A book review: Light Boxes

Light BoxesLight Boxes by Shane Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some books are rather unusual and Light Boxes is one of them. The book is a fantasy in which anything is possible. February has come, but February has no intention of leaving and the towns people of a unnamed town are subjected to an unending spell of chilly weather dominated by snow and ice.
The towns people are late to resist, for how does one resist February? But February, now personified, kidnaps and murders children and the people, led by Thaddeus Lowe and the Solution, a group of men wearing bird-masks, plan a revolt.
But how to revolt against February?
How indeed.
Light Boxes reminded me of a dream I once had when I was feverish. Logic and reason, causality, death and any other rock solid idea are toyed with. People get killed, come to life later in the story, or make themselves even come to life. February is a man who can be killed, but his death will end the month too. But even February isn’t February, for he could be someone else. And perhaps the cause of all problems might not be February, but maybe it was the creators that should be blamed.
Shane Jones is not tied down by anything and he does not hold back on style either. Almost any kind or writing style is used and this is supported by the design of the book. Some pages just contain one word, others contain one line, some one line repeated over and over, jet others contain huge letters and some are just notes jutted down.
I personally like this kind of experimental writing and I liked the story, but I can understand that some people find it hugely annoying as it is a unusual book and writing style. I hope other books will follow.

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Bookreview: And the hippos were boiled in their tanks.

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their TanksAnd the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S. Burroughs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading Junky I discovered this book by Burroughs among the books dubbed as crime novels in my local public library. It was probably labelled as such because there is a murder in it and I don’t think the library has a label for literature as such. So it would be the most logical choice from their viewpoint, but somehow this label doesn’t fit the book.
From the introduction and comments I gather that Burroughs and the co-writer Jack Kerouac were part of a literary movement called the Beat generation and that this book was written before they became famous. In fact the book was published after they both died because it was deliberately put off. It was the wish of one of the people involved in the murder that it would not be published in his lifetime. It ended up as being published in nobodies lifetime..
The result of the delay at publication was that the book gained a mythical state. Like many things that are unknown it peeks the interest, gains notoriety and heightens expectations.
But what were the results?
The book seems a lot like Junky, with the same down-on-their-luck types as feature in that book, but a little bit less criminal. Most of the people are poor and some are the brink of crime. The best term to define them is: a bunch of freeloaders. They live on the money others make and they get that money by borrowing and not paying back, gaining it in a half legal way or by outright crime. For example: one of the characters pawns the diamonds of a relative, pocketing the money for himself, without letting the relative know.
Most of the book describes this freeloader life from various angles and against this backdrop is set the awkward semi-gay relation between a young man and an older man that finally ends in a death. The book is however not a crime novel. There isn’t a real upbeat towards the killing, nor any investigation or anything else that is part of a crime novel. The murder itself and the aftermath actually are only a small part of the book and occur well in the end. It feels almost as and anti-climax when it does, which it probably will be for anyone attracted to crime novels. The murder isn’t what the book is about.
But what is?
The charm of the book is the writing, which is to the point and frugal. Just like in Junky there is not a word too much it this book and no beating about the bush. The story is told straight and without any moral justification from the writer. Crime happens, people steal, someone gets robbed. It all is told in the same way as the writer tells that people had a bite, took a leak or banged their girlfriend.
The characters in the book have opinions of course, but nothing is morally weighted by the writer. Everything is told as it happens, to the point. It is almost clinical.
I like the writing style as a way to learn how to write. The shortness of the book combined with a efficient writing style made it readable.
The problem I foresee for me is that much more of this will start to bore. If a bigger book would be filled with just more scenes of freeloading then such book will become a tedious read. It does make me curious about the books that made Burroughs famous. I assume there must be a lot more to them.

www.meritcoba.com

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Bookreview: No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old MenNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is a twist of fate.
The public library in my home town, with only three bookcases of English books, harbors a few books that have been turned into movies at one time or another.
Perhaps not too surprising considering that the preponderance of crime novels and crime novels seem to be a favorite genre of books to turn into a movie.
And one of them is ‘No Country for Old Men’.
It’s a depressing title for sure. It invokes the image of cranky oldsters reminiscing how everything used to be better: the milk, the butter, the cheese, the people and the crime.
And it is that kind of book.
It would have been boring, if the writer hadn’t employed a few things to keep your attention.
First is the MacGuffin of the story. A man, called Moss, runs into a crime scene and finds a suitcase with a few million dollars. Everyone is dead, nobody knows he is there. What would you do?
Moss takes the money and runs.
But running isn’t as easy as he might think. For one, there is family to contend with, and for another, a lot of a other people want that money as well.
One of those is the coldhearted psychopath Anton Chigurh. The man carves a path of dead bodies through humanity. The dead pile up wherever he goes.
Next to him are a lot of shady, often unnamed, types that take potshots at Moss. Most of them are more meat for the meat grinder that Chigurh is. More dead bodies.
Next to those are the authorities, represented by Sheriff Bell, the old man in the title.
The whole story then proceeds along these three lines: Moss, Chigurh and Bell and ends in a tone true to the title: sad. I leave it open how sad exactly.
There is however something problematic with this book. The whole psychopath-goes-wild-theme is somewhat too fabricated. For some reason Chigurh gets away with murdering scores of people without the FBI getting involved. McCarthy paints us a picture of a wacko massacring a lot of people, often in the open, and he doesn’t get caught or even suspected and so Bell can exclaim ‘this is no country for old men’ and ponder quitting his job. I found that a weak element in the book. It is simply unbelievable that anyone can get away with what Chigurh did without the federals getting on his case and someone gunning him down.

Now this all makes for a book that would not have gotten more than three stars from me, if it wasn’t for the writing style. McCarthy uses various styles to tell the story. There is the internal monologue of Bell. There is the third person view of Moss and Chigurh and there is the for me interesting style of dialog.
I am used to write dialog like this:
“Where are you driving to?,” Merit says.
But McCarthy writes it down like this:
Where you going?
No “”, and usually no indicating of who says what. This could become confusing if not handled properly, but McCarthy does as he pulls it off if you pay attention. Sometimes I had to read back a little, but he usually keeps it clean enough so you are sure who is saying what.

For that I am giving McCarthy some extra credits. That is why I give the book 4 stars.

www.meritcoba.com

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Bookreview: V is for Vengeance

V Is for Vengeance (Kinsey Millhone #22)V Is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Does a voluminous book require an equally voluminous review?
I gather that it doesn’t, for some books, either good or bad, can do with a short verdict. V for Vengeance is such a book. It was a rather copious book for me and I am surprised I managed to read it and even like it. In fact I am even more surprised because crime novels aren’t actually my thing. But then again it was unavoidable because my local library’s collection of English books consist of three bookcases, about shoulder high and two meters in length, and two of them are filled with crime novels, just to give you an idea.
V for Vengeance is also a surprise because the leading character, Kinsey Millhone, is not your typical hard boiled private detective. You know, the kind Humphrey Bogart plays in the Maltese Falcon or in the Big Sleep, a cynical loner with no love for the police and almost no social life to speak of. Kinsey Millhone is more akin to Gittes from Chinatown. She is a stickler for the rules, tries to stay on the good side of the police and avoids violence.
The story is also somewhat unusual in that the it isn’t actually a whodunit, but rather a howdoesitallfittogether kind of tale. From the start you know who has done it and you follow Kinsey on her investigations knowing that somewhere down the line she might run into the killer. Just you do not know how and when. You also know that Kinsey isn’t aware of this because her job has got nothing to do with figuring out who killed the victim – because it is assumed she has committed suicide- but with finding out about her shoplifting past. This against Kinsey knowing better, for she has caught the victim redhanded. Interspaced with Kinseys story is that of Nora and Dante. Nora is a woman who finds out that her husband is cheating on her and Dante is a loanshark with ties to the maffia, who wants out of the business. A love relation of sorts develops between Dante and Nora, but a dark secret is between them.
All the story-lines come together at the end. I found it a nice read, although at times Grafton relies a bit (too) much on coincidences. But for me it was a untypical crime novel with a low violence level and believable characters.
There are a few annoyances.
The book is copious because Grafton takes her time in spinning out her tale where she could have kept things interesting by trimming the text. For instance she has a tendency to describe chores in detail while this serves no purpose but to bore the reader. It could have saved maybe a hundred pages if these superfluous lines had been removed.
Also I find Kinsey’s enmity towards the reporter Diana somewhat too ‘classical’. PI’s either dislike the police or the press or both. And everyone hates politicians. It would have been nice if Grafton had avoided this overused story feature.
The last thing I found strange was that one of the cops – the corrupt one- seemed to be everywhere. I find it just hard to belief that he happens to stonewall the right persons, manages to manipulate the press and the evidence and also has a lot of cop friends who are doing him favors beyond the call of duty. It was a weak plot element to rely on such a typical omnipresent bad guy and it should have been avoided.
I did like the book and would like to read another one(I understand it is part of a series).

Hmmm.. this review is longer than expected.

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Bookreview: Magic Bites

Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, #1)Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Who the heck is Kate Daniels?

She is an edgy sarcastic kick-ass babe with a sharp sword named Slayer. A magic sword of course, for a real kick ass girl in a world turned to urban fantasy can’t be without one. Just like she has to be tattooed on a place you can only fantasize about and wear a leather jacket two sizes too large. It would be unseemly otherwise.

Kate is that typical loner that everybody wants, either in bed or as a hired henchman or for lunch or because she is powerful. And thus she can give them the middle-finger and scoff at the powers-that-be without incurring the penalties for doing so. Like being torn apart by the Beast Lord for gross insolence, just to name an example. Not that he isn’t an insolent asshole himself. I fear a love interest. This testosterone filled uber macho just has to play top dog, but you know, deep down inside, he is just a pussy. We are promised a lot but nothing gets delivered.

Kate is not to be had. She is too busy or too independent. Oh, and she doesn’t fit into any of the organisations that beg her services: they all suck one way or another.Loyalty goes to persons.

Get the picture yet?

Now Kate is also twenty five with -say- about a decade of experience in her particular line of work. And an accomplished magic user to. And a experienced sword wielder. And well educated -she speaks her languages-. And has knowledge of a very obscure nature. But there is an explanation for the latter two: it is her father who taught her everything. Her human father that is.

Score one for home education.

You might think that would be enough but Kate is also provided with a mysterious background. Just to entice you to cling to the series.. Who is her real father? No doubt it gets revealed at some point, say in book five of the series. And boy, you will you be dissatisfied.

Granted the book is a nice read. I like the slang Andrews uses or the learn words I never heard about such as expletive. I learned a few new things and hopefully I can use them to my advantage. But the story is in a shambles. At various points it looks like Andrews changed her mind or got stuck and then she pulls a rabbit out of the hat.

When the investigation is dead in the water Andrews lets a vampire attack Kate so she can extract information from it. There.. issue solved. And when it’s going nowhere fast again, lets have the villain turn up so the story can move on. Don’t like the romance? (there is a more virile guy entering the stage) . Right.. lets change the guy’s personality so he loses any wit he has and doesn’t match with Kate at all.

It not just these changes of heart, but it’s the inconsistencies in the story. For instance: Kate is good at her job, but has no money to spend. A feat that goes unexplained.

There is a so called crusader of the order that hunts the villain for four years who is apparently crazy, a loner, and armed to the teeth, but operates secretly, with all that weaponry? . And what is more: somehow this crusader manages to turn up at the right place at the right time two thirds into the story. Almost as an afterthought, for most of the book he never puts in an appearance. A most secretive guy indeed. There is no good explanation for it other then that Andrews wanted him to be there.

And the list goes on and on. Take the wards for instance that the villain uses to break Kate’s ward and then conveniently abandons so she can use it against him later on. Or the fact that the villain apparently lets the crusader live. Or take the scene where Kate sits sipping wine on her porch, while the evil guy and his minions approach. She waits him out and then , when he is about to attack, she jumps inside her house where she is safe from harm, due to aforementioned wards.

Ilona Andrews likes to write scenes, but loses sight on what should connect them: a good story line. This is a cool scene and that is a cool scene. Storyline? Uhm, think of that later.

I can’t resist to compare Kate Daniels to Sonja Blue. Somehow the latter seems more human than the first, even though she is a crazy vampire. Kate is just a bit too good to be believed or connect with.

Does this make it a bad book? Not at all. It is certainly entertaining. Especially when I compare it to a Sci-FI book named Time Travellers never die, which I was reading at the same time.

Magic Bites is certainly not as good as Sunglasses after dark. I would like to give a second book a try, just to see if Andrews does a better job. Unfortunately it might never happen, as my local library doesn’t have it and I rather buy books I really like.

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Bookreview: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Treasure IslandTreasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Treasure Island is no doubt a prime example of the boy adventure book. Written by Robert Louis Stevenson at the end of the 19th century, it is the story of Jim Hawkins, the boy who finds the treasure map that sets the tale in motion.

The story of treasure island was originally serialized in a children’s magazine called Young Folks, I read in Wikipedia. It was a story for boys that fantasize about a great adventure and end up getting rich.
The latter seems more like the required reward than a goal. The treasure is the MacGuffin for the story. It is all about the adventure.

But treasure island is a little bit more than an adventure. The tale. on the face of it, sees Jim Hawkins, helped by Dr Livesey and Squire Trelawney travel to an island that is simply called Treasure Island. Their great adversary is Long John Silver, who initially takes on a job as the ships cook, but when arrived at the island basically takes over power with the bulk of the crew, who happen to consist mostly of pirates and buccaneers, which Trelawney recruited on the advice of Silver.

This does not go unnoticed by the captain, Mr Smollett, a taciturn man, who expresses his concern about the nature of the bulk of crew of which he in general disapproves. He wasn’t wrong to do so, as it turns out.

Although the story seems on the face of it to be one of treasure seeking, the fact is that there is actually not much treasure seeking being done. Indeed, the story seems more about the conflict between the group of mutineers and the small group of people who oppose them. It is also a lot about duplicity and betrayal against loyalty.

The story is rife with double crossing and treachery. Long John Silver is at the center of it. Pretending to be a honest inn keeper who helps out as a cook on board, Jim Hawkins finds out about his true nature when Hawkins is inside a barrel and hears Silver plot with his crew mates against Hawkins and friends.

There is also this mysterious death of the first mate in which Silver has a hand. The first Mate, a good for nothing drunk, somehow gains access to alcohol (which is forbidden) and finally disappears completely. The idea is that he has fallen overboard, but who knows, maybe he was helped with the falling.

Hawkings finds out that it was Silver who was supplying the first Mate with alcohol. But what is more, his convenient death made way for Silver to basically step in.

Silver is continuous playing both sides against the middle. He takes control of the mutiny against Hawkings, but when Hawkins is captured later by the pirates, he secretly plots against them with Hawkins. Hawkins however is playing his own game against Silver. He doesn’t trust him one bit, knowing very well about his double dealing plans he overheard when hiding in a barrel.

In the end it is Silver who is double crossed by both Hawkins and Dr. Livesey, or rather by Ben Gunn. But how that works out, you have to read for yourself.

Treasure island seems to have had a remarkable influence as it has had many adaptions. There is good reason for that and this lies in the fact that the story is tightly controlled. Stevenson keeps it clear cut, tight and simple. There is barely a word too much in this story. The characters are given the right amount of space and are fleshed out according to their role in the story. Stevenson throws just enough lines in for Silver and the other pirates to make them feel genuine, but he never overdoes it.

The same goes with the background and scenery. Stevenson spices the story about his fictional pirates with pirates who really existed, which gives the whole a feel of reality. Captain Flint, the pirate who has buried the treasure never existed, but he is described with enough details that allude to real events and real pirates.

Pirates have captured the imagination of writer and readers throughout history. For instance: the movie pirates of the Caribbean is still popular. I sometimes think that heroes like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones are in a certain way the successors to these pirates. These successor are however a more positive version of treasure hunters. More benevolent. Usually they do not do it to get rich but rather for a more lofty goal like furthering knowledge or thwarting nazis.

It is interesting to have read this book, but personally I find it a bit too light for my taste. Stevenson keeps it tight, as said before, and this means there is little time spend on character developments. For instance squire Trelawney is an interesting man, in that he seems like someone too full of himself and a bit senseless, and there is room for him to grow.

Stevenson presents us with a whole set of these interesting characters: Smollet, Dr. Livesey, Trewlaney and Silver, but most get just enough space to make the proper impact, but nothing more. And women, they hardly feature at all in this book, only in the role of Hawkins’ mother and Silver’s, mentioned, but not presented, wife.

As said, it’s a boys book, and for boys women are beings from another planet which are best to be avoided probably because the S thing might crop up. The boys world is one of ascetic purity.

It’s a boy’s world and Treasure Island is a boy’s book. Something you might read just to know how one looks like, but I don’t think I’ll read another:P

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Bookreviews: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

By Max Brooks: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War [Audiobook]By Max Brooks: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War [Audiobook] by -Random House Audio-
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(contains a section that can be seen as a spoiler: it is at the end and marked as such)

I decided to listen to the audiobook version of this book for two reasons: I have a interest in post apocalyptic settings and like to see how a book is translated into a movie.
The translation of the book into a movie is something that we need not consider here. Although there are similarities between them, they are superficial at best. Unless the sequel to the movie gets aligned to the book, that is.
There are three similarities: there is a zombie outbreak, the storyline plays out all over the world, and there is the same character that we follow: the UN investigator.
But the latter’s role is just totally different. In the book he has almost no personality as he is only used to give voice to the people telling their stories, while in the movie Brad Pitt takes the center of the stage.
The audio book adds an additional layer to story. A book that I read lets me give the voices their own characteristics in my mind. A ‘hero’ is to me something personal that I fill in. I read from various other reviews that many found the writings to be similar voiced. I did not experience that as such as they used distinct voices in the book that gave them color and personality.

Now let’s mention some good points of the audio book.

The stories from everywhere created an interesting jigsaw puzzle that not only pieces together an overall idea of what was going on in the world at the same time, but also build up to unfold the development of the zombie ‘war’. It is an interesting, and certainly fresh idea for a zombie apocalyptic story. The writer tries to keep the pieces fitted together by referring forward and backward to certain key moments, events or ideas, which is certainly helpful at the start of story as the jumping all over the place can also create confusion if not kept in check.
The voices used in the book helped a lot with fleshing out the characters and I was certainly gripped by some of the stories.I saw in the actor list that they used some respectable actors for various roles: Alan Alda,Jurgen Prochnow, Martin Scorcese, Bruce Boxleitner, Frank Darabont.
Some stories stand out for me. The one related by the Chinese doctor Kwang Jinghsu who tells about the first zombie case he runs into and the description is horrifying. The flight of the Indian Ajay Shah to try and escape by ship via Alang, the ships’ graveyard. The one told by the blind Japanese hermit Tomonaga Ljiro who seeks to die in a lone forest, but refinds faith. But I was specially gripped by the story of colonel Christina Eliopolis who is sucked out of her damaged airplane but manages to save herself by chute and lands in marsh full of wandering zombies hundred of miles from safety.

So to the bad points.

The first good point is also the first bad point, because all the stories are separate stories that tells but a moment in the whole war, there is little room for character development. This makes a character rather one dimensional.
There is some kind of attempt to give the ‘grunt’ Todd Wainio a kind of overall binding role as he returns several times and has most of the space in the story, but he is the least interesting of all characters as he is as fake as can be.
I am probably too European to like the way some Americans like to represent their military, and Max Brooks is one of those. Overconfident and smug. He is that guy that flattens your hometown and napalms the surrounding lands and then approaches your with a big smile to say: “So there missy, that should settle it. No need to worry. We got it all under control.. We’ll be heading over the next town now. But I might be around later on, if you feel interested.” Wink.
(Waino tells the interviewer on a side note that he is certain he has some kids fathered by some grateful ladies from the places he liberated. What a revolting man).

As much as there are likable characters -or at least believable characters- in the story there are also totally unbelievable characters.
The prime unbelievable character is General Travis D’Ambrosia, the commander in chief. At the moment the counter attack is ordered he is basically a defeatist and should have been relieved of command. He tells the interviewer some nonsense about three basic rules of war: men must be bred, fed and led. And then he explains how all these rules do not apply to the zombies. And then tells of more advantages they have, totally neglecting to mention all the weakness zombies have and which can be exploited(which they later do).
An almost equal unbelievable character is the Englishman David Allen Forbes. He was introduced as having experience with castles and writing a book about it and then goes to tell some nonsense about European History in which the middle ages are classified as institutionalized anarchy.

Say what?

But it got worse.. Next he mentions that there is a difference between a castle and a palace and he mentions how castles were often turned into palaces so they lost their defensive value.
And that is true enough.
And then he says the most profound stupid thing I have ever heard: ”.. like Versailles, that is why it was such a cock up.”
Did I hear him say: like Versailles?
I played it again: Versailles.
Again: Versailles.
Versailles?
VERSAILLES!!!!!!
%^%^&&**&*&
No student of any level of history of warfare would ever mention Versailles as a defensive structure. Versailles was not a palace converted from a castle. It was build from the ground up as a prestigious object to show off the power and wealth of Louis XIV, the 17th Century king of France, the ruler of the most powerful nation of Europe at that time. Versailles was exactly not a defensive place because Louis had a big army, and big navy to protect him and plenty of forts if he needed them. It was exact the opposite of a castle because he could say: I can afford such a place and do not fear my enemies..
It was never at anytime considered or converted or used as defensible structure, not by the French, not by the Germans when they occupied France, not by the Allies when they liberated Europe..
Nearby Disneyworld Paris is more defensible.
Only an utter clueless guy would mention Versailles or use it.

Another weak point in the story is that the style of story is distant, observational and in hindsight. You know that everyone is basically going to survive. There seems to be seldom any interaction between the interviewed of the moment and anyone else of the interviewed. It turns to matter of fact observations. This is perhaps intentional, but it creates distance. As if you are hovering above it instead of being in the midst of it. It also takes away any uncertainties doubts, or interesting complication. Nobody of all of the interviewed seems to contradict someone else. It is dry, distanced and faultless. Which might make a nice report, but takes away from the story.
But what I often missed is the anguish people would experience when they see one of their loved ones turned or sick. Or even see them back as zombies. Brooks describes that at the start somewhat. But soon enough he the zeds are zeds. That they are your friend, lover, partner, dad, mom or buddy is pushed aside fairly rapidly.

And then there is this.. this -how to tell it- this demonstration of a certain myopic mindset.
When public humiliation and corporal punishment(flogging) are reintroduced crimes are are no more, so we are told by the former vice president of the United States.. I see.
And when American soldiers ‘fight’ they suffer of course less losses than say the Russians and the Chinese man on man.. Of course.
And in Israel a rebellion erupts when the zombies start to show up, because certain extreme groups in Israel rather compromise the safety of the whole nation to further their own cause. Right. Patriotism is only for Americans.
And the Cuban problem is easily solved by having them take in five million United States refugees so that the western(=American) ideas of greed ( oh sorry: free enterprise) and democracy gets spread around and eventual restores Cuba to a democracy.
It is that simple.
And when a German officer(from West Germany) is ordered to abandon civilians by his (former East German) superior, he at first refuses, but when pressured buckles under anyway. without asking an explanation, consulting his staff or talking it through with the civilians. Noo. All he has gained is the benefit of fifty years of western inspired conscience. See how down on their morals those (Former) Eastern Jerries really are anyway, cause that guy kills himself afterwards.
But regardless of west or east: it is the same cadaver discipline of course and the same way out. They never change, those Germans: only their excuses.
At some point I was wondering if this was meant to be satire or that Brooks really thinks that is how you deal with the worlds issues or how the world works?

But the list extends into the story telling.
So the battle of Yonkers shows that the US army is not ready to deal with the dead yet. Mind you, they are shown to be extremely incompetent. Not even using things to hinder the advancing horde with, like say a wall of cars, barbed wire, cheval de fraises, minefields, stakes, ditches, wood fences, wires, fallen trees and anything else the books are filled with. And claymore mines! No Clymore mine. Easy to set up, deadly, shoot balls of metal that go right through you. But noo.. the army has been ordered to be incompetent.
Or has it been written?
For Brooks now tells us that there is a break between refugees and the zombies. Up till now he tells us in all other stories how they were mixed.
But the Battle of Yonkers is designed by Brooks to show of the incompetence of the US army, forced on them by who knows who? The press? The politicians? Their superiors? Why not blame them all!
It is a setup.
We are looking directly at the writer forcing an unbelievable twist in his story. You can see his hands grabbing it, twisting and turning, until it is disjointed enough so that the best equipped army in the world loses the first time around.
Mano-a-mano.
Zombies 1. Humans 0.
It is one of those fake wrestling matches.
They have to lose to have the US overrun, but also to have the army get up for a second round. As if war just consist of a few important battles.

—zzzzzz spoilers down here zzzzz ————-

Its a few years later, after this severe defeat the army counter attacks under command of mister defeatist D’Ambrosia via an offense from the rocky mountains. From the west to the east.
Wow.. how many people would that take? Well, they walk side by side, just like how they search for survivors and evidence after an aircraft crash, so we are told. So that’s something like 1400 miles as the crow flies. And assume for every ten yard one grunt. That is 300.000 men. Oh wait they got a second line: 600.000. And then you need replacements, backups, support, perhaps some more men per 10 yard really, certainly in denser area’s. Double that. Triple that. Quadruple that. You need to guard the flanks too, the liberated areas. You need logistics, repairs. replacements. 5 million? 6? And that from a country that has suffered 200 million dead and lost over ⅗ of it’s land. And most of it’s industry and food supplying area’s.
Brooks is basically unable to properly handle this. His stories are basically light weight and interesting, and work as separate instances, but he can’t tie it together in the end. He needs to twist too much to make it work. I assume he does. Because I hope that he does not really belief all these things that he wrote down. It is such an absurd look of the world.
But you got to give him credit for one thing though. Once the United States has won the victory at home, it doesn’t retreat into isolation and let the rest of the world to it’s own devices. Why should they anyway. What would the world do without them! They got a whole world to liberate… or conquer.
It is just the way you look at it.
It is..

—————spoilers end———————————–

One star extra for the great voice acting and the great colonel story. It gave me tears, honest.

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Book review: Junky by William S. Burroughs

JunkyJunky by William S. Burroughs My rating: 4 of 5 stars Junky is a horrid book. The focus of this novella is the shallow and deplorable life of the drugs addict as he ambles through life to get to his next fix. Burroughs’ book is unmitigated, the focus is the constant struggle with addiction, for an addict is torn by two opposing desires; to get his fix and to kick his habit.

If this was a movie then the camera would be constant on Burroughs, thinking of ways to get money to get a fix, trying to get a fix, suffering before and after, then trying to get rid of it, actually succeeding in getting clean up for a short while and then falling back into his old life in no time at all. In the mean time he is constantly experimenting with an ever increasing selection of drugs to find that heavenly kick on the cheap. Sometimes you wonder where he gets the money or what social life he has except for hanging out with his junky buddies or being high or strung out. At times he tells us a few things. Like he has a kind of allowance that gives him a certain yearly income. And at one time he buys a farm with a buddy that eventually earns him a profit that evaporates when he wastes it all on his addictions. Sometimes we get a glimpse of other people. He is married, for at times, especially when he is in Mexico, his wife puts in an appearance. But these are just brief excursions, for the camera gets yanked back to focus on him. It is a lurid life.

The lines between users and pushers(sellers) is blurred as users start pushing to be able to fund their addiction(s). Sometimes they turn informer for the police, when they get arrested and strike deal or for money. Or just for any other reason. Burroughs tells us, in a matter of fact voice, how these addicts degenerate morally, turning to all manners of illegal behavior such as stealing or robbing drunks. This degeneration of morals even affect certain doctors, nicknamed croakers, who write out prescriptions for them so they can get a shot of morphine knowing fully well that they actually do not need them for what morphine is meant for.

Shocking are the experiments with new drugs. In their desire for a next fix and due to the constant lack to fund their addiction they are willing to try anything that might seem to suffice. Almost anything that could be taken for a drug is tried out eventually. It is not a nice book to read and sometimes you want to put it down because the life of these people are so dreary, shallow and shockingly grotesque. But somehow you keep on reading, perhaps because you assume that their must be some kind of end. A closure. There is one and it is better not to tell much about it, just that it is not what I would have expected.

This books reminds me somewhat of A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. The latter has more story perhaps, but there is similarity in the way they describe the lives of addicts. No doubt because Dick was an addict himself and knew what he was writing about, like Burroughs. Although I do not think this is a book to ‘enjoy’ it is no doubt a book to read just to get an idea about what it must be to be an addict. And perhaps that is the major strength of this book, especially if you are an aspiring writer and want to get an glimpse of the life of a drugs addict, without going through the experience yourself.

I was hovering between a 3.5 and a 4. View all my reviews

Book review: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Think thirties – with the linger touch of the roaring twenties -, think mystery, think romance, think New York in grey with the Empire State building looming in the background, think high life, think jazz, think autumn in New York, think smoky bar with an attentive crowd silenced enough to hear the pensive tune of the crumpled jazz trombonist over the background noise.

That sort of thing.

Rules of Civility is the lingering remembrance of a time that perhaps never was but is served up tasty, steamy and hot by Amor Towles. The prologue is the bait. It is set in 1969 and ends, a handful of pages later, with a cliff hanger: “A case of riches to rags,” says Val, the husband of our protagonist about one Tinker Grey. “Not quite,” our protagonist Katey Kontent answers. Or rather, as is written,: -Not quite,. Because in my version of the tale the ” ” denoting speech is replaced by a single – at the start of a sentence. It sometimes leads to confusion when the spoken sentence continues after the comma.

Towles baits us in another way to: a man arranges his live according to the rules of civility set forth by George Washington. Rules that are that old? So how is that going to work out in a more modern setting with different morals? I was curious.
So it is fast backwards towards 1937. We are with Katey again, but now she is twenty five years old and with her roomy Eve hitting downtown New York to celebrate the closing of the year. They run into Theodore Grey; Tinker to friends.

And friends they become. It is a bit of a mystery why this man, who obviously belongs to the well-to-do, should associate himself with two women of the working class type. But hey.. he is a nice guy and they are nice gals.

And why not?

At first it looks like Katey and Tinker are the couple, but Eve intervenes and Tinker and Eve fade into the background from which an occasional update informs us and Katey of their budding romance. A party here, a vacation there. It seems all to be sunshine and roses.
In the meantime Katey has nothing to complain. Her association with Tinker gets her an association with Wallace. And later on she bumps into Dick. All three men belong in one way or another to the affluent layers of society. Katey is hot with the bon ton and, as irony will have it, she doesn’t even realize it.

Another storyline splits off at some point. Katey is a second generation Russian immigrant who works as a white-collar worker. Her task is to neatly and precisely type out contracts for third parties. She does so to the satisfaction of her employers. She even gets promoted.

But Katey has ambitions and while waiting for an interview with a possible new employer she meets an older man running a publishing company, who gives her a job. Cause that is what older men are for. A chapter later it is his referral that lands her a job by a starting high society magazine named ‘Gotham’. Gotham…. Wait? Isn’t that? It might be, but I am probably missing the point.

Katey is either one lucky broad, or a very talented one or very pretty one. Probably she is all three. If I was only told.
But what happened to the mystery? You know, the one that the book starts out with? The riches to rags thing?

We are coming to that about two thirds or so in. So after Tinker we have Wallace and after Wallace we have Dick. And we get back to Tinker again because the affair between Tinker and Eve was just make believe. In fact it was a string of disasters from the start, so Eve tells Katey.

^^

After Eve is out of the picture -she takes a train trip into the sunset and we never hear from her again- Tinker and Katey hook up.

Are you still with me?

Time for a little romance then, but we hit another bump in the road: Tinker has something with Anne. Yup.. it turns out that all the time Anne was his sugar mommy. Poor Tinker is actually only rich with someone else’s money: Anne’s money that is.

Right.

So Katey, wounded in the heart, disassociates herself from Tinker and now we finally get to that other cliffhanger. The one from the title: the rules of Civility.. Tinker lives according to them, but it is all pretense. At least that is what Katey thinks in her anger. He is a fake gentleman, but a better man than most.. According to his painter brother.

At this point in the book I lost patience.

I had a hard time believing the fortunes of Katey. She is white collar girl who gains access to social stratum where millionaires abide. Now I do not doubt that this is possible, but it is never made plausible in the case of Katey.

If Katey was portrayed as an intelligent capable beautiful woman (Katherine Hepburn springs to mind) who stands out, then it might have been understandable for her to do the socially upward mobility thing, but Katey is a nothing.

For instance: Katey exists in a void. Despite the fact that she actually lives in her hometown we never get to meet any of her friends and family. Her father is dead, her mother is missing and she has an uncle who is only mentioned in relation to the death of her father. Eve does not even count as friend as she is her roommate. Otherwise she seems to have no relations from her past at all.

In her hometown?

Is New York so big that she looses contact with the people she knew from her childhood? Does anyone have a clean break like that from the past?

But what makes her upward social move itself so implausible is her passivity. You might expect her to be of an ambitious nature with an intelligence and a drive to match, but Katey is simply not pictured that way by Towles. Instead she retreats most of the time to her apartment to read Dickens and Christie and only sallies forth to partake of parties when invited by others. And her dalliances with the men who are infatuated with her, is on their invitation and not hers.
But why her.. why not any of the other girls? Why Katey? She is a docile party animal at best and a social climber by accident.

Towles entices with a mystery and a complication but both sizzle out in the end. They are promises, but little is delivered. What is left is cute but implausible romance with a sad ending.
It is a bit too forced and unbelievable.

A pity.. it seemed to promise more.

However: Extra points for the catchy dialogues though. Towles does not hold back.

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Book review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 (Catch-22, #1)Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Some weeks ago I found that I sleep better when I read something, but I did not have any books of my own anymore. I used to have a collection of mostly science-fiction and fantasy books, a size able part of which was handed down to me by my father. Another part -the cheaper ones- I had collected myself. But I did them away. Some I gave to good causes, others to friends and others I threw away as they were in a bad shape. It felt odd to completely remove all books from my house, as they had been my companions for years, but I figured that most of them I could get digital and read them that way. As fate would have it: my digital reader broke down.
So I went to the local library and got me whatever book they had that looked interesting to read according to the cover blurb. At first I tried some Dutch books, both written in dutch or translated from other languages, but I have always read English books, so after that brief encounter with my native language I moved over to the English section of the library, which was good size smaller, which made it easier to choose.

One book that I found was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I had heard of it before, but never what it was about. So I decided to read it with some trepidation as it is considered literature and I am not much of a well-read reader, being more interested in non-fiction or fringe books. However I thought that the reading of a good book would rub off on me and I would write better for it. I write, because it is my desire to tell stories and writing is one way of doing it.
Catch-22 left me somewhat confused in whether I liked it or not. I have that more often of late, in that I do not quite know what to make of a book or a movie. It is why I have two characters doing my movie reviews. I am sometimes of two minds, or even more.
Catch-22 is the story of group of American bomber crew based on an imaginary small island of the coast of Sicily at the end of world war II. The most important MacGuffin of this book is the war or better the missions the men have to fly over Italy. When I read about that I immediately knew what that meant. The air missions in World War II were notorious for their casualty rates. At the height of the war this could even mean a loss of over 10% of the crews involved for one mission only. In the wikipedia you will find that the average rate of a Bomber Command mission was 2.2 percent throughout the war. Since a normal tour of duty was considered to be twenty missions this amounted to a 44 percent casualty rate at least if we use Bomber Commands figures to illustrate the situation. In Catch-22 the amount of missions they have to fulfill is an absurd fifty at the start of the book and that number increases during the book. Facing almost certain death makes that some of the men involved go to great lengths to get out of the war, one way or another, or die trying. This is what basically drives one of the main persons: Yossarian. One way to get out of the war would be to be declared crazy. And this is where the title comes in: Catch-22 is basically an logic fallacy: you can not get out of the war on the grounds that you are crazy, because that is the desire of a sane man.
This illogic you will find throughout the book, not only in the attempts to escape the war, but for instance in the desire of an atheist assistant of a chaplain to replace that chaplain, because he thinks he can do a better job at what the chaplain is supposed to do.
Next to this Catch-22 the whole book is a bit of a jumble of scenes and situations who only seem related because the men all belonged to the same unit. It reminded me somewhat of Mash, but more absurd and more satirical, but also less focused. Mash is of course of a later date then Catch-22 and it is probably inspired by Catch-22, but I name it because it give me a neat bridge to one of my problems with the book.
Catch-22 reads as an absurd satire and when it was released that might have been a novelty. However nowadays, over sixty years after the book was first published, we have seen a lot of absurd and satirical series and movies. Mash is one, the Monty Python series another. South Park and Red Dwarf all added their satire. The consequence is that Catch-22 is not much of an eye opener as an satirical book. There are little story lines that stuck with me, such as the guy Milo who manages to set up an expansive free trade network all over Europe and the Middle East using (bomber) airplanes of both sides to trade with anyone for a profit. Free market capitalism unites people in their thirst for greed. It sounds like a thing to wish for until Milo shows his mettle by having the American bomber crew bomb their own airfield, because he has been contracted to do so. In the mean time his greatest worry is how to get rid of the complete Egyptian cotton harvest that he acquired but nobody wants to buy from him, thus threatening him with bankruptcy. One attempt is to sell it off as cotton candy by dipping it in chocolate.
Perhaps because the satire and absurd situations are not very new or exciting there are two problems that suddenly comes to the foreground: the plot and the characters. There is hardly any plot. In fact you might cut up each chapter and see it as a separate standalone episode, just like an episode of Mash. Now Mash was at least consistent in that most of the time the same cast was used, but in Catch-22 this is not the case. Different people are central to different chapters without any apparent organization or reason. But even in this there is no consistency as there is even a chapter named after a person who hardly features in that chapter.
All of this might of course be a subtle way of telling a story with a deeper meaning, but if that was the case it is lost on me. If it was to tell that war is hell and life is absurd, then it might have been a novel way back then, by using satire and ridiculous situations, but nowadays it is hard to get more than a ‘Meh’ reaction. It has been said over and over again. And personally I somehow find Monty Python’s killer joke sketch a lot more funnier then the situations in Catch-22.
The last problem I want to mention with this book are the personalities involved. I simply could not connect to any of the people. They behaved in absurd and sometimes hurtful ways and because of the haphazard plot line the focus kept shifting from one to the other.

Catch-22 is for me an ok book, but the lack of a consistent plot and someone to identify with made it hard to keep on reading. I did therefore not finish the book but stopped two thirds in.

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