Man Crushes

There are guys in the world that I am amazed by. I love their work, their personalities, everything. Jess calls them “Man Crushes” (click for Urban Dictionary definitions). Now, before you go getting the wrong ideas, let me make one thing perfectly clear… this does NOT mean I love these men in a unnatural sense. Absolutely not. By definition, “Man Crush” means if you could sit in a bar and have beers with a guy and shoot the shit for 4 hours, that would be a great time. All of these guys have personalties such that if they were normal guys who lived around me, I would think that I would definitely be their friends.

Without further ado, here are my man crushes.

Continue reading “Man Crushes”

Black Wind – Clive Cussler

Black Wind – Clive Cussler

In my series of book reviews (aka bitching about what makes me crazy in the books I read) up next is a book called Black Wind by Clive Cussler. If you plan to read this book, don’t read this review. Just saying.

I have never read a Cussler book. Before I started, I sought out a few opinions from friends and family and pretty much always got the same response. “Dirk Pitt is a superman who always has a wisecrack after beating the current foe”. Ok, I thought, I could live with that. I’ve read books like that before. More on this in a minute.

Here is the paperback synopsis:

In the waning days of World War II, the Japanese tried a last desperate measure — sending two submarines to the United states armed with a new biological virus. Neither sub made it to the designated target. But that does not mean that they were lost. Someone knows where the subs might be, and has an extraordinary plan for the virus — a scheme that could reshape the world as we know it. All that stands in the way are three people: a marine biologist named Summer, a marine engineer named Dirk, and their father, Dirk Pitt, the new head of NUMA. Pitt has faced devastating enemies before, and has even teamed up with his children to track them down. But never before has he looked upon the face of pure evil… until now.

Ok… sounds pretty exciting, I thought. Which was why I bought the book.

Going in, not having read any of the other “Dirk Pitt” novels, I don’t have any history with him or his kids. I’m only going by what is in this book. Apparently, “marine engineers” are not what I thought they were. I kind of picture a guy with a weathered face, an anchor tattoo and clothes that smell like motor oil and fish. Obviously, I’m way behind the times. This guy, Dirk Junior, is so much more. We first meet him as he is piloting a helicopter that is shot down, which he survives without a scratch. This was to be only the first of many such escapes. Later, he identifies a ‘tail’ of two bad guys, then proceeds to out drive the two assassins while they are peppering his car with automatic gun fire (who both die in the resulting crash). He also can drive any submersible craft in existence (demonstrated multiple times). I’m getting ahead of myself here. That was only the first 200 pages of this 600 page book.

Let me give you a more detailed synopsis. Basically an obscenely rich South Korean business owner, who is really a North Korean agent, is hatching this plan. His plan is to simultaneously turn the South Korean peoples’ opinion against the US forces, attack the US with biological WMD’s, framing Japan for said attacks, all in an effort to get Korea to vote out the US military to allow the North to sweep in and reunite the country, counting on the US being too distracted by the millions of deaths from small pox to respond. Pretty simple, right? So, Kang, the evil mastermind behind it all, has some diplomats killed in Japan. Frames a US Serviceman for a rape/murder in Seoul, and exerts influence on a bunch of South Korean politicians he has in his pocket. Of course, no one knows he is a North Korean Agent. The ball is in motion.

His plan hinges on recovering these biological agents from the sunken submarines. Long story short, he gets them. With the Pitts right on his tail. Dirk and Summer are actually recovering the virus bombs from the second submarine when their research ship is attacked by the bad guys. Bad guys take Dirk and Summer hostage and seal the rest of the crew in a hold and sink the ship before leaving. (of course, the crew escapes a the last second thanks to Dirk) Dirk and Summer get taken back to Kang’s cliff side lair on the Han river outside of Seoul.

Up until this point, the book is fairly decent. The only thing that made me cringe was a scene when Dirk goes to visit a professor friend of his looking for research information on the Japanese biological efforts in WWII. Well, according to the book, this professor has developed something that is simply amazing to anyone who understands computers, programming and the like:

… Max was an artificial intelligence system with a virtual interface in the form of a holographic image. The brainchild of Yeager to aid in researching voluminous databases, he had cleverly modeled the visual interfaces after his wife, Elsie, adding a sensual voice and saucy personality. On a platform opposite the horseshoe console, and attractive woman with auburn hair and topaz eyes suddenly appeared. She was dressed in a skimpy halter top that revealed her navel and a very short leather skirt.
“Good Morning Gentlemen,” the three dimensional image murmured.
“Hi Max. You remember the younger Dirk Pitt?”
“Of course. Nice to see you again, Dirk.”
“You’re looking good, Max.”
“I’d look better if Hiram would stop dressing me in Britney Spears outfits,” she replied with distain, rolling her hands down her body.

Good god. Now this book was set in 2007. I’m no authority, but artificial intelligence still can only do what it is programmed to do. The amount of programming and processing power to simulate a personality, voice, face (and gender) recognition, generate a 3d holographic image (detailed enough to have “topaz eyes”), spew pop culture references, and search thousands of public and private databases would be unbelievably immense. If the book was set in 2017? Maybe. Now? No way in hell. Not only can it speak, it can search all of these databases, then instantly summarize all of that data and speak the results to you like you would expect a teacher to do who just read a encyclopedia entry. Simply put, this technology does not exist. To think that a single guy put this together by 2007 is laughable. I actually had to go back and check when this book was set, and make sure I read that this was a virtual person. I did laugh out loud when I read it. But I digress.

Upon reaching Kang’s compound, they have dinner with their host. Here comes the exceedingly obvious James-Bond-villain-explains-the-whole-plot-to-the-heroes-because-he-plans-to-kill-them-anyway scene. In this case, he plans to drown them as the tide comes in by chaining them to a concrete block. All I’m thinking while reading this scene is Austin Powers…

Dr. Evil: Scott, I want you to meet daddy’s nemesis, Austin Powers
Scott Evil: What? Are you feeding him? Why don’t you just kill him?
Dr. Evil: I have an even better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.

Dr. Evil: All right guard, begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism.
[guard starts dipping mechanism]
Dr. Evil: Close the tank!
Scott Evil: Wait, aren’t you even going to watch them? They could get away!
Dr. Evil: No no no, I’m going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I’m just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?
Scott Evil: I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I’ll get it, I’ll come back down here, BOOM, I’ll blow their brains out!
Dr. Evil: Scott, you just don’t get it, do ya? You don’t.

Anyway, being marine type people they can hold their breaths and swim like champions, so they escape the rising tide with the help of a small metal nail file to saw through the iron shackles. All in the nick of time, of course. That was handy.

As they’re swimming across this 5 mile wide river at night being chased by Dr. Evil… er… I mean Kang’s henchmen in a speedboat, they are picked up by a sloop that his puttering along the river. In the most ego-centric move I have ever run across in a book, the character that rescues them is named… “Clive Cussler”. That’s right. He put HIMSELF in the book! Unbelievable. He even described himself with “blue-green eyes, which seemed to twinkle with mischief…” Give me a break. If the Austin Powers routine wasn’t enough, this maneuver completely destroyed any faith I had left in the story.

So, they escape and make it back to Washington DC and fully brief the government on what they’ve learned. Not only have the bad guys recovered the virus from the submarines, they have in less than a few weeks, completely re-engineered it to be immune to current small pox vaccines AND added HIV into it which will kill all of the people who survive the small pox. Amazingly efficient, this evil organization is. Especially with nobody the wiser.

Upon learning that someone is specifically planning on launching some sort of biological attack that will kill millions upon MILLIONS and essentially destroy our entire civilization, what do they do? Send a few coast guard cutters and a blimp to protect the entire western seaboard. Pitifully small response, you’re thinking? Gee… so was I. But if there were war ships and aircraft and thousands of sailors and marines guarding us, how could the Pitts be the heroes?

All that came to my mind right here is this… why wouldn’t the President simply issue a statement to the world saying they have credible evidence of an impending biological attack against the US. All he would have to say is if there is a single case of small pox anywhere on US soil, we are immediately launching a nuclear strike against Pyongyang (N. Korea capitol). See, that is the thing. When a state is sponsoring such actions, you know where to find them! This isn’t bin Laden in the middle of the desert. I guarantee, this would put a crimp in their plans. Perhaps they think twice about launching such a strike. Game over. End of story. Drive home safely. I guess I have read too many of these books. Besides, I think I should mention that this plan is WAY overkill for what they are trying to accomplish. I mean, the KISS rule (keep it simple, stupid) has never been violated more flagrantly.

Again, long story short, the bad guys hijack a sea based satellite launching platform and sail it just off Santa Nicolas island, 75 miles west of LA. The platform is spotted by the blimp (flown by Dirk Sr. of course) and when they check with the company that owns it, they learn that the platform is supposed to be on the equator for launch. Platform is approached by a coast guard ship which is promptly blown out of the water with a surface to surface missile. What is our response upon learning that they are obviously going to use a giant rocket to deliver the virus and launch is in an hour and a half (thanks to the clichéd big red digital readout countdown), you ask? Let me tell you… NOTHING. The entire might of the US military decides to leave it up to the Dirks armed only with a small research submarine and a blimp to save the day. You might be aware of the fact that within a short flight of this position there are Vandenberg, Los Angeles and Edwards Air Force Bases, not to mention El Centro and Point Magu Naval Air Stations, and of course, Miramar (aka Top Gun) Naval Air Station. All told, there are probably some 500 military aircraft within 200 miles, not to mention all the navy bases with ships armed with long range cruise missiles. Also, a quick google search tells me that San Nicolas island is also used by the military and is practically bristling with search radars and missile installations. How many planes or missiles do we launch to protect the motherland from this obvious and insidious threat? Zero.

Dirk the marine engineer, who at this point has survived being shot down in a helicopter, shot at during a road race (jumping the car and landing on a ferry), trapped at the bottom of the sea in a submersible, and escaped the rising tide by a nail file, makes his way onto the platform. Bad guys were still on the platform and capture him YET AGAIN. Do they kill him? Nah… see above. They decide to tie him to the supports that are under the rocket and let the exhaust do the dirty work. Can someone please explain to me why the villains are prepared to kill millions of people indiscriminately, yet can’t see fit to put a bullet in this guys head who has caused them so much of a headache?

So, upon being left alone again, the blimp being flown by his dad, lands and rescues him yet again, and rescues the rest of the crew. Dirk Sr. then goes down to the submarine still tied to the platform and uses the handy drilling mechanism on the front to drill holes and flood the supports of the platform. He is able to flood it enough that when the launch happens, the rocket is out of balance and blows up, saving the day. Exciting? Sure. Realistic? Hardly.

But it doesn’t end there! The US finally decides to take action, and sends the navy seals against Kang’s compound. And, since the US government is completely batshit crazy at this point, they let the marine engineer tag long with the seal team on the strike. Oh, but they won’t allow him to have a gun because he is a civilian. I’ll save you the ludicrous details, but the seals essentially owe the success of the mission to, you guessed it, the only unqualified member of the force. I’m sure the seals must be proud to read this book.

I know I wrote a little too much about this book. But when something makes you as crazy as this made me, I just had to vent about it. I didn’t even mention all of the smart-ass quips that Dirk comes up with in the heat of the moment. At this point, I’m just happy I finished the entire book. And now I know, I don’t ever have to read another Cussler book again.

I shall slog no more

I’ve been meaning to write about my (mis)adventures with the book Shantaram for a few weeks. Here goes.

I received this book as a gift from my mom. She really enjoyed it, found it interesting, and thought I might too. For those that don’t know, the book is set in India (Bombay specifically) in the late 1970s. It is also the first book by the author Gregory David Roberts, and according to him is mostly auto-biographical.

I picked up this book with the best of intentions. I love to read. A good book is better than just about anything else. I will read just about anything that will keep my interest. Also, I am not one who will put a book down lightly. Something in me always makes me want to finish it, no matter how bad it is. I’ve only dropped maybe 3 or 4 books total in my life before the finish. Plus, I seem to be unable to skim forward in books either. In Tom Clancy’s The Sum Of All Fears, he spends WAY too much time describing in very minute detail just how the nuclear weapon the terrorists build is put together. I read every page. Bored out of my skull, but I didn’t want to miss anything. (Side note: years later I listened to the abridged book-on-tape, they pretty much just cut out all of that technical crap, I was amazed how well the story flowed). So, for me to stop reading this book, really tells you something. I got through page 600 or so and finally just gave up the ghost.

I have many problems with this book, beginning with the fact that it is 933 pages long. I have the oversized paperback version, and it still has to weigh 5 lbs. I tend to read in weird positions, and such a book really puts a damper on my ability to do that. Now, I don’t have a problem with long books. Quite the contrary. If a book needs that many pages to tell the story, go for it. For example, one of my all time favorite books, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is 976 pages, and I still wished for more when it ended. However, the way Roberts makes use of these pages is what I have a problem with. I would read page after page after page where NOTHING HAPPENED. My mind would drift off as I’m reading because there is nothing to keep my attention. Be it descriptions of him walking around Bombay, or these interminable scenes of him and his “friends” in a cafe having discussions about their philosophy on life. Not only could I not keep the multiple characters straight in my head, I didn’t care enough about what they had to say anyway. Holy crap. Mind numbing. Had this book had 1/3rd of it cut out, it might not have been so bad.

But, now that I think about it, it probably would have been so bad. The author seems to be way too much in love with his words. Maybe the editor should have been a little more insistent with him. Allow me to give you an example of what I mean. The following is an excerpt from page 400. He is describing a sex scene (the only one I read in 600 pages, thank god). Don’t worry about this not being appropriate for the kiddies, like me, they probably have no friggin clue what he’s talking about:

“I pressed my lips against the sky, and licked the stars into my mouth. She took my body into hers, and every movement was an incantation. Our breathing was like the whole world chanting prayers. Sweat ran in rivulets to ravines of pleasure. Every movement was a satin skin cascade. Within the velvet cloaks of tenderness, our backs convulsed in quivering heat, pushing heat, pushing muscles to complete what minds begin and bodies always win. I was hers. She was mine. My body was her chariot and she drove it into the sun. Her body was my river, and I became the sea. And the wailing moan that drove our lips together, at the end, was the world of hope and sorrow that ecstasy wrings from lovers as it floods their souls with bliss.”

What the Fuck?!? Pardon my French but for god’s sake why? If you found that passage at all appealing, then you might enjoy his writing (and if so, don’t ever recommend a book for me…). I, for one, spent the lion’s share of my time reading wondering to myself WHY I continued to read.

My other major problem with this book is the story itself, and the character of the author. Being supposedly autobiographical, this guy has an unbelievable ego. The basic story is he is convicted to 19 years in Australian prison for burglary. He makes a daring and cunning escape, and flees to India and starts a new life. Ok, I could buy that. However, we are constantly bombarded with how great this guy is. He is always the smartest one in the room. Of all the non-Indians, he is the only one who can speak the “local” language of Marathi. A point which he beats us over the head with more than once. He is so smart and kind-hearted he sets up and runs a free medical clinic in the slum in which he lives. So, he’s smart AND giving. Wait, while in prison, he has withstood some of the most horribile torture you can imagine. He endured if for extended periods of time and never once “broke”. Never did anything that would make his life in prison easier (but would be considered snitching). Ok, so on the scoreboard we’ve got Smart, Giving, and Tough (mentally and physically). Oh, I almost forgot, he is the best fighter on the planet. Able to take down even the strongest and armed man using only his bare hands. Multiple gansters? No problem. Sneak attacks by the police or some Africans? Ho hum. So, again, we’ve got smartest, most generous, toughest, and badest. I nearly forgot, he is so charismatic that leaders of all types (legit and nefarious) all take him into their confidence and act as father figures to him. Trust him immediately. Teach him everything they know. And, of course, being so smart, blah blah blah, he is able to run any criminal enterprise to which he is assigned, and run it perfectly where none of his subordinates or bosses for that matter have any reason to be upset. Simply amazing. All of these points are hammered home MULTIPLE times throughout the book. He has his picture on the back of the book, and if I had to guess, I’d say he looks a lot more like a gay poetry-slam artist drinking espresso at Starbucks reading the Village Voice as opposed to a ex-mafia, multilingual, charismatic, international gun runner and bare handed killer. But that’s just me.

I read an online review (one of the few who didn’t absolutely love this book for some reason) who described it well. He likened the book to being trapped somewhere by some guy who keeps telling you these rambling tall-tales about their life, each one getting grander and grander as they go on. You sit there, trying not to encourage them but nodding and smiling politely and uttering the occasional “wow” or “really?” Until you realize, that this guy is completely full of shit and takes you for a gullible moron who is eating this stuff up. That’s what this book is. Granted, I’m not exactly familiar with the Bombay underworld, but I do have a healthy cynicism about what this guy says.

I’m wondering why there was such an outcry of anger about James Frey (A Million Little Pieces) supposedly making up stories in his book. Why no anger with Gregory David Roberts?

Anyway, I didn’t mean to write 1,300 words on this book. But, much like the book itself, criticism could not be contained in fewer words.

An altogether disappointing experience (as if you couldn’t tell…)