Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Atlas Shrugged – book review

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Ever since my commute changed from being an hour long to an hour and a half to two hours long each way, I have been burning through some books.  This is definitely a silver lining to an otherwise sucky situation.  However, at 1,074 bible thin pages of tiny type, I thought that Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand was going to kick my ass and it actually intimidated me a bit.  Not because of it’s subject matter but because of the sheer volume of words that a book like this contained.  It is, by far, the longest single book I have ever read.

Luckily, this book is so old that I had no real pre-conceptions of what this book would be like because I had no idea what it was about.  I vaguely remember the ‘pseudo-intellectuals’ of high school and college talking about the book (and dismissing them as I usually did) but I never knew what it was about and never bothered to find out.  Then I played BioShock on my XBox 360 and read the reviews for that game and noticed that this book kept coming up in the comments and comparisons.  I was mildly intrigued.

Then it just happened that Muse was asked to collect a stash of books from a family that was leaving Hong Kong and donating all their unwated books to the local used book store and its charities.  Of course I helped.  I noticed and battered and taped up copy of Atlas Shrugged in that stash and knew that no one would miss it and that it wasn’t worth anything in decent condition much less the state I found it in.  So I stuck in my pile of books to read.  And then proceeded to avoid it like the plague.

So when I ran out of easy reads I broke down and tried to fit this thousand page beast into my messenger bag.  It barely fit so I figured I was stuck with it.  From the first day I started reading I was enthralled.  I had no idea where the book was going for the first few hundred pages and no idea what was going to happen.  Considering when it was written, it has aged quite well and is not written in an arrogant quasi-intellectual way like I had always feared it would be.  I guess you could say it’s actually the most arrogantly written book ever written in a certain view but not in the ways I feared.

THIS is the book that I wish I would have read in high school or college and that it might have had some profound effect on my life.  However I say this now knowing full well that no matter how intelligent I was then, it wouldn’t have meant nearly as much to me then as it did now.  This book deals with life and it’s experiences and they way those experiences are managed and dealt with.  For all those high school kids who say they read and understood this book, I say “I doubt it.”  Maybe on some level, but I doubt they understood the gravity of what was presented.

Sometimes the dialogue can be a bit forced or cheesey like watching an old movie from the time period.  Sometimes the theories and morales can be a bit (read extremely) heavy-handed and repetitive.  However, even in it’s repetitiveness, the book seems to be reinforcing instead by introducing slightly new or vaguely different situations or moralities to really drive the point in.  I do have to say that the monologues are completely out of control though.  When I got to one part where a non-stop monologue was over four pages of tiny text, I thought “Wow. That was insane.”  Later in the book there was a 56 page monologue.  I shit you not.  No one could talk that long.

But this book didn’t deal with common people.  They are the backdrop to this story that takes place over many years.  This book is more like a story of supermen and the evil villians who oppose them.  All the “good guys” are described as gods or goddesses with perfect features and tall bodies and muscular frames and boundless passions.  All the “bad guys” are sniveling backstabbers and fat whiners and ugly losers.  Ayn Rand seemed to idealize more than the premise of the story.  But this alone with that sometimes cheesey dialogue just helps to reinforce the feeling of watching an old black & white movie from the Golden Age.  Back when celebrities were noble and graceful instead of the pitiful excuses we have today that can barely stay sober long enough to complete an interview.

This is a book that I will encourage my children to read; but only when they think that they are ready to tackle it.  This is not the sort of book that should be forced on someone.  If this would have been assigned to me as a reading assignment in school I would have probably burned the building down and taken my red stapler with me.  This is a book that is to be read in appreciation of a time long past that could be more prophetic than expected.  This age of everyone being too scared to be “politically incorrect” is kind of what this book warns against.  Among many other things.

Atlas Shrugged is not a difficult read as I thought it would be.  It’s just a very very long read.  It does not play to the lowest common denominator and it may not be understood by everyone.  I’m not trying to say that you have to be an elitist asshole to grasp this book.  Quite the opposite, really.  You just have to take it with an open mind and accept that this is not an action filled story in the modern sense.  The ‘action’ is in the mental dueling, the wit and deceit, the double-crosses and the acts of resolve in the face of evil.

If you have a chance to read this book – especially if you have never done so – take the time.  It’s worth it.  But make sure you’ve got some years of life experience under your belt first.  Or if you read it when you are young, try reading it again now and see if its changed at all for you.  If so, maybe you’ve changed as well.

Book review: Mr. Murder

Friday, May 9th, 2008

The other night I finished reading Mr. Murder by Dean Koontz and I can definitely recommend it.  Even though at about page 100, I was unsure if I wanted to continue reading the book.  Not because it was bad.  No, it was because my heart was racing so much and my blood pressure was so high that I wasn’t sure I was going to live through the rest of the book.  To call this novel suspenseful is a grave understatement.  If you enjoy Dean Koontz as an author or just like good suspense stories with a little supernatural or science fiction thrown into the mix, then you may enjoy this book.

I didn’t realize that the book was a reprint of a much older story when I started.  The copy I have is from 2006, but the original was published in the early 90’s.  Some references make this very obvious, but for the most part Koontz keeps the details and pacing at a level where nothing really feels dated or so jarring that it doesn’t work today.  It’s well written and  the end is a bit of a stretch but it all works well.

I’m not saying anything about the story because I don’t want to give anything away.

Next up is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  Not sure if I’ll make it through that monster classic but I figure I owe it to myself to try.

Long weekend

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Not that it was longer than the standard two days, but this did end up being a nice long weekend. I would tell you all about it, but my wife has already gone through all the trouble of writing it all out, so I will just ask that you go read the details at her site.

On Friday night I spent a little time finishing up the last chapter of American Gods by Neil Gaiman so I could start on a new book on Monday’s commute. I’d heard from a lot of people that American Gods was a good book and it definitely did not dissapoint. I’ve been a big fan of Neil Gaiman since the Sandman comics series first came what seems like forever ago. If you are a fan of his and have not read American Gods, I highly recommend it. I really can’t say much about it because I don’t want to ruin any of the details for anyone. I’ll be checking the used book store for Anansi Boys since it has a few of the same characters although I understand it’s not actually a sequel.

On Saturday, Muse had a nice long nap so I finished playing Bioshock on the XBox360. Considering all the hype and glowing reviews surrounding this game I have to admit that I had pretty high expectations for this game. Especially since the creators were some of the same people that created the classic System Shock and System Shock 2 games many years prior. For a lot of the game I felt kind of disappointed and even a bit bored with the repitition. However the mechanics are decent and the story is somewhat interesting so I kept playing and I’m glad I did.

I’m guessing that the reviewers that gave it the good ratings that they did had completed the game because it just doesn’t work until you’ve finished the game and seen the whole picture and the whole story (or at least as much is available in this game). Some parts of the game are tedious or annoying ( I lost count of how many Little Sisters died on my watch in The Proving Grounds) but the overall look and feel of the game is perfect. It’s not a flawless game though and I encoutered the typical errors that are found in most games in regards to graphics, AI and physics. It’s a good game and well worth playing all the way through but I don’t think it was deserving of all the hype that it received.

It has been mentioned that perhaps I need to take a break from playing video games because I seem to be getting jaded in my opinions of new titles.  Which I think is untrue as well as impossible.  Untrue because there have been a number of games that I have played recently that I have absolutely loved (or at least really liked).  Impossible because video games are a huge part of my life and I can’t imagine life without them.  That may change but not today.

I Am Legend book review

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Here’s something I didn’t know when I bought the book I Am Legend: it’s a short story collection.  I Am Legend is only the first 159 pages and then the rest of the book is all additional short stories by Richard Matheson.  Nowhere on the front or back of the book does it say that.  The only way I even knew was once I started reading it and saw the odd table of contents.  Why does it matter?  Because most of the other stories were kinda crappy.

As good as the story of I Am Legend is, it’s not as strong as the legend the book itself has become.  Richard Matheson’s writing does not age well.  The namesake story was written in 1954 along with about half the other stories in this book.  And it reads like someone from the 1950’s wrote it.  It is hard to future proof any creative work of course but for those people under the age of about 30 will probably have a hard time understanding many things in this book.  For the baby boomers out there, you will be right at home.

The reason I say this is because in the “future” of 1976, the protagonist must deal with Willys station wagons with 3-speed manual transmissions and a choke.  What’s a choke you ask and what does it have to do with cars?  Then stick to the updated Will Smith movie, you will probably be disappointed by the original story.  The other stories in the book fare no better and there are some glaring problems with continuity and editing even in this re-release of the legendary story so I can only assume that these are Matheson’s actual mistakes at this point and no one will ever correct them.

The story of I Am Legend is good.  It’s extremely dated and the pacing is slow and deliberate but it’s good.  Most of the rest of the book is fluff that was probably written for various low-rent magazines at the time of their writing.  One stand-out is the story called Prey which if you’ve seen the classic 1970’s movie Trilogy of Terror, you will recognize right off.  The story of the homicidal Zuni fetish doll is much better in print than the version in the classic movie.

I’d still recommend reading I Am Legend if only for the namesake story but with the caveat that you may not be old enough to get all the outdated references and terminology.  If that sort of thing doesn’t bother you though and you don’t mind a few confusing edits here and there then by all means pick up a copy and read it.  It may not age well but it’s still potent enough.

Review: Hero of the Imperium

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I just recently finished reading the Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium. This is one of the Black Library‘s Omnibus books that collects the first three novels in the Ciaphas Cain series as well as three short stories that help to fill in some of the blanks from this ‘autobiography’. The three novels collected here are For The Emperor, Caves of Ice and The Traitor’s Hand which if bought separately cost quite a bit more than getting all three and the bonus shorts all in this one book. Yeah, it’s a bit bulky but it’s worth it.

The stories are the autobiographical accounts of a Commissar in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. For those of you not familiar with 40K, a Commissar’s job is to keep the morale and courage of the Imperial troops up and to deal with trouble-makers and insubordination. They are modeled after the stereotypical Russian officer of the real World Wars that are shown shooting deserters in the back and executing troops until everyone falls in line. Understandably, the Commissar is generally not well liked.

In these stories though, Commissar Cain is the opposite of what he should be and the result is pretty damn funny. Instead of being the typical shoot first and ask no questions ever type, he is a self-proclaimed coward and lives to get away with as little as possible in life. He prefers to not shoot his troopers to make examples of them because if they don’t hate him, they may not “accidentally” shoot him in the heat of battle or leave him to be eaten. Of course the irony is that whenever he does what he thinks will be the easiest assignment it always turns out to be the most important and tide-turning events which makes him look like a hero to everyone else.

These books won’t be for everyone and you really have to have a basic understanding of the Warhammer 40K universe to get a lot of the subtle references and jokes. But if you are familiar with this great game and genre, you will love these books. Instead of the cold hard grittiness you usually get in a 40K book, this one goes completely against the grain.