22 February 2017

Books: The Drawing Of The Three: The Dark Tower II By Stephen King (1987/1990)

I can see why now that Stephen King revised The Gunslinger, as The Drawing of the Three becomes a more traditional fantasy novel than the five short stories that made up the first novel in The Dark Tower series. Here the scope of King’s vision grows, even if the book is overlong. But here he brings the first two of the people whom the man in black mentioned Roland will need in his epic voyage to The Dark Tower

A little over seven hours have passed since the end of the first book, and Roland wakes up on a beach, where he is suddenly attacked by a strange, lobster-like creatures which he dubs a "lobstrosity" (Did-a-chick? Dum-a-chum? Dad-a-cham? Ded-a-check?) whom quickly takes a few chunks out Roland (an index and middle finger of his right hand, and his right big toe) before he kills it and –of course-  the wounds quickly become infected. But his despite his feverish body and loss of strength, Roland continues his journey, searching for the three doors that the people he needs. Each door opens onto New York City at different periods in time (1987, 1964 and 1977, respectively) and, as Roland passes through these doors, he brings back the companions who will join him on his quest to the Dark Tower. So with the majority of the action taking place in New York, Mid-World largely only appears in framing sequences, and is propelled by a mind-sharing conceit that King sets up early and explores the ramifications of deliberately for the rest of the book (something I think Wesley Chu borrowed for his Tao series).

What I remember about the book from the first time around was Eddie Dean, the young drug addict that (like many King characters) has a heart of gold. Also, there is Odetta Holmes, a black woman with dissociative identity disorder who is active in the civil rights movement. She is wealthy and missing her legs below the knees after being pushed in front of a subway train. Odetta is completely unaware that she has an alternate personality, the violent, predatory woman named Detta Walker.

I did not like Detta. Not back then and still not today. Part of the reason, I think comes from not liking a writer –a white writer- use that kind of language, in particular the N word and the slang. I can’t explain why I dislike it, but I do. 

Like I said, I do think the book goes on way too long. I give credit to King to write much longer, much linear novel than the first one, a book that essentially takes place in just a day or two. He also does a bit of retcon here, as it’s implied in The Gunslinger that the man in black killed Jake, but now we meet Jack Mort, a sociopath who –coincidentally- is the man who pushed Jake into traffic and who injured Odetta a few times over the years.  I missed that the first time around. I wonder how much I’ve really missed in these early books.

14 February 2017

Books: The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I by Stephen King (1982/2003)

For a long while I had been tooling with the idea of re-reading some books. But a part of me had thought this a really dumb idea, mostly because I have way too many unread books to really take this on.  There is a thing, an issue only readers can fully understand, is that while I surround myself with books, and continue to buy books, and take books out of the library, I sometimes think that while I bought those books to read, I  just don’t want to read them now. And as a matter of fact, I need to go out and buy some more.

This has escalated to a point where I now have hundreds of unread books sitting next to my bed, my computer, my living room, and in boxes in the garage that I do want to read, but not just right now. But I should be reading those because time is always running short, because I have less days in front of me than behind and I really should never re-read a book because I have so many other books huddled around me like frightened children.

But my mind is dulled by work related issues and my will is loose like a dead leaf blowing in a angry wind and have decided to do this anyways. So I begin with Stephen King’s epic seven-volume Dark Tower series.

While the original book was released in 1982 by Donald M. Grant, a specialty press anchored in New Hampshire, it was, essentially, a compilation of five short stories King wrote between 1978 and 1981 and published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. While King was already super popular by then, the mainstream reader was not aware that the book was released until 1983 when Doubleday published Pet Semetary and included The Gunslinger as one of King’s previous works. Of course, by then, the original limited printed book was long out of print. While Grant did reprint more copies, the book would not get a general release –in Trade Paperback by Plume- until 1988. This was the edition I would first read. 

Of course, the series would continue, first through Grant and then through King’s mass publishers. There came The Drawing of the Three (1987), The Waste Lands (1991), Wizards and Glass (1997), The Wolves of Calla (2003), The Song of Susannah (2004), and The Dark Tower (2004). An eighth novel, The Wind Through the Keyhole, was released in 2012. While not wholly part of the original seven books (and King call it book 4.5) it can be read before The Wolves of Calla or just after the last book. Plus there was a short story prequel that took place just before the events of The Gunslinger called The Little Sisters of Eluria, which originally published in 1998 in a collection called Legends: Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy. In 2002, it was included in King's Everything Eventual, which also featured another story that introduced us to a character that would pop up in later books. But it was a near fatal run in with a van in 1999 that eventually convinced King to really finish his Dark Tower series, which was why the last three came out so rapidly.

Since much of my Stephen Kings books are stored in boxes, I decided to obtain the used versions of the mass market versions of the series, including this 2003 revised version of the first book. While some may quibble that King should leave well enough alone, the reason he felt the book needed to be revised was that by now The Dark Tower novels had become the linchpin that tied together much of King's body of work outside the series. He felt changes were needed to not only make the earlier book more accessible to new readers, but to make the storytelling more linear and consistent with the later book, especially the last one. It also gave him a chance to clear up continuity errors that would introduced in the final books. The changes amounted to 35 new pages. 

I do remember a lot of the book, especially the introduction of John “Jake” Chambers, the boy who “died” in our world, pushed into oncoming traffic by The Man in Black, only to find himself “re-born” in a world that had “moved on.” His horrific death, with the wheels of the car breaking his back, with blood spouting out of his mouth left a deep impression on me. Part of the reason Jake resonated with me was because King, in his writing, did not hesitate to kill kids (‘Salem’s Lot and Pet Semetary come to mind). Up until I became a Constant Reader of his books, most writers avoided killing kids off. Much like in movies and TV then, children were rarely seen dying or being killed, it was considered taboo (though in 1936 Alfred Hitchcock film Sabotage, the legendary director has the camera follow a boy who is carrying a canister with, unbeknown to characters on screen -though the audience knows this- has a bomb implanted in it. The camera follows the boy for several minutes, heightening the tension, before he boards a bus, which eventually blows up killing the child –and which one critic at the time called “brutal and unnecessary.”) 

So King kills off kids, which scared me, yet made sense. While re-reading this, I did notice now the early mention of the Crimson King (called just “the Beast” in the original edition) who’s real first appearance –and first mention- came in King’s 1994 novel Insomnia (the first book outside his Dark Tower series that many noticed really began to connect things). The Crimson King would get fleshed out in 1997’s Wizards and Glass

I still like this book and will always recommend this series, as I find it enjoyable. And being a long-time reader of King I also appreciated that he rewarded us with the Dark Tower universe and the many other novels he released that were –in some obvious and less obvious ways- connected to it.

10 February 2017

Books: The Rise of Io By Wesley Chu (2016)

“Ella Patel – thief, con-artist and smuggler – is in the wrong place at the wrong time. One night, on the border of a demilitarized zone run by the body-swapping alien invaders, she happens upon a man and woman being chased by a group of assailants. The man freezes, leaving the woman to fight off five attackers at once, before succumbing. As she dies, to both Ella and the man’s surprise, the sparkling light that rises from the woman enters Ella, instead of the man. She soon realizes she’s been inhabited by Io, a low-ranking Quasing who was involved in some of the worst decisions in history. Now Ella must now help the alien presence to complete her mission and investigate a rash of murders in the border states that maintain the frail peace. With the Prophus assigned to help her seemingly wanting to stab her in the back, and the enemy Genjix hunting her, Ella must also deal with Io’s annoying inferiority complex. To top it all off, Ella thinks the damn alien voice in her head is trying to get her killed. And if you can’t trust the voices in your head, who can you trust?”

I will admit that I was hesitant at first to delve into The Rise of Io. I really enjoyed Wesley Chu’s Tao trilogy and I was worried that all he was going to do was reboot his series by just adding a female protagonist set in India. While I did find some of the early plotting of the story to be very similar his first trilogy, eventually the author won me over with Ella, a feisty, street-smart heroine. Her snarky attitude and just as often, her bullheadedness became the high-point of this new series. 

And Io is a complex Quasing who has made more mistakes in her long-time on Earth. In some ways, she reflects humans whom seem to make one misstep after another and thus begin to have conflicted loyalties. You root for her, and Ella, but as the story progresses you see that like many of us, she is the author of her problems. 

What I liked was Ella, a well conceived character who is flawed, but can take care of herself. She belongs to the new reality of modern science fiction writing where a diverse cast is all on equal footing. But while Ella does not really need anyone, including Io, she is still a human being. So under that tough exterior, that snarky dark humor, is a girl who has taken care of herself most of her life, who really does not care about the alien conflict going on around her, but who shines with pride when someone acknowledges that she is not helpless. 

A nice start, The Rise of Io is.

03 February 2017

Books: Zeus Is Dead by Michael G. Munz (2014)

“You probably saw the press conference. Nine months ago, Zeus's murder catapulted the Greek gods back into our world. Now they revel in their new temples, casinos, and media empires—well, all except Apollo. A compulsive overachiever with a bursting portfolio of godly duties, the amount of email alone that he receives from rapacious mortals turns each of his days into a living hell. Yet there may be hope, if only he can return Zeus to life! With the aid of Thalia, the muse of comedy and science fiction, Apollo will risk his very godhood to help sarcastic TV producer Tracy Wallace and a gamer-geek named Leif—two mortals who hold the key to Zeus's resurrection. (Well, probably. Prophecies are tricky buggers.) Soon an overflowing inbox will be the least of Apollo’s troubles. Whoever murdered Zeus will certainly kill again to prevent his return, and avoiding them would be far easier if Apollo could possibly figure out who they are. Even worse, the muse is starting to get cranky.”

For the most part, Zeus is Dead is very clever, witty, often laugh out loud funny. It has an inventive story that does take a bit time to finally kick into gear, but when it does, it becomes a fun read. While it does not have the depth, social and satirical genius of Douglas Adams, Munz does pull off a close emulation –even if that was not his intent.

The book is still a bit chaotic, though, as he tries to cram in as many puns, bad jokes, sitcom one-liners, fourth wall breaking, and geeky references into a 437 page book. And its satire, while there, is sometimes overrun by the Gods themselves. Yes their out-sized personalities are part of the book –they are caricatures really- but at times to really hard to find the commentary within the jokes.

Still, Munz’s long love of Greek legends is obvious. And that makes this a sort of alternative take on the ideas that Rick Riordan gave us in his Percy Jackson series.

01 February 2017

Expect Another Long Gap Between Doctor Who's 10th and 11th Seasons

With Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi bowing out as the 12th version of the legendary Time Lord, book makers in the UK are already setting bets on who'll become the 13th Doctor. 

But while some want to claim the actors announcement was "shocking" it's fairly clear that when showrunner Steven Moffat announced his departure last year it was a good bet that Capaldi would step down after three seasons as the intrepid time traveler, mirroring 11th Doctor Matt Smith's three year run. 

But while awaiting for a new Doctor is both scary and exciting, the BBC continues to test the will of its long-time fans by lengthening the gap between seasons.When Doctor Who returned on Christmas Day 2016, it had been a full year since the last time the show had aired an original episode. But another four month gap is following, with April 15, 2017 now being the start of the 10th season. And baring no interruptions, that 12-episode run should air through early July. But there will be another five month gap before the Christmas episode airs. This story, of course, will be Capaldi's final episode as the Doctor.

But what will happen with season 11? New showrunner, Chris Chibnall is currently in the final stages of editing the third season of his Broadchurch. With that series launch scheduled for February 27, and running 8 weeks, the writer will then finally be able to devote his full time energy to the 2018 season of Doctor Who. Which means that series eleven won't start until the fall of next year, providing at least another nine month gap between new episodes.  

But he has a lot of work to do. He must choose a new Doctor that everyone at the BBC likes, and has to write the bulk of episodes, which sort of explains why the show will need another long hiatus. But there is a line of thought that BBC does this deliberately, not because of costs (the show is expensive to make), but more so to build fan antici.......pation. 

Fair or not?