Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Yo Quiero Better Writing

Title: Edge of Battle
Author: Dale "no, not Dan" Brown
Bookmark: the doorknob tag that told me my oven had been fixed. Again.

Have you ever been flipping through channels late at night and found some awful SciFi original movie--not something they adapted from a book, or some half-assed sequel to something with a real production budget, but something truly their own--with a name like Alligator! or Horror Mountain? I've been there. In the first 30 picoseconds, you figure, "hell, it has some horrific beast with lots of teeth and some sort of mutagenic origin, and that shapely paleocryptoxenobiologist isn't bad for ogling when she's not phoning in her stilted lines. I'll give it a shot," and by the time five seconds are past, you've already decided that it has stolen vital moments of your lifetime from you, and not only will you never, ever get those moments back, but you're also sober enough that you're forced to remember it all.

This book is like that. Except it took me longer to realize how awful it was (I'm not a super-fast reader), and yet... I kept reading. However, I only kept reading so I could loudly pan it in this space. I only hope my harsh criticism will do it justice.

The damn thing starts with several pages of ... let's call it glossary. First, a wide cast of characters, which was strange only because it names some characters who exist for only a paragraph or two, and omits a couple that turn out to be comparably important. Plus, any reasonably intelligent person should be able to figure out who's who by reading the damn book. On the other hand, a reasonably intelligent person wouldn't have read the whole book. Next is a list of technologies and weapons, many of them invented by the author, and finally a glossary of various abbreviations. This was somewhat useful, but again everything I didn't already know was defined in the context of the book anyway, so... why?

The second glossary got me interested. It promised lots of high-tech weaponry, and some sort of robotic exosuit used by the good guys. I thought with ten-foot robot warriors going after terrorists, there had to be something awesome. By the end of the book, I hated the damned robots. It takes a lot to make me hate robots, especially ones used by the good guys. I became an engineer largely because of R2-D2.

The plot, mangled convoluted mess that it is, centers on rising hostilities between the US and Mexico over immigration law. Eventually we find out that a lot of it is being orchestrated for... some reason never fully specified, and there's also some Russian terrorist mastermind who seems to be leftover from a previous book. The thought that there is more than one book in this series scares me more than the Russian terrorists. I'm also unsettled that I could never figure out whether the author sides witht he extremist right-wing, or was satirizing them. Was he playing as Rush Limbaugh, or Stephen Colbert on meth?? I couldn't tell!!

Every chapter is riddled with inconsistencies--the robots keep changing size, they fold in ways that would make even Michael Bay call "bullshit", people suddenly appear in one place after reporting in from another, weapons disappear right out of their hands, and I'm pretty sure a lot of the Spanish was improperly translated--and the dialog made me want to burn things. Usually after finishing a book I don't need to keep (or return to the library), I'd stick it in a box and ship it to Cleveland or DC, but I think I'd rather tear this one in half and stuff it in the recycling. It's not just terrible writing, it's politically offensive terrible writing.

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posted by reyn at 6:26 PM


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Voulez-vous la guerre avec moi? Non.

Title: Jackdaws
Author: Ken Follett

Here's the deal: in order to break German lines of communication in World War Two, the British Special Operations Executive send their best undercover operative (who has spent two years coordinating the French Resistance) to Reims, France to blow up a major telephone exchange, thereby facilitating the Normandy invasion.

Here's the catch: her (yes, her) team is composed entirely of women. And since most able-bodied women are already assigned elsewhere to help the war effort, she's not getting the pick of the litter. Her team includes a felonious Gypsy, a pathological liar, a sexagenarian safe-cracker, two noblewomen (one a remorseless blabbermouth, the other with zero regard for rank or military protocol), and a transvestite. OK, so they're not ALL women.

Pitted against them is a ruthless German interrogator and his woman-on-the-side, a French hottie whose Jewish grandmother is a secret from the rest of the SS.

Here's the problem: Much as I like spy thrillers and strong female leads and interesting twists on how to handle clandestine operations, this was neither thrilling nor interesting, and the chicks weren't quite strong enough. It had just enough to keep me reading until I was done, but only barely. There was only one surprise (more on that later); the people you expect to hook up all hook up, the people you expect to hate, you hate, and the people you expect to like, you like. All the things you think will happen? They do. The heroine even marries the charming American with 1.5 ears in the epilogue, just as you know she will when they first meet and begrudgingly check each other out. The only surprise was one of the romantic pairings, and even that surprise was relatively minor.

It's a decent read, if there's not much else around (there wasn't), but it never grabbed me, and I actually started rooting for major characters to get killed off just to shake things up. Naturally, they ended up killing one of the characters I liked, right after allowing some character development, and allowed all the stagnant characters to march through to the epilogue. Wheee.

On the one hand, I found it lying on a bench in the airport, so I'm only out some time, but on the other hand, reading vivid descriptions of brutal interrogation practices was deeply unsettling. I think the best part of the entire book was the theory that in Britain, an American--even one missing most of an ear--qualifies as a sexy foreigner.

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posted by reyn at 4:39 PM