Category: 2 Barrels

“The Tommyknockers” by Stephen King Review

The Tommyknockers

The Tommyknockers

Author:  Stephen King

Published:  1987

There’s a portion in Stephen King’s The Stand where he talks about all the people that died after the devastating plague in circumstances unrelated to illness. Things like accidentally electrocuting themselves or getting injured with nobody to help them or call for help. Because it’s Stephen King, the passage in question is stretched out for many pages, with each character getting some background to get an idea of what sort of person they are, so each story can become a mini-tragedy or a setup to a punch line (the “no great loss” lady has always stuck with me). Reading The Tommyknockers felt a lot like reading that portion of The Stand but stretched out to nearly 800 pages. That’s not a compliment.

The premise of The Tommyknockers is that a local writer named Bobbi and her dog Peter stumble across a metal object sticking out of the ground on her property and decide to dig it up to see what it is. Bobbi soon becomes obsessed by the object, making it her sole objective to unearth what she believes to be a gigantic flying saucer. Bobbi also begins to exhibit strange behaviors in the form of inventing strange objects while her dog begins emitting green light from his eyes and acting years younger than he had before. When Bobbi is visited by her ex-boyfriend Jim Gardner, he finds a woman who has run herself to the point of starvation. Gardner ends up sticking around to find out what’s going on and stay with the woman he loves.

Beyond that, the rest of the plot deals with the strange behavior of Bobbi spreading to the rest of the town of Haven. Out of the 750 pages, it felt like about 500 pages dealt with side stories about characters like Bobbi’s sister, or a young boy’s magic show gone wrong, or a curious reporter getting his first big scoop, or a jealous poker player, or a Constable obsessed with dolls, or a dozen other characters. By the time a pyromaniac with a plate in his head showed up near the end I had lost all interest in how this story would end. Along with The Talisman, this is the only King book I’ve read so far that I just wanted to end multiple times throughout. Unlike outright bad books like Rage or Roadwork, there’s an interesting story at the core here but King squanders any interest in the resolution by padding the pages with uninteresting non-essential characters.

Beyond that, the book is also frustrating by having its hero character be a drunkard who spends 95% of the book going along with things before pulling a miracle out on one leg at the very end. The idea of having only those with metal in their body able to resist the Tommyknocker influence was fun, but I can’t help but think this would have been a much more compelling read with either the Constable or Ev Hillman as the protagonist instead of Jim Gardner. Gardner’s story arc isn’t so much about redemption as it is cleaning up a mess he helped enable to fruition. It also doesn’t take a genius to draw similarities between King and Gardner (a poet) in this book, which further added to my impression of the story as a meandering story being sprawled by an out of his mind writer.

For King junkies, there are some fun cameos in this book, including the government agency from Firestarter and Pennywise the clown from It. The book also references the events of The Dead Zone and seems to be pretty firmly in the Maine continuity of other Stephen King books (don’t let all the references to the Dallas police fool you). The first trip by Ev Hillman and a state trooper into the woods was pretty exciting, and could have been the basis for a much more exciting novel. The good parts overall were buried under too much fluff to get excited about. This feels like the type of book that King could have bottomed out writing, I can only hope he tightens up the storytelling from here on out.

2-star

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“Reprisal” by F. Paul Wilson Review

Reprisal

Reprisal

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Released:  1991

As I’m nearing the end of both the Adversary Cycle as well as the Repairman Jack series, both are currently suffering from trying to tie together a larger arc instead of telling a compelling individual story. The problem mainly stems from Rasolam, the villain figure who is just shy of all knowing and all powerful, but chooses to spend his time messing with a priest and a frumpy math teacher rather than working towards advancing his goals of turning the Earth into a haven for the forces of evil.

Reprisal is the 5th book in the Adversary Cycle, however it is just about a direct sequel to Reborn which told the story of a couple discovering that one of them was a clone and their fetus may be the anti-Christ. If you’ve read the Repairman Jack series before this, you know to be on the lookout for anagrams and fishy behavior, and Reprisal is no exception when it comes to finding the villain in the story.

Years after the events of Reborn, this book follows two main protagonists: Lisl is a math teacher who becomes involved in a torrid romance with a graduate student who begins to change her views on herself and other people. Will Ryerson is a maintenance man who has a secretive past, and spends his entire life trying to stay away from telephones. How do these two stories relate to a woman that gave birth to the embodiment of evil and a missing Jesuit priest who went by the name of Father Bill Ryan? I suspect without even reading the prequels, you can figure out who the good guy and who the bad guy are from this paragraph.

There’s also a third section of the novel that takes place as a flashback, explaining how Father Bill Ryan came to be on the run from law enforcement, and the investigation of a missing child led by a dedicated NYPD Detective. This was the most interesting portion of the book, dipping firmly into the supernatural horror genre. If you’re not a fan of bad things happening to kids in fiction, this is probably a book you should skip. Much like the events of Reborn however, the things that take place end up being so crazy that it’s hard to imagine somebody like Repairman Jack not being aware of them in his books later on.

By far the worst part about this book is the character of Lisl, a woman who makes every bad decision somebody can make with way too little resistance. I can even buy the revenge against her ex and jealousy towards a coworker, however the ease with which she dips into theft and reciting her boyfriend’s theories on Primes (exceptional people) being able to do whatever they want to other people made her a very difficult character to sympathize with.

The most interesting character in the book was another math teacher named Dr. Everett Saunders. I started off not knowing if he was a creepy psycho, a stalker, a person paralyzed by obsessive compulsive disorder or just a quirky colleague. The ultimate revelation of his secret wasn’t anything amazing, but it made him sympathetic and contributed to my vitriol towards Lisl. More interesting characters like this, instead of shoehorning Glaeken into an expository dumper role at the end would have improved this book, but as it stands this was not one of the better reads in the series. I’m finally ready for Nightworld to wrap up both series (except for the prequel novels that I’ll probably check out), and hopefully it will provide a satisfying conclusion to this sprawling series.

2-star

“Reunion” by Alan Dean Foster Review

Reunion

Reunion

A Pip & Flinx Adventure #7 Chronologically

Author:  Alan Dean Foster

Released:   2001

Reunion is the 7th book chronologically in the Pip & Flinx series. This installment finds Flinx continuing to follow every lead he can to learn more information about his biological parents. An espionage mission into a library on Earth leads to an excursion into the AAnn Empire. Foster’s worlds are always inventive, but this particular planet is by design a bit less interesting than the prior few worlds Flinx has visited. Pyrassis is primarily a rock planet, with plenty of rocks and minerals and (seemingly) nothing interesting enough to draw the attention of sentient beings. The native life forms on this planet provide a few interesting encounters, as the camouflage capabilities are unique in how deadly they function.

More than any other book in the series, Reunion requires a reader to have read the earlier books in the series to fully enjoy it, but the constant callbacks to earlier events makes the momentum of the story suffer as a result. In all the infinite cosmos, Flinx seems to be getting drawn into some pretty convenient dramas that no other human has ever discovered. In particular, the earlier books The Tar-Aiym Krang and Orphan Star are revisited to bring in unique plot devices and characters, but they’re not the interesting parts of those books (such as the Ulru-Ujurrians or Truzenzuzex). Just writing those last two sentences is probably enough to scare non-science fiction fans away from this series, but when Foster is firing on all cylinders he has created some of the best adventure stories and original settings in the genre.

Unfortunately Reunion misses the mark more often than not. Besides the interesting alien life forms that form an interesting survival story in the middle third of the book, the rest of the action never feels like anything even kind of threatening to our hero. In addition, Flinx develops a few abilities that are beginning to make him more superman than every-man. In this installment, Flinx computers expert computer hacker, capable of breaking into space stations and develops mental abilities capable of shutting down any threat to his safety. The reveal of the other person pursuing Flinx’s parental records also didn’t totally work for me as the added connection to Flinx’s past felt cliched and unnecessary. The very ending of the book also uses a deux ex machina, however the reveal of what allowed it to take place made me chuckle.

2-star

“Quasar” #31-45 by Mark Gruenwald from Marvel Comics Review

Quasar 43

This is a review for Quasar issues number #31-45. This series has not been collected in trade beyond the first few issues.

Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Artists – Greg Capullo, Rurik Tyler, Steve Lightle, Andy Smith and Grant Miehm

The 1990’s get a lot of blame for the death of the comic industry. The speculator bubble is a big part of it, although for somebody who grew up reading the comics of that era it’s not anything I hold against the industry. Some of my favorite comics were the #1 issues from Marvel, Image and other companies that sold millions of issues to people that never had any intention of reading them. Another criticism is the over the top art and lack of good storytelling. Again, as a reader from that era, I thought the crazy art of guys like Liefeld or Dale Keown was a fun stylistic choice that made a few books stand out more on their own. The other major criticism of books from that time is that the issues took place in endless crossovers with other titles (and this is sill a criticism of Marvel and DC comics today).

This run of 15 issues of Quasar certainly had me lamenting the endless crossovers of the era. Issue 31 crosses over with the New Universe, issues 32 through 35 were parts 3,10,17 and Aftermath of the Galactic Storm crossover. At that point, we get two stand alone issues of Quasar before it ties into the Infinity War for three more issues. Once we’re clear of all those crossovers, the next few issues are dealing with a bad guy let loose in those issues by Thanos (the original Marvel Boy). Marvel Boy has the distinction of being one of the lamest designed and childish behaving characters I’ve ever read. Issue #43, picture above, features Marvel Boy and Quasar fighting in what is also in the running for the ugliest Marvel Comics cover I’ve ever seen.

What were the high points of this run of issues? A funeral for Eon hosted by a cult of interstellar beings whose purpose it is to mourn those that fall stood out to me as interesting and the type of cosmic originality I like best from Marvel. Kayla (Quasar’s secretary) continues to also be the standout character of the series, but possibly only because her story moves at a page or 2 per issue so we are always left wanting more resolution for her.

The art seemed to take a dive in this run of comics, and I’m sorry to point to Andy Smith as the culprit. If you can recognize Kayla before and after her haircut as the same character, you’re cheating. I’m on the fence regarding the change of Quasar from cosmic band wielding Green Lantern clone to generic strong superhero with Starbrand abilities. Neither is particularly original, but as I mentioned in my last review (on Goodreads under issue #25) Gruenwald was just beginning to create some rules for Quasar’s powers that gave him more depth and those have been thrown out the window. Only fifteen issues left in this series, hopefully it improves as so far it’s been a bit of a let down.

2-star

“Meg: Nightstalkers” by Steve Alten

Meg nightstalkers

Meg: Nightstalkers

Author:  Steve Alten

Published:  2016

Meg Series #5

Five books into the Meg series (and apparently one should also have read The Loch by now as well), this was the first book in the series that I found myself shaking my head at the ridiculous plot more than enjoying it. That’s quite a statement, as the book has previously featured the discovery of giant extinct sharks, a character named Jonas being swallowed by a sea creature and surviving (yeah, it’s not Jonah but it’s close enough) and a prehistoric dinosaur called a Liopleurodon that Alten makes 100 feet larger than a reputable website like Wikipedia claims was possible.

**Slight spoilers follow** Set shortly after the events of Meg: Hell’s Aquarium, this book follows dual plot lines as both Jonas and David Taylor are involved in tracking down giant sea creatures that were formerly isolated from the rest of the oceans. While David is tracking down the Liopleurodon that ate a loved one earlier in the series, Jonas is trying to figure out what to do with his Lagoon now that the Megs housed within have been set free. Sounds like a logical followup to the earlier books… so why didn’t this installment, err, keep its head above water for me?

1. The shoehorned crossover with The Loch and its upcoming sequel Volstok felt very out of place with the rest of the series. The plot is inherently ridiculous, so slapping a time travel element in it just seems to break the anything goes rules one step too far. Also, the method of explaining all of this was done over about 5 pages in the book and didn’t seem like it was necessary to maneuver the plot where Alten wanted to take it.

2. The over dependence on the Liopleurodon for the plot. Alten has all of these cool sea creatures he could write about, so why spend so much time on an animal that didn’t even exist as Alten has written it. At this point it might as well be a dragon or something else mythological for as far off as it is from what we know about the actual creature.

3. In contrast, the Moby Dick whale was a very cool addition to the creature catalog, but the explanation for how and why it was just now being discovered tied into the stupid Volstok storyline, which in turn distracted from the enjoyment of reading about a super huge and aggressive whale.

4. Most importantly, there was a significant lack of something in this book, and that something is giant prehistoric sharks called Megalodons. I’m not a Harry Potter scholar, but I’d imagine this is similar to reading that series for four books and then in the fifth book Harry shows up for a few pages while the rest of the gang takes a trip to Mordor. Jonas, David and Terry Taylor may be the protagonists of these books, but they’re still just plot points necessary to tell a story about giant sharks.

I’ll keep reading the Meg series because there’s only one more solicited and they’re quick reads. More than that, when Alten focuses on an exciting shark story he’s capable of making a funny and exciting story that reads like a blockbuster film (for me, Meg: Primal Waters is a perfect example of that). I’ll keep an eye out for the tie in books as well, as maybe getting that storyline fleshed out more than its done here will add in the enjoyment for Meg: Generations, currently solicited for 2018.

2-star

“Reborn” by F. Paul Wilson Review

Reborn

Reborn

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Published:  1990

The Adversary Cycle:  Book Four by Publication, Book Two Chronologically

For those into how books fit into larger overall universes,Reborn is the fourth book in F. Paul Wilson’s the adversary cycle, but the second book chronologically, which means it takes place after The Keep but before the entire Repairman Jack series and somewhere during the Secret History line of books (this takes place in the 1960’s if that helps). Throughout this whole series of books Wilson has done his version of ghost stories, science fiction, and even vampires. Here is Wilson’s Rosemary’s Baby story, so much so that the characters even mention it on a few different occasions.

The story goes that a married couple discover that a wealthy man who has just died may be the secret father of the husband. This revelation leads them to search through his journals for the identity of the man’s mother and any other information they can find to give him answers about his parents. Along the way there are connections to secret World War II science experiments, a possible vigilante with a crow bar, and an order of religious individuals dedicated to stopping the anti-Christ. There is also an appearance from at least one character from the first Adversary Cycle bookThe Keep .

Mentioning Rosemary’s Baby and the anti-Christ crusaders will give you a pretty good idea of how the plot of this book progresses, but it’s impossible to discuss without getting into that facet. I admire Wilson for attempting to tell an interesting story about the return of a formidable villain in his world, but the nature of the plot feels derivative to that iconic work. The greater problem however is that the entire book is populated by people making horrible decisions.

The two main characters are meant to be sympathetic, but both of them willingly turn a blind eye to horrific acts willingly. Similarly, the heroic character provided by Wilson in the form of a Jesuit Priest always remains reactive to the plot (the most heroic thing he does in the entire book is not have sex with a woman who wants him to). The series’ recurring heroic character does nothing in this book to influence the tragic turn of events.

Even within the logic of the book, it’s difficult to figure out what you (the reader) want to have happen. There is a force that benefits when people suffer or cause emotional harm. Does that mean that the sex between two consenting adults will be good or bad for that force (the book decides that action will aid the evil force). Or if a woman tries to perform an unwanted abortion on a trusting relative (here the book says that will harm the evil force). The result for me was a rather unpleasant reading experience where I knew a bad outcome was going to happen the entire time and every choice along the way is just drawing out the inevitable tragedy.

So far the Adversary Cycle has suffered compared to the Repairman Jack Series as it has lacked the moral center of Jack (a man whose own particular morals are certainly not in line with the general public). I’m still planning on reading the two remaining books before I finish up both series withNightworld but my hopes for finding another great series of books is slowly dwindling.

2-star

“Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby Review

Fever Pitch

Fever Pitch

Author:  Nick Hornby

Published:  1992

I really expected I would love this book, though its fatal flaw was apparent from page one. Nick Hornby is one of my favorite authors, and even his bad books (How To Be Good) kept me entertained while reading. Here is an autobiographical account of his love for his favorite sports team over 20+ years and his observations of fandom, relationships and society’s love affair with sports. The same basic style was used in Ten Year in the Tub, and that was my favorite book I’ve read by Hornby. Also, I’m a huge sports fan, somebody who routinely watched every NBA and MLB game for my favorite teams for years, and traveled across the country to see them in different stadiums. So why did I not like this book?

In a word: soccer. I’ve never enjoyed soccer. Not playing it, not watching it, and (I can say confidently now) not reading about it. Hornby’s lifelong obsession of rooting for Arsenal in the English Premier League taught me plenty about the sport and team that I didn’t know before. Such as the seasons are too long, the same teams always win, and hooliganism/racism are as rampant of problems as the media has made them out to be. While Hornby waxes about how the sport of soccer has the perfect balance of scoring to make each moment exciting, he spends much more time explaining how so many people hate his favorite team for the frequent Nil-Nil or 1-0 outcomes.

As I trudged my way through this, I had no anchor to orient myself to the writing. Hornby would frequently talk about famous soccer players or announce who was playing by naming the stadium the game took place in and I had no idea which team he was rooting for or who was playing (unless it was the chapter title). Sure, I know Pele and can visualize Wembley, but that’s probably 4 paragraphs in a 200 page book; and because I didn’t know any of the other people/places/events that he was referencing, I didn’t come away feeling like I’d become newly educated on all things Arsenal but instead I have a mess of names and places that I couldn’t place beyond stating they are all affiliated with soccer.

There were plenty of universal statements about sport that I could of course relate to. The internal motivation for being a fan; the way fandom changes your personality and social planning; the events that make a game particularly memorable. I understand why some people would love this book, but unless you have a basic knowledge or appreciate for soccer I think there’s a good chance you’ll feel as lost as I did while reading it.

Note: For those that have seen the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie version of Fever Pitch, I’m not sure how the film could even get away claiming to be affiliated with the book. Those reading this expecting there to be a story about falling in love with a woman while still staying loyal to your team will be very disappointed. There are three romantic relationships alluded to in this book, and each is a nameless figure that goes to a few games with Hornby and either stays in a relationship with him or doesn’t (that aspect not even being related to the soccer games). This is a book about one man’s love of a team, not a relationship drama or love story. I didn’t think the movie was great, but it was so different from the book that I would not recommend basing your decision to read the book or watch the movie based on any information about the other media.

2-star