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James

Canberra, Australia
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  • 18
  • helpful votes
  • 38
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Is it really the end?

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-12-2019

The title of 'The End of Policing' poses quite a stark hypothetical. Is Vitale really suggesting that there should be no more police, that society would be better off if they weren't there at all? The actual argument isn't quite as radical as the provocative title, though it is still profound in its implications and sweeping in its scope. Vitale is not saying that there is no legitimate function whatsoever to the police, but instead that police have been asked to perform social functions far beyond the scope of their expertise and the suitability of their methods, filling the gaps left by neglect of non-punitive social programs, and resulting in profound systemic injustices. Vitale takes a very broad-ranging view of his subject, frequently indulging in what could uncharitably be called tangents, concerning matters that are not narrowly related to policing—homelessness, mental health, sex work, immigration policy, etc—but give some view of how policing influences and is influenced by larger societal structures. These things are all connected, and the argument is necessarily broad, so the eclecticism is arguably justified. Vitale's recommendations are as sweeping as his diagnosis, basically amounting to the pursuit of the progressive political project in all its various facets, in addition to the incremental reforms that are often proposed (which he views as insufficient on their own). There are some quick solutions offered, like the appointment of dedicated prosecutors for police abuses, but Vitale recognises that structural problems can only be solved with structural change, and that's no easy fix.

All of this will probably come without much surprise to anyone with more than a passing interest in the subject, so on that front this book probably serves more as a place to round up the various arguments for reference purposes rather than as a place to learn new arguments. What I found the most novel were the historical background sections, which were filled with jaw-dropping details about the founding and early histories of police forces like the London Metropolitan Police and the Pennsylvania State Police (the former seems to have had its roots in oppression of the Irish, while the latter was explicitly formed to break strikes). The revelations about early policing cast modern policing in a very harsh light and made me all the more receptive to Vitale's criticisms.

It is clear that there is a slant to this book, and it probably elides many rebuttals that would be offered by police apologists, but Vitale makes a very articulate and forceful case, and if he's in any way correct then the urgency of reform cannot be overstated.

Retreading McNamara, but with some new material

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-11-2019

<i>Evil Has a Name</i> comes hot on the heels of <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>, and about half of its runtime covers the same territory. You do get to hear the victims describe their experiences in their own actual voices, which is something Michelle McNamara's book didn't have, but aside from that there is little novelty until we move beyond the point in the investigation where McNamara passes away and her book ends. Anyone who read the news coverage will also already know the broad strokes of how the Golden State Killer was caught—DNA, genealogy databases, etc—so the true novelty here is mostly in hearing Paul Holes speak about the investigative red herrings and blind alleys he ran into along the way, of which there seem to have been quite a few.

It's funny: when you think of true crime classics like <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i> and Robert Graysmith's <i>Zodiac</i>, they're often not written with closure in mind, since an amateur investigator, no matter how dedicated and astute, usually cannot hope to solve a cold case on their own, lacking the resources of the FBI or a DNA lab. <i>Evil Has a Name</i> of course <i>does</i> have that closure, so you might think that would make it a more satisfying work, but I don't think that's really the case. It is satisfying, of course, it's just maybe not quite as engrossing as those other books. I'd like to say that what makes the others so compelling is the passion of their authors, who pour decades of their lives into the pursuit of their subjects, but of course that's also true here: Paul Holes spent twenty-four years of his life on this case, and was as dedicated as any Zodiac killer obsessive. The most relevant point is probably just that <i>Evil Has a Name</i> is mostly retreading territory that has already been covered well elsewhere. As a result, it's probably not a classic, but it's perfectly serviceable as a true crime podcast-style audio production.

A compelling biography of a reprehensible man

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-10-2019

Marr has written an engrossing political biography of one of my least-favourite public figures. I didn't know many of the details from earlier in Abbott's life, like the child he and his girlfriend gave up for adoption, or his university crusade to crush student unions, or his unabashed, explicit homophobia during those university days, so my mouth was frequently agape at learning another horrific detail.

Marr did take one cheap shot which annoyed me, at Abbott's propensity for cycling lycra and budgie smugglers, culminating in a barely-veiled joke about the size of his penis. I think dick-measuring should be beneath the scope of a quarterly essay, and I'm furthermore generally irritated by the popular ridicule of this aspect of Abbott's persona. The fact that he is comfortable with (even, god forbid, proud of) his body is in my opinion the least objectionable thing about him, and the fact that people fixated on it just shows the discomfort society holds for body positivity. Anyway, I know this shouldn't be the main takeaway, and I've probably already written too much about it, but it's something that has long irked me. That, and when people tore into him for biting that raw onion, which I always thought was clearly a joke on his part and was pretty funny.

The one most alarming pattern that became clear to me from this essay is that nothing seems to enrage and galvanise Abbott more than being beaten by a woman. This is what provoked the incident where he punched the wall beside his female opponent's head in his student politics days, and this is what presaged his relentless opposition to the Gillard government, which ravaged the Australian public's faith in politics and made the formerly bipartisan policy of pricing carbon emissions into a political third rail (most gallingly, Marr suggests that Abbott's reasons for throwing climate policy under the bus were entirely expedient, and that he had no particular personal conviction on the issue). Now that Abbott has been toppled from his former seat by Zali Steggall, I shudder to imagine what future plans he might have. Though he presently seems quarantined to a relatively safe position kissing up to defence contractors at the Australian War Memorial, the threat that he may be plotting some manner of comeback ever looms.

A thorny issue tackled with wit and thoughtfulness

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 28-09-2019

Crabb has a characteristic voice when talking about issues of gender which seems carefully calibrated to avoid charges of misandry. I think she does very well with this approach, coming across as very reasonable and thoughtful without falling into the opposite trap of both-sidesing the issue and watering down her perspective. It also doesn't hurt that she's very funny and self-aware, which makes listening to this essay enjoyable.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

A genre classic with a better setting than story

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 24-09-2019

Dune is very ambitious, and now that I've finally read it I can see the obvious influence that it's had on lots of subsequent sci-fi and fantasy. Herbert is an excellent world-builder; there's lots of great anthropological detail about the people of Arrakis, and he has a very compelling way of writing about prophetic precognition, which is not only artful but also serves as a convenient workaround for preventing prophet characters from being omniscient and knowing everything that's going to happen in the story. World-building aside, however, I must confess to getting pretty bored with the plot around the mid-point, when Paul is just mucking around in the desert with his Fremen pals. Much like Tolkien, then, I guess Herbert's strengths lay more in "secondary creation" than in plotting. I'm not yet sure if I'll continue with the next entries in the series; I don't know if I want to justify pushing on if I'm going to be bored by those as well. But Dune at least had enough ambition and a sufficiently compelling world to warrant the time I spent there.

Regarding the performance of the audio version, I have to say that it was a truly baffling choice to only utilise a full cast for some portions of the book. I can only assume this was due to budgetary reasons, but this begs the question of why not to simply use a single narrator for the whole thing. The narrator they have is quite good, and could easily have carried the whole thing. The voice cast is quite good too, but the distraction of switching between them doesn't seem at all worth it.

It Burns cover art
  • It Burns
  • The Scandal-Plagued Race to Breed the World’s Hottest Chilli, An Audible Original
  • By: Marc Fennell
  • Narrated by: Marc Fennell

Spicy drama!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-08-2019

It Burns is a highly entertaining and surprisingly dark look at a subculture most probably haven't given much thought to. Marc Fennell, who will be most familiar to Australian audiences from SBS' The Feed, is a highly engaging host, who doesn't shy away from any opportunity to explore personal, unflinchingly honest angles to the story. There is a kind of rhythm to the story that almost seems to mirror the experience of eating a hot chilli, where at first it's fun and light, and then really painful, then really weird, and finishing off with an afterglow that puts everything in perspective. It's probably the best of these free Audible shows that I've listened to so far.

An invaluable recording of an important source

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-08-2019

I'm very grateful to the producers for making this reading of the report available for free to the public. I know I most likely wouldn't have read the report in text, so it's very good to have an accessible audio version. The narration here is standard and probably could be considered dry, but you can't really expect much better from what amounts to a minimally-edited legal document.

As regarding the report itself, I think we got no more than what we could have expected from Robert Mueller. Mueller has a history of sticking very closely to his brief, even when doing so surprises and/or disappoints his audience (see the reaction to his investigation for the NFL of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident) so it's really not surprising at all that his investigation of the president fell short of the expectations of some. Mueller stayed very precisely within the guidelines of the Justice Department regarding the indictability of a sitting president, and that caused the strange tightrope-walk of the report, officially declining to make a prosecution decision regarding the president but also not exonerating him. It is a very unusual decision that runs counter to a lot of traditionally-understood prosecutorial responsibilities, but this situation is also a very unusual one, exposing a tangle of unresolved, untested constitutional issues regarding the president's responsibilities and liabilities, and the separation of powers between the three branches of government. America has a lot of reckoning to do over the coming years about the role it wants its chief executive to play, and if this report won't fully resolve its current predicament, it will at least be an invaluable document to guide the efforts of future reformers.

Star Wars returns to audio, with mixed success

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 01-07-2019

Star Wars has a history of producing excellent full cast audio dramas, beginning with the famous National Public Radio adaptations of the original trilogy, and given that it has been such a long time since there have been any (I think this is the first one since the Disney acquisition), I was very excited to learn that a new one was being made, and even more excited given that the story it would tell would be a long-untold chapter of the saga: the story of how Dooku left the Jedi order (I know there are some works that touch upon Dooku's early history, like Jude Watson's 'Legacy of the Jedi,' which I haven't read, but I believe this is the first time the story has been told in depth). What we ended up getting was a good look into an underexplored corner of the Star Wars universe, which nonetheless left me unsatisfied in a few respects.

First, I have to address what seems to me to be the elephant in the room. Star Wars has a really good track record when it comes to voice acting; the voices in 'The Clone Wars' are of uniformly high quality, the actors all sound just like their film counterparts while still making the roles their own (when you think about it, James Arnold Taylor has spent more time playing Obi-Wan than Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness combined, for instance). Star Wars audiobooks, too, have benefited greatly from talented narrators, several of whom are represented in the cast of this drama (Marc Thompson, Jonathan Davis, and January LaVoy, all of whom are excellent). The cast of this drama give good performances that bring their respective characters to life, but there's just one major problem: Dooku sounds nothing like Christopher Lee. I don't understand why Lucasfilm didn't, or couldn't, get a good soundalike for the role. Corey Burton, who voices Dooku on 'The Clone Wars,' is excellent and would have been great. Maybe he wasn't available or something, but I'm sure there are many other great choices to be found among the actors Lucasfilm already has a relationship with. Euan Morton gives a perfectly adequate dramatic performance, and I suppose he is mostly playing a younger Dooku (although he doesn't sound like a young Christopher Lee either), but the dissimilarity of his voice from the established voice of the character yanks me straight out of the story, particularly in the framing device scenes, which I think are supposed to take place during or just before the Clone Wars.

And that brings me to my second gripe, which concerns the story's framing device. The chronology here is a bit confusing to me, but it seems to take place early-ish in Ventress' apprenticeship under Dooku, before she leaves to become a bounty hunter and all that nonsense, and all the Dooku history is told through diary entries and recounting by other characters. I really didn't think this framing device added much other than unnecessary confusion to a story already burdened with lots of characters to keep track of (several generations of Jedi padawans and masters, for instance, many of whom sound quite similar). The different in-universe narrators certainly didn't seem to shape the story in any Rashomonesque way; we just get an interlude with Ventress, she finds her next diary or interlocutor, and the story resumes unchanged (occasionally even relating events that the ostensible narrator did not even witness). Framing the narrative through Ventress seems to me to be an effort to tie 'Jedi Lost' in with the Dave Filoni-led content that's been dominating so much of Star Wars canon lately: 'The Clone Wars,' 'Rebels,' and books like 'Dark Disciple' in which characters like Ventress frequently feature. One feature of the Filoniverse, as you could call it, which I find personally dismaying, is its tendency to over-clutter the Star Wars timeline: Darth Maul comes back to life right before 'Revenge of the Sith,' Ahsoka lives into the original trilogy era, there are Jedi running all over the place causing trouble when they're meant to be all but extinct, and so on. I find the way Ventress is treated in this material to be characteristic of that sort of clutter. She was a Nightsister, then a slave, then a Jedi padawan, then a Sith apprentice, then a bounty hunter, and whatever else. I much prefer the treatment of the character from her original appearance in the Tartakovsky 'Clone Wars' series, where she's just a formidable Sith assassin unburdened with excessive backstory. I thus found her presence weighted this story down, and in particular her interactions with her ghostly Jedi master were a frequent source of confusion (if I, an avid Star Wars fan, have difficulty following this aspect of the story, surely a general audience will also have difficulty). Few Star Wars stories bother with the story-within-a-story structural gimmick, so I'm at a loss as to why the choice was ultimately made to use it here.

My final gripe is that, while 'Jedi Lost' does fulfil the promise of its title, it ends leaving much of the Dooku backstory still untold. I can only imagine there are plans for a follow-up at some point, and I suppose I can't complain about the prospect of more Star Wars audio dramas, though I would have thought one drama would be sufficient for this particular story. Despite an episode or two late in the run of 'The Clone Wars' that explored the character of Sifo-Dyas, many questions remain about his and Dooku's role in commissioning the clone army (questions that I think arose in the first place because of George Lucas' sloppy planning of the prequel trilogy, but fortunately there is a solid history of other writers plugging Lucas' plot holes).

Now, I know I just spent a lot of time nitpicking, but I did enjoy 'Jedi Lost.' As usual with Star Wars audio productions, you have great production quality, with lots of nice sound design and of course plenty of John Williams' music. There were a couple of slightly questionable music choices, but overall it's the usual high standard we've come to expect. I also really liked the insight the story gave into the functioning of the Jedi order in the late Old Republic era. This is an era of Star Wars that I've always been interested in precisely because there aren't supposed to be any "wars" in it; I like seeing how Jedi operate in peacetime, with no Sith Lords bedevilling them. The Star Wars universe has vast potential for imaginative storytelling, and Cavan Scott does mine some of that potential with some cool sci-fi set pieces. Despite my misgivings, I am still glad to see Star Wars return to audio dramas, and if there are to be follow-ups, I eagerly await them.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

The definitive 2016 breakdown

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-03-2019

All the best, most rigorous takes on the currents and forces underlying the 2016 election are contained herein. At this point, three years later, it's highly likely that most political junkies will have already absorbed most of these takes, making the book of marginal novelty, but in the event that one isn't fully up to speed, or needs disabusing of some of the more pernicious myths of 2016 (economic anxiety!) then this book is a one stop shop in a class of its own.

Paul Heitsch's narration is of that stock audiobook sort, but there are sporadic moments where the absurdity of the events of 2016 seems to bring out a little sparkle or chuckle in his delivery.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Highly enjoyable fluff!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 17-02-2019

This was a highly engaging and satisfying historical LGBT romance, which morphs into a transcontinental caper partway through. Being a young adult book, it's horny, but not explicit, which I think is a slight shame; a sex scene or two wouldn't have gone amiss. The adventure caper elements at first seemed to be there just to break up the romantic elements, which I think is a good idea (a full-length romance with no breaks, like 'Call Me By Your Name,' can be a little too heady for me), but the caper ended up being the focus of most of the story. It's quite a good caper though, with layered twists changing the stakes regularly, and a variety of colourful settings and characters. The story also has very modern social sensibilities regarding race and gender and so forth, and it does a pretty good job of not seeming too anachronistic about it. The narrator's perspective of well-meaning but ingenuous white male privilege is well-portrayed. On the subject of the narrator, I recognised in him many of my own worst impulses toward selfishness and insensitivity toward loved ones, making him very relatable to me, and quite literally making his development a guide to virtue, as promised by the title.

Christian Coulson, who was the original Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, (!) is a perfect narrator for this story. He brings an Eton boy, received pronunciation quality that is entirely appropriate to the character, and he has a frankly very surprising amount of range for all the other characters, making them all sound distinct, sometimes very subtly, and managing convincing French, Catalan, and Spanish accents to boot.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful