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The Egyptologist (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 26 March 2011 22:24

The act of observing an event changes an event.

And sometimes, the act of reviewing a book ruins it for the readers.

This is true for Arthur Phillip's novel, The Egyptologist - how can one review a book for curious readers yet put up spoiler alerts? Rest assured - I'll do my best not to give away any of the succulent moments or the gripping ending. So here goes...

The novel takes place directly in 1922, and indirectly in 1954. told entirely through correspondence. The primary writings are from the Egyptologist himself through his combination of his working journal and diary, seemingly fearful for his life following the discovery of a lifetime. The other thread comes from a depressingly retired detective in an Australian home, answering a written query (and desperately pitching a book deal on the subject). Other items, notes, cables, and bills, fill out the story.

So it's a mystery (of sorts) without a central detective (discounting the case-overbilling Ferrell), inwhich the reader must follow the thread, without explanation nor exposition, piecing together the clues themselves, cutting through the lies and staying with it to its grim conclusion.

First off; don't worry, it does become clear.

And secondly, it's marvelous.

The story is a wonderful mix of deceptions, perceptions, deceits, prejudices, boasts, and dreams. And in it, a double murder, mobster involvement, pornography, Egyptology, slums and mansions, Australia and Boston and Oxford and Egypt, even twin acrobats who share corrupt pleasures on the fly.

As I said, I can't tell you why you should read it.

Just read it.

Cats. Post. Bank. (if you read it, you'll get the joke).

Last Updated on Sunday, 27 March 2011 19:52
Keen Prose 1 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 13 March 2011 12:13

I've started the "Keen Prose" thread, where I'll post phrases from authors whose pen's I'm not fit to lick. It's the word choices and phrases that bring smiles, and convey buckets of meaning in the tightest structure.


"On the following morning, whilst Major Sands was sulking, like Achilles, in his tent..."

The Black Swan

Rafael Sabatini

Footnote: I've always loved Sabatini - next to Wells, he is the author who's work comes across as poetry to me. And Major Sands in The Black Swan is the smoldering dufus who is being outwitted and outdone by the flashing hero, Charles de Bernis. Comparing the resentful Sands to Achilles is pretty sharp, since anyone who has read the Iliad remembers Achilles and his sit-down strike, and while he was the hero amongst heroes, this clever wording is Sabatini's little shared joke with his more well-read readers.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 March 2011 12:26
Metagame (review) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 10 March 2011 20:36

A friend of mine sent this to me with guarded praise. “It’s not great, but it’s interesting”. Quite a rave.

And let’s just be clear that when I read, my editing light is lit. I love well-crafted prose, and the horn goes off when something jostles the story flow. For example, in Metagame, we have “R-shaped streetlights” (an issue of case, I think). A smiler: “Lily let go of D_Light’s hand, no longer needing him to guide her; he, however, did not let go of hers.” And this jolly description: “Even so, D_Light thought he could make out a large humanoid head like that of a large man.” (a rose like a rose, perhaps?)

Overwriting aside, Metagame is the story of a future utopia where everyone plays games termed as “spankers” (fun games) or “grinders” (work games). It’s an interesting concept, as success in either will bring points (I liked the guy directing cleaning bots in his grinder game, trying to keep them as efficient as possible). In this, the world does approach utopia levels, because finally most people can find work suitable for their passions. Even the pursuing investigators are playing their game with an eye to their score.

D_Light, the main character, is quite interesting in his flaws, that of being successful in his games yet immature in his worldview (so recognizable as the office Everquest champion who babbles about elves in elevators). He becomes infatuated with Lily, a girl with a mysterious (and, as he find out, horrifying) past. In this, D_Light represents the accomplishment of maturity. When the time comes and the last page nears, he steps admirably into the only heroic mold he can.

Really, Metagame is like a movie shot on a tight budget with second-rate actors, yet in the final few minutes of screen time suddenly makes a worthy point, one you think about on the way home. You might not buy the DVD, but it was fun to watch. Once.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 March 2011 20:41
Switch PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 23 January 2011 09:42

A thought came to me while reading the second book of Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" series. While I'm enjoying it, really enjoying it (I'll review it sometime), I did find myself focusing on the prose. Yes, I understand it's a juvenile series (at least I hope it is). I understand that the writing is pretty basic. No clever flow, no startling visual imagery, no insightful character development, no creative language use. The story (while good) is just shipped to us, a simple description of events.

She's not alone in this - consider top-selling general-audience authors and you have Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Stephen King and the like. They pound out books that their huge audiences suck in through their eyeballs. But I think of writers from the past I've enjoyed and reread such as Wells, Sabatini, Twain and Dumas, and the difference becomes clear.

Modern writers write throw-away books. They don't expect their audiences to buy a leather-bound copy of their works, to reread them and study them and quote them. They are paperbackers, producing work you'll likely leave on the seat in the airport when you're through. And that's sad, because if we don't reflect on our literary tales, we'll perhaps not reflect upon our lives, either.

Now, I'm not a film critic (but I can be critical of films) but it appears that just the opposite is happening. Films used to be throwaway efforts. Not that there aren't stupid films both then and now, but the shooting was far more casual. Watched a couple of old flicks last night - "Monsoon" and "Borderline" -  and there was very little directing in them. The actors appeared to be standing where they'd walked onto the sets, there were few interestingly staged shots, and groups stand in theatrical half-circles, speaking their lines in careful order.

Contrast that to movies now, where every shot is considered. We're over people's shoulders, we're zooming in, moving about. And action shots - even given the technological improvements - you have low shots, sweeping shots, slow motion shots, CGI, slow-rolling fireballs, slow-rolling car crashes, zooming, foreshortening, everything that goes into action porn.

These movies are made to be watched and rewatched, to be slowed down or paused on our plasma screens, to be studied in HD detail.

Once we found insight in literature and popped out for five cents for Buck Rogers. Now it appears the opposite is true. We read junk novels for simple amusement and find our hearts stirred by visual imagery.

But is there an equivalence between a turn of phrase which reveals a simple truth verses Rambo releasing an arrow in slow motion?

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 January 2011 10:25

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