QUICKGASM >> 6.29.07

quickgasmBecause time isn’t always kind: economic reviews in a world full of waste!

best stories american west reviewEdited by Marc Jaffe, BEST STORIES OF THE AMERICAN WEST: VOLUME 1 isn’t the expected formulaic collection of saintly cowboys defeating crooked gunslingers or saving cattle from a raging river. Although the stories within handily qualify as Westerns, they all take place in the West – it just may not be the Old West. This is to your benefit, as we get modern-day, moving stories from the likes of Sherman Alexie and even John Sayles, better known as one of the more maverick auteurs working in indie film today. Throw in people like Elmer Kenton, who works solely in the genre, and others like Elmore Leonard, who cut his teeth in the genre, and you have a well-balanced meal of adventure and heartbreak.

kings new york reviewAcross an entire season of competition, there’s sure to be sweet victories, crushing defeats, high drama, raging egos and internal strife. And I’m not even talking about football, but high school chess. Sportswriter Michael Weinreb follows the ragtag boys of New York’s Edward R. Murrow High in his nonfiction account of their bid for the national championship, THE KINGS OF NEW YORK: A YEAR AMONG THE GEEKS, ODDBALLS, AND GENIUSES WHO MAKE UP AMERICA’S TOP HIGH SCHOOL CHESS TEAM. The subtitle really nails these kids, mostly immigrants and poverty-level. They exhibit a real gift in front of a 64-board square, but are in danger of flunking their classes. They are among the most arrogant, self-centered youths you’ll come across, yet are painfully awkward in any social situation and have very little common sense. Of course, this all makes for great conflict, and a gripping, tough-to-put-down look into the lives of some supremely talented but highly flawed youths. You want to cheer them and slap them at the same time.

punk rock dadIt’s nice to know punk rockers can be normal guys, like Pennywise’s Jim Lindberg, who reveals as much in PUNK ROCK DAD: NO RULES, JUST REAL LIFE. From the looks of it, you’d expect a memoir about his specific travails as a parent who’s on tour a lot, but actually it’s pretty much a straight autobiography, from his own childhood on up. He just happens to a fairly normal family life, with a supportive wife and three daughters in private school, where he shows up for parents’ nights dressed in his punk regalia. As expected, Lindberg has a very easygoing “dude’s dude” personality which translates to the page – more “talked-out” than “written” – making his story less than taxing to read, but also less than compelling. It’s average but inoffensive, and could use a little more anarchy.

jsa all stars reviewThe title of JSA ALL-STARS refers not just to the superheroes, but the wealth of talent behind this eight-issue miniseries penned by Geoff Johns and David Goyer (screenwriter of BATMAN BEGINS and the BLADE trilogy), with backup stories from Darwyn Cooke, Howard Chaykin and even Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon. The story finds the original members of the Justice Society of America (i.e. Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman) at the mercy of a baddie named Legacy, who tells the newer members (i.e. Dr. Fate, Hourman, Mr. Terrific) that only ditching their emotional baggage (i.e. death of a spouse, parental strife, extreme guilt) can save them. Each issue focuses on a separate hero trying to do just that. The art is top-notch throughout, and the backup stories – with a bent toward having fun – provide a nice balance to the ongoing, more serious-minded arc. –Rod Lott

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SEARCH ME >> 6.07

Our monthly depressing look at the search terms that bring pervs to BOOKGASM!

search terms june 2007

Ice Moon

ice moon reviewOne of the hallmarks of Scandinavian crime fiction is that it takes death seriously. You don’t see a lot of special-effects thrillers with a huge, casual body count in books written by Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish authors. They tend to domesticate the crimes, to bring death in close, to make it more intimate.

Death is a given, but a death that is caused by violence isn’t really a fit subject for a tea party or a James Bond movie. It’s an horrific and irrational occurrence, and the authors and their detective protagonists treat it as such. Case in point: Jan Costin Wagner’s ICE MOON.

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Loose Ends

loose ends reviewIf there is one conceit in crime that’s tried and true, it’s that of the rogue cop who plays by his own rules. The boss may want his badge, but the hero won’t let up in his pursuit. Breathing some fresh air into that setup is Don Easton, a former undercover officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

To be honest, all I knew of the RCMP came from the DUDLEY DO-RIGHT cartoon of my youth, but in his first novel – LOOSE ENDS – Easton has created such a bad-ass character with Jack Taggart, an undercover cop who is so good at his job, it has his supervisor worried that Jack might not be playing by the rules. Thus, Jack is assigned a new partner named Danny O’Reilly, who’s pretty much told to keep tabs on him.

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Brasyl

brasyl reviewOnly a year after Pyr published the epic RIVER OF GODS in the U.S. comes Ian McDonald’s latest novel, BRASYL, and though it’s smaller than its predecessor, it packs no less punch and even more genius. Where other writers spend their whole lives creating fantastic imaginary worlds that have their own languages, calendars and social strata, McDonald has dived headfirst into a culture that’s every bit as fantastic and also awesomely real.

The extensive cultural literacy and knowledge McDonald showcased in regard to India for RIVER OF GODS has been extended to Brazil, and he writes as if he were raised on the beaches of Rio. Food, language, attitudes – everything comes off as authentic, and it needs to be, because it’s the backdrop for a story that simultaneously involves:
• a TV reality show producer in 2006 Brazil,
• a street hustler in a 2036 Brazil chasing the quantum dream that is the woman he loves,
• a priest in 1736 sent on a HEART OF DARKNESS-style mission, and
• quantum physics.

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Marvel 1602: Fantastick Four

1602 fantastick four reviewNeil Gaiman’s original MARVEL 1602 miniseries was such an imaginative concept – superheroes as if they originated in the early 17th century – that it could have turned into a reliable franchise.

However, on the basis of MARVEL 1602: NEW WORLD and even moreso the new MARVEL 1602: FANTASTICK FOUR, it’s clear this won’t be the case, because Marvel seems content to half-ass it.

The usually reliable Peter David scripted this mess, and his story his so impenetrable, it can barely be summarized. Suffice to say, it features the Fantastic Four – here deemed “Fantastick” – squaring off against its archenemy, Count Otto von Doom. Also figuring into the mix are the Sandman, the Sub-Mariner and, um, William Shakespeare.

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A Nail Through the Heart

nail through heart reviewAn eye-opening account of the real Bangkok is the setting for Timothy Hallinan’s latest, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART. Poke Rafferty writes travel books –  the kind of which search out the seedier side of cities. He’s a ex-pat living in Bangkok with his girlfriend, Rose, a former go-go girl who gave up that life to be with him. A quasi-family unit is formed with a little girl named Miaow, a former street kid for whom Poke has made it his priority to keep safe and try and adopt her.

Things are going on like usual for Poke until he is contacted by an Australian woman who is search of her uncle. She thinks Poke can help her because of a cop friend of his who has vouched for him as someone who’s trustworthy and won’t lead her on a wild goose chase, unlike the two cops she has been paying up to this point.

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BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS >> Beyond Thunderdome

bullets broads blackmail and bombstraveler first you fight reviewThis week we deal with the wonderful world of the post-apocalypse, where books depict the future as a lawless wasteland, where only the strong survive. Hell, if Oprah can tackle the subject, why can’t we? Thanks to Matt Baker for contributing one of this week’s covered titles; donations are always welcome here.

TRAVELER #1: FIRST, YOU FIGHT by D.B. Drumm – I only can imagine the pitch meeting for this series, which began in 1984: “I know, we’ll have world destroyed in a horrific nuclear war and set the books 15 years after the fact, with our hero being a guy we know only as ‘Traveler.’ He’s some sort of special ops soldier who’s infected with a mysterious chemical combination which makes him feel all the pain around him. Then we’ll throw in enough stuff from the MAD MAX movies to keep the kids entertained.”

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The Society of S

society of s reviewWith so many vampire novels on the market, it’s tough to stand out. But Susan Hubbard’s THE SOCIETY OF S does, approaching the whole idea from an entirely new way.

On the cusp of womanhood, Ariella Montero lives with her father in an appropriately Gothic home where he works as a blood researcher. He can’t venture outdoors because, he says, he has lupus, and Ariella herself is confined to an insular life within their walls, home-schooled and having no friends.

But one day, with Mr. Montero’s blessing, Ariella’s caretaker Mrs. McGarrit takes the youth to her home so she can play with her children. One of the things they do is watch a vampire movie on TV. It horrifies Ariella and literally makes her sick – not so much because it’s scary, but because the movements of the bloodsucker onscreen remind her of her dad.

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BOOKS 2 FILM >> 1408

books to film1408 dvd reviewIt’s nice to see a Stephen King adaptation at an actual movie theater again, where they belong, instead of the watered-down, overlong miniseries that play several nights on network TV and basic cable. It’s also nice to see it contain actual scares, which helps when your source material does the same.

1408 comes from King’s most recent short-story collection, 1992’s EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL: 14 DARK TALES. As King notes in his introduction, it was never meant to be an actual story, but an example of how writing progresses from draft to draft. For whatever reason, he finished it, and it’s one of EVENTUAL’s many highlights. It’s easy to see why it’s been handpicked for big-screen treatment, and here’s hoping its success helps usher in another wave of quality King films.

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