Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About Richard Dooling


Will the Geeks inherit the earth?
If computers become twice as fast and twice as capable every two years, how long is it before they’re as intelligent as humans? More intelligent? And then in two more years, twice as intelligent? How long before you won’t be able to tell if you are texting a person or an especially ingenious chatterbot program designed to simulate intelligent human conversation? <>dd According to Richard Dooling in Rapture for the Geeks—maybe not that long. It took humans millions of years to develop opposable thumbs (which we now use to build computers), but computers go from megabytes to gigabytes in five years; from the invention of the PC to the Internet in less than fifteen. At the accelerating rate of technological development, AI should surpass IQ in the next seven to thirty-seven years (depending on who you ask). We are sluggish biological sorcerers, but we’ve managed to create whiz-bang machines that are evolving much faster than we are.
In this fascinating, entertaining, and illuminating book, Dooling looks at what some of the greatest minds have to say about our role in a future in which technology rapidly leaves us in the dust. As Dooling writes, comparing human evolution to technological evolution is “worse than apples and oranges: It’s appliances versus orangutans.” Is the era of Singularity, when machines outthink humans, almost upon us? Will we be enslaved by our supercomputer overlords, as many a sci-fi writer has wondered? Or will humans live lives of leisure with computers doing all the heavy lifting?
With antic wit, fearless prescience, and common sense, Dooling provocativelyexamines nothing less than what it means to be human in what he playfully calls the age of b.s. (before Singularity)—and what life will be like when we are no longer alone with Mother Nature at Darwin’s card table. Are computers thinking and feeling if they can mimic human speech and emotions? Does processing capability equal consciousness? What happens to our quaint beliefs about God when we’re all worshipping technology? What if the human compulsion to create ever more capable machines ultimately leads to our own extinction? Will human ingenuity and faith ultimately prevail over our technological obsessions? Dooling hopes so, and his cautionary glimpses into the future are the best medicine to restore our humanity.

Dooling is at his best when he profiles technology's most captivating futurists: Ray Kurzweil, inventor of scanning and text-to-speech technologies, beguiles with his vision of human minds embedded in silicon chips; physicist and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge portrays a bleaker future where humanity serves its hyperintelligent computer overlords. Dooling veers back and forth between celebrating the speed with which technology is evolving and ruing its hidden perils. — Publishers Weekly

A terminally ill man sells his life insurance policy for cheap to an investor who will collect the full amount when the sick man dies. But is the sick man really sick? Does he even exist? In the age of AIDS and no-holds-barred capitalism, the business of betting on how much longer sick people will live is thriving. Is this new market in which life insurance policies are bought and sold a legitimate enterprise, or is it an open invitation to fraud and murder?
Carver Hartnett, Miranda Pryor, and Leonard Stillmach all work for Reliable Allied Trust, in Omaha, where they investigate insurance fraud. Carver — the narrator of this edgy and surprising novel — is frustrated. His company would rather raise premiums than prosecute insurance criminals. Miranda, his seductive coworker, leads him on and then puts him off — she seems to have something monstrous to hide. When their friend, crazy Lenny, a computer gamer and an expert with drug-and-alcohol cocktails, dies in the middle of playing Delta-Strike online, a strange and disturbing narrative unfolds around a possible murder and massive insurance fraud. Carver is drawn deeper into various hearts of darkness, and in his efforts to discover the truth behind his friend's death, he ends up betting his own life.
Filled with memorable characterizations — Carver's boss, the shrewd Old Man Norton; Dagmar Helveg, Norton's fascist assistant; regional investigator Charlie Becker, a plain-talking, commonsense cop -- Bet Your Life conducts a stealthy philosophical investigation of its own, in which our hero ends up investigating the mysteries of his soul. — from the publisher

Richard Dooling is one of the finest novelists now working in America, and BET YOUR LIFE shows him at the absolute top of his game. It is by turns horrifying, suspenseful, and howlingly funny. Can you imagine Elmore Leonard somehow crossed with Michael Crichton, with a soupcon of Richard Pryor thrown in? If so, you'll get an idea of how many different ways this novel succeeds. You can put it down up about ... oh, I'm gonna say page seven. After that, you're in for the night. And you won't mind a bit. — Stephen King

A Techno Update for a femme fatale and a fall guy. — Janet Maslin, Daily New York Times

This is the kind of book that keeps you reading all night. — Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

Nebraska noir ... — Mark Costello, Sunday New York Times Book Review

Humor, wit and suspense. Dooling's Web-savvy characters are startlingly realistic: They shock, amuse, frustrate and refuse to behave. His descriptions are breathtaking and crystal-clear. — USA Today

Wild and zany ... Unconventionally delightful. — St Louis Post Dispatch

Delightful mayhem and intrigue. — Rocky Mountain News

Most language issues from the cerebral cortex — evolution's pride and joy. But swearing erupts from the buried, primitive limbic system, which is the same part of the brain that produces passion, hatred, and aggression. As National Book Award nominee Richard Dooling tells us in his smart, funny, and erudite exploration of verbal taboos, this difference in linguistic origin explains why many people who suffer brain damage that destroys their ordinary speaking abilities can nevertheless cuss up a storm. It also helps to explain why swearing pervades all eras, cultures, and levels of human society: we have the hardware for swearing built into our systems, and nature — or at least human nature — doesn't like to let any tool lie around unused.
But our capacity and our impulse to give vocal offense have always run smack into good manners, and in America these days they also run smack into political correctness and federal regulations. These age-old and newfangled conflicts provide Richard Dooling with his richest sources of insight and humor. He demonstrates in logical and hilarious detail why government rules about language are next to unenforceable, focusing directly on those that involve sexual harassment. He skeptically follows the trail of professional psychobabble about profanity, and he traces the history and meaning of several primary English curse words and their tendency to wax and wane in transgressiveness. Right now, for example, "hell" is often used as a conversational litmus test for dirty-word tolerance, and it's the only common imprecation that doesn't involve scatology or sex. But in Blue Streak, Dooling makes a convincing case that "Go to hell" should be regarded as the ultimate insult, and he proceeds to prove that cursing is not only part of our biology, but a necessary component of any religious view of the universe.
In these pages, Richard Dooling shows the same deep and energetic understanding of human nature that has made his two novels, Critical Care and White Man's Grave, landmarks in modern American fiction. Filled with provocative and illuminating references to the literature of profanity from Egyptian hieroglyphs to the Marquis de Sade to 2 Live Crew, Blue Streak will enlighten, tickle, and entertain anyone given to — and even put off by — oaths and insults. Rate it "R," for "Readable." — from the jacket

A funny, provocative, and knowledgeable book about cursing and swearing, Blue Streak includes chapters on political correctness and on foul-ups in the workplace and in the courts caused by language regulations. It explores the tendency of men to swear more than women, the history and implications of some of the more common swear words, and obscenity in social, personal, and even theological conversation and literature.
In this volume you will find a fascinating and hilarious explanation of what "f — - you" actually means. (It turns out to be a strange little piece of syntax.) You will tour Hell as a piece of real estate. And you will learn why God would probably rather have us swear than not. The writing is playful and sophisticated, and it takes Blue Streak far beyond mere naughtiness and into the realm of literature. — Random House

Blue Streak is less an argument than it is a kind of illustration, an often extremely clever and creative sort of literary acting out. Dooling, to be sure, makes some lawyer's arguments before the court of his readers. But most of all he celebrates the "splendor and mystery of dirty words" by using them and, more generally, by colorfully, waggishly flaunting a Rabelaisian, Marquis d Sadeian barroom wit's defiance of the conventions of politeness. — New York Times

... like most neocon types, I have a cackling appetite for PC horror stories, of which Blue Streak has plenty. — Thomas Mallon, GQ This sure-to-be controversial book features direct and funny assaults on censorship, plus entertaining and erudite explorations of the psychological, religious, social, and historical landscape of obscenity. Playful and sophisticated, Blue Streak takes readers far beyond mere naughtiness and into the realm of literature. —

Dooling's principal target is Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which has come to define harassment as the cretion of "an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment" for women. ... Dooling contends that "swearing is becoming illegal in the workplace precisely because men do it more than women. And women find it offensive in the same way men can't stand nagging. — Gerald Wade, Omaha World-Herald

A comic, cautionary tale for young lawyers everywhere: Whatever it takes, don't agree to defend an alleged hate killer.
James F Whitlow (so the US Attorney claims) arrived at his army-base home to find Elvin Brawley, the African American artist Whitlow's enlisted wife had hired to give sign-language lessons to the couple's deaf son, giving Mary Whitlow another kind of instruction. Inflamed not only by jealousy but by hatred of blacks and the deaf, Whitlow shot the interloper and now faces a murder charge, with only his court-appointed lawyer, neophyte Joe Watson — a research and writing factotum at the swanky St Louis firm of Stern, Pale & Covin who hasn't set foot in a courtroom since he was sworn in — standing between him and lethal injection. But Watson's inexperience is the least of his problems. His mentor at Stern, Pale wants him to drop this unlovely, nonpaying case forthwith and is prepared to find a reason to boot him out of the firm if he doesn't. The presiding judge, Whittaker J Stang, is a demented cackler, the federal prosecutors have reams of evidence linking Whitlow to the Eagle Warriors, a violent, crazy group of white supremacists; and Whitlow's best hope — bewitching forensic neuropsychologist Rachel Palmquist, aka Aphrodite MD — is clearly ravenous to batten on him as a fascinating case study. Worse, she's also got designs on Watson (revealed in the most perverse seduction scene of the year) that could complete the hat trick by depriving him of wife and family along with job. It's all too much for this courtroom Candide, especially when it becomes clear that both his client and his client's wife, the all-important witness for the prosecution, are telling a bunch of whoppers.
Dooling (White Man's Grave, 1994, etc) has such a gorgeously rampaging take on brain chemistry, hate-crime law, and the grounds for contempt of court that you may find yourself, like Joe Watson, losing sight of the brilliantly overinflated conflict at the heart of this postmodern fable. — Kirkus Reviews

Joe Watson envisions a comfortable future with a venerable law firm until a shrewd federal judge tags him for a pro bono murder case that will test the new Federal Sentencing Guidelines for hate crimes. Joe soon finds himself detached from his firm, separated from his family, and under the scrutiny of a pair of thugs who think he has something that belongs to them. A sexy forensic neurologist and a peppery criminal lawyer may or may not be in his corner. Joe doesn't fall into the lawyer-as-detective stereotype that usually signals lots of fast action, and the prose is demanding, with lots of legalese as well as some neurological theorizing. It's Dooling's skillful characterizations (especially cut-'em-off-at-the-knees Judge Stang) that drive the story, along with the complex racial and constitutional issues at the heart of the case. Dooling wants us to stop and think about our rights and freedoms, and his passion for the law pulls us breathlessly along. An obvious choice for Grisham and Turow fans. — Booklist (starred review)

A serious novel of ideas. — George F Will

Dooling's new book, which rollicks along as cleverly and boisterously as a Rabelaisian farce, is a mystery story and an anti-utopian parody at the same time. It is a brilliant concoction, flashing with comedic and intellectual energy. ... Dooling's new book is an inspired piece of work, a caustically funny, antic diatribe with a tightly woven criminal intrigue at its narrational heart. — Richard Bernstein, New York Times (daily)

... a hilarious novel about hate. Set in the near future, it is a serious novel of ideas, including Dooling's idea that laws mandating enhanced penalties for "hate crimes" create, in effect, thought crimes. — George Will, Washington Post

Richard Dooling has done it again. With Brain Storm, he has written a whacky, offbeat, zany and wildly funny novel. ... Dooling writes superbly, especially about human flaws. If you like Carl Hiaasen's offbeat stuff, you'll like Dooling's, too. Maybe you'll like Dooling's even more, because it takes the offbeat a rung higher on the ladder of sophistication. — St Louis Post Dispatch

Brain Storm is wildly, laugh-out-loud, wake-up-your-spouse-to read-passages -aloud funny. — San Jose Mercury News

... a gorgeously rampaging take on brain chemistry, hate-crime law, and the grounds for contempt of court. — Kirkus Reviews

Dooling wants us to stop and think about our rights and freedoms, and his passion for the law pulls us breathlessly along. An obvious choice for Grisham and Turow fans. — Booklist

Dooling ... has written another hilarious and chilling tale of intrigue. The author has a deft comic touch and a vivid sense of drama and the elements that go into a good thriller. ... Brain Storm is an edge-of-your seat courtroom thriller and a thoughtful analysis of neuropsychology, hate crimes, and the desires that can undo us all. — Nebraska Review

... brilliant ... — Time

This novel can't easily be subcategorized because it is, among other things, a defense of free speech, a whodunit, a speculation about the way cognitive neuroscience is changing our perception of crime, a satirical portrait of the legal profession, a sex romp, a de facto essay on language and, by no means least, a comedy. This book is packed. ... Here is a whodunit that achieves a comic fugue-state mastery of the language of our sexually charged, violent, technocratic society. Here is a writer who reminds us that the umbrella on the literary beach marked "thriller" is broad enough to accommodate a story of intrigue in which bodies don't pile up like menus for Chinese takeout, in which no ninja soldiers huff importantly through the darkness. Rather, the narrative in his thriller is driven by rarer stuff — ideas. — Colin Harrison, New York Times (Sunday)

Author Richard Dooling ponders hefty issues of conscience, human motivations, and hate crimes in Brain Storm, his well-paced, scrupulously researched fourth novel.

In the eerie, fluorescent darkness of a hospital intensive care unit, medical resident Werner Ernst is simply doing his job: keeping death at bay for as long as science is able ...
But, alas for Werner, medical science has yet to determine an antidote to the ravages of lust. In this case, a profound physical attraction for the daughter of the man in Bed 5 — who is pleading with Werner that her father be allowed to die.
Torn between sound medical practice and insane sexual attraction, the dedicated carer soon finds the road to Hell is paved with good intentions ... — from the jacket

Critical Care is alternately funny, shocking, a scintillating read. Dooling has succeeded by the sheer power of brilliant writing — Derek Humphrey, author of Final Exit

Darkly funny, constantly absorbing, as stunning as any Stephen King horror story. Mr Dooling's first novel is simply simpossible to put down — Bob Marion, MD, author of The Intern Blues

A bitter and disturbing, though often very funny, first novel with a sensibility that Dr Strangelove fans will recognize. ... This sometimes phantasmagoric, often ribald and always disquieting story reveals an angry, talented and deeply cynical author. He takes the reader on a wild tour through everyone's worst nightmare ... a bitter and disturbing, though very funny first novel. — Washington Post

Sardonic, often harrowing look at the American way of life support by a writer so thoroughly in control it is hard to believe that this is a first novel. A stunning debut. ... A powerhouse for those strong enough in spirit and constitution to read it. — Kirkus Reviews

The often macabre world of high-tech dying seems all too real in this provocative, sardonic first novel ... Dooling's handling of the medical satire is gut-wrenchingly accurate, authentically frightening and certainly timely. — Publishers Weekly

A scathingly funny black comedy. ... Dooling's legal and medical training come into full play as he takes us on a tragicomic tour of a man-made hell of the "medical-industrial complex" ... Critical Care is sometimes hard to take, yet is almost impossible to put down. — Saint Louis Post Dispatch

Richard Dooling's first novel is a masterpiece of fiction ... he demonstrates a fresh talent for storytelling and clean clever writing. — Boston Sunday Herald

Mr Dooling's caricatures of self-important or senile doctors are wickedly clever, his descriptions of half-alive sufferers are mercilessly detailed, and his dissections of hospital financial maneuvers are cynical. — The Atlantic Monthly

The National Book Award finalist for White Man's Grave now presents a scathing, hilarious satire of doctors, lawyers, hospitals, health care, life, and death. When Felicia Potter comes to the hospital to visit her comatose father, Dr Peter Ernst, a young resident, sees the opportunity to spice up his grim routine with a little romance. —

A masterpiece. — The Boston Herald

A very funny first novel. — Washington Post

Evelyn Waugh-like heights.Booklist

If you're comfortable with the human condition, get Critical Care. Pretty sick stuff — but unbelievably funny. — John Albrecht

When Peace Corps volunteer Michael Killigan goes missing in the African wilds of Sierra Leone, his father and his friend set out to rescue him. Both men assume that American influence extends to the ends of the Earth, but the power they encounter, and the mystery at its core, proves beyond their expectation or control. —

This is a galloping tale about a clash of worldviews, in this case between insular West African Mende culture — complete with tribal politics and voodoo — and the pure red-blooded Caucasian American variety, with its highly rational citizens bent on ideological conquest, good deeds and the accumulation of cash. ... The book's language expands to accommodate the bizarre and mind-bending mysteries of witchcraft upon which the plot turns. In the end, the book's lush satire cleverly obscures its simple, unarguable premise: that unfathomable rituals are at the heart of any culture, even in Indiana. — Publishers Weekly

Dooling's novel reads like two different books — both worthwhile and engaging. One is the story of Boone Westfall, a nice young Hoosier who travels to primitive, impoverished Sierra Leone in West Africa to search for his best friend, Michael Killigan, a Peace Corps volunteer who has disappeared. ... The second story is a spectacularly wicked satire about bankruptcy lawyers, personified by the missing volunteer's father. ... One of Dooling's points, of course, is to make sure readers ask themselves, who is the primitive? — Booklist

Author Dooling (not a PCV himself) spent 7 months with the Mende, doing research, and in acknowledgment offers praise to his hosts' hospitality. The book was a National Book Award nominee. The work is current, what with Liberia's civil war, and the ever hot topic about how "developed" countries can help the third world. Many Peace Corps experiences required relearning that our ideas were anathema to our host cultures, important fodder for the debate about how the West tries reinventing itself based on questionable methods and goals. The author doesn't pretend to challenge nor explore that theme, but makes a good point that striving to belong to another culture takes a remarkable transformation, and even then, one can end up inhabiting the nether world of no true belonging. — Angelo Presicci

A bravura display of satire. ... Dooling evokes the humane checks and balances of a deep world: the logic, you might say, of its magic. — Los Angeles Times Book Review

The book is absolutely astonishing; I am a Richard Dooling fan for life. — Phillip M Margolin

The author's fizz of comic energy is as wild and scornful as Richard Condon's. — Time

Impressive ... sharply satiric. — New York Times Book Review

Richard Dooling's second novel, White Man's Grave, is a wicked anthropological satire that attacks American materialism with enough nastiness to make just about everyone feel picked on. ... Dooling's presentation of the bushman culture reveals a rich understanding. Their superstitions and rituals are shown in wondrous complexity, with no lack of detail. Particularly fascinating is Dooling's treatment of the entire system of cursing and counter-cursing as outward expressions of internal fears, and the "witch finder-as-psychologist" theme. — Colgate Maroon-News

Ein spannender Thriller, in dem das reiche Amerika und das Entwicklungskand Sierra Leone aufeinanderprallen. Es stellt sich heraus, daß es immense Unterschiede gibt und daß der "American Way of Life" nicht allmächtig ist oder vielleicht doch? — Egotrip

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