Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ category

Arthur Phillips – The Egyptologist

April 23, 2010

Arthur Phillips – The Egyptologist

“Tonight, I toil in the clamour of a little cabaret where the chicha smoke forms jinn who embrance their puff-cheeked masters with massaging fingers.  I watch the smoker by the door: a nest slowly coils around his head, the faint echo of an ancestor’s mummy wraps, but each time the door opens to his right, all at once the smoke rushes out, away, up into the star-flecked, plum-coloured sky.  The door closes and he begins again, shrouding himself top to bottom with smoke; the door opens and invisible plunderers again unravel his work.”

That’s a hell of a descriptive paragraph.  Sadly, that level of authorship only bursts forth erratically, as the book is a bit amateurish.  Engrossing, yes, but I was disappointed as each of the characters revealed themselves to be nasty and brutish as the story progressed.  A good mystery works no matter when the reader figures it out–this one wasn’t very fun for the most part after I solidified my guess about 2/3 of the way through.  Still, it wasn’t bad, just not great.

I Evoke Brow 35: In Honor of Beezer’s Successor, Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richter

July 22, 2008

Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman

Flippant and darkly humorous. Evocative of Hiassen, Christopher Moore, and Douglas Adams–where Hiaasen uses animals and wildmen or Adams has fun with aliens, the better to point out humanity’s foibles, Moore and Gaiman invoke magic (or gods, if you don’t categorize gods as such). Anansi Boys’s main character, Fat Charlie is strongly reminiscent of Adams’s Arthur Dent or the protagonist of Moore’s A Dirty Job (name escapes me at the moment–was he another Charlie?) Not as rich and layered as his awesome–in both the archaic and current senses of the word–American Gods, it’s more of a light read (which puts it even closer to the above authors.) The twists are pretty heavy handed but the plot skips along nicely.

Not great but very good. It passed the “I’m going to ignore other needs–including sleep–until I finish the last chunk of this book” test, always a good sign. 7/10

I Evoke Brow 34: Just remembering John “Beezer” Vanbiesbrouck makes me smile

April 30, 2008

A certain chemistry : a novel [WorldCat.org]

Miles apart from Mil Millington’s first book, Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About (not to be confused with his website, thingsmygirlfriendandIhavearguedabout.com), but at least as good. Where the first had a ludicrous plot that was safely ignored in favor of the phenomenally funny writing, A Certain Chemistry retains much of that humor (I initially wrote that as “humour”–hard to shake those Britishisms after reading it) but greatly surprised me by showing off some serious writing chops. I’m tempted to give it a perfect score, but I think it falls just short: 9/10.

I Evoke Brow 33: Actually, I probably first read this book as Patrick Ewing neared the end of his prime, so it’s fitting

February 25, 2008

Watchers, Dean Koontz

One of my all time favorite books. I first read this as an adolescent, when I was heavily into Stephen King and Koontz. Eventually I realized that King stopped writing great stuff in the early Nineties (outside of the Dark Tower Series, but that’s a book review for another day) and the latter never wrote anything great–except Watchers.

Koontz is still Koontz–the writing is lurid and bombastic, not in a good way. The characters are one-dimensional and not even slightly realistic. Koontz is simply incapable of producing text of any literary quality. Yet in Watchers he somehow crafts an absolutely fascinating story. I won’t lie–if you don’t love dogs the way I do, I doubt it will have the same effect on you. But if you are a cynophile this one is not to be missed.

Since it’s Koontz, there are creepy psychopathic killers, both human and inhuman, and in truth they do hold up, as they are genuinely frightening. The real reason for my long running devotion to this novel though is the sense of wonder the author successfully conveys about every aspect of the “superdog.”

8/10

I Evoke Brow 32: A full set of teeth

December 13, 2007

Marooned in Realtime, Vernor Vinge

Much too sore to do a full review, but I enjoyed this one too much to let it slip past (like so many books have since I started these reviews.) I almost quit initially–the plot seemed to be be headed down a very campy road. The possibly far fetched scenario is handled very thoughtfully, though, and the book conveys a surprising degree of emotion. It kept me up nights and the death of one of the characters, even told via a millennia old diary, actually got to me. The very end is a bit much as well as somewhat rushed, which knocks it down to a 8/10

Side thought: I claim I’m not interested in Mysteries, but how many great SF books are really mysteries?

I Evoke Brow 31: Screw You, Roman Numerals!

December 3, 2007

Hocus Pocus, Kurt Vonnegut

I love coming across passages in books that are wonderfully prescient. The copyright on this novel is 1990 but look at this passage:

“What makes so many Americans proud of their ignorance? They act as though their ignorance somehow made them charming.”

This selection is preceded by a character referring to Yale as “Plantation Owners Tech.”

Hopefully those two excerpts together are enough to set off the same alarm bells in your head but allow me to drive the point home: Yale Grad G.W. Bush had only just purchased the Rangers in 1989–he wouldn’t run for Governor for another 5 years. But isn’t charming ignorance the most succinct explanation of his election to both offices and sustained popularity? It took massive failure on essentially every front for the majority of the country to get tired of the smirking chimp.

Anyway, the book was good but not great, as it tailed off to a not-really-end. 6/10

I Evoke Brow XXX: No Sermons or Mounts, just a review; on the other hand, no one gets crucified

October 16, 2007

Spook Country134, William Gibson135

Asimov136 and Heinlein137 were and are fodder for space dorks; Gibson’s novels are book-porn for technophiles, gadget freaks, and engadget138 obsessed compugeeks, vicariously lifehacking via the new Old Man of SciFi’s cutting edge fiction. Obviously, I’m a fan of his novels. You can’t help but see the move within SciFi from rockets to gadgets as reflective of contemporaneous geek and (perhaps) pop culture–we have left behind stargazing and focused our gaze on ourselves and our beloved computers. No one that I’ve read pulls this off nearly as well as Gibson. As I noted in my review of Pattern Recognition139 (which loosely prequels this novel, with a shared world and secondary character), Gibson’s latest works are startlingly contemporary.

In my not-so-humble opinion, Spook Country is good but falls short of Pattern Recognition’s greatness. It’s a fascinating read and as reflective and prescient as Gibson’s other works, but somehow less filling. The “big mystery” that supposedly drives the plot forward is just too secondary to the interesting bits of the book, namely the characters and the mashup of technologies. The intertwined stories seem to be a bit too far flung, less than cohesive. I think I’ll read it again in a few years (hopefully a sequel will appear around then) and see if it strikes me differently, as it’s predecessor did.

7/ 10