Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson (audiobook)

I'd been intending to read Isaac's Storm for years, probably since its initial publication in 2000, 100 years after the actual storm in question.

If you've not heard of the 1900 Storm, it was the Katrina of its time.  In September of 1900, a hurricane passed through the Gulf of Mexico, gaining energy and striking the boomtown of Galveston, Texas, then considered to be a growing metropolis.  Estimates of casualties are always well into the thousands, from 6-8000.   When you consider that the census had just been taken, estimating the entire population of the island at 37,000 - it could have been even worse had Galveston continued to grow.

Isaac's Storm uses meteorologist Isaac Cline as a fulcrum to explore the state of the infant science of meteorology in 1900, the why's and wherefore's of the early national efforts on this front, the growth of Galveston in the late 19th Century and the culture of the town, and the hurricane and its aftermath.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut (audiobook)

When listening to an audiobook of a Kurt Vonnegut novel, something I've now done about 5 times, I'm always acutely aware that I'm missing the doodles and whatnot that sometimes appear in Vonnegut's work.  The truth is, I do most of my "reading" these days via Audible, so I've always accepted that if I want to "read" any Vonnegut before I die, I'm okay with the compromise.

I actually finished this book a week ago and just realized today I'd never written anything about it.  And, here's a secret - my audience for this blog is myself.  I more or less write up posts so I have some time to think about whatever I just watched or read, so I have an opportunity to break it up a bit and not just let media wash over me, watch it or read it and forget it.

For good or ill, I also haven't read anything new yet, so it's still relatively fresh.

This book arrived late in Vonnegut's career, published in 1990, his second to last book.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (audiobook)

I can't remember the last time I actually read Washington Irving's story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but it remains a fun, spirited read, perfect for a quick fix of harmless Halloween fun as we head to the holiday.

I was quite pleased to realize the audiobook I'd downloaded was read by actor Thomas Mison, who plays Ichabod Crane on television's Sleepy Hollow, and an actor that is just begging for a part somewhere in the Marvel U, but I'm not sure as who, exactly.

If you saw the Disney cartoon or a hundred other adaptations, you know the story - though, ironically, the one place you absolutely will not get the story of Sleepy Hollow is from the television program of the same name, which went off the tracks and into a ditch immediately with its second season and is struggling to make a comeback with the third.

The book, itself, is relayed not so much in a spirit of spookiness, but in good humor that still translates - and, frankly, translates the long gone world in which the novel was written for the modern reader.  The book serves a vastly different purpose than The Haunting of Hill House.  It's a spooky tale meant to reassure the reader and comment upon the Americans of the era and geographic region in folksy ways, and it's practically a cartoon waiting to be adapted, as Mr. Disney did in good fashion.

Because it's of interest, I'll mention the inclusion of black characters in the story in both a caricaturist fashion and as observing faces who clearly find Ichabod Crane absurd so the narrator doesn't have to spell it out.  I don't expect too much in the way of progressive writing in popular fiction of 1820, but it certainly isn't exactly as offensive as one might find elsewhere.

Really, all the characters of the book are broad caricatures in a way, simple impressions to get the general idea across, and when Irving does get specific about Crane, in particular, the idea is to politely understate the absurdity of a self-important buffoon.

The description of the Horseman and ride are vivid, Irving painting a tremendous picture of the Crane's confrontation.  I have to imagine all of this would be a lot of fun to read to a kid at some point.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (audiobook)

I took some suggestions via Facebook for an October read.  Every year I try to read a "scary" book during the month leading up to Halloween, and while I got a number of suggestions (many of which confused "thrilling" with "Halloween scary"), I had to pick one or two and get on with it.  I almost read The Turn of the Screw again, I went for the source material to one of my favorite scary movies, instead.  In the end, I read Shirley Jackson's 1959 book, The Haunting of Hill House.

The book has been adapted into two movies, The Haunting (1963) and The Haunting (1999).  One of these movies is directed by Robert Wise, who never made a bad movie, and the other was done by the guy who made Twister and Speed 2: Cruise Control.  If you liked those movies, your mileage will vary.

The good news is that the book diverges from both movies, and, really, after the introduction of the characters, has very, very little to do with the 1999 big budget CGI-FX driven snoozefest.  In the case of the 1963 adaptation, the movie and book match and diverge in similarity, enough so that I really wasn't sure what to expect from chapter to chapter.  Really, though, it's the perspective of the book that provides the greatest difference for the reader, and provides an experience the movie simply cannot as the camera must always show something going on, and cannot rely on the reflections of the characters in the same way.  The characters simply are on the screen, perhaps with hints of something otherwise, but the frame has to capture an interpretation one way or another.

Eleanor is a 32 year old woman who has spent her entire adult life caring for her sickly mother.  She has no profession, no friends, no home of her own as she is now in limbo, living with a sister who has inherited her mother's prickly nature and the sister's boorish husband and young daughter.  At some point in the distant past, she experienced a supernatural event as stones rained down upon her house, an act she grew up believing was the work of unkind neighbors, and perhaps it was.  We can't know for certain.

A parapsychologist, Dr. Montague, has scoured the country for those who have experienced legitimate psychic events, and has invited them to the mysterious Hill House, a 19th Century mansion built to house the family of an industrialist with what seems to have been an unhealthy parenting style for his two young girls.  The house was believed "born bad", already evil before the many deaths that occurred in the house even began.

The house itself is built with doors that hang at an angle to shut, walls that are not exactly at the right angle, and various optical illusions meant to make the house a showplace of the era in which it was built.  The effect, however, seems to unsettle and confuse visitors, not create any sense of wonder.

Of the many invitations sent, only two visitors arrive, Eleanor - who may have once had stones hurled at her by unseen forces, and Theodora, a beatnik who may be able to catch glimpses of the thoughts of others.  Also, the young man who stands to inherit the house, an idler and wanna-be playboy, Luke.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mars Watch: The Martian (2015)

Back this last summer, we read the novel The Martian by Andy Weir, and so it's kind of hard to ignore that fact as we roll into discussing the movie.

On Saturday we headed out to the Alamo to see The Martian (2015) in 3D directed by Ridley Scott and featuring a busload of name actors - headlined by Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney.  As one would expect, the movie has some changes from the novel, cuts a lot in order to work as a movie (and for time), and makes some extremely minor plot changes.  But, in general, like a lot of book-to-movie translations of the past decade of newer, very popular books, there's a tremendous fidelity to the source material (funny how it only took movies a century to figure out people liked for these things to match).

Just like the book, the movie is about a Mars mission in the very near future which experiences a surprise weather event which surpasses expectations in terms of severity and thus threatens the crew  NASA protocol insists that the crew scrub, get to their launch vehicle, escape to their orbiting spacecraft, and return home.  As the crew leaves their base, Biologist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by a piece of loosed debris - the antenna - and is sent hurling over a hill, his bio signs offline.  Presumed dead, the crew takes off, leaving Watney on the planet's surface.

Watney re-awakens to find himself alone, with no means of communication with Earth, and supplies in the "hab" will account for only a short amount of time on the planet.  And the lack of moisture, and living in a structure that was never intended to last forever against the Martian environment are just the start of his woes.

The loss of an astronaut is a disaster for NASA, and Watney is given a hero's funeral, but within days, a staffer at NASA notices evidence of Watney's survival on satellite photos of the base and things back at NASA and JPL go into overdrive.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous with Rama" (1973, audiobook)

After listening to the audiobook of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I got a rec from one of you (I'll assume it was CanadianSimon, as he reads 3 books a week, it seems) to read Arthur C. Clarke's novel of alien contact in our solar system, Rendezvous with Rama (1973).   In my old age, this is exactly the kind of book that is bringing me back to science fiction after a long, long time of not reading the genre.  But, then again, I was always more of a Asimov-Robot-Novel kind of sci-fi reader and felt like I was really pushing the limits of fantasy with Martian Chronicles by Bradbury.

No one is going to accuse Clarke of writing character-driven science fiction, but in imagining both a world in which space travel has become commonplace to the point of interplanetary colonies are treated like nations and how we might react to a truly alien craft entering our solar system (and what it might be like as the crew tapped to take on that challenge) all feels remarkably relevant in 2015 as I am sure it did in 1973 when the book hit shelves.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: If Chins Could Kill, by Bruce Campbell

I'd almost picked this book up at Borders during its hardback, first-release era, and didn't, and was pretty aware if I did buy it, I'd never sit down to read it.  So Bruce never got any of my money from this project, but I was chatting with PaulT about Bruce Campbell, and I think he recommended the book.  Anyway, I thought "well, if he reads it himself, this could be all right."

And, sure enough, in 2010 or so he did record an audiobook version.  It seems the digital version led to a new edition as there are essentially three endings in the audiobook, and I suspect that since the initial book came out in 2002 and we didn't get an audiobook til 2010, and there was a surprisingly lengthy section after I initially thought the book was over with about the book tour, something got added somewhere.

If you don't know Bruce Campbell, he's most famous for his role as Ash in Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.  If none of those movies ring a bell, we have nothing to say to one another.  I don't love horror, but its fair to say the Evil Dead trilogy transcends genre and is its own, hard-to-pin-down thing.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler (1940) - audiobook

I haven't read all that much Raymond Chandler.  I read The Big Sleep more than a decade ago (specifically when I was trapped in a hotel in Las Vegas the week of 9/11 and I couldn't fly home).  And if I've read more than that, I don't really recall.  I do remember thinking "I'm more of a Dashiell Hammett guy" after reading The Big Sleep, but sooner or later you want to read some of the other stuff.

Of course you can't be into noir film and not stumble across adaptations of his work and work he adapted into screenplays (see Double Indemnity, where he gets a brief cameo).

But I figured I needed to read some more Philip Marlowe, Chandler's go-to Detective where Hammett had Sam Spade and The Continental Op.

Farewell, My Lovely (1940) is a winding mystery that starts on page 1 as Philip Marlowe fails to mind his own business when he sees a giant of a man, a white guy, walk into an African-American club and start a ruckus.  He literally sticks his nose in and gets grabbed by Moose Malloy, a heist-man just paroled and out looking for his ex-girlfriend, Velma.  Moose is stronger than he knows, stupidly violent, and single minded, and winds up killing the bar's manager.

In the aftermath, Marlowe gets wrapped up in the case, but no sooner does he decide to bail than he gets hired by a suave gentleman looking for protection as he bargains for the safe return of a lady-friend's hi-jacked jewels.  Marlowe doesn't protect him and the gentleman winds up dead, and that, in turn gets Marlowe all the more involved with his failed job.  Soon, beautiful dames, crooked cops, mentalists, shady hospitals and honestly illegitimate off-shore gambling operations all play a part.  And a bright young daughter of a former police commissioner.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Martian, Andy Weir (audiobook)

I guess back in January, my pal Paul suggested I read The Martian (2011) by Andy Weir.  I know this because I keep a list of books I've read mixed with a list of suggestions I've taken seriously, and I do write down who made the suggestion.

When the trailer hit for the soon-to-be-in-theaters Ridley Scott directed version of The Martian, it was absolutely the sort of thing I like seeing, and I got pretty excited.  I was a big fan of Interstellar, and I even really liked Gravity, warts and all.  And as much as I like strange visitors from other worlds-type scientifiction, I also get pretty jazzed about fictional takes or speculative takes on plain old science and technology.  Mix that with the space program, like the two movies I just mentioned, and you've sold a couple of tickets to the occupants of my household.

You've got a few weeks before the movie arrives, and I highly recommend checking out the book prior to the film's release.  It's not that I think Matt Damon and Co. will do a bad job - I'm a big fan of Damon (have you seen the Bourne movies?).  It's that the book is really good and reads really fast.  I'd started the book just over a week ago, and recommended it to Jamie.  She started and finished it all today.  So, there's a context clue for you (and she also cleaned out the cupboard.  I think she bent time.).

I listened to the audiobook, which takes longer, of course, but it more than filled the commute and back I had to Arlington, Texas this week.

If you haven't seen the trailer - and I'm not spoiling anything - an astronaut is delivering his first log entry after an accident occurred during an emergency evacuation of a Mars mission.  He'd been stuck through by part of a loose antenna in a wind storm, and then blown over a hill, his suit's life signs reading nil.  Of course, he wasn't dead, but the crew was forced to leave him, and now he's stuck on Mars, with no way to contact home, the next mission coming to the planet in 4 years, and only enough supplies for 6 people for about a month.

And yet, it's the most optimistic book I've read in years.  Maybe ever.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Rin Tin Tin - The Life and the Legend, Susan Orlean (2011 - audiobook)

I am not entirely certain why I decided to read this book.  I've not read any prior Orlean, and I had literally never seen anything with Rin Tin Tin in it other than a few scant moments of the circa 1990 series, Rin Tin Tin: K9 Cop.  It is true that I like a happy looking dog, and I was marginally aware of a strange history of the pooch.  But after reading the Larry Tye Superman book, a topic I knew entirely too much about to ever wonder where it was going, and partially because, lately,  I've been thinking a lot about the lifespan of a media-driven concept - as the 20th Century and the first media giants fade in the collective memory, Rin Tin Tin seemed to be a good place to pick up that thread again as any.

Certainly I was curious as to what became of the media empire that I knew once existed and, today, there's not a kid out there who knows what the words "Rin Tin Tin" mean.

And, hey, it's about dogs.  I'm a fan.

Susan Orlean is perhaps most famous for the book she wrote, The Orchid Thief, which was turned into a Meryl Streep movie which I confess that I have never seen (Adaptation).  In Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, Orlean traces more than a century of history, from the ramshackle, lonely and unpredictable childhood of Lee Duncan, the man who would find a litter of German Shepard puppies in a kennel within an evacuated German base in WWI France, straight through to the modern era of DVD's and memorabilia collection.  And, of course, the tangled existence of a very real dog who became a screen legend, only to become a fictional character with his passing, and becoming the sort of property that people wind up suing one another over until the value of the property has fallen through the bottom.

Orlean weaves her own story into the book, not one that's particularly remarkable as these things go, but it gives the reader context when it comes to her research, what sparked her interest, how the misty memories of both the dog on the television in the 1950's series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and her relationship with an knowable grandfather echoed back to her as she tried to bring the past into the present, with things both on the screen and real.  And, it's an honest approach as Orlean necessarily frames her experience hunting down the folks who are still alive from Lee Duncan's family, those associated with the show and a Texas woman who has been breeding heirs of Rin Tin Tin in Texas, and who was smart enough to run out and trademark Rin Tin Tin when Hollywood had not.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Flashfire (a Parker Novel)

As much as the folks write the introductions in these books want to say otherwise, when Stark came back to Parker after decades of being away, it's pretty clear his worldview had changed a bit, what he could and wanted to do in a heist book had altered.  But, you know, you're talking about the 15th or so book of the Parker series, and, if you include the 4 Grofield novels, this is the 19th written under the nom de plume of Richard Stark rather than Donald Westlake.

It's an oddly silly Parker novel, a pretty far cry from The Seventh or The Sour Lemon Score, and after however many years of writing Dortmunder novels, I have to assume it all bleeds together for the writer.  Also, as in the return novels, a lot relies on coincidence and hoping the reader isn't thinking too hard about possible holes in the plot.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ape Watch: Tarzan The Ape Man (1932)

As you may recall, I recently read Tarzan of the Apes.   I don't tend to believe the cosmos is telling me anything, but I also try not to ignore coincidence.  Because, hey, serendipity counts for something.

TCM featured "Ape Day", I believe, the other day, with all sorts of simian cinema, with everything from King Kong to Planet of the Apes to Every Which Way But Loose, and, of course, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), the first Johnny Weissmuller/ Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzan movie.

I have seen this movie in bits and pieces, but I don't think I'd seen it straight through until now.  And, people, it's pretty amazing.  In fact, we're going to roll out our new feature... the Stefon.  So you'll know when:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Tarzan of the Apes (1912) - audiobook

I have no idea if kids today even know the name Tarzan, and I suspect that if they do, its as one of the lesser Disney animated features.  As a product of the 70's and 80's, I was exposed to televised reruns of Johnny Weismuller films, comics, cartoons, and a general presence of Tarzan as a still-kinda-relevant pop-culture figure.  Swinging from a rope meant you had to give the Weismuller yell, climbing a tree might lead to visions of swinging from branch to branch, and being a bit rambunctious could lead to your mother calling you "Tarzan".

I also had this comic magazine, Marvel Super Special #29.

It turns out, this was a pretty much direct adaptation of the original novel, including captions from the book, but only the first 1/2- 1/3rd of the book, choosing a solid ending point when Tarzan asserts himself as King of the Apes.  Mark Evanier is listed as the writer, but he mostly reframed the original novel into a graphic novel form, and that cover seemed absolutely amazing to me when I was a kid.  It also meant that, as the book went along, I had more or less already read the first 1/3rd.

I haven't read much in the way of Edgar Rice Burroughs, just the first three John Carter-Barsoom novels, but I certainly grew up knowing Burroughs' name.  I just...  I dunno, I never read the book or books (there are about 20 of them, I think).  But, we're in a reading pattern right now that's about making up for old sins and checking in on some of these old-school favorites, and I'd put off reading Tarzan for long enough.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Signal Reads: Superman - The High Flying History of the Man of Steel (audiobook)

When I was driving between Indianapolis and Metropolis, Illinois, I cooked up a plan to listen to the audiobook of the fairly recent Larry Tye book Superman: The High Flying History of the Man of Steel.  I've read a few comic and Superman histories before, and still hold of the Les Daniels book as the gold standard, with Gerald Jones' Men of Tomorrow:  Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book as absolute and required reading.  But it'd been a while since I read either and there's been a lot of history since then.

The book is very well researched and is a fairly complete and comprehensive but detached history of the character as a property, focusing on the origins and multiple iterations of the character from the influences on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to the multiple forms of media the character has taken on and arguably conquered, to the ever-changing nature of Superman and the societal factors at play.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (audiobook)

This isn't the first time I have read Red Harvest (1929) by noted crime and detective author Dashiell Hammett.  In fact, it was the first Hammett I ever read, but it was about fifteen years ago and over the course of a few plane rides, and after reading my fair share of Hammett since, I could only remember snippets here and there and the general plot and tone.  But with Hammett's birthday recently passed, I decided that was my cue to revisit the book.

It would seem this novel inspired a whole lot of other stuff from general tone to dialog to whole films, but to my knowledge it has never been translated into a movie of the same name with the same characters.  And it's just as likely the things the book inspired were, in turn, the inspiration for other works.  There are certainly similarities to the book in the Kurosawa movie Yojimbo (but Kurosawa states he was inspired by The Glass Key, a different Hammet book turned into a movie with similar themes - and the movie has Veronica Lake, natch), which in turn would have inspired A Fistful of Dollars and the mediocre as hell Last Man Standing.

I'd argue that the Coen Bros. were obviously nuts for Hammett, and Miller's Crossing is essentially a particularly strong blend and distillation of Red Harvest and The Glass Key, in everything from plot similarities to character archetypes to Hammett's very specific dialog and use of slang.  Further, the term "Blood Simple" is used more than once in the book, and is - not coincidentally - the title of their debut film.

Hammett had a favorite character, a detective who refused to name himself (cough... Man With No Name... cough) in his narratives.  The character appeared in what must have been dozens of short works published in magazines like Black Mask and which are known as The Continental Op stories.  A private detective employed by The Continental Detective Agency usually solves crimes around the Bay Area during the 1920's - the period during which Hammett was writing (and drinking, one assumes).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dashiell Hammett

May 27th marks the 121st birthday of author Dashiell Hammett, a writer who's impact on the modern culture is nigh-incalculable.

I'm actually currently re-reading Red Harvest for the first time in fifteen years and will make my way back through The Maltese Falcon, The Dain Curse and a few more.  And you really can't beat the short fiction of the Continental Op short stories.

And, of course, he was responsible for The Thin Man novel and assisted with the production of the movie.

Hammett had been a Pinkerton Detective, a career not so readily available in this era, but it set the stage for both the material of his fiction as well as the approach his detectives took.  he served in both World Wars, drank too much, was a terrible husband and absentee father and a left-winger from jump.  And he had a 30 year romance with Lillian Hellman.  Like you do.

I'll be honest, I love this guy's work.  His characters feel real and lived in, perhaps world warn and weary, but believably so, and his plots are just haphazard enough as the detectives sort through the mess they've stumbled into to feel believable when one is surrounded by liars with agendas.  And he's got a snappy prose style.

Here's to Mr. Hammett on his birthday.  Here's to one of the father's of American modern fiction in all its forms.

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Old Green World" by Walter Basho - now available on Amazon

A former co-worker & co-blogger, current pal, and all around great guy, Walter Basho, has released his first novel today to the Amazon Kindle.

If you've got $3, I highly recommend picking up his debut book, a sci-fi novel set in THE FUTURE.

Here's the description as per Amazon:

The apocalypse happened 4000 years ago. A forest now covers the world. In its shadow, Albert, an immigrant military prodigy, falls in love with Thomas, a boy he can never marry.  
Their island nation flourishes, led by strange monks called the Adepts—who have power over matter and the mind—and their holy figures, the mysterious Old People. The Adepts are building an army to storm the wild continent of Terra Baixa. They plan to tame the forest and rebuild civilization.  
The forest doesn't care. It is patient and vast. This is what happens. 
Walter Basho's first novel is a science fantasy adventure, a coming-of-age story, a romance, and a meditation on what it means for the world to end.

Everyone give Walter $3.  He deserves it.

Order the book here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (audiobook - read by Stephen Fry)

First of all, don't panic.

I'll start by saying - I enjoyed this reading experience, and you can all go about your business, secure in the knowledge that I will not be disrupting your very fond memories of what is now considered a modern classic.

Like all of you, I read the book when I was in middle school, and I believe I got through three of the four books before I forgot to buy the fourth, and here we are, 27 years later.  Oddly, I do think I read this one more than once, but I couldn't reconstruct the plot in my head at all.  Just details.  42.  Something about a sperm whale.  Mice.  Zaphod.  Laying in front of bulldozers.  Babel fish.  Earth as a computer.  Improbability.

But, again... no idea what the book actually did.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Backflash - a Parker Novel (1998)

The second of the "Parker is back" novels of the 1990's, and by this time it's pretty clear heists are a damn hard thing to plot even in a pre-cell-phone era, but an era in which money is mostly moved about electronically.

Parker is called at his home by someone he doesn't know, someone already out of their depth, pitching a heist.  The score is a gambling cruise ship working the Hudson River on a trial basis, all cash for the night's take, a locked down money room floating in a river.  He calls in old favorites of the Parker novels, Sternberg, Dan Wycza and Mike Carlow as support, and a character a I didn't really remember from Plunder Squad.  More than one other party gets a whiff of the heist and try to deal themselves in, and, meanwhile, nothing about the guy setting up the heist makes sense.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

SW Reads: The Comeback (a Parker novel)

Author Richard Stark took off a couple of decades between Butcher's Moon (1974) and The Comeback (1997),  bringing master-thief back out of retirement.  But, oddly, it doesn't really feel like much time has passed between the two novels, updates in technology, etc... aside.  Stark's voice is much the same as it was when he left off in 1974, but the year is now 1997.  We're in the age of the personal computer, but everyone having a cell phone is still maybe 1-3 years in the future, depending on your demographic.

The 80's and 90's also saw the boom of televangelists in a way I'm not sure kids today would understand.  Every cable package came with the PTL Network and a few others, and while you never knew the names of most of the figures, they were so omnipresent, you knew who most of them were (a personal favorite of mine was Brother Bob Tilton*), and it was always a matter of time before most of these folks tripped up and showed their true colors, crashing and burning and teaching a young me the meaning of schadenfreude.  But not until after bilking a herd of retirees out of their fixed incomes.

Parker books always feel tied to the real world.  He's not a super-crook, he's not out using futuristic technology, but this one definitely feels of the zeitgeist of the era, as much as the 60's and 70's novels did from time to time worrying about the pop art scene or crazed hippies.