Wednesday, March 29, 2006

State of Fear (by Michael Crichton)

I've read most of Crichton's books to date, I think. I love both The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park. And I decidedly do not love The Lost World. I think it's gimmicky and a sell-out, and I couldn't get past the first few chapters (although a lot of people I know liked this one). I also really like Rising Sun and Disclosure. I mean, he's got some problems (he writes bad endings, for one) but I've always enjoyed his books.

State of Fear is about global warming, and how it's not a real threat to the world; the action plot is about stopping eco-terrorism by environmentalists. Which would be fine and interesting, except that Crichton obviously has an agenda. He's got the usual Ian Malcolm-esque genius science character, John Kenner, only in this book he's dialed all the way up. Kenner pontificates left and right about global warming as if he's in an Ayn Rand novel. This is fine at the beginning of the book, but towards the end, it slows down the action. Plus, Crichton has footnoted the book all over the place with references to scientific journals. Since when does he need to use footnotes in a novel? It's not an academic paper.

The other problem is that everyone who cares about the environment in this novel is portrayed as idiotic, self-righteous, and selfish. All the better to discredit their environmentalist beliefs, I guess! It's just very weird. I don't know Crichton's political persuasion, nor do I really care. But I wish the focus here had been more on the novel and less on the giant lecture about global warming that the novel is an excuse for.

Other than that, it's your typical page-turning formula fiction. One character survives so many murder attempts that it's really ridiculous by the end, but it's still exciting to ride it out, and it kept me reading in spite of the boring bits. But this isn't a novel that I'm inclined to hang onto or re-read. You probably figured that out already.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Without You (Anthony Rapp)

I got this for my birthday and read it in a day, totally unable to put it down and sniffling my way through most of it. Written with such candor and such heart, it's a memoir about his experiences with Rent (the musical) and his family, especially his mother. When I was done, I really just wanted more. In particular, I would have liked more discussions about his relationships with the people in the Rent cast, with anecdotes from the performances, more detail about what was cut and when and why, and of course I wanted to hear about the filming of the movie, other than in a postscript. I loved the parts about his family, his love life, his queer identity; I loved everything that was there. But I wanted even more!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Ghost Brigades (by John Scalzi)

I loved Old Man’s War, so I was excited to read the sequel, The Ghost Brigades. Incidentally, I’ll always associate these books with the e-mail fight I had with a well-known old-school Scalzi-detractor, with whom I was arguing about John Scalzi’s writing talent. I forget how it started; I believe I publicly professed enjoyment for John’s first novel and then this guy set out to tell me I was wrong by giving me a long critique of Scalzi’s writing in detail, on his usual soapbox of knowing more about writing than anyone else on the internet. I had been beta reading Old Man’s War and assured him that it was, in fact, a good book. “I tell you one thing, there’s no way he’ll ever get a novel published,” he e-mailed me, and later on the very same day, John announced his publishing contract with Tor. Oh, it is so rare that one can win a stupid Internet argument with one perfectly timed URL. It was beautiful.

All of which is to say I had faith in John Scalzi’s writing talents from the days of Agent to the Stars, and I feel like I backed the right horse whenever I read one of his books. Anyway, on to the review.

I didn’t like Ghost Brigades as much as Old Man’s War, but I did enjoy it very much. It doesn’t have the benefit of being the introduction to this extremely interesting world, nor does it have the same exquisite sense of pacing. And we don’t get to see too many (any?) new alien species, which was one of my favorite parts of OMW. I think the ending is the strongest part of the book, if a little pat in certain aspects of it. The plot twists are fabulous, and the final third of the book is both very suspenseful and very moving. I won’t say more than that about the ending. I do especially love the character of Jared Dirac, and the possibilities that unfold at the end of the novel, pointing towards the third chapter in an ongoing saga.

My tiny quibbles are threefold. One, I don’t feel like I really get to know Jane Sagan beyond that she is obviously extremely badass and competent. But I want her to be a little more three-dimensional. Two, the typographical convention of having a comma followed by two colons really bothers me for some reason. Normally one can get used to something like that but it bugged me all the way through the book. As a copy editor, my decision would be that the two colons obviate the need for the comma, and are redundant. And the third thing is that the multiple references to fucking seem a little gratuitous. Which reaction surprised me because I thought the sex in Old Man’s War was appropriate and funny, and I always laugh at the prudery of one-star Amazon reviews who hate any book with the word fuck in it anywhere. But somehow it seemed a little much for me, like it was trying too hard to be “sexy” or forthright or something.

Anyway, I highly suggest you pick up Old Man’s War if you haven’t yet read it, and if you like it as much as I did, you will no doubt want to find out what happens next in The Ghost Brigades.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Guards! Guards! (by Terry Pratchett)

This is the eighth book in the Discworld series, but the student who lent it to me suggested that if I wasn't going to read all forty million Discword books, I should read the Night Watch series and this is apparently the beginning of it. It's fun, funny, super clever, smart, entertaining stuff. For example, I love the bit at the end of the book where they have to make sure their odds are a million to one against succeeding at something, because that's the only hope: nobody ever succeeds at odds of 999,999 to one.

I'm kind of sad that I didn't ask my student for the next book before spring break, because now I have to wait a long time to read the next one in the series. I want to find out what happens to Carrot. I love Carrot.