In case you had a doubt that everything electronic can be recorded…

E-reader Reading You

In case you had a doubt that everything electronic can and is being recorded, this article from the Wall Street Journal details the exciting revelation in of information in people’s reading habits gained from the manufacturers of ebook readers.

For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page. But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.

The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.

Read the rest of the WSJ article here.


To Defend the Earth Book Review

I first saw an ad for this book on and thought this novel looked interesting – yet another book about what would happen if aliens tried to take over the world.  Since I am a sucker for that kind of TEOTWAWKI no matter what the genre – aliens, zombies, nukes, plagues, I gave this a second look.

I am glad I did.

To Defend the Earth (TDE) uses a different technique to tell the story of an alien invasion.  The chapters are arranged chronologically with the discovery, preparation for, and initial battles with the alien invaders.  Each chapter, however, is written from the perspective of a different person and with a different plot focus.  Sounds like something that wouldn’t work well, but the varying backgrounds and chapter focuses mesh together very well.

My favorite chapter is the first – Presidential Briefing, where the new incoming president learns of all the new threat and determining how to prepare.  It is a good summary of how we might discover incoming alien vessels, determine their intentions, and how leaders might react to the news.

Close behind, chapter six – The French Interrogator’s Alien details how a intelligence officer builds a relationship with a captured alien.  The interplay between the human and alien is very fresh and funny at times, and the best “crossing the cultural divide” dialogue I have read in a while.

I would love to tell more about some of my other favorite sections of the book, and a few of my minor criticisms (like using nuclear weapons for propulsion), but to speak too much more would start to really spoil the book’s outcome.  This is far from the B- grade story your wallet fears wasting money on.  So ask your library for it or go to Amazon and buy, as I did.  You won’t regret it!

Preview the first few pages on Amazon here.

William Stroock

What is your soma?

Recently I was talking about how I needed to read Brave New World (BNW) with my wife and found that we had the book at the house!  My wife had read it in high school and was likening some of the themes to current events and culture.  Needless to say, I immediately dug in.  (The only problem was when I began reading my beautiful bride kept stealing the book away from me!)

I found Brave New World mildly interesting from a technical point of view.  I saw the whole assembly line making babies as a little different, but I got the feeling that Huxley saw this as a device to move the plot along and to show the inhumanity of making the humans.

I found 1984 to be a much more compelling novel overall.   The contrast between BNW and 1984 is in the nature of the oppression that is being placed on the people.  In 1984 the oppression is much more overt.  People are aware of the harm being done to them, but are helpless to escape it and most all of them embrace the master’s agenda.  The power of the 1984 state is overwhelming.  Huxley’s BNW crafts a much more gradual, nuanced approach to control.  People are manipulated from conception and conditioned from birth for their pre-defined role.  The BNW individual never knows to think for themselves outside the programming.  This same effect is achieved in 1984 through the Newspeak dictionary – a person may have a vague feeling of what they want to say, but lack the language to express it effectively to others.

The other fascinating part of BNW was the continual use of soma.  Huxley’s soma was a type of non-addicting hallucinogenic that was manufactured for general use.  BNW subjects were encouraged through the hypnotic training to use soma whenever they were displeased, disappointed, or just wanted to check out from the world, but had to be programmed not to use to excess.  I found the use of the drug to help everyone maintain an even keel emotionally a fascinating way to view the world presently.  What are the modern day somas that you know of?  Professional sports, alcohol, sex/pornography, movies, TV, gaming, texting, facebook – those are the things that come to mind when I think of things that have a soma-like effect on people.  Which ones are actively encouraged today as “responsible” ways to disconnect from the realities of life?  What is your personal soma and what encourages you to use it?

Mixing metaphors, do you need to take the red pill and wake up?




The Shadow Patrol by Alex Berenson

The Shadow PatrolThis latest novel is Alex Berenson’s first venture into a tale with an extensive military storyline.  The book begins with the stereotypical phone call – the head of the CIA thinks that there is a mole in the agency’s station in Afghanistan.  The CIA boss calls on ex-covert agent John Wells to head across the world to see if he can root out the traitor.  In doing so, Wells discovers a nest of murderous soldiers turned drug smuggler.  Wells must avoid fighting a rogue Delta force sniper head-on to finally get the name of the CIA’s turncoat.

This novel has the Wells character interact frequently with the active duty Army.  In a speech John Wells gives to a group of infantrymen deployed in Afghanistan, he encourages the troops with reasoning that boils down to “you soldiers are here because you are here, so just deal with it”.  A soldier asks if the US should just pull out of Afghanistan.  The landlocked desert country with almost no natural resources is too important to the powers that be is Wells reply.  The military are heroes because politicians on both sides of the isle decided the mission in Afghanistan is ok, and soldiers will keep fighting for each other.  (Now that part is right – at the point of the spear, you do your mission, keep your buddy alive, and remember that it is my team/squad/platoon against the world, but especially those illegitimate clowns over in A Company)  Another infantry lad asks, “How come we don’t seem to be winning?”  Wells answer amounts to Well, with limited options, those generals setting the strategy are doing the best they can.  With this answer Berenson comes across as unauthentic in this situation.

Also present was some commentary about how the Strykers are worthless and the Army shouldn’t have selected them.  For sure the Stryker is no Buffalo or MRAP, but for the mission it was designed for, I haven’t heard too many Stryker soldiers complain about the vehicle.  (Full disclosure – I was a M2 Bradley platoon leader, so my experience is mainly with the heavier IFV)

Kilos of HashFinally, there was little positive interaction with the military.  Attention was focused on four individuals who were the “nest of murderous soldier drug smugglers” mentioned earlier.  This is understandable, since they were needed to move the plot line forward.  However, the downright amoral actions and despicable integrity of these two infantry leaders is hard to believe outside the extremely independent operations this rogue leadership element was allowed to work under.

Overall, I give this book a C.  The best passages of the story are the initial chapters describing how a Taliban suicide bomber infiltrates the CIA mission in Afghanistan.  I found the plot resolution at the end shallow and unsatisfying.  And that resolution is perhaps the most realistic part of the book – who can really know why people do the things they do if they don’t tell you?


The first chapters of The Shadow Patrol are available from here.

The Secret Soldier by Alex Berenson

Out of the first five novels that Alex Berenson has written, The Secret Soldier is my favorite, second to The Faithful Spy.  In The Secret Soldier the central John Wells character has finally had enough of the manipulation and lies from his bosses at the CIA.  He quits the agency and retreats to a small mountain town in New Hampshire to pause and reflect on his life.  After a few months even a loner like Wells gets lonely, and he eventually meets a local deputy sheriff who takes a chance on letting him into her life.  As Wells and his new lady friend get to know each other better, a mysterious offer for a lucrative job appears.  $1,000,000 just to travel and hear the prospective employer give his pitch for Well’s help.  A million just to show up?  I know I would take that deal, and John Wells does too.  He finds himself working for the king of Saudi Arabia.   The king knows his kingdom will descend into chaos and fundamentalism if the throne is not passed to his son when he dies.  Wells has to work with the king to stop the enemies among the king’s close relatives and eventually has to embrace help from the CIA again to save the kingdom.

This book has some great history and succinct summaries of politics in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  I actually learned a good bit of how the Kingdom works and how the factions and families interact in a society still very based on tribal norms and customs.  This history and cultural exploration made this book outstanding.

The different plot and political landscape of this make it a refreshing twist from more typical plotlines in this type of novel.  Tolle, lege.

The first chapter of the book is available from Alex Berenson’s website here.

The Midnight House by Alex Berenson

In The Midnight House Alex Berenson goes from John Wells savior of the world/USA/Taiwan from imminent mass murder to John Wells the detective.  Members of a super-secret interrogation squad are dying and someone needs to figure out why.

John Wells is more developed in this story.  The scope of the story is much smaller – instead of trying to stop a nuclear weapon from killing millions, this book dives deep into the story of a small team of interrogators and two of their most important subjects.  This book explores the personal side of interrogation – what happens in the minds of both the interrogated and the interrogator.  Each side of the table pays a high price for their involvement in the struggle.  Each loses hope, humanity, and sanity.  As Wells gets to the bottom of the repugnant actions that occurred at the off-grid “black site”, Berenson makes his belief that harsh interrogation techniques (not torture, mind you, but up-to-the-line-not-over-the-line) are not worth the human cost.

If you are a person who hates flashbacks, don’t get this book.  Berenson weaves the present day sleuthing of John Wells into chapters from the interrogation squad’s time deployed, giving you some pieces of the deployment storyline, but not enough to piece everything together until the end.  The Midnight House was a pleasant change of pace and focus for the John Wells series, but the next story in line, The Secret Soldier, ranks right next to the compelling start of this anthology.

The first chapter of the book is available from here.

The Silent Man by Alex Berenson

In The Silent Man Berenson pulls his John Wells fiction franchise back from suspicions he had jumped the shark with The Ghost War.  In this novel Berenson takes a swing at the one plot line every spy series has to tackle – saving the homeland from a nuclear attack.

The plot summary is fairly straightforward – Islamic radicals steal some Russian nuclear weapons, import them into the US, and then fail at the last minute with their dastardly plot, foiled by none other than John Wells.  The real strength of this novel is in the details of how the weapons are obtained.  Berenson’s well developed characters show how social engineering is the weakest link in the security of the special weapons.  He does a good job of making those characters believable, and fleshes out many of their motivations.  Realistically, though, the initial set of thieves who engineered the actual theft of the nukes is killed, ending the work he put into developing them.

Another plus for the plot and thinking behind the novel is that the weapons do not enter the US through Mexico, nearly a plot stereotype (latest example – Act of Valor).  Thank you Alex for giving a different view of the possibilities!

I give this novel a solid B-.  While I wouldn’t read it again, I appreciated that Berenson did not spend several chapters talking about the intimate technical details of building nuclear weapon (i.e. Sum of All Fears).   The action was pretty good, but the character of John Wells did not develop much.  The only main character development for him is he starts to realize that he is viewed as a useful pawn to some people.  Problem is, John Wells is really a rook, so when he slides sideways on his masters it throws them for a loop.

The first chapter of the book is available on Alex Berenson’s website here.

Alex Berenson

Alex Berenson