Picking up right where they left off, though a bit more famous as a consequence of their exploits in the previous novel, areThe Cloud brothers return!
Picking up right where they left off, though a bit more famous as a consequence of their exploits in the previous novel, are brothers Trevor and Russell Cloud, as well as helper-bot AidMe and the ubiquitous and fascinating Everything Machine, the Cloud.
I won't spill the beans about the plot, which you can read in the book summary, or too much about the writing itself, which you can read about in my review of the first work, Gathering Clouds. I will tell you, however, why Pink Water is a wholly good read.
Part of the goodness of Pink Water, though not the primary goodness, is its thriftness. Clocking in at 175 epages, the story is lickety split fast. Imagine yourself making the Scooby-doo skeddadle noise as you read through it. As a story targeted at Young Adults or Older Adults with no time on their hands (i.e., me), this is pretty much the perfect length. Time enough to squeeze in before one sees-something-shiny/goes-back-to-work. There isn't much down time in this story, partly because of its brevity there isn't time for it. The plot zooms.
The stakes are no less high in this work than they were in the last, either. Frankly, at the height of the climax in the first work, I didn't see any way for Trevor and Russell to recover from their incident in deep space. Fortunately for them, author Field and the Cloud brothers have more imagination, intellect, and vigor than I do. Nothing has changed in the sequel--once again the boys find themselves lost in uncharted space--and that's a good thing.
At the conclusion of my first review, I made a wish for the adventures of the Cloud brothers to continue, and the author wasted little time granting that wish. As a consequence, it is my belief that Field is either some form of magical wish-granting entity or a writer of some skill and thrift. While I hope it's the former, I would still be pleased if it's the latter. It's a win-win either way.
As the son of Hollywood and Broadway funnyman Mel Brooks, one would expect a book by son, Max, to be rife with the same over-the-top, bawdy and side-sAs the son of Hollywood and Broadway funnyman Mel Brooks, one would expect a book by son, Max, to be rife with the same over-the-top, bawdy and side-splitting humor for which his father is notorious. Especially considering the subject of choice: Zombies.
Brooks' previous effort was a comprehensive Zombie Survival Guide which outlined how the common North American civilian could survive zombie attacks on a small scale, as well as how to survive the catastrophic possibility of worldwide infection (by Brooks' reckoning, zombieism is a condition brought on by the virus Solanum, not reanimation by dark, supernatural forces).
In his latest work, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, the absolute worst has come to pass. Through ignorance, miscommunication, unpreparedness and sheer negligence, the entire world has been overrun by the living dead.
Yet instead of a comic rendition of zombies roaming the earth and being systematically wiped out by the oft-cast, steely-eyed and determined Hero, we are given a vivid recounting of humanity in a war for survival against the overwhelming hordes of undead which very nearly wipes the living human race from the face of the earth.
Brooks presents this history in a series of interviews with principle characters across the globe in a conflict that has lasted, and in some respects continues, for ten years. These interviews are grouped into chapters from the initial detection and outbreaks, to reactions from numerous governments which vary from mobilization to denial to isolation to complete ignorance, through the conflict and the aftermath as the world rebuilds. Those who have survived to offer interviews show the effects of the conflict in very visible ways, from those who are psychologically shattered to those who discover something new and purposeful about themselves when before their value was negligible. They are very often unheroes, with little social worth or self-respect, who rose to the occassion when the world fell under attack.
Throughout, Brooks emphasizes the changes from the world as it was: political disunity, racial and class discrimination; to the world that it has become: unified in the purpose of survival, then victory.
It highlights the wastefulness of government, the shattering of the social structure (who needs actors, entertainers or athletes in a world where survival is paramount?), and the galvanization of the entire species with the purpose of achieving a single goal. The book essentially states, without ever saying as much, that the near extinction of humanity by the living dead is the best thing that could ever have happened, returning a sense of urgency and purpose to a very sedentary people. The book is a statement on how the dominant species of our planet is, in truth, extremely vulnerable.
This book is not utterly without humor, though the younger Brooks does not express it in the same explicit fashion as his father. There are various, subtle references to movies (Ghostbusters), cartoons (Transformers), video games (Myth) and even his own Survival Guide (which is snubbed by one interviewee as "clearly written by an American") which only someone who has come into contact with them will catch. Yet these humorous instances are downplayed because the main thrust of this book was not comedy, as booksellers would lead you to believe.
Perhaps this oral history was created with ironic, comic intentions, but the message it conveys is one of very serious warning. We are a fractured people full of needless bile, and if we could but work together rather than focus upon our differences there is no obstacle we cannot overcome. But if we choose to remain stubborn, indignant and hateful, ignorant of one another and our respective cultures, we will almost surely be swallowed up by whatever disasters, be they zombies or otherwise, which lurk just around the corner....more
Dark Matter Tiding is an interesting examination of human nature, a test of what we consider truly crazy behavior, and a rattling of our confident senDark Matter Tiding is an interesting examination of human nature, a test of what we consider truly crazy behavior, and a rattling of our confident sense of how we perceive the world around us. Philip K. Dick might have looked upon this story, and main character Camera Hence, who assesses her reality frequently and with suspicion, favorably.
Dark matter, according to well-regarded scientist Rosita White Feather, bombards the Earth at regular intervals. During these episodes people's grip on reality loosens, making wild assertions about the world around them (e.g., people are lizards in disguise; blurting non sequiturs in normal conversations about people being aliens; claiming to be vampires).
The presence of dark matter makes people a bit neurotic. Strangely, this has a deadening effect on true atrocities, such as the massacre of an entire community as a result of their proximity to an oil pipeline. At the same time it highlights how we, and perhaps a more pointed, and well-deserved jab at the stereotypical big business in seek of profit before all else, deem those things, and people, not immediately useful as altogether useless. That sort of elitist, hoity-toityism is itself a dehumanizing psychological disorder (though the DSM is steadily reducing the volume of “normal” people in the world with its ever expanding codex of symptoms and diagnoses—from 144 pages in the 1950s to almost 1,000 in 2013) in a book where each character tends to have their own, skewed, narcissistic worldview.
Camera is different. Where most manifest the effects of dark matter as paranoid delusion, Hence’s delusions appear as illusions that remind her of misdeeds and perpetuate a sense of guilt for things that she has done or have happened that she did not (and honestly, could not) prevent. But she isn't crazy. Certainly not as crazy as everyone else. Or is she?
After an introduction to our main actors and the state of the world, the book settles into a mystery in which the main character seeks to suss out the cause of her brother’s mysterious behavior. Her brother, Nathan, who is heir to their recently-deceased father’s estate and innately irresponsible, makes an appearance long enough to cast himself as someone as a Happy Loman, a well-liked but incompetent fellow who falls in with the wrong people.
Maree weaves a tale of misleading hearsay for Camera, determined to track down her brother to save her family's ranch, trying to distinguish reality from a network of half truths, delusions, and outright lies, while the reader attempts to determine the veracity of the unreliable narrator's assertions. Interestingly, as other characters become less trustworthy, Camera begins to suspect her own viability.
In the simplest sense, the book is about a woman trying to locate her aloof (and often seedy) brother, retain the ranch ceded to him, and contend with the possibility that dark matter is having the same extreme effects on herself that she believes it is having on others. In a larger sense the book is about determining who you can trust in an environment in which you may well be unable to trust yourself.
This latter sense holds true with the book itself. Knowing what you know, or knowing that what you know may not reflect reality, casts an entirely different light on the conclusion of this Dicksian (Like Philip K. Dick. Not Dickensian. Dickish?) work. Do we interpret this as the resolution we received because it is the natural conclusion to the tale, or is it the resolution we wanted realized by the coercive influence of dark matter, acting upon our fears and intruding upon reality to make us believe it has granted our wishes?
If I had to write an abbreviated review of this story I could do it in just 3 words: TAS, FAN, and TIC (thought not necessarily in that order). More sIf I had to write an abbreviated review of this story I could do it in just 3 words: TAS, FAN, and TIC (thought not necessarily in that order). More savvy readers will want an elaborated review consisting of something between 5 and 10 words, but if I'm going to put that much effort into it, why stop there?
I have a very high opinion of this story, despite the fact that author Chance Maree continues a trend of leaving out a critical story element essential to a reading experience through which the reader can guess at the entire arc of a story simply by reading the first paragraph: the electric trombonist. I'll do my best to avoid sounding like I'm pandering, but if I happen to slip into a state of clear adulation, don't blame me, blame the author.
Maree's narrative has achieved that sought-after balance, giving just enough information without giving too much. The dialogue and plotting is crisp and taut as a bowstring. Maree does not overwrite, or show off, though she is clearly capable of the latter if she chooses, and that kind of restraint tends to make the best stories.
If I had to make a comparison, both in tone and sharpness, it would probably be Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. In both, humanity as a collective is an abrasive and destructive species. In Maree's story, people have exhausted their own world and intend to populate others as hurriedly and perhaps recklessly as possible, resulting in conflict between settlers and natives; in Haldeman's they've come across an alien species they naturally deem hostile when they retaliate after being attacked. Some of Maree's characters have a very strong sense of Manifest Destiny, which is all the more enjoyable when things don't go exactly as planned.
Apart from the greased-lightning pace of the work, Maree begins very early on teasing with a few curious mysteries: a murder, a shared hallucination, a worldwide evacuation, a boy with mysterious powers, and (view spoiler)[a planet seemingly occupied by, of all things for a group of people searching for a new land to encounter, Native Americans (hide spoiler)]. All of which give additional giddyup to the story. To say these are the only mysteries, however, would be a great disservice.
Like all futuristic sci-fi works, a story has to make some bold projections that can be cynical or optimistic, but ultimately realistic if the work is to remain compelling and believable. If it isn't believable, it's no longer science fiction, it's fantasy, and it may as well have elves and magic, and therefore may as well have a THIS SPELL WINS EVERYTHING conclusion because there's really no boundaries to prevent it from happening. Happily, Undazzled manages its cynicism, optimism, and prognostications very well, raising eyebrows but never creating a moment where the reader thinks: "Oh, well that would never happen in the real world."
Considering the sci-fi aspect of this work, it was also pleasant to see the characters behaving sensibly, motivated by genuine human concerns, and a plot structured around these concerns (or vice versa) in convincing fashion. Not all sci-fi tales are fortunate enough to have Maree as their author.
Perhaps the most hard-to-swallow aspect is the idea of a giant worm-like creature that actually eats tunnels in the space-time continuum, creating wormholes--it is essentially a pun come to life. Of course, the Functional Worm is by now a staple in the sci-fi/fantasy canon.
Not shown: Space-time-continuum-eating worms (e.g., Worm Mole)
Stated as such in a vacuum, that probably seems, at the least, improbable. But details are so well-chosen, the description of the process so visceral and tangible, that it seems entirely possible. After all, technology, while becoming more complex, becomes so as a consequence of finding simpler ways to do complicated tasks. Once, computers filled entire rooms because we needed fist-sized transistors to create on-off values (e.g., 0 or 1) to represent "data" or "no data". One transistor amounted to one "bit". When we realized we could make transistors by passing electrons through silicon, we could fit hundreds, thousands, millions of on-off switches on a chip the size of a fingertip. So it may go with space travel. A colossal quantity of energy might be required to pinch two points of space time together in order to shorten the trip, but what if there was a creature that did so naturally?
Perhaps the strongest component of the story is a subtle undercurrent of profundity. There is a wealth of allusion to digest and dissect in an effort to reach the full meaning of the story. Encampments are named after physicists, astronomers, etc.; the hallucinations are very specific and curiously restricted; the parallels to European colonization of the Americas is hard to miss. Just to name a few. It's possible there is no added meaning to these things, but such is the strength of so many other aspects of the story that you just have to wonder whether or not every piece of the tale is not some carefully chosen note, selected for the specific purpose of filling an important slot in the stave of a fascinating and mind-stretching symphony.
Ultimately, in less deft hands, this tale could have been a mess. Instead, it was well balanced, swift, compelling, and made the machinery of my head pump and smoke as it searched for meaning in every allusion. It's a book that I not only enjoyed and recommend, but one I might spend my limited reading lifetime reading again.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Easily the most enjoyable book I've ever read, with Watership Down putting in a strong second-place finish. Certainly the best ever in telling, and spEasily the most enjoyable book I've ever read, with Watership Down putting in a strong second-place finish. Certainly the best ever in telling, and spinning anew, the centuries old Arthurian legend. Gone are the old stories relayed in stark and monotonous detail, replaced by characters bursting with vitality.
The story benefits greatly from White's knowledge of medieval culture, Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (review here), whose influence is credited directly in The Book of Merlyn, occasionally affected and quirky dialogue, infrequent intrusions of contemporary fact (the 1950s, both from White and Merlin's perspective), and fascinating observations on human nature. But what makes the book truly sing are the titanic, troubled, and heroic characters, all striving in vain in favor of an ideal that ultimately cannot be supported due to a myriad of tiny failings inherent in the human condition.
The story teems with elements that readers of all ages can appreciate: a bit of history, a bit of love, a bit of learning, a bit of humor, a bit of bitterness, hope, miracles, and an ending that leaves you with an understanding that the ending only takes us back to the beginning, and that perhaps Arthur will have a second and better chance.
The effort required not to enjoy a book of this caliber is certainly as rare and extraordinary as the book itself....more
It would be silly of me to revisit my thoughts on this book when they are largely encompassed in my review of the first book in the series, Buried inIt would be silly of me to revisit my thoughts on this book when they are largely encompassed in my review of the first book in the series, Buried in Benidorm. The themes remain largely the same, and your sensitivity to subjects that deal with the reality of human nature, regardless of profession, may well stain your opinion of this story. While this kind of sensitivity may hint at discomfort with reality, the realm of fiction is, admittedly, designed to allow you to, and broad enough that you can, choose your own, insulated reality.
As I confessed in my review on the first book in this series, my experience with hard-boiled mystery is pretty slim. Apart from one Josephine Teybook and one by Dan Brown, we're talking about Encyclopedia Brown and the Happy Hollisters. So you might interpret my enthusiasm for this story, and its predecessors, as coming from the voice of inexperience. That said, I can speak for the strength of the story as a work of fiction, a category in which I have an abundance of experience, so I don't feel I'm misguiding anyone by saying "Yes, you're probably going to enjoy this."
Using the fewest words possible to describe my experience with this entry, I blew through this book. I tend to take a while to work my way through a story, taking breathers every now and again, ultimately turning the process of reading a book into a weeks-long process. Not so with this one. To my surprise, I roared through it in just a few days.
If you're looking for a gritty story, with a wry, disenchanted, and self-deprecating main character the likes of which you'd run across in film noire, Max is your man. On the other hand, if you're offended by the seedy characters prevalent in hard-boiled private detective stories with touches of spiritual apprehension expected from an ex-priest turned PI, hounded by clergy looking for favors, spare yourself the rage at reality....more
The world of the 21st century has come and gone by way of cosmic cataclysm, but unlike the dinosaurs and other victims of global extinction events, huThe world of the 21st century has come and gone by way of cosmic cataclysm, but unlike the dinosaurs and other victims of global extinction events, humanity managed to survive and reorganize into a functional society a millennia later. Not without help, though, as some suppose the supernatural or extraterrestrial may have had a hand in developing the utopic post-apocalyptic world. The 31st-century editor, however, strongly doubts the veracity of these claims (view spoiler)[, but as I've recently discovered, there's more truth to these claims than I'd been led to believe (hide spoiler)].
Rendering of 31st-century apostle
This story has a fascinating premise with a marvelous setup describing the power and functionality of myth and an editor that acknowledges the seeds of truth from which myth can spring, while resisting belief in the more obnoxious supernatural fallacies that make something truly mythical.
The framework for this compilation of myths is extremely convincing. The editor's voice is spot on, both dubious of the myths he has assembled while acknowledging they must have come from somewhere, and the quotations selected by author Matteson are well chosen and display topical erudition that lends credence to the expectation that the tales will be well-formed.
I am sadly not well versed enough in Nordic mythology and that of northern Europe to identify the many references to the Poetic and Prose Eddas found in the chapter titles, or Nordic myths found elsewhere, as there surely are. Those familiar with them are likely to take more from these stories, see the connections and implications they make, and better appreciate them.
With that in mind, the foreignness of the work appealed to me--a direct consequence of my ignorance. All around me droplets of information fell, and every so often I recognized the notes they struck upon the ground. A wealth of references to worldwide theologies abounded, and every once in a while I was able to tie something I recognized to something I did not, which gave me the impression that comprehension was only a few inches out of my grasp. This in itself was a good reason to continue on.
In some myths there are tradeoffs, however. Strictly observational myths filled with symbolism tend to suffer with me, largely because the symbolism is often too obscure for me to understand, and reading through them is akin to driving down a road littered with stop signs. This isn't all bad, and it certainly isn't the worst. If there were a primer for this book, or if someone did a nice study of it, reading such a book in conjunction would certainly be helpful. As I've stated in other reviews, however, this isn't necessarily the fault of the author, but my fault for lacking the expansive knowledge necessary to draw from required for full comprehension. This becomes apparent very early on when the self-denoted "Flying Man" states the following:
I am the shaman of initiation You are the initiates of Lascaux I am the yogi of sindhu You are the brahmacharibhava-pratyaya I am the bodhisattva Quan Yin I am Tara, Yemara, Chenrezig of one thousand compassionate arms You are the sentient beings, the inner anima and the animus I am Hermes, I am Thoth Passing from the chthonic carrying the caduceus I am the flying man You are the water pigs You are the fetish rodent and the genius of the snake You are the wild duck, the impetuous swan You have come to rest under the juniper tree to drink the galbuli to shade under its whorls to be healed with its oils to build with its red cedar woods You have come to rest under the juniper tree I will feed you and send you forth I will send you to Horeb to hear the wind, to feel, to shake as the rocks, to hide yourself from the fearsome fire. I will send you to the wilderness. I will I will I will I am the Flying Man.
Here we have an amalgamation of references from Buddhist, Greek, Egyptian, Christian, Judaism, and other theologies I likely was not able to identify, as well as locations, psychological archetypes, etc., all essentially stating "I am a messenger from the Gods, a teacher, and an artisan; you are the clay." After picking through this dense knotting, it seems fairly clear Flying Man is a direct reference to Hermes. Without an understanding of any of these references, it's gibberish. Add a rhyme scheme to it and you have something straight out of Alice in Wonderland (minus the mathematical undertones). Add a cause to it and you might end up with a book by Ted Geisel. In a metafictional sense, Matteson could not have chosen a truer opening quote with: "In a senseless world, a myth makes sense of nonsense." Knowledge tends to dispel myth with sense, but knowledge of myths is helpful in making sense of this long stream of information.
I am by no means a critic of cryptic gibberish. When I can pull off a bit of nonsense in my own work that, in the proper context or with a second read, makes sense, I feel gratified by a fleeting sense of genius. In short, Matteson knows his stuff and it would be helpful if you knew it, too.
For me, the lone drawback was not the layers upon layers of information, nor the myths themselves, but perhaps the execution of them and the description of the characters within them. Where the editor's remarks were sharp and professional, the myths in the telling were not as crisp and tended to provide information rather than let it flow along with the plot. The characters were oddly functionally observational at times, making leaps of cognition in their dialogue that turned them into narrators rather than participants in a story, and coming across as strangely detached from events taking place around them that were at times so surreal and bizarre they would have terrified any normal person.
This might be a pithy complaint considering the greater volume of myth is conveyed in extremely tedious detail designed to move the story forward, but as a matter of preference a character more fully engaged in their world is more compelling. For example, you might tell me Bruno is seven feet tall and likes to eat cheese, but this paints a dispassionate picture of Bruno--he is a block of wood. Or you could describe Bruno hunching through a doorway, one hand pressing a block of cheese into his mouth while the other fished eagerly through a pocket in search of more.
Fussing aside, this is a story I liked. I might have liked it more had the characters been more real to me, but making the story more character driven would probably deemphasize the mythmaking, which was the best part of the story. As a fan of history and myth, this book is plenty good.
I would undoubtedly benefit from a second read, and possibly a third, to understand the content more fully. While I haven't re-read a book in a long, long time, I have a file set aside in my mind that I will revisit with any new knowledge and hold it up to the kaleidoscope of my brain to see what the book looks like through each new facet. In terms of ambition alone, this story easily warrants a five-star rating.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
There are some authors who can slip from one genre to another without the slightest hiccup, buoyed solely by the strength of their prose. These are thThere are some authors who can slip from one genre to another without the slightest hiccup, buoyed solely by the strength of their prose. These are the sort of writers you read just to enjoy the infrastructure of their phraseology and the construction of the story. Anthony Doerr is infinitely resourceful for the former; I think L.H. Thomson is a strong candidate for the latter.
My introduction to Thomson was the sci-fi novel The Process Server (go here for that 5-star review). Typically, myself included, most people seem to find a genre and stick with it. Not Thomson, who likens himself a literary polymath on the scale of Isaac Asimov. I'd call him an arrogant cad if it weren't for the fact that he pulls it off (damn him, anyway).
Buried in Benidorm differs in genre from The Process Server, but shares its strengths: rounded, complex characters with a history, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, short but effective descriptions, and here-and-there a poignant and amusing aside.
Perhaps as interesting as the story itself is the history of the main character, Max, and how it informs the rest of the story, particularly his views on the church. Or, at least, the local magistrates.
Max is a former priest who left to clergy but was unable to leave it behind. While he feels no allegiance toward the community of faith, it certainly feels he owes them a debt, along with substantial seminary fees. The story paints clergymen as men clinging to their clerginess, attempting to justify their typical-person behavior (haughtiness, avarice, etc.) by passing it through a sort of ecclesiastical car wash, as if being religious figures makes underhanded behavior acceptable and serving a higher purpose. (view spoiler)[The case, as we discover, involves the church trying to lay claim to a deceased aristocrat's wealth by implicating his wife in his death, thereby causing her to forfeit her inheritance to the church. (hide spoiler)] That in itself is enough to raise eyebrows, but we also learn from Max that the bishop is, historically, a bully--he'd been one as a child and had no reservations about being one now.
In fact, it is the mystery of Max' departure from the priesthood and loss of faith that is, at least initially, what drives the story, moreso than that of the murder discovered at the opening of the book. This mystery manifests not just as absence of faith and a focus on the secular, but very near animosity, which may be off-putting for readers of a more religious bent who take this perspective as an affront to their God rather than a judgment of the men whose responsibility it is to deliver His message.
This conviction is stated, in no uncertain terms, fairly early in the tale when Max is discussing the interruption of his vacation by the church:
She detected my obvious discomfort. "And...? I take it something has interrupted?"
I nodded briefly. "My former employer."
Caridad giggled. "God?"
I gave her a withering look. "Very funny. The diocese."
She gritted her teeth like she had just driven over bumpy roadkill then uncapped a beer for each of us. "Ay. So, definitely not God, then."
This isn't to say that the church is the only thing to take flak. There's plenty of scorn to go around as the characters in this story all seem to harbor one prejudice or another, whether it be Detective Nicodema's disdain for the wealthy (money creates crime), the layabout Domingo's disdain for the non-religious (though perhaps just Max), Tomas' disdain for Portuguese (which may be a regional thing), the disdain Caridad shares with Max for clergy (due to mistreatment), and pretty much everyone else's disdain for Max as a consequence of his departure from the church. That said, there is an abundance of backstory justifying each of these perspectives, so it never seems as though the author is simply projecting his hatred of one thing or another through his characters. Rather, it's more likely that a disenfranchised former Catholic priest who has turned to private investigation is predisposed to contact with people who have criminal pasts, and harbor grudges against those who have wronged them. Or, perhaps, that's just the way we all are, but fool ourselves into believing we're above the fray or have never had cause to dislike anyone.
This was a good story and a good mystery by my reckoning (considering the limit of my Hardboiled Mystery reading consists entirely of The Happy Hollisters series, Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, and The Da Vinci Code), though it seemed what should have been the undercurrent dominated the work. Again, the main crime seemed to me more a chapter out of a larger work. And there's nothing wrong with that, so long as Max Castillo's story is not a one-off and is part of a longer series--which it is.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I've read enough of Manny's reviews, and understood a handful of them (owing to the fact that I am fractionally as well read as the author and sadly mI've read enough of Manny's reviews, and understood a handful of them (owing to the fact that I am fractionally as well read as the author and sadly monolingual), so I feel confident in stating this is a book I would enjoy.
Will you enjoy this? In a word, no, unless you are a masochist. Reason: not enough pictures. If you are a masochist, you will find neverending pleasure in this collection.
The reason for the latter being that each time you don't understand a passage, you will receive an electric shock.
I'm not sure how this feature was managed, but I can say imbecile masochists are likely to take the most pleasure from this aspect of the collection, while moderately intelligent folk are likely to find it an occassional distraction.
For my part, I'm neither a masochist nor moderately intelligent, but I managed to understand enough to enjoy the book, even if I now walk with a slight draw to the left....more
Thomson’s novel is rich in detail that fills the story with a sense of historical authenticity without falling into the sci-fi trap of impractical “woThomson’s novel is rich in detail that fills the story with a sense of historical authenticity without falling into the sci-fi trap of impractical “wouldn’t this be cool” and smacks of William Gibson’s classic, Neuromancer. In that same respect there is a very real danger of becoming hopelessly lost in the foreignness of a world so far removed from our own, the reader is enfiladed by foreign terminology with roots just firm enough to get a grasp on them without being completely lost, but Thomson preserves a few human foibles that allow us to anchor ourselves while we familiarize ourselves with the rest of the universe. For the curious and persistent, like a good sci-fi reader, you’ll settle in.
Mixed into the tale are a few unobtrusive observations about smoking and a book-long theme of the class system of the future, of which the main character, named with tongue in cheek, Smith, and the self- and surrounding-destructive nature of an obsessively hedonistic and predictably escapist human race controlled by megabusinesses.
The Process Server is decidedly anti-big business, or at the very least, the main character is, rightly laying blame for the slow environmental destruction of Earth at the feet of the Big-6 corporations and capitalism-at-all-costs that supplanted government—the culmination of a capitalist’s wet dream.
Apart from the jarring experience of acclimating oneself to a new reality, to which sci-fi readers learn to welcome that moment of epiphany when the new environment begins to click comfortably, the story breezed along smoothly and kept me interested once I understood (fairly early on) what Bob Smith, the process server, intended to do.
This is a story of discovery, about where humanity finds itself in the future, and is fascinating in learning how things shake out. It is a universe in which conservative, capitalist, and hawkish ideology wins out, for the most part, and depending on your perspective this may seem a utopian or dystopian outcome. From the point-of-view of the main character, a disrespected member of the lower caste who assesses the state of things with a tone of grim resignation, it’s clearly the latter, and like most folk in his situation in the present and the past, his goal is not to try and change the world to suit him better, but to get by in it as best he can.
Thomson has created a fascinating (or forbidding) future, populated it with a few gritty, Sisyphus-like characters with varying levels of addiction to alternate-reality escapism, whose primary goal is to survive, not unlike the crew of Serenity. The dialogue is sharp, the descriptions snappy, the conclusions sensible, and the story wholly engaging. It isn’t often that I enter a world that has not been heavily critiqued and seasoned for a few decades, but with those reservations in mind, this is a world I leave that was well worth the time to get to know before everyone else had a chance to tell me to check it out....more
Trevor Cloud is a reclusive genius who has invented a machine that can go anywhere, endure any environment, and is powered by any energy expended arouTrevor Cloud is a reclusive genius who has invented a machine that can go anywhere, endure any environment, and is powered by any energy expended around or upon it. His focus on the development of his extraordinary machine, an egg-shaped contraption he calls The Cloud, has left him only dimly aware of the fact that the clouds of Earth are curiously in absentia. It isn’t long, however, before Trevor, and his less reclusive brother, Russell, learn the nefarious source of the missing clouds—an extra-terrestrial agent that is siphoning away Earth’s vapor for reasons unknown.
Brother Russell Cloud could not be more different from his brilliant sibling: athletic, outgoing, upbeat, philosophical, and perhaps somewhat prescient. Nevertheless, the two brothers confide and trust in one another completely.
The story meanders a bit as Trevor and Russell explore the fascinating capabilities of the Cloud, here and there unveiling some new (but invariably important) function, but this is mere winding of the crank before the brothers come into contact with the aliens. Soon circumstances require them to deal with the threat. Indeed, after witnessing the technological capabilities of the visitors’ machines, and the paltry attempts humanity makes to thwart them, Trevor and Russell realize they and their machine may be the only thing that can stop the aliens.
James Field has created a fascinating exploratory device in the Cloud and novice adventurers, the Cloud brothers. Who wouldn’t want to test the capabilities of a nigh self-sustaining machine that could go anywhere and guarantee the safety of its inhabitants? Best of all, improbable as it may seem, Trevor describes the function of his machine and its many failsafes with a scientific literacy and tone that makes the device seem entirely probable.
To my surprise, despite the variety of experiences and entities we encounter on our journey with the Cloud brothers, the most interesting of all were the inanimate characters: the Cloud ship itself, seemingly invincible, infinitely adaptable, and all but unstoppable, and a gadget that identifies itself as Aidme. Part of the fun in reading this story is learning how Trevor will tweak his ship with a few hours of coding to navigate the latest challenge.
This is the maiden voyage of the Cloud and the Cloud brothers, and their first adventure was a doozy. It might be difficult to top, but I hope it isn’t their last....more
Everitt's The Rise of Rome is a two- (maybe three) pronged recounting of the beginnings and evolution of the western world's most prominent power prioEveritt's The Rise of Rome is a two- (maybe three) pronged recounting of the beginnings and evolution of the western world's most prominent power prior to and during the early Christian era.
The book's structure is centered upon significant episodes in the genesis and development of Rome the city as the empire expanded, beginning with the traditional history. This first stage is acknowledged as having nuggets of truth, in that the overarching event described probably occurred, but has likely been revised to endow the story with traditional Roman principles. A suitable comparison might be the mularkey that is Parson Weems' claim with regard to George Washington's honesty in confessing to chopping down a cherry tree as a youth--a traditional trait that, in this age of information, seems an unlikely quality of any person of political clout.
Having told us what Romans told themselves, Everitt tends to cite Roman sources, such as nationalistic Livy or Cicero, and historians Polybius and Plutarch (the former lived in close proximity to the events he recorded) to reinforce or dispute the traditional history and effects of this indoctrination.
Next Everitt holds these fables up to the light of archeological evidence and competing sources to determine their validity, and finally offers his opinion on why or why not the traditional history should be trusted or suspicious. For the most part, the traditional history is reliable in the sense that the recorded event occurred, though not necessarily in the same manner that it was told.
While I don't give much credence to opinions without supporting evidence, and some of Everitt's speculations are guesswork backed by extended immersion in the topic, Everitt's guesses seem safe bets when cut and dry historical evidence is not available.
A bit more academic and less breakneck than Tom Holland's work, but extensive sourcing and the fact that Everitt works almost exclusively on Roman history makes him seem a more reliable read. For what it's worth, like Holland, his training is in English, not history....more
At last! This review is the culmination of a long and tragic period during which I wanted to read on, but could only peel away time for it in frustratAt last! This review is the culmination of a long and tragic period during which I wanted to read on, but could only peel away time for it in frustrating slices. If my review is disjointed and nonsensical, I blame Time for its failure to properly encompass all my responsibilities and leave room for reading as well.
To start, I enjoyed Maree’s writing style. That’s actually a pretty big component to my enjoyment of a story. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a variety of styles, from the sparse and speedy style of Ernest Hemingway (though I didn’t so much enjoy his stories themselves) to the more elaborate and clever meanderings of a William Shakespeare, or the atypical writing of E Annie Proulx (The Shipping News).
Alexios has a nigh-formal descriptive style and characterization to it that, in the world of writing, tends to go one of two ways: bland and tediously overwritten, in the fashion of 18th and 19th century writers (not to short change contemporary pedants who are just as tedious); deep and meaningful in detail, as in the case of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (which, oddly enough, many found overwritten—that happens when your footnotes can fill a page—but I found mesmerizing in the stories in each detail and within stories). While Alexios doesn’t quite boast the mesmerizing features of Susanna Clarke’s masterful tome, it certainly doesn’t fall into the dull world of literature from the 1700s and 1800s (sorry, Leo Tolstoy, I did love War and Peace, but not every contemporary writer was as good at making huge stories interesting—some were just huge).
The story itself is one that tells multiple, seemingly unrelated tales, while pulling the bowstring more and more taut as we approach a final revelation. Though the tales of the individuals are interesting, and hint at structural ties (each seems to involve a kind of nameless mystic identified only by their title, each distinctly mystical, yet each with a different level of connection with the ethereal) that suggest the stories are somehow related as opposed to completely arbitrary, it is the promise of the coming reveal that invariably drives a reader on. Who is Alexios? How does it tie into the theme of DEATH/NEAR-DEATH???
The answer to that question is a pretty stunning swing into the surreal and ethereal that would be shameful and rude of me to spoil for you. I will tell you that you will likely view the ending in one of two fashions: fascinating or mind-breaking.
If I were to ask myself to find a weak point in the story (I am… right now), it would be to complain that it lacks a feature it isn’t necessarily supposed to have (What!? No Laser Dragon Ships? No Sentient Air Horses? No banana-powered submarines? Expectation Fail! No stars!). What seems to be lacking for the typical reader is a hint about what the payoff might be right away. In pulp fiction books, the conclusion is often easy to spot immediately in the summary or the opening chapter, so the reader knows exactly what they’re building toward:
“Johnny Jimson, long-haired rock god and private investigator, had to be on stage for his concert in 1 hour. But someone had kidnapped his Electric Trombonist. Oh Nohs! He must find his trombonist or all his fans will be sad.”
Oftentimes an author can get away with leaving out cardinal directions if the reader is confident the author knows what they’re doing, trusting the story won’t simply meander from place to place before slumping into an arbitrary conclusion that doesn’t tie anything together. My purpose in bringing this up, oh potentially mutually concerned reader, is to indicate that isn’t the case here—there’s an obvious relationship between the characters due to the similar structure of their adventures. And there’s certainly a payoff, so don’t be put out when it’s not immediately apparent where the story is headed because no one mentions a missing Trombonist right off the bat.
If you’re looking for a story to rank highly in terms of Strictly Plot-borne Gripping Adventure, this likely isn’t for you—that’s not how this story works, necessarily. Maree does a splendid job providing anxious moments to keep the reader engaged as we build toward the conclusion. Fortunately, different stories require different grading scales, and this story ranks pretty highly on the Thoughtful-Well-Written-Tale Scale, which, as you might have guessed from the score, and me being a reasonably sensible person, is the scale I decided to use.
UNRELATED SIDE NOTE
As a completely unrelated side note that is nonetheless integral to Chance’s success as a writer, I feel compelled to point out that the author’s name, if not contrived, could hardly have been better chosen as a Catchy Author Name. In my experience, I’ve known few people with better “writing names” (the champion, of course, goes to a classmate of mine from Bowling Green: Bradley Wolfenden III). It sounds good, and no doubt looks good on the spine of a book, on which, after reading this story, I believe it has earned a place....more
Before a proper summation can be given, one first has to understand the Why of The Mismeasure of Man. The Why being hundreds of years of conservative,Before a proper summation can be given, one first has to understand the Why of The Mismeasure of Man. The Why being hundreds of years of conservative, white-folk-do-well-because-they're-smartest ideology supported by "science", and the more recent belief in the existence of an inherited IQ number by which all humans can be ranked, culminating in The Bell Curve, by Herrnstein and Murray (1994). It is a book that asserts poor people are, in short, intellectually inferior to the non-poor, and thus can never rise above their status (barring some fluke) to achieve the success that wealthier people enjoy.
The book was roundly criticized as sloppy, statistically inaccurate, and pandering to a conservative audience that wanted to believe the poor were not worth the money spent on them, with Gould as one of its loudest critics.
In sum, Gould's book is an admonishment of ideology behind The Bell Curve (Gould published The Mismeasure of Man years earlier, then republished when The Bell Curve was released) and the willingness of social scientists to shape their findings to fit their narrative over the past centuries of anthropological research. In essence, they found what they set out to find (support for white, Europeans being more intelligent than others), in spite of clear evidence to the contrary--thus the title of the book. He debunks the methodologies and findings of ideas such as: mental capacity is determined by cranial volume, and how those who used these methods tried to fit their beliefs to their findings and preserve the idea that Wealthy White People have earned their status because they are more intelligent (this became a problem when some African skulls, and even some female skulls *gasp!*, had greater volume than their caucasian counterparts), as well as the notion of a measurable IQ. For those with a mathematical bent, the latter portion of the book explains the error of Herrnstein and Murray's calculations, and the continuing trend of partiality toward specific data that proved their hypothesis while ignoring data that might disprove it.
The latter part of this trend is what Gould finds disheartening and enraging at the same time. It is symptomatic of Bad Science. That being when scientists find an abundance of evidence that points in a different direction from what they expected, yet cling to their preconceived expectations anyway, and search for a way to manipulate their data to confirm the existing bias. Imagine if Newton had at first insisted his laws of motion were based upon the energy inherent in apples, and never allowed his findings to alter his opinion. In the far future these notions of gender- and race-based intellectuality will be long behind us and we will look back in incredulity. But if not for Gould, this book, and others like him, we might never take those steps forward.
If you take anything from the book, or at least the idea of the book if you choose not to read it in its entirety, it should be 1) always approach an idea with some degree of skepticism, and 2) consider the possibility of an agenda behind a proposal--even when offered by something so noble and ideal as the scientific community....more