Friday, January 23, 2015

THE DEEP by Nick Cutter

Horror is on tap in this watery trip to hell. THE DEEP is an off kilter genetically modified nightbreed clone of Clive Barker, Stephen King, and a few of the Dead Poets Society (like TS Eliot, Alan Ginsberg, and ee cummings.) What starts out in our sane world slowly descends into madness. So HP Lovecraft too. Which is not to say it isn't riveting, or that Nick Cutter (not his real name) can't write. So into the meat grinder, James Patterson too. The final scene, after our hero goes into the dark deep (to perhaps find a cure to what is turning humanity into amnesia victims) is a savory exercise in wordplay, each revelation getting a focused triple slow-mo punch of phrasings. A kind of verbal tonality reminiscent of the final visual scene of Gone Girl. Rubbernecking at its finest. The setup is not without irony, too. There is reasoned talk about how homo sapiens are causing the mass extinctions of other species, and that something (like what is happening in the novel) may bring our population explosion more into line with what the Earth can sustain. To horror lovers, this is a must-hear---a deliciously disturbing book given an appropriately quirky performance by Corey Brill.
.
If your brain needs healing after hearing this, (or if you just need help with your own memories due to aging or Parkinson's), Dr. Norman Doidge's new audiobook is THE BRAIN'S WAY OF HEALING, read by George Newbern. It's the latest science involving brain research, with many examples of those who have been helped. The major takeaway: our brains are plastic (well, not literally--they look like four pound lumps of jelly in various Shades of Grey.) So although neurons can die or become less effective due to plaques, you can also grow new ones (unlike limbs.) Stupid is not forever, either, (except among Hollywood comic book movie producers.) 
.
Speaking of science, CARBIDE TIPPED PENS is a new hard SF story collection collected Ben Bova and Eric Choi, with multiple authors and narrators lending their respective talents to the mix. Those who appreciate and/or understand physics and time dilation effects will enjoy these 17 science heavy stories (which can stretch your hours more imaginatively than any frivolous game or game show.) Geeks are already in: "You had me at 'carbide.'" But for sports fans there is also a story featuring a baseball game in which players can continue into their 70s (playing as well as 30 year olds) due to implants that are better than PEDs. Naturally owners balk because the older players demand pay increases year after year. The solution? (Sorry, you'll have to buy a ticket.)
.
If, on the "off kilter" chance you've never tried audiobooks, download the Downpour app at iTunes for free. It comes with a copy of Tom Sawyer installed for free too, read by the prolific and inimitable Grover Gardner.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

With America buying hundreds of thousands of copies of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, featuring a serial womanizer/billionaire, and now spending hundreds of millions to see movies based on a board games (and just as science illiterate and simplistic as video games or comic books), the hold of the vapid mass market is still with us in spades (unfortunately.)  But for those who prefer a diet other than brain-fattening corn dogs (however delicious they may be in the moment), I suggest BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain, read by Oliver Wyman, a novel featuring Beyoncé in a role unlike any prior: that of not being the center of attention.  The author, in telling his story from the point of view of a soldier appearing as a "hero" in a Dallas Cowboys half time show, holds up a mirror to our culture while telling a sensitive and tragic tale of facile greed, naiveté, and blindness.  Billy, as a character, sleep walks down that stage, dazed as though in a dream.  His is like a kind of shell shock, experiencing the fake adulation for his group--called the Bravos--as they parade in front of a roaring crowd who view them as symbols no different than mascots in bull costumes.  They've been in battle, and will be returning to battle soon, but in the meantime here they are next to Beyoncé, in George Bush's Texas stadium circa 2004, on tight focus from Fox News, and no one has a clue to who they really are, or what war is really like.  They aren't even sure who they are, or why they are here.  But the listener knows they are fighting eternal battles manufactured by the Pentagon and by Presidents looking to preserve their political edge and their cronies' pensions at the expense of the taxpayers, while mothers who have to bury their kids need to hear about Patriotism, God, and Country.  The novel is a stunning indictment of our letting all this happen without really knowing why.  Placed next to the plot of the movie BATTLESHIP, the contrast becomes more palpable than any computer-generated special effects, and reduces any talk of box office buzz to the equivalent of monkey chatter in the dark. AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH.
.
Footnote: this novel is mentioned in James Fallows recent controversial Atlantic article "The Tragedy of the American Military," which is commentary on military spending and the superficial 'pablum patriotism' that the public shows in support of 'the troops,' who don't feel connected to them due to public ignorance of what they face: impossible tasks without clear focus or exit strategy. It is as if war is a game, and the fans cheer on the 'team' without really caring about concussions. So returning vets are shown waving flags, given parades complete with tailgate parties, then go home and commit suicide in record numbers. The movie American Sniper shows a narrow 'behind the scenes' on this, not caring about the politics, but The Atlantic asks the question of what a hero is, and if the Draft should come back in order to bring back lost reality. "There is a disconnect," says Fallows. "We honor soldiers but don't want to know much about them...much less question why they are there." Meanwhile, the attitude among top brass is to keep the money coming without real change. Pensions in many cases exceed $200,000 per year, while the F35 jet alone may end up costing half a trillion dollars...although critics say it's a boondoggle that isn't needed.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sugar Impact Diet and IT WAS ME ALL ALONG

It's a pretty simple thing, and nothing new. Eliminate sugar from the diet, and lose weight fast. Yeah? Well, easier said than done. Especially if you don't know the sugar content of processed foods because companies are disguising sugar with fancy names while being outright deceptive about the adverse effects which artificial sweeteners have on the body. JJ Virgin sets the record straight in THE SUGAR IMPACT DIET, as read on audio by Tara Ochs. Did you know that most ketchup contains high fructose corn syrup and a unhealthy dose of salt? Or that the so-called "healthy" option of agave sweetener is anything but? Here's a seven hour education on the subject of sugar, an audiobook whose goal is to wean listeners off the high impact blood sugar spikers toward the lower impact ones, resulting in a weight loss of ten pounds in two weeks. (More, if you sustain it.) And here you thought soda was about spreading love instead of tape measure numbers. It's all about metabolism, says Virgin. And she's no virgin in the field of fitness and nutrition. Try listening to her plan while walking or doing chores. Then cut the sugar and change your life. For more on why sugar (and not so much fat) has recently become the targeted culprit among nutrition experts, click on the Health category at this site and read even more about the science. You may never have a bagel, orange juice and coffee for breakfast again. (A PDF of meal plans is included on the last CD or download.) Hachette Audio.  A perfect companion audiobook to this is IT WAS ME ALL ALONG, a memoir by Andie Mitchell, which begins with an exquisite description of eating cake (the whole cake) at her birthday party. That was when she was younger than 20, an age she weighed 268 pounds. Her father was an alcoholic. Her classmates ridiculed her. Today she looks a bit like Bachelorette Andi Dorfman. Giving up massive quantities of sugar did it, along with moving toward balance and small portions of excellent food. She grew up in Boston, learned lessons in Rome, and now lives in New York, where she's a writer developing more healthy (lower sugar) recipes. Her powerful and candid memoir (which she reads herself on audio) includes a downloadable PDF that includes her Sour Cream Fudge cake recipe.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Umpire Has No Clothes by Walter Witty



Imagine for a moment not being a sports fanatic. Wait, this might be a real stretch, so instead imagine not being a Muslim in Iran. Okay, now imagine you are inundated with calls to prayer, not just a couple times a day, but constantly...sirens and wails reverberating around you. Announcements and sermons every time you turn on a radio or TV. Billboards with religious messages everywhere. Ads in your mail, in newspapers, in magazines. And everywhere you go, there are worshipers in proper ceremonial garb...like inside every bar you visit, offering up sacrifices of lamb, steer, and chicken seasoned with team-approved condiments (and holy spices...)
Welcome to America, circa now.





We talk about others living in the Dark Ages, so why do we act like it's Ancient Greece or Sparta? (Yes, there are over 50 teams in America called "The Spartans.") Nevermind the Olympics, if you don't get with the program, accepting all the NFL/NBA hype as gospel...well, you're an infidel. Aren't you. (Yes, it's okay to admit your addiction. It's a first step to recovery. Not just yours, but the country and the planet.) Begin by calling your obsession for what it is: not a mere addiction, (like for junk food, steroids, or cheerleaders), but an actual RELIGION. And a radical one, to boot. Stop blindly believing (due to decades of indoctrination) that the meaning of life is watching men propel various air-filled bladders toward nonsensical "goals." Just Do It with the help of a laughsphemous (albeit blasphemous) 2 1/2 hour comedy album (audiobook) titled THE UMPIRE HAS NO CLOTHES: Diary of a Sports Atheist. You will laugh. Or you may cry. But you will know that the medicine went down easier than if you'd been awakened by calls to prayer...and then lectured by the Supreme High Commissioner of Wiffleball. (Or Roger Goodell.) Proof that it's funny is that it is narrated by a producer from ESPN, Barry Abrams. And he's a true believer! At Audible.com and iTunes now.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Warfare Welfare?

Former Lt. Col. John A. Nagl has written a memoir titled “Knife Fights: Modern War in Theory and Practice.” Narrated by Brian Hutchison, it details the shift toward counterinsurgency within the military after the Gulf War, in which Nagl saw action as a tank commander after leaving West Point. Nagl’s path led him to study and write about this shift in “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife.” He next became an operations officer, then worked for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, eventually writing a new field manual on doctrine. “When it comes to modern war, there are only bad choices,” he says. “The question is which are better and which worse.” He details this new reality on the battlefield, showing that the old shock-and-awe way doesn’t work, and only creates more enemies. Iraq? “It’s a war that did not need to be fought,” he says. Serious mistakes were made by Rumsfeld and others, with a slow and bureaucratic Pentagon needing a reboot on policy so as not to repeat those mistakes (and bankrupt the country in the process.) It’s a sobering book that in some ways parallels another new book, not on audio yet, titled “Why We Lost” by former Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, who said that if we go in and fight ISIS for Iraq with full on-the-ground operations, “It would be like four times biting that poison apple: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and then Iraq again.” What’s needed is to fight smarter, not harder. Enlist the locals, and force them to defend themselves, too. Otherwise it’s no different than warfare welfare. The audiobook is very ably narrated by Hutchison, who brings both theory and personal history to life with an engaging and nimble tone. A must-hear.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime

SPAM NATION by Brian Krebs follows “The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime—From Global Epidemic to Your Front Door.” Krebs is editor of a security blog and a former Washington Post reporter. It’s a must-listen deftly and intelligently narrated by Christopher Lane, tracking the methods used by the “digital mafia,” those growing legions of spammers who phish and snare unsuspecting computer users, since criminals find it easier to steal your identify or credit card numbers than to get a real job (where you have to punch a clock and count on working for thirty years before retirement on a meager pension.) Criminals always look for shortcuts, and in ways they are no different than players at singles bars wanting to score with naive young women. Their “lines” come in the form of code or enticing promises. Their viruses, similar to VD, here troll for access to your computer and data. When “private parts” are invaded, privacy is no more, and piracy occurs. These digital mobsters can be individual hackers in Russia, or American spammers who use Yahoo accounts for a hit-and-run attack, with the goal of harvesting passwords and usernames and selling them to the black market. Cyber crime is up, especially during the holiday season, and home invasion is down. Why? It’s easier. There’s less risk. And you can come away with more money (or credit to buy stuff) before the victim even knows what happened. This is a book the Postal Service should want to promote, since it just might send more people back to mailing letters for business payments (and even personal letters) rather than to risk being hacked and bankrupted. A postage stamp, after all, beats an email if your personal account numbers falling into the wrong hands in calculated into the cost.