The Terminal Man, Michael Chrichton, Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0061782671, 331 pgs, $7.99

Harry Benson has a medical condition. He gets seizures, uncontrollable, violent ones. He is also under police guard for attacking two people. There does not appear to be a solution. At least not until Dr. Roger McPherson, head of the Neuropsychiatric Research Unit at University Hospital in Los Angeles comes up with a procedure called Stage 3.

The Terminal Man

The procedure involves sticking electrodes into Benson’s brain and then using a computer to send monitored, soothing pulses to the pleasure centers. This should, alleviate the seizures and the attacks. the only problem is that the pulses are, indeed pleasurable and Benson soon learns how to control them. Not only can he control them but he increases their frequency, and, essentially, can use them to his advantage. But, Benson is a homicidal maniac and what he considers to be his advantage is surely going to be a disadvantage to everyone else in the city. He can be stopped. At least they think he can.

For a book that came out ten years ago this is amazingly fresh. The research that Crichton uses is still cutting edge today and the effects he details could still happen. I don’t know if this speaks more to Crichton’s ability to see that far ahead, to the field’s slowness in getting there, or to some ethical consideration that may have stepped in a stopped things from getting this far along. Whatever the case the book is as relevant now as it was then.

Simply put,if you like Crichton then you’ll like this book. His ability to take a simple idea and then project it forward to dire consequences is showcased perfectly here. The tight plotting and driven characterization is also present leaving you with a book that is fascinating and hard to put down. A must read for all Crichton fans and not a bad book if you’ve not read any Crichton up to this point. Interesting, twisted, driven and more entertaining than you would imagine. Highly recommended.

To get your very own copy, click here:Terminal Man

The Griff, a Graphic Novel, Christopher Moore and Ian Corson, William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-197752-7, $22.99

Map of USA with Florida highlighted

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So, Earth has been invaded.  Not by giant robots or by little gray men or by huge spaceships but by eggs.  Turns out the eggs contain alien dragon-like creatures that immediately go on a rampage of destruction.  They take out infrastructure of importance and lots of people.  Lots and lots of people.  Turns out our defenses don’t work because they are based on attacking things made of metal and not meat.  (I’m going to have to check on that since I’m pretty sure the heat seekers would still work and there are plenty of missiles that are still point and click and lots of things are made of ceramics or carbon fiber and can still be targeted and destroyed pretty easily by missiles).  In any case, they don’t work here and soon there is aught left but big, alien dragon like things and a few humans.  Two of the humans are Steve and Mo in New York.  Two others are Oscar and Liz in Florida.  The trick they have to figure out is how to survive in a world that is nearly destroyed and which is now ruled by serious predators. 

Then, suddenly, one of the ships crashes.  (Did I mention that the plot is a bit weak in places?)  No one really knows why, it just does, although we do sort of find out later.  The Griff (short for Hippogryph).  (I know, I know, if you follow this logic they should probably be called The Drag, but you see where that goes.)  So, Mo and Steve are in NY and meet up with Curt.  (They do meet other people but they tend not to last long as the Griff chew ’em up pretty fast.)  Off they go to Florida because they heard of the crashed ship.   (Look, I don’t make up the plot, I just report on it.)  So, in any case, off to Florida.  Along the way they meet a guy in a tank (who ends up just fading away after a few pages) and continue on until they get to Florida and meet up with Liz.  Oh yeah, Oscar gets eaten too.  Liz, it turns out, has imprinted a few of the Griff and soon they are merrily on their way to sneak into the new spaceship that has arrived, evidently to investigate how the old one crashed.

I won’t give any more away other than to say that this is a graphic novel, which  anyone over the age of twenty should recognize by the old name, comic book.  And, remember, comic books have never been the residence of solid plot or logic.  That being said, it does have pretty pictures and it is word light so you can finish it easily in one sitting and it’s pretty much a straight line from beginning to end so not that hard to follow either.  It is definitely entertaining which, if you are buying one of these I would think you are looking for.  I enjoyed it and if you consider it akin to a B movie then you will probably enjoy it too.  Assuming, of course, that you like B movies.  Hey what do you have to lose.  Well, $22 bucks, but you know that going in so use the information wisely.

I should also mention that Christopher Moore is known for his humor and this graphic novel is full of funny stuff (well funny if you are a fourteen year old boy or happen to have the brain of a fourteen year old boy).  I have two.  In their original jars.  Rarely used.

Sure, it’s easy to make mock but I’m built that way.  Which is to say graphic novels are built this way so you should go in expecting nothing less.

Click below to go to Amazon and buy.

The Griff: A Graphic Novel

Last Argument of Kings, Joe Abercrombie, Pyr, ISBN 978-1-59102-690-7, $15.98, 636 pgs.

Abercrombie Power!

Image by wertheim via Flickr

This is the third and final installment in the First Law trilogy. The Ghurkish war in the south, coupled with the invasion of the Northmen from the north have created allies of opportunity between Logan Nine Fingers, the Union’s Colonel West, the First of Mages Bayaz, and young swordsman Jezal. As the third chapter opens, West is in the north, fighting a siege and gaining more real world experience than he wants, Logan is heading north to join the fighting and the two will meet prior to developing a plan to finally take apart the army of the northmen and their self-declared king. At the same time Jezal has returned, happily, to the capital, where he hopes to begin a life that is uncomplicated and shared with Ardee West. Bayaz is stymied at not finding the seed which he had planned to use to rid the world of his evil brother mage. Meanwhile the King of the Union dies, throwing all into turmoil. Jezal soon finds himself declared a bastard of the king and set on the throne. At about the same time the general leading the northern army dies leaving the plan in chaos and stagnant. Jezal makes West head of the army, and, at the same time, discovers that the Ghurkish have invaded the capital. Glotka, crippled torturer, struggles with his lot in life but manages to work his way to the top of things by taking out his superior. Bayaz, working through Jezal, promotes him. With an untried king on the throne, chaos in the north and the Ghurkish knocking on the door, everything seems set for despair and doom.

Well, clearly there is a great deal going on in this final chapter and Abercrombie plays it all off brilliantly. His characters are self-absorbed, self-conscious and moving through plots of their own, and others, makings. Sometimes it seems as if there is not a single major character who is not working an agenda. And underlying it all is a dark, ironic sense of comedy which makes the whole thing a simple joy to read.  Plots unfold, plans go awry, things never seem to work out, even when they do, and just when it all seems to be falling apart something else comes up to make it worse.  This is certainly a very dim world view that these characters move in.  And yet they manage to muddle through, succeed, survive, and grow.

I really loved the characters and Abercrombie’s complex plotting. From beginning to end this book was a joy to read. I was sorry to see if finally reach and conclusion but I will definitely look forward to seeing more from Abercrombie in the near future. Brilliantly done and highly recommended.

Audrey’s Door, Sarah Langan, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-162421-6, $7.99, 412 pgs.

New York City - Upper West Side Building

Image by Adam Jones, Ph.D. via Flickr

This is Sarah Langan’s third book and it continues the themes found in the first two–self-destruction brought on by supernatural forces. This time the setting is New York City Where Architect Audrey Lucas manages to sign a lease for the Breviary, an affordable but oddly proportioned apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The building is an example of 1880’s Chaotic Naturalist architecture and is the last of its kind since all others were condemned shortly after being built. Seems the Chaotic style is a bit unstable. The Breviary was the home to the wealthy children of robber barons and contains more than an echo from that time, either in decaying residents or the odd sounds that waft through the building. Lucas is determined to make it work however, ignoring the creaks and groans and bad feelings she has in order to make a new start. She also starts making a door in her living room. A door that leads to the past, or maybe just to death, or perhaps, worse of all, to her own past.

This is a creepy book, but then I’m not sure that Langan can write anything but. I did find it to be a bit too long in the middle, which definitely detracted from the sense of foreboding which had been building. But this is a minor quibble. As with many horror stories perhaps the greatest threat the writer faces is dealing with the question, from the reader or watcher, about why the protagonist stays in what everyone can see is a deteriorating situation. Langan addresses this by utilizing interior dysfunction and internalized self-destructive behaviors. It works in this situation very well.

I liked this book, as I liked Langan’s previous two books, and certainly look forward to the next book she produces. There is something about pairing the internal fears an individual has with real supernatural threats that works really well as a device to ratchet up the scare factor. Definitely recommended and a book you will want to read only in the day time.

Get it from Amazon here:

Audrey’s Door
 

Kill the Dead, Richard Kadrey, Eos, ISBN 978-006-171431-3, 434 pgs., $22.99

 

Illustration of the devil, page 577. Legend ha...

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This is the second book in Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. Stark is back and trying to put the pieces together after escaping from hell, exacting a certain amount of bloody revenge, and saving the world in the process. He still has the animated head of a former peer living with him–part of that bloody revenge, and he’s still living above a video rental store in a sleazy section of Los Angeles. This time though Stark is offered a job being a body-guard for Satan, if offered is what you would call the demands of the Devil, and is trying to figure out how best to return to Hell and finish up on the revenge he started. Before he can get there though he meets a Czech pron star who turns out to be a zombie hunter, gets involved in trying to figure our why so many people attached to the families related to the supernatural side of LA are turning up dead, and where the sudden surge of zombies might be coming from. He gets help from many of the characters in the first book and from a few new ones as well. It seems the world, or at least LA, once more hangs in the balance and Stark is the only one who can stop it.

Kadrey writes with a raw energy that translates well to a protagonist from hell with an attitude to match. The action is violent and often messy and the language is strong and straight. Stark is an interesting anti-hero, struggling with a past that includes a lot of torture and serious personal loss. Kadrey adds emotional layers to Stark so that the character is both intriguing in terms of internal conflict and interesting in terms of attitude. There is a lot of dark humor here as well which helps to take the edge off what amounts to a lot of killing and dismemberment.

I really liked the first book in this series and so I had really high hopes for this book. I have to admit to be slightly disappointed, more so with the beginning of the novel which seemed to rehash old material in a way that was not as good as the original. Or perhaps it was just that Kadrey set the bar so high with the first book that there was no way he was going to match it with this one. As I read deeper I did find myself enjoying it more but it still seemed flat in places. I would still certainly recommend the book and if you have not read the first book, Sandman Slim, then you should definitely go out and get that one first. It’s hard to know whether this book reflects a mid-series slump, which often happens with the sequel novel, or a case where all the good stuff occurred in the first book and there’s no where else to go but down. I’m hoping for slump and will definitely read the next book in the series.

Brains: a Zombie Memoir, Robin Becker, Eos, ISBN 978-0-06197405-2, 183 pgs., $13.99.

Zombies as portrayed in the movie Night of the...

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Zombies seem to be the new vampires.  I mean that it seems like these shambling undead have taken the spotlight in the supernatural fiction genre away from the bloodsuckers.  Whether or not it will last remains to be seen.  Zombies seem, to me at least, a hard sell character wise.  But maybe Robin Becker has found a solution.  Her idea is that in any typical Zombie outbreak there are bound to be at least a few zombies who retain an ability to think.  Her choice for the book is one Jack Barnes, college professor.  So, not only do we get a zombie that retains some ability to think (this is assuming you believe academics retain that ability to begin with) as well as some ability to analyze and adapt to the change.  So, we have Jack Barnes, who is now zombie Barnes, trying to do three things: survive, find other zombie thinkers, and get to the guy who created all the zombie havoc in the first place, Howard Stein.  The problem is that Stein is in an entirely different part of the country than Barnes and, what with his deteriorating body, a cross-country trip is going to be problematic.  And that’s the basic idea of the book–following zombie Barnes as he tries to make his way to Howard Stein, the zombie God.

The basic problem with zombies is that they are dead things.  This means they decay.  And, depending on what sort of climate you are in, this decay can be rather rapid.  The more important point is that they don’t breath and you need breath to make sounds or to talk.  Becker gets around at least one of these issues by positing that there will be special zombies who retain some human skills. So, there is a nurse who remembers how to stitch (which comes in real handy when things start falling off) and a zombie who can run and another who retains a fast reaction time, and they all end up with Barnes, heading toward Chicago.

This book is all about balance.  Balance between the inherent problems of zombies and story; balance between the stuffiness of the main character and the need to have an intelligent main character who can also chronicle events; balance between a need for a quest and a need to trivialize alternatives to a cross-country trip.  For the most part the uniqueness of the idea keeps discrepancies to the side. I mean this may be the first zombie novel told from the perspective of the zombies.

Ultimately, though, this may simply be a one-off.  Zombies just aren’t very sympathetic as characters.  They eat babies, they chew through peoples faces, they fall apart at the most inopportune time, and they tend to be single-minded about who’s got the brains.  I liked that book overall. It’s short which works to its advantage, it’s fairly fast paced, and it’s novel as a novel.  Kudos to Becker for coming up with the idea and managing to actually put it into print.

The Fall, Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan, William Morrow, ISBN 978-006-155822-1, 320 pgs, $26.99

The Vampire

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The Fall is book two of Del Toro’s and Hogan’s updating of Dracula. Set in New York City the story unfolds as a jet lands at JFK then goes silent. A CDC response team finds the plane full of dead people but has no answers. Soon afterwards the dead begin to rise and seek blood. Eph Goodweather is at the head of the CDC team that investigates the plane but his insistence that a vampire virus (from vampires) is spreading across the city and elsewhere only gets him in trouble. Soon Eph, along with his assistant, is forced to run and hide if they want to try to fight the virus. It may already be too late as the master vampire behind the entire crisis has his own agenda and it involves breaking the ages old pact of vampires keeping a low profile in order to survive.  As the virus continues to spread Eph begins to connect with others who are aware of the truth. There’s Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian and exterminator Vasiliy Fet and a bunch of gang bangers who have become true believers. Armed with technology mixed with old word myth they begin to take the fight to the only place they can: the master vampire himself.

Del Toro and Hogan have created a very interesting series. It is inventive yet follows the original Dracula story without insulting it. The moody atmosphere of a New York City under siege is riveting and captivating. The nature of the situation and the reactions of those who become trapped inside it is both intriguing and horrifying. Since the book does not come out until the first week in October you have plenty of time to run out and pick up a copy of the first book in the series: The Strain, which I also reviewed.

Del Toro and Hogan manage this series by doing what every big disaster series needs to do; manage the small, character driven stories within the larger context of the broad disaster. So, it is not enough that Eph is on the first response team and soon struggling to fight the virus on his own but his ex-wife becomes infected and his son becomes a target. Likewise all of the other characters have both personal and global reasons to be involved in this fight. This keeps us involved and interested.  The master vampire is the other piece that they have done extremely well.  This guy is no pushover.  He acts like he’s been around for a while and his plan has few holes in it.  He’s a bad guy with a lot of power and he acts that way.

Del Toro and Hogan have created a very entertaining read. Unless you happen to live in NYC then you might find it all too creepy, like reading a ghost story and then hearing noises in the closet. This is a fun series, an entertaining read, and highly recommended.