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 busi...moreOne 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.(less)
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 humor...moreIt'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.(less)
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 who...moreA 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.(less)
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 slog...moreNot 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 th...moreA 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.(less)
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 with...moreThis 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.(less)
It is nearly impossible to write a sufficiently informing life of Mao Zedong in 100 or so pages. I give the author credit for trying. It is no slight...moreIt is nearly impossible to write a sufficiently informing life of Mao Zedong in 100 or so pages. I give the author credit for trying. It is no slight on her that a lot was sacrificed in the name of space--I understand that is just the way it (often) goes when dealing with Very Short Introductions. But just so others know what to expect, let me add a few thoughts as to what I thought was lacking.
First, most of us are built to connote space with importance. What I mean is, something that the author explains in 10 pages is probably less important than something that is explained in 100 pages. When you have a book that is probably about 110-115 pages of actual content, it is very difficult to emphasize the relative importance between various events. Relatively minor events (or were they?) are given roughly the same amount of press as epochal ones, like the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution. Since Davin was, I am sure, commissioned to write a life of Mao, and not just a political analysis based on his most significant years, this was bound to happen.
Another problem with a book this tiny dealing with a subject so massive is that people, places, and events tend to pop up out of nowhere and follow each other very quickly. You might have three new people, all involved in significant intrigues and worthy of serious discussion, introduced within a sentence or two of each other. Keeping things straight can be a challenge at times.
Related to this is the fact that this book is heavy on description, not so much on analysis. It is essentially a descriptive timeline. That is fine, and pretty obviously all you are going to get in a slim volume like this, but some analysis would be nice. Often there is very little background information given, and worse yet, pretty much no psychological insight. If you just read this book, the Great Leap Forward would not seem like a big deal, and you would probably think Mao was struck down by mental illness by the time of the Cultural Revolution. The man in the pages preceding the section on the Cultural Revolution seems quite distinct from the one during and after them. Sure, he feared looming obsolescence, but really, the change seemed like such a violent one that a deeper analysis of his motivations would have been appreciated. But hey, depth must be sacrificed for breadth in a book like this.
The writing was a bit dry, too, though that is not too important. It would be much more so if it was longer, as it would be harder to get through.
One big thing this book has in its favor is it is balanced. Mao is treated very fairly. He does not come across as some psychopathic killer, nor a saint. Mao himself said he would be satisfied if his achievements were remembered as 70% merit, 30% error. While I don`t know if this Very Short Introduction achieves that exact ratio, I think that Mao, who comes across as a pretty practical man in this book, would have been okay with how he was portrayed.(less)
Overlong in all aspects--the plot did not need ~1,200 pages to unfold itself, the few characters that did seem to undergo some sort of transformation...moreOverlong in all aspects--the plot did not need ~1,200 pages to unfold itself, the few characters that did seem to undergo some sort of transformation did not need as many pages to develop, the dialogues were almost always so needlessly extended as to drive one mad, the description was too exhaustive--I feared at any moment Clavell might realize his focus on minutiae was not obsessive enough, and start to describe in rich detail all of the interesting things going on at the subatomic level every time a character took a step or ingested a morsel of food that heretofore I was missing--and the politicking was convoluted to the point where it became a chore to keep track of all the intrigues and characters involved in them.
And that is to say nothing of Clavell's hilarious fixation with reminding us of how big Blackthorne's--and thus the White Man's, let's be honest--member was compared to those of the little Japanese men around him (cheap laughs from old stereotypes), that the Japanese were sexually enlightened and have been using anal beads and cock rings for half a millennium (at least!), that the Japanese will bend over backwards to find an excuse to kill themselves, that the Japanese had no concept of love, only respect for authority and an existential aversion to shame, that Europeans and their Judeo-Christian morality was uncivilized, naive and infinitely stupid...yeah, to say nothing of that type of stuff.
It was pretty well-written, though, especially for a bestseller that was turned into a successful miniseries. Call me a snob, but I do not often hold out high hopes for those things.
Oh, and the ending was kind of a cop out. Not that I am complaining...if he didn't end it the way he did, it would have taken him another 200 pages to wrap up, I`m sure. As it stands, it was essentially the literary equivalent of a movie that ends with a 'where are they now?' type montage.
It sounds like I hated it, but I will give it 3 stars. I liked it, kind of. It took me so damned long to read this brick that I will probably miss these miserable characters--because yes, pretty much all of them gave me plentiful reasons to believe they were miserable. And I can't say I felt too bad about that; they weren't the most endearing bunch.(less)
Sure, it's very melodramatic--lovers star-crossed due to a musty old class system and all that, very 19th century stuff--but even with that against it...moreSure, it's very melodramatic--lovers star-crossed due to a musty old class system and all that, very 19th century stuff--but even with that against it, it s a beautiful meditation on true love. Expect the usual Hamsunian signatures: luscious language and a voyeuristically perspicacious look into the protagonist's mind.(less)
If you require a strong, fast-moving plot, this one isn't for you. It's a very personal novel, one where you inhabit the narrat...moreLike reading a dream...
If you require a strong, fast-moving plot, this one isn't for you. It's a very personal novel, one where you inhabit the narrator's mind so intimately that, if it weren't for the wide open spaces which are described to us so often (and so beautifully), you might be prone to attacks of claustrophobia. We see the world through the eyes of an aging, sensitive, and melancholic--or to use his word, neurasthenic--city-dweller determined to reintroduce himself to the wild, so to speak. What follows are a series of not-so-action-packed adventures--in fact, it's misleading to even term them "adventures."
So beautifully written that I enjoyed each and every page, even if they were "only" filled with musings, longings, misunderstandings, and eventually disappointments.(less)
A nice little collection, though I think I preferred the previous one, My Man Jeeves a little more.
Special mention goes to "Comrade Bingo" as being th...moreA nice little collection, though I think I preferred the previous one, My Man Jeeves a little more.
Special mention goes to "Comrade Bingo" as being the funniest story of the lot, though. I'll have to re-read that one again soon--as well as check out the episode of Jeeves & Wooster that was based on it.(less)
Very intelligent and thought-provoking collection of stories dealing with robots. Despite that, it was very entertaining and quite a page-turner. My t...moreVery intelligent and thought-provoking collection of stories dealing with robots. Despite that, it was very entertaining and quite a page-turner. My three favorite stories would have to be: "Reason," which deals with a nascent robot religion and questions of solipsism, empiricism, etc.; "Little Lost Robot," which is about a robot with a weaker directive to never harm humans than preceding robots, a difference that turns out to be vexing (and potentially dangerous) when an order is followed too literally; and "Evidence," which is a story about a slick politician trying to smear his competition by claiming the man was actually a robot (which would be illegal).
I didn't think I'd enjoy a 60+ year-old collection of stories about robots, but I sure was wrong.(less)
Better, and different, than I expected. More of a look into the mind of GSP than the life. This is not a traditional autobiography that chronicles the...moreBetter, and different, than I expected. More of a look into the mind of GSP than the life. This is not a traditional autobiography that chronicles the important events of his life. Instead, it focuses on the principles he lives by that have helped him to become as successful as he has. Definitely one of the better MMA books I've read so far.(less)