Monday, August 29, 2011

A Talent For War, Jack McDevitt

A Talent For War
Jack McDevitt

A Talent For War is pretty good science fiction.  It's set in the far future, after humanity has had first contact with aliens, and fought a war with them.  The story revolves around someone trying to find out what really happened to a war hero who turned the tide of that battle.

I found the characters reasonably well developed, though not perfect, the descriptions of future technology were interesting and well done, and the story moved along at a good clip, mostly without bogging down.  From me, given my recent reactions to science fiction, that's high praise.

If I have a complaint it is that some of the story winds up being a bit opaque, and I am still not entirely clear on what really happened in the history being described.  Then again it is, after all, history, and that may well be deliberate.

There are two more books in the series, or so I am informed: Polaris and Seeker.  I will probably look them up.

The Art Of Demotivation, E. L. Kersten, PH.D

Title: The Art of Demotivation
Author: E. L. Kersten, PH.D
Rating: Neutral

What to say about this book?  It's a tough one to review.

I've seen bunches of business fads come and go in my time in the high tech industry.  I have seen offshoots of the human empowerment movement, various ways of categorizing people by communication style, and a zillion pep rallies of various forms.  They were all, in a word, crap.

I am a cynic, though, and I admit it.

When I learned of this book from the chief of Despair, Inc. - the makers of Demotivators (tm) and other amusements - it seemed like it might be a funny read.  I wish that had been the case.

Kersten's tome comes across as all too serious.  I think it's supposed to be humor, but if so it didn't work that well for me.  His thesis - that management is better off creating a demotivating work environment in which employees will resign themselves to their fate, thus costing the company less in benefits (and related expenses), taking fewer chances, and even being so paranoid about keeping their jobs that they won't leave as often - sounds all too real to me in this day and age.

Personally I've been lucky in much of my work.  I've had a few enlightened employers and some good managers, so I have seen how a good work environment can function.  In my own time in management I've done my best to make things work like that for my employees too.  But I have also seen some of the darker side of things, and I know many who have seen far worse.  Kersten's suggestions could be marching orders in far too many cases.

While I suspect his tongue really is firmly in his cheek, that only came through effectively (for me) when he briefly discussed how senior management should be treated, and how they need to be kept apart from employees.  A couple of those sections caused me to smirk, at least.

But nothing caused a belly laugh, and I can imagine someone who isn't in on the joke thinking this is a real blueprint for how to manage a company.  It's that dry and straight in its presentation.

As a result I am not sure this book is successful.  Maybe if you've read a bunch of books on management theory the jokes are more obvious, but I found myself cringing too many times at how close to reality his "recommendations" are in far too many cases.  Ever since the MBAs starting running the zoo companies are less human and less caring.  Squeezing every last dime out of an operation doesn't leave room for anything as simple as having fun in the office.  The Art Of Demotivation could easily make that worse as far as I can tell.