Cory Doctorow – Radicalized

Got this one as a Christmas gift from a good friend of mine and its a very good read.

In 4 short stories Cory shows brief glimpses into small aspects of a possible future. The first story deals with internet-of-things, humans dependency on machines and ways to individually solve problems with such machines and the (corporate) mechanisms behind it. The third story deals with radicalization in internet filter bubbles. And the second one is a completely hilarious thing: The world from behind the eyes of Superman, dealing with racism, police violence and control of the mass by elites. I only started the fourth one before something else took my mind, so I can´t say what this one is about.

His writing style is simple, fluent, unnerving. Storytelling is done with some urgency, there´s always something happening, that leaves sidestories and character depth a bit on the shallow side, but thats fine by me.

This is an unspectatcular but very well written mix of novela and sci-fi with interesting ideas. No wrongs in reading these very good stories.

H.P. Lovecraft

In my student days I read some books from H.P. Lovecraft, mystery horror storyteller, creator of the Cthulhu Mythos and as I was browsing through my books to look for something small, unnerving to read I gave „The mountains of madness“ a shot.

If neither Lovecraft nor Cthulhu rings a bell then rest assured that you haven´t missed anything. But he, his writings and also the works of contemporary writers (actually the myth was a product of writers who were inspired by Lovecraft but since he is the centre of gravity around which everything circles it is rightfully attributed to him) have some kind of worldwide fanbase among horror and scifi fans it seems. Why is that? Actually I don´t know, but what is clear is that Lovecraft was the first writer (or at least the first I can think of) who created something like an alternate history of earth, that earth has been visited and colonized millions of years ago by ancient beings from outer space who are more or less godlike creatures. (Ok ok, I can hear you say, what about greek mysticism?, Zeus and all?, what about Jehova?, God?, this is also alternate history in a sense. Yeah thats soemhow right but these religious figures were created for another purpose; best case: to teach people ethics; worst case: for control. Anyways, lets not compare religion with fantasy.) These creatures have been here, founded cities (enourmous ones), colonized the earth and fought wars, against other creatures or struggles happened between different parties, Elder Gods, Old Gods, you know the stories. He also inspired other writers to contribute to these myyths and although they had a very small base of readers, he gained reputation amongst these people. So, creating a new topia in the fantasy genre, inspiring other to contribute, these would be my explanations that Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos still persist today.

Ok, so what about the works in literture terms? Two things first here: I only read „Mountains of madness“ („Mom“ from here on) and would not like to judge on one book alone (but its uncertain that I´ll read another one); and fantasy and horror is definetly not amongst my liked genres, not far off maybe but I´m no expert here.

Storywise, in „Mom“ we have a scientist who leads an expedition to Antarctica where the group of scientists discovers some old mysterious artefacts, later half the camp gets massacred and the protagonist and a colleague discover a huge and very old city where in the end they meet one of the elder beings or better, one of their creatures, a Shoggoth, which were created as workforce. Turns out this Thing was responsible for all the deaths and both the scientists barely manage to escape. Quite the standard story and from what I know this pattern is canonical for Lovecraft: a scientist discoveres traces of the ancient beings and gets mad or killed. Not too shabby for a fantasy story, actually quite good if you ask me.

His style is also interesting because he weaves science into his story, in „Mom“ you can learn about navigation, geology, biology and some other stuff. But concerning creating tension he cleary lacks something but I don´t know what it is. This book is definetly not a horrific experience, I guess a hardcore horor fan will fall asleep after 5 pages. Lovecraft is often compared to E.A. Poe because they share the same genre, but I assume that Poe has a different style because otherwise he wouldn´t be that famous. But again, I haven´t read Poe so this is all assuming.

Anyways. Lovecraft deserves credit for creating a myth which persisted for more than 100 years now and I guess requires creativity, persistence and passion to write your own stories in a different style than the common ones, these which sell and for this he has my respect. And although the books are outdated and raise no hairs, they are not bad either. If you are into dark fantasy mystery and not so much into Tolkien style elven stuff then you can give Lovecraft a shot.

And never forget:

„Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.“

Thomas Nickerson, Owen Chase et al. – The loss of the ship Essex, sunk by a whale

What a title… sounds a bit scientific and indeed this is not a novel but contains first-person accounts assembled by a historican, it´s a historical book, a true story. I was a bit sick the last days and besides work was more or less spending my time in bed and this was on top of the shelf so yeah, why not read something about survival on the sea?

The background is told quickly and basically the title tells half of it. The whale boat Essex is attacked and sinked by a sperm whale in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the 20-man crew travels 4,000 something miles in the byboats for 3 months till half of them are saved, the rest dies on the way. There are two narratives in the book, one by the first mate Owen Chase and one by the cabin boy, the 17 year old Thomas Nickerson. Chase´ accounts refer extensively about the time after the destruction of the Essex and is at times unbearable to read, how these poor souls have to ration food and water, how they land on an island only to find no fresh water and most cruely how they, to survive the last days, have to resort to cannibalism. It is a testament to how far one can suffer, how deep the survival instinct is rooted in man. Nickersons story is more shallow, focusing more on the time before the sinking, which port they were at, people they met and about whale hunting in general. Interesting somehow but nothing to be hyped about.

If you think now, sperm whales? sinking ship? wasn´t there some other, much more famous book called „Moby Dick“? you are definetly right. Herman Melville was to some (small I guess) extent influenced by Chase´ story, there are even some annotations from Melville in this book and in „Moby Dick“ he refers to the Essex at one point. The Essex disaster happened 30 years before „Moby Dick“ and was a big thing in the whaling community so this makes sense. But of course „Moby Dick“ is a different thing, a great story about revenge, stubborness, death.

Small excursion now. I actually don´t know how I got hold of this book or why I wanted to read it but I assume it had to do with a concert I visited in February, the band called „Ahab“ (who is the captain and main protagonist in „Moby Dick“) was giving a show here in Jena. (by the way, I´m thinking about opening up a new category here called Music where I write some concert reports.) So, „Ahab“ are a doom metal band, pretty sinister, but veeeery slooooww metal with growling, very niché. Their albums are always concept albums meaning they circle around one topic or in this case books, their first album is about said „Moby Dick“ for example. Anyways, I attended metal and hardcore and other concerts but doom was new to me and I was completely blown away. The music itself is not very complex or intriguing but the atmosphere it creates is fu…g intensive, very emotional. So, what was I saying… Ah, yes, I would not recommend listen to music while reading since it distracts too much but in this case, reading this book and listen to „Ahab“ makes perfect sense.

Ok, „Sinking of the Essex“, do I recommend it? Not really. But it´s also not a bad book, you fever with these guys, suffer with them and get to know something about the early 19th century and of course, its a first hand report so pepole actually lived through this sh.t.

B. Traven – The death ship

A gritty, sinister and highly political book.

B. Traven is one of the most mysterious persons in literature, his identity being unknown for a very long time, the wikipedia article reads like a thriller itself, go check it out. Today it is quite clear that he was a german anarchist who had to go into hiding from being prosecuted by the law.

The death ship was written in 1926 and is told from the view of an american sailor who works as a boilerman on cargo ships. At the beginning his ship leaves without him and paperless he starts an odyssey around Europe to end up in Barcelona where his only chance to find work is on a so called death ship, whose purpose is basically to carry freight from ports to ports but it is so run down an unmaintained that sooner or later it will sink and the company can receive insurance payment. That of course means that the people on these ships are expendable or at least not worth more than the ship itself. To show this pervesity of capitalism is basically the main intent of the book and Traven does well to communicate this to the reader. The, at times unbearable, moaning and accusationof, the hardship of the work, the suffering and decaying of the poor souls being thrown into and stuck into this miserable life is dripping from every page.

I think that the circumstances in e.g. sweatshops in Asia can be compared to this and therefore I´d call this book a timeless description of the lives of the bottom capitalitic society. The machine has to roll and these workers are paying the price for our lush lifes.

I highly recommend this book, but its not an entertaining read.

Jason Schreier – Blood, sweat and pixels

Informative, well researched and nicely readable book about the computer gaming industry.

Having been a gamer since my youth in the early ninetees and still (and always will I guess) using gaming as one of my sources for entertainment I am also interested in other aspect in the cosmos of gaming, like psychological effects, the technology behind it or computer games as a form of art (they definetly are an art form in my eyes). To grab this knowledge the internet offers a huge pool of sites dealing with almost all of it. One of these sites is kotaku.com which mostly has the common nerd stuff you´d expect but there was this one author and a series of articles which got my attention and as soon as I found out that Mr Schreier put this together in a book, well… he sold one more.

The book decribes in 10 chapter the creation of 10 games, from idea over producing and finalizing to aftersales. Amongst the games are bestsellers like Diablo III or The Witcher and quite unknown titles like Stardew Valley. The range of the studios goes from sole developer to 400 people corporations like Bioware or CD Project Red. The author got his information from interviews conducted with employees or even managers of the studios and writes some story around them, more or less free from ideology, its the work of a journalist, very nicely done.

After reading the book one thought which I always had in my mind got amplified: Art and money-making with a schedule never go hand in hand, one part has to make compromises. This is why I could not imagine to live from art I create. I know how difficult it is to create something, on some days it flows but sometimes nothing goes, creativity cannot be forced. In game creation the studio sets the timeframe and the budget for the artists, things start with high ideas and in all of the example Schreier writes about something goes wrong in the middle and things are delayed, but milestones have to be met for financial sake and at the end the employees suffer from being overworked because of crunch. Definetly not a fine business it seems. But on the other hand what he also heard from some people working in this industry is that they could not imagine doing something else less stressful. Some of these workers (I don´t know how many, Schreier writes „many“, but I think its difficult to guess) say that although they can forget about having a normal life for months, although they haven´t seen daylight for weeks, although they got mental problems as a result of this unhealthy work-life balance, they love their jobs – hard to grasp at first but I can understand what they mean. The feeling of creating something with your hands or your brain can be so extraordinary that you´d be willing to pay a very high price for it.

So, its definetly a niché book but if you´re interested in things around gaming and want to know how these are produced (maybe you always thought like me that games are developed by a group of nerds locking themselves into their cellars and after 3 months the newest sh.. is published) this is a must read. And actually because it so well written I´d also recommend it to casual readers who want to read something about the art industry.

Ramez Naam – Nexus

An ok book, a substandard tech-thriller. Recommended only if you want to have something easily digestible.

Ramez Naam is a computer scientist who has been employed by Microsoft in his career and worked on the development of the Internet Explorer. Has has wrote technical books and „Nexus“ is his first novel and you can clearly read that he lacks the finesse of proessional novelists. This book feels empty, constructed (well ok, every story is constructed but you know what I mean), the characters are black/white, uninspired worldbuilding, naive writing style (but thats maybe the translators fault), the story is ok somehow.

What makes this book highly interesting is the afterword (I never thought that I would write something like this) where he explains the technological background of the tech in the book. The story centres around a drug called Nexus which makes it possible to connect minds and he claims that this is maybe still a bit in the future but the science to read brainwaves and translate it into real-world actions and vice-versa is here since some time, still in its childshoes but these days you never know. Technological, computational advancement goes at a high pace and some stuff of which we can only dream now may be just around the corner.

There is a second and a third book as follow-up and I may just buy these, read the first chapters to see if his writing has evolved and read the afterword to check if he has some more tech-sweeties.

Uzbekistan

A friend of mine told me last year that he and his family is planning a holiday in Uzbekistan, I thought about it for one second, asked if I could join, they said yes, so here I am.

Thats right, a country thats starts with U and is not the US. Situated in the middle of Asia, Uzbekistan is a former Soviet-Union state which received independence in 1990 and then went the way of many of these states, meaning they had a leader (Islam Karimow) who ruled the country with a hard hand, leaving little room for freedom of the person. If you want you may call these leaders dictators (I sure would), but keep in mind that this perspective is western-centric. But ok, this is no political text so here´s a fun fact about Uzbekistan: it is one of only two countries in the world which has no access to an ocean and is surrounded by countries which also have none, meaning you have to cross two borders to see some seawaves; the other country is Lichtenstein, which is even more unknown and solely exists to serve as a tax haven in the middle of Europe.

I flew from Berlin via Istanbul and my first conclusion from this trip is that I now officially dislike flying. I was never fond of it before but the waiting and sitting around airports and then being cramped into a can with hundreds of other people, it just annoys me. Sure, I can read a book or listen to music, but I can imagine a thousand more pleasant locations to do this. Also, everything is overpriced on airports. And yes, of course theres the environmental aspect (sorry Greta). Also tourists rate pretty low on my list of groups of people I feel comfortable among, somewhere between businessman (which is maybe the second most groups on airports and plans) and drunken football fans. Most of them are ok of course, minding their own business, some are even nice to talk to, but some are arrogant, selfish, with a me-comes-first attitude, these guys who always have to be first at check-in and then take forever to take their f… seats in the plane. I don want to hear their stories (but have to because of the cramped locations), I don´t care where they´re going to or coming from, I want to have them out of my sight, I don´t want to spend time in their vicinity. I´d rather take a one day trainride or a weeklong motorbike trip than a one hour flight. Of course, some locations can only be reached by plane in a reasonable time but next time, I´ll fly business class to have at least some peace and also to pay a more reasonable price, because flying in my opinion is way too cheap and by that I mean that it should cost 5 or 10 times as much (Hello Greta).

Ok, this will be the only ranting part of this text, I promise, just wanted to get it off my chest and it also fits my terrible mood at the end of the flight. So lets start with something useful, shall we.

Tashkent

I arrived at 3 in the morning and fortunately got picked up at the airport and brought to the hotel but then had trouble sleeping so half the day was lost. In the afternoon I joined on the tour through the city, we saw a huge food bazaar, where each foodgroup has its own area (bread, fruits,meat etc.), different smells every 20 metres, but compared to other bazaars I´ve seen much more relaxed. In general people here are kind of reserved, friendly, open, relaxed, haven´t seen any trouble or experienced any nuisance. I´d compare it with an eastern european city but Tashkent has its own touch.

So we took a stroll around town, next day too, visited the zoo (didn´t like that one but I´m not an expert and am also not fond of zoos) and I´m kind of impressed by Tashkent, large open streets, lots of green, buildings that combine the very old, the old and the modern.

Had a very interesting talk today about the history and current situation of Uzbeskistan, the stuff you´ll never learn from wikipedia etc.

The state of Uzbekistan exists since the middle of the 19th century, when all the Khanates. Khanates and Emirates have been the governmental structure till then, both meaning that there was a ruler who had its own small kingdom, the difference being that a Khan is a direct descendant from Dshingis Khan who apparently had a lot of wives and therefore countless of offspring and the males and their offspring were allowed to rule over their designated part of land. Emirs basically had the same power but were no descendants. And there were lots of wars between these kingdoms so I guess that the unification had kind of an relieving effect of the people, their culture, arts etc. A prominent person in the history of almost all central-asia is Timur Tamerlan who conquered a huge area. But ok, for more history, well you know where to find it.

Another interesting thing which got solved by the conversation is that although Uzbekistan has a 90% muslim population and you´d expect it to look like e.g. Iran, the city picture is a different one, I haven´t seen any mosque or a lot of people wearing typical cloth (it will be different in Samarkand and Buchara I think). This is because in the Soviet-Union religion was ‘prohibited’ and people had to perform their customs in secret. After the collapse of the SU in 1990 things were mostly kept as they are and the funding of prayer houses was still difficult to impossible. In Uzbekistan this has led to tensions and even very violent outbreaks in the Fergana Valley were fundamentalists have been opposing this and were trying to form their own state in the state with everything that muslim fundamentalism brings with it.

The most encouraging fact that I got to know though is that after Karimows death and the takeover of the new president Mirzioyew Uzbekistan has become or is on the fast way to democracy. Freedom of speech, freedom of art, economical freedom and so on are all more or less guaranteed. Uzbekistan is opening up to the whole world and does not restrict itself to doing business only with the Russians, the US, the EU or China alone, no, everybody is invited to come here, invest here, people here are curious to see what everybody has to offer. And I wager a bet here: In ten years from now on Usbekistan will be among the top 10 countries which have increased the status on the Human Development Index during this time.

Samarkand

So, on day three we took the train to Samarkand, an old silk road town and once capitol of Timurs empire. The silk road was an ancient trade route from China, India, Eastern Russia to the Near East and Europe and it lasted from way before BC till the 14th, 15th century. Trade was mostly one-directional, spices, fur and of course silk were trade for money and weapons (guess times never changed) but again I´m not an expert and you know where to find more information.

Ok, two days in Samarkand and I´m really impressed now. It is kind of touristy but its not (yet) what another member of our group called ‘disneylandification’, like I´ve seen in other famous spots throughout the world (e.g. Vienna, Rome or some stuff in India). Theres a lot of history here, some impressive islamic architecture. We visited the Mausoleum of Timur and I got some background on him. He was and is the national hero of Usbekistan. Was, because he started his conquering in the late 14th and 15th century from Samarkand and attracted a lot of scientists, prophets and other important people to the area making it one of the cultural centres of the middle asian world. This heroification then took a sharp break after the Russian revolution in 1919 and later the founding of the Soviet-Union. It didn´t fit into the curriculum of the great Soviet-Empire to have local heroes. Only after the breakdown of the SU things changed and Karimov, then president of Usbekistan ‘used’ Timur as a national symbol to fill the void. Timur and his descendants surely left their mark and these can still be seen today.

We visited a museum about the old Samarkand today and I have to correct the history part a bit. Samarkand is actually a lot older. Its roots stem back to 500BC something and for the next 1,500 years it developed into an important and rich town on the silk road with mosques, state of the art houses, sewers etc. In the museum they displayed some ceramics, jewelery and even small glass phioles presumably used for perfume. In 1220 Dshingis Khan and his Horde came and burned the whole city down to the last brick, so heavily that the survivors decided to build the ‘new’ Samarkand in a different place. The ruins of the old town have only been excavated by archeologists in the 19th century. So, back in the 14th and 15th century Samarkand rose to new (in)fame by said Emir Timur Tamerlan who was was more or less a warlord known for his cruelty. It is said for example that he used to built pyramids with the heads of the people from the cities he conquered; when he conquered Baghdad this headcount was supposed to be 70,000… So, ok, the national hero of this country was actually a butcher. From the viewpoint of his people though, a patron of arts, architecture and culture.

So, we´re leaving Samarkand tomorrow, heading for a desert camp where we´ll stay for 3 days and where I hope to shot some night-sky pictures, the tripod is waiting for action. We´re having a great time so far with lots of impressions so its time for some small stuff.

Our traveling group.. We are 10 people, the schoolfriend of mine, his wife, their two kids, the father of the wife and another befriended couple of them also with two kids. The oldest of the kids is 4 years, so this is not the standard holiday, but rather like a funky kindergarten on tour with hilarious and funny moments and the pace is definitely set by the kids. And this is cool all round. Kids are stressful and sometimes I don´t want to be in the parents skin but I admire them. My biggest gain from this trip so far besides all the scenery has been the determination to have own kids. Not that I had it before but the thought has been strengthent somewhat.

Motorbikes.. I have only seen two motorbikes so far and no f… Vespas or motor-rollers, which is really strange. You normally see these everywhere in any big city around the world, especially in Asia, its just the most convenient way to get around fast, but here – no such thing.

Dogs.. Also I haven´t seen any dog, none. You also see at least some of these, either stray or as home animals. Strange.

Food.. The food is great here, lots of meat like in any former SU-state, all cooked well. I especially love Plow and Pelmeni, its Great, as Donald would put it.

Beer.. Ok somehow, the local Sarbast is a good one, the rest so nana.

Nightlife.. You´ll have to ask someone else. I spent the evenings at the hotel talking to my friend whom I see maybe once each year and the evenings when his kids are asleep is the only time he has a free head. Anyways, nightlife I can have back home.

Steppe

So we drove from Samarkand out through grassland and fields to reach our next destination: a jurt-campside far out in the bushlands.

The way was very scenic or at least what I would consider as such. I love being on the road and this very monotonous landscape has something epic, meditative and reminded me of Iceland and especially of Namibia.

On the way I learned from our driver that the ecological disaster of growing cotton has been turned down somewhat during the last years. In the SU Uzbekistan was famous for its huge production of cotton for which the agroengineers took huge amounts of water from the countries biggest two rivers (which led to the drying-out of the Aral Sea, check it out on wiki, its a f… shame) to turn this dry land into cotton fields. So, you see that man-made environmental disasters are not a new thing and are not only a thing of the western world, on the contrary, I´d even say that in communist or socialistic states the ecology is way lower on the political priority list, if not last, than in democratic countries. That is in my opinion due to the obvious fact that in such states its easier to pull through large monstrosities which bring economical gains at any cost (e.g. russian nuclear power plants, the Three Dam project in China or this river detouring here in Uzbekistan) but also because such undertakings are the easy way to even out an otherwise inefficient economical system. Also of course there is no democratic process where scientists or the people have a voice for constructive opposition.

Anyways. The camp was quite unspectacular (compared to Samarkand), more quiet and serene.

We took a small hike into the steppe where we spotted some small wildlife: desert foxes, rabbits, lizards, birds and even tortoises.

Each evening they put up a fire and a local musician performed some traditional songs. Quite interesting. Unfortunately one of the concepts of the owners seems to be to get visitors drunk so there was a bottle of vodka on each dinner table and the other guests made heavy use of it. So after the traditional music part there was disco with drunken people and I ha.. Ok, no ranting, I promised. My nighttime activity was set anyway to trying some star-sky photography and I am quite content with the result although I think theres room for improvement. And either I´m blind or unlucky but there was no milky way visible which would have produced more spectacular results. But hey, we´re born to learn and improve, so see you next time stars with better equipment [for the techies: The best lens for this would be a wide-angle or even better a fisheye with a high aperture rating, something like a 12mm/f1.8. My widest is only a 24mm/f4, so I can improve on that. For taking “static” star pictures you open up the aperture, raise the ISO and set time to max 15s, or even better use a tracking system, I can also improve on that. For “startrail” pictures like below, its the opposite, close the aperture, low ISO and time is the only limitation to the length of the trails. With the same amount of time, the further away from the north star, the longer the trails are.]

It´s our third day here as I´m writing this and today I took a day off, the others have gone swimming to a lake but I stayed here to relax, read, write, slowing down, this is a holiday after all, and tomorrow we´ll be going to Buchara, another city bustling with activity and stuff to do. Looking at the night-sky for hours and being in this monumental landscape gets me into a meditative mood and I´m loading my subconscious batteries. It´s impossible to write down all the things circulating in my head, but here´s some piece of philosophy:

During all my travels I realized many things and especially this one: We are all the same. Some are stubborn, some are angry, some are kind, some do bad things, there are egoist, there are helpful ones, we have different skin colors, are from all parts of this planets, some even seem outworldish, we believe in different gods, some believe in nothing, some are born into safety, most are born poor, some have to fight, some die young, others get old, some get fat, others stay sleek for several reasons – but these and countless more are only superficialities. Deep down inside we are all the same, we want to laugh, seek company, love, want to do something useful, raise kids, have a roof to sleep safe under, we share all those basic needs and wants. This sounds sentimental and esoteric and yes, it is, but in my eyes this is the fundamental glue that makes us human, that keeps us together and is for me, the starting point when thinking about humanity as a whole. It may not seem like it but we are all the same.

(just a quick disclaimer: This thought is inspired by Evan McGregor who elaborates on this during his trip around the world on a motorbike when he and his crew were making rest in a yurt camp in Mongolia as can be seen in the documentary “A long way round” which I love but which is very special. And ok, to be very open now, I have to admit that this was the only time I cried during a movie, I think he does too, because this is a fundamental truth coming to light, a divine moment and I am dead sure that I´m not the only one who feels this way.) Peace.

Buchara

Ok, last stage and after taking the tour around town today I already have enough. Buchara is, like Samarkand, an old silk-road merchant town and has seen less destruction and war during its 3,000 years of history than Samarkand or at least was rebuilt more often so that today here you see more intact impressive buildings (mostly mosques and madrasses (a madras is a quran school)) than in Samarkand, there is even a huge and beautiful minaret from the 12th century.

But anyways, the merchant character of the town seems to be the defining thing here and each and everywhere somebody is selling something and its also more touristy. There is more to see here than in Samarkand but honestly, the buildings (and the shops) are very generic and I can´t really remember which madras/mosques/caravansery/trade house was built by whom and when. Ok, the same accounts somehow for Samarkand but there the sights were more individual and the feel was much more laid back. Also in Buchara a lot of construction is taking place, even as I´m writing this there is noise from downstairs where they are cutting stones and its half past 6. Also our hotel room is small and dingy, the opposite of our spacious yurt. It has a nice rooftop though where I slept one night, the singing birds and the sun waking me up.

[small addendum: I´m two weeks back home now and my postcards haven´t arrived… I gave them to our hotel guy, he said it´d be no problem and now I´m really pissed… Especially because I found out an hour after I gave it to him that the post office was more or less around the corner. Ok, life is an ever-learning process: if you want to have sincerity about something then do it yourself… Anyways, I normally don´t tell names but in this case the bad stuff piles up: So please don´t go to Rizo Boutique when your in Buchara.]

But ok, I don´t want to complain but rather suck things in for 2 more days here.

The last 2 days in Buchara went as expected, took some more photos but the scorching sun did its best to make my head feel like chewing gum. I´m not built for this climate. And also sucking things in only goes smoothly if the sponge in the head is not saturated and in my case it was already dripping. But I won´t complain, everything went fine. The same can be said about the trainride and so I´m sitting at the airport now waiting 6 hours before my flight leaves, I need to time this better next time, but I cigarettes and cola will get me through.

Ok, final chapter. Time for some small stuff again.

Money.. The currency here is Sum and the exchange rate is something like 9,000 Sum for a Euro. So, if you want to be a millionaire you have to exchange 120€ and you´re set. Uzbekistan is a very cheap country, our meal bills for 10 people never exceeded 350,000 Sum and we ate good, pack of cigarettes is around 8,500, beer in a bar 15,000, entrance to sights about 10,000. Getting money here works only via Visa Card or exchange, I brought some Euros and Dollers here, exchanged these and got by fine.

Criminality.. I´d consider Uzbekistan to be a very safe country for travelling, but of course: not doing stupid things applies. I tend to be a bit on the naïve side on this, meaning I leave caution aside from time to time, but so far almost everything went fine (only had a real shitty situation in Namibia but thats a different story). Our host in Buchara told us that the punishment for even small criminal acts like pickpocketing are very, very severe (first time: fine, second time: prison) so I think this has an effect.

Language.. Local languages are Usbek, Kazakh, Tadsckik and everybody understands Russian. In our group I was the only non-russian speaker (even one of the kids could speak it) and honestly it would have been impossible for me to arrange things like they went and difficult to get around. It is possible but speaking russian is a major boost.

Every holiday has come to an end and its the perfect timing in this case. 2 weeks have been enough to see all the touristy sights, our desert stay could have been one day longer and Buchara one less but ok, thats complaining on a high level. I may need one week or more to digest everything, read some more history and yes, this text is still without photos and my counter is at 1,000 so I´ll need two or three evenings to wrap this up.

Before going on this trip and I also wrote it at the beginning, I thought that Uzbekistan is an unremarkable country and of course this is wrong, because this whole area here (I´d also include Tajikistan, Kirgisia and Kazaksthan) is full of history which is mostly unknown to us westerners and in parts also difficult to understand. History goes hand in hand with mentality, religion and mindsets of their people and there surely are differences (actually, according to my schoolfriend and travel companion who studied history the local history is also mostly unknown to western historians or, to put it better, ungraspable because of these mindset differences), despite the we´re-all-the-same. But again, I´m not an expert, an anthropologist could tell you more and in an understandable way.

Ok, now finally the last words, some advice if you also want to visit:

.. read into the history before you come here (if you´re interested in it of course). The sights here are not very well explained and the museums we visited are very basic to put it mildly. We had guides on our tour but the quality varied. So, if you don´t want to overwhelmed by facts, persons, historical dates take some time to get at least an overview (and thank me later)

.. best season to visit? Forget everything from May to August, the heat will be unbearable. Also, because of the continental climate, the winter can be really harsh. So, I guess March, April, September and October may be the best months but I´m not sure about rain periods.

.. language. As I wrote above, speaking russian helps a lot.

And before I forget, there are motorbikes and dogs in Uzbekistan. 🙂

Dashiell Hammett – Red Harvest

Dashiell Hammett has become one of my favourite authors in only two books, love on the first read if you like. He wrote detective stories in the 20´s and 30´s of the 20th century and is considered the founding father of the hard-boiled detective novel. In this niché category of novels the protagonist is an ambivanlent private detective who has to and will solve a more or less complicated case and people will die on the way. Also these stories include femme fatales, corrupt cops, lots of drinking, shady gangsters, murder and fast-paced action. As I would put it, these are dark Sherlock Holmes stories on speed and exchanging the snobbishness and gentlemanness with starightforwardness and violence. And what can I say, I love this stuff.
I got into him because my favourite sci-fi author Richard Morgan claims him to be one of his incluences and now I know where he got the inspiration for his main characters from.
His most famous story is “The Maltese Falcon” where private detective Sam Spade solves a mystery about some valuable artifact on which said shady persons take a lot of interest in.

But this story is topped by “Red Harvest” which is an absolutely hilarious book.
Anyone knows the movie “Last man standing” with Bruce Willis? If you like the movie then this is a must read. A nameless detective comes into a small town only to find his contractor dead. Turns out he was the son of the old grandfather of this town who got himself embroiled with some gangsters which now more or less control everything. So the detective is hired to clean up and he does this by playing all sides being friend and false friend to everybody. The story itself is quite complex with around 30 to 40 people being involved and its very difficult to find logical flaws because of this complexity. But anyways, if there are any, you wouldn´t notice because the story always goes on and on without time to take a breath. Top notch storytelling. Highly recommended.

Daniel Suarez – Change Agent

Daniel Suarez is IMHO the best and most important contemporary science fiction author.

His books all deal with relevant tech topics and their consequences on the future of mankind, nothing more, nothing less. Reading his books is not like ‚oh, that was nice entertainment – next‘ but rather ‚Daniel, thats a rather fictinous story you spun there, but it´s still fiction. Or not? Could such things eventually happen?‘

His first book, „Deamon“ deals with an AI influencing the real world, „Freedom“ a follow-up to that. „Kill Decision“ is about autonomous drones and is scary as hell. In „Influx“ scientists which discover breakthrough technologies are adbucted by a secret organization.

All books share the same action-paced, story-driven style, the stories itself make sense and are conclusive. His character development is not the best and the reader should not expect much poetry, this suffers from his action-focused style, giving the books a certain B-movie pulpy feel, so it´s more cheeseburger than dry-aged rib-eye slowly grilled, he surely doesn´t play in the same league as William Gibson or Thomas Pychon. I surely like his style though.

What he does incredibly well is world-building. His worlds are full with technologies which are in development in the real world or could be invented in the future. For example in „Deamon“ HUDs are a common thing; the book was written at a time when Google Glass was a mere speck on the horizon. In „Change Agent“ genetic alterations are common, in the real world, well you know the discussions about designer babies from China… His books are full of that and he casually mentions such technolgies, he doesn´t even rub it in. It´s just great. This gives him a very inventive (you could even say prophetic) touch, his books are thought-provoking and go beyond the stories. He shows a could-be world with all the positive and negative consequences on society, human development, politics etc. and in my opinion this is what sciene-fiction is about (at least the ‚real-world‘ science fiction, for the ‚Star Wars‘ science-fiction other rules apply): to show the dangers and benefits of technology, bring it on the radar and start a discussion about it.

„Change Agent“ is his best book beside „Deamon“ book, I think. The topic is gene-editing and he thinks it beyond eradicating inheritable diseases or attribute enhancement via embryo editing, in fact these things are common in the world he creates.

The story centres about a criminal organization which developed a way to … Sorry, no spoilers today. I want you to read it. In fact, I´d say that with „Change Agent“ there is now no way round Suarez when it comes to contemporary sci-fi. This one and „Deamon“ are must-reads if you´re into it. No excuses. You can thank me in 30 years when you´ll say about a technology: ‚I´ve read about this some years ago. Where was that? In the newspaper? No. a company brochure? No. Ah, now I remember – it was in a Suarez book.‘