When a Book Refuses to Wait Its Turn…That’s a Good Thing

One of the book’s I’m reading at the moment is Chris Pavone’s The Traveler, a spy thriller pitting several bunches of competing spies against each other.  I usually have three or four (sometimes twice that number) of books going at once, but every so often one of the book’s jumps out of line and refuses to wait for its next turn at being read.

That’s what’s happened with The Travelers.  The book is written in the third person from the points-of-view of several of its main players.  There is, however, one central hero, and this poor sap is pretty much led around by the nose by everyone else in the book.  To say that he is confused is an understatement.  The Advance Reader’s Edition of the book I’m reading is 433 pages long, and along about page 300 I began to notice my reluctance to switch to another book when current-book fatigue began to set in.  

Now, just a few hours later, I’m on page 402…finally not quite as confused as our hero…and find myself rushing to the end to see who survives the final showdown and what the aftermath of that confrontation will bring.

Congratulations, Chris Pavone, on a spy novel that offers a different reading experience from most of the others in the genre.  I’ll be doing a full review on The Travelers in a week or two…now, break over, it’s back to the book.

Movies for Readers: The 100-Foot Journey

This week’s Movies for Readers is The 100-Foot Journey, starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon, and Manish Dayal.  It is a movie about real people living real lives – no super heroes, no explosions, no car crashes (well, there is one near miss), and no vulgarity. In other words, this is a movie for mature audiences who know how to read.

The 2014 movie is based on a novel by the same name that Richard C. Morais published in 2010.  I have been recommending it to friends for the last couple of weeks, and I’ve yet to find anyone who has a bad thing to say about it.  

This trailer gives a good feel for the movie’s tone and quality: 

Movies for Readers No. 15

The Bookseller

The Bookseller is a psychological novel in which the reader spends as much time inside the head and dreams of its main character as it does outside her thoughts.  Sometimes, in fact, it is difficult to tell which is the real world and which is the dream world – and that is as true for Kitty, “the bookseller” for whom the book is titled, as it is for the reader.  Fans of the unreliable narrator device are definitely going to enjoy this one.
Kitty and her best friend Frieda are concerned that the little bookstore they own together may not be long for this world.  Once a thriving place that could depend on walk-in customers served by the city’s public transportation system, the bookstore is becoming more and more isolated every day because walk-in traffic has all but disappeared along with the city buses that used to service the neighborhood streets. Worse, new malls are springing up on the outskirts of the city to service suburban customers who no longer even need to come into town to do their shopping. 
Perhaps that is why Kitty lives an entirely different life in her dreams, one in which she is known as Katherine, a name more suitable for the young mother of three children that she is in her dream world.  These dreams, though, are no ordinary dreams.  They are so real, so detailed, and so happy that Kitty looks forward to visiting Katherine’s world more and more – especially to spend time with Katherine’s completely devoted husband, Lars.  Things are definitely better in Katherine’s world than in Kitty’s – at least for a while. 
Author Cynthia Swanson
But are things ever that simple?  At the realization that neither of her worlds is perfect, Kitty finds it more and more difficult to live in either of them.  If she could only blend the two, she thinks, picking and choosing what she likes best from each, her life would be perfect – but Kitty knows that is impossible.  Then she begins to wonder which of her worlds is the real one, and more importantly, which one she will choose to inhabit.  

For the most part, The Bookseller is a well-written and intriguing novel, one in which the author slowly provides clues and revelations that will keep the reader guessing right along with its main character.  The problem is that all of that tension ends when Kitty very suddenly figures everything out, and more unbelievably, immediately accepts what she has learned about herself.  The abruptness of the plot resolution left me feeling that The Bookseller may have been edited with a bit too much zeal.  That said, The Bookseller does offer an intriguing psychological puzzle that readers will enjoy trying to solve as they turn its pages.  In the end, it is not a particularly difficult problem to solve, but novel offers a fun ride along the way.

TMI About Libraries?

At the risk of crossing the “Too Much Information” line, I have to tell you about the three rather disturbing library-related news articles I spotted this afternoon:

  • The Pennsylvania Superior Court, according to Penn.live has upheld the sentence handed out to a man who exposed himself to a woman in the Paoli Public Library.  Convicted of open lewdness and indecent exposure, the man was sentenced to 9 to 23 months in prison.  The county judge who imposed the sentence, in an understatement, put it this way, “People go to the library, you know, they expect to have peace and quiet…but not to be exposed to such rude behavior.”
  • Another court decision, this one in Wisconsin, affirms that a patron does not have a constitutional right to watch pornography on a university computer.  The story comes from Minnesota.cbslocal.com and adds that the appellate court involved ruled unanimously that the $295 citation issued to the man was valid because he did not prove that his First Amendment rights include the right to watch pornography “in a public library or in any other public place.”
  • And then there’s the case of the recently identified serial-pooper who on two occasions decided to do his thing in a Bryn Mawr public library stairwell.  As of this afternoon, the man has not yet been arrested and charged with criminal mischief.  Facebook, according to the New York Daily News website is having fun with the story.  Comments there mention “the National Poo Database,” “public enemy number 2,” and the like.
What a day in the library…TMI?

The Burning Room

Harry Bosch’s days with the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit are numbered – and have dwindled down to what Harry considers to be a precious few.  Harry figures that if he doesn’t rock the boat so much that the upper brass finds a reason to cut him loose early, he might have one more year in him before the department forces him into retirement.   But it won’t be easy because a cold case with huge political implications has just been dumped in Harry’s lap.
Ten years ago a Mariachi band guitar player took an unexplained bullet in a very public setting.  The good news was that the bullet did not kill the man; the bad news was that it lodged deeply in his spine and paralyzed him.  All these years later, the man has died and the coroner declares his death to be directly attributable to the bullet in his spine – meaning that the cold case has now become a murder case. 
Harry Bosch has a long history of letting his mouth get him into trouble when it comes to dealing with fools and incompetents, especially when he is forced to directly report to one or two of them.  He just can’t help himself; Harry takes his job seriously and unsolved cases haunt him forever.  So when told to back off on an investigation for political reasons, Harry is much more likely to find an under-the-table way to get the job done than he is to back away as ordered. This is not a habit likely to endear Harry to his superior officers.  And this time around, things are even trickier than normal because he is also responsible for mentoring and training Lucky Lucy Sota, a brand new detective just assigned to him, and Harry does not want to get her fired from the department on her first case. 


Author Michael Connelly
The Burning Room is more than just another chapter in the long career of Harry Bosch because, just as Harry realizes that he will not be with the LAPD much longer, fans of the longtime series face the same reality.  Those of us who have aged right alongside Harry (and who have experienced many of the same frustrations and joys) know what he is going through at this stage of his career and life, and we particularly enjoy Connelly’s evolution of the Bosch character’s state of mind.  That is perhaps the greatest appeal these days of the Harry Bosch books to readers who have read all or most of the series.  Michael Connelly’s mystery plots are still some of the finest ones being written today, but to readers like me, it is all about Harry. 

Social Justice Warriors Intimidate Canadian Independents to Pull Politically Out-of -Favor Authors from Shelves

Social Justice Warriors Always Lie by Vox Jay

What a damn shame.


Politics is a dirty word, especially these days when compromise seems to be an impossibility in the minds of those on either end of the political spectrum. Conservatives call liberal names; liberals blast conservatives for existing. And it seems to get worse every year.  But say what you will about conservatives, it does seem to me that political intolerance of the other side even existing and having a voice is more often a characteristic of the liberal left than of the conservative right.

Here’s an example from Canada of the kind of personal attacks that those who pride themselves on their “tolerance” are capable of aiming at those who do not agree with them (per Breitbart.com):
File 770, the blog of three-time Hugo Award winner Mike Glyer, reports that bookstore owners in Toronto are being approached with negative information about authors who participated in the Sad Puppies Hugo Awards campaign.
The Sad Puppies campaign, as explained in the hyperlink above, was an attempt to expose political favouritism and intolerance in the sci-fi and fantasy community. If this latest incident is anything to go by, it continues to be a dispiriting success.

[…]

There is no doubt that some sci-fi authors hold views that are alien to much of mainstream, liberal opinion. However, the SJWs who are trying to drive them out continue to fail to grasp that no political opinion is justification for exclusion from awards participation, bookstores, or the sci-fi community at large. The point of sci-fi is good sci-fi, and the point of awards is to recognise good sci-fi, not politically conformist opinions. 

So is it acceptable to censor those whose political or social beliefs we disagree with? Can we not admit that some we disagree with are capable of creating worthy works of art?  Is this not, as Brietbart puts it, a little bit too “ISIS-like” to allow?  The scariest part of this whole thing is that, to a degree, it seems to be working.  Some Canadian independents have taken the targeted authors off their shelves.  GoodReads has closed at least nine author accounts on the site and banned those authors for good.

Really?  Is this what we’ve come to, people? 

What is happening in Toronto right now did not develop overnight. This ugly fight has been brewing for a while now – please click this link to get the rest of the story. 

Movies for Readers: All the Pretty Horses

Today’s Movies for Readers is one of several Cormac McCarthy books that have been filmed in recent years, All the Pretty Horses.  The movie was released in 2000 and stars young versions of Matt Damon, Penélope Cruz, Henry Thomas, and Lucas Black.  It was directed by Bill Bob Thornton.

Fans of Cormac McCarthy’s fiction probably already know the plot, so let’s just call it one of the most brutal coming-of-age movies that you will ever see.  It is well acted, beautifully shot, and very moving.

Movies for Readers No. 14

Bullies

Bullies represents itself to potential readers as an “account of one writer’s unlikely friendship with his childhood bully,” a premise likely to appeal to readers who as children experienced either side of the bullying equation.  And for a rather brief few pages that is what it is – but all too quickly, the book changes into a social history of the city of Oakland, California, combined with the history of motorcycle clubs in that part of the state.  Interesting as those topics may be, I suspect that many readers will be disappointed that so little time is devoted to the psychology of bullies and their victims.

Alex Abramovich and Trevor Latham first met in the mid-eighties inside a fourth grade classroom in Long Island, New York, but Alex was a year younger than Trevor, the boy who would become his “mortal enemy.”  The boys had a lot in common, mainly that formerly athletic fathers who had once raced motorcycles were raising both of them in single-parent households.  Despite their similarities, the boys spent much of the next three years fighting, kicking, and clawing at each other.  Trevor’s impact on Alex’s life was so great that by the end of the fourth grade Alex was playing hooky, and by the end of the fifth grade he was failing most of his classes.  At the end of the sixth grade, Alex’s father moved him from the area, but it was too late. The damage was already done, and five years after the relocation, Alex would drop out of high school.
Despite the miserable three years they shared, Alex did not think about Trevor again until the day he stumbled upon an Internet reference to him indicating that Trevor had moved to the West Coast where he “started a motorcycle club.”  Alex, intrigued by the possibility of contacting his childhood bully, sensed from the start that their story was one that he wanted to tell.  Surprisingly, when Alex and Trevor would finally sit down together in California, Trevor’s memory for details from their childhood easily surpasses Alex’s recall of those days. Trevor even remarks that he had considered himself the one who was being bullied, not that he was doing the bullying.
Author Alex Abramovich 

What began as a catch-up visit between Alex and Trevor would turn out to be much more than that when, in 2010, Alex moved to California to immerse himself into Trevor’s violent lifestyle of excessive and constant boozing, street fighting, scheduled fight club events, and so much petty crime that the Oakland Police Department was largely forced to ignore it.  As an honorary member of Trevor’s motorcycle club, Alex experienced all the ups and downs of that violent lifestyle right alongside his old nemesis (including firsthand experience with the Occupy Oakland movement that plagued that city) but the two of them never took the time to figure out what had happened to them as children.

And that is a shame because it is what I wanted most to learn about from reading Bullies.  That said, those seeking an inside look into the rogue motorcycle club lifestyle are sure to enjoy and appreciate the book. 

Book Chase Turns Nine Years Old

Just a quick note here to acknowledge an anniversary that I missed yesterday: Book Chase is now nine years old (and I’m a bit shocked at still being here).

In just a few minutes, I am going to post a review of a nonfiction book called Bullies: A Friendship that will be the 1,036th book review posted to Book Chase.  That’s one way to measure the blog’s longevity, but I measure it in another more important way: in the number of good friends I’ve made during the past nine years, friends I would have met no other way. Thank you for being here.  You have enriched my life in ways I never expected, and I’m thankful for having met each and every one of you. 

Porn on Library Computers? Yes or No…

Is something like this the only answer?

By now, just about every public library of any consequence makes at least a few computers available to cardholders.  Most of those computers are placed in such a manner, however, that private viewing is difficult to achieve.  Most often, patrons walking past the computer area (even if the computers have “privacy shields” can easily see what is displayed on several of the computers at a time – and that includes any children who happen by.  This, of course, creates a huge problem for librarians and parents when adult patrons insist on using the computers to access pornography.

Billings television station KRTV today tells the story of one library there where “not everyone agrees those reproductive organs should be on display on the facility’s computers.”

“It’s tough in the library profession to balance the First Amendment right,” said Michael Carlson, Billings Public Library Assistant Director. “There are a lot of libraries that do not filter at all. They believe the First Amendment right. We’re very cognizant of that. You try to take in account your community you serve.”
Of the 89 computers of the Billings Public Library, 85 have filters.
The other four come with privacy shields both above and below, both of which do not completely censor the content to a passing patron in the vicinity at that moment.

So what’s the answer, librarians?  This seems to be more than just a clash between constitutional rights and community standards.   Do we need “adult only” computer rooms? Or can we simply place adult computers in a public section of the library where children are unlikely to find themselves?  In my library, most of the computers sit right next to the DVD shelves that house both children and adult movies, so kids are all around the computers constantly.  (I don’t know that porn sites can be accessed on the Harris County, Texas, library system computers, however.)

Julian Fellowes to Serialize His New Novel

Julian Fellowes: Member of the House of Lords, Actor, Screenwriter, Director, Novelist

Julian Fellowes, creator of the popular television series Downton Abbey, has decided to introduce his new novel, Belgravia, to the world as a serialization via an app especially designed for the novel.  According to The Telegraph, subscribers will have a new chapter of the book delivered to their device of choice on each of eleven successive Fridays.

 Each instalment will be delivered in text and audio formats, and come with multimedia extras including music and family trees. Customers can either subscribe for £9.99 or pay £1.49 for each instalment which will be sent to their device every Friday. Alternatively, fans who prefer can wait until the printed edition of the book is published in June.

It is not all that surprising that Fellowes has come up with such a different way to market his novel.  His timing could not be more perfect because striking while the iron is hot is never a bad thing in marketing a product – and the Julian Fellowes iron will probably never be hotter than it is today.  The six seasons of Downton Abbey recently ended in the U.K., and the period drama’s final season is currently being aired in the U. S. (episode 3 of season 6 has just been broadcast).  

You would be forgiven if you think this is Fellowes’s first novel, but  according to the linked article, he published one called Snobs in 2004 and has two romance novels to his credit  (under the pen name Rebecca Greville).  I’m a bit curious to see how this all works out for Mr. Fellowes and whether or not it might serve as a model to be used by other writers in the future.

In this video, Mr. Fellowes points out that this is not a new television series…but in my mind I can’t help but add the word “yet” to the end of that sentence.  It just seems inevitable.


The Great Typo Hunt

Jeff Deck is a member of what some sarcastically call the “Grammar Police,” although in Deck’s case publicly misspelled words seem to bother him even more than grammar abuse does.  Keep in mind, too, that despite the less-than-kind remarks often directed at Deck and his fellow grammar cops, there are thousands of them out there.  Odds are, you know one yourself – or, deep down in your heart, you are one.  Deck and his friends, though, decided to take their policing to the next level.
Deck created the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), planned a road trip of almost 12,000 miles that would take him across the country and back correcting typos, and recruited three friends who would share individual parts of the trip with him.  Along the way, Jeff, Benjamin, Jane, and Josh would encounter every response imaginable from the people whose errors they asked permission to correct, including: indifference, belligerence, amusement, whole hearted support, and in one unfortunate case in which they failed to ask for permission before making a correction, being charged by the government for defacing federal property. 
Ultimately though, TEAL’s mission would develop into more than just a one-time road trip to correct grammatical and spelling mistakes on a few hundred grocery store, restaurant, and mall signs because Jeff and Benjamin began to realize that the real “point of the mission was to inspire other ordinary people to speak out when they see mistakes.”  As editors, they knew how important moving beyond the “first draft” is to the clarity of written communication – and that is the message they wanted to spread across the country, one correction at a time.
Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson
Those approached by the TEAL team were not the only ones to learn something from the encounters.  Jeff and Benjamin, because of the variety of feedback and responses they received from those they approached, found that they had “taken a tour of basic human interactions.”  From their rather random sampling of humanity, they experienced the whole gamut of reactions from people suddenly faced with unexpected challenges and problems.  The TEAL team, it is safe to say, learned as much from the trip as the people they spoke with along the way.

The subtitle to The Great Typo Hunt is “Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time” – a lofty goal, to be sure.  Perhaps Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson did not, after all, change the world, but they changed themselves, and that may be the more important thing.  Grammar policemen everywhere (and I use the term here in the most complimentary way possible) will enjoy this book.  It is a little dryly written at times but it is a true adventure for Deck and Herson’s fellow nerds, among whom I count myself.

Book Trailers: 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened

I was finally able to get to a movie theater this morning so that I could watch 13 Hours: the Secret Soldeirs of Benghazi and I’m happy to report that it is everything I had been told it would be.  It is thrilling, heartbreaking, totally engaging, and most of all, enraging.  Four dead Americans – who by all credible accounts could have been saved – is enraging.

The movie is largely based on Michael Zukoff’s book 13 Hours in Benghazi: The Inside Account of What Really Happened.  I usually find that a movie so much simplifies a book that the movie, despite perhaps lacking the depth of the book, is easier to follow than the book from which it’s taken.  In this instance, that’s not the case.  What happened on the ground in Benghazi is so complicated and has so many moving parts that it takes the pace of a book to keep it all straight in your mind.  The impact of this movie on viewers is more akin to what it must have been like for those fighting for their lives on September 11/12, 2012 – lots of noise, people swarming the streets and grounds, total confusion at times.

Everyone needs to see this movie.  These people should not be forgotten or swept under some political rug during this election year.  (This movie does not overtly point fingers at anyone in Washington D.C., at least by name, although there is a sense of cynicism toward the end that does become a little pointed and obvious.)

Alexa, Read My Kindle Book

I received an interesting email regarding my Amazon Echo yesterday, an announcement from Amazon that Alexa could now read most of my Kindle books aloud to me.  

I was a little skeptical at first but a quick glance at the Echo app on my iPad indicated that the majority of the books on my Kindle can be accessed this way.  The primary exception seems to be those books downloaded to my Kindle as “personal documents” rather than as “books.”  That pretty much means that I won’t often be able to use the Echo to read ARCs aloud since most publishers push those to Kindle in the document format rather than in Amazon’s standard Kindle format for books.

It is all pretty simple.  Just say something like “Alexa, read my Kindle book (title inserted), and she’s off and reading. The reading can be stopped via the usual “stop” command and resumed at the point the reader left off by saying, “Alexa read my Kindle book.”  The only problem I’ve run into is that some of my book titles are the same as song titles, or they contain place names or compass points that confuse the Echo into looking for directions, etc.  When that happens, the user has to work with the Echo until the correct title is understood and accessed.  And sometimes that demands a good bit of patience.

But although I find the “pause” and “resume” commands useful, I do wish that I could specify a specific chapter for the app to begin with or jump forward to because, without that capability, the user is forced to use the app for one Kindle book at a time rather than having the choice of switching between books before completing any of them.  The app appears capable of placing only one “bookmark” at a time, meaning that a book only partially read is resumed at page one if another book has been opened in the meantime.

And believe it or not, the robotic rendering of the books is easy to get used to; after a few minutes, it is almost like having someone with a slight foreign accent read aloud to you.  I was one of early adopters of the Amazon Echo and I have been pleased with all the improvements made to the app software since I acquired it – something that seems to be happening at an ever accelerating pace these days.

In my estimation, this is good news for Kindle users.


Movies for Readers: The First Deadly Sin

I’m going to reach way back into movie history (1980) for this week’s Movies for Readers contribution. The First Deadly Sin was, I’m pretty sure, the first of several Lawrence Sanders crime thrillers that I would eventually read, and the book is such a page-turner that I still remember it very well after all these years. 

The movie adaptation stars Frank Sinatra (in a very good performance), Faye Dunaway (whose character barely gets out of her hospital bed), James Whitmore, and Brenda Vaccaro.  (And those of you with really sharp eyes might even spot Bruce Willis in his very first film role. Hint: he’s coming in a bistro door that Sinatra is exiting.)

Rather than an official trailer (which I can’t find), I’m posting this vivid clip from near the beginning of the movie. The way it’s cut and edited reminds me of Hitchcock’s direction, but the director of The First Deadly Sin was Brian G. Hutton.

Movies for Readers No. 13

The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue

No one will ever accuse Frederick Forsyth of not having lived life to its fullest.  Forsyth, now in his eighth decade, seems to have been predisposed to live an extraordinarily adventurous life almost from the beginning and he, in fact, managed to become one of the youngest young men ever to earn his wings from the RAF.  But that was just the beginning for the man who would ultimately gain great fame as author of international bestsellers such as The Day of the Jackal, The Dogs of War, and The Odessa File.
Surprisingly, Forsyth only turned to writing fiction in desperation when he could think of no other way to earn enough money to tide him over between jobs.  He was then thirty-one years old, and although he had no idea how the publishing world worked, he hoped to earn enough money to pay off his debts before getting on with the rest of his life.  Forsyth, though, was no ordinary thirty-one-year-old.  Fresh off a journalism job that saw him posted to Paris and Berlin, and which included assignments to the troubled heart of deepest Africa, the author already had the makings in his head of the early books that would make his fame.  Thus were born the well-researched and realistic novels previously mentioned.  Forsyth would, of course, probably have been long remembered if he had quit right there, but he has an additional ten novels to his credit.
Author Frederick Forsyth
What makes Forsyth different is how closely he personally experienced so much of what he writes and used those experiences in fictionalized form to allow the rest of us understand and experience the world he knows so intimately.  A recounting of those experiences comprises about the first third of The Outsider, and it is not until approximately page 250 of this 352-page memoir that Frederick Forsyth, novelist, makes his first appearance.  But readers who are most interested in this phase of Forsyth’s life will find it to have been well worth the wait because his stories about how the books were constructed and sold are at times almost as adventurous as some of Forsyth’s earlier tales.

The Outsider, because it conforms to neither the common pattern for memoir nor for biography, can be a little jarring at times.  It’s sixty segments more like the kind of after dinner talk that a fellow diner might expect from someone with Forsyth’s experiences.  The segments are relatively short and are laid out in just that kind of straightforward way, with supporting characters seldom fleshed out in a manner that would make them especially real or memorable.  The chapters do seem to follow each other in more or less chronological order, but the book does not refer to dates often enough to make the time-gaps between stories entirely clear to the reader. That, however, is a small criticism and a small price to pay for getting to know a man like Frederick Forsyth better.  The timing of The Outsider is perfect, and Forsyth’s fans are sure to appreciate it.

Nailing Perfectly Innocent Books to a Wall for Decorative Reasons? Gimme a break…

Since the photo is necessary to illustrate the point, I’m hoping that  Jonathan Phillips/Curbed Atlanta will allow its use (if not, let me know, guys, and it will be removed)

I have to agree with the folks over at curbed.com that seeing innocent books abused the way these poor things are being abused (come on…nailed to a wall, for pete’s sake) makes me cringe and want to raise my voice in scorn and protest toward the idiots involved. But then again, that’s me, and maybe I’m overreacting as I so often am accused of doing.  What do you think? Trendy and acceptable or abusive and classless? Or maybe something in between?

Think about it for a minute. Are these just a bunch of books randomly chosen or do they supposedly reflect the taste and lifestyle of the person who destroyed them.  Are they a bunch of romance novels, for instance, or do they include some literary work that should be treasured and read rather than being made into ornaments?  Would you lose respect for the butchers involved or would you take a close enough look to tell you they probably weren’t bright enough to actually read these books anyway? What would you say to them?

Thriller Writer Stephen Leather Is at It Again

Stephen Leather, the man who believes in winning at
any cost – ethics be damned.

British thriller writer Stephen Leather has stepped in it again.  Leather was first exposed as a prolific “sock puppet” way back in 2012 when Jeremy Duns broke the news via his Twitter account. In Leather’s case, being publicly shamed for his disgraceful behavior does not seem to have had the desired effect.  According to this article from The Guardian, Leather simply took his behavior further underground like the worm he apparently is.

Over the past week, the authors Steve Mosby and Jeremy Duns have each alleged that Leather is behind websites set up to attack them. On 4 January, Mosby blogged about the launch of the site fuckstevemosby.com, which featured an exhaustive collection of the times he swore online. Mosby claims that the site was set up by Leather. Duns, the author of the Paul Dark spy novels, then blogged a lengthy analysis of the reasons why he believes Leather is behind a series of sites abusing him – including the claim that the recently established site fuckjeremyduns.com briefly redirected to Leather’s own site about his character Spider Shepherd.

[…]

Leather did not respond to a request for comment from the Guardian, but the publisher Hachette said it has “advised him not to say anything to anyone at the moment”. In a statement Hachette said it would “do everything we can to put an end to this very unpleasant matter immediately” and that it “wholeheartedly condemns harassment and intimidation of any kind.” 

Leather is not the only author guilty of sockpuppetry but he takes it to an extreme by trying to damage the competition the way he does. Using fake identities to heap false praise on one’s own work is bad enough, but using similar identities to directly trash the work and reputations of the competition is much, much worse.  Frankly, I have never read Stephen Leather and the chances of that ever happening have just gone from slim to none.

Here’s a link to a September 4, 2012 post that I wrote when this story broke the first time around.  At that time, the chief culprit appeared to be writer R. J. Elroy, but Stephen Leather was also said to have been guilty of the same despicable practice.

Might I suggest that you read Steve Mosby and Jeremy Duns, Leather’s two targets, rather than Leather?


Jeremy Duns

Steve Mosby



The Heart Goes Last

That The Heart Goes Last is the first title I have read by Margaret Atwood places me, I suspect, at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to discussing the novel’s merits and faults.  I cannot compare it to the fourteen Margaret Atwood novels that preceded it so I do not know with any certainty just how different it may be from her usual fare.  I do know that Atwood is no stranger to dystopian related plotlines, so The Heart Goes Last probably comes as no big shock to her more experienced readers.  What makes this one a bit different from the usual novel is that it began life as a serialization project of Atwood’s that only later came together as the novel it is.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may explain the somewhat tenuous connection between the tone of the book’s early chapters and the tone of its later ones.  
The Heart Goes Last opens in a strange new United States, a country whose economic system has so completely collapsed that people consider themselves lucky to have even an old car to find shelter within.  Stan and Charmaine, a married couple, are doing exactly that while Stan desperately searches for work and Charmaine brings home a few dollars every day from her dead end job.  They are fast running out of money, though, and it is becoming more and more difficult to find a place safe enough to park their car for even a few hours rest because, as little as they have, others want to take it from them.
So when Stan and Charmaine hear that a neighboring town called Consilience is running something called The Positron Project, they eagerly apply for acceptance into the program.  And why wouldn’t they?  There is a comfortable, clean house for everyone in Consilience and, more importantly, the unemployment rate is zero.  Everyone has a job, a warm place to sleep, and plenty of nourishing food.  What could be the catch?  Well hang on a second.
Author Margaret Atwood
But even when told that the home and jobs will be theirs only on alternating months of the year, and that when not living in the home they will be prisoners inside Positron Prison, Stan and Charmaine jump at the deal.  After all, one month a prisoner, one month a prison administrator, really doesn’t sound that bad to two people in constant danger of being killed in their sleep.

This is the premise of The Heart Goes Last and, as the novel begins, Atwood presents it all in a very serious manner.  But about midway through, her story is consumed by infidelity, rather kinky sex that includes lifelike robots to fulfill every sexual fantasy imaginable (think Elvis and Marilyn), and near farcical escapes from the prison.  While it is all very amusing and entertaining (as I will be the first to admit), I find myself wishing that Atwood had maintained throughout the novel the more serious tone with which she began it.  The result would, I think, have been a much more satisfying novel than the comic satire this one morphed into.