Bubba Ho-Tep

September 12, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

bubbaBubba Ho-Tep by Joe R. Lansdale

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Years ago, I was listening to a radio interview with Bruce Campbell, and I remember him talking about his upcoming movie. He said he played an aging Elvis, living in a nursing home and fighting off a mummy with the help of someone who believed he was JFK, played by Ossie Davis. I remember thinking, I’ve read this story, and sure enough, when he mentioned the title later in the interview, it was Bubba Ho-Tep.

I re-read the story because I wanted to have it fresh in my mind before reading its prequel, Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-suckers. It turns out that, between the story and the movie, I remember every single thing about this story. I mean, with a premise like that above, it’s hard to forget, but I remember more details about this story than most other stories I last read about twenty years ago.

Bubba Ho-Tep is a tight story, and it shines thanks to Lansdale’s usual witty narrative. He’s cruder in this story than I recall, but maybe he was just channeling an older, frustrated Elvis. His focus is really on the character of Elvis, so the peripheral characters get some short shrift (the nurse especially needed more attention, which she deservedly received in the movie adaptation), and the ending comes along much more quickly than one would expect. Still, it’s Elvis, mummies, a black JFK, and Lansdale. This story is definitely going to be a winner.

Started: September 6, 2018
Finished: September 6, 2018

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Captains Outrageous

May 15, 2015 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

Captains OutrageousCaptains Outrageous by Joe R. Lansdale

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I finished Rumble Tumble, Lansdale’s fifth entry into the Hap & Leonard series, earlier this year as part of my Unfinished Series project.  Given that the books weren’t really part of a series as the rest of the books (they really just feature recurring characters, and aren’t books that comprise a single story), I didn’t see the need to track down the rest of the books in that series to finish them out.  I figured I would get to them as I had the time, but then I was at the library picking up another book, and noticed that my branch — one of the backwoods branches in a somewhat large district — had four of the books right there.  It’s hard to pass up an opportunity like that.

Captains Outrageous is a fairly atypical Hap & Leonard novel, which is to say that it’s full of characters that aren’t somehow oddball and quirky.  Considering that Rumble Tumble was populated with a smart-mouthed Little Person and an ex-reverend assassin, I was surprised to find a fairly normal cast of characters.  We have Hap and Leonard, of course, but Leonard’s boyfriend is a well-dressed guy who works at an aluminum chair factory, and the folks that Hap and Leonard encounter on their adventure are an older man who runs a fishing boat and his daughter, and then later they run into a rich asshole who’s easy to despise, but he’s otherwise normal.  No one’s missing limbs or appendages, no one has any weird physical deformity, and there are even fewer wise-ass attitudes present here.  It’s almost like I’m not even reading a Lansdale book!

The events that lead to Hap and Leonard’s adventure this time are a bit random and convoluted, sort of like how most of the recent episodes of The Simpsons begin.  Hap saves a woman from being beaten to death, who happens to be the daughter of the owner of the chicken processing plant where he and Leonard are working.  Said father is so grateful that he gives Hap $100,000 and a month off for both Hap and Leonard, and the two of them are talked into taking a cruise by John, Leonard’s boyfriend, even though neither one of them has ever really wanted to go on a cruise.  But it’s the cruise that takes them to Mexico, and it’s in Mexico where this particular adventure really begins.

Anyone who’s read the Hap & Leonard series, or anyone who has read any of Lansdale’s fiction, will recognize this as another in a long line of Lansdale romps, but I can’t say that this is his best effort.  Along with the lack of the usual Lansdale weirdness, the plot just isn’t as engaging.  It’s too loose, and the ending is anticlimactic.  It’s definitely not as bad as Lost Echoes, but it’s not as good as Sunset and Sawdust, either (though that one is so good I should just stop comparing his other novels to it).  I’d say it’s probably on par with Leather Maiden — fun and engaging to read, but largely forgettable and not indicative of what Lansdale can do when he’s turned the gas on high.

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Acceptance

September 9, 2014 at 8:13 am (Reads) (, , , , , , )

AcceptanceAcceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

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The mystery of the Southern Reach trilogy isn’t something that can be covered with one book. Annihilation and Authority were both intriguing books, for different reasons, and Acceptance takes the main ideas of both and incorporates them into a subtle, sort-of conclusion that leaves many questions unanswered, but doesn’t leave the reader feeling like he missed out on a good story. But because the books are so dependent on one another, it’s next to impossible to discuss Acceptance without spoiling not just this book, but the entire series. So stop now if you don’t want to know what happens next.

Annihilation was narrated by a nameless biologist, who returned from Area X in Authority as a different person, a copy of her original self, and took on the name Ghost Bird. The person who takes the biggest interest in Ghost Bird is the current Assistant Director of the Southern Reach, a man who has a real name, but chooses to go by the name of Control. The missing director of the Southern Reach, who Control and Ghost Bird choose to retrieve from Area X, is mostly referred to as “The Director” (and, oddly enough, referred to in the second person in her chapters in this volume), and goes by the name Cynthia, even though her real name is revealed to be Gloria. So names — or, more specifically, the lack of them — are important in this series, as the individuals’ anonymity becomes a key player in the series.

Like the main characters, Area X — the part of the coastal United States that was regressively transformed into a primitive wilderness that’s become hostile to human visitors — isn’t explicitly defined with a name. It feels like it’s located in Florida, but it’s never explicitly stated in the book. It’s a foreign, alien land that either transforms, kills, or duplicates the human visitors that enter in hopes of finding answers. Area X holds on to its secrets well, enough so that even by the end of Acceptance, we still don’t know where it came from.

There are definitely hints. It might be a portal to a duplicate, primitive version of Earth. It might be something controlled by aliens as part of a curious experiment. It might be an ancient life form accidentally let loose on an unsuspecting public. Whatever it is, it’s expanding; by the start of this book in the series, Area X has engulfed the organization that was tasked with unearthing its secrets.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter what Area X is or where it came from. What’s important is that it causes disorientation to those who come in contact with it. We see a glimpse of what life was like along the Forgotten Coast before Area X took it over, and we get some clues that may point us in the direction of its origins. But like the ambiguity that the characters have regarding their own questions, we don’t ever know for sure.

Overall, the story could be seen as an environmental parable, where the world decides to take itself back from humans, but that oversimplifies the texture and atmosphere of the novels. It feels heftier and more substantial than just a mere parable, but it’s hard not to read a story as dense and incomprehensible as this (as in answers, not story) without trying to add your own context to it all. As an example, Acceptance has one named character who features as a point of view in the story, and it’s hard not to attach importance to him, since everyone else chooses to remain anonymous through their own pseudonyms. It seems to be an important point, but I’m not sure if I could tell you what that point is. It could be something as simple as that the character exists before Area X takes over, but I also feel like it’s more significant than that.

These novels feel like smaller parts of a larger story, and honestly, I can see how all three novels could be published under one cover and still be successful. To that point, I would recommend anyone interested in this series do just that. Binge-reading the books back-to-back seems like the best way to approach the series. In fact, having finished them, I wonder if I will be re-reading these that way at some point in the future.

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Necessary Evil and the Greater Good

June 28, 2014 at 3:29 pm (Reads) (, , )

Necessary Evil and the Greater GoodNecessary Evil and the Greater Good by Adam Ingle

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WE INTERRUPT OUR PROGRESS ON SERIES to bring you a special review.  What makes it special?  Well, a dude I know wrote it.  That’s not a first around here,  but it’s certainly notable.  Plus, look at that cover!  What’s not to like about it?

Necessary Evil and the Greater Good is a novel about Heaven and Hell, Purgatory and Truth or Consequences, NM, Greek and Norse gods, and a Scottish terrier named Sir Reginald Pollywog Newcastle III.  There are also a couple of human beings in the mix, but the real story is about Leviticus and Mestoph, the angel and demon characters who are hoping to bring about the end of the world with a couple of stolen items — namely, an omen and a prophecy.  If that doesn’t interest you in the story, then I don’t know what else to tell you.

The story is quirky and irreverent, but it still manages to have a seriousness about it that keeps it from being a satire or parody.  It also moves quickly.  The events in the novel are tied together in a way to keep the characters moving from place to place, but none of it feels random.  Everything builds off of what’s come before, and even when a new character is introduced to the story, it’s done in such a way that he doesn’t just appear out of nowhere.  It helps that the story involves a prophecy and other spiritual machinations, but even then, Ingle doesn’t rely on that as a way to explain away what is otherwise a random event.

There’s also a dark sense of humor running beneath the events, with one character serving as comic relief and antagonist at the same time.  In fact, there’s a running gag that kept cracking me up, despite the fact that this was a books about bringing about the end of the world.  There were many points in the novel where I found myself chuckling at an event or turn of phrase, and after reaching the halfway point in the book, I felt like I was in good hands.  To give you an example, one chapter is titled “The Beginning of the Beginning of the Middle of The End,” which makes perfect sense if you know the story.

The novel is a self-published effort, and suffers from some issues that are outside of the story itself (typos, weird formatting issues, and a lack of page numbers, despite having a table of contents that directed you to said page numbers), but otherwise it’s one of the better self-published efforts I’ve read.  I think the characterization of the two human characters could have been stronger, but the rest of the characters seemed real and alive to me, and besides, the humans weren’t really the central characters anyway.  Overall, it reminded me a little bit of how American Gods would have been if Quentin Tarantino had directed a movie version of it.

I’m not sure if it would be the kind of book for everyone, but if you don’t mind a little irreverence in your theological novels, then I’d definitely recommend it.

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Fortunately, the Milk

October 31, 2013 at 8:36 pm (Reads) (, , , )

Fortunately, the MilkFortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman & Skottie Young

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Take one piece Monty Python, one piece Looney Tunes, and a dash of The Usual Suspects (maybe just a skosh, even), and what you wind up with is something called Fortunately, the Milk, Neil Gaiman’s latest kids’ book.  It’s short (not short enough to be a picture book, even though there are a lot of illustrations that are pretty critical to the story), witty (just enough to keep the grown-ups interested, but not so much that it flies over the kids’ heads), and entertaining (perfect for everyone), and it’s just what one would expect from Neil Gaiman.

In this story, two kids are getting ready for breakfast when they realize that they are out of milk.  Their dad takes it upon himself to go out and get some milk for his children (the fact that he will also need some for his tea is just a happenstance), but then they’re left waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more,  When he does come out, the first question the kids have is “Where have you been all this time?”, and the answer he gives is the story we find in this book.

This book is a bit of a love letter from Gaiman to his fans.  There’s nothing serious or profound about the book (there’s really not even a plot), but it contains a lot of typical Gaiman imagery, language, humor, and settings, which is what makes his books so much fun to read.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is a book that deserves to be read aloud, all in one sitting.  Whether or not you want to read it to kids (its intended audience) or your significant other is up to you.

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The Woman Who Died a Lot

July 21, 2013 at 10:14 am (Reads) (, , , , )

The Woman Who Died a LotThe Woman Who Died a Lot by Jasper Fforde

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It’s interesting to read a book in the Thursday Next series that doesn’t involve the Bookworld in one way or another.  It’s a part of what makes the series so creative and enjoyable, and I love to see how Fforde takes a part of fiction and applies it to real-world standards.  The Woman Who Died a Lot references the Bookworld, and even has a significant plot point that concerns it (of course), but it doesn’t take place there at all.  The real focus of this novel is dealing with avoiding being smited by God and working out the intricacies of time travel when time travel is no longer a thing in their universe.  And it’s really not that much about Thursday at all.

The Woman Who Died a Lot focuses much more on Thursday’s family and the other people who revolve around her in the SpecOps organization.  She’s become the head librarian at the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso’s Drink Not Included Library (which, of course, is akin to being hired to play major league sports, which may account for the not-so-subtle jab at the current trend of stadiums being named after their sponsors), but the major plot points involve Friday and Tuesday, her children, Joffy, her brother, and Phoebe Smalls, who is now the head of SO-27.  It makes me wonder if Fforde is wrapping up the series, or at least passing the focus of the novel from Thursday to the rest of the cast.  I seem to remember reading somewhere that there are two distinct Thursday Next series — the first spanning The Eyre Affair to Something Rotten, and the second starting with First Among Sequels and still going — and I wonder if the next book will be the last one.  It seems to be heading in another direction, that’s for sure.

The book isn’t a disappointment, by any means.  There are some truly memorable moments here, especially with the mindworm that infects the family, forcing them to remember a daughter who never existed, and there’s the usual silly wordplay and chaos that readers will recognize, but the focus seems to be shifting with this novel.  There might even be a plothole or two relating to the first-person narrative and the way that the Dark Reading Material is accessible to the characters, but who knows?  Maybe that will be covered in the next novel.  I’m not any less eager to keep reading to see what happens next.

More Fforde:
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels
One of Our Thursdays Is Missing
The Fourth Bear
Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron
The Last Dragonslayer

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