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43 of 59 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Get Back 14 Years in Just One Day, December 1, 2008
Sorry, I really tried. If Axl Rose needed 14 years (give or take) to get this album ready for his public, I figured I should give him the benefit of the doubt and listen to it carefully. But this awkward and laborious collection doesn't remotely live up to its many years of production or the legacy of Guns n' Roses. Even if this album actually presented a lineup approximating the classic GnR, so much time has passed that nobody should expect it to sound exactly like the hungry band of old. Regardless, what we've got here is... failure to deliver. It's the sound of an incomprehensible self-obsessed recluse who thinks he's a messiah with rapturous followers, rather than a once-influential entertainer with extremely patient fans.

Rockers have been known to spend a couple of weeks and a few thousand bucks in a studio and deliver an all-time classic. Axl is real far gone if he thinks that obsessing for years over gimmicky studio minutiae leads to perfection. The severely over-produced hodgepodge of sounds is painfully obvious, like the slapped-on lead guitar squiggles in "Chinese Democracy," the unlistenable vocal multi-tracking in "Scraped," or the low-tech drum programming that opens several tracks. The production irons out the contributions of many musicians to the point of over-processed dehumanization. And Axl ended up being far more dependent on the musicians here than he would probably care to admit, given the fact that long-gone contributors are presented in the booklet as full members of the band, like Buckethead (a fascinating virtuoso now back where he belongs in the avant-garde underground) who hasn't even been involved for four years. A loosely-knit gaggle of journeymen and hangers-on, making piecemeal contributions over several years, will never be a coherent working band - and it shows.

Axl's many years of misguided perfectionism also could not save unmemorable songwriting. The album is overloaded with mid-tempo dirges that resemble the progressive epics of Use Your Illusion, and they're mostly competent but bloated and directionless. The worst example is a bizarre experiment in some sort of southwestern techno blues in "If the World." The few hard rockers here are overproduced and underwritten imitations of the fake angst of the late '90s, bottoming out in the horrendous "Shackler's Revenge," a pathetic imitation of the semi-techno industrial metal that even Korn left behind a decade ago. Granted, the lyrics are somewhat illuminating and Axl's voice is still the wide-ranging assault weapon that scared the bejeezus out of the rock world back in the day. But Axl loses even more points for being so disconnected that he thinks it's insightful to co-opt Martin Luther King (in "Madagascar") for his own self-obsessed attempts at big statements.

It's been 14 years of silence, 14 years of pain... with nothing to show but a thin portrayal of obsession and seclusion. Farewell, William Bailey. [~doomsdayer520~]
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2009 8:03 PM PST


Glasshouse
Glasshouse
by Charles Stross
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
119 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Linebarger's Cat, November 29, 2008
This review is from: Glasshouse (Mass Market Paperback)
To paraphrase a character in one of his previous novels, Charles Stross is fifteen minutes into everyone else's future. This novel might be the best self-contained (rather than serialized) example of Stross's tremendous imagination and intellect, and his utterly mindbending muse is surely at the forefront of cyberpunk and many other sub-genres of science fiction. (Also watch for some sly namedropping of worshippable old cult faves like Cordwainer Smith.) Notwithstanding Stross's ultra-futuristic gadgetry, this story utilizes a fairly simple device - the old outside observer method from a jillion sci-fi novels - and unleashes a fascinating and mindboggling exploration of our current society.

In the 27th Century, our current time period will appear to be a dark age because we're storing all of our knowledge in soon-to-be-obsolete file types. The future characters in this story volunteer for a bizarre experiment in historical reconstruction, living in a fractured scientific version of the early 21st Century. This inspires the highly wired future characters to comment devastatingly on the current human condition. But the whole scheme might be a dictatorial social conditioning project to return future humans to the stifling social control under which we are now suffering (and don't even know it). In the process, Stross also explores the potentially bizarre ramifications of modern cyberpunk devices like viruses and physical replication among networked humans. Granted, the story gets a bit out of hand at times with cloak-and-dagger shenanigans and networked conspiracies. But the book is a truly mind-warping read in which Stross explores what lies in the future of computerized human societies, with a great look at how oppressive current human society will look hundreds of years from now. [~doomsdayer520~]


Pennsylvania Atlas and Gazetteer
Pennsylvania Atlas and Gazetteer
by DeLorme
Edition: Map
Price: $17.05
51 used & new from $12.11

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 10th Edition (2007): Many Unacceptable Errors, November 26, 2008
(Since AMZN seems to use the same listing for all editions of the DeLorme Pennsylvania Atlas & Gazetteer, here I am reviewing the 10th Edition.)

I am a huge fan of DeLorme's topographic atlases, which are indispensable for backroad travel and finding outdoor recreation opportunities, while the topographic detail really creates an understanding of the landscape. This latest (2007) edition for Pennsylvania indicates a switch in format, from the basic red lines for all roads to the more colorful representations of different categories of roads and easier-to-read labels for features of interest. However, something has gone seriously wrong with accuracy in this edition, and those familiar with the previous Pennsylvania editions (not to mention the state itself) will notice the problems very quickly.

DeLorme is usually diligent about the accuracy of its maps, but any sharp-eyed traveler will notice many, many errors in this edition. And strangely, most of them represent the cartographic situation several decades ago. Apparently DeLorme has reverted to direct modifications of existing USGS maps, which for many parts of Pennsylvania have not been updated by the feds for many years. Therefore, recent developments are missing for wide areas of the state. This is especially perplexing because the previous DeLorme editions for Pennsylvania were much more accurate and showed more cartographic research on then-recent developments. But the 10th edition presents a bizarre reversion to past realities, with a dismissal of DeLorme's own previous cartography.

Here are just a few examples among a great many, all of which depict information from old non-updated USGS maps. Many defunct state highways are labeled with route numbers here, such as PA 364 in Centre County (decommissioned in 1992) and a segment of PA 86 in Erie County (decommissioned in 1983). These defunct state routes and others were not marked as such in the last several DeLorme Pennsylvania editions. In Tioga County, PA 414 in Blackwell depicts the path of an old bridge that was replaced sometime in the 1990s. Around my residence in State College, there have been many new roads constructed in the past 6-7 years. Some are illustrated in this atlas but some are not, and the difference is a boundary line between two USGS maps - just one of which was recently updated by the feds.

This atlas also lists as "towns" any feature of interest from the USGS maps, such as Lebo Vista on top of a mountain in Lycoming County or South Pier within Erie city limits. Plus there are many unacceptable typos and misrepresentations. For example, in Jefferson County a stretch of PA 36 is mislabeled as PA 899, the depiction of PA 98 in Erie County goes too far north, and the depiction of PA 477 in Clinton County doesn't go far enough south. I've looked back, and none of the errors described in this review (and who knows how many others) were in the last few editions of the DeLorme Pennsylvania Atlas & Gazetteer. Someone at DeLorme has a lot of explaining to do, especially as they collect customer accuracy complaints. In the meantime, Pennsylvania backroad travelers should revert to the recent previous edition(s) and avoid this exercise in lazy cartography. [~doomsdayer520~]
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 9, 2013 8:40 AM PDT


Mankiller: A Chief and Her People
Mankiller: A Chief and Her People
by Michael Wallis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.07
113 used & new from $3.51

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Leader of Peoples, November 25, 2008
This rewarding tome from Wilma Mankiller, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985 to 1995, alternates between her autobiography and a tribal history. The book's structure is often awkward, but we get more than just the instructive story of a courageous woman who rose to be a great leader among her people. Most rewarding is a crucial recent history of Native Americans and their modern struggles, which are rarely covered in more anthropological histories. Especially stirring are Mankiller's coverage of yet another disastrous federal relocation program for Indians in the 1950s, and unique perspectives on internal Cherokee politics. There are a few problems with this book, such as when Mankiller tries to deliver a social history of her coming-of-age in the late 1960s but keeps falling into thin baby boomer nostalgia, while she mostly avoids several controversies that developed during her term in office (which are covered in-depth in other sources). The tail end of the book also devolves into attempts at inspirational self-help platitudes. But Wilma Mankiller emerges here as a strong human being who overcame great personal struggles to become an effective leader, and her perspectives on the challenges faced by her people are essential reading for any concerned American. [~doomsdayer520~]


Sharp Teeth
Sharp Teeth
by Toby Barlow
Edition: Paperback
150 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's a Were-Dog's Life, November 23, 2008
This review is from: Sharp Teeth (Paperback)
Toby Barlow has delivered a very intriguing and hard-hitting debut novel, via a strange combination of monster movie horror and free verse. Some may think the free verse structure is a gimmick to differentiate the stock horror plotline from tons of other novels, and that might just be true. But Barlow makes surprisingly effective use of this writing device, with an oppressive mood and often disturbing language delivered with a violent machine gun-like efficiency. It's not epic Homeric poetry, to be sure, but Barlow rises above gimmickry with the brutality of his action scenes, the efficiency of his dialogue, and the subversion of his social commentary - all thanks to the tense rhythm of the verse. This is modern horror writing at a new level of darkness and moodiness.

Thus we have a very intriguing new-school style of horror for the adventurous reader. As for the plotline, Barlow has reconstructed werewolves (or more accurately, lycanthropes) as ancient warring factions posing as regular dogs while plotting violent wars for gangland supremacy. Pretty interesting, but Barlow's aforementioned victories of style overwhelm the construction of the story, with too many factions and way too many individual characters acting upon motivations that are vague and under-elaborated. The climax of the novel also gets a bit out of hand with an incongruous resolution that wipes out many of the characters and their individual storylines too abruptly. Therefore, some readers will be more amazed by this book's style, rather than the ultimate effectiveness of the story. But Toby Barlow is definitely onto something here, and lovers of horror writing would be wise to watch his future career. [~doomsdayer520~]


You Don't Love Me Yet (Vintage Contemporaries)
You Don't Love Me Yet (Vintage Contemporaries)
by Jonathan Lethem
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.79
118 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Justified Complainer, November 20, 2008
The usually intriguing Jonathan Lethem falters with this slow-moving, unremarkable, and disappointing novel - for some reason delving into a genre that is not his forte and which has already been done to death by lesser writers. The jacket blurb will have you believe the book is a send-up of romantic comedies with quirky characters. But if this is supposed to be a send-up, Lethem is only satirizing himself, delivering a story that became the very same type of genre tripe that he was probably trying to skewer.

The story is not romantic or comedic, and the characters are more incongruous than quirky. The plotting is slow and directionless, focused on messy but utterly unexceptional love lives that could be concocted by any writer of teen chick lit. With the exception of an inconsequential subplot about one of the characters kidnapping a supposedly depressed kangaroo, Lethem has dropped his knack for the insightfully surreal in favor of stereotypical angst and ennui among artsy hipsters. If Lethem meant to shed light on this scene, he's about a decade and a half behind schedule, with his characters exhibiting the "...whatever..." style of forced self-irony and detached cynicism that was fashionable for a few minutes back in the grunge era. Even Lethem's usually vibrant prose falls into the same malformed false subversion displayed by his characters - for example, "a kind of on-the-spot reconstruction of this music's sense in the first place." Granted, there are a few surprise twists near the end of the story, but plodding melodrama swamps any empathy the reader may feel for the characters.

Lethem is capable of far more than this. Perhaps this utterly unaccomplished novel is the result of bad advice from an agent telling Lethem to go mainstream. Hopefully he'll soon return to his established strengths and leave this misstep behind him. [~doomsdayer520~]
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2009 10:13 PM PDT


Remind Me in 3 Days
Remind Me in 3 Days
Offered by mirmedia_movies_and_music
Price: $5.04
93 used & new from $0.01

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Knuxkleheadz, November 18, 2008
This review is from: Remind Me in 3 Days (Audio CD)
The Knux are either the new old or the old new in the rap world, and probably both. This sick album offers the newest hip hop sounds and an unironic love for the retro, mixing the two with a weirdness that is truly unique on the current scene. The key to the Knux sound is the live instruments, especially the electric guitar. Try to find anything in hip hop these days like the filthy sleaze-rock riff in "The List," the nearly metallic crunch of "Roxxanne," the skronky funk licks of "Bang! Bang!," or the new wave nervous guitar scratch of "Playboys." These fellas know what they're talking about when name-dropping rock nerds like Elvis Costello. Also, in a way that really reminds me of early 90s alt-hop pranksters like De La Soul, Knux can mix the nasty humor in their rhymes with occasional, and very effective, detours into serious drama like in "Shine Again" and "Life in a Cage."

The fellas are not afraid to show their many influences from hip hop, soul, funk, rock, and who knows what else, with the pinnacle of the Knux sound being the swingin' "Cappuccino" which mixes decades worth of multi-genre influences in ways that blow the similarly-inclined N.E.R.D. clear out of the water. Once in a while the rap world needs some weirdos to shake out the cobwebs and point the field in crazy new directions. This time it's the Knux - so get with `em. [~doomsdayer520~]


Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators
Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators
by Will Stolzenberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.35
77 used & new from $4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Megapredators, November 16, 2008
For fans of science writing, not to mention lovers of nature and animals, this is a very well-written and occasionally heartbreaking look at the developing science of predation. Stolzenburg presents important breakthroughs and controversies surrounding this relatively new discipline, with especially insightful explorations of whether the human world would truly benefit from a natural environment possessing a full slate of superpredators. Throughout history, large predators have been willfully exterminated, either out of spite or through scientific misunderstanding of their impacts on ecosystems. But modern scientists are finding that the anthropocentric view of villainous predators conflicts with their crucial roles in their ecosystems, as the big carnivores regulate the populations and behaviors of their prey species. Remove the predators and ecological chaos can ensue, with one very clear example being the pampered deer in my home state of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile the reintroduction of predators, such as the noteworthy story of the wolves of Yellowstone, can lead to immediate improvements in the health and biodiversity of ecosystems that were damaged by the superpredators' previous removal or disappearance.

Stolzenburg covers all sides of the issue, from debates among pioneering scientists to the policy disputes brought by unscientific citizens and politicians, built around engaging stories of the crucial ecosystem services performed by unfairly maligned predators ranging from grizzly bears and wolves to killer whales and even otters and starfish. Here Stolzenburg offers great insight into recent developments in not just the science of predation, but public attitudes toward the so-called monsters of the animal kingdom. The world needs big predators, and humans would be wise to appreciate all the ways that these predators accentuate our natural world. [~doomsdayer520~]


Full Fathom Five: Audio Field Recordings 2007-2008
Full Fathom Five: Audio Field Recordings 2007-2008
Price: $12.73
33 used & new from $1.37

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Live Book of the Dead, November 14, 2008
For Clutch fans old and new, this live album is a perfect summary of the band's savagery on stage. While the old in-concert set *Live at the Googolplex* from 2003 shows a younger and more metallic Clutch, this new release shows the band effectively mixing their current interests in swingin' blues licks with their historic penchant for stoner-ish metal and lowdown funky grooves. The fellas are getting a little more laidback and serious as the rockin' years fly by, but onstage they're still as brutal as ever.

As one would expect, this set is based largely on songs from the most recent studio album *From Beale Street to Oblivion* but with a focus on that album's less blatantly bluesy and more riff-oriented tracks, building an important bridge to the band's heavy past. The key tracks here are "Child of the City" and "Mr. Shiny Cadillackness" which are performed with ominous menace. For those fans who don't have all of the older studio albums, this set is also a fine introduction to many of Clutch's more interesting catalog tracks, with highlights being especially savage takes on "Dragonfly" and "Texan Book of the Dead." The only minor glitch here comes with some of the tracks from the extra-heavy *Blast Tyrant* album, with the live takes lacking some of that album's huge sounds (especially with backing vocals). Regardless, the now older and wiser Clutch remains a punishing live act, and even if you've listened to all these songs a gazillion times, you'll appreciate the power of this live set. [~doomsdayer520~]
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 20, 2010 9:05 PM PDT


Kockroach
Kockroach
by Tyler Knox
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.49
101 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Akfak, November 13, 2008
This review is from: Kockroach (Paperback)
This highly creative and ambitious novel flips Kafka's famous "Metamorphosis" on its head with the bizarre lead character Jerry Blatta, who has mysteriously morphed from a roach into a human. He stumbles confused into the seedy 1950s version of Times Square and hooks up with a diminutive gangster patsy named Mite. (In the insect world roaches and mites have the same type of relationship.) With the mind of a roach, and a roach's lack of morals and thirst for survival, Jerry naturally achieves success first in organized crime, then business, then politics - all while failing to truly figure out the incomprehensibility of human nature.

This novel mixes dark humor and subversive social commentary in ways that are nearly brilliant, complete with colorful characters and good use of period slang. The book is quite enjoyable overall and you'll surely be transfixed until the end. But watch out for the inconsistent mood, with the initial dark and sarcastic humor giving way to unwieldy existentialism as the story rumbles along. There are also many missed opportunities to delve into the unique Celia character (not to mention Jerry himself), and this reader disagrees with the author's decision to keep an important mystery unresolved and up in the air. But the novel is still a real winner overall, and Tyler Knox surely has potential for subversive comedy-drama. He's already hit the jackpot here with his (un-)shocking insights into the inner roachness of American power players. [~doomsdayer520~]


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