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perrinpring

Perrin Pring

I'm a sci-fi writer and reader, although, let's be honest - I'll read just about anything that moves me, regardless of the genre.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - Erik Larson

Several years ago I tried to read this book and ended up putting it down for various reasons. I kept it though and picked it up on what turned into a nine hour flight. I finished it in one sitting (obviously, there wasn't much else to do). I greatly enjoyed it, but I really like history.

Taking place at the end of the American Glided Age, The Devil in the White City follows two men leading up to and during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The men are the fair's main architect, Daniel Burnham, and the serial killer, Herman Webster Mudgett, a.k.a. H. H. Holmes, who killed an unknown number of people during the fair. The book reads like fiction and captures the madness and over the top atmosphere that filled Chicago in the early 1890's.

While I do agree with some other reviewers that some of the florid prose was a bit too much, and the breadcrumbs leading up to certain events were a little dramatic, overall I felt like I learned A TON, and I love to learn. I flip flopped between whose story I liked more, Burnham's or Holmes, and loved that Larson did such a good job at developing the stories that I didn't just have a clear front runner for my favorite.

My main worry, I guess I'll say, is that the book was just too smooth. It really did read like fiction, and as a result, I wonder if it is all true. I do think a lot of it is true, but the skeptic in me just can't believe that it's all non-fiction. Still, I think Larson did a great job. I want to read more about the Glided age now that I've been exposed to some of its history. 

I recommend this book.

Hell is Empty

Hell Is Empty  - Craig Johnson

I saw the TV version of Hell is Empty after I bought the book. When I realized I had seen the episode (and it sucked), I got a little worried. I'm here to tell you, the book is everything that the TV episode is not, so don't compare the two.

To begin, yes. The premise of the book is a little outrageous - Walk is trekking up to 13,000 ft peaks by himself in the middle of a blizzard, injured and without backup to re-capture some escaped cons. If you think too long on how realistic this all is, you're going to hate the book.

Now normally, I would be the one harping on just how 'realistic' it all is, but then I really got into the dreamlike qualities of the book (something I normally am NOT into). As the book progresses, reality starts to blur and finally, you just don't know what's real and what's not. As a writer, I know how hard it is to write that line between mystical and cheesy, and I think Johnson did it quite well.

I liked the use of the storm and the fire, and Virgil, his there again/not there again guide. It all flowed into something more and fuller than just a ridiculous story. Hell is Empty is about about that grey space between reality and beyond, and I can appreciate that.

I recommend this book, but only if you're willing to open your mind to the possibility that anything is possible. 

In the Heart of the Sea: The tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - Nathaniel Philbrick

Warning: This book is about killing whales. Turtles and birds die too. Still worth the read, just go in knowing animals die.

Okay, now that that's done.

I've been on a kick for non-fiction sea faring disaster stories. Having read The Hungry Ocean (not technically a disaster story, just more like a sea based adventure story), The Perfect Storm, Skeletons on the Zahara, In the Wake of Madness, and now In the Heart of the Sea, all within the last 20 months or so, I've really learned a lot for a landlocked kid who has never set foot on a sailboat.

In the Heart of the Sea revolves around the whaling culture of the 1800's, particularly the whaling culture of Nantucket. Philbrick does a great job at explaining the basics of whaling for his 21st century readers. He gives us the history of whaling, and then the history of Nantucket, complete with a crash course on Quakerism and how that all factored into the disaster aboard the Essex. I love learning about bygone economies, and the whaling economy of Nantucket most certainly falls into that category. 

I think Philbrick's look into the complete picture of Nantucket whaling at this time is what I am most impressed about this book. I also was interested (more like disgusted) to learn how terrible whalers were on the delicate ecosystems of the islands they frequented, including those of the Galapagos. It was really hard to read about the crew of the Essex and their 'experiences' on the Galapagos. It's good to remember that whales weren't the only species nearly and totally driven into extinction because of the whalers. 

Philbrick does some asides in the book where he talks about what the crew of the Essex is really experiencing. One thing he talks about the known effects of starvation on human. While Philbrick gives his readers a quick and well rounded view of just what it means to starve, I recommend, if you are interested in learning more about the human body and starvation, as well as just how cannibalism really affects a person, reading Alive! by Piers Paul Read. A moving and incredibly in depth read, Alive! really made my understanding of what the crew of the Essex was experiencing much more complete.

A quick and gripping read, I recommend this book.

A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet -  Arthur Conan Doyle

First, the star rating for this story is a little difficult. I'd put it at 3.5 stars. If you've already read some of the other reviews out there, you probably know one of my critiques of the story - the jump between part one and part two. Not that I minded it all that much, but it was just SO different that I had to google the plot summary of A Study in Scarlet just to make sure my e-copy had downloaded correctly.

The first part of A Study in Scarlet starts out as you think it will, in London in the 1880's and some people have been killed by what appears to be poison. Sherlock is on the case. Well, part two takes place in the Salt Lake Valley in the mid 1800's and eventually meanders back to England, but not until a seemingly unrelated story is told.

I think modern day audiences have trouble with this jump because we're used to watching modern adaptions of Doyle's work, and those adaptions DO NOT take place in 1860's the Salt Lake Valley with the polygamous Mormon settlers. This being said, I think judging the original Sherlock based off of its more modern adaptions isn't entirely fair. Doyle is the creator of these stories, and more power to him if not all facets of the story revolve around Sherlock or Watson.

(Actually I found the Mormon section of the story entirely interesting. Doyle was clearly a critic of that culture, and he was a critic during a pivotal time. Just because A Study in Scarlet is fiction, does not mean that it doesn't reflect the world events of that time. Highly interesting view point of the side effects of polygamy. I'm sure there are tons of people that disagree with this section being rooted in truth, but I'd say human behavior is not above anything I read.)

I did find the similarities between A Study in Scarlet, and the BBC's more recent adaption of the story, A Study in Pink quite fun. Having just re-watched A Study in Pink, I found myself incredibly impressed with the BBC writing team that twisted the story for modern audiences. Some of the dialogue for the show is directly from the original work, but some of it directly plays off of Doyle's work. Take the mysterious message 'Rache'. In the BBC series Sherlock is the one to dismiss Rache as being a message in German and reveals that Rache is just Rachel without the L. In Doyle's work, however, Sherlock is the one to conclude that Rache is the German word for revenge. 

You may be wondering why I only give A Study in Scarlet 3.5 stars if I'm not upset about differences between section one and two. I give it 3.5 stars because I felt like the conclusion of the mystery was an afterthought. The story is fun - a mysterious message, blood from an unknown source, a cabby with unknown motives and then of course the entire Salt Lake thing - but in the end, the ending just didn't do it for me. The culprit's motivations for killing the way he did didn't make sense when compared to his life long quest to complete those killings. It seemed like Doyle had a cool idea for a mystery, but he himself didn't know how to end it, so he just patched together a semi coherent ending and left it at that. 

I still think this is a worthwhile read. It's short and fun, and if you're into the BBC Sherlock, it's super fun to see how the two overlap.

Junkyard Dogs

Junkyard Dogs  - Craig Johnson

This was the first Longmire book I've read. I did see the first season of the show (in an embarrassingly short amount of time, I was sick), which is why I bought the book. I enjoyed the show, and I also enjoyed the book.

A murder mystery set in a small town on the Wyoming/Montana boarder, I'm not going to get into plot specifics, you can read elsewhere for that. Instead, what I found particularly compelling about this book was how well Johnson describes the Wyoming/Montana winter landscape. The book takes place over Valentine's Day week. The weather is windy, cold, icy and dark. You can't walk without slipping, every car has fender damage, the wind blows snow down your zipped coat and into your shirt, crusted snow drifts become permanent features, the sun sets at 4, etc., etc., etc. 

The reason I liked all this so much was that I read Junkyard Dogs over Valentine's Day week, and I read it from my home in southwestern Montana. I would say that Johnson's descriptions transported me to Durant, but let's be honest, I was practically already there. All I had to do was go shovel the drifts off of my driveway and I was pretty much a background character in the book. 

The story was also fun, but I mostly just liked the fact that I was reading a book that took place in the region in which I live. You want to learn what Wyoming/Montana is like during the winter? Read this book, preferably in a dark snow storm with whipping wind, and you're on the right track. 

I recommend this book.

The Kabrini Message

The Kabrini Message - J R Egles

The Kabrini Message is galaxy trotting adventure. Equal mixes of scientific exploration, action, and humor, the Kabrini Message spans time and space to bring its readers a story ahead of its time. 

My favorite part of the Kabrini message was J.R. Egles imagination. When I started the Kabirni Message, I knew it was written several years ago, but I wasn't sure how many years ago. According to the afterward, it was finished in 1987, which means that J.R. Egles was WAY ahead of his time. He talks about cell phones, e-books, the internet and other now common place things that were in no way common place at this book's inception. Actually, I wish I'd been able to read The Kabrini Message in 1987 because I think this book would have blown off my socks in terms of its 'science fiction' concepts.

I always like books that bring me to locations I've never visited, and The Kabrini Message certainly transported me to new worlds. I do wish that Egles had fleshed out his characters more, and used less adjectives, but in the end I couldn't help but compare the Kabrini to the Asgard of Stargate S-G1 and any comparison to SG-1 is always a good one.

I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

1984

1984 ( Signet Classics (Paperback) ) [ 1984 ( SIGNET CLASSICS (PAPERBACK) ) ] by Orwell, George ( Author) on Jul, 01, 1950 Mass Market Paperbound -

About half way through 1984, I started to compare it to Asimov and Bradbury's works, as I could see a lot of similarities. Orwell writes like a sci-fi writer of his age. That being said though, Orwell is not nearly as dry as Asimov, nor is he as unenthusiastic in his character developments as Bradbury. At the same time, it took a lot of will power to power through this book. The book still is dry by modern standards, and there is a lot of minutia about the politics of Oceania (which is important to the story, but I've never been keen on politics.)

Taking place in the distant future of 1984 (the book was written in the 1940's), 1984, in case you've been under a rock, is a dystopian warning about the censorship that can evolve in society if we aren't careful citizens. While I could get into the exact plot, I'm just going to mention one point I found very interesting in 1984. 

While Orwell introduces a variety of new terms, the one that really resonated with me was 'doublethink'. This is the ability for two contradicting ideas to exist in a person's mind at the same time. Doublethink isn't just a fictional creation. As Erich Fromm (the writer of the 1984 Afterward) points out, doublethink occurs in our everyday lives. Take the commandment 'Thou shall not kill', then look at the crusades - wars started in the name of Christianity and murders committed in the of Christianity. 

After reading Fromm's Afterward, I found myself much more able to apply Orwell's lessons to my own life. I started thinking of all the incidents of doublethink in my own life and country. While I won't get into those here, it is worth noting that while 1984 may be fiction, it certainly is built upon a foundation of truth. 

I recommend this book.

Fledgling: Review

Fledgling - Octavia E. Butler

I had no idea what to expect from Fledgling. I've been wanting to read some Octavia E. Butler for a while, and I have to say that while I learned I don't think I'm all that into vampire literature, I am an Octavia Butler fan. Let me back up.

Prior to reading Fledgling, the only other vampire book I'd read was Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer, which it turns out isn't a 'normal' vampire story. I say that because I, at one point in my life, had an embarrassing period where I watched a lot of Vampire Diaries (I know, it's shameful, it really is.) Vampire Diaries was a lot more like Fledgling than Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer in terms of the sexual themes. It seems that one of the benefits to being a vampire is that traditional sexual mores aren't an issue. I'm going to tell you right now, in Fledgling, the main character has the body of a 10-year-old, the consciousness of a 53-year-old, and the libido of a teenager. The first sex scene is between Shori (the 10-year-old looking vampire) and Wright, a mid-twenties male. It takes a minute to wrap your mind around it, which I think is exactly what Butler was going for.

After finishing the book, I realized there were a lot of 'pushing the boundaries' and 'expand your view point' themes. The first is obviously what I've already mentioned. Butler challenges her reader's preconceived ideals about love. Shori is a mature adult in her culture, so the fact that she has a child's body doesn't interfere with her adult activities. People also have very different relationships in Fledgling - multiple partners, same sex partners, different species partners, wildly different aged partners - in Bulter's world, nothing is out of bounds.

 

At the same time [ the book revolves around an apparent hate crime. I won't get too into that, but Shori is a one of a kind human/vampire hybrid with dark skin. Some people aren't so happy about this. 

I loved Shori. She's intelligent and deals with highly emotional issues in a logical matter. This isn't to say Butler created a robot of a main character, but rather, I found Shori a great female lead. She's probably why I kept reading. I was a little frustrated with all the details about the family trees and intricacies of Ina (vampire) life. The book reads like the first in a series, and unfortunately, it isn't going to be one. My main complaint about this book is that at times, I felt like nothing had happened and that the book wasn't going anywhere. I kept reading because Butler's writing is compelling, as is Shori, but I didn't care about the minutia of Ina life.

That said though. This was a quick fun read. If you're into vampire fiction or you want to give it a go, read this.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight - Alexandra Fuller

Recommended to me by two people, I finally picked this book up from a thrift store. Once I started it, I found it hard to put down.

I'm just going to tell you now though, this is not the light pick-me-up read you may need as we near the dead of winter. Children and animals die. I'm not even going to separate that into a spoiler passage because such warnings should come standard with every book, in my opinion.

That said, this book opened my eyes to a world I'd never considered. I've never been to Africa, and I've not known many people who have spent a significant amount of time there. What I found most interesting about this book was its point of view. Fuller is the daughter of white settlers in (mostly) Rhodesia during the Rhodesian Bush Wars. She isn't the daughter of missionaries, and she's not the daughter of the local people. She's the daughter of the people who lost the war - the oppressors. She makes no excuses for the attitudes she and her family held, and just tells it as it is. It's a refreshing outlook, obviously not re-painted to make her family seem like the non-racist exception during the times. While some of the opinions and events that happened are shocking, she doesn't sugar coat them, and I can respect that.

Fuller's childhood will make your head spin. In the book there's a picture of her as a little girl wearing a white dress and holding an Uzi. She learned how to give IV's and patch bullet holes before she was ten. She was one of two out of five children to survive in her family, and as a child, she had a very legitimate fear of being killed by terrorists and then having her eyelids cut off. The book doesn't seem real, but it is, and it's important to remember that. 

In college I took a class that focused on women writers out of Africa. I read a lot of books by the first African women to publish from various African nations. I often found the books hard to follow and to relate to because I now see I had no understanding of such a world. While Fuller's experience is wildly different than those of the women of African decent, I was able to see Africa through I lens with which I am more familiar (one tinged by Western culture). While Fuller does not, nor does she claim to, speak for the local Africans of her childhood, she introduces us to how difficult life was (and probably can still be) for local people of those countries. Fuller acts as a guide in this sense, showing us a peek at a world that most Western people do not understand because we have no context to. 

I recommend this book, but only if you are willing to take on some heavy material. 

SPOILER ALERT!

The Pearl: Review

The Pearl - John Steinbeck

I picked up the Pearl because I wanted a quick read. Apparently based on a Mexican folk tale, the Pearl is a cautionary tale of the price of getting everything you think you wanted. 

The Pearl follows a pretty traditional plot pattern - poor indians marginalized by the Europeans dream of finding enough pearls to lift them from their abject poverty - cut to Kino and his wife Juana and their little son Coyotito - Kino finds the mother of pearls and guess what? It corrupts EVERYONE. People lie, kill each other, Kino beats the crap out of Juana, and in the end, in seemingly classic Steinbeck style, something terrible happens.

So, not an entirely happy story, and not an original one. Probably good for a middle school or high school English class. What I did like was how short he kept the story. Steinbeck didn't overdevelop it. Folk tales, myths, etc. are short for a reason. Had Steinbeck turned The Pearl into another East of Eden, it would have been far worse.

Overall, this is a good short read. It takes basic human behavior and displays it in an easy to process bit. If you're a writer looking to flesh out a story, I always recommend reading simplistic shorts like this because there is no extra noise to get stuck in. The characters's in the Pearl aren't complex, and such are great for reading in order to learn how to develop complex characters. Start with a strong foundation, and build from there. 

I recommend this book if you're looking to get back to the basics. 

Pym: Review

Pym - Mat Johnson

I'll admit, when I read Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, I walked away thinking, what a strange book. Yes, Poe's attitude was most certainly racist (and as I noted, scientifically inaccurate), but overall I just thought the entire thing was so strange. The book moved though, although nothing really made any sense.

So, when I learned that Pym was out there, I knew I'd like to read it because obviously someone thought about Poe's work way more than I did, so maybe I could learn something. 

When I first started Pym, I wasn't sure I was going to like. It started pretty angry, and while I realize that race relations around the world aren't great, I didn't know if I wanted to spend my free time reading a book about how awful white people are. (I'm all for talking about having conversations about racial history, but if you're just going to tell me that X group of people suck because they were born with whatever skin color, I'm probably not going to spend much time listening to you.) (I get it though, white people did some terrible things. Poe's story is really racist. Still it's my free time, and it's precious. You want to be in it, don't yell at me about things that are out of my control.)

I struggled through the first few dozen pages and got to the part where Jaynes visits Dirk Peter's decedents and everyone is pretending to be Native American. I started to get into the book at this point. 

Cut to Antarctica. Johnson's satire really takes off - the all black crew appraising the ice monsters like cattle, I mean slaves, the Little Debbie Snacks, the fact that the crew becomes slaves themselves, the Glenn Beck loving nut job in his bio-dome with his Kool-aid streams, and the annihilation of an entire species - the book gets fantastical, and at times, makes little sense (I never really understood when Jaynes was planning on slipping away from his ice mining operation to find Tsalal.)

Overall, once I got past the beginning of the book, I greatly enjoyed it. It did seem to lag in the middle while they're trapped in the all white world under the Antarctic ice, but once that ended, the book finished with a bang (although I knew how the book would end when I started it. I did read Poe's book first). 

I'm glad I read this book, but I'd probably only recommend it to people who have read Poe's work first. I'm not sure Pym would make much sense had you not read Poe first. That being said, you can go read Poe, and then read Pym and get two black and white view points on some of the same issues from two distinct stories that seem to have separate but equal amounts of weirdness in them. 

Packing for Mars: Review

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void - Mary Roach

Recommended to me by a friend, I bought this book for my dad for Christmas then stole it from him afterwards. Good move on my part.

Roach's main question in this book, is how do we get people into space. Robots are easy comparatively. After all, robots don't need to eat, use the bathroom, they don't get sick, they don't have to shower...

Roach gets into the less famous, but no less important, aspects of space. What I found really interesting is that when human/animal space travel started, human kind really had no idea how a body would act in space. Would it explode, go blind, be unable to swallow? People had no clue what the lack of gravity would do to not only the human physiology but also to the human psyche. Would people just go crazy?

I also found it interesting how the most mundane things on Earth turn into incredibly complex systems and puzzles in space. Wait until you get to the chapters about showering and using the bathroom...

My only critical comment about this book is that I would have liked more information on women in space. Early on people didn't want to deal with putting women into space for a variety of reasons (both cultural and physiological) but Roach makes the point that women are far more economic to send into space - they're smaller, eat less, require less materials, and can withstand G forces better then men (for re-entry) but she never gets into when women (US) started traveling off planet. I was waiting for that section the entire book and was sorely disappointed when it never came.

Overall, this was a very good book though. I learned a lot and recommend it to others.

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