Thursday, October 16, 2014

New Books: Hackers, Liars, Fathers and King Solomon

In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.

A beloved star of stage, television, and film — “one of the most fun people in show business” (Time magazine) — Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father — a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.

The "genealogy show" mentioned is the British version of Who Do You Think You Are and the episode is here.

Following his blockbuster biography of Steve Jobs, The Innovators is Walter Isaacson’s revealing story of the people who created the computer and the Internet. It is destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens.

What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?

In his masterly saga, Isaacson begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page.

This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It’s also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative.

For an era that seeks to foster innovation, creativity, and teamwork, The Innovators shows how they happen.

Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Nonfiction

From 1996, here is Breaking the Code, a biopic of Alan Turing starring Derek Jacobi. (I don't know how much it focuses on Turing's personal life, though I'd say it'd be impossible to talk about him at all without quite a lengthy discussion of it.)

Via NPR - the review "When Good Kids Go Feral" by Colin Dwyer gives more a sense of what the book is about:

This book really could have used some more cannibalism.

Strange to say it, I realize — especially about a novel that contains no fewer than three scenes of graphic dismemberment. Teeming as it is with hordes of rats, winged infants and sex scenes that rage and roil with all the romance of a Rob Zombie flick, Chase Novak's Brood isn't lacking for gore. It's got so much, in fact, that a few prim readers may even find the novel to be in poor taste.

I can't say I'm among them, though — partly because it's tough to talk about taste, or anything food-related, for several hours after setting this book down. But mostly because it's clear that in writing these scenes, Novak was having a blast. The moments in between can be stuffed with filler, but his prose sings with joy when he describes the snap of a bone, delights — and disturbs — when he dredges dark humor from the aftermath. Simply put, the people-eaters bring out the best in Chase Novak.

Now, Novak doesn't really exist. He's actually Scott Spencer, a writer who for decades wrote serious, literary novels — the kind that get nominated for National Book Awards (Endless Love, A Ship Made of Paper) and earn their author a Guggenheim Fellowship (he got one in 2004). Spencer first adopted his pen name for last year's Breed, a charmingly grotesque novel that marked a fairly dramatic departure from his earlier work; with Brood, its sequel, he picks the name Novak back up and dusts off the same characters, finding them again two years after the close of the first book.

At the heart of both books is a set of twins, Adam and Alice, who have suffered an unusually violent upbringing. The fruit of an experimental fertility treatment, they've survived their wealthy Manhattanite parents — in more ways than one — but they fear now they won't escape their parents' fates. Just on the cusp of puberty, Adam and Alice dread becoming the carnal, cannibalistic beasts that the treatment made of their parents. This battle for influence between beast and child, waged quietly within them, also plays out on a grander scale between packs of feral teens — born of the same experimental treatment — and the twins' aunt Cynthia, who's eager to reclaim them from their traumatic past.

The novel's not one for subtlety. The symbolism of the conflict — between animal and human, body and mind — is drawn in broad strokes, and so are its comments on class and pharmaceuticals. The aging elite of Manhattan don't care to help the mostly homeless, desperate teens roaming the city's parks; they prefer instead to slip into tubs perfumed with Ethiopian bath gel and sip the kids' blood, in little vials of a nasty street drug called Zoom.

As for biochemistry, well: "We are only at the beginning of the breath-taking dance between science and nature. What can be done with the atom will be done with the gene." It's tough not to hear ominous overtones in this mini-manifesto, given the ambitions and methods of the scientists involved in the novel.

While these themes help thread the book together, it's tough to shake the feeling that they exist just to kill time between, well, killings. For the most part, they don't go anywhere in particular; the frights and set pieces seem to grow not from all this exposition, but from happenstance instead. And Novak has an odd tendency to repeat himself — calling back bland observations about New York's nightlife, Cynthia's old antique shop or even jokes whose punch lines he has told us already, several pages earlier. In many ways, this slim novel could have been pared down even further, and been the better for it.

Or, even better yet, these down moments could simply have been swapped for more of the scenes that Novak handles so well. In the frenzy of the fight or in the tense minutes leading up to it, the book finds its groove, that B-movie bliss in which gore gets so gratuitous, it's occasionally funny — and always fun. Perhaps that's why somehow, despite all the broken bones and bared teeth and churning blood, Brood left me wanting just a little bit more. And yes, that goes for the cannibalism, too.

Via The Morris Book Shop:

"The pestilence…entered rapidly on the work of death. No one was seen moving in the streets. Many…fled the theatre of destruction. Coffins were…out of the question. A dozen dead bodies…waiting for graves." - Excerpt from 6/18/1833 - Letters of Henry Clay. Speaker of the House, Senator, US Congress. Courtesy of Special Collections University of Kentucky.

In 1833, when Lexington was a new city, a cholera epidemic struck which decimated the citizenry by 500 souls. In the midst of this disaster, three unlikely heroes arose - a former slave, a homeless vagrant, and a society matron. This fact-based account brings you their fascinating stories and takes you through cholera's grip, as each answers the call for humanity.

The "homeless vagrant" mentioned is one William "King" Solomon.

The author Terry Foody will be at the Lexington Public Library for a program on the Cholera Epidemic on October 26. In a moment of happy kismet later that night is the zombie-themed Thriller parade that will pass the library.

I'm not a big fan of having someone more "learned" telling me what to think about a piece, but if it collects all of the work, I'll bite…or wrap my gelatinous tentacles around it's ankle and pull it shivering into my waiting, dripping maw…which seems more appropriate.

From across strange aeons comes the long-awaited annotated edition of “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale” (Stephen King).

"With an increasing distance from the twentieth century…the New England poet, author, essayist, and stunningly profuse epistolary Howard Phillips Lovecraft is beginning to emerge as one of that tumultuous period’s most critically fascinating and yet enigmatic figures," writes Alan Moore in his introduction to The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. Despite this nearly unprecedented posthumous trajectory, at the time of his death at the age of forty-six, Lovecraft's work had appeared only in dime-store magazines, ignored by the public and maligned by critics. Now well over a century after his birth, Lovecraft is increasingly being recognized as the foundation for American horror and science fiction, the source of "incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction" (Joyce Carol Oates).

In this volume, Leslie S. Klinger reanimates Lovecraft with clarity and historical insight, charting the rise of the erstwhile pulp writer, whose rediscovery and reclamation into the literary canon can be compared only to that of Poe or Melville. Weaving together a broad base of existing scholarship with his own original insights, Klinger appends Lovecraft's uncanny oeuvre and Kafkaesque life story in a way that provides context and unlocks many of the secrets of his often cryptic body of work.Over the course of his career, Lovecraft—"the Copernicus of the horror story" (Fritz Leiber)—made a marked departure from the gothic style of his predecessors that focused mostly on ghosts, ghouls, and witches, instead crafting a vast mythos in which humanity is but a blissfully unaware speck in a cosmos shared by vast and ancient alien beings. One of the progenitors of "weird fiction," Lovecraft wrote stories suggesting that we share not just our reality but our planet, and even a common ancestry, with unspeakable, godlike creatures just one accidental revelation away from emerging from their epoch of hibernation and extinguishing both our individual sanity and entire civilization.Following his best-selling The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Leslie S. Klinger collects here twenty-two of Lovecraft's best, most chilling "Arkham" tales, including "The Call of Cthulhu," At the Mountains of Madness, "The Whisperer in Darkness," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Colour Out of Space," and others. With nearly 300 illustrations, including full-color reproductions of the original artwork and covers from Weird Tales and Astounding Stories, and more than 1,000 annotations, this volume illuminates every dimension of H.P. Lovecraft and stirs the Great Old Ones in their millennia of sleep.

About the beginning of Politics as Tabloid/Reality Game Show. Via Publishers Weekly:

Political columnist Bai (The Argument) makes a persuasive case for reexamining the career of presidential candidate Gary Hart, whose downfall in the wake of speculation about an extramarital affair, he argues, marks a turning point in the deterioration of American political journalism and democracy. Bai analyzes the forces coalescing around the scandal that brought down the Democratic frontrunner in May 1987, and captures those frenzied days in a masterfully written account. The possibility that a candidate might be lying about his sex life was not usually relevant, given the close relationship between major news outlets and politicians, but much had changed, especially given Watergate’s influence on a generation of reporters. By the time allegations of adultery met Hart’s campaign in New Hampshire, two previously separate streams, the tabloid press and political journalism, joined forces. The result has been “an unbridgeable divide&ehllip;between our candidates and our media” and an accompanying lack of substance and transparency in the political process. Based on extensive interviews with reporters and campaign insiders, including Hart and Donna Rice (the then 29-year-old model photographed sitting on his lap), Bai appraises Hart the politician, political visionary, and high-minded yet obstinately private man, and asks what the country might have lost with his foreshortened career. This first-rate work of political journalism will fan embers long thought to have gone out.

I'm getting so tired of all the fin de si├Ęcle literary memes (post-apocalypse and zombies and freaking vampires) but, welp…

A bighearted dystopian novel about the corrosive effects of fear and the redemptive power of love.

With soaring literary prose and the tense pacing of a thriller, the first-time novelist Peyton Marshall imagines a grim and startling future. At the end of the twenty-first century — in a transformed America — the sons of convicted felons are tested for a set of genetic markers. Boys who test positive become compulsory wards of the state — removed from their homes and raised on "Goodhouse" campuses, where they learn to reform their darkest thoughts and impulses. Goodhouse is a savage place — part prison, part boarding school — and now a radical religious group, the Holy Redeemer’s Church of Purity, is intent on destroying each campus and purifying every child with fire.

We see all this through the eyes of James, a transfer student who watched as the radicals set fire to his old Goodhouse and killed nearly everyone he’d ever known. In addition to adjusting to a new campus with new rules, James now has to contend with Bethany, a brilliant, medically fragile girl who wants to save him, and with her father, the school’s sinister director of medical studies. Soon, however, James realizes that the biggest threat might already be there, inside the fortified walls of Goodhouse itself.

Partly based on the true story of the nineteenth-century Preston School of Industry, Goodhouse explores questions of identity and free will—and what it means to test the limits of human endurance.

Yeah. I'm going there. Get the lube ready.

In this Dark Mission novella, Jonas Stone emerges from the shadows into his own story, and finally allows himself to have the same shot at love he's provided his friends.

Jonas Stone has been given his first independent operation: rescue the insurrection leader's imprisoned grandson from the Mission. Getting the job done means more than setting Danny Granger free — it means staying with him while he heals. Staying too close, for way too long.

Danny is everything Jonas isn't: confident, optimistic, honest — a man to be reckoned with. If only it didn't mean going against everything Jonas has planned. He's kept his secrets for years, hidden behind a mask no one can see through…until now. Danny isn't the kind of man Jonas deserves. But he may be exactly the man Jonas needs.

6 comments:

Tim said...

Alan Moore's intro to the Lovecraft volume is a little disingenuous: We know quite a bit about Lovecraft and his life. We also know he was an outright, fire-breathing racist and misogynist. There is a major battle going on right now over a major fantasy award being named for him, because black authors simply don't want an award named after a person who hated their for their skin color.

Tim said...

The biopic Breaking the Code is based on the earlier play of the same name.

It's a very famous play, because ALL it talks about is Turing's gay love life, and the investigation that destroyed him.

So yes, the biopic addresses that. :)

Writer said...

Tim, re: Lovecraft. I got ya covered:

http://quiethands.blogspot.com/2014/10/via-salon-its-ok-to-admit-that-hp.html

Yeah, I hope WFA changes the award.

Re: Turing. So I will definitely have to take some time and watch that then. Also very excited about the new biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

But apparently while I was gone, the library decided to by loads of gay movies for the collection, so I gots lots to watch! :)

Writer said...

Also, under the definition for disingenuous hasn't the OED added an image of Alan Moore?

Tim said...

That or Frank Miller.

Writer said...

I don't have any experience with Mr. Miller, but LOL. ;)