31 October 2010

80. The Snake

The Snake - Mickey Spillane

A quick romp through solving a crime with an over confident lawman.

Mike Hammer is his name. With a name like that would you expect anything but over-confidence? To tell you the truth, that is exactly what I expected when I picked this book up. I did not think it would be outstanding writing or an intricate plot. I expected a "wham bam thank you maam" kind of book. That is exactly what this is.

It was called pulp-fiction back when it was written. I hear Spillane and Hemingway had a few arguments about if these books were worth publishing. Spillane didn't claim to be a great author. In fact, he even said once "I am a commercial writer, not an author."

Some other Spillane quotes:
"Authors want their names down in history; I want to keep the smoke coming out of the chimney."

"Hemingway hated me. I sold 200 million books, and he didn't. Of course most of mine sold for 25 cents, but still... you look at all this stuff with a grain of salt."

"If the public likes you, you're good."

"Now I'm not an author, I'm a writer, that's all I am."

"Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book."

"My work may be garbage, but it's good garbage."

 and my favorite:  "I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends."

So, when I read this book from a perspective that Spillane is writing it to make a buck rather than write the best book...then this is outstanding. It makes me want to read "I, The Jury" and "Kiss Me, Deadly". I will find them both and follow Mike Hammer through those ridiculous, never gonna happen, no way in the world scenarios that he kept getting into and out of a million times.  :-)

I couldn't help but think if the old Dragnet TV show. This guy was like that, but cockier.

It was fun. I will give it a rating of good, but it is a different kind of good. It is good because the expectation was not to find another Vonnegut type of writing.

25 October 2010

79. Flesh Gothic

Flesh Gothic - Edward Lee

Horor today is definately not what horror was twenty years ago. It used to be scary. It used to get into my head and keep me awake at night. Now, it is more gross than scary. It invokes wretching rather than shivering. It makes me feel nauseous rather than afraid to open a door.
I have read a few "modern" horror novels now. Some of the others have been a bit better. This one is supposed to be written by the new leader of the pack. I read the blurbs and thought it may actually be something special.
"Edward Lee's writing is fast and mean as a chain saw revved to full-tilt boogie."
"The hardest of the hardcore horror writers."
"A true master of the horror novel."
"The living legend of literary mayhem. Read him if you dare!"
I dared! I think Edward Lee just took old ideas that were scary stories, infused them with lots of deviant sexual practices and satanic ritual stuff, and then churned it together to make it much more disgusting and revolting than horrific.
Don't waste your time.

24 October 2010

78. Amazonia

Amazonia - James Rollins

This book took forever to read. I carried it with me for about a month. I read a few pages here and there. I kept trying to really get into the story, but it just didn"t grab me and not let me put it down. The book was just good enough to keep me coming back and the plot was just good enough to make me wonder what would happen next, but overall it was found lacking.

It starts out great. A man wanders out of the Amazon jungle after being missing for four years. He has regenerated an amputated arm! He is also riddled with numerous aggressive cancers that kill him before he is able to share his story. From that point it is discovered that he is highly contagious and people begin to die throughout the world.
A team is put together to trace his footsteps back into the Amazon in hopes of finding a cause and possibly a cure for what has happened.
So far, so good. It goes slowly bad from there. Nothing drastic, mind you, but it is full of jungle cliché and b-movie silliness.
While traveling the Amazon, what are the typical things encountered by everyone?

Well, there must be the obligatory death by alligator (caiman in this story)...check!

How about the mysterious jungle people and the legends that are meant to keep out all strangers...check!

Oh, and the "outsider" who after some tragic event has been accepted as a member of the "tribe" and is fully trusted by indigenous folks with all their secrets...check!

There needs to be a second group to throw a monkey wrench in the works in the name of corporate greed. Of course the big evil drug corporations will hire the "ends justify the means" evil tracker guy to steal the cure once our heroes find it. And of course this guy will have fallen in love with a sadistic tribal woman who is the world's greatest shrunken-head artist. (Can you feel the ridiculousness yet?)

These things just felt like jungle-story cheese to me. And then there were other things.

How about the group gets attacked by a cross between giant venomous frogs and piranhas. These little critters killed an entire tribe of natives, but just by coincidence the groups "medicine man" happens to have some powdery substance that puts these things to sleep.

So, we escape the piranha-frogs with minimal loses. Whew...but then they are attacked by a flesh-eating swarm of locusts. Once again, the medicine-man uses some ancient natural jungle herb remedy to keep the bad monsters from attacking (though not hurting them) and the group escapes. Once again, the only guys dying are Army Rangers. (Military is expendable when we are writing a book that is supposed to be pro-environmental solutions only. Man made solutions would not help make the jungle itself seem so supernaturally powerful.)

Then we need to get across a swamp. Oh, man, what will we do now? Let's build rafts! The rafts then get attacked by more caimans. But these fellas are not normal. They are ancient. They are well over 100 feet long! Once again...Rangers die.

Then there are the giant black jaguars that look like shadows at night. Please!

Finally we make it to the goal. This is the place where a tribe lives that was supposed to be only a thing of legend. But they are real...and it is totally whacked! A giant tree has captured all manner of creatures for centuries and is keeping them alive in its root system. It is analyzing their DNA and altering it to suit its own purposes. This tree has altered human DNA to enslave the offspring. The tree has created the piranha-frogs, the man eating-locusts, the giant jaguars and who knows what else! GET OUT OF HERE!

I carried this book all these weeks and plodded through it just to read some crack-head junk like that? So, the events of the story were just good enough to keep me interested, though they felt kind of goofy and clichéd. The climax was totally cartoonish in my opinion and wouldn't even make a decent believable Saturday morning monster movie from the 70's.

Overall, it was OK...but barely. Maybe that is why it took me over a week to even try and type this blog entry.

14 October 2010

77. Falling Man

Falling Man - Don DeLillo

I did this one on audio because I went on a trip recently. I figured I would have time to listen while flying half way around the world. That didn't happen. I left it in the car. So, it took longer than I expected because I listened to it on my work commute instead.

I chose this book because I have wanted to read Don DeLillo's Underworld for quite a while. It sits on the shelf taunting me. It is a threateningly thick novel. I will get to it some day. In the mean time I figured I would get a taste for the author's style by listening to this one.

Falling Man is centered around a few every day folks living in New York City. The events of the book are centered around the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the effects that experience had on thier lives.

Their are different perspectives throughout the book and the writer jumps from one narrator to another quite often. There is a man who was in the tower, a woman who was in the tower and shares his experience, and his estranged wife and child who deal with it as outsiders trying to understand. There are people that are just friends and acquaintences and then there are random strangers with interjections into conversations.

There is also a perspective from the terrorists themselves going through flight school and wondering when the CIA will knock on their door to arrest them.

All of it comes back to what happened that day and how it is defining who they are today.

The Falling Man? He is a performer who, following the attack, puts on a harness and jumps from bridges and buildings. He poses his body in the way of one of the men who actually jumped from the World Trade Center and was caught on film. Arms back along his body, one leg bent. When it was described I recalled the photograph.

The writing was excellent. I fully understood the characters motivations for the actions they were taking. I understood the mood of each scene as if I was there. DeLillo is very good at doing that.

The only thing I didn't like was the dark subject matter. It brought back a lot of memories. It personalized those memories. It took 2800 some odd deaths and made the reader realize that each of them was an actual human being that interacted with the world. Each of them affected others in much the same way the people in this book did. That was very sad and depressing at times.

Something else that struck me was how everyone that was in the towers during the attack had a common theme in their lives. Not the real people, I mean the characters in this book. It seemed like each of them lost a zest for living. There was no reason for doing anything any more. Go to work? Maybe. What difference does it make? Why not just go to Vegas and play poker for weeks on end? What difference does it make? That was maybe the saddest thing of all. That the people no longer had any spark. They all seemed to be dead, yet still going through the motions of life. I would hate to live like that.