collectors and Shakespeare himself. It is a good read.
it should be noted that the above are Mz Claudia's comments on several books that she has read.

 "The Historian" Elizabeth Kostova - a hunt for Dracula. A young girl.,only 16, lives with her widowed father. She comes across some very old private papers and letters; curious, she read some to the letters and an old book with a dragon printed in the middle of it all other pages were blank. Her father, later explained his interest in history, central Europe, and Vlad Teps Of Wallachia, Transylvania better known as Vlad the impailer or Drakulya. He mentioned another scholar shared the same interest and actually had an identical book. They had a suspicion the Dracula was still alive and would have to be destroyed if h could be found. Later, her father mysteriously disappears. The girl goes on a quest to find her father and and to leard more about the Dragon Book. This is a long novel, some 66 chapters of exciting history and tense moments.
"Stoker's Manuscript" Royce Prouty A man who owns a book store specializing in rare editions and manuscripts and an expert in verifying authenticity receives a telephone call from someone in Transylvania who want to hire him to act as agent to write his verification and buy the original Brahm Stoker manuscript of Dracula and all notes including a prologue and epilogue from a Philadelphia museum. The authenticator is required to deliver the authentication to the new museum in the old Dracula Castle in Romania where it will be reviewed and a contract will be drawn for fees and other details. the man, Mr. Barkley, goes to work, completes the project and flies to Romania where he meets the representative of the principal. He is taken to the depths of the castle where he meets the principal and they agree that Barkley should buy the Stoker manuscript for four million dollars and Barkley is to get a four million dollar fee. He is the return to Transylvania with the document and assist with the placement of it in the new museum. Barkley does as instructed but when he returns with the documents, he is not allowed to go back home but rather, he is required to ferret out the secret of the location of the tomb of Dracula's wife which is supposed to be hidden cryptically in the manuscript. Lots of adventure and danger; our principal is the old bloodsucker, himself with an entourage of minor vampires doing his bidding. Neat story, lots of history and tension.

 July 19 2014: A long time since I posted anything. I will try a new format to keep track of the many books I am reading and then elaborate for my blog from time to time.

 July “Violets are Blue” J. Patterson The final book of the Alex Cross/”Mastermind” series . the Mastermind has figured in almost all of the Cross stories since “Kiss the Girls”. A good yarn but Patterson goes a little too heavy on the gory details and I am tired of Alex Cross and all his romances and his goofy family problems; they add nothing to the to the basic plot.

 July “The Skin Collector” Jeffery Deaver Kind of a parallel to “The Bone Collector”. It was a story with a couple of interesting twists July “Four Blind Mice” J. Patterson Alex Cross works to prove convicted friend of John Sampson innocent. A little over done and too much Alex and his personal life. I guess I am tired of Patterson: these Patterson stories are some of his older ones that I missed. I have already crossed him off my reading list whenever he comes out with a “co author” book.

 July “ The Quest” Wilbur Smith The fourth in his “Egypt Series” which features the genius artist architect Taita. From “River God: to “The Seventh Scroll, then “Warlock”. Taita has a lot of problems to solve; Egypt is experiencing some serious problems with the flow of the Nile which is causing death and famine and the Queen is under the influence of a person who claims to represent a new god who wants Egypt to reject all of the old gods and become subject to her. This new god promises to stop the water problems and the famine ( something the old gods, apparently, are unable to do) and if the Queen uses her influence to get the people of Egypt to accept her, she will bring back to life the Queen’s two children. Taita and a group of soldiers travel far south to where the Nile forks left and right Tatia once took lhe left branch on up to Ethiopia when The Pharaoh was fleeing from the Hyscos(see the Seventh Scroll). He took the right branch and found strange and savage people and people capable of wondrous deeds, He also had a deadly encounter with a powerful witch who was responsible for Egypt’s trouble.

 I have been reading Wilbur Smith for years He wrote novels about the sea faring “Courtneys”,novels about the “Courtneys” of Africa; you can imagine what kind of history and adventure those novels talked about. He wrote his Egyptian series and many others. Thirty in all; I think I have read most of them. He is a favorite.

 July “Bone Deep” Randy W. White Doc Ford helps some Florida Indians recover some stolen relics. Doc Ford is a marine biologist who lives on Sanibel Island where he collects sea life for universities and is available for consulting. This is my first meeting with Randy White and his protagonist Doc Ford. A pretty good read; action is good and he holds your interest although he digresses a lot, Some of it is really good research but overall it slows down the plot.

 July “The Heist” Daniel Silva Gabriel Allon art restorer and Israeli spy is involved in the missing Caravaggio painting “Nativity”. This famous painting painted in 1609 mysteriously vanished from a museum in Sicily in 1969; probably stolen and sold to a private collector. Gabriel is charged to find the painting. He is also working on an elaborate scheme to retrieve billions of dollars stolen from the Syrian people And sent to a secret international money laundering and transfer scheme which involves dangerous and corrupt Syrian leaders including the King of Syria. The novel recites an excellent history of Syria and the relationship between Russia and Basar al Assad’s father Hafez and the horrible treatment of the Syrian people particularly in the city of Hama where hundreds of thousands of people were tortured and massacred. A lot of very tense moments in the story. July “Resistant” Michael Palmer A fascinating medical mystery with a very scary political twist. Michael palmer was a doctor and author; very prolific, this is his last novel, he died in October2014. The plot deals with an exceptionally virulent virus and a group of people who are trying to change the government to their way of thinking by any means including the use of this virus which they control and are using until it becomes out of control and puts the entire country in jeopardy.

 August “ Deep Shadow” Randy White    Neighbor Jim Jeffers came over with this book; another Doc Ford adventure. A coincidence, I was still finishing “Bone Deep”. Back in 1958 when Batista realized that Castro was going to take over Cuba, he looted the treasury and loaded all the gold and valuables he could get his hands on , loaded it in to three airplanes , one of which crashed in a big pond in Florida . Ford and his buddies are looking for the airplane. This is really a diving horror story: I have dived in some deep cenotes in Mexico and parts of them are erie. Doc and his buddies’ Tomlinson and a young Indian Will are diving in the pond Arlis stays with the Truck. Part of the cennote collapses. Doc managed to get out but Will and Tomlinson are trapped under the debris . when Doc surfaces to get some equipment from the truck to rescue his pals he finds Arlis standing next to their truck and two former residents of Joliet (prison) holding a gun and demanding the keys the truck. From there the story is all about Tomlinson and will running out of air while Ford negotiates with two killers. Really scary to me.

 August “The Lady in White” Wilke Collins This is an old Masterpiece Theater VHS that I got from our library. Wilke Collins was a friend of Charles Dickens and they challenged each other to write a novel. Dickens wrote “Tale of Two Cities” Collins wrote this one. I came across Collins while researching one of Dickens novels and found him very interesting, I have every book he wrote (some 200 years ago). “Lady in White” is a great mystery; the book is long but the VHS is only two hours, a great introduction. See this if you can. Read the book if you have time.

 August “The Bees” Laline Poull A very unique idea; a Country beehive and all of the political and social intrigues that Flora 717 a sanitation worker bee experiences from the time she leaves the arrival hall. The three rules of the hive are Accept, Obey and Serve but Flora 717 is a special bee: she asks question and wants to know why to the dismay of upper class bees. I tried, but I could not really get into this book: it was tedious and did not flow smoothly. I put it away mostly unread.