Friday, January 31, 2020

10. The Sixth Man: a Memoir by Andre Iguodala with Carvell Wallace

As I write this review, Andre Iguodala is currently officially on the Memphis Grizzlies, sent there in the sign and trade that got D'Angelo Russel to the Warriors in exchange for the always seeking new horizons Kevin Durant.  By mutual agreemement, Iguodala is not playing, which I felt he was justified in doing and I hope softens the "it's a business" blow that shipped him off the Warriors.  He is now seen as a potential contributor to a playoff-bound team, but I wonder if now that the Grizzlies are showing so much young potential that he would not have minded being the old mentor on that team.

At the very least, I do feel I have a much better insight into who he is as a player and a person after reading his book. My parents got it to me as an xmas present. They jumped on the Warriors bandwagon along with the rest of the country (to be fair, they had been paying attention to them before they really got good, probably in some response to my own enthusiasm and loyalty to the team).  I am not sure if Iguodala was their favourite player but they found him the most interesting.  My respect for him was solidified when he received the Finals MVP in 2015.  There were some people who expressed the opinion that it was not deserved.  Anybody who says that does not understand basketball and has probably never actually played.  The Warriors had a better team than the Cavs that year, but they didn't know it and they were not mentally ready for it.  Every time they got shakey and it looked like things were slipping away to LeBron's dominance, Iguodala either pulled them back in with a play or re-anchored their spirits with his consistency and focus.  It was a tremendous demonstration of basketball will and mental toughness.  You could see it happening during the series, the person who was the winner and going to make it happen no matter what. I knew Iguodala had this strength of will when he hit two free throws to tie the regular season game against OKC that season (the game being famous because Steph took the ball out and just hit the most ridiculous three with seconds left on the clock; a shot that woke the league up to how sick he was, but he never would have had the opportunity had not Andre iced those free throws, not his best skill).

My respect for him further grew when I started to read a bit more about his political convictions.  He is not loud about those convictions, but he is clear and firm and uncompromising, speaking openly about race in the NBA and America.  This is rare in pro sports because it takes so much courage and is so risky given the terrible efficacy of the racist system around them to punish any black athlete who doesn't walk the line (see Colin Kaepernick).

I devour these sports books.  First of all, they tend to be written in fairly large type, with wide margins, short chapters and a fairly straight forward style of writing.  The Sixth Man starts with his childhood in the midwest and goes into some details about his basketball path in high school and college. He passes pretty quickly over his years in Philly (though does a good job of characterizing the nastiness of the fans and media there) and then focuses on his time with the Warriors.  He is really clear and direct on the racial structures in his childhood (though he grew up in a good household with a strong mother and grandmother and he stayed on the straight and narrow, he and everybody in his community just knew that cops were dangerous to them because they were black).  He also does an excellent job of breaking down the notion that athletes are spoiled and should be grateful.  He recognizes the privilege but he is also very honest about the physical and psychological costs of dedicating your life and body to a business "owned" by white people who often treat the players as a commodity.  It is very enlightening and I hope some people who have that opinion get a chance to read this.

But for me personally, it was the stuff about specific basketball games and his own evolution in the game that was the most interesting to me.  I watch a lot of basketball, read a lot of sophisticated analysis and still play regularily.  Iguodala is known for his understanding of the dynamics in a game and having him explain the challenges of getting a team to work in a system was fascinating and eye opening.  The best beauty of the game for me (and there are many) is the team interaction, the complex dynamic between the players' roles and the system they are trying to execute in order to beat their opponent.  Iguodala really speaks to that in this book in a way that added to my own thoughts about the game and deepened my understanding of specific games I had watched in the past.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I've been vaguely aware of the existence of this book for a long time.  I was first introduced to it actually from the Roots album of the same name.  I got quite into that album and did a bit of research into the name.  I found this paperback in a box of books on the street and was pleased with how thin it looked (and also the nice paperback, despite the very dated cover illustration which reflects more a liberal cliche of African colonialism than the tone or content of the book itself).

I am actually a bit surprised and dismayed that I haven't already read this book. I did two long Humanities courses at Reed College, which were supposed to give you a broad overview of said subject.  We did a lot on colonialism.  After having read this, and knowing it is basically considered the grandfather of African literature (and seeing how short it is), it seems like it should be one of the ur-texts of colonialism in any course.

It's so fundamental that I sort of knew what was to come as I read it.  So many colonial narratives must have borrowed from this book, that they have basically permeated our popular culture at this point.  It's the native village minding their own business when the white man comes and fucks all their shit up.  What I did not know was the subtle combination of simple and straightforward language (almost anthropological) describing very rich and complex social behaviours that make up most of the book.  Two-thirds is just the life of Okonkwe, a well-respected man of his village, and also kind of an ass-kicker.  Only near the end do we get the very subtle arrival of the missionaries.  That is the other thing that I did not expect from the narrative.  The white man comes in very sneakily.  After an initial massacre at the market of another tribe (and one that was perceivded to be weaker), they behave relatively decently, building a little church in the evil forest the villagers direct them to.  The disaster is already happening and you know it, but it is done in such a way, like the proverbial pot of boiling water, that most of the villagers don't even see it.  When the "government" arrives to support the church's law, it is already too late.

Because of this quietness, the devastation of colonialism hits even harder.  I finished this on a train to Toronto and as I put the book down I looked upon a pleasant little town built around a river market by 3 church steeples.  I have never been a fan of the Christian religion but those steeples at that moment emanated evil in my eyes.

From a nerdy perspective, I also wonder how much influence Things Fall Apart has on the recent renaissance of African sci-fi, of which I have only read Nnedi Okorafor?

Saturday, January 25, 2020

8. Devil on Horseback by Victoria Holt

I've been aware of Victoria Holt for a while now, having a sense that she is/was a big name in gothic romance. I picked this one up at the Concordia Book Fair, despite the horrific cover.  When I started it, I had a sudden frightening yet delicious feeling that I had finally found my crack cocaine of genre literature.  The set up was great, combining the complex clash of class and aspiration in 18th century Britain with the potential for political intrigue and adventure.  Because the protagonist is a woman, young yet educated, capable and smart (and as we learn headstrong), you have the built in underdog fighting against they system theme.  I was quite excited and imagined myself with a future of Victoria Holt reading ahead of me.  Unfortunately, the actual story did not quite achieve this potential  Whether or not this was because the author failed or her aims (and those of most of her readers) did not meet mine, I am not yet sure.

Minella Maddox is the daughter of a teacher who have a nice position on a Lord's estate.  He sends his two daughters to their schoolhouse, which then attracts the other gentry and ensure they make a decent living.  One summer, a french count's daughter comes to the school to learn english.  She is two years younger than Minella and her positive spirit makes her and Minella become friends.  The count is a very powerful figure in French politics and known to be a frightening tyrant to his people.  He is also intense and handsome. Minella first sees him on horseback as he checks out her school from afar.  She christens him The Devil on Horseback and learns that that is also his appellation back at home (though never to his face).  There is also the son of the British lord, a super nice guy, who takes a liking to Minella.  They go horseback riding every day.  He is super nice.  And though he is quite clearly into her, Minella being a realist feels there is no chance, as his parents would never approve.

So that's the basic setup but then fate hits as her mother dies and Minella struggles to keep the school afloat.  The count's daughter runs away with a handsome groom and gets knocked up.  The lord's son is sent away by his parents on the European tour (which I guess is a thing the sons of gentry did back then), ostensibly to separate him from Minella.  Oh yeah, and also during a game of hide and seek in the manor, Minella goes downstairs, where she is caught by the Count sneaking into their bedroom.  He kisses her and she pushes him away, outraged, but against all her judgement, powerfully stimulated!

So the Count finds out what his daughter has done and convinces Minella to accompany her to a small village where she will have the child in secret, pretending they are cousins (Minella's french is excellent, but they will say she is a long-lost cousin from England).  This is where I started to get excited.  France is near the breaking point here, so that aristocrats often do not leave their manors without guards.  The town is very small and people start asking questions about the two ladies.  There was lots of potential for a Fingersmith level of adventure here, with two aristocrat women on the run in revolutionary france, trying to get away with an illegitimate child.

Instead, we keep going back and forth between the Count's place in Paris and his castle in his ancestral domain and the main narrative starts to reveal itself.  Really it is about whether or not she should love this dashing handsome count who has done all kinds of evil shit in his life, has a wife confined to a sick bed and a mistress in a cottage nearby.  There is conversation after conversation where he declares his love for her and she remains prim and British, but oh what about her feelings!  It builds and builds as does the revolution, but we only get any real action in the last thirty pages or so where the mob rises up, the count is freed from the guillotine, we learn about a believed dead twin brother and she can finally love the count and they get married and live happily in England with his past behind them.

I'm a romantic guy and do enjoy that element (and can actually enjoy it as the primary narrative when it is done well).  Here, it just wasn't done very convincingly and I kind of guessed what was going to happen.  It all felt like a overly-complicated way to get a prim young British girl with a dashing French badboy on a horse together in some way that would still give her some clout.  It sacrificed so much potential, both for dashing adventure and for some complex gender-role challenging on the way.  I did not expect much of the second category but I do think I could have a bit more from the first at least.  I don't know, maybe Holt pushes herself farther in some of her other books, but I fear this stuff may just remain in the mainstream mode.

This pastely channel 9 Masterpiece Theatre vagueness
 is the kind of shit that I hated about the 70s when I was a kid.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

7. City by Clifford D. Simak

I see now that this is a real sci-fi classic, though interestingly it was a colleague at work who first brought it to my attention.  It took me quite a while to find and this paperback cost $7, putting it into high-class status indeed!

I had a progression of feelings about this book as I read it, from "meh" to quite moved.  It is my own personal taste and not a critique or universal judgement, but I find a lot of the silver age sci-fi (if that is what this is) kind of naive today and often overly obsessed with a single concept.  City has a really cool conceit, it is a mythical set of stories that dogs (now the sentient dominant being) puzzle over.  They cannot understand or even believe in many of the concepts presented in these stories, but we the readers understand it as the explanation of what really happened to the human race.  The first story takes place in the 80s and the big problem is that the cities are basically empty.  The municipal government remains and they are trying to figure out how to deal with the abandoned rows of houses.  Because of the personal plane and advanced building technology, everybody has moved out to the country, building their own personal estate.

It is very facile for me to criticize a writer from over fifty years ago for how wrong their speculation was, but this just felt so locked into the post WWII suburban fantasy.  How could Simak have not taken population growth into consideration?  That was an issue in the fifties for sure, though perhaps not as big as it would become later.  And people like to get be together, even if they also may want their space.  This just felt really badly thought out as the trigger to the end of humanity and it left me feeling very critical.

As it turns out, this move to the countryside was only the first step (and kind of felt a bit unecessary).  Each subsequent story moves forward in the narrative of how humanity would lose hold on earth. The ideas start to get wilder and wilder.  And as they do, City becomes interesting.  It really did make me think about existence, what it means to be alive and human and got me kind of melancholy at times.  It is really a big picture concept book. We get martians in one story whose impact comes and then goes.  We get body-shifting, existence on Jupiter, wild robots, mutant advanced humans, global empathy, sentient dogs then all sentient animals and even quantum realities.  It goes to some wild places and while I am not sure I can say the narrative had a unity to it, it definitely made me think and feel.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

6. Touch not the Cat by Mary Stewart

My nephew and I rode to downtown Oakland over the holidays, our destination the Salvation Army, in the hopes of finding there some cheap boots for a trip to Yosemite (I hadn't packed any).  I will share with you here that the men's shoe selection at the Salvation Army in downtown Oakland is quite poor and the boot selection non-existent.  I did, however, find two Mary Stewart hardbacks so it wasn't a total loss.  And we had an excellent vegetarian Thai lunch in the neighbourhood.

I am not quite sure what to make of this book.  Much of it puzzles me, as do her other gothic romance-mysteries.  People loved this book.  It is cited as one of her most popular and the reviews in Goodreads are gushing.  It's not that this isn't a good book.  It's really quite well thought out, gripping with an excellent location and situation.  It's the protagonist that I don't get.  She just seems way too nice and trusting to the point that starts to push at my willing suspension of disbelief.  I need somebody smarter and more versed in the literature of the period to help pick her mentality apart for me.

She is the only child of a widowed father, in her early 20s and part of a long, aristocratic clan that owns an estate somewhere in England.  They have long since lost any wealth associated with it, the father having sold the silver to pay for its upkeep and retired off to Germany because of health issues.  When he dies in a hit and run, she comes back, to help settle the estate, most of which is due to her cousins, because of a clause going back generations that the inheritor must be a male.  She is super fine with everything, even when we start to get hints that the cousins are not the most honest.  She stays fine when we learn that they have been stealing valuable items from the estate to make up money they have lost in their business.  She stays fine when it becomes pretty evident that they may have been responsible for the hit and run. 

I was feeling like the book was set up for us to want to preserver the estate, as Stewart gives us such loving descriptions of it and a detailed history.  Much of the heroine's character is built on her childhood there.  Her ultimate love interest is woven into its history.  And yet she is so weirdly passive and forgiving of her clearly completely fucked and evil cousins.  There is a mystery, the final fragmented words of her father involving old books in the library, that the reader can guess early on has to do with the true ownership of the estate.  The climax of this bizarrely involves her two nasty cousins arguing with her how she can screw them out of it while she sincerely is trying to argue with them that even if she could legally block them from their shitty plan of selling the place to developers so they can pay off the debts for money they basically stole, she wouldn't.  It's just a weird set-up where the reader and all the other characters can see the clear good vs. evil in the narrative, except the main character who though brave and strong basically spends the whole time not putting up any resistance beyond asking for time before she makes her decision.  Really the main point of tension is not that she doesn't want to let her cousins have the place, but that she just wants a week or two to chill out before she signs it away.  There is some unspecified reason the cousins can't wait, which is what drives them to be really stupid and blow their cover, when if they had just let her wait, she probably would have signed it all away and they wouldn't have had to do villainy.

I have had a similar, though less clear to me, critique of Stewart's other books.  Somehow, the passivity of her heroine's must be an accepted trope, akin to some similar consistent behaviour in male protagonists in the action genre.  Anybody know a book or article that might explain it a bit better to me?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

5. Tiger by The Tail by James Hadley Chase

I picked up three of Chase's books at the Concordia Book Fair.  I started with this one as it was the latest published of the three and I wanted to see how his style had evolved.  I went into it with some trepidation.  Despite quite enjoying No Flowers for Miss Blandish, I now have this slight feeling that he is "fake".  This is totally unfair as a writer is a writer and if they are good in other elements, the authenticity of the setting does not have to be that big of a factor.

I was aware of some bias going in, particularly as the set up was revealed to me in the early pages.  Ken Holland is a head bank teller whose young wife is away for a few days with her sick mother.  He is starting to feel antsy, staring at attractive girls on the street.  But he's a good guy and a good husband and just wants her to get home.  However, his workmate Pete, is a party guy and keeps egging Ken on, wanting to live vicariously through him in his temporary bachelor state.  He gives Ken the phone number of a girl who will show him a good time.  Ken doesn't want it, rips it in half, but then on a super hot night after a few drinks while avoiding mowing the lawn, he gives in and calls. The way the temptation is set up and the way it sucks him in is all quite well done.  The girl is easygoing, friendly in a way that surprises him and he ends up spending the evening with her.  They get it on at her place (this is done offstage and felt strangely not American in its frankness), then go out to a club, where he learns she used to be a dancer there.  His gut tells him to end it there, but he can't say no to an invitation back to her place.  Here is where things go wrong.  She goes to her bedroom to get changed and then doesn't come out for a long time.  When he calls to her, the power goes out, somebody runs out of her bedroom and then her apartment.  When he goes to her bedroom he finds her stabbed to death with an ice pick.

This is the first two chapters, so I am not giving too much away as the book really starts here.  I felt slightly let down, as it felt like a less interesting Highsmith, where innocent Ken has to figure out how to play it.  However, my initial pessimism was unfounded as the book quickly expands to bring in a much larger cast of players.  The town itself is run by a shadowy crime boss, with high-ranking corrupt police officers and politicians doing his bidding.  His reign is on a shaky foundation and the murder of this girl and the possible exposure that she was living in an apartment full of call girls risks to bring it all down.  It ends up being a convoluted and exciting adventure.  Parts of it are a bit awkwardly plotted and there is even a glaring continuity error (when O'Brien the big boss calls a fixer to move out all the girls from the cat house and move in innocent people, he calls the same guy back ten minutes later, though several cross-scenes, and congratulates him on the job well done when there was no time and no way he could have known it was done at all) that suggests he and his editors cranked this one out.  Also, it does have an ersatz feel.  This is an anonymous American city (though at one point it gets a name in California) that though being small enough that the murder is the first one in a long time, has several night clubs, a wharf district with a seedy boardwalk, several cat houses, an opium den and guys who kill cops on the regular.  It's like Gangster City off of the RKO lot in print.  But that's okay because it is a lot of fun, with some good action and fun characters and doesn't take itself too seriously (though he can be hell of rough on some of those characters).  The ending made me chuckle.  Good stuff.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

4. The Age of Scandal by T. H. White

I got this at the Concordia book fare.  It was the nice penguin edition that attracted me and the potential of the contacts that sealed the deal.  It brought me back to my college days where I studied history.  This period really didn't interest me at the time but I knew from some readings that there was often quite juicy tidbits of "civilized" European craziness in the 18th and 19th century and it sounded like this book had a lot of that.  Also, as themes of elite behaviours and gossipy obsession with social media dominate today, I thought reading about how it happened in the past might help inform my understanding of our current predicament.

White's main thesis (after a weird little intro where he seems to argue for a British aristocracy) is that between the Age of Romance and the Age of Reason, which traditionally has been seen as a bit stiff, there actually was a lively, dramatic period in Britain that he labels the Age of Scandal.  He then writes chapters on a wide range of subjects (ranging from views on religion, to discipline to ears) and on several specific scandals (the short-lived queen of Denmark, The Gunnington twins) and on individuals (Horace Walpole, Hervey, de Sade), most of which I had been ignorant. 

I don't think it is unfair to say that this isn't a rigorous work of scholarship.  It is peppered with quotations, many without reference (which I appreciated; I always feel compelled to read foot and endnotes and it kills my flow).  His argument is not unconvincing but also I don't think he is trying too aggressively so I don't imagine he got a lot of counter-argument (probably a naive assumption on my part as this is history; somebody was outraged somewhere).  It's just a lot of fun and the chapters are short.  There were some extraordinary little adventures.  I also enjoyed the specifics on the toiletry of the time (interesting that the french aristocracy were considered dirtier and smellier than the english) as well as the brutality of the culture of discipline.  The notion that though still very much an aristocratic country, the closeness in general of the upper classes and the plebians made for an oddly dynamic polity.  The mechanism for this, according to White, was the mob.  The lords and ladies would get more and more out of control and then there would be a riot.  This made me think of God is an Englishman, where a mob destroying a cotton mill played a central role.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

3. Crown: Macao Mayhem by Terry Harknett

I had high hopes for this book.  Unfortunately, the ratio of cover coolness to content was excessively high.  I mean check out that cover!  Plus Hong Kong, you can see how I would snatch this up.  I found it at the Rennaissance thrift store on the more eastern side of ave Mont-Royal which I should probably check out more.

I was expecting there to be a good deal of colonial ignorance and possibly even racism and took that into consideration.  Macao Mayhem takes place in Hong Kong and Macao in pre-handover 70s HK when the British were still in charge.  The two characters on the cover are a pair of Royal Hong Kong Cops:  rigourously honest but of course refuses to play by the rules Senior Superintendent John Crown and his long-suffering more humble but still wisecracking partner Inspector Po Chang (who is Chinese but was raised in Australia and tends to speak english more than Chinese).  The plot is a bit of a muddle and begins with a high-level call girl leaving an assignation at a wealthy Portuguese businessman's house and then of course getting killed and brutally disemboweled (in that order).  It eventually ends up in a plot to kidnap an important American politician but this takes at least 80% of the book to get there.  The reader does not really know where we are going besides getting a lot of aggressive banter, car chases (which are decent) and some pretty good action scenes.  The fights are probably the one highlight of the book, as the moves are quite specifically detailed and the actions somewhat satisfying.

However, because we don't really have much direction, I found myself pretty disconnected.  Worse, it never actually gets as extreme as it threatens.  It's really crude, both in the narration and in dialogue, but never actually gets extreme. We always hear about the male character's sexual appetites but their fulfilling of them is always done offscreen.  There is some gore, but never due to human cruelty (which I appreciated).  The writing is sort of bald and none of the characters too likable.

The worse disappointment for me though was Hong Kong itself.  All the roads and locations are geographically detailed, but it feels like he just got it out of a map.  None of the descriptions are very evocative and we get very little of the local colour.  Harknett's bio says nothing about him living in Hong Kong, so it could be that he indeed read it all from a map.

Now my dilemma is do I put this beautiful but unfun read on the shelf?

Addendum:  I just did a bit of research and learned that Harknett was a prolific pulp author, who cranked out over 200 books.  Makes a bit more sense!  Even crazier, there is a copy of it for sale for $600 on Abe Books!!! Bro, I'll sell this copy for $100 and a random pulp fiction book of your choice. :)

Monday, January 06, 2020

2. Death in a White Tie by Ngaio Marsh

My mother recommended this to me after I had complained about the bizarre marriage rituals in Edmund Crispin's The Case of the Gilded Fly.  It takes places a decade earlier before the war and is focused more consistently on the aristocracy.  It is a nice contrast as both are very British and pretty classically constructed murder mysteries.

Ngaio's detective is Roderick Alleyn, himself of the upper crust.  This case begins with his elderly mother deciding she is going to return to society and participate as a chaperone in the many debutante balls that would be going on in London.  This leads us to a blackmail case that touches many of Alleyn's acquaintances.  He engages an old family friend to be his man on the inside and at the end of an important ball, this man is murdered.  So the investigation involves both the blackmail and his murder.  Were they connected?  Who among the last people at the party could have followed him into his cab and suffocated him?

It's a solid and well-plotted mystery with some genuinely captivating moments of detective mastery.  Marsh does a great job of setting up diverse unpleasant characters who get their comeuppance in the face of Alleyn's superb interviewing skills.  These moments were quite fun, especially with the two super-pompous lords (though their characterizations blended a bit and were over broad to be truly ideal; still fun).  In the end, the mystery was complex but not too much that you got lost or disconnected.  I get why she is one of the Grand Masters of mystery and was popular for so long (and probably still is).  Nice to know there is a significant back catalog of her books that I haven't read, so when the time comes that I want a sure bet, I can go to it.

Note, this was a Jove edition from the early 80s and it has a very nice cover design and illustration that was part of a series of her books that I find quite aesthetically fetching.  You can see the other books on the back cover.

Friday, January 03, 2020

1. Bearskin by James McLaughlin

I read this brief review by blogger John Oak Dalton whose taste I admire over a year ago and had been naively looking for Bearskins as a used book.  I finally asked for it for xmas and got it from my parents.  I think it was fairly succesful (at least critically), so not sure why it never turned up used but after reading it I am happy to help add a few more coins McLaughlin's profits.  This was a fantastic read, a great way to kick of the new year and decade.  I stayed up late reading it and then got up early on New Year's Day to finish it.

Bearskins is the kind of book that you want to give to certain of your manly friends who are literate but may not have read anything in a while.  If you know my tastes and personal politics, you will understand why I found the premise so compelling.  Rice Moore is on the run from the cartel and takes a job as a caretaker on a natural reserve in the Appalachians.  It is owned by a rich family and part of his job is to ensure that the locals don't do any poaching.  We learn early that though a thoughtful, educated person with a background in science, Moore has somehow a history of violence and may in fact be quite a badass.  When he discovers a bear carcass on the reserve, with its paws cut off and it's insides cut open but otherwise left to rot, he decides to investigate and stop whoever is doing this.  At the same time, we slowly learn about his backstory that led him to this solitary life.

This is a great male fantasy, I suspect especially for the more left-leaning environmentally aware reader who also loves his pulp fiction.  McLaughlin does an excellent job of constructing a new "woke" male hero.  Sexual violence is partially a plot driver and character-motivator here, which generally is a no-no for me. Somehow Mclaughlin elides around it that it avoids being the simplistic cliche of dude getting revenge and free to kick ass now that his woman is taken from him.  Rather we have a guy who is also a victim of trauma, who understands the trauma of other victims and is just trying to get on with his life.  The hunt for the bear poachers becomes a more general raison d'être as does his connection with the old growth forest he is trying to protect.

There are so many great elements here and it all comes together in some super-satisfying elite ass-kicking.  You get the tense relationship with the good and bad rednecks, multiple levels of badassery, respectable (local) and shitty (the feds, of course) law enforcement, some batshit back to nature stuff all add up to an all-around great time.

One thing about these new literary fiction pulp books is that they are so well-crafted.  I guess in today's market, you can no longer just crank out a story with an excellent plot.  It has to be workshopped with your local writing group, go through multiple revisions and every sentence nuanced so that it is almost poetry.  The writing here is straightforward and solid but it all feels so perfectly finished.  I suspect it took McLaughlin a long time.  This is not really a criticism, just an observation as there is a certain preciousness with the trade dress and the style of the writing that doesn't totally jibe with the subject matter. Hey, if more people buy it and he can write more books along this line, I am not complaining.