The Name of the Wind

| Tags: book, fiction, fantasy

“The Name of the Wind” is a fantasy novel by Patrick Rothfuss. I don’t remember where, but some time ago I read a recommendation for it and added it to my private wishlist on Amazon which always contains more than 200 books that I might want to read some day. Then I spotted it in one of those regular ebook sales and bought it for 1€ a half year ago. After reading The Road I just felt like reading a fantasy book. I paged through the list of books on my kindle, opened “The Name of the Wind” and started reading.

I probably wouldn’t have stopped reading until I’d finished it if I weren’t the slow reader I am and if I didn’t need to sleep, eat, work and do whatever other things one needs to do besides reading.

The story is pure delight to read. The characters are interesting and the adventures they live through thrilling. There’s magic, conflicts, romance and mystery and all sorts of things that make a good story. Should I tell you that the protagonist is a talented boy who learns all manner of things — including different kinds of magic — pretty fast but gets in trouble quite often because of his wisecracking tendencies? That suggests some fun and there is plenty fun in that book. But that won’t tell you that it’s an outstanding book and that’s also the case. You’ll have to see for yourselves. Anyone even remotely interested in fantasy books should read this one.

But be warned. Half way through I realized that it is the first part of a trilogy. It was first published in 2007. The second part — “The Wise Man’s Fear” —, which I’m currently reading, was released in 2011. And the third — “The Doors of Stone” — is announced for late August this year. I’m happy to have started reading it this year, because waiting 9 years for the conclusion would most likely have been maddening.

The Road

| Tags: book, fiction, apocalypse

In “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy a father and his son are on their way into the south. They hope to find a better world there. The world through which they travel is burned. Ash is everywhere and the sun hasn’t been seen for years. During the nights it’s totally dark and during the days it is somewhat brighter. They try to scavenge food and water from burnt houses and mostly live on food from tin cans. They compete with those other few people who also survived the apocalypse and also try to survive some more time.

The apocalypse itself is never described. There are some flashbacks to times before and then there are some very vivid descriptions of the effects of that apocalypse that the two come across while moving south on the road.

There isn’t any specific direction in that book. No climax it’s moving towards. It’s as hopeless as the situation it tells about. And it’s very effective in conveying that bleak atmosphere.

Father and son talk as they move south on that road. Their way of talking is as hopeless as the situation they are in. It feels somewhat robotic and often follows the same pattern. And at times it’s quite philosophical. The discussions between father and son and the situations they go through show how dehumanizing life after the apocalypse is when you have to find some way to survive the next day.

Some of the images the book caused to develop in my head still haunt me two weeks after having read it. If you are interested in a believable account of how life after an apocalypse would look like, then “The Road” is a good choice.

The Testaments

| Tags: book, fiction, sci-fi, dystopia

“The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood is a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. The book consists of the memoirs or testimonials of three women.

One of those women ist Aunt Lydia who tells the story of how she became one of the female leaders of Gilead and how she lives in the time she’s writing her diary.

The second woman is the daughter of a handmaid who is raised as the daughter of a commander and his wife. She’s most likely the daughter of the handmaid from the first book. At first she describes the life of a girl born and conditioned to the customs of Gilead. But then her foster mother dies and the commander marries a new woman. Life changes dramatically for the girl who enjoyed the Gilead variant of upper class life.

The third one lives in Canada and at first observes Gilead from the outside.

All three stories are told alternately. At first the stories are separate but at one point all three women meet and interact and the stories converge and tell one story from three different perspectives.

“The Testaments” provides a deeper look into the working of the Gilead regime and the resistance movement.

The three testimonials end with a positive outlook, but as with the first book, there is also a final chapter where people on a symposium some 200 years later discuss those latest documents. The names of those people don’t sound western. They could be Chinese, Japanese or maybe Korean. So it probably didn’t end well with Gilead, Canada and the other western nations. Did it escalate in a war or did they just die off because of that infertility which among other reasons led to the creation of Gilead? There is room for another sequel. I wonder if Atwood will write it or if she leaves it up to the speculation of the readers.

I’ve read some reviews stating that Atwood lost her talent as a writer and that she wrote a boring and superfluous book. I’ve read this book directly after “The Handmaid’s Tale” and can attest that it is as well written as the first one. I liked the expanded view into Gilead and how she presented it with those three distinct perspectives. As with the first I recommend this one as a gripping and well-written book.

Valley of Genius

| Tags: book, history, tech

Most books I review here are fiction books. “Valley of Genius” by Adam Fisher is one of the few exceptions. It’s the story of Silicon Valley as told by the people who shaped it.

The author interviewed many people and used interviews done by others. He then arranged the statements made by those people into pseudo-discussions on specific topics. If someone told something about Atari, Apple and Pixar in their interview, their statements now appear in the three chapters about Atari, Apple and Pixar. The author succeeded to arrange it all so well that it really feels as if all those people were involved in the same discussion about that one specific topic. Those discussions are very well readable and fun.

I was amazed to learn how many of those people were involved in several of the groundbreaking developments made in the valley and not just one.

There were a few chapters that bored me. The stories about Wired and HotWired didn’t interest me that much and the look into the future at the end wasn’t that great either. And it isn’t a complete history. I expected to also read some stories about the Amiga and Commodore 64 for example but there are none to be found here.

This book is a fun and informative read. Sure, there’s probably nothing really new here, nothing you wouldn’t be able to find by just using the search website of your choice, but here it’s all nicely collected and presented.

The Handmaid's Tale

| Tags: book, fiction, sci-fi, dystopia

“The Handmaid’s Tale” has been on my list of books to read for the last one or two years. I probably heard about it when the series based on that book was released. I didn’t know that it’s actually from the 80s. And then some weeks ago the sequel “The Testaments” came out. So I set out to read it now with the plan to read the sequel directly afterwards if this book proved to be good. And yes, it’s good and while writing this review I’m already reading the sequel.

But let’s get back to “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Margaret Atwood — the author — tells about a near-future dystopia in which the USA are replaced by a totalitarian regime named Gilead backed by a religion based on parts of the Bible.

Most women are not fit to bear children anymore and many man also lost their ability to father them. The last detail is never talked about though, as it’s always the failure of the woman if no child is born or if it is born with some severe illness or deformation in which case it is called an unbaby.

Women who are believed to be fertile but have somehow disgraced themselves by living in a second marriage or without marriage or because of some other reason not acceptable for the new religious society, are given as handmaids to men of power called commanders. A commander then gets several chances to impregnate his handmaid in a bizarre ritual at which his wife and the rest of the household is present. Once those chances are used up or once the handmaid actually bears a child, she is given to another commander and it all starts anew for her.

The book is written from the perspective of one such handmaid. The time is not long after the instantiation of Gilead. She’s one from the first generation and remembers her former life. The tale partly tells her current life with all those strange rituals. And as would be expected there is some underground resistance and people of power who break their own rules. The other part of the tale consists of flashbacks describing how Gilead was introduced and how that started to affect the life of the narrator until she decided too late to leave the country with her husband and daughter.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a gripping and very well written story. I especially liked the new idioms the author came up with — “Praise be”, “May the Lord open” and so on. They bestow a great deal of authenticity on that religious regime.

The Count of Monte Cristo

| Tags: book, fiction, adventure, classic

“The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas is a book I read for the first a time long ago — probably even 30 years ago. Recently I read a blog post where someone wrote how they reread the book after many years and still thought it was a great adventure book. Motivated by the post I also started to reread this classic.

The plot is fairly well known as many movies have been filmed based on the book: A young man gets thrown into prison shortly after announcing his wedding with the woman he loves. He spends several years there and finally succeeds to flee. During his time in prison he has learnt much from a fellow prisoner who also gave him directions to a place where a huge treasure was hidden. Now he uses his time and wealth to plan and execute vengeances against the people who originally plotted against him and caused him being imprisoned.

It was fun rereading this book. It is a timeless classic and very worthwhile.

Interestingly hashish is described as a wondrous substance in at least two places bringing great joy to the people who use it. I didn’t remember this detail and was astonished to find such a direct promotion of drug usage in this book.

The count does not only destroy other people. He also does good unto some people he deems worthy for some reason. But those acts of goodness are longwinded. It adds to the suspense of the book but also makes the count appear to be a show-off. This leaves a blemish on his otherwise mostly noble character. I wonder if that was Dumas plan or if he just did it for the sake of grander stories.

House of Leaves

| Tags: book, fiction, horror

“House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski is a strange book. It is meant to be a horror book and won some prizes in that genre. It uses a setup that will be familiar to most people who have read horror books or seen horror movies before. A family moves into a new house which turns out to have some unnatural properties like being bigger on the inside than it logically can be when viewed from the outside. That inner story has some fun deviations from the usual trope like using a tape to measure the house from the outside and then also measuring it inside and actually seeing that there is a difference. Also new and extensive rooms and hallways appear and teams of adventurers set out to explore them.

If the book only contained that inner story it would be an OK horror book but as the term “inner story” indicates there is also an outer story.

Some old guy dies and some younger guy finds an unfinished book and lots of notes. He starts to edit that unfinished book with the intention to publish it someday.

The new house owners from that inner story installed cameras everywhere in the house and also used cameras while exploring those new rooms. The book the young guy is editing describes a movie based on the live action recorded with those cameras. The movie is said to have made some impression. Articles and books have been written about specific scenes in the movie and about the people in it. This book here isn’t just a retelling of the movie. There are many footnotes that reference those articles and books.

It’s quite common that after a few pages retelling some scenes in the movie it switches to a deeper exploration of some topic — for example the meaning of the black color — with citations of other books and articles and yet more footnotes.

But that’s only the work of the old guy. The young guy also adds footnotes of his own. The old guy added citations from other books from time to time and often those citations aren’t in English. There are some in German, French, Greek and some other languages which I have forgotten. Some of them have been translated by the old guy but many have not. The young guy searches for people who are able to translate those citations. Most of those translators are women with whom he also has sex. He describes those and other interactions with other people in his own footnotes which often fill several pages.

Editing that book has some strange effects on that young guy. It’s haunting him.

And then there is one more layer. I read the remastered full color edition which also contains some footnotes from the editors of that edition. That remastered edition comes with an extensive appendix. In one of their footnotes the editors point to a part of the appendix that contains some letters the guy received from his mother while being a teenager. She wrote those letters while residing in a mental institution. Those letters tell the story of the family of the young guy and his time at foster families.

But that’s not enough. The typesetting of the book is also special. The word “house” is always typeset in blue — even if it is the part of another word like “warehouse” or in German like in “Haus”. Some passages are in red and stroked through and I actually needed to use a magnifying glass to read those sections. Sometimes there are long rows of Xs where normally text would be and sometimes pages only contain a few words and one sentence is distributed on several pages when an important moment is described. Sometimes one needs to rotate the book to read the text and on other occasions there are footnotes that run on the sides of several pages and just contain names of other houses.

That book is really strange and it is quite often exhausting, but it’s also fascinating, because how can someone come up with an idea to write such a book and actually do it. And Danielewski is a master in the art of writing. And even though the idea of a house that is bigger inside than outside isn’t new, the author adds some interesting ideas and packages it all with his very own style.

If you want to read only books that have a beginning, an ending and some climax in-between, then this book is totally not for you. But if you want to try something new and insane and have patience then try this one.


| Tags: blogging

I read about that new static site generator called “Hugo”. It was said to be really fast, much faster than Jekyll. Well, build performance isn’t an issue for my website and currently it doesn’t seem to ever become an issue. During the 17 years my blog exists I wrote 290 posts and there are a few other pages. Jekyll only needed seconds to build it. Performance would therefore not be a reason to change from Jekyll to Hugo. I just wanted to try something new.

I made Hugo create a scaffolding for me and copied my posts into that structure and started tinkering with it. It was an opportunity to look into the go programming language and while doing that I came to the conclusion that it is OK but doesn’t excite me much. And you actually don’t need to know much about go if you only use Hugo and do not take part in the development of it, but it helps to know the basics. And you totally have to learn go templates because that is the template language used by Hugo.

I prefer go templates to liquid which is used by Jekyll. go templates look nicer. That’s also not really a pressing reason to switch to Hugo but it adds to the overall good opinion about it.

While Hugo is probably mostly used for blogs it can be used for all kinds of websites and blog posts don’t have a special meaning like they have in other generators like Jekyll. Blog posts are just a collection of markdown files that are typically placed in a folder called content/posts but that is actually only a convention and you can put them somewhere else. And you can have other collections as well. You just define how the permalinks for the items of a collection shall look and then you add a template file for the pages for the single items and one for the list of those items. And if you need, you just add paging to that list and it will be split into multiple pages. You don’t need to install any additional modules. This is all part of the core Hugo. Tagging is also there out of the box and the creation of a menu for the sections of a website is a no-brainer.

That generic handling of lists of pages has one effect that is a bit disturbing at first if you migrate from a website generator like Jekyll that has special handling for blogs. There are no yearly and monthly archives. The Hugo forums have some discussions about this and some people have come up with creative workarounds. My blog always had archives and I was very intent to recreate them with Hugo. But it’s quite understandable that Hugo does not have archives. This is how you define permalinks in the Hugo configuration

    posts: /:year/:month/:filename/
    tags: /tag/:title/

Ah, OK. For the pages in the posts collections, there is a year and month in the permalink. Fine. And for tags there’s a title in there. Also fine. And that’s it.

After looking at some of the creative workarounds and thinking about archives I realized that I never looked into any archives on the blogs I read. Mostly I read them in my feed reader. And when I visit a blog website itself in most cases I do so because I clicked on some link. I never look at what someone wrote in some specific month or year. I may look at other posts with the same tags and I might browse older posts, but I never use yearly and monthly archives. With that insight I decided that I don’t need archives.

But where would I put my tag cloud when there is no archives page? Should I put it on each page? Some years ago tag clouds were the cool stuff and each blog had to have them on each page and clearly visible. But tag clouds aren’t that exciting anymore and they probably never were anyways. Content is more important. So no, no tag clouds on every page. You can still look at my nice tag cloud which is now located at the bottom of every tag page. It actually looks nicer now. It uses logarithmic distribution and is styled a bit nicer. Take a look at the blogging tag as an example.

That generic list handling greatly simplifies the maintenance of the creations section. In the Jekyll version of this website I had pages for each piece of software I wanted to present there and an index page with short intros and links to those pages. Now I only have markdown files for those single pages and one template for the single page and one for the list and the list extracts the intro from the front matter of those markdown files. There is probably a better solution for this with Jekyll than how I did it, but it wasn’t apparent to me and with Hugo it was obvious.

As to be expected for a static website generator there are tons of themes for Hugo and every week or so another one is released. I’ve never been one to use prefabricated themes. What better opportunity to play around with html and css than to do it on the own website. The website looks mostly like it looked with Jekyll. The structure of the pages hasn’t changed and I actually translated the layouts from Jekyll and liquid to Hugo and go templates. I changed the icons that I use from FontAwesome a bit. I now only use the solid variant everywhere.

I like that Hugo already contains all I need for my website. There’s no need to install and update any plugins. I just update Hugo with homebrew when a new version becomes available and that’s it.

If you are on the search for a static website generator or just want to try a new one, I recommend to look into Hugo even if build performance is not really an issue. Hugo comes with extensive documentation and often there are also tutorial videos showing how things work. It takes some time to understand how Hugo works but learning is fun and pays off.


| Tags: book, fiction, sci-fi

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

| Tags: book, classic, fiction

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.