Sunday, June 17, 2018

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

The Outsider by Stephen King

Hardcover, 561 pages

Published May 2018 by Scribner

I am no different than many in the horror community, I grew up on Stephen King, he is the biggest and most popular writer of dark fiction in the history of the universe. For better or for worse he is a writing machine with more books published that is hard to even consider. With probably more than a trillion published words it can't all be good can it? Nah I am of the belief that for most of his career I like or love 60 % of his work. 30% is iffy, and 10% is just bad.

I certainly prefer the early novels and stories but I have liked recent books. I loved 11/22/63 and count me in the group that enjoyed Doctor Sleep. For the first 200 pages of the Outsider I was sure this book was going to be in the 60% of positive. None the less we end up in the iffy category.

Look I a firm believer in outlines for novels, King writes without a plan, and often I think the bad habits he gets into are directly a result of not having a clear plan. The first 200 pages really start off with a creepy set-up. Imagine for a minute you are Coach T. Terry Maitland is a respected teacher and youth baseball coach. Everyone in his small town of Flint City knows him.

The novel kicks off when Ralph a cop who becomes our primary POV publicly arrests Terry Maitland during a little league semi-finale. The arrest is for the brutal sexual assault and homicide of a local kid. The thing is Coach T has a rock solid alibi, and at the same time DNA evidence against him. Thus sets up the mystery. How can this man be at two different places at the same time? The strength in the book is the set-up, for 200 hundred pages we have a set-up for a perfect mystery, the only answers possible are impossible. I am trying to stay spoiler free as it is the twist around the two hundred page mark that changes the path of the novel and not for the better. (I will go Spoilers later)

At that point the novel went off the rails for me, most of my enjoyment of the novel was all in the first act. The middle act is devoted to investigating other cases that relate to the main story. Another case entirely that is related in that it is a murder impossibly in two places at once.

There are excellent moments through-out, I was never bored but the book I envisioned when I was 100 pages in was a much better story than the one we ended up with. The characters were good, and I enjoyed the experience enough to give the book 3 out of 5 stars. That may be a little kind. Over-all I can't recommend this book when there are so many horror authors coming up that are doing more exciting things with 0.0000000000001% of the sales.

You just can't spend 250 pages going in the wrong narrative direction, and then recycle a monster from Desperation. No matter how good the set-up or characters the second half has to deliver.

SPOILERS: The problem in The Outsider starts with the second act. SK focuses the story on the investigation, showing and telling us the details of the various cases over 250 or so pages. I understood what was happening 30 pages into this and I wish King trusted his readers. This was being promoted as King returning to scary supernatural horror, the cover was so rad I was looking forward to that. Devoting so many pages to the procedural just zapped the potential for the book to scare.

Who am I to tell the master how to write a scary book but I learned it first from King himself? In the wake of Coach T being killed on the steps Ralph should have been convinced still that he got the right guy. The town should have been relieved, and they should have been heroes. That way when another murder happens, that is when the questions begin. But also the town has to be afraid of another killer. Then Ralph on to the monster/vampire that doubles people situation would have to fear that he could trust no one in town. Anyone could be the active killer still out there. After the first 100 pages that is where I thought the book was going.

There are excellent moments in the Outsider still. The scene where the double with Tattoo's comes to warn Ralph's wife that he has to stop was great, but the missed opportunities were too much.

Side note: Is SK getting paid by Wal-mart? because one characters love for Wal-mart gets mentioned over, and over. It actually becomes a plot point. What up with dat?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Book Review: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

206 pages, Hardcover

Published April 2018 by Little, Brown Books Hardcover for Young Readers

I found this book scanning my local library's app for the new Stephen King book in the just ordered page. The title and the cover looked interesting although I had no idea that it was a YA book. I know I am not the target audience but I kept that in mind as I was reading. This is my first experience with Jewell Parker Rhodes, so I do not know how this fits into her wider works but I certainly hope to check out her adult fiction. Don't think for a minute that this being a YA book that it would shy away from issues it does not. This book tackles gun violence school bullies, social injustice, classism and the Black Lives Matter movement. It is amazing that in 2018 that such movement needs to exist but here we are. I recently shared a article on social media that compared the public reaction to two football that took a knee publically in the cases of Colin Kapernick and Tim Teabow. The differences in the reaction was stark.

It became clear that some didn't understand why Kapernick was taking a knee. While not sitting as he first did he saw it as a way to respect the flag while still bringing attention to the FACT that unarmed black men(mostly) were being gunned down far too often. It was hilarious when a friend with a straight face tried to tell me what Kapernick was doing "wasn't about race." It is a good racism test to find out if people are more outraged by symbolic acts of patriotism before sports than they are the actual murder of unarmed black men.

It would be awesome if we lived in a post race america, I like many others thought Obama becoming president was a positive sign for that post race future. I didn't see it going the opposite. Lets face it racists are scared.

So Ghost Boys is a scary book. In no way is it written to be horror, although as a horror writer I found myself thinking often about how that would look. It is not myopic or one sided it does not demonize the police officer who shot the main character. That was a interesting trick. The story follows Jerome a 12 year-old boy who is shot while holding a toy gun. He meets other ghosts of violence but mostly he hangs around his family and the family of the officer who shot him. He can only be seen by one person the daughter of the man who shot him.

I thought this was a dark and effective novel but as it was written for middle grade readers it stopped short of some themes it could have hit. One of the best elements of the novel was when Rhodes brought in the cases of real life victims like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin. It is a good reminder that these kids are NOT just political cards to be played. This debate happens about real life people and families. It is crazy that in 2018 this book and the simple message that black lives matter has to exist. This is a book that should never have been written and I am sure the author agrees.

That said - read it. It is a excellent reminder that humans are at the heart of this issue.

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Hardcover, 525 pages

Published March 6th 2018 by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

Hard to believe this is a first time author - the kind of success this book is having is nothing short of a literary Cinderella story. I don't want to take away from Tomi Adeyemi's talent as she is loaded with it. but I have seen some interesting reaction to her quick rise in the local writing scene. I know one local author who was straight up annoyed and angry that several books in he couldn't sell anything and look at this first timer being the bell of the ball. I also talked to one writer who seemed to think this was normal and that all authors had this happen and when her book came out the same would have all the same things happen to her.

First novels don't normally strike like this. For me personally I am so stoked for a local San Diego writer. The good news is the book is worthy. Think Afrocentric Lord of the Rings. High fantasy with plenty of magic, adventure and fully dynamic characters. Adeyemi herself seems charming so it is hard for me to feel anything but joy for this kinda of success. That said lets be clear this is not normal. When I say Cinderella I mean it is not normal to have Stephen King tweet out your unboxing video, or to be on good morning America or sell your film rights before your first novel is even released.

Children of Blood and Bone takes place in an entirely fantastical fantasy world, complete with a detailed map inside the the cover of the hardcover book. We get little idea of when or where in the universe this place is but we can tell that this an Afrocentric world. At this time in this land we are ten years after magic disappeared from the world. This happened when a nasty king named Saran raided the lands killing Maji's and taking Talismans from the people. Our hero Zalie is on the hero's quest and she hopes to restore magic. There is a well done love story with a member of the royal family but the details of the plot are less important to me.

It is a standard fantasy plot, it is the images and world itself that makes the book a fun read. We have seen this plot on a hero with a thousand faces, but not often this face. Not in this world and the journey is fun. The narrative is first person, which anyone who reads my reviews knows I am not a fan of. That said this first person style switches POV from chapter to chapter. Thus we get different view points and thus it subverts the problems I normally have with that style of story telling.

The narrative is paced well balancing the three main points of view with a good rhythm and well placed reveals. You may see some of the twists coming if you have read fantasy novels but that is OK because it is all done with a great and original feeling attention to detail. The customs of this culture and the magic they practice is fresh and new. That breathes life into the classic format.

I really enjoyed this read despite it not being my genre. As for my fellow San Diegans I say read locally.

Book Reviews: Han Solo at Stars End by Brian Daley and Scoundrels by Timothy Zhan

Han Solo at Star's End by Brian Daley
Hardcover, 187 pages Published March 12th 1979 by Del Rey (first published January 1st 1979)

I read these books in an effort to get hyped for the release of Solo, this more than any other book was the one I wanted to read. A Han Solo novel written when only A New Hope existed,even though I read many many years ago. It is cool because when author Brian Daley wrote this he had no rich canon or universe to rely on. He just had this one movie and the Han Solo in that movie was the one who shot first and tipped the bartender for cleaning up Greedio's corpse. I read this book the week before seeing Solo.

The rest of the efforts to write Han Solo in movies, books and comic were writing about General Solo. In the light of the character who rightly was changed by seeing the sacrifice of Luke and Leia. It makes sense that Han Solo is a changed person. Solo as a movie rightly writes a character who is the foundation of both those sides of the character we know now, what makes this book special is the author Brian Daley had only the super rogue Han solo to go off of.

Han and Chewie are a little more simple in this book but it doesn't suffer for it. AC Crispin who was a excellent tie-in writer did books that address the wider EU and I like both series in different ways. I like the artifact nature of the sorta-out of date Star wars book. In this book Han is not afraid to get his hands dirty, a lot of attention is paid to the operation of the Falcon. I got the feeling that the Falcon in this book was slightly more important to Han than Chewie. Then again this is early in their friendship.

This part of the star wars universe is a creation of Daley, as he didn't have much to go on. The corporate authority is never seen again, and neither are the interesting two droids Bollux and Blue Max. I found myself liking them more than I expected. While there for greed of course Han and Chewie end up being reluctant heroes.

As for Scoundrels. I admit I did not really finish this book. I did a lot of skimming. I know Zhan was trying to do Ocean's 11 in the Star Wars universe but it didn't work for me. Then again it is not super fair for me to say much more.

A few thoughts on the film Solo. I know a few have made the point that this film was not needed. I think there is an argument that Solo is a better character with his back story being mythology. That said I think it was fun for fans to see this story realized. I think the first twenty minutes were rough, and I was a bit worried. After Chewie shows up the movie gets better. I think Solo adds a cool window on the Star Wars universe. Did we need it? Nah but I think having a different window on the galaxy far, far away adds depth to it all. Seeing the universe from the underground was cool to me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Book Review/ Dickheads episode 3: The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick

The World Jones Made by Philip K. Dick
Paperback, 199 pages

Published June 29th 1993 by Vintage (first published 1956)

So in 1956 in his second novel PKD felt the need to make the point that Hitler was bad. There is also a story about eugenics and bred for Venus test-tube babies, a society based on relativism,a circus with sex-changing performers and lots more. Crazy considering it was released the same year that Elvis had his first hit single. If you want to get my review you'll have to listen to the third episode of Dickheads:

YouTube link:

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Book Review: After the Flare (Nigerians in Space #2) by Deji Bryce Olukotun

After the Flare (Nigerians in Space #2) by Deji Bryce Olukotun

Paperback, 301 pages

Published September 2017 by The Unnamed Press

Philip K. Dick Award Nominee (2017)

I picked this book up after it won a special mention in this year's PKD awards of which it was nominated for.

This is a strange book that apparently is a sequel to the author's first novel Nigerians in Space. Well it is marketed that way although I read that the author intended for this book to stand alone. I don't know if I missing something but it worked for me as a singular reading experience. Had I know it was book two I would not have started here but it ended up in my TBR so here we are. Combining a few plot elements and a strange sci-fi mystery this is a really great example of afrocentric genre even if personally I did not connect to it as much as some other books in this subgenre.

The premise sets up nicely for a post Apocalypse novel, but strangely enough that is not what we are talking about here. The book starts in orbit when a space station gets a front row seat for solar flare that wipes out power/technology for much of the globe. There is a small zone along the equator that is unaffected, and this is the reason why Kwesi Brackett our main point of view character has to go Nigeria. As a engineer he is needed to join the effort to rescue the lone astronaut who didn't escape the space station and has been stranded in orbit for a year while quickly losing her life support and sanity. Once in Africa the story weaves a couple plot strands that involve terrorist groups like Boko Haram, ancient artifacts and the discovery of an advanced civilization buried in Nigeria's past.

Brackett is in charge of the water tanks where the future astronauts practice space walks. He is overseeing the final stages of building this massive pool with a artifact is found and quickly stolen. In the process of trying to track down the stolen items Brackett is witness to a separatist terrorist attack. These elements were some of the books most interesting moments. The glimpse into the near future Nigeria was not the focus, but to me it was the most compelling part.

The various plot threads seem very different but they weave together really through the the story. Deji Bryce Olukotun's writing is well thought out, he has excellent command of plot, structure and characters. For me the biggest weakness of the book was found in it's subplot about the origins of the artifact. I am sorry for most readers this will be the most interesting part, but how Nigeria reacts to it's suddenly important global role intrigued me more that was not Olukotun's focus.

I respect this book, even if I didn't totally love it. Olukotun is a good writer and I will read more of his work in the future. This is good thoughtful science fiction and in a time when we are trying to find more diverse voices this is a good one.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review Corpse Paint by David Peak (audio review w/ Anthony Trevino)

Corpse Paint by David Peak

Paperback, 240 pages

Published April 2018 by Word Horde

I am a tough customer when it comes to metal related fiction. It is rare that movies or books fictionalize metal in an authentic way. It is tough because it is a very specific world. I am a punk and hardcore person, as far the scene I am a part of that is the world I prefer. However when I am finding music to listen to just as I am working I am a metal dude. My relationship with black metal goes back to the late 90's. John the singer of my favorite vegan death metal/core crossover band at the time was Day of Suffering gave me my first black metal records. He gave me a tape that had Emperor, Cradle of Filth and Mayhem on it.

I have been a death metal guy for awhile but the raw crazy-ness of Black metal appealed to me. I actually like Cradle best (Dusk and her Embrace was the most recent album at the time) even though I was told they were posers. What did I care I thought the true black metal lifestyle was weird and silly. I mean these guys took being "evil" a bit too seriously right?

So that is the thing about this novel, I think this novel is GREAT. That said I am not sure if this novel will work for anyone who is not familiar with black metal. The title is a good way to judge if it is for you. Do I need to explain what the title is a reference to?

In the audio review posted with this review my writing partner and Dickheads podcast co-host Anthony Trevino disagrees with me. You'll just have to listen. The review in the form of a discussion is here...