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Tuesday, January 25, 2005
50 Book Challenge
I've seen several fellow Bloggers accepting the 50 Book Challange for 2005 (Woman of Smoke and Dust, All Things Jen(nifer) )

So, I decided I'd see if I were up to the challenge. Here are the books I've read so far in 2005...

50. Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz's latest novel, "Life Expectancy" has an intriguing, "Twilight Zone" like premise but suffers in the execution of it. On the day he's born, Jimmy Tock's grandfather predicts five horrible days coming ahead for Jimmy.

This is the story of Jimmy Tock and those five terrible days--six, if you count the traumatic events of the day he was born. At the same time his mother is in labor, another woman is in labor--the daughter of a famous group of trapeeze artists. Her husband is a clown in the same circus. When the mother dies during the delivery, the clown kills the doctor. The clown then takes his son and disappears into the night. Jimmy is saved by a kind nurse who hides him when the killing starts.

As the story unfolds, we find there is some kind of connection between the two families. In the final pages, there is an inevitable twist that Koontz does well in hiding until the later stages of the story. The problem is that by the time this twist comes about, I had lost a lot of interest in the story.

Koontz's Jimmy Tock is a nice protagonist and a good narrator of the story, but this story seems like it's a good novella stretched out to the length of a novel. Koontz spends a lot of time in the story with superflous scenes that do very little to add to the characters or advance the plot. And while the twists and turns of the final few pages are meant to be shocking and edge-of-your-seat, I found them instead to be rather pedestrian.

Indeed, looking back, I kick myself for not seeing them coming because they are that obvious. Koontz is a good writer. He keeps the pages turning and I will admit I was interested just enough to keep the pages turning and find out how it all comes out. The story has a strong beginning, a bloated middle and an intriguing ending. And unfortunately, it all doesn't all up to a complete novel.

49. Life Everlasting by Robert Whitlow

Robert Whitlow made his fans wait a little over a year for the next installment in his Santee series. The good news is--the wait was worth it. The bad news--the book was so good, it just flew by and I'm left wondering where Whitlow will go next. A word of warning--if you've not read Whitlow's marvelous "Life Support" you need to before reading this book.

The story here continues the story begun there and while readers of "Life Support" will be able to pick up on what's happened even if it's been a while since you read the book, new readers will probably come away a bit confused. But trust me--both of these novels are worth reading. Whitlow continues the story of Baxter and Rena, Alexia and Ted.

One thing I've come to enjoy about Whitlow's novels is that he places the characters in interesting moral and ethical situations and doesn't take the easy way out. Also, his characters feel real over the course of his story. He gives them strengths, weaknesess and flaws--just like all of us. His prose is extremely readable and he never goes over the top. Instead, he draws you in like an old friend telling a story and the pages just fly by. Indeed, my only complaint about this story is that it ended too soon. I was ready to spend another 100 or more pages with the story of Alexia Lindale and her personal journey. I am crossing my fingers that since this book is listed as the second book of the Santee saga, that Whitlow will make a return visit to his fictional characters and town soon.

48. Star Trek: Ex Machina by Christopher L. Bennett

In recent years, Pocket Books has moved away from just telling stand-alone stories in their Star Trek novels. Instead, they've moved more toward bridging gaps between series and/or movies (The Lost Era), continuing the saga on the printed page (DS9 relaunch) or just expanding the already rich Star Trek universe in new and interesting ways (New Frontier).

And every once in a while, there is a novel that gets the best of all those possible worlds. Christopher L. Bennett (no relation to Harve Bennett, he tells us) does that with his first published novel, Ex Machina. The story is a sequel to the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and also revists characters and events from Star Trek's third season episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky." But don't think the references end there--Bennett peppers his novel with homages galore to the animated Star Trek, the entire original series run and many of the best Trek novels published over the years. (Bennett has been kind enough to post an annotation that gives all of his references over at his web site.)

But don't worry if you're not a devoted Trek fan who will "get" every reference. Bennett slips them the references in a non-invasive way--if you get them, it only adds depth to the great story being told. If you don't, you aren't missing any great details. (One of my favorites is when Bennett has Chekov wonder about a security force composed of homage to Walter Koenig's character on Babylon Five).

But fan-friendly references mean little if there isn't a good story to go with it. And there's a good one here. Kirk and company are called to revisit the world first seen in "For the World Is Hollow..." and many of the characters there. One of the themes of the orignal series was Kirk taking on computers--usually those keeping a society of growing or interfering somehow. Kirk would generally overthrow the computer control and then warp off into space. This novel deals with the after effects of those actions in an intersting, meaningful way. The novel also plays a lot with the reputation Kirk has gained not only in Starfleet but on some of the worlds he's visited--for good and bad.

The storyline also sees Spock, McCoy and the rest of the Enterprise crew dealing with the aftermath of the events in The Motion Picture. Ex Machina isn't a sequel so much as it's a contiuation of the events begun on TMP. And it's definitely worth the trip. And that's what makes the novel such a pleasure to read--Bennett's take on the characters. He gets all of the original crew right, in the place in their lives they are. Seeing Spock struggle with emotions, Kirk with his role in taking back command of the Enterprise and McCoy in trying to find his place on the ship--all of it works extremely well. Not only that, but Bennett introduces us to some original creations of his own along the way. In short, this novel is an enjoyable read. As you read it, you may be stunned that a novel this assured and thought-provoking can come from a first-time author.

If this is Bennett's debut, I can hardly wait to see what he comes up with next.

47. Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter

I admit that this is one novel that I've been trying to get through for years. It's not that it's not enjoyable, but it's just that it's so deep with ideas and concepts that it really requires you to pay a lot of attention. And I admit that now that I've finished it, it was worth it.

46. Powersat by Ben Bova

Bova's last couple of books have been about the magic and grandeur of traveling to space. Honestly, I read this one right after finishing Manifold: Time it felt like a lot of the same concepts from that book where in play here-esp. in having a main character who is obsessed with getting into space. This time though, instead of exploiting the natural resoruces from asteroids, the story wants to exploit the virutally unlimited energy from the sun to create beamed power. There are groups that don't want this to happen. A decent enough book, but rather predictable.

45. The Sculptress by Minette Walters

Another great mystery from Minette Walters.

44. The Broker by John Grisham

Grisham takes a break from his usual legal thriller to give us a just plain thriller. The broker is Joel Backman, a former high stakes DC lawyer who went to prison for trying to sell control of a spy satellite system to the highest bidder. He took prison when several of those in on the conspiracy with him died. Now, four years later, he's released on a last minute presidential pardon so the CIA can figure out who the buyer was when they try to kill him. Joel is sent to Italy where he is immersed in the culture and language and tries to blend into his new life.

As usual, Grisham writes a page turner. I chewed up large chunks of this one in a relatively short amount of time. That said, this is not his usual legal thriller. Grisham seems to want to try and just write a thriller and, for the most part, it's not that successful. There are long stretches of the novel where next to no action occurs and the plot doesn't move foward. It reads almost like a travel guide to Bologna, Italy for large sections of the middle of the story as Joel learns about the culture and people. And the suspense sequences aren't quite that suspenseful as there's never any impending doom facing Joel as in other cloak and dagger type thrillers.

A good try, John, but not a successful one. You've branched out before with A Time to Kill and A Painted House, both of which are far better novels than this one.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 1/25/2005 10:25:00 AM | |
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