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A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin – a Commentary

April 8, 2014

Dazzling, Powerful, Breathtaking, Giant, Monumental, Magnificent, Extraordinary, Ambitious, Brilliant, Vivid, Gripping, Poignant, Intense, Superb, Rousing…

 

 

  • Publisher: Avon Books (May 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380715899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380715893

 

Above are just a few of the superlatives used to describe this book by those obsequious gnomes who live in those small cubicles in newsrooms and magazine publishing houses the world over. They’re paid to make pronouncements such as these in response to their supposed personal experience with the author’s work sitting on the desk in front of them.

 

I’ll not be so bold as to say that I can sit and read a book of this magnitude and then find words sufficient to actually describe the emotions I felt while reading it and as the back cover closed for the last time. My poor command of the language is such that I could not even approach Mark Helprin’s artistry with words, light, shadows, music, and colors in order to describe his art here in this place. I would feel like I were drawing distorted stick men in an attempt to describe the colors and vibrancy of Leonardo’s Last Supper.

It will ever be beyond my artistry to describe such art.

 

Using my meager skills, though, I would like to, in some meaningful fashion, try to show you, dear reader, even a small glimpse of the beauty of this story and how it affected me as I read it and possibly forever afterward. Yes, it’s one of those books; one of the rare ones that is ever so much more than just an entertaining distraction from the pressing issues of every day life.

 

I’ve read a lot of books since becoming literate at a very young age; thanks to my mother, who spent time and effort in teaching me how to read and instilling in me her own love for books. After reading a book such as Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War, I actually feel very sorry and sad for those who don’t read books. They will never know what they’re missing. Never.

 

In all my years of reading, there have only been a very few books that really, really touch that deep, secret place in my soul; that place where fears, loves, regrets, past joys reside and are occasionally re-experienced in poorly preserved and fading memories. This book took me to that place. I’ll bare my soul here and admit that I actually cried after closing that back cover. The tears had been working their way to the surface during the last 20 pages or so.

I haven’t cried in 15 years; the last time being two or three days after my mother died. I have not cried often since I was a child. It isn’t manly to cry, supposedly. Plays hell with the big burly biker image, too. ;)

 

About this book, though…

Helprin has used a fine brush on a vast canvas to paint a portrait of life, death, love, hate, fear, joy, and any other emotion you could possibly experience in a lifetime. He managed in just over 700 pages what it took an old man sitting and dying on a hillside in Italy nearly 75 years to accomplish. Using words that border, and often cross over into, the realm of artistry he fashions a tale so deep and vast as to literally suck the reader into the life it’s describing.

 

The life is that of Alessandro Giuliani, an Italian fellow, a professor of aesthetics from Rome who one day begins a bus ride that will become a journey of personal reminiscences, a mentoring of a young traveling companion, and a profound understanding of life and death which culminates on a sunny hillside in peaceful rapturous splendor.

 

Alessandro tells the boy Nicolo of his life and loves; of his horrors and losses; and of his understanding and feelings on beauty and art, particularly his appreciation of Giorgione’s La Tempesta. All this takes place as the two companions walk along roads and across fields and hills on the way to their destination. The bus ride didn’t work for Alessandro and Nicolo as they had initially planned. Isn’t that just like life?

 

I read many reviews of this book to try to get a feeling for how others would describe it. I did not find any review that even came close to what reading the book made me feel; neither do my own poor choice of words, as predicted, even begin to elicit from you the feeling I felt while reading this book. It’s just going to be something you’ll have to experieince for yourself.

 

Books are subjective things ultimately. You may not get past the first 20 pages before you decide the book is not for you. That’s the way it goes sometimes. No reviewer can ever fully transfer his own feeling on reading a book to his readers. It’s an exercise in futility. It’s like me trying to explain to you how delicious the salad I had for lunch was or how much it hurt when I hit my thumb with the hammer the other day. No. Words are poor substitutes for experience.

 

Get this book. Experience it for yourself. That’s all I can say.

 

Later…

 

~Eric

 

Image credits: generic book cover – Avon Books paperback version

 

This article is being published simultaneously on My Passion Is Books blog – all rights reserved by the original author. Copyright authority is that of Nocturnal Slacker v2.0 – V. T. Eric Layton.

Free: The Future of a Radical Price

March 22, 2014
Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson

Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson

Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson

Thanks you so much LearnOutloud.com! I never would have found this great audiobook by Chris Anderson, and downloaded it using the links provided on the LearnOutLoud.com page.

LearnOutLoud’s review from this page:

Editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine Chris Anderson follows up his bestselling book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More, with his new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price. And in practicing what he preaches, Anderson and his publisher Hyperion are giving away his new audio book for free! We’ve listened to the prologue and it sounds like a very interesting book regarding the future of business in the digital age. You can download this audio book unabridged on iTunes, Audible.com, and Wired.com. Or you can download the abridged version from the Hyperion website if you enter in your email address. Both versions are narrated by Mr. Anderson himself.

I wasn’t sure if I would even like the book at first because; well, maybe it was just another self help book, or business primer, or at least boring. ;) But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I now want to get Chris’ other book:  The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More

Anyway, about Chris Anderson’s audiobook, The Future of a Radical Price; it is an very well done and well narrated book! I am so glad I took a chance to download it from the Audible link on the LearnOutLoud.com page after reading the article on the Wired.com page that Chris Anderson wrote and posted an MP3 version to download. I wanted the MP3 he posted, but it was nearly 300MB and the one from Audible was less than 100MB. With my limited bandwidth issues in our rural area, I just got the Audible one. I have an Audible account so added it to it and this way I can also get the ebook from Audible’s link so I can read along with Chris when he narrates his book. Oh, yes, Chris Anderson narrates this book as well as having written it as noted in the LearnOutLoud review. And I think he did a wonderful job.

About this book from Audible.com:

FREE: The Future of a Radical Price

Audible review (normal price $18.89 at Audible by the way – the free version is linked on the LearnOutLoud.com page along with the other downloads, online listening link, and podcast versions.):

The New York Times best-selling author heralds the future of business in Free. In his revolutionary best seller, The Long Tail, Chris Anderson demonstrated how the online marketplace creates niche markets, allowing products and consumers to connect in a way that has never been possible before. Now, in Free, he makes the compelling case that, in many instances, businesses can profit more from giving things away than they can by charging for them.
If you have or wish to start a business in the current world, this is a must have audiobook to listen to. Thanks Chris Anderson for this book and thanks to LearnOutLoud.com for pointing me in the right direction to get the book!
I also have noted it as being read on goodreads.com here and put two of Chris Anderson’s other books on my To Read booklist: The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More and Makers: The New Industrial Revolution from the Amazon Chris Anderson page.
Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson - Amazon

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson – Amazon

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson - Amazon

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson – Amazon

 

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball – a Review of Sorts

March 20, 2014

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307908488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307908483

This is my fourth Jesse Ball book and I remain impressed.

Ball writes a book as though he were an artist making gentle brush strokes with oil on canvas. It’s obvious he has the heart of a poet. I can honestly say that I’ve never read any other written works that are quite like this young man’s.

In this book, Mr. Ball steps into his own “fiction” as a reporter researching a story of a series of disappearances in Japan many years previously and the resulting criminal investigations and the “justice” doled out as a result of them; justice that included the hanging of a man who confessed to the “crime”.

You may note that the words fiction and crime are both in quotes in the above paragraph. I do this because I’m unsure that the first is accurate nor the second morally correct. You’ll have to read Mr. Ball’s story to understand fully what I mean by that.

I must also mention here the physical appearance of the book itself, which is often an important component of my overall enjoyment of what the younger crowd is now referring to as a “dead tree” book. This book that I read was a Pantheon Book (Random House, LLC). The binding boards are pure white, unusual for most hardcover books, I believe. It’s also about 10% smaller in height/width than a normal hardcover.

Then there is the unique dustcover image; a stark set of eyes and hint of a nose shadow on slightly off-white paper with a dusting of threadlike debris. Note also the red wax pencil scribbling over the words “A Novel”. Or is this Jesse Ball’s signature? Interesting, hmm? As to the image of the face; is it that of one of the book’s characters? Could be. However, to me, there is also the hint of the author’s own face in that image. What do you see?

While this author’s first three books (also reviewed here) were unique in their own ways, this current offering is a notch or two above the others, in my opinion. The previous had their points to be made. They were entertaining. They were thought-provoking.

Silence Once Begun is deep; much deeper than it seems at first glance. A reader will wonder where this young man found his inspiration for this story. Was it purely a product of his imagination? Was their really some factual basis as stated by the author on page xii of the introductory pages of the book? Was any small portion of this story something directly reflecting the author’s own personal experiences? We may never know.

Ultimately, a book is judged by that feeling that the reader gets as he folds down the back cover after reading the words on that final page; the last series of words laid down by the author on that last blank sheet of paper in his typewriter or that last page of his MS Word document.

When that feeling is one of satiation, contentment, warmth, and many other complimentary and often contradictory feelings, then the book is a good one. Bad books only generated feelings of disappointment as that back cover is turned over.

That feeling as the cover is turned, though, is a very personal one. What I felt when I closed the cover of Silence Once Begun may or may not be what you feel should you have the opportunity to read this book. Therefore, I cannot judge for you. I can only tell you what I thought.

What I thought as I closed that cover on this book is that it is probably Jesse Ball’s best so far. I don’t often re-read books, but this may be one that I’ll have to stew on for a while and then re-read. Was this a good book? In my opinion, most definitely.

Read it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Later…

~Eric

Further reading: A very interesting interview of the author by Shawn Andrew Mitchell at fictionwritersreview.com

Image credits: book image, stock publisher’s image

This article is being published simultaneously on My Passion Is Books blog – all rights reserved by the original author. Copyright authority is that of Nocturnal Slacker v2.0 – V. T. Eric Layton.

The Hugo Voter’s Packet

March 16, 2014

Hugo Award logoWhat is the Hugo Voter’s Packet and why should you care? Hello! My name is Lonnie, and Fran has graciously invited me to stop by and help you answer that question.

If you read science fiction and/or fantasy, you may already know about the Hugo Award. Many people refer to it as the Oscar Award of the science fiction world, but I think that it’s more accurate to describe it as sci-fi’s People’s Choice Award, since anyone can nominate and vote for their favorite works.

Every year, the World Science Fiction Convention is held in a different city around the world. Last year it was held in San Antonio, Texas. This year it’s in London, and next year it will be held in Spokane, Washington. Members of the convention are eligible to nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards, given to the science fiction and fantasy works deemed worthy from the previous calendar year.

Since 2010, every sitting Worldcon has, with the cooperation of publishers and authors, managed to put together a package of all the “in print” nominated works in  DRM-free e-book format. This includes novels, short stories, magazines, related works, graphic novels, and much, much, more. The only cost for this treasure trove is a membership to that year’s convention. In addition to an attending membership (which is usually a couple hundred dollars), you can buy a supporting membership at a much more reasonable price. The current cost for a supporting membership is $40 USD for this year’s convention in London.

The reasoning behind the packet is to give the eligible voters a chance to familiarize themselves with all the works that have been nominated before they vote for them. Back in the early days of the Hugo Awards, it may have been possible to keep abreast of most of the new speculative fiction that was published; it is practically impossible to do that in this age of internet publishing.

If you are interested, you can see the works showcased in last year’s Voter’s packet. Also, you are not required to vote if you buy the packet, and if you do vote, you are not required to vote in every category. If you act quickly enough, there is still time to nominate the works from 2013 you’d like to see win the Hugo. All you need to do is purchase your membership and send in your ballot before March 31, 2014.

If you have any questions about the Voter’s Packet, the Hugo Awards or Worldcon, I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments.

ACX.com: Reverse changes to the Royalty Share Policy

February 28, 2014
Change.org petition acx: reverse changes to the royalty share policy; acx amazon platform

ACX.com: Reverse changes to the Royalty Share Policy – Change.org Petition

Audiobooks have really taken off in recent years, more so than ever before. Whether you are a very busy person who has found it easier to listen to a book while driving or going about your day. Or a person whose eyesight makes it easier to listen to a book rather than read it, or just enjoy the presentation of an excellent book by a talented narrator, audiobooks have made life even better for those of us who love to read.

I wouldn’t say the only reason that audiobooks have taken off is due to the narrator, but between the content of the book itself and the presentation by the narrator, this is what has made audiobooks really take off.

Even authors have been known to get their start in narrating their own works, to help get the word of their books out to the public via podcasts, and other forms. Librivox.org has shown that many people wanting to get their start in narration can do so and help get public domain books out there for folks to listen to.

The various presentation companies have made it easier to find them; companies like Random House Audio, Brilliance Audio, ACX, Tantor Media, and the list goes on. They have done a great thing in bringing together great books and great narrators for presentation under their brand.

And it really makes life easier to have a good company behind the ‘work’ to help get the word out, help edit and provide constructive criticism where needed, etc.

But one should never lose sight of the fact that it is the talent; the authors of the great books themselves, and the narrators who bring it to life in audio form that make an audiobook shine.

I think anyone who has ever listened to an audiobook as well as anyone who has ever wrote a great book, and anyone who has ever tried to record a piece of audio of their own creation or someone else’s creation for publication will realize what I am talking about. It takes a lot of time and talent to make that all happen.

ACX.com: Reverse changes to the Royalty Share Policy – Change.org Petition

Daemon and FreedomTM by Daniel Suarez

November 30, 2013

A good friend Adam Ross/ross549 was kind enough to loan me some books by Daniel Suarez.

Daemon by Daniel Suarez

Daemon by Daniel Suarez

Already an underground sensation, a high-tech thriller for the wireless age that explores the unthinkable consequences of a computer program running without human control—a daemon—designed to dismantle society and bring about a new world order

FreedomTM by Daniel Suarez

FreedomTM by Daniel Suarez

The propulsive, shockingly plausible sequel to New York Times bestseller Daemon, the “Greatest. Techno-thriller. Period.”* 
*William O’Brien, former director of cybersecurity and communications systems policy at the White House 

These are the two books in the Daemon Techno Thriller Series:

Daemon and Freedom™ comprise a two-part novel by the author Daniel Suarez about a distributed, persistent computer application, known as The Daemon, that begins to change the real world after the original programmer’s death.

Walter F. Parkes, who produced the 1983 filmWarGames, had optioned the film rights toDaemon with Paramount Pictures,[1] however these rights likely reverted to Suarez on 8 December 2012.[2]

I have completed Daemon which I thoroughly enjoyed, and am about 1/2 way through FreedomTM and I am very much enjoying it as well. I would have completed it much more quickly if I could have had it in audiobook format or at least an ebook that where I could resize the text. I really need to be able to do that these days. These are larger paperbacks but I still have trouble reading paperbacks these days.

These two techno thriller books have a fascinating basis. It proposes a very interesting scenario of events using AI, the Internet, all kinds of technology currently available or coming soon, and reported on over time by science, technology, and nature publications.

It is so highly detailed that some folks actually considered it too detailed and therefore too slow moving. I actually love detailed books so I found it an amazing story.

As noted above, it is based on what happens in virtual reality games, with BITCOIN and other virtual currencies, and the Internet in general, as well as how governments/military, corporations/businesses use and abuse the Internet, and how it all could be dismantled from the inside out by a very methodical and devious entity created by a very intelligent man, a genius game designer all while he was dying of brain cancer.

The interesting thing is that in some areas if not all, it could be a bit prophetic.

The books are very well thought out, detailed in their execution and methodical. As someone who keeps up with technology, I found it a most engaging set of books in so many ways.

Don’t be put off by the books if you find that them slow to gain momentum. Daniel Suarez builds this very deep and multifaceted story in a meticulous manner. It is ingenious, precise, amazing, and well worth every detail!

Is it worth one’s time to read it? Yes, if you enjoy technology, gadgets, the Internet, political/military, religious, and corporate/business dealings, and if virtual reality gaming intrigue you, even if you are not all that familiar with the world of virtual reality gaming. Believe me, Daniel Suarez will fill in the gaps for you.

The books are extremely creative and yes, they are a true set of techno thrillers!

The books originally were a single book self published under the pen name of Leinad Zeraus under Verdugo Press. The rights were acquired by Dutton.

It all begins when one man’s obituary appears online. . . . A legendary computer game designer’s obituary unleashes an unstoppable network of programs. Programs that move money. Programs that recruit people. Programs that kill. Confronted with a killer from beyond the grave, Detective Peter Sebeck comes face-to-face with the full implications of our increasingly complex and interconnected world—one where the dead can read headlines, steal identities, and carry out far-reaching plans without fear of retribution. Sebeck must find a way to stop Sobol’s web of programs—his Daemon—before it achieves its ultimate purpose. And to do so, he must uncover what that purpose is.

Visit the Daemon website.

The book was such an underground success among the geeks and gamers of the world that book publishers were actually approaching him wanting him to let them publish it. It turns out that the single original Daemon book was published as two books; Daemon and FreedomTM. And when you see how many pages are in each book, you can kinda see why they split it up.

The Daemon’s virtual world truly spills over into the real world. The Darknet, an encrypted virtual world is accessed and overlaid in the real world via Heads Up Display (HUD) glasses. Buying, selling, creating, manufacturing, even protection, all done using both worlds. It’s quite a concept! And that just a couple of the multitudes of technology that are used in these books!

The WSJ article entitled, When Computers Rule the World has this to say about it:

Daniel Suarez’s tech thriller novel “Daemon” imagines a society taken over by computer programs

In Daniel Suarez’s high-tech thriller novel, “Daemon,” computer-game designer Matthew Sobol dies but continues to “live” online via a series of computer programs that he created prior to his death. These programs interact in increasingly brutal and effective ways with the physical world, eventually dominating it.

As defined by webopedia.com, a “daemon” (pronounced dee-mon) is “a process that runs in the background and performs a specified operation at predefined times or in response to certain events.”

There is a very good interview in the article. Well worth a read.

For those who are wondering about the Daemon Movie from Daniel Suarez’s Google+:

Status of ‘Daemon’ Movie

Lots of you have asked me what’s going on with the motion picture adaptation of my book, Daemon.  Here’s an update: after having been optioned four years ago by a major studio, the film rights will likely revert back to me on December 8th.

I’ve been talking with several interested parties (not all of them in Hollywood), and I’ll make a public announcement when a new agreement is reached.

So, drat! It’s not settled yet! Sigh… Can’t wait!

The two books were published by Penguin Press in 2009 and are available at bookstores everywhere. Adam Ross also loaned me Kill Decision as well which I will begin reading as soon as I finish FreedomTM. Can’t wait to read that one as well. Here’s links on Amazon to Daniel Suarez’s books.

Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

The shocking techno-thriller that cements Daniel Suarez’s status as the heir to Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy—a terrifying, breathtaking, and all-too-plausible vision of the world’s near future.
Unmanned weaponized drones already exist—they’re widely used by America in our war efforts in the Middle East. In Kill Decision, bestselling author Daniel Suarez takes that fact and the real science behind it one step further, with frightening results.

Daniel Suarez also has a new one called Influx coming out February 20, 2014! Can’t wait for that either!

INFLUX by Daniel Suarez

INFLUX by Daniel Suarez

What if our civilization is more advanced than we know?
The New York Times bestselling author of Daemon –(“the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured” -Publishers Weekly) –imagines a world in which decades of technological advances have been suppressed in an effort to prevent disruptive change.

P.S. I will come back and update this posting when I finish FreedomTM. I fully expect Daniel Suarez to throw me a curveball or two before it’s all said and done and I am looking forward to those curveballs!

Profiles in Courage by John F Kennedy

November 10, 2013

I thought it was a good time to think about a great man struck down in his prime in Dallas on November 22, 1963 – 50 years ago.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (aka, John F. Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, and JFK) – Wikipedia:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), commonly known as “Jack” or by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from January 1961 until he was assassinated in November 1963.

Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of the crime and arrested that evening, but Jack Ruby shot and killed him two days later, before a trial could take place.

From Wikipedia on Profiles in Courage:

Profiles in Courage is a 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight United States Senators throughout the Senate’s history. The book profiles senators who crossed party lines and/or defied the opinion of their constituents to do what they felt was right and suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions. It begins with a quote from Edmund Burke on the courage of the English Statesman, Charles James Fox, in his 1783 attack upon the tyranny of the East Indian Company in the House of Commons.[1] The book was widely celebrated and became a best seller. John F. Kennedyis credited as its author, but there are credible allegations that most of it was the work of his speechwriter, Theodore Sorensen.

History and Background

Kennedy was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946 for the state of Massachusetts. In 1952, he was elected the junior Senator from Massachusetts, and served in the Senate until he was elected president in 1960. It was a passage from Herbert Agar‘s book The Price of Union about an act of courage by an earlier senator from Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams, that gave Kennedy the idea of writing about senatorial courage. He showed the passage to Sorensen and asked him to see if he could find some more examples. This Sorensen did, and eventually they had enough not just for an article, as Kennedy had originally envisaged, but a book.[2] With help from research assistants and the Library of Congress, Kennedy wrote the book while bedridden during 1954 and 1955, recovering from back surgery.

Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy

Read by John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Introduction written and read by Caroline Kennedy

Overview

“This is a book about that most admirable of human virtues— courage. ‘Grace under pressure,’ Ernest Hemingway defined it. And these are the stories of the pressures experienced by eight United States Senators and the grace with which they endured them.”

— John F. Kennedy

Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy

Profiles in Courage by
John F. Kennedy (Audio CD) from Amazon

Audio CD:

Product Details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Abridged Audiobook (January 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
Also available from Barnes and Noble, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. There are also hard cover and paperback versions available at these locations as well:
Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy hardcover and paperback from Amazon

Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy hardcover and paperback from Amazon

You can listen to Part 1 at Archive.org
I listened to the first part and I intend to get the audio book version on CD to hear the rest. It is very well written by JFK and read by his son, JFK, Jr.
It is sad that both John F. Kennedy and his son, John F. Kennedy, Jr. are gone now, as is JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy.
I have been listening to JFK’s speeches and other oratory recordings of late as we approach November 22nd. It was a true tragedy to lose JFK as we did back in November 22, 1063. And it should not be forgotten, I think.

Audio version is available at Archive.org - Well worth a listen either way.

We remember…

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