07 July 2017

Graham and Land Pen a Stealth YA-SciFi-Romance-Thriller

The Rising - Heather Graham and Jon Land

Perhaps the most interesting thing about 18-year-old Alex Chin is that he’s blue-eyed and blonde, unlike his mainland Chinese parents. The official reason’s simple – he’s adopted. The real reason is a little more complicated…

…and that complication is the reason football star-slash-stone fox Alex and his tutor Sam (short for Samantha) are on the run, pursued by oily-smelling cyborgs and an ashy-gray something that just ain't quite real. Oh, yeah, and Alex has a protector guy that he never knew about with a super-neat weapon; a good thing since the pseudo-people chasing him murdered his parents and are heck-bent on taking him back. Somewhere.

Fortunately for Alex (if you can say “fortunately” about a freshly-orphaned teenager), with her dying breath his mom provided the key to his real back-story. Yup, Alex isn’t a normal red-blooded teenage boy (though his appraisal of Sam seems to suggest otherwise). Alex is – tada! an alien! He’s an alien who, his protector says, holds  the key to Earth’s survival; though just what that key might be and what it might unlock are complete mysteries. If you thought things were already complicated, an angry billionaire is also hunting for Alex, and as far as Langston Marsh is concerned, the only good alien is a dead alien – and his storm troopers are closing in.

Alex and Sam, however, are about to have a rip-roarin’ good time as they flee marauding aliens and a cadre of mercenaries – but have no fear, they’ll be fine.

They’ll be fine because 1) The Rising is a YA novel (albeit rather stealthy about it) and 2) if the kids don’t survive, authors Heather Graham and Jon Land won’t be able to attempt to spin the novel into a series. Not that it’s really worth it…

Now I’m not opposed to YA novels; I rather like them. I realize they’re supposed to appeal to people the age of my grandkids, and should be expected to touch on all the themes familiar to fans of Harry and Katniss. No doubt about it, the classic tropes about “coming of age under fire” and “recognizing her beauty once she takes off her glasses” figure prominently. Just as common these days, regardless of the target audience, is that “evil billionaire” plot thread Graham and Land shoehorn into the plot, presumably to make the kids’ flight even more perilous – it’s like the Fellowship being attacked simultaneously by Sauron and Saruman…

     Like I said, I’m OK with YA novels (see my multitudinous Pittacus Lore reviews). I’m not OK with sloppy pseudoscience – in an era when kids are pounded relentlessly with STEM, I suspect that rubbish like “It had been formed of subatomic, programmable particles based on nanotechnological principles” will make them retch like it did me - -both times it appeared. And then there’s the notion that a particle accelerator acts as a power source: “once activated, a particle accelerator of this size and magnitude [sic] would generate power on the millisecond level equal to that powering an entire city or even a state.” Geez, guys, instead of just throwing science-y words on the page, why not call the local university and ask for help?!

On a side note, it’s interesting that one author thinks the phrase is “honed in on,” while the other prefers “home in on” (for the record, it’s home…). Sloppy editing, I guess.

All in all, it’s just a YA thriller with a little young love (super-chaste – just one little kiss) and a heaping helping of pseudo-science. The thing is, in the Harry Potter stories kids know the fantastic stuff is magic. Here, they’re supposed to think it’s present-day Earth and all this stuff is based on real science and technology.

But it’s not, and that isn’t a good thing for The Rising – not at all.

copyright © 2015-2017 scmrak

29 June 2017

Johnson's Subgenre Novel may only be Interesting to her Subgenre

Cold Flash - Carrie H. Johnson

The world of mystery fiction seems to be becoming more and more fragmented. Once there were mostly police procedurals, courtroom dramas, and PI mysteries; then along came a slew of new genres like cozy, romantic, profession-based, and supernatural tales. Next came the sub-genres and sub-sub genres and maybe even sub-sub-sub-genres. It seems that somewhere out there, an author has concocted a mystery with a hero(ine) exactly like the reader – no matter whether that reader is male, female, Anglo, Latino, African-American, gay, straight, vampire, alien… you get the picture. In the rush to fill every available niche, however, quality seems to have taken a back seat to quality. I hate to say it, but Carrie H. Johnson and Cold Flash are a perfect example.

25 May 2017

Nothing's Worse that a Know-Nothing Know-it-All, Right?

The Death of Expertise - Tom Nichols

If the statisticians are right – and there’s a good chance that they are – half the people out there are of below-average intelligence. So why is it that everyone thinks he or she knows everything? Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise, says it’s because of the Dunning-Kroger effect: the dumber you are, the less likely you are to know how dumb you are. Makes sense to me…

Tom Nichols The Death of Expertise

30 April 2017

Love Dogs or Only Like 'Em, "Just Life" Will Disappoint

Just Life - Neil Abramson

Some say that man’s greatest invention is the wheel, some say it is fire. Personally, I’d like to make a case for the domestic canine: I love my dogs and firmly believe that there are no bad dogs (only bad owners). Lawyer-author Neil Abramsom would probably agree, and perhaps that’s why his latest novel, Just Life, so clearly outlines the difference between humans and dogs. I just wish he’d done it better…

Just Life - Neil Abramson
Samantha Lewis, DVM, operates on the edge of insolvency: her tiny no-kill shelter in NYC’s Riverside neighborhood has managed to scrape by for years, but time has run out for the Finally Home Animal Shelter. In thirty days, the shelter must place all 24 of its dogs and close the doors -- forever. That’d be bad enough, but suddenly there’s a mysterious killer virus striking local children and rumor has it that the CDC thinks pooches are the carriers. Sam’s charges number almost 100 as her neighbors entrust their animals to her care while fleeing the specter of disease.

Sam and her helpers – a couple of employees, a teenaged volunteer and a defrocked shrink doing court-ordered service – find themselves at the center of a whirlwind, as the mayor and NYPD protect the shelter’s occupants against the governor and the National Guard. There are, of course, the expected villains – soulless politicians, soulless business types, and soulless rednecks – but nevertheless we expect Sam’s band of misfits to prevail (spoiler alert: not one dog dies in this book)…

Abramson’s second novel (after 2012’s Unsaid) is perhaps most memorable for the heart-rending cover photo of a hooded figure, facing a phalanx of uniformed cops, while clutching a precious pup to his chest. Research reveals that Unsaid has a handsome weimaraner on the cover – I see a trend here…

Sadly, the cover photograph is the best part of Just Life (the survival of every dog mentioned notwithstanding). Abramson’s writing is from the “kitchen-sink” school, a style in which every known trope that might be the slightest bit related makes an appearance. We have a healthy dollop of religion, far too much gratuitous mysticism, and enough redemption of sins to populate a shelf full of syrupy young-adult fiction books at the local Christian bookstore.

Abramson’s writing is clunky and clumsy, the pacing is uneven, the characters are thin, and an overreliance on tropes of good and evil makes the plot as predictable as a “Wild Kratz” short. I had high hopes for a plot with so interesting a premise, but Just Life did not deliver.
copyright © 2017 scmrak

27 March 2017

The Pot Thief Who Couldn't Spell "Chile"

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras - J. Michael Orenduff

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras - J Michael Orenduff
Meet Hubert Schuze (pronounced, I believe, “shoes”). Hubert runs a pot shop in Albuquerque’s Old Town – no, New Mexico hasn’t legalized marijuana, he sells Native American pottery. Hubert’s a pot thief, at least according to the Feds, since he has no problem with digging up old pottery on public land and selling it in his shop. That’s not legal, but since he thinks the law is wrong, he engages in civil disobedience that just happens to fatten his bank account. Hubert’s forty-something, was kicked out of UNM’s archaeology program for – you guessed it – stealing artifacts, and keeps a great deal of company with a lovely Basque by the name of Susannah.

Hubert also likes to read non-fiction… and while he’s reading a collection of essays on Pythagoras (the eponymous theorem guy), he becomes embroiled in a bit of theater involving the theft of not one but two valuable pots. In fact, they’re the only two known complete pots attributed to the Mogollon culture – and both are (or were) in museums. Weirdly enough, two people end up dead over this caper, which means one per pot.

Of course, Hubert’s up to his bolo tie in the mess, since some guy offered him a tidy sum to steal one of the pots – and the other one turned up stolen just hours later. Add in a couple of dead bodies, and the pot’s… errr, the plot’s afoot. It’s a good thing Schuze is smarter than the average museum curator, or he’d be in a lot of trouble! When all is said and done and Hubert’s Miss Marple-style lecture to the suspects is over, he’s left a hero and had picked up enough to pay his quarterly taxes to boot. Not bad for a margarita-swilling slacker, eh?

The first in J. Michael Orenduff’s series, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras was first published in 2007 by the former president of the University of New Mexico. Orenduff draws on his personal knowledge of his native city for this entry in the series, although he has precious little to say about anything beyond restaurants and shops except for an occasional reference to sunrise over the Sandia Mountains. More’s the pity, since the landscape deserves far more attention. But I digress…

As a mystery, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras is no great shakes, mainly because Orenduff fails to leave the clues necessary for a reader to track along with the amateur sleuth. Hubert solves one of the two murders via a series of deductions in which the crucial deduction is decidedly weak, while the second murder is completely lacking in motivation. I hope that the author improves in this sense through the next six books in the series – it was interesting enough that I will probably take a look at a second installment some day.

I might not, though: I found the character of Hubert to be rather unsympathetic. For one, there’s the endless rationalization of his law-breaking; for another there’s his constant companionship (and heavy drinking) with his friend Susannah. And while he bitches constantly about being broke, he eats almost every meal in restaurants and drinks four or five margaritas each night. And he listens to jazz… of course.

     Most of all, though, Schuze peeves this reader because he keeps talking about “chilies.” I sure hope that he got stuck with that spelling by an editor, because a real New Mexican knows there’s only one I in “chiles” – and the proper spelling is preserved in The Congressional Record
copyright © 2017 scmrak