book review: weirdo

Weirdo is about a British cold case investigator in 2003 looking into a witchcraft-connected murder from the 1980s. The story jumps between the two timelines so we see these teenagers’ lives in a tourist town get disrupted in the buildup to the big crime while we watch the modern investigators try to unravel what actually happened. It’s not too bad.

I came across Cathi Unsworth as an author in a list of “women writing noir” which I was very interested in, since noir fiction is so male-dominated. Weirdo, however doesn’t feel like a noir book. It’s a fine mystery, but didn’t have the je ne sais quoi I was hoping for. Maybe it was just the witchcraft angle (which is handled well) that put it more in the realm of Carrie or the X-Files for me.

book review: the bone clocks

The Bone Clocks is David Mitchell’s new novel about a woman named Holly Sykes and the strange life she gets caught up in living. It does the excellent David Mitchelly thing of having multiple sections which are their own stories in their own specific times (though this one, unlike Cloud Atlas, does keep marching into the future).

I liked the story as it built from a literary-feeling mundane story into a pretty gonzo sci-fi spectacle. Holly Sykes is in every part and she’s great, but she’s not the narrator or even a main character in many of the sections, which is kind of what I really liked about the novel. It bounces around with a bunch of different perspectives (which are not as extremely different as the different styles in number9dream) that to me make it feel like it’s trying to capture the multiplicity of life. The book’s always about Holly even if we’re in the heads of her less than immaculate friends and lovers.

There are a couple of things that I wasn’t a huge fan of, but they were more on the loose ends side of things. The final section was longer than it probably needed to be but it was also the most affecting part of the whole experience. That might be because it was the furthest into the future and the most sfnal. I can see how you could call it preachy, but I think that fits the narrator at that point.

So yes, I liked it. It’s a bit weirder than The Thousand Autumns of Jacon de Zoet, but Mitchell knows how to write characters you’ll really care for (in the midst of weird scifiishness).

book review: the invisible ones

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney is another murder mystery with no science fictional elements to it at all. I know! How crazy for me. This one is set in England in the 1980s but not very obviously. Ray Lovell is the private detective who’s hired to find a Romany woman who disappeared 6 years ago after her wedding. He has some of “the strong black blood” in him himself, which is, in the mind of his client, supposed to give him an edge in finding her.

The other point of view character is a young Romany boy who lives in a group of trailers with his mom and extended family, including his uncle, who was the missing girl’s husband and the father to their sickly young boy.

It’s a good story, with a protagonist who is his own enemy (but not worst) and some interesting investigation goes on. There’s sort of a framing device of Ray being in the hospital after a car crash, but I don’t know how necessary it really was.

All in all, not a bad story, and I quite enjoyed the conclusion, even though it felt like it was trying a little too hard to be clever. Hard to hold that against a whodunnit though.

book review: wizzywig: portrait of a serial hacker

WIZZYWIG is Ed Piskor’s comic about a hacker named Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle. It tells the story of how he grew up and learned to become a phone phreaker and scammed long distance companies and became a fugitive hunted by the FBI.

It’s an interestingly told story because Phenicle is a fictional amalgam of all the famous hackers of the 20th century (or he at least knows them a la Forrest Gump). The way he’s interwoven with the real history (including the Secret Service raid on Steve Jackson Games, which was my personal introduction to how governments can freak out about hacking) makes it feel very real. It also helps that Piskor is a guy who’s drawn historical work before (including Harvey Pekar’s The Beats).

So yes, a well-told story that is a good jumping off point for further research of how hackers actually did things (as opposed to their portrayal in ’90s movies about cyberspace). And in the end the parallels to Wikilieaks and Bradley Manning contemporizes it nicely. Well-done.

book review: rose sees red

I read Rose Sees Red because the only Cecil Castellucci books I’d read before were her comics for the Minx imprint a few years ago, and supposedly she’s one of the queens of YA. This was okay, but not as good as Plain Janes (the first one at least).

Rose Sees Red is set in the 1980s, which she doesn’t actually tell the reader until maybe halfway through the story. You can tell beforehand that something is off about the setting though because of the ominous nature of having Russians live next door, and KGB jokes and comments about David Bowie and leg-warmers. But honestly, all of that could fit into a story about today, except when the kids go to a No Nukes rally. There are signposts that tell you this is either the past or an alternate reality (the obvious signifier of the World Trade Center standing shows up, as it must in any story about pre-9/11 New York). I wonder if it was set up to be a puzzle to make the reader feel clever for figuring out it’s in the ’80s, or if she thought it was completely obvious and therefore didn’t require any indication.

Anyway, the story is about a girl who used to have friends but then chose to dance so she now has no friends except for the Russian girl from next door who appears in her room one night and they go to a party and experience the wonders of art on the streets of New York.

book review: the stress of her regard

Tim Powers’ historical fantasy The Stress of Her Regard is a deeply cool gothic romance of a doctor named Crawford whose bride is killed on their wedding night because he mistakenly wed something inhuman at his bachelor party. He runs from the law, and his now dead wife’s twin sister, who assume he murdered her, but in France he learns that he’s part of a terrible jealous and predatorial family.

Crawford makes his way across the Alps and finds his life interwoven with John Keats, Percy Bysse Shelley and Lord Byron. All of them are tied to these creatures and some are trying to deal with them, while others try to free themselves.

It’s an excellent book, especially because there are so many things the characters try and are successful at, but then they backslide on their victories. It’s a tale of friendship and self-destruction. Because these are the Romantics, everything is done melodramatically, but for grand tragic purposes.

Powers also brings in the ideas of randomness and determinism (a la Last Call, my favourite book by him) and even a bit of quantum physics. I like it a lot and am glad it’s back in print (which is why even though it’s from the 1980s I hadn’t ever read it before).

book review: junk

Junk (also titled Smack) is Melvin Burgess’ story of teen runaways who get into drugs in 1980s England. It’s not explicitly judgmental, and the characters don’t die at the end, but even still, today it feels a lot like an after-school special.

One of the good things about the book is the profusion of viewpoint characters. While most of the story is told through Tar and Gemma’s points of view, we also get sections from the characters surrounding them. Everyone is clearly unreliable when they narrate, be they racist or naive or disapproving or defensive.

In class we heard how much disapproval there was of this book winning a Carnegie medal for YA literature from parents and librarians because it wasn’t clearly disapproving of the practices in the story. I don’t know. It seemed pretty uncelebratory of drug culture to me, kind of like a lighter version of Requiem for a Dream.