​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Tag: Historical

Book Review - Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson - A B&N browse and pick. The story is a few years old (I think 1999) and jumps back and forth between World War II and the turn of the millenium. It centers around a few main characters in WWII and their descendants, and it's focused on the cryptological (then) and information security (now)business. The cast of characters includes a kind of cryptological savant, a marine grunt, spies, treasure hunters, damsels in distress, lions, tigers, you get the picture. Ok, mostly it's about the spy business from the side of cryptographers (go figure with a title like Cryptonomicon) Stephenson shows quite the touch at handling the science (which he appears to be quite versed in) as well as offering a plausible and interesting plot. He also does a good job of handling multiple plot lines as he jumps back and forth between past & present and between different characters. This is often a risky venture and very few pull it off while maintaining the urgency of the story (George R.R. Martin has very succesfully written his entire Song of Ice and Fire series with this technique). Perhaps best of all, he is very funny in the most geeky sense of the word. Some of the metaphors he uses to describe a painful or exasperating experience are laugh out loud funny. I don't know how much of the technology described is real, but it all sounds convincing when he describes it. I really like his writing and will be reading his other novels when I get time.

Movie Review - Breach

based on the true story of Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent responsible for what is considered the worst security breach in US Intelligence history. The story focuses on the short interval of time after the FBI had already begun an investigation into Hanssen. A young agent in training is assigned as his assistant to what is ostensibly supposed to be a sting operation to catch him as a sexual deviant with the true purpose of the operation being unknown to the young agent at the time. Chris Cooper delivers another great performance as the egotistical and domineering senior agent who looks at the entire agency and its personnel as being mentally and technically inferior to him. Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O'Neill and successfully captures the earnest but inexperienced stumblings of an agent in training. 

He is tasked by his superiors to keep track of all Hanssen's activities, but at the same time develops a grudging respect for the experienced operative. The story revolves around the bond of trust that develops between the two men and the thin line the young man must tread to fulfill his mission while deceiving an agent who is probably one of the best in the agency at smelling a lie. The story is a fairly slow paced character driven drama, but retains its interest especially since its based on true events. I'm curious as to why they didn't cover more of the 15 years of spying and Hanssen's interaction with the Soviets, as it seems that would have been interesting to see as well. Overall a good espionage story.

Book Review - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke - another B&N browse pickup. This novel is set in a similar time period to two recent "magical" movies (The Prestige and The Illusionists, respectively) and describes a Napoleonic war era England in which magic is a historical art/science that has fallen out of regular use by most of it's practitioners, who are called theoretical magicians since they all study and discuss it in great detail, but none of them actually can perform any magic. It follows the titular characters who both have different ways of actually practicing the magic and both have different opinions of what it's proper use will be in the service of their own priorities and those of the country. It's been called a sort of Harry Potter for adults, and I guess that's somewhat fair in that it is very English in tone and it's about magic. If you're main foray into literature has been HP, then this may not be your cup of tea, but lovers of good writing with an element of the fantastic will probably like this.