#REVIEW: THE OUTSIDER, by Stephen King

9781501180989_p0_v4_s550x406I didn’t want to buy or read this book at first.  That’s not my normal approach with Stephen King; the man has written approximately 5000 books, but I have damn near all of them.  I can only bring two of his books to mind that I know exist and have not read yet: his novel about the Kennedy assassination, which rubbed me wrong from the beginning and which I never started, and the third of his three Finders Keepers books, which I cannot explain why I have not read yet.  I’m gonna get to it eventually!  I promise!

So, yeah: I’m a fan.  I have been a fan since I was, I dunno, however old I was when Misery came out and I found my grandmother’s copy when staying the night at her house and managed to read most of it before she realized what I was doing.  Honestly I don’t remember if anyone tried to stop me or not, but it wouldn’t have done any good if they had; nobody was ever any good at keeping books away from me.

But I didn’t want to read this book.  The main reason?  The premise, as explained by most of the pre-release stuff, is white dude is accused of heinous sexual assault, turns out to be innocent.  And if I’m being honest, white dude turns out to not be a sexual abuser after all! is not really something I’m super interested in reading about too much right now.  There are entirely too many white men getting away with sexual assault and rape right now– some of them being elected fucking president, no less– just put me off the book for several weeks.  My wife read it in the meantime, and told me to go ahead and read it anyway, and I did.

Which was the right call, because once I started The Outsider I had the damn thing finished in two days– a hundred pages the first night, another hundred the second, and then I picked it up when I got home from work yesterday and didn’t put it down until I was done with it.  And it’s a big damn book.  Stephen King, after all.  The reason I wrote such a short post last night?  I got caught up in reading and didn’t want to put the book down to write a post.

So, a couple of things: this is King’s darkest work in years, if not in his career, to the point where I’m not even sure right now what I’d suggest its closest competition is.  The book begins with a man being arrested for an absolutely heinous act of rape, sexual torture, and murder, and despite his innocence being such a plot point that I can’t even honestly call it a spoiler to mention it, the book keeps you wondering what the fuck is going on anyway, and then at about the 200-page mark it throws a massive curveball at you and runs off to be an entirely different book than the police procedural you thought you started with.  And even before that curveball, King does an outstanding job of whipsawing you back and forth between this man is absolutely guilty and this man cannot possibly be guilty, sometimes in the same chapter, and the cops don’t always make great decisions on how to prosecute the case and when the book finally does tie everything together and explain what’s going on I feel like it earned its ending in a way a lot of books– including a handful of other King books– really don’t.

This is also his scariest book in a long, long time.  I will admit that being the father of a young son didn’t exactly help me with that, and if you aren’t a parent your mileage may vary a bit.

One gripe, though: I have always thought that one of Stephen King’s greatest gifts as an author was his ear for voice and for dialogue, which makes it weird that this book has such really weak dialogue throughout.  There are so, so many sentences in this book that no human being has ever uttered before and never will.  He does this thing at the end where he sort of thanks the people of Oklahoma and says that if he got anything wrong, he’s sorry?  And I feel like maybe he’s doing this weird thing where he’s trying to capture something he thinks is Oklahoma Folksy and instead he’s landing on Abraham Simpson:

This is especially bad in the earliest parts of the book, where a fair part of the text is interview transcripts, meaning that they’re nothing but dialogue and people telling stories.  The various cops in the book generally aren’t prone to rambling, but any time someone else is talking– again, especially in that early part?  God.

But yeah.  If you can push past that one rather notable weakness, this is excellent King and a great recovery from Sleeping Beauties, which I didn’t really like much at first and has not climbed in my estimation since then.

This Book is Good and This Book is Also Bad: a #review of Autumn Christian’s CROOKED GOD MACHINE

41rQ16mZceLA quick programming note: my wife is in Boston all week for a work thing; I drove her to the train station at midnight last night, so while I am technically on vacation for a week  once my shift ends at 6 tonight, I’m also on solo daddy duty all next week and I have a couple of full-day training things for my new job, plus at least one other life-related excursion for each day next week.  So I’m gonna be kind of busy!  I’ll be using my spare time to work on Book Stuff but it’s gonna be an interesting week and there may not be a ton of time for bloggery.

Which means a 2000-word post every day, obviously.

Anyway.  I’m on Warren Ellis’ newsletter, and he pointed out this little indie-published (!!!) novel called Crooked God Machine, and I’m tempted to just quote his entire brief review because he’s Warren Ellis and he’s better at this than me but instead I’ll just link to it.  At any rate, the review doesn’t need to be complicated: in some ways this book is one of the most fucked-up things I’ve ever read in a deliciously good way; it’s about a world that is ending but is not in any hurry to do so, and what growing up in a world like that is like, and God yelling from you inside of a television, and people deliberately turning themselves into brain-spider zombies so that they don’t have to deal with their own existence any longer– the sales pitch for the brain-spiders is literally you don’t have to experience the next ten years.  The writing is uniformly gorgeous throughout– Autumn Christian wrote this between the ages of 19 and 21, which is unbelievable– this is A Confederacy of Dunces-level Evil Young Genius writing going on here.  If you are a fan of dark and really creepy horror I recommend it unreservedly.  If you aren’t, be aware that the subject matter is deeply fucked up throughout– a dead infant gets fed to a monster in a swamp at one point, and the monster torments the main character for the rest of the book, and that’s just that one thing, so maybe assume a trigger warning?  Ellis calls it “young, raw work” in his review and he’s absolutely right– there is a certain immaturity here, and it’s very clearly the product of a preternaturally talented young person who is very, very angry with the world she has been handed, and that’s something you probably need to be aware of about it, but it’s definitely worth reading and is gonna stick with me for a while.

That said.  I bought this book in print because I try to buy everything in print, and also honestly the cover is compelling as hell and I wanted it on my shelf.  Notice how the title on the cover omits the definite article?  The name of the book is The Crooked God Machine, according to everything on Amazon and everything inside the book.  It is perhaps a sign of how carefully the print manuscript is edited that the book gets the title wrong on the cover.  You will look at this and know immediately that it is an indy title, unfortunately– everything from the print size to the font choices to little things like chapters starting on the left-hand page once in a while screams that this was put together by someone who 1) had no experience in book design and 2) did not take the time to carefully look through the books in their possession and pay careful attention.  It is also, unfortunately, riddled with the types of errors you get when you are depending on spellcheck as your primary source of editing– in other words, there are next to no misspelled words, but there are lots of errors– nearly every chapter– of omitted words, autocorrecty sorts of errors where the word used is a real word so spellcheck won’t catch it but it is nonetheless completely the wrong word, and sentences where some editing took place but the editing itself introduced a second error that didn’t get caught.

I have seen from reviews that the ebook is not prone to this, but the print version will drive you crazy if you are the type to notice this.  It’s still absolutely worth reading but it cost the book a star in my Goodreads review because indie authors have to be better than this.  Then again, Warren fucking Ellis reviewed her book positively so maybe what the hell do I know.  Warren Ellis sure as hell isn’t reading The Benevolence Archives, right?



In which I am tired and also wrong

20980680So as it turns out, it appears that I got Raised Right in at least one respect: I have a pretty fuckin’ healthy work ethic, and despite being down to five shifts left at my job I think it’s fair to say that I worked my ass off for at least the last couple of days, and Monday was an exhausting mess for a number of reasons as well.  And I strongly suspect I will continue deliberately outhustling everyone around me just out of pure spite until I actually leave the job for good on August 8th.  I’m back for Saturday and Sunday and then taking my last week of vacation, which I hope to spend working hard on a book, but we all know how good I am with follow-through on those sorts of plans.  I did finish a short story this week, though!  One I plan to submit to a market, and once I get rejected, put on Patreon!  So that’s exciting.

(You should be one of my Patrons.  One, because the next one is number ten, and that seems like a big deal, and two, because I post stories and stuff over there and there will be a Special Project over there soon too that I’m planning on working on this weekend.)

Anyway, point is, I’m not lazing about just because I’m quitting, and I’m tired because this week has been especially busy.

On to being wrong: I read the first little chunk of Kate Elliott’s Black Wolves in … 2016, maybe?  And I hated it, cutting out early and one-starring it on Goodreads.  For no clear reason I got a wild hair up my ass about it a couple of weeks ago and decided to reread it, and while it took a while, the book being damn near eight hundred pages long, I finished it last night.

And, uh, loved it, and put it on my best of 2018 shortlist, and found out that the sequel isn’t coming out until December of 2020, and oh God that’s too long, and while I don’t have the energy for a full review right now?  I don’t know what the hell I was thinking the first time I read the book and you should consider checking it out.

Yeah.  Got that one wrong.

#REVIEW: TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, by Rebecca Roanhorse

trail-of-lightning-9781534413498_hrHere’s a one-sentence review of Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse, that ought to tell you basically everything you need to know:  I started it Saturday night at 10:30 PM, reading before going to sleep as I always do, and I had finished it by dinnertime the following day, and I worked from 11-5 on the day I finished it.

I woke up at 8:30 on a Sunday morning and rather than roll over and go back to sleep I grabbed a cup of coffee and took this book out onto my back porch to read outside for an hour or two before it got too hot.  I realized after I’d been out there for an hour that I’d left my phone sitting next to my bed.  Do you have any goddamn idea how rare it is for me to be more than ten feet from my phone for an hour?

(Okay, yeah, you probably do, but still.)

If that’s not enough, and if that gorgeous cover isn’t enough, how about the genre?  Trail of Lightning is Navajo post-apocalyptic urban fantasy.  And hard core Navajo, to the point where I feel kind of bad saying “Navajo” and not “Diné”.  There are words in this book that contain letters that I don’t know the names of, guys.(*)  A pronunciation guide would not have gone unappreciated.

Right, the story.

It is The Future.  Global warming and sea level rise has gone way way worse than anyone imagined (it is hinted, but not explicitly stated, that something supernatural may have happened to make it worse) and as a result huge swaths of what used to be the United States– like the entire midwest– have drowned and Dinétah, the Navajo nation, is an independent nation-state on its own again.  Maggie Hoskie is a social outcast who hunts monsters.

There are monsters, by the way.

I’m no hero.  I’m more of a last resort, a scorched-earth policy.  I’m the person you hire when the heroes have already come home in body bags.

That paragraph is from page 2.  It was at that precise moment that I knew I was in and this book was going to be something special.  Maggie is a bit of an asshole, so if you’re not the type to like abrasive first-person protagonists this may not quite be your cup of tea, but watching her hunt monsters and argue with trickster gods and do magic stuff and navigate the fascinating world that Rebecca Roanhorse has created was absolutely one of the biggest pleasures of the year so far with me.  Trail of Lightning joins two other debut novels by women of color– Jade City and The Poppy War— that are guaranteed to be on my top 10 list at the end of the year.  Roanhorse’s prose is clear and accessible and the book absolutely flies; this is the kind of novel that I want to write as much as I want to read it.

I’m just not going to try and read it out loud.  🙂

(*) hataałii, for example– I have no idea what to do with that L–, or yá’át’ééh, which has accents and apostrophes.  No italics for the Navajo words, either, which is great, unless you’re scanning for words you don’t know and don’t have that to help you.  (**)

(**) Audio on the web is inconsistent, but the ł may be pronounced like a W.


51zuwjF8-lL._SX301_BO1,204,203,200_The Lives of Tao is the second of Wesley Chu’s books that I have read.  It is, I’m pretty certain, his debut novel, and has two sequels, The Deaths of Tao and The Rebirths of Tao.  I like Chu’s work quite a bit from what I’ve read of it, but this one has a few problems that didn’t show up in Time Salvager, which was the first Chu book I read.  He has some major strengths as an author, chief among which is writing fast-paced books that are difficult to put down and writing solid action.  The book has some weak parts, too, but we’ll get to those later.

The premise is thus: millions of years ago (think during the dinosaur age) a rather large group of aliens crashed on Earth.  The aliens found Earth’s atmosphere uninhabitable for them and quickly discovered that the only way they would be able to survive on our planet was to effectively act as symbiotic organisms and inhabit the bodies of creatures that were already surviving on Earth.  They were isolated from each other for millions of years (the aliens, the Quasing, aren’t precisely immortal– they can be killed– but they don’t die of old age) but eventually Earth managed to evolve intelligent life and ever since then the Quasing have been guiding our evolution as a species and trying to get humanity to a point where they can go back to space– which is apparently way more complicated than it sounds.   The book picks up when Tao, a Quasing whose host has just been killed is forced to inhabit the body of an overweight, unambitious computer programmer named Roen Tan, and basically has to change him from a video-game-obsessed chubby schlub into an international man of mystery and combat operative in a not-especially long period of time.  Oh and there are two different factions of the Quasing now and they don’t like each other all that much.

If that premise interests you, you should read this book; you’ll like it.  If you’re already scratching your head and going “Well, wait, what about…” then you might want to skip it, as not quite fully thinking the premise through is why this is a perfect four-star book (out of five) for me.  Over the course of the book you find out that most of the Quasing characters you encounter have inhabited major historical figures over the course of their, remember, theoretically infinite, millions-of-years-old lives.  Tao himself was, among others, Genghis Khan and Zhang Sanfeng, who you may not have heard of but was the inventor of tai chi.  At various points in the book Shakespeare, Galileo, the apostle Peter and any number of other important historical figures are all revealed to have been hosts for Quasing.

The problem is, “humans have never controlled their own destinies and have been inhabited by aliens manipulating them in a shadow war for literally all of history” isn’t the premise for an action-adventure with some comedy elements like this book.  It’s the premise of a horror story.  And the Quasing are not remotely alien enough to be actual aliens, much less aliens that are all millions of years old.  It’s not quite clear how they’ve not managed to return themselves to space yet either; they’ve retained all of their scientific knowledge, but Chu’s need to keep to the actual human span of history means that there need to be ridiculous bits like Galileo having been told by a Quasing that Earth wasn’t the center of the universe.  Did this just … never come up before?   I mean, once humans had opposable thumbs and enough of an intellect to use their tools, what was keeping the Quasing from just jumpstarting us to at least something close to the level of technology they had?  There are nods here and there to one of the factions not really wanting to alter human history that much, but there are apparently hundreds if not thousands of these things and they’ve been here for, again, the literal entirety of human history.  There’s no human history to alter.  There’s only Quasing history.

But again: I read this book in about three days in big gulps.  If you can ignore the previous paragraph, if that sort of thing isn’t going to get under your skin and gnaw at you, you’re probably going to like this book, and even though I am one of those people I’m going to end up picking up the sequels.  Don’t get me wrong: four stars, I enjoyed reading this.  But the premise needed some work before this went to print.  We’ll see if there are any corrections applied in the later books.  For now?  I’m still in.