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My Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels: #3 – The Farseer Trilogy

April 28, 2011 4 comments

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (1995 – 1997)



Assassin's Apprentice: Book 1 of the Farseer Trilogy

Robin Hobb’s writing style has a lot of similarities with George RR Martin. She makes her audience identify with the main character, and then she makes that character suffer.

She also creates villains so evil that I get physically angry when I read her books. I get invested in the character’s struggle and I cannot put the book down.

The Farseer Trilogy follows the story of FitzChivalry Farseer; the bastard child of a murdered prince who has to grow up in the castle where, were he conceived legitimately, he would have one day ruled.

Instead, he works as a stable-hand until the King decides he could be trained in a more  useful purpose: an assassin.

While it is set in a fantasy world, there is only a limited amount of magic. The two types are called ‘the skill’, which is the ability to speak to others minds and influence their thoughts. The second is called ‘the wit’, a magic which allows those with the talent for it to speak to animals. This magic is considered ‘unclean’ and its use is forbidden.

Of course, poor Fitz has both the skill and the wit. Craziness.

Fitz manages to befriend the King’s court jester, known only as ‘the Fool’. The Fool however, is more than what he seems.

The second and third books expand the story into an all-out struggle for Fitz and the Fool the save not only the Kingdom, but the entire world.

Although the story is considered ‘epic’, it is the characters that truly drive this story. It is also interesting to read a story written by a woman, but told in the first-person perspective of a male character.

This is definitely a trilogy to check out if you have any interest at all in fantasy novels.

“The fight isn’t over until you win it, Fitz. That’s all you have to remember. No matter what the other man says.”

– Robin Hobb, The Farseer Trilogy

All Entries

#10 – Watership Down

#9 – The Harry Potter Series

#8 – The Wheel of Time Series

#7 – The Stars My Destination

#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog

#5 – Doomsday Book

#4 – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy

#2 – Flowers for Algernon

#1 – The Martian Chronicles

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My Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels: #9 – The Harry Potter Series

April 22, 2011 1 comment

#9 – The Harry Potter Series



Jacket art of the Bloomsbury edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher

Most people love it, some people haaaate it. And frankly, when my little sister started gobbling up these books back in elementary school, I was pretty skeptical.

They looked like kiddie nonsense and I wanted nothing to do with them. But then,  my sister was sick  in the hospital so it fell to me to wait in line at the bookstore with all the folks dressed as wizards in order to get her pre-ordered copy of  ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ as soon as it was released. So I had a bad association with the books until I got to college.

Waiting for the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in a Californian bookshop (Borders, Sunnyvale), 5 minutes before the books official publication. Photo by Zack Sheppard

Then, friends started reading them. The movies were making millions (billions, even). They were even teaching the books in some of the University’s English classes! I decided I should at least give them a shot.

When I did, I was dragged kicking and screaming into a world of boys living under cupboards and giant groundskeepers and fortune-telling wizard teachers.

But once I was in, I did not want to leave.

The books just get better as they go along. The story becomes more intricate; the complex web of characters get more evolved and grown up. By the time Harry and his pals get to be 17, they are in the middle of a life and death struggle that is as far from a Roald Dahl children’s fantasy book as you could get.

So if you love them, great! Me too!

If you hate them, well that’s your opinion.

And if you haven’t read them, give them a try. These books will appeal to all ages and you won’t be able to put them down.

‘Scars can come in useful. I have one myself above my left knee which is a perfect map of the London Underground.’

– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

All Entries

#10 – Watership Down

#9 – The Harry Potter Series

#8 – The Wheel of Time Series

#7 – The Stars My Destination

#6 – To Say Nothing of the Dog

#5 – Doomsday Book

#4 – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

#3 – The Farseer Trilogy

#2 – Flowers for Algernon

#1 – The Martian Chronicles

We’ve All Wondered It: How Long Can You Wear Jeans Without Washing Them?

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

When I was in first year university, living in rez, I probably wore the same pair of jeans for about a month before washing them. I thought it was a little gross, and my mom would have my head if she ever found out, but I did it.

Yeah they smelled a little bit, but laundry just takes so long and I had this paper due and that girl wouldn’t call me back…

But I digress.

So how long can you really wear a pair of jeans without washing them? One student from the University of Alberta put it to the test.

As reported on the CBC, Josh Le wore “skin-tight” jeans for 15 months (did we need to know they were skin-tight?) without washing them, from September 2009 to December 2010.

But he actually did do a bit of science here. After 15 months he swabbed the jeans for bacteria. Then, he washed the jeans, wore them for 2 weeks and swabbed them again, and compared the results.

Josh Le, with his pair of skin tight jeans that he wore for 15 months straight. (John Ulan/Canadian Press)

And wouldn’t you know? The results were about the same!

“They were similar,” [Le’s Professor Rachel McQueen] said of the bacteria count of the freshly washed pair, compared to the pre-washing levels. “I expected they would still be much lower than after 15 months.”

So although the jeans were technically not infested, they did start to smell a bit.

“I triple-bagged them and put them in the freezer,” [Le] said.

Ok, so you COULD wear your jeans for months and they wouldn’t be any more infected with viruses or bacteria than a usual wear of a week or so. But the real question is: should you?

Whether Josh had a date in those 15 months was not mentioned. And frankly, his professor is kind of cute, so I don’t think he should have shown her those jeans.

But, anything in the name of science. Good for you Josh! I admire your gumption.

The Science Hall of Fame

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

There is one for pretty much every sport, a Walk of Fame for Hollywood stars, and one for Rock and Roll stars.

But there has never been a Science Hall of Fame, even though scientists have had a larger impact on our world than all the people in them other Halls of Fame put together!

Until now.

A few weeks ago, a paper was published online (and appears in print this week) in Science entitled “Quantitative Analysis of Culture using Millions of Digitized Books”. What these researchers did was use Google’s effort to digitize books (Google Books) which has currently digitized about 15 million books, roughly 12% of all books ever printed.

They used a subset of these already digitized books, 5.2 million, and were able to create a corpus of data wherein you could search for a particular word or group of words (i.e. “slavery” or “The Great War”) and see how often those words appeared in print as a function of the year. The years available are between 1800 and 2000.

This ability to study how often certain names and subjects appear in print allow researchers to study human history and culture in a new quantitative fashion. The authors of the study call it “culturomics”.

The authors  found some pretty interesting results, including finding that the English language has grown by 70% in the last 50 years; they were able to see the decline in use of certain words (who says “chide” anymore?) and found that the average age of peak prominence for a celebrity is 75.

After this study was published, John Bohannon, writer for Science, and an author of the culturomics paper Adrian Veres, teamed up to find which scientists were most popular in literature, and create this Science Hall of Fame. It is highly quantitative in nature, which is quite poetic for a science hall of fame if you think about it.

Scientific fame is measured in units of milliDarwins, one-thousandth of the average annual frequency that Charles Darwin’s name appears in English-language books from the year he was 30 years old (1839) until 2000. Here are the top 25:

You can go to the site and look up your favourite scientists, or you can also play with the raw data yourself and do your own studies, which has already caused me to be very unproductive at work today.

I’d also like to point out that the first 3 Nobel Prize Winners on that list are all physicists. Just sayin…