Saturday, June 28, 2008
Earth Abides is a beautiful novel that deserves a new and larger audience, especially in this era of unrest; is there any other kind? And I'm more than happy that it currently sits on my bookshelf--all the more because I very nearly gave it away last year--and as time and place distances me from my initial reading its power and relevance grows. And isn't that exactly what literature is?
Earth Abides is lauded as one of the most noteworthy post-apocalyptic novels ever written. It was originally published in 1949, and its author, George R. Stewart, was better known as a writer of nonfiction than fiction, but Earth Abides is easily his most recognized work—it has been in print off and on for nearly fifty years.
Isherwood (Ish) Williams is a graduate student working on his thesis—"The Ecology of the Black Creek Area"—in the wilds of northern California when a virulent virus destroys humanity. When Ish returns to civilization he finds emptiness. There are no bodies littering the streets, no signs of struggle, nothing except the surreal stillness of empty towns, streets, businesses and homes. Everything is gone, and Ish doesn't understand what has happened until he reads the bleak, desperate headlines of the last issue of a newspaper in an abandoned magazine shop.
Earth Abides is the story of how Isherwood Williams survives the death of humanity, and with it, modern civilization. He is man of intellect—he mourns the passing of knowledge—and he can visualize the future not as an abstract idea, but as it very well may be. Ish chronicles the remnants of humanity as they form themselves into small tribes. They live off what the "old ones" left. They open cans for food; they raid sporting goods stores for firearms and ammunition, and miraculously they survive and grow. Ish begins his journey as an observer, but he quickly finds himself a participant of this new world.
Earth Abides is one of the most troublesome novels I have read. It is troublesome for two reasons. The first is the writing—style, narrative, and plotting—drove me batty. In a matter of pages it would cycle from being an immensely powerful and energetic story to a dull, over analytical and tiresome diatribe. One of the reasons for this wild and frequent swing was the frequent, every few pages, interruption of the narrative with an omniscient perspective spoiler: It was italicized and, in a very technical and academic style, told exactly what was going to happen in the next few pages. It interrupted the flow of the prose, and generally annoyed the hell out of me.
Secondly, it was a very unflattering look at just how terrible it would be to survive the death of civilization. There is nothing romantic, or eerie, or wholesome, or evil, as in many other popular post-apocalyptic stories—but rather it showed the difficultly, the loneliness and down right miserable aspects of surviving past modern civilization. It read very realistic—the way it would be if our neighbors suddenly died and one or two of us were left holding the bag: suicides, drugs, alcohol and insanity all the flavor of the day.
This aspect of the novel was its strength—Mr. Stewart's visions of desperation were apt and vivid. One example of this is when Ish returns to an empty world, and drives through town after town honking his horn, and then waiting for the answering honk that never comes. Ish's loneliness and desperation is palpable and completely understood by the reader.
Earth Abides was a roller coaster ride. I enjoyed it yes, but I also disliked it. It is a novel filled with ideas, but its impact is lessened with the over-evaluation of those ideas. If you enjoy a good post-apocalyptic novel Earth Abides may be the answer, but tread warily, because some of its impact and importance has worn away with the passing years.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Blue Lonesome is a haunting tale about a man who attempts to discover the events that led to a woman's suicide. The mystery is top-notch, but is secondary to the rush of loneliness, sorrow, and humanity Pronzini successfully weaves into the narrative. It is an awesome novel. And one you should add to your library; but what Bill Pronzini shouldn't be on your bookshelf?
The description for The Other Side of Silence:
"When Geena finally left him and filed for divorce, Fallon put the Encino house up for sale and took the last two weeks of his vacation from Unidyne. Then he loaded the Jeep Liberty and drove straight to Death Valley. The desert country had a way of simplifying things. It cleansed your mind, allowed you to think clearly. Allowed you to breathe. The one place he truly belonged."
So opens Bill Pronzini's exciting new thriller. On his third day in the Valley, Rick Fallon comes upon a deserted Toyota Camry, and soon thereafter, the almost-dead body of Casey Dunbar. Having rescued her, Fallon soon learns what had driven her to give up on life…and, his own life on hold, he resolves to unravel the twisted and dangerous strands of hers, a quest that leads him to the glitter-dome of Las Vegas among other locales. The result is a story as dramatic and memorable as anything Pronzini has written, reminiscent of his classics Blue Lonesome and A Wasteland of Strangers. In The Other Side of Silence, Bill Pronzini is indeed a Grand Master.
Monday, June 23, 2008
We then took Chicken Creek Road east and were delighted with what we found. The road narrowed and changed from pavement to dirt and wound from the valley floor to the ridge-top of the San Pitch Mountains. There were several small campgrounds—each nearly empty—and a gently bubbling creek carrying run-off down to the valley flats. We found a wide-spot on the road and spent a few hours scrambling across the spring-green meadows and scrub oak hillsides.
The air smelled like it should; fresh, crisp, dry and heavy with pine and sage. The small animals rustled through the undergrowth and birds chirped and whistled. It was pure joy; the kind of peace that carries awhile. When work grates I can still close my eyes and remember the creek-gurgle, sweet smell mountain air, and the innocent rustle of animals.
The rest of the day was spent gliding down SR 28 through small towns I hadn’t seen since I was a boy—Gunnison, the home of a recently built prison, Centerfield, Axtell, Redmond, and Salina. Redmond holds a special place in my heart because my grandparents spent their retirement in a beat-up old trailer near the center of town. I can remember making the long drive three or four times a year with my mother at the wheel of her old car. In winter deer and antelope sprawled across the flat open meadows along the highway feeding. The high and majestic rise of mountain ranges as backdrop.
My grandparents; what can I say about them? They were special and sometimes scary people to a little boy who saw them only occasionally, but as an adult I have only warm memories. They spent the years prior to retirement herding sheep in the wild and dry backcountry of Utah. My grandfather was gruff, but in a warm and sincere manner that tended to draw people in rather than push them away. And damn if they weren’t in love. They would bicker and snipe at each other, but the way they looked at each other communicated nothing but kindness and admiration. They were comfortable with their lives and each other. Needless to say I couldn’t just drive through. We took the scenic route into Redmond and found my grandparents old trailer. It was there; older, and in disrepair, but still there.
In Salina we caught I-70 westbound and stopped for the night in the small town of Richfield—home to something like 7,500 people and by far the largest town in the area. We stayed in a Days Inn business suite and paid a scant $50. That evening we ate dinner at a small diner in town with an unusual smell. It was something like the chlorine from a swimming pool, and while the food wasn’t bad the feeling that I was eating off a diving board didn’t do much for the experience.
The following day we stole several dozen miles east on I-70 through the Fishlake National Forest before we caught SR 10 north towards Price. SR 10 is a scrawny highway that runs deep into Utah’s coal producing country—last summer a mine collapsed in Huntington, a small town not far removed from SR 10, that killed eight miners and proved the mine owner eccentric and maybe just a little peculiar (and that’s being nice). Our destination; an ancient canyon called Nine Mile.
The name is a misnomer because the canyon stretches some 40 miles and is filled with cattle ranches and endowed with vast reserves of natural gas. Nine Mile has been home to two distinct native tribes; the Fremont and Utes. Its isolation also made it an ideal spot as a haven for outlaws on the run and later, when the US Army opened Fort Duschene in the Uinta Basin, it was used as the primary freight line between the fort and railhead in Price. The canyon has a rich and varied history and much of it is still visible in the ruins and rock art scattered across the landscape.
The Fremont band had the longest tenure in Nine Mile Canyon. They arrived sometime in the tenth century and are comparable to the Anasazi from the four corners area. The major difference; the Fremont had a more sedentary lifestyle due to a type of maze they developed that was hardy and resistant to drought. The Fremont left a treasure trove of artifacts. Their homes and structures can be found along the canyon walls, as well as an impressive array of petroglyphs, much of it accessible from the dusty road.
We were in Nine Mile on a Sunday and it was relatively quiet. I’ve been told during the week when trucks are running up and down the canyon it is dusty and miserable, but we had a great time. We stopped at several locations and looked at the well-preserved rock art and hiked into the cliffs looking for treasure. We didn’t find any other than the hundreds-year-old writings and that was enough. It was impressive and humbling to see the writing of an ancient people; their hopes, dreams and very likely their fears chipped from the rocky surface. It is much like our own literature and no less important to their culture as literature is to ours.
Nine Mile Canyon is well worth the drive, and a place that I'll visit again, but next time I’ll give myself a few more days to explore its hidden treasures. And maybe bone up on its rich history, but I know it’ll be sometime in the early-Spring or late-Fall; the summer months are too hot and the winter is too damn cold.
Friday, June 20, 2008
The novel opens with Gordon investigating a routine money-laundering operation in a small New York bank. The Russian mafia is moving large sums of money from the Seychelles Islands (a safe haven for unregulated banking and tax evasion), but the case changes quickly when Gordon puts two seemingly unrelated events together and realizes something much more sinister is happening.
The CIA is called in to lead the investigation and Gordon finds himself relegated to investigative staff; a position that doesn’t sit well with his lone wolf mentality. He has trouble with authority, except his own boss, and when he discovers three encrypted messages at the bank under investigation he takes them home—rather than the office—and decodes a frightening message. The money in question doesn’t belong to the Russian mafia, but rather to an international terrorist organization with big plans.
The Red Syndrome is an entertaining and swift thriller. Its style is solid and readable. The technical details are fascinating; Haggai Carmon knows International finance and he makes it interesting. The plot is smooth, and while I guessed a major plot twist in the first third of the novel, he throws enough curves to keep the reader interested and turning pages.
Monday, June 16, 2008
"Early Fire" is a novella length Mack Bolan story that appeared in the back of Bolan spinoff Able Team #10: Royal Flush. It spans the last 40 pages of the book and is sub-titled: Deep background on Able Team's mentor, featuring Mack Bolan in Vietnam. It is a prequel to The Executioner action series created by Don Pendleton and it illuminates Bolan's beginnings as a soldier in Vietnam.
The story opens with the executioner returning from a mission with Sniper Team Able—the gents who would later populate the Able Team books and later still the Stony Man novels. When Bolan walks into camp he is immediately summoned by his commanding officer Colonel Crawford. His new assignment: Protect the beautiful, fiery and antagonistic reporter Jill Desmond who wants "to find out the truth about this war…[and] not the white-washed official version…" It doesn't take long for Desmond to find a heap of trouble and it takes everything Bolan has to remove her from harm's way.
"Early Fire" represents everything good about The Executioner series—the writing is quick, the action intense, the prose stark and hard, and the characterization heroic and strong. Bolan is an archetypal hero—he is larger than life, wholesome, competent, clever, and confident to the extreme. A hero's hero really; the type of guy we all want to be.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
The modern horror anthology can be a fickle creature--it can represent the best of what the genre has to offer, but it can also represent the trite, and the not-quite-there of the horror field. White House Horrors is an example of both extremes. It has the best, as in the case of Graham Masterton's "Jack Be Quick" and it also has the worst with the worn-out, used-up, plot of "Creature Congress" by Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee.
It is a unique anthology that brings together an eclectic group of stories written by an array of horror and mystery writers. It features stories with horror elements based within the halls of the White House; in a few cases the action takes place beyond the house itself, but the plot revolves around the President, or, at the very least his administration.
A few of the more remarkable stories come from well known horror writers such as Edward Lee, Peter Crowther, Tom Piccirilli and Graham Masterton. In Edward Lee's "Night of the Vegetables" he creates a story that is silly to the extreme. It is a parody on the nuclear holocaust theme that has been used dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times in television, film and literature--it was used in at least several episodes of the classic The Twilight Zone series alone. Lee takes a serious plotline and makes it laugh-out-loud funny. A North Korean nuclear reactor suffers a disastrous meltdown; with one hitch, they used dirt infested with vegetables to cover the core. The events that follow will keep the reader both laughing and guessing. Lee's plotting is precise, his pacing is perfect, and the ending is hilarious.
Peter Crowther, in his story, "
Another benefit of this anthology is that it introduces a mostly horror audience to several established mystery writers. To name a few: Max Allan Collins, Bill Crider, Jill M. Morgan and Robert J. Randisi. Randisi's story "The President's Mind" is a romp. It has all of the elements of good storytelling: violence, mystery, suspense, and even a few good old fashioned scares, not to mention a Voodoo curse. This story is so well plotted, written, and enjoyable I was disappointed to see the end--there just wasn't enough of it!
The majority of the stories are quite successful. Unfortunately there are a handful--let's say four of the sixteen, that are woefully terrible. One such story is Brian Hodge's less than successful "Healing the Body Politic." This was not only a poor selection for the anthology, but its position as the opening story will likely put-off many would-be readers from discovering the better stories that follow.
White House Horrors, with blemishes and all, is an excellent read. The style and range is broad, and overall the stories are well-written and entertaining. If you are looking for hardcore splatter-punk this collection will not satisfy, but if you want something quiet, thoughtful and a little spooky it's a good bet.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
I still actually pine for it on the odd Friday night--it was at its best before the network moved it to Sunday--and so when I discovered the new movie is scheduled for release later this summer I got a little excited. The title: The X-Files: I Want to Believe. The release date: July 25, 2008.
This brief and unsatisfying description was found at the Yahoo!Movies website.
In grand X-Files manner, the film's storyline is being kept under wraps. This much can be revealed: It is a stand-alone story in the tradition of some of the show's most acclaimed and beloved episodes, and takes the complicated relationship between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in unexpected directions. Mulder continues his unshakable quest for the truth, and Scully, the passionate, ferociously intelligent physician, remains inextricably tied to Mulder's pursuits.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
What Matt doesn't realize is the rest of Stony Stratford's women are experiencing the same changes and it's only a matter of weeks before the village streets are quiet and empty. The women are gone; they were used as breeders for a strange new species and the men devoured as food. The few survivors stumble together searching for companionship, protection, and peace. The small group of survivors Matt joins consists of a five men and three women; one of them a young girl. Their hope of a future is secured in the idea of reaching a military research base, but there is a world of danger and potential death in between.
Breeding Ground was an unexpected treat. Its subject matter compelling--who can resist a tale of apocalyptic proportions? Its focus squarely on the horror of the passing of humanity; there are no scientific discussions of why it happened, other than the obligatory, and Ms Pinborough competently develops an overwhelming anxiety that permeates the story. The characters are well-crafted servants of the plot--they are likable, strong, and very much worth rooting for without the bog-down of over-analysis. The plot is well-conceived and executed and while it is familiar there are enough twists to keep it fresh and interesting.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
I have never read a Stephen J. Cannell novel and I don’t know why. I purchased a couple of his early novels a year or so ago—Tin Collectors, and Hollywood Tough—but they’ve sat on my bookshelf since. I need to get one down and read it. And soon.
Monday, June 02, 2008
The previously stated disclaimer--the "maybe"--comes about because cover art has been known to change between the ARC release and the final trade edition. So don't be surprised if it looks different when it hits bookstore shelves. But if it doesn't, it's not a bad cover
The Spy Who Came for Christmas is scheduled for release October 28th, 2008 and it's a short holiday season novel. The type that has become hip over the past few years for best-selling novelists to write; the type of novel I try to avoid really, but this one is written by David Morrell. Could it be bad? I hope not. And I hope Morrell goes easy on the Christmas propaganda. Oh, I hope I hope.
Here is a snippet of an interview David Morrell did over at Bookreporter.com. He makes the story sound interesting, but I still have a few slight reservations; but who am I kidding. I'll read it and very probably like it.
Next year's book is called The Spy Who Came for Christmas. It's a contemporary action espionage story that takes place on Christmas Eve in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I live. Santa Fe is a major holiday destination for travelers. We have a mile long street called Canyon Road that has about 1,000 art galleries and is lit spectacularly for the holidays. The story takes place there. At one point, the main character, a spy, takes refuge in a home where he discovers that he has put a family in danger. As he prepares the house for a siege, he tries to calm the family by telling them the spy's version of the traditional Nativity story. I did a lot of historical research based on events in the New Testament. Readers will be surprised by the background I've uncovered. None of it is faith-threatening, but it does make the often-told traditional Nativity story more vivid. The book will probably have some illustrations...
To read the entire interview go Here.