Saturday, February 27, 2010

#15 The Walking Dead: Book Four

NNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! Fuck. See, I knew this was going to happen. I knew once I read it I was going to get sucked in and then pissed off when I couldn’t read the next book. Also, this motherfucker, Book 4, is crazy. Crazy as in the sense that if I were a less normal person I would have ran around my bedroom jumping up and down, pulling my hair out, and doing the Darth Vader (via Revenge of the Sith) “No!” I kept my sanity enough to shout “What the fuck?” Calmly close the book, and walk away from it slowly.

Should you have decided to pick up the series I can’t really say much that wouldn’t ruin the entire book for you. I mean, I’ve given you some pretty good descriptions in the other ones of what happens but it would seriously be a travesty if I did that to you in this one. So prepare for this review to be a short one. Obviously, as you may have already suspected, The Governor goes after them. He attacks their little group, pretty much gets his ass kicked, then comes back for more. Back for more with a tank, a bunch of guys who can’t shoot for shit, an over inflated ego, and the ability to lie like no ones business combined with the demented mind of about six serial killers all wrapped into one.

Once again Michonne does her ninja shit. Rick does his I’m the leader but not really because everyone is starting to think I’m crazy shit. Carol does her I need someone shit. Did I mention I don’t like the “Soap Opera” aspects of the series? I suppose it is a necessary evil though. Anyway, there were cool parts, I guess I can say the baby being born was one. A wedding is another. New people hook up, old people drift apart. The usual, normal routine of…life. Maybe that makes sense now. Just writing that I’m beginning to understand why this story for Book 4 came about.

I suppose this book was to show you that it is possible for people to return to a state of normalcy in the course of a zombie apocalypse. To further imply this notion upon us, at one point in the book, the character Dale says he had gotten so used to everything being normal that he almost forgot the world was still a horror show. So sad to think that it is people that fuck everything up. I don’t think a single person dies via zombies in this one. So much death at the hands of other people. That’s the image in this one, we are the monsters.

Seriously. So many people die in this book. There are betrayals, cowards, and heroes. As such I now have a new favorite character. Andrea. Her picture is the one you’re looking at. She’s been cut with a knife by a crazed killer and shot. She is one tough lady…sexy too.

I also lost one of my favorites. But I won’t tell you how, because even I was sickened and shocked.

I really hope you get into this series. Then, like me, you can wait for the next book.

#14 The Walking Dead: Book Three

If Two was boring the writers must have figured that out and gone balls to the wall with three. Three was, in fact, so good that I almost wanted to skip writing this just so I could read Four. Which, in turn, would have disappointed me knowing that I don’t have Five to read and would also upset me that I would even have to wait to begin with. Kind of like when I got into Harry Potter. I read all of the books in a row up to three and then found myself waiting and pacing the floor until the others came out and I could read the new book in a day. Of course, Rowling also took her fucking sweet ass time. But it’s allowed, because she’s pretty and has an English accent. The wait with The Walking Dead is the comics have to come out before the hardcover can make its appearance. Balls. Anyway, I can’t even think of where to begin this review. It has a bunch of things that I fucking love…not so much that I hate…and makes me think of so many other possibilities of where this story can go.

They finally get the prison cleaned out and are preparing to spread out. Essentially so everyone can have their own “house.” While doing so, as I stated with the electricity thing, they come across a generator. What does a generator need? Gas. So they decide to try and siphon some from the cars outside of the prison. While doing so they see a helicopter go down. A helicopter! Holy shit! Let’s go for it. So Rick, Glenn, and Michonne take off after it. Meanwhile, back at the Prison…Carol (who is nuts after Tyreese left her for Michonne) tries to set up some weird lesbian/”Big Love” type setting asking Lori if her and Rick will marry her. Odd…to say the least, but it is obvious that she is the type of person that can‘t survive along (pretty much she needs an Alpha Male). Cue back to the group going after the helicopter because I really don’t care for the soap opera shit going on at the prison. Really. The only aspects of the “soap opera” that I can understand is the pairing off. Imagine if you are in a group of 15 people. Seven of the women and seven of the men have paired themselves off as couples. That leaves you…all alone. I can imagine how that would drive a person nuts. The last thing you would want is to be alone…in a world of fucking zombies. True, you are not alone in the most empirical sense, but as far as emotionally? You might as well go ahead and pack up the loony bus. Of course, this is just my personal opinion. I’m sure there are people out there who wouldn’t really give a fuck if during a zombie apocalypse they didn’t have someone to sleep with at night, someone to have sex with to feel alive, someone to look at them and make them feel needed. If you are one of these people. Go you. I don’t think I could take it. There are some aspects of this soap opera that I really hate though, especially anything to do with Lori because I really wish she’d died a long time ago. I can’t stand her. At all. She fucking complains about everything. Everything! Many times in The Walking Dead they try to pass this off as hormones from her being pregnant. I fucking say bullshit. She cheated on her husband (and likely got pregnant from said encounter) less then a month after the zombie shit started. She complains every time the group makes a new decision, every time her husband goes out for the good of the group, and every time someone says something against her opinion. I don’t just mean complain, complain is likely not a strong enough word. She bitches, like yells and throws a temper tantrum bitches. Fuck her. So the group gets to the helicopter to find it deserted and follow the tracks until they are captured. Captured by…The Governor.

This is the part of zombie tales that I fucking love. The bad guy. Not just the bad guy…“THE” bad guy. The group is taken to, essentially, a small town. The Governor runs said town. Where he has fights for the crowds (think gladiators), rapes women, mutilates and tortures, keeps his daughter as a zombie pet (whom he feeds body parts from those he mutilates and tortures), and goes to sleep staring at a collection of heads from those he’s killed. The dude is Grade A Nuts. He makes the leader of the soldiers in 28 Days Later look like a pussy. He makes fucking Humungus from The Road Warrior look like a baby. Well…maybe not so much in physical stature (Humungus was fucking huge), but in sheer brutality…I would say The Governor has him beat. When I was talking to ashes about the series she made sure to point out The Governor. She basically conveyed that she didn’t like him and that he was an asshole. I think that was being nice. I don’t want to give away too much but I will say the majority of his brutality goes against Michonne. Because Michonne is female you can only imagine what I’m talking about here. I will say though that she gets some revenge, I won’t give away much but at one point it involves hammering his dick with a nail into a board. No lie…I seriously didn’t give much away there.

Where Book Two started doing the Man vs. Man thing that I was talking about. This, is the Man vs. Man part of apocalypse stories that I love. I like when they show the exact opposite. When you’ve been following this group that is trying to remain civil, human, and they come across that group that is anything but. In some stories this is the group that has resorted to cannibalism. In others it’s the one that rides around on motorcycles (I’m looking at you Dawn of the Dead…the original that is). The group that rapes and pillages (check pretty much every gang in The Road and as stated previously The Road Warrior). The group that only wants power and domination (pretty much everyone listed…throw The Book of Eli in there). It’s the group that doesn’t negotiate, that takes what they want, and that kills everyone in their way. They don’t care about humanity, they don’t care if anyone else survives, they are out for themselves and that’s it.

I always wonder which one of these groups I would belong to. Would I put my neck out for total strangers? Or would I simply go out for myself? I suppose this is a question everyone would have to ask themselves.

The pictures, as they appear, are of Tyreese, Michonne, and The Governor.

Friday, February 26, 2010

#13 The Walking Dead: Book Two

The Walking Dead: Book Two takes a slightly different path. It gets darker, if that’s even possible. Somehow it manages to though. How does it get darker?

First off the beginning of this one, naturally, picks up and the end of the last one. They are arriving at a prison. Now your first thought may be. Why in the fuck would they want to go to a prison? Easy. Think about how hard it is to break out of prison…now think about the opposite. How hard would it be to get into a prison? If you look at it from that simple standpoint you can then imagine how hard it would be for a dumb, slow moving zombie to get in. You can also look at it in the sense that there are beds, food, water, and electricity. Prisons are pretty much self-sufficient cities. The book takes it a step further by foreshadowing (with buses in the carpool and the possibility of using them for travel) and beginning to start again (planting crops in the prison yard). The problem in this book however doesn’t really stem from what’s going on outside (I.e. zombie decides to eat your face) as much as what is going on inside.

Several new characters are introduced, and like the first one, many of the new and old characters die. However, unlike the first book where they died at the teeth of zombies, they totally die at the hands of humans. In fact, 7 characters die in book two, only one of which at the hands of a zombie. You would think many of these new characters would be prisoners (because it takes place at a prison...duh) but we are only introduced to 4 new characters this way. By far the most interesting character of this book is an outsider named Michonne. The girl comes onto the scene carting two zombies without arms and lower jaws attached to her with chains, wielding a sword like she’s a fucking ninja. The two zombies? Her boyfriend and his best friend. Bitch is a badass. However, other then the initial introduction of her slicing and dicing we don’t really see much more of this “uber” side to her. However, she is both feared and respected for the simple fact that she was traveling alone. Another shining light in book two is Tyreese. He is by far becoming my favorite character. I’m getting a little tired of Rick and family. Which also plays out in the book in much the same way with other characters (in other words everyone is getting tired of Rick).

I didn’t like Book Two as much as I liked Book One. Even though the conflict is increasing, fucked up shit happens, zombies are killed by the hundreds it seems like, and the characters are becoming more real. I think it was because of the man vs. man conflict that I began to lose interest in it. Not so much because that bores me but because you are practically assaulted with it in this one. I don’t think there is a single time where you can’t flip four pages without someone yelling at someone else or someone blaming someone else. You would think, now that they can ban together and start over in an almost paradise like setting, that they would work together towards this common goal. That’s not the case though. I could have settled
for a…well he killed that guy because he had to. But to take that to: well he killed that guy because he had to…this guy knows about it…this other guy kills someone because he had to…and this guy knows about it…now lets fight and let everyone know about it. In other words everyone’s dirty little secret seems to come out in this one. Not to mention we find out that one lady doesn’t like to put a penis in her mouth and another, well, she’ll do it. Let’s just say I felt like I was watching a poorly scripted zombie soap opera. Which doesn’t make this TV version they are planning sound very appealing. If anything it is making me think the exact opposite. I can see how they would take the soap opera and stretch it out into something ungodly. Next thing you know in the series someone is going to have a pet family member ala Fido. But what the fuck do I know right? I mean, with all the sleeping around that is taking place in The Walking Dead it should be ripe for the Boob Tube.

Bottom line. It is nowhere near as good as Book One. In fact, were it possible, I would tell you to skip Book Two. Just know the basics and continue on. The artwork is still amazing though.

I also just remembered that one of the prisoners escapes after trying an uprising. We never see him die. I wonder if he brings the thunder back with him. Hrmmmmm.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

#12 The Walking Dead: Book One

The Walking Dead is by far the coolest thing…ever. Well, I suppose that would only apply to someone who is completely obsessed with zombies. Were it not for legal matters (I.e. I’m bleeding money) I would probably be getting my horror movie half sleeve right now, a large part of which would be a zombie. However, that’s beside the point. When I first got into the series it was via the paperbacks. They weren’t comic book size, nor were they apt to be considered a novella, more like a short story. I didn’t even realize they published the walking dead as a comic until much later. They are also a rather expensive hobby. Anyway, they combined several of these into book form, each of which contain 12 issues of the story. There are currently five books out, but if what ashes told me earlier is correct, the fifth one is sold out. As the creator Robert Kirkman says in an “Afterword” at the back of the book, the series is intended for zombie fans to show you what happens at the end of a zombie movie, never ending, continuous. You will, should you be a zombie fan, a comic book fan, a horror fan, or all of the above, quickly become engrossed in the series. When I started reading the paperbacks my friend only had a few of them and I devoured them. Instead of hanging with him that night at his house I sat in a corner with some beer and read them all as quickly as possible. Absorbing them in and tossing around ideas in my head of where these characters were going to end up. It begins, in a familiar way…

With a dude waking up from a coma in a hospital. *does a quick check* Well, 28 Days Later was released in 2002, the first issue of The Walking Dead was in 2003. Rick (the main character and former coma patient) is a police officer injured in a shoot out. He awakens a month later to find himself in a deserted hospital, deserted that is until he walks into the cafeteria. Being by himself he actually takes it in stride, he certainly doesn’t flip his shit and piss himself. Nor does he turn into a babbling crazy person that rocks in a corner. Which would be understandable. Instead he tries to find out what’s going on. It is while he is in the process of searching his abandoned house that he runs into a father and his son (who, in the first book have a short story about them in the back). It is with them that he learns about what has happened (which is basically jack shit, because like any good zombie movie they don’t even attempt to delve into what caused it), and also that the people were told that it was safer to go to the large cities. Because it was here that the government can protect you and keep you safe. Naturally, you can imagine what a cluster fucked idea that was. Way to go government! The city he figures his wife would have gone with his son? Atlanta.

As you can imagine this is where the story really picks up. Soon Rick meets a group of survivors on the outskirt of Altanta, included in this group are his wife Lori and son Carl (who I am assuming will be the main characters throughout)…how lucky is that? Well, maybe a little too lucky. Now, from any of you that are a fan of the zombie genre you can kind of see where this is going. People will be added on to the group, people in the group will die, the group will fight, the group will struggle, the group will attempt to survive. It is here that The Walking Dead really shines. The story manages to give each member of the group their own distinct and unique personality. There are no two people who are really alike. None of the men are the same, nor are any of the women. Each has their own personal back stories and personal battles. Not only does the The Walking Dead accomplish this wonderfully but it is how it manages to tell so many different stories in such a small amount of time that makes it unique. Stories that are very realistic possibilities. Whether that be the jealous single man that covets another mans wife. A teenage couple attempting to still uncover the mysteries of love and life despite what is going on around them. An old man finding comfort in the arms of a much younger woman. Children trying to still be children. Married couples that strive to maintain their marriage in the shadow of the horrors going on around them. Starvation. Isolation. Depression. You have a man who refuses to kill family members that have turned because he can’t comprehend the fact that they are dead. You have another that can’t stand the loss of a loved one while others are able to summon up some inner courage and continue. The group is fighting for a new place they can call home, a new place that can remind them of what they once had.

Of course you also have axe blades slicing open a zombie skull at the same time a hammer claw sticks into another one. The artwork of The Walking Dead is just as captivating as the story itself. I never really realized it while reading but the damn thing is actually in black and white. I have no idea how I didn’t notice that but for some reason it works beautifully. Displaying the gore and violence in a black and white format somehow makes it a little more brutal and wonderful all at the same time. There is no red blood splattered all over the page. No green tint to a zombie face. You don’t have to see the colors of the chunks in a characters vomit. Nor the blue of their tears streaming down their face. In a way this also helps to convey the emotions going on with the characters. You rely on the look in their eyes, the way the artist portrays a clinched fist, the fact that their teeth are grinding together. While it has its fair amount of dialogue the book relies on this imagery a lot. A lone figure standing in the rain. A hand on a shoulder. The original art was done by Tony Moore (known for Battle Pope and also work with Ghost Rider and Punisher) but he was later replaced by Charlie Adlard (who has done work with Judge Dredd, The X-Files, Batman/Scarface and many more).

Bottom line, it’s pretty, brutal, honest, and amazing. If you say a Graphic Novel isn’t actual literature…take a look at The Walking Dead.

#11 Death Troopers

Zombie, zombie, where’s the zombies. I smell a zombie. Zombie, zombie, gotta be a zombie. Only one thing smells like a zombie and that’s zombies. Zombie, zombie, zombie, zombie, there. In that book. What’s it say?! I can’t read! Please, please tell me what’s in that book. Oozing, pussing, moaning, zombies! Oh boy, oh boy, num num num num num it’s zombies!

Be prepared ladies and gentlemen. I’m about to go on a zombie binge. After this one I think I have…six…other zombie books to get through. Man, do I love it when I have friends that are as obsessed with zombies as I am. This one, by Joe Schreiber, is about zombies. I mean, with a title like Death Troopers you would likely think it is either something to do with zombies or some weird military book that deals with some badass unit. In other words…no…that would be an awesome book too, with a unit with a title like that. Anyways, the full title of the book should make you have a geekgasm. Star Wars: Death Troopers. Did you have a geekgasm? Did you? You should have. I don’t care who originally came up with the idea of combining zombies and Star Wars but the motherfucker is a goddamn genius. Ok…let me get back on track. 234 pages. The book is 234 pages. Jesus, where do I even begin?

The book takes place, I’m assuming, just a little before the events in A New Hope. I will discuss why in a little while. We start on an imperial prison ship headed to some prison moon that breaks down en-route. We are introduced to the main players right off the bat. Two brothers, the sons of a smuggler who recently died at the hands of the Captain of the guards. A doctor who was a rich girl that turned her back on that to actually “help” people. The before mentioned Captain of the guards. And…well, that’s really kind of it for the beginning of the book. I mean, we meet a guy that hates the brothers. We see that everyone pretty much hates the Captain of the guards. We also find out that everyone wants to see the doctor naked. As they drift through space they come across a ghost ship, which so happens to be an Imperial Destroyer (said to hold some 10,000 imperial troops), and board said ship to find parts to fix their own. Soon, the prison ship becomes over ran with an infection that kills quickly and our cast of main characters are the only ones left alive. Until…

The zombies arrive. Now, I don’t really know how to explain the zombies in this. They are kind of a combination of zombies and rage infected humans. Combined with…I remember some comic book villain that basically infected people with a hive mind…or you could just say The Flood from Halo or The Borg from Star Trek. Although more intelligent, the zombies even use weapons. I guess that kind of sums that up.

So…how was the book as a whole?

I didn’t really feel much for the characters. In fact, the only one I really felt for, White, is a really minor character. Likewise for a guard early on in the book. What’s more is you really find yourself feeling sorry for a character you never even fucking meet, just hear about. There was also a little twist that left me feeling, meh? Han Solo and Chewie are in this book (the reason why I saw before A New Hope is because Han is in his 20‘s). Of course, you could have guessed that with the fact that it is a prison barge and even in the movie they talk about their many run-ins with the empire. However, I don’t think they were really necessary for the book. If anything they just take away from the other characters. Not to say I didn’t love having some more interaction with the dynamic duo, I just felt they could have been used better elsewhere. The zombies also annoyed me a little, plus that the infection was a living organism threw me off guard too. There was also the little fact that characters keep re-surfacing for some fucking reason that doesn't make any sense. Say, for example, when the bad guy the brothers kill near the beginning ends up right there grabbing him as a zombie near the end? With some 10,000+ zombies what are the fucking odds?

I’ve only read a few other Star Wars books, most notably Star Wars: Darth Bane: Path of Destruction. Which, for those of you who have never heard about Darth Bane, he is like the most badass fucking Sith like ever…ever! So I can understand his desire to throw in characters that everyone can recognize, but I don’t think it was necessary for the story. In fact, it only made me wonder why Han never mentioned anything about goddamn zombies in the movies. You would think that would come about in conversation at some point.
Luke: I just saw Obi-Wan.
Han: Say what.
Luke: I just saw Obi-Wan.
Chewie: Rarrgghhh.
Han: I know big guy shut up. Look kid, where did you see the old man?
Luke: As a ghost,
Han: Ohh thank fucking yoda. Look kid, never say you saw a dead person because you have never seen a dead person until you’ve seen a walking dead person.
Luke: A what?
Han: Look, nothing, I don’t want to talk about it.

All in all? Read it if you are a Star Wars fan. If you’re not, you really won’t be interested in the ships, or a zombie Stormtrooper, or what the fuck an X-Wing is. You would likely just be lost the first time you read Rodian (see picture) or Dug and went, what the fuck do they look like? So there is my recommendation. Do you like Stars Wars annnnnnd zombies? Then this book is a great read.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

#10 Pirate Latitudes

At 312 pages it took me about 4 hours to read Michael Crichtons Pirate Latitudes. Does that mean it was good? Not so much. Does that mean it was a fast pace? No, not really. So why did I personally finish it so fast? It’s about fucking pirates! Pirates! Who the hell doesn’t like pirates? Virgin Nuns, Rich People, the guy who has the bigger ship, Virgins in general, the Spanish, Gay Priests…ok, maybe not the Gay Priests. Anyway, pirates are fucking bad ass. The plot of this book? A group of mostly English pirates go on an expedition to take down an unbeatable island fortress to get a shit ton of money. That’s pretty much it. Well, the main plot anyway. It is the pirates themselves, plus everything that happens to them along the way that makes the story great…except for that one part.

In a scene reminiscent of The 13th Warrior…or The Dirty Dozen the main pirate, Captain Charles Hunter, goes around finding the badass pirates to go along with him on a suicide mission. Naturally, because it is a suicide mission and there is a promise of a lot of gold, the pirates happily agree. Allow me to introduce to you those pirates. Including why one or two are my favorite. First of all there is Captain Hunter. We will put him in the place of the handsome leader, who is also ruthless, who all the women want to pull their skirts up for, and who I believe is also the only one born of the New World. If I were to compare him to someone I would go with Han Solo (the Han Solo that we all know shot first), combined with Casanova (an actor like Thomas Jane all done up like a pirate). Don Diego is the resident boom boom guy, complete with missing fingers and a crazy eye (I pictured Steve Buscemi, only Jewish). Mr. Enders is the doctor dude combined with the navigator. Kill two birds with one stone as they say. His personality through the course of the book actually kind of reminds me of Bones from Star Trek. Next you have one of my favorites, Lazue, the womanizing, debonair, cutthroat, spotter…woman. Yep, this French damsel likes to distract her victims by walking around topless and slitting their throats. Who doesn’t love a woman like that? Seriously? If she was Date #3 on some game show I would totally pick her, even though she walks around looking like a man (Milla Jovovich from The Messenger). Who’s next? The Moor, Bassa. He is the required quiet type (what with having no tongue) that is also the muscle of the operation. I’m surprised he didn’t climb a cliff with people on his back like Andre the Giant did in The Princess Bride. Anyway, in a way he is also the mercenary for Hunter. Hunter says “kill” and Bassa listens (Michael Clarke Duncan). Sanson is the brutal killer, the bloodthirsty, the Frenchman with no moral compass. The one who takes on an entire ship by himself and is only worried about money, nothing else. He also has a high pitched voice and at one point may have been a priest. I however, never quite caught on to the high pitched voice thing. Crichton says he has one and just as quickly I hear him more with a gruff manly voice. How can a brutal killer have a high voice? That would be like comparing Sanson to Mike Tyson (I would say Samuel Le Bihan). Unfortunately Sanson amd Lazue were my favorite. Go figure right? I would prefer the French over the English.

Of course you have the rest of the cast of characters thrown in. The corrupt official. The Governor of Port Royal (I totally pictured Michael Gambon), his niece that wants Hunter. The new Assistant Governor, who wants to take down the pirates but whose wife only wants…Hunter. You also have the corrupt military leader, the Spanish dude who only wants English blood, the Spanish dudes French buddy who only wants English blood, whores, dude that still lives after having a slit throat called Whisperer (think of the guy from Hoodlum), merchants who just want more money, the list goes on and on. In fact, in a lot of ways, it reminded me of Pirates of the Carribean. Only without the comedic effect. I’m trying to remember if anyone was actually particularly funny. Nope…they would all kick someone in the gut and put a bullet in their head without remorse. Ohhhh, and when he goes after the people that fuck him over. Think Braveheart…it is fantastic. There is only one swordfight though…one…the rest of it is bullets to the brain and slit throats.

The story itself was done fairly well. Typical to Crichton he throws in some medical shit you normally wouldn’t have known about. For example I really didn’t need to know that a hair restorer was made with crushed up earthworms. He goes with some liberties, like when the boom boom guy creates a crazy grenade. His battles at sea are done fairly well…although the build up to it made the final battle kind of anti-climactic. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World it is not. In fact, for the most part, it is the pirates trying to outrun their attackers and hide in shallow water. The attack on the island was weird…the whole time I was reading that part I kept going, “I’ve seen this before” and I don’t know why. I looked it up
online to see if the island was real, if it was really breeched that way. Kind of like if the history channel had done something about it. Couldn’t find anything in about five minutes so I gave up. Then again it could have actually been something out of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I wouldn’t know, I watched them all once and pretty much didn’t pay attention. The only thing during the story line that I couldn’t really get into was the kraken. I mean really? You have all this shit that could possibly make sense, things that could be rather historically accurate, and out of nowhere you toss in a fucking sea monster? Really? Not only that but one that glows green at night? I’m pretty sure they didn’t have radioactive squid back in 1665. I would bitch at him…but he’s dead. Crichton that is.

Anyway, you want a quick read? Want some cheap entertainment? Wanna see some pirates brutally kill some fuckers (like letting rats feast on a dude’s face)? Go ahead and pick the book up. My advice? I would say it is a road trip or airplane book. Something you can pick up, read, and toss in the pile to forget. I doubt it will stick with you, but it will keep you engaged. Oh right, the reason why I included actors to play the characters up there? You know it is going to get turned into a movie at some point. It’s a fucking Michael Crichton book. I’m fairly certain 90% of his books are films.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

#9 Within The Shadows

Within the Shadows by Brandon Massey is…wow…how do I even start? I guess you can let me start with some of the praise found on the back of the book.

“Spellbinding. Keeps you turning the pages to see what will happen next.” -Zane…bestselling author of Addicted.

“Massey creates effective suspense, some harrowing scenes, and characters you actually care about.” -Fangoria

How would I classify those comments? As complete and utter bullshit? “Spellbinding?” Really? Towards the end of the book (at 444 pages) he manages to slow the pace down so much that it is fucking ridiculous, he practically shoots himself in
the foot. “Characters you actually care about?” I wished they had all fucking died…only to find one of them does. I picked the book up because it boasted Local Author on the cover, I wish I hadn’t. I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you what the story is about, then I will get into why I hate it.

Andrew is a writer on the brink of becoming famous. One day, while traveling with his estranged father he comes across an old mansion after they get in a car wreck. Cue the weird shit. Andrew has a friend, Carmen, it is obvious they both love each other and want to hump like rabbits but don’t. Andrew’s best friend is Eric. After the accident weird nightmares start happening to his dad, Raymond, connected to the mansion that he knows from his past. Andrew goes out on a date with Mika who ends up becoming a stalker superwoman. Throw in some crazy cats, superpowers, psychic abilities, maybe some immortality, talking with ghosts, some shit that is meant to be scary but isn’t and you have the book. Now, why did I hate it?

Right off the bat I noticed that the dialogue was entirely wrong. They are educated, and speak educated, and yet the dialogue comes out forced and unnatural. Then there is the one instance in the book where for some reason the dialogue changes entirely.
"Why are you tripping? You haven't even met her. She's cool, seriously."
"I'm only looking out for you, bro. There are some serious gold diggers out there. I deal with it on the regular, and I'm married."
This after dialogue that sounds like this.
“You two going to finally get together?”
“We’re just friends, same as always. It’s not going anywhere else.”
“But you want it to.”
“Not at the risk of ruining our friendship.”
By the way, both of those came from a conversation between Andrew and Eric. From there I immediately noticed the sentences. Now when I write I write very simple. I write to where anyone can understand it. However, and to my knowledge, I try not to be cliché or formulaic. Massey is anything but. For the most part he uses Dick and Jane sentences with childish descriptions. "He was acutely aware of the closeness of her; the sweet sexiness of her perfume; the gentleness of her touch; the lushness of her cleavage, accentuated by the gold cross she wore on her necklace." You would think, at times, that Massey is writing a cheap romance novel (and why do sluts always wear crosses? I need to look out for that). It would actually work as a cheap romance novel. What with getting descriptions of the main characters constant erection, getting head under restaurant tables, and being stroked. However, you also get shit like this. "Carmen's perfume clung to his shirt, stirred a pleasurable heat in his loins. He definitely was going to need that cold shower before hitting the sack." Now…it may just be me but why, if a guy lives by himself, would he need to take a cold shower before bed instead of just jerking off. I mean later in the story he goes on to describe what he thinks is a wet dream in wonderful detail. Does the character like wet dreams? I’ve never had a wet dream in my life. However, I suppose that could be the case, what with taking a cold shower before bed to ease his tension. I have one more main complaint with the novel. This.
"He dragged his hand down his face." pg 145
"He dragged his hand down his face." pg 199
"He dragged his hand down his sweaty face." pg 248
"Andrew dragged his hand down his face." pg 267
And those are only the ones I remembered to mark down as I was going through. Later he tries to compare this to a trait that Andrew shares with his father but really…it just got fucking annoying. Ok, how many times can the fucker run his hand down his face before he starts peeling his own flesh off? Is he a crackhead? Does he have some nervous tick? Ohhh, that’s it? Well in that case let me cut your fucking hand off. Or instead…quit fucking telling us every time he does it. So what other shitastic elements of the novel are there?

The first real encounter he has with the ghost goes something like this. "The plate turned over...slices of bread and turkey and cheese stacked themselves...the chips slid onto the side of the plate...the glass floated upright, half-full with ice cubes." WOW. That was…impressive. *golf clap* No really, way to actually introduce the ghost. Oh and the way you have them communicate through the computer, that wasn’t totally reminiscent of Ghost at all. Then, not only does he tell us that the main character is now communicating with a ghost, but he spells it out for us. "The television was on. The movie playing struck him as comically ironic: The Sixth Sense." Really. I didn’t think that was a funny addition, I sure as hell didn’t think it was necessary. Why even put that in there? Could Massey not think of something better? He even references Ghostbusters. Let’s not forget that when he realizes the house is the center of it all, and shit, that we have this fantastic revelation. "It was constructed on land sacred to the Creek Indians, who used to occupy the area. The mansion actually was built on one of their old ceremonial centers, the pascova..." I’m going to do something I rarely do in my reviews, if ever. *HeadDesk* Really? You’re just going to flat out rip off Poltergeist? Or maybe another ohhhh 70 fucking things that deal with houses on Indian burial grounds thing? The originality here astounds me.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, let me give you moments in stupidity. Through the main course of the book the characters are plagued by three cats…like kung fu attack kitties. "The feline stared at her. It didn't move. "He's a Russian Blue," she said.” Wow…did he do research? You made the attack cats Russian Blues? They are probably some of the friendliest cats on the fucking planet. No really. Go look up the personality of a Russian Blue. My roomie had one, that cat was the friendliest fucking thing. If strangers came over my cat would hide, Queenie would climb up into your lap and assault your face with purring. After having his house burned down by Mika, Andrew runs off with Carmen to hide. So…what do they do? "They had dinner on the deck. Hamburgers, chicken breasts, potato salad, and baked beans. They sipped icey glasses of sweet tea..." Mind you, they know Mika is some superhuman bitch, they’ve both been attacked by her and her crazy fucking cats, they just ran away after his fucking house burned down, and they settle down for a dinner like that? Really? That just makes no sense to me what-so-ever. I’m just going to chill casually right chere and eat me some good country food. Then, when Mika is on her way…"She reflected on chapters of her life; different times. divided like scenes in a novel. She thought about the beginning." This crazy fucking woman (who has shown no remorse, guilt, or responsibility for her actions) is going to give us a detailed account of what has happened to her just so we can get the back-story. Because throughout the whole novel she has totally shown emotion that would make us want to be sympathetic. Remember in Candyman when you finally find out what happens to him? Yeah, it’s nothing like that. The whole time you realize it is just an excuse for the writer to give us the back-story because he couldn’t figure out any other way. Let’s see, what else. During the fight between Mika and Carmen, which you knew was bound to happen, Mika is wearing a black catsuit. Yep, for no fucking reason. Hasn’t worn anything like that the rest of the fucking book, in fact, she has appeared dressed pretty normal for the most part unless she was attempting to look sexier then she apparently already is. A catsuit? I got the impression that Mr. Massey really just wants to see this as a movie, with someone like Beyonce in a catsuit. By the way, during that fight, Massey uses the word “bitch” nine times in two pages. YES! I almost forgot about this one. Right in the middle of the fight between Carmen and Mika, while his father is being chased by Walter (a very large super powered butler) this happens, "He noticed that the trunk of the Rolls Royce's had popped open. Something was inside...Dazed, temporarily forgetting everything else, he walked off the deck to look closer." That’s right, your dad is being attacked, your girlfriend/friend/lover is being attacked, and you go off to investigate something. Again, *HeadDesk* What are some other things that bothered me?

Massey shouldn’t have switched to Eric’s perspective in Chapter 42. It was the first time he’d ever switched to Eric (the rest of the book bounced between Andrew and Raymond) and the only thing he accomplished was slowing down the pace. He also slows down the pace during the climax by switching back and forth between Andrew and Raymond. Raymond having the action and Andrew the “story” of understanding. What he accomplished was getting you built up about what was going on and then slapping you in the face and telling you to wait. It got old really quick. What else? Text speak. “CAN'T RUN FROM R LOVE I WON'T LET U.” That from a woman who is supposed to be old…like really old…and yet she talks like a stuck up, rich, modern girl. Another thing that bothered me is they always drank tea, sometimes fancy tea like peppermint and shit. Don’t ask me why that bothered me, I don’t know, it bothered me like Massey telling us Carmen was a vegetarian about three hundred times. There wasn’t a single unattractive person, all the women were amazing. Along those lines there were no “poor” people. Everyone talked about their multiple rooms, their large houses, their high paying jobs, and their 60” TVs. AND, you get shit like this, "Dad calmly thrust his arm forward and clamped his hand over her throat...Dad lifted her in the air, her legs kicking...Dad didn't lose his chokehold on her throat." Wow, way to go dad, I completely forget you had another name…I think it was Raymond. Don’t even get me started on the ending that is really, really, too happy/cheesy for words.

Dean Koontz is 65, Clive Barker is 58, Anne Rice is 69, Peter Straub is 67, Norman Partridge is 52, and Stephen King is 65. If Brandon Massey, at 37, is supposed to be the future of horror, someone please shoot me right now. I tried, I really did. I’ve read several local authors, in fact when I see a book by a local author I tend to pick it up. Doing that I have read several fantastic books, Within The Shadows is not one of those. On his website he says that people have said he is the “Black Stephen King,” whoever said that I personally want to slap in the face. He has his elements like Stephen King, switching between main characters to show different perspectives as the story progresses. However, his descriptions are no where near as detailed, his dialogue is weak sauce, and the overall plot of his story is unoriginal and forced. Will I read anymore of his books, not likely. Do I think he will ever become popular? God I hope not.

Monday, February 8, 2010

#8 A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini is trying to do something in A Thousand Splendid Suns, through its 415 pages, and I can’t quite tell what it is. It seems like part of it is a history lesson (think Forrest Gump or another book I’ve read by Anthony Grooms called Bombingham), giving us dates, times, and people that manage to remain significant. Another part is trying to tell us the story of two women, one raised poor, another raised with a high value on intellect, both of whom marry the same man. Yet there is also the story of feminine oppression in Afghanistan, particularly by the Taliban and said husband of the “old school” of thinking. Then again he has yet another, the story of war…and how you survive it. I think it was this fact that made A Thousand Splendid Suns kind of boring for me to read. Every time the book got to a point where I was reading at a fast pace it would suddenly change topics, or lose the voice it had completely.

I say history lesson because the book begins in 1964 and continues all the way to April of 2003. It discusses the aspects of politics, regime changes, and the overall history of Afghanistan at the time, particularly in the city of Kabul. However it does, at some points, get a little specific. I don’t know the necessity of mentioning every military leader. Passing quotes like this one, "...the brooding, charismatic Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir. Mammy had nailed up a poster of him in her room,” were alright because it doesn’t go into detail, it is a passing glance. A half page with just a list of names…is a little much. Sometimes the history aspect really caught my attention, like the giant Buddha’s that were destroyed by the Taliban. In particular I was looking forward to getting the perspective of 9/11, instead, I was treated with this, "The TV is tuned to BBC. On the screen is a building, a tower, black smoke billowing from its top floors. Tariq says something to Sayeed and Sayeed is in midreply when a plane appears from the corner of the screen. It crashes into the adjacent tower, exploding into a fireball that dwarfs any ball of fire that Laila has ever seen. A collective yelp rises from everyone in the lobby." That was it. He talked a little more about how they felt the coming of Bush would be, but nothing that significant. It was almost like 9/11 happened, then was over. I was more interested in hearing an actual perspective. Did they find it grotesque? Did they not give a fuck? Were there actual celebrations in the streets in some places? Things like that. When given a history lesson…I’d like to know the reactions, not just the facts. For example, “Mariam awoke on the morning of September 27 [way before 9/11] to the sound of shouting and whistling, firecrackers and music. She ran to the living room, found Laila already at the window, Aziza mounted on her shoulders. Laila turned and smiled. 'The Taliban are here,' she said." That caught me off guard. I never expected them to look forward to the Taliban. To be excited by their arrival. Indeed that excitement died very, very quickly…but I’ll get to that later.

The story of the two women is simple. You have Mariam, born a bastard to a rich merchant and his servant. She was raised knowing her father but not being included into his world as she was a disgrace. Her mother was spiteful and mean and treated her almost as a burden. Her education consisted primarily of learning the Koran. After her mothers death she lives in her fathers house for only a little bit of time before she is run out by his wives. "Now he is a little older than you," Afsoon chimed in. "But he can't be more than...forty. Forty-five at the most...What are you, fifteen? That's a good solid marrying age for a girl." The man is Rasheed and he moves her to Kabul, from there life only gets worse for her. "In this most essential way, she had failed him-seven times she had failed him-and now she was nothing but a burden to him." That was seven miscarriages. After awhile her husband marries again, this time to Laila. Now Laila grows up entirely different from Mariam yet only down the street from where Mariam lives with her husband. Her father is a teacher and therefore she is raised to be educated. She is a rarity as well, blonde hair and green eyes. When war hits her life gets turned upside down, first her friends begin to die, then the love of her life, Tariq, leaves with his family, until finally her parents are killed and she is forced, out of necessity, to marry Rasheed. “What of it? What? She’s too young, you think? She’s fourteen. Hardly a child. You were fifteen remember? My mother was fourteen when she had me. Thirteen when she married.” She will have two children, Aziza and Zalmai (whom she gives birth to by cesarean, with no pain killers), before she too begins being beaten by the pedophile and oppressive Rasheed (I say pedophile by the fact that he is around 60 when he marries the 14 year old Laila, and…well…wait till you read the sex scenes). The story really picks up here, once the beatings of Laila begin. My problem with the female aspect of the story is how they are written, I know Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets says “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” However, I think it is a never ending question. How can a man write women well? I think Hosseini tries, but fails for the most part. There is just something…off. At times where I expect Mariam or Laila to have more of an emotional internal or external reaction they don’t. When I expect the raised weaker Laila to crumble she fights, when I want to see the tough Mariam fight she crumbles. I don’t know…they almost appear like men, with the occasional heartfelt expression. Even some circumstances where I wouldn’t expect a mother to lie down and take it, they do, yet when they should, they don’t. Does that make any sense? Am I making any sense? Let’s just say I can’t find the women to be genuine. By far the most interesting part of the story to me though was the description and detail of the oppression of the women.

"If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home. You will not, under any circumstances, show your face. You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten. Cosmetics are forbidden. Jewelry is forbidden. You will not wear charming clothes. You will not speak unless spoken to. You will not make eye contact with men. You will not laugh in public. If you do you will be beaten. You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger. Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately. Women are forbidden from working. If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death."
Those are the rules of the Taliban for women. Now…the story begins with an oppression of women. First you have the servant mother of Mariam who is hidden away so as to not bring shame. Rasheed has Mariam wear a burqa long before the Taliban comes along because, as he puts it, he wants her to be his own little treasure. Yet in reality he is just a fucking old fashioned prick. With the government that is in place when Laila is born she is able to go to school and get educated, women walk around much like American women (in similar attire), that goes bye bye with the Taliban and then you have the rules you see above. This, at one point happens to Mariam, "His powerful hand clasped her jaw. He shoved two fingers into her mouth and pried it open, then forced the cold, hard pebbles into it. Mariam struggled against him, mumbling, but he kept pushing the pebbles in, his upper lip curled in a sneer. 'Now chew,' he said...Then he was gone, leaving Mariam to spit out pebbles, blood, and the fragments of two broken molars." Why you ask? Because he didn’t like the way the rice she made tasted. When Mariam is pregnant for the first time Rasheed responds with, "If it's a girl," Rasheed said, "and it isn't, but, if it is a girl, then you can choose whatever name you want." In fact, when Aziza is born he pretty much ignores the child completely and considers it a nuisance. Never even calling her by name. Women are beaten, kicked around, and verbally destroyed. When they try to run away at one point, you can imagine what happens…never mind, you probably can’t imagine what happens. If that wasn’t bad there is also the description of the war itself.

The story is brutal…not like Cormac McCarthy brutal anyway. Sometimes when you feel like Hosseini can go that little extra mile to make it leave a lasting impression on you, to really make you feel the pain and anguish, he doesn’t. Really…he does that a lot. Even with the passing of Laila’s parents or friends, the death of Mariams mother, you are kind of left just going “Meh.” In a passing comment he mentions how they find the foot of one of Lailas friends on the roof of a house weeks after she is caught in an explosion…just a passing comment. I think the reason a lot of Americans (or any country for that matter that has never experience urban warfare) don’t really understand war is because we’ve never had to be “in” war. Sure, our country has fought in wars, but have we ever had to actually wake up to the sound of shelling? Hosseini manages to capture this every once in awhile, "At night, Laila lay in bed and watched the sudden white flashes reflected in her window. She listened to the rattling of automatic gunfire and counted the rockets whining overhead as the house shook and flakes of plaster rained down on her from the ceiling. Some nights, when the light of rocket fire was so bright a person could read a book by it, sleep never came." Or when discussing the camps, "He watched little emaciated boys carrying water in their jerry cans, gathering dog droppings to make fire, carving toy AK-47s out of wood with dull knives..." Yet again though I find him…emotionless. Even when he describes these things you have no sense of feelings. Reading them is like reading a history book. Flavorless. Dull. Descriptive. Nothing more.

The cuts from Mariam to Laila (particularly the first one) get tedious. Just when you begin to get engrossed in the character Hosseini loses you by transferring to the next one. Only when Mariam begins to become a mother to Laila does the meshing really occur and it takes far too long. The history aspects of the book, while interesting at time, become boring and lifeless. The story of the two women and the oppression they endure, in my opinion, should have been his primary goal. Instead of cutting between something that happens to the ladies, to suddenly telling us some struggle that is going on, or some tidbit of politics, he should have just stuck with them, told us what was going on through their eyes. At times he manages this wonderfully and yet for the most part he leaves you wanting. A Thousand Splendid Suns is an interesting read, not fast, not slow, not boring, and yet not entertaining. For the most part it is emotionless. Giving us a lifeless tale of two wonderful women.

As an added bonus I decided to give you the poem written by Saib-e-Tabrizi that the title of the novel is derived from.
Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her, for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I-Bastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs
And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls

Her laughter of mornings has the gaiety of flowers
Her nights of darkness, the reflections of lustrous hair
Her melodious nightingales, with passion sing their songs
Ardent tunes, as leaves enflamed, cascading from their throats

And I, I sing in the gardens of Jahanara, of Sharbara
And even the trumpets of heaven envy their green pastures