My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of those books that I should have read ages ago as a teenager, but never quite got around to. The book is plastered with praise from some of SciFi’s best and brightest, and nearly universally lauded online as one of the top of it’s genre in hard scifi war novels, which made it so much more disturbing that I wasn’t blown away. Don’t get me wrong, the book is somewhere between good and great, but after reading the author’s notes I realized the reason: the book was changed in 1991. The version I have in my hands isn’t the one from 1974 that won all those awards and blew away other readers for almost two decades. Sometimes the editor is right, Joe.
Mandella is a soldier drafted by the UNEF’s elite conscription act to fight the Tauran alien menace on behalf of the citizens of Earth. From Private to Major, the book follows Mandella through the army’s training and combat deployment, from Earth to Charon to Aleph-4 and back again. Of course life in the Army is like living in Bizarro world; if it makes sense, it’s probably against regs somewhere. UNEF army life is grand–hurry up and wait to die. Look at the bright side though, if you don’t buy the farm in your pod, you’ll be rich when you get out! The vast scope of the novel across a thousand years of alien warfare betrays the inspiring small story; the incredible luck of surviving long enough to find someone worthy of spending a thousand years with.
The warfare, portrayal of army life, and hard science of relativistic space travel couldn’t be done any better. It’s simply superb. Haldeman’s Vietnam experience lends a paintbrush to a gritty, realistic, and unsettling picture of military life that is second to none in any other fiction book I’ve ever read. The real star of this book is the disillusionment of the main character. Neither Mandella nor Earth really want him to be out there fighting anymore, but neither knows what to do about it, and he certainly can’t come home. Everything would be fine if he just laid down and died, but Mandella isn’t going to make it that easy for them. Powerful commentary, both in post-Vietnam 1974 and post-Iraq 2014.
Oh man, that middle part. Everything came to screeching halt for me when Mandella returns to Earth after the first campaign. In the twenty-six year span, the author has the entire Earth falling to absolute shit. The same distance between 1989 and 2014 is all it takes for 5 Billion deaths by starvation, creation of a one world government, food rationing, health care death panels, mad max style banditry alongside rampant inner-city violence, and government-“encouraged” homosexuality. Honestly, it reeks of 1970’s paranoia and conservative angst. I understand that he needed the two main characters to re-up, but it was so heavy handed that it ruined a quarter of the book for me. And the whole sequence requires that you believe we can create tachyon drives and plutonium-chip-powered super armor, but agriculture and law enforcement sits at a standstill somewhere in the early 50s in capabilities.
I’d recommend this book to every scifi fan, and it’s a must read for hard scifi fans. I don’t know that I could recommend this for younger readers as there is a running commentary throughout the book on homosexuality in Haldeman’s futureworld; frequency, acceptability, normalcy, gender roles, etc. It’s interesting but that along with the extremely graphic violence would make his novel an uncomfortable read for the under-thirteen crowd. 4 stars.
Bad Santa Christmas Tale : SAINT NICK
The good people over at Sweet Banana Ink ran a great holiday flash fiction contest in 2012 and it’s time to roll it back out in time for Christmas. At the request of a good friend, here is my repost of J. Whitworth Hazzard’s take on Bad Santa!
by J. Whitworth Hazzard
The double doors crashed inward and Jacob’s body rolled onto the tile. His ruined three-piece suit was wrapped in chains, and his crisp white shirt was stained with blood. He’d been beaten to a bloody pulp.
Jacob groaned weakly and tried to warn the two men standing at the far end of the office, but his broken fingers and broken jaw were useless. His battered form should have been perversely out of place in the opulent office of the CEO of Dickens Corporation, but his wasn’t the first beaten body to lay on the Italian marble.
“It’s been a long time, Nick,” The grey-haired man behind the desk lowered his glasses to get a good look at the hulking form in the hallway. “This must be some kind of misunderstanding. Please, let me explain… ”
“Don’t bother.” Heavy black boots stomped into the office and the owner growled, “Marley told me everything. Stealing the orphan’s Christmas fund is goddamn low. Even for you, Ebenezer.”
A young lawyer in a crisply-tailored Huntsman suit smiled beside Ebenezer. “Check your facts. The board voted unanimously to invest that money in our hedge fund.”
“Your father would be rolling in his grave if he knew you were in on this, Tim Cratchit. Do you think I care that you stole their money with a fountain pen?” Tim’s smarmy smile faded as the black boots got closer and closer to the mahogany desk.
“You’ve got no badge and no crime, fat man. Why did you come here?” Tim’s voice cracked with fear.
A slow metronome of black boots thumped on the tile. “I’ll tell you what I told Jacob Marley. I came to deliver presents and kick ass,” Nick said, before upending his red sack. Not a single gift—not even the tiniest bow-covered box-—tumbled out. “And lookie here. I’m all out of presents.”
Tim pulled a silver revolver from inside his vest and cracked off a shot at the intruder. The bullet hit nothing but a tuft of fur as Nick flew forward.
“Stupid move.” Nick clamped down on the lawyer’s wrist with crushing force and snapped the gun out of his hand. He slammed a heavy boot down on the young man’s knee and snapped it in half, sending Tim screaming to the floor. “Hope you didn’t sell those crutches, punk.”
Ebenezer stumbled out of his chair and backed away from the big man, but there was nowhere to go. There was no place on Earth where Nick couldn’t find him. Ebenezer held out his wrists, waiting for the cuffs. “Alright, you got me. I’ll confess, Nick. Take me in.”
“Not this time. You’re on a new list now, Scrooge. Made it just for you.”
Ebenezer giggled nervously, “Nice? Naughty?”
“Wait, Nick.” The black boots stomped forward and Ebenezer screamed. “Wait! No!”
The big man grabbed Ebenezer by the throat and leaned in so close the old humbug could feel the Saint’s white whiskers. “You’ve got a ghost to meet.”
Hope you enjoyed meeting my Bad Santa. If he shows up on your doorstep, you better be on the nice list.
Dead Sea Games: On Sale Now!
It’s finally here. The complete Dead Sea Games is on sale now at Amazon in paperback, ebook, and Kindle LendingLibrary. You get all four episodes in one beautifully designed novel. The book is also in the Amazon MatchBook program, so if you purchase the paperback you get the ebook for a buck. If you love zombies, The Walking Dead, or any adventure series with a smart-ass hero, you’re going to love this book.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Since there’s no much to be gained by reviewing classic novels, I’ll keep this brief. I adore Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island was one of my all time favorites as a kid. In my eyes, he can do no wrong, and certainly for the time period his tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde lives up to my memory of the author. This book has rightly earned its place in the pantheon of great horror novels.
Dr. Henry Jekyll, kind hearted and well loved in the community, has a secret. His experimentation to bring about the division of light and dark in the soul of a man has been successful, and it will be his undoing. The chemically-induced birth of the horrible Mr. Hyde begins the book with the deliberate trampling of a child. If that sounds bad, you’ve only just begun to indulge in the wicked ways of the alter-ego of the respected physician. Once Mr. Hyde strikes down a respected member of high society in cold blood, the fate of Dr. Jekyll is sealed. Suicide or the gallows is his destiny if Mr. Hyde can not be made to disappear forever.
I’d put this book in the psychological horror category, and as such there’s a lot to like about what’s going on here. The transformations that start out as a release for an upright moral rock of society quickly turn to dread and fear. If you’ve ever had a problem with substance abuse, this book may hit a little too close to home. The best part of the book is told in letter form as Dr. Jekyll explains how his life spirals out of control after indulging in Mr. Hyde’s crimes, greed, and licentiousness; a lifetime of suppressed desires carried out in absentia. The novel is rife for plundering philosophical themes: addiction, duality of man, animal nature of mankind, the burden of honor, etc. It’s a thinking person’s horror novel.
It’s a thinking person’s horror novel. I can certainly understand a fourteen-year-old picking up this novel and hating it. The Victorian sensibilities, the purple prose, the unusual style of narration, the lack of gore and flash in telling Mr. Hyde’s side of the tale, all could be seen as drawbacks to someone used to modern genre fiction. It’s closer to Poe than King, and that could be a turnoff for younger or less experienced readers. It’s too short and doesn’t age well in several places so I can only give it four stars, but I did genuinely enjoy the book.
I’d recommend The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to anyone who loves horror, classic literature, and Victorian era period pieces. There’s nothing graphic in the book that would be inappropriate for young teens, but style may be an issue. The book is short and free, so there’s no reason not to at least give it a try.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I didn’t like Eastern Standard Tribe. The writing is engaging and clever, the editing is spot on, the topic is interesting, but something about the book is just … off. Maybe I’m not hip enough, not a proud enough member of the target technorati audience, or simply not plugged into the prevailing zeitgeist of cultural change. If that sentence sounded pretentious to you, boy do I have some bad news for you. Of course it’s also possible that Eastern Standard Tribes is a snapshot in time of a futurist’s view from 2004 … one that no longer feels relevant in 2014; a story degrading over time is nothing new.
Art Berry is a User Experience genius who somehow gets himself talked into leaving the place he loves, the EST coast of New York, Boston, Toronto, etc., and moving to London to actively try and sabotage the UE efforts of Virgin/Deutsche Telekom (a multinational corporation based in GMT). Things would have been fine for Art had he not accidentally hit Linda with his car. Relationships ensue and soon Art is embroiled with Linda (a firm PST’er – you know those California hippies can’t be trusted) and caught up in trying to hash out a money making scheme with his fellow EST’er Federico. Things go sideways and Art finds himself trying to escape a looney-bin in time to sell his mega-awesome music licensing idea to the Jersey folks before it’s stolen out from under him.
I genuinely laughed out loud several times, so it is humorous in places. I wish it were funnier, but Doctorow’s characters aren’t that likeable to be honest, so you’re never really rooting for them when the inevitable weirdness does come along. The book does have some interesting philosophy attached about our cultural preferences that extend outside the digital world. It did inspire me to think about where our culture and subcultures are headed now that communication-at-a-distance in no longer a limiting factor. It also cleverly slipped into my head the idea that anyone stupid enough to dedicate their life to a shadowy and vague cultural identity formed by something as ordinary as a time zone…is actually crazy and therefore belonged in the nut house all along.
Doctorow uses a few tricks like POV shifts and a flashback-heavy narrative to try and milk the most from this story. If you deconstruct the plot, it’s clear that the tricks are there to distract the reader from realizing than there’s not much going on until very late in this relatively short book. At page 30, I found myself not really understanding what was going on or why. By page 100, I realized I no longer cared. As I mentioned, the characters aren’t particularly likable; Art is kind of a prick, Linda is a stereotypical bitch, and Federico is a slimy backstabber. Anyone else populating the book is simply a cardboard cutout for Doctorow’s mini rants, some of which are funny, but most of which are superfluous.
I’m going to have to recommend you pass on this one, unless you’re a huge Doctorow fan or want to indulge in some cultural archeology from a decade ago. The book is chock full of cursing and has a few sexual parts that definitely bump it off the early teen list. I have a strong feeling that this book would have gotten more stars in 2004 at its release, but alas time catches up to us all.