Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “narfna”

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #50: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora ended with our hero, Locke, asking of the universe, “So this is winning? Well it can go fuck itself.” That statement pretty much sets the tone for Red Seas Under Red Skies, the second book in the Gentleman Bastards sequence.

Locke and his best mate Jean may have “won” against The Gray King and the Spider of Camorr — escaping the city to live another day and lick their wounds — but the price they paid for that victory is almost unbearable for Locke. Forced to flee their home, their hard-won (i.e. stolen) fortune gone, and their temple burned to the ground, they are gravely injured in body and soul, and three of their fellow Gentleman Bastards, their brothers, are now dead. It’s under the shadow of these events that Locke and Jean cook up their latest scheme in the island city-state of Tal Verrar (a scheme which is just as much about healing as it is about doing what they love). But what starts out as a two year long-con of the most exclusive and impenetrable high-stakes casino in the world — the Sinspire — morphs into a high seas pirate adventure, when some of Locke and Jean’s old enemies get wind of their presence in the city and corner the two thieving con-men into becoming pieces in their own games for power. Games for power which involve Locke and Jean pretending to be pirates and raining hell up and down the coast. But, as always happens with these two, things don’t go according to plan.

Once again as he did in the first book, Lynch plays around with structure. The book starts out with an in media res prologue, with Locke and Jean held at crossbow point, and with Jean seemingly betraying Locke. This is one misstep the book makes . . . it’s not believable at all that Jean would ever betray Locke, and Lynch does a kind of half-assed job sowing those seeds throughout the rest of the book before we reach that moment again, and it is quickly revealed that, duh, Jean would never betray Locke in one billion trillion years. That makes the prologue completely unnecessary. Something else weird about the structure, although not necessarily bad, is that throughout the first half, the narrative alternates between present day and telling the story of the two years that have happened since we last saw Locke and Jean. Lynch seems to enjoy discombobulating his readers, but in the end it seemed to be nothing more than a callback to book one, as that alternating narrative completely disappears in the second half. Again, not necessarily bad, just kind of bizarre.

If The Lies of Locke Lamora was a hybrid of The Godfather and Ocean’s Eleven, then Red Seas Under Red Skies is a hybrid of Ocean’s Eleven and Pirates of the Caribbean, with just a hint of The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s one part casino heist, one part swashbuckling pirate adventure, and one part revenge story. It’s kind of nuts, to be honest, but it just sucked me in and didn’t let me go. I zoomed through all 578 pages in just under two days. This one was also much more about the friendship between Locke and Jean. Lies had so much plot and so many other characters shoved in that there really wasn’t time for the bromance buddy narrative Lynch so badly had a-brewing in his mind between these two characters. But in this one, it’s just Locke and Jean against the world, and both of them evolve into even more interesting characters because of it.

Oh, man, I just love this series, but now it joins my shelf of frustration, as I wait an eternity for the next book to be released. WHYYYY. At least there’s way less of a chance of Scott Lynch dying than there is of The Great Bearded Old One to finish up A Song of Ice and Fire before he drops dead of old age, (or more likely, the HBO series catches up to him). Alas. The perils of being a fan.

Whatever, you guys should read this series because I said so. The End.

[Cross-posted to Goodreads]

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #49: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, narr. by Michael Page

Dudes, what a surprise this book was. I’d heard magical things from credible sources, and since I’m not one of those contrarians who take praise for a thing to mean it must actually suck, I put it on my list, figuring I’d get to it eventually. So when a free download of the audiobook popped up in my library queue, I dove right in. With the exception of one instance of plot dragginess in a critical area, I was not disappointed, and even though I was expecting good things, it still managed to surprise me. Scott Lynch is one of the most engaging authors I’ve read in a long time. His words just suck you in, and his city and characters come to life in a way that most authors only dream of. It’s one thing to have a great story puttering around in your head, another to bring it to life. Scott Lynch manages both in The Lies of Locke Lamora.

The Lies of Locke Lamora — the first in a proposed seven books in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence — follows the titular Locke Lamora from the tender age of seven as he goes from a dirty and careless orphan with a penchant for thieving to being the master of his very own group of cultured and educated thieves. They call themselves The Gentleman Bastards, and it is their sole mission to break the secret peace that holds the city of Camorr together. The formidable Capa Barsavi is the head of all crime in Camorr, and he made a deal twenty years before that the city’s thieves would leave the nobles alone in exchange for lenience from the city’s government. Breaking the secret peace is absolutely forbidden and punishable by death, but Locke and his Bastards operate in secret right under the nose of Barsavi, who believes them to be but middling and loyal thieves. The narrative alternates between Locke’s childhood, growing up with his fellow Bastards under the tutelage of Father Chains, and the present day, in which one of Locke’s long cons is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious figure calling himself The Gray King, who uses Locke in his quest to get revenge on Capa Barsavi and take Camorr for his own.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is what would happen if The Godfather and Ocean’s Eleven had a baby and it was raised in a version of Venice that was built out of strange indestructible glass by aliens who left thousands of years before. It’s a world where magic exists but is considered dangerous and rare, and thieving and conning is a much more important (and practical) way of life. There are so many plot threads in this book that a lesser author would have buckled under the pressure, but Scott Lynch’s style is to take a bunch of shit and just throw it up in the air, and then make you watch as it all unfolds according to plan, even as you think there’s no way he could ever bring it all together. The book is full of clever (and often very, very funny) dialogue and extremely likable characters. Also, lots of violence, characters getting in and out of brilliant scrapes, and some truly excellent swearing. Like, swearing as an art form. And there’s so much detail in any given scene — scenes that go on for much longer than they have a right to and still work — it’s like the world Lynch has created is actually there and his story and characters just live there. We’re done with Camorr by the end of the book, and I kind of can’t wait to see what areas of this world and its history he’s going to explore next.

The Gentleman Bastards Sequence has been compared to George R.R. Martin’s and Joe Abercrombie’s work, but the similarities only go so far. Sure, they’re all writing in what I’m going to call the “bloody, violent, and epic fantasy” genre, but Lynch’s work is very different from both. For one thing, even though this is a seven book series, the books are essentially stand-alone, in that storylines are complete from book to book: beginning, middle, end. And sure, Lynch has obviously been to the GRRM school of brutality and killing characters you love, but the world he’s created wouldn’t have the same effect if it wasn’t one in which actions have consequences. The Bastards themselves — the irrepressible Locke, the cunning Sanza twins, cheeky young apprentice Bug, and Locke’s best mate, Jean — are a lovable group of miscreants, and you really end up caring what happens to them in a rather short period of time.

The only criticism I have of the book — and it’s a pretty big one — is that after a pretty climactic moment in the narrative, the book kind of stalls and meanders along for a while before picking up again. Maybe it was the way I was reading it, but all this crazy shit had just happened and it went into this lull instead of escalating it. It took me a while to get back into the story after that happened, but when it finally picked up again HOO BOY DID IT PICK UP. To steal a swear from Lynch, “fuck damn!” Given how much I enjoyed the sequel, which had a pretty wonky structure as well, I’m thinking a re-read might sway my opinion on this one, but even if it doesn’t, the rest of the book is so good it almost doesn’t matter. As for the audiobook itself, Michael Page was a great narrator, really good at voices in particular, although the quality of the download I had wasn’t that great.

This was a really great book, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good yarn, not just fantasy fans. It’s also a great investment if you like good series, as I actually enjoyed the second book more than the first, and now I’m impatiently waiting the release of book three, which is apparently reaching GRRM levels of WHEN WILL THIS BE RELEASED. But I’m willing to wait if Lynch delivers the goods like he did in the first two. Anyway, I’ll think you’ll be just as surprised as I was by this book. As Locke himself would say, “There’s no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated.”

[4.5 stars]

[Cross-posted to Goodreads]

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #48: Stiff by Mary Roach

I love Mary Roach and this book was fascinating, but I think it might have been just a little bit too morbid for me.

As I noted in my review of Bonk, Mary Roach is a curious lady. She seems to think it her life’s mission* to pick areas of interest and then dive into them in ways that most people either haven’t thought of, or have thought of but were too embarrassed to ask about. Stiff was her first book (before that she was a freelance writer, mostly doing humorous yet educational pieces for Reader’s Digest, Vogue, GQ, Discover, and The New York Times Magazine), but somehow I ended up reading the Mary Roach body of work backwards, and this is actually the last one I’ve read, even though it was first published. In case you care (you don’t), I like the ones about sex and space the best, but that’s probably because I like reading about sex and space. One of the great things about Roach’s writing is that it’s remarkably consistent, and her same curious and irreverent (but always respectful) manner can be applied to all manner of topics — you always know what you’ll be getting into when you pick up one of her books. And who the heck knows what she’s going to write about next.

*Either that, or she’s making a shit ton of money off of doing that exact thing over and over, so why not just keeping do it? Mary Roach’s publishers say, “More please!”

In Stiff, Roach examines the many things that happen to our bodies after we die, but her main avenue of inquiry is what happens to bodies people have “donated to science.” As you’ll find out if you read the book (or the next couple of sentences that I’m about to type), donating your body “to science” could mean any number of things. She writes about surgeons practicing techniques on severed heads, cadavers being preserved for eternity as art exhibits*, bodies being used as crash-test dummies to make cars safer for those of us who are still living, and the use of cadavers in weapons and ballistics research. There’s even a whole chapter about gravedigging, which was the main way that doctors/researchers obtained human remains to study way back in the day. One of the things Roach is careful to note is that when you donate your body to science, you have no choice over where you will end up. I might consider donating my body to science if I could guarantee I’d end up as a skeleton in a classroom, or as an exhibit at Bodyworlds, but there’s no way I’m getting my head chopped off so plastic surgeons can mess around with my face muscles. NO THANK YOU.

Even though it was really interesting, for most of the book I found myself slightly sick to my stomach, and kind of appalled at what physically happens to us after we die. The last chapter made me feel slightly better — Roach goes into detail about a Swedish (or was she Belgian? I can’t remember) scientist who is pioneering composting as a means of burial. If this is a thing ever I want it to happen to me (not as creepy as it sounds — they don’t just bury you and let you naturally turn into fertilizer — there’s this thing they do to halt the natural decaying process and then you just kind of gradually merge with the dirt without so much as making one little stink). I used to joke that I wanted to be encased in honey in a glass tomb and then lowered to the bottom of a very clear lake, but I think this composting thing might be a more realistic option. Instead of getting all moldy in a grave or burnt to a creepy crisp, I can grow my very own dead Ashley tree!

Anyways, check this Mary Roach shit out, ya’ll. Especially Packing for Mars, because there is a whole chapter about pooping in space!

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #47: The Serpent’s Shadow by Rick Riordan

I love the Percy Jackson series. It’s great for what it is (kid’s literature). Rick Riordan isn’t the world’s best writer, but his books are entertaining and educating at the same time, and the PJ series in particular has an engaging plot and characters. Most of what he’s written after that series has felt kind of redundant to me, not only in plot, but also in the way that he structures both individual books within a series and the series as a whole. The Heroes of Olympus is a continuation of the Percy Jackson universe with new characters mixed in, and besides a little bit of repetition, it’s pretty great. The Kane Chronicles trilogy — of which The Serpent’s Shadow is the third and final volume — has been much more problematic for me the whole way through.

The Kane Chronicles follows brother and sister Sadie and Carter Kane, who are descended on their father’s side from the Egyptian pharoahs. They also happen to be magicians and hang out with Egyptian gods on a regular basis. The big villain of the trilogy is the god Apophis, the chaos serpent. The big quest in The Serpent’s Shadow is for the kids and their team of fellow magicians to find a way to defeat Apophis’s plan to swallow the sun and turn the forces of chaos loose on the universe. The plot is pretty standard, and I bet you can guess how it all turns out, but where The Serpent’s Shadow fails (and I think where the whole trilogy fails) is in the way Riordan brings that story across. Book two show marked improvement over book one, The Red Pyramid, so I had high(ish) hopes for book three. But The Serpent’s Shadow ended up being almost as disappointing as book one.

In addition to not really caring about any of the characters, I was completely turned off by the framing device, which involves Riordan pretending that Sadie and Carter would stop and take the time to painstakingly “record” their story conveniently in the style of children’s novel on some battered audiocassettes or something. This was cheesy for the first two books, but at least it made some sort of sense, as purportedly Sadie and Carter were recording this in case something happened to them and they didn’t make it out alive. Obviously, they made it out alive from The Serpent’s Shadow, if they’re making the recording, so what’s the point? Nothing, except Riordan being cutesy and giving himself the excuse to have Sadie and Carter “adorably” interrupt one another whilst recording. I wish it had just been a straight up book-book, you know? Not to mention, hi! Spoiler! They make it out alive! Happy ending! And with the exception of a truly creepy solution to Sadie’s love triangle problem (she’s in love both with Anubis the god of death, who appears to her in the form a gorgeous leather-clad seventeen year old boy, and with her fellow wizard, Walt, who is dying of a King Tut’s curse, King Tut being his ancestor), the book is just really kind of predictable.

In the case of the mythological gods universe that Riordan has created, I’m starting to think that more isn’t more. The more “epic” stuff he shoves in to his universe, the less epic the stories actually feel. One of the reasons I loved the original Percy Jackson series so much is that it felt kind of intimate and cozy to be a part of that world, but each of his successive books have just had more and more stuff stuffed into them that there’s barely any room for coziness at all. Hints that The Kane Chronicles actually exists in the same fictional universe as Percy Jackson and Company should get me excited, but really it just makes me nervous. The idea of combining the Egyptian gods with the Roman/Greek ones somewhere down the line is intriguing, but I’m not exactly sure Riordan could pull it off. He does his best work with a small cast of characters, with one or two major plot threads. I have a feeling that any Kane Chronicles/Percy Jackson crossover would end up just being another example of even more plot stuffed into even less space, with less room for all the stuff that I love about these universes he’s created.

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #46: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

You guys, I’m so conflicted about this book. I wanted to love it, I really did. But it was kind of a mess? I guess I’ll have to settle for merely “like” and hope book three is back up to the standard that Roth set in Divergent.

Insurgent picks up right where Divergent left off, with the factions of Chicago at war with each other. The Dauntless are scattered and mostly dead, Abnegation has all but been wiped out, Amity is sitting pretty far from the conflict, Candor is neutral at the moment (I think?), and Erudite continues to belligerently attack everyone. Tris, Four, and the other Dauntless/Abnegation refugees wander all over God’s creation trying to find shelter against Erudite, who is hunting them for some reason I can’t really remember (not a good sign . . . I only finished the book three weeks ago).

Meanwhile, Four’s abusive dick of a father, Marcus, knows a secret that the Abnegation died trying to protect, and which Erudite is willing to kill to cover up forever. This is a pretty important plot point, but it’s mostly glossed over in favor of hanging out with a traumatized, PTSD Tris who feels such extreme guilt over her part in killing Will in Divergent that she can barely function. She puts all of her relationships in jeopardy and basically has a death wish for the entire novel. It is exhausting. There’s a couple of big battles, Tris goes batshit and gets herself captured on purpose, and then some other stuff happens that I can’t really remember. Also also, we meet the Factionless, who are headed up by a not-so-secret person from Four’s past, and who play in a big role in the final battle of the war, which surprisingly concludes in this book. Most authors would have dragged it out, but Roth makes the excellent decision to end it with book two and up the conflict in a different direction for book three.

If I had to sum it up (which I don’t, because this is my review and who the heck cares anyway so why am I even typing this, I don’t know), then I would say that Insurgent suffers from classic middle book syndrome. Since the war is over by the end, it’s clear that it wasn’t the focal point of the trilogy, and the big important stuff is still coming. That means that this book and this war served more of a transition function than anything else. Admittedly, it must be really hard to write a middle story (whether it’s a film or a book), but it can be done, as evidenced by The Empire Strikes Back. And I have to say, Roth was almost there in terms of the actual events of the story, but the book is so muddled it’s hard to tell.

The unpleasantness of hanging out with PTSD Tris (however accurate and true to character) is a close second, but my biggest complaint about this book is its complete lack of structure. One of the reasons Divergent was such a fun reading experience was that it was incredibly well-structured. That’s a weird thing to say about a book, and maybe it’s only something other writers really care about, but the net effect is the same: better structure, better book, even if you can’t necessarily put a finger on it as a non-writing layperson. I just felt so lost the entire book, like I never knew what to expect page to page, but in a bad way. Only the most experimental avant-garde authors fuck around with structure, and there’s a reason most people don’t read those assholes anyway. We like structures. We like expectations, even if the only point of expectations in a book is to frustrate them. I felt like Insurgent just flowed along with things happening here and there along the way, and even though it was a fast read, the good stuff wasn’t necessarily emphasized at the right times or in the right ways, and the frustrating stuff was more often than not front and center. Again, it’s hard to put into words and I’d probably have to read it again and take copious notes to figure it out, but it’s not like I’m writing a frickin’ dissertation here so shut it I’m done with my arguments.

Anyways, still excited for book three, and I’m hoping that Roth turns out to be just as good at endings as she was at beginnings.

[3.5 stars, for lingering affection]

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #45: Divergent by Veronica Roth

This was my second time through Divergent, and it remains the only post-Hunger Games YA dystopian novel to even come close to matching my excitement for that series. I almost didn’t re-read in preparation for the sequel, but I knew that I liked it so much the first time that I’d be asking for trouble jumping into #2 without refreshing my memory. (Sidenote: Getting old sucks. My mind used to be a steel trap for book plots — they went in and they didn’t come out. But as I get older, I have less and less room up there or something. The ole hard drive is filling up. It sucks.)

Divergent follows Beatrice “Tris” Prior through a future version of Chicago (no word yet on how far in the future, although I expect that to come in book 3) where society has split into five factions: the Abnegation (whose members value selflessness), the Erudite (who value intelligence), the Amity (peacefulness), Candor (honesty), and the Dauntless (bravery). When a citizen comes of age, they take an aptitude test that determines which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives. Switching factions nearly always means leaving your family behind.

Tris, who has always felt out of place in her Abnegation family, tests as Divergent — possibly fitting into more than one faction — but her test results are kept secret by her proctor. Being Divergent is dangerous, although Tris isn’t really sure what it means. The story really starts when Tris decides to switch factions: to the Dauntless, whom she has always admired from afar, as they do crazy things like jumping off of trains and buildings and such all the time (and because their wild and seemingly carefree lifestyle is a huge contrast to Tris’s buttoned up existence in Abnegation). As she goes through Dauntless initiation, she has to simultaneously navigate the obstacles thrown at her by her instructors, and she’s also got to stay on top of the complex social politics of the Dauntless initiates, because if you fail at Dauntless initiation, you’re cast out of the faction system and become one of the dreaded Factionless. On top of all that, she has to somehow keep her Divergent nature a secret, even though it quickly shoots her to the top of the rankings. It gets violent and rather terrifying, and it’s one of the reasons the book reads so fast.

The other reason is that Veronica Roth — who began writing this series when she should have been paying attention during her college lectures — is actually a good writer. She has a clear instinct for how to write believable, flawed characters, she’s structured her story so that it never lets up and hits you in all the right emotional places, and the world she’s created (while slightly derivative) isn’t just there to serve those characters and get them into cliched situations — it’s a world created with a purpose. It has thematic backbone. There’s no love triangle in Divergent, but there is a love story, and it’s a good one. Both parties are fully fleshed out, and there’s more on their minds than romance.

If YA dystopias are your thing, check this series out, and even if they’re not, you still might want to check it out. If you don’t like it, you can come back here and punch me in the face. I promise I won’t mind.

[Cross-posted to Goodreads]

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #44: Bonk by Mary Roach

Curiosity seems to be Mary Roach’s raison d’etre, and bless her heart for that.

In our culture, especially outside the hallowed halls of science and academia, sex is viewed as titillating and scandalous — not to be talked about, no matter the context. And while I’m not going to get political here — because I super hate it when people do that in inappropriate places — I think that’s a huge detriment to our culture, and to us as participants in that culture. So props to Mary Roach for writing this book, and for making it so dang readable.

Bonk chronicles Roach’s investigations into the long and interesting history of science and sex. Specifically it’s a funny and matter of fact history of people who — like Roach — were curious about sex and the way things worked, and decided to do something about it. The book is pretty large in scope, covering everything from Alfred Kinsey to bicycle dildo cameras. In a couple of memorable incidents, she even goes so far as to make herself (and her good-sprited husband) research subjects when it becomes clear that she won’t be able to witness experiments in any other way.

It’s been almost a month since I finished this book, so the details have largely slipped my mind, but what remains memorable (aside from a few details that I will make sure to pop out at inappropriate times disguised as small talk) is the way that Roach insists on asking the questions that everyone wants to know but are too embarrassed to ask.

This was my second Mary Roach book (finished Stiff a couple weeks later) after I read Packing For Mars last year, and although she definitely has a formula at this point, it’s a fun formula, and I’m in for whatever wacky avenue of inquiry she thinks up next.

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #43: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, narr. by Christopher Evan Welch

I’d heard RAVES about this book from all of my friends that had read it, people whose opinions on writing I respect very much. (I also heard that I should read it with a box of tissues, which made me gulp.) But I just didn’t love this book as much as they did, for a couple of reasons (and I don’t think — though I could be wrong about this — it was because I listened to it as an audiobook, although I know sometimes good books can be ruined by awful audiobook performances).

It’s been over a month and half since I finished this book, so forgive me if leave out a few things, but the basic plot of The Art of Racing in the Rain is that it’s told from the perspective of a dog* — a very smart, kind, observant dog named Enzo — who is at the end of his life and has some things to say. It’s pretty much a given that if you have a book about a dog, that dog is going to die, but I did appreciate that TAoRitR let us know up front that yeah, dude’s going to die, instead of trying to be clever and sneak it up on us. That way I could mentally prepare for it (still didn’t stop me from crying buckets, but more on that later).

*Just in case you were wondering, my favorite dog-as-narrator book is The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. OH MY GOD. (Also in case you care (you don’t) my favorite narrated by mouse story is Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary because he rides a tiny motorcycle, and my favorite narrated by hamster story is I, Houdini, by Lynne Reid Banks, because the hamster is an asshole, and it is hilarious.)

Enzo’s owner is an up and coming race car driver named Denny, and Enzo loves him very much. Not surprisingly, Enzo also develops a taste for racecar driving (watching, not driving, obviously), and the whole book is laced with the underlying metaphor of “racing is life.” That sounds cheesy, but it’s actually very well done. For instance, one of the things Denny tells Enzo (in the way an owner talks to a pet — this isn’t the kind of book where humans talk to animals) is that “Your car goes where your eyes go,” or “That which you manifest is before you.” Enzo is also convinced (because he saw it on television one time) that when he dies, he will be reborn as a human. It is his fondest desire to go find Denny as a human and shake his hand.

Racing is just a small part of the book, though. The majority of the story focuses on Denny’s family, his wife Eve and their daughter Zoe, and what happens to Denny (and Enzo by extension) when Eve dies of cancer, and her parents attempt to ruin Denny’s life. Parts of this story (mostly the parts involving happy times) were wonderful — I love the way Stein characterizes Denny, Eve, and Zoe — but Eve’s parents were such despicable, over the top villains that it actually turned my stomach a little at the book itself. Stein has a tendency to fall into cliches at important moments, and the custody battle that erupts around Zoe is pure melodrama, as is a story that involves Denny being accused of rape by a teenage girl. Those two stories felt like something out of a soap opera, very out of place, and the only thing that saved it was the brilliance of Enzo as narrator. Especially at the end of the book (which does have a happy ending, sort of), I felt like I was being concsiously emotionally manipulated, and I resented it.

Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t cry like a little bitch when Enzo died at the end (and something else that I won’t spoil as well), but I did. But didn’t I feel like an asshole sitting there sobbing like an idiot even while I knew that was exactly what Stein wanted, the stupid jerk — but I am helpless against the power of certain stories. Definitely worth reading, just know you’re in for an emotional ride if you pick it up. (Stay away from the audiobook . . . Christopher Welch does a nice job with the male characters, but his female characters are annoying and cringeworthy.)

[Cross-posted to Goodreads]

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #42: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Fuzzy Nation is a great book and you should all read it. Shit, am I not done yet? Fine.

Fuzzy Nation is a “reboot” of a Hugo winning novel from the 60s called Little Fuzzy, in the same way that the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica retooled the cheesy 80s series and J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek universe in 2009 (Scalzi explicitly references these two films in his introduction to the book.) I haven’t read Little Fuzzy, but after reading Fuzzy Nation, I’ll definitely be checking it out, and since I knew virtually nothing of the story before reading, it’ll be interesting to see just exactly what Scalzi changed from the original story.

I feel bad for doing this because I really loved this book, but I am so behind in my reviews at this point that it’s actually stressing me out, so I’ve decided to just cut some corners and say the hell with it. Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on planet, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.

Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp is cancelling their contract with him for his part in causing the collapse. Briefly in the catbird seat, legally speaking, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.

But there’s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet, the basis of the wealth they derive from extracting its resources, is based on being able to certify to the authorities on Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species.

Then a small furry biped—trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute—shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is very flimsy indeed…and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.

Think eco-legal thriller with adorable fuzzy things and a leading man that is a mix of Jack McCoy and Sawyer from Lost (not coincidentally, in the movie in my head, he’s also played by Josh Holloway). There’s nothing particularly deep or surprising about this book (possibly because Little Fuzzy has influenced sci-fi writers since it was published forty years ago, in the same way there was nothing surprising about John Carter for moviegoers because the Barsoom series had been an inspiration for many of the filmmakers and authors in the 20th century), but it has great characters, great dialogue, and the story plows along like nobody’s business. Not to mention, you guys, THE FUZZIES ARE SO CUTE I WANT ONE. (Spoiler: The fact that I want a Fuzzy might mean that I completely missed the point of the book, which is in large part about how people take what we want and don’t think about the consequences . . . sidenote to the sidenote, I’m not a bad person, for realsies.)

Having finished this book, I’m slightly pissed off that I’m running out of new Scalzi books to read. (Redshirts this summer. WOOO!)

[Cross-posted to Goodreads]

narfna’s #CBR Review #41: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

I pre-ordered this book at Amazon as soon as I heard about it. I’ve been reading The Bloggess for years, watched her struggle with her rheumatoid arthritis, her social anxiety, and her depression, all the while being one of the most joyful and optimistic presences on the internet. I was happy for her on a personal level that I rarely am when bloggers get book deals, and besides my real affection for her, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Let’s Pretend This Never Happened isn’t really a “blog” book, with blog entries stolen and bastardized into chapters*. It’s a book that happens to be written by a blogger, and that’s a huge difference.

*Except for the post-it chapter. And possibly the zombie Jesus chapter. But really, who gives a shit because those chapters are hilarious.

The Bloggess, aka Jenny Lawson, is not only one of the funniest people on the internet, she also happens to have the biggest and most outrageous imagination I’ve ever heard of, and her book is just as outrageous and inappropriate as I hoped it would be. Yes, it’s laugh out loud funny, but there were parts where what I was reading was so ridiculous (just remember that I warned you about the squirrel hand puppet chapter) that I had to stop reading and share it with someone. I’m sure there are quite a lot of people who will be incredibly offended by Lawson’s book, but those people don’t deserve to have fun anyway.

Lawson traces her life from her incredibly bizarre and fucked up childhood (a childhood full of love, though — don’t mistake fucked up for FUCKED UP, if you know what I mean) spent in the Texas countryside, dirt-poor and with the weirdest parents any child has ever had, to her adult life with beleaguered husband Victor and their daughter Hailey. The book is funny, but it’s also an examination of life viewed from the outside. Lawson writes that she has always felt different from other people, but as she’s grown older, it’s those differences that have allowed her opportunities that she would never had otherwise.

The one criticism that I have about the book is that after a while the jokes start to wear a little thin. She’s writing in some cases about horrific things, and she’s a funny person, so of course she’s going to use humor as a coping mechanism, but pain and real details are the heart of a memoir, and she masks them perhaps just a little too well. I found myself wishing that she would give us, her readers, just a little bit more realness in the midst of the insanity. Maybe I did the book a disservice by reading it so quickly. Maybe Lawson’s very strong and unique voice is better suited to short bursts of reading than long marathons. Regardless, this is a book worth your time. Just don’t read it in public or you might scare people with your convulsions of hysterical laughter.

[Cross-posted to Goodreads]

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