Monday, April 30, 2012


Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

I would imagine that some people will read Angelmaker and won't enjoy it. If they don't, it won't be the fault of Nick Harkaway though. It'll be due to some mental shortcoming on their end. I, having no such mental shortcomings, enjoyed it immensely.

This was the first book written by Harkaway that I've read. I remember seeing his other book, The Gone-Away World at a bookstore when it came out a couple of years ago--it was hard to miss with its neon pink cover, but I didn't bother buying it at the time. I'm sure I'll be reading it sooner rather than later now that I've had a taste of Harkaway's writing style and story creation.

Joe Spork is an unassuming fixer of antique clocks who may have just inadvertently doomed the entire planet. While repairing an unusual clockwork device, Joe turns it on and unknowingly releases a swarm of mechanical bees. These bees, and the device they had been stored in, had been created by a French genius during WWII with the express intention of increasing the overall level of honesty in the world by nine percent.

The story was interesting, but I think the story was just a vehicle Harkaway used to release an overload of barely-contained absurdism and a biting sense of humor. Harkaway doesn't use that sense of humor in a subtle fashion either. He repeatedly blindsides you with it and keeps you on your toes wondering what he's going to say next. The dialogue between his characters was fantastic. I repeatedly went back a page or two while reading it just because I enjoyed it so much.

Reading Angelmaker takes focus and attention. He skips back and forth in time and the subplots are a stark contrast with each other in both style and tone. So I think some people reading it will either get lost and mentally check out, or simply quit. But again, that would be due to their own shortcomings and not the book's.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Behemoth: Seppuku

Behemoth: Seppuku by Peter Watts

When I was sixteen I worked at a grocery store with a girl named Marianne whom I thought was pretty attractive. I wanted to ask her out for months but could never build up enough courage. After all, I didn't want to have to work with her if things went terribly wrong on the date. Eventually she quit and on her last day working, I asked her out. She said yes and we made plans for that weekend.

A short time into the date I realized that her breath was horrible. I don't know if it was an anomaly or if I had just never been that close to her before. Either way, the date couldn't end fast enough for me. When I took her home I stopped walking halfway to her front door and let her walk the rest of the way alone--where I told her goodbye from a safe distance of about 20 yards.

What does that have to do with Behemoth: Seppuku? Very little actually. But it does have something to do with the Rifters series, of which this book is the the fourth and final volume. Several years ago when I came across the first book in the series; Starfish, I was attracted to its eye-catching cover and intriguing description on the inside flap. I read it and enjoyed it. When the next book Maelstrom came out, I started to notice the bad breath. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned before, I have a mental disorder that does not allow me to quit reading a book I'm not enjoying, and apparently the condition makes it hard for me to stop reading a series of books once started.

The series takes place in the not-too-distant future. In need of a new source of energy, mankind begins to tap into geothermal vents in the deepest parts of the ocean. It's discovered that hardened criminals possess the type of temperament best conducive to surviving under the extreme conditions at the bottom of the ocean and given the choice between imprisonment and a relatively free lifestyle segregated from the rest of humanity, many choose the latter. These workers are then surgically altered into amphibian-like creatures (rifters) in order to allow them to survive at such depths. Unfortunately, for the rest of mankind, there are bacteria that thrive at the bottom of the ocean. Bacteria that the human race is not prepared to defend itself against. Using the rifters as vehicles to the surface, the bacteria quickly spread with apocalyptic results.

As the series progresses, halitosis sets in. There's not a likeable character anywhere in the series and the great idea behind the story gets overshadowed by the author's overwhelming angst and pessimism. Even in the acknowledgement section at the back of the book--yeah, my condition made me read that too, Watts writes that even if the book and the series "sucks" it would "suck even worse" if it wasn't for the help of the acknowledged individuals. If you're interested in owning the complete series, there's going to be a very cheap set on eBay in a few minutes.

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Portrait of a Spy

by Daniel Silva
(Gabriel Allon series #11)

The problem I have with authors who write a series of books featuring a recurring character, is oftentimes the books get repetitive, the characters get stale, and I lose interest in the author altogether. I used to read the Alex Cross books by Patterson and the Alex Delaware books by Kellerman. But it's been several years now since I read a book by either writer and frankly, I have no plans to read one again.

The Gabriel Allon books however, by Daniel Silva have been the exception to the rule for me. The Portrait of a Spy is the 11th installment in Silva's series featuring the Israeli art restorer/former intelligence operative and it was as enjoyable, if not more so, than all of its predecessors.

In this one, Gabriel is brought back into action after a day consisting of multiple terrorist attacks across Europe takes place. One attack occurs in Paris, one in Copenhagen, and a third one, right in front of Gabriel in a crowded marketplace in London. The attacks were planned and directed by the new leader of Muslim extremists and the timing of the attacks coincides with the exact times the three planes hit their targets on 9/11.

Silva doesn't simply tell stories using the conflict in the Middle East as their backdrop. He clearly has a deep and an extensive understanding of what's going on in that region of the world and he uses that knowledge and his storytelling abilities to write books that are more than just entertaining, they're insightful. Each time I read one of his books, I feel like I come away with both a greater awareness of the volativity in that part of the world and an appreciation for the importance of finding a solution to the conflict.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Boy's Life

Boy's Life by Robert McCammon

If there's only one book by Robert McCammon that people have read, it's more than likely Boy's Life. It won the Bram Stoker Award in 1991 and in 1992 it won the World Fantasy Award for best novel. I've decided to label it as a fantasy book because of that distinction, but the fantasy aspects in the book are very subtle and secondary to the story.

I'll admit that I'm a late-comer to the McCammon party - the Matthew Corbett series being the books that introduced me to him, so I haven't read much of his early stuff. More often than not though, when I'd mention him to people, they'd bring up how much they enjoyed Boy's Life. So I had high expectations when I started this one. It didn't disappoint.

I decided to finally get around to reading it when I learned that he would be visiting Salt Lake for this year's Bram Stoker Awards ceremony. I attended an author panel/signing that he participated in one of the nights he was here and he mentioned the fact that Ray Bradbury was a big inspiration to him as a writer. His inspiration is very evident in Boy's Life. It reminded me a lot of two of my favorite Bradbury books: Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes. All three books resonated deeply with me. They each captured the essence of what it's like to be a young boy - the anguish of sitting through the final minutes of the last day of the school year, the camaraderie that exists with the other boys you hang out with, and the joys that come from that relatively carefree time.

Boy's Life takes place in rural Alabama in 1964, and begins with the witnessing of a murder. While riding along on his father's milk delivery route early one morning, Cory Mackenson and his dad are nearly run off the road when a car crosses in front of them and proceeds into Saxon's Lake. As the car begins to sink, Cory's father dives in to see if he can rescue the driver. When he gets to the car, his father discovers the corpse of a man - severely beaten, strangled with a piano wire, and handcuffed to the steering wheel. His father has time to recognize that the man isn't a resident of their small town and notices a distinctive tattoo on the man's arm before the car sinks in the rumored bottomless lake. While watching all this, Cory sees the outline of someone else at the scene and when he goes to investigate who it was, he discovers a bright green feather at the spot the person had been standing. That feather and tattoo are the first clues in a mystery that consumes both Cory and his father.

I really can't recommend this book enough. It's fantastically written. The story is excellent and should be enjoyed by anyone who reads it. Although the mystery behind the identities of the victim and his killer carries throughout the book's entirety, it's really secondary to the true appeal of the story - the experiences of a twelve-year-old boy that shape the man he will eventually become.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, April 6, 2012

An Interview with Author Boyd Morrison

Boyd Morrison is the author of two action-packed thrillers: The Ark and The Vault. He also has a pretty impressive resume outside of writing. His jobs have included working on the Space Station Freedom project at the Johnson Space Center, working for Microsoft on Xbox games, and in 2003 he was a Jeopardy! champion. He also enjoys acting and has appeared in commercials, films, and various stage plays.

Me - I've read several Artifact Thrillers starting with The Da Vinci Code of course and am always surprised when I do my own research to find out how much of the story is based on facts that seem to have been forgotten for so long. What's involved in the research you undertake in order to find an idea that you can base a book on?

BM - So far I've taken on very well-known mysteries or legends: Noah's Ark in The Ark, the Midas touch in The Vault, and the Roswell incident in The Roswell Conspiracy. When I start thinking about the plot, I do a lot of Googling to find out what books and sites can give me information about the subject, and that usually leads to some interesting serendipity that I can then use in the books. For instance, when researching The Vault I found fascinating information about ancient engineer Archimedes and the puzzling Antikythera Mechanism, both real subjects that I was able to tie to Midas. My research also led me to incredible real-life locations like the British Museum, the Parthenon, and the extensive tunnel system under Naples, Italy.

Me- You were able to land a publishing deal through a pretty non-traditional route. You posted The Ark on Amazon's Kindle Store and it really took off, becoming more popular than the books of some well-established authors. Do you think your success is indicative of where the publishing industry is headed?

BM - I think many careers will take off from the self-publishing and e-publishing world like mine did. In fact many authors have already done so. Look at Amanda Hocking and Bella Andre, both incredibly successful self-published authors. Amanda Hocking started off by self-pubbing and then inked a two-million-dollar deal with St. Martin's Press, while Bella Andre went the other direction, from a traditional publishing gig with Bantam to now enjoying tremendous sales as a self-published author. It's an exciting world, where authors have more options and negotiating leverage than they used to, and I think that will only grow.

Me - Your books are the type that I have a tough time putting down because they're moving so fast and the action is intense. Do you experience the same thing when you're writing them? Or are you pretty regimented in your writing schedule?

BM - I don't have a strict writing schedule. I tend to be more goal-oriented than time-oriented. I spend a lot of pre-writing time on the research so that when I get down to the novel, I have a good idea where it's headed. Then when I'm actually writing that novel, I try to finish a chapter a day (5-6 pages), and I put a cliffhanger at the end of the chapter, which makes it exciting for me to get started the next day. However, even though I do much of my research ahead of time, there's always room for those story epiphanies during the writing process that are like jolts of adrenaline. Sometimes those require rewriting earlier chapters, but they're definitely worth it.

Me - What do you consider your greatest strength as a writer and conversely, your biggest weakness?

BM - I think I'm best at the action, pacing, and cliffhangers that keep you wanting to stay up reading just one more chapter. As a tradeoff to keep the story moving, I don't spend a lot of time on scene description, just enough to give the reader a sense of place. I want readers to bring their own imaginations into the equation, which means I won't win any awards for a lavish chronicle of the unique settings in my books.

Me - What can you tell me about your upcoming book The Roswell Conspiracy? Any other books in the works?

BM - The Roswell Conspiracy is the third book in the Tyler Locke series after The Ark and The Vault. In this latest adventure, coming out this summer, Tyler must prevent a world-changing catastrophe by deciphering the link between the Roswell incident, the 1908 Tunguska blast in Siberia, and the mysterious Nazca lines of Peru.

Now that The Roswell Conspiracy is off to the printer, I'm hard at work on Tyler Locke 4. And you will definitely know the legend he's investigating in the next book.

Thanks so much for your time. I’m looking forward to The Roswell Conspiracy.