December 17th, 2008

there!, Hello

Vacation and Books

Sick to crap of the awful weather in New England, hntrpyanfar and I ventured to Phoenix, Arizona last weekend. Fleeing ice storms, we left the airplane to find ourselves in near 70 degrees F (no long underwear or jackets!), and wondering if I should've brought shorts... Of course, it being December in desert climes, the temps steadily dropped, and by evening the breezes (through palm trees) became particularly brisk after getting out of the hottub. Over the next few days, we did don windbreakers, when we ventured northward to Sedona, saw the Red Rock State Park (one of the most beautiful tracks of land I have ever visited) in Coconino National Forest and the Tuzigoot ruins of the vanished Sinagua tribe. All told, it was a vacation that I have been needing.

The flight out was short sleep surreal, as the evening before we had stayed up to naughty hours, discovering a new formula for fun:
shogunhb, shadowravyn, kadath, dirkcjelli + lots of alcohol + Rock Band 2 = amazingly good time. (I dunno if I will ever be able to listen to Dave Mustaine's lackluster vocal efforts on "Sleepwalker" after hearing dirkcjelli's memorable and hilarious run.) Thus, we got about 4 hours of sleep before venturing to Providence, RI for our 5:40 am flight. Sleepy as I might have been, I would not have changed a thing.


On the flight, I finished a book (thus ending my month-and-a-half long streak of "start reading something new but never actually finish any of the books I've started"). While we were there, I finished another, and on the way home I finished a third. Huzzah!
64) Gun Work by David J. Schow. (250 pages, Hard Case Crime, Published 2008)
A taut thriller told in delightfully spare sentences that bubble over with evocative language. How does Schow do it? Instead of the traditional "sanding down" image of the hardboiled school of fiction crafting, I prefer to think in terms of another metaphor: Words are like cartridges, and he knows how to nail his targets...
The novel follows Barney, a go-to-gunsel who initially gets one of those phone calls that a person seldom relishes, a call for help from an old friend. A trip to Mexico drops Barney in the wood chipper, when a rescue op (for a tourista kidnap) becomes something altogether more complex. Schow's fiction has often dragged in influences from a variety of fictional genre-pools, and this is no different. Gun Work offers human horror, men's adventure, hardboiled thrillers (ala Jim Thompson or Gerald Kersch), and often witty attention to the truths of violence make for a rather good read. I'll be writing up a real review of this one.

65) Jake's Wake by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow. (323 pages, Leisure Books, 2008).
A horror novel that is obviously influenced by film, this pursues the "small group of people trapped in a torture house" model of horror story, and while it attempts to provide some sort of emotional honesty and depth to what is essentially shallow earth, it does not quite succeed. I might have enjoyed this book about 15 years ago, when I was interested in horror fiction in all its varieties, but alas my tastes have changed. It feels too much like a screenplay fleshed out (though more successful than Skipp's last outing in this mode), so it shoulf come as no surprise that the book is currently in preproduction for a film. It achieves only a "meh" response. A real review will appear at Horror Reader, someday.

66) Saturn's Children by Charles Stross. (2008, Ace, 336 pages).
Essentially, this is episodic science fiction in the hard sf mode. Lots of technobabble, though not so much that it completely obfuscates the sexual subtext. Did I say sexual? Yes, I did. While the Publisher's weekly review suggests that sex drips from every page, that's not quite true (and makes for the icky image of a particularly moist read). However, the erotic is no stranger to interactions in this book. Whether it's physical intercourse as negotiation or the coupling of sentient spaceships to sentient cargo holds, sexuality is quite evident in much of the book. No surprise, given the protagonist and narrator.
Freya is a sexbot, trying to find purpose in a world where, 200 years earlier, humans have ceased to exist. Pissing off aristocrats, working as a spy/courier, and visiting the many worlds constructed and maintained by artificial persons... I'd say she finds purpose pretty well. :)
I am a sucker for humor. If an author can tickle my funny bone, I will forgive much. Stross knows how to deliver a good funny line, but also knows how to construct rather humorous sequences (quite a feat in prose).
I found the character of Freya to be well drawn and sympathetic. While the dedication reveals two direct influences (Heinlein and Asimov), I found plenty more at work. My favorites are the occasional bits of surreal, reality-bending terror in the vein of Philip K. Dick. . .
This is the first book by Charles Stross I have actually read, and I look forward to more (T has been giving rave reviews about The Atrocity Archives, so that will probably be my next).
there!, Hello

Oh, and I saw a "movie" last night.

$6, Twilight.

Short Review: Death Race was a much better movie. (Really.)

Longer Review: Boring beginning (with a "Phoenix, Arizona" that looks nothing like the actual Phoenix, Arizona, and a Washington State that looks unsurprisingly like Vancouver). Lots of boring middle (that would have been much better if many of the secondary characters ripped off their faces and revealed themselves to be Bug Eyed Aliens Intent On Enslaving Earth; everyone was waaaaaay too nice; creepy nice, eerie Body Snatchers style) . Uninteresting dialogue, uninteresting relationships between uninteresting characters. Woah! Violence? Over before you notice it. More boring served with a lame-oh cream sauce on a bed of lousy. I enjoy watching the teeniebopper girlies three rows ahead of me "oooohing" over Edward (if that was his name) and bootleg filming him with their handheld techno-whatsit more than actually watching the movie. Boring, boring--

Holy shit, where did this actual interesting movie part come from? Huh. 20 minutes of actual suspense and interesting visuals and development. Holy shit, a moment of emotional realism! Done now.

Cut back to the movie I recall. Boring relationship climax and denouement. Roll end credits to a Paramore song (a pop band to whom I am an admitted sucker for). I paid how much for this?

So, what're the actually "interesting" bits? Vampire Baseball in a thunderstorm was amusing (made even more eye-catching by the shots of Alyson-Hannigan-adorable/Drusilla-crazy-hot Alice on the pitcher's mound, kicking up a leg every time she lobs a ball toward the batter. Does this make me=pig? Maybe, but I am an honest one). Then, badguys show up, and there is actual tension between the goodie-goodie, white collar, whiter than white vamps and the baaaaaad white trash couple and obligatory black dude vampires (up until this point there has been zero tension). Kinda neat. Then, a moment of heartbreak where goodie-goodie daughter Isabella "Bella" Swan verbally destroys her father. The actor freezes, building up a layer of apparent defense, subtly revealing just how ruined he has become (it actually broke my heart), then a fight sequence which culminates with crazy-cute Alice killing eeeevil white trash vampire by repeatedly wrenching his head side to side (since vamps need rending to pieces if they are going to be truly destroyed). Oh, yeah. Isabella is dying, too. Should the Doctor save her? Or should we leave it to Tortured Soul Edward (if that is his name)? End of interesting movie (though Isabella's facial expressions are pretty high-larious).

Essentially, there are a couple of good actors here (playing the roles of the Dad, Dad's Indian buddy -- who is a wheelchair bound Indian(!), making him a double duty Saturday Morning diversity hour character -- Dad's Indian buddy's son, and precognitive, crazy-cute Alice) taking the material they have been given Seriously Enough (often, not that seriously at all), but they don't get nearly enough time.

I saw it. I need never read the book. I need never see it again.

(I might seek out clips of that vampy baseball game on Youtube. me=pig, remember?).
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