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Monday, 13 February 2006
THE DRIVE IN, a graphic novel by Joe Lansdale
Mood:  chillin'
Now Playing: with myself
Topic: Book Review

As you might have figured out from reading this book blog, I'm an unabashed fan of Joe Lansdale, the best damn shitkicking author to emerge from East Texas. I didn't post a review of THE DRIVE IN (the book) here because, frankly, I've been flooding the blog with Lansdale stuff. I did read it, and frankly thought it was one of his best (certainly his creepiest) story ever.

Unfortunately, the graphic novel based upon the story (and fairly faithfully; the story is retold in almost exact detail, just more visually and less verbose) published by Avatar comics, failed to inspire me. The drawings (aside from the cover and a couple of inserts, almost entirely black and white line drawings) are too damned intricate and the lack of color washes most of the story away.

It's a pity; I wanted to like this one because I liked its parent novel quite a bit. I can't fault the guys at Avatar for the idea, which is stellar; DRIVE IN was a spectacularly visual mindfuck of a book. However, I do fault them for execution. The art was poor to mediocre at best. The story was topnotch, but Lansdale gave them a big hand with that one.

Good effort, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Posted by mrnizz at 3:37 PM EST
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Thursday, 9 February 2006
Mood:  celebratory
Now Playing: Django Reinhardt's Greatest Hits
Topic: Book Review
Most of us remember Terry Jones as "the Nude Man" from Monty Python's Flying Circus, or "King Pellinore" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or Brian's obnoxious mum in "The Life of Brian". So it's hard to grasp that that same Terry Jones who used to dress in drag and make silly faces on TV is really quite a gifted and clever author, and a learned fellow to boot. I had some prior experience with Jones' kid's fiction: ERIK THE VIKING, NICOBOBINUS, and one of his history books: CHAUCER'S KNIGHT: A MEDIEVAL MERCENARY, so I knew what he was about.

Jones' book works on the central premise: Geoffrey Chaucer, court poet of the unfortunate Richard II of English History, was a famous man, perhaps the liteary voice of his age (though I personally think Jean Froissart could have given him a run for his money). His work was famous in his lifetime, a literary feat almost unheard of in an age where books were copied by hand. When he disappears from history, he was neither young nor terribly old by the standards of the day; and no mention is made of this celebrated individual's passing by fair means or foul.

How, then, did Chaucer die? Jones' opinion is that he was murdered, that much is clear from the title. The reasons why are a mystery and Jones can only produce enlighted guesses as to motive. If you are reading this novel merely for another period-piece mystery, you will be disappointed. There is no costumed villain. However, it is a great history book for all of that; Jones has a wondeful literary style that describes the period in everyday langauge that makes for a fun read.

Not so much a murder mystery as a survey of the middle of fourteenth century English society, WHO MURDERED CHAUCER? is a bright, fun engaging book. I loved it.

Posted by mrnizz at 12:56 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 9 February 2006 12:58 PM EST
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Wednesday, 5 October 2005
THE BOTTOMS, by Joe Lansdale
Mood:  bright
Now Playing: The Gorey End by the Tiger Lillies and Kronos Quartet
Topic: Book Review
THE BOTTOMS is a powerful novel, one of the many by Joe Lansdale (Who else, lately?) that I've read lately.

From the blurb:
Deep East Texas in the Great Depression. A place where poverty is as prevalent and devastating as tornadoes. When young Harry Crane discovers a mutilated body in the river bottoms, a cold fear grips the region and racial tension nears fever pitch. Harry believes the killer is the Goat Man, a monster of Texas legend, made all the more real to Harry because he has actually seen him on his nocturnal wanderings. In the dark and gloom of the Texas night, and with no suspect in sight, the body count rises, a man is lynched, and the local law—Harry's father—intensifies the search for a savage killer who may be closer than anyone dares imagine.

There are many elements that thread throughout Lansdale's novels, some of them being a childlike first person perspective (as in A FINE DARK LINE), taking a moral stance (as in SUNSET AND SAWDUST, A FINE DARK LINE), ferocity towards evil-doers (every Lansdale novel written), the power of memory and country-style justice.

THE BOTTOMS takes up these themes in Lansdalian style and delivers a fine, scary tale set in (where else) East Texas during the Depression. The underweaving threads of loneliness, poverty, and memory perfay pervade throughout. Many of Joe's books look back on a vanished America, usually set in a Depression that he isn't old enough to have witnessed firsthand. It's a perfect setting for dread and suspense... not just for the evil that occurs in the novel (and it's pretty nasty) but also the underlaying dread of poverty and hunger that is in the background of it all.

THE BOTTOMS reminded me strongly of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for some reason. The stories aren't all that similar but the perspective and settings are not all that different.

I strongly recommend THE BOTTOMS, it might be my favorite Lansdale book yet.

Posted by mrnizz at 4:32 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 14 September 2005
A FINE DARK LINE, by Joe R. Lansdale
Mood:  caffeinated
Now Playing: with myself
Topic: Book Review

Joe Lansdale is the writer that brought us "Bubba Ho Tep" and he actually narrates it in the expanded bits on the DVD (with his authentic East Texas shitkicker accent). I'm on a Lansdale reading binge at the moment, having gone through (rapidly): FREEZER BURN, SUNSET AND SAWDUST, MUCHO MOJO and now A FINE DARK LINE. Like most of his books, this one is set in Texas and in times gone by. In this case, the year is 1958 and the protaganist is a 13 year old boy who is pretty wet behind the ears. His inadvertant discovery of an old box of letters sets in motion an investigation to an old murder and coverup.

Lansdale is masterful as a dialogue writer; his choice little inserts and conversations are the real reason to read his fiction (I'm compiling a list of these on my "Staring at my feet" blog). Any writer who can come up with "I've got a growth on my pecker"-- Bubba Ho Tep is probably going to come up with choice material, consistently.

What I liked about AFDL, more than the murder story, which is good, but somewhat conventional, was the social consciousness of the book. AFDL speaks to racial divisiveness with a clear voice. Although there is only one POV character in the novel he is in contact with several black characters (good and evil) that present an alternative view to the 1950s white man's world. I could tell that there might be a little bit of this in Lansdales' own past, perhaps.

In any event, A FINE DARK LINE had me laughing and it kept me engrossed. Having lived in the South (and in Texas for small stretches) it really sounded authentic to me. I hope they makes some of Lansdale's more conventional stuff into a movie some time...

Posted by mrnizz at 5:16 PM EDT
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Monday, 9 May 2005
TWO TRAINS RUNNING by Lucius Shephard
Mood:  celebratory
Now Playing: Lucius Shephard interview on Agony Booth podcast
Topic: Book Review
Lucius Shephard is one of the few real true characters working in fiction today. Reading interviews about his life and work makes his real life adventures come off as cool as anything he writes about in his stories.

I first became a fan of Shephard with the publication of his near-future stories in F&SF magazine; these were in turn anthologized in the Gardner Dozois "BEST SCIENCE FICTION OF THE YEAR.." series. Shephard's stories are haunting and familiar, like they are taking place in a mirror image of reality but only a couple years later than today. Much of what he predicts in his fiction (smart suits, combat drugs, seeing eye gun tracking) has either came to pass or is in the works for the next generation of soldiers. Much of his story arcs concern themselves with an imagined war in Central America (a part of the world that he is very familiar with), and were later novelized on their own as LIFE DURING WARTIME and THE JAGUAR HUNTER.

The book I just finished, however, is not about a future war, and only a little bit of it is even fiction. TWO TRAINS RUNNING is three bits; the first bit is a lengthy article about hobos and the FTRA (Freight Train Riders of America), an alleged "hobo mafia" that might or might not have harbored homicidal maniacs at some point. The other two bits are short stories utilizing the settings and characters out of the FTRA story.

Frankly, the best part of the book is the non-fiction bit. It's humorous, wry and pointed. I like the fact that Shephard went out on the road with hobos and "catched out" to hop freights with them.. still, he doesn't pretend to reshape them as noble savages (as they probably would themselves). Shephard appreciates the romance of the hobo lifestyle but wouldn't trade his life for theirs for any money. And that's how most of us would react, too.

The stories are .. okay.

My next Shephard project is finding and reading COLONEL RUTHERFORD'S COLT, which appears to have some promise!

Posted by mrnizz at 12:04 PM EDT
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THE NARROWS by Michael Connelly
Mood:  cool
Now Playing: Black Flag
Topic: Book Review
Harry Bosch is back again, in all his cool, hip and noir glory. This is the big tie-in novel for all of author Michael Connelly's serial characters-- virtually every P.O.V. character from every series is tied up in a neat package here.. Harry Bosch (all the Bosch novels), Terry McCalleb (Blood Work et. al), and Rachel Walling (the Poet) all intersect as their plot lines come together for one big orgy of noir, sex and violence. What can I say? I think a lot of the "I'm gonna share universes and put all my characters together for a special novel" schtick is artificial, and the plot line strikes me as the most contrived Connelly book ever. There are so many POVs running simultaneously that it's hard to track. Still, Harry Bosch is Harry Bosch, and Harry Bosch is cool, violent, principled, unyielding. The character makes up for the deficiency in the plot. It's always a good time reading a Bosch novel...

Posted by mrnizz at 11:46 AM EDT
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Thursday, 24 February 2005
The Other End of Time and The Siege of Eternity, by Fred Pohl
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: For time
Topic: Book Review
I like Fred Pohl's books generally speaking. JEM, GATEWAY, MAN PLUS, and THE SPACE MERCHANTS were great, fun, reads. Fred Pohl is a prototypical science fiction writer with a career spanning the Golden Age, the "New Era" and onward. His fiction usually revolves around an interesting idea (For instance, what if ancient aliens left behind an orbital with a host of exploration vessels capable of jumping into space, but nobody knows exactly where they are going?) Alas, it would seem that his output has declined in the last decade or so, though the penchant for a single cool idea is still present.

So when I picked up THE OTHER END OF TIME at the library (Audio Version, Cassette, Books on Tape) I had reasonable expectations. This is Fred Pohl, after all. THE OTHER END OF TIME is the first book in a series called Eschaton (the moment the universe collapses, when everyone who has ever lived will be reborn and live for eternity). Pretty heady concept.. but the execution in the first novel is glacial. The future is dystopic, economies on the brink of collapse. There's a wide gap between haves and have-nots in this future. A government agent is sent to spy on a space mission to a derelict satellite. He, and the rest of the mission, are kidnapped by aliens, taken through a dimensional portal, and held captive in a featureless 'no space" for a looong time. Much of the book takes place during this captivity. We learn there is a galactic war going on over "The Eschaton" (the universe collapse/rebirth thing), their captors might be good guys, bad guys or indifferent guys. They escape at the end, and that's about the sum total of the plot.

Interesting plot points (the big Pohl idea): instead of travelling someplace physically, the aliens use a tachyon transmitter to send digitized copies of beings instead. The hangup of course, is that you leave a perfect copy of yourself (or is it the original?) behind.

SIEGE OF ETERNITY takes up about five minutes behind the first novel. Pohl focuses most of his efforts on portraying an unrepentantly selfish world dealing with an unprecedented crisis. His world is politically unstable, with widespread terrorism, runaway inflation and rampant crime. Even most of the likable characters are more concerned with personal gain than with the larger problems of dealing with the alien threat, which doesnt seem to be taken seriously, at least inthis novel. Pohl is also very effective at presenting the Horch and Scarecrows as aliens, rather than funny looking humans.

SIEGE OF ETERNITY does pick up the pace quite a bit for all of that, and has given me the impetus I needed to finish the story.

Posted by mrnizz at 10:32 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 24 February 2005 10:38 AM EST
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Tuesday, 22 February 2005
Polaris, by Jack McDevitt: Marie Celeste in space
Mood:  a-ok
Now Playing: my banjo
Topic: Book Review
I love the archeological stories of Jack McDevitt, even when he's gone to the well many times, as he does in the Omega/Chindi/Engines of God sequence. McDevitt writes either mystery/thrillers with an archeological edge (A TALENT FOR WAR, POLARIS) or xenoarcheology pieces (ENGINES OF GOD, OMEGA, et. al) or a mixture of both. McDevitt used to share a rare honor of being on my "short list".. authors, like Ian Banks, George Fraser, and George Martin, that I usually pick up "keeper copies" of their novels and read more than once. Lately, however, I've found much of what he has written to be increasingly repetitive. That is not to say it's dull-- McDevitt may be a one-trick pony, but that pony can still perform.

POLARIS brings us back to the milieu of McDevitt's greatest book so far, A TALENT FOR WAR. The myth debunking hero of TALENT, Alex Benedict, returns as a secondary character along with the POV character of his lovely assistant Chase Kolpath. It's 60 some-odd years later, and we are presented with a plot similar to the old mystery of the marie celeste-- the ship that was found devoid of crew or passengers floating adrift in 1872.

In POLARIS, the titular ship is preparing to jump out of an solar system during a spectacular stellar event (with a passenger list of celebrities). Nothing happens. The ship is recovered, with no crew or passengers, suits and lifeboat intact. What happened?

Polaris is a great "whatdunit" in the classic McDevitt form, which means a very good read but also a formulaic one for this author. I wish Jack M. might consider branching out one of these days-- I love the archeology theme but he's done it to death. If this had been his first or third book, I might have sang the choir celestial over POLARIS, but as it is his sixth or seventh novel sharing this theme, I can merely shrug and give it a casual thumbs up.

I see by reviewing McDevitt's Bibliography that I've missed two small press books, HELLO OUT THERE and STANDARD CANDLES. The first is a combination of A TALENT FOR WAR and THE HERCULES TEXT, two unrelated novels. The second appears to be short stories. I'll keep an eye out for it!

Posted by mrnizz at 12:21 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 22 February 2005 12:52 PM EST
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Tuesday, 21 September 2004
Mood:  don't ask
Now Playing: my banjo
Topic: Book Review
I just finished THE STARS AND STRIPES TRIUMPHANT, by Harry Harrison. Normally I rather like Harrison's work, especially the more pulpy material like BILL THE GALATIC HERO, MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! and STAR SMASHERS OF THE GALAXY RANGERS. The Stars and Strips series is a full-fledged jump into Turtledove's territory. The jumps in history are intriguing. The Mason-Slidell incident becomes cause celebre in Great Britain, tipping them into the cause of intervention. Alas, they intervene in the wrong place and slaughter a hapless outpost of rebs. This miraculously reconciles both sides of the ACW and unites them against our real foe, Great Britain. (the first book). The reunited Americans then smash British rule in the Eire, helping the suffering Irishmen establish a republic there. (second book). In the final book, VICTORIOUS, the Americans take the war to the UK itself. The title might be considered a spoiler.

The VSF enthusiast in me revels at the advances of technology (and not huge ones either) that make the plot move forward-- culiminating in the use of tanks when the American forces attack the UK in 1867(!!!) However, the nascent little historian that I fear lurks in the heart of us all was outraged at Harrison's very liberal and convenient interpertation of the science, politics and social trends of mid-19th century America and Europe.

For one thing, the ironclads that Harrison considers so decisive against the Royal Navy were not exactly ocean-going vessels, and he has them escorting convoys and landing invasion forces. Absurd! The actual battle sections, although well-written, are tied up in a neat little bow before the first guy fires the first shot. I would have preferred a little more controversy-- that Sherman is a demigod of military planning, isn't he?

Finally (Spoilers!), we are supposed to believe that all these European nations that have been around for centuries are hungering for American forms of government (a constitution and elected representation) as the answer to all their ills.

In lieu of certain foreign entanglements the US is in at the moment (and that's the last comparison I'll make), I found the conclusions of this series to be a tad amusing in context.

In sum, fun, but horribly jingoistic and embarassingly rah-rah for the American side. I'd get it at the UBS of your choice.

Posted by mrnizz at 1:03 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 31 August 2004
INNOCENTS ABOARD by Gene Wolfe (publisher: Tor Hardcover)
Mood:  caffeinated
Now Playing: I
Topic: Book Review
I just found this new collection of short stories by Gene Wolfe, who brought us the Long Sun/Short Sun series.

Wolfe is a creator of a strange, literary style of Science Fiction, and has been distinctive to me since he first published THE DEATH OF DOCTOR ISLAND AND OTHER STORIES. I enjoy a Wolfe story like I enjoy a very strongly flavored wine or cheese... slow, and appreciative. Gene Wolfe is not for fast beach readers.

Ursula Le Guin calls him the "Melville of our generation" which I think is stretching it a tad, but he deserves acclaim for the way he visualizes new worlds (at the very least).

Innocents Aboard gathers fantasy and horror stories from the last decade that have never before been in a Wolfe collection.

Highlights from the collection:

  • "The Tree is my Hat" adventure and horror in the South Seas-- with a very unusual ending.
  • "The Night Chough" a Long Sun story, always welcome.
  • "The Walking Sticks" a darkly humorous tale of a supernatural inheritance
  • "Houston, 1943" lurid adventures in a dream that has no end.

    To agree with one over-enthusiastic reviewer, there truly isn't a clinker in the bunch. Relax, enjoy, and take your time with this one. It's always worth it.

    Posted by mrnizz at 4:14 PM EDT
    Updated: Tuesday, 31 August 2004 4:17 PM EDT
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