Friday, August 15, 2014

12. Unforsaken Hiero by Sterling E. Lanier

I read this book during our rainy vacation in the Gatineau region of Quebec in August, but I am only now getting around to writing the review.  My memory is fuzzy.  The Unforsaken Hiero is the sequel to  Hiero's Journey and basically continues the saga.  The story this time gets deeper into the civilizations to the south.  Hiero ends up marrying a princess from the kingdom of D'waleh which is sort of like a post-apocalyptic liberal east coast world, where they are enlightened and welcome many faiths.  The Unclean are everywhere of course and their machinations result in the mellow kingdom being nearly destroyed and Hiero kidnapped.  He escapes and the second half of the book is his epic journey across the wastelands where some really cool encounters happen, including the mutated giant telepathic snail.

Overall, though, this one feels rushed compared to the first.  Too much of the world is revealed too quickly, so that it loses its sense of mystery.  The larger scale political conflicts come to the fore, but the scope is not wide enough to make it really satisfying.  It is still enjoyable, but I think I would have preferred everything to have been slowed down, even if that may have been frustrating to me as an adolescent.  It felt like Lanier was trying to pack everything into this book so he could deliver a more satisfying conclusion (perhaps at an editor's pressuring).  But this story began as a hero's journey type of story and the slow growth of Hiero's knowledge and powers was what made the first book so enjoyable.  Ironically, it ends on a cliffhanger with the fate of his princess still not resolved.

Still, an enjoyable read and the whole section with the giant snail was awesome.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

11. The Ohlone Way by Malcolm Margolin

I rarely read non-fiction, as you well know.  A colleague at work, who is very skilled at getting people to do things, pressed this upon me and I aquiesced as the subject matter was interesting to me.  It's an accessible study of the way the aboriginal people of what is today the San Francisco Bay Area lived before the white man came.  I like the Bay Area and I am curious about what it is that makes the colonial culture so different and destructive compared to the supposedly idyllic cultures that were here originally. The Ohlone way is also a classic in the field and spawned a publishing house and a rich field of study.

The most striking thing about the description of these people's world was the insane abundance of food.  It was a kind of paradise.  These societies were extremely primitive, technologically.  Much of their time was dedicated to gathering food, hunting or fishing.  But there really seemed to be no scarcity.  The second most striking thing was that there also seemed to be no history.  There was so little change in their social structure over time as well as a cultural reaction towards death which was not to talk about it and not to preserve the memory of the deceased.  There are some obvious simple conclusions you can draw from this like the natives were peaceful and unchanging because they had so much food while the colonialists were aggressive and tool-building because they needed to do that to survive in their histories.  It is probably risky to draw those conclusions though (and the book doesn't), but it's an interesting start.

10. The Deal by G. William Marshall

The Deal might be one of the weirdest books I've ever read.  Oddly obscure as well, given its trade dress and genre (the 70s Hollywood scandal blockbuster fiction).  I picked it up on a whim outside Westcott books on the Main (this is actually quite a classic old used bookstore that got booted from its old downtown spot into my neighbourhood, unfortunately at a time when I became very picky about my book buying).  This is quite likely confirmation bias (probably the definition of it), but I have gotten pretty good about picking completely unknown books that turn out to be enjoyable and The Deal is another example of that.

I'm not telling anybody that this is a good book.  It is written in an annoying informal style with an equally annoying non-traditional structure that is basically abandoned about halfway through.  It starts out with chapters that are these character studies with titles like "The Lawyer", "The Actress".  But once the actual story gets going, it is pretty entertaining.  The story is told from the perspective of a hotshot young producer who steals away a major star for an exclusive 5-picture deal.  The star is an insane narcissist and notorious partier.  The story is their relationship and the chaos surrounding the production of the movies.  Here is the kicker.  The star has a super tiny penis and not only cannot satisfy any women, he cannot even satisfy himself!  I told you this book was weird.  He even has the prop guy make him a super realistic-looking prosthetic penis that he can actually use.

The star gets in worse and worse trouble and the productions become more and more difficult.  The final calamity is a super disturbing rape murder that ultimately seals this book into the trash category.  It's kind of a sad cop-out really, because there was enough madness leading up to the ending that there was no need to go down the tired (even in 1967) misogyny trope road.

The star is known only as The Baron or Baron in the book.  The cover claims that it was based on a real star and the author was a producer who made a few movies with Errol Flynn near the end of his career.  He was known to lead a pretty hedonistic life.  Did he really have a small penis or was that just revenge on the author's part?

Monday, August 11, 2014

9. Night Cry by William L. Stuart

I love the colours on this cover.
I had been looking for this forever after having read the review in Vintaged Hardboiled Reads (been too long, August West) and found it at Kayo Books in San Francisco.  Unfortunately, the paperback was too beautiful and old to read in any normal situation so it had to wait until the vacation when I knew I would be reading in long stints and could keep it in a safe place.

Whoah, this was a tough book!  If you like noir and can get your hands on this, just read it.  I will be giving some initial spoilers away here.  The book begins with a couple leaving a bar and the guy getting into a scuffle with the bouncer.  Later the bouncer is found dead and it seems pretty clear that the guy did it.  Tough guy cop Mark Devlin, who is the protagonist, goes to the boyfriends house.  Assuming he did it, he punches him in the gut and then the head, I guess that was just standard procedure in those days.  Except here he kills him.  Let me tell you this scene was like a punch in the gut.  It really took me a few moments to absorb what had just happened.  It's really brutal and just so frank.  Devlin's mistake, though, is not that he killed the guy, but subsequently trying to hide it.  Things get complicated and dark.  Great book.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

8. Call of the Wild by Jack London

Not the version I read.
Ah vacation!  It is here where I consciously made an effort to jump start my reading again.  We rented a cabin a little ways out in the country.  It turned out to have wi-fi, but I brought no devices with me.  What's more, the weather complied and after three days of beautiful sunny lake weather, it rained for the entire rest of the week.  Actually kind of depressing, but we made the most of it including a lot of reading.
It started with The Call of the Wild.  My friend Mike gave me this book years ago, convinced I would love it and that it was a quick read.  I think precisely because it was so short, I kept putting it off.  There was also some trepidation about something bad happening to an animal.  Well now that I have completed I can confirm that he was right on.  It's a fantastic book and right up my alley.  I haven't read a ton of Jack London, but I loved the Sea Wolf and now that I've read this, I should probably read more of his stuff.
It's the story of a powerful but soft dog who is kidnapped from his California estate and sold to sled drivers in Alaska's gold rush.  The dog's core is powerful and wild.  Much of the book is about his struggle, but he slowly finds his true calling in the brutal and exhausting world of mining and transport in the North.  This is stirring stuff and London takes the idea as far as it can go.  The ending is almost supernatural.  A great read. I strongly recommend it.