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Born with a Junk Food Deficiency 
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Born with a Junk Food Deficiency
This 2012 book by Martha Rosenberg came to my attention on an airport bookstand. I can only hope that means it will get the attention it deserves. It's really about two different topics that intersect at the corner of Corporate Greed Avenue and Government Corruption Street. #1 is Big Pharma and its fetish for pushing drugs that make the conditions they're prescribed for worse. #2 is the meat and poultry industry and practices that turned my stomach as fast as I could turn the pages.

Noteworthy is the chapter on drugs in the military. It's no secret that suicides in the forces, especially among Afghanistan and Iraq vets, are way up. This book offers a compelling rationale why: They are routinely prescribed combinations of drugs for off-label uses (epilepsy medications for depression) and when reactions occur, the dosages increased. Suppression of dissent is so complete that the only possible explanation is that the military, like the rest of the government, has been bought by Big Pharma and become a docile customer.

Like many people, I've known for a long time that there were horror stories about the fast food chain - the old saw about horsemeat in McBurgers comes to mind - but they assumed the status of mythology in my mind, as likely to be real as the one about the guy waking up in a bathtub without kidneys. This book provides fact after fact supporting far more nauseating examples than mere horsemeat contamination. I believe it because if even one allegation in a stream of them about a big company was wrong, the author and publisher would be sued out of existence, and could recall every copy of this inconvenient truth. But if even one allegation about each target is true, the situation is far more alarming than my erstwhile complacency merited. A quarter of the book is given over to the supporting notes and references for the assertions.

A perfect example of the collusion I referred to was a contamination of meat with mad cow disease, sold to certain restaurants and a store in the Bay area. California state informed the restaurants and store, but refused to identify them to the public, saying that would violate trade secrets. (Whose trade?) The public could call their stores and restaurants to find out if they were on the list.

The only problem I have with this book is that it goes over the top unnecessarily. It is peppered with annoying cartoons that are (a) badly drawn, (b) unfunny, (c) regurgitating a point from the text with the subtlety of a biker. And there are gratuitous emotional appeals in the text that, while justified, contribute to the appearance of a hysterical fanatic. And that's a pity, because the facts alone are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves, and there are so many of them here. Cut out the 5% of the book that's sarky finger-jabbing and the childish cartoons, and you've got an eye-opener worthy of any top-grade investigative journalist.


Tue Aug 14, 2012 8:50 pm
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Post Re: Born with a Junk Food Deficiency
If I may take a turn for the Thurberesque, "Stay out of airport bookstands."

Quote:
The only problem I have with this book is that it goes over the top unnecessarily.

An increasingly common problem as we approach the event horizon of "there are no longer any hurdles to publishing a book" and "hay look i kan type." It's no longer required to have an actual, you know, point... just be able to list enough Completely Egregious Awfulnesses* and slap some covers on it.

*Real, imagined, made up or heard on Fox News, to list the descending hierarchy.

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Wed Aug 15, 2012 4:42 am
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Post Re: Born with a Junk Food Deficiency
JamesGifford wrote:
An increasingly common problem as we approach the event horizon of "there are no longer any hurdles to publishing a book" and "hay look i kan type." It's no longer required to have an actual, you know, point... just be able to list enough Completely Egregious Awfulnesses and slap some covers on it.


You've conflated several diverging arguments here. I feel compelled to enumerate. (Or bulletize... the [list=] tag does not work here.)

  • "There are no hurdles to publishing a book." True, if you count self-publishing and POD. But those books do not show up on airport bookstands.*
  • The traditional publishers have, if anything, raised the bar on their submissions. I know someone who creates proposals for books aimed at sizable advances. In particular, authors are now required to have their own "platform," basically, have enough fans who will buy their book to justify publishing it.
  • For new authors, traditional publishers pretty much won't bother with them until they've self-published and sold many. This is the advice being given a friend of mine who meets the traditional publishing requirements - has a platform of thousands of fans - but is being told he'd get more of an advance this way.
  • As I said, this book does have a point - two, actually - and all the supporting data to substantiate it. The problem I have is with the interstitial color commentary. You could take a marker and redact a sentence per page, plus the cartoons, and end up with something even more impactful for its sobriety.

* That's not to say that dreck doesn't end up on airport bookstands. It's just dreck that will sell, usually because of the name behind it. Or it's got a political agenda and is being backed by deep pockets.


Wed Aug 15, 2012 5:31 am
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Post Re: Born with a Junk Food Deficiency
And in turn, you're arguing two different ends of the spectrum. Commercial fiction publishing is dead as a doornail unless your name ends in Patterson, Clancy, King etc. - you have to be a megastar to even get a form letter rejection from a large house. It's become a closed shop of circular reasoning, much like the sf world where all that ever seems to get published any more is anthologies of pieces written by other anthology editors. (see: circle jerk.)

And most ballyhooed, mega-advance, wonderful-new-find writers are either one-shot wonders or crap artists a publisher is desperately trying to make into a new franchise. Or both.

This is largely true of most pop-sci and mass-info and exposay type books as well; if you're a Chopra or a Ray, you're in; newcomer: forget it.

But small-scale publishing, whether "self," small-house or POD, has never been more vibrant. It is also, unfortunately, almost hurdle-free, meaning that some absolute drek hits the shelves. (Not that the size of the publisher matters; I am still finding grievous errors and sloppy writing in Cronkite.)

I count among my acquaintances some very big names in sf/f; not a one is making a living at it. That's why I hung up that pen 20 years ago. I was absolutely shocked to find that Mr. PrettyBigName, with the biggest agent in the field and ten wildly popular books to his list, and advances in the gosh-wow range... was moonlighting as a tech writer to pay the mortgage. It's only gotten much worse and the situation will not stabilize for at least 20-25 years. Especially as the big houses have gone the way of Hollywood; if it's not a guaranteed blockbuster, they can't even see it. Remember that every $50M to a Crichton or Clancy means 500 midlist books that won't see print from that house. Maybe closer to 5,000.

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Wed Aug 15, 2012 6:22 am
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Post Re: Born with a Junk Food Deficiency
PeterScott wrote:
As I said, this book does have a point - two, actually - and all the supporting data to substantiate it. The problem I have is with the interstitial color commentary. You could take a marker and redact a sentence per page, plus the cartoons, and end up with something even more impactful for its sobriety.

Impactful. Good ghod, Peter.

But you've hit the nail on the head even if you're swinging in the dark: All that fluffy-bunny crap is what sold the book in the first place. Possibly even to you. Perhaps it was originally a more sober and focused work; by the time the publisher was done prepping it for a targeted market (impulse buyers in a grocery store or airport kiosk, for example) it was... what you bought.

No book from a publisher of any size reaches the shelf without substantial input and makeover by the guys and gals in marketing, and it's not too far removed from what happens to a classic novel when Hollywood is done with it.


Wed Aug 15, 2012 6:25 am
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Post Re: Born with a Junk Food Deficiency
I was only addressing nonfiction, since that's where my experience lies and my proposal-writing friend resides. I don't know how different the fiction market is but I believe you are right.

Now I'm not sure whether this substantiates your point or not, but it may at least turn the readership here on to another author I find terrific (and if I find one of those a year it's a good year). I reviewed Daemon and Freedom by Daniel Suarez earlier. He self-published the first book and it did so well it got picked up by the mainstream. That any publisher, let alone all of them, would turn down such an obviously brilliant piece of work is simply sad.

He's written another: "Kill Decision." This guy is a cross between Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy, and his technology is excellent. In particular, every use of computer technology he has is dead-on 100% accurate, unlike any other author I could name (and that includes Mr. Clancy). Since his day job is as a systems consultant, not surprising. I imagine this starting with a conversation among friends: "Why can't any of these writers get computer tech right?" "I suppose you could do better?" "I bet I could." "Bet the story would suck." "You're on."


Wed Aug 15, 2012 8:06 pm
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