Sunday, November 26, 2006

The End, Lemony Snicket

Title: The End
Author: Lemony Snicket
Rating: OK

Here I sit, trying to analyze what I think of The End by Lemony Snicket. I guess, to use a phrase that appears regularly in the book itself, it depends on how you look at it.

On one hand, the story does end, and he (Daniel Handler, the author) does resolve - to some degree - the lives of the Baudelaire orphans. That's good, and it's handled reasonably well. On the other hand, and against that initial somewhat positive note, I have to set two things:

First, there is the constant background of mystery and the general feeling that if you read between the lines closely enough you'll learn something others will miss. That may not be true, but the whole series - particularly the supplemental books - have played things up to make it appear that way. I am lousy at puzzles of almost any kind, and I find the expectation (possibly self-inflicted) that I should be reading The End and all the others with a manic intensity, trying to figure out just how Beatrice fits into everything (for example) more than a bit annoying.

Second, it must be said that many of the things behind the events in the Baudelaire orphan's lives aren't explained. I won't give specific examples - that would be spoiling things - but there are all kinds of questions that could have been answered that simply aren't. Perhaps my expectations were created by the US movie making industry that wants to create a clean, concise story with a clear ending - wrapping up all the loose ends - in about 90 minutes. I don't know. What I do know is that The End would have been more satisfying if it contained a few of the answers that I'd come to expect. That it doesn't is a bit of a problem for me. In fact, in a review I wrote of the first 11 books in the series I said: "I hope the author resolves all the various loose ends well by book 13." I guess Handler didn't do that to my satisfaction, whatever the reason.

In addition to all of that, this book suffered because it has been too long since I read the previous book and the many books before it. Not enough of the story is fresh in my head to let me recall it easily. The author does remind the reader about past events where needed, but he's sparing in that area, and I needed more than I got.

That means that I really need to read the entire thing again, top to bottom, with all the books present so I can be fresh on things as I go into each volume. It will be interesting to do so and compare first opinions with later opinions when I get around to that exercise.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Beatrice Letters, Lemony Snicket

Title: The Beatrice Letters
Author: Lemony Snicket
Rating: Neutral

I wish I knew what to make of this "book". It's a small collection of letters between Beatrice Beaudelair and Lemony Snicket, billed as "supplemental material" to the 13 books of the Lemony Snicket series.

It's mildly amusing, but I wish I'd taken my own advice. Back in my review of Lemony Snicket, The Unauthorized Autobiography I said that people should steer clear and read only the actual series. I should have remembered that.

The other things I said there are also true here. If you like puzzles and have the time to try and put it all together, it may be amusing. For me, alas, it was mostly a waste of time.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Born Of Nifty, Pete Abrams

Title: Born Of Nifty
Author: Pete Abrams
Rating: Great!

Do you read Sluggy Freelance? No? You mean you read my review of Dangerous Days and didn't follow my instructions then? Really?

Well, let me repeat myself:

Go, now! Drop everything for the next few hours, go here:

and get reading! Do it now. Don't wait. You're only falling farther behind with each passing day, and you don't want to do that.

Born Of Nifty is a reprint of the first three Sluggy books in one, hard bound volume, with a few add-ons thrown in. It's wonderful. Color strips are presented in color, the format is large, and the quality of the book is excellent. Add to that the ongoing, serialized adventures of Torg, Riff, Zoe (with an umlaut), Gwen, Kiki, Bun-bun, and a host of others, and you've got a great time.

Consider this a graphic novel. It's not quite that since the original presentation was in daily comic strip format, but the story lines arc over long periods of time, and the overall presentation is similar. (Abrams work gets even more like a graphic novel in more recent years, with many daily strips approaching the length of one or two full pages in a book.)

The humor here is twisted, and the characters are silly, but it all works, and works well. Reading this book - and thus rereading the first two years or so of Sluggy - was great fun. Lots of plot elements and foreshadowing that I didn't remember are here, and still affecting the story line years later. The parodies are hilarious, and the characters are wonderful.

By the time you read this it may not be possible to buy Born Of Nifty any more. It's a limited printing and available only from But you can always read the strip archives on the web site, and you should. If you like what you see there and can afford it, please buy a copy of Born Of Nifty - if you can - to help support Pete and give you a copy you can snuggle up with in a comfy chair.

Spend some time with Sluggy Freelance. You'll really enjoy it!

Broken Angels, Richard Morgan

Title: Broken Angels
Author: Richard Morgan
Rating: Great!

I've been so busy I've been unable to get this review written and posted, but it's finally time to do it.

Broken Angels is Richard Morgan's follow-on to Altered Carbon. I enjoyed that first book, and with this one, Morgan has improved both his writing and his story telling.

Once again we follow Takeshi Kovacs's exploits, but this time he's not acting in the role of a detective. Instead, the plot is more like pure science fiction. Kovacs is on a planet at war and gets diverted to go after an artifact left behind by the long, long dead (or gone) Martian race. Others are going after it as well, of course, and there is always the possibility that one of his fellow team members is betraying his team.

The story is deep and complex enough to hold your attention. The writing is clear and concise, and the action keeps the entire thing moving crisply. As with the first book, there's a fair amount of violence here, and some explicit sexual content, but those are both toned down a bit from their levels in the first volume.

If I have a gripe, it's that despite the fact that we're following Kovacs through the book, there are times when he does important things off stage. That writing technique can work, but it's best to camouflage it in some way, perhaps by shifting the POV around so we're following someone else when the hero does his important work out of our sight.

In the end, though, that is a minor quibble. Broken Angels is a well written science fiction. It's fast paced, set in an interesting universe, and populated with believable, complex characters. Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

The Man Who Fought Alone, Stephen R. Donaldson

The Man Who Fought Alone
Stephen R. Donaldson

Life has taken some complex turns of late - in various directions - and it's been a challenge to read much of anything for nearly a month now. At last I've finished reading another novel - The Man Who Fought Alone by Stephen R. Donaldson - and it's time to write a review.

I should mention - for those who don't already know it - that I have a prejudice in this case. I almost always enjoy Donaldson's writing. I've read various things he's written - nearly all of it in fact - with the exception of his mystery series, of which this novel is a part. "Mystery series?" I hear you ask. "Isn't this the guy that wrote about Thomas Covenant?" Yes, that's him.

Back in about 1980 Donaldson began writing detective novels. He's written four so far. The first three were initially published under the pseudonym "Reed Stephens". This novel - The Man Who Fought Alone - is the fourth in the series.

"Fourth," I now hear you say. "Why did you start with number four?"

Actually, I didn't mean to. I grabbed this one out of my TBR pile and glanced at its list of other books written by Donaldson, which includes everything except any of the other "Man Who..." novels and one other (very recent) book. Based on that I assumed it was the first in the series and started in on it. Only just now - as I scan's database for info - did I learn that it was the latest in the series. Oh well. I guess I hold the publisher who didn't list everything he should have on that page responsible for my getting things out of order. From the looks of it the series goes like this:
  1. The Man Killed His Brother (1980)
  2. The Man Who Risked His Partner (1986)
  3. The Man Who Tried To Get Away (1990)
  4. The Man Who Fought Alone (2001)
Some may wonder why Donaldson started writing mysteries when his fantasy writing was so successful. He gives you his own answer (in general terms) here:

To summarize, though, he was stretching his wings - to see how far they'd go - before tackling the really big story floating around in his head. (That really big story is The Last Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, by the way.)

So, what can I say about The Man Who Fought Alone? Well, it's a mystery novel. A murder mystery, in fact. The hero - a rough and beat up private investigator, possibly deserving of the term "hard boiled" - is Mick Axebrewder, known as "Brew" to his few friends. Like just about all of Donaldson's heroes, Brew suffers a lot through this book - both physically and psychologically - but it's not as bad as it could be. In fact, it's almost uplifting by the end. To say more - or why - would be a spoiler. Since I haven't read the first three novels in the series yet I lack all kinds of background information, but I suspect that Brew suffers much more in those earlier novels than he does here. I could be wrong, but it seems likely knowing Donaldson and seeing how Brew is treated here.

The plot is harder for me to evaluate. I've never been a big reader of mysteries - by any author - so I am not the best qualified to judge such things. I found it enjoyable and it kept me wondering who the guilty party was all along. Some of the reviews I checked on say Donaldson gives it away about halfway through. I didn't see that, but that could easily be explained by my lack of mystery reading experience.

What I can criticize - to some extent - is the setting. Brew starts out needing a job and winds up doing security work at a martial arts tournament. Donaldson then uses that setting to expound on the martial arts in depth throughout the book. A few times I thought it hung on the very edge of bogging the story down but then recovered. Let's say I was too aware of it in some way, and that perhaps it could have been limited somewhat without losing the story. Of course, Donaldson is a second degree black belt himself, so he's writing about something he knows. I actually appreciated the background in many cases, and I'm willing to cut him some slack for discussing in detail something he clearly loves.

The only other criticism I can lay out relates to Donaldson's writing style. I love the way he writes, but for certain characters it may be a liability. Brew is used to working in squalid conditions and hanging out in places most would never go. Every so often Donaldson has him think (and less often speak) in words that I really doubt he'd know or use. Here is an example. Brew is talking to his new love interest and says: "Me neither. Heaven forfend."

The context really doesn't matter much there, but the words "heaven forfend" just don't sound plausible coming out of Brew's mouth. He's a tough SOB and I just don't think he'd actually speak that way. More likely he'd say "Me neither. Hell no."

Of course, I could be mistaken. There are those previously mentioned three volumes of "introductory" material that I haven't read yet. They might explain why Brew occasionally has a vocabulary more appropriate for an English professor than a PI. I guess I'll figure that out when I read those books.

And read them I will. This book was good enough to make me want to learn more about Brew and his partner, Ginny Fistoulari. Their history sounds interesting, and even if Donaldson's writing isn't quite right for the characters in all cases, it's still a pleasure to read.

In short, a recommended work by one of my favorite authors. Not his best effort, but easily good enough to merit your time.