Review: The Serial Killer’s Daughter

Posted on July 27th, 2017 @ 21:29
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The Serial Killer's DaughterThe Serial Killer’s Daughter by Lesley Welsh

My rating: 

Blurb:

Charmer, liar, father… Killer. 
Suzanne’s life changes forever the day she receives a visit from Rose Anderson, the woman who has been living with her estranged father, Don

Don is dead, but Rose wants Suzanne to have his possessions – including a series of intimate diaries and a mysterious collection of photographs of women. 

To Suzanne’s shock, one of the photos is of her friend Sophie, who died ten years ago in an unexplained and devastating fire

But Don only met Sophie once, on an unsettling visit he paid Suzanne just days before Sophie’s death… So why did he have a picture of her? 

Unable to let Sophie’s memory alone, Suzanne begins to dig into her father’s life. What horrors is she about to unearth in his journals? And who is it that’s out there, watching her every move? 

Review:

Reading about Don’s twisted point of view and convictions about himself, others and the world about him, was fairly interesting. This kind of characters always feels like a train wreck to me: you know it’s going to be horrible, yet you keep on reading nonetheless, to see if the monster is truly so abject or if there’s anything else. I definitely won’t empathise with the guy (no kidding), but… yes, I find that interesting.

My major problem with this story, though, was the style itself, of a definite ‘tell-doesn’t-show’ kind, which kept throwing me out of the narrative at almost every page. In turn, I couldn’t empathise with the characters (whether ‘victims’, ‘criminal’ or ‘investigators’); this would have gone much better if their actions, their feelings, and whatever went through their heads, had been shown dynamically. However, I constantly felt that I was being given a recap, a textbook, telling me about them (I guess the flashbacks, or rather, where they were placed, contributed to that).

This diminished the tension created by the horrors described in Don’s notebooks and the investigation Suzanne embarked on, and didn’t contribute in making me warm up to ambiguous characters either, like ‘he’ (the man who follows Rose and Suzanne), for instance. So in general, I didn’t really care about them. I suppose I also expected something a little different, regarding the notebooks and the way Suzanne discovered the truth about her father—possibly something more psychological, and less along the lines the story followed in its second half.

Conclusion: 1.5 stars. Good basic idea, but I didn’t care much about the execution.

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Review: Turing’s Imitation Game

Posted on July 17th, 2017 @ 20:53
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Turing's Imitation Game: Conversations with the UnknownTuring’s Imitation Game: Conversations with the Unknown by Kevin Warwick

My rating:

Blurb:

Can you tell the difference between talking to a human and talking to a machine? Or, is it possible to create a machine which is able to converse like a human? In fact, what is it that even makes us human? Turing’s Imitation Game, commonly known as the Turing Test, is fundamental to the science of artificial intelligence. Involving an interrogator conversing with hidden identities, both human and machine, the test strikes at the heart of any questions about the capacity of machines to behave as humans. While this subject area has shifted dramatically in the last few years, this book offers an up-to-date assessment of Turing’s Imitation Game, its history, context and implications, all illustrated with practical Turing tests. The contemporary relevance of this topic and the strong emphasis on example transcripts makes this book an ideal companion for undergraduate courses in artificial intelligence, engineering or computer science.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

That was an informative, albeit also controversial, read about Turing’s ‘Imitation Game’, focused on the game itself rather than on the man (who I like reading about in general, but here I was definitely more interested in his famous ‘test’, since I keep hearing about it, but never in much detail). It sheds light on Turing’s aim when devising the test, as well as on what he predicted, and that may or may not happen sooner than expected.

Several sections in the book are devoted to examples of studies and events during which the test took place, pitching human judges against both machines and other human beings, without the former knowing what or who the latter was. Actual, textual examples allow the reader to try and make their own judgment—and determining where the machines are is not so easy as it seems. I was accurate in my guesses except but once, I think, however I can see where judges were ‘fooled’, and why. At other times, I was surprised at the outcome, for instance quite a few human participants made ‘boring’ answers to conversations, which in turn prompted judges to believe they were talking to a machine—and conversely, some AIs were clearly programmed with a variety of lively potential responses. Eugene Goostman, especially, with its persona of a 13-year old Ukrainian boy whose English is only second language, has good potential (in that you can tell some of its/his answers are stilted, but not more than if it/he was an actual learner of ESOL).

The test as a whole posits several interesting questions and conundrums. Namely, the fact that it’s based on language, and that one may wonder whether being able to converse means one is gifted with ‘thought’. Another one is whether the test as it exists can really be used as a marker: aren’t the various chatbots/AIs out there simply well-programmed, but in no way indicative of whether they’ll be able to go further than that?

Also, I’m not sure I can agree with the 2014 ‘the Turing test has been passed’ result, as it seems to me the percentage is too low to warrant such a qualifier (if 90% of judges were fooled in believing they were conversing with a human, now that’d be something else… or am I aiming too high?), and it’s too early anyway for the current AIs to have been developed far enough (as fascinating as some of their conversations were, they still looked much more like complex chatbots than anything else—at least, to me).

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. I did learn quite a few things no matter what.

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Review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire

Posted on July 13th, 2017 @ 21:24
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Bright Smoke, Cold Fire (Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, #1)Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

My rating:

Blurb:

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting…

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss.]

Hmm, not sure about this one. It’s a retelling of ‘Romeo & Juliet’, in a city that is the last one standing while the rest of the world has been invaded by ‘zombies’, where three families share the power, and where the religious order of the Sisters of Thorn has to perform yearly blood sacrifices in order to keep the undead at bay. It has a mysterious plague that makes people rise again after their death if precautions aren’t taken, and in that city, ‘the Juliet’ is actually a warrior bred from birth through magic rituals, with the ability to sense if someone has shed her family’s blood, and the compulsion to avenge said family member in turn (in other words, she still does a few other things than feigning death, thinking Romeo is dead, and promptly killing herself in turn). Also, she’s doomed to turn mad at some point

All in all, why not? This was interesting. The story itself, though, was kind of confusing, and although it did end up making sense, there were quite a few things I would’ve seen developed more in depth. Such as the Night Games, or the Necromancer (who kind of turned up at the awkward moment), or the Romeo/Paris/Vai trio relationship.

I’m not sure about the characters. I sort of liked the Juliet? Because she had that idea that ‘I’m already dead, and Romeo is dead, so I don’t care about dying because it means I can see him again’, yet at the same time she was quite lively and determined and not actively trying to take her own life while moping; her story is also rather sad (stripped of her name/real identity in a family whose beliefs in the afterlife involve having a name in order to be saved… nice). Romeo, though, was kind of stupid, and Paris way too naive; of the power trio there, the one I definitely liked was Vai (with a twist that was a bit predictable, but eh, he was fun to read about, and I totally agreed with the way he envisioned problems and how to tackle them!). As for Runajo… I don’t know. Determined, too, yet there were several moments when I thought her decisions should have her get killed or cast out or something, and she wasn’t because Plot Device.

(And very, very minor thing that probably only peeved me because I’m French, but… ‘Catresou’ sounds just so damn weird. I kept reading and ‘hearing’ that name as a French name, which sounds exactly like ‘quatre sous’—that’s like ‘four pence’—aaaand… Yep, so bizarre.)

Conclusion: 2.5 stars. To be fair, I liked the world depicted here in general, and that this retelling is sufficiently removed from R & J as to stand by itself; however, it was probably too ambitious for one volume, and ended up confusing.

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Review: Void Star

Posted on July 9th, 2017 @ 19:46
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Void StarVoid Star by Zachary Mason

My rating:

Blurb:

Not far in the future the seas have risen and the central latitudes are emptying but it’s still a good time to be rich in San Francisco where weapons drones patrol the skies to keep out the multitudinous poor. Irina isn’t rich, not quite, but she does have an artificial memory that gives her perfect recall, and lets her act as a medium between her various employers and their AIs, which are complex to the point of opacity. It’s a good gig, paying enough for the annual visits to the Mayo Clinic that keep her from ageing.

Kern has no such access; he’s one of the many refugees in the sprawling drone-built favelas on the city’s periphery, where he lives like a monk, training relentlessly in martial arts, scraping by as a thief and an enforcer. Thales is from a different world entirely – the mathematically-inclined scion of a Brazilian political clan, he’s fled to L.A. after the attack that left him crippled and his father dead.

A ragged stranger accosts Thales and demands to know how much he can remember. Kern flees for his life after robbing the wrong mark. Irina finds a secret in the reflection of a laptop’s screen in her employer’s eyeglasses. None are safe as they’re pushed together by subtle forces that stay just out of sight.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

This story takes us on the paths followed by three characters very different from each other: Irina, carrying a brain implant that gives her perfect memory and access to AIs; Kern, a young refugee from the San Francisco favelas, who taught himself through books and martial arts thanks to a laptop found in a dump; and Thales, son of a murdered Brazilian politician, whose life hangs by a thread only because his body may reject the implant that saved his life at any moment.

The world depicted in the novel is not exactly cyberpunk, not exactly transhumanistic, not exactly dystopian, but a blend of all three? Life-prolonging and youth treatments exist… only for those who can afford them. The implant in both Irina and Thales’s brains is exceptional… but. Large corporations dominate everyday life, but the protagonists are different from their more usual cyberpunk counterparts. Earth is going through climate changes and places like Singapore are gradually going underwater, and many people don’t have access to basic necessities… but at the same time, a sense of wonder still permeates the story, if only because of the way the characters are confronted to various threats and obstacles, yet also to hopes and openings towards new paths. Kern’s laptop, for instance, because of what it represents, or could represent, for a young boy living in the streets. Or the inhuman and fascinating beauty of the AIs introduced here, the destructive Cloudbreaker and the elusive Mathematician.

This is both close to us, making it possible to grasp it, with its technologies that we can understand (tablets and phones, albeit somewhat obsolete for the wealthier characters), and at the same time deeply alien and full of mysteries (what would it be like to live with a perfect, artificial memory you can access just whenever, yet that may send you into seizure and kill you?).

‘Void Star’ reads well, although for some reason I felt like taking my sweet time with it, perhaps because unconsciously I didn’t want to finish it too fast? It may sometimes be a wee difficult to follow, since it doesn’t rely on detailed explanations, instead taking its readers through its characters’ travels; I quite liked that, though—I like that in general in SF/F, even though I know I can’t read such stories when I’m too tired, for fear of losing my pace and missing important hints. While some events appeared, as a result, a little confusing, in the end I could still piece everything together. The three main narratives are well interwoven—chapter Y actually holds the missing answers to what happened in chapter X, and so on—and even when I didn’t have all the information to understand their world in the beginning, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Conclusion: Not the easiest read around, due to its (beautiful but sometimes complex) descriptive language and concepts; however, if one is ready to tackle that, this book can be positively fascinating.

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Review: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Have A Nemesis

Posted on June 26th, 2017 @ 21:45
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Please Don't Tell My Parents I Have A NemesisPlease Don’t Tell My Parents I Have A Nemesis by Richard Roberts

My rating:

Blurb:

It’s summertime for supervillains!

Or maybe not, because for Penelope Akk, there is still one foe she has yet to defeat: her own reputation as Bad Penny. It’s been a fun ride: fighting adult heroes, going to space, and inspiring the rest of her school to open up about their own powers.

Sooner or later, that ride has to end, and with school out of the way Penny is hatching a mad scheme to end it on her own terms. Will that go smoothly? Of course not. Penny’s left too many unsolved problems behind her already, like ghosts, seriously crazy friends, and angry little girls from Jupiter.

One by one, they’ll have to be dealt with before she can do battle with herself. She’d better hurry, because her parents are closing in. Whether she confesses or not, this time they will find out her secret.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher.]

I remember being disappointed with the previous instalment. This one, although not as strong as the first volume in the series, I felt was better—probably because it deals less with slice-of-life/school moments, and tackles more seriously the matter of Penny wanting to come clean to her parents about the Inscrutable Machine. Well, ‘seriously’ being a tentative word, because her plan is, as Ray and Clair put it, just crazy enough to actually work. (On the other hand, well, it’s a plan crafted by a 14-year-old mad scientist, soooooo… why not!)

… And you can sense this plan smells like Eau de Backfiring from the moment it is formulated, and can’t help but wait for the train wreck to happen, and… I admit, I liked that part of the plot. Even though it didn’t cover the whole book (too bad). In a twisted way, the mistakes Penny keeps committing seem to me like they’re actually her subconscious, or perhaps her power, acting her to act: she wants to be a hero, she regularly tries to help people and do good deeds, but somehow she seems more cut out to be an ambiguous hero at best. More suited to be filed with the likes of Lucyfar than Marvelous.

(I’m also thinking that IF this is what the author is indeed going for, then it might also explain the Audit’s lack of insight about her daughter: maybe the Audit does know, has known for a while, and isn’t saying anything because she wants Penny to realise by herself what her true decision will have to be.)

What I regret:

- Like in the previous two books, we don’t see much of Ray and Claire, both in terms of development and sidekicking (summer camp kind of gets in the latter’s way). Hopefully the last volume will take care of the whole ‘Ray’s family’ issue. Or maybe it’s not worth it? I don’t know, I’ve always felt there was something off to them, and not merely as in ‘they don’t like superheroes/villains so I can’t tell them I’m one now.’

- The coming back of a friendtagonist: I was expecting it, I wanted to see it happen, yet at the same time, the way it was dealt with felt like a plot device. Kind of ‘this character is needed to help Penny build one specific machine, and then will be unneeded for the rest of the book.’ Meh.

What I’m in between about:
- The ending. It is fairly depressing, and a cliffhanger… yet at the same time, I’m glad the whole thing wasn’t solved just like that, since it would’ve been too simple, and… ‘too clean?’

Conclusion: Not on par with volume 1, howeve it did leave me with a better impression than volume 3.

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