Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Angry Wisdom from Dangerous Dan

Every once in a while, I feel compelled to share some of the wisdom I've accumulated over the years.

  1. Hallways are not good places to have conversations.
  2. Doorways - Also not a good place to have a conversation.  Specifically the doorway in front of the men's room.
  3. If you don't use your turn signal, you're a liar.
  4. If your turn signal is on and you're not turning, you're a dangerous liar.
  5. Blue tooth earpieces are not fashion accessories
  6. No matter how cool you think you look when you bring your laptop into a restaurant or coffee shop, everyone else thinks you're a douche.
  7. If you're having dinner with someone and ignore them to text someone else, you deserve to injest the spit in your food that mysteriously arrived there while you were neglecting your dinner companion.
This has been the first installment of Angry Wisdom with Dangerous Dan.  We'll now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ten from the Hip - The Hard Case Covers

The covers of the Hard Case titles are what attracted most of us to the line.  Here are ten of my favorites.


Six Fatal Shots - Six Notable Books in the Hard Case Crime series

There are a lot of good books in the Hard Case line.  Here are six.  I'm not including Grifter's Game or Girl with the Long Green Heart because I didn't review either of them as I was reading and they aren't fresh enough in my mind to write reviews for now.

House Dick (Hard Case Crime #54)House Dick by E. Howard Hunt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pete Novak is a hotel detective (or house dick) working for a Washington DC hotel. Novak takes a shine to a gorgeous guest, only to find the murdered body of her former sugar daddy in her room and the jewels he gave her missing. Can Novak find the jewels and keep the woman out of jail?

First off, I almost dismissed this one as one of Hard Case's more dubious picks, like the Robert Parker book that wasn't by the Parker everyone was thinkng of. E. Howard Hunt was involved in the Watergate break-in, after all. Well, I was wrong.

Hunt's writing is top notch and Novak is a great noir protagonist. He's a lonely hotel detective with a budding drinking problem. The web of sex, lies, and murder is very easy to get caught up in and hard to get to the center of without being devoured by it. I should know. I read the whole thing in one sitting. It's a little lighter on violence than some Hard Cases but heavy on twists. It took me forever to catch on to what actually happened regarding the jewels and Chalmer's murder. On the surface, the plot looks simple but once all the players are introduced, it becomes much more complicated.

If I could only recommend one Hard Case to someone, it would probably be this one. Who knows? It might become someone's favorite book with the word dick in the title*

*Yeah, it was an easy joke but I had to do it...

View all my reviews

The Vengeful Virgin (Hard Case Crime #30)The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, she was a virgin at some point...

The story is straight out of the James M. Cain playbook. Jack Ruxton, a broke TV repairman, hooks up with a teenage temptress, Shirley Angela. Shirley and Jack plot to rid Shirley of her invalid stepfather and get her vast inheritance. Almost immediately, things get shot to hell...

The Vengeful Virgin is a thrill ride of conspiracy, murder, sex, and insanity. Gil Brewer's prose is similar to Lawrence Block's and the suspense and desperation is very well done. Things start off wrong and just keep getting worse.

The characters are pretty reallistic. Even though officially I'm appalled by the idea of a thirty-ish guy and a teenage vixen, but as a red-blooded male... I can see how things went the way they did. In the beginning, Shirley's a sympathetic character. You feel for her, having her teenage years spent cooped up and caring for her dying stepfather.

The Vengeful Virgin is a gripping tale with a lot of twists and turns. If I wanted to get someone started on the Hard Case series, this is one of the ones I'd point them at first.

View all my reviews

Little Girl Lost (Hard Case Crime #4)Little Girl Lost by Richard Aleas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

P.I. John Blake's childhood girlfriend, Miranda Sugarman, is found dead on top of a strip club. John follows her backtrail from her enrollment in medical school to a relationship with another woman, to a career touring the strip club circuit and a million dollar robbery. Only, things aren't as they seem at first glance.

I hate to admit it since I was prepared to write off Richard Aleas/Charles Ardai as a phony before I read his stuff but the man knows how to turn out a paperback original. The story had plenty of twists and turns and I only figured out what was really going on a few pages ahead of Blake. Great stuff.

View all my reviews

Songs of Innocence (Hard Case Crime #33)Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three years after the events of Little Girl Lost, John Blake has quit the detective game and gone back to school. When his friend Dorrie turns up dead in her bathtub, John puts his detective hat back on and goes looking for why Dorrie ended up dead. The trail takes up through New York's seedy underbelly of "massage" parlors and up against the Hungarian mob. Can Blake piece together what happened before he ends up dead too?

Ho. Lee. Crap. Songs of Innocence is the most powerful of the Hard Case Crime series I've read so far. Blake's desperation is a tangible thing. The mystery of what happened to Dorrie gets worse and worse, as does John's situation. I didn't see the end coming until it hit me like a freight train. The characters are well done. Not only Blake, but the supporting cast as well. It would have been easy to make the other masseuses into stereotype sluts but Aleas didn't skimp.

Like I've said before, I was prepared to dismiss Richard Aleas (aka Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case) as a pretender but the man has made a believer out of me. You can definitely tell that the Hard Case Crime series is a labor of love for him.

If you're itching for a good crime story, Songs of Innocence fits the bill. You might want to pick up Little Girl Lost first, though, for a little more background on Blake and Susan.

View all my reviews

The Cutie (Hard Case Crime #53)The Cutie by Donald E. Westlake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Billy-Billy Cantell wakes up from an H bender in a strange apartment next to a blonde that's been stabbed to death with the police outside. He runs to the nearest person that can help him, Clay, a man whose part of the same criminal organization. Clay goes looking for the cutie that set Cantell up. Unfortunately, the same cutie is trying to set Clay up. All the while, Clay struggles with trying to make a life with the woman he's living with. Can she handle being married to someone in the business?

Westlake can craft a tale with more twists than an octopus's tentacles. I only figured out who the killer was about a page before Clay did. Mavis St. Paul really got around.

I'd say this is the best of the Westlake's Hard Case Crime has put out.

View all my reviews

Quarry in the Middle (Hard Case Crime, #61)Quarry in the Middle by Max Allan Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Using information contained in the deceased Broker's database, Quarry goes to the rathole port town of Haydee's Port, Illinois to prevent a hit and earn some cash in the process. As a result,Quarry puts himself in the middle of two casino owners, both of whom would like to see the other put out of business. Permanently...

I'd say Quarry in the Middle is my favorite Hard Case Quarry novel so far. There is a lot of sex, a lot of violence, and the standard Quarry orgy of violence ending. Quarry proves to be a well-rounded character, a scumbag with some redeeming qualities, even if he does have trouble keeping his pants on. There are a couple twists and I saw the big one coming, but neither are obvious.

If you like Quarry, you'll like this. If you've never read a Quarry before, you can pick this one up without getting lost. Quarry in the Middle is easily in my Hard Case top ten.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 28, 2011

It All Started with the Colorado Kid - The Hard Case Crime Series

There I was, my reading life languishing in the aftermath of the Dark Tower, when I saw Stephen King was releasing a book called The Colorado Kid, part of something called the Hard Case Crime Series. At that point in my life, the only crime books I'd read were The Maltese Falcon and Red Harvest, both by Dashielle Hammett. Entranced by the 50's style cover, I took the plunge. I haven't looked back since except to make sure someone wasn't standing behind me holding a gun.

The Colorado Kid isn't my favorite Hard Case novel by any means but it kicked the door open and sprayed the room with bullets. From there, I discovered a new world of crime novels, like the Quarry series by Max Allan Collins, and discovered two guys who'd wind up being two of my favorite writers, Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake. I've read books I never would have discovered on my own, like House Dick by E. Howard Hunt, the two books by Richard Aleas, and Losers Live Longer by Russell Atwood. I've read posthumous works by the masters, like Dead Street by Mickey Spillane, The Dead Man's Brother by Roger Zelazny, and Memory by Donald Westlake. I've visited seedy used bookstores to track down books by writers I've discovered through Hard Case. My odyssey to find old Matthew Scudder, Parker, and Dortmunder books would be enough for a couple blog entries apiece.

As of this writing, I'm very nearly caught up. The Hard Case line includes 66 titles until they resume publication in September and I'm 100 pages away from finishing Memory, the last of the books I have left to read. It's been a long road full of dames and double crosses but it's a road I'm glad I've traveled.

For more info on the Hard Case Crime series, click here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Ice and Snow: Take it slow

The title of today's blog post was on one of those highway department roadwork signs this morning.  It has been resonating in my head ever since.

Remember the other day when I turned off my heater and was contemplating wearing shorts?  Well, the temperature dropped the past two days and this morning's commute was made even more enjoyable by a deluge of wintery mix.  Cars were off the road, people were driving like even bigger assholes than usual, it was great.

April 1st fast approaches, as does the beginning of the Dark Tower re-read.  I dreamed about the Dark Tower last night.  I was in a run-down office park with a lot of unsavory characters around.  Some tall guy came out of the shadows and handed me a set of clothes: dark brown pants, black boots, a tan shirt, a brown and white poncho, and a cowboy hat.  "It's that time again," he said.  Instead of handing me a set of guns, he handed me a book.  I didn't recognize it but I knew it was a Dark Tower book.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is this too weird to use?

Picture a network of one-way wormholes of one-way wormholes that allow nigh-instantaneous travel across thousands of miles, possibly even to other worlds. Now picture a monorail that travels through all of them. A simple train trip could take someone to other cities or other worlds in mere minutes. It would take longer to load and unload the train than it would to travel across galaxies.

Still with me? Now, what if the train was torus shaped. The locomotion would be provided be each car and instead of functioning like a train, it would be more like an enormous turnstyle. It wouldn't have to be all that large, either. Just the length between each wormhole at each stop. Let's say there are twelve stops on the route and twelve cars on the train. One car would always be at each stop. Every fifteen minutes, the train changes position by one car.

What's that, you ask? What's to prevent someone from getting one at one stop, walking to the different cars, and getting off at a different stop without the train actually moving? They check your ticket at every door. Since I concocted the Megarail (patent-pending) for a humorous SF mystery set in a pseudo-Edwardian period, I think the ticket-checker having sole authority on the train works rather well.

Joining the Army

One of the perks of Goodreads is the opportunity to win free books through their FirstReads program. I have done so on four occasions. I've won Lick Your Neighbor by Chris Genoa, The Sentry by Robert Crais, A Very Simple Crime by Grant Jerkins, and, most recently, Embedded by Dan Abnett.

Embedded arrived at my house on Monday and I started it last night. I'm not very far into it but I'm digging what I've read so far. In the package with Embedded was an invitation to join the Angry Robot Army and the opportunity to receive free books for review purposes from Angry Robot.

Did I dare enlist and commit myself to any conflict the Angry Robot Army chose to subject me to? I did. Have I mentioned what a whore I am for free books?  It wasn't the first time I've been a member of an army. The firs time was way back in 1997. I was a fresh-faced boy of 20 when the ska band The Toasters informed me I was part of the Two-Tone Army.  Apparently I signed on for a life-long stretch without realizing it.
In other news, I finally finished The Rise of Endymion last night.  While it wasn't as urination-inducingly good as the first two books in the Hyperion Cantos, it was a great way to end the saga.  Other than some parts of the the last two books feeling a little padded, I have no complaints.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Idea Books

As I've been chipping away at Rise of Endymion over the past week or so, I keep getting more and more impressed by the amount of ideas Dan Simmons throws at the reader, both in this volume and the Hyperion Cantos as a whole.  Today's blog topic will be Idea Books.

  1. The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons:  Not only does Dan Simmons throw nanotechnology, wormholes, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and time travel at the reader, he does so in a very readable fashion.  In Rise of Endymion, there's an organically grown Dyson Sphere!
  2. Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams: While I'm not overly thrilled with the execution, WJW isn't stingy with the concepts in Implied Spaces.  We get body swapping, pocket dimensions, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and wormholes.
  3. Roger Zelazny:  Yes, I know the late Roger Zelazny isn't a novel but the man throws ideas around like an octopus in a snowball fight.  Aliens masquerading as gods, time travel, alternate dimensions, artificial intelligence, etc.
  4. Ringworld:  I actually don't like this book very much but I love the Ringworld concept.  Picture a ring-shaped world encircling a sun and having millions of times the surface area of Earth?  Too bad nothing very exciting happened there...
  5. The Old Man's War series by John Scalzi: In this humorous series, John Scalzi throws some pretty big ideas around.  We get body swapping, nanotechnology, FTL travel, space elevators, organic machines, and more clever ideas than you can shake a stick at.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Writers who should write more books

While driving home late last night, I conceived of today's blog topic.  Not too long ago, I wrote about sequels I could have done without.  This week, it's a trio of writers who I wish would write more books.

  • K.J. Bishop - As far as I know, Bishop has only written a handful of short stories.  That is, other than the work I know her most for, The Etched City.  Amazon recommended The Etched City to me sometime after reading Perdido Street Station in the dark years between The Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla.  A mercenary named Gwynn and a doctor named Raule flee the Copper County and arrive in the city of Ashmoil. Gwynn falls in love with a psychotic artist and gets a job working for a slave trader while Raule ministers to the poor.  It's firmly in the new weird genre but also feels like a western at time.  It's a damn fine book.  I just wish Bishop would write another one. 
  • John Moore - When the humor writers of the late 20th and early 21st century are tallied up, John Moore should be close to the top.  While he's more prolific than Bishop, he could definitely stand to write another thirty or forty novels.  Slay and Rescue, Heroics for Beginners, Unhandsome Prince, Bad Prince Charlie, and A Fate Worse Than Dragons are all hilarious fantasy spoofs.  I'll never forget when the Middle Aged Man of the Mountain tried to poison someone with Iocaine powder but wound up using iodine because he stubbornly refused to wear his glasses.
  • Barry Hughart - Hughart lept on the scene with Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was.  Two more books starring his hilarious duo, Master Li and Number Ten Ox, adventuring through ancient China.  From what I've heard, Hughart's horrid experiences with the publishing world made him quite in the middle of writing the fourth Master Li book.  It's a shame because Hughart was a breath of fresh air in the somewhat stagnant fantasy genre.  I read it twelve years ago and still remember lines from it from time to time.  "Nothing wrong with wet dreams.  A man meets a higher class of women that way."  Classic.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Does this make me a professional writer? Probably not.

Sometime in September, I created a survey on Survey Monkey in order for everyone in my graduating class to pick a date for our 15th (really?  when did I get this old?) class reunion.  A few weeks ago, Survey Monkey sent me a customer satisfaction survey with a testamonial section, saying I could win an Amazon gift card for filling it out.  I did and praised the simian overlords for creating such a survey tool.  Just a few minutes ago, I received an email from Survey Monkey saying I won the $50!  I like to think the content of my testamonial had something to do with it and it wasn't just a random drawing.

So, to date, I've received the following for my writing endeavors:
  1. Three galley proofs from Createspace, courtesy of NaNoWriMo
  2. a review copy of Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
  3. a review copy of Permanent Obscurity by Richard Perez
  4. a review copy of The Wizard of Oz Code by Mitch Hancock
  5. a $50 Amazon gift card.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to find 50 bucks worth of crap to buy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Weirdest Thing That Happened in Hot Springs

So we were playing Scrabble in our cushy Comfort Inn lair when Carrie proclaimed she was experiencing a serious milk jones.  Fortunately for us, a Walgreen's happened to share the same parking lot.  It is at this point that I should mention I was wearing a black tshirt with a green Superman emblem on it.  We braved the Hot Springs evening and trudged over to the Walgreen's.  While we were perusing the cooler, a couple girls approached us.

The first one said "This is going to sound weird."  I may have grinned at those words.

"My friend is a huge Superman fan and we want to buy your shirt."  Sure enough, the other girl was wearing a blue Superman tshirt with the classic emblem.  It was one of those weathered-looking shirts that I hate.

"What?" I asked.

"We want to buy your shirt.  Ten bucks and you strip it off in the middle of Walgreen's."

"I don't think so," I said.  It was only the second time I'd worn the shirt and I was quite fond of it.

"20 bucks.  You can get a University of Arkansas shirt off the rack for five and keep the other fifteen.  Are you telling me you're going to pass up this offer?"

"Looks that way," I said.  Carrie and I paid for the milk and left.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday - Sequels

The time was the week before New Year's, 2008. I had the week off of work and devoured Roger Zelazny's first five Amber books in rapid succession. It's not often that I dream about the books I'm reading. That's usually confined to Stephen King works, most notably The Tommyknockers and The Dark Tower. I dreamed of Amber several times that week. When the story of Corwin came to a climax, it was one of my favorite conclusions to a story since Stormbringer or The Dark Tower.

In the aftermath of Amber, I contemplated reading the second five books, the story of Corwin's son, Merlin. It took a year but I finally caved in. Was Merlin's story as good as Corwins? It was not. Was I glad I read it? Nope. I thought it diluted the original five books and diminished them somehow.

Upon finishing The Fall of Hyperion, I had similar misgivings about continuing on. Would the Endymion books soil the memory of Hyperion forever? I finished Endymion last night. While I still have Rise of Endymion on deck, I'm very pleased with how Endymion is going so far. It's not another second Amber series, that's for sure. Dan Simmons is one smooth bastard.

Other Sequels I could have done without:
  1. Every Elric book from Fortress of the Pearl onward
  2. The Star Wars prequels
  3. The Shadow War series that was a sequel to the movie Willow
  4. Return of Superman (although I liked the part where Superman got shanked)
  5. The upcoming Mad Max sequel
  6. The Lost Boys direct to DVD sequels
  7. All of the Anne Rice vampire books after Queen of the Damned

Monday, March 14, 2011

Marvelous Missouri Monday

Saturday, it was 70 and sunny. Yesterday, it was 55 and overcast. This morning, I ran into every form of precipitation known to man on the way to work. It's 32 and big wet flakes have been falling for hours now. They weren't calling for precipitation at all and now we're supposed to get 2-4 inches of snow before it turns to rain. Missouri is quite spectacular sometimes.

I spent most of yesterday working in the yard and cleaning house. I wish I could say it was because I want a clean house but it's mostly because I want to give my mom fewer nitpicking targets when she picks up Belle on Wednesday.

There's a BBQ joint in Perryville I want to try one of these days called Ewalds. It's in the 100 Unique Eats and Eateries in Missouri book I bought last year.  It looks like a hole but the book alleges that it's delicious.  It's going to be hard to bypass Tractor's or the Park-Et diner but we'll have to give it a shot.  Speaking of Park-Et, their apple pie is spectacular.

That's about all I have today. I'm really light on material. The time change still has me messed up. Even though I took a nap yesterday afternoon, I still wound up going to bed at 8. Taking my dog out so many times Saturday night/Sunday morning did me in.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Scramble

I hate the time change and don't see why we don't do away with it.

Belle must have eaten something in the woods yesterday because I had to take her out three times between 11 and 4 this morning.  Needless to say, I might be more irritable than usual today.  Since I lost so much time to late night dog maintenance, I was only able to get out in the yard at 10 instead of 8:30.  I picked up sticks and leaves while belting out tunes by The Slackers until a few minutes ago.  It's too wet to burn anything so I guess I'm done earlier than expected.

I didn't mention it sooner but I was contemplating Scrabble retirement.  Carrie and I have been playing almost nightly for the past week and a half.  Friday she trounced me by 111 points AND broke the 300 point barrier.  It was a demoralizing defeat and a sabbatical from Scrabble loomed on the horizon.  Luckily I beat her two games to one last night.  None were a trouncing but I've postponed the Scrabble retirement until further notice.

While working in the yard, I was thinking about writing, both past and future, when I discovered why I like some of my stories more than others.  It seems that sometimes I have a plot and try to come up with characters to stick into it rather than coming up with the characters first.  My favorites are all more character-oriented than plot-oriented.  I guess that's something I'll have to keep in mind in the future.

I guess I should at least attempt to be productive.  In the mean time, here are some Slackers tunes for you listening pleasure.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sycamore Saturday

When I was a wee lad of eleven, there was a specific tree I sought out when walking in the woods.  It was a tall sycamore tree with a lot of low-hanging branches, perfect for an aspiring monkey like myself to climb.  I know I reached heights upwards of thirty feet on several different occasions.  Today, I walked past the spot where I remembered the tree being.  Oh, it was still there, but all of the low hanging branches were gone.  The lowest limb was about five feet above my head.  I'm sure there's a lesson there about not being able to return to your childhood.

I took Belle over to my parents' this morning for her exercise and we both returned worn out.  I'm not sure how many miles we walked through the woods but it felt like a lot.  I didn't find any geodes or interesting rocks but I did get  picture of a chipmunk.  Belle found piece of a carcass but it must not have had much flavor left since she didn't protest terribly when I told her to leave it alone.

Belle and I crashed for a nap shortly after returning home.  I find it amazing how refreshed I feel after a twenty minute power nap. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's Flogging Friday!

My coffee cup at work is filthy, no two ways about it. I never wash it and there's a layer of brown coffee molecules coating the inner surface. I tell people I owe my superior immune system to it. About once every six months, someone caves in and scrubs it out on my day off.

The coffee machines at work were replaced last year and have a much lower clearance beneath them, leading to an unspoken agreement among the coffee drinkers in the office to use a small communal coffee cup to transfer the black gold into the half-barrel mugs many of them are carrying. This morning I noticed the communal cup was identical to my filthy one.
As I may have mentioned before, I come from a long line of tricksters, jokers, bullshitters, and benign assholes.  So, should I swap my cruddy cup for a pristine new one, forcing one the poor people with their enormous mugs to clean my polluted cup for me?  I haven't quite decided yet.  Since I won't be around to see the reaction, it might be better if I just imagine it.

The Bucket List Blogfest

Another Blogfest.  When did I become such a particpater?  Anyway, here's my bucket list.  Yes, I realize I have more than 5 items on it:
  1. Get one or more novels published by a non-POD publisher.  Note:  While I'm certain there are good self-published books out there, the tide of poorly edited ones has overwhelmed them.
  2. Get some photos published in a magazine.  I should really start submitting things to Missouri Conservationist. 
  3. See the ruins of Machu Pichu
  4. Visit scenic Easter Island
  5. Go Scuba Diving
  6. Participate in an archaeological dig
  7. Go to the Grand Canyon
  8. Visit Stonehenge
  9. Find a damn geode on one of my hikes!  Seriously, with all the miles I cover, I should be up to my ass in geodes by now.
  10. See the Great Wall of China
  11. I'd like to one day have no books in my house I haven't already read.  It's been at least a decade since the last time I had to actively go out and find something new to read.
  12. Finally take a picture of an armadillo
Looks like most of my Bucket items involve traveling.  I didn't see that coming.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thoughtful Thursday

Let's talk about eBooks for a few moments.  I've got mixed feelings on the subject, both as a reader and as an aspiring writer.

  1. One advantage I can see to using an eReader rather than an analog book is the convenience of lugging around an entire library in a small piece of plastic.
  2. It wouldn't be so much work tracking down copies of obscure books if they were available for download.
  3. EBooks might spark some change in the publishing industry.  Since it's fairly easily to create an eBook, more people are doing it.  Publishers might see the way the wind is blowing and take chances on some writers they wouldn't have discovered otherwise

  1. You can't buy eBooks used.  One of my favorite parts of the reading experience is discovering a treasure in the unfathomable depths of a used bookstore.  I love the smell, the odd characters, and having a shit ton of store credit.
  2. The price.  You all know what I'm talking about.  When an eBook costs more than a mass market paperback, people are getting screwed.  You can be sure of that. 
  3. The future may be dark.  If eBooks get more popular, publishers might shift to a more eBook-leaning strategy.
  4. What are all these screens doing to our eyes?  As a computer jockey by day and a reader by night, I already notice a difference in my vision.  I don't see eReaders doing me any favors.

Other stuff:
I created Dangerous Dan's Book Blog sometime last year, mostly in an effort to score some free books.  I copied some of my Goodreads reviews and promptly forgot about it.  Yesterday, I was checking my Blogger dashboard and I accidentally clicked on the book blog instead of my regular one.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that I was steadily getting a hit or two a day.  Not only that, the Chronicles of an Age of Darkness linked to my review of The Walrus and the Warwolf!  It just goes to show you that nothing every really goes away on the Internet.  I guess I'll start updating it again.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    The Wednesday Junkdrawer

    Didn't I have 151 Friends yesterday?
    I noticed earlier than my friend count on Goodreads is 150.  I swear I had 151 friends yesterday.  After I checked on the 15-20 people whose reviews I always read, I brushed it aside and went about my business, posting about whether or not any good movies have prominently features monkeys and so forth.  But the thought kept nagging at me.  After ten minutes of compulsively checking, I cannot identify the person who either unfriended me or deleted their Goodreads account.  It's obviously someone I haven't had much interaction with but it's still annoying not to know.  Or I imagined that I had 151 friends and wasted all that time.

    While I dislike my job sometimes, the coworkers make up for it:
    Friday, Jake asked me about whether or not a planet could have one hemisphere always facing the sun and if it would rotate on its other axis and what that would do to the weather.  Yesterday, I returned the favor with speculation on how you could simulate a day/night cycle inside a Dyson Sphere and what that would do to the weather, as well as the possibility a space elevator inside the sphere.  Yeah, we're geeks.  It was more intellectually stimulating than the daily bacon conversations, though.

    Things I want to include in Towers of the Sun once it leaves the speculation stage:
    1. A Dyson Sphere
    2. A space elevator
    3. An ancient artifical intellegence leftover from the culture that conscructed the sphere
    4. A monorail
    5. Nanites (though I like the word Nanodroids better)
    6. Old tech masquerading as magic
    7. flechette guns
    8. A setting remniscent of both the Old West and feudal Japan
    9. An orbiting arcology that's been overrun by jungle since the tending robots started breaking down
    10. Animal oddities - thylacines, giant sloths, desert (Tasmanian) devils, domesticated foxes (yeah, it's strangely mundane after the other 9)
    And now, the burning question:
    Which armadillo-inspired creature is more interesting?:
    1. Megadillo - an armadillo the size of a volkswagen
    2. Armadillopede - a many-legged armadillo four feet tall and thirty feet long

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Let's Talk Lansdale

    In my youth, the years 1977 through 2009, I read comic books, sometimes sporadically, sometimes with a scary fanaticism.  It was there I first encountered Joe Lansdale.

    The book was Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo, and I'd originally picked it up because Tim Truman is fan-flipping-tastic (possibly the topic of a future blog entry.)  Old Joe quickly won me over.  He took a western character I knew nothing about and threw me into a world of medicine shows and a zombie Wild Bill Hickok.  Imagine my surprise a year or two later when I found out Mrs. Lansdale's little boy had an impressive stack of novels to his credit.

    I began devouring Joe's novels, slowly at first, starting with The Bottoms, then Zeppelin's West, then the Magic Wagon.  I began tracking down his short story collections and gobbling them up.  High Cotton, Bumper Crop, I tracked them all down.  I even plunked down some serious coin for Dead in the West, a western featuring a ton of zombies.  All the while, I was faintly aware Lansdale had a series lurking in the background.

    Why I waited so long to give Hap and Leonard a try, I have no earthly idea.  Hap Collins, a day laborer, and Leonard Pine, another day laborer who happens to be black, gay, an ex-Navy Seal and the baddest mother fucker on the planet, quickly rocketed to the top of my favorite detective fiction protagnists.  The stories are chock full of violence and black humor and usually have some disturbing shit going down.  The Texas setting sets the books apart from other detective fiction.  Redneck noir, I believe people are calling it.

    To date, I'd say I've read over 30 Lansdale books.  I won't say I adored all of them but they were all satisfying reads, be they horror, crime, or straight up humor.  He's a versatile man.

    Joe's still on the fringes of polite society but you're paths may have come close to crossing more than once.  Have you ever heard about a movie called Bubba HoTep?  That's a Lansdale.  What about the Jonah Hex themed episode of Batman: The Animated Series?  Also a Lansdale.  Conan and the Songs of the Dead?  Yup.  Lansdale AND Truman on that one.

    Suffice to say, Joe Lansdale has been on my must-read list for quite some time.  How could he not be?  He wrote a story about rednecks fighting over a locket containing one of the Virgin Mary's pubic hairs, for god's sake!

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Dangerous Dan recommends - The Parker series by Richard Stark

    "But I'm only the messenger!"
    "Now you're the message," Parker told him and shot him.

    When I received The Hunter, the first book in the Parker series by Richard Stark, I was excited. The Parker series was one I'd been interested in reading for a long time and since University of Chicago press was reprinting them, I figured it was time to get started. I had no idea the ride I was in for.

    The Parker books are about a thief named Parker and his heists. More often than not, something goes wrong and Parker has to think on his feet to stop it. The thing that separates Parker from the imitators is that Parker has very few redeeming qualities. He'll kill at the drop of a hat if someone's in his way. He doesn't do small talk, doesn't have pets or friends. He's a ruthless, relentless machine who always gets what he wants. So why do I like reading about him so much?

    I guess it's because it's fun watching a professional at work, and with the Parker books, both the author and the character are consumate professionals. Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake, doesn't waste words. You won't find any filler in the Parker books. There are no musings about the nature of the world or pop culture-laced dialogue, just Parker doing what he does best. The books are wall-to-wall tension with more action and suspense packed between the covers than most books accomplish in twice as many pages.

    Over half of the books have the same plot:
    • Parker has a job lined out
    • The job is planned
    • Parker acquires the necessary supplies (guns, cars, etc)
    • Something goes south (there's a rat in the crew or there's a problem with the job)
    • Parker gets out alive
    Much like P.G. Wodehouse, Stark plumbs unfamiliar territory with the same plot time after time. Who's the weak link on the team? What's going to throw a monkey wrench into the works? Which of the supporting cast will survive?

    Unfortunately, Westlake passed away a few years ago so I've only got eight or nine more Parker books left after Butcher's Moon, the one I'm currently reading. I'm tempted to pace myself but who are we kidding? I'll devour the rest of them with minimal breaks in between.

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    Cacogens and Chiliarchs - Some thoughts on the Book of the New Sun

    Friday evening involved burning some midnight oil but I finally finished reading Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun.  It was good but not "neglect my personal hygene and stop doing housework" good.  I'm going to reveal my thoughts on the epic and I may reveal some spoilers so you may want to turn back now.  After all, as Severian says, "It is no easy road."

    Still here?  Good.

    The Book of the New Sun is the story of Severian, an apprentice torturer who is exiled from the city of Nessus after helping a "client" by enabling her to kill herself to escape torture.  Severian is ordered to go to Thrax to serve as carnifex and gets into a slew of trouble along the way, eventually becoming the new Autarch, or ruler.

    It's a lot more complicated than that.  For one thing, Severian is an unreliable narrator, relating the story more like a normal person would rather than the way most books are written.  He leaves things out, doesn't reveal pertinent details until later, and sometimes comes across as not quite sane.

    The setting is a lot like Jack Vance's Dying Earth.  The sun is red, Urth is slowly being covered by ice, and man's former glories are strewn about.  Wolfe makes the setting feel much more alien by peppering the text with words like Autarch, chiliarch, cacogen, exultant, optimate, destrier, and more, and never revealing what the words actually mean, leaving the reader either to google the word or infer the meaning from context.  It's a little jarring at first but soon I was looking for ways to work armiger into a sentence.

    The writing reminded me more and more of G.K. Chesterton as I went on, particularly when the extent of the Autarch's involvement in the story was revealed.  Much like the reveals of which of the characters are policemen rather anarchists in The Man Who Was Thursday, I eventually was thinking "How many characters were actually the Autarch or working for him?"  The Book of the New Sun also contains hints of Michael Moorcock and Jack Vance.
    Here are some moments I found particularly memorable in The Book of the New Sun:

    1. The avern duel - Where else have you seen two men fight with razor sharp flowers?
    2. The alzabo - Severian injests a drug and a piece of Thecla's flesh, allowing her memories to mingle with his
    3. The fight with the man-apes and the reveal of the Claw of the Concilliator - Severian has his Bilbo Baggins moment and finds out the bauble he carries has power
    4. Big Severian and Little Severian - Severian encounters an orphan with the same name as his.  Their relationship reminded me of Roland and Jake from The Gunslinger. 
    5. Severian's dealing with Typhon - There isn't a whole lot of action in the Book of the New Sun so it was shocking when Severian dealt with Typhon.
    6. Severian and the Autarch - The payoff of all the machinations lurking in the background was worth it when the Autarch finally gave Severian  a look behind the curtain.
    I gave both omnibuses 4 out of 5 on Goodreads, something that actually angered one of my Goodreads friends to the point where she had to comment on it.  Here is why I didn't give it 5 out of 5.
    1. First of all, I read this on the rebound from Hyperion.  There was no way it was going to live up.  When you absolutely love one epic, the next probably isn't going to live up to your expectations until you get some distance.
    2. For what actually happens, the Book of the New Sun is overly long.  This does not bode well for the sequel, Book of the Long Sun.
    3. There was never a time when I contemplated taking a day off work to read it.

    Here and Here are the reviews of the two omnibuses I wrote on Goodreads.  If you don't already have a Goodreads account, I highly recommend it.  

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    Gone But Not Forgotten - 5 Shows that should still be making new episodes

    1. Arrested Development - Ever notice how often this show is on FX and IFC?  Come on!  Arrested paved the way for Modern Family and brought Will Arnett and Michael Cera into the public eye and it's funnier than 99% of the "comedies" on TV right now.

    2. Action! - This poor little show never got the chance.  Jay Mohr as an angry douchebag movie producer?  What's not to like?

    3. Flight of the Conchords - Who likes to the rock the party?  I like to the rock the party.  Where else can you see two deadpan New Zealanders trying to get by as musicians in New York?  Extra points for the David Bowie episode in season one.

    4. Seinfeld - Every time there's a big event in the media, I wonder how the Seinfelders would handle things.  Curb Your Enthusiasm is pretty Seinfeld-esque but it isn't quite the same.

    5. Blackadder - I've got a plan so cunning you could brush your teeth with it!  Now that they're working on a new season of Red Dwarf, Blackadder is the British humor show that I'm missing the most.  Maybe they could get Hugh Laurie to do a few episodes.  After all, he was in every episode in Blackadder III and Blackadder IV.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    Thursday is such a tease sometimes

    When the alarm went off this morning, I was convinced it was Friday, the eve of the weekend.  Somewhere between turning the alarm off and emerging from the shower, I pieced together that it was Thursday and there was still quite a bit to endure before the weekend.

    The Dilemma: I've been reading Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun for over a week now and am closing in on the end of the third book.  Yesterday, the UPS man dropped a complication on my doorstep: Butcher's Moon, the last of the Parker books from the original run.  My first impulse is to finish Sword of the Lictor, devour Butcher's Moon like a starving piranha, and pick up Citadel of the Autarch when I'm finished.  There are reasons I'm apprehensive about doing this.
    1. Momentum: The last time I put down the Book of the New Sun, I didn't pick it up again for over three years.  Gene Wolfe's not something I can easily start again once I've stopped.
    2. Momentum II:  I have all of the other Parker books lined up for consumption and have been waiting on Butcher's Moon for over six months.  I'm afraid of a feeding frenzy once I start following Parker's capers again.
    3. Path of Least Resistance:  As I intimated in #1, Gene Wolfe's not a light read.  I afraid that once I stop, I'll be binging on crime books until I run out, drawn by their comparitvely cotton candy-like weight and won't be motivated to return to the rump roast that is the Book of the New Sun.
    Looks like I'm sticking with the Book of the New Sun until it's finished.  I like these list format blog posts, incidentally.

    On the writing front, I've gathered a lot more ideas for what I'm calling Towers of the Sun, my homage to The Dark Tower and the Hyperion Cantos.  I think I'm going to write the interior stories first and then the frame story to go around it.

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    5 TV Shows That I Find Difficult to Ignore

    1. I Didn't Know I was Pregnant - Amazing and somewhat unbelievable stories about women who allege they didn't know they were pregnant until they were in labor.  What's not to like?
    2. Hoarders - It motivates me to clean my house every time I watch.
    3. Bizarre Foods - It could almost be called Bizarre Testicles considering the amount of testicles he consumes.  Seriously, who looks for how the locals prepare testicles everywhere they go?
    4. American Pickers - I love looking through other people's junk so this show is oddly fascinating.
    5. Monster Fish - What's not to like about 600 pound catfish and freshwater sting rays?