book: Conan the Conqueror

December 28, 2010

Robert E. Howard. Conan the Conqueror. Sphere, 1974 (originally published 1936). 191 pages.

An outline of the plot would read like a laundry list of the worst fantasy/adventure cliches, but it’s fun anyway. The writing is a mix of efficient storytelling and extremely corny language, which is perfect for the story. But most importantly, Conan is the baddest badass of an antihero you could hope for.

8/10 (Great).


book: Of Mice and Men

December 6, 2010

John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men. Bantam, 1971 (originally published 1937). 118 pages.

It’s a stage play, masquerading as a novella. Each chapter begins with a detailed description of the setting, which then remains static, like a set. The rest of the chapter consists almost exclusively of action and dialog: characters enter, play their scene, and exit. It’s an interesting way to write a book, although it makes me wonder why Steinbeck didn’t just write it as a play. Unfortunately, this style means that if you’ve seen the movie first, the book doesn’t really have anything new to offer. That’s okay, though; it’s a good enough story (and a fast enough read) that that’s not much of a negative.

8/10 (Great).

book: To Your Scattered Bodies Go

November 18, 2010

Philip José Farmer. To Your Scattered Bodies Go. Berkley, 1973 (originally published 1971). 222 pages.

A fast, exciting read, with a clever premise. It’s remarkably similar to the TV show Lost (right down to the lack of a satisfactory conclusion), except that instead of a handful of people finding themselves on a mysterious island, it’s billions of people finding themselves on a mysterious planet.

8/10 (Great).

book: Moving Pictures

November 11, 2010

Terry Pratchett. Moving Pictures. Harper Collins, 2002 (originally published 1990). 337 pages.

The first Discworld book I didn’t like. It’s boring. The humor is sparse, unless you think referencing movies is funny. The plot is recycled from previous Discworld books, except this time around not much fun happens on the way. There are some great characters; they really deserved to be in a better book.

3/10 (Bad).

book: The Dark End of the Street

October 28, 2010

Jonathan Santlofer & S.J. Rozan (editors). The Dark End of the Street: New Stories of Sex and Crime by Today’s Top Authors. Bloomsbury, 2010. (126 of) 291 pages.

When I was in college, I took a creative writing course: a workshop of a couple dozen inexperienced, untalented undergrads, writing to an assignment – all rough drafts, and most of us not taking it any more seriously than we would a term paper.  That’s what this book reminds me of.  They’re not all completely terrible, but of the nine stories I read, only one is worth reading.  Several are so badly written that I couldn’t get through more than a couple pages of them.

Your first clue that something is wrong should be the fact that the stories are arranged in alphabetical order by author.  It seems innocent, but if the editors aren’t willing to single someone out to go first, it doesn’t bode well for their willingness to do any actual editing.  The second clue is in the introduction, where one of the editors expresses his delight that writers were willing to have their work published in his book.  Maybe if I’d picked up the book in a store, I might have noticed the clues and put it back down.  But I got it free from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, and was therefor obligated to read the thing, or at least give it a chance.

The problem with a bad collection of short stories (or, one of the many problems) is the difficulty in deciding when to stop giving it a chance.  I mean, sure, it’s been bad so far, but the rest of the book is written by different people, and maybe they’re good, right?  But probably not, if the editors’ taste and judgment so far is any indication.  Eventually I decided to stop short of Jonathan Lethem’s contribution (about halfway through the book).  I’ve heard good things about Lethem, but I’ve never read him, and I don’t want him to be ruined for me through association with this book.

book: Three Classic Children’s Stories

October 21, 2010

Edward Gorey/James Donnelly. Three Classic Children’s Stories. Pomegranate, 2010. 108 pages.

Illustrations by Gorey, text by Donnelly. I can’t figure out where these illustrations originate from, but the copyright page implies that they were published in some form in 1972-1973, while the texts were first published in 2010. (And a lack of information on Donnelly anywhere on the internet leads me to believe that he did not write books with Edward Gorey in the 70s.) It’s a confusing situation, which I find very frustrating. Anyway:

“Little Red Riding Hood” – Definitely the highlight of Gorey’s work in this book, with a full page illustration on alternate pages. The writing is fine but unremarkable, sticking relatively close to the Grimm version but with more character details (which sometimes seems forced). 7/10 (Good).

“Jack the Giant-Killer” – The illustrations for this one are small and relatively sparse. The writing is fine, but the plot is weirdly simple and straight-forward. 5/10 (Indifferent).

“Rumpelstinltskin” – Absolutely delightful. Donnelly finally succeeds at what he’s apparently been trying for the entire book: telling fairy tales with character and wit while sticking to the traditional plot. 8/10 (Great).

average: 7/10, minus 1 for confusion = 6/10 (Okay).

book: Stranger in a Strange Land

October 20, 2010

Robert A. Heinlein. Stranger in a Strange Land. Avon, 1967 (originally published 1961). 414 pages.

For the first couple hundred pages, it’s a very exciting science fiction story about a man raised by Martians coming to Earth. But about halfway through, the tension is abandoned and replaced with blather about how the secret to all happiness is to live in hippie communes and have sex with everyone you know. In addition to that dull, silly nonsense, the book is also sexist and (briefly but bitingly) anti-gay.

3/10 (Bad).