(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.)
By Ian McDonald
Regular readers know that I do not usually review Young Adult novels here; but I made an exception this month with the new Planesrunner, not just because it was specifically sent to me by the publishing company but because it's the YA debut of sci-fi veteran Ian McDonald, and I'm a big slavish fan of Ian McDonald. But alas, Ian McDonald or not, this action-adventure tale about multiple universes and a teen whose kidnapped dad gives him the key to unlocking it all is absolutely a YA product through and through, both for better and for worse; and so while actual teen readers may find this enjoyable (or may not -- like I said, I don't usually review YA novels), for actual grown-ups it leaves a lot to be desired, from a clunky plot to overly explanatory exposition, snotty teen characters that will make adults roll their eyes just as badly as real teens make them do, a reliance on a Cockney-like slang that's much more annoying than clever, and a lot more. (Plus, I have to confess that I'm already tired of the "teenage libertarian" theme that seems to so completely dominate YA novels by science-fiction authors, which is definitely the case here too; and, for a main character who's supposed to be a nerdy British Indian, I have to say that I was quite dismayed to see him portrayed on the front cover an awful lot like a hunky white guy. The effect is subtle enough in this case to save Pyr a public shaming; but I confess that this is a huge pet peeve of mine, when marketing executives at publishing companies take main protagonists of color and then "whitewash" them on the cover for an American audience.) Decent enough for what it is, grown-ups should nonetheless stay far clear from this literal definition of juvenilia.
Out of 10: 7.2, or 8.2 for Young Adult fans
The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg
By Doug Bremner
To tell you the truth, in just the few weeks since reading Doug Bremner's The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, I have almost completely forgotten what it's about; and that's because this is another of those seemingly endless post-Erin Brokovitch nonfiction stories about horrible people at horrible drug companies doing horrible things, in this case executives at Roche Pharmaceuticals who continued pushing the acne medication Accutane even after discovering that it caused suicidal depression among an alarming amount of its teenage customers, written by a guy who used to get paid to promote the drug before his ethics finally getting the better of him. So as such, then, certainly Bremner should at least be congratulated for not being the amoral monster that all his co-workers turned out to be; but as a literary project this leaves a whole lot to be desired, the kind of glorified magazine article that tries to fluff itself out into a full book by doing things like creating a new chapter out of each and every new scene that takes place, a true definition of pedestrian manuscript that feels most of the time not like a finished book, but rather one of those rambling overlong anecdotes your great uncle ropes you into over the holidays and that you can't seem to excuse yourself from no matter how hard you try. Kudos to Bremner for eventually becoming not quite as evil as he used to be, but Golden Egg is not a book that in good conscience I can recommend to others.
Out of 10: 6.1
By Jeremy C. Shipp
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of alt-horror author Jeremy Shipp, whether he's taking on more traditional genre tropes like in Cursed or delving into smart political satire like in 2007's still brilliant Vacation; and now his latest is out, a story collection simply called Attic Clowns, the subject of an intense viral marketing campaign Shipp has been implementing at various social networks over the last year. And hey, this is the perfect kind of book to do such a thing, because its premise has such an irresistible hook -- it's a whole book of stories about evil clowns who live in people's attics, which simply screams "funny popular tweets" the moment you even hear of it. Ah, but much like his earlier story collection Sheep & Wolves, this book is actually more complicated than it might seem at first as well; because once again, Shipp has used these stories to weave together a sort of bizarre alternative reality for his characters to collectively share, one whose rules and history are never explicitly spelled out, but with strange, disturbing aspects revealed through throwaway details in the various individual pieces. It ultimately makes the book a double pleasure when all is said and done, something I always prefer in story collections, with it possible to enjoy the individual pieces in a simple way like normal, but with it also possible to get swept up in a grand hinted-at mythology full of dark, otherworldly details; and this is just one of the reasons I'm such a big fan of this criminally underrated author, and why it comes with a strong recommendation to all horror fans.
Out of 10: 8.5, or 9.5 for horror fans