Thursday Reviews: The Google Story, The Lake House, Father Joe

The Google Story

by David A. Vise and Mark Malseed

Google is the unlikeliest 800-pound gorilla in technology. Microsoft, Apple, IBM, and especially Oracle make no bones about their ruthless competitive practices, but Google?

They usually live up to their “Don’t be evil” motto, maybe not perfectly, but more often than not. It’s all because founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page began Google as a college doctoral project that just kept growing. There’s a “Why not?” mentality that pervades everything Google does. That attitude is best expressed by how Gmail and Google are paid for. Very cheap advertising. Those ads at the top and to the right of your Google search cost only a few cents per click, but when billions “google” the Internet for information, enough people will click on those ads to pay the freight for the rest of us.

Where Google gets into trouble is when Larry and Sergei (and CEO Eric Schmitt) fail to see a potential problem or objection to a new technology. But then Google is a company that considers failure an asset, which is why they’re so huge now. Where Microsoft and, yes, even Apple will ask “Why?” when someone complains that their way of doing things is too limiting, Google’s response is “Why not?”

The Lake House

by James Patterson

The second of Patterson’s stories about the bird children, this one follows a girl named Max and a boy named Oz (as in Ozymandias) and the other bird children as they flee from Dr. Ethan Kane, a borderline sociopathic doctor who fits the bill as a mad scientist. It’s never really clear what Kane wants with the kids, but he’s obsessed with his Resurrection project, which involves harvesting the organs of people who still happen to be using them so he can save the rich and powerful from death, keeping the world safe for rich white bastards.

The book has its appeal, but I felt like I was watching an old Saturday morning cartoon and expected Kane to be done in by four teenagers and a talking great dane driving the country in their psychedelic van. Kane himself was so irredeemable from the get-go that I wondered why someone hadn’t already put a bullet through his skull.

Father Joe

by Tony Hendra

Satirist Tony Hendra (Spy Magazine, The National Lampoon, Ian Faith from This Is Spinal Tap) tells the story of a most unusual Benedictine monk who, as he says, “saved my soul.” Hendra begins with the tale of his first affair, at age 14 and with a married woman. Her husband was Hendra’s religious instructor. The two were unusual as they were Catholics. In England. That’s just not done unless you’re full-blooded Irish. When the affair is discovered, young Hendra is taken to what he thinks is his execution by the Inquisition at Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wite. Instead, he is counseled by an unusual man, Father Joe, a monk who tells young Tony that sin is not going to send him to Hell if he’s really trying to do good. Hendra is transformed by his week with Father Joe, and it’s the beginning of a life-long friendship that sees Hendra through his darkest hours. At first, the teenaged Hendra is filled with zeal for the Church, wanting to join the Benedictine order.

While at Cambridge, however, Hendra discovers Footlights, a comedy troupe that gave rise to Dudley Moore, John Cleese, and Graham Chapman. (And more recently, House star Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson). Hendra discovered his true vocation: Satire.

Yet Hendra goes back to Father Joe again and again. And the good father is there to receive him, even when he is a card-carrying atheist. Father Joe provides a quiet, non-judgmental  moral compass. When Father Joe passes on, Hendra learns exactly how powerful the priest’s quiet spirituality was. Tributes pour in from many famous figures. Princess Diana consulted him. The Archbishop of Canterbury – head of the Catholic Church’s rival – sought Father Joe’s advice as he took office. And yet he treated Hendra as that same poor son of a stained glass maker from the Home Counties. Father Joe treated everyone who came to him as thought they were his best friend, because, as Hendra eventually learned, while you were with him, you were.

I’ll admit it. I cried as this one came to an end. Good thing I was on my way home from work when I listened to that part.