Monday, January 30, 2012

11 PM Book Review: Briarpatch

Briarpatch is about Darrin, who witnesses his girlfriend jumping off a bridge months after she left him with no explanation. He knows she left him for a mysterious man named Ismael Plenty. Unconvinced that his girlfriend would kill herself, he uncovers a bizarre consipiracy, engineered by Ismael Plenty, and centering around himself.

Darrin and Ismael are Briarpatch babies, though Darrin is unaware of this. Of uncertain origin, the Briarpatch babies have the ability to step into a series of interconnected worlds of varying degrees of probablility: some with hospitals that include machines that heal you by taking better bodies from alternate versions of yourself, some where you might be attacked by werebears. Ismael wants to find the perfect world, the one where the light itself causes you to forget all need and be perfectly satisfied. Because, you see, Briarpatch babies are immortal. And immortals get bored, and despair, and want to move on to the afterlife. At least Ismael does.

To learn to see the Briarpatch, you generally need some sort of shock. Ismael has decided to drive Darrin to despair. He convinced Darrin's ex-girlfriend to kill herself (to get to the light of another world - a way denied to Immortals). He convinced Darrin's BFF to get Darrin fired. Then he staged an affair between Darrin's BFF and his new girlfriend. Nothing quite works out the way Ismael wants to, though. Darrin is made of sterner stuff.

Briarpatch is a really low key, personality driven fantasy. I liked it because of the themes. It contrasts delight in life with a yearning for transcendence to create what is essentially an anti-dualist fable. There may be something wonderful in the next world, but this is the one you have to kick around in until you get there. Darrin and some of the cohort he picks up on the way, including an ex-suicide haunted by Darrin's ex-girlfriend, and a man driving an automobile from an alternate detroit around the Briarpatch in order to find a version of his wife so that he can ask her if she commited suicide, or just sat too long in an enclosed garage, all have engaging voices. They are driven but not anxious, despairing but still curious about the world. They all are dealing with the question of why we continue to exist in the face of disapointment in small but pragmatic ways. It may turn out to be the great question of secular life, once we are free of disease and war. Darrin is not a passive man, but the loss of the love of his life has made him so, and learning to love his life gives him freedom again.

I also liked it because it's it pretty, surrealist book. The touristy trips into the Briarpatch are filled with glossy snapshots of irreality: vampire bars where you tip the bartender in blood, the Pontiac Wendigo itself, and city ruled by bees will feed the heads of people who like some Dali with their Drama.

It is very low key fantasy. It's got some sex and booze and poker in it. You can't advertise for life without the elements that make it fun. If you need swords with your sorcery, this may not be for you. If you're not up for a read with a little bit of meditation, save it for later. But if you want something pretty and meditative and earthy, this would be a good next for your reading list.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

11 PM Book Review: Vicious Redemption

Vicious Redemption by Michael Lucas is a collection of 5 deliciously gruesome horror tales.

Wednesday's Seagulls - Is a metaphore for marriage if I ever saw one. Or a zombie version of pop goes the weasle.
Pax Canina - Is the most charming, about dead dogs and no good deed going unpunished.
Opening the Eye - Is a trippy trepanation story.
Breaking the Circle - Is about not letting your daughter grow up... cause, you know, she's a werewolf and shit.
Sticky Notes - Is really an unflinching look at a person who has a chance at getting his heart's desire, which is something he's been spending his whole life avoiding. As a warning for those who would rather not read about the subjects, it touches on suicide and abuse.

Mike writes excellent stories about grim choices. About the choices that lucky people don't have to make. Donner party sorts of choices. The collection title is spot on: all of the redemptions offered here cost at least a pound of flesh.

The stories are vivid in a Grand Guignol style, but thoughtful in a way that puts torture porn to shame. I especially like that he can take really unsympathetic characters, as in Opening the Eye, and make you interested in what they do. In the case of Sticky Notes, he takes a really unsympathetic condition, curses a sympathetic character with it, and does a sort of egg race balancing morality and desire to the end of the story. Mike's fiction is original (there may be another trepanation story around somewhere...), never uses over worked tropes, and manages to stare uncomfortable shit right in the face and make a story out of it. If you like over the top horror, you will find this collection very satisfactory.

There wasn't a single one of these stories I didn't like, so I'll just end with full disclosure: Mike is an old friend of mine, I saw most of these tales before this collection, and I've always been a big fan.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Altar of Eden

I just finished Altar of Eden by James Rollins. This is not a review, because I didn't like the book much. It was a bog standard thriller, fun as a rip off of The Island of Dr. Moreau, but with a sort of weak ending where the protagonists aren't responsible for much of everything. Not quite Deux Ex Machina, but close. As a thriller, it had the bonus of not including virulently crappy politics, like, say, Clive Cussler, but didn't have the advantage of a real personality, like say, Lincoln and Child. It had all the trade marks of the mass market thriller: poor characterization, improbable, kind of stupid plot twists meant to make you feel a certain way about the characters, lots of foolish coincidences, a smattering of feel good moralizing, and enough malapropisms that I wonder why the Anti-Selfpubbers insist that quality control is an issue with selfpub. Frankly, I'm also reading that Amanda Hocking thing. Which is poorly edited. BUT NOT MORE POORLY EDITED THAN THIS HARPERCOLLINS THRILLER. Caps is how you know I'm for srs.

"She both loved him for this effort and bristled against it, but in the machismo world of the South..."

I picked it up because of the jacket copy. "Polk investigates an abandonded shipwreck... carrying exotic cages animals, parrt of a black market smuggling ring. But... each is an unsettling mutation of the natural order..." dun Dun DUNNNNNN! Great stuff.

It's very affirming, because it means if I edit even a little, nobody can ever accuse me of shitting up the quality of the English Language more than Harper Collins already does.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

11 PM book review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Jacob Portman witnesses his beloved grandfather's death at the hands of an eyeless three tongued monster. Because it's so horrific, he is promptly convinced by everyone around him, including his therapist, that it couldn't have been real. But something's wrong, including the strange pictures his grandfather kept in a cigar box. Jacob keeps scratching at the mystery of his grandfather's life and death until he ends up visiting the orphanage that his father grew up in during world war 2, convincing his father that the birds on the little Welsh island would make a worthwhile ornithological study.

Once on the island, he finds the orphanage, but not in the place he expected. And he certainly didn't expect the pictures in his grandfather's cigar box to be of real people, exhibiting their weird abilities. And he didn't expect to get involved with this grandfather's lovely ex-girlfriend.

I picked this up on the recommendation of a co-worker. I really enjoyed this book for the voice and the world building. The description and cover kind of lead you to believe it will be a sort of steampunk X-Men. The author uses found antique photos throughout  to illustrate actual characters, many of which have a cool, spooky quality to it. But as you can tell from the above, it's more dieselpunk. And though the randomness to the Peculiar children's abilities give a sort of superhero vibe, there are hints of deeper order that lead you along a trail to a much more urban fantasy style of milieu, with a fresh supernatural taxonomy. You have to love any series that calls it's creatures "peculiars."

The protagonists voice is cynical but optimistic, and unlike a lot of YA titles, uses language that teens would actually use. Not swearing in the manner of South Park (not that there's anything wrong with that), but swearing in the casually colorful way Holden Caufield might have if he'd actually sworn.

I can't think of anything I disliked without nitpicking, so I won't bother. Miss Peregrine was a short, fresh read with a likable protagonist and fun milieu.