[I've been
« May, 2005 »

Village Voice reporter Frank Owen expands his articles on the seamy underworld of the NY club scene into one book that reads like a bunch of different articles. The book opens with Owen’s own recounting of searching and finding some Ketamine and describing the feeling of falling into a “K hole” Since this is the launching point for the book, I felt that it would be a tale of drugs and sex and power brokers, but instead it’s more a tale of law enforcement, violence and club kids turned losers. The basic gist is answering the question “What happened to the club scene in New York in the last 80s and early 90’s?” and the basic answer is “People went to jail”

The first part of the book is mainly about the rise of Peter Gatien, owner of popular NYC clubs The Limelight and The Tunnel. For a time it seemed that he could do no wrong, opening up wildly successful clubs that were rife with sex, drugs and drama. He is the subject of a targeted sting operation which is eventually his undoing. Also profiled are a mafia-identified kid from Staten Island who winds up becoming a club mogul in Miami Beach and party promoter Michael Alig who goes from being one of the most popular clubbers in the world to doing 10 to 20 for manslaughter.

Interesting? Sure, but I was looking for a different book when I picked this up and got a bit bored with the minutia of who was wearing a wire when and transcripts of the dumbest people on earth ploddingly plotting crimes. Owen clearly is not enamored of his subjects and his descriptions of their rises and minute-by-minute outlines of their falls is one of the less-charitable depictions of the club scene that I’ve read. At the end we get back to Owen and he describes years of clubbing and drug-taking and music, but very little of it makes its way into this book.

The Devil’s Code

This was a perfectly fine book that I brought for the plane and it did not disappoint. The story follows a computer programmer/painter/PI named K as he tries to untangle the chain of events leading to the murder of a fellow programmer and the extraordinary cover-up that follows. Generally I don’t enjoy books about computers because they seem to get so many thigns wrong, either about how computers work or how tech culture works in general. This book gets enough things right that it doesn’t stand in the way of the storyline. The main character is likable enough and the story is fast-paced enough to keep the pages turning until the end. For a book I knew nothing about except for seeing the word “code” in the title, this was a pleasant surprise.

Moving Mars

Greg Bear takes science fiction to an entirely new level of depth and understanding. He’s a great writer and the characters he creates can really hold their own against some pretty spectacular science and technology. This book is about the colonization of Mars, a few generations after the initial contact. The Earth, Moon and Mars are part of a loose organization called The Triple. Earth folks are proceeding in all the science-y ways, getting biological enhancements, experiencing simlated realities and prolonging life while Martians are a more serious bunch, concerned with the more immediate issues of survival and resourcefulness. One Martian woman works her way up through the political process [visting Earth along the way] at the same time as things between the Earth and Mars starts to sour. Add to this mix some technology that is not fully understood and could have devastating impacts and the political finesse required to work things out is a challenge to our heroine.

Oddly, this is a book about politics, it is also about science. Like other Bear books I have read, most notably the Darwin series, he infuses books with a hearty dosage of both. So, while we learn about the atmosphere on Mars and the differences in a society where years are longer and days are shorter, we also learn about the many forms of governance that Mars has, has had, and will have. This is not a short book and some of this information is detailed in a way that only a real fan would truly love, but it all coheres into a whole story that’s fascinating from start to finish.

Incidental Findings

More medical musings from doctors. This one reads a lot like Atul Gawanda’s book. Ofri is a doctor who works at Bellevue in NYC with some of New York’s less-insured people. Each chapter is a small essay about something she learned about people and human nature from her work with a really wide range of interesting people. The whole book is sort of sandwiched between the beginning and the end of her own story about being on the other side of the examining table as an expectant mother and then as a delivering mother. The insights are interesting, though some of them have a sort of “duh” feeling to it, where you think that if Ofri hadn’t been spending so much time reading medical books, she would already know certain things about the human experience. As an author she’s capable, but not amazing and comes off as just a bit self-indulgent throughout. If you like the NPR voice, you’ll know what I mean. If you like that voice, you’ll love this.

Killing Time

The only reason I didn’t like this book more is that I know Carr can write much better. Carr is a historian and a writer. This book which takes place in the near future has a lot of passages that read like “and this is the history that brought us where we are today...” which are good in a historical novel, less so in a sort of space thriller where the protagonist is flying about in an amphibious spaceship with holographic cloaking and wood panelling inside. Also, the foreshadowing is really really clunky, so much so that whatever suspense the book might be able to muster, a lot of it is telegraphed so early, you wind up waiting for it instead of surprised by it.

So, leaving aside that it’s written by Carr, this book is a fun romp. It’s the near future, the greedy capitalists and the governments they own have ruined the world and the Internet is the main source of information for people. A few rich separatists [shades of Atlas Shrugged here] are trying to make it better through a quirky misinformation campaign which is supposed to clue people in to the mess they’re making of things. It works badly, or slowly, and stuff gets destroyed and they get to fly around a lot in the spaceship. It’s fun, has some interesting doomsaying predictions about the path we’re presently on, and is pretty forgettable but fun to read while you’ve got it.

The Footprints of God

My sister pushed this into my hand and said “You have a long bus ride, you’ll like this” and I did. It’s another in what has been a long series of quasi-religious fiction thrillers. This one is both the most serious about religion and also takes it the most lightly in some ways. The general idea is: scientists are building a computer that may or may not be able to attain consciousness. Some people are trying to stop it from happening. Good guy battles incredibly powerful people who may or may not be evil and may or may not have consciences.

The religious stuff isn’t really central, or it didn’t seem that way to me who did skim some of the religous parts. However, the questions that are raised about consciousness and supreme power do have religious overtones, probably more if you go in for that sort of thing. The thriller part of the story -- people trying to avoid detection by other people who seem to have every detection device available -- is a fun enough romp as it is. I’ve rarely read thrillers lately that don’t make me feel sort of cheap and used at the end of it when I learn the resolution. This book does have a bit of a pat ending, but the reading to get there is still worthwhile.

Tales of Young Urban Squatters

I enjoyed this book for what it was, but I was hoping it would be more. Burch has assembled the personal stories of a group of squatters who live in Berkeley California. They range from almost incoherent to pretty astute. There isn’t a real cohesive thread thought them except that some of them know each other, some of them have stayed in the same places and most of them with a few notable exceptions are kids. This book is too short and too lacking in geographical diversity for casual readers to get any real handle on the squatting movement. Many of the kids in their statements had very little to say about historical squatter encampments or anything else except their day to day survival.

That said, the voices are real and they dispell some of the basic myths surrounding squatting -- that squatters don’t work, that they’re all moochers, that they’re all unemployable, drunks or what have you. At the same time it does seem to support other myths, that squatters are somewhat lazy, selfish and poorly educated. I’m sympathetic to the squatter cause and have enjoyed getting to read more first hand squatter stories, especially about an area of the country that I am familair with, but I don’t know if this would be a good book for someone who was unfamiliar with the movement as an introduction. It’s definitely a slice-of-life potrayal of squatting, practically apolitical if such a thing is possible. It’s interesting to read but not good as an overview of all things squatting despite the inclusion of How to Squat, reprinted from an underground pamplet with what the author says is “implicit permission of the unknown original creators”

The Seville Communion

This book was a bit of a change from The Covenant of the Flame. Both would fall into the “religious whodunit” category but the other book was a really fast-paced thriller with a lot of history [based on actual groups but fictionalized]. This book is much slower paced and has a bunch of made-up history that seems somewhat real. The main character is a priest who works for the enforcement and policeman arm of the Pope’s crew in Vatican City. He’s ultra-straight-laced and very good at his job. He has to go sort out a situation in Spain where a small church with a crazy priest is in danger of being closed down by lack of parishoners and the greed of developers. Of course, there is a beautiful woman and a mysterious story and a lot of other interesting characters hanging on the periphery like many of Perez-Reverte’s stories.

The mystery in this one doesn’t pack quite the punch of some of his others, particularly the Flanders Panel, but the settings and characters are richer and, as always, the language is lovely and makes you pine for a place you hadn’t previously been aware existed.

The Covenant of the Flame

For some reason the new pope has put me in the mood to read a bunch of books about religion. This is one from Morell’s series of thrillers that have at their center ancient orders of fringe religions who are intent in protecting a secret. This book is unusual in that instead of the central character fighting the bad guys, this story mainly concerns a group of fanatical bad guys and fanatical good guys both with almost unlimited resources, intent on protecting a secret. It’s a good lively read and the central female character is a welcome change from the almost unrelenting maleness that these books usually have.