CBR #129 – Colder Than A Witch’s Best Not To Think About That Sort of Thing, Really

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

Every once in a while, I dabble down the Discworld path.  I’ve never felt compelled to churn through the whole series like I do with others.  The time to read one always seems to come upon me and then I read a few.  And then maybe get to more later.

I never know what I’m going to get, because Discworld is pretty much six or seven different series that are interconnected.  Rincewind and the Wizards.  The Night Watch.  Tiffany Aching and The Witches.  Death and his daughter. Moist von Lipwig. Each novel kind of pushes forward one of their stories while pushing forward the whole of Discworld.  It’s very Monty Python. They all kind of have lovely morals and messages without forcing the message.  Pratchett has a topic he wants to get into, and so just sort of envelopes it in one of his humorous characters.

Now that Pratchett has died, and his daughter has declared that his final book will be the end of the series for good, I have an end point.  It’s going to end on a Tiffany Aching story.  Which is my least favorite series — in the sense that I find all the Discworld to be pleasant, so this just happens to be the one I like ultimately the least.  It’s not bad, and the Nac Mac Feegles — the wee blue folk who drink and fight and drink and fight — are my favorite stuff.  But Tiffany Aching was meant to be the Young Adult wing of the Discworld, and it very much has that feel to it.  It’s a part of Discworld, but it’s just not my favorite to visit upon.

I almost always give Discworld books three to four stars.  Because I like them but never love them.  There’s always great parts, but the whole book is never great to me.  It’s just something that should be read.  If you are a fan of reading, and dry British absurdity, then you have to read them.  And you’ll enjoy them.


CBR #128 – Not With a Bang But A Viral Video of Keyboard Cat

Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Hacker novels, and technothrillers, are always a current thing.  Move five years, ten, then fifteen, and things become hilariously quaint.  WarGamesThe NetHackersEnemy of the State, The Matrix.  These all feel like relics now that we’ve moved forward with technology.  So it’s intriguing to me when an author I like jumps into the fray.

Zer0es has a great story — the premise being that hackers are kidnapped and forced to work for a secret NSA cabal intent on creating an AI program that will “protect mankind.”  Very Skynet.  And so it kind of becomes this combination of X-Men and Suicide Squad, but instead of superpowers, they have super hacker powers.  One guy is a Vietnam Vet conspiracist, one’s intent on swiping bank numbers and info, the other is a “life hacker” who’s good at talking to people and getting info, the third is a Muslim who is a standardly awesome hacker, and the last is literally a “troll.”  A troll who can make people furious and who lives on fucking with people.  These are your heroes.

Chapter 0 starts the novel and makes the entire novel a flashback while giving away so much of what they plan on doing.  It kind of spoils the first part of the book for me.  Then we get into relationships.   Each of the characters is given some kind of trait that gets hammered on, and then they get a weird ghost in the closet that gets twanged for pathos.  The love interest angle is incredibly dumb and feels shoehorned.  It reads like a comic book, which is to say, it would have worked better as a comic rather than a novel.  Wendig does graphic novel work, so I don’t know why Zer0es needed to be a novel.  But it definitely plans on being a series, though now where we go from here remains to be seen.

CBR #127 – No Rest For The Wicked

Make Me by Lee Child

I got pissed at the movie version of Jack Reacher because it just wasn’t Jack Reacher.  He’s a huge fucking dude who just wanders the US at will, setting right the wrongs.   It’s not complicated.  But his massiveness is a part of the equation.

Well, this one here is book 20.  Twenty novels where Reacher roams like a combination of tumbleweed and brick shithouse.  In this one, he arrives by train to Mother’s Rest, a podunk farming community in the middle of nowhere.  But these folks have something to hide, and soon Reacher finds himself involved in a private investigation gone sour.  There’s no reason Reacher should help.  Even when he conveniently starts bedding the female investigator because THAT ALWAYS HAPPENS.

I’ve always resisted the storytelling impetus that there has to be a love interest.  That because someone has a penis there must be a vagina to put it in. And because someone has a vagina they’re going to end up in bed with the penis sooner or later.  I hate that.  It’s a stupid convention, but people shovel that fucking into their gullets like so much pink gooze Chicken McNuggets.  And it took me out of the game on this novel.

But the story itself kept me back in.  It’s a third person omniscient narrative, so we’re usually in Reacher’s head for most of the novel, but then occasionally we get glimpses into the bad guys.  And that’s great.  It’s a very Stepford town, where everyone seems frightened and working for some sort of secret organization.  And it keeps you in the mystery as Reacher travels around to explore it.

The book takes its sweet-ass time getting to the crux, and we end up travelling all over the US by plane and such.  Which doesn’t make it feel much like a Reacher story.  He usually stays in one spot. The ultimate reveal is worth it, if mildly contrived, but it’s not what I expected it to be.  And so Child keeps Reacher roaming, and all is right with the world.

CBR #126 – Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing, Baby

The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

I loved the Millennium trilogy.  And then Stieg Larsson died and things became a novel unto themselves.  His family owned the rights to his books, because he never married his long time companion, Eva Gabrielsson.  He didn’t marry her to protect her from gangs of white supremacist bikers and criminals that he wrote about.  And thus, the rights to his characters went to his family.  However, Gabrielsson held on to a laptop that supposedly contained extensive notes for a book 4 and book 5, and implications that there would be ten books in the series.  Had Larsson not died.  This was ten years ago, and the fight got ugly.  The family wanted money.  The publishers wanted money.  But Gabrielsson wanted control.  She and Larsson had been together for 32 years.  And so the publishers made an end run around her and got David Lagercrantz to write the fourth book.  Which is subtitled, “A Lisbeth Salander Novel” and not a “Millennium Series” novel.  It’s branding pure and simple, and it’s not the first time it’s happened.

The book itself deals with a scheme involving the NSA, a Swedish computer genius, and his autistic savant son.  There’s a merciless professional killer after everyone.  Millennium is in financial straits and is being hassled by an advisory board who wants to make it more hip to young readers.  There’s a hacker cabal named after the enemies of Wasp from the Marvel comics (Lisbeth’s online nom de guerre) run by Lisbeth’s estranged sister, Camilla.  It’s like a big-time tentpole action movie.

And it’s not very Millennium.  It’s nothing like the originals.  It’s just an empty cash cow version of it.  Imagine if they found a new Jane Austen novel.  And they said, we’re going to give it to the best selling British author currently writing.  And so they gave it to JK Rowling.  Who is one of my favorites.  But it’s just, it wouldn’t be the same, would it?  It would always be a poor copy.

Lagercrantz ghost writes autobiographies.  He did a famous one for a soccer player.  I don’t care to google to find out if he actually did fiction, but I don’t think he has.  And it shows.  His dialogue is clunky as fuck, his characterizations are just broad.  I’d give him credit for trying to parallel the shit he was going to take for writing this with the new owners of Millennium if I thought he was that clever.  But he isn’t. And those guys end up being arrogant sell-out autocrats who gets one-upped in the end.

If they write a fifth book, will I read it?  Probably.  I’m an asshole that way.  And I’ll complain about it then.  But I’m a sucker when it comes to that.  It’s ironic that I happened to start reading the Discworld books again, as Rhi Pratchett announced that out of respect for her father, she’s decided there will be no more Discworld books after The Shepherd’s Crown.  I’m six books from the end then.  And it sucks.  But I respect her.  Because maybe it’s better that way to preserve a legacy.

CBR #125 – Putting the ME-ME-ME in Meditation

10% Happier by Dan Harris

The missus thought I would like this book because it was about an industry person who loathed meditation for similar reasons to myself and yet he was able to find a way to overcome that.  And while this book is about that, it’s not.  It’s nothing.  It’s arrogant fluff.  If it were a pitch it’d be like, “Meditation? Fucking hippies, amirite? But no, seriously, it’s not half gay!”

Dan Harris is a host on several ABC newsprograms including Good Morning America Weekend Edition and Nightline.  I don’t know who Dan Harris is, because I don’t watch the news, because I don’t have cable.  That’s not me being an obtuse hipster.  That’s me being a fucking poor person.

Anyway, in what is purported to be a self-help guide to helping folks overcome their aversion to meditation, it’s more an overt memoir for someone no one really gives a fuck about.  I guess he’s important.  There are people who read the cast lists for Dancing With the Stars and squeal. (Though, seriously, Gary Busey this season?  I hope it turns into Survivor or the Hunger Games halfway through and he straight up porkroasts Paula Deen.)

Harris talks about how he met with pretty much every famous “guru” through his newscasting: Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, The Dalai Lama.  He spends a chapter on each — mostly talking about himself while going, “This fucking guy, amirite, but no serious, he’s not half bad.”

Like myself, Harris has buzzing ideas in his head, and he’s high strung.  Prone to panic attacks.  Mostly because he got into cocaine use.  Unlike me, who has not to my knowledge ever done a narcotic in my life.  I’m already fucked in the head and in poor health.  I’d melt in a corner, with low sperm and an exploded heart.  But that’s always been my problem with meditation, I can’t quiet my mind long enough to focus.  I twitch and spasm, and then the voices start in whispering ideas.  Which is cool — but I just can’t center myself and get to that mindfulness where you reflect on the ideas.

Harris can.  He did.  But that’s about the most help you get out of the book.  Instead of actually giving practical meditation advice other than focus on breaths, he mostly scoffs at the process and then gasps in disbelief like a plant at a shitty magic show.  DOVES!  HOLY FUCK!  YOU’RE A WITCH!

So I got fuck all out of it, other than Dan Harris thinks Dan Harris is very important and that meditation, it’s not half gay, amirite?  Seriously, bro.

CBR #124 – Deus Ex Blasting Ya

The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

That third and final book has been the crusher lately.  This wasn’t massively disappointing, not like some of the series I’ve been reading, but I did feel it was a bit lackluster.  There was just TOO DAMN MUCH for them to wrap up, and so they had to use gods.  And so everything got very overwhelming and things just kind of came to a crashing halt.  I mean, at times it felt like it was six different books rather than one massive adventure coming to a wrap.

I applaud McClellan for not being afraid of mauling or murdering his beloved characters.  He still pulls a few miraculous recoveries for folks.  But all the final showdowns are kind of bland.  Sure, there’s still so much gory pyrotechnics.  But this felt like there was too much story crammed into the last part of the trilogy.

We get a solid resolution, which is great.  And there’s happy endings and sad endings and some parts are just endings.  I really hope McClellan revisits this series with another trilogy.  There’s plenty of room and of the characters who survive, there’s still some villains out there to cause trouble and some more adventures to be had.  I feel like he will.  You don’t write six short accompanying stories to a trilogy if you aren’t doing more.  And there’s still quality meat on the bones here.

I still highly recommend this series to anyone who likes fantasy.  Especially since it’s so unique.  It’s the equivalent of the Temeraire series, which also bows out next year, sans dragons.  Bayonets and cannonballs and muskets make for some vicious warfare.

CBR #123 – Death Be Not Proud, Fucksocks

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

I used to count Christopher Moore as one of my favorite authors.  But now I’m realizing, I don’t love everything he does.  I don’t know if it’s a case of putting away childish things.  I guess it’s always been schlocky and silly and zany, but now more than ever it feels like the San Francisco version of Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiaasen.

I think what I’ve figured out is — the further away from modern day San Francisco the books take place, the more I like Christopher Moore.  Not just location, but also temporally.  Lamb being my favorite — set in biblical times in Jerusalem and around there.  But then, my next favorite is the Fool series, which is also Shakespearean in Europe.  And then as we edge closer to San Francisco, I like the books less.  I don’t really love the vampire ones, but I think this one was more disappointing. I don’t know why.  It just feels too wacky and cheesy.

Not even just the humor, but the plot is really bizarre.  Death isn’t death anymore, but she is, but the Death Merchants aren’t anymore and there’s a bunch of ghosts on the Golden Gate bridge because there always have been and now the Squirrel People are bad guys but they aren’t the main bad guys the main bad guys are but at least we all have magic powers because REASONS and…

Look, I don’t understand what that means either.  As I’m reading this whole thing it just made me question, do I still like Christopher Moore?  I wrote to him way back in 2001, and I told him how much I dug what he did with Lamb.  And I apologized for prattling on like a fanboy douchewaffle.  And he thanked me for introducing him to the word douchewaffle.  So every time I see the word in his books, I smile fondly.  But now, I’m just wondering, was it just a kiddo thing?  Is he just too silly?  I don’t know.