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Footprints of Thunder (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 03 June 2012 08:00

It was the cover that caught me in the used bookstore, of a dinosaur foot standing next to a sand castle - says a lot when you think about it. But it irked me that the footprints on the beach beyond were singular - what was this dino doing? Hopping?

Footprints of Thunder had a couple of things that twitted me - not seriously, mind - I rather liked the book. For instance, it starts with a team of scientific hobbyist investigating strange occurrences - fish and flowers and corn which fall from the clear blue sky. However, it appears that their computer models are all driven by doom-heavy prophesies from an ancient Babylonian scientist (whose name looks suspiciously like a Persian priest from 450 BC or so). And that bugged me - nothing a Babylonian scientist said will be hard enough data to basis a mathematical model on. His world is still pretty small, and any incidents he records will be from the provinces or brought by traders, with dates too vague to be of use. Later, the author appears to put more credence in the data points coming from more recent occurrences so I forgave him. To me, the whole Babylonian deal seemed like a blind alley.

Anyway, after meeting characters all over the US (there is a big list of them in the beginning, which, surprisingly, I didn't need - hat's off to James David for clear characterizations), we get down to business. Something (I won't say what, because that's the payoff and it's pretty good) "quilts" time, meaning sections of our world vanish, to be replaced by sections of the ancient past. And pretty much ALL these sections are dinosaur-infested patches (at first I thought "Where are the knights? Where are the Indians?" before remembering that MOST of history would be dino-based. So that works).

And so everyone is dealing with monsters. Cool.

The book has a number of great sub-stories going on - a family on a wrecked sailboat off Naples finds refuge on the back of a huge swimming dinosaur (but what orcas are doing in the Gulf of Mexico, I don't know - quilted, perhaps?). A group of the afore-mentioned scientists travel into one quilt, pooh-poohing the need for guns. An old widower on the edge of quilted downtown New York (half the city has been replaced) begins to feed a dinosaur sugar - it actually comes to her building, looks up at her  window, and goes "Ahhhhhhh!" (Cute!).

But the best part (and the tip of the quill to the author) are the deaths. No, this isn't Jurassic Park with its moralistic karma-carnage. Bad characters die, good characters die, lots of characters die. Most of the deaths are pretty bloody, and involve chomping noises. One of the characters appears to die, but what happens to her afterwards is sooooo mucccchhh worrrsseee! I shiver to recall that scene.

And it all ends well because, unlike the usual western view, there is nothing that can be fixed here (though the one attempt to repair it ends in multimegaton disaster).

No, I liked it - other than a couple of personal peeves, it wasn't bad. If you see it second-hand, pick it up (or write me and I'll send you my copy). Good Jurassic fun without all that Alexis Murphy screaming.


Last Updated on Sunday, 03 June 2012 08:46
...Something I Could Quit (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 26 May 2012 19:00

The wordy name for this book is I wish there was something that I could quit. What drew me to it (on the CD shop bookshelf) was the old drawing of a railroadman leaning out of a tower, pocket watch in hand, watching a set of 1950's diesels blur past.

The 50's are great fodder nowadays; full of irony.

So the story is about four young folks, Laura (a gloomy rock-throwing-at-military-trains nutcase), Aaron (the nutty-yet-earnest fellow living in his dead tour van in her driveway), Susan (the bartender seeking a strong man and...) Jemuel (her boyfriend, baby-weak yet organized to a fault). It's the usual 20's-something-lifestyle-noir deal, dead-end McJobs, no future, no strong relationships, no hope.

I'll go with my personal take on this (since it's a personal blog and I'm over 50) - hope and success is something you need to push for until you bleed. Happiness doesn't just fall on you - you've got to go out and earn it. Sorry, kids.

So let's look at that cover again. Railroads were organized in the 50s, run on timetables and synchronized clocks (standard time was displayed at all stations). And so this is actually two-sided irony - the first is the classic irony of the fifties and its tightly-wound company-man clockwatchers. But the ironical backlash of the cover is there - the people of the fifties know their place in the cosmos. The young people in this book lack any sort of structure or worth. They live trashy lives in trashy dumps, in a dispirited little town where the trains roll through night and day.

Okay, I'm done with the grumpy moralizer mode.

On the upside, the writing is pretty crisp and the author (Aaron Cometbus) makes a number of tight literisms. That's where off-shelf writing such as this shines - it isn't written for the masses, it's written for a more vibrant (yet smaller) market. Unlike suburban pap, writing like this brings certain truths up, certain observations that are worth considering

On my first read, I was surprised to suddenly find myself, full stop, looking at the back cover. The story seemed to aimlessly just end in the middle of pointless dialog. But on second glance, I heard the echoes of what the author might have been saying, a faint whisper of hope in all this. Perhaps. Can't tell you.

So I'll say that it's a strange book, a troubled book, and perhaps a second pass will help me to understand it better. Tight and strange and urban.

Good luck.


Last Updated on Sunday, 27 May 2012 14:00
Pandemonium: Smoke (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 20 May 2012 07:22

I'll remind you that while I was in London a few months ago, we visited the Tate Modern with its display of John Martin Paintings. I also picked up a hard back from the gift shop, Pandemonium, a series of short stories based on the paintings reviewed. I loved the paintings and really loved the book (limited edition - I snagged number 7 out of 100). I reviewed it HERE.

With great expectations, I ordered Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke, a book purportedly focused on London, mostly Dickens' London, but London all the same. Got it and read it in about three days.

The prognosis?

Meh. (and I hate to say it)

See, I love the idea of a publishing house pulling in all sorts of talent for a high-grade publication of interesting, out-there story-telling. In these days of Nook and Kindle, having a limited edition hardback is something I can savor, the primary reason that books will always be books, and Ireaders will always be the end-of-the-fucking-literary-world-as-we-know-it toys.

But the stories didn't quite live up to the first edition.

It started, not on a bang, but a nuclear explosion. "Inspector Bucket Investigates" really hit me between the eyes. Disney has built a replica of Dickens' London, one staffed with clones of the characters (based on DNA extracted from the graves of those Dickens based his characters on). It was nasty, slimy, disturbing, and great.

And there were still stories in the vein I enjoy. "Aye, there's the rub" had a great premises and a fantastic twist. "City of the Absent" was a moody Dickens' piece, a study of churchyard and city nooks observed on quiet Sundays - this is about as close to time travel as we shall ever get (Mason Trellis aside). But most of the stories failed to make the hit of the original Pandemonium premise, that of humanity facing the finite, of end of self and world, of the chilling look at what-is-to-come. No, this was more mainstream - one or two of the stories were so predictably come-uppance tales, I was surprised to not see them on Spielberg's old Amazing Stories

Review aside, what you might not understand, Dear Reader, is the horrible chance I run at posting this. See, the Pandemonium folks are coming up with a new anthology, one set in the American West. To that, I have submitted. As to the wisdom of giving a tepid review to the same folks you are hoping for inclusion, well, I was never the smartest sibling in our family.

Actually, I'm the writer. How stupid is that?

Anyway, the series held me because I have an interest in such things, but let's home the next set will be darker, edgier, and far more concentrated.


Last Updated on Sunday, 20 May 2012 08:06
Quicksilver (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 13 May 2012 14:58

Quicksilver - what can I possibly say about this thing?

Well, it's massive (916 pages). And it's historical (spanning various settings between 1655 to 1689). And it's confusing. Reading this book was like a car chase through history, with Neal Stephenson leading us through dark historic alleys, down temporal streets the wrong way, back-tracking, and often stopping to discharge characters and pick up a few more. In the end, I'm confused, exhausted, and frustrated.

Yeah, it was that good!

The thing is, even though I didn't catch everything the book had to offer, even though I didn't understand several of the plots (I did like his trick of having something strange happen, and a chapter or two later, suddenly the reason became clear), I enjoyed it. I didn't get a lot of it. But what I did was magnificent.

There are several storylines that weave and twist in that Stephenson way (as he did before, in that old favorite of mine, Snow Crash (reviewed HERE)). There is Daniel Waterhouse, a ineffectual member of the Royal Society (with two storylines, the primary in his life growing up and surviving in his random, rudderless way, and the latter, of escaping from a pirate attack off the coast of the Colonies (after meeting a young Ben Franklin, hinted at). And after we finally get settled with this Once and Future plot, then we drastically switch to mudflat boys in East London, who graduate from stealing cargos off vessels in The Pool to running an enterprise of accepting money (in advance) to yank smartly on the legs of those just-hung, to speed them on their way. And then we're with a soldier fighting some theatrical play-siege under a mad ruler in Central Europe, but wait, its one of the mudflat boys, all grown up, and suddenly Stephenson's taillights have whipped around another corner and we're fishtailing after him, trying to keep up.

Like Snow Crash, there are cute moments where modern language is inserted, or even modern concepts, as referred in this letter from a character in Venice...

As I write these words I am seated near a window that looks out over a canal, and two gondoliers who nearly collided a minute ago, are screaming murderous threats at each other. This sort of thing happens all the time here. The Venetians have even given it a name: "Canal Rage". Some say that it is a new phenomenon - they insist that gondoliers never used to scream at each other in this way. To them it is a symptom of the excessively rapid pace of change in the modern world, and they make an analogy to poisoning by quicksilver, which has turned so many alchemists into shaky, irritable lunatics.

If anything would make me an irritable lunatic, it is the fact that after suffering through confusion in reading this, I discovered 50 pages from the end that there is a full character list in the back. Just great. I could have used it some 700 pages earlier, when new names were hitting me like raindrops.

It isn't a book for anyone - this is a reader's book. And a great book. I really enjoyed it. And after a little break though some other covers, I'll pick up in the second book of the Baroque Cycle.

2000 pages to go...


Last Updated on Sunday, 13 May 2012 15:29

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