Monday, June 26, 2006

For Your Eyes Only, by Ian Fleming


(pb; 1959, 1960: story anthology -- eighth book in the original 007/James Bond series)

Overall review:

Good, quirky-for-the-author anthology, with some revealing side-stories (about Bond and M, Bond's boss).

Review, story by story:

From A View To A Kill”: When a British military dispatch driver is murdered and his documents stolen, Bond investigates the murder/theft. Bond gets tangled up in intradepartmental rivalries and Luger-carrying killers. Okay story, with a lackluster female protagonist, Mary Ann Russell.

For Your Eyes Only”: In Jamaica, Cuban gunmen in the employ of an ex-Gestapo (von Hammerstein) kill an older couple, friends of M's. Bond volunteers to mete out “rough justice” (Bond's term); along the way, he encounters Judy Havelock, the murdered couple's daughter, who's also bent on revenge.

While the female-seeking-revenge plot set-up is familiar – Fleming used it in the preceding Bond book, Goldfinger – the author's capable writing keeps it thrilling.

Quantum of Solace”: At a boring Nassau party, surrounded by the filthy rich, the island Governor tells Bond about a government employee (Phillip Masters), his wife (Rhoda), and their spectacularly destructive marriage. All the violence in this chatty tale is second-hand and emotional. Philosophical, honest and different (for a Bond tale), with a dovetail ending.

Risico”: Less than a year after the events of Goldfinger, Bond goes to Rome to smash up a drug ring. Exciting blast-read, with some cool twists.

The Hildebrand Rarity”: Bond, stuck on a five-day boat trip with an insufferable, wife-beating American (Milton Crest) who hunts nearly-extinct animals, struggles to keep his cool. Unsettling – on multiple levels – story, with a chilling finish: a welcome variation on the usual Bond adventure, and one not easily forgotten.

Followed by the novel, Thunderball.

#

Three films resulted from this anthology; the only thing they share with the stories are the titles, and some characters.

For Your Eyes Only came out in 1981. It used characters (who appear in altered form) from another anthology story, “Risico,” but the movie is way different than its title- and character-sourced stories.

Roger Moore reprised his role of James Bond. Carole Bouquet played Melina Havelock (story name: Judy Havelock). Topol played Milos Columbo (a variation on Enrico Colombo, from the story “Risico”). Julian Glover played Aristotle Kristatos (another “Risico” character). Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson co-scripted. John Glen directed. (Glen has directed five of the James Bond films, the most times any director has done so.)

#

A View To A Kill came out in 1985. Roger Moore reprised his role of James Bond. Christopher Walken played Max Zorin – a cinematic add-on character. Tanya Roberts played Stacy Sutton, another cinematic add-on character. Grace Jones played May Day, another cinematic add-on character. Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson returned as co-scripters. John Glen returned as director.

#

Quantum of Solace, whose only link to its source story seems to be the title, is set for a November 7, 2008 theatrical release. Daniel Craig reprises his role of James Bond. Mattieu Amalric plays Dominic Greene (I can't remember if that character is actually in the story: will have to re-read it sometime). Jeffrey Wright reprises his role of Felix Leiter. Olga Kurylenko plays Camille, a cinematic add-on character. Giancarlo Giannini reprises his role of René Mathis. Gemma Arterton plays Strawberry Fields, another cinematic add-on character. Judi Dench reprises her role of M. Marc Forster is set to direct, from a script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis.

An interesting note on Quantum of Solace. . . this, from www.imdb.com: "The producers and writers of Quantum of Solace have stated that the action of the film picks up 'almost an hour after the close of Casino Royale'. They have also said it will be a continuation of the story established in Casino Royale. In this way it can be regarded as a true sequel to Royale and, like that film, is separate in continuity to any of the previous Bond films to come before. While sharing the same continuity of the character, the previous Bond films were more 'stand-alone' adventures of the super spy than sequels that told one ongoing story. It is not clear how long the producers intend to continue this ret-con of Bond films in this manner, but they have already openly stated that they do not intend to re-visit or remake any of the material from the previously released series of Bond films."

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I'm The One That I Want, by Margaret Cho

(pb; 2001: memoir)

Review:

Cho tells, with hilarious and (often) painful clarity, about her struggles growing up in a crazy dysfunctional family, being a heavy-set Korean girl among mostly-Caucasian kids, and trying to overcome low self-esteem, which later led her into drugs and alcohol abuse, promiscuity and comedic fame (which, initially, was a mixed blessing).

Cho's recounted experiences are shockingly blunt and soul-bearing, as well as political, courageous, and life-affirming. I related strongly to her problems with low self-esteem (no longer an issue with me), and how she found, in her own words, her “voice,” which helped her establish a sane, healthy equilibrium in her life.

I'm The One That I Want is not recommended for conservative Xian readers. Cho blasts – often in black-humored, side-splitting fashion – the conservative, American mainstream, and its destructive effect on those who've been marginalized for being different, whether it be for racial, political, sexual or financial reasons.

This is one of my favorite non-fiction books of recent memory. There are so many one-liners in this book that I stopped writing them down, and just decided to buy the damn thing (I was reading a friend's copy).

I'm The One That I Want was originally a comedy special filmed and released in 2000.

Funny, heartfelt stuff, this.

Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami

(pb; 1999)

From the back cover:

“Koushun Takami’s notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan – where it preceded to become a runaway bestseller – Battle Royale is a Lord Of The Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world…”

Review:

The comparison to Lord Of The Flies is warranted, though Takami updates the tale enough that it reads like a different creation.

Many of the characters are distinctive and relatable, even as they attack each other (often unwillingly). The writing, for the most part, is appropriately hyperkinetic and confident.

Unfortunately, Takami doesn’t seem to trust his readers to remember who’s who (among the battling students), or their relationships to each other – he shows this distrust by interrupting otherwise terse (and wow-worthy) combat scenes with expositions about the characters’ past: in doing this, he undercuts any tension these battle scenes might’ve had.

(Having written the above paragraph, I’m aware that this might be a translation issue as well, considering that Battle Royale was originally written in Japanese.)

Good reading, with the aforementioned reservation.

This became an excellent, popular film in Japan in 1999; a lackluster film sequel, Battle Royale II: Requiem, was released in 2003.

Last week, Variety magazine reported that New Line Cinema bought the rights to do an American remake, though no production date has been set, nor any names attached to the (possible) project.

Hallows Eve, by Al Sarrantonio

(pb; 2004)

From the back cover:

“After twelve years, Corrie Phaeder is returning home to Orangefield – the last place in the world he wants to be. Orangefield is a town of nightmares, a town where the impossible and the horrific happen all too often, where ghosts rise screaming from their graves, and where trick-or-treating goblins have no need for scary costumes.

“Something is waiting patiently for Corrie's homecoming. This Halloween, a messenger from a realm of shadows, with the body of a scarecrow and the head of a pumpkin, will usher Corrie into what might prove to be his last nightmare, a battle to the death with the ultimate darkness.”

Review:

Sarrantonio's writing is focused, assured and entertaining, the kind of writing that reads like an effortless effort. The characters are well-developed and fleshed out, and their personalities flavor the story's mounting dread-mood. Sarrantonio offsets the grim horror aspects (which are genre-familiar, but not cliched) with eclectic humor and third-act pseudo-fantasy quest elements.

The ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel – in a plot-natural way, not an obvious, forced way – and I, for one, welcome it. Unexpectedly sublime work that reminds me, tone-wise, of many of my favorite B-horror flicks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Futureshocks, edited by Lou Anders

(pb; 2006: story anthology)

From the back cover:

“Experience sensory overload in this anthology from today's masters of speculative fiction as they reveal the terrors, triumphs, and seeming impossibilities awaiting humanity in the years to come. From artificial intelligences and bioengineering to transhumans threatening to make mankind obsolete, these cutting-edge tales present a future in which every day brings shocking new developments undreamed of the day before – a future in which tomorrow never knows what may follow...”

Overall review:

Exemplary anthology.

Review, story by story:

“Shuteye For The Timebroker” – Paul Di Filippi: San Francisco, mid-twenty-first century. Cedric Swann, once wealthy, loses his status and his job because of a gambling addiction, ending up as a welfare-recipient sleeper in a (mostly) sleep-banished world. Sly, humorous and lean-prosed, this is an excellent tale. Those familiar with San Francisco (and the surrounding East Bay) should get an extra kick out the locales Di Filippi utilizes here. Highly recommended, this.

“Looking Through Mother's Eyes” – John Meaney: A womb-trapped child shares her mother's awareness. Not bad, not great, with a predictable ending.

“The Man Who Knew Too Much” – Alan Dean Foster: In Northern California, in an unspecified future, those truly addicted to the written word can download entire novels into their heads, perusing tomes as giant as Moby Dick in a couple of hours. But like any addiction, too much can be a bad thing...

Well-written, light-hearted literary romp about those readers who've taken their literary head-romps to a dangerous level. Worth your time, this.

“The Engines of Arcadia” – A time-traveler encounters schizophrenic, medieval – and possibly unvarying – futures. Solid, ironic, quirky.

“The Pearl Diver” – Kaitlin R. Kiernan: In an Orwellian society, a woman's dreams – somehow linked to the mysterious messages and packages she's receiving in real life – dramatically alter her life. Okay, if dystopian-familiar, story, with a semi-elliptical close.

“Before The Beginning” – Mike Resnick & Harry Turtledove: When four cosmologists, studying a video of the Beginning of Creation, die in front of their time-viewers (which records past events so people from the future can view them), another cosmologist takes up the case. Amusing, world-shaking events result. Laugh-out-loud satirical, inspired and original; one of the best entries in the anthology.

“Man You Gotta Go” – Adam Roberts: An A.I. being (Greensilk) is created to solve mankind's major problems. From what I read, the story tracks Greensilk over the course of the next five hundred years. I stopped reading this early on, as it bored me with its familiarity, though it seemed okay otherwise.

“Homosexual Damned, Film At Eleven” – Alex Irvine: In a theocratic military-minded society, an old man, once a genetic engineer (now a prisoner under house arrest) is forced to watch the execution of “homosexual terrorists” on his television, one of the so-called “terrorists” somehow linked to him. Provocative, okay story that would benefit from trimming – it lacks the edge necessary for this kind of work. In the hands of somebody like Richard Christian Matheson, this would be stunning.

“Contagion” – Chris Roberson: Jaidev Hark, a Middle Caste cryptogen messenger (one who briefly carries a disease strain, and its cure, in his body) is hunted by a Lower Caste thug. Thrilling, heartbeat-quick twists made this tale, which has a structure and ideas like William Gibson's short story, “Johnny Mnemonic,” a pleasure to read. One of the best stories in this collection.

“Absalom's Mother” – Louise Marley: Affecting, emotional tale about thirteen mothers who refuse to allow the military to take their children – some as young as eleven – by putting themselves forth as replacement inductees. Powerful, timely work. Again, one of the best stories in this collection.

“Job Qualifications” – Kevin J. Anderson: Berthold Ossequin, a political candidate hoping to rule the world, and his eighteen clones, take the phrase “there's no substitute for experience” to a chilling new level. Excellent, this.

“The Teosinte War” – Paul Melko: Ryan Greene, a university student, takes part in a time-travel experiment with mixed results. A wonderful pseudo-twist caps this intriguing, layered story.

“Slip” – Richard A. Metzger: Phillip K. Dick-worthy tale about a man who moves between two realities, the Slip and outside the Slip, hunting Horatio, a killer – invisible to those within the Slip – who might be more or less than he seems. Engrossing, invigorating, cool.

“All's Well At World's End” – Howard V. Hendrix: A soldier who's become a lab rat for his religious-minded (so-called) superiors turns the tables on them. Memory and amnesia, religion and unbound nature form this chatty, politically-charged tale.

“Flashes” – Robert J. Sawyer: Extraterrestrials, beaming human-enlightening information from outer space, inadvertently cause despair and destruction among those on Earth. Decent 9/11-tinged story, nothing special.

“The Cartesian Theater” – Robert Charles Wilson: Toby Paczovski, a young man living in the twenty-second century, visits the recorded personality of his dead grandfather to ask him for advice regarding Toby's recent, and possibly future, employment seeking out questionable entertainers – like Jafar Bloom, a disturbed basement dweller who puts on shows that emulate machine-born death-images. Strange, rambly tale with an unexpected finish.

Goldfinger, by Ian Fleming


(pb; 1959: seventh book in the original 007/James Bond series)

Review:

Bond battles Auric Goldfinger, a wealthy gold bullion collector and SMERSH agent. Bond first encounters Goldfinger when he busts the polite but petty millionaire as a card cheat, fleecing millions from Junius Du Pont (a Bond acquaintance from Casino Royale). Not long after that – coincidentally – Bond finds himself investigating Goldfinger again, this time because Goldfinger's bullion fever (illicitly indulged in) threatens to break the Bank of England, while funding the Russian Secret Service known as SMERSH.

This is Bond by the numbers. It's still hard to put down, because Fleming's lean, action-minded prose keeps the humor-spiced plot percolating at a decent pace. However, Goldfinger is a bland bad guy, when compared to past Bond villains, and Pussy Galore – a lesbian flirtatious cat burglar – is an unlikely romantic match for Bond, given her sexual predilections; not only that, but there's not much build-up between Bond and Galore, who doesn't appear until midway through the novel. This is not the gentlemanly take-it-slow Bond of the previous six books – this is the cinematic version of Bond, who's little more than a slut.

Those nits aside, there are other saving graces in Goldfinger, other than Fleming's able writing. One of the graces is Oddjob, Goldfinger's cat-chowing, bowler-throwing (his hat is razor-edged) Korean assassin-handy man, who's quite a character, despite his ape-like speech: the scenes where Bond baits the stoical Oddjob are priceless. There's also Fleming's constant referencing of past Bond adventures – most, if not all, of the books are well represented here.

Felix Leiter, the CIA-agent-turned-Pinkerton who appeared in Casino Royale, Live And Let Die, and Diamonds Are Forever, is also back, one of my favorite Bond allies. While this is not one of the better Bond novels, it's still a fun read, and worth your time.

Followed by For Your Eyes Only.

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Goldfinger, the film, was released stateside on January 9, 1965.

Sean Connery played Bond. Honor Blackman played Pussy Galore. Gert Fröbe played Goldfinger. Harold Sakata played Oddjob, and Cec Linder played Felix Leiter.

Guy Hamilton directed, from a script by Richard Maibaum.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Shakey, by Jimmy McDonough

(hb; 2002: biography)

From the inside flap:

“Neil Young is one of rock and roll's most important, influential and enigmatic figures, an intensely reticent artist who has granted no writer to his inner sanctum – until now. In Shakey, Jimmy McDonough tells the whole story of Young's incredible life and career: from his childhood in Canada to his cofounding the pioneering folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield; to the bleary conglomeration of Crazy Horse and simultaneous monstrous success of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; to the depraved depths of Tonight's the Night; and the strange changes of the Geffen years; to Young's unprecedented nineties 'comeback' with Ragged Glory and Harvest Moon.

“McDonough spent six years doggedly pursuing rock's most elusive quarry, talking to more than three hundred of Young's associates (many of whom spoke freely for the first time), as well as sitting down with Young in person for more than fifty hours of interviews. This long-awaited, unprecedented story of a rock and roll legend is filled with never-before-published words directly from the artist himself:

ON HEROIN: 'I didn't see any reason to try it. I never shot up anything... I guess after I wrote a couple of songs about it, then people who might've offered it... didn't.'

ON ABRUPTLY FIRING CRAZY HORSE TO RECORD WITH PEARL JAM: 'That happens over and over again through my whole f***in' life with all these bands. That's the reason why I'm still here. Because as painful as it is to change – and as ruthless as I may seem to be in what I have to do to keep going – you gotta do what ya gotta do. Just like a f***in' vampire. Heh heh heh.'

“...By his own admission, Young has left behind 'a lotta destruction... a big wave' while achieving his dreams, and for the first time he addresses that subject in painful detail. Shakey – titled after one of Young's many aliases, Bernard Shakey – is not only a detailed chronicle of the rock era told through the life of one very idiosyncratic, uncompromising artist, but a compelling human story as well: that of a loner for whom music was the only outlet, a driven yet tortured figure who learned to control epilepsy via 'mind over matter.' It's also about an oddly passionate model-train mogul who, inspired by his own son's struggle with cerebral palsy, became a major activist in the quest to help others with that condition. The story is uniquely told in McDonough's interwoven voices – those of biographer, critic, historian, obsessive fan – and by the ever cantankerous Young himself...”

Review:

Subtitled Neil Young's Biography, this is not recommended for the casual Young listener. McDonough has written an exhaustive, highly readable biography, one that goes into great – but not excessive detail – about Young, his life, his working habits, and his creative output, which is vast. As a fan of Young's more mainstream work, I often delighted in the inside look at Young's life, though the tales of drug abuse (mostly by those around Young) and the rock n' roll ups and downs got heavy at times.

My only bitch about this biography is that when it comes to addressing bands that followed in Young's wake, whether it was Devo, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, or whoever – McDonough took a sneering, 'well-they-ain't-Neil-Young' attitude towards them. Upon experiencing that attitude, I thought: duh, that's because they're different bands!

Anyhooters, despite the above nit, this was an excellent read. I'd own this book (that's saying a lot), but it'll be a while before I read it again, if I do.

The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith (a.k.a. Claire Morgan)

(pb; 1952)

Review:

Therese Belivet, nineteen years old and engaged to a man she barely tolerates, falls for Carol Aird, a forty-year old with a soon-to-be ex-husband (Harge) and a daughter, Nerinda (or “Rindy,” as she's called). Therese and Carol embark on a love affair that's tumultuous, heart-true and exciting, despite the outrage and disapproval their love inspires in those around them – remember, this book reflects its milieu, the staid, paranoid 1950s.

This is a blast-read, lighter than Strangers on a Train (her first novel) and the later Ripley novels. There is, of course, moments of creeped-out darkness and serious themes, but the gentle force of Carol's and Therese's interactions more than makes up for them.

Highsmith published this novel under the nom de plume Claire Morgan, and it went on to sell incredibly well. Even now, it's considered one of the best-selling lesbian novels of all time, and I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that this inspired Vladimir Nabokov to write Lolita.

Wonderful, romantic, classy read from one of my favorite writers.

#

The resulting film, Carol, is scheduled for stateside release in 2015. Todd Haynes is set to direct the film from a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy.

Sarah Paulson plays Abby Gerhard. Rooney Mara plays Therese Belivet. Cate Blanchett plays Carol Aird.

Cory Michael Smith plays Tommy. Kyle Chandler plays Harge Aird. Carrie Brownstein plays Genevieve Cantrell.

Another Country, by James Baldwin

(pb; 1960)

Review:

A thin veneer of civility and eroticism covers the socio-racial-political seethings that impel Baldwin's characters through their daily lives. There's Rufus Scott, an angry bisexual Negro jazz drummer who's going crazy with racial awareness; there's Daniel Vivaldo Moore (aka, Vivaldo), Rufus's Irish friend and would-be writer, who has a mighty desire for Ida, Rufus's sister and aspiring singer. Other characters, like Cass and Richard Silenski – a middle-class couple, with a supposedly “solid” marriage – and Eric Jones, Rufus's ex-lover and American expatriate (by his own doing), embody the naked rage that lurks close to the surface of these Americans' relationships, just waiting to boil over.

This is a disturbing, rude, forthright work. At some points during my reading of Another Country I had to stop and take a deep breath, before resuming my reading of it; that's how intense it is (while Baldwin sprinkles hopeful and loving moments throughout the book, it's largely unrelenting).

Many writers talk about writing the Great American Novel. Baldwin has done so – and what a powerhouse story it is, unflinching and often grim. To quote my mother, who recommended this to me: “Read it. You won't forget it.”

Monday, June 12, 2006

Monsters Galore, edited by Bernhardt J. Hurwood

(pb; 1965: story anthology)

From the back cover:

“A visit to the Garden of Forbidden Delights... Intimate glimpses into the ‘lives’ of creatures that go shriek in the night... A feast at the Banquet of Satan... And the terrifying truth about other monsters – including absolutely authenticated ones – who may be stalking you at this very moment.”

Overall review:

Worthwhile (if cheaply bought) anthology, with some especially cool, older Asian stories and some real clunkers spicing up the mix.

Review, story by story:

1.) “Eyes of the Panther” – Ambrose Bierce: Wordy, occasionally clever tale about a woman who refuses to marry her amour. Two flaws sink this tale: (1) the word choices Bierce employs – and how he frames them – are overly-analytical; (2) it’s predictable – the reader can guess what’s going to happen two paragraphs in.


2.) “The Dreadful Visitor” – Thomas Preskett Prest: This excerpt from Prest’s book, Varney the Vampire is wordy like the tale that precedes it; however, its effectively-rendered atmosphere makes its length a moot point. An absorbing read, this.



3.) “The Monster Maker” – William C. Morrow: A morbid tale of scientific experimentation, betrayal and revenge, well-written and satisfying. This would make a great B-movie.


4.) “Mohammed Bux and the Demon” – adapted by Bernhardt J. Hurwood: Fun, clever tale about the titular Bux, his shrewish wife and his encounters with an easily-fooled demon.


5.) “Count Magnus” – M.R. James: An unidentified narrator tells about the last days of Mr. Wraxall, who, in the course of researching a book, winds up in Scandinavia, where he (Wraxall) discovers a mysterious church...

The language and sentence structures that James uses are initially convoluted, but eventually they become easier to follow as the fascinating, creepy and gory tale progresses. The ending is almost anticlimactic (it runs several paragraphs too long), but what precedes it is memorable.


6.) “The Purple Terror” – Fred M. White: American military men delivering an important letter pass through a dangerous jungle, led by their mysterious Cuban guide (Tito). This engaging story, at once political and creepy, is marred by a tacked-on, generic cops-and-robbers ending. Given the darkness of the rest of the tale, it’s too white-washed... too Hollywood. Worth reading, if you can forgive the ending.


7.) “The Werewolf” – Frederick Marryat: Taken from Marryat’s novel, The Phantom Ship, this is an atmospheric, well-told (if predictable) tale about a serf who takes a werewolf for a bride, and the consequences of that action. Highly recommended, this.


8.) “The Wer-Bear” – as told by Sir Walter Scott: A young prince spurns the amorous advances of his witch-queen stepmother, and is transformed into a wer-bear. Gore, sadness and vengeance ensues. This relatively short story is told rather than shown, so it feels rushed. While not terribly engaging, it’s a great outline for what could be an enchanting, grisly work. Taken from Scott’s book, The History of Hrolfekraka.


9.) “Jikininki” – Lafcadio Hearn: A priest encounters a ghost (or “Shape”) who devours the newly-dead of a nearby village. Promising tale, marred by an abrupt ending that leaves the tale half-told.


10.) “The Vampire Cat of Nabeshima” – Adapted from the Japanese: A low-ranking soldier (Ito Soda) protects his prince from a sleep-inducing vampiric demon (who’s taken the form of the prince’s concubine, Otoyo). Well-told, memorable tale, possibly one of the best in this collection.


11.) “The Corpse At The Inn” – Pu Sung Ling (from the book Liao Chai): Travelers staying at an inn meet the ferocious ghost of a recently-deceased woman. Solid story, where knowledge of Asian culture is helpful.


12.) “The Demon Who Changed Its Skin” – Pu Sung Ling (from the book Liao Chai): When a Taiwanese man (Wang) takes in a homeless girl from the street, he sets into motion a cycle of grisly deaths, strange abasement and resurrection. Again, good story, where knowledge of Asian culture is helpful.


13.) “The Guest and the Striges” – Adapted from the Greek: While visiting a married friend, a bachelor saves himself and his friend from two Striges (female demons who crave blood) who’ve taken the form of the friend’s wife and mother-in-law. Interesting tale, flawed by an obvious instance of illogicality.


14.) “A Vatanuan Cannibal Tale” – Adapted from the Melanesian: Several young warrior-brothers set out from their village to discover why their fellow tribesmen have disappeared. Satisfying, brief tale.


15.) “Four Siberian Demon Tales” – Adapted from the Siberian: Straightforward half-page stories about how hacked-up demons birthed modern mosquitoes. Each of the four stories offers an interesting variation on the theme.


16.) “An Irish Vampire” -- R.S. Breene: Lackluster work, told in a post-script, oh, by the way tone. Waste of time, paper and effort.


17.) “Peter Kurten, The Monster of Dusseldorf” -- Bernardt J. Hurwood: The author salaciously recounts the twenty-year crime spree of the titular character, whose offenses included burglary, arson, rape, and murder. Fascinating tale, especially when the reader considers the time and place of Kurten's crimes (1910-1930, Germany), and the grim humor accompanying Kurten's actions.


18.) “The Mark of the Beast” -- Rudyard Kipling: Overly long and predictable but otherwise okay cautionary story about a drunken English lout in India who defiles the statue of Hanuman, the Monkey-god, in Hanuman's temple.


19.) “The Were-Tiger” -- Sir Hugh Clifford: Pedantic tone, high-falutin' language and a lengthy unnecessary preface made me stop reading this immediately... i.e., I have no idea what this bloated piece of crap is about.


20.) “Johannes Cuntius, Citizen of Pentsch” -- Henry More: Cuntius, a sixty-year old man, dies of a mysterious illness, only to return to visit constant supernatural violence upon his former fellow villagers. Wordy, in an Old World way, but worthwhile.


21.) “Hungary's Female Vampire” -- Dean Lipton: The bloodthirsty history of Elizabeth Bathory, a medieval Countess who's estimated to have killed 600 servant girls and female virgins, is briefly reiterated. Fun (if this sort of stuff can be said to be “fun”), intriguing read.


22.) “Sawney Beane, The Man Eater of Eastlothian” -- Captain Jack Johnson: The infamous fifteenth century cave-dwelling cannibal clan is recounted in this solid, no-frills tale, which made me consider, once again, becoming a vegetarian.


23.) “Stubbe Peeter” – Adapted from the Gallic: Over the course of twenty-five years, from 1564 to 1589, Peeter (who takes the form of a wolf, via a girdle given to him by Satan) slaughters countless villagers, before being caught and executed. Another gory story, not for the faint of stomach.


Check out another review for this anthology.

The Bourne Ultimatum, by Robert Ludlum

(pb; 1990: third book in the Jason Bourne series)

Review:

David Webb is forced to adopt the Jason Bourne persona again, when an incorporated Medusa (an updated version of the clandestine CIA-run tactical team he worked with during the Vietnam War) threatens him and his family. Not only that, he's stalking Carlos the Jackal, the man for whom the Bourne identity was created (in order that Bourne might kill Carlos).

In the four and a half years since The Bourne Supremacy, the Webbs, David and Marie, have had a second child, eight-month old Alison. Her brother, Jamie, is now five.

Also along for the ride, once again, is Alex Conklin, Webb/Bourne's one-time CIA handler, now well-connected friend. Morris Panov, Webb/Bourne's tough-minded psychiatrist, is back, too.

All the Bourne elements are present: the moral/emotional tug of war between David Webb, and his counterpart self, Bourne, as he protects his family against his enemies, known and unknown; fulminant explosions of death and mayhem in international locales; whiplash-fast plot twists; adulterated politics, linked to high finance.

Ludlum introduces a new element to the Bourne series: high-profile bumbling characters. While Ludlum's work is often peppered with an esoteric sense of humor, it's usually subdued, buried beneath his plot skeins. Not so here – The Bourne Ultimatum sports a semi-amusing, almost distracting, subplot involving some East Coast Mafiosi. While it doesn't detract from the novel, it doesn't add anything worthwhile to it, either. (Still, Ludlum deserves kudos for tinkering with his genre formula.)

Another Bourne anomaly is how much “air time” Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (aka, Carlos the Jackal) gets. Like Webb/Bourne, who's fifty and well aware of the disadvantages this poses to him – slower reflexes, increased chance of injury, et cetera – Carlos is feeling his age. Both killers know that their face-off is a now-or-never deal. Unlike Bourne, however, Carlos is panicked that he, even with his wealth, his “army of old [spying] men” and Catholic Church-centered resources, is perceived to have lost his edge: in terms of reputation, Bourne hasn't “lost” it, a fact that appears to be true, given how those around them view them.

The final battle between Carlos and Webb/Bourne, which takes place in Novgorod (an infamous training center for Russian spies where replicas of American cities were built), is a brutal extravaganza, with an appropriate, plot-enveloping finish.

With The Bourne Ultimatum, Bourne concocted an exhilarating series wrap-up, with all the (pertinent) series questions answered. I don't know if he intended this to be the last Bourne novel or not, but Eric Van Lustbader wrote a third sequel, The Bourne Legacy.



The film version of The Bourne Ultimatum is scheduled for an August 3, 2007 stateside release.

Paul Greengrass, who directed The Bourne Supremacy, directed The Bourne Ultimatum, from a screenplay by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi.

Matt Damon reprised his role of David Webb/Jason Bourne. Joan Allen reprised her role of Pamela Landy. Julia Stiles reprised her role of Nicolette (aka "Nicky") Parsons. Tom Gallop reprised his role of Tom Cronin.

David Strathairn played Noah Vosen. Paddy Considine played Simon Ross. Scott Glenn played Ezra Kramer. Albert Finney played Dr. Albert Hirsch.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Black Ice, by Hans Werner Kettenbach

(pb; 1982)

Review:

Jupp Scholten, a 58-year old office worker in a civil engineering company, finds himself in the unlikely role of a sleuth after his boss of twenty-something years, Erica Wallman, dies in a suspicious “accident.” Nobody else seems to share his suspicions, so he begins a solitary investigation, all the while dealing with Kurt Wallman – Erica's philandering husband, now Jupp's increasingly rude boss – who's the most promising suspect, and Hilde, Jupp's shrewish, clingy wife of thirty-six “hellish” years.

There's not a lot of action in Black Ice. Most of the 224-page novel is made up of Jupp trying to figure out how Kurt pulled off the murder, if he did. And once Jupp thinks he knows how Kurt did it, that (possible) knowledge shoots Jupp along unexpected, life-changing tangents.

The prose – much of it stream-of-consciousness meandering, and later, panic – is reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith's novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley: so much so, that the structure and tone of Black Ice seems to be directly lifted from Highsmith's first Ripley novel.

Kettenbach even has a Ripley-like finish, abrupt and fitting. However, Kettenbach doesn't quite echo the mastery of Highsmith's work, because there's too much meandering in the novel's middle section. (Excising one or two chapters would've fixed that.)

On the whole, Black Ice is a worthwhile read, and Kettenbach is clearly a writer to watch out for – should he find his own voice.



In 1998, this became a German television film, titled Glatteis (which, I'm guessing, translates into “black ice”). Gunter Lamprecht played Scholten. Gottfried John played Kurt Wallman. Gudrun Gabriel played Erika Wallman. It was directed by Michael Gutmann.

Headstone City, by Tom Piccirilli

(pb; 2006)

From the back cover:

“The night Johnny Danetello drove a dying girl through the streets of Brooklyn in his cab, he was trying to save her life. Instead he ran down a cop and lost her and his freedom. Every day in prison, Johnny knew that Angie Monticelli's family blamed him for her death, and that going home would be suicide. But Johnny has unfinished business with his former friend turned mob boss, Vinny Monticelli.

“Now Johnny has returned to converse with the doomed and the dead – and wait for Vinny to make his move. Survivors of a long-ago freak accident, the two men share access to alternate realities no one else can know – and to a past and present that will all become the same in a city only one of them can leave alive...”

Review:

This is a quirky, bloody and lusty genre-hopping romp, and easily one of the funnest – if not the funnest, and funniest – novels I've read in the past few months.

Piccirilli has fashioned a shotgun comedy filled with deadpan, B-movie dialogue and dumb bad-guy antics. While the absurdities and bodies start piling up, there's plenty of oh for f**k's sake this can't be happening moments that had this reader giggling in his post-midnight coffee.

Delightful stuff, this. Check it out.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald

(pb; 1978)

From the back cover:

“In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop – the only bookshop – in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town's less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors' lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Her warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently... haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: that a town that lacks a bookshop isn't always a town that wants one...”

Review:

A definite page-turner, this. Gossip, betrayal, good intentions, bad luck and laziness highlight this short novel full of acute (and affecting) slice o' life minutiae – Fitzgerald is a master of the small gestures that say so much. Sharp, vicious pleasantries and petty legalities also highlight The Bookshop, provoking bouts of oh my, that was nasty laughter from this reader.

The characters are sketched, for the most part, but Fitzgerald makes sure they're effective, ably playing their parts in the developing cold war between Florence Green and Violet Gamart.

The ending sucks – a real downer, it is. However, Fitzgerald imbues it with a rich, dark irony that almost, but not quite, makes up for it.

Worth your time, if you don't mind a downbeat finish.

Roughneck, by Jim Thompson

(hb; 1954)

Review:

Roughneck reads like a thinly veiled autobiography. Spanning eleven years, it opens in August 1929, in Oklahoma City, with Thompson, his mother and his sister broke and starving, with a broke-down car. Jim soon takes a series of dead-end jobs (e.g., morgue night attendant; a “batch man” in a bakery; building an ill-advised oil rig), and hobnobs with some curious people like: Trixie, a moronic, tie-selling whore with over-sized feet; Allie Ivers, a confidence man and friend of long-standing; a psychic farmer who knows when people need help, and quietly arranges it beforehand.

By 1936, Thompson is married, with three kids, and getting paid for his writing, well on his way to leaving behind the bad luck that's plagued him most of his life – or so he thinks.

A sense of quirky fatalism saturates this work. It's often laugh-out-loud funny, in a blackish way, with a strong comedic rhythm (Thompson sets up the situations, then louses them up with good intentions).

Good read, this, and different than most of Thompson's other works (which is primarily noir). It's not his best, but it's clever, raw and honest.

<em>Star Wars: Phasma</em> by <a href="http://www.whimsydark.com/">Delilah S. Dawson</a>

(hb; 2017: loosely linked prequel to the 2015 film Star Wars -- Episode VII: The Force Awakens ) From the back cover " Discover ...