Ostensibly, the book is supposed to be a compendium of oral accounts - a sort of Story Corps, if you will. The accounts, however, don't quite read the way people actually talk. Even at the upper eschelon of power and education, human beings don't speak in perfect paragraphs or stay perfectly on topic. When you factor in the notion that some of the author's "subjects" have different levels of intelligence and are either translated from a non-English language or are speaking English as a second language, the syntax and vocabularies of actual human beings would be far more varied than those presented. The workaround is simple: A note about style and the editorial process. Much like a book using many colloquial sources, the author may include a simple preface to indicate quotes are edited to reflect standard English - except where doing so would misrepresent the source's intentions or otherwise impair the narrative.
The successes, on the other hand are nearly innumerable. I lack the background to assess Max Brooks's psychological plausibility, but it passes the sniff test of a lay person. The psychology of trauma and battle seem at least as likely as any well-written action story. It is in the response that the author's credibility is purchased. Unlike a standard-issue action story, the response (military and popular) stumbles, lurches, and is generally bound by experimentation. Unlike the asteroid in a hollywood movie, disaster is not averted by the power of love or Aerosmith or a nuclear bomb, but by hardscrabble determination. Instead of a climax, victory takes the form of a marathon. Not having an actual zombie plague to use as a control, one can only speculate at the realism of the hypothesis. But it seems about right to me.
If I lack the background to assess Brooks's psychology, I feel comfortable analyzing his geopolitical plausibility. I found the disappearance of the North Korean state fascinating - surreal, but in proportion to the only politically surreal state in the industrial world. Likewise, the unique position for Cuba to flourish (its economic isolation and authoritarian state created a natural quarantine zone - to say nothing about the natural oportunism of former President Castro). Russia's recivivism into religious-patrician empirialism may sound cynical, but is probably within the range of possible behaviors in the mother of all pinches - consider their Patriotic War, for precedent. Israel's model for preparedness is not inconsistent with the world's preeminent security state. But what reveals the author's command of political science is the presumed nuclear conflict between Pakistan and Iran. The latter is an unexpected twist, but one that is completely plausible, given Brooks's explanation. Fascinating ideas to consider, all.
Finally, the zombie dynamics are the perfect sample of Romero-ian physics and the best films from the genre (the Italian movie with the zombie on the coral reef...). Best of all, Brooks's zombies don't run. I am excited by the purism. As a member of Generation Y, I am amenable to the idea that zombies run (28 Days Later, I Am Legend,Zombieland). Nevertheless, my zombie comfort zone (if such a thing can exist) is the default scenario where zombies overpower with force rather than overtake and tackle. The author's constant comparison to marauding ants is a beautiful analogy. ...more
Scott Fitzgerald knows more fine sounding synonyms for sexual deviancy than any other American author of the jazz age.
Tender Is The Night is the direScott Fitzgerald knows more fine sounding synonyms for sexual deviancy than any other American author of the jazz age.
Tender Is The Night is the direct retaliation of a jilted husband after his wife's mortifying airing of the family laundry. Knowing this creates an awkward tension between reader and writer - Fitzgerald's favorite word (one I will make a conscious effort to use more dynamically) is "lesion."
There are also two edits. Tender Is The Night originally appeared as a novel in three, achronological segments. Later, it was remixed into chronological order. I've only read the original mix. But as tension is the chief atmospheric quality of Tender Is The Night, I don't see the benefit of taming it for lazy audiences.
Most people know Fitzgerald from The Great Gatsby - a novel most of us first encounter in high school. The Scott Fitzgerald of Tender Is The Night isn't that same callow Scott Fitzgerald of Gatsby fame. He's worldlier and more tragic. The change is as dramatic as The Beatles. It's hard to imagine the group who invaded America singing "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" is the same group who - just a few years (and transcendental experience) later busted out "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?". It's hard to say which is better. There's a case for each.
I know the literary themes deal with the corruption of innocents abroad and blah blah blah. I belong to a school of literary naïveté that insists, stubbornly, of noting context (as strictly matters of ceremony) but reading at face value. Later writers insist that this is the only way to read. I don't know if Fitzgerald would want it that way, or if he'd want us to either moralize or sympathize with his moral debasement. I choose to read it as a simple tale of lechery, infidelity, alcoholism, and generally rich-people-behaving-badly-along-the-Mediterranean-rim-in-the-years-following-World-War-I. Fortunately, Tender Is The Night can be read in this humble way.
It is a much better book than The Sun Also Rises. ...more
Spin is reminiscent of other, seminal science fiction novels - Childhood's End, Stranger in a Strange Land, to name a couple. While it succeeds in imaSpin is reminiscent of other, seminal science fiction novels - Childhood's End, Stranger in a Strange Land, to name a couple. While it succeeds in imagining a more realistic, speculative future, Spin lacks those novels' conciseness and charm. The universe of Spin sprawls like Clarke's Rama - weighted down with superfluous non-necessities.
And, like all science fiction, the author seems addicted to the obnoxious overuse of ten dollar words like "chiliasm," when the book is basically written in pulpy, eighty-five cent paragraphs.
As science fiction goes, Spin is as enjoyable as anything I've come across as a jaded adult. But I hope genre writing will one day transcend its literary shortcomings and stand on the strength of its prose and not merely lean on the cleverness of its speculation. ...more
I suppose the greatest challenge for an author writing about the Civil War is that four out of five readers are already fairly versed on the subject.I suppose the greatest challenge for an author writing about the Civil War is that four out of five readers are already fairly versed on the subject. Of those, perhaps a great many even feel they are more knowledgeable about the subject than the author. A Civil War history, in many cases, is essentially a test for authors, to gauge to what extent their opinions conform with the predjudices of the readers.
By preferring Lee to Grant and Davis to Lincoln, as the author has done, he undoubtedly courts the underdog bloc of Southern fetishists and latter-day redeemers. Unfortunately, he runs afoul of this reader in the process.
However, that's sort of the knee-jerk reaction. Upon reflection, I wonder instead if Jay Winik hasn't made the unspoken observation that books extolling Lincoln and Grant abound and a closer look at Lee and Davis are simply needed to fill a gap in the popular history. There is evidence to support this idea, since Winik seems to think quite highly of General Sherman and poorly of Forrest. No true Southern apologist would dare express either opinion. Yet, surely an exploration of the "real" Robert E. Lee isn't necessary - he is the subject of as many (if not more) books as Grant.
After much reflection, I conclude that Winik has researched and written several books on the Civil War and then cut them into confetti. Then he's shaken it all up, like a snow globe, and let the pieces fall where they will. There is no other explanation for a book whose thesis is the thrillingly focused beam of a single month to immediately plunge backwards into a star-struck eulogy for Thomas Jefferson and devolve into a Pop Up Video trivia fest about 20th century captains of industry. ...more