Saturday, April 30, 2016

8, Fletch something by Gregory McDonald

I'm really going back to my original reason for buying paperbacks, which was to be able to carry them with me anywhere and not worry about them getting damaged.  That means I am buying books these days that I don't want to worry about and this Fletch fell into that category (also a dollar).  I remembered enjoying a few of these as a teenager.  This one was just okay.  Fletch is a post-60s anti-establishment James Bond of a journalist who also solves murders.  He can be funny but I think the establishment he is mocking has changed so much that he comes off today as just being kind of trying too hard.  This story takes place at a journalist's convention where the president of the association gets murdered just as it begins.  It got moving near the end, but ultimately lacked weight and I've already moved on.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

7. The Black Company by Glen Cook

Not Tor's finest effort, cover-wise.
It took me forever to read this book.  It comes highly recommended in the well-read nerd community, but the prose style was just not doing it for me.  I think I sort of got it after a while.  It's supposed to read like those gritty war novels, except in a fantasy setting.  I like that conceit, but even with that understanding, I felt distanced.  The setup is cool.  The narrator is the medic and chronicler of a historic band of mercenaries in some fantasy land embroiled in war.  There is lots of cool fantasy battle scenes and fantasy grunts doing what they do in their downtime.  It gets epic, but ultimately didn't do it for me.  Another problem for me, and this may have been the edition, but it is very geographical (lots of strategic discussion about the war and which side has control of which region), but no friggin' map!  Come on. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

6. The Body on Mont-Royal by David Montrose

This is the third and last David Montrose book published by Vehicule Press.  I enjoyed it more than the other two.  Things actually happened, characters interacted and a rough mystery and crime narrative unfolded more or less amidst all the drinking.  It's also really violent, exaggerated to the point of being unrealistic at times (especially the beating the protagonist takes).  Still, it wasn't particularly enjoyable, beyond seeing 50s anglo Montreal in the noir detective context.  Even the portrayal of Montreal is lacking in how insanely un-French it is.  It's like Montrose lived in Toronto, had never met a francophone Quebecois and was writing about some fantasy Montreal.  The only french character is the police detective, who is shown as sympathetic, but not super bright (a Lestrade character basically) but with the goofiest accent. I mean it's fine to do a francophone speaking accented english, but if that is the way they spoke english in the 50s, shit has changed a lot.  This sounded to me more like Pepe le Pew.  I guess that probably does reflect the anglo reality before the Quiet Revolution, but you'd think at least detective fiction would try to portray the underclasses and oppressed a bit more realistically.

Also, I find the cover deeply uninspiring.  They couldn't have paid an illustrator to do a real pulpy cover or just copy the original Harlequin, which is actually quite nice?  I mean compare and contrast:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

5. Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber

My wife picked this up and enjoyed it with some reservations.  It was thin and seemed like an important book in a sub-genre of fantasy.  Also Fritz Leiber (I need to reread his Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories).  It is the story of a successful professor in a small, stuffy northeastern university in the late 40s who discovers that his wife has been using magic to protect him and boost his career. He is a rationalist and believes she is deluded and the book is about the mistakes he makes because of this and his slow realization of the truth. It actually gets pretty intense and all the spell details and magic explanation are well constructed and fun.  The setting too, with the various flawed faculty and their malevolent wives juxtaposed against the free spirit that is his wife and his own independence, is instantly sympathetic.  The ending was a bit pat and deflated some of the import and horror that the narrative had built up.  It's a short and enjoyable read, and lives up to the reputation touted by the publisher.  Recommended.  (heh heh, my wife recommended Conjure Wife.)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

4. Reamde by Neal Stephenson

I was sort of done with Neal Stephenson.  I loved Snow Crash and The Cryptonomicon (the guy who recommended this to me accurately described it as "the kind of book you feel sad about when it is over") but just could not make it through the first book of the Baroque cycle.  So much nerdy diversion that was not in service of the story!  My brother-in-law helped bring me back into the fold first by convincing me I might like Reamde and then by giving it me for xmas.  I picked it up at the end of January and while it was a beast (1000+ pages) I had a hard time putting it down and was able to crank through a huge section during two train rides to Toronto.

It's still really nerdy, but the nerdiness is a light peppering rather than a deep sauce.  Actually, the very foundation of the book is pure nerd ideology.  That ideology says that if only people would base their existence on rationality and skills and not get caught up in social convention, they will then succeed and kick ass in all kinds of situations.  There is some truth to this and it is very appealing to an old ex-nerd like myself.  The dark side of this is the libertarian techbro dolt that we see all too often today and I'm sure a lot of them loved Reamde.  Stephenson doesn't take us down this far because he maintains a human, sympathetic side, but also because the priority here really is the story.

And it's a great, crazy story.  It somehow manages to be both empirical and theoretical at the same time.  It's empirical because he brings in a wild mix of characters and situations, whose behaviour and premises driver what happens next.  Yet at the same time the whole thing is structured into some neat unities (it all takes place in 3 weeks) and maintains several consistent, interesting themes (the virtual world vs. the real world; terrorism as a thing, far right rural wingnuts as real people, family).

Ultimately, it is a teeny bit too American jingoistic and the ending wasn't quite as satisfying as I had hoped (by the time you get to it, you can kind of guess how things will play out).  But the ride itself was thoroughly enjoyable and I will keep my eyes out for his next book.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

3. Dressed for Murder by Donna Leon

My mom left this when she came to visit last year, said it was quite readable but not top-notch.  I have to agree. The detective is intelligent, rational and moral in a world of corruption and politics. The setting, modern-day Venice, is cool, as the detective's lifestyle around it (buying fresh tomatoes and figs to prepare dinner).  They mystery was compelling and intricate.  A man's body is found in a field behind a slaughterhouse, a place where local prostitutes sometimes ply their trade.  The face is badly smashed and he is in woman's clothes.  The investigation leads to the transvestite prostitution scene in Venice and follows (of course) to well-placed and powerful political figures.  It all felt a bit light and the ending was a bit too easy.  Nevertheless, an enjoyable read and would work fine on a beach or winter cabin vacation.

Reading this, watching Foyle's War (about a similarly rational and moral detective but in England during WWII) and watching Making a Murderer, really makes me think about the idea of the fictional character of the detective.  Why do we love them so much?  Why are they so good?  Especially in the light of reality (at least in America and Canada) that most of them seem to be unethical bureaucrats at best and downright sociopathic murderers at worst.  I want to read more books about detectives where they are bumbling around, forcing cases into pre-conceived ideas, badgering witnesses, planting evidence and even straight-up murdering people.  What is going on in those detectives' heads?

Monday, January 11, 2016

2. The Shadow of the Lynx by Victoria Holt

I picked this up at the new (to me anyways) Pulpfiction Books East on Commercial in Vancouver.  It was in the dollar bin in front of the cash register.  I also found an intriguing Colin Wilson there.  The store was small and nicely curated, with a relaxing vibe to it.  I'll go back next time I'm in Vancouver.

Anyway, my interest in gothic romance had waned a bit since the last Mary Stewart, so I was wary.  Something about the cover and the masculinity of the title made me feel that it might hold my interest.  It did.  It promised some of what I had hoped the form would deliver in fast pace and dynamic storyline, similar in structure though not in content to the genre of men's action.  The Shadow of the Lynx starts with a young orphan on a ship to Australia, chaperoned by the son of her dead father's business partner.  There is drama right away, as the learns of her chaperone's father, a wronged British prisoner who, through the power of will, had become a wealthy entrepeneur and has a almost godlike charisma. The story twists and turns and comes full circle.  The resolution was a bit deflating, but the ride there was so enjoyable. 

It's cool the way a female protagonist (the orphan on the boat) has power and implements her will in the strictures of the patriarchy of that time (of both times actually, the narrative, which takes place in the Edwardian period, and the early 70s when it was written).  She is hemmed in by the constraints of masculine rule.  But within those constrains, it is the forthrightness of her character and the use of her wit to analyze situations that allows her to succeed.  She is also passive to events around her and decisions made by those more powerful than her (mostly men, probably entirely).  Yet somehow those parts of the book didn't feel frustrating to me.  I think because her inner monologue never gives up her spirit, so you respect her.

So yes an enjoyable read. Victoria Holt is a pro and I see was quite prolific. I don't think I am up for a steady diet of her books, but she will be something I will continue to look for and read when the time is right.  Nice to have discovered her.