28 July 2015

Books: The Fold By Peter Clines (2015)

"The folks in Mike Erikson's small New England town would say he's just your average, everyday guy. And that's exactly how Mike likes it. Sure, the life he's chosen isn’t much of a challenge to someone with his unique gifts, but he’s content with his quiet and peaceful existence. That is, until an old friend presents him with an irresistible mystery, one that Mike is uniquely qualified to solve: far out in the California desert, a team of DARPA scientists has invented a device they affectionately call the Albuquerque Door. Using a cryptic computer equation and magnetic fields to “fold” dimensions, it shrinks distances so that a traveler can travel hundreds of feet with a single step. The invention promises to make mankind’s dreams of teleportation a reality. And, the scientists insist, traveling through the Door is completely safe. Yet evidence is mounting that this miraculous machine isn’t quite what it seems—and that its creators are harboring a dangerous secret.  As his investigations draw him deeper into the puzzle, Mike begins to fear there’s only one answer that makes sense. And if he’s right, it may only be a matter of time before the project destroys…everything".

As I was reading The Fold, I could not get over the feeling that I was reading A). A fan fic story that blends Star Trek and Doctor Who and B) A teleplay for a pilot of a TV series. Then at the end, in Peter Clines Afterword, the author notes this novel began as a short story when he was in a college literary class (and notes how the teacher seemed to be upset that he was writing this story versus something with more heft). And that it took years of rewrites, being stored away and then more rewrites for its publication this year. Leland "Mike" Erikson, described as Mycroft more than Sherlock Holmes by Clines, is really those two literary characters melded with Gene Roddenberry's Spock. While there are people who are like Erickson - he has an eidetic memory, which means he remembers everything he's exposed to with great detail- I kind of felt that Clines created a human supercomputer that may not truly exist (I don't know, never met a person with that type of capabilities). 

For Star Trek fans -and which gave me the feeling Clines was writing fan-fic- the plot is full of nods to the The Original Series. Of course the whole idea of the multiverse comes from comic books, but even Doctor Who and Star Trek have used this device for selling their drama. And Clines does out of his way to explain the idea of the possible real science behind the Albuquerque Door (which is a reference to Bugs Bunny and which I find ironic  because this week the animated character is celebrating it's 75th anniversary), but resorts to "magic" as it were to avoid really explaining the whole way it could work. Meanwhile, I kind of hated all the scientists working on the project. While we get a reasonable explanation of their attitudes about what they're doing and why they hate the "government" (who is of course paying for it)  for interfering in their project (much like David Marcus whined about Starfleet taking Genesis in Wrath of Khan), they're all kind of unlikable. Clines sort of paints the scientists as anti-social, secretive, and distrustful of everyone, including their fellow scientists. 

Another problem I had with the book was the last hundred or so pages, when the plot devolves from theoretical science to "Attack of the Creatures From Galileo Seven Episode of Star Trek". I felt this was so out of place with the rest of the plot, which for the most part was stuck in this "reality". Again, the idea that this novel started out as a short story some decade and half ago explains why Clines resorted to this pulpy style after pages and pages of character building; he got painted into a corner, really. And then the book ends with the arrival of a secrect governmental agents (Scully and Mulder?) who offer the surviving folks jobs dealing with the "weird." 

Finally, the prose is sparse (it reads, at times, like a teleplay), the F word gets thrown about like grenades, and the book reads like Clines is trying to get a certain cable network interested in a series based on the book -or is thinking he can take his super smart, super eidetic memory man and create an new book series. 

Funny, I did like The Fold (the concept is cool), but I found the execution a bit pedantic. Still, if this book went through the many iterations as Clines describes in his Afterword, perhaps while the idea was interesting, perhaps a short story or novella would have served the approach better? 

15 July 2015

Books: Nemesis Games By James S.A. Corey (2015)

In Nemesis Games, the fifth volume of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey, we see the series adding a new wrinkle in the ever growing feud between Earth, Mars and the 'Belters. And by it's end, everything has changed and the reader is left wondering what's to come next. One of the striking changes in this novel is how Corey (pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) changes the narrative style that he's has used in the other books; the host of voices of multiple characters that propel the story have been set aside and this time he uses just the four main ones: James Holden, Naomi, Alex, and Amos. And for the first time, as well, we get backstories on them, which was cool and interesting. 
We start some months after the events of Cibola Burns where the protomolocule's gate had open its eye to countless new worlds for humanity to expand. But a mystery is unfolding as ships heading through the gate are vanishing, but the crew of the Rocinante are spread out across the solar system as their ship is being repaired. Alex returns to Mars to reconnect with family, while Amos returns to Earth to pay his respects to an old friend. Meanwhile, Naomi is called back to her own roots within the belt, only to discover her past is rushing to her, and Holden is recruited by OPA leader Fred Johnson to investigate the disappearances of the ships leaving. 
But a faction of Belter OPA folks, tired of the political games and who sees their power slipping away -with the gate offering new worlds, Mars terraforming project is threatened and the Belters are seeing their source of supplies and resources going with those ships- launches a devastating attack on Earth and Mars. This brazen action plunges the solar system into chaos, but who is really behind this shift? Who will survive, who will pay the ultimate price?
I did not realize how long overdue the backstories of the characters were needed. Alex, Amos, and Naomi have complicated lives, and getting to know them better was a smart move. And much like the previous four books, and much like what science fiction has done in the past, the writers overlay today's problems into their future world, adding another layer of political strife. The Belters have always felt like they've risked so much (and they have) for both Mars and Earth and have seen little or none of the rewards because we see many who overlook the human cost that comes with moving out amongst the stars. Yes, money is still the driving factor. While currents of racism and economic inequality have always been the undercurrents of this series since it began, in Nemesis Games we see what happens when radicalized men and women lash out with devastating results -the near destruction of Earth (woohoo, its all post-apocalyptic now) and attempted assassination of Mars and Luna's political leaders.
After the Earth attack, I will admit, it was hard for me to now see OPA -or the radical faction of it- could have any redeeming aspects. Sure, Fred Johnson is less an antagonist than in the past (sort of the same way Star Trek: DS9 tried to give the appearance that Gul Dukat had some humanity), but the violent, terrorist act of Marcos Inaros and his fellow Belters indicates that at least the authors realized that series might be getting predictable and gave the readers a choice to contemplate -are they "freedom fighters" throwing off the chains of oppression, or are they just another degree of terrorist whom brought the Twin Towers done?
I do enjoy these books, and it'll be interesting to see how well they translate to the TV screen when the cable net Syfy brings us the first 10 episode season later this year. The trailer looks cool, but it is Syfy. So who knows?

02 July 2015

Books: Finders Keepers By Stephen King (2015)

Stephen King once again dips his pen (or word processor) into the concept of what an author owes his fans. In an age of Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook where writers can interact with their readers in a more stalky, and intimate way than even book signings and other appearances can give, Finders Keepers (the second entry in a trilogy that began with last years Mr. Mercedes) takes us deeper into that writer/reader relationship with book lover Morris Bellamy and his favorite writer, the Salingeresque John Rothstein. 

King does not cover up the fact that he is using Salinger as a model, as Rothstein lives in a small New Hampshire town some two miles from the nearest neighbor, and has been in recluse since publishing his last novel some eighteen years earlier -although he has continued to write. Because much like Salinger, Rothstein has filled up dozens of leather Moleskin notebooks with unpublished stories, including two novels featuring the troubled young man named Jimmy Gold -which he stashes in his safe along with some $24,000 in cash.

While Annie Wilkes of Misery could be called crazy, Morris Bellamy is far from that. He could be called smart, but like some of us, he becomes his worst enemy when things go rotten. Even though his mom is a celebrated author, Bellamy's life has been tough since his dad left them. But he found something to identify in Rothstein's character of Jimmy Gold and until that third book, Morris was in love. Now bent on confronting his hero writer, Bellamy (and two really stupid coconspirators) break into Rothstein's house. Of course, Morris wants answers, while Curtis and Freddy want the money. After being mocked by Rothstein, Morris shoots him dead and the three make off with the cash and the notebooks -though only one returns back to the old home town. 
And it's there, in what is described as “filthy little city that residents called the Gem of the Great Lakes,” Morris Bellamy's world unwinds. For he brags to the only person there he calls a friend, a bookseller of rare tomes, of what he did and what he has now in his possession. But Andrew Halliday is horrified at the news, which then sends Bellamy into a drunken' stupor and a blackout. When he awakens he realizes he's in jail. But while he's not there for three murders, he has committed a violent rape that will see him incarcerated for life. 
The first 157 pages are essentially a prologue, as King sets up the backstory that will follow. In those first quarter he flashes between 1978 and 2009 through 2014 where we meet the family who is now living in the house where Bellamy grew up. And the Saubers, Tom, his wife Linda and their kids Pete and Tina, seem more down on their luck than Morris. Tom was injured when a maniac drove a Mercedes into a crowd of people at a job fair, killing 8 and injuring countless others (which is the opening chapter of Mr. Mercedes) and that financial woes of the accident and the economy seem to be bringing their marriage to a close. But then Pete stumbles upon a trunk full of money and Moleskin notebooks and hatches a plan to give that money to his parents. He also discovers what is written in those notebooks and he too falls in love with Rothstein and the character of Jimmy Gold. But he soon realizes he has two never-published fourth and fifth books in that series and also learns the author sort of did a course correct on Gold -something that long imprisoned Morris Bellamy does not know about.
The back half of the book deals with Morris being paroled and when he goes back to his home town to discovers his stash is missing. This is also where we finally get reacquainted with  retired cop Kermit William ("Bill" to friends) Hodges who has formed his own repo company called Finders Keepers and employs Holly Gibney. Eventually Jerome Robinson returns from college to help investigate Pete (Tina is convinced Pete gave the money and is now scared her brother is in trouble). We also get a return visit of Mr. Mercedes himself, Brady Hartfield. This sub-plot is seemingly -and what appears to be a supernatural one at that- a small Easter egg for readers to know that a final confrontation between Hodges and Brady is to come in next years End of Watch (I'm not sure fans of crime fiction will like this development, especially after Mr. Mercedes was handed the 2014 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America). 
Of course, beyond Salinger there appears to other literary references within Finders Keepers, such as Rothstein's fiction trilogy of "The Runner”, “The Runner Sees Action”, and “The Runner Slows Down,” which evokes John Updikes Rabbit books. And Philip Roth lurks with the name of King's famous writer. In the end, this examination between writers and fans is always interesting for me. While I adore King and have not always been pleased with his works (Tommyknockers remains unread), I would never consider myself such a fan that I should end up stalking them or demanding they change the fates of characters.