Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lords of Corruption

Africa has long been a setting for thriller/suspense writers. While the likes of Graham Greene and William Boyd have written cautionary tales of the dangers of Western complacency and arrogance in Africa, Frederick Forsyth, John Le Carre and Michael Crichton have set action oriented tales, with varying degrees of political message, on the continent. With Lords of Corruption, thriller writer Kyle Mills joins the latter group with a fast-paced tale involving a mysterious aid agency, a thuggish dicator and a dose of Southern Gothic.

Thanks to a unfortunate choice in his youth, MBA all-star Josh Hagarty can't get a job. So when he is approached by a secretive international aid agency to manage a project in Africa, he vacillates, but eventually decides to go, mostly because it gives him the chance to help his sister escape rural poverty and attend school.

Once in Africa, things rapidly become problematic. The project for which he is hired is beset by tribal arguments, menacing thugs and insufficient resources. Hagarty meets a few Westerners including an old Africa hand who serves as voice of cynical experience and a Swedish aid worker who represents fatalistic optimism.

The book's strength is the rapid pace, the escalating threats and the surprises Mills throws in along the way. There is also some commentary about the efficacy of international aid and the impact of the West on Africa here, but the focus is on the relentless development of the story. It makes for good, topical escapism.

But she never lost her head

Artist Justine Lai has a new eyebrow-raising, Glenn Beck-baiting project. She is painting a series of canvases of her self having sex with each of the Presidents. She is up to President Grant. The best faces are in the James Buchanan picture. Apparently none of the first 18 were among the cunning of linguists (sorry, I couldn't resist.) (via George Packer)

Monday, March 30, 2009


Citizen Reader is hosting a book menages comparing two types of short written works, essays and short stories, using recent efforts of George Saunders and Steven Millhauser as the basis for discussion. Check it out.

Have you read Simon Johnson's piece on the financial industries capture of the US government? Not the happiest of reads, but well worth it. Then follow it up with "My Manhattan Project" an essay from the man who wrote the code that allowed these jackasses to wreck the world economy.

Here is a fun post from Short Stack about the notion (and books that argue a viewpoint) of identifying a year in which everything changed.

Stereogum lists and comments on the Amazon top 100 indie albums of all time. Number one is Bee Thousand, which I like for the hits rather than for the whole album. Still those hits are quite something as in Hot Freaks (scroll down), Tractor Rape Chain and Buzzards and Dreadful Crows.


So I finally got my hands on a copy of Spaced, the two season British comedy show featuring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson/Hynes. If you have seen Shaun of the Dead, you will note the development of much of the style and humor in this earlier series. The set-up is simple, a pair of slacker 20 somethings pose as a couple to get a flat and then deal with dognappers, clubbing, lame parties and the like. The series is known for frequent, blatant pop culture references (see for example this clip,) but it is also snappily written. I thought the first episode was the weakest, serving to introduce all the characters. It improves greatly, so stick with it.

Here by the way is a fun extra from Shaun of the Dead, with Pegg playing Michael Caine and Nick Frost playing Sean Connery from The Man Who Would Be King.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Back from Spring Break

We had a lovely time in Tidewater, despite the chill. A surprise highlight was the Nauticus museum in downtown Norfolk. Check it out if you are in town. The sadness at the end of vacation is alleviated by news that Richard Linklater is making a sequel, of sorts, to Dazed and Confused. Oh how I love that movie. I hope there is a check ya later reference.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's only rock and roll, but I like it

I picked up Rock and Roll Cage Match at the library. It consists of a series of essay pitting one popular rock (as well as a few rap and one country pair) act against another. For the most part, the authors call it very closely for one side or the other and in most cases you have to really care about the artists in question. I don't think any essay about Blur vs. Oasis could thrill me, but I sat up for the Pavement vs. Guided By Voices. The latter is quite funny, especially as the author once interviewed Stephen Malkmus and is convinced he thinks she doesn't know who John Peel is. This haunts her to this day.

While band interest is critical, there are some stand out essays. The one on Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath opens by asking if you would rather get beat up by a kid in Zep shirt or a Sabbath shirt. The Smiths vs the Cure one is great, but the top one on my list is Richard Hell's take on the Rolling Stones vs. The Velvet Underground. Perhaps because he is a performer himself, he takes a look at Jagger and Reed as front men. The whole thing is worth reading, but this is indicative:

"Neither, though, do the Velvets have a Jagger or a Charlie Watts. What Jagger brings is the apotheosis of that front-man function. Not only can he do more with his voice than Reed, but he's the leaping monkey who serves as the "appointed god to make us perfect" for his audience in a way that Reed couldn't begin to try. As for Charlie, maybe he even exceeds Keith's contributions in the battle with the Velvets. The snap, bam, and sliding virility of the way his drum kit makes Stones recordings riveting puts them in another class altogether from the VU in the percussion department. Maureen's drumming is perfect in a one dimensional way, but Charlie makes every other drummer in rock and roll sound handicapped."

This is the sort of book that brings together arguments you have probably already had and might give you more ammunition for your next one.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lords of Finance

One of the book's I am eager to read soon is Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World. It doesn't concern our current situation, but the role of central bankers in the years leading up to the Depression. Amazon's Omnivoracious has an op-ed from Ahamed which is worth reading. I may need to buy this one as I was late for the hold train. Multnomah County has 1 copy and number 68 out of 81 holds. They do have another 12 on order though.

Books for the road

I will soon be off for Spring Break, for a few days at least. This means I must consider my book load. I will certainly be bringing Neal Gabler's large Walt Disney biography. I will also have Stephen Millhauser's story collection, Dangerous Laughter (in preparation for Citizen Reader's Book Menage) and may have one of Lee Child's books in case the need for light escapism strikes.

I may also bring the heaviest of escapist books, Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson. This is book eight in a ten book series. Unlike George R R Martin's incomplete epic, The Song of Fire and Ice, there are only a few people to whom I would recommend this book. The sort of person who wishes Lord of the Rings was twice as long so as to tell tales of the Southrons and Easterlings or to allow the Fellowship to travel to alternate planes to find ancestors of an earlier age.

The readers also have to deal with an overwhelming amount of world creation. Lots of writers create rich worlds (Martin) or with bizarre pronunications (Bakker), or complicated politics (Mieville.) Erikson does all this with a dizzingly complex layer of demi-gods and gods battling over a number of continents, each with a distinct mix of polities and sub-wars involved in a meta war that only becomes understood (and then only partially) a few books into the series.

To enjoy these books you have an excellent memory for detail or be willing to simply not understand what is happening for pages on end. Erikson will pull out characters from over 1,000 pages before without any reintroduction. He also introduces a new set of characters with each book, so you really have to work with it.

So why on earth would you want to read these books? He writes the best war scenes I have seen in any fantasy novel. Because he is writing about so many characters and nations, he has little problem in eliminating characters, including quite major ones, which creates excellent suspense. He has also created some of the best fantasy badasses of all time. This is fantasy at its geekiest and if you are the sort of person who does, or ever has, made a D&D joke, then you might want to give these a try.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Goofy kids fun

One of my favorite kid's books is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The book tells the story of the town of Chewandswallow where precipitation is food and drink. The upcoming movie looks like it drops the framing device of a grandfather's tall tales and focuses on an inventor who creates a food weather machine. Io9 has the trailer. It certainly has a number of images from the book, like the pancakes that flatten the school and the eventual bombardment that makes the food more burden than blessing.

It looks potentially entertaining, but we shall see.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

From Neely (note: astoundingly unsafe for work or for young ears):

If would prefer fewer rude words, enjoy the Pogues' Boys from the County Hell. Saw this one live back in the 90s. Amazing:

Another excuse/reason to buy a book

Joe Hill, he of the great horror and graphic novels, has a great contest under way. Buy a book at and independent bookstore before Mar 31, take a snapshot of the receipt and you will be entered into a drawing for all sorts of genre goodness. He initially put one book up on offer but then Subterranean Press and PS Publishing jumped in and added more. You were probably going to buy a book anyway, why not go to your local store?

Rubies in the Orchard

If you visit a grocery store, you have probably seen the POM wonderful juice bottle somewhere, likely on a prominent end cap space. If you want to find out about the marketing thinking behind the juice, as well as many other companies including flower distributor Teleflora and the Franklin Mint, you should listen to Lynda Resnick. Her book Rubies in the Orchard details her marketing turnarounds of a number of companies as well as detail on Internet marketing for those who haven't yet entered those waters.

The book is built around a number of her marketing axioms and the business stories that illustrate them. Experienced marketers will be interested in her take on how to decide where and how to market a product, but business people who have yet to leverage marketing will get a lot more out of the book. With some reflection, you should be able to apply her experiences to your business situation.

Her stories are often quite amusing, as the time she purchased Jackie Kennedy's fake pearls. For these $50 pearls, she spent over $200K. While on first blush it would appear to be auction mania, she had an idea in mind. She created a Kennedy pearl line for her Franklin Mint company that more than made up for her investment. Sure, she could have told you that you have to spend money to make money, but it is more entertaining to read it in this fashion.

Monday, March 16, 2009

An OK scary movie

I heard a lot about Them ( not the giant ant movie) a French horror movie set in Romania. I thought it was reasonably entertaining, not great, but was reasonable. The movie centers on a French couple living in a large dilapidated mansion in a Romanian forest. They have a nice evening together and then some strangers attack the house. They hide and then flee and terrible events occur. It was nicely atmospheric, but the ending wasn't as shocking as it was supposed to be. For a better claustrophobic horror movie, check Neil Marshall's The Descent.

I quite liked the medium for watching the movie though. I used the streaming feature on Netflix and it was great. The stream was quick and the video quality was decent, certainly good enough. I will be doing that again.

A man called Ant sat deeply sighing

The other day, Neill sent me a link to this interview of Adam Ant by Marco Pirroni (the occasionally fey and often bored looking fellow in the Adam Ants videos.) Watching it, I recalled my great love for Adam Ant back in the day. I played Kings of the Wild Frontier incessantly until I moved into one of my indier-than-thou phases and rejected all things pop. Foolish, I know, but it does allow me to rediscover him every few years and provides the opportunity to look back at the videos.

Antmusic (from Kings of the Wild Frontier)
At the time, I totally missed the anti-disco story line on this one. Like all the rest, this video shows Ant's odd combination of prog rock theatricality, with a just-one-of-the-lads tongue wedged in cheek.

Stand and Deliver (from Prince Charming)
Still my absolute favorite Ant song and one of the better videos, if only for his transformation from Native American Naval Officer to proto-metrosexual. I also appreciate the heavier than usual wink and nod nature of the acting. This may be due, as Neill posits, that he was rocking some drugs on this shoot. Check the eyes at 1:47 for supporting evidence.

Prince Charming (from Prince Charming)
Here he moves from metrosexual to full kickin' bi, or maybe just a fixation on the transgendered. Theories welcome as to the Clint Eastwood, Alice Cooper, Lawrence of Arabia and Zorro transformation at the end.

Desperate but not Serious (from Friend or Foe)
For this album the make-up and sexual ambiguity are gone, as are the Ants. From now on it would just be Adam Ant. The song is great, although far moodier than prior singles, and the video, while still cheeky, lacks the anarchic weirdness of the Prince Charming videos.

Goody Two Shoes
(from Friend or Foe)
When if I first heard the lyrics "Don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do?," I completely missed the unsubtle innuendo. I thought, what, eat ice cream? Get the older kids to rent you R-rated horror movies? For the fans, there is make up session with Kings of the Wild Frontier get-ups, but this time with the ladies. The one in the middle looks a bit like Susannah Hoffs.

Strip (from Strip)
What a difference a few years makes! Not that he is being indirect, but my mid-teen self completely tuned in on what Ant was saying here. Thanks to the message, the cheesy production and the even cheesier video, I maintained I didn't like this one for years, nay, decades, but I must admit I enjoy it. I wish someone would clean it up and cover it, maybe an ambivalently ironic version by the Postal Service.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pair o' Pavement shows

Here are a pair of Pavement shows on the same blog: One from 1992 and another from 1999. That is all.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jason and his Argonauts

I thought it might be terribly cheesy, but I checked out Jason and the Argonauts for the kids. I was worried the age (the film is from the early 60s) might make it terrible. They actually loved it. The hammy dubbed over voice acting is great and the special effects were a huge hit. I now understand the SNL Hercules skit a bit more. (Curse the NBC gods for removing the clip from YouTube without uploading it onto Hulu). Our overall enjoyment was helped by our reading of D'Aualaire's Book of Greek Myths, so my eldest could share insights with the younger two. Check the bronze warrior Talos below:

This is surprisingly good entertainment and we will be renting Clash of the Titans and the Sinbad movies as well.

Weird, wild stuff

I had a lot of fun with the Somnambulist, the debut novel by Jonathan Barnes. Given the Victorian setting and science fiction/horror storyline, I am surprised I had not read it sooner. I attribute it to the tongue tying nature of the book's title. The book is short at about 350 pages, but it packs in more ideas and characters than you find in a book twice as long. The main characters are a gone to seed magician/investigator named Moon. His assistant, the titular Somnambulist, is a mute giant, apparently impervious to pain. They face a series of killers, shadowy government agents, an undead poet, a man who experiences time backwards, a Russian assassin and a conspiracy to change the face of London.

The language is the greatest attraction in the book. Barnes uses the florid, over-written prose style of the era to great and humorous effect. He also provides a narrator who occasionally breaks the flow of the story to comment on the progression of the tale, and even to call into question the sort of person who would want to be reading such a thing.

Barnes takes the grim, grotesques of Dickensian London and amplifies them. On nearly every page you get a startling image. Of course the poor quarters are filled with broken down individuals living in creaking tenements with rotting food. In Barnes's London, even the well to do are given to the odd. The investigator Moon is a devotee of a house of ill-repute with a stable of most unusual ladies. The head of the government intelligence service belongs to club, of which the main requirement for joining is physical deformity. His right hand man is a oily and vile albino.

The case of the albino spy shows the novels main flaws which is a looseness with characters and a plot that flies out of control. This character veers from wicked to sympathetic and then becomes a discordant source of pathos. The plot also runs out of control with the tight mystery story caught up in an orgy of chaos. All of the characters and oddities introduced drag the narrative quite a bit. While in the first half of the book, I tore through the pages, the last half was more like an amble. Still, I liked it overall and will be reading the next one soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A literary foray into an ongoing conflict

The Mommy Wars, the battle about how women should think about motherhood, self-actualization, work and many other topics, have raged for years. The majority of works in the genre take a stand about how women (and often their husbands/partners/SOs) should act in this new era. In Meg Wolitizer's novel The 10-Year Nap, the author doesn't choose a side, but shows her characters wrestling with what do with their lives, while serving up a healthy dose of social observation.

The four women at the center of the story are long time friends, thanks partially to their children's attendance at a New York school. Thanks to motherhood, most but not all of them have changed their career and personal directions. Many of the women are torn by their impact of their decisions. The one who has moved to the suburbs can't bring herself to embrace them. One of them fixates on an adulterous couple to fill the gap created by the withdrawal of her son into teenage stony silence. Wolitizer is sympathetic to all the characters giving us a chance to understand their choices as well as the troubles they have brought.

While it is not the point of the book, I quite liked her skills as a social observer. Wolitizer creates a realistic social universe with alpha moms and dads, and even alpha kids. The characters gossip and fret about those they think have it better than they, although of course they often do not. She shows suburban moms with too much time on their hands creating greeting cards for kids to send to parents. She can also spin out such wonderful sentences as these: "The English walk among us, Amy thought, and whenever they reveal themselves, Americans experience a moment of unaccountable delight." So very true and so very well said.

Now, there are two groups of people who might not like this book. The first are Mommy Wars partisans. Something about this book will probably make you angry, as it doesn't take a side. The other are those people who tend to say things like "Oh, those whiny, rich New Yorkers with all their problems, boo hoo!" If you say things like that, you probably won't like this book, but then you might not like reflective literary fiction either.

Meg Wolitizer will be at Powell's Burnside tonight at 7:30 to discuss the book.


Carrie Brownstein reports about the end of the BMG music service and reminisces about her use and abuse of the service. I think I was a relatively limited user signing up only three or four times. They were all in college so I had a different address each time. I beleive it provided my first exposure to Pixies, Primus, the Grateful Dead (Ok, not really, but my first purchase of the Dead at least) and many others.

My biggest BMG mistake was getting a Pogues CD as a monthly selection and sending it back! A year later, thanks to my Irish-American Catholic roomate, I was a gigantic fan. I'm sad to see it go, but I can take solace in the massive music fountain that is hypem.com.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A bit of nastiness

Max Hasting's Armageddon is a bleak, but brilliant history of the last years of the European Theater of World War 2. He has followed up that book with Retribution, a book about the last years of the Pacific Theater. Just as in the first volume, Hastings emphasizes the utter brutality and waste of war as well as providing frank criticism of the failures of leadership.

His biggest target is MacArthur who he blames for many mistakes, perhaps most of all the invasion of the Philippines. This invasion led to thousands of deaths of Americans and Japanese and an orgy of Japanese violence in Manila that conjures images of Nanjing. Hastings very clearly identifies Japanese barbarism, in fact it is a key focus of his book, but argues that the atrocities would not have occurred if the US had not launched the strategically unnecessary invasion of the archipelago. MacArthur's vanity cost the US (and the Filipinos) dearly, as it would again in Korea.

I quite liked how Hastings was willing to say some policies were simply wrong. As an example, he identifies the use of P-51 Mustangs as escorts for B-29s as a mistake. While they had served a purpose over Germany, they did not over Japan. The B-29s could largely protect themselves against Japanese fighters. The P-51s added little and their patrols cost the lives of many pilots through accidents. So many military historians would water down the criticism with a few "on the other hands," Hastings is pleasingly unequivocal.

He also provides a much more expansive view of the Pacific War than you get from many historians. Yes, there is Leyte and yes there is the bombing campaigns, but there is also coverage of China, Burma, the submarine campaign, and even the story of the Australians. The Australians, who figured heavily in the Solomons disappear from most histories in the later years. Hastings explains why.

His strong point of view has raised the hackles of many reviewers. He does come down, mostly on the positive side regarding the use of nuclear weapons. See Kai Bird's Washington Post review on the Powells page for a strong criticism on Hastings's position. I think Bird overstates the case that Hastings's central theme is that the atomic bombings were "justified and necessary." Instead I would argue his theme is that the particular war was brutal, a brutality largely driven by the Japanese strategic culture, and that the special nature of the bombs was not evident among all the other horrors. The vast majority of the book makes no mention of the bomb, so if you must avoid the topic, you can. Simply skip Chapter 19 (out of 21) , helpfully titled "The Bombs."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Five Days

Huzzah for HBO and BBC TV. Their recent miniseries Five Days is excellent entertainment, not quite State of Play level, but certainly a better use of your precious viewing time than most things on TV. The story begins with a pair of disappearances, one of a young mother and the other of her two children, and then follows the police, the family and other citizens across five separate non-contiguous days.

The show feels very much like a good crime novel. There are the frustrations of the investigation, surprising plot developments and the trauma of the family left behind. Much of the story revolves around the reactions of the father, the mother's parents and the older sister (from a prior marriage) left behind. The characters alternate between attacking and supporting one another as they try to deal with their loss. The acting is quite strong, especially by David Oyelowo, as the father.

While the series has been widely praised, the ending is a problem for some people. The major criticism is that it is an afterthought and feels disconnected from the story. I think it is in fitting with modern crime novels, where the whodunit element is of less important than the effects of the crime itself. I do think the ending is reasonable and that clues to it are provided throughout the show.

The length of the show is a bit of a problem. The fourth show in particular doesn't add as much to the overall story as do the rest. The developments could have been folded into other elements. In the bonus features, the writer tells us that she was approached to do a five part program. As such I think the story was stretched a bit to fit the format.

This one should appeal to fans of both true crime and crime novels. Note, despite being a crime show, there is little to no violence and not much on the detection. So don't go looking for it.

Glad I didn't pay for it.

So I've been on a good streak with graphic novels lately. I've been talking to friends and reading the Amazon top ten lists to pick the ones best to read. I saw some positive notices about the noirish nature of Brian Azzarello's The Joker and thinking it might be like Criminal, I picked it up. Sadly it was not.

The concept, the Joker is released from Arkham Asylum and aims to win back his criminal empire, but it never went much further than the concept. A wanna be named Jonny Frost serves as his right hand man in hopes of becoming a criminal genius himself. He learns that hooking up with a psychopath probably isn't a great idea. There isn't much development beyond that. You also don't learn much about the Joker aside from the fact that he is an angry crime boss who wants vengeance and that he likes random violence.

The art is quite good, so if you are looking for a grimy depiction of Gotham, this is a good choice. I loved the picture of Joker emerging from freedom and of him fishing downstream from refineries. Just don't look for much interest on the story side.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Drowned Life

Jeffrey Ford writes what I suppose you should call modern fantasy. His stories are set in the modern era and often involve peculiarities that you might describe as magic, supernatural, or just odd. These peculiarities are usually approached in a mundane sort of way suggesting the protagonists find nothing unusual about them. In this way he reminds me of Tim Powers, Ray Bradbury and James Blaylock.

His recent collection The Drowned Life has many of these stories where the real and unreal seamlessly intersect. The title story is an allegory where those burdened by financial debt eventually find themselves underwater and many come to love it. My favorite story is a peculiar coming of age tale involving berries that allow one to communicate with the dead. Such things rarely turn out perfectly.

The stories vary quite a bit in theme and approach. So much so that I often had to put the book down as the next story was such a shift from the earlier one. I like Ford a lot and will be reading more. If short stories aren't your thing, you might try one of his novels. I rather liked the oddly titled The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Edible terrors

For a number of years James Lileks has published amusing review of culinary horrors from the past. Here is a selection from his review of a Knudsen's guide to eating. No wonder people were thin back then.

The new(?) site This Is Why You Are Fat proves that dietary atrocities are no thing of the past. The images are unlinked so I will share some of the more vile descriptions like Sandwich cake, described as "A layer of deviled ham, chicken salad and olive-nut spread between a whole loaf white bread surrounded by four packages of strawberry cream cheese." Slightly less nasty is the McNuggettini: A McDonald’s chocolate milkshake with vanilla vodka, rimmed with BBQ sauce and garnished with a chicken McNugget.

Others require the image to fully comprehend. Be fearful for our nation's medical bills.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Graveyard Book

If you have kids, or work in a bookstore or library, you probably know that Neil Gaiman won the Newberry for the Graveyard Book. As such the hold list at the library was fairly long, but it was worth the wait.

Gaiman uses the Jungle Book as inspiration, but makes the story very much his own. After losing his family, a boy named Bod (short for Nobody) is raised by ghosts as well as a mysterious character who lives amongst the dead but is not truly dead himself. Bod learns the ghostly arts of subterfuge and uses them in a number of unfortunate encounters with the living world.

The narrative is wonderfully constructed. While it initially appears to be a series of unrelated, if quite entertaining, stories, each episode serves to develop a satisfying conclusion. He also manages to slip in all sorts of hints of backstory that fascinate. I was thinking it would be fun to learn more about some of these things, maybe in some follow up short stories, but look what wanting to know more about the Clone Wars got us. The illustrations are great too.

While I really liked the book, I am not sure I want to share it with my kids, at least just yet. In the first few pages there is a rather dramatic death involving a family. Now, you can't watch a Disney cartoon without running into a tragic parent death. Most of them are sad but not necessarily scary. The opening scent of Finding Nemo is an exception, in fact we usually skip it. In the Graveyard Book a decidedly creepy and likely nightmare inducing fellow dispatches the family with a sharp razor. It creeped me out and gave me visions of a tall angular fellow hiding just beyond my view. I can just imagine what it will do for the kids.

Book goodness

I've run into quite a bit of fun stuff in the online book world today. To wit,

Michael Chabon has an amusing Writer's Notebook on the NYT book blog. I am always happy to see a Paul Atreides reference.

SF Signal links to some free scifi novels in PDF form. They are the starters to a number of series, so it provides a nice try before you buy or borrow. I recommend His Majesty's Dragon which sounds ridiculous, but is quite a bit of fun. Imagine, if you will, an Aubrey and Maturin story in which they are in an 1805 RAF, instead of the RN, and Maturin is a dragon. That gives you some sense of what it is like.

The US Army War College has put out their recommended reading list. It is a wide ranging list with books from AEI and Noam Chomsky. Something for everyone! (via Blog them out of the Stone Age)

Finally the latest Powell's Indiespensible is interesting. It features a chapbook and ARC from Glen David Gold, he of Carter Beats the Devil fame. You can read about his eight year gap between books here. I like the Indiespensible concept, where you subscribe to get all sorts of literary goodies. I wish they had a nerd version that focused on scifi/fantasy and perhaps crime. I would be all over that.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

How did this so great, turn so shitty?

Putting down a book that never clicks is easy. There are a few rules out there about how to do it. I spoke to a bookseller who recommended reading the first page of a few books at the store and picking the one that you liked best. Nancy Pearl has a rule of fifty to decide whether to give up on a book. Fantasy novels are a special case of course, often requiring a few hundred pages of reading just to acclimate to the invented vocabularies, pronunciations and social constructions.

I still have no hard and fast rule for a book for the book that goes south mid-way through. This is actually a much worse condition as the average reader will be invested at this point. Driven either by a desire to find out what happens or a high school English teacher instilled sense that putting a book down is a sign of poor character, the reader soldiers on, all the while thinking of the much better reading experiences they might be having.

I recently ran into this problem with Mo Hayder's Pig Island. This one started out so well. An investigative journalist heads off to an isolated Scottish island rumored to have a Satanic pretense. There are shades of Wicker Man as he meets the peculiar inhabitants. Hayder creates a great sense of dread and then presents a series of truly upsetting horrors. About a third of the way through, the book shifts gears and becomes remarkably tedious. Gone is the dread and instead we have a lackluster serial killer scenario.

In this case, I worked my way through to the ending, but really I should have just abandoned ship. My greatest fear is these situations is that sudden drop in my enjoyment is merely momentary and that book will get back on course a few chapters later. More often than not this doesn't happen. Still, I hold on for the chance, or maybe just skip to the end.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A World I Never Made

One of the great divides in spy fiction is between books where the protagonist is a professional spy and where the poor fool is an amateur. My favorite of the professional-based books are Charles McCarry's Paul Christopher novels. Those books are as much an exploration of life as a spy as they are about the plot. For the amateurs caught up in the swirl of intrigue, I prefer Alan Furst's moody World War 2 books.

New author James LePore's soon to be published A World I Never Made is a new entrant into the amateur category. In it a father travels to Paris to identify the remains of his daughter who apparently died a suicide. Things are of course never straightforward in these books and he finds his daughter had fallen in with terrorists and her secrets are the interest of a wide range of intelligence and terrorist organizations.

Our nearly lost American hero falls in with a French policewoman and it is no surprise that a romance soon develops. The duo then begins unraveling the terrorist plot across Europe amid increasing threats and danger.

The novel suffers from the typical first novel problems including some slowness of the plot and odd descriptions. I personally would have liked to see a bit less on the relationships and more on the action. That said, it is nice to see more writers using the post-Cold War era to tell spy stories. There are lots of stories left to be told in this genre.

A pair of pop culture funnies

The Internet is no stranger to ridiculousness, but there is conservative blogger who has decided to revive the Red Dawn war cry as as serious rallying tool for his team. Conservative apostate John Cole is on the case.

And then the Onion let us know that Lovecraftian School Board Member Wants Madness Added To Curriculum. This gives rise to thoughts of giant tentacled monsters which brings this other Onion story to mind: Japan Pledges To Halt Production Of Weirdo Porn That Makes People Puke.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A song I wish had gotten more, that is to say any, play

Wolf Parade is a band that deserves more radio play than they get. I'll Believe in Anything and Shine A Light from their first album are still favorites of mine. I've been spending more time with the most recent album and my favorite is Fine Young Cannibals, which reminds me a bit of Spoon and Interpol, but is great in and of itself. Sadly there is no video for the song, so a fan-made one will have to do.

Fine Young Cannibals - fan video.

I'll Believe in Anything - real video and quite a spectacle.

Shine A Light - not a Stones cover. My guess is the video is about abuse of a certain substance.