August 26, 2011

Your micro-review roundup: 26 August 2011

(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.)

Strange as Angels, by M. Henderson Ellis

Strange as Angels: A Tale of Mood and Music
By M. Henderson Ellis
Wordpill Press

To be sure, M. Henderson Ellis is on the right track from the very first page with Strange as Angels, his lightly fictionalized memoir of growing up punk in various strange environments during the 1980s, and that those who like things like Joe Meno's Hairstyles of the Damned will be sure to love this too; but unfortunately, it's that very thing that I personally found the biggest problem as well, in that the writing here suffers heavily from what I call "Lester Bangs Syndrome," which can be defined as an overdose of pompous grandiosity concerning subjects (for example, obscure rock albums) that simply don't deserve it. I know that this is some people's cup of tea, but it definitely isn't mine; and if you too start clenching your teeth at the idea of five-page academic-style dissertations on Pink Floyd's The Wall awkwardly cut and pasted into the middle of a traditional three-act coming-of-age tale, you'd be wise to stay away altogether, although of course fans of this kind of stuff will want to do the opposite and pick up a copy right away. It comes mildly recommended with that specifically in mind.

Out of 10: 7.5, or 8.0 for Nick Hornby fans

A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin

A Clash of Kings
By George R.R. Martin
Spectra / Bantam

Regular readers know that I've decided to take on this year all five of the current "Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin; my main thoughts on the series as a whole can be found in my barn-burning review of Game of Thrones, for those who need to get caught up on the complicated backstory, and why I'm really loving them when I'm usually not much of a fan of the genre, but I also promised that I'd get short write-ups posted as well of each subsequent volume as I finished them. And lo and behold, here we are 800 pages later, and I'm finally done with volume two, A Clash of Kings; and in the effort to remain as spoiler-free as possible, let's just say that it's simply a lot more of the same, basically taking all the running storylines from the first novel and merely continuing and expanding them here. But still, there are differences in this second volume as well (and again, these will be spoiler-free), my favorite of which is how Martin manages to very slyly add in all kinds of issues that might seem at first to be tips of the hat to our modern times, but in actuality have their roots in actual Medieval history, only with most of us now forgetting so; for example, how his fictional version of Western Europe circa 1200 AD is peppered with female and gay leaders here and there (including the elaborately costumed "Rainbow Guard" of the closeted King Renly, and his lesbian personal bodyguard), which might seem at first like a postmodern touch but were real occurrences in the Middle Ages more often than you'd think.

Or take how the role of religion has expanded in this second volume, with there now not just being their equivalents of paganism and Judeo-Christianity (the "Old Gods" and "New Gods" of the first book) but also the scattered rise of various monotheistic "doomsday cults" (the Lord of Light in the east, for example, or the Kraken God of the island-heavy northwest), which again seems modern but were actually a substantial part of the religious landscape of the real Middle Ages. Or look at how Martin is very deliberately showing how this endless civil war between the five people currently vying for the Big Freaking King title is very quickly destroying the entire continent, with entire nation-sized areas by the end that are now basically smoking holes in the ground; and once again, although this may seem at first to be a clever reference to modern ecological concerns, in reality this is what actually happened to large parts of Europe in those years, through a combination of plague and war. If you liked Game of Thrones you'll love part two, with the reverse being true as well, and needless to say that I'm looking highly forward to making my way through volume three next, the battle-heavy A Storm of Swords.

Out of 10: 8.9, or 9.9 for fans of fantasy

Beer Mystic, by Bart Plantenga

Beer Mystic: A Novel of Inebriation and Light
By Bart Plantenga

I admit, I'm kind of fascinated with the structure behind the initial publishing of Bart Plantenga's experimental Beer Mystic; namely, long before it was collected into the traditional manuscript form that I myself read, it was first published serially at a grand total of forty different blogs, with readers hopping from one site to the next and therefore with all forty places sharing a certain amount of publicity themselves. But alas, the actual story is one of those rambling, masturbatory academic exercises that I do not care for one bit, the kind of pointless, plotless thinking-out-loud that is so loved by a certain breed of stoned, city-street-wandering intellectual but that takes the audience into so little consideration that we might as well not even be there, which always makes me wonder why that author even bothered to release it to the public in the first place. The very definition of navel-gazing, this is certainly to be applauded for its inventive release; it's just too bad this wasn't matched up with a more readable actual story.

Out of 10: 6.8

Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:48 PM, August 26, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |