Monthly ArchiveJuly 2005
Fiction 25 Jul 2005 15:58
No spoilers, read on.
This book is not quite like the previous ones. It is much, much darker, for starters. Throughout the whole story, even during the lighter moments, there is a general sense of impending doom. It is, pretty much, a prequel to the final book in the series, in the sense that many plots and subplots are opened and not many are closed.
As in the previous books, we are introduced to some new secondary characters, some of which look like they may be important later on. Also, the main characters keep developing as they grow up, and I think that this is being very well portrayed by the author. The characters are really changing as they go through their teen years (they are 16 in this book), and romantic relationships start to show up; the electricity between the four main characters (the fourth being Ginny, the Weasley’s youngest child) is palpable, and were it not technically a children’s book, I’d have called it “sexual tension”.
We also get to see a little bit more of the relationship between the magic world and the muggles, especially at the “politics” level; by the way, politics is an interesting sub-thread in the story, although not as important as in “Order of the Phoenix”.
It’s probably not a surprise that the main mistery in the book is “who or what is the Half-Blood Prince?”. This is not revealed until the final chapters, and by then you are so shocked by other developments that you don’t really pay much attention to it. It is an important information, though, and it helps us understand a lot about … well, something. This is best left unsaid.
The final chapters are very violent, and I have to say that the ending feels a little rushed. Anyway, I read the last 150 pages in one sitting, and I felt physically drained afterwards; if you feel at least some empathy towards the characters, the final few chapters will be emotionally hard to read. Be warned.
Word of advice: if you’ve read “Order of the Phoenix” a long time ago, you may want to refresh your memory of it.
Non-fiction 17 Jul 2005 13:41
This is a newly expanded version of a book that was first published in the early 1990s. The first version covered Branson’s story up to 1993, and the new one includes a chapter at the end with new developments since then.
It is a very interesting book. Of course, it is not exactly an unbiased version of Branson and the Virgin group (being written by Branson himself), but it does tell a great story. It starts with Branson still in school, and follows all his commercial ventures since then, starting with the “Student” magazine in the late 1960s and going on to Virgin Records, Virgin Music, Virgin Atlantic and all other virgins around.
Branson is a very interesting character. He is a serial entrepreneur, and also an adventurer who loves “radical” stunts such as trying to circle the world in a balloon. It makes for great story-telling, of course. He admits to making decisions against the advice of, well, mostly everyone, but those decisions usually turn out right.
As for his management style, anyone who saw the TV shows “Rebel Billionaire” and “The Apprentice” was able to notice that he is no Donald Trump; Branson is a child of the 60s, the “peace and love” generation. Can you imagine Trump smoking marijuana or shouting at an anti-war rally? But Branson did that, and more. He is more of a “people’s person”, and it shows; he claims to be distraught at the idea of firing people, for example (and, in his TV show, he did fire people in a very passive way).
By the way, one interesting thing is the sheer size of the Virgin group. They seem to do everything! Virgin Mobile, Virgin Money (credit card, insurance, investments), Virgin Cars, Virgin Rail, Virgin Active (health clubs), Virgin Travel, Virgin Hotels… and much, much more. Granted, some of them seem to exist mainly because the name sounds good (such as Virgin Brides). And at least their line of condoms uses a different name.
In all, a very good book. The inserts with pictures are very interesting as well, as you get to see the “family” side of Branson. Recommended.
Oh, by the way: the episode referred to in the title of the book is, indeed, described in one of the first chapters. It is an unusual event.
Non-fiction 04 Jul 2005 13:54
In this book, Jon Katz, writer for Wired, Hotwired, Slashdot and others, tells the story of two teenage boys from Idaho who, through their geekyness, go out into the world and build a new life for themselves in the big city (Chicago).
Granted, this all happened in the good old days of the Internet boom, when geeks were even more valued by the corporate world than today. Still, with the help (not always intentional) of the author, the two boys manage to move out of their dead-end lives in the middle of nowhere and into a very different world.
Their geekyness is the defining factor in their lives: in Idaho they have no friends, no peers, no one with whom they can talk about the things that are important to them. Every day, they are ostracised, taunted and assaulted by jocks and other “popular” kids because they are different. The first clue they get that being different is not necessarily bad comes from one teacher who helps them set up the “Geek Club”. Afterwards, when the author finds them, they are already proud of being geeks, and spend most of their time out of school and work online.
The book ends on a very intense note due to the massacre at the Columbine High School, which caused politicians and school administrators all over the USA to pick even more on geeks, goths and any other kid that didn’t “fit”. The author, through his writings on Slashdot (and personal e-mails), helped countless young kids to deal with the situation and even to “enlighten” their parents and/or teachers.
It is a book about geeks, but not only for geeks. An excelent read.