Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Bone Clocks

The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I once wrote a novel like this.

My agent wisely advised me to split it up into two novellas.

I did.

I wish Mitchell's agent had given the same advice.

He or she didn't.

Too bad.

It's a tempting trap, this splicing together of novellas. I know, I've been caught in it myself. It makes the writer's job much easier. And it's clever, to boot. In the case of The Bone Clocks, however, this strategy backfired, creating a novel divided against itself.

I'll spare you the plot overview for three reasons: 1) others have already given fantastic overviews (see, particularly, reviews by AmberBug, Jenny (Reading Envy), and Greg). 2) Any plot outline is bound to contain inadvertent spoilers. 3) I'm feeling rather tired from other, writerly projects.

So let's focus on structure and characterization.

The internal schism in the book isn't about plot, anyway. It's about pacing, emphasis, and characterization, more than anything else. The first 2/3rds of the book were, frankly, overwrought. And by that, I don't mean that the language was overly purple or the syntactical structure too complex. In fact, I found quite the opposite. Mitchell was careful to portray salt-of-the-earth characters and jaded characters as if they were almost Jungian archetypes of naive teenagers and hedonistic twenty-somethings, respectively. Mitchell tried really, really hard to get these characterizations across.

Too hard.

You could tell that he was trying.

Time and again, I felt that Mitchell was trying so hard to make his characters - "trendy" or "hip" are the words that come to mind - that they ended up being pastiches of the very ideal for which the author was aiming. They became, in a word, distracting, like that guy who so wants to be the center of attention at a party that he wears a rainbow afro wig. Everyone sees him there, making everyone laugh. But guess who's not going home with the girl?

Now, I've read (and written) my share of annoying and despicable characters. But these characters, by and large, threw me out of the story. Later, when said characters returned (in later sections), I found it extremely difficult to accept them. My brain wanted to reject them, and I found myself becoming angry at the author for having screwed these characters up in an attempt to be "literary".

And there is the biggest structural problem with the book.

In the first 2/3rds, Mitchell seems to be making a conscious effort to appear "literary". I'm not sure why - it's obvious from his previous work that he has writing "chops". I don't know what he was trying to prove, but he tried so hard that he failed. He over-thought the first part of the book. Only in section 3, "The Wedding Bash" does Mitchell's auctorial *voice* sound genuine and natural.

This third section is exceptional, and would have made a brilliant novella by itself. As it stands in relation to the rest of the plot, however, it feels as if it has been awkwardly welded-on to the rest of the novel, weakening the overall product. Really, this section is some of the best writing I've read in a while. Mitchell's got chops . . . in doses.

The next section, "Crispin Hershey's Lonely Planet" is indulgent, and not in a good way. Perhaps I'm missing some hidden humor about Mitchell's experience as a well-known writer. If so, the inside jokes are, well, a little *too* inside. And, like the third section, this bit seems tacked on, hardly relevant, except in a few small points which could have been distilled down to a few pages. In fact, I believe that the first 350 pages of this novel could have been brought down to about 100, and Mitchell would have not only a heck of a novella (in "The Wedding Bash," which I like to call the "Baghdad section"), but a great novel, as well.

Because, you see, it gets better. Much, much better. Had Mitchell not stretched out the first half of the book to three-times the length it should have been(to be fair, the blame might lay with the editor), you'd be reading a five star review. No kidding: The last half-ish of the book is THAT good.

It's in the tale of the Horologists, and beyond, that the author really hits his stride. Here things get weird and exciting, two things which I like very much in a novel. Gone is the pretense of trying to please The New Yorker crowd. The catering to angry teenagers has thankfully died away. And Mitchell reveals that he is a heck of a writer when he lets his hair down, takes off his tie, and gets down to really letting himself fly as a writer.

But, wait. "What", you ask, "is a Horologist"?

I'm not telling. I'll leave it as a surprise. But suffice it to say that once we understand a little bit about them, all hell breaks loose. Really, everything goes crazy. Not just for the characters directly in the path of the immediate action, the ones in a psychic conflict between superhuman beings, but for the whole planet. Now, before you go blaming the Horologists (after all, their organization sounds so . . . prostitutional - which isn't even a word, but you get my point), know that while they are powerful, they are far from all-powerful. They are at the mercy of mankind's collective bad decisions, just like the rest of the world. And while reading the last section of the book might make the reader feel that he is taking a beating from a pedantic stick wielded by Greenpeace, it does set things up for what I must admit is a very emotional ending. I found myself staying up late because I had to finish the book. Mitchell compelled me, by making me viscerally-involved and emotionally-invested in the characters at the end of the book. Finally, finally, I could forget the forced too-cool-to-be-true feeling of the first part of the book and enjoy myself, really let myself get steeped in the characters' thoughts and emotions, and feel their fear, love, and longing in my bones.

Yeah, I had to reach for the tissue. There were tears.

Still, there was a time when I wanted to stop reading the book. And I am not one to stop reading books, no matter how bad. But I was tempted to close this one up and take it to the used book store. Oh, I was sorely tempted. Thankfully, I pushed through and it was just a tiny bit after I peeked over that wall (and it was a big wall), that it got better. Ultimately, it was a victory. But a Pyrrhic victory. I may be recovering from this novel, both the good and the bad parts, for some time to come.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Crazy Forrest is Giving Away More Books!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Heraclix & Pomp by Forrest Aguirre

Heraclix & Pomp

by Forrest Aguirre

Giveaway ends October 03, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 3

The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 3The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 3 by Jonathan Hickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nobody is what they seem, it seems. Fermi isn't human. Daghlian's accident wasn't an accident. Yuri Gagarin isn't nearly as tall as his suit indicates. Einstein is not so gifted as we were led to believe (though he's a bad dude with a chainsaw). And Oppenheimer has a civil war going on in his head.

We're delving into what feels like the second act of the Manhattan Projects story, where commotion and chaos rules. There are a lot of open ends here: Did the alien drone successfully contact its hive? What's to happen to the project now that General Westmoreland's in charge? And what the heck is that thing approaching Laika's ship? I'm very, very curious to see the next installment.

Not quite as bizarre as Vol. 1, not quite as . . . vast is the word that comes to mind . . . as Vol. 2, Vol. 3 still continues in the same utterly fantastic vein. The Manhattan Projects still reigns over my graphic novel world as the series that, hand-in-hand with Brubaker's Fatale series, has me very excited about the current state of graphic novels.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Heraclix & Pomp Hardcover Photos

Here is the physical artifact of Heraclix & Pomp. It's beautiful. Unfortunately my photographic skills could make Helen of Troy look average. Having the camera face the user on the Google Nexus doesn't help, so I apologize for all the weird angles. Don't get lost!


Front Cover


Front Cover in the nude


Naked binding, with glare for decency's sake


End papers. Darin told me they were gorgeous. He was right. The camera does not do the deep, rich color justice.


Title page. Those metal dice holding the page down were part of my oldest son's birthday present this year. He knows me too well.


A quote by Hermes Trismegistus. If you can't read it, you'll need to turn up your scrying stone. Or have a familiar read it for you.


My favorite picture of the book, for reasons that will only become apparent when you read the book. Note the numbers on the dice. Note them well. They're important!


With huge thanks to my friend +Daniel Nicholson for taking the author photo. Dan, you rock!

Again, note the numbers on the dice . . .


Finally, the back cover. A work of art in and of itself.

There you have it. The nickel tour through the book. Now, if you want your own copy of the hardcover, you can preorder it from your local independent bookstore, Powells.com, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon

Special thanks to Claudia Noble and Mark Teppo for creating this thing of beauty.

If you'd like to "try before you buy," you can listen to the first chapter for free! Enjoy!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Star Wars

The Star WarsThe Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Somewhere, deep inside of me, a piece of an eight-year-old boy died a horrible death. This is a graphic novelization of George Lucas' original rough-draft screenplay for what would eventually become Star Wars. Now, the eight-year-old me that originally saw the movie might actually have liked this version, given the intense action sequences and . . . and . . . *SOB!* - this book is a hot mess!

Do not read this graphic novel if you are looking for:

1) Good dialogue.
2) Clear differentiation between characters.
3) Familiar names associated with familiar faces - "Biggs," for example, is one of a pair of twin brothers of Princes Leia. "Darth Vader" is not a lord of the Sith and, in fact, the Sith knight presented in this story (view spoiler). Confused yet?
4) Love stories that make sense, with real motives and reasons behind their unquenchable love.
5) Nostalgia.
6) Reasons not to cry because of the Lucas sellout (of which this might be the most damning piece of evidence).

Do read this graphic novel if you are looking for:

1) Confusion.
2) A shattering of your childhood memories.
3) Clear indicators that Lucas had a lot of editorial help with the original movie.
4) A way to regurgitate that cleaning agent you accidentally swallowed.

That said, there was some pretty cool art. And it was interesting to try (not too hard, now) to figure out how this turd was polished into the final movie. For the academic interest, I'm pushing this up to two stars being held onto by a fraying fingernail clipping while dangling over the edge of the abyss.

This book provides clear evidence that you should never, NEVER publish a rough draft, even if a later version of the work was something special. Oh, that I wish Lucas would have followed Kafka's lead in manuscript preservation. I hope that there is a place, an alternate universe, perhaps, where Lucas and Kafka switched roles, with Lucas destroying all of his old manuscripts and Kafka preserving his, maybe some place that really exists:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .
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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Heraclix & Pomp free Audiobook sample

Please enjoy this free Audiobook sample of Heraclix & Pomp! You can pre-order the full audiobook here. Or, if you prefer E-book format, you can pre-order either the Nook or Kindle version. Finally, for those who, like me, love the heft of a genuine paper book, you can pre-order the hardcover at your favorite local bookseller, Powells.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or Amazon.com.
 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Last Day to Enter to Win a Signed ARC of Heraclix & Pomp!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Heraclix & Pomp by Forrest Aguirre

Heraclix & Pomp

by Forrest Aguirre

Giveaway ends September 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win