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Fri, Jun. 20th, 2008, 05:49 pm
Reading List 2008 (16/152)

This week's reading:

The Economic Naturalist, Thomas Frank
Prophet, Mike Resnick
What Dreams May Come, Richard Matheson
Prospero's Children, Jan Siegel
The Dragon Charmer, Jan Siegel
The Witch Queen, Jan Siegel
One Door Away From Heaven, Dean Koontz
The Complete Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Louis Stevenson
Whodunit, ed. Philip Pullman
Appointment with Death, Agatha Christie
Term Limits, Vince Flynn
Transfer of Power, Vince Flynn
The Third Option, Vince Flynn
Separation of Power, Vince Flynn
Executive Power, Vince Flynn
Memorial Day, Vince Flynn

On the bright side, I managed not to leave this for one minute before Shabbat. On the down side, I'm still not sure I can write about them all - not when I've got two weeks' reading to get through!

I suppose I should start by explaining myself for reading Vince Flynn. Yes, the books were sufficiently bad that I feel I need to apologize for them - particularly as I rather enjoyed them despite their badness. I ought to qualify that, actually: I enjoyed all the books except the first one, which I found profoundly disturbing. Books "Terrorists attack the White House" through "Nuclear bomb defused just in time" read much like 24, without the twenty-four-hour gimmick. (Though the books do have pretty compressed time-frames!) There's at least one well-detailed special ops mission in each book, which are generally both clever and believable. The best part of the books are definitely the D.C. politics, though - in The Third Option and Separation of Power Flynn actually manages to create a compelling bad guy with a reasonable plan, and what makes the character come alive is how well he plays bureaucratic power games. The books where terrorists are the enemy are much less interesting!

The first book in the series, though, was sufficiently troubling that it actually got me to read the next one, just to find out whether the author really meant the stuff he was spewing. (The answer: maybe?) See, when ex-Navy SEALs murder four congressmen because they refuse to balance the budget it's okay, but when the bad guys do it to advance their political careers it's morally reprehensible and they deserve to die. I kept trying to read irony into the book - "Wait, are these really supposed to be the good guys? What the fuck did they just do? Are they blackmailing the fucking president?" - but no, I think Flynn wrote this one straight. Maybe Flynn just didn't do a good job making flawed heroes - a theory I'd buy, because he simply can't differentiate between most of his characters at all. They're mostly cardboard cutouts with different adjectives attached to them, acting in deeply predictable ways. But if what we see in this book reflects the author's straight-up point of view, I can't help thinking there's some serious moral tunnel-vision going on.

If you skip the first book, though, these are decent military-fetish, politically-oriented espionage thrillers. The writing isn't great and the characters lack depth, but hey, they're a fun summer-afternoon read. The main reason I've stopped reading them - and yes, there are two more in the series - is because the promo blurb for the next book revealed something that just pisses me off. How do you motivate the main male character to go kill more terrorists? Guess!

No, really, guess. You're probably right, because every fricking bad thriller out there does this.

Guessed it yet?

That's right - you kill off the woman in his life. Bonus points if she's pregnant, which she evidently is in Flynn's book. Then proceed to explore how important this was for the dude in question, without empathy, compassion or insight beyond how it makes the man go Become A Hero Because Of His Pain. Flynn should stick to politics and not try to provide his hero with a personality, especially if this is his idea of how to go about it. Believe me, the books work even without one.

Aaaand, er, that was a long rant. I feel like I ought to counterbalance it with some very positive thoughts, but I read a lot of rather questionable stuff over these two weeks. Take One Door Away From Heaven, for example - which I actually really love, but also really pisses me off. It's an cleverly plotted book, with some nice twists and likable characters. But the message is, "If you don't believe in God, then you may as well brutally murder brilliant, adorable, charming crippled children." Seriously. Still, I decided to keep my copy because of characters like the gun-toting, RV-driving, detective-novel-reading stripper twins from Vegas, and for the moment when you figure out exactly why assorted bad guys are chasing a ten-year-old boy across America, and most of all for clever, brave, resourceful Leilani Klonk. She's no Lyra Belacqua, but she's a character who's stayed with me for years. In fact, she's the reason why I make Dean Koontz my go-to airport reading; most of his thrillers aren't this good, but I'm hoping for another Leilani.

I guess I can say unadulterated good things about the Stevenson stories, which were a delightful surprise. I don't tend to like his Scottish books - too much struggling with the dialect! - and I didn't know what else he'd written beyond Treasure Island. These stories are big, bold and plot-ful, though, and I enjoyed almost every one. I particularly liked the New Arabian Nights section of the book, which tell stories of cunning, coincidence and charm set in Victorian London. "The Suicide Club," for example, has the Haroun-al-Rashid character uncover a club where would-be suicides agree to murder each other, then chase its ringleader halfway across Europe amid assorted gruesome and romantic hijinks. These are the kinds of stories I'd like to be writing - unafraid to have Big Shit Happen, but without sacrificing character and nuance entirely.

I also really liked the Siegel series, which avoids the flaws of many urban fantasies. The main character isn't lame, for one thing - there's nothing I hate more than "Look, I'm a giant loser, but in URBAN FANTASY LAND I am actually a hero" urban fantasies. The antagonists are wonderfully drawn, including the ones who become quasi-allies from time to time, and the mythical allusions are clever rather than ponderous. Plus there's time travel, and you know that'll sell me on almost anything! Best of all, the main character is believably traumatized by her experiences; it's not that I particularly wanted her to suffer, but it really supported the reality of the story and the world.

Each book has a distinctly different feel to it, which is something to keep in mind if you read the whole thing. The first book reminded me of Susan Cooper, for example, with Fern and her brother looking for the Magic McGuffin which must be kept out of the hands of ill-intentioned adults. The second book, though, jumps more than a decade ahead in time, and its mythic and mysterious feel reminded me more of Patricia McKillip (but without being nearly as overwritten and unreadable). Finally, the third book almost had a "Sex and the Urban Fantasy City" feel, though it did a nice job of keeping the magic at the heart of things. If you want the exact same thing over and over, I wouldn't read this series - but if you like a series that grows and changes as the protagonist does, give this one a try!

... aaaand I'm heading out for Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom, folks!Tramadol and online pharmacy
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Wed, Sep. 10th, 2008 06:31 am (UTC)
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