May 31, 2006

Searching for Bobbie Fischer

Searching for Bobby Fischer
I had noticed the movie when it first came out, but never watched it

La Sheila recently raved about it, and since the things she praises tend to be well done, I went for another look.

All I can think of is a perfect swan dive - there is a pleasure that comes from watching simple (perhaps even formula) material, executed wonderfully well. This is great execution.

I went in expecting to be impressed by Ben Kingsley and Laurence Fishburne. I went in knowing that Sheila RAVED about a moment where Joe Mantegna just BRINGS IT.

What suprised me was that Joan Allen stole the picture as the mom.

Good movie, much enjoyment, and I strongly recommend.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 24, 2006

Modesitt - Cadmian's Choice

L.E. Modesitt
Cadmian's Choice

This is book 5 in Modesitt's Cadmian Chronicles.

It felt familiar - we have the talented and smart hero (two of them this time) working wtih life force, order, and power while working against a conspiracy. The heros are variations on his standard hero. The world and magic are variations on his standard world. He is ringing the changes on a theme, which is fine because it is a good theme.

I found myself basically NOT trying to keep track of the conspiracy and actors. I could not remember who was who, who was where, who was allied with whom, and who was betraying whome. There was a serious case of Russian Novel Syndrome going on with the off-stage characters.

Instead I just followed the moment-by-moment decision making of the two heros.

And it was enough.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Spencer - Wolf Who Rules

Wen Spencer
Wolf Who Rules

This is the sequel to Tinker telling what happened next.

I can see why Spencer claims to love writing about Tinker - she is a great character.

Highly entertaining - I lost sleep to finish it.

I was reading it while tired, and much of the book takes place while Tinker is short of sleep and having trouble with people messing with her dreams.

I am not sure if Spencer successfully wrote Tinker into that fatigue-fugue where it is hard to tell dream from reality, or if my own fatigue just took me there.

Good stuff.

I want to re-read it.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Brock - Conscience of a Conservative

David Brock
Conscience of a Conservative

I have fallen behind on my log entries, so I am going to put in a batch of stubs.

I read it, I liked it.

Brock explains how he got sucked into the right-wing anti-Clinton movement of the 1990s. He then apologizes for his actions, and points out some dangers for the future once this gang of self-indulgent moralists and fulminating haters got control of the government.

I liked it.

I was amused to read a gay Republican writing a conversion narrative about his recovery from right-wing politics. Jonathan Edwards' literary form has traveled a strange path to get to this book.

Good stuff.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

April 15, 2006

Phillips - American Theocracy

Kevin Phillips
American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century
New York, Viking, 2006

Kevin Phillips writes a lot of books, and it shows.

This is a tripartate narrative that first explains the relationship between the modern Republican party and oil, religion, and debt, and then combines the three into a indictment of the policies and coalitions that support George W. Bush.

It is one of those books that are very hard to read carefully. I found that when Phillips was writing about the things I knew nothing about, his story seemed to make sense. But when he wrote about material I knew well, I suddenly saw shallow research, a reliance on synecdote rather than analysis, and a presentation of the past that was, while not wrong, not complete either.

I have noticed this tendency in other big sweeping tales, and especially in big sweeping tales of the rise and fall of great powers.

As a result I found it a fun book to read, and a book that opens up some very interesting questions. But, because I can't buy the parts of the story that I know, I also can not quite buy the parts that I do not know.

I agree with Phillips that the modern Republican party is fundamentally dangerous because of the way that it combines theological correctness (I love that term!) to combine religious followers with big-business leaders to support ruinous financial structures and dangerously misconceived and mismanaged foreign policy.

I don't agree that Phillips book supports the accurate gut sense that it is based on.

Interesting and worth reading, but not compelling.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Spencer - Tinker

Wen Spencer
New York : Baen ; Godalming : Melia, 2003

Wen Spencer's Tinker is a joy to read. It is literate, fast-paced, compelling and smart. While there are times when the pace gets a little too fast, those are also the moments where our impatient heroine is getting flustered and, in pop military parlance, has let someone get inside her decision curve.

Tinker lives in the American city of Pittsburgh, which has been transferred to the alien planet of elfhome as a side-effect of a stargate in orbit over China. Well, alien is not quite the right word, alternate reality of elfhome might be better.

Spencer ends up tying together some of the cliches from the urban elf sub-genre with the more traditional tales of sidhe and oni and things that go bump in the night to create a coherent and compelling world.

Within this world we meet Tinker, a young lady who is very smart, very charismatic, not quite emotionally mature, and yet combines all of those traits into a compelling and very real character. She gets horny; she flirts; she invents things; she breaks the heart of one of her friends by accident; she is a highly effective person who is not a perfect person. The combination makes for good reading and a compelling lead character.

I could go on, but that would lead to even more spoilers than I have given here.

Highly recommended, and I am off to read more by Wen Spencer.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 29, 2006

Traxel - 1898

David Traxel
Alfred A. Kopf, New York, 1998

This is about as good as popular history gets, which is pretty darn good indeed.

Traxel takes a single, important year and tells its story chronologically. He is more interested in telling a story than in engaging other historians. He does cite other people in the text from time to time - he is no David McCullogh that way - but his primary purpose is synthesis and narrative. The narrative that he tells is one of a nation becoming modern, a coming of age story for a large, complex body of people.

The cover does an absolutely brilliant job of depicting the way that the events inside have been framed. The front cover is the famous picture of Cuba reconciling the North and the South, a staged picture with two old men in Civil War uniforms shaking hands under the blessing of a girl in a white dress wearing a tiara marked "Cuba." The back is the National Biscuit Company's iconic advertisement of a boy in a yellow slicker holding an equally waterproof box of Uneeda Biscuits. Empire, reunification, and the second industrial revolution all combined in a single powerful year.

Traxel puts most of his attention on the United States' emergence as an imperial power, first with the Spanish American War and then with the decision to annex the Philippines after that war. The second large story that he tells is of the rise of Theodore Roosevelt from hyper-energetic assistant secretary of the navy to war hero to Governor of New York and future vice president. Both of these stories are told against the backdrop of the second industrial revolution - we see violent labor strikes, crippling industrial accidents, and the emergence of the National Biscuit Company and its antidote to the old-fashioned cracker barrel. The final part of the story is that of race in the United States, for 1898 saw both the Wilmington NC race riot and the charge of the 9th and 10th Cavalry up San Juan Hill. The Progressive Era marked the nadir of race relations in the modern United States, and 1898 is after Plessy v. Ferguson but before Woodrow Wilson would segregate the federal government.

The prose is simple and powerful, the events compelling the coverage complete. Traxel accommodates his tight chronological focus by letting his story break free of the 1898 at the point where he introduces and says farewell to each character. So when we meet Teddy Roosevelt we get his backstory, we then follow Roosevelt through a chronological narrative of the year, and it is only after his last moment on the stage that Traxel tells us the trajectory of Roosevelt's later political career. He follows the same pattern for other people, other institutions, and the net effect emphasizes his contention that 1898 was the crucial year that the universe changed.

There are a few places where the narrative falters - we learn about the murder of President McKinley's brother in law in the month when McKinley found out about it, and we learn how that murder altered his campaign plans during the mid-term Congressional elections, but after that we never go back to the small town in Ohio. Events appear and disappear from the narrative, just as they would have from the perspective of someone who lived through the year, but many of the threads feel unwoven and unresolved. That may have been intentional - we don't learn the answers to many stories - but it leads to a few jarring transitions. In addition, it emphasizes the extent to which this is popular and not analytical history. Traxel tells us what happens, and he tells us what happened next, but he does not spend a lot of foreground time and energy explaining why most of the events he chronicles actually matter. The reader is left to speculate about the importance of a storm off the coast of New England, because that storm does not really connect to either the growth of big business or the expansion of empire. Still, it happened and so we are told about it.

Those are quibbles. This was a great book great fun to read, and heartily recommended!

Posted by Red Ted at 09:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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