Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday Reviews, 6/10/2012

Four books this week:

Robert T. Jeschonek - My Favorite Band Does Not Exist - DNF. 1) The author was trying too hard to be meta. There were three stories - the main story about a boy on the run, the secondary story about a fake band that he made up on the internet (to amuse himself? Perhaps?), and a tertiary story, a fantasy novel that the lead singer of the band and the boy on the run are both reading. Presumably these three stories would eventually mesh, but I didn't care about any of the three enough to find out. 2) Every Single Character had a stupid name. And a quirky schtich. It got very tiresome. 3) One of the stories within a story featured too cute renamings of months and states - Pensyltucky and such. The whole thing was just too too tedious, and so I gave up on it, less than half way through.

Thomas Frank - Pity the Billionaire - A screed, as I predicted. Franks is entertaining, but he slants his facts to suit his bias. For instance, in the first chapter he suggests that the current obsession with fiscal austerity in the midst of an economic downturn is the first time the US government has been obsessed with balance the budget during a Depression since Hoover. But FDR pushed for a balanced budget, both in his campaign against Hoover, and through his first two terms in office - he almost derailed the New Deal recovery as a result. Franks also over estimates the power of the president to effect change, especially at the legislative level. Look - it's absurd to compare Obama to Hoover, because he clearly isn't. I'm not saying we didn't need an FDR 4 years ago (or now; now would be good too), but what we got was Truman - he means well, he talks a really good game, but he's hampered by a hostile Congress and a desire to play by "the rules". The Skocpol and Williams I reviewed last week did a much better job of explaining the Tea Party, and Franks presented really the most basic and surface-y presentation of the current political situation otherwise. Still, it was a fun read, and sometimes you just want to feel angry and connected.

Michael Thomas Ford - Jane Vows Revenge - A romp. The third in the Jane Austen as vampire series. This features a whirlwind trip through the architectural highlights of Europe, a murder deliberately reminiscent of Agatha Christie, and some remarkably tender moments as Jane struggles with her sense of identity as a vampire, as a potential wife, and as Jane Austen, vampire. (I think it's clear that "identity" is the theme for this summer's reading list - I swear I'm not picking them out on purpose! It's like the arrow in the FedEx logo, seriously.) Possibly a conclusion to the trilogy, but there are enough loose ends (satisfying, but loose) that there could easily be future books in the series. I would not be unhappy either way - a strong and satisfying ending to the book, if not the series. I would have liked a historical note, though - Ford has a running theme of Jane remembering when she first visited these places, and meeting people who remember her, or seeing photos of herself - some notes on the actual events would be nice.

Andrew Fukada - The Hunt - Audio Book. This was very interesting. After my review a couple of weeks ago of the Sherlock Holmes, I was offered this book to review. I accepted, and it arrived in the mail promptly (like, the next day, which was a little freaky). Consider this full disclosure - I did receive a copy of the audio book from the publisher.

Let's dive in, shall we? The premise - vampires have overrun the world. Humans live either in farms maintained by vampires or in strictly maintained secrecy among the vampires. Apparently, vampires can't tell that you're a human if you are very very careful about personal cleanliness and such. Actually, though, humans don't live in farms anymore, because they've been eaten - delicacies eaten to extinction. So the only humans still kicking around at the beginning of the book are those living in carefully controlled hiding. Gene is one of these humans (they are called heepers or heapers - audio books have certain limitations in this regard - throughout the book - why is never revealed). His family has been gone since he was in his early teens - his dad was the last one to die. Gene maintains a facade that he is a vampire (a person, as they are described throughout) One day, the king of the vampires announces a hunt - there IS a small group of heepers still maintained in carefully controlled captivity, and a carefully selected group will be given the honor of hunting them down and eating them - how exciting! The hunters will be chosen by lottery. Naturally, Gene is selected, or else there is no plot.

Gene and a group of other vampires are sent out to the Heeper Institute, where they will have a week of training, followed by a hunt which is expected to last two or three hours. The heepers will be released at dawn, the hunters will be released at dusk, and the fun will ensue. Gene must figure out how to hide who he is and survive the experience, since he clearly can't hunt with the vampires.

Things I liked:
1) Fukada did a really nice job of world-building. He doesn't come right out and say that the vampires represent an apocalypse, but he crafts a post-apocalyptic world around them, in which technology is declining, and population is declining. Everything is described from Gene's limited point of view, and Gene knows almost nothing about the world outside of his limited experience - this was really well done. I especially liked the idea that vampires express themselves differently - they do not laugh, for instance. Instead, when they are amused, their wrists itch, and so they scratch them. "Necking" is done by putting one's elbow into one's mate's arm pit - odd, but consistent. Good stuff.
2) The use of humans as a metaphor for oppressed minority groups "passing" in the dominant society. Is Gene gay in a modern high school, pretending to be straight? Is he black in the 1950s, pretending to be white? Fukada plays this to the hilt - the physical aspects of "passing", but also the mental gymnastics - pretending to hate the very thing you are, until you start to actually hate the thing you are. This was also really well done.
3) A very minor thing, re: the audio-book-ness of the book - I liked that the narrator sounded like he was wearing false fangs as he read. Added a certain something.

Those things kept me from giving up, because the things I did not like were:
1) The gratuitous descriptions of vampires eating animal flesh. Lots of blood, lots of saliva, lots of messy adjectives - the first time, ok, that's setting. Repeated descriptions - a little gross.
2) Equally gross scenes of vampires dying in sunlight - flesh and eyeballs melting - the whole description just becoming too much, and taking too long - becoming icky, and then becoming absurd, and then becoming icky again. Yergh.
3) Gene is described as smart, but written as a moron. This, more than anything else, bugged the crap out of me. I suppose he was smart in comparison to the vampires, who are highly evolved physically at the expense of their intellect, but still - it took the boy FOREVER to figure out basic clues, and he kept wandering off to do other things rather than investigate basic things which were placed Right In Front of him. Gah. At points, I yelled at the book, which is never a good sign.
4) This is, I think, a peculiarity of the audio genre, but the pacing was very slow. I think, were I to have been reading the book myself, this wouldn't have bugged me, but action scenes took forEVER - lots and lots of monologueing, not enough doing. If it were on the page, it would have been a page turner, but when you read aloud, everything slows down - because you have to process the material and then translate it into speech, and then the audience has to process the material again. This made the last two discs of the book agonizing, because there was a lot of action - chasing, and fighting, and running, and escaping and such.

Finally, the book ends without a satisfying conclusion. There will be a sequel - this is not a case of loose ends, this is a solid case of cliff hanger. I do want to find out what happens with Gene, but I think it's good that I will have to wait for the sequel - I need time to recover from the vampire feeding and dying scenes.