book review: breakout

Breakout was my first (non-graphic) novel I’ve read starring the badass criminal Parker. I’ve read some Parker stories in Darwyn Cooke’s great graphic adaptations, but never one of the Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) originals. This is what I imagine the James Patterson machines/Lee Childs of the world are wishing they were writing.

Parker is a badass (I may have mentioned this already). The book opens with a heist going bad and Parker being arrested. He immediately starts making a plan to break out of jail, but he needs a crew. So he makes one, but to get one of the people he needs he has to agree to a job later, which leads to… well a plot that just keeps on ticking over. Even if things don’t feel uber-realistic they feel very appropriate for  the story. The sentences are simple and the action is clear, never super subtle, but it’s just somehow so much better than an Alex Cross story.

If you like crime stories, you should really give one of these a try (and the Darwyn Cooke comic adaptations are also great).

book review: gun with occasional music

Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music is a scifi noir story very heavy on the noir. In a world with uplifted kangaroos and apes and accelerated-development babies, Conrad Metcalf is trying to solve a murder. And then another and another. He’s an ex-cop and has his custom drugs to keep him feeling the exact right level of ennui and tenacity, while the victims and witnesses take drugs to forget. It’s pretty great.

One of the things I really like about the book is the dual economic systems going on. There’s money and there’s karma. Karma is what the cops take away when you do bad things, and what you get given when you’re a model citizen. It’s a bit more centralized than Cory Doctorow’s Whuffle but you can see the connective strands. The thing is that when your karma hits zero you go into a freezer, and are removed from society for a while, which makes my favourite part of the book possible.

[SPOILERS] About 3/4 of the way through the book Conrad pisses off enough people he gets tossed in the freezer for six years. This is awesome for the story because when he gets out it’s like that time passed overnight. He’s even more dogged about solving his case now that everyone else has had years to deal with the aftermath. [/SPOILERS]

So yes, definitely recommended especially if you liked George Alec Effinger’s When Gravity Falls

book review: the five nations of new york (dmz vol. 12)

So DMZ is done. The Five Nations of New York closes out the story of Matty Roth and the civil war that defined his life. It’s interesting when a story like this ends, because it’s the story of how Matty stopped being an entitled journalism punk who picked up a gun and got into politics, but it’s a story of how he tells a story, and how he fucks up telling the story.

By the end of this book he’s taking the blame for things he didn’t legally need to, and [SPOILER ALERT] goes to jail for life. Which isn’t an altogether unhappy ending. I mean, I can see how it’s not. Because what is Matty going to do now that the war is over? The character we got to know through these 12 volumes can’t really exist outside the DMZ, and parlay his six years into punditry and all the rest. Anything he’d become would be so different from who we know. Prison gets to seal Matty Roth in lucite, having learned something about life, having his only opinion that matters, and then he’s gone from the stage. This isn’t the model for a life, but it’s a good way to seal off a story.

As far as long-form comics go, DMZ ranks right up there with Transmetropolitan for me, but then I would love science fiction journalism comics, wouldn’t I?.

book review: the children of men

Disclosure: I loved the movie version of P.D. James’ The Children of Men and without having read the book made the assumption that they would be very similar. Because I am strangely naïve about movie adaptations I guess? I’d have thought I was a cynic in these matters by now, whatever. The book in this case is very different from the movie.

The best way to think of it is to consider the two stories to be parallel tales about the same world. In this world, there have been no babies born for decades. Humanity has inexplicably gone sterile. Here, the book and movie part ways.

In the book the protagonist Theo is in his fifties and is a history professor with no real students anymore since even the youngest people are over 25. The youngest people are known as Omegas and they terrify the aging populace, since they were brought up doted on and knowing they would be the final humans ever. Theo is the cousin to Xan, the despotic ruler of England. A bumbling bunch of fools ask him to talk to the ruler to make some sort of change. Against his better judgment, he does so.

The book is about that relationship between Theo and Xan, who are both not-young men. Theo has all this guilt from accidentally killing the daughter he and his ex-wife once had, which plays a big part. The bumbling fools are trying to be terrorists to get England changed, but they aren’t effective. There is talk about the Isle of Man, where the prisoners are exiled to, but the book doesn’t take us there. The climax in the book takes place in a woodshed near Wales. It’s very different.

I like the movie version better but I love the idea that both stories happened, with different participants and results. If more stories from the childless future intrigue you, the book is worth your time. If you mainly loved Children of Men for that amazing Steadicam shot, there’s not a lot for you in the book.

book review: the king’s fifth

Scott O’Dell’s book The King’s Fifth is about Spanish conquistadors seeking gold in the New World. It bounces between the young map-making narrator languishing in jail for trying to defraud the king of his share of the gold and telling the story of how they found it. It’s a tale of casual brutality towards the native people, and abandoning your dreams for greed (but then redeeming yourself in the end once everyone has died).

It wasn’t bad, just predictable. The blurb on GoodReads seems to be from a time when casual genocide was still considered heroic. Hm. I didn’t realize until just now how old this story was since my copy was an ebook. I don’t think that makes much of a difference to my response.

book review: sebastian o

Sebastian O is a Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell comic about a dandy killer in a high-tech Victorian England. He’s been in jail and then busts out to get revenge on those who put him there. It’s not a bad little comic, and there is a bit of a weird Morrisony twist to the ending about how the world can be the way it is. I quite appreciated the timeline at the beginning of the book that gave me a sense of what Sebastian was capable of. It was a good way of getting a lot of backstory in so the story itself could be stylish and quickly moving.

book review: trash

Andy Mulligan’s Trash is a YA book about three scavenger kids living in a junkyard who find something extremely valuable in the trash that launches a big, but personal mystery. I liked it a lot.

It had shifting viewpoint characters who were expressly telling the reader the story. Usually it stuck with the main three boys, but we also got to see bits of the story from the priest’s perspective and that of the British girl who was volunteering in the unnamed country (while reading I was picturing Mexico, but the afterword indicates it was based on a place in Manila).

Things I really liked about the book: the boys were clever and tough, but didn’t feel superhuman. The authorities also weren’t stupid, which made the boys’ victories against the police well-earned. It was a connect-the-dots kind of mystery plot, but my favourite part of that was a throwaway line about how they never did manage to decipher part of the code. The whole thing felt much more personal than a story about government corruption had any real right to be, so kudos to Mulligan.

The only thing that I wish it had was a stronger female character. The women in the story either get duped or get rescued or get the boys into the whole mess, which is a bit of a shame.