Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pattern Recognition

I've been so busy reading that I lost track of the point of this log...until I returned 'The Drunkard's Walk' today and it reminded me that I'd intended to be good and keep this up to date. I also looked at the previous post and realised that absolutely nobody is likely to be interested in a huge block of text with no apparent point, so I'll be a bit more restrained and just keep it simple for a few.
So - Here is a book that ought not take too long to summarise
'The Life and Death of Cody Parker' by Remington Kane
Author 'Remington Kane' is following in the traditions of the pulp writers of the early 20th century; the Tanner novels are being written and released rapidly, are usually following a simple structure with a two-threaded narrative, and are gloriously addictive to read. They follow the exploits of 'Tanner', a lone wolf assassin who has a professional obsession with finishing the job no matter what, but who is being hunted by an equally obsessive ex FBI agent. The plots are pulp grade revenge fantasy stuff, there is an element of back story (including some revelations about the past of the main character) that keeps you reading the way you keep eating the popcorn. The action is fluent, moving through the plot arcs with good pace and a fair bit of violence. The books are cut down, without too much exposition or introspection by the characters, which makes them fast to read and relatively brief, but not unsatisfying for all that. The Tanner character isn't Jack Reacher, but there are elements of the genre here, and in the sense that Reacher is both Everyman and Superman, so is Tanner.
So - if you need a novel/novella to grab on the kindle for a flight/long wait/sleepless night, search up Kane on amazon and grab 'Inevitable I' for a few cents (OK, $3.99). In my opinion, the books improve, but you have to start at book one really...

OK that made me think back to a point made in the book I read before - it was made in a discussion about the events leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941
- that there were all sorts of clues and signs that, with hindsight, made it clear that the attack was coming. In fact, if you want to experience this in full, watch the classic movie on the subject (No, not the one with Ben Affleck, fun though it was), Tora Tora Tora

Now the point that was made in 'The Drunkard's Walk' was that hindsight enables us to create links between widely separated events because we have outside knowledge (as an observer from the future) that underlines their significance. The participants in the real time drama lack the knowledge or breadth of overview to make those links, and so it is missed at the time, lost in the noise of millions of competing and equally significant data points - until we select for significance.
So an author like Lee Child (or Remington Kane) can give a character like Tanner (or Reacher) great powers of observation and deduction, prescience and prowess simply by allowing them to have knowledge of events, or to see links, that we as reader may not have. It's the opposite of the horror genre, where we know in advance that the couple should stay away from the haunted house, that nobody there will help them to change their tyre, that there's something horrible behind the door. In this case the fascination lies not with the cleverness of the protagonist in anticipating the plot, but with the suspense as we wait to see just how the disembowelling will take place. I'm sure I ought to have used 'denouement' in there, but disembowelling just seemed to need to be there, so it can stay. Autocorrect doesn't like it, but hey, what are you gonna do?
The creation of links in this way is a great strength of our human brain, but the book pointed out that it has a tendency to find links even when there aren't any, and to obsessively seek to do so - our search for patterns can be dangerous as well as useful. It is reasonable to assume that our pattern recognition comes from a successful evolutionary trait where recognising a leopard in the long grass or up a tree was more useful than not recognising one, the false positive being less dangerous than the false negative. (This is why we need to use eg statistics to analyse for significance, or we would be forever running away from metaphorical leopards when we ought to be hollowing out gourds).

To conclude my thoughts on the Tanner novels in general, 'Cody' in particular, the fast pace of production of these books means that there are some typographical errors in them (particularly in the first, but I bet I couldn't find them again). The plot is pretty linear, with not a lot of set up for the action - it tends to build up, pay off, then find another action piece to build up. Thats why it's perfect for late night or airport reading, though, so no complaints here. No author wants to hear their book put me to sleep, but that's exactly what it did - every night until it was finished. Exactly what I bought it for.

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