If we stream all our movies and download all our books, what's left to ask for as a Christmas gift?

If we stream all our movies and download all our books, what's left to ask for as a Christmas gift?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Quick Bat-tip


Originally appearing as a 13-part limited series in the late 1990's, Batman: The Long Halloween is an epic, involving tale set during the early career of the caped crusader. Writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale tell a story that skillfully combines Batman's colorful rogues gallery (Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, etc.); more realistic criminal elements (in the form of warring gangster factions); and a terrific whodunit (who is the mysterious killer known as "Holiday"?). It all results in a wonderfully immersive story and hundreds of pages of gorgeous, moody artwork.

By the way, many of the story elements and set pieces of Batman: The Long Halloween inspired sequences- sometimes pretty directly- in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" films, and Mr. Nolan acknowledges his debt to this story in the collection's forward. In any event, I'm glad I finally took the time to discover this little epic by Mr. Loeb and Mr. Sale, and look forward to soon moving onto Dark Victory, their sequel of sorts to Batman: The Long Halloween.

Batman: The Long Halloween is available in both print and Kindle editions.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Here ya go


Until I post something a little more substantial, please enjoy this photograph of a pretty woman and the following handful of clever puns.  They really don't have anything to do with one another, but so what, right?

I changed the name of my iPod to Titanic.  It's syncing now.

I tried to catch some fog.  I mist.

I know a guy who is addicted to brake fluid. But he said he can stop anytime.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went.  Then it dawned on me.

I'm reading a book about anti-gravity.  I can't put it down.

PMS jokes aren't funny, period.

I took a class trip to the Coca Cola factory.  I hope there's no pop quiz.

What does a clock do when it's hungry?  It goes back four seconds.

I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.

How do make holy water?  Boil the Hell out of it!

Special thanks to spam and the internet for the entire contents of this post.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The real McCoy


Remember the scene near the beginning of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where Admiral Kirk is mildly depressed and Dr. McCoy encourages him to get back his command of the Enterprise? That scene is recounted at the beginning of this engaging little story, where it gets McCoy thinking of an emotional crisis of his own way back when.

The bulk of this Kindle novella (probably about a hundred pages long if it ever appeared in print form) describes an early adventure of McCoy's on the remote planet of Capella IV, where McCoy and his medical colleagues study and interact with a primitive humanoid species, with the aim of trying to secure permission from the tribe's leaders for the Federation to mine a needed ore from the planet. The Prime Directive, politics, and a "needs of the many versus the needs of the few" situation all conspire to create a personal and professional crisis for McCoy, which he recounts to Mr. Spock years later after his meeting with the depressed Kirk.

As I said, this is an engaging little story, with interesting details about the alien race, decent banter and interactions among the Starfleet personnel, and even some saucy humor involving the alien race's mating rituals. The story's conclusion depends a little on being familiar with how things eventually worked out for Kirk in Star Trek II, but I suspect that 99 percent of the people who purchase this story will already be up to speed on that.

In the end, Michael A. Martin has written a crisp, entertaining novella that is true to the characters we know, and well worth the modest price being asked (something around three bucks at the time I purchased it).  I'll be on the lookout for more Star Trek tales from Mr.Martin.

Grave doings


After reading this book, it seemed to me that Robert Dugoni wasn't trying to re-invent the wheel with My Sister's Grave, but just wanted to deliver a rich, satisfying police thriller / mystery story. And that's exactly what he did.

Seattle police detective Tracy Crosswhite's younger sister Sarah had disappeared decades before in their old hometown of Cedar Grove, and though a body was never found, strong circumstantial evidence pointed to her murder, and a creepy local guy was eventually convicted for the crime. But now the body has been discovered, along with clues that suggest that the person convicted may have been framed for Sarah's murder.

With her ultimate aim being the identification of the real killer and bringing him to justice, Tracy works to get the case reopened. But she can't do that until the original guy is exonerated and released from prison because of the shady procedures used to convict him. Tracy's efforts to do all that don't make her popular with the residents of Cedar Grove, who don't want the disturbing crime from their town's past getting all stirred up again.

Dugoni has a nice, readable style, skillfully mixing investigation, family dynamics, action, danger, and even a gentle romance as Tracy becomes close with the lawyer helping her with her case. Some of the story is revealed in flashbacks, which are skillfully integrated into the main flow of the story.

This is the first novel of Mr. Dugoni's that I've read, and I look forward to sampling another one of his books in the near future.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Flying Delta

Mickey Spillane's The Delta Factor, which the famed author wrote in the mid-1960's, was an okay little thriller with an okay little plot: A con man and adventurer known only as "Morgan the Raider" is arrested by the government for allegedly stealing 40 million dollars from the U.S. Treasury or some other federal agency (it wasn't all that clear). Morgan is offered a deal, however: if he uses his skills to successfully break a guy out of prison (a political prisoner being held in one of those fictional communist island nations so popular in action movies and thriller novels) the feds would go easy on Morgan's prosecution and maybe not investigate too closely the whereabouts of the 40 million, either.

Things generally move along nicely, though some three-page sequences could have been done in two pages, and some three-paragraph descriptions could have been summed up in one or two paragraphs. Also, some of the plotting was strange: for example, Morgan is told by the feds to find a way to get himself arrested and incarcerated once he's in the communist country, so that he'll be in the same prison as the guy he needs to spring. But when Morgan gets down to the country, that plan is never referenced again, and Morgan undertakes an entirely different plan to get himself in the prison, one that doesn't involve him getting arrested. It's almost like Spillane forgot what he wrote before.

But despite the above observations, there's a nice sense of place as Morgan moves through the Caribbean country's neighborhoods and casinos, making the necessary contacts, and putting his plans together. Also, an additional layer of menace soon surfaces, in the form of competitors and enemies from Morgan's past who have their own reasons to be interested in Morgan's latest mission.

This being a Mickey Spillane novel, you also get frequent bursts of violence and action, which are entertaining, as well as impossibly alluring women, who are also entertaining. The women have decent roles in the plot, too, which was nice.

Spillane, the creator of Mike Hammer, wrote only one Morgan the Raider novel (this one), though a partial rough draft of a second Morgan novel was recently polished up and completed by writer Max Allan Collins. Though I can't say that The Delta Factor blew me away, I liked it well enough to check out in the near future what Spillane and Collins have come up with for the follow-up, The Consummata.

It's said that Spillane's negative experiences with the producers of the movie version of The Delta Factor so turned him off that he lost enthusiasm for the character, and that was why he didn't produce further books about him. That may be so, but it also could have been that, like me, the author might have found the book to be certainly good enough but not really great, which would also be a pretty good reason for not moving right into the writing of future installments. Spillane did have a reputation for being- rightly or wrongly- hard on himself and started but never finished many, many manuscripts.

But, in the end, if you like thrillers, especially thrillers from the classic paperback era of the 50's and 60's, I'd say give this a whirl. Whatever else one can say, this is a quick, painless read with many good moments.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two versions of "Vice"

A few years ago, I wrote the following review of Thomas Pynchon's novel "Inherent Vice" and posted it on Amazon.  I'm not sure if I re-posted it here, during the early days of this blog, but- even if I did- an occasional rerun is allowed, right?  Anyway, the reason it's here now is because the movie version of the book, directed by the always interesting Paul Thomas Anderson, will be out soon, and I thought readers might enjoy some thoughts about the book.  I did have problems with the novel, as you'll see, but I'm still looking forward to the movie.  The trailer is available to view on the 'net and the movie looks well-crafted, well-acted, and pretty funny.  In any event, here's what I thought of the book...

Sometimes when a writer of straight-up dramas or literary works takes a crack at the mystery genre, the results can be interesting. I often reflect on Martin Amis' Night Train, for instance. Amis made use of the conventions of the mystery genre without allowing himself to be pulled along by them, ultimately delivering a gangbusters, heartbreaking story that delivered satisfaction by, well... not delivering satisfaction and clarity on every aspect of the story. The lingering mystery of "why...?" on certain character points can be just as resonant as an "Aha!" type explanation, as Amis ably demonstrated. But, just as importantly, he told a clear story along the way to his ambiguity-laced conclusion.


But we're talking about Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, aren't we? Anyway, the thing starts out well, and throughout delivers much value: lots of well-drawn, imaginative scene setting, description, and characterizations (Doc, the central character, is both smart and ridiculous), but soon the story gets so complicated and meandering that all one can really enjoy are individual scenes, which- to be fair- are often quite well-crafted. However, any momentum, novel-wide architectural craftsmanship that builds on what has gone before, etc., occurs in minimal fashion. 

So, Pynchon doesn't even get to the point where he has to choose between haunting mysteriousness and total explanation in the resolution, because the hundreds of pages of story before the closing sections are muddled and unclear already. In other words, while the resolution in Night Train produced many questions to think about afterward, Amis' comprehensible, well-crafted story clearly laid out those questions beforehand... we easily followed what was going on up until the ultimate questions are laid at our feet. Pynchon doesn't do that; his whole story is all over the map.


To be clear (can't resist that), Inherent Vice offers some good banter, observation (especially of the cynical variety), humor, and the imaginative description I mentioned before, but in the end the book was a chore. Not as painful as other chores, but- with its muddled story and muddled final viewpoint- a chore nonetheless. The book does work as a kind of mood piece, I'll give it that. And if that's enough for you, give it a shot. For me, Inherent Vice fell into the trap of many literary works: it disregarded craft in favor of self-conscious artiness. And that can often result, as it did in my case, in frequent distraction and yawns.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Whew


How To Get Away With Murder series premiere: one murder set in one timeline, another set in a timeline about three months later, with the show jumping back and forth between the two timelines while squeezing in all kinds of other subplots. I better lay off that second glass of wine if I'm going to try to keep up with this. I didn't realize I was tuning into Raymond Chandler crossed with Lost.