Really short book review: “Seveneves: A Novel”

“Seveneves” is the latest epic novel from the master of the form, Neal Stephenson. It’s set in the present, and the end of the world has arrived. The moon shatters into pieces and mankind has to get off the Earth before the chunks of moon rock start crashing into the planet and wiping out all life. The first part of the book covers the period from the breakup of the moon until the apocalypse. The second part covers the escape of the survivors, and the third part jumps ahead 5000 years to the point when mankind returns to it’s home.

Absolutely fascinating stuff. Scary too. Elon Musk and his minions at SpaceX better get a move on so we can colonize Mars sooner rather than later. It’s an 800+ page book in hardback and I had trouble putting it down. Stayed up late several nights engrossed in the story. I didn’t want it to end. But I say that about all of Stephenson’s books. Solid nerdcore narrative with an epic vision.

Go buy it. Read it.

An ode to the Facebook “Hide” button

Oh, how I love thee, my Facebook “Hide” button. For how else could I avoid seeing updates from people who are only friends because I needed a bigger mafia for Mafia Wars?

How else could I passively/aggressively pseudo-punish people that I think are too religious? (Seriously, all the fucking Bible quotes really just rubs me the wrong way.)

Oh, great “Hide” button, who but you has the great power? Without you, I might have to continue to see the Spanish-language status updates from distant Argentinian cousins who I only friended because we have the same last name? (Hell, there are Americans and Australians who fall into that category.) (It doesn’t hurt to know people in foreign lands. You never know when you might have to flee the country. (Like when the rifle-totin’ teabagger retards take over the American government.))

Which is another thing I must praise the great “Hide” button for. Without the great Facebook “Hide” button, I might have to listen to you goats bleat about the political situation. Seriously, how did I get to be friends with some of you Republican douchetards?

And here’s another thing for which to praise the great “Hide” button. If it weren’t for you, great “Hide” button, I might have to be involved in all your petty dramas. I know breakups/divorces are hard, and that there are disagreements between the unfortunate couple. Sometimes it is quite amusing to see some bickering back and forth between friends, and even some really bitter abusive nasty shit-talking can be really laugh-out-loud amusing. Having said that, sometimes you’re petty bullshit breakup/divorce just gets on my nerves, and I have to use the “Hide” button.

Oh and my cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, 2nd cousins-in-law twice removed. Some of you have the most boring, mundane lives that I can’t believe the stories that I’ve heard of your wild, youthful years. So, I thank you, oh “hide” button, for the opportunity to occasionally checkout of the status updates about your latest trip to the store to buy cookies and diapers(adult or otherwise).

And the praise seems never-ending, oh “Hide” button, because you allow me to ignore people that I’m only friends with because we went to the same high school 25-29 years ago. Yes, I recognized your name on the Facebook suggestion box too. OK, so we’re friends now on Facebook. I won’t say who friended who, but I’m partly to blame here. I’m not sure that we’re actual real-life friends just because we’re friends on Facebook. You’re just somebody that I knew briefly decades ago. We wouldn’t actually hang-out or have dinner together in real life. For one thing, I’m married and don’t drink anymore, so to me, your bar scene is just a loud place to watch strangers get shit-faced or desperately seek sexual congress with other strangers. And you probably wouldn’t want to go the Secular Humanist’s meeting with me, so you can’t say that you’d really want to hang out with me either. I’m boring. So, I thank you, oh great Facebook “Hide” button, for the ability to check out of the drunken/fishing/hunting/soccer mom revelries of my old classmates.

Damn, there’s nothing left in my feed? Tell me again, Why am I on Facebook? Just kidding. Love you all.

Really short book review: “What the Dog Saw”

“What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures” is a collection of Malcolm Gladwell’s “New Yorker” articles. The book came out last year to capitalize on Gladwell’s increasingly high profile after hitting the best-seller lists in recent years with “Outliers”, “Blink”, and “The Tipping Point”. Although the book is new, the articles are from throughout the last 10 years. I think I would liken it to a pop music star’s Greatest Hits CD that you would buy from the electronics department at Walmart.

This books suffers from the usual maladies of that genre. There isn’t any coherent theme, and some of the pieces aren’t quite as fresh as they were when they first came out. But most of the articles are quite enjoyable. Having said that, there are one or two articles that quite possible only made the cut due to either one editor’s idiosyncracies or because the publisher wasn’t going to meet some sort of page quota without it.

I suppose I could have found the individual parts of the collection online, just like you could create a greatest hits CD if you spent enough time with Frostwire, but for $20 (with my Barnes & Noble discount) it was certainly worth the price to let someone else put the finished product together. I like Gladwell’s deft hand with an anecdote, and thus I enjoyed this book a great deal. I would highly recommend it if you’re a fan.

Really short book review: “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is the Pulitzer Prizing winning novel by Junot Díaz. I loved this book, but it’s kind of like reading Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. You need to have a web browser open in front of you to look up the references that you don’t understand. I saw a video of Díaz doing a reading and talking about the book. He said that the obscure references were intentional, but that you should be able to enjoy the book without understanding all of it. I know that’s true. There are plenty of books, movies, and TV shows where I don’t understand all the references and allusions, but I enjoy them nonetheless. But I’m a curious geek and sometimes I just have got to know what people are talking about.

This book is the story of a fat Dominican-American nerd named Oscar from New Jersey. He’s a sci-fi geek who loves to write and who is a hopeless romantic. It’s also the story of his mother and of the Dominican Republic under the dictator Trujillo. Apparently, Oscar’s family is cursed, and the curse originates with Christopher Columbus. The narrator is Oscar’s friend Yunior who dates Oscar’s sister off and on. The whole family is unlucky in love for the most part. And Oscar is both the luckiest in one sense and the unluckiest in another. I’m still trying to figure out whether the ending was unhappy, and whether Oscar was able to break the curse.

Really short book review: “Nothing to Lose”

“Nothing to Lose: A Reacher Novel” is Lee Child’s 12th book in the Reacher series. It came out in hardback in 2008, and paperback in 2009. In this latest story, Reacher is hitch-hiking across the country from Calais, Maine to San Diego, California minding his own business and living the drifter lifestyle (except that he has no money worries now thanks to some profitable adventures in his previous stories). He stops in a diner in Despair, Colorado, where he is promptly arrested and then given a ride to the city limits of Hope, Colorado. He befriends the female cop from Hope who picks him up where the Despair cops drop him off.

The story goes on as Reacher latches on to the powers-that-be in Despair to figure out why they are so rude to strangers. Reacher hooks up with the cop, and beats the baddies from Despair into the ground. It was another good page-turned from Child. I highly recommend it, but of course, I think that you ought to start with the first book and work your way up to this one.

Really short book review: “Blink”

“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” is by Malcolm Gladwell from 2005. Like all the other Gladwell books I really enjoyed it. He’s a great non-fiction writer. I think it is his mastery of the anecdote that makes reading his work so enjoyable. Some critics give him a lot of grief trying to claim that he makes simplistic arguments, but I have to wonder if they’ve actually read this book.

His main thesis is that people can make instant judgments that turn out to be spot on, and that the value of those judgments is often underrated. He provides plenty of caveats about where these snap judgments can go wrong and how important it is to be careful with them, and I think his critics failed to read those parts of the book.

I definitely agree with his thesis. I like to think that I am one of those people who can make instant evaluations that work out quite well. In my case, it’s with technical problems at work. After 9 years debugging and troubleshooting the same application, I can usually diagnose a problem very rapidly. Sometimes I’m wrong, but all-in-all, I try to listen to the instincts born from years of experience.

Anyway, it was a good book, and I highly recommend it.

Really short book review: “Bad Luck and Trouble”

“Bad Luck and Trouble” is the 11th book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. (I’ve only got one more to review after this one.) In this one, Reacher reunites his old crew from his MP days to investigate the murder of one of their colleagues. It’s set in Los Angeles, and the action gets pretty wild and woolly. Child writes like a screenwriter, which makes sense because he used to be a television director. Any one of his books could be made into a good action flick.

This one in particular would call for a lot of special effects. There’s a lot of night action and even some dropping of people from helicopters. The Reacher legend keeps growing with each new novel. By the time the 14th novel comes out, Reacher will be a superhero. He’ll have to be a superhero to keep up this action. They character will be 50 years old by the time the next book comes out, and I just can’t see him continuing with the physical feats that I’ve grown so fond of. Child will either have to kill him off or write more prequels. Or, of course, turn him into a superhero.

At some point Reacher will have to give up the homelessness and the wandering and settle down, and that will be a sad day. I would love to live his carefree life too, but I don’t see how such a thing could last.

Really short book review: “One Shot”

Yes, “One Shot” is yet another Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. I actually read this book awhile ago, but I’m behind on adding books to my web page that lists all the books I’ve read since about 2000. I’ve got five books to go, and three of them are Reacher books. As I’ve said before, I’ve read all 12 of the Reacher books that have come out in paperback.

“One Shot” is the ninth book in the series. In this one, Reacher shows off his investigative skills again. An army sniper who got away with murder in Kuwait when Reacher was an MP has apparently killed again. At the invitation of the suspect himself, Reacher shows up in the guy’s home town to make sure he gets put away for good this time.

It’s a great read, and it’s hard to put down. (Damn, I’m a terrible book reviewer. I just keep spouting cliches.) I particularly like Child’s writing because I am able to successfully suspend disbelief and enjoy the story. Far too often in most of the detective fiction I read (and see on TV), there are just clunkers that pull me out of the story because of the ridiculous grasp of reality. I suppose if I were a real detective there would be parts of the Reacher books that would bother me, but as it is, I love reading them. I highly recommend them to you if you like the detective genre.

Really short book review: “Die Trying”

“Die Trying” is the second book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. It’s in the mystery-thriller genre. It was written back in the late ’90s when the militia movement was still taken seriously. In this book, Reacher and an FBI agent are kidnapped off the streets of Chicago by militia idiots and taken across the country to their rural compound.

This book would make a good movie. It’s well plotted and paced, and kept my interest the whole way. I wish the Hollywood folks would hurry up and make Reacher movie.

So now I’ve read 9 of the 13 Reacher books. Just 4 more to go.

Really short book review: “The Hard Way”

This is the 10th book in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. I didn’t read the books in order, but it really doesn’t matter. You still get the most important parts even if you read them in non-chronological order. In this episode, Reacher is in New York tracking down a mercernary’s kidnapped wife.

The mercenary ends up being a bad guy, and the whole thing ends with a great standoff on a British organic farm. There is plenty of the trademark Reacher violence and attitude. It’s a real page-turner as real critics say. I highly recommend it.