When originality backfires

It took me much too long to get to Chuck Wendig’s latest book, The Book of Accidents, because Chuck is from Pennsylvania and so is Sarah J. Maas, who I had already read a book by this year, and therefore Pennsylvania was already filled up on my stupid little map. But I’d been looking forward to this a lot– Chuck is one of my favorites– and I finally got to it this week.

I didn’t like it as much as I feel like I should have, and I really hate it when that happens, because I never know how to translate that to a star rating, and then I get irritated with myself for caring about star ratings— I may just start rating every single book I read that doesn’t personally irritate me at five stars on Goodreads just to stop having to agonize about this– and I think I ended up just calling this one four stars for the hell of it.

Here is the deal with this book: I said to my wife during the first or second night of reading it that it really feels like Wendig, with his last couple of books, is quite deliberately trying to horn in on Stephen King’s turf, or at least the turf that King occupied when he was writing his most well-known and immortal books. Wanderers, which I liked quite a lot, got compared to The Stand all over the damn place, and with very good reason. And while this book didn’t map onto any specific King book as cleanly as Wanderers did, it still felt quite a lot like vintage, if updated, Stephen King.

And it also very much wants you to think it’s a haunted house book for, oh, the first third or so of its length. And it is not a haunted house book. It is so very much not a haunted house book, no, it is something else entirely. Like, I really don’t think you’re going to see a lot of what this book has for you coming.

I, uh, was really looking forward to a good haunted house book, though, and I got super excited about what looked like it was going to be a great haunted house book.

Which is why I’m not calling this a review, because I’m not sure if it’s the book’s fault that I wasn’t willing to go with it where it wanted to go. Maybe it is! I mean, it’s not like I picked up a Louis L’Amour book expecting to read a haunted house book. Like, there’s haunted house DNA all over this damn thing. Which sounds gross. You know what I mean. It’s not unfair to expect a creepy haunted house story from this book. In fact, I think Wendig is pretty obviously counting on it. And normally when something like this happens while I’m reading– you think the story is going to go BLAH, but instead it goes NYAH, it’s a compliment. Predictability is generally bad. Except, apparently, in this case, where I can’t claim that it ruined the book– it’s not like I regret reading it or anything, although I think even at my most charitable it’s not as strong as Wanderers. It’s just not what I wanted from it, and as a result I didn’t like it as much as I thought I was going to.

Two book reviewlets

Two days ago I reviewed Rin Chupeco’s The Girl From the Well, a book that I enjoyed an awful goddamned lot, and I mentioned in the post that due to a screw-up where I ordered the sequel without realizing it was a sequel, I had it on hand already and would be going directly into it. Well, I burned through The Suffering almost as fast as I finished Well, and while I’m not quite jumping up and down and shouting read this read this read this the way was with the first one, it’s definitely still a good read. Call it four and a half stars to the first book’s five; the POV character moves from the ghost to the boy she is (newly) possessing, and the two of them have basically evolved into a sort of supernatural, psychic version of The Punisher, seeking out and messily taking apart murderers of the innocent. The majority of the book takes place in Aokigahara Woods, Japan’s “suicide forest,” and it absolutely continues the original book’s excellent level of creepiness, but I really loved the narration style that the ghost had in the first book and the tone shifts a little from supernatural vengeance ghost to something that, possibly not intentionally, scans a trifle more superhero-ey, and mostly because of those two things it’s not quite the triumph the first book was. Definitely read Well, and allow your reaction to that one to determine if you pick this one up. I suspect most folks will want to read both.

Jon Richter’s oddly-named Auxiliary: London 2039 is a book and not a bullet hell video game shooter from the late 1990s, and it’s another book that I was sent for free, on the condition that I review it for the site.

Let me boil this down for you in the quickest way I know how: are you interested in reading a book that features rape robots? If so, please continue. If not, read no further, and go nowhere near this book.

This was a four-star or so read until the last 25 pages or so, and I have never seen a book more effectively shoot itself in the dick before than this one does. I’ve got it at two stars on Goodreads right now, and I genuinely might bump it down to one. Because this book starts off interesting– a sort of Lock Inesque gritty detective story set in a near future that is probably a little bit too close to now to be realistic (hi, Skylights!) that is as much science fiction as it is a murder mystery. The book goes a little bit off the rails in chapter three, where the following events happen:

  • Our hard-boiled detective hero, Dremmler, creeps on a woman on the train. He is wearing smartglasses called Spex, which inform him of the woman’s name, her age, that she is bisexual, currently single, and that she has no criminal convictions. He “discerns”– the actual verb used– her “ample” breasts. He gets an erection. On the train. While sitting across from this woman.
  • He goes home, where he is greeted by his live-in maidbot, who is wearing a French maid’s outfit. She offers him a beer, which he accepts, offers to pour the beer, which he rudely declines, then offers him a blow job. He accepts that as well. So I guess she’s a fuckbot in addition to a maidbot.
  • That is the entire chapter. It is three pages long.

We know entirely too much about Dremmler’s erections throughout this book, and there is at least one place where another character decides to sleep with him for no reason at all that I can discern. But the mystery, which involves a pervasive, all-knowing AI and a prosthetic arm that murders someone independent of the desires of the person owning the arm, was interesting enough that I kept going. Then there’s a chapter where Dremmler has a nightmare that he is actually someone else who is actually basically roleplaying Dremmler in a simulation (shades of Ready Player One,) and that person actually uses the word “misogynist” to describe Dremmler before dying messily and, okay, I guess that was just a nightmare after all, and Dremmler is real? Sure, OK–

And then in the last 25 pages the Bad Guys literally use the impending gang-rape of Dremmler’s ex-wife, a woman responsible for the death of his child, by a bunch of misshapen sex bots (the first robot to do the raping has a “foot-long” penis and a hammerhead shark’s head) as a means of extracting information from Dremmler, and then there’s an enormous, AI drone-driven massacre of “thousands” of people, and then the book ends with either a cliffhanger or Dremmler’s actual death at the hands of the AI.

Spoiler alert, I guess.

I did not like this book; I was liking this book with some reservations (there’s something hinky going on with almost every female character in the book, a few too many of which are described as Asian in a way that feels weirdly fetishistic to me, and then there’s the erections) up until the rape bots, and if I hadn’t agreed to review this in return for the copy that would have been the end of it, the book nearly being finished be damned. I hate to say “this is not a good book and you should not read it” about something somebody sent me for free, but … this is not a good book, and you should not read it.

So uh

I am sorry I cannot post tonight I need to finish Rin Chupeco’s THE GIRL FROM THE WELL and then it is likely that I will go directly into the sequel which is called THE SUFFERING and I have already been away from the book for too long so I will see you tomorrow the end.

#REVIEW: MEXICAN GOTHIC, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

An interesting fact, at least to me: I have read three books by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and I have liked each one more than the one before. I was not a huge fan of Certain Dark Things, I enjoyed her Gods of Jade and Shadow but wasn’t really doing backflips about it, and then there is Mexican Gothic. Which …

Yeah, this shit right here? This shit is my shit. And if this author continues on this trajectory I may not survive whatever she comes out with two or three books from now. Mexican Gothic is exactly what it sounds like one thing the book is not is subtly titled; a dark, atmospheric 1950s-era-Mexico gothic horror novel, set in an old crumbling house, the house and its owners well past their prime, with a socialite heroine who feels like she’s been transported in from another era and an excellently creepy multigenerational family mystery to solve. It’s a quick read– just 300 pages, and I finished it in two or three sittings, basically– but it’s exactly as long as it needs to be, I think; I didn’t finish this one feeling like it needed more detail anywhere and it’s definitely not overpadded.

A short review, I know, but this is definitely worth your time. Moreno-Garcia is somebody to watch out for, and her writing is perfectly suited for this type of genre. I really look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

On HAMILFILM, and a quick book review

I have already discussed my deep affection for Hamilton at least once on this site; my wife and I went to see the show in Chicago for our 10th anniversary a couple of years ago, and while that wasn’t with the original cast, I also have the soundtrack, which I have more or less memorized. We waited for the boy to go to bed last night before watching the filmed version in order to avoid fifteen thousand questions while we watched it, so I didn’t get to bed until after midnight and didn’t manage to get to sleep for a good hour and a half after that.

Worth it.

No surprises here, really; there are bits where cadence and inflection differs a bit from the soundtrack but it’s all the same people performing that I was used to, and this time I got the benefit of close-up camera shots so you can see facial expressions and the like much better. I feel like this really benefited Leslie Odom Jr.’s performance as Aaron Burr the most; I felt like I could really feel his emotions throughout the play and connected to him in a way that I didn’t quite manage in Chicago. I also still find myself preferring Tamar Greene’s George Washington to Christopher Jackson; he just seemed to physically fit the role better for me.

Either way, I’d just consider a month’s worth of Disney+ the cost to pay to rent this and watch it over and over for a while; it’s well worth it, especially if you’ve never seen the show in person before.

I’ve read one Tananarive Due book before, and really wasn’t hugely fond of it; it wasn’t necessarily bad so much as it didn’t really make an impact. I picked up her debut novel, The Between, as part of my 52 Books by Women of Color project, and I was happy to discover that I liked it a hell of a lot more than I did My Soul to Keep. I don’t necessarily want to do a full review of it, especially since I think it’s probably a good book to go into pretty blind, but this one is an unapologetic horror novel, and while it did take me a few days to get through it it also lost me some sleep on a couple of nights, so that’s a good thing. This is book 33 of the 52, and it’s the second book 33, because after reading an interview with Akwaeke Emezi after finishing Pet I discovered that they don’t identify as a woman and so that book (which is still really good, and well worth a read) shouldn’t count any longer.

(EDIT: Interesting, I apparently liked My Soul to Keep much more when I read it than my memory serves; it made my honorable mention list for 2016.)

I think I’m probably going to finish 52 books fast enough to be able to turn this into 52 authors, by the way; we’ll see where I’m at once I’ve finished 52 books and how many authors I’ve read more than one book from. I’ll probably be at four or five books just by N.K. Jemisin by the end of the year, so it might be several people, but something makes me think I can manage it.

At any rate, The Between is an effective, scary horror novel. It’s a good read.