Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I will be moving...

... and will not have internet for a few days. I'm hoping to be able to get internet within a week, but the company is sending me a notification that they're coming one week later than when I requested, so it may be some time before I can update again.

Fingers crossed.

And to end, here's a picture of a cute little doll.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Devil's Daughter by Katee Robert

When I read this, I totally missed the fact that it was romantic suspense and basically only focused on the mystery portion of it. Because when you have an ex-cult member coming back to investigate a murder that said cult (which was started and is run by her mother) may be involved in, you basically have me hooked.

In The Devil's Daughter, Eden is the ex-cult member I mentioned. She was brought back when someone mysteriously emailed her the photo of a recently found corpse - a corpse which has tattoos very much like hers. The sheriff of this town happens to be Zach Owens, who just wants to solve the case. The two have an instant attraction to one another but I wasn't that interested in it. Mostly, I was interested in the mystery.

And luckily for me, the book totally delivered. There were a few chapters on how their relationship progressed - which I admittedly skimmed - but most of the book is focused on the cult and the murder. And of course, Eden's relationship with her mother, Martha. The mother-daughter relationship is the one that fascinated me, because I can't tell whether Martha is manipulative but loves her daughter or just manipulative. And of course, Eden's need to break free from her mother's hold had me rooting for her from the start.

The case progressed at quite a fast pace, although sometimes it seemed like things were being propelled forward by the culprits rather than the two solving things. But then again, I think the star of this book is the cult, how it operates, and the mother-daughter relationship going on, so I'm not that concerned about whether this is a traditional whodunnit that the reader can solve.

This is a fairly quick, thrilling read that features a fascinating cast of characters.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Silence: Movie Review

On January 21, Silence was released in Japan! It's directed by Martin Scorsese and has spent 26 years in the making! As a big fan of the book (to the point where my Extended Essay was a comparison analysis of Silence and The Man Within), I was at the first showing at Hakata's T-Joy theatre on the first day.

Also, I discovered Snow! 
The film was amazing and I definitely recommend everyone to watch it (and read the book) once it's out in a theatre near you. So obvious, to try and get you to do that, I'm going to share my thoughts on the film.

Warning: this is going to be all rambly, possibly incoherent and very likely spoiler-ish. You've been warned.

First things first: between Silence the novel and Silence the film, the novel will always win. It has a greater complexity to it (at least for me), and it was what got me interested in Japan. That being said, the movie was fantastic. I've been waiting for this since last March when I heard that it was being filmed. So you can imagine my excitement.

Silence, if you've never heard of it, is a novel by Endo Shusaku, a Japanese who happened to be Catholic. He wrote lots of great novels, but Silence happens to be considered his masterpiece. The story is about two Jesuit priests who have arrived in Nagasaki. It's the Tokugawa era, and Christians are severely persecuted. The two priests have heard rumours that their teacher, Ferreira, has apostatized and came to find out the truth, plus minister to the faithful.

As you can imagine, this is not a happy movie. The scenes of torture are many and varied, and music is largely absent. The atmosphere of the book was carried over pretty well, and I love the movie for that.

So anyway, one of the priests is Rodrigues and it is his story that we follow. He's played by Andrew Garfield, but I managed not to see Spider-Man after five minutes. Rodrigues meets Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a complex guy who repeatedly apostatizes and then returns. And if you're interested, Kichijiro was one of the main characters I analysed for my EE. Sorry, forgot to say that I loved this so much I dissected it for my EE. (When I found this was going to be a movie, I emailed my EE teacher immediately)
Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.
I'm not doing a very good job of it, but the story explores the themes of faith and love - whether one can apostatise and still be a Christian, and whether it is better to apostatise to save a few or to remain firm and to bring about more martyrs.

And I think the book does a better job of exploring this moral dilemma. In the film, it is more obvious (to me, anyway), that these men are making the selfish choice when they commit apostasy. I should note that when I was talking about this film to my friend, she thought that the moral dilemma was very well-conveyed, so it may just be me, because I've been thinking about it ever since I read the book. So anyway, my thoughts:

Despite the protests of love and of the inability for the Japanese to truly understand Christianity (something I don't agree with), it feels to me that these men apostatized for the sake of their minds rather than for others. The scene where Ferreira first meets Rodrigues, and the look of unease when he is called "at peace", shows that this was done for their sakes, not for others.

These are men who have understood the glory and reward of martyrdom but not its suffering. They have remembered the words "suffer unto me" but not the words "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword". In short, they have only a one-sided understanding of Christianity. But that is something a lot of us have, especially with the rise of things like the Prosperity Gospel.

And like Kichijiro says, persecution is trying. In times of ease, it's easy to be a good Christian, but when it's your life on the line, can you do the same?

I do believe Kichijiro when he says that in another time, he would have lived and died a good Christian. In fact, I think the fact that he repeatedly tries to overcome his weak nature shows great courage - something that Rodrigues and Ferreira don't really show.
"[B]ut our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of Him."
The ending definitely has more complexity than the middle portion, and I enjoyed the fact that the state of Rodrigue's faith was left unanswered, and invites the reader to draw her own conclusions.

Plus, even though I was just all "this wasn't as complex as the book", I do realise that there are limitations to what the visual medium can do, even with voiceovers, and I think this is as complex as it could have been.

I heard that Silence is going to be released in Singapore, so please spend some time watching it. It won't be a comfortable film - and I mean for everyone, even Christians - but it is thought-provoking and beautifully shot. I haven't spent much time on that, but really, the film was gorgeous.



And to end, another Endo quote, though it isn't from Silence:
True religion should be able to respond to the dark melodies, the faulty and hideous sounds that echo from the heart of men. (From Scandal)
Now, I feel like re-reading Silence, Scandal and the other works of Shusaku Endo (and the works that I haven't read before).

Friday, February 10, 2017

Turing's Imitation Game by Kevin Warwick and Huma Shah

As part of the Industry 4.0 research two years ago, we studied a little bit about Artificial Intelligence. And that, of course, includes the Turing Test, a very interesting experiment where a machine tries to convince a judge that it's human via conversation. So when I saw this book, I jumped at the chance to read it and learn more.

Turing's Imitation Game starts with an introduction of Turing the man. That short introduction is actually really readable. And then it's Part 1, which is about AI and the Turing Test. The first few chapters are pretty easy, but once it gets into the controversies, the book starts to turn technical and theories are very quickly mentioned rather than carefully explained (although it's still possible to follow along). Part 3 is about the experiments that the writers did - the 2008, 2012 and 2014 tests, with an interview of several elite machine developers. This was the driest section of them all, though I found the interviews to be interesting.

And luckily for me, I did learn a lot from the book. One thing I thought was worth remembering is that:
A key feature of the Turing imitation game is not whether a machine gives a correct or incorrect response or indeed a truthful or untruthful one, but rather if it gives the sort of response that a human might give, so that an interrogator cannot tell the difference.
So this isn't really about artificial intelligence, but more of whether machines can imitate human behaviour. So this does lead to all sorts of interesting questions, such as "when machines can imitate humans perfectly, are they conscious?" Or "what is human consciousness anyway?" And "didn't that movie about the guy falling in love with the computer voice talk about this?" (Oh wait, the last one is just me?)

If you're interesting in how machines work and if we'll ever be replaced or ruled by robots, you might want to read this. Turing's imitation game provides a nice starting point for one to consider what the nature of thinking and consciousness involves, and this book gives a realistic picture of how close computers are to fooling humans (as of 2014, at the very least).

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fee and honest review.