Monday, January 12, 2015

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-Extinction

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-ExtinctionHow to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-Extinction by Beth Shapiro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of de-Extinction is a book detailing the trials and tribulations involved in bringing an extinct species back to life.

I got this from Netgalley.

Okay, here's the deal. I found this book very interesting but also very repetitive. After the fourth or fifth description of a possible cloning method, only to have it explained yet again why it wouldn't work for a mammoth, I was ready to commission Bill Bryson to write a cloning book for me.

There were a lot of interesting concepts, like back-breeding, that I'd never heard of. Apparently scientists in Europe have been back-breeding cows to produce something very much like an aurochs for decades. Could the same process be used to create something mammoth-ish from Asian elephants?

The book painstakingly chronicles the trials and tribulations of retrieving intact-ish DNA from frozen mammoth carcasses. Apparently dogs will gnaw bits off of a mammoth carcass once you get it out of the ground.

While de-extincting mammoths was the title feature, other species were covered, like the passenger pigeon, the dodo, and the woolly rhinoceros. I found it really interesting that mammoths survived well into human history and scientists still aren't sure why they went extinct in the first place. There was also some speculation that re-introducing mammoths or mammoth-infused Asian elephants to Siberia could turn the tundra into a grassland in just a few seasons. Interesting things to ponder.

The bottom line is the book covered some interesting topics but could have been more interestingly written. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Atlanta Burns

Atlanta Burns (Atlanta Burns #1-2)Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got this Atlanta Burns omnibus from Netgalley.

Shotgun Gravy: When a friend of a friend is violated by bullies in an attempt to set him straight, Atlanta Burns goes on the offensive. But can a teenage girl everyone is afraid of get the job done?

Add redneck noir Young Adult fiction to the list of things Chuck Wendig is good at. Shotgun Gravy is tale of fighting against bullying by a teenage girl that's seen a lot in her young life. I've seen her referred to as Nancy Drew with a shotgun but she's more like another Wendig character, Miriam Black, only younger and without supernatural abilities.

Shotgun Gravy isn't a trip to the YA parade, either. There are neo-Nazis, bullies, and even the protagonists are damaged goods. It's way more like Winter's Bone than stereotype YA love triangle mush. I was halfway through the first novella before I realized it. I kept thinking "Is Atlanta going to Red Harvest these shitheads?"

Side note: One thing I think Chuck Wendig excels at is creating gay characters that have an identity outside of being gay. You wouldn't think that would be as rare as it is in this day and age but here we are.

Bait Dog: One of Atlanta's friends dies, apparently a suicide. When a classmate hires her to find her who stole her dog, Atlanta stumbles upon a dog fighting ring. Are the two connected? And can Atlanta find out AND make enough money to keep the bank from foreclosing on her mother's house?

Bait Dog is a powerful little book. When you hear a book described as Young Adult, you don't think of this. Well, maybe if someone speculated what a Young Adult book by Jim Thompson would read like. You know what really puts the cherry on top of killing gays? A dog fighting ring! There sure are some galaxy-class douche bags in Atlanta Burns' general vicinity.

This is some bleak shit. Shotgun Gravy was just the tip of the iceberg of despair. Atlanta goes through the meat grinder once again, this time dragging her friends with her. It was novel length but felt a thousand times longer because of the unrelenting hopelessness of Atlanta's plight. Dirty cops, dirty millionaires, dirty dog fight ring owners, dirty, dirty dirty. I enjoyed it and thought it was very well done but I was glad as shit when it was over.

Side note: I have to think Chuck Wendig is a fan of the Wire since there are characters named Bird and Bodie and a dog named Omar.

If Atlanta Burns is any indication, 2015 is going to be another stellar year for Chuck Wendig. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

It's Only Death

Its Only DeathIts Only Death by Lee Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When he was a teenager, Elmore James Jackson killed his father, a cop, in an attempted bank robbery and has been on the lam ever since. When his sister contacts him, saying their mother is dying of pancreatic cancer, James heads home to find a number of people want him dead...

I got this from the fine folks at DarkFuse via Netgalley.

This is one of those books that's hard to quantify. Is it a noir tale at redemption? Is it about family and loss? Does it emphasize that we all make our own choice and life is a circle? Or is it about a bunch of fuck-knuckles doing each other dirty?

Yes. I'd say it's all those things.

When James rolls into town, it sure seems like he's going to be rolling out in a pine box. Killing his father six years earlier threw his family life off the rails. His once angelic sister is a stripper. His father's old partner is gunning for him. His sister's douche bag boyfriend and his biker pals have it out for him. His only ally is the guy whose been pining over his sister since they were kids and even that's not on solid ground.

It's hard to root for a screw-up sociopath but Lee Thompson does a great job making me feel sympathy for James. When almost every character in the book is a gaping asshole, James is the least assholish, I guess. It would have been easy for Thompson to use the tale's setup to do the Jack Reacher-style tough guy rolls into town and becomes a gun-toting super hero on all the bad guys but it doesn't go down like that. It's Only Death is more or less a bleak tale about facing the music and getting what's coming to you.

That's not to say there isn't bloodshed. I'm pretty sure everyone is dead or dying by the end apart from one or two characters. There is gunplay, brutal fisticuffs, knives, and even an alligator. It wasn't a long book but I was pretty worn out by the end of it.

It's Only Death is a bleak dysfunctional noir tale that only someone with the last name Thompson could write. Four out of Five Stars.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

The Art of Growing a Beard

The Art of Growing a BeardThe Art of Growing a Beard by Marvin Grosswirth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Art of Growing a Beard is a book about the history, selection process, and maintenance of beards from throughout history.

I got this from Netgalley.

This book was written in the 1970's and has been reissued. It is also a hilarious text on all aspects of bearded life and essential for the bearded or wannabe bearded gentleman.

Did you know we haven't had a bearded president in over a century? Or that it's perfectly acceptable to draw beards on photographs of oneself when selecting your beard? Or that the perfect accessories for a goatee are a string tie, mint julep, and a pillared mansion in some state of decrepitude?

Grosswirth also covers the impact growing a beard will have on your life, be it increased attention from the opposite sex or giving you an air of authority.

The Art of Growing a Beard does show it's age a bit. It was written in the 1970's and 70's slang and attitudes are prevalent, which makes it even more hilarious, in my opinion.

If you have a beard, know someone with a beard, or want to know someone with a beard, you will find this book both informative and hilarious. Four out of five stars.

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Macaque Attack!

Macaque Attack!Macaque Attack! by Gareth L. Powell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the wake of the Gestalt's defeat, Ack-Ack Macaque is now the leader of an army of uplifted monkeys and wandering the multiverse. When cyborgs from Mars launch an asteroid at earth, which foul-mouth cigar chomping primate are they going to call?

I got this from Netgalley and it was damn sweet!

Here we are, the thrilling conclusion to the Macaque Trilogy. When the backup consciousnesses of Celeste and her minions wake up on Mars, they send Earth a present in the form of a giant asteroid. Sure enough, Ack-Ack is up to the challenge of going Armageddon on its ass, once he finds his way back from a different reality, that it.

I find it amazing how Gareth Powell took a fairly ridiculous premise, that of a cigar-chomping macaque fighting in WWII and turned it into a three book cyberpunk epic featuring parallel worlds and things of that nature. What could have been a hilarious novella about an ass-kicking simian morphed into a fantastic trilogy featuring such heady topics as quantum physics, nanotechnology, virtual reality, and what it means to be alive.

For a book featuring an ape with a mouth like a sailor, this bastard is a pretty serious tale. Entire timelines are destroyed, lots of shit blows up, and a certain woman has to say goodbye to her husband. The increasingly world-weary Ack-Ack finds he'll be facing the most brutal battle of them all: Fatherhood.

It's hard not to like a series book that prominently features a super-intelligent, gun-toting, chain smoking macaque. Not only that, the Macaque trilogy also features such winning ingredients as clones, cyborgs, parallel universes, nanomachinery, personality backups, homages to pulp sf, hive minds, and uplifted primates, most of which have foul mouths. Even though it was left open-ended, this fuck-knuckle was a very satisfying conclusion to the tale of Ack_Ack Macaque. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Angel of the Abyss

Angel of the AbyssAngel of the Abyss by Ed Kurtz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a reel from a legendary lost film is discovered, Graham Woodard flies out to LA to help restore it. However, complications arise when the film goes missing and the owner gets herself murdered. But what does all that have to do with Woodard's ex-wife?

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

Angel of the Abyss is a short novel. "Modern Hollywood Noir" would be a handy label to slap on it. The timeline shifts from the past, when Gracie Baron was making The Angel of the Abyss, to the present, when Graham Woodard is hired to restore the legendary lost silent film.

First off, I have to admit that this book probably arrived at the wrong time for me. Consequently, it felt like I was reading it forever. There was nothing wrong with the book but it was definitely not a "drop everything" kind of read. It was more like a "I'll read this during the Cardinal game and maybe while I'm trying to fall asleep" kind of read.

Anyway, the shifting viewpoints keep the tension mounting. While I've never heard of Ed Kurtz prior to this, he knows how to use his noir conventions. He surprised me with quite a few of his twists and I should have seen the ending coming but he still got me. While the modern era plot thread was my favorite, I loved Ed's Hollywood noir dialogue during the Gracie chapters. There was a lot of action and both plot threads kept me interested when I made time to read.

Like I said earlier, I'm pretty sure this was a case of wrong book, wrong time for me. Since it's a DarkFuse release, I was expecting horror rather than noir. I still enjoyed it, though. Three out of five stars.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014


FacialFacial by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once the hitman he hired to kill his wife's lover finishes the job, Greg kills the hitman in his office. Fortunately, his brother is suddenly in need of a fresh corpse after finding a dead lion in his basement. Then things get a little strange...

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

I'm a big fan of both Jeff Strand and DarkFuse so this one was a no-brainer when it showed up on Netgalley. It was neither my favorite Jeff Strand book nor my favorite DarkFuse publication but it was still entertaining.

So, what would you do if you went into your basement and found a lion carcass with a talking face beneath it? Yeah, we've all had that problem a few times but Jeff Strand is the first one to write about it. Strand is the Christoper Moore of horror. He can take things like serial-killing and make them hilarious. I kept chuckling when Greg and Carlton were discussing killing and such. Felicia was also pretty hilarious. There were a ton of funny one-liners in this little novella.

I'm a fan of bizarro fiction but this one was almost too weird for even me. The face was part of the floor and every time it ate another head, another face appeared on the floor. Interesting but I was expecting a lot more in the way of explanation when the tale wrapped. Still, it was a pretty entertaining read. Three out of five stars.

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