Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Vicomte Returns

After a disappointing shooting season (not improved by my being bored into coma by Lord Buttforth's incessant prattling of his losses at Chemin-de-fer), I have resumed my sacred mission to provide you, Kind Reader, with my variegated musings on the state of literature today.

More improvements to the site are forthcoming, and I trust they will meet with your generous approval.  I shall endeavor to maintain the very highest standards of literary criticism, always with your intellectual welfare uppermost in my mind.

I remain, as ever, your obedient servant,

The Vicomte

Friday, March 19, 2010

An Advisory From The Vicomte

Due to the commencement of Grouse Season in the Scottish Highlands, inevitably followed by the usual round of high teas and weekend garden parties, the Vicomte will be on a brief hiatus for the remainder of this month, and some part of the next.  Never fear - the Vicomte will return.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Softer Dave Cullen

ColumbineA word to the wise - the new softcover edition of Dave Cullen's stupendously well-researched and emotionally searing account of the 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold high school massacre, Columbine, (reviewed at this site) is now available. 

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

The Atrocity ArchivesDo you enjoy spy novels a la Len Deighton?  What about eldritch Lovecraftian horror?  James Bond thrillers, you say?  Well now, you can have all three, plus plenty of Pythonesque satire, in one easy-to-read volume!  But wait, there's more - real historical events, with strange, alternate explanations, and multidimensional mathematics, combined with advanced computational demonology, all at no additional cost!

Welcome to the freaky, fantabulous world of Charles Stross.  Welcome to The Laundry.  Meet new hire Bob Howard - just an ordinary cubicle mole, with an unusual gift for some rather arcane applications of higher mathematics.  After very nearly laying waste to a considerable section of Central London, Bob has been recruited into England's most secret service, The Laundry. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn

The Wreck of the River of StarsUnless you are a serious devotee of science fiction you've probably never heard of Michael Flynn;  I hadn't until a couple of years ago, and I take my science fiction very seriously.  He tends to fly beneath the radar, eschewing melodramatic space opera, in favor of highly detailed, very plausible multi-threaded stories, spread out on a very large scale.  Unlike many authors of the genre, he publishes only once every several years, and the level of skill, commitment and imagination that goes into each novel makes the wait worthwhile. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blackwater by Jeremy Scahill

Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Revised and Updated]"Old Blackwater, keep on slayin', Good old Uncle Sam gonna keep on payin'..."

I recommended yesterday's book, Tulia, for those who like to get outraged.   Today's book, Blackwater, should probably not be read by such people, as it will likely lead to so much outrage that the results will include vomiting, uncontrollable weeping, and paralytic strokes.  Yes, my friends, we have finally located the Heart of Darkness, and it's in North Carolina.* 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tulia by Nate Blakeslee

Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas TownThis is one I just happened upon at the library - I didn't know anything at all about the events chronicled by journalist Nate Blakeslee from 1999 to 2003, so I took a chance, and I'm very glad I did.  Tulia is a small town in the Texas Panhandle, and in 1999, a joint County-State-Federal drug enforcement task force raided it and arrested more than 40 of its citizens on charges of cocaine sales.  The vast majority of those charged were black and impoverished, and the arrests netted fully one fifth of the town's total black residents.

Just another sad story about the intersection of race and poverty with drug use, one might think.  But this bust was unusual in several respects.  First, all of the arrests were for delivery of powder cocaine, instead of the much more common crack.  Second, all of the arrests depended on one sole piece of evidence:  the testimony of Tom Coleman, the Swisher County undercover officer who made, according to his own testimony, more than 100 buys from more than 40 different people over an 18-month period. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

The Hour I First Believed: A Novel (P.S.)I would never have found this book on my own.  Normally, books about the emotional tribulations of people when bad things happen to them doesn't really pique my interest, nor do inspiring stories of redemption.  But after I reviewed Dave Cullen's Columbine, my dear cousin, the Archduchess of Lambeth-Steinmetz, suggested The Hour I First Believed as something I might enjoy. 

I'm not sure how much I enjoyed it, but I can recommend Lamb's book as compellingly readable.  Enjoyment is not a word one uses lightly when dealing with a plot involving the husband of a high school teacher who barely survives the Columbine massacre in 1999, and who then goes through years of intense PTSD and prescription drug abuse, climaxed by a fatal hit-and-run killing of a teenager. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Old Man's WarOk, let's pull back from the God thing and turn on some nice, easy-listening science fiction.  Old Man's War is a damn good book, and Scalzi is a damn fine writer.  Although this is technically genre writing, the syle and resonance of Scalzi's writing elevate it above the usual "It is now the year 2150, and ____________" (fill in the blank with "robots rule the earth", "apes rule the earth", "the earth is only a fond memory", etc.). 

The date of the story's beginning is not specified, and it isn't important; in the future life on earth is pretty much the same as it is now - life in space is what's changed.  Humanity has conquered the lightspeed barrier and colonized several other solar systems.  But there is virtually no exchange of technology or information between the Department of Colonial Affairs and Earth; everything flows one way only - off planet, permanently.  Colonists are young, healthy, fertile men and women from low-income nations like India and Thailand, and once they leave, they never come back.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Under The Banner Of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent FaithI seem to be on a God kick lately.  I'm not sure why, except maybe that the nature of faith, taken to extremes, fascinates and horrifies me.  That presumably normal and rational human beings can convince themselves of total absurdities, and then hurt or kill other human beings based on that belief, demonstrates, I think, a profound deficiency in human brain design.  What's worse is that it is a defect that seems to be on the rise.

On July 27, 1984, the 137th anniversary of  Brigham Young and his Mormon followers arrival in their promised land of Deseret (now Salt Lake City, Utah), two brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, slit the throats of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter, Erica, the wife and child of their brother, Alan.  They did this because of a revelation from God. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Good Book by David Plotz

Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible (P.S.)Have I mentioned my profound contempt and loathing of religious fundamentalists?  Probably.  I was reminded today of the staggering loopiness of these right-wingnuts when Bobo Smyth-Bullard sent me a clipping concerning a fundamentalist's response to the late unpleasantness at Sea World, in which Shamu the "Killer Whale"  lived up to his description and iced one of his trainers.  

Said response was swift and merciless; according to scripture, Shamu must be killed forthwith - via stoning.  (How do you stone to death something that lives underwater?)  Also, his surviving trainers must likewise be stoned to death for good measure, says the Bible.  As often claimed, the Good Book has a solution for every problem, even if most of them involving throwing rocks at people (or aquatic mammals).

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest UniversityI loved this book, but I hate the author.  Why, you ask?  Because the little bastard hadn't even graduated from Brown when he wrote this, and its a damn sight better than anything I could do at the age (or now, for that matter).  God, I loathe natural talent.  Anyway, its still a great read, and if you aren't the jealous type I'm sure you'll like it just fine. 

In addition to people who are more talented than I, I also hate religious fundamentalists - and that's what the book is about, from the perspective of a secret infiltrator - Roose himself, who took a semester off from Brown University to enroll in Jerry Falwell's Liberty College.  Liberty, as you may know, was started several years ago, during the heyday of the Moral Majority, to educate good Christians, while still maintaining their insulation from climate of foul sin that surrounds most Liberal Arts schools.  (I went to UC Santa Barbara, by the way, and majored in beer bonging.)