This book is one of the best, most eye-opening books I've read in a long time. It illuminates for me one of the mysteries that has long puzzled me - tThis book is one of the best, most eye-opening books I've read in a long time. It illuminates for me one of the mysteries that has long puzzled me - the assassination of Julius Caesar. His death never really made sense to me in the context of the civil fighting that went on before and after him. Most people will say Caesar was killed because he was acting like a king, too big for his britches, made the wrong enemies, trusted his rivals too much, blah, blah, blah.
This book encouraged the reader to follow the money, and it described a Rome where the rich Romans were exploiting the crap out the populace - stealing their land, charging rents and interest rates that would make a loan shark blush, screwing over their veterans . . . basically the same shenanigans that American bankers and our elite are up to today.
Caesar tried to slow down this theft, just a little bit, and was assassinated, just one in a long line of popular Roman reformers before him. I don't know if we would call him a Democrat by today's standards, but his political faction, the populares, were met with violence and death by the plutocrats in the optimates party.
The book is an astounding rebuke not only of the rich kleptocrats who fought against Caesar, and the Gracchus brothers, and all of the other reformers who came before and were killed, but of the generations of historians that have come after and have basically taken the side of Cicero, Brutus, Cato, and Crassus against the people of Rome. Parenti exposes the subtle and extremely unsubtle bias towards these rich schemers in the writings of historians down the ages. For good measure, he exposes Cicero as a cowardly over-reactor, and the "Cataline Conspiracy" as the nothing-burger it seems to have been.
History echoes and rhymes, and being able to put Caesar's struggle and death in the context of the class struggle brings extraordinary explanatory power to bear. This is a well written, and important, book. ...more
I guess I can see roughly what the big deal was when these books came out in the eighties. Cyberspace, filled with avatars for pockets of data, hackerI guess I can see roughly what the big deal was when these books came out in the eighties. Cyberspace, filled with avatars for pockets of data, hackers, artificial intelligences, money. Drugs, the intersection of the fabulously wealthy and the poor, and SHAPE. Gibson is big into the SHAPE of things, and this obsession with form (on further display in Pattern Recognition) shows in the way he describes his characters.
The novel follows four story lines that eventually converge. People meet for the first time, are reunited, are killed, are drugged, are subsumed into the matrix of the network. Cyberaliens, AIs, the entertainment industry, and organized crime get thrown into the mix for good measure. It isn't clear what any of it is supposed to amount to. Still, it is an entertaining read, and Gibson is one of the better writers in science fiction - he can create memorable images with a precise turn of phrase in a way that many others cannot. ...more
Rogues is an excellent anthology of short stories that for the most part feature protagonists that are a bit outside of social norms and law. The storRogues is an excellent anthology of short stories that for the most part feature protagonists that are a bit outside of social norms and law. The stories come from every genre, but have been apparently been chosen for their level of fun and mischief. Thoroughly enjoyable. ...more
It is sad to realize that someone whose work you had admired in the past has had their intellect eaten away by watching too much Fox News. In FlashbacIt is sad to realize that someone whose work you had admired in the past has had their intellect eaten away by watching too much Fox News. In Flashback, Simmons basically channels all of his old white guy fear into a future of the United States that incorporates all of the conservative boogiemen, no matter how nonsensical or even contradictory they are. Let's see how many ways we can think of that the scary foreigners can sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids, shall we?
The inscrutable Japanese, of course, who have all the money and are too disciplined to get hooked on drugs, the way we decadent Westerners do, take over most of the United States except for
the Reconquista of the fecund Mexicans, who carve out an Aztlan in the Southwest, except for
the Caliphate of scary Muslims who control everything else, except for
the dirty hippies of Boulder, Colorado, who somehow manage to be both liberal and fascist, of course, and
the Texans, who despite having no concept of government, what it's for, and how to manage it, have the only working piece of 'Merica! left.
Oh, what else? Global warming a laughable joke. Electric cars geld everyone. The youth are violent and drug-addled. Civilization is in a handbasket, riding swiftly on the down escalator.
Our protagonist is an aging, white, drug-addicted widower, who overcomes his drug addiction long enough to rescue his misguided son and fight against all of the awful foreigners and liberals and solve mysteries and get off my lawn!!!
Basically, this is Bill O'Reilly's nightmare, and you'd think Dan Simmons, who pulled off one of the major modern science fictions coups with the Hyperion books, would be smarter than this. I'd love to believe this is a satire, but this book doesn't display the wit and humor such a satire would require. Buy this book for your conservative uncle, he'll love it. ...more
The stories in The Cyberiad feature two inventors of machines, Trurl and Klapaucius, who are themselves machines, inhabiting a quasi-feudalistic worldThe stories in The Cyberiad feature two inventors of machines, Trurl and Klapaucius, who are themselves machines, inhabiting a quasi-feudalistic world of space travel and cyber-knights and galactic rulers. The two inventors are a bit like Frog and Toad: friends, accomplices, fellow-travelers, and mildly jealous and competitive with each other. There is an amazing outpouring of linguistic genius here, with puns and neologisms and clever play of idea and concept, and I applaud the translator who had to move this pile of riches from Polish to English and keep so much of the play intact.
The stories are a mix of the profound and the absurd, with philosophy and mathematics and a good deal of actual science and scientific concepts thrown in for good measure. Maxwell's Demon, for example, makes an appearance to pull an unending series of facts from the motion of gas atoms. I feel it is almost certain that Douglas Adams was inspired by this book before the Hitchhiker series. Themes of love, altruism, the perfect society, empathy, greed, haste, cooperation, and technology are all touched on. There are moments of real poetic genius as well.
Overall, this is a work of a clever, creative, whimsical, and masterful mind, interested in questions of philosophy and fascinated by our ability to mechanize our world. ...more
The original versions of Aesop's Fables don't have morals. Those preachy zingers at the end of each tale ("Look before your Leap", "One good turn deseThe original versions of Aesop's Fables don't have morals. Those preachy zingers at the end of each tale ("Look before your Leap", "One good turn deserves another") were added by medieval monks hundreds of years later, and they clang against the fabelist's style. Read Aesop again without the morals, and each story simply ends, with a feeling like a haiku or a zen koan. They are beautiful little stories that invite meditation and contemplation, and they contain hidden depths, ambiguities, and layers of meaning that are spoiled by the ham-fisted "summaries".
David Sedaris presents us with a small book of new fables here, thankfully without tag lines. Anthropomorphic animals give us glimpses of human behavior set in an animal kingdom both amusing and pitiless. Sedaris has the writer's ear for dialog that reveals the ugliness within people, from foolishness and jealousy to cruelty and caprice. We behold racism, regret, ugly tourism, pettiness, self-pity, unfaithfulness, betrayal, and even murder through these animals. The stories range from deliciously funny to gruesome and uncomfortable. Each invites contemplation, and let's hope that no scribes in the future feel the need to add a moral summaries. ...more
So the answer to "how does time travel actually work"? in the world of this book and its prequel, Blackout, is finally answered in this volume. It turSo the answer to "how does time travel actually work"? in the world of this book and its prequel, Blackout, is finally answered in this volume. It turns out that time travel is a closed loop, a la Bill & Ted's, in which only things which have actually happened can actually happen, no matter what choices are made.
But don't worry. The characters in this book fret and dither over that for hundreds of pages. And every uncertainty that flies through their minds is duly recorded, as well as every counter-argument. Should they take action X, not knowing if it will change history for the better or worse? Or will the change occur because of their _inaction_? Sweet mother of pearl, the opportunities to fret about this abound.
Our protagonists, historians from the future, inhabit World War II London, interacting with street urchins, ARP wardens, volunteer hospital staff, British intelligence, cranky landladies, and firewatchers. For historians, they are remarkably wrapped up in the drama of their own (relatively) trivial problems, and not very curious or particularly observant about the people, events, and _history_ occurring all around them. And they find, perhaps unsurprisingly, that London during the Blitz is not a great place to keep to oneself and try to maintain professional distance. It is all hands on deck, with everyone needed to pitch in, interact, contribute, sacrifice, and alter things. And make connections they do.
Again, the dual success and failure of this book is frustrating, as it was with Blackout. I feel as if I've been given a very vivid sense of the environment around St. Pauls Cathedral, the Underground shelters, some war time entertainment, and some of the subterfuge involved in the invasion in Normandy. And for that I'm grateful. But the price the reader has to pay, spending time in the heads of the feckless, fretful, dithering, and ultimately passionless protagonists, is at times almost not worth it. Everything is just so hard and complicated for them, from contacting each other to typing fake ads, and everyone jumps to the wrong conclusions about everything, and no one just keeps their damn cool and preserves their sense of wonder about being in the midst of World War II.
The outcome of the plot is relatively satisfying, although it is telegraphed well in advance.
This is a rather joyful homage to James Bond, and as those movies have some childish elements, bringing that world into young adult fiction makes it eThis is a rather joyful homage to James Bond, and as those movies have some childish elements, bringing that world into young adult fiction makes it even more fun to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the ride.
Nearly all of the Bond tropes are here - the gadget master, ridiculously named women, the rich villain who must challenge our hero's manliness in contests of skill, the buddy from the CIA, the long-drawn-out death plans for the hero (giving him time to escape), and even the world-weary sense of just being a disposable pawn or bait for MI6.
This particular plot involves a rich Russian mobster, a space hotel, an island retreat, a battle inside a hospital, a fiery skyscraper, and a deadly go cart race. All good fun, and narrator Simon Prebble does a terrific job once again with his accents. ...more
This book is beautiful, full of delicious prose and creativity, with characters you come to care about despite, or because of, their flaws. There areThis book is beautiful, full of delicious prose and creativity, with characters you come to care about despite, or because of, their flaws. There are moments of magic realism which I actually didn't like, but they are few enough to let the actual humanity and kind-heartedness of the characters come through. This is a portrait of a town in the Pacific Northwest, rainy, woody, depressed, but coping, and it focuses on four or five families and their interactions. Mostly it is concerned with caregivers - doctors, policemen, teachers, and two memorable characters who have generally appointed themselves the catch-all shepherds for the town and the people therein. There is quite a lot of thought devoted to Northwest native american culture and Irish and Irish American culture, and both come alive through stories. A really enjoyable read from a talented and humane author.
Something that has surprised me lately is the stultifying badness of books that are really popular. Books that seem to move a lot of copies seem to beSomething that has surprised me lately is the stultifying badness of books that are really popular. Books that seem to move a lot of copies seem to be poorly written and edited - almost deliberately so - to the point where it feels as if books achieve sales _because_ they are poorly written.
Which brings me to this audio book, of which I was only able to stomach about the first CD. The whole thing felt like a parody of what a dumb person would think a good international thriller would be like. Starting with the protagonist's hilarious name. Stone Barrington. Manly enough for you? Anyway, so Rod Stiffington is this operative with some undefined relationship with the CIA, and does things occasionally for them like saving the President and his cabinet from being blown up by swarthy Muslim (of course) terrorists, and he also is friends with benefits to a female CIA agent. Did I mention that the head of the CIA is the president's wife? Also, Wood Shaftington has a friend named Dino with whom he has exploits.
I realize I am jumping in at what is probably a point in a series that is past its sell by date, but the idea that this author is moving copy while Iain Pears is relatively unknown is criminal. Also, the author crowbars his research into the story in very unsubtle ways, emphasizing dumb details like what distinguishes diplomatic plates into characters' dialog. Bleh. ...more
Margaret Atwood has an amazing gift for prose, prophecy, and the telling detail, and sometimes they combine to create amazing, angry works of artMeh.
Margaret Atwood has an amazing gift for prose, prophecy, and the telling detail, and sometimes they combine to create amazing, angry works of art like The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake. In other outings, what shines through most is her sense of disappointment. Her disappointment with life, with people, with the way they are, with men and their patronizing and domineering, with women and their submission and foolishness.
This is a ten-part sort-of novel, the equivalent of something like a triptych, that floats into and around one character's life, her childhood, her adolescence, her later years and married life and trying to achieve . .. something. She is maneuvered passively into taking over another woman's responsibilities, first the woman's children then the woman's husband (a huge theme in Atwood's works), which she does, and then meekly goes through the sad motions of biting off more than she can chew in a rural setting, following her hapless husband's lead. There are complications with her parents and her sister and the children who aren't really hers and her own offspring, and Atwood is just too bored and disappointed by it all and so am I.
I enjoy fiction where the author finds some things to enjoy and love about their characters, and this wasn't it. ...more