Well paced and written in a crisp style that keeps things moving even when the subject matter becomes particularly weighty, as it does towards the end...moreWell paced and written in a crisp style that keeps things moving even when the subject matter becomes particularly weighty, as it does towards the end of the book.
I won't say this is a happy book, considering the subject matter but it does feel like an important book. It is a good opportunity to get a look at the Snowden story from a "big picture" perspective. I tried to follow all that was happening with the Snowden leak last summer as it was happening and I recall it as a fractured and difficult-to-follow story. Everyone had their spin on things and it was made even more difficult due to the fact that more incriminating details were trickled out slowly over time.
I started the book undecided about Snowden's actions. Was he a hero or a traitor? I'd read things both for and against his decision and never felt I had enough of the picture, fractured as my version was, to really make a judgment call I felt confident in. This book moved me towards the "hero" side of the hero-or-traitor question.(less)
I love the movie "Goodfellas." It might be sacrilege to admit this, but it's my favorite mob movie, even over "the Godfather." I love it simply becaus...moreI love the movie "Goodfellas." It might be sacrilege to admit this, but it's my favorite mob movie, even over "the Godfather." I love it simply because I prefer seeing the action through the guys that are lower on the hierarchy; the working guys rather than the crime bosses. The wiseguys, in other words.
Wiseguy is the book that inspired the movie and it's an excellent read. The book is almost entirely told from the perspective of Henry Hill's own narration. You can imagine Hill sitting across the table from author Nicholas Pileggi, maybe smoking a cigarette while talking about his life and the "good old days" while Pileggi is scribbling away as quickly as he can so as to not lose a word.
It should come as no surprise, given the heritage indicated by my last name but there's something I find very resonating about the way Italian-Americans tell stories of the past. I'm not sure whether it's a stylistic adaptation or simply due to the fact that as I read through Henry Hill's story, I can hear and feel the speech patterns from my father and grandfather coming through the page, even though their own stories were decidedly more law-abiding.
This book is a cogent and coherent response to the anti-technology hand wringing that seems increasingly in vogue in certain circles. Thompson outline...moreThis book is a cogent and coherent response to the anti-technology hand wringing that seems increasingly in vogue in certain circles. Thompson outlines several arguments for why various new technologies are improving our minds but my favorite is one of his more simple claims: that this is nothing new. Critics have been complaining about every new technology and how it will kill off the ability to think, going back to Socrates who denounced the written word.
The latter half of the book focuses more on various events that prove the efficacy of new technologies, such as organizing protesters in Egypt and China. Although these events do illustrate his point, I found the focus a little too anecdotal and began to drag a bit at the two-thirds mark.
It would have been great to delve deeper into the neurological research being done on how various technologies interact with our cognition, but Thompson points out that nobody really knows yet. Anyone who claims that "this technology is doing THIS to our brains" can't actually know that, simply because we still don't know entirely how the mind works.
Overall, this is a worthy book, especially if you need some counter-arguments the next time someone indicates how the Internet is turning us all into idiots. Thompson argues that the opposite is true and after reading his book, I'm inclined to agree with his position.(less)
As I read through the book, I kept getting feelings of different authors. "This feels a little Lovecraft here." "This feels a little Joseph Conrad." T...moreAs I read through the book, I kept getting feelings of different authors. "This feels a little Lovecraft here." "This feels a little Joseph Conrad." This book is abstract in the best possible way.
VanderMeer weaves a tale of a lost, wild place with just enough stark wrongness, just enough hint of insanity, that you're never really sure what you're reading. It's engaging and refreshing, creepy without being clumsily scary. It's not a book about a monstrous place or monsters in general. VanderMeer channels the raw power of the unknown to generate suspense and he does it very well. This slim little book ended far too quickly but it's billed as the first in a trilogy with both books due out later this year, so I'll hopefully know more about the mysterious, lost world of Area X before too long.
If this book is any indication, 2014 is going to be a good year for fiction.(less)
It seems that memoirs of time spent with outlaw motorcycle gangs are getting more and more popular. Unlike No Angel, which details an ATF agent's atte...moreIt seems that memoirs of time spent with outlaw motorcycle gangs are getting more and more popular. Unlike No Angel, which details an ATF agent's attempt to infiltrate the Hells Angels, Gods of Mischief follows a self-confessed "criminal and menace to society" as he tries to clean up his town by going undercover into the Vagos Motorcycle Club.
The book's strong points are the raw honesty that Rowe has about himself. He doesn't try to make himself look like a hero or even a decent guy. Some of the stories he relates about his own vile behavior are gut wrenching. It gives the book a very authentic feeling to it.
The downside of this book is the same problem I had with No Angel. Rarely do these undercover operations end with a big, dramatic confrontation; the handler says "we're ending the operation and pulling you out" and out the informant goes. Arrests are made, but as with No Angel, the epilogue is depressing. Several guys get put away, but it's little more than a dent; even the chapter that was dismantled by the operation is up and running a few years later.
I can't fault the book for honesty and for the fact that real life doesn't follow story conventions, but it's still a letdown and a feeling of helplessness as one considers whether all the strife was worth it. Still, it's a solid, if not exceptional book, and worth the time I spent reading it. (less)
The promise of an interesting geopolitical thriller is undone by clumsy characterization, relentless racial slurs employed by seemingly every member o...moreThe promise of an interesting geopolitical thriller is undone by clumsy characterization, relentless racial slurs employed by seemingly every member of the overly large cast, an irritating tendency to constantly refer to people by their full names, and a characterization of women (primarily in the form of Sylvia) that was so irritating it was a distraction even when the action was focused on something else. The other female characters were little more than cardboard cutouts without any real personality other than "Female Pilot" and "Japanese-American Engineer." The male characters weren't much better either. Then there were the wandering plot threads that did absolutely nothing.
What was the point of the guy (Ingersol, I think?) that gets stuck in the car with his family during a blizzard and tries to walk through the snow to get a tow truck? If it was an attempt to show how badly normal people were affected by the loss of the satellites, thanks, we already grasped that from the complaining of virtually every other character. It was just one more thing to muddle through. Speaking of Sylvia, the fact that she's flying into a city that might get nuked is completely undone once the missiles are shot down and we never hear from her again. We don't even get her reaction to events. What's the point of her being here, except to fill pages?
The biggest letdown, though, was the fact that we spent the entire book hearing about how this one rogue analyst has a crazy theory that North Korea will be targeting San Francisco (and the President who will be giving a speech there) but we never get any confirmation or denial if that threat was real. We never really find out why anything actually happened the way that it did; all the theories are hinted at, it's suggested that China was behind North Korea's actions, but it's never confirmed or even supported beyond mere "yeah, it could have been that, but I guess we'll never know."
Even the saboteur plot line falls flat and we're given neither motivation nor reason for why the person did what he (or she) did beyond some vaguely defined jealousy at a promotion that happened months in the past from the book's present.
Based on my interest in Korean geopolitics, I was expecting this book to be a lot more than it was. I was hoping that the intriguing premise (Kim Jong Il dies, factions break out in civil war) would deliver some interesting fictional versions of how that transition of power could have gone down, compared to the relatively benign transition to Kim Jong Un.
Instead, there was a plot that surprised absolutely no one (missiles are fired, experimental laser shoots them down) and far more racial slurring than anything else. I get the idea that some people are politically incorrect and that military characters do stuff like that all the time . . . but when your timid, every-man, supposedly heroic engineer is doing it too, it feels less like an attempt at verisimilitude and more like something being done just to do it.
While the surprisingly light focus on the science of life in space might be discouraging for fans of this topic, for me the focus on how it actually f...moreWhile the surprisingly light focus on the science of life in space might be discouraging for fans of this topic, for me the focus on how it actually feels to live and work on the International Space Station was a breath of fresh air. Jones relates the story of two astronauts and one cosmonaut in a way that is deeply personal and filled with the details and care that could only come from long hours of personal interviews. Jones relates their story with careful attention to detail; little things like "the blue shorts incident" really make the story of Expedition 6 come alive off the page.
For me, space travel represents the next wilderness and it's great to hear some of the stories from the men who've traveled that wilderness and returned. Other books might be more technical, more focused on the hard facts, the engineering, the physics . . . but few books can relate the lives of astronauts (and one cosmonaut) in a fashion that is so deeply human.
The book also earns a nod of recognition for its depiction of the dangers of EVA (extra-vehicular activity) in Jones' description of "how an astronaut dies." Not since Shadow Divers has the description of how one might die made me squirm so much and given that Shadow Divers is one of my favorite books of all time, that is no mean feat.(less)
An interesting, if somewhat dry, analysis of North Korea. Lankov knows his geopolitics and he has a decidedly unbiased and levelheaded opinion; so lev...moreAn interesting, if somewhat dry, analysis of North Korea. Lankov knows his geopolitics and he has a decidedly unbiased and levelheaded opinion; so levelheaded, actually, that at times I was somewhat distracted by the cold neutrality he projected. This is a solid book for discussing the geopolitical situation that North Korea represents. For students/devotees of political science, this is likely the best book out there on North Korea. But for me, as a student of the humanities and a decidedly soft-hearted liberal, the detached and clinical writing style ultimately left me feeling vague and disconnected.
I think that this is a very well written and well researched book. It just wasn't written for someone like me who is after the humanitarian element of North Korea rather than the political one.(less)
I didn't really start to enjoy the Name of the Wind until about the 200 page mark. I didn't start enjoying Game of Thrones until about page 150. That'...moreI didn't really start to enjoy the Name of the Wind until about the 200 page mark. I didn't start enjoying Game of Thrones until about page 150. That's just the way things go sometimes. Sometimes, a book takes a while to grow on you, but if you give it time and attention, it'll grow into something beautiful. Some books are like that. They ask a lot but they give a lot in return.
The Big Question doesn't really pick up until page 225. That's a long time to let a book grow, but it's not unreasonable; it's within arm's reach of the time I gave for the Name of the Wind.
Unfortunately, the Name of the Wind and Game of Thrones are both big, massive slabs of a book, roughly 700ish pages each. Even though they take 200 pages to develop, that still leaves 500 pages of excellent content.
The Big Question is a very slim little tome that ends at the 275 page mark. That leaves fifty pages of interesting material, compared to the 200+ pages that were either middling, redundant, or dull.
The problem with the Big Question is that it would have made an excellent short story or novella. The premise is good: a game show where the loser gets executed on live television. But that's a short story premise. Short stories and novellas are great for developping those kinds of crazy "what-if" scenarios. It's hard to stretch that momentum out to the 275 page mark, which is what happens here. Even at its trim 275 pages, the Big Question feels too long.
I know why it was created this way. The author wants us to spend time with the characters, to get to know them, to care about some of them so that we're invested in their fate when showtime finally rolls in. But it doesn't work and part of the reason it doesn't work (aside from how generally weird some of the characters are) is that the premise forbids us from connecting with anyone. We already know that some of them are going to die and that knowledge staves off emotional attachment. Thus, for all their development, every character feels expendendable.
Unfortunately, I think all that material is superfluous. We knew everything we needed to know about the characters when they're introduced on the show. The rest is just padding. Speaking of padding, we knew the premise of the book when we picked it up, but the first 100 pages dance around the question of "the Death Game" like it's going to be a big surprise.
The last fifty pages are good. Really good, in fact. The finale is appropriately gutwrenching. There are a few characters with happy endings and two in particular with rending, emotional gutpunches that mark good fiction. But I can't say that I liked a book when more than two-thirds of it were a slog to read, because the fact is, I didn't enjoy the majority of the time I spent with it.
If this had been a short story or a novella, I would have polished it off in a single sitting and spent a few days thinking about the commentary and the horror of its message. But that's not what happened here. Instead, I picked at the book for nearly three months, picking it up and setting it back down. A final tip, if you do pick this book up, skip straight to page 225. If you start there, you'll actually have a really good fifty page novella to enjoy.
I just can't give the book a higher rating due to what I wish it could have been. I have to go with what it was. Thus, 1 star.(less)
It starts off with a bang, but becomes uneven in its stride towards the middle. The ending picks up enough tension and leaves on a pretty good hook, s...moreIt starts off with a bang, but becomes uneven in its stride towards the middle. The ending picks up enough tension and leaves on a pretty good hook, such that I'll be picking up the next book in the series. There's a lot of potential in these characters and I'm willing to give them more time to develop.(less)