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Titel: Cryptonomicon
Författare: Neal Stephenson
Utgivningsår: 1999
Recenserad: 2007-06-28
Status: N/A

Neal Stephenson är en underlig figur. Hans idéer tillhör mina absoluta favoriter och de teman han baserar sina böcker på är alltid intressanta, välutvecklade och bra beskrivna. Dessutom skriver han med ett språk som är fantastiskt, vardagligt och effektivt på samma gång. Trots detta blir hans böcker inte fullträffar (förutom Snow Crash). Det här gäller också Cryptonomicon.

Handlingen är uppdelad i framförallt två paralleller, en utspelar sig i slutet av andra världskriget i filipinerna och den andra mot slutet av 1990-talet. Under kriget gömde japanerna stora mängder guld som flera personer varit på spåren, men som hållits dolt på grund av svårtillgänglig terräng och framförallt en välbevarad hemlighet.

Precis som namnet antyder, kretsar mycket av boken kring koder och kryptering. Neal Stephenson är mästare på att förklara häftiga, vetenskapliga koncept på ett sätt så att jag som inte är vidare insatt förstår dem och tycker att de är häftiga. Det gällde i The Diamond Age och det gäller också i Cryptonomicon.

Trots alla dessa fördelar klaffar det inte riktigt. Huvudpersonen, som är inblandad i jakten på den dolda skatten såväl som i det trassel som omger hemligheten om var den är dold, känns han inte vidare intressant. Handlingen i sig är välskriven och komponerad på ett sätt som hänger ihop, men det matchar på något sätt inte resten. Jag tycker att delarna för sig är riktigt bra, men helheten når inte riktigt ända fram.

Det här kommer inte att få mig att sluta läsa Stephenson, för det som är bra är riktigt bra. Dock kommer det inte att få mig att sätta högre betyg än fyra snigel så länge han inte lyckas ro i land hela paketet.

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Titel: The Diamond Age
Författare: Neal Stephenson
Utgivningsår: 1995 (1995)
Recenserad: 2005-10-07
Status: I bokhyllan

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer är den andra boken jag läser av Neal Stehpenson. Med den här boken befäster han sin position som visionär och mycket skicklig författare. Han målar upp ett framtida samhälle baserat på avancerad nanoteknologi och släpper sedan loss en intressant handling i denna fascinerade och kalejdoskopiska värld.

I handlingens centrum står Nell. Under mycket svåra förhållanden växer hon och hennes bror upp utan någon egentlig far och en mamma som inte räcker till. En dag får hon en mycket speciell bok. Den kallas för the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer och är ett tour de force i nanoteknologi och anpassar sig till Nells verklighet och de problem hon stöter på. Den följer henne från hon är liten flicka och vidare genom livet. Flera andra personer är inblandade, bland annat mannen som designat boken och andra som ser till att den fungerar. De har alla olika planer och olika mål, olika bitar i det stora pusslet.

Språk, idéer och persongallerier är den här bokens styrka. Stephenson har ett varierat och rikt språk som är trevligt att läsa. Idéerna är det absolut viktigaste i denna bok och jag tycker att det är värt att läsa den om så bara för att få en trovärdig bild av hur ett samhälle med avancerad nanoteknologi kan se ut. Nu handlar det inte bara om det tekniska, utan förstås också om samhället i stort. Persongalleriet är helt okej och fungerar bra i både handlingen och miljön.

Nu har jag prisat boken rätt mycket, men den får ändå bara tre och en halv snigel. Varför? Jag tycker att boken är för lång för sitt innehåll. Den är exakt 500 sidor och handlingen känns lite väl utdragen och tämligen ointressant på sina håll. Slutet väger inte heller upp de förväntningar som skapas under läsningens gång. Handlingen lyckas inte engagera och fånga mig på samma sätt som Snow Crash och boken tappar därmed ganska mycket.

Avslutningsvis vill jag ändå rekommendera boken till de som sett något intressant i den första delen av den här recensionen. Den är helt klart värd tiden det tog att läsa den och många av idéerna är helt geniala.

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Titel: Snow Crash
Författare: Neal Stephenson
Utgivningsår: 1992 (2004)
Recenserad: 2004-08-02
Status: I bokhyllan

Hiro Protagonist är världens okrönte kung när det kommer till att hantera sina samuraisvärd, en av världens sista frilanshackers och för tillfället anställd av italienska maffian, Cosa Nostra. USA är uppdelat i små stadsstater och federala regeringar och lagar är sedan länge borta. Det finns dock ett par saker som USA fortfarande är bäst på, varav den kanske viktigaste är: snabb utkörning av pizza. Det är inte för inte som Hiro Protagonist har anställning hos Cosa Nostra, för att dela ut pizzor i Uncle Enzos namn. Maffian har en policy som säger att ifall en pizza anländer mer än 25 minuter efter att beställningen gjorts, bjuds de beställande på en gratis charterresa till Sicilien tillsammans med personliga ursäkter från Uncle Enzo. Det är så Mafian jobbar, mellan människor.

En dag går något rejält snett och Hiro får en pizza som legat i nästan 20 minuter innan han fick den. Det lämnar 5 minuter att ta sig tvärs över halva staden. Efter några halsbrytande minuter ute i trafiken, inser han att han inte kommer hinna om han inte gör något drastiskt. Han känner väl till trakten och bestämmer sig för att gena genom ett villaområde han känner väl till. Lite staket, plank, utegrillar och annat, men ingenting som stoppar pizzabilen. Det verkar gå bra, tills ett plank han inte sett tidigare dyker upp och han ungefär samtidigt som han ser swimmingpoolen på andra sidan, inser han att han kört igenom fel trädgård.

En kurir har åkt snålskjut efter Hiro, pizzabilar är trots allt något av det bästa och snabbaste man kan åka efter. Kurirerna är den samhällets svar på den täta trafiken: högteknologiska skateboard åkare som med en blandning av teknik, skilcklighet och dynamik kan dra nytta av den rörelseenergi som finns i trafiken och ta sig fram nästan var som helst. Den unga kurir som hängt efter Hiro heter Y.T. och tycker synd om Hiro när hon ser bilen sjunka ned i poolen. Hon vet att Uncle Enzo inte gillar när pizzor levereras för sent. Hon erbjuder sig att ta pizzan den sista biten och räddar ansiktet på maffian.

När jag började läsa boken, var jag hänförd av det färgsprakane och roliga språket. Allting är skrivet i presens och med en frihet som gör det till en ren läsglädje. Så småningom visar Neal Stephenson att han inte bara kan skriva intressant, utan att han också kan presentera en handling och ett innehåll som väl mäter sig med hans språkliga förmåga. På ett nästan otroligt sätt, lyckas han sammanfläta summeriska och bibliska myter med programmering och hackning och till råga på allt få det hela att ingå i en plan för att mer eller mindre ta över världen. Personerna som råkar ut för detta är givetvis en stor del av det hela och det är inte vilka personer som helst heller. Både Hiro och Y.T. är intressanta och välbeskrivna karaktärer, men det som imponerar mest är det djup Stephenson lyckas ge de karaktärer som bara är med under korta perioder.

Snow Crash får utan minsta tvekan fem sniglar och hamnar ganska högt upp på listan av bra Sci-Fi jag läst på sistone. Alla som är sugna på att läsa om en vrickad värld en bit in i framtiden, beskriven på ett nyskapande och fantastiskt sätt, bör läsa Snow Crash, för en bättre bok på det här temat har jag mycket svårt att föreställa mig!

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This year’s Hugo Award for best novel will soon be announced, so I thought I’d summarise my thoughts about the nominated novels. In case you’re not familiar with the Hugo Award, it’s one of two major science fiction and fantasy awards, awarded by the World Science Fiction Society (by popular vote at various conventions). You can read more about it here.

Below, I have written something about each of the five nominees and ordered them in the order I think they deserve to win, with the best novel first. We’ll know which novel actually won on August 20th, but if they deviate from my own opinion, they are of course wrong.

Update after the winner was revealed: I’m happy that N.K. Jemisin won the award. It was the only really good book on the list. Neal Stephenson’s would have been a contender if the last part had been transformed into a short epilogue, but the others don’t come close. The right book won!

N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin’s novel The Fight Season is nominated for a Hugo Award this year. I normally don’t read fantasy, but I thought this looked interesting and decided to have a go. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised and I found this book rather interesting.

The setting is a geologically very active super continent that undergoes cyclic cataclysms where life is about preparing for the next catastrophe. There is a mix of advanced technology from earlier, fallen civilisations and magic related to geological activity and heat.

The story is composed of three threads; three women experiencing a different part of the setting and a different stage of the approaching catastrophe. The narrative is well written, the characters believable and also quite interesting. The story itself is rather bleak and there’s plenty of oppression and tragedy involved, but not to excess.

I like a couple of things with this book. First, I like the concept of cyclical catastrophes that influences everything in the setting. Second, the story is well written using a device I have actually considered using myself at one point (spoiler: the three women are actually the same person at different times).

Do I think the book should win this year’s Hugo? I don’t know, yet, but it beats the only other nomination I’ve read so far, which is Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. Also worth noting is that three of the five nominees this year are women.

Neal Stephenson – Seveneves

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson explores a scenario I’ve been interested in for a long time. The basic idea is that the entire surface of the Earth will turn into an inferno for several thousand years, wiping out all life. Humanity gets about two years to prepare for survival in orbit.

The first part of the book focuses on humanity’s collective attempt to launch as many people and as much resources as possible into orbit, turning the ISS into the centre of a “cloud ark” meant to be self-sustaining and able to survive without any support from Earth. This is of course problematic, not only from an engineering perspective, but also from a political and social one. This part is great! The second part covers the time after the catastrophe and is good too.

The third part of the book takes place thousands of years later and is really bad; I seriously wish I had stopped after the second part. It feels pretty much like taking a good hard science-fiction novel (the first part) and sticking a mediocre far-future soft science-fiction novel to the end. It doesn’t work at all. I care neither for the characters nor the story. The third part should have been an epilogue, which would have chopped a few hundred pages off the book. That would have been no bad thing considering that the book is 880 pages long.

My suggestion: Read the first two parts. Then, regardless if you liked it or not, do not read the third part. Here’s what happens (spoiler): They find out that there were other projects apart from the cloud ark, including one to burrow deep into the mountains and one to survive deep in the oceans. All three succeeded and the third part is an extremely roundabout and boring way of saying that.

Ann Leckie – Ancillary Mercy

I have now finished Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. Overall, the books are competently written and worthwhile to read. The first book is significantly better than the following two, but far from awesome. To be honest, this feels much like Lois McMaster Bujold, just slightly worse and not as funny (there are some good parts though; I loved the translators). They might be fairly bad for non-initiated readers, so I only recommend the first book to people who already like reading space opera. For the rest of you, there are better books in this genre.

Jim Butcher – The Aeronaut’s Windlass

I’ve now finished The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher, which means that I have read all the nominees for this year’s Hugo Award for best novel. I’ll write something about my thoughts in general later; I’ll stick with this novel for now.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a strange hybrid of fantasy, steam punk and intelligent cats. While the world is not described in detail, it’s clear that the surface of the planet has been abandoned and that most people live in very tall towers, or spires, that were left behind by an earlier civilisation. As the title implies, airships of various kinds are central to both the plot and the setting.

It sort of works, but let’s start with the good things. The characters are interesting and mostly well-written. They are also varied and are reasonably well-connected to the story. I also like airships in general, although I like the magic aspect much less, especially on the personal level (they have gauntlets of some kind that can channel ethereal energy). The setting with an abandoned surface is also cool.

What doesn’t work is the narration. The entire book feels too much like an action TV-series with almost no time to breathe or build characters or setting. One climax has barely passed before the story rushes on to the next. Most chapters finish with cliffhangers that would have been more suitable in a periodical of some kind, but make for a very tiring experience in the long run. To put it bluntly, the pacing in this novel is awful. Furthermore, there’s nothing really ingenious or imaginative about the plot, and the novel probably fits into the category of things I could have written myself given enough time.

So, while I like steam punk, the setting and the characters, this is not a good novel. It would be great as a setting for table-top role-playing or similar though. I haven’t fully decided which book I think deserves this year’s Hugo, but I’m quite sure it’s not Jim Butecher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

I usually don’t read much fantasy, but this year I have decided to read all the nominations for the Hugo award for best novel, which includes both science fiction and fantasy. Uprooted by Naomi Novik definitely belongs to the second category.

The setting is small-scale fantasy heavily influenced by Slavic fairy tales. The main character grows up in a small valley where one girl every ten years is picked by the mysterious wizard living in an isolated nearby tower. She is picked because of her latent magical powers, and the rest of the story is about her finding out about these powers, the wizard, his tower and how they fight the dark forest threatening the country.

The book is interesting because of the somewhat unusual influences from Slavic fairy tales mentioned above, plus the setting itself. However, it’s also an example of why I don’t really like reading certain kinds of fantasy. Way too many pages are spent on describing magical battles or adventures that would work well in a film (which I think is planned), but don’t add much to a book. The book is fairly long, but the story would be very easy to summarise because so much time is spent on just describing what happens.

While I think the book was worthwhile, it’s far from the best of the nominees I’ve read so far. I only have one left now, which is The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher. I’ll try to summarise all the nominees once I have read the last one!

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I haven’t updated this site in a while, which is a pity, especially since I actually write things I could post here. To remedy this problem, here’s a round-up of all the novels I read up to this summer, excluding any novels that were nominated for the Hugo award since I’m going to write a separate post about that shortly. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve read recently (in chronological order):

Ann Leckie – Ancillary Sword
Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie – Ancillary Mercy

I have now finished Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. Overall, the books are competently written and worthwhile to read. The first book is significantly better than the following two, but far from awesome. To be honest, this feels much like Lois McMaster Bujold, just slightly worse and not as funny (there are some good parts though; I loved the translators). They might be fairly bad for non-initiated readers, so I only recommend the first book to people who already like reading space opera. For the rest of you, there are better books in this genre.

Mira Grant – Feed

I’ve now finished Feed by Mira Grant. It’s a well-written and fast-paced book about political intriguing in a zombie-ridden future version of the US, as observed by a team of bloggers covering the presidential race. I don’t really like zombies and I could get better intrigues elsewhere, so this isn’t my cup of tea, but if you do like zombies, this might be a good read. All three books in this series were nominated for Hugo awards, but none (rightfully in my opinion) won. I Am Legend remains the only zombie book I really like (or vampire book, or whatever).

Katherine Addison – The Goblin Emperor

I have now finished The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. It was a long time a go I read a “normal” fantasy novel (China Miéville doesn’t count as normal) and I sort of know why. Even though the book is fairly well written and carefully thought out, it simply didn’t appeal to me all that much. I do appreciate the fact that this is one novel, though, not a series, which is, sadly, rare nowadays.

The setting was well-depicted but not terribly interesting. The only thing that made the novel worthwhile was the fact that it was well executed. The characters were also rather good (as in realistic and interesting), except for the main character which was a little bit too good (as in not evil). I found the names almost impossible to keep up with, though, and the book just has too much made up language (including formality levels which don’t exist in English, but that were sort of covered by using old English pronouns).

So, overall, well-written, but not my cup of tea.

Kim Stanley Robinson – 2312

Some thoughts after reading 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson:

In general, I admire the author’s ability to mix science and fiction into novels that are surprisingly interesting to read. The Mars trilogy is a good example of this. I also think he’s pretty good at creating interesting characters and stories about them, as for example in The Years of Rice and Salt.

Therefore, I’m a bit disappointed with 2312. It contains a lot of science and a lot of fiction, but they feel disconnected. While interesting on their own, this feels more like a half-hearted novel interspersed with small speculative science essays. Even though the book is almost 600 pages long, it still feels like I didn’t get to know either the characters or the setting. The story feels much like an excuse to introduce the setting and is in itself rather boring.

I should perhaps say a few words about the book. The story takes place in 2312 as the title suggests, in a world where most of our solar system has terraformed or is in the process of being so. The plot focuses on a conspiracy that threatens mankind’s fragile existence outside Earth, and the efforts to reveal and thwart the conspirators. This sounds reasonably interesting, but the novel feels disconnected and therefore not very interesting.

Ian McDonald – River of Gods

I have now finished River of Gods by Ian McDonald. In short, it’s a science-fiction novel set in India one century after its independence from Great Britain. The story combines elements of a futuristic society (AI, nano technology, genetic engineering) with traditional Indian themes. The character gallery is diverse and interesting. The story appears fragmentary at first, but is tied together rather neatly. I liked this book a lot and I’m definitely going to read more by Ian McDonald. He’s very good at both describing society and the people living in it, not seldom making it both fun and interesting. If I were to liken him to other authors, I would choose William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and John Brunner.

Ian McDonald – Desolation Road

I decided to start reading Ian McDonald’s novels from the beginning, which means Desolation Road (1989). This is after being rather impressed by both River of Gods and Luna: New Moon (scroll down for my earlier ramblings). The novel starts with a certain Dr. Alimantando, student of the intricacies of time and space, who gets lost in the red deserts of terraformed Mars and founds a new settlement: Desolation Road.

Strange people get drawn to, arrive in or escape to or otherwise arrive in the settlement. The narrative quickly spirals out of control, including side stories about the world’s best snooker player, a guitarist capable of channelling demonic forces through his electric guitar, a corporate worker slowly advancing through the ranks of his company by replacing everyone under him with robots, a little green man who may or may not be real, and, for some reason, Glenn Miller. It all tied together in the end, somehow, so it’s not really a short story collection, but could have been.

This is magic realism on Mars, probably with a seasoning of some hallucinogenic drug. On the whole, it’s very entertaining, quite chaotic and a bit too long. Desolation Road didn’t feel similar to either River of Gods or Luna: New Moon. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but it was entertaining throughout. Next on the list: Out on Blue Six.

Ian McDonald – Out on Blue Six

More Ian McDonald! Out on Blue Six is the weirdest book I’ve read in a while and reading it felt a little bit like reading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. It has the same I-have-no-idea-what-the-hell-is-going-on-but-I-sort-of-like-it feeling.

The story is set in a distant future in the Compassionate Society, where computers force everybody to be happy by pairing them up with the right partner, shepherding them into the right career (one that makes you happy, that is) and so on. It’s just that not everybody is happy. Some people want a little bit of anarchy, some people want to break the rules. This is what the story is about, or at least where it starts. Then down the rabbit hole it goes and it’s extremely hard to summarise what happens next, but it contains the King of Nebraska, angels, a teleporting woman with a cybernetic cat, judgement day (literally) and lots of raccoons.

Unfortunately, the book suffers from the same problem as Gravity’s Rainbow does: I don’t really care about what happens, neither with the main characters nor with the plot. Since Pynchon’s language is extremely entertaining to read, I still liked Gravity’s Rainbow, but while this book is entertaining, it fails to be anything more than that. I have a feeling that I won’t remember anything about this book five years from now, whereas many parts of Gravity’s Rainbow are still with me, even though it was seven years ago I read it.

Ian McDonald – Chaga

I’ve now finished Chaga by Ian McDonald (Evolution’s Shore in the US). After having read a couple of his earlier, rather bizarre novels, this one is much more serious and feels comparable to the later novels that I liked a lot.

This novel is the first in a trilogy focusing on Kenya and the impact on the country and its people when alien life starts spreading from a crash site on Kilimanjaro.

In short, the novel is fairly interesting and rather brutal, but not as sophisticated as his later novels. One thing I didn’t like in particular was that the book almost felt like it could have ended after about two thirds, and the remaining third didn’t feel interesting enough.

While I don’t regret that I read the novel, it’s still not as good as either the later novels written in a similar style, also about emerging economies (India, Brazil, the Moon) or the earlier, more freaked out ones. I will probably not read the remaining two books in the trilogy. I am, however, looking forward to the sequel of Luna: New Moon, which is projected for a release later this year.

Charles Stross – Neptune’s Brood

I’m done with Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross, having previously read Saturn’s Children (which is completely unrelated story-wise, but takes place in the same universe). Neptune’s Brood is actually far better than the previous one, so I recommend anyone interested in Charles Stross to read this one instead.

The story is complex and revolves around an interstellar banking fraud of epic proportions. The main character is drawn into the intrigue, first mostly as a scholar of interstellar banking frauds, but as the plot thickens, she turns out to have a much more involved role than that of a random bystander. The novel contains a few really entertaining characters, is generally well-written and overall a better story than Saturn’s Children.

The setting is post-human space where androids and other life-forms have supplanted mankind, but where things still work much the way they would if humans were still around, except on a bigger scale. While interesting, the setting is not the main attraction here, the characters, the storytelling and the plot are. The novel was shortlisted for the Hugo Award in 2014.

James S.A. Corey – Leviathan’s Wake

I just finished James S.A. Corey’s book Leviathan Wakes, a novel that felt very interesting while immersed in it, but which does appear a bit bleak in retrospect. I think this might be at least partly because the book has some appealing points, such as great characters and dialogue, but lack something that makes it interesting in the long-term.

I don’t feel like summarizing the plot, but we’re talking about fairly realistic and sometimes brutal interplanetary science fiction with lots of space ships and stations. The book is character-focused and with interesting characters in general, this makes it a good read. However, I don’t feel it’s good enough to continue reading the series (this is the first book in a series called The Expanse).

James S.A. Corey – Abaddon’s Gate
James S.A. Corey – Caliban’s War

Against better judgement (see my previous review), I have now read two more books in The Expanse series, which brings me to a total of three. I decided to keep reading after I watched the TV series, which was better than expected.

However, I must say my initial judgement was accurate. While there are entertaining characters and sometimes interesting plot elements and a well-written setting, the overall story lacks something. I’m still not sure what it is, but the overall story just feels unsatisfactory to me. I probably need to think about this, but it seems the plot is too superficial and works mostly like an action movie.

I would give the latter two books perhaps 3/5, so they might still be worth reading if you really liked the first book. If you found the first book fairly good but not excellent, then that’s probably enough. Do watch the TV series though! Looking forward to season two. But I’ve read enough in this series. Any suggestions for what to read next? More Charles Stross is high on my list.

Charles Stross – The Family Trade

After having read two books by Charles Stross (Saturn’s Children and Neptune’s Brood; I highly recommend the latter), he has established himself as a very intelligent author capable of writing intriguing stories populated by interesting characters. I selected The Family Trade as my third book more or less randomly, which might have been a mistake.

The book is parallel-worlds fantasy (modern US with some kind of medieval alternate history were the Vikings has colonised America). While he does some interesting things with the “world walking” itself, as well as some interesting things with the settings, I’m not impressed at all. As is the case in Neptune’s Brood, economics plays a certain role, but ignoring that and some of the violence, this novel feels like something Stross would have written when he was 20 (he was 40 when the book was published). It’s also the first book in a long series and there’s very little chance I will continue with it. Definitely not my cup of tea!

Charles Stross – Accelerando

Accelerando by Charles Stross is one of those books that it’s really hard to wrap your head around to write a review. It’s a chaotic collection of short stories that are sometimes hard to follow but great at least some of the time. They describe the transition from a modern society (or a parallel version of it at least) to a post-human technological singularity through the eyes of three generations (before, during and after the singularity).

After the first few pages, my expectations for the rest of the book sky-rocketed, but I must say that the rest didn’t really impress as much. While some concepts and the language never become boring, the book simply isn’t coherent enough to work well as a whole.

One criteria I think is interesting to evaluate when reviewing books is if, in theory, I could have written the book myself. Accelerando places itself very firmly in the “no way what so ever” category, much more so that most other science fiction I read. It’s not only the way Stross writes (which is probably the main reason for reading the book), but the audacity and scope of the imagination on display here.

If you’ve read this far and think this sounds cool, you should give this book a try. I expect people who won’t like the book stopped reading after the first paragraph, so no reason to tell them to avoid it.

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William Gibson – Zero History

This is the last book in the trilogy about Blue Ant which started with Pattern Recognition. While the first two books were only loosely connected, this final and third book is more like a continuation of Spook Country, with mostly the same characters. Gibson is very reliable and this book is as good as the others in this trilogy. If you’ve read the others and like the style, read this one too.

James Blish – A Case of Conscience

I had a project a few years ago to read all novels that have won the Hugo Award, but it failed because I couldn’t find two of the older books that were out of print. I finally got my hands on this novel by James Blish, which turned out to be a bit disappointing. I never really understood the case of conscience that gives the book its title, or I did understand it but simply didn’t find it interesting enough. Still well-written and interesting for other reasons, but perhaps a deeper knowledge of theology is a prerequisite to really like the book. Apparently, it was first published as a novella and later extended to a novel, perhaps it ought to have stayed in its shorter form.

William Gibson – Virtual Light
William Gibson – Idoru
William Gibson – All Tomorrow’s Parties

Having finished Zero History, I didn’t feel that I had read enough of William Gibson just yet. His style is refreshing, the characters interesting, the setting fascinating and… well, I could go on, but let’s just say I wanted more of Gibson. The setting of this trilogy is the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge after a devastating earthquake. The bridge has been abandoned by the authorities and replaced by a anarchic society of ordinary people, criminals and outcasts.

Chevette Washington, a bicycle messenger living on the Bridge, who gets into a lot of trouble for stealing a strange pair of high-tech googles (the young messenger girl feels very similar to Y.T. in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which was published two years before Virtual Light). Rent-a-cop Berry Rydell is at the same time hired to retrieve the very same glasses, but of course it turns out that much more powerful elements are involved.

In Idoru, the story moves on to the virtual (digital) Japanese superstar Rei Toei, who has recently made the headlines because rock star Rez wants to marry her. This doesn’t go down too well with the Rez fan club and Chia is sent to Japan to find out the truth about her idol.

The bigger plot is then wrapped up in All Tomorrow’s Parties as the story returns to the Bridge and Chevette and Rydell. Most of the loose threads are tied together, including the idoru (Rei Toei) and a Taoist philosopher-assassin.

Throughout the trilogy, Gibson shows that he was a competent writer two decades ago as well, even though I must say I think that he has developed a lot as an author and his later novels are better. This trilogy is still a great read, though. Gibson is really, really good at creating great settings and populate them with interesting characters. He’s also witty and a joy to read in general.

The only novels left now are The Difference Engine (1990) and The Peripheral (2014).

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Neal Stephenson – Quicksilver

The first book I read by Neal Stephenson was Snow Crash and I have since re-read it once in English and once in Chinese. His other books have been good, but far from awesome, so I was a bit sceptical when I started reading Quicksilver. It’s a real brick of a book, almost a thousand pages, mostly set in 17th century Europe and focusing on different themes such as natural philosophy and politics. The novel is, as far as I can tell, well researched and feels genuine. It’s written in a myriad of different styles and highly digressive, reminiscent of Thomas Pynchon, but slightly more readable (although not necessarily better). The book is divided into three sections and if all were as good as the second part, this would be a really good read, but now it just feels too long. I might consider reading the two other novels in this series later.

陈忠实 – 白鹿原

This 1993 novel is very popular and I decided to listen to it, without having read it before and without any support. The story is about two clans on the “white dear plain”, their rivalry and internal conflicts. It spans several decades, witnessing the fall of the Qing dynasty, the civil war and the rise of modern China. To be honest, listening to literary Chinese read with fervour requires full concentration from me and I still missed quite a lot. I can’t really comment in detail what I thought about the book, but it did made me realise that listening to novels in Chinese is very hard. When reading, it’s relatively easy to guess

Göran Hägg – Nya författarskolan

An interesting and well-written book about writing novels. The book mostly consists of loosely strung together articles, often just a few pages long, about a wide range of topics related to writing novels and being an author by profession. I don’t think I learnt much about writing novels from this book, but it did spark my interest to actually finish some of the projects I’ve been working on. I recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about writing fiction.

Gellert Tamas – Lasermannen: En berättelse om Sverige

I picked up this book mostly because it was mentioned in Göra Hägg’s book reviewed above as a good example of how different perspectives and time frames can be used to tell an interesting story. I wasn’t disappointed. The book is about one of Sweden’s most infamous serial killers, and even though it takes the shape of a novel, the book is actually an historical account based on a large number of interviews and other documents. This way of presenting the data is very effective and as interesting to read as any thriller.

Olle Engstrand -Hur låter svenskan, ejengklien?

I have all my phonetics training in Chinese (and some in English) so reading about Swedish pronunciation is very interesting. As the title implies, the focus of the book, at least the earlier chapters, is how Swedish is actually pronounced (as compared to orthography, how the sounds are spelt). This differs a lot from what most people think (including myself, sometimes). Still, the book then spends a lot of time talking about subjects I’m less interested in, such as various dialects and historical development. Still a good read on the whole.

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Last week, I wrote an article about a reading plan for taking my Chinese to the next level. In order to have a clearer starting point and allow others to understand better what I’m doing and how things are going, this article details all books I’ve read in Chinese so far. I will keep it updated as I read more books.

The following list consists of all books I’ve read in Chinese so far. I have only included…

  • …books written for native speakers
  • …books not written for children
  • …books I’ve read from cover to cover

That means that I haven’t included dozens of textbooks for foreigners, untold numbers of newspaper articles, papers, theses and so on, neither have I included books for children or other learning materials which aren’t aimed towards adults. I might have forgotten a book or two, but this list should be almost complete (with approximate dates). In case I have written something about my experience reading the book, I have provided a link.

Naturally, there’s a huge difference in time spent per book. 《實用現代漢語語法》is 500+ pages of grammar and probably took ten times longer to read than《茫點》, which is a fairly short and easy-to-read novel. Even though my own Chinese ability also influences speed, I would argue that the main reason I didn’t read more earlier is simply because…. I didn’t read. Obviously, reading《潰雪》(that’s Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson) in 2011 took some serious time and I could have read at least five easier novels in that time, but this isn’t important.

Regardless of how I measure reading in Chinese, the measurement is going to be crude and I’m fine with that. Book length and complexity probably balances out in the end anyway.

Books I’ve read in Chinese so far (2013-12-14):

  • 2010-07:《孔子的部落格》 陳峰、夢亦非
  • 2010-09:銀河公民》 羅伯特·海萊因
  • 2011-02:《鍊金術士》 保羅·科而賀
  • 2011-04:《世界大戰》 H.G.威爾斯
  • 2011-11:《潰雪》 尼爾·史蒂芬森
  • 2012-03:《華語文教學規範與理論基礎》 葉德明
  • 2012-06:《空想科學》 柳田理科雄
  • 2012-08:《漢語語法:修訂版》 李納、湯姆遜
  • 2012-11::犀照》 倪匡
  • 2013-01:《天觀雙俠》 鄭丰
  • 2013-01:《華語語音學》 葉德明
  • 2013-02:《實用現代漢語語法》 劉月華、潘文娛、故辭
  • 2013-02:《跟狗狗一起學物理》 查德·歐澤
  • 2013-02:茫點》 倪匡
  • 2013-03:《三體》 劉慈欣
  • 2013-03: 《漢語音韻》 耿志堅
  • 2013-04:《世界之眼(上)》 羅伯特·喬丹
  • 2013-05:《世界之眼(下)》 羅伯特·喬丹
  • 2013-05:《謝謝你離開我》 張小嫻
  • 2013-06:《大狩獵(上)》 羅伯特·喬丹
  • 2013-07:《大狩獵(下)》 羅伯特·喬丹
  • 2013-08:《在世界盡頭遇見台灣》 羅聿
  • 2013-09:《活著》 余華
  • 2013-09:《漢字書法之美》 蔣勳
  • 2013-09:《黑天鵝語錄》 納西姆·尼可拉斯·塔雷伯
  • 2013-10:《老子的部落格》 曹鴻濤
  • 2013-10:《真龍轉生(上)》 羅伯特·喬丹
  • 2013-11:《真龍轉生(下)》 羅伯特·喬丹
  • 2013-11:《飢餓遊戲》 蘇珊·柯林斯
  • 2013-11:《空想科學読本(2)》 柳田理科雄
  • 2013-11:《棋王》 阿城
  • 2013-12:《星火燎原》 蘇珊·柯林斯
  • 2013-12:《科幻世界的哲學凝視》 陳瑞麟
  • 2013-12:《空想科學読本(3)》 柳田理科雄
  • 2014-01:《闇影濺起(上)》 羅伯特·喬丹
  • 2014-02:《闇影濺起(中)》 羅伯特·喬丹
  • 2014-03:《李家同》 幕永不落下
  • 2014-04:《語音學教程》 林燾、王理嘉
  • 2014-05:《闇影濺起(下)》 羅伯特·喬丹
  • 2014-05:《那些年,我們一起追的女孩》九把刀
  • 2014-06:《華語表達的態與藝:華語正音與表達》 葉德明
  • 2014-08:《病毒》 蔡駿
  • 2015-03:《白鹿原》 陳忠實

Books I’m currently reading:

  • 《蟻生》 王晉康
  • 《天光之火(上)》 羅伯特·喬丹

2013-03-21 update

As you can see, I’m well on my towards reading 25 books this year. I have already read six books so far, which is almost equal to the number of books I read in 2011 and 2012 combined. If we extrapolate this number, I will end up with 25-30 books before the end of 2013.

If I keep that going, I will reach 100 books in about three years. Of course, steadily improving reading speed should increase the number of books, but there will inevitably be periods when I read less, which cancels out any speed improvements. I will update this article whenever I finish reading a book, although I might not write reviews of all the books I read.

2013-09-19 update

Apparently, I didn’t read as much as I planned to during summer, so I’m somewhat behind schedule. Considering that I read one extra book early, only started falling behind in June. Providing that I read one more book this month, I will be three books behind schedule (or four since the goal is actually 25 this year, not 24 or two books per month). That’s quite a lot considering that I still read fairly slowly. Still, I have some interesting books available and I’m sure I can find the time. I haven’t given up yet, 25 books is still within reach!

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Title: The Steep Approach to Garbadale
Author: Iain Banks
Year: 2007

There are two kinds of authors I admire: those who can write about something fairly mundane and making it interesting anyway (e.g. Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway), and those whose strength mainly comes from brilliant ideas (e.g. Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson). Up until reading The Wasp Factory, Ian Banks was firmly in the latter category, but that novel together with The Steep approach to Garbadale put the author in the unique position of straddling both categories. He is, on the one hand, able to write epic science-fiction novels teeming with ingenious ideas and beautifully laid out plots, but on the other hand, he’s also fully capable of writing about quite normal people and their lives.

The events depicted in The Steep Approach to Garbadale have nothing to do with the far-flung weirdness of Look to Windward or any other of Bank’s science fiction. It’s simply a story about the Wupold family, the world-famous originators of the board game “Empire!”, which has evolved over the years and made the family extremely rich. As the story begins, an American corporation wants to buy the company, and Alban McGill, even though he has previously sold most of his shares, sets out on a quest to stop the take over.

This novel is about much more than that, though. Primarily, it’s about Alban himself, his adolescent romantic relationship to his cousin Sophie, his adult search for meaning and his desire to know more about his mysterious background. The story is told mostly through the eyes of Alban, but there are lots of exceptions. Flashbacks are very common and the chronology is far from straightforward. In all, the picture that emerges is complex, deep and credible.

By way of introduction, I said that Banks straddles the two categories of being able to write about the normal as well as the speculative or extraordinary. The Steep Approach to Garbadale is a really good novel, but perhaps it’s a little bit too mundane. The characters are interesting and Banks’ way of writing about them (especially dialogue) is stunning as usual, but that cannot entirely make up for the fact that the basic story isn’t that original and not that exciting. However, I still think this novel is good enough to merit four snails; it definitely proves that Banks is an author of singular talent. What I would like to see now is the perfect mixture of Banks’s realistic side and his speculative side, because even though such a combination is perhaps paradoxical, if he succeeds, such a novel certainly has the potential of being among the best I’ve ever read.

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Note: This is my old 101-in-1001 list that was started in 2005. I launched another one in 2010, so the old list has been moved to this post to make room for the new one. I finished about three fourths of this list and some of the things I accomplished I’m still proud of today. A handful of unfinished tasks on this list also made their way to the new list.

Click here to go to the new 101-in-1001 list launched in September 2010!

The 101-in-1001 list

This project was started by Triplux and I came to know about it via Kendoka.se and Yasylum. At first I thought it was rather silly, but I soonI started compiling my own list. For various reasons, this project was put on ice at the end of 2008 and its fate is as yet undetermined, even though it seems likely I will eventually complete, if not all, then most tasks on the list.

The mission

Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days. My mission will end on New Year’s Eve 2008. The tasks should me as unambiguous as possible, although I have diverted from this in some cases where it is utterly impossible to assess a clear goal. 1001 days is long enough to accomplish some of the more demanding tasks on the list and 101 tasks seems to be about as many good ideas as I can come up with. My intention is to give each task a solid try and I my goal is to complete all of them, make no mistake about that.

I also intend update the list and write about the projects (a list of published articles can be found here). By doing this, I put pressure on my self but I also hope that I can inspire other people to do things they want to.

– A task that I have not started

– A task that I have started but not completed

– A task that I have completed

– A task that I have failed with

Personal development

001 – Attend a first-aid course
002 – Spend 25 hours studying anatomy (16/25)
003 – Find out what is wrong with my back
004 – Learn to drive a car (I’m not allowed a license due to poor eye-sight)
005 – Create a character sheet describing myself in detail
006 – Send a photo of myself to random people and ask them to describe what kind of person I am
007 – Meditate 25 times (2/25)
008 – Write 25 private diary entries (12/25))
009 – Spend 50 hours learning to draw (12/50)
010 – Identify 100 things that make me happy
011 – Spend 25 hours researching sleeping and dreaming (15/25)
012 – Write an article about sleeping
013 – Have unscathed fingers for a month (started 08/08/10)

Professional development

014 – Record an audio book in English (Stardust chosen)
015 – Learn and write about the five top origins of migration to sweden
016 – Get the three remaining points from my psychology education
017 – Write five serious articles in English

1. Listening to audio books
2. Why I dislike long novels
3. The illusory choice of postponement
4. Relieving a burdened mind
5. Quo vadis, Taiwan?

018 – Make a list of 1001 words in English and learn them (list compiled)
019 – Make a list of 1001 Chinese characters and learn them
020 – Finish “SprÃ¥ket i mittens rike” by Jonas Björklund
021 – Learn Zhuyin fuhao
022 – Get 2.0 on the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test (need not to be formal due to the cost)

Physical development and activities

023 – Swim 10 000 metres in 4 hours
024 – Do one-and-a-half forward somersaults with one twist
025 – Run 42 kilometres
026 – Submit myself to a health examination
027 – Complete one serious exercise program (at least one month)
028 – Manage a free handstand for one minute
029 – Do 25 chin-ups
030 – Hike 50 kilometres with a 10-kilo rucksack in one day
031 – Walk 100 metres on my hands (63 record)
032 – Learn to orient
033 – Stretch after all physical activity for a month
034 – Buy a high-quality rucksack for hiking
035 – Try 5 different new sporting activities

1. Trampoline
2. Diving
3. Scuba diving
4. Unicycling
5. Volleyball

Reading

036 – Have read a total of 10 books by Philip K. Dick

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
2. The Man in the High Castle
3. A Scanner Darkly
4. Ubik
5. Galactic Pot-healer
6. Martian Time-Slip
7. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
8. A Maze of Death
9. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
10. The Father-thing

037 – Have read a total of 5 books by Ray Bradbury

1. Fahrenheit 451
2. The Day it Rained Forever
3. S is for Space
4. Something Wicked This Way Comes
5. From the Dust Returned

038 – Have read a total of 5 books by Neil Gaiman

1. American Gods
2. Coraline
3. Good Omens
4. Stardust
5. Neverwhere

039 – Read 10 works by Nobel Prize winners

1. Harry Martinson – Aniara
2. George Bernard Shaw – Pygmalion
3. Gabriel Garcia Marquez РHundra ̴r av ensamhet
4. Albert Camus – L’étranger
5. Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises
6. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
7. Gao Xingjian – One Man’s Bible
8. Eyvind Johnson РDr̦mmar om rosor och eld
9. Orhan Pamuk – Snow
10. Doris Lessing – The Grass is Singing

040 – Read 10 books in Swedish

1. Harry Martinson – Aniara
2. Gabriel Garcia Marquez РHundra ̴r av ensamhet
3. Albert Camus – FrÀmlingen
4. Tove Janson – Pappan och havet
5. Catharina Lillieh̦̦k РMei wenti!
6. Wu Chen’en – FÀrden till VÀstern, del 1, Den gyllene cikadan
7. Hjalmar Șderberg РDoktor Glas
8. Michail Bulgakov – MÀstaren och Margarita
9. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – En dag i Ivan Denisovitjs liv
10. Vilhelm Moberg – Rid i natt!

041 – Read ten different comics

1. The Sandman
2. Hellboy
3. Watchmen
4. The Authority
5. WE3
6. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
7. Sleeper – Out in the Cold
8. The Books of Magic
9. Kid Eternity
10. The Filth

042 – Read a book in French
043 – Read all Hugo Award winning novels (47/55)

2008. Michael Chabon – The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.
2007. Vernor Vinge – Rainbows End
2006. Robert Charles Wilson – Spin
2005. Susanna Clarke – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel
2004. Lois McMaster Bujold – Paladin of Souls
2003. Robert J. Sawyer – Hominids
2002. Neil Gaiman – American Gods
2001. J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
2000. Vernor Vinge – A Deepness in the Sky
1999. Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog
1998. Joe Haldeman – Forever Peace
1997. Kim Stanley Robinson – Blue Mars
1996. Neal Stephenson – The Diamond Age
1995. Lois McMaster Bujold – Mirror Dance
1994. Kim Stanley Robinson – Green Mars
1993 a. Vernor Vinge – A Fire Upon the Deep
1993 b. Connie Willis – Doomsday Book
1992. Lois McMaster Bujold – Barrayar
1991. Lois McMaster Bujold – The Vor Game
1990. Dan Simmons – Hyperion
1989. C.J. Cherryh – Cyteen
1988. David Brin – The Uplift War
1987. Orson Scott Card – Speaker for the Dead
1986. Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game
1985. William Gibson – Neuromancer
1984. David Brin – Startide Rising
1983. Isaac Asimov – Foundation’s Edge
1982. C.J. Cherryh – Downbelow Station
1981. Joan D. Vinge – The Snow Queen
1980. Arthur C. Clarke – The Fountains of Paradise
1979. Vonda McIntyre – Dreamsnake
1978. Fredrik Pohl – Gateway
1977. Kate Wilhelm – Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
1976. Joe Haldeman – The Forever War
1975. Ursula K. Le Guin – The Dispossessed
1974. Arthur C. Clarke – Rendez-vous With Rama
1973. Isaac Asimov – The Gods Themselves
1972. Philip Jos Farmer – To Your Scattered Bodies Go
1971. Larry Niven – Ringworld
1970. Ursula K. Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness
1969. John Brunner – Stand on Zanzibar
1968. Roger Zelazny – Lord of Light
1967 a). Frank Herbert – Dune
1967 b). Robert A. Heinlein – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
1966. Roger Zelazny – This Imortal
1965. Fritz Leiber – The Wanderer
1964. Clifford D. Simak – Way Station
1963. Philip K. Dick – The Man in the High Castle
1962. Robert A. Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land
1961. Walter M. Miller, Jr. – A Canticle for Leibowitz
1960. Robert A. Heinlein – Starship Troopers
1959. James Blish – A Case of Conscience
1958. Fritz Leiber – The Big Time
1957. No Hugo Award
1956. Robert A. Heinlein – Double Star
1955. Mark Clifton, Frank Riley – They’d Rather Be Right
1954. No Hugo Award
1953. Alfred Bester – The Demolished Man

044 – Buy a really good book and pass it on to someone, so that he or she can pass it on when they have read it
045 – Read the Bible
046 – Read the Quran
047 – Read John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Writing

048 – Finish my RPG Magneter och mirakel
049 – Finish my freelancing project “Tornet mot Stjrnorna”
050 – Write a novel (first chapter written)
051 – Write fiction in English
052 – Write an article on the strategy of Carcassonne
053 – Write an article about one-eyed vision
054 – Write an article about audio books
055 – Write five short stories (1)

Computer activity

056 – Reorganise www.snigel.nu
057 – Complete the missing sections on Snigel.nu
058 – Get detailed statistics working for Snigel.nu
059 – Review all books read and all movies watched during the period
060 – Make my contribution to the new Rollspel.nu version
061 – Change and organise passwords and logins
062 – Go through and sort all personal files
063 – 500 characters per minute for two minutes
064 – Make someone change from Qwerty to Dvorak
065 – Buy a scanner
066 – One week without using a computer

Media consumption

067 – Watch the top 100 movies on IMDB (33/100
068 – Watch 5 movies from each continent

Africa
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
Asia
1. Cowboy Bebop: The Movie
2. Kiki’s Delivery Service
3. NausicaÀ of the Valley of the Wind
4. Grave of the Fireflies
5. Howl’s Moving Castle
Europe
1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
2. Asterix tolv stordåd
3. Snatch
4. Educating Rita
5. A Clockwork Orange
North America
1. Gattaca
2. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
3. I, Robot
4. The Shawshank Redemption
5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Oceania
1. Whale Rider
2. Mad Max
3.
4.
5.
South America
1. City of God
2.
3.
4.
5.

069 – Watch 10 movies by Hayao Miyazaki

1. Spirited Away
2. My Neighbor Totoro
3. Princess Mononoke
4. Laputa: Castle in the Sky
5. Kiki’s Delivery Service
6. Nausicaaa of the Valley of the Wind
7. Howl’s Moving Castle
8. The Castle of Cagliostro
9. Porco Rosso
10. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

070 – Watch 5 movies in Mandarin Chinese

1. The Emperor and the Assassin
2. Warriors of Heaven and Earth
3. Raise the Red Lantern
4. Curse of the Golden Flower
5. Cape No. 7

071 – Buy something from Hans-Werner Sahm
072 – Compile a “best of Snigel” CD and trade it with 10 others for their favourite music
073 – Watch a movie at the cinema

Everyday life

074 – Change one aspect of my appearance
075 – Manage my economy without borrowing any money (looking good)
076 – Cook 50 new dishes (25/50)
077 – Analyse what I eat for a week
078 – Use dental floss every day for a month (2007-09-24)
079 – Throw, give away or store everything I do not need
080 – Assemble a digital address book
081 – Actually get up when the alarm sounds in the morning for one month
082 – Learn to sleep comfortably on my back
083 – Donate blood
084 – Exercise Nei Kung in the morning before breakfast for one month
085 – Collect images, quotes or scraps and put them on display (44/100)
086 – Organise and catalogue all my books
087 – Backup, sort and reorganise all my audio books
088 – Backup, sort and reorganise all my music
089 – Get some fancy business cards
090 – Buy a pair of high-quality boots

Experience and play

091 – Spend a week alone away from civilization
092 – Watch a full sunrise or sunset
093 – Spend one day blindfolded
094 – Solve Rubik’s Cube in one minute
095 – Build and fly a kite
096 – Watch a candle burn down
097 – Play marbles
098 – Participate in a total of 250 sessions of Antioch

Meta

099 – Publish something about each task on the list
100 – Get someone to start a list of their own
101 – Write a concluding essay on the subject of this list

My project will end on New Year’s Eve (December 31st) 2008.
It is left.

I have 27 more things to do.