You’d think people would take a hint. If they were as interesting as the book we’d be talking to them. Kids are the worst for this. Second worst are the people who have left their book at home.
You’d think people would take a hint. If they were as interesting as the book we’d be talking to them. Kids are the worst for this. Second worst are the people who have left their book at home.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
After the first nine plagues, is the tenth plague free?
A missing archeologist reappears out of the desert in a semi-mummified state. With him he brings a biblical disease that threatens to yadda yadda the world. A brilliant businessman has designs on using the disease for his own ends. Only Sigma can uncover the ancient McGuffin to you get the idea before ticking clock.
I’m going to preface this review by saying that I’m a long time fan of James Rollins’ blend of pseudo-science, mythicism, and tehcno-thriller. His Artefact McGuffin Adventures are usually very entertaining reads.
Here’s the but. I don’t know if I just had a lower tolerance for the narrative this time, or if Rollins has introduced a bash the reader over the head style to his writing now. Regardless, it is annoying and hackneyed, and something I’d expect from Dan Brown, not James Rollins. It makes you notice the other problems, like the factual errors in the story. The suspension of disbelief is always high with these sorts of novels, so to have Dan Brown-ified the writing lowers my enjoyment and rating.
An example of what I’m talking about was an exchange early on between the Sigma members about disease categories. We’ve just been told that this is a super deadly disease with X% death rate, and we’re then told the disease death categories, which again states this is super deadly. Okay, so us dumb readers need to be informed that this disease is really bad. But to imply that the Sigma team of science experts who deal with this sort of problem semi-regularly would have to be bashed over the head with the explanation the way they were is silly. I immediately had in mind four or five ways to write that section that weren’t out of character, repetitive, and mind-numbing to the reader.
That all said, this was still a reasonably well paced thriller, with decent tension, especially into the final act. If you like Artefact McGuffin Adventures, then this is an okay instalment.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If you kill enough people you become a god. Still makes you a jerk though.
Agents Will Brody and Claire McCoy are hunting a serial killer. But he is unlike any serial killer who has ever come before. He is always a step ahead. He has power. And he has help. I could give more away, but the title gives you the idea.
Afterlife is an intriguing book. The ideas underpinning this supernatural speculative fiction story are as original as you will see. And mixed with this are two interesting characters and their relationship. It hangs together nicely whilst not becoming bogged down with the sort of world-building that spec-fic can bore readers with.
That said, I almost gave up on this book. The first chapter didn’t grab me at all. It isn’t until later in the novel that you understand why that chapter is there at all. Similarly the semi-ambiguous ending may also throw some people given the setup prior to the penultimate chapter. These points, particularly the first one, could discourage people. Normally I don’t say this – since I’m big on giving up on books ASAP to make room for good books – but stick with this for a few chapters. Don’t be put off by the opener, it will make sense soon.
NB: I was provided a review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Us readers know how awesome we are. And if we ever socially interacted with people everyone would realise that. We also want to know that we’re not alone. In a holistic sense. Obviously alone in the physical sense because otherwise someone would try to interrupt our reading.
Sensing our need for connection to a nationwide community of book nerds, The Australian Arts Council commissioned a report to figure out who was reading books. The report surveyed 2,944 people to see who read, how much, how they found books, and whether they preferred waiting for the movie adaptation. Let’s see what they found.
Firstly they wanted to establish how often people read and how that compared to other leisure activities. Reading was obviously less popular than dicking around on the internet and watching TV, but apparently beat out exercise. Although they excluded sport, and Aussies have a funny definition of sport. But this finding is similar to 2006 ABS figures that suggest Aussies spend 23 minutes per day reading, versus 21 minutes for sport and outdoor activities, and 138 minutes for Audio/Visual Media (Table 3.3).
Next are the reader categories. Non-readers were actually a small group, mostly male and more likely to have less education (although I wouldn’t read too much into that last detail). Occasional readers made up half the population, and were defined as reading 1 to 10 books in the last 12 months. Frequent readers were a surprisingly large segment, were defined as reading more than 10 books in a year, and were mostly female, older, better educated, and clearly better looking with tonnes of charisma.
Reading is to intellectuals what the bench press is to lifters. On the surface they might appear to be a good representation, but most exaggerate how much to appear better than they really are. Oh, and they generally aren’t fooling anyone… So I’m a little suspicious of the popularity of reading suggested by the above figures.
For one, only 34% of Aussies have visited a library in the last 12 months (2009-2010 ABS data) and 70% of them attended at least 5 times. Yet this new survey suggests 39% of people borrowed one or more books from a library in the last month. That’s roughly comparative figures of 24% from the ABS and 39% from this survey.
I’m suspicious. This survey might not be as representative as claimed. Or reading may have suddenly risen in popularity since 2010…. Doubtful given that both the ABS and this survey suggest otherwise. ABS suggested the the amount of time spent reading had decreased by 2 hours between 1997 and 2006, whilst this survey suggested the book reading times were roughly the same as 5 years ago (Figure 8 – not presented).
The next figure of average reading rates either suggests Aussies are reading quite a bit, or inflating their numbers like an “all you” bench press. The average Aussie is reading 7 hours a week (5 of those for pleasure) and getting through 3 books a month (36 a year: not bad). Occasional readers are reading one book a month from 5 hours a week, compared to the Frequent readers who are reading 6 books a month from 11 hours per week (72 books a year: nice).
But I’m not sure how accurate these claims are. I cited ABS figures above that suggested Aussies spend 23 minutes per day reading, or 2hrs 41mins (161 minutes) per week. So either one of these two samples is unrepresentative, or some people just love to inflate how much they read. I’m leaning toward the latter.* But you can trust me on my bench press numbers. Totally accurate and “all me”.
The final figure I found interesting was of favourite reading genre. When you included non-fiction and fiction genres there were two clear winners: Crime/Mystery/Thrillers; and Science Fiction/Fantasy.
These are our favourites yet our bookstores would suggest that Sci-fi and Fantasy are niche and only deserving of a shelf at the back of the store. Cookbooks, memoirs, literature, and the latest contemporary thing that isn’t quite literature but isn’t exciting enough to be genre, are typically dominating shelves in stores. This would annoy me more if I wasn’t already suspicious of how representative this survey was, or how honest the respondents were being.
It could well be that people enjoy reading Thrillers and Fantasy but feel compelled to read other things. Maybe people are brow-beaten by the literary snobs to read only the worthy stuff and not the guilty pleasures. Maybe the snobs in Fort Literature have successfully turned favour against the invading Lesser Works. This might not be the case though, as 51% in this survey say they are interested in literary fiction but only 15% actually read it.
It could be that people are borrowing books from libraries or friends. Borrowing books is popular with 41% borrowing one or more books per month, mostly from friends (43%) and libraries (39%). But 39.5% bought at least one book in the last month (92% of 43% buying for themselves). So the tiny niche sections in bookstores for the most enjoyed genres still doesn’t make much sense.
I’m not sure what to make of all this. I mean, aside from Yay, Reading!
For comparison the USA Pew Research’s 2016 annual survey of readers data is presented below. This suggests that Aussies read more than Americans. Assuming people are being honest.
“Key” insights from the Aussie research:
• We value and enjoy reading and would like to do it more – 95% of Australians enjoy reading books for pleasure or interest; 68% would like to read more, with relaxation and stress release the most common reason for reading; and almost three-quarters believe books make a contribution to their life that goes beyond their cost. Over 80% of Australians with children encourage them to read.
• Most of us still turn pages but many are swiping too – While print books still dominate our reading, over half of all readers in-clude e-books in the mix, and 12% audio books. Most Australians (71%) continue to buy books from bricks-and-mortar shops, while half (52%) are purchasing online. Word of mouth recommendations and browsing in a bricks and mortar bookshop are our preferred ways to find out what to read next. At the same time, nearly a third of us interact with books and reading through social media and online platforms.
• We are reading more than book sales data alone suggests – each month almost as many people borrow books (41%) as those who buy them (43%) and second-hand outlets are the third most popular source for buying books (39%), after major book chains (47%) and overseas websites (40%). Those who borrow books acquire them almost as frequently from public libraries as they do by sharing among friends.
• We value Australian stories and our book industry – 71% believe it is important for Australia children to read books set in Australia and written by Australian authors; and 60% believe it is important that books written by Australian authors be published in Australia. While there is a common perception among Australians that books are too expensive, more than half believe Australian literary fiction is important. Almost two-thirds of Australians believe books by Indigenous Australian writers are important for Australian culture.
• We like mysteries and thrillers best – the crime/mystery/thriller genre is the most widely read and takes top spot as our favourite reading category. We also love an autobiography, biography or memoir. (Source)
* I’m biased toward the ABS survey results over the Australian Arts Council for a few reasons. The first is that the ABS data is part of a larger Time Use Survey (How Australians Use Their Time, 2006, cat. no. 4153.0), so this removes a few biases in how people would answer questions (i.e. ask people specifically about how awesome books are, you’re going to talk up your reading more). It is also the larger survey covering 3,900 households. The methodology was also more likely to produce better data, since respondents were filling in a daily dairy and being interviewed. The Arts Council methodology wasn’t bad, but the survey was developed by interest groups, so the questions were presuming some things.
Since Blade Runner 2049 is coming out soon, CineFix have dedicated this month’s What’s the Difference? to breaking down Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
I can’t remember the first time I watched Blade Runner. I do know that it sucked. So that early experience was of a version of the movie that was about shooting androids rather than about empathising with them. I later watched the director’s cut and the Ridley Scott preferred version and concluded that this was a classic movie. I know, how prescient of me.
The novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was something I read a long time ago. I have a very poor recollections of it, in fact the only bit I can remember was the section where Deckard hooks himself up to the Voight-Kampff machine. The idea of humans not really being able to empathise with others, that we are just playing a meaningless game of life, whilst other beings would love to be human, is an interesting idea I should probably revisit. I’m sure I’ll get a chance before 2049.
I also read the sequel, Blade Runner: Edge of Human, which was more a sequel to the movie than the book. Again it has been a long time since I read this. I have more memories of borrowing this from the library than I do of reading it. This sequel was a gritty crime noir that was all about hunting down androids, double crosses, and absolutely nothing deep and meaningful.
Blade Runner is a good example of the “inspired by” version of movie adaptation. Very little of the book remains in the film and you could be forgiven for thinking they were unrelated. Yet neither the movie nor the book suffer as a result. Kinda like the Bourne films. And like Bourne, you honestly wonder why they bothered licensing the property when the screenwriters took so little material from the book.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If by doubting your existence you prove that your doubting thoughts exist, what happens if you then doubt your doubts?
A Little History of Philosophy is pretty much summed up by its title. It spends a chapter on each famous Western philosopher or movement (e.g. Aristotle gets a chapter; Sartre, Camus, and de Beauvoir share one) and takes a shallow dive into each. Nothing more, nothing less.
After recently reading Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy I thought I’d read a book that covered the same topic with less of the surrounding history and more of the philosophy overview. Nigel Warburton does this well in a brief, clear, and accessible manner. A strength of the overview is how he ties theories and influences together (e.g. Brentham to Mill, Mill to Russell) so that you can see how thinking has evolved. A negative is the sometimes tenuous segues Warburton uses to end a chapter. Seriously, you really start to notice it and laugh.
This was a great way to dip my toes into philosophy. Between Russell and Warburton I feel I’ve been given enough to start the journey down the rabbit hole. Made me think.
Surrealism is often a really interesting art form. This example from Vladimir Kush is a great example of the form… Says the guy with a reading bias…
Anyway, marrying the imagery of a bird taking flight with something that inspires imagination is pretty cool.
What art do you find cool?
With the release of the new movie adaptation of Stephen King’s It, unsurprisingly this month’s What’s the Difference? from CineFix is covering the book vs the 1990 mini-series.
The It mini-series come out on video – yes VHS, yes I am old – when I was just at the start of my teenage years. The adolescent characters facing the genuinely scary Pennywise was too much for me. Tim Curry’s portrayal of the demonic clown left me sleepless for a week. It is the only movie to have ever had this much of an impact on me.
I mean Pennywise is already a scary clown. But he turns into a giant nope. In Australia we’re wary of tiny nopes. A giant nope is a ticket to nightmares.
So guess what book I refuse to read and which recent adaptation I won’t be watching.*
Although, apparently the new movie is genuinely good:
*Yeah, I know, I probably wouldn’t find it scary now. I probably will eventually read the novel and watch the new movie. Maybe.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Take my love, take my land.
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don’t care, I’m still free.
You can’t take the sky from me.
No parallels at all.
The Free Navy have demolished Earth. They’ve taken over the system with their surprise attack utilising the latest Martian technology. Now Earth and Mars are fighting back. Cracks are appearing in the Free Navy’s plans, like the fact that they have wiped out food production and have 3 years left before humanity collapses. Great time for Marco – hubristic leader of the Free Navy – to pursue his grudge against Holden, Naomi, and the rest of the Rocinante crew.
I’ve been looking forward to reading Babylon’s Ashes since finishing Nemesis Games. The staging of a war, the political conflicts, the host of interesting and complicated characters; this was set to be a ripper of a novel. So I was a little disappointed and found myself plodding through some of the story.
This was partly my own fault, as I have less concentrated reading time currently. When I did get quality reading time the book was as entertaining as anything in this series. It was also partly that the character of Marco Inaros was fully revealed for a narcissistic authoritarian populist who is more intent on punishing minor sleights than running the galaxy (gee, wonder if he’s modelled after any particular political leader). It didn’t help that there was a tinsy bit of plot contrivance – albeit one that has had quite a bit of setup – in the final moments of the plot.
Despite these points, I did actually enjoy Babylon’s Ashes. It wasn’t the strongest instalment in The Expanse, but this still remains a stellar series.
I may have mentioned it before, but I am a science nerd. It may also be painfully obvious that I like reading. And before you ask, yes I do wear glasses and own a lab coat. I can fancy dress as anything from a doctor to a scientist.
What I love about science is the way it goes about trying to understand the universe. In fact science even came up with a few studies on how reading is fantastic for you. Psychologists from Washington University used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories. They found that ‘‘readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative”. The brain weaves these situations together with experiences from its own life to create a mental synthesis. Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways – although that’s hardly surprising nor unique.
Nicole Speer, also from Washington University, utilized brain-imaging to look at what happens inside the brains of participants while they read. She discovered that as people read, they are constructing a virtual reality inside their heads every time they read. That’s a fancy way of saying they imagined the stuff they were reading.
So. The book is better… Who’d have thunk?
It is good to have some evidence that our brains get more out of reading. Without evidence, claims are not worth the air they consume. Just ask anyone who has tried to get conspiracy theorists to provide evidence for their claims.
Each volunteer underwent a brain scan while performing web searches and book-reading tasks.
Both types of task produced evidence of significant activity in regions of the brain controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities.
However, the web search task produced significant additional activity in separate areas of the brain which control decision-making and complex reasoning – but only in those who were experienced web users. (Source)
Brain activity in web newcomers: similar for reading and internet use
|Surfing the net brain in action.|
The researchers said that, compared to simple reading, the internet’s wealth of choices required people to make decisions about what to click on in order to get the relevant information. So not only is reading good, but exploring and interacting with what you are reading is even better. Surfing the net, getting lost in a fictional world…. wait that is the same point twice. Anyway, it leads to even more brain activity.
Now before you all go in search of internet porn to enlarge your brain, remember that you’re meant to be reading the porn sites for the articles.
* It took me a bit of searching to find the original journal paper for this study. The BBC article and original press release were easy. A personal gripe of mine is when press releases and news articles fail to link to the original article so that we can fact check the claims. So as part of growing your brain with reading and internet browsing, please spend some time searching for and reading the original scientific papers that are reported. And if it wasn’t peer reviewed, then it could have been made up, like that rubbish about us only using 10% of our brain.
Have you ever heard a scientist talk and wondered what the hell they were saying? Did they use the word theory to mean something other than “I reckon”? Well, you’re not alone.
Language is very important to scientists. Without precise language there would be no way for them to write peer reviewed papers that could send an insomniac to sleep. Communicating science is all about letting everyone in on the data and knowledge that is being accumulated in the endless march forward into the unknown. But because scientists are marching into the unknown, they prefer to make their statements as vague and non-committal as possible. This way, if they are correct they have cautiously alluded to the right answer, and if they are wrong they can pretend their statement was hinting at the correct answer all along.
There is something about music that we all love. By “music” I mean I’m going to discuss the popular stuff that people love to criticise. By “we all” I mean some people, since not everyone likes music, and even music lovers have tastes that differ from the norm. And by “love” I don’t mean the squishy kind. As a music fan I feel the need to defend modern music, since I quite like some of it.
Recently there have been a number of people disparaging modern music. E.g.:
This isn’t a new argument. Much like the kids these days argument – wave your Zimmer Frames at the sky now – the modern music sucks argument is based around a number of cognitive biases. Survivorship bias is one part, in that we only remember the music that lasts, and we certainly don’t remember the bad stuff. One of the more interesting parts of our biases is how our musical tastes are formed in our teens and early twenties (14-24). In part this is when our brains are developing and we are creating our identity. Another part is that everything is still new and exciting, so we get a rush from experiences that we won’t later in life. So everything after that short time period seems strange and against the natural order of things.*
Pubertal growth hormones make everything we’re experiencing, including music, seem very important. We’re just reaching a point in our cognitive development when we’re developing our own tastes. And musical tastes become a badge of identity. – Professor Daniel J. Levitin (Source)
But of course, rather than discuss the interesting dynamics at play, the discussion has instead latched onto a study that provides “objective proof” that modern music sucks. Rather than directly cite the study, the vitriolics have found a Youtube video that misrepresents the study to suit their preconceived ideas.
So what does the objective proof study actually say? Well, after a quick search – seriously, how hard is it for these whiners to link and read the damn study – I found the original study. But rather than provide proof that music has gotten worse since the 1960’s, it instead directly states:
Much of the gathered evidence points towards an important degree of conventionalism, in the sense of blockage or no-evolution, in the creation and production of contemporary western popular music. Thus, from a global perspective, popular music would have no clear trends and show no considerable changes in more than fifty years. (Source)
Kinda the opposite of the claim, huh! As a general statement, music hasn’t gotten better or worse, it has pretty much stayed the same over the last 50 years. Nobody has ever noticed that…
Other studies have looked into changes in music over time. A more recent study found that styles of music have changed, often becoming more complex over time. But it isn’t quite that simple. The more popular a style of music becomes the more bland it becomes.
We show that changes in the instrumentational complexity of a style are related to its number of sales and to the number of artists contributing to that style. As a style attracts a growing number of artists, its instrumentational variety usually increases. At the same time the instrumentational uniformity of a style decreases, i.e. a unique stylistic and increasingly complex expression pattern emerges. In contrast, album sales of a given style typically increase with decreasing instrumentational complexity. This can be interpreted as music becoming increasingly formulaic in terms of instrumentation once commercial or mainstream success sets in. (Source)
In other words, music sucks because it tries to be popular. And it works.
So saying that modern music sucks is nonsense. What is bland and generic is popular music. Always has been, probably always will be. There is good music being made all the time, you just aren’t going to find it without looking.
* The full quote from Douglas Adams is:
I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
Ever thought that Harry Potter’s adventures shared a lot in common with Luke Skywalker’s? Ever thought that Simba and Neo were soul mates? Can you believe I just used the term soul mates?
The reason so many of the stories we know and love feel familiar is because of one of the most popular narrative structures writers like to use. The Hero’s Journey is explained below using Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, Spiderman, The Lion King, and The Lord of the Rings. Worth also seeing how this structure fits into the 6 Story Arcs.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
That moment when you recognise an actor/actress but can’t admit it.
Adult film star Raven Lane has a stalker. Not the leave flowers kind of stalker, the kind that leaves bodies in the back of your car. The police are only mildly interested in catching someone killing people in the adult industry, so Raven hires Lock and Ty. Ryan Lock reluctantly takes the job, sensing that something is off about it all. There is. In the worst way possible.
It has been a while since I’ve read anything from Sean Black. His first Lock thriller novel was recommended to me by thriller author Matt Hilton, and I loved it. Sean has since branched out into writing a mystery-comedy series – Malibu Mystery – that I’ve got on my TBR (at some point I’m going to have to admit I have a book buying problem). Reading another Ryan Lock novel was like putting on a comfy pair of shoes. Sean keeps the narrative interesting, keeps the pacing fast, and isn’t afraid to land plot punches most authors would avoid.
Although, when Sean says he loves to do hands on research, I kinda wonder what he did for Gridlock.
Highly recommend this novel for thriller and crime-thriller fans.
I love this bit from Family Guy. This isn’t the first time I’ve posted this pic. Last time I used it in a post musing why I hadn’t read more Dean Koontz novels.
Koontz acted as my archetypal author whom I haven’t read. We all have more books to read than we’ll ever have time to. So there will be some authors who we’ll gloss over or miss. I also made a point about not wasting time on bad books and mediocre authors. Being a nerd I used some math:
If we do waste time on bad books then the list of authors we’ll gloss over will be longer. We may miss out on something we really love just so we can trudge through something we don’t.
But the best part of posting the pic last time was an author friend sending the post to Dean Koontz. And I still haven’t read Odd Thomas…