Book Reviews: Sci-Fi Twist

Here There Be Dragons
In a future where two huge conglomerates fight for supremacy in space, a law enforcement official investigates one of them, because his brother works for them. Instead of doing his job he falls hard for the local AI genius caught between the two companies.
This is the second in a series, and I wish I’d read the first, because that one had the Del/Sun story, and he doesn’t get much here. Some of the world building might have been in that one too, and therefore missing here. On the other hand, the best parts are the descriptions of the company headquarters and other places—the party near the end comes to mind—as well as the accounts of the ships moving through space in their unique way.
The strangest thing is that this book is billed as an erotica, but nothing such happens until near the end.

Strange Music
For many years I thought there was nothing better than seeing a new Alan Dean Foster novel was out. I started reading him about 35 years ago, when I was in high school, and that was the Flinx series, which is still going, as proven by this latest book.
There was a bright spot for me at the beginning, where Flinx and his lady friend—finally!—are living on Cachalot, which was the scene of one of my favorite early books. But then he’s convinced to go on yet another mission, thinking that after all this time there’s nothing he can’t handle. As always, he’s wrong.
In this story the twist is that he can’t read the emotions of the natives of this new planet he’s sent to, or more precisely he can’t read them when they’re talking. The people speak in a singsongy tone, which I enjoyed at first but quickly gave me trouble, which surprises me. It’s a fun excuse for the author to be even more verbose than usual.
This is typical ADF in its worldbuilding as well. He loves inventing new creatures and geographies, and while nothing will ever be more wild and strange than the lifeforms in Sentenced to Prism, there’s some fun stuff here too.
If there’s a word for this, it’s “typical.” There’s a sameness to previous plots, not just Flinx but even his Star Wars novels, as well as Icerigger and Spellsinger. It feels like he’s more interested in going crazy in his worldbuilding and doesn’t worry about plot anymore. But even if this is a typical ADF story, there’s so much awe in his inventiveness, and his incredible humor, to worry about the frame. Just enjoy the work of a master wordsmith.

(OMG) Don Quixote and Candide Seek Truth, Justice and El Dorado in the Digital Age (LOL)
Candide—after he got tired of his farm—wanders into a bar where Don Quixote is entertaining German tourists with his stories. They feel a kinship and decide to explore this modern world together, with Candide’s ultimate goal to get back to El Dorado.
For someone who’s loved the book for decades, it’s more than a little weird listening to the thoughts of a grown-up and no longer-innocent/naïve Candide. Yes, at the end of that novel he’s lost that charm, but he’s far worse here. On the other hand, his luck hasn’t changed a bit; everything bad still happens to him.
“The conductor leaned in and pointed to his badge. ‘My real name is Cyrano.’” This is the first of many appearances by famous literary—and otherwise—figures. Started out enjoying the Sherlock cameo, until it became—can’t believe I’m saying this—too meta. Luckily there’s more of him later, though I do wish someone could write about him without shoving Moriarty into it too. The entire Star Trek scene was disappointing, anticlimactic; when you get Don Quixote calling Captain Kirk a coward, you know you’re in the wrong book. They appear again near the end, but that wasn’t much better. And those good ol’ Suthin boys Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn turned out to be much bigger jerks than Twain would have ever thought possible.
Proving I am much like Candide, the long philosophical conversations during travel, especially in cars, put me to sleep. This book would have been considerably shorter and tighter without them.
At one point I thought for sure Candide would run into every character from his book, and couldn’t wait to get to Cunegonde. When he did. . . well, it could have gone better, but I’ll bet he doesn’t regret it. Too bad the monkeys from the trip to El Dorado didn’t make it into this one.
I’ve seen the Who’s On First routine done with bands before, but never for this long.
Nuevo Mancha seemed a lot more realistic than Vegas.
There are no words more chilling than “You shall join the other eunuchs.”
So. . . that was longer and tougher going than expected. A silly romp through history and the world, with each new chapter seemingly sprouting at random. Same wacky adventures with a modern twist, featuring two of early history’s most talked-about travelers. Where else would you find so many fun historical characters together?
I’m not at all sure if watching Man of La Mancha a few months ago helped or hindered this reading. . .

Slayers & Vampires: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Buffy & Angel
It took a moment for me to understand what was meant by “oral history.” Rather than it being an audiobook or a Homer epic, this takes interviews and puts snippets into a chronological order that eventually makes sense.
In the end it works pretty well, even when you don’t recognize the speaker. A lot of them are recognizable, though, staring from Joss Whedon and including most of the actors and writers/producers. Especially fascinating was the chapter right before the show aired, when everyone was wondering if Buffy would be a hit or bomb.


Book Reviews: Nancy Drew Ain’t Got Nuthin’ On You

“The only thing that would make this kiss better is if you promised me you don’t have cooties.”
That’s why they call me the Romance Ninja. . .

Cold Moon
I don’t think anyone would have thought this series would continue from where the last left off, with one of the leads in jail. But rather than painting herself into a corner, Ms. Sokoloff had a plan, no doubt thanks to diligent research into California law.
So there are more killings while Cara is in jail; is it a copycat, or a devious plan to make her look innocent? Considering the attitude of her defense attorney, I certainly thought the latter was happening. But once Cara is set free she’s back to her old tricks, and Roarke and his gang are on her trail again, as well as that of the other killer.
I admit to a little surprise at the Singh/Epps hookup, since throughout the last book and this one we see him getting angrier and angrier, which you wouldn’t think would be an attraction to a brainiac like Singh. I’m sure he treats her well, just wondering what she saw in him the first time.
Basically if you read the first two and liked them, you’ll like this one just as much, possibly more. There are some fascinating psychological insights; when I reviewed the previous books in the series I made a point of comparing them to Criminal Minds, and this one even more so, with multiple killers this time. And though San Fran is still the main locus, in this one there are trips to the East Bay and Santa Cruz, which brought back a lot of memories for me.

Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets
As one would expect, the title had nothing to do with anything in this short-story collection, though there’s plenty of what might be called science-fiction here: in the first story an alien posing as a Latvian restaurateur falls in love with a college pro-life activist; later there’s a world in danger of global cooling; another deals with the resurrection of millions. But I’m thinking this tome falls into the “literary” category, mostly because a majority of these stories do not have what would be considered endings, or a better word for it is conclusions. So if you like having everything wrapped up at the end, avoid this. The story ideas themselves are the most powerful, and the writing is well-done, but there isn’t much plot or character development—remember, short stories—here.

Joss Whedon’s Names
This book has an incredibly long subtitle, mentioning every film and TV series—and whatever Dr. Horrible falls under—Joss Whedon has done, which seems a little silly. This writer’s previous works deal with Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and Sherlock, so she’s definitely a genre writer, and in her blurb it says she used to teach college.
This wasn’t what I was expecting, and unfortunately it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. Came into this hoping for some insight as to why Joss chose these names, rather than just the meanings, something you can find in any baby book on the internet. There were valiant attempts to link the name origins to the characters, but it was all guesswork; maybe Joss simply liked the name or chose it because that was what his best friend as a kid was called. Since it is nothing but guesswork, there’s absolutely no insight, nothing new to be learned here. Ultimately a disappointment.

Nancy Drew: The Bungalow Mystery
Okay, this requires an explanation from the 46-year-old guy, right? Well, I couldn’t read any new Hardy Boys because I did all that as a kid. I’d read some Nancy at the same time, but as a five-year-old boy it was much harder to relate. So why now? No particular reason other than needing a silly escape after trying to soldier through a book on why teens and twenties don’t want to go into politics, and ultimately giving up on it.
I have to say, Nancy’s been hit on the head so much that I wonder why she’s not a redhead, with all the blood. And can still walk, considering she’s had more concussions than a helmetless football player.
So as to this particular tome, there wasn’t anything all that special about it. Having devoured this type of story as a kid, it was easy to figure out the guardians weren’t whom they claimed to be. As always Nancy is nice to everyone and can’t conceive of anyone being mean unless they’re a bad guy; not even one shade of grey here. But considering I read the whole thing in less than an hour, in which time I didn’t think of anything else, it did its job of escaping me from the real world.


Book Reviews: Joss Whedon, Bruges, Orange County, and Spin

It’s the eclectic mix in the title that really sells it. . .

Joss Whedon
This biography was up for book of the year in this category, which is a bit of a surprise, not because it isn’t good enough, but because it has the same irreverent style as its namesake.
If you’re reading this because you’re a fan of the man—I think he’d like that rhyme—you will not be disappointed. There’s plenty of background on his growing-up years, his time in college where he learned about filmmaking, and his early years with his father in Hollywood. But where it really takes off, as should be expected, is with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, first his disappointment at how the movie was taken out of his control, then Buffy’s triumphant return, this time on TV. For those who are not particularly fans of his yet reading this anyway, there’s plenty of interesting tidbits from his time in Hollywood, all the way to Much Ado About Nothing and the preproduction of the semi-sequel to that blockbuster that is The Avengers, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. There’s just a touch about this family life, a few mentions without being intrusive; since I’m not a person who follows such things, I didn’t even know he had kids.
And just because there’s nowhere else for me to put this, I’m gonna say right now that, after binging on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for about a month, what I thought the first time is confirmed: the best moment of the whole series is “Buffy Summers, Class Protector.”
5/5 (Or as Faith would say, “Five by five.”)

The Juan Doe Murders
After one chapter of this Noreen Ayres mystery I knew this was going to be rough and realistic—at least I wrote a note to that effect—but in the end it wasn’t nearly as gory as that beginning crime scene. And there’s quite a few more murders to investigate, in the not-usual-dead-body areas of Orange County, California.
I was well into the second chapter before realizing—or more likely being told—that the first-person protagonist is a woman, and it didn’t help that she was often referred to as Brandon, which is actually her surname. The twist here is that she’s not a detective, but rather a crime-scene specialist, though in no way does this come across like an episode of CSI. As one might expect from the title, the dead bodies are Hispanic, which leads to a somewhat different take than might be otherwise anticipated.
Halfway through her lover dies. . . or not. . . or maybe. This would have been a useless plotline, except that his son is part of the investigation. At the end she admits she didn’t do anything to really help the investigation, the violent ending having taken away the necessity of arrests and trials.
It wasn’t till I was reading the author blurb at the end that I found out this was the third in a series, but since it never occurred to me, that must mean it can be easily read without the others.

From Bruges with Love
I got fooled again; like a couple of previous books, I expected this mystery by Pieter Aspe to be new, but as it turned out this is merely the first English translation of a book first published in 1997. You wouldn’t think it would make that much of a difference, but it is at times jarring, such as a clue being found in a Betamax box, which was obsolete even then to the character, but you surely wouldn’t find one nowadays outside of a museum.
These Dutch—or Flemish—names make it difficult to keep track of; some “sound” the same when you read quickly, and for some strange reason it’s worse than German. As for the plot, there are some tangents that end up going nowhere, but since that’s common in police work it’s not too bad. There’s a final plot twist that doesn’t change much, other than the fate of a couple of characters. There is one subplot involving a young policewoman that didn’t seem worth putting in, other than to save her ass at the end.
But as someone who’s been to Bruges and enjoyed it, I was more than a little disappointed at the complete lack of description of the amazing places that draw tourists; there’s quite a bit on local restaurants and everyday places, which is as expected, but I don’t believe the word “canal” was used even once. A reason for that might be the few scenes that featured tourists, all of which have the main character exhibiting contemptuous thoughts toward them. On the other hand, this story seems to be far from the first in a long line, so maybe all that was covered before.

If you ever watched those press monkeys on TV and wondered what they really meant by all those long phrases of meaningless gibberish, this is the book for you. More funny than really educational, the book is in dictionary format, most of it spin-to-English, though there is a much smaller part that’s English-to-spin at the “end.” By far the best parts are the examples, like in the spelling bee when you say “use it I a sentence.” The new terms are substituted for their more usual counterparts in familiar clichés, some of which become incredibly hilarious. But despite the last half being just notes, it was still a long tough read, not at all what I expected. This dropped its grade a point.