Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A few days ago, I finished The Tyranny of the Night by Glen Cook. Cook is best known for his Black Company series but this book is the start of a new series.

It gets off to a very slow start. Cook introduces too many new countries and characters too fast. There is too much detail to keep track of but too little to keep the politics straight in your mind. Instead of becoming interesting back-story, it just becomes confusing. Once he settles down to a few main characters and their relationships to each other, the novel gets a lot more interesting and by the end there are a number of good scenes and the plot comes together.

I also finished the first of the Hamish Macbeth mysteries, Death of a Gossip, by M.C. Beaton. It's a short book, which is a relief since most novels published these days tend to be 300+ pages. It is a classic mystery with some interesting characters and, as typical in a classic mystery, two villains - the murderer and the victim.

Amazon Link:
The Tyranny of the Night
Death of a Gossip

Monday, December 17, 2007

Over the weekend, I finished Kaleidoscope Century by John Barnes.

I've liked other books by Barnes but I can't recommend this one. The narrative is very difficult to follow, mainly since it is made up of a mix of current events and the main character trying to remember what happened in the past. These events all blur together in such a way that it is difficult to tell if what is happening is current, in the past or just in a memory. On top of that confusion, the main character is a major sociopath who kills, rapes and tortures with no moral considerations at all.

Not a fun read, and not a particularly good one either.

Amazon Link: Kaleidoscope Century

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I just finished re-reading The Golden Compass (AKA Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman.

Re-reading the book has lowered my opinion of the movie. Inevitably, a movie has to remove a lot of the complexity from a book, particularly complexity internal to a character, but in this case, I think the creators of the film over-simplified things. They also made a few odd choices, like changing the order of some events for no clear reason.

Probably the biggest mistake is the ending. When watching the movie, the ending felt vaguely un-satisfying but the overall movie had been enjoyable, so I brushed that feeling aside. After having re-read the book, it is clearly a huge mistake. The current ending of the movie leaves too many things un-resolved, particularly on an emotional level, and wouldn't have led well into the next film. The book's ending is much more powerful. Since the original ending was actually filmed, hopefully it will show up on the DVD version of the movie.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Over the weekend, I saw the movie version of The Golden Compass and finished Maelstrom by Peter Watts.

The Golden Compass is a good adaptation of the children's/young adult fantasy book Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. It is a good adaptation of the book but not up to the high standard set by the Lord of the Rings films. The book has been simplified in this adaptation, and a lot of the explicit religious references have been pulled out. What remains is the basic plot and a lot of colourful fantasy elements. I saw it with someone who had not read the book and she said afterwards that she could follow the plot, so it is not absolutely necessary to read the book before you see it but it is highly recommended.

Sadly, it looks like this movie won't come anywhere near earning back it's huge costs so the chances of seeing the rest of the trilogy in film is small. One odd thing is there there doesn't seem to be a movie version of the novel in the stores. This is such an obvious, and ubiquitous, cross marketing move that it's lack here is very strange and surprising. I was in a book store just after the movie ended and a number of people were looking for the book and there were not a lot available, and the ones that were were either part of an omnibus of the whole trilogy or were more expensive trade paperback versions. There was also some confusion because the movie says at the end that is is based on the book Northern Lights but doesn't point out that the in America, the book was renamed The Golden Compass. I'm also re-reading the book right now to compare it to the film but might not write about it here after I am done.

The book I finished was Maelstrom, the sequel to Starfish, by Peter Watts. Maelstrom is a direct sequel, continuing the action just after the end of Starfish, exploring the fallout of the ending of the first book and following a few of the characters as they move from the depths of the ocean to wandering around North America. Some of the scientific speculation is interesting but the relentless dystopian world Watts has created gets to be pretty tiring. I discussed Starfish here.

Amazon Links:


Northern Lights (AKA The Golden Compass)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I just finished The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb.

This is a very interesting book, interesting enough that I am considering buying a copy when it comes out in paperback so that I can refer to it and spend more time digging into the ideas Taleb presents.

Recently I posted on the book Super Crunchers, and commented that I thought it should have spent more time on the limits of statistics. The Black Swan is the polar opposite of this - it is all about the limits of modern statistical thinking and it raises a lot of good points. At this point, I don't agree with everything in the book and I think Taleb has gone too far in some areas, but the bulk of his argument is correct and has important ramifications for the modern, global economy. In particular, I bet that he is having a good laugh about the current sub-prime mortgage crisis that is currently going on in the US. This is exactly the kind of problem that he points out, with a lot of banks having booked profits for many years that are now turning out to be based on taking a lot more risk than they intended to take.

Along the way, he throws out a lot of related, and very interesting ideas. For example, the difference between scalable and non-scalable careers. Examples of a non-scalable career would be a barber or a farmer while an engineer or a novelist would be scalable examples.

The book is not a technical book - all but a few chapters are written for lay readers and could be appreciated by anyone who is willing to put in a little thought. For example, Taleb defines a black swan as a improbable event that has a large impact. As an example, he gives two groups of 1000 people. One group is weighed to generate an average weight. It is apparent that even if you added the thinnest or fattest person possible, the average weight would not shift significantly. For the second group, their net worth is recorded and averaged. Now if you add the richest person in existence (e.g. Bill Gates), the average will be dramatically different. In fact, any analysis you do of the second group's net worth will be totally driven by the black swan (Bill Gates) since his net worth is tens of thousands larger than the average persons. Taleb's whole point is that to apply the same kind of analysis to the second group as you do to the first results in bad choices.

Amazon Link: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Friday, November 30, 2007

Last night we went and saw the play after the quake at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. It is based on two stories from the short story collection of the same name by Haruki Murakami.

I was very tired before the play due to some insomnia but I ended up really enjoying this play. Even though it is based on two short stories, it unfolds instead as having stories told within stories, as the four main characters interact. It is set after the 1995 Kobe earthquake and has the characters trying to deal with the emotional effects of the earthquake and the changes in the relationship between the four of them.

If you are in the SF Bay area, or this play comes to your town, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Yesterday, I finished The Last Hot Time, a short novel by John M. Ford.

The genre for this one would be modern fantasy, where the author mixes fantastic and modern elements. In this case, the world changed in the 1950s when magic started working again and elfs re-appeared. For some reason, those elfs seem to have mainly organized themselves along the lines of the mafia so the novel is told from the point of view of a mob doctor that works alongside magical creatures and normal mobsters.

The Last Hot Time is an OK read but nothing special in this genre.

Amazon Link: The Last Hot Time

Monday, November 26, 2007

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I managed to finish re-reading one more book - Ringworld by Larry Niven.

Last week, something I read reminded me of Ringworld,so I decided to re-read it. Larry Niven is my favourite science fiction author, and Ringworld is probably his best novel, so I used to re-read it every so often but lately I have had good luck finding new things to read so my re-reading has dropped off.

Since it has been a while since I had read it last, I appreciated some things about the book that I had taken for granted over the years. I had forgotten just how good of a book it is. Niven does an excellent job of mixing the hard science he is known for, interesting, and well drawn, characters and difficult problems. It is no wonder that this book won both the Hugo (reader voted) and Nebula (writer voted) awards the year it came out. It is one of the best examples of hard science fiction available. Also, unlike a lot of science fiction from the Seventies, it doesn't feel very dated.

Amazon Link: Ringworld

Friday, November 23, 2007

I finished two books over the last few days: JPod by Douglas Coupland and The Dark Water by David Pirie.

JPod is a good book with a lot of unnecessary filler. Coupland likes to add pages filled with nonsense, presumably to affect the feel of the book. Since this particular book deals with a group of wanna-be hipster programmers, the interstitials here seemto be trying to capture in text the feeling of surfing the web, with it's almost random pieces of strung together data. The result is just a distraction from some interesting characters and an odd plot, involving family drug dealers, immigrant smugglers and a skateboarding turtle.

The Dark Water is a fairly typical mystery - detective and sidekick try to track down a serial killer who has a history with the sidekick. The twist in this novel is that the sidekick is Arthur Conan Doyle and the detective is Dr. Joseph Bell, the original inspiration for some parts of Doyle's most famous creation - Sherlock Holmes. It's a decent mystery but the tie in with Doyle/Bell seems entirely superfluous - I would have enjoyed it just as much if the author had done the work to come up with his own characters instead of just stealing the names of two historical ones.

Amazon Links:
The Dark Water

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Last night I finished Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett, one of his many Discworld novels.

This novel is pretty typical of the Discworld novels - you pretty much can't go wrong with Terry Pratchett. His novels are all amazingly consistent in terms of quality - almost all are good, with a few very good. This is one of the good ones. The only thing that distinguishes this from most of his Discworld novels is that he uses a new character instead of following one of the usual 5 or 6 characters that he tends to feature.

Amazon Link: Monstrous Regiment

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yesterday I finished The Tiger in the Well by Philip Pullman, the third book in the Sally Lockhart trilogy.

Like all modern novels set in Victorian England and featuring a heroine as protagonist, this series has to have a protagonist that acts in a more modern way than most women would have acted at that time. In inferior novels, this would happen without comment in an a-historical way. In the previous two novels in this series, The Ruby in the Smoke and The Shadow in the North, Pullman makes it clear that Sally Lockhart is more independent than was considered proper by mainstream Victorian society. One of the interesting things about The Tiger in the Well is that this fact becomes a central part of the plot - someone creates a legal trap for Sally and she finds that her status as an outsider in Victorian society undermines her efforts to defend herself.

I reviewed the first two books in the series here and here. It is quite a good series, possibly even better than his more famous His Dark Materials trilogy.

Amazon Link: The Tiger in the Well

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I just finished The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler, the first of his book featuring diver Dirk Pitt.

Every once in a while, I feel like reading the modern equivalent of pulp fiction - quick reads with daring heroes, dastardly villains and absurd action. The other day, I noticed the movie Sahara was on so I watched a few minutes of it. This movie is based on a later Dirk Pitt adventure and it made me slightly curious to check out the series.

The Mediterranean Caper is a pretty standard adventure book. The main characters stumble into a criminal conspiracy while helping to look for a rare fish and end up saving the US from a drug ring. Nothing special but OK for what it is. After seeing No Country for Old Men the other day, this was a good book to use to cleanse my palette.

Amazon Link: The Mediterranean Caper

Monday, November 12, 2007

This weekend I saw the new Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men, based on Cormac McCarthy's novel.

Previously, my least favourite Coen Brothers film was the critic's favourite, Fargo, but I've got a new bottom dweller with No Country for Old Men.

(Possible Spoilers upcoming)

Most of the movie is fairly engaging. There are a few dialogue scenes that slow it down and a few characters that show up and then get killed without leaving much of a mark on the story, but Josh Brolin being chased through rural Texas by a psychopath keeps the audience involved.

But the ending is simply atrocious, from all standpoints. It's possible McCarthy is intending his work as a criticism of other modern crime novels, like those of Elmore Leonard, that boil down to confrontations between men to see who is really tougher. There are multiple characters in this movie that, like in Leonard novels, express that they can deal with their opponents but it turns out none of them can. The main character of the movie is killed off-screen in a gun battle, another tough guy character is introduced and then killed off after only 3 scenes and the final confrontation is between the psychopath and the defenseless wife of the main character.

After everyone important is dead, the movie basically drifts to an end with a few more dialogue scenes from Tommy Lee Jones - a character who ends up not interacting with any of the other main characters at all, but just comments a little on what has happened. The ending is so Naturalistic as to be almost a parody of Naturalism, including a random car crash near the end of the movie that comes out of nowhere but doesn't actually change anything important in the movie.

Don't be deceived by the glowing critic's reviews - this is a movie to be avoided. Or, if you absolutely can't miss it, watch the first 90 minutes and then walk out of the theater and make up your own ending. You'll be much happier that way.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I finished two books yesterday.

The first is The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Given that I've been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan since I was a little kid, it's odd that I've never gone beyond those books and read anything else by Conan Doyle until now. Instead, I usually decided to just re-read the Sherlock Holmes stories. The White Company is a historical novel, set during the Hundred Years War between England and France. It's Victorian view of the late Medieval world is an interesting contrast to how it is portrayed in more modern novels. Conan Doyle focuses on noble characters, mainly a squire who was raised in a monastery and who hooks up with a band of archers and eventually becomes a knight while campaigning in France.

It's an enjoyable book and creates an interesting portrait of the period.

The second book has the long winded title Disney Presents Carl Bark's Greatest Ducktales Stories Volume 1. It is a collection of some of the original comics that inspired the late 80s animated series DuckTales and is one of the few places you can find some of the original Scrooge McDuck comics. I don't know why Scrooge McDuck popped into my mind last week, but since he did I've been trying to track down some of the comics to read.

The actual comics are better than I remembered, and quite a bit better than the animated series they spawned. Carl Bark's, the creator and main writer of Scrooge McDuck, had some wild ideas and the stories are pretty amusing. In one story, Scrooge enslaves a rival to work his Klondike gold claim for a month. In another, he discovers the subterranean creatures who cause earthquakes and steals the trophy they have been competing for.

The comics are fun diversion and a very quick read.

Amazon Links:
The White Company
Disney Presents Carl Barks' Greatest Ducktales Stories Volume 1

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Yesterday I finished Whitethorn Woods, the latest book by Maeve Binchy.

Binchy's books don't fall into any of the categories of books I normally read but somehow I ended up reading one in the early 90s and I loved it. I quickly read the rest of her books and I read each new one as they come out. But there is an exception - I strongly prefer novels to short stories so I haven't read her collections of stories, and she has tended more and more towards short stories. Even her latest novels are really sequences of inter-related short stories, and Whitethorn Woods is no exception. There is a slight over-arching story about the fate of a local shrine, but that is clearly just an excuse to tell a number of vignettes about local characters in a small Irish town that is dealing with the challenges of a modernizing Ireland.

Binchy's books are all set in Ireland, and most deal with the tensions between the sexes, between the old and the new, between the rich and the poor and between the rural and the urban. She is excellent at creating sympathetic characters and showing them responding to very realistic challenges.

This book is good but I particularly recommend some of her earlier works, like The Copper Beech, Circle of Friends or Firefly Summer.

Amazon Link: Whitethorn Woods

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I just finished Next by Michael Crichton.

The most interesting thing about this book is the change of style. Crichton is best known for writing techno-thrillers, most with some variant of "there area some thing's human's shouldn't know/do". As such, they are usually pretty straight forward narratives with just a few wooden characters dealing with some kind of crisis, with large sections of exposition on new science/technology mixed in.

In his latest book, it feels like he is trying on a new style - more similar to that of Carl Hiasen or Elmore Leonard - with many characters, more dialogue and multiple, interlocking plot threads. It's an interesting experiment and I'm curious to see if he maintains it for a few books but his first attempt is of mixed quality. Crichton doesn't have the ear for dialogue that Leonard has or the ability to paint a scene and use a setting to add colour like Hiasen. He also seems to be trying for a lighter, more humorous touch but he doesn't quite pull it off.

Amazon Link: Next

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I just finished A Meeting at Corvallis by S.M. Stirling, the third in his post-apocalypse/post-technology series. I wrote about the second book in the series, The Protector's War here.

The third book is better than the second. The bottom line is that if you started the series with Dies the Fire, you might be interested enough to keep reading. If not, this book isn't going to get you started. It's barely acceptable as a sequel but would be nothing as a stand-alone novel.

In this book, the conflict between the two main groups of heroes and the tyrant who has taken over what used to Oregon come to a head. Some of the characters are well drawn but most are fairly wooden.

Amazon Link: A Meeting at Corvallis

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I just finished Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres.

Super Crunchers is about what kinds of things can be learned by using basic statistical tools on huge data sets. The use of this kind of analysis is moving from universities, where "management science" or "operations research" disciplines have been advocating this kind of analysis for years, to the real world and this book discusses a few well known examples.

This book is very basic in what it presents - if you've ever taken even a basic statistics course you will be already aware of most of the tools discussed for data analysis. Some of the stories are interesting but the book feels like it has gone too far in trying to be accessible to the layman. Ayres is a practicing economist who does data analysis for a living but he comes across more like a journalist who takes the claims of the so-called "super crunchers" without a grain of salt. I'd like to have heard more about the limitations and pit-falls of this kind of analysis.

Amazon Link: Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart

Monday, October 22, 2007

This weekend, I finished Gardens of the Moon by Steve Erikson and Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

Gardens of the Moon is the first book of a large fantasy series that I first ran across on my last trip to Canada. Most of the books in the series were prominently displayed in the fantasy sections of most bookstores I went to, which was a little bit of a surprise since I had never heard of the series before. I spend enough time in bookstores, both here and back home, that I couldn't figure out how a whole series of books could come out between my visits. None of them had the first book of the series, but they looked a little interesting, so I found it at the library here.

Overall, it's a weak start to a series. By the end of the book, the various plot strands got a little more interesting but nothing in the book inspired me enough to actively seek out the rest of the series, unless I'm looking for long books to read on a flight. If this series looks interesting to you, I'd recommend that you check out Glen Cook's Black Company books instead. They have a similar feel but are a lot more compact and the writing is of a higher quality.

I also read the kid's fantasy book, Howl's Moving Castle. I saw the animated movie version by Hayao Miyazaki a few weeks ago. The movie is pretty confusing and I thought reading the book might help me make sense out of it. The movie and the book differ a fair amount but it did help me sort out some of the plot in the film.

It's a nice, short book so I'd recommend it.

Amazon Links: Gardens of the Moon, Howl's Moving Castle

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Last night, I went to see California's premier Western Swing band, Lost Weekend, at the Freight and Salvage.

I was feeling under the weather but I've heard good things about Lost Weekend and missed seeing them a number of times, so I felt I should go anyways. It turned out to be the right decision because they put on a great show! Even though I listen to a lot of very modern jazz, particularly since my girlfriend favours the more modern ECM/free jazz styles, my taste runs more to pre-be-bop styles. And even though I mainly play bluegrass, I've also played some western swing rhythm. In fact, the only real public performance I've been part of was playing rhythm guitar for an acoustic swing show.

From looking at their calendar, Lost Weekend only plays in California so if you're not local, you're out of luck. But if you are local, I highly recommend them.

Here is a video of them playing at the Freight back in 1989 (with John Reischman on mandolin!):

And here is a more recent Freight performance:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Last night, we attended the San Francisco Opera's presentation of Mozart's The Magic Flute.

I'm not a big fan of opera but this is my favourite so far. Opera's mix of drama and music just doesn't work for me. The plot usually moves much too slowly while the music is usually better without the need to fit into the plot. One reason that I liked The Magic Flute more than some of the others I've seen is that the plot in act I moves quickly

I have some friends who are big opera fans and they would probably give me a hard time for living so close to a world class opera and not taking advantage, but I have managed to see a few live operas here, including Fidelio, The Flying Dutchman and Tristan and Isolde. Later this year, they are also doing Das Rheingold but I will probably skip it since it is an modern staging that will probably annoy me too much.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I just finished Les Paul:An Americal Original by Mary Alice Shaughnessy, a biography of the musician and inventor.

Les Paul is a pretty cool guy, though it sounds that like a lot of artists, he's kind of a bastard to the people in his life. Aside from being an accomplished jazz player and having a ton of hit records back in the 50s with his wife, Mary Ford, and playing with many of the biggest stars of the day, like Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, he also was an innovator in early solid body electric guitars and recording technology, particularly multi-track recording.

Like a lot of artists from that era, he was wiped off the charts by the rise of rock and roll and the dominance of teenagers in pop culture. Today, most people probably have no idea who Les Paul is. If anything, they might know his name from the line of Gibson guitars.

Here's a fun video of him playing Tiger Rag with his wife:

Of course, Les was also a pioneer in using backing tracks so they are probably either playing along with a backing track or just faking it.

Amazon Link: Les Paul: An American Original

Monday, October 15, 2007

This morning I finished The Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Anne Scarborough, a pseudo-historical mystery/fantasy with Sir Walter Scott as the main character.

It seems popular these days to write fantasy books that combine historical figures with new stories. Some, like Tim Powers, try to be careful to stick to actual historical events while taking advantage of gaps in the historical record to establish a secret or hidden history. Others, like Elizabeth Anne Scarborough, just take a historical character as a starting point and create an alternate history.

In the alternate history of The Lady in the Loch, Sir Walter Scott became sheriff of Edinburgh instead of Selkirk and magic and ghosts are well known and commonplace. Scott gets involved in a series of murders involving a band of Travellers and Dr. Frankenstein-ish serial killer.

It's not a bad book but the mystery isn't particularly interesting and the phonetically spelled Scottish English of many of the characters starts out tiresome and gets more irritating from there.

Amazon Link: The Lady in the Loch

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I just finished Berlin Diary, William L. Shirer's journal kept while he was a radio journalist in Nazi Germany from 1934 to 1941.

This is one of the best books I have read in a while. I've read a few books about WW2, including Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but this one is probably the most interesting. It has the advantage of being a contemporaneous account of Germany from just after the Nazi party took power to part way through the war. It is fascinating to read accounts of the big crisis of the day without hindsight to put them into a specific narrative.

It gives a wonderful feel for what it was like inside Germany before and during the war, while the populace both worshipped and feared Hitler as he consolidated his power in Germany and slowly exposed the weaknesses in the post WWI European order.

The only flaw in this fascinating book is that Shirer left Germany in December of 1940, so he never got to see and write about German reaction to Germany turning on it's ally, the Soviet Union, and opening the long dreaded Eastern front and to America being brought into the war by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Amazon Link: Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941

Monday, October 08, 2007

Yesterday I finished The Surgeon's Mate by Patrick O'Brian, the 7th book in his Aubrey-Maturin series. I'm slowly working through re-reading all 20 books in the series.

I accidentally read one of the books out of order, but since I've read them before, I guess there's no harm done. I skipped ahead to the 8th book, The Ionian Mission, and then back to this one.

Amazon Link: The Surgeon's Mate

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yesterday morning I finished What's So Funny by Donald Westlake, the 13th, and latest, in his series of comic crime novels featuring John Dortmunder.

What's So Funny is a good, but fairly typical, entry in the series. Not a lot of surprises or outstanding events but a good read with lots of the dry humour that runs through the series.

Amazon Link: What's So Funny?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

This morning I finished Crowded with Genius by James Buchan.

It's about Edinburgh in the second half of the 18th century, after the Second Jacobite Rising, when Scotland hosted many important intellectuals and artists of the Enlightenment, including David Hume, Adam Smith, James Boswell and Robbie Burns.

While it seems like an interesting topic, this book doesn't do a good job of presenting it. Buchan jumps from topic to topic and from year to year seemingly at random. He continually drops references in the early part of the book that are either not explained until later sections of the book or are not explained well at all. It ended up feeling like a collection of random anecdotes about people who lived in Edinburgh but had no connection or underlying theme to tie them together.

Quite disappointing.

Amazon Link: Crowded with Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I just finished Singularity Sky, the first novel by Charles Stross.

I've read a few books by Stross but this one is by far my favourite. I can finally see why he is so popular and considered one of the rising stars in SF writing. Like a few of his contemporaries, Alastair Reynolds and Ken MacLeod, Stross is one of the a new age of British SF authors that like to mix some hard science in with space opera and the current fascination with the Singularity. The result is usually convoluted and plot heavy books but they also have a decent hand with characters.

Another trait he seems to share with a lot of his British peers is a soft spot for socialism in one form or another. It is one of the most retro things about them. Back in the 40s, 50s and 60s, during SF's golden age, a common assumption was that the future belonged to socialism or some form of technocratic central planning. Eventually, the field has drifted away from this idea as the actual evidence of the 20th century proved central planning to be nightmare and more and more serious economists demonstrated that central planning was not only flawed based on the evidence but couldn't even work theoretically. If a political model was evident in most SF from the 70s through the end of the millenium, the assumption was more often than not that a capitalist system had survived. Of course, it was usually some kind of dystopian capitalist system where multinationals had replaced governments and abused everyone in sight, but the assumption was still there.

But it seems a lot of British writers have been raised with a soft spot for socialism and the idea of the end of scarcity due to nanotechnology or some post-Singularity event has given them the inspiration to revive the Glorious Socialist Future, but usually of an anarcho-socialist or syndicalist variant rather than the standard communist/fascist axis that dominated the 20th century.

Sadly, even though their political ideas are so silly, they tend to write good novels! Why is it that socialist writers are mostly better writers than capitalists? Is it because the capitalists have better things to do with their time?

Amazon Link: Singularity Sky

Monday, September 17, 2007

Last night I finished From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne, one of the earliest works of science fiction.

It's a short read, with only a minimal plot and minor characterization work. As others have pointed out, it is surprising how much Verne gets right about what it would actually take to send a person to the moon. His canon is not realistic, but the launch site, transit times and other considerations are not far off what was used for the actual Apollo launches.

It also has a surprising, and fairly abrupt, ending.

Amazon Link: From the Earth to the Moon

Friday, September 14, 2007

This morning I finished You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem.

This Lethem's latest book, and the first one of his that I have read. It tells the story of the quirky characters that make up a rock band that is in the early stages of being a band. They play music together, fool around together and interact with some other extremely artsy characters along the way.

The book starts slow but picks up after the band gets its first gig at an art event put on by a friend. There are strange complications as the band gets some strange new lyrics from an odd source that push them into new directions.

Overall, I liked it even though the characters were a little hard to understand. A few of them were complete ciphers while the others were more sympathetic but acted in odd, seemingly random ways at time.

Amazon Link: You Don't Love Me Yet

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I just finished The First American by H.W. Brands, a quite enjoyable biography of Benjamin Franklin.

In addition to covering Franklin's life, this book also provides a portrait of life in America when it was still just British colonies fighting with French colonies. I'd known the basics about Franklin since grade school but I didn't realize just how central he was to a lot of the pre-American Revolution diplomacy with Britain or to the work he did during the Revolutionary War while in France.

Franklin's transition from a loyal British subject to an advocate for independence is particularly interesting. Franklin stayed true to what he considered true English principles of rights, virtue and liberty all along and only when he was convinced that the British Parliament would not fairly apply those values to it's own colonies did he strongly defend those principles by urging his countrymen to break away from British rule and to stay the course when the war was going against them.

If you are interested in early American history or Enlightenment society, I'd recommend this book.

Amazon Link: The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

Saturday, September 08, 2007

For the first time in a long time, we went and saw a rock show at a bar.

I was in a guitar store last week looking for a new electric when I saw a flyer for a "prog rock" night at a bar about 30 minutes from our place. There were two bands, Parallels, a Yes tribute band, and Trilogy, a Rush tribute band. The show was supposed to start at 8 PM but didn't get going till close to 9:30 so we only got to see one of the bands, Parallels. From the looks of things, it looks like 8 PM was just a mistake and they would have started at 9PM but they were having problems getting the sound right.

Parallels did a pretty good job of covering Yes songs like Heart of the Sunrise and Roundabout and even did a few surprises like Gates of Delirium. As is to be expected at a rock show, the sound was fairly awful. I'm not sure why 90% of live rock music has such terrible sound mixing even when they have dedicated sound people.

Overall, it was a fun night even with the late start.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

I just finished Starfish by Peter Watts, his first book and the first book in a trilogy dealing with a group of people who become adapted to living at extreme ocean depths.

Watts has a very dark take on human nature -- all the characters in his books that I have read have featured characters with very damaged psyches.

In Starfish, the corporation setting up operations to facilities at extreme ocean depths theorizes that people who have been through severe personal stress situations, whether as abuser or abusee, will be best able to tolerate the conditions found there. Combine those characters with the claustrophobic environs, a dystopian world and an unexpected threat and you have the core of Starfish.

Even though the characters and situations are very grim, they are at least interesting and Watts speculations on human nature are engaging if not convincing. If you're tolerant of the dark themes and anti-heroes, Starfish is a good read and I will probably follow up with the other books in the trilogy.

Amazon link: Starfish

Saturday, September 01, 2007

We just saw the movie Stardust, based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman.

An interesting thing has happened since the critical and box office success of the Lord of the Rings movies - Hollywood has finally come around to taking fantasy movies seriously. In the 1980's, fantasy movies were meant to be quick, cheap money makers mostly aimed at either kids (see Krull or Beast Master) or very stupid adults (see Conan the Barbarian or The Sword and the Sorcerer). They were more likely to have novelizations than to be based on novels. Even as special effects got cheaper and more effective, major studios did not spend the time or energy to work on decent stories and acting to go with the new effects (see Dungeons and Dragons).

The major change after the success of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies seems to be that Hollywood has realized that it has a ton of quality source material available to it. One of the anticipated Christmas releases for this year is an adaptation of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights (under it's American title The Golden Compass) and the previews before Stardust included The Spiderwick Chronicles and an adaptation of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising, recently renamed as The Seeker: The Dark is Rising (presumably to cash in on all the successful films with colons in the title).

This increase in the number of fantasy films has also allowed for a little diversity to slip in - not all of the films have to be large scale epics like Lord of the Rings. Instead some of the lighter novels, like Stardust, can be developed. The creators were fairly obviously trying to duplicate the feel of the mix of comedy and action from The Princess Bride, the best fantasy film released before Lord of the Rings, but with only mixed success.

is enjoyable but not a classic like those movies. Sadly, it looks like it will not make back its $70M budget. A few more expensive failures like that and this new golden age of fantasy films could quickly draw to a close.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Today I finished A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, the Pulitzer Prize winning comic novel and one of the most disappointing books I've read.

I picked it up after reading about the problems people have run into trying to put together a movie version but I can't for the life of me figure out why anyone would give this book a prize, want to make a movie out of it, or even recommend it to anyone else.

The characters aren't sympathetic, realistic or even interesting in any way. The only word I can come up with to describe them is squalid. They wander from one absurd situation to another with little rhyme or reason, forcing the reader to alternate between annoyance and boredom. Absurdity in itself isn't a problem - people who know me, know that I have a soft spot for absurd comedy of all types - but this book simply fails to be funny. I think I laughed at most once while reading it and I almost abandoned it a few times over the last week.

Very strongly not recommended.

Amazon Link (for masochists only): A Confederacy of Dunces

Sunday, August 26, 2007

I just finished The Loser's Club by John Lekich, a YA book by a Vancouver author recommended to my by a friend.

The Loser's Club is the story a group of outcasts in a Vancouver school who are brought together by the extortion of a bully. As you might expect in a YA book, they end up triumphing in the end but there are some unexpected twists along the way as they interact with the adults in their lives and find their way from losing to winning. In some ways, it's pretty standard fare but it is well written and enjoyable.

This weekend we saw a play, Oda Oak Oracle, one of only two English language plays by Ethiopian poet-laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin and The Simpson's Movie.

The play had some nice moments but was a little too slow moving and over-wrought for my taste.

The Simpson's Movie was pretty good - not as funny as some of the best episodes from when it was in it's prime but better than a lot of the current episodes with a few very funny bits. Recommended for fans.

Amazon Link: The Losers' Club

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Yesterday I finished Londonistan by Melanie Phillips. Londonistan is a non-fiction book about how the UK has become a haven for radical Islam, even after the Tube bombings in 2005.

The factual part of the book is pretty interesting - Phillips has put together an compelling list of Islamic radicals who have been allowed to not only enter and reside in the UK but have been invited at times to take part in the political process and recruit from the British Muslim population. The only problem with this part of the book is repetition - sometimes a piece of writing will re-appear almost verbatim after a few pages or even a few paragraphs. This seemed particularly true on the section on anti-semitism.

The more editorial parts of the book are weaker. Like many conservatives, she things that the core values of western civilization are Judeo-Christian ones instead of just being developed in a Judeo-Christian context. She also doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between what are core western values and what are not. Instead, she asserts that Muslims in Britain should simply go along with the majority simply because it is the majority. I wonder if she would be OK with Sharia law if Muslims became the majority in the UK? Somehow, I doubt it. In another example, she asserts that Muslim self-segregation in Britain would be less if they were prevented from marrying inside their own circles - I'm not sure how she would square banning Muslims from marrying who they want with western ideals of individual rights but she offers no explanation.

Overall, an interesting book about some of the problems the UK has faced, and will continue to face, but I would look elsewhere if you are looking for intelligent philosophy or well thought out solutions to these problems.
Amazon Link: Londonistan

Monday, August 20, 2007

I finished His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik last night. It's kind of an odd duck - take Patrick O'Brien writing about Napoleonic Europe and add dragons as an air force. I've seen this book in the stores but it always looked a little cheesy to me so I never picked it up but while looking up Blindsight on the web, I noticed that it had been nominated for a Hugo, science fiction's top award, and that I had read four out of the five novels nominated for the 2007 Hugo. That inspired me to pick up this one to complete the set before the Hugo's are announced in a few weeks.

This is a perfectly pleasant book with some sympathetic characters and nice writing but I don't think it is really of the same calibre as the other nominees. It's an odd idea for a book, particularly since the existence of dragons doesn't seem to have effected anything other than creating a military air force.

The Hugo is a fan voted award, so anything could win but if I was voting I would probably go for Michael Flynn's Eifelheim.

Amazon Link: His Majesty's Dragon

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Last night I finished Blindsight by Peter Watts, an interesting hard science fiction book.

Even though most of the action in the book takes place on the fringes of the solar system, the main scientific speculation in the book is more about neuropsychology than physics or chemistry. For example, the titular "blindsight" is an actual phenomenon where the conscious mind perceives itself as blind but the unconscious mind is still seeing things and the body reacts as if it can see them.

Parts of the book feel a little preachy as the author uses plot devices to lead to discussions of the limits of consciousness and how perception can be manipulated by the external world.

Despite that flaw, it's an interesting book and based on that I've already taken another book by the same author out of the library.

Amazon Link: Blindsight

Monday, August 13, 2007

This morning I finished A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park. I had never heard of Paul Park but I went to an event called SF in SF, one of a series where pairs of science fiction authors read from their books in San Francisco, to see Gregory Benford and the other author was Paul Park. I enjoyed the short story he read so I thought I would try out his novels.

A Princess of Roumania is the first of a trilogy involving the passage of 3 young adults from our world to an alternate Earth where folk magic works, Roumania is a major power, England was destroyed by some natural disaster and America has remained un-populated. The title character was sent as a child to our Earth to protect her but now she has been pulled back and has to deal with the consequences.

This book falls pretty heavily into a tradition of more literate, less action oriented fantasy. A lot of time is spent on character's inner turmoil and not a lot of external action takes place. Combine that with the author's obvious love for pretty prose and you have a book that will be slower than many will appreciate. In particular, the prose is so pretty sometimes that it is difficult to tell what actually happened and it's only by reading subsequent sections that the reader can figure out the actual events.

Even given those complaints, it was compelling enough that I will check out the sequels and see how the story develops.

Amazon Link: A Princess of Roumania

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Since my blog has "and some bluegrass" in the sub-title, I should probably post occasionally about the concerts I see. Last night was a triple bill at the Freight and Salvage.

The first band up was Berkeley's own Bluegrass Revolution.
This band isn't my cup of tea - theie set could only be loosely categorized as bluegrass but that wasn't the real problem. It seemed like the whole band was playing as hard as they could 100% of the time. Not only does that get boring after a song or two, it doesn't actually sound that good. One of the secrets of bluegrass and acoustic swing is that to play fast and intense sounding music well, the musician actually has to be very relaxed and in control. Bluegrass Revolution is a pretty new band and I think they will get somewhat better with time but I also think they need to step back, listen to themselves and think about what they are trying to do.

On the other hand, the second band Belle Monroe and Her Brewgrass Boys, clearly knows what they are trying to do and they do a good job. Their repertoire was mostly unfamiliar to me - no bluegrass standards that I had heard of and a lot of original songs - but their execution was quite good and they have a very nice band dynamic. I liked their set quite a bit.

The headlines were Mighty Crows. I might be biased since I've known all of them for years and I jam with some of them regularly but I think the audiences agree that they are one of the best of the local bluegrass bands, particularly if you are looking for traditional bluegrass. They focus on singing pieces to take advantage of their powerhouse vocals but do a few nice instrumentals that show off the fiddler as well. If you like traditional bluegrass in the SF Bay Area, look for them at some local venues and local festivals.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I'm not a fan of short stories in general - I much prefer novels where there is more space to develop characters and tell complex stories. But last month I saw a story on BoingBoing about the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction giving away a copy of their Sept 2007 issue to anyone who was willing to blog about it. Since it was free, I decided to check it out. I sent off an email, got my issue in the mail about a week later and just got around to reading it.

Even though I don't like short stories that much, I did enjoy reading this issue of F&SF. Many, many years ago I briefly had a subscription to Analog and at the time I preferred that to F&SF. I don't know if the magazine has changed or my tastes.

Unexpectedly, a number of the stories were slightly or mostly comedic -- including a trivia contest amongst the god and an interplanetary ambassador who suspects he hasn't been told the truth about his mission -- but I also enjoyed the more dramatic ones, particularly a post-apocalyptic story written without the use of periods! I don't know if that is usual for this magazine or just this particular issue. I also liked the non-fiction sections and added a few books in the book review section to my "to read" list.

The short story market is not as extensive as it once was so if you are a short story fan and are looking for a fix, I recommend this magazine. Particularly if you are looking for some slight, light hearted stories.

Amazon Link: Fantasy & Science Fiction

Monday, August 06, 2007

Last night I finished The Shadow in the North by Philip Pullman, the second of three books he has written about Sally Lockhart, plucky Victorian heroine. I wrote about the first book, The Ruby in the Smoke, here.

In the first book, Sally was trying to find out what had happened to her father and stumbled into some friendships and a mystery involving opium and a jewel from the Far East. In this book, she is established as a financial consultant and gets drawn into another mystery when one of her clients loses all her money in a suspicious failure of a shipping line.

Those descriptions sound like something out of Nancy Drew but the Sally Lockhart books are a lot deeper, and darker, than that. Pullman uses a fairly accurate Victorian setting and he doesn't shy away from the poorer parts of that society. With that comes the real chance of death by misadventure or, possibly worse to some of the characters, being shamed in public.

I'm enjoying these books more than I enjoyed Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I enjoyed those books but they didn't grab me the way these ones are - if I can find the time I will probably go back and re-read that trilogy, maybe around when the movie for the first book, The Golden Compass, comes out.

Since I also recently read the last Harry Potter book, it is interesting comparing him to J.K. Rowling. Pullman is clearly the better writer - there is really no comparison between the writing in any of the His Dark Materials books and any of the Harry Potter books. Rowling's writing often seems very simple and un-evocative in comparison. On the other hand, I found the Harry Potter books much more compelling and engaging than His Dark Materials. When I re-read them, I will have to do some more thinking to see where that is coming from - does Rowling simply create more interesting characters and situations or is something else going on?

Amazon Link:The Shadow in the North

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I just finished Dungeons and Dreamers by Brad King and John Borland, an interesting take on the what happened in the computer game culture over the last ~20 years. The book really focuses on a just a few parts of that culture and uses those to try to make larger points. The first half of the book uses Richard Garriott, creater of Ultima and sequels, as its central character to highlight the connection between paper based games (like Dungeons and Dragons) and early computer games but he disappears for most of the second half of the book since he was a much less central figure once PC games took over from the Apple II as the dominant game platform.

The second half of the book jumps around a lot, starting out with chapters about the rise of id software and their "first person shooters": Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, but eventually returning to Garriott's story to talk about the early MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) like Ultima Online and Everquest.

One odd point is that even though they start out with the connection between paper wargames/RPGs, they don't really discuss the part of the industry that is most closely related - real time strategy games. A section chronicling the rise of Blizzard, the most successful RTS game company, would have been a good addition, particularly since they only missed by a year the release of the most successful of all of the MMORPGs, Blizzard's World of Warcraft.

Amazon Link: Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture from Geek to Chic

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Last night I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, the final book in the Harry Potter series. I'll try to avoid any spoilers in this post but if you haven't read the book and intend to, you might want to come back later in case I let anything slip that you didn't want to know.

Since this book serves as a third act for the entire series and I've written before about the difficulty of writing third acts, I was a little wary when I started it. On the other hand, I had just finished re-reading the 6th book so I was also raring to find out what happened next and to have some of the mysteries that have built up over the series resolved. And Rowling didn't disappoint. She pulls off one of the better books of the series as well as a great third act for the series as a whole.

Deathly Hallows not only wraps up most of the outstanding questions from the previous book, it also explains a number of things from earlier books that seemed odd at the time but most readers probably just brushed off as mistakes or oversights. This is not to say that the book is just a huge lump of exposition filling in all the holes that have opened over a seven book series. All the explanations actually come in the context of a story that stands on its own with the other books and even introduces a lot of new background on old characters and the wizarding world.

I got into Harry Potter back in 2000 when my girlfriend brought back the first three books from a trip to London and we have been big fans ever since. I'm a little sad to know that I won't be able to look forward to the next Harry Potter book coming out but I will definitely take a look at whatever J.K. Rowling comes out with next.

Amazon Link: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Monday, July 30, 2007

It was a very Harry Potter weekend at my house this weekend. My girlfriend was away on a river rafting trip so I spent a good chunk of the weekend re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince and starting on the latest one. Then after she got home, we decided to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I remembered liking the penultimate book quite a lot when I read it two years ago and re-reading it was also a pleasant experience. The previous book, Order of the Phoenix, is the weakest of the set and I was happy at the time to see that Rowling had recovered from it nicely. In particular, it seemed that she had recovered from one syndrome that many very successful authors fall into - excessive length. Half-blood Prince is a much tighter edited book than Order of the Phoenix, coming in at around two thirds the word count.

I think that Order of the Phoenix also suffered due to Harry spending a good portion of the book out of the loop of what is really going on, simply an outsider trying to figure out what is happening and going through internal turmoil at the same time. Page after page of Harry struggling with his anger and angst while being treated as a pariah made for some hard reading. One of the few bright parts were the sections about Dumbledore's Army where Harry gets to take an active role again.

Some of these problems are minimized in the new movie version, since Harry's internal struggles don't take up as much screen time they don't seem so burdensome. The new movie is quite good but like the movie version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it does struggle with trying to pack the action of a huge book (nearly 260 thousand words) into a reasonable length movie. And since a lot of the later books/movies build on earlier events, very little can be cut out whole sale. The result is that many of the beats in the new movie feel under-developed or short changed and the overall film feels quite jumpy.

I'm about 100 pages from finishing the latest book so a post about it should appear here tomorrow.

Amazon Links:

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - DVD

Friday, July 27, 2007

This morning I finished The Gathering Storm by Kate Elliott, the 5th in the fantasy series The Crown of Stars.

Like the last time I read one of her books, I read most of this one on an airplane. As I wrote back in April, big fantasy books are perfect company for flying - engrossing enough in the moment to distract you from long waits/flights but un-important/un-challenging enough that you can follow the plot without giving them your full attention and throw them away if you need more space/less weight in your luggage.

The Gathering Storm is a good continuation of this series. It does a number of unexpected things - in particular, it wraps up a number of ongoing plot elements built up over the last 4 books even though it is not the last in the series. Now that I've read it, I'm curious to see what happens in the last book.

But first, I have to make some time for Harry Potter!

Amazon Link: The Gathering Storm

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

While I was back home in Canada, I finished Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton, the sequel to Pandora's Star, which I wrote about here.

Judas Unchained
wraps up the story nicely, tying off all the loose ends. As is usual in a lot of books, the resolution is often not as interesting as the build up for a lot of fiction. Creating a mystery and making it seem important while it is still a mystery is a lot easier than coming up with something that is fully satisfying once it's fully revealed.

The only negative thing I have to say about this book is that if I hadn't read Pandora's Star only a few weeks before I read this one, I think it would have been very difficult to keep all the characters/locations/plot points seperate. This book continues right where the last one left off with no attempt made to re-introduce characters or situations or summarize anything that happened in the first book.

Amazon Link: Judas Unchained

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sorry about the lack of updates - I've been away at another bluegrass festival - the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival in Hollister, CA - and I'm in the middle of another huge, 800+ page book.

I'm off to Edmonton for the rest of the week so I'll probably have some posts when I return next Monday.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Yesterday I finished Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? by Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg - the story of the Carter family in American music.

The Carter family, starting with A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and his sister-in-law (and Sara's cousin) Maybelle and continuing with their children, had a pivotal role in bringing music out of the Appalachian Mountains and exposing it to the rest of America. They either wrote or popularized a huge number of songs that make up the traditional folk and bluegrass repertoire as well as defining the tight harmony sound and guitar backup behind traditional country music.

Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone? has been widely praised and deservedly so. It's a great read and really provides a feel for the early music industry as well as the particulars of Appalachian culture.

Amazon Link: Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I just finished The Swarm by Frank Schatzing. I was given this book by a friend of mine when he visited last year but I'm just getting around to it now. It's a translation of a German bestseller and fits in the techno-thriller category.

The basic plot is that a series of odd incidents start to point to a strange fact - that the ocean's creatures seem to be working together to kill of humanity! If you've read any Michael Crichton, this book will be very familiar - descriptive catastrophes, lots of scientific background noise, some mostly wooden characters, evil government agents and humanity over-stepping it's bounds and getting into trouble.

The plot is mostly fun and the early catastrophes are interesting but the book bogs down a little once people figure out what is going on and the inevitable mixed expedition of scientists and military set out to fix it.

Amazon Link: The Swarm

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Went to see Ratatouille on Independence Day. Another great movie from Pixar. I think there is a great business story about Pixar that will be written some day. How does a former hardware company become one of the most consistent film studio of the last 15 years? So far they have released seven features and there is not a dog among them - all seven are not only technological marvels, pushing the state of computer animation, but overall great films as well.

I also finished The Mysteries by Lisa Tuttle. It's about a private detective who is fascinated with disappearances. The chapters alternate between the main plot and little mini-stories that detail some of the most famous disappearances in history.

It started off slow with too much back-story but got better as the main characters got more involved in the main story. About half way through it changes from a standard private eye story into more of an urban fantasy but it did it smoothly enough that it didn't lose my interest. Not my favourite book of this year but an OK read.

Amazon Link:
The Mysteries

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Last night I finished Executive Intelligence by Justin Menkes. My girlfriend was looking at business books in the library and I picked up this one.

There are a lot of books on what makes a good executive and this one tries to cut across the grain of all of them by simplifying down to the basics. His hypothesis is that executive performance is mainly driven by a kind of intelligence, a sub-set of general intelligence that is focussed on critical thinking applied to three areas - business tasks, relations to others and self-awareness.

It's an interesting idea but not very completely developed in this book. A lot of the book feels like filler - short chapters with ambitious titles but not much meat on their bones with a lot of anecdotes taken from CEO interviews. It gets better towards the end when Menkes criticizes not only some of the most popular other theories like "emotional intelligence" and "charismatic leaders" but manages to side swipe most other current theories as focusing on side issues and things that only have indirect effects on management quality.

One other nice feature is that his main points, and particularly his criticisms, are backed up by actual research rather than just anecdotes and supposition. I don't do much hiring of CEOs but there are a number of things I can take from this book and apply to my own job where I do help interview prospective new hires.

If you're interested in this topic, you can get the gist of this book in an hour or two, mainly by looking at one detailed chart, skimming the first half of the book and reading the last few chapters in more depth.

Amazon Link: Executive Intelligence