Garrett (garote) wrote,

July reading (more catching up)

Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks, by Ben Goldacre

Very educational. This book filled some gaps in my knowledge of scientific studies and methods that I wasn't even aware I had. It's also written in an amusing, almost bantery tone that borders at times on the self-satisfied - which is totally acceptable. Goldacre spends some time talking about the misconduct of organizations that should know better, and the revolting behavior of people who depend on us not knowing any better, and he manages to dance on the line between honorable objective detachment and emotionally satisfying - and hilarious - taunts, reproaches, and occasional potshots. Who wouldn't relish the opportunity to confront someone who is stealing or slandering or distorting good work for criminal ends, and give them a good rant?

Not Goldacre, and not me! Bring it on!

The proper practice of science is everybody's concern, and the very best way we can address this concern is by educating ourselves to be proper skeptics with proper tools. This book is a great - and surprisingly easy - step in that direction.

8 out of 10 doctored study results up.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls, by John Bellairs

I've always been a lover of haunted house stories, especially when they have a strong sense of play. As "young adult" fiction goes, this one is great! Atmospheric, unpredictable, with well-sketched characters and an amusing protagonist. It reminded me strongly of Roald Dahl.

I was lucky enough to experience this as an audiobook, narrated by George Guidall. He did lovely work here, investing a lot of himself in each role. The ending is a little sudden, though.

Seven out of ten minute-hands up.

Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky

Overstuffed with information, including things only tenuously connected to salt. Like its mineral namesake, hard to digest in large quantity. The author made a strong effort at imposing structure on his meandering tour, and mostly failed. Some parts are genuinely intriguing, other parts are distressingly bland, and you never can tell which category the next chapter will belong to.

I'd give it a middle-of-the-road 5.5 overpriced himalayan rocks out of 10.

No Easy Day, by Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer

A lightweight and well constructed book describing the training missions that led up to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and the mission itself, with a few asides about the life of a Navy SEAL and the ethical and emotional struggles they can experience.

I'm sure there are a lot of ""patriots"" out there who think this book should be on high-school reading programs. Some of them may have even read the book itself. Other people think this book is a cynical cash-grab devoid of any true cultural value. Most of them have not read the book and never will.

Setting aside the inane controversy, such as it is, this book is honestly no more impactful than any generic summer action movie. (Actually, the summer action movie probably contains even more guns. Hah!) I enjoyed it quite a bit, but forgot about it almost completely after turning the last page.

6 extremely expensive night-vision goggles out of 10.

2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Epic, and sprawling - in good and bad ways.

The opening scene will absolutely hook you, but be warned: Robinson is apparently not on speaking terms with his editor these days. This book has only enough plot for a 40-page short story, stretched wafer-thin out over a meandering whistle-stop spaceship tour all over the solar system to expound upon the Wonders Of Tomorrow. If you want a big stack of brochures about bizarre future tourist destinations, interspersed with confusing digressional snippets about politics and armchair anthropological wheedling, then this is totally your book. If you want a plot, or decent dialogue, or characters you give a crap about, then go read some Terry Pratchett instead.

With that warning in place, I will now admit that there were sections of the book - certain brochures in the big stack - that were totally enthralling, just as much as the very first one that opens the story. In particular I remember a descent into the cloud layers of a gas giant in search of a mysterious derelict ship. So, this book has its merits, and as a sci-fi fan, I couldn't help churning through the dull parts in search of the next awesome part. Some of those dull parts are real stinkers though.

I'm not the kind of fellow to unexpectedly spoil a book for someone else; even a bad book, and even though I appear to be spoiling something here, I'm not. Instead I'm saving you frustration. I am saving you from a level of frustration so great, it might possibly have caused you to stop reading the book entirely and throw it in the trash and call Kim Stanley Robinson various bad names.

When the protagonist and her friend get trapped in an endless hallway due to a disaster aboveground, they will spend a very long time walking slowly down that hallway. Pages and pages are utterly wasted here. It's as if Robinson was deliberately trying to instill the same level of hopeless ennui in his readers that the characters were suffering through in his book. When you get into this part, just start skipping pages. Keep skipping, and don't stop, until the characters are back out on the surface again. All you really need to know can be summarized in one short sentence: "They endured some hardship and developed some feelings for each other." Done.

Trust me; you have just avoided a section so pointless, so inane, so meandering and insipid and eye-gougingly dull and useless, that it would have compelled you to set the book on fire and stomp on it, and then possibly extinguish the ashes with some near-to-hand water stream. I would have done this very thing except I was listening to it as digital audio, so I would have had to stomp on my iPhone, and I couldn't possibly do that to my Most Favorite Possession Ever In The Universe That Isn't Physically Attached.

A hard book to rate, but I'll give it 6.5 out of 10 protagonist temper-tantrums up. The good bits really are good.

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