Reviews for Children of Ruin, The God Equation, The Forest, What Is Life?, Blue Notes.
Adrian Tchaikovsky - Children of Ruin (dt. Erben der Zeit) ★★★★★
Children of Ruin, Adrian Tchaikovsky's second entry in his time-saga, is one of the rare instance where the sequel is better than the first part. Where Children of Time, an already pretty good to excellent story about tech-manipulated evolution and terraforming, was maybe a tad too earth-centric in terms of alien evolution — it's "just" jumping spiders and ants on steroids, after all —, this one goes more into what an evolutionary branch might look like that is truly alien to us (even when the space-octopi on steroids stem from earth).
When you take it's predecessor and add intelligent octopusses plus John Carpenters The Thing, then multiply it with hivemind slime molds, you get this sequel. It's pretty awesome.
Tchaikovsky also has a great way of describing alien communications and tech, not in a typical hard scifi listing of so cool tech features, but by describing how this tech and communication actually feels like for those that experience it. This is very much textbook "show don't tell", and he uses this skill to some great lengths, especially when describing the difficulties of communicating with a race of advanced space-octopusses that largely speak in rapid changing colored patterns on their skin.
Tchaikovsky being a biologist by trade also bases all of these octopi idiosyncrasies in actual neuroscientific research, from which we know that these fascinating creatures basically are one big floating brain, with neurons spread all over their body, and their camouflaging colored patterns are actually expressions of their neuronal activity. Tchaikovsky takes these facts and runs wild, creating one of the most fascinating evolutionary scifi-stories i've ever read, and because it's more focussed on communications, understanding and alienness this time, while contrasting that with some pretty gruesome exchanges with a new slime mold-hivemind-species, i think this book is the more entertaining, trippier and more sophisticated novel compared to the first.
This is my third Tchaikovsky and the guy only get's better. This is the way.
Michio Kaku - The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything (dt. Die Gottes-Formel) ★★☆☆☆
I picked this up because i wanted a shallow, basic understanding of string theory, Michio Kakus field of research since the 60s, but it's not even that, unfortunately. We get a shallow, basic, fast paced history of physics on 140 pages only to get into the unifying string theory, without saying much about it, honestly. Kaku then goes on to talk about god and that some things are outside the realms of science, which, duh.
You see, I'm not a big fan of Kaku. He strikes me as a guy who is more occupied with showing his face into a camera, dropping theoretical physics cliché after cliché, all of which have been said by others more elegantly before, than formulating new insights in cool, new ways. I also think it's odd that the guy really has something to say about everything futurism, from aliens to UFOs to consciousness to god to quantum physics to string theory -- any scifi topic has a Kaku quote. You gotta hand it to him: He's very much a marketing genius about himself, but that's not really a compliment, is it.
So I picked this up intentionally, because i thought that this is the right guy to give me a clichéd, shallow overview over strings in broad strokes, but even there it's just cooked up rephrasings, and he does all of this with a grandiose, pompous style. It's not a really bad book, but it does feel like a hasty money grab. Thanks but no thanks.
If you want good pop-physics, read Sabine Hossenfelder or Carlo Rovelli instead. Besides writing much more interestingly about physics, both also show some self-irony and humor, something that seems completely absent with Kaku.
Tibor Rode - Der Wald: Er tötet leise (en. The Forest: Silent Killer) ☆☆☆☆☆
I won't mince words at this fucking emberassment of a "novel". I read pulp for all my life and every stupid John Sinclair story is better structured, more coherent and more entertaining than this shit.
Look, i'm into killer plants. I love them. I had some venus flytraps as a child, i love the Triffids and Annihilation and all of those are good, solid trash. But this is not that. Sure, the author tries to write an outlandish story, he tries to go bonkers with what he surely believes are wild ideas, combining killerplants, AI, Goethe, illuminati and the so called wood wide web into a gripping global scifi-thriller, but all he serves up is a boring Dan Brown ripoff without unclear stakes, filled up with unrealistic twists and turns and the prose is that of an untalented simpleton.
The dialoge is clumsy, the plot is incoherent and contradicts itself on the same page, and he constantly pulls magic bullets out of his ass to solve the "cliffhangers" in his short chapters, culminating in the tired hollywood cliché of "oh the important person shot in the first scene isn't dead at all, just appears out of nowhere in the exact right place at the exact right time to shoot down the bad guy with a bow and arrow which she was really bad at before because shruggie". He does this so often, i filled a whole note just with those stupid twists: A woman gets hunted into a log cabin, where she finds a laptop which she can connect to the web from where she can controll the energy released from the trees to fire a lightning bolt at the bad guy who is burned to death. Shit like this happens again, and again, and again, and the only reason i finnished this "novel" is to watch the author embarass himself more and more. And sure he does.
Nothing in this novel is established, everything happens randomly with ridiculous explanations given after the fact. This is a sure shot at murdering any chance of suspense.
Here’s another example: The protagonist and love interest are captured by evil illuminati in a killerplant greenhouse, when suddenly an explosion goes off. Ofcourse, the guy carefully placed a very hot lamp on the ground and the plants release an easy flamable gas so off that goes. Some of the guys survive the ‘splosion, continue to hunt the protagonist and love interest when, suddenly, their chinese contact rams through the walls with a truck. Ofcourse, truck driving chinese woman was able to exactly locate the bad guys because those bad guys took away her phone which she was able to track with another phone from her dead brother.
Nothing of this is established before the action. Stuff just happens, and then the author pulls out a rabbit out of his lazy arse and says "Tadaa, surprise! Look at how weird and action rich and suspensefull all of this is, a side character just suddenly killed a bad guy with a truck out of nowhere! Wow! What a stunner!" But it isn't stunning, it’s just the laziest form of storytelling. This is so bad, every stupid crap printed in cheapo pulp mags i read on the toilet is more carefully and skillfully crafted than this stupid collection of random shit.
The AI being the overlord of the Illuminati who are now the, i kid you not, Desperati because climate change, controlling them via smart contracts on the blockchain, which is close to being completely irrelevant for the story at the end, just hammered the final nail into this coffin.
This is a book written by a guy who thinks it's crazy to shove some not-that outlandish ideas together in a plot about killerplants, but completely fails to do what good, pulpy entertainment must do: Go over the top. This is a story which just namechecks concepts floating around in popular culture and leaves it at that (AI - check, blockchain - check, climate change - check, illuminati - check, wood wide web - check), and then he’s just not skilled enough to push them over the edge into something that is new, exciting, crazy, bonkers in a way that’s still coherent.
And, ultimately, it's also boring, the worst crime of any pulp. This book sucks, hard.
Paul Nurse - What Is Life? (dt. Was ist Leben?) ★★★☆☆
A neat summary of what life is according to biology, but Paul Nurse is not a Carlo Rovelli, who managed to pack the baffling weirdness (and uncertainties) of Quantum Physics into small pop scientific books. Nurse’s prose is too dry at times and lacks Rovellis often childlike sense of wonder, refraining himself to some personal anecdotes here and there, while going into the basic facts of life as cells, life as evolution, life as DNA, life as biochemistry, and finally, life as a way of information processing.
This is all well and good and you do get a fine overview on the topic, which is why i picked it up in the first place. But i wish it was a bit more than that, explaining more about emergence, going into speculative philosophy not only on how those modules of life (cells, DNA, molecules) cooperate, but also why they might do it, how the orchestrating life-conductor underlying all organisms might work and ultimately, what that orchestrating life-conductor might be.
But that's also asking a bit much for a book short of 200 pages, and maybe a book like this is not a place to discuss the metaphysics of life, so i guess i have to wait for Michael Levin, who works on exactly those questions in context of collective intelligence, to write the better nonfiction book on life.
This was helpful as expected and did get it's job done, a good grab if you want a fast overview about what biology thinks is life, but nothing more.
Anne Cathrine Bomann - Blue Notes (dt. Blautöne) ★★★☆☆
A woman who lost her child decides to develop a pill against grief, while students at a university are uncovering scientific fraud committed by corrupted researchers manipulating data to get the new wonderpill on the market, which shows the side effect of lowering empathy.
I liked this book, which fuses mild scifi thriller elements that remind me of the more subtle works of David Cronenberg with an indie drama aesthetic, while looking closely at interpersonal relationships and how they connect to the unfolding scientific drama. The prose is good, but not very sophisticated, which in a way does translate to it's themes of grief and loss, where the world feels toned down and you perceive everything through a filter.
I just wish it was a bit more daring. The book reads a bit like a (good) TV-drama, the sparse thriller elements stay pretty tame, the stakes are all within the realistic boundaries of pharma development and everyday science, even when it hints at patients turning into (mild) psychopaths. I liked that those thriller elements stayed on the sideline, being a subtle hint at the horrors of pharmaceutical abuse, but a bit more sophistication with those elements, just a tad more outlandishness, sparsely, combined with maybe a bit more experimental, maybe more sparse and minimalistic, or maybe more ornamental prose, here and there, would've turned this into a very good, pretty cool novel marrying themes of grief, psychology, love and loss with some rare outbursts of thrill. Just a tiny bit more thriller, a bit less TV-indie drama would've done the trick for me.
I felt entertained, all the story arcs are brought to a satisfying closure, but at the end, we only get a story about how human connection is important and the pharma industry is corrupt, which is neither very original nor gripping. A neat story, bordering on being a really good one.