The Long Goodbye

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Long Goodbye
Raymond Chandler, 1953

Premise: Private investigator Philip Marlowe strikes up an odd friendship with Terry Lennox, the husband of a local socialite. When addiction, envy, wealth, and conspiracy cause murder and mayhem among the upper crust, Marlowe gets drawn into a social class where all that glitters is dross.

I recently reread this book and was reminded how much I love it. I love the style. I love the careful word choices that evoke very specific images and provide subtle commentary on events. The characters are larger than life but still grounded enough to be believed.

I love Marlowe. He’s not a great person, but he’s decent, and he has a particular moral code. Unfortunately for him, he’s just slightly too moral for the situations he finds himself in, which means he gets beaten up. By corrupt cops, by hired thugs, by gangsters... Marlowe takes a heck of a thrashing in this book and doesn’t get much in return.

It’s occasionally of its time, although there’s only one sexist comment in the book that I truly recoiled from. Even that one (a crude comment about a girl by a pool who was made ugly by laughing) I suspect was there not as a comment by the author, but so you’d remember that Marlowe is not a refined guy.

The occasional crudeness and edge of the style is part of the charm. This isn’t the false over-the-top grittiness of imitators. Reading Chandler is a master class - the best of the hard-boiled style.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

2001: Space Odyssey

Monday, August 13, 2018

2001: Space Odyssey
Arthur C. Clarke, 1968

Read Harder Challenge 2018 - A classic of genre fiction
Premise: An unknowable force is guiding humanity, and has been since the beginning.

First, I’ve never actually seen the movie. However, I do know all the major beats, because it was basically impossible to grow up when I did and not know all the major beats - monolith and monkeys, I can’t do that, Dave, weird space baby. When I decided to read the book, I had no idea that the book and the movie were so closely related.

So all that is to say that it’s impossible for me to come at this book with anything resembling a fresh perspective. Heck, I actually worked very briefly with Keir Dullea, who played Dave in the movie. (While I can’t blame anyone working on that troubled show for being cranky, that does give me an additional hang-up about this story.)

Partially because of all that, I think this is my least favorite book I’ve read by Clarke. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t actually interesting to read for itself. The ideas may have been mind-blowing at the time, but they became so deeply part of the fabric of modern sci-fi that I can't even find this interesting from a historical perspective.

The thing I most dislike about the book is the actual plot. The characters are fine, even though most only make brief appearances, and the individual action beats that make up the middle of the book are well-handled. But the larger plot is just annoying. Some impossibly powerful force jump-starts the evolution of early hominids into Homo sapiens, and then transforms one human into a godlike being at the end. Nothing any of the characters do has any real impact on this, nor do they understand it in any way.

My dissatisfaction is certainly affected by assumptions about the primacy of agency in story. Today, common cultural wisdom teaches that there is more value in a story when the characters can affect the outcome, but that hasn’t always been the case. However, even in the original Odyssey, humans struggled with the gods, whether or not they could ultimately defy fate.

Despite some lovely description and interesting ideas, I find the unknowable power forcing other species up the same progression that it followed too depressing to be a satisfying read.

Experience: 2 Stars - An Okay Book
Importance: 5 Stars

To See the Sun

Monday, August 6, 2018

To See the Sun
Kelly Jensen, 2018

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Outer colonies are the rough frontier, which might be why Bram never seems to meet anyone special. That is, until he sees Gael's profile on the interstellar matchmaking service. Gael would do anything to leave his planet; he knows it's foolish to also hope for love.

I've been dipping further into romance and romance-adjacent books of late, so I I thought I'd give this LGBT sci-fi romance with the pretty cover a try. And the verdict is... it's fine.

It's good even. Enjoyable, well-written, two main characters who fit around each other's quirks and grow to care for each other. The complications of the sci-fi setting are decently described and fun.

But, it's also a trope-riddled cliche from top to bottom. We've got your mail-order bride, your fake relationship to escape possible slavery, your instant found family, your fake relationship that turns into a real relationship, your city-planet of endless corruption, your past sexual trauma that a character has to overcome, your dual perspectives that mean the reader knows the characters' relationship would be fine if they would just talk to each other, your space is really just the wild west with different shading, your unreasonably jealous ex for a villain...

None of these are bad. They're all fairly well-handled. But all together, it's a bit much for me. There just wasn't anything new. The sci-fi skin allowed for a few environmental hazards and an sexually flexible society, but it didn't feel different enough from the westerns it was mimicking. I liked the characters, but I didn't have any reason to love them.

3 Stars - A Good Book