STATE COLLEGE, PA, United States | Member Since 2011
Bushkin's biography of Johnny Carson is a self-aggrandizing autobiographical work in disguise. Possibly worth a read if you want the dirty details on Carson's business life and failed marriages, but utterly worthless if you are more interested in his career and mastery of the craft of comedy.
As someone in my mid-twenties, I can't say that I grew up with Johnny Carson; the best I could say is that I know him by reputation. Having two baby-boomer parents, I would occasionally hear about how great the Tonight Show was during Carson's reign. I wanted a book that would take me back to that era and show me just what made King of Late-Night the royalty that he was.
I hoped for a biography that told about Johnny Carson's career, with a little insight into his personal life from someone who knew him well. I assumed Henry Buskin, Johnny's lawyer and friend, would have such a perspective. This biography just isn't it, though. Instead of focusing on Johnny Carson's craft as a comedian, which Bushkin admits himself was Carson's true passion in life, the story mostly revolves around Johnny's business and marriage troubles, with a few stories thrown in just to illustrate how Johnny Carson was a star among stars. A book mired in business nonsense, divorces, and contract negotiations? You are reminded at every turn that this book was written by a lawyer.
No time is given to Johnny Carson's youth or early career; the story opens with the hiring of Henry Bushkin, after Carson is already a star. The story ends abruptly with Henry Bushkin getting fired, with more time given to Bushkin's legal battles with Carson's financial firm than to the 30-odd years of Carson's life that followed the split. Johnny's work on the Tonight Show is only mentioned in passing from time to time, and even then it is only in relation to the business deals it facilitated. I understand that Bushkin was Johnny's lawyer and his most unique perspective comes from the legal and personal side of things, but I expect the author of a major biography to put in the effort to research and fill out the entire story of their subject's life.
In fact, taking the author into account, this book becomes more of an autobiography than anything else. I can't help but wonder if this was his intention from the start, but the publisher chose to rework it as a biography of Johnny Carson to sell more copies. It makes sense, who would want to read about the life of a less-than-world-famous lawyer when they could read about one of history's most influential television stars? But it really does the reader a disservice when you expect an account of Johnny Carson's 80-year life and you only get the 18 years that Bushkin worked for him.
Bushkin's account would make a great piece to a more complete biography, which I feel probably exists out there. But as it stands, I can't recommend this book unless you are solely interested in hearing about the life and times of a New York lawyer who worked for one of television's biggest stars.
Let me get this out of the way first: I'm not the intended audience for this book. I graduated in 2005, when everyone in class had a live journal, MySpace was steadily moving towards its peak in popularity, and the first inklings of Facebook were starting to surface. In other words, while the services were still in their infancy, I was one of the "networked teens" that Boyd talks about in this book. "It's Complicated," however, is aimed squarely at parents who don't get the social networking phenomena, and want to understand what their kids are up to. This disconnect left me feeling somewhat disappointed in how remedial the content is.
With that said, as a person who grew up socially networked, Boyd hits the nail on the head with her analysis. Teenagers aren't replacing their real life friendships with social networks, they're using social networks to augment the real world bonds that exist and to overcome the barriers put between themselves and their friends. This should come as no surprise to the generations that have used these services, but it may still be reassuring to the parents that didn't.
The argument that Boyd puts together is cogent and interesting. She uses an effective mix of data and anecdotes to educate the reader on how social networks are really used by today's youth, being careful to avoid the hyperbole employed by both staunch opponents to social networks and overzealous supporters of the form. Social networks aren't destroying the youth of today, but they're not creating a glorious utopia, either. The more things change, the more things stay the same is the mantra of this book.
The reading is good. Wendell has an intellectual tone that matches the quality of the book; it feels like a long-form lecture from a college professor.
My only complaint comes from personal audience mismatch. As someone who used social networks as a teen, I was curious about how services that are used now differ from what I used. Also, considering how different networks have different cultures surrounding them, I was hoping for descriptions of those unique cultures (e.g. how does YouTube differ from tumblr?). This book contained none of that, and was mildly disappointing as a result.
Still, if you didn't grow up with texting, blogs, or facebook, you'll probably learn a lot from "It's Complicated."
With the break-neck pace that the gaming industry moves, it's amazing that anyone has had the clarity of vision to step back and document the history of this new form of entertainment. In Masters of Doom, Kushner does just that by detailing the careers of two of gaming's earliest superstars, John Carmack and John Romero. The fact that this book even exists is a testament to Kushner's foresight, and the quality of its presentation leaves nothing to be desired.
There's something fascinating about a creative duo, something magical about the dynamic it creates. Kushner positions the two John's, Romero and Carmack, as that sort of pairing, reminiscent of Jobs and Wozniak of Apple fame. But where Jobs and Woz were the design and engineering halves of the computer revolution, Romero and Carmack were those halves of the PC gaming revolution.
Kushner takes what could have been a rather boring history of id software and turns it into a real narrative. He shows Romero and Carmack as yin and yang, two parts of a whole. But he also shows them as headstrong individuals who just don't see enough of themselves in their partner. Ultimately, we see the two split ways and compete, seemingly never to achieve the greatness alone that they had together. Along the way there are many recurring themes and characters, all of which Kushner takes great care to point out to the reader.
It's worth noting how tight of a time frame this book exists in. Masters of Doom was published in 2003. Doom came out in 1993, and Daikatana (the development of which is a focus of the latter half of the book) was released in 2000. 3 years separation from the subject matter is nothing, but reading this book in 2013 still shows it to have significant historical perspective.
As for the narration, Wil Wheaton is, as always, a fantastic reader for anything and everything geek related. His delivery here is pitch perfect, and it really brings the story to life.
The only thing I might have wanted was a more recent afterword. I believe the one presented in the book is from the 2004 softcover reprinting. Considering the audiobook was recorded in 2012, and both Carmack and Romero have continued to work in the industry during that time, an extra chapter to bring the book back up to date would have been appreciated. That's a lot to ask from an audio release, however, and I can hardly fault the publishers for merely doing a "great" job with this book, rather than going way above and beyond.
If you care about gaming, and you enjoy a good biography, Masters of Doom is tough to beat.
Some books are weighty tomes, filled with flowery prose and multi-layered plots. Other books are more straightforward, both in terms of style and breadth, presenting a single concept in a light and breezy way. Redshirts is certainly the latter, but that makes it no less enjoyable than something more difficult.
If you are a fan of Star Trek, you are already familiar with the concept of the Red Shirt: those hapless ensigns sent on away missions whose only purpose is to die. Fans noticed this pretty quickly, making it a running gag in the fandom, but Scalzi's Redshirts asks the question: "What if the ensigns noticed it too?" He explores this through the eyes of Andrew Dahl, a fresh ensign aboard the Intrepid, who quickly realizes that everyone on board is really squeemish about away missions. Once the characters realize exactly why people seem to die on every mission, the story gets very meta.
Redshirts is firmly based on space exploration dramas, like Star Trek, and is happy to play with the source material. From lampooning Shatner's infamous scene-chewing through captain Abernathy to explaining why the non-sensical science always works, Redshirts' irreverence is a treat for anyone raised on Star Trek. My personal favorite was the book's version of Chekov, who acts like the universe's chew toy, and spends almost every episode getting nearly killed.
What makes the whole thing better is the choice of reader. I don't think there's a man alive better suited to reading this book than Wil Wheaton. Not only was he a character on Star Trek: The Next Generation and a modern geek idol, but his sardonic wit reads perfectly into every line. I could not imagine a better fit for the character of Ensign Dahl. As with most of the books Wil Wheaton reads, his performance alone makes the audiobook version of Redshirts the definitive text.
That said, Redshirts is not without its shortcomings. Scalzi's writing in this book is simple and to-the-point. You won't see any wild grammatical gymnastics or lexical flourishes here, and you'll never find yourself pausing to appreciate his prose. Such simplicity, though, is not without its advantages. The lack of complexity in form makes the book much easier to read, and I found myself so caught up in the momentum of the plot that I hardly perceived any weakness in the writing.
All said, I highly recommend Redshirts to any fan of the space exploration genre. It's an incredibly fun read, and the sort of book that you can't put down until it's done.
I'll get this out right now, despite some notable flaws, Annihilation is my favorite book in the War of the Spider Queen series since Dissolution.
First, a little background, for those who have gotten this far into the War of the Spider Queen series without doing much side research on it. War of the Spider Queen was an ambitious project undertaken by Wizards of the Coast, under the advisement of RA Salvatore. The overarching plot line and all of its main events was dictated before ink ever touched the page, and those milestones were handed off to multiple authors to write each entry (with editorial oversight by Salvatore). As a result, each book has some minor departures in style and characterization based on author interpretation. That said, the events that unfold in this entry are key for the series as a whole. Here we see the mission, which really began in book II, come to a close. We also see the inklings of change, as our heroes undertake a new mission (to be explored in the final book).
Book V is brought to us by the author Philip Athans. I have mixed feelings on his work in this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed how Athans included details which reinforced the careless brutality of the drow. We get to see the tragic deaths of humans through their own eyes. The stories of their lives, their dreams, and their aspirations are paraded before us in the fleeting moments before they die as meaningless pawns in the power struggles between drow. Also to his credit, Athans provides an excellent description of the most pivotal event in the series (which occurs in the final few chapters). However, this impressive descriptive skill is not on display throughout the rest of the book. Athans dialogue and prose are often uninspired and mechanical. It feels like every line of dialogue is "said," rather than "barked," "warned," or "whispered." Basically, Athans doesn't take enough care with word choice throughout the novel.
To sum up my opinion on Athans' work here, he does a great job with large scale storytelling but lacks the mechanics of a writer.
Rosalyn Landor is the real star of the show in this audiobook. Her consistent performance throughout the series helps to smooth the transition between authors, which might otherwise be very jarring. Danifae's voice continues to be husky and seductive, Quenthel remains haughty, Jeggred remains feral. Some detractors of the paper copy of this book have argued that the characters feel inconsistent; the continuity of voice helps to maintain the sense that these are the same characters as before, only changing as a result of their mission. Moreover, Landor's performance and emotion successfully covers up any lack of emotive writing on Athans' part. I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed this entry as much if I had read it in paper.
Obviously, if you've gotten this far in the series, Annihilation is easy to recommend. I think it's a satisfying end to the longest arc the series has to offer, and it catapults you into the awaiting conclusion.
Drizzt is, by far, the most iconic drow character in fantasy literature. He's so popular that within the circles of roleplaying gamers, both tabletop and computer, it's a common joke that every drow is a two-sword wielding goodie goodie, despite their race's fierce reputation. Players will name their characters in an homage to Drizzt, just as they might with Legolas or Gandalf. That's some high praise, right there.
Homeland is the first book of the Dark Elf Trilogy and the (truly massive) Legend of Drizzt Saga. While it's not the first appearance of Drizzt, it's the place for new readers to start, because here you'll learn of both his origins and his background. Homeland describes the City of Menzoberranzan, home of the drow, and the struggles for power that take place there.
If you've never read a book about the drow, you'll quickly find that there's a lot to learn here. Salvatore assumes that the reader is unfamiliar with his setting, and he exposes the reader to the atrocities committed in the name of drow culture through the eyes of the naive and innocent Drizzt. By the end of the book, you will have a good feel for what the drow are all about, and likely be hungry for more of their plots and intrigue.
The story features many interesting characters: the insidious matron Malice, the vengeful Alton Devir, the noble Zaknafein. Drizzt is the primary hero, but to be perfectly honest, I found his character arc the weakest in the book. His naïveté and indomitable innocence are meant to be his best qualities, but I felt robbed of the potential for a redemption story that could have made him much more interesting. Surrounded by characters who are falling into ruin through their own actions or finding spiritual redemption for their crimes, Drizzt's transition from naive to slightly-less-naive doesn't feel very spectacular. This is, however, a matter of taste. The tone of this novel really sets up the heroic tone the larger series is known for.
As for the delivery, Bevine does an admirable job. I have quibbles on pronunciation, here and there, but since all of these words were born on paper, there probably is no solid agreement on any of them. Bevine does a good job of transitioning between the harsh calculating characters like Matron Malice and the more idealistic Drizzt, which is rather impressive.
Ultimately, if you are interested in learning more about the drow or getting into the Drizzt series of novels, this is a great place to start. The intrigue and plots are interesting, but there's enough action to keep you interested if that's more your speed.
If you are even thinking about reading Ready Player One, then you're a geek. No use denying it; your secret is out. But it's okay, because you're in good company. Wil Wheaton is also a geek, and he's here to read the book with you.
Being a geek is all about loving something. It's about having interests which might seem arcane or obtuse to the average person, but that really speak to you. And because most people don't quite "get" the things you like, most geeks feel a bit like their on the outside, at least until they find a group of likeminded geeks to share their love with. Ready Player One is like that group of likeminded friends encapsulated in book form.
Anyone who knows nerds know they LOVE references. Cline will happily throw so many references at you that even the most erudite nerd will be baffled by a few, but each one that you do catch makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Anime, video games, comic books, movies, music, books, tabletop gaming...every piece of popular or geeky media is on the table. I know I got a smile on my face when the first mention Ultraman showed up, and I'd suspect that everyone will have a moment like that somewhere in this book.
Wil Wheaton is the best reader I can imagine for this book. His snarky confidence fits the main character Wade Watts perfectly. He's the consummate empowered nerd, and the performance is spot-on.
I only have two complaints about this book. First, it so shamelessly appeals to the geek demographic that it become a bit of a guilty pleasure. Second, the book's ending gives something of a mixed message. That does little to take away from the novel, though, because it really is meant to just be a fun adventure, rather than a weighty thought exercise.
Basically, if you consider yourself at all a geek, read this book. You won't regret it.
The impact of Neuromancer is hard to overstate. Few other modern works can claim to have altered the public lexicon, let alone society's expectations of what a future with technology should look like. Neuromancer has done both. But despite this level of impact, many will find this book a difficult read, and one with some very clear flaws.
Perhaps the most difficult (yet rewarding) part of Neuromancer is its writing style. Gibson's prose is jagged but poetic, confusing but evocative. On paper, without the assistance of tone, it is often hard to tell where the metaphor ends and reality begins. Luckily, the narrator (Dean), helps to untie the tangle of words with his delivery. Moreover, the adoption of many words used in Neuromancer by the general public in the last 25 years has made this book much more accessible to the modern audience. Thus, with the hard work done for you, you can really appreciate how Gibson's style helps to characterize the protagonist (Case). We learn that Case is curt, even in his own thoughts, and how he interfaces with the world experientially rather than intellectually. It helps to explain some of Case's flaws, like his fixation on drugs and sex, without having to beat the reader over the head with it.
That brings me to the single biggest problem in this book: sex. Gibson's use of sex often feels cheap. He throws in sexual encounters with too little pretense and goes into too much detail too often. I don't consider myself a prude, and I recognize that sex often has a literary purpose, but the portrayal of sex in Neuromancer is something of a distraction throughout the book. That said, the distraction is not great enough to ruin the experience, but it does seem like a stain on what would otherwise be a flawless novel.
Dean's performance in Neuromancer is impressive. He flies through Gibson's difficult prose, and really brings the character of Case alive. He makes occasional use of character voices, which is a very welcome addition to the reading. However, his female voices feel out place, too breathy and sometimes coming across as dreamy air-heads. While this fits for a few characters, it's unfortunate that a character like Molly, who should come across as a no-nonsense action girl, feels more like an aloof ninja.
Ultimately, in spite of its flaws, it's hard not to recommend Neuromancer. The role this book has played in both modern culture and sci-fi literature is just too great to pass up. To top it off, the book is fairly short and the audio format untangles Gibson's difficult prose, making this a surprisingly breezy read.
If you, like me, have been listening to the Song of Ice and Fire Series as read by Roy Dotrice, then odds are you've grown accustomed to not only the delivery, but the wide range of character voices that Dotrice handles so well. You've probably come to recognize some of your favorite characters just by the voice he uses to portray them. If so, you will find A Feast for Crows to be a rather jarring listen, at least initially.
First, a bit of history. When the audio release for this book in the series was first recorded in 2005, Roy Dotrice was not available, and the book was instead read by John Lee. Many fans were perturbed by this fact, and requested an edition read by the same actor as the rest of the series. After the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones became popular, and the fifth book in the series had seen release, the books received renewed interest. Hoping to appease this new fanbase, Random House finally relented on giving the fans their long-requested wish. Thus, it was in early 2012, nearly 7 years after the initial release, that Roy Dotrice was brought into rerecord A Feast for Crows.
It would seem, however, that in that time Dotrice has forgotten which voices belong with which characters. For example, the characteristically obsequious tone of Petyr Baelish has been replaced with a rather out-of-place gruffness with a slight brogue. Moreover, pronunciations of names have changed significantly, generally moving from a read-as-written interpretation to treating the names as archaic written forms of modern names. Brienne's name has shifted from Brai-een to Bree-anne, and Petyr's name has shifted from Pit-tire to Pete-ur. While you will quickly grow accustomed to the changes, it nonetheless feels unnecessary; Dotrice should have been professional enough to review his previous performances to stay consistent with the latest edition.
As for the story itself, the spotlight of A Feast for Crows is placed rather differently than its predecessors. Entire story lines, characters, and regions of the world will go nearly untouched throughout this entire book. While this is made up for in the sequel (which is at least partially a parallel narrative), some readers may become bored with their favorite characters being thrown to the wayside. Still, the story lines this book chooses to follow are interesting, well-written, and add to the tapestry of interwoven plots that make the series so interesting to read.
Ultimately, if you've already read the first three books of a Song of Ice and Fire, you're unlikely to be deterred by A Feast for Crows. While Dotrice's performance is inconsistent with previous entries, the quality of that performance is no less admirable. And while the focus of the story differs from its predecessors, you will still likely find yourself involved with the happenings of Westeros.
Report Inappropriate Content