Townhouse Books

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Informant: Kurt Eichenwald

One of my favorite This American Life episodes, called "The Fix is In," tells the convoluted true story of how the government in the early 1990s brought down a price-fixing conspiracy at the huge food and ingredient company Archer Daniels Midland, as well as various international companies. The FBI was originally alerted to this, almost by accident, by a top executive at ADM named Mark Whitacre. For years after their initial meeting, Whitacre made secret video and audio tapes of his co-workers and of these price fixing meetings for the FBI. Unfortunately, although Whitacre was telling the truth about the price fixing, he was also a nutjob constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown who lied constantly and fancied himself a character in a John Grisham novel. Fascinating!

If you haven't already listened to the This American Life episode, you must. It's really great. If you listen to it and dig it, you may want to check out the book too then. The author did an impressive job of presenting a mammoth amount of information in a clear and still suspenseful way.

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Anansi Boys


I just finished this book. Well worth the read.

The God Anansi has a family. One of his children grows up to work in an office in England. His life is OK, but not great. His dad dies (he doesn't know about the godliness) and he learns more about himself. For instance he has a brother. The story really starts when his brother comes to town. Full of mischief and mayhem, a great story all around.

Nanafv ernyyl bayl unf bar fba, ohg ur jnf fcyvg va gjb ol n jvgpu ng nebhaq ntr B. Fcvqre terj hc xabjvat ur jnf zntvp. Sng Puneyrf terj hc oryvrivat ur jnf yvxr rirelbar ryfr.

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Knife of Dreams: Robert Jordan

So the new Robert Jordan book pleases me. Might be that it's better than the last few installments, might be that I read it for free thanks to Brian's PDF. I think Jordan's feeling his mortality a bit, trying to move through the material quicker. One of my biggest pet peeves, the total slow-down of time thanks to ridiculous number of characters, was addressed in the book in two ways. First, characters specifically mentioned how many days had passed since events that affected the whole world -- and we actually moved through at least a week of action! Second, there was almost no Nynaeve. Which meant almost no braid-pulling and a drastic reduction of the "women don't understand men" asides. There were still plenty of "men don't understand women" moments thanks to Matt and Tuon, but I can live with that.

I say, go ahead and have it on hand in case you decide that a long, chatty "what's new with these characters I've been following for a decade" novel is what you're in the mood for. Also -- don't read the comments if you're not interested in spoilers!

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Appleseed: John Clute

So have you ever read a book that was really enjoyable to read, but once you're done with it you're not really able to say whether it was good or not? Or, probably more precisely, you liked it, but you wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone else?

Well that's how I feel about Appleseed. The setup: it's the future and everything is really cool, unless you're on Earth, and then things really suck for you. Because Earth has been taken over by Plaque, an informational disease that has laid waste to the Earth, and which is being spread across the galaxy, killing entire planets and civilizations as it goes.

That's the setup. Our hero, who owns / is friends with an information ark named the Tile Dance, becomes the focus of unwanted attention from a belligerent company called Insort Geront. Things are not as they seem, though, and as the book progresses there are plot twists, as there always are, but these twists mostly suck, as they tend to be so implausible that you're left wondering why the Clute didn't think more about what he was doing, and it seems as though he's just making shit up so that he can hit the plot points that were in his outline.

This makes the book sound unappealing, which is not really what I'm going for here, as it's a very enjoyable read. There are a lot of big ideas, his vocabulary is the best of any science fiction author that I've read since David Brin, and he can really turn a phrase, but I still probably wouldn't recommend it to you. Actually, if you have any interest at all in this book you should send me an email (or comment in the thread) and I'll send you my copy so that you can see what you think.

Clute has a very good reputation as a science fiction book critic, and this first book has been widely anticipated. It's an excellent first effort, and I'll most likely read the rest of his books, upon which I'll report in the future.

it's not entirely clear whether Clute is an important new voice in science fiction whose work represents the next major phase of science fictional technique, or whether he's just pretentious and, in the end, vapid and uninteresting.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Alchemist : Paulo Coelho

I don't think this was the book I meant to get. I feel like people have been talking about this book reverently for years, and I finally grabbed it from the library and started it without looking too closely. So, did you know it's a fable? And the real title is The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream? It had a few amusing and even sweet moments, but overall was silly. I wonder if it was The Alienist by Caleb Carr I am supposed to like.

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