Saturday, April 01, 2006

Books, books, books



I'm reading a couple of books I'd like to briefly review.

Fortunes of War, Stephen Coonts, ISBN 0312969414

If you're looking for the answer to the meaning of life don't look here...anyway we all know it's 42.

I really enjoyed this book. His description of what it would feel like as fighter jet pilot in a dogfight with cutting-edge technology aircraft is cool. The plot hangs together fairly well and is somewhat believable although consisting of a 'perfect storm' of events including a Russo-Asiatic conventional war on the brink of conversion to nuclear war. Character development is lacking but that is clearly not the focus. This is simply a thriller to be read quickly. Take it on an airplane or business trip - it will really eat up the hours. Do not, as I did, read it in bed. I am still recovering from sleep-depravation.

Future: Tense, Gwynne Dyer, ISBN 0771029780

Gwynne Dyer is one of my favourite war historians. If you saw his public television series entitled "War" you will appreciate the effort he takes to provide historical context for today's events and in predicting tomorrow's. In this book, Dyer discusses the rise and fall of Islamic civilization in the first century and why there are deep-seated resentments today. This society is a shadow of what it once was.
"Between about A.D. 630 and 730 Arab invaders...conquered almost half the territory of the former Roman Empire. The Muslim invasions were quite unlike the Germanic invasions that had already overrun Western Europe. The people who conquered [Europe]...were mostly illiterate barbarians who brought a Dark Age in their train. The Arab conquerors ...had lots of fanatical desert horsemen in their armies but the leaders were literate townspeople from the cities of Arabia...There was no Dark Age in the lands conquered by the Muslims; instead the conquerors preserved many of the best elements of classic civilization and married them to the egalitarian spirit of Islam."
The Muslim empire endured peacefully, an exception being war with Crusader kingdoms, for a thousand years. The ruin of Muslim kingdoms began in the 1600s until:
"By 1918 all the wealth and power of the Muslim world were gone and 95% of Muslims were living as the subjects of one Christian Empire or another. It was the greatest shock and deepest humiliation that Muslims have ever experienced, and its echos still influence behaviours and attitudes in the Muslim world today."
He goes on to say that the majority of Muslims have no detailed knowledge of their history and don't wander around muttering about the injustice of it. They do however know that something has gone wrong and that the West is responsible. Clearly this is just a question of who's on top at any given moment. At one point many Christians were subjects of the Muslim world and would have felt the same way. Dyer's point is not to excuse or justify resentments, certainly not terrorism, but to illuminate. Anyone in a marriage knows the importance of knowing your spouse and what's going on in his/her mind and emotional life. When she had a fight with her boss, later that evening was short-tempered with you for no reason and you confronted her on her attitude, the rest of the evening (at best) did not go well. The fact that you were right makes little difference. We are in a global village. Understanding our neighbours will at least give us the hope of successful relationships. Dyer continues to describe the neo-conservative right that is currently in power in the 'States and what their agenda really is. Certainly not Weapons of Mass Destruction - we all knew that from day one. It is not oil and the protection of America's energy interests either. Want to know more? Read the book - I highly recommend it.

Brave New World, Aldus Huxley, 0060929871

Excellent book. Aldus Huxley's version of a future, written in the 1930's, is too close for comfort. He writes about a time, hundreds of years in the future, when man is no longer born but manufactured. Test-tube babies are genetically altered to fit into casts. Upper casts do the thinking while lower, less intelligent, less physically attractive casts become labourers. The purpose of this genetic cast system is to keep the population happy. After all, that is the best that humans can ever achieve, happiness. This world is socialist in that no one wants of anything although higher casts have special privileges. Sex is all about happiness. Partnering with one person for even a few months is discouraged as this can form bonds that inevitably bring about pain and sorrow. As many partners as possible limits this risk. John, a 'savage', is discovered and brought into the New World. His elation at being part of this futuristic (to him) society turns to horror as he discovers what it really consists of. This is where the book gets interesting, about a third of the way through, and we see the impact John has on three individuals who come to know him.

Velocity, Dean Koontz, ISBN 0-7393-1556-0

Creepy describes a lot of Koontz' books. I am listening to this audio book of 9 1/2 hours on CD as I drive to and from work every day. I listened to another of his books, Taken, a few months back and liked it so much that I borrowed this one from our library. If you are squeemish don't read this. If you get easily frightened, don't read Taken. Koontz spends a lot of time on details. Here's a typical paragraph:
"Are you prepared for your first wound?" As though an Einsteinian switch had thrown time into slow-mo, the note slipped out of his fingers and seemed to float like a feather into his lap. The light went out. In a trance of terror, reaching with his right hand for the revolver on the passenger seat, Billy turned slowly to the right as well, intending to look over his shoulder and into the dark back seat [...] and the window in the driver's door imploded. As safety glass collapsed in a prickly mass across his chest and thighs, the revolver slipped out of his grasping fingers and tumbled onto the floor.

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