Monday, January 26, 2015

Random Acts of Senseless Violence


                  

       My wish for this year is that just once, just one time, just for a second, there would be a Jack Womack book that I could actually recommend to people. Because he's a good author. And as I slowly maneuver my way through the DryCo books, I do like them quite a bit. The futurespeak isn't completely impenetrable, the plots are intriguing and kind of freaky, and there's something very organic about the world of the books. 

But the ones I've read, I can't recommend. 

                      Random Acts of Senseless Violence doesn't have the problems of Going Going Gone, though. It's technically the first book in the series chronologically, it's written for the most part in conventional language instead of barely-coherent hipster slang, it doesn't slam the doors on any of the worlds it creates, and for the most part, it's a tense, engaging read that posits a near-future United States where society is quickly crumbling and then sticks to it. It manages some moments of intense black humor, memorable characters, and one of the most engaging and human-feeling female leads I've read in years. This is a book that should be reprinted in classic editions and substituted in high schools instead of The Catcher in the Rye, and read and analyzed alongside A Clockwork Orange and Riddley Walker.* This is, by all metrics I have available, an objectively good book.

                       But if I tell you to read this book, I do so with the knowledge it will hold you down and punch your lights out. It will attack you on pure lizard-brain instinct and punch you in the gut so hard and so often it'll become a second career. This is to dystopian literature what Straw Dogs was to romantic movies. 

And I loved every second of it.

More, as always, below.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Going Going Gone

                    



            I really shouldn't have read this book. Not because it's bad, or because it's disturbing-- it's a little disturbing, but not in a bad way. No, I really shouldn't have read Going Going Gone because it is in fact the last book in a six book sequence known as the "Dryco novels". Going Going Gone is actually the book that more or less slams the door on the entire universe, and kind of reveals plot details for some of the goings-on in the rest of the series. In fact, the book ends with a "where are they now" look at every character in the universe Jack Womack created and how their lives have changed after the events of the book, sort of like a trans-universal version of The Wire's closing moments. 

                 That said, a lot of the questions I had as I was reading and issues I had with the book could probably be chalked up to not quite understanding the world I was dropped into, and while I enjoyed the book enough on its own, I have a feeling a lot of the points where I thought it wasn't going anywhere or that it was spiraling off on odd tangents is probably a way to tie up the few loose ends Womack left in the previous five books' worth of dystopian black comedy. It's hard to tell what was there to shut the door on Dryco and what was actually a thing in the book that perhaps should have been better thought out.

                 In the end, though, Going Going Gone is a hilarious and unusual novel. It's like very few things I've read (a few books with invented languages and shorter Pynchon books come to mind), it's kinda twisted, and it features a fast-approaching and most likely prophetic version of the town and indeed the neighborhood where I grew up. I wouldn't make this my first Jack Womack novel, but it's immensely readable and, if you're in the mood for a shaggy-dog story involving psychedelic drugs and government conspiracies, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

More, as always, below. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Horrorstor

                         
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          I'll admit it, I'm afraid to write fiction. There are a lot of things that make me utterly petrified to try and write a story, or I'll stop midway through a paragraph to ask myself "Where is this going?", or I'll have some memory from three years ago that'll make me close the window and have a minor panic attack. But there's one fear that tonight stands tall above any others, and that's the fear that someday I will write a book like this one. A book that constantly and unsubtly winks at the audience, a book with so many good flourishes that ultimately doesn't cross the finish line because it tries a little too hard to be clever. It's kind of a problem with authors in recent years...it's not enough to write a good story, but they have to let people know how brilliant they are at the same time. 

                            And what really gets up me about this is that Horrorstor is actually, when it's not occasionally trying to nudge the reader here and there, a pretty good book. The setting is unique, the atmosphere of an empty retail store at night where weird things go on is something that's been explored but not often enough that it's a cliche, the cast is well rounded, and when the frightening parts of the book actually kick in full-throttle, it's pretty unnerving. But for every unnerving moment or cool scene or neat idea, there's just that smirk, that desire the book has for the reader to get its jokes, to be "in on it". It's a desire the book doesn't really need, and it's one that doesn't completely work in its favor. When it forgets it's supposed to be a clever book, it actually is a pretty innovative and clever book, but when it decides to go that extra mile and be about as subtle as a brick to the nose.

But more, as always, below.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ribblestrop

     

         
              In preparation for my first ever break with the format of this blog to review a Young Adult book about a school, I went back and looked up some of the young adult titles of my youth: Wayside School, for one. some of Ellen Raskin's books for another, and Neal Shusterman, and Bruce Coville, and some other titles here and there that I remember digging. And, upon looking back, I realized something: 

YA authors scare the living daylights out of me.

                         Seriously, YA is a genre full of some freaking warped books. And not just the ones they force middle and high schoolers to read at gunpoint, either. I'm talking about the humor books meant for the middle school-age audience, I'm talking about the ridiculous books they let us read thinking "oh, they're all right for kids" that involve stuff like child slavery and brainwashing. The aforementioned Wayside School is a series of linked cosmic horror stories that also work as school comedy. 

                             Now, they're also good books, because most of these people can write. But I did want everyone to know that I have read me some Edward Lee. And some Jack Ketchum. And some Clive Barker. And all the rest. And not once did I find anything nearly as fucked up as I did in young adult fantasy or science fiction or comedy books*.

This brings us to Ribblestrop.

                            In Ribblestrop, Andy Mulligan takes the "school of adventure" tropes that one seems to find reoccuring throughout young adult novels, and blows them so far over the top that it creates an unusual adventure in a school that might as well be unmoored from reality. Despite being ostensibly aimed at the younger set, it's a book full of strange mannequins, kids getting drunk on rum repeatedly, numerous train accidents, and at least one case of nonconsensual trepanation. It's also a book full of heart, and the points where the book gets shaggy make up for it with heart and character and a wicked sense of humor. It's not a book I'd necessarily recommend, but it's fun. And in this case, fun is really all that matters.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Revival





Okay, controversial opinion time:

  If  Revival was Stephen King's last work of fiction-- if he wrote no more-- I would be fine with that. 

                   I know he can't stop, I know he won't stop, and I know he's only going to stop when he's all out of stories, and it's a long way to then. But here's the thing: I see Revival as a perfect riff on Stephen King-- all the things I love about him, all the things I think could be a little tighter, and all the things in between. While it may not have been his intent, with Revival, King's written the perfect bookend to his early work in suburban gothic horror, something that ties its past to the traditional pastoral setting while exploring new ways to be disturbing. It's a look at the numerous strange ways someone's life can go, and how we meet the same people in vastly different circumstances throughout our lives. It's about how people can mean so much in one instant and drift off in the next. And it's also a great pastiche of the older titles in the "existential horror" or "cosmic horror" genre, but without much of the difficulty or sheer dryness of those older works. It's a twisted morality tale with a villain who isn't exactly evil and a hero who could never be described as good. 

  And it is brilliant.

Why? More, as always, below

Monday, December 22, 2014

Light

           
               

                I've tried to write this intro properly multiple times, but I might as well just put this front and center so those of you who are reading this on the go can get it over with:

Light is one of my favorite books of the year, possibly one of my favorite books of all time

                             I know, I do a whole ton of positive reviews on here, and significantly less dissenting ones, so every book comes out looking really good, but there is no other way to say it. While good books pass constantly through these halls, Light is special even among them. When I was done, I sat there for a few moments, unsure of what to think now that it was over. Then, because seven hours had passed by unnoticed, I was immediately surprised that it was dark outside. It's an engrossing story, one that transcends the boundaries of a genre people feel unnervingly comfortable filing it under. It's a beautiful, well-designed world that seems immense but moves tautly through its places. 

At the very least, folks, reading that paragraph back, it's caused my language center to break down in joy as I revert to stock reviewer phrases normally seen on book blurbs.

                                Light is crazy, brilliant, and I wish I'd managed to finish it the first time I read it, instead of losing interest somewhere around chapter 2 and abandoning it for books I understood better. M. John Harrison is a unique writer and one who stands out even above such titans as Stephenson, Banks, and other more modern writers, and passing up a chance to read this book is a mistake on par with starting a land war in Asia. You may like it as much as I did. You may like it less. All I know is that it moved me, it's brilliantly written and constructed, and I must share this joy with as many of you out there as possible. 

More, as always, below

Monday, December 15, 2014

Across the Nightingale Floor

       
              

                          Planned trilogies are sometimes difficult to judge without reading the whole thing. How can someone judge a book that's just the first part of a larger work? Can it be criticized for not standing on its own merits when it's just the first third (or fourth, or eighth, or tenth, or whatever) of a larger story? After all, reading just the exposition chapters of a novel and then putting it down and saying "This is a bad book" is really poor form and something to be discouraged. But, at the same time, if you're going to write novels, you should strive to write complete ones, even if you have grand designs for the world at large. Stephen R. Donaldson, for example, wrote absolutely execrable fantasy novels in groups of three, but I could pick up any one of those books and read its absolutely atrocious contents without necessarily needing to go in order. 

                            So I suppose my criteria for this book would be that it is able to stand on its own, but also judging it as the introduction to a greater series of works, works that I might possibly want to read.

And...as far as that goes, it isn't a bad book? 

                              It's not a good book, and there are some serious issues with structural senses and the way characters are treated, but I would be lying if I said there weren't some cool scenes in there. In fact, I would love for this to be filmed or animated and for it to play out onscreen. It reads like it was meant to be adapted into something or to be played out in a visual medium. And while that is wonderful for screenplays and movies and the like, when applied to a medium like books, it...doesn't go nearly as well. 

                            That isn't to say it isn't an interesting book. But, well...

More, as always, below.