Sunday, June 20, 2010

All good things must come to an end

I'm 'retiring' this blog now. It was great while it lasted, but I feel like I'm ready to move on.

If you enjoyed reading my reviews and such, you can check out my new blog, The Daily Monocle.

Thanks for reading. :D

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Fruit of the Fallen by J. C. Burnham

Serenity D'Evele has no idea that she isn’t like other sixteen year old girls. She doesn't know that her grandmother, Sophia, isn't actually her grandmother. She doesn't know why she's moved from school to school her whole life, never bothering to stay in one place. She doesn't know how sixteen years ago, a nun thrust her into the arms of a man called Dr. Johnathan Keats, and that he risked everything to protect her. Why? Because she is of prophecy, almost as if she's a modern day Joan of Arc.

Or is she?

What Serenity does know is that strange things are happening at her boarding school. Sophia leaves for weeks without a word. Strange creatures, voices, and dreams come to Serenity in the night. Even the people seem to be changing. Soon she finds herself sucked into the middle of a story laced with secret societies, supposedly mythical encounters, and corruption of what she thought to be good.

"The Fruit of the Fallen" by J. C. Burnham is a wild ride that straddles the fine line between complicated and convoluted. The plot, though slow for the first half of the book, is very much the driving force in this novel. We as readers find ourselves continually faced with yet another plot twist—another layer in the already tightly-woven fabric of the story itself. From chapter to chapter, we bounce back and forth between Serenity's almost clichéd existence as a sixteen year old orphan, and Dr. Keats's gripping struggle in Europe.

Nearly every chapter we are greeted with a new group of characters—some more vivid than others. And, while I've always said, "the more the merrier", I think some of the characters in "Fruit of the Fallen" could have used a little more fleshing out. Serenity is one such character. I felt like I never really knew her, except through the archetype friends she made, and the few words she spoke, until the end of the book. There, we suddenly see an entirely new character who, at times, tries to leap off the page to proclaim, "look at me! I'm here! I'm the protagonist!"

Conversely, Dr. Keats—who I wish I could've seen more of—was wonderfully developed. His atmosphere was more vivid than any other setting in the book; his character more defined. Not to mention, he seemed to grow and change throughout the course of the novel at a steady pace. Some of the other characters also adjusted themselves, but not consistently. They're personalities seemed jerkier, as did their pieces of the story.

One thing I did love about "The Fruit of the Fallen," was its myriad of supernatural beings. Fallen angels, hellhounds, demons, spirits… each one had its own, distinct flavor and characteristics, largely avoiding clichés and predictability. These creatures and Dr. Keats's character are what lead me to finish this book.

I wish I could read the final version of this manuscript (the one I read hadn't seen the final edits) so that I might properly judge the writing. For now, I'll just say that I'm glad there were other edits, because I did notice some common writer's pitfalls like passive voice, and "show vs. tell".

Although not without its flaws, "The Fruit of the Fallen" is an interesting book from a writer with a big imagination. If J. C. Burnham continues to layer his writing as he has in this book, every sequel will be brimming with promise.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Repo Men ~ by Eric Garcia

Somewhere in the not-so-distant future, clothing stores no longer fill our shopping malls. No more Abercrombie; no more JC Penny's. Instead, we have synthetic organ dealers vying for our attention. But amidst the smiling crowds—the injured dying thinking, "there is some hope"—between the dancing "Harry the Heart" mascots, and neon, pulsating "A Lifetime Can Be Yours!" slogans, there is something sinister. Something dark.

Enter our main character: a nameless bio-repo man. Armed with ether, a taser, and a handful of scalpels, he reclaims the Credit Union's organs when their customers fall behind on their payments. The job is harsh, gory, and the general public regards him with a sort of morbid curiosity.

What attracted me to this book originally was the movie, Repo Men, recently come to theaters. I knew I wouldn't have time to go see the movie, so I elected instead to read the book. Frankly, I'm glad I did.

The prose is straight-forward. Told in the first-person, our nameless bio-repo man has a very strong personality. The flow of language and vocabulary is consistent; the imagery portrayed, vivid and tight. The characterization—at least of the main character—is steady and well developed.

The concept—of fake organs and power-hungry companies—is one that I think many people can fear. This is what I might call 'real' science-fiction. Light science-fiction. It's one of those concepts that might be frighteningly realistic, leaving people like you and me to hope it never comes to past. That being said, I wish that there had been more focus on the technology of the future society, rather than our brooding main character.

Repo Men as a story does drag a little bit. At times—and certainly upon finishing—I felt like I had finished a short story, rather than novel. It doesn't seem like there should be enough information to fill a book this size, and I wonder if this wouldn't have been better off as a novella. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the non-linear plot, and liked the book well enough to keep.

Repo Men is a dark book. It's full of things that we don't really want to think about; of concepts that leave us shuddering while we read. But it is also a realistic book. I could imagine myself as one of the future public, grimly fascinated by the work of our bio-repo man. A man who is world-weary, and aging under the burden of his past sins.

Eric Garcia has a very interesting book here, but I do wish it had been shorter—even tighter than it already is. Three and a half stars out of five.

The Picture of Dorian Gray ~ by Oscar Wilde

I never really wanted to read any Oscar Wilde books; they just didn't interest me. But while I was learning to use CeltX script software, "The Importance of Being Earnest" was included as a free example text. I was hooked immediately.

Several plays later, I finally pick up "The Picture of Dorian Gray". It has fast become one of my favorite novels of all time.

With each of the characters playing to an extreme of Wilde's personality, rather than getting a picture of Dorian Gray, you get a picture of Wilde's life. And what a rich life it was. Of course, I've been mildly infatuated with the Regency/Victorian since I read "Pride and Prejudice", but Dorian Gray succesfully turned that infatuation into what one might call an obsession.

Between the vivid and beautiful prose, the witty dialogue and character relationships, and the compellingly simple story itself, I couldn't put this book down. It's a great read even if you don't like Victorian lit or history--a great read even if you're not a fan of Oscar Wilde--and a great read even if you don't like history. And, of course, if you like any or all of thsoe things, it's an *awesome* read.

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

The Angel Maker ~ By Stefan Brijs

Haunting. Thrilling. This book will, no joke, keep you turning pages long into the night. What starts out as a seemingly innocent story quickly takes a turn for the dark and doesn't come back out.

Dr. Victor Hoppe--a disfigured geneticist with a haunting past--suddenly shows up in the suspcious village of Wolfheim after a twenty year absence. With him, he brings his three 'sons', along with their strange medical conditions and an uncanny resemblence to himself. As the triplets' health begins to deteriorate, so does Dr. Hoppe's sanity, until you begin to see that, under the good intentions, Dr. Hoppe is really a very confused man with a very twisted sense of right and wrong. A man who will act on those intentions.

The Angel Maker is a spellbinding tale that questions the ethics and morality of cloning and genetic testing. The prose is exceptionally well written (and I read a translation, something I usually find clunky and difficult to speed read), simple but very descriptive. I could vividly visualize everything that happened in the book (which I sometimes regretted). Quick. Sharp. It reminded me of Stephen King's writing, but without the (sometimes excessive) description. The Angel Maker may not be for the faint of heart, but it will delight science fiction/horror fans, and people with a penchant for the disturbing.

Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present ~ By Cory Doctorow

I bought "Overclocked" mainly because I had read Cory Doctorow's "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" in another anthology. I thought that short story was brilliant, well-written and it stuck with me for a while.

Unfortunately, the other stories in this book just don't compare to "Sysadmins". I read the whole thing cover to cover, and I enjoyed it, but it didn't live up to what I'd hoped. Granted, I really liked the *concepts* behind the stories, but the stories themselves didn't seem quite finished. They weren't quite polished.

Like I said, I liked it enough to read all of the stories, I just wish there had been *more*.