Monday, January 30, 2012

Wife-in-Law by Haywood Smith ****

Betsy Calliston grew up taking care of her mother, a hoarder who never left the house. Her father left when Betsy was eight, but the divorce judge awarded custody her mother. Thus began Betsy's Candide-like adventures where her polite tea party is picketed and she is arrested for assaulting the protesters, her best friend's husband get shot and later fatally sick, and her cheating husband leaves and marries her best friend (thus the title: Wife-in-Law).

This latest "bad things happen to good people" novel by Haywood Smith follows sweet, optimistic, innocent, self-effacing Betsy from crisis to crisis, until the string of evil abruptly ends, and, as if my magic, everything is wonderful. Betsy and her girlfriend Kat get makeovers at fancy salons, go shopping at expensive department stores, and enjoy a "Cougar" cruise. (Spoiler Alert:) In the end, Betsy's mother even fully recovers and her long-lost father returns.

Until the final chapterS of fairytale bliss, the book is a page turner. At the end, diabetics must be warned to keep their insulin close at hand.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu ****

Charles Yu joins the ranks of Terry Pratchett, Frank Herbert, and Harry Harrison, as a creator of a unique and captivating world: Minor Universe 31 - only accessible by time machine, and peopled by virtual characters and an Operating System named TAMMY with personality issues (all an self-referential metaphor for the book).

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu combines traditional Sci Fi (especially world building and time travel) with postmodern metafiction. In this case, the science fictional universe(this book) is discovered and explored within the narrative. While this might sound convoluted and paradoxical, it is meant to be.

My favorite author is this genre is the Jasper Fforde author of the humorous and ironic Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series. As a science fiction writer, Charles Yu takes a slightly more serious approach and tends to run long and philosophical on the obvious topics of time travel and paradoxes.

I found the world engaging but the plotting weak. I look forward to the next installment.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Basket Case by Carl Hiaasen *****

Jimmy Stoma, front man for Jimmy and the Slut Puppies, an 80s rock band, died while diving in Bahamas. Jack Tagger, reporter for the Union-Register, has been banished to the obituary page, for reasons too convoluted to report here. Cleo Rio, Jimmy's widow famous for a single MTV video featuring her pubic hair, didn't mourn enough for Jack's sensibilities. So Jack, his boss Emma, and Jimmy's sister Janet band together to get Cleo for murder. On Cleo's team is "record producer" Loreal with tresses down to his waist, and Jerry, who lost an eye in a fight with a dead monitor lizard named "Colonel Tom" - again too convoluted to report at length.

This gives you a sense of Basket Case by Carl Hiaason. Deep inside this fantastic novel, the author lets his inspiration slip out - Fargo. Yes that's it: senseless crime performed by idiots and out of control with mayhem beyond any rational expectations with results that would be pitiful and pathetic, were it not for the string of corpses that pile up along the way.

The only thing that slows down the pace of this page-turner is the delays for hilarious laughter and dumbfounded head scratching.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The People's Tycoon by Steven Watts *****

Around 100 years ago Henry Ford had an idea that made him a billionaire. Today's business folks (aka Republicans) seem to have forgotten the concept entirely: "The people who consume the bulk of the goods [and services] are the people who make them. That is a fact we must never forget - that is the secret of our prosperity," and, I add, the antithesis of "trickle-down" economics.

This and so much else is included in the recent Henry Ford biography, The People's Tycoon, by Steven Watts. Though it's not mentioned or implied, Henry Ford's life reads like a dyslexic with Asperger's Syndrome. Ford didn't read and probably couldn't - given the opportunity to read in a court trial, he refused. His staff learned to that he preferred to hear their ideas, and probably wouldn't read them anyway. This aversion to reading included mechanical/architectural drawings, where the successful presented their boss with scale models.

While this theoretical dyslexia might have been a drawback, the possible Asperger's, like that of many successful entrepreneurs, perhaps even the Republican front-runner (written in January 2011), allowed Ford to push forward his business with little regard to family, associates, and employees. For example, Ford Motor Company, was his third automotive start-up. In all three cases, he pushed forward with no regard for his partners, who either lost their investment when the enterprise failed, or were forced out when the enterprise was a success.

While he was undoubtedly a mechanical genius, outside the development labs, he managed his company with a reign of chaos, pitting managers against managers, embarrassing and belittling his family members, and hiring thugs that terrorized everyone.

In his public life he championed a wide range of causes including promotion of 19th-century Victorian values and lifestyles - in sharp contrast to his own life which included many estares with all the modern conveniences, usually including a private power plant, and a long-term mistress living on an estate nearby. His also funded a cruise to Europe to prevent World War I, and extensive antisemitic publications and activities.

On numerous occasions FMC went against public opinion, such as when Henry Ford refused to abandon the obsolete Model-T or join the war efforts. In these cases, the company finally came around. In Ford's later years, the author ascribes this independent behavior to oncoming dementia, but this pattern of ignoring people seems to have been a constant from the beginning.

I found book to be comprehensive and fascinating. Though the author's intent was clearly to be positive, the undertone was certainly dark and dangerous. The always brief mentions of emotional and physical pain caused by Ford's actions and inactions seemed to be just the tip of an iceberg of a darkness that was funded by Ford's millions.

Overall an excellent books, that explained everything, except how did this insensitive person become one of the richest and most influential people of the 20th century? Or maybe that is the explanation...