This is mildly amusing, but sadly informative. I finished Matt Richtel's "Devil's Plaything" recently and just came here to Goodreads to review it, an...moreThis is mildly amusing, but sadly informative. I finished Matt Richtel's "Devil's Plaything" recently and just came here to Goodreads to review it, and was somewhat surprised to see I'd previously given three stars to the author's The Cloud.
The reason I find my surprise informative is that both stories are set in San Francisco, both feature the same protagonist, and I read the other book less than a year ago, but I simply couldn't recall it until I'd read enough other reviews that I rebuilt a sense of what the book was about (I'd been overly sensitive to spoilers, and left my own review too ambiguous).
So I'll 'fess up. The third star is generous, and I guess mostly because the author sets the stories in real San Francisco, not the tourist version thereof. But the protagonist isn't very inspiring, and the plot reaches farther than its grasp. Some folks give this author five stars, so YMMV, but I don't plan on returning to the scene of the crime.(less)
Take a large measure of Jules Verne, for his late nineteenth century steampunk milieu and wild, individualistic adventuring, and mix in a heap of Chin...moreTake a large measure of Jules Verne, for his late nineteenth century steampunk milieu and wild, individualistic adventuring, and mix in a heap of China Miéville, to add the fantastic fabulation that he does in that weird-fiction world. Stir in the spice of militant anarchism (remember, those ante bellum years were the heyday of anarchism!) and place the resulting dish on a bed of ice, to represent the arctic locale for the story.
Now, throw the whole thing away and read Valtat's Aurorarama. After all, he almost certainly writes better than you anyway, and why try to re-create what he has done so marvelously? Because he also has some wonderfully memorable characters, both at the center and the edges of his story. And he's done the research to be able to weave in those crazy decades of arctic exploration and Inuit culture.
This isn't quite at the heights of strange-fiction storytelling, like Miéville's The City and the City, but it's still an exciting yarn and a darn good read.(less)
Good, verging on very good, although a bit too mannered and slow. Very deep psychological portrayals of the characters provide the big win. The plot w...moreGood, verging on very good, although a bit too mannered and slow. Very deep psychological portrayals of the characters provide the big win. The plot was nicely convoluted, although the denouement wasn't much of a surprise.
This was among the books listed on an ancient "all-time bests" newspaper clipping I found in my files. I think anyone who is a fan of mysteries should probably have already read it, right?(less)
In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyperprocessed foods in ways precisely geared to most appeal to our tastes. This technologically advanced engineering is done, of course, with the goal of maximizing profits, regardless of the effects of the resulting foods on consumer health, natural resources, the environment or anything else.
But the issues go way beyond food, as the City University of New York professor Nicholas Freudenberg discusses in his new book, “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health.” Freudenberg’s case is that the food industry is but one example of the threat to public health posed by what he calls “the corporate consumption complex,” an alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others that essentially promote and benefit from unhealthy lifestyles.
Professor Flynn famously detected that I.Q. scores have been steadily rising since they were first created (known as the Flynn Effect), destroying any...moreProfessor Flynn famously detected that I.Q. scores have been steadily rising since they were first created (known as the Flynn Effect), destroying any prior belief that they were genetically determined. His focus over the years has been to disentangle the effects of upbringing and culture from biology.
He was interviewed by the Scientific American podcast Science Talk, available on the web, as well as on the Australian Broadcasting show All in The Mind, available at abc.net.edu (mp3 and transcript), or on iTunes.(less)
Primary Inversion is a quick, fun read. Nothing profound.
There's quite a bit too much world-building in the first pages, and the amount of pseudo-scie...morePrimary Inversion is a quick, fun read. Nothing profound.
There's quite a bit too much world-building in the first pages, and the amount of pseudo-science babble is pretty extreme. A few of the characters are well conceived, but the villains are stick figures.
The best part, I think, is the portrayal of the psychiatric profession, astonishingly enough.
If the next books in the series were available at my local library, I might read more. But they aren't, and there are too many other books awaiting for me to put much effort into this. Although the blurb of the third book did seem somewhat intriguing...(less)
This is an enormous fan fic version of the beginning the the Harry Potter story, rewritten portraying Harry as a hyperrationalist.
Not worth five stars...moreThis is an enormous fan fic version of the beginning the the Harry Potter story, rewritten portraying Harry as a hyperrationalist.
Not worth five stars as a work of fiction per se, but fascinating enough to get bumped up to amazing because of several other factors:
• Folks with mildly compulsive rationalist and/or scientific leanings often have trouble with the nonsensical goings on of magical worlds. Occasionally Yudkowsky nails this so well that I was laughing convulsively. That the author sometimes over-indulged in this, and very often got too preachy about aspects of the world that aren't perfectly is probably the biggest flaw here as a work of fiction. Sadly, folks that already know what the fundamental attribution error is, or disdain television news because they understand the availability cascade, and can discuss Kahnemann's System 1 and System 2 at length — well, the choir can get tired of the preaching. And the folks that don't already know that stuff are unlikely to suddenly find the lectures worthwhile, because they really interfere with the flow of the novel. If you enjoyed Rowling's original series, and have at least a passing familiarity with some of that nonsense I just listed, you should take a gander at this.
• Dark, dark, dark. Rowling's book is targeted at young adults — or younger, actually. Yudkowsky's Harry thinks Ron Weasley is too dumb to waste time from day one, so we quickly learn that Harry doesn't tolerate fools. The author seriously engages the question of whether Rowling's bad guys actually have sensible grievances, but are perhaps simply more realistic about moral complexity, as Harry sometimes (but not always) is. Thus, Draco Malfoy becomes a very major character. One of my biggest peeves with most fantasy is the characters go through life-threatening situations yet seldom suffer. Yes, Rowling killed some secondary characters, and kinda killed one major character, but too little too late, really. "What part of suicide mission didn't you understand?" is a line I keep hoping to hear, and I'm happy to say Yudkowsky seems inclined to address that — although you might not enjoy some of the consequences.
• Startlingly good characterizations. Harry becomes in many ways a more complex and layered persona than in the original, and Yudkowsky's Draco is far, far more interesting than one would expect. The adults benefit a little from examining their reactions to the more nuanced Harry, but suffer by being confronted by a child with the mind and experiences that no child could reasonably have attained. The exaggeration of this here actually illuminates a trope that is too common: by privileging a character with knowledge and skills far beyond what a reasonable person could anticipate, those others can too easily be portrayed as idiots. But this is itself unreasonable — expecting children to be merely children is rational for humans, with their limited cognitive capacity. Kahenem's Subconcious System 1 thinking is an evolutionary adaptation that lets us think more efficiently, albeit frequently at the expense of accuracy. Anyone constantly trying to use System 2 ratiocination to overcome the cognitive traps evolution which has planted in our brains will suffer persistent ego depletion, and won't be able to function.
• There are some plot developments here that are much more intriguing that what I remember from the canonical series. Probably the best is the long-term project that Harry convinces Draco to address with respect to House Slytherin, which swaps out Rawling's simplistic social world and puts in a much more nuanced and realistic one.
This is like an insightful cover version of a great song (like William Shatner's punked up version of Pulp's "Common People"); it adds something new without detracting from the original. If you are interested in seeing how the Harry Potter series can be subverted, converted, diverted and perverted into something delightfully new, assuming you hit the target audience criteria, then check it out.
Oh — this isn't in print or published; it is effectively an on-line ebook. Aim your ebook reader or web browser at http://hpmor.com(less)
The superpowers idea behind this is now somewhat cliched, but it appears this might have started the trend, since this was written back in the mid-80s...moreThe superpowers idea behind this is now somewhat cliched, but it appears this might have started the trend, since this was written back in the mid-80s. Dunno; not going to do the research. Also of some interest is that the many, many, many volumes in the series are built up out of contributions from many authors (this was designed as a "shared universe"), most notably G.R.R. Martin, who edited this volume and went on to much greater fame.
Something crazy happens in the world and unleashes superpowers for a small number of folks. In this case, it's an alien virus. The idea of an alien infectious agent is only one of the myriad abnegations of received science, but we will let that pass. Just call it scifi-fantasy.
If you want a fast page-turner that is often clever, occasionally very clever, and even thoughtful once in a great while, this might qualify for four stars. If you easily get tired of repetitions of a central theme, then it could easily drop to two stars. Of course, it was probably much better, relatively, when it came out almost thirty years ago.
It didn't take long to get, through, so I'm giving it three stars, although I have to admit it's mostly because Roger Zelazny was one of the contributors to this first book that it gets that bump. I don't plan on reading any of the others in the series.
The wikipedia page is enlightening. Most interesting is that Gaiman's Sandman was originally pitched to run in this universe, but Martin declined the offer, apparently because Gaiman was a relative unknown at the time.(less)
Rosin's original article in Slate, from the summer of 2010, is here.
The review of this book in the New York Times had elements of praise and attack, and there was a less-opinionated review in the Wall Street Journal. The Library Journal capsule review was dismissive for the same reasons that many others were: "In the present moment, the patriarchy is alive and well, so how can she be sensibly be talking about the 'end of men'?"
The only place Google could point to me where Rosin and Riesman were referenced together was, amusingly, by Rosin herself, discussing Season 6 of Mad Men — Bob Benson and the End of Men. This isn't such a surprise — many others have noted how Riesman's analysis is especially on point for that historical context.(less)
This shows that an amusingly lame but eccentric idea for a road trip can be seriously awesome when the adventurers are wild and crazy in all the right...moreThis shows that an amusingly lame but eccentric idea for a road trip can be seriously awesome when the adventurers are wild and crazy in all the right charming ways, and have many friends that encourage them to live their dreams.(less)
The Sisters Brothers, Charlie and Eli, are notorious gunmen and assassins in the gold-rush era wild west. The narrator is younger brother Eli, and it...moreThe Sisters Brothers, Charlie and Eli, are notorious gunmen and assassins in the gold-rush era wild west. The narrator is younger brother Eli, and it seems he is feeling increasingly reluctant towards job.
How do you feel about history books that subvert your prior beliefs? Because there are a few very good ones out there. 1493, by Charles Mann, is one...moreHow do you feel about history books that subvert your prior beliefs? Because there are a few very good ones out there. 1493, by Charles Mann, is one of them. His earlier best-selling 1491 probably is as well, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.
Briefly, 1493 examines how the world changed due to, and very soon after, the initial contact between the Americas and the rest of the world in 1492. The term “Columbian Exchange” reminds us that the change was bidirectional. We are all familiar with the devastation the Old World’s diseases caused in the Americas, but there is so, so much more. Mann starts in his New England garden, pointing out that nothing in it originated within 1000 miles. Near the end, he points out that the same is true of the gardens in the Philippines, despite their cherished evocations of homely tradition.
The role China plays in the book will probably startle many. Even more dramatic is how far the interaction and mixing of the “Red” and “Black” got, long before “White” Europeans arrived in sufficient numbers to become culturally dominant. Long before the Pilgrims even got to New England, there were entire cities composed of those resisting European subjugation. The scope of the Columbian Exchange is staggering. It affected the collapse of Chinese empires and the timing of the Protestant Reformation, neither of which are explored, as far as I remember, in college history classes, much less in grade school.
Most of the United States was settled later, and by different cultural forces, and so I wonder if those south of the Rio Grande (or perhaps in the eastern subtropical portion of the United States) would find this even more revelatory.
P.S. A complimentary book I would recommend is Colin Woodard’s American Nations, which dissects the United States into largely discrete and somewhat divergent regions, based on their culture of their “effective” founders. Woodard’s book has more flaws than Mann’s — the author’s personal allegiance to New England gets in the way of an unbiased analysis — but is in many ways a more important book, at least to North Americans, with a significant bearing on the caustic partisan contemporary environment in the United States. Mann’s book highlights a few of the biases implicit in Woodard’s telling, but the real goal of the pair is to force the reader to reexamine old beliefs about the history of the Americas.(less)
A excellent adventure story a la One Thousand and One Nights. The adventure aspect isn't really anything special, but for anyone tired of fantasy base...moreA excellent adventure story a la One Thousand and One Nights. The adventure aspect isn't really anything special, but for anyone tired of fantasy based on medieval European tropes, the Arabian locale and language is a delight. The characters are well drawn, especially considering this was a debut novel. A light escapade I can recommend. If awards can help convince you, this novel received the Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel, the Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel, and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. On the other hand, if a more detailed review is what you want, check out this one at io9.(less)
Notes for review: there are few things more dangerous to a reader than an entertaining book about what a clever person has read. A few decades ago we...moreNotes for review: there are few things more dangerous to a reader than an entertaining book about what a clever person has read. A few decades ago we were all reading Helene H.'s "84 Charing Cross Road". Just recently I have been strongly tempted by Prof. Flynn's book he wrote to his students (in fact, I'm buying two classics just based on the sample chapter I found on his website, and I almost never actually buy books).
Hornby's essays here are explicitly crafted to wreak mayhem on one's reading list. Bad man!
And— Five stars, but don't go thinking this is a life-changing opus. (Or even life-ruining, despite what Hornby might desire.) These are bite-sized essays that will leave you smiling, looking forward to more, and inspired to read read read, which to us is like telling an addict that the heroin is on the house. What it promises, it delivers.(less)