Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Book review: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 (Leo Demidov, #1)Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Russia serial killer not Russian.

Child 44 follows MGP – Russian police- security officer Leo Demidov. Leo tows the party line until circumstances force him to accept that crime does actually does exist in the Soviet Union. Leo is the only person interested in bringing a prolific serial killer to justice.

I’d heard many great things about Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It won a pile of awards, even being included on the Man Booker long list, and became a must read for crime fiction fans. You know there is a ‘but’ coming. I like my buts big, and I cannot lie.

But Child 44 annoyed me. The story itself is well told. The characters are interesting. The antagonist is based on the real serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. Those points didn’t stop the nagging at the back of my brain. The premise is a great example of a nagging point. If the Soviet Union didn’t believe there was crime, let alone murder, after the revolution, then why the hell did they keep crime statistics? And there were no serial killers in… Oh wait, there are 9 acknowledged from Russia alone in the 20th Century.

The problems don’t stop there, of course. The usual Russian tropes are rolled out like an “In Russia” joke. I’m not really in a position to judge how valid any of these tropes are, nor how accurate a portrait of post-WW2 Soviet Union Tom paints. But when I’ve read Russian authors in the past their novels didn’t give the sense of place that Tom does. This really did feel like a British author’s take on what the Soviet Union was like based upon those Cold War films they watched as a kid.

Another minor problem I had with the book was the way it dragged scenes out. This was meant to be about creating tension and suspense, but all it did was annoy me. My annoyance on this point may have been driven by my heightened sense of “vodka to wash down amphetamines… really?” moments from the novel.

If you can get past the generic tropes, this is a book worth reading. I’m sure I would have rated it more highly if I hadn’t read a few Russian authors and seen a few Russian films to realise how much of a Western view of the East this novel is.

View all my reviews

Can you recommend some Aussie movies?

aussie_20films

Studying Aussie films to figure out our culture is tough to do. Most of the movies or TV shows that are spoken about tend to offer up stereotypes of Aussies to showcase a facet of our larrikin humour (e.g. The Castle). Our culture is wide and varied, as can be evidenced by our films, which are as good as any other film industry world wide. I’m going to give some examples.

Aussie cinema in general is noted for producing some absolute rubbish *cough* Australia *cough* whilst audiences ignore the fantastic films. I think some of the best Aussie films have been made in the last decade and didn’t get much, if any, attention. E.g. The first one on my list is bound to become a cult classic. Non-existent distribution deals, lack of interest in lower budget movies in favour of the latest loud noises and fireballs from Michael Bay, and the generally undeserved ignominy that Australian films suffer under, and you could be excused for never having heard of any of these films. This is by no mean an exhaustive list either.

Predestination: Sarah Snook and Ethan Hawke in an adaptation of the Robert Heinlein story All You Zombies. The cast are amazing, the story is excellent, and the film just oozes intrigue. Snook is an actor to watch.

Sarah Snook is a chameleon in this film.

Sarah Snook is a chameleon in this film.

Daybreakers: From the same creative team behind Predestination comes this earlier vampire film. Ethan Hawke again stars along with Aussie icon Sam Neill – yeah, we’re going to claim him as an Aussie, screw you New Zealand!

Jack Irish: This series of crime films – and now a TV series – were released on the small screen and star Guy Pierce. Adapted from the excellent Aussie author Peter Temple’s book series, you’d be hard pressed to find a better cast and layered characters.

These Final Hours: With a pretty much unknown cast and made in Western Australia on a small budget, this fantastic film went completely under the radar. Set as the world is about to end, it follows Nathan Phillips as James as he tries to get to a party for the end of the world, but instead finds what he really needs to do in his final hours. Lot’s of unglamorous Perth scenery.

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The Babadook: Quite simply the best horror film made in years regardless of where it was made.

The Rover: Another Guy Pierce film and also starring some guy that sparkles. Post-apocalyptic tale about Australia becoming a wasteland after the global economic collapse. Pretty much what everyone assumes Australia is like anyway, especially if they are Mad Max fans.

Australia-Day-5-Aussie-films-The-Rover

The Tracker: This is a historical tale about an Aboriginal tracker tasked with helping a colonial policeman find the killer of a white woman. This is a bit older than some of the other films on this list, but worth a watch as it has been overshadowed by the film The Rabbit Proof Fence.

Son of a Gun: Ewan McGregor and Brenton Twaites star in this crime drama set in Western Australia. A young crook is recruited by the experienced armed robber McGregor to pull off a gold heist. Lot’s of true Aussie scenery.

Cargo: Short zombie film that will tear your heart to shreds. Seriously, watch it now.

Special mention for Let’s Get Skase as an Aussie comedy that covers some interesting parts of recent Aussie culture.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

See also:

https://taylorlappin.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/good-aussie-films-tell-em-theyre-dreamin/

Is sport king in Australia?

Sports Supporters: Alcohol Compulsory Accessory

Sports Supporters: Alcohol Compulsory Accessory

With pork-barrelling season in full swing, we will be seeing plenty of politicians hitching their wagons to prominent sports and sporting teams. The proclamations that sports are True-blue, dinky-di, Aussie will come to win over voters, with a little somethin’ somethin’ in the budget to sweeten the deal. Because sport is king in Australia, right?

Aussies are routinely described as sports mad, sports addicts, and that we love watching and playing sports in sporty sports ways. But how many of us actually play sports? How many of us actually watch sports? Given that you could describe weekly matches of football as repeats of the same teams doing the same thing for months on end annually, it is worth taking a look at a few of our assumptions about the claims.

Let’s start with a look at how many Aussies play “sports”. Inverted commas around sports? Yes, because when people say that 60% (11.1 million) of Aussies play sports – down 5% compared to 2 years previous – what they actually mean is that we’re classifying walking and generally not sitting on the couch watching TV as sport. Let’s make it fairer on sports and subtract the walkers from being classified as sport participants. And let’s not succumb to temptation and call golf just more walking with intermittent cursing. That means that our 11.7 million “sports” participants is suddenly 7.5 million, which is 41.4% of the population (and falling with the ageing population). That figure sounds impressive until you realise that figure is participation of at least once in the past year and doesn’t account for the regularity of participation. How regularly someone is involved in sports is a much better indicator of our interest and love of sports. As opposed to accounting for that time you went to the gym because of a New Year’s resolution or because the doctor ordered you too out of concern for being dragged into an orbit around you at your next visit. The reality is that less than half of the population engage in regular (3 times per week on average) physical activity, with roughly a third of those people being gym junkies (NB: young men are more likely to play a sport, that drops with age and isn’t replaced with other activities, whilst women are more likely to be involved in non-organised sports and remain doing so).

The Top 20 most popular physical activities are dominated by fitness activities like the already mentioned walking, aerobics/fitness, swimming, cycling, and running. One of the big name sports, AFL, ranks 16th on the list behind yoga. When yoga beats football for popularity it must only be a matter of time before the PM declares it the most exciting sport. For those wondering where rugby is on the list, the rest of Australia says ‘hi’.

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Of course, this is only looking at sports. How does sports participation compare to other activities? Well, ABS figures show that we spend roughly 23 minutes a day reading, versus 21 minutes on sports and outdoor activities (NB: this varies between genders and age groups). The US figures show similar results with more time reading than playing sports, but they also spend less of their day on both activities. So at least we are still better read and fitter than Americans in the low bar metrics.

Obviously sports aren’t all about participation and most would regard themselves as avid armchair sportspeople. It could be argued that the best way to stay injury free in sports is to participate from the comfort of the couch in front of the TV at home. The other option is to attend a sporting stadium dressed in clothes made from random assortments of gaudy colours to cheer on a team who are wearing similar clothes but are less inebriated. Or would the most appealing option be to go to a movie, concert or theme park? The correct answer is that people would prefer to attend a movie (59%), a concert (40%), or a theme park (34%). Live Comedy (31%) was more popular than Football (30%), Cricket (29%) and Rugby (25%).

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Of course, someone is bound to point to spectator numbers for AFL, A-League, and NRL that look very impressive. With average match attendances in the tens of thousands, and millions annually, sports are clearly important.

Competition Total spectatorship Average match attendance Year Ref
A-League 1,887,206 13,480 2013–14 [108]
Australian Football League 6,975,137 33,696 2014 [109]
Big Bash League 823,858 23,539 2014–15 [96]
National Basketball League 574,813 5,132 2013–14 [96]
National Rugby League 3,060,531 15,940 2013 [110]
Super Rugby 773,940 19,348 2012 [111]

At a glance the figures look mildly impressive, but much like enhancement pouch underwear, things aren’t nearly as impressive when you look at the attendance figures in the cold light of day.

Even if we disregard the doubling up and totalling of attendance occurring in the stats, it is easy to see that even the most popular sport in Australia would rank behind visiting Botanic gardens, zoos and aquariums, and libraries. They aren’t even in the same ballpark as cinema attendance. But we can go deeper on the reading, library and cinema figures, even getting frequency statistics so we can tell the difference between the people doing something “at least once” versus people doing something regularly in the past year. 47.7% of people are reading a book weekly, 70% of library attendees (mostly women) visited at least 5 times in the past year, 65% of Australians are (computer) gamers, and 65% of Aussies go to the cinema an average of 6-7 times a year. And yet sport has a segment in news broadcasts whilst reading, gaming, and parks and zoos battle to get media coverage. Technically if we wanted to be fair then the sport segment would be cut to make way for movie news and a live cross to the local library.

What about the economy? How much are households spending on sports? That’s a great question and a great segue into a discussion of how trickle-down economics doesn’t work in sports either. I mean, funding sports that way when it hasn’t worked in the economy must be a no-brainer, right? [Insert low IQ athlete joke here] Or we could stay on topic and discuss the $4.4 billion sports and physical recreation spend by households annually. Let’s not complicate things by talking about the buying of stuff like footwear, swimming pools, and camper vans. Seriously, camping is in the sport spending category? Either way, $4.4 billion sounds like a lot of money, until you realise that gaming is a $3 billion industry, and that households spend $4.1 billion on literature and $4.7 billion on TV and film.

We allow governments to spend a lot of money on big sports and big sporting events. Think that hosting the Olympics will encourage people to play sports? Nope. Actually, seriously, nope. One report described this idea as nothing more than a “deeply entrenched storyline”, sort of like a fairy tale handed down from one Minister for Sport to the next. Part of the problem is that we buy this narrative hook, line, and sinker, such that the sports themselves (and surrounding data agencies) never really bother to keep statistics to prove the claims. But they make for great announcements and ribbon cutting events on the election campaign trail, so the myth keeps on keeping on.

Ultimately the argument isn’t that sports are unpopular or bad but rather that we spend an inordinate amount of time pretending we like them far more than the reality. And that is impacting our elected officials more than a chance to wear a high-viz vest at a press conference. Maybe it is time to rethink what media and funding we throw at sports, and perhaps consider a gaming segment on the news.

So this pork-barrelling season look forward to the announcement of a new multi-million dollar yoga stadium in a marginal electorate near you.

Further reading:

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19407963.2012.662619
http://apo.org.au/files/Resource/Crawford_Report.pdf
http://www98.griffith.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/handle/10072/57329/91705_1.pdf
https://theconversation.com/we-need-abs-arts-and-sports-data-to-understand-our-culture-30255
https://theconversation.com/olympics-success-leaves-a-mixed-legacy-for-australias-sporting-life-7531
https://theconversation.com/will-the-olympics-really-inspire-more-people-to-play-sport-8913

 

What are some great mind-blowing books for a fiction fantasy lover?

There are so many great fantasy fiction novels out there, I’m just going to list a few of my favourites.

Deepak Chopra: Quantum Healing

Let’s face it, Chopra has been a bestselling fantasy author for decades now, so I could have named any of his books. He never fails to churn out the most epic of fictional nonsense, but Quantum Healing has to be his most mind-boggling work.

Various: Climate Change: The Facts

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here, as this treads into science fiction territory, but as a work of fantasy, it also holds its own. This collection of short stories is by a who’s who of fantasy authors on the theme of an alternate reality where climate change isn’t real.

Jeffrey Smith: Seeds of Deception

From everyone’s favourite flying yogi comes his groundbreaking fantasy novel about conspiracies, genetics, food, and how to ignore several fields of science and scientists by shouting la-la-la-la. Also qualifies as a comedy due to being so laughable.

Stephanie Messenger: Melanie’s Marvelous (sic) Measles

An homage to Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine, this piece of fantasy is notable for being written as though the author were a child who never learnt English. Such an amazing piece that is sure to have you queueing for the iron lung.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Book to Movie: Harry Potter – What’s The Difference?

I guess it was only a matter of time. CineFix have finally gotten around to comparing the Harry Potter series of books to the movies. This is part 1 of 3. Grab a butterbeer and enjoy.

Truth be told, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Harry Potter series. I disliked the first film – it was clearly made for children – and could not be convinced that this phenomenon was anything more than overhyped rubbish.

Yeah, I was wrong.

It was after the movie series took on the darker and more adult tone that I became interested. I decided to see what all the fuss was about and began reading; an easy thing to do since my wife had the books in our collection. I loved the books, reading the final two on our honeymoon.

With the fandom surrounding the books, this was always going to be a series that was as faithful to the source material as possible. Last thing you want to do is piss off a bunch of kids you’re planning to milk for the next decade with film, merchandise, and costume sales. Even though the CineFix guys talk about the first three films being largely faithful adaptations, I can think of a few minor points that were glossed over in the movies, such as the Phoenix tears healing all wounds. That moment in the film seemed to smack of deux ex machina, unless you had read the books. And that is a liberty you aren’t meant to be able to take with adaptations, as the reading audience is always smaller than the movie audience… usually.

I’m looking forward to the other instalments in this book versus movie comparison, as they may explain why the movies made some of the changes they did.

Why are Aussies so well mannered, helpful, and nice?

Let me help you with that...

Let me help you with that…

The main reason Aussies are so helpful and nice is that it is really hard to pick someone’s pocket if they are suspicious of you. By distracting the mark with a greeting, smile, an offer to hold your bag while you fumble with your car keys, it gives the crook more time to smoothly lift your wallet and other valuables.

Generations of breeding among convict settlers has perfected the balance required to be the perfect thief. A large part of being the perfect thief is charm.

Thanks for reading this answer, and ignore the strange purchases on your credit card.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Don’t Give Your Work Away

Exploitation requires two parties: the one lying on the barrel and the one standing over them. Probably best not to willingly lie on the barrel.

Book Review: Snow Angel by Badger Jones

Snow AngelSnow Angel by Badger Jones
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What if your Guardian Angel is watching you right now? Yeah, better close that other browser tab. You know the one.

Alex is a bum. His daily adventures revolve around stomping through the snow to buy the best “bang for buck” beverages after begging for money. And then he meets his Guardian Angel who is a huge fan of his lifestyle. Oh, and apocalypse. Gotta avoid another one of those.

In the interests of full disclosure, my friend Badger wrote this novel. He didn’t offer me financial, reciprocal, nor sexual favours for a favourable review: the bastard.

There is a lot to like about this novel. There is a hard reality to the main character’s life as the supernatural intrudes upon the tale. There is humour combined with a grittiness throughout. But I also found myself wanting the novel to advance a little faster. It wasn’t laboured, it’s actually quite fast paced, but it felt like I was having to sit still for too long as Alex wrapped his head around what was happening. Although, this is often the risk with the loser anti-hero; you can get annoyed at them.

In other words, give it a read.

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Book Review: The Lost Island by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel #03The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel #03 by Douglas Preston
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What did the one eyed monster say to the art thief….. Wait, this isn’t that sort of novel.

Gideon Crew has been tasked with stealing a page out of a rare and valuable Book of Kells in order to uncover a map. Like any good map, it leads to a treasure worth killing for; something Google Maps really needs to work on. To follow the map Gideon needs a sidekick who knows ancient Greek and the tale of Odysseus. Off Gideon and Ami romp to find the McGuffin.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child rank somewhere on my favourite author list, since I’m a fan of their individual novels and their joint Pendergast series. So I was somewhat disappointed in my first outing with the Gideon Crew series. This isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t good either.

Normally the usual “historical artefact can save/doom the world” trope is deftly handled by Preston and Child. They wrap enough interesting characters and plotting around the improbable to make it all work. But the minor characters weren’t that interesting and Gideon was not a character I connected with. You could probably replace Gideon with an amorphous blob of sentient putty and I’d have been more engaged. And you need this engagement because you have to ignore how ludicrous a race of cyclops are – seriously, just wouldn’t have evolved: not plausible at all.

I doubt I’ll return to the Gideon Crew series and will instead stick with Preston and Child’s other (superior) works.

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Some more “kids these days”

I’m not a fan of the “kids these days” arguments and memes that make their way through social media via the express head shaking admonishment brigade. I’ve written previously how the arguments are recycled garbage, as old people have been complaining about young people since the invention of youths.

You may have seen this image:

kids on their phones

That’s right: self involved kids looking at their phones instead of the amazing work of art behind them. How dare they! Shake your fist at the sky.

Of course, they aren’t self involved narcissists, at least not any more so than other people in society. That is actually a group of students that have just finished admiring the artwork and receiving a lecture on the Rembrandt and are now using the museum guided tour app to learn more. To quote:

Late last year this photograph of children looking at their smartphones by Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam started doing the rounds on the web. It quickly became viral. It was often accompanied by outraged, dispirited comments such as “a perfect metaphor for our age”, “the end of civilisation” or “a sad picture of our society”.

Only they weren’t. It turns out that the Rijksmuseum has an app that, among other things, contains guided tours and further information about the works on display. As part of their visit to the museum, the children, who minutes earlier had admired the art and listened attentively to explanations by expert adults, had been instructed to complete an assignment by their school teachers, using, among other things, the museum’s excellent smartphone app.

I would like to think that all those who liked, posted, shared and tweeted the picture of children on smartphones by Rembrandt’s masterpiece in the erroneous belief that it illustrated everything that is wrong with society feel a tiny bit silly and a little more humble as a consequence. But it won’t happen. The tragic thing is that this — the truth — will never go viral. So, I wonder, what is more likely to bring about the death of civilisation, children using smartphones to learn about art or the wilful ignorance of adults who are too quick to make assumptions?

Whether it be art, technology, manners, or just plain old fashioned respect for elders, people seem far too quick to complain about kids these days. It always seems to have been better in the good old days, as long as you ignore the wars, child death rate, education levels, work and social rights, equality, food…. actually I’ll stop that list now before I run the point into the ground. So take any of these arguments, images, and claims with huge pinches of salt, as there is probably a parallel version from a previous generation.

tech making us antisocial

Why did Australia abolish the White Australia Policy?

The White Australia Policy was a fantastic piece of legislation that was brought in just after Australia’s federation in 1901. Back then it was popular to think that Aboriginals didn’t exist, or weren’t worthy of acknowledgement, and women were still a year away from full voting rights nationwide. Great time to be alive.

After the second world war – commonly referred to as WW2 and the go-to source of movie badguys (Nazis: hate those guys) for the next 50 years – the Menzies and Holt governments started rolling back pieces of the legislation. In 1975 Gough signed in the Racial Discrimination Act to stop any further problems. Totally worked.

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After the war there was a lot of people wanting to immigrate, preferably to countries that hadn’t been turned into massive craters by years of bombing. There were also a lot of ex-servicemen who were stationed overseas and had discovered the local non-white women. They’d also made friends with non-white people in general. Suddenly there were Aussies who wanted their non-white wives, friends, and associated families to come to Australia. In 1949 Harold Holt allowed Japanese war brides into the country. Ten years later legislation was passed so that they were able to be sponsored for citizenship. Holt later introduced the Migration Act in 1966, effectively dismantling the White Australia Policy. Holt was so pleased he went swimming a year later, he’s due back any day now.

So what ended the White Australia Policy was the military in action.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Too funny! And true!

I saw Susie shiv Sam, sitting in a shoe shine shop.
Where she sits she shines and stabs, and where she shines she sits sinfully.

booksandopinions.com

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Book to Movie: Winter Solider – What’s the Difference?

This month’s CineFix edition of What’s the Difference cover the Ed Brubaker comic that inspired the Captain America: Winter Soldier movie.

Unlike Civil War, I managed to read the Ed Brubaker series of comics before watching the Winter Solider movie. Obviously there are a lot of differences, especially in terms of the expanded universe and “realism” of the movie world. The comics have decades of plots, sideplots, overlapping arcs from other parts of the Marvel Universe, characters, and general junk that is impossible to pack into a 2 hour movie. I actually find the way Marvel and DC have their stables of comics overlap and exist in the same universe to be annoying. The movies are starting to head that way as well, what with Age of Ultron essentially spending a third of its run time building the associated Thor, Ironman, Captain America, etc, movies.

One of the differences not really covered in the CineFix video is the other Captain Americas. That’s right, several other Caps wore the…. cap. Anyway, while Steve Rogers was chilling (Bucky too, but in a separate location) America didn’t want to lose its figurehead so they had some other people fill the role. From memory, at least one of them was integral to the plot, despite being no longer all there. This part of the plot also fed into the series that came immediately after Winter Soldier, with Bucky donning the costume and hefting the shield. For anyone about to complain about spoilers with that last sentence, try not to think about what could have happened to Steve Rogers to require Bucky to become Captain America.

In my original review for the Winter Soldier movie I commented that the writers had managed to capture Brubaker’s cold war spy story feel. They did this with very little similarities between the comic and movie. In some ways I think the movie is better, certainly I like the Steve Rogers of the film more, and they hadn’t quite gone overboard with the expanded universe stuff at that time, but in others the usual restrictions of the shorter format lessens the possible storytelling (Crossbones, the other Captain Americas, the relationships). Two very different stories were told but I still think this was a good adaptation.

Book Club Problems!

Sometimes the movie is better.

Come at me bro!

booksandopinions.com

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If a charismatic Aboriginal Australian with an attractive political agenda ran for office, would he ever get elected as Prime Minister?

Sure why not. We’ve elected people who can’t swim, people whose claim to fame was drinking beer fast, and people who think it is appropriate to wear these in public:

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So it isn’t unreasonable to think that there are better qualified people who could rise to the top despite our casual racism. We still can’t get sexism right, but we managed to have a female Prime Minister.

It should be pointed out that while Australia has a proud history of treating Aboriginals like fauna, Indigenous Australians have been elected to state and federal seats. The big problem would be getting the support of one of the major parties to be leader, and that major party holding the balance of power.

I notice that the question implies Aussies elect the Prime Minister directly. We’re not silly here in Australia. The last thing you want in a democracy is the people getting to decide important decisions like who is preselected to run for a political seat, how their elected representative should represent them, or who is Prime Minister. Best to keep these decisions out of the hands of the people they impact and make sure only the political insiders get to make those calls.

Our Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that holds the balance of power. Thus, the party decides who is Prime Minister, and is not directly elected. For an Indigenous Aussie to become leader of the party would be no small feat, and they’d have to watch out for knives to the back.

Hopefully we will see an Indigenous Australian Prime Minister. Hell, they might even be non-male just to shake things up a bit. Just hard to tell how many old white guys we’ll see before that happens.

This post originally appeared on Quora.

Book Review: Abaddon’s Gate by James SA Corey

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When most people die in space from sudden deceleration you’d think they’d install some airbags in spaceships. Safety first!

The third Expanse novel by James Corey sees Holden and his crew being manipulated into starting an interplanetary war. Since they now have a Stargate – I assume that name isn’t trademarked, or at least the Goa’uld won’t blast me for using it – the interplanetary war threatens to become an intergalactic war. Although war isn’t the correct term for advanced intelligences fighting people, the correct term would be genocide. Let’s see Holden talk his way out of this one.

Abaddon’s Gate was another great instalment in the Expanse series. The core characters are back and continuing to be grown and layered. The new viewpoint characters are also interesting, although they aren’t anywhere near as cool as Avasarala, a character that won’t be topped any time soon. The story also went in directions I wasn’t expecting, mainly due to the complex layering of plots. I’m tempted to call this the most ambitious of the Expanse novels so far, but my memory could just be on the fritz.

I’ve seen a few other reviews that suggested events and characters were a little too conveniently manoeuvred into place. I’d say the opposite is true and indicates that people will have to pay attention to the story and character developments. Some people clearly got a little lost.

Cibola Burn should be interesting now that they have the Stargate system to explore. I’m sure humans will try to make a mess of that somehow.

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If there was only one piece of equipment you could have in your gym, what would it be and why?

It’s great to see that when asked what one piece of equipment people would have that they would equip a full gym. I’d love to do that too, but I’ll answer the question by naming one piece of equipment.

Of course, the one piece of equipment for me is not the same one piece that someone else would want, nor would it be what a younger or older version of me would want. A younger version of me would have vastly different needs than me now, and we’d both have much different requirements than the older version, whose idea of a workout would be shuffling from the lounge to the dinner queue at the retirement home.

Gymnastic rings

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Right now my ideal piece of gym equipment would be a set of gymnastic rings. Not only can you train most of your body with them, but you get to look really cool doing exercises on them.

Alternative: Chinup bar

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This is an alternative to the gymnastic rings if for some reason I couldn’t afford the rings at the current exorbitant prices. Again, you can train most of your body with a chinup bar (dips, chins, levers, muscleups, hammy curls, etc), plus all the cool kids on Youtube are doing bar training these days.

Younger me

Barbell set

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Yeah, I know, a set is not a single piece of equipment. A barbell on its own isn’t much use without a bunch of weight plates, but at least I’m not listing barbell, plates, rack, and bench. A decent olympic barbell with a set of weights would cover just about everything you could think of. Ideally you’d have a solid floor (or lifting platform) to lift on with quality bumper plates so that clean & jerk and snatches are in the lifting program. But even a standard barbell – which is what I had when I first started training – can be decent.

Alternative: Sandbag or Keg

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Before barbells were a thing, people lifted anything that was around: rocks, trees, bulls. The problem with those sorts of objects is that they are set weights, so progressive training is hard to accomplish, unless you start with a bull calf. So a rock might be a challenge now, but not after a few months or years of training. Sandbags and Kegs can be adjusted in weight and can be utilised for most exercises you would use a barbell for. Plus it sounds really hardcore.

Older me

Pilates sled machine thingy

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Let’s face it, older me will probably be happy to not have arthritis in every joint, so the idea of doing muscle-ups, deadlifts, and that thing with the kettle-bell that looks like you’re trying to hump someone whilst throwing something in the air, is not particularly plausible at 70. As lame as this sort of workout would be for a fit and healthy younger person, it would cover all the muscles for the older more decrepit version of me.

Alternative: Comfy bed

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Let’s be realistic, older me is probably going to be popping viagra and taking full advantage of all the facilities the nursing home has to offer. The bed will probably keep me in great shape to my dying days.

This post original appeared on Quora.

Totally Cereal

It only feels like three weeks ago when I last posted about Quora being Super Cereal about answers on its site. Now they are Totally Cereal!

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Less than 9 hours after I posted an answer on why not everyone buys into the Crossfit cult, my answer was flagged as breaching policy. In that short window of time the post managed to become the second most viewed and third most upvoted despite being the newest answer. I mean, how dare someone criticise Crossfit, like every other answer given. How dare they use images to enhance the points being made, a common practice on the site. And once again, how dare anyone not answer the question without being completely cereal.

My working hypothesis is that my two banned answers were flagged as a result of being a trending answer. That meant the answers raised the ire of the Totally Cereal members. Quick, hit the complaint button and troll through to find something to make sure no-one else is ever offended. This will remain only a hypothesis, as I think it wouldn’t be appropriate to find other answers to flag that use images in their answers as I have done, as a means to test the system. I’d need to find other answers that were a mix of Super Cereal and Non-Cereal answers, as well as highlighted (trending) and random answers, to round out the testing.

Either way, check out my Totally Cereal answer on why not everyone wants to compete in the Washed Up Loser Olympics until they herniate their spines.

Why do people choose to NOT do Crossfit?

Crossfit is terrific, as long as you hate good technique, want a massive injury, and feel the need to strut around without a shirt on (guys) or in booty shorts (girls and guys).
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I’ve been lifting long enough to remember when WODs were called circuit classes, so when a new fad comes along it is a little easier to maintain some perspective. Others have already highlighted some issues that I agree with, I’ll cover some of my own reasons.

Form

The idea that high intensity and high skill exercises are done for high reps is stupid. Nothing says broken back like skill breakdown.

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So much for those gainz.

The video below is of the head of Crossfit programming, Dave Castro, doing a deadlift. It is laughably bad, but in the community this video is seen as hardcore rather than stupid.

I’m all for intensity and pushing yourself to new highs, but Crossfit all too often encourages people to utilise bad form or techniques like kipping to complete a workout. That is not smart.

It’s a bit of a cult

How can you tell if someone does Crossfit? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

If someone is a Vegan Crossfitter, what do they tell you about first?

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Regular exercisers are bad enough, but Crossfitters take it to the next level. It’s great that people are enthused about getting fit, strong, and healthy, but there is a difference between encouragement and community and drinking Kool-aid.

Lack of progression/Too much variety

If you want to get good at something you need to practice it regularly. Crossfit throws that rule out the window and encourages a randomness to the programming that guarantees you get good at exercising but not at any of the exercises. Even the top level Crossfit athletes train specificity into their programs and then practice events (WODs).

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Let me just ask what this is meant to be and whether they have a surgeon on standby:

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There is video of this event at the Crossfit games. I was cringing the entire way through. There were some athletes that managed to keep a relatively neutral spine throughout, but that sacrificed them speed and reps. Events are done for speed and reps….

Others have already mentioned the high rep clean and jerks, snatches, kipping pullups and muscleups, but that only scratches the surface. Even handstand pushups are done with kipping. Overhead presses are often turned into push-presses. Instead of doing a solid set of 10 reps on a pullup they insist that people do 30… and do several rounds of that with other exercises in between. It’s like someone looked up what the most reps ever done in one clean set for an exercise was and that became the WOD number. Take the kipping like a fish flapping around on a boat deck out and they wouldn’t get half the reps, let alone rounds.

Paleo

If the WOD is Crossfit’s cult program, then paleo is their cult diet. If you thought that kipping pullups were dumb, then you want to look away from the paleo diet. Not only is paleo largely ignorant of what our Palaeolithic ancestors ate, it also likes to pretend agriculture is bad. Without agriculture there would be no society, no gyms, no Crossfit, no people bragging about Crossfit…. Wait, I take it back, agriculture might be the root of all evil.

Actual dietary experts have nothing but disdain for the cult diet of paleo.

That all said, Crossfit isn’t all bad. Since they came along the fitness industry has had to try for the same level of appeal to appease the former cult members and those who can’t afford Box fees. I can walk into most gyms and find a lifting platform, something that was a rarity just a decade ago. I can actually buy weightlifting shoes without mail-order. And no one looks at me funny when I do muscleups anymore. Let’s just hope people don’t assume I’m a Crossfitter and are avoiding talking to me.

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I’m no longer going to bother with Quora and will gradually migrate my answers there to this site. Click this tag to see them.

Why do Australians have some of the longest lifespans despite their level of obesity according to recent statistics?

Aussies have discovered the fountain of youth in the heart of the outback. From a very rare location in the heart of the Gibson Desert flows a natural spring that wells up from deep within the Earth’s mantle. This spring has regenerative properties that helps with many common diseases and ailments. main-qimg-2b7f1abebe8e2dee09a80d82c3d879f4

This spring water is used to brew beverages that are part of the Aussie staple diet. As a result, the increases in food abundance and greater sedentary lifestyles of the populous have not resulted in the normal health impacts due to obesity. So if you see any of these three beverages in your country, it is worth buying them in bulk in order to ward off disease.

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Of course, it could just be that life expectancy has been growing in first world nations due to improved health care (child mortality, vaccinations, disease treatment, etc) and that steady increase hasn’t been impacted by the relatively recent surge in obesity rates. I.e. too soon to have obesity impacting life expectancy.

Originally published on Quora.

Book Review: The Promise by Robert Crais

The Promise (Elvis Cole, #16; Joe Pike, #5; Scott James & Maggie #2)The Promise by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If a professional thief pretends to be a terrorist does that mean they blow all of their money in a public place?

Well, Elvis Cole would have found that funny. Bite me.

Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are back and this time they have been hired to investigate a missing person. Somehow that missing person leads to black market arms deals, murder investigations, Homeland Security mole hunts, thieves and terrorists. We also get to see some more of Scott James and his dog Maggie. Narration from the POV of the dog: go on, buy the book right now.

It has been a while since I’ve picked up a Robert Crais novel. I loved his early Elvis Cole novels but when he moved away from the humorous tone later in the series I lost interest. Fortunately I decided to check back in to see what was happening with Cole and Pike. This was a terrific read, with plenty of twists and turns, and is crammed full of interesting characters. The only negative I have is that the humour of the early novels is still taking a back seat. There are some Cole moments, but that aspect has been dialled right back, something I continue to miss with Crais’ writing.

View all my reviews

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