Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quick Takes: Nevada Barr, Aaron Allston, Stephen King

Blind Descent, by Nevada Barr: The first third of Barr’s sixth Anna Pigeon mystery is creepy and confining as Anna travels into the world of caving to help rescue her friend Frieda, the dispatcher at the Mesa Verde Ranger station. Blind Descent is set in Carlsbad Caverns, in the mostly unexplored Lechuguilla caverns. Anna in the caverns where she thinks Frieda’s accident was no accident and Barr does a great job making the reader feel the tight spaces of the caverns and the crawling and climbing and the absence of light. When Anna is back out of the cave for the second half of the book (yes, a third and a half), Blind Descent becomes fairly standard storytelling and investigating until that last little bit back in the cave. Mostly well done, and I didn’t want to look away when the caving was on the page, but half the book outside the caves was bland. Wonder what Nevada Barr has for me in Liberty Falling.

Enemy Lines II: Rebel Stand
, by Aaron Allston: While Allston’s X-Wing series was top notch, his two entries in the New Jedi Order have felt somewhat off, especially compared to Michael Stackpole’s earlier offerings in the NJO (comparing the two is fitting because Allston and Stackpole also wrote the X-Wing series, each with 4 or 5 novels there). What Allston does especially while in Enemy Lines is give well known characters personality and humor, as well as write some exciting space battles. But, overall the Enemy Lines novels have felt lacking. It is not that EL has been too light in tone compared to the other NJO novels, it is just that in whatever nebulous description of “good” or “exciting” or “fun” or “interesting” the two Allston entries didn’t have “it”. Still, they are better than a good half of the previous 11 NJO books...which overall speaks to the individual book quality of the NJO. I do enjoy the series arc and the character arcs going on and the next book, Stover’s Traitor...excellent.

Blaze, by Stephen King: Blaze is the final Bachman book, the last one of the novels King wrote back in the 70’s under the pen name Richard Bachman. It was only published in 2007, though, because years ago it was not good enough (this is from King’s introduction) and then it was lost, and now when King found it he was able to revise it and whip it into passable shape to be published under Richard Bachman’s name. So, basically, it was a trunk novel that got one more round of revisions and published because the writer’s name was “Stephen King”. Fair enough. I might do the same thing if I were King. The trouble is that Blaze reads like what it is, a novel that was not quite good enough to see the light during the 1970’s and early 80’s. Granted, better than Roadwork, but that doesn’t say too much. Blaze begins with what could have been an Of Mice and Men styled crime novel but the guy with a working brain got killed off and Blaze, the mentally handicapped one, is attempting to pull off one last big crime – kidnapping of a child for ransom...but all Blaze has is the echoes of his dead friend’s voice in his head and not much else. Despite flashes of interest and flashbacks to give us a better idea of who Blaze is, Blaze is a partial disappointment. The reason Blaze is not a complete disappointment is that Stephen King is completely up front with where Blaze came from, why he is publishing it, and the fact that it is a trunk novel. The partial disappointment is that some of the other Bachman books were quite good. The Long Walk: Excellent. The Running Man: Decent. (Rage and Roadwork – not so good). I’d skip this one, except to read all of Stephen King’s work.

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