Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Lake

The Lake by William P. Crawford
(BookSurge / 1-439-23530-9 / 978-1-439-23530-0 / February 2010 / 308 pages / $18.99 / B&N $17.09 / Kindle $9.99)

Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

What might happen if a lake, say, in California, contained water that for some reason not only kept people healthy but also caused them to speak the truth? It's not hard to imagine that there would be consequences. The Lake is basically a thought experiment which attempts to imagine just that situation, and, of course, many of those consequences.

The lake in question, located over an unstable geological area, is presumably contaminated, if that word may be understood in a good sense, by magma underneath. The exact mechanism of the beneficial effect is never identified. News of the health effects become public knowledge, with predictable results.

With no more information than given above, one can create a considerable list of possible effects: on the health care industry and doctors, for one. As for speaking the truth, Hollywood and politics might be expected to suffer severely from such an affliction. Both are dealt with in the story, as are a myriad of other notions, the whole being shot through with a wide variety of esoterica on geology, chemistry, biology, and even Ireland.

As interesting as this book might sound, there are problems: with the capitalization (as in Science, Tropics, Boomer Generation, and so on), with the narration (As he was idly reading…, As his eyes grew heavy…, and As he squirmed restlessly… occurring within four consecutive sentences), and with generally awkward style—too much telling and not enough showing. Characterization (there were many, many characters) was thin.

Independently published books need to be particularly sharp and appealing. The title of The Lake could use some punching up, as could the cover design, and the sans serif font is not especially friendly to the eye.

This is only one reader's opinion, of course. The other end of the spectrum may be found in the back cover blurb, which claims the prose is nothing short of pitch-perfect. Anyone who finds the premise of The Lake appealing might do well to use Amazon's "Look Inside" feature or try the free sample of the Kindle edition, to make an informed decision about his or her position along that scale.

See also: Another Review of The Lake

Friday, June 25, 2010

The God Patent

The God Patent by Ransom Stephens
(Numina Press – Vox Novus / 0-984-26000-5 / 978-0-984-26000 –3 / December 2009 / 298 pages / $14.95 / Amazon & B&N $13.45 / Kindle $9.99)

Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

Ryan McNear, the main character in The God Patent, is behind on his child support payments and on the run from the Texas law. North of San Francisco, he meets Katrina, a troubled eleven-year-old math prodigy with a mother who lives in a mental fog waiting to die and join her husband in the afterlife. A friendship blooms between Ryan and Katrina as he uses his skills to develop her talent.

Ryan needs money to catch up on his child support payments so he can see his son again and rid himself of the arrest warrant and a possible prison sentence. When a friend working at a small Christian college in Texas offers him a job, he has no choice but to accept. It doesn't help that this Christian college wants to prove the existence of God using Ryan's computer programming skills to tap into the power of God providing an endless supply of electricity ending the need for America's oil dependency. How can Ryan say no?

Then there is the lovely physicist from UC Berkeley who captures Ryan's heart. Her brother, Dodge Nutter, is Ryan's landlord and his scheming lawyer.

I measure how good a book is by how fast I read it. I read Ransom's book in less than a week. Books that don't hold my attention are never finished. This is a story about relationships, life, death, science, computers and spirituality. I highly recommend The God Patent, which will do more than entertain you. It will make you think.

See also: The Author's Website
Ransom Stephens' Amazon Page

Sunday, June 20, 2010

McKenzie Affair

McKenzie Affair by Don Meyer
(Two Peas Publishing / 0-984-07735-9 / 978-0-984-07735-9 / May 2010 / 308 pages / $14.95 / Amazon $11.66 / B&N $10.76 / Kindle $7.99)

Although I have never read any of Robert B. Parker's books in the Spenser or Jesse Stone Series, I absolutely love the movies made of the Jesse Stone books by Tom Selleck, and Meyer's Tom Monason Series is sort of a mirror image of those. Whereas Stone is an alcoholic LA cop who retires to a little seaport resort in MA, Monason is a big city cop who retires to a mountain resort town in Northern California. Think Tahoe or Big Bear for the basic scenery, although Monason's town is a bit quieter and more isolated.

A couple of people get murdered and Monason solves the case with old-school craftiness and small-town charm, sort of like Andy Taylor without the laugh track. Monason rarely fires his six-shooter he calls a wheel gun and he has an ongoing relationship with a cute deputy a few years younger. This description could more or less be applied to Winter Ghost, the first in the series, as well as McKenzie Affair. There are many plot twists and turns in this mystery that have been deliberately not mentioned here. Just as in a typical Law & Order episode, somebody discovers a body or two in the opening scene, and then the cops and medical examiner put their heads together to try to find the perpetrator. As in the best of these episodes, the unexpected plot twists make the story entertaining.

The biggest difference between the Parker and Meyer books is probably length. Don Meyer's books are quick reads of show-don't-tell characters and dialog, with very little detailed description. I usually prefer the lengthier type of read, but not in this case. I LOVE the story lines, characters, settings, and compositional style of both McKenzie Affair and Winter Ghost! This is a review of McKenzie Affair, of course, but you may wish to go back and read Winter Ghost first for a little more background on the characters. The previous crime mentioned several times in McKenzie Affair is the same one covered in detail in the first book in the series. An addendum in the back of McKenzie Affair mentions that the third book in this mystery series will be released in 2011.

I would give McKenzie Affair five stars for providing entertaining reading except for one glaring flaw. This book, and Winter Ghost as well, need to be edited and proofread a lot more effectively, particularly the proofreading. There are missing commas and overused ellipses out the wazoo, and most of the ellipses are missing their ending punctuation. There are a number of other common mistakes, too, but much lesser in frequency. These mistakes did not slow down the reading, but I did have to consciously look past them. The publisher of McKenzie Affair states on its website that its releases display distinctively constructed design details, and these are quite evident. The printer did an excellent job, but the final proofing leaves a bit to be desired. The final verdict: technical production, C-, engrossing storyline, A+.

See also: Dr. Al Past's review of Winter Ghost
Review of The Protected Will Never Know

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Reefer Madness

Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market
by Eric Schlosser

(Houghton Mifflin / 0-618-44670-2 / 978-0-618-44670-4 / Hardcover 2003 / Paperback April 2004 / 352 pages / $13 / B&N $9.36 / Amazon $9.10)

Reefer Madness is not the absolutely must read that Fast Food Nation most certainly is, but it’s a worthwhile history lesson in America’s underground economy. In fact, The Underground Economy should have been the title, and I am not sure why it was not used instead. In deference to the 1930’s scare tactic movie about the ridiculously overstated dangers of recreational marijuana use, the topic is covered extensively in the first fifty or so pages of Reefer Madness, but that should hardly be sufficient to entitle the book. Reefer Madness was promoted as Eric Schlosser’s follow-up to his groundbreaking, muckraking, and excellent Fast Food Nation, and to some degree, it is successfully so; however, I think this book misses the obvious topicality it should have had.

I expected Schlosser’s second work to cover three major players in America’s underground economy: recreational drugs, illegal immigration, and pornography. I can hear you say Huh? already. The first two, yes, but pornography has been legal for some time and the internet has virtually exploded with free access to such, so how can it be considered a part of the underground economy? The answer would be as an historical perspective. A large portion of the book, way too much in my opinion, is devoted to the long career of one pioneer in the pornography industry and the federal agent who worked diligently for years to bring him down. The illegal immigration part of the story is covered exquisitely and with genuine compassion, but it is far too limited, covering only the strawberry portion of the agricultural industry in California. If I had composed this book, I would have cut the porno section by two thirds and doubled the page count allotted to drugs and immigration. The drug section should have covered cocaine and other drugs more extensively, and of course, the immigration section should have covered far more industries than strawberries!

Aside from these complaints, I have to say that Mr. Schlosser’s research is impeccable and his writing style strikes a perfect balance between information and entertainment. As a modern muckraker, Eric Schlosser has few peers. He chooses his subjects carefully and bulldogs the details diligently. Reefer Madness may be a little misleading in its title and a little off the mark of the real problems of 2010, but for an historical perspective on exactly how our various black markets have developed, Schlosser’s second book is an informative read. The back pages of the book indicate that Eric Schlosser’s next subject will be our prison system, but I would prefer to read an expansion of the strawberry fields.

See also: Eric Schlosser's Amazon Page