Showing posts with label adult. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adult. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

30th Century: Revived by Mark Kingston Levin


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'm not a fan of series except for the occasional rare and treasured one, which is why I felt duped when I requested this from Net Galley, because there was nothing there to indicate that it was book two of a trilogy. Hence I felt lost from the start because this one clearly takes off from wherever volume one left off and there's very little context to help the reader. Add to that the complete lack of world-building, the unnaturally stilted conversations, and the truly simplistic nature of the writing overall, and I simply could not get into this at all. I could not finish it and I quit about a fifth of the way though.

An example of how lacking in interest the writing was is this (and note that this was from an advance review copy, so even though this novel was published last April, it could, I suppose, change!):

The reporter continued. “When the engines failed, the parachute, made of ultra-strong carbon nanotube fibers, was deployed, and according to the crew, it saved all the passengers. No one lost their life, but over four hundred thirty-three were injured out of the twelve hundred twenty-two people aboard this Can-Air 999.”
***
After eight months, the news reporter for the Canadian Broadcast Company announced, “The investigation turned up a possible sabotage of this aircraft. The computer system had been infected with a virus or worm. This is an aircraft designed to hover low over the ground so passengers can see and photograph the wildlife, including moose, polar bears, and deer.”

I don't get how a noisy hovering aircraft would permit passengers to see and photograph wildlife - which would have taken off, scared to death with this huge, noisy machine hovering overhead! And it took eight months to discover that the computer system was infected? No. Just no. That was what all of this writing was like - like the author was so enamored of how it sounded to him that he failed to consider how realistic it was.

He's evidently not paid much attention to how people actually speak to one another in real life, nor has he given any thought to the fact that language a thousand years from now will undoubtedly have changed as much as it's changed over the last thousand years, yet the woman from the 30th century speaks exactly like her husband from the current century.

The whole thing was far too simplistic for me, and I honestly could not get into it at all. I wish the author all the best with his career, but cannot commend this book.


Behind Every Great Man by Marlene Wagman-Geller


Rating: WORTHY!

I did not expect great things from this book because of the nature of its construction: potted 'biographies' of women 'behind' much better known men (or behind a slightly better known woman in one instance), so I can honestly say it met my expectations. I felt it was worth reading though because whenever I read something I always have in mind whether it can be employed in some way to enhance my own writing, and histories and insights like the ones contained here are wonderful for that kind of thing - making characters more real and filling them out somewhat, or even for giving you an idea about a character you could make a novel out of.

Most of the forty stories here were interesting in their own right though, despite being so very brief, but I have to take issue with the word 'great' as used in the title. Some of these people weren't what any rational person would call great. Infamous was a better term when it came to historical characters like Hitler, the Rosenbergs, or Wagner (the racist German composer, not the actor).

The list was, as usual, heavily biased towards white couples (90%) and heterosexual couples (nearly 100%). On the other hand, these people are historical and many of the famous people that are typically recalled from history were white and cis, so maybe the problem was the available and already biased selection rather than selection bias.

Less understandable was the heavy bias toward the arts. Fifty five percent of these 'great men' were from such career pursuits as film, literature, stage, music, etc., with the vast bulk even of those from literature and to a lesser extent, music. Does this mean that those couples are more likely to have weird relationships or just that it was easier to dig dirt on those people without working too hard?

It certainly seemed like digging dirt was a major criterion for including a couple, since most were quite scandalous in various ways (although not by today's standards). Only two of these 'great' men were scientists and none engineers. There were no mathematicians, monarchy, biologists, inventors, astronomers, explorers, gymnasts, and only one each from the military, sports (surprisingly!), and from architecture. There were almost no really historical couples (most were from the last hundred years or so), and fifteen percent were in politics in one way or another.

The book didn't seem to have any sort of organization to it; it simply listed them out in apparently random order. Predictably, almost half of them were American, suggesting that half the great men in the world are necessarily born in the USA. I disagree. The next biggest chunk was from the UK, and the bulk of the rest European. This was a truly sorry bias.

The wives/partners covered were those of:

  • Karl Marx
  • Richard Wagner
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • Albert Einstein
  • Gertrude Stein
  • Bill Wilson
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Simon Wiesenthal
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Oskar Schindler
  • Salvador Dali
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Douglas McArthur
  • Julius Rosenberg
  • Ian Fleming
  • F Scott Fitzgerald
  • Billy Graham
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Gerald Ford
  • Aldous Huxley
  • CS Lewis
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Bernie Madoff
  • Jim Henson
  • Malcolm X
  • Samuel Beckett
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Arthur Miller
  • Timothy Leary
  • Jerry Garcia
  • Jim Morrison
  • Lech Walesa
  • Larry Flynt
  • Stieg Larsen
  • Gordon Sumner
  • Robin Gibb

Some of these men were truly despicable - and I am not necessarily referring to Hitler. Yes, Einstein, Hitchcock, Wagner, Wilson, and so on, I'm looking at you! Their wives put up with hell in many cases, although not in all. The story of Simon Wiesenthal and his wife was one of going through hell, but had a happy ending. Some of the other stories were equally fascinating. Some were boring, some a dismal mess. I only considered it a worthy read because I got it from the library. I wouldn't recommend buying it since you can probably get the same information from Wikipedia or elsewhere online if you wish to find it, but if you're interested in this sort of thing, it's worth a read.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Minor Works


Rating: WORTHY!

As I mentioned in the previous review, I checked this out of the library at the same time as the other, only to discover that they pretty much contain the same material, so you takes your library card and you pays your respects, I guess. These can probably be found online these days so maybe a trip to the bookstore or library isn't necessary.

This volume contains very much the same thing the other did, but in a different order, this one being more chronological, and largely in reverse order of the other, strangely enough. Up front is young Jane's 'juvenilia' so-called, which consists of literary efforts preserved (and thankfully so) from her childhood which are amusing and very interesting for Austen fans. This is followed by Lady Susan a very short epistolary story which may have been written as early as the mid 1790's when Jane wasn't even in her twenties, but which wasn't actually published until almost a century later. Lady Susan is quite different from her other work.

There is also The Watsons (rather a prototype of Pride and Prejudice) and Sanditon, aka The Brothers, which was uncompleted at the time of her death. This book also contains quite a few poems written by Austen which make for interesting reading. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen


Rating: WORTHY!

I got this from my local library out of curiosity. I got a companion volume to it also, but both volumes contain pretty much the same thing: the Jane Austen works that didn't quite make it big!

This volume contains what is commonly called Sanditon, which was the novel Austen was working on when she died. Her own title for it was The Brothers. Many people have pretentiously tried to 'continue' this novel since it was incomplete, but unsurprisingly, it has never taken off as her other major works did.

It contains Lady Susan, about a very aggressive and self-possessed older woman, which Austen finished right before she began work on "Elinor and Marianne" which came to be known as Sense and Sensibility, and following which she began her second full-length novel, "First Impressions" which is known today as Pride and Prejudice.

It also contains The Watsons - the story of Sherlock Holmes's famous companion before the two of them met. Just kidding! Seriously, The Watsons is about an invalid and impoverished clergyman and his four unmarried daughters. Sounds remarkably like Pride and Prejudice, doesn't it?!

Additionally this collection contains what's come to be called "Juvenilia" which is material Austen composed when she was a juvenile. Some of this is really quite amusing. It also contains Austen's tongue-in-cheek 'plan of a novel' and opinions she evidently collected, expressed by friends over her (then) recently published work such as Mansfield Park and Emma.

I recommend this for real fans of Jane Austen.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Summit Vol 1: The Long Way Home by Amy Chu, Jan Duursema


Rating: WORTHY!

Errata:
Aeropsace on p13 Misspelled.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

There was an event in which an asteroid nearly hit Earth. The planet was supposedly saved by Lorena Payan, which no doubt is pronounced 'pain'. Some people developed superpowers from this event, but curiously, the event seemed to have a preference mostly for white American adults.

The stories of these mutants are covered in various editions by various writers and artists. This one is the story of one of those white Americans who happened to be actually on the mission: Valentina "Val" Resnick-Baker who rescues and protects a young kid. Can anyone say Aliens 2 Redux?

Frankly this story it was a bit bland, repetitive, and disjointed, but overall it was better than the other two I read in this batch of stories. While I am happy to rate this one as a worthy read, I think I'm done with this whole series which really isn't moving, shaking, or breaking new ground. It's petty much broken and crumbled like the asteroid was at this point.


KINO Vol. 1: Escape from the Abyss by Joe Casey, Jefte Paolo


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

KINO stands for Kinetic Impulse Neoterrestrial Operative which is one of the most bland and meaningless phrases I've ever read, but it was appropriate for a story that made no sense whatsoever. I've been following this X-Men knock-off world for some time and initially I was enjoying it, but lately I've become more and more disappointed in it with every new volume I read, and I feel like I'm about ready to drop it after this one. Nothing happens and nothing moves the story, and by that measure, this book is looking like a microcosm for the entire series at this point.

The backstory is that a "meteor" was heading towards Earth, and this powerful Latin woman orchestrated an assault on it by a half-dozen international astronauts all of whom supposedly died. It turns out she was more sinisterly involved than anyone knows, but now she's a celebrity because she "saved" Earth. The offshoot of this near-miss heavenly body was that some people garnered for themselves super powers. How that worked isn't explained, but whatever explanation it turns out to be has to be better than a dumb-ass "X gene" for sure.

This story (one of many told by different authors and illustrated by different artists) focuses on Major Alistair Meath of the Royal Airforce, so kudos for at least acknowledging - unlike DC and Marvel - that there are places outside the USA. It's believed Major Meath, aka KINO, is dead, but in fact he's been kept in some sort of suspended animation by the Latin girl. The British somehow find out about this and send in a covert team to extract the major's body, but they themselves are hijacked and the body ends up in the lab of Aturo Assante, a stereotypical mad scientist. So far so good.

This is where the story goes seriously downhill because from then on the story itself goes into suspended animation. Assante seems to think that by programming the Major's mind with various challenges - fighting-off super powered bad guys - he can turn KINO into precisely the super hero he requires (for what purpose goes unexplained). So they have Meath suspended from wires, an idea taken directly from Robin Cook's novel Coma. The purpose of this in Cook's novel is so that the patient doesn't get bedsores from lying in one position on a bed, but as I recall Cook doesn't really address the various medical issues raised by this system, the first of which is infection.

The suspension wires go right through the skin into the bone, so unless there is fastidious sterility in the environment which even in a hospital there never is, then the patient is going to get all manner of infections. Just as important is the lack of exercise. Muscles atrophy when not used, as astronauts know only too well, so there's no point in mentally creating a super hero (even if it were possible) if the body isn't also brought up speed. This is why competent nurses turn their coma patients in the bed, and stretch and bend limbs to keep muscles active.

The story consists of repeated rounds of the Brit agent searching for Meath, the Latinx woman searching for Meath, Assante issuing bullshit demands of his programming team, and Meath having a rough and tumble inner life. It's boring. For example, at one point Assante (or someone in his lab, I forget) talks about "cortextual" - there's no such word. He's confusing the 'tex' in 'cortex' with 'text' and getting 'textual' from that, presumably. The correct term is 'cortical'. A real doctor (and a real spellchecker!) would know that.

But the problem is that if these guys have the technology to program scenarios into a living person's mind, then they can also read out of that mind what's going on, but they repeatedly claim that they have no idea what's going on in this guy's brain, yet even so, they know it's bad? Even without feedback they keep feeding things in? It makes no sense. Add to that indifferent and oddly angular artwork by Jefte Paolo and the story doesn't even make up in eye-candy for what it loses in the 'textual' aspects! I didn't like this, and I cannot recommend it.


Queen of Kenosha by Howard Shapiro


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is the third - and last as far as I'm concerned! - in a loose collection of comics telling supposedly positive and life-affirming stories. I was not impressed by any of them and the artwork was a bit odd to say the least, particularly in this one. there really was a Queen of Kenosha - Dorothy J Queen, who died in 2012!

In previous comics this author had depicted male characters who looked quite feminine for no apparent reason, but in this one we get the opposite: the female characters look rather masculine. I don;t know if this is a deliberate gender-bending effort or simply accidental, but it didn't work. I don't mind feminine-looking men or masculine-looking women, but if you're going to put them into a graphic novel and you don't want your reader to be continually distracted by them, then there really ought to be some sort of reason for it. There was none here that I could see.

Nina Overstreet used to be in a duo with her cousin and now her cousin is no longer is part of it, for reasons which go unexplained, but is still Nina's 'manager'. One night, an odd event happens which brings Nina to the attention of a secret government agency and for no real reason whatsoever they recruit her, while still demeaning her as a female.

This is particularly odd because their idea is purportedly that a female can offer distraction and an intro into areas where a man might stand out, but the author drew Nina as very masculine-looking, so it begs the question as to why these guys are hiring her as a female distraction when she looks just like one of the guys! It made zero sense.

Add to this the fact that one of the two guys is a complete jerk, while the other is an obvious love interest, who also acts like a jerk at times, and you have a very predictable story at best and at worst, a disaster in the making. Nina is supposed to be a strong female character, but she really isn't. She wasn't impressive and the story was boring. It was set in 1963 and they're talking about Nazi sympathizers and a network of underground Nazi spies? If it had been Soviets instead of Nazis, I might have maybe bought that, but like this it was a joke and it read like a really bad fifties B movie. I cannot recommend it.


The Showrunner by Kim Moritsugu


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I read one review of this novel which said the author (who has a totally cool name!) "...has the uncanny knack of creating stories you can't put down, featuring characters you'd love to be, who say things you wish you could say," but I definitely would not want to be one of these characters or say the things they say. Only one of them is not potentially psychotic! That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it however. The author did create three strong and well-defined characters, although one of them (Ann) seemed rather over the top to me.

I would have preferred a straight-forward story rather than interspersing the Stacey (main protagonist) story with entries from the journal of another (Ann). Those did not work for me because they seemed not only inauthentic, but also not something this particular character would do. It took me out of suspension of disbelief. I really dislike first person voice because it is so inauthentic, and I also dislike diary and journal entries, so this was a double negative for me. The other two perspectives, Stacey's and Jenna's, were much more realistic and readable. While I wouldn't describe it as 'un-put-downable' it definitely did make me want to keep reading.

Another joy was that, just when I feared it would go all chick-lit when Stacey started zeroing in on a guy, the author was smart enough to keep that low-key and focus on the main drama, which I appreciated, as indeed I did the fact that (apart from Ann's journal) this was not first person voice. Finally - an author who gets how weak and annoying that voice is! U shakll build a Moritsugu Shrine! yes! That's what I shall do! Mwahaha!

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the story is about a TV production company called Two Women Walking, the two women being veteran Ann Dalloni, and up-and-comer Stacey McCreedy, who was the creator of this new show that has become such a success and for which Ann has usurped the credit. The story repeatedly describes the two women as partners and the company as a partnership, but the story is told consistently as though Ann in the boss and Stacey her employee, which made little sense to me, but starting from this resentment, there builds a festering and smoldering mutual antagonism between the aging Ann and the vibrant Stacey which mounts towards what seems to be an inevitable butting-of-heads if not worse.

Each is trying to undermine the other, and it does not help that Ann, without consulting Stacey, has brought on board a young actor, Jenna, who is currently in a slump, and who is happy to work with a veteran like Ann to learn the producing ropes and maybe get back into the acting game through a back door. The story doesn't explain why Ann did not already have an assistant like Stacey does, which was a bit of a plot hole, but no big deal. Jenna finds herself playing piggy-in-the-middle and running thankless and trivial errands for Ann, but she swallows it all down because she has her own agenda.

Frankly I didn't like any of these three woman and would certainly not want to know them in real life (much less be them!), but they made for fascinating characters and a very readable story. The ending was in some ways predictable and in others a surprise, but I can't go into it without giving away spoilers!

The book wasn't all joy though; there were some issues, one of which is a common one in my experience. At one point I read, "...the bottom half of his left bicep was visible..." Unless his skin and muscle is torn and one of the ligaments is hanging out, I doubt that his bicep was visible. I don't doubt that his biceps was if he's quite muscular. 'Bicep' relates to one or other of the muscle attachments to the humerus, and isn't very impressive. The actual bulge in the upper arm is the biceps.

Another issue wasn't a writing problem, but a formatting problem caused by Amazon's crappy Kindle app. I really am not a fan of it (or Amazon in general for that matter), because unlike B&N's Nook app or a PDF file, it will mangle anything that's not plain vanilla text. In this case, the novel was clearly formatted for print, with page headers (book title and author name on alternating pages) which to me is pointless if not pretentious, but it's what publishers do.

Unfortunately, when Amazon gets it hands on this stuff, it can't handle it, and it incorporates the page headers directly into the text! Consequently, I read at one point, "And have KIM MORITSUGU nerves of steel." Hey, I want 'Kim Moritsugu nerves of steel'! Where can I buy them?! This happened quite often and was annoying, I hope it's fixed before the final ebook version becomes available.

There were other issues of improper formatting or poorly written sentences, but not too many, fortunately. At one point I read, "What had Stacey called her when she strolled up to the entrance, looking stylish..." here it wasn't immediately clear who's being stylish, but this is a minor issue. In another section, I read, "...and I know you're in an difficult position" 'An' needs to drop the 'n'. At a different point there was, "Which made feel Jenna victorious." Jenna and feel need to switch places. Also, in a slightly different issue, several weeks pass between chapters 18 and 24 without any real indication of such a huge time, which was a bit confusing!

Finally for me, there was a bit of a problem with how things were resolved at the end. I can't detail it without giving spoilers, but it seemed like the participants were indulging in unnecessary overkill when they could have simply told the truth about what happened, which was all they needed to do. I didn't get why they had to cook up a story. It felt to me like maybe the ending had been changed from what it originally was, an ending that might have needed such a story, but having made the change, the author either didn't realize there was a problem or couldn't think of an easy way out of it, when there actually was really a simple one: tell the unvarnished truth!

But these were relatively minor issues in what was overall a worthy and engrossing story, which I recommend.


Please Don't Grab My P#$$y by Julia Young, Matt Harkins


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advanced review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was an amusing and very short book of poetry and paintings (which are indirectly tied to the poem) designed to teach certain presidents who are a disgusting stain on any civilized and self-respecting society, some lessons they badly need to learn, but are apparently unwilling to do so and/or incapable of doing so. There is something fundamentally wrong with a nation which will elect a boorish, sexist, racist, misogynist, outright lying person into public office, especially when he's three million votes shy of having won an actual majority in the election, but this passes for democracy these days.

While I did not feel the poetry was at its best, the book contains a bemusing variety of euphemisms for a woman's private parts some of which I had not heard before. I think my favorite is panty hamster now, replacing nappy dugout, which itself wasn't included in this collection, but I'm sure many readers could find one that was missing. I believe Mary Shelley's term of choice was 'pretty notch' but that was also, and I suppose unsurprisingly, missing from the collection.

That said, this was a worthwhile effort because I support anyone who does something rather than nothing, even if they don't have the courage to put 'pussy' on the cover (although that may be a Publisher Advisory), which is why I recommend this.


Formerly Known as Food by Kristin Lawless


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Erratum:
"...so information flow constantly back and forth between the gut and the brain....” should read "flows"?

Subtitled "How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture," this book is a tour-de-force of information on how our diet had changed over the last few generations to a point where it bears little relation to what our grandparents and great-grandparents ate. This may not seem like a problem: active change is pretty much the definition of life, when you think about it, but just like the ocean surface reveals very little about what’s going on underneath, so our dietary changes and the way food is grown, processed and packaged are having a significant, and in many cases dangerous, impact on our bodies and minds.

There's no table of contents in the front of this book. It's in the back! Whether there will be changed in the published print copy I can’t say. it was clickable back and forth - something which i see little value in. Imagine my amazement then to discover that the references - it was a very referenced effort - did not work at all!! So when it came to checking the copious references the author includes in her text, the lack of clickability (or tappability these days - if these were not words, they are now!) was a nuisance because it made it really hard to find the actual reference. In this book there are no footnotes and no chapter-end notes. There is a long set of references at the end of the book, but you can’t click to them or click back from them.

This isn't a problem with the writing quality or the book topic, but it bothers me how primitive this is in an era of common and very pervasive ebooks. These days it ought to be possible to reference something in your book and be able to tap that reference to have it pop up right there on the page without having to swipe to the back of the book to find it and hope you're looking at the right one! In a semi-scholarly work like this one, it ought to be possible to tap the reference and have it open your browser and go to the study or paper the book is referring to so you can see it right there and then. Evidently we're still a long way from that.

I know Amazon's crappy Kindle app is probably the worst in the business as compared with other formats such as PDF or the Nook, for example, for facilitating a good reader experience. Kindle is another way of saying 'mangle' in my experience, and we all know what 'kindling' is good for, but publishers are powerful entities. Some would argue they're too powerful, but that's not quite so true in this era of self-publishing as it used to be. That said, why are they not using that power to pressure the makers of reading apps to make books like this much more user-friendly? Pet peeve! Moving on!

I recommend this book because it carries an important message and not only that, it also marshals an impressive array of evidence. There are caveats to that though, which I shall delve into shortly, but that aside, this is, overall, a good effort. The author is not a scientist. She's a Certified Nutrition Educator, but she makes smart arguments and puts together a good basic case.

My problems with this book ran to referenced supportive material. References are often only tangentially supportive of the assertions made by the author, and they are not 'clickable' - once in a while there is one that is highlighted in blue and if you can tap it with your finger, will take you to a reference, but this applies only to rare end of chapter notes, not to book notes. It was often difficult to tap those references and get there, especially if it was at the top of a screen, because instead of going to the link, Kindle would drop down the little margin at the top of their screen which contains the time and settings icons! I actually tapped one link only by pure accident after I was ready to give up an trying to tap it! Annoying!

The lack of tappable links for the references though, made it a nightmare trying to verify the author's statements connected with the link because I had to jump to the back of the book and wade through the large number of references jammed together there, to try and find the one I needed. I think instead of starting numbering the references over for each chapter, they should have been continually numbered so a reader can be sure they have the correct one: was I in chapter two or chapter three? Which reference '1' out of several back there do I need to look at? I did not try to look at every reference, just a few. While noting that this was an advance review copy and therefore subject to change before publishing, what follows is what I found with regard to some of them.

At one point I read, "...the current generation of children is expected to have a shorter life span than their parents." yet when I followed the link and looked at the reference, the paper was by S. Jay Olshansky, et al, and the title was “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States Note the word 'potential'! There is a big difference between an expectation of, and a potential for something happening! Things like this harm a book's message because they make the author look more sensationalist than sensational.

At another point I read "GMOs were not introduced to the American food supply until the 1990s, so we don’t know a lot about their long-term safety or healthfulness. Even organic corn is likely contaminated with GMOs." I have yet to see what the harm is in GMOs. My position is that some are probably a bad idea, others are fine. I, like the author evidently, do have reservations about the activities of a very powerful company like Monsanto, yet while keeping that caveat in mind, the fact is that nature mixes genes between plants all the time, and the human race goes on! I don't think the jury is in yet on the benefits or otherwise of GMO's in general, so I have to ask why the negative connotation added by the author and carried in that one word: contaminated? Like this is necessarily an evil thing? So again, the wording was overly dramatic.

After talking about how food monitoring agencies are funded by agribusiness, the author extolls a report by Monell Chemical Senses Center which is funded from a variety of sources including, according to Wikipedia, “unrestricted corporate sponsorships”! Pot meet kettle!

I read, “My grandmother...was always skeptical of the benefits of organic foods. She thought it a marketing ploy to get people to spend more money,” but in my understanding,there is no real regulation or inspection of organic foods, so I've never been a big fan. But let;s not get overly dramatic about them. I read, “The review stated that pesticide residues were found in only 7 percent of organics but 38 percent of conventional foods,” and while that's far from ideal, it's certainly not the massive contamination that's been suggested! Two third of non-oganic food is also fine! And some organic food is actually 'contaminated'!

The author mentions “Horizon Organic milk, with its bright red label and happy cow on the container, gives the impression of a bucolic standard” After buying a carton of Horizon milk that, when opened, smelled of fish one time, and complaining to Horizon only to be brushed off, I have never bought another thing with their name on it. I won't touch Horizon products, so I was onboard with the comments made about how big and blended they were! I am not a fan of mega-corporations.

The author says, “Some of that common sense wisdom that farmers speak of is being replicated in the lab with findings that the fruits and vegetables we eat today are far less nutrient dense than those our grandparents ate,” and she cites “a study” but gives no reference! This made me suspicious, as did a claim in an article that was quoted uncritically which said, “...the recipe for mother's milk is one that female bodies have been developing for 300 million years,” but the earliest known mammal is barely over 200 million years old! I'm not sure where the author of the article gets this ancient date from!

There's a section of this book which bemoans the increase of C-section births, antibiotics, and lack of breastfeeding, but https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350908/ published online in October 2014 makes no mention of the disappearance of Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis from our gut. In fact, I couldn't find anything online which did talk about the disappearance of this group of bacteria even as I found mention after mention of its benefits.

The paper referenced by me above says, "The colonization of the fetal gut begins in utero with swallowing of amniotic fluid" so it's not entirely dependent on vaginal delivery. I do agree though that antibiotics and C-Section pose threats of one sort or another, but the author fails to mention that while C-sections have risen alarmingly, so that they now comprise about a third of births in the western world, it's still only a third, and only in the last two to three decades. Allergies and other issues began rising long before that. It's the rather alarmist parts of this book which bothered me, even as I considered it a worthy read for the important information it does convey. A more measured tone would have been wiser.

Breastfeeding is also not a rarity. In Australia for example, almost all mothers start out breastfeeding. It's the lack of continuation of it that's a potential problem, because by the age of one year less than a third are still doing it. I guess they feel they need to wean children asap because breastfeeding is time-consuming and they're poorly educated with regard to the importance of continuing it. Prevalence of breastfeeding was the lowest in the United Kingdom, the United States, and France, but even in these countries, the prevalence was 70%, 69.5%, and 62.6% according to this study in 2012.

So it's misleading for this author to imply that Caesarian section has risen to such dramatic heights or that breastfeeding has plummeted so precipitously that it's affecting children's health and contributing massively to opportunistic disease, allergies, and conditions. I do allow that she has a point about antibiotics, but while we can suggest natural birth as much as possible, as an antidote to C-Sections, and a lengthy breastfeeding as an alternative to formula, what is the use of antibiotics going to be replaced with? Crossed fingers and a hope that infection doesn't set in?

We could ask that antibiotics only be used as needed and not routinely, but that's a medical decision and I think most doctors know this, but there's the ever-present danger, particularly in litigation-happy USA, of a lawsuit if something is omitted and there are consequences. What we can do is have children fed a dose of the good bacteria after they're born, and after any series of antibiotics has ended, in order to keep their gut in good shape, but the author never raised this option as far as I recall.

Instead, I read, “Because traveling down the birth canal is the critical means for acquiring your microbiota, those who miss out on this process face lifelong health consequences,“ yet the reference in this case was useless with regard to supporting the author's thesis and was really hard to get to to boot!

part of the problem with this book that I had was what was not covered. It seems to be largely US-based, like the USA is the only country int hew world worth considering. it;s nit. What I kept wondering, but was kept in the dark about, was how other countries fare. Yes, there was an occasional reference here and there that strayed outside the borders, but always it was back to the USASAP. I felt there was a lot that could have been learned by taking a more global view. For example, obesity is rare in Japan, so what is it they're doing that we're not? This book was silent on such things.

I read quite a bit about the Hadza bush people in Africa. The idea is that since they lead an existence far more akin to what all humans did before farming became prevalent in our culture, maybe we can learn things from them and their microbiota. A putative dissenting voice was addressed so: “The argument usually goes something like, 'Well, we live far longer than those populations so we must be doing something right'.” The response was along the lines of "But that argument falls flat with just a little bit of scrutiny. In hunter-gatherer societies most mortality occurs within the first five years of life because their sanitation isn’t on par with ours, thereby increasing the risk for infections. In addition, they don’t have access to antibiotics for true life-threatening infections, or access to vaccinations, so it is understandable that infant mortality rates are high.“

Isn't this a refutation of precisely the argument the author is making with regard to natural birth and eating whole, unadulterated food, which these people do exclusively? Never once did this author ask why infant mortality was so high. And yes, the Hadza do have a comparable life-span to the rest of us if they survive the first five years, after that, but this is one society. Why look only at one that supports your thesis and ignore others which do not - such as, for example, ancient Egyptians, who had a relatively stress-free life and very pure foods compared with ours, and yet who lived only into their thirties for the most part? It would have been nice to have seen the author play devil's advocate instead of harping only on her own theme.

The author references a 2016 paper regarding an experiment by Erica D. Sonnenburg et al with two sets of mice, each of which was artificially infested with the same specific set of gut microorganisms. One set of mice was fed a diet rich in fiber whereas the other was poor in fiber. The results over four generations showed that gut bacteria diversity was adversely impacted by the low fiber diet. I don't have a problem accepting this at all, but the author's report made no mention of the mice's health! Was thatadversely impacted or were both groups equally healthy? In which case, what did this study show that was relevant to her thesis?

I couldn't read the study itself, because it's hidden behind Nature journal's paywall. It may well be that health was impacted (or would be), but to present a study like this which does not directly support the author's thesis is confusing a best, and misleading in that it implies such a thing when it actually makes no such claim. Another example of this was when I read that “It’s important to remember that you first must have microbes that are capable of feeding on the short-chain fatty acids. The findings of German and his colleagues and the Sonnenburgs and their colleagues remind us that many strains of these beneficial bacteria have probably disappeared from the guts of those of us living in Western world.“ Probably? The reference for this was hard to find in the end notes, but seems to refer to insulin growth factor which isn't relevant here! i read a similar thing when I read, “The discovery that many of the chemicals we are consuming every day are EDCs, and are probably changing our bodies” Again, note key word 'probably'! That may well be true, but it’s not a strong argument!

Interestingly, while searching for the article to which the author referred, I came across one which explicitly says that "Human populations with a diet enriched in complex carbohydrates, such as the Hadza hunter gatherers from Tanzania, have increased diversity of the gut microbiota (Schnorr et al., 2014). In contrast, long-term intake of high-fat and high-sucrose diet can lead to the extinction of several taxa of the gut microbiota." This one would seem to fly in the face of earlier suggestions in this book that we should reduce carbohydrates and increase fats! It only goes to show that this is a very complex topic, and the welter of information flying around can be confusing to the lay person (which includes me!). The author sort of touches on this aspect of the problem without going into much of an exploration of it and how it can be counteracted. Even such a simple thing as defining terms can help.

I read of one man who had lived with the Hadza and followed their way of life for a while and he discovered: "The results showed clear differences between my starting sample and after three days of my forager diet. The good news was my gut microbial diversity increased a stunning 20%, including some totally novel African microbes, such as those of the phylum Synergistetes." note that this isn't a study and the plural of anecdote, as scientists ay, is not data But though it is just an anecdote of one man's experience, it does suggest, as a counter to some of the author's assertions, that all is not lost and a change in diet can increase diversity.

Note that this article: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2017/08/hunter-gatherers-seasonal-gut-microbe-diversity-loss.html
suggests that there are few Hadza and fewer still who pursue traditional lifestyle. Additionally, their diet is extremely restricted: "The Hadza number just over 1,000 people, fewer than 200 of whom adhere to the traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which includes a diet composed mainly of five items: meat, berries, baobab (a fruit), tubers and honey." This isn't clear from what the author writes so again this book was misleading as to sample size, and dietary variation.

The article also says, "A 2016 study, published in Nature and led by Sonnenburg and senior research scientist Erica Sonnenburg, PhD, showed that while depriving mice of dietary fiber greatly reduced their gut-microbial species diversity, this diversity was restored when the dietary-fiber restriction was lifted. But if this fiber deprivation was maintained for four generations, microbial species that had initially bounced back robustly became permanently lost." This isn't exactly clear from the book, which talks only of diversity being lost over several generations, and doesn't emphasize that while we cannot replace what has truly been completely lost - not through ordinary means - we can repair what we have by a change in our diet.

It would have been nice in this book to have had less a tsunami of facts and references and more of a coherent story as to what the problem is, what the real connection is to diet and micro biota, and what we can do, realistically and practically to fix it. The author does get into that towards the end of the book and that made for impressive reading. It just takes a while to get there! I think that's one of the weaknesses of the book in that it makes for very dense reading and I cannot see this taking off popularly, which is really what a book like this needs to do, and if it doesn't, that will be a shame.

Another issue was the conflation of correlation with causation! I read, “As I mentioned, this also points to why colon and rectal cancers are now on the rise in people in their twenties and thirties in the Western world...” but just because two things happen at the same time doesn't mean they're connected. I encountered this error several times; perhaps the author has arguments and data to support such assertions, but these were either not made or not well made.

What really shone in this book for me was chapter nine where the author launches a polemic as breathtaking as it is depressing about the devaluation and even oppression of women over the last hundred years by confining them to the house and effectively enslaving them - because that's what unpaid labor is and that's what far too many women have been reduced to doing for far too many years as "housewives' stuck between the kitchen and a vacuum cleaner. This chapter is excellent, well-written, forceful, and really quite beautiful to read. It certainly won back a lot of my good grace (as well as "Goodness Gracious!") after some of the issues I'd had earlier.

So, overall, and with the caveat that this book takes some reading, I recommend it as a worthy read because it makes some really good arguments and is an important contribution to our understanding of an increasing lack of wellness in society and of possible counter-measures we - as individuals - can undertake - and the hell with government and agribusiness who, let's face it, aren't going to do a damned thing to help as long as they can keep on minting money on the backs of the sick people they;re promoting. And you can read that last clause however you like!


Friday, May 18, 2018

American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice, with uncredited contributions by Taya Kyle


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this is a review of the author's attitudes as expressed in this autobiography and the story itself. It is not a review of the military in general. Far from it: I listened to a different audiobook a short while ago, and also written by a Navy Seal, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. It was a whole different perspective from this one, and a much wiser, smarter, and mainstream one. And it was read by the author, not by a guy who sounds like his last gig was on Hee-Haw.

Having listened to this audiobook until I could no longer stand the jingoism, racism, self-promotion, utterly braindead patriotism, and rabid bloodlust any longer, I recommend the movie. Neither the book nor the movie is anything to write home about (which is why I'm posting it on my blog instead!), but if you must do one of these options, then my advice is to avoid the book like insurgents typically avoid a pitched battle. When I went looking for the movie, having given up on the book, Netflix predictably did not have it as usual. Great business model, Netflix! As usual Amazon predictably did have it for purchase at the usual $14.99. I wasn't buy-curious and the library had it for free, so take that, Net-azon!

I'd had the audiobook from the library also, but hadn't been interested in the movie until I'd listened to some of the book; then I became intrigued as to what a blinkered right-winger had done with a fascist document like this, and I confess I was surprised it wasn't worse. It starred Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal sniper billed as the deadliest in US history with over 160 confirmed kills. Bradley Cooper does the voice of Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy, so I was curious to see what he did when not impersonating a genetically-modified raccoon. He was pretty good. The movie was a right-wing redneck wet-dream, but even so, I'd recommend it way over this autobiography.

The dishonest blurb (all Big Publishing™ book blurbs are dishonest to one extent or another) claims that "Iraqi insurgents feared Kyle so much they named him al-Shaitan ('the devil') and placed a bounty on his head," but my guess is that it was not fear, merely hatred. It's what terrorists do. That in fact is the definition of terrorism: if it's not like us, subjugate it and if that isn't easy, kill it. The really ironic thing is that the author never held that sadly battle-bloodied mirror up to himself, probably because had he done so, he would have seen a reflection that was far too disturbingly familiar.

The author claims to be a Christian and repeatedly talks about religion and prayer. He puts the order as: his god, his country, his family, which really makes him no different than any other adherent of one of the big three monotheistic religions including the one he hates. The truth is that he - as in the case of most 'Christians' - doesn't actually follow Christ (who was a Judaist not a Christian). Instead, they follow Paul, who very effectively sabotaged and undermined everything Christ purportedly taught.

Very few of these believers embrace the portions of Christianity dealing with turning the other cheek, of going the extra mile, of giving your coat. Those things are very conveniently forgotten by "warriors" (a term this author liked to over-employ), who are praying even as they get amped-up when going into battle. The author is very much an Old Testament believer: all savage justice, shunning the New like most of his fellow right-wing believers, none of whom have any more faith than does a Pope who drives around in a bullet-proof vehicle.

There is asininity in this book. At one point the author says of his kills, "The Number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more." Contradiction anyone? If it's not important, why wish anything about it? He consistently refers to all Iraqis as savages, and at one point in the narrative, he expressed a desire to kill anyone carrying a Koran, but fortunately for the reputation of the US military, he heroically restrained himself. No one can argue that he did not save American lives by what he did. Given that he was there, in that situation, I certainly have no problem with that.

The problem is that never once does he question the validity of being there in the first place. Did Iraq have anything to do with 9/11? No! Were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? No! I could see a rationale - rightly or wrongly - for going into Afghanistan, but there was none for Iraq at all. Anyone who idiotically chants 'my country, right or wrong' is a moron, period. It's not patriotic to follow your government mindlessly and unquestioningly, especially when the result is almost seven thousand US soldiers dead, and over a million injured. And an estimated half-million dead Iraqis, not all of whom were insurgents by any means.

Most people who've served, particularly if they've been in the thick of it, do not favor talking about it over-much. They're stoic and reserved, and understand better than anyone how savage and indiscriminate war is. When they leave service, they want to put it behind them and move on. Assuming PTSD and/or injury allows them to do so. This author is certainly not one of those people, and while I can see this book appealing to a certain element, I can see no value in it as it stands, especially since it's been cheapened by the author himself.

It's not only tragic, but criminal that he died the way he did after surviving so much in Iraq, but when he tells stories that cannot be verified, perhaps tall stories about things he has done in the US - such as murdering 'troublemakers' in New Orleans after Katrina, or killing two guys who tried to rob him at a gas station, or punching out Jessie Ventura, or getting into a bar fight with a guy because that guy's girlfriend has apparently insulted a fellow Navy Seal. Seriously?

That's not heroic. It's juvenile, stupid, and completely unnecessary, since presumably any Navy Seal is trained more than adequately to handle any situation, including defusing one where he's being merely insulted. Does he really need a fellow Seal to go after the woman's boyfriend who presumably wasn't involved in the insulting? Was the girl offering the insult because she'd been hit on? Did the story even happen outside of the author's imagination? Who knows? What is a fact is that we can't trust anything this author wrote because it's tarnished and corroded by this kind of thing, and it devalues the entire book.

Navy Seals, or anyone in any branch of service from coastguard to marines to police, fire and EMTs don't have to prove anything to anyone, nor should they ever feel like they ought to. If the Seals made it through BUDS and hell week, that alone is an achievement which deserves respect. It doesn't matter whatever else they may or may not do. Anyone who went through Iraq or Afghanistan or any other conflict, regardless of the wisdom of our government sending soldiers there in the first place, is valiant and heroic enough. Someone like that does not need something like this to be respected and held in some kind of reverence. Not in my book, which is why I won't recommend this book.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein


Rating: WARTY!

If I'd known that this author was once the prosecutor who railroaded the Central Park Five black kids into jail for a crime they never committed, I would have spit on the novel rather than picked it up. But I didn’t know that until after I’d read enough of it to know it was a lousy novel written by an author who is so far out of touch with things as to be very effectively retired even as she continues to write. It was only after I gave up on it and looked her up in Wikipedia that I discovered this and other interesting facts about her.

If I’d known this novel was merely wish-fullfilment - this author basically putting herself into her own fiction as a prosecutor of sex crimes - I would never have picked it up. I am not a fan of first person stories because they are irritating at best and completely unrealistic. Few authors - and even fewer stories - can carry that amount of weight, but far too many authors aren't smart enough to realize it. The woman who read for this audiobook story, Barbara Rosenblat, had entirely the wrong voice for the story and the character, so that didn’t help. That wasn't the worst part though.

The hypocrisy in this novel was astounding. For an ex prosecutor of sex crimes to write a novel about human trafficking and then lard it up with sexist material is mind boggling. If I’d know this novel - published in 2010 - would read like it was written in the fifties with all the unaddressed genderism it contains, I’d never have picked it up. But until I listened to it, I didn't know that there would be repeated remarks made to the main character of an inappropriate nature, and never once does she address them. Guys can say pretty much whatever they want to her and she doesn’t even react. In short, she's part of the problem and the author ought to be thoroughly ashamed of writing material like this.

I don't have a problem with reading a novel by an older writer (this author is now in her seventies). The problem isn’t that. The problem is when the older writer fails to move with the times and instead, writes a modern story with an antique mindset, which is evidently what happened here. That's not even the whole problem. The author seems so obsessed with describing old buildings that she forgets what story she's telling. This story could have been about architectural design. I quickly tired of hearing yet more building history, and yet more descriptions of arches, columns, and windows. This was as much a DNR as it was a DNF. You have my word that I will never read another novel by this author. I'm tempted to say that I'm glad I never paid for this one, but in a sense, I did pay for it by merely listening to it.


Algeria is Beautiful Like America by Olivia Burton, Mahi Grand


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This story had an interesting effect on me because I liked it even though it's not the normal sort of story I like. Most stories that involve people recounting a travelogue - finding their roots or worse, finding themselves, bore me to death, but this one sounded interesting and miraculously it actually was. I think the author can thank Michael Palin for preparing the way with his story of his adventures in the Sahara, which I enjoyed immensely. This story was well-told to begin with, and very competently illustrated by Mahi Grand with sweet, gray-scale drawings.

The one thing I really honestly neither got nor liked about the story was the last two words of the title. Why "Like America"? It seemed like shameless pandering to an American audience. Why not "Like France"? Why not just leave it at "Algeria is Beautiful" or better yet, "Algeria The Beautiful" which both makes a powerful statement and harks to the poem Pike's Peak by Katharine Lee Bates.

The author's family hailed from Algeria, but as French citizens, they had to flee during the civil war in the 1960s, when her grandparents literally flew across the Mediterranean and settled in France. Unlike most people, the author's grandparents did not view the South of France as a paradise. Instead they viewed it as a poor man's Algeria which amused me! After hearing so much, one way or another, about Algeria, the author decided she had to visit and check out her grandparent's roots. She gave up on her hope of collecting some friends to travel with her. She should have asked me! I would have loved to have gone had I been single.

So, alone, with only the name of a contact in Algeria, she traveled. It's no spoiler to say she made it there and back safely since she could not have written this had she not (this is why first person voice horror and thriller fiction doesn't work! But I digress!). Anyway, she has some great fun, some disturbing moments, some confusing ones, and some very happy ones, and a lot of other emotions in between. The story was well-told, was entertaining, and kept me reading. I recommend this as a worthy read.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Boy on the Bridge by MR Carey


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I'd read two novels by this author prior to starting this one, and he was batting a .500. I really liked The Girl With All The Gifts which I reviewed back in May of 2014, but I really didn't like Fellside which I reviewed in November of 2016. This one, I'm afraid, fell on the same side and delivered no gifts despite evidently being the second volume in The Girl With All The Gifts series. This is why I don't like series, generally speaking. Instead of plowing a new furrow, a series typically sticks in the same rut that's already been plowed.

I think writers choose this fallow ground because it's easy to navigate - just write between the lines! It's a lot simpler and less work to warm-over existing characters than to set forth against a sea of plots and by embracing, write them. I certainly wasn't expecting a zombie apocalypse novel and if I had been, I wouldn't have requested to review this. Zombie apocalypse stories are low-hanging fruit appealing to the lowest common denominator and they make absolutely no sense whatsoever. The blurb, which writers admittedly tend to have little to do with unless they self-publish, delivered nothing on the topic: "Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy. The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world. To where the monsters lived." That doesn't say zombie apocalypse to me! It really doesn't say much at all.

The author never actually uses the word 'zombie'; instead, he calls them 'hungries', which is a cheat, because the name wasn't natural. Even people who can't stand zombie stories, such as me, for example, are familiar with the basis of them, and if this really did happen as it's told here, no one would ever call these things 'hungries'. They would call them zombies. Or flesh-eaters, or cannibals, or something more commonly known. 'Hungries' simply isn't a natural word that would have come into common use, so suspension of disbelief was challenged early and lost quickly.

Even so I might have got into it had the story not been so slow and pedantic, and made so little sense. Despite it being an apocalyptic story of disease run rampant through the population, largely turning it into mindless flesh-eating 'monsters', it was far too plodding and it failed to convey any sense of adventure or danger, or even offer any thrills. The main character was flat and uninteresting and the story plodded painfully and simply did not draw me in at all. The 'science' they were supposedly doing made no sense.

It began with a handful of scientists and a handful of soldiers on an expedition in the zombie wilds, picking up test materials that had been left out there by a previous expedition. The method of making this journey - in a vehicle rather than a helicopter - made no sense either and was apparently designed merely to put these people into conflict with the zombies. What the hell this trip was even supposed to do wasn't really ever made clear, and whatever it was quickly became lost anyway in the endless detailing of people's activities and mindsets including the tediously irritating politics between members of the expedition. The painful, story-halting sorties into each character's psyche was totally uninteresting and did nothing to move the story along. It was like the author was much more interested in holding the reader's hand and spelling everything out instead of relating the kind of story where we would see what was going on without having to be told, and want to read more.

This was yet another apocalyptic story which took place in complete isolation from the rest of the world. When Americans write these stories, only America matters. The rest of the world not only doesn't matter, it also doesn't exist. It's the same thing in this story except that this writer is British, so only Britain exists - this septic isle, the only nation on planet Earth - which again destroyed suspension of disbelief.

I had thought this was a new or relatively new novel, so imagine my surprise when I saw this in audiobook form on the shelf of the library! I picked that version so I could listen to it instead of reading it, and the voice of the reader, Finty Williams (aka Tara Cressida Frances Williams!), made the story almost bearable, but in the end, even her determined and earnest reading couldn't hold my interest, so I DNF'd this novel. Life is too short to have to read books like this one, and I cannot recommend it. It's nowhere near the standard of The Girl With All The Gifts.


What the Future Looks Like by various authors


Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Edited by well-known British scientist and writer Jim Al Khalili, this book is a series of speculations, under various headers, as to what we might expect from the future. I wasn't impressed with it, I'm sorry to say. I have a high regard for Khalili, who is a professor of theoretical physics and the Chair of the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey. I've not read any of his books but I've watched some of his TV presentations, and enjoyed them. I was hoping therefore, that in a book that he's edited, I'd get some solid scientific grounding even for a speculative work about the future, but what I got instead was a lot of speculation and very little scientific grounding or even grounding in what;s happening today.

The authors of the various pieces were all scientists, and coming form a cutitng-edge technology sector myself, I was hoping for the speculation to be rooted in the present and logically extrapolating from existing trends and technology to give a realistic assessment, but for too many of these articles, it was evidently nothing more than an opportunity for the contributor to do little more than day-dream and fantasize about what's they hoped was coming rather than put some real effort into what;s actually likely to come. So while some articles were good and interesting, most were not, and the overall effect on me was one of "So what?" and blah.

Sometimes it was unintentionally amusing, such as when one speculator wrote, "Technologies are rarely,if ever,foisted upon us" which is patent nonsense. Did people calling into various agencies for help want a robot answering machine instead of a human? I think not. Did businesses like the one I work for, which typically have patented technology to safeguard, want everyone to legitimately carry a camera onto the premises - in the form of a cell phone? I don't think they wanted that either, but it's technology foisted upon them! Did people with a large vinyl record collection want tapes, then CDs, then e-music, constantly making their collection obsolete?

Did videotape movie watchers who were used to the movie starting pretty much as soon as you set the tape in motion want that technology to be overrun by two different forms of laser disk and then that latter one - the DVD - to be made obsolete by Blu-Ray™, which is now delighted to serve up - out of your control - a barrage of ads, then put on a glittering, overblown mini-movie menu to try and navigate before you can even the movie you paid for? I suspect not. No one asked for that, but it's what was served on us. That's not to say that people don't welcome - or perhaps more accurately, learn to live with - much of this, but they hardly begged for it. It was foisted upon us by progress, and clearly this writer wasn't thinking about what they were writing in this case. Unfortunately, this wasn't an uncommon problem in this book.

In another case, writing about autonomous vehicles, one writer declared, "The important point is that the race has been started," but he utterly failed to explain how it was that this was important! Why is it important to have autonomous vehicles? It may seem obvious to some, and others (autonomous vehicle builders, I'm looking at you) that these vehicles are safer, but judged by the long list of incidents and accidents, and design cluelessness we've read about lately (seriously your car doesn't need to keep track of stationary objects, not even the fire truck stopped front of you?!), some might believe it would be better if we waited a while for the technology to catch up before we make bold prognostications of autonomous and flying cars.

Another writer, talking about smart materials, declared that we could have sensors buried under the asphalt to have passing vehicles trigger street lights to be on only when the vehicle is passing. Unlike the characters in Back to the Future, this writer evidently did not consider a future where there are no roads, or where there's no asphalt because oil has gone, or where there is no need for vehicles to click buttons in the roadbed when a simple RFID chip - which already exists and is in wide use - could do exactly the same job. Talking about smart fabrics to build efficient airplanes assumes we'll always have oil to fuel them. Newsflash: we won't! This blinkered short-sightedness and lack of imagination/thinking outside the box absolutely plagued this book. This writer evidently didn't really give a lot of thought to how the future might look.

Topics covered include: demographics, the biosphere, climate change, medicine, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, transhumanism, the Internet of Things, cyber security, AI, quantum computing, smart materials, energy, transportation, and Robotics, and it ended with complete fantasy which I skipped, as I did the introduction. I wasn't impressed, and especially not by the total lack of cross-fertilization of ideas between all these topics. Everything was so compartmentalized you would think all these advances were taking place in complete isolation from one another. There was no speculation pursuing what happens in real life in that something is invented for one purpose and is then coopted for something else which was never foreseen, and which takes off in ways we had not imagined. Yes, that would involve speculation, but extrapolation from events like this would constitute no more wool-gathering than was already being widely indulged-in here!

There was one other important issue. This book has a whole section on climate change, yet the book itself - a book about what the future looks like - was appallingly wasteful of paper. It was printed in academic format which is, for reasons which utterly escape me, especially in this day and age, dedicated to huge whitespace margins and wide line heights. I estimate, very roughly, that about fifty percent of the page was wasted. Naturally no one wants to see, let alone try and read, a book that has the text so crammed-in that it's illegible, but I certainly don't want to see one delivered by a publisher which seems - as evidenced by its publishing practices - to have a vendetta against the one thing which is doing something about greenhouse gasses: trees.

You can of course snidely argue that "in this day and age" everyone gets their books electronically, which isn't true, but let's run with it. If you get it in ebook format, you don't kill trees, do you? Nope. But larger books still take longer to transmit over the Internet and require proportionately more energy to do so. This book is made available in PDF (Portable Document Format which is owned by Adobe, but which is now available license-free for coding and decoding files). PDF file size for a text document like this is proportional in size to the number of pages. So either way, reducing file size to, let's not say half, but three-quarters of its current size would bring it down from 256 pages to 192. Removing some of the common blank pages contained in it would bring it down more. What would the future hold if every publisher thought that way? It's one more reason why I can't recommend this.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook I came at from having seen the excellent TV series starring Jason Isaacs (of Star Trek Discovery - not that I watch that sorry excuse for a Star Trek show - and Harry Potter), Amanda Abbington (late of Sherlock), Zawe Ashton (late of Doctor Who: Into the Dalek), and the charming young Millie Innes - who is a true Scot! The TV show was titled Case Histories after the first novel in a series of (so far) four.

I love my library, but oddly enough they didn't have the first novel on CD; they had two others, which were the ones I got. This one is the last of the four. After I started listening to the droning audiobook, I regretted my impulsiveness in requesting two books at once. I listened to half of the first disk and skimmed the last disk on my way back to the library to drop it off! They were both tedious and mindlessly rambling, and nauseatingly droning (the reader was Graeme Malcolm and he was awful and served only to exacerbate the problem with the mindlessly meandering material). I hope the other one I got is better. It can hardly be worse!

This is a Stephen King style novel where the author thinks it's more important to go into endless, pointless minutiae instead of actually getting on with the story. The story is purportedly about a retired detective named Tracy Waterhouse. Her sole memory, it seems, is her encounter as a newly-minted police constable in Edinburgh, Scotland. She and her partner found a strangled woman who was very ripe, having been dead for many days, and also locked in a flat (apartment) with a young child. After that we're back in the present, but by then I'd already lost interest. Jackson Brodie is the hero of these novels, but he's focused on an abused dog. This one has not yet made it to a TV version.

The thing I loved about the TV show is how each story sowed three different seeds at the start, and by the end all three had grown into the same plant. The thing I found weird about the TV show is how few Scots actually live in Edinburgh - if it's judged by the casting! All the main characters were almost always English, not Scots! That may not be cultural appropriation, but it's certainly inappropriate. Othher than that I loved the show and would advise everyone to watch that rather than read these sashaying shambles of stories (assuming the others are as bad as this one was).


The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati aka Rosina Lippi


Rating: WARTY!

This is a novel Stephen King would have been proud of, and anyone who knows me well will also know I don't mean that as a compliment.

I ditched this big fat book of fluff and padding after reading about ten percent. The premise was wonderful - female doctors fighting Anthony Comstock, who was a real person who left his name on things like the Comstock Law, which essentially labeled anything he didn't like as obscene, including leaflets offering advice about birth control and venereal diseases, and he also left his name in the vernacular of yesteryear, in the form of "Comstockery".

Unfortunately, instead of telling that story, which could have been gripping and interesting, and a fun read, this author decided instead to simply document the minutiae of life in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This meant there were far too many pages devoted to empty volume with nothing of interest happening. If she'd cut out the fluff, we could have had a two-hundred page novel where things happened and things moved, but no! We got seven hundred pages. This author clearly hates trees with a vengeance. If I'd wanted to read about how much research the author did, I'd have emailed her and asked her, but I really don't care and I certainly don't want to read it in place of an actual story. This was a fat volume which spent far too much time going nowhere and was such was boring and a waste of my time.

Worse than this, there was a character Named Jack, and I flatly refuse to read any novels with a main character called that. It's the most over-used go-to name in the history of writing. The character's actual name was Giancarlo, and I see no honest way to get to Jack from that. Yes, Giancarlo is a contraction of Giovanni Carlo, and Giovanni is the equivalent of John which often gets rendered down to the obnoxious 'Jack' for reasons which completely escape me, but seriously? If I'd known this novel was jacked-up to begin with I would never have picked it up. Fortunately I wised-up before I'd wasted too much time on it. I have better things to do with my life than read another authors research used as a substitute for telling a good story.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, Christian de Metter


Rating: WORTHY!

I favorably reviewed the print version of this novel in November of 2017. This graphic novel version is also a worthy read, although I have to say I wasn't overly enamored of the artwork. It was mostly sepia-toned and was passable. Others may approve of it more than I, but to me it looked rather muddy and scrappy. These shortcomings - at least the scrappiness - became much more apparent in the full color images. However the story overall was well told and the art work was not disastrous. Please read my review from November for my full take on the novel. This version would make a decent substitute if you don't want to read the full-length story.


The Angry Chef's Guide to Spotting Bullsh*t in the World of Food by Anthony Warner


Rating: WORTHY!

Erratum:
“...repelling into your body...” I believe the author meant 'rappelling'.

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

What better way to start out All Fool's Day than to review a book about idiotic diet fads? In a world where women in particular and especially in the west, are made to feel ugly and worthless if they do not conform to the fashion magazine, television, and Hollywood 'standard' of beauty (i.e. thin as a rake and endowed with hourglass curves and unnaturally flawless skin), you can't blame people for wanting to trim themselves a little, but there are far too many immoral rip-off artists willing to step up and offer snake-oil and quakery to women who have, their entire lives, been primed and weakened to buy into anything which will get them into conformity with the idiotic heights that society seeks to impose upon them.

While it does no-one harm to exercise appropriately and eat wisely, the diet business is a sixty billion dollar industry in the USA alone and yet people are fatter now than they've ever been. That should tell you how fraudulent the whole thing is. However heavy or light your body is, it has a natural weight that it likes to stay close to and it will fight you with some very effective hormones if you try to force it out of that zone. That's not to say it can't be done, but the road to that end is paved with misery, failure, and a constant struggle.

You know things are bad if even Walmart voluntarily steps-up and decides to remove one if its beauty and fashion magazines from the check-out aisle because it's been deemed too obsessed with women being sexualized. If you take a look at those magazines, they rarely have a cover which doesn't mention diet, looks, and/or sex. These magazines are known for air-brushing flaws out of women's skin and Photoshopping them to make them look even thinner than they may already be. Children are bombarded with these images every time they pass through the checkout. On the one side are the magazines essentially telling women how ugly and fat they are, and on the other side of the same aisle are the calorie-laden candy bars and potato chips. That ought to tell you something about how schizophrenic we are in this world of body image which we created for ourselves.

When I requested this from Net Galley I had never heard of the Angry Chef, but the idea of it amused me. I was really pleased to learn that not only does the Author have BSc degree in biochemistry from Manchester University, he's also very much a scientist in his approach to analyzing fad diets, and he gives no quarter in tackling them one after another in this volume, pointing out in no uncertain terms how idiotic and baseless they are.

In Part One 'Gateway Pseuodscience', he covers an important topic: the difference between causation and correlation. Just because something occurs at the same time as something else doesn't automatically mean one was caused by the other. He attacks so-called 'detox' diets and alkaline diets, and he covers the topics of regression to the mean, and 'the remembering self'.

In Part Two we learn about 'when science goes wrong' and meet Science Columbo, coconut oil, the paleo diet, antioxidants, and...sugar! (Its not as bad as you think!). Part Three brings 'the influence of pseudoscience', featuring a history of quacks, the power of ancient wisdom, processed foods, clean eating, and eating disorders. Part Four takes us into 'the dark heart of pseudoscience' and educates us on relative risk, the GAPS diet, and cancer. Not ethat some of his titles and opening paragraphs are laden with sarcasm, so beware that you may think you're having your bias confirmed as you seem to be led in one direction, only to discover that your destination is elsewhere.

If I had three complaints, the first would be that the print version is a tree-slaughtering device if it goes to a long print run, because it has unnecessarily wide margins and generous text-spacing, No-one wants to see a page that's literally black with text, but a wiser publisher - one which actually cared about trees and climate change, could have narrowed the margins and shorted the book considerably by doing so.

My second complaint - be warned - is that the language is a little on the blue side and unnecessarily so in my opinion. There are four-letter words distributed throughout the text, not commonly, but often enough. I thought that was entirely unnecessary. I have no problem with such words in say, a novel, but in a non-fiction book of this nature, I think that language can be dispensed with and thereby reach a wider audience in doing so. It amused me that the cover was so prim and proper that it included an asterisk in the title - like that really disguises what the word is? Seriously? I know an author has no control over the cover when they turn over their book to a regular publisher (which to me is a travesty), but they do have a lot of say over what's inside that cover.

The third issue was that the book was a little long-winded for my taste (336 pages, of which - if you exclude the prologue and the epilogue which I always do), runs to some 286 pages of main text. The extra pages include end notes and two appendices, but the rest of the book was a bit rambling at times. Overall though, I enjoyed it. I loved the exposure of fads and quackery (Gwyneth Paltrow comes in for a well-deserved hammering) as well as a host of less well-known figures in the world of food faddism. The book contains a solid introduction to the scientific approach in which far too many of us are lacking, especially in the USA, land of fundamentalism, conspiracy and fad. The principles learned here can be applied outside the narrow field of diet and food, and I recommend this one as a worthy read.


Friday, March 30, 2018

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook which I enjoyed. I read and liked Zeeley by this same author. This one is a short collection of African American folk tales, sadly fueled by the USA's history of slavery and assembled here by the author. It was ably told by Andrew Barnes, and these tales were some of the most weird-ass tales I've ever heard (and that's saying something!). As much as I enjoyed this, I was rather disturbed that this was in the children's section of the local library, because there were some rather gory tales!

For example in one story a man kills his grandmother and tries to sell her body in town. Another tale is a Just-So story of how the tortoise got its shell pattern - which was by being beaten by a magically animated cowhide! I plan on having a word with the librarian at my library to ask them if it really is best suited for the children's area or if it should be in the adult area - or at least have an advisory attached tot he case. These are not your simplistic, fluffy, bouncy fairytales. On the other hand, some of the Grimm fairytales were rather...well grim, with witches dining on oven-fresh children, so maybe it's not that bad in comparison?

The titles in this collection are:

  • Animal Tales
    1. He Lion, Bruh Bear, and Bruh Rabbit
    2. Doc Rabbit, Bruh Fox, and the Tar Baby
    3. Tappin, the Land Turtle
    4. Bruh Alligator and the Deer
    5. Bruh Lizard and Bruh Rabbit
    6. Bruh Alligator Meets Trouble
    7. Wolf and Birds and the Fish-Horse
  • Tales of the Real, Extravagant, and Fanciful
    1. The Beautiful Girl of the Moon Tower
    2. A Wolf and Little Daughter
    3. Manual Had a Riddle
    4. Papa John's Tall Tale
    5. The Two Johns
    6. Wiley, His Mama, and the Hairy Man
  • Tales of the Supernatural
    1. John and the Devil's Daughter
    2. The Peculiar Such Thing
    3. Little Eight John
    4. Jack and the Devil
    5. Better Wait Till Martin Comes
  • Slave Tales of Freedom
    1. Carrying the Running Aways
    2. How Nehemiah Got Free
    3. The Talking Cooter
    4. The Riddle Tale of Freedom
    5. The Most Useful Slave
    6. The People Could Fly

I loved these stories and moreover, they're a great source of inspiration for writers looking to write something that's not a tediously warmed-over fairytale.