Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dexter 01: Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Jeff Lindsay)

Rating: 4
Year: 2004
Genre: Thriller
Read again? Yes

Dexter Morgan is a blood-splatter analyst for the Miami Police Department. In his spare time, he's a serial killer--but one with a mission. He only kills bad people who have it coming.

Dexter lives by a code named for his adoptive father, Harry. Harry's Code is a set of rules his father put together to keep Dex from ending up on death row. He'd seen the homicidal impulses in his son even at a young age, so he started sharpening Dex to use as a weapon against the bad guys who so often escape justice because Justice is hemmed in by too many rules.

As the book opens, Dex is stalking a priest who abuses and murders children.

Dex abuses and murders him. Then he buries the bastard in his own graveyard, right next to his victims.

Dexter's sister Debbie is a cop, stuck out of the way in Vice where she works as bait for horny johns. Someone has started killing hookers, cutting them up and leaving their bodies on public display.

As soon as he sees the first corpse, Dexter recognizes the work of a fellow murder artist. But he has a dilemma: does he do his job and help the police catch the baddie...or does he hold back and enjoy the artistry?

"Darkly Dreaming" covers much of the first season of the "Dexter" TV series. I tend to like the show more, probably because that's where I started. Most of the character dynamics are the same: Dexter's got a friendly public mask to hide behind, including a relationship with an emotionally-damaged woman (Rita) who isn't likely to want intimacy. She's just part of his disguise. Dex is respected by most of the cops in Homicide, seeing him as a lab nerd who knows his stuff. There's one cop--Doakes--who sees through all of Dexter's camouflage. Doakes is a killer who recognizes another.

That said, the books and the show don't spend a lot of time together once we're past "Darkly Dreaming."

I read this book several months ago, but I don't remember anything in Lindsay's style that would keep me from reading the rest of the series.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Star Trek--TOS #23: Ishmael (Hambley, Barbara)

Rating: 5
Year: 1985
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Trek
Read again? Yes

James Kirk hopes Spock is dead.

The Vulcan science officer snuck aboard a Klingon ship, convinced its crew were Up To No Good. The ship entered a Space Cloud, ostensibly to investigate a rogue dwarf star...and then vanished. Spock managed two transmissions: "White Dwarf, Khlaru, Tillman's Factor, Guardian" and "Eighteen Sixty Seven."

Kirk knows that if the Klingons found Spock aboard their ship, they would torture him.

Meanwhile, in 1867, Aaron Stemple sees a strange light in the woods as he guides his horse through an early-morning mist toward Seattle. Upon investigating further, he finds an unconscious man. No, not a man, not with those ears, not with green blood. After days of nursing the alien into some semblance of health, Stemple is no closer to understanding him: the alien has no recollection of his own identity. Stemple passes him off as his nephew, Ishmael Marx.

About the same time "Ishmael" shows up, two mean-looking strangers come to town, asking questions; we'd recognize them as TV Klingons--dark skin, dark hair.

Can Ishmael figure out why he's in Seattle? Can Kirk figure out Spock's final transmissions?

This book hies from the era of Space Animals in Star Trek books: a Space Octopus (I'm assuming; she had a tentacle) who takes over at the Science station when Spock goes missing; and a blue-eyed Space Snot Puddle named Aurelia Steiner. There just had to be one, some sort of Cosmic thing, because shortly before getting to the part where we meet Ms. Puddle, I was re-reading the review for "Double, Double," where I made a snarky reference to them.

This book was better than I was expecting. I seem to remember not liking Hambly's style or writing for some reason, but I found no issues with this one that would keep me from coming back to it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Teardrops and Tiny Trailers (Douglas Keister)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 2008
Genre: Nonfiction / Travel
Read again? yes

I've been wanting to build a little teardrop camper for years, partly out of a desire to see forts I've never been to without having to pay for motels, but also because one just needs to get away from time to time.

These hip-pocket homes on wheels date back to the 1930s and are typically built around a standard 4 x 8 foot sheet of plywood. The smaller ones are roomy enough for two friendly people and are light enough to be towed by almost any car. It's a step up from lying in a tent, but still more rough-and-ready (and far cheaper) than a bus-sized RV.

Keister's book is both an attractive guide to the possibilities for designing, outfitting and decorating trailers and a display of their tow vehicles, from Plain Jane to radical; boring to beautiful; wood, fiberglass, and aluminum.

There are plenty of photos of gorgeous old cars and trailers, some of which were built from plans like these from Mechanix Illustrated in 1947.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jack of Shadows (Zelazny, Roger)

Rating: 5
Year: 1971
Genre: Fantasy
Read Again? Yes

Jack the master thief is nabbed at the Hellgames: his presence alone (even as a bystander) is reason enough to suspect that he intends to steal the game trophy, the Hellflame.

He is executed. Because he's a Darksider, he has a number of lives, but dying is still no small thing.

He awakens several years hence in the Dung Pits of Glyve and sets out to gain revenge upon those who sent him there, most notably his worst enemy, the Lord of Bats.

As he walks from the Pits, he seeks to avoid capture--but the Bat Lord has been waiting: Jack is imprisoned and tormented in payback for stealing some magical manuscripts. Jack's execution was only the beginning.

Once he wins his freedom, Jack's revenge could bring the end of the world.

This is a quick, easy read, though Zelazny doesn't spend much time fleshing the characters out.

Roadshow: Landscape With Drums (Peart, Neil)

Rating: 5
Year: 2006
Genre: Biography/Travel
Read again? Yes

For several years I've been wanting to read Peart's books to see whether his prose is as good as his lyrics for Rush. Maybe it's not as evocative or poetic, but a book takes different writing skills than does a song--and he does a fine job.

In the first chapter, Peart takes us on the road along Interstate 40, nominally following old Route 66, from his home in Los Angeles to the tour's first venue in Nashville, Tennessee. He gives brief sketches of scenery, bumper stickers, reminiscences from the band's beginnings or most recent tour. He describes old diversions for days off--building models, bicycle tours, reading, several abortive attempts at writing fiction. Anything to kill time during the boring stretches of highway travel.

We see a side of the author that most fans never see; he used to have a reputation for being standoffish, unapproachable, and rude toward the invading fan horde. His writing here--and in interviews for the Rush biopic "Beyond the Lighted Stage" reveals a man who can play his drums before 500,000 screaming Rush fans but who is terribly shy and uncomfortable under fame's microscope.

Here, on the road with Michael (the R30 Tour's security director) and their motorcycles, he's not Neil Peart the Greatest Rock Drummer Of Our Time (and he'd be very uncomfortable if you called him that to his face); no, he's Just Neil, an anonymous guy on a bike who takes the occasional smoke break, stays overnight in a Best Western, and has a generous serving of The Macallen single-malt before dinner: "When I'm riding my motorcycle, I'm glad to be alive. When I stop riding my motorcycle, I'm glad to be alive."

Chapter 1 comes to a close 2-1/2 days later with the weary riders pulling up to the practice venue.

The rest of the book follows the same pattern, with snapshots of shows old and new, rides past and present, moments with friends and family, all tied together with life on the smallest, most out-of-the-way roads on the way to the next show, passing farms and tiny towns and meeting real people, regular people, ordinary people along the way.

I was amused to find that Peart "collects" church signs--
--We have no new messages
--To prevent burning, use son block
--If you take satan for a ride pretty soon he'll want to drive
--Faith is a higher faculty than reason
--To belittle is to be little
--Why worry when you can pray?
--He is no respecter of persons

--each of which get some snarky comment or launch a philosophical discussion once he and Michael are off the road and drinking their evening Macallen. The thoughts triggered by "He is no respecter of persons" is especially worth reading.

Another running joke is that Peart doesn't give the venues' corporate names in the book; he names them "Lodging and Entertainment Corporation Amphitheater" or "Consumer Electronics Chain Amphitheater" or "Natural Gas Corporation Theater" or whatever. He describes fans who've been to so many shows that the band gave them nicknames (license plate chick, the happy guy), remembers seeing the Fan's Girlfriend phenomenon over the years (she hates the music, hates the band's place in her BF's affections). There are the inevitable fans who push a little too far, following Peart's bus out of the venue lot and down the highway--do they want autographs, or is it some lunatic who wants those secret lyric messages decoded?

When he arrives in London to begin the European leg of the tour, there are heartbreaking memories of Peart and wife Jackie trying to absorb the loss of their teen-aged daughter in 1997; they went to London hoping to get away from publicity and reminders. Less than a year later, Jackie was dead of cancer. Peart goes out of his way to avoid triggers this time around (the show must go on), but it's a hard couple of days.

Still, this isn't the book for dwelling on those losses, though there are many other places that bring the occasional stab of memories: a museum trip in St. Louis when Selena was nearly 16, Peart keeping it short: "I love those memories. And hate them, too."

Star Fall (David Bischoff)

Rating: 2.5
Year: 1980
Genre: Sci-Fi
Read again? In another 15 years

I'd been looking for this book for most of a decade; couldn't remember the title or author, but ultimately found it when I remembered some of the plot highlights.

The first time I read it was in the 1980's; I traded it off at a used-books store and forgot all about it. That wasn't a bad call at all.

We begin with Philip Amber, master assassin, whose target is a mobster named Theodor Durtwood. Almost from the beginning of the caper, things go to crap. He wastes Durtwood, but it's a sloppy job. He escapes, only to be nabbed by his enemies.

Next we meet Todd Spigot, a fat, ugly lump of boring headed out on vacation to Earth to escape his overbearing mother. He's scheduled to board the space liner Star Fall, a monstrosity of a ship with all the luxury and spectacle a vacationer could want. But Todd makes a quick stop at the Steinmetz Body Parlor to trade his fat, ugly, lumpy body in for an exciting bemuscled Adonis (if you're going, go in style!).

Just after Todd-as-Adonis leaves in his new body, Philip gets to the Body Parlor, ready to swap out of his heavily damaged carcass and back into his beefcake Adonis body, stashed with Steinmetz for safe-keeping.


Hilarity ensues as Philip boards the Star Fall shuttle wearing the fat, ugly lump of boring and sits next to Todd-as-Adonis!

They're joined by Alexandra Durtwood, the mobster's daughter, bent on avenging her dead father....

Then there's Ort Eath, a standard megalomaniacal alien who just wants to blow up Earth. Star Fall is his weapon.

Oh, and Todd's Adonis body is actually a MacGuffin Mk 12 combat body with a mind of its own. It convinces Todd, Philip, and Alexandra to join forces to defeat Ort Eath and save the Earth!

This book could have been better. There were some comical misspellings, such as bombay for bomb bay, hurled for hurtled, pouring for poring, ensured for insured, and their's for theirs. I felt like I was being read to by Ed Wood more often than not. Or like I was reading one of Brian Daley's "Han Solo" books--pretty straight-line plot motion, no real surprises or reason to care about most of the characters.

The main actors are bland, standard (hunky hero in Todd, hot chick in Alexandra); the bad guy's out for revenge and has a god complex. The body-swapping tech twist--a MacGuffin called MacGuffin!--is amusing, but not really enough to make up for the clunkier parts of the plotting and characterization.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Updates: Index by Title, Index by Author

Since I'm not reading as much as I'd like, the least I can do is fix the crappy, outdated indices I started in 2008 (by author, by title).

Blogger doesn't make it easy to gather all the stuff I need, but I've finally got a spreadsheet with all titles, authors, and links through December 31, 2011. Building an index is easy, now.