Sunday, August 29, 2010

Home Game, by Michael Lewis

Home Game:An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, by Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis is a talented writer; both Moneyball and Liar’s Poker are well-written looks at complicated topics that are both informative and entertaining. Sadly, Home Game, his auto-biographical look at fatherhood, falls unexpectedly flat. Many of the anecdotes are quite funny; the story of his three-year-old girl cussing out a group of older boys at the top of her lungs in a public pool is hilarious. Unfortunately, many of the other bits come off as somewhat mean-spirited. “Memory loss is the key to human reproduction. If you remembered what new parenthood was actually like you wouldn’t go around lying to people about how wonderful it is, and you certainly wouldn’t ever do it twice.” If he feels this way about being a parent of a newborn, I’d hate to be around him when his kids hit their teen years!

When not cross with the world, Lewis comes off as somewhat sad. “The thing that most surprised me about fatherhood the first time around was how long it took before I felt about my child what I was expected to feel. Clutching Quinn after she exited the womb, I was able to generate tenderness and a bit of theoretical affection, but after that, for a good six weeks, the best I could manage was detached amusement. The worst was hatred.” I simply can’t relate to this sentiment, and find it horribly unfathomable. The birth of each of my boys are moments in my past I treasure, right up there with seeing my bride standing at the back of the church on our wedding day.

A quick read with some funny stories, but overall this was disappointing.

First Sentence:
We landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport a couple of days before Christmas.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Guardian of Lies, by Steve Martini

Guardian of Lies, by Steve Martini

Not a terrible novel, but not a great one either. Defense attorney Paul Madriani gets mixed up with a former spook and current rare coin dealer, a missing Cold War missile, and a very irritated assassin while trying to protect a fugitive and clear his own name. The plot was overcomplicated but the characters were likable; the sly humor is why I finished it, though: “Only in America would you spend thousands installing an expensive electrical security system and then warn intruders not to harm themselves.”

One passage I particularly enjoyed was a rant on our government. “The political parties that occupied the House and the Senate reminded him of two retarded Siamese gorillas sharing the same brain. Together with their feeders and handlers on Wall Street, they’d spent a decade toying with the national economy, trying to get everybody in the country into houses they couldn’t afford. When this set fire to national economy, crashing markets, destroying whole industries, and generally torching the entire circus, they tripled the national debt in order to smother the flames with money.” Not the worst description of the last several administrations I’ve read.

I’d been told that Martini wrote a pretty good legal thriller, but Guardian of Lies felt like a weak Grisham knock-off—and I don’t care for Grisham. Disappointing.

First Sentence:
To the drug lords of the Tijuana cartel, the man was an urban myth—and the cops were singing off the same page.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Julian Comstock, by Robert Charles Wilson

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, by Robert Charles Wilson

One of the things I enjoy about future history is seeing how our current society changes over the years. Set in 2172, America has become a largely oligarchical theodemocratic society, with elections to confirm a hereditary President closely coupled with a strong fundamentalist religious organization named the Dominion based in Colorado Springs. While very different from what we know today, there are enough recognizable elements that the feel is more like looking through a funhouse mirror than viewing a totally alien society. “In America we’re entitled by the Constitution to worship at any church we please, as long as it’s a genuine Christian congregation and not some fraudulent or satanistic sect.” Reasons for the various transformations aren’t detailed, but climate change, depletion of the world’s oil reserve, and a few wars and revolutions are hinted to be contributing factors. The fact that there isn’t a detailed history is both maddening and tantalizing; I’d love to know more about how we got here, but have to be satisfied with scattered hints.

The story tells of the rise to public prominence of Julian “the Reformer” Comstock and the resulting fall at the hands of the Dominion for daring to make a film about the life of Charles Darwin. The book is written as an actual biography (complete with footnotes) from the point-of-view of one of the main characters, and amusingly he is portrayed as not being too bright. This allows for a lot of humor to sneak in, which of course I loved. For instance, “Waiters circulated with carts of drink and plates of small food items. Some of these* were impaled on toothpicks. ... *The food items, not the waiters.” One of my favorite bits was Julian Comstock’s definition of a sport: “Any outdoor game or sport, to be a sport, ought to have three essential qualities. It should be difficult, it should be impractical, and it should be slightly silly.” Considering I’ve been debating this issue off-and-on since 1997 I found this absolutely hilarious!

The plot is mildly interesting, but to me learning about the way the world works through the characters is the fascinating part. Well written, Wilson manages to capture a wide variety of situations from politics and military maneuvers to romance and bar fights in a believable fashion with a heavy dose of humor thrown in. The ending is fairly conclusive so I don’t expect a direct sequel, but if other volumes set during earlier events mentioned in passing such as the end of the Efflorescence of Oil, the Fall of the Cities, the False Tribulation, the days of the Pious Presidents, or even how the rest of the world fared through the ages, I’d read those in a flash.

First Sentence:
In October of 2172—the year the Election show came to town—Julian Comstock and I, along with his mentor Sam Godwin, rode to the Tip east of Williams Ford, where I came to possess a book, and Julian tutored me in one of his heresies.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Spy Who Haunted Me, by Simon R. Green

The Spy Who Haunted Me, by Simon R. Green

Alexander King, the world’s greatest secret agent, is dying. He has amassed an unparalleled collection of secrets that he will bequeath to a worthy successor. This successor will be chosen via a contest, and a contest that Eddie Drood intends to win. The plot was a bit of by-the-numbers, but still engrossing. The references to pop culture tropes are why I love this series, though. The Wizard of Northampton (“Writing comic books for twenty years will do that to you”), Uncle Harvey who “thinks he’s a giant rabbit,” and a small statuette of a black bird all make appearances in The Spy Who Haunted Me. I’m sure I miss a ton of others, but the ones I catch always make me smile.

First Sentence:
In the early hours, when it seems like the dark will go on forever and the dawn will never come, the night people come out to play.

Red Hood's Revenge, by Jim C. Hines

Red Hood’s Revenge, by Jim C. Hines

The third volume of the Princess series is the darkest, but also the best. Red Riding Hood is a world-renowned assassin and has been hired to kill Sleeping Beauty. In the ensuing adventure the princesses return to the land where Beauty was enchanted and she is forced to come to terms with her uncomfortable past. The action and humor remain strong as in the other chapters, but the characterization and emotional impact of events are what cause this book to shine. The heroines are as far from damsels in distress as can be imagined, but Hines captures tender moments as masterfully as he does action scenes; no one-dimensional actors here. The Snow Queen’s Shadow is due for release in 2011, and I eagerly look forward to reading the next installment!

First Sentence:
If Queen Beatrice’s prediction was correct, this night would end in death.

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