In preparation for a vacation to Japan, my mother gave me this one to read. Its main themes are about the loss of important Japanese cultural traditions and the uglification of both the body and the soul of Japan. The author is an art collector, calligrapher, Japanologist and long time resident of the country. Kerr decries modern Japan as filling with concrete, electricity poles, neon pachinko parlors and ugly rooflines while her inhabitants have become conformist, dull and unimaginative.
I found the book quite interesting in parts. His stories of finding and buying an old house in a secluded valley, of the inner workings of kabuki theatre, of unappreciated artworks and of the history of tea ceremony and zen are everything from fascinating to merely eye opening. Unfortunately Kerr does give a strong impression of being the kind of luddite who wishes for all old things to be preserved. By the end of the book, I had somewhat amended this initial impression. I think he does appreciate the need for change, even encouraging it. But he does not understand why there should be change for its own sake if the change only leads to worse things. As an ideal, there is of course nothing wrong with that. But in reality, things don’t really work that way. Change happens and decades or even centuries later people figure out what the actual causes and effects were.
One particularly annoying thing about this book is the constant name dropping. All the people described in the book seem to be maverick geniuses in their fields and Kerr is a close personal friend of every single one. It comes off as not a little pompous. Kerr has certainly led an interesting life, and it is through his life experiences that he can describe his “lost Japan” so deftly. However, this reader felt a bit put off by the tone.
I was also left wondering why, among all this horror at the disappearing culture of Japan, he does not spare even a moment for one of Japan’s most vibrant forms of modern literature, manga/anime cartoons. This art form is lauded the world over. One could even draw parallels to the kabuki described by Kerr, with its emphasis on single moments of resolution as opposed to the narrative continuitiy more emphasized in the west.
The episodic nature of the book works against it. It was originally a series of articles, and the disjointed nature of the whole is unfortunately quite glaring. All in all, the book gave me an eye opening view of Japanese culture through anectodes and strong opinions. I may not necessarily agree with the author, but I suppose that is as it should be. The text should serve as a brief and good introduction to Japanese culture through the eyes of a foreigner who has made it his own.
This novelette length story is Douglas Kennedy’s debut. Just as in The Big Picture, the protagonist is a middle aged man stuck in a rut. However, this character is very different from succesful family man Ben Bradford in The Big Picture. Instead, he is a commitment phobic journalist who drifts through life, never holding down a job for more than a few years, never “doing” anything. One day, midlife crisis strikes hard and he flies to Australia. But not Sydney or Melbourne. Darwin. His plan is to buy a car and drive to Perth. A great adventure. On his way, he runs into a girl named Angie. After a few nights of drunken debauchery, she kidnaps him and takes him to a crazy commune in the desert. A place that it literally off the map. He is a prisoner in all but name in a nightmare of a town with nightmare inhabitants who think nothing of beating him to a pulp if he doesn’t show the right attitude.
Douglas Kennedy writes very well, but his angst filled middle aged men aren’t the thing to fill me with any great desire to pick up more of his books. They are a bit pathetic in that way most people are afraid they will turn out to be. The moral, of sorts, is to do something with your life before you end up a prisoner of that life. In the book, the protagonist is an actual physical prisoner, as opposed to the more commonplace metaphorical one, but the lesson holds true nevertheless. I did enjoy this book. It is rather short, but then it doesn’t need to be longer. Any extension would just be filler. It neatly says its piece and then is done. It is very funny at times, in a tragicomical fashion. Kennedy’s sense of irony is razor sharp. However, this humor is neatly balanced by the tragic situation our hero finds himself in. Sure, he’s a bit of a loser, but no one deserves what he goes through.
Ben Bradford is your typical Wall Street lawyer. Wife, two kids, house in upscale soutwestern Connecticut suburbia, big paycheck. But he hates it. He wanted to become a photographer, but through a combination of societal inertia and parental pressure, he ended up “doing the right thing” and becoming a lawyer. He still maintains photography as a hobby. Now his wife is sleeping around and his marriage is obviously on the rocks. In a heated moment, he accidentally kills his wife’s lover, a loser amateur photographer. And that’s where it all changes. Ben manages to get away with the murder and escape his old life. But will his new life be any better? Can he ever stop running from his past? And on another note: Can a life with a yearly $300k+ paycheck feel like a prison? Of course it can.
When it came out in 1997, this novel was very heavily marketed and hyped. It is just the thing to appeal to careerists who have dreamed of being something else at some point. Meaning all of them. Dreaming of not being in the grinder, of making one’s own hours as an artist or something else, of not being just another suit on the commute. A very 90s feeling after the heady 80s. Stay small, be your own man, don’t waste your life like your parents. All that good stuff. And deeper than that are themes of how you cannot really escape your past. Ben is forced to and does the best of it, but his past will always haunt him. To the author’s credit, he has not painted Ben as some cold blooded killer. Our hero is constantly dogged with guilt about what he has done.
Is this novel the work of genius as was hyped at the time? That’s a tricky question. Kennedy definitely has a smooth, uncluttered style. Nothing fancy, but it serves the narrative well as he focuses on the inner demons of Ben Bradford. If you can look past some of the far too conveniently coincidental plot points, there’s a good story here. As I read, I came to empathize deeply with the destiny of Bradford. His search for that ephemeral thing called “a good life”. His escape from suburban conformism. Having lived for a few years in that corner of Connecticut, I may have a particular perspective. The inhabitants tend to know where they are going in life and deviation from the path is discouraged. Still, some things about the novel annoyed me. There are the aforementioned rather too convenient plot twists, perfectly designed to lead Ben on the “correct” path. After the murder, it all becomes a bit predictable. Where is the chaos so present in real life? There’s also the constant flirt with “art”. In the novel, Ben often describes really great photographers as being passive observers who have freed themselves from the need to obsessively prod at the composition hoping that it will become more artful. But Kennedy does exactly this with his novel. It crosses the line into constructed and pretentious. This detracts from the very good story and thematic exposition within. It is a bit too obvious that Kennedy set out to write “the great American Novel”. But he’s trying too hard, and it shows. Bottom line: recommended, but not unreservedly.
The story is somewhat stereotypical. Aliens from an advanced federation have been secretly watching Earth. However, they don’t understand that fiction is fiction. They kidnap an actor who plays a great diplomat on a science fiction TV show since they think he can help them defuse a potential galactic war. Back on Earth, they replace him with an alien in disguise.
Peter Jurasik is more well known as the actor who played Londo Mollari on Babylon 5. William H. Keith is a prolific author who also writes Military SF under the pseudonym Ian Douglas. The novel is a cute piece, and frequently laugh out loud funny. The satire elements are dead on. The aliens are neither all powerful nor all knowing. In fact, they are prone to big errors of judgement. As such, the interaction with our hero, who is completely out of his element once abducted, works very well. It is obviously written for laughs, but there are some very clever twists to the story.
The web published comic strip Penny Arcade should be familiar to anyone who likes video games. These books collect the strips in paper format. Holkins and Krahulik have made a name for themselves as the guys with their fingers on the jugular of the industry. Sometimes bizarre, often profane, always funny. Highly recommended if you are or have been a gamer. Others may find it more than a bit odd.
These are sequels to the exciting Heritage and Legacy trilogies. As before, the focus is on the Marine Corps and its role in imagined future conflict. Note: Ian Douglas is a pen name for William H. Keith.
This is the first book in the third trilogy about US Marines. The story jumps ahead about half a millenium. The Xul still threaten humankind, but have been quiescent since the events of Star Marines. As per usual, the Marines are hindered by a misguided politician, then proceed to save the day and win a great victory. There is the usual boot camp training sequence with a new scion of the Garroway line.
While the plots are becoming somewhat formulaic, these novels are still of high quality. The action is gritty, the story is epic, and the books are real page turners. I was afraid that all the “future tech” would somehow make the story less relatable, but this is not so. Douglas manages to explain well how technologies like AIs, direct mind link to computers and virtual spaces change the way humans interact. He also infuses the book with a sense of history, and understands that political entities and priorities can shift dramatically over time.
The second book of the trilogy picks up the story about a decade after Star Strike. Once again, there is an annoying politician. The Marines now attempt a blow at the very heartland of the Xul, in the radiation saturated galactic core.
While the first half follows the usual formula, the second half, with operations in the core, is truly excellent. Very exciting and with many elements from “sense of wonder” stories like Ringworld and Rendevous with Rama. These are areas that military Scifi doesn’t usually touch upon but could and should more often. A very strong middle book and another page turner.
After a thousand year “break” in the macrostory, the Marines are back. Revived from a centuries long hibernation (de facto a kind of reserve status), they wake to a radically different galactic society, with a plethora of alien races, as well as new offshoots of the human race. The reason for their awakening is that the Xul seem to be altering reality by subtly influencing human minds through the spooky effects of quantum physics.
After the breakneck action of the previous two books, this one feels very slow to start. A lot of time is spent discussing the changes to galactic society of the past centuries. The usual “Marines are anachronisms” message, only more so, and to excess. Once battle is joined, so to speak, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as visceral as previously. The characters are dull and lack the compelling qualities of those in earlier installments. Douglas redeems himself a bit at the end with some excellent historical vignettes, but it is not enough. Unfortunately, the book becomes one long treatise about why Marines have always pulled mankind’s (and in this case Galactic Society as whole’s) chestnuts out of the fire. While I understand and even agree with the message, it is far too heavy handed. So this ninth, and possibly last, book of the saga unfortunately ends it with a sizzle where there should have been a bang. A big, big bang.
This is the sequel trilogy to the exciting Heritage Trilogy. Set a hundred years further in the future, the books flesh out the backstory significantly and satisfyingly. The Marine Corps focused action remains, improved if anything. Douglas (a pen name for William H. Keith) writes about battles, troops and equipment with a gritty and realistic tone.
Descendants of the An, prehistoric overlords of Earth, have been discovered on a planet in a nearby star system. Suddenly, the delegation sent there is attacked by these “Ahannu”. The Marines send a relief expedition on a ten year voyage (one way) to regain control. This book introduces the Marines featured in the first two books of the trilogy, in particular John Garroway, descendant of the main characters from the Heritage Trilogy. The Ahannu are just a bit player in galactic terms, though.
After a ten year voyage back to Earth, the Marines are sent out again. Their twenty year absence has led to significant problems interacting with society, somewhat similar to what happens in Haldeman’s “The Forever War“. This time, the mission involves securing an alien stargate in the Sirius system, thought to be used by the “Hunters of the Dawn”, a very advanced race that destroys any life that could threaten it. At the gate, the Marines encounter another race, the Oannans/N’mah, which has been fleeing from and fighting the Hunters of the Dawn for millenia. After initial violence due to misunderstading, an alliance is formed.
The action now jumps forward a century and a half, but the main characters are still Garroways. The Hunters of the Dawn, alerted by the destruction of their ship and gate in “Battlespace”, have decided that humans are a threat. A Hunter ship appears in Sol system and attacks. Earth is devastatated. The Marines launch a Doolittle Raid on the enemy, trying to buy the humans time. By the end of the Legacy Trilogy things are still very much up in the air about the future survival of humanity.
While the “Marines rule” theme in these books can sometimes be a bit heavy handed, this is quality military SciFi. The back story, only hinted at in the Heritage Trilogy, is fully fleshed out and well imagined.
- Semper Mars
- Luna Marine
- Europa Strike
Three very good near future military SciFi stories, loosely connected at the micro level, with a deeper common background. My only small gripe is that Douglas does not concentrate more on the backstory of alien visitors in ancient times. Still and all, a very good read.
Note: Ian Douglas is a pen name for William H. Keith.
This is the story of a device that disables guns and bombs. It all starts out low key. An accidental discovery in a lab. But as with many such discoveries, it soon takes on a life of it’s own, and leads the inventors (and the reader) to many unexpected places.
Interestingly, this book manages not to preach from either end of the gun-control argument. Without becoming less exciting or interesting, it manages to sum up and discuss the entire issue from the aspect of new technological advances. A great book.
The story is set before and during the Posleen invasion of Earth, but deals specifically with events in Panama. Realizing that the Panama Canal is strategically important, the US sends military and material aid to bolster the defenses, including three warships. Through a complex series of events, one of the ships, the USS Des Moines, gains sentience. The story follows the defense of Panama, both from the perspective of the Posleen-Human conflict, and from the perspective of the struggle between corrupt officials and honorable ones. The Darhel, overlords of the Galactic Federation, want the humans to win, but only just, so that human civilization is shattered and cannot be a threat to them.
The Panama aspects are very interesting, and it shows that both authors have been posted there during their military careers. The story itself is quite good, with predictably excellent battle scenes. It is a worthy addition to the Posleen series, but should probably not be read as a standalone.