Saturday, July 17, 2010

#38: The City and The City by China Mieville

A cop in the city-state of Beszel tries to solve the murder of a woman from the neighboring city-state of Ul Quoma, while facing political complications and his own inner demons, in China Mieville's ultra-strange science fiction/noir hybrid The City and The City.

Despite the brief summary, Mieville's work is hard to explain.  Beszel is a fading Eastern European-style city, whereas Ul Quoma is a rising military dictatorship experimenting with democracy; guarding the borders between the two cities is a mysterious policing group called The Breach.  But both cities occupy the same geographical space, differentiating philosophically by citizens "unseeing" each other and the other part of the city.

It's as unique a chunk of sci-fi as I have read (and I read a lot of Philip Dick, Ursula LeGuin, and Samuel R. Delany); sort of what might happen if Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko went to visit Delany's Dhalgren

For those willing to be patient, and take a chance on something quite unique, this comes recommended.

I actually took a recommendation on this one myself from my pal Troy, and checked it out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

#37: Assignment Manchurian Doll by Edward S. Aarons

In the heat of the Cold War, an old enemy of U.S. spy Sam Durell has decided he will only defect across the Iron Curtain to him, sending Durell to Japan and then "Red China" while double- and triple-crossing friends and enemies stalk his every move in Edward S. Aarons' Assignment Manchurian Doll.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I have been rediscovering and enjoying Aarons' espionage novels of the 50s and 60s after snagging a big stack on ebay some time ago.  Most of the books I have read to date take place in the more sober late 50s, with plenty of rain-slick Washington streets, but this entry is square in the middle of the freewheeling 60s.  There is a lot more sex and sadism than the ones I had read prior, with some oversized villains of the flavor Ian Fleming favored at the time. 

For the curious, the "Manchurian Doll" of the title is a sexy Stalinist who loves Durell's enemy and has to team up with Uncle Sam's finest to defeat a greater foe.

Another good entry in the long-running Gold Medal series.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

#36: I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells

A teen in a quiet town lives above a funeral parlor with his mom, has a dorky best friend, and pines for an unattainable girl; he also tries to quell the murderous impulses within him, finding some solace in stalking a demonic killer that suddenly surfaces in town in Dan Wells' debut I Am Not A Serial Killer.

Wells can't avoid drawing parallels to both the novels and television series Dexter, about a Miami serial killer who focuses on dispatching only those that deserve it.  Jeff Lindsay's series has also taken a turn towards the supernatural, veering off significantly from the television series (a strange plot twist the TV series has avoided to its benefit, in my opinion).  Fans of either the series of books or TV episodes will find much to enjoy here. 

I have become a bit lukewarm on the Dexter books and found myself on the same uneasy footing with this novel.  Most curiously, the protagonist is shown to be very unlikable while the demon in human guise is portrayed fairly sympathetically.  I also think the narrator of the audiobook version that I listened to was ill-suited to the material, which may have hampered my enjoyment.

That being said, I understand that this is the beginning of a trilogy, and am interested enough to know what happens next.

I listened to this via an audiobook checked out from Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

#35: The Trail Ends In Hell by John Benteen

A trail boss takes his cattle to a town to sell them off, only to find the town overrun by crooks and shysters; he then takes it upon himself to clean up the place, knowing it is the only way he is going to be able to get a good price on his herd.  The Trail Ends in Hell is a burly western by John Benteen, the psuedonym for busy pulp writer Ben Haas.

I like to read an old western from time to time to change things up and found that I really enjoyed this one. It is from that late 60s-early 70s era when westerns began to drop the straight-laced, singing cowboy-style persona and reflect more the violent "spaghetti western" stylings of the time. 

Benteen presents a particularly hard-nosed story here, though our stubborn trail boss protagonist does, in old-time western fashion, manage to tame down both the town and a hot-blooded rancher's daughter at the same time.

I enjoyed this read quite a bit and devoured it quickly.  I bought this paperback for a dollar at a flea market and will definitely go on the prowl for more John Benteen/Ben Haas.