A book review to kick-off the summer: Jaws

Standard

Variety rates “Jaws” as one of 10 movies that was better than the book.  Several lists on Goodreads also put the book Jaws in the same category, such as “The movie was better than the book” which puts Jaws one notch above The Silence of the Lambs.

So my expectations were low when I finally got a chance to read Peter Benchley’s classic.  Reading it easily blew my expectations out of the water.

Like the movie, Jaws opens with a topless teenager splashing into the waves after dark.  We all know what happens next.  But the true horror grows after the first shark attack as we meet the men pulling the strings in Amity.  They call the shots and have the power to make or break the lives of the locals.  The chief of police comes under their nasty pressures to keep the beaches open.  Amity is totally reliant on a very short vacationer season to sustain itself economically for the year.  Brody caves, but he remains a very sympathetic character because we know he wanted to do the right thing.

The biggest difference between the book and film in terms of the plot is that Brody’s wife cheats on him with Matt Hooper.  One Goodreads reviewer calls the sex “utterly pointless and adds nothing to the story,” but that comment misses the point.  Brody’s wife is from “the city,” and grew up vacationing with her middle class family in Amity.  The rift between “summer people” and the townees is one of the big themes in Jaws.  The shark doesn’t just threaten swimmers, but it threatens the fabric of life in Amity.  Hooper, the shark expert, offers the sophistication and care-free adventure that she misses as an Amity housewife.  The shark forces the characters to reexamine where they are in life.

Benchley depicts the escalating threat of the shark very effectively.  Each attack scene is scary and reveals something additional about the shark’s nature and the severity of the danger.  The text may not have the visceral impact to scare you out of the water the same way that the movie could, and it’s true that Stephen Spielberg made a terrific movie.  But that is hardly Benchley’s fault.  If I had written Jaws, I would have been thrilled for a great director to turn my book into a fantastic film.  And if I were Spielberg I’d count my blessings for the good fortune of starting production with such a great book.

Advertisements

4 job interview tips for veterans

Standard
  • Know your own military story cold.  Be self-aware.
  • Show how your military experience/story addresses the needs of the employer
  • Use compelling, easily understood language that resonates with the hiring manager
  • Get your selling points across quickly using phrases the interviewer can write down

This solid advice and several other good points come from Peter A. Gudmundsson in U.S. News and World Report yesterday:

Veterans: Learn to Tell Your Story in a Job Interview

Knowing how to describe your best traits is critical to a successful meeting with a potential employer.

Have you ever wondered what the hiring manager across the table is thinking during your job interview? The chances are good that they are asking themselves two questions: “Who is this person, really?” and “Can they fix my problem or solve my need?”

As the discussion continues, the interviewer’s inner dialog will perhaps expand to: “Can I see myself working with this person?” and “Will this candidate cause me any difficulties?”

In order to successfully navigate the interview, the veteran candidate needs to show that they can do the job, will do the job and that they will fit in the team and company cultures. The candidate must know their own story cold and show how that narrative addresses the interviewer’s questions.

For military veterans, telling your story is an especially critical task. Coming from an often misunderstood, underappreciated or plain incomprehensible series of experiences, it is up to the veteran job seeker to tell their story in a way that resonates with the interviewer.

As with any story, a job seeker must address the who, what, when, where and why of their veteran service. This does not have to be exhaustive, just logically consistent and compelling. Focus on the facts and feelings that match the job and career for which you are applying.

For example, a veteran applying for a technology role might say: “I joined the Navy for three reasons: the satisfaction of national service, to travel the world and to get first class technical training and experience. I realized all of those goals and more during three deployments to the Pacific and Indian oceans on a cruiser, working as a radar technician. I rose three rank levels by passing examinations and receiving stellar reviews from my seniors. I learned how to keep complex machinery working but also how teamwork and creative thinking are critical to performance. I can honestly say that the Navy provided me with the best possible preparation for the role you seek to fill.”

Remember, the key is explaining your story in a way that is compelling and appropriate to the company need. You don’t need translator software and you must avoid the use of too much military jargon and acronyms.

Each personal narrative needs the following subjects addressed:

Who: Who are you? What is important to you? Are you self-aware and comfortable in your own skin?

What: What are you good at doing? How can you prove that to the interviewer?

When/Where: What are the basic facts of your relevant experience?

Why: Why did you do the things you did and why should the interviewer care?

Use non-cliched headlines and soundbites that the interviewer can write down and digest. For example, goal-oriented, team-oriented, competitive and great attention to detail are all phrases that connote certain desirable traits (if accurate). Think like a campaigning politician who has only a few sentences to get an idea across. Don’t waste time or words when you can get right to the point…

Georgians can see Vietnam Memorial locally

Standard

“The Wall That Heals” is open for visitation at Veterans Memorial Park at 651 Hyden Tyler Road in Chatsworth, Georgia from now until the end of the week.  The portable version of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. gives smaller communities a chance to see the monument.  On Sunday, May 15, there will be a closing ceremony before the mobile war memorial is moved to its next location.  Chattanooga’s WRCB has the story:

Vietnam Veterans Memorial visit North Georgia

Harvey Roach served in Vietnam from 1967 through 1969.

He remembers difficult days when he returned home to Georgia.

“We were called baby killers, we were spit on, you name it,” said Roach.

He also remembers the lives lost- brothers and sisters he plans to honor by visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Chatsworth.

“When they set the wall up, it’s going to get emotional,” said Roach.

Tim Tetz with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund says the traveling wall allows everyone who was touched by Vietnam to remember what happened 50 years ago.

“This gives an opportunity for someone who lost a love one who served there, to pay their respects to their name and remember their sacrifice,” said Tetz.

The wall constructed of powder-coated aluminum will make 35 stops through December.

Tetz says for some, the wall offers healing.

“This is called: “The wall that heals.” When our founder came up with the idea to build a national memorial for our Vietnam veterans he realized there would be some healing there, but didn’t realize how much,” said Tetz.

Tetz has been carrying the stories of people who served in Vietnam since 1999, including the four people from Murray County who died in the war.

He says the mobile wall gives those who haven’t had the chance to visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., the chance to honor the 58,307 men and women who died…

The wall will return to Georgia Nov. 16-20 in Woodstock.

Book review: Zero Alternative skewers “too-big-to-fail”

Standard

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00017]

From the recession of 2008 was born a litter of woes.  Mortgage defaults.  Foreclosures.  Cram downs.  Lay-offs.  Furlough days.  Stagnant wages.

Was the recession caused by exotic financial instruments like mortgage-backed securities?  Was it the result of excessive pressure from the federal government on banks to issue home loans to borrowers who couldn’t pay the bills?  Or just the boom and bust of the business cycle?

That’s not the way that Scott “Yours” Walker (surely, an unintentional homonym with no relation to the governor of Wisconsin), the main character in Luca Pesaro’s financial techno-thriller Zero Alternative (2014), sees it.  Walker, an investment banker with a skeptical mind, inhabits a darker world, where friends and enemies alike work for larger, shadowy entities pulling strings behind the scenes.

The story begins with a banner performance by Walker, making millions in one day of trading when everybody in London but him predicted the worst.  It’s all downhill for Walker from there.  Walker’s friend D.M., who is just finishing the creation of a powerful predictive analytics software that can anticipate ups and downs in the market, is murdered.  The killer attempts to frame Walker, who has the next most knowledge of the software.

Walker goes on the lam with a hired gun on his tail.  Hired by a rival investment bank, perhaps.  The sexy woman at his side, Layla, was working for the hired gun, after she quit working for a foreign spy agency.  While on the run with her, Walker must trust her when she says she’s working for herself now.  They travel from London to France to Switzerland to Italy to the U.S., facing close shaves at every turn and doubting but seducing each other along the way.

The computer program is valuable enough to kill for.  While Walker isn’t above using the program to make money for himself or his allies while in hiding, he mainly wants to use the application to bring down an odious investment bank.  This is his act of rebellion against the too-big-to-fail financial system which is rigged to make money for itself regardless market direction or morality.  The adventure of Zero Alternative is in Walker’s personal, international life-and-death cage match against overwhelming forces of greed.  Whether Walker’s his pursuers will steal the computer program, whether he will be able to use the program against the financial system, and the question of Layla’s reliability, are compelling elements.

There is stock market terminology and information technology jargon in the book, but it is not excessive.  The movement of Walker and Layla across the borders of Europe into Italy are plausible for a man of Walker’s resources.  Where things get a little shaky are the oracle-like foresight of the computer program.  It might have been more plausible if the application occasionally predicted the wrong outcome, required input of more data in order to make a prediction, or if it had a lot of bugs to be worked out.  Also, the politics—the allegation that the recession is mainly the result of corporate greed—is not for all tastes.  But the excitement of the international chase and the tense romance make up for that.  Recommended.

Book review: Pacific Rim adds to the film

Standard

Pacific Rim novelization audiobook

The monster-versus-robot action movie “Pacific Rim” (2013) was subsequently novelized by Andrew Irvine.  Before reviewing the book version, a recap of the film may help.

I saw the movie “Pacific Rim” after it was released for home video.  For the life of me, two or three years later, I can’t remember a single scene.  It’s not that I remember it being bad.  It’s that I don’t remember it at all.

I have a theory on why the movie left no lasting impact on me.  Unlike “King Kong” and “Godzilla,” there wasn’t a single kaiju (monster) in “Pacific Rim” to focus on.  There were a half a dozen.  None stood out.  I think “Pacific Rim” tried to compensate for this by turning Gipsy Danger, the main robot, into a central “character.”  That may have worked visually in the movie, but in the novelization, Gipsy Danger is difficult to picture.  There are minimal if any descriptions of the robot’s appearance (color, size, shape, etc).  If Gipsy Danger was intended to be a character, she was a sadly flat one in the book.

Secondly, the human characters in the movie were cookie cutter.  On that score, the novelization made much more of an impact.  The backgrounds of the characters are laid out carefully and are well-explored.  There was more nuance to the Stacker Pentecost character (the officer in charge of war robot operations) in the book than I recall in the movie.  The relationship between robot ranger Raleigh Beckett and the female lead, Mako Mori, was engaging.  The B-story of Dr. Newt Geiszler’s attempt to mind-meld with a kaiju were a bit silly, even off-putting, but good for a chuckle.

The book was also more effective than the movie in establishing the reason why robots were the most effective means of fighting the kaiju (as opposed to conventional or nuclear tactics).  A book format gave the author more latitude to describe the context and historical background of the international defense against the monsters.  The premise is still cheesy and contrived, but for some reason it was easier to swallow in the book.

The author used very vivid language and sharp comparisons to convey complex science fiction type material succinctly.  Fight scenes, which can be easier to choreograph than to write, were handled well.  On the basis of the colorful writing, I would definitely read another Alex Irvine book.

I listened to the novelization in audio format.  Narrator Christian Rummel did impressive, captivating work as the narrator.

Pacific Rim is fun.  If the movie didn’t float your boat, you might enjoy the book a little more.

Book review: Savanna charms

Standard

Secrets of the Savanna

After studying lions in Botswana and writing their better known Cry of the Kalahari, naturalists Mark and Delia Owens left for Zambia.  There the Owenses dedicated themselves to further animal research, mostly into the lives of a dwindling elephant population.  The 2006 memoir Secrets of the Savanna recounts their work and the close shaves they had there.

Poaching leads to fewer elephants, a larger number of orphans, and a dissolution of typical elephant society.  The authors document how the absence of adult females and matriarchs results in earlier pregnancies for orphaned females.  They tell us the story of the orphaned Gift, who becomes a mother too early and whose daughter suffers from her inexperience.

The Owenses also tell stories of their youth as they correspond to elements of the animal kingdom.  For example, Mark relates his father’s death and his own wanderings outside the U.S. to solitary males in other species like lions and elephants.  Delia tells a story of fun and safety in numbers as a teenage female and relates that to life in the elephant herd.  Their share sweet passages about their respective upbringings in Ohio and Georgia.

But like all social mammals, the couple realizes that it’s time to migrate home.  As they plan to leave Zambia, corrupt officials make plans to swoop in and take over their research station.  The research project has created jobs and given locals alternatives to poaching for ivory.  The corrupt officials want to end the research program so the locals will have no alternative but to poach again on their behalf.  It’s a frightening prospect, but the book ends on an optimistic note as one of the local program supporters is able to restore aspects of the project.

Secrets of the Savanna is a well-written book with charming scenes and prose.  While the subject matter of the threatened elephants is gut-wrenching, the Owenses plant enough seeds of hope for a rebound in the population.

Recommended.