This is the first Blackford Oakes novel I've read/listened to so I didn't know what to expect. What I wanted was an enjoyable listen while I made some long car trips and I wasn't disappointed. The novel grabbed my attention and kept me wondering what was coming next. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the novel moved along at a good clip--I was afraid that WFB might have some illusions of being a Tom Wolfe without the talent.
I liked the not unsurprising perspective Buckley brought to the early 50's when this novel takes place. While some of the spy details were over the top 007-type stuff, Buckley gave a good glimpse into the period and there was no nonsense about moral equivalence between the Soviets and the US which was of course still a popular perspective in the mid 70's when this novel was written.
What did however disappoint me was the way the plot came together for the climax of the novel. Without giving away anything, let me just say that Buckley created a situation in which the reader is expected to believe can only be resolved in one ingenious way which of course puts Oakes at grave risk. However, I could think of many ways to resolve the situation without any risk to Oakes and even accomplishing the purpose more effectively. This definitely took away from the climatic scene as I couldn't help but think it was too contrived.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and will occasionally return to Oakes.
P.S. What others have said about the performance containing strange seconds of silence is true, but I really didn't find this detracted significantly from my enjoyment of the novel. In fact, after a while I stopped noticing it.
I've read or listened to most of the Blackford Oakes series and this is the weakest. I listen to these novels more for Buckley's description of the surrounding historical events than for the stories themselves which I've always found to be mediocre. However, the story in Tucker's Last Stand is not mediocre, it is non-existent and to a person the characters are lifeless.
One thing I've never liked about Oakes novels is why Buckley seems to insist on putting Oakes into bed with women, and especially with prostitutes. We get a heavy dose of this in Tuckers Last Stand. I don't get it, these sections add absolutely nothing to the book and make me like/respect the characters less. I think he put these scenes into Tuckers Last Stand because he needed to add pages. And what is up with Buckley's fascination with prostitutes? Does he thinks because 007 sleeps around Oakes and his friends have to? But 007 never paid for it!
Another thing which baffles me about Oakes novels is his relationship with Sally. I won't give anything away, but in this novel this relationship goes from annoying to baffling and in Tucker's Last Stand the sections with Sally add absolutely nothing to the book or series. Again, more pages needed by his publisher? The relationship between Blackford and Sally evokes absolutely nothing emotionally in me beside perhaps mild contempt. In fact, I set the narrator to 2x speed during these sections.
Lastly, the novel's namesake "Tucker" is an unconvincing amalgamation of cliches. Most damning is that by the time the novel ends I really don't care what happens to him because the character never comes alive for me. Of course he too is a womanizer.
The most interesting parts of the the book which may make it worth a listen are the scenes with LBJ and Goldwater. This novel gave me a better sense of both men and helped me to better understand how we slipped into a war our leadership never truly had the will to win.
I will say that I liked the narrator. While I'm no connoisseur of accents, the accents he used for the various characters made it much easier to follow the story.
Like many of Heinlein's books, The Puppet Masters has a strong libertarian flavor and this one is overtly anti-communist. There is also an anti-Christian undertone but the anti-communist theme is much stronger. Heinlein tells a good story that for the most part moves along well, but I don't find his characters very compelling. Puppet Masters only has three characters that you get to know in any depth and I found them all a bit flat. Also, while they are all portrayed as super agents each one of them does annoyingly stupid things in the story.
One thing I found to be paradox is that Puppet Masters is very pro-individual liberty and yet the heroes are all members of a super secret government agency the "Section" which could just as easily be used by government to repress liberty.
One criticism that I think is off the mark is that the denseness of the political leaders is literally beyond belief. While true, I think that was intentional and one of Heinlein's points; his point being that the threat to liberty (circa 1951) from totalitarian regimes was so great and obvious and yet many politicians refused to see the obvious with some even drinking the communist Kool Aid and actively supporting such regimes.
A note about the narrator. I don't like the intentionally monotone reading. I think he was trying to read the novel like a report written by the main character. While this is literally correct, I think this reporter approach detracted from the suspense--I felt like I was listening to an after-the-fact news report and never felt any real suspense.
The Puppet Masters was far from a masterpiece, but it was worth the credit and 12 hours.
I've always had a profound respect for Orwell and both 1984 and Animal Farm greatly influenced me when I read them for the first time in my teens. I had always intended to read Homage to Catalonia but I'm in my 40's and just now got around to this great work. If you want to understand Orwell you must read/listen to this book. As much as I respect Orwell, I've always profoundly disagreed with his anarchist/socialist political beliefs. This work has greatly helped me to understand his political beliefs and to reconcile 1984 & Animal Farm with these beliefs.
Regarding the narrator, this is the second book I've listened to narrated by Frederick Davidson (Quo Vadis was the other) and I find him very hard to take. His snobbish--bordering at times on effeminate--British accident is a real turn off to my ear. I find it very hard to believe Orwell spoke anything like this and the irony of the anarchist/socialist anti-bourgeois Orwell having his first hand account of his experience in the Spanish Civil War being narrated by such a voice is pretty hard to take. On the positive side, even though the British accent is pretty strong, the narrator is very understandable to an American ear so I quickly found myself ignoring the accent as I became engrossed in the work.
First, there has been a lot written about Michael Prichard as narrator. I didn't know who Michael Prichard was but as soon as I heard his voice I immediately recognized it as the voice of the narrator of Seabiscuit. I agree the reading could have used more inflection at times, but those who say he ruined the book are completely over the top.
My problem with the book is that I guess I've read too much Soltzhenitsyn. When writing about the belly of the Soviet beast and the internal conflict of a noble Russian who loves Mother Russia but grew to despise the Soviet state you have to bring more to the table then just a few haunting dreams of dead comrades. I also think the book crosses well over the line of implausibility which also detracts from it in my mind.
I think the best parts of the book actually were his treatment of the Soviet-Afghan war--the the pre-9/11 profile of a future member of the Taliban was also interesting.
In spite of it's weaknesses, I found the book very entertaining and always looked forward to my commute to find out what would happen next and recommend the book for its entertainment value.
No topic is more prone to straw man arguments than arguments against Intelligent Design. Every time the subject of Intelligent Design comes up in my presence many react as if ID proponents were arguing for a 6,000 year old world. When I ask those holding such views what they've read from the ID community itself invariably it comes up that all they read was works from anti-ID thinkers about ID. The truth is that most who are anti-ID work on the assumption that NOTHING is more improbably then the existence of God and hence of design. Thus, even he most bizarre and/or improbable scientific speculation is more believable to them then the possibility of design and upon this basis they criticize Behe. This book however is NOT about God, it is about understanding the origin of the complexity of our physical world from a genuinely scientific perspective. Specifically, in this book Behe agrees with common decent and also with some variation that results from random changes and natural selection. However, the "Edge" he seeks to define in this book is between what Darwinism can explain and what it can't. If you want to know what ID is about and are not content to read straw man arguments against ID then this book is for you. I think the Edge of Evolution is even better than Behe's earlier work Darwin's Black Box because it is written years later taking into account important scientific discoveries in molecular biology and with the arguments of those who criticized Darwin's Black Box in mind.
I gave this 4 stars because even if read by the Chipmunks the Pensees deserves 4 stars.
I avoided Pascal for years because I was aware of the argument from his famous Wager and profoundly disagreed with it so I felt he didn't have much to offer. Fortunately, I became convinced of the importance of Pascal so I read the Pensees years ago with low expectations. It shocked me. While I still profoundly disagree with the Wager, as a whole the work is one of the most profound I have ever read and it is one I return to often. In a few words, Pascal understood man. One example... "We are so presumptuous that we should like to be known all over the world, even by people who will only come when we are no more. Such is our vanity that the good opinion of half a dozen of the people around us gives us pleasure and satisfaction."
Now a few words about the audio book itself. First, the choice of narrator is completely wrong. While competent as a narrator, his deep scholarly voice makes the work sound like it is encrusted in cobwebs and of no practical importance. I almost stopped listening because I didn't want to come to associate the voice with the work. This would be my greatest fear for those who have never read the Pensees. The voice reading the Pensees should be one of an earnest friend not a hoary scholar.
Second, I don't like the translation. It too is archaic and sometimes sounds like the King James Bible. I much prefer the organization and translation by A.J. Krailsheimer.
If you can find an UNABRIDGED version with a different narrator and ideally based on the Krailsheimer translation then definitely go with that. However, my criticisms aside, this audio book is still is the Pensees and well worth your time and money if you can't find a better audio version.
I give the book 3 stars because I think any tribute to Marine infantry (i.e. grunts) deserves a star, because I think the lectures embedded in the novel are worth a listen, and because the novel contains some Heinleinian gems as he describes a future world.
However, the book itself was merely an excuse for long lectures about the importance to a free society of its voting citizens valuing their freedom and their vote. To Heinlein, the value of freedom is best understood by those who risked their lives for it. I tend to agree with Heinlein's basic point that citizens of free democracies who have lost the memory of what it took to gain that freedom become decadent and lazy and a free society of such citizens will inevitably decline.
I agree Mr. Heinlein, but you are writing a novel not a political lecture, and as a novel Starship Troopers just isn't very good. Anybody can create noble characters and then find excuses in the book to have them lecture the reader, but this isn't good writing. In a novel, show me your point by developing interesting characters and a plot which brings your point home in the way a lecture never could.
I don't regret listening to this book because I generally found the lectures embedded in the book worth listening to and I recommend the book because I think others would benefit from giving Heinlein's perspective in Starship Troopers some serious thought. Again however, as a novel, Starship Troopers just isn't very good.
Wow, was I disappointed with these stories, but with 4 stories and only 2000 chars I have to be brief. As others noted, they are dated--punch cards, need I say more?--but this is the least of my complaints. Paycheck is the best of the lot and I would give it a 4 out of 5. It was a good short story which revolved around one clever but not terribly weighty idea that Dick weaves a nice story around. It was pretty obvious how the story would end, but this didn't detract because it was how the story would get to the end that was interesting.
The rest of the stories are not worth the short time it took to listen to them. "Second Variety" was so predictable that it was annoying. The only person surprised by the ending is the main character.
I was most disappointing by "Minority Report" and "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale". Both started well and were based on very interesting ideas that could have been developed in many different ways. As I'm sure you know Minority Report is based on the idea of the head of the "Pre-Crimes" unit himself being accused of a crime he would commit in the future. What an interesting idea! Was Dick going to examine the idea of the ethics of incarcerating people for crimes they would commit? After all, if we could be 100% sure someone would kill another person it would be hard to argue for allowing such a person free. But what degree of certainty would a "pre-crimes" unit need to make it ethical to incarcerate people prior to committing a crime? 99.9% 67% 50.1% ... Or perhaps he could have gone a totally different direction and made the pre-crimes unit a metaphor for God and then explored any number of topics. He does nothing like this. Quite frankly, it seems to me that Minority Report was a novel Dick briefly started, and then years later with zero creativity just ended so he could publish it. The same is true of "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale." Both remind me of movies in which the promos contain all the parts worth watching.
The subtitle of this book provides a perfect description: "A concise history from the 12th Century to the present day." This books does not claim to be exhaustive, but it it provides enough detail to leave the reader with a solid understanding of how things got to where they are today. The fact that it starts in the 12th century makes it pretty obvious that it will focus on the history of Ireland vis-a-vis England.
While this book is written from an English perspective, I think this is quite a different thing from saying that it is biased toward England as other reviewers have accused it of being. Nobody comes out looking very good in this book, and if anything I think the English come out looking worse. I came away with the impression that the English managed to botch things with Ireland for almost 800 years, not an easy thing to do! I think the book does a thorough job of giving the modern reader an understanding of how things got to where they were when the book ended in the early 80's, which I believe was precisely Johnson's purpose in writing the book. I would be very interested to read Johnson's take on the last 30 years.
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