Saturday, December 31, 2016

18. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (book 1 of the First Law trilogy)

Well I had promised myself that I would try to avoid any books that were the start of a trilogy, simply because at my current slow reading rate, I can't afford to commit to more than one book at a time.  The Blade Itself was seductive enough (laying around at my parent's right next to the comfy armchair, strongly recommend by my brother-in-law who had left it there) that I decided to ignore the rule and I'm glad that I did.

First of all, it begins with a bang.  The first pages are a brief, but intense action moment, almost like starting after a cliffhanger that also revealed a really cool character.  From there, the book delivered a ton of the kind of political machinations that I like, more appealing and interesting characters and lots of great moments of ass-kicking and revelation of superior skills.  Though I doubted it was possible, the fantasy world is pretty interesting.  I love the dying empire element, especially to constrast (or render palatable) our own current dying empire scenario the U.S. seems to be accelerating towards.

I won't go into the storyline, because it is kind of complicated and the whole point of the first book is to slowly reveal all the layers of the story that is going to take up the rest of the trilogy (which I am now eager to keep reading).  But it's cool and fun as hell, believe me. If you like this sort of thing.  Which I do.

Friday, December 23, 2016

17. Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

I watched the latest Jack Reacher movie on the plane.  I did not have high hopes, but it actually was even slightly more mediocre than I had expected.  The bad guys were generic, the locations were generic (another drippy alley, another drippy warehouse, ah big chase during Mardi Gras!, etc.), the action was overly-edited and without any real excitement (though it had a certain brutality at brief moments).  Worse, the story got all caught up in a family metaphor which was really awkward with Tom Cruise trying weirdly to be human and normal (always a bad idea).  The only redeeming factor was the female lead, who was convincingly fit and (other than the aforementioned stupid "family" scenes where she and Reacher "argued") was a badass in her own right.

The biggest problem with the movie, though, was that it skimmed over the main thing that is cool about the Jack Reacher character: he's surrealisticly free.  The movie paints him as a kind of freelance MP detective, meting out justice and uncovering conspiracies.  But in the books, he is really a true drifter, who stumbles into situations that force him to use all his MP detective skills to mete out justice and uncover conspiracies.  I know it doesn't sound much difference, but believe me the real pleasure in the books is how Reacher is just walking places with nowhere to go and nothing to do.  He travels across the country with nothing, not even a wallet!  He is the modern-day equivalent of Saki's "unledgered wanderer" and every middle-age, middle-management white male family man wants a little, teeny bit to be that guy.

The beginning of Nothing to Lose exemplifies this perfectly.  Jack Reacher is in the middle of desert Colorado, halfway between the towns of Hope and Despair.  There is literally a dividing line on the highway, solid, new tarmac on the Hope side and crumbling, greyed-out road on the other.  The town of Despair is pretty despairing and weird as hell too as Reacher gets purposefully ignored by the few townsfolk and then aggressively rousted by the local constabulary.  Of course, he breaks some noses and then decides to go back and see what the hell is going on.  Lots of intriguing investigation, punctuated with ass-kicking and then finally busting into full-on chaos the way only Jack Reacher can do.  Ultimately, the journey was better than the payoff, but it was well worth it.  There are so many Jack Reacher novels, and the situations are all just exaggerated enough that you wouldn't want to read too many of them close together, but it is great to know they are out there when you need an easy and entertaining read.