The Flock

The Flock

4.2 7
by James Robert Smith
     
 

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A remote Florida swamp has been targeted for theme-park development, and the swamp's inhabitants are none too happy. It doesn't help that the residents are a colony of intelligent, prehistoric, dinosaur-like birds. This flock of beasts has escaped the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs, relying on stealth, cunning, and killer instinct. The creatures have

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Overview

A remote Florida swamp has been targeted for theme-park development, and the swamp's inhabitants are none too happy. It doesn't help that the residents are a colony of intelligent, prehistoric, dinosaur-like birds. This flock of beasts has escaped the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs, relying on stealth, cunning, and killer instinct. The creatures have been living in secret, just outside our developed world.

As the developers push to have the recently-discovered animals exterminated, a billionaire rogue environmentalist step in to protect these rare, predatory creatures. A naïve young Fish and Wildlife officer finds himself caught in between these two incredibly powerful forces, and may find out the hard way that man is the most dangerous predator of them all . . .

The Flock is a contemporary eco-thriller about what can happen when man violates nature, and when nature fights back.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stealth, cunning and killer instinct have ensured the survival of the flock of this gonzo eco-thriller's title, a population of prehistoric, predatory, highly intelligent giant proto-birds who've roamed for thousands of years in the trackless savanna of what's now a government military reservation in central Florida. Smith's entertaining debut kicks into high gear when the birds get caught between conflicting environmental and business interests. Vance Holcomb, a billionaire rogue environmentalist, is trying to protect the lurking creatures, while the Berg Brothers, a Disney-style entertainment conglomerate, crave the land as residential real estate. When a right-wing militia is hired to destroy the flock, a na ve young Fish and Wildlife officer and his girlfriend find themselves caught in the resulting melee. Smith maps out a complex living environment that makes the flock's continued existence almost believable and depicts human characters who match the killer birds in adaptability. If the book's conclusion feels a bit cynically anticlimactic, it still shows that humans are the deadliest predators of all. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Intended as a showcase town of traditional "American" values, the Florida community of Salutations USA occupies land once part of the Edmonds Bombing Range and surrounded by 450,000 acres of protected lands. Engaged in a struggle for control of the wilderness are the film company that has pioneered Salutations, a billionaire ecologist hoping to fund a research project on the land, a retired colonel-turned-survivalist, and a fish and wildlife officer intent on discovering the identity of whatever lurks beyond the town. Most concerned, however, are the land's original inhabitants-part bird, part dinosaur, and entirely predatory. In his first novel, Smith, the author of numerous comics and short stories, presents a story that echoes the themes of Jurassic Park and should appeal to fans of sf suspense. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

“Smith maps out a complex living environment that makes the flock's continued existence almost believable and depicts human characters who match the killer birds in adaptability.” —Publishers Weekly

“This book has everything a crypto fan could want; prehistoric beasts with near human intelligence; a large corporate entity intent on turning the last wild areas of Florida into suburbia; a self made billionaire ecologist intent on preserving these same areas; and a retired Marine colonel with his own militia and a desire for mayhem. Smith does a wonderful job of brewing these disparate ingredients into a tasty story. And the fact that the hero is not much of a hero leaves a pleasant after taste on the palate.” —Cryptozoology.com

“I read a lot of fiction, little of it sticking to the mental ribs, but The Flock delivered and will be one of those I revisit down the road, for sure. Give it a read, you won't be sorry!” —Steve Bissette

Kirkus Reviews

In this first novel, dinosaurs stalk Florida's longleaf savanna—and they know about us.

When the Disney-like Berg Brothers build a gated community on the last of the Florida savanna, they run into more than even their hokey creative team could have imagined. Billionaire Vance Holcomb has already set up shop in the tall grass, and hired beautiful, amazonian Kate Kwitney, among others, ostensibly to research the surviving rare fauna, which includes the endangered Florida panther. Ultraconservative retired U.S. Marine Colonel Winston Grisham sees the open space as the last bit of free country (and great cattle land, too). And Ron Riggs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife warden and part Seminole, has been assigned the job of keeping the peace—or at least finding out what local predator is eating the new development's pets. Little do they know that an intelligent herd of giant ground-dwelling "terror birds," essentially the last surviving dinosaur-bird missing links, have made the area their home, too. The Flock, as these fast, fierce meat eaters call themselves, has been aware of Man, as they know humans, for years. The Flock has learned to evade these smaller predators, following the guidance of Egg Father, Egg Mother and the wise old Walks Backwards. But the Berg development and the wild actions of the rogue Flock member Scarlet force a confrontation that will result in death, destruction and a bounty hunt for a creature supposed to be extinct for the last million years. While the action is fast and violent, the stock characters—including a cowardly tabloid newspaper reporter—are as predictable as Scarlet's bloodthirsty attacks. And while the changing perspectives usually keep the pace bouncing along, Walks Backwards' stilted chapters recall the worst excesses of Hollywood's fake Native Americans—all reverence with no contractions.

Utterly disposable thriller unredeemed by its ecological message. One part Michael Crichton's science and a smidgen of Carl Hiaasen's humor add up to less than either.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429985505
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
11/09/2010
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
460,440
File size:
404 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Flock


By James Robert Smith

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2006 James Robert Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8550-5


CHAPTER 1

May 23, 1946


The Flock was out in the Sun. It had been a long time since they had moved in daylight. But this occasion required such a measure. They could not fail. Scattering in the tall grass, flashing between the longleaf pines, the Flock hunted.


Torelli had lost the wireless somewhere along the way. He wasn't sure of the exact location, but he suspected it had been when they had crossed the small creek about half a mile behind. He hadn't noticed, because that was where Bauman had been standing when one of those things had exploded from the brush. And before any of them could aim and fire, Bauman had gone down in a shower of blood.

The whole company had scattered after that, and Torelli had found himself afraid of being hit by the odd burp of one of the other soldiers' automatics. His men were firing blind, shooting into the brush and into the trees and at one another. He was certain that Rainey had cut down Wilson out of pure fear, in his crazy panic to just get the hell away from whatever it was that was chasing them.

What were they?

Finally, Torelli found himself alone. It had been almost half an hour since he'd seen anyone. After Bauman had gone down, he'd caught a glimpse of Hopkins, the colored guy who had been added to the company the week before. Hopkins had been screaming; firing his weapon at every bush he passed as he ran like a crazy man. Torelli would have been hit by one of Hopkins' bursts if he hadn't seen where the guy was aiming and eaten dust. Soon after, he had gotten up and run again, racing across those weird grasslands with the palmettos and Spanish bayonet sticking up here and there among the pines. That had been Torelli's last contact with his company. He was sure those final screams had been Hopkins.

It had been a brief sound.

Now, he was more worried than when the company had first encountered those things. If there weren't anyone else to chase, they'd be after him, now. Torelli had glimpsed them. He'd never seen anything so big — not outside of a zoo. The largest ones were half again as tall as he was. And they were so fast. Jesus, he'd never imagined any thing could move like that. Ralph Weiss, who'd just been made corporal, had been a sprinter at the University of Tennessee, and he'd been run down and stepped on as if he were sitting still. Torelli had watched, frozen, as the thing had stooped, its upper body vanishing in the grass, and had raised its bloodstained head holding a good portion of Ralph's torso.

Stopping, peering at the tall prairie grass that shivered in the slight, Florida wind, Torelli was very afraid. He crouched, thinking that perhaps they hunted by movement and if he was out of sight, they couldn't find him, for a while, at least. But there were so many of them. When the company had first started retreating, the things had spread out, like a well-trained platoon, cutting his squad into commander-less sections that could be taken down one by one. They were smart; that was certain.

Torelli got hold of his panic. He was a lieutenant in the United States Army. He was not going to let some kind of animal outsmart him. His men had panicked. They hadn't listened to him. They'd been undisciplined. It was all Jenkins' fault. If that idiot had listened to him, had stayed away from that bit of red in the brush ...

Torelli hadn't seen what Jenkins had seen, but he felt certain it had been one of their babies, several, perhaps. Because Jenkins had shot at whatever it was, and after that the madness had cut loose. The woods had swarmed with them. You wouldn't think so many animals that big could have been all around them like that. Not and remained unseen. But they had.

He crouched down a little closer to the ground and tried to organize his thoughts. The teams were supposed to cross to the north side of the base and rendezvous with the D Company. He'd had the maps, and knew what route they were going to take. They'd been advised to steer east of the savanna that lay between the starting point and the rendezvous. Captain Stevens didn't know that part of the base that well (nobody did, apparently), and he didn't want anyone under his command slogging through unmapped swampy terrain. They'd lost some men in the swamps on the south side of the base the year before and they didn't want that happening again. Now Torelli wondered if it had been just the swamp that had swallowed those men up.

The sun burned down on Torelli's head, baking his jet-black hair. He rubbed his hand over his close-shaven scalp. Damn. He hadn't even realized he'd lost his helmet. He pulled his gun tight to his bosom. That he still had, and he didn't plan on losing it. He wasn't going to panic like the others. When they came at him, he was going to fire steady, cold. He reached down with his left hand and made sure his spare clips were handy. They'd eat his rounds before he'd let them kill him.

Mosquitoes hummed at his ears, and gnats made their maddening song at the corners of his eyes. Florida was for shit, he decided. If he could just get out of here, he wasn't ever coming back. He'd put in for a transfer to Alaska, by God. He'd go anywhere but bug-infested, hotbox, Florida.

And who would have bet on monsters? He had to stifle a laugh. He was cracking up. He had to be strong.

Torelli tried to remember where he was. He looked up, and figured he'd come about a mile west of the point where the company had come apart. If that was true, he was close to Aiken Creek, which emptied into Aiken Lake, which usually had half a dozen off-duty soldiers fishing out there or just lying around dozing with no sergeant to bother them. If he was careful, he could follow the creek down to the lake and yell for help, or commandeer a jeep if someone was there. He'd swim, if he had to, even though they'd all been briefed on the alligators that lived in the water on the base. The base was one of the few places left where you could see a gator; they'd been hunted out everywhere else.

He wondered who knew about these things. Someone had to know. Maybe they'd been sent out to test them, see how a couple of fire teams could stand up to them. If so, the things had passed with an almost perfect score: eleven men dead to none for them, unless Jenkins had killed a baby one. But he was still there. Anthony Torelli's boy was still kicking, and he was damned if some animal was going to take him down without a fight.

Well, he'd rested enough. It was time to move out. Aiken Creek couldn't be but a quarter mile or so away. That wasn't far. He could do that, easy. All he had to do was look and listen, and watch where he stepped. That was all. Piece of cake.

Slowly, Torelli stood.

He was in the middle of a grassy plain. The young man, born and raised in a Philadelphia row house neighborhood, didn't know that he was standing in the last upland longleaf savanna in Florida; all the rest of it had been cut down and plowed under and either planted in slash pines or had been paved over. This was the last, and it was a very strange thing to look at: primal. On a purely instinctive level, in something that tickled at some dim and faded racial memory, Torelli knew there was danger lurking out there, out in the tall grass.

Carefully, he took a step. Looked behind. Was intensely aware of what he picked up in his peripheral vision. He breathed slowly. Fear was in him, like a smoldering fire that threatened to flare into panic. He controlled it. Torelli took another step. From his right, he heard something. He tensed, bringing his gun up. Saw a gently sliding movement on the ground, in the grass. He breathed out a sigh as a long, brown water snake moved swiftly by like a living band of liquid. If the snake felt safe enough to move, maybe Torelli was safe.

He took another step.

But that snake had certainly been in a hurry. Torelli froze. He pivoted slowly, looking. The wind blew the tops of the grass so that it made patterns like breaking waves in the acres and acres around him. He was not alone. He felt it. If he was going to live, if he was ever going to make it to the lake, to the barracks, to a day when he would see his mom and dad and that Philadelphia neighborhood again, he was going to have to move and move fast.

Torelli broke into a run. The creek couldn't be more than a quarter mile away. He could do that, easy. Just go. Don't think about Hopkins (he'd screamed) or Bauman (his arms had been bitten right off) or Jenkins (run down like a rabbit) or the others (they were all dead). Torelli bit his tongue and refused to scream. He bit down hard and tasted blood in his mouth. Someone was screaming; he heard it, but it wasn't him, it couldn't be him. It was, though. Torelli was running, screaming.

And something was behind him. It was going to catch him. It was going to eat him. He stopped, skidding in the sandy soil, drawing his gun to his shoulder, and he fired a long burst into whatever it was that pursued.

Into thin air.

Nothing was there.

The Italian kid stood in this ancient, forgotten land and gasped and moaned. Alone, he cried. And, crying, he turned back along his path and trotted toward the creek, not looking back again.

So he did not see them as they rose up from the tall grass where they'd been crouching. He did not see them lift their huge heads high above, their long legs taking them swiftly over and through the sea of grass. Only at the end, at the very end, as three adults struck at him with heads as large as those of a horse, did he suspect what was coming. The sensation was intense and painful, and mercifully brief.


The Flock consumed the men. They left nothing. Bodies were sliced into small pieces and swallowed up. Clothing, too. The guns and other metal bits were gathered together. Yellow and Brown and Egg Mother lifted up the men's metal things and carried them to the water where they let them sink. In time, the current would take the metal things down to the lake, into the swamp. There was nothing left but vague red stains in the grass and the brush. And Walks Backward took care of even these minor signs, as was his task.

Soon, there was only the grass again. There were only the things that belonged in the grass and in the trees and at the verge of the great pine and oak forest. There was only the Flock and all with whom they lived.

The danger of the men was gone.

The Flock would bed down for a few days and watch the young ones. It was good to watch the young ones. It felt right to see the future.

CHAPTER 2

May 10, 1999


Ron Riggs turned off the radio and rolled down the window of the new Ford pickup. The Department of the Interior had seen fit to purchase a whole fleet of these white trucks for their valiant Florida employees, and damned if they hadn't given Ron the one without air-conditioning. That was going to be tres wonderful when summer kicked in. He could imagine it now, the cab of that truck like so many cubic feet of hot, soggy cotton. This morning was cool, though, by mid-state standards. It had hit sixty-five degrees just before sunup and now it was closing in on eighty-two. And it wasn't even noon. So went another Florida late spring day.

He checked his side view mirror, and caught only the top of his head, sandy-brown hair running amok in the high-speed wind whipping in as he cruised down the interstate highway. He glanced for a second into his own eyes, and thought he could catch just the barest glimpse of his last full-blooded Seminole ancestor, three times removed.

Driving one-handed, he readjusted the mirror until he could spy the other cars dogging his ass. He'd lay money that half of the cars behind him were rentals, tourists running off to Universal or Disney World or Berg Brothers Studios of Florida. He shuddered, eyeing the piney woods whipping past, each tree a dark stick against the grass-and-palmetto backdrop that the Board of Tourism loved to promote.

It was partly because of one of those theme parks that he was out and about that moment. The Brothers Berg had basked for long enough in the popularity and wealth brought in by their family oriented films and their family oriented amusement park. Now they had gone and bought a big chunk of undeveloped land and had built what they were calling "the perfect American township." Ooo la la and hokahey. Ron couldn't wait to get there. He'd heard about it, but hadn't had the opportunity to cruise past and see what obscenity the Brethren were up to.

He sighed, looked again in the side view mirror and once more caught a glimpse of his sun-browned face, which quickly scowled at him as he realized the mirror had shifted out of position again. The damned thing was brand new. Oh. Great. He nudged the mirror with his left hand and made a mental note to tighten it up later.

A huge green sign ahead informed him that he was two miles from exit 117, which would take him to that perfect American village built from the ground up by Berg Brothers Studios of Florida. Its very name brought saccharine images to mind. His stomach did little flips at the very idea. It wasn't so much that Ron hated schmaltzy movies and false fronts; it was that he had grown to love his adopted state. When he'd come to Florida as a kid, there were still plenty of wide open spaces around. You could drive for miles down sandy roads and never see a soul. Just you and the birds and an occasional white-tailed deer. But now it seemed as if there was a shopping center cropping up every quarter mile or so, and all of those miles of piney woodlands were now subdivisions stretching off into infinity. He sighed.

He made the long, slow turn off the interstate and came to a halt at the top of the exit ramp. Five miles to Salutations, it read.

"Salutations," Ron muttered. And then, recalling the old children's book, "Saaaaaaaaaal-yew-taaaaaaaaaay-shunz." In a high, keening voice. Such as that made by a tiny, friendly spider.

Looking both directions, the way his driving instructor had taught him back in high school, he made a right turn down the state road that shot like God's yardstick into the pines. This had been one of the last unspoiled tracts of land left in Florida, Ron knew. For decades it had been locked up within the borders of Edmunds Military Base and Bombing Range. He had to chuckle. While he and his pals had been complaining about Uncle Sam and his free enterprise cohorts raping the environment, the arbitrary lines that marked the edges of Edmunds had protected this important chunk of real estate. There had been rumors there were even some Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers out there. But he didn't believe it. The EPA had been in there, searching, and had found nothing out of the ordinary.

Most of the land was still untouched. Berg Brothers had bought only a fraction of it, so far. Enough to get their perfect little town off and running. But the rest of it was tied up in legal limbo — about 450,000 acres — partly because some environmental groups were lobbying against any further sales, and partly because of Vance Holcomb, a crazy billionaire who wanted to buy up the rest for himself. No one knew exactly why, but Ron sure would like to ask the rich eccentric.

Ahead, down that straight-as-an-arrow road, he watched as a large animal appeared out of the forest, paused at the verge, and then leaped across the asphalt. Deer, Ron noted. Big one, too. Antler-less buck. By the time he got to where it had crossed, it was long gone and all he saw was the green pressing in all around him.

The singing mud tires of his new Ford pickup quickly gobbled the five miles up, and he slowed again and made a left into the entrance of Salutations, USA. Not Salutations, Florida. No. This was USA! He chuckled and keened out, "Saaaaaal-yew-TAY-shuuuuuuuuunz."

Stopping at the gate, he was surprised to hear the not too distant yelp of a dog. A dog that was obviously in a great deal of either pain, or panic. The Berg Brothers engineers built up the road on a tall berm, a wise move, for this part of the country could get plenty soggy. Each side of the four lanes had a wide, solid-looking shoulder covered with a manicured coat of Bermuda grass. Taking his foot off the accelerator, Ron coasted to a stop on the right, where a bike-and-foot path crossed the ditch on that side.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Flock by James Robert Smith. Copyright © 2006 James Robert Smith. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

JAMES ROBERT SMITH lives with his wife, son, and two requisite cats near Charlotte, NC.

He has made more than sixty short story sales, has had his comic scripts published by Marvel Comics, Kitchen Sink, Spyderbabies Grafix, and others. He is co-editor of the Arkham House anthology, Evermore. The Flock is his first novel.


James Robert Smith lives with his wife, son, and two requisite cats near Charlotte, North Carolina.

He has published more than sixty short stories and had his comic scripts published by Marvel Comics, Kitchen Sink, Spyderbabies Grafix, and others. He is co-editor of the Arkham House anthology, Evermore. He is the author of the novel The Flock.

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The Flock 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The birds are terror birds this one in particular is Titanis the last terror bird. Terror birds only enimies are saber toothed cats and wolves.Teror birds are carnovores and eat any type of meat
Ed75 More than 1 year ago
It was a fun read, my only two real complaints is that the bad guys were paper thin and the end seemed really rushed.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
"The Flock" by James Robert Smith is a fiction fantasy thriller set in a Florida. The title of the novel comes from a group of prehistoric giant carnivorous birds known as Phorusrhacids. The flock has survived in the Florida wilderness and is now fighting against being discovered by men. Salutations, FL is a model, ideal and beautiful town owned by the movie studio / conglomerate Berg Bros. The movie studio wants to grow the town, however its neighbors, Marine Colonel Winston Grisham and billionaire Vance Holocomb wants to stop Berg Bros. for their own separate reasons. Enter Ron Riggs, a Fish & Wildlife employee who is called to Salutations to find out why the residents' cats and dogs go missing. Thinking a big snake is the abductor Ron hires his ex-girlfriend Mary to help him out. However, soon they will find themselves in the middle of a power struggle between three titans who will stop at nothing to further their agenda. In the midst of the power struggle they discover The Flock, a group of intelligent, pre-historic birds who have hidden from humans for centuries. "The Flock" by James Robert Smith is a fast paced thriller with wonderful pulp elements peppered in the novel. The characters are fun, even though they are stereotypical with each representing an umbrella group (militants, big business, conservationists), but their interaction is what takes this book to another level. I liked the way Mr. Smith played with his characters' names. The militant is named after the U.S's rightwing / patriotic authors etc. These characters create the engaging drama in the novel, but the giant birds are the true stars. Mr. Smith has created a somewhat believable story of how these terror birds (Titanis walleri) survived unseen and undiscovered in one of the most populous states in the union. The author has given these birds human characteristics which are interesting (although I didn't understand how come the intelligent, non-flying birds with hand instead of wings never created tools). This book was a fast read, fast paced and fun at that. The storytelling is brilliant and the descriptive prose is imaginative and detailed. Some of the chapters are written from the viewpoint of the birds, which I found to be very interesting and helped me understand their way of life. For more book reviews please visit ManOfLaBook dot com
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
In a remote part of the Florida rainforest where development has been nonexistent, the Berg Brothers want to open an amusement park in land that is part of the Edmonds Bombing Range. The 450,000 acres are considered environmental treasures so are protected from development. They manage to build Salutations, a town based on American family values. Billionaire environmentalist Vince Holcomb opposes any intrusion into this pristine area while the developers hire a mercenary militia to clear the opposition. In the middle of this wilderness lives the Flock of prehistoric brilliant pre-aviary beings who will fight against any intrusion into their land. Contemporary humans and Pleistocene Era survivors fight to determine which species is the more predatory with Fish and Wildlife Agent Ron Riggs caught in the middle. With a nod to Jurassic Park, The Flock is a terrific action-packed thriller in which the dino-birds and the humans prove adaptable when it comes to operational deployments as each side is viciously aggressive. Although the main players are stereotyped as the poster children representing a specific group (mega business, tree huggers, paramilitary, and the Flock as nature), fans will enjoy this strong drama. Ironically The Flock has the stronger moral cause, but that does not prevent humans from claiming economics supersedes animal natural habitats as cynical greed wrapped inside the flag vs. protecting "family" values of home turf lead to a dynamic satirical tale. Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
Berg brothers Studio of Florida is responsible for making quality family films and amusement parks. They built Salutations, ¿the perfect American township¿, abutting over four hundred thousand acres of underdeveloped wilderness. The only neighbors are the ranch of retired Colonel Winston Grisham who uses the land to train militia, and the research center of billionaire Vance Holcomb. --- When Fish and Wildlife employee Ron Riggs is called to Salutations to see what is causing residents dogs and cats to vanish, he is clueless that he will soon be caught in a life and death struggle involving three adversarial groups pondering what to do about THE FLOCK. These creatures are saurian in form and thought long extinct.. They are intelligent and know how to hide from humans, but now are endangered because they have been discovered. --- Anyone who has read Jurassic Park will enjoy the FLOCK, an action-adventure thriller with pulp fiction elements. Although the main players are stereotyped as the poster children representing a specific group (mega business, tree huggers, and paramilitary), the fun is observing these ¿faces¿ interact or perhaps better put fight one another as each has an agenda when it comes to dealing with the flock. James Robert Smith provides a fine tale of survival of the fittest. --- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has everything: interesting characters, mystery, suspense, adventure, science fiction, and a touch of romance. It brings into focus issues relating to our current ecological dilemmas, moral responsibility, group dynamics, domination of species and more. Keeps moving along at a good pace and, once you've finished it, gives you some interesting perspectives to think about.