Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Quick Takes: Resnick, Cooper, DeLillo

Starship: Pirate, by Mike Resnick: After being imprisoned by his own galactic government for embarrassing the military by being too competent (and unorthodox), Wilson Cole is back. At the end of Starship: Mutiny Cole was broken out of jail by his crew of the Theodore Roosevelt, a decrepit old ship which should not still be in service. At the end of Mutiny, Cole has turned his back on the government which turned its back on him. He, and his crew, would become pirates.

This brings us up to speed. Easy reading and highly entertaining science fiction by Mike Resnick, that's what Starship: Pirate is. Cole attempts to find his way as a humane pirate who does not attack innocent vessels or kill the innocent and yet still make a living and continue to upgrade his ship. It's quite an adventure and Mike Resnick is one heck of a story teller. He keeps things simple, but still well thought out. The Starship novels are both reasonably light hearted (though with a heart and some seriousness), and are well told tales. Science Fiction can get a bit weighty with heavy science explanations and an over abundance of detail. While that weighty SF can be quite good, it can be tough to introduce a reader to. And for that I introduce you to Mike Resnick. Resnick gives just enough detail to get by and spends the rest of the time moving the story along at a brisk clip. Resnick doesn't waste time and his novels are all the better for it. If I called the Starship novels as introductory sci-fi, please do not take that as a knock. It isn't. It is just a statement that a reader who knows nothing about science fiction can pick up one of these books and be equally as entertained as one who has been reading the genre for years. It's a good introduction to what sci-fi can be. It isn't just about the Big Idea. It’s also about the fun story.

Dispatches from the Edge
, by Anderson Cooper: In high school I watched Anderson Cooper as the foreign correspondent on Channel One. He was the one always going out to Rwanda, Kosovo, and other war torn places where I could not believe little Channel One could afford to send someone. There was Anderson with his helmet on amongst the rebels with their big guns. I heard he was hired on at ABC as a reporter after he left Channel One. Years later I turn on CNN and there, with his own show, is Anderson Cooper. Cooper was always a solid reporter and a young one despite his silver streaked hair. During Hurricane Katrina he really made his name when he was openly critical about the "relief effort" of the government. Suffice it to say that I've had a soft spot in my heart for Anderson Cooper as a reporter / anchor since his Channel One days. Not that I could ever truly relate to Cooper, but he came across as far more earnest and caring and real than your average reporter. Cooper got down into the action.

The book. Right. Dispatches from the Edge takes two paths: One, a younger Cooper starting his journalistic career and going out to Rwanda and Kosovo trying to sell Channel One his footage. Two, the more mature Cooper working CNN through Iraq, the 2004 Tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina. Mixed in with the two is Cooper talking about his younger years, family history, and his brother's suicide. The first two thirds of the book felt very choppy and uneven. Cooper's story is an interesting one and he gives good glimpses into some of the work he has done and some of the things that he has seen. But, it isn't until Cooper arrives on scene after Hurricane Katrina and sees the devastation and the government is very slow to respond that Dispatches from the Edge truly finds its stride. The first two thirds isn't fluff, but it felt very scattered. Cooper focuses when it comes to Katrina and this is the most compelling part of the book. At only 200 pages it is a quick and interesting read, but disappointing, too. Seems like Dispatches from the Edge could have been so much more. Perhaps that is why the title is "Dispatches", that Cooper is only giving us these glimpses and that’s the point.

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo: After two highly disappointing novels (The Body Artist, Cosmopolis), Don DeLillo makes something of a comeback with Falling Man. Falling Man has been heaped with praise, but while it is a step in the right direction it is not at all comparable to DeLillo's best work (White Noise, The Names, and perhaps Libra). This is DeLillo's Post 9/11 Novel. It was bound to happen. Our narrator is a man who walked out of the ashes of the falling towers and in a daze went to his ex-wife's house rather than his own. This begins something of a relationship again and we see how 9/11 affects the narrator, his wife, and his son and how their lives are changed. I could say more, but it wouldn't make much sense. Without a doubt this is a DeLillo novel, we can tell by the style of the writing. The repetition, the paragraphs which don't really make sense, the tangents, the conversations which also don't make sense. When DeLillo is on his game, it is a beautiful game of language. When he is off his game it is drudge work to read. Falling Man is on the closer to DeLillo being on his game side than not, but during the last third to a quarter of the novel the wheels fall off a bit. I cannot really recommend Falling Man. I would suggest giving White Noise a shot, maybe The Names, and a few others of DeLillo's work and THEN if the novels still please, give Falling Man a go. This isn't the place to begin Don DeLillo.

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