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Original Essays | June 20, 2014

Lauren Owen: IMG The Other Vampire



It's a wild and thundery night. Inside a ramshackle old manor house, a beautiful young girl lies asleep in bed. At the window, a figure watches... Continue »

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Customer Comments

Tung has commented on (34) products.

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein
The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Tung, July 22, 2014

I heartily recommend it to anyone who's interested at all in the "nature vs. nurture" debate about how people become elite runners, basketball players, etc. Epstein draws upon lots of cutting edge research into genetics and sports performance to explain, among other things, how professional baseball players can hit 95 mph pitches when the reaction time available to them is barely more than the time it takes to coordinate a thought into action (answer: years of experience has given each of them a "memory map" that enables them to make reasonably good predictions about how the pitch will travel based on a split second view of the pitcher's delivery) to why Kenyans and Ethiopians seem to dominate middle- and long-distance running while Jamaicans seem to dominate sprinting (answer: a combination of factors ranging from cultural to the proportion of fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibers favoring sprinting or distance running to, in the case of the East Africans, living at the sweet spot of altitude training ~ 6000-8000 feet above sea level).

In any sort of work on sports performance and gene science, race inevitably looms in the background. To his credit, Epstein doesn't shy away from discussing race, but neither does he channel Al Campanis (who infamously blundered into the subject with the sensitivity of a drunken rhino). As the sprinting vs. long-distance running example mentioned above demonstrates, people from different parts of the world excel at different types of athletic competitions. Epstein points out that the individual record for the 100 meter sprint in Kenya isn't good enough to qualify for the Olympics; as dominant as the Kenyans are in the distance events, they're totally uncompetitive in the sprints. Epstein doesn't say this explicitly, but what I drew from the book is that when we Americans talk about "race" and sports, we do so in a very obtuse way because we lump people into "white," "black," "Latino," or "Asian," when in fact there can be a significant amount of diversity within those crude racial categories.

If there's a book that The Sports Gene reminds me of, it's Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which similarly examined race and cultural through a completely new lens (of geography).
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Wayward Pines #3: The Last Town by Blake Crouch

Tung, July 19, 2014

Having read and enjoyed the first two entries in the Wayward Pines Trilogy, I was eager to see how it ends, especially since the second novel (Wayward) ended in a cliffhanger. It's going to be impossible to review this book without spoiling the first two, so I'll note that if you haven't read Pines and Wayward and think you might be interested, go read reviews of Pines (the first book) and see if it seems like your cup of tea.

Still here? Okay, so at the end of Wayward, 2000 years in our future, the remnants of civilization have been living under a delusion that they are in a strange small town named Wayward Pines in our present day. Former Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke, now town Sheriff, has pulled the wool from the eyes of the townfolk and told them the truth. In response, David Pilcher, the man responsible for Wayward Pines, turns off the protective fence around the town, thereby allowing the (d)evolved humans of the future, known as abbies (for aberrations), to storm into town. Abbies are far stronger than humans, and very hungry.... (Pilcher and his crew live in a mountain complex near the town.)

The Last Town picks up right away. Some storylines delve back into the past (by which, I mean both the past of the future - meaning, say, 1995 years from now - as well as the past meaning our time) and explain the development of relationship conflicts that were becoming apparent in the first two books but explode in this one. The main storyline deals with trying to fight off the hordes of abbies.

It's a satisfying conclusion, though like many trilogies, it maybe doesn't quite live up to the promise of the first book due to the fantastic world-building in the opening novel. It doesn't end in a cliffhanger, but I suppose there's room for a fourth novel....
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Sh*t Rough Drafts: Pop Culture's Favorite Books, Movies, and TV Shows as They Might Have Been by Paul Laudiero
Sh*t Rough Drafts: Pop Culture's Favorite Books, Movies, and TV Shows as They Might Have Been

Tung, July 19, 2014

This was a good idea, parodying key parts of famous books, TV shows, and movies with alleged first drafts, but the execution didn't live up to the concept. In only a few instances did I laugh out loud. Some of the rest merited brief smiles. The rest were "eh" moments.

For a much better execution of this kind of idea, though mostly for Star Trek Next Gen fans, I'd recommend Stephen Boyett's Treks Not Taken.
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Sting of the Drone by Richard A Clarke
Sting of the Drone

Tung, July 19, 2014

It goes without saying that author Richard Clarke, who served as the counterterrorism czar under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (for a brief time), really knows his stuff. His pre-9/11 urgings that we attack al Qaeda in Afghanistan proved prophetic.

"Sting of the Drone" is a fictionalized account of drone warfare against al Qaeda and its adherents. Part of the novel focuses on the Kill Committee's actions in identifying and then attacking individuals believed to be international terrorists, while the other half focuses on the counterassault by a well-funded group of terrorists. The Kill Committee side is very operationally detailed and gives a good sense of what the decisionmaking process is like. The counterassault side is clearly inspired by Clarke's non-fiction book Cyber-War, as the terrorists seem to have amazing powers to mess with Americans through cyberspace.

For some reason, the sum is less than the parts here. As the just-concluded "24: Live Another Day" TV mini-series showed, the idea of terrorists hacking into our systems and using them against us can be a thrilling proposition. It just didn't grab me here. Not for lack of trying; Clarke does try to imbue the CIA and military characters with personalities, aspirations, and histories. But for a novel with quite a bit of action, I wasn't staying up late at night to finish it. Don't get me wrong; it's not a bad novel, and you can learn quite a bit about drone warfare. But I sort of wish he'd just written another straight non-fiction work.
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Starfire by Dale Brown
Starfire

Tung, June 23, 2014

Dale Brown is a former US Air Force airman, and his detailed knowledge of military aerial warfare shows throughout his "Patrick McLanahan" series, which starts with "Flight of the Old Dog" about 20 years ago. The typical Dale Brown novel has a foreign enemy (varying from Russian to Iranian to Chinese, mostly, with others thrown in from time to time), and a lot of high tech gadgetry on planes. Technology keeps up with modern developments so as to stay slightly ahead of where we are now.

The early books (roughly speaking, "Old Dog" through about "Shadows of Steel") were consistently good as far as techno-thrillers go. Major characters periodically died, giving something of an air of suspense. However, in recent years, the quality of the novels began to sag. They became talky, boring, and flat. "A Time for Patriots" was probably the worst offender in this regard.

"Starfire" turned out better than its immediate predecessors. There's still a lot of talking in it, and the action builds up abruptly, but overall it's a thrilling ride. I don't think it quite reaches the heights of the early novels, but it at least shows that Dale Brown can still turn out a decent novel.
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