This is the fifth China Mieville book I've read, and so far it's the only one I've disliked. It actually starts off well. The plot is pretty basic, buThis is the fifth China Mieville book I've read, and so far it's the only one I've disliked. It actually starts off well. The plot is pretty basic, but it serves as a clearing-house for a lot of fun, purposely outlandish ideas. The idea of Magic Familiars unionizing and going on strike is great, and I enjoyed the interactions between the police officers on the Cult Squad. But the second half of the novel devolves into an endless series of fight scenes involving dull characters that I just did. not. care. about. The first time a character shoots somebody with a steam-powered harpoon gun or a phaser from Star Trek, it's good, geeky fun. The seventh or eighth time they do it, it's tedious.
I also have a lot of issues with the ending...(view spoiler)[Mieville pretends an obvious Deus Ex Machina is actually a profound statement on the Power of Belief. Worse yet, the villain's motivation makes zero sense in the fictional world of the novel. The conflict between Judeo-Christian faith and rational Materialism just does not apply in a universe where Chaos Magic, ghosts, teleportation, and warrior angels are all REAL. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>...more
The first 300-ish (!) pages are a perverse exercise in wheel-spinning, but some of the old A Song of Ice and Fire magic returns after that. All the usThe first 300-ish (!) pages are a perverse exercise in wheel-spinning, but some of the old A Song of Ice and Fire magic returns after that. All the usual sturdy world-building, dark humor, and byzantine political scheming are here. Martin does a great job sustaining the feeling that no matter how bad things get for his characters, they'll keep getting worse. The biggest problem with this series now is that the cast is too huge and too separated by geography to maintain any typical sense of narrative structure. It's great to have two "check-in" chapters with Arya, but she interacts with no other major characters, which makes her chapters feel less like a story and more like entertaining info-dumps. Likewise, Davos shows up in the early chapters, is given a quest, and then disappears, presumably to reappear whenever The Winds of Winter is published. The other problem is the story in northern Westeros. Martin should be commended for having the guts and honesty to kill off the region's would-be hero in A Storm of Swords, but this leaves the North a three-way battle between a gang of sociopathic serial rapists (Boltons), a dour, human-sacrificing religious fanatic (Stannis), and Theon's asshole relatives (Greyjoys). It's incredibly difficult to get emotionally involved in the outcome of that particular battle. All these problems aside, I'm roughly 4,600 pages into this series, so I'm invested. I enjoy returning to this world and (most of) these characters every few years, and I want to know how it all ends. ...more
Expansive and lyrical where its predecessors are claustrophobic and controlled. A gorgeous document of Awe and Terror and a frighteningly convincing AExpansive and lyrical where its predecessors are claustrophobic and controlled. A gorgeous document of Awe and Terror and a frighteningly convincing Anti-Human Manifesto. ...more
This is similar in structure to Annihilation but instead of exploring the uncanny wilderness of Area X, our protagonist explores The Southern Reach, tThis is similar in structure to Annihilation but instead of exploring the uncanny wilderness of Area X, our protagonist explores The Southern Reach, the agency charged with investigating and containing Area X. Even as he trades swampland and subterranean towers for cafeterias and boardrooms, VanderMeer maintains the same tone of creeping dread. In fact, I found this a good deal scarier than Annihilation, as office politics take on sinister overtones and the uncanny slowly leaks into the mundane bureaucratic environment. If Authority is a little bit weaker than its predecessor, it's because the protagonist this time out (a hapless government operative with the aspirational code-name "Control") isn't as interesting as the biologist from Annihilation. The sections focusing on his backstory and his Oedipal issues are the weakest parts of the book. Authority ends strongly though, by providing some exciting revelations and by returning the series to one of its central, terrifying questions: In the face of ecological disaster, is mankind even worth saving? ...more
Precogs. Drugs. Gnosticism. Consumerism. Pottery. Alternate Realities. More Drugs. Secret Invasions. Fractured Consciousness. MORE POTTERY.
3.5 stars.Precogs. Drugs. Gnosticism. Consumerism. Pottery. Alternate Realities. More Drugs. Secret Invasions. Fractured Consciousness. MORE POTTERY.
3.5 stars. This isn't the most focused or emotionally satisfying PKD novel, but it is one that hits all of his major obsessions and hits them hard. Not recommended for newbies or casual fans, but if you've already accepted PKD as your Gnostic Alien Messiah, you'll find a lot to love.
As a fictionalized history of the Mexican Drug War and an indictment of the decades-long War On Drugs, this is essential reading. Winslow did a ton ofAs a fictionalized history of the Mexican Drug War and an indictment of the decades-long War On Drugs, this is essential reading. Winslow did a ton of research into the tactics, ideology, territory, structure, and goals of every major cartel and government faction, and he lays it all out in a way that's detailed but accessible. He very carefully builds an ironclad case for dismantling the War on Drugs. Every interdiction act on the part of the U.S., Mexican, and European authorities makes the big cartels richer and increases the bloodshed and terrorism, most of which is directed at the poor and voiceless.
As a novel, this is a mess. Obsessive DEA super-cop Art Keller and coolly logical Cartel boss Adan Barrerra return from The Power of the Dog, but they completed their character arcs in that previous book, so their story-lines feel like retreads for the first two-thirds of "The Cartel," until external factors force them to change. The new characters are interesting, but they might as well exist in entirely different books. The story of Eddie (a bro-ish high school football star from Texas who stumbles his way into becoming a drug lord and a mass murderer) has the amped-up satirical energy of Winslow's Savages, while the story of Chuy (a child soldier first for the Zetas, then for La Familia de Michoacan, then for the Zetas again) is a grotesque horror tale. The story of the Leftist activists and journalists in Juarez is an earnest, old-fashioned social-issues melodrama. The story of Magda (a pageant queen turned cartel mistress turned dealer)...I don't know what the story of Magda is supposed to be, because the book forgets about her for long stretches.
Winslow uses these disparate narratives to illustrate different aspects of the Drug War and its effects on different social classes, but he never quite gets the pieces to fit together in a way that works as fiction. An important read for understanding the Drug War and the roles of the U.S. government and drug consumer market in fueling and funding the violence, but a notch below Winslow's previous Mexico books in terms of narrative. ...more
A deep slow dive into the darkest waters imaginable. An expertly constructed Whodunit and an even more expertly constructed depiction of Hell on EarthA deep slow dive into the darkest waters imaginable. An expertly constructed Whodunit and an even more expertly constructed depiction of Hell on Earth.
In the 30ish years since the publication of The Black Dahlia, its basic plot has become both an overused cliche and the subject of much deserved Feminist criticism (Thanks, Nic Pizzolato!). There's plenty of television shows and paperback novels about Bad, Broken Men seeking redemption by solving the murder of an innocent young woman. But The Black Dahlia is the best, most haunting version of this plot I've encountered. Ellroy's LA is a paranoid fever dream of Racism, Greed, Sex, Death, and Silver Screen Dreams. His antiheroes are venal, violent, obsessive, cowardly, and honestly trying to change their lives for the better. Elizabeth (Beth, Betty, Liz) Short isn't just a tortured body either. Ellroy gives a sympathetic and heartbreaking account of her life and her unfulfilled aspirations. He lays out the clues and misdirects in a way that's both clever and fair to the reader. And good God, can this man write a scene. The shootout. The brutal interrogations. The discovery of a body. The long drives down skid row. The most uncomfortable "Meet the Parents" dinner scene of all time. This is true-to-life ugliness that does not let you look away or forget it. ...more
A pointed skewering of both Capitalist and Socialist visions of Utopia. For obvious reasons, the jokes about consumerist Capitalism will cut deeper foA pointed skewering of both Capitalist and Socialist visions of Utopia. For obvious reasons, the jokes about consumerist Capitalism will cut deeper for modern Western readers than the then-relevant jabs at Trotskyism. I spent the first half of the novel marveling at how well Huxley hits his targets, while waiting for some semblance of a plot to kick in. Unfortunately, once the plot finally starts, it isn't very good. The premise (an Innocent raised on Shakespearean dramas is forced into a society that values shallow pleasure over Real Passion) is sound, but the execution is tedious. Huxley's deliberate prose lacks the madcap energy needed to keep me interested in this sort of farcical plot. ...more
An impressive feat of world-building, but the characters and story that inhabit that world didn't hold my attention as much as I'd hoped. I'd recommenAn impressive feat of world-building, but the characters and story that inhabit that world didn't hold my attention as much as I'd hoped. I'd recommend this for Middle-Grade readers, who will likely benefit from the novel's themes of acceptance (of responsibility, of mortality), and who won't notice or care that the story never deviates from the age-old Hero's Journey boilerplate. Audio book is read by Tim Curry, who is as delightful as always. ...more
C.W. Sughrue is an alcoholic Vietnam vet who splits his time between tending bar and working as a low-rent PI. He gets entangled with an alcoholic novC.W. Sughrue is an alcoholic Vietnam vet who splits his time between tending bar and working as a low-rent PI. He gets entangled with an alcoholic novelist and a teenage runaway 10 years gone. Things start out as a shaggy dog story, and end as a tragedy.
The best thing about "The Last Good Kiss" is the prose. This is the toughest hard-boiled stuff this side of Chandler. It's funny, sad, sick, and brutal. The second-best thing is the way it captures the "Great Malaise" period of American history. First published in 1978, "The Last Good Kiss" surveys America's long post-Vietnam hangover. Our protagonists bounce from dingy Western town to dingy Western town, encountering confusion and restlessness everywhere they go. There are none of the shadowy conspiracies of the rich and powerful that usually figure prominently in urban noirs. The villains here are venal in a small-scale, pathetic (but no less brutal) sort of way.
Unfortunately, that sense of confusion extends to the characterizations. Crumley alternates between interrogating his protagonist's misogyny and alcoholism, and trying to make his misogyny and alcoholism seem totally awesome. There's an inherent element of macho wish fulfillment in all hard-boiled crime fiction. Crumley takes this to an extreme while also attempting to critique it, and in this makes for many awkward passages.
An engaging and fast-paced thriller that reverses typical gender roles (Nina's husband hates heroism!) and addresses issues surrounding human traffickAn engaging and fast-paced thriller that reverses typical gender roles (Nina's husband hates heroism!) and addresses issues surrounding human trafficking without feeling exploitative. Our protagonists are likable and mostly realistic, but their levels of competence are subject to the dictates of plot. When the authors need them to be resourceful, they are. When the authors need them to make incredibly stupid and life-threatening errors, they do. This gives the novel the feel of a chess game, where the pieces are being deliberately pushed in one direction or another. I realize that all stories do this to some extent, and crime stories do it more than most, but I wish the authors had hid their work a little better. ...more
This isn't a novel so much as it is a great machine, perpetually producing sub-plot after sub-plot. So much happens in this book! There's touching famThis isn't a novel so much as it is a great machine, perpetually producing sub-plot after sub-plot. So much happens in this book! There's touching family reunions, tragic pasts uncovered, deadly illnesses, legal intrigue, toxic parent-child relationships, secret identities, love triangles, murder mysteries, and even a spontaneous combustion. Along the way, Dickens satirizes everything that's stupid and harmful in Victorian British society. The character sketches of delusional and self-aggrandizing do-gooders, sanctimonious hypocrites, social climbers, and the lazy, shallow rich are funny, cutting, and still relevant today. Unfortunately for this reader, it was just too much. Every chapter begins with loads of exposition, and every character has their own irritating vocal or vocabulary tic, which they repeat ad nauseum over the course of circuitous conversations that never seem to end. Making matters worse, our heroine Esther isn't much of a character. She represents a very specific ideal of feminine modesty and chasteness that was widely celebrated at the time. Which is to say, she's dull as ditchwater and has very little internal life. Dickens celebrates Esther for her humility, but really, I wanted to see her stand up for herself and maybe even take some brass knuckles to the gang of odious buffoons with which Dickens has surrounded her. Now THAT is a novel I would love to read. ...more
I both wanted and expected to love this. I'm an Elmore Leonard fan, and this is one of his most beloved books. Unfortunately I just did not buy this hI both wanted and expected to love this. I'm an Elmore Leonard fan, and this is one of his most beloved books. Unfortunately I just did not buy this hard-boiled update of old Screwball comedies. I couldn't suspend disbelief enough to go along with the characters' decisions and motivations, and I found the gender and racial politics a major distraction. Lenard insists that we see our White protagonist as a charming rogue and Gentleman Thief, even as he is kidnapping and groping a woman. Later, he is contrasted with a pair of Black criminals, who are presented as purely evil and psychotic rapists. I've never seen the Steven Soderbergh movie adaptation, but I'm curious to see how it deals with these elements. ...more
First, the bad: The narrative isn't as clean or as compelling as The City & the City. The first third of Embassytown is bogged down by a dual timeFirst, the bad: The narrative isn't as clean or as compelling as The City & the City. The first third of Embassytown is bogged down by a dual timeline structure that feels unnecessary. The protagonist goes on a rather simple "passive-to-active" character arc, and the rest of the characters are flat.
Now, the good: this book is bursting at the seams with fascinating ideas. Mieville invents an alien race that feels truly alien in the ways that they think and communicate. In detailing the relationship between human colonists and their alien "hosts," Mieville explores semiotics and the relationship between language and power. Does language lead to cooperation? Or just artful coercion? What does it mean to always tell the truth? How can a metaphor change a society? Even if the characters come off as a little flat, the narrative never is. The power dynamics and the material situation is always evolving as the humans affect (sometimes purposely, sometimes not) the language and culture of their alien neighbors. Mieville charts a true society-wide change in all its bloody fits and starts. The depth and breadth of his social thinking is staggering, and I'm endlessly impressed with how many good ideas he fit into one relatively short novel. This is definitely one that is going to be rattling around in my brain for a long time to come. ...more
1. Sometimes "influential" doesn't necessarily mean "good." 2. So this is where Stephen King got all oMy top 5 thoughts upon completing this novella:
1. Sometimes "influential" doesn't necessarily mean "good." 2. So this is where Stephen King got all of his most annoying prose tics. 3. Inventing a scientific reasoning for why vampires don't like garlic and crosses is a bizarre thought experiment and it makes for a dull reading experience. Not sure why Matheson didn't just ditch the aspects of the vampire mythos that didn't fit in with his rational-materialist world view. 4. In fairness, the first section of the novella is a pretty harrowing depiction of social isolation. 5. The final chapter is filled with a kind of wistful, Conservative nostalgia that I have zero patience for. All hail the New Flesh. ...more