Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: A Surfeit of Mandrake

A Surfeit of Mandrake is an anthology of short fiction and poetry put together by Chaz Wood and several other authors. There are several illustrations by Chaz Wood and Frang McHardy throughout the collection as well. Chaz Wood was gracious enough to send me a review copy.

I won't go through each story here, as there are twenty-nine in all, but I'll talk about a few of them and comment on the common theme in them all. The first story, "The Toebone of St. Giles," is a take on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which I appreciated a lot. Right after the story there's a great illustration. The story "Leper Messiah" starts off as a graphic novel and then tells a short story in prose. The pictures were well-drawn and added a lot to the story. Perhaps my favorite is "Clan Clash," in which a story is told through illustrations and poetry being spewed from the mouths of barbarians.

Throughout the collection there is talk of the Mandrake. The Mandrake isn't in every story or poem, but in enough to create a common feeling when reading through. To me, the creature was elusive and appeared only when reality was bent either by drugs or some other reason.

It's hard to judge an anthology, with so many authors and styles. I liked some more than others, but each had their own quality. I felt the illustrations helped tie the stories together even more and helped make A Surfeit of Mandrake an enjoyable read. I especially liked some of the Scottish lingo and U.K. feel of the writing.

Bookophile Rating: Good

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book Review: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said

So far, this had to be my favorite of Philip K. Dick's novels. It's about a genetically engineered celebrity that, through extenuating circumstances, becomes an unknown overnight. One day everyone knows who he is, the next day he is a nobody. He investigates the cause of this enigma and is chased by police and led into a dark underground of reality-bending drug trips.

The story is short, about 200 pages, but remarkably complex. Dick is a master of playing with our perceptions of what is real and what is our imagination. The descriptions were wrought with phantasmagorical language that transcended many layers of the text.

In 2009 The Halcyon Company, known for owning the rights to the terminator franchise and making Terminator Salvation, acquired the rights to produce a film for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. Here's to hoping it comes out soon!

I'd recommend this book to fans of Philip K. Dick and anyone who likes books dealing with reality and drugs.

Bookophile Rating: Ludicrous!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Review: Storm Front

Storm Front, Book 1 of the Dresden Files, centers around Harry Dresden, a professional wizard you can look up in the phone book. He's basically a supernatural private detective. It's fitting then that the writing style hearkens back to a sort of Raymond Chandler feel of hard-boiled detective narration. It's certainly not a style I had seen before this series, which makes it that much more unique.

The plot of the first novel centers around a missing persons case that turns into a supernatural clash between two kinds of magic. The general plot outline was in step with detective novels of the past and I wouldn't expect it to have been more complicated than it was. There were enough twists and turns to keep my mind active. Dresden's back story barely scratches the surface in the first book, but interests me enough to want to read further installments to find out what has happened and will happen to him.

The novel was concise like an old detective story, but rich enough in detail to maintain a diverse audience. I would recommend this to both mystery fans and scifi geeks.

Bookophile Rating: Excellent

Monday, April 4, 2011

Book Review: Shutter Island

Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island is a gothic mystery/suspense novel that takes place on an island near Boston. The story starts with Teddy Daniels and his partner on a boat nearing the island. They are detectives looking for a woman who has disappeared. There are numerous twists which kept me guessing and a cast of characters ranging from those in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It's hard to say anything more about the plot without giving anything away, so I'll leave it at that.

Dennis Lehane's writing ability is on another level from his peers. Despite the nature of the novel, he writes with eloquence and grace, creating vivid images and setting scenes that translate perfectly to the big screen. The pace of the novel is like a runaway train. It starts fast and only gets faster as Teddy Daniels gets closer to the strange truth behind Shutter Island.

I put this on my book shelf as a definite reread. I'd recommend it to any lover of mystery or suspense who wants some real writing for a change instead of the hacks who fill up most mystery sections these days. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Bookophile Rating: Ludicrous!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book Review: Starship Troopers

Robert Heinlein's controversial book was not what I had expected after watching the 1997 movie. The premise is that Johnnie Rico lives in a future where citizenship is gained by serving in the military, and you must be a citizen if you want to vote and have some other privileges. Through extenuating circumstances, Johnnie joins the military, right before Earth gets in a war with a race of bugs.

A cool aspect of this novel is the powered armor the soldiers wear (which never appeared in the first Starship Troopers movie but appeared in sequels, presumably to follow the book more closely). Now I know where Blizzard got their design for Starcraft. Heinlein makes the advanced technology accessible for the non-savvy, but also to the tech-whiz-reader.

Throughout the novel there are strong meritocratic themes and entire sections taken place in a classroom explaining various political philosophies. They seem to be setting themselves up on the far side of the spectrum from Karl Marx. They say that individuals should sacrifice for the benefit of the collective. The difference between the two philosophies is choice. A Marxist would not give the individual a choice.

Part Political Essay, part Novel, Heinlein's most controversial work will remain on my bookshelf so I can reread it again someday. I recommend to any right-wingers out there and anyone who needs to get their head screwed on straight.

Bookophile Rating: Excellent

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Perhaps Philip K Dick's best known novel is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It was the basis for the 1982 film Blade Runner. It takes place in the year 2021, in a U.S. that has been devastated by war and mass extinctions. People have begun to covet every living creature (owning real pets has become an extreme luxury). There are people who make electric animals for those who can't afford real ones, though there is stigma attached. They can also make humans. The novel follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who job is to find and destroy (retire) rogue androids, known as replicants.

The world Philip K. Dick has created is a dark and vivid one. I personally imagine it to always be raining or the streets to at least always be wet. This is probably an influence from the slow, but ultimately cult classic Blade Runner. Dick is able to create mysterious characters and set the scene faster and more effectively than any writer I know. There's something to be said about a novel written in 1968 that foresees so many things. He was certainly ahead of his time (or maybe dropped by aliens...)

The relationship developed between Rick and Pris is not sexy or really something that is lusty, it just is. There's an extra dynamic in the story, where the reader is made to be unsure of who is a replicant and who is not. It makes sense, then, that any relationship that forms in the book seems artificial in nature. Even Rick's marriage to Iran seemed contrived. It was a wonderful job by Philip K. Dick to create an atmosphere of uncertainty around each character.

I recommend this book to hard scifi fans and to fans of scifi films. There have been recent talks of sequel or prequel movies, which I'm not too sure about, but am willing to give a shot. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a classic, and if you're just getting into the science fiction or even near future genres, I would recommend this as a great start to your adventure.

Bookophile Rating: Ludicrous!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Book Review: Decision Points

Disclaimer: I won't be reviewing the politics of George W. Bush's memoir. I am reviewing only its merit as a presidential memoir and his writing ability.

George W. Bush's presidential memoir is not a chronological view of his life like many presidential memoirs before him. Instead, he breaks down his life and presidency into fourteen live-changing decisions that affected him, his family, and the nation. I thought this was an interesting way to write about one's past and presidency. I have respect for the method, as it has not been done before.

Here's a list of the decisions he talks about: Quitting Drinking, Running for Office, Choosing His Cabinet, Stem Cell Research, 9/11 Response, National Defense Policy, Afghanistan, Iraq, No Child Left Behind, Hurricane Katrina, PEPFAR (Aid to Africa for HIV/AIDS), The Surge, Enhanced Interrogation, and the Bailouts.

That's just about the most controversial list of topics I can think of...

Each decision was well thought-out and researched by old members of his administration (with references galore in the back of the book). I found each point worthy of being discussed, but descriptions of why he made his decisions were too long-winded and defensive. There were, however, interesting insights into the daily life of the President that an outsider could not hope to understand.

As it is a memoir, the voice is that of President Bush. It may have been heavily edited and fact-checked, but the writing is unmistakably his. Some of his 'decision points' are better thought out than others. It's easy to empathize with his decision to stop drinking and his 9/11 response, but decisions like the bailout don't have enough evidence to back up his reasons for doing it. I say this especially because new evidence becomes available daily about why we are in this financial crisis.

What you have to realize before reading this book is that for most of these decisions he was faced with impossible decisions where to act might mean deaths of Americans, and to not act might have meant the same. It's easy to bash him while in office for decisions you disagree with, but it's enlightening to read his memoir and know his side of the story.

Bookophile Rating: Good