C. G. McGinn

Writer

Ramblings about Books and Writing

Filtering by Tag: reading

Columbine by Dave Cullen

There are some stories so unbelievable that the mind can’t help but try to understand them as fiction. Though written in the narrative form throughout most of its entirety, Columbine is anything but fiction. It was horrifically real. But even as the events and motives were carefully laid out by Dave Cullen in his book, you can’t help but feel a sense of surreal disbelief—a thought that even this couldn’t have happened. But it had. It was horrible. I have an idea of just how horrible because Cullen put me there, right in the middle of it—in the cafeteria, in the library, and inside the killers minds.

The story of Columbine can’t be talked about without addressing the myths surrounding the motive behind the attack. These myths were fueled and often created by the media and news outlets covering the tragedy. The biggest myth of all was that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were bullied and this was what had driven them to systematically plan, prepare and ultimately carry out a massacre that was intended to kill hundreds. In reality, they were not. There is no evidence of this in their journals or actions leading up to the attack. Both boys attended prom—with dates. They had active social calender’s, and they had friends.

Eric was a text-book psychopath who hated stupid people. He saw himself not only as the smartest man-boy in the room, but in the entire world.

Dylan was suicidal and looking for a reason to die.

Eric gave his friend Dylan a grandiose reason.

The fact that this myth is still believed in 2019 is staggering to me, but after a recent conversation with someone who adamantly argued that this was the root cause of the incident, left me shaking my head. It’s a convenient way of explaining an unbelievable event of actual horror—a way out for the mind to rationalize what its incapable of understanding.

I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand what happened on April 20th 1999 but Dave Cullen’s, Columbine brings us much closer than we would be if left to rely on the agenda-filtered lenses of the news media—cable or otherwise.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char falls into the Slipstream sub-genre of fiction with titles like, John Dies at the End by David Wong, and Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The titles by Wong and Vonnegut are hilariously funny in their approach to the bizarre world they create. Wong's stories are ultra violent but easy to read because of the comedy. Vonnegut is more cerebral, making the reader think.

The Mount Char is ultra violent, not funny, and really makes you think. It was an amazing book that makes one squirm at times.

I will not spoil this book. Like the Matrix, you must experience it for yourself. And no, it doesn't end up being a computer controlled virtual reality in order to keep turn human slaves into batteries.

But I will say: you won't see where it goes until you get there. It's really a well crafted story. It's very different and many of the main characters are both awful and beautiful at the same time. And like any good book in this genre, there are several WTF moments. Just roll with it. Trust me, there's a solid pay-off. At least I thought so, and why the hell are you even here if you didn't at least care a little about what I thought? Go waste your time on Reddit, or the YouTubes.

I'm currently on leave from my full-time job due to my second child entering the world on Tuesday. I'm realizing that I've reached a very specific stage in life. I'm no longer the single guy, or the married guy with no kids. It took my first kid to turn 2, and my second to almost get here before realizing I'd reached this milestone. I'm not happy, but I'm also not unhappy. Sobering, would be the word for it. All of this hit me today. I'm sure I'll eventually make peace with these feelings. For now I'll just wait and see.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Autonomous is what will happen when Big Pharma is allowed to run amuck, becoming the most powerful corporate entity in the known universe... Oh, wait a minute...

As a social commentary, it's a satire of the argument between drug companies who rack up the prices of much needed medicine, those who need these drugs but cannot afford it, and the black market that fills the void. In a future where even atoms are able to be replicated on 3D printers, the quality of said drugs from the underground, mirror their brand name counterparts.

This is but one of many stories that I'm currently reading set in a very bleak future that rings with the echos of Blade Runner, Neuromancer, and, more recently, Altered Carbon. Set in a world where the technology is old enough to be taken for granted, where both human and robot kind coexist, co-habitate, co-mingle, etc, etc, etc...

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

A few weeks back, my editor posted a link to a blog looking for writers. It was a paying gig, which involved writing about reading. What discouraged me was that they specifically stated that they WERE NOT looking for book reviews. I guess that's what I do. I don't know. I think I give you enough to make a decision whether or not you should try out a book. I don't like getting in depth on the plot or development--sticking more to what struck me as unique. At first glance I guess this could be misinterpreted as a review.

Needless to say, I didn't apply for the job. Maybe I'm selling myself short. Who knows.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is what happens when you give Alexandre Dumas tickets to a Steampunk convention, then lock him in a room and tell him he won't be let out until he writes a book about it. This is a steampunk, swashbuckling tale in the sky, with healthy doses of palace intrigue, magic, magical technology, and more twists in the plot than...something, something...M. Night Shyamalan.

Biography.com

Biography.com

Steampunk as a genre seems hard to get out into the mainstream. Masques and Mirrors certainly isn't pure steampunk, but there's enough of it in there to get one's cogs off...whatever that means. In fiction, I think it's best used when describing a certain aspect of the technology. When it's used too much--encompassing the plot, the dress of the characters, the way they talk, it breaks the story and turns into, well, a steampunk conversion. I guess the same could be said about any quirk of world-building, but right now, steampunk seems to be the lightning rod for such criticism. If there's a pun in there, it was only partially intended.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove is not a book I'd normally be drawn to read. But I have two jobs in two different-enough geographical location--and when co-workers from both jobs start telling me that I have to read this book, then I listen. I shrug out of my set-in-stone ways, and I read the book.

A Man Called Ove is about a man set in his ways. He's pushing 60, he lives alone, and he's had just about enough of this crazy world and all it's do-nothing millennials, new-fangled technology and a disposable society that's forgotten how to fix something as simple as a bike. He's a man from a simpler time trying to find  his place in this strange new world.

I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the reader. It reminded me of the movie, Up, only much more adult, and real--and lacking a talking dog and chubby Asian kid.

Resident Evil bundle on Steam.

Yes, it's happening.

Wait a minute. Hold on.

It's Happening.gif

It's actually the Capcom Publisher weekend on Steam. So there's more than just Resident Evil games. However, Resident Evil is the reason to play Capcom games. Everything else is just sorta, meh...Except for Bionic Commando.

I've been playing Resident Evil games off and on since 1998 when the first iteration of the game came out. Throughout high school and college I religiously followed the series--playing the hell out of RE1 and RE2. I played RE3 maybe once, along with Code Veronica.

Resident Evil 4 revitalized the series for me. It was funny, creepy and had somewhat of an open-world feel for a game that really wasn't open-world at all. I played through most or Resident Evil 5, but never finished it and I don't even know what happens in Resident Evil 6. RE 7 looks awful. I hear it's very scary. It probably is. But it doesn't look like a Resident Evil game to me. I guess like Ove, I'm a man set in my way. I like my Resident Evil games a certain way. Once you go changing it on me, I think it's strange and weird, and should get the hell off my lawn.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon was a book I first read in sixth or seventh grade.

That was back in the 90's. I looked something like this:

No, more like this:

180px-Doug_Funnie.jpg

The book takes place in the in a pre-Rudy Giuliani New York City. Though it's aged well.

Flowers for Algernon is the story about Charlie Gordon, an intellectually disabled adult with an IQ below 70. He's chosen to be part of a surgical experiment that turns him into a genius. The book is written in the first person in a series of Progress Reports, beginning before the experiment. His pre-surgery reports are spelled phonetically and without punctuation. Sentences are short and simple. Post-surgery the reader literally sees Charlie learn how to spell, use punctuation both improperly--then correctly, and his thoughts and experiences become more and more complex.

This time around I listened to the audio version. I was curious to see, or rather, hear the difference. The reader did a great job, changing his voice from childlike to something more adult as Charlie's intelligence increased. However I did feel that a certain depth to the story was lost by not physically seeing his progression in spelling and sentence structure. I recommend that people read the book first, then listen to the audio version.

Flowers for Algernon, Brave New World, and 1984 are part of the holy trinity of classic science fiction that have had a lasting influence on me. I can remember very clearly where I was when I was reading these books. Flowers for Algernon--English class in 6th or 7th grade. 1984--Summertime, sometime before 9th Grade, on my screened-in porch. Brave New World--Freshmen English--I sat in the back of the classroom like all the 'cool kids'.

I've since re-read Brave New World and Flowers for Algernon and have discovered things that I'd either forgotten or missed the first time around, during those heady and awkward years that don't contrast as sharply as I'd care to admit to this thing called adulthood.

I'll probably read 1984 soon and finish up the trifecta. 

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn

Jim Jones was a socialist.

I never knew that. Until reading The Road to Jonestown, I thought he was a cult leader of the religious variety. He was that as well, but what made Jones different from how he'd been portrayed--at least to me--was that his beliefs came more from secular social justice than religious ideology. In a way this made him far more dangerous as he promoted very good things that both religious and secular progressives could get behind.

Desegregation is a good thing. Pressuring the landlord to fix the pipes for their black tenants is a good thing. Feeding people through church charity events, creating scholarship programs for those who would otherwise never go to college, and fostering positive change in poor communities are all good things.

History.com

History.com

Jones's ego and paranoia--caused by drug abuse--were his undoing, and unfortunately he took with him 909 men, women, and children--mostly children.

It would be easy to dismiss this as an inherent problem with socialism. But the real problem is extremism. Again, the social programs Jones was trying to promote were all good things. But ultimately we saw him, and many of those who believed in him dying, and murdering for an extremist ideology. Socialism to the extreme--impoverished communal living, hero-worship of a very flawed individual, and paranoid ideas of a corrupt government black-bagging and spying on the masses.

Extremism in all forms--religious fanaticism, terrorism, political activism in the form of violent protests ultimately lead down the same path, and certainly did not die was Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn is a fascinating read. It's scary, insightful and thought provoking,  standing as a warning in a time where polarizing ideologies seem to rule the day.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is the story about a traveling theater group in the years following the collapse of the civilized world.

The story follows the lives of several characters who are connected in some way or another to one man, a famous Hollywood actor -- Arthur Leander.

This is a story that makes you think long after you've finished reading it. It's been said that the ability to do this makes for a good story and I would have to agree. I got into a lengthy discussion with the librarian who recommended this book to me, over who was the protagonist of the story. There were either many, or one. We couldn't quite decide. All of the main characters have Arthur Leander in common. It could be argued that Leander is the protagonist. However the other characters are the ones doing most of the actions in the story. Any one of them could also be considered a protagonist in their own rite.

It's a tricky story, but somehow it works. It works on a lot of different levels. It still has me thinking, weeks later while I write this entry. This was actually a very difficult entry to write because I could go at it from several different angles and had trouble deciding how to spin it. I chose to go with the character puzzle.

I will also say that the world created in Station Eleven is one of the most believable ones to come out of the post-apocalyptic genre. In a world completely void of a supernatural element -- be it Metro 2033's Librarians and Dark Ones, or the virals of The Passage -- humanity is seen to survive however they can, making due with the shelters left from a fallen civilization, building settlements, and returning to a hunter-gathers society. And coming out from the ashes of popular culture and a keen background in the creative arts, of course we would see a traveling theater, committed to maintaining the Bard's great works.

Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky was the surprise hit of these cold and dark winter months. Sometimes I pick out books without knowing a damn thing about them or their author. This was how I discovered The Rook by Dan O'Malley--a book that will remain in the Number One spot on my short-list for a very long time.

Metro 2033 is a hit because of the world Glukhovsky creates. He took a very simple concept--the Moscow Metro, and turned it into an almost alien environment. I had no idea how large the Moscow subway system was. When I first started reading the book, I thought to myself, how can a story this long take place in the confined space of a subway system? There can't possibly be enough setting here. Like you, I was ignorant of just how hUge the Moscow Metro is. Here's a picture:

http://news.metro.ru

http://news.metro.ru

It's pretty big...I guess.

I want to go to Moscow just to ride the subway. I was talking to a friend who grew up there and she told me that they do indeed have tours. I might start hosting a tour of the MBTA Green Line, from Riverside to Fenway. Good times

I don't want to go into detail, but there were a lot of great mysteries and lore in Metro 2033. Glukhovsky gave out just enough backstory to give a sense of what caused everyone to flee into the metro, lest they become victims of nuclear attack. And characters express superstitions that turn out to be grounded in more truth than irrational fear. It's not just a story of hopeless survival. There is far more at play here. And he doesn't give it all away, leaving room for the reader to draw their own conclusions.

It was also adapted into a video game, which happened to go on sale this week, which I happened to pick up. I haven't had a chance to start playing in yet, but the graphics are very awesome and the main menu captured the feel I got from the book. It also helped that Glukhovsky had a hand in it's development. Once I've put a few hours into the game, I'll give it a review.

The book has two sequels that I'll probably read before summer, but not before I finish Lock In by John Scalzi and possible one or two lighter reads.

The Man in the High Castle

My cousin Scott wrote three very excellent posts on his blog about the Top 30 TV Shows of the Decade. You should go check it out, then come back and keep reading. Don't worry, I'll wait.  

Oh, you're back. 

I was talking with him about shows that I like, and The Man in the High Castle came up. He was about 3 episodes into season 1 at the time, and I was about 5. I told him it was slow to start but he should stick with it. For me the show was beginning to pick up. I had no idea just how awesome it was going to get in the remaining few episodes of the season.

The show is like that unsuspecting old-person, who's sitting across from you, playing cards, when suddenly he stands up and punches you in the face. Strangely, you don't seem to mind the sudden fist-a-cuffs.

I don't often recommend a television show--at least not here, but The Man in the High Castle should be watched and hopefully enjoyed. It's very different from the book, although the character of Frank Frink is just as useless as his literary counterpart--if not more so. Frink was sort of the defacto main character of the novel and his story fell short. His scenes in the show might be the reason the first few episodes run so slow. Once the focus turned to Juliana, things begin to pick up. Her character is also better developed in the show. She's no longer merely a set-piece, but plays a very strong role in the plot.

I don't dislike the book, but in this instance the show is a lot better than the original source material. I have similar feelings on the Lord of the Rings.

I'm looking forward to Season 2, and hope that it keeps up the momentum. It's a very good show and has the potential to go in many different directions, or dimensions.

 

Lately I've been Reading

Not a very long post today. Here are 2 very different books that I have read recently:

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright

Maybe subconsciously I planned on reading the Loom Tower by Lawrence Wright, right before September 11th, but I hadn't meant to do it--if that makes any sense. I was looking for something nonfiction and the book had been burning a hole on my Audible wishlist.

It was an emotional read. It was a frustrating read. It was a read where you hoped for a different outcome but knew the ending long before the account began.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This is a YA Fantasy about thieves. But the book does not read like like YA. It's more adult than YA. The characters, though described as being teenagers, have experiences well beyond their years. This may have been one of those cases where Bardugo wrote for an adult audience, but her publisher felt it would sell better in the YA market.

I really enjoyed the book and have already picked up the next one in the series on Audible. I don't know what the sub-genre is officially called, but the Fantasy-Thievery sub-genre is one I'm happy to see more of. Authors like Bardugo, Lynch and Weekes are but a few that I have read, and all of them I greatly enjoy.   

 

Current Enjoyment

What I enjoy:

1. The first cup of morning coffee

2. "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut

3. The Fratellis latest album, "Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied"

4. My office

5. Bubba Burgers

Less Superficial Enjoyments:

1. The Wife. Because.

I Read Cat's Cradle again. It's a good book but you have to be into Vonnegut or else you're not going to get it. There was a lot more happening after the big thing that happens than I remembered. The audio version even had a nice interview with the late KV, which was also good. Totally different generation of writer. Very refreshing.

I have an Editor for the novella. I met her at the Author's Expo last month. Full disclosure: I saw her name on the list of editors at the expo and researched her with the All-Mighty Google to see if she was legit. Turns out, she is. So when the expo finally came around, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Tanya -her name is Tanya- seems really enthusiastic about the novella -a trait I associate more with agents than editors. I suspect this is a good thing though. Up until now, I and a select few were the only people who gave a damn about what the hell I've been doing with my meager free time. So it's really cool to have a professional editor get into it as much as I do.

I have some time before turning over the manuscript. I'm going over the notes from my beta-readers and putting together notes on the series, characters, plot -stuff she's going to need. This is more than just copy editing. When all is said and done I hope to see exactly what works and what doesn't.

Inside Baseball

I made a small outline of the series in its entirety. I don't have all the details. A lot of what I have planned in my head is subject to change as the characters develop. I'm not going to force my initial outcome if a particular character no longer feels or acts the way they did when I first came up with it.

That being said:

Anthology#1: 5 Novella's. By the end, all the main characters will be introduced and the reader should have a fairly good idea of the universe, its rules, etc.

The Novels: 3 Novels. The first one picks up right where the last novella ends. These 3 books will cover a specific story I've been wanting to tell for several years now. 

Anthology#2: The jury is still out on this one. I've got a great big world here and I want to be able to explore other areas that perhaps branch away from the main story. This 2nd collection will probably take place between the events of the novels, but again, nothing is set in stone just yet.

A lot of this probably sounds like something only I'd be interested in. But hey, this is the process, my process anyway.

Welcome to my lair...not that I'm some sort of animal...

...Or maybe I am...

Breaking the format for this entry as it's been a while and I need to get back into the swing of things. 

Books worth reading:

Master of Doom by David Kushner

Skip the audio version. All things nerd-culture have a raging hard-on for Wil Wheaton. I, thankfully, do not. Tips for reading a non-fiction book: No, it's not OK to put on a British accent when quoting something from the Guardian. Yes, I realize it's a British newspaper. It doesn't matter. Would you put on a stereotypical Japanese accent when quoting something out of Yomiuri Shimbun? No, no you wouldn't. Also, don't put on a Joseph Lieberman or Bill Clinton voice when quoting them either. It might also help not to sound like such a damn fanboy when reading the rest of the pros. Just few tips from me to you.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

It was on sale so I picked it up cheap. I'm a fan of the Dark Tower series, especially the first 4 books. King went back and updated the Gunslinger in 2003 and the end result was a really polished piece of work. I read an interview with him not long ago. Turns out the Dark Tower books were never edited. O.o I know, right! If you're looking for something from King that isn't hard horror, and more dark fantasy/sci-fi, then give this one a solid read.

3 books by JD Robb

Ok, so the Wife got me into this. I didn't think I'd like them, but they're pretty damn good. For those of you who don't know, JD Robb and Nora Roberts are the same person. No, I haven't started reading romance books, at least, not yet. The "In Death" series takes place in a Blade Runner-esk future New York City where drugs and prostitution are both legal and corporations buy planets and build fancy space station resorts. The main character is a detective. The books are mysteries. Since the author got her success in romance, the sex scenes are well done and pull no punches. Where some authors might 'fade to black' or gloss over the sex, Robb/Roberts dives right in, and it makes for both good storytelling and something different in what can be a formulaic genre.

 

What else is going on:

Got one of the main characters from my novel preserved for posterity. Here's another great piece drawn by Ben Dunn. He did a great job! I really like how the pic came out. He'll have my business for quite a while and if he's up for it, there are 10-plus characters in the novel who would look great next to this one, in my office.

And speaking of my office

Here's mine!

Here's mine!

My Father-In-Law is the best. He realizes that sometime I just need to get away from the Wife, and now I can! (However, what you don't see in the picture is that the wall behind me is only half-finished, so I won't be doing much hiding).

Seriously though, it's good to have my own space, for writing, for gaming, to just chill. When the computer was in the living room, it was easy for both me and the Wife to zone out on the computer/tv. With the office, it helps us appreciate the time we spend together, in-part, because there's a clearly defined border for the time spent apart. I don't know if I'm making much sense, but, bottom line: it's a good thing.

All-Time Best Books or All-Time (in my opinion)

Ok. Been away for a little while. I didn't leave town or anything. Just couldn't write. Anyone who works with me will tell you that the first two weeks of school are probably the most difficult. There are no winners, people! Whether you're a teacher, a janitor, or a lowly member of the IT Department, you're pretty much going to double-down on a Marine Corps Hell Week. This year was unusually rough compared to other years. 

On top of that, my last post left a rather unflattering image of a seething Comic Book Guy and perhaps alienated the geeks in the audience. To this I say, "Nerds, my people, lend me your ears! For I do not loath all of you! I merely ask that you relax when it comes to the things you're passionate about. Life's too short. "


Anyway, down to the meat of it.  

Had a great conversation about books with a coworker today. Her daughter is currently reading Misery by Stephen King and it sent me back to when I was a young impressionable 13 or 14 year old, when I brought The Stand, another awesome book by King, to youth group and got an ear-full from the youth pastor. I read a lot of King back then. The Stand is probably my favorite of his work, but The Dark Tower Series comes in a close second. If I were to group Stephen King books in order of CGMcGinn awesomeness, it would go like this:  

1. The Stand

2. The Gunslinger (Book 1 in the Dark Tower series, duh.)

3. The Wasteland (which is book 3 in the Drk. Twr. series) 

4. The Green Mile (I read it first in a serialized form and had to wait each month for a new section of it to come out. The suspense that came from waiting was insane). 

5. Wizard and Glass (Drk Twr. 4)

6. 11/22/63

7. The Shining

8. Cell

That's just books by King. You have to be in a Stephen King mood though, to read Stephen King. The Stand gave me crazy nightmares when I read it. I think if I read nothing but Steven King, I'd probably have the same feelings I have toward George RR Martin's "Game of Thrones" books.

And while we're on the subject, A Game of Thrones is definitely on my list of great reads. All the well written prose, the suspense and surprises, and character development found through the entire series can be captured in his first book. A Game of Thrones really could stand on it's own. Everyone should read the first book. They can probably skip the rest if it isn't their cup 'o tea. I can sum up the rest of the series by saying that, a lot of shit happens, a lot of people get the shit end of the stick, and a lot of people, good and bad die. 

Favorite "Sci-fi/Cyber-Punk series about a dystopian future where people live in cramped squalor, and hackers travel through cyberspace hacking a ruling class of corporations, gangsters, and artificial intelligence demigods".  Obviously it's William Gibson's Neromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. If you have not read these books then you are a sad and pathetic individual and should feel the shame I am sending through the interwebs directly to you, yes you...sitting there, waiting for a hotpocket to finish in the microwave. I see you. You disgust me! You also need to read Neromancer and all shall be forgiven.

Fav 'hard' sci-fi would be Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I have a feeling that Ender's Game is on a lot of peoples lists. It's sort of a big deal. 

Other books that are kind of a big deal and should be read are: 

1984

A Brave New World

Flowers for Algernon

Philip K Dick wrote a lot of stories and books that became big movies that you've probably seen. He wrote Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and more recently, The Adjustment Bureau, (just to name a few). Another book that he wrote that also became a movie, though it did not receive the critical acclaim as Blade Runner and Minority Report, was A Scanner Darkly. Keanu Reeves stared in the movie version, (not the book), along with a drugged-out Robert Downey Jr. (who probably wasn't acting at the time). I enjoyed the movie and I absolutely LOVED the book. Dick was heavily influenced by the drug culture of the 1970s and A Scanner Darkly was a unique look at an interesting fusion between the culture and science fiction. 

This is running long, so I'll end with Kurt Vonnegut Jr's "Cat's Cradle" and "Slaughterhouse 5", as well as "Breakfast of Champions, " which was adapted into a horrible movie starring Moonlighting's, Bruce Willis.

I'm sure I missed a lot of other great reads that are also in the collection. Should a discussing happen to occur below, I'll probably share more.