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Prashanthini

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Privacy is a fundamental right

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-01-20

Recently I, like the world, have been thinking a lot about online privacy. My gadgets-loving husband owns both Google Home and Amazon Echo. He encouraged me to back up all my photos on Google Photos. Our TV is connected to the internet and during some paranoid moments, I have wondered if the TV was watching us just as we were watching it. I am on all social media platforms - but I was more worried about computers reading between the lines and knowing my location than the content I actually put out for my friends to look at. But I cannot imagine a world where I don’t use the TV or Google Photos or Social Media.

So when I picked up this book, I did so under the pretence of learning to be safe online. But the truth is I wanted to learn the steps I can take that makes it okay to use the gadgets. In other words, it is okay if someone in the NSA is reading this review and watching me mouth the words as I type it but how do I make sure that them having this data doesn’t harm me. There lies the problem.

I have become so dependent on the comfort that all these platforms give by invading my privacy that I didn’t for a second think of it as a violation of my fundamental rights.

But this book wasn’t more groundbreaking revelation about the US surveillance program or 10 Ways to be Safe on the Internet. This was a story about a boy who grew up with computers in a time when the internet was free. Free of government interference, free of corporate greed, and full of people seeking a connection with people all over the world. It’s the story of a patriotic man who very quickly understood that serving the government and serving the country are not one and the same.

Edward Snowden gives us a detailed account of his life to show us why he did what he did. He talks about how he joined the IC to serve the country post 9/11 and about the feeling of betrayal he felt when he discovered how the tools and programs he built for the US government were being used. He talks about how he went about stealing the files that later shocked the world. And he talks about how he felt when he put his affairs in order and said goodbye to life as he knew it for the last time.

This is a deeply moving, well-written memoir about a brave man who also happened to be smart. It gives me hope to know that people like him exist. And yes, he has taught me to value my privacy, which is the first step.

The narrator of the book, Holter Graham, also did a great job! I had to remind myself that it was not actually Edward Snowden's voice I was listening to because there was so much passion in the narration. It was very clear though once I watched a video of Snowden actually speaking!

2 people found this helpful

Come for the mystery, stay for the morality

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 29-09-19

Phew! That was a fun ride. I have been listening to the '7 deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle's audiobook version for months now. It took months only because I had a strict 'listening only while cooking' rule. There were 2 hours of audiobook left when I was done making lunch today and I just could not wait till dinner to finish the book. So I snapped and ended up purchasing an ebook version because reading is quicker than listening. Yes, the book was so interesting that I paid for two versions of it.

'7 deaths' is two mysteries in one. The first is the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle's murder and the second is the mystery of the premise itself which is - who are the people trapped in the loop trying to solve a murder and why. I enjoyed the solution to the second mystery a lot more than the first as it was original and much deeper than I'd thought.

From the beginning, when you are introduced to this nameless person (eventually revealed to be Aiden Bishop) trapped inside a host he has no respect for, you start rooting for him. Every time he sleeps or dies, he wakes up as another person, in another host's body. He has little memory of who he is and he loses a bit of it every time the host changes. At times, I felt as helpless and frustrated as Aiden because he was made to try and solve a murder to which he seemingly has no connection in order to go back to his own life that he doesn't remember. It was reminiscent of a very different book I read about memories called 'Elizabeth Is Missing'.

I was worried that the author would pull the rug from under me in the end and reveal that I've been rooting for a horrible monster. Interestingly, knowing the ending, I realize that it wouldn't have mattered.

I loved how distinct and interesting each host was. The whole book was the reader processing the world of Blackheath through these different minds. And I thoroughly enjoyed that Aiden, just like the readers, learns what it means to be good from even the worst of them. Jot Davies, the narrator of the audiobook version, had the difficult task of making these host characters sound distinct but similar. And I must say, he pulled it off. So much so that when I read the final chapters, it sounded like his voice in my mind.

The ending was not as clever as the premise and in my opinion, Evelyn's murder mystery was not very convincingly solved. But with 7 deaths, you'd come for the time-loop, body-swap murder mystery but stay for lessons on morality, forgiveness, and justice. I'd recommend listening to the audiobook version for a better experience.

1 person found this helpful

A better book than The Three Body Problem

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 27-04-19

"If I destroy you, what business is it of yours?"

The second part of the epic saga that is the Remembrance of Earth's Past is far, far better than the first.

The human civilization has 400 years to prepare for an attack from a far more technologically advanced civilization called Trisolaris. What can you do to defend yourself against an enemy that has better weapons and is privy to any and all defence strategies you can come up with? What is the psyche of the people living their life knowing that a few generations down the line, their descendents will face certain death? The Dark Forest is an imaginative exploration of these questions. But I liked that it was not simply an alien invasion story. We learn so much about Trisolaris and their unpredictable weather in the first book that their threat, though dangerous, seems reasonable. They want to survive and they have nowhere else to go!

200 years after the discovery of the Trisolaran threat, we see a world that is supposedly modern. The new generation thinks that they are so much more advanced than their ancestors but the hibernators, who lived through the initial threat, know that the advancement is just not enough. I found their patronizing attitude towards their ancestors as believable as it was misguided. For some reason, I identified with the hibernators and felt a weird sense satisfaction when the harmless looking Trisolaris probe destroyed half of their space fleet. But when I got to this point, the helplessness of the humans made me suffocate a bit. I had a vivid dream when I had to come up with a solution to save humanity and it did not end well. And this is why the book wins. No matter how wild the author's imagination was, the dangers felt so real and disturbing. Kudos to Liu Cuxin for setting up the dangers slowly throughout the book rather than suddenly flinging it at you for shock value.

The first thing I noticed when I started reading was that the main character, Luo Ji, was much more interesting compared to the MC in the first book. He is an aloof and a bit narcissistic astrophysicist and he is suddenly thrust the responsibility of saving the world. It was a little surprising but also interesting to see that the 'chosen one' trope was being perpetuated in a science fiction book. But overall, the growth of Luo Ji as a character throughout the book was remarkable and believable.

I have not read enough science fiction to really know what good sci-fi is, but I can recognize a good story. And The Dark Forest is one hell of a story. I also loved the stories within the story like Luo Ji falling in love with a character he creates or the incredible story of Zhang Beihei who always did the right thing even if it was wrong.

The pacing was slow now and then but it's not really supposed to be a page turner - this book wants you to stop and think about the complicated concepts it is introducing. I appreciate the story and the science. And I appreciate the very real way in which this unreal story. I recommend this book to everyone who appreciates a good story.

1 person found this helpful

Nothing like anything I have ever read

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 27-04-19

The first few chapters in this book are filled with hooks. A scientist is beaten to death during the cultural revolution in China, his daughter is pulled into a secret mission involving a massive parabolic antenna that repels lifeforms, her daughter and many other scientists kill themselves declaring that science is dead. If this is not enough, another scientist begins seeing an alarming countdown but has no idea what it was counting down to.

But what followed was so different than what you’d expect from these hooks, and not in a good way. My husband, who was forced to listen to parts of the book now and then because of me, remarked that it felt like he was listening to a different book each time. It almost felt like the author, Liu Cixin, knew what story he wanted to say but was confused about how to say it. For example, many chapters are dedicated to suspense building but it fell flat because the synopsis of the book already gave away the suspense! This lead to important plot points being resolved in a very unsatisfactory manner. In the final chapters especially, it looked like the author had given up ‘showing’ completely and just stuck to ‘telling’.

What he was telling though was astounding. There were many moments when I stunned by what I was hearing and stopped what I was doing. Clearly, what Liu Cixin lacks in storytelling, he makes up with his imagination. Whether it was the creepy countdown, the nano-material blades slicing a ship into 40 pieces, or the creation of supercomputers using one tiny proton, I was awed by his ability to imagine something so fantastic.

The three body game within the book is another great feat of imagination. It was engrossing and educational. The environment the game is set in takes seemingly familiar elements and turns it into something terrifying - like the gigantic tidal waves in Miller’s planet from Interstellar. Not only was the game a great way to learn about the alien planet but it also taught me a lot about how civilizations developed and how scientific progress happened.

In spite of all the problems I spoke about earlier, this is by far the best science fiction I have consumed. I am looking forward to reading the next two books in the series which are supposedly better than this one.