Mstation Book Reviews
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Fri, 31 Aug 2007

Myths of Innovation

Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation,

Hmmmmm. I'm not sure that this book is very successful in its aim but it does make some good points. The problem might be that this book is not written for me, a creative person, and therefore, in most corporate environments, the sworn enemy of all the middle-management rules-based people.

To them he talks, spinning a readable yarn which negates epithany and emphasises the work after ... the idea. All very true but the likes of Einstein or Newton are viewed with a somewhat tabloid eye, that either trivialises or denies great achievment. So, you're as good as them are you? (the usual aim) Well, I certainly am not. There is even a ridiculous statement that seeks to negate Newton's genius by suggesting that his playing with alchemy and trying to turn base metals into gold was just a mistake, and with the implication that ole Isaac was just a regular Joe fumbling around. What Newton was doing was exploring unknown areas of science and what might appear to be a mistake given our knowledge most certainly wasn't then unless you were a blind believer in the thoughts of the time. Even now, in fact, there seem to be unkowns in relation to crystal behaviour which might suggest the possibility of weird things happening.

While he does approach the idea of a creative workplace by mentioning the likes of Google he doesn't do so in any depth. There is, of course, a reason why larger companies have trouble doing this. It's not that the people are all idiots. It's that these places need rules to function and the freedom for minds to roam in a sort of focussed freedom. So, it's matter of balance and getting it right on a continued basis is just plain difficult.

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Carl Hiaasen

It's quite good picking up on an author when they've already got a few books out. When you've finished the first you can just pop down to the bookshop and scoop up some more instead of having to wait for the next one to be published.

Carl Hiaasen, for example has already written an arm load and looks set to be around to write quite a few more. An interesting thing about Florida-based Hiaasen is that he's been (quite a while back) picked up by semi-trendy media outside the US - in the UK for example.

The reasons for this are varied but here are some - he's very funny; in his crime books there are an assortment of over-the-top, only in America figures; the badies usually suffer fairly gory and uncomfortable ends, and imaginative too. One UK critic compares him to Evelyn Waugh for the simmering rage he views the world with - disgusting property developers, shyster politicians, stupid and venal white trash - the list goes on and on. Of course it's the humour and imagination that saves the day. Without these we'd just have another depressing alternative news source.

Our favourite so far is Sick Puppy which stars a take-no-prisoners eco-warrior against a cast of venal scum-buckets which includes an ex-drug dealer property developer with a Barbie fetish. Suitably grissly ends await quite a few of them.

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Gibson, Spook Country

William Gibson, Spook Country, Penguin/Viking

William Gibson is the Neuromancer guy, the fellow who coined the word "cyberspace" and who was, along with Bruce Sterling and a few others, a representative of the cyberpunk school of sci-fi.

Lately though, he's been in the present or the near future. His last book, Pattern Recognition (there's a review of it in this section) takes us on a hike around world capitals in a search for some cult video makers. In the background is a sort of Euro daddy-warbucks, a smooth portrait of designer amorality including the fact that we only ever see his surface.

This character is back in the background here, in this new book, and has a few more lines sketched into his character. In the forefront is the female ex-singer of a disbanded cult band. She's trying to be a journalist and has been sent to L.A. to do a story on 3d virtual art which is tied to GPS coordinates. In a parallel story, which will merge later, an old man is taking delivery of iPods full of data in NYC. There's also a semi-addled geek who makes the geospatial things happen.

More than this we won't tell. Part of the pleasure of the book is figuring out just what is going on and who're the good guys and who the bad. It's a fun trip with enough weirdness along the way to give it spice and enough in the way of interesting prose and prose asides to make us feel we're not reading junk, even if there are quite a few brands namechecked along the way... which makes us feel like checking out a VW Phaeton - a big, luxurious Passat lookalike that has a talent for not turning heads.

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