Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille ****

The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille (with many nods to The Great Gatsby) traces to decline of John Whitman Sutter - a poor American aristocrat whose family settled on Long Island in the seventeenth century, and, yes, included Walt Whitman - and Frank Bellarosa - a Mafia Don, head of a major organized-crime family. The love triangle is completed with Susan Stanhope Sutter - a rich American aristocrat with a penchant for acting out detailed and varied sexual scenarios. With the lives of the rich and powerful as a background, DeMille weaves a tale not in the classical tragic flaw of hubris, but with the more modern weakness of boredom.

Viewed more concretely, the story answers the question: what do you get for someone who has everything? A challenge! ... and risk. The same needs that keep high-stake casinos profitable, bring Susan and John into the lair of Don Bellarosa, and Bellarosa into the trap of U.S. Attorney Ferragamo. The telling of the tale leaves open the possibility that all these conflicts could be imaginary, but in the end, it doesn't really matter.

I found the descriptions and commentary on the super rich and powerful to be stereotypical and cliched, as if the book was written for the 1950s or even the 1930s. However, the stock characters were well-written and served the plot to deliver an engaging tale and a pleasant read. This book will be very enjoyable if it is approached as light reading rather then the social commentary it pretends to offer.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Veracity by Laura Bynum **** 2010

In Veracity, by new author Laura Bynum, the reader is presented with an updated dystopia in the tradition of 1984 and Brave New World. In this 21st century version the government removes all civil liberties in response to an external threat. In a literary attempt to remove the book from topical politics and the recent Bush administration, the external threat is a fabricated pandemic instead of the obvious terrorists. This sets up the main conflict between the resistance with their Book of Noah and the government that controls everyone with a electronic "slate" attached to their neck to monitor and censor every spoken word.

This book reminds me that some myths are so attractive that they refuse to die in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence. Examples that drive intellectuals to tears or laughter include: young earth and creationism. But these same intellectuals readily embrace the Whorfian Hypothesis that language determines thought. At its base, Veracity is a paean to this 19th century hypothesis in its most discredited form.

Veracity excels in science-fiction world building, but lacks something in its science and characterization.