Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Dark Tower

The Dark TowerThe Dark Tower by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The 2011 re-read
The quest for the Dark Tower comes to a brutal conclusion. Can Roland and his friends stop the Breakers of Algul Siento, safeguard the Beam, protect the Rose, stop Stephen King from being run down and killed, and reach the Dark Tower?

This is the end of my favorite epic of all time.The rest of the review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Here we are again. Has it really been seven years since the last time I read this?

When the last Dark Tower book was finally published in 2004, I took a Friday off work to make sure I'd have plenty of time to read that first weekend. I don't remember how many days it took to read through the 800+ pages but I know I tore through it. The re-read has almost been like a completely new book. Except...

...Well, there's no real way to sugar coat this. The first time through, I shed silent man tears at the deaths of Eddie, Jake, and even Oy the billy-bumbler. Since I knew what was coming, you'd think I'd be able to brace myself during the re-read. Nope. There were silent man tears shed once again. I think it was actually worse this time since I knew what was going to happen.

So much has changed since 2004 when I last finished this book. People have passed through my life and some have passed on altogether. To the clearing at the end of the path, as Roland would say. A lot happens in seven years. When Roland calls out the names of his ka-tet and the others outside the tower, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought of doing something similar.

There's a feeling of suspense throughout most of the 800 pages, from the battle at Algul Siento to the saving of Stephen King to the final fight at the end. Roland's feeling of loss was a very real thing. I know because I felt it too. I think it was actually Roland's loss that pushed my buttons rather than the actual deaths and the breaking of the ka-tet. When the toughest son of a bitch in all the worlds cries, it's some serious shit. By the time this book rolls around, Roland is a vastly different person from the ruthless Man with No Name he was in The Gunslinger.

Even before the Dark Tower was completed, it was one of the books against which I measured all others. Since re-reading the entire saga a second time, I'm happy to say that it still is.

That's not to say I don't have any complaints about the saga. For one thing, I felt like Eddie and Walter both went out like chumps. Walter's portrayed as a big bad throughout the series and didn't really do much. It made Mordred seem like a capable threat but I would have preferred Walter dying by Roland's hand. Speaking of Mordred, his storyline almost felt tacked on and I felt the whole Susannah-Mia thing was overly complex. The Crimson King was a little bit of a letdown as well. The final battle felt like something out of a video game and I couldn't help but picture The Crimson King looking like Dr. Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog.

The ending seems to be a big problem for a lot of people. I didn't have a problem with the ending during the first read, nor do I have a problem with it now. The underlying theme of the series is that Ka is a wheel. Roland going back to the beginning reinforces that fact. King also let himself an opportunity to redo the series if he is so inclined in Roland having the Horn of Eld in his possession at the resumption of his quest.

I don't really have much else to say. It was my favorite epic when I was 19 and will probably be my favorite epic when I'm 99. It's not for everyone but few really good books are. I'll be reading it again in the future. Hopefully sooner than another seven years.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Buyer Beware

Buyer BewareBuyer Beware by John Lutz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man hires Alo Nudger to retrieve the daughter his ex-wife absconded to Florida with. Nudger finds the daughter and winds up tied up in another case entirely, a case involving her mother, a millionaire's missing daughter, and the mysterious deaths of businessmen all over the country. Can Nudger find the daughter or is it already too late?

Over the last six months or so, I've been exercising more retraint than usual in regard to buying books. Unfortunately, I had a hankering for a detective yarn over the weekend and discovered I didn't have any on my unread pile. I decided to give John Lutz's Alo Nudger a chance and I'm glad I did.

Nudger's not your typical detective. He specializes in retrieving children that have been kidnapped by one of their parents following a divorce. He lives in a trailer, just barely getting by. He's not handsome, brave, tough, or quick-whitted. He's smart, though, and tenancious. He reminds me of Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder to a degree. Both are former cops that left the force and both are driven by guild for past sins. In Nudger's case, he was having an affair with an alderman's wife and booted from the force. Shortly thereafter, his wife left him and took their two kids. She remarried awhile later, only to be killed in a car accident with her new husband and Nudger's two kids.

When I started Buyer Beware, I had no idea how complex it was going to get. He found Clark's missing daughter in just a few pages, before getting ensnared in the web around the child's mother. Like Lawrence Block, Lutz had me guessing for most of the story. I had no idea what was going on until the last forty pages or so. I felt like I was learning the details along with Nudger and could never manage to get ahead of him in the story of Gratuity Insurance and the connections it had to various players in the story.

Another thing I liked is that Lutz resisted the temptation that many detective fiction writers succumb to. While there were two or three attractive women in the story, Nudger didn't wind up in bed with any of them. Or even get close. I hate when writers force a hookup just to do it.

I guess I'd better wrap this up or the review is going to wind up being as long as the book. While the down on his luck detective thing has been done, John Lutz manages to inject enough life into Alo Nudger that I'll be looking for more of Nudger's cases in the future.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Werewolf and the Wormlord

The Werewolf and the WormlordThe Werewolf and the Wormlord by Hugh Cook

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Wormlord, ruler of Wen Endex, is stepping down without an heir, offering his throne to anyone who can retrieve the saga swords. Alfric Danbrog, grandson of the Wormlord and son of Grendel Danbrog, the Wormlord's estranged son who's been accused of being a lycanthrope, is dragooned into the suicidal quest. Too bad he's a near-sighted banker...

The Short Review:
Dan, why is this so awesome? One word: Werehamster!

The Longer Review:
Much like in The Wordsmiths and the Warguild, Hugh Cook takes the traditional fantasy quest story and turns it on its ear. Alfric Danbrog, banker third class and possible werewolf, is far from the conventional hero. He's a coward, has a domineering wife, and lives in the shadow of his grandfather, the Wormlord. At the behest of his employer, The Bank, he goes on the quest for the three saga swords in an effort to be crowned king. But a lot of people don't want him finishing his quest...

So what? It'll probably become a coming of age story where the nebbish steps up and becomes the hero, right? Wrong! This is Hugh Cook we're talking about. How many quest stories have you read featuring a sea dragon poet, a brain damaged swamp giant, and vampires that want to open a bank account?

As I've mentioned before, Cook's fantasy word has a healthy quantity of advanced technology lying around that the people barely understand. Well, Alfric's employer, The Bank, understands one piece of technology all too well. The Bank is a multinational organization that takes advantage of Doors, wormholes that link various continents and empires, and rules the financial world of the Chronicles of an Age of Darkness with an iron fist, manipulating events as they see fit. How cool is that?

As always, the Cookster did a great job balancing British humor, violence, and general weirdness. As always, Cook brings back a few old characters for brief appearances, like Justina Thrug of books 6 and 7, as well as mentions of others, like Aldarch III.

The Werewolf and the Wormlord feels like a Monty Python sketch at times, from the ridiculous business-speak at The Bank, to the vampires, to Alfric's interactions with the various monsters on his quest, to the cowardly Yudonic Knights. And the werehamster, of course. As in some of the previous books, the political machinations are insanely complex.

That's pretty much all I can say without spoiling too much.

Conclusion: Hugh Cook is the man. The Werewolf and the Wormlord is an easy five and my second favorite book in the Chronicles of an Age of Darkness so far.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland

Warrior Wolf Women of the WastelandWarrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland by Carlton Mellick III

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a post-apocalyptic world, the McDonalds Corporation picked up the pieces and rebuild civilization in its own demented image. People live and work in a red and yellow city-state, eating McDonald's three meals a day. When Daniel Togg's two extra arms are discovered, he's cast out into the wastelands, where he is quickly captured by the wolf-women. Will Daniel ever be able to return to McDonaldland? And will he want to if he gets the chance?

Wow. I wasn't already a fan of Carlton Mellick III before this book, I sure would be now. There are so many things I want to mention but I'm afraid of spoiling too much.

WWWW is a post-apocalyptic tale about a fascist city-state controlled by the McDonald's corp, although it's a lot more than that. It's a tale about conformity, male dominance, fear of female sexuality, corporate evil, lost love, and much, much more.

The world-building in WWWW is the best in any Bizarro book I've read so far. Living in McDonaldland seems horrible in a whimsical kind of way. Imagine living in a world where you have to work two shifts a day, eating only McDonalds, and everything is shades of red and yellow? Throw in Fry Guy policemen and it just gets worse. The world outside McDonaldland is pretty brutal but almost seems preferable to that kind of existence.

Due to generations of eating McDonald's three meals a day, mankind has undergone some changes. Women slowly change into wolves with each orgasm and men undergo mutations as well. The source of the mutations are eventually revealed once Daniel spends some time in the Wastelands.

The Wolves were interesting characters, particularly Pippi, Grandma, Nova, and Talon. The whole plotline of Daniel and Nova slowly getting back together was what sold the book for me. The big Mad Max style battles didn't hurt, either. The swapping of gender roles once Daniel is taken in by the wolves was another of my favorite aspects of the story.

What else should I mention? I guess I'll say that if you find the current incarnation of the Burger King to be super-creepy, you probably won't like Mayor McCheese or the Hamburglar to be very loveable after reading this.

I can't recommend Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland enough. It's not just a great Bizarro book, it's a great book. Period. It's also the most accessible of Carlton Mellick III's books I've read so far. If you're looking to give either Bizarro or CMIII a try, you could do a lot worse than this.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

The Scarf

The ScarfThe Scarf by Robert Bloch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Up and coming writer Dan Morley has a dark past he'd rather keep hidden. Can he keep the past buried or will his career tank when people discover his dark secrets involving... THE SCARF!

There really isn't a lot to say. Dan Morely seduces women, uses them to further his goals, and murders them using the scarf. It's not that suspenseful after the first murder.

The Scarf is a pretty slim read at 160 pages and doesn't leave a lot of room to maneuver. Once I got past the halfway mark, I was pretty sure Morely wouldn't have any kind of a relationship with a woman without trying to do away with her at some point.

I'd say my favorite part was Morely's origin, his high school love affair with a much older teacher, culminating in the two of them nearly being killed, setting the standard for Morely's relationships with women throughout the rest of his life.

Three stars is lower than I originally intended on rating it but the ending SUCKED! It was out of nowhere and kind of invalidated the rest of the book. The whole book was dependent on Morely's affair with his teacher and her being killed in a gas leak while his hands were bound with the scarf, then she turns up alive? What kind of bullshit is that?

The Scarf is worth a couple hours of reading time, but it's not my favorite Bloch. It's good but falls apart at the end. If you have a choice between and Shooting Star/Spiderweb, the Bloch book Hard Case put out, go for the Hard Case. This one is barely a 3.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011


Spycatcher: A NovelSpycatcher: A Novel by Matthew Dunn

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard is plannign a terror attack against the West and it's up to MI6's top agent Will Cochrane to ferret out the terrorist mastermind, a fellow spy calling himself Meggido. But what is the connection between Cochrane and Meggido? And is Cochrane willing to use the woman he's falling for to bait a trap for Meggido?

I won this in a Firstreads giveway.
The good parts:
Spycatcher is a decent thriller. Since Matthew Dunn is a former MI6 agent, the action has a gritty authenticity to it. Will Cochrane reminds me of Daniel Craig as James Bond, only tougher and less pretty. It was suspenseful at the appropriate times but not an orgy of violence.

One of the things I liked most about Spycatcher was that while the villains were Muslim terrorists, Dunn didn't beat me over the head with his political beliefs. Not once did I feel like I was being preached to about the evils of the Muslim religion. Brad Thor could learn a thing or two from Dunn's even-handedness.

The not so good parts:
The writing was pretty bland. Maybe it's because I'm a cynical curmudgeon but I found 90% of the twists to be fairly predictable, from Meggido's connection to Cochrane's past to Cochrane falling for Lana. I pretty sure the publisher was banking on Dunn's past as a MI6 operative to sell the book. At no time did I feel like Cochrane was in any real danger and quickly grew bored.

Other observations:
All of the Americans' dialogue seemed British to me. I'd chalk this up to Dunn's inexperience.

The "thrilling" conclusion:
Spycatcher isn't a bad book. It was a gripping way to spend a few hours. Just don't expect it to revolutionize the thriller genre.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Wazir and The Witch

The Wazir and The Witch (Chronicles Of An Age Of Darkness Volume 7)The Wazir and The Witch by Hugh Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Justina Thrug's rule of Untunchilamon is on shakier ground than ever when Aldarch III, the Mutilator of Vestron, dispatches a wazir to take control from her. Can Justina remain empress, even if she manages to secure the help of the Hermit Crab?

First of all, while the Hermit Crab is both a hermit and a giant crab, he is not, in fact, a hermit crab. Just thought I'd clear the air right off the bat.

The Wazir and the Witch is the seventh entry in Hugh Cook's wonderful Chronicles of an Age of Darkness. It is closely tied with the events of the previous book, the Wishstone and the Wonder-Workers, and should be read afterwards, unlike the freeform order of the first five books in the series.

The Wazir and the Witch is told from the point of view of a historian reflecting on the events years or centuries later. Much like the last book, it was a little rocky at first. Thankfully the narrator has a Pythonesque sense of humor. I quickly lost counts of the times I caught myself grinning like a jackass.

The story is primarily one of court intrigue, with Justina maneuvering against her enemies to retain the throne. Her allies are few and many of them are from the previous book; Chegory Guy, the delectiable Olivia Qasaba, Juliet Idaho and his wife Harold, and various others, including the all powerful Hermit Crab.

As always, Hugh Cook brings originality and humor to the fantasy genre. Some of the plot twists are straight out of Blackadder, with one or more of the protagonists telling outrageous lies and getting away with it, or very nearly so.

One of the subplots I found particularly interesting was a trip Downstairs, the catacombs below Untunchilamon, to find an all-powerful machine called the organic rectifier, which supposedly can grant immortality.

There are a ton of other things I want to mention but I know I'll forget some of them. There's a Cockroach Cult, Guest Gulkan lurking in the background, a soldier named Coleslaw Styx, a desert bandit called Jal Japone, and all sorts of other craziness.

If you like your fantasy stories a little different than the same old, same old, give Hugh Cook's Chronicles of an Age of Darkness a shot. You won't be disappointed. And if you are, shame on you!

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Magician King (Spoilers Aplenty)

The Magician KingThe Magician King by Lev Grossman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quentin and friends are the kings and queens of Fillory and everything is marvelous. Or it is, until it becomes apparent that something is wrong. King Quentin takes it upon himself to fix things. With Julia in tow, he sails to the ends of Fillory to fix the world. Can he succeed in the quest of a lifetime and save Fillory?

If The Magicians was Lev Grossman's Harry Potter with a healthy slice of Narnia, The Magician King is Lev Grossman's Lord of the Rings. Grossman takes all the quest story staples and focuses them through his lens. Not only does Grossman tell the story of Quentin rising to the occasion and stopping his rampant douchebaggery, he also tells the harrowing tale of Julia's own rise to magical prowess after her failure during the Brakebills exam. Where the first book is essentially a coming of age story, this one is a pair of quest stories.

I have to admit that I wasn't completely sold at first. Neither thread of the story seemed to be moving very fast and Julia's tale wasn't really grabbing me. Then it all clicked and I was hooked, devouring the book in two extended sittings.

Quentin rises above his roots in The Magician King, finally becoming someone we actually like reading about. As for Julia's parallel tale, I'll save that for my spoilers section. Grossman explores the various quest story tropes and simultaneously crafts a grand quest story of his own. More on that in the spoilers section.

Grossman did a ton of world-building in The Magician King. The Neitherlands were explained, Fillory was fleshed out, and lots of things lurking just out of sight were hinted at. All of it was well integrated with the rest of the story and I didn't feel like I was being slapped in the face with it.

Poppy was by far my favorite of the new characters. I liked how she called Quentin to the carpet over ignoring the real world in favor of Fillory. I also liked that she and Quentin didn't immediately stumble and fall into each other's genitals.

Julia's tale was a poignant tale of loss and sacrifice. While I wasn't too keen on it at first, it became my favorite part of the story after a while. Her new friends were an interesting bunch. Too bad about what happened to them. See the spoiler section for details.

One thing I continue to love is Grossman's magic system. It's grown a bit from its Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell roots. The notion that magic is the leftover tools from when the gods created the world is repeated and expanded upon.

The spoiler section:
First of all, the parallel structure of the story clued me into the source of magic's strange behavior pretty early on. Not that that impaired my enjoyment in the least. What Julia and her friends summoned, however, was pretty unexpected.

I liked Penny's reappearance and the revelations about the Neitherlands, the gods, and the Order. Once Penny revealed the full scope of what was at stake, I felt like I was reading The Gunslinger's palaver with the Man in Black again for the first time. I fully expect Quentin to join the Order in the third book. Speaking of there being a third book, I think it was around page 300 that I realized there was no way Grossman would be able to wrap things up in a satisfactory fashion in the pages he had left.

I like that The Order created a back door for magic in case the gods tried to cut off the supply, as do I like the notion that magicians are hacking the machinery of reality.

The ending was perfect. While it was a bittersweet victory for Quentin, I kind of think he had it coming for the amount of bitching he did in the first book.

In conclusion, if you dug the first book and don't like your sequels to be "Second verse, same as the first," you'll probably enjoy The Magician King. Go out and get it right now!

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Darwin's Blade

Darwin's BladeDarwin's Blade by Dan Simmons

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Accident reconstructor Darwin Minor gets into an accident himself. It turns out people are gunning for him. But why? With the help of beautiful FBI agent, sydney Olson, he's going to find out...

Dan Simmons is one of the more versatile writers active today. He can write in any genre, from science fiction with Hyperion, to horror with Carrion Comfort, to crime with Hardcase, to this, a thriller.

The Good:
Darwin Minor reconstructs car accidents, trying to prevent insurance fraud. It's a pretty good occupation for the main character in a thriller to have. He's smart without being annoyingly so and his Vietnam past as a sniper gives him added depth.

The action in Darwin's Blade is fast and furious when it happens. The car chase near the beginning was one of my favorites of all time, in books anyway. The shootout at the end was also quite spectacular.

The Bad:
Here we go. I realize that all thrillers have the obligatory hookup between male and female characters but this one felt really forced. Like Simmons thought "I have a thriller so I'd better introduce an attractive female for my main character to fall in love with." Like I said, it felt forced.

The other gripe that I have is that Darwin's Blade, to me at least, seems really wordy for what it is. It's about 100 pages longer than it should be. I don't need six pages about how Darwin's sailplane works, nor do I need three or four pages that are mostly equations. The philosophical bits, while interesting, didn't add all that much to the story except for Darwin to have something to talk about.

Elmore Leonard has his ten rules of writing:
1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
11. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

I'd say Darwin's Blade breaks about half of them.

I'm sounding too negative. Overall, I liked Darwin's Blade enough to give it a three but not enough to not convert it to store credit at my earliest convenience. It's good and Simmons fans will want to read it but if you're only going to read one Dan Simmons book, it shouldn't be this one.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

New X-Men Ultimate Collection volume 3

New X-Men By Grant Morrison Ultimate Collection Book 3 TPBNew X-Men By Grant Morrison Ultimate Collection Book 3 TPB by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Assault on Weapon Plus: Wolverine, Cyclops, and Fantomex go looking for the Weapon Plus HQ so Wolverine can access their files and find out who he was before he became Weapon X.

Assault on Weapon Plus was an action-fest. The who shot Emma Frost subplot didn't really move forward at all, though. I liked that Marvel finally had the guts to reveal something about Wolverine's past after more than 30 years.

Planet X: Xorn leads a revolt inside Xavier's school and his true identity is revealed. Meanwhile, Wolverine and Jean Grey are on an asteroid that's headed into the sun, Beast and Emma Frost go down in a plane crash, and Cyclops and Fantomex have crashed a space shuttle into the ocean.

All the seeds Morrison planted earlier in his run have bore fruit. The Phoenix is unleashed, Cyclops steps up, and lots of mutants die. That's about all I can say without spoiling too much.

Here Comes Tomorrow: 150 years into the future, Tom Skylark and his Sentinel Rover have the Phoenix egg and the minions of The Beast will do anything to get it.

Here Comes Tomorrow is to Morrison's X-Men run what Batman #666 is to his Batman run. Instead of a glimpse of Damian as Batman, we get a dark future where The Beast is a maniacal super villain. It was okay but ultimately pointless. It was no Days of the Future Past.

Thus concludes Grant Morrison's run on the X-Men. It wasn't perfect but it was damn good. Too bad a pretty big plot twist was revealed on the cover.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Filth

The FilthThe Filth by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who is Greg Feely? Is he a loser whose entire life consists of taking care of his cat and masturbating? Or is he Ned Slade, agent of a secret society called The Hand that safeguards the world against anti-people?

Writing the X-Men must have made Grant Morrison suppress his weird urges because The Fifth is one of the more bizarre comics I've ever read and is in my top three Morrison reads. It's like a cross between Morrison's The Invisibles and Preacher by Garth Ennis, possibly with a bit of Warren Ellis' The Authority thrown in. The Filth started out as a proposal for a Nick Fury comic Grant Morrison wanted to do for Marvel. It's a good thing he didn't because none of this stuff would have been allowed in the Marvel Universe.

I don't even know where to start with this. Agent Nil shows up at Greg Feely's house and tells him he's an agent of The Hand, a secret organization that protects the world. Something happened on Slade's last mission and he doesn't remember his past as Slade at all, only his pathetic life as Greg Feely, a life that isn't his but he can't seem to put behind him as he chases bad guys like Max Thunderstone and Spartacus Hughes.

The level of strangeness in The Filth is off the charts, even for the man who's known for strangeness in The Invisibles and The Doom Patrol. There's a Russian chimp named Dmitri who acquired super intelligence when launched into space and became a KGB assassin, the same assassin who shot JFK. There's Richard Nixon, still alive and suspended in a bubble of fluid. There's a gargantuan severed hand at the bottom ocean clutching a pen whose ink has mutating properties. And those are all the goody guys.

Don't get me started on Tex Porneau, the Pornomancer who sends an army of gigantic sperm out to impregnate the women of the world, or The World's Wealthiest Pervert, or the Greg Feely who steps into Ned's life when he's out saving the world. Seriously, there's so many weird concepts flying around in this thing it's unbelievable; dolphins driving cars, city size cruise ships, carnivorous vehicles, you name it.

That's about all I can say. My brain's a bit jammed at the moment. Oh, the art is pretty good. If you like your comics weird, this one is for you.

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Fuzzy Nation

Fuzzy NationFuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On Zara XXIII, disbarred lawyer and current mineral prospector Jack Holloway finds an unimaginably valuable seam of sunstones, one that will make him unbelievably rich. Shortly thereafter, Holloway meets some of the world's native life, catlike creatures he names Fuzzys. Unfortunately, the Fuzzys appear to be sentient, putting Jack's, and ZaraCorp's, claim on the trillion credit sunstone seam in jeopardy. What's a prospector to do?

The Scalz does it again. Fuzzy Nation is a hilarious re-imaginging (I feel dirty using that term and not good dirty) of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy, a book I have not read.

First of all, Fuzzy Nation isn't as good as Old Man's War. I'll get that off my chest right now. But it's still good. It raises interesting questions about what it means to be sentient, the effects of mining on native life, and teaching dogs how to detonate explosives.

Holloway isn't a nice guy but I wound up liking him anyway. He's antagonistic and kind of slimy. He was, after all, formerly a lawyer. The supporting cast more than makes up for Holloway's flaws. As he says himself at one point, he was the right guy surrounded by good people. The rich supporting cast kept me from giving this book a three.

That's not to say Holloway doesn't rise to the occasion to defend the Fuzzys. Of course he does. It's just for a while, I wasn't sure how he was going to do it. His emotions toward the end of the story were well done.

The Fuzzys were cute but not nauseatingly so, like certain George Lucas creations that live on Endor that shall remain nameless. When the shit hit the fan, I was ready to charge in and give them a hand.

To sum up, The Scalz took a sf classic and made it funny. It's a good weekend morning read.

Topic for discussion: Is Scalzi's reimagining of an sf classic the forerunner of a new age where book execs go the route of Hollywood and commission people to rewrite old books instead of writing original ones? Discuss!

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Hot Spot

The Hot SpotThe Hot Spot by Charles Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Madox is new to town when he hatches a scheme to rob the bank. At the same time, he's having an affair with his boss's wife and has the hots for the loan officer at the used car lot where he works. The robbery goes as smoothly as it can but Madox's life goes spiraling out of control in a web of sex, murder, and blackmail.

I'm going to have to track down more Charles Williams books. The writing was slick and the book had so many "Oh shit!" plot twists that I lost count. While Mrs. Harshaw was pure poison, it was easy to see how Madox wouldn't be able to resist her. Madox's internal conflict about the robbery, murders, blackmail, and feelings for Gloria was very well done. As things fell apart, the book took on a frantic pace and I couldn't put it down.

The Hot Spot is one hell of a read and my favorite crime novel to be adapted into a movie starring Don Johnson.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dirty Money

Dirty Money (Parker, #24)Dirty Money by Richard Stark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parker, McWhitney, and Sandra Loscalzo make a plan to get the money Parker, McWhitney, and Dalesia left behind in Nobody Runs Forever. Things go without a hitch until Nick Dalesia escapes the cops and goes looking for the money himself. And what about the man McWhitney was going to use to launder the money? Can Parker and company get the money out of the church and get out alive?

Here we are. The last Parker book. Was it a fitting swan song for one of the best crime fiction series ever written? Not really, but we can chalk that up to Richard Stark's untimely demise.

Dirty Money is a pretty standard Parker book. You've got the crew, namely McWhitney and Sandra, you've got the complications, Dalesia, Oscar, and the manhunt still going on for Parker and McWhitney, and you've got the man himself, Parker, going after the money like a shark.

Of all the post-Butcher's Moon Parkers, this one is in the top two. I won't say it's padded but it feels like it could have been split into two books the size of The Hunter. The first half of the book deals with getting the money and dealing with Dalesia, and the second half deals with getting rid of the dirty money and acquiring clean money.

That's pretty much all I can say. Parker's plan worked out well, as always, and he dealt with the complications as he always does. It didn't feel like a series ender, but I can't imagine Parker retiring any way other than in the grave. Maybe the widow Stark will contract someone else to write further Parker capers but I hope she doesn't, unless she acquires a time machine and gets the Richard Stark of the early 70's.

It's a sad day, really. No more Parker, no more Grofield, no more Claire, etc. Parker went out on top. I envy people who have the chance to read the series for the first time. If you're into crime fiction, this series, along with the Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block, are the books against which the rest of the genre should be measured.

So long, Parker. I wouldn't want to meet you in a dark alley but it's been fun reading about you.

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