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Beiträge von Mark Wakely
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Rezensionen verfasst von
Mark Wakely (Lombard, Illinois)

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Then We Came to the End
Then We Came to the End
von Joshua Ferris
  Gebundene Ausgabe

6 von 6 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A Great First Novel, 31. August 2007
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Then We Came to the End (Gebundene Ausgabe)
While Then We Came to the End has been touted for its humor- and it is a funny book- to read it as strictly a spoof of ad agency life would be to diminish what Joshua Ferris has accomplished in his clever novel. Filled with characters that inspire sympathy and revulsion, familiarity and curiosity- often at the same time- this notable first effort captures well what pressure-cooker corporate life can do to the human spirit, no small achievement for any novelist much less a brand new one.

Told from a collective "we" point of view, the characters nevertheless have distinct voices and viewpoints, with their own hopes and desires for life beyond ad life, desires (at times) at odds with their coveted, chosen occupation. Lording over Chicago from their lofty office perches, there's a pervasive sense not only of "how did we get here?" but also a disbelieving, disheartening "so this is it?" in their daily grind. Some resent the hucksterism inherent in the advertising world- despite having fought to be a part of that world- as if the ad world should somehow be more than what is, a corporate job that just so happens to rely on teams of brilliant, creative and quirky individuals for its ultimate success. Worse, by nature some of these unique individuals are nearly the antithesis of the very idea of teamwork, which alone provides some interesting conflict. Characters strive to do their best work, or creatively avoid doing any work, as rumors swirl about layoffs and clients lost and found. With their uncertainties and insecurities surprisingly at odds with their handsome, enviable salaries, they praise and complain, encourage and slander, all the while desperate to avoid the dreaded humiliation of being the next in line to be shown the door. It's this fear of the seemingly inevitable that propels the book forward, and how each character deals with that fear (or its reality) makes the book engaging.

Ferris breaks from the "we" to the first person singular only once, and that's for a stern woman supervisor who's been diagnosed with cancer. Her ruminations on her life and circumstances are poignant without being maudlin, and add an extra, unexpected dimension to the book.

Like other first novels based on real places and events, Then We Came to the End does a fine job of letting outsiders in as it exposes the unglamorous aspects of ad agency life. Readers who spend their allotted time in cubicles and offices anywhere will undoubtedly recognize many of these characters- and maybe even themselves- since corporate life is corporate life no matter where it's found.

Mark Wakely, author of An Audience for Einstein


The Road (Vintage International)
The Road (Vintage International)
von Cormac McCarthy
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 6,60

16 von 16 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A road trip through hell, 10. August 2007
Cormac Mccarthy's The Road is a dark, post apocalyptic journey through the remnants of the world as we know it, with the faintest flicker of hope at the end.

Destroyed by some never quite explained catastrophe, the Earth has become nearly inhospitable to life. A thick ash smothers everything and hangs in the sky, making a cold, quiet moonscape where things had once been green and alive. Through this nightmare world travels bands of desperate survivors, including an unnamed man and his son. The father's plan is to travel south to warmth and the ocean, where he hopes to find their salvation. Along the way they are confronted by cannibals, thugs and others as adrift as they are, a Darwinian struggle reminiscent to some degree of the lost boys in The Lord of the Flies, but far more sinister and disturbing. In particular, the image of the captives of the cannibals- who are being eaten bit by bit, shrinking grotesquely but kept alive so their flesh remains fresh- is a vision of Hell right out of Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. Calling themselves "the good guys," the father and son still carry a gun- with two bullets- to end their lives if needed rather than suffer a crueler fate. The father also struggles with the ethical dilemma of having to "unteach" his son about compassion and empathy, afraid that the boy- who wants to help those equally in need- will only die in the attempt. This "every man for himself" situation is in stark contrast to everything the father believes, and how the boy has been raised. It's this struggle to hang on to the noble aspects of humanity while surrounded by the worse that makes the novel insightful, haunting, and a riveting read.

Mark Wakely, author of An Audience for Einstein


Next.
Next.
von Michael Crichton
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 10,95

22 von 27 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen An important, timely novel but not without its flaws, 10. August 2007
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Next. (Taschenbuch)
Michael Crichton does in Next what he's always done so well in his novels- he explores the scientifically possible and shows us how our decisions to use (or misuse) new technologies can lead to unintended, even disastrous consequences.

Although a case could be made that there are enough characters and plotlines in Next for three or four novels, Crichton's intentions seem to be to deliberately overwhelm us with the dizzying pace of genetic research and all the opportunities for both tremendous good and alarming malevolence in its application. A true Pandora's box in that our scientific curiosity can sometimes get the better of us, the more we learn how to tinker with the very building blocks of life, the more temptations we face to play God. And as Crichton correctly demonstrates in his multi-layered novel, these temptations will not be meted out in some easily digestible fashion, they will come screaming at us in ever increasing numbers until our ability to distinguish the good from the bad is overwhelmed. And just like those multitude of spirits Pandora set free, there will be no going back into the box- discoveries might be lost, but they aren't unmade, particularly ones of this significance and magnitude.

The upside in Next: the end to most diseases and genetic defects is finally within sight. The downside: with all the money involved, there comes a loss of individual privacy and even certain freedoms.

Crichton's first question: are these remarkable discoveries truly worth the price? Crichton's next two questions: will we ever really know the answer to the first question, and will it come too late?

One misstep on Crichton's part: the abrupt switches between story lines- he makes readers work harder than they should have to in order to follow along. But given the timeliness and importance of the story, it's worth the extra effort even though the problem could have been mitigated by some restructuring.

Nonetheless, as thrilling as anything he's ever written- made even more dramatic by the potential for some of it to come true, and sooner rather than later- Next is a worthy read.

-Mark Wakely, author of An Audience for Einstein


Slaughterhouse 5 or The Children's Crusade: a duty-dance with death: The Children's Crusade - A Dirty-dance with Death (Vintage Classics)
Slaughterhouse 5 or The Children's Crusade: a duty-dance with death: The Children's Crusade - A Dirty-dance with Death (Vintage Classics)
von Kurt Vonnegut
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 8,60

4 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A brilliant book, 23. Oktober 2006
This is a very funny novel that- in retrospect- breaks your heart; it's the blackest black humor you will ever read.

It must have taken great courage for Vonnegut- as talented as he is- to take the Allied bombing of Dresden Germany during WWII and make it the main stage for this theater of the absurd tale, particularly since he witnessed firsthand what happened to Dresden. Fail, and you risk being pummeled by the critics for trivializing a horrific, nearly unimaginable event. (For those who don't know, Dresden wasn't "just" bombed; it was turned into a raging firestorm, with hurricane-force winds dragging thousands of victims into the flames to be cremated, and depleting the oxygen in the underground shelters, leaving thousands more asphyxiated.) But Vonnegut didn't fail; he succeeded brilliantly in conveying the absurdity of war by not embellishing events, the tone of the book remarkably matter-of-fact as his main character- Billy Pilgrim- jumps through time and space, gaining a unique perspective on the follies of mankind.

The name of his main character is especially telling of Vonnegut's intentions. Perhaps the most famous Billy in literature is Melville's Billy Budd, an innocent soul whose fate is an unjust death that suggests life is predetermined. And Pilgrim brings to mind John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, an allegorical tale of the escape from the City of Destruction (Dresden) to the Celestial City of enlightenment (the home world of the superior Tralfamadorians, who explain human existence to Billy.)

Perhaps by writing Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut gained some measure of catharsis, found a way to deal with his memories of Dresden and its aftermath. Like many veterans whose refuse to discuss their war experiences, a more direct, "realistic" approach to the firebombing might have been too painful. By taking an indirect approach, however, he was able to open a door that otherwise would have remained locked. That's fortunate for us, since Slaughterhouse Five rises above the historical account of that terrible event to address the larger issue of what it means to be human in a world where what humans do doesn't always make sense.

This is an insightful, important book, and one of Vonnegut's best.

-Mark Wakely, author of An Audience for Einstein


1984
1984
von George Orwell
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 9,49

13 von 15 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A grim warning, 23. Oktober 2006
Rezension bezieht sich auf: 1984 (Taschenbuch)
This is a story that, unfortunately, seems to be slowly coming true. Many science fiction titles are escapist literature that either imagine a very different world(s) from our own, or at the very least, hold out some hopeful message - in other words, the good guys usually manage to win. This is neither kind of book. And it is science fiction because the sinister use of technology is what allows Big Brother to invade everyone's privacy and dictate what the characters can do or say, with severe, nightmarish punishment for "disobedience." There have other novels that have seized upon this idea of an anti-utopia, but Orwell was one of the first to place it in a realistic future, and in a chilling this-is-all-too-possible way.

And the parallels with our modern world are especially profound, parallels that are obvious all around us. The growing number of surveillance cameras on street corners, the ironic (but deliberately) named Patriot Act in the U.S., the rise of political and religious intolerance in the world...all of it does not bode well for the future of our basic liberties. Orwell got in right back in 1948, and although he was primarily referring to the "red menace" of his era, the tactics used by suppressive governments are tempting for any government because of the control such tactics provide, liberties be damned. Your agenda- whatever it is- can more easily be achieved if you can identify your enemies early on and thwart their every move. The problem is, when your enemies are law-abiding citizens whose political (or religious) views don't match your own- and that's the only "crime"- you've stepped over the boundary of national security and entered the realm of repression. And to stop open criticism of these tactics, these governments (including the repressive one in 1984) invariable claim that the critics are "unpatriotic," "traitors," maybe even "terrorists." Sound familiar? Repressive governments have been using these tactics for centuries; only now, modern technology makes it a whole lot easier- and yes, unfortunately, a lot more tempting.

Of course we don't want real terrorists. The problem is, a "quick fix" of sweeping powers put into the hands of a relatively few like-minded individuals- with checks and balances muted if not totally brushed aside- can, will, and has lead to abuse of those powers, primarily for political and personal gains. That was the real message of 1984, and it's one we should never forget. And if the citizens of a repressive government either don't recognize the danger- or worse yet, vigorously defend it under some mistaken notion of being "patriotic" themselves, surrendering their own liberties in the process- that just makes it all the easier for the incumbents to remain in power, with little chance for genuine reform or change.

It's all there in this great book, 1984, which deserves to be widely read forever and amen.

-Mark Wakely, author of An Audience for Einstein
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Brave New World
Brave New World
von Aldous Huxley
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 9,50

18 von 21 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Huxley's masterpiece, 18. August 2006
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Brave New World (Taschenbuch)
A lot has been written about the drug-controlled society versus the natural or "savage" man in Huxley's book, and while that's a significant theme, a more interesting one to me is the isolation of individualism, which I think is often overlooked here. Many books have had this theme, but few have shown such a sharp divide between society and the individual as Brave New World.

A story about a society that has moved as far away as possible from the unpleasant aspects of being human, the question it raises is whether the easy elimination of these "disorders" has actually improved life, or taken something important away, no matter how unpleasant. The growth of the individual- the wisdom that comes from having been both up and down- is clearly missing; these people live half-lives. Yet, despite all efforts to sweeten life by removing all traces of the bitter, there remains a repulsive fascination with the savage, now considered unnatural in just one of many ironies to be found in the book. (Even the "Brave" in the title is ironic, since so few people strive to be any kind of courageous in this New World.) What's been created is a world where to be an individual means to ostracize yourself, to reject the instant gratification and quick fixes for what ails you. Anyone who does that is considered odd, since who wouldn't want a pain-free, always-happy life? The ultimate accomplishment of that indoctrination is to make individualism nearly impossible. That's Huxley's nightmare of the future, his dire warning of where we're headed in a hurry. The rebel or the loner is not only undesirable, it's not even comprehended by this bland society, which twists the "pursuit of happiness" into a kind of singular goal for all mankind. It's a sad world despite all the "happy" people in it, a world devoid of all real human aspirations, a stagnant world. If there's a braveness here at all, it's the unwitting willingness to forgo growth- since that often requires setbacks and pain- for the sake of total comfort.

We haven't yet reached that kind of comfort level in our own society, but the rise of political correctness and how easily people claim to be offended by anything that makes them uncomfortable says that Huxley was (unfortunately) correct about the direction we tend to drift, towards a personal comfort zone that blocks out anything we deem unpleasant, even if there are valuable lessons to be learned in things that conflict with our own beliefs and desires. Perhaps more than anything, that's the real warning behind Huxley's nightmare of his Brave New World.

Mark Wakely, author of An Audience for Einstein


Fahrenheit 451 (Science Fiction)
Fahrenheit 451 (Science Fiction)
von Ray Bradbury
  Taschenbuch

10 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen One of Bradbury's best, 18. August 2006
This somber book, with its theme of government-encouraged anti-intellectualism, was written during an age when "eggheads" were suspected of being subversive somehow, maybe even godless commies. This distrust of intelligence and non-conformity is taken to the extreme by Bradbury, with stark and memorable results. By discouraging education and all forms of intelligent discourse, the future government is able to control the population not merely by force or threats, but by providing an endless flow of mindless entertainment, which (nearly) everyone happily accepts. Like sheep before the slaughter, the placated citizenry of Fahrenheit 451 simply doesn't know any better than to believe what the government pronounces at face value. This perverse form of "mind control"- enforced by keeping minds happily engaged in only the most trivial of pursuits- works only too well, since it is far easier to remain ignorant than struggle to form an opposing opinion that might require courage to express. And by burning the last remaining learning tools that threaten its empire- books- the government tries to erase the possibility that anyone could stir an uprising based on ancient philosophical principles such as democracy, liberty, and self-determination.

Ignorance becomes not only bliss, but a frightening way of life.

Bradbury is one of the original "Golden Age" science fiction writers, and that shows in this book. There's the element of the fantastic in the everyday gadgets here, more speculation and wonder that science. For this reason, it doesn't quite have the realistic edge that most mainstream fiction has, although the philosophical themes in the book elevate it to mainstream status. But if you like the "gee-whiz" in your science fiction, then that's another plus.

Mark Wakely, author of An Audience for Einstein


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