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review 2017-02-12 19:35
A beautifully written novel about loss, meaning and relationships, with its heart in the right place.
The Beauty of the Fall - Rich Marcello

I received an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.

This beautifully written novel touches on many subjects that are important at different levels: some, like loss (be it the death of a child, a divorce, the loss of not only a job but also a life-project) can be felt (and there are heart-wrenching moments in the novel) understood and managed at a very personal level, others, like the role of communications technology (who must control it? Should it remain neutral or become involved in the big issues? Should it ally itself with governments or be creatively independent?) or domestic and gender-related violence, although no doubt having a personal component, also seem to require global solutions.  This ambitious novel tries to give answers to many of these questions and it does so through a first person narrative interspersed with poetry.

The novel is narrated by Dan Underlight, whom we meet at a particularly difficult time in his life. His son died a couple of years earlier and he feels guilty about it (we learn the details quite late in the novel), he is divorced, and now, the technology company he helped to create, and by extension his business partner and the woman he’d been closer to than almost anybody else for many years, fires him. His job, the only thing that had kept him going, is taken away from him. He has no financial worries. He has a good severance pay, a huge house, two cars, but his life is empty. Through the novel, Dan, who still sees his son, has conversations with him and wants to start a project in his memory, meets many people. Most of them are enablers. He has known Willow, a woman who works helping women victims of domestic violence, and herself a survivor (although she doesn’t talk much about it, at least with Dan) for some time and eventually, their friendship turns into a romantic relationship for a while. He has also been attending therapy with Nessa, a very special therapist (as a psychiatrist I was very curious about her techniques, but working in the NHS in the UK I must admit I’d never even heard of a Buddha board) since his son’s death, and during his peculiar pilgrimage, he gets ideas, encouragement, and a few brushes with reality too.

Much of the rest of the novel is taken up by Dan’s creation of a new company, based on his idea that if people could converse about important subjects and all these conversations could be combined, they would reach agreements and solve important problems. As conversations and true communication in real life amount to more than just verbal exchanges, there are technical problems to be solved, funding, etc. I found this part of the novel engaging at a different level and not having much knowledge on the subject didn’t detract from my interest, although I found it highly idealistic and utopian (not so much the technical part of it, but the faith in the capacity of people to reach consensual agreements and for those to be later enforced), and I also enjoyed the underhand dealings of the woman who had been his friend but seemed somehow to have become his enemy. (I wasn’t sure that her character came across as consistent, but due to the subjective nature of the narration, this might have more to do with Dan’s point of view than with Olivia herself).

Dan makes mistakes and does things that morally don’t fit in with the code he creates for his company, or with the ideals he tries to live by (he is human, after all) and things unravel somewhat as life has a few more surprises for him, but, without wanting to offer any spoilers, let’s say that there are many lessons he has learned along the way.

As I said before, the language is beautiful, and the poems, most of which are supposedly written by Willow, provide also breathing space and moments to stop, think and savour both the action and the writing style.

First of all, let me confess I was very taken by this novel and I couldn’t stop reading it and even debating the points with myself (I live alone, so, that was the best I could do). I also was touched by both the emotions expressed and the language used. As a sensorial reading experience, it’s wonderful.

Now, if I had to put on my analysing cap, and after reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I thought I should try and summarise the issues some readers have with the novel.

The themes touched are important and most people will feel able to relate to some if not all of them. Regarding the characters and their lifestyle, those might be very far from the usual experience of a lot of readers. Although we have a handful of characters who are not big cheeses in technology companies, those only play a minor part in the book. The rapid expansion of the technology and how it is used in the book is a best case scenario and might give readers some pause. Personally, I could imagine how big companies could save money using such technology, but charitable organisations, schools or libraries, unless very well-funded, in the current financial times when official funding has become very meagre, would have problems being able to afford it all, and that only in theoretically rich countries. (The issue of world expansion is referred to early on in the project but they decide to limit their ambitions for the time being).

Also, the fact that issues to be discussed and championed were decided by a few enlightened individuals (although there is some debate about the matter) could raise issues of paternalism and hint at a view of the world extremely western-centred (something again hinted at in the novel). Evidently, this is a novel and not a socio-political treatise and its emphasis on changing the US laws to enforce legislation protecting equality, women’s rights and defending women against violence brings those matters the attention and focus that’s well-deserved.

For me, the novel, where everything that happens and every character that appears is there to either assist, hinder, or inspire Dan (it is a subjective narrative and one where the main character is desperately searching for meaning) works as a fable or perhaps better a parable, where the feelings and the teachings are more important than the minute details or how we get there. It is not meant to be taken as an instructions manual but it will be inspirational to many who read it.

In summary, although some readers might find it overly didactic (at times it seems to over-elaborate the point and a word to the wise…) and might miss more variety and diversity in the characters, it is a beautifully written book that will make people think and induce debate.  This is not a book I’d recommend to readers that like a lot of action and complex plots, but to those who enjoy a personal journey that will ring true with many. It is a touching and engaging read to be savoured by those who enjoy books that challenging our opinions and ideas.

 

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review 2016-12-18 21:31
The #MonuMeta Social Media Book
The #MonuMeta Social Media Book - Roger Warner [I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.] This one was a bit of a strange read—I guess I could categorise it as an over-the-top near-future sci-fi cum fairies blend, with an underlying funny criticism of social media, abusing technology, and PR stunts? Even though it took me longer to read than I expected (mostly because I had library books I had to finish in a hurry!), in the end it was a positive read, and I had fun. The story follows the shenanigans of animated statues, ex-librarians become janitors in a museum converted into offices for a software and social media company, genius programmers sometimes too engrossed in their code for their own goods, spirits of a fairy persuasion, and execs with a shady agenda in the name of their real boss. It has highly amusing moments (the Endless Demo!) as well as scary ones (Tara and her bucket of fake bacon in Tank #6)—yes, those vaguebooking-like descriptions are on purpose, since conveying all the weirdness of that future!London isn't so easy in just a couple of sentences. Obviously, the nonsense is on the surface; it does make a lot of sense underneath, provided you set aside all questions about "how can statues be animated" and "why would a person's skin spontaneously turn blue", which aren't so important, in fact. I didn't need explanations here to willingly suspend my disbelief, which is good. What mattered were the dangers looming over our "heroes", and these were of a kind that could very well hit home at some point: that is, to which extent our daily immersion into the web and social websites, our obsession with sharing everything and knowing everything about each other online, may end up being abused and affecting us in ways we hadn't imagined. Behind the humour and the antics of a bunch of misfits sometimes not very well-equipped to understand each other, lies this kind of questioning. On the downside, sometimes the plot seemed to meander and lose itself, in a way that I can probably blame on plot holes rather than on "it's meant to be weird." (I tend to consider that a "nonsensical" story still needs an internal logic of its own to function properly, even if that logic seems complete nonsense on the outside. I hope I'm making sense here.) The villains were also a bit too much of the cartoonish kind, and while it can be fun, I keep thinking they would have remained fun yet more credible if that trait hadn't been enhanced. Conclusion: 3 stars—but that's because over the top tends to be my thing, so if it isn't yours, maybe you'll like it less, though.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-12-05 11:42
Birth of Iron Man

 

Iron Man PosterDirector: Jon Favreau

Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrance Howard

Release: 2 May 2008

IMDB User Rating: 7.9

Rotten Tomatoes User Rating: 91%

 

I thought I had already written a review of this film (on IMDB that is), so it was a good thing that I have decided to go back and rewatch the Marvel Cinematic Universe films again (if only so I can have a better idea of what had happened previously, especially since the movies seem to reference events from the earlier films on a regular basis) so that I can review some of the films that I have watched in the past, but had not got around to reviewing. Anyway, this is the 'first' film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (though some could argue that the Ang Lee version of the Hulk was actually the first since the events of the Incredible Hulk do seem to come after it, despite there being a number of changes to the Bruce Banner's history) and it certainly has kicked off a craze, with at least two films being released a year, as well as at least two television series.

 

Anyway, Iron Man literally sets the stage for what is to follows. First of all we have this guy wandering around saying that he is from the 'Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division' which is truncated to the acronym SHIELD at the end of the film. We also have Nick Fury making an appearance indicating that he is looking to start up a group and that Tony Stark isn't the only person around that happens to have super powers (even if those super powers consist entirely of a flying metal suit). It was probably logical to also have Ironman as the first movie since he apparently was the one who initiated the Avengers.

 

Well, the film is basically about how Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy who happens to run a corporation that develops and sells weapons, becomes Iron Man. The thing is that he is also a playboy, and a tinkerer, which means that he is more interested in building things, and having fun, than actually running the company, which means that the company is doing a lot of things that he doesn't actually know about. However the realisation of who his company is selling weapons to comes to light when he is captured in Afghanistan after demonstrating one of his weapons that he claims to have the capability of stopping a war with one shot. Well, the problem is that when he demonstrates the power of this weapon, the other side want it as well, so they kidnap him to force him to make one.

 

As well as being about how Iron Man becomes Iron Man, the film is also has an underlying theme about the military industrial complex. He we have a private corporation that years ago assisted the United States to develop a weapon to defeat the Japanese now double dealing – that is selling weapons to both sides in a conflict. It is the idea that the only person who makes money out of a war are the weapons manufacturers, and the longer the war goes on, the more money that they make, which means that it is in their interest for there to be a perpetual war. However, selling to just one side in the war doesn't really help with the profits, especially since one side may have a huge advantage, however selling to both sides means that the odds are evened out, and also that the war is likely to last a lot longer.

 

As for the villains, you sort of have two – there is the Ten Rings, an organisation that Iron Man is regularly confronting in the comics (and while they are operational in Afghanistan, when I first watched the film I simply thought they were insurgents, or at least Taliban, however this time I realised that they were actually a mercenary force working for the Taliban), and the Iron Monger, who also happens to be Tony Stark's 2IC, who then builds his own Iron Man suit to take on Tony.

 

As for the film, yep, it's pretty good, and I also picked up a lot more the second time round, which is not surprising since I do have the advantage of having seen many of the other films in the franchise already, so by rewatching them I also pick up a few more things, such as when Rhodey looks at one of the suits and says 'next time' which is flagging the arrival of War Machine in the next instalment. A good movie, pretty enjoyable, and I have to admit that Robert Downey Junior certainly plays the role quite well.

 

For those who are interested I have written a blog post on the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (if only as an aide de memoire).

 

 

Source: www.imdb.com/title/tt0371746/reviews-1188
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