Vigilance

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Compared with last weeks “Anna Karenina” “Vigilance” by Robert Jackson Bennett is a quick read. The action in the book also mostly takes place on a single evening.

“Vigilance” is a science fiction story set at some years in the future in America. The book was published just this January and builds upon current events. The climate change also gets mentioned on a sideline, but the main topic it expands on are the mass shootings that seem to happen every now and then in the USA. Many of those who insist on their right to own weapons conclude that that the normal good people should be armed. And if they were then they would prevent many of those tragedies by simply shooting the attacker before the attacker can kill any innocent people.

Bennett envisions a TV game show in which some selected attackers are brought into some area — a train station, a school, a mall or whatever — and then that area is closed and infested with drones that record everything. Nobody knows beforehand what area is chosen for the next “Vigilance”. And that’s the whole point. The citizens are expected to be vigilant. They are expected to be armed at all times and to be on the lookout for some attackers.

If one of the attackers succeeds to kill all people in that area, they win some amount of money. If the people in that area are vigilant enough and succeed to take down all attackers, they win some money.

Aside from that already gruesome action we also get a look at some possible developments in the advertisement sector, because a TV show is only successful if it succeeds to place fitting adverts at the right times. Yes, you can sell products while showing how people are killed.

There is a bit of “Running Man” in this book and near the end also a bit of “The Purge”. I’d like to think that it is improbable, but unfortunately with the current developments it cannot be ruled out.

“Vigilance” isn’t a deep book, but it makes you think and that’s good because more people should think about what reactions they demand to all those shootings.

Anna Karenina

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I have been planning to read some Russian classics for some time and finally chose to read Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”. It’s a huge book and took me 2 and a half months to finish.

The most remarkable thing about this book is the writing style. I read a German translation. So I cannot say anything about the original Russian text. But even in the translation, the book has a flow that I haven’t seen in many books. Even in passages that were somewhat too detailed for my taste — describing ideas and situations I didn’t deem overly interesting — the story just flows nicely and I had to keep on reading.

I liked the people this book presents — each one with their own believable personality. Although Anna Karenina gives the book its name, she doesn’t really dominate the book. The other protagonists like Ljewin and Kitty seem to get an equal share of attention. Or maybe it’s because Anna gradually withers away, that I didn’t perceive her as a spotlight character.

Actually the description of how Anna sinks deeper and deeper into her depression and finally only finds a very fatal way out is one of the very strong story telling aspects of the book. It’s really breathtaking and sad. And then the perspective changes again and you see how other people have the best times of their lives.

Besides looking at the varied lives of all those people one also gets a feeling for how living was like in 19th century Russia. Especially the problems and restrictions women had to cope with then are unbelievable nowadays.

So I fully recommend “Anna Karenina” but with the warning that it’s a long book with a rather slow but nice pace. It takes time and patience but is totally worth the effort.

American Gods

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Neil Gaiman isn’t really a new name to me. I watched Caroline, a film based on one of his young adult books, and liked it. His Graveyard book is on my list of books to read someday. I also enjoyed his reading of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carole” and will probably listen to it this year again. So I always somehow thought of him as an author of children and young adult books. “American Gods” has also been on my list for quite some time now, but I didn’t really remember what it was about. Browsing my list some day I noticed that I could get it for a pretty low price and because it had been made into a show by Amazon recently I decided to get it and started reading it.

And I realized pretty fast that it’s not a book for children. It starts off with explicit language and keeps on using it regularly throughout the whole book but in a manner that fits the the subject and not like it is used in some other books that try to hide the lack of an interesting story by the usage of boisterous language.

“American Gods” is both fun and interesting. It is built on the premise that every time people come to a new place they bring their gods and myths with them. The belief of the people incarnates their gods in the new place who then move around as humans.

Gaiman tells the stories of how several different groups of people reached America and which gods they brought with them. And some of those gods take part in the action of the book. One of the main protagonists is Odin but there are several others besides him. Some of them I even don’t know anything about, but I liked the appearance of Easter who’s enjoying a picknick in a park and eats eggs.

Those old American Gods now have a problem. They’ve got enemies. There are new gods. There are the gods of the internet and of the media and they want to take the place of the old gods and get rid of them.

Odin tries to unite the old gods and to lead them into a battle against the new gods. This book is somewhat like a road movie in the form of a book. It visits various places in the United States and at every stop some nice story unfolds.

The book won several prizes for best science fiction, best fantasy and best horror book. I would place it in the field of contemporary fantasy. But the exact categorization isn’t that important anyways. It’s just a fun book worth reading.

I also watched two episodes of the show based on that book, but wasn’t really captivated by it. But that’s really no wonder. In most cases I prefer the books over the movies and shows based on those books.

WeightGlance and Website Restructuring

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When I got my iPhone X late last year, I thought “Those apps not supporting this new kind of device are really looking old”. That was also the case for my weight tracking app that I still use daily. So I started working on an update and finally released it last week. It got a new name — WeightGlance — and some other aspects were also fixed and improved. You can read some more about it here.

While working on that update, I’ve also started thinking about the separate websites I have been setting up for my apps. They seemed to communicate “I’m big business” although I neither feel nor am big business. And each new website costs some more money and requires additional maintenance. I had website for things I’ve created and abandoned years ago. They really looked old.

So I came up with the idea of closing all those separate websites and creating smaller pages for those apps and other stuff that I’ve created on this website here. And I thought it might be fun and interesting to write some kind of postmortems for the stuff I no longer maintain describing how I came to create a specific something and what I learned from it.

That’s how this website gained a new section called Creations which contains pages about stuff as old as Squareness up to new and fresh stuff like WeightGlance.

MetaGame

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I read “MetaGame” by Sam Landstrom the first time more than 5 years ago, but somehow didn’t get around to write about it. When I don’t write about a book within two weeks after finishing it, I usually don’t write about it at all, because by that time I’m already immersed in the next book.

After reading “Ready Player One” I remembered “MetaGame” again and that back then I thought it was the coolest gaming themed book I had ever read. So I read it again and it still is the coolest gaming themed book I’ve ever read.

Usually gamers in those game related books use some kind of more or less advanced virtual reality system. They either have some VR goggles or they get the VR environment somehow projected on their eyes. They then use some kind of special gloves or jumpsuit to enable them to move around in the virtual reality.

“MetaGame” is different. The whole world and the entire life is gamified. There are no jobs as we know them nowadays. It’s all games and you need to play games to earn points which you can use to buy stuff. The somewhat tedious games like law enforcement and programming are called grinder games. You play them because they provide more points. The games played for fun are spank games.

Through a kind of nanobots which attach themselves to every surface — living or dead — the whole world is mapped by the computers. Depending on the game a player currently plays, the surfaces look different to them.

There are no more separate nations on earth and bio engineering is quite advanced. Aging has been removed from the human genom and immortality is possible but not available to everyone. You need to play to gain the privilege to become immortal.

As bio engineering is quite advanced products which have a DNA that resembles the human DNA up to 96.3 % are created. They are always build for a specific job and with an ingrained desire to do that job as good as possible. So if you buy a product that is build to keep your house clean it will happily do just that.

As to be expected this produces some philosophical and ethical issues and the author plays them out quite well.

I liked “MetaGame” five years ago and now again for it’s grandiose ideas, good story and a somewhat critical contemplation on the issues such a world would bring.

There’s actually a story there in that book. I haven’t said anything about it here except that I liked it. It’s good. It encompasses all those elements I’ve talked about here and some more. It’s about a special kind of game a group of players play. You might have guessed it, it’s a meta game. You’ll have to find out more about it yourselves, though.