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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Book review: The Blade Itself


The book this time around is The Blade Itself, a traditional fantasy story that makes up the first part of “The First Law” trilogy by Joe Abercrombie.

The world shown in this book is a very traditional fantasy setting with swords and (some) sorcery, although magic has faded away over the years to where most people remember it only as a fairytale told to children.  The story revolves around a number of different people, but the primary character is a man named Logan Ninefingers, a battle-hardened mercenary from the northern lands with a brutal and bloody past.  He becomes separated from the rest of his band of fellow mercenaries and journeys alone to the south where he eventually meets a man named Bayaz, the First of the Magi and the most powerful wielder of magic alive on the planet.  Travelling together they head for the grand city of Adua, which becomes the focus for the rest of the story, and the gathering point for most of the other characters.

There’s also a man named Sand Dan Glokta, a former golden boy of the military, one of the nobility’s best fencers and destined for greatness.  Until the enemy captured him during the last war and spent the next 2 years torturing him and turning him into a broken, bitter shell of a man.  Nowadays he works as one of the more effective members of the inquisition, squeezing information out of criminals and wrongdoers, making them confess their crimes (depending on the wishes of the head of said inquisition).  He’s become a very bitter man over the years, lost both his friends and family, and the only solace left to him is the idea of revenge on those that have wronged him over the years.

There are more characters than these which the story follows, but these two end up standing out the most in this book.  The story is fairly standard, a large expansive kingdom satiated on wealth and other expensive indulgences, a neighbouring country beginning the stirrings of a long war, an old empire defeated long ago, looking for the chance to strike back and a mysterious and terrifying group of magic users with unknown motivations.  Like I said, fairly standard stuff, but it’s just written so damn well that you never notice.  And although Magic is rarely seen in this world, when but it is used the scenes are so well-written that you’re left in awe.

I can’t help but draw comparisons with the Liveship Traders series, the other traditional fantasy series I started to read earlier this year.  While the Liveship Traders series had an incredibly imaginative and original world setting with somewhat flat characters this was pretty much the opposite.  The world itself was interesting enough, but it fell firmly into the “generic fantasy” setting.  The characters on the other hand practically jumped out of the pages.  Considering that there were so many of them I’m amazed at how well this was done.  One character (and his 5 companions) only appeared in 3 chapters, yet even then you can tell that a lot of work’s been put into them.  Certainly, the world as a whole may feel fairly generic, but then how many other great fantasy books differ from this formula? Another reason which strikes me when comparing this to the Liveship Traders is that the first Book, The Ship of Magic, took over 400 pages to set up the story before finally starting up.  The Blade Itself though, hits the ground running, before gradually slowing to a gentle jog as the scene is set for the rest of the trilogy. It’s arguable which of this is better, but this time around I preferred this far more. Looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy once the year is out.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in 2012 reading challenge, Reading, Review

 

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Book review: Cryptonomicon


I finished reading this back in July, but if the other posts here are any indication I’m not in the habit of writing things up as soon as I should. The book this time around is Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, a book that tells a story spread across 2 different time periods.

Cryptomicon hardback cover

The first story begins with the Allied forces as world war 2 begins and follows the efforts to break the cryptographic codes used by the Axis.  The other story begins in the modern-day and follows a tech start-up company in the Philippines as they work to make a secure data storage facility designed for privately and securely storing data for companies the world over.  They may seem like pretty different stories to begin with, but the underlying theme of cryptography is tied together very well and by the end of it you’ll have a fair knowledge of the historical concepts of cryptography as well as how it’s used in the modern world.  As you can tell it’s a fairly techy novel, but as with a lot of techno-thrillers you can just turn your brain off and take things as given.  Unlike some techno-thrillers though, everything here is based in reality.  The only things they change about the technology is a couple of ciphers here and there and the names given to some technology, everything else is completely plausible.

Being a bit of a fan of cryptography I was initially more interested in the WW2 storyline, learning about the techniques used to generate data as randomly as possible to help create uncrackable codes.  Even more interesting was the manoeuvring that was done to prevent the enemy from discovering that someone had cracked their codes and thwarting them by simply creating a new set.  The modern-day storyline starts off pretty slow, only getting a glimpse of story every 3 or 4 chapters. It slowly ramped up throughout the book, transforming into the main story while world war 2 sits at the back and helps set the scene.  It begins as a story about a technology start-up in the Philippines but later evolves into a hunt for a large amount of gold that came into the area during WW2.  It may sound like a strange transition, but it does make sense in the context of the story.

As it’s a book by Neal Stephenson there were plenty of times when a completely unrelated story popped up every now and again, written in great detail and feeling like the author put a huge amount of research into it. No matter what the topic you couldn’t help but be pulled in and enthralled by these topics, whether it was a treatise on the origins of the Sumerian language in Snow Crash, a lecture on Great Circles and flight paths in Reamde, or in Cryptonomicon’s case, an essay on the fetishism of shaving as a privilege exclusive to white men (you can find your own link for that one).  Despite often having nothing to do with the story, they always end up being an absolutely fascinating read and usually written so well into the main story that they never felt too out-of-place (the exception being Snow Crash, which while still interesting felt like poorly placed plot dumps).

Thinking back on it, my only complaint with the book is with the finale of the modern-day story, which suddenly changes tact and ends in an action scene.  In the WW2 story it may have made sense, but going from businessmen and programmers to guns and shootouts didn’t mesh quite as well.

Overall I absolutely loved this book during both storylines, and I’m just glad I didn’t give up on Stephenson after being so disappointed by Snow Crash.  I’m not sure when I’ll get around to it, but I already have book 1 of The Mongoliad sitting on my Kindle, and I’m definitely going to be checking out Anathem and The Baroque Cycle trilogy at some point in the future too.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2012 in 2012 reading challenge, Reading, Review

 

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Playing Diablo 2 with a modern graphics card


Recently I picked up a new laptop and among the usual series of applications that I set up I decided to throw in Diablo 2. I know all the cool kids are playing Diablo 3 these days, but I’ve spent a lot of time away in hotels and on trains recently, so I can’t really count on having a steady connection.

After going through the surprisingly simple process of getting the game through Battle.net I copied over my old saved games and booted it up. That’s when I noticed that it was barely chugging along on my shiny new laptop, even slower than when I was using my recently deceased 7-year-old iBook. It turns out that most modern graphics cards aren’t too great at handling the 2D graphics that Diablo 2 uses. Thankfully I managed to find a solution.

In short, the solution is to wrap the graphics handling up in something called a “Glide Wrapper”, which takes over the 2D graphics processing and does a far better job or it. In Diablo 2’s case a generous soul has written a custom one just for this called Svenwrapper . Just install this software then run Diablo 2’s graphics test (D2VidTst.exe) and set it to “Glide”. Now you’ll have the game running as smooth as silk. I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but back in the day the frame rate in single player is limited at a lower number than in multiplayer, so if you want it to look just a tiny bit nicer its worth playing a local multiplayer game, even if you just want to go it alone.

Note: Depending on your OS you might have a little trouble getting to respond. In my case running Windows 8 it did sod all until I told it run under compatibility mode using Windows XP.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2012 in Gaming

 

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