Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The cold never bothered me anyway....

I'm really debating how to go about this review, since it's a case of enjoying a book, but finding faults with it all the same.

Christopher Golden is an engaging writer, and I've liked most of his stuff that I've read. The problem I keep running in to when I read his stuff is that alienation is a recurring and heavy theme. Unlike Brian Keane and his nihilistic writing, Golden's writing tend to read like My Chemical Romance in prose form. Seriously. It's not hard to picture his characters in a bad Lifetime movie about secret cutting.

Anyway, Snowblind Enjoins us in Coventry, Massachusetts, at the outset of a fairly major blizzard. We meet several characters, most of whom die. Including little Issac, who tells his brother Jake about the ice men dancing outside the window before being pulled through the window to his untimely death.

Cut to 12 years later as another blizzard starts coming in. And people who lost family 12 years ago get tense, and other people in their lives start acting very strange.

At which point the book becomes It crossed with The Returned. Because the folks who died 12 years ago are mostly possessing bodies of other people in town, hiding from the ice men. And of course, the dead are trying to tie up loose ends in the middle of a horror story.

It's readable, and fun, but most of the characters are one dimensional, entire personalities defined by who they lost 12 years ago and how they felt about that person.

I realize Golden wrote for comic books prior to his novel career, and it shows. The writing is very visual, but the characters remain mostly flat. All in all, worth getting from the library, although this isn't one I'd be inclined to buy.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Left me breathless.

While I was dealing with Dan Simmons back in March, I started some research into Everest, mainly in an attempt to get a better idea of what he was going on about. Bits of that lead into the 1996 disaster on the mountain, which in turn lead to Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer.

For those who don't remember, on May 10th and 11th, 1996, three expeditions attempted to summit Mount Everest from the Nepal side. (There was also a team ascending from Tibet, but they evidently didn't summit. Their fate, however, was just as bad.)

Jon Krakauer was on one of the 3 Nepalese-side expeditions that summited during this period, having joined Rob Hall of New Zealand's Adventure Consultants for the long journey to the roof of the world. (Jon was/is writing for Outside magazine, who ponied up the cash for Jon to go. They did this partially by giving Rob Hall advertising in the magazine for a reduced fee. Which, given the amount spent on equipment, permits, travel, Sherpas etc. adds up to be more cash than I'll ever see at one time.)

Krakauer suggests at the outset of the narrative that half of what he wanted to discuss was the severe danger of overcrowding on the mountain, as more and more people trying to make summit attempt in a very small window presented by the weather as the typhoon moves in and the jet stream moves out. Also, given that anyone with the money can buy a chance at the summit, regardless of experience or fitness.

Not that it still happens at all in the new millennium, as this photo by SubinThakuri
(published by National Geographic) shows. (Yep. That's the line to the summit in 2012
on the Hilary Steps on the way from the south summit to the summit.)

Rob Hall's Adventure Consultants is one of three expeditions at the base camp planning on a summit attempt on May 10th. Another, Mountain Madness, is being lead by Hall's friend and competitor Scott Fischer. The third, which, like the South African expedition, weren't really interested in participating in negotiations on which teams would be trying for summit when, was the Taiwanese group. (The South African group get almost a full chapter devoted to their drama. Which has to do with names not being listed on the permit, passports of countries other than South Africa, and the leader being something of a fascist dictator. And not in the way a mountain guide should be.)

I should mention here that the book starts with Krakauer waiting at the top of the steps after summiting trying to descend back down to Camp IV, only to be delayed by the number of folks climbing up the steps. (See above, although the picture above is a few more people than what Krakauer is faced with.)

Most of the first half of the book is devoted to travel to Everest from Kathmandu and the acclimatization process employed by Hall to keep his clients from passing out and dying even with oxygen at the higher camps. (Which mainly seems to involve climbing up to various camps, staying for some period of time, then returning to base camp.)  A few of the expeditions attempt the summit in the days preceding the May 10th attempt Hall and Fischer's groups are shooting for. Due to weather, none of those groups make it. However, as May 10th rolls around, the weather looks good and both Hall and Fischer's groups roll out at some ungodly hour of the morning to begin a summit attempt. (As a fun sidebar to this, David Breashears had a group recording an IMAX movie of their attempt, and they got involved in the issues happening higher up. As such, if you watch Everest: IMAX, you get to see live shot footage of some of the events in this book.)

Krakauer and a few others from Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness manage to summit fairly early, well before the 2PM turn around set by Hall. (The idea being, for safety concerns, no matter how close to the summit you are, at 2PM you turn around and head back to Camp IV.) This is in spite of a few missteps along the way, such as two portions of the summit route not being roped before climbers arrive. (This is largely placed at the feet of Sherpas from the different groups being mad at each other and refusing to work together.) 

Which brings us back around to the book's opening. Except now we hear from one of the climbers, a former airline pilot, that the clouds rolling in on the path look to be thunderheads. And thanks to a confused guide at the south summit (given the conditions, probably suffering with hypoxia), no one thinks there's any more oxygen waiting at the south summit for the climb down to the South Col.  There are also people still ascending even as the thundersnow rolls in, creating a nightmare blizzard of zero visibility. (I'm skipping bunches of stuff in here in the name of keeping it short.)

So, basically, even as Krakauer passes out from exhaustion and lack of oxygen, people are getting quite stranded trying to get up and down the path from Camp IV and the Summit.  (Among other issues, somehow, one client, Doug Hansen, had failed to summit the past year. That the guides got him to the summit at 4PM, much later than the turn around time didn't help. Doug and two of his guides died about 500 feet from each other around the South  Summit. It's assumed that Doug and Andrew "Harold" Harris managed to pall off the ridge. Hall died a few days later of exposure. Fischer died in the same general vicinity.) 

Now, the remains of the two non-Taiwanese groups that were still alive and not stuck above the South Summit did manage to get down to the South Col and get stuck in zero visibility away from Camp IV. Of these, only one died of exposure. Beck, who was part of the Adventure Consultants group, was left for dead, woke up the next morning and walked into camp. He almost died again, but was managed to get down to Camp II at the top of the Western Cwm, where they managed to land a helicopter to get him evacuated. 

Again, we're skipping a lot of narrative here. 

Most of the disaster portion of the book is centered around survivor guilt, for lack of a better term. what Krakauer could have done to save people if he;d been in better condition. (For instance, in his hypoxia, Krakauer managed to mistake a 130 pound American for a 200 pound New Zealander guide. Thinking the guide had returned safely to camp, he reported it as such. Then he found crampon tracks leading off the Lhotse face that he thought might have belonged to the guide. Found out those belonged to one of the Sherpas who'd overshot the Col. Come to find out the guide had gone to find Hall and Hansen to deliver more oxygen.)

Anyway, Adventure Consultants managed to lose 4 of the 6 members who summited. Mountain Madness managed to lose one guide, who happened to be the owner. On the other side of the mountain, 3 Indo-Tibetan climbers managed to die. Including one who now has the ignominious role of landmark and the nickname Green Boots.

Green Boots, as photographed by 
Dominic Goff, published in Smithsonian

There were other fatalities that season, but the 8 killed in one day was something of a record. Although, as Krakauer points out, the grand total of 12 fatalities for the 1996 Spring climbing season is lower than normal. 
I knew from previous research that there was a bit of controversy with Into Thin Air, mainly with his portrayals of Mountain Madness guide Anatoli Boukreev, and to a lesser extent, socialite climber Sandy Hill Pittman. In fact, Boukreev and a partner (Gary DeWitt) wrote a rebuttal titled The Climb. The rebuttal to this rebuttal makes up an postscript in Krakauer's book. 
For my part, I'm not a climber. The closest to high altitude I've made it involves a trip to Colorado at a much younger age. I will say that I understand why Krakauer thinks Boukreev was in the wrong for not using oxygen and descending well ahead of any of the folks he was supposed to be guiding up to the summit. But, oddly enough, had Boukreev done that, he likely would have died with the others above the South Summit instead of being able to run search and rescue in the storm. By all accounts, Boukreev and Krakauer had reached detente prior to Boukreev's death in an avalanche on Annapurna I in 1997.

Really, I enjoyed this book. It makes an interesting companion to Everest: IMAX, since thinks glossed over in one are discussed more thoroughly in the other. And particularly in light of the current Sherpa strike in Nepal, it's quite interesting to see how long the problems have been here, and how few answers are available that would actually be feasible.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Still in Hollywood

So, Walter Jon Williams' most recent Dagmar Shaw entry has less to do with Dagmar than the last two books, but oh, wow, what a read. The Fourth Wall mostly concerns Sean Makin (who narrates most of the book in First Person Present tense. (which seems to be a thing anymore, since several of the more recent books post on here have used the same device to build tension.)

Sean, whom we meet as he's wrestling in cottage cheese against another former child star, used to star in an 80's era sitcom called Family Tree with a tagline of "Whatever lifts your luggage." However, following a less severe career trajectory than say, Dana Plato, still leaves him in a financial crater of sorts, thus why he's on the wondrous Celebrity Pit Fighter reality show.

Long story short: despite laws designed to prevent it, his mom and dad more or less walked away with the majority of his enormous earnings from Family Tree. Dad mainly spent it on scams and gambling, while Mom spent money getting closer to her guru, who she thinks is an incarnate God.

His agent, who's pretty much the only rep willing to touch him, sets him up with an offer from on Dagmar Shaw, who's producing a new kind of serial movie. The idea being that the plot branches at the end of every installment based on what the viewer chooses.  Viewers would then be encouraged to share versions, since, with only one branch per device, people would want to see what they missed out on. (It should be pointed out Dagmar is pregnant with Ismet's baby now.)

Anyway, there's much less emphasis on the ARG in this installment, beyond Sean signing up for one early on and getting strange phone calls from one of the characters. Sean's blog also becomes part of the Game created to promote Escape to Earth, as well as providing insight into Sean's life story. (Mind you, we really only find out about some of his worst moments through the regular soliloquies throughout. Like how his test run for a DUI comeback attempt derailed when a friend of his died as he was trying to engineer a crash for himself. Or how he sold video of a younger pop star having a melt down to a tabloid to make money.)

Throughout the course of the narrative, we get a rather cynical look at fame and Hollywood, reality show competition fixing, and several murders. Oh yes. while Dagmar faced small amounts of danger in the last book, Sean gets to deal with a psychotic devotee of his mother's guru, a black SUV that tries to run him down a few times, and many of the cast and crew dying not long after their part in the movie is finished.

Oh yes, Sean is a trouble magnet. And that's half of what makes him so fun to read. I look forward to any future installments, since this series is quite engaging and fun.

Now, as I was reading this, I was reminded of another series, which in turn may be mentioned later this week when and if I get around to doing a survey/synopsis on gay mystery series.

The Actor's Guide series by Rick Copp also involves mysteries being solved by a semi employed former child star. Namely, one Jarrod Jarvis of Go To Your Room! and "Baby, don't even go there!". His career decline starts with him making out with another guy at a rodeo, thus the whole gay mystery thing. Again, it's full of Hollywood cliches, and lots of gay references, but the books themselves are fun to read, and worth trying to find on Amazon. (There's only 3. Murder, Adultery, and Greed.)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Moving right along

The Great A'Tuin moves. On his back, 4 Elephants. (There was a 5th elephant, but it crashed in Uberwald and left fat deposits.) And on the elephants' trunks, a flat surface with hub and rim.

Yep, Terry Pratchett released the 40th installment of Discworld, Raising Steam, in which Moist van Lipwig (Of Going Postal and Making Money fame) gets to help start Discworld's first railroad. Not that he's alone in this, as just about everyone from Ankh-Morpork makes at least a cameo in the course of the narrative. We also get a peek at how politics on the disc have evolved following the events of both Thud! and Snuff, which is to say the truce between the dwarfs and the trolls still holds and goblins are quickly becoming a civilized race. (In fact, it turns out the goblins love technology, and have become adept at running clacks towers as well as helping with the railroad. Also, Adora, Moist's wife, is doing for the goblins what she did for the golems. Looking out for their rights and protecting them from exploitation.)

As Lord Vetinari is involved in the railroad building (essentially making sure Moist is protecting the city's interest in it), politics ensues. Beyond the normal stuff (the railroad connecting with the Sto-Lat plains allows for urban flight to happen to a degree), we also get to deal with the grags (Dwarven fundamentalists) who remain unhappy about how Dwarf culture is evolving. This leads to burning down Clacks towers, sabotaging the railroad as the Uberwald Express comes rushing through, and also usurping the Scone of Stone while the king is in Quirm having parley with the Diamond King of the Trolls.

As this is Discwrld, there's a heck of a lot going on. As usual, Pratchett (and probably his daughter*) does a marvellous job of balancing several different story lines, from the Goblin workforce to the sentient locomotive engine, from Moist selling the railway to Blackboard Monitor Samuel Vimes. (Sadly, the witches don't show up, although Nanny Ogg is mentioned in passing as visiting the Lancre Clacks towers.)

To go too far in depth with the plot would ruin the book for folks. so let's leave it at Although Moist is not among my favorite characters in the Disc, Raising Steam is still an exciting ride that advances Discworld into 19th centure fantasy technology.

*Pratchett has Alzheimer's dementia, sadly. By all accounts, his daughter Rhianna is poised to continue the series when Sir Terry reaches a point where he can't write.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Hollow Ending

In what's supposed to be, I think, the last book in Kim Harrison's The Hollows series (The Undead Pool), we get to see Rachel Morgan deal with Elvish religion in the only way she knows how.

We begin with Rachel, day walking demon who started off as an Earth witch, working security for Trent, the elf who's father developed a cure of sorts for Rosewood disease. Trent wants to date Rachel, but really can't because of his impending nuptials to Elizabeth, the elf who's acting as mother to two elven babies in Trent's care.

Then things start exploding.

As the book progresses, we find that Living vampires in league with the Dewar elves are using bits of the elvish goddess to knock out the Undead vampire, which is causing chaos with any form of magic. (It's a very convoluted plot.)

As an ending, it works, I guess. It's not nearly as bad as the epilogue Charlaine Harris gave her Southern Vampires, and thankfully, Harrison hasn't dragged the Hollows out the way Laurell K. Hamilton has dragged out Anita Blake.

There are things I really like in here. I love the idea of the elvish goddess being less a being than a collection of infinite awareness that form a kind of hive mind. I love that she's managed to give the cast a spot in here without having to shoehorn in stragglers.

There are things I wasn't as fond of, since Rachel and Trent's relationship over the course of the series is a bit like the early seasons of Moonlighting. You know, frenemies. In this book, it seems more than a little forced.

There's also some fairly uncharacteristic erotica slipped in the middle third. While the series has used sexual tension quite effectively, it normally doesn't delve that deeply into the play by play. On the bright side, it's as awkward for the characters involved as it is for the reader. (This is not some other series, where the sex is always mind blowing and perfect. This is much more of the "I just got an elbow in my face" variety.)

If this is indeed where Rachel's story ends, I'll miss her. If it's not, hopefully Harrison has a way to rekindle the magic after such a fairly final end.