Saturday, 4 June 2016

Book Review: Daemon - Daniel Suarez


The book tells the story of a daemon created by a computer game designer named Matthew Sobol, CEO of CyberStorm Entertainment, a company responsible for the production of successful MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games). 

A daemon, in techno-speak, usually refers to a computer program that runs in the background, without any interaction with the user. 

The Daemon kicks into action as soon as websites on the Internet print the obituary of Matthew Sobol. The existence of the Daemon is revealed when two programmers who unwittingly worked on the Daemon’s functionality are killed in seemingly bizarre ways. Upon further investigation, what the two deaths have in common is their utilization of the Internet.

What follows is a spiral into madness as the Daemon’s AI (Artificial Intelligence) is revealed to be frighteningly intelligent and perceptive, with it always being a step ahead of our heroes. It knows all and sees all. It recruits those best suited to its cause, with a remarkable understanding of what drives human beings and how to best use that for its own ends.

Needless to say, I enjoyed it immensely, and I look forward to reading the sequel. As someone who reads a lot and watches a fair amount of film, it is difficult sometimes when your field (in this case, IT) isn't often depicted in mainstream culture and when it is, it relies on tired, old cliches such as geeks who lack social skills, despise themselves, and are forever on the sidelines of society, coming in only to propel technological advancement. Without giving away too much, there is one such person in the book, but the most part most of the characters who work in typical IT fields like system administration and the like are given their full treatment as people who have lives, something that many do not associate with those who work in the IT industry. 

Another strength of the book is how well computer equipment as well as IT operations is described in the book. I found myself smiling nearly every other time at recognizing terms that are part of my vocabulary as someone who's in IT.

If you are a computer person who misses seeing your world well depicted in fiction, then this book is for you.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The Danish Girl: A Review

During her acceptance speech for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar Award, Alicia VIkander thanked her co-star Eddie Redmayne rather profusely. As I had not yet watched the film, I did not understand the reasons for her gratitude. I have since watched 'The Danish Girl'  and I now do. 

In the film, Eddie Redmayne portrays the real-life Einar Wegener and the woman Einar becomes, Lili Elbe, while Alicia Vikander plays Einar's wife, Gerda.  Both are painters; Einar of landscapes, Gerda of portraits.The film charts a course through their lives as Einar changes into Lili.

The performance of both Eddie and Vikander as individuals is good, but what sells the film is their performance together as partners. If they had been any less convincing as a couple, the film could very well be nearly not worth watching. By that, I don't mean they should hook up in real life, rather that they played being married so truly. There was a realism, a kind of humanity about them as a pair, that did not require you the viewer to work with the assumption that they are married; they were believably married. They were partners in every sense of the word. 

The film was rather lushly coloured. The landscape scenes were lovely as was the rendition of 1920s Copenhagen and Paris. Alexandre Desplat's score was done in what I consider to be his signature style: very mellow, haunting and moving. He is one of the composers whose work I feel almost sure of recognizing in a film. 

Like all films based on true stories, the film takes liberties with the original tale. It is important to note that the film is based on a novel, which itself is based on the true events in question. As such there are significant discrepancies such as the fact that Lili and Gerda carried on a lesbian relationship after her sex change, and that Lili was not living with Gerda at the time of her death; they had long since separated. As you would no doubt tell, that wasn't judged a palatable fact to be served to film goers. 

Einar's beating also didn't happen. I would suppose its inclusion in the film serves to highlight the other beatings LGBT persons, in other times and places, have faced. It is better to watch the film as more of an allegorical tale than an actual rendering of real-life events. 

The dialogue in the last quarter of the film was overly romantic and cheesy. This was disappointing as the film had actually managed to please with authenticity of its story (in terms of depiction, not facts). Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts) was one of the low points of the film for me. It seemed his role was to stand there and be solid. I guess that the idea behind his character was to contrast him with Einar's evolution into Lili and the consequent/resulting instability in Gerda's life. He could have been livelier though. 

Identity is a key idea in this film; it is not explored completely or in much depth, but you sense it in the undercurrents between Gerda and Lili. At the end of Lili's first day at her new job working at a store, Gerda tells her of a dream she had of Lili getting married. The dialogue excerpt is as follows: 

Gerda: You know, one night last week, I had the strangest dream.
Lili: What was it?
Gerda: I dreamed you were getting married. 

Lili laughs softly, then reflects on the idea.
Lili: Do you think I ever will?
Gerda: Who knows? So many strange things have happened.

Gerda says this with a look that mingles defeat and resignation.  
Lili: I do want to, Gerda.
Gerda: It's not so long ago we were married, you and me.
Lili (corrects): You and Einar.
Gerda: I know it was Einar, but really, it was you and me.
Lili shows discomfort at this, seemingly withdrawing from Gerda.

In this scene, you can see that Lili is reluctant to admit any overlap between Einar and Lili; they are two distinct individuals. It is implied that Gerda feels differently. Her consistent attempts at both trying to be supportive and her sadness at losing her husband are evident. Lili ceases to paint because it was part of who Einar was, not Lili, and so takes up a job in a department store; Gerda sees traces of the man she used to know in the woman now before her, and feels they are not as separate as Lili deems them to be.

It would be a bit of a stretch to refer to the Danish Girl as a 'thought-provoking' film; it is just very pretty. However, it does give you a thinking prompt about identity: what can and can't we leave behind when we change.