Saturday, March 30, 2013

read: Amped (3 stars)

AmpedAmped by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is full of interesting ideas and interesting characters. A runaway plot powers everything along with reckless abandon. Underneath it all are the big questions of what it means to be human and what happens to a society definitively split between haves and have-nots. The writing is good enough that I went along for the ride. But the whole is less satisfying than all the parts led me to expect.

The biggest problem is that the main character spends most of his time reacting and recovering, rather than acting. We don't know what drives him, other than he has a chip in his brain and this puts him in peril from those who deem such 'amps' as a danger. He's too much of a blank slate for someone in their twenties that's made it through school and is a teacher.

For their part, the antagonists were not much better. For most of the book it appears that they are opposed to amps and want to round them up because they don't like them. That seems overly simple and so they all come across as dastardly villains, rather than real threats. Even the most developed antagonist is complex mostly because he is inconsistent, other than his consistent efforts to work against his own interests.

Bottom line is this is another fantastic concept of a book from Daniel Wilson, but once more he disappoints in the execution. Even so, I look forward to his next effort.

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

read: Pirate Cinema (4 stars)

Pirate CinemaPirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lively story that puts faces on the debate about copyright and intellectual property right protection.
On the one hand, I liked this story quite a bit. It's got good dollups of technology from the present and ten minutes into the future, along with a healthy dose of present day politics projected ten minutes into the future. I also liked the characters and Cory's writing brings them and the London setting to life.

On the other hand, it all seems a bit contrived. I never quite believed that the hero, Cecil B DeVil, and his companion squatters could be quite as successful as they are described, living on the edges of society. Then again, don't have any direct exposure or experience with such things.

There are long passages of explanations about copyright and intellectual property rights. It's pretty obvious that the author has an axe to grind here and things get a little preachy. Thank goodness that most of this gets broken up with some action or emotion and the the techno-babble is kept within palatable limits.

This is an easy and fun read and will get the reader caring about the characters and thinking about the issues involved.

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"Robot & Frank" [B]

"Robot & Frank" is a quiet, subtle film about a man and his robot. The man is a retired burglar, played by Frank Langella. The robot is an automated care companion foisted upon him by his son. He hates it. When the nameless little appliance demonstrates it might have skills beyond cleaning and cooking and the occasional enema, Frank decides it might be useful afterall. It's the sort of heartwarming setup that could easily descend into mindless humor and cliche. But it is saved from that fate by decent writing and a sly, low-key performance by Langella.

The story dances the knife edge of Frank's issues with memory and loss. It's obvious he's slipping away, more obvious to others than himself. But his flashes of insight and craftiness keep the audience guessing about his true mental state right up to the very end.

This isn't a science fiction film, or a caper film. It's the story of man grasping to hold onto what's left of his life. And the surprising helper that shows up just when he needs it.

Robot & Frank (IMDb)