Books of 2017, #8: Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon, by Peter Ames Carlin

When I read about people whose work I admire, I am almost always reminded of the Buddhist admonishment, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”; which in this instance I think of as reminding us that the person is not the teaching or the product, and it lives independently of them.

To say that I admire Paul Simon is an understatement.

I’ve seen him perform three times: during the 1991 Born at the Right Time tour, in Birmingham, Alabama; in 2011, during the tour behind So Beautiful, So What; and then in 2014 during the On Stage Together tour with Sting. I haven’t seen anyone more than that, and although there’s a few other acts I’ve seen that many times—Concrete Blonde, King Crimson, Adrian Belew are the only ones I can think of right now—none of them hold quite the same place in my heart.

I have memories associated with his music—both as part of Simon and Garfunkle and as a solo act—that are so strong that when I listen to some tracks, it’s like being transported back in time. One of the first two albums I ever owned was his Greatest Hits, etc., and I still have it, though it probably hasn’t been played in 25 years. For that matter, I realized on my birthday last year marked exactly 30 since my parents had bought me Graceland.

So of course when I saw there was a biography of Paul Simon, especially one published just last year, I was going to read it; I didn’t consider it terribly dangerous, given that I already knew that he was an imperfect person—the truth is, his failures as an individual are well-documented; his tempestuous relationship with Art Garfunkle, his long but ultimately broken relationship with Carrie Fisher, questions of credit with Los Lobos and others.

If you look beyond, or perhaps just around, those imperfections, his life is fascinating; being a teenager at the beginning of rock and roll, finding a temporary niche in the folk movement, which parlayed into pop stardom, which led to an unexpected prominence in world music, which led to spectacular failure on Broadway.

The number of people he has worked with—whether their partnership panned out or not—the number of people he was associated with early in their careers, the number of people he got to know, the sheer breadth of his place in music, it’s all fairly breathtaking (I will note for at least one person’s benefit that there is a citation for The Real Frank Zappa Book, regarding one encounter between Frank Zapp and Simon & Garfunkle).

Anyway, Carlin strikes me as even-handed: while he’s unstinting in recording the places Simon seems all too willing to act without regard for his partners and collaborators—a pattern that starts at the very beginning and continues on to pretty much the present day—he leaves you wondering if the sort of drive it takes to excel in this field isn’t all too likely to lead one toward this sort of behavior; not excusing it, but explaining it.

Maybe you don’t actually need to kill the Buddha—maybe you just need to cross over to the other side of the road, and let him keep his distance.

Books of 2017, #7: Babylon’s Ashes, by James S. A. Corey (The Expanse #6)

If you got to #5 of this series unsure if you want to continue, I’m not going to convince you.

The vast majority of this book is a great example of the Space Opera genre in action—I literally found myself unable to put it down even though I really, really needed to get to sleep.

But it doesn’t quite stick the landing, IMHO: even though the authors had carefully set up the scenario that allows our heros to triumph in the prior book, it ultimately feels a little too Deus Ex.

And even if it didn’t, while many of the plot threads that came into play in the prior book get wrapped up, the ones that are left too obviously end up feeling like they’re leading up to The Next Book; it looms just a little too large.

But man, until that last 30 pages or so, it’s a nailbiter, and well worth your time. The question in my mind at this point is whether they can sustain the energy for #7.

Oh, and Clarissa becomes an official part of the crew!

Books of 2017, #6: Nemesis Games, by James S. A. Corey (The Expanse #5)

Yeah, it’s all about the characters.

Which is to say: my ambivalence about various of the viewpoint characters in the last two books made them both feel like something of a slog. On the other hand, the use of Amos, Alex and Naomi as viewpoint characters helped make this book zip by—and it’s not just that I care about them, but that they are voices that I’m already accustomed to.

As for the what happens…I’m interested to see where it’s going in the long haul, beyond this book and the next. It’s interesting to realize that the seeds of many of the plotlines that drive this book were baked into the first couple of novels—clearly Abraham and Franck have had a larger plot planned out.

For instance, it seems clear the Martian commander who has an important, but off-camera role in this story is the same one who was involved in attempting to create the protomolecule soldiers in Caliban’s War.

Similarly, the past Naomi has always hinted at comes to a head, and some interesting plot points spin out of that…but at the same time, some of it doesn’t quite ring true to me. I understand the way that our old patterns resurface when we find ourselves back in those contexts, but Naomi seems weirdly naive for much of the beginning of the book, which just feels wrong since she’s a badass basically every other moment.

Undoubtedly the parts of the book that I most enjoyed were Alex and Amos’ elements. Alex’s is fun for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it brings back Bobby Draper, and they have a bit of a caper to solve.

Amos, on the other hand, takes a surprising detour, and ends up picking up Clarissa Mao…and she becomes an incredibly interesting character, because she seems to have truly embraced being a better person, being a more aware person, and ultimately making thoughtful choices. And the authors avoid it being pure Mary Sue…by making Holden consistently and forthrightly unhappy about her presence.

Anyway, much more fun than the last couple of novels, and a good setup for the next entry.