Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh

The Pride of Chanur is a space opera set in the Compact, a loose confederacy of alien races bound by trade.

The story centers around the unexpected appearance of Tully, a human alien belonging to a previously unknown species, who stows aboard the titular vessel with its lionine hani crew and captain, Pyanfar Chanur. Tully is fleeing the kif, a treacherous species given to thievery and warlike behavior.

While the story is entertaining with much to admire, I struggled with Cherryh's writing throughout. To me, Cherryh's prose style feels very rushed and jagged, with too many lengthy sentences stuck together with comma splices, colons, and em dashes. This mars the book's pacing and takes attention away from the story, placing focus instead on the writing construction. Call me a purist, but I still favor simple, declarative sentences.

That said, I recognize that prose style is a matter of taste, and I'll admit that I just might not get Cherryh. Certainly, The Pride of Chanur is one of the most beloved books in the SF canon and Cherryh has long been a perennial fan-favorite author. So maybe it's me.

Still, The Pride of Chanur is worth reading for its superlative SF story, even if, like me, you find Cherryh a much better storyteller than writer.

Bush, Civil Liberties, and Comics

Civil War is a 2006 Marvel Comics mini series that centers around the introduction into the United States of the Marvel Universe of a Super-human Registration Act.

The conceit is, a super-powers tragedy precipitates a bill requiring the registration, unmasking and regulation of all super heroes -- signed into law by GWB. Some heroes, led by Iron Man, approve of the measure, bringing them into armed conflict with those who see it as a disastrous assault on civil liberties. Leading the charge against the Bush measure: Captain America.

I haven't read comics in years but I find the idea for this series very interesting and may check this out if it's released as a graphic novel.

Thanks to A. R. Wolff for alerting me to this comic series and for providing the summary that I've reproduced in this posting.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ireland Visit

I had the opportunity to visit Ireland recently and have detailed some of my impressions from the trip.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

High Fidelity is one of my all-time favorite novels and easily my choice for best contemporary male relationship novel.

The novel tells the story of Rob, a thirtysomething pop music junkie just out of a long relationship, who uses music to define and measure his life.

Hilarious and true to life, High Fidelity deftly captures the disorientation and actions following the end of a relationship: how Rob reorganizes his record collection in an effort to find security in the familiar; how he reassesses his past relationships and contacts old girlfriends; how he fumbles in his efforts to win back his ex-girlfriend, Laura; how he tortures himself with thoughts of Laura and her new lover; and how ultimately he gets it right when he has an opportunity to reconcile with Laura and does.

The novel inspired the film of the same name, starring John Cusack.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Failed States by Noam Chomsky

In Failed States, Chomsky examines the notion of failed or rogue states and argues convincingly that the U.S. fits the definition of such a state.

Defining such states as those "that regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and that suffer from a 'democratic deficit', having democratic forms but with limited substance", Chomsky provides significant evidence in support of his argument, including the U.S.'s lawless military aggression, self-exemption from international law, propping up of anti-democratic dictators, and indifference to the opinions and wishes of the majority of its population.

If the text and Chomsky fall short in any area, it's mostly that the author is all argument and evidence, and he provides few practical ideas for moving forward and affecting change from within the power-based systems he critiques. Still, given what most Americans regularly digest as news, this should be required reading for every citizen.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9-11 by Noam Chomsky

This text comprises Chomsky's thoughts on the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Collected from interviews that Chomsky gave during the first month following the attacks, Chomsky discusses the attacks, Osama bin Laden and the root causes, historical precedents, and possible outcomes.

Like much of Chomsky's political writing, 9-11 is frank and revealing, with detailed information about US policy decisions and actions from the past 20 years. The text is definitely worth reading.

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is the sequel to the original The Longest Journey, widely considered one of the best PC adventure games ever made.

Like its predecessor, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is a deftly conceived and well designed speculative fiction adventure game.

The game gets a lot right and boasts a provocative story, memorable characters, beautiful presentation, and a fantastic musical score and voice acting. As good as the game is, though, it's not perfect. The puzzles and combat are very easy and will pose little challenge for veteran gamers. There are also too many sequences in the game for my comfort where control is taken from the player and the story is instead moved ahead though lengthy cut-scenes. Finally, the end of the game feels very rushed and leaves many loose ends untied.

Overall, though, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is a worthy sequel to a beloved adventure game classic and will satisfy fans of the original and entertain newcomers to the series.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger

Everyone Worth Knowing is a trashy, junk food novel about an ordinary woman who joins a Manhattan PR and event-planning firm and subsequently becomes immersed in the superficial, VIP party world.

I decided to try this novel after having seen and enjoyed the film The Devil Wears Prada. Just a few chapters into this novel, though, and it quickly became evident that my enjoyment of The Devil Wears Prada was likely more due to the film's director and actors than the text source.

Everyone Worth Knowing is a purely formulaic, forgettable novel. The characters are not believable, the writing and grammar are poor, and the plot twists are predictable and cliched. What's worse, the novel is essentially exactly the same as The Devil Wears Prada. Just like the earlier novel, Everyone Worth Knowing features a young, naive girl who joins a high-profile Manhattan company and experiences the trappings, transformation, and toll of surrendering yourself to an all-consuming profession.

Final recommendation: skip the novel and wait for the film adaptation.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What Happens When We Die by Sam Parnia

What Happens When We Die purports to provide and summarize new scientific findings and research about Near Death Experiences (NDEs).

While the text at first seems promising, it becomes apparent midway through that author Sam Parnia has relatively little to say. Instead of substance and fresh objective research about NDEs, Parnia provides little more than summaries of previous NDE studies, anecdotes, and his own speculations about future NDE and consciousness experiments. As an example, the book is so thin on content that the author resorts to devoting nearly an entire chapter to his difficulties securing funding for an NDE study.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent

Self-Made Man is one of those rare, insightful books that lives up to and even exceeds the hype.

Recounting the year and a half in which author Norah Vincent disguised herself as Ned in order to observe the world of men as an insider, Self-Made Man is at once a fascinating piece of immersion journalism and a serious analysis of gender and gender roles in America.

The book is hugely entertaining and very much worth reading. You'll laugh at loud, be inspired to talk about the topics raised by the author, and think and reflect long after you finish the text.