Mstation Book Reviews
pre Dec 04 reviews are here
Fri, 30 Jun 2006
Douglas Coupland, JPod, Bloomsbury large format paperback
ironic TV paper CPU concept rot cellphone soul cubicle heaven
note to Douglas Coupland (note to self: pronounced Coop-land):
That's pretty cool that after you saw it reported on the web that you collected meteorites that you actually started doing it.
I just read your new book, JPod. It's fun, no doubt, but the earlier Microserfs is a hard act to follow in many peoples' eyes and this is quite different in a few ways. It had to be different of course. Otherwise, what's the point?
I kind of wondered about one of the character's comments where he talks about that TV show set around the swimming pool where it was observed that when the writers ran out of ideas, they just made things very bizarre. Hmmm, we sure get into big time bizzarity pretty quickly in JPod, Douglas. I mean, you know, Mom and the dead biker? Dad and the girl? The Chinese boat people? Are you telling us something here?
Well, maybe the thought of all those cubicles where the games people hang out drove you to it. I can understand that although I guess cubicle workers might find this whole thing about a million times more interesting and cooly-wooly than _their_ cubicles. Fair enough. Geeks got some affirmation in Microserfs and now it's Cubicle Worker's time. They deserve it.
Another thing, Douglas, is that these people all seem a bit dumber. Not morons, but they seem to be fishing around in the pragmatic undergrowth for thoughts. I kind of miss the out of left field sweeps and the vision stuff from the right side of the Bell Curve.
Oh, and what's with the K-girl thing? There was Karla in Microserfs who was the main love interest (well, OK, for me) and this time it's Kaitlin. Maybe it's a sign of not having a life but I don't know one female whose name starts with "K". Hmmm, I just thought of one where the affectionate diminutive starts with a "K". And guess what? ... nevermind, the "K" thing is clearly my problem.
Anyway, I guess this is a different time. Maybe it will get better soon.
Kirsten Miller, Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, Bloomsbury
'what do you want to be when you grow up?'
And, having paraphrased the question a little, we meet the main protagonist, Kiki Strike.
The book is about a group of girls who band together to explore the Shadow City which lies seventy feet beneath the bustle of New York. It's a world of secret rooms, tunnels, trap doors and danger. It's also a world which must be protected against criminal elements. And then there's the treasure. Fun!
The happy band includes some wildly eccentric girls by current standards - the forger and computer hacker, the mistress of disguise, the fixer, and the teller of the tale - Ananka Fishbein, archivist, positive force, and social outcast pupil of an exclusive girl's school.
Yes, this happy band are all about thirteen and this is primarily a book for kids. Is it readable by adults in the way that Harry Potter is? It is probably better written for a start. It could well be something picked up over the summer when the urge for something light peaks, and where a sister or daughter has left it lying around.
Wallace Wang, Steal This Computer Book 4.0, No Starch Press
This book is probably not for those who get upset about the iniquity of parts of the human race. It guides us nicely through the computer and internet underworld and as such it's a fairly good guide to a lot of the possible things that can go wrong.
It is not, however, a criminal's guidebook. The details are mostly left out so budding scipt kiddies will need to do further research.
The book starts off by looking at the early hackers, their attitude (same as now - explore!) and what they did. Then onto the PC pioneers, the internet, and what's happening today and what might be likely to happen in the future. There's also a section on locking down your computer. In this you can save yourself a fair bit of bother (heh, heh, except for getting it going) by using an Operating System like Plan 9.
Katie Kitamura, Japanese for Travellers, Hamish Hamilton/Penguin
You might think the title indicates a Japanese language tutorial of the sort that introduces you to a few basic words that get you around and fed. Konnichiwa! ... that sort of thing.
In fact it's a view of changes in Japanese culture that have resulted first from WWII and then the bursting of the economic bubble in the recent past. The most recent past has seen more prosperous times but that is not talked about. So, this is far from a lofty Heiean view of rural tranquility and poetic moments. Ah, reality, you say, that's what it's about, and it is about a slice of reality as seen by a Japanese American who has family ties in Japan and visits reasonably frequently.
The truth, of course, isn't just social disconnectedness caused by the end of jobs-for-life or lessened wealth, and which has caused disturbing behaviour in different sections of society. It isn't just saran gas in the subway, the disappeared elderly, or deserted Dutch-themed folies. It is all the other things as well: the rich cultural and artistic heritage, the everyday politeness (and phoey to those that say manners are just fake -- they are a mark of repect for fellow humans), and the collision of beauty and ugliness that sums up somewhere like Tokyo.
If you want to know about Japan, this is one part of the story and is useful because we in the West don't know that much about these aspects. You can cover the other part by reading something like Lost Japan by Alex Kerr.
David Kushner, Masters of Doom, Random House, Piatkus