After over a century of earthquakes, atom bombs and Godzilla, the Japanese know disaster. I don't mean that to sound trite. I'd guess that Japan is probably one of the most disaster-prepared nations in the world, so it's probably no wonder that the idea of monsters or robots destroying Tokyo bleeds over into the fictive imaginations of writers.
Metro Survive by Yuki Fujisawa predates the 3-11 earthquake disaster by a few years and that shows that earthquakes are continually in the minds of Japanese, even in their manga. Metro Survive is about a mild-mannered building maintenance worker named Mishima who works at a brand-new metro complex. Tomorrow is his son's birthday and he is eager to buy some toy his son wanted, but then his fat jerk of a boss orders him to do some overtime. Mishima, being a pushover, just obeys but the job takes all night and it's nearly morning before he's done. Taking the subway home, the unthinkable happens: a massive earthquake occurs and the brand-new metro-plex, hastily built with catastrophic safety violations, collapses, trapping Mishima in the metro subway complex.
The pushover Mishima then manages to summon guile and courage through several trials and becomes the unwitting leader of a group of late-night subway travelers. However, when Mishima's group encounters another group of subway survivors they find that surviving the disaster is not their only worry. Despite the danger shared by all, Mishima's group find that there are those who not only capitalize on disaster but also relish in it. Two sadistic nightclub creeps, their club skanks and bully college judo players control the other group with an iron fist, determined to survive the disaster while having their own sick fun along the way.
Metro Survive is short for a Japanese manga, being only two volumes, which is fine by me. I can't keep up with the never-ending series. It's a great story, though. Over the course of the two volumes the character development of the survivors is really shows as some, like Mishima, find their hidden courage and others their hidden cowardice. The two sadistic fancy-lad douchebag nightclub dudes were really pretty twisted and added a frightening turn to the already tense predicament. The artwork, also, was very well-done. I find that in a lot of manga there is a lot of wasted space through big splash panels and a lot of confusing action lines. Metro Survive's art, also done by Fujisawa, complemented the story perfectly.
All in all, Metro Survive is an exciting read and considering that there are only two volumes you can finish it in a night. You probably won't look at subways the same way again.
Yes, Madison Desert Flower Rosa Parks Coyote Trickster Spencer may be an overweight thirteen-year-old dead girl condemned to Hell, but she still likes to stick it to the Miss Sleazy O'Sleaznicks of the living world when she gets a chance. She's dead, not a victim. When the three aforementioned Miss Sleazy O'Sleaznicks have a little fun with summoning Madison's prodigiously proportioned spirit to Earth on All Hallow's Eve, the only night the dead are allowed to troll the streets for Twixes, Almond Joys and Salty Nut Bars, Madison turns the table on the three Miss Coozey Coozenheimers and causes them to Ctrl+Alt+Puke their night's high calorie spoils all over themselves. After this little bit of fun, Madison high-tails it back to her demonic Lincoln Town Car to head back to Hell before her midnight curfew, lest she be banished to tedious Earth.
However, despite the fact that she conscientiously made enough of an allowance for time, Satan has other plans for Madison and traps her on Earth, where she walks as a ghost, observing the antics of her vain and superficially liberal celebrity parents, uncovering secrets of her past, and putting together pieces of a puzzle that indicate that her fate is not happenstance but has been Ctrl+Alt+Doomed from the start.
Doomed is Chuck Palahniuk's follow-up to Damned and if you have read that you may have recognized my attempt to imitate Madison Spencer's style of speech above (I don't really talk like that). In Damned Madison found herself in Hell after a "marijuana overdose." Of course, she eventually realized that wasn't the cause of her death, and adventures around in Hell with her new friends Archer, Babette, a couple of others. Stuff happened, I don't really remember it all and it really wasn't that memorable, but still Damned was entertaining enough. The conclusion of Damned indicated rather disingenuously that the story would be continued, perhaps in a trilogy. At the time I wasn't sure if that was really the case or of Palahniuk was just messing with us.
Well, Doomed answers that question, but where Damned was a mildly amusing "Breakfast Club set in Hell" (Palahniuk's words), Doomed is a mildly amusing romp through Purgatory, as Madison goes through the world as a ghost. She encounters a guy named Crescent City, a self-styled "psychic bounty hunter," hired by Madison's parents to find her. Through controlled overdoses of ketamine, Crescent City (or "Mr. K," as Madison Calls him) is able to enter the spirit world for a little while each time. Madison's parents are eager to communicate with her spirit because a lot has happened since she last talked to the pre-dead. As a joke, Madison told her parents in the last book, communicating with them by phone from Hell, that the path to salvation lies in the profane. Swear, use racial slurs, fart loudly, insult everyone you see--these are the things that will save your soul. It was just a bit of a laugh for Madison, but now she finds that an entire religion, "Boorism," has developed around this concept. "Boorites" walk around happily saying stuff like "Eat shit, asswipe!" along with their how-do-you-dos, but no one is offended because they think this is what's going to get them into heaven. But as Madison floats around watching her parents from her ghostly POV, she eventually puts together clues that indicate that nothing that has happened was by accident. Her birth, death, everything before, in-between and after, has been engineered by Satan for the purpose of a final showdown with The Big Guy (ie, God).
Where Doomed falls short, though, is that it all comes off as seeming somewhat insincere. Like its predecessor, Doomed is humorous without being hilarious, satirical without being clever and ultimately lacks any big payoff for the reader. While it is a fun read, not at all bad, it's pretty uninspired, which sort of makes me wonder what Palahniuk's intent is by spreading this out into a trilogy. Maybe there is something really great and clever in there, but I'm not seeing it. But Palahniuk's most egregious offense in Doomed is a lack of offense. When you read Palahniuk you sort of expect to be offended or grossed out. Maybe it's just me being jaded, but most of the stuff in Doomed seemed to me rather juvenile attempts to offend or be transgressive, almost as if Palahniuk, after a career of grossing people out, is feeling trapped within that mold. Even the men's restroom glory hole penectomy failed to elicit any squirms from me.
All that being said, I'll probably read the final installment (if it is, indeed, a trilogy--the ending left that unclear). Despite its shortcomings, Doomed is a passingly entertaining read. It's just not remarkable.
Are you concerned about a massive, wide-scale catastrophe that brings the world to chaos? Do you lie awake at night fearing societal collapse and the emergence of a fascist police state? Are you overcome with dread at the possibility of becoming a refugee from your safe, comfortable lifestyle? Do you look at the world through "apocalypse eyes?"
Relax. Just follow these steps:
1) Take a deep breath.
2) Get a grip.
3) Read this book.
Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life, follows author Neil Strauss' own personal journey through a survivalist's curriculum. Despite appearances, Emergency is not a how-to manual, but rather a narrative that follows Strauss' first doomsdays fears during the Y2K scare and his subsequent plans to escape or survive any catastrophe that comes his way.
Strauss is a journalist and author who mainly covers entertainment topics, like rock stars and such. In 2005 he wrote The Game, an account of the secret life of pickup artists. So Strauss is not what you'd think of as a typical "survivalist." He's basically a regular, modern, urban-centered guy, used to the comforts of civilization, so I enjoyed reading about him learning to shoot a pistol at Gunsite, or learning how to live in the wild at Tom Brown's tracker school. He even went so far as to become a certified paramedic and participated in a Community Emergency Response Team, assisting in the aftermath of one of California's worst train accidents in history. All the while, his long-suffering girlfriend serves as a foil to his endeavors, sometimes bringing up pithy observations about Strauss' new hobby. Between every few chapters or so are illustrated sequences by Bernard Chang showing a disaster/adventure scenario as a sort of make-believe parallel thread to Strauss' narrative.
While, as I said, this is not a manual or guide, there are certain learning points to be had for the observant reader and aspiring survivalist. However, the value of Emergency is not so much "how to" but "what for" as Strauss comes to realize that while his initial quest for the ultimate survival plan stemmed from fear and a selfish desire for escape, his new attitude toward survival was more in the community vein, helping those that needed help and being part of the solution rather than running away from the problem. The final result was that Strauss, rather than succumbing to the fear that survivalist nuts hold precious, became a confident, capable and productive member of society.
Strauss' writing is light and easy with a good dose of self-deprecating humor, making Emergency an entertaining read, although I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more practical advice in it. Nevertheless, for anyone with survival and preparedness in mind Emergency offers interesting insights and is worth a read.
(Charter Books, 1990)
Lt. Donovan Steele was a good cop until he was killed. Then, he got even better. Advanced technology resurrected him in a robot body--computer brained, atom-powered, and supremely strong. Now this one-man SWAT team brings his own brand of justice to the savage world of tomorrow.
This, from the back cover copy, is a good summation of the early-'90s Steele series. In the aftermath of a devastating biological war, Steele is a cop in the Strike Force, an elite police outfit that operates out of New York City. After a deadly ambush, Steele is killed, but is revived through advanced technology and reborn into the form of a crime-busting cyborg. It's a bit like Robocop, but Steele, even though his brain is computer, still retains engrams that model emotion, so for all practical purposes his mind is still human.
All that stuff happened in the earlier volumes. Killer Steele, the third installment in the series, brings us up to date with a few quick info-dumps and then gets into the matter at hand. Another cyborg cop has been created, code-named "Stalker." But this one went nuts, killed all of the scientists and technicians and busted out of the place with one goal in mind: getting revenge on Steele. Turns out that Stalker is actually Steele's former partner and best friend Mick Taylor, who also "died" on the same day Steele did. However, something went wrong with Mick's programming and his memory is twisted, thinking that Steele left him to die. Equipped with a built-in laser and plasma gun and driven by rage, Stalker raids street gangs for their weapons and recruits the deviant underground dwellers that live in NYC's sewers for his own personal army.
Meanwhile, Steele is having some issues of his own as his son Jason turns up at his apartment with a busted up face and a story to tell. Jason and Steele's daughter Cory live with his ex-wife Janice, who never told them that Steele was still alive. But after running away from home, Cory got mixed up with a pimp and got "turned out," Jason went to rescue her and got his ass beat and now has made his way to his dad's place where he lives with his new main squeeze, an ex-hooker named Raven whom he rescued in a previous episode.
Steele's heartbroken when he sees his son horribly beaten by Cory's pimp ("If he could have wept, he would have. But bionic eyes don't cry.") and he's filled with regret at missing out on raising his kids, but vows to get Cory back. He's in a bind, though, because stopping Stalker is a top priority. Well, no one said being a cyborg super-cop was easy. But with the help of Raven, and an ex-gang leader and now friend named Ice, Steele scrambles to scour the city for Stalker while at the same time tracks leads to Cory.
If that wasn't enough, a cyber-psychiatrist working on the Steele Project named Dev Cooper feels enormous anxiety about the moral and ethical of storing human psyches as computer data. There are practically two "Steeles" now: one as a cyborg super-cop and one on disk and they are both sentient. Dev handles his guilt and stress with drink and drugs and "Steele 2" hacks the Strike Force computer network, an ominous portent for future episodes.
That's a lot of stuff for 185 pages, but J.D. Masters (a pseudonym for Simon Hawke, I think) does a good job of keeping up the pace, lending a real "cinematic" feel to Killer Steele. It reminded me a lot of those Filmation cartoons I'd watch after school as a kid, only with a lot more sex and violence.
Killer Steele is third in the "electrifying" series. I haven't read the first two, but I kind of wish that I had the whole series to read back to back because I get the impression that it's somewhat continuity-heavy, unlike many other "men's adventure" type books. Not that it's hard to simply jump into, but I think one might get more out of it if read back to back because, if Killer Steele is any indication, there are going to be some interesting, life-changing developments for Steele. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but let's just say that Cory's rescue didn't go as planned and the book ends with Steele's status uncertain.
Overall, Killer Steele is good, cheesy fun with exciting plot developments and even some good characterization. I hope to come across more of these someday.
I have Joe Kenney's great review at Glorious Trash to thank for picking up Cybernarc by Robert Cain at my local used bookstore. I stupidly passed over it when I first saw it, but fortunately it was still there on my next visit after reading his review. This late-era "men's adventure" series really is going to be a great read if this first novel is any indication. While I don't think it did too well when it was first published, it's a great book and a hell of a lot of fun.
I remember the late '80s/early'90s as being a very robot-friendly time. We had Robocops and Terminators running around. We also had buddy-cop movies like the Lethal Weapon franchise. And guess what--we also had robot buddy-cops! I was recently reminded by a friend of a show I had nearly forgotten, the short-lived 1992 TV series Mann and Machine and the formula is still alive today, apparently. There is a brand new sci-fi show on Fox called Almost Human about a human cop partnered up with a robot cop.
Anyway, Cybernarc is a robot buddy-cop story, a familiar premise but one that never gets old. Navy SEAL Chris Drake is assigned to a super-secret program called RAMROD to instruct robot soldiers in combat. Due to astronomical costs, however, there is only one such robot operational, named "Rod," (short for RAMROD--get it?). Drake can "teach" Rod tactics through a cybernetic link called PARET, or "PAttern REcognition and Transfer," where Rod can learn from Drake's memories and experience.
Rod the robot, technically an android, is described as looking like a perfectly normal, "ruggedly handsome" man in his mid-thirties, undistinguishable from humans. He does, of course, have more-than-human abilities, courtesy of his robotic origins. He is super strong and resilient, has telescopic and infrared vision, and can access computer systems through cellular networks, among other abilities. Furthermore, Rod can be outfitted with "Combat Mod" on tactical missions, which is basically an armored body that makes him a walking tank. Despite these amazing physical abilities, Rod is still learning to behave like a human, and comes across similar to Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Robots learning to be human. See? This stuff ever gets old.
When a joint DEA/Navy SEAL anti-drug mission in Columbia goes awry and Drake is the only survivor, Drake and his superiors suspect treachery and corruption in the ranks of the CIA. Drake's men were double-crossed, someone was working for the drug lords. But who? Things get personal when the drug thugs go after Drake in his own home and his wife and daughter are murdered. From then on, Drake pledges to bring them down, with Rod as his partner in justice. Since this is the first volume of the series, it's sort of an origin story and those often take a little while to get moving, but Cain seems to have a good grasp of pace and we never get the feeling that this is just a novel-length set up for the series. The whole thing is pretty entertaining and fast moving all the way through. While it's a familiar premise, it's a fun premise. This is well-done action schlock at its finest and I could easily see this as a TV series or a movie. A lot of the dialogue made me smile:
"You should not have joined me, Lieutenant Drake," the robot said quietly, not turning his head from the scene below. "The chances of your death or incapacitation are--"
"Never mind the odds, byte-breath," the human responded. "I damned well have as much at stake in this as you do!"
There's also a part when Rod, nearly drained of power, detaches his robot fist to throw at an enemy holding a gun on Drake, thereby smashing his head and saving Drake:
The robot's eyes tracked, focusing on Drake's face. A strange sound came from Rod's throat, then words. Drake had to lean closer to make them out.
"It looked like…you needed…a…hand…"
Ah, that's the stuff. Action movie dialogue gold.
The fight scenes are pretty crazy as well. Rod is a bruiser and rips a head off of a thug and throws it as a weapon. In another instance he punches a dude straight through his chest. And in probably one of the coolest action-schlock moves I can think of, he rips a .50-cal machine gun from an armored car turret and fires it from the hip at the enemy drug soldiers. Cybernarc is full of everything that makes action-schlock great!
"Robert Cain is the pseudonym of an author who lives in Pennsylvania" reads the rather cryptic author page in Cybernarc. "Robert Cain" is, in fact, author William H. Keith and he recollects on Cybernarc at his website here. There were six volumes in the series and although I hope to find them at my local used bookstores it looks like they are pretty available through online vendors at fairly reasonable prices. Cybernarc is a fun, fast-paced read that fortunately defies the downward trend of late-era action novels. If you see it around check it out!
Don't worry. Tom Hanks is okay.
I'm not preparing for the zombie apocalypse, because that's not real. And I'm not a doomsday prepper preparing for the end of days, because that's not real either. I do, however, live in an area that practically invites disaster. Here in the Pacific Northwest earthquakes are not unheard of. There is a danger of tsunami. There are high-profile military and naval bases in the area as well as a major airplane manufacturer, all good terrorist targets. Oh, also there is an active volcano almost within spitting distance. And people complain about our rain.
When I realized all this I had two choices: have a nervous breakdown or get prepared. I thought I'd try the latter first (always time for a nervous breakdown later). Seriously, though, survival situations are practically an everyday occurrence somewhere in the world. When you think of the devastating effects of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the tsunamis in Thailand and Japan as well as man-made disasters like 9/11 one realizes that survival skills are relevant to the average person. Disasters are a reality and if it happens to other people it might as well happen to me or you. It's nice to know at least a few things about how to survive and overcome.
As with anything, though some information is good and some isn't and you need good info when things go south. Here are three titles I've found at my local library:
Hawke's Special Forces Survival Handbook by Mykel Hawke (Running Press, 2011)
Mykel Hawke is the "star of Man, Woman, Wild on the Discovery Channel." I'll have to take their word for it since I don't have cable. But despite his action-movie-hero-sounding name, Mykel Hawke seems to be the real deal, being a former captain in the US Army Special Forces who now runs a survival training company. Anyway, I have nothing to say about the show since I've never seen it, but Hawke's Special Forces Survival Handbook is a pretty handy basic reference for survival techniques, covering food, shelter, water, fire, navigation, signaling, first aid-- all that good stuff-- all in a compact, sturdy format that you can throw in your ruck for reference when you need it.
While I'm no survival expert, I can say that most of the stuff in the book falls in line with what I have read and also with my very rudimentary personal experiences. But I guess basic techniques aren't going to change much from instructor to instructor. There are a few points on which Hawke differs from common instruction. One is the notion that you cannot drink urine. Hawke tells us (rather gleefully, it seems), "You can drink urine!" and then covers the rules for doing so. This is, of course, only to be done as a last resort (I hope you knew that already).
All in all, and despite the cover photo featuring Mykel Hawke giving us non-Special Forces types the stink-eye, Hawke's Special Forces Survival Handbook is a pretty good basic survival manual that covers the essentials, is well-organized, and handy enough to have nearby. Although it isn't as complete as, say, John "Lofty" Wiseman's SAS Survival Manual, it's not a bad choice. Plus, Hawke's personal wisdom, practical advice and conversational tone make this a nice guide to get familiar with.
Outdoor Life Urban Survival Guide: Top Urban Survival Skills by Rich Johnson and the editors of Outdoor Life (Weldon Owen, 2012)
Urban environments have their own nuances but, IMHO, the basics of surviving emergency situations are pretty universal. You need, shelter, water, first aid, etc. So when I saw this title in the library catalog I thought it might enlighten me to conditions specific to urban environments. It doesn't really provide much insight, though, and is nearly worthless as a practical guide to surviving emergency situations. It's really more of a casual reading book that MacGyver wannabes might peruse while sitting on the chemical toilet trying to negotiate the expulsion of freeze-dried beef stroganoff.
Outdoor Life Urban Survival Guide is basically a list of 111 "skills" that are supposedly essential for urban survival. Some of these "skills" are useful, like #50: Use a fire extinguisher (important in everyday life), but most are basically worthless if one is at all serious about the topic. For example, #29: Disarm an attacker (I guess, important, but you're not going to learn that in one page of cartoon drawings. Besides, I think this better falls under the rubric of "self-defense"). #40: Pick a lock (useful? I guess, but I think you can get by without knowing how to pick a lock). #73: Know basic maritime laws (hmmm, not really a "skill" and not really "urban," but okay). But then things get crazy. #102: Silence your gun. #103: Modify your shotgun. #105: Shoot a crossbow. #108: Throw a knife??? What the hell? I get the feeling this book probably appeals a lot to the nuts who have some sort of post-apocalyptic Mad Max fantasies. I can almost guarantee that none of these things will be a concern when a disaster strikes. Outdoor Life Urban Survival Guide is of marginal entertainment value and of little practical value, which is a shame because the author purports to be a former SF demolitions sergeant, so I'd think that he would have better sense than to write this stuff. Maybe the Outdoor Life editors are to blame, but whatever. This book is mostly useless.
Modern Survival: How to Cope When Everything Falls Apart by Barry Davies (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012)
Barry Davies is an eighteen-year veteran of the British Special Air Service, so, again, you'd expect that he knows his stuff. In the case of Modern Survival: How to Cope When Everything Falls Apart you'd be right, but the beauty part of this book is that it's not about skills or techniques per se and more about overall considerations to think about before and during a disaster, any disaster. Modern Survival is hugely relevant to anyone who lives in an area in which a potential disaster could take place (i.e., everywhere).
Davies covers a wide variety of potential disasters, both natural and man-made, from earthquakes and forest fires to civil unrest and terrorist attacks. Again, the main focus here is not so much skill development but rather a conceptual framework, a strategy, for staying out of trouble or getting yourself out of trouble when it is unavoidable, and Davies does this in a practical and easy to understand manner. Modern Survival is not always a pleasant book to read, though this is a positive and not a negative. Davies, with characteristic British calm, makes clear that during a disaster things will likely be very unpleasant. One may be injured or have injured loved ones to look after. Even worse, loved ones may be dead or missing. Davies' point isn't to scare the reader, but rather to present the scenarios as realistically as possible while still emphasizing that these obstacles can be overcome.
Most importantly, Modern Survival is a practical guide for the average civilian. It's full of common sense advice. For example, his most important piece of survival gear? A smart phone (I should get one, one of these days. My seven-year old flip phone has lost its panache). Another piece of advice from Davies? If the authorities warn you of a tornado, or a tsunami, or whatever, leave immediately. Do it! Common sense, right? But it bears emphasis because so many people don't and so many people die because of that.
Of the three books reviewed here, I think Davies' Modern Survival is probably the most important. Skills can be learnt from a variety of sources and most of the basic ones are pretty universal. There are many books that cover these. But Davies' practical and realistic insights regarding coping with disaster is something that I haven't seen too much in "survival" books, many of which focus on various skills and techniques without relating them to a modern, urban, eveyday context. Modern Survival is a highly relevant book that I consider a must-read for those wishing to increase their chances of surviving disaster.
It could be worse (famous last words).
It's easy to obsess over this stuff, but I wouldn't worry too much. You can't be prepared for everything. I don't think it's necessary to become a "survival expert," but knowing some good, basic principles can go a long way and it's kind of fun. I have some more books I'm perusing and I might review them at a future date. Until then, be safe. And remember: You can drink urine!
In Lee Child's eighteenth Jack Reacher adventure, Reacher finally makes his way to the headquarters of his old army command, the 110th MP special investigations unit in Washington D.C., where he hopes to meet its current commander, Major Susan Turner (whom he had "met" by phone in previous episodes. He liked the sound of her voice, wanted to see what she was like in person, so he travels across the US to meet her. Okay, a little weird, but that's Reacher). When he arrives, however, he finds things are entirely contrary to his expectations: Major Turner has been arrested for treason and is in the stockade, the 110th is now commanded by an asshole lieutenant colonel named Morgan and Reacher has been recalled back into service!
Reacher, being an honorably discharged commissioned officer, is still obligated to to return to active duty in accordance with the needs of the Army, and, as it turns out, a military warrant has been placed for the arrest of Major Jack (none) Reacher. Reacher's inadvertent arrival at the 110th gives Morgan and the army a chance to recall him to active duty and try him under the Uniform Code of Military justice (I know, it doesn't quite work that way, but bear with me here). The charges? Murder, for one thing. Seems Reacher, in an old investigation, had dealings with a two-bit thug who later died from Reacher's supposed police brutality. The second charge? Being a deadbeat dad. Reacher learns that he's got a kid, a fourteen year old girl, from an overseas relationship that he doesn't even remember. Now you can't tell me all that isn't going to make your day interesting.
Reacher, true to form, isn't going to take this sitting down. He realizes that all this can't be coincidental to his arrival and concludes that it was all a ruse to scare him away, back to his anonymous, solo wanderings where he will never be a bother to anyone again. The questions are, who is behind it and what are they hiding? As Reacher and Turner escape custody and go on the lam, they uncover a conspiracy within the army and Reacher is faced with the unforeseen prospect of being a father to a teenage girl.
After reading the first Reacher title, Killing Floor, I've pretty much been hooked. It's not that the Reacher series is very realistic or smart. They're not. Jack Reacher is a six-foot-five, two-hundred-and-fifty pound ex-military police officer turned hobo who wanders the nation righting wrongs, putting assholes in there places and solving unnecessarily complex and far-fetched mysteries with aplomb, all the while having a keen radar for smart, capable and attractive women who, more often than not, are cops themselves and, more often than not, want to get it on with Jack's "reacher." So, no, the Reacher novels are not smart. They're, as Zwolf says over in The Mighty Blow Hole, the literary equivalent of a BDAM, or "Big Dumb Action Movie." But like Zwolf, I have an appreciation for this sort of thing and, after eighteen novels, I find that Lee Child (who has chosen an awesome name for his nom de plume, by the way) does some things extremely well.
For one, Child knows pacing. In a former life as Jim Grant, he worked in British television as a director and writer for nearly two decades, so I would expect that he would have learned a thing or two about a story's pacing. The Reacher novels, despite their unlikely premises, are nevertheless very well plotted and paced. I also like Child's prose a lot, even though I realize it bugs some people. In the earlier novels I tend to agree that the "hard boiled" staccato style seemed to be a little contrived, but since then Child's prose has grown and he has developed his own very practical, fast-moving and drily humorous style. Not to mention a pedantry and a fondness for triviality that I find amusing, like in this example from Never Go Back:
"Same for me," Reacher said. "And coffee."
"Yes, sir." And immediately the guy turned away and got to work with a wedge of new lard and a blade, planing the metal surface, smoothing it, three feet out and three feet back, and six feet side to side. Which made him a griddle man at heart. In Reacher's experience such guys were either griddle men or owners, but never really both. A griddle man's first instinct was to tend the metal, working it until it was glassy down to a molecular level, so slick it would make Teflon feel like sandpaper. Whereas an owner's first instinct would have been to bring the coffee. Because the first cup of coffee seals the deal. A customer isn't committed until he has consumed something. He can still get up and walk away, if he's dissatisfied with the wait, or if he remembers an urgent appointment. But not if he's already started in on his first cup of coffee. Because then he would have to throw some money, and who really knows what a cup of diner coffee costs? Fifty cents? A dollar? Two dollars?
And who really cares? Reacher does, that's who. I find this rather nerdy attention to detail kind of funny.
And this leads me to another thing that I think Child does very well, which is Reacher's characterization. Of course, there is nothing really original about Reacher's basic premise (BDAM), but after eighteen novels Reacher gives me the impression that he's kind of a geek. A gigantic geek that will remorselessly head butt you if you're a jerk, but still a geek, with a geek's penchant for facts, figures, details and trivia. Also, rather refreshing, is that Reacher rarely gets sad or upset or angry and is generally a pretty happy fellow, a nice change from the angst-ridden antiheroes that are not uncommon in genre fiction. And Reacher engages in some pretty good, if peculiar, tough-guy talk (also from Never Go Back):
Reacher said, "You ever bought an electrical appliance?"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"I saw one once, in a store. It had a yellow label on the back. It said if you messed with it you run the risk of death or serious injury."
"Pretend I've got the same kind of label."
I would be remiss if I failed to harp, once again, on the choice of actors to play Jack Reacher in the live-action film Jack Reacher, an adaptation of the ninth Reacher novel One Shot. I haven't seen the movie yet, but that's nothing against the film. I'm not very prompt when it comes to movie releases in general. Still, I sort of think that adapting One Shot as the first Reacher film is sort of strange. Stranger yet, however, is casting Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher when, to my mind, Dolph Lundgren is the obvious choice and I've always imagined Lundgren as Reacher from day one. I mean, for a moment indulge in this unscientific experiment. Which photo says "Reacher" to you more, Photo 'A':
or Photo 'B':
Granted, the photo of Tom Cruise here is not one from his role as Reacher. It's just him being himself. But I don't think that changes anything. And I don't have anything against Tom Cruise's acting, but I just can't see him as Reacher. I will see the film someday. Who knows? Maybe I'll like it. I've heard it's not bad. At any rate, I haven't even begun to talk about Never Go Back yet, so I guess I'd better get to it.
After last year's disappointing A Wanted Man, Child is in good form with Never Go Back, providing almost everything Reacher fans expect: a little bit of violence, a little bit of sex, an overly obscure, unnecessarily complex mystery that doesn't make a lot of sense and Reacher giving what fo' to the bad guys. I just take for granted that the mystery part is going to be a little goofy and I don't let the details get to me. As usual, the pacing is great and a lot of fun as Reacher and Turner go on the run to clear their names. I think the most interesting part of Never Go Back for me was wondering if Reacher actually had a kid.
There are a few negatives for me regarding Never Go Back. Namely, the bad guys were not as downright morally repellent as some of Child's previous villains, and the final resolution was somewhat anticlimactic in my opinion. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Never Go Back very much and am glad to see that Child isn't getting complacent with the series.
All in all, Never Go Back gets a fat thumbs up from me.
Thinner, bigger, faster, stronger... which 150 pages will you read? Is it possible to: Reach your genetic potential in 6 months? Sleep 2 hours per day and perform better than on 8 hours? Lose more fat than a marathoner by bingeing? Indeed, and much more. This is not just another diet and fitness book. The 4-Hour Body is the result of an obsessive quest, spanning more than a decade, to hack the human body. It contains the collective wisdom of hundreds of elite athletes, dozens of MDs, and thousands of hours of jaw-dropping personal experimentation. From Olympic training centers to black-market laboratories, from Silicon Valley to South Africa, Tim Ferriss, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, fixated on one life-changing question: For all things physical, what are the tiniest changes that produce the biggest results? Thousands of tests later, this book contains the answers for both men and women. From the gym to the bedroom, it’s all here, and it all works.
In other words, a guidebook for physical awesomeness. But does it work?
In the interest of full disclosure I have to point out that I have not read this entire book, but I've read enough to form an opinion and I want to get it off of "now reading" status because it's the kind of book that you read sections of and refer to occasionally. This is okay. Timothy Ferriss, the author, even recommends at the beginning to not read it all the way through. Just read the bits that interest you. This makes sense because The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman covers topics as disparate as (you guessed it) rapid fat-loss, incredible sex and becoming superhuman, among other things. These topics, though, aren't as disparate as they seem though because Ferriss' whole deal is about "hacking the human body" and achieving maximum results with a minimum of effort through the magic of science and thinking outside of the box.
The topics he covers are: subtracting fat, adding muscle, improving sex (and for the ladies, the 15 minute female orgasm!), perfecting sleep, reversing injuries, running faster and farther, getting stronger, swimming and living a longer and better life. That's a lot of stuff and there are some pretty outrageous promises, but Ferriss provides scientific data for his methods. While I can't say that Ferriss' work would stand up to the scrutiny of a review board, much of what he says falls in line with my own experience and with what I have read elsewhere (regarding diet, fat loss and muscle and strength gains. I unfortunately don't have anything to say about the "incredible sex" portion). Ferriss' writing is easy and entertaining and he separates the hard science bits from the main text so you may skip or study at your leisure. He sure doesn't skimp on the personal details (weight, color and consistency of his stool? Gross.) but it's all in the name of science.
Overall, reviewing this as a book, it's an interesting and enjoyable read. Ferriss' authorial voice is conversational and he freely interjects humorous anecdotes of his unusual quest for the body hack (like weighing food at a restaurant with a mini-scale pulled from his "man purse"--while on a first date with someone. I don't think it went well). I think anyone with any goals or interest relating to the topics covered would probably get something out of it. As far as reviewing the methods in the book, well that takes some experimenting. I may have to just buy this book (it's on loan from the library right now) because there's a lot of stuff here that I want to explore. So I can't review his methods in terms of chance of success, although much of the science seems reasonable to my layperson's brain.
Since I've packed on an extra 15 lbs in the past year (due to laziness--I refuse to use aging as an excuse) I am right now trying his almost ridiculously easy-to-follow "slow-carb" diet. It's the first thing in the book and I imagine probably the most used part of the book for most people. So far so good, although my experience is not as dramatic as Ferriss claims the diet can be. Ferriss makes the claim that 20 pounds can be lost in 30 days. So that's about 5 pounds a week, right? Understand that fat loss is not necessarily an isometric progression, but going by this, on average, say, it's about 5 pounds a week. Also understand that fat loss is also partially dependent on your other body systems and make up. I have no doubt that 5 lbs per week is possible, safe and expected for very obese individuals, but for the only slightly overweight one's expectations should be rather more modest. So for me, it's slower going. My excess is not so dramatic and I have to admit that I'm not a good test subject, being lax on my compliance. He allows two glasses of dry red wine a day. I think perhaps I am a bit too generous with the definition of a "glass." Or the number "two."
Anyway, the point is there is a lot of interesting material in The 4-Hour Body and it encourages one to research and use scientific method and experiment to find the most efficient means to accomplish your goals. Why starve yourself if you can east reasonably and still lose weight? Why overtrain yourself silly to add 50 lbs to your deadliest when there are easier ways? Sure, maybe not everything in The 4-Hour Body works as advertised for everyone, but I think the point is to embrace the pioneer spirit of scientific experimentation.
Now if I can only find some test subjects for that 15-minute female orgasm thing…
Links to various Booklikes tutorials around the site. Thanks to all the hardworking BL members and team who contributed. This is a work in progress. More links will be added as I find them.
Official Booklikes stuff:
http://blog.booklikes.com/post/551754/post (exclusive status for your books)
The Booklikes blog (new features added every week):
The Goodreads Booklikes group:
Tutorials created by Booklike members:
Easy tips for customising your Booklikes blog:
How to customise your BL blog:
Customising Booklikes Tutorials - parts 1 - 4:
'Reactive' links (round links on a 'shelf' page)
Adding the Booklikes Reading Challenge to your blog:
How to change colour of text on your banner :
Added pages - I can't read it! My background is dark and font is black! And I want to have a comment section!
How to make your comments icons a link:
Customising shelf sort order:
Changing appearance of followers/following counters and repositioning them:
Adding a scrolling quotes marquee to your blog:
How to block followers on Booklikes:
Setting up google analytics on your BL blog:
Changing font colour (text, links, comment section):
Customising Booklikes tutorial - Adding bells and Whistles - blockquotes
How to easily embed a font:
A simple tip - everything is too big - zoom out:
Background for a search bar (what to do when it's invisible on a dark background):
Let's clean our designated comments pages regularly - no more notification floods:
Reading Challenge - how to post it on your site and a few simple customization options:
Your book counter - make it fun and pretty:
How to avoid losing the original source of a post:
So it's been almost a month now since Goodreads clamped down on reviews they deemed "off topic." Secret police raids in the middle of the night commenced and reviews and shelves disappeared with no explanation other than they were dangerous to the party "off topic." I can only imagine that these reviews and shelves were summarily executed and not dragged off to the review gulag because we've never seen them again. Well, I don't need to explain to you what happened. If you're reading this then you probably already know what went down. If you don't know, others have written far better pieces on this topic. Needless to say, there was a great exodus from Goodreads, many moving to the welcoming arms of Booklikes or breaking ground in their own blogs. I've done a little of both and now that it has been a few weeks I guess it's time for a little self-assessment.
I haven't written anything yet about my views on the matter. Mostly this is because I haven't been able to really put my thoughts together. I mean, I'm not even a "social media" kind of guy. I didn't even know what Twitter was until a couple of years ago, I'm almost embarrassed to say (and I'm not even that old). Or Skype. Or Instagram. In fact, I am, in general, hopelessly out of date. So it was a great joy to find a site that was all about my newly re-discovered chosen preoccupation: reading! Furthermore, I could read about what others think about what I've read! I could discover new things to read! Heck, I even "met" some great people. Wow! Goodreads my ass-- GREATreads is more like it!
And things were great for a couple of years until the dark lord Darth Bezos told Otis Bookwalker, "Otis, I am your father. Or at least you will call me 'daddy.'" Goodreads became a part of the Amazon empire (or became its prison bitch, if you prefer). Goodreaders were full of skepticism, but Otis kept telling us in a soothing tone of voice to keep calm, nothing will happen. Joining with Amazon will be good for all of us (famous last words). I have to admit that even though I made my share of jokes about our new "Amazon Overlords" I didn't really think that it would have such a sudden or significant impact on our overall Goodreads experience. Mid-October it came full force when reviews started to disappear and the review gestapo stared knocking on doors and boom goes the dynamite.
Now, I haven't yet read all the stuff people have written about how or why this all happened, but I think it would be naive to think that Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads did not have any influence on what happened. I think it's fairly obvious that it did. At any rate, people left. I wish I had statistics on this, but what I can say is that many of the people on my meager friends list and list of followings took their business elsewhere. The hell of it is that many of these people that left, the people that were victims of the "purge" were also the people that made Goodreads what it was. Sure, Otis set the thing up, but the reviews and the community were created by these users. Is that gratitude? Of course, Goodreads is Otis' house (well, technically Jeff's now, I guess) and he can do what he wants with it, including censor reviews. But it doesn't change the fact that it's a cheap-ass stunt to pull.
Speaking strictly for myself, I cannot, with good conscience, write another review for Goodreads, rate another rating, enter another giveaway or otherwise feed the market data monster that Goodreads has become. I don't have anything against the friends that decided to stay, but I just can't get into it. Speaking of friends, here is another insidious aspect of Goodreads' approach: Goodreads is holding your friends and online relationships hostage. Do you think people are going to want to leave their friends behind? Of course not. Comply or leave your friends and status at Goodreads behind. Maybe Goodreads didn't plan this explicitly, but practically speaking holding your relationships hostage is exactly what they are doing.
To be totally honest, I can't blame Amazon too much. It is what it is: a massive business machine. I don't agree with their practices and I generally have the impression that Bezos might be a little bit of a dick. Buy you have to expect that they're going to do this sort of thing. Acquire, assimilate. Like the Borg. But they are good to their customers. I try to avoid business with them whenever possible by patronizing local booksellers, but I know that even many small booksellers utilize the Amazon marketplace for additional business. You can't even hardly avoid it. For example, once I thought I was pulling a fast one Amazon by finding a hard-to-find book on Abe Books. Guess what? Owned by Amazon. Go figure. I'd be a hypocrite if I railed against Amazon while still doing business with them, but I recognize them for what they are. Amazon is the devil you know.
So I have a practical attitude toward Amazon. If I give it money it will give me the things I want. They are good to me, the consumer, because they want my business. In effect, they are kissing my ass. That is our superior position as consumers. Goodreads, however, altered that relationship by making Goodreaders unwitting participants in Amazon's marketing machine. Otis had a choice. He didn't have to sell out. He always said that Goodreads was a site for readers. He neglected to mention that only applies until the big payoff comes and he sees dollar signs in his eyes. Am I wrong? Convince me, Otis. I think it's a sorry state of affairs when dollar signs replace integrity. "Capitalism without conscience" and "anarchy for the rich"…not my bag, baby. I'm not making some political case here. I'm just making a case for being a rock-solid human being and being true to your word.
On another note, I think it's kind of amusing that people are getting all riled up about the NSA checking up on your phone records or tracking your internet usage. Of course I don't like intrusion, but I'm not too worried about it. I seriously doubt the NSA gives a shit about your funny cat videos or the cell phone photos of your cock you send to your mistress. But people are very concerned about this. On the other hand, people don't seem too upset about mega-business tracking your every move, accumulating personal data and utilizing it for their own purposes. No, I'm not in the least concerned about the federal government. They are out to catch terrorists. Business wants to sell you a handbag.
But I'm digressing here, so let me rein it in. The question is: what now?
Booklikes is not a complete solution for me, not yet. The interface is a little clunky, but does seem to have a growing and vibrant community of Goodreads expats, which is good. Despite the bugginess of Goodreads, I did like the format and felt like I could keep up with friends' reviews, something that seems a little harder on Booklikes. But I think Booklikes will improve. I'll still have a notional presence on Goodreads, but I won't let Goodreads use me. I'll use it to check in on friends and people I'm following and for book research, but I won't provide content for them. Book "reviews" will be pointers to reviews at Booklikes and my own blog. And I'll write also at my Wordpress blog. If there's an easier, automated way to cross-post between Booklikes and Wordpress, please do fill me in.
I suppose that I should consider myself fortunate that I got into Goodreads relatively late and haven't invested as much effort and time into Goodreads as many ex-Goodreaders have. Even so, it hasn't been an easy transition. Honestly, I don't think Otis really gives a damn and Goodreads won't go back to the way it was. In fact, I think it's only a matter of time before things get worse and reviews will turn into those worthless product reviews you find on Amazon. Time will tell. But I'm learning how to stop worrying. I've got books to read.
(Again, I don't know how to search for a specific edition here. I read the Crown hardback).
I'm sure I don't have to tell you about Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Any zombie fan is going to already have read it since it came out in 2006 (wow…seven years ago?) and this year a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt came out, so now zombie fans and Brad Pitt fans are already all over it. I'm a little late to the party (fashionably late, I like to think), like usual, and now I'm wondering how I neglected reading this earlier. World War Z is a terrifying and thoughtful opus that brings zombie horror to a new level.
Told in a pseudo-documentary manner, World War Z is a collection of interviews with various survivors of a world-wide zombie war. Like Orson Welles' radio broadcast War of the Worlds and the film The Blair Witch Project, World War Z's format is an exercise in verisimilitude. In an unspecified very near future zombies take over. After years of struggle, humanity survives and emerges victorious. I dumbed the plot down there, but the point is you, the reader, are reading an oral record of that struggle and the fact that you are around to read it means you survived it, too. This format is an ingenious way to foster suspension of disbelief, investing the reader more fully into the story and Brooks pulls this off expertly. I read somewhere that Brooks took inspiration from Studs Terkel's oral history of World War II, The Good War, which was, of course, a real-life event. World War Z, being a fictional analog of that, draws from that same sense of involvement, but instead of "this happened" it is "this could have happened."
The structure is clever but the stories within the interviews are what make World War Z exceptional. Like any great horror story, World War Z is about more than the monsters. The world of WWZ is perhaps not so different from the fears that plague this real world. Instead of zombies, though, we have earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorism, war zones, random violence and a host of other crises. Brooks addresses contemporary fears through the analogy of a zombie apocalypse. The real horror of World War Z is the despair of realizing that there is no hope, that death is preferable to living, that to survive means sacrificing one's own humanity, that we are our own worst enemy. That is the relevance of World War Z. Ultimately, though, Brooks shows that we can prevail over our despair and that is World War Z's value.
World War Z is a zombie book like you've never read before. While it's less a "fright fest" than a "despair dump," World War Z brings an uncommon thoughtfulness to the zombie category with slow-burn horror and is a story that will linger with you far beyond the last page.
The zombies I talked to sort of missed the point, I think: "Did you know that Max Brooks is Mel Brooks' son? He sure inherited his funny bone! World War Z was hilarious!"
How to mix a Witch's Brew…
Since Charles had taken my occupation for Tuesday morning I had nothing to do. I wondered about going down to the creek, but I had no reason to suppose that the creek would even be there, since I never visited it on Tuesday mornings…
Who would have thought that Star Wars and Shakespeare would go so well together? Well, Ian Doescher did and William Shakespeare's Star Wars is the result. It answers the question I am sure many have asked, "What if William Shakespeare wrote Star Wars?" Okay, that question probably does not come up too often, but the idea is not that farfetched. After all, William Shakespeare is arguably the English language's finest dramatist and Star Wars is, without argue, THE FINEST MOTION PICTURE OF ALL TIME (yes, I said "without argue." Do not argue with me on this point. Just…no, don't do it. Shh. Stop. No.). William Shakespeare's Star Wars is like a gooey collision of peanut butter and chocolate for fans of both Star Wars and Shakespeare.
It's not perfect, of course, and my first impression was that the novelty of the thing wears off fairly quickly. Also, I felt that, from a playwriting perspective, the thing might be a little difficult to pull off on the stage. What I mean to say is, it seems as if it were written without actual stage performance in mind and more intended to just be read. That might be the case, but I'm sure someone is thinking right now about putting on a production. That would be fun to see.
Despite the novelty appeal, William Shakespeare's Star Wars is a definite labor of love. After all, line after line of iambic pentameter isn't easy to write. And there are some great inside-joke nods to the Bard with lines like "What light through yonder flashing sensor breaks?" and an Imperial Stormtrooper version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Doescher also speaks directly to us Star Wars geeks out here, mentioning bits that only fans would know (or care about), like whether or not Han shoots first.
Book-wise, this hardcover is a handy-sized 174 pages with some lovely ink illustrations that are meant to look like etchings I guess. Anyway, it's a good-looking presentation.
William Shakespeare's Star Wars is a lot of fun. It probably won't do much for you if you're just a Star Wars or just a Shakespeare fan, but for those who are fans of both it's great.
We'll see how long it lasts.
Excellent discussion /update of the issues.
I'd only amend it to read:
How Amazon and Goodreads LOST Their Best Readers.
I'll be honest, I don't quite "get" Booklikes yet. Give me some time to get used to it. I'm still feeling my way around...