Cheeseburger Gothic

Surtac's review of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Posted November 18, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

The 'tac was unavoidably detained on Friday night but he put so much effort into his review I thought it unfair to let the copy languish at the bottom of an abandoned thread.

So here tis:

Early October, 2010. It was one of the holiday Golden Weeks of the Chinese year. I stood on the Great Wall near Khanbalyk (oh all right Beijing), gazing out to the west. In my mind’s eye, the ranks of four tumans, 40,000 warriors in total, sat ahorse arrayed against my position. The sky above me was a glorious deep blue, and an eagle cruised lazily around the summit above my right shoulder.

Conn Iggulden’s fictional retelling of the Secret History of the Mongols had led me to this point. His detailed version of a history that might have been was absolutely compelling to me and set my imagination on fire. He tells the story of the man called Genghis Khan with flair and compassion, but it undersells the Mongols achievements.

Weatherford’s Book, despite its flaws (too much how clever am I in the early part, fizzling out a bit at the end) provides a context for Mongol achievements relative to European and world history, that Iggulden from his insular context inside Mongol history simply cannot, so while his fiction entertains (and it does so very well), it doesn’t educate us to the significance of the Mongol achievements on the world stage.

GK was very much a pragmatic conqueror. There was no cultural baggage in Mongol society: they were portable and self-contained, so they were able to adopt and adapt anything (tools, techniques) from other societies that seemed both useful and transportable.

I found it astonishing to realise exactly how much the Mongols accomplished across their vast territories, even more so when seen in context against what was happening elsewhere at the world - moveable type printing (in 1269, almost 200yrs before Gutenberg’s bible in 1455), paper currency, uniform written language and calendars etc., and all to document the accounting of the empire’s productivity and its subsequent distribution amongst the ‘shareholders’ of the ruling family?

The Gavin Menzies’ theory’ that China kickstarted the European Reformation via Zhang He’s fleet in the early 15th century gets a right head-kicking off-stage and off-page by this book. It’s clear that the Mongol and Chinese influences were tracking to and arriving in Europe much earlier via the Silk Road and the outreach of explorers and envoys such as Marco Polo and the religious emissaries.

A few days after climbing the great Wall, I saw commemorative signage in Xi’an marking one end of the Silk Road. The part of me that’s half my real age and much fitter wanted to buy a couple horses and a dog and set off down that trail. It still does.

I too will be adding a physical version of this book to my library. And JB, I had no problems with Weatherford’s authorial voice once he hit his stride.

Other relevant books that some might find interesting:

· Sir Arthur Waley’s Secret History of the Mongols – the first partial English translation

· Beyond the Great Wall – Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid – part travelogue and part cookbook: it works on both levels and includes the story of Duguid’s encounter with the author of the following book, who was heading on her first trip to Tibet at age 80+

· Forbidden Journey – Ella Maillart

· Cleaves – Secret History translation - scanned ebook edition of a fuller and more florid translation than Waley’s.

· Xanadu: Marco Polo and Europe's Discovery of the East (2009) – John Man

· On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomad - Tim Cope, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (2013),

· In Search of Genghis Khan - Tim Severin

· In the Bloody Footsteps of Ghengis Khan: An Epic Journey Across the Steppes, Mountains and Deserts from Red Square to Tiananmen Square – Jeffrey Tayler

10 Responses to ‘Surtac's review of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World’

Dino not to be confused with would have you know...

Posted November 18, 2013

Thanks JB,

Surtac's comment is worth a read.

Movable type?

They had Pamphlets?

Therbs mumbles...

Posted November 18, 2013

Didn't realise the fkn Watchtower was being produced then.

Dino not to be confused with has opinions thus...

Posted November 18, 2013

Was going to blog about Religion a couple of weeks ago starting with the JW.

My missus said everyone is entitled to their opinion.

I said ok I am going to join the JW how do you feel about that!

It is all ok now.

Took a week or more.

Why am I so intolerant?

Brian would have you know...

Posted November 18, 2013

The other half of the Mongol environment were the Southern Song dynasty. Well worth looking at, as they seemed to have been the most innovative and export driven kingdom, Chinas produced.

Movable type predates the Mongols. Woodcuts.

Dino not to be confused with mumbles...

Posted November 19, 2013

Ta Brian,

I have started reading about them.

They liked literacy!

Brian mutters...

Posted November 19, 2013

Dino. Not a problem. In your reading trace down . . Seals. If your familiar with signet rings, Chinese seals are a whole different world. Wherever you see a ideograph in red . . .thats someone using a seal. Contemporary Chinese collect them like stamps. . .and it's been going on for centuries. Generally they're carved out of jade, and in themselves works of art . . .usually a 10 year apprenticeship. Thing is . . .the same technique to make a seal goes into woodcuts. Give an idea the Soong about 1300 were issuing building regulations in book form right across their empire. . . All Chinese temples, palaces conform to the code based on modular designs. Look up dougong.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted November 18, 2013

Surtac's review makes me feel intellectually and artistically inadequate. And I hate that.

Suze would have you know...

Posted November 20, 2013

Ditto. Le sigh.

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Surtac is gonna tell you...

Posted November 19, 2013

Thanks for the boost John. I was disappointed not to be able to take part on Friday night, but I do live in Chateau Dysfunction, and so I try to be more philosophical about taking the good with the bad.

And of course, reading back over the essay, I immediately see all of the things I missed - the things I meant to say and forgot to include. Things like, if you do read the Igguldens, don't neglect his author's notes at the back of each book. He does a good job of explaining where and why he has deviated from the Secret History, what he has speculated about and added tto fill the gaps in the history, and also what he had available and used as sources.

On that note, all the books I mentioned in my review are from my own collection. So clearly I've been (overly?) fascinated by this topic for a long time now.

Brian asserts...

Posted November 19, 2013

Surtac. Me too.

These days, I spens far too much time watching Chinese doco's on Foxtel . . .CCTV has a channel devoted to it. Fascinating to see China's perspective on its history. If you're a sinophile( like me) its the material they don't talk about . . .like the Mongols. And as for modern history . . Whew! strange how the sorta airbrush the Cultural Revolution out of things. Or the Great Leap Forward - 30 million plus dead

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Bookclub 15 Nov 2013. Genghis Khan by Jack Weatherford

Posted November 15, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

Well that went on for a while, didn't it? The Mongol Empire, and the book. I didn't rip through the last chapters of Genghis Kahn in the same headlong dash that I advanced through the first half, and I suspect that has something to do with a basic narrative truth. Jack Weatherford gives us an epic mash up of hero's journey, slashing fantasy and slick infotainment package covering the first decades of the Empire. In other words, covering the life of Genghis Khan.

I still remember being struck in the first chapters at how closely the story seemed to follow the familiar arcs of the best fantasy literature. The names, the setting, the characters it could all have been drawn from Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V Brett or George RR Martin. Indeed the more I read the more it became blindingly obvious how many fantasy authors had not been borrowing from Tolkien, but rather from the great Khan.

Nothing wrong with that. In fact I intend to go back and read this book again and plunder it without mercy for some of the later titles in my Dave Hooper series. The rise of the Mongol Empire would be an object lesson in world building if it hadn't been an exercise in reconstructing an ancient world on Weatherford's part. Likewise the collapse of the empire a couple of hundred years down the track provided exactly the sort of detail I've been searching for, often fruitlessly, online in the field of "resilience studies".

You don't really see it in Protocol, and you only begin to see it in the still untitled second Book of Dave, but just as I do in Without Warning, I'm planning on breaking the world. Because of this I found the stresses both internal and external that finally collapsed the Empire to be both fascinating and useful. I'd always known that the Black Death had come out of China, but I'd never put all the Lego blocks together in my head. I hadn't remembered any of my high school history – we had to study Kublai Khan as I recall, dimly – and consequently although I knew quite a bit about the ravages of the plague in Europe, I knew very little about all of the history that have to pass before it arrived.

That same experience, of shaking my head in surprise, was a regular feature of reading this book. It's pretty hard to grow up in the modern world without having at least a glancing acquaintance with Genghis Kahn and the moguls, or at least with our vague cultural memory of them. The famous Schwarzenegger/Conan quote about true happiness being found in driving your enemies before you and hearing "der lamentations off der vimmin" is popularly attributed to Genghis, although as Weatherford points out this is something of an historical slander.

That was the other thing that struck me as I read. So much of our understanding, or rather misunderstanding of Genghis Kahn and the Mongols is tainted by the refined barbarism and bigotry of self-serving European colonial designs in the nineteenth century, rather than the older, more deeply embedded fears of earlier ages. Fears which gave way to admiration and commercial engagement with the later descendents of Genghis.

If we think of him at all, we pay him the compliment of assuming he was a military genius, but just how much of that genius lay in a flare for bureaucratic organization had escaped me until now. It's easy to imagine how the tactics of hunter gatherers could be advantageously applied to tribal warfare. It's less obvious, although Weatherford does a good job of making it clear, how they'd useful when scaled up to the strategic level.

It was enlightening, astounding even, to learn of how truly modern the barbarian emperor was, and how so much of modernity that we take for granted, and assume is purely Western – the separation of church and state, the tolerance of multifaith culture, the promotion of individuals based on talent rather than hereditary – of how much of that originated on the steppes.

My Kindle version of this title is littered with footnotes to which I will return over the summer while writing the third book in my next series. At some point I'll grab a hard cover edition to place on the shelf of the library. I can already see it will be worth having around, if only for the kids' benefit as they go through high school. I've already drawn on it once when helping Anna with an assignment about the Edo Era of Japanese history, a period characterized by a strict feudal hierarchy headed by the Shogun, or military governor. Weatherford, you may recall, made the point that it was the attempted Mongol invasion of Japan that contributed to the militarization of that society.

Having said all that, and having enjoyed the book, omigod it just went on and on. Like the Mongol Empire. And once the story was decoupled from the personal journey of Genghis Kahn it became less compelling. Still interesting yes. Fascinating in parts, especially the links he drew between the European Enlightenment and Renaissance and the rise of Europe as a colonial power, but I could imagine that people without a professional interest a such as I have, may have flagged by that point. I did see a couple of you complaining in another blog entry about the authors "voice".

This, I'll confess, vexes me. I listened to a lot of this book on Audible, dipping into the Kindle version when I wanted to delve more deeply into a particular point. I found Weatherford's prose to be exactly what was needed, highly polished but not complex. Words put together like shiny machine parts to do a very particular job. So I'll be interested to hear from anybody who had a different experience.

43 Responses to ‘Bookclub 15 Nov 2013. Genghis Khan by Jack Weatherford’

AuntyLou ducks in to say...

Posted November 15, 2013

Well I may as well start...being one of those "voice" people. I gave up. Don't know if it is the 3 minutes of academic training I had for an Ancient History major but the writer just seemed to go round and round the information inserting the "team" & how clever they were to enter the "forbidden zone". Yeah...you are probably right...I probably didn't give it as much a go as I could of. But the intrusion of the modern day simply made me stop reading. Love the topic & would really be interested in the information. Feel free to castigate me - lazy, lazy Aunty Lou with the gadfly mind

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted November 15, 2013

I'm caught up with family stuff, but will reply to these in the morning.

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Bangar asserts...

Posted November 15, 2013

Some things to think about, if they (the Mongols) lay the foundation for guns then they sowed the seeds for the defeat for of their style of warfare. Which in turn returns back to being mobile, the battle normally is where they want it or move it to. A prepared field would be devasting to them (covered pits as a starter) but most civilised societies weren't familiar with warfare like this. If Kublia had made sure his heirs understood his reasoning in adopting of Chinese ways it may have stuck.

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pitpat asserts...

Posted November 15, 2013

Thanks for a good thinky analysis.

I appreciated GKs direct hands on approach to management. The modern MBA seems quite drab in comparison. However the sustainabilty of the empire/corprate model was always going to run into issues with the transfer of power to later generations. I liked the idea that he really understod the underlying and enduring themes of power- fear and greed- from an almost an intrinsic level and certainly the murder of his brother not only eased his entry into upper managent but alo provided the template for future strategic maneuvering. Strike early and hard then watch the rest fall in line. Personally I think his genius is transferring - dare I use the word leverage- from a pure tyrant/dictator to CEO basing his operation on merit and not blood line. That and reducing -on pain of death- the cost of transport.

I gotta agree with Aunty Lou though once Rupert/Gina/Ghengis karked it I kinda lost intrest in the squabbles over the will/trust fund/empire. Been a while since I've read but I can't remember anything particulaly offensive about the writing style.

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MickH reckons...

Posted November 15, 2013

hmm common thread emerging here. I think we lost interest at abut the 3/4 mark. I certainly did. I think it was because you knew it would all end in tears in the end with the most common of human vices greed and the hunger for power, tearing the family dynasty apart.

Another problem for me is that I took you advice John and actually 'listened' to this book via 'Audible' Poor choice for a first go I reckon. I found I couldn't absorb anything of the story unless I closed my eyes and reduced the sensory input to minimum. This normally had the unfortunate consequence of sending me off to sleep. It was bloody hard to concentrate on it and bloody hard to work out where I got up to.

Im not sure I'll visit audable again. Oh! yes I will! The bastards just stung me for $15 bucks and Im not sure why.

AuntyLou asserts...

Posted November 15, 2013

I also struggle with the audio book thingy. I was given some good advice when I whinged about the sleep inducing nature of the medium. Listen as though you are listening to music etc. For me that is dancing around the lounge room. Haven't given it a go...scared that someone will walk in on Grandma dancing to zombies or Mongols or something else unsavoury!!

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Suze is gonna tell you...

Posted November 15, 2013

The voice didn't bother me at all. In fact, if the story hadn't been told so simply I would certainly have given it away. As it was, I flagged after the meaty bits, but gave it one last effort to finish. And I made it. And I'm pleased I did. I was appalled at how much high school and university history I'd forgotten (my original quals are in high school English & history teaching!). Having said that, I'm pretty sure the version of the black plague I learned didn't look quite like this one - it was certainly less complete. In fact all the connections with Europe revealed in this history were, er, an enlightenment. Without meaning to sound sycophantic, I was, like JB genuinely surprised how many modern 'Western' social concepts - foundations even - were in fact initiated by Genghis Khan. And from Weatherford's account, Genghis seemed to bollocks them up far less than we have.

Suze would have you know...

Posted November 15, 2013

PS Imbibement of choice this evening is an AdelIde Hills Petaluma sauvignon blanc

AuntyLou would have you know...

Posted November 15, 2013

I have had so much...mostly out of a cardboard box... that I am surprised I can type! Colombard Chardy or some such... Really should do these book things on a non- drinky night..........

Suze would have you know...

Posted November 15, 2013

Well that would hardly be in the spirit of things, would it (see what I did there)?

I thought drinking was a pre-requisite for Burger Book Club ...

MickH mutters...

Posted November 15, 2013

I have had 3 glasses of a very good cardboard Merlot.

I'm feeling no pain at the moment! :)

AuntyLou puts forth...

Posted November 15, 2013

Three? Girl!

MickH puts forth...

Posted November 15, 2013

they're very BIG glasses!!

AuntyLou mutters...

Posted November 15, 2013

That's ok then! Have another on me!

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AuntyLou is gonna tell you...

Posted November 15, 2013

Well frankly I would be hard pressed to find a non-drinky night! And I am afraid my input would probably not improve. So...hoist a glass (or two etc) to the dogs of literature!

MickH would have you know...

Posted November 15, 2013

WOFF!

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted November 16, 2013

I liked this book very much - but not because of anything I learned. Frankly, very, very little of what was discussed or revealed can be anything other than speculation. But Weatherford's struggle to separate fact from fiction, and to compare different sources to find commonalities that might be considered more reliable, was really fun.

It is the same sifting that Reza Asian performed in his incredibly great book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (I cannot recommend Zealot more highly). But Professor Asian had the benefit of lots and lots of Roman records to compare with the apocryphal second/third/fourth hand events described in the New Testament as well as an enormous body of academic work to draw off of. Weatherford had little more than a newly accessed informal history written in a dead, highly contextual language he compared to a bunch of complaints written by biased chroniclers.

As I said, Weatherford's struggle to determine the facts was fun to watch, but very little fact was determined. For me the most amazing thing I learned was how the Mongols influenced European fashion. How cool is that?

To sum up: I enjoyed the book, am glad I read it, would recommend it, but won't read it again.

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MickH reckons...

Posted November 16, 2013

The Zeaolt book sounds really interesting Paul, I think i might chase it down, I have done some reading into the life of Jesus before and I am of the opinion that the man was a myth. Im interested in Professor Asians conclusion but only after aserting the mans religious beliefs first. Bias is the worst enemy in religious historical debate.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mutters...

Posted November 16, 2013

Professor Asian is muslim - and his objectivity was attached for that reason alone. His objective scholarship is impeccable. It challenges many popular beliefs about Jesus. It certainly challenged and continues to challenge mine.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted November 16, 2013

Think I might get this one too

MickH would have you know...

Posted November 16, 2013

Have you read "A Christian Rebuttal to Reza Aslan's Zealot:..." by Robert Alan King?

damian reckons...

Posted November 16, 2013

Mick, I'm not sure I understand what would be interesting about that.

MickH has opinions thus...

Posted November 16, 2013

For the opposite veiw of course, so you can get a balanced perspective. If you are a true seeker of knowledge you have to be prepared to read both points of view Damian. Its true that we tend to only read stories or articles that we fundimentally agree with but to get the best understanding of the topic, you have to read the other point of view. Not many people can do that.

damian swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 17, 2013

Sure, but it doesn't even usually work that way. It's a mistake to think that everything is a point of view. Most things don't really have an "opposite" either.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mumbles...

Posted November 17, 2013

Mick - please understand that I consider myself a Christian with the added benefit of belonging to the oldest Christian church (Greek Orthodoxy) that has, over two millennia, concluded that faith without reason is dangerous and unquestioned faith is meaningless.

Professor Aslan's book challenged and continues to challenge many aspects of my faith. He did it with impeccably honest scholarship that forces me to reevaluate many things I once took for granted as true.

I will read the book you reference as a rebuttal to Zealot, but I suspect it won't measure up to Professor Aslan's patent objectivity. Amazon describes A Christian Rebuttal to Reza Aslan's Zealot as "a rebuttal from a Christian perspective that exposes the fallacy of Aslan's position that Jesus was a mere Jewish peasant and political revolutionary who was suffering from delusions of grandeur and thus failed in his mission."

That is a gross misrepresentation of Professor Aslan's position, if he had any position at all. That is not one of his conclusions. Period.

I am familiar with Robert Alan King. He has written a lot of books - my favorite being The Real Zombie Apocalypse is Coming: A Christian Survival Guide (a "what to do" guide for the coming biblical End Time apocalypse). The hard truth is that Mr. King's education and experience isn't even close to Professor Aslan's education and academic achievements. Mr. King is a fundamentalist protestant minister and a notorious homophobe. He believes that the Bible is, word for word, the inspired word of God. It isn't, especially the version he is using. But if you start from that flawed premise, everything that follows is rubbish. It would be like disagreeing with Jack Weatherford's analysis in Genghis Khan and supporting your arguments with references to films and fantasy/ science fiction.

As I said, I'll read Mr. King's new rebuttal (he has written many books rebutting other fundamentalist Christians he disagrees with) but, based on what I've already read that he has authored, I don't expect much. He is rebutting a straw man argument he himself has created, one that Professor Aslan never suggested.

MickH is gonna tell you...

Posted November 17, 2013

Oh OK Paul, I suspected as much but I have not read him.

Authors that normally offer religious rebuttle's are usually fundies whose argument, in the end, boils down to "It's true because the bible says so" anyway but as I said in my post above, you have to understand where the author is coming from. Since he is a muslim, it puts a different slant on the way I will takes his argument as apposed to an athiest or a fundimentalist.

I find that its interesting that, as a self-confessed beleiver, you read stuff that must ultimately convince you otherwise. It was that way for me.

I was a Christian by birth, not by chioce and as I got older i realised I never really believed in all the stuff I was suposed to, it never matched up with my reality. Books like the above helped me see that.

They still do.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted November 18, 2013

No worries, mate. In addition to reading Zealot, do find yourself a copy of The Real Zombie Apocalypse is Coming: A Christian Survival Guide. It is hilarious and disturbing at the same time, and, from my very limited perspective, a book doesn't get better than that.

Lulu reckons...

Posted November 18, 2013

As someone who read the Narnia books when young, I am (not-so)quietly amused that a book on Christ is wriiten by someone called *Aslan*.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted November 18, 2013

OMG that's funny. I love you, Lulu. I want to have your baby.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mutters...

Posted November 18, 2013

Don't tell my wife.

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damian swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 16, 2013

Yeah, it got better after the author slipped out of the spotlight. I appreciate the section on methodology was necessary, since the ratio of speculation to verifiable history is very high, and you want some of the background to the speculation. Ultimately it is probably as accurate as it's reasonable to hope for.

I was a little non-plussed when I noted that there really wasn't much story left, but there was still quite a bit of book. That was before realising that the last 20% was "notes". Made more sense after that.

There was certainly some interesting information, but what I got was that raging success was less about subsistence hunting tactics applied to war, but rather the cosmopolitan nature of the methods and capabilities adopted. Because employing Chinese methods and Europe and the Middle East, and vice versa, could be devastatingly effective. Other than that it is almost the story of any large empire that grows from a series of smaller scale unification wars. The standing army gains so much experience in these campaigns that by the time they are finished (and it is now a very large standing army), it is also the most experienced army in the world with mature organisation and capable generals. I think the nature of the organisation itself (the decimal thing) is less important than there being one, that it is under control of the high command rather than traditional oligarchies and that it is disciplined and reliable.

Did find it very interesting to note the reasons why various places were able to resist: Egypt, Japan and Java. Mostly because it was all for (sort of) different reasons.

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yankeedog has opinions thus...

Posted November 16, 2013

Please tell me someone yelled "KHHHHHAAAAAAAAANNNNN!!!" at some point in this get-together.

MickH is gonna tell you...

Posted November 16, 2013

you did :)

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MickH swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 16, 2013

John, you said "...the characters it could all have been drawn from Patrick Rothfuss, Peter V Brett or George RR Martin."

Couldn't agree more. Arguably the best fantasy writers around at the moment. But how about we get back on track a bit and do the next book club on one of them? You know how keen i am on "The painted man" I'd like other here to read it too. I'm ready for a third re-read of it now anyway.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 16, 2013

OK, we might do Painted/Warded man.

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 17, 2013

If the next book is Painted/Warded man let us know soon, because I want to borrow it from the library rather than buy it.

JG would have you know...

Posted November 23, 2013

Hear, hear, M. Barnes (pls forgive my sudden disappearance from FB. I had to escape social media. It despaired me.). Almost finished Black Caviar's biography, God bless her. The Melbourne Cup spurred up my reading on that. Today, my daughter lent me Becoming Indpired, I wish. Need a motivation boost.

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Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted November 17, 2013

or we could just wait for the movie

MickH has opinions thus...

Posted November 17, 2013

Thats a real old link Barnsey. Its not a trilogy but a 5 book series. He has already released "Desert Spear" plus the next one in the series "The Daylight War" Most of us are now hanging for the forth entilted "The Skull Throne" due out next year.

If they do the films right, they could be as big as Lord of the Rings.

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Dave W puts forth...

Posted November 18, 2013

I would have contributed some musings on Friday night, but for someone reason I got a fail message each time I tried to submit.

I agree with Damian's Saturday assessment that once the authorial voice dissipated the story improved. I also agree that many of the characters could have been drawn from fantasy authors, but I'd turn that around and suggest that the fantasy authors have drawn from history. I'll even commit heresy here and say that after reading book one of Game of Thrones, I'll never read another George RR Martin and will also advise others to pick up this Genghis Khan book instead.

Finally, the idea that the Mongol Empire was the first exponent of a meritocracy and the forerunner to the modern tolerant society is interesting, however I'd argue that it's hard to see that it was the example from which others were drawn. Basically, it's hard to see from Weatherford's text how it was transmitted to other (European) societies. I consider that the European countries were all too contemptuous of the Asian empire and ignored the benefits that might have been gained. Weren't there about 300 years between Khan and the first stages of the enlightenment?

All in all, highly enjoyable. Even Mrs W is having a go at it now, based on my enthusiastic ravings.

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Surtac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted November 18, 2013

I meant to participate in Book Club on Friday night, but an eruption and meltdown occurred here at Chateau Dysfunction, balanced as we are on the knife-edge intersection of Planet Asperger and Planet Parenthood. So it goes.

Here’s my (sadly) unfinished review fwiw.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Early October, 2010. It was one of the holiday Golden Weeks of the Chinese year. I stood on the Great Wall near Khanbalyk (oh all right Beijing), gazing out to the west. In my mind’s eye, the ranks of four tumans, 40,000 warriors in total, sat ahorse arrayed against my position. The sky above me was a glorious deep blue, and an eagle cruised lazily around the summit above my right shoulder.

Conn Iggulden’s fictional retelling of the Secret History of the Mongols had led me to this point. His detailed version of a history that might have been was absolutely compelling to me and set my imagination on fire. He tells the story of the man called Genghis Khan with flair and compassion, but it undersells the Mongols achievements.

Weatherford’s Book, despite its flaws (too much how clever am I in the early part, fizzling out a bit at the end) provides a context for Mongol achievements relative to European and world history, that Iggulden from his insular context inside Mongol history simply cannot, so while his fiction entertains (and it does so very well), it doesn’t educate us to the significance of the Mongol achievements on the world stage.

GK was very much a pragmatic conqueror. There was no cultural baggage in Mongol society: they were portable and self-contained, so they were able to adopt and adapt anything (tools, techniques) from other societies that seemed both useful and transportable.

I found it astonishing to realise exactly how much the Mongols accomplished across their vast territories, even more so when seen in context against what was happening elsewhere at the world - moveable type printing (in 1269, almost 200yrs before Gutenberg’s bible in 1455), paper currency, uniform written language and calendars etc., and all to document the accounting of the empire’s productivity and its subsequent distribution amongst the ‘shareholders’ of the ruling family?

The Gavin Menzies’ theory’ that China kickstarted the European Reformation via Zhang He’s fleet in the early 15th century gets a right head-kicking off-stage and off-page by this book. It’s clear that the Mongol and Chinese influences were tracking to and arriving in Europe much earlier via the Silk Road and the outreach of explorers and envoys such as Marco Polo and the religious emissaries.

A few days after climbing the great Wall, I saw commemorative signage in Xi’an marking one end of the Silk Road. The part of me that’s half my real age and much fitter wanted to buy a couple horses and a dog and set off down that trail. It still does.

I too will be adding a physical version of this book to my library. And JB, I had no problems with Weatherford’s authorial voice once he hit his stride.

Other relevant books that some might find interesting:

· Sir Arthur Waley’s Secret History of the Mongols – the first partial English translation

· Beyond the Great Wall – Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid – part travelogue and part cookbook: it works on both levels and includes the story of Duguid’s encounter with the author of the following book, who was heading on her first trip to Tibet at age 80+

· Forbidden Journey – Ella Maillart

· Cleaves – Secret History translation - scanned ebook edition of a fuller and more florid translation than Waley’s.

· Xanadu: Marco Polo and Europe's Discovery of the East (2009) – John Man

· On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomad - Tim Cope, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (2013),

· In Search of Genghis Khan - Tim Severin

· In the Bloody Footsteps of Ghengis Khan: An Epic Journey Across the Steppes, Mountains and Deserts from Red Square to Tiananmen Square – Jeffrey Tayler

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Date for Genghis Khan bookclub?

Posted October 2, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

I'm open to suggestions for a date to discuss this book. I'll be back home by the weekend and could probably do it the following week, but my inclination is to give those who are reading it a another fortnight or so.

9 Responses to ‘Date for Genghis Khan bookclub?’

pitpat asserts...

Posted October 2, 2013

Well I'm easy...but not cheap

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Barnesm would have you know...

Posted October 2, 2013

Oh yes I'll need at least that extra time, I am finishing off the second David Brin 'Exiles' trilogy first. I have Genghis Khan ready to go on my Kindle.

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Surtac ducks in to say...

Posted October 2, 2013

Some extra time would be good. I'm only about 10% in at the moment ...

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xenodyssey has opinions thus...

Posted October 3, 2013

Tom Clancy was the writer that started me off on reading techno-thrillers. From there I branched out from reading my usual SF&F to explore whole other modern genres so thanks Mr Clancy. Pity the books I most enjoyed by him haven't been adapted for the screen.

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Dave W mumbles...

Posted October 3, 2013
Two weeks is good. I'm about halfway through.

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Suze ducks in to say...

Posted October 3, 2013

Moar time for moi plz. Just started - and loving it!

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damian puts forth...

Posted October 3, 2013

I'd be keen on more time too. Started a couple of weeks ago, but got distracted by Wolf Hall which I'm finding strangely compelling. Mostly something to do with the quite different perspective to Man for All Seasons. I do keep picturing Leo McKern as Cromwell, but only when not reading.

The Kahn book looks really good, but so far the author is in too much of the narrative. I trust that slips off when it gets going.

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AuntyLou would have you know...

Posted October 3, 2013

Yeah...more time please. Only not too much or I will never finish. I admit to struggling. I read a whole lot of history in the pursuit of a BA in Ancient History etc...but the style is slowing me down. Either that or not having a compulsory 5000 word easy at the end... Very interesting topic & some fascinating information. Just a small extension on this assignment please sir!

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damian would have you know...

Posted October 31, 2013

Did we ever settle on a date for this?

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Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre

Posted September 13, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

I chose this book because Andy Inatkho recommended it on MacBreak Weekly. In fact he recommended it a couple of times, and I've found that my own tastes tend to run in the same nerdly directions as his, so here we are. I loved this book. I found myself returning to it on Audible whenever I had a spare couple of minutes and will probably procure myself a hard copy at some point. It is shelf-worthy.

As a quick note on the audiobook version, it took me a couple of minutes listening to adjust to John Lee's narration, having just come off his reading of Alastair Reynolds. I find that the sound of a narrator's voice tends to trigger a lot of memories associated with the last thing you heard them reading. Having said that, I think he was a much better choice to read this one than the Reynolds title, with a much a much better command of the various accents in play.

The story, of course, is magnificent. It had already been told in The Man with No Name by Ewen Montagu, one of the principal protagonists. However, Montagu agreed to leave out a lot of critical details, and to include others that would mislead the public because of the still sensitive nature of some of the revelations, including the connivance of the Spanish military and intelligence services in helping the Germans during the war.

The first couple of chapters of the book, which set the scene in wartime London, reminded me of the opening moments of Brideshead Revisited. Not that I've ever read the book, or even watched the whole series. But it always seemed to be on in the background when I was a child and I do recall the way is evoked the social life of upper-class England in the pre-war years. Macintyre has done excellent, top shelf work here in historical journalism. It's not easy. You can spend days tracking down the smallest detail which appears in only one line and is often missed by the reader in the great flow of all the surrounding detail as it rushes by.

One of the real achievements, I thought, was the way he captured character with almost Dickensian exactitude.

Ewen Montagu, in particular, was a great 'character' from the world of the pre-war elite, but one who just happened to be real, while the role of James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, added a weird, almost fantastic element to the telling. But you got used to that the further into the book you read. I particularly enjoyed the way in which the story touched tangentially on English popular culture of the postwar period again and again. The variety show, for instance, attended by Montagu, Cholmondeley and their dates, including the 'girlfriend' of Major Martin, in which some of the minor performers turned out to be major celebrities of the postwar period. Or the name Goldeneye, which Fleming bestowed on his Caribbean compound, and which was one of 007’s shorter stories. It was originally Operation Goldeneye, a Fleming plan to run insurgents in Spain should it enter the war on Hitler’s side.

The incidental characters, submarine captain Bill Jewell, the US Army ranger, Bond's future boss M, all of the spies and counter spies in Spain, they were all worth the price of admission on their own. Taken together they’d be an unbelievable cast for a thriller novel – except of course they were all real. There was even a bit of a Weapons of Choice moment for me when reading the passage where Churchill is briefed on the op, in his jammies, in bed, puffing on a fat cigar.

There were a number of lessons that rang very strongly with me. The way the German’s talked themselves into being deceived, resonated with real force. After nearly coming a cropper early in my magazine writing career I adopted the motto that the story you most want to hear is the story of which you should be most skeptical. The Wehrmacht and Hitler really, really wanted to believe in all the various phantoms the British sent their way and in giving into the desires they doomed themselves.

I couldn’t help casting a modern movie of this tory in my imagination. A slightly younger Sam Neill as Montagu. I think Guru Bob’s suggestion of John Cleese for Cholmondeley was brilliant. Kate Beckinsale as Pam (because Havoc). Maybe Kenneth Brannagh as Fleming.

And Jason Statham as Bill Jewell. A submarine captain who can round house kick a German torpedo boat.

<!--EndFragment-->

12 Responses to ‘Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre’

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted September 13, 2013

All right then. I'm off to the rugby club.

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pitpat mutters...

Posted September 13, 2013

I grew up with books like this from Esacape from Colditz, The Arnhem bridge battle- The bridge too Far, the enigma code. This book sits firmly in that tradtion in my mind. And yet during my read through I kept on thinking of Black Adder.

Ben MacIntyre does a wonderful job of painting the picture, and then following the actors through. Loose ends are tied up and the narrative is an entertaining romp. The operation itself was a great example of good planning leading to good luck with the unknown but luckiest break being the actions of Von Roenne to go along with the deception.

This is the first piece of long form non-fiction that I have read outside work or study for a long time, aprt from a bit of Stephen Jay Gould which is arguably within my field, and I loved it. Still think Stephen Fry for Cholmondelay, and there has to be a place for Rowan Atkinson- maybe the corpse.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted September 13, 2013

I thought maybe the undertaker for Atkinson.

pitpat mumbles...

Posted September 13, 2013
Much betterer. Certainly more lines

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MickH is gonna tell you...

Posted September 13, 2013

hmm

Sorry JB but I just didn't get to this book this time around, I'm still reading Ice & Fire! Phew! nearly finished it. Its taken my months.

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w from brisbane swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 13, 2013

JB, I think more of the Burgers would have commented, but so many of us have had to, at some stage, sign that dashed Official Secrets Act.

It's all frightfully unfortunate. Would like to help, but can neither confirm nor deny etc. I think you know the drill. Would like to say more, but some of those MI6 chaps have absolutely no sense of humour.

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Surtac reckons...

Posted September 13, 2013

I loved this book too. I pretty much agree with JB's assessment at the top of the post, and I think I'll be adding a paper copy as well.

What really struck me, several times in fact, was that you couldn't make this up and deliver a believable work of fiction - the truth in this case was always stranger. Not so much in the events but the characters; the actors in the drama - the historical figures of Churchill, Fleming, Philby, Canaris and so on, but even more in the 'little people' involved: Ewen Montagu, Cholmondley, Bill Jewell and his WREN wife-to-be, Ivor Montagu and his wife Hell, the coroner, and the forensic pathologist, the undertaker and his brother, the various spy networks.

To me, it really did seem a classic example of the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction - the degrees of separation seemed so much smaller than today. Was the world really a simpler place in those days, or did it just seem so?

Macintyre did a brilliant job of telling this story imnsho.

And my LOL moment? The irony of Cholmondley working incognito as a technical expert on the movie of The Man Who Never Was. Comedy gold.

A great choice of book, JB. What's next?

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Barnesm mumbles...

Posted September 13, 2013

I apologise I ducked in to add my post earlier but it seems to have dissappeared .

Great recap by Birmo above as always. I suggest bendick Cumberbatch for Cholmondley and Martin Freeman for Montagu. Whenever I read the American Ranger speech I got a Bredan Fraser vibe.

But of course this is another example of how you could never have pitched world War II as a screenplay, too unbeleiveable as layed out brilliantly by Scott over at live journal

"....But then there are some shows that go completely beyond the pale of enjoyability, until they become nothing more than overwritten collections of tropes impossible to watch without groaning.

I think the worst offender here is the History Channel and all their programs on the so-called "World War II".

Let's start with the bad guys. Battalions of stormtroopers dressed in all black, check. Secret police, check. Determination to brutally kill everyone who doesn't look like them, check. Leader with a tiny villain mustache and a tendency to go into apopleptic rage when he doesn't get his way, check. All this from a country that was ordinary, believable, and dare I say it sometimes even sympathetic in previous seasons.

I wouldn't even mind the lack of originality if they weren't so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren't that evil. And that's not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese.

Not that the good guys are much better. Their leader, Churchill, appeared in a grand total of one episode before, where he was a bumbling general who suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Ottomans of all people in the Battle of Gallipoli. Now, all of a sudden, he's not only Prime Minister, he's not only a brilliant military commander, he's not only the greatest orator of the twentieth century who can convince the British to keep going against all odds, he's also a natural wit who is able to pull out hilarious one-liners practically on demand. I know he's supposed to be the hero, but it's not realistic unless you keep the guy at least vaguely human.

So it's pretty standard "shining amazing good guys who can do no wrong" versus "evil legions of darkness bent on torture and genocide" stuff, totally ignoring the nuances and realities of politics. The actual strategy of the war is barely any better. Just to give one example, in the Battle of the Bulge, a vastly larger force of Germans surround a small Allied battalion and demand they surrender or be killed. The Allied general sends back a single-word reply: "Nuts!". The Germans attack, and, miraculously, the tiny Allied force holds them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive and turn the tide of battle. Whoever wrote this episode obviously had never been within a thousand miles of an actual military.

Probably the worst part was the ending. The British/German story arc gets boring, so they tie it up quickly, have the villain kill himself (on Walpurgisnacht of all days, not exactly subtle) and then totally switch gears to a battle between the Americans and the Japanese in the Pacific. Pretty much the same dichotomy - the Japanese kill, torture, perform medical experiments on prisoners, and frickin' play football with the heads of murdered children, and the Americans are led by a kindly old man in a wheelchair.

Anyway, they spend the whole season building up how the Japanese home islands are a fortress, and the Japanese will never surrender, and there's no way to take the Japanese home islands because they're invincible...and then they realize they totally can't have the Americans take the Japanese home islands so they have no way to wrap up the season.

So they invent a completely implausible superweapon that they've never mentioned until now. Apparently the Americans got some scientists together to invent it, only we never heard anything about it because it was "classified". In two years, the scientists manage to invent a weapon a thousand times more powerful than anything anyone's ever seen before - drawing from, of course, ancient mystical texts. Then they use the superweapon, blow up several Japanese cities easily, and the Japanese surrender. Convenient, isn't it?

...and then, in the entire rest of the show, over five or six different big wars, they never use the superweapon again. Seriously. They have this whole thing about a war in Vietnam that lasts decades and kills tens of thousands of people, and they never wonder if maybe they should consider using the frickin' unstoppable mystical superweapon that they won the last war with. At this point, you're starting to wonder if any of the show's writers have even watched the episodes the other writers made.

I'm not even going to get into the whole subplot about breaking a secret code (cleverly named "Enigma", because the writers couldn't spend more than two seconds thinking up a name for an enigmatic code), the giant superintelligent computer called Colossus (despite this being years before the transistor was even invented), the Soviet strongman whose name means "Man of Steel" in Russian (seriously, between calling the strongman "Man of Steel" and the Frenchman "de Gaulle", whoever came up with the names for this thing ought to be shot).

So yeah. Stay away from the History Channel. Unlike most of the other networks, they don't even try to make their stuff believable".

Darth Greybeard reckons...

Posted September 14, 2013

Wow. History really is bunk. Meh. I haven't really paid any attention to reality for years anyway.

Anthony ducks in to say...

Posted September 15, 2013

The really scary thing is that the above makes total sense.

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Sparty would have you know...

Posted September 14, 2013

Space Above and Beyond copied the op as well.

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Lulu swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 16, 2013
I only got hold of the book on Saturday, and I'm about half-way through.

Like many others here, I've been running a fantasy film casting session in my head as I've been reading. I agree with the suggestion of Benedict Cumberbatch as Cholmondley, although I'm not sure about Montagu - younger Stephen Fry, maybe? Dan Stevens ('Cousin Mathew' from Downton Abbey) as Bill Jewell; Jonathan Pryce as the pathologist Spilsbury; Gemma Arterton as 'Pam'.

The book is gripping despite the fact that we know the outcome. I mean, we all know who won WW2 (duh!) and it's clear early on that the operation will succeed, but you keep reading because you want to know *how* it happens, and because you can't quite believe the details and diversions. Seriously, a brother who spies for Russia? Cross-dressing? Treasure-hunting? Allied & Axis spies glaring at each other in neutral Spain? You couldn't make it up if you tried.

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Operation Mincemeat. Bookclub Fri 13 Sept

Posted September 3, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

Just a reminder.

Ben Macintyre's classic of historical journalism is crying out for a movie adaptation, but will have to do with half a dozen of us cming up with our own casting suggestions at Bookclub.

Sam Niell for Ewen Montague!

Best non fiction book I've read all year.

16 Responses to ‘Operation Mincemeat. Bookclub Fri 13 Sept’

Anthony is gonna tell you...

Posted August 20, 2013

Should be worth reading - this is "The Man Who Never Was"

Barnesm puts forth...

Posted September 9, 2013

So in fact Birmo's request for "crying out for a movie adaptation" has already been granted, back in 1956.

It starred Clifton Webb as Montagu, no listing for Cholmondeley however.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted September 9, 2013

Yeah, but it was based in complete and even misleading information. And no CGI.

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Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted August 20, 2013

And for those that want a primer might I recommend the TV series Horrible Histories series four, episode 7 'Major Martin' here is a link the segment begins at 6:45 and goes for 2 minutes.

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Barnesm mumbles...

Posted August 20, 2013
my apologies I meant to say "spoilers".

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Surtac has opinions thus...

Posted August 20, 2013

It's cued up on the kindle. I just have to finish Mike Harrison's Light first.

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yankeedog mumbles...

Posted August 20, 2013

Best deception ever!

Barnesm puts forth...

Posted August 20, 2013

and it was only a part of a much more massive undertaking called Operation Bodyguard

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DPHUNT asserts...

Posted August 21, 2013

The Horrible Histories take is a ripper. Such a shame they have shot their last sketch.

Barnesm mutters...

Posted August 21, 2013

Indeed

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AkaSlymann mumbles...

Posted August 21, 2013

A couple of great nonfiction WWII books worth a read are:

- A Bridge to Far about Operation Market Garden and the Battle for Arnhem

- the Phantom Major about the David Stirling who started the SAS in WWII, the creation of the SAS and their initial operations.

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Mayhem has opinions thus...

Posted August 23, 2013

Okay, might give this one a shot. I need to add to my kindle anyway. Planning to do a fair a amount of reading and video watching. Of course, depending on the meds they send me home with, any contribution to book club on the evening may or may not be worth reading :)

P.S. Anyone got the first 2 seasons of Buffy they can lend me. My sister has lent me the rest of it, but wo starts a collection with series 3 FFS?

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pitpat swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 4, 2013

Stephen Fry for Cholmondely, prehaps.

Lulu puts forth...

Posted September 4, 2013

Which one is he on the cover picture? The man on the left looks so much like Alec Guiness it's spooky.

My local library has it, so I'll be looking for it this week.

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AuntyLou puts forth...

Posted September 4, 2013

I would love to be joining you all...but I will be getting my grog on at the Neurum Creek Folk Festival with all the other old hippies :)

PS Thanks to Barnesm for the Horrible Histories link. I have spent many a happy time watching those shows but am pretty sure I never came across that one before. Classic!

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Gramme would have you know...

Posted September 8, 2013

Allan Hilgarth deserved his own movie. What a gangster.

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Bookclub World War Z. (Audio)

Posted August 11, 2013 into Book Club by John Birmingham

Firstly, apologies for moving the time of this book club around again and again and again. It moved so often, in fact, I have no idea whether anybody will even be here this afternoon. But I do know that plenty of people have listened to, or read the book, and Sunday afternoon isn't a bad time to sit down with a glass of vino… So here we be.

This is the fourth or fifth time I have been through Max Brooks's World War Z, but the first time in audio format. It was a fascinating contrast that mirrored my experience recently with Iain M Banks The Player of Games. It wasn't like listening to a different story, but it was like coming at it in a very different way. The voice acting is a huge part of this. I hadn't realized until listening to the Audible version that some of the characters actually recurred. The guy who tells the story of the Battle of Yonkers, for instance, is the same character who narrates the first battle in which the New Army gets the better of Zack. Two of my favorite parts of the book, that I hadn't attributed to the same storyteller before now.
The voice acting was exemplary. I'm sure we can all forgive the terrible Australian accent, the flat nasal delivery from down under being one of the most difficult English dialects of all to get right. And even then I thought the actor did a pretty good job of it.
If possible, the experience of hearing the book was even more unsettling than reading it. Having been through the text a couple of times now, it's lost a lot of the initial power to shock and overwhelm. But hearing the actors do their Studs Terkel routine, ahem, reanimated some passages of text which had previously gone a bit lifeless for me.
I suppose it goes without saying that the greatest triumph of Brooks novel is "voice". And of course you really get to hear the different nuances of each character when they are being read out to you by talented narrators. I always found the passage where he interviewed the teenage girl with a mental age of four or five to be one of the most eerie and disturbing interludes. It was even more so here.
But putting aside the most obvious advantage of an audiobook I was again reminded of something else Brooks had done with the unusual format in which he chose to tell his story. He was able to very deftly give us both the strategic and tactical levels of this story. One of the challenges facing you as a writer when you decide to do an end of the world story is settling on how tightly to focus the arcs. Are we going to get lots of meetings in the White House with generals briefing the president, admirals directing fleets, foreign leaders discussing grand strategy? Or are we going to stay down in the mud with the grunts?
With Brooks, of course, you get it all. This was one of the great disappointments for people who were hoping for a faithful adaptation of the book by Brad Pitt. But as has been pretty well-established by now, unless Pitt decided to put his money into something like a twelve part mockumentary on HBO, that was never going to happen. Even a generous ensemble cast could not have faithfully translated this book to the screen. I still haven't seen World War Z at the movies, and won't now until it makes its way to cable. But I'm cool with that. One Saturday night six or seven months from now, I will sit down with a couple of drinks and a few salty snacks and take it in purely as an adventure film.
I won't say much more than that now. I just wanted to dash off a few quick thoughts in case anybody turned up here at four o'clock. I'm single parenting this afternoon, and this evening, but will keep an eye out in case anybody drops by.

My wine this arvo is Jim Barry's 2006 Macrae Hill Shiraz

39 Responses to ‘Bookclub World War Z. (Audio)’

Spanner is gonna tell you...

Posted August 11, 2013

I loathed this audiobook. I hated it so much that when the second half glitched I didn't even bother to download it again from my library.

There was no suspense because I know every character survived otherwise they wouldn't be being interviewed.

There was no character development because each story was too short.

The voice acting was terrible.

The actions of the characters was at times moronic and unbelievable.

There was no redeeming character. No hero. No anti hero. Nobody I remotely cared about or even wanted to engage with. All the characters were meh multiplied by shut up and die. It was a thoroughly irritating experience listing to characters crap on.

I wished the zombies had eaten the lot of them just so the book was never written.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted August 11, 2013

No, please, tell us what you really thought.

Spanner mutters...

Posted August 11, 2013

The one redeeming feature of the book was that it had zombies.

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pitpat reckons...

Posted August 11, 2013

It was my first audio book and really my first toe dip into the pool that is the Zombie genre. I was pleasantly surprised by both. I thought the book was perfect for the format with multiple POVs being held together by a central effectively nuetral narrator. With the earbuds in I would find myself effectively mimicing the mindless automaton that is Zac while children screamed. In some ways it remined me of This American Life as it would be if set in a post apocalyptic future.

On the drive to and from work I would get in a chapter or two and then often sit in the car waiting to see how each character dealt. Might have more but children beckon.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted August 11, 2013

Ah yes, the inconvenience of the chapter with just a few more minutes to go. I've driven a few laps of our block waiting for Zack to finish his meal.

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Spanner swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 11, 2013

There is no comparison between the voice acting in Joe Abercrobie's First Law trilogy and WWZ. I found all of the accents grating in WWZ. Yet I loved the accents used by the narrator in First Law and in Name of the Wind.

pitpat mumbles...

Posted August 11, 2013

My only other refernce is David Tennant doing the Hiccup novels ( How to train your dragon) and that is a bit unfair because it is David tennant and I could listen to him recite the chemicals found in Tomato Suace bottles, and secondly there is only one POV. I would imagine the cost of multiple voice actors would be prohibitive and am curious as to how many they did use in WWZ.

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AuntyLou reckons...

Posted August 11, 2013

Wow Spanner...no, really wow......

I guess I have to preface my two bobs worth with the fact that this is my very first attempt at the audiobook format. And this was probably not the book to start with. I have to say I loved the concept of interviews providing the narrative & thought the interviews seemed well written - especially in keeping the interviewer's voice as unobtrusive as possible. It was just that the narration was so...languid? No matter what I did I just couldn't stay focussed! And, for all the attempted accents, I really couldn't really say that the characters seemed real/believable. I did try to wangle a copy of the text but failed to access anything before today. Is it just me, this particular example, or the nature of audiobooks that this format is more time consuming?

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Blarkon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 11, 2013

Horror/Suspense on Audiobook gets to me more than on the big screen or in text. It might be the "Jaws Effect" of the shark being scarier if you don't see it - and an audiobook taps into a different part of the brain than when consuming the same story through text (or seeing it in a movie)

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John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted August 11, 2013

Hmm. This is very odd. I've listened to a heap of audiobooks this year. It's my new fave fomrat just because it lets me get through more 'reading' than I'd have any hope of doing nomrally. And I LOVED this title.

Didn't have Spanner's or Lou's prblem with the voice acting in 90% of the stories.

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MickH puts forth...

Posted August 11, 2013

Well some of us have been checking in JB.

I read this book a couple of novels back so Its not completely fresh, particularly when I've just got past the red wedding in GoT.

But I'm somewhere between yourself and spanner. I did have difficulty reading the book for many of the reasons that Spanner mentioned, But I did enjoy the many voices and the patch work way he covered all the bases.

For me it was a harrowing and depressing read. Probably because it came across as very real. It was just as well the zombies in the book we slow movers, if they had been fast, ant like ones in the movie then we'd all be fucked. Period.

I truely hope we don't have a zombie appocolypse.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 11, 2013

If they'd be fast zombies (Pfft, like they even exist) it woulda been a short story. A very short story.

AuntyLou has opinions thus...

Posted August 11, 2013

I am of the old fashioned "if it ain't shamblin' it ain't a zombie" mindset.

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Anthony swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 11, 2013

I enjoyed it. Some of the characters were a bit dubiously voiced so overall I'd say an A-. There were parts of the story that I must not have taken in while reading that seemed to leap out during the audiobook. It's a format that was really well suited to an audiobook and it came across as a radio documentary rather than a novel.

I do find audiobook quality a bit hit and miss but the hits are increasing. Recent hits have been the Terry Pratchett Guards! Guards! read by the inimitable (I have a cunning plan) Tony Robinson - a voice perfectly suited to the task.

Another lot I've been enjoying have been the Inspector Montalbano novels. SWBMO is a crime novel fanatic and they are a good compromise for a long car journey.

By the way JB - you are responsible for keeping SWMBO awake the past couple of nights. I bought Girt - The Unauthorised History of Australia by Hunt David, after a quick skim through and then noticing your reommendation on the cover. My sniggering and guffawing kept wotsername awake. I normally ignore recommendations from authors on the cover but it rather resonated and knowing that you a person of taste I decided to purchase it. An excellent (and funny) book that may go well for a future book club. I can especially recommend it to our Septic Brethren who may frequent these parts.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted August 11, 2013

INdeed, I have an extract somewhere I'm supposed to run here at the Burger. i'll do so next weekend.

And yeah:

'There were parts of the story that I must not have taken in while reading that seemed to leap out during the audiobook'

I find it incredible that after repeated reads I still kept discovering new stuff in the audio format.

NBlob mutters...

Posted August 12, 2013

Well that answers that question. I was going to ask if you knew about Girt, after I hear a bit about it on the radio the other day. If you've done a cover endorsement then, er yeah. Probably.

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JG mumbles...

Posted August 11, 2013

I only listened to a few hours of the audio book. Liked it. I thought the actors were great and enjoyed getting sucked in with the different voices and stories.

I also loved the movie which I viewed a couple or so months ago. Surprised that the movie is completely different from the book--focusing on a small, adapted chapter.

Can't say I preferred one over the other. Didn't finish audio book because I couldn't be bothered and didn't like the thought of having to write a review essay for this. Prefer to be non committal here.

I was a bit miffed that the zombies were always referred to as the undead, living dead, or dead reactivated. Made the stories more convincing, I suppose.

Anyway, good to hear reactions from those with diverse backgrounds from each other.

i

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted August 11, 2013

It's a perculiar trope of some zombie genre stuff that they refuse to call 'em by their name.

Barnesm reckons...

Posted August 11, 2013

Thou some more recent works also reconize that they are the zombies from so much of our culture Mira Grant's 'Feed' for example.

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John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted August 11, 2013

Damn zombies.

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w from brisbane swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 11, 2013

No, haven't read it or listened to it.
Though I am very familiar with the audio book for various reasons.
I prefer reading. Though it can be instructive to dip into an audio book with a book you are struggling with. A good actor can open up a better way of reading the book that better reveals its pleasures.
I find the funny thing about audio books is that you have to be doing something else. Driving or cooking are the best for me. I walk a lot, but audio books don't work for me while walking, though it can do for others.

AuntyLou mumbles...

Posted August 11, 2013

W...you may have a point. I tried to listen in the same way I read..ie. with as few distractions as possible (maybe just hubby snoring!). And without fail my brain started doing other stuff or - how embarrassing - went straight to sleep! Maybe if I listened while doing a thing it may work. With my Audible subscription I got myself a work by OGH. Will give that a go while...don't know but I'll think of something!

w from brisbane reckons...

Posted August 12, 2013

AuntyLou. It must be something with the auditory, but if you listen to audio books in the same circumstances that you might listen to radio or privately listen to music, then that is probably the go.

AuntyLou asserts...

Posted August 12, 2013

So...dancing around the lounge room it is!

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JG would have you know...

Posted August 11, 2013

It was a book of memories of survivors of the zombies war and I think it was great in producing that with such interesting stories. All human stories and they covered a lot of current world problems.

A few of the issues covered included body parts trafficking for transplantation, military regimes and political control at all levels (eg in the workplace), international relations (eg Israeli-Palestinian conflict), citizenship, refugees and resettlement, peacekeeping, opportunism, and scientific and human ethics.

It made me think: who is the real enemy here--the zombies or the living. My conclusion: both.

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JG puts forth...

Posted August 11, 2013

Speaking of the living dead, I'll be listening to the great debate tonight. Look forward to the televised Crudd-Rabbit fight off. Have downloaded Roy Morgan free Reactor app on my phone.

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Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 11, 2013

I started reading the book while listening to the unnabridged audio book from audible as I wanted to establish which bits, if any had been left out of this version. It seemed to me pretty comprehensive only a few footnotes being left out. I had some problems with this plan as I kept reading ahead of the narration as I read faster.

The voice acting was superb but I didn't recognise some of the voice actors. According to the sleeve notes these should ahve been

Nicki Clyne as Sharon
Bruce Boxleitner as Gavin Blaire
Simon Pegg as Grover Carlson

Brian Tee as Hyungchoi and Michael Choi

Henry Rollins as T. Sean Collins
Frank Darabont as Roy Elliot
Common as Darnell Hackworth
Kal Penn as Sardar Khan
Alfred Molina as Terry Knox
David Ogden Stiers as Bohdan Taras Kondratiuk
Nathan Fillion as Stanley MacDonald
Denise Crosby as Mary Jo Miller
Ade M’Cormack as Jacob Nyathi
Paul Sorvino as Fernando Oliveira
Parminder Nagra as Barati Palshigar
Rene Auberjonois as Andre Renard
F. Murray Abraham as Father Sergei Ryzhkov
Martin Scorsese as Breckinridge “Breck” Scott
Masi Oka as Kondo Tatsumi
Ric Young as Admiral Xu Zhicai
Jeri Ryan as Maria Zhuganova

but they didn't sound like them on my version, did we get a different recording.

The book is a great set up, new way of telling the zombie story which came just before the reall new zombie fiction way, and helped create the wave I think. The characters I thought were well crafted and full other than Breckinridge “Breck” Scott who seemed to callous and unrepentant for me to believe.

The Warmbrunn-Knight report and the The Redeker Plan were marvolous plot devices for me and the concept refracted through the different experiences and POV help bind the disparte narratives for me.

The World Street Journal had a piece on how authors are getting more involved in the voices for the audio books either narrating the book themselves or selecting the voice actor. From the WSJ

"Other writers are getting involved in almost every aspect of the production, from auditioning and casting the narrators to directing readers in the booth. Max Brooks, author of the zombie novel “World War Z,” spent a year working on an elaborate, 12 hour long audio book edition of the book, with a full cast of 40 narrators.

Mr. Brooks said the narration mattered to him in part because “World War Z” was inspired by an audio book that he listened to as a kid: a recording of “The Good War,” Studs Terkel’s oral history of World War II. “World War Z” is written as an oral history of a zombie apocalypse, and unfolds as a series of testimonies from survivors all over the world".

Most of my reading is done while riding on trains, or waiting at a station adn i can read fast in text. For me audio come into its own with science podcasting wherethe interplay between the hosts provides a more dynamic experience than I would get from just reading the text.

Surtac has opinions thus...

Posted August 12, 2013

Well, Planet Parenthood aligned with Planet Asperger to dump a whole metric truckload of RL issues here at Chateau Dysfunction over the weekend, so even with the shift to Sunday afternoon I couldn’t make it in here on time.

Here’s a few notes I was logging as I ‘read’ the book. Like Mr Barnes, I was reading ahead via Kindle, while listening to the audiobook version.

- At 15% in, I’m picking up some vibes about Brooks’ disenchantment with his federal government.

- The chapter with the CIA dude had me LOLing, with the comment about CIA saving every website you ever touched – very ironic post Snowden

- And the Simon Pegg chapter about the ex-politico sh*t-collector. Comedy gold.

- He’s having a real go at the artificiality and fragility of Western civilisation in the Alan Alda chapter …

- And the technology worship squee factor in the Roy Elliot Zeus/MTHEL chapter

- Lots more riffing on US and other countries attitudes towards nuclear weapons – if you combine the Iranian Japanese and later Chinese chapters (shades of Hunt for Red October in that last one btw) he seems very sceptical overall about this aspect of human nature and its relationship with close-held power.

General comments:

I was pretty happy with most of the voice actors with only one or two exceptions – the dodgy Aussie accent was a little too stereotyped, and Alan Alda’s Hahvarhd Yahrd voice actively irritated me.

Mark Hamill’s turns as Todd Wainio were exactly on note for me – he nailed the world-weariness and mental fatigue of that character imo. And Nicki Clyne as the mentally damaged Sharon was downright spooky.

I’m quite the fan of audiobooks at times. When I had a longer commute involving school runs, Youngest Daughter and I went through a stack of Discword books (Tony Robinson and Nigel Planer as readers), all of Fleming’s James Bond titles, Simon R Green’s Deathstalker space operas and so on.

And directly because of WWZ, I’m now about 8-9 hours into The Name Of The Wind audiobook and thoroughly enjoying it.

Thanks for choosing this one, JB. A compelling story, well told.

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AkaSlymann mutters...

Posted August 11, 2013

On the whole I thought it was good fun and an interesting method/style for a zombie story. But not engrossing.

I thought the voice acting was pretty good but I cant forgive the bad Aussie accent it was appalling but even worse was the supposed Aussie language, it was just too damned cliched.

Although, i havent read too many zombie stories it seemed more a post apocalypse story than zombie story, it wasnt really all that scary and was mainly to do with how people managed to survive and then recreate society.

There were a few things that let it down. First, the zombies were treated and talked about as some sort of alien like creature not former neighbours, friends and family. It seems to me that one of the key, scariest and most interesting elements about zombies is that they were once human, and it could have been abd still could happen to us. How does it feel to see your wife become a zombie and then having to blow her head off to survive, surely that is an interesting plot point.

Second, the style of interviewing key people after it happened meant that it was all first person with people 20 years on (?) remembering often very detailed and specific things. While for each person it was clearly a momentous occasion in my experience it would still be difficult to remember such specific details (specific conversations and actions).

Third, a number of the characters seemed totally unbelievable the one that comes to mind right now is the president's former chief of staff, he relived his and the then presidents decision about not doing anything about the imminent zombie apocalypse. But he didnt speak about it in hindsight, it was as if he was talking about it in real time. That was the case with a number of the characters and pointed to a major challenge of the style - how do you tell a story about something so significant after it is all over and has happened and we know the outcome, the characters survived as did humans mostly and the zombies were stopped.

Fourth, certain characters or at least their stories seemed redundant ie the Aussie astronaut; so they maintained the space station, so what, what was significant about that or did I miss something. I suspect it was just to include an Aussie character.

Fifth, I haven't listened to the last hour or so but i am not clear on how many people survived. Therefore, it was hard to really get a good understanding of the scale of it; it was clearly massive and global but how massive.

I am enjoying it and have persisted because I want to know what happened in a global zombie war but not because I was Interested in what may or may not happen to the various characters. In the end all the characters could of been killed or turned and I wouldn't have been concerned.

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MickH puts forth...

Posted August 12, 2013

So whats the next book John and when?

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted August 12, 2013

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre. I'm reading it now. It's awesome.

We'll have a talk about the date.

MickH reckons...

Posted August 12, 2013

did you ever finish the painted man?

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Brother PorkChop puts forth...

Posted August 12, 2013

How was the shiraz? I like Jim Barry wines a lot - whites and reds. just wish I could afford to dink The Armargh on a regular basis as opposed to once a decade, whilst starving my kids for a month.

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nadine swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 12, 2013

I am a fan of the audiobook format as with a full-time job and children my drive to and from work is the only time I get for myself. Balancing a book on the steering wheel is of course possible and although many people do all sorts of things while parked in traffic and at red lights, I have never managed more that a UBD (thank god those days are gone).

But I digress.

By the time I got to the end of this book I felt I had read my first military novel. I love zombie stories so I am familiar with that but I don't read military style stories. In saying that I really loved that side of the book. Finding out what the military definition of decimated is and that the normal tactics to demoralize your enemy just wouldn't work was fascinating. One thing I always look for is that new thing I am introduced to in a novel.

I haven't seen the movie and by the sounds of it I will enjoy that even though its not like the novel. So I will catch the movie when it comes to QuickFlix.

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dewpoint reckons...

Posted August 12, 2013

Sounds like there's quite a contrast between the audio, print and film versions of WWZ. I saw the film & enjoyed it and was also good hearing others impressions.

But on more serious notes! Wine?? Or perhaps it was so bad it wasn't worth mentioning

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Blake would have you know...

Posted August 13, 2013

A bit late to the party - weekend didn't go as planned and spent the tail end in bed.

I've done the audiobook thing a few times and it's never struck me, i think i was given a couple of Douglas Adams works; the radio plays, and a couple of his other novels. The reading pace drove me nuts - I'm a quick reader, if it's pulpy i want to be ingesting that textual content faster than Birmo with a bottle of wine on blog night.

WWZ though - didn't have that problem. There wasn't any breakneck pace to be bothered with - the plot unfrurled itself like a tarot cards in nicely segmented blocks, there was no immediate threats, crisis or shark jumping antics to need to read the next page for.

And yet Mr Brooks managed to tell a narrative and make some extremely poignant comments on the human condition. I found myself testing the the plausibility of each curious revelation at each turn, and then comparing to that other post apocalyptic series i read this month (After America etc.).

The 'overseas' part lost me for a bit, i wasn't going to make bookclub date and i couldn't work out why he needed an overseas part when so much of the rest of the book talked about the the whole of world anyway. I was trying to use the mp3 player on my kindle and so i didn't have the ability to seek in the chapters so i ended up skipping the end of a few when it lost my 'page' when i got out of the car. This wouldn't have been an issue if I'd used the audible version....

Which induces a small spittle flecked rage. Why not sell the complete version in Australia? I spent some time with the Unabridged Audible version to round out this review and found it lacking. There is a difference between a book reading and voice acting and it makes a huge difference to my interest in the medium.

Ont hat note, I'm not sure if i should be surprised that Max Brooks makes such a great narrator, i mean he wrote it, it's his 'voice' on the paper, but i'm a little jealous of his ability to write a very clever novel, and then back it up with some pretty spot on voice acting.

So yeah, enjoyned the book - love being able to keep 'reading' when i get into the car, but i'm not sure i would enjoy the medium as much for a regular novel WWZ works for the medium - but that should be obvious given it's subtitle.

Blake

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Moko swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 16, 2013

I love audio books. I love books, but because of the hours I work I don't last a page. I listen to them to and from work.

The scene with the girl in the church with her community was creepy. I loved that. The female pilot getting to safety with the spotter on the radio was great. Many more stood out and there were a few dead spots - excuse the pun.

Overall, the attention to detail was soemthing I've never come across before in a book. IT seems he covered every possible general scenario and that blew me away.

Four stars for me.

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NBlob mumbles...

Posted August 23, 2013

I just wanted to put it out there.

$12 movie tie-in paperback, WWZ, @ large UU type retail store.

Got me mine today.

Heavy dreams tonight.

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Suze ducks in to say...

Posted August 31, 2013

Obviously, I'm ridiculously late to comment, but I did actually do this one, so thought I'd throw my two cents worth. First time for an audio book and first zombie read for me, so a double 'first'. I don't know that I would have gotten through it in print - it's just not my bag. I would never have turned my attention to it, if not for Cheeseburger Book Club.

I can see why you chose this for us to do as an audio book, JB. It was a great introduction to this format for me. Is the voice acting in all audio books as good as this? As a visual person, I did struggle to engage with it a bit and (shamefully) found myself nodding off occassionally.

I also wonder if this is a typical example of zombie fiction ... Like a few others have expressed earlier, I felt this was as much comment on the human condition as anything - which is probably what kept me interested.

My favourite chapter was about the dogs. How awesome were those critters?

Barnes - I didn't have that cool set of voice actors either. Dang.

Overall, I'm not sold on audio-books, but it's pretty convenient for public transport (especially buses, upon which I become prone to motion sickness) so I'll persist and see if I just need to create some new neural pathways to stay focussed.

I'll be late to start the MacIntyre read, but will have a go at that on audio and will stop by on 13th ... if it goes ahead that night ...

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