Surprisingly, this children's book is one of the best and most haunting noirs I have read in a long time.
A small-time thief, a little fish who has stoSurprisingly, this children's book is one of the best and most haunting noirs I have read in a long time.
A small-time thief, a little fish who has stolen a tiny hat from a big fish, swims away as the hand of inexorable fate moves closer and closer. The little fish anxiously engages in a chatty internal monologue, nervously telling itself that it will get away with this crime, that the big fish won't wake up anytime soon (as we see the big fish's eyes open), that the big fish won't notice its hat is missing for awhile (as we see the big fish's eyes look up to its head), and so on.
If you've ever seen a film noir in which a small-time sad sack tries to get away with murder and/or a large sum of money while fate and big-time criminals or the unstoppable forces of the law conspire to take down the sad sack, you'll recognize all of those elements in this book. You may or may not find the ending ambiguous. You may or may not find it chilling. I thought it was brilliant....more
I read this on the Web back when it was an unsolicited X-Files episode written by Thomas Ligotti. It's the best X-Files episode never filmed. LigottiI read this on the Web back when it was an unsolicited X-Files episode written by Thomas Ligotti. It's the best X-Files episode never filmed. Ligotti threw a lot of his own personal visions into the script, but he also managed to capture Scully and Mulder's unique voices in a lot of very funny dialogue. I was extremely impressed, and still picture it in my mind almost like an episode that I've really seen. Brilliant....more
My wife and daughter and I recently went on a long road trip, and we needed some audiobooks to keep us entertained. The second one we listened to wasMy wife and daughter and I recently went on a long road trip, and we needed some audiobooks to keep us entertained. The second one we listened to was "Hold Tight," by Harlan Coben, read by Scott Brick.
"Hold Tight" started out strong, with a number of intriguing plot elements and a few central mysteries that kept us involved. However, Coben's writing and plotting seemed to get lazier as the book went on, and the last several chapters felt like poorly constructed first drafts. Or an attempt to meet a deadline.
The pontifications on suburban life and the emotional tribulations of being a parent were all relatable, but not particularly interesting. However, my wife and I did get a big laugh out of the line, "Did you sic those Goths on me?"
My biggest problem was with Scott Brick, who read the audiobook. His narration was very good for the most part, but several supporting characters in "Hold Tight" are African-American, and Scott Brick's "blackcent" was so bad it was distracting....more
If you know anything about Daredevil, you know that he really came into his own as a character when Frank Miller took over writing the series.
I've reaIf you know anything about Daredevil, you know that he really came into his own as a character when Frank Miller took over writing the series.
I've read every issue of Daredevil leading up to this volume, and everything that makes him work as a character was already in place before Miller started penciling the series. There were good issues and bad issues before Miller got involved, but the formula was getting stale. Basically, there would always be a soap-opera subplot going on with blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Daredevil's alter ego), or with one of his romantic partners, or with his best friend and law partner Franklin "Foggy" Nelson. This subplot would string along for several issues, but each individual issue would be dominated by a colorful super-villain. Daredevil would do battle with this villain and crack wise like Spider-Man. That was about it.
The first half of this volume only showcases Miller's work as an artist. Roger McKenzie was still writing the series. Miller's first issue as both artist and writer is #168, and with that issue he ret-conned Elektra (the deadly Greek female assassin who is out to avenge her father's death) into Matt Murdock's life. Over the course of the next several issues, Miller created a dense criminal underworld with the Kingpin at its head and the vicious, psychopathic Bullseye as his most dangerous lieutenant. These issues are a joy to read. Plots and subplots are woven together seamlessly, and they have a great sense of griminess and nastiness, which suits the early 1980s NYC setting perfectly. ...more
A good biography makes you feel as if you personally know its subject when you're finished, and that's exactly what this book did. It was written by JA good biography makes you feel as if you personally know its subject when you're finished, and that's exactly what this book did. It was written by Jim Bishop, who was Mark Hellinger's copy boy and later his secretary.
Hellinger was born in New York in 1903. Much to his father's dismay, who wanted him to follow in his footsteps by practicing law and marrying a nice Jewish girl, Mark's sole ambition in life was to become a writer. He eventually became one of the most widely read newspaper columnists in America, along with his close friend Walter Winchell. Prohibition was Hellinger's time and Broadway was his milieu. He knew everybody, and loved everybody. He wanted everybody to love him, too, but hid it under layers of gruffness and humor. He spent money as fast as he earned it. He was a drinker and a gambler who counted many gangsters among his friends. He dressed like an underworld character and married Gladys Glad, a Ziegfeld Girl and one of the most beautiful blondes in a country full of beautiful blondes.
After Prohibition, Hellinger slowly gravitated to Hollywood. When he moved to Los Angeles permanently, he dropped his daily column but kept his full-page Sunday column, and enjoyed a wide readership until his death of coronary thrombosis in 1947 at the age of 44.
His work in Hollywood is what he's best remembered for today. At Warner Bros. he worked frequently with director Raoul Walsh, on pictures like The Roaring Twenties (1939), They Drive by Night (1940), and High Sierra (1941). Hellinger really made his mark when he was sole producer. He bought the rights to Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Killers," and turned it into a film. The Killers (1946) was Burt Lancaster's first film. Hellinger "discovered" Lancaster, and made another film with him, the prison drama Brute Force (1947), before producing one of the first and most important police procedural films, The Naked City, which was released in 1948. He consider The Naked City his best film, and it's certainly his most personal. In addition to being a mystery, it's a love letter to New York that Hellinger narrated himself. It was the first film to be shot entirely on location (with hidden cameras for the street scenes).
This book is mostly episodic anecdotes, and it's a great read....more
This was the first book by Alastair Reynolds that I've read, but I don't think it will be the last. While I have some reservations about it, the goodThis was the first book by Alastair Reynolds that I've read, but I don't think it will be the last. While I have some reservations about it, the good stuff overwhelmingly outweighs the bad stuff.
By the standards of hard sci-fi, this is an astoundingly well-written novel. Too many sci-fi writers use their characters as a series of mouthpieces to move along the plot and explain the big ideas, but most of the characters in Pushing Ice felt like real people. Reynolds has a keen understanding of individual and group psychology, and most of the conflict in the novel is driven by personality clashes that feel tragically real.
However, some of this falls apart toward the end of the novel. For about the first 75% of Pushing Ice I was totally and completely enthralled, and was all set to give the book five stars. However, the final quarter is driven by actions by one character that feel really unbelievable given the situation, and that was when I felt as if Reynolds was moving his characters around like chess pieces. The conclusion feels rushed, too.
But overall this was one of the best sci-fi novels I've read recently. Pushing Ice has great writing, fully realized characters, and big, interesting concepts....more
Methuselah's Children is an early sci-fi novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It originally appeared in three parts in the magazine Astounding Science FictionMethuselah's Children is an early sci-fi novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It originally appeared in three parts in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, in the July, August, and September issues of 1941.
In 1958 it was published as a full-length novel, expanded somewhat by Heinlein. I don't know what was added or changed, but it can't have been that much, because it's still a very short novel, despite there being enough plot to fill a 1,000-page epic.
The story involves a group of "families" who enjoy incredibly long life thanks to selective breeding. When news of their longevity is revealed, the rest of the world goes mad wanting to know their "secret formula," which doesn't exist. So they hijack an interstellar cruiser called New Frontiers and go in search of more hospitable planets. The fact that they find more than one habitable planet and make contact with more than one alien race is why I said there's enough plot to fill a book much, much longer than this one.
As it is, it's an enjoyable read, but the descriptions feel sketchy at times, and Heinlein employs more than one deus ex machina to move his characters around.
Your enjoyment of this book will probably depend on your enjoyment of Heinlein's wacky ideas. I'm not totally sold on his worldview, but I enjoy reading about it....more
If you've never heard of ZBS, they're a small company that produces audio adventures with rich soundscapes. They started in the early '70s and are stiIf you've never heard of ZBS, they're a small company that produces audio adventures with rich soundscapes. They started in the early '70s and are still at it.
When I was a kid, I listened to my local NPR affiliate and heard parts of the first few ZBS adventure shows about the character Jack Flanders.
Moon Over Morocco is the second Jack Flanders adventure. It's similar in some ways to the first, The Fourth Tower of Inverness, but Moon Over Morocco is a more "grown-up" adventure. It features transcendent, powerful background sounds that were actually recorded in Morocco by author Paul Bowles. There are heavy references to the movie Casablanca -- the character Kasbah Kelly is a lot like Rick, and Mojo is a lot like Sam. But like every other Jack Flanders adventure I've heard, journeys to other dimensions are a must, and the doppelgangers and head trips come right and left.
I listened to the 50 episodes that make up Moon Over Morocco over the course of 10 weeks, one episode per weekday. In total, it's almost 12 hours, but taken in such small doses, it was a mind-altering little part of my day that I really looked forward to.
Oh, and it contains plenty of Arabic platitudes like "The dogs may bark, but the caravan passes on."...more
This is an adaptation of one of my favorite Parker novels, and Darwyn Cooke doesn't disappoint. He has a great sense of pacing. Too many comic book wrThis is an adaptation of one of my favorite Parker novels, and Darwyn Cooke doesn't disappoint. He has a great sense of pacing. Too many comic book writers seem to assume that people spend as much time on the visuals as they do the dialogue, which leads to some choppy pacing. For this book, though, Cooke intersperses dialogue sections with speech-free action sections, and it really works. He also wonderfully evokes the '60s setting of the original novel without being cutesy or overloading the narrative. My favorite aspect of Richard Stark's Parker novels has always been the heists. The Score was the first big heist Parker ever pulled off, and for my money The Score is the best Cooke adaptation to date....more
First of all, a big shout-out to Ellen, the owner of Colophon Books in Ithaca, NY, who recommended Neal Asher to me when I was in her shop earlier thiFirst of all, a big shout-out to Ellen, the owner of Colophon Books in Ithaca, NY, who recommended Neal Asher to me when I was in her shop earlier this year. (You can check out the shop's website at www.colophonbooks.us)
Gridlinked starts out with a bang and I really enjoyed it from the outset. However, I got really bogged down in the middle section of the book and it took me forever to finish. I finally finished it while traveling over the course of the last couple of weeks and remembered what I liked about it in the first place.
What I liked about it in the first place was its combination of intensive hard-sci-fi world-building with lots of fast-paced action.
What I didn't like so much was the awkward, sometimes impenetrable prose. Here's a typically tortured construction:
"That the station was a centrifugal ring station showed that it was old."
Asher also has a way of introducing jargon and made-up technical terms without explaining them first or even making them particularly easy to understand in context.
So part of getting bogged down was my own fault. This was not a good book for me to read a couple of pages at a time before going to bed at night.
But when I got back into it during vacation I tore through the last third pretty quickly and am looking forward to reading more of Asher's stuff.
Gridlinked takes place in a universe dominated by a galactic empire called The Polity, which is guided not by human politicians but by super-advanced AI.
Ian Cormac, an agent of The Polity, has been mentally connected to a massive computer network--"gridlinked"--for several years longer than recommended due to his value as an agent. Soon after the novel begins his connection has to be severed because he's becoming indistinguishable from an android.
His main human antagonist is a separatist leader named Arian Pelter who wants Cormac dead for personal reasons. Over the course of the novel Pelter is constantly adding "augs" to himself, and his physical appearance becomes more inhuman and technologically grotesque as Cormac is learning to be human again.
This dichotomy is potentially interesting, but Asher is more interested in world-building and violent action than in philosophizing or going too deeply into the psychology of his characters. For instance, since The Polity is presented as infinitely wise, the separatists are presented as being interested only in chaos for chaos's sake. There are enough separatists that they even have a home world called Cheyne III, but I never had much sense of why they were fighting in the first place.
The other big story going on in Gridlinked is about an enormous alien intelligence called "Dragon" that is composed of four enormous floating spheres. Dragon is a type of Sphinx, bedeviling Cormac with riddles and half-truths.
As I said earlier, Asher's writing is sometimes clunky. He has huge ideas and cool concepts, but occasionally it feels like a Ferrari powered by a two-stroke lawn mower engine.
Still, I don't read hard sci-fi for the lyrical prose....more
Beautiful, sad, and soul-stirring. I think I'll hold off on writing a longer review until I've read more of "Sweet Tooth," but suffice it to say thatBeautiful, sad, and soul-stirring. I think I'll hold off on writing a longer review until I've read more of "Sweet Tooth," but suffice it to say that I am deeply invested in this series after the first two collected volumes....more
I really love Batman stories from the '70s. I started reading the comics at some point in the '80s, but the issues from the late '70s are probably theI really love Batman stories from the '70s. I started reading the comics at some point in the '80s, but the issues from the late '70s are probably the first Batman comics I ever saw when I was a pre-literate little kid in the supermarket who was fascinated by the covers.
Unlike what a lot of people think, Batman was not the sunny, goofy do-gooder of the '60s TV show until Frank Miller came along and shook things up with The Dark Knight Returns in 1986. I've read random Batman stories from every decade, and while the issues from the '50s and '60s tend to be pretty silly, after Denny O'Neil took over writing the series in the '70s he returned the Dark Knight Detective to his sinister, pulpy roots. This was an era of beautiful Batman art and decent storytelling, and it saw the introduction of a number of memorable adversaries like Man-Bat.
Probably the most memorable of all was Ra's al Ghul (and his daughter Talia). This volume collects a bunch of Ra's al Ghul stories. A variety of artists penciled and inked these stories, but Denny O'Neil wrote all of them, so this collection is fairly consistent. Ra's al Ghul is cut from the same cloth as Fu Manchu (who also has a dangerously alluring daughter), but he's less racially specific. His name comes from Arabic, and Ra's does spend a fair amount of time in the desert, but he also seems equally comfortable in the snowy wastelands of the Himalayas.
If you're the kind of Batman fan who thinks a story isn't "dark" enough unless there's a child prostitution ring or a villain who wears other people's faces, then you might find this volume laughable, but I think it strikes a nice balance between sinister goings-on and a pulpy sense of fun.
I'd give this maybe three stars as an "objective" judgment, but I tacked on another star for myself, since I love the art, storytelling, and general mood of '70s Batman stories....more
It took me about 40 or 50 pages to warm up to Kenneth Fearing's suspense classic The Big Clock, which is a fair amount of time considering the editionIt took me about 40 or 50 pages to warm up to Kenneth Fearing's suspense classic The Big Clock, which is a fair amount of time considering the edition I read was less than 150 pages.
It's written in a breezy, faux-sophisticated style that really rubbed me the wrong way, but once the main conceit of the novel kicks in, it's a hard book to put down. In brief, a man named George Stroud, who works for an enormous publishing syndicate, cheats on his wife for the umpteenth time ... but this time it's with his boss's girlfriend. The boss, Earl Janoth, murders his mistress for unrelated reasons, and the only witness is George Stroud. Janoth's co-publisher and "fixer," Steve Hagen, convinces Janoth that they need to locate the mysterious witness and get rid of him.
The twist is that they put George Stroud in charge of the investigation, so he assembles a team of researchers and sets them to work locating ... him. Stroud doesn't want to come forward as a witness because it will destroy his marriage, but he also doesn't want to succeed in his investigation, for obvious reasons. On the other hand, he can't stall the investigation or screw it up without raising a red flag.
The excellent (and excellently handled) concept that drives the novel really hooked me, but I also didn't mind so much the writing style after I realized that it was Fearing's attempt to get us inside the head of George Stroud (several sections of the novel are written from other characters' first-person views, and they tend to be more utilitarian). And even though Stroud is a bit of a pretentious blowhard, some of his observations about the enormous publishing empire for which he works are pretty brilliant:
"What we decided in this room, more than a million of our fellow-citizens would read three months from now, and what they read they would accept as final. They might not know they were doing so, they might even briefly dispute our decisions, but still they would follow the reasoning we presented, remember the phrases, the tone of authority, and in the end their crystallized judgments would be ours."
The Big Clock was published in 1946 and made into a movie two years later starring Ray Milland. If you follow my classic film blog, I'll be reviewing the film version soon, so stay tuned......more
This was the first Spider pulp adventure written by Norvell Page, the incredibly prolific man who wrote more installments in the pulp series than anyoThis was the first Spider pulp adventure written by Norvell Page, the incredibly prolific man who wrote more installments in the pulp series than anyone else, and it shows him in fine form. Page wasn't afraid to "go big," and nearly every one of his Spider stories involves the threat of citywide destruction at the bare minimum.
In "Wings of the Black Death" a mysterious super-criminal who calls himself The Black Death threatens to loose the plague throughout New York City if he is not paid $1 billion. Yes, that's THE plague, and yes, he wants one billion dollars, decades before Dr. Evil made similar demands.
Incidentally, I listened to this as an unabridged audiobook from Radio Archives (http://www.radioarchives.com/ProductD...). The narrator, Nick Santa Maria, has the perfect, almost breathless delivery for this type of material, and the music and sound effects are well done, and never overwhelm the narrative. Highly recommended for pulp fans....more