jeregenest: (Kale mayhem)
I love books on counter-intelligence. The puzzle solving, the race against time (real or imagined), the false leads. LeCarre has Haydon say that "The secret services are the only real expression of a nation’s character,” and these books, especially when its about an amateur act of espionage, really serve to show some of the soft, and disturbing underbellies of our nation's intelligence service.

This book is all about the improbable story of Brian Regan, an embittered Air Force security specialist who decided to pad his retirement by offering classified intelligence to Libya. I find the story of Regan fascinating, not because of how special he is but how much he represents a snapshot of a white working class entitlement that seems familiar to today. All turned on itself and sick.

The writer is a staff writer and his love of cryptography and puzzles (and those who solve them) shine in the book.

A fun read, full of some great bits, that is probably well worth your time to read if you, like I, am fond of this type of book. If you haven't read much then this is a very serviceable introduction to this sort of tale and will be enjoyable.
jeregenest: (kale cold war)
A favorite area for many people about spies is the tech, Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to Al-Qaeda by Robert Wallace, H. Keith Melton and Henry R. Schlesinger seeks to fulfill that need by offering a fairly detailed history of CIA’s Office of Technical Service.

Another good treatment, one lacking the gee-whiz and being a lot more serious in its analysis is Jeffrey Richelson’s The Wizards of Langley: Inside The CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology.

I think both of these books very nicely work together and can serve to understand the role technology has played in espionage in the last 60 years. Some of the crazier ideas also make great game springboards.
jeregenest: (Default)
My review of John le Carré's latest, Our Kind of Traitor, is up at Drowned Books.
jeregenest: (sandbaggers)
[livejournal.com profile] brand_of_amber has asked for books about spying. So I shall review my bookshelf, figuring any book I've kept I've kept for a reason. I'll be doing this slowly, so Brand if you need immediate book recommendations let me know (or want books on specific subjects).

Jeffrey T. Richelson, The U.S. Intelligence Community (Westview: 2007) )

Frederick Hitz, The Great Game: Myth & Reality of Espionage (Vintage, 2005) )
jeregenest: (oberon)
[livejournal.com profile] peaseblossom recently read and reviewed James Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, and now its my turn.

And frankly I'm already blown away by the prologue. I'm reading it this morning and he starts by stating a "truth", then doing the normal prologue blahblah of what he intends to sya, and then wham! he upsets the apple cart. Best prologue ever. The first chapter is darn good too.

Go read [livejournal.com profile] peaseblossom's review and then go pick up this book.

I'm really looking forward to Shapiro's takedown of wikipedia, too, by the way.

Super Spy

Oct. 8th, 2007 12:05 pm
jeregenest: (Default)
I had originally picked up Matt Kindt’s Super Spy to read on my flight between Boston and Philadelphia, unfortunately due to airport craziness I ended up reading it while still on the Logan runway. Fortunately for me it was a good read and I had my laptop. As I didn’t expect to read much on the Philadelphia to San Juan branch I hadn’t bothered to bring a book (the book for the return trip is in my checked-in luggage.

I haven’t read anything by Kindt before, but after reading this I am definitely going looking for his other books. Both art and story were beautiful. This graphic novel is a collection of interlocked stories (not necessarily all told chronologically) that deal with espionage during WWII. Kindt focuses on the missions, the people undertaking them, and the toll the job takes on the individual, their family and the bigger picture and not (usually) the glorious Bondian action it insinuates. Paths cross, stories interweave, some come to abrupt halts while others seem to dangle, the ending uncertain.

The art is beautiful, Kindt does the entire book in this pulpy-yellowing sheen, giving the air of aged stories, the aesthetic of of-the-era printing. The coloring varies between sepia tones, black and white with blue washes and full color (with a four-color sensibility). Kindt’s art is just perfect with this roughness of line and edge that has a tense and rushed feeling, giving into the characters and their often desperate plight.

This is a must read for fans of espionage fiction.

Unfortunately I am stuck at the airport until 5:30 and then I have a 4 hour flight. I’ll probably be hitting the bookstore or I’ll go insane.
jeregenest: (cynic)
There are basically two versions of hell and more importantly Lucifer existent in modern fantasy, and pretty much the western imagination, Dante’s and Milton’s. Oh sure there are a few other versions out there, like Blake’s, but frankly they don’t have the staying power of those two models.

Butcher Bird is Milton all the way. Milton as imagined in the hazy postmodern pagan relativistic world we exist in. Its Gaiman’s Lucifer and the Lucifer we’ve seen in so many other fantasy novels. Frankly I was less than impressed. Though to be honest the Hell was geographically related to Dante, somewhat.

Kadrey is also, in the Cory Doctorow tradition, so sure he’s cool and that his subcultures are cool that he rather looses sight of the actual storyline. And his author stand in, the main character, gets annoying as a result of that.

All that said, I did find the world interesting and well written about. He successfully does some different thinks with the magic shadow-world school of contemporary fantasy that was refreshing. I’ll read the sequel.
jeregenest: (conquering)
I just finished Richard Park’s short story collection Worshipping Small Gods. Parks' stories avoid the plot-heavy (usually) and focus more on an exploration of his all-too-human characters, often by using a variety of techniques and styles to write his stories. The opening "Kallisti," is a retelling of the ancient Greek story of the Trojan shepherd Paris where Parks does an admirable job concentrating on a conflict of desires and impulses that both Paris and Eris herself share, successfully turning old conventions of fate and destiny around. This story sold me on this collection immediately. My other favorite stories were Yamabushi, a nice tale about personal redemption; and, Fox Tails, a good story that fits nicely into the occult detective side of things. On the other hand I found the sequence Eli Mothersbaugh rather dull. One would think I’d be naturally predisposed to a government office that deals with laying ghosts to rest, but wile I respected the choice to make these a set of piece on emotions and not the ghostbusting, the stories themselves weren’t that engaging.
jeregenest: (Default)
Nicholas Christopher is on the list of authors that I don’t understand why he’s not more popular amongst fantasy fans. Probably because he is firmly in the literary camp and thus ignored by most genre people. It’s a pity because he writes good fantasy of history. A literary omnivore (which I always appreciate), he is versed in classical lore and pulp fiction, and his books are a thrilling amalgam of the two: erudite, lyrical and breathlessly paced. Unlike Christopher’s previous novels, The Bestiary merely teeters on the edge of fantasy. But it teeters in such a delightful way.

The Bestiary concerns a medieval manuscript with a whiff of heresy, suppressed and possibly destroyed by order of the pope. And the story is primarily that of a fable. The main character’s – Xeno - hunt for this bestiary is quixotic — it is, he soon realizes, a thinly veiled quest for his own identity — and the novel is less a detective story than a kind of theme and variations on the failure of man’s dominion over nature.

I recommend folks read this book, I also really recommend going out and finding Veronica and A Trip to the Stars, which are on my must list of book recommendations.
jeregenest: (Default)
I've just read (second time kind of if reading in manuscript counts) [livejournal.com profile] chrislehrich's The Occult Mind: magic in theory and practice, which has, by the way, a very nice cover.

Chris basically sets out to discuss how magic is viewed scholarly, in particular renaissance magic. Which in many ways makes it an elegant thing to read after just finishing the Aegypt quatrology. The book is a very heavy read, filled with necessary jargon and highly complex concepts. Chris successfully uses terminology and material consistently, and writes extremely well, keeping the book understandable to the casual reader as well as the specialist (or I’ve been reading this stuff way to much). Though it definitely helps to be familiar with at least the basics of Dee and Bruno, Yates and Eliade, as this book fits in a conversation with those authors and the scholarship around them.
jeregenest: (Default)
Generation Loss is about Cass, a casualty of the punk rock generation, one who barely limped out of it. This era is a great inspiration to Hand’s creativity and I certainly don’t mind that she keeps returning to it. Cass is a photographer who has an interesting view of the world, and most of the book hinges on strange and different ways of viewing the world, mostly through a camera lens, but like most of Hand’s book it dwells on creativity in a myriad of forms, including music a big concern of hers. This makes sense given how primal music is.

Photography is very important and the title has multiple, very important, meanuings.

Hand uses an island on Maine as a setting, and captures much of the winter crazinesss and bleakness well.

This book also drops names to other Hand books, including Cass being from Kamensic.

Unlike most of Hand’s books this is not straight fantasy (it has hints that something more is going n but the characters are probably just crazy). Generation Loss is difficult to classify, uncomfortable, spiky. She both fights with and against the conventions of the thriller genre to get at an evil deeper than its mere perpetrator. When the killer is revealed, it's more a confirmation of dread than a surprise. So although Generation Loss moves like a thriller, it detonates with greater resound. Highly recommended.
jeregenest: (Default)
I've finished reading John Crowley's Endless Things. For those who haven't drunk the kool-aid (and if you haven't what the hell is wrong with you!) this is the fourth, and last, book in his Aegypt series which first begun in 1987 when I was in high school. So this is a series I've been reading my entire adult life (sort of mirroring in some ways the life of the main character Pierce).

The Aegypt series involves the search, the dream quest of Pierce that there is a story that will uncover an alternate reality or a secret history where magic is possible. Pierce's pursuit of magic, alchemy, and other Gnostic systems of knowledge is less concerned with acquiring supernatural abilities and more preoccupied with a very natural longing for a lost romanticism, a philosophy of hope which will instill meaning and significance into Pierce's own great work, a palimpsest of half-forgotten memories and half-remembered stories. Along the way we glimpse Prospero, Dee, Shakespeare, Rudolph, Bruno, and even Dame Yeats (as a guardian angel of sorts).

Endless Things is really a love story about books and reading and romance. Lyrical and poetic, it is hard not to read in one giant gulp and savor for its complexity. If you’ve been following along with Aegypt at any point in the last 20 years go and read this. If you haven’t find the first book and embark on the journey with Crowley as your psychopomp, it is richly rewarded. And luckily the first book is coming back into print later this year, but you can find it at most libraries.
jeregenest: (Default)
I'm currently reading Michael Oren's Power, Faith and Fanatsy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present which is a hugely ambitious history of America's invovlement in the Middle East, providing a finely balanced overview of this enormously complex subject. Highly recommended, I've delighted in its treatment of how the Barbary Coast was a huge incentive behind getting a constitution and Federalist government; the fact that the Statue of Liberty was originally intended for the Suez Canal; that the first Zionists to settle in Palestine were in fact American Protestants, who planted successive, ill-fated colonies aimed at “restoring” the Holy Land to Jews, so that their subsequent conversion to Christianity would speed the Second Coming; that Civil War veterans officered Egyptian campaigns in Sudan and Abyssinia; that before landing in North Africa during World War II, the United States Army dropped leaflets advertising the arrival of “Holy Warriors ... to fight the great jihad of freedom”. I could go one and on about this book, its probably the best and most comphresnive book on the subject I've read. It can absically replace 3 or 4 other books in my collection, which should make [livejournal.com profile] peaseblossom happy.
jeregenest: (Default)
I'm currently reading Pynchon's latest, Against the Day. It is a fun read though at points it feels like a roleplaying game or 4 I've been in. So far we have areonauts, cthuloid like creatures, time travel and intelligent dogs. And Tesla. And there is this whole anti-corporation thing going on (I think), so like I said roleplaying games.

Hopefully I'll be done it this week and can write more. It is massive (1085 pages!) but I'm enjoying it. However it really does feel like the most SF thing Pynchon has ever wrote, and that is saying a bunch.

Oh, and there's a wiki.

And I'm still looking for all the bizarre sex I was promised in the reviews. That must be after page 400 or something.
jeregenest: (Default)
I've read, and enjoyed, the comic book series Fables for quite a while now. Like most of my comcis I read them in trade and I always find myself eagerly anticipating the next book (someday I'll buckle down and buy these I think, they definitely have reread value). For those who haven't read it yet Fables is a Vertigo comic book series created and written by Bill Willingham.The series deals with various characters from fairy tales and folklore who have been forced out of their native lands by a mysterious enemy known as the Adversary (who ends up being someone very clever). They travel to our world and form a clandestine community in New York City known as Fabletown. The main characters are Prince Charming (who becomes mayor), Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, and others. I find it an amusing series and enjoy its take on the characters, especially some of the lesser ones like Little Boy Blue.

Recently I've read the first two books of The Sisters Grimm: Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley and I find the similarities (and differences) interesting. Here we also have a town full of fairy tale entities in New York (upstate this tme not the city), but they are trapped. Prince Charming in the mayor. The Big Bad Wolf works for the main character's grandmother. Snow White teaches elementary school (she's good with little people, see?). This charming ya book is about two sister's whose parents are missing and find out they are the descendents of Wilhlem Grimm, who to save the world from fairy tale entities grown bitter and angry (or maybe to save the fairy tale creatures) had Bab Yaga cast a spell to trap them all in Ferryport New York. Like I said its cute and an easy read. A little too old for the boy perhaps, which is why I had originally got them (he likes detectives, everyone in the family likes fairytales).

I always find it interesting to read stuff where the authors are definitely dipping into the same well but drawing different stuff out.
jeregenest: (Default)
Not In Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic Is Transforming America by Christine Wicker is a cute little book about a journalist who goes out and meets people who practice Hoodoo and other forms of magic and/or believe they're vampires, elves and werewolves. Its cute, and she does a good job of being friendly and open-minded about what is going on out there. She’s not a believer (well a little) and she’s not an outright skeptic so it’s a nice, low-key examination of several of the magical subcultures out there right now. A whole lot more readable than works by proponents (Gerneration Hex comes to mind) but don’t expect much depth here. A good quick beach read that most folks should give a few hours too.

I especially liked her treatment of the Salem scene. I think I know at least 3 of the people she interviewed.
jeregenest: (Default)
Jeffrey Ford, otherwise known as [livejournal.com profile] 14theditch, has written a piece over at litblog called Scratching the Surface: Ditherings About Digging History. Litblog is discussing his book The Girl in the Glass, which if you haven't read you should.

In his post, Mr Ford says:

Here’s where something happened that every future writer of an historical type novel should know.  There is this thing that happens in research that is completely metaphysical.  It defies random chance.  Do you know the word Kismet?  It can only be described as a kind of otherworldly luck.


I think that sentiment perfectly represents why I do so much historical gaming.

Its a good piece, folks should read it.
jeregenest: (Default)
I just finished reading The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft And Extraterrestial Pop Culture by Jason Colavito. His central thesis is that the alternate archaeology, alien genesis and space-god themes in eliptony are all descended from the writings of Lovecraft.

Colavito does a good job of covering the ideas, and their historical growth, of the major figures such as Daniken, Temple, Bauval, Hancock, Childress, Sitchin and the Raelians. He does an interesting literary trail from Lovecraft, through his circle to these authors. Unfortunately his idea that Lovecraft is the central wellspring of these ideas is disproven by the author's own casual throwaways to the work of folks like Blavatsky and Fort, but there are some interesting ideas that will resonate with most folks reading this livejournal. Colavito also feels the need to end most discussions with sometimes forced shoehorning into the Lovecraftian mythos that sometimes feels a little flat and uninspired. Or maybe I'm spoiled by certain strands in gaming ([livejournal.com profile] princeofcairo, Conspiracy X, Delta Green) which do it so much better.

Colavito also has the obvious beef to pick about the "death of science" and propriety that I feel I've read before. You know I think Solon said similar things.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about this thread without actually reading the source material, which makes it pure gold for gamers. For folks who have read the source material is quite fun to read this book and watch him put together links from one author to another.

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