A Wanted Man

[Amazon Link]

So I'm stuck in the Kansas City International airport, waiting for the flight back to Boston, and I've only brought one book with me (Sacré Bleu) which I've finished. I'm phobic about getting caught without reading material.

So I go to the airport newsstand and break my rule about reading series in publishing-date order. I get A Wanted Man (cover screaming "a JACK REACHER novel") by Lee Child, skipping over about six intervening Reacher novels. It probably doesn't matter. Because it's the same Reacher we know and love.

And (once again) Reacher finds himself dragged into a situation simply because he's hitching a ride. This time, on an I-80 exit in the middle of Nebraska. Reacher wants to go to Virginia for some reason. (He doesn't make it, at least not in this book.)

Reacher attracts violence and trouble like a magnet. I imagine I could hitchhike for years and never have anything interesting happen to me. Not Reacher. Every damn time, it's mayhem, duplicity, and murder.

His new fellow travellers are two nondescript guys and a woman. The guys are telling him stories that don't add up, obvious lies. And the woman doesn't say much, seemingly cowed and frightened.

Meanwhile, down the road, local law enforcement has a grisly murder to deal with at an abandoned irrigation pumping station, seemingly committed by a couple of nondescript guys. The cops are pretty good, and put out roadblocks to stop any car with two guys. But (hah) that won't include the car Reacher's riding in, because it now has three guys and a woman.

Reacher novels have a common thread, worth keeping in mind: things are not what they seem. (If they were what they seem, the book could have been a couple-three hundred pages shorter.) You can try to figure out the story on your own, or you can wait until Reacher tells you what he's figured out. At this point, I'm going with the latter strategy.

Robin Hood

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

We missed this when it came out in theatres in 2010, and didn't even manage to pick it up when it first came out on DVD. But it worked its way to the top of the Netflix queue, and guess what? Not bad at all. Russell Crowe in the title role. Directed by Ridley Scott.

I can see being disappointed, as some viewers were. That's a Gladiator combination, and… well, this is no Gladiator. Still, taken on it's own terms, it's fun.

Oh, it also makes hash of the Robin Hood mythology and known history. That's probably acceptable, given the historical haziness of the legend. Here, Robin is a skilled (of course) archer fighting in the Crusades under Richard the Lionheart. Sick of war, he just wants to get back home to England. But a series of mishaps directs him to Nottingham, where he assumes the identity of a local nobleman. Nottingham, like the rest of the country, is cruelly oppressed by the arbitrary thievery of King John, who's assumed the throne in Richard's absence. (The Sheriff of Nottingham doesn't have much to do here; he's not much of a villain, just a fickle nebbish. The real baddie is a guy named Godfrey, played by Mark Strong.)

Most of the plot is driven by political intrigue, as English unity falls apart and a French invasion threatens. (One of the problems: too much political intrigue, not enough action.)

Cate Blanchett plays Marian, very well. A minor good-guy role is played by William Hurt, and I didn't recognize him under his beard.

The Infinite Resource

[Amazon Link]

Another win for the Interlibrary Loan system of the University Near Here: they were able to snag a copy of this book from the Shapiro Library of Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. (The UNH Library also decided to buy the book.)

I decided to read the book based on an author interview and a book review at Reason.

In the first part of the book, Naam points out the various imminent challenges that confront humanity: the greenhouse effect, running out of crude, aquifer depletion, fishery depletion, overpopulation, drought—basically, the whole litany of environmental disaster.

But remember, Naam is endorsed by Reason, so that's not the whole story. In the remainder of the book, he provides plenty of reasons for optimism, because he is a believer in the "infinite resource" that is human innovation.

So: we will deal with global warming by slapping on a carbon tax and transitioning to solar/wind/nuclear sources of energy. Advances in desalinization and smarter commons management will give us plenty of fresh water and fish to swim in it. Biotechnology will provide plenty of cheaply-produced food. And, basically, if we manage to avoid utter disaster, the planet's population will stabilize and most of the earth's inhabitants will live far better than today.

The book is an easy read, written in what I think of as USA Today style, self-conciously chatty. It would be accessible to a bright high-school student, so if you have one near you, push this book upon him.

Major quibble: Naam is an anti-skeptic. In the first part of the book, there's not a single bit of environmental hysteria to which he doesn't enthusiastically subscribe. (Maybe you shoud also get that bright high-school kid something by Bjørn Lomborg too.)

And, on the flip side, he may be wildly over-optimistic about the potential panaceas—it's easy to believe he never saw a press release from a solar or biotech company that he didn't swallow whole.

But, since he is not an idiot, he's evisceratingly critical of the right things too: the corn ethanol boondoggle, organic farming, the anti-GMO folks, etc.

But he doesn't have to be right about everything; even if he bats .500 or so, he makes an impressive case for being optimistic about the future. (And that USA Today style can occasionally give way to a penetrating insight or a wonderfully on-target argument.)

Last Modified 2016-09-17 3:43 AM EDT

The Crazies

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A decent, if somewhat predictable horror/thriller. It stars a pre-Raylan Timothy Olyphant, playing David, a sheriff in a small Iowa town near Cedar Rapids. Regrettably, some of its citizens are turning into homicidal maniacs. (I hate it when that happens.)

What turns out to be the cause—slight spoiler ahead, sorry—is a crashed plane transporting a biological warfare agent. (Spray an enemy army with it, and they turn into homicidal maniacs—good plan! What could go wrong there?) The government is anxious to contain this outbreak, and (above all) to also hush it up, because I bet this kind of thing is way in violation of a number of treaties.

So the movie is a combination of your standard zombie plot (more and more of your neighbors want to kill you) and your standard government paranoia plot (most civil servants want you dead too).

David must navigate this increasingly chaotic and violent situation, escaping with his wife and a small band of survivors. But, given the genre: you don't expect a lot of that small band is going to make it to the end of the movie.

This is a remake of a 1970 George Romero flick, which I have not seen. (As I type, it's IMDB-rated even lower than this one, so I'm not likely to.)