Well, I've finished my 50 books for the 50 Book Challenge
..but hey, that doesn't mean I've stopped reading. So, I will just keep a running total of what I've read and my thoughts on them. Be warned, I will try to be vague about SPOILERs but I may give away a few. And some of these rantings will be longer than others.51. The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
A couple of years ago, I joined a sci-fi book discussion group at a local Barnes and Nobel. My logic in doing this was that there was a lot of sci-fi out there and just about all of it claimed to be the greatest sci-fi novel ever written on the cover blurbs. I wanted to branch out and read some new (to me) sci-fi and I figured this would be a good way to do so and also to get recommendations from other fans who enjoyed the genre.
I joined during the summer those two competing asteroid movies came out and to tie into it, we read the novel Lucifer's Hamme
r by Niven and Pournelle. After reading this book (I forced myself to complete it...and let me just say the best character was the asteroid (yes, you do get a lot of pages from its point of view before it crashes into Earth and stuff starts blowing up real good!)), I was so burned out by the experience that I swore off reading anything by Niven and Pournelle as a writing team ever again.
That lasted about seven or so years, until I decided to participate in SF Signal
's retro Hugo and Nebula award project
. And wouldn't you know it? Niven and Pournelle were on there with their novel The Mote in God's Eye
So, I did what I swore I'd never do--I bought a Niven and Pournelle novel and sat down to read it. I kept justifying it to myself, saying that this was supposedly their best book.The Mote in God's Eye
is the story of humanity's first contact with an alien race, called the Moties. And when the story actually deals with humanity encountering the Moties and their secret, it's actually quite good and compelling. As a culture, the Moties are interesting, compelling and alien. Give Niven and Pournelle credit--they do a good job creating the alien civilization.
Alas, it will take you about 200 pages to get to the alien civilization and another 50 or so before you start sensing that things aren't what they seem. And those 200 pages are filled with the exact faults that made Lucifer's Hammer so intolerable for me--shallow characters, pedestrian action sequences and a whole lot of scenes that read like "wow, look at us create a super cool universe for our characters to inhabit." I understand that backstory of where humanity is at the time of our first encounter is important, but does the plot have to grind to a halt so we can hear about where we are in the universe and how we got to there? By contrast, one of the other novels nominated for the Hugo and Nebula that year Flow My Tears Said the Policeman
logs in at a short 200 pages but yet creates a richer, more compelling universe and view of the future simply by putting us in it and assuming that we, the reader, can figure out what's going on and how the universe works.52. Articles of the Federation by Keith R.A. DeCandido.
I have to admit, going into this Star Trek
novel, the central hook didn't really compel me--a cross of the Star Trek
universe with the West Wing
. Honestly, I've watched West Wing
a few times and I just don't find it all that compelling, interesting or entertaining. Well written with some great dialogue, sure. But not enough to jump into my appointment TV viewing rotations. So, I have to admit that I wasn't as intrigued by this novel as I was by this year's earlier Titan book. I did pick it up because I've enjoyed the word of Keith R.A. DeCandido up to this point and see him as a rising star in the Trek fiction universe. (Some have compared him to the great Peter David).
Now let me warn you--if you're a Trek
fiction fan and you haven't read the A Time to... miniseries and the first Titan novel, stay away from this one until you do. It takes place after both and follows-up on events in each of the series. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. It took some interesting risks--the concept of giving us an entire story about the first year of a Federation presidency and the political manueverings that go on could have fallen flat on its face or been (worse yet) dull. Instead, DeCandido gives us a good story with some compelling characters. I will admit I didn't love this one as much as many of the Trek reading community have (I swear they're picking out china patterns with the book as we speak), but it was a good story and well told. It was a nice change of pace in the Trek fiction and it's not a novel that I'd mind a sequel to, provided that DeCandido gets to write it and can find enough compelling material for another year (I think he can). Just like Peter David, DeCandido is finding segments of the Trek
universe that we can't or don't see shown on the small screen and expanding on them in new, compelling ways. And for that alone, I will encourage him to keep writing these novels and keeping the bar high for all of Trek
fiction.53. Fantastic Four by Peter David
Back in the days before VHS and DVD, novelizations were intended to give fans at home a way to relive the movie over and over again. Over the years, there have been some great novelizations of films I've seen--ones that really expanded the film and the universe in interesting, meaningful ways. Such examples are the original Star Wars
novelization and the Vonda McIntyre novelizations of Star Treks II-IV
. But as VHS and DVD have become more prevelant, movie novelizations have become more bare bones--just a basic retelling of the story without much added.
Except when you put the name Peter David on it. David has novelized each of the big Marvel super hero films of the past few summer and done a great job with each. His Spider-Man
novelizations were great, expanding what were already great films. Even his novelization of The Hulk
worked well, but I think part of that was that David wrote for comic version of the Hulk for many years.
Now he turns his pen to the beliguered and much-debated Fantastic Four
movie. I will admit I picked up this novel and read it simply because it had the words Peter David on the cover. And I have to admit I enjoyed it. Will it be a great film? Not sure yet. Honestly, it leans more toward the Hulk side of things than the Spider-Man side of things based on what I read here. But again, I think the movie has some potential and it could be a lot better than people are giving it credit for. I will give the book a lot of credit-it's very readable and it's full of David's storytelling style. For that reaosn alone I enjoyed it.
How will it translate to the big screen? Remains to be seen. But after reading it, I can see how it could go either way. The stroy is a good one as far as retelling of origins go and updating them. My biggest beef is that I don't find the Dr Doom plotline all that compelling and it seems as if they've watered down one of Marvel's better villains for this storyline. I also found myself wondering if this might not be a great set-up movie like X-Men
was for the superior in every way X2
. And then wondering if this movie will make enough at the box office to warrant the sequel that could do better justice to the premise.54. Dead Folk's Blues by Steve Womack.
Steve Womack is a Nashville-based writer. This novel is the first in a series featuring reporter turned private-eye Harry Denton. Half of the fun of this novel for me was reading about familiar places around Nashville that I see or hear about daily. It's fun to sort of map out the routes or imagine the areas of town that Harry is exploring in uncovering the crime. But, this is a murder-mystery and it must also be judged on those merits. And I have to admit, I enjoyed it for that as well. I've been reading some of the novels in the Hard Case Crime series and I think this one would fit in well there--a hard-boiled detective, a femme fatale, all those elements are here. And the mystery itself hangs together well enough. It's certainly not as strong as one by Minette Walters or Elizabeth George (my gold standard for modern mystery writing), but it's one that keeps the pages turning and did have me guesssing to the end. The real draw is Denton, who tells the story from the first-person. Denton's voice is compelling, interesting and keeps the pages turning even as red herrings and blind aleys are explored.55. Just One Look by Harlan Coben
Advertised as a thriller, this one is anything but. It starts out well--housewife Grace Lawsonl collects some photos from the local PhotoMat. Included is one that she didn't take that is years old of her husband and some strangers. He sees it and bolts, thus sending Grace into a panic and trying to figure out why he left and what has happened. Turns out, her hubby is harboring a secret from his past and, well, to tell much more would give it all away. Honestly, this one is not as compelling as it wants to be and it loses steam quickly once the husband drives off. The plot is extremely convoloted and it comes with one-wince inducing twist after another (all telegraphed well in advance and seemingly from the "So you want to write a suspense thriller" handbook). By the time we got the revelations of what was happening and why I was just in it to see how it call came out and not because I cared two figs for any of the characters' fates.56. The Amber Room by Steve Berry
This one is billed being in the same vein as the DaVinici Code and I guess I can see that. It's a blend of history and action adventure and it is a page-turner. It's part legal thriller, part historical novel and part action adventure story. I'm not sure the overall blend of genres works that well and some of the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but it will keep you turning the pages. This is what I'd honestly classify as a smart beach or pool-side read.57. By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie.58. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie59. The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie.
I guess you could say I was in kind of an Agatha Christie mood since I read these three pretty much back-to-back-to-back (not that they took that long mind you). Of the three, I found By the Pricking
and And Then There Were None
the most interesting. And Then There Were None
is considered a classic of the mystery-genre and its certainly a formula that has been well-copied since in books, movies and television. I had to set aside my familiarity with the concept in order to enjoy it and I did find myself enjoying it. I was unaware of the resolution of the mystery going in and thankfully no one had ruined it for me (as happened with the Murder of Roger Ackryoid)
. By the Pricking of My Thumbs
is the last novel to feature Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who were in two other novels. I have to admit this one is a bit different than most Christie novels and I enjoyed it for that reason alone. Also, the central mystery is one that works well and hangs together well. As for Labors
, I found myself wishing I was enjoying it more. The hook at Hercule Poiroit wants to be like his name-sake Hercules and takes on cases that only bear a resemblance to the 12 Labors of Hercules was interesting. But the mysteries themselves are short stories and some didn't quite have the narrative hook or umph I was expecting. Christie can do well with short stories, but these stories don't show off her skills as much as others.60. Flow My Tears, Said the Policeman by Phillip K. Dick
All the classic Philip K. Dick elements are here--paranoia, questions about what is real and what is the nature of identity, etc. And yet, this novel never felt dull, tedious or formulamic. If anything, it felt fresh and contemporary, even if some of the references to future technology do date the novel.
In the span of a day, Jason Tavener goes from being the kind of the media world to being a virtual nobody. The story unfolds as Tavener tries to piece back together what happened to his life and identity. He goes from being the most recognized man in the world to nobody in the span of a few hours and he must figure out just who and what he is and what has happened. There's a sense of paranoia and panic that is palatable as the story unfolds. Tavener slowly tries to reconnect with his old life and finds that no one remembers him.
As the story unfolds, Tavener's universe slowly returns to what it was--where he is a household name. Watching as Dick slowly puts these elements back into play is interesting and keeps the pages turning. And seeing how Tavener uses his ability (he is a six, a person created with exceptional personal magnetism and charm) to win friends and influence people is great.
But while Tavener is the focus of much of the story, Dick makes an interesting choice of not making him the central protagonist of this story. That goes to Felix Bruckman, the titular policeman character. Bruckman has a sister, Alys, with whom he has a less than above the board relationship (re: incestous..they have a child together). Alys is a drug-addict who pushes the latest and greatest drugs in her attempts to escape reality. The stories of these characters all cross and spin-off from there.
Weighing it at just over 200 pages, this novel feels richer and more complex than the lenght would suggest. Dick creates a dystopian future that feels authentic and real. He puts characters in it that are products of the universe. He introduces concepts and hooks that could be entire novels in the hands of other storytellers but are just presented as asides here (this society's solution to race relations is chilling). By doing all of this, Dick creates a universe that feels absolutely complete and real and one in which its easy to become immersed. The pages of this story turn quickly and I came away feeling as if the story had ended too soon. Not because the novels climax was rushed but because I was enjoying the universe so much that it seemed a shame that it had to close so quickly.
Make no mistake though--this is very adult sci-fi. There is an incestious relationship at the center of the dilemma that may make some pause. And I will say this--not all the woman come off that well in this novel. Many of them are just there to fulfill men's desires in a physical way and not much beyond that. That said, the sense of paranoia and the questions of what makes reality real are so strong and compelling that you'll find yourself sucked in and turning the pages quickly. Outside of the classic Man in the High Castle
, this is Dick's best book.61. The Skull Beneath the Skin by P.D. James
The second novel featuring James' Cordelia Gray. It's a decent enough mystery though I have to admit I found it shame that we couldn't get more novels with Cordelia in them. Apparently James sold the rights to the character to television and is unhappy with her development there and for some reason refuses to write more. It was intersting to read this and And Then There Were None
so close together as they both have simliar elements to them.
posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/27/2005 08:47:00 AM