Tuesday, 16 April 2013

some short reviews

how to get filthy rich in rising Asia Mohsin Hamid

Good

A self-help book written entirely in second person, present tense with no named characters. Interesting technique, very readable but somehow left me a little cold at the end. Wanting a little more, something. I don’t know. The character of “you” is born poor but makes it big eventually selling water. There is a pretty girl who’s the love interest, on and off, the parents who fall away early in the book, some siblings and the city, supposed to be any city in Asia but very much redolent of Pakistan. And I find I have little else to say about this book….

Overall - There is beauty here, in the words, but the plot, such that it is, is light.

the armed garden and other stories David B

Good

Three stories, with the first standing alone and the other two being semi-linked. The first story is the best about a veiled prophet. The second is the armed garden of the title, where a religious cult takes refuge and the last is the drum that fell in love, about a drum made from the skin of a general. The art is the star of this book and is utterly gorgeous. For me the first story was the best but storytelling doesn’t seem to be B’s strength.

Overall – gorgeous art, so-so story

the sign of the four Arthur Conan Doyle

Good

The book opens with Sherlock Holmes shooting up cocaine, because he’s bored, with Watson watching wondering if this time he should say something. Then a lady approaches Holmes with a case and the game is afoot. There is a pretty silly story of a treasure from the east and a pact between prisoners and soldiers and Holmes is his usual idiot savant self. The book is barely novel length and still remarkably readable although, in this day and age, a little camp.

Overall – enjoyable enough light entertainment

coral: A pessimist in paradise Steve Jones

Good

Steve Jones again looks to Charles Darwin for inspiration and writes a book based upon Darwin’s work with Corals. Along the way we learn all about the biology and ecology of Corals, quite a bit about diamonds and earthquakes and a fairly in depth view of the carbon cycle. And it’s the carbon cycle part of the book that prompts our author to become a pessimist as he makes the case for man-made climate change in a compelling way. The Corals are carbon sinks you see, the “rainforests of the sea” and are picky about pH as well as temperamental about temperature. Liberating the stored carbon of fossil fuels and destroying natural carbon sinks and heating the seas is all pushing the carbon cycle back towards the Permian (although it probably won’t get to quite Permian proportions). The greenhouse effect, acidification of the seas, overfishing, destruction of forests, reduction of sea ice, warming of permafrost, release of methane from intensive animal farming and many other contributory factors is sobering.

Overall – fascinating and depressing

Dark Mountain Volume 3  - Various

Average

Collected short stories, essays, poems and pictures from the dark mountain movement http://dark-mountain.net/

Wind farms or no wind farms, the world we have known is coming to an end. To those who accuse us of wanting to overthrow this civilization, we might respond: why would we bother?

The Dark Mountain collection start with the premise that the environmental movement has failed and the world, as we know it, is coming to an end. However just because the world as we know it is coming to an end it doesn’t mean the world itself is coming to an end and they explore a concept of “uncivilsation” (as a kind of post-urbanism, post-human future). The stories, poems and essays in the Dark Mountain volumes explore this concept and on the whole the contributions are of high quality, although in this volume it’s a bit more mixed. There was a little more poetry and whimsy in this volume than in previous and although there were a few interesting essays and a couple of interesting interviews it fell a little flatter, less cohesive, than the other two volumes I read last year.

Overall – read volumes 1&2 but don’t feel compelled to read volume 3

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