Reviews by eknapp
Terrific action writing; too much coincidence to be great.
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Terrorists attack a Disneyland-style theme park. A special ops team must take them down, disarm the dirty bomb, and save the hostages. You know, the usual.

Very action-oriented. Basically a 292-page strategic and tactical blueprint for how to run an anti-terror operation in a theme park. Rucka is very very good at this stuff...

...but in this case he relied on coincidence to a surprising and unfortunate extent to drive the story. Hero's daughter just happens to show up on Terrorism Day, and Chief Bad Guy's girlfriend just happens to be called in as ASL translator.....for none other than Hero's daughter. They become fast friends during the hostage crisis, just to complicate things.

I love stories about using training, intelligence and superior strategy (as opposed to stupid grunting Ramboesque badassery) to outgun bad guys. While Alpha was satisfying, the level of contrivance was a shame. Rucka kinda phoned it in; what was a good book could have been a great one.
Everything about this book made me happy.
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Two stories are interspersed. First, Emily, a street girl with a gift for getting people to do what she wants, is recruited by an organization that specializes in persuasion. Second, an average guy named Will is hunted for unknown reasons by said organization, from California clear to Australia.

Fantastic. Barry uses Lexicon to explore timely themes of privacy and compulsion, the dangers of disseminating personal information, the sneaky ways in which corporations and governments control and pacify us without using physical force.

In spite of all this cautionary tale-ing, Lexicon is a sharp, smart actiony romp, rife with Barry's characteristic dry wit and slick turns of phrase. There's a lot of pertinent, very-well-researched linguistics and sociology that thrilled my inner wordie.
Great end to this too-short trilogy.
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Excellent finish to this "condensed epic" series. Feels like The Wheel of Time, were it held to three thick volumes. It was almost too short, but it does set a blistering, hard-to-put-down pace.
Except for one massively silly plot point, this was quite good.
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An ancient colony of intelligent giant ants wages war on humanity, driving them to the brink of extinction. The Ant Queen creates an army of allies by transforming the animals of the world into speaking, thinking, vengeful bipeds. A war hero, a former housecat by the name of Mort(e), searches endlessly for his friend Sheba, who fled on the day of Mort(e)'s transformation.

I found Mort(e) frustrating, initially. It purports to be science fiction...humans use advanced weaponry, ants communicate chemically and technologically, etc. But a "hormone" is used to change all of animal-kind into reading, talking bipeds with opposable thumbs? In one night? A hormone that works on mammals, and amphibians, and birds, and reptiles? Without causing a global ecological cataclysm? Better to just call it "ant magic".

Once I accepted that one premise, everything else fell into place and I was able to appreciate the story. The pre-transformation animal perspectives are excellent. Repino's descriptions of how a house cat or an abused pit bull might experience their lives are utterly believable.

There's a lot of Animal Farm here, I think. The animals are enraged at the way they've been treated as possessions or toys, often mutilated--neutered, declawed, cropped--simply for style or convenience. They rise up, intending to create a better society, but end up behaving more or less just like the humans.
Appealed to my inner psych major.
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Non-fiction is not my usual milieu, but this was a gift from a family member so here I am.

The author explores the nature of happiness, its properties and sources, with the end-goal of teaching the reader HOW to be happy. He searches for commonalities across ancient writings (Buddha, Confucius, the Bible, Torah, Aristotle, etc) to support his ideas, though in truth these felt superfluous to me. Haidt mostly relies on psychology and philosophy to back his assertions.

The Happiness Hypothesis's big recurring metaphor is that the mind is a rider on an elephant. The rider represents reason and makes conscious decisions. The elephant is instinct, approach-retreat reflexes, and automatic responses to stimuli. The rider has limited control over what the elephant does, which explains why it's so hard to do things we know we should do (eg exercise portion control). Pitting the rider against the elephant in a contest of wills is doomed to eventual failure. To develop good happy-making habits, one must train the elephant over time.


Some interesting concepts:

--Negativity bias--We're wired to assign greater value to loss than equivalent gain.

--The cortical lottery--We're born with a baseline level of happiness.

--The adaptation principle--Events may temporarily raise or lower one's baseline happiness (winning the lottery, losing a limb) but people eventually return to their baseline level.

--Reciprocity--We're built to reward those who are good to us and punish those that harm us, which incentivizes cooperative, mutually beneficial behavior. Sales techniques are designed to exploit this instinct.

--Motivated reasoning--If we can find evidence that supports the conclusion we want, we tend at that point to stop thinking critically.

--External factors--A few external factors that are shown to systematically affect happiness are noise (especially variable or intermittent), commute (shorter commutes increase happiness even when this means having a smaller home), lack of control (even the illusion of control increases happiness), shame (eg, body image), and especially relationships (strength and number).

--Conspicuous consumption--Evolutionarily advantageous (attracts more/better mates) but it demonstrably reduces happiness.

--The two types of love--As defined by the author. Passionate and companionate. The latter correlates to greater long-term happiness.


At this point the book kind of lost me, as it veered into an examination of divinity, transcendence, religion and purity and virtues that vary from culture to culture. Squishy, ill-defined, and often undesirable stuff. I found the earlier psychology studies and experiments to be more interesting and relevant.

The Happiness Hypothesis, boiled down: strong, numerous relationships create happiness; acknowledging one's own flaws and hypocrisies leads to growth and improved relationships; meditation can help; and dispense with conspicuous consumption.