26 February 2011

11. The Reader

The Reader - Bernhard Schlink

Interesting. I disliked the first part of the book. I really liked the middle. I think the ending was pretty darned good. How is that for a summation?

The beginning: Michael Berg is a fifteen year old German boy during WWII. He meets a woman named Hannah Scmidts who is about thirty years old and works as a conducter on a trolley. He is infatuated with her. They end up being lovers. He reads books to her every day. One day she is just gone. Moved away and Michael has no idea where or why.

Years later: WWII is over. The youth of Germany now condemn the actions of their Nazi parents. Michael is doing a project for college and must attend a trial where some people are on trial that worked at a concentration camp. One of the people is hannah Scmidts. Hannah refuses to defend herself on numerous occasions and is sentenced to life in prison. Michael realizes that the reason Hannah took the fall is that she is illiterate and is more ashamed of that than being convicted.

While Hannah is in prison Michael reads book onto cassette tapes and sends them to Hannah. Never a note or anything. Just the books. Over time Hannah learns to read and write using Michael's tapes and the books from the prison library.

Hannah is freed after serving 18 years. Michael is the only person ever to contact Hannah so the warden asks him to help her in the trasnition. He does. The night before she is released she hangs herself.

Thee is much more to the book as far as interpersonal relationships and the effects people had on each others lives. Twice I was taken by surprise. Once when it was revealed that Hannah was illiterate and all the implications that had on why things happened the way they had in the past as she covered her illiteracy. The other was that Hannah kills herself. It was abrupt and unexpected.

I enjoyed the book. Not at first of course. It was like listening to a kid tell a story about Stiffler's mom. Once Hannah left and the physical relationship ended it was much more interesting. Interesting enough for me to recommend it to you? Nah. Probably not.

21 February 2011

10. Next

Next - Michael Crichton

This was not my favorite Crichton novel. It was exciting enough and had all the requisite Crichton tecnical speak, but it was lacking something for me. I am not quite sure exactly what that was.

The story did raise a lot of ethical questions and possibilities for debate on advances in biotechnology and  the effects some of the legal and governmental decisions can have on many different levels.

The plot was OK. I think Crichton wrote it because he had not written a novel about biotech yet. He has covered many other scientifica and medical fields quite well. This one seemed a bit forced. like he had a thought and worked very hard to get his ideas across. It was like that was the purpose for the book and not to tell a good story.

I did this one as an unabridged audio. It took a while to get through the whole thing. After the book ended there was a portion where the authors opinions were stated in an interview. He says that patenting genes is stupid. Just as stupid as patenting a nose and then having to license everything that has anything to do with a nose. He is absolutely correct. How can there be a patent on something that you did not invent or design? Just because it was discovered by someone does not make it their property in all shapes and forms. That is why this book was written. I agree with him on that point. I just wish the story worked better while imparting that "wisdom" upon us readers.

I did not hate it. I enjoyed it. Perhaps I am being to hard on the book because it was written by Michael Crichton. I expect a LOT when reading his books.

20 February 2011

9. Weapons Of Choice

Weapons Of Choice - John Birmingham

I thought the idea behind this novel was very interesting and could not wait to read it. I found out it was the first part in a trilogy and got even more excited about it. The other two are already on the shelf and waiting to be read.

This is a story about a multi-national military task force from the year 2021 that is headed on a peacekeeping mission to Indonesia where Islamic extremists have seized Jakarta. Due to some unrest in the region a research vessel working in the area is also being protected by the task force. That vessel is conducting experiments to create small stable worm-holes. The experiment goes awry and the task force is absorbed by a huge worm hole and transported in time.

They arrive in 1942. Pearl Harbor has already been attacked. Admiral Spruance is in charge of his fleet and headed to Midway for an infamous battle with Yamamoto.

That alone was interesting enough to get me to read the book. Imagine what having weapons systems even a decade more advanced that the ones we currently have and using them against an enemy from the 1940s. The advantage would be overwhelming. Rockets, jets, helicopters, radar, computers, communications equipment, stealth, automatic rifles, night-vision technologies, infra-red, hovercraft, laser-guided technology, body armor, etc etc etc. All of these things did not exist at all in the 1940s.

So, I read the book thinking that all these advantages would lead to an easier war for Americans and possibly a Japanese surrender without having to actually using nuclear weapons. I thought it would be a fun little jaunt for our superior forces onto islands that were in real history some bloody and costly battles with tremendous casualties on both sides.

What I got was different. The naval battle at Midway didn't happen after Spruance's fleet ran into the task force that suddenly appeared. The personnel on the task force were all rendered unconscious for a period of time after the "transition". The task force ships recognized this fact with the sensors and computers on the ships and entered an auto-pilot program. While under auto-pilot is when the 1942 folks located the 2021 folks...and they were multi-national...and there were ships flying the flag of Japan. So, needless to say, despite being like "What the heck is that thing?" the 1942 Americans freaked out and attacked the 2021 ships. The 2021 ships on auto-pilot defended themselves. Both sides take a bunch of damage and history is changed in that instance. No more battle at Midway.

What is so different about that? Nothing. It came after that. About 75% of this book had nothing to do with war at all. It had to do with fitting thousands of people from 2021 into a 1942 world and making it work. Imagine the differences. Racial equality was tremendously different. Women's rights...very different. These two social differences were huge parts of the story. Imagine a black lesbian female being the commander of an American aircraft carrier. No big deal today, but it sure would have been in 1942. Any one of those adjectives (black, lesbian or female) would have meant she would not only never command such a ship, but that she would never even serve on one in any capacity at all.

Those kinds of interactions between peoples of both times were very interesting. Then there was some pretty cool stuff that comes with knowing what would happen before it happens.

For instance, there was a meeting where Admiral Kolhammer (2021) was briefing President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other cabinet and military on the capabilities of his forces. Present at the meeting were folks like Admirals Halsey and Nimitz, General MacArthur, and many others. One of them was general Dwight D Eisenhower. Eisenhower was to become President one day. Since the 2021 folks had all this history in their computer libraries President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower both knew that this was to happen in the future. When Eisenhower disagreed with something Roosevelt said at the meeting Roosevelt said to him "You are not president yet!" That was hilarious to me. Those kinds of things were quite funny.

Another quite funny interaction was when Kolhammer was visiting with Albert Einstein. The conversations were pretty cool.

I was also glad to see that despite all this hardware popping into a world that preceeded the technologies by 80 years that the charachters all realized that they would not suddenly start cranking out tons of cruise missles from American factories. They knew that even with the knowledge they suddenly acquired it would take decades for the undustrial aspects of that technology to catch up to the knowledge they now had.

I figured this would be a fun book to read where the technology would be the star. It turned out that the characters stole the show. It was quite good and I am looking forward to reading the second and third books in the series.

Oh, I almost forgot. The biggest baddest aircraft carrier of them all, the flagship of the multi-national task force...it is the USS Hillary Clinton. It is explained that she was President, a champion of the Navy, and brutally assassinated. Before her death the world had learned not to mess with her because she unleashed the military force upon her enemies ruthlessly. That was an interesting little tidbit from the future that tramsmitted to the past. :-)

Something else I found to be very cool was that there was no Bataan Death March. The tens of thousands of American POWs that actually died horrible deaths in Japanese prison camps were rescued by the multi-national task force. That was the one and only mission performed by the task force against the Japanese forces. The 2021 folks knew it was going to happen and it was important that they prevented such suffering.

Next stop...Auschwitz? I can only hope

12 February 2011

Fanny Hill

Fanny Hill - John Cleland

What a waste of time. This is a classic? This is such a great story that movies and sequels were based on it? I quit shortly after starting this book.

What happened? The parents of a naive fifteen year old girl from the English countryside die and leave her with no family or caregivers. A woman from London takes her to the big city and leaves her to fend for herself. A predatory woman lures her into working for her as a "servant". She is then molested by a 25 year old woman....and that is where I am done.

Let's see...we have child molestation...human trafficking...abuse of an orphaned girl...and so much more. All of this within the first chapter.

I am assuming this gets worse and do not wish to waste my time reading this book.

Also, I will never take the recommendations of my coworker again. This is the third book he has mentioned and the third one that I hated. Three strikes- you are out. I read some stupid books, but dude, come on. The things you recommend are just junk.

8. The War Of The Worlds

The War Of  The Worlds - H. G. Wells


This was so much more than just a sci-fi novel about martians attacking the earth. The movie and the old radio show were more about the actual attack and the response of people to that attack. The book went further than those surface visuals. It was much more than I expected.

If you, like I, have failed to pick this book up during your lifetime...get on it. I loved it.

03 February 2011

7. Goat: A Memoir

Goat: A Memoir - Brad Land

Savage and brutal. Humanity can be down right dehumanizing. A real life story that is disturbing and sad, yet sparks a desire to be nicer to other humans for no other reason than not causing the problems uncovered within the ramblings of this young author.

Brad Land tells the story of how he was attacked and beaten by two other teens at the age of nineteen. The repercussions of that incident carry throughout his life and the lives of those surrounding him.

The assailants are never named or even described much more than rudimentally. Throughout the book they are called "the breath" and "the smile". This line from the book describes how Brad Land feels ALL the time:
"They're gone but they aren't gone. I can see them everywhere. The smile and the breath are out walking. Always just at my back."
That would be horrible, and yet I am sure there are many people who feel that way for numerous reasons.

A year or two after the attack and the conviction of one of the attackers to a 75 year prison sentence (the other fled and was not found), Brad finds himself pledging a fraternity at Clemson University. There he encounters a hazing experience which is similar in many ways to his physical beating. The emotional abuse and heartlessness of those that he is to call "brother" causes him to quit the fraternity and college.

The story is haunting and disturbing. The writing on the other hand I found to be juvenile and annoying. Do we really need to relay the inane conversations of drunken youths word for word?

"She is hot" Jim said.
"Yeah" John said.
"Fuck yeah, man" Jim said.
"Fuckin' hell yeah, dude!" John said as he drolled beer down the front of his shirt.
(This was not an actual quote from the book, but that is exactly what so much of it was like.)

Along the same lines...how many times was a derivitive of the F-word used in this book? It had to be over a thousand. At least four or five times per page on average. I am not kidding. It was ridiculous.

The book has a great subject. The book deals with that subject well. The book also lacks some skill in the writing department. Maybe that is due to it being a first book? Maybe it is because Brad Land was using the book as a release...a type of therapy...I don't know. I liked it, but I also hated it. The rating is a tough call on this one.