Thursday, November 18, 2010

varmints, lawmen, and the like

Title: Law and Order Unlimited
Author: William Colt MacDonald

I read this a few months ago, then lost track of it in my book pile. I no longer remember my general feeling about the book. Lawman comes to town to investigate a murder, but the body's already in the ground, and the crime scene is someone's living room, so it's irrevocably contaminated. All he has to go on is various interviews and His Gut. Help from the local Barney Fife, who is generally competent but inexperienced, and hopelessly in love with the victim's estranged daughter. Lawman--and half the town's men--fall for the victim's new bride (he was killed on their wedding night. Romantic.) . Lawman talks to everyone in town, misses something obvious (I hated that I figured out the clue about the photo AGES before he did, but I couldn't solve the whole thing because he didn't tell all he knew until the Big Reveal, after most of the players went down in a shoot-out), uses contacts in several other western territories, and saves teh day, riding off into the sunset on the company train. Oh, right--he's retired from being an official lawman, but he's a detective for the train company.

fun, but fluff.

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posted by reyn at 10:34 AM


Monday, November 08, 2010


Title: Machine of Death
Author: the internet!

Here's the premise: imagine that someone invents a machine which, upon sampling your blood, can accurately predict your cause of death. Not the time, not the circumstances, just the cause. Except that it can sometimes be vague, cryptic, or misleading. OLD AGE might mean you see 98, or it might mean that a 98 year old kills you. Drawing OBESITY could cause you to turn your life around, start eating right and exercising, only to be crushed to death when a fat guy falls on you. It's a twisted machine. And it's available in malls, next to the photo booths, at your doctor's office, or even as a party game.

Now imagine that someone posited this idea on the internet, originally as a joke, then thought... that's a great idea for a book. And the internet responded with hundreds of submissions for stories. Their only problem was visibility. Without any Big Name Authors submitting stories, no publisher was interested, despite many agents who really liked the collection. Thus, the editors asked the Internet People to prove the power and might of Internet People by making their purchase the day the book was released, November 26, and making it Amazon's Top Seller Of The Day.

I'm happy to say that not only was I one of the people who helped achieve that goal, but by doing so, we made Glenn Beck sad. I could have never opened the book and been happy with that purchase. And if Beck had read even a little of the book, or the website that spawned it, he'd know that it is not, as he said, a book celebrating a "culture of death," but a celebration of life. Most stories don't even include the death foretold within them, which is admittedly disappointing with predictions like "ALMOND," "NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING," and "FLAMING MARSHMALLOW." Most of the stories are about people who realize too late how they didn't want their predictions, or how becoming more acquainted with their own demise leads them to try to lead better lives. Granted, there are also many stories about individuals or even entire societies spiraling off in wildly unhealthy directions with the advent and spread of the Machine. Stories where "getting your ticket" is not only optional, but required at a certain age--even at birth, or as a pre-natal health scan. There's some pretty messed-up possibilities from the possibility of knowing how everyone will die.

The Machine is always right, though--there's no use trying to trick it or make it wrong. Some people will try to find another way out, but suicide attempts fail, or merely render you comatose until your real fate can get you. One story details how scientists work out a way to possibly send themselves a message from the future using the Machine and its inevitably correct predictions, while another tells of a young woman using Schroedinger-like reasoning to try to prevent a nuclear war by removing knowledge of it. Some are darkly humorous, a couple are deeply unsettling, but most are about hope above all else. All of the stories (even the one which is shorter than its own title) are very, very good.

I have only one problem: I don't like the idea that we can't control our fates. A couple authors get around that by pointing out that even though the Machine writes the end of our stories, it doesn't write the middle. And that's still a problem I only have witht he Machine itself; not the book. The book is fantastic.

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posted by reyn at 5:54 PM


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Maize and Blue

Title: Mr. Paradise
Author: Elmore Leonard

Kelly and Chloe are roommates. Kelly is a Victoria's Secret model. Chloe was a high-dollar call girl until Mr. Paradise started paying her $5,000 a week to be his girlfriend (this seems to mainly entail topless cheerleading while the eighty-four year old retired criminal lawyer watches tapes of old Michigan games--but only the games Michigan won). Chloe convinces Kelly to come cheerleading with her one night, but it happens to be the night that two armed men arrive to kill Mr. Paradise. Things get bad for Kelly and Chloe. Hitmen, extortion, identity fraud, good times.

Frank Delsa is a homicide detective and acting head of his squad while the Lieutenant is in the sandbox. He gets to deal with the murder of Anthony Paradiso while simultaneously trying to cultivate a confidential informant, discover who shot a local gangbanger, solve the McDonald's robbery/homicide, and find out who killed and butchered four Mexican drug dealers in a basement.

I liked the crime--it was well-plotted and while TV shows often make it look like cops only ever handle one case at a time (usually as a gorgeous 6-person team), I think Frank's active caseload is far more likely. There are still way too many coincidental overlaps in the cases to be truly believable, but I can look past that. The part I found hard to believe was how quickly the drop-dead gorgeous underwear model fell for the aging, jaded cop widowed by cancer.

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posted by reyn at 9:58 AM