The Progress Paradox starts off with an interesting review of why, despite things being better, people seem unhappy. It's an interesting topic and the book raises some good points and observations.
Having built a solid foundation demonstrating how well market economies have provided a higher standard of living and discussing the unexpected angst that has resulted, the book then veers off into a socialist agenda advocating class warfare against the rich, government control of markets, and massive government programs. All of this is hidden under a false flag of "fairness" improvements to the market system. While the early material in the book is well supported with studies and facts, the veiled political views are hyped with false analogies, hysterical language, hidden assumptions, and outright ignorance of basic economic principles.
You could get the book and just throw it away after you've read the first half, but picking up a copy of P J O'Rourkes "Holidays in Hell" will provide a better read and a lot more insight into how the world really works.
It's going to be simple and obvious right? Grab some Bernie Madoff headlines, throw in a square jawed hero and pretty woman in danger straight from central casting, blend, sell some books and then make a bunch money off the movie rights . . . but that's not what this book is.
The characterizations are a little deeper, the resolutions less formula than I expected. The biggest surprise, initially good, was the plot. It takes awhile to get rolling but it was much more intricate than I expected. The author also went to great lengths to make sure all the details were taken care of: no loose ends. When way too many books are slap dash with their plotting, this was refreshing. So far, so good . . .
. . . but the intricacy of the plot goes from being a pleasant surprise to being way too much of a good thing. When yet another player with yet another set of motives adds yet another layer of complexity you may find yourself wishing the book would just end. This is the only time I've ever read a book and thought "boy, I wish the author had spent a little less time on the plot."
-- If you are looking for a the financial equivalent of a techno thriller, where you get deep insights into international finances and scams, this isn't for you. That kind of stuff is just not here.
-- If you are looking for a fast and simple summer read, again it's not for you.
-- If you like your detective/action stories a little more complex than most with characterizations deeper than usual for the genre, you may like this a lot.
It would be interesting to look at Grippando's other books, since he shows a lot of talent and work in crafting this book. The same skills, with a more streamlined plot, might produce quite the adventure novel but unfortunately, for me anyway, this book wasn't that book.
The #1 rule of action plots where the characters and/or plot are a little thin is 'keep moving' and the titular Bodyguard is never far from the next gunfight, the next escape or the next rocket flight across the solar system. That, done with very well matched narration, makes this a fun, summer reading type of a book.
The solar system of the Bodyguard is harsh and dystopian and earth itself is worse. A series of surprises awaits our hero, not least because massive head trauma has reduced his ability to think ahead, or behind. This is an interesting device, since it means the reader is constantly trying to figure out plot points that it is quite legitimate to expect our hero to miss. It also papers over some plot issues quite nicely.
In fact, the one thing about the book that actually bothered me was the way too frequent reminders that "I didn't see it at the time, but hey, that's because I don't have a whole brain" which got on my nerves a little.
If you like the whole 'film noir detective in outer space' sub genre, with maybe some extra violence and social commentary thrown in, you'll have fun with this one. If your manias are for technical details of the future, sweeping space battles, intricate plotting or deep characterization, there are other books that do those things much better.
Like a visit to a tropical island, everything is slower and that can be frustrating but the scenery is fascinating.
The core theme of this book is the clash and contrast between the slow, connected Samoan life style and the fast, opportunistic paalangi (American) ways.
Our protagonist embodies this clash. He is a Samoan who grew up in San Francisco and was a policeman there. He left the high-speed life of an American city to go back to the laid-back Samoan style where having a beer with a suspect at a beach bar seems not only acceptable but also the sensible thing to do.
The story revolves around incidents that involve both cultures and, inevitably, the criminal faultlines where the cultures collide. It is a solid story reasonably well told but a loose end here and an abrupt close there make it only a three out of five for the story.
I can see how others might find it slow. If all you are looking for is a mystery or thriller it is slow. But I enjoyed the cultural tour, it's details and its tone, so I never minded the story running on island time.
It seems a little redundant to write yet another rave review for this book so I'll keep it short and try to hit the points I think other summaries/reviews have soft pedaled or omitted.
-- It's wildly imaginative but, like the best imaginative works, keeps to an internal logic that constrains and contains the action. Especially for books with a strong detective / spy story angle (this being more of the latter despite the Film Noir homage) this is vital for coherence and credibility. Correia does an excellent job of establishing magic as just another force in his fantasy world, analogous to the four forces we know, not as some sort of grab bag of plot devices.
-- It's actually very violent, and quite grim, in spots. In the audible production the book is given a gloss by Pinchot's narration that makes it easy not to stop and think about how violent some of the imagery is. It's not a criticism: I like action books, and this is a good one, but be warned if this might bother you.
-- A really good action book requires a really good villain and the way "The Chairman" is treated in this is quite good. What starts out looking like a Fu Manchu stereotype is actually a fairly interesting character and very powerful and smart.
-- Pinchot's narration is fantastic. The way he establishes and uses a large number of character voices is excellent. His work is so good that I think it actually improves the story: there were parts that seemed flawless when I listened to them but, when I thought back about them later, I could see some issues the author had with maintaining a consistent tone that I think would have bothered me in a print version.
I am really looking forward to other books in this series and will be terribly disappointed if Pinchot doesn't read them all.
Ahhh the Solar System of the future: giant shadowy corporations? check. Intrepid space heros? check. Mysterious aliens? check. Old school inner planets exploiting the 'colonies' of the outer planets and asteroid belt? check. Space navies complete with space marines? check. Plus lots of fun with some unexpectedly intricate plotting.
The authors (James S.A. Corey is the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) take a lot of familiar, but grand, themes and weave them into a very interesting read. All the space opera fun is freshened and taken up a level with two things: one technical and one plot driven.
The technical issue is that, after positing the obligatory, unexplainable advance in propulsion that makes any of this remotely plausible, the book shows a very high regard for inertia, which has usually been conveniently ignored from the Flash Gordon days all the way through Star Trek, and some practical grappling with just how huge the solar system really is. This lends a level of plausibility and constraints usually missing in space opera.
The plot device is the alternating story point of view between a young, idealistic space-faring officer and a hard boiled, burned out detective in a private security force on an asteroid. While early on it is quite difficult to see how the threads will ever come together, the book does a reasonably convincing job of bringing the two together and even exploring the dynamics between them. This is overlaid against a surprisingly complex plot that takes its time developing without ever bogging down and deals with the politics and hubris that will travel into space just as surely as the hardware.
Some plot hurdles are a little artificially overcome towards the end: people make some truly momentous decisions on the fly that are hard to imagine really working out between squabbling nations now, never mind between entire planets in the future but a couple small sacrifices to maintain the momentum of the conclusion seemed well worth it.
I'm really looking forward to some of the other "The Expanse" novels coming to audible.
While it's categorized as Sci-Fi, this is as much a Southern Gothic and a spy novel as it is a science fiction piece. Oh yes, plus it's sexually explicit and has recurring Freudian motifs . . .
Even the approach to science fiction is unusual: characters have wildly advanced technologies but neither the characters nor the narrator ever stop to explain them. In some ways this very fresh and realistic (a contemporary story would never stop to explain what a cell phone is or how it works, the character would simply use it). Just so in this story we only figure out what some devices do and are capable of as we see them used.
On one hand this is a refreshing trust in readers' intelligence and helps keeps things moving but on the other hand, well sometimes it was a real effort to figure out what the hell was really going on. It is an enormous help if you have already bumped into the idea of taking hugely complex technological items and representing them as physical analogs that humans can "see" in virtual reality.
All of this makes for an engrossing read as does some very intricate plotting where things which seemed to be diversions or simple events when first read suddenly come back as vital clues as the plot pulls itself together near the end.
Still, the ending was peculiarly unsatisfying. After so much of the plot has been resolved by suddenly and cleverly taking building blocks from throughout the novel and assembling in a compelling way I never saw coming, at the very end there's a deus ex machina that has several 'out of nowhere' and even '. . . but wait, doesn't that go against some of the major elements of the story?' elements. Also it's not really clear why all the things that happened were important or that anything has really been resolved. In a story like this you would expect the crucial element to be the main character's journey and change, and maybe it is, but that's less compelling when you never even know the main character's name, he's simply "the bureaucrat" for the entire novel, and it's actually difficult to know him well enough to understand if there has been any change at all.
Perhaps the very end was only unsatisfying because so much of what went before it was so good. If you are looking for beach reading this is probably not it. If you like science fiction and are interested in hearing a very different and talented voice you may not have run into, this is a very good choice.
I had sworn never to read another Cussler novel after the god-awful "Black Wind" but this one has changed my mind. New co-author Jack Du Brul seems to have reinvigorated the old Cussler while adding a new dimension of plotting and improved villains to the old Cussler formula.
The old formula is here: evil doers bent on world domination are thwarted by plucky nautical adventurers backed by high tech. The new elements are an actually intricate plot, smarter villains, and slightly more realistic (I emphasize 'slightly') plans for conquering the earth.
The sweeping, globe and time spanning plot where long lost discoveries and modern technology clash and combine is here but the story is intricate enough that it takes awhile to even realize who the bad guys are (unheard of for a Cussler novel) and then the bad guys proceed along their ruthless way without the "I'll arrange an elaborate death for the hero and then leave the room" kind of crap that sunk "Black Wind".
Is this flawed? Sure it is, as all the classic Dirk Pitt novels were too. Juan Cabrillo is basically batman without the suit: he knows everything, is physically superior, has a great team (a sort of a collective Robin), has a super cool lair (the ship "Oregon" is basically the Bat-cave), and of course has many high tech toys. At times it is just annoying: Juan doesn't really need to be as agile as a monkey and as strategic as a chess grandmaster and as strong as an ox and so on and so forth . . . .
Sometimes the action and the characters got a little too stock but somehow I was always eager to hear the next part and I guess that's the main thing after all. I was a little torn between 3 stars and 4, not sure if I'm being hard on the novel because of my old disillusionment with Cussler or easy on the novel because my expectations were low but I guess what it comes down to is that I will definitely listen to another story from the Oregon files and that's a pleasant surprise.
OK, it's a B movie thriller of a book: stock characters, lots of killings, good good guys, bad bad guys . . . overall it keeps moving and it has a beginning, a middle and an end so it delivers a solid book but . . .
The plot is way too "big coincidence" driven, even at times when it didn't really need to be. Additionally the main characters are very smart, except for when they need to be stupid: at one point it is painfully obvious they are being followed but they do not seem to figure this out or to do anything about it. These were the things that made me take away a star even for a 'beach reading' kind of book.
The characters are straight out of central casting, which is OK for this kind of book. The basic idea for the story is good and not so implausible as to hurt the overall effect. There are also a series of historical asides where the action stops and we get to hear anecdotes about the artifact. I'm conflicted about these: they slowed things down and padded the book but individually they were interesting and gave the book a historical sweep it wouldn't have had otherwise.
Overall it got the job done but I was a little disappointed in the final execution.
First off, this isn't really a novel: it's the middle part of a larger book that needs some serious editing. It comes in after a back story has already happened, which is OK - this doesn't keep you from understanding what it going on, but it doesn't even try to tie up a single one of several plot lines or resolve anything. If you're not going for the whole series, this is really annoying.
Second: I'm sorry but the fundamentals of this book are so far off that it's tough to get past them, even in the better parts of the book. A few examples:
-- the first part of the book, by far the worst of it, depends entirely on a battle hardened US special ops guy whining like a little kid and then freaking out. Not too likely.
-- then we get to the central premise of the book, which hinges on Vietnam needing American advice on how to defeat a large, technologically superior force. Let that sink in for a moment.
-- then there's lots of little stuff: Vietnam needs Americans to penetrate enemy defenses and blow stuff up? NVA sappers were a famous elite. Americans assigned to Vietnam for an extended time don't know a single word of Vietnamese, not even things like "thank you". The Chinese have overwhelming air superiority but never seem to use it for anything . . . the list goes on and on and the more you know about weapons and tactics the longer your list will be.
Oh yes, the mighty American hero who is going to save Vietnam from the evil Chinese? His name is Zeus. Seriously his name is Zeus. That's about as subtle as this book gets and is all you need to know about the dynamic the book sets up between our hero and the poor little Vietnamese who must follow him.
There isn't really a story, it's just the middle of something bigger, but the performance is pretty good and chunks of the book at least move along so, while the first 25% or so is definitely one star, the book overall climbs up to two star.
-- a sweeping vision of steampunk fantasy with a whole range of technologies and factions clashing amidst 'stiff upper lip' Victorian England
-- characters are fun and well rounded for this kind of fiction
-- does a surprisingly good job at both tying up the plot lines of this particular story and simultaneously establishing characters and plot lines for the the follow on books
-- good narration
-- didn't bother me much but it may bother some: this is steampunk fantasy. It's not just an alternate technological development line, it's the 1890s with things that couldn't be done today. In fact some of the tech is probably just impossible, or at least 50 years out from now, but Victorians are being it with wood and brass. If this bothers you, large chunks of this book, especially the last third, will really grate on you
-- similarly, while the coverage of Victorian speech patterns and mannerisms is often a strength of the book, the speechifying in the action sequences (again in the last third) is just ridiculous. It's kind of like professional wrestling where you have to listen to a lot of nonsensical talking to set up a fight and then during the fight people will just stop to talk and showboat for awhile because it fits their character as opposed to making any sense at all.
-- sometimes plot convenience just overtakes common sense even if you suspend disbelief for the steampunk aspects: at one point a character who has been stabbed through both thighs with a spear gets up and outruns healthy Somali warriors. Really? Not just stabbed in one thigh but in both thighs? Really?
-- it's a common failing of action heros in the last twenty years or so, but if you add up the amount of damage the hero takes it's probably enough to kill 3-4 guys and put two more in the hospital
Overall the good stuff was things I like and the bad stuff was the kind of things I can gloss over so it was 4 stars for me but if the you have read any of these bad points and thought to yourself "it makes me nuts when they do that" this will probably be a 2 star or even a 1 star book for you.
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