Friday, January 27, 2017

Review: From a Buick 8

From a Buick 8 From a Buick 8 by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You ever make a meal comprised only of a bunch of leftovers that don’t really match? That’s how you end up eating half a Salisbury steak with the sweet-n-sour chicken from last night’s take-out. Stephen King loves doing that only it’s with books instead of food.

Here we have a hunk of Christine served up with stray bits from The Tommyknockers, and it’s all done using one of his preferred methods of having a character tell a long rambling story. Uncle Stevie then seasons it up with a lot of wistful thoughts on days gone by. Call it King Casserole Surprise.

The story here is told to the teenage son of a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper who was killed in the line of duty, and it’s about a strange car that his father impounded twenty years before. The car was abandoned at a gas station and at first glance was a 1954 Buick 8 Roadmaster in pristine condition, but closer examination shows a lot of odd things that indicate the car isn’t a car at all. After one of their troopers disappears they all believe that the Buick is somehow responsible, and they decide to keep the car stashed in a shed at their headquarters. Supposedly it’s to protect the public, but there’s also a healthy amount of curiosity that turns into near obsession on the part of some of the troopers including the dead boy’s father who spends the next two decades trying to unravel the secret of the Buick.

This is not one of King’s best books, and one of the biggest problems is that he tries to have it both ways. A large point of the story is supposed to be that there are some mysteries that we’ll just never solve, and that we have to make peace with that when we run across it. Which is fine, but if you’re going to play it that way then the mystery of the Buick needs to really be unknowable. What King does instead is to beat us over the head with that theme of acceptance, but then he pretty much goes ahead and tells us what the car is anyhow.

Plus, the weird things the Buick does get fairly predictable. Yeah, I know, that’s part of the point. The story makes it clear that the car and it’s occasional crazy happening became just part of the routine for everyone who knew it was back there, but then King has to have it unleash unspeakable horrors a couple of times which make it hard to believe that anyone could just go to work every day knowing it was back there instead of just being an oddity they deal with once in a while. The cops also seem to take the disappearance of one of their own fairly lightly.

While this comes in at a relatively tight 350 pages for a later work by Uncle Stevie it just doesn’t feel like there’s enough story here to justify it. As it stands it would have made a better short story or novella, but at this length it feels like there’s both too much and not enough at the same time.

Despite all my misgivings I kinda like this one, but it’s for mainly personal reasons. My mother worked as a dispatcher for the sheriff’s department of our rural Kansas county when I was growing up, and their office was just a block away from my grandmother’s house who would watch us when the folks were working. I spent a lot of time hanging around there, and this book, which details the humdrum everyday stuff that happens around any cop shop, reminds me of those times when I’d hang out in their kitchen listening to the chatter of the guys in the office and on the radio. So it’s pure nostalgia that gets me to boost this from two stars to three. I make no apologies for that.

View all my reviews

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: Drive

Drive Drive by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Geez, Solomon. You’d have to be nuts to do a solo space flight testing that experimental engine you developed.”

“Hold my beer.”

This is a free short story set in the The Expanse series that tells us about how a Martian engineer named Solomon Epstein developed the drive system used by all the space ships. That sounds like it’d just be nerd bait for the kind of hardcore fans who look for schematics of fictional starships on the interwebs, but this actually has a couple of really solid hooks that make it something more than that.

One of the critical underlying elements of The Expanse series is the Epstein Drive. Not only is it the concept that makes constant travel around the solar system feasible, the way it functions is an integral part of the stories. The force of acceleration and what it does to the human occupants of the ships always has to be accounted for, and it’s been used to great dramatic effect repeatedly in the series.

What this story does is explain how that drive came to be, and it also acts as quick primer on how this was a key moment in The Expanse timeline that sets up all the conflicts between Earth, Mars, and the Belt that were already established in the first book.

So it’s a solid prequel set-up that sets up the structure of the series. It’s also connects emotionally by telling us about Solomon and what happened to him after he fired that engine up the first time.

And it’s free!

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: Darth Vader, Vol 3: The Shu-Torun War

Darth Vader, Vol 3: The Shu-Torun War Darth Vader, Vol 3: The Shu-Torun War by Kieron Gillen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don’t ever ask a Sith Lord to dance.

Darth Vader is diverted from his secret agenda of tracking down Luke Skywalker when the Emperor sends him on a mission to put down a budding rebellion on a mining planet of critical importance.

This doesn’t advance the core plot that’s been driving this series, but it is a pretty cool side story in which we get to see Vader be a total bad ass as he asserts Imperial authority. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the story gaps these comics are filling in between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back is how the destruction of the Death Star caused a whole bunch of problems for the Empire and how Vader is used as the Emperor’s main trouble shooter.

The best part continues to be the evil droids 000 and BT-1 who delight in the chance to kill a whole lot of ‘meaty masters’ in the midst of the conflict. It’s probably a preview of how robots will soon rise up to murder us all, but for now they’re a homicidal delight to read.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Review: Husk

Husk Husk by J. Kent Messum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this for review from the author.

In a dystopian near future a handsome young man named Rhodes has a lucrative illegal business as a Husk which means that he essentially rents out his body to rich people No, not like that, you perverts. These are dead rich people…OK, now I'm gonna have to ask you to leave because that’s just sick. Go on. Close the door on your way out.

Where were we? Right, so the deal is that the richest people have found a way to cheat death and download their consciousness into computers, but playing Halo and trolling on Twitter gets boring after a while so they can rent a Husk and have a human body for a few days. Rhodes enjoys the money plus it’s a lot better than being one of the millions of suckers who can’t earn a living at a regular job, but his clients seem to be increasingly less concerned with damaging the merchandise. (You know how nobody really cares what happens to a rental car they’re driving? Same principle.) Plus, he’s started having weird flashes to things that aren’t his memories.

Most of the book is essentially a sci-fi conspiracy thriller, and it functions pretty well as that. I was a little let down that it didn’t do a bit more contemplation about identity and its relation to the physical body. However, Messum does a lot in the first person narrative that has Rhodes becomingly increasingly aware that while he thought he was just renting out his physical self that he might have been peddling something far more precious so essentially it becomes an extended metaphor on prostitution. So we do get some deeper themes on the idea that you can’t entirely separate the body from the mind.

The third act seemed like it was in jeopardy of turning into a pretty standard action and revelation style plot, but it swung back around to deliver some genuine surprise at the end. Overall, even though some elements are familiar it ends up being an entertaining story with enough meat on the bone to give your brain something to chew on.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Review: Thinner

Thinner Thinner by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

And I thought the Atkins diet sounded unhealthy…

William Halleck is a successful lawyer living a very comfortable life in a Connecticut suburb with his wife and daughter, and his biggest problem is that he’s overweight. His perfect life is upset when he accidently run over an old Gypsy woman when he was *ahem* distracted behind the wheel. Since Billy is one of the solid taxpayers who plays golf with all the right people the whole mess is quickly tidied up in court without Billy getting so much as a ticket. However, another old Gypsy puts a whammy on him and suddenly Billy can’t keep weight on no matter how much he eats. As he becomes a shadow of his former self Billy sets out on a desperate quest to track down the Gypsy and try to convince him to lift the curse of growing thinner.

This was the last of the novels Stephen King released under the pen name of Richard Bachman before his cover was blown shortly after its publication. (In fact, he gets cute by having a couple of characters describe the situation as sounding like a King novel.) As with the other Bachman books it seems like Uncle Stevie ran leaner and meaner in this one. He keeps the story focused tightly on its key concept, but he’s also delivering some nice subtext about American culture. We’ve got a nicely ironic curse of a man’s thoughtless greedy consumption being turned back on him as well as the hypocritical way that the decent folk of New England will have their fun with the Gypsies and then run them out of town.

One of the strongest points here is in Halleck as a character. Billy is a decent guy who genuinely feels guilty about the death he inadvertently caused, and he’s got the brains and courage to face up to the bizarre situation and act to save himself. However, he was also willing to go along with sweeping the whole mess under the rug, and he’s willing to turn to a dangerous friend when he’s really in trouble. So there’s a nice mix in him that he’s both somewhat willing to take responsibility even as he trying to wriggle out of the consequences of it.

It’s a very solid piece of horror fiction that makes me wish that King would have gotten to do more Bachman books before the secret leaked out. He has published others under the name, but none were ever quite this good.

View all my reviews