Wednesday, October 31, 2018

[Book] David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones

Book sleeve cover
The author of this book took a huge amount of time to collect together statements and interviews from a vast array of people who knew or in some cases even briefly met David Bowie.  Jarringly, there are places where David Bowie's own statements are included.  All of these vignettes are presented each in whole, collected into chapters into an approximate order as to when the main point of each vignette happened.  Each vignette starts with a name followed by a parenthetical as to what this person is in relation to Bowie.  Very sparingly, there will be fully italic paragraphs where the author actually writes some narrative framework.  Pointing out things that are important, but not illustrated in the vignettes.  It took me until chapter 3 until I realized that this is what the italic sections were for.

The first chapter of vignettes was very difficult to read.  Of course, the youngest part of anybody's life is the hardest to keep interesting.  "Nick Kent (journalist)", who hadn't met Bowie, but saw him on TV at 17 representing, The Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men, said "...I remember thinking, Now, this fellow we'll probably be seeing again."  At this, it was really hard to keep my eyes from rolling out the back of my head.  There were even vignettes that simply talked about a neighborhood where he was living, without any direct connection to Bowie himself.  Nothing much here but color commentary.

Starting in the second chapter, there are more vignettes from musicians who actually worked with Bowie, and those start to get interesting.  Rick Wakeman, of Yes fame, is a stand-out for good short stories, and though his stories start in Chapter 1, they don't get good until Chapter 2, when he's talking about things that he was part of.

Another thing that goes on through these vignettes that overlap in time is that often two or three recollections of a person or event in Bowie's life will contradict each-other.  Where this happens, there is no narrative interlude to give more information, just the confusion that we don't really know.

Bowie's first wife, Angie, was either "a snotty bitch" and "her own worst enemy" or "... if he hadn't met Angie, David might have continued as a sort of Bob Dylan type..." and "part angel" who "did more than her share of domestic chores".  All I can get from this is that she rubbed some people the wrong way, and - more likely - people who liked her then came to dislike her after the divorce.  Ultimately, I found the Angie bashing to be distracting more than enlightening, and it is just one early example of narrative contradictions.

Because the vignettes overlap in time, and often contradict each other in detail, the book is very hard to follow in a narrative sense.  This is actually worse than the eyE Marty autobiography; that was also out-of-time order, but at least it was a single voice and viewpoint.  This book left me with a mess of details, and I'd bet that two people could read this book at the same time, and come away to tell their own version of the story of Bowie in multiple ways, depending on which vignettes resonated with each reader.

I tried to force myself through this book, but have put it down several times to read other things that have a straight forward narrative.  This book forces you to pay attention, and I wouldn't call it a good summer read (that is, I actually started this book in mid-July).  I got about half-way through this book before deciding I'd read enough of it to publish this review.

Skip it even if you are seeking a narrative walk-through of Bowie's life.  Read this if you are obsessed with all things David Bowie, and really want to get a very in-depth view from a lot of different voices.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Next Career Move

The company I work(ed) for has been planning a division sell-off for most of the year.  Weeks after that division spin-off into Private Equity, I was notified that my last day will be 29 October.  The last time I was laid-off, it was similarly driven by a corporate action.  Upper management had been talking about a flatter organization, and cutting out management levels, so I was well prepared mentally.  I actually expected that I would take it much worse than I did.

I have about 15 years of management experience in IT and Software, so the first phase of my looking for a job will be to try to find a Software Manager position (since this is my longest, most relevant, and most recent experience).  If that doesn't go well, I'll open up to IT management roles as well.

Anyway, if you know me and you know of an opening that I might be good at, feel free to send me a note.

I suspect this may mean less book reviews (though I currently have reviews written through 12 December).  This summer I reviewed a bunch of books, and then dropped to every other week to help stretch out the fact that I've slowed down my reading a lot as fall hit...

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

[Book] Bloodline by Claudia Gray

Book cover
I realize that I've read and reviewed a lot of books that I don't really like.  This review isn't that.  I liked the book, Leia; Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray so much that when I found out she had another book in the Star Wars universe, I bought it right away. I really like to keep these reviews spoiler-free, and if I really enjoy a book, I actually have a much harder time writing about it, because - well - everything I enjoy about a book seems like a possible spoiler.

As per the cover of the book, this book happens "In the years before Star Wars: The Force Awakens".  This book starts at a slower pace than Leia, but unlike Leia, this book is bridging a lot of history after the Battle of Endor, and it really sets the stage for The Force Awakens.  The first half of this book is mostly driven by politics, most of the scenes take place in the Galactic Senate chamber.

Wait, keep reading!  I know that if I read the above, I'd have never even picked up this book.  Here's the thing, the author kept it interesting, and more important ... relevant to the plot!  All the political infighting is what gets Leia herself to head up an investigation that gets her both out of the senate and into some real action.

Also, just like Leia, this book has lots of characters show up from movies and other stories.  There were less of these than in Leia, but still, C3PO is present throughout, Han Solo and Chewbacca show up, Snap Wexley shows up, too.

If you have not seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then the part below the cut could seem like a spoiler.  Also, that is another reason why politics were so important to this story.  Without the detailed politics, there would be a major plot hole.  I'd go so far as to say that this covers some plot-holes in The Force Awakens.

Read this book if you liked The Force Awakens.  Also read this book if you wanted to like The Force Awakens, but felt it seemed too disconnected from the rest of the Star Wars history.  Read this book if you want to hear Leia's voice clearly (Claudia Gray clearly gets the Leia character very well).  On the other hand, if Star Wars isn't your thing (that's okay), then it's possible that the references and history won't mean anything to you.  Myself, though, I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

[Book Spoiled] North American Lake Monsters

The book, North American Lake Monsters, is a collection of short stories that I reviewed here.  Read that first, without it, this will have little context.

Seriously, the following is absolutely full of spoilers, and I don't want to hear about it.  Well, for the stories that I actually like, I still try to keep them a little spoiler free, but the first story ... that one I lay out ALL the main points.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

[Book] North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud

Book cover
North American Lake Monsters is a collection of short horror or at least suspense stories.  One short, The Monsters of Heaven, won the Shirley Jackson Award, and this book is on its third printing.

Several of the stories introduce a monster, but the monster itself is inactive ... in one case, already dead, leaving these stories to be more about the evil we bring with us where the monster is just a catalyst or even excuse for some all-too-human transition into bad behavior.

I'm still pretty new at this, but it feels that; to be honest about this review, I have to take a minute to talk about me and where I come from.  I was around a lot of drug abuse in my younger years, and maybe this leaves me with little patience or even empathy for a person who brings their own evil, using something external as an excuse.  There are many stories that centered around this, and those just left me feeling uncomfortable, and sad.  Not horrified, scared, or even worried.  When I recognize these patterns at the beginning of the story, then I already have my guard up.  I cannot empathize with these characters.  The turns, in these stories, felt like the inevitable.  I say this with the highest compliment I can muster: I recognize these patterns, they ring true to real life, which means that the bored tropes of my own experience with the worst traits of humanity may indeed make wonderful fodder for those unfamiliar and seeking horror.

Even so, some of the stories in this book feel like a premise has been introduced, but not fully explored.  All short stories can feel this way, but -- reading over my own reviews -- I have little patience for when a story lacks a full narrative arc, and there were some stories where I felt like I read a promising chapter one, leaving me cold.

Inside here, I disliked these stories: You Go Where It Takes You, S.S., The Monsters of Heaven, North American Lake Monsters and The Good Husband.

This story was interesting, but not great: Wild Acre.

Read this for The Crevasse, Sunbleached and Way Station if you find this collection on sale.  As I note above, maybe the rest of this is exactly the kind of thing a horror fan might look for.  At the same time, so many of these stories introduce something very strange or very interesting, steer the story around and away from that thing, while the short format doesn't allow those things to be expanded upon.  Overall, I don't recommend this book.

I'm actually quite tempted to do a spoilers version of this review to explain more on each of these stories from my perspective.  Leave a comment if you are interested, or would rather I leave it spoilers completely off this blog.