[By Nic Lindh on Monday, 05 June 2023]
Note: The title links are Bookshop or Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. It’s greatly appreciated.
Subtitled Being Human in the Age of Algorithms, the book proceeds to very calmly explain exactly how to attempt to accomplish that. Hello World is especially timely with all the talk and all the so, so many willful misunderstandings about what algorithms are, how they are used and how they affect society. What tradeoffs are we making? Do algorithms lead to better outcomes than the human intellect? How do you define and measure those outcomes?
Hello World explores these issues and more in a cool, straightforward manner, looking at the algorithms that are in use today and how they affect society for better and for worse.
Algorithms are a big, complicated, and infected topic riven with disinformation and hysteria, so Hello World really does us all a service with its calm and collected approach. Highly recommended.
The Finnish Winter War surprised the world with the Finns’ obstinate, fierce resistance of the much-larger and better equipped Russian force. A Frozen Hell covers the short history of Finland as a nation and its history in relation to Russia and Germany, and then both the Winter War and in shorter format the Continuation War.
Basically, the Finnish Winter War is the story of a people resisting against nightmarish odds, resisting and resisting and never stopping resisting. The suffering of the Finnish people, its tenacity, and the clumsiness and brutality of the Russian army makes for harrowing but compulsive reading.
One Soviet general, looking at a map of the territory Russia had acquired on the Karelian Isthmus, is said to have remarked: “We have won just about enough ground to bury our dead.”
This mirrors the most likely apocryphal quote purported to have been uttered by a Finnish soldier at the start of the conflict: “Oh, no! Our country so small and the invaders so many! Where shall we bury them all?”
Which to my mind at least is right up there with the Spartan “We’ll fight in the shade.”
Incidents of Red aircraft strafing hospitals and hospital trains were so common that the Finns finally painted over any Red Cross insignia that were visible from the air.
Oh hey, war crimes! What a surprise.
In one village, a detachment of border guards came up to the home of an aged peasant woman and sadly informed her that she must prepare to leave her home, possibly forever, with only the belongings she could carry on her back and in the horse-drawn sled tethered near her cabin. In the morning, they would return and burn her house to the ground, so that the Russians could not sleep there. When the soldiers returned the next morning, they found the sled parked by the old woman’s door, piled high with her possessions. When they entered the farmhouse, they were startled to see that the entire dwelling had been scrubbed and whitewashed until it sparkled. Stuck to the wall by the door, the woman had left a note saying that she had gone to fetch something at a neighbor’s house and would return in time to drive the sled away in the soldiers’ company. In the meantime, the note concluded, if the soldiers would look by the stove, they would find enough matches, kindling, and petrol to burn the house quickly and efficiently. When the old woman returned, the soldiers asked her why she had gone to so much trouble. Pulling herself upright with all the dignity she could summon, she looked them in the eye and replied: “When one gives a gift to Finland, one desires that it should be like new.”
Dan Jones’s Powers and Thrones is a sweeping account of the Middle Ages that really brings home just how much that history still affects the modern world. Highly recommended, but be aware that it is a doorstop. Jones has lots to cover, and cover it he does.
The fall of Rome, the rise of Islam, the arrival and empires of the steppe tribes, the reformation, the age of the knight, gothic architecture and monasteries, as well as an assortment of very interesting and scary characters, it’s all in Powers and Thrones.
Dead Country kicks off a new series, The Craft Wars Series, set in the same universe and with the same characters as Gladstone’s much-beloved Craft Sequence.
Tara Abernathy’s dad has passed, so she returns to the village where she grew up—a village whose villagers once ran her off with torches and pitchforks—for his funeral. But bad things, nay, terrible things, are afoot.
As always, Gladstone’s bone-dry descriptions of how the Craft works and what it does to people are mesmerizing, but the book drags a bit in its endless Climactic Battle Scene. Still, good effort and it will be interesting to see where Gladstone goes with this.
Blitz is the third novel in the exciting Checquy Files series. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a slog. The novel is packed full of interesting new Checquy lore, intense action sequences, and fun new ideas, but it desperately needs some editing instead of spreading all over the extremely large map O’Malley is drawing.
Blitz is a brick of a novel, one of those where you read for an hour and the Kindle ticks up one percent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the two plots in two separate timelines we follow are all over the place and there’s so much information thrown in seemingly just because O’Malley had a cool idea that it becomes laborious to get through the thing.
Which is too bad since at it’s core there are two interesting novels in here.
(Not available on Bookshop.org, so this is an Amazon link.)
Ah, this, the first in the Inspector Fenchurch series, is a classic rainy and bleak British crime procedural with a solid plot, a strong set of characters, and a lived-in London underworld vibe.
Basically the plot is that two young female sex workers are found brutally murdered, and while the police are quick to circle in on a suspect, they are unable to identify the victims.
Where did they come from?
In charge of finding the culprit, DI Fenchurch is a classically damaged and brooding detective, but he is damaged in a new and interesting way, which will no doubt play heavily into the rest of the series, and the supporting cast all have potential for larger parts in future installments.
If you’re in the mind to start a new series of rainy London bleakness and murder, here you go.
(Not available on Bookshop.org, so this is an Amazon link.)
Continues the very good series about DI Fenchurch that started in The Hope that Kills, and there’s not that much add to my thoughts about the first novel.
And you really should start there as the novels build on each other.
But again, you liked The Hope that Kills, you’ll like Worth Killing For.