Thursday, November 6, 2014

Month of Long Books Announcement

Hey, guys. 

So, as the holidays are coming up, and I have some longer books I'd like to read (Robert Jackson Bennett's American Elsewhere being one), and some books I'd like to read that don't fit the format (Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm, among others), I'm having another Month of Long Books, where I can get back into the swing of reading things without having to worry about if it fits or if I need to spend enough time on it. 

So: See you guys in December with an armload of new reviews! I did this last year, and it really helped, so I figured I'd do it again.

Have a good Thanksgiving

-SR/CC

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Talisman

           
       

             I really was going to review The Orange Eats Creeps, I promise. It's actually a pretty cool book from what I've read of it. But I realized something: This past Friday was Halloween, marking my fourth year writing for Geek Rage/Strange Library. And this past month? Stephen King month. And these two things led me to remember something I've said again and again, something I should have scheduled into the month, and something on which I should finally deliver. I've been saying "I'll get around to it" for years. Four years, to be exact. I think anyone would want me to, well, finally get around to talking about it. So I decided, emergency executive decision, first to do a video review of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon because I have an awesome collector's-edition pop-up book of that, and then, after that, on the spur of the moment, to finally talk about the book that gave Stephen King and Peter Straub my undying respect. The book that made me a King fan to begin with. A book that has stayed with me for a little under an entire decade now. 

I think it's finally time, dear readers (all two of you) to talk about The Talisman.

                      I think it's brilliant. It's a book I've read more than Harry Potter, topping out somewhere around the mid-double digits. Even though I know the plot, even though every twist and turn in the novel is one I've already experienced, even though I know how the story's going to end. It's lurid at points, yeah. It's really dark at points. There's one section that still really disturbs me, and a section that grossed out my dad when he read it to make sure it was okay for me. The villains are despicable, the heroes are severely underpowered, and the plot-- while a little formulaic-- seems fresh and insane enough to be well worth the read.  It's a book that has affected my life in a great number of ways, and it's a book I couldn't see my life being the same without. While not particularly complex and while the individual elements aren't particularly impressive, this book has affected me in a way that few books have managed to. And I know, it sounds like I'm overselling it here, and maybe I am. But if I wanted to talk about books that have affected me (and I do), I would have to talk about The Talisman, and it would be high on the list. 

Why? 

Well, more, as always, below.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

From A Buick 8

               
      

                    Length is a hard thing to gauge when writing. I've written several short stories that spun wildly out of control and made me want to see how they'd be in book length, but unfortunately couldn't be due to space requirements. I've also written several book ideas that would be better as single stories, but didn't know how to compress the initial idea. I will say this: Constantly failing at fiction writing has done nothing but teach me how to be a better writer, and if I could ever find a way to make that knowledge useful, believe me, I would. It's also made me great at pointing out where others could be better writers, though I wouldn't be so presumptuous to believe that anyone would actually listen to the ramblings of some idiot with a blog. But length is a difficult thing to figure out.

                          Stephen King is someone who does not particularly believe that the writer is in control of their work, and while I agree with him on principle-- you can't make a work do what you want, even if (as internet media critics constantly complain) everything is stuff you make up-- it doesn't happen that way. Writing is not a completely conscious process. However, while this is true, sometimes it means he writes a short story that is somehow three hundred and fifty pages long because he wants everything to get out of his head just right, and it's rumored that his work has become a lot looser over the past several years (I don't completely see it, but that's me). Which brings us to From A Buick 8.

                      From A Buick 8 is an interesting book, and it has several scenes that are very vivid and frightening. But I feel like it could have been a short story or a novella rather than a full blown-out novel. Maybe something to go through the small press circuit or put into a story collection than something to actually become a whole novel. It feels a little elongated, a little too slow-burning, and while the point might not be the supernatural events that happen around these men, the idea could have been conveyed in a short story. King did just that several times over, and while the King of now might not be the King who wrote "It Grows On You" or "Jerusalem's Lot" or "Dedication", I know Big Steve can still write a good story. So get this one from the library if you want, but I'd suggest if you want a good, slow-burning story, you go to the short collections or find another book

More, as always, below. 

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.