Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Brisket anyone?

A story before we begin this. On a previous library run, I ran across a display title named World War Moo. I examined it, and found out it was actually book 2 in a series, which leads me to today, wherein I get to tell you all about Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan.

A few notes before we really dig in to such succulent, tender subjects. Evidently this won the Terry Pratchett Prize at one point, and Pratchett did indeed write the forward for it. And, honestly, much of the humor is straight out of early Discworld. I almost expected a Rincewind cameo at one point.

Mind you, the book isn't afraid to wallow in tropes like a pig would.

We start at a suburban abattoir outside Glasgow, Scotland. Something is amiss, as the place is burning to the ground. Someone mentions seeing something getting away in the shadows, but no one seems to think there's any real risk. Really, much of this conversation is straight out of Return of the Living Dead. 

We then switch to Geldof, a 14 year old boy named after noted bleeding heart Bob Geldof by his very militantly vegan mother Fanny. Fanny insists on everyone being completely vegan in her house, including Geldof wearing all hemp clothing, despite him being allergic to the stuff. Geldof's father, James, spends most of the book in a pot induced hazed. Geldof is being harassed by the neighbor twins (Malcolm and Tony), while secretly fantasizing about their mother Mary. Mary's husband, David, won the lottery prior to the beginning of the book, and delights in baiting Fanny about her dietary habits. The twins, using bully logic, are convinced that Fanny's dietary habits and PETA style activism are behind the deaths at the abattoir that killed their cousin, and convince Geldof to go cow tipping with them to avenge humanity on the bovine killers.

Before that happens, we meet Lesley, a journalist at the local paper. Lesley, in fact, is about to get fired, since she's not a good journalist. She also loathes her coworker Colin, who seems to be the star reporter. After Colin goes out for a few brews at the pub as a business lunch, Lesley intercepts a call meant for him from a recorded voice offering proof that the virus was British created, and not part of a terrorist conspiracy. Having no idea what the heck the voice is talking about, Lesley records it anyway and prepares to investigate to annoy her editor and coworker.

Then we meet Terry, who managed to escape the slaughter at the abattoir. Terry is confined to a bed in some kind of facility by one Mr. Alistair Brown, who wants to make sure Terry can't incriminate anyone.

Finally, back in the cow pasture, Geldof, Malcolm and Tony meet the first bovine monstrosity as they attempt to go tip a normal cow. For those of you who have seen 28 Days Later, it seems that the animals have been infected with something akin to the Rage virus, causing them to want to copulate and infect the other animals. Mind you, cows are herbivores, which just makes them eating people more painful.

At any rate, as the book progresses, we eventually find everyone in the same place, namely Geldof's house. This leads us in to the tropes of what do survivors who really don't like each other are forced to live together. And find food.

Followed by the inevitable escape sequence... Since the virus is limited to Great Britain, the group tries escaping to France via the Chunnel while being pursued by Mr. Brown. They also briefly wind up in a refugee camp. Along the way, the party whittles down a bit, as happens in these situations.

As is normal also, there's some social commentary thrown in different places. Part of the virus is an urge to copulate, thrown in by the male scientists. David spends mush of his time whining about the lack of meat and insulting the French for stopping British beef imports. Frannie is convinced the military evacuation is the start of the government enslaving its citizens and remains convinced that the virus is punishment for people eating animals and her veganism means the animals won't eat her. When we get to the French border, one character takes great offense at being called English, while the French guard (who owes much of his dialogue to Monty Python and the Holy Grail) takes offense to being called German.

While the book is not exactly original, it is funny in places and quite readable. It's much less nihilistic than say Brian Keene, although the humor is less Pratchett in places and more Wayans Brothers. But yes, I look forward to checking out the sequel.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Activate the OMEGA-13!

So, I technically finished Kim Harrison's The Drafter yesterday, but I'm still napping on and off from vacation, which is why I'm sitting here updating at the start of the weekend.

Harrison's Hollows series was fabulous, but it also got started kind of rough. I found myself having similar issues with The Drafter, as, while really entertaining and readable, there were a few places where another revision for better clarity would have been really welcome.

Anyway, the plot centers around Peri Reed, who works as a spy for the government agency Opti. Peri is fairly well off, driving a snazzy car and wearing really nice clothes. Peri also has the ability to Draft, which basically allows her to rewrite the last 30 seconds or so of history to change the timeline in her favor. As we open, she and her Anchor, Jack, are breaking into an office to get files from a corrupt business. (Anchors are folks who help ground a drafter after a draft... basically helping reconcile two very different timelines and helping drafters recover memories that they lose for various periods after a draft. About 1/3 of the way though, for instance, Peri loses 3 years.)

Anyway, the job goes bad, as someone who isn't supposed to be there confronts Jack and Peri with a list of corrupt Opti agents, all while claiming Peri's name is on the list.

Of course, Peri forgets most of this after drafting to prevent getting shot.

In the mean time, we also meet Silas, who works for the alliance. Silas also wants the list of corrupt agents as a way to bring down Opti once and for all. As the book goes on, we find that he and Peri also have a bit of a history together that she has no recollection of.

The plot is convoluted, but very entertaining, as Peri works with both factions, slowly recovering her old memories on the way to the finale.

The problem I kept running into was all the varying timelines, missing memories, and the fact that people were talking as the draft was going on only to have the timeline restart got very disorienting. It had a tendency to derail the narrative, depending on what's actually going on.

While the ending has all the hallmarks of spinning off into a new series, which might really help iron out some of the issues, it also ends in such a way that one doesn't really know where she;d go next.

As with her previous novels, her supporting characters, like Howard and Taf (two alliance members who help out Peri for part of the book) are probably the best parts of the book as a whole. One wishes they'd have had more to do throughout the course of the book.

Honestly, it's a fun read, but wow, I really wish she'd done one more revision.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Mmm, blood roses and silence.

Well, given Seanan MacGuire has like 3 other series going plus a few hundred other projects, I was kind of surprised to see a new October Daye novel appear recently. Very pleasantly surprised, but still, surprised.

So anyway, long story short, mainly because I'm starting my vacation tomorrow and I have to be up early, October and crew wind up traveling from Mists in San Francisco to Silences in Portland after Silences declares war on Mists. Complicating this is that the former queen of silences, now missing her Siren essence, who put King Rhys on the throne in Silence, is now sitting beside him in Silence.

Toby is not a diplomat, but gets sent as one. Which goes over not particularly well.

Again, this series remains a fun read. I'm glad she returned to it. She also gets props for hinting around at one character getting ready to come out, and finding out that one of the other characters started life off with one gender, but has since transitioned into another. While I know some readers will see that as gratuitous, it honestly is just another piece of said characters in novels involving a King of Cats, a half-fairie who does magic with blood, and one really angry sea witch.

Friday, September 4, 2015

That sentence seems a little excessive.

As long time readers will note, it's a rarity for non-fiction to show up on here, and when it does, it's usually due to tracking down something else I was researching. Such is the case with Nathan Leopold's Life Plus 99 Years, which I actually put in a request for back in June after seeing a local production of the musical Thrill Me.

Since Leopold refuses to discuss the whys on how it is he ended up serving Life Plus 99 Years, here's a quick recap. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb lived in Chicago. Much like others, the pair became obsessed with Nietzsche's idea of the Ubermench, and being fairly brilliant, pulled off the perfect murder. Well, sort of. Robert Banks' body was found before they could really demand the ransom for the kidnapping, and Leopold managed to drop his glasses at the place they dropped the body. Given he had one of 3 pairs in Chicago at the time...

Given that it came out that Leopold and Loeb were lovers, that they thought they were Ubermenchen, and that no one ever really found a motive for the murder (and it happened in 1924), it caused quite the sensation. "Crime of the Century!" the papers screamed.

Clarence Darrow, he of the Scopes Monkey Trials, wound up defending the pair. Darrow's summation managed to spare the boys (who were not even 20 yet) a long ride down a short rope. Instead, they got sentenced to Life plus 99 years.

Leopold picks up his narrative at the end of the trial and moving in to the ancient penitentiary in Joliet, IL. Policy in that era meant keeping them at first in separate wings of the prison, and later keeping one in Joliet and the other at Stateville. (This too eventually changed, as both wound up at Stateville in the same cell block.) Loeb got shanked in 1936, leaving Leopold with several lonely years in prison without his friend.

Not that he was bored. We hear in Leopold's narrative about his various jobs in the prison; running the correspondence school, X-Ray technician, cobbler, secretary.... we hear about the old punishment in The Hole, which used to involve chaining the prisoner to the cell door for long periods of time. We also spend much of the last part of the book with Leopold helping with research to find malaria treatment and cures, with the US Army testing stuff on prisoners to help solve the malaria problems in the Pacific campaign against the Japanese in 1945.

It's actually an interesting read, although Leopold isn't exactly what would constitute a "normal" criminal. (If you want that, I suggest Edward Bunker's Animal Factory [which, while fiction, Bunker was a prisoner much of his life] or Jimmy Lerner's You Got Nothing Coming [which centers around Lerner's manslaughter conviction and stay in the Nevada penal system]). Leopold was brilliant (he spoke something like 17 languages and did all kinds of correspondence work in prison), and he helped research much of the parole recommendation testing.

That all being said, there are a few downsides here, some of which actually add to those doing research on semi-related topics. The chief issue I ran in to a few times was that language has drifted quite a bit since 1957. Or heck, since 1924 when Leopold went in. This leads to a few occasions of trying to use contextual clues to figure out what the heck he's going on about. Another major issue I had was reading Erle Stanley Gardner's introduction, which is a rather stunning example of how far things have come in a rather short time. (I get the impression Gardner was liberal for his time. However, it's a bit odd reading someone making commentary about how Kinsey's sex research proves that Leopold and Loeb were just fooling around and probably would have grown up heterosexual had they not murdered Banks. Also, Gardner's rant about children disobeying parents rebelling is pretty much one of those issues that our ancestors complained about and our great grandchildren will complain about.) Given that Leopold was writing much of this with eventual parole board hearings in mind, he comes off rather saint-like in places, and some of the earlier chapters of the book feature him longingly talking about some woman he had a few really platonically boring dates with. (Mind you, it's not that hard to find the longing and loving of his buddy Richard in the places where Richard is there. But again, given the time period, a man loving another man probably would not have helped him get his parole in 1958.)

I spent much of the book wondering how it would read in the modern age. I'm sure had any of this happened in our modern age, the book would be filled with salacious details of the murder and his relationship with Dick. Modern psychologists would chime in about Loeb being a sociopath. We's here about modern illnesses rather than hearing about how one man's syphilis went far enough to drive him to insanity while he was on parole. By the look of his Wikipedia entry though, Leopold did as he set out to do on parole, which was move to Puerto Rico to work and teach in relative obscurity.

Worth the experience of reading.