fighting the lack of good ideas

alif the unseen by g willow wilson

Along with Mira Grant (Feed & Deadline reviews), I think I have found a female author I can read.

G Willow Wilson’s debut novel, Alif the Unseen blends technothriller (a la Cryptonomicon), Arab mythology, statism, distrust of the government, and more.

The story follows a young mixed-blood technophyte who has been making his living on providing digital secrecy to whomever wants it. Along with myriad others only referred to by their handles – Radio Sheikh, The Hand, NewQuarter01, and more – Alif is not his real name. And like all good stories, there’s a girl. Well… 2 girls. And kind of a third.

Shortly after the story begins, The Hand begins to tighten his grip on on Alif’s activities, and Alif starts his run from The State.

I want to say more, but that would be the whole story – Wilson’s writing is engaging, exotic, prescient, and believable: even the intermixture of Arab myth with current (though not entirely time-dependent) technology is fascinating.

Written during the first stages of the “Arab Spring”, and still sounding as if it could be happening today, I cannot recommend Alif the Unseen highly enough.

deadline by mira grant

I read Feed (review) a few weeks ago, and just finished the 2d installment in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, Deadline. The frenetic pace of book 1 was upped a level in book 2 (along with some more language).

Mira is a fantastic author, and I cannot wait to read Blackout (it’s on my library queue).

“You know why corporate espionage keeps happening, no matter how bad they make the penalties for getting caught? … People stop caring. Once you reach the point where you’re working with more people than can comfortably go for drinks together, folks stop giving as much of a shit.”

“There’s always been something nasty waiting around the corner to kill us, but … [t]his constant ‘stay inside and let yourself be protected’ mentality has gotten more people killed than all the accidental exposures in the world. It’s like we’re addicted to being afraid.”

“It never pays to insult computers that are smart enough to form sentences. Not when they’re in control of the locks, and especially not when they have the capacity to boil you in bleach”

the 7 habits of highly effective people by stephen r covey

This should have been titled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective – but incredibly rigid and hard to to please – People” by Stephen Needs Coffee.

But it’s not. Stephen R Covey’s work is extremely well-known, and millions have purchased The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People since it was released.

I’m sure I have read more boring texts … but I cannot recall – maybe in my philosophy of ethics class?

There may be some nuggets in Covey’s writing, but other than to-do lists (which everyone recommends), I can’t find them.

Definitely happy I didn’t waste $12 on this book.

krakatoa: the day the world exploded, august 27 1883 by simon winchester

I have been interested in volcanoes for a long time. I first wrote about them for a college essay in 1999, but my attraction to them began far earlier. Most likely it was triggered by hearing from my mom that her wedding day was the first time she’d ever really had allergies – just 6 days after Mt St Helens exploded, the cloud o’ crud had wafted its way across the North American Continent, and helped trigger lots of folks’ allergies, including my mom’s.

I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that read, “Save The Volcanoes!”

It was quite the conversation starter. (And short satirical essay fodder.)

My dad thought it would be brilliant to dump most of our trash into Kīlauea or Mauna Loa – what better place to incinerate garbage than a pool of liquid rock? (Side benefit: no need to use fuel to burn it, just to transport it!)

I remember Pinatubo exploding in 1991. It ejected about 2.4 cubic miles of crud into the atmosphere. That was 10x more than Mt St Helens burped.

But only half of what Krakatau did in 1883. Krakatoa (the spelling forever etched in world memory, through the typo of a Times of London editor) chucked about 6 cubic miles. It is claimed that it is the loudest sound ever recorded in modern history, and the air-borne pressure wave of the explosion was measured around the world on barographs, as many as 7 times.

(Tambora in 1815 was even bigger (estimated at up to 38 cubic miles), but it was in a relatively unknown (to “modern man”) part of the world, and certainly did not capture the attention of the world they way Krakatoa did 68 years later after the advent of near-instant global communication (the telegraph) and pop culture’s attention to “science”.)

It was this eruption that helped set the stage for a variety of modern scientific fields of inquiry and practice, including a better understanding of geology, meteorology (the beginnings of figuring out the jet stream), and plate tectonics (though not formally accepted globally until after WWII).

Simon Winchester did a masterful job in his book, Krakatoa: the Day the World Exploded, August 27 1883. It is one of the few books I have read as an adult in which my reading was slowed due to vocabulary. Winchester’s writing showcases his vast vocabulary, his scientific bent, his Oxford education, and his deep interest in his topic. But he manages to use an extensive lexicon without ever appearing to talk down to his audience – an exceptional gift. He also writes in a very precise manner: every word he uses feels like he meant for it to be there because it truly describes what he wants to say the best.

I take a few minor issues with his worldview, because I do believe in a literal Creation Week 6000-12000 years ago, but excepting his ongoing references to millions and billions of years, I could find nothing in the book to complain about.

Krakatoa provides a deep history of the Indonesian region, both geologically and politically (starting, on the latter, with the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (or Dutch East India Company)) takeover of Portuguese influence in the region) and spans far and wide through a variety of then-unrelated sciences which presciently foreshadowed modern geologic, biologic, meteorologic – even astronomic – advances.

If you are at all intrigued by history, geology, volcanoes, or disaster, you should read Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.

I can’t wait to read several of his other works.

how to win friends and influence people by dale carnegie

tl;dr: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is what Robert Greene was trying to redo with The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction (both of which I’ve previously reviewed).

It’s probably the only “self-help” book I’ve ever read that didn’t either talk down to you, nor treat you as superior for having read it.

The book is constantly interspersed with personal anecdotes and does not present itself as a directive, but as a set of examples (positive and negative) that you can pick and choose from, but which should be mostly “picked” and “chosen”, and not so many left behind.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I also think that you cannot read (and reread) this too young.

the 50th law by 50 cent and robert greene

The 50th Law

The greatest fear people have is that of being themselves. They want to be 50 Cent or someone else. They do what everyone else does even if it doesn’t fit where and who they are. But you get nowhere that way; your energy is weak and no one pays attention to you. You’re running away from the one thing that you own – what makes you different. I lost that fear. And once I felt the power that I had by showing the world I didn’t care about being like other people, I could never go back

50 Cent, The 50th Law

Robert Greene’s book with 50 Cent was … different. Unlike his previous books I’ve read (33 Strategies, 48 Laws, Mastery, and The Art of Seduction), this book isn’t really written by him – and it’s not a Joost Elffers book. The copy I borrowed from my local library looks like a weird cross of a notebook and a Bible.

Should you read the book? I don’t think so. The whole of it is summed in the opening quote above – the rest of the several score pages just elaborate and/or ramble on the theme.

It’s marketed as a sequel to The 48 Laws of Power – it’s not. It ‘s a performance artist’s attempt to write-off his critics and push himself up in everyone’s estimation because hey: he wrote a book.

the 33 strategies of war by robert greene

I’ve now read [almost] all of Robert Greene’s books (just pending is The 50th Law, which I’ll have reviewed in a couple weeks). Thanks to my local library, I have not had to spend gobs o’ cash in the process (though at least one of his books I think is most definitely worth the expenditure).

The 33 Strategies of War is Greene’s rewriting of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (review and chapters) with “modern insights” and the inclusion of a vast network of historical examples. It’s certainly an interesting text, but not one that I personally think warrants its own work – especially when the 2500-year-old book is still so insightful.

That being said, since I have read and/or skimmed the book, here are some thoughts. The best aspect of the book is still the “Joost Elffers-ification” of the book, with extensive marginal comments, highlights, funny textual formatting, etc.

Greene does an admirable job in this book, and it’s worth skimming – though I think the table of contents (reproduced below) is more useful than the whole text. It’s more of a pick-and-choose type of reading than something you should consume cover-to-cover.


Part 1 | Self-Directed Warfare

  1. Declare war on your enemies: The polarity strategy
  2. Do not fight the last war: The guerrilla-war-of-the-mind strategy
  3. Amidst the turmoil of events, do ot lose your presence of mind: The counterbalance strategy
  4. Create a sense of urgency and desperation: The death-ground strategy

Part 2 | Organizational (Team) Warfare

  1. Avoid the sense of groupthink: The command-and-control strategy
  2. Segment your forces: The controlled-chaos strategy
  3. Transform your war into a crusade: Morale strategies

Part 3 | Defensive Warfare

  1. Pick your battles carefully: The perfect-economy strategy
  2. Turn the tables: The counterattack strategy
  3. Create a threatening presence: Deterrence strategies
  4. Trade space for time: The nonengagement strategy

Part 4 | Offensive Warfare

  1. Lose battles but win the war: Grand strategy
  2. Know your enemy: The intelligence strategy
  3. Overwhelm resistance with speed and suddenness: The blitzkrieg strategy
  4. Control the dynamic: Forcing strategies
  5. Hit them where it hurts: The center-of-gravity strategy
  6. Defeat them in detail: The divide-and-conquer strategy
  7. Expose and attack your opponent’s soft flank: The turning strategy
  8. Envelop the enemy: The annihilation strategy
  9. Maneuver them into weakness: The ripening-for-the-sickle strategy
  10. Negotiate while advancing: The diplomatic war strategy
  11. Know how to end things: The exit strategy

Part 5 | Unconventional (Dirty) Warfare

  1. Weave a seamless blend of fact and fiction: Misperception strategies
  2. Take the line of least expectation: The ordinary-extraordinary strategy
  3. Occupy the moral high ground: The righteous strategy
  4. Deny them targets: The strategy of the void
  5. Seem to work for the interests of others while furthering your own: The alliance strategy
  6. Give your rivals enough rope to hang themselves: The one-upmanship strategy
  7. Take small bites: The fait accompli strategy
  8. Penetrate their minds: Communication strategies
  9. Destroy from within: The inner-front strategy
  10. Dominate while seeming to submit: The passive-aggression strategy
  11. Sow uncertainty and panic through acts of terror: The chain-reaction strategy