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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Review: Serpent

Why no real cover?

The adventure novel Serpent by Clive Cussler follows the underwater specialist Kurt Austin in his investigation of the murder of archaeologists. What were they about to find that would require their death?

Ah, I love adventure novels. And I like Cussler a lot. Sadly, this one was a bit too prototypical. Kurt Austin is the hero, physically strong and fit, knows everything, can do everything−a bit boring as a character. Additionally, the story reminded me a bit of Cussler's Fargo novel Lost Empire, even though the quality of the storytelling here is far less developed. I suppose Cussler just re-used information from his investigations in the Fargo book.

All in all, a pretty average adventure novel with all the stereotypical requirements from uber-hero to the damsel in distress fulfilled. If you’re looking for a quick read and can live with these problems, the book isn’t a bad choice at all.

Book Review: The Rivers of London (Trilogy)

The Rivers of London
Why no real cover?

In the humorous trilogy The Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, we can follow the adventures of Peter Grant, apprentice in the last department for magical events of the London Metropolitan Police. Caught between a police force that does not want to hear about magic any more than they have to and a superior office who is stuck in the 40s, Grant is drawn to adventures with river gods and decade-old wraiths.

The trilogy is a fast read and full of dry, British humor. Prejudices flow freely, which is a bit amusing but can go too far for my taste. For example, in the first book, Detective Seargeant Stephanopoulos is described as a woman you do not mess with, a strong woman with short hair, stocky, etc.—“a typical lesbian.” That’s just one example of where the usually good humor just goes too far. Stephanopoulos has a come-back in the second book, making her much more likable, though.

The second book was by far the best in my opinion. The author even managed an ending that really got under my skin, something I didn’t quite expect in such humorous novels. All in all, a good choice for a quick, funny read.

Book Review: The Whale Road

The Whale Road
Why no real cover?

The historical novel The Whale Road by Robert Low tells the first adventure of Orm the bear-slayer. Intrigues at home force young Orm to join the band of oathsworn under Einar the Black. After some fights, the oathsworn learn about the legendary hoard of Attila the Hun. A quest for riches begins.

The Whale Road is the first novel in the Oathsworn series. While the plot itself is fictitious, most of the little everyday tidbits in the book give a good impression of life in viking times. The book does end with a word from the author about what historically inaccuracies he built into the plot to make it a good story, something I have come to expect of good historical novels. Still, I am somewhat unsure about the accuracy of the book.

The author seemed a bit confused with his protagonist. On one hand, he tries to make Orm into some kind of anti-hero. The story his early fame is based on is a lie, and in general, he’s more lucky than skillful in solving the problems he faces, which he usually solves only barely. On the other hand, Orm is a real prodigy. He can pick up languages really fast by just listening to a few sentences, he knows mathematics and trade, and in his youth, he learned climbing, horse breeding, swimming, Latin, Finnish, and a few other things, all so well they impress others. These two extremes of the characterization of Orm just don’t mix well.

All in all, though, this was a rather enjoyable read. The feeling of a rough band of vikings comes across really well, so I can recommend it to people who like historical novels in Viking times, especially if they can live with some inaccuracies.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Introduction to Economics: Bubbles and Crashes

With the recent world-wide economical crisis and discussions surrounding the crisis and possible political reactions to it, I have noticed that those discussions often fail because of very different understandings of the economics involved. This post is my attempt to write down my own understanding of the economical background of both the cause of economical crises as well as the possible reactions of politics to them.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Buchrezension: Schlangenkopf

Warum kein richtiges Cover?

Im Politik-Krimi Schlangenkopf setzt Ulrich Ritzel die Geschichte des Privatdetektivs Hans Bendorf fort. Ein Junge klaut eine Jacke und wird kurz darauf überfahren – es scheint eine vorsätzliche Tat gewesen zu sein, jedoch lag wohl eine Verwechslung vor. Da die Polizei merkwürdig wenig Elan an den Tag legt ermittelt Bendorf, und wird in einen Sumpf aus Intrigen um den Bundestag gezogen.

Mein erstes Buch aus der Bendorf-Reihe, und ein Grund, den Rest gleich auf meine Leseliste zu setzen. Die Charaktere sind menschlich und dicht, und wenn der Autor zwischen den Perspektiven wechselt merkt man das bereits am Schreibstil. Ein fünfzehnjähriger Junge sieht die Welt nunmal anders und auch etwas einfacher als ein sechzigjähriger Privatdetektiv, und Ulrich Ritzel kann dies wunderschön zwischen den Zeilen vermitteln.

Zudem war ich recht angetan von der Art, wie hier auch weibliche Charaktere vollkommen natürlich und ganz ohne aufgesetzte Geschlechterrollen in die Geschichte passen. Danke dafür!

Für Freunde von Politik-Krimis eine gute Wahl.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Problems of the German Income Tax System

The German income tax law is very complicated. While it is almost required of a modern citizen in a western country to complain about their respective tax system, in Germany even the tax agency agrees. The control organization is warning about how the checks on tax declarations are completely insufficient and have a large error rate, endangering tax fairness. And the officials employed at the tax agency are complaining that there are so many changes to the regulations all the time that they just can’t keep up, and even if they do, the law text is written in such a complicated way that even they don’t understand it.

That is pretty bad. So, what’s the problem?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Book Review: Sworn Brother

Sworn Brother
Why no real cover?

The historical novel Sworn Brother by Tim Severin continues the tale of Thorgils as he travels through the viking world. The backdrop of the book is his friendship with Grettir, who becomes his sworn brother, but he still visits places from Iceland to Finland and even Constantinople.

As with the first part of the book, the book is more of a collection of loosely connected tales than one big story. And the main purpose of the individual stories is not so much to describe the development of a character, but to relate the realities of a world long gone. In this, the book is a textbook on the viking age masquerading as a saga.

I suspect if you do not like this kind of book, the lack of character development will put you off. While characters are not particularly thin, few of them are deep with a rich personality. On the other hand, if you are looking for a historical novel on the viking age, go for this series.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

One who went to become a pirate

A few months back, the German Pirate Party had some sort of breakthrough. After winning a few local elections, they suddenly soared up in polls, hitting 13% at their prime. This shook a number of people out of their political slumber—myself included. Suddenly, the seemingly so deadlocked political landscape was shaken up. Maybe, just maybe, we can actually change something?

This is the story of one who went to become a pirate.