Humble Book Review: The Colorado Kid

“It was that kind of story. The kind that’s like a sneeze which threatens but never quite arrives.”

That quote there, from The Colorado Kid itself, basically sums up my feelings for the book – slowly gaining momentum, but never reaching any kind of payoff.

The story revolves around two very old Maine men in the newspaper business – the founder and a long-time editor. They recall their most elusive mystery in their careers to a new but eager woman on the team. Slowly, we learn the circumstances leading up to the discovery of a lonely dead body on the beach of their small island decades ago – and how the evidence had lead to nothing but apparent impossibilities.

This is King’s first foray into using Hard Case Crime as a publisher, which is fairly different from his normal style. It’s more the ‘damsel in distress’ detective noir label which, to me at least, King was fumbling around in the dark with. When he did find his footing, it was on the steady ground of ‘human connections’, which he is much better at writing on.

However, I think dear King has been listening to the collective online grumbles regarding the opinion that he can write amazing books, but can’t write an ending to save himself.

Well, I imagine he said, halfway though writing this book, if people don’t think I can write endings at all, then I won’t even try!

And so that’s what he did. You’ll find no resolution, no happiness or sadness; just a case of literary blue balls as you realise the book has suddenly ran out of pages.

So I would have given it a lower rating (3/5), but you know what? I did read it all in a day – it had held my attention pretty well, so that must count for something.

Humble Book Review: A Brief History of Time

Wormholes, time travel, the Big Bang… these are all things that have been touched upon by many science fiction writers, each with their own take on the many mysterious concepts. But the initial concepts weren’t plucked out of writers’ imaginations to captivate readers; they were theorized by a long line of philosophers and scientists, trying to piece together the universe as we know it, and to come up with an answer for all the greatest questions ever posed.

And with A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking summarises as best he can the current state of the largest mysteries ever worked on, such as; Is the universe expanding? Can we travel back in time? What happened before the universe was created?

I’ll admit that even though it is quite a popular book, being a best-seller for many years, I’m not quite sure who his target audience was. I have a bit of a scientific background, but about two thirds into each of the chapters, I was completely lost and couldn’t follow the threads of thought. Those deep in the scientific community might not enjoy this due to the short time spent on each massive topic, needing a better breakdown. Those laymen of the world (myself included) might struggle to even follow the first premises given in the first few paragraphs.

Basically, I found myself nodding absently every now and then, with the voice murmuring in the back of my head saying yeah, seems legit or I guess so.

Because of the prevalence of science fiction in recent decades, I’ve encountered many of the topics in sensationalised form, so at least I didn’t come into this book completely blind.

It’s great to see the humility in admitting that we are still a very long way from understanding the way the universe ticks and that we may, in a few more decades, come to know just a little bit more in the search for the one universal explanation that ties everything together.

Humble Book Review: From a Buick 8

On the outside, King’s From a Buick 8 might seem like a sequel or spiritual successor to Christine. But once you navigate through the chapters, you find that really there isn’t much in common at all, other than the picture of a car on the cover.

This novel follows the history of a collective secret kept by the troopers of Barracks D in Pennsylvania. Back in 1979, a man shrouded in mystery parked his Buick Roadmaster at a gas station, and was never seen again. The troopers impounded the car, but from the first moment they laid eyes on it, there was a deep sense of unfamiliarity – like this “thing” was a very poor imitation of a car at all, and not of this world. No sense of symmetry, made of materials never encountered, and with dashboard gauges that served no function.

Things only got more strange after it was left in a shed at the barracks, warranting the troopers to keep a watch over it, and to keep it hidden from the public. It had a tendency to produce inexplicable events, such as blinding light shows coming from inside the car, as well as spitting out otherworldly objects from it’s boot – and if things could come out, could others be drawn in to this other place?

It is told through a series of stories by the now older and wiser barracks, informing the son of one of the main troopers why his father was so invested in this secret. The boy can appear impatient and only wants answers, but often the troopers don’t have answers, only a weaving and mysterious narrative that brings them to the present day.

I did enjoy this novel, even though it’s one of his books that are so easily forgotten. The mystery of the Buick Roadmaster is grounded in reality – in the sense that the troopers could only react in fear and poor attempts at logic when these events took place. As it is written in a style of remembering the past, the action is few and far between, and perhaps doesn’t reach the heights like many of King’s other paranormal novels. But what it mainly does – recounting a collective secret of the unknown – it does well.

Humble Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Guns, Germs, and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years is a fascinated read for anyone interested in human history, in how we have developed and spread as a species, and just how certain civilisations conquered others to arrive in the states that they are now.

Specifically, Jared Diamond attempts to answer a very important question; why was it that Eurasian civilisations were able to survive and conquer other nations, instead of the other way around? Presumably, 13,000 years ago, each of our human ancestor settlements across the globe were in the same position with respect to technology, so why was Eurasia successful? While answering this question, Diamond also refutes the controversial idea that Eurasian rule is due to any form of inherent advantage in Eurasian intellect, morals, or genetic superiority.

Tackling the aforementioned refutation is particularly important, as unfortunately, many people in well off societies seem to believe it.

Diamond quite successfully argues that rather than inherent advantages, gaps in power and technology stem from several opportunistic advantages in geography and environmental standings, which caused some positive feedback loops, resulting in auto-catalytic growth.

What started it all, was the slow migration from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies, roughly 13,000 years ago. From being able to domesticate various plants and animals, tribes could begin to stock surplus supplies, and provide for non-food producing members, such as chiefs, scribes, etc. Once you free up time to focus on non-food related activities, societies can begin to expand, giving rise to population booms.

With population booms come epidemics, which, over time, survivors develop a resistance to. When these disease-resistant members invade small tribes in other parts of the world who have never been exposed, the germs can decimate untouched bands and tribes, often well in advance of the invaders themselves.

Back to the question; why was Eurasia so fruitful and not another part of the world? This mainly rests on the abundance of domesticable plants and animals compared to other continents, and the fact that Eurasia lies on an east-west axis, as opposed to north-south like the Americas or Africa. With different latitudes, comes different suitability of crops. They could not expand north-south, due to snowy regions, unseasonable tropics, or harsh deserts. But they could expand east-west, which Eurasia could accommodate.

All of this is quite fascinating, and my modest summary simply cannot do it the proper justice. However, it seems that Diamond goes over some points laboriously, to really drive home a small point, or will revisit an answer several times. Either that, or it’s been a while since I’ve read such a long non-fiction book! But I guess it helps, I could sum up the book pretty well, as it was drilled into me.

This book was mentioned by the great Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, known for his book & online course Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I strongly advise you check out his work before this, as he sums up the agricultural section of humankind quite well – Guns, Germs, and Steel is a great knowledge addition to it.

Humble Book Review: Hearts In Atlantis

Hearts in Atlantis is quite a unique Stephen King book. It’s not really a standard novel, and not really a collection of novellas or short stories. It’s his first take on something akin to an anthology – four stories of varying length, all loosely linked to the same group of people as they grew up and experienced an important historic moment in American history; Vietnam.

In the first tale called “Low Men in Yellow Coats”, we meet Bobby Garfield, an 11 year old boy growing up in 1960, living with his widowed and “tightwad” mother, and hanging out with his friends Carol and Sully-John. But an elderly newcomer, Ted Brautigan (if you’ve experienced the Dark Tower, that name may seem familiar) moves into the upstairs apartment. The scholarly gentleman is a bit odd – he seems to know more than he should, and he confesses to be in hiding from the titular Low Men. Just who these low men are, and what their purpose is, is something critical to the main Dark Tower narrative.

Hearts are broken, as they often are in King coming of age stories. This then gives a good segue into the next tale called “Hearts in Atlantis”. Set in 1966, tensions are building in Vietnam and at home, where college kids are afraid if they drop out they’ll be shipped overseas to contribute to the war. Peter Riley knows this, yet still lets his grades slip after becoming addicted to playing Hearts for money. During this time, one of his withdrawn classmates discovers a powerful symbol to aid protesting the war.

In the next two tales, “Blind Willie” and “Why We’re in Vietnam”, it follows two characters we met in 1960, and their troubles with life after their experiences in Vietnam, each with different methods of coping.

Finally, we revisit Bobby Garfield again in 1999 with “Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling” in a brief epilogue.

I loved this book for two major reasons. Firstly, showing the inextricable fates of all those characters we met in 1960 and 1966 is an incredible storytelling method. The first tale could exist as it’s own novel, it’s that long. But to continue on with other tales years after these events is great in having this emotional investment – you truly want to know the fates of these people as you follow them. Really, the central character that ties each of these tales is Carol Gerber – the girl with the heart of a lion. To see how she had affected so many people from their own points of view was amazing.

Secondly, it’s hard to look past the very strong tie-in with The Dark Tower in “Low Men in Yellow Coats”. The vivid detail of these low men, the disgust and pure terror they induce in Bobby is something not as well detailed in the Dark Tower series itself, so it is a shame I hadn’t read this first. But knowing the history of a pivotal Dark Tower character made me only more eager to re-read the series.

I believe this book is greatly underrated – there is some terrifying horror aspects at the beginning, but mellows out into dealing with the human condition with respect to traumatic experiences. Also, there is a beautiful scene towards the end of “Why We’re in Vietnam” that I wont forget easily, with vivid imagery of a man coming to terms with his guilt.

A must-read for DT fans, and Stephen King fans in general. There is also a 2001 movie of the same name, starring Anthony Hopkins and a young Anton Yelchin, focused on stories related to Bobby Garfield. Well worth the watch.

Humble Book Review: The Art of War

Sun Tzu’s overall assertion in The Art of War is that a warrior is wise to not engage in conflict at all. And if winning a war without conflict is not possible, then you must analyse the conditions, and develop strategies in such a way that defeating the enemy is the only outcome.

It is interesting to read through this seed of a book, planted 2000 years ago. The teachings from Sun Tzu’s collection of inscribed bamboo strips has blossomed into countless real war strategies for many diverse military leaders, and also used in a myriad of fictional works in film, television, books, and plays.

While the details listed in The Art of War may not be pertinent to today’s military leaders – the concern for managing resources for ten thousand foot soldiers in formation isn’t relevant with today’s technology, for example – the underlying message of steadying your own position to make it impenetrable, while scoping for the enemies weaknesses is what determines the success of any war.

The great things about this book is that it carries with it an air of timelessness. It seems that humans will always be in conflict and waging wars with one another. His teachings will remain relevant for a very long time.

And of course, this isn’t just a guidebook for plotting military strategies, or understanding historical wartime strategies better – The Art of War has been used very effectively in a metaphorical sense. Some of the most high profile people in business, including CEOs, refer to the allusions this book teaches, to better their position in the workplace.

For me, since I’ve seen nearly every strategy mentioned in the book played out either in fiction or in known historical events, there was not much that was new to me, or that wasn’t obvious. But like looking at a decorated war veteran’s aged photo of his first day being enlisted, it is interesting to see where it all began.

Grab a copy of the amazing Penguin Pocket Hardback version here.

Humble Book Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Had you ever been separated from family or familiarity as a child? Couldn’t locate your parents in a busy mall, or walked a few blocks in the wrong direction and lost your bearings? At a young age, this can be a very scary thought – you’re mostly dependant on the care of others. When that link is severed, even momentarily, panic soon sets in.

That’s the basic idea behind The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, where nine-year-old Trisha becomes separated from her mother and brother while on a hike in the wilderness. With each failed attempt at reasoning for the best course of action, she finds herself deeper and deeper into the woods, all alone.

That sense of loneliness slowly begins to dissipate, however, when she discovers she packed her portable radio and can tune in to baseball matches featuring her hero, Tom Gordon. As her mind starts to slip, she imagines him by her side, comforting her.

At the same time, a malevolent presence stalks her, feeding off her fear, waiting for the right time to show itself…

I loved this book exactly for what it was – a focused, self-contained popcorn novel. No external factors to complicate things, just the story beginning with a girl going on a hike. We get shown some of the family dynamic, but after the point of separation, it is just a story of a young girl fighting for survival in unfamiliar territory.

Trisha is a well-sculpted character, everything she does is believable for her age. The addition of imaginary dialogue between her and her hero also means the book doesn’t resort to strange self-narration, due to being the only character around.

It felt a bit like a departure from King’s norm, in that the main character stumbled onto the home of this malevolent spirit, not the other way around. It took a very passive role overall, unlike the majority of King’s antagonists. Arguably, the main antagonist wasn’t the spirit, but more the natural elements themselves.

Still, a great read and like the story itself, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon was disconnected from the larger Stephen King Multiverse – but in a comforting way.