Thursday, January 31, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire is the first book in John Scalzi's The Interdependency series. It won the 2018 Locus Award for Best Novel and was nominated for the 2018 Hugo Award for best novel as well. (Scalzi has won the Best Novel Hugo award before, for Redshirts).

The Collapsing Empire is definitely space opera and it is amusing and entertaining, up to a point.

The main characters are Cardenia, the "emperox" of the Interdependency (the future form of human civilization), Lord Marce Claremont, a physicist who confirms a important development that will affect humanity's future survival) and Lady Kiva Lagos, a prominent member of a prominent family whose every other word appears to be an expletive.

The plot involves various acts of betrayal and intrigue and there's also a fair amount of action and violence. I don't want to give away any aspects of the plot or include spoilers. However,. I must say that the  overall the effect of the book for me is far less memorable than one would expect from such a famous author like Scalzi and for a book which in the grand scheme of things is widely celebrated. 

My reaction to Scalzi's work is often hit or miss. As most people would agree, his best book  is Old Man's War, which also happens to be his first published work. Some people would also say it has been downhill from there, in the relative quality of his books. There are multiple sequels to Old Man's War, with most recent entry in the series being The End of all Things (Book 6).

I would have thought I would have a good reaction to his Lock In and Head On books, because they are genre-splitters (they are detective books set in a world where the main character has a condition that has him use technology to get over the fact that his body can not move under its own power). But I read about a chapter of Lock In and was just completely uninterested in what the story was about.

Happily, The Collapsing Empire was definitely able to hold my attention for the entire book. But the primary feeling I typically have with reading Scalzi is "This is not as funny (or good) as the author thinks it is!" But clearly mine is not a majority view. Many, many people buy his books and they are often nominated for (and win) prestigious awards in the field. But I would say, YMMV (your mileage may vary) or caveat emptor.

Title: The Collapsing Empire.
John Scalzi.
Paperback: 336 pages.
Date Published: March 21, 2017.
Date Read: July 1, 2017.

GOODREADS RATING: ★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.3/4.0).


Monday, January 28, 2019

EYE CANDY: Jordan Torres (reprise)

Jordan Torres is a model from New York City who has well over 260,000 followers on Instagram (@officialjt). He has quickly become one of my favorite Eye Candy models and has appeared here once before (December 17, 2018). You're welcome!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

2019 AUS OPEN: Djokovic Wins 15th Major, Record 7th Aussie Title

As expected, World #1 Novak Djokovic defeated World #2 Rafael Nadal to win his record 7th Australian Open title, his 15th major and 3rd consecutive. This was the pair's 53rd meeting 8th in a major final and Nadal's first straight sets loss 6-3 6-2 6-3 ever in a major final. Djokovic had an astonishing 9 unforced errors in 3 sets (26 games) to Nadal's 28. Djokovic is now 7-0 in Australian Open finals and 15-9 in major finals, compared to Roger Federer's 20-10 and Nadal's 17-8 records.

Many people had predicted Djokovic would win, but no one predicted that he would demolish his rival so completely. The last time they played in the Australian Open finals, 7 years ago in 2012, the match was a 5-set classic that lasted nearly 6 hours! The win places Djokovic just two behind Nadal and now 5 behind Federer, and gives him another chance at the Nole Slam if he wins the French Open this year, which is very possible, if not likely.

2019 AUS OPEN: Men's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs. Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2]

This is my prediction post for the 2019 Australian Open men's final. Last year I correctly predicted that Roger Federer would beat Marin Cilic in the 2018 Aussie Open men's final.  This year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals4 of 4 men's quarterfinals2 of 2 men's semifinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals. I also incorrectly predicted the winner of the 2019 Aussie Open women's final between Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova.


Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] d. Lucas Pouille (FRA) [28] 6-0 6-2 6-2. This match demonstrated that the World #1 is playing at a very high level. Pouille is a very good player who although previously had not had very much success in Melbourne in this years tournament he beat Borna Coric and Milos Raonic.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2] d. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRK) [14] 6-2 6-4 6-0. The 21-year-old Greek phenomenon who dispatched 2-time defending champion Roger Federer in four sets really thought that he had a good chance to win against Rafa Nadal and the legendary Spaniard gave the youngster a master class instead. It's pretty unusual to have 6-0 sets in major semifinals (since both players have made it through 5 rounds of play to make it to this level) so it is significant that both Djokovic and Nadal were able to do this to their opponents this year.


This is the record 53rd meeting between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and their 8th meeting in a major fnal (Nadal  leads 4-3) while Djokovic leads their overall head-to-head 27-25. The two have played an Australian Open final before, in 2012, and Djokovic prevailed in a nearly 6-hour marathon that left both combatants doubled over in pain during the trophy presentation afterwards. Djokovic has won the Australian Open title 6 times and currently has 14 majors, just 3 behind Nadal's 17 majors (just 1 in Australia and 4 on hard courts). He has also won the last two majors contested (2018 US Open and 2018 Wimbledon) so is on a 20-match grand slam winning streak.  Many people say that Nadal has looked amazing all tournament, and he has not dropped a set reaching the final, but Djokovic has actually spent slightly less time on court (due to a disappointing second set retirement by Kei Nishikori in their quarterfinal match). It should be an amazing matchup, hopefully as high quality as their showdown in the Wimbledon semifinals was last year, where both players were at their best simultaneously. I feel like that if both players are playing their best tennis in Melbourne then Djokovic will come away the winner. MadProfessah's pick: Djokovic.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

2019 AUS OPEN: Osaka Wins 2nd Major Title And Reaches WTA #1

Despite my prediction to the contrary, Naomi Osaka defeated Petra Kvitova 7-6(2) 5-7 6-4 to win the 2019 Australian Open singles title, her second consecutive major title at the tender age of 21. Additionally, with the win Osaka will assume the top ranking on the women's tour on Monday, becoming the first player of Asian descent, male or female to reach World #1. Kvitova will be World #2.

How The Match Was Won
The first set was a high quality affair, with both players hitting their marks on their serve and defending break points well. To me this, was where I started to doubt that Kvitova would win the match, when in the 7th game Osaka went down 0-40 but was able to save all 3 breakpoints, primarily from missed service returns. As one of the commentators said, Kvitova wasn't playing the scoreboard well. She was consistently going for too much on important points and often missing. In some sense, it takes guts to continue going for her shots instead of playing it safe, so maybe there was no way she was going to win this match playing at the level she had access to on that day. To me, it was clear that this was not the Peak Petra that we had previously seen in her two appearance in major finals. Osaka raised her game at exactly the right time, and ended up winning the tiebreaker 7-2.

In the second set, Kvitova went up an early break but Osaka was able to break back immediately and snatched the momentum to win 4 games in a row and eventually earned three consecutive match points as Kvitova served to stay in the match 3-5. Astonishingly, Kvitova started playing some of her best tennis at this point and saved all three match points. When Osaka went to serve for the championship she was promptly broken before she had a championship point on her own serve and the momentum had clearly switched. Osaka had a full meltdown and ended up double faulting on set point to lose the second set 5-7.

In the third set, Osaka recovered from her meltdown and stoically played solid and powerful tennis while Kvitova couldn't maintain the momentum from winning the second set and eventually was broken in her second service game. Osaka didn't look back from there and this time when she served for the championship she reached triple championship point, and eventually won the match and the title on her 5th match point.

Implications Of The Win
Osaka became the first player, male or female, to win their first two consecutive major titles since Jennifer Capriati won the 2001 Australian Open and French Open. The Japanese player became the first female player since Serena Williams to win back-to-back major titles in 2003 on her way to her first Serena Slam. By reaching World #1 at age 21 and winning 2 major finals Osaka assures that she will be entered into the Tennis Hall of Fame. In fact, many observers are suggesting that her ascendance marks a phase change at the top of woman's tennis, where it is now conceivable that even if Serena Williams were to play her very best tennis, she may not win against Osaka.

Friday, January 25, 2019

2019 AUS OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Naomi Osaka (JPN) [4] vs. Petra Kvitova (CZE) [8]
This is my prediction post for the 2019 Australian Open women's final. Last year I incorrectly predicted that Simona Halep would beat Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 Aussie Open women's final.  This year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals, 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals2 of 2 men's semifinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinals. I will also predict the winner of the 2019 Aussie Open men's final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.


Naomi Osaka (JPN) [4] d. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [7] 6-2 4-6 6-4. This was actually quite a good match but it was overshadowed by the dramatics of the round before, when Pliskova completed one of the all-time historic comebacks, amazingly against Serena Williams. She came back from 1-5 30-40 down in the final set and won the last 6 games of the set after Serena roller her ankle and failed to win another point on serve, despite having four match points. So, one would have thought that Pliskova would realize that she's playing with "house money" and come out blasting against Osaka but that is not what happened. It's clear now that Osaka has the game and mentality to get to the top of the women's game and she has demonstrated that repeatedly in the last 6 months.

Petra Kvitova (CZE) [8] d. Danielle Collins (USA) 7-6(2) 6-0. Although Pliskova's upset of Serena was historic, in some sense Collins 6-0 6-2 win over 3-time major champion Angie Kerber in the fourth round is even more astounding. The 25-year-old American had never won a grand slam match before and she ended up winning 5 matches in a row in Melbourne. For one set she held Kvitova to a tiebreak set, the first player in the tournament to stay even with the 2-time major champion for so long this year. Collins has a feisty personality, enjoying the competition and the fight. She is an excellent counterpuncher and handles pace quite well. Hopefully this breakthrough will give her the confidence to make a bigger splash on the women's tour.


Last year's final featured two players in Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki who had not won a grand slam, who were also competing for the #1 ranking in the world (although they had both held it previously). This year, the final features two players in Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova who have both won a major but who have not reached World #1. If Osaka wins she will become World #1 at age 20, the youngest since Wozniacki did it in 2011. If Kvitova wins, she will become the oldest player to reach #1 for the first time. The two are taking undefeated grand slam final records in to this match, with Osaka 1-0 (2018 US Open, d. S. Williams) and Kvitova 2-0 (2014 Wimbledon d. Bouchard; 2011 Wimbledon d. Sharapova) so someone will experience their fist major final loss today. Kvitova has an amazing 26-7 record in finals and has won her last 8 on the tour. She is contending for the #1 spot because of her all-round stellar play on the tour, including wining the Sydney warm-up tournament over Ash Barty, while Osaka is going for her second consecutive major title.  Amazingly, the two have never played on tour before, so this is their very first meeting. That will almost certainly result in a very nervous start for both players. I would be shocked if P3tra doesn't live up to her name and the match end in straight sets. (Neither player has lost a set in a major final before either.) Their games are very similar, they play big babe, first strike tennis. Kvitova has the fact that she's a lefty in her favor, but Osaka has the more consistent serve. Osaka is possibly the better athlete, but Kvitova's amazing record in finals is very convincing to me.
 MadProfessah's pick: Kvitova.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Last Breath (DCI Erika Foster, #4) by Robert Bryndza

Last Breath is the fourth book in Robert Bryndza’s DI Erika Foster series. These are basically straightforward police procedural novels based in England. Foster is an immigrant from a Slavic country who has been in the country for decades but still has a slight accent and her own cultural differences from your typical British police officer. She has very little respect for administrative rules and the chain of command. Her focus is on finding the evil men who abduct and/or savagely murder women. Sadly, she has a lot of men to track down.

Bryndza has a sparse, straightforward writing style. In Last Breath, the reader learns pretty early in the book who the perpetrator is by getting his perspective on the planning and execution of his crimes. This is a device often used by mystery writers because it raises the stakes by giving the reader more insight into the criminal’s horrible crimes and twisted ideology. It also heightens the suspense of how and whether the police will catch the criminal because we get to see more details of how close (or far) the police are getting to the perpetrator.

The main aspect of the DCI Foster series which differentiates it from others are the supporting characters (in addition to the protagonist's obsessiveness with catching criminals). I appreciate the diversity of her investigative team which consists of DI James Peterson, a handsome Black guy (with whom Foster has a friend-with-benefits relationship) and DI Kate Moss, a chubby lesbian who regularly supplies the comic relief in the story.

Overall, Last Breath is an average entry in the DCI Foster series but since the series overall is well above average for the genre it is a suspenseful and entertaining read recommended for aficionados of the British police procedure genre.

Title: Last Breath.
Robert Bryndza.
Paperback: 362 pages.
Date Published: April 12, 2017.
Date Read: December 26, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3./4.0).


2019 AUS OPEN: Men's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the men's semifinals at the 2019 Australian Open. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals and 2 of 2 men's semifinalsThis year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and  correctly predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Lucas Pouille (FRA) [28].  World #1 Novak Djokovic had a mismatch with Kei Nishikori to reach his seventh semifinal in Melbourne while Lucas Pouille is playing in his first major semifinal of his career. In fact, Pouille was 0-5 at the Australian Open and has now won 5 matches in a  row at the tournament. Surprisingly, the two have never met on tour so  there's no head-to-head influence a prediction here. There's no question that Pouille could beat Djokovic, but will he? Very unlikely. In fact, Djokovic has always won the title in Melbourne (six so far) when he reaches this level of the tournament. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) [14] vs Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2]. 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas has already had a dramatic impact on the tournament by defeating 2-time defending champion Roger Federer in the 4th round. He was able to follow up that huge win without a letdown by defeating Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinal. Because of that he has to face 17-time major champion Rafael Nadal, who took out another #NextGen player in Francis Tiafoe in the quarterfinal. The two have already played twice and Nadal won both matches, relatively easily in 2018. Even though Tstsipas is already better than he was last year, I still don't see how anyone prevents another Djokovic-Nadal final. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

2019 AUS OPEN: Women's Semifinals Preview

Here are my predictions for the women's semifinals at the 2019 Australian Open. Last year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals and 2 of 2 men's semifinalsThis year I have correctly predicted 3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and  correctly predicted 4 of 4 men's quarterfinals. I will also predict the men's semifinals this year.

Serena Williams (USA) [16] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [7] vs. Naomi Osaka (JPN)[4].  Wow! One round after outlasting the World #1 Simona Halep in a very high-quality 3-set match Serena Williams led Karolina Pliskova 5-1 40-30 in the 3rd set when she was called on a foot fault on match point. After serving she played a point where she rolled her ankle and from then on she could not win a point on serve. Serena ended up having 4 match points in all and losing all of them (generally on outstanding play by her opponent). Once the score was even at 5-all Serena still couldn't hold serve and was broken at love and then saved 2 match points before losing on her 3rd. So, former World #1 Pliskova will face off for the right to play in her first Australian Open final with the reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka, who dismissed Elina Svitolina in straight sets. Pliskova and Osaka have played 3 times and Pliskova leads 2-1, including a tight straight sets win in the Tokyo final. Pliskova was impressively impassive against Serena today but I still give the edge to Osaka because of her experience and the fact I think she's a better athlete. PREDICTION: Osaka.

Petra Kvitova (CZE) [8] vs. Danielle Collins (USA).  Danielle Collins has already won more money here by reaching the semifinals than she has in the rest of her career combined. She is playing against a 2-time major champion. Amazingly, these two players have played once before (just a few weeks ago) and Kvitova won a relatively tight 3-set affair featuring two tiebreak sets. In this match which is much more important I would be shocked if the player with more experience does not make it through. PREDICTIONKvitova

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

2019 OSCARS: The Nominations

And they're off! The nominations for the 91st Academic Awards, i.e. the Oscars, have been annonced.
The nominations in the top 8 categories are given below. For Best Picture I have currently seen 4 of the 9 nominees (indicated in bold), and definitely intend to see "The Favourite" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" before the ceremonies. I don't even want to hate-watch "Green Book." "Vice" is a strong possibility too.

Best Picture:
  • “Black Panther”
  • “BlacKkKlansman”
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • “The Favourite”
  • “Green Book”
  • “Roma”
  • A Star Is Born”
  • “Vice”

  • Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
  • Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
  • Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
  • Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
  • Adam McKay, “Vice”
Lead Actor:
  • Christian Bale, “Vice”
  • Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
  • Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
  • Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Lead Actress:
  • Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
  • Glenn Close, “The Wife”
  • Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
  • Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
  • Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Supporting Actor:
  • Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
  • Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
  • Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
  • Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
  • Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

Supporting Actress:
  • Amy Adams, “Vice”
  • Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
  • Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
  • Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
  • Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

Adapted Screenplay:
  • “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
  • “BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
  • “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
  • “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
  • “A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

Original Screenplay:
  • “The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
  • “First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
  • “Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
  • “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
  • “Vice,” Adam McKay
Total Nominations

  • 10 — “The Favourite” and "Roma"
  • — “A Star Is Born” and “Vice” 
  • 7  — "Black Panther”
  • 6  — “BlacKkKlansman”
  • — “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book”
  • — “First Man” and “Mary Poppins Returns

Monday, January 21, 2019

2019 AUS OPEN: Women's Quarterfinal Preview and Predictions

Here are my predictions for the women's quarterfinals at the 2019 Australian Open. Last year I did not predict the quarterfinalsThis year I have also predicted the men's quarterfinals.

Simona Halep (ROU) [1] Serena Williams (USA) [16] vs. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) [7]. Serena Williams is playing in her 50th(!) major quarterfinal while her opponent is playing in her seventh. Serena has won this tournament seven times (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017) and is looking like she really wants to get her record-tying 24th major title here in Melbourne. She played the best match of her post-maternity come back to notch her 17th win against a reigning #1 by defeating Simona Halep in a very high-quality 3-set match 6-1 4-6 6-4. Her opponent will be former #1 Karolina Pliskova who eliminated 2-time major champion Garbine Muguruza in straight sets in exactly an hour. Curiously, the one time that Pliskova defeated Serena, it was at the 2016 U.S. Open, one round after Serena won a brilliant match against Halep. Will history repeat itself?  I seriously doubt it. PREDICTION: Serena.

Petra Kvitova (CZE) [8] vs. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) [15].  This is a reprise of the 2019 Sydney final, which was won by Kvitova in a 3rd set tiebreak. Presumably that experience should give the Czech 2-time major champion the edge against the craft Aussie who will almost certainly have the entire crowd rooting for her. It's very possible this could be another barn burner of a match. Peak Petra is unplayable, but did Kvitova peak too early be dispatching the teenage phenom Ananda Anisimova the round before in straight sets? Has Barty finally realized she has the tools to hang with the big babes now that she outlasted Maria Sharapova 6-4 in the 3rd set? This should be an exciting match-up. The winner will play the winner of the Serena-Pliskova match so the final will still be a fair distance away.  All that being said, I think experience may be dispositive. PREDICTION: Kvitova.

 Naomi Osaka (JPN) [4] vs. Elina Svitolina (UKR) [6].  This may be the most exciting of the four quarterfinals. These two players are the closest in ranking of any of the match-ups  with Svitolina holding a tight 3-2 lead in their head-to-head, including both times they played in 2018, with all 5 meetings on hard courts. That being said, is Osaka really the same player after having won a slam (2018 US Open) by defeating her idol Serena Williams? Probably not, but neither is Elina Svitolina, having won the 2018 year-end championship by outlasting Sloane Stephens. Osaka has had to problem solve her way through two tricky opponents in the last two rounds (Anastasja Sevastova and Su-Wei Hseih) while Svitolina survived the barrage against Madison Keys to win a see-saw 6-2 1-6 6-1 slugfest. Playing Keys is a good preparation for playing Osaka but there's no question that Osaka is a smarter player than the American. Svitolina is the women's tour version of Sascha Zverev and it is definitely time for her to breakthrough at a major. Is this the match that does it? I think it is very possible, but now I give Osaka the edge because she has more experience, despite being significantly younger. PREDICTIONOsaka

Angelique Kerber (GER) [2] Danielle Collins (USA) vs. Sloane Stephens (USA) [5] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS). Collins announced herself last year when she kicked Venus Williams out of the Miami Open. Prior to this year, the 25-year-old American had never won a match in a major and in Australia she engineered one of the most jaw-dropping scorelines of the entire tournament, a 6-0 6-2 drubbing of 3-time major champion Angelique Kerber.  Her opponent is Pavlyuchenkova, who was able to outlast Sloane Stephens in a surprising victory. Neither of these players really have any right to be in a major semifinal and will be major underdogs to reach the final against the winner of the other quarterfinalist. In these situations, I usually go with the person who is the better athlete.  PREDICTION: Collins.

2019 AUS OPEN: Men's Quarterfinals Preview (and Predictions)

Here are my predictions for the men's quarterfinals at the Australian Open for 2019 I will also predict the women's quarterfinals.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [1] vs Kei Nishikori (JPN) [8].  Nishikori has had an incredibly rough path to get to his 3rd consecutive major quarterfinal (and tenth overall). Three of the four rounds at this year's Australian Open have been 5-set matches and two of those have been decided by a final set 10-point super tiebreaker where Kei has been substantially behind but ended up getting to 10 points first. Since Djokovic has won the last two majors (2018 Wimbledon d. Kevin Anderson and 2018 U.S. Open d. Juan Martin del Potro) and is a 6-time winner in Melbourne he is widely viewed as the prohibitive favorite to win the 2019 Australian Open. However, he has not been winning as convincingly as one would expect from the World's #1, dropping a set in each of his matches against #NextGen opponents Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev. That being said, Djokovic has an overwhelming 15-2 head-to-head advantage against his quarterfinal opponent and must be considered a favorite to reach his 7th Australian Open final. Mad Professah's pick: Djokovic.

Sascha Zverev (GER) [4] Milos Raonic (CAN) [16] vs Borna Coric (CRO) [11] Lucas Pouille (FRA) [28] Lucas Pouille  had never won a match at the Australian Open before this year despite playing it every year since 2014. Now, with Amelie Mauresmo as his coach he has won four in a row, taking out another #NextGen member in Borna Coric to reach his first major quarterfinal in three years (and the 3rd in his career). His opponent will not be the World #4 but instead will be the resurgent Milos Raonic who is trying to return to the top of men's tennis after an injury that took him out of  contention for most of 2018. Sascha Zverev has been one of the surprising disappointments in the men's game despite winning the biggest title of his career (the 2018 ATP Tour Championships) by defeating Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer along the way. Zverev won only two games in the first two sets before demolishing his racket and the third set was a tight affair but Raonic won the tiebreaker and the match. Interestingly, Raonic is 3-0 against Pouille, including a win on grass last year so he should go into this match-up with a lot of confidence, and the experience of playing in his 9th career quarterfinal (3-5 record). Mad Professah's pick: Raonic.

Marin Cilic (CRO) [6] Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) [22] vs Roger Federer (SUI) [3] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) [14]. Roberto Bautista Agut (or RBA as everyone calls him) has yet to lose a match in 2019, and is playing some of the best tennis of his life. He has an incredibly difficult draw, but has made it this far. Some of the scalps he has collected in Melbourne include Sir Andrew Murray's, 2018 Australian Open finalist Marin Cilic, and the highest ranked #NextGen player Karen Khachanov. However, he may have met his match in the brilliant Stefanos Tsitsipas who took out Roger Federer, the 2017 and 2018 champion, in four scintillating sets. The 20-year-old Greek has a big game and the maturity of some years his senior so I would not expect a mental let down despite the task of building on his paradigm-shifting win. Mad Professah's pick: Tsistipas.

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [2] vs Francis Tiafoe (USA).  No one really has expected Nadal to do well here because his record in hard court tournaments is so hit or miss. However, it should not be forgotten that he has won the US Open three times (2010, 2013, 2017) and the Australian Open once (2009) and reached the final here three other times (2012, 2014 and 2017). But the Spaniard has yet to drop a set in four rounds of play, which bodes well for his ability to go late in the tournament. His opponent will be 21-year-old Francis Tiafoe playing in his very first major qurtaerfinal, and the first time he has been the last American remaining in a grand slam draw. Tiafoe has already taken out two very good hard court players in Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov but there's nothing that prepares one for the tenacity and power of Nadal. Surprisingly, the two have never played before and that might give Tiafoe a chance to make some inroads, but I would be surprised if he wins a set. Mad Professah's pick: Nadal.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu

Ball Lightning  is another science fiction novel by Chinese author Cixin Liu whose excellent Three-Body trilogy (The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death's End) won the Hugo award for Best Novel in 2015. Liu is the first Chinese-language science fiction author to win the Hugo award and thus I was quite excited about reading Ball Lightning which was actually written before the Three-Body trilogy (which is officially known as Remembrance of Earth's Past) but has been translated and released in the United States well afterwards.

One of the features of Liu’s science fiction is his inclusion of real science and mathematical concepts along with his whimsical adaptation of these ideas in creative and mind-expanding ways. This is a central feature of Ball Lightning which is about a form of spherical lightning that kills the parents of Chen, the main character, in the first chapter and ignites a lifelong obsession with the topic.

In Ball Lightning, Liu again impresses with his imaginative use of science in the service of plot, perhaps at the expense of characterization. Chen is almost a cipher. The much more interesting characters in the book are Lin Yun, a female Army captain who is obsessed with finding and using scientific discoveries to produce paradigm-shifting weapons to benefit the Chinese nation, and Ding Yi, a brilliant but eccentric male scientist who makes mind-bending discoveries about the nature of the Universe.

Unfortunately Ball Lightning is not as effective or fascinating as the books in Remembrance of Earth's Past. I think some aspect of that may be due to the nature of the translation. Some of the language in this book seems somewhat stilted, in a way that reduces the impact of the many creative ideas Liu deploys. Another aspect of the book which contributes to my dissatisfaction is my lack of connection with the characters. As I said before, Chen has almost no personality. Both Lin Yun and Ding Yi have almost too much but none of the characters can be said to be appealing. This is not unusual in a Cixin Liu novel, but usually the creativity of the ideas and elegance of the plot counteracts this aspect of his writing (or at least it did in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy).

Overall, I would say that Ball Lightning is a solid 3.5 stars, because it fails to meet the sky-high expectations set by the brilliance of the other work I have read by this author, but that still means it is well above the median of most work published in the genre of hard science fiction.

Title: Ball Lightning.
Ann Leckie.
Paperback: 384 pages.
Date Published: August 4, 2018.
Date Read: December 8, 2018.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.33/4.0).


Monday, January 14, 2019

EYE CANDY: Adrian Conrad (4th time!)

Adrian Conrad is a new favorite of mine, having appeared as Eye Candy three times before (January 22,2018December 11 2017November 27, 2017). He's obviously liked by other as well, with 150,000 followers on Instagram (@adrianconrad_).

You're welcome!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

01/12/19: 28th Anniversary In Mexico City

Today is the 28th anniversary of the first date with my future husband. This time we are spending it in Mexico City, Mexico. This is in front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes on January 12, 2019!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan

Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan is the latest book by the author of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy (Altered Carbon, Broken AngelsWoken Furies) and especially Thirteen/Black Man, the last of which is set in the same universe as Thin Air. Morgan is known for his futuristic, noir, sci-fi thrillers featuring ultra-violent, surgically enhanced, anti-heroes who often have a weak spot for the underclass in society. He is one of my favorite authors and I have wanted to read Thin Air since I learned this book was in the work in 2015. I bought it on Amazon and it arrived on its publication date but I delayed reading it until the holidays.

In Thin Air the protagonist is named Hakan Veil, an Earth-born mercenary who has been trapped on Mars for over a decade (earth years) after his last job protecting a space ship for a mega-corporation ended in a way displeasing to his bosses and almost fatally for the nearly indestructible Veil.

One notable feature of all Morgan’s work, which is one reason that it is catapulted to the top of my must-read lists, is his ability to convey a sense of place, culture and history in the settings of all his books, regardless of genre. Typically this feature of novels is referred to as “world building” but with Morgan the term doesn't do justice to the immersive nature of his writing. Although he is primarily known for his hard science fiction, he has also written an epic fantasy trilogy called A Land Fit For Heroes (The Steel Remains, The Cold Commands, The Dark Defiles) which also has a fascinatingly complicated backstory and setting.

The Mars of Thin Air is a compelling, technologically advanced, market-driven dystopia, with a rich history and multicultural, multi-ethnic populace struggling under the stewardship of staggeringly corrupt political and juridical officials. Morgan embeds his story in the long colonial history of the red planet under the forces of COLIN (the Colonization Initiative), an entity which has appeared in several of Morgan’s science fiction works set in the far future of humanity. COLIN is the organization which is responsibility for the expansion of humanity into the solar system and beyond. The author also describes a civilization on the red planet which is buffeted and sculpted by the amorality of corporate greed, organized crime and unregulated capitalism.

Morgan begins Thin Air in medias res as he thrusts the reader into a setting where Veil immediately maims and kills people, some of whom appear to be innocent bystanders but some who are also clearly responsible for horrible acts themselves. The effect is that we as the reader are not really sure if we are to identify positively or negatively with Veil as the protagonist of the story. Is Veil a hero or a villain? Morgan likes his characters to be morally nuanced, with situational ethics and malleable loyalties, and Veil is another example of this type.

Another feature of Morgan’s work are his bewilderingly intricate plots and Thin Air is no exception to this rule. The primary plot is centered around Veil’s task of protecting a COLIN Earth functionary who has come to Mars to investigate the curious case of an Earthbound lottery winner who disappeared before he could collect his prize. This reveals some obvious corruption (cui buono?) and the fact that several powerful forces are trying to control and dominate the future of Mars society. Of course, at some point Veil loses contact with his charge and it becomes clear that she may not be who she appears to be and that there is far more to the disappearance of the erstwhile lottery winner than meets the eye at first blush.

Overall, Morgan’s Thin Air  is an exciting, action-filled and intelligent take on a suspenseful mystery thriller set in a dystopian future society on Mars. If you like any of Morgan’s previous work (especially Thirteen) you will almost certainly also enjoy Thin Air. A lot.


Title: Thin Air.
Richard K. Morgan.
Paperback: 544 pages.
Date Published: October 23, 2018.
Date Read: December 30, 2018.

★★★★  (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).



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