Category Archives: Books

The Virus in the Age of Madness – Bernard-Henri Lévy

They knew that Pascal’s room, Thoreau’s hut, and especially their own den was a dark chamber, an unhealthy space full of resentment; they knew that one is nothing when alone, that one thinks most often of nothing at all, and that hell is not other people, but the self.

This short book is a collection of thoughts regarding the Covid-19 pandemic from the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. Originally in French, the essay discusses the politics of the pandemic, wondering if the measures taken by governments are good or bad, the reaction of the media, and what we, humanity, should do collectively and individually in these circumstances.

The references to French literature and influential philosophers betray the cultural range and depth of Lévy , without being didactic. The media referenced is rather balanced, neither progressive or conservative, and covers both sides of the Atlantic.

The message of the book is a caution against human atomisation, using all the benefits of isolation, made possible by current technology. Food, clothes, items, can be ordered with a simple click. Communication can be done virtually. But the essential human touch cannot be ordered online. Staying at home cannot be praised, it is essentially anti-humane.

Furthermore, individual liberties are disappearing, in face of distancing and confinement measures. Once taken away, it is hard to restate them. The democratic model itself is at stake, with other socioeconomic models vying for top spot. Media is focusing too much on the virus, while other grave problems remain in the dark: global warming, refugee crises, dictatorships, feeble democracies sliding into authoritarianism. But also good news are fewer in the pages of journals and screens of TVs, we know less about the good in the world.

Lévy also warns about future pandemics. Humanity has lived with major pandemics all its history. What do we do if we another pandemic hits in five years time? Do we close again the economy? Measures against the spreading are needed, such as social distancing, but need to be debated, rationalized and lessons of the pandemic need to be learn. Because another pandemic is around the corner.

The book invites to reflection, to think about what makes us human. It is a book about courage, in face of illness. And finally, it is a warning for the human isolation that technology now allows. Isolation cannot be praised, as if we do, we lose our humanity, the French philosopher argues.

Dark AGE (RED RISING SAGA: BOOK 5) – Pierce Brown

I kept looking for hope in the world. Expecting the world to supply deliverance if I plucked the right chords. Demanding that it supply validation to my labor if I just gave enough effort. But that is not the nature of the world. Its nature is to consume. In time, it will consume us all, and the spheres will spin until they too are consumed when our sun dies. Maybe that is the point of it. Knowing that though one day darkness will cover all, at least your eyes were open to see moments of light.

“Dark Age” is the fifth book in the “Red Rising” scifi saga, and indeed the story takes a dark path. Darrow’s revolution against the vile colour-coded, class-based Society is crumbling. The very Republic he sought to create ousted him and his wife, Mustang, barely escapes with life in the coup the topples the Republic in the hands of Red Hands, a mafia-like organization.

The splintered Society starts to come together under the courage and bright political mind of Lysander au Lune, son of the previous Sovereign. The allies of Darrow, the Obsidians, fall under the charisma and sheer power of Volsung Fa, a new leader coming mysteriously from the Rim. Sevro and other Howlers, the backbone of Darrow’s intelligence arm, are caught prisoner by old enemies.

The only positives are that Darrow and Mustang are alive. Victra au Barca-Julii, wife of Sevro, is rebuilding her forces, despite losing her capital ship to the monstrous army of Volsung Fa. Mars stands still loyal to Darrow. Pax, Darrow and Mustang’s teenager son, starts to show a great future.

Again, the book shows super writing craftsmanship and an engaging plot. The vocabulary remains a jewel, making reading a fascinating discovery of new words and meanings. I understand the book has a separate vocabulary editor, a true master in his field.

Unlike other volumes, this one presents several points of view, not only Darrow’s. This makes the motivations of personages much clearer and adds depth to characters.

For some, the gore, the violence, the truly gruesome scenes make the book hard to read. It is truly a vision of dark times, where humanity lost its way and starts to break in little fiefdoms fighting with each other.

Overall, a great fifth book in the Red Rising series, with a true vision of dark ages.

Les hommes viennent de Mars les femmes viennent de Vénus – John Gray

Les hommes et les femmes ne se ressemblent pas. Tout le monde le sait mais peu d’entre nous mesurent à quel point cette différence complique la vie des couples. C’est comme si chacun venait d’une autre planète. Nous ne réagissons pas de la même manière au stress, aux soucis quotidiens, à l’argent, à l’amour. Il s’ensuit parfois de graves malentendus… Ce livre nous propose de découvrir la façon dont fonctionne ” l’étranger ” qui est en face de nous, afin de faciliter l’existence commune. Et il y a beaucoup à faire ! Analyser les attitudes, décoder les messages, adapter son langage à celui de la ” planète ” opposée, apprendre à demander, à offrir, à discuter avec les mots de l’Autre et même… à se disputer utilement !

C’est l’un des meilleurs livres sur l’amélioration de la vie des couples. Le livre n’apporte rien de nouveau ou d’innovant, juste des conseils simples, mais très bien expliqués et écrits.

Le livre parle des différences de communication, de compréhension, de valeurs et d’objectifs que les hommes et les femmes ont généralement. Comprendre ces différences, parfois si éloignées qu’elles semblent provenir de planètes différentes, est la clé d’une vie de couple saine.

Je l’ai lu du point de vue d’un homme et cela m’a aidé à mieux comprendre les situations difficiles et à comprendre ma femme.

Le plus utile pour moi a été de trouver, vers la fin du livre, une liste de 101 choses que je peux faire pour rendre ma femme heureuse. Ce sont de petites choses simples, loin des grands gestes que nous, hommes, sentons parfois nécessaires pour prouver notre amour.

Les livres conseillent de petits, mais fréquents cadeaux à notre femme, pour montrer notre appréciation, plutôt qu’un grand geste par an. Je pense que nous devons travailler sur une relation amoureuse tous les jours et ce livre aide définitivement à être un meilleur partenaire.

Enfin, je recommande vivement la lecture de ce livre à tous ceux qui souhaitent sauver ou améliorer une relation, mais ausssi comme conseil general.

Absolution gap (Revelation Space Book 3)- Alastair Reynolds

“When two or more of their lighthuggers met, they would compare and update their respective nomenclature tables. If the first ship had assigned names to a group of worlds and their associated geographical features, and the second ship had no current entries for those bodies, it was usual for the second ship to amend its database with the new names. They might be flagged as provisional, unless a third ship confirmed that they were still unallocated.”

A meandering, long and unexpected finish for the Revelation Space series. The characters from the last chapter are still followed by the Inhibitors, the civilization hunters and destroyers, but a mysterious, disappearing planet could give key answers.

Towering at almost 700 pages, this hard scifi book still comes with intriguing and though-provoking ideas, such as moving cathedrals, Gothic spaceships, religious viruses and many more. However, the changes seem more of style than substance, at least compared with the previous books.

It was an entertaining book and, despite its length and a falling flat ending, the writing, editing, vocabulary remained great.

The fight against the Inhibitors begins.

Redemption Ark (Revelation Space Book 2) – Alastair Reynolds

Is that what happened to Mercier?” “No—not quite. In so far as I understood Sukhoi’s work, it appeared that the zero-mass state would be very difficult to realise physically. As it neared the zero-mass state, the vacuum would be inclined to flip to the other side. Sukhoi called it a tunnelling phenomenon.” Clavain raised an eyebrow. “The other side?” “The quantum-vacuum state in which matter has imaginary inertial mass. By imaginary I mean in the purely mathematical sense, in the sense that the square root of minus one is an imaginary number. Of course, you immediately see what that would imply.” “You’re talking about tachyonic matter,” Clavain said. “Matter travelling faster than light.
This is the second book in the Revelation Space trilogy, following the first book with the same title, and one of the books from the Revelation Space universe.

Humanity in 26th century achieves a level of space traveling and technological development which triggers ancient machines called Inhibitors designed to detect and eliminate intelligent life. Inhibitors have their own, well thought reasons to these purges. They are not mindless, evil machines, but instruments intended to preserve life in the long term.

The plot follows the search for several doomsday weapons hidden on a lighthugger, the name for human spacefaring ships. The protagonist, Clavain, is a bit of an old maverick, crossing between human factions.

The book explores the question of why we are alone in the universe despite having a rather middle aged galaxy. The book and the overall series is an extremely well thought and well written universe. While the plot is good, but not exceptional, the profoundness of technological development and realism of astrophysical phenomena is astounding. This is an exceptional hard sci-fi and I am puzzled why it was not nominated for any sci-fi prizes.

As in the previous book, the vocabulary used is gargantuan, making it an educational reading, including a good introduction in astrophysics. Even more impressive, the wording is not hindering the pace of the story, which makes the novel a beautiful crafted and immersive reading.

On the downside, the length of the book is rather excessive and some more limitations on technology could be envisaged.

Overall, this is a fantastic hard sci-fi novel.


Revelation Space (Revelation Space Book 1)- Alastair Reynolds

I don’t know.” That was typical Sajaki; like all the genuinely clever people Sylveste had met he knew better than to feign understanding where none existed.

Revelation Space is a hard scifi novel, the first in the “Revelation Space” trilogy, where humans explore stars, alien civilizations and mysterious planets. An archeologist, an assassin and a ship lieutenant interlinked stories make the protagonists of a superb dystopian adventure, with realistic world building.

Imagining humanity in the 26th century is a difficult endeavor, but Alastair Reynolds does a fantastic job in creating an universe that is imaginative, bold, mind-blowing, but still respects the basic rules of science. It does help that Reynolds is a real scientist, who tries hard to create a believable, realistic universe.

The stories of the three protagonists start separately and the reader sometimes feels lost, but gradually the stories converge and create an entertaining and imaginative adventure.

The theme of why we are alone in the universe is explored, despite proofs of ancient civilizations being found. The novel presents itself as a space opera, but the technology does not burden the reader. The adventure focuses on human actions, not on incredible technology feats.

Humanity in 26th century is not an utopia, but, similar with today, it is has good and bad, factions, love, war, diseases, family, priests. The way those concepts are brought forward in 600 years is thought provoking and credible.

One of the biggest strengths of the book is the extensive vocabulary. It was one of those situations when I was happy reading it from an e-book, as I had to search for meaning of words.

While the writing suffers sometimes, the vocabulary, the universe creation, the characters, the story, the premises are all compelling arguments for a great trilogy. An amazing book to read.

Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air – David J.C. MacKay

This heated (environmental) debate is fundamentally about numbers. How much energy could each source deliver, at what economic and social cost, and with what risks? But actual numbers are rarely mentioned. In public debates, people just say “Nuclear is a money pit” or “We have a huge amount of wave and wind.” The trouble with this sort of language is that it’s not sufficient to know that something is huge: we need to know how the one “huge” compares with another “huge,” namely our huge energy consumption. To make this comparison, we need numbers, not adjectives.

The book tries to quantitatively check how a world driven by renewable energy would like. The calculations look at possibilities, how much we can produce, compared with how much we consume, in terms of kW, ignoring the costs of technologies and deployment. Only if the numbers add up is checked.

The research is divided into three parts. First part is taking different classes of consumption and production and stacks them into two columns, seeing how the numbers look like, The second part explores scenarios involving various deployments of renewable electricity technologies or carbon reduction. Finally, the third part presents the technical analysis behind the numbers presented.

The analysis focuses on the United Kingdom, investigating how much the country can produce in terms of renewable electricity and looking at different scenarios, including imports for more renewable-potent neighbours.

The investigation by David MacKey is looking at the key problems of energy sustainability, checking real energy consumption, not only electricity, but including for example transport, products we buy and agriculture.

Although feeling a bit dated sometimes, Sustainable Energy, first published in 2008, still brings insightful findings. It is one the most, if not the most comprehensive analysis of how realistic a renewable future is.

Unfortunately, David MacKey passed away in 2016, but his superb analysis remains. He was Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge.

I recommend the first part of the book to everyone interested in energy, while the third part is really for only those really into the topic.

This is the first book I post which was read on my new e-reader.

Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty

I’m so sick of that argument. I’ve been hearing it for centuries. Playing God. Wolfgang, we played God when people believed they could dictate their baby’s gender by having sex in a certain position. We played God when we invented birth control, amniocentesis, cesarean sections, when we developed modern medicine and surgery. Flight is playing God. Fighting cancer is playing God. Contact lenses and glasses are playing God. Anything we do to modify our lives in a way that we were not born into is playing God. In vitro fertilization. Hormone replacement therapy. Gender reassignment surgery. Antibiotics.

Six Wakes is hard scifi detective story taking place on a start ship headed for a new planet. Six clones, the entire crew of the ship, wake up, their earliest memory being from the start of the journey, 25 years ago. They are surrounded by their murdered bodies.

We follow the stories and point of view of each character, all having great character development and good motivations.

The novel debates the effects of cloning, in a masterful piece of suspense and mystery. The storytelling is compelling and the world building feels giving sufficient detail, without overwhelming the reader.

The book was widely appreciated, being a finalist for both Hugo and Nebula scifi competitions, the most important book competitions of the genre.

It took me less than a day to finish the book, I could not leave it down. A great detective story in space.


Ahsoka – E.K. Johnston

When Ahsoka opened her hands, she was not surprised to find that two lightsabers, rough and unfinished, were waiting. They would need more work, but they were hers. When she turned them on, they shone the brightest white.

Ahsoka is a novel in the Star Wars universe, presenting a few episodes of Ashoka Tano’s life a few years after the birth of the Empire. We can see how she transforms from a hesitating young refugee to a responsible and cunning operative.

The story follows Ashoka running from the Imperials, from planet to planet, trying to keep her disguise. After a time, she realizes that running cannot continue anymore. There is evil that she cannot tolerate and must use her Jedi abilities to save people, meaning that her presence is known and she is hunted. This is a danger for both her and the people she tries to save.

The development of the protagonist is well constructed and the reader understands her struggle and decisions. The story is well constructed and compelling The phrases flow nicely and the events are well-paced. However, the vocabulary is rather poor and the storytelling could could have been more entertaining. The book is rather a story than a novel.

Nevertheless, it is an entertaining reading for the Star Wars fans and rather one of the better books from the universe.

The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality and Our Destiny Beyond Earth – Michio Kaku

The deep space transport uses a new type of propulsion system to send astronauts through space, called solar electric propulsion. The huge solar panels capture sunlight and convert it to electricity. This is used to strip away the electrons from a gas (like xenon), creating ions. An electric field then shoots these charged ions out one end of the engine, creating thrust. Unlike chemical engines, which can only fire for a few minutes, ion engines can slowly accelerate for months or even years.

The Future of Humanity is one of the best books on science and astrophysics published in English language. It is now already considered a classical book on futurism and cosmology.

The book starts imagining how humans may solve some of the technical challenges in exploring space. Transport, propulsion, habitats, the economics of trying to finance the space exploration, robots are discussed, using the latest scientific discoveries. A lesson in astrophysics is offered, explaining our sun system, galaxy and the universe at large. Towards the end of the book, the latest theories proposed to explain the universe as wee see it are described.

Michio Kaku is professor of theoretical physics in the City College of New York and a proponent of the string theory (theory in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings). He wrote several well-received books on futurism and physics.

It is an awe-inspiring call to try and reach the starts. The message of the book is to not forget the long term: expand beyond our native planet, otherwise the nature will overwhelm us. I am making an exception and will add another quote from this author, which I find revealing:

Looking back at those dark days, I am sometimes reminded of what happened to the great Chinese imperial fleet in the fifteenth century. Back then, the Chinese were the undisputed leaders in science and exploration. They invented gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press. They were unparalleled in military power and technology. Meanwhile, medieval Europe was wracked by religious wars and mired in inquisitions, witch trials, and superstition, and great scientists and visionaries like Giordano Bruno and Galileo were often either burned alive or placed under house arrest, their works banned. Europe, at the time, was a net importer of technology, not a source of innovation.

I devoured the book in about three days. It is easy to read, the concepts from physics are easy to follow, despite their complexity, and the ideas proposed feel innovative and optimistic. A great book, particularly for young adults, searching for a meaning in life.