This book is a military style space opera with …..Wait! Where are you going? Get back here. I hadn’t got to the good part yet. Give me a second to exp...moreThis book is a military style space opera with …..Wait! Where are you going? Get back here. I hadn’t got to the good part yet. Give me a second to explain. Geez…
OK, so yes, there is an interstellar war with human troops in high-tech armored suits battling an alien enemy on distant planets. I know it sounds like another version of Starship Troopers or countless other bad genre sci-fi tales that copied it, but this one is different. Hell, when it was published in 1975 it won the Hugo, the Locus and the Nebula awards for best novel so you know it’s gotta be pretty decent.
William Mandella has been drafted as one of the first troops that will be sent to fight the Taurans. There are points in space called collapsers that are like wormholes that will transport your ship to a distant area in the universe instantly, and humanity is fighting the Taurans to use them. Both races like to build bases on nearby planets to establish control of the area around the collapsers.
Unfortunately, most of the planets out there aren’t anything like what we’re used to seeing in Star Wars. They’re usually cold lifeless rocks, and just training to use their suits in these environments is dangerous, let alone trying to fight an alien race they know little about. Mandella gets through training and manages to survive the first battle with the Taurans.
That’s where the book gets really interesting.
While the collapsers provide instant space travel, the ships still have to get to the nearest one and that means months of travel at near light-speed. It turns out that Einstein was right about relativity and traveling at near the speed of light makes time do some funky things. So while the troops on the ship feel like a journey only took months, years have passed for everyone else. When Mandella returns to Earth after his first battle, he’s only aged two years, but ten years have passed on Earth.
Since Mandella has to do more and more light speed journeys, centuries pass on Earth even though it’s only been a few years for him. Mandella will return from missions to find that humanity has changed so much that he has almost nothing in common with the rest of the people, and since he manages to survive several campaigns when almost everyone else dies, he’s quickly becoming one of the oldest men in the universe during his ten year (subjective) enlistment.
Another quirk of the time differences is that when the humans meet the Taurans, they can’t know if they’re battling alien troops who are centuries ahead or behind them in terms of military intelligence and weapons technology. So Mandella and his fellow soldiers may have a huge advantage or be severely outgunned. It just depends on if the Taurans they’re fighting started their light-speed journeys before or after they did.
As the war drags on for century after century, it is both sustaining and draining Earth’s economy. Mandella finds himself losing all his family, his friends and his lovers to war or age. He is increasingly out of touch with Earth and the rest of humanity. The army continues to promote him, mainly because his seniority has reached ridiculous levels after centuries of service.
One of the things that isolates Mandella is that homosexuality becomes the norm due to Earth overpopulation. In an ironic reversal of don’t ask-don’t tell, Mandella is the outcast that disgusts many of his fellow soldiers due to his unenlightened ways. Even the slang spoken by other soldiers becomes incomprehnsible to him. Increasingly lonely and out of sync with everyone around him with almost no chance of surviving his enlistment, Mandella nurses the hope that the war will someday end during the large gaps of time he skips as he travels to his assignments.
Joe Haldeman is a Vietnam vet, and this is an obvious allegory for that war with a weary soldier stuck in a seemingly endless conflict and realizing that even if he makes it home, he won’t fit in to the world he left. While Haldeman’s science and military background gives the book its detail and depth, it’s the tragedy of Mandella’s predicament that makes it a sci-fi classic. (less)
Back in the dark days of the mid-’80s, I read somewhere that Bill Murray was going to be in a movie called The Razor’s Edge, and that it was based on...moreBack in the dark days of the mid-’80s, I read somewhere that Bill Murray was going to be in a movie called The Razor’s Edge, and that it was based on a book. Since this was long before the days where you could check IMDB to see what the movie was going to be about, I figured the book had to be hilarious since Murray was starring in it. So I found the book at the library and started reading. I was pretty shocked to find that it was a serious story about a guy who goes looking for the meaning of life. I was even more shocked that I loved it. And even though the movie version flopped and caused Murray to drop out of film making for years, I still want to say, “Thanks, Bill!”. If it wasn’t for the movie, I probably never would have read this.
Maugham engages in a bit of meta-fiction by incorporating himself into a story he claims at the beginning was true. (I guess there’s been a fair amount of debate on if it actually was based on fact, but I’m content to consider it fiction.) Maugham is friends with Elliot Templeton, an American born snob whose passion is for European high society. Maugham meets Templeton’s relatives while on a trip to Chicago, including Elliot’s niece, Isabel. Isabel is engaged to Larry Darrell. (Feel free to insert your own jokes about “Hi, I’m Larry. This is my brother Darrell, and my other brother Darell.”) Larry was a World War I pilot who is driving Isabel’s family crazy with his continued refusal to get a job and start grabbing some of that postwar prosperity that the rest of America is cashing in on.
Over the course of the next two decades, Maugham will learn the story of Larry and Isabel from updates by Elliot and chance encounters with the people involved. Larry and Isabel break their engagement, and Larry travels the world, taking different jobs and doing extensive research on varying subjects without explaining why. Eventually, Maugham learns that the war gave Larry a burning desire to explore the nature of existence and eventually leads him to India where he‘d try to find enlightenment.
Re-reading this, a couple of things struck me about why it appeals to me. The first is the character of Larry. The idea of a character profoundly changed by war isn’t anything new, but Larry comes across as distinct and unique. He isn’t bitter or angry. He isn’t seeking solace in booze or sex or turning into a raging nihilist. Larry comes across as a curious person who was genuinely puzzled about the nature of death and evil, and decides to look for his own answers. His ability to withstand the overwhelming peer pressure to follow his friends into jobs shows his will to follow his own path, but Larry isn’t looking down his nose at anyone. He doesn’t judge others and is content to live his own life in the way he’s chosen. As another character describes Larry, he’s a very religious man who doesn’t believe in God, and that’s a really great character to read about.
The other thing I like is the structure of the novel. Telling the story over a period of years, sometimes as second hand stories told to Maugham was a way to make you curious about Larry and his quest, and Maugham’s talent makes the other characters and subplots come alive. (less)
While his previous book was a tongue-in-cheek zombie survival guide, Brooks turns deadly serious here. Written as a series of survivors' stories in a...moreWhile his previous book was a tongue-in-cheek zombie survival guide, Brooks turns deadly serious here. Written as a series of survivors' stories in a UN report following a world wide war with the undead, Brooks crafted a classic horror novel that reads like history. Inventive, scary and a must read for anyone who ever enjoyed a George Romero zombie movie.(less)
I started this book at bed time thinking that I’d read a couple of chapters before shutting off the light. I ended up reading almost a 100 pages befor...moreI started this book at bed time thinking that I’d read a couple of chapters before shutting off the light. I ended up reading almost a 100 pages before reluctantly putting it down to get some sleep. So I’m gonna go ahead and put this one in in my personal Page Turner Hall of Fame.
Elvis Cole is babysitting his girlfriend Lucy’s son, Ben, but the kid gets snatched when Elvis takes his eyes off him for like 17 seconds. Then comes a phone call in which the kidnapper tells Elvis that Ben was taken as revenge for something he did during his time as a US Army Ranger in Vietnam. While the mission the kidnapper references was a clusterfuck of the highest order that left Elvis as the sole survivor, it wasn’t his fault, and Elvis can not think of anyone who could possibly hold some kind of grudge over it. Adding to the fun, Lucy’s rich asshole of an ex-husband shows up and makes a bad situation worse.
Crais has a background as a TV writer and often starts with a story that sounds like it could have been the set-up for an episode of Magnum P.I., but he’s got this great ability to take those initial plots into surprising and exciting new directions. So while this one begins with the idea of old war history coming back to bite someone in the ass, Crais then twists that concept into a story you haven’t read before.
Aside from a terrific main plot with a relentless momentum, this one has many bonus features. We get some of Cole’s history, including the origin of why he’s named Elvis. Carol Starkey, the great lead character from Demolition Angel, shows up in an exceptionally strong supporting role. There’s also a top notch sub-plot with Joe Pike being less than his usual bad ass self thanks to injuries sustained in the previous book. I loved that Pike’s idea of physical therapy is going into the Alaskan wilderness and tracking a rabid grizzly bear.
And best of all, (view spoiler)[ it looks like we’re finally rid of Lucy. Which is a great relief because she was in danger of turning into a Susan level of annoyance, and I’m glad to see that Crais apparently learned from Robert B. Parker’s mistakes. (hide spoiler)]
Maybe the best feature of this book is that between it and the previous one, L.A. Requiem, Crais has added a lot of depth to Elvis and Joe Pike so that they no longer seem like just the cliché of the wise ass detective and his bad ass friend. Now they’re damaged characters, and readers have a better understanding of why they are who they are.
Not only is this my favorite of the series, it’s a new addition to my favorite novels of the private detective genre.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Other reviewers have already pointed out that this story essentially asks what would happen if James Bond got killed, and it turned out that Miss Mone...moreOther reviewers have already pointed out that this story essentially asks what would happen if James Bond got killed, and it turned out that Miss Moneypenny was more of a bad-ass than he ever was? So in an effort to come up with a new way of describing this I’ll ask what if Sterling Archer got killed, and Cheryl/Carol was more of a bad-ass than he ever was?
In 1973 Velvet Templeton is the secretary to the director of super-secret spy agency ARC-7. After their best agent is ambushed and killed Velvet is implicated as the mole who set him up, but it turns out that she knows a lot more than just how to take shorthand. Velvet was actually a great field agent in the ‘50s before events forced her into accepting a desk job. To clear her name Velvet has to get back in the spy game to track down who actually betrayed their agent.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the lack of diversity in comics as well as the movies adapted from them, and it’s very refreshing to have the lead of this promising series be a forty-something female in an era where women were either the secretary to the good guys or the honey trap working for the bad guys. And Velvet is an intriguing character with all the skills of Marvel’s Black Widow with the looks of real life hard-boiled crime writer Christa Faust minus the tattoos.
Brubaker again delivers a version of yet another fantastic genre tale with a unique twist to it. Epting’s excellent art is realistic enough to be storyboards for a movie but still stylized to provide the atmosphere of a Bond movie from the Sean Connery era. Maybe its best trick is the way that the story blends the old school comic book style spy action with the darker John le Carre tone of exploring the toll that working in covert espionage takes on someone.
Overall it’s a terrific comic that I can’t wait to read more of. (less)
A terrific book that proves you don't have to write 700 or 800 pages to have real depth. I'm fascinated by how Benioff managed to describe the charact...moreA terrific book that proves you don't have to write 700 or 800 pages to have real depth. I'm fascinated by how Benioff managed to describe the characters enduring terrible hardship and the worst of one of the most brutal battles in history, but the book doesn't read as grim or overly depressing. That's not to say that there isn't real drama, horror and sadness, but the natural humor of characters keep it from being just another book about the horrors of war. (less)
Just your typical story about a couple from opposing species of an interstellar war falling in love and having a baby, then fleeing the governments an...moreJust your typical story about a couple from opposing species of an interstellar war falling in love and having a baby, then fleeing the governments and hired mercenaries of both sides in a wooden rocketship with their ghost babysitter...
Three volumes in and so far each one has been 5 stars. I'm pretty sure that has never happened to me before. (less)
A few years ago I was talking to somebody in my cube at work, and the name of the small town I grew up in came up. A woman who worked in the cube acro...moreA few years ago I was talking to somebody in my cube at work, and the name of the small town I grew up in came up. A woman who worked in the cube across the aisle from mine looked up and said that since I was from that town, that I must know of this other smaller town that was nearby. I laughed and replied that my relatives made up 80% of the population of that town. She asked if I was related to X. He was my second cousin. She was his ex-wife. We had worked across from each other for a year with no idea.
Weird little things like that happen all the time in real life, but if a writer incorporates coincidence into a mystery plot, the readers will generally turn up their nose and start booing. Somehow using an unlikely link to advance a story seems like a cheat even though they do happen. But Lawrence Block has never been afraid to throw some happenstance into his plots. One of the recurring things in his various books is that New York is really a small town, it just has a lot of people in it, and that paths cross and recross all the time.
A Dance At The Slaughterhouse has a couple of big coincidences driving the plot, and ordinarily I would be the first to shout “Foul! Foul!” and heap scorn on the author. However, in the context of Matt Scudder’s life, the weird twists of fate seem completely natural. And they help to create a great crime novel.
Richard Thurman and his wife supposedly interrupted a robbery. He was roughed up and knocked unconscious. She was raped and strangled. A lot of people, including the cops, think that Thurman may have arranged the murder, but there’s no proof. Her brother hires Matt to try and dig up something that would let the cops press the case against Thurman.
While trailing Thurman to a boxing match, Matt sees a man make a casual gesture in the crowd. It triggers the memory of a brutal S&M snuff film that Matt had come across and briefly investigated the previous summer. With little more than a hunch, Matt starts following a trail that leads to the kinkiest and most twisted villains you can imagine.
Along the way, we learn that Matt is now dating Elaine, the high priced call girl, but it’s not always easy having a hooker as your snuggle bunny. Matt’s friendship with the Irish gangster Mick Ballou has also grown to the point where the men trust each other with their deepest secrets. Matt also meets TJ, a young black street hustler with a knack for digging up information, and he’ll be another important player in future Scudder books.
What really makes this one memorable is the conclusion. The wrap-up is beyond shocking and surprised me again even reading this the second time. Nine books into the series, Block still refused to allow Scudder to become a safe and predictable character, and it makes for yet another stunning crime novel. This one won an Edgar Award for best mystery novel in 1992, and it damn well deserved it. (less)
“Uh..Mr. Kemper. He’s the one in the vegetative state.”
“Oh, that’s a very sad...more"Nurse, this patient’s chart is very confusing.”
“Which patient, Doctor?”
“Uh..Mr. Kemper. He’s the one in the vegetative state.”
“Oh, that’s a very sad and odd case.”
“According to the patient history, he was admitted a few weeks ago with cerebrospinal fluid leaking from his nose and ears, but it seemed like he should recover. But yesterday he was brought in again, barely conscious and then he lapsed into a coma. The really odd thing is that I see no signs of injury or disease.”
“That’s right, Doctor. It was a book that did this to Mr. Kemper.”
“A book? How is that possible?”
“From what we can figure out, the first incident occured after he read Hyperion by a writer named Dan Simmons. I guess it’s one of those sci-fi books and apparently the story is quite elaborate. Anyhow, Mr. Kemper had read Simmons before and knew he likes to put a lot of big ideas in his books. But this time, apparently Simmons broke into his house and managed to directly implant much of the book directly into Mr. Kemper’s brain via some kind of crude funnel device.”
“I find that highly unlikely, Nurse.”
“Most of us did, Doctor. But Mr. Kemper kept insisting that Simmons had some kind of grudge against him. He even had a note he said Simmons had left that said something like ‘Don’t you ever learn? If you keep reading my books, I’ll end you someday.’”
“Assuming that I believed this story, I guess that Kemper’s current state tells us that he didn’t heed the warning?”
“Apparently not, Doctor. His wife said she found him having convulsions and leaking brain matter out his nose and ears again. A copy of the sequel, The Fall of Hyperion was on the floor nearby.”
“I can’t believe that reading a silly sci-fi book could turn an healthy man into a turnip, Nurse.”
“Well, when they brought Kemper in, he was semiconscious and muttering. Someone wrote it down. Let see, he kept repeating words and phrases like: Shrike, Time Tombs, the Core, God, uh…no, two gods actually, farcasters, Ousters, religion, pope, death wand, space battles, interplanetary trees, old Earth, AI, mega sphere, data sphere, The Canterbury Tales, poetry, John Keats, Tree of Thorns, and Lord of Pain.”
“Jesus! What does all that mean?”
“Someone looked it up on the web and all of that is actually in the book.”
“That poor bastard. No wonder his gray matter is fried. No one could absorb all that without permanent damage.”
“Yes, I’d think that book should have some kind of warning sticker or something on it.”
“One thing I still don’t understand, Nurse. If Kemper knew that this book would probably do this to him, why did he still read it?”
“I guess he had told several people that Hyperion was just so good that he had to know how it ended, even if it killed him.”
I think the word ‘epic’ was invented to describe this book.
What Simmons began in Hyperion finishes here with a story so sprawling and massive that it defies description. In the far future, humanity has spread to the stars, and maintains a web of worlds via ‘farcasters’. (Think Stargates.) On the planet Hyperion, mysterious tombs have been moving backwards in time and are guarded by the deadly Shrike.
Seven people were sent to Hyperion on a ‘pilgrimage’ that was almost certainly a suicide mission, but the Ousters, a segment of humanity evolving differently after centuries spent in deep space, are about to invade. The artificial intelligences of the Core that humanity depends on for predictions of future events and management of the farcaster system can’t tell what’s coming with an unknown like the Shrike and Hyperion in play.
Battles rage across space and time and the virtual reality of the data sphere as varying interests with competing agendas maneuver and betray each other as the pilgrims on Hyperion struggle to survive and finally uncover the secrets of the Shrike. But the real reasons behind the war and it’s ultimate goal are bigger and more sinister than anyone involved can imagine.
I can’t say enough good things about the story told in these first two Hyperion books. This is sci-fi at it’s best with a massive story crammed with big unique ideas and believable characters you care about. Any one of the pieces could have made a helluva book, but it takes a talent like Simmons to pull all of it together into one coherent story.(less)
After weeks of medical treatment and therapy I’ve recovered enough to be rolled out to a sunny spot in my wheel chair with a nurse to wipe the drool from my chin. Despite the doctors’ warnings about continued exposure to Hyperion, I’ve gone ahead and read the third book in the series, Endymion. While there are still monumentally big sci-fi ideas in this story, I think that my earlier encounters have allowed me to build up some resistance to Simmons. I got through this one and only went blind in my right eye and lost all sense of smell, but no coma this time.
It’s hard to summarize this without giving up too much away. It’s about 250 years after the events of the last book, and we’re introduced to Raul Endymion, a young man with a checkered job history who is saved from death by a familiar character. Raul is asked by this person to find and protect a young girl, Aenea, from the forces of the Catholic Church who want to capture her. Aenea had been sent forward in time via one of the Time Tombs on Hyperion and the Church wants her captured immediately for unknown reasons.
The Church seized political and military power by using the parasitic cruciforms (handily shaped like crosses) that can resurrect a person from death to offer everlasting life to those who toe the Church’s line. Raul had refused to bow to Church authority and accept the cruciform so he’s an outcast and seems like a good candidate to keep the mysterious Aenea out of their hands. However, the Church has sent the devout Father Captain Fredrico de Soya to capture the girl. With the help of the android A. Bettik and the intervention from the deadly entity known as the Shrike, Raul and Aenea escape and begin a journey between worlds that is supposed to enable her to fulfill the destiny the Church is terrified of.
This book is an interstellar chase story with the dedicated de Soya hot on the heels of the fugitives as they run from planet to planet. De Soya was one of my favorite parts of this book. He’s dedicated and loyal to the Church, but he’s also very decent man. He’s so committed to the hunt that he makes Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive look like a crybaby quitter. De Soya has an incredibly fast pursuit ship but every jaunt between worlds kills him and turns his body to jelly leaving his cruciform to resurrect him. It’s an incredibly dangerous and horrible experience, but de Soya doesn’t blink as he repeatedly turns himself into paste to get closer to Aenea.
There’s enough gooey sci-fi goodness like space travel, time travel, alien monsters, and cyborg killers to keep the most demanding geek fan boy happy. And all of this moves the overarching story of Hyperion towards it’s ultimate conclusion. I just hope I can live through the next book.(less)
This is a notable book in the Parker series because for a long time it looked like it’d be the last one that Richard Stark (a/k/a Donald E. Westlake)...moreThis is a notable book in the Parker series because for a long time it looked like it’d be the last one that Richard Stark (a/k/a Donald E. Westlake) ever wrote since it was over twenty years before he finally did another one.
This one is also a personal milestone since it’s the last Parker novel that I haven’t read before. Westlake died a few years ago, so that means it’s the last new Parker novel I’ll ever read.
As a personal ending point for me, it’s a humdinger though. Parker has been on a string of bad luck with all his potential scores going sour, and he’s hurting for cash. He decides to go back to where he left a bag of loot hidden in an amusement park while on the run from gangsters and dirty cops in Slayground. And by amusement park, I mean that Parker amused himself by killing everyone they sent into the park after him.
Fellow thief Grofield was in on that heist and Parker asks him to go along and help get their money back, but when they find it missing from the spot Parker stashed it, he thinks the local criminal kingpin’s people must have found it after he left. When Parker decides that you’ve got his money, he’s going to get it back one way or another.
After the situation escalates, Parker eventually calls in a crew for a bit of stealing and revenge, and this leads to a kind of review of past novels with characters from previous jobs Parker has pulled showing up. There’s also a feeling that this one is calling back to the beginning of the series where Parker had gone up against a large group of criminals to get back what he felt he was owed.
It hit me in this one that although Parker has always been seen as an anti-social bastard who only cares about the money, that he has gone out of his way for the few people that are the closest things he has to friends on a few occasions. He has also earned a lot of respect from his fellow thieves for his bold jobs and never double crossing anyone. You’d almost think that Parker is getting soft in his old age. Until he starts murdering a whole bunch of people.
This is yet another great book about one of the legendary anti-heroes of crime fiction. I just wish there were a couple of dozen more new ones waiting for me to read. (less)
Despite being a big crime/mystery fan, I’m not really into the scores of police procedural novels or dozens of TV shows that litter the networks these...moreDespite being a big crime/mystery fan, I’m not really into the scores of police procedural novels or dozens of TV shows that litter the networks these days. For me, all of these stories try to portray the various kinds of cops as politically correct robots who go about their jobs with a kind of determined detachment except for maybe the occasional bit of angst to add a little faux drama to the mix.
To get me interested in a cop story these days, it has to be some kind of ultra-realistic look at the bureaucratic nightmare of real police work like The Wire. Or be an epic tragedy with corrupt characters like The Shield. Or have some kind of offbeat protagonist that interests me like Raylan Givens on Justified. But show me those soulless pretty people tracking serial killers by getting their DNA tests done in three minutes on a CSI show and my eyes glaze over.
Joseph Wambaugh worked the LAPD in the 1960s-70s, and during an era when cops were almost invariably portrayed as square jawed heroes, he wrote novels that dared to show the police as very flawed, damaged and relatable human beings. For my money, probably his best work along those lines was The Choirboys.
The book begins with the LAPD brass in an uproar about a potential scandal involving a killing during a ‘choir practice’. As they try to figure out a way to spin the story and minimize the damage, we get the impression that a bunch of police officers went on a drunken rampage and somebody died as a result.
Wambaugh then shifts through the events leading up to the death by following 5 pairs of uniformed police officers working out of LA’s Wilshire division. There’s the tough veteran ‘Spermwhale’ Whalen about to get his 20 years in. Baxter Slate is a former classics student haunted by a disastrous tour working Juveniles. ‘Roscoe’ Rules is a racist moron with knack for taking the most routine calls and turning them into riots. Sam Niles has been stuck with his annoying partner and supposed best friend, Harold, since they were in Vietnam together. Spencer is a clothes horse who works his ‘police discount’ to buy high end retail stuff at wholesale prices. The rest of the so-called choir boys are also a collection of misfits with disastrous personal lives.
The cops engage in what they call choir practice where they go to MacArthur Park with cases of booze they’ve mooched from liquor store owners, and then they proceed to get totally pants-shitting howl-at-the-moon drunk while gang banging a pair of police groupies.
Doesn’t make them sound very appealing, does it?
What Wambaugh shows is that these choir practices are usually the direct result of the horrible things the cops routinely have to deal with while constantly being harassed by their bosses for violations of petty rules while ignoring the emotional well-being of the officers. The worst part of it is that while the choirboys are routinely abused while dealing with parade of ignorant lowlifes and see the worst that people can do to themselves and each other, it’s all so achingly common place that they can’t muster more than slight contempt and dark humor. Until they see something so horrible that they call for a choir practice to block it out with booze and meaningless sex.
The intellectual Baxter puts Wambaugh’s theme into words while giving a drunken lecture during a choir practice:
I mean that the weakness of the human race is stupefying and that it’s not the capacity for evil which astounds young policemen like you and me. Rather it’s the mind boggling worthlessness of human beings. There’s not enough dignity in mankind for evil and that’s the most terrifying thing a policeman learns.”
What keeps this book from being just a depressing look into the abyss is that it’s black cop humor is constant. There’s almost nothing that happens that can’t be made into sick humor and there’s no asshole boss so irritating that he can’t be the victim of an ingenious prank for revenge. It’s crude and socially unacceptable, but it’s really damn funny, too.
Rereading this in 2011, I could only imagine the howls of outrage if something like the choirboys became a media scandal. A gang of drunken cops abusing their badges to score free liquor for binge drinking and pulling trains on a couple of cocktail waitresses in a public park would get a whole lot of people fired these days, but the great thing about Wambaugh is the way he convinces you that that the choirboys were usually good cops deserving of respect and sympathy.(less)
I have no idea if the movie version of Cloud Atlas will be any good, but it was worth making just so we could get that excellent trailer. In fact, the...moreI have no idea if the movie version of Cloud Atlas will be any good, but it was worth making just so we could get that excellent trailer. In fact, they probably shouldn’t even release the movie. Just use the trailer to promote the book. It worked on me because once I saw that thing I couldn’t get this read fast enough.
An American notary crosses the Pacific and encounters many unsavory characters in the mid-1800s. In 1931 a young man fleeing his creditors cons his way into the home of a respected composer. A female journalists tries to expose a dangerous conspiracy involving a nuclear reactor back in 1975. In the early 21st century an aging publisher finds himself in hot water after his biggest professional success. The near future has an Asian society based on corporations using genetically modified fabricants as slave labor, and the far future finds a young man in Hawaii living a primitive tribal lifestyle playing tour guide to a woman from a place that still has technology.
These are the six stories that David Mitchell links together. They’re nested one within another and also mirrored in the first and second half of the book. If that’s all that he accomplished here, then it’d just be a really clever way to structure a novel, but it’s the way that Mitchell hit six completely different tones yet uses the same themes in each that the book really shines.
I’m beyond impressed with the way he made each story feel like it’s own separate tale. If someone had told me that this was a book written by six different authors, I would have believed it, and each is intriguing in it’s own right. Themes of slavery and people being controlled in one way or another along with depictions of misused or corrupted power come up again and again, but whether it feels like serious dystopian sci-fi or a beach read thriller, Mitchell makes it all hang together until it really does feel like one epic tale. And the thoughts at the conclusion lead to one of the greatest ending lines I’ve ever read.
I don’t even think I need to see the movie now. (less)
I think that one of the bright spots about knowing that an asteroid is going to hit the Earth would be that no one cou...more(I won this ARC from Goodreads.)
I think that one of the bright spots about knowing that an asteroid is going to hit the Earth would be that no one could ever say again, “Cheer up. It’s not the end of the world!”
There are only a few days left until the hunk of space rock called Maia will collide with the Earth and almost certainly wipe out humanity. Hank Palace, a former police detective, is on one last case of a highly personal nature. He’s trying to track down his rebellious sister Nico who is with a group she claims can stop the asteroid by locating a scientist who is being held as part of some kind of vast conspiracy that is allowing Maia to impact Earth.
With his dog and a talented scrounger he’s not sure he can entirely trust, Hank has made his way through complete anarchy on his way from New England to a police station in small Ohio town where his last clue has led him to believe Nico and her wacky pals are waiting to rendezvous with the scientist. However, when they arrive instead of finding Nico, Hank makes a couple of other shocking discoveries. Can he solve the mystery of his missing sister before time runs out once and for all?
I don’t think I’ve ever done such a 180 on a character like I have on Hank Palace. In The Last Policeman when Maia was six months out and society was still pretty much intact, Hank was an earnest detective whose insistence on doing things by the book and dogged determination at mounting a murder investigation in the face of Armageddon made him seem like his own denial and urge to play cop wasted the time of other people, and wasting someone else’s time seems almost as bad as murder in this scenario. (Now that I’ve read all three books, I’m going to give The Last Policeman an extra star.)
However, in Countdown City when Hank was no longer a cop but still followed an investigation to the bitter end, he seemed more like a guy just trying to cling to some semblance of responsibility and decency even as everyone else was running off to fulfill their bucket list, committing suicide or just going crazy. Here, with only days left Hank still thinks that there’s a proper way to do things, and he continues to take extensive notes when talking to people and walks around a dead body like the CSI guys are going to show up at any moment to process the evidence.
It’s not exactly denial because Hank knows full well what’s coming and that he has very little time to find Nico, but he’s still helpless to resist his compulsion to know every little detail as if he can die satisfied if only he knew the whole story.
Ben Winters also showed a low key strain of creative world ending in how he’s established the way that that things have fallen apart gradually over the course of this trilogy. Hank started out as a patrolman getting to live his dream of being a detective when other cops have started walking off the job and there were still some structure and rules in place. Now that the end is really near, Hank is just another guy wandering through dangerous territory trying to satisfy one last personal quest before the big boom.
This ended up being an exceptionally good story with a great premise that Winters fully delivered on with his flawed but ultimately relatable main character.
One final note, and this is a total spoiler about the ending. (view spoiler)[I also give Winters a lot of credit for actually going ahead and ending the world. With Nico’s story about the scientist in the last book, I was worried that he’d go the route of some kind of conspiracy thriller in which Hank ends up saving the world from Maia or something along those lines. I’m very glad that the whole thing turned out to be a lie and that Hank spent his final hours seeking companionship rather than answers. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Hap returns home from working a gig on an oil rig and is promptly attacked by a rabid squirrel. Thanks to crappy insurance and a grumpy doctor, he has...moreHap returns home from working a gig on an oil rig and is promptly attacked by a rabid squirrel. Thanks to crappy insurance and a grumpy doctor, he has to stay in the hospital in order to get his rabies shots paid for. While Hap is left to the mercy of the American healthy care system his best friend Leonard has been having problems with his boyfriend, Raul. Raul has been two-timing him with a biker, and it’s made Leonard so angry that he’s doing crazy things like beating the biker with a broom handle and shooting up bars and motorcycles. When the biker turns up dead and Raul is missing, Leonard is naturally the prime suspect.
But it isn‘t all bad news. Hap has met a hot foul-mouthed red-headed nurse named Brett, and they’ve taken a shine to each other. Once upon a time, Brett dealt with an abusive ex-husband by hitting him in the head with a shovel and setting his hair on fire. Hap may have found true love.
This was the first book by Lansdale I ever read and with the opening chapter that details the squirrel attack on Hap, I laughed so hard that I thought I did myself permanent injury. I knew then that I was going to a Joe Lansdale fan for life, and he hasn’t let me down since. This is probably still my favorite Hap & Leonard novel. Like the others books, it’s obscene, violent, politically incorrect and one of the funniest things you’ll ever read.(less)
Scott Smith’s wrote one of my favorite crime novels with A Simple Plan that released in 1993. Thirteen years later came his second book, The Ruins, wh...moreScott Smith’s wrote one of my favorite crime novels with A Simple Plan that released in 1993. Thirteen years later came his second book, The Ruins, which instantly became one of my favorite horror novels. I’ve got my fingers crossed that sometime later this decade he’ll write another one and maybe it’ll turn out to be the greatest sci-fi epic I’ve ever read.
The concept here is dirt simple. Idiots go somewhere they shouldn’t and bad shit happens. In this particular case four American college students, two boy-girl couples, are on vacation in Mexico where they meet several other tourists from all over the world. A German named Mathis tells them that his brother got smitten with a woman and followed her to an archaeological dig in the jungle, and that he needs to retrieve him before their flight home. The Americans and another Greek fellow decide to join him and set out on an impromptu adventure following a hand drawn map to a remote location.
A bunch of unprepared and ill-equipped tourists wander off into the jungle? What could possibly go wrong?
After they find themselves trapped on a hilltop, the young people struggle against something almost beyond belief as they endure thirst, hunger and injuries and have to consider extreme actions in order to survive.
The sub-title of this book could almost be A Series of Bad Decisions, and that’s one of the aspects that made it unique for me. A lot of horror is based around punishing people for their actions. Frankenstein gets his monster for daring to try to change the natural order. Jason slaughters teenagers for acting like teenagers. In The Ruins there is no single moment of arrogance or failure of character to point out as the thing that bring about the situation. (Although there are plenty of small examples of rotten behavior that make it that much worse.) Rather it’s just the sunny optimism that everything will be OK that puts these kids in a leaky canoe headed up that fabled Shit Creek with no paddles.
Smith does a great job of playing off the human nature of being in a bad spot and then wondering how you got there only to have the sickening realization that you knew for a while that you heading into trouble but you somehow talked yourself into staying the course it with the assumption that everything would work itself out.
The characters themselves are a departure from what you get in most horror novels these days. Yeah, I know some people hated them, and they truly are a pack of insufferable dumb asses for a large part of the book. But I think what some readers really didn’t like about them was that they did act the way most of us would in those circumstances. For example, Jeff tries to play the hero, and while you can empathize with his frustrations with the others, he’s also being a complete douche bag for not acknowledging the bigger picture and the others also act with varying amounts of denial and panic.
What’s interesting is that there are no easy answers as to how they should be behaving. (Serious spoilers here.) (view spoiler)[Jeff’s insistence on amputating Pablo’s legs and trying to convince the others to eat the corpse of another illustrates that you can make a bad situation worse by trying to do the right thing. On the other hand, sitting around and drinking tequila is criminally irresponsible on the part of Amy, Eric and Stacy. (hide spoiler)] So there’s this uncomfortable push-pull between the traditional concept of doing every single desperate thing you can think of to survive versus realizing that you’re fucked and just giving up. That’s the grey zone where this book operates and part of what I found so compelling about it.
I’ve seen some complaints about the nature of the threat, and I’m not sure if that’s still considered a spoiler or not so I’m throwing it under a tag. However, I’m only discussing what they’re facing, not giving up any plot details. (view spoiler)[ OK, so it’s a plant, and I get why some are skeptical of the concept. The mystery probably didn't help that when it first came out because some people were expecting a chupacabra or jungle cannibals or something along those lines so that when the reveal came, the first reaction was “They’re fighting a fucking plant?” I remember being surprised and wary the first time I read this, plus the stuff about it being an intelligent and mimicking sounds did strike me as far-fetched. But is it really any more fantastic than vampires, zombies, werewolves or Texas chainsaw massacres? In the end, the insidious nature of the vines became another major plus of the book for me. (hide spoiler)]
So this one retains its high spot among my personal rankings after reading it a second time. It’s not your typical horror tale, and it’s a gruesome story that shows people behaving poorly in dire circumstances which makes it an uncomfortable read at times. But isn’t that the point? ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
You know what’s really scary? Getting sick while you’re reading the first part of The Stand. Just try running a fever, going through a box of tissues...moreYou know what’s really scary? Getting sick while you’re reading the first part of The Stand. Just try running a fever, going through a box of tissues and guzzling the better part of a bottle of Theraflu while Stephen King describes the grisly deaths of almost every one on Earth from a superflu. On top of feeling like crap, you'll be terrified. Bonus!
After a bio-engineered virus that acts like a revved up cold escapes from a U.S. government lab, it takes only weeks for almost all of humanity to succumb to the disease. A handful of survivors are mysteriously immune and begin having strange dreams, some of which are about a very old woman called Mother Abigail asking them to come see her. More disturbing are nightmares about a mysterious figure named Randall Flagg also known as the Dark Man or the Walkin’ Dude.
As they being making their way through an America almost entirely devoid of people, the survivors begin to unite and realize that the flu was just the beginning of their problems. While some are drawn to the saintly Mother Abigail in Boulder Colorado who tells them that they have been chosen by God, others have flocked to Flagg in Las Vegas who is determined to annihilate all those who refuse to pledge their allegiance to him.
If King would have just written a book about a world destroyed by plague and a small number of people struggling in the aftermath, it probably would have been a compelling story. What sets this one apart is the supernatural element. Flagg is the embodiment of evil and chaos. He's a mysterious figure who has been giving the wrong people the push needed for them to make things worse for everyone, and he sees the plague as his chance to fulfill his own destiny as a wrecker of humanity.
And on the other side, we have God. Yep, that God. The Big Cheese himself. But this isn’t some kindly figure in a white robe with a white beard or George Burns or Morgan Freeman. This is the Old Testament God who demands obedience and worship while usually rewarding his most faithful servants with gruesome deaths.
King calls this a tale of dark Christianity in his forward, and one of the things I love about this book is that it does feel like a Biblical story, complete with contradictions and a moves-mysterious-ways factor. Stories don’t get much more epic than this, and King does a great job of depicting the meltdown of the world through the stories of a variety of relateable characters. (Larry Underwood remains among my favorite King creations.)
One of my few complaints is that this features a lot of King’s anti-technology themes that he’d use in several books like Cell or The Dark Tower series. We’re told repeatedly that the ‘old ways’ like trying to get the power back on in Boulder are a ‘death trip’. The good guys gather in the Rocky Mountains, but if they try to get the juice going so they won’t freeze to death in the winter, they’re somehow acting in defiance of God’s will and returning to the bad habits? Not all tech is bad tech, Mr. King. Nature is a bitch and will kill your ass quicker than the superflu.
Here’s another thing I’m not wild about. When this was published in the late ‘70s, the bean counters at King’s publishers had decided that the book as written would be too pricey in hardback and no one would pay a whopping $13 for a Stephen King hardback. So King cut about three hundred pages.
Around 1990 after it had become apparent that King could publish his shopping list as a best seller, he put those pages back in and released the uncut version. Which I’m fine with. The original stuff was cut for a financial reason, not an editorial one, and there’s some very nice bits of story added in. If King would have stopped there, we would have had a great definitive final version as originally created by the author.
Unfortunately, he seemed to catch a case of Lucasitis and decided to update the story a bit and change its original time frame from 1980 to 1990. I’m not sure why that seemed necessary to him. Yes, the book was a bit dated by then, but it was of its time. He didn’t rewrite the text (Which I’m grateful for.), but just stuck in some references to Madonna and Ronald Reagan and Spuds McKenzie.
This led to a whole bunch of anachronisms. Would students in 1990 call soldiers ’war pigs’? Someone in New York picks up a phone book to look up the number to call an ambulance instead of dialing 911? A song called Baby, Can You Dig Your Man is a huge hit? None of it quite fits together. There's also a layer of male chauvinism and lack of diversity that you can overlook in a book written in the late '70s, but seems out of place for a book set and updated for 1990.
The things that irritate me are still far outweighed by one of my favorite stories of an apocalyptic battle between good and evil.
I’m also glad to get a long overdue audio edition of this book. Great narration and 40+ hours of end of the world horror make for a damn fine listening experience.(less)