Monday, August 31, 2020

52. Red Ketchup Integrale vol 3 (books 7-9)

7 Echec au King
This time Red Ketchup gets a new boss as his old is demoted after not being able to contain Red Ketchup.  The new boss is supposed to be one of the best, but it becomes clear quite quickly that he is too ambitious as he uses Red to get dirt on his superiors to gain more power.  He also is desperately in love with a fat trailer park woman and will do anything for her.  This is a theme we have seen a few times in Red Ketchup, the powerful man with the weakness for a woman far down on the social status.  Her thing is reading Amazing Facts, basically a News of the World tabloid and she uses her FBI boss lover to investigate the things she reads about (bigfoot, giant moles and eventually Elvis coming back from the dead).  He in turn sends Red to investigate who does so much damage that these fake stories start seeming real.  It all traces back to an alcoholic writer in the Florida Keys who is behind all the stories.  In some ways, this book is more his story and Red Ketchup is really just the catalyst, although there is also the grad student who comes down to interview the writer and the gallant next-door neighbour of the fat trailer park lady who seems vaguely familiar...

A lot goes on here.  This book reminded me a bit of one of the Parker stories where Parker is a vehicle for other character's narratives.  Come to think of it, you probably could do an interesting Parker/Red Ketchup comparison.  Echec au King doesn't capture the manic chaos of Red Ketchup at his best but it is still an entertaining story and another fun poke at American excess.

8 Red Ketchup en Enfer
(read May 12, 2020 during pandemic) This one was awesome, getting back to Red Ketchup stirring all kinds of shit up, this time literally in hell.  Red Ketchup dies saving some kids from a crazed cult leader in the bayou.  He takes an atomic bomb and runs with it on his back where it explodes.  He wakes up in hell, welcomed by the devil and all his demons.  Satan is so pleased to have Red Ketchup with him, he makes him the head of security for hell, where his extreme mania for order drives demons back to earth.  Meanwhile, Red's sister is sure he is calling to her and her search leads her to Dr. Beaudelaire Hyacinth, a Haitian professor of anthropology at the University of Montreal.   Dr. Hyacinth, it turns out, used to be a power voudou shaman but renounced his use of magic to study science.  Together the two of them head back to Haiti to try and find Red Ketchup and send the demons back to hell.  Even though we get classic Red Ketchup extremism, this is also just a really good story, well-structured and fun.  Dr. Hyacinth is an excellent side character, great NPC for anybody's modern occult campaign.
9 Élixir X
(read August 31, 2020, end of the pandemic summer) This final chapter (at least for now) in the Red Ketchup saga is an enjoyable story with some nice character development. However, it feels restrained and never achieves the chaos it sets up.  The main story centers on the insane Nazi doctor Otto Kunst who develops an elixir of life, which gets released into the public by his young model wife (who looks exactly like his true love the inflatable sex toy).  It makes people young, but also violently aggressive and addicted.  We really had the potential for some Red Ketchup mayhem but the storyline emphasizes Red Ketchup's attempt to find the assassins trying to kill his sister.  There are lots of nice touches and a pretty interesting development with the possibility of his sister becoming a second red ketchup.  A good read, but a bit mellow for Red Ketchup.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

51. Mad Ship (The Liveship Traders Book II) by Robin Hobb

Wow!  This has been the least productive reading month for me for a long time.  Still two days left, but pretty clear that I will fail to achieve my 5 books a month goal.  The last time I went below 5 books was May 2019.  I have many excuses.  The biggest factor is the NBA playoff bubble which was running 4 games a day for almost three weeks in August.  I also allowed myself to fall back into a lot of wasted time on Twitter.  Things will tighten up in September.

My lack of reading forces me to question my phat fantasy strategy.  Mad Ship keeps up all the good stuff from the Ship of Destiny, and because I am so deep into it now, I can read it in snippets.  She packs so much story in each chapter that sometimes I have to take a break.  So it would seem an ideal companion to the NBA playoffs. The problem is that about halfway through the month, I start to feel the pressure of not meeting my monthly goal (and slipping away from the ultimate goal of restoring my monthly average to 50).  It makes it hard for me to truly sit back and enjoy this deep fantasy universe and the enjoyable unraveling of its mysteries.

In Book 2, we get a lot more of the pirate Kennit.  He becomes almost mythical, though it is hard to tell if it is his own insane ego or that he may actually be an important, fated piece in all the machinations going on around him.  He takes Wintrow, the ex-monk to Sa, under his wing and with his consort Etta and their pirate crew, they set in motion several important triggers that will rock the world of Jamailla, Bingtown and the Rain Wilds.  Their piracy of slaveships accelerates the confrontation between Bingtown and the Satrap (with the Chalced States behind him).  On the big magical picture, Kennit pushes Wintrow into a situation where he releases a sea serpent that is key to the story of the tangle in the prologues to each chapter.  There seems to be a lot of destiny going on.  We also follow the storyline of the rest of the Vestrit family as they put the mad liveship Paragon to sea to rescue the Vivacia and her captain.  

The political conflicts in this second book were great, complex enough to make them interesting but not get lost.  Most of the magical backstory is revealed here and it is really cool.  At first, the mythology seemed so different than that of the first trilogy, that I thought they were going to be basically two separate storylines.  Here, at the end, the reveal connects them in a really interesting way that gives you a totally different understanding of the dragons in the Assassin trilogy.  It's very cool.

I overally really enjoyed it, but there is still some balance with Robin Hobb that sometimes makes me have to put the book down in frustration.  Her characters are often relentlessly pessimistic and whiny.  Sometimes it makes sense, but it always seems to get pushed too far.  And you know something bad is going to happen to them before any good stuff, so it can be demotivating.  She also relies on people's stubbornness and stupidity as a plot device and sometimes it really doesn't work. It's a small part, but when Reyn is drinking himself to sleep to avoid the dragon dreams and his brother and mom come to him and he tells them to find Malta, they just ignore him and treat him like a baby.  Yet, they all were raised understanding the danger and power of the old city.  They also know the situation is super dangerous.  They would at least have checked on Malta. I found that really unbelievable and frustrating and it threw me out of the book.

Friday, August 07, 2020

50. Out of Control by G. Gordon Liddy

I found this in one of the free book kiosks in the Mile-End.  I actually hesitated over it for quite a while.  This late summer, my thirst for book hunting knows no quenching.  However, my cup (as in my on-deck shelf) runneth over and I am reading quite slowly because of the NBA bubble.  I was not really feeling very enthusiastic about watching sports this year as it feels like we have much bigger issues in the world right now, but the condensed and accelerated season with all the teams quarantined in Disney World has actually made for some super entertaining basketball.  There are games on from 2 in the afternoon until 11 at night and it really cuts into my reading time.  So I hemmed and hawed on this book and finally took it because I mean come on a spy adventure novel written by one of the Watergate conspirators  How can I say no?  

And during the first chapter, I was rejoicing for my choice.  It starts in media res with a professional thief and safe cracker hiding in the custodial closet at the top floor of a NY office building.  We get a nerdy but very entertaining blow-by-blow of his break-in.  Liddy does not spare the technical details, right up to the brand of the cylinder being different than the brand of the rest of the safe.  Unfortunately, this is a peak and it kind of comes down to earth for much of the middle of the book, rising back up again for a crazy finale.  

Out of Control is an odd mix of almost dull technical and business procedure and then over the top situations and craziness.  There is a lot of 1970s orientalism, most of it made up and wildly inaccurate (though not disrespectful or belittling; just kind of fantastic) which is off-putting.  However, my grade 10 self would have loved it, as there are martial arts masters, secret Tong societies and even a climactic kung fu fight.  The hero is an absurd fantasy, the son of a Nazi Luftwaffe ace (and a pilot himself who still flies a messerschmidt recreationally, which of course figures in the finale), whose dead wife was from a powerful mafia family and whose current girlfriend is connected to a super powerful Tong enterprise.  He is also an expert financier.  The sexual and romantic banter between him and his girlfriend is tiresome and dated, but felt genuine.  We are failing all Bechtel tests here, but he does make her a real person.

I can not recommend this as a good book, but I found it likable, wanting to entertain and succeeding at many points.  There is a lot of self-congratulating business manipulations that went way too far into detail for me, but there are also a lot of great and creative action moments. And it does get genuinely crazy.  If you are a fan of 60s and 70s American crime and espionage fiction, you should check this out.

[Also minor golf clap for having reached 50 books.  My real goal for 2020 is 59 as I will then have achieved an average of 50 books since I started this challenge.  Then we'll have a real celebration!]