Okay, it's time to play catch-up with the old review pile. I've got a small mountain of books that I've read over the past few months (mostly while either my son or myself was sick) just waiting for me to write something intelligent about them. Unfortunately, if I keep waiting for time to do them justice with the kind of detailed, in-depth reviews they deserve, that pile is only going to get larger - especially since I have some freelance projects that are likely to be keeping me busy at night for the foreseeable future.
So, while I apologize ahead of time for my brevity, I am very pleased to finally be able to introduce you to a few worthy titles.
Bang Bang by Patrick Malloy
What do you do when modern pharmaceuticals have all but cured death, and your entire livelihood revolves around . . . well, death? Well, if your`re a couple of guys working in a funeral home, you bide your time, listen to old Beatles tunes, and take on a side-job as serial killers. I mean, who can blame them, right?
That`s the basic concept here, and it`s just as weird and inappropriate as you might expect. Max and Bligh are an odd couple to drive a novel, but they`re right at home here. This is a very dark comedy, almost surreal at times, with Mob bosses, teenage girls, widowed old women, and some rather inept FBI agents rounding out the cast. For a debut novel, this is a strong one, somehow managing to find that awkward, tough balance between alienating and amusing your readers. Yeah, I groaned out loud more than a few times, but I laughed out loud twice as often.
This is a witty, satiric tale, and one with some deep thoughts buried amid the chaos. Malloy understands what kind of questions he`s raised for the reader regarding life, death, and the widening gap between the two, and he demonstrates that in the motivations of heroes and killers alike. Expect the worst, enjoy the best, and give yourself permission to be inappropriate alongside the boys.
Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell
Time travel. It`s an overused science fiction plot device, but one that still has some life to it, provided you can either offer the reader a new spin, or find a new way to incorporate it into a story that uses it, but doesn`t rely upon it. Ferrell does both, providing us with a weary time traveler who spends every birthday with his selves - those who`ve come, those who`ve gone, and those who might never be. This year, however, the party takes an unusual turn, leaving him to find out who will kill him in the coming year.
This is a clever read that almost falters under the weight of its paranoia, but which really hinges on an uninvited guest at the party. It`s a very literary tale, one that sometimes tries a bit too hard to eclipse its genre roots with moments of artistic eccentricity, but which largely succeeds. It`s a near-future mystery, a science fiction drama, and a human interest story, all rolled into one. It`s not as odd or as oddly funny as I expected, but that`s likely a good thing - given the variations on the main character, and novelty of simultaneously investigating and possibly causing your own death, too much humor could have propelled this into the realm of parody.
If you like your science fiction big, bold, and bombastic, then this isn`t the story for you. If you`ve any appreciation at all for one-man-plays and cerebral dramas, then give it a shot. You`ll be glad you did.
Realmgolds by Mike Reeves-McMillan
A political fantasy, set in a steampunk world, and populated by high fantasy races. The story of a magical world on the verge of the industrial rebellion, being held in check by hate groups against race and culture. It`s driven by an interesting concept, but it`s the characters who make it work.
Determined is a curious leader, while Victory makes for an interesting ally-slash-foil. Denning is a country falling apart at almost every level, saddled with a dedicated, yet ineffectual leader. There`s a lot going on here, but it`s Determined`s growth and evolution that makes the story work. He`s neither your typical fantasy youth, looking to come of age, nor your cliched hero, just looking for a purpose. Instead, he`s a fallible leader with an honest desire to do better, despite himself.
The writing here is strong, although the pacing is a bit awkward, the end comes on rather abruptly. It`s not an action-packed novel, but there are moments of conflict, drama, and even combat. It`s really a story of what lies behind the conflict, the decisions that lead to combat, and what it takes to play that role. Decidedly unusual, but largely entertaining. Stick with it for the few dry spots early on, and you`ll be pleasantly surprised.