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Review: The Philip K Dick Reader

The Philip K. Dick Reader
by Philip K. Dick

x-posted to parizadhe

Synopsis:

A collection of 24 PKD short stories, of varying quality. All of the standard PKD warnings* apply: occasionally predictable plot, rampant sexism, the subtle prejudice of a white guy trying too hard not to be prejudiced, and a pervasive tendency to raise provocative topics and then drop them cold. Read more...Collapse )
In short:

The Future, according to Philip K. Dick:

  • War will have destroyed everything.
  • People will not think for themselves.
  • All creative capacity will have left us.
  • Everyone smokes. All the time. Everywhere. Even doctors.
  • Religious and “racial” minorities may gain equal footing--even the Martians and Venusians--but women are still second-class citizenry.
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America
by Chris Hedges


An interesting non-fiction read. Presents the very real, and rapidly growing, dangers of the Radical Right from a perspective we don’t often hear from; the author is a bible-believing Christian, himself.

First a bit of background on Hedges, straight from the dust cover of the book: “Chris Hedges, who graduated from seminary at Harvard Divinity School, was a foriegn correspondent for nearly two decades for the New York Times and other publications. He was pat of the team of reporters at the New York Times that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of global terrorism.”
(x-posted to my private lj)
Read more...Collapse )


In Short:

I suggest reading it. Think about it, research it, pass it on. And try to brainstorm some solutions. Because this is everyone’s republic, and we all need to work to keep it that way.

Review: High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

Have you seen the movie? If you've seen the movie, then I won't be spoiling anything for you.

Synopsis:

Rob Fleming is a thirty-something record-store owner suffering from a lack of self-esteem and motivation. No, really, he's insecure. Really, really, really insecure. He and his girlfriend break up, then get back together again. We get to read his internal monologue through the process. Hilarity ensues.

Really, that's it.

The Good:

The writing is engaging and witty, and Hornby makes some interesting observations about life. Parents, work, career goals, sex--lots of sex--it all comes under Rob's scrutiny. Only scrutiny's probably too strong a word, because like most of us, Rob isn't all that deep. He doesn't comprehend these things so much as bitch about them, moaning and whining his way through his problems, not solving them so much as enduring until they resolve themselves. Occasionally Rob strikes upon something poignant, but mostly he's bitter, wry, and laughable. Sometimes you laugh with Rob. Sometimes you laugh at Rob. It doesn't really matter.

He's average, we can relate to him, but damn! he's a looser! Think of Rob as a subtle warning sign: "Dead End, Do Not Enter." If there was meant to be any lesson in this book, that's got to be it, and it's truly well-delivered. Don't let me comments about Rob fool you: Hornby knows the score. Even if Rob's too dim and jaded to grasp the Big Picture behind his bitching, Hornby isn't; he subtly expresses his point, and--"Make a U-Turn!"--we get the message.

The Bad:

You know how in the movie Rob was this cute lovable fellow who eventually makes good and comes to new realizations and makes changes and resolutions and is, in short, as perfect a John Cusack character as you could imagine? Yes, well, that's not really the Rob in the book. The Rob in the book is selfish and narcissistic and painfully insecure. There were times in the book where I really wished I could reach in, grab him, and give him a good shake and screaming-at. Yet, I know it would have done no good, even if I could have somehow done it, because Rob himself will tell you that he knows better... in a myriad of situations, a swirl of infantile worries and petty moments, he admits that he knows better; the problem is, Rob's a guy who can not get over his hang-ups and insecurities. It's funny, yes, and we can all relate, yes, but OMG it gets annoying.

Also, you know that wonderful moment in the movie when John Cusack--that is, Rob-played-by-Cusack--offers to produce a tape for that garage band, and throws a premiere party for them, etc? It's a big moment, because Rob has Taken A Step, has realized that He Can Do What He Wants, has Moved Forward. And, coincidently, has allowed him to Move On With Laura? Well, there is no such moment in the book. In the book, it's all Laura and nothing but Laura: it's Laura who moves him forward, Laura who sets up his Moment of Moving Forward, Laura who, in fact, moves him. Rob is completely passive, and Laura is the dynamic moving force. Whatever balance is established between them in the movie, it is utterly lacking in the book: Rob is weak, dead in the water, hopelessly co-dependent, incapable of any action.

On the plus side, Laura is an awesome character: real, warm, dynamic, believable.

Rob, by the end of the book, he's so demonstrably hopeless, you just want to hurt him.


In Conclusion:

The book's a good read, and the characters are all engaging. Don't expect an inspiring, uplifting love story, though. That's reserved for John Cusack movies. Nick Hornby, he's delivering a far bleaker experience.

Review: Robert R. McCammon's Blue World

Blue World
by Robert R. McCammon

This is a collection of short horror- and weird-fiction stories and one novella. While they aren't the best shorts I've ever read, I have to say, they weren't at all bad.

Positive:

McCammon knows how to creep you out. He's actually a very good writer, with consistent voice, good use of sensory details, and he writes dialog that's neither drawn out nor forced. The stories he tells are also truly creepy, and he's nice and subtle about it; unlike some horror writers, who seem to need to bash you over the head with the gore, slinging foreshadowing like a cargo net full of bricks, McCammon sticks to a detail here, a word there, a flashback condensed into half of a sentence, a few words in italics to flicker your memory.

The creep-factor is sure to be upped for those Christians among us, because McCammon is coming from an exceedingly Christian-centered view. His bad guy is The Big Bad Guy, Satan himself, or those among us who are Touched By Evil, capital letters and all, and in his world anything supernatural is guaranteed to turn delightfully gruesome. While that makes all the stories a touch hokey for me--I'm sorry, but "Satan" strikes me as a grown-ups' bogeyman, something kind of embarrassingly silly instead of sinister and scary--some people still get a shiver out of the "touch of Ultimate Evil, bua-ha-ha-ha," so who am I to knock it? So McCammon's concept of The Bad Guy is a little flaky, so what? McCammon writes with a belief in the terror of Evil-with-a-capital-E, and I think that goes a long way towards making his work universally creepy.

Negatives:

McCammon, on the negative side, seems to wallow in stereotypes. Hispanics are all drug dealers, thieves, or welfare slummers. Blacks are all uneducated, violent, and talk with outrageous "yessa, massa" accents, or else they work in the most menial jobs. Hookers and porns stars are all money-grubbing degenerates whacked out on drugs--he's got a real thing for sluts on cocaine--who, shame shame, started out as good little home-town girls from the country. Because there's never been a porn star with an education, or a white-collar Latino, or a pacifist black man. Ever.

There's not a single story that portrays non-whites as anything but A Stereotype. And that includes Italians, who make two appearances: one as an arrogant, strutting, bitch-slapping stud, and two more as a couple who own the local corner grocery-slash-wineshop (who are benevolent and parental until they learn that their favorite customer is in fact a porn star; then, the wife goes ballistic, spraying her with Lysol and beating her out of the store with her broom, screaming " Whore! Filthy! Dirty! Whore!" like a frantic guineahen. Get it? Guinea? Hen? Ha. Ha. Well, McCammon would probably think it was funny.)

Yes, this guy is blatantly riddled with preconceptions. Racist is probably too strong a word, since he's benevolant about it. In fact, one of his most egregiously prejudicial stories, Yellachile's Cage is also, ironically, one of his best, in spite of how ridiculously... come on, just look at the title! Uneducated, illiterate black man in jail for murder messes with voodoo... the stereotyping, it's pretty bad. The story, however, like I said, is pretty good.

So if you can look past the extreme Christian themes and the mounds of--again, bigotry's probably too strong a word--then you'll enjoy the stories.

Give it one thumb up, or 6 stars out of 10. McCammon can have the rest of the stars after he puts away his childishness and does some growing up.

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass
by Phillip Pullman

Since I didn't want to see the movie without having read the book first, and we had some gift cards for Borders, I figured, what the heck?

Overall, and keeping in mind that it is a children's book, I give The Golden Compass a solid 7 out of 10.

spoilersCollapse )

I would write more--the book deserves a more comprehensive review than this--but Nate's going to be waking up any minute and I'm really pushing my luck writing even this much!

For as good as the story started, the ending was so poorly executed that I’m debating bothering with the next two novels.

Review: Only In Death

Only in Death
by Dan Abnett

Technically, I finished this book on the 31st, but I have to tell you: WOW. Just, WOW.

Towards the beginning of 2007, I mused that this would end up being the " Year of Warhammer 40K" for me. That ended up being quite accurate: Only in Death is the final--I should probably say, "the most recent"--book in the Gaunt's Ghosts series.

This book has a distinctly macabre flavor, with a spook-factor that's unusual in Abnett's writing. In fact, it reads very much like a ghost story or horror story, more so than a war novel, though make no mistake, the war element is still as intense as ever!

This time, the Tanith First and Only find themselves in a desolate mountain range, securing an ancient fortress called Hinterhaus from the forces of Chaos. Chaos, however, doesn't seem to be their only problem. The tactical schematics they've been given for maze-like fortress are all wrong, there's no water, the power source--completely alien--is failing, and the acoustics, muffling and amplifying sounds across the entire complex with no consistency, are utterly maddening. There's also been a rash of nightmares and nerves that none of the medics can account for; the unflappable Ghosts are uncannily spooked.

Gaunt reports that Hinterhaus is "indefensible," and requests permission for the Ghosts to fall back, but command refuses. Their orders are to "hold off" the enemy forces at Hinterhaus until water, ammunitions, and reinforcements can be shipped to them. Surrounded by elite enemy troops and left with virtually no supplies, command has essentially handed the Ghosts a death sentence.

I just can't bring myself to include any spoilers. I can't. So you're going to have to trust me.

The creepiness is as intense and gritty as a freshly exhumed corpse.

Read this series!

Review: The Juniper Game

The Juniper Game by Sherry Jordan is a book of Jessica’s that she gave me when we were cleaning off our book shelves and combining things in order to reduce the ridiculous amount of crap we have hanging around. It was such a good read – not complex or high concept, but solid and a nicely told little story. It is definitely a ‘young adult’ book; the characters are not terribly complex or well fleshed out, but the premise is really cool and I want to own Juniper’s house with all of my being.

Out of the dimness, like a film appearing slowly on a screen, he saw a street. It was dark at first, rough and cobbled, and again came the feeling of great antiquity. Fascinated, he explored the street. He was no longer afraid – Just excited and filled with a tremendous wonder. It was like seeing a movie, only he was inside it, not outside observing; it was an experience, an encounter with something three-dimensional and real.

Book Review: Pontoon

Pontoon by Garrison Keillor was my first book in the new year. it was a quick easy read, lots of fun, witty. I grew up on stories from Lake Wobegon and I find that Keillor's stories ring true for me at a very fundamental level; he understands big families and the small town life that I grew up with. One of my favorite moments:

Once upon a time there was a girl named Debbie... She was original and creative and vibrant and independent and praised by one and all and then one day she suddenly got very sick of herself and had to get away and she came back here. It's peaceful here. You don't have to be wonderful here. You can just be who you are.

All in all, a B+ book. Not a life shattering work, but sincere and worth picking up, especially if you remember fondly (or even with a wince) small town life.

2008 goal!!

My goals for 2008 are the same as they were in 2007. Hopefully I will have better luck this time.

- I will read 52 books this year.
- I will read 12 non fiction books this year
- I will write 2000 words of fiction per month.


I have already started my first book and am about half way through: Garrison Keillor's Pontoon. It is a lovely little book about small town life, quick read, fun. yeeee. I can do it.

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