Saturday, April 30, 2011
The book itself is a reader drawing together 55 key academic papers and chapters concerning the theory and practice of cartography written over the past 60 years. The chapters are organized into five sections: Conceptualising Mapping; Technologies of Mapping; Cartographic Aesthetics and Map Design; Cognition and Cultures of Mapping; and Power and Politics in Mapping. For each section we have provided an introductory essay and for each chapter a short abstract, along with further reader and suggested cross-links.
Given space constraints, all the chapters included had to be edited down to be under 5,000 words in length. Most were 8-12,000 words long. The rule was that we could only edit out text, but not add anything, and yet we had to retain argument and narrative flow. An interesting exercise and I think we did a pretty good job.
Unfortunately its quite a pricey buy at £80 (Amazon.co.uk) and $130 (Amazon.com). Hopefully it will be published in paperback at some point in the future.
Dodge, M., Kitchin, R. and Perkins, C. (2011) The Map Reader: Theories of Mapping Practice and Cartographic Representation. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Secret Dead Men was Swierczynski’s debut novel. Its start is somewhat ponderous and hesitant, the prose a little flat, before picking up. My suspicion is that there was no easy way to open the story given the concept at its core. Swierczynski has one hell of an imagination and taking a novice and immersing her/him in the world as he’s conceived it, and to believe and go along with that world, takes a lot of skill. He manages to pull it off and after the first two dozen pages the story is zipping along. The jumping between bodies, false identities and double crossing demands a certain attention to the plot, but it’s well worth it. Secret Dead Men is a blast of a read and the most imaginatively conceived crime novel I’ve read in ages, possibly ever. The story twists and turns its way toward a dramatic conclusion. I tried to tell someone about it not long after finishing. The response was: ‘I know, I know, you’ve already told me – it’s a complete mindf**k’. That about sums it up – a complete head-wrecker of a novel. Wonderful stuff.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Review of Beyond Hitler’s Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews by Michael Bar-Zohar (Adams Media, 1998)
Bar-Zohar tells the history of how Bulgarian Jews were saved, detailing the principle events and characters, based on first hand testimony and archival research. For the most part the book provides a fascinating account of anti-Semitism and its resistance in Bulgaria. However, there are bits of the narrative that are contradictory, which somewhat undermines confidence in the story being told. For example, it is argued that before the war Jews had full equality, and yet they could not enter politics. It’s noted that King Boris manipulated the political scene so that he had absolute power to appoint and dismiss government ministers, yet it’s stated that he was a democrat and enlightened. He was a simple and modest man, yet he was known as ‘the fox’ for his cunning and cleverness. Bulgarian people essentially had no issues with Jewish people and yet it had a range of anti-Semitic events and policy, adopted laws based on Germany’s Nuremburg laws, and had an active anti-Semitic government throughout the war. The Bulgarian Jews were saved, yet 11,000 Jews of Macedonia and Thrace, which became Bulgarian territories, were sent to the death camps. These kind of paradoxical observations challenge the argument being advanced and certainly left doubts in my mind as to the veracity of all parts of the story. I don’t for one minute doubt that a small number of parliamentarians and church leaders did fight and block the expulsion of Bulgarian Jews, but there is a fair amount of supposition and speculation as to the role of King Boris and other leading figures and how events actually unfolded. This is to a certain extent inevitable, but Bar-Zohar never really fills the reader with confidence that his version of the story is the full truth, but rather presents one, partial version of it. The result is a little disconcerting and unsettling. Overall, an interesting book about an important coda to the holocaust in Europe, but one feels that it is not the definitive account.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
In response, MacArthur committed the 32nd Division to the campaign, instructing them to cross the mountains thirty miles to the south of the Australians and to engage the Japanese bridgehead at Buna. No such path existed. Rather they were expected to create a 120 mile route through dense jungle across steeply mountainous terrain. Unsuitable to vehicles, all supplies had to be carried by hand. The division were mainly national guardsmen and conscripts with no combat experience, jungle training or suitable equipment. Not unsurprisingly they suffered enormously before they ever engaged the enemy. MacArthur had little sympathy. He wanted to inflict the first land-based Japanese defeat of the war.
When they eventually reached Buna, they found an elite and experienced Japanese force that was well dug in. Rather than simply surrounding the encampment and starving the Japanese out, MacArthur ordered the American and Australian forces to take Buna regardless of cost. It was an arrogant, selfish decision by a commander completely out of touch with the terrain and conditions, which led to many needless deaths and woundings, with the time saved serving no strategic benefit.
The result was that whilst Buna eventually fell, the campaign had one of the highest casualty rates of the war. Out of nearly 11,000 men in the 32nd Division there were 9,688 casualties, 7,125 succumbing to a variety of debilitating diseases such as malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, scrub typhus and hookworm. Some regiments were decimated. For example, the 126th Infantry Regiment were reduced from 131 officers and 3,040 enlisted men, to 32 officers and 579 men when they were transported out in January 1943. In the whole campaign, across all allied services, 3,300 were killed and 5,500 wounded (compared with 1,100 killed and 4,350 wounded at Guadalcanal).
In The Ghost Mountain Boys James Campbell tells the story of the 32nd Division’s campaign in New Guinea, their trek across the Owen Stanley range and the eerie Ghost Mountain, and their struggle to overrun the Japanese at Buna. Campbell’s account is excellent on a number of levels. First, he does a very good job of personalising the story, tracking a number of Division members from senior officers to enlisted men, based on interviews, letters sent home and archival research. We get to know the men, their personal history and family circumstances. Second, he provides amble contextualisation with regards to New Guinea and its strategic position in the war, the history of the division and its campaign, the war in general and in particular MacArthur’s decision making. Third, by translating Japanese war diaries, he manages to detail the campaign from the Japanese’s point of view. Fourth, he manages to convey, with a great deal of sense of place, the geography, terrain and climate of New Guinea, helped in part by retracing the route taken. Throughout it is clear that he has great respect for the people and events he is documenting. The result is a wonderfully engaging narrative that provides a detailed overview of the campaign. Parts of the story have strong emotional resonance, especially the thread concerning the chief medic Simon Warvenhoven, whose love letters to his wife are reproduced throughout the story. In my view, this is military history at its best, working at different levels and registers to give the reader a real sense of the tragedy of war. A poignant but rewarding read.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Caught Stealing starts at a canter and is soon at a flat out gallop. Huston’s writing is terse, edgy and captivating. I was hooked from the first page to the last. The basic premise is that of the wrong man in the wrong place. Thompson is a resourceful enough character to survive, but only just, meaning that the plot unfolds through a series of chases and violent, visceral near-misses, double and triple crosses, and edge of the seat scenes. And as the story unfolds Thompson slowly transforms from victim to reluctant avenger. This really is an adrenaline filled read, cracking along at a terrific pace. Huston does a great job of introducing the reader to Hank and his world in an economical, yet rounded and somewhat self-depreciating fashion, and in constructing an action filled, yet strangely credible, plot. The backcover blurbs say things like ‘breathless’, ‘unflinching’, ‘hopped-up thriller’, ‘blast of a read’, ‘reads like the Maltese Falcon on crack’ and Caught Stealing is all of these and more. I thought it was a hoot. If someone has some spare cash for the film rights, and they’ve not already been snapped up, then it would make a terrific movie. Definitely in my top three reads of the year so far.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
My posts this week:
Reviews to follow ...
Review of Devil Red by Joe Lansdale
Review of Slow Burn by G.M. Ford
If you were an agent, who would you want to represent?
Review of 30 For a Harry by Richard Hoyt
Review of The Rainy City by Earl Emerson
New book arrived
Saturday, April 23, 2011
It ships on Monday and can be bought from all good bookshops. For a hardback academic book the cost is pretty reasonable. You can find it at Amazon.com for $30 and Amazon.co.uk for £24.
The back cover blurb:
After little more than half a century since its initial development, computer code is extensively and intimately woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. From the digital alarm clock that wakes us to the air traffic control system that guides our plane in for a landing, software is shaping our world: it creates new ways of undertaking tasks, speeds up and automates existing practices, transforms social and economic relations, and offers new forms of cultural activity, personal empowerment, and modes of play. In Code/Space, Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge examine software from a spatial perspective, analyzing the dyadic relationship of software and space. The production of space, they argue, is increasingly dependent on code, and code is written to produce space.
Examples of code/space include airport check-in areas, networked offices, and cafés that are transformed into workspaces by laptops and wireless access. Kitchin and Dodge argue that software, through its ability to do work in the world, transduces space. They develop a set of conceptual tools for identifying and understanding the interrelationship of software, space, and everyday life, and illustrate their arguments with rich empirical material. And, finally, they issue a manifesto, calling for critical scholarship into the production and workings of code rather than simply the technologies it enables–a new kind of social science focused on explaining the social, economic, and spatial contours of software.
Friday, April 22, 2011
As PI stories go, The Rainy City is pretty good. Black is hewn from wherever PI characters are cookie-cut and some of the characters are a little stereotypical, but the writing is expressive and tight, the plot has the right amount of twists and turns, it clips along at a jaunty pace, with plenty of action and realistic dialogue (though occasionally it becomes a little wooden), and there is a nice blend of characters. The end was no great surprise, but then few are, although Emerson does a nice job of maintaining tension to the final few pages. I have no idea why the cover shows a sinister man wearing a clown’s mask. Black's lodger does dress up as a clown at one point, but she’s a beautiful young woman. The book kept me entertained on the two flights between Dallas and Seattle, thus performing its job admirably. The Rainy City is the first in a series of nine Black books and if they improve as they go along, then this is a good starting point.
30 For a Harry blends the worlds of the PI with investigative journalism. Hoyt clearly has a feel for how newsrooms and newspapers operate and he does a nice job of immersing the reader in a newspaper world in transition from typewriters to computers, and under pressure from falling sales and consolidation. The storyline is well plotted and paced, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested until the end, although there are no great shocks at the denouncement. The characters and scenes are nicely observed and the writing has an easy style about it, with a dash of wry humour, that keeps the pages ticking by. Denson is your typical womanising, hardboiled PI, but he seems fresh enough in Hoyt’s hands to make him interesting. Overall, an enjoyable read that has a nice twist from usual PI fare.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Here is my fantasy stable of ten, in no particular order: Joe Lansdale, Duane Swierczynski, Charlie Huston, Dave Zeltserman, Megan Abbott, Adrian McKinty, Arnaldur Indridason, Adrian Hyland, Donna Moore, Carlo Lucarelli
Five Americans, an Australian, an Irish man, a Scot, an Icelander, and an Italian. I reckon there’s a reasonable mix of up-and-coming/experience, geography, crime/humour here, and strong agency identity with a focus around noir, hardboiled and comic crime capers. Blummin’ difficult to pick only ten mind. My reserve ten, left stranded in the wings, are Peter Temple, Philip Kerr, Alan Furst, Jasper Fforde, Daniel Woodrell, Ann Cleeves, Katy Munger, John Connolly, Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly. Heck, this ‘reserve’ team is just as strong as the list above! Maybe I’d have to run two agencies.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Slow Burn by title and slow burn in terms of storytelling. Slow Burn is told in an easy going, relaxed style with an undercurrent of gentle humour. The story features a set of larger than life characters and has a good set up. The narrative is workmanlike, with a good flow between scenes. What the story lacks, however, is tension. The story does build towards a climax, but it is without a real sense of urgency. Whilst there is a nice twist with regards to the identity of the killers, the rest of the ending is fairly predictable. Overall, an enjoyable, gently humorous read that lacked a bit of bite.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Devil Red has all of Lansdale’s trademark writing – cracking dialogue, fast pacing, a motley crew of colourful characters, a dash of slapstick, and a hook and drag ‘em storyline. And it has, for my money at least, the most enjoyable double act in contemporary crime fiction, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. The start to Devil Red is excellent as usual, and the narrative rattles along from there. The end, however, comes too soon and too easily, and the book felt about 30-40 pages too short, missing a couple of twists and turns along the way. This was a shame as it really was a five star read up until the closing scenes, with the pages flying by. That said, Devil Red does little to alter my opinion that Lansdale is one of the best crime writers plying his trade at the minute and if he keeps writing them, I’ll keep reading them.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Joe Lansdale - Devil Red
G.M. Ford - Slow Burn
Earl Emerson - The Rainy City
Richard Hoyt - 30 for a Harry
Charlie Huston - Caught Stealing
James Campbell - The Ghost Mountain Boys
The standout book was Charlie Huston's Caught Stealing. Loads of action, twists, double-crosses, and not a wasted word. As debut novels go, it's a knockout.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Friday, April 15, 2011
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Norm, this one is for you.
You raise me up
‘For god’s sake, Jacob, will you stop humming that tune,’ Mary said.
‘It’s Westlife,’ Jacob replied, as if it that was all the justification needed for humming the same tune for more than two hours. He drummed his fingers on his knees.
‘I know it’s bloody Westlife! Can we change the channel?’
‘Westlife are the greatest!’
‘Westlife are mental cruelty!’
It was approaching one o’clock in the morning. They were parked on a quiet residential road bathed in orange streetlight. The house that they were observing had been in darkness for the past two hours. On several occasions, over the preceding couple of months, Mrs Kovac and her three young children had been subjected to taunts and attacks by a small gang of local youths, who for reasons known only to themselves had taken a hostile dislike to the Bosnian family. The local guards seemed powerless to do anything without material evidence, and by the time they arrived the youths had scarpered. In desperation she had turned to Mary Carmichael for help.
‘Westlife are number one!’
‘Yes, because bonkers people like you and impressionable young girls buy their bloody songs.’ She turned in her seat to stare over at him.
‘I’m not bonkers. I’m special.’
‘We’re all special.’
‘I’m special and you’ve got no legs. Look!’ Jacob pointed at three youths approaching the house, dressed in jeans and hoodies, their hoods pulled up obscuring their faces.
The first egg hit an upstairs window, the second the front door. The youths were laughing and joking, shouting taunts as they off-loaded their supply of ammunition.
Mary already had the camera up to her eye, taking photos, zooming in, hoping for a shot that would identify the attackers.
‘Mrs C?’ Jacob prompted, reaching for the door handle.
‘No, no. We stay in the car and take pictures. Not that I have a choice,’ Mary replied. Her wheelchair was on the seat behind her. By the time Jacob had retrieved it, and she had transferred into it, the youths would be long gone.
‘I could stop them.’ He stared over at her.
‘I know you could,’ she said, raising the camera back to her eye. ‘But you’re not going to. We don’t want to stop them. We want to catch them.’
Their cache of eggs exhausted, one of the youths extracted a can of spray paint from his hoodie and scrawled something on the wall. The three of them stood back to admire their statement: ‘Go home pakis’.
‘Jesus,’ Mary muttered. ‘I guess by definition they’re stupid, but these guys really are morons. They’ve got the wrong country, wrong culture and wrong race.’
A neighbour shouted at the youths from an upstairs window.
One of the lads took flight and darted along the pavement, the other two shouted back threats.
Before Mary could react, Jacob pushed open the door just as the youth drew alongside. The boy crashed into the door with a thud and landed sitting on his backside. Jacob was already up and out of the car.
‘Jacob! Jacob, get back in the car,’ Mary instructed. ‘Jacob! Don’t do anything stupid. Jacob, are you listening to me?’
The kid had risen to his feet, angry and embarrassed at being floored. ‘What the fuck! A fucking mongol! A mongol wearing a fucking Westlife t-shirt. You’re fucking dead, Mong.’
He’d been joined by his two friends, their hoods still up.
‘Jacob, get back in the car,’ Mary instructed.
‘Listen to your mother, Mong,’ one of the other lads said.
‘It’s not nice to throw eggs at people’s houses,’ Jacob said, pushing the car door shut.
‘It’s not nice to knock people over, you fucking Mong.’ The youth went to push Jacob, but found only thin air.
Mary had her mobile phone to her ear. ‘Grant? Grant, you’d better get over here. Jacob’s out of the car. Some kids are about to get hurt ... I’ve asked him to get back in. He won’t listen ... Just get over here!’
‘You’re fuckin’ dead, Mong.’ The lad launched himself forward, trying to save face.
Jacob ducked a shoulder, placing it into the youth’s midriff, lifting him up and letting him drop with a thud to the pavement behind him. ‘You raise me up ...’ he sang, ‘so I can stand on mountains.’
The two other lads rushed him. He stamped on the shin of one, and landed a heavy blow to the stomach of the other, then grabbed their hoods and clattered their heads together. As they moaned, folded in two, he rounded them and swept their legs away so that they landed on their prone friend. Tugging one up onto the other, he sat on their backs.
‘You raise me up ... to walk on stormy seas,’ he continued to sing.
Mary lowered the car window.
‘Jesus, Jacob. All we were trying to do was take some photos.’
‘You said you wanted to catch them. I’ve caught them.’
‘Are you lads, okay?’ Mary said loudly.
‘That’s what happens if you mess with Ireland’s judo champion. He won the bronze medal at the Special Olympics.’
‘He’s a fuckin’ spaz. You’re both fuckin’ dead.’
‘He isn’t a spaz and he whipped your racist asses. Perhaps you should try out for the trampoline team, Jacob?’
Jacob raised himself up and dropped down, repeating the action enthusiastically several times.
Mrs Kovac appeared in her gateway, gazing at the scene, her brow furrowed in concern.
‘That’ll do, Jacob,’ Mary warned. ‘We don’t want to bust the springs.’ Mary waved tentatively at the Bosnian woman. In the distance a siren sparked into life. She rolled her head back and let out a deep sigh, wondering how she was going to explain the situation. She doubted the police would buy the argument that she was just passing. She seemed to have been just passing an awful lot of incidents of late.
‘You raise me up ... so I can stand on mountains,’ Jacob sang happily, bumping up and down in time to the music only he could here.
‘Jacob, stop with the feckin’ Westlife.’
‘Westlife are the greatest!’
‘Westlife are mental torture. If the police ask, we were just passing, okay?’
‘Okay. You raise me up ... so I can walk on stormy seas,’ he crooned to her.
‘You’ll be walking home.’ She raised the window, but Jacob just increased the volume of his singing.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Steve Mosby’s The Cutting Crew is a crime novel with a twist. It’s not really science fiction, in that the book seems like it is in the contemporary era, though its timing is not stated, and it clearly set in this world. However, the nameless city seems other worldly to some degree, divided into sixteen districts, each named after an animal, and each with its own characteristics. Myth has it that the city was founded by eight brothers. Mosby’s narrative is dominated by two elements – the city and its geography and history, and interpersonal relationships. Both were well crafted, providing a textured, layered insight into the two principle characters – the city and the main character, Martin. The story itself is compelling, though it seems to lose its way a little in the middle. Towards the end, it twists in an unusual and fulfilling way, bringing the narrative to a satisfying conclusion. Overall, an unusual crime novel, with strong undercurrents of myth and legend.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
My posts this week:
Irish towns and the crash
Review of The Big Short by Michael Lewis
The Spanish property soap opera
Review of Still Life by Louise Penny
Being used as a chat-up line
Review of The Swiss, The Dead and The Gold by Jean Ziegler
The city is alive ...
Saturday, April 9, 2011
There were nights when he’d drive me out of the city and up into the hills nearby. We’d park and both look out over the buildings and the lights and the people below us, and it would seem to me that in some awful way the city was alive: that there was a dark heart flexing and thumping underneath the skin of concrete and soil. ... The more we talked and worked, the more I could sense the city’s heart beat. It made me feel powerless and awful and weak.
I was supposed to be in control of this city – this enormous creature that was bad from top to bottom – and it wanted none of it. Maybe it would let us get away with the little stuff, but the evil was too ingrained: any concerted attempt to dig it out would bring the buildings crashing down. That’s what Sean said: it was like the human body if you removed all the water – all you’d be left with is a pile of sand.
That was how he saw the city, and after a while that’s how I began to see it too. Partly it was because of the way things worked: everything was so orchestrated and coordinated that it was often difficult not to see a design under it all. But sometimes you only had to walk down the streets to start imagining them as veins and arteries, and on those occasions I often wondered if I could kneel down, press my hand to the pavement and feel the slow thud of the city’s pulse.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Ziegler’s book documents these issues and sets them in the context of Swiss history more broadly and the period of the war. It is somewhat odd book in terms of its structuring and tone. The book seems to jump around an awful lot and it could have done with some restructuring and consolidation. The first chapter labours the point about the Swiss facing up to the decisions and actions of the previous generation, forwarding a moral line. This is revisited throughout the text and really seems to be overdone. And yet, the reason for such caution and explanation is revealed in the afterword. On September 20th 1998, Ziegler – a Professor of Sociology and five time elected official of the National Council of the Swiss Confederation (and subsequently appointed to the UN Human Rights Council) - received a communication from the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office informing him that he was being charged with ‘treason’ infringing the ‘independence of Switzerland, and promoting foreign undertakings directed against the security of Switzerland’. Writing and talking about the history of Switzerland can clearly be a fraught undertaking, especially when many – including very large and powerful banks who fear having to return gold reserves – want that history suppressed and forgotten. In that sense, Ziegler’s book is an important one. Given the relatively limited sources he had access to, and the moral and ethical landscape he was trying to operate in, it would be good to read another, more up to date account. This is an interesting starting point, though not always for the right reasons.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I picked up Still Life by Louise Penny whilst in Montreal. It’s opening novel in her Chief Inspector Gamache series. The book won the CWA New Blood Dagger in the UK, the CWC Arthur Ellis Award in Canada, and an Anthony Award in the US. The book is a modern twist on the kind of cosies written by Agatha Christie and her ilk, though a police procedural rather than an amateur detective. Cosies are not my favourite kind of crime novel and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on with the story and its telling. The cosy feel lessened as the book went on, and the read was entertaining. Part of the story hinges on an unlikely coincidence, though the puzzle itself is clever enough, and Gamache is a plausible and engaging character. Some of the characters are a little clichéd and the character of Nicole seemed underdeveloped and her subplot doesn’t really go anywhere. Overall, a book that will appeal to readers who like their police procedurals with a cozy bent.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Spitting on a Soldier's Grave by Robert Widders **.5
Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse ***.5
The Burning Girl by Mark Billingham ***
He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond ****
A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn ****.5
The Main by Trevanian ****.5
People Who Walk in Darkness by Stuart Kaminsky **.5
Monday, April 4, 2011
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Posts this week:
Review of The People Who Walk in Darkness by Stuart Kaminsky
How useful is your work?
Planning permissions and planning debates
Cash or readers?
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Buying books at these prices got me thinking about authors and what is best from their perspective. I suspect that at two or one pounds the author is getting nothing or little in terms of recompense. So, is it best to sell fewer books but make more money, or to sell more books and have more readers rather than recompense? Cash or readers? I'd be readers, but then I'm trying to live off of book royalties. It would be interesting to get other views.