The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I would give 4 stars for the book, but 2 for the edition. The Penguin ebook edition (purchased through Kobo) is riddled with typos. The first comes on the “flyleaf” where “MR CYRIL CONNOLLY who corrected my English” is given as “MR OYRIL CONNOLLY who corrected my English”. This annoys, and there are similar (presumably OCR-generated) errors throughout the book, for which my previous term “riddled” may be an exaggeration, but are none the less plentiful enough to irritate.
What rubs salt into the wound is the little cosy afterword explaining why Penguin exists.
“We still believe that good design costs no more than bad design, and we still believe that quality books published passionately and responsible make the world a better place.”
Well, given this edition, and Penguin’s recent forays into the world of vanity publishing (Google “Penguin Author Solutions”), this statement no longer holds good. This ebook was not a cheap edition, either (my books are practically given away by comparison), but let’s not talk about the financial side of it.
“But apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” Well, I bought this, having first read it over 30 years ago, having watched the film version with the Terry Southern script and plot recently. For once, I felt that the film was better than the book. Southern picked up Waugh’s ball and ran with it, making the whole situation much more absurd and farcical than Waugh would ever have dared to do. Much of Dr Strangelove also spilled over into the film. But… having said this, Waugh’s frustration and anger at the hypocrisies of Californian life and death come through in the book. His dislike of America (referred to as one of “the barbarous regions of the world”) comes through – as does his disdain for the snobbish expat Englishmen who keep the flag flying and play cricket simply to annoy and baffle “the natives”.
Thinking about it, the book and the film complement each other, for once. Read the book and see the film (in either order). I think you’ll enjoy both. But don’t read the Penguin ebook edition.
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Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction by Kevin W. Plaxco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was heavy going in places. My chemistry stopped at the age of 15, and I was never any good at it anyway. However, the authors recognise that the organic and biological chemistry that underpins much of life is indeed complex, and they make it as simple as possible for the reader like me.
The astrophysics and the atomic physics were easier for me to get on with (but of course, that’s just me – it may be that other people have different specialties).
Overall, though, the authors provide a comprehensive look at the field, in a depth which went way beyond the Coursera MOOC that I took recently, and it’s a book which will repay reading again to extract out of it all that I missed or skipped past the first time.
Be warned, though – this is not easy reading. Don’t buy this if you’re looking for a glib look at UFOs or alien abductions or anything – these are not the subjects of the book. But if you are looking at possible explanations of how the universe began, how planets are formed, what conditions are necessary for life to start, and some of the possible mechanisms by which it may have begun, as well as some philosophical considerations, then this is a good place to begin.
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Some very good news from Inknbeans Press. My next book of Sherlockian adventures, Further Notes from the Dispatch-Box of John H. Watson MD, will be released next month (towards the end of June).
We are working on a pre-order plan which will allow a limited number of copies of the book to be available on the publication date. Not just available on that day, but in your hot little hands on that day, and there will be some goody included for those who pre-order. Stay tuned for further details.
And… what may well turn out to be good news for the general health of the book’s sales – copies have been sent for review to the New York Times and Los Angeles Times as well as to Publisher’s Weekly. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the book will get reviewed, but given the current popularity of Sherlock Holmes (BBC Sherlock, the Robert Downey Jr movies, and Elementary), and the fact that these tales are endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate, there is a fighting chance that a larger portion of the world will discover these books through a review. The hardback compilation, The Deed Box of John H. Watson MD, as well as At the Sharpe End, made it to the London Book Fair, and apparently there were some enquiries, so who knows what happens next?
Typically a subject I avoid here, but I’m starting to get worried. The armchair economists seem to be enjoying a communal orgasm over “Abenomics” – the current Japanese government policy of printing money to buy debt to create inflation – apparently they believe this is the way to kick-start the Japanese economy into life after decades of stagnation.
Ignoring the fact that deflation is not a cause, but a symptom, of a stagnant economy, and in the words of a friend, “changing deflation to inflation is like taking a decongestant to ‘cure’ a cold”, what does inflation and a weaker yen (it burst through the magic USD1=JPY100 condom yesterday) mean?
Well, if you were to believe the leaders of red-ink-bleeding Japanese manufacturers, as well as some (e.g., Carlos Ghosn) who are proven success stories, you would think that a Japanese version of the Rapture had taken place. At last, Japanese manufacturers can take their rightful place in the world’s economy after years of being held back by a strong yen.
Er, right. Or not. At least the NHK news yesterday had some space on how the price of staple foods (bread, etc.) was going through the roof as a result of the weaker yen. We’ve had articles on how the increased fuel costs are causing the squid fisheries (inter alia) to suffer. And to his credit – give the devil his due – Prime Minister Abe has asked the employers to make sure that workers’ wages keep up with prices. After all, if there is no consumer activity, where’s the domestic recovery going to come from?
But what really got me in last night’s news bulletin were three things. Here they are:
Reporting of company results. This is an annual ritual, and everyone does it on the same day. The way they do it? Junior office staff dispatched to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, stuffing pigeonholes with papers. Come on — this is the 21st century. We do not need all this paper any more. Yes, it’s an annual ritual, like so many of NHK’s “news” stories (the traffic jams on the “expressways” six times every year, the post office delivering New Year cards, etc., etc.), but it is time this was dropped.
The way that Japanese TV news reports things. In Japan,we are still stuck with printed cardboard hand-held signs (beautifully designed and produced, admittedly) with peel-off stickers, etc. used by newscasters as visual aids. Fine, I suppose, if you’re Burkina Faso’s national broadcasting service, operating on a shoestring budget (I apologise – I am taking Burkina Faso as an example of an impoverished developing nation – the TV service may actually be wonderful). It’s not very impressive for a country with a reputation for being high-tech.
And nothing changes. The recovery vehicle for Japan’s ailing electronics industry, which has been outflanked and outmanoeuvred by Apple and Samsung, for example? Really high-definition TV (”4k TV”) at USD10,000 per set when it comes out. Yawn. If this is what Japan is expecting to create a surge in consumer demand and lift Japan back on its feet, forget it. Just look at the way the public has embraced 3D TV (the last Big Thing). There was no mention of the service industries which will almost certainly be Japan’s largest sector of employment in the coming years.
In other words, Japan is still on the same track as always – monozukuri – the art of making Things. This is so disappointing. When I talked to a Cabinet Office official last year, I had a genuine feeling that there was a shift of emphasis from manufacturing to a “softer” economy, where people were more than cogs in an assembly line. This seems to have disappeared. The supposedly magical “Abenomics” really seems to be little more than some very expensive lipstick on the same tired old pig.
The Inknbeans edition of At the Sharpe End is now released. It includes parts of the first draft, describing an earthquake and nuclear accident, as well as a foreword by Robert Whiting, author of Tokyo Underworld, You Gotta Have Wa, etc.
Available now as a 450-page paperback.
When his business card is found in the pocket of a man who has died under the wheels of a train at Shinjuku station in Tokyo, Kenneth Sharpe’s life takes a turn for the worse. The stakes start high, and rise higher, as Sharpe and his friends take on the might of the financial world against the backdrop of the 2008 Wall Street collapse, and the ruin of the global financial markets.
This edition includes an appendix containing sections of the original first draft written in 2007, which described an earthquake rocking Tokyo and causing a nuclear accident. These were replaced in the final published edition by descriptions of the effects of the Lehman Shock.
However, with the events of March 11, 2011, the first draft has proved disturbingly prophetic.
Best-selling Sherlock Holmes author Hugh Ashton has lived in Japan for 25 years, working in the technology and financial services sectors. At the Sharpe End was his second published novel, following the acclaimed alternative history Beneath Gray Skies.
I swear it. First they tell me that my book was published in 1600 (click to enlarge):
Then they tell me that my Sherlock Holmes books are non-fiction (click to enlarge):
This after a 20-minute outage of the whole site, during which they added two cassettes (produced 14 years ago) to the “book” list of Sherlock Holmes best-selling titles (click to enlarge):
Is Jeff Bezos one of the world’s greatest comedians, or is Amazon simply totally incompetent?
Sovereign by C.J. Sansom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
4.5 stars – but I’ll round up to 5. The atmosphere and the North-South tensions are admirably described. Henry Tudor is portrayed in a way that most popular histories do not cover, and the end of the Wars of the Roses becomes re-examined.
Excellent characterisation, and very good plotting. I like intricate political plots, and this is right up my alley.
If I knew more about the Tudor period, I would be writing this sort of book – but nowhere near as good as this.
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