memories of a lazy hack(er)

Posted by Marie on Thursday, September 23, 2010 in , ,
Neuromancer - William Gibson
Science Fiction; ISBN 0-441-56959-5; Ace Books, 1984.

First, the obligatory synopsis: Henry Dorsett Case was one of the hottest console cowboy in the Sprawl. But a double-cross went awry and he found himself, a year later, on the back streets of Chiba City, Japan, with a burnt-out nervous system incapable of even logging into cyberspace. Penniless, hopeless and suicidal, he reluctantly joins Armitage, an ex-military man with a mysterious past, and Molly, a mercenary razorgirl, for a last chance run that can either be his salvation or his doom.

My love affair with Neuromancer started in a night class called Computer Security. It was a last-minute addition to a fully loaded semester. Our teacher was supposed to be some top network security guru for one company on the top tier of the Fortune 500s, and the department chair (
as we were constantly reminded
) had just barely persuaded him to teach this class. Never mind
that the class ended exactly at midnight, and the students walked out of the classroom like brain-fried zombies.

But considering all the stuff we've heard about him, the guy was surprisingly unpretentious and easy to talk to. Knowing the class barely had an iota of attention to spare him, he got rid of the theoreticals; everything was hands-on from day one. Better than that, he figured that
the best way to learn how to protect a computer network is by knowing how to hack into them. It is (to use a Harry Potter analogy) like having a Defense Against the Dark Arts class that taught you how to do the Dark Arts itself.

Suffice to say, it was the coolest class I had that semester.

Between learning how to masquerade IP addresses, how to secretly listen into someone's Internet traffic, and even how to hack an Automated Teller Machine, he told us about this book called Neuromancer. "It's a book about hacking and you should read it - no, no, it's not a required reading (the rest of the class stopped listening at this point) - it's just something that you guys might enjoy."

I guess I remembered this, because I picked up a copy in a bargain bin for less than a hundred bucks at a National Bookstore branch in Katipunan.

Well, I never did became a decent hacker (I'm too lazy and I lacked finesse). I'm not much of a computer security person either (again, too lazy and lacked finesse). But I did pick up the habit of reading Neuromancer roughly every three years since then. And it's not because of the plot, which is basically just a caper story,
if you take the tech mumbo-jumbo out.
I reread the book partly due to professional curiosity - I like comparing the future it describes with the technological realities at that point in time - and partly due to affinity and
a sense of
parallelism of my life to Case's story.

Sadly though, I dawned on my fourth rereading just last month that the present had, in many ways, caught up with the book. Cyberpunk culture borrowed so much from William Gibson that his visions had become dated and cliché. And as online communities became a de facto standard, cyberspace became mundane in the twenty six years since this oft-quoted definition from the novel:

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

Will I do a fifth rereading three years from now? I hope so - I'd hate to lose this 'tradition' of mine, just when everything Gibson that predicted seems to be within our grasp.

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My Mockingjay review

Posted by Marie on Tuesday, September 21, 2010 in , , ,
Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
Science Fiction, YA; ISBN 0-439-02351-3; Scholastic Press, 2010.

Anticipating and then actually reading this book is like expecting to watch an Oscar-winning film, but you end up with an average blockbuster flick. Exciting - yeah. Unforgettable - no. Disappointing - a big HELL YEAH.

2 out of 5 stars

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You say you want a revolution

Posted by Marie on Monday, August 16, 2010 in , , ,
Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
Science Fiction, YA; ISBN 0-439-02349-1; Scholastic Press, 2009.

Katniss Everdeen thought that after winning the Hunger Games and all the obligatory PR that follows, she and her family and friends are going to be left alone. And sure, it was a bit controversial how she and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mallark won but that's because the pair is crazily in love with each other - so all's well that end well, right?

Apparently not. President Snow, the ruthless tyrant of Panem, had set his flat, deadly eyes on Katniss. Not only for her borderline treasonous actions in the Games but to punish her for unknowingly setting off the starting fires of rebellion in the twelve districts. So what should Katniss do? Flee or fight?

One can roughly divide the book into two parts: first, the continuation of the tension and resulting rebellion that started from Katniss and Peeta's victory, reabbreviating within and without District 12; then second, the Hunger Games of that year (called Quarter Quell), in which there's going to be a surprise (and sure enough, terrible) twist to the already horrible Games.

Catching Fire has the same exciting quality that The Hunger Games have; needless to say, it's a page-turner through and through.

I'm glad that I got to see more of the other districts and the country of Panem in general. I'm one of those people who like to see lots of details in their science fiction, and I'm crossing my fingers that Suzanne Collins might be persuaded to write some sort of prequel on how this world had came about, and how Panem had been in its first few years. You see, as I read though the first part, I've been struck at how this society is so not like the nearest equivalent countries of our real world (I was thinking of communist Russia, China, and more particularly, North Korea). It's not even like it's older literary dystopian cousins (let's give 1984 and Brave New World as examples).

If I'm forced to put a finger on it, I'd say it's because Katniss' story (and consequently, the country of Panem) is still, despite the misery and the hunger and the violence, a story of fulfilled (more or less) hopes and human decency. And the fulfillment of hopes and the realization of basic human goodness are commodities that few dystopian fiction are willing to provide. But then, I'm not sure if this characteristic is inherent in this trilogy only or is some sort of unwritten requirement to dystopian young adult fictions in general. I guess that just mean one thing: I need to push up in my TBR list a few similar books like Lois Lowry's The Giver and Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. :P

So anyway, the only thing I didn't like in the story are how the romances were handled. It's too deliberately vague and manipulative, of both characters and readers. And it's so unfair on Katniss. I mean, this is a girl who's supposedly decisive and caring - so why on earth should she dither on the emotions of her two closest friends, and thus heartlessly prolonging the two boys' agony? Remember, this is NOT Twilight, and Katniss is NOT Bella.

On the plus side, I'm glad they fleshed out a bit my favorite character, Haymitch Abernathy (I know his last name, yay!). Plus, I did like most of the new characters, particularly Finnick (Hollywood would have a field day in choosing the actor to play him). President Snow's bad guy character is a tad too cliché, so I'm figuring Ms. Collins will flesh him out a bit more in the third book. And the cliffhanger at the end is the bomb! :)

There, that's my review of Catching Fire. I tried to make it spoiler-free but holler if you found something (yes, I'm still the spoiler queen but I promised Blooey I won't deliberately spoil this time around, so there). Mockingjay (the third and final installment of this series) is going to be released in the Philippines on August 25. This post is quite long already so I'm going to refer you to Blooey's post on the launch event happening on Sunday, August 29. Be there!

4 out of 5 stars

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Posted by Marie on Wednesday, June 02, 2010
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula Le Guin
Science Fiction; ISBN 978-0-441-47812-5; Ace Books, 1969.

Genly Ai is a Terran envoy on the ice-bound world of Gethen. He is tasked to attempt an alliance between the nations of this planet and a federation of worlds called the Ekumen. But he is literally a stranger on a strange land - not just due to the unnervingly harsh environment, but because he is a male, living among humans who have no permanent gender. Good thing he has a sponsor for his cause: the Prime Minister of the Karhide nation, Lord Therem Harth rem ir Estraven. He can't help but think though, how fortunate is he that he has Lord Estraven by his side?

I love to tell more but my friends do frown at spoilers, so let's leave the summary at that.

Winner for best novel in both the 1969 Nebula and 1970 Hugo Awards, The Left Hand of Darkness had become a science fiction classic. The novel works on many levels, so it's difficult (not to mention presumptuous) for me to discuss about all these themes. Thus, I'm going to shallowly talk about one of the themes that had struck me - duality.

Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness is the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.

Dualism is the belief that everything has two states: life and death, male and female, light and dark. Now, the interesting part is that the interaction between these states depends on the philosophical system you're believing/basing on. Most western philosophies (e.g. Catholicism) say that these two are in conflict, thus the eternal struggle between good versus evil, for instance. On the other hand, most eastern philosophies (let's take an example of Taoism, from which a novel-referenced symbol, the taijitu or yin-yang symbol, came from) say that despite being opposites, the two are actually interdependent, interconnected to form, if not a whole, then at least a balance.

So, is there duality in a race of androgynous humans? Genly Ai initially didn't thought so:

Ai: You're isolated, and undivided. Perhaps you are as obsessed with wholeness as we are with dualism.

Estraven: We are dualists too. Duality is an essential, isn't it? So long as there is myself and the other.

Ai: I and Thou. Yes, it does, after all, go even wider than sex...

(Another note: 'I and Thou' gives reference to Martin Bauber's Philosophy of Dialogue, where he claims that a person's life is meaningful only through his/her relationships. But being generally ignorant of the entire study of Philosophy (with a capital P), I certainly will leave it at this.)

A large-scale manifestation of the conflict of "myself" and "the other" is shown via the hostilities between the nations of the increasingly 'masculine' Orgoreyn, and the still 'feminine' Karhide. This includes the petty but complicated games of politics/shifgrethor not just between the two nations, but among the different factions of the two governments. I guess I'll leave the further discussion of the book's political themes for my book club meet this June.

This conflict is shown most significantly through the internal struggles of Genly Ai. He had stubbornly and half-unconsciously clung to his cultural stereotypes, and therefore had been gravely blinded to the one whom he should have trusted the most. The novel thus can be seen as Genly Ai's re-education (or as the Haddarata would say it, the return to ignorance); his final acceptance -and yes, even love - of the other's "otherness".

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Internet Memes: I lost The Game

Posted by Marie on Thursday, April 15, 2010 in ,
... blackbody scours the hottest things in the World Wide Web so you won't have to. Yeah right.

By being too curious - not only did I googled it, I looked it up in wikipedia. So, because I lost, I'm going to make sure everyone who'll read this blog post will lose too:


I'm not worried though; I'm sure I'll forget it soon. That means I'll be able to play again. :-)

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It's basically not about music

Posted by Marie on Monday, March 22, 2010 in , ,
High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
Chicklit (or Ladlit, whatever); ISBN 1573228214; Riverhead Trade.

Let's get the premise out of the way first. This is about a guy, Rob Fleming, who had just been dumped by his girlfriend, Laura. This made him reexamine his past relationships, why they failed, as well as his current life, and what made it suck (well, more or less). Oh, and incidentally, he owns a record shop and, along with his two employees, is a music snob.

Okay, I'll repeat my title: it's basically not about music. The 'love' aspect is not even a major part of the story (notice that Hornby, via Rob, pointedly steers away from the 'love' topic whenever it seems to be heading in that direction).

The book is about how we don't really grow up even as we become grown-ups. Laura had not-so-neatly summed it up when she was ranting about the situation Rob and she were in:
"It's no wonder we're all in such a mess is it? We're like Tom Hanks in Big. Little boys and girls trapped in adult bodies and forced to get on with it. And it's much worse in a real life, because it's not just snogging and bunk beds, is it? There's all of this as well."
Or in Rob's own realization:
It's only just beginning to occur to me that it's important to have something going on somewhere, at work or at home, otherwise you're just clinging on... You need as much ballast as possible to stop you from floating away; you need people around you, things going on, otherwise life is like some film where the money ran out... and it's just one bloke on his own staring into the camera with nothing to do and nobody to speak to, and who'd believe in this character then? I've got to get more stuff, more clutter, more detail in here, because at the moment I'm in danger of falling off the edge.
Rob's refusal to 'get on with it' , his failure to gather 'detail' in his life, is the crux of the story. Isn't it easy sometimes to just go along with the flow, to only do the most necessary stuff (get money, get a place, food, etc.), to just take everything as it happens to you, not to expect much from others and situations, or yourself? I know I do.

I'm not a fan of chicklits/ladlits but I liked High Fidelity. I related to story more than, say, Confessions of a Shopaholic or anything made for 'chicks' (what does that say about me, dear reader? hahaha). I liked Laura more than Rob and I want to believe I'm more like her than Rob - but knowing myself, I'm just denying things. I'm in a sorta dead-end job, check. I'm now living alone in the city but goes to my parents' house in the suburbs where they occasionally complain about the direction of my life and the state of my singleness, check. I have two people under me that I'm not sure I handle well, check. I even have a collection (of books, not records) that I reorganize during 'times of emotional stress', check. And yeah, I'm that whiny in my head, check. So okay, I'm Rob. But I'm drawing the line on reassessing my past relationships, so I'm stopping right here.

5 out of 5 stars

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I want the Fully Booked GCs...

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 in
... So excuse me for a very brief advertising.

Want to win some Fully Booked GCs? Go to this site: http://winthegc.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/three-easy-steps-to-win/

and then follow the instructions.

*Crossing my fingers*

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Cleaning up my Closet: One-paragraph Book Reviews

Posted by Marie on Sunday, January 17, 2010 in , , , , , , , ,
I procrastinated long enough. I need the box to put some of my to-be-read and to-be-given away books (via Bookmooch, if you’re still not into the hottest thing to hit the book swapping world). Hence I need file away my to-be-reviewed ones. I’ll be short and snappy – if I can’t deliver my reviews at a minute reading time, then I won’t deliver it at all.

Hey now, I think I like this new reviewing format! Do you agree with me? Or should I go back to the longer ones, the one book per review posts?

The Case of the Left Handed Lady: An Enola Holmes Mystery – Nancy Springer
Fiction, YA, Mystery, Adventure; ISBN 978-0-399-24517-6; Philomel Books, 2007

I like Enola Holmes, not just because she’s the sister of the celebrated Sherlock Holmes (of which I am a most devoted fan). She is one of the rare YA female protagonist that I like at all levels – she is resourceful, brave, intelligent and rational, yet have a tinge of vulnerability and loneliness – so much so that she reminds me of Katniss of The Hunger Games. Though the story itself is weak (both shaky in terms of logic & believability), the characters makes up for this shortcoming. You must also remember that this is just the second book of what seems to be a long and promising YA series. I suggest you read this one instead of watching that dreadful Sherlock Holmes movie. 4 out of 5 stars.

ShrinkLits: Seventy of the world’s towering classics cut down to size – Maurice Sagoff
Reference, Poetry; ISBN 0-89480-079-5; Workman Publishing, 1980

There are a lot of books out there that do this kind of thing: cutting up books into perhaps a paragraph or two of the bare essentials. What I like about this one is that it pushes the envelope further – Maurice Sagoff trims down them hefty classics into bite-size rhyming poems. How exact to the original text are these concise poetry? Not so much. How high is the enjoyment factor? Very high indeed. 5 out of 5 stars. A warning though: if you are a literary purist, don’t read this book.

Jane Austen: A Life - Carol Shields
Non-fiction, Biography; ISBN 0-14-303516-9; Penguin Books, 2001

Carol Shields is an Austenite and it shows. Warmth, empathy and frankness permeate in her short discourse of Austen and her work that you can’t help but agree with the novelist’s (Austen, I mean) exclamation, “If a book is well written, I always find it too short”. I quite agree. 5 out of 5 stars. One of the best biographies I ever read. If you can help it, I suggest reading the main six works before reading this one.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith (even if it says so on the cover, I refuse to add Jane Austen as an author to this mockery of a novel!)
Fiction, Horror; ISBN 978-1-59474-334-4; Quirk Books, 2009

Wow, this chick Jane Austen is so in nowadays. Look at these, all her sh- being relabeled as the original “chick-lit” novels, didn't know these chicklit sh- are *that* old. Too bad there’s a lot of boring stuff in here, like balls and parties and people making funny looks at each other. Bleeaach! Now, here’s an idea! Since this chick Jane Austen is a hot item commodity, why not sell our own version but one with zombies and killer ninjas and shaolin masters and pentagrams of death… * six weeks later* Dude, this writing thing sucks! So maybe I’ll just make an exact copy of this chick’s book then cut out all the crappy boring stuff then insert the cool stuff! Yeah, that’s the thing! They’ll be making a movie out of this sh-, I’m sure. I’m going to be famous and filthy rich! Yeah! Ride on!
Do I need to put stars on this one?

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