Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Book 37: Beasts of No Nation

By the time Beasts of No Nation was published it was the subject of mass critical acclaim.  I had read reviews that had nothing but good things to say about the novel that that it was an important work by a new author.  Because it is a novel set in Africa the first association is automatically Achebe, because any African set novel written by an African will always be compared to Achebe.  Beasts of No Nation was called a very strong debut.  I'm of two minds.  The first mind is totally and completely impressed by Iweala's work here.  He has written a brief novel with very raw power about something we in America almost never read about in fiction or non-fiction: How is it that a young man or even a boy would join one of these militia's in Africa and go on killing rampages and act as a private army?  What drives these men to do such barbaric things?  Beasts of No Nation gives us one possible answer and as brutal as the militias are to the commonly perceived victims, the brutality extends to the militia itself.  There is a veneer of a haven that the militia extends, but it is tenuous at best and Uzodinma Iweala shows all sides of the brutality where the humanity is stretched as thin as it could possibly be and still call itself human. 
My other mind is far less impressed by the actual craft of writing employed in this novel.  The book reads as if it were written in the voice of an African who does not speak English very well and so is stating things in a broken English that feels appropriate to the character and the story, but is also distracting.  Because the author is a Harvard graduate with honors for his writing, I choose to believe that the style of the novel is a conscious choice rather than his own broken English.  It is fully appropriate on one hand, but on the other it is very distracting and pulls me, as a reader, out of the story.  I would hate to suggest to an author to not use dialect because many very fine books use dialect to great effect.  In the case of Beasts of No Nation I felt the story was weakened by the overuse of dialect. 
Beasts of No Nation is, at the surface, a novel about a young man who is quite intelligent and wants nothing more than to learn and go to school.  Life does not quite go the way he would like when war comes to his country and militias start forming and roaming around attacking anyone who gets in their way.  Our protagonist gets involved in one such militia, but not because he believes in its cause.  His involvement is completely selfish: it is to save his own life.  Thus begins the examination of these roaming militias and the damage they cause to the people they come in contact to as well the people who comprise the militias. 
If I consider Beasts of No Nation in terms of the story it is telling I will quite willingly admit that it is superior.  The raw power and pain contained within the 140 pages is very real and it is a case of the story far overshadowing the storytelling.  It is the execution of the storytelling that I find fault with.  Iweala has written a very powerful novel, there is no question about that.  But the overuse of dialect was so distracting to me that I feel just a little bit of pulling back on the dialect would elevate this novel quite a bit.  Rather than simply portraying the protagonist as an intelligent and thoughtful young man who has not had nearly as much eduction as he deserves and speaks in broken sentences, it rather feels like Iweala is the one who is lacking.  I do not mean this as a personal attack because I know Iweala is a Harvard graduate and thus quite intelligent and skilled.  Considering that the protagonist would not be speaking or narrating in English during this novel, there is no reason why his thoughts wouldn't translate into full and well crafted sentences like I am positive Iweala can write given the collegiate awards he has won. 
So, Beasts of No Nation is a novel where the story rises above the manner in which it is told.  It is worth reading and Uzodimna Iweala surely has a fine career with excellent novels ahead of him, but I hope that years down the line this will be viewed as a worthy first novel and not the best he was able to produce. 

Friday, May 26, 2006

Book 36: Something Wicked This Way Comes

I had only read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and I wasn't sold on the genius of Ray Bradbury.  It is hailed as a literary classic and there is merit to this, but quite a few literary classics don't really hold up as a pleasurable read...but then folks have different tastes and perspectives.  Then I came across Something Wicked This Way Comes, and honestly it was half title and have Bradbury that made me pick it up.  I love the title of the book, and the back of the mass market paperback has to be one of the single best book descriptions to hook a reader.  The book jacket read like a carnival barker trying to convince you of the wonders you will find inside the tent, or within these pages.  A carnival is exactly what has come to Green Town, Illinois.  Two eleven year old boys, Will and Jim, were born minutes apart.  Will was born a minute before midnight on October 30, Jim a minute after, October 31.  Light and Dark.  They are best friends and in the middle of the night, two weeks before Halloween, they hear a train whistle blow and music in the air.  They sneak out of their homes and discover a carnival being set up, except there is something dark and dangerous about this carnival coming in at three in the morning.  By daylight things look better, friendlier, but there is a darkness and a creepiness hiding behind every tree and every carnival ride.  Something is wrong.  How wrong?  I couldn't say without spoiling the surprise, but while there is the sense of the innocent to this book there is something truly wicked on the horizon. 
Had I read Something Wicked This Way Comes when I was around the age of the boys, or even a few years older, I would have absolutely loved this book.  It has that creepy vibe that works better when you are young and reading a scary story alone in a mostly dark room.  I have no doubt about this.  When I have children and if they want to read a creepy book when they are a little older, I'll recommend this one.  It is not at all filled with gore or excessive violence, but the imagery and what is occuring is the stuff of bad dreams.  Ray Bradbury is very effective in telling this story, building tension, and capturing the tone and perhaps essence of young boys.  This novel seems geared more to a younger (early teens, maybe pre-teen), but it is written with skill and craft, it isn't a low budget campy movie, it's a quality prestige piece that is accessible to a range of audiences. 
Still, I had difficulty being truly engaged all the way through.  It's a great campfire story, but reading it in the daylight and fifteen years later than I should have, Something Wicked This Way Comes just didn't completely click with me.  I can admire Bradbury's craft and imagination here, but I didn't love it like I would have fifteen years ago.  It's a very well written book for a younger reader, though readers of all ages can certainly still enjoy.  I certainly did. 

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Book 35: The Reality Dysfunction: Expansion

I am unsure as to what to write. This is really the second half of The Reality Dysfunction, a thousand page science fiction novel. It feels like a third of a book, the middle half. The novel just jumps right in and I was working to figure out who some of the characters were. Joshua Calvert and Ione Saldana were easy, but many of the others? No clue. I figured enough out to get a grasp of what the story was, and Peter Hamilton does do a good job in advancing various storylines, but the problem is still that he may spend more than a hundred pages in between story points. It's tough.

I just don't know what to say. I liked the book. I am enjoying this Night's Dawn Trilogy. But there is just so much going on that I can't think of a way to concisely write about it. I could spend hundreds and hundreds of words describing the story points as I remember them.

Hamilton is detail heavy, so the book can be slow at times, and then he frequently describes sex in semi-detail and it can feel overwhelming when Calvert is on the page. Seems a bit much.

But the ideas and storypoints that Hamilton is working with here...fascinating. The "geneered" humans and "The Dead" rising, the voidhawks and history of humanity...I love the ideas here. Sometimes the execution is less exciting because it takes so long to get there. But I want to keep reading. It's not one of the best books I've read and even if this was a single volume, I don't think it would be.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Book 34: Kindred

The novel is often shelved under "Fiction - Literature". The main hook of the novel would place it under "Science Fiction", but the author herself describes it as a "Grim Fantasy". If Kindred wasn't written twenty five years ago I would say that it reminds me of The Time Traveler's Wife because of the nature of the story. reality the Niffenegger book would reference this one.

Kindred is a masterpiece. I do not say this lightly. Dana is 26 years old and living in Maryland in the 1970's when she feels dizzy and finds herself alongside a river where she pulls out a young white boy and saves him from drowning. Then she is flung back to her house with her husband. She doesn't know what happened except that Kevin tells her that she just disappeared for a couple of seconds...except that she was gone for longer than three seconds and there is no explanation for the mud on her clothing. She is flung back again and again for longer periods of time. It turns out that Dana, a black woman, keeps getting sent back to the early 1800's to a southern slaveholding plantation to save the white son of the plantation owner (and slavemaster). There are also ties to her family involved as well.

Octavia Butler's grim fantasy is exactly that: grim. This is an astonishing novel but it is a brutal one. I have read former slave narratives written in the 1800's by former slaves and I have read some on the time period in both English and History classes. I've seen movies. But Octavia Butler brings home the brutality of the era and makes it uncomfortably real. Dana has to find a way to survive in an era and a location where her very presence marks her as a slave even though she is from the 1970's, long after the abolishment of American Slavery. It is through her eyes that we see just how wrong it is and just how easy it can be, too. How unthinking and how dangerous. Kindred left me stunned but I could not put the book down. This is a novel which would hold up well on second and third read throughs. I do not recommend many novels to people unless I can tailor the recommendation to the personal taste of the person. I would recommend Kindred to anyone.

Titanic: Two the Surface

Brilliant! Jack's Back!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Book 33: No Country for Old Men

When you categorize a novel as genre fiction you minimize it. Whether it is a science fiction novel, a western, or a mystery, the book is diminished because you say the book is a good western and not just a good novel. This allows for the categorization of Literature with a capital L and then sub-genres. But the "finest" novels are alwas Literature. If the author is really good, then his or her work can defy a genre categorization. Toni Morrison, for example, does not write "African American" fiction, she just writes good books. Cormac McCarthy does not write "westerns", he writes good books and tells a good story. No Country for Old Men is no exception. McCarthy nails this one, a modern day "western".

Names are almost unimportant here. The basic story is that a man comes across the aftermath of a bloodbath. Something bad went down and there are multiple vehicles, multiple dead bodies, the disappearance of some drugs, and a suitcase filled with more than two million dollars. He takes the suitcase. He disappears. Searching for him is the town sheriff who only wants to make sure that this man is okay and nothing bad happens to him. Searching for him is a bounty hunter of sorts, a man who leaves a trail of death in his wake. Searching for him is a man trying to recover the money to the rightful (or wrongful) owner. This man knows that people will be after him. Two million dollars does not disappear without people taking notice.

Cormac McCarthy writes a minimalist novel. Descriptions are spare, dialogue terse. Words are not wasted here. One running technique in McCarthy's writing is that dialogue is not in quotation marks but just flows as part of the sentence. At first it is a little jarring but after a chapter or two it just blends right in and adds to the story rather than distracts. What is most effective with No Country for Old Men is that McCarthy builds tension as the danger to the protagonist grows but shocks the reader with explosive acts of violence which change the course of the novel at each instant. There is raw power in No Country for Old Men. By the end of the novel we see that everything is a shade of grey, there are no white hats and no black hats here. And in the end I wished that McCarthy had spent another fifty pages telling this story.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

of course they cancel the show

Commander in Chief is being cancelled.  Of course.  Why wouldn't ABC cancel the show?  Let's see, the show started out with excellent ratings so ABC did a mid-season 11 week hiatus and then switched what night the show would be on.  Geena Davis wins an Emmy.  The show loses viewers during the hiatus. have a formula that works in a timeslot that is working.  It's a new show and good new shows that hit are hard to come ABC pretty much sabotages the show, in my mind. 
Not saying it is the best show ever, but I watched it from the start and didn't wait for DVD.  And that, my friends, is why they cancelled it.  To spite me. 

Monday, May 15, 2006

Book 32: The Last Spymaster

Jay Tice is a spymaster.  To say that he was a perfect spy would be to overstate his skill, but he was one of the best.  He could run any operation and work with anyone and produce amazing results.  He was skilled at going undercover and off the grid and getting the job done.  He was one of America's best spies...until he betrayed his country, was arrested, and was placed in a prison that makes maximum security look weak.  Except for the massive amount of distrust in the intelligence community after the Deputy Director of Operations for the CIA (Tice) turned out to be a spy, things were as good as they could be.  The bad guy was behind bars.  Until he walked out of prison unseen. 
Elaine Cunningham is a hunter.  Her job for the CIA is to find people who don't want to be found.  She's good.  Not the best, but very good.  She is viewed as unreliable because a person tragedy years before had changed how she worked.  With the best hunters in the CIA already out on other jobs, Cunningham is assigned the case to find Tice.  She has 48 hours or the search will fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI and Tice's escape becomes public knowledge.  It would then be one more failure of the CIA and Intelligence in a post 9/11 world. 
What I expected from this novel and what I got are two different things.  I am familiar with the work of Gayle Lynds and have read all but one of her solo novels (she has written a couple with Robert Ludlum). I expected 300-400 pages of fast paced search with a cat and mouse game between Tice and Cunningham.  The Last Spymaster is quite a bit different, though there are hints of my expectation early on.   To say what this novel is truly about would more than ruin the surprise and would rob some of the pleasure of reading the novel.  Gayle Lynds writes fast paced espionage fiction.  I shudder to use cliches like "a roller coaster ride" or "break neck speed", but The Last Spymaster reads with a very fast pace.  Lynds gives the reader more than enough to get involved with the characters and be interested in figuring out where she is going with the novel, but she briskly moves the story and plot along.  It works.  I was more than impressed by The Coil and enjoyed The Last Spymaster just as much.  Lynds is not bogged down with the minutia of spy work as you get in the early LeCarre, but she gives a good modern day take on espionage and what it might look like and what the stakes are now.  The Cold War spy novel has been done to death and I think that the Post-Cold War spy novel is only just being explored in regards to what sort of story can and will be told.  Now adding a Post 9/11 reality, Lynds is able to give the reader a fun ride where the stakes are life and death and very high for the country.  The details given by Lynds feel just right and we are not weighted down with a LeCarre or Clancy level of detail. 
Bottom line: Good stuff.  I always enjoy reading Gayle Lynds. 

Saturday, May 13, 2006


A beautiful picture, but then you think about what it will actually do to the people who live nearby...

The Mount Merapi volcano's crater glows with molten lava as seen from Bebeng village early Thursday, May 11, 2006 in Central Java, Indonesia. Although the level of volcanic activity measured by scientists has remained at level 3, the second highest level, the volcano has been spewing huge clouds of gasses and ash, and a giant lava dome has formed on the southern side of the crater. (AP Photo/Purwowiyoto)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

why Spike?

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended Spike was good and dead.  Again.  See, Spike went and got himself a soul after being all bad before having a chip implanted in his head by the Initiative.  In the final episode of BtVS, Spike was Buffy's Champion and sacrificed himself using an amulet to help destroy the Hellmouth and save the world.  So, yay Spike.  And I was glad Spike was gone because I've hated the character ever since he and Drusilla were splitsville.  Just a real pain and an irritation.  Joss Whedon had some good storylines with Spike, but I've wished that someone would stake him by mistake. 
So, I knew Spike was coming to Angel.  I knew he did and I didn't know how.  First episode of Season 5 and James Marsters is all up in the opening credits.  We shouldn't even know Spike is coming and he is given an opening credit sequence.  So, poof he appears and he's ghostly and I hate it.  Joss is still doing something interesting with the character and something original, but I just wish he wasn't on screen.  The good thing that has come from this in 3 episodes is the bickering between Angel and Spike and Spike complaining that being a ghost isn't fair after saving the world and Angel replies with a mini-rant about how his situation is less fair about having a soul and dealing with a hundred years of guilt and Spike just sat in a basement for three weeks.  Good rant.  Well played.  Having Spike on screen lets Angel be snippy, and I like that, but maybe someone could stake Spike when he gets a body.  Maybe?
I'm just hoping.  After a disappointing storyline with Connor (surely something more will happen there?) and Jasmine (Gina Torres as a goddess) and losing Cordelia for part of the fourth season and early fifth, just...ugh.  It's still a decent show, but I'm frustrated and bringing Spike into the mix does not make me less frustrated.  Oh well, only 19 more episodes and it's all done with. 
Maybe Joss will come home to television...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

why Karen Traviss writes Star Wars

I just stumbled across an excellent article written by Karen Traviss on the differences between writing in a licensed universe like Star Wars and writing in her own like City of Pearl. I really have to read City of Pearl someday soon. Her Star Wars is a step above the rest and she is very accessible to her readers through blogs, her website, an amazon author blog, and various other things I have heard of. It makes good business sense, but I think she is also that decent kind of author. So far she is the only Star Wars author I've read that I actually want to go out and find her other work.

Book 31: Republic Commando: Triple Zero

Let me be frank. Even though I have read a fair number of Star Wars novels I am by no means steeped in the Star Wars geekery and minutia. I could not tell you the difference between the different classes of ships or most species that get mentioned or why some planet may be important if it did not make a major appearence in one of the films. Some things I can remember, but I will not be reading the Star Wars Encyclopedia. To be honest, I just don't care that much. I am entertained by the stories when they are well told and it is a real game of hit and miss. It is with this in mind that I can say that Republic Commando: Triple Zero is quite possibly the best Star Wars novel written. I only say "quite possibly" because there is still another 30 or so novels which I am working my way towards, but few of those stand up with general acclaim. But Triple Zero is not simply a standout among Star Wars novels, it would still stand out if it were not Star Wars. Yeah, it's that good. Karen Traviss's first entry into the Star Wars Universe was Republic Commando: Hard Contact and it was a very fine entry and even then, one of the best...but not necessarily head and shoulders above the entire series, just right up near the top. Triple Zero is good military science fiction, emphasis on the military. This is about the troops doing the dirty work and not getting the respect, not about the Jedi and not about the overview of the war.
Delta Squad and Omega Squad are brought back to Coruscant to try to stop the war being from being waged on the homefront. To say the mission is to go undercover would be inaccurate because they are clones and commandos, there is no mistaking what they are. But they are still to operate in a vasty different and unexpected capacity on Coruscant. Still with them is Etain, a young Jedi we first met in Hard Contact. Now she is somewhat older and disillusioned but she fights not for the Jedi Order or the Republic, but for the commandos, those she knows as men and not just clones.
What Karen Traviss does so well is get the reader into the head of the clone troopers and let us see them as men. They have distinct personalities and they know they will die young because the age at an accelerated rate and all they know is war. This is what they were bred for and trained for and the only thing they know how to do. What happens to the clones when the war ends? Is it fair that they have no future and are led out to fight and die with no one ever knowing or caring about them. We care for Darman and Fi and Ordo and Atin and all of the troopers we meet. We meet the man who trained the best of the best and learn why he cares for them and what he sacrificed taking the job. We see a different side of the Clone Wars and who the brutality truly affects and what the real sacrifice was. It isn't the Jedi who know what they are fighting, more or less. They can still choose the fight. It isn't the civilians who still get to live a normal life. It is the clones themselves who will never get a choice or a chance at any sort of a real life. It's sad, but Traviss doesn't linger on the unfairness, she acknowledges it and uses it but still tells a tightly wound story about counter-terrorism and a human story about the clones.
This would be a stellar novel no matter if it were Star Wars or just another novel set in a galaxy not so far far away.

islands and libraries

Sometimes I think I should read the Star Tribune more often.  Looking online right now I see an opinion article written by Louise Erdrich on keeping Nicollet Island preserved and not building a high school football stadium there.  Erdrich is still my favorite author, writer of Love Medicine, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, and Four Souls, among others.  I don't know much about the situation with the island, but I'm all about preserving whatever islands and natural areas we have left in urban areas.  Think of it as cost savings: Why spend money to build another park when you can just not touch another island?  Does the benefit outweigh what would be lost?  Anyway...
There is also an article on the opening of the new Minneapolis Public Library.  This is a nice big library and even though it isn't that close to home I really want to go and browse.  Ahh, the smell of stacks and stacks of books.  I know, the article is about how the library is more than books, but books will always be the heart of a library to me.  It's why I go.  I don't need protection, but it's a sanctuary.  The library is sort of near my work, so I may stop by one day and just wander.  My library system at home is actually the Hennepin County Libraries, and while Minneapolis is in Hennepin County the city has its own library system.  But I should still be able to borrow from there and I know I can always Inter Library Loan. 
Ahh, libraries. 

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

a video clip of sorts

Since I think I have updated this blog with Rocky VI news as often as as the actual Rocky Blog has, I should be paid by Sony Pictures.

Anyway, there is a kind of sort of video clip of Rocky VI. Apparently the movie is going to be called Rocky Balboa.

Right. Because that's a better title than Rocky VI.

Why do I care? I don't know. If I found the Police Academy 8 Blog, I'd probably post updates about that. Mindless interest. Which reminds me, I should check on how PA8 is coming along.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Childe Morgan - about time

I think I have been checking the website of Katherine Kurtz for a couple of years now in the hopes of seeing an update of some kind, any kind.  Right after I read In the King's Service I was checking every week or so for news of the next book and then it became every month and then every few months.  When I clicked into her website I see something different: the title page has a picture of Childe Morgan, the next Deryni novel.  Well, it's about time!  I mean that in the best possible way because the Deryni novels are some of my favorite fantasy novels with the mix of religion and magic and ritual and politics.  Good stuff.  Anyway, when you actually go into the site and take a look at current projects, there is a new progress report
Not a moment too soon!  So, Childe Morgan is looking to be published around Christmas.  This means the third volume in this trilogy will be out in another 2-3 years and then maybe, just maybe Kurtz will get around to writing that long rumored and suggested 948 novel (forgive me if the year is not exact).  In the back of her Deryni novels there is frequently a tree of a particular family.  Well, in 948 many of the major players from two trilogies die.  Some are young men and women, others older.  What happened in 948?  It is never touched upon because the last novel before that year is years before the event and the first novel after is centuries after.  What happened?  And if Kurtz writes 948 (which I would love to be the title but that would never happen), she has also suggested that she will write about the Airsid, Orin, and Jodotha.  Orin, Jodotha and the Airsid are discussed in the early chronological books as being nearly legend and legendary, so there is little known and revealed about them.  And, of course, I'm curious. 

Book 30: Angel Fire East

Terry Brooks wraps up his Word/Void Trilogy with Angel Fire East.  It is now some fifteen years after the events of Running With the Demon and ten since A Knight of the Word.  John Ross is still fighting the good fight, trying to stop the small events that he knows will tip the world closer to the power of the Void.  He dreams of the future, of a world in ruin and of the events that could hold off that future.  He learns that a Gyspy Morph will be born, a being born of wild and uncontrolled magic that could tip the balance in the favor of the Void if Ross fails in captured the Morph.  It is raw magical energy in a physical form.  Standing in Ross's path is Findo Gast.  Gast is a demon sent to stop John Ross and to claim the Morph for the Void.  He's a mean one, Mr. Grinch. 
Ross knows that one of his only options to keep the Morph safe is to go to Nest Freemark.  Nest is a woman who has magic of her own, one of the few alive who do.  She was also involved as a 14 year old in the events of RWtD.  Ross travels to Hopewell to meet up with Nest.  Findo Gast also travels to Hopewell hoping to find Ross and the Morph.  What follows is the best of the Word/Void novels.  Terry Brooks does a fantastic job in creating tension in this story.  We just know something big has to happen here and that Findo Gast is a very real threat (a threat I did knot feel as strongly in AKotW).  This is the most interesting of the Word/Void novels and is the most powerful in its ending and execution.  Everything feels dangerous.  Around any corner could be a nasty surprise and Brooks does not go easy on his characters here. 
In the pantheon of fantasy authors Terry Brooks is a name that carries some weight in helping fantasy become as popular as it is.  The Sword of Shannara was one of the first best selling fantasy novels that gained a widespread readership.  But as the years went by and he kept selling some readers viewed him as a lesser fantasy author in terms of quality.  His work is highly readable, but it doesn't have the depth that we later find in a George Martin or Steven Erikson.  That's just fine.  Brooks writes quality entertaining books that might not find the top tier of critical acclaim, but the bottom line is that his books are typically a good, entertaining read.  Angel Fire East is one of the best of Terry Brooks.  Superior to most of his Shannara work and easily better than his Landover novels, Angel Fire East stands up as a darn good story told by a competent storyteller. 

Friday, May 05, 2006

worth it

Jeffrey Well has an interesting Wired Article about Hollywood salaries and who he thinks is worth the money they are earning.

Can't say I've been reading Wells as often as I used to, but I do like him.

Except when he gets on a Red State/Blue State rant or goes anti-Christian. Then he just needs to be drop kicked.

a killer lost

Lost on wednesday night was a killer episode.  Literally.  But more than just the shocking last three minutes of the episode, I was getting sucked right back into the show.  Sandy doesn't like Michelle Rodriguez or her character, but I like Ana Lucia so I was happy to see her backstory.  She's just about due to have a redemption song of a storyline.  She plays really hard and her character is a hard, tough woman, but there are cracks around the edges that are showing.  I think I see more potential in Ana Lucia than many fans, but I've liked Michelle Rodriguez ever since Girlfight.  I'm not sure she's shown much range but most actors find what works for them and stay within that window.  M-Rod just seems to play within a narrow frame.  And that's fine. 
So...who was that woman that Jack's father went to see?  I thought at first it was Claire, but when she started yelling and we saw a better look at her face I don't think it is.  So Christian has a child with a woman in Australia?  I assume it is a younger child and not...Claire...but I don't know. 
I really dug Sawyer running into the car Ana Lucia and Christian were sitting and yelling out an "I'm walking here!".  Thank you, Midnight Cowboy
But that ending.  Oof!  Beware...I'm gonna spoil it in the next sentence, so avert thine eyes if you don't want to know.  Michael shooting Ana Lucia and Libby?  That's awesome!  What I like about this is that I don't actually want either character to truly die because I like them for different reasons, but damn if I don't love the idea of knocking off characters.  My preference: Both are dead.  More likely: Ana Lucia is dead, Libby will live.  Why?  Rodriguez only signed up for a season (I think) and her character arc was pretty well done.  Her back story was fully revealed (more or less) and there is less that needs to be told about her.  Except that I like the character and there is a good redemption story that could go on there.  Like, she could be a better version of Sawyer.  More honest than Sawyer, but also more conflicted and broken.  But, then...most of the characters are broken.  Libby, on the other hand, still has a whole backstory that has only been hinted at.  She was in the hospital as a patient.  Why?  Who is she?  She's not a doctor, we think.  But she says she is.  Libby has barely been touched as a character.  She'll probably live.  But that's why I want her to die.  Show us that you can't predict a death and who because Abrams will kill off characters who aren't done yet.  Not like Shannon and Boone.  And imagine how Hurley will crack if Libby dies.  His character will go in a completely different direction.  He'll be damaged by her being shot, but I see a death just tearing him apart. 
Like I said, I'd rather have both die.  But somehow Libby will probably live.  I'll be surprised if it is the other way around and Ana Lucia lives and Libby dies.  Although...Ana Lucia seemed to get shot on the side.  Libby got two stomach wounds on an island with limited medical supplies.  Libby's wound is more likely to be fatal than Ana Lucia.  But Libby was carrying something over her stomach, maybe that got in the way. 
Who else dug seeing Michael looking all villainous in the preview for the next ep.  Our good Mercutio just got a character to really do something with now. 

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Book 29: Railroaded!

Disclaimer: Author Whitfield Grant sent me an e-mail in early 2005 asking if I would accept a complimentary review copy if I would review his debut novel. I accepted as I am all about free books and I respect the effort involved in trying to market a novel by an author who is not yet established. Mr. Grant also seems like a very nice man.

After a little bit more than a year, when I finally read his novel I was disappointed. I wanted nothing more than to like it and be impressed. He is working the same market as a certain John Grisham: The Legal Thriller. Tough market.

Let me mention a little bit about the book first. Set in the late 1970's we are introduced to Tony Williams. He is a young black man with a history of distrust of whites. As a child he saw a cousin lynched. Now in high school it turns out that not only is he a swimming phenom, he is one of the fastest men on the planet setting a world record on the track and not even against competition. He becomes a Gold Medalist at the Olympics and ends up in the NFL because his college needed a defensive back and knew Tony was fast. Turns out that he is a football stud, too. Oh, and he is brutally intelligent and perfectly upright and moral. So are his two friends who are almost as talented and smart.

That's fine. I will accept the prodigal gift to mankind that is Anthony Williams and his friends. No problem. So, Tony is at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii and he turns down a sexual encounter with a white woman. That's when the troubles start. His wife starts getting letters saying how "good" Tony was, and the harassment begins. Then Tony is on trial for raping the daughter of the owner of his football team. Let me not spoil the story by saying he didn't do it.

The woman in question can't accept that she was turned down and will do anything to crush him. Throw in a rich and racist grandmother, and some sort of other conspiracy and you have the makings of a case of good vs corruption. Alright. Mr. Grant has done a good job in setting up an interesting opening storyline. It's all about execution.

But the novel feels cliche ridden and most of the times that Mr. Grant includes a corporate name he has to include the (tm) or the (r) after the name, and if a man in the novel is learning the ropes about his new job, he is actually "learning the ropes"...complete with quotation marks. It is something that set my teeth on edge early and I couldn't get over. It felt unnecessary and distracting.

The other issue I had was that while Anthony Williams and his friends were too perfect and too moral (not that there aren't or shouldn't be men like this out in the world), the actions of other characters felt over the top. Take the mysterious villain blowing perfect smoke rings or the actions of the was just too much.

That said, I admire what Whitfield Grant is trying to do (or what I think he is trying to do). He is writing a story where the protagonists are black men who can be looked up to. They are heroes. They are moral and they are intelligent and they are accomplished. This is admirable when the representations of black men in today's media is often less than moral.

Whitfield Grant comes across as a good man, and he has some very good ideas in Railroaded!, and he is giving a good perspective on the courtroom thriller...but I was disappointed that I felt the writing was lacking. I am not saying I can do better, because I'm convinced I can't. I'm just saying that as a reader I felt let down.

Mr. Grant will likely improve his craft with each subsequent novel, but this first one was less successful. I feel bad writing this because I wanted to be able to praise his book and I want to offer support to new authors trying to find an audience.

Book 28: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005

This was disappointing. Ever since the first Nonrequired collection I've been looking forward to the new publications. The first set had a journal of a Cobra recruit (think GI Joe) and just good and offbeat writing. This time around? Nothing struck me.

Next year, I guess.