Wednesday, October 27, 2010

playing with fire

In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson introduced us to his quirky, introverted, antiheroine: Lisbeth Salander. I know the title was translated* but when I read it, I couldn't help wondering where the 'girl' was in that story. It seemed to be a story, mainly, about Mikael Blomkvist, the investigative reporter who employs Salander's talents for clandestine research, and later, develops an extra-curricular interest in her.

In contrast, The Girl Who Played with Fire is much more focused on Salander, and helps to fill in some of the mysterious gaps about this troubled woman. This installment has us rooting for her to overcome her underdog status (in most cases) but still shows us how cheering for a deeply troubled, victimized woman can also leave us cringing, as she steps over boundaries that most of us do not--or would not, in the same situation--cross. We are however, secretly gleeful when she does, and proceeds to kicks some ass.

If I had one problem with this one, its because I'm a little forgetful of the names. The Swedish names, being as they are, outside my bubble of common knowledge, are even tougher to remember, and this story has lots of characters. Add to this, Larsson's artistic play with language--and here I am assuming that this isn't a translation issue. The text includes snappy dialog like: What's the latest from Sonderlåad?** Forget about: is that this lady, or that guy? I haven't got past thinking: is Sonderlåad a person, or a place?

That being said, this story has quite a bit of depth, and ties nicely to the first novel, answering many questions, while leaving others unanswered, and adding some new ones. Where Larsson, and Salander, will go in The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is something I'm looking forward to finding out.

* Original Swedish title: Flickan som lekte med elden, or Men Who Hate Women. Translation by Reg Keeland
** I made up both the quote, and the name.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

the grand design

Stephen Hawking co-authored another book with Leonard Mlodinow, A Briefer History in Time, which I haven't read. Somehow, it seems like going back and reading books like this, years after they were written, will be a waste of my time. The current book, The Grand Design, is the latest thinking by this deep-thinking duo, and as such, disputes or clarifies some of things that the great minds (maybe including themselves) were thinking just a few years ago. So read it while is fresh, y'all.

I have read Hawking's A Brief History of Time, and Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, when they first came out and this recent books tries to go a little farther. This book made the news when it was released, as you may have heard, because it says right upfront that it will be discussing the origins of the universe from a scientific standpoint, and the actual origins of the universe(s?) can be understood in purely scientific terms. I think statements have been made like this before, but Hawking and Mlodinow come right out and say, "...creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god.", in the first chapter. You can imagine that stirring the pot like this is going to get some folks excited.

The Diagorain Duo then go on to mention God or gods, in various ways throughout the rest of the book. Mainly, I gather, to make the point that while it isn't necessary for a god to have begun the universe, and establish all the laws in it, does not mean that a deity or deities of some kind, don't exist. In fact, they mention all kinds of creation stories, from all different traditions, reinforcing the point that man has invented many different ways to explain the unknowable which surrounds him, none of which agrees with the science. Yeah, hot topic.

Back to the science. Hawking and Mlodinow are now selling M-Theory as the bestest model to describe the universe. Its got a little o' this, an' a little o' that; multiverse, string theory, quantum theory, Newtonian physics, general and special relativity, all stirred in there for some home-grown universal origins goodness. Funny thing: it hangs together pretty well. H&M help resolve some tricky questions us mere mortals have been struggling with, about the squirrely way quantum particles act, what a multiverse really means, and what happened before the beginning of the universe. Good stuff.

This is a quick read, and I don't think you need to be versed in all of these ideas before picking this book up, but I'm sure it helps. The writing was relaxed, and tries to be funny (jokes are a little professor-tells-joke-in-class, result: polite laughter) and the illustrations are lovely, and very helpful. Thanks to my lovely wife for giving me this book, I enjoyed it a lot.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I've never written a movie review before, and I don't know if there is a book that this movie was based on.--Wait, lets check... no, I guess not. Sounds like there isn't a book out there which may be better than the movie.--The storyline itself is interesting, but perhaps not completely original: the invasion of others dreams. What's different about this story is that, rather than using shared dreams for horror, the makers of this movies wanted to look at how an entrepreneurial dream sharer may use shared dream space, as it is called in the movie, for monetary gain. I'm sure you could come up with a variety of fun-and-games type uses, but where the real money is, is in secrets.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is just such an entrepreneur, and thief, who uses the shared dream space to steal trade secrets; extraction. The idea is to slip into the dream, interact with the dreamer, and get them to give up their secrets by manipulating the shared dream. A much more difficult, and sensitive objective, is what Cobb and his team have been hired to do; Inception.

The idea is to introduce an idea into the dreamer's unconscious, whilst sharing their dreams, at a point so deep, as to prevent them from knowing the idea didn't originate within themselves. Very subtle stuff here, and treated very delicately in the film. A number of sub-plots help to move the actions of the players through the narrative, again, in very subtle, and well thought out ways.

Fun for me: shared dreams need an architect to help build the landscape through which the shared dreamers move. From buildings to entire cities, the architect helps to layout the dreamscape so that the thieves can find their way around, and sometimes are used to manipulate the dreamer into giving up their secrets.

Tense, exciting, emotional, visually lush, and well acted. I'm a science fiction fan anyways, but this was one of the better ones. When the credits rolled, the three of us were like Keanu Reeves embodied: whoa.

Monday, October 4, 2010

casalini libri

Casalini Libri S.p.A bills themselves as providers of "Publications and Services to Libraries around the world." Two of their online products are Editoria Italiana Online and Casalini Digital Library, which provide digital content for libraries. According to their literature:
"Casalini Libri S.p.A., since its foundation in the late 1950’s, has been dedicated to the supply of bibliographical services, books and journals to National, academic and public libraries and institutions worldwide. The company, headquartered in Fiesole (Florence, Italy), adheres to the ISO 9000 Quality Management System."
Sounds cool, right? Yeah... not quite sure what it means. So, I dig a little deeper into their site, and I find this:
While Casalini Libri earned its reputation through decades of service providing Italian publications to academic libraries throughout the world, we have gained several years’ experience and developed an efficient workflow for the supply of European publications. Casalini Libri supplies monographs, monographic series, serials and periodicals published in Europe...
That seems to do it, right? I said hello to these folks at ALA Midwinter in Boston, and I'm pretty sure that's when I grabbed this bookmark.

History of bookmarkers here.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

get shorty

Did y'all see the movie? Everyone did, I think. Chili Palmer is an ex-New York, ex-Miami shylock, who's following the money trail to the coast, and finds more than he hoped for. The loan shark business is wearing thin for Chili, as is the endless stupidity of his fellow gangsters. In LA, Chili sees how a man with his experience, street smarts and savoir-faire may be an asset in Hollywood.

This is the first book I've read by Elmore Leonard, so I'm not sure if all of his books are written this way or not, but he writes the way people speak to one another in the street. His writing sounds like speech; it sounds like someone you know is telling you a story.

Chili and Tommy were both from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, old buddies now in business together. Tommy Carlo was connected to a Brooklyn crew through his uncle, a guy named Momo, Tommy keeping his books and picking up betting slips til Momo sent him to Miami, with a hundred thousand to put on the street as loan money.
The language just rolls, and keeps on rolling, right through this story. It pops, hustles, and jives the way Chili does. Leonard's language doesn't give a damn, and its not waiting for anyone; you have to keep up, or get out of the way. That, coupled with less than 300 pages, makes for a fast, fun read. I'll keep my eyes open for more Elmore Leonard.