June 9, 2010

Your micro-review roundup: 9 June 2010

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Gardens of the Sun, by Paul McAuley

Gardens of the Sun
By Paul McAuley

As I mentioned when reviewing the first book in this series, The Quiet War, there's a reason that genres becomes known as "genres" in the first place, which is that the majority of books that end up being written in that genre will end up appealing to only a narrow crowd, mostly by offering up in a fetishistic way all the touchstones that those genre fans are looking for in that genre; that's why, for example, successful crime novels tend to feature an endless amount of cackling serial killers, and successful romance novels an endless amount of sweaty shirtless sailors, even while such details tend to make non-fans of those genres roll their eyes in exasperation. And so too is it the case with science-fiction, with these books by McAuley being a perfect example of Star-Wars-style "space operas," which essentially crib together a dozen different memes floating around in the world of contemporary SF to tell a plot-heavy, character-light story, none of the details particularly original but adding up to a pleasant read by the end: there is for example the idea of a post-apocalyptic Earth, being rebuilt by a post-disaster population that have all become radical environmentalists; their conflict with the "space libertarians" who long ago went out and settled the rest of the solar system; these libertarians' experiments in Singularity-style "post-human" biology; the cold war between these groups that eventually turns into a hot war, and then devolves into Shakespearean/Machivellian complexity; and even an Orson-Scott-Card-style secret army of genetically modified unstoppable warriors developed by Earth's military. McAuley puts all these elements together in a way sure to please existing SF fans, but that will most likely make non-fans sort of shrug and mutter, "Meh;" ad like I said, that's the essence of what a literary genre is all about, is that most of that genre's fans are specifically looking for that shopping list of details I just mentioned, and are in general perfectly happy with subpar plotting and sometimes clunky writing as long as these genre details are delivered. It's a middle-of-the-road book, one that quietly comes and goes from the literary world without making much of an impression, which is why today it gets a middle-of-the-road score.

Out of 10: 7.5

The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone, by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele

The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone
By Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele
Top Shelf

Not too long ago I gave a favorable review of the 2006 graphic novel The Surrogates, by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, eventually adapted into a high-profile Hollywood actioner starring Bruce Willis; just to remind you, it posits a reality where Second Life has been made physical, and where a growing amount of people now use full-sized mechanical avatars to actually interact in the real world, keeping their biological bodies at home and hooked up to a five-sense virtual-reality interface. Flesh and Bone, then, is a "sequel prequel" to that original, telling in detail the backstory that was already laid out in the first volume of how such a world came to be; but of course there's a big problem with doing fleshed-out versions of previous backstories like this, which is...you know, you've already told the story before, and in this case rather inventively too, through a series of clever metafictional elements at the ends of chapters in the original, things like old newspaper articles, fake company brochures and the like. As a result, then, this second volume doesn't divulge a single bit of information that existing fans didn't already know, and pretty much exists purely as an excuse for Weldele to draw up some more of them pretty pictures of his, and for Top Shelf to keep ringing that cash register right at the time that the movie version of the original was currently out. Although just as nice-looking as the original, it's pretty much pointless from a storytelling aspect, which should be kept in mind before picking it up yourself.

Out of 10: 7.0

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter, by Darwyn Cooke

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter
By Darwyn Cooke
IDW Publishing

Late author Donald Westlake is apparently a revered figure in the world of crime novels, which admittedly I'm not much of a fan of; and while writing under his pseudonym "Richard Stark," one of his most infamous characters turned out to be a professional con-man and complete sociopath known only as "Parker," who made the first of his 24 literary appearances in the 1962 novel The Hunter, adapted last year into comic form for the very first time by respected visual artist Darwyn Cooke. But I don't know, maybe I'm the wrong person to be reviewing this, but I found the actual storyline to be abhorrent, just utterly abhorrent, a tale that celebrates the kind of violent psychopath who for example made up the vast majority of mid-level Nazis during World War Two, who spends the entire book basically going around beating the sh-t out of random women (just to cite one infamous example), not because they had anything to do with the botched crime for which Parker is seeking revenge, but literally because they happen to be random strangers who just happened to get in his way one day while he was seeking this revenge. I found the entire thing just really distastefully misogynist, and the only reason this book's getting as high a score as it is is because of the exquisite Mid-Century Modernist visual style of Cooke, which is obviously the main reason he wanted to adapt this particular story in the first place. I mean, obviously it floats some people's boats, in that Parker grew over the years to become an entire franchise unto himself; but this kind of charm-free, incomprehensibly violent story is just not for me at all.

Out of 10: 6.5

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:05 AM, June 9, 2010. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |