This is not at all what I was expecting, but it still turned out to be relatively entertaining. I have a soft spot for medical or bio-thrillers like Jurassic Park. From the description – the monster is a fungus from space – I had expected something along the lines of The Andromeda Strain. Instead what I got was more like Ghostbusters, a sort of faux horror vibe. This is a totally farcical satire with no attempt at being believable, nor is it scary. The characters are all wacky and do wacky things as they try to avoid getting eaten by the fungus and maybe even save the world in the process. It’s not all that funny, but you can pass a few hours with it.
This audiobook recounts the history of September 11, 2001 and the few days thereafter using multiple voice actors reading the actual words of survivors, families of survivors, first responders, public officials, and even trapped victims of the plane crashes (from recorded calls or quoted by survivors). It is often grueling to listen to but riveting all the same. It is read in chronological order, which results in jumping from person to person repeatedly as events unfold in different locations. That makes it difficult to follow any single person’s experiences from beginning to end, but the use of different actors with distinct voices helps ameliorate that problem.
As of today fifteen defendants have pled guilty in the Varsity Blues case. That’s the one where parents, using money to bribe coaches and test personnel, cheated to get their kids into colleges. Here’s a list of those people:
Augustin Huneeus, Jr.
Vandemoer was a coach. All the rest are parents. The longest prison sentence so far is for five months (Huneeus), followed closely by four months for Semprevivo and Sloane. The coach, although sentenced to only one day in jail (time served), received six months of home confinement, the longest confinement sentence. Four other parents have pled guilty but they haven’t yet been sentenced. All of these convicted defendants were charged by way of information, the typical procedure used when a plea deal has been worked out in advance of charging. All those who were charged by indictment, seventeen more in all, have not pled guilty and have not gone to trial. Lori Loughlin and her husband are the best known of those.
The author is a short, Jewish Hollywood scriptwriter, and the style shows it. The private eye cum hero Nils Shapiro is a short Jewish guy (sound familiar?) in Minnesota for whom all the gorgeous women fall head over heels; or, at least they want to jump in bed with him. He’s a smart alecky rule-breaker who violates a number of search and seizure laws with never a consequence. The dialogue contains a healthy dose of clever and entertaining banter, although of course no one could get away with all that smarm and insultery in real life. The local, small-town police hire Shapiro to assist in a murder case since he has experience with such cases from his prior police work in Minneapolis. The title refers to the sneaky method the killer used to conceal his or her identity. The victim’s house is covered in dust, more specifically, the contents of vacuum cleaner bags in vast quantity. Supposedly, this meant the killer is very very smart since now there is DNA from hundreds of people throughout the house. In reality, and even in the book, this instead narrows the field of possible suspects to very few.
The pace is pretty good, the dialogue is quite good, and the plot is almost reasonable. It’s not Harry Bosch or Sherlock Holmes, but it was entertaining enough for me. There were plenty of logical shortcomings, but they’re forgivable. My biggest objection is the typical Hollywood portrayal of the FBI as nasty, arrogant, and incompetent. That was gratuitous as it wasn’t necessary or even important to the plot. It merely gave Shapiro a chance to make fun of the agents with his rapier wit. That’s another thing I could have done without – there are more than a few insults based on physical appearance such as fat-shaming the women and referring to people with nicknames based on some unattractive physical feature.
Wanderers is a pitiful hybrid: one part The Andromeda Strain, one part Fall, or Dodge in Hell, and one part Zombie Apocalypse. Unfortunately, it mostly takes the worst parts of all of those. Nessie, a teen girl in Pennsylvania suddenly gets up one night and starts walking in a trance-like state. Her sister follows her, trying to get her to wake up. Soon others join Nessie in the same state and their family members also join in the wandering flock. If the walkers are held or confined, they explode. The CDC soon sets out on the case. There are side plots on religion, politics, and some romance threads.
Somewhere in there is the potential for a half-decent sci-fi medical mystery à la The Andromeda Strain, but without the plausibility. Not even a speck. How many other ways does it go wrong? Too many to count. First, it’s at least four times as long as it needs to be (almost 800 pages). I thought the days of getting paid by the word were over; the editor is a feckless coward who lost his red pen. Second, its cyber-fi plot line is ridiculously plagiarizing Fall, or Dodge in Hell, and in particular appears to have copied Stephenson’s bloated faux epic length for no fathomable reason. Third, it descends into oceans of foul language for much of the latter portions of the book. Why use one obscenity when you can use five? Fourth, the author has mixed in current-day politics with an unfortunate far left bias. I appreciate the pro-evironmentalist bent and the disdain of the hate-mongers that seem to have acquired so much political clout, but not every conservative is a violent white supremacist. It wasn’t necessary to paint that picture to make the environmental points. The only thing that saved it for me was the very end, which, surprisingly, I liked. If I were Black Swan, I would make the same choices.
If you’re interested, but not up to reading an 800-page tome, I recommend reading the first 200 pages or so to acquaint yourself with all the major characters, then skim chapter titles and first paragraphs to get an idea of the plot line until about page 450 or 500 where things pick up. Read until around page 600 or so, then skim or skip liberally until you get to the last 70 or 80 pages unless you spot things that look interesting to you. That’s how I did it, and it worked for me.
For a few weeks our toilet would sometimes sing or squeal in a high-pitched tone. My wife urged me to call a plumber, but I valiantly searched YouTube for a video on how to fix it myself. I found lots of videos with the same problem, including the same brand of toilet (Kohler). I looked at the first two, but they described how to replace the mechanism inside, which looked like more than I wanted to undertake, since I’m all thumbs with that sort of thing. But I kept reading descriptions. They all seemed to require the same thing and talked about where to get the kits, etc. In position six or so I came across this one:
It claimed that you can fix it yourself in five minutes with nothing more than a plastic cup. I followed it, and sure enough, it worked and in less than three minutes it was fixed. This is the official Kohler video. The point is, don’t trust all those how-to videos on YouTube. You have to search carefully and determine which, if any is reliable.