Thursday, January 29, 2009

Peter Jackson rules.

I guess this would be a "Part II" to "George Lucas Sucks."

On the first weekend of the New Year, I got together over at this guy's place for a 3-night "Lord of the Rings" marathon. This was the first time seeing them consecutively since the Special Edition version of "Return of the King" came out, and the first time seeing them on the big-ass TeeVee at his pad. Yeah, there are plenty of issues, especially from a book purist's point of view, but I'm not going to get into a geek-fight about that.

No. Instead, I wanted to follow up on last night's rant about Lucas. Jackson's trilogy used plenty of the same cinematography concepts, specifically motion-capture of actors for controlling computer-generated characters and eye-popping, lavish computer-generated sets. But where Lucas seems to put the CGI art ahead of both the actor's and the storyteller's crafts, Jackson is there to tell the story first, and then make it pretty. You cannot fix bad direction or sub-par acting "in post," on the editing table.

Sure, there's a lot of stupid, silly, or pointless crap in "Rings," the equivalent to Lucas' fart jokes and bodily noises. Jackson's kids show up in all three films as the obligatory adorable kids. Gimli seems to be wandering around the second film with little more to do than be a caricature. Some good, funny moments, but I hurt my eyes rolling them with Gimli's standing behind the battlement of Helm's Deep, too short to see over it. Then there's the Elf's little skateboard-down-the-stairs bit. *cringe*

I can get around all that, because there's SUBSTANCE to the story. Jackson gets actual performances from his people. I cry when Boromir dies. I fucking bawl when Eomer finds his sister on the battlefield--what a hell of a scream! Hell, I'm choking up right now writing about it. How about the bit where Gandalf has fallen down the pit and the rest of the Fellowship runs out of Moria, standing on the rocks and crying. The music under this--a single voice lamenting the loss--is powerful. The Nazgul theme still scares me.

What did we get from Lucas? "I hate you!" */whine* For all his trying, Ewan McGregor couldn't hold the movie together. Look what he had to work with.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

George Lucas sucks.

Anyone who's read through this blog (well, basically it's just me) will have seen some sniping at George Lucas.

He sucks.

He totally screwed over the whole "Star Wars" story with Episodes 1-3. I grew up with the originals. I really loved the darkness of "The Empire Strikes Back." But even with the Big Three, we see Lucas beginning his free-fall into suck with the half-crap "Return of the Jedi." The whole teddy-bears-defeating-armored-troops-with-sticks-and-stones thing.

Granted, a Stormtrooper's armor didn't do much for protection, given that a single blaster shot from a good guy would take 'em out. But the Ewok schtick made the ending of "Jedi" into one long, drawn-out Three Stooges pie fight.

He took a rest for a while. Then he brought suck to an entirely new low with "The Phantom Menace." I didn't have very high hopes for the movie to begin with...but I left the theater simply numb. The farting camel. That idiotic Jar Jar. The really bad acting from Liam Neeson and others--we know these people can act, so I'd have to blame Lucas, who apparently went with first takes during rehearsals, then stitched it all together as foreground for very flashy computer graphics, and sent it to John Williams to write music for it. He didn't really develop the Sith as a "phantom menace"...and then there's the midiclorians-as-microbe-causing-the-Force instead of the much tidier mystical energy field that controls people's destinies.

"Attack of the Clones" gave us Hayden Christiansen, probably the least-inspiring actor in the entire series. He didn't really seem to be an angst-ridden teenager so much as an always-angry ADHD victim. Considering that the Sith are supposed to be a phantom menace, there's really not a good thread showing Palpatine exerting influence so much as seeming like an indulgent grandfather. The most irritating element in this movie, though, is C-3P0 and his incessant punning through the entire droid factory sequence ("Oh no! I'm beside myself!" "What a drag.")


"Revenge of the Sith" is much better than the first pair, but it still falls far short of the promise of the original trilogy. The battles are spectacular! The acting is somewhat better, but we still have that horrid, embarassing ending with a newly-minted Darth Vader (entirely too skinny, compared to the tall and bulky Dave Prowse) pulling a Frankenstein and wailing "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!" Bleah. He's turned the franchise into a modern-day version of the "Star Wars Holiday Special" without the snappy musical numbers.

But the crowning achievement of suck lies not with the Star Wars franchise...but with Indiana Jones, which suffered the same fate as the SW flicks. It started out serious ("Raiders of the Lost Ark") and got dark ("Temple of Doom"), with some appropriate bits of humor. Then it got silly. I had serious problems with "Last Crusade," which went out of its way to be irritating. Sean Connery did some good stuff--but by this point Indy is just a cartoon character. And Denholm Elliot and John Rhys-Davies (Brody and Sallah) should be ashamed. Their characters are just caricatures of the originals.

Which brings us to the utterly shitty "Crystal Skull." I have seen it only once and will never watch it willingly again. I started hating it within a few minutes, when Jones is blowed up in a noo-cue-lar explosion and rides a freaking refrigerator from launch to touchdown. How convenient that it was lead-lined. It was good to see Karen Allen, but she's just the Bitchy Ex-Wife for her entire set.

Cate Blanchett as the psychic Pinko was just...I don't know. The giant ants, the obligatory Tarzan moment...I don't see Spielberg or Lucas ever committing to film anything that's worth a shit for the remainder of their careers.

That said, Lucas is dead to me. I used to be a devoted "Star Wars" geek. I got the books, the toys, the first-run of "Star Wars: The Role-Playing Game." I even endured several months of reading the entire series of "New Jedi Order" novels. But that was then.

I skipped the animated "Clone Wars" flick. Knew it would suck. Apparently I was right.

Don't look anytime soon for any "Star Wars" book reviews.

Star Trek: TOS--Strangers From the Sky (Bonano, Margaret Wander)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1987
Genre: Sci-Fi
Read again? Yes

Strangers from the sky
Strangers from the sky
They crashed but didn't die
Thought they were gonna fry
On us they're gonna spy, they're green but not bug-eyed
Strangers from the sky.

Billed as the second "Star Trek" giant novel, "Strangers" is about a book by the same name that has become an overnight phenomenon. It seems like everyone in the Federation has read it or is doing so. It's probably on Space Oprah's book list.

The official story of First Contact between humans and Vulcans is that one of our ships rescued one of theirs in 2065, they sent a diplomatic delegation to Earth in 2068, and this led to the forming of the United Federation of Planets in 2087 with the Vulcans, Centaurans, Tellarites, and Andorians all happy and getting along together.

The book everyone's enthralled by tells a different story: In 2045 a Vulcan scoutship malfunctions and crashes in the South Pacific, on the edge of a mid-ocean kelp farm. The farm's tenders, Yoshi and Tatyana, find the wrecked vessel and two surviving (though injured) crew members.

The government of a United Earth, still putting things back together in the aftermath of a third World War and the depredations of Khan and Colonel Green, are concerned--and paranoid--enough to send in the CSS Delphinus under communications blackout. Captain Jason Nyere is under special orders: contain the aliens, ascertain the threat they pose, and report back to Command if they seem friendly. If they don't...kill them and any witnesses. He's a kind of softy moderate, doesn't want to kill anyone, but he'll do his duty if it comes to that. His executive officer, Melody Sawyer, is conservative enough for both of them and would kill the planet on a misunderstanding. Kind of high-strung.

The two Vulcans are T'Lera (the mission's commander) and her son Sorahl (the navigator). Vulcans have been snooping around Earth since the early 1940's, studying our cultures, languages, territorial squabbles and world wars. They have a Prime Directive--no interference of any kind, and death before discovery. When their ship malfunctioned, they tried to self-destruct, but that failed as well.

The story swings between The Book's version of events and "modern"-day, where Admiral James Kirk commands a desk and Spock is aboard Enterprise with a boatload of trainees. Bones McCoy has been reading The Book. Kirk hasn't. Bones is enthusiastic about it, trying to goad Kirk into reading the thing. Kirk is skeptical and uneasy. Something about that period of Earth's history--the mid-to-late 21st Century--makes him uncomfortable. He finally relents, but being Jim Kirk he doesn't settle for the commonly-available book-on-disk. He wants a proper book with paper pages. As he reads it, he dozes off and dreams of a conversation with the Vulcan woman. He dreams of a room in chaos, Vulcan blood, Tatya's screaming, and a woman's voice saying "You cannot do it alone!"--and it's all real, as though he'd been there.

Even Spock has read The Book. Light-years away on a training patrol, he meditates on a troubling conviction that not only is "Strangers" truly non-fiction, but that he was there on Earth in 2045, hearing a woman saying "You cannot do it alone!"

McCoy has a problem: Kirk's growing obsession with The Book threatens his sanity and his career.

And this is just the first third of the book.

Bonano's style is refreshing after that last Trek book ("Windows on a Lost World"). She's a good story-teller who stays out of her own way, lets the book do the work, and lets us lose ourselves in the story. She has a good feel for characters and personalities, pacing, and suspense. Her portrayal of the Vulcans is especially pleasing--they are individuals, thinking and feeling people, not the emotionless androids that too many Trek authors make them out to be.

This is what a Trek novel should be like.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Star Trek #65--Windows on a Lost World (Mitchell, V E)

Rating: 2/5
Year: 1993
Genre: Sci-Fi
Read again? I hope not.

Yeah, I'm back to Trek novels again. And again, it's been nearly a decade since the last time I read this one. I know I've changed over those years; I've become a lot more attentive to an author's style, pacing, ability to tell a story, and how well they capture the "world" if they're playing in someone else's universe.

Let's be real: Only Roger Zelazny could write a damn good "Amber" novel. The new series by Betancourt lacks Zelazny's style, pacing, ability to tell a story, and doesn't capture the feel of the original. One blurb on one of the books applauds Betancourt for his use of words and characters from the Amber novels. As if vocabulary is the key to it.

It's not. His series has a "based on the events of..." feel. And that brings us to V.E. Mitchell, who uses words such as "Enterprise" and "transporter" and "Kirk" and "Spock" quite often in "Windows"--and by that metric, this should be a damn good Trek novel, right? Eh. It doesn't feel like "Star Trek." The characters don't feel right. They all speak so similarly that at times one might think Spock is playing in a one-Vulcan show based on the book, where he portrays everyone else. C'mon--when does Bones McCoy ever talk like that? Or Scotty? Gotta beam up one point just for that.

Kirk and his merry crew are assigned to lug a team of Space Archaeologists to the Careta system to snoop around in the ruins and look for their mummies. One of the archaeologists comes from a staunchly matriarchal world where women are muscle-headed ass-kickers, and of course she throws her weight around and acts like a sexist pig (sow?). Chekov won't admit it, but I think he digs her. Sulu will kill her if she tries anything.

They find something that had been boxed up tight and then buried under tons of stone. Once they dig it out, they've got an artifact that looks like a large two-paned picture window standing alone in a river valley. One pane is black, the other shows a grassy field or prairie. There's a lot of scanning and discussion, after which Chekov and Talika the Muscular are yanked through and vanish. Some of their equipment appears before another of these artifacts elsewhere on the planet. Kirk gives Spock a little time to figure out what's happened before grabbing a few red-shirts and jumping through the original window to pull off a search and rescue.

I'll spare you the pain of reading about it. The teleport thingie turns them into Space Crabs. That's not a spoiler; the "suspense" of the story is "Can Spock find a way to turn everyone back?" The answer? Spock opens a Red Lobster (well, a Green Lobster--he's Vulcan, y'know) and goes into business. I could dig that.

It takes Mitchell 64 pages to get Chekov and Talika into trouble--about one-fourth of the book--and another twenty for Kirk's follow-through. There's something to be said for taking one's time when it's done effectively, but the story thus far--while cool in concept--just drags, so I'm locking phasers and shooting down another point. I'd like to have seen things tightened up so this happens in the first couple of chapters. Get the trouble going quickly!

Then, once we the audience know what's going on, Mitchell throws some convenient plot devices into things to make sure the Enterprise crew doesn't figure things out too quickly. What's that? Kirk and the red-shirts go into the artifact, and suddenly all the probes and sensors are zapped? Gee, that's too bad. They can still follow the six Space Crabs, though, and this brings us to the most mind-bogglingly stupid plot device I think I've ever seen, and what brought me to nerve-pinch this book down to 2/5.

Spock ponders and thinks and all that stuff; McCoy shows up every once in a while to badger the hell out of him, then--going on the assumption that the Space Crabs are in fact the missing Enterprise Six--Spock decides to try talking to one of them. He beams down with a few people, approaches the Space Crab...and it gives no sign of awareness of him. So Spock FREAKING CALLS THE FREAKING SHIP AND ORDERS THEM TO BEAM THE FREAKING SPACE CRAB UP. It freaks, they try to freaking stun it, it freaking dies. No security protocol, no simply scanning the thing where it sits or setting up some crab boil, no putting it in a net or something, but beaming the damn thing up to the ship. This is nothing more than an excuse to get a Space Crab aboard for McCoy to do an autopsy on it, and since the book was written in 1993, I can't say it's the dumbest thing since Han Solo shot first, since that came a few years later.

I remember writing in my review of Peter David's "Vendetta" novel that it hadn't weathered well the decade since I'd last read it, and that that could mean the rest of the books fared less well. I seem to remember "Windows" as a favorite, but yesterday is long gone. It's a shame, because the concept had promise.

M*A*S*H (Hooker, Richard)

Rating: 4/5
Year: 1968
Genre: Comedy
Read again? Eventually

Welcome to the Double Natural, the 4077th M*A*S*H (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital), right on the 38th Parallel in Vietna--er Korea. C'mon, folks, we all know it's really about Vietnam, though Hooker's take isn't an anti-war or social commentary so much as a set of days in the life. The characters are all here--Captains Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John, Colonel Henry Blake, Hotlips Houlihan, Radar O'Reilly, Frank Burns, Father Mulcahy. For the most part, they're the same folks we remember from the TV series, though Burns is only a bit player who lasts a few chapters. The biggest difference is in Radar, who is a lot more savvy than the childishly innocent Iowa farmboy of the show. No transvestite trying for a Section 8--but I'm guessing Klinger was added by the TV people to play to the British demographic, given the success of Monty Python drag gags.

It's hard to imagine someone not knowing about M*A*S*H, since it was such a major part of American pop culture in the '70s and '80s. Captains Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce and Augustus Bedford "Duke" Forrest are Army surgeons doing time in Korea, 1951. They're transferred to the 4077th, on the line between North and South Korea. In short order they prove to be the best surgeons in camp, get rid of a pair of self-righteous pricks (one holy roller and Frank Burns), scandalize Margaret "Hotlips" Houlihan, save a congressman's son, play some golf, go mermaid hunting, and form up a football team. They pick up a pair of conspirators in "Trapper" John McIntyre and Oliver Wendell "Spearchucker" Jones (yeah, he's black).

This being the Army, almost everyone has a descriptive nickname:
Radar can hear a chopper coming miles away, and can listen in on conversations.
Hotlips is supposedly hot--hopefully hotter than Loretta Switt.
Hawkeye? "The only book my father ever read was 'The Last of the Mohicans.' "
Duke: Don't know.
Trapper? A woman claimed he 'trapped' her when they were caught rutting in a women's restroom.
Spearchucker used to throw javelin.
Father Mulcahy: "Dago Red"--he's got red hair, and he's Catholic.
Knocko, a nurse who'll kick your ass.
Ugly John, the best-looking man in the camp.
The Painless Pole: Because a dentist needs a cool name.

This book reads like a string of TV episodes or sketches. The chapters are joined together by the characters and setting, but there's no real sense of time going by, but that's not really an issue. Hooker's style is loose and free, entertaining, a little over the top. It's a goofball comedy with nothing deep or complicated, but it drags in places. One point off.

The book is short, and so's this review.

Salvation Boulevard (Beinhart, Larry)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 2008
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes

We gonna rock down to Salvation Boulevard! Yeah, it doesn't rhyme.

I first heard about this book in an FFRF podcast interview with author Larry Beinhart. This is the guy who wrote "Wag the Dog," which I haven't read yet; but after reading "Fog Facts" and "Salvation Boulevard" back to back (after several weeks of the disappointing 'Diana Tregard' trilogy), I'm at a point where I want to keep going with Beinhart. His style is solid, engaging. He doesn't wander around, and he isn't wordy.

Y'know...if Mercedes Lackey's wordiness got to me in the "Tregarde" books, I'm screwed when I get around to reading "Lord of the Rings."

So's the facts:

Nathaniel McCloud: University professor. An atheist. Murdered. Lead poisoning.

Ahmad Nazami: One of McCloud's students. A Muslim. Prime suspect. Says Homeland Security types tortured his confession out of him.

Manny Goldfarb: Nazami's defense attorney. A Jew. Utterly certain the kid's innocent.

Carl Vanderveer: Private Dick. A true-believin' Christian. Hired by Manny to investigate the case.

Pastor Paul Plowright: Vanderveer's pastor. A truer-than-thou-believin' Christian. Runs a mega-church that the entire planet goes to. Says the godless atheist had it coming. Wants to re-make the entire country in his own Dominionist image.

That's most of the religious high points. All it needs is a Pastafarian hooker with a heart of gold.

Carl quickly finds himself in trouble with his entire true-believin' world for taking the case, from his true-believin' pastor to the true-believin' cops who go to the church to his true-believin' wife. They all say Nazami's a terrorist. He's being followed by Homeland Security, who also say Nazami is a terrorist.

Then things go wrong.

Carl is a likable point-of view character. He comes across as a basic good guy, ragged around the edges. He used to be a cop, a dirty one, and he was saved from that life by Plowright. But Carl finds himself questioning his faith as he investigates McCloud's murder, and maybe it's a bit too easy, given how devoted he's been to being a megafundie. I don't know. Give me a year or two, a couple more reads. Right now I'm just basking in the afterglow of a pleasant reading experience. If you read a lot, you know how tiring it can be to plow your way through tedious "Oh, for fuck's sake!" moments, especially when they're piled deeper than soiled sheets in a hotel laundry.

I didn't see any such moments with this book the first time through, but that sort of thing tends to pop up in later readings for me. At any rate, it'll take someone who is a former true-believin' type to decide whether Carl went into unbelief too quickly or not, since I've never been one.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hard Tack and Coffee (Billings, John D.)

Rating: 5/5
Date: 1887
Genre: Nonfiction; American Civil War
Read again? Yes

This is a series of recollections by Mr. Billings of his days in the Union Army in which he describes the life of the typical soldier. Lodgings, food, transportation, punishments, and recreation are described with a thoroughly entertaining storyteller's pacing.

We are shown that the chickenhawks of our time--staunchly pro-war men and women who never served when they had the chance--were no different back in 1861. We see the drumbeat to war becoming ever more fervent, dissenters being hounded and silenced, and the chickenhawks melting into the scenery when their time comes. It echoes strongly to recent years in American experience, given the number of chickenhawks roosted in a certain incompetent presidency and Congress, and fledgling chickenhawks on college campuses who have "more important" things to do than fight the war they so favor. How little things change.

"Hard Tack"-or hardtack-was the most basic food item on both sides of the war. It's a simple flour-and-water biscuit about 2 inches by 3, half an inch thick, and hard as rock. Each man got 9 or 10 of these per ration.

That might seem like punishment--but the Army knew how to punish people back then, and any little offense might get one "bucked and gagged." This involves having the soldier sit with his knees to his chest. A staff is placed under his knees, then he's made to run his arms under the staff...and his wrists are tied together just below his knees. Then he just sits there, out in the sun and rain, out in public for all to see...and if he tries to talk, a gag is stuffed in his pie-hole.

Too bad we can't do this with some chicken-hawks. Buck 'em, gag 'em, and send them to Fallujah!

Billings tells us about lodgings, foraging for food, bugle calls, clothing, horses and mules, hospitals and surgery. He doesn't say much about the horrors of war, but that's not the scope of the book.

Maltese Falcon, The (Dashiell Hammett)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1929
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes.

"When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it." Hammett's an utter pleasure to read--almost as much fun as watching Humphrey Bogart playing Sam Spade in the film version--and a vastly more satisfying detective romp than Mercedes Lackey's "Diana Tregarde" series.

Sam Spade is a detective, partnered up with Miles Archer. They agree to do some gumshoe work on a guy named Thursby, paid for by a Miss Weatherly, who's looking for her sister.

Archer and Thursby end up dead, Miss Weatherly is really Miss O'Shaughnessy, and she's trying to hide from some men who are after a mysterious black bird statue. The men are sniffing around, trying to intimidate him into spilling what he knows about the bird. The cops and District Attorney are sniffing around, trying to intimidate Spade into spilling on who killed Archer and Thursby.

He doesn't intimidate well. Keeps his cards close to the vest. One hell of a poker face, right up to the end.

The story's dialog-driven, very tightly put-together. Any description is minimalistic, utilitarian. The dialog is snappy, and Sam Spade is a better wiseass than Han Solo: he doesn't need a walking carpet for punctuation. It's a toss-up, though, between Spade and Philip Marlowe for my favorite gumshoe. Enthusiastic five for five!

Tregarde 03: Jinx High (Lackey, M.)

Rating: 3/5
Year: 1991
Genre: Horror/fantasy
Read Again? Eventually

Third and final in a series of horror/fantasy/mystery novels. "Jinx" takes place about a year after "Burning Water." Say late 1987. Diana Tregarde comes to visit her old pal Larry Kestrel in Jenks, Oklahoma (get it? Jenks, Jinx, hahaha), and to sit in on an English class as a living, breathing example of a Real Author. The two of them are soon working on a mystery (just like old times): something hungry and evil is after Larry's son Derek.

Derek is the "It" boy at Jenks High School, if only because the school's reigning princess Fay Harper has the hots for him. He's not a jock, doesn't wear the "right" brands, doesn't have rich parents, and doesn't drive a flashy why does a girl who gets everything she wants even bother breathing the same air as Deke?

Monica Carlin is the New Girl, and she likes Deke. But everyone knows that Deke is with Fay. Bad luck for her. The thing that's after Deke wants Monica, now, too.

Jinx High drags, holy crap does it drag, and starts off disappointingly in that Lackey continues being heavy-handed and clumsy--something "Burning Water (1989)" didn't suffer from, but its prequel "Children of the Night (1990)" did. She started with a tight concept and solid writing with the first, but went flabby for the next two. Again, she can tell a good story, but it's how she tells it that annoys me. It's a combination of word choice, wordiness, emphasis and convenience.

Word choice: some of her descriptions read like a vocabulary list. Writing about cars? Find a car magazine and randomly pick out words. Steering box. Rat. Undercarriage. Fiberglass. Now just toss them into a paragraph when you're writing about a car and don't worry about whether they belong where they go.

And don't be afraid to throw clumsy combinations out there. "Max limit"? "About to reach the max limit on their library card"? Why not "about to max out the library card"? Less wordy, less clumsy, and it echoes a term we've all heard about credit cards.

Wordiness: Never, never make use of a half-dozen words when thirteen will do. Does she get paid by word-count?

Emphasis: She _likes_ that italicized text; she also literally likes "in no way," absolutely. Stuff like this should be used sparingly, if at all.

Convenience: Cheap little tricks that manipulate the plot where she wants it to go. Monica just got her license a month ago, but she's allowed to drive alone at night? Well, yeah--but only so the bad guy can try to scare her into a wreck, and so Diana Tregarde can explain psychic phenomena to the kid, Learner's Permits be damned. The kid doen't touch ass to driver's seat again for the rest of the book.

One particularly ironic scene has Diana lecturing the class on writing style, warning about unrealistic protagonists and unnecessary repetition. Is Lackey's own character telling her how to write?

On top of all this, the reader isn't really involved in the mystery in any of the Tregarde books. We know early on who the bad guys are, and we have to follow Diana around for the rest of the book wishing she'd figure it out, already. I was done reading halfway through, and still had half the book to go. Gonna have to take two points this time.

And for all three books as a series, I'll give it 3/5. That's too bad, because this series could have been much better.

Tregarde 02: Children of the Night (Lackey, M.)

Rating: 4/5
Year: 1990
Genre: Horror/Fantasy
Read again? Yes.
Warnings: None

This is the second of three Diana Tregarde novels, combining elements of horror, urban fantasy, and gumshoe mystery. In this one, Diana faces vampires in three flavors: psychic, soul-eater, and blood-sucker. There are, of course, romantic complications, since one of the psychic vampires is her ex-boyfriend Dave, and her new boyfriend is the blood-sucker, a charming Frenchman named Andre.

Dave plays rhythm guitar in a rock band called "Children of the Night"; such music they make! They're all vampires, as is their wealthy patron.

There's your sex and rock 'n' roll. What? The drugs? Yeah, well, they were at this party, man, right around Halloween, y'know? And the guy who was throwing the party passed around this Tupperware bowl full of blood-red pills, and Dave was like "Aaaaaahhhhhhh!" and then he woke up as a vampire, man. It was a total bummer, man.

At least he didn't wake up with a turkey head like the guy in that wonderful Thanksgiving film, "Blood Freak."

Diana manages to mention that she's a brown-belt in karate three times, and it's supposed to mean that she's some sort of bad-ass, but I'm nearly a brown-belt, myself, and can only get my ass whipped in Japanese. Belt rank doesn't mean you're any sort of a fighter; all it means is that you've done well in testing. At any rate, she doesn't do well in real-world--she tries punching a vampire and he simply catches her wrist. Hyyyyy--ahhhhh, bitch!! I think Steven Seagal could take her. The next time she goes up against a different vampire, a Japanese "gaki" demon, the soul-eating vampire. He's Japanese, so of course he knows karate, and he goes all Sonny Chiba on her ass with nunchaku (numchucks, to you Americans). This chick really needs to pick her fights a little better.

In all, she's an interesting character. She's got some pretty heavy magic skills, but is forced to make a living in the mundane world. She wants to write the Great American Novel, but her agent got her a contract job writing a crappy, boring romance. Her fatal flaw? She has debilitating panic attacks because of a demon that wanted to eat her. I like it--she has a calling as a sort of magical protector--a Guardian--and could drop into a panic attack at any moment if something trips her triggers. Her vampire-boyfriend helps her deal with it--and amazingly it only seems to take one evening for her to go from complete paralysis and hysteria to "well, that is scary." Too easy, and that sucked a little blood off the score.

My relationship with Mercedes Lackey's writing has lasted much longer than my relationship with the unlamented ex-girlfriend who introduced us back in 1995. For the first 6 years, Lackey was very close to pushing Roger Zelazny aside as my favorite author, period.

Now, not so much.

Her actual storytelling is typically good, if a bit heavy-handed, but I have issues with her dialog and "internal dialog" (where a character's thinking to himself), and it's mostly about word choice. One example that I can remember off the top of my head is that male or female, in this book three different people needing to go somewhere think to themselves, "I need to move my buns." It doesn't ring true, especially when one of the three is a plain old straight-up dude. In the book's setting of mid-70s New York City, I can't really see a straight guy thinking this unless he's being sarcastic. And it's not as if Lackey is being prudish, censoring out "dirty words," because in a different scene the same guy is sizing up a girl and admiring her ass, not her tail.

Then there's the over-use of "in the least" and "in no way" and similar phrases. It's part of her style, and it's in pretty much every book she writes. It's become somewhat distracting, so I cannot in the least let it by without sucking the rest of a point out of the score.

Tregarde 01: Burning Water (Lackey)

Score: 5/5
Year: 1989
Read Again? Yes

Second of three in a series of horror/fantasy/mystery novels. It takes place maybe 10 years after "Children of the Night," though it was actually published a year before (hence me putting this one first), and this one comes off much better in execution and style.

This one's a lot more graphic than "Children." People start dying shortly after the big 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, turning up hacked-up, diced-up, sliced-up, and toes-up. Diana Tregarde's college pal Mark Valdez--a cop in Dallas--summons her to help out. The killings have everyone freaked out--mundane folks are disturbed by the brutality, but those with any magic or psychic abilities are affected even more deeply. Something is building. Something evil. It started with cattle mutilations. Then people. This is all a build-up to a ceremony in which an Aztec god is born into human form so he can raise up his people and go forth to smite Whitey. That whole Conquistadors thing, with the butchering of an entire culture and the sacking and the looting? Yeah, he didn't appreciate that.

That seems bad--but he's gonna lay waste to Dallas. Is that so wrong? One amusing bit: at least one killing happens in Possum Kingdom (State Park), inspiration for the Toadies song of the same name.

The main subplot is about Sherry and her husband Robert, both friends of Mark's. Smilin' Bob is a famous photographer and an abusive, controlling asshole, and Mark is caught up in the middle.

Like so many of the books in my collection, it's been close to ten years since I last read any of the Tregarde books. This copy used to belong to that unlamented ex-girlfriend; it's got scribbles in the margins, little notes I wrote to her with her permission--normally I'll only do that with my own books, commenting on a scene or a phrase. I can't even identify with the guy who wrote those stupid, banal scrawls. In another ten years, I won't identify with the guy writing this stupid, banal blog, so it all evens out.