Monday, September 29, 2008

Like Paul Harvey, but with literature

Title: The Well of Lost Plots
Author: Jasper Fforde
Bookmark: a Post-It containing a partial critique of bagels that did not contain raisins

I had to wait a couple weeks, but the next Next finally got back to the library. Hoping to protect herself and her unborn from the Goliath Corporation and Lavoisier, the dirty ChronoGuard operative, Thursday Next has hidden herself in Caversham Heights, a book so bad it will likely never be published, and thus languishes in the Well Of Lost Plots. Fforde continues to build a world where bookpeople exist and have lives when they're not playing their part in the plot of the books you're reading. It is a world far too complex to explain in one post, but well worht a visit. Start as early in the series as you can, but if you jump in midstream, he'll catch you up with the vital points pretty quickly, and it will only be slightly less confusing for you than for someone who's slogged through them all.

This time, Thursday contines her work as a Jurisfiction operative in the Bookworld as she tries to rescue the book in which she lives from demolition and imbues two Generics living with her with sarcasm, subtext, and personality. There are murders most foul, mysterious and bizarre attempts on her life, two separate motor races with Mr. Toad, and her continuing mental battle with the mnemonomorph Aornis Hades over the memories of her husband and continuing sanity, all in the background of the impending release of a new Book Operating System. If you thought that sentence was bizarre, wait until Fforde uses the word "had" eleven consecutive times, and actually manages to make a kind of sense with it.

Fforde is ffun because he not only writes a very entertaining and extremely funny story, but he also makes fun of the way we live, work, travel, read, and even write. His explanation of how books are actually generated before the authors get their hands on them is truly imaginative, but is also kind of plausible. And he references other works as only someone extremely in touch with lots of literature could. In this book alone he explains how Uriah Heap got his name and demeanor, why Wuthering Heights is told in its nested first-person style, and why Miss Havisham goes out in a blazing inferno.

On a side note, Fforde got his start working in movies. Odd that he would write books which would be damn near impossible to adapt to the screeen. I try doing things like that in my head as I read, and most of the time I can manage, but when he carries on two simultaneous plots, it's hard to see how that would work. Not just "read one then go back and catch up with the other," either. They're both going on on the same pages at the same time. The man's brilliant. Possibly insane, but also brilliant.

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posted by reyn at 2:13 PM


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bone dry

Title: Bones to Ashes
Author: Kathy Reichs
Bookmark: i don't remember. maybe a grocery list.

I frequently have arguments with people about the TV show Bones. I hated the pilot, and I thought the writing was terrible. Since then, I've started watching it more because it was one of the channels I got, and it provides background noise for the nights when I need to make cookies. The characters are all over-stereotyped caricatures of geeks, and Brennan somehow knows everything (including martial arts and uncannily good firearms skills) but has no social skills whatsoever (despite knowing every arcane bit of anthropological trivia ever written). She's what happens when TV or movie people want to make a tough-guy geek, and end up making a tough guy who's too nerdy to tolerate. There are better ways to make tough smart people (see: Red Planet, Spider-Man, or Flightplan for examples). The short version of this rant is: the TV Brennan is an affront to nerds, and not a quality character.

And yet, I still like her more than the book version, who only has her forensics degree and a manic sister to sustain her.

She finds a set of bones that she thinks might belong to her childhood friend who randomly disappeared one summer, spends the rest of the book trying to figure out whose bones they are, what happened to her buddy, what common link connects a string of bodies her sort-of-ex-lover is investigating, and whether he still has a love jones for her.

I didn't feel like I had to force myself to finish--it's a good enough diversion book--but I think I could have taken the book back to the library and forgotten about it at any point without ever wondering, "gee, what happened?"



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posted by reyn at 6:09 PM


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

10,000 islands, nine nuts

Title: Nature Girl
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Bookmark: an AARP card I got in the mail. I don't know why. I'm 28.

Hiaasen, like many authors, has a pattern. Location in Florida. Add a large handful of characters more colorful than a Liberace stage show, ranging from the criminally insane to the simply nutty. Remove almost all redeemable character traits. Shake well. Hilarity ensues.

Having a pattern doesn't mean it's not worth a look. I picked this up the same day I grabbed my other distraction book, for pretty much the same reasons, plus I saw it on the big table in the middle of the library. Impulse shopping is much easier when no money is involved.

Honey Santana has an exceptionally intuitive 12 year old son, a home in a trailer park, and an obsessive streak about cosmic justice and raising her son well in a world gone mad, even if it means altering the world and all its denizens along the way.

Boyd Shreave is a slimeball telemarketer. It's pretty much the only thing he's good at, and he's not particularly good. The big attraction for him is the tall, busty Eugenie Fonda (not her birth name) in the next cube. He maintains an energetic and ill-advised affair with her.

His wife Lily sends a PI to get evidence of Boyd's philandering, but eventually just sends the PI after really explicit evidence, because apparently she likes to watch.

Sammy Tigertail is a half-Seminole trying to escape the white man's world, but ends up getting a willing "hostage" named Gillian who ditches her boyfriend because he bought condoms with SpongeBob on them.

Louis Piejack is a Grade A dirtbag who gropes Honey at work, gets a crab mallet in the testicles for his efforts, and is later horribly disfigured by a cage full of jumbo stone crabs and a distracted surgeon.

In the 10,000 islands off Florida's Gulf coast, most of these people end up on the same tiny spit of land (narrowly missing the one with a tiny but relatively harmless cult which seems to be focused on getting the gas-station-attendant-leader laid). For the most part, it's hysterical. For a small part, it's terrifying. Almost nobody escapes the experience unchanged, and in the end it comes down to what people are willing to do for those they really care about.

It's not going to change the world (much as Honey would like to), but it's a solid read when you don't feel like thinking, and plenty entertaining along the way.

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posted by reyn at 11:12 AM


Monday, September 15, 2008

Roman Antics

Title: Terra Incognita
Author: Ruth Downie

Downie's second novel to feature Gaius Petreius Ruso, a Roman military doctor who unwittingly finds himself investigating crimes, is an entertaining read. Ruso, along with his servant Tilla, travels to the depths of Britannia for a change of scenery. Determined to leave behind his reputation for solving murders, it is unsurprising that he arrives at a location with a decapitated corpse. Military officials would prefer he stay out of it, but he finds himself talking them into letting him examine the body.

Soon he is deeply entrenched in the mysterious murder, trying to get the truth out of the previous medic who is acting insane and has confessed to the crime. Add to the mix an obnoxious local named Rianorix who seems to have some unknown prior more-than-friends relationship with Tilla, an untrustworthy deputy medic, and an antlered being presumed by the locals to be the god Cerrunnos, and you have a recipe for a delightful, entertaining story.

Readers who took Latin in high school, ahem Elizabeth and KET, will find this book particularly fun as it describes Ruso's trips to Roman baths, complete with him dashing through the hot bath, warm bath, and cold bath during the women's session.


posted by Kate at 8:47 PM


Friday, September 12, 2008

James Bond, the fourth wall, and a boxcar full of drugs

Title: Lost in a Good Book
Author: Jasper Fforde
Bookmark: paper wrapper for a reflector from a messenger bag

I've recently been digging my way through a collection of pulp ffiction large enough to herniate a yak, and--much as I've enjoyed it--I needed a break. I got a craving ffor something clever, inventive, endlessly wacky, and a lot more ffun than all the noir I had recently absorbed.

The very ffirst thing that came to mind was Thursday Next.

Years ago I read The Eyre Affair, a brilliantly original and relentlessly hysterical story of good vs. evil and revisionist ffiction. Elizabeth couldn't stand it, and this only makes me defend it all the more staunchly. Her biggest problem was that the characters didn't act as she ffelt they should.

Ffear not, readers--Fforde has explained that.

I had fforgotten some of the major points of Eyre Affair by the time I started this sequel, but Fforde catches you up quickly, and what you don't remember doesn't matter much--this story easily holds its own, and delves even deeper into Next's bizarre world. In her version of England, the Crimean War has only recently ended, Churchill was erased from history, dodos, mammoths, and Neanderthals roam ffree as the results of cloning experiments, and books are more popular than movies are to us.

Really, really popular.

People have their names changed to that of ffavorite authors or characters, some names becoming so popular that they had to start appending subscript numbers to distinguish all the Anne Hathaways and Charlotte Brontes ffrom each other. The discovery of a lost script by Shakespeare has the potential to change the result of an upcoming election. A sale at a bookstore involves people getting punched, kicked, trampled, and shot.

Next works for a police organization known as Special Operations, divided by numbered divisions into groups policing everything from agriculture, literature (SO-27, Next's department), vampires, and the timeline (ChronoGuard; SO-12, Next's ffather's department until he went rogue). Her latest case opens with the discovery of a script for Shakespeare's Cardenio, moves on through multiple attempts on her life orchestrated through outstanding coincidence, her ffather's discovery that the world will end in mid-December, and the Goliath Corporation's highly intrusive meddling in Thursday's personal life.

It's ffilled with so many literary references that I wanted to read it with Wikipedia close at hand so I could determine how many were "real" and how many ffabricated ffor Fforde's universe, puns ranging from brilliant (Next meets a pair of SO-5 operatives named Lamme and Slorter, who replace Kannon and Fodder--that pair died after just one chapter of work tracking down one of the most dangerous criminals nobody ever remembered) to clumsy, but worth it (a main antagonist is Mr. Schitt-Hawse. Much later, we ffind out his ffirst name is Brick), and the sort of bizarre ideas that could only come ffrom a lifetime of nurturing an overactive imagination, or a lifetime of heavy drug use. Fforde writes books that could only be created by someone who put down the classics long enough to read stacks of sci-fi and ffantasy, or watch marathon sessions of Monty Python.

Oh, and to any detractors who were disappointed in how Fforde portrayed their beloved Bronte characters, the discrepancy is explained, though not directly. As it turns out, Fforde's portrayal is the true one; the characters you know from reading the original Bronte were just roles those characters played. The Dashwoods of Sense and Sensability are very distressed to learn of the reading world's mean opinion of them ffor withholding the girls' inheritance. A romance novel stud apologizes profusely ffor having "ravaged a maid" in one of his books, explaining that that was what the author wanted, not him.

I love these books, and I was thrilled to discover that my library has many, if not all, of them. This alone is a rare treat, because they only have two Douglas Adams books--not even enough to ffinish the ffive-book trilogy!!--and I consider that to be a crime against literaphiles. Maybe I can get Agent Next on the case.

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posted by reyn at 11:51 AM