Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Warp Clock is the fourth book in what I now call the Ben Travers Series of books. The others were:

In The Warp Clock, Ben Travers comes back with a vengeance.

After the so-so The Day After Never, which ventured into foo-foo time travel, Van Coops is back with a time travel thriller about time travel all the way.

A group of convicts and criminals has banded together in a set of remote timestreams using decommissioned time gates from the Chronothons. They are working on changing history mostly with the objective of enriching themselves, but under the pretense of making the world a better place. They are kidnapping historical figures, like Hitler and Genghis Khan, putting them into an arena a-la-Colosseum and making them fight each other for their lives, to the pleasure of the onlookers. It’s not a happy world. Ben and Mym, and their daughter Piper, are trapped in this nightmare of a world from which they can only escape through a tricky sequence of – you guessed it – time travel jumps that make your mind bend.

It’s all worth it. The book is written in the first person present tense, which gives it a rapid-fire feeling. The action drives forward from sentence to sentence, giving it a truly breathless pace.

Of course, there is also Dr. Quickly and a cameo appearance of Cowboy Bob in Montana and his housekeeper Connie. The old band is back together.

I would not recommend reading this book out of order. If you’re interested in the Ben Travers series, you really need to start with In Times Like These, where Time Travel 101 is the course and anchors are the lesson. Then work your way up. The Warp Clock, as the first book, would likely leave you confused or lost.

 

Read Full Post »

Fear tells the story of the Trump White House. The book is exactly what I expected it to be. Narrated without any hyperbole, Woodward tells the story of what was going on behind the scenes of the Trump campaign and his first year in the White House. It’s like we are flies on the wall, listening to what everyone is saying.

There are no accusations, there is no name-calling, there are no interpretations. The reaction of Trump and his people when the book first came out was way over the top of what the book actually deserves.

I read nothing that I didn’t already know, but having it laid out in front of me helped corroborate my opinions.

Woodward never interprets for the reader what’s going on. He simply reports. Of course, I wondered how in the world he was able to pull all this detail together, but I know he has hundreds of hours of interviews recorded and the meticulously cross-references and double-checks quotes before he uses them. As the reader, I get to draw my own conclusions.

I already knew that Trump is terribly concerned about what people think about him, the way he looks, and how he appears. He is obsessed about looking weak, and it drives his actions. He is a dilettante, a real estate salesman who is in way over his head, and he knows it, and that’s why he is so insecure.

Cohn wrote a joke for Trump to use at the Gridiron Dinner: “We’ve made enormous progress on the wall. All the drawings are done. All the excavating’s done. All the engineering is done. The only thing we’ve been stumbling with is we haven’t been able to figure out how to stretch the word ‘Trump’ over 1,200 miles.” Trump wouldn’t use it.

Woodward, Bob. Fear: Trump in the White House (pp. 175-176). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Fear is a must-read book by one of the most preeminent journalists of our time. It reads like a novel, and as I turned the pages I kept telling myself that this is real, that what is going on is affecting all of us, now, every day, and in some areas for generations to come.

Read Full Post »

Gail Francis hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and wrote a book about it. Unlike some other books about the same subject that I have read (or partially read), Bliss(ters) is not about driving the demons from the writer’s life. Gail Francis rights in simple prose and just tells her story. As the hike progresses, she describes her experiences, her thoughts, and the ups and downs that inevitably come along during such an epic experience. There are not a lot of superlatives, and there is not a lot of emotional mumbo jumbo.

Gail Francis simply takes us along for the hike, allows us to participate in the highlights, and we are spared the pain, the fatigue, and all the hard parts.

Just fun reading all the way. Here is a small excerpt, telling us about shopping in a store along to trail where there was no a lot of selection:

As I browsed the stunted aisles trying to piece together enough meals to last me a couple days, I noticed that the bags of chips appeared to have all been opened already, and then taped shut. When I asked the cashier about it, she explained that when they drive the chips up the mountain, the pressure change makes all the bags pop, so when they get to the resort, they have to tape them all shut again. She said it sounds like guns going off in the back when they start popping and that it is great fun to have an unsuspecting new person make the drive.

— Francis, Gail. Bliss(ters): How I Walked from Mexico to Canada One Summer (Kindle Locations 1605-1609). Kindle Edition.

Bliss(ters) is the best trail hike book I have read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in hiking.

Read Full Post »

Randy Morgenson was raised in the Yosemite Valley in the 1950s, where his parents both worked. His father was an avid naturalist, photographer and later tour guide. Of all the places in the world to grow up in, Yosemite must be one of the most fabulous, spectacular and awe-inspiring places to be.

It is therefore no surprise that Randy became a park ranger as soon as he was old enough to serve. He loved the Sierras, the mountains, nature, solitude and serenity. He was the quintessential ranger.

Being a backcountry ranger means getting flown out into the wilderness in the spring by helicopter with supplies, and getting picked up again the fall. I have hiked in the Sierras, so I know its remoteness, its beauty, and – of course – its challenges. In the High Sierras of California, there is still true wilderness. There are places where no human steps for years. This means there is solitude where one can reflect and regain the natural connection to Mother Earth. But there are also dangers everywhere. Most people think of bears and mountain lions, and yes, they are there, but very few people ever see any of them. The true dangers are getting lost without food, water or shelter, being exposed to the sometimes violent and hostile elements at high altitudes with no chance of anyone coming by to help. Or falling in an avalanche, or slipping on an ice field, or stumbling off a cliff, or drowning in a meltwater-swollen creek.

Backcountry rangers are there to assist hikers with advice, or with emergency services, if needed.

The problem for the rangers is that it’s a seasonal job. There is no work to be done in the winter. So who can afford a lifestyle to go away into the mountains every summer at low pay, and then come back in the winter and do something else for gainful employment. Not only is it largely impossible, it’s also hard on relationships or a marriage.

Randy and his wife Judi didn’t have children, exactly for that reason. But over the years, Randy’s love for the mountains eclipsed his relationship with Judi and cracks started to appear in the fabric of their marriage. As the seasons went by, Randy became more and more disillusioned with his life when he was not in the mountains.

The Last Season chronicles Randy’s life and his experiences and reputation as a backcountry ranger over decades. When, one day, Randy doesn’t check in on the radio like he is supposed to, the reader participates in the massive search and rescue effort for Randy launched by the park service.

The Last Season is a riveting book about people who do what they absolutely love to do, and how they live, and die.

Read Full Post »

Right after reading Quantum Space, I picked up Quantum Void. The characters were so fresh in my mind that I went right from Book 1 to the sequel.

The reader is back with Daniel Rice, the White House science staffer who has become a national science celebrity due to his front-line dealings with Core, the alien cyborg technology we got to know in Quantum Space. With us also is Nala Pasquier, one of the world’s foremost particle physicists, and Marie Kendrick, the NASA scientist come alien technology specialist.

The book is divided into two main sections. First we follow four humans traveling to an alien planet 350 light years away and making first contact with the two alien intelligent species living there. To do that, they use space compression achieved by creating four-dimensional “bubbles” which, as a side effect, compress three-dimensional space. This technology makes space travel obsolete. “Beam me up, Scotty” has become reality.

The second part of the book deals with Nala and her colleague Thomas being involved in a major science accident at Fermilab. The two get “sucked” into a four-dimensional vortex and find themselves alive and well, kind of, on the “other side.” Now they have to figure out how to get back.

Quantum Void does a great job with its “first contact” with aliens story. Here are, for a change, truly alien aliens, and at least to me that makes the story seem real and plausible. I can overlook the unlikeliness that the aliens manage to give Marie a device that puts images into her brain. How did the aliens figure out how human brains work and how they could interface to them? It reminded me of Nelf Rings, a story with a similar alien artifact that does magic to human brains. But well, it’s science fiction, isn’t it?

I truly enjoyed the illustrations of what three-dimensional space would look like from the 4th dimension. There were some stretches that seemed a bit far-fetched, like pealing three-dimensional objects out of three-dimensional space, their primary way to get food and supplies when they needed it. But the writing of messages on three-dimensional objects using a pen from the 4th dimension was described brilliantly.

I realize, as I write this review, you must think I am nuts that I enjoy spending my time reading this crazy stuff. It sure sounds crazy when you read this review, doesn’t it, four-dimensional bagels and all.

But to this time-travel nut and 4th dimension connoisseur, it’s pure joy.

So I now wait for Quantum Time, Book 3 in the series. (I just realized I missed Book 0). Hurry up and write, Douglas.

Read Full Post »

Three astronauts, two Russians and one American, are leaving the International Space Station in a Soyuz capsule. They spent months in orbit and all three are glad to be able to return home. All goes according to plan, until a minute or two after the capsule enters the top of the atmosphere, it vanishes. Ground based radar loses contact. To an observer, the contrail streaking across the Kazakhstan sky ends abruptly with a flash of light. Neither the Russian space agency nor NASA have any idea what happened.

Dr. Daniel Rice, one of the staffers to the White House science advisor, is called to investigate what might have happened. Fermilab, the facility in Illinois where quarks were discovered, seems to have the technology and scientists who might have insight into the phenomenon, so that’s where the investigation starts.

Daniel discovers a world of high-tech, quantum physics, and, most important of all, the 4th dimension. He is racing against the clock since he knows that the Soyuz capsule’s life support can’t keep three humans alive and breathing for much longer than a day. But government bureaucracy and corporate greed cause obstructions and challenges. In his quest to save three humans, he encounters a world way beyond his wildest expectations.

I like solid science fiction stories, where the science is big, the fiction is credible and plausible, and fantasy is kept to a minimum. The 4th dimension plays a huge, crucial role in the plot of Quantum Space.

I have been fascinated with the 4th dimension all my life. As a youth, I read about Hinton’s cubes in a quest to understand the 4th dimension, to comprehend it. I have collected and read a variety of books on the subject, from Abbott’s Flatland, all the way to artsy coffee table books like Fourfield. A tesseract is a four-dimensional cube. My readers with a mathematical or physical background will immediately know what a tesseract is and will have certainly marveled at what one would look like. Others that have not encountered this strange and wondrous object will probably have a hard time even understanding what it might be. I am of the first kind, and I have even written code, projecting a tesseract into three dimensions and projecting that onto a two-dimensional computer screen, in an effort to visualize it. I rotated the tesseract over its four different axes so it’s easier to visualize what such an object would look like. Since all graphics software renders only in three dimensions, I could not use off-the-shelf software and had to write my own transformation matrices implementing the 4th dimension to accomplish the task.

Why am I telling you all this in a book review? Because you have to have thought about the 4th dimension and you have to be fascinated with it to understand and appreciate the book. Douglas Phillips gets it and with Quantum Space he wrote the book that I have always wanted to read. He says on his website that he is writing the books he has wanted to read but didn’t find. What a great motivation!

Well, Douglas, you found a kindred spirit here, and I thoroughly enjoyed Quantum Space.

Read Full Post »

Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story

Tyler and Grace, a young couple in rural Arkansas, are out for a walk in the Ozarks, when Grace suddenly disappears into thin air on the trail right in front of Tyler. When Tyler tries to explain this to the authorities later he is arrested for suspected murder of his girlfriend.

Luke is Tyler’s cousin. His hobby is building primitive weapons, hunting with primitive weapons and tools, and playing survivalist in the woods of Arkansas. When he hears about Grace’s disappearance, the believes Tyler, and he goes on a quest to figure out what happened. On this way, a mystery woman who claims to be a writer, befriends him and they retrace the steps of Tyler and Grace.

Sure enough, there seems to be a “portal” in the woods. They traverse the portal and end up in “another dimension.” But they don’t have much time to reflect. Luke finds himself in a net, trapped like game in the woods by tribal savages.

Portal to the Forgotten is sold as a time travel story, and that’s how I stumbled upon it. But it really has little to do with time travel. The protagonists are simply tossed into a world that is completely different from their own, with seemingly no way back.

The author romanticizes his characters. Luke, for instance, happens to be a primitive hunter. He drives his pickup truck into the wilderness, parks the truck, walks away, sort of like they do in Naked and Afraid, and builds tools, hunts animals, and lives off the land. That’s his hobby. Supposedly he is REALLY good at that. Now what are the odds of such a person ending up jumping through a portal into a primitive prehistoric world, without any weapons or tools? Yes, the plot in this story is too contrived.

Luke is the perfect primitive hunter, better than any of the tribal adversaries. Moon turns out to be a one-man army – think of Rambo. Grace, a martial artist, is also a fighter in her own right. So the people stumbling into the “other dimension” are all super heroes with super hero skills.

The land where they end up is not quite the past, or perhaps the deep past, but a prehistoric world full of different tribes, some more advanced than others, but who all are killing each other. The world is so savage, that every time two human males of different tribes cross paths, one of them dies. Of course, our super hero crew always wins, and the savages fall like leaves. Still, a society where human males always kill each other on contact would not survive very long, but that seems to be the world they are thrown into. And let’s not forget, there is the obligatory Nazi named Karl who time traveled to the same world in an effort to steal ancient technology, kind of like in Indiana Jones. True to expectation, it’s the Nazi and his mission who makes everyone’s lives complicated.

Portal to the Forgotten is a somewhat clumsy story with an unlikely plot. It starts out interesting, but as it evolves, it gets boring. There is a lot of editing needed. Sometimes the author uses wrong words or poor grammar. The book could use some professional editing. There is a lot of exposition, where the author tells us what the protagonists are thinking. So we are constantly in the heads of the protagonists, and their thoughts are often just puerile.

For instance, at one point in the story, still back in the Ozarks, Moon had passed out drunk and naked and Luke had brought her into the cabin and put her into bed. So it’s established that Luke had seen Moon naked before.

But later, in savage land, there is the following passage:

“While you are whittling on that, I’m going to bathe.” She stood. “I trust you won’t look.” Luke immediately turned red. He hated himself for it. “That is so cute.” He turned redder and scraped harder and faster, wished she would just go bathe. He heard her behind him taking her clothes off. He was tempted to look, but he was too embarrassed to say anything, much less turn around.

Gschwend, John. Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story (p. 55). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

The passage continues for a while where Moon is all prissy about standing in front of the fire to dry off and making Luke close his eyes. So these two adult super heroes are stranded in a wild country and they are worried about seeing each other naked? The book is full of descriptions of such unlikely and inconsistent behavior, it makes the characters unreal and incongruent.

Portal to the Forgotten has too much crammed into the story that does not belong there or add to the plot. The science is babble-science. I like my science fiction to the SCIENCE fiction. The plot is contrived and the characters are just not very interesting.

There is a sequel, but I won’t read it.


 

Read Full Post »

Pino Lella is a 17-year-old Italian boy living with his family in Milan in 1943 as World War II comes into its final chapter. To escape the draft of Italian boys into the Nazi’s war and face even odds of getting killed on the Russian front within months of deployments, Pino reluctantly volunteers and is assigned as a driver to a Nazi general. In this position he happens to be in a front-row seat to observe the war and the machinations of the Nazis behind the scenes. But along with the doubtful privilege of serving one of the top commanders comes the branding of being a traitor in the view of his Italian countrymen, friends and even family.

Beneath a Scarlett Sky is a novel, but it is dramatized around the true story of the real person Pino Lella and his actual experiences during the war.

Early on, Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler hit it off as two open fascists. When Hitler decided to wage war, he started an alliance with Mussolini and the Italy German pact was a powerful force early in the war. But Italy fell earlier, and Mussolini was captured, and then freed. He served as a puppet leader under the Germans in the latter years of the war. The Italian people were brutalized both by the Italian Fascists loyal to Mussolini, and the German occupation force that was in Italy presumably to “protect” the nation from the Allied Forces. In reality, the Germans looted Italy, both of its young men for the war effort, and later of its goods, food, manufacturing, and industrial output. As it was custom for the Nazis, Jews were rounded up and shipped to concentration camps or into forced labor. Any non-cooperating Italians were forced to perform slave labor duties until they died. The Germans called it Vernichtung durch Arbeit (destruction through labor).

Atrocities by the Germans abounded. Here is a passage describing how General Leyer, one of the central protagonists, separates a child from her mother – while he knew it was forever:

A few moments later, a woman pushed through the crowd, helping a pale, sweating little girl about nine years old.

“Tell her that I am going to save her daughter,” General Leyers said.

Pino balked a moment before translating.

The woman began to sob. “Thank you. Thank you.” “Tell her I will get the girl medical help and make sure she never comes to Platform Twenty-One again,” the general said. “But the girl must come alone.”

“What?” Pino said.

“Tell her,” Leyers said. “And there is no argument. Either her daughter is saved, or she is not, and I’ll find someone more agreeable.”

Pino didn’t know what to think, but told her.

The woman swallowed but said nothing.

The women around her said, “Save her. Do it!”

At last, the sick girl’s mother nodded, and Leyers said to the SS guards, “Take her to my car, and wait with her there.” The Nazis hesitated until Colonel Rauff shouted at them to comply. The girl, though weak and feverish, went hysterical when they took her from her mother’s arms. Her shrieks and cries could be heard throughout the station while Leyers ordered the rest of the people out of the boxcar. He walked in front of them, looking at each in turn before stopping in front of a girl in her late teens.

— Sullivan, Mark. Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel (pp. 347-348). Lake Union Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky helped me understand the nature of the war in Italy so much better than I ever knew. That is actually surprising, because I could have had much more insightful knowledge of what actually happened had I just sat down with my paternal grandfather when he was still alive. He died in 1985 at the age of 80. We don’t know much about his role in the war, but he was off with the Bundeswehr all through the war, and in the final years he was stationed in Italy. He never talked about his experiences with me, or with anyone as far as I know.

But he was there, he was one of the Nazis described in Beneath a Scarlet Sky.

Maybe that’s why he never talked about it.

 

 

Read Full Post »

GQ published a list of 21 books you don’t have to read. It lists Huckleberry Finn twice, so I am only showing 20 below.

Two are on my list of books I have read twice, even. Those are highlighted in green.

 

I found it surprising and refreshing that I have actually read six of the books on this list (green and yellow) and tried to read another five (orange) but couldn’t finish them.

What I found most valuable about the GQ article itself is that it provides a rich list of alternative books to read instead – and thus my reading list has just been expanded tremendously.

Read Full Post »

It was about 2011. Ross Ulbricht was a brilliant young American college student in Austin, Texas. His main area of interest and study was physics. He wanted to change the world. He tried to get accepted to the reality show Amazing Race with his sister but they didn’t make it onto the show. If they had been accepted, his life might have been completely different.

Ross was also a libertarian. One of his fundamental believes was that the government has no right to dictate what a person does with their body or what they put into it. For instance drugs, including illegal drugs.

That belief eventually gave him the idea to create a website called the Silk Road which turned into a highly successful bazar for buyers and sellers of drugs. Within a couple of years the site grew to serve the sale of over $1.2 billion in drugs, weapons, and even body parts and organs. Ross made tens of millions of dollars in commissions for himself.

In American Kingpin, the writer tells the story of how Ross got the idea, how the started the site modestly by selling magic mushrooms he grew in his own apartment, and how it eventually grew into a formidable criminal empire. The story is reminiscent of the rise of Walter White in Breaking Bad. The only difference is, Walter White is a fictional character. Ross Ulbricht is a real person, an all-American young man.

Does this person look like one of the most successful drug dealers of all time? Does this person look like someone who ordered people killed, Walter White-style?

While the reader observes his rise, he is also following the various branches of law enforcement that start closing in on him, one minor step at a time, until they eventually close the trap.

American Kingpin is a very readable book. Once I started I just kept turning the pages, almost like a thriller. I learned much about the dark web and how it works, and while I was following the hapless journey of Ross Ulbricht from innocent college student to drug dealer, I had to remind myself that this was a true story.

Of course, there is a website to Free Ross Ulbricht where you can learn much more about the Kingpin. People argue that his sentence was not fair. There are drug dealers in prison for life for having sold heroin and cocaine on the street. The “dirty” kind of drug dealing. Ross did it from behind a keyboard. Hmmm. People still died from his product.

You get to judge for your own as you read the book.

Read Full Post »

Scotty, a nine-year-old boy, and his dog, can’t wait to run down to the beach upon arriving at their parents’ summer house on Nantucket. They are never seen again, until they mysteriously reappear 16 years later.

As we learn later, Scotty was abducted by a UFO. The aliens have a noble mission to save humanity from complete destruction due to a massive cosmic calamity, and abducting human children is part of that mission.

I was looking forward to a nice alien story, but I was disappointed. The aliens are called the Vallic and they are 97 percent energy. Viewed by a human they are simply faint blue outlines – of humanoid structure. I was disappointed because, like in so many science fiction books, here are aliens that are humans in costumes.  Not only are they humanoid, they have males and females, and the voices of the females are softer and they have – breasts. To top it off, they speak English. McGinnis is a creative author, with great ideas. Why couldn’t he have been a little more creative with the aliens?

The story employs some interesting concepts, but it was just too crude and simple for me. The author is actually a pretty good story teller, he moves the plot along, but there are too many of these “oh seriously?” moments sprinkled throughout, I never got fully immersed in the story. He kept reminding me that this was not real, with unbelievable fabrications (like aliens in human form who speak English), cardboard characters, caricatures of government officials, crazy magic-like science, and flat and boring protagonists. I was never immersed in the world he created.

I was going to blast the author for using the cutesy word “ginormous” a number of times. I really thought that was a made-up word. Before I complained, though, I looked it up, and sure enough, it’s in the dictionary, with its synonym humongous.

I stayed with it to the end, only to be disappointed that there was no resolution, no end. The book ended from one paragraph to the next, where the author tells us to wait for the next book in the series. I hate books with no ends, especially when I read one where I don’t know there won’t be an end because the author is planning a series all along. My bad.

Sorry, I won’t be reading the next one. After reading this whole book I am just not interested enough in finding out what happens next.

But I did learn that ginormous is an English word, not just slang.

Read Full Post »

A Higher Loyalty – Truth, Lies, and Leadership

James Comey is probably the last person who ever thought he’d write an autobiography. But he did.

The book starts in his early childhood, when he was an outsider and a target of bullies. He tells his story eloquently and with very simple language. We follow him through his life and career in law enforcement. The name Trump doesn’t even come up until 75% through the book.

We come to understand that Comey is a man of strong principle and little ego, somebody who does what his conscience tells him, not what his ego demands. He is a person who is obsessed with always “doing the right thing.”

I learned that Comey first started out as a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, under U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani, who had a reputation as a brilliant and aggressive young prosecutor who was set on eradicating the mafia in New York City. He eventually did just that, and Comey learned a lot from Giuliani.

Here is an excerpt:

There was something of an unwritten code about working in the office of Rudy Giuliani, as I suppose there is in most organizations. In his case, the message was that Rudy was the star at the top and the successes of the office flowed in his direction. You violated this code at your peril. Giuliani had extraordinary confidence, and as a young prosecutor I found his brash style exciting, which was part of what drew me to his office. I loved it that my boss was on magazine covers standing on the courthouse steps with his hands on his hips, as if he ruled the world. It fired me up.

Prosecutors almost never saw the great man in person, so I was especially pumped when he stopped by my office early in my career, shortly after I had been assigned to an investigation that touched a prominent New York figure who dressed in shiny tracksuits and sported a Nobel-sized medallion around his neck. The state of New York was investigating Al Sharpton for alleged embezzlement from his charity, and I was assigned to see if there was a federal angle to the case. I had never even seen Rudy on my floor, and now he was at my very door. He wanted me to know he was personally following the investigation and knew I would do a good job. My heart thumped with anxiety and excitement as he gave me this pep talk standing in the doorway. He was counting on me. He turned to leave, then stopped. “Oh, and I want the fucking medal,” he said, then walked away.

— Comey, James. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (pp. 19-20). Flatiron Books. Kindle Edition.

I found it strange to hear from Comey how impressive Giuliani’s skills were early in his career. What happened to the man? Now, when I see him speak, I can’t think of anything but a senile, goofy, confused fool. Impressive once, but not anymore.

Comey tells his story of how he served under Bush and then Obama, and how, to his dismay, he was drawn into the controversial events just before the election of 2016, when Anthony Weiner’s laptop  turned up in the hands of the FBI, and they inexplicably stumbled upon more than a hundred thousand Clinton emails they could not possibly read in the ten days remaining before the election.

And then came Trump, and one strange encounter after the other more and more convinced Comey that Trump was unethical.

One day Trump was schmoozing up to Comey, and the next day, without even facing him in person, fired him remotely via television.

In A Higher Loyalty, Comey tells his story in sober language without fanfare. When Trump tweets about the book as a collection of lies, he proves to me that he hasn’t even read it.

I know when I trust somebody, when somebody is sincere with me. Trump is not sincere. His words don’t ring true. He body language is that of a liar. And his words are so easily disproven, I don’t even need to observe body language to know that he lies. Five seconds of googling usually brings the lies into the light of day.

With Comey, it’s the opposite. Go read his book and then tell me to my face that he “made it all up.” That will seem like nonsense to you. Comey is sincere, dedicated, and committed to this country and to the institutions of law enforcement he has dedicated his life to.

No wonder Trump attacks Comey.

The bully is terrified!

 

Read Full Post »

Hearts in Atlantis is highly praised by the critics, some even called it King’s masterpiece. But I had a difficult time reading this 672 page tome.

Don’t get me wrong, King is a master storyteller, and his characters come alive very quickly. You can’t ever blame King for presenting cardboard characters.

As a matter of fact, in this book the characters are very Kingsean. It’s the structure of the book that just didn’t work for me.

Part 1 is titled 1960: Low Men in Yellow Coats and it’s the best part of the book. If Low Men in Yellow Coats had not been the first part, I would have stopped reading pretty quickly. It’s King through and through. The protagonist is Bobby Garfield, an 11 year old boy in a small town in Connecticut. He has two friends his age, Sully and Carol, and the three of them experience the mysteries of the adult world through their points of view, in true King spirit full of “monsters” and supernatural events.

Here is a sample of true King writing:

What if there were no grownups? Suppose the whole idea of grownups was an illusion? What if their money was really just playground marbles, their business deals no more than baseball-card trades, their wars only games of guns in the park? What if they were all still snotty-nosed kids inside their suits and dresses? Christ, that couldn’t be, could it? It was too horrible to think about.

—  (page 196)

I must admit, I have often thought about this. Inside I am still a snotty-nosed kid of age 11, going to Latin classes with Professor Illauer in Regensburg, trying to figure out what the world is about. My suit is fake, my money is only play money. The world is not real, and Stephen King has it figured out.

The story captivated me and kept me reading, until I got to Part 2, Hearts in Atlantis.

Part 2 shifts to a bunch of college kids who squander away their time in school playing, yes, Hearts. That’s all they do. King spends a tremendous amount of time describing the players and their lives, loves and passions, pretty much without any connection to Part 1, except Carol, Bobby’s girl friend from 1960, is there in college in 1966 and befriends one of the Hearts players.

Then comes Part 3, Blind Willie, where we follow a fake blind panhandler in New York City through a day of his life. The only connection to Part 1 is that Willie is one of the bullies that harmed Bobby and Carol in Part 1, and it shows what happened to him later in life.

Part 4 is about Vietnam and finally Part 5 is the wrap-up, if you can call it that.

The parts didn’t fit together for me, neither content-wise, nor in structure. For instance, Part 1 is narrated in the third person, past tense, where the story-teller describes Bobby and his friends, but focuses on the world from Bobby’s point of view. Third person, past tense, is the most basic and widely used approach in novels.

In Part 2, however, Pete, one of the Hearts players, tells the story in the first person.

In Part 3, King then switches to third person, present tense, only to switch back to third person, past tense in Part 4.

In Part 5, Bobby comes back as a late middle-aged man and visits his home town, third person, past tense.

If King weren’t such a good writer, this book would be a disastrous jumble of disconnected stories with no common thread.

Even after reading the whole book, I can’t quite tell you what it was actually about. I think it’s about Vietnam, the senseless war, and all senseless wars after that, but why did King bother with the elaborate setup and description of the Low Men in Yellow Coats and the enigmatic Ted Brautigan, who lived in the third floor apartment above Bobby and his mom? He could have left out the entire Part 1, and not lost a thing in the story. But then again, if it hadn’t been for Part 1, I would never have been able to work my way through the other parts. I kept wondering when Ted would come back.

Hearts in Atlantis is a challenging read, not one of Stephen King’s better ones, but still a truly great example of vivid story telling by a master.

This would be half a star, but King is so good, I give him an extra one.

 

Read Full Post »

We have all heard about Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. He is a prominent philanthropist and American business icon. Today, in 2018, if you look him up, his net worth is listed at $30 billion. Phil Knight is one of the richest people in the country, even the world.

I just wrote a post about billionaires, and how I feel about them. This is very timely, and I suggest you read it before you move on here. Referenced within that post is yet another post about Vilifying Billionaires, which also has meaning in the context of this book review.

We have our preconceived ideas about billionaires and business icons. In this memoir of his life and the creation of Nike, Phil Knight tells his story in such a captivating manner that I felt like I was there with him in the early days. Shoe Dog is not about a shoe company, or a man creating a shoe company from scratch.

It’s about starting and growing a business, building the American dream. Everyone dreams of not working for “the man,” but being “the man.” Everyone dreams about starting a business, being one’s own boss, being independent, and of course, becoming wealthy in the process.

The bleak, frightening, brutal reality, however, is that 90% of all startups fail. Here are the main reasons why:

Fortune.com [click here for source]

I started a business over 25 years ago, and that business is still here, creating jobs, valuable services, and a livelihood for me. So I understood what Phil Knight went through when he started his shoe company in 1964.

There is something universal about a business: you have a payroll. It does not seem like a big thing when you start a business, but it hits you very, very quickly. Every two weeks you have to write paychecks for your employees, and then another set of checks for payroll taxes for the federal and state governments. In the 25 years I have been in business, there have been 650 payroll days. Every. Other. Friday. Payroll day comes, relentlessly. It comes even when your sales are down and you’re not making a profit. It comes when your biggest customer holds up a major payment. It comes after you had a major equipment breakdown and you needed additional cash to get it fixed. Payroll day comes, whether you have money in the bank, or not. And when you don’t have money in the bank, you have no choice but put some there. You first take all the money you have personally and put it there. You take cash advances on your credit cards. You borrow. And you have major, major stress. Every. Two. Weeks.

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who are responsible for payroll, and those who are not. Phil Knight was responsible for payroll, and he did what he had to do to keep his company moving forward. Every step of the way, he knew that he was just one financial mishap away from total, catastrophic failure. When you run out of cash, you go out of business. See the chart above: 29% of businesses run out of cash.

And then there are problems. Problems with suppliers. Problems with the government and regulations. Problems with employees. Problems with product quality. Problems with market demand. The problems don’t care that you are stressing out over cash for payroll. Problems keep haunting you on Christmas Day or during Thanksgiving dinner. Problems keep you up at night.

Shoe Dog guides the reader through Phil Knight’s journey of creating Nike from scratch and growing it to a world-wide leader in athletic shoes. Anyone who ever even remotely thought about starting a business needs to read Shoe Dog.

After that, you come and tell me why Phil Knight didn’t “deserve” to be a billionaire.

Hey, go ahead! Start a shoe company. It’s easy, right?

Read Full Post »

In the not too distant future, when there are still countries like China, Russia, Finland and the United States on Earth, humans have figured out how to build faster than light ships. The ships use the “bubble drive” which basically creates a bubble of hyperspace around the ship that moves forward taking with it all inside. Using the bubble drive, a ship can travel 30 light years in perhaps eight or nine months. With this technology, humans have started sending expeditions to other stars. There are outposts on planets with names like Xanadu, Mu and Atlantis.

In those places, people discovered artifacts of an ancient and very highly developed intelligent race, called the Nelf. The artifacts are estimated to be three to five million years old, are completely indestructible and resistant to human exploration by any means, including high energy weapons. By sheer coincidence, one mummy corpse of a Nelf is found, so humanity can form a picture. Nelf are about the size of a small elephant, with twelve legs. Eight legs are used for walking, spider-like, and four “in the front” are used like arms, each with four fingers.

By accident, humans found Nelf rings, which fit over a human arm above the elbow, and once there, cannot be removed. They eventually figure out that the rings are brain interfaces which open up immense powers through access to Nelf technology.

Nelf Rings is a long book, 750 pages, way too long. Typical for many science fiction novels, it jumps around to different locales and viewpoints, and it does that so much that I found it very hard to keep track of who is who, and what is happening where. There are many different smaller subplots with different characters that seem to have no connection with each other. Each subplot if fully of petty human intrigue that simply gets boring after a while.

The author repeats exposition, sometimes a number of times. For example, Nelf “doors” are activated by touching three points on a surface at the same time. Remember they have four arms. Humans can only do this by using two arms and one knee at the same time. Then a solid surface becomes “liquid” and actually pulls the user through to the other side. For an observer, this looks like the person is stepping into a solid wall. This process of discovery and going through such doors must be described in detail ten different times as the story shifts to different people. I understand that they are different people every time, but I am the reader, I already know how the doors work, so let’s get on with the story.

My estimate is that this book is twice as long as it would need to be to convey the same story. There are even entire subplots that get much attention, but in the end do not contribute to the story at all, other than be entertaining. One such story follows a ship on a mystery planet when somehow the women in the crews get distracted by an aroma they follow, which is so compelling that they actually lick the walls where a certain fungus or lichen grows. This makes them pass out, and when they come to, they are extremely horny. The author describes this as a form of testosterone saturation similar to what happens to adolescent human males, only worse. The subplot gets a surprising amount of coverage in the book, and eventually it fizzles out and we never hear from the all these horny women again. If a reader can figure out why this entire section was even there, I stand to be corrected. It went way over my head.

Another fixation this author seems to have is with female physical beauty. There are surgically enhanced females in this story, who are so perfect, that somehow every male that even comes near them goes stupid, loses his train of thought, or speech, and can’t keep his eyes of them. The author keeps describing them as stunning even in military fatigues or baggy clothes. This is recurring dozens of times in the story. It feels almost like the author is a teenage boy who just discovered girls.

There are numerous subplots that vaguely contribute to the “universe” the writer wanted to create, but overall they were not strong enough to convince me. Many faded out.

I found other structural problems with the book. There is no clear protagonist, no one person to follow and get used to. People come, become important figures for a few pages, and eventually they disappear. I never could identify with anyone, which makes for a dry and text-book-like read.

There was also no end I could discern. Nothing came together in the end, no conflict was resolved, no happily ever after characters rode off into the sunset. The major conflict, namely what would the powers that be on Earth do with the immense capabilities of Nelf technology, never really gets resolved.

It feels like the writer, after pounding out 750 pages, got tired of the book and wrapped it up in a few paragraphs deus-ex-machine style.

Spoiler Alert

We never meet Nelf. They appear to be a highly advanced race that left technology all over the galaxy and disappeared without a trace millions of years ago. We don’t find out anything about them, except what some of their technology can do, we don’t find out where they went, and we never meet one – which would have been cool.

Overall, Nelf Rings is an interesting science fiction speculation that never goes anywhere and that I’ll likely soon forget I ever read.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: