A Swedish national, a "sports" journalist, goes missing in Budapest, behind the "Iron Curtain." It's the height of the Cold War, and Swedish homicide...moreA Swedish national, a "sports" journalist, goes missing in Budapest, behind the "Iron Curtain." It's the height of the Cold War, and Swedish homicide detective Martin Beck, about to enjoy his vacation, is sent, instead, to look into the disappearance.
A Canadian boy would expect a 70s Budapest to be riddled with spies and spying and suspicion. A Canadian boy would expect oppressiveness and oppression at every Hungarian turn. A Canadian boy would expect high adventure mixed with the KGB and CIA. A Canadian boy would expect an international murder, with international implications. A Canadian boy would expect something thrillingly action packed. A Canadian boy would be wrong, though.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahloo were not as foolish as the Canadian boy. They didn't have his prejudices and indoctrinations. They knew the story they were telling, and they told it their way, with integrity. So their story has a beautiful Budapest, with bath houses, and quays and the Danube outside Metropolitan hotels. It has local police just like anyone else's police, no better or worse, just doing their job. It has a little danger at the hands of some German drug dealers who make their home in Budapest. And the solution to the mystery of the missing man is mundane and lying back in Sweden. Budapest was just a step in the path to the appropriately depressing conclusion.
It is what all the Martin Beck mysteries are -- true -- and that is the highest praise I can bestow on a work of fiction. (less)
I exhale my breath in a long deep sigh. I've just finished listening to what is probably the most cinematic of all the Sjowall and Wahloo Beck books (...moreI exhale my breath in a long deep sigh. I've just finished listening to what is probably the most cinematic of all the Sjowall and Wahloo Beck books (maybe not the best, but certainly the most evocative), and for the first time (despite the excellence of the entire series) I want to drop everything I'm doing and get started on the next book.
I need to know how the serious cliffhanger resolves. I need to see the fallout of everything that's happened, I need to see how these men, some of whom I hate and some of whom I love, handle the carnage they've been part of and have helped to bring about directly or indirectly.
I sit here typing with a slight pain in my back when I should be cleaning or grocery shopping, and I think of writing a book with the qualities of The Abominable Man. Its unique in the Beck series for taking the shortest time from crime to resolution. A day passes. That's all. And that is a huge departure from a series that is all about the banality of police procedure. It is a crime where the criminal might actually want to be caught, but we can't know that for sure. It's a bloody crime that leads to a crime some might call crazed (with a lone gunman on the roof of an apartment block killing police) but I call desperate.
It moves from action to action to action. It throws together two pairings of cops who hate each other, separating them from their usual, comfortable partners. It makes us care about them all. It makes us care about two of the other victims, dumb ass radio cops from earlier books. It makes us care about the murderer, to see where he is coming from. It makes us loathe the murderer's first victim, and love our eponymous hero more than we ever have before. Thus I realize that I couldn't write a book with The Abominable Man's qualities. Not from scratch. The Abominable Man is excellent because it is preceded by six other books, and those books built the milieu through which all of these men heroes, villains, victims, victimizers and buffoons move. It is a book that only patience of purpose and playing the long game could create.
I'll need seven books to get there. Better get writing. (less)
I bought Ysabel, but it languishes on my bookshelf even now. I avoided Under Heaven until it became our fantasy book in the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book club. Once it won the vote, I thought it might be time to return to Kay.
I was a third into the book when my daughter, Scoutie, booknapped it and hid it under the love seat in the Sun Room. It resurfaced while we were vaccuuming, but by then my book club had outstripped me, and their comments suggested that the rest of the book was a let down. I let it sit for a few more days for fear I would be let down too, and I may have been if not for the pause.
Reading the comments in the book discussions and flirting with a couple of my friends' reviews (I've not read any in detail yet) prepared me for disappointment, and because of that preparation the disappointment never came.
I expected to be disappointed when it was revealed who sent assassins to kill Shen Tai and why, but I wasn't disappointed. I expected to be disappointed by the way each thread in the story touched others in the story, the way everything wove tightly together, but I wasn't. I expected to be disappointed by the resolutions of machinations and intrigues, but I wasn't. I found that by expecting to be disappointed I was released from disappointment, and I feel like that release gave me a way into the book that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
I would have expected the more traditional Kay narrative of big armies and big wars and heroic battles playing out in our faces or the little battles playing out on the periphery, but I was freed of that expectation and was able to luxuriate in the simplicity of this tale. I think that's what Kay was trying to achieve with Under Heaven -- simplicity. It was in his prose. His prose was as adjective free as it has ever been, moreso, and there was an immediacy born of that simplicity that worked for me. And the poetry of Kitai was just as simple. Another reflection of Kay's purpose, I imagine.
Moreover, that simplicity went further than just the words Kay chose. This simplicity defined the plot and action. We've come to expect complicated motivations from Kay, but here the motivations were the most mundane (disappointingly so for many); we've come to expect complicated emotions, emotional cross-purposes, but the emotions of Shen Tai and Wei Song and Le-Mei and Spring Rain and Sima Zian were only complex because of their simplicity. Many strands of this story appeared and hinted at great complexity then turned out to be tiny threads poking out of the tapestry merely needing to be trimmed. Simple in their messiness. But true.
I came to love this book by the end for its simplicity. I think it was what Kay was going for, but I can understand the disappointment of others. As I said, I think I'd have suffered from the disappointment too if circumstances had been different. But they weren't different. My circumstances were what they were, and they led me to love this book. I am glad for that, and sad for those who only met disappointment.
Finally, I thought the resolution, the ending at Kuala Nor was beautiful. Full circle. Honourable. And a sentiment I share with the men who put those ghosts to rest. (less)
I have a big complaint about Ian Rankin’s early Rebus novels, and it is a complaint that continues to taint my enjoyment of the series. D.I. John Rebu...moreI have a big complaint about Ian Rankin’s early Rebus novels, and it is a complaint that continues to taint my enjoyment of the series. D.I. John Rebus is too erudite. He’s impossibly well read, he knows and loves fine wine, and he’s a big jazz fan; he’s way too cultured to be a D.I..
So for that reason alone I find it impossible to enter the “really liking” territory with these books.
Yet I can’t really attack Rankin for his early decisions because the guy diffuses the bomb in his forwards to Knots and Crosses and Hide and Seek. He’s his own biggest critic when it comes to the early characterization of Rebus, and he claims that he fixes the problems as the series continues. I have to believe him until I see for myself, so my criticism is a waste of time.
I can complain, however, about Rankin’s borderline cheesy need to cleverly reference classic literature. In this book alone he has characters named Holmes, Watson and Macbeth. He has an illegal boxing club named after Edward Hyde (and by coincidence, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic just happens to be the book Rebus picks out of a pile to read while in the middle of his investigation). We know you’re well read, Ian. Enough already.
Even with all this nitpicky criticism, though, I really enjoyed Hide and Seek. Rankin knows how to spin a mystery, even at the early stage of his career, and while he didn’t really keep me guessing, he kept me reading. And at the heart of that desire to continue is D.I. Rebus. He may be the biggest son of a bitch who’s ever been the leading detective in a mystery series. He is corrupt, self-righteous, hypocritical, misogynistic, violent, egomaniacal, bullying, and delusional. But he is smart, effective and predatory when the hunt is on. It seems to me that he’s the real deal. Not a caricature, but a character of real depth and complexity. Quite something when you consider that I’ve only reached the second book in the series. (less)
It’s official. I am now a fan of Vlad Taltos. He may even be one of the great characters of the Fantasy genre.
He’s not a hero nor is he a villain. Th...moreIt’s official. I am now a fan of Vlad Taltos. He may even be one of the great characters of the Fantasy genre.
He’s not a hero nor is he a villain. There’s a little bit of both in there, but I don’t know that he can actually be called an anti-hero. He may be beyond classification. Sometimes he’s a wiseass, sometimes he is just wise, but he is always intelligent, and more intelligent than nearly everyone around him. That intelligence is born and nurtured in a mind that is always thinking, working on itself and on the problems that surround it. He is deadly, cold, temperamental, occasionally foolhardy. He’s capable of loyalty, capable of deep love, capable of caring, and capable of shoving a knife into a lackey’s heart simply because he’s annoyed. He is – in short – one of the most complex and complete characters I can think of.
And, as fans of the Vlad Taltos series will tell you, Vlad is only one level of the series’ complexity. But he is the bedrock upon which everything else rests, and keeping Vlad compelling, keeping him interesting, allows Brust to do things with his stories that he wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
In the case of Teckla, Brust is able to engage in meditations on big issues like division of labour, worker and peasant power, racism, and revolution, while he’s busy engaging with the more personal issues of trust in love, self-reflection and family loyalty. Teckla is so many things. And thanks to Brust it is never too many things.
I’m reading these in order. Teckla is the best so far. I’ll be taking a break from Vlad for a while, but I will be back very soon. (less)
I am a much bigger cynic than M. Clifford. He believes that change is possible, much like his protagonist, Holden. He believes that his imaginary dyst...moreI am a much bigger cynic than M. Clifford. He believes that change is possible, much like his protagonist, Holden. He believes that his imaginary dystopia is avoidable. I don’t.
I believe that his dystopia is already upon us and growing stronger every day. I believe there is no way to overthrow it or change its direction. I believe we’re fucked. But like I said, I am a cynic.
M. Clifford isn’t. His book, The Book is about a “near future” dystopia where the state sponsored media and the powers that be -– embodied by the “Department of Homeland Preservation and Restoration” -- alter every book in existence or delete them completely from the record. It all begins with The Great Recycling, a morally satisfying environmental moment wherein the world trades their paper books for a one-size-fits-all government issue digital reader. All books are outlawed and easily corrupted digitization becomes the norm.
There are those who discover the truth, however. A pipe fitter who loves books discovers that the stories he thought he knew and loved have been changed. Some subtly and others drastically. His moment of discovery gives birth to a movement that eventually offers the hope of freedom to a world in the grip of digital mind control. M. Clifford’s The Book believes in this hope, the human desire for truth and the indefatigability of the human spirit. Maybe he’s right.
But a couple of things have happened this month that give me pause. In fact, they’ve disheartened me to the point of undermining what little faith I had in the human thirst for truth.
First, there is the “Twain-scholar” sanctioned editing of “nigger” from the New South Press’s edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Dr. Alan Gribben of Auburn University Montgomery has had difficulty reading the word aloud for some time now (presumably due to discomfort), and he’s sad that Huckleberry Finn has been removed from so many school reading lists, so his answer is to avoid what he calls “pre-emptive school board” censorship by offering his own pre-emptively censored edition of the great American classic:
NewSouth publisher Suzanne La Rosa said. "We were very persuaded by Dr. Gribben’s point of view of what he called the amount of ‘preemptive censorship’ going on at the school level. It pained him personally to see ... the way that Twain’s novels were being de-listed from curricula across the nation. It became difficult for teachers to engage in discussion about the text when the kids were so uncomfortable, particularly with the n-word.
Interestingly, the negative reaction to this about to be published edition has been negligible. We’re told in the few stories written about this development that the Mark Twain guild, populated by Gribben’s fellow Twain scholars, is mostly disapproving, but the rest of the response is as wishy washy as correspondent Michael Tomasky’s blog piece in the Guardian. And even those who are not sympathetic with the motivations behind the editing changes (which Tomasky is, even though he wouldn't go so far as to censor the work himself) seem to be of the opinion that since this is merely one edition, and that faithful editions that keep Twain’s language intact will still be available, this really isn’t such a big deal. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the debate? Where’s the discussion? It is nearly impossible to find. So tacit acceptance of censorship wins the day.
It’s a step towards M. Clifford’s dystopia, and it hasn’t even required the guilty propaganda of his Great Recycling.
[C]ould everyone do me a favor? Go to the Kindle version on Amazon and click on "report poor quality and formatting" under the Feedback box. / Then politely tell the publisher that Jesus is the Son of God, not the Son of Cod, and to stop using COD every single time.
Luckily, Lara Amber heard right back from, of all people, Dan Simmons’ literary agent, and then from Dan Simmons himself:
I want to thank you for contacting me re: the low quality of transfer from hardcopy prose to e-text for your Kindle edition of Hyperion. As someone who works endless days and nights proofreading and re-proofreading text, the news made me sick. ("Oh my Cod! Cod damn it!" Ridiculous.
By now you've heard from my NY agent, Richard Curtis, who's one of the most respected agents in the business. Richard contacted the highest people at Bantam Books immediately and they admit to such errors in their "earlier editions" and have already begun a special RTF file check to correct Hyperion. (What it takes, of course, is an alert human eye and brain, such as yours.) When the top Bantam people asked Richard -- "Should we re-check the other three books in the Hyperion Cantos?" -- his answer was "Absolutely!" Such errors -- such absolute sloppiness -- damage the spell being cast by any novel and simply can't be tolerated.
Thank you again for writing to me promptly about this outrage.
Best, Dan Simmons
Now that’s a pretty damn cool response from Simmons. But it’s also scary that he even needs to respond. A seemingly small error, probably a slip up that was repeated “innocently” throughout the book (although “c”and “g” aren’t really close enough on a key board that they could be a typo, are they?), but it gets out there in a digital version and requires direct action from the author to rectify. What if the author happened to be dead? What if there were no printed version to compare it to? What if the “mistake” became the norm? Would anyone realize or care? Well, those “what ifs” are precisely what M. Clifford’s The Book is about, but here and now those mistakes are happening without conscious action by any big controlling body, and I have to wonder how many e-copies of other books are error laden without anyone fixing them up.
It makes Clifford’s vision for our digital future even scarier.
But I am still nowhere near as hopeful as he is. I see that dystopia coming, and I see no hope for a revolutionary group like Holden’s Ex Libris coming to keep “truth” alive. In fact, I find myself more in line with the feelings of Holden’s mentor, Winston Pratt (or at least the way he felt mid-book)
Over time, despite how depressing reality is, that fact remains true. There is nothing we can do to spot [the Recyclers]. You must bear your fate and enjoy what life you have left. Enjoy this world. Enjoy each other. This is a harsh reality, but it is the one we were born into. Accept it. We do not have a choice.
I don’t believe that the fight in The Book is a fight that anyone could win because I don’t believe anyone would actually engage in the fight. But I’d sure love to believe it is possible, and if M. Clifford’s inspired work of “near future” dystopia contributes to making the fight possible, then it will take its place alongside other great dystopian books that Clifford clearly venerates (like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451).
The cover of the The Book says Don’t Read The Book.
Many months ago, I ordered some books online, and when the box arrived I discovered Peter Abrahams' Down the Rabbit Hole had mistakenly found its way...moreMany months ago, I ordered some books online, and when the box arrived I discovered Peter Abrahams' Down the Rabbit Hole had mistakenly found its way into my box. Being the anarchic thief that I am, I decided to keep the book, tossing it on my tertiary to-read pile and promptly forgot about it.
But last week I needed a book to read while doing the dishes, and noticed Down the Rabbit Hole sandwiched between A Game of Thrones and The Drawing of the Three, and since it fulfilled my doing-the-dishes requirements I decided to give it a go. My doing-the-dishes requirements are: 1. it has to be a book that can get wet, which means I can't care about it before reading; 2. it has to be something that doesn't require undivided attention (for instance, Gravity's Rainbow wouldn't qualify); & 3. it has to be a book I can toss aside without guilt (a complex internal system I can't explain here) if I'm not enjoying the experience.
Down the Rabbit Hole fulfilled those three requirements, so I found myself reading this totally random book that's full of problems yet somehow manages to be a damn fine read.
Problem 1. It is written in the third person, but just screams to be written in the first. Problem 2. Its reference to Alice in the title creates some reader expectations (at least in me) that were never fulfilled. Problem 3. The end made me feel like a lemming who suddenly realizes he's falling off the cliff. I was invested, I was excited, I was looking for more, and then it was over and the chapter to the next book was beginning. Not good. Problem 4. The Sherlock Holmes love fest was just too damn silly for me. Problem 5. Abrahams left too much hanging for future books, making me want to find out about Grampy's farm, how Joey and Ingrid develop as a couple, and all sorts of other things. Clever bastard! So, yeah, there were problems.
But I actually DO want to read on. I really took to the characters in this book, and I actually came to love Ingrid. I even felt worried for her. Abrahams generated genuine emotion in me, and I'm impressed by that.
Down the Rabbit Hole was a nice diversion while scrubbing pots and glasses and toddler bottles. I am guessing it would be equally welcome when taking a poop, showering, or even lying on a beach. Take your pick. (less)
The Swedish-noir (Swedish-svart?) family tree runs just so: Martin Beck (grandfather) → Kurt Wallander (father) → Mikael Blomkvist (son).
Now I admit t...moreThe Swedish-noir (Swedish-svart?) family tree runs just so: Martin Beck (grandfather) → Kurt Wallander (father) → Mikael Blomkvist (son).
Now I admit that my exposure to this family is limited by my North Americanism, by the translations that filter their way across the Atlantic, by the culture(s) that make(s) these works popular, but even if there are branches and roots of the tree that I can't see, the relationship between these stories is undeniable.
So it feels to me like Martin Beck -- more specifically the first novel starring Martin Beck, RoseAnna -- is the progenitor of the big protagonists that came after.
Martin Beck, you see, is the sixties' Kurt Wallander. He is consumed by his job, he is deep in a failing marriage, he is constantly depressed, almost always in ill health, yet there is something admirable in his doggedness. And in the version of RoseAnna that I listened to, Henning Mankell admits his debt to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahlöö, acknowledging that the writing team's split from classic "English" mystery, their committment to the banality of police work, their need for investigatory truth, deeply influenced his own work.
Making that first connection is easy, the next much less so.
On the surface, Mikael Blomqvist seems a bit harder to link to his father and grandfather. He is flamboyant (for a Swede), where they are moderate and restrained. He is an active lefty, while they are decidely more conservative. He is a hopeful investigative reporter, while they are jaded old school cops. He shares the spotlight with Lisbeth Salander, while they are clearly the protagonists of their tales.
It's not the protagonists who hate women (at least not enough to destroy them), but the criminals they deal with. It is a preoccupation for all the authors, and it makes me wonder, when one reads these books, what the attitude towards women really is in Sweden. Can it be as bad as these books suggest?
Whatever the case, these books are compelling reads for anyone interested in the mystery genre. Don't be fooled, though, by those who would have you believe that Steig Larsson is some sort of genre creating genius who gave rise to Swedish crime fiction out a vaccuum. He's the most recent, and most popular, of a healthy and strong family tree. And this book, RoseAnna is one of the healthiest and most gripping of its roots.(less)
Thank you for the dazzling joy of Freedom & Necessity. This book went toe to...moreSummerside, Prince Edward Island 29th August 2010
Dear Steven and Emma,
Thank you for the dazzling joy of Freedom & Necessity. This book went toe to toe with Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and won the battle for my attention (and that's saying something). I don't know how you did it, but I am so glad you did. THIS was one of the best reading experiences of my life. Where do I begin?
I want to begin with the form you chose. But I am going to hold off on that and talk about Hegel, Engels and Marx. Hegel, your unifying thread, was used in a way that I am sure he would approve of; he was the natural connection between your boys. Richard and James sparring over the Science of Logic while their lives are at their most uncertain was pure genius. Then you gave us Engels, but not Engels as an abstract ideologue whose impossible ideals inform the characters' actions but as a fully developed character whose realism is a fulcrum about which the novel's action necessarily turns. Then you add Karl Marx in a family man cameo that brings the great historical thinker down to the Earth of his family life. Again...genius.
But you weren't content with your brilliant invocation of historical figures. No. You wanted us to believe in your four main characters. No. More than that. You wanted us to love and pull for and fear for and cheer for your lead cast. And you succeeded. James Cobham, Susan Voight, Kitty Holbourn and Richard Cobham are the most completely realized characters I've read since Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin in Perdido Street Station (and speaking of Perdido, thanks to China Miéville for pointing me towards your marvelous book). They go beyond the page. They live and breathe. Their relationships feel true because they are true. They are petty and self-indulgent and unrelenting and selfish and cruel and spiteful and occasionally silly. But they're also heroic and outward looking and tractable and selfless and kind and mostly serious. They are people I want to know, and they're people I do know thanks to you two.
And now it is time to talk about your form, because the epistolary nature of Freedom & Necessity -- and your masterful execution -- makes all of this possible -- this and so much more. James, Susan, Kitty and Richard are given to us on their own terms because everything is shared with us through their journals and letters (and by the end I felt like one of their children reading the family's history, which I am sure you intended). We only know them through what they want to tell us and through what they need to say about and to one another, and there is no truer record of a life or lives than one's own correspondence coupled with the thoughts and epistles of others.
But even that wasn't enough for you. You had to create one of the most compelling adventure-intrigue-mystery-historical fictions ever written, and again the ultimate genius was in your choice of the epistolary form. I have never read an ending like that, Steven and Emma. You build and build and build towards the denouement, then you skip ahead a couple of days because that's when the players would be ready to write their thoughts, so we get fragments from Richard, nothing from Kitty and James, and the perfect recall of Susan (albeit from her limited perspective). You withhold and withhold and then deliver in dribs and drabs the final actions of your tale in a way that blows my mind. Druidic conspiracies mix with greedy grabs for property mix with labour disputes and revolution, and all of it is delivered from the perspective of our four correspondents. UTTERLY...FUCKING...BRILLIANT!
So thank you for your genius. I am going to read your solo books A.S.A.P, and I beg you, please, to come together and write another novel because Freedom & Necessity is damn near perfect. I want more.
Yours in humility,
p.s. thanks, Jacob, for giving me the final push to pluck this off my shelf and read it. I am forever indebted.(less)
Cormac McCarthy is talking about big things in Blood Meridian, and he is doing them extremely well. But what are those big things? Is he talking about violence? The sacred? Violence and the sacred? Is it war, as the judge says? Is McCarthy talking about ineluctability of humanity and humanism? Is he talking about hubris? The divine in man? The divine itself? Is he talking about the cost of living? The cost of being conscious? The cost of being a killer species that pretends to avoid its murderousness? The cost of conscience? The worth of conscience? Or is it all of these and more at once?
And then I wonder whose story this is. Is it the kid's? The judge's? The U.S.A.'s? Everyone's? Is it our story? Is this the story of mankind? Is this a gospel of man?
And just who is the judge? Is he a nation? Is he the devil? Is he an immortal? Is he merely a man? Is he mankind itself? A mirror held up to make us shudder? Is he the übermensch while the kid is man? Is the judge Yahweh the vengeful? Is his violence born of love? Of hate? Of necessity? Of desire? Of fulfillment? Of being human?
And how does this book slip under the radar of those who would ban books (though, perhaps it doesn't; I haven't researched that yet)? It is the single most violent text I have ever read (except The Bible). It's far more violent than American Psycho or A Clockwork Orange and just as graphic. Is it that the bulk of the violence -- though nowhere near all -- takes place amongst men engaged in a pseudo-war (I say "pseudo" because it is a personal, paid, roving genocide perpetrated by Glanton and his men, and while what they do is what warriors everywhere and always do, to call it war feels like ennobling their acts)? Is it that the violence is so beyond anything we're familiar with (apart from a couple of Tarantino movies) that we are quickly desensitized and can't help accepting what's put before us? Or is it that violence on that scale and of that much detached cruelty is so deeply a part of what humanity is that we are enervated by its familiarity?
My answer is that "I don't know. I'm not sure." And the contemplation of these questions (I am positive I have missed a few that I will remember later) is far from over.
Blood Meridian Or the Evening Redness in the West is as exhausting as it is sublime. It's going to be with me forever, I think. The only question left is "When will I read it again?" Not soon, I can tell you that. It took an awful lot out of me. But someday not too soon.(less)
This may come off a little mean, but I need to start by saying that you are a bit of a hack. But I don't mean that to be mean because t...moreDear Charlaine,
This may come off a little mean, but I need to start by saying that you are a bit of a hack. But I don't mean that to be mean because the truth is I wouldn't want you to be anything other than the ass-kicking, pseudo-horror, pseudo-romance, pseudo-thriller hack that you are. You are my go-to guilty pleasure girl. I love hanging out with Sookie and her crew, and that's all down to you.
I just wanted you to know that Dead to the World is my favourite of the bunch. This had everything I love about Sookie and her world. Practically no Bill, lots of Eric (the hot Viking Sheriff of District Five), Weres, Witches, death, destruction, sex and tons of telepathic Sookie fun.
Did I say sex? Well, you hit the perfect balance between sex and action in this book, and I actually found some of the sex between Sookie and Eric to be arousing (not something I can say for your scenes between Sookie and Bill). And while I am on the subject of Vampire sex, Charlaine, thanks for eschewing the angsty, glittery, chaste, annoying Vampirism of Ms. Meyers. You celebrate Vampire naughtiness, then throw in some shape changing naughtiness for good measure, and that's so much more fun to read than the moody, whiny love triangle between a vapid girl, a pissy wolfboy and creepy "vegan" vamp.
So thanks for creating your bizarre, but believable world of everyday Supes who're challenging our prejudices by revealing that they've always been among us. Thanks for True Blood (both the fictional product and the HBO series), fangbangers (the coolest fictional term I've ever read in a pulpy novel), Fangtasia and the whole wacky population of Bon Temps.
I know your books are trashy, and I know some of them have pissed me off in the past, but Dead to the World is an exceptional piece of B-Lit trash. I am now a fan now matter how bad the rest of the books are. Sookie Stackhouse = Fun. I don't need anything more than that.
So thanks one last time, Charlaine Harris. I love your kooky mind.
Ivanhoe. Seriously?! Could there be a more arbitrary title to any famous book in the English language? It would be like naming Lost "Benjamin Linus,"...moreIvanhoe. Seriously?! Could there be a more arbitrary title to any famous book in the English language? It would be like naming Lost "Benjamin Linus," or naming the original Dragonlance Chronicles "Caramon Majere." This isn't a book about Ivanhoe, it's a book with Ivanhoe in it.
Sir Walter Scott must have been sitting around his room with his D&D dice to come up with Ivanhoe.
Random Title List for Unnamed Book I Just Finished Writing About King Richard's Return From the Crusades and the Defeat of His Slightly Crazy Brother Prince John Roll 1d20
1. Lady Rowena 2. Brian de Bois-Guilbert 3. Front de Boeuf 4. Friar Tuck 5. Isaac the Jew 6. The Black Knight 7. Cedric 8. Ivanhoe 9. Richard Coeur-de-Lion 10. Prince John 11. Athelstane 12. Wamba 13. Rebecca 14. Albert Malvoisin 15. Waldemar Fitzurse 16. Gurth 17. Maurice de Bracy 18. Locksley 19. Ulrica 20. Me
I dug Blighted Seattle and the Outskirts, but I wanted more detail in the former and more...moreI dug Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, but I wanted so much more.
I dug Blighted Seattle and the Outskirts, but I wanted more detail in the former and more time in the latter.
I dug the Rotters, but I wanted more rot, more zombie madness, and more exploration of their potential ability to communicate and problem solve.
I dug the pseudo-history and Hale Quarter, the fictional biographer, but I wanted more installments of his history.
I dug the back story of Leviticus Blue, but I wanted to be convinced that he was evil rather than merely devastatingly irresponsible because while I can see devastatingly irresponsible as being negative for all, I don’t think it can really be called evil.
I dug Dr. Minnerecht, but I wanted more time in his lair, more time with his nasty deeds, and way less of his silly petulance.
I dug Zeke, but I wanted him to do more, to be more active.
I dug how Briar took responsibility for the killing of Levi Blue, but I didn’t like that she did it nor the way that she did it, and I find the general cheering on of her actions a bit disconcerting.
I liked the supporting cast, but I wanted more of what brought them to where they were, what motivated them, what they cared about, who they were pre- & post-Blight.
I dug the technological steampunk elements, and was more than willing to suspend my disbelief, but I wanted more of the steampunk social criticism to go along with the toys.
I dug the hints of a larger world beyond Seattle, but I wish there’d been more of it here so I wouldn’t have to wait for Clementine.
I dug that there were three interesting women, but I didn’t like their disdain for men nor that they felt like three versions of the same woman.
I dug the dirigibles, and for once there was enough time with the Skypirates to fulfill my desire.
There are many book related things I could say about the fourth Wallander installment -- The Man Who Smiled. Stuff about the excellent introduction of...moreThere are many book related things I could say about the fourth Wallander installment -- The Man Who Smiled. Stuff about the excellent introduction of Ann-Britt Höglund and Wallander as a character and the breakneck pace and the way the BBC adaptation of this differed in good ways and bad. But reading this particular book led me to a realization, and I'd rather talk about that.
I have often wondered why, even though I am compelled to read detective fiction -- which at its best still tends to see the world as more black and white than I -- the genre fills me with anxiety and sadness. The obvious answer is because "terrible things" happen in these books, and those things make me feel bad. But that answer has never flown for me, and I rejected it the very first time I wondered why.
I know the answer now, and it came to me in the final discussion between Dr. Harderberg and Kurt Wallander:
"You have to understand that [selling human organs] is but a tiny part of my activities. It's negligible, marginal. But it's what I do, Inspector Wallander. I buy and sell. I'm an actor on the stage govered by market forces. I never miss an opportunity, no matter how small and insignificant it is."
Human life is insignificant, then, Wallander thought. That's the premise on which Harderberg's whole existence is based.
And therein lies my anxiety and sadness. I myself believe that "human life is insignificant." Or rather that human life is no more or less significant that any other life, from microscopic bacteria to the smallest plant or insect to the largest and most complex of mammals. All of it. The whole shebang. And that these books I read situate what I believe in the black side of their balck & white outlook.
Every killer I've ever seen in every detective/mystery/serial killer book I've ever read is written to believe the same thing (The Man Who Smiled just happened to make it explicit in a revealing way), suggesting that people who believe that humanity is insignificant must be "bastards," must be traitors to humanity, must be, in some way, depraved. That stresses me out. And it is just not true.
That belief in human insignificance or the lack of human superiority does not equal evil or wickedness or wrong. Of course it can, but so can anything. The truth is that people who believe these things are just as likely to love all life. They are capable of great good too.
But I am faced daily by the fact that I am in an extreme minority. It is harder for people to understand what I believe than it is for the religious majority to understand how the atheist minority can behave morally without the dictates of a god (and that is a pretty serious misunderstanding, so imagine my despair).
When I read a book by an author like Henning Mankell, I am faced with what makes me a societal outsider in the starkest of terms.
Perhaps I should stop depressing and stressing myself, stop reading these stories, but I am compelled to continue reading them because I must remain engaged with the humanist majority, keeping the debate alive in my head. If I don't, I'll tuck my head in my shell and desiccate in the desert heat.(less)
As much as I like Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, and I like him quite a lot, my feelings weren’t enough to overcome my disappointment with The Dogs...moreAs much as I like Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, and I like him quite a lot, my feelings weren’t enough to overcome my disappointment with The Dogs of Riga.
Mankell admits in the afterword that “The revolutionary events that took place in the Baltic countries during the last year  were the basis ...” of his second Wallander story, and it is very much a case of an author writing with an idea rather than his characters in mind.
Mankell didn’t need to make this tale a Wallander tale, nor should he have. Having Wallander jaunting off to Riga, Latvia on some end-of-the-Cold-War spy adventure was unjustified. Any character would do to tell the tale because it was the tale that was important. A a new character would have been a much better choice than the cop from Ystad.
Kurt Wallander is a small town, apolitical, regional cop who is more concerned with his daughter’s depression, his father’s mounting dementia and his growing belly than anything he’s expected to care about in The Dogs of Riga. Mankell does remember enough about the man he is creating to allow Wallander to maintain the integral parts of his personality, but that only leaves Mankell with the flimsiest of excuses – a silly and totally unbelievable love – for Wallander’s uncharacteristic actions, and it isn’t enough to be convincing.
I admit, however, that I may not have felt this way if I had read this book when it came out in the early nineties. This is only the second book in the series, and back then there was only Faceless Killers around to tell us who Kurt Wallander was. But I am reading the series now, nearly twenty years later, and I have Kurt Wallander television shows and Linda Wallander books and a pretty serious body of popular culture manifestations to provide me with expectations that a timely reader of The Dogs of Riga wouldn’t have had.
I imagine I’d have liked the book better back then. It is well-paced, suspenseful, mildly prophetic, and Wallander is his usual, surprisingly likable self, but time doesn’t do The Dogs of Riga any favours. I just hope it is better onscreen because they say it will be part of the third series of Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander.(less)
Sometimes when you discover a new author -- even when your first exposure to their books doesn't blow your mind -- you see the promise of something fa...moreSometimes when you discover a new author -- even when your first exposure to their books doesn't blow your mind -- you see the promise of something fantastic, and you keep reading.
I've been reading many authors with that goal in mind: Ian Rankin (for the last few months) and Stephen King (for most of my life, with perpetual disappointment) and Nick Hornby (for a decade and a half) and Philip Palmer (for a couple of years) and Miriam Toews (since last summer). Only one of those authors has delivered the fantastic, but my love for Arsenal keeps Hornby on the "potential list" because I was predisposed to loving Fever Pitch, and it hardly seems fair to give his writing credit for such an easy victory.
Henning Mankell was on that list until today. I've enjoyed his books, some of them quite a bit, and I have become a big fan of Kurt Wallander (played brilliantly on the BBC by Kenneth Branagh*), Mankell's brooding, anti-social, middle aged, tenacious, Ystad cop. But Mankell finally delivered on the promise he made me in his first Wallander book, Faceless Killers.
Sidetracked is the first fantastic Wallander I've read. It does everything Mankell always does, only better. It's a perfect mixture of Wallander's personal life (his always complicated relationships with his daughter, Linda, his Father, his long-distance, Latvian lover, Baiba, and his partner, Ann-Britt Hoglund), his professional life (this time he's searching for a serial killer who scalps and kills his victims with an axe), and his interior life (full of nostalgia, anxiety, pain, guilt and doubt). Wallander feels, this time, like he's not just a character on the page, but a real cop, a real person, living somewhere out there in the world at this very moment. It's rare for me to find a character I believe in so thoroughly, and it's exciting when it happens.
I had a hard time putting this book down. Honestly. And if it hadn't been for life, I would have read it in one bleary-eyed sitting. Even so, I stayed up late every night for three nights so that I could finish. I loved this book. I wonder if any of those remaining in the series will deliver the same satisfaction. No matter. One book in my personal fantastic range is enough. Mankell has solidified me as his fan.
Long live Wallander.
*Sorry. I had to shamelessly plug old Ken, as I do in every Wallander book review.(less)
Every once in a while, when I am in a bookstore, I find myself needing to leave, but I have nothing in my hands. Sometimes it's because I am wandering...moreEvery once in a while, when I am in a bookstore, I find myself needing to leave, but I have nothing in my hands. Sometimes it's because I am wandering around while the kids are in ballet and I need to get back to pick them up; sometimes it's because I came for something specific and it isn't there; and sometimes it's because I am in the middle of an indecisive phase.
But I have an answer for all this. With time ticking away, I pick a section -- Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery, History, Biography, Fiction, whatever -- and I look for the first name or cover that captures my attention. If it is by an author I don't know I buy it.
I've found this method can turn up some gems, and Philip Palmer's debut novel, Debatable Space, is a particularly shiny example of my spontaneous luck. It sat on my to-read stack for over a year (and when I started reading Debatable Space it was only supposed to give me something to do while I brushed my teeth), but now I wish that I'd read it sooner.
Palmer writes in the classic space opera mode: alien races, bloody battles, interstellar travel, big ideas, even bigger technologies, hot sex, and an epic scope. And he does it with a joy I have seldom witnessed. It's one thing for me to enjoy a book and enjoy my time reading it, but it is quite another to actually feel the author enjoying the writing. I felt Palmer doing just that all the way through Debatable Space.
Palmer really loved writing this book. He loved his version of the universe, of course, and his imaginary technologies. But mostly he loved his characters, and that passion for Lena, Flanagan, the Cheo, Alby and the others makes Debatable Space one hell of a fun read.
Some reviewers have complained about Debatable Space's first person narrative and the way it shifts from character to character (sort of As I Lay Dying on speed), writing that it doesn't really work, but I think most of that frustration comes from their dislike of Palmer's characters. The biggest complaint seems to be that his characters are universally unlikable, which makes me cringe a little because I found them universally the reverse. Flawed, violent, occasionally nasty, but infinitely likable (I imagine that says something about me and the way I see the world)
Setting aside Palmer's love for his characters, though, if a reader doesn't connect with them, I can see how Debatable Space could be difficult to enjoy. Luckily, I didn't have that problem and, while there were some times early on when the characters' voices seemed too alike, I found the first person narrative and multiple viewpoints refreshing.
I was annoyed, though, by some of Palmer's more gimmicky moments -- such as a hang gliding sequence that used two otherwise blank pages to go "up up up" and "down down down" -- and I am not so sure this book will hold up to repeated readings. Still, I have great hope for his future works, one of which, Red Claw, is already out there.
I genuinely loved the time I spent in Palmer's universe.
I also love that if I hadn't been in such a hurry to get home that day all those months ago, I never would have found myself reading about Earth's next thousand years. Spontaneity is good. Try it sometime. (less)
WARNING: This review claims that historical novels are like porn movies, and I discuss porn throughout. Please avoid this review if porn offends you....moreWARNING: This review claims that historical novels are like porn movies, and I discuss porn throughout. Please avoid this review if porn offends you.
Historical novels are a bit like porn for me. I am always faintly ashamed to be a fan, I generally hide my taste for them, but I get off on what they have to offer.
There are high-end historical novels, like Aubrey-Maturin (the one series I am proud to be a fan of) or Wolf Hall, that are sort of like Deep Throat and other the classic porn movies -- if you have to admit to your tastes, they are the ones that are easy to claim as your own. Then there are the historical romances, like The Thorn Birds, that are akin to the new era of Jenna Jameson's plastic-porn hi-jinks. And there's the truly bizarre historical fictions, like I Claudius, that feel like titillating fetish porn full of stockings and S&M. It's easy to understand their readership (and viewership) even if they're not to one's own taste.
Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books, therefore, have their porn equivalent: the world of polished, pseudo-amateur, "dirty girl" driven porn. And I shamefacedly declare right now that I am a fan of both.
Sharpe's Eagle, my latest foray into the career of Richard Sharpe, is the installment that pushed this comparison into the front of my mind and doomed me to writing this review. I found myself hiding the cover of Sharpe's Eagle, folding the front cover over the back, while in a long Christmas shopping line. For some reason I didn't want anyone to see what I was reading. Maybe it's because I teach literature and I didn't want anyone to see me reading something lacking seriousness, maybe there's still some flirty, teenage boy part of me, the D&D geek from way back, that didn't want some pretty girl to catch me being a geek. I'm really not sure which it was, but whichever it was, I caught myself hiding Sharpe's Eagle and had to force myself to pry the front cover away from the back to display my silly shame to the world. And when I walked out of that store, it struck me that I always do the same thing when it comes to porn. I hide the few movies I own, and I don't really talk to anyone (except my wife and Ruzz) about the bits of porn that I like.
And once this idea occurred to me, I was surprised at the textual parallels that sprang up to solidify the concept in my mind. Sharpe's Eagle isn't the best written work. Its prose is occasionally sloppy, and it's inconsistently paced. It is violent, espousing questionable ethics while simultaneously taking its own distinct stance on some pretty important issues. And it is terribly fun to read. I was excited to reach the next battle or the next bit of intrigue, and I found myself instantly looking forward to the next installment. Not in any obsessive or overwhelming or unhealthy way, but fondly and warmly because...well...reading Sharpe is enjoyable, and who doesn't like enjoying themselves?
The same goes for my "polished, pseudo-amateur, 'dirty girl' driven porn" preference. It isn't the best filmed work. Its quality is occasionally sloppy, and it's inconsistently paced. It is hyper-sexual, espousing questionable ethics while simultaneously taking its own distinct stance on some pretty important issues (some of it really does, I'm not kidding). And it is terribly fun to watch. I am excited to reach the next scene or the next shift in position, and I find myself looking forward to the next viewing. Not in any obsessive or overwhelming or unhealthy way, but fondly and warmly because...well...watching porn is enjoyable, and who doesn't like enjoying themselves?
So there you have it. To me, the adventures of Richard Sharpe are historical novel porn. And whether I should be ashamed of my enjoyment or not, I will continue to read them, and now I will proudly display their covers no matter what line I'm standing in.
I think I'll keep my porn movies hidden away, though. I'm not sure I can put those out with the general video population just yet.(less)
I finally get it. I get the love for George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I find it hard to remember now why I thought...moreI finally get it. I get the love for George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. I didn’t think I’d get it, but I find it hard to remember now why I thought that way. I know that one thing holding me back was some random comment from a random, now forgotten person, that led me to believe I would hate Martin’s politics, and that they’d play themselves out in a distracting way, but that never manifested for me. Beyond that I can’t recall why I thought I would hate the book.
Perhaps it was because many of the people who’d recommended A Song of Ice and Fire to me had also recommended RA Salvatore’s Drizzt books, which I loathe to the very core of my being (and continue to read like some bizarre masochistic ritual).
Whatever the reason, I thought it would be crap and even though I had a copy on my shelf for years, I refused to pick it up and get reading. But then HBO had to go and make a series out of it, and I couldn’t watch the show (which I had to because of the presence of Lena Headey and Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage) without reading the book first, so my hand was forced.
And here I am willing to eat a message bearing crow and say, “I was wrong.”
This series is good. Damn good. It deserves tons of its praise. But is it eligible for the title “Best Fantasy Series” ever? Probably not. Is it on par with The Lord of the Rings? No. But I don’t think they are the same kind of book, so they shouldn’t really be compared.
What A Game of Thrones is -- and I say this fondly -- is a boy’s own soap opera. It is dark and sinister and nasty; it is full of violence and sex and even a hint of magic and the supernatural; it is full of big, brash characters who engage in incest, hide their secrets, make dirty deals, and generally screw up themselves, their families and their friends. It is Days of Our Lives with plate mail armour and bloody battles. And that is all very, very good.
Yet even with its overarching soapiness, A Game of Thrones impressed me most with the way it made me believe in the reality of its world. The brutality, the drive to vengeance, the fact that no character -- however heroic -- is safe, the overwhelming pathos in every action and reaction, the textures and smells and sounds of the our world transplanted in Martin’s made me believe that all of it was possible, even the two punch dénouement of the final Catelyn and Daenerys chapters.
So y’all were right. Everyone who told me I would love this book, you were right. I do. And now I will probably wind up ploughing quickly to the end of the books and find myself right where you’ve all been for so much longer than me. Waiting. But at least my wait won’t be, can’t be, nearly as long as yours. Suckers. ;P
And for anyone who's interested, here're links to my four volume reading journal. Enjoy.
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There came a turn in the vampire oeuvre -- and that turn had much to do with the Anne Rice's vampire novels -- when the inherent eroticism of vampiris...moreThere came a turn in the vampire oeuvre -- and that turn had much to do with the Anne Rice's vampire novels -- when the inherent eroticism of vampirism, which was one of many vampiric themes, shifted into a full scale fetishization of vampire sexuality.
I don't say this to criticize totally what vampire tales have become. I remain a fan of Lestat, Louis and Armand, and I certainly dig Sookie's Bill and Eric (the less said about Bella's Edward the better), but the fetishization of vampire sexuality has become a reductive cliche in vampire literature, and each new manifestation of vampire fiction seems to carry with it an increasing hypersexuality to the detriment of other potential vampire themes, so I've found myself less and less excited by vampire tales with each incarnation.
So reading Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night has positively rejuvenated my interest in vampire fiction, reminding me that there is much that remains unexplored and underexplored in fiction about this most human form of undead.
Hambly discards the fetishization; in fact, what sexuality there is in Those Who Hunt the Night is either between her human protagonists, Lydia and Asher, or is merely the bare minimum required by a vampire for hunting (who are, according to one of the number, basically asexual). Sexuality is incidental. And I think Hambly wants it to remain that way because the theme that most concerns her is predation.
She is concerned with the ethics of hunting to live, of killing to preserve life. She offers one complex vampire, the eminently likable Don Simon Ysidro, and a series of violent archetypes, from a violent and angry master vampire, Dr. Grippen, to a damned and guilt-ridden ex-priest, Brother Anthony. These vampires, and all the others we get a taste of, inhabit some position along an ethical continuum that runs from debilitating remorse to a pragmatic sublimation of remorse to no remorse at all. But Hambly takes things a step further and places some of her humans along the continuum too. The most important is Asher, the philologist/spy/private investigator coerced by Ysidro into hunting down a dangerous killer of London's vampires. Even Asher is forced, by his connection with and aiding of the vampires, to face his own predation and the motives he has used to justify or rationalize the actions in his past.
Hambly's thoughts on predation could have gone further, I suppose, but anything more would have been beyond the characters and their Edwardian milieu, and Hambly is a good enough writer to know that she must be true to her characters and their setting, no matter what else she is trying to achieve.
There are better vampire books than Those Who Hunt the Night, and from everything I've been hearing there are better Barbara Hambly books than Those Who Hunt the Night, but as a bit of a vampire geek, I am full of appreciation for her attempt to remind us that vampires are predators who feed on us -- as folklore has always warned us. In our fantasy worlds, vampires are on top of the food chain. And it sure sucks to be food, doesn't it?(less)
HAK-oh-SAW-rus REX Tyrant Hack-Novelist a.k.a. Harlen Coben 6 feet (1.8288 metres) Psi Upsilon Frat Boy Friend of Brownosaurus Dan Current Holocene North America (New Jersey, USA) Edgar Award winner; Shamus Award winner; Anthony Award winner; never short listed for the Man Booker Prize.
Hackosaurus Rex exemplifies every image conjured by the words "hack" and "writer" when they are thrown together: plot loving, pop-culture obsessed, slightly dull of expression and quick with a manuscript. It is the only hack writer who repeatedly refers to Newark, New Jersey. Evidence of this animal containing "talent" was scant until quite recently, and it was only in 2006 (because of the French) that important gaps in our understanding of Hackosaurus' "talent" were filled in (see also D. Pow's review of The Woods for a full and fair examination of this "talent").
Hackosaurus was one of the largest of the pontificating mystery hackosaurids. It amassed a prolific body of work. Some works by it measured as many as three hundred instances of hokey wisdom and/or pseudo intelligent proclamations per four hundred pages. By any standards, Hackosaurus Rex was a tremendous pulp writing animal.
This giant was also one of the last of the non-cinematically adapted hackosaurids, though not for lack of trying. All Hackosaurus "skeletons" (its favourite Mcguffin), seemed perfectly suited to the big or small screens, offering inanity while pushing along a breathless pace, but after two decades of production experts remained baffled by Hackosaurus' seeming inability to achieve the Hollywood payday. Oddly enough, French filmmakers were the first to discover the joys of Hackosaurus Rex and theirs is the only adaptation of a Hackosaurus work to this day.
Like other hackosaurids, Hackosaurus had a recurring character and only two functioning brain cells. The special character had a silly name (Myron Bolitar), but he was good for business and returned to Hackosaurus Rex stories whenever the animal grew bored and lazy.
Lee Stephens would make an excellent head writer for a TV show. I imagine him taking his natural skill for plotting, relationships, and breathless act...moreLee Stephens would make an excellent head writer for a TV show. I imagine him taking his natural skill for plotting, relationships, and breathless action, dropping his creation in the laps of excellent screenwriters, then marshaling their strengths for character depth, dialogue and world building to accomplish an alien invasion series that would easily put ABC’s V reboot to shame.
But he’s not a leader of that team, and he’s not writing a TV series. He’s writing Epic, a trilogy of military sci-fi novels (with Christian overtones) whose inadequacies can be infuriating.
Outlaw Trigger, the second book in the Epic trilogy, is shorter, darker and more tightly packed than its predecessor, Dawn of Destiny. The plot, which follows the assassination of Lt. Scott Remington’s fiancé and its fallout, makes for some exciting interactions between the characters, compelling the reader to keep reading even when what’s coming is obvious. It’s a good, albeit pedestrian, plot, and it works on an emotional level, fulfilling most of the reader expectations Stephens sets up.
But the plot is the book’s strongest element. I kept hoping the characters wouldn’t be polarized between simplistic visions of good and evil, but they were. I kept hoping that the dialogue would become more inspired, less repetitive (if there had been any more teasing discussions about potential adultery between the characters I would have been forced to stop reading), but it didn’t. I kept hoping that the politics that led to Earth’s world government, EDEN, would come clear. But they didn’t either. And all of these failings make me wish for a team of writers to help Stephens.
His ideas are good. They’re potentially better than good. And Stephens is a pretty darn good writer, but I can’t help feeling other voices could have made the Epic series stronger, more accomplished, deeper, flat-out better.
But that’s not to say Outlaw Trigger is bad. I am impressed enough to go on, and I will certainly read Hero, the conclusion of Stephens’ series.
No, Outlaw Trigger didn’t turn me off; in fact, I enjoyed my time so much that I took it to the beach to finish it in the sun. And that is high praise in the entertainment department. I just hope I am not quite so frustrated by what could have been by the end of Stephens’ Epic series because I hope for better for Lee Stephens and his baby.(less)
***Not sure about spoilers here. I think I danced around things pretty well, but you may want reconsider your decision to read further in case I messe...more***Not sure about spoilers here. I think I danced around things pretty well, but you may want reconsider your decision to read further in case I messed up.***
I am a bit disappointed. I was so close to loving this novel and its author, and I really did want to love them, but the denouement really let me down.
In the two books I've read now, Jodi Picoult sets out to deliver a big twist that will knock us on our asses. But she telegraphs the big twist in a way that removes any possibility of surprise. This could be seen as a bad thing, a failure on her part, but she does such a magnificent job of building our suspense in anticipation of that moment, that guessing the moment ahead of time is almost part of the fun. We know the shark's going to take the girl's leg off, the fun is in the expectation of when and how.
The Pact: A Love Story sets up a suicide pact between a pair of young lovers, but only one of them takes a bullet and the other ends up on trial for murder. From the outset we know that Emily's suicide is far more complex than Chris lets on, and the "truth" that we are destined to hear is fairly easy to guess, but the telling is compelling. Picoult prepares us for the big reveal by taking us through a decade of her main characters' lives, making us care for them, forcing us to empathize with them regardless of their actions. Picoult trusts that we will recognize their complex moral lives, the good and the bad in all of them, as something we all share whether we choose to believe it or not.
All of this makes the revelation at the heart of The Pact highly satisfying. By the time we discover what really happened on the night of the suicide, it has become impossible to judge those involved because we know too well what brought them to their actions. But therein lies the problem.
We are close to these people because we have read their thoughts. We know things about each of them that they choose to hide from the people in their lives, truths that are never revealed to anyone in the story. We have seen their lives through their eyes, so we understand their pain, their motivations, their choices as though we are them. But then Picoult allows her jury to make a decision that can only be made by someone reading her book -- not by a juror witnessing the most bizarre of all trials.
What Picoult asks us to believe is one ask too far. The result of the trial simply cannot be, and I felt sucker punched by the ending. I wanted something more akin to reality, I guess, and I would have loved Picoult for delivering. Instead, she gave me a Hollywood ending tacked on to a fine little piece of thought provocation, and I find myself continuing to withhold the love my mother so badly wanted me to feel for Picoult.
I like her, but somewhere along the line she's going to have to give me what I need for me to love her. (less)
1. It's misogynistic. 2. It's packed with cliché. 3. It's too convoluted. 4. It's too disturbing. 5. Lisbeth wasn't autistic enough or was foolishly autistic. 6. There were too many red herrings, and the damn Nazi red herring didn't have the usual payoff. 7. Too/Two many plots. 8. Too hard on Leviticus.
I will answer these in a moment, but first I must declare that I am an unrepentant fan of this book. This is one of the rare times when I long for goodreads to have half grades, because I would love to give this 4.5. I can't give it a full 5, though, because I sense Mr. Larsson's series is going to grow in his last two books.
And now...back to the top eight complaints:
1. Perhaps, but how can a book whose original Swedish title is "Men Who Hate Women" avoid misogyny? It can't. But at least the misogyny present is a comment on misogyny. Larsson isn't being misogynist. He's attacking misogyny.
Moreover, our hero, Mikael Blomkvist, is not one of the men who hate women. He is a pretty good guy, actually; in fact, he's one of the rare guys I would actually categorize as a "good guy" in most modern literature. Sure...he's a bad Dad. Sure...he has a failed marriage and many sexual relationships. Sure...he makes some decisions that challenge his ethics. But he remains a "good guy." He tries to do well in an ugly world. He never succumbs to cynicism. And he genuinely cares about all the people in his life. Male and female.
And it's not like Berger and Salander are weak women -- far from it. There may be misogyny in Men Who Hate Women, but it is wholly the characters' misogyny -- those who have it -- and not the author's.
2. With apologies to my friend who's first name starts with T: Cliché, smiché! Yes there's some cliché -- maybe plenty of cliché -- but who cares?! Seriously? We're not talking about Proust here. We're talking about a mystery novel, a serial killer who-dunnit. Complaining about cliché in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is like complaining about "pinko sympathies" in The Communist Manifesto.
There's communism in Marx? Really? You think!?
3 & 7. Yep. There's a couple of distinct plots here, but there's a level of verisimilitude to that. Have even our banal lives ever had anything important happen without something else important occurring at the same time? Not mine, and to have multiple incidents happening simultaneously makes sense to me. The search for Harriet Vanger wasn't hampered at all by the Wennerström drama, and vice versa. And to be honest, I loved having a pair of mysteries solved in the same novel.
4. Too disturbing compared to what? It's nowhere near as disturbing as American Psycho, and it's about average as far as the serial killer genre goes. Plus, I think there is a power in the graphic moments of this novel, particularly Lisbeth's vengeance on her guardian. I am not on her side when it comes to this vengeance, but I understand it, and the drive to take vengeance in such a way -- such a human way -- fascinates me. Who'd have thought, besides maybe my friend Manny, that the Swedes have it in them?
5. Perhaps this is true, but at this point I have only read one of the trilogy, and the only person who suggested that Lisbeth was autistic was Mikael, and while he thought she was suffering from Asberger's his guess was only in passing. I can cut the book some slack here. (suspend my disbelief, suspend my disbelief).
6. I was stoked that, for once, the Nazis were a red herring rather than the ultimate, degenerated evil. We all expect the Nazis to be the worst of the worst, so it is refreshing to see them as a deflection instead.
8. Can anyone really be too hard on Leviticus? Ummmmm...nope.
Now, I admit that I might love this novel simply because it is set in Sweden. After all, I do love ABBA, Fredrik Ljungberg, IKEA (my apologies), glögg, Stellan Skarsgård, Max von Sydow, Ingmar Bergman, and Mats Sundin. I looked into emigrating to Sweden but had no excuse, being a resident of Canada with no skills the Swedes were looking for, and I am a fan of Norse Mythology, but I do love Sweden, and I was jazzed by the setting of Larsson's book. All that aside, however, I think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a compelling, entertaining and unabashedly thrilling read.
If you can overlook the eight complaints, or consider them in a different light, you'll like this book too. I promise. (less)
Before picking it up, I'd heard that The Colour of Magic was funny. Now that can mean just about anything because, let's face it, comedy is the most s...moreBefore picking it up, I'd heard that The Colour of Magic was funny. Now that can mean just about anything because, let's face it, comedy is the most subjective of arts.
Funny is a deeply personal thing. The "funny peculiar" and the "funny ha-ha" might not be the same from person to person or even to the same person depending on their mood or their place in life. So knowing something is funny ahead of reading it really doesn't tell me much.
I'd read Terry Pratchett's & Neil Gaiman's Good Omens quite a while ago, so I expected at least a hint of satire and politically conscious wit, but I had no idea which of the authors to blame for the smart laughs in Good Omens, and my recollections really shed no illumination on what was to come. So I read The Colour of Magic with as open a mind as I could and hoped for some laughs.
I didn't laugh much and that surprised me. I smiled an awful lot, though. But I didn't laugh. No out loud snickers; no full-out belly laughs; no snorts; no giggles.
But I did smile.
Pratchett's kooky tale (really four tales to make one) of Rincewind, the one-great-spell, wizarding failure, Twoflower, the in-sewer-ants adjuster/tourist, and his Luggage was smart more often than it was stupid, consciously political, satirically silly, more than willing to take the piss out of Fantasy as a genre, but mostly it was exceedingly absurd. And all of this was what made The Colour of Magic good to very good.
Even so, its audience is necessarily limited. I know why I liked The Colour of Magic, and while I imagine there are other reasons to like the story, I think it is probably a fairly inaccessible tale unless you are a reader who falls into a niche of accessibility. This is not a book that can be widely read or widely liked.
So why did I like it? I liked it because I fall into a niche wherein I was able to access memories of drunken, drug-addled, teenage D&D marathons (which were extremely rare since we preferred our gaming sober), where we gave up being serious and descended into near madness.
Those nights are reflected in everything that happens in The Colour of Magic. Obligatory bar fights of fantastic impossibility, Monty Hall swords and treasures, idiotic last second rescues, gods dicing, heroes thinking with the dirk in their pants, dimensional slips and deus ex machinas at every turn make The Colour of Magic a collage of gaming stupidity, and it was nice to take a nostalgic trip back to my adolescence. In fact, Pratchett captures exactly the sort of gaming experience that led our halfling priest of Xyice, God of Mischief, to wish for a foot long penis then fall unconscious from blood loss when he achieved his first erection. So I liked this book...a lot, actually.
But it wasn't the best story I've ever read, and I can't imagine I could sit down and read the entire Discworld cycle without a break. It's fun. It's light. Pratchett writes better than I expected, but I bet there are many folks out there who hate this book. You have my sympathy.
So yes...I was disappointed that I didn't laugh more; I was disappointed that the story wasn't more subtle; I hated the turtle carrying the disc; I wanted The Colour of Magic to be more biting than silly, more critical than absurd, more intelligent than clever. But it was a fun ride that entertained me while I did the dishes, and I couldn't help liking Rincewind, so I will probably go on, and I will likely become a fan of Pratchett's Discworld books...in spite of themselves. (less)
Destiny: Around page two hundred I wondered whether Lukyanenko was going to throw us a Perdido Street Station style curveball and make The Night Watch...moreDestiny: Around page two hundred I wondered whether Lukyanenko was going to throw us a Perdido Street Station style curveball and make The Night Watch about something other than a triple header search for an unsanctioned vampire, her young Other hostage, and the uber-powerful Warlock/Witch responsible for the great black Vortex hovering over the head of a nice, pretty little general practitioner (can you tell I've been reading too many mysteries and watching too much film noir lately? Sorry).
But nope. It wrapped itself up quite nicely and satisfyingly. Our hero Anton Gorodetsky, a Wizard working for the Night Watch (the "good" guys) who is unsure of his powers, delivers an underdog victory against the forces of the Day Watch (the "bad" guys) and their bad ass leader, Zabulon. Anton manages to maintain the all important balance between good and evil (this struggle for balance is one of my favourite parts The Night Watch, by the way), to save the boy, to save Doctor Svetlana and her untapped power (she is a seriously good ass wizard + she has a great name), and to rise in the estimation of his colleagues, despite being tricked into questioning the decisions of his boss, the toughest s.o.b. in Moscow, Boris Ignatievich.
Then it ends. And that's when I turned the page to discover that The Night Watch is really a compilation of three novellas. One down, two to go. Hope they're all as good as the first.
Among His Own Kind: The second novella opens a few months later, and a serial killer named Maxim -- one of the Light -- has escaped detection over the course of his life, and he is busy slaying those of the Dark. He senses their evil, channels his good through a wooden toy dagger, and wipes out the souls of the Dark Ones with righteous fervor.
The Night and Day Watches are then scrambling to put an end to Maxim's reign of terror as it threatens to tip the balance. Lukyanenko keeps us guessing who's really to blame, how Maxim's killings fit into the great chess game that is the Treaty, and the action drives on to yet another satisfying conclusion, but what this second tale is really about is the exploration of the concepts of good and evil from an Eastern European perspective. Neither good nor evil, you see, is about actions. Both the Light and the Dark engage in some pretty questionable behaviour -- murders, killings, betrayals, rule breaking, involuntary sacrifice -- but it is not these actions that make the difference between the Light and Dark in Lukyanenko's Russia; it is the choice between the individual and the group.
The Dark Ones are evil because they believe in the individual. Their greatest selling point for new Others trying to find their way is their belief in absolute freedom. They can and do have happy loving families. They can love, grieve and care regardless of their selfishness, but they are evil because they care about themselves first and foremost.
The Light Ones are good because they believe in the group. They believe in a greater good, and their individual needs and freedoms are second to the needs of everyone else (theoretically). And Lukyanenko, with all this talk about good and evil, makes sure we never lose sight of the balance between the two forces, which is necessary for peace. It's fascinating stuff, wrapped up and well concealed in an exciting urban fantasy. I can't help loving it.
All for My Own Kind: And then it becomes a love story and my love for the book slips into mere appreciation. Although I feel more for Anton in the third episode of The Night Watch and I am impressed by the further muddying of the ethical waters (the boundaries between the actions of the Light Magicians and Dark Magicians are practically non-existent), the final tale was too rushed to succeed.
This part of the story could and should have been a novel all to itself. It is not long enough, and is, therefore, too rushed. I needed more time with Anton as he struggled with the direction of the Light, more time with Gesar and Olga (especially more about her background) and Svetlana to understand the decisions they were making and to develop some sustained suspense, more history of the Light's social experiments (Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany and others), more investment in the peripheral characters so that I cared for something beyond Anton and his philosophical struggles, and much much more of Zabulon and the Dark Ones.
It's a bit of a let down after the genuine entertainment of the first two parts, but not such a let down that I will stop reading Lukyanenko. Still, a couple of days ago I was planning to plow straight into The Day Watch, but now I think I'll wait until I have a long flight ahead of me. I bet it will make the perfect airplane book.(less)
Eastern Standard Tribe reads so quickly and flows so well that it feels like it must be light weight fluff -- a throw away entertainment and nothing m...moreEastern Standard Tribe reads so quickly and flows so well that it feels like it must be light weight fluff -- a throw away entertainment and nothing more -- but it doesn’t take much, only a little thought and a willingness to engage with “dead bodies” and “living flesh,” to see that it is much more.
Cory Doctorow is an unrepentant blogger, and it shows in this, his second novel. His language fizzes and crackles like three bags of Pop Rocks burning their carbonated pleasure on a tongue, popping out computer geek jargon in one line and imaginary pop culture in the next, before spinning off into a welcome tirade full of compelling arguments.
One minute Doctorow’s revealing truly terrifying insights into the field of mental health, demonstrating how a pseudo-science bent on homogeneity can wield enough power to put people away without due process or any process at all. The next he’s casually envisioning a mobile, futuristic Napster to rule the highway airwaves with piracy turned privateering.
It is sci-fi so successful in its plausibility that it almost ceases to be sci-fi. In Doctorow’s future there are cars that run on vodka or fry grease, airplanes with hot tubs, comm sets that nullify texting and turn it into chatting, and circadian tribalism that offers a new system of societal organization just waiting to take over those systems we’ve long accepted, embraced and grown tired of.
It’s all either already happening or is going to happen. And if it doesn’t happen it will likely only be because whatever it is has taken another form. It’s not prophetic, but it is fascinatingly observant.
A non-nihilistic Chuck Palahniuk - Chuck’s always disappointing third act + a smart, sci-fi kick in the ass = Cory Doctorow.
Check out how his “Chi is flowing” before they turn one of his books into a movie and taint his prose forever. He may not be the most literary rat on the ship, but his energy makes him the most likely to escape the scuttle.(less)
WARNING: If you're a Spurs fan you can sod off. If you are simply someone who knows nothing about football and Arsenal the analogy that follows will l...moreWARNING: If you're a Spurs fan you can sod off. If you are simply someone who knows nothing about football and Arsenal the analogy that follows will likely be meaningless, but you're invited to read on anyway.
Have you ever seen Emmanuel Eboué play football? He's a wonder to behold.
He is a right back turned right midfielder turned right back turned utility man. He has a reputation for diving, but he's constantly fouled by opposition players. His finishing is for shit, but he still scores the occasional goal, and he gets himself into scoring position on a fairly consistent basis. He is crap in the air but is surprisingly effective at throwing off his opposition when they're going for a ball. He tackles well, tracks back constantly, but gets himself out of position because he pushes too far forward. Little he does makes sense, yet he's effective, and when Arsenal need a spark he is there to provide it. He is hated by the opposition, whomever they may be, loathed by referees, loved by his teammates and a little bit of both by his Gunner fans (he was booed off the pitch two seasons ago and has since become a folk hero). He's like a Jackson Pollack canvas on the football pitch, and I can't help digging him.
And I couldn't get Eboué out of my head when I was reading A Dirty Job by Chris Moore. There are few books that are so all over the place. It spans almost a decade; some years are covered in detail, others are covered in two paragraphs, and some days take up a third of the book -- time is nearly meaningless. Shit (both literal and figurative) comes out of nowhere on a regular basis (costumed-two-foot-bone-weapon toting-soul-beasts anyone?), sex smacks us upside the loins, full out comedy displaces horror only to be displaced by action only to be displaced by love only to be displaced by sacrifice. Spirituality plays alongside hedonism. Poo jokes abound while red-glowing-soul-vessels burn their need, and Death Merchants "sell" their collected souls to their ineluctably correct patrons.
It is bizarre, even pseudo-bizarro, wacky, stupid, sexy, sickening, entertaining and oddly compelling. More than a bit like a Saturday afternoon watching Emmanuel Eboué baffle and beguile in Arsenal red & white.