Friday, April 24, 2020

Mr. Know-it-all: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder by John Waters

Second book club book #9

Oh boy. This book is a brain dump of immense proportions. While I liked a few parts, overall, this was not a favorite. I saw the humor, appreciated Waters' signature shock value, but was bothered throughout. 

Don't get me wrong, I knew what I was getting into. I'm no stranger to this guy. I think I was about 12 the first time I saw Cry Baby. It wasn't the topics he covered, it was the structure that drove me nuts. This book was a mess of unconnected paragraphs, mismatched thoughts, and disjointed tangents that didn't always circle back. The mental strain of processing this book consistently put me to sleep as I tried to read it.

There's also a complete lack of wisdom. No nuggets of insight, no real 'aha moments.' He may call it tarnished, but it's not wisdom. It's more like speculation or daydreams. Sharing what your ideal home would look like or how you want your remains dealt with does not impart wisdom. Obsessing about your Reborn baby doll or what Warhol was like isn't helpful and it was only kind of interesting.

Being a Waters fan seems to be diametrically opposed to being a professional writer. I like some of his movies. After the first time I saw Cry Baby, I wanted to watch it over and over. Hairspray is a great musical if you watch the original with Ricki Lake. While never seeing Pink Flamingos, it was most definitely a hot topic of conversation in my freshman dorm. As a filmmaker, Water's offbeat vision is in my wheelhouse, but write an entire chapter with only run-on sentences, and you've lost me.

At one point in the book, Waters says, "I am a man, a damaged, self-involved man..." This is very obvious in how he writes, so that's a warning to you. If you love the unusual, shocking, and crass, this might be your cup of tea. Otherwise, even if you're a fan, stuff might sneak up on you, so watch out.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Andromeda Evolution by Michael Crichton and Daniel H. Wilson

You may think this is a strange choice for a book given the world today, but what better time to read the sequel to a book about the possibility of a pandemic than now? The story is also so different from our current reality. I guarantee it's not in poor taste to pick this up if you're a Crichton fan.

The Andromeda Strain takes place in 1967. It's about a microbe that kills everyone but two people in a small town and the scientists who go investigate, and ultimately stop nuclear devastation from happening. It was a really fun book. Catching up to now, The Andromeda Evolution is happening 53 years later. The microbe has undergone serious study. We know it's still in the atmosphere. We know it's extraterrestrial and able to mutate. In its current state, it's most dangerous to a specific material used on spaceships. Military offices and detailed operational plans are in place for the sole purpose of watching Andromeda for any new anomalies that could lead to an attack, and reacting to them.

Nobody expects a giant structure to plop down in the middle of the Amazon. Spewing out a dark and deadly smoke, the threat of global extinction returns, but it's so much more than an invisible microbe this time.

Four scientists, one with direct ties to the first Andromeda incident, head into the dense jungle to investigate and hopefully neutralize the threat before more serious action is taken. In true Crichton style, the tense moments come rapid-fire along with a quick succession of informational nuggets that keep you in the loop as the story develops. The picture of what's going on and who's doing what comes into focus at the perfect time. You, as the reader, have all the necessary pieces alongside the heroic efforts of the main characters. 

The combination of diverse characters with unique motivations, technology and some great science fiction makes this book such a fun read. You're in the thick on things on the ground, but you also head up into space in order to face this alien microbe that seems hell bent on keeping humanity from leaving the planet. At the heart of all the action and terror, even Andromeda itself is a developing character.

Like most Crichton books, this is a fast and exciting read. It's an adventure set in a reality that's not ours, but could be. Reading it is a different kind of escape than something romantic or funny, but the message within the story seems fitting. It's a situation where humanity triumphs against those forces that would try to destroy us, and that's nice to read right now.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

This book reads like a movie. What's better is it reads like a highly stylized, Victorian-era, Sherlock Holmes style movie. Jess Kidd does a great job of commiting to the genre, presenting a fun thriller with just the right amount of oddities and nefarious characters. 

You think you're getting a cast of characters too large to keep tabs on, but that's only because some pull double duty. You think you're getting too much backstory about Bridget Devine, our lead, but just wait. The interconnectivity of characters and the motivation behind all the action fits together perfectly. It's great.

A crime makes it all work. The kidnapping of one young girl with some curious traits sets everything in motion. Bridie is on the case, but she's not alone. A ghostly companion has recently manifested who prefers to not leave Bridie's side. He's a mystery on his own, but adds just the right supernatural element to make Christabel, the missing girl, plausible. 

Victorian England is really the only setting for this book as science, medicine, and the mythical merge along the city's sooty underbelly. Cruelty is commonplace and easy to hide, thickening the mystery Bridie deftly pursues. Will she find Christabel in time?

A little cliche, this is just an exciting read. Pacing is excellent. Like I said, it reads like a movie. I enjoyed this book as a great escape. Very much outside my regular genres, this is a good book for people who aren't typically drawn to mysteries and thrillers. It's a nice side-step, but be prepared for gore and the macabre. They're not shy.