July 4, 2012

Your micro-review roundup: 4 July 2012

(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.)

Year Zero, by Rob Reid

Year Zero
By Rob Reid
Del Ray / Ballantine

to tell you the truth, about a month now after I first finished this book, I just now had to re-look at the manuscript just to remember what it was about; and that should give you a good idea of this book's inconsequential nature, competently done but bound to be quickly forgotten by the culture at large. One of those funny "bizarro" authors who uses over-the-top scenarios to comment on some ultra-trendy issues, this story sees the rest of the galactic community finally discovering the presence of Earth, specifically by becoming obsessed with Earth music which is thousands of times better than their own, but then getting bogged down into a universe-collapsing crisis over exactly how much money they owe Earth lawyers for the trillions upon trillions of illegal downloads the universe has unwittingly perpetrated. Well done for what it is but awfully silly nonetheless, it comes recommended to hardcore fans of, say, Douglas Adams or Monty Python.

Out of 10: 8.1

The Night Sessions, by Ken MacLeod

The Night Sessions
By Ken MacLeod
Pyr

I was a big fan of Ken MacLeod's last book with Pyr, the fascinatingly unique day-after-tomorrow political thriller about central Asia, ancient mythology, and MMOs used for revolutionary purposes, The Restoration Game; but this newest is a big step down from that one, a book that that similarly aims conceptually high but unfortunately falls flat most of the time. In fact, it takes a big suspension of disbelief even to swallow the premise and get past page one -- that after losing a "holy war" with Muslim countries over dwindling oil supplies in the near future, spurred by conservative Western politicians using fundamentalist Christian propaganda to sell it all to the public, the US and Western Europe are taken over by radical-left socialists who literally ban all public mention of religion ever again; and that although those radical days are over and a more stable government has started normalizing society again, there is still a deep cultural precedence for Christian worship being a semi-secret underground activity that in Orwellian style is not even officially recognized by the government as existing, even going so far as to insist on addressing church officials as "doctor" instead of "reverend" or "bishop." That's a pretty big freaking pill to swallow, which you have to do for the rest of the book to make sense, essentially a sneaky detective thriller set within this alt-history, concerning murders within this shadowy underground Catholic community and who might be committing them for what purposes. Interesting in its way, I myself found it just not as well-written as his previous novel, and full of the kinds of ultra-hacky genre-novelist stuff that makes me want to sometimes claw my own eyes out with so many of these midlist SF titles (such as the whole subplot taking place among the packed but silent danceclubs that have seemingly been made out of every old cathedral and mosque in existence, where "VJs" [virtual DJs, get it?] pump the music directly into people's heads and throw around enhanced-reality special effects across the room with their hands "Minority Report" style, while everyone watches along with their virtual-reality "iThink" glasses, UGH, UGH, enough, MacLeod, enough). Only for the extra-committed genre fan, although all of you should like this well enough.

Out of 10: 8.2

The Cranes Dance, by Meg Howrey

The Cranes Dance
By Meg Howrey
Vintage Contemporaries / Random House

There's nothing inherently wrong with a novel concentrating on the minutiae of one particular industry or type of job, and in fact sometimes this is what novels do best -- think of Moby Dick or The Jungle, for example -- but it does mean that you're risking turning off big portions of your potential audience if they end up not really caring that much about the specific topic that book is discussing, and if you don't give them enough reason to be fascinated by the topic anyway. And here, unfortunately, Meg Howrey's look at being a young, full-time professional dancer in New York City is just too full of meaningless details and bereft of larger conclusions to have had much of an impact on me, certainly beautiful and entertaining at many moments but with those moments too few and far between. Containing a level of detail about the mundanities of a typical dancer's day that I myself found really intolerable at times, it'll be a wet dream for anyone who specifically wants to read about such a subject; and its charming anecdotes about gaggles of brave yet scared teenage roommates having the biggest adventures of their lives in a magically romantic midtown Manhattan absolutely bodes well for Howrey's long-term career, and shows that she has a real winner in her in the future when she weds this attention to detail with a stronger story premise. A limited recommendation, only to those interested in reading a genteel take on the daily life of a working ballerina, but those people should go fairly crazy over this enjoyable sleeper.

Out of 10: 8.2, or 9.2 for ballet fans

Filed by Jason Pettus at 2:03 PM, July 4, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |