25 April 2009

26. Hot Laps

Hot Laps - Steve Eubanks
This book was given to me by my Dad. He was reading it once when I called on the phone. He read the synopsis on the back cover to me. I thought it would be fun to read.
"Once Robert "Redball' Redding was a legend on the stockcar circuit- until a brutal crime made him hang up his helmet and race suit. Now he draws big crowds and good press as one of North Carolina's hottest prosecuting attorneys. But just as he's poised to move up to a federal gig, someone throws a monkey wrench into the machinery...
A brain-dead hayseed named Troy Slackherd's been caught red-handed trying to hijack a eighteen-wheeler filled with die-cast toy race cars. The culprit's the step-brother of pro-racing's most popular speed demon, Junior Senior Jr.- which means Redball's returning, against his will, to the 180 mph world of gas fumes, adrenaline, and treacherous curves. When the truckful of toys leads to a locker of cash- and to perfidy, porn, loser Louisiana wiseguys...and murder- Redball realizes he's back in the race for good or ill. And he'll have to keep moving...or die."
That description sounds interesting, but that is not what really happens in the book. It is misleading. Redball never goes back to racing. He drives a car one time when he visits his old team during a test session. He jumps in the car for a few laps. That was the extent of the return to racing, 180 mph, drive or die...blah blah.
The book was a crime book more than a racing book, but it was centered around race teams in Charlotte. The places were actually in and around Charlotte. The roads were right. The stores were right. Tennis played at Piper Glen. The Wachovia golf tournament. It brought the book home...because I live here in Charlotte.
The names of the characters were interesting. Junior Senoir Sr, Junior Senior Jr, Jett Jordan, Piston Stackheus, Rusty Twain, Mudfish Dupree, and many more. My favorite was an English man named Twigfarter. LOL
The crime? It involved an organized crime family with a hot-tempered and very violent head of operations in Savannah. Things went wrong in Charlotte and he ends up killing a State Trooper, one of the best defense attorneys in the state of North Carolina, and attempts to kill Redball and his wife, who just happens to be a retired stockcar champion turned prosecutor and is under federal vetting for a national post.
It was an interesting book, but it took a step in the wrong direction for me and did it almost immediately. I happen to be a racing fan. I know the rules. I know how it works. In this book, on page two, the first racing scene is being broadcast on the radio. The announcer says it is lap 333 and the white flag is flying under caution. Once it goes green they run about five more laps before a winner is declared. That can't be correct under the old or the new rules. Old rules...white flag flies under caution...race ends when the cars get back to the finish line (1 lap). New rules...white flag never flies under caution unless the race has already run a green-white-checkered finish one time...the green would be shown, then the white. So, for a book written by a man who has been published in Racing Fan magazine I thought that was a pretty blatant error. You could at least get the rules of the game correct when writing a book based on the game.
Is a foul ball a home run just because it went over a wall?
Interesting and fun story, but not a great book.

23 April 2009

25. The Cobra Event

The Cobra Event - Richard Preston

This book was written in 1997 and is about a biological terrorist attack on New York City. Supposedly, Bill Clinton, then President of the United States of America, read this book and then had the federal government to a feasibility study on the events that were fictionalized within the pages. In my opinion, it is possible that something like this could take place.
I enjoyed reading the story and identified with a few of the characters. Some of them were a little over the top. One guy was a UN weapons inspector in Iraq and did some things that would probably have gotten him killed in the real world. Most of it was pretty believable.
One part of the book really got me freaked out. Every once in a while I will have a dream in which I am stuck somewhere and waiting to die. Nobody can find me to help me get out. I am going to be there until I either starve or suffocate. These dreams really freak me out, make me sweat, get my heart racing, and then I can't sleep any more. Whatever.
One part of the book has a character chasing the terrorist through unfinished subway tunnels under the streets of New York. He ends up in a small tunnel (18x24 inches) to escape a bio-grenade and the concrete behind him collapses. He is trapped. He has lost radio communications because he is under ground. Nobody knows where he is. He starts to panic. The descriptions used by the author of what this man was feeling and thinking were so familiar that I was getting short of breath. Then the character creeps forward and ends up hanging upside down in a vertical shaft, unable to move, in the dark, with nobody knowing he is there. The terror that scene put in me was unmatched by anything I have ever read. Just thinking about it is freaking me out. I think I will stop writing about that now. Ugh.
The writing was extremely technical concerning the whole biological stuff. Production of viruses, DNA manipulation, descriptions of bio-labs, equipment used for detection and production of biological agents, etc etc. If you like technological stuff you will like this book.
My father-in-law works for General Dynamics Advanced Technical Products division. He is a systems engineer and has been working on the chemical-biological detection machines used by the military. These were deployed all over the country after 9-11. He saw this book and was very interested in a thing called the Felix. It is a fictional machine that does pretty much exactly what his machine does. I will lend him this book and see what he thinks.
SPOILER PARAGRAPH: In case you care, the terrorist gets killed in a horrible way, some people die in horrible ways also, but the HUGE catastrophe is narrowly avoided. There are casualties, but not what it could have been. That was predictable. After the story ends there is a kind of epilogue where the genetically engineered virus has made it's way into the rat population...therefore leaving the future up in the air. Yeah yeah yeah.
I enjoyed this one and would recommend it to people who like the techno-thriller type of books. I love them.

16 April 2009

24. Prayers For The Assassin

Prayers For The Assassin - Robert Ferrigno

It was an excellent story. I read it and didn't want to stop. This is a story set in 2040 in the Islamic Republic of America. It is an alternate history.
I liked it a lot and am surprised I had not heard of it before.
I will let the picture of the map say it all. (Click on it to see a larger version)
I came back to write a little more. Something I expected when I picked this book up was that the story would be about the conflict between Islamic America and the Bible Belt. I thought it would be a battle between Islam and Christianity type of book. Yes, there is conflict between the two countries, but during the story there is a state of semi-peace. No war. No attacking each other. No civil war. Nothing like that. The story is not about this at all. The Bible Belt is mentioned a number of times, but it is not a major part of the story. This book is about the people living in Seattle many years after the war that separated the former USA. The book is about the different groups trying to cease power within the Islamic country and the people in those groups. There are many groups which include modern Islamics, Moderate Islamics, Fundamentalist Islamics, Catholics, Atheists, and people who just don't care at all.
There are events that happen in places that we all know in today's world, but which are very different in the alternate history of this book. San Francisco is a solid fundamentalist area which has public stonings of homosexuals. Disneyland is a place where you go for drugs and prostitutes. Nevada is a free state, including Las Vegas, where all the groups can go and party, and they do. It is strange thinking of these places as something other than what they are in our world.
The story being something I did not expect was a pleasant surprise. It was not as predictable as I had thought.

08 April 2009

23. Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go - Kazou Ishiguro
This novel irritated me to no end. It is a science fiction novel, supposedly. I picked it up because I felt like reading a science fiction novel and I do not recall ever reading anything written by a man with a Japanese name. I was looking forward to something with robots or some strange futuristic thing going on.
The novel is in England. There is this elite boarding school as the setting for where the narrator, Kathy, and her best friends for life, Ruth and Tommy, meet. They spend their entire childhood here. They are supposed to meet later in life to work through something that occurs while at this school.
I kept waiting for the book to get interesting. I knew it involved a secret government project in the 1990s where clones were created in order to provide donor organs for real human beings. There was a side project by a pro-clone advocacy group to show the world that the clones were more human than they thought and had souls. That was what this story was about...or not.
It never really got into the program the kids were involved in. It never really distinguished between real people and the clones other than sometimes people were repulsed by the clone kids. It never really mattered at all that they were clones. It never really made any difference that they were "farmed" to make donations.

What did matter? What was this book about? The entire book was about the relationship between Kathy, Ruth and Tommy. The disagreements they had over silly stuff. How they made up with each other. How they were there for each other in the good times or the bad times. Blah blah blah.

Dude, if I wanted to read a chic book I would have picked one up.
Science fiction? Only because the soap opera characters were called clones and made organ donations. Big deal...it was all about how the people made each other feel.
No. I will not recommend it. :-)

01 April 2009

22. The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus (translated by Matthew Ward)

I found this book on the shelf at a thrift store. I read the description and thought it might be interesting. I thought it was some obscure thing that nobody had ever heard of. I was wrong. After I read it I did the normal search of the Internet to see what was out there and found that this book and author are famous. I wonder why I have never heard of it before?
I read the Translator's Note at the front of the book and found it to be interesting. He said this book was written in French, but the author tried to write it in an American style. Then it was translated into English, but by a British translator. That translation did not use the American style that the author originally used. So, Matthew Ward translated it again into English, but did it very literally. He held true to the way the author meant it to be written.
He gives a few examples of the differences, and they are quite different. What he explains is that the other translator wrote about what the author meant and he decided to write what the author actually wrote.
Then I read the book. It was very different from anything I have read previously. The beginning of the book was all short and curt sentences. Straight and to the point. Later in the book the author uses more description. The style was perfect for the story.
The story itself was actually very sad. I felt really bad for the protagonist. It seemed like the man had no real reason for even existing other than just for the sake of existing. There was no joy. There was no sorrow. It was like whatever happened just happened and really didn't mean anything one way or the other. His mother died. Oh well. A beautiful girl asks him to marry her. Ah, why not. Do you love me? I don't think so, but that's OK. Everything seemed to bore him or make him feel like he was being burdened in some way. Life just is and that is all.
Needless to say, when you live that way others can see you as strange or different. That cost this man dearly.
I don't really want to write about the story itself because I think you should read it. It is pretty quick. Only 120 something pages. It is worth checking out.
Then when I read stuff on the Internet I learned that it was called "absurdist" and "existentialist". I learned a few things after reading this book, so it was well worth the twenty five cents I shelled out for my copy.
Read it if you haven't. It was pretty cool.