Back to Infinity and Beyond

Having finished Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I decided to switch genres again and go back to science fiction for a time.  Larsson’s book was pretty good; the story was engrossing after it took of but you did have to be patient for that.  I felt like some of the writing was very pedestrian, but I can’t help but imagine that a part of that was due to the fact that it was a work in translation.  So, I’m going to blame the translator a little here.  All too often I felt like someone was relaying the narrative to me as if it was a newscast.  I didn’t feel like I was in the story as much as I might have wanted.  Was it good enough to make me want to read the two other books in the “Lisbeth Salander” trilogy?  Sure, but not right away.

Instead, I decided to head back to space.  A while back, before I started this blog, I read Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space and Chasm City.  I enjoyed them, the second more than the first, but when I finished Chasm City I didn’t want to read any more.  It’s what they call “hard” science fiction, which means its heavy on the science and technology aspects.  But it is also classified as space opera – large, sweeping narratives encompassing enormous amounts of physical space and civilizations.  That part is what I can really get behind.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy the hard science parts, just not as much.

So, this morning before work, I read the prologue and I’m hooked.  It picks up several decades after Revelation Space left off, but in space opera time, that’s not a whole heck of a lot.  His idea of the “melding plague” (a virus that infects nano-machines and biological matter the same, merging them together in a horrific juxtaposition) is back and I have to say, that’s one of the coolest sci-fi ideas I’ve read.  Probably why I enjoyed Chasm City so much; it was all about that.

So, this book picks up with the idea that humanity has gotten the attention of the Inhibitors, a mysterious race of heretofore unseen aliens who have set up, for lack of a better word, space stations throughout the universe to alert them to the presence of other star-faring cultures.  Alert them to their presence so they can destroy them before they become a threat.  Destroy them with super weapons that rival what the Death Star could do.  Now if that doesn’t set up a good conflict for space opera, I don’t know what does.  We’ll see where it takes me…

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Women

A connecting point between In the Woods and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that they both feature strong female supporting characters who go on, in the books’ sequels, to become the main protagonists.

I’ve Always Been Interested in Tattoos

After blazing through In the Woods and really enjoying it, particularly in sharing the main character’s sense of frustration and lack of resolution in his own mystery at the end, I picked up another mystery that’s been staring at me from the bookstore shelves:

I mean, how could a book with that color cover not stare at you?  It’s an excellent study in marketing; at the same time it also benefits from being a promising story.  Right from the start, it is not as fast nor as interesting as In the Woods, but it does pick up around page 90 or so.  The characters are intriguing in their shrouded-ness, but I’m hoping they get fleshed out more as the story goes on.  It’s a hugely popular book, which isn’t always the best indicator that I’ll at least be entertained, but it is an indicator.

So far the writing is not an inspired as In the Woods, but that might be because it’s a novel in translation.

Two Requests

1.  Please don’t put my ribcage on my ankles.

2.  Please don’t peel my face off.

These are the two requests I would like to have honored by whoever does my autopsy (should I ever have one) that I came up with after witnessing an autopsy. Some things…just ain’t natural.

Then, this, from In the Woods, in an autopsy scene:

“I don’t think anyone ever quite gets over that first time, really, the mind’s violent revolt when the pathologist slices the scalp and the victim’s face folds away from the skull, malleable and meaningless as a Halloween mask.”

Yep, Tana French is right, you never quite get over your first time seeing an autopsy.  Luckily for me, I’ve only ever watched one.  Once they got past the initial incision, I was fine.  That initial incision made me squirm though.  Then, well, French put it better than I could, “the mind’s violent revolt” upon seeing them peel a person’s face down.  It didn’t make me queasy per se, it was just a certain, unusual kind of wrong, like seeing water drip up.

Moving On

Well, I finished R. Scott Bakker’s The Warrior Prophet, but I had to force myself to do it.  I just could not get into that book, I found I didn’t have a care one way or another about the characters or what happened to them, and I was overly enthusiastic with his philosophical style of writing.  A comment on sffworld.com that made a lot of sense to me was that the characters were “sterile.”  That I definitely agree with.  They were.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like them or their motives, I just didn’t care.  Like a tv rerun you watch for five minutes and then change the channel.

So, I am moving on.  That’s right, I’m not finishing the trilogy.  Hard for me to do, but I’m doing it.  I’m going to take a break from fantasy for the time being, mostly to clear my head of Bakker’s works and discover again that there is lots of new, good fantasy out there.  I’m diving into a genre I don’t read very often: mystery.  I don’t read it very often because there is so rarely a mystery story out there that interests me, but when I find a good, man do I devour them.  And the one I found, one that’s been staring at me from bookstore shelves for a while now, is definitely fantastic so far. I haven’t wanted to put it down; I’ve wanted to go deeper into the woods…

Tana French’s In the Woods, is a murder mystery set outside of Dublin, Ireland.  So far, 55 pages in, I feel more connected to these characters than I did to any of Bakker’s characters after two whole novels.  The story is engrossing and disturbing so far.  Just what the doctor ordered to reinvigorate my reading.  I’m loving it.  If you are looking for a good read, check this one out.  I hope it keeps getting better!

The Prefects Steal the Show

I eschewed walking the dog this morning, much to his chagrin, so I could finish The Somnambulist.  Some reviews I’d skimmed over griped about the ending, particularly the last fifty pages.  Just goes to show you not to trust the reviews.  I loved this book!  Sure there were a few slow parts in the middle, but man, that ending just had me turning page after page.  I loved the fact that the narrator turned out to be the chief bad guy.  I was disappointed by the fact that Mrs. Grossmith’s fiance turned out to be a spy, loosing one of the book’s tenuous holds on reality.  But still, she was a great character.  I would really like to see this book made into a big budget screenplay, but I know that will never happen.  (Frank Miller, want a new project?)

Ok, on to some specifics.  The Prefects were awesome.  These brothers were dressed as and looked like English schoolboys but were fully grown adults.  Hawker and Boon.  They spoke in tandem, playing off each other which just made them all the creepier.  Oh yeah, and they’re gruesomely effective assassins who set up their contracts by meeting with their prospective employer in abandoned school playgrounds in the dead of night.

“Please,” he said.  “I’m deadly earnest.  I need you to kill two men.”

“Wrong ‘uns, are they sir?

“Ne’er-do-wells?”

“Bounders?”

“Rotters?”

“Cads?”

“Give us their names, sir. Do.”

These guys are gonna have me looking over my shoulder for a while.  The efficiency with which they killed, but at the same time, with such flair, was fun to read, scary to think about, and those feelings combined ended up making me feel slightly slimy for liking them so much, but, wow.  Their denoumont in the book’s final scenes needs to be set to a symphony and shown in agonizingly slow motion.

The narration style was great; I was not annoyed at all by having the narrator interrupt the flow of the story from time to time to apologize for some unbelievable aspect of the story but go on to beg my indulgence a bit longer, or to warn me that the next thing that happened will stretch my willing suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point.  Rather, I found that it heightened the excitement.  The diction and syntax were particularly enjoyable as well, making it fun to read not only for story but for how things sounded.

I was annoyed by one line (though again, the construction of it was wonderful): “Feeling much as Jesus must have felt once Thomas had finished rummaging about in His ghostly wounds, I tried hard not to seem smug.”

Perhaps it is because we just read that pericope in church, but, Thomas never actually felt the wounds.  Once he saw them he confessed, “My Lord and my God,” falling to his knees.  Little things like that, which are so easily researched, that go unnoticed by either author or editor bug me.  Like the book of Revelations from the previous book I read.  It’s not Revelations.  It’s Revelation.  Do me a favor.  Look it up.  It’ll make you look less dumb.

Ok, rant over on that issue.  All in all this was a marvelously fun novel, a great first novel, and one which makes me very anxious to read his second book, The Domino Men.  Kudos to Jonathan  Barnes – you kindled my imagination and didn’t take yourself so seriously as to be pretentious, but had fun writing, which led to my having fun reading.  Great book.

Another Connection

I’ve lost my camera – that’s not what I meant to type at all but that’s what came out.  My camera’s batteries are dead and I haven’t gotten new ones yet.  That’s the truth, so there’s no new pictures right now.

Anyway, I meant to say this earlier, but another connection between this book and my previous one are the gimmicky first lines.

From Mister B. Gone:  “Burn this book.”

From The Somnambulist: “Be warned.  This book has no literary merit whatsoever.  It it a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous, and willfully bizarre.  Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.”

The difference:  While both examples worked, as in, they got me interested to read further, the second is far more successful.  You can’t say that you write in “drearily pedestrian prose” and be believed.  If that were true, the line would read more like this, “My writing sucks.”  In fact, the narrative style of The Somnambulist is quite good though I can imagine the semi-constant interruptions of the narrator would annoy some people.  (Several years ago, this kind of thing was quite in vogue as being post-modern.)  The characters are a lot of fun.  Right now I’m about an hundred pages from the end and the story is still interesting although it has slowed down a little.  I’m thinking the book is exactly the right length, because I suspect the plot is about to pick up considerable speed and race to the end.  If so, it will mean that the somewhat slower middle was limited and about just the right size to establish and develop characters without slowing down too much.  The characters are a lot of fun, too -I’ve particularly enjoyed (aside from the two principles) Mrs. Grossmith and Barabbas.  Mrs. Grossmith’s late-in-life romance is a great side tale that serves as a sort of humorous foil into real life apart from the unbelievable aspects of the main plot.  As unconentional (in literature, in real life it happens all the time) as it is, it grounds the narrative in a reality that you can hold on to.  Barabbas, on the other hand, in ensconced firmly in the realm of the weird.  I really want to know what his backstory is with Moon, but I doubt I ever will find out.  Barabbas’ death scene was one of the best I’ve read in a while.  So vivid and so awesome!

I wish the whole connection to Coleridge’s poetry had either been introduced earlier or would be sustained longer.  I’m wondering if Barnes is a fan of Dan Simmon’s work, who puts Keats into about every sentence he types.  The idea of using another author’s work to influence the drama of your story is one that appeals to me and gives a sense of depth that I enjoy.  It also shows off the education of the author, or at least their ability to successfully navigate wikipedia.

Looking forward to the end of The Somnambulist now not only because I’ve heard it is Weird, but also because I’ve finally purchased (being unable to get it at the library, the hold list being so long) The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the Pulitzwer Prize winning novel from Dominican writer Junot Diaz.  It’s about a nerd who refers to his tormentors/bullies as “ringwraiths.”  I’m excited.

Not a cure for Insomnia

So, after the dreaful and painstaking process it was making it through Mister B. Gone, it was with a sigh of relief that I picked up Jonathan Barnes’ first book, The Somnambulist.  The link between Barker’s drivel and Tom McCarthy’s Remainder was principle characters unfit for normal society.  The line between Barker’s book and Barne’s is a theme of murder, and somewhat unconventional characters.

Let me be clear: I hated Mister B. Gone but so far and really enjoying The Somnambulist.  I really like the seedy London setting and the characters are intriguing to me.  I’ve always liked stories dealing with magicians, a la Houdini.  For me they hold a kind of majesty, hearkening back, if you will to a somewhat simpler time, when belief in the unbelievable was possible and imagination was encouraged.  Edward Moon and his sidekick, the enigmatic Somnambulist are fascinating.  I really appreciate the fact that while Moon is a pretty decent guy, kind of your standard good guy, Barnes immediately gives him a bizarre vice – atypical prostitutes.  For example, he’s particularly fond of a bearded woman with an extra arm, underdeveloped, and protruding from between her breasts.  Like I said, atypical.

Like the previous novel, this one reads fairly fast.  Unlike the previous novel, I’m excited and disappointed by that because I like the characters, the setting and the story, which, on page 60 is just beginning to unfold.  So far it is exciting and just a fun read.  Nothing too profound or particularly “literary,” just good, clean fun.