Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Blaze

BlazeBlaze by Richard Bachman

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I don’t fully understand why Stephen King insists on maintaining the Bachman pseudonym, since he’s been outed since the early 1980s.   Back when he was releasing The Regulators, in tandem with Desperation and The Green Mile, I was convinced it was because he was bored, and wanted to do some gimmicky releases, all at the same time.  Now, though, I’m just confused, because Blaze is so obviously a Stephen King story.  Despite the fact that King’s name is on the cover of the book, he re-wrote the entire draft of the novel, so the style is identical to the last few novels he’s written.  In the foreword, King states that the reason he’s identified this book as a Bachman novel is because it was written during the time that he wrote the other Bachman books, and the dark sensibility of the book demanded that name, but I’m not buying it.  It still reads like a Stephen King novel, and if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and was written by the identified pseudonymous duck, then call it a damn duck already.

As for the story?  Eh.  It’s not his best, but he makes it fairly clear in the foreword that he himself was never really impressed with it.  The rewrite, apparently, was his attempt to draw something meaningful out of a story he thought had potential, but he still doesn’t seem overwhelmed with the story.  Why publish it?  King only knows.  It’s not like he’s hard up, and needs the money.

OK, OK, I’ll stop griping.  I’m just feeling especially cynical this morning.

The story is about John Blaisdell, Jr., nicknamed “Blaze,” a brain-damaged con artist who, for the last few years, has been running scams with his partner in crime, George.  George died a few months ago, but that hasn’t stopped Blaze from following up on the last con they planned together — kidnapping a baby for ransom money.  That Blaze seems confused over whether or not George is actually dead might make this an interesting crime story, but in the end, it’s just another King novel, with more time spent on Blaze’s past than the actual current storyline.

King references The Colorado Kid in the foreword, too, addressing the  lack of “Hard Case Crime” element in that novel.  He says that Blaze is probably closer to that sort of genre than Kid, and I suppose that the novel makes up for it in some ways, but it still doesn’t strike me as the sort of crime novel that King imagines it to be.  Leave the hard crime writing to Elmore Leonard and his ilk; in King’s hands, the genre becomes a bit treacly and dull.  Blaze isn’t a criminal mastermind, and he becomes a sympathetic antagonist in the story, to the point where he becomes the protagonist.  In fact, the real antagonist in the novel is the law that’s after Blaze, but it never really develops into any significant conflict, since the embodiment of the law is vague, and tossed in near the very end of the story.  It’s clunky and forced, and ultimately disappointing.

Like any King novel, though, it’s still readable and interesting.  He has a knack for characterization (to the point where Blaze’s past becomes far more interesting than his present), and he keeps the story moving along at a nice pace.  I’m just annoyed that novels like Blaze get published, when there are other novelists out there struggling to break into the field with novels that are far better than this one.

So, I doubt I’ll stop anyone from reading the novel.  If you’re a King fan, you’ll read it, and probably enjoy it to some degree.  It’s not as bad as The Tommyknockers or Rose Madder, so there’s that to look forward to.  I just wish he’d stop feeling compelled to release everything he’s ever written, and focus on the quality of writing that I know he can create.

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June 18, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Hate

“The hate grew slowly.  For him it was the only way.  It grew at its own pace, and it grew completely, and it put forth red flowers.  It was the sort of hate no intelligent person ever knows.  It was its own thing.  It was not adulterated by reflection.”

–Richard Bachman, Blaze

June 14, 2007 Posted by | Quotes | Leave a comment

Witch

“This was Betty’s place and most likely secured by some sort of magic, despite her pretending to be a retired librarian (not that one can’t be both a librarian and a witch).”

–Terry Griggs, Invisible Ink

June 12, 2007 Posted by | Quotes | Leave a comment

Cat’s Eye Corner

SilverThe Silver Door and Invisible Ink by Terry Griggs

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Books two and three in the Cat’s Eye Corner series by Terry Griggs are just as magical and entertaining as the eponymous first book.  Each book follows the main character, Olivier, who is staying at his step-step-step-Grandma’s house, called Cat’s Eye Corner.  The house is not what it appears to be.  The rooms have a tendency to shift around, and sometimes disappear, so that Olivier and his grandparents have to eat dinner in the library.  Sylvia, Olivier’s step-step-step-Grandma (so called because she is his Grandpa’s third wife), owns a lot of interesting gadgets, including a flying carpet, an inkpen named Murray who has a personality all his own, and a book titled Enquire Within About Everything, which has a tendency to loose spirits and other living things from its pages.  The house also borders a wooded area, where some strange characters live, including Linnet, a young girl who lives in a boat in a tree and has a command of the winds.

I was sold on the first book in this series long before I knew it had been nominated for (and received) some literary awards in Canada, because it reminded me so much of the books that I read and enjoyed when I was a kid.  Olivier, in the first book, says that he considers The Phantom Tollbooth a personal friend, and a lot of the puns and other cleverness from that book are used in this series.  In a way, the author almost uses them too much, since I saw some obviously derivative characters and settings, but it’s forgivable.  They also borrow a lot from Piers Anthony’s Xanth series, as well as a key scene from Kai Meyer’s The Water Mirror, but the stories are just too much fun, with too many wild ideas, to judge them for being a little too familiar.

InkBesides, Griggs has her own style of writing, which makes her books unique.  Her characters are lively and realistic (well, as realistic as magical creatures can be, at least), and the challenges they face have a sense of importance and necessity to them.  The books themselves are full of wild ideas, vivid imagination, and creativity, and that alone will keep me reading these stories.  They’re very much children’s books, but the amount of detail and imagination in them should appeal to anyone who likes fantasy and magic realism, child or adult.

What’s interesting to discover is that the three novels in the series (thus far) all seem to take place within the same summer while Olivier is visiting his grandparents.  This timing gives the novels a sense of immediacy between them, even if a year or more is passing between the release of each novel.   It’s also interesting to note that there is very little repeated between the books, as far as the characters and settings that Griggs invents for the novels goes, so there’s also a freshness to each novel, even if they use the same central characters.

The books are great fun, and should be an inspiration to creative thinkers, inspiring imaginations in children and adults.  If you don’t walk away from these books with a chuckle and a wish to create something of your own, then you don’t understand the power of fiction and how it can shape people.  Luckily, I don’t think anyone who follows my blog are those kinds of people.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Society of S

SocietyThe Society of S by Susan Hubbard

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Every so often, I’ll have a book come in to the library, and I’ll have no idea why I put it on hold.  I know my own tastes, though, and I figure there must have been a good reason I put it on hold, so I just start reading it.  I don’t refer to the dust jacket to refresh my memory; I want to be wowed by the story, without having to wait for certain elements of the story to arrive, since I know they’re going to happen.  Eventually.

With The Society of S, this was a great idea, since the details that the dust jacket reveals don’t become apparent in the story until about a third of the way through the novel.  Oh, it’s suggested and emphasized within the story, which is, at its core, a coming-of-age story about a lonely, isolated girl, but there’s always that lingering doubt that makes you wonder exactly where the author is taking you, and it’s a nice surprise too figure out that you were right.  I like being surprised by stories, which is part of the reason that I tend to ignore any information about movies I want to see (including trailers).  I’ve had stories spoiled for me too many times to want to know anything more than “I want to see (or read) that.”

So, that begs the question: Do I tell you, or let you figure it out for yourself?  You could easily read the dust jacket yourself, when you have the book in your hands, so I’ll let you decide.  Needless to say, though, the first half of this novel is a fine example of a Gothic novel, since the atmosphere of the story becomes a character by itself.  It reminded me a little of The Thirteenth Tale, because the story is set in modern times, but the style and setting of the novel is anachronistic enough to make you forget this until something modern intrudes.  Where The Thirteenth Tale, though, maintains the atmosphere, Hubbard lets it go after the first half of the novel and takes the story in a totally different direction.  It gets too strange, and too coincidental, and devolves into a standard suspense tale with little direction.

The antagonist doesn’t really reveal himself until the final third of the chapter, and the resulting conflict with the protagonists seems forced and hurried.  The resolution seems too easy, though I have to say, the author avoids cliches with her ending.  There are also some truly strange aspects of the story that threw me right out of the story from time to time, and I think the reader is supposed to accept those oddities as normal, based on what we learn about the main characters.  For me, though, it was too “out there” for me to accept.

Hubbard seems to be a fine enough writer, especially in the way that she captures the atmosphere of the story.  Her plotting seems to leave a bit to be desired, but then again, I expect a lot out of my fiction.  I read too much and have too many other books I want to read, to waste time on stories that are unsatisfying.  If you like Gothic novels, then you should check it out; if you’re more interested in the story because of what the dustjacket tells you, though, you  might be better off finding another novel of that type instead.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Geek Mafia

GeekGeek Mafia by Rick Dakan

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Imagine that you’ve created a successful comic book, and with your friends, you’ve managed to create a software company to turn that comic book into a computer game.  Now, your friends decide that your usefulness to that company is over, and they’re firing you.  You have 24 hours to collect yourself before the board meeting where everyone votes on the issue, but you know that nothing you do will change the outcome of the vote.  You meet a cute, pink-haired techno geek who offers to help you out by blackmailing your friends into paying you a hefty sum of money before firing you.  And you do it.  After that, your attraction to the techno geek, along with your loss of direction, encourages you to hook up with her and her group of con artists and hackers.  Except how can you trust a group of people who claim to be your friends, when all they seem to want to do it con people out of their money?

Welcome to Geek Mafia!   This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel, with enough double-crosses, twists, turns, and odd characters to make the season finale of “The Sopranos” look cheap by comparison.  The author creates a compelling story, with likable characters and enough suspense to keep the story moving at a fast pace.  The entire story is told from the perspective of Paul Reynolds, the comic book artist, so the reader is never let inside the heads of the other characters to fully understand their motivations.  It keeps you guessing along with Paul, which is the best way to read this sort of novel.

Dakan does a fine job of creating his characters, especially since very few of the main characters would be normally likable.  They’re con artists, for crying out loud, and they manipulate their targets’ emotions to make them do what they want them to do.  Paul has a few moments of hesitation at some of the actions they take, but for the most part he has no qualms with taking other people’s money.  What begins as an attraction to Chloe turns into a legitimate desire to join the crew and live off the grid, if only because he wants to stay with her.  This romantic subplot is actually integral to the main plot, because without Chloe, Paul would be back in his normal life, living with his parents in Florida.

I have to give Dakan credit for developing the relationship between Paul and Chloe slowly, giving it more tension than if they immediately fell for each other.  It works very well, though, since Paul’s trust grows slowly.  He likes her, and he seems to think that she’s genuinely interested in him, but at the same time, she helped him get $850,000 from his previous employers, and he wonders if he was as much of a mark as all the other people she and her crew target.  So his trust, and the story, develops slowly.

This is a fun novel to read, and you can get it for $5.00 from the author.  Shoot, if you want to be as bad as Chloe and Paul, you could even get it for free from the author!  How cool is that?  Personally, I think you should choose the first option and buy the book.  It’s only $5.00, and you would be supporting the author to write another novel.  Geek Mafia is a clear indication that Dakan is a writer to watch, and I would be interested in reading more of his work.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | 1 Comment

Schrödinger’s Ball

schrödingerSchrödinger’s Ball by Adam Felber

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Years ago, I was talking with an English professor of mine, who confessed that he would have been a physics major, had he been able to handle the math. Part of me could relate to that. There’s something fascinating about how everything works in our world, and the fact that, the more we learn about how our world is put together, the less we understand how it actually works fuels that fascination for me.

Schrödinger’s Ball is an example of physics meeting literature, and while it didn’t always make much sense to me, it always kept me interested in what was going to happen next. The author creates four very different stories, one regarding a group of four friends (one of whom may already be dead) spending a weekend together, the second involving an exiled President of Montana, the third regarding a homeless woman who’s rewriting history through her journals, and the last centered on Erwin Schrödinger, who seems to be annoying a small group of friends by crashing on their couch and talking about his eponymous cat. That this is all happening about 40 years after Schrödinger’s death doesn’t seem to be an issue.

The novel reminded me somewhat of a Matt Ruff novel. Specifically, it reminded me of Sewer, Gas, Electric, if only because the basic premise was so loony.  If this had read like a Matt Ruff novel, that would have been fine (I’m so looking forward to Bad Monkeys), but Felber has his own charming style, thanks in part to a lot of experience writing humor for television.  His pacing is great, and what could have been a choppy approach to the story (flashing back and forth from one story to the next) worked quite well in building the suspense.  A lot of weird stuff happens along the way, but it never seems over the top.  The author manages to put it all together without it seeming forced, or contrived.  Part of this success is the way that he builds his characters.  I never felt that any of them were fake (aside from Schrödinger, but I think that was intentional), and each of them had their own distinct personality.  It was easy to root for them, and hurt with them during their disappointments.

I’m still confused by the ending.  It seemed that everything was resolved with the penultimate chapter, but then the author spent a chapter explaining the presence of Schrödinger as a character.  I didn’t quite follow this part of the story, if only because it was unexpected.  Had I read something near the start of the novel to explain it?  It’s not so much that I don’t understand Schrödinger’s presence (the author himself explains that the novel is his own explanation of the poorly conceived rebuttal by Schrödinger of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle), but I wish it had been clearer near the start of the novel that this explanation was the obvious one.  I suppose that having a long-dead physicist appear as a main character in a modern setting might have been indication enough, but still….

This is a fun novel, all the more so if you’re into quantum physics.  I don’t think the book will replace any textbooks on the subject, but it’s not supposed to.  If you have a fleeting interest in the subject, and you’re also a fan of either Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, you should get a kick out of this book.  It’s definitely worth reading.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Monster Island

MonsterMonster Island by David Wellington

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Ah, zombies.  They’re a mainstay of the horror genre, and the different interpretations of the mythology of zombies makes for some interesting reading.   It’s been a while since I’ve read a zombie novel (I believe Philip Nutman’s Wet Work was the last one, and I read it when it was released), but I was prepared for it, having just seen 28 Weeks Later.

In retrospect, it may not have been in the book’s favor for me to have seen the movie so close to starting the book.  A lot of the visual imagery of the movie stayed with me as I was reading the work, and it didn’t match all that well.  This isn’t the fault of the author, by any means, but it did make some of the faults with the novel stand out.  It’s a little choppy, and jumps around a bit between the central elements of the plot, but seeing as this was written as a serial novel (the author originally released the novel chapter-by-chapter through his website), that may have more to do with the method of publication than with the writer’s style.

I admire Wellington’s approach to the zombie mythology.  Specifically, he keeps the standard “rules” of zombies, in that they’re dead, they hunger, and being bitten by a zombie will pass the curse along to the bitten person.  He adds a new element by including a smart zombie (an ex-doctor who understands how to prevent brain death during his own demise) and an otherworldly personality to interfere with the main story.  With most new zombie stories trying to make the background new and fresh, it’s actually refreshing to read a novel that tries to stick with the traditional origins.

The author works for the UN, and he incorporates some of his experience there as part of the novel.  This gives the novel a thematic element of the “one world” approach falling apart as the zombification of the planet begins, isolating the remaining survivors into small communities, cut off from one another.  He makes Somalia the strongest outpost of humanity, and makes the ruler of that community a woman with AIDS.  She supports the women of her old country, making them her army, and in order for the main character to be accepted into her community, he must return to the US and retrieve the drugs that will keep her alive.  It’s an interesting starting point for the novel, and cements the story firmly in our world.

Towards the end of the novel, I started to find a lot of the development a little laughable.  The story maintained its grip on me, and there was no doubt that I was going to finish it, but things became a little weird near the climax.  I think the story probably ended the only way that it could, and definitely set the story up for sequels (Monster Nation and Monster Planet, already published).  I’m interested in finishing the series and seeing where the author will take it.

Monster Island is an entertaining piece of fiction, and would be worth any horror aficionado’s time, especially if he were into zombies.  It’s gripping, well-told, and creative, and all that will definitely overcome a little weirdness at the end of the book.

June 1, 2007 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | 1 Comment