Cormac McCarthy to the point of self-parody? This is the fourth book I've read by him, and I like him well enough: No Country for Old Men was an all-Cormac McCarthy to the point of self-parody? This is the fourth book I've read by him, and I like him well enough: No Country for Old Men was an all-time favorite, All the Pretty Horses was solid, Blood Meridian I gave only 3 stars (my first book on Goodreads!), but really it was sort of 3-4, and in the time passed since then some of it has lingered with me and I would likely go higher on a re-read.
I found this to be a sort of Blood Meridian-lite, a hardscrabble travelogue where McCarthy's signature shortness, bleakness, and apocalyptic imagery were ramped up to almost gratuitous levels, at the cost of the storyline. (What better place to be apocalyptic than an actual apocalypse, I guess.) I don't mean that the violence was any more particularly harsh or gruesome than McCarthy tends to be, but that you get a lot of wildly biblically grandiose metaphors and narrative asides that feel like they were attached on with effort, almost affectedly, and not part of a natural flow. And you get a lot of short, hard descriptions of the father doing one thing sequentially after another, and plenty of dialogue like this:
I dont know. You dont know? People give you things. People give you things. Yes. To eat. To eat. Yes. No they dont. You did.
(By the way, if you've read this or any of his other books, I encourage you to check out Yelping with Cormac.)
And when I say "at the cost of the storyline," I express disappointment that the characters change little, and their actions and interactions by the last pages of the book haven't left a meaningful impression on me beyond what I'd gotten from them by the first fifty pages. I can't help but compare this with No Country for Old Men, where you still have McCarthy's sparseness and doom, but also a wonderful story in which characters (even the inhuman, force-of-nature Anton Chigurh) exposit new facets and ideas and set the reader's mind and heart racing. Here, you don't get that. It read quickly, things happened, one after the other the way one procedurally lights a lantern, repairs an axle, or salvages a wreckage. And then I was done. ...more
Stories from post-9/11 Afghanistan as told through the stories of individuals, primarily two Taliban fighters and a woman forced by circumstance intoStories from post-9/11 Afghanistan as told through the stories of individuals, primarily two Taliban fighters and a woman forced by circumstance into the cloistered life of a housewife. Chronologically it picks up where Ghost Wars left off, but its ordinary-people's-eye-view is a little more reminiscent of (the more Iraq-focused) The Forever War. The reporting by author Anand Gopal is great, though the writing doesn't pack quite the literary punch of those books (which I acknowledge set a very high bar).
It is too simplistic to describe this book as "the US fucked up the invasion" or "Afghanistan is a tough place." The lessons I draw from it are:
- The very real distinction between the Taliban and al-Qaeda was not appreciated by the US. I imagine this is still the case today for some people. - Popular support for the Taliban and their noxious brand of fundamentalism often came from ordinary Afghanis' desire to be able to step outside without getting shot at. When the US invaded with the promise of another regime where you could step outside without getting shot at, many Afghanis, including rank-and-file Taliban, were ready to surrender and sign up. As this promise failed to materialize and as the US became perceived as a source of violence rather than a savior from it, some of these converts turned back to the Taliban. - When relying on local intelligence, the US needs to ensure that it is not used as a weapon to fight unrelated local battles on behalf of its intelligence providers. Although this is not stated in the book, I surmise that this comes from either not having had a well-defined plan or not having communicated it down the chain of command.
Gopal's reporting really gives you a great view of what it's like to be an ordinary person in Afghanistan after 9/11, just trying to scrape by. I do think that the book could have been slightly improved by adding more background on high-level Afghanistan-US politics interwoven with the individually highlighted stories; it would be neat and eye-opening to see how decisions at central command or the machinations between major players like Karzai, Dostum, Hekmatyar, etc. ended up impacting the lives of ordinary citizens. But overall a good, informative addition to the discussion on this part of the world. ...more
Short stories, a few novella-length, that are set across Earthsea and mostly involve new characters not seen in the earlier books.
Sadly the first andShort stories, a few novella-length, that are set across Earthsea and mostly involve new characters not seen in the earlier books.
Sadly the first and longest of the stories, "The Finder," was in my opinion the worst by a country mile, a rare case of outright disappointment from Le Guin. The last story, "Dragonfly," was also not great, though I think there is a good story contained within it, if it were whittled down into sharper focus - definitely less time mucking around with the masters of Roke, and while I enjoyed the idea of Irian's backstory I felt like it tried to go in a few different directions at once.
The rest are good-not-great. My favorite was probably "On the High Marsh," which has soul and feeling and sidesteps the opportunity for a clichéd ending in favor of one more human and nuanced. I also really enjoyed the last section, "A Description of Earthsea," which is not a story but a semi-encyclopedic description that fills the reader in on the society and culture of the world of Earthsea. ...more
Engaging alternate history in which almost all of Europe is wiped out by the Black Death. Much of the writing takes place from the point of view of IsEngaging alternate history in which almost all of Europe is wiped out by the Black Death. Much of the writing takes place from the point of view of Islamic and East Asian empires and nations who expand to fill the void left behind. The book is split into several episodes that occur over the centuries between the Black Death and the equivalent of present day. It strongly reminded me of Cloud Atlas, a book that I also liked.
It is not the sort of alternate history that tries to make hypothetical statements like "this happened because of that" or "if not for this, this wouldn't have happened." I found much of it to feel more akin to hearing a storyteller around a campfire, and I enjoyed the book more when it allowed itself down that path (which fortunately it did often). It does focus on making statements about society as a whole rather than individual emotions and relationships, and so many of the characters' struggles involve societal constraints, boundaries, and oppressions. ...more
Although the packaging and title makes it sound like a "how to make it in business" book, a genre of which I am not especially fond, this is actuallyAlthough the packaging and title makes it sound like a "how to make it in business" book, a genre of which I am not especially fond, this is actually a quite solid high-level history of the American computing industry. The book does not cover companies more modern than Google, so no Facebook or Twitter, which I think is a good decision as it keeps the focus very much on history. The book's central motif, which Isaacson strikes with perhaps too much regularity and on-the-nose-ness, is that great ideas are not the brainchildren of individual brilliants but a collaborative process developed from the admixture of many different people sharing many different ideas.
No technical knowledge is required, and I think the stories within will be a pleasant learning experience for people who don't work in the computing industry and don't already know many of the important figures in its history beyond companies that are actively making products today. I'm a programmer and my parents were as well, so it's not all news to me, although it did make me feel terribly old to see 90s-era technologies that I used to use catalogued as historical episodes. And I did learn a lot of interesting little details of some people I only knew about in the abstract, conferring some very human personalities on them: Robert Noyce as a physically graceful, all-American boy, Douglas Engelbart as too unfocused to turn his brilliant ideas into workability, a young Steve Jobs crying when Steve Wozniak's father berates him for his lack of engineering aptitude.
It is very much a survey that doesn't dig heavily into any one company or breakthrough (perhaps necessarily so if the goal is to avoid technical writing). Even within a chapter, Isaacson darts between groups of people. This makes it terrific for the subway. ...more
Interesting mythologies, dreadful analysis. This is my first exposure to Freudian psychology "in the wild" - everything I'd learned about it to this pInteresting mythologies, dreadful analysis. This is my first exposure to Freudian psychology "in the wild" - everything I'd learned about it to this point had come from textbooks and popular culture - and I plan to make it my last.
Campbell assembles a large number of mythologies across a wide range of cultures that are fun to learn about, and ties them together with utterly unconvincing, unscientific, overwrought claptrap about symbols and dreams. The stages of his heroic journey are not rigorously defined, and with such arbitrary flexibility in defining representations and symbols, one could probably make any mythology fit into its structure - hardly better than a fortune teller looking into a crystal.
Given that this has the reputation of a classic in its field, it's enough to make me want to completely scrap any critical analysis of myths and just read the historical originals from now on. ...more
Short stories that explore how robots, from early crude machines to later models that are potentially indistinguishable from people, interact with humShort stories that explore how robots, from early crude machines to later models that are potentially indistinguishable from people, interact with humanity and shape its future while conforming to Asimov's famous Three Laws of Robotics.
As far as the question of "What is human?" goes, I prefer Philip K. Dick, but these are good too - less cerebral, lighter, more emotional, faster-paced, with a little more appeal to general audiences. The stories that explore robotic and human psychology (i.e. the ones starring Dr. Calvin) are better than the ones that are just plain adventure stories (i.e. the ones starring Powell and Donovan). Readers of the Foundation series, or perhaps of Asimov's short story "Profession," can additionally watch the increasingly sophisticated robot-human interactions blend rewardingly into the exploration of a technocratic, Saint-Simonian society that seems to be one of Asimov's favorite themes.
Best stories: "Robbie," which I'd read somewhere else before rereading it here, is a sweet play on the theme of humanized robots that sets the table for the rest of the book, and was visited much more darkly a decade or so later in Bradbury's "The Veldt." "Liar!" is the best of the "quandaries," the stories where Asimov binds his protagonists into a difficult robot-related situation and has them try to figure their way out. "Evidence" was thoughtful and memorable. ...more
A reasonably good fantasy tale, but I'm afraid that I continue to find the Earthsea series (excluding the first one) something of a disappointment inA reasonably good fantasy tale, but I'm afraid that I continue to find the Earthsea series (excluding the first one) something of a disappointment in comparison to Le Guin's superb other works.
Ged and Tenar, the two main characters, drive the book with related back-stories as to how they became the ordinary people they are in the book: Ged as one who has lost his powers, and Tenar as one who consciously turned away from magic in favor of living a quiet, settled, rural life. (Not much of a spoiler, as this is disclosed early on.) Ged's struggle to adapt to his new state is one of the two main struggles of the book, and is interesting and thoughtful. The other struggle belongs to Tenar, who tries to protect her adopted daughter Therru from evildoers; this was much less engaging. I found Therru to be a sort of Macguffin, with an unfortunately transparent air of mystery about her, and the good guys who help Tenar and the bad guys who threaten her were bores all around.
As I've said before, Le Guin is just a flat out good writer and there's a limit to how bad things can ever be in her hands; though this review sounds a bit harsh, the book is still a decent read. ...more