Kevin Kelly is a former editor of Wired and a “tech-watcher”; his latest book argues that “technology is like a living organism, animated by the same evolutionary forces that shaped the human brain.” It’s a pretty interesting idea, and the Times‘s choice of reviewer is interesting, too. Coyne, a professor of evolution, takes Kelly’s argument very literally and rips it apart, calling it “an airtight theory of such mind-blowing generality that it can’t be disproved.” The extent to which Kelly meant his argument literally is not clear (technology is not, after all, literally an organism), but the review still makes for an entertaining read.
This review came out a few weeks ago, but I just can’t pass it over. I’m a big fan of the Marx Brothers (they were, by the way, much better than the Three Stooges), I love Duck Soup, their masterpiece, and Roy Blount Jr. is my favorite panelist on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” I even like Larry Miller, one of those “Oh, he’s that guy”-type character actors. Miller says, “Here’s something … that’s not so easy to do: Write about [The Marx Brothers'] comedy in a way that’s fresh and funny and important on its own. Well, that’s what Roy Blount Jr. has done with his new book.” Sold.
I find Naipaul a fascinating character in the world of literature, but I’ve never actually read him. Some combination of his standing as a revered Nobel winner and his standing as a notorious asshole, perhaps. In this book, a travelogue of sorts, Naipaul “proves willing to turn his brutally accurate lens back on himself.” So, I might well start here.
Gaiman provides a thumbnail sketch of King’s career, and then discusses each of the four novellas in Full Dark, No Stars. He’s very enthusiastic, as writers reviewing writers usually are, but despite his adoration, I’m not entirely convinced. For instance, one story is a deal-with-the-devil, but “there is no twist ending, no clever way out. It becomes an act of extended sadism in which the reader is initially complicit and then increasingly horrified.” Hmm. Not so sure about the book, but this high-level conversation between genre writers is quite interesting.
Harmony, by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles), Tony Juniper, and Ian Skelly , reviewed by Terry Eagleton (Guardian)
There’s something funny on a base level about a monarch, in 2010, writing a book about change. I’m guessing Prince Charles (excuse me, His Royal Highness) needed one of his co-authors just to navigate that opening logical fallacy. The other one presumably transcribed Trivial Pursuit cards at random: Eagleton says, “The book ranges from the mating habits of the albatross to the Sufi brotherhood, from carpet-weaving in Afghanistan to the mysterious five-pointed star you get when you superimpose the Earth’s orbit on Mercury’s.” Safe to say there’s little of value in the book itself, but the review is hilarious and not to be missed. Eagleton also says, “one of the volume’s most alluring aspects is its smell.” So it’s got that going for it. Which is nice.
I’m a habitual rereader. I love revisiting favorite sentences and scenes, and I love rediscovering moments in a story I’d forgotten. So it was a special surprise when rereading A Clockwork Orange last week to find a final chapter I didn’t remember at all. How had I missed this?
Anthony Burgess explains in his introduction to this 1986 addition:
My New York publisher believed that my twenty-first chapter was a sellout. It was veddy veddy British, don’t you know. It was bland and it showed a Pelagian unwillingness to accept that a human being could be a model of unregenerable evil.
The first time I read A Clockwork Orange in high school, I must have borrowed an older American edition from my local library. Kubrick’s screen adaptation sticks so closely to the American version that it never occurred to me that anything might be missing from either the novel or the film.
But there is something missing. The American version ends with Alex’s deconditioning. The British version and this new(er) American edition reveals what happens after Alex regains his capacity for evil: in Burgess’s words, “my young thuggish protagonist grows up.” He decides to give up his violent ways to look for a wife.
It’s a bizarre turn, and it’s the ending Burgess intended, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he gets the last word. … Continue reading »
[JABBIC is now on a monthly schedule. Look for the next one in December. Find previous installments here. And you can suggest covers we should use, or volunteer to write a blurb, by emailing us here.]
JABBIC is kind of like Balderdash with book covers. Based only on the cover at right, four of our contributors made up a one-paragraph premise for this week’s contestant, Cryoburn, by Lois McMaster Bujold. Can you reverse-engineer their fabrications and pick out the book’s real plot? (The answer will be posted in the comments later today.)
1. Conservative satire at its best: Cryoburn is Animal Farm meets Futurama, yet this plot feels fresh! Barack Obama’s youngest daughter, Sasha, is mistakenly frozen by a cryogenics processer and nothing can be done to thaw her! After a century of bureaucratic mislabeling, Sasha wakes to a world of flying, zero-emissions cars powered by solarscrapers. Unfortunately, not all is well in this world without oil. A dictator terrorizes Libmerica and young Sasha is the only thinker among drones. After a few foibles, the girl confronts the chilling dictator who has destroyed our nation: her unaged father! Now Sasha must decide between family and freedom.
2. In discovering a flaw in their proprietary biomed systems, Ignatius Zorn almost took down Technikinetic, the largest corporation within the Confederated Nations. Before he could blow the whistle, he was found out, beaten, and for some reason tossed into a cryochamber. 500 years later, Ingatius awakens to find Earth vastly changed, and Technikinetic ruling with an iron fist. The secret frozen with him for half a millennium might be the key to saving humanity. But Technikinetic knows he’s awake, and they’re not happy about it…
3. New Rome, 2562: a smog cloud covers the earth and every natural resource has been exhausted. There’s only one fuel source left, a mysterious toxic goo called Cryoburn. A single drop can power an aerocar for 75 years. Jimmy Raynes is a nobody in New Rome, a hack driver with an estranged wife and three kids who hate him. But when he gets a fateful fare, and overhears how Cryoburn is made, he realizes he has to do whatever he can to stop it. Cryoburn is a riveting sci-fi thriller about sacrifice and courage.
4. Only five days after arriving on Kibou-daini for a cryonics conference, interplanetary diplomat Miles Vorkosigan narrowly escapes kidnapping. Drugged, dazed, and alone, he is taken in by Jin Sato, whose mother was the leader of a cryonics reform movement until being declared mentally ill and involuntarily frozen. Now Jin lives in a building full of squatters running an illegal cryonics clinic. Under imperial orders to investigate the shady dealings of the cryo cartels, Miles connects the far-flung pieces and exposes a sneaky plot.
5. Who governs the government? Anyone who suggests even the possibility of a shadow government, or some other cabal’s undue influence on our lives is marginalized, dismissed as a conspiracy nut. But what if they’re right? In Cryoburn, Lois McMaster Bujold ponders a society ruled by an elite group of future humans who use telepathy and near-mystical technology to control events in their past, hoping to avert the disaster that has doomed their ‘present’. But how does their attempt at salvation affect those living in the now? Bujold follows the stories of six different people as they gradually uncover the truth of what’s happening to them, and their world.
Part of me wants to discuss how much I enjoyed this book, and part of me wants to focus on how it bites off more than it can chew. As I wrote in a Read This, Not That entry last week, The Thousand is quite entertaining and does a few things right, but there’s also a solid chunk of the book that would have been better left out.
Basially, this book centers around 4 connected murders. As the book opens, superstar classical composer Solomon Gold allegedly kills a woman during a tryst. Solomon himself is murdered soon after. We’re told right away his lawyer did it, but he’s not even on the investigators’ radar. The case goes cold. Gold had completed a famously unfinished Mozart requiem–one that supposedly could unlock the secrets to the universe, because it doubled as the mathematic equation for perfection. The manuscript is never recovered (the murderous lawyer, Reggie Vallentine, has it but can’t decifer it) and falls into a sort of legend. … Continue reading »
William Gibson is most renowned for Neuromancer, his 1984 sci-fi novel that predicted the modern internet, popularized the word “cyberspace” (and the genre cyberpunk), won every major science fiction award, and inspired both Snow Crash and The Matrix. So when critics call Gibson’s new novel, Zero History, his best work since Neuromancer, that’s really saying something.
It’s no use comparing the two novels directly: Zero History doesn’t have Neuromancer‘s depth or its importance. But Zero is entertaining and worth reading in its own right, and its themes reflect back on its author in interesting ways. … Continue reading »
This election season, I haven’t been reading the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or the New Yorker or the National Review. Not too much anyways. I’ve been reading All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren’s political saga about the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a pig farmer turned Governor based on Louisiana’s Huey Long. It has been, in turns, assuring and infuriating.
You don’t have to look any further than this classic to see that the winning narrative in American politics has long been the same. A newcomer can always score points by shouting about what the incumbent isn’t doing. It’s easy for an outsider to align himself with the people who aren’t in charge—most everyone else—by saying that he’s one of them and his opponent is different (rich, elitist, Muslim, etc.).
It’s a familiar story, and it wins elections, but it fails once the disenfranchised becomes the franchise. Populism is always and everywhere about not having to choose, because “we” are right, and therefore should compromise nothing. But governing is always about having to choose, and until you’ve compromised you’ve never had to make a choice. … Continue reading »
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
In Ghostly Japan, by Lafcadio Hearn. Reviewed by Michael Dirda (Barnes & Noble Review).
First off, who the hell knew Barnes & Noble had a legit book review site? And who would have thought it would actually be good? I mean, this is a review by Michael Dirda. He’s kind of a big deal. His review is a great read in itself, but also, Hearn’s book of Japanese ghost stories sounds downright awesome. Almost definitely gonna pick this one up.
Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane. Reviewed by Janet Maslin (New York Times)
Looks like this book is a sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone. I never read that book, but I didn’t really care for the movie. Lehane is a decent writer, though, so this book has promise. In fact, Maslin credits his skill in lifting what might otherwise be a formulaic story:
What can keep “Moonlight Mile” from heading down an overly well-trodden path? Only the conviction with which Mr. Lehane breathes life into these characters.
I like character-driven books, so maybe I’ll start straight with this second episode.
This novel’s cover intrigued me. It seems like a pretty straightforward contemporary novel. But perhaps it touches on some interesting themes. Novels that center around the West’s conflict with the Middle East tend to annoy me, but once in a while, it’s done really well (as with Chris Cleave’s Incendiary). Maybe this is one of those. Winslow’s review is okay, but a little heavy on plot summary.
Grey’s review is a tad amateurish, but she gushes on this book so hard (“Yarney’s book was engrossing enough to make me completely forget my pain [from MS]“), that I’m inclined to think it has to be at least pretty good. I love reading short-run indie books, and this one looks like it could be one of the diamonds in the rough.
Bonus book trailer: Cheesy PowerPoint videos for crap romance novels are too bad not to watch. This one uses a bunch of fonts and colors. Oooh.
Do not read: The Fall, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
I like Del Toro’s movies, I think he’s a talented guy, but he simply has no business writing novels, let alone an overhyped, unreadable mess like The Strain Trilogy. The first book in the series, The Strain, was cliched and horribly written (see my review for more details). To simulate the experience of reading it, imagine you’re in a class you hate with a professor who loves the sound of his own voice. He plays a bad movie for the class—say, Repo Men—and then keeps pausing it in the middle of action sequences in order to explain what combat boots are, or how a carburetor works, or the history of forks. That’s a lot like The Strain: a bunch of boring details cluttering up the action of an uninspired story. The big selling point for this series is that the vampires in it are mean. So… just like all the other pre-Twilight vampire stories? Sorry, Del Toro, that’s just not enough.
Instead read this: The Passage, by Justin Cronin
The Passage also got more than its fair share of media hype this year, and it’s also about vampires, and those vampires are also mean. I haven’t been able to read it myself, but I also haven’t seen less than a glowing review. For instance, here’s Ron Charles raving about it, and Ron Charles doesn’t pass out the good candy to every kid who knocks on his door.
In that review, Charles acknowledges our skepticism about yet another vampire novel, but then he calls Cronin “a really talented novelist”—the last legitimately talented novelist who wrote a vampire novel was probably Bram Stoker. There are sure to be some cliches and hackneyed elements (vampires, after all, are a cliche), but if Cronin knows where they are, and he’s as funny as Charles says, this book could be pretty good. It’s a much better bet, certainly, than The Fall.
[At the end of each month, Aaron surveys the comics he read, celebrates the best, considers the rest, and takes stock of what it means to be a contemporary comic fan. Read the explanation of this column's name here. Follow "The State of My Pull List" here.]
from "Batman and Robin"
Superhero mysteries post-Watchmen (or maybe more specifically post-Long Halloween) tend to drag the central question of the plot over a dozen or so issues, doling out a clue or two every issue to string the reader along until the big reveal. These stories are fun, but the structure often feels artificial. By contrast, every issue in Grant Morrison’s five-year, multi-title Bat epic reveals scads of details about its central mystery without sacrificing tension. If anything, it’s the desire to put all of that information into context that propels the reader into each subsequent issue, and makes both Batman and Robin and Batman: the Return of Bruce Wayne the best comics on the rack every month.
This month’s issues (#15 and #5 respectively) offer the penultimate moments of their stories, each contributing further details to the story of Bruce Wayne’s “death” and time-travel trek back to the present, Dick Grayson’s battle against Dr. Hurt, the Joker, and the Bat-god Barbatos.Ryan Sook’s pencils for RoBW are gorgeous, but Frazer Irving’s muted colors and shadows really capture the midnight-in-the-graveyard quality of Batman and Robin. And the two-page spread where Robin single-handedly takes on the 99 Fiends nearly surpasses Frank Quitely’s work on this title in sheer adrenaline and fluidity.
from "Batman: Hidden Treasures"
Elsewhere in the Bat-world, Batman: Hidden Treasurespresents a stand-alone Batman story written by Ron Marz and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson in the late 90s, but never released. Why it was shelved is unclear – the story is slight but compelling, and Wrightson and inker Kevin Nowlan’s interiors are detailed but clear, and suitably gruesome. I imagine the market for an illustrated prose story about Batman investigating sewer murders is small, but I’d rather have this book available than mouldering in DC’s archives. Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton’s Knight and Squire #1features the British Batman and Robin analogues in a done-in-one story that’s funny, but doesn’t do much beyond introduce an entire cosmology of British superheroes and villains. Clever as those characters are (including Jarvis Poker, the British Joker) I hope the story kicks in next issue. Knight and Squire have too much potential to sit in the background of their own mini-series. … Continue reading »