The Psychopath Whisperer

The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience by Kent A. Kiehl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I supposedly read this in 2014, but I have no memory of doing so. It may be that “rereading” this after seven years of schooling myself on psychopathy and true crime in general just made my brain take in the information differently.

Something in my reaction changed, certainly, because I gave this three stars in 2014, and this time around I was fascinated by Kiehl’s experiences and conclusions. If there is any flaw to the book, it is that Kiehl writes with a certain academic didacticness, but this is a guy writing to inform and persuade, not entertain. Still, if the question of “Why?” is what drove you to view and read true crime to begin with, this is an engaging read.




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Columbine

Columbine
by Dave Cullen

This was excellent. It based its portrayal not just on the facts of the events, but the facts of the emotional lives of the souls involved on all sides, even those whose claim to having a soul was tenuous. It made sense of the chaos with the benefit of a decade of hindsight and sought to teach the reader about the complexity behind every case of mass shootings we lump together as an epidemic of the same repeated tragedy. They’re not. I’ll admit morbid curiosity got me to read this, but I came away understanding a lot more about human reaction to the inexplicable. My only critique is it got a little long and dragged out towards the end.

Star Maker

Star MakerStar Maker by Olaf Stapledon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a stunning tour-de-force that I took on and was half way through before I realized HOW dated it was. I figured it was written in the mid-1960’s, given the level of knowledge the author possessed about the possibilities of the nature of alien life and the different species of astronomical objects he describes. I was staggered to find out it was published in 1937.

Does it read a little dated? Sure. The language is flowery and peppered with references to “Men” to describe every intelligent race. There is a narrative, but it is all told stream-of-consciousness without dialogue. “It was agreed among our party that we should continue further out into space.”

Reading this is a lot like looking at a painting by an abstract expressionist and shrugging it off until you realize it was painted when those artists were surrounded by Edwardian/Victorian stiffness as a style motif in design and popular art.

Olaf Stapledon was a true visionary–richly imaginative, but also writing a book decades beyond its time.

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Stars!

Skyward (Skyward, #1)Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hesitated to read this book because it alone of all its genre popping up in my recommendations had over 20,000 5-star ratings–this for a book published in 2018–when most did well to hit the three figures. It all seemed a little suspicious to me, and that put me off. Now that I’ve read it, I’m still suspicious. It was an entertaining enough book, as these things go, but hardly a five-star jaw-dropper. It leaves me wondering how much it cost to get all those ratings.

Anyway, like I said, entertaining enough. I’ll probably read the sequel.

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How hard sci-fi fails

Return to Enceladus: Hard Science Fiction (Ice Moon Book 4)Return to Enceladus: Hard Science Fiction by Brandon Q. Morris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Boy, did this book suck. I am wary now of any writer who claims to be writing “hard science fiction,” especially someone who feels compelled to put that in the title of their novel. It usually means they did their homework in regards to physics, chemistry, and astronomy, and everything else is FAIL. Their story world and characters show they have little grasp of sociology and psychology, their biology knowledge is half-researched, half hand-waved (non-sensical alien species, forex), and in the case of this story series, the artificial intelligence angle is complete FANTASY.

I don’t disagree that someday we might have very human-like and intelligent A.I.s, but you can’t hand-wave how they got that way. You need to give some plausible background DETAILS based on current trends in A.I. and cybernetics. Most especially if you are writing near-future sci-fi. Ignoring the explanation is what makes it fantasy, and bad fantasy at that, because at least fantasy writers follow clear ground rules in their stories regarding what is allowed and what isn’t.

Also? This author needs to jettison the audiobook narrator. He just makes trite material sound even more trite.

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911

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of September 11, 2001The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of September 11, 2001 by Garrett M. Graff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an amazing book. Despite the title, it shows a broad range of points of view of the events of 9/11–not just Air Force One, but workers in the twin towers and in the Pentagon, along with first responders, families of those who survived and those who didn’t, and airline employees and families of the plane passenger sand crew who got a glimpse of what what going on inside the planes as they flew to their various dooms.

The reason I am giving this a 4 instead of a 5 is the manner in which the story was told. These are all (with a few exceptions) actual first-person accounts read by actors (which is fine), but instead of getting anyone’s story from beginning to end as I expected, it’s all told in short 2-3 sentence vignettes from the vast variety of people the author interviewed. It ends up telling a complete narrative of each time and place, but in these tiny pieces, like a mosaic. The second you get interested in one person’s story, they switch to someone else’s experience to pick up the story, and the narrative may or may not return to that person whose story you were interested in specifically.

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