Revisionist History brings Malcolm Gladwell’s brand of quirky and insightful essay to podcasting. The show is similar to his occasional pieces in thRevisionist History brings Malcolm Gladwell’s brand of quirky and insightful essay to podcasting. The show is similar to his occasional pieces in the New Yorker, such as the classic examination of condiments in The Ketchup Conundrum, except here his overarching theme is a look back at something (an event, an idea, or a person) which “deserves a second chance”.
He’s a big name, so he gets the royal treatment of exceptional production values. Even the theme music is incredible.
But he is a master storyteller, and that’s what really matters.
All ten of the season’s episodes are worth listening to — possibly more than once — but in my estimation, two deserve special mention.
Okay, I’m a bit biased. I’m a schoolteacher, and I chose teaching as my third career specifically because I finally realized I wanted to do something that felt deeply meaningful. Gladwell’s tale of how easy it is for people to fall through the cracks in our social and educational systems is heartrending.
Gladwell’s moving story centers on the “generous orthodoxy” of Chester Wenger, a former Mennonite minister who was removed from his pulpit by his church for violating their doctrine. Wenger’s letter to his church is cited an exemplar of a wonderfully thoughtful compromise between the desire to maintain ideological purity and the goal of compassionately adapting to specific contexts and, perhaps, changing cultural perspectives.
There are a lot of good podcasts out there, but this one is among the best....more
I picked this up because it contains the short story “Bubba-Ho-Tep”, in which Elvis and JFK (kind of) battle an Egyptian mummy in an old folk’s home,I picked this up because it contains the short story “Bubba-Ho-Tep”, in which Elvis and JFK (kind of) battle an Egyptian mummy in an old folk’s home, which was apparently made into a highly-appreciated cult movie.
The story was amusing. But as I read the other stories, the tone and style grew tiresome....more
Nice little addition to the universal oeuvre, although quite far out on the spectrum of the role spirituality plays. I find it hard to reconcile thisNice little addition to the universal oeuvre, although quite far out on the spectrum of the role spirituality plays. I find it hard to reconcile this with a society that can make sentient AIs, but it is quite plausible that a large enough "human" population could encompasses both at once....more
At some point I heard that Cory Doctorow's short story, The Man Who Sold the Moon had won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, a pretty significant pAt some point I heard that Cory Doctorow's short story, The Man Who Sold the Moon had won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, a pretty significant prize. What I don't remember is why I thought that meant it was worth tracking down (I don't make a point of hunting down most award-winning fiction), but I'm glad I did.
Of the four stories which I actually read within this fat tome, it was the one that made it worthwhile.
Now, I wanna say: the reason I'm abandoning this book is simply lack of time. Many of the other short stories might be quite worthwhile, so I don't want to dissuade anyone else from reading the collection.
But just in case you only want to read Doctorow's story, he's a bit peculiar in that he makes it available for free on his website, boingboing. Read it here; it's very good. Curiously, that's also the name of a book by old-school scifi author Robert Heinlein in which he expounds on his libertarian politics (it isn't particularly good story). Any connection other than the name escapes me, although I probably read Heinlein's story only once, three decades or more ago.
The rest of this is what I started when I expected to read the whole book. It's mildly critical of the preface and first story, both by Neal Stephenson, questioning whether the whole book was going to be like his pieces. Good news: apparently not.
This is a collection of “stories and visions for a better future”, so as I make my way through it, I expect to be updating this.
But to begin:
The preface and the first story are written by Neal Stephenson, a white American male just a few months younger than I am. Reading both of those pieces left me somewhat disappointed with him, frankly.
First, the preface, titled “Innovation Starvation”. Stephenson relates how he feels let down that the United States no longer appears to be the creative engine of thrilling new technologies that he fondly recalls from his youth. The now cliched narrative arc from NASA’s Gemini missions and moon landing to the retirement of the Space Shuttle is emblematic. What galvanized him into engaging with this was the oil spill of the Deepwater Horizon in 2010 — the people of the United States had been told almost forty years before, in the first oil crisis, that petroleum was politically problematic, yet we’d done very little about it (other than to fight wars and subsidized nations in the middle east).
The goal of the book is to provide conceptual templates to future innovators, the same way the writers of the Golden Age of science fiction had mesmerized and energized the generation of scientists and engineers behind NASA.
The story he writes, Atmosphæ Incognita, is about the engineering of a twenty-kilometer tall building. It is a good story, similar to Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 in its focus on the technology. It felt like something written in the 1950s, though (well before the actual mission of Apollo 13 in 1970). The first-person narrator is a lesbian, true, but that doesn’t really seem to matter. In one way, that’s great. Letting people just be themselves is quite post-modern. But that also means that the only element that hinted at being interesting was set aside, and so the entire story ends up being rather bland. Yeah, the technology is interesting, and the failure of some of the technology lends some interest, but no enticing drama.
Which brings me to why I’m mildly disappointed in Stephenson. I thought he would be clever enough to understand that technology isn’t going to save the United States, and that we can’t invent our way out of our malaise. Well, yeah, sure: some fascinating new toys might distract us from the adult problems we’re confronting, and might even boost the economy enough to mitigate some of them, but that isn’t much.
The problems we’re facing are cultural and sociological, and don’t have simple solutions — we really don’t know whether they have solution at all (if you think you know of a solution, then you just need to take a step backwards and recognize that you didn’t see that it is entangled within an even larger problem).
I’ll have to see whether the other stories largely rest on similar false illusions....more
I jumped straight to the final two to start with the ones I was most interested in, but every story here is worth reading.
1.Twenty-one short stories.
I jumped straight to the final two to start with the ones I was most interested in, but every story here is worth reading.
1. ★★★☆☆ Tough Times All Over, by Joe Abercrombie
Light, clever and amusing, and fits in with the theme of rogues several times over, but anything more would be a spoiler.
2. ★★★★☆ What Do You Do?, by Gillian Flynn
Not in the fantasy subgenre. But I'm not sure what genre it is in, so I'm going to call this psycho fiction, because it delves into psychological stuff in several ways. First, it gets nicely into the head of the protagonist; second, there's the element of psycho, qu'est-ce que c'est? And finally, there's some nice tension because you really don't know quite what is going on, and who is doing what to whom.
Well, other than the handjobs. It's pretty clear who is doing those.
3. ★★★★☆ The Inn of the Seven Blessings, by Matthew Hughes
Pleasant — nothing too fancy, nothing too clever, but good craftsmanship. The characters are begging for more depth, but can't really get it in a short story, I guess.
4. ★★★★☆ Bent Twig, by Joe R. Lansdale
Heh heh. I don't know what this was, but it was fun. A Texas town full of ne'er do wells, beating each other up. Hicks with honor versus scum. But very well done, whatever curious sub-sub genre it's representing.
5. ★★★☆☆ Tawny Petticoats, by Michael Swanwick
6. ★★★★☆ Provenance, by David Ball
This historical fiction was almost a five-star story. Very well told, but there just a little too much convenience in the denouement.
7. ★★★☆☆ The Roaring Twenties, by Carrie Vaughn
A nice little story in the sub-sub-sub-genre of paranormal urban historical fantasy. Really three and a half stars, but what can I do?
8. ★★☆☆☆ A Year and a Day in Old Theradane, by Scott Lynch
The weakest of the bunch, although that judgement is undoubtedly affected by my prior reading of his Gentleman Bastard series. Lynch adheres to the same formula he uses in those books (although his characters here are mostly women), one that is initially quite exciting, but eventually palls. His heroes are thieves stealing from socially superior but morally inferior miscreants, and start out arrogantly overconfident, are foiled and imperiled, but always are more clever than their even more egregiously arrogant opponents and manage — surprise! — to turn the tables.
9. ★★★☆☆ Bad Brass, by Bradley Denton
Kin to chapter four; more Texas.
10. ★★★☆☆ Heavy Metal, by Cherie Priest
I was disappointed in the single steampunk novel of Priest's that I read, principally because of her casual disdain for the laws of physics. That's tolerable if magic is invoked, but that wasn't where she sited that particular story. Here she's on firmer ground. Kind of a variation on the modern urban paranormal story, except completely rural instead.
11. ★★★★☆ The Meaning of Love, by Daniel Abraham
This one starts off with a pretty hackneyed plot, but the author spins it out very well. Noble thieves again, though.
12. ★★★☆☆ A Better Way to Die, by Paul Cornell
Probably deserves more than three stars, but I'd been drinking rye.
13. ★★★☆☆ Ill Seen in Tyre, by Steven Saylor
The story itself is unexceptional, but nice. But what really caught my attention was the invocation of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. That's right, the curious phenomena when something you've just learned of suddenly pops up when you least expect it. Also known of as the Observational Selection Bias to less imaginative cognition-geeks. Anyway, I just got around to reading a queer little paranormal novel by fellow San Franciscan Fritz Leiber, who turns out to be famous for his fantasy series involving Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and suddenly they show up in this short story. Serendipity, you say? Fates have decreed that I should read that series, you say? Hmm, maybe... but it's eight novels long! I don't have that kind of time.
14. ★★☆☆☆ A Cargo of Ivories, by Garth Nix
Meh. Completely arbitrary.
15. ★★★★☆ Diamonds From Tequila, by Walter Jon Williams
Very nice! Our charming but barely moral anti-hero is a Hollywood star, struggling to unravel a murder during production of the movie that he desperately needs to succeed. I'll have to check out the author's The Fourth Wall, which introduced the fellow.
16. ★★★★★ The Caravan to Nowhere, by Phyllis Eisenstein
Spooky, and flawless. A tale of drug addiction and betrayed trust in the desert.
17. ★★★☆☆ The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives, by Lisa Tuttle
The mood and setting of this paranormal Victorian mystery were wonderful, but the characters were just a bit too smugly and simplistically drawn (the fellow Jesperson too much of a competent male), and the mystery itself too arbitrary to be dramatic.
18. ★★★★☆ How the Marquis Got His Coat Back, by Neil Gaiman
I have to confess, despite the mortal peril it may put me in, that I am not among the crowd that worships at the foot of Neil Gaiman. He writes nice stories, even very nice ones, but while the are undeniably precious, they aren't in a way that captures my undying adulation. That said, this is a nice story. It is an adjunct to his book (or, more properly, his novelization of his television series) Neverwhere. If you like his stuff, you will enjoy this, of course.
19. ★★★★☆ Now Showing, by Connie Willis
I don't even know what this was. A hyperbolic riff on the name of the book, coupled with a commentary on consumer manipulation, disguised as a silly romance? Most of Willis' research was apparently done on IMDB, whatever it was. Anyway, it was fun and frothy and gets three stars for that, and one more for being completely unexpected.
20. ★★★★★ The Lightning Tree, by Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfuss is famous for The Name of the Wind, which was a stunning debut, marred in my estimation by his over-capable hero, Klothve. This story stays away from Klothve, focusing on a day-in-the-life of his fae sidekick, Bast, and is the better for it. By avoiding the overly dramatic life of his nominal protagonist, his narrative skills really get a chance to shine. There are no spoilers here with respect to the novels, and this story would be a lark even to those that haven't touched the series.
If this is the high point of this collection, I'll be satisfied. If there's better, I'll be floored.
21. ★★★★☆ The Rogue Prince, or A King's Brother, by G.R.R. Martin
Gently disappointing, but somewhat disconcerting, too, in how provocative that is.
Martin has obviously been in the biz long enough to know the adage to show, not tell, right? But this story is all a telling, with nary a tidbit of dialog or action. In one sense, it seems to be an experiment. Instead of the kind of driving narrative we know to expect from a page-turner, we get a historic, almost biblical, recitation of events. The only way this is acceptable is because Martin's Westeros is undoubtedly intimately known to the overwhelming majority of those picking up this fat collection, and he's winking and teasing us. To anyone else, the story will be an opaque collection of names and events with no context to provide any drama.
To those in the know— inevitably, only a indulgent subset of those — we get a distilled essence of the kind of dynastic politics that forms the backbone to his epic. One way to look at this is as a story outline, the dry textbook version before he has reanimated the personalities and the twisted intricacies of their relationships.
Finally, I suspect the wink and the tease is also about the absurd heights that the HBO series has added to the already stratospheric expectations he faces. To anyone who has only seen the television program, this story will be incomprehensible, as it contains none of the lurid melodrama that Has become the show's trademark. Readers, accomplished in using their own imaginations, and not a cinematographer's craft, will be those that can brew a satisfying cup of tea from the dry leaves he provides, and will be reminded that the best drama is in their own imaginings, and the best authors merely provide careful hints and nudges. He's a tricky man....more
Notes for review: there are few things more dangerous to a reader than an entertaining book about what a clever person has read. A few decades ago weNotes for review: there are few things more dangerous to a reader than an entertaining book about what a clever person has read. A few decades ago we were all reading Helene H.'s "84 Charing Cross Road". Just recently I have been strongly tempted by Prof. Flynn's book he wrote to his students (in fact, I'm buying two classics just based on the sample chapter I found on his website, and I almost never actually buy books).
Hornby's essays here are explicitly crafted to wreak mayhem on one's reading list. Bad man!
And— Five stars, but don't go thinking this is a life-changing opus. (Or even life-ruining, despite what Hornby might desire.) These are bite-sized essays that will leave you smiling, looking forward to more, and inspired to read read read, which to us is like telling an addict that the heroin is on the house. What it promises, it delivers....more
From the January 2012 issue of Backpacker magazine: Required Reading, Top picks from our Facebook fans: No one has ever been—or likely will be—as cFrom the January 2012 issue of Backpacker magazine: Required Reading, Top picks from our Facebook fans: No one has ever been—or likely will be—as crankily eloquent about the Southwest....more
(I want to read this because of the New York Times’ ‘essai’, Montaigne’s Moment (March 10, 2011). There’s a copy of Montaigne in the Great Books serie(I want to read this because of the New York Times’ ‘essai’, Montaigne’s Moment (March 10, 2011). There’s a copy of Montaigne in the Great Books series my folks have had since I was a wee lad, so that’s covered. But Bakewell’s companion is somewhat oversubscribed at my library: “37 holds on first copy returned of 23 copies”. Of course, it isn’t as if I don’t have enough stuff on my TBR shelf.)...more
To echo the many that have already said this: don’t read this until you’ve finished Changes. That would be book twelve in the series, so this wouldTo echo the many that have already said this: don’t read this until you’ve finished Changes. That would be book twelve in the series, so this would be the lucky thirteen, except it is a collection of short stories in the Dresden-verse, and doesn’t count. According to Butcher’s website, his Ghost Story fills that role, due out in July of 2011. And don’t go looking at the book, or even it’s blurb, either — massive spoiler there, too.
That said, this is a nice set of short stories spanning the existence of Harry’s story thus far. As such, it also allows one to see how Jim Butcher’s skill as a storyteller has developed, although it isn’t as noticeable as in the full-length books.
Two of the stories are told from the point-of-view of other characters. One is told by Thomas Raith, a white vampire with a special relationship to Harry. If you don’t know what that relationship is already, then you shouldn’t even be reading these reviews! The other is from the perspective of Karrin Murphy, his partner in much mischievousness throughout the series.
These two, I think, show the current limits of Butcher’s skill. The author makes a concerted effort to distinguish them from Dresden’s, but he doesn’t really seem capable of writing without showing his snarky, smart-ass commentary. I’d like to see him write from Michael Carpenter’s POV; that would force him to stretch (or he’d reveal to us that Michael is actually also a sarcastic wise-cracker, but constantly suppresses his tendency — but I don’t think that could be made to work).
A nice addition to the oeuvre, especially as a "fix" to the Dresden-verse addiction.
(Borderlands Bookstore's Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club met on Sunday, 16 May, 2010, at 6 pm to discuss The Very Best of Fantasy & Science(Borderlands Bookstore's Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club met on Sunday, 16 May, 2010, at 6 pm to discuss The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology, edited by Gordon Van Gelder.)...more
The new Matt Damon hyperkinetic action movie The Adjustment Bureau is based on the PDK short story The Adjustment Team, in this collection. The New YoThe new Matt Damon hyperkinetic action movie The Adjustment Bureau is based on the PDK short story The Adjustment Team, in this collection. The New York Times review of the movie, “Creepy People With a Plan, and a Couple on the Run” is surprisingly positive. The last word: “As it turns out, romance for grown-ups isn’t dead in Hollywood — it’s just been on extended leave.”
I’m pleased that Manohla Dargis, in her review, agrees with my analysis of the appeal of PDK. She just says it better:
One reason filmmakers like Mr. Nolfi seem attracted to Philip K. Dick’s work, beyond the brilliance of its ideas, is that his unembellished writing style leaves them room to make the stories visually their own.