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By Jonathan Lowe

April 2012

by Jonathan Lowe

Alex Hawke is back, after Tsar and Warlord, in PHANTOM. Plot involves a brazen Siberian rescue attempt against a seemingly impenetrable KGB facility, and a cyber attack against America using what may be the first artificially intelligent super computer. (An F15 jet falls out of the sky and a Disney World ride goes awry for no apparent reason.) Author Ted Bell uses his knowledge of internal Russian politics to craft a suspenseful scenario of war perpetrated by a regime which wants to reassert its former dominance through intimidation. (Currently it's playing Iran as pawn, while attacking the West directly only over the internet, as is China.) Narrator is actor John Shea, who has to be one of the most unusual readers in that he employs his considerable skills unraveling the story in a low key, almost conspiratorial tone, as though he's telling you the details over a cocktail in a dark and dangerous bar, and might be overheard. This makes it difficult to hear in a car, so I suggest listening with earphones while doing something other than driving. Like maybe while planting melons (domestic bombs) in a Victory garden, hoping this scenario doesn't play out in real life? Or shopping at Wal Mart, noting all the Chinese goods flooding America (utilizing its one great weapon, cheap labor)?

Neil Forsyth's hilarious collection of email exchanges between various scam spammers and a man who's had enough is a lesson in one-upsmanship. Narrated by Cameron Stewart, whose British accent compliments the text, DELETE THIS AT YOUR PERIL is a must hear for anyone imagining revenge against Nigerian phishes, Russian mail order brides of Frankenstein, and other offers to good to be true. Don't listen at your peril.

Americans are addicted to TV. We watch on average six hours a day. Not only does this cut into productivity, but it isolates us and makes us more lonely, even as it presents itself as a bright, happy alternative to facing real people in the real world. In the essays A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again the late David Foster Wallace attempts to plumb the whys of popular culture. These densely reasoned examinations not only illuminate TV, but also director David Lynch, ocean cruising, tennis, literary theory, and the Illinois State Fair. Read with an empathic air by the always engaging Paul Garcia, they reveal an insightful writer with a facility for language and critical thought. And while he fought depression, he also had a sense of humor and the absurd.

After deregulation ("free markets") caused disaster in 2008 at the collapse, why are conservatives and the Tea Party promoting it harder than ever? Thomas Frank makes this analogy, narrating his ironic look at the delusions of politics, PITY THE BILLIONAIRE: "It's as if the French Revolution is occurring in reverse, with people demanding that the nobility be given more money and privileges." The author brings to bear many observations made about pundits and journalists on both the right and the left, trying to sort out the reasons behind the enigma of doublethink. While many on the right, most notably Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, say they are against big government for the sake of the little guy, the very regulations they oppose (also opposed by big business) serves only to force the little guy to pay for big business (and big government's) mistakes. The two feed off each other, with greed the winner over sanity. Frank hits a lot of nails in his book, fearful that the zombies he's trying to imprison will somehow rise again from their coffins.

Finally, Donna M. Johnson's memoir HOLY GHOST GIRL chronicles her experience as child to a mother who became evangelical evangelist David Terrell's mistress. The book is both honest and puzzling, as the author contemplates the motives of a man whose life was an enigma. Tent meetings across a segregated America began with harsh living conditions, as she traveled with her mother on the ministry's circuit, witnessing hell fire preaching, attempts at healing, and the odd hypocritical philosophy that made the "man of God" kneel in prayer even in private, yet justify his indiscretions at every turn. As the ministry grew, what was formerly a struggle turned profitable, with greed and tax evasion on its heels. Carrington MacDuffie narrates this coming of age story with appropriate naivete in her tone, as Johnson eventually broke away from the life, first with rebellion, and finally with a sense of peace, if not understanding.

2012 Past Columns