Saturday, August 28, 2010

#43: The Super Barbarians by John Brunner

In the far-flung future, Earthmen have been subjugated by a technically advanced, but culturally backward, alien race.  Through playing on the aliens' superstitions--and their unexpected coffee addictions--humans begin to get the upper hand again in John Brunner's light, tight space opera The Super Barbarians.

Brunner was a hugely prolific and popular sci-fi author in the 60s and 70s, but I find his writing kind of mixed and have picked up and put down a lot of his books over the years.  I stuck with this one because it didn't take itself too seriously and had a brisk, tidy plot.

This one caught my fancy after seeing it on a flea market goodbye shelf and I read it at a good pace.  I continue to keep a lookout for John Brunner's work.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

#42: Known to Evil by Walter Mosley

New York private eye Leonid McGill is asked by a well-connected politico to look into the whereabouts of a young beauty, unleashing a murderous chain of events in Walter Mosley's Known to Evil.

This is the second McGill mystery in a new series Mosley began recently.  Mosley's Easy Rawlins books, which takes a sort-of detective through life in L.A. from post World War II to post Watts riots and beyond, is one of my favorite contemporary mystery series and I believe will be remembered as one of the greats of the late 20th century.  I think Mosley is trying to do the same for New York, in a contemporary setting, with milder results.

McGill is a former very crooked P.I. who is somewhat bent back straight, with all the complications that ensue from that situation.  His home life, with an unfaithful wife and three kids with uncertain paternity, also weighs on his mind.  These main themes, and several other subplots, make for an overly dense narrative with a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion.

But a moderately successful Mosley novel is always above the average read, so I would recommend it for fans.

I listened to a very good audio book version of this, read by Mirron Willis, on loan from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

#41: Red Fury by George G. Gilman

Gun-for-hire Edge, a drifter and loner with his own fractured moral code, finds himself in the middle of a bloody feud  between a small town and some only slightly settled Indians in George G. Gilman's Red Fury.

I have been reading a lot of Gold Medal paperbacks from the 60s and 70s and frequently saw Gilman's Edge series, billed as "the most violent Westerns in print," advertised in the back.  I found a handful at a flea market and grabbed this one at random.  This volume was from deep in the series and one can only surmise features an older, more reflective Edge, as it was not so much violent as rather unpleasant.  There are lots of murders, rapes, some incest and torture, and a notable scene where Edge holds a straight razor to a pregnant woman's stomach to escape.

A little googling shows that Gilman has a legion of fans, but I found his work a curiosity; the result of a British writer penning stories of the American West after apparently watching a lot of Italian Western films.  On the covers Edge looks like Charles Bronson, and on the inside pages has the mean streak of Lee Van Cleef and the dry wit of Clint Eastwood.  In fact each chapter strains to end, rather painfully at times, on some sort of pun or quip, as odd a conceit as I've seen.

I feel I should give Edge another try but won't be rushing back into my swap meet stash anytime soon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

#40: The Keep by Jennifer Egan

Genuinely creepy-crawly story-within-a-story features a pair of cousins working together (and sometimes against each other) in restoring an eerie, remote Eastern European castle; meanwhile, a prisoner attends a creative writing class while doing time and workshops a story about two cousins restoring an old castle, intriguing his troubled teacher.

Jennifer Egan's The Keep is an enjoyable, offbeat read that I was pleasantly surprised to find.  I had not heard of Jennifer Egan before a friend recommended this one.  I nabbed it off of and read it at a good clip.  Egan writes in an interesting voice and featured plenty of neat twists and turns with a chilling undertone throughout.

Unfortunately I thought the ending unraveled a bit, but I was completely sold on it for nine-tenths of the way through, and immediately went looking for more of Egan's work.  Recommended.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

#39: Amnesia Moon by Jonathan Lethem

In a post-apocalyptic future, a loner called Chaos, whose dreams seem to be able to influence events, takes off for California to see what remains of the world in Jonathan Lethem's Amnesia Moon.

Jonathan Lethem wrote the introduction for the Library of America's worthy collection of Philip K. Dick's writings, and after reading this early work from Lethem it is easy to understand why.  Lethem definitely pays tribute to Dick in this piece, as he did in another early work I read previously, Gun with Occasional Music.  To me, it isn't until Motherless Brooklyn and his masterpiece (in my mind, to date) Fortress of Solitude that Lethem really gains his own voice.

But Amnesia Moon is enjoyable in its own right, and is enjoyable for sci-fi fans and/or Lethem completests.  I nabbed this off of