Mini review: “The Second Machine Age” by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (audiobook version)

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This is essentially an updated and re-written version of the authors’ earlier book Race Against The Machine, although it has a much more positive outlook on technology and the future it will shape.

The book highlights three things that are contributing to the increasing influence of machines:

  • exponential growth in the capabilities of computer hardware (and the subsequent lower cost of providing a digital service)
  • more and more aspects of life are becoming digital and this will continue
  • combinatorial forces (taking existing technologies and putting them together in new ways).

The authors excel when they look at how existing technological change has economically affected different people and how the situation has altered over time.  Amongst other things, it explains why some people can become incredibly (obscenely) rich whilst others will no longer be able to escape their original economic class and improve their economic situation.  They successfully give the impression that they have carefully looked at the evidence and come to reasonable conclusions.

They also offer some tips on how to “race with the machines”.  Sometimes a human working in conjunction with a machine can achieve a better result than a computer simply replacing a human.

A comment about the narration on the audiobook version: what you have here is a bog standard American doing a distinctly average job of conveying the content of the book.  It achieves nothing more.  Any attempt to try a different accent or pronounce foreign words totally fails.  It seems to me that this is the de-facto voice used to appeal to American businessmen, but I’m sure that other narrators could do a much better job.  Good narration can add so much.  They should have gone for a narrator who is used to doing fiction to bring this book alive.  There are many valuable points and arguments made here, so the publishers should make it as accessible as possible.

Mini review: “Executable” by Hugh Howey

This is a very short story, barely 9 pages long, that can be found in the Robot Uprisings anthology.  I don’t normally read things like this but Hugh’s name was attached and it took less than 10 minutes to get through. I didn’t read the rest but it has good reviews.

All I’ll say is that people interested in the Internet Of Things should check it out.  Threats can come from the least expected sources and as a result of completely different intentions.

Also see:

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: Wool (Part 1 of the Silo Series)

Mini review: “Field Grey” by Philip Kerr (audiobook version)

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Having read Prague Fatale – my first Bernie Gunther book – I went straight on to this.  I wanted to spend more time in Bernie’s company.  This time we find out more about his life during the war through interviews he does with various intelligence agencies.  From Cuba to America, from France to the Ukraine, a lot of ground is covered in this story.

This book makes Prague Fatale seem relatively light-weight.  The scale of atrocities mentioned is sickening – and it is not just the persecution carried out by the Germans.  The Germans also suffered mercilessly at the hands of the Russians.

There is still a sprinkling of Bernie’s wisecracks at certain points, but the subject matter means that overall this is an unpleasant read, although very compelling.

It seems a bit too long but the story twists more than anything I’ve read in a long time and in that regard it is a very satisfying book.

As with Prague Fatale, the narrator does an excellent job, very consistent over the two books.  I look forward to listening to more.

Mini review: “Prague Fatale” by Philip Kerr (audiobook version)

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This is the first Bernie Gunther book I’ve read and I will definitely be reading more.  To have the story being told by a German character from a German point of view is something new for me.  Bernie is an appealing character to spend time with due to his dry, dark humour and disregard for authority.  However it is also clear that he is a very flawed and damaged person – no doubt I will learn more about what he has gone through when I read other books in the series.

In this story he is summoned to Prague at short notice to solve a murder.  A body is found in a room locked from the inside. Someone in the house is the guilty party.  A deliberate setup by the author – Bernie makes a particularly bad-ass Hercule Poirot.

The period and places are evoked well and I do generally enjoy stories where fictional characters mix with real people such as the Nathan Heller series by Max Allan Collins (an American ex-policeman and PI, so in the same vein as Gunther) and American Tabloid (and others) by James Ellroy.

The narrator does a very good job.  He also does other audiobooks in the series.

I’m glad I picked this book up, although I think that others in the series may make more unpleasant reading.

Mini review: “The Collini Case” by Ferdinand von Schirach

This short book has received excellent reviews from all over the place.  I’m not sure why.

It is written well enough (at least in the English translation) and it certainly makes no attempts to stretch out the story unnecessarily. It’s a fairly simple story and easy to predict.

It’s only 190 pages long – there is nothing wrong with that – but the type in my printed copy was large. Printed at regular size it could go down to about 150 if not less. I feel a little short changed.

I never thought I’d say this but if you want a legal thriller then go for some John Grisham.

Mini review: “Billion Dollar Brain” by Len Deighton

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I love Len Deighton’s 10 book series featuring the character Bernard Samson and I have now read a few of the “Unnamed hero”/”Harry Palmer” books, although in no particular order.  I just can’t get particularly excited about them.  This one is the best so far  and even so, I’d say it is a three-and-a-half star book.  You get the impression that he is writing now with Michael Caine in mind. (The film of The IPCRESS File, starring Caine, was released the year before this book was published.  Not a lot of people know that.)

Having said that, the dialogue sparkles and things proceed at a jaunty pace.  Story-wise, though, things don’t really get going until “Harry” gets to New York, about half way through the book.

Overall, my advice to potential readers of Deighton’s work is to start with the Samson series.  From there try SS-GB and XPD and then this series.

• Spare Cycles:  Len Deighton books / Film: Funeral in Berlin