Saturday, August 24, 2013

Life, the Universe and Everything

Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams
Pan Books - 1982
160 pages

The unhappy inhabitants of planet Krikkit are sick of looking at the night sky above their heads--so they plan to destroy it. The universe, that is. Now only five individuals stand between the killer robots of Krikkit and their goal of total annihilation.
They are Arthur Dent, a mild-mannered space and time traveler who tries to learn how to fly by throwing himself at the ground and missing; Ford Prefect, his best friend, who decides to go insane to see if he likes it; Slartibartfast, the indomitable vice president of the Campaign for Real Time, who travels in a ship powered by irrational behavior; Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed, three-armed ex-president of the galaxy; and Trillian, the space cadet who is torn between a persistent thunder god and a very depressed Beeblebrox.
How will it all end? Will it end? Only this stalwart crew knows as they try to avert "universal" Armageddon and save life as we know it--and don't know it!

This one is different than the other two. The plot is about Armageddon by the robots of Krikkit from the beginning to end. It ambles in the middle, but ultimately it sticks with one plot the whole way through, which saves a lot of trouble.

The book took me only a couple of days to read, but it makes it difficult to review. Unlike most series that have wild ups and downs (The Last Werewolf trilogy), the Hitchhiker's "trilogy" stays more and more consistent.

Grade: A-

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Talulla Rising

Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan
Canongate Books - April 5, 2012
425 pages


Talulla Demetriou is the last living werewolf. And she is pregnant. Pursued by enemies and racked by the need to kill, she flees to a remote Alaskan hunting lodge to have her child in secret. There, with her infant son in her arms, it looks like the worst is over. Until the door bursts open - and she discovers that the worst is only just beginning...Talulla is plunged into a race against time to save her son. Tormented by guilt and fueled by rage, she is pursued by deadly forces - including (rumor has it) the oldest living vampire on earth. Hopeless odds. Unless, of course, a mother's love for her child turns out to be the deadliest force of all...

This was better than The Last Werewolf. Okay, this was actually way better than The Last Werewolf, but that doesn't take much. It includes none of the main things that I griped about in the previous article; no more sexism, better writing, and only one viewpoint in the entire book.

I love the emergence of the female werewolf that doesn't kill herself after her first kill, because that's a resourceful, brave woman that isn't afraid to take what's hers. Not to mention, she actually has compassion for her fellow humans (or at least some of them), unlike Jake's constant hatred of everyone else that isn't the one female werewolf he happens to come across.

That being said, there's some disturbing stuff in Talulla, and not of the violence variety. In particular is a scene between Talulla and one of her captors, Devaz. I will be scrubbing my brain to rid myself of that entire chapter.

The ending sets it up for a third entry, which will probably focus on (MAJOR SPOILER!)the pack that Talulla has joined(SPOILER END). So we'll see how it goes in that one, because Jake's story was bad and Talulla's good.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Lexicon by Max Barry
Penguin - June 18, 2013
390 pages

At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics--at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science .Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as "poets" adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.
Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization's recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school's strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Bronte, Eliot, and Lowell--who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. Emily becomes the school's most talented prodigy until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.
Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he's done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. Pursued relentlessly by people with powers he can barely comprehend and protected by the very man who first attacked him, Wil discovers that everything he thought he knew about his past was fiction. In order to survive, must journey to the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, to discover who he is and why an entire town was blown off the map.
As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless. Max Barry's most spellbinding and ambitious novel yet, Lexicon is a brilliant thriller that explores language, power, identity, and our capacity to love--whatever the cost.

And the answer is no, I couldn't have shortened that anymore, so I'll write a short review. This was a good book.

Okay, not that short. I'm not a big fan of mystery/thriller/suspense books, but this one was fun. You had to focus a lot on it and keep looking back to make sure you knew what was going on, but it turned out to be great. The Emily story begins several years before the Wil one, if it takes you a while to figure that one out, by the way.

The one thing that I didn't like was that Kathleen Raine was made out to be working with Virginia Woolf at the beginning of the story, but it turns out that she has pretty much nothing to do with it. I think maybe an editor should've caught that.

And while this was a good book, it's not something I'm going to be recommending to people like crazy because it didn't feel like a "me" book. I certainly enjoyed it while it was happening, but it's not something that I would go crazy over if it was made into a movie (which is good, because I think it's pretty much unfilmable without giving away all the secrets).

Grade: A-

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Shining Girls

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
Random House Struik - 15 April 2013
375 pages

Harper Curtis is a killer who stepped out of the past. Kirby Mazrachi is the girl who was never meant to have a future.
Kirby is the last shining girl, one of the bright young women burning with potential whose lives Harper is destined to snuff out after he stumbles upon a House in Depression-era Chicago that opens on to other times.
At the urging of the House, Harper inserts himself into the lives of the shining girls, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He's the ultimate hunter, vanishing into another time after each murder, untraceable--until one of his victims survives.
Determined to bring her would-be killer to justice, Kirby joins the Chicago Sun-Times to work with the ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez, who covers her case. Soon Kirby finds herself closing in on the impossible truth...

Define "soon".

Because if you mean the first 84.4% of the book, then you're sorely mistaken. That part of the book is Harper killing various girls who only get one chapter, Kirby talking to murder victims' families and supposed killers trying to figure something out, and Dan getting a huge, overly creepy crush on Kirby. And yes, I actually did the math to figure out that 84.5% through the book is when Kirby finally figures out that Harper comes from the future. After that, everything wraps itself up in a pretty little ribbon all at the end, just like Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Most of the book was spent either with one-shot chapters in the point of view of one of Harper's victims or of Harper OR Kirby doing God knows what about serial killer nonsense. Did I repeat that? Not exactly, with a few different words? I'm sorry, I guess I'm like Beukes and have to show you the same thing over and over with a couple of variations.

The characters were all one-dimensional things that didn't really seem to have any life. I've seen boxes of cereal that were less cardboard than Harper, Kirby, and everyone else.

Maybe I kept reading this book because I thought that something would happen, or maybe because the chapters were so short I thought that maybe I could just read a few and then stop. Or maybe I just wanted to prove I could slog through this book. No matter what, I was a fool.

Grade: F

Red Moon

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
Grand Central Publishing - May 7, 2013
533 pages

They live among us.
They are our neighbors, our mothers, our lovers.
They change.
When government agents kick down Claire Forrester's front door and murder her parents, Claire realizes just how different she is. Patrick Gamble was nothing special until the day he got on a plane and hours later stepped off of it, the only passenger alive, a hero. Chase Williams has sworn to protect the people of the United States from the menace in their midst, but he is becoming the very thing he has promised to destroy. So far, the threat has been controlled by laws and violence and drugs. But the night of the red moon is coming, when an unrecognizable world will emerge...and the battle for humanity will begin.

(Spoiler level: MAJOR!!!)

I really hope they're making a sequel to this.

Not because I liked it.

Because there was no...freaking...ENDING!!!

You know how in the end of Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio spins the top and it cuts out before it lands so you don't know whether he's dreaming or not and you can make that up for yourself and it's open-ended, but in a cool way?

Not this. Not this at all. Instead it leaves all of its characters stranded. Patrick got bitten, but he's given a vaccine that will "help" him, but I'm pretty sure that the shot is supposed to prevent you from getting infected before you're bitten, and once you're bitten there's nothing you can do about it. The president is limping around in the forest with a bloody foot, and Miriam is slinking around in the woods with people after her and...GRR!!!

I'm also pretty sure that Buffalo died three times, and then the same grammar mistake happens again and again of putting an object pronoun after an incomplete comparison (e.g. "more than him" when it should be "more than he".)

Ugh. It was some fun in the beginning, but it was too long not to have an ending.

Grade: D

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Pan Books - January 1, 1980
208 pages

Facing annihilation at the hands of the warlike Vogons is a curious time to have a craving for tea. It could only happen to the cosmically displaced Arthur Dent and his curious comrades in arms as they hurtle across space powered by pure improbability and desperately in search of a place to eat.
Among Arthur's motley shipmates are Ford Prefect, a longtime friend and expert contributor to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; Zaphod Beeblebrox, the three-armed, two-headed ex-president of the galaxy; Tricia McMillan, a fellow Earth refugee who's gone native (her name is Trillian now); and Marvin, the moody android who suffers nothing and no one very gladly. Their destination? The ultimate hotspot for an evening of apocalyptic entertainment and fine dining, where the food (literally) speaks for itself.

This is the second book out of five in the Hitchhiker "trilogy" written by Adams himself. Fortunately, I liked it just as much as the first one. It starts with a laugh as the entire computer system on the ship shuts down because it needs to figure out how to make tea, or "the taste of dried leaves boiled in water with milk squirted out of a cow."

This one's plot was a little less coherent than its predecessors while it was going on, but I think that it tied together better at the end and more of an ending, which is more than I can say for the first book. However, that means that it wasn't set up particularly well for a third book, which is bad considering there are five books written by Adams and one more by Eoin Colfer.

This installment is less about Arthur and Ford than it is Zaphod and Marvin; while Zaphod wasn't exactly my favorite character in Hitchhiker's, Marvin was one of the greatest robots, if not one of the greatest speculative fiction characters, I have ever seen. Once again he uses his pessimism to kill off other technology, this time by angering a tank into shooting around the floor it's standing on and falling through to the ground, where it breaks.

Zaphod also comes more into his own in this part, although he's still not anywhere near being my favorite character. Here's to hoping Ford and Marvin go on an adventure in book 3!

Grade: A-

Needful Things

Needful Things by Stephen King
Viking - October 1991
690 pages

Leland Gaunt opens up a new shop in Castle Rock called Needful Things. Anyone who enters his store finds the object of his or her lifelong dreams and desires: a prized baseball card, a healing amulet. In addition to a token payment, Gaunt requests that each person perform a little "deed", usually a seemingly-innocent prank played on someone else from town. These practical jokes cascade out of control and soon the entire town is doing battle with itself. Only Sheriff Alan Pangborn suspects that Gaunt is behind the population's increasingly violent behavior.

(Minor spoilers ahead)

Unlike The Tommyknockers, which I still can't believe is only 558 pages, this book is worth its 690. Although it's filled with the usual King puffery of long tangents and characters that don't mean anything, it was still all rather entertaining.

One thing that I wish had been played on more was in the end, where the town turns against each other completely and all of the objects turn into something useless, like Brian Rusk's Sandy Koufax card turning into a useless rookie and Deputy Clutterbuck's fishing pole turning into a bamboo rod. Actually, those are the only two examples I can think of, which is probably why I'm saying it could have been done more.

Apart from that, it was all good fun. I particularly like the ending and hope that King sets a future work up in Paradise Falls, Iowa. That's all I'm going to say.

Grade: A-