Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Two Years and Three Reviews

It was cold, foggy night two years ago that I launched this blog. Two years full of reviews, rants, links, whines, bits of shameless adulation, bad jokes, occasional hopelessly local observations, head-scratching and naval-gazing, infrequent posting, and, once in a great while, a blurb worth reading (maybe), and I’m still here.

More surprisingly, you’re still bothering to read this. I thank you. It’s been great having you along for the ride.

In honour of the two-year anniversary of bloginhood, I figured I’d serve you a three-course meal of quick book reviews. (Okay, it’s not really an anniversary treat, it’s actually because these books have been sitting on my desk for a while now waiting to be reviewed and I just haven’t got around to it. Might as well do it now.) No spoilers on the list of ingredients.


“Bad Monkeys” by Matt Ruff

I gotta thank the boys at SF Signal for this one. Read a review on their site and, based on that, picked it up when I came across it in Seattle at Eliot Bay Books (a signed copy made this quick buy decision that much quicker!). A good, brisk read perfect for a plane ride, long haul on a ferry or a rainy Sunday afternoon. The book tells the story (and retells and retells again) of Jane Charlotte and her involvement in the clash between two very secret, very powerful organizations – one dedicated to stopping evil doers (the “Bad Monkeys”) at all costs, the other to spreading death and mayhem. The story is alternately funny, a head trip and creepy (especially the stencil of the monkey on the cover). SF Signal got it bang-on when they said (at least I think it was their review) that Ruff’s book has a very Philip K. Dick-ian feel to it (with a bit of “The Prisoner” and perhaps a dash of James Bond and “La Femme Nikita”). Definitely worth the read.


“The Line Between” by Peter S. Beagle

This collection of well-crafted tales was thoroughly enjoyable. Typical Beagle, they focus on matters of the heart and exploring (sometimes with cynicism) what it means to be human. The story “Two Hearts”, the sequel to “The Last Unicorn”, was the highlight, although, for me, the sailors’ tragedy “Salt Wine” was probably the runner-up. Another book worth buying.


“The Commons” by Matthew Hughes

Published as a single novel under the Robert J. Sawyer Books, “The Commons” is actually a fixup, an amalgamation of short stories previously published. Problem is, there isn’t any smoothness in the transitions from one chapter/story to the next. The chapters revolve around the adventures of Guth Bandar, a noonaut, or explorer of the human collective unconscious – one of the last frontiers for our species in the very, very distant future (so far, in fact, that the sun has begun to turn orange) where humanity has pretty much done and seen everything and has now settled in for the long wait. What Guth finds during his treks into the Jungian wilds, is that the collective unconscious is aware and is intent on manipulating his life to suit its purpose. Crazy and often unpleasant adventures ensue involving mythical and psychological archetypes. I’d have to give this book a resounding “meh”. I neither hated it or loved it. It was okay, not a complete waste of time, but I certainly could have been spending that time on one of the other items in my teetering, ever-increasing new book pile or enjoying a favourite old chestnut. Beyond being indifferent to Hughes’ plot (or plots), I was even disappointed with Sawyer’s introduction to the book. Rather than saying anything of interest about the story, Sawyer devotes the better part of two pages to giving us a history of fixups. That’s not why I bother to read intros. Intros are meant to give the reader some insight into the story or a key implication of it, or about the author and how and why he presents things to us (in the following story or other works), not to talk ad-nauseum about a literary/publication device. This intro isn’t even a case of missing the forest for the trees – it’s looking up the definition of the word forest in the dictionary instead of bothering to look at said forest or trees. I’m not happy about having to say this either, because normally I enjoy Sawyer’s commentary on books he’s reading or literature in general, or pretty much anything. In contrast, an intro that does work very well is Mike Resnick’s intro to Nick DiChario’s “A Small and Remarkable Life” – which is also published under the Robert J. Sawyer Books label. At any rate, while I don’t regret reading “The Commons”, I do regret buying the hard cover. Must’ve been one of those archetypes Bandar has to deal with now trying to control my mind and making my shell-out instead of waiting for the paperback.
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