Wow. I haven’t posted any fiction reviews in the past year. Then again, I haven’t been reading much new fiction in the past year – mostly I’ve been re-reading comfort books or watching TV instead of fiction reading. Anyway, I was going through my bookshelves, and figured I should do at least a capsule review of a couple books before I gave them to HousingWorks.
The Learners, by Chip Kidd
I adored The Cheese Monkeys, so of course I bought this sequel. We follow Happy, the graphic design student of the first book, into the working world and his experience with the world of advertising in the 1960s. I enjoyed the first part of the book, as he tries to get his bearings in a wacky advertising firm straight out of a sitcom. The second part of the book gets more heavy as Happy ends up participating in the Milgram experiment, and Kidd explores what it would feel like to realize one had shocked another person to death because a man in a lab coat said so. The book gets darker at this point – still worth reading.
As an aside, Kidd released a Youtube video to promote The Learners where he does “5 Experiments in Form and Content”, delivering one character’s lines in the style of another e.g. Psalms 23 as read by the Wicked Witch of the West. Also, I found his recently released music video, Asymmetrical Girl, to be very entertaining in his use of visuals to underline the lyrics.
Fledgling and Saltation, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
I’m a huge fan of the Liaden universe, and so when I found out via Kevin Kelly that Sharon Lee and Steve Miller were publishing the next novels in the series in first draft form, I jumped at the opportunity to read them. Saltation isn’t quite done yet, but even in this proto-form, they have been quite entertaining.
Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman
Recommended by Wes, as I think he knows Grossman. Entertaining superhero novel, with two intertwining first-person narratives, one from Doctor Impossible, the clicheed supervillain, and the other from Fatale, an aspiring superhero. CoreFire, the most powerful member of the Champions, has gone missing, and Doctor Impossible suspiciously breaks out of prison (again) soon after. The Champions bring Fatale on board to help find CoreFire, and she gets sucked into the battle between the superheroes and the supervillain.
I thought the Fatale narrative worked better, as it conveyed the overwhelming nature of joining a superhero team, where she was now interacting with people she had only seen on TV. Perhaps it felt more real because we all have those moments where we feel starstruck meeting somebody that we’ve admired. The Doctor Impossible narrative was more disappointing, as it never really explored his motivations for wanting to rule the world. Sure, he was an overlooked downtrodden nerd, but who wasn’t? I would have liked more insight into what made him into a supervillain (although oddly, I liked that they didn’t try to give the Joker any backstory in the Dark Knight this summer – bah, consistency).
Tolerably entertaining, probably best suited for a library read or for borrowing from me.
Mask Market, by Andrew Vachss
I’m a big fan of the Burke series by Vachss, but it’s starting to run out of steam at this point. Burke’s been around for twenty years now, and I think Vachss has run out of things to say. I still love the characters and the way these broken people have formed a family of choice under incredibly difficult circumstances, but the plots no longer have the iconic memorability of the earlier Burke novels. I actually debated throwing this in the donation pile, but decided to give it another chance at some point.
Deadman’s Bluff, by James Swain
I’ve enjoyed earlier entries in the Tony Valentine series, so I picked this up when I saw it in the used book store. Tony Valentine is a retired cop who busts gamblers trying to cheat casinos. As usual, he gets in trouble. Entertaining as always, with the best part being Swain describing how various scams work. Entertainingly, I also bought Sucker Bet at the same time, even though I apparently already have a copy (it’s in storage with the rest of my books). I should pick up the rest of the series at some point.
Market Forces, by Richard K. Morgan
I got this from Jofish, although I still haven’t figured out if he meant to be sending a message or not. It’s a silly little near-future novel, where capitalism has run rampant, and corporations settle their battles with demolition derby-like duels, although the duels are settled purely on driving skill without auto-mounted weapons. So two people up for promotion for the same position? They settle it on the road. The winners get the top positions, and then exploit the hell out of developing countries to guarantee resources for their companies, helping revolutionaries in exchange for a guaranteed supply chain. The book centers on the struggle of one such executive to get out of the corporate life before it kills him. Ho hum.
Paperback Original, by Will Rhode
Picked this up at HousingWorks at some point because it looked entertaining. Essentially a gangster heist plot, but with the protagonist as an ex-pat in India, which adds a colorful air to the proceedings. Not too memorable, although I think it would have been more entertaining if I had travelled in India and recognized the various locations mentioned.