Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - A Review

Another year has come and gone, so here's my Top 10 List for the books read this year along with a few other book-related bits of information.

  1. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  2. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  3. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  4. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
  5. The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
  6. I Don't Want to Kill You by Dan Wells
  7. The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
  8. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall
  9. The Five by Robert McCammon
  10. Exley by Brock Clarke

The worst book I read this year was Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk
Number of books read this year - 65
Booksignings attended this year - Sammy Hagar
Books I'm looking forward to that are coming in 2012:

  1. Lunatics by Dave Barry & Alan Zweibel (1/3)
  2. Raylan by Elmore Leonard (1/31)
  3. Wild Thing by Josh Bazell (2/12)
  4. The Technologist by Matthew Pearl (2/21)
  5. Nocturnal by Scott Sigler (4/3)
  6. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (4/3)
  7. Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs (4/10)
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (4/24)
  9. They Eat Puppies, Don't They? by Christopher Buckley (5/8)
  10. Railsea by China Mieville (5/15)
  11. The Map of Sky by Felix J. Palma (9/4)

What are the best books you read this year?

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Vault

The Vault by Boyd Morrison

If you enjoy books by James Rollins, Matthew Reilly, Steve Berry, or Lincoln Child, you'll enjoy Boyd Morrison's. The Vault is the second one of his I've read, and while they've both been extremely fun reads, they were the kind that requires a suspension of reality for maximum enjoyment. It also helps if you can tolerate some cheesy dialogue when things get hairy.

Tyler Locke, the Indiana Jones-type character that Boyd introduced us to in The Ark is back for another fast-paced action ride. This time the former Army Ranger, who now runs a cutting-edge technology company called Gordian, has been enlisted against his will to find the truth behind the legend of King Midas's touch.

Jordan Orr is a master thief who has personal knowledge that the legend is based on fact. As a boy, he had stumbled across a cavernous room deep below Naples Italy, with walls of gold and containing the source behind Midas's incredible curse - the ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Now, after decades of planning and preparing himself for the day when he could harness that power himself, he's ready to return. He needs the special skill set Locke possesses though in order to carry out his plan. So he kidnaps Locke's father in order to obtain his cooperation and away we go.

I mentioned that the book was a lot of fun, and it is. When his next book comes out, I'll be buying it and reading it quickly. But I'm hoping that as he continues to write, Boyd will spend a little less time devising outlandish plots and a little more time fine tuning the dialogue between his characters. It got a little distracting reading the glib comments his characters were making while they narrowly escaped various forms of certain death. I know Indiana Jones made a habit of doing it, but Jones was best when he didn't say a word, he simply dispatched the sword-wielding man with a pistol shot. Boyd would do well to take that lesson to heart.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Carte Blanche

Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

I’ve never read one of Ian Flemming’s James Bond books. So I can't speak to whether Deaver stayed true to the character as it was written by Flemming. I've seen almost all of the movies though. (Except for that one with the guy that no one can ever remember his name.) I was first introduced to Bond while on a family vacation when I was eleven or twelve years old. My dad rented Octopussy and let me watch it. I thought it was fantastic!. It had great stunts, fast-paced action, gadgets every boy would die for, and having just entered the stage of life where girls were of interest to me, it was perfect timing. With it being my first exposure to Bond, I had no idea that it was one of the worst Bond movies ever made, Nor was I aware that there had been a much better James Bond before Roger Moore. Nevertheless, I had discovered the character and 26 years later, I still look forward to every new Bond movie that comes out. 

When I learned that Jeffery Deaver, an author I've read quite devotedly, had been commissioned to write the next Bond story, I became anxious to read my first one. I was interested to see how an author, notorious for writing unexpected twists into his stories, was going to write a James Bond story - where there's usually a pretty set formula: An evil genius, set on world domination, is foiled because instead of killing James Bond quickly and cleanly when he had the chance, decides to reveal the details of his plan to Bond and then take off - sure in his mind that there's no way Bond will ever escape the shark tank/conveyor belt slowly delivering Bond to his death/pilotless airplane seconds away from crashing/etc. Deaver didn't disappoint.

I went to a book signing last year for Deaver's last book and he discussed the upcoming Bond book. He described how he wanted to take the character back to what Ian Flemming first created, and then place him in today's world. Which is exactly what he did. In Carte Blanche Bond has only been a 00 agent for three years when it's discovered that next Friday night, thousands of people are going to die in some sort of attack. It's up to Bond to discover who is behind the attack, where it's going to take place, how it's to be done, and then to prevent it, all in a very short period of time. Having listened to Deaver describe Bond as he was first written into existence, before anyone played him on film (even the good Bond actors) and now having read a book, I'm much more interested in going back to Flemming's books and giving them a try.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, December 16, 2011

Embassytown

Embassytown by China Miéville

Miéville has said that one of the things he likes about science fiction is the feeling of not knowing what's going on that you have a lot of times when you start reading a book in the genre. I agree. It's that feeling of disorientation that you have until you start to get your bearings and figure out who, what, when, and where you are. For me it's what gives the genre a lot of its appeal.

Well, with Embassytown, he gave me that feeling in spades, and he stretched it out for the book's entirety. It's wonderfully written, it's a fantastic showcase for Miéville's creativity, but that feeling never left me. And I think that's exactly what Miéville intended. His descriptions of the characters, the setting, and the technology are very nebulous. He gives you little insights here and there, but never a complete picture. So it's not an easy book to describe.

If you've ever read one of Miéville's books, you know that he loves language. In his books he heavily uses words whose meanings can only be unlocked contextually. With Embassytown, he makes language itself the core of the story. The Ariekei are a peaceful alien species whose language is so closely tied to reality that it does not allow for lies. The restrictive nature of their language has given the Ariekei almost a lustful desire for the contrary nature of lies.

The Terre are human colonists who live on Ariekei in Embassytown. The Terre and their Hosts have long enjoyed a peaceful coexistence. The Terre have created Ambassadors, sets of cloned "dopels" bred and genetically linked together who can both understand and speak the Ariekei language. Through the Ambassadors, some of the Ariekei have slowly learned how to manipulate their language enough to resemble lying. But by doing so, they've opened Pandora's Box. Soon the first Ariekei murder takes place and chaos quickly follows.

Embassytown is not light reading. If you're looking for a book that you can pick up and read without using your brain, this is not it. But as is usually the case, things that require effort usually provide the greatest reward.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, December 9, 2011

Minority Report (& Other Stories)

Minority Report (& Other Stories) by Philip K. Dick

During his life, Philip K. Dick didn't have the tremendous following or financial success that some of his contemporary science fiction authors enjoyed (Herbert, Asimov, Heinlein). But he was far more prolific than any of them and has probably seen more posthumous success. His name still doesn't have the same widespread recognition that those others do, but I bet far more people have enjoyed his stories, albeit unknowingly, than all those others combined.

Hollywood finally gave him the recognition that his stories deserved. Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, Imposter, Paycheck, Next, A Scanner Darkly, The Adjustment Bureau, and Minority Report are all adaptations of stories that he wrote, and I'm sure they won't be the last.

This book contained nine of his stories, and they were all great. Minority Report was the first, and while Spielberg took a lot of liberties with his adaptation, it's clear who the best parts of the story came from. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but the 45 page story was better.

Next was Imposter. It's about a man named Spence Olham who is accused of being an alien robot, sent to earth with the mission of taking over the identity of the true Spence Olham in order to detonate a bomb which would destroy the entire planet. A great story that leaves you guessing "is he, or isn't he" until the very end.

Second Variety takes place in the distant future during a war between Russia and North America. The Russian's first strike was an unexpected nuclear attack which left the whole North American continent desolate and forced its survivors to colonize the moon in an effort to retreat and regroup. The Americans retaliated by creating small crab-like robots that were exceptionally intelligent and capable of killing the Russians. But just when the Russians were nearly wiped out, a new variety of robots have begun to appear. Only these ones are indistinguishable from human beings and they don't have an allegiance to either side. They were created by the initial robots unleashed by the Americans and now the hole human race is their target.

War Game is about Wiseman, a man who works as a toy inspector for a company responsible for testing and monitoring toys imported to Terra. Terra is on the brink of war with Ganymeda and is therefore worried about possible threats that might slip through its defenses disguised as harmless imports. Three toys have come in for consideration, a toy soldier game where the soldiers attempt to attack and take control of a citadel, a virtual reality suit that causes its wearer to see and feel places from their past, and a Monopoly-like board game called Syndrome. It’s a red herring story that illustrates the best way to take down an enemy.

In What the Dead Men Say, after a person dies, there is a period of time called half-life in which they can be resurrected. Half-life is finite, so the longer they stay resurrected, the sooner their half-life is used up. A person who is resurrected for only brief periods at a time, can stretch their half-life to span centuries. This was both the longest and weakest of the nine stories in the book. But it still offered an interesting premise.

Oh, to Be a Blobel! takes place after the inter-species war between humans and blobels. Blobels are an interstellar species of very large, single-celled amoeba-type beings. During the war, soldiers from both species underwent physiological changes that allowed them to become a member of the enemy species in order to conduct acts of espionage. Now that the war is over, some of those soldiers are unable to revert permanently to their original species and are left living lives split between the two - a part of each day they're human, the rest blobel. (Dick wrote during the '60s and took advantage of the drug induced lifestyle that existed then, so that might explain some things.)

The Electric Ant is about a highly advanced robot named Poole. Poole has biological skin, flesh, and blood, so he's totally indistinguishable from a human being by all outward appearances. He communicates just like a human being and feels and shows emotions just like one as well. He also thinks like one too. In fact, Poole has no idea that he's not human. It's not till he's in an accident and looses his hand that the truth is revealed. When he realizes that, he also realizes that every aspect of his life has been a direct result of his programming. "Programmed. In me somewhere, he thought, there is a matrix fitted in place, a grid screen that cuts me off from certain thoughts, certain actions. And forces me into others. I am not free. I never was, but now I know it; that makes it different." So Poole becomes determined to locate his internal programming to see if he can disconnect it and finally begin to experience the real world.

Faith of Our Fathers is about Tung Chien, a Vietnamese man living in a time when communist China has control of the whole world. What no one realizes is that they're maintaining their control over the world's population by contaminating the water and food supplies with hallucinogenic drugs. These drugs prohibit people from seeing the leader of the ruling party for what he truly is - a being from another planet that is feeding on every living thing.

We Can Remember it for you Wholesale was probably my favorite story in the book. It's one of the shortest ones and instead of summarizing it I think it's enough to say it's what the movie Total Recall is based on.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

It was Brady Udall's second book The Lonely Polygamist that I enjoyed reading so much that it made me decide to start this book blog. So needless to say, I had pretty high expectations for The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, his first book, when I found a second-hand copy and bought it a few months ago. This book proved to me that TLP wasn't a fluke, Udall is a great writer. His characters are extremely well developed. They're not your conventional hero-type characters - in fact, with this one, he gives us Edgar Mint, probably the anti-hero by most definitions today, but they're the type of characters that you can't help but pull for.

Edgar's life has been a series of tragedies. Edgar's mother Gloria was an Apache who lived on a reservation in Arizona. His father Arnold was a city slicker from Connecticut who who wanted to be a cowboy and came out West, became infatuated with Edgar's mother, and then was driven away by her mother when Gloria became pregnant with Edgar. Gloria, who had never touched a drop of alcohol before in her life, found that beer offered the only respite from the nauseousness that accompanied her pregnancy, and began drinking it on the first day Edgar started to develop inside her and didn't stop until she died a few years later.

When Edgar was seven, the mailman ran over him, crushing his skull and sending him into a coma for three months. When he woke up, his mother had abandoned him and his recovery, while miraculous, was not a complete one. It's not made clear in the book whether the things that make him socially inept and that make his story so compelling are direct results from his accident, or whether he would have grown up the same way even without it, but he's a different kind of kid.

The story Udall tells is a great one. It's funny at times, heartbreaking at others. It shines a light on the things that make us humans, both the good and the bad. And it shows how the life of one inconsequential person can have such a profound impact on the lives of those around him.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆