Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Done Reading: "The Troop" by Nick Cutter.

Done Reading: The Troop by Nick Cutter (Craig Davidson), 2014, 9781476717715.

I read a Davidson novel - cannot recall which - and saw he wrote a couple horror novels under the Cutter name. This one was good. 358 pages long, but still good.

Five Scouts and their Scout Leader are on a small island off Prince Edward Island for a multi-night campout. They're staying in a cabin and will hike during the day. A ravenous man comes ashore at night. The man looks like a skin covered skeleton. Scout Leader is a physician and tries to help the guy. The guy is infected with a laboratory produced worm that travels and lays eggs throughout his body and eats him from the inside out. Bad, disgusting and scary things start to happen.

There are plenty of gross parts as the worms kill the host, infects the Scoutmaster, and goes from boy to boy. Meanwhile, Cutter fills in the story about the worm and it's laboratory creation with news articles, investigative reports and transcripts. The island is quarantined by the Canadian military and the boys have no contact. They despair at being abandoned by their families and other adults when their pick-up boat never arrives.

The five boys are a mix of jock, picked-on-nerd, anger issues, sociopath, and average kid. Sure, he's giving us some stock characters, but I think Davidson writes extremely well about adolescent boys and how and why they do what they do. I disagree with a review on the Kirkus website that says the boys all sound alike. They are similar in their fear, and of course they share common characteristics, but I disagree with the boys having lack of characterization. Complaints about the dialogue? Meh, I don't recall.

1. My only complaint is that the I prefer a shorter book.
2. I started wondering again about taking a vacation to Canada. I was checking routes on Google maps and wondering about driving to Quebec, or even PEI, and gas costs, and ease of camping. My wife would never camp though.
3. That Kirkus review complains that the book stays within it's horror confines and does not push boundaries. Well, shit. When a book does push boundaries the author is just a likely to get crapped on. Besides, why not stay within those confines? Isn't that the point? You're writing a horror/romance/mystery/thriller novel so you stay with the format. Forget it, Gerard. It's Kirkus.
4. A Quebec drive could take the speedy Lake Michigan ferry from Milwaukee. But, that thing runs $91 for a one-way car trip. It leaves Milwaukee at 6AM and arrives in Muskegon at 9:30AM. Travel time is the same for the Chicago path- barring city traffic. I suppose nixing those three behind-the-wheel hours would be worth the cost.
5. But, how much time is spent loading and offloading the ferry? That could increase total travel time by 30-45 minutes on both sides.
6. Shit. I just saw this:Please note, vehicle prices do not include the driver or any additional passengers. One-way fair for my family and a car would be $324. Heck, Driving would be 223 miles more via Chicago - no Wilco jokes - and the old Honda van gets 25 MPG Hwy.  So, at an extra 9 gallons for those miles at a rounded up price of $2.75 a gallon it'd cost $24.75 to go that way.

Listened To: "A Necesary End" by Peter Robinson

Listened To: A Necessary End by Peter Robinson, 1989, download.

Third novel in the Inspector Banks series. Thatcher is still in charge and the novel is very political. Very lefty. Banks sympathizes with the anti-nuke crowd and pro-civil liberties crowds. When an anti-nuke demonstration turns violent a policeman is stabbed, brought to hospital, and dies.

Banks was near the demonstration when helping some Home Office officers protect a visiting Thatcherite MP. The murder of a policeman brings plenty of scrutiny and a London based police detective is sent to Eastvale rather than trust the case to rural bumpkins.

The London cop sent to investigate is Richard "Dirty Dick" Burgess. Banks briefly worked with Burgess when Banks was posted to London.  Burgess is an asshole. He is the face of 1980s British fascist police.  A purposefully rude lecher. An over-drinker. Burgess excuses his intentional cruelty and power tripping by saying it's an investigative technique to rile up the interviewee and make something slip. He's disrespectful to all women. He decides on suspects before investigating. He sees a Red under every bed. Ray Davies wrote a song about him.

Banks is still enjoying living in rural Eastvale, North Yorkshire and neither approves of Burgess or his method. Well, that's too damn bad, Banks, because Burgess is now in charge. They start investigating by talking to everyone they can find. Burgess is an asshole. They focus on the protest's organizers.The head out to a local farm that's sort of a casual commune, but with rent. They identify a 20-year-old with a record. A local shepherd finds the murder weapon. Burgess keeps chasing a married barmaid and her jealous and muscular husband. The weapon has prints from the 20-year-old. He's arrested but things are not as clear as it seems.

Things happen. Banks's family went South to visit his wife's ailing father. Banks is lonely and drinks at night. Banks is suppressing his desire for local psychologist Jenny Fuller. When Fuller's new boyfriend is questioned by Burgess things get uncomfortable.

Banks is not supposed to investigate the murdered policeman and he does anyway. The Officer volunteered for crowd duty at any protest and enjoyed beating people. A citizen complaint leads Banks to solve the crime.

1. I really like the narrator, James Langton. His accents are neat to hear. A couple characters speak with an unusual Yorkshire accent where the drop the "t". Langton also narrated Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles and the Moonstone.
2. Ray Davies is a genius.
3. There was an Eau Claire reference.
4. Plenty of beer talk. Banks and Burgess hit the local bars.
5. Burgess enjoys insulting Banks by saying Banks was involuntarily sent to Yorkshire.
6. I presume Robinson creates marital strife in later novels. Banks is irresistibly attracted to Fuller, and she to him.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Heard: "Redeployment" by Phil Klay

Heard: Redployment by Phil Klay, 2014, download.

I'd read good things about this story collection. Then the book won...what did it win? Pulitzer? National Book Award? Something big. But, anyway, I was listening along and thinking, "Nothing new here. The usual post-war lives of soldiers and Marines." Then I got to Prayer in the Furnace.

Prayer is told by a Navy Chaplain who served in Iraq. He worked on a Marine Corps base and the Marine infantry was reluctant to speak to him. Going to see a psychologist about Combat Stress was a career and status killer. Men could speak to a Chaplain and avoid those perceptions but many would still resist. Chaplain collected the "To Any Marine" care packages in his office. Men could go in, get some candy, and use the excuse to talk.

Chaplain starts hearing the worries of several Marines from the same platoon. The platoon commander is an ass and unwilling to change his tactics and methods. Men are sent out to needlessly draw fire. There are hints that war crimes may be happening. Chaplain goes up the chain of command with several concerns and nothing changes. All Chaplain can do is console. He feels ineffective and during a tough sermon tells his congregation he quotes Wilfred Owen and says, "We are a part of a long tradition of suffering. We can let is isolate us if we want, but we must realize that isolation is a lie."

Prayer is outside the usual war and post-war fiction I've read before. I've read stories by civilians who are on the outside looking but Chaplain is straddles the line. He is both inside and outside. He's a Navy Officer but his rank has little power. He's on base and working an important job but his influence only lasts as long as his advice is accepted. The Chaplain's advice cannot keep Marines alive or guide them when to shoot. "'You're a priest', he'd said,'what can you do?'"

War Stories has two veterans, one of them terribly burned, meeting with two women. War Stories touches on things addressed in this collections other stories and also in What They Cannot Say. Why do you tell stories?
  • What stories do you tell and when? Are you looking to get laid, cut down an anti-war person, look tough to other guys, cadge free drinks?
  • How are stories told? With humor or sorrow?
  • What reaction do you want from the listener? Do you care what they think? Will all reactions make you angry?
  • Which story is appropriate? Look sad as you tell a story about dead babies and you may be a hit with women. 
  • What stories don't you tell? Which ones are too painful? Too confusing?
1. Not everyone has PTSD.
2. Most everyone has some bad memories.
3.Going into a country and forcing change doesn't work, no matter how much money you spend. Odd how politics in the U.S. says government cannot create jobs, but the exact opposite policy was followed overseas.
4.Civilians always get it in the neck.
5. Did you hear about those new corduroy pillows? They're making headlines.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Read: "Flora and Ulysses" by Kate DiCamillo

Read: Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, 2013, 9780763660406.

During the winter my wife was reading this to Boy #2 who said he did not like the story. She kept reading it and he pretended not to listen but would laugh along. I saw that DiCamillo is the poster girl for the summer reading program and figured I'd read the book.

Short version: squirrel vacuumed, squirrel has near-death-experience, squirrel now smart with super powers, lonely girl takes in squirrel, things happen.

Long version: Flora's neighbor gets a new super vacuum as a present. The vacuum goes nuts, zooms out the door, vacuums up a squirrel outside. Flora sees this from her upstairs window and rushes outside. The squirrel has half his hair sucked or abraded off and is unconscious. Flora provides squirrel CPR.

Turns out the squirrel is now smart, understands human speech, has super strength and can fly.  Flora names him Ulysses. Ulysses communicates by typing. Ulysses is hungry. Ulysses is a squirrel so he is always hungry.

Flora is a bit lonely since her parents divorced and has devoted herself to cynicism. Her father is a sad man and her mother spends her day writing romance novels for work. Flora focuses her attention on The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Mr Incandesto comic books and nonfic like Terrible Things Can Happen To You!  Flora figures Ulysses is like the Amazing Incandesto and will fight injustice. Flora reacts to events by trying to follow the advice of Terrible Things and another comic, The Criminal Element is Among Us.

Things happen. Flora's neighbor has a nephew, William Spiver, staying with her. Flora has weird flip-flops in her stomach when thinking of William Spiver. Flora's mother thinks Ulysses is a diseased rodent and wants to get rid of him. Flora's father is odd and seems depressed. Flora, her father and Ulysses go to a donut shop and a waitress freaks out about the squirrel.

Anyway. Plenty of laughs and no bubble gum ending. Things turn out okay with the conflict resolved but DiCamillo doesn't have Flora's parents reuniting and going on unicorn rides. She deals with Flora's and William's family troubles without didactic nonsense. DiCamillo also includes plenty of squirrel poetry and Rilke poetry.

Done: "Hydrofracking" by Alex Prud'homme

Done: Hydrofracking: what everyone needs to know by Alex Prud'Homme, 2014, 9780199311255.

Part of the What Everyone Needs to Know Series by Oxford Uni. Press. A good book. Sections include what, how and where to explain the process and two sections covering the case for and against the process.

Prud'Homme is as thorough as his name is difficult to type. His work is balanced as well, he's not grinding an ax.  Prud'Homme has an extensive bib at the end and has notes throughout. I tell ya, it's nice to see notes and references that are not all bullshit political references.

I'm kinda split on the fracking process myself. I have a 1st cousin who started an oil services company for the pumps used in fracking. He's been quite successful and the company works in oil fields around the country. There has been a lot of job growth and plenty of money for a lot of communities.

The downsides to fracking are in the news all the time: earthquakes, massive water use, polluted water after the process, ground water contamination, etc.  Some of those - earthquakes and ground water contamination - need to be scientifically proven but sure look clear.

A major issue with any major industry is: Who writes the rules? Oil industry concerns lobby a lot of more effectively than small cities and towns spread across the continent.  The chemicals used in fracking fluid are trade secrets - hey, it is a very competitive industry and I can understand some secrecy. But, if the used water is not treated and cleaned where does it go? Used water can be pumped way below the level of aquifers but not everyone does that, and is that causing tremors?

It's a fast changing industry that seems to follow the usual cycle where 1) a new opportunity comes up, 2) people rush in and many companies cut corners for money and time, 3) citizens react to abuses, 4) government and the courts get involved, 5) hopefully things settle down with realistic rules and regulations.

Those rules and regulations can rapidly change, too. The industry is overseen by both federal and state laws. A change in government administration can rapidly change things for the better or worse. Or, you get a guy like this jerk who tries to have people fired for doing research.

1. The earthquake issue. I've no time to check but the geological studies look to be conclusive that fracking is to blame. The issue, as always, is proving it decisively enough to influence change. Better yet, prove it so assholes won't say "This needs more study."

Friday, May 8, 2015

Heard: "The Night Stalker" by James Swain

Heard: The Night Stalker by James Swain, 2008, download.

"You're out of line, Jack."  Well, that is the whole book right there. Carpenter is a pushy asshole. Sure, he's trying to rescue kidnapped children and find serial killers. Sure, he's dealing with recalcitrant superiors. Sure, he's up against an actual deadline.  But, if he were not such an asshole all the time maybe people would want to help him.

Carpenter is the hero, though, and Swain gives him incentive and drive to rescue people.

This is the second novel in the series and according to those two books Florida is filled with serial killers, child killers, kidnappers, sex traffickers, incompetent cops, corrupt cops, and oblivious tourists. Swain does a great detailing how his pedophile villains do what they do. How they communicate to share information. How they act in daily life. How they trick, entice, coerce, and disguise their victims.

Anyhoo, Carpenter is called to Stark prison to speak with a death inmate. The inmate wants Carpenter, the famed child finder, find the inmate's kidnapped grandson. The inmate distrusts police and a note by the kidnappers threatens the inmate to stop talking to the FBI.  Carpenter takes the case.

Carpenter heads back to Broward County and gets another call for help. A Kindergaren aged child has gone missing at school. Carpenter goes to help, finds the kidnapper and child, the kidnapper dies, Carpenter finds some evidence. The evidence helps point to other things.

Carpenter snoops around for the inmate's kidnapped grandson. Carpenter brings his wonder dog everywhere he goes. Kidnapped Boy's father is suspected but the police but Carpenter thinks otherwise. Inmate is convicted serial killer, what is the link between those crimes and the kidnapping.

Carpenter clashes with former Sheriff's Department colleagues, and local cops, and the FBI, and reporters, and politicians, and witnesses, and victims, and most everyone else. Carpenter gets leads and people get away.

The plot moves on and you'll probably enjoy it. Or not. It depends on how much child abuse news you can stomach.

1. Florida geography love.
2. Colt 1908 love.
3. Wonderdog love.
4. Angry man action.
5. Stupid people being stupid.

Quit: "How Not to Be Wrong" by Jordan Ellenberg

Quit: How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg, 2014, from

I took a one day class on the Wisconsin state budget process. The instructor mentioned this book by a UW Math guy in reference to sketchy and manipulated numbers used in state budgets.

I was enjoying the book, and it is interesting, but I need to see the numbers on the page. I'll get a print copy. The 12-year-old might like this one.

Ellenberg narrates the book and does a good job.

1. There is a comment by Ellenberg that most people will agree with. When someone with a hare-brained scheme compares themselves to famous thinkers, "People thought Galileo and Einstein were wrong," you can safely figure the speaker is a nut.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Quick-ish: "Sally of the Wasteland" by Victor Gischler and Tazio Bettin

Quick-ish: Sally of the Wasteland by Victor Gischler and Tazio Bettin, 2014, 9781782760726.

Hardcover collection of a five issue comic book story. Here's the bad and the good.
Bad: No page numbers.Good: Everything else.

Sally is a young and slightly loopy resident of post-Apocalyptic Baton Rouge. She's hanging out at a local restaurant when a wounded blond woman stumbles in. The woman is treated and said she came to teh restaurant to hire Captain Sam to take her downriver to New Orleans. Every one laughs. New Orleans is not safe.

Blond Woman says, "Check out this tech, it's receiving a signal from New Orleans. We have to check it out, it means civilization." captain Sam says, "Yeah, okay" Sally goes along when he would-be boy toy volunteers to go along.

They all head odwnriver and trouble ensues.Mutant alligatorcrabs, jokes, crash boats, rapey river pirates, mutant cannibals, jokes, Amazons in Alabama outfits and called 'Bamazons, nudity, jokes, three headed monsters, evil scientists, more nudity, more jokes, cyborg woman, more jokes.

Did I mention the nudity? Because there is nudity. And don't forget all the blood, decapitations, impalings, slicings, stabbings, hatchetings, and nudity.

Fun stuff because Gischler always writes fun stuff and he found a great artist to work with.

1. Okay, there isn't that much nudity. I'm overstating things. There are comic book bodies though, big muscles and low body fat.
2. Nudity.

Completed: "The Things They Cannot Say" by Kevin Sites

Completed: The Things They Cannot Say:stories soldiers won't tell you about what they've seen, done or failed to do in war by Kevin Sties,2013, 9780061990526 (paper).

The title and subtitle imply secrets are revealed. Well...not if you've read enough military history. Sites writes about trauma and guilt and how veterans do and do not cope with post-war lives. Sites himself suffered mental health issues form his time as a war correspondent and felt guilty of letting a man be killed in Fallujah.

Sites was the journalist who filmed the killing of a wounded man in mosque in Fallujah in 2004. The wounded man was one of several fighters injured the day before when Marines attacked and took the building. Sites was filming the next day when Marines came back into the building and one Marine shot four of the remaining men and Sites filmed one man shot in the head. Sites's report and video were broadcast by news stations worldwide. Some people thought Sites was taking sides and there was a brief uproar. (Maybe you remember the incident, I did, and Sites has video online.)  But, the thing that put Sites on the sauce was Sites's guilt was that he could have saved the defenseless headshot man.

Over several years of war reporting Sites kept up with soldiers and Marines he met in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of those men were prescribed multiple medications. Many drank heavily. Many fought with family members. Many pursued dangerous behavior - Sites writes that war veterans buying sport bikes became a cliche. Some sought help and are doing okay. Some sought help and are doing poorly. Some sought no help and who the hell knows how that will turn out.

The book is not a guide to therapy or the importance of mental health treatment. Sites lets us know about some men he has met and how their symptoms and reactions are universal.  Sites compares his PTSD experiences with theirs and the book is about himself as much as the service members. Nothing wrong with that. He's had the same issues whether he was pulling a trigger or not.

Sites frequently refers to some authoritative books on the topic of war, killing, and the aftermath. Hey! I've actually read a few of those, including Col. David Grossman's On Killing and Anthony Lloyd's My War Gone By, I Miss It So.

Sites links to several video programs he has produced. I'll try and take a look at a few right now.

Edit: Okay I was watching a Fallujah video from Sites and noticed Sites had a Nov 2014 book. Swimming With Warlords about Afghanistan.ALso, Here is Sites's YouTube page: