June 23rd, 2009

there!, Hello

Catching Up On My Reading

23) A Walk on The Nightside by Simon R. Green (Ace Books, 2006, 400 pages)
I wanted to like this book. This compilation of the first three dark, urban fantasy novels in Green's Nightside series (set in a fantasy nexus point of sf/f/h) has a pretty nifty setting (a fusing of imaginings from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, and Mike Mignola), rife with possibility. However, I found the first person protagonist to be lacking any engaging qualities whatsoever, the secondary caricatures to be only mildly amusing, the stories to be all too familiar assemblages of dark fantasy/horror tropes, and each novel more frustrating than the last. Alas, I won't be returning to the Nightside anytime soon.

24) Dust by Elizabeth Bear (Spectra, 2007, 368 pages)
I am a sucker for a stranded generation ship story. I've loved these sorts of "medeival societies in high tech surroundings" tales since I was a wee lad playing TSR's Metamorphosis Alpha (the generation ship set precursor to the post-apocalyptic roleplaying game Gamma World) and soaking in Robert Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky. I haven't read a novel in this vein in a good decade or so, so Bear's Dust was a fun return. It begins slow and takes time to build its characters, and by the end (a victory that is truly hard won) I was actually tearing up at the beauty of the resolution.

25) Endworld: Doomsday by David Robbins
This books is quite stupid. And yet, it's a stupid amount of fun as well. A total beach read rollercoaster of a novel, wherein the problems in the middle east escalate. NUKES rain down on America, and only Kurt Carpenter (hmmm. Is this character inspired by the 70s collaborative team of Kurt Russel and John Carpenter? Do ducks deficate?) a forward thinking, superrich, filmmaker has a contingency plan: he has a bunker wherein a handpicked mini-population can survive. The first half of the book details several members making their way to the Mountain. the second half of the book deals with surviving the aftermath, battling rapist-skinhead-bad guy rejects from the as yet unfilmed fourth Mad Max movie. O. M. G. Thor makes something of an appearance (well, a mortal incarnation), wielding a hammer that shoots lightning. O. M. G. A page turner of the worst variety, and yet my juvenile love of PA fiction would not let me put it down. The upcoming Book 2 takes place much later and concerns the descendants of this society (The Family), so I remain uninterested in that. However, if there's more about this group of high adrenaline, macho wackos I might give it a read. Kurt Carpenter for Gawd's sake! AND THOR! O! M! G!

26) The Guns of Heaven by Pete Hamill (Hard Case Crime, 2006, 254 pages)
A somber, lyrical reflection upon the legacy of oppression that drives a people. In this case, the people are the Irish, the oppressors are the Brits, and the topic at hand is the IRA. This novel is a reprint of a novel first published a quarter of a century ago, but the material remains an engrossing time capsule, with some echoes to the present. Of course, being a Hard Case Crime novel, the structure of the book is a thriller, but The Guns of Heaven is a nuanced and literate thriller, running the gamut of emotions, and creating very human, flawed, and moving characters.

27) Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, 1993, 208 pages)
Do not let the fact that this is found in the General Fiction section fool you. It is a horror story through and through. There is quite a bit of humor, sure, but at its heart this is a bleak view of the worst qualities of a human being. And yet, the worst character is also presented as rather sympathetic (to a degree). Lester Ballard is forced from his family home and ekes out a living from the wilds. Ballard's brooding anger ultimately builds into a wholly nasty kinks, and Lester soon tries to combat his loneliness with dead people. Amazon's review calls this "the most sympathetic portrayal of necrophilia in all of literature" and while I firmly believe that reviewer should perhaps read a bit more broadly, the book is damned effective in what it sets out to accomplish. Writers like Jack Ketchum and Richard Laymon strive to achieve this mix of loathesome and compelling material; McCarthy makes it look easy.

28) Hunt At the Well of Eternity by Gabriel Hunt (aka James Reasoner) (Leisure Books, 2009, 232 pages)
Charles Ardai, the editor of Hard Case Crime, now ventures into a different side of pulp fiction by establishing the Gabriel Hunt line of pulp adventure novels. Each is penned by a different author under the Gabriel Hunt byline and pays clear homage to the Doc Savage stories of Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent et. al.). In this, the first book of the series millionaire adventurer Gabriel Hunt meets danger and mystery in equal doses as an encounter with a beautiful woman in a museum turns into a deadly gunfight. With the woman captured (of course), our hero sets out on a trail begun during the final days of the American Civil War. His adventures take him from New York to Florida to Mexico to a lost city in South America, with more derring do, action and suspense than should be found in such a tiny page turner. Where the novel suffers is characters, but that's fine. The main characters have more than one dimension (though often less than three), and the plot is king. While my interest flagged for the final quarter (after the mystery was gone and the events spiralled in to their forseeable ends), I am still interested in future volumes (penned by the likes of Christa Faust, David J. Schow, and Nicholas Kaufmann).

29) The Last Match by David Dodge (Hard Case Crime, 2006, 319 pages)
The author of To Catch a Thief (made into a light, delightful suspense picture by Alfred Hitchcock) channels the voice of Cary Grant in the debonaoir con man protagonist of this novel. The book is filled with cons, brimming with them. Too bad the story itself is a ponderous mishmash of events that never gel into something quite as engaging or endearing. The protag runs from exotic port to exotic port, fleeing his destiny until it smacks him in the face, then he surrenders to it and, well, the book sort of ends. Meh. Probably the worst Hard Case Crime novel I've read yet.

30) Grave Descend by John Lange (Hard Case Crime, 2006, 203 pages)
A slender but meaty novel balancing intrigue and excitement in Jamaica. Hired to salvage a sunken ship (that has not sunk yet), tough guy James McGregor soon finds himself enmeshed in a complicated plot as something of a fall guy. Well, James won't simply sit down and take it. From a mystery to an action piece, Grave Descend is a light, fun read that builds to an unfortunately pat ending. Ah well, everything leading up is done just right.

31) DA by Connie Willis (Subterranean Press, 2007, 74 pages)
The first book I took out from the Cody Public Library, here in San Antonio.
A charming, often frustrating (as in I feel for the protag's frutstration), screwball comedy of a science fiction novella. In some ways, this pays clear homage to the juveniles of Heinlein (a young, smart protagonist remains set in her ways when told she must behave in a socially acceptable fashion). In this case, she is granted the honor of being inducted as an IASA space cadet, though she has zero interest in going into space and never actually applied; but it's an honor to be a part of the group! Yeah, an honor she does not want. Well, just when the story gets good, the book ends. Nuts. I want more! The Subterranean Press edition includes absolutely WONDERFUL images from J.K. Potter.

32) The Peddler by Richard S. Prather (Hard Case Crime, 2006, pages)
Reprint of a crime novel from 1952, this book recounts the classic gangster rise and fall of Jimmy, as he pursues a career in crime centered around prostitutes. From hustler to pimp to house lord and further, Jimmy is a turd of a guy who makes more enemies than he knows what to do with. However, he's got the luck of the devil, though this does not help him by novel's end. A nice little page turner with some tough talk dialogue and a sleazy quality throughout.

33) You've Been Warned by James Patterson and Howard Roughan (Vision Books, 2008, 400 pages)
Thank goodness for public libraries. This was the second book I took out from the Cody, after starting it in the local Borders. Back to the capsule review.
My Twitter review says everything: "You've Been Warned is a 7-page EC comic written by someone suffering logorrhea & ADD." What it doesn't say is the characters are flat and the plot is a retread of a retelling of a "surprise" story that absolutely lacks surprises.
Photographer/Nanny protagonist is having an affair with a married man. Strange stuff starts to happen to her, flashes from the future (or is it the past?) and weird music, and a sense of impending doooooom. I saw the surprise coming early on and kept reading to see if the authors might not be setting me up for The! Ultimate! Twist! Evar! They were not. One of the most familiar tropes used exactly as expected.
Don't waste your time with this book. You've been warned.

34) All the Lies that Are My Life by Harlan Ellison (Underwood Miller, 1989, 130 pages)
While unpacking in the new apartment, I came across this olde slipcase edition that I had never actually read. Well, I thought, I could sit down for a few minutes and give it a go. Of course, once begun I did not stop until the piece was over, until I was emotinally blugeoned, and looking at the rest of my Ellison stack, wondering what I might try next . . . Alas, Library Books call first.
When successful novelist Kercher Oliver James Crowstairs dies, he is remembered by his one true friend Larry Bedloe. For my money, Ellison's best works are his novella length pieces (eg. "The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie") whether or not they include fantastical elements. Here we have a confession story, as Ellison ponders postmortem legacy, friendship, an all too real "revenge from beyond the grave" and some very human questions about how well a person can know another. What we know of Kercher reveals parallels to Ellison himself. Then again, what we know of Larry parallels Ellison himself too (as strained, perhaps, through imitation of Robert Silverberg). Is this self indulgent? Perhaps, but I really don't care. What it is is a warts and all view of an author, whose life has been reduced to a novella length high- and lowlights reel. Touching, thoughful, and moving. I am and always will be a fan of Ellison's writing. When he is on, few can touch his work. I only wish he would write more these days.

Yeah yeah. If wishes were fishes, right?

35) Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates (Dutton, 1995, 192 pages)
This is the third book I borrowed from the Cody Public Library.
Grim, nasty, and oddly funny. This is not some zombpocalypse novel, but a very dark view into a psychopath's head. Q____ P____ (aka Quentin) longs, you see, to have a boy love him. Actually, he longs to have a boy who will love him forever, call him master, and beg to have his bum ravaged until blue guts spill. Quentin longs to have a zombie, and in this book he sets out to make one by kidnapping young, lovely boys and performing lobotomies upon them. Of course, the fact that Quentin has no experience performing such procedures makes for a lot of . . . failures. And yet, the book has a funny side too. If Kurt Vonnegut had penned American Psycho, it might have turned out like this (complete with little hand illustrations, too).

36) Crown of Slaves by David Weber and Eric Flint (Baen, 2003, 505 pages)
T has a copy of this, but we loaned it out. Thus, the copy I read was taken from the Cody Public Library.
First in a new series set in the Honorverse (the universe of series character Honor Harrington, star of On Basilisk Station, one of my favorite sf novels in the last 20 years), though there has not been a sequel. Reading it, I can see why. It's a very philosophical, talky book tackling the topic of slavery. Slavery, it says, is bad. Well no shit.
Anyway. The book itself is somewhat long (rather bloated, actually), and filled with a cast of character who range from "WOAH, INTERESTING!" to "Hmmm, I want to know more" to "WHY IS THIS CHARACTER HERE? Ooooh, in case a new society needs to start up. How. Fortunate!" hntrpyanfar loves this book, and I can see why. There's an exciting 250 page story in here. Alas, it is spread across 500 pages, but when it's on, it's a treat. And then it stops for a bit so the authors can intrude with Big Ideas. Then it starts, again. Good guys succeed, bad guys buy it, and the stage is set for more books along the line. First novels (in series) are often mired in worldbuilding, alas, and while some of it was interesting (finally, a sympathetic view of the People's Republic of Haven!) some of it was . . . well, not (Yes, I know. Slavers are the new Nazis. I got that, already. Can we move along? Please?). :)