I'm not a big fan of fixup novels, where an author takes a string of shorter works and ties them together with some common element. It always feels leI'm not a big fan of fixup novels, where an author takes a string of shorter works and ties them together with some common element. It always feels less like a novel and more a series of short stories, no matter how much is put into relating one section to another. In the previous Titan editions of Newman's Anno Dracula series, the bonus novellas were added at the end as bonus content, not woven into the existing story. And it's hard to complain about Titan and Newman putting the remaining stories in one volume (if you get all four of the Titan editions, you'll have everything written for the series, save for the original short story), but dang it, I didn't really want to read a series of short stories.
For the record (it's not available anywhere I could find, nor is there a table of contents in the book to list all the individual stories), here are the stories collected in this volume:
Promises to Keep (1944) Coppola's Dracula (1976-77) Castle in the Desert (1977) Andy Warhol's Dracula (1978-79) Who Dares Wins (1980) The Other Side of Midnight (1981) You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings (1986) You'll Never Drink Blood in This Town Again (1990) Miss Baltimore Crabs (1990) A Concert for Transylvania (1990) Dr. Pretorius and Mr. Hyde (1991) Charles' Angels (1991) The first section of the book, "Coppola's Dracula," is an experiment, as it's a retelling of the behind-the-scenes story of making Apocalypse Now, complete with the actual actors' names, but making the movie a retelling of Dracula and set in Romania. Most of the infamous events surrounding the actual movie -- Martin Sheen's heart attack, using actual rebels as extras and having to deal with them having to leave to fight their real revolution, and Brando's lack of care about the entire production -- is there, so what's new to this retelling is fitting a remake of Dracula into the place of Apocalypse Now. It also introduces us to Ion, a teenaged vampire who then becomes the recurring character linking the remaining stories in the collection, but even his inclusion felt tacked on.
Beyond that, the stories sketch out a greater picture of Ion as he becomes Johnny Alucard, but everything feels a little disjointed. We go back and forth from Kate to Genevieve to Johnny, sometimes through the eyes of fictional characters, other times through the eyes of historical characters. The stories have a lot to do with movies, and you can see Newman's love of film shine through as he takes us through the world of making movies, but what I wanted was more story, more depth, and more coherence. To be fair, Newman takes us through these events with that one overarching plot in mind, but by the end of the book, nothing has been resolved. It's frustrating, especially when he paints the suggestions for Johnny's downfall along the way.
The connections between this story and the fictional and historical characters is still clever, but this time around it doesn't feel as natural. When Johnny makes it big in Hollywood and begins producing movies, it makes more sense, but his connections with Sid and Nancy and Quentin Tarantino feel more forced, as if he's trying to make himself look clever instead of just being clever. The other novels handle these commandeering of characters better, and given that those intertwined worlds of story make up such a large part of the series overall, it was disappointing to see it not work as well in this case.
There's still a lot here to like, but I think it's important to treat the book as a collection of short stories instead of a novel. I think knowing that going in will help more, especially when the blurb on the back of the book calls this "The brand-new novel." It's fairly misleading, enough so to possibly hinder the reader's experience....more
Anno Dracula was an incredible book that took the lore of vampires and meshed it rather perfectly with the real world of its time while also being a cAnno Dracula was an incredible book that took the lore of vampires and meshed it rather perfectly with the real world of its time while also being a compelling, intriguing story (which, when you think about it, is pretty impressive in and of itself, since most readers would already know how the events of Jack the Ripper ended). With The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman continues the chronology of a real world with Dracula in it, this time taking the vampire and his mythology straight into World War I, and it's just as compelling and intriguing as the first novel was.
The central focus of the story is Baron Manfred von Richthofen, colloquially known to history as the Red Baron. It's about as historical as Anno Dracula was (that is, Newman did an extraordinary amount of research to make it as historically factual as possible), and the way that Newman melds the facts with his fiction is still impressive. In fact, as I continue through the series, I've come to realize that these novels are less horror or vampire novels, and are really alternate history novels. In fact, the altered history that went into Anno Dracula has a strong effect on the history that continues in The Bloody Red Baron. Like the preceding book, this one also manages to keep the reader guessing on where the story is going, even though most readers will already know how World War I ended.
Poe is featured as a character in the story, which was a little odd for me. So far, the main characters in the stories haven't been historical figures, so it was easy to buy into their characters without getting caught up in any preconceived notions due to already knowing them. With Poe, though, I constantly had to adjust what I thought of the character, since Newman made him much, much different from who he was as a real person. Granted, the events of the novel take place over 50 years after his death, so there was enough time there to become the character he was in the book, but I never felt like it was explained well enough for me to believe his character. Having Poe feature as a character was a little jarring, despite him being a fully realized character in the book. In fact, as with Anno Dracula, Newman did a great job of realizing all of his characters, especially Herr Richthofen. He managed to make the character sympathetic without ever making him out to be a good guy.
The book is actually two separate, complete stories -- the full novel The Bloody Red Baron as it was originally published, and a novella called Vampire Romance, set in 1923 and featuring Genevieve, one of the central characters from Anno Dracula. At first glance, the story seems less compelling, mainly because half of it is narrated by a vampire-stricken young woman who reads Teen Beat-like magazines about vampires and romanticizes the entire race. Imagine an early-20th Century version of a rabid Twilight fan and you'll get the idea (and considering that this novella's publication is new to this edition, which was published in 2012, I think that comparison is intentional). But as the story gets going, it develops into a Gothic mystery, complete with secret societies, an old manor, electricity flickering out as lightning flashes in dramatic fashion, etc. It never comes across as cliched despite using so many of them, and the story has an unexpected ending.
What struck me between these two stories, as well as looking back on Anno Dracula, is how well Newman creates a narrative voice. The main narrative style of the first book is what I would consider Newman's standard voice, but when he jumped over to the sections where Seward was recording in his journal, the voice shifted to mimic Stoker's style in the original Dracula. Poe's chapters in The Bloody Red Baron mimicked Poe's style, and then, with Vampire Romance, he uses the voice of a pubescent fangirl. He created those voices very well, and very convincingly.
Anyone fascinated by the way Newman merged history and fiction in Anno Dracula should seek out the second book in the series. For me, Newman is shaping up to be a new favorite author of mine. If the rest of the series continues in this vein (ha!), then I have no doubts about it....more
Saints, on the other hand, tells the story of the rebellion from the other side. This time, Yang invents a character named Four-Girl (the word for "foSaints, on the other hand, tells the story of the rebellion from the other side. This time, Yang invents a character named Four-Girl (the word for "four" in Chinese is a homophone for "death," and because of her family's superstitions, she's never given a real name) who has a poor home life, and finds some solace in Christianity. She doesn't adopt Christianity for its religion, but to better embody her devilish nature, which her family tells her she has. She practices making a face whenever people look at her, to warn them that she's like a demon, and for them to stay away. When she hears people in her own culture refer to Christians as demons, she believes this is a better way to have people stay away from her....more
Boxers, the larger of the two works, tells the story of the events leading up to and including the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. It focuses on one characteBoxers, the larger of the two works, tells the story of the events leading up to and including the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. It focuses on one character, Little Bao, who essentially is the single person who organizes the rebellion to take China back from the imperialist foreigners who are taking away their culture. Like Yang's other works, there is magic realism in the story, but unlike his other works, there's actually a historical precedent behind that magic realism. That isn't to say that the Chinese actually used magic in the rebellion, but the history tells us that the leaders of the rebellion did believe that they were channeling their Gods when they went into battle. The story is fictionalized, in that Little Bao wasn't a real person, but merely an invention to make the story more interesting, and to relate the events back to the reader through the character....more
With Goliath, Scott Westerfeld has wrapped up his Leviathan series, an alternate-history look at the events leading up to World War I. In his history,With Goliath, Scott Westerfeld has wrapped up his Leviathan series, an alternate-history look at the events leading up to World War I. In his history, the two sides are either Clankers — people who rely on steam-powered mechanical machines to drive their technology — or Darwinists — people who derive new functional species by splicing and combining DNA from existing animals — or some combination of the two. I think the two technologies represent the two conflicting ideologies of the two sides of the war, but to be honest, I don’t know my history well enough to know if it’s a firm demarcation, and besides, in this volume, Japan and the US use a combination of the two technologies instead of favoring one over another. Regardless, Westerfeld uses the two ideals as a way to represent the ingrained prejudices people have for different groups and races.
The series is a little bit of everything. It’s one part science fiction, one part historical fiction, one part adventure fiction, and one part romance fiction. It’s a YA series, and Westerfeld does a good job of making it appealing to all audiences of his target audience. The main subplot of the series involves Prince Alek and Deryn Sharp, the Austrian heir to the throne and the young woman commoner who disguises herself as a boy to serve in the Royal Air Force, and their developing friendship. With the Uglies series, Westerfeld proved that he could write strong female leads, and he does the same here with Deryn, who often proves herself to be just as strong — and usually stronger — than Alek. Deryn could have easily fallen into an anti-stereotype, but her strength is never forced, nor does it ever ring false. Westerfeld does the character justice, which is part of the reason why the story succeeds.
Like the previous books in the series, Goliath got me interested in the real history that inspired the novels, which got me to do a little research to learn more about what really happened. The book also features Nikola Tesla as a character (who, as a real person, has always intrigued me), so of course it makes me want to read more about him. I’m not much of a history buff, so any time a story can inspire me to learn more about real events, I take that as a sign of success for the story itself. Oftentimes it’s a lot easier to get into history by framing a real event with a fictional story (look at Titanic for a popular example), and here we get a fictional setting, as well. In the afterword of Goliath, the author notes the liberties he took with the real history, but also notes where the real history diverted, and indirectly encourages the readers to look into it themselves.
I was pleased with how the series wound up. It wasn’t perfect, and I think it would have been hard for the author not to take it to its logical conclusion, but even though one plot ended the way I expected it would, there were enough unexpected events throughout the rest of the story to keep me interested in the plot and keep asking questions. Scott Westerfeld is a great writer, so it comes as no surprise to me that he could take those talents and apply them to a historical series. It makes me curious to see what he’s going to do with his next series....more
I’m a fan of Stephen King’s from way back. I mean, I started getting into him when I was in high school, and that’s now over 20 years ago for me. I’veI’m a fan of Stephen King’s from way back. I mean, I started getting into him when I was in high school, and that’s now over 20 years ago for me. I’ve been one of his constant readers since then, and defended him to people who would try to tell me that he’s a hack without any real talent, but even though I find something very familiar whenever I read his latest book, I also find myself being surprised by what I find in his stories. In this case, I found myself being intrigued by his deliberate sense of pacing. Like Under the Dome, the book is lengthy, and seems like it gets bogged down in tedious detail, but also like Under the Dome, if you try to go back and figure out what to cut out to make it less so, you’ll find yourself at a loss as to what to cut. It’s very conflicting, but when you look at those details, you find that a lot of the setting, characterization, and pacing is buried there, like a hidden message between the letters. And those three characteristics make up the bulk of what makes King’s novels so readable.
The story is ostensibly about a man who travels back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination, but really the story is about Jake Epping’s post-divorce life. That his life takes him back to the late 1950s is just a plot device, as is the sense of responsibility he feels about preventing the assassination. Kennedy is just the framework to tell Jake’s story, to the point where when King goes from Jake to Oswald, I found myself being a lot less interested in what was going on. This isn’t a terrible surprise; King paints Jake out to be a very likable guy who’s honest, dependable, and sincere (well, as much as anyone from the future could be while living in his past), and Lee Harvey Oswald has enough real history to make him the despicable character he really was. In fact, at first glance, it’s very easy to look at Oswald as the antagonist of the story, but this isn’t really the case. Jake is both the protagonist and the antagonist, as he’s the guy who’s gone back to try to change history, and also the guy who refuses to drop that responsibility to live the life he wants to live. It may sound like a grandiose comparison, but it reminds me of the decision that Jesus has to make at the end of The Last Temptation of Christ. And I wouldn’t even consider Jake to be a Jesus figure in this story.
Something else I found pretty intriguing was the way that the novel had a couple of different stories written into the overall plot. I’m not even talking about subplots here, because the first 200+ pages of the novel were an experiment that Jake undertook to see how serious the consequences would be if he made such a drastic change to the timeline. It had its own beginning, its own middle, and its own end, and had the sorts of trials one would expect a character to have to overcome to be successful in the story. It helps explain how some of King’s novels can wind up being so tremendous, and now I find myself wondering if he’s done this in previous books and I just never noticed it. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised.
Like any Stephen King book, 11/22/63 will reward faithful readers with interconnected places and characters that appear in King’s other books. Years ago, I read an interview with James Cameron about Titanic, where he talked about using recurring extras in different scenes in the movie. They didn’t have any speaking lines or serve any other purpose than to humanize the drama, but he chose to have them show up over and over again in different scenes to give a sense of familiarity to the viewers to give them more reason to sympathize with them. It worked pretty well, and I now realize that King does the same thing with his connected characters over all of his different books. They may not be the same characters, but they’re related, and that gives the reader more reason to feel for them. In a way, it’s still a little annoying, but I can’t deny that it’s effective.
Overall, I think this is a profound book. I’m not sure that I would call it standard King fare (the pacing and characterization will be familiar to his readers, but the theme is very different), but I found it to be very moving, thoughtful, and compelling. King still receives a lot of flack from literary folks for his success, as does Dan Brown, but while Dan Brown’s writing skills fail when compared to his storytelling skills, King has them both, and I think much of the flack he receives is just jealousy. He manages to keep telling interesting, compelling stories without making them seem formulaic, and that’s a damn sight better than what can be said for most popular authors these days. 11/22/63 isn’t perfect, but it’s an compelling, intriguing read, and the best book I’ve read this year....more
Yep, The Help. I heard about it when it came out, and know a lot of people who liked it, but I just wasn’t all that interested. I avoid non-genre fictYep, The Help. I heard about it when it came out, and know a lot of people who liked it, but I just wasn’t all that interested. I avoid non-genre fiction, book-club books, and bestseller books (mostly) by practice, and The Help was all of those things together, so there wasn’t much there to make me want to read the book. It wasn’t until I saw the trailer for the movie and realized what the story was about that my interest finally got piqued. Somehow, I had managed to miss out on the most important point — what the story was about — and almost missed out all together on the book.
I probably don’t need to tell you anything about the story, now. The book was a runaway bestseller, and by now you’ve probably seen the previews a hoopty-jillion times over, so there’s really no need for me to cover that this book is about a young woman from 1950s-era Jackson, Mississippi who takes on the role of collecting the stories of all the black maids from the town to reveal the social ills behind those roles of employer and employee (which were actually closer to master and servant, when you get right down to it).
There were a few things that were a disservice to the story, overall. For one, in order to illustrate the full impact these stories would have on the town and its social structure, the book had to be published, to there was never any real tension over whether or not the book would be completed. It had to be, otherwise a large part of the drama of the story would be lost. That’s not to say that Stockett didn’t write the story in such a way as for me to realize this; I was still hanging on with Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minnie as they waited to hear the news about the book. There was also one scene that served to prove to Minnie that Celia viewed her as a person and a friend more than she viewed her as a maid that was just plain random. I kept thinking that there were a ton of other ways for the author to create a scene where Celia had to come to Minnie’s aid than that, and as a result, I kept expecting that random encounter to come back up at some point later in the story (it didn’t). Finally, the story is told by the three main characters in alternating first-person narratives, but there was one chapter that was told from a third-person perspective, which just didn’t make any sense to me. I can sort of see why — the scene wasn’t seen from any one of those three characters completely — but there’s so much more of the story about other characters that’s narrated by the main characters as a “Guess what I heard?” anecdote that I didn’t see why Stockett didn’t do the same with that one chapter. It was jarring, more so because the voice of the chapter was so similar to the other characters’, anyway.
All that doesn’t change the fact that this is a very readable book, made so because of the characters. The protagonists were all working toward a great good against a large challenge, and it was very easy to sympathize with them because of that situation. Stockett did a great job of piling one hardship on top of another for the characters, to make their challenges even more difficult, which in turn makes the reader more supportive of them. And the antagonists were so despicable and so easy to hate that it was very easy to take sides in the battle. There was no moral ambiguity in the characters to muddy the waters of who the heroes and villains were.
When I first started reading the book, I was struck with how the author was trying to address a serious social issue that reflected the truth of race relations during that time through something as trivial as “The Help.” I understand that it reflected the truth of race relations at that time, but it seemed a bit pithy. Once the story really got underway, though, Stockett used real historical events to remind us that we might be reading a fictional story, but that the issue at heart was very, very real. It helped ground the story in reality, and remind us that we weren’t going to get through the story without some serious reflection.
I don’t know that this book really needs my recommendation for folks to read it, but I will say this, to folks who are like me and don’s usually read books like this: Don’t ignore it just because it’s popular. It’s serious, enjoyable, readable, and effective. And above all, it’s just a damn good story....more
There’s not a whole lot more I can say here that I haven’t already said in my review for Leviathan, the first in this trilogy by Mr. Westerfeld. LikeThere’s not a whole lot more I can say here that I haven’t already said in my review for Leviathan, the first in this trilogy by Mr. Westerfeld. Like its predecessor, Behemoth got me thinking a lot about the circumstances leading up to World War I, enough so that I did a lot of research while reading this novel to see how much of it followed the historical record. Considering that I’m not much of a history buff, that’s pretty impressive, at least to me.
It makes me wonder, though, if people who are versed in history would get a lot out of the story. Knowing where things are going would remove a lot of the tension from the story, because while Westerfeld tells the story well by using interesting characters, knowing the general direction of the story might take a little bit away from the overall feel of the book. Of course, the book was written with young adults in mind, and Westerfeld admits in his afterword that he took some dramatic license with some of the facts, so maybe it was an attempt to get his audience more interested in the real history behind the story. Besides, if I’m an adult who doesn’t know the history that well, and sought it out while reading the novel, certainly there are a few others out there like me who would do the same.
I still think this series is a slightly better read than the Uglies series was, if only because the historical context seems to make it a little more grounded and realistic, despite the futuristic steampunkiness of the books. I’m looking forward to reading the third book, if for no other reason than to get caught up on the historical details behind it....more
Despite my being in the middle of another unique and interesting book, I had to set it aside to come back to it when All Clear finally hit the market.Despite my being in the middle of another unique and interesting book, I had to set it aside to come back to it when All Clear finally hit the market. I mean, not only is it the latest Connie Willis book, but it’s also the second half of the story told in Blackout, released earlier this year. Note that I didn’t write “sequel”; that’s because this book isn’t one. The story of Blackout and All Clear are one massive, 1100+ page novel, broken into two volumes due to publishing constraints. As such, this isn’t a complete story, any more than Blackout was. And since Blackout ended on such a cliffhanger ending, it was pretty necessary for me to start reading it right away.
Anyone familiar with Connie Willis will know that she enjoys the idea of time-traveling historians, and with England during World War II. With these two stories, Willis puts them both together, with great effect. She follows a handful of characters who have been sent back in time to observe events during the Blitz, and then proceeds to put them into a comedy of errors where they struggle to find their way back to their own present. This isn’t anything new, really, but Willis manages to bring a new twist to this idea, and manages to do so with great success. In fact, what she manages to do with the entire story makes you wonder how long she’s been planning this grand conclusion, since it doesn’t just tie together the loose ends in this story, but also manages to bring all of her Oxford historian time-travel novels together into a single thread. It’s brilliant, really, and came as a real surprise to me.
As usual, the author brings a lot of her trademark symbolism and imagery to the book, but this time, there is a lot less comedy in her story. This time around, the struggle of finding their way back to their present becomes more of a nightmare, where they find themselves blocked at every turn. In a way, this kept the story going, but at the same time, it became almost frustrating in how repetitive it was. There were times when I thought that if I had to read one more character trying to remain brave in the face of her friends, that I was going to lose it. Amazingly, Willis pulled even this off, to the point where I can’t complain too much about it now.
My biggest complaint, I suppose, is the novel’s length. There was a lot of detail, and a lot of back-and-forth with the characters going all over England trying to find a way home, but it all turned out to be very necessary, because of the main point of the novel: One act may not have been enough to alter the course of the war, but all of the infinitesimally small acts of a number of people during the war could have a cumulative effect on how it progressed. In a way, this point is obvious in the way that Willis tells the story, but it’s easy to overlook this as the theme of the novel, as she gives praise to all the people in England who supported their country and sacrificed much to help their country endure. It’s almost an antiquated notion, but it’s hard to leave the story without thinking that everyone who lived in England during World War II was a hero. And I think that’s what makes the novel so important.
It would have been easy to give up on the novel because of its length (and I’ll admit I was almost tempted), but I’m glad I persevered. I’m not sure that this will ever take on the status of either Bellwether or Doomsday Book, but honestly, it should. Together, the novels make up a grand story that’s well worth the effort to read....more