Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
Rating: 5 / 10
When Michael Crichton died in 2008 it was a sad moment for all of his fans. I expressed concern back then that his estate might try to go down the Robert Ludlum path of churning out ghostwritten novels. That seems to be a real possibility now.
I got my (hardcover) copy dirt cheap – for just £4 – at a sale at WH Smith. That’s insanely cheap; cheaper than even on Amazon or the Kindle ebook version. Pirate Latitudes isn’t a ghostwritten novel, at least, that’s what HarperCollins tells us. It was a ‘finished’ novel found on Michael Crichton’s computer by his assistant / agents after his death, and it was decided that it would be published posthumously. It’s a period novel, set in 17th century Jamaica – an English colony at the time. The plot is of a band of ‘privateers’ who scheme to plunder a damaged Spanish galleon that’s stranded on an island to enrich English coffers.
Here’s the thing – when you read a Michael Crichton novel, you expect a journey teeming with information melting effortlessly into breakneck speed action. Crichton accomplished that effect in every novel of his so far – and thus, Pirate Latitudes feels like an unfinished, hastily edited novel. It feels like the first draft of a novel, with a straightforward (not typical Crichton) narrative and depthless characters.
I still remember reading his novel Eaters of the Dead (another pseudo-historical novel) and I was completely blown away by it. Eaters of the Dead was inspired by Beowulf, one my favourite among the classic epics, and was exquisitely crafted to match the tone of a traveller from distant lands fighting alongside Vikings. Pirate Latitudes, on the other hand, is an equally long novel but strangely unsatisfying.
Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About by Mil Millington
Rating: 9 / 10
Mil Millington gained a cult following on the Internet with his website thingsmygirlfriendandihavearguedabout.com, talking about crazy anecdotes of arguments he’s had with his girlfriend. The book isn’t a collection of those anecdotes; it’s a novel with a proper story along the same premise as his website. Mil Millington’s alter-ego Pel Dalton is a confused university library employee who tries to comes to grips with a control-freak German partner (and her unstable understanding of British culture) while dealing with ancient graves, buried nerve gas, and international crime syndicates at work. This novel is every bit as crazy as it sounds and there are guaranteed laughs every step of the way.
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
Rating: 6 / 10
The title might lead you to believe this book discusses ‘bad science’ in general. It doesn’t. The Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre sticks to what he does best – tearing apart the frauds in the British medical industry methodically using statistical analysis and scientific reasoning. Think Freakonomics for medicine. Nevertheless, if you got mislead by the title you might end up disappointed.
There’s one chapter everyone should read, which couldn’t go into the first edition of the book. That chapter has since been released in full for free download. The chapter is about how the South African government systematically denied that HIV causes AIDS, went to great measures to stop AIDS awareness (going as far as saying anti-retroviral drugs were actually causing AIDS), and suggested afflicted patients to eat African herbs as a ‘cure’. Chilling how in this day and age, things such as this can happen.