Saturday, May 27, 2017

Samurai Jack is dead!

16 years ago, Samurai Jack premiered as an animated show where a honorable samurai travels through time to destroy the demon Aku, who has taken over the world and made it evil. With Genndy Tartakovsky's genius behind it, this tale of good versus evil never seemed too simple or too idealistic, something movies today and in the future need to learn. However, after only four seasons, the show was not renewed, leaving fans with the bitter sweet conclusion that evil will triumph if no one fights against it, especially in the world of movies and series.

And people fought and the series received its continuation... and its ending, a season 5 that ends in a glorious finale. What comes next is a spoiler for the last season and the show's finale, you've been warned.

Click to show spoiler

For Entertainment Weekly, Геннадий had this to say: This is it. This is the definitive end, and it’s a great end. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve storyboarded it, and I think it’s super satisfying, and it should close the door for me for Samurai Jack. … Now, look, there’s 50 years between season 4 and season 5, and if somebody wanted to jump in and do some stories in between, but for me this is the end

Anyway, I really hope Tartakovsky comes with something new soon, something that is just as creative and just as actual as Samurai Jack was. He somehow made a show about a samurai feel futuristic. That's not easy. And even his most childish shows, like The Powerpuff Girls, were great. He will be directing Hotel Transylvania 3 next, but I really wish he wouldn't burn out and stick to movies, especially stupid ones like this, when his shows were the highlights of my youth.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Cold Magic (SpiritWalker #1), by Kate Elliott

book cover Just look at that book cover. Someone was already imagining the multiple Hollywood movies, or at least a TV series. Yes, it's another young adult story, but this one is different because it is from the point of view of a girl. Besides, I've read several YA books and I liked some of them.

In Cold Magic, Kate Elliott describes a feudal world in which the rulers are either princes or "cold" mages, although there are many other aspects of magic in the world that are briefly explored. There is a lot of history, too, parallel to the European one - if magic was real in the Napoleonic times. For the first quarter of the book I lapped it up. I was curious to see how this young girl manages to untangle the mystery of the things that are happening to her and if she will thwart the powerful people who want to use her and her girl cousin. However, after a few chapters in which kind of the same thing happens over and over again, with no real reason, I was getting restless. Add to this the long descriptions of personal fashion, grooming and judgement on how people look and what it tells about them and I was starting to get a little annoyed. When it all turned to romance, I was simply disappointed. It wasn't that the point of view of the young woman ruined the story, but that it irritated me enough to make me attentive to the plot holes.

Bottom line: I am half curios on how the world building will evolve and how the author is going to describe this alternate magical Europe, but on the other hand I feel like the entire book I waited for something to happen and to make sense, when in fact all characters did things in order to move the story in a certain direction. Instead of being character driven, the plot meanders and the characters drift on it like leaves on a river. I can't empathize with people that lack almost any kind of control over what happens to them, especially since the trope of the young person thrown into a maelstrom of unexplained situations with people that speak in riddles and keep things for themselves is so overused in YA novels and I am tired of it. I will not read the next books in the Spiritwalker series. It was fun for the first half of the story, but then it went downhill.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Zero Days (2016), a very interesting and well done documentary about Stuxnet

Here is my IMDb review for the film: A gold standard in documentary films and a very interesting story
Once you go beyond the automatic dislike of computer screen hexadecimals turning into beautiful 3D animations, which is the norm in all popularizing documentaries, you can see not only how interesting the story is and how well the film is done, but how much effort came into the gathering of the information in it.

This two hour film describes how Stuxnet changed the world, first from the eyes of malware researchers and how they discovered the worm and how they started to analyse it and realize how advanced it is and what it does, then goes into the political realm, describing how the US and Israel did this to Iran, then narrows down, showing not only how this was something the US did to prevent the Israelis to do even worse things, but how Stuxnet came back to bite its creators in the ass. In the end we are shown the true reality of a world in which anyone can do horrible damage with no attribution while the security institutions keep everything secret and out of public discussion and decision.

A very informative movie, filled with useful tidbits, showing the story of Stuxnet from start to end and to later consequences, interesting to both technical people and laymen alike. Well done!

I particularly liked the idea that the more aggressive the worm got, the less effective it was. Israelis pushed and pushed the US until the malware became more autonomous and the whole operation blew wide open and the Stuxnet worm infected American computers. It was funny to see how scared American agencies were about this new sophisticated malware attacking their systems, while other American agencies, the ones that created it, were prohibited by secrecy to reveal it was them.

I also found really interesting the fact that the most effective versions of the worm were subtle pieces of code that attacked very specific targets and needed a human operative to insert them into the system. The "public" version of Stuxnet, the one that became so visible antivirus people noticed it, that is the version that used stolen certificates and four zero-days exploits, but wasn't the one that actually delayed the Iranian nuclear operations for a year with no one the wiser about what was causing the damage. Blunt tinkering in the elegant code of the initial software led to its discovery and, indirectly, the creation of cyber warfare units in all national intelligence agencies.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1), by Sylvain Neuvel

book image Gotta learn to not blindly trust book reviews that appear in my favorite web sites. I mean, they have the right to be wrong (aka to their own opinion). To be honest, I just expected the book to be better, I wasn't particularly upset with it. The review called it "the next Martian"; it's not even close. It's a completely different style, mood, idea and quality. But, that being said, I enjoyed it. Better still, I learned an interesting and probably valuable lesson out of it.

You see, Sleeping Giants is the closest I've come yet to a "hand held" book. The story is told exclusively through interviews and records of discussions. I mean, there is one scene where the heroes have to disarm some guards and instead of going quiet, they keep talking into their sat phone with someone so we can read what happened. It wasn't bad, but I sincerely hope that the rest of the books in the Themis Files series are not the same, although I am pretty sure I will not read them. However, I've learned from this. Even if you are shit at writing scenes, you can write a book that is being told through dialogue and short personal entries and tell the story.

So the story that Sylvain Neuvel tells is about us finding pieces of a giant alien robot and finding out how to operate it, even if the way it functions seems incomprehensible. I've covered the style, so now I have to tell you about the plot, which is naive to say the least, but enough to suspend your disbelief as you read the book. The beginning promises a lot more than the ending provides and, while I understand there is another book, I don't really care how the story ends.

Bottom line: a little fun sci-fantasy, with no real consequence or worth of mention. However, Sony did option the rights for the book, so who knows when we're going to get an alien robot defending the Earth against Godzilla movie, or whatever crap like that.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Moved most Codeplex projects to Github

Microsoft is closing Codeplex, so I had to migrate all projects that I felt were still relevant to Github. First of all, you should know there is a migration tool at Codeplex to do this automatically. Second of all, you SHOULD NOT USE IT, because it's just stupid, plus it only works in cases where you committed source code, not archives of source code. It does't add a proper readme file or a licence file and it doesn't even migrate the description. So don't use it, just don't!

I don't know how I feel about this. I always wanted Codeplex to be successful, but with so little resources allocated for the project, I think it is better that they are closing it. It was a slow, out of date web site and Github is clearly better for many reasons. However I don't see how a monopoly on online source control is good either. Well...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2), by N. K. Jemisin

book cover The Obelisk Gate immediately follows the story from the first book in the Broken Earth series, The Fifth Season. N.K. Jemisin now makes clear which are the sides in the conflict and, with the characters thoroughly fleshed out in the previous book, she is free to let things happen, to finally feel there is a story, and a root cause and a purpose and some action. That is why, in many regards, even if it is just another part of the same story, The Obelisk Gate is the better book.

Unfortunately for me, I won't be able to read the third book, The Stone Sky, until it is released and then... err.. made available, which happens sometimes in August of this year. Yet at the same time I have to say that there was enough in this book to appease my desire for more Broken Earth. I may even not read the third book, even if I am curious on how it will all end. It is an important lesson to learn, that stories can burn themselves out before their time, just like an orrogene using too much power and dying of it. Somehow, at the end of Obelisk Gate there is not enough mystery left but what was so bluntly left out by the author with all the silent and "I'll tell you just enough" type of characters she used. I have to wonder if there is even enough material for a third book. The fact that there is a 2014 short story that seems to happen long after the third book makes me think that it was always planned as a trilogy and this will probably be it.

Bottom line: The sides become clearer, characters align with them and a lot of the education of normal people is being discarded in favor of the brutal way of thinking in case of terrible cataclysm and dire need. There is still a climax to come, but what will it entail except the obvious outcome and some fighting? To me, the important part of the story has been told already.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Fifth Season (Broken Earth #1), by N. K. Jemisin

book cover The first book in the Broken Earth series, The Fifth Season is a good book. I liked the world building, the characters, even if there are so few of them and grabbing all the action in the story, and I am going to read the second book in the series, The Obelisk Gate, next.

The story is mostly a setup for the series, where the main characters are introduced and the world is built. As a far into the future post apocalyptic Earth, it is a mixture of old dead civilization influences and pure human survival. That is why some words that are particular to our culture stick out when used and N.K. Jemisin does slip a few in there, although not enough to be annoying. The book is split into three view points: the basically orphaned Damaya, the talented Syenite fast climbing in the ranks of the Fulcrum orrogenes and the old rogga Essun, walking a damaged landscape in order to find her husband... and kill him. The Essun point of view is written in second person, which may be off putting for a while, but one get used in time.

There isn't much else I can say without spoiling the story. The feeling at the end of the book is clearly not one of closure and catharsis, as it ends abruptly and you realize it is just the first part of a larger tale. While I can't say I was awed by the content or the writing style, they are both solid and professional. The book captivated me and I will be continuing to read the story, mostly to see where it goes.

Monday, May 08, 2017

The Night Ocean, by Paul la Farge

book cover It is tough reviewing a book like The Night Ocean because it is about so many things and at the same time about nothing much. Paul la Farge describes the experiences of a female psychotherapist who is married to a man obsessed by a book about the sex life of another writer (H.P.Lovecraft) so much that he follows leads, writes a book himself, based on the memories of a man who in the end turns out to be something different than anybody thought. So it's a book about a book about a book about books, basically, only written through the eyes of the people writing and being affected by said books.

Half of me screams in rage against the book, now that I have finished it, because it wanted some science fiction, some lovecraftian horror, some fanciful escape from reality. But the other half laughs, because no other book in recent memory is more about escape from reality and lovecraftian horror and even science fiction. Only not in the way I expected. It is so difficult to talk about the book because even minor details might spoil the experience. I can ruin your reading within a mere sentence, so I will try to talk about my personal feelings about the book, rather than its contents.

The writing is good. It is filled with details that pull you in into the places it describes. Sometimes it gets a little too much, I caught myself several times asking why is that detail there, what the hell does it have to do with the story. Well, let me guide you on how to read this book: there is no story. There is no cathartic ending that explains all. Instead the journey is the important part and instead of complaining about specifics, you should cherish them as you would a good meal. Since I am a fast eater, especially if the food is good, I can only advise you to do as I say, not as I did.

The subjects the book touches are many and La Farge spent a lot of time documenting them. It goes through homosexuality before and after the war, differences between Canadians and Americans, American paranoia against communism, the world of writers - science fiction in particular, but also various types of academics, German concentration camps, antisemitism in the U.S., history of the world and so on and so on. In a strange case of congruence, there is a scene in the book that is almost identical to one from a previously read book (Arkwright), with a science fiction convention in New York 1939, where a rebellious and revolutionary group of writers are not permitted to spread their particular views in the convention so they leave and form their own group.

Bottom line: while the subject itself felt unimportant and a bit boring, the writing and the world and character building kept me reading. It is not the type of book I usually read, but I can recognize a good book even if I don't particularly like it. And this is The Night Ocean for me, a great book about people that I should have not cared about, but the writer forced me to.