Maybe the most interesting thing in the book was about the German invasion of the USSR. Stalin knew it coming, but really really wanted it to happen a year or two later. So for longest time he was under denial that it is coming (like leaders in the west).
He definitely deteriorated in the last few years of his life, with paranoia, and anti-semitism. He hated doctors because they told him that he is getting old and should be resting, and the rest, the rest is history. BTW, his daughter recently died in the US.
The book is told from Momo point of view. It is very sad and very touching in the same time.
But RG uses this canvas to draw a much larger picture. What is humanity? Why should one care about animals when there are bigger issues in life? Is humanity inherently good or bad? How does overcome loneliness? The book is written with a level of ambiguity and humour that enable the author to handle such topics without being pretentious. Overall, a very nice book.
The saving grace of this book, is that it is funny (especially in the first third), the settings are interesting - showing the culture clash, and the writing style is interesting. Some of the characters are interesting, especially Jane and Akiko. The book also has a nice atmosphere achieved by quoting portions from The Pillow Book of Sei Shnagon (this is a diary of a prince that lived in Japan around 1100 yeara ago).
This book fails on several fronts. First, it is a bit of a propaganda book against meat (growers are using growing hormones of beef. Some of them illegal but still being used and some of them have unclear effect. Those hormones when used on humans have bad impact that is well documents. There is some evidence that as such eating meat causes you to get a small portions of those hormones. Furthermore, they feed the beef antibiotics to make them healthy, however as a consumer we get those antibiotics, and as such it weaken the effectiveness of those antibiotics. [BTW, although the author does not mention it, the USA attitude towards beef is "dont ask, dont tell" - while in Japan they medically check every cow before slaughtering it, and in Europe it is done in large scale, in the US those checks are very rare and done on small scale.])
Another failure is that characters that should be kept separated meet, making the story line unbelievable. Thirdly, the book is too sugary at times, and might cause diabetes mellitus. Finally, the characters are at times flat and two dimensional - "John" is the bad guy throughout (doesn't he have any positive features?), etc.
The most memorable tidbit for me in this book, is when Akiko get married to John, he tells her that they should not have a baby, and as such they should use condoms. Next he tells her that his is now married and as such it is below his honor to buy condoms, and as such she should buy the condoms.
So, overall, I thought after reading the first third of this book, that this was one of the best books I read in the last year. But now, after completing it, I feel that it is not that good. Still worth reading, but not much more than that.
this book had received a lot of attention recently, because of the non-complementary things it says about the Bush administration. Although there are several reasons for the bias, it is hard, it is hard to dismiss RC opinion as just nonsense,
Maybe the most interesting question, is why 9/11 was not prevented? This is especially important, considering the fact that both the CIA and the FBI had all the relevant information - they just needed to put things together. Indeed, the CIA knew that al-Qaeda operatives entered the US. However, the FBI did not know about it, because the CIA "forget" to inform them. In particular, the FBI was convinced that there are no sleeping cells of AQ in the US. Similarly, the FBI knew that strange things where going in some flight schools. This was known in the summer before, in a period where RC put all organization on high alert, and tried to make them report to him anything they knew about AQ.
This underlines the reality depicted by this book - the failure was largely a bureaucratic failure, and emphasize for me the most interesting thing about this inside look in the US decision making mechanism - it is very complicated, bureaucratic, with different organizations having turf wars with each others, and sometimes such organizations are shackled by regulations to the point that they can not fill their tasks. Indeed, the CIA had such a bad record of intervention through the last 50 years, to the point that they flatly refused to get involved in any "dangerous" activity in Afghanistan. Thus, seriously limiting the ability of the US to act against AQ. For example, while the US could try and kill Bin Laden by a missile, the administration was essentially unable to convince the CIA to try and assassinate him.
It is clear that RC admires Bill Clinton, because of his intellect, energy (reading and processing huge amount of information on a regular basis), and humanity. Furthermore, Bill Clinton, serving in the post cold-war period was quick to understand the new threats to the US. He understood that terrorism was one the main problems facing security after the cold war. Thus, anti-terrorism had high priority in the Clinton administration, and RC had direct high level access to the administration.
On the other hand, when the new W. Bush administration came into office, it was mainly made out of people that served in the first Bush administration. Those were people that rose during the cold-war, and had cold-war mentality. As such, they considered the Clinton administration to have an obsession about terrorism, and gave the issue low priority. That was a tragic mistake. On the personal level, it meant that RC no longer had high-level access. His request for urgent meeting with the president or the principals committee (those are the secretaries of the various office - something like a government meeting in other countries) took around nine months to be arranged. RC thus had the experience of screaming that something big is going to happen, and being ignored by the administration.
In particular, this seems to be the regular problem of intelligence organizations being too successful. Indeed, because of the Clinton administration relative success in limiting terrorism, by putting such big emphasize on it, the following administration had the impression that this was not a big problem.
This book is most convincing when it discuss the mistakes that were done, and why 9/11 happen. RC describes in detail what he think should be done. He also portrays with great detail how the fight after 9/11 was butchered by the Bush administration. The invasion of Afghanistan was done with too small forces to really capture all the AQ people (interestingly, RC put less emphasize on Bin Laden, and more on the organization). Furthermore, the US failed to stabilize Afghanistan afterwards because of not allocating enough resources for it. Next, without any provocation (as far as the war against terror is concerned), the US attacked Iraq. A country which did not initiate any attack direct or indirect against the US since 93. Again, because of luck of resources, this occupation is going badly. RC is claiming that the administration in fact, did exactly what AQ wanted - by attacking Iraq, they had reenergized AQ. Indeed, the base problem of hatred towards the US that should be addressed to avoid future AQ (or similar organizations attacked) was only increased by the Iraq attack.
In particular, RC speaks about solutions to terrorism that are not mainly based on violence - mainly education and modernization of the relevant countries in the middle-east.
RC also points out that the creation of the Department for Homeland Security, might not have been the right move. At least in the short run. Indeed, previous experiences showed that new bureaucratic machinery sometimes takes one to two decades to start working properly. The DHS is exactly that - it is a new management to existing organizations. Running such a new department is a nightmare, one has to create the management structure, and procedures to perform things, etc. All those things takes a long time to do. (To be fair, the creation of the DHS was forced on the Bush administration by the Congress.)
Interestingly, RC seems to emphasize the importance of stopping terrorism because of the loss of personal liberties that rises as a result of responding to such attacks. In fact, the book draws a complicated and involved picture of what considerations are involved in the war on terrorism. He is far from proposing a simple answers to the problem, and his analysis is usually interesting, and very rarely simplistic.
The book have several minor things that were interesting:
One of the interesting features of this book, is RC willingness to admit failure. He sees failure as a mechanism to fix the broken things. This is a big contrast to the Bush administration, that seems to have a cultural problem in admitting any kind of mistake.
Overall, this was a very readable and interesting book. It glimpses of how the US administration work are very interesting. The book is mostly empty of cliches, and it is an important testimony of what happened around 9/11. Unfortunately, for the most crucial question of whether we are safer today, than we were before 9/11, this book provides a negative answer (mainly because of the Bush administration response).
(The book has direct heavy refs to the holocaust, where Jews that were sent to the concentration camps were required before death to send sometimes glowing letters to their families left behind, to encourage them to come to the camps.). So what is going on in this world WM? We dont really know.
Then, the story continues by a guy that plans to take a direct space travel to get to this planet, although this would take 18 years. The company in charge tries whatever they can, to block him. But he almost succeeds in escaping.
Unfortunately, at this point, the book looses it coherence, or I at least was unable to follows whats going on. With what seems like hallucinations induced by drugs, it seems like the people on WM experience illusions about what going on, except for a minority, which are only partially effected, and as such might experience one of several distinct parallel universe. The book from this point on essentially read like drug hallucination description, and I started skimming it. The last 10 pages are more concrete and definitely readable.
Unfortunately, the book fails to answer those key questions. Gourevitch fails to answer those questions. Here and in some other points in the story, he takes the easy way out. Indeed, he put the blame on the Belgians for using divide and conquer, and suspicious racist theories, to put the Tutsis (minority) in charge of the Hutus. However, this explanation rings hallow and empty. The separation between the two groups was long before this point in time. And the tensions must have existed before.
Secondly, the author fails to explains us the side of the murderers. Quite naturally, the murderers are not interested in speaking about it, and claim that nothing really happen ("there were some killings, but we were not involved"). He has one interview with one murderer, but he failed to make an effort in interviewing more people of this kind. This leaves the book somewhat lacking. His only explanation of hierarchical society, sounds weak.
Thirdly, the author falls completely on one side (of the victims - the Tutsi), and in particular, he clearly admires one of their generals (general Kagame). This leaves us with the party line of one side, without details on what happening on the other side. In particular, he ignores or take lightly massacres performed by the RPF (the rebel Army that took over Rwanda after the genocide). This gives the book the feeling of a propaganda book, and not the book of an independent writer.
On the other hand, the description of the inability of international help organizations to really help the problems, and in particular their direct help to Hutu Power (i.e. the genocide murders hiding in refugee camps), and their inability to demilitarize those regions is quite well described. Also, the hypocritical of all the main powers (US, France) is quite shocking. In particular, the help that France gave to Hutu Power during the genocide, is amazing.
So overall, this is an interesting book, but it suffers from some serious shortcomings.
It is very striking that the same mistakes of WW I were made in WW II by the germans (i.e., involving the Americans in the fighting).
Additionally, I was impressed by how many of my previous knowledge turned out to be false. The Russians while collapsing towards the end of the war, put up a good fight. The british and the US had only small armies before their participation in the war started. etc.
Also, he has some minor observations that he presents as a big insights (for example, some people on the left are complete gagas - like we did not know it from the time when they supported Stalin).
Overall an interesting book, but its drawbacks coondemn it to its relative anonymity.
It is interesting that this book, like a lot of other of pkd books, ends in defeat. It is inherently because pkd believes that there is no victory to be gained. Life is but a turture, where the stakes are set against you, where winning means losing, and losing means, well, losing.
It is interesting how this book transforms itself from a book with a trick, into a rather thoughtful book. It seems to say, that even if redemption would come, we would never notice, and we would tear it apart in our effort to keep the current balance of power.
While the book is written in an amusing way, it is hard to credit it with anything higher than amusing.
But in the end, this is a book about humanity. Can a person change himself, and what one is willing to sacrifice so that he/she remains human. The end of the book is somewhat similar to Personal Matters by Oe. The only complaint about this book, is that the main character Erik is a bit one dimensional. Too many things are going on, and his character suffers.
Overall, an interesting and very readable book.
What I find bothersome about JA books, is the inability of her heroins, to control their life by their own work, and creation. This is of course, not their shortcomings, bu rather the result of the society JA lives in, where money, and blue name, determined everything. As such, the women in JA books, are no more than ducks in a shooting range. Compelled to be attractive whether they like it or not, slaves to the porpuse of success, by the only mean possible, marraige. (Interestingly enough, JA never married.)
This book si a bit of a soap opera, with somewhat predictable story. Interestingly enough, her (side) characters are not completely one dimensional. A character might be silly, but it might gain some redemption by humanity.
So, what is negative? To start with, her humor is sometime of the cheapest kind, making fun of the easiest material, used throughout history: human stupidity. She very rarely make fun of cleverness, which is in need of humor as much as stupidity. But the worst shortcoming of her books, is the limited world view they present. For example, in Mansfield Park, after Fannie refuses to married H, she is sent back to her "poor" "loud" family, where they have 10 people in one home (with at least two floors), and only (and I repeat only) two servants. Indeed, a very limited definition of poorness. Furhteremore, her unfavourable descriptions of the this very poor family, luck basic understanding of relation between the avliability of researouces and quality of life.
It is somewhat funny, that she is descripting only the high society, while we now know, that they engine of society, and the motivating force is the middle class.
So, overall, an enjoyable read, but the book is limited by the author limited experience and world exposure.
There are a lot of interesting people in this book. From Edie, the seven year old that has her brother inside her, to Hoppy, the handicap that have telekensis abilities, to Bonny, which is a living person, oblivious to the sarrow around her.
It is unclear what PKD try to say in this book. For a PKD book this is a pretty positive book. Despite mutations (both socially and physically), humanity survives.
This is a below average book of PKD. Without focus, real story, or ideas, it drifts on and on. It has an interesting take on celebrities, but thats about it. As any book of PKD it leaves your restless about reality. With a country that hospitalizes everybody in mad houses, and in which sanity is just so minimal.
The story is an autobiography of Oskar Nazareth. Oskar is born sometime in the twenties in Danzig (a border city between Poland and Germany). His story, is the story of Germany taken over by the Nazis, going into world war II, and the recovery after. The name of the book comes from a tin drum that Oskar receives as a gift for his third birthday, which he would (almost) never stop playing.
As such, Oskar, is the ultimate outcast, in early age he rejects society, the standards of society. He decides to stop growing at age three, and remains a dwarf. In the same time, society rejects him. He moves through society freely without limits, being ignored by it, and observe whats going around. In the same time, he protects his freedom with his mighty whistle that can destroy everything.
Oskar is very likable in the beginning, but as time passes, the reader realizes that Oskar rejects not only the society, but also reality itself. He has a limited ability for social interaction. The only people that he seems to be in sync with are dwarfs like him. Nevertheless, at times he seems to be the only sane person around.
GG provides very penetrating descriptions of the middle class in Germany before the war. The book contains a lot of very powerful/insightful/funny scenes. Sometimes a few words convey a complete complex idea. For example, discussing his father draft to the army in WW I:
The two of them were both convinced that this time Jan would have to go, that they would surely send him off to cure his ailing chest in the air of France, famed for its iron and lead content.The story itself is long and winding. From Oskar early family history, through his early childhood, the death of his mother, and his two fathers (Oskar blames himself for all three deaths), to the war days, where he becomes a leader of teenager gang, to his trip through Europe as a drummer in a group of Dwarfs, to the days after the war. Through this very hectic time in history, Oskar remains to a large extent unmoved. He gets rid of his pain through playing on the drum.
However, ultimately, what Oskar really wants is simple happiness, and his failure to get happiness, is the force behind the story.
It is natural, to try and think that Oskar represents Germany. Indeed, he is a dangerous monster. He start growing a bit only after WW II, when things are "improving". This might be somewhat simplified, but is surely correct on some level. He also represents the natural wish of never growing up, and always staying a child throughout our life. But, the story represents, the sad and high price one has to pay for such commodity.
The story itself is told while Oskar is hospitalized in a mad house. It is unclear whether he is insane, or all the people around him are insane. In particular, it is pretty clear that his nurse Bruno is insane.
The story itself does not directly touch the story of the Holocaust, but there are a lot references, and ultimately, it is the story of WW II. To make things even more symbolic, I read large fractions of this book while traveling through Germany. However, I think that reading this book as only a book on WW II is to miss the bulk of this book. For example:
Mr. Matzerath has just seen fit to inform me that this partisan, unlike so many of them, was an authentic partisan. For - to quote the rest of my patient's lecture - there is no such thing as a part-time partisan. Real partisans are partisans always and as long as they live. They put fallen governments back in power and over throw governments that have just been put in power with the help of partisans. Mr. Matzerath contended - and this thesis struck me as perfectly plausible - that among all those who go in for politics your incorrigible partisan, who undermines what he has just set up, is closest to the artiest because he consistently rejects what he has just created.
Overall, this is a complicated book that defies easy summaries. It has the quality of other masterpieces of being very good while not enabling one to pinpoint why it is so likable. Probably the most impressive thing about this book is the alien (or outcast) look into the (German) society provided by Oskar. It is a unique point of view that I did not encounter before.
The book starts, following, Dr. Superb, the last psychiatrist, as the psychology is being disallowed in favor of medicine, a law passed by a drug company. As time passes, we learn more and more about the fakeness of the government. First, the president is just a robot (i.e., simulacra), and later we learn that Nicole is also unreal. Nicole is being controlled by a secret committee. But the government seems to be unable to control strange forces, and the collapse of the government, as the government try to free itself of the control of the multinationals. The end, is very pessimistic.
The interesting thing about this story, is its statement about the fakeness of governments. Is the government in the US not a fake also, to some extent?
I am completely shocked that this book got the Nebula award this year. The only interesting fact about this book is the author, which seems to be an interesting person (PhD in physics and previously a dancer).
Overall, an interesting read, but definitely not one of his best works.
I wish the author wrote the next book on Ivan. He starts to emerge as the most interesting person around Miles.
The story: Liz, computer programmer gets into trouble after she get involved in stealing from a bank she was working for (writing their security system). In distress she asks her mother to come over, and her mother meets in a hotel in SF, a Chinese guy named Long. The mother suddenly disappears, as she is searching for her daughter, and Mr. Long, goes on a hunt to try and save them both.
The truth about Cushgar (very good) tell the story of what
happens when a special agent get out of control. The Custodians
tells about extremely dangerous aliens that want to rent their
services in various local wars on earth, but first decide to occupy a
local asteroid. Gone fishing is a about a guy being sent to a
far far away planet alone so that he can not interfere with some
organization activity (which he was trying to take over).
The beacon to elsewhere is about a rebelling group that decides
to build a weaponed factory in the far far past. Unfortunately for
them, things did not work as well as expected (pretty interesting).
The end of the line is about a small group of brainwashed genetically modified humans being sent to spread the decaying humanity around.
Watch the sky is probably the best story in this book. Describing when somebody in a very remote world, fake finding a weapon of the aliens fighting the humans, so to make this world important, and remove it from its current hole status. Things get complicated when it turns out that the weapon was faked. Somewhat similar to P.K. Dick story Total Recall. Agent of Vega is about a special agent fighting his arch nemesis. Unfortunately, the story is not well written.
The Illusionists - How do you get rid of somebody that control the whole world using his Psi power, when you don't know who he is, and you are afraid he will kill everybody?
The second night of summer
This is just a pathetic ripoff of Isaac Asimov "Foundation" trilogy, with the grand vision, Frank Herbert "Dune" without the genius and clever background, and David Brin "the uplift ware", without the interesting aliens.
While this is a standard fantasy book, it is ok because the author has sense of humor, is self aware, and in a few places it has short bursts of magic. A good fantasy book, but nothing much more than that.
Too bad it would be hard to support this theory. Women are as
warmongers as man (being from the middle-east, I know). War is just
the extrapolation of survival traits into the level societies. Without
wars, we might be peaceful, but we will be no better than the dodo.
And the survival of the fittest, is the only reason we are
intelligent, and can complain about it.
An interesting space opera. Unfortunately, the aliens and situation is
not that believable. Dan Simmons had done better job in his series
(This day all gods die). Cordwiner Smith has better humanity in
similar settings. The tyranny for the sake of tyranny is not that
convincing. I especially distaste the super genius theory. It is just
A collection of short stories. The stories are reasonably good but flawed. The logic of some of those stories just do not make sense (shapers/machinists), making the regular problem of over simplifying reality (thats why dune is relatively good - its reality is so complicated that it is mystical). The figures in the book are really irritating, I doubt there is any story here that I would remember a month from now.
A standard book in his series about Vlad the assassin. In this books, Vlad and Morrlan go back and save Ailerea from the dead. So exciting. (some of his other books were OK).
Story: A humanity spread over large fractions of the galaxy is ruled by a tyranny of guild ships. The ships seems to be invincible. There are several cute ideas, among them is the idea of recording the crew, so that if somebody dies, you just remanufacture him/her. Thus, you get ships with essentially the same crew for millenniums.
A sheepfamer's daughter run away from home and becomes a soldier in an army. From this point on, this is a standard fantasy: the work up in the morning, the rode their horses till the afternoon, the fought in the afternoon, and then they had dinner and went to sleep. Now repeat this for 506 pages.
Read it before in Hebrew.
A classical collection of short stories. Contain several reasonable stories: The nine billion names of god, Rescue party, Superiority (i.e., demonstrates the first rule every programmer knows: "if it is not broken, don't fix it."), the star. None of those stories are outstanding, and Clarke had wrote better short stories. For me, Clarke is a mystery. I never understood why he became so famous. There are better authors, with better ideas. Oh well.
A standard fantasy, with the regular fascinating politics of a dictatorship. The only difference is that the true histories in the real world are considerably more interesting than such books (see for example, Assad biography or Japan history - for such examples of politics). The book is well written, but is so longgggggggggggg. Why is this book so popular is unclear to me.
A man is being transformed into a parallel universe. The parallel universe looks like a standard SF parallel universe with FTL, horrible aliens and son on. Our hero have to survive this "mad" universe. Some of the ideas of the parallel universe are really interesting, especially the mistout (big cities are covered by total black mist at night to defend them from attack from detection from outer space). Overall a slightly amusing, but somewhat standard soap opera in space.
This is the first time I read one of those books which is part of a large collection about the SSR. This reminded me of HASAMBA (a children book in Israel) and of James Bond books. Pretty boring, and nothing too interesting.
Another collection of short stories of Vernor Vinge. Apartness is a somewhat tedious exposition of South Africa past. Conquest by Default - deals with the question of whether anything can survive under immense pressure for change from the outside. The solution suggested looks like the only logical solution. Just Peace - A single man sent from the future to handle the "barbarian tribes". Unfortunately, the ties have nuclear bombs, and a horrible hostile environment around them. While the story itself is semi lame, the ideas them selfs are very interesting. Original Sin - Probably the best story in the book - what happened when humanity encounters a more intelligent but more shortly lived aliens? How does humanity handles it? Very similar to Niven & Pournel book Moot in Gods Eye. Very interesting type of aliens. The Blabber - this story is set in the same universe as the author excellent book: "A fire upon the deep". The book is better.
Supposedly making fun of space operas and the superheros in SF - this book is suppose to be a funny SF book making fun of this ridiculous things in SF. This book is full of a superheros rebuilding 747 into a space airplane in half and hour (only two of them), and similar nonsense. Making fun of bad literature is neither hard, not too interesting, and this book just gets tedious and predictable after the first 75 pages. What a waste of time.
This is a collection of short stories. Similar in spirit to Marooned in real time, and the peace war. Nice stories and worth reading.
What makes this collection special, is the story: True names. This is a story widely considered to be the one predicting the internet (written 1979 - which is very late). He got a lot of things wrong, but a lot of them right: importance of anonymity, the rift between government and regular users, and the disability of government to have a technological edge over computer nerds. (BTW, this is the first clear mention of an internet agent).
Also the other stories are also very much worth reading. An excellent book. Too bad it is so rare: 8.5/10.
This is a small collection of his short stories. Very good and very amusing, but lack some of the other excellent short stories (see entry below). Good stories in this collection: Jaycee, Answer, Star Mouse, Letter to a phoenix, Armageddon). A very good and amusing read.
See also: From These Ashes: The Complete Short SF of Fredric Brown
This book is a collection of his short fiction. Unfortunately, this book was printed with only 2000 copies, so finding a copy is hard. Fredric Brown is known to most SF readers because of his short story "Arena". This book contains at least several stories as good as Arena, and some of them are very memorable - what happened if we connect all the galaxy computers together and asked them if there is god? What if women could have babies without the male participation (Jaycee)?
Fredric brown is extremely good in short fiction. There are numerous stories in this book which are only two pages long. And they are still interesting. Anyway, I read SF for the ideas, and if you can tell me the idea in half a page, instead of 20, I would be thankful for saving my time. Unfortunately, payment to authors used to be by words.
I guess this is as a good excuse as any to mention some very good short stories SF authors: Cordwainer Smith, Stanislav Lem, Philip K. Dick and maybe the closest to Fredrick Brown:
An interesting space opera. Unfortunately, the aliens and situation is not that believable. Dan Simmons had done better job in his series (This day all gods die). Cordwiner Smith has better humanity in similar settings. The tyranny for the sake of tyranny is not that convincing. I especially distaste the super genius theory. It is just historically false.