Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ready Player One

 "I'm seeing flying ostriches now in my sleep!"

     The most important film critic of our generation, a Mr. Roger Ebert, once said that when he reviewed movies, he tried to look at each film from a specific viewpoint. He said the first thing he would always do is ask "Who is this movie for?" That he couldn't review a movie until he knew who the filmmaker was trying to reach, and that he would then work forward from there and review the movie on the merits it had from that perspective.

                  I have had my mild disagreements with Mr. Ebert in the past, but I'm reminded of Lewis Carroll's maxim about the broken clock being right at least twice a day. And in this statement, he outlines something kind of important to remember about criticism. Especially with Ready Player One. You see, Ernest Cline is pretty clearly writing for a specific audience with this book. And if you're not in the specific audience, well, it can kind of get annoying when the unending spiel of anime, TV, movie, and music references fills up the page like brand names in American Psycho...though perhaps that might be the point, a self-reflective look at "geek culture" and internet culture and all of the numerous things that go along with that. It's hard to exactly say whether it's a culture-geek power fantasy, or making fun of it, but if it's as earnest as it seems in the book, I hope Mr. Cline got all the pop-culture references out of his bloodstream before he decides to write another one. 

              That isn't to say it's a bad book. Cline knows his way around a sentence, clearly, and he has some sequences that definitely work. While it's a deeply flawed book, it's an amazing first novel and when Cline works all the kinks out of his writing, I'd definitely like to read more of what he wrote. And I admit that there were some moments that definitely surprised me. And, at its core, it's got a really human message about growing up and learning to live in the world, or at least to make a place somewhere for yourself and your friends and your loved ones. But in the end, the sheer crushing weight of pop-culture eventually drowns out any message or heart or humanity the book has in its noise which, satirical or not, is still noise. And while at times it's worth the slog, most of the time it isn't really.

But how can it be all those things? Well, read on...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Riptide Ultra-Glide

"Wear sunscreen. Don't do heroin."
- Coleman

            There's a problem we writers sometimes have. We get bored. Most of the time, at least with me, that boredom stays off the page. It's a very small, contained boredom. This is mainly because this blog is the most I have ever been published. However, with someone like Tim Dorsey, boredom can become a much bigger, more unfocused beast. A beast that threatens sometimes to engulf certain books. Now, Dorsey's no stranger to a slump, of course, but when Tim Dorsey gets bored and his mind starts wandering, especially when Tim Dorsey's mind starts wandering and gets published, the situation is, of course, a bit more dire than when my mind starts wandering. Dorsey's mind results in things like The Riptide Ultra-Glide

             The book is a mishmash of things, never following one character for long, in what I assume was an attempt to get back to the early days of books like Florida Roadkill, where there was no main character and several different plots all together, with no single plot being central. In recent years, Dorsey's grown away from that format (I think the last book was the unofficial first conclusion to the series, Stingray Shuffle), preferring to stick with Serge and Coleman (or sometimes Serge and Lenny, Coleman's replacement) while various things happen around them, all of it coming together in a central thread. It says something that his strongest book in the past four years has been Gator-A-Go-Go, a book where there was a singular plot that held all the attention. 

             But while it's a perfectly serviceable beach read for the several hours it'll take to read it, I can't recommend The Riptide Ultra-Glide to many people. Readers who wish to experience Dorsey should try any of the numerous other works in his collection. It's readable, but I suggest that only the die-hard actually try reading it, since it seems to have been written for them.

Why? Well, read on...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

One of Us

"Sorry. Ambient light projector." 
- God

                     I should have known a book by Michael Marshall Smith wouldn't play straight with its own premise. Walking into this, I was ready to talk about a book that was just some kind of dark, twisted Noir story about a man who deals in memories and dreams for a living. I was ready to tell you that this was a slow, brutal burner about things going slowly wrong for Hap Thompson as he tried to dig himself further and further out of a slowly-tightening net. And I was actually surprised. But the words of a friend of mine, one I'll call Greg for the time being, came to me. And while they're not exactly the way they're supposed to be, I'll paraphrase them here:

"What part of 'written by (Michael Marshall Smith) didn't you understand?*"

              It's honestly a mistake I've made before. I made it with Darren Shan when I read Hell's Horizon, a book that started as kind of straightforward (if there can be such a thing) noir and then plunged into sacrifice rituals, blind priests, torture, and lesbian sex. I made it with Joe Hill when NOS4A2 seemed like it was just going to be a Stephen King book written by Joe Hill, not a book by the same mad scientist who brought us Heart Shaped Box and Horns. And I made it again with One of Us. Because halfway through the book, most of the major mysteries are connected and explained. But their answers just lead to a bigger mystery. 

               And it is in this bigger mystery that One of Us finds its most compelling cases. And quite compelling it is. It's not as brutal and twisted as Spares, but it exists in a space all its own, a space where what's going on is never quite what's going on, and it's well worth the time and effort of tracking it down to read it.

Why? Well, read on...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014



"You're an idiot, Jack."
-Numerous characters throughout the work          

         The first time I read Spares, I felt like I'd been punched. I'd read what I thought was future noir before. Oh, yeah, I'd been down that road with the usual series of detective and cop novels, I'd read Neuromancer about three or four times at that point, and I proudly owned one of the few copies of Burning Chrome that seem to actually be in existence. But K.W. Jeter was right. It ain't noir unless someone-- possibly everyone-- is getting screwed over. The best ending any of these people can hope for is bittersweet, the best outcome they have is knowing that maybe-- maybe they did the right thing. And there have been a multitude of books that have tried to do what Spares accomplishes. But none have the viscera, the twisted nature, the just absolute sense of wrong that Michael Marshall Smith manages to hit with every single page, every single note, everything he could possibly think of. I've read extreme horror that's less gut-wrenching than Spares was.


                           Because much in the way last month's author, Peter Straub, got it, Michael Marshall Smith gets it. There's an air of uncertainty in Spares that isn't present in a lot of other works. It's one of the few books that actually makes it unsure if anyone wins. Even after the climax, I was left wondering exactly who'd come out ahead. But while it's bleak, there are small glimmers of good things here and there, and it's those few glimmers that kept me reading. It's not a ride I can recommend all the time, but it's a brilliantly-written book and deserves to be spoken of in the same tones we reserve for grandmasters of the genre. Especially because about a quarter of those men and women are more important than good. This is a book that's well worth the ride, and I hope people read it one of these days.

More, as always, below.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Health Issues

            Hi, guys. Here at Strange Library I suppose the few of you who still read me are used to my erratic schedule, which has thankfully grown less erratic in recent months. But the upcoming review, which was supposed to be Gravity's Rainbow, is now going to be Michael Marshall Smith's Spares. It also may be late. These changes come because for the last four days, I've fought a nasty sinus infection with a fever. Said fever thankfully broke last night (5/1), but as I had no desire to try and tackle Gravity's Rainbow, the Mount Everest of opaque books, the third-biggest fuck you to people with eyes since James Joyce wrote Ulysses, while on meds and sick and loopy and doing my usual post-con "Holy crap I didn't freak anyone out" detox (Oh, yeah, that article's coming soon, too), a switch in schedule and slight bump to the existing schedule was necessary. So hopefully a few days from now you guys will have the forthcoming review of Spares, as well as my impressions on ZenKaiKon 2014 to look forward to. 

Much love and sorry for the delays