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Ancestor: A Novel
Ancestor: A Novel
by Scott Sigler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.87
83 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fast and a bit crazy, April 8, 2012
This review is from: Ancestor: A Novel (Paperback)
I have a bit of a soft spot for Scott Sigler's work. They're all a little over the top and rely perhaps a bit too heavily on sterotyped characters but the main characters and the stories all feel original and engaging and there's always so much going on that you don't have too much time to worry about the small nits.

I especially enjoyed the atmosphere and the sense of isolation that he conjures up. We're not only physically cut off from the world but because of the project there's the social and professional isolation which creates some powerfully forces that squeeze and drive the characters. It's fun to see them all being pushed and pushed and eventually some of them snap. When that comes it's both a little surprising but also somehow inevitable. He creates some wonderful tension while staying true to the story and the characters.

It's also a very visual and graphic novel. Like many other commenters, I think it's just a matter of time before Sigler gets his books turned into movies or a mini-series and I'd happily nominate Ancestor to be the first.

by Adam Baker
Edition: Paperback
75 used & new from $0.66

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well paced but derivative, April 8, 2012
This review is from: Outpost (Paperback)
Output is an engaging, fast-paced zombie thriller that is fun but very derivative. He sets his crew far in the North which is a good way to isolate his characters but ultimately fell flat. "Terror" by Dan Simmons was far better and in the end, the cold carried little force. Even Scott Sigler's "Ancestor" felt far more frozen even though the bulk of that was set in the Great Lakes. Baker gave a mildly interesting explanation for the zombie's abilities, but again it's nothing new. We had a bit of messianic insanity but it felt like a weak mirror of "The Stand" by Stephen King. Even the way some infected could talk to others in their insanity felt like it was copied from "The Shining" and "The Regulators" (also by King). I liked that he made his main character an obese, suicidal woman in a very male-dominated environment but in a few pages her suicidal impulses disappeared and in a couple chapters she seems to have slimmed down to a Ripley-esque fighting force so that hint of originality was quickly squashed. (Where she found new clothing on an isolated rig was never explained.)

In the end, I found that I read it quickly and eagerly (good!) but was always disappointed by how bland everything was turning out to be. That said, if he could make such a derivative book still feel interesting, I will happily read whatever he writes next.

Perdido Street Station
Perdido Street Station
by China Miéville
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
65 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Crazy, memorable creation, March 31, 2012
Perdido Street Station delivered that rare combination of wild fun and interest while still giving a rich, complex story that has stayed with me well after the reading. In fact so much was rattling around after I put the book down that I waited until I finished another few books before trying to grapple with it again.

The characters are vital. Not just a mix of flaws and strengths, but with their motivations and actions which stuck with me. The struggle, sometimes fail, sometimes get hurt and sometimes die. And like life, Mieville gives us the ambiguity and mystery that happens. In a memorable scene, a character disappears and is left for dead and like the people in Bas Lag, we readers don't get to see a body so we too get to join in their feeling of loss and confusion.

I especially enjoyed the use of magic and fantasy. Rather than some mysterious, well "magical" force, it's just another force which can be studied scientifically. It creates a sense of verisimilitude and becomes very well integrated. In many ways, magic is like atomic theory, so what would happen if we could create atomic bombs in the eighteenth century?

I feel I'm rambling a bit. The book still evokes a lot of feelings despite the distance. I can say this: it's an exceptional book, one which I enjoyed greatly and one which I continue to think about well after I put it down. I hope that more people get a chance to experience it.

Lying (Kindle Single)
Lying (Kindle Single)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and powerful, March 31, 2012
"Lying" was my first Kindle Single, a short novella-sized essay that makes a good case for shorter length works. It stays focuses on a single topic and remains potent throughout. Like good philosophy works, Harris doesn't just give a list of edicts or commandments for how to live but rather he explains why Lying hurts us and others and why it should matter. Rather than just say "never lie", he shows convincingly how lies affect us and why he believes we should avoid them if we desire a happier, healthier life. And to top things off, he explores places where we might make exceptions and talks about the consequences of carving out the exceptions.

Definitely well worth the read. I find that, weeks after reading, I still ponder some of the topics that he raised, the sign of a potent argument.

A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
by Lawrence M. Krauss
Edition: Hardcover
68 used & new from $7.10

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An old theological chestnut, cooked to perfection, January 30, 2012
"Why is there something, and not nothing?" That's been a question for millennia and theologians have usually taken our inability to give an answer as an opportunity to shove their god in to fill the gap. But like so many other gaps, this one is slowly being filled.

Here, Krauss shares with us not only his love for the physics and the quest for deep and true understanding, but his derision for those who would sell us easy answers given out of ignorance. The book has plenty of jabs at unthinking theologians which are certainly fun to read, but rather than venting his spleen, he uses it as an opportunity to explore deeper questions about what are the source of knowledge, how we learn, and even what answers should look like. Krauss takes us on a journey that stretches fourteen billion years into the past, a trillion years into the future, and, like wow man, into our minds. In so doing, he skims over some of the new ideas (and more importantly, the new evidence) in physics and shows why something from nothing isn't merely a possibility, but why it might be a certainty.

If you liked his writing, I would recommend delving deeper into these topics with books from Sean Carroll, who skips the jabs for much more complex discussions of time, entropy and meaning. But for an educated layperson, Krauss offers a very good intro.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2012 4:55 AM PST

Sandman Slim: A Novel
Sandman Slim: A Novel
by Richard Kadrey
Edition: Hardcover
24 used & new from $3.50

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun, action-packed urban fantasy, January 29, 2012
This review is from: Sandman Slim: A Novel (Hardcover)
In the line of Harry Dresden, Kadrey brings us a great new anti-hero. Stark is a magician and murderer who has escaped from Hell to get revenge and kill his former associates. It won't be easy. They have become very powerful themselves and he will be up against angels, Homeland Security and a mysterious new force that scares even demons. All of this is just part of life in LA.

The book has a streak of dark humour and fast action. Kadrey has little love for his characters, making their chances darker with every passing chapter and when the end finally comes, the best you can say is that things are quiet for the moment, not that things are truly better. It's the sort of dark, grim world which Kadrey makes so fun to visit.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
by Sam Kean
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.36
172 used & new from $3.37

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, accessible chemistry!, January 29, 2012
Even though astronomers and physicists make up a minority of scientists, they dominate the science writing field which is why it's such a treat to find an engaging, well-written book about chemistry. What could be in a book about the periodic table of the elements? A lot, as it turns out. Kean goes through the major chemical groups and tells stories of their discovery, use and quirky applications. After reading this book, I believe that this field of science has been badly served by the lack of good books and I'm grateful to Kean for stepping in to fill the gap. (And for readers that find they have a taste for this, also check out "The Poisoner's Handbook" by Deborah Blum.)

I especially liked that Kean wasn't afraid to discuss the underlying atomic structure. In many ways, he made this deep understanding the star of the show. Rather than constraining himself to the discussion about the human inventors and discoverers, he spends time talking about why the elements act the way that they do, the underlying depths of the periodic table, and how it affects our lives. He made the science accessible and comprehensible while still making me feel like he trusted me enough to discuss the deeper properties.

I would recommend this to anyone that loves learning about the natural world.

The Informant: An Otto Penzler Book (Butcher's Boy 3)
The Informant: An Otto Penzler Book (Butcher's Boy 3)
Offered by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Fun, suspenseful thriller, January 29, 2012
In "The Informant", the retired mob hit-man known as The Butcher's Boy has been discovered and his life (and that of his family) is at risk. He needs to deal with it and he does so in the only way he's ever known: by making people regret ever knowing him. His plan backfires and now he has several mob families and the Justice department all hunting him down. Can an aging assassin cope with this kind of pressure?

It's a story which kept me intent throughout the whole book. Perry knows how to write exciting books that keep the reader focused without making them too "big". It's not a quest to change the world, it's ultimately one man's struggle (and one woman's attempt to find him and perhaps even save him from himself). Nevertheless, it's as full of action and drama as any other genre book.

If you haven't read Perry before, this is a great place to start, then once you have, check out the other Butcher's Boy books and his excellent Jane Whitefield series. It may be a small thing, but I appreciate how he's able to write books which feel close to home and how he's able to avoid the misogynism and the insane serial killer trope which are far too common.

Death Clutch: My Story of Determination, Domination, and Survival
Death Clutch: My Story of Determination, Domination, and Survival
by Brock Lesnar
Edition: Hardcover
27 used & new from $5.54

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thin and weak book from such a strong guy, January 29, 2012
As a fighter, Brock Lesnar is a giant. He has achieved many impressive things and I believe that he could have done extremely well in almost any physical sport. There's one part when he talks about training for the NFL even though he hadn't played football in years, yet I have little doubt he could have done it. He has determination, intelligence and knows how to train. I've watched every fight of his in the UFC and am something of a fanboy. I say this because I have to say that the book is a real let down.

I was hoping that there would be a lot more stories about life as a wrestler or life behind the scenes at the UFC. Unfortunately there was very little. Perhaps Brock is keeping quiet to protect/promote his career (he seems to be very career focused), perhaps he hasn't been in the biz long enough or hasn't seen enough, or perhaps he just can't figure out what is interesting. Regardless, "Death Clutch" comes across as dry, unemotional and uninteresting. There are too many little issues which are brought up, quickly dealt with in his 4-5 page chapters, never to be mentioned again. For instance, he writes about his entrance into the WWE and how he's grateful to get any gigs. He brushes lightly over his career hinting at dealing with injuries and aches and how others resort to drugs or alcohol, but how he's still keen to keep getting gigs. Then a few pages later, he's the champion and whining because his script requires him to take a loss. What inspired this, what were the consequences, what does he think about it now? Of course we never learn, Brock just drifts from event to event with little drama or suspense.

In the end, I found it to be a weak, dull book. It feels like it was written to make him rich or boost his career, rather than because he had any real insights or any interesting events to relate. Watch him perform, but don't bother with his book.

Mud, Sweat and Tears
Mud, Sweat and Tears
by Bear Grylls
Edition: Paperback
41 used & new from $0.19

10 of 39 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Trite and uninspired, November 13, 2011
This review is from: Mud, Sweat and Tears (Paperback)
I wanted to like this book. I like Bear on tv, I know he's done some very interesting things and the reviews were all glowing. However this book really didn't cut it. The chapters are all just a couple of pages covering some poorly written anecdote which always ends with a homily or some trite quip. Even the prologue which starts with Grylls nearly being killed still manages to feel flat. After a few dozen chapters with this same formula it felt more like a parody or a bad joke than a book, let alone the "adrenaline" we're promised.

After reading 20% of the book I gave up in disgust. No matter how many interesting things Grylls might have done, it's not worth grinding through this book to find out.

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