Showing posts with label adult fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adult fiction. Show all posts

Friday, May 22, 2015

Moby-Dick graphic novel by Herman Melville

Title: Moby-Dick graphic novel
Author: Herman Melville
Publisher: Marvel
Rating: WORTHY!

Adapted by Roy Thomas.

I can't imagine myself sitting down and reading Moby-Dick (yes the title had a hyphen, but curiously not the text!) in the original six hundred page novel, although I confess that I am tempted now to try the audio book version just out of curiosity, but this graphic novel version was pretty darned good and I'm rating it positively. The text is largely faithful to the original as far as is possible, so I understand, but obviously they had to excise a significant amount of that tome to fit it into a graphic format. Evidently the original novel is larded-up with long chapters taken from the author's own experiences at sea, and from his own extensive reading about whaling. He never was a whaler, but he had seen service in the navy. The novel bombed during his own lifetime. Now it's considered a classic. Go figure.

Everyone thinks they know this story, which Melville dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne, a one-time neighbor and friend who lured him into writing as a career, but I found it quite eye-opening to read even the graphic novel. I was struck by how similar it is to the Steven Spielberg movie Jaws - or more accurately by how similar Jaws is to this. I think I watched the Moby-Dick movie once - the one with Gregory Peck, where he sails off lashed to the whale, his arm waving as though he's beckoning others to follow him in his fruitless quest, but that's not what happens in the novel.

The story famously begins "Call me Ishmael", and this character is the one who tells the story as the only survivor of the ill-fated expedition, but it isn't an irritating first person story at all, refreshingly enough. Ishmael befriends Queequeg, evidently a Polynesian prince. Queequeg, along with Tashtego, a native American, and Daggoo, from somewhere unspecified in Africa, are the three harpoon exerts who sail on this voyage almost around the world wailing on whales. The crew of the boat is refreshingly cosmopolitan. The final showdown takes place not in the North Atlantic, but on the equator out in the Pacific.

Believe it or not, the story is evidently rooted in some real life events. Mocha Dick is clearly the source for Moby-Dick. A ship, the Essex out of Nantucket was sunk in 1820 after being head-butted by a so-called sperm whale. A second mate from a ship named Nantucket was drowned in the same way as Ahab is depicted as dying in the novel.

So in short, I highly recommend this particular graphic novel version of Herman Melville's best known work. I can't speak for any other such versions, but this is definitely worth your time if you're at all interested in this story, and it will serve you better than a dry Cliff's or Spark- notes précis. The artwork is really wonderfully done, and the story is told impeccably, and dramatically whilst adhering to the author's original work as far as is reasonably possible.

I don't normally read prologues, introductions, prefaces and so on, but in this case it was worth it to discover what had been done to the original (and the glossary at the end is useful to). The final showdown with the whale is only three chapters long in Melville's original, but it occupies a third of the graphic novel, and I think that was a smart decision. Go read it, and see what you think. The library probably has a copy if you don't want to immediately lay out cash for it. The original is available free on-line from Gutenberg.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Off and Running by Philip Reed

Title: Off and Running
Author: Philip Reed
Publisher: Brash books
Rating: WORTHY!
"...heart trouble run in the family." should be "...heart trouble runs in the family."

Set towards the end of 1999 (for reasons unclear to me), this novel began with a very short prologue which I skipped as I always do. The first problem I ran into was that there was a character named Jack - the most clichéd of all character names. I took a vow a while back never to read another novel which has a main character named Jack (in this case, Jack Dillon, can you believe?!) and that vow is the most pathetic one I ever made, because I have somehow managed to saddle myself with several such novels since then. This one looked interesting from the blurb, so once again I swallowed my pride, integrity, and commitment, and decided to try it out. I sincerely hoped that this author wouldn't make me regret it! He didn't.

Jack is undertaking (I may be employing that term advisedly given Walt's age!) to write a bio for a renowned comedian of yester-year, Walt Stuckey. Nobody does this kind of show any more, but Walt had a well-regarded TV comedy and variety show running from 1967 to 1973, when it was abruptly and mysteriously canceled.

Jack begins meeting with Walt regularly, and the two of them get along like pants on fire until Walt is stricken by a stroke and his eldest son Garrett (which in this story is evidently an acronym for Gloating, Arrogant, Ridiculously Retarded, Expletive-Terminated Twat), muscles in and takes over. He's a officious little jerk who happens to be the executor of Walt's will, and who rapidly pisses everyone off, including Walt's girlfriend, Mary, who has no power in this situation because Walt never married her, so she would inherit nothing if Walt dies. He also fires Walt's nurse.

It's at this point that Jack starts drawing close to Mary, which is rather a surprise, because up to this point we've been given no idea whatsoever that anything is wrong with Jack's marriage, and now it seems like there are issues galore with it. That seemed way too jarring because no hint had been given of this to begin with.

What this felt like to me was that Mary was manipulating Jack somehow for some purpose of her own, or perhaps in collaboration with Garret. I certainly didn't trust her, but jack throws his lot in with Mary after Garret fires him from the book-writing project and they end up kidnapping Walt! That's all the story I'm going to give you.

One thing which seemed a bit anachronistic, even for 1999, was the use of tapes by Jack to record his interviews with Walt. Maybe he was old fashioned, but even in 1999 it was becoming hard to find recording tape, which was antiquated by then, even in digital form! There were several issues of this nature which others may or may not notice let alone find irksome, but fortunately, the overall story was compelling enough that I decided to overlook them as reasons to reject he story.

It was a bit of a kick in the pants to see Garret muscling in on Jack's turf as soon as Walt was disabled, but Jack's agent evidently screwed him. This is why we self publish, folks! It would have been nice to have had a few more details earlier so we understood this when it happened, but when Jack fully grasps how poor of a grasp on this biography he really has, and that he doesn't even have ownership of his own tapes, this certainly gives him (he believes) a good reason to kidnap Walt so they can finish the book, although given that Walt is largely incoherent at that point, I don't see what advantage this gives him.

So Jack, Mary, and Walt head off to Mount Whitney. Let's hope Whitney's up for it.. That was a Walt Stuckey style joke. One thing the local police do not understand is the California Penal Code section 207(a)! The police chief claims it depends on how far the victim is taken, but it really doesn't:

Every person who forcibly, or by any other means of instilling fear, steals or takes, or holds, detains, or arrests any person in this state, and carries the person into another country, state, or county, or into another part of the same county, is guilty of kidnapping.

You'd think a police chief would be more up on the codes than that, but this is a small town. That said, the chief actually doesn't know whether Walt consented to go or not, so he's a bit limited in what he can do without more information, and he is a lot sharper than that idiot Garret credits him for.

The story dragged a bit - it ought to have been shorter I felt, and for a while I went back and forth on whether this was a worthy read, because some of it made little sense (for example, where did Slade manage to find himself a camper trailer on the mountain - in a national park?! He didn't have one earlier), and some of the motivation seemed off, but overall I liked the story and the characters. It made me want to read to the end even as I skipped a bit here and there, so it was really that which made me decide this was indeed a worthy read, and I'd recommend it with the above-mentioned caveats in mind.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

Title: A Crown for Cold Silver
Author: Alex Marshall (no website found)
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Page 26 (in ADE - no page numbers in the book itself!) "...bad at that road is" Should be "...bad as that road is"

This is your standard fantasy, and it runs to some six hundred pages of very dense text, so I was prepared for a hard slog, but in Adobe Digital Reader although it shows itself to be 606 pages, when I clicked from one page to another, for example from page 290, the next page showed as page 293, so I have no idea what's going on there. Clearly it's not six hundred pages. It just feels like it is.

The novel is written rather oddly. It starts ought as though it's an eastern fable, with Chinese or Korean or Japanese influences (it's hard to tell from the wild mix of names used), but these are also mixed in with more western names, so it's a bit of a mess, like the author couldn't decide which fictional culture he wished to be influenced by which real culture, or maybe he wanted it mixed on purpose, but it was too jarring for my taste.

Also some of the phrasing he used was odd, such as "more princesses at the ceremony than stars in the sky". This made no sense since the number of stars in the sky is traditionally used to indicate a massive number. Clearly there were not that many princesses. Obviously the author is trying to indicate a very large number, but this felt like a really poor choice of metaphor and flies in the face of traditional usage. Sometimes it's good to break a mold or two, but in this case it simply did not fit with the culture we were supposed to be in.

The story was very rambling, and I couldn't get into it. It went off at tangents, and it jumped around from one thing to another, and one character to another before you ever get a real chance to get to know them, and to understand or empathize with them. Consequently they all remained strangers to me, and I had no real interest in what they were trying to do, what they thought or felt, or what became of them.

Some chapters, like chapter four, for example, begin as though they're written in first person, whereas they're not. In this case, the chapter began:

Goatsdamn, but grandfather was a pain in the arse. Or rather, the small of the back.

Instead of beginning:

"Goatsdamn, but grandfather was a pain in the arse. Or rather, the small of the back," thought Sullen.

This didn't help me to feel comfortable with the novel, and the apparent random use of terms made for confusion about what the writer was trying to do, or say. In the example just given, you see the use of the English word "arse', whereas in and earlier phrase, the term "ass-end" was employed rather than "arse-end", and also the phrase "punk-ass' which seemed completely out of place, as did the phrase "in cahoots" used elsewhere. This kind of thing made little sense to me, and contributed to my sense of this novel being a mess.

This problem went further than that though, because although while it appeared to be set in a country reminiscent of one of Earth's Far East nations, the language, terminology and speech patterns were very much western, so they failed to fit the ethos. This was jarring and kept reminding me that I was reading a story. I could never become immersed in it because of this.

I gave up on the novel at chapter five, where in rapid succession I got the names Duchess Din, Maroto, Purna, Cobalt, Diggleby, Hassan, and Zosia. It felt more like United Nations than ever it did ancient culture and I couldn't take it seriously any more. I cannot recommend this novel.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

Title: Cocaine Blues
Author: Kerry Greenwood
Publisher: Poisoned Pen books (no website found)
Rating: WARTY!

I first met Phryne Fisher on Netflix where two seasons can be found as of this writing, both of which I've seen. there will be a third series and perhaps more, since this is a real money-spinner for ABC (that's the Australian ABC, not the US ABC!) and deservedly so. I fell in love with Phryne from the first episode. Essie Davis is magical in the title rôle, and the whole show is smart, fast-paced, daring, socially conscious, and majorly fun. Note that the name is pronounced Fry-Knee - which is why the TV series came to be titled "The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries" - no one wanted to have to teach everyone they spoke to how to pronounce the name!

The problem is that when you're hit like that and become so on-board (with a movie or a show), it's a tough decision as to whether to go to the book, just as it is in moving the other way. Books and movies/shows are very different entities, and the trick when you wish to migrate one to the other is to capture the essence if not the letter. In this case, it worked, because now having read the first in the series of books which kicked-off the shows, I can come down very favorably for both outlets, although be warned, the two are quite different in many respects.

The basic plot is the same. Phryne Fisher is (or rather becomes during this introductory edition) a very feisty, plucky, and successful Lady Detective. She's of independent means, so she never charges for her services, and her cases frequently lean towards supporting the downtrodden. Having successfully and very speedily solved a jewel theft at a soirée she was attending in London, Phryne is asked if she would travel to Australia to uncover who might be poisoning. The TV shows starts with the Honorable Phryne Fisher arriving in Australia and taking up residence in a charming house. The book begins with the jewelery theft and then has Phryne travel to Melbourne, where her roots lie, and where she installs herself at the exclusive Windsor Hotel.

Phryne was originally of exceptionally humble means, and came into money (that story deserves telling, but it hasn't yet been told, to my knowledge), so while she thoroughly appreciates (indeed, luxuriates in) the amenities which money can bring, she has not lost sight of where she came from. Phryne knows Doctor Elizabeth MacMillan, an ex-pat Scot who dresses like a man and is as good as any one of them. She's a physician in a women's hospital and this is how Phryne learns of an abortionist (abortion was sadly illegal back then, even in Australia) known as the Mad Butcher, who like to rape his pregnant victims before he virtually kills them performing his 'surgery'.

Cec and Bert, two Aussie blokes who each have a share in a run-down taxi-cab, find themselves with a girl named Alice, post op and tossed into their cab, bleeding onto the seats. They rush her to the hospital, thereby saving Alice's life - just.

Meanwhile Phryne begins to socialize with a view to becoming intimately acquainted with Lydia Andrews, the poisoning victim. As if these two events are not enough, there's also the King of Snow - the cocaine dealer who has taken up residence in Melbourne with a view to making a killing in an untapped market.

Both the show and the novel have all these ingredients, and the end results are largely the same, but the details are different. In the show, Phryne ends up buying Bert and Cec a new cab to replace their cranky aging vehicle - on the understanding that they'll give her priority when she needs them, but she also, in the show, owns the gorgeous Hispano-Suiza that she drives, rather than just leases it for a week. Dot, her maid in the novel becomes a companion in the TV show.

Detective Inspector Jack Robinson is a much more important figure in the shows than ever he is in this novel, but perhaps, as the series progresses, his prominence will increase. Constable Hugh Collins is a non-entity in the first book, and Dot, his girl-friend, is unacquainted with him. Also Dot isn't the one who pretends she's looking for an abortion. This rôle is taken in the book, by WPC Jones, a female police officer. This is interesting because in the second series TV show Phryne mentions to jack that there are no female officers on force, a rôle which she fulfills independently!

To cut a great story short, I recommend both this and the TV show! My biggest complaint about these books is that you can't find them in the book store! I did find a couple in the local library and I am sure they're available on-line.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Hades by Candice Fox

Title: Hades
Author: Candice Fox
Publisher: Kensington Books
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

I have to say I wasn't too thrilled with the Kindle advance review copy of this novel. It wasn't even remotely correctly formatted for the Kindle. The page headers - such as the author's name and the novel title - appeared in the middle of the text because they weren't removed when the text was converted for the Kindle. In addition to that, there were random gaps and new lines in the text, mid-word and mid-sentence. The Adobe Digital Editions and the iPad versions seemed fine.

I know this was an ARC, and so not everything can be perfect, but frankly in this age of e-publishing, there really isn't any excuse for formatting issues of this nature. Hopefully this will not be the status of this novel in the final version. There were also one or two grammatical and similar issues which were a bit more understandable if regrettable, such as at location 547 (sorry, no page numbers in the Kindle - I don't know how much use a location number actually is (especially if you're not reading the ebook!), but the phrase was "cold, calculated businessman" and it really should have been something like "coldly calculating businessman" to make any sense. Unless, of course, they were talking about the corpse of a businessman which they'd designed, in which case it could well have been cold and calculated...!

This novel is really Dexter does Australia (it pretty much says so right on the cover). It's a first person PoV novel, which I normally rail against, but which in this case was one of the rare few which was not nauseating for that reason. It was told in an interesting way, because the narrator is not the main character. He's a cop who is telling the story, and it’s mostly about his interactions with an observations of his new partner, a seasoned cop by the name of Eden. She's a respected, tough and experienced cop who works on the force with her brother, Eric, but with whom she's never partnered for various reasons.

Frank, the narrator, is teamed with her after his own partner kills himself. Eden's partner was killed in the line of duty, we're told. Eden's brother Eric doesn’t take to Frank, looking through his personal stuff and generally irritating him as well as blabbing Frank's secrets (his drug use, his one-time punching of his ex wife, his DWI on his way to work. Despite all these violations, Frank is inexplicably still on the force. He and Eden get along, although she's made it clear she's not interested in becoming bosom buddies with him.

The two are thrown into a serial murder investigation immediately, with a score of bodies having been found after they had been dumped into the ocean in metal boxes. The most outstanding thing about he bodies is that various assorted organs have been surgically removed, so it looks like someone is harvesting the organs for wealthy (and none too picky) clients. The curious thing about this book is that, interspersed with these chapters, is an italicized insert here and there, talking about a character called Hades, who finds two lost and injured children whom he raises as his own despite not legally being entitled to do so. How that fits into the story isn't immediately clear, but when we learn that the children are named Eden and Eric, things start becoming more clear - or do they?

I have to interject a complaint here, and if you follow my reviews you knew this was coming! It concerns wasted trees. In an ebook, which is what I read in this case, this isn't a problem (although a larger file size does mean more energy is required to transmit and maintain it), but if a book goes to a print run, then the more white space you have on your page, the more trees are going to die in order to feed your book. It’s not a smart move to be contributing to bringing down trees en masse in an era of all-but-runaway climate change.

I'm not suggesting that writers and publishers cram every square millimeter of white space with text by any means, but as you can see from the sample image on my blog, the chapter title page is about 85% white space and the regular pages are not much better. At first I thought this was an issue only when viewed as an ebook or in Adobe Digital Editions, but when I took advantage of the "look inside" feature on-line, it appeared to be exactly the same, so I have no reason to believe the print book will be any different. I understand that there are aesthetic, practical, and artistic considerations in play here, I do. All I ask is that writers and publishers not forget the big picture. Every one of us can make a difference.

That said, I started out linking this book, but soon found that the shifting perspectives became irritating at first and then outright annoying before very long. This is the problem with limiting yourself by employing first person PoV. It’s not a voice that you should use unless you really know what you want to do with it, and it failed sadly in this instance. The severe handicap of 1PoV is that you can't show anything that's not directly witnessed by the narrator, which is an awful limitation to impose upon your story telling unless you really have a first class, iron-clad reason for it - and most authors do not.

If you've stuck yourself with this limitation and then discover that you haven't planned too-well and need to add a larger perspective, you're stuck with a clunky info-dump from a third party, or you have to go the even more clunky route of adding third person narration. This latter is what happened here, and it didn’t work. We kept having third person flashbacks to Eric and Eden's childhood, which proved to be a major spoiler, and then this was interleaved with the main narrator's first person, and with third person from the perspective of more than one other character! This made the novel seem badly organized and cluttered, and it really detracted from the story for me.

On top of that, the story was too dissipated, with focus being repeatedly dragged away from the case to the first person narrator's stalker-ish obsession with his new partner which was sick at best. The narrator wasn't a nice person which made me suspicious of his veracity to begin with, which in turn certainly did not help me to either like or trust this story. I can see why the author did it (can you say sequels?!), but the problem was that this was telegraphed, and this meant that there really was no mystery or intrigue here.

The narrator, and his interaction with Eden made the narrator seem like a lowlife to me, and he wasn't too smart, either. I had neither empathy for, nor interest in, him. I didn’t like Eric because he was just scum from the start: a caricature with villain garishly painted all over him, and I didn’t like Eden because although she was rather intriguing at first, she never grew and was never developed. She was more like a symbol, and not even a sex symbol, so what was she? What’s to keep me interested in a story where neither of the two main characters is remotely appealing?!

Almost worse than that, we'd get a bit of a cliff-hanger in the murder investigation at the end of a chapter, but then have to wait a chapter or two while the narrative wandered off to someone else's viewpoint before we could get back to the story which I was interested in! I found myself becoming more and more annoyed, and then skipping the dead zones, which in turn meant I wasn't always getting the whole story (although frankly I wasn't evidently missing much). By this time I already knew where this was going and had done for a while, so there really were no surprises in store and at about 90%, I just gave up on it. I'd lost all interest in it and really didn’t care exactly how it ended. I have no interest in being made to work this hard to get a good story out of a novel!

I can’t honestly recommend this one. The idea isn't exactly fresh, and the execution left a lot to be desired. Also, I really like trees and hate to see them so badly used! I think this author has a future, but not with this novel.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

One Among Us by Paige Dearth

Title: One Among Us
Author: Paige Dearth
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This is my second review of a Paige Dearth novel today. I wish I had better news to report because she writes about important topics, but I can't recommend this one either, and for many of the same reasons that I couldn't recommend her debut novel, I'm sorry to report. This is her third novel, and it looked to me like there was no change in her writing style between the first and this one.

This novel is even longer than the first one. I wasn't able to make myself read 400 pages of the first one after reading the first seventy or so because of the dry, matter-of-fact writing, and since this one was much the same tone, I wasn't going to make any attempt to read even seventy pages in a novel which runs to almost six hundred pages of dire straits, gratuitous abuse, and bad language when there was not a thing to lighten the load. It's far, far too much.

The writing is this was, as I said, like the first - more like a police report than a novel. The men were universally lowlife mean-as-a-junkyard-dog rapists without a nuance to share between them, which I find personally insulting. Yes, there are men like that - and there are boys like that - too many, in fact, but not every single man and boy is like that and I think the author does her stories a serious disservice by adopting this approach in her writing. I can read a novel where character X is a rapist or an abuser, but when the novel is effectively telling me that I'm a rapist or an abuser by dint of my gender, I draw the line!

The dialog didn't feel realistic to me, and main character Maggie was just a shade too good to be true or even realistic, and the characters weren't much better. All of them seemed more like cardboard cut-outs than real people.

I mentioned in my other review that a more seasoned author would have leavened the mix with a pinch of beauty or an ounce of hope. It's quite simply depressing to read and to try to keep reading a novel, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter how important the topic, which is nothing but one horrible thing after another with nothing to offer any kind of hope. Though this is rooted in real life, it's still fiction, and therefore does not need to detail a real life down to the nth degree of depression. Consequently, the writing here kept on reminding me with almost metronomic frequency that this was fiction, and I wasn't allowed to forget it and become completely immersed in this story. I couldn't get beyond page fifty and I can't recommend this novel.

Believe Like a Child by Paige Dearth

Title: Believe Like a Child
Author: Paige Dearth
Publisher: Amazon
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Today is Paige Dearth Day on my blog - I'm reviewing two books by this author and I wish I had better news to deliver than I do.

This novel, in some ways, is autobiographical. According to her bio in the book, the author was raped by a live-in uncle when she was very young, and this is an exploration of how that might have panned-out had things gone differently from how they did unfold in the author's own life. As far as that goes, it's admirable. There is nothing worse than violating a child's trust and confidence, especially in such an abhorrent manner, but this novel was so front-loaded with abuse, and pain and torment that it was for me, unreadable. I made it to page 74 and I knew I didn't want to being regaled with a non-stop story of endless and unremitting pain for another 360 or so pages.

The problem for me was that it didn't read like a novel. It read like a police report, and it was consequently unappealing. The text was dry as a bone and did nothing to draw me in or make me feel like I could empathize with the main character Alessa, who herself wasn't exactly the smartest Smarty in the Smarty box.

On top of that I had issues with Alessa's inability to report this abuse and the poor advice she was given by someone in whom she confided. I know people who are abused typically have problems in revealing what's happened to them either through shame or through fear, or because they don't even realize that what's happening to them isn't appropriate, but the way it was written here wasn't convincing.

Instead to going with her to the police, Zoe, the mom of Alessa's best friend, set up Alessa with sufficient money to run away, where she got ripped off by a seedy landlady for a piece-of-trash apartment in a lousy part of town. I knew exactly what was going to happen next, because it was telegraphed way in advance. All the mystery was removed and I was left looking at yet more abuse piled onto what had already happened. Zoe in effect, became just another abuser.

One major problem is that there were no shades of gray here. In some ways it's understandable since this is a debut novel, but it doesn't make it a better read. For example, in the portion that I read, men were presented universally as rapists waiting to happen, which is bullshit and insulting.

A more seasoned author would have found a way to leaven writing of this horrific nature with something lighter. They would have put a dash of hope in there instead of repeatedly dashing hope. They would have found a way to add a sprinkle of beauty somewhere, somehow, to bring something better into this world of unrelenting awfulness, but this author did nothing of the sort. It became, therefore, a dire litany of abuse, bad decisions, and poor advice, and it wasn't entertaining or engrossing to read, it was just depressing and despite the fact that these things actually do happen to children, the writing paradoxically made this novel feel unrealistic. I couldn't get beyond chapter nine and I can't recommend this novel.

I know it was lousy what the author went through, and I admire her attempt to put this into fictional form and get the word out to people, but she failed to convince me that this was the best-advised way to do that.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Face Transplant by R Arundel

Title: The Face Transplant
Author: R Arundel
Publisher: Publisher unspecified
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!

I had the hardest time ever getting into this. From the first paragraph on page one, it made no sense. Indeed, it really began with the title which indicates one special event, but in this novel, face transplantation was pretty much production-line. Inside, I found the text to be extraordinarily dense and uninformative, which was paradoxical because there was virtually no conversation, only huge amounts of info-dump. Despite this, and after many pages, I hadn't the first clue what was going on here or what this novel was actually about.

Yeah, it was about face transplants being performed under guard, about identities and conspiracies. It was about a face being stolen in a canister, but apart from this loss of face, what was happening here? I have no idea. Whose face was it? I had no idea. Was it the president's face? A celebrity's? An important politician's or a leader of industry or a criminal's? I had no idea.

Why were face transplants being routinely performed? I had no idea. I kept trying to focus on what the text was saying, but it kept blowing me off, and while I'm sure I missed something in that thicket of prose, I have no idea what it was, and I really don't care.

Why was it so critical that this particular face was missing? I had no idea, and worse? I didn't care about that either. I didn't care about any of the characters or about what was going on, and I had no interest in reading on through this dense undergrowth of wild text to find out. I just wasn't interested in these confused and confusing, running, frantic people or in their problems.

This was bad, bad writing if it can't command my attention even for a few chapters. There was one paragraph which went on unbroken for the span of four screens on my Kindle, and I have no idea what it was supposed to be telling me! Take a look at the blurb, which is of the same nature - one long uninterrupted paragraph.

I gave up on the novel after about ten percent because this was all work, with no reward. If I want to work this hard for my entertainment, I'll play a sport. You should not have to work-up a sweat to be pleased by a novel - not a good one anyway - and life is too short to waste on a story which refuses to give you a thing, or which only begrudgingly gives, in return for your willingness to try reading it.

In some ways, this novel borrows heavily from the movie Face Off, and it makes the same mistakes that movie made: it's a lot harder to combat rejection and graft versus host disease than the stories pretend, and it's not just the face. It's arguably much more the bone structure underlying the face which gives the face its appearance than ever it is the face alone. You can't just slap person A's face onto person B and have B look and act exactly like A did, and have the face look normal and work perfectly from the off! Nor would having a robot helping you do the work have any effect on the biology and micro-chemistry of the transplant.

So why did I pick this up? Well, I liked the movie Face Off which obviously inspired this novel, and I actually knew a health-care-giver named Sarah Larssonn (the one I knew was a different spelling, and she wasn't an anesthesiologist; she was a nurse who married one!), so I was interested despite the density of the blurb. I didn't realize that the novel would be written exactly like the blurb, or that it would give so little in return for my reading it. I can't recommend this one.

Update one year later!

This is a weird one. I first got this as an advance review copy from Net Galley, and reviewed it negatively back in May 2015. Then I completely forgot all about it. It was worked on some more by the author and I picked it up for free on Amazon, not realizing I had already read this! Net Galley says it's been completely re-written and if we liked the earlier version, we will love this. I'm sorry but that "logic" simply doesn't work! I did read it, coming into it like it was a new novel (since I'd forgotten it), and I had just as many problems this time as last time. It's still not a worthy read!

One of my initial problems was the info dump, which has gone, but now the novel is completely stripped bare of virtually all description - it's largely a series of conversations, often long enough that you lose track of who is saying what. Moreover, the plot isn't any better. This business of face transplanting (for the purpose of having people become unrecognizable spies) still makes zero sense. Unless they have a DNA transplant, they're still the same person, will still need the same anti-rejection meds, and a simple sampling of facial and body DNA will reveal the ruse.

On top of this there were numerous formatting issues in the Kindle app version of this novel on my phone. Lines ended midway across the screen and continued on the next line - or the next line but one. Speech from different characters was mixed on the same line as is evident in these examples cut and pasted directly from the Kindle app version:

Matthew looks at Liam's smooth narrow face. "You have my vote.""You don't have a vote. You're not on university council.""Well, you know what I mean."

"ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. I just can't believe it. Look at you. Beautiful, strong . . . I can't believe it." Sarah, "I don't look like a person with a progressive neuro-muscular disease.""Exactly.""I don't feel like one either, not at this point." Liam finally speaks.

"Dr. Tom Grabowski, one of the best research surgeons of his era, has died of a heart attack.""Where?"

The voice is that of a young woman. It is calm, confident, and reassuring. Without skipping a beat, Matthew says, "Hi, what should I call you?""I am Alice.""Hi, Alice." Kofi says, "I did all the computer programming. Alice has some facial recognition and voice commands."

The medical knowledge is still poor and too deus ex machina to be believable. At one point, when a legitimate partial face transplant patient has tissue dying because of poor circulation, the doctor says, "I'm not sure it will survive. I'll start antibiotics." If the tissue is all but dead from poor circulation, what's the point of antibiotics which are way over-used anyway? There has been no suggestion that there's an infection, just that the tissue is dying! Antibiotics are not going to help, and are contra-indicated if there is no evidence that infection is playing a part. If the dying tissue is to be excised, then perhaps we can allow that the doctor started prophylactic antibiotics in prep for surgery, but this isn't what's implied in the context of this statement.

The novel is written in the present third person tense which makes it sound weird to me, but that's okay. The problem was that the author sometimes forgot, and used past tense, such as around 10% in, where there was a bit of a flashback, but when we come back to the present, the past tense was still briefly employed.

One last problem is a pet peeve of mine - that every female character is described as beautiful (or as some variant of that word). We get, "Celerie is stunning." (yes, there's a character named Celerie). Another example is, " She is thirty-four, but doesn't look a day over thirty". I found this kind of thing uncomfortably often. It's a form of objectification - as though a women who isn't explicitly beautiful is an ugly hag and not worth our time. I resent that approach and I see it disturbingly often from writers - even from female writers. It needs to stop.

Unless the character's beauty (and indeed physical appearance in general) plays an important part in the story, it's really irrelevant what he or she looks like. Naturally writers put in a description for the benefit of readers, but if you think about it, it's really not necessary. Readers can and ought to be allowed to make up their own mind about how a given character looks. A smart writer will put in a hint or two and leave the rest to the reader. Anything more is a form of telling rather than showing, and I'm surprised that more reviewers don't pick up on it. There's nothing wrong with offering some sort of a description if you feel you must, but I think it's better to be vague. At least, let's agree to cut it out with the 'stunning' and 'beautiful' crap.

In short, I still don't consider this novel to be a worthy read.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Princess: More Tears to Cry by Jean Sasson

Title: Princess: More Tears to Cry
Author: Jean Sasson
Publisher: Doubleday
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

It's interesting to note that this is not copyrighted to Jean Sasson per se, but to the "Sasson Corporation". I think that's noteworthy. OTOH, if a corporation is like a person in the USA, and corporations get tax-breaks and low utility charges, then why don't we all incorporate ourselves? I'm for it!

This book is sold as non-fiction, but there are too many reasons - all taken from the way this is written, and the things it says and doesn't say - for me to believe that it's anything other than fiction, so from this point onwards I will refer to it as a novel until and unless I'm given good reason - in the form of independent supportive evidence - to think otherwise.

I have no smoking gun to prove that it's fiction, but neither do I have anything compelling me to believe that it isn't, so what follows is my own personal opinion derived from no other source than simply reading this book - or at least as much of it as I could stomach.

I have seen, and tried to get into reading, at least two other books in this series, and I could never take them seriously, so this was my last shot at looking at this, and I gave it the best one I could manage, but ultimately, this novel remained boring when it wasn't laughable, which is a sad thing to say about material that's supposedly true and daring as this is claimed to be. That was the first problem with it, for me: the material read too much like fiction and was far too sensationalized to be taken seriously.

This is one reason to down-grade it even if it is true, because if true, this material deserves considerably better treatment than it gets here. Written in the way it is, this book does more to sabotage the very thing it's supposedly trying to alleviate than ever it would if it were written more responsibly and a lot less like a tabloid front page in a supermarket check-out line.

One thought I had immediately was: if these things were true, and I wanted to cover them up and discredit assertions that they were true, what's the best way I could go about achieving that aim?

The obvious answer is, to write a book about it and make the book so bizarre and absurd that the book itself, claiming to be true, turns the whole thing into a joke, and then no one else is every going to make any headway because everything on this topic will forever be suspect at that point. In that direction, the author has done outstanding work for my money. For all practical purposes, it's the same tactic which Republicans use routinely to try to discredit Democrat presidential hopefuls! Throw enough volume and variety of mud (or in this case, fluff) and eventually some of it will stick.

This tale of Arabian 'mights' has all the elements of American daytime soap operas, and no one takes those seriously, so why would anyone take this seriously? That's perhaps the biggest indictment against it, but it's not the only one. The second, arguably equally large, if not larger, is: how could this even get written? If it were true, how could a woman who is now so well-known, continue to be in touch with a real princess and get this information to continue writing these books?

How could this purported 'princess' not have been identified by now? It's beyond credibility. Even if everything in her story was changed - the names, the family history, birth dates, events, to protect the source, how could people not have figured out by now who this is, and how could the source have escaped retribution if the society in which she lives is as awful as we're lectured it is here? It's not possible. It defies credibility.

I am not at all religious. While I do not care what religion people follow as long as they're not hurting others (or sacrificing animals), I do detest and despise organized religion. It is the most pernicious and corrupting influence upon people which was ever invented, and the most appalling and concerted attempt to enslave - or at the very least subjugate - women which has ever been devised by men.

Neither do I believe that any one organized religion is materially better or worse than any other. They all have their faults. They have all fallen short of the glory of the god they claim to serve. They all have blood on their hands way beyond anything which can in any way be justified, even in the wildest flights of fancy.

Yes, Christianity doesn't - normally - subjugate women in the way that Islam does, but it was not always that way. Islam is doing nothing worse today than Christianity and Judaism have done in the past, and which some sects of both continue to do today. None of them is without sin, but can you imagine the outrage if someone did this same sort of exposé on the orthodox Judaists, or on the Amish or the Mormons, or a similar sect? Put it in that perspective and stand back and breathe a little.

One of the most obnoxious things about his novel is that it vilifies all Muslims equally, and that is unacceptable. I simply do not believe that kind of assertion because it is so juvenile and so black and white as to completely lack credibility.

Yes there are awful Muslims, but there are also saintly Muslims, but the bigger truth is that the vast majority of Muslims are your regular everyday people just like you and I, who only want to have a decent life and to be allowed to get on with it in peace, just like the Judaists do, just like the Christians do, and just like those of other, rather less fraught and freighted, religions do. To tar them all uniformly with the thick indiscriminate brush with which this author writes is absurd and cannot in good conscience be viewed as anything other than fictional.

Another problem I had with this book is one that I also have with first person PoV books: no one can recall that much detail, not even when writing it later in a diary. No one can recall exact events in exact order, with every nuance, and every inflected conversation, every little detail, every utterance, every frown, every exclamation.

Even if these purported events were true at their root, there's an inescapable element of fictionalization in recalling them. The human mind works that way, and it's unavoidable. Everyone knows - or should know - that eye-witness is the most unreliable of all evidence which can be brought into a case, yet such witnesses are paradoxically the most compelling, as we see with these novels.

The big problem here is that the 'evidence' isn't corroborated by anything. All we have is the author's word, and I'm sorry, but given the poor and sensationalist quality of the writing here, that word isn't anywhere near good enough to convince me.

Yes, I know that women are abused appallingly by the crushing yoke of religion, especially in orthodox Judaism, Islam, and many sects of many other religions, including Christianity. This needs to be stopped, but guess what? The first of these 'princess' books came out well over a decade ago and I see nothing changing in Saudi Arabia. OTOH, I do see many of these books being sold. You may wish to draw your own conclusions as to who is really benefiting from them.

I cannot recommend a book this poorly written, and one which is arguably doing such a disservice to the cause of liberating those women in the Middle East who wish for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Trials of Nikki Hill by Christopher Darden and Dick Lochte

Title: The Trials of Nikki Hill
Author: Christopher Darden (and Dick Lochte)
Publisher: Hachette
Rating: WARTY!

Dick Lochte? Seriously? That sounds like a medical condition. I get that you don't get to chose the name you're given when you're born, but you do get to choose the name that goes on your novels. He didn't like Richard Lochte? Maybe he doesn't care. Maybe he thinks it's funny, but the problem with chanting "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" is that there have to be torpedoes in the first place....

So why do I get to make fun of a writer's name? Well, I get to do that because of the writing in this novel. At one point, at the start of chapter 30 on page 149, we learn that a character looks like Rock Hudson "in his healthier days". Now there are two ways of using that description. One was to go the AIDS reference route, the other was to simply say "looked like a younger Rock Hudson" - or even omit the reference altogether. It wasn't necessary to make an arguably derogatory reference, yet the writer chose purposefully to go that route. That's my justification.

Clearly this guy, who has published several crime thrillers of his own, was hired to "punch up" Darden's writing since he's less of a novelist than he is the prosecuting counsel in the disastrous OJ Simpson murder trial. I read his In Contempt about that trial. I reviewed (unfavorably) Guilt by Degrees by his co-counsel, Marcia Clarke (whose Without a Doubt - about that same trial, I also read), so I figured it's only fair if I give him the same chance.

I have to say I wasn't favorably impressed by the first two pages (numbered 5 & 6, not 1 & 2 for some reason. I guess that numbering scheme is because there was a prologue, which I skipped as I usually do. If the writer thinks it's not worth putting in chapter one or later, I don't think it's worth reading.

So what didn't impress me? The rampant racism shown by the main character on the first two pages. She uses the term 'white-bread' on the first page and describes a murder victim as "whiter than rice" on the next page. There was absolutely no need to go there for either of these comments. She didn't know at that point that this was a murder victim, but this doesn't excuse unrestrained racism on two consecutive pages.

The black and white references are rampant in this novel, even when it's clearly quite unnecessary to reference what race the character is. I started to wonder if there was some abolitionist throw-back going on here, since when the character was identified as black or "Afro-American" or whatever, it always seemed to be a character who was employed in a subservient role - a security guard for example - someone who serves someone else. It made no difference what color the person was, so why specifically reference it?

Yes I get that there are real racists in society and that therefore it's fine to represent them in your novels if your plot or even verisimilitude requires it, but that's an entirely different thing than having your main character routinely espouse racist phrases. If a white writer had written these same kinds of derogatory phrases about a black person, they would have been called on it and rightly so. So why isn't anyone calling Darden on it? Or Lochte, whichever of the two of them came up with this?

There was also genderism here, and this was by the author, not the characters. The authors reference all female characters by their first name, all male characters by their last - like an abusive private school. Why? I have no idea, but genderism, like racism, cuts both ways. Just like it's not only whites who can be racist, it's also not only men who can be genderist, and it's not always in obvious ways that genderism rears its ugly head as we see here.

The way to fix a problem - like racism, and like male chauvinism - which has been characterized by the pendulum of justice swinging way-the-hell too far in one direction - isn't to force it to swing an equal amount in the opposite direction, it's to nail it dead in the middle and never let it move again.

I suspect this is more a Lochte novel with input from Darden than it is a Darden novel with guidance from Lochte, but that's just a guess. Since I've never read a Lochte novel I have no comparison to make - it's just a feeling I get from the way this is worded - and wordy it is. You could skip the first four chapters and not miss anything, and this same text-stuffing was rife throughout this novel (at least as far as I could stand to read it.

I wanted to read this because of the police investigation, to follow how the crime was solved, not because I wanted a detailed report of the main character's social life. I took to skipping chapters where the 'action' had nothing to do with the case - and that was a lot of chapters. This begs the question, of course, as to how to rate the writing where you deem only certain examples of it readable, and find yourself constantly irritated by the endless digressions. Is it worthy because of the crime story, or is it warty because of the mindless and pointlessly trivial babble?

Chapter one is pretty much all about how the main character, Nikki Hill (Nikki Heat rip-off, much?) getting out of bed, and the life history of her dog (I kid you not). Barf. Chapter two I had to go back and look at because I'd forgotten it by the time I reached chapter eight already. It's Hill's bad history over a case where evidence was mishandled. Objection: irrelevant, your honor. Chapters three and four are a pointless look at the limp interrogation of the guy who is the prime suspect - so we know for a fact that he didn't do it. It contributes nothing to the novel. Five and six are a look at the crime scene, so you may as well start there. You'll miss nothing.

This is your typical celebrity murder with lowlife suspect who's innocent story. TV personality Maddie Gray is found murdered and dumped in a dumpster. Jamal Deschamps is found close by with her ring in his pocket - yet later we're expected to believe she wore no jewelry! Naturally he's arrested despite the fact that other than his theft and failure to report a dead body, there's no evidence he committed any such thing as murder.

This marks the first failure of the enjoyable part of this novel - the murder investigation. We, the readers, know that Jamal is innocent, but the detectives are supposedly convinced that he's the perp, yet despite the fact that they're running out of time for holding him without charging him, they never once charge him with theft (of that ring) or of interfering with a crime scene, or failure to report the murder. They could have easily nailed him on something and held him longer, but they never even consider it. Bad writing. They also end up opening themselves up to a lawsuit for wrongful arrest because of this. These people are morons.

Given that a prosecutor was at least involved in writing this, I expected that procedures would be spot on, but there are failures all along, and this is what tipped the balance for me. For example, at one point we learn that the murder victim's computer is still in her house - the police never seized it, which means an assistant to the victim can get on it and do whatever he wants. Bad writing.

In another instance, they get a report of a car seen in the vicinity of the murder at about the time of the murder, and the first thing they think of in trying to track it down is to contact car dealerships in the area? What they don't have a department of motor vehicles in LA?! Bad writing.

There's also a curious piece of writing when discussing Jewelry. Gold is referred to by karat with a 'K' whereas diamonds are referred to using carat with a 'C'. The fact is that while the term has a different meaning when used for gold than it does when used for gems, the spelling isn't fixed in stone, precious or otherwise. To suggest that the 'K' form can only be used for gold and the 'C' form for gem stones is nonsensical.

But the bottom line is the characters. While I found the crime story engaging to a certain extent (when it wasn't being interrupted with commercials for Nikki's private life), I found I had no interest whatsoever in any of the characters, least of all the main one. I found her to be a prosecutor who was completely without appeal, and I really didn't care whodunit. In the end, that was my objection, and coincidentally the only motive I needed to kill-off this novel.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Alpha by Greg Rucka

Title: Alpha
Author: Greg Rucka
Publisher: Little Brown
Rating: WARTY!

Alpha is written by Greg Rucka who has an article on strong female characters, but you won't find any strong female characters here. All the females are appendages to the men, because this is a macho military man kind of a novel. After I read this, I decided that I probably had to visit the improbable characters populating his comic books to find out what he thinks a strong female character should be, and I wasn't impressed there, either.

This novel reads like a rip-off of a movie I saw some time ago about the take-over of a theme park by thieves or terrorists, but I cannot for the life of me recall its name. I guess it wasn't that great, huh?! I've searched on Amazon, on Netflix, and on the Internet, including IMDB, but I've failed to dig up the name of the movie I saw, and IMDB doesn't identify Rucka as the writer of such a movie or as a movie based on anything he wrote.

In this take, a terrorist threat aimed at the fictional Wilsonville theme park a thinly disguised Disney knock off, comes to the attention of government agencies, so Jad Bell, a master sergeant in some special forces outfit or other, is recruited as deputy safety director. Another of his team is working as a security employee. There is a third person, a CIA operative, also working there, but the park's management has no idea that it's a target, nor that there are undercover operatives implanted at the park.

When the terror does strike, it's in the form of a couple of dozen guys who set up a dirty bomb. It turns out they were hired by a US government politician who wanted to literally scare-up funds for defense, but the terrorists take that and run with it, and then demand that this same guy pay them over again what he already paid, otherwise they really will detonate this bomb. It's up to Bell and his team to rescue the hostages, take out the terrorists and defuse the bomb. In short, your standard macho bullshit.

The complication is that Bell's wife is in the park with his deaf daughter, taking a tour which magically happened to be on this self-same day, of course. The daughter, Anthea, does seem to be a strong woman, but she's marginalized, Bell's ex wife (it's always the ex in these stories, isn't it?) is a complete moron. In the first part of the novel, Bell pretty much outright begs her not to visit the park, but he can't tell her exactly why, and so this dip-shit chooses to completely ignore the advice of her terrorist-expert husband. Later in the story, she bitches him out about getting her into this and putting her daughter at risk! What a frickin' numb-skull!

Generally this novel is well-written and I certainly had no trouble maintaining interest in it, but once in a while there was a "Wait, what?" moment. At one point, Rucka writes, "...judders to a sudden, sharp stop." I'm not sure that makes sense. Judders is a word, although it's not one I like. The problem as I see it is that "judders" implies at least a small amount of time for said juddering to happen, which seems to be at odds with the "sudden, sharp stop" portion of the sentence. Maybe it's just me, but I would never have written that. It just sounds too weird to me.

I have no idea, even having read this novel, what the 'Alpha' title is all about, unless it describes the guy on the cover holding his gun like it's a loaded automatic metal dick....

So overall this was not quite a disaster, but neither was it anything memorable, new, inventive, or original and, as I said, it's strongly reminiscent, if not a rip-off, of that movie. So in short, I can't rate this as a worthy read. Others have done far more with less.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Seal Team Six: Hunt the Jackal by Don Mann with Ralph Pezzullo

Title: Seal Team Six: Hunt the Jackal
Author: Don Mann
Publisher: Little Brown
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Don Mann is a retired chief warrant officer with the US Navy, who has actually been a SEAL. This is what attracted me to this novel because I felt it would be authentic, which is what I like in a military novel. I'm sorry that it didn't feel at all authentic once I began reading it. The Hunt for Red October aside, I'm not a Tom Clancy fan (where every novel reads like a training manual), but neither am I a fan of novels in that genre which offer no military details. I like the Goldilocks novel: the kind where there's enough to make it feel real without it being a dry recitation of weapons and tactics, but this novel just didn't do it for me. Donn Mann has a series of "Hunt the [Despised Animal]" novels. I'm guessing from this one that they're very formulaic, and therefore uninteresting to me.

I'm not sure why this novel had to begin by stating a woman's age: "Forty-two-year-old Lisa Clark", but it's one of those novels which starts with the first few words in larger font, so we're actually yelling it out, and those words which are announced so loudly happen to be: FORTY-TWO YEAR OLD! Like pay attention: this woman is old and therefore useless! Note that we get no ages given for any of the men! This seems like a journalistic thing to me, where ages, no matter how irrelevant they are to the story, are always reported. There was no reason at all for her age to be rolled out because it played no part whatsoever in the story. Indeed, neither did she, really. The parts featuring Lisa as the hostage held no interest whatsoever and were boring as hell.

Mann has been helped in writing this by Ralph Pezzullo, so I have no way of knowing which of them contributed what to the writing or who to blame for the poor take on women. And poor take it is. There is another woman appearing in these first few pages, and none of the descriptions suggests that we should be remotely interested in women as anything other than sex toys for men. Who cares if she has a mind or what that mind is like? Yeah, I get that these are supposed to be 'rough and tough' novels aimed at a certain male demographic, but that's still no excuse for demeaning or objectifying women. I immediately felt that I was not going to like this novel because of that. Nevertheless, I pressed on, and while that attitude wasn't as prominent in subsequent pages as it had been at the start, the novel became a tedious and uninviting read for other reasons.

Note that there is a huge difference between having a character in a novel demean women, and having the actual tone of the novel itself being demeaning. I don't like it any more when a character objectifies a woman, but there are people like that and it's plainly stupid to rail against a writer who depicts real life. Such a case is an excusable use of this approach, but actually writing the objectification into the tone and narrative of the novel is a different matter entirely, and there is no excuse for that. It's particularly noticeable here because we can contrast it with a quote that's given later (supposedly up on the wall in the Seal Team Six training room), from Mia Hamm, which appears in her book Go For the Goal. This token nod to the value of a female perspective is an insult given the derogatory milieu in which we find it.

Back to the story in progress! In the "galley" copy I read, page numbering starts with the cover as page one, so the novel starts on page eight, which is a bit weird, and yes, I know this is a 'galley proof', but in this electronic era, there really is no excuse for sub-standard or non-standard proofs. Anyway, we start on page eight with Lisa being kidnapped from her bathtub by some new (and evidently quite youthful) terrorist group who identify themselves as La Santísima Muerte (that's 'The Blessed Death' in English). Next we move, still in the same chapter, to the Middle East, where Seal Team Six is trying to recover a predator drone which has unexpectedly gone down, but even though they're in northern Syria, the mission starts going south really quickly.

I have to ask what happened to the other five Seal teams?! How come no one ever talks or writes about them?! Funnily enough, these authors do mention Seal Teams One and Two, but only in passing.

This action on Northern Syria was when the novel started feeling realistic to me. We have brave and dedicated men putting their lives on the line and this part felt gripping and very readable (if a little overly dramatic), because we know that men and women of the armed services do this on a daily basis, and whether or not you agree with their mission takes nothing from their skill, dedication, sacrifice, and guts.

There's a serious error in the text where they talk about M47 grenades. I think they mean M67. The XM47 is a riot control grenade. The M67 is what's military issue. I'm not sure about an M67 grenade explosion lifting a pick-up truck into the air however! I suppose it's possible if it detonated a full fuel tank, but grenades are fragmentation devices no different from a pipe bomb or an IED. One of them is likely to perforate a truck and anyone in it (with sufficient proximity), but it's more likely for the shrapnel to rip through it or put serious dents in it than it is to lift it off the ground. This isn't Hollywood, where every explosion is larded up with gasoline to create that spectacular orange and red plume (and resultant pollution)! Note that M47 is also the designation of the Patton tank produced by the USA in the early fifties. Now that M47 would lift a truck!

Here's another error: on page 42, I read that "stars died and broke up into asteroids". What? Someone needs a serious education in cosmology. Stars do die, but they shrink to dwarf stars, or neutron stars or black holes (dependent upon their initial size). In this process, some of them explode as supernovas, spewing gas, dust, and elemental particles (not asteroids) into space to feed other stars. Yes, those particles might eventually end-up in asteroids, or in planets, but 'breaking up into asteroids' is nowhere near an accurate way to describe this process. Some of those elements created in a supernova are actually inside you right now. We're quite literally made of 'stardust'. How cool is that?

You would think a novel like this would be able to hold my interest, but in the end it simply wasn't very good. Seal Team Six is reduced, in this novel, to rescuing hostages in Mexico from a drug lord masquerading as a an acolyte of the Aztec religion, and it's just not that exciting, not even when they get into a pitched battle with the Mexican federales. In fact, that part just seemed like far too big of a stretch, and for me it lacked credibility. Something like this would have ended up triggering a massive international incident. I found myself skipping more and more pages, which of course meant that some of what I did read made no sense.

Far from getting the engrossing military yarn I'd hoped for, I got an uninteresting mess which I honestly cannot recommend.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Sensualist by Barbara Hodgson

Title: The Sensualist
Author: Barbara Hodgson
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Rating: WARTY!

This novel started out right up there with Frances Hardinge's efforts for being downright weird, so it drew me in right away, but in the end it became tedious, repetitive, dull, and boring. Barbara Hodgson is an artist who has written several novels and this is the first of hers that I've read. And probably the last, which is sad, because the format of this novel is quite charming. It contains multiple illustrations and fold-outs representing the materials of which the main character comes into possession as she rides a train into Vienna, Austria and meets with people in an effort to try and discover what has happened to her deadbeat husband who has been missing for three months. He has often gone off for weeks at a time, ignoring her letters and failing to contact her, but the editor from the newspaper he's working for on a story about art theft or art forgery (it’s unclear which it is at first) calls her to see if she knows where her husband is, because the story is overdue and he hasn’t heard from him. Thus her forlorn quest begins.

She takes off into Europe and encounters three strange women and a strange train conductor during the journey before she even leaves the train - and that's just for starters! One of the women leaves her a box which contains an antique book in which hollowed-out pages hold a magnifying glass and six vials of herbal medicines. The materials are ancient. Everyone she meets seems to know something about her or her quest, and everyone seems to want to trade her something of theirs for something she has - seemingly insignificant, ordinary and occasionally disgusting objects, such as a molar tooth which an elevator operator trades her for one of the pearls decorating the box lid.

Helen runs into one offbeat character after another and takes it all in stride, very much like one would do in a dream. She seems to become quite easily distracted from her purported main purpose of tracking down her husband (about whom I'd long given up caring anyway), and side-tracks into pursuing a discovery adventure of Flemish printer Andreas Vesalius and the woodblocks he created for a publication he produced on anatomy. These blocks were thought to have disappeared during the bombing of a Berlin in World War Two, but maybe they were not all destroyed, in which case any existing ones may have survived. Is this why the director of a museum has been murdered? Did Helen murder him?

There are some weird references too, such as the one to Felice Fontana (1730-1805). Hodgson describes this character - represented as a wax figure in an obscure European museum - as a woman, but that name and those dates apply to a man who was a physician. Whether Hodgson knows this and is playing, or is simply ignorant, or is merely trying to ratchet up the absurdity factor I have no idea. I just found that interesting. There may be other such references that I missed. But the problem for me was that her quest for her husband was uninteresting and when she effectively abandoned that, I was given nothing else even remotely interesting to engage me.

Of all her encounters, Helen's first is the one which most unsettles her, because she seems to be the very same person as the one she first meets on the train. She doesn’t realize this at first because the other the person is aged and significantly overweight, but when Helen finally gets a look at a picture of the other woman when she was younger, she notes a striking resemblance to herself. In addition to this, Helen seems to be traveling in an earlier time - much earlier than 1998 when this novel was published. She goes by train, not airplane, and she has no cell phone or email. The impression I increasingly had in reading this novel was that the real Helen was not the younger version, but the older one, and was possibly lying in a bed somewhere dying of old age, or in a coma, and recalling her younger life. So: trope-ish and boring.

It was all well and good and rather fun and intriguing to begin with, but as the novel creeps towards some 300 pages of nothing but this stuff, the novelty value wears off, and as Helen becomes more and more obsessed with Vesalius's wood blocks, it starts to become completely uninteresting. Normally I would have ditched a novel like this, but I kept trying to stay with it. When I realized I had only some seventy pages remaining, and since I had enjoyed the beginning so much, I decided to try and finish it even if I no longer liked it.

I got within 35 pages of the ending, but I couldn't stand the mindless diversions into Vesalius's wooden blocks and the increasingly repetitive nature of the story-telling. I felt more and more like this was going quite literally nowhere and I reached a point where I decided that there was no payoff, no matter how brilliant nor how miraculous it may be, that could make up for the effort I was being forced to put in! Hodgson, if this was some kind of a big joke on your readers - which I could easily believe - you got me, but you didn't get me all the way to the end. WARTY! Life is way too short to waste on that kind of writing where "literary" is used as a really poor euphemism for 'self-indulgently soporific', not when there's other much more engaging and exciting material waiting to be read.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata

Title: The Bohr Maker
Author: Linda Nagata
Publisher: Bantam
Rating: TBD

This is volume one in the loosely-connected Nanotech Succession quadrilogy. I've read Deception Well and Vast, but not Tech Heaven, so I'm pleased to be able to review the first of this group for the blog. Even though this is not a new novel (indeed, it was the first Nagata ever published!), it is new to me, and hopefully I'll enjoy this as I have the other two. It begins in Asia (and the choice of typeface imbues the novel a rather Japanese aura) where a few members of a local 'tribe', trying to eke out an existence in an abandoned mill by a river, discover a dead body in the water. Jensen Van Ness has apparently been murdered and robbed, but his body still bears clothes which might be traded in the city for food. As two of the tribe, the petite, retiring Phousita and domineering and cruel Arif haul the body to shore, something sharp slides out of his chest and stabs Phousita, the diminutive woman who looks like a child, infecting her with the Bohr Maker, an illegal and self-directing genetic enhancer.

I confess I found that while it was an acceptable read, and engrossing in parts, I did not find myself enjoying this novel as much as I had the other two, and I was somewhat disappointed to discover that the Bohr of the title was the fictional Leander Bohr, not Neils Bohr, who was neither an engineer nor a biologist, which is probably fueling my lack of complete enthusiasm! Neils Bohr was a giant in the wild early days of particle physics. I read a charming, sad, and amusing account of this in Faust in Copenhagen by Gino Segrè, which contained the picture I reproduce below, which I find really extraordinary. The sheer magnitude of brainpower concentrated in this one instant in time in this photograph is as humbling as it is inspiring. The ones most interesting to me are identified by the red numbers in the list below.

  1. Paul Ehrenfest
  2. Erwin Schrödinger
  3. Wolfgang Pauli
  4. Werner Heisenberg
  5. Paul Dirac
  6. Arthur Compton
  7. Louis de Broglie
  8. Max Born
  9. Neils Bohr
  10. Max Planck
  11. Marie Curie
  12. H.A. Lorentz
  13. A. Einstein

Meanwhile, somewhere slightly off-planet, the Chief of Police, Kristin, cruelly abuses a dead man, whose brain patterns have been preserved by a cutting-edge scientist before laws were enacted which severely circumscribed such experimentation. The dead man, Nikko Jiang-Tibayan, is now dying again - the license for his existence is about to expire. This is an era which has declared that thou shalt not mess with the human genome, and he represents the last such experiment - a human consciousness in a ceramic body. Kristin, living in luxury at the top of one of many Earth-space elevators uses his body for her own perverse and abusive sexual pleasure (yes, this made no sense to me either!).

Nikko puts up with this in the desperate hope that she will relent and help him to continue his existence. She cruelly taunts him over his impending doom, refusing to grant him a reprieve even as she pleasures herself with his ersatz body and causes him pain by biting his kisheer - an augmentation to the body which permits him to survive in a vacuum by recycling CO² in his blood. She has affixed above her bed a collage made from the confiscated body parts of the human experiments she has personally terminated and mentions that she would like to see his skull up there eventually.

Nikko unfortunately involved his brother, Sandor Jiang-Tibayan in his theft of the Bohr maker and now Kristin is hunting Sandor, too, and she doesn't care if his involvement came about in Sandor's ignorance or not. But Phousita's transformation, under the refurbishing power of the Bohr maker is startling. She becomes a Messiah to her people and so well-known that both she and Arif must go on the run to escape Kristin - a run which takes them into the cold of space and the the bizarre artificial world at the top of the elevator - the one created by Fox Jiang-Tibayan, Nikko and Sandor's dad.

That's all I'm going to reveal about this novel. I am rating this worthy although I have to say I was not as impressed as I had been with the other two. But Nagata can write inventively; she had surrogates before Surrogates had surrogates, and she has some really interesting sci-fi scenarios on display.