Day of the Jackal – 4/5 Stars
This is a thriller/suspense novel from the English writer Fredrick Forsyth, and is the basis for the film by the same name (and the less less good film with Bruce Willis from the 1990s). The novel is written in an incredibly straightforward, all facts and no real style (though competently and compellingly), and tells the story of a Right-wing militia group in France planning for the assassination of Charles de Gaulle in the early 1960s. The group is real, the OAS, and this is one of many such assassination attempts, and in fact the novel begins with one failed attempt, which leads the leaders of the group to reassess and regroup. They decide, the three top ranking members, to hire a nonpolitical assassin, and to pay him a large amount of money to carry out the assassination, as opposed to a loyal partisan.
This difference means several things. One, the planning stage will be much more elaborate as no professional assassin would commit the murder without an avenue of escape. Two, it will cost a lot more money. And three, assumedly, it would have much higher chance of success.
The novel then jumps around the different characters and discusses the planning, the plotting, and the preventative measures from the various parties.
Like I said, it’s a no nonsense telling, and it’s solid. It’s also just nice to not have the Left be the target here for once. It’s a kind of anti-Tom Clancy, but without espousing a particular view except that assassinating world leaders is problematic.
How to Watch TV News – 4/5 Stars
It’s hard to fault this book for anything other than being an artifact of an era. This is a book that looks into the television news industry and acts as a kind of guide for conscientious viewers to prepare themselves for how shallow, how carefully edited, how myopic, how financially controlled, and how narrow tv news is, and because of its pervasiveness and repetitiveness, how dangerous it could be.
So the book breaks down news into its various components and concerns, and provides some practical advice for consumers. It’s classic Neil Postman in these ways: the analysis is spot-on to the point of obviousness, the analysis is overly simplistic at times, the analysis is espoused as pragmatic, and in this way oversells how useful the analysis ultimately will be. These points are part of the problem. Because the analysis is in part supposed to be practical and prescriptive, the depth of the problem of tv is not undersold per se, but shown as a problem that can be tackled in ways I am not sure I agree with. The other part of the problem is that this argument is tied a lot up in how much money is being spent, and this dates the analysis, as not enough time is spent giving us comparative amounts of money to understand how that money stacks up.
The last problem is not a real problem with the book, but a further problem of society. Who is reading this book? Specifically, who is reading this book who needs it? Who is reading this book how hasn’t already put the work in to know these issues and problems?
The last part, which is not a problem, but an opportunity is a reminder that as alarming as Postman’s analysis is here, the problem is way way worse now. But the criticisms themselves still hold, even if the scope has broadened.
The Emperor’s Last Island – 3/5 Stars
A quirky and interesting little popular history book that falls prey to its own quirks to be more than good. This book follows Napoleon in 1814 to the island of St Helena as he’s exiled by Great Britain upon surrender. It’s a story that’s not often told and the history and details about St Helena are especially not widely known. I asked my wife if she could tell me where the island is: she said, the Mediterranean? I thought maybe the North Sea. She has a history degree and I have two English degrees. My point here is that while the “fact” that Napoleon was exiled, little is known about that beyond. Anyway, St Helena is located a few hundred miles off the coast of Africa in the direction of South America. It was uninhabited when it was discovered by Great Britain, and the colonies formed there flailed in a lot of directions. It became a slavery trading post but never made much money in any particular venture. The inhabited parts now are built into the narrow valley formed in between the central mountain peaks that comprise the most of the island, and there’s a lot of jungly areas at higher elevations throughout.
Well, I didn’t know anything about any of that. All of that part of the book is great. The book, less great, also involves the author going on a kind of personal journey to the island, and well, it’s less successful than the really interesting historical parts.
Rogue Moon – 3/5 Stars
This 1960 novel sort of tells a version of 2001 A Space Odyssey several years earlier, but more so is the basis for a handful of really interesting science fiction tropes: namely, teleportation and duplication. The novel involves an alien artifact being discovered on the moon, and the various American attempts to understand the artifact. Repeated attempts to make sense of it have led to dozens of deaths.
So we meet the new adventurer who will take it on, and what we find out is that approaching the artifact involves teleporting to the artifact, a process that recreates the person atom by atoms in the new space along with thoughts and consciousness. So what begins as a kind of moon exploration novel ends up more so being about the nature of self and explicit identity as the repeated teleportations wreak havoc. The novel is almost the precursor more than anything of Christopher Priest’s The Prestige than other hard science fiction, and reads in many places like a Stanislaw Lem novel (heavy philosophy) as much as anything else. Still plenty of golden age anti-Communist, pro-Sexism science fiction otherwise though.