Since I was a little too old for this series by the time it became popular, this is the first time I've ever read a Harry Potter book. Devoid of any fSince I was a little too old for this series by the time it became popular, this is the first time I've ever read a Harry Potter book. Devoid of any feelings of nostalgia, I thought it was decent, but not brilliant. I'm surprised it became the global phenomenon it did.
Regardless, I'll probably continue. Maybe even great fans of the series don't find the first book to be the best?...more
Flying & Drinking and Drinking & Driving... because our rockets all blow up... the ever-seemly Victorian Gent... gruff gus... Low Rent... and of coFlying & Drinking and Drinking & Driving... because our rockets all blow up... the ever-seemly Victorian Gent... gruff gus... Low Rent... and of course, the right stuff.
These and many more phrases will show up at least once every few pages if you read this highly engrossing, often (intentionally) hilarious account of the American test pilot scene of 1940s through 1960s and the Mercury space program of the late 50s and early 60s.
I've just got to say, poor Gus Grissom. It's not that he comes across as stupid or incurably Low Rent, but he's just too easy a target for Tom Wolfe's wit.
"Asking Gus to 'just say a few words' was like handing him a knife and asking him to open a main vein."
"[Gus and Deke] reminded you, in a way, of those fellows whom everyone growing up in America had seen at one time or another, those fellows from the neighborhood who wear sports shirts designed in weird blooms and streaks of tubercular blue and runny-egg yellow hanging out over pants the color of a fifteen-cent cigar, with balloon seats and pleats and narrow cuffs that stop three or four inches above the ground, the better to reveal their olive-green GI socks and black bulb-toed bluchers, as they head off to the Republic Auto Parts store for a set of shock-absorber pads so they can prop up the 1953 Hudson Hornet on some cinderblocks and spend Saturday and Sunday underneath it beefing up the suspension."
"Scott was the only one with a touch of the poet about him, in the sense that the idea of going into space stirred his imagination. He would even go out at night and prop a telescope up on top of his car on a tripod and just stargaze and let himself drift into the most profound speculation of astronomy: What is my place in the cosmos?
Just try to imagine Grissom doing that! If Gus had a telescope, he might use the small end of it to try to whack a turkey joint out of the maw of the Disposall if the thing was stuck, but that would be the end of that. Gus and Deke were the duo at the other end of the spectrum. The main thing was to ride the bird up there into space and get the job done and get back, and let's hold the Mickey Mouse down to a minimum."
Deke Slayton, as you can see, was also a frequent target. Here's a good one:
"In other situations, however, [Deke] had Grissom's lack of patience for party manners and small talk and Grissom's way of lapsing into impenetrable blank stares, as if some grim wintertime north-country Lutheran cloud of Original Sin were passing in front of his face."
My favorite Tom Wolfism would probably be "gruff gus" and all variations thereof.
"His public incantations consisted mainly of Hoosier gus gruffisms."
"He gruffed a lot of Hoosier gus gruffisms at her and she gruffed some back at him."
"If Gus was home for the weekend, he was apt to get in some fast flurries of fatherhood for the benefit of their two boys, Mark and Scott. This might take the form of some good gruff-gus obedience lectures about obeying their mother when he wasn't there."
Gruffed! Gus gruffisms! Exclamation points! This book has it all!
[This isn't a spoiler, as it wasn't mentioned in the book, but there's another reason to say "poor Gus Grissom." He died on February 21, 1967 in a horrendous fire aboard the Apollo 1 spacecraft. For all his gus gruffiness, the more I read about him, the more I liked him. Rest in Peace, Virgil I. Grissom!]...more
North Koreans have multiple words for prison in much the same way the Inuit do for snow. Somebody who commits a minor offense--such as skipping work--North Koreans have multiple words for prison in much the same way the Inuit do for snow. Somebody who commits a minor offense--such as skipping work--might be sent to a jibkyulso, a detention center operated by the People's Safety Agency, a low-level police unit, or maybe a rodong danryeondae, a labor camp, where the offender would be sentenced to a month or two of hard labor, such as paving a road.
The most notorious prisons are the kwanliso--which translates as "control and management places." These are in fact a colony of labor camps that stretch for miles in the northernmost mountains of the country. Satellite intelligence suggests they house up to 200,000 people. [...] "Insulting the authority of the leadership" is the most serious of what are called "antistate crimes." [...] Sentences for the kwanliso are for life. Children and parents and siblings are often taken away as well to get rid of the "tainted blood" that carries over for three generations.
While this book only briefly touches upon camps, I think the above passage summarizes the reality of life in North Korea well. Fear of speaking one's mind prevents people from creating the alliances necessary for concerted action from below in order to bring about change in the country. Of course, change from below has likely been nothing more than a pipe dream for decades at this point, anyway.
A well-written book about the nightmarish lives of ordinary people that most of us would be more likely to cry than joke about if we paused and really thought about them. For all the comedic relief the Kims inspire, life in the North Korea is no joke for the many who are hungry and downtrodden. The silly propaganda the world points and laughs at, the videos we turn into amusing gifs for use on message boards and tumblr accounts, distract from the very real and very desperate suffering that goes on in the Hermit Kingdom....more
One long (ok, not so long), humorous character study of a high-power, narcissistic, nature-contemning, I-am-god's-gift-to-women, Seattle-dwelling busiOne long (ok, not so long), humorous character study of a high-power, narcissistic, nature-contemning, I-am-god's-gift-to-women, Seattle-dwelling business douche set against a corporate team-building exercise gone terribly awry. It was chuckleworthy at times. For example:
They love teamwork, those Ups and Veeps. Teamwork is their mantra. In fact the seniors partners fly to Thailand together each January for three weeks, to do coke and fuck hookers, as a team, and to strategize the future of the firm. That`s how they bond. It`s said that when a group of really rich men fuck the same hooker, it breaks down the masculine neuroses that prevent communication between them, and allows them to think and act as one, or some such faggitude.
That was one of the funnier passages, in my twisted opinion. Puerile and thick as molasses, true, but amusing. If you can`t crack even the tiniest smile over that, you might want to skip this one....more
It's a shame that this book has as low of a rating on Goodreads as it does. These stories are well-written and intelligent; the balance between humorIt's a shame that this book has as low of a rating on Goodreads as it does. These stories are well-written and intelligent; the balance between humor and dejection feels appropriate, as neither have been fixated on to the point of rendering the stories either ridiculous or maudlin; they are peopled with real and sympathetic characters living real and sympathetic (and yes, oftentimes melancholy) lives. It seems that the addition of those two little words, 'Love Stories,' in the title led to certain expectations about tone and atmosphere that were not met. To that I say: thank god (or slava bogu)! I may be in the minority, but I certainly wasn't looking for a literary Hallmark card....more
A really insightful journey into the mind of a child going through the very difficult experience of watching his mother die of cancer. As someone whoA really insightful journey into the mind of a child going through the very difficult experience of watching his mother die of cancer. As someone who experienced a traumatic loss at almost the same age as the main character, I was impressed at how true some of the author's descriptions rang--specifically with regards to 'invisibility,' revulsion at being pitied, and the seemingly all-consuming need to suppress thoughts and memories related to our most feared traumatic event.
I wonder how I would have reacted to this book if I had read it soon after experiencing the loss in my own life that I mentioned above. I wonder if I would have been brave enough to examine myself in the same way the protagonist, Conor, was forced to. Seemingly a million years later, I'm still not sure if I have the courage.
An extremely emotionally-affecting little book. Highly recommended, regardless of whether or not you were Conor at some point in your life. After all, you may be yet....more
Not that I loved the first two books, but at least they were decent. This final installment was considerably worse. Getting through it was a real slogNot that I loved the first two books, but at least they were decent. This final installment was considerably worse. Getting through it was a real slog.
This one just seemed like a cash grab, the literary equivalent of a Darth Vader toaster.
A short, suitable introduction to everything North Korea. Lankov starts off with a brief history of the two modern Koreas, which is informative for thA short, suitable introduction to everything North Korea. Lankov starts off with a brief history of the two modern Koreas, which is informative for the non-specialist despite the breakneck speed at which he writes. From there, the slackened control of the marketplace following the disastrous famines of the 1990s and the concurrent countenancing of small-scale (quasi-)capitalism is reviewed.
Following these historical chapters, the remainder of the book mostly deals with Lankov`s take on the logic of North Korean diplomacy and domestic policy--which he repeats time and time again, is a form of logic and is rational behavior, despite the claims by pundits and mis-/uninformed politicians to the contrary. One of the most interesting sections of this book, albeit the least factual by nature, is Lankov`s chapter on his predictions for how the Kim regime and its associated institutions will meet their demise.
Here is a (very positive) spoiler alert for you: Lankov, in collaboration with common sense, states unequivocally that the regime that has been in charge of North Korea for the past 60-plus years will not exist indefinitely. Why? Because their economic policies are inefficient and crippling the country. You may then ask, Why not reform slowly and safely, much like their Chinese neighbors? Not going to happen, according to Lankov. I will not attempt to detail his argument why, but I will mention one unique factor that is at the crux of the impossibility of painless economic reform: the existence of a ridiculously prosperous South Korea. Lankov argues that the slackening of the government`s stranglehold on the populace will, in keeping with the snowball effect, lead to a swift and, in all likelihood, extremely violent overthrow of the current government. It goes without saying that the mandarins behind one of the most repressive governments in modern history will do anything in their power to avoid this. Rightly so, they doubt their survival will be guaranteed in a post-Kim Korea. Economic reform leads to collapse leads to the Mussolini or Gaddafi treatment.
Lankov offers suggestions on what can be done to hasten regime change, and what he believes is currently being or has, in the past, been done that is not helping. He criticizes equally the hawks that call for a hard-line approach, as well as the doves that want to coddle and essentially prop up the dusty Stalinist regime.
If this all sounds very plausible yet depressing, well, I guess it kind of is. But have faith, for Lankov seems to be; he is adamant about the eventuality of North Korea shedding itself of the current parasitic regime. It might be a painful nightmare leaving many people dead, but it will happen--probably within the next couple of decades or so. And this will be a good thing for future North Koreans. That, of course, raises the question: Will there even be North Koreans, or will there simply be Koreans, living in a unified Korea? Lankov addresses this question as well. The quick answer is: that depends on how the regime is ended.
There is a lot more to this book than what I`ve mentioned here; this is a mere precis of a few chapters, at most. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the DPRK, past, present, and future. I only wish more of Lankov`s personal experiences in North Korea--a unique qualification of his proudly touted on the dust-jacket--were drawn upon. As it is, this was a pretty straightforward analysis by a scholar of North Korea with very little `I was there, and I saw it with my own two eyes,` that I expected.
Postscript: Lankov has a dry sense of humor, and boy, he sure isn`t afraid to use it! If he borders on flippancy or flat-out disrespect, though, it is never against the suffering masses, but instead only those who truly deserve it. This leads to a very readable, and macabre as it may sound, enjoyable book....more
This is the worst book I have ever read. Lest I come across as hating it irrationally, allow me to explain just what was so bad about it.
To start withThis is the worst book I have ever read. Lest I come across as hating it irrationally, allow me to explain just what was so bad about it.
To start with, the writing was god awful. Truly amateurish. I didn't expect Philip Roth's The Plot Against America here, so I don't think it would be right to accuse me of harboring unrealistic expectations. I did, however, hope for something with better plot description and dialogue than this:
The leader of Iran came to America to make a speech at the United Nations.
After his anti-American speech, he was kidnapped by Rodd's secret police.
With Rodd watching, Oliver Stonewall took a long sword and decapitated the Iranian leader. The headless body stood there for what seemed like forever, then he landed on his knees, bowing at Rodd, falling to the floor. His head was still spinning.
Four days later, the Iranian leader's wife received a cardboard box. When she grabbed it, she noticed the bottom was wet with blood. She opened it and screamed when she saw the head of her dead husband.
Sorry, should I have spoiler tagged this review? Eh, don't worry; like almost every other character in this book, the "leader of Iran" was completely unimportant--so unimportant he was given neither a name nor a more specific title. He had absolutely no role in this book other than to appear and disappear on the same page, to indulge the callow reader's (or author's?) desire to read about someone getting his head chopped off.
How about this cringeworthy passage? It is so simplistic and dumbly violent that it worries me a bit.
Stonewall walked up to Gruden from behind, who sat in his favorite chair. He brought his twelve-inch knife up in the air, staring at Gruden's old, bald head. Stonewall sliced the knife down on Gruden's scalp.
Gruden never felt a thing.
Stonewall couldn't say that for the millions of fetuses Gruden had helped kill.
How about some dialogue?
"What's up with President Rodd's foreign policy? Countries are at war. When Clint Hilliard was president, the world was at peace. Did all of you know that?"
Yeah, what's up with that, guys? And airline food, am I right?
How about a Yahoo! Messenger conversation between an old crypto-Nazi oil tycoon, Adolph Hindenburg (actually a rogue CIA agent impersonating him), and a Nazi SS hitman named Oliver Stonewall (very subtle)?
Hinden_oil_boss: what's up?
Oliver_stonewall:another 4,500 bit the dust yesterday. LOL
Oliver_stonewall: guess who got gassed?
Oliver_stonewall: pedro. We finally got the SOB. LOL!
Oliver_stonewall: You should have seen Pedro's face. He looked like something from the Addams' family of the Munsters. Lol!
Hinden_oil_boss: lol! What did his face look like?
Oliver_stonewall: his front teeth were missing. Blood was all over his face. He couldn't talk, his face was so banged up.
Hinden_oil_boss: SS is very strong
More--this time between an ancient, decrepit ex-Governor crypto-Nazi named Rudy and the aforementioned CIA agent posing as an oil tycoon:
Rudy!_Rudy!: wanna go golfing?
Rudy!_Rudy!: 2 bad I'm in a wheelchair.
If ever a LOL was deserved...
Missed opportunity. Anyway, continued:
Rudy!_Rudy!: he's making changes in the American Nazi Party. Changes I don't like.
Hinden_oil_boss: what kind of changes?
Rudy!_Rudy!: he wants to reach out to Jews, especially Israel. He also wants 2 help the people of Africa, really wants 2 do it. That's not what Hitler wanted. I just don't understand him.
Hinden_oil_boss: good luck.
Rudy!_Rudy!: thanks. Well, I gotta get ready for the African trip.
Hinden_oil_boss: PURIFY THE HUMAN RACE!
Rudy!_Rudy!: PURIFY THE HUMAN RACE!
I guess 21st century Nazi sleepers sound like teenage girls when they chat online. There is so much hilarious stupidity in this imagined Yahoo! conversation that it bottles the mind, to paraphrase Will Ferrell in that figure skating movie starring the former Napoleon Dynamite.
Let's talk about pacing. This book has atrocious pacing. From chapter 1 to chapter 49, you will experience the smoothest ride of your life, for there is neither acceleration nor deceleration. There is about as much variation as there is in The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath by La Monte Young. What passes for a plot is developed so uniformly and ham-fistedly that there is absolutely no suspense whatsoever--a pretty damning indictment considering this is supposed to be a political thriller. There are no diversions, no subplots, and no development of characters, something that is commonly achieved (and rightfully so) by the technique of alternating the focus of each chapter. Within the first page of a chapter, you can very accurately predict who will be dead three pages later.
Before I forget:author used the phrase "Marshall law," as in "the president was going to declare Marshall law." This gave me a severe case of Fremdscham, which I overcame by self-medicating with a hearty dose of giggling.
I don't need to justify myself any more, do I? There is nothing wrong with a book about an alternate history where the US is run by a Nazi. Respectable writers such as Philip Roth and Philip K. Dick have lent their talents to this literary cottage industry, and by all accounts, done decent jobs of it. But there is something wrong when it is maladroitly executed--when the political insight is sophomoric, the writing poor and juvenile, the characters all as lifeless and equally abhorrent (despite some being obvious author darlings), and the plot mindless and clumsily paced--as is the case with Todd Ewing's Killer Machine.
And that is why this was the worst book I have ever read. By far. I have to apologize to Robert Heinlein, whose Podkayne of Mars I also gave one-star. This book is an order-of-magnitude worse, and it is unfortunate Poddy has to keep such poor company on my virtual bookshelf. Goodreads needs a zero-star rating.
Addendum: I feel a little guilty for having written this. No one on either Amazon or Goodreads has yet written a review of this book, so when someone comes around looking for one, I will be the only one they find. I believe my assessment is fair and completely justified, but I still feel bad that I may be greatly damaging someone's ego with a review like this. It seems to be one thing to give a bad review to Finnegans Wake, whose author is dead, or to Blood Meridian, whose author is among the literati's chosen ones, and another entirely to do so to an unknown (and likely self-published) hobbyist. The latter feels worse.
But as you can see, my commitment to honesty overruled my conscience's appeal to compassion....more