Tag Archives: Carl Hiaasen

2016 Roundup and Books Reviewed in 2016

In 2016, this blog passed the milestone of posting at least once per day for1,000 days in a row! January 5 will mark three years of daily posts to this blog.

My blog may not be great, but it is consistent!  Or at least persistent.


Regular readers know that this blog is somewhat random, touching on any topic I find interesting enough or have something to say about. But some topics were visited more than once.

This year saw many posts on coworking and similar “co” movements (cohousing, platform cooperatives, the future of work, the sharing economy, etc.)

These posts give you a preview of a new book that is in preparation, titled, “What is coworking?” It should be available in early 2017. I.e, Real Soon Now.

I posted nearly weekly about cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, and the communities that have risen around these technologies.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology has so many perspectives, it is hard ot keep track, but some of the topics overlap with coworking, the sharing economy, and similar “bottom up” movements.

Reflecting earlier research, I have also posted frequently about HCI, particularly wearables, and haptics. I know quite a bit about these topics, though the most important thing is that no one really knows how to use them well.

I posted nearly weekly about robots and bio-inspired design. Robots are really cool, though in this area I am just an enthusiast, not an expert.

Other general science-y topics have included dinosaurs (naturally) and animal intelligence. I have also posted frequently about space exploration and remote sensing of the environment especially observing the retreat of the ice.


I should note that I had been posting comments on items picked up from Wired magazine on line. In fact, I was reading Wired so regularly, I was just about to subscribe. But then they decided to close off access to me unless I accept their advertising or pay $1 per article. I might have subscribed to this deal, were it not for the fact that even the “ad free” option still wanted to aggressively track me. So I stopped reading Wired.

You know what? I never even noticed it was gone.

I think you miscalculated, Wired


On a less contentious topic. Following Sensei Dave Barry, I suggested a number of names for rock bands based on current topics and reading.

I suggested some band names with cryptcurrency themed names, including “Fintech”, and “Hard Fork” (not to be mistaken for “Haardvark”, which I have actually heard of.)

Other nerdy names might be Feather Evolutionor the Saturn themed “First Ring Grazing Plunge


Books Reviewed

As always, I posted short book reviews every week. In case it isn’t clear, these are all books I read this year.

In total, I wrote about 100 books (a happy milestone, purely by luck). The majority of the books are relatively recent, and, with only a few exceptions are recommended.

But if I had to pick a few “best” books, I would say:

Best Fiction: Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

 An eagerly awaited sequel to the The Rook (2012), this is easily one of the most enjoyable and imaginative fantasies of the year.

Best Non-fiction: The Euro by Joseph Stiglitz

A timely and riveting explanation of what went wrong in the Eurozone, and what might be done to salvage the situation. Considering the subject matter, I was expecting difficult and obtuse reading. Instead, I found it clear and easy to understand, if hard to swallow.

Walking the Walk:  How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing by Claire Marshall

In a totally category, “walking the walk”, there are quite a few  important books about how to live right, but  the 2016 nod must got to Sensei Claire Marshall.  Actually living for a month in “the sharing economy”, and now teaching that “we are happiest when we share”.

Other notable reads

I read new  books by old favorites by A. Lee Martinez, Charles Stross, Carl HIasson, Connie Willis, and others.

I started reading Donna Leon, and wrote about a few of her books (there are many more great novels on the back list to be read).

I found some great new favorites, including Guy Adams.

In non-fiction, there have been several great books about animal intelligence, by Jennifer Ackerman and Frans De Waal. Many new articles and books about dinosaurs are coming out.

In addition to Stiglitz, Robert J. Gordon’s book on economics was good.

At a more personal note, there were a number of ebooks about “the new way of work”, by people who are  definitely walking the walk, including Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski, Sebastian Olma, and Anastasia Cole Plankias.


For reference here is a list of the books reviewed in the fourth quarter:

Fiction

1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflottz by Kerryn Offord and Rick Boatright
A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Curioddity by Paul Jenkins
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
For a Few Souls More by Guy Adams
Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood
Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
The Terranauts by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Nonfiction

Best State Ever by Dave Barry
Pax Romana by Adrian Goldsworthy
The Euro by Joseph Stiglitz

And here is a consolidated list from Q1, Q2, Q3:

Fiction

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
A Question of Belief by Donna Leon
A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor
At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Beastly Things by Donna Leon
By Its Cover by Donna Leon
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Coconut Cowboy by Tim Dorsey
Empire State by Adam Christopher
Falling In Love by Donna Leon
Inside a Silver Box by Walter Mosley
Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Made To Kill by Adam Christopher
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
Monstrous Little Voices edited by David Thomas Moore
Once A Crooked Man by David McCallum
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen
Rewired edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
Robot Uprisings ed. by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams
Save Room For Pie by Roy Blount, Jr.
Slade House by David Mitchell
Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley
Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
The Assistants by Camille Perri
The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black
The Clown Service by Guy Adams
The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan
The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey
The Golden Egg by Donna Leon
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez
The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray
The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams
The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross
The Path by Drew Magary
The Rain Soaked Bride by Guy Adams
The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales
The Underground Railroad by Colin Whitehead
The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon
Vinegar Girl by Anny Tyler

Non fiction

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal
Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez
Coworking: Building Community as a Space Catalyst by Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski
Coworking: How freelancers escape the coffee shop office and tales of community from independents around the world by Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski
Digital Nomads: How to Live, Work and Play Around the World by Esther Jacobs and André Gussekloo
Dude, Where’s My Drone: The future of work and what you can do to prepare for it by Liquid Talent
Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes
How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing by Claire Marshall
Inventology by Pagan Kennedy
Labor of Love by Moira Weigel
Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan
Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle
Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion-Dollar Deals by John LeFevre
The Farm on The Roof by Anastasia Cole Plankias
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
The Global Code by Clotaire Rapaille
The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humbolt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon
The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0 by Sebastian Olma
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles  by David Hone
Tribe by Sebastian Junger

 

2016 Wrapup

 

Housekeeping: Books Reviewed Third Quarter 2016

In the past quarter,in addition to daily posts, comments on articles and products, I posted brief book reviews for 21 books and ebooks in the third quarter.

Here is a list, in no particular order.

Fiction

A Question of Belief by Donna Leon
A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor
At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Beastly Things by Donna Leon
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen
Robot Uprisings ed. by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams
The Assistants by Camille Perri
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez
The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross
The Path by Drew Magary
The Underground Railroad by Colin Whitehead
Vinegar Girl by Anny Tyler

Nonfiction

Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan
Tribe by Sebastian Junger
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles  by David Hone
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal

 

Book Review: “Razor Girl” by Carl Hiaasen

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen

Another great novel set in South Florida by perennial favorite Carl Hiaasen. Described by Dave Barry as the “doyen of the ‘bunch of South Florida whackos’ genre”, Hiaasen’s stories are effective propaganda aimed to keeping any more of us from moving to his beloved Florida.

Razor Girl takes up the life of Andrew Yancy (see Bad Monkey), living in the Florida Keys, demoted from police detective to a life as a health inspector. (His job offers endless opportunities for gross out humor.) Still trying to get back onto the police force, and still fending off invading neighbors, he is involved in a complex web of slap stick misadventures (with a bunch of South Florida whackos, obviously).

The story includes incredible criminals and con men, and appalling rip offs that, I’m pretty sure, come from real events in Florida. These characters are so greedy and dishonest that New York gangsters are repelled by these “scum of the scum”.

I will observe that it seems to me that there is quite a bit of wish fulfillment by the author.

The protagonist is an older guy, trying to live a peaceful, not very strenuous life hanging out in the Florida keys, and defending nature from the ravages of development.   He is brave and lucky, has lots of friends, and has interesting adventures. Naturally, interesting and beautiful women keep appearing in his life, inexplicably and improbably attracted to him.

I’m pretty sure this is what the author wishes were his own life!


  1. Carl Hiaasen, Razor Girl, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

October Fiction, YA Fiction For Everyone

A couple of fine books by great authors.  I think these are intended for “young adults”, but so what?   That just means the young characters are taken seriously.

Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

OK, I think this is supposed to be a book “for teens”.  But anything by Sensei Carl is gonna be well done, and it’s got Skink in it fer goodness sake!   So sue me if I liked it.

This story involves a couple of teens who have to grow up fast in a lot of ways. There is a lot of love for unspoiled natural Florida.

As the title implies, they encounter Skink, which is always memorable.  If you don’t know who Skink is, you need to read the Hiaasen canon, starting with Tourist Season, and the rest.

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

The third in a series of fantasies, presumably aimed at young readers, but worth reading.

Welshman Fforde gave us the Thursday Next and other books, which are all goofy in his own unique way. Twisted wordplay, an alternate universe that only an English major could dream up, and some memorable characters. I look forward to anything he writes.

The EoZ has everything I’d expect from Ffforde, a strange world where puns are literally true and magic is wonderfully weird.


 

  1. Fforde, Jasper, The Eye of Zoltar, Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
  2. Hiaasen, Carl, Skink No Surrender, New York, Alfred A.Knopf, 2014.

October Fiction Roundup

A roundup of recent fiction worth your attention, in no particular order.

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk (Doubleday, 2013).

In this sequel to Damned (Doubleday, 2013), we get more of Maddy’s story.  Maddy, Madison Spencer, is a 14 year old, condemned to Hell in the first book, and returned to Earth in the second.  The novels are mostly first person descriptions of how she copes with these really bad situations, as well as recollections of here strange and terrible “pre-dead” life.

We were introduced to Maddy in the first book, but we now discover that there was a whole lot left out of here story.  A whole lot. She is the nexus of huge cosmic forces and conspiracies, and it seems her whole life was predestined for great and/or horrible things.  (We all secretly believe that, but it may actually be true in Maddy’s case.)

Palahniuk’s stories are weird, gory, violent, sickening and maybe sexy.  I wouldn’t be able to stand them at all, if it weren’t for the fact that his characters are so human, and struggle so valiantly.

Maddy is by far my favorite character from Palahniuk, one of my favorite fictional characters ever. I would love to talk on about her, but I really want you to read her for yourself.  I’ll just say, how can I not love someone who can overcome Hell better than most of us dealt with middle school?  I’m rooting for you, Maddy.

The Truth by Michael Palin (St. Martin’s Press, 2013)

Palin is familiar to everyone as one of the creative Pythons, as well as many other productions and non-fiction books. The Truth is his second novel, and he does a decent job even if this isn’t his best medium.

The novel seems to have some autobiographical elements:  the protagonist (Keith Mabbut) is an aging writer, based in Britain, travelling the world.  Why do writers like to write about characters who are writers?  One reason is revenge:  you get to savage sponsors, editors, agents, and publishing companies, which he certainly does in this book.

Anyway, the story is sort of sad, though not without a few humorous touches.  The plot revolves around a mysterious international do-gooder activist, who the protagonist is hired to write about.  Noone’s motives are clear, and everyone seems to have hidden agendas.

The Incrementalists by Stephen Brust and Skyler White (Tor Books, 2013)

A secret society with semi-magical ability to persuade (“meddle with”) people, which has existed since the stone age.  They are dedicated to (slowly) making things better—though, of course, it can be hard to know what is better, or how to get there.

In addition to uncanny persuasive skills, this gang has a sort of shared, external memory space, somewhat like lucid dreaming, called “The Garden”.  The mechanisms for this space is not completely clear, but it gives then a permanent, group memory extending back centuries.

Oh, I forgot. They are immortal.  They can reincarnate by inhabiting new hosts.  The personality may persist in the Garden (as a “Stub”), and then take over a new body.

What could possibly go wrong?

The story follows Renee as she is recruited, and then discovers she is in the middle of a dangerous plot which could kill her and take over the Incrementalists. (What?  A millennium-old secret society has mysterious conspiracies?  Never!)

With Stephen Brust involved, I should be surprised that it is a reasonably entertaining book.

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit Books, 2013)

Robinson has written more than a dozen novels, include a series about Mars, and a series about near future climate change.  His books are based on real science and I suspect autobiographical details of real life science.  Very California, to my Illinois eyes.

Clearly passionate about planetary science, and therefore, climate change, Robinson has revealed a definite interest in “living Paleo”.  This novel goes all in, envisioning actual paleo-human living.

Robinson obviously works from the known archaeological evidence of the anatomy, behavior, and social structure of humans and Neanderthals, including skeletons, tools, and cave art.  There are many mysteries in these data, cases we can never interpret or understand. For instance, we know of hundreds of cave paintings, yet we can never know who made them or why.  And we have remains of many individuals, some of whom lived long lives, surviving broken bones and other debilitating injuries.  But how did they live?

The novel is a attempt to imagine the whole life of a group of humans, remaining consistent with everything we know from remains, and from history and anthropology.  He imagines a small local group, amid many such groups.  He creates a believable culture, with plausible motivations and behaviors for its members.  Everyone is recognizably human. He even takes a stab at the vexed question of human-neanderthal relations.  This point is “underconstrained” by the archaeological evidence, so who knows?  His reconstruction is interesting, even if I find it implausible.

There are many memorable events, including a rendition of how cave painting was done and experienced, some beautiful pictures of life very close to nature, and some interesting group dynamics.

Contemporary readers will be particularly struck by the psychology of scarcity, Loon and his people facing desperate hunger–to the point of death–every  winter, and even during long travel from home.  Other forms of catastrophe can hit at any time.  This routine suffering is beyond imagination today.  Yet the people are recognizable as human, and have their share of joy.

Altogether, this book is best enjoyed if you have already studied paleontology (which I have).  Certainly you should consider reading up on cave paintings (e.g., The Cave Painters by Gregory Curtis (Anchor Books, 2006).

The Circle by Dave Eggers (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)

This is a highly topical book, set in a near future in which all the social media have merged under the control of a single giant company, The Circle. In the distopian spirit of perennial favorites such as Animal House or Gulliver’s Travels, The Circle goes over the top to make its point.  Eggers does a good job of point-making, portraying all the things we should fear:  distraction, dependency, loss of privacy.  All in the name of efficiency, transparency, in order to serve you better. And, he wants to argue, loss of freedom and humanity.

The story follows Mae through her induction and career in The Circle.  She experiences steroid-pumped versions of contemporary “connectivity”, including a stream of messages (“the chute”), multiple conversations, millions of “followers”, continuous online polls, and total surveillance.  Furthermore, The Circle is constantly expanding its reach, obtaining and exploiting legacy data, as well as ever expanding real time surveillance.

As The Circle moves toward “completion”, we wonder who is in charge and what they want.

This is broad and crude satire, which makes it hard and painful to read.  How can I enjoy such horrors, watching people behave idiotically—hoping all along that I would do better in their place?

One problem I had with this book is that the atrocities are so absurd, and so viciously portrayed, that I left the room before page 50.  I would have walked out the door before they even finished the first day ingest.  It was a long, long slog through the cascading abuse and ratcheting sadism, page after page.

Another problem is that there isn’t much art or humor here.  At it’s best, as in Orwell and Swift, satire contains biting humor and recognizable caricatures.  If The Circle contains such, they were too subtle for me to catch.

There, then, is the main problem. This would be a killer story, if refined to 50 pages. But the novel is just plain too long for the story it tells, and, worse, there is a lot of repetition.  (I realize he is making a point about the triviality and distraction of Internet life, but really. Hundreds of pages of descriptions of the same thing is just unpleasant.)

Nevertheless, with its flaws, this is a book I wish young people would read. Here is a cautionary tale about the reality of Big Data and its use.  The Circle whacks you between eyes, and you will surely recoil in horror as you recognize yourself in these situations.

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)

The latest from Hiaasen is just what I’d expect and hope for.  A bunch of crazy people, down in the Florida keys.  Evil developers. Heroic native Floridians. Endangered wildlife. Gory vengeance on the deeply deserving bad guys.

As per usual, there are good people trying to cope with an insane and dangerous world. Andrew Yancy is on a downward trend, though he prefers to relax on his porch to watch the sunset and the Key deer come out after dark.  Of course his life gets far too interesting, as wicked and weird outsiders won’t leave him alone. (Warning: this book has some barf-inducing, probably realistic description of the life of a restaurant health inspector, which could put you off dining out.)

A former news reporter, much of Hiaasen’s fiction is based on real news stories from South Florida, a native Floridian’s sense of loss, and a newsman’s twisted sense of humor.  I note that he is not the only such writer. He is joined by Dave Barry and Tom Dorsey, also former news writers in South Florida, also creators of twisted comic novels set in Florida.  Dave Barry has designated Hiaasen to be the master of “the Bunch of South Florida Wackos genre”.

I have loved all Hiaasen’s stories, and this is no exception.  Read everything by Carl Hiaasen.  And stay away from Florida.  Seriously.

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh (Orbit, 2013)

This is a strange and disturbing novel of the next century, with several frightening technologies including broad use of Augmented Reality to assure the world is clean and beautiful—if you can afford it.  Also, real time life coaches act as directors and writers to make your online life look a lot better than you could yourself.

The main technology is a cryogenic preservation (the “minus eighty” in the title is “degrees”) from which one can be resurrected.  Real, honest to goodness, back from the dead.

Of course, preservation and resurrection costs zillions, which only the fortunate can pay their own way.  In other cases, exceptionally attractive people (mostly young women) may get someone to buy them a new life. These “bridesicles” will then be indentured slaves. But most consider it worth it.  Being dead is really, really bad.

We follow the story of people coping with this society, struggling and sacrificing for love and survival.  The characters are well drawn, and I cared about them.