Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Eyes of the Dragon

                        

   I've tried and failed to write this review multiple times over the course of several days, and I suppose that alone is a testament to exactly how this book impacted me. It's further proof that moments after finishing the book, I was affected by the ending, but looking back on it, I don't feel as strongly as I did about, say, The Talisman or It or the bleak and depressing throes of 'Salem's Lot. Sometimes, all a good book needs to be is just that: A good book. Things can just be good without being earth-shattering. And, while The Eyes of the Dragon isn't an earth-shattering book, or something that made me weep openly, or something like "Clockwork Girl" that I will never be able to read again that just rips me up inside, it doesn't need to be anything earth-shattering. 

                          The story is a fairly typical adventure story with some very cool narrative flourishes. While there are some definite pacing issues, most of these are explained by one simple fact, one I learned long ago: Stephen King wrote this book for his children and the children of Peter Straub. He may have very well edited and rewritten it for publication, or possibly added bits that addressed his own road to recovery (as that seems to be a theme around the eighties and nineties, even if he didn't necessarily put it in there himself) in places here and there. I've always admired Stephen King for his ability to simply tell a good story, and that is all he ever needed to do. And that's all the book does.

                         I would spend more time bashing the terribly silly paperback copy or the pacing issues, but these things don't really enter into it. You might like this book more, as I admit my imagination has been stunted these past four-ish years. You might like it less, expecting something tighter than an adventure story about captured princes and secret passageways and the importance of always having a napkin, Either way, it's definitely worth a read. 

More, as always, below.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rose Madder

   
                  

        During the Nineties, there was a phase Stephen King went through. It might have been a convergence of various factors, it could have just been that certain dangerous habits were instead replaced by a certain amount of mysticism and an interest in telling stories about abused women after he'd essentially put his wife through the emotional wringer with said dangerous habits. Either way, it resulted in a series of loosely-connected novels involving abusive and just asshole husbands known colloquially as "The Abused Wife Trilogy". The first two of these books were more closely connected, with Gerald's Game having a strange empathic link with Dolores Claiborne. The third, Rose Madder, is more closely linked in theme than in any other way, and doesn't appear to have anything to do with the solar eclipse. At best, it's a Lifetime movie someone devised whilst on hallucinogens,

Rose Madder is also Stephen King's weakest book, barring maybe The Tommyknockers

                             Certainly one of the weakest I've ever read. This may be under bias, as I had the damn thing for well over nine years without reading it (I picked it up with a few others, including Christine, the fate of which is still left merely to my imagination. I think I gave it away)

                         Now, this is not to say it's a bad book. King can still tell a good story even on a bad day. Needful Things proved that just last week. But it's weak. Compared to the literary canon of King, including books that made me think more about the world I lived in and the interconnectedness of everything in the universe (Yes, The Dark Tower is what first got me interested in Taoism. Shut up.), made me afraid of bathrooms for the duration of my reading (It), and swear off reading any of his short stories ever again (Night Shift, and it didn't last, because Skeleton Crew and Nightmares and Dreamscapes are full of awesome shorts), Rose Madder comes up surprisingly short. If this is your introduction to King, it might be worth a read. If it's something you get out of the library on a whim, sure. Go ahead. If you want my copy of the book, and have something to trade, I might consider it, though I'd feel like you were being robbed. But honestly? Borrow this. Please don't buy it. It's a good book, but there are better out there.

More, as always, below.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Needful Things

                         


            We, all of us, have some crap in our lives. I could refer to it as something stronger or something weaker, but no. Crap is the word for it, crap is what it is, crap is what we say to ourselves when we realize that we've lucked into more of it. It is, was, and will be, crap. Worse yet, this crap takes a long time to work through. And crap has many different varieties. There's simple crap, complex crap, mental crap, emotional crap, physical crap...all different kinds. Because it takes a long time to work through, and because that time is a horrible slog filled with diversions as we try to make ourselves happy enough to balance out the crap, we find ourselves in some small moments going "Oh, if only there were some way to clear away the crap, some kind of quick fix that would instantly make our lives that much better and give us the security and stability we so need." There isn't, sometimes it'll take years, I'm still plagued by the crap from almost three years ago, and there's crap going back even further than that, crap I'll probably never be over. But still. If only there were a way to clear the crap. If only there were something to remove the clouds, to get the fog to clear...wouldn't you give anything to take the shortcut?

And this, dear reader, brings us to this week's selection and the start of Stephen King Month, Needful Things

                               Because Needful Things is about a town that's offered a chance to get rid of their crap with a little help from a friendly shopkeeper. The easy way out. All for the price of whatever they think it's worth, plus a little extra "good deed" for Mr. Leland Gaunt. It's a book about doing recovery the hard way, and how easy it is to take the quick solutions out. It's a small-town morality play narrated by a deranged version of the Stage Manager from Our Town who has decided that the people of his tiny small town need to learn some important lessons and also burn down. 

                              And...well, it's not brilliant, or great, or even something I'd describe as good. But despite its numerous flaws, when Needful Things is on, it is very, very on. If nothing else, it's a curiosity with some interesting characters and a cool central premise and some interesting meditations, but not something I could wholly recommend picking up. Give it a read if you're curious, but it's entirely nonessential. 

More, as always, below. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Stars My Destination

      

             
             Before this book, I didn't have a high opinion of Alfred Bester. The one book I'd read by him, The Demolished Man, came highly-lauded, but failed to capture my attention, and between a plot I was sure I'd already read before and a narrative structure that fell apart with the protagonist, I just couldn't get into it. It had some great ideas, don't get me wrong, people have been using that "earworm beats telepathy" gimmick for well over the fifty years since the book initially came out. But other than some fantastic ideas, Bester was kind of just one of those people I didn't get. 

                        That was, of course, until I was suckered in again by two things. First, that Bester is one of the originators of the "New Wave" science fiction movement, a movement that tried to merge lit-fic with genre fiction with a lot of great success*. Second, that out of all the people who have told me about this book, only Ellis has ever told me anything bad about it, and even then, it was a matter of taste. We'll get to that matter further down the page. So, because I found a free full-text version (sadly without the weird typographical experimentation) and it had been recommended to me enough times, as well as being (along with Gravity's Rainbow, The Crying of Lot 49, and The Space Merchants among others) a kind of proto-cyberpunk book that kickstarted several genres and conventions now used today**. So, with nothing better to do, I sat down to read it, since it was easy enough to get my hands on and keep coming back to. 

                          And my verdict is, we need more books like The Stars My Destination. It's a whirlwind of science fiction, some interesting ideas about obsolete technology, and more than that, it's a fable about human potential the likes of which no one's managed to replicate. Buy this book. Buy it for your friends. Buy it for your neighbors. Buy it for your enemies, who knows, maybe they'll start to appreciate you more. Not reading The Stars My Destination, this strange cyberpunk/horror/soft-SF novel, is a great disservice. Even if you hate it, it at least deserves your attention for the time you'd take to read it. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wolf in White Van

     
            

        Occasionally, a book will hit you right where you live, and this one did. I can't tell you how or why, because that would give the book away and I really want you all to read this. But I need to tell you why and how. So...okay. Back when I was around fourteen or fifteen, I very nearly had an accident. It was small, and it was something I didn't have to go to the hospital for, but I very nearly had an accident. I wasn't being very careful, and I didn't pay attention because I was angry at my parents, and I almost had an accident. I wish I could tell you more about the whys and wherefores of what was going on, but overall, this book hit me where I lived. And hard. Very hard. 

                   But back around the time I almost had an accident, another thing also happened. This was around the time that play by email games were really taking off all over the place. A lot of homes had high-speed internet for the first time, and this was just starting to become widespread. And I, isolated for the most part as I was save for a few interactions with friends and a school that partly hated my guts because I had no way of explaining what the hell was wrong with me and refused to grow up all the way, found a new outlet. A new safe space. A refuge. And, at the time, though I was driven out of my refuge by the simple fact that, as Depeche Mode said, "people are people" (and I had issues with social stuff. And grammar.), the idea of a refuge from reality stayed with me. But I could always disengage. Go back to being in the real world. Even if I didn't want to sometimes. 

                    Wolf in White Van is about the people who couldn't disengage. The people who went a little too far, the people for whom their refuge is all they have. The people who aren't as lucky to have that disengagement, the way I don't seem to some days. It's a novel about people with a hyperactive fantasy life, because reality is just far enough out of reach. And even more than that, it's about the irrational acts people commit sometimes because the world doesn't understand them, it's about the grief felt when these things happen. 

And it is brilliant.

More, as always, below.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pollen



John Barleycorn must die...
                         

                           Allow me to discuss the nature of a series of books. A series is a very careful thing. Especially when escalation is involved. It's fine to do sequels for the books, or even have to break up one book into a trilogy. But when writing a volume that is something of the conclusion to the whole mess, there are two very specific guidelines: First, that the book actually make some kind of sense, and second, that it actually concludes things in proper order, not some incredibly hallucinatory sequences that make the whole thing feel like some kind of horrid sideshow where the main plot isn't ever involved. 

                             Now, as Pollen stands alone, it doesn't necessarily have to follow these two guidelines. In fact, it's entirely free from these two guidelines, because it takes an entirely new story in the same universe, with entirely new characters. But in following the escalation patterns on from Vurt and presenting a world where the bleed-through between reality and Vurtuality has reached critical mass, Pollen's job would be to explore the bleed-through and conclude with some kind of cohesion. Instead, in telling its story, it gets too into the hallucinatory nature of the events, completely ignoring a cohesive story at certain points for an abstract and kind of aggressive surreality, culminating in a game of hot-potato with a black beetle representing groundedness in reality, and something of an anticlimax. 

But there's more than enough rope Pollen is giving me. Why am I having trouble? 

More, as always, below.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Vurt

                 
"A young boy puts a feather in his mouth..."

                      I found this book at random, which, for some reason, makes sense. It just feels right that my first introduction to Jeff Noon would be at completely random, a completely accidental collision with the insane genius behind...well, Jeff Noon books, as Noon lacks a genre he can be pigeonholed into other than maybe, say, science fiction. And since at its core Vurt is about a bizarre, sometimes macabre, often tragic series of accidents, it makes sense that while looking for another book whose name was lost to me I somehow stumbled upon a brightly colored book. The book's spine read, in descending order, "JEFF NOON - VURT - Crown", and at first I thought it had to be a pen name. I also hadn't seen a book this brightly colored before. Intrigued, I took it to the desk, figuring if I was about to read something tawdry or mundane, at least it was tawdry, mundane, and trying to be interesting in some respect. 

                          By the time I was walking home, I'd opened the book and found...well, a bizarre mix of abstract visuals, Irvine Welsh-style grit, well-disguised gnosticism, slang, and the feeling that one has left an electronic dub soundtrack on and one does not know where. The first chapter alone whiplashed between mood, tone, and sometimes even genre at dizzying speeds. After that, the book swirled into a rabbit hole of horror, black comedy, and what's best described as "post-cyberpunk" if it could be pigeonholed into a genre at all. By a third of the way through the book, I found it weird but engaging. By two-thirds, bizarre and a little uncomfortable. And by the end? Well, I'll leave that up to you. Suffice it to say, the book may be ten shades of cracked-out-- and it is-- but it's well worth a read, and one of those books that I've wanted to own for years but simply haven't gotten the chance. I heartily recommend you own this book. In fact, if you don't have another tab open to Amazon looking for a good edition of this right now, I strongly suggest you do.

Why? Well, read on...