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Book Review: American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle and William Doyle (Audiobook narrated by John Pruden)

Book Review: American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle and William Doyle (Audiobook narrated by John Pruden)Summary:
Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL responsible for the book American Sniper, was working on a labor of love at the time of his death–this book. His wife and co-author worked together to complete the book (his wife providing an introduction of context). Kyle loved America and guns, and here he combines the two together to present the history of the US through the lens of guns.

Review:
The idea of this book is nothing new. I certainly studied a lot of guns/weapons and their impact while working on my History BA (concentration in US History). But as both a US History and gun lover, I was excited by the idea of a short book that would let me revisit both topics.  I do wish I had paid more attention to the fact that this book is a co-authorship between a Navy SEAL and a Fulbright Scholar though, since I personally tend to find books written from this type of partnership to be a bit frustrating. I certainly found that this book lands in that category.

The book starts with an introduction by Chris Kyle’s wife, Taya, providing context of why he wanted to write this book and how far along he was on it. I wound up pausing to look up his death, because I honestly didn’t realize the American Sniper had died. I wish this book had mentioned, at least simply, how he died.

The guns covered in the book are: American Long Rifle, Spencer Repeater, Colt Single-Action Army Revolver, Winchester 1873 Rifle, M1903 Springfield, M1911 Pistol, Thompson Submachine Gun, M1 Garand, .38 Special Police Revolver, and M16 Rifle. Kyle clearly knows and understands how guns work. I found the descriptions of these guns to be the best-written portions of the books. In particular his explanation of shotguns (single-action or repeating) was the first I’ve heard that had me really grasping how they work.

The quality of the history writing comes and goes, though, and I think that’s evidence of places Doyle had a stronger hand on the writing. Some of the historical episodes are presented clearly, factually, and without obvious bias. Others, though, beg for an editing pass either for removal or acknowledgement of bias or to tighten up the focus or provide a better story arc.  Historical nonfiction can still have a story arc, something that Kyle clearly understands, but he tends to go off on rants about certain parts of the story that he finds most interesting leaving the reader a bit lost or frustrated. The passage that I found most frustrating was when Kyle chose to focus on a soldier in the Revolutionary War era because he descended from him. Sure, that soldier used the gun being focused upon, but so did practically everyone else at the time. It read a bit like your uncle doing the family genealogy, rather than a serious historical nonfiction. What I found most jarring though was the rapid switching between this style of writing and more typical mainstream serious historical nonfiction.

I felt the audiobook narrator did a good job embodying Kyle’s voice, and was easy to listen to.

Overall, readers looking for greater quick knowledge of the guns used at pivotal points in US History would be the most likely to benefit from this read. Those looking for more serious historical analysis or typical historical writing should look elsewhere.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Nexus by Ramez Naam (Series, #1)

Gray book cover.Summary:
Science is moving forward to and through transhumanism to posthumanism, and no society seems to quite know how to handle it.  China is using the tech in their armies, Thailand is interested in its use to enhance meditation and zen, and the US government banned many of the different treatments and drugs after they were used by cults to make cloned children into killing machines.  Kaden Lane knows about the potential dangers, but he and his lab partners are still invested in making their brain nanotechnology drug, Nexus, work.  It makes minds meld together, able to feel others’ suffering, and they think it will lead to world peace.  Samantha Cataranes was a victim of a transhumanist mind control cult as a child, now she fights on the side of the FBI putting a stop to any science deemed too dangerous.  When Samantha and Kaden meet, their worlds and worldviews start colliding.

Review:
I had honestly kind of forgotten what this book was about, beyond it being scifi, by the time I picked it up to read it.  I thus was able to experience most of it as a surprise.  It’s a book that’s a modern twist on cyberpunk with plenty of action to boot.

Jumping far enough ahead that some transhumanist elements already exist is a smart move.  It lets the book think forward further than the initial transhumanist elements that it’s generally easy to see the advantages of, like fully functional robotic hands, into the grayer areas with things like cloning and mind control and making soldiers who are super-soldiers.  This is a more interesting ethical dilemma, and the book doesn’t take very long to set up the world and get into it.

Nexus itself is a fascinating drug that combines nanotech and drugs.  It’s easy to see that the author knows his science and has extrapolated into a possible future with a lot of logic based on current science.  That’s part of what makes reading the book so fascinating and slightly frightening.  It feels like an actual possibility.

The world building is done smoothly, incorporating both in-plot mentions and newspaper clippings and internal briefings to establish what is going on in the greater world around Kaden and Samantha.

The characterizations are fairly strong.  Even if some of the secondary characters can seem two-dimensional, the primary characters definitely are not.  Seeing a woman as the world-wise, transhuman strong fighter, and the man as the physically weaker brains was a nice change of pace.  Additionally, the book embraces the existence of gray areas. “Bad guy” characters aren’t necessarily bad, and “good guys” aren’t necessarily good.  This characterization helps tell the nuanced gray area story of the overarching plot.

The beginning of the book was weaker than the middle and the end.  The first chapter that has a character testing out Nexus by using it to land sex with a hot woman almost made me stop reading the book entirely.  It felt like some pick-up artist douchebro was imagining a future where tech would make him irresistible to women.  Frankly, that whole first chapter still feels extremely out of place to me now.  It doesn’t fit into the rest of the presentation of the character throughout the book.  It feels like an entirely separate story altogether.  I would encourage potential readers to skim it, since it barely belongs, then get to the rest of the book.

After the first chapter, the next few chapters feel a bit overly rose-colored lenses at first.  Almost as if the author sees no gray areas and only the potential good in humans.  Thankfully, this is mostly the rose-colored lenses of a main character that quickly fall away for the more nuanced storytelling of the rest of the book.  But it did induce a few eye-rolls before I got further along.

The middle and end of the book look at human potential for both good and evil within the context of both science and Buddhism.  It’s fascinating stuff, and makes a lot of sense since quite a bit of modern psychiatry is working hand-in-hand with ideas from Buddhism, particularly about meditation.  This is where the more interesting insights occurred, and also where I felt I could embrace the book a bit more.

Each of us must walk our own ethical path. And together, men and women of ethics can curb the damage of those without. But for you…if you keep vital knowledge from others, then you are robbing them of their freedom, of their potential. If you keep knowledge to yourself, then the fault is not theirs, but yours. (loc 5597)

Overall, this cyberpunk scifi that mixes transhumanism and posthumanism with nanotechnology, fighting big governments, and Buddhism tells a fascinating tale full of gray areas that will appeal to scifi fans.  Some may be turned off by the first few chapters that lack the nuance and likeable and strong characterization of the rest of the book, but it’s worth it to skim through the first few chapters to get to the juicier middle and end.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Stop the War on Women

April 8, 2011 2 comments

That’s it.  I’ve had enough.  It’s bad enough that I’ve lived my whole life, half of which has been lived in the 21st fucking century, with outdated, outmoded, misogynistic mores, norms, laws, and principles in action.  That’s bad enough.  But on top of that, instead of seeing that improve with my lifetime, it’s sliding back down the fucking hill!

Our foremothers (yes, foreMOTHERS) didn’t fight the fight for the vote, the right to be recognized as an individual outside of our fathers, brothers, and husbands, the right to make our own choices for ourselves, the right to an education, the right to our own bodies, just to see it slip back away out of our grasps in the 21st century.  Worse, not only are they slowly chipping away at our rights, but gradually the respect we used to garner is slipping away.  It’s disgusting. It’s despicable.  I’m tired of it.  It needs to stop.

It’s bad enough that we are constantly barraged with what we *should* wear and what our hair *should* look like and whether or not we *should* wear makeup and what type of body is the *most* womanly and whether or not to eat a fucking salad on the first date.  What happened to our right as Americans to be ourselves and pursue our own fucking happiness?!  If I want a salad, I’ll have a salad.  If I want a whole chocolate bar, I’ll eat the goddammed whole chocolate bar.  If I want to bench press weights, I will, and I shouldn’t have to worry about being considered not womanly or being “accused” of being a lesbian (like that would be a *bad* thing?!).  I should be able to just be myself and let people appreciate me for me.

I am not a bad member of this country!  I pay my taxes.  I pay attention to what’s going on around me.  I do my best to be a positive element of society.  And what?  I’m bad because I’ve used Planned Parenthood in my day?  I’m bad because I plan ahead because, brothers, we’ve all seen your track record for sticking around and being a fucking man about life if a woman does get pregnant and decides to keep the baby.

Do you know what there’s an epidemic problem of in this country?  It isn’t women being immoral.  It’s men refusing to GROW THE FUCK UP and behave like adults!  What is so fucking terrifying about treating women like equals?  What is so fucking terrifying about letting us have our nature-given right over our own fucking reproduction system?   Is it a fact that a 24 year old woman in Boston has more balls than you do?  Because I can tell you, I’ve stood up for my rights to fuckers like you many many times over the course of my life, and that takes a lot more balls than to tromp on people who are just trying to keep their natural-born rights.  Are you really that much of a pussy that I have more balls than you do?  Let us have our rights!  Better yet, get beside us and *fight* for them!  That’s what a real grown-up man would do.

Donate to Planned Parenthood

Donate to NARAL

 

Movie Review: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Three people weilding weapons surrounded by zombies.Summary:
Shaun is a 20-something loser with a dead-end job and a girlfriend who he only ever takes out to the local pub.  She dumps him on the eve of a zombie outbreak.  Shaun drags his job-less roommate through the streets, battling zombies in an attempt to save his mother and restore his relationship with Liz.

Review:
I couldn’t watch this movie and not compare it to Zombieland, which I watched last summer.  I honestly think that anyone wanting to compare US culture to UK culture should just watch these two films.  Shaun of the Dead takes an everyman who wants desperately to save people, but his only weapon is a cricket bat (btw, those things look like such a pussy weapon).  Shaun stumbles about the city with his line of relatives, friends, and frenemies, and they all make witty asides to each other while maintaining some sense of propriety when battling the zombies.  It’s wonderfully funny to watch, but not a point of view I, as an American, would imagine at all for a zombie apocalypse.  My pov lines up much more with Zombieland where the characters swipe trucks and double-tap the zombies with guns.  However, that’s what made Shaun of the Dead such a delightful watch, because it was a character study on top of the fun zombie scenes.  There were some jokes that fell flat for me, and I wasn’t too keen on the ending, but I know some people will enjoy the ending for precisely the reasons I disliked it.  However, Shaun of the Dead was still a delightful watch, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous apocalypse or zombie tales.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove (1964)

February 3, 2010 3 comments

Black and white poster of an old man wearing sunglasses.Summary:
The Cold War between Russia and the US is going along swimmingly until a US General goes off his rocker, convinced that commie fluids are secretly infiltrating Americans’ fluids.  He issues the Wing 9 order, designed as a fail-safe in case the President is incapacitated, thereby sending the US and Russia flying toward a nuclear holocaust.

Review:
One of my first questions when watching this film was if they’d made it black and white intentionally.  Apparently, in the 1960s, making a film black and white was the equivalent of the modern day mockumentary.  Dr. Strangelove takes a tongue in cheek look at the Cold War’s nuclear stand-off.  To a certain extent, this works.  Everyone in the movie thinks they’re doing what’s best for their country when in reality they’re about to destroy the entire world as we know it.

The film sets out to be funny, and parts of it are.  The stand-off between the general who’s lost his mind and his British subcommander are witty.  On the other hand, the whole character of Dr. Strangelove read as ridiculous and over-acted to me.  Thankfully, the presence of Dr. Strangelove is wonderfully off-set by the acting abilities of George C. Scott who perfectly plays the all-American military man.  Overall, the movie is funny, but not hilarious.

The special effects are good but not stunning for the decade.  Most of the film doesn’t need any special effects though, so this is barely noticeable.

If you’ve got 94 minutes to spare and enjoy dark humor, give Dr. Strangelove a chance.  You won’t be disappointed.  Plus you’ll get to check out the snazzy argyle underwear worn by a general’s secretary.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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