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Tung has commented on (42) products.

Raylan by Elmore Leonard
Raylan

Tung, July 13, 2015

I loved the FX show "Justified," which was based on Elmore Leonard's short story "Fire in the Hole." Main character Raylan Givens, a Deputy U.S. Marshal, previously appeared as a supporting character in two novels ("Pronto" and "Riding the Rap"), but really took off in popularity after Timothy Olyphant played him in the TV show. This novel, "Raylan," was written after the TV show had been on air for a few years, and it uses three storylines that appeared on air. Some characters are reworked, but sadly, it's all inferior to what FX produced. Characterization is minimal, and the dialogue is tired. There's only one line in the entire book that really crackles off the page.

I read this book knowing that it had received lackluster reviews. I had just finished watching the "Justified" series finale and was already feeling nostalgic. Even being prepared for a subpar read, I was disappointed.
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Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Seveneves

Tung, June 17, 2015

"Seveneves" starts with a bang - the moon blows apart in the very first sentence of the novel! It turns out that this is very very bad and will lead to the extinction of all life on the Earth in about two years. Parts 1 and 2 of the novel, totaling 566 pages, cover the frantic efforts of humanity to preserve as much as they can on the International Space Ship and a collection of "arklets" being churned out as fast as society can. It's a thrilling apocalyptic scenario full of the nerds and techies that we would need to ensure any chance of humanity's surviving, and many heroic sacrifices, and some not-so-heroic actions.

Then Part 3 begins, and it's 200 slow pages, followed by a furious rush to the end in the last 100 pages.

This is a Neal Stephenson novel, so there are detailed discussions of, say, orbital mechanics, life in near zero gee, and any number of other geeky topics. I happen to like that stuff, but I could see how some people might find it too much. It's nothing as tedious as Ian Malcolm's lengthy chaos theory lectures in "Jurassic Park," if that gives you a point of comparison. For what it's worth, the slow 200 pages aren't slow because of physics-based discussions (those occur mostly in the first two parts).

Overall, I LOVED this book. The end of the world scenario is gripping, and somehow Stephenson successfully conveys the twin feelings of hopelessness about the endeavor to survive and the unwillingness to give up. I think "Cryptonomicon" may still be my favorite of Stephenson's books, but this is a worth contender to the top spot.
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The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch by Jonathan Gottschall
The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

Tung, April 28, 2015

(Note: I received an advanced reader's copy of this book for free for review purposes.)

It took me a few weeks to pick up this book after receiving it, but once I started reading it, I basically finished it within 24 hours. That's compelling writing!

The author was nearing 40, stuck in a dead-end position as an adjunct at a college with little to no hope of landing a tenure-track position, when a mixed martial arts studio opened up across the street. Facing something of a mid-life crisis, he decided to train toward a real MMA fight and to write a book about the experience. The book ended up being a bit different than what he had expected, because the MMA training experience wasn't what he expected.

As other reviewers have noted, this book probably wouldn't have worked very well as a pure memoir. The way that Gottschall doles out bits and pieces of his own experience with discussions of the history of dueling, studies on innate gender preferences for competitive versus cooperative play, and other relevant factors, makes for fascinating reading.

Finally, it's worth noting that I've never watched a complete MMA fight and have only seen a few highlights on Sports Center. I haven't watched much boxing, either, just - of all matches to pick - the Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson bout, and only then because my roommate had HBO and the fight was free. Yet, despite my general lack of interest in competitive fighting (as opposed to action movies and TV shows, which I love), I was utterly enthralled by this book.
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The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
The Word Exchange

Tung, October 24, 2014

At its heart, Alena Graedon's "The Word Exchange" is a subtle bio-terrorism near-future thriller about the "word flu" pandemic that causes its victims to start to speak/write unintelligibly. More horrifyingly, the transmission vectors appear to include the popular "Meme" devices (like advanced smartphones). I say subtle because this is not a "24"-type of story. There's not much physical action. Rather, the suspense stems more from a growing feeling of paranoia, and an intriguing mystery about the disappearance of the main character's father.

I will say that at times the novel got hard to read, as the nonsense words used by the infected were quite jarring. After a while, though, it became something of a game to try to figure out what they were trying to say.

(I received a complimentary advanced reading copy of this book for review purposes.)
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)



Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing by Erin Beresini
Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing

Tung, October 22, 2014

I read a lot of books about running, and I'm pretty obsessed about running myself, but I'm not really into obstacle course racing (OCR); I much prefer straight road racing (except for those zombie vs survivor races). That said, I really loved this book! As other reviewers have noted, it's kind of like Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run," except about OCR, which is to say, a melding of the author's own sporting experience with gonzo journalism about colorful, almost mythic characters in that same sport. And while the subject matter of "Born to Run" is more to my liking, I think this book is even better than "Born to Run."

Author Erin Beresini really gets into the guys who basically started the whole OCR craze, the founders of Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race. Neither is perfect, and she lays out the good and the bad so that you get a good sense of who they are. She also profiles a couple of the famous participants, including one guy who got his entire back tattooed with the Tough Mudder logo in exchange for a lifetime pass to Tough Mudder events. Beresini doesn't shy away from the high-profile wrongful death litigation over participants who died during OCR events, though she also puts the fatality risk in context by comparing the number of triathlon deaths over the same number of participants (triathlons are riskier?!?).

She's a charming writer, and also I never felt like I was being sold the "perfect" way to do something, unlike "Born to Run," which I think makes some implausible claims about the benefits of forefoot striking. (I run with a midfoot strike, not the dreaded heel strike, and I indeed don't have any knee or hip problems, but I have had minor lower leg/foot injuries which are consistent with the medical research about front/mid-foot striking; "Born to Run" made it sound like if you just switched away from heel striking you won't have any running injuries.) I don't have the urge to do any Tough Mudder or Spartan Race events, though.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)



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