Review of Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

snapshotEnjoyable. I will probably look into Reckoners series now (like I wasn’t going to already). I think maybe he tried to do a little too much at the end but the story was still very good.

Snapshot is basically a detective story. I occasionally read detective stories (Ok that’s a lie. Apparently I’ve read a lot) and enjoy them though my bag is much more in the SF and Fantasy realm. Indeed I’ve read a few SFF stories that are basically just detective novels (with all the bad writing and misogyny) set in a science fiction or fantastic world. These types of stories are often disappointing as we’re not progressing in either genre. Snapshot does not feel this way to me. If anything it is a detective story with one fantastical (SF?) element: the Snapshot.

As such the expectations being met, broken, or subverted are unique to detective stories. His effort here is not simply: “Look! I mashed two genres together!”. But it seems he really wanted to add something to the detective genre and I feel he’s done that to an extent.

Perhaps what was showcased the most for me was Sanderson’s ability to write characters. They always seem incredibly real and I enjoy the little quirks he gives them to make them feel that way. Snapshot is no exception. You get to witness an incredible series of events that happen to very likable (well at the very least very sympathetic) people. I wouldn’t ask for more.

Please feel free to comment your thoughts, impressions, praise, or random blatherings. I’m always up for talking Brandon Sanderson.

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Nostalgia, Computer Personalities & Detective Fiction: A Review of Adam Christopher’s Made to Kill

RooooBbbbooottttt

RooooBbbbooottttt

Recently I was able to read and (mostly) enjoy an advanced reader copy of Made to Kill by Adam Christopher. In essence, this book is a detective story in which the detective has been replaced by a Robot who is also an assassin (hence Made to Kill). The book seems pretty heavy on the detection and light on the assassin but I’m probably just nitpicking. Now, I say mostly enjoyed because while I was reading this book, I felt like I wasn’t enjoying it, but I kept going, eventually finished and ended up thinking about a lot of things along the way. This is more than I can say about some of the “deep” books I’ve read in the past. Here are my thoughts:

I Spy

The first thing I’ll say is that this book is a veritable I Spy of detective fiction. It seems like most if not all of the elements in this story link back to or reference something in detective fiction. For me, a good deal of the fun of reading this work was seeing all the references, and trying to search out others. I’m sure there are a good many others I didn’t find (please post any I missed in the comments section). Here are the allusions I was able to pick out:

  • The main character Ray appears to be a clear homage to detective novelist Raymond Chandler. I won’t ask for any points for figuring this out. Not too much detection needed, but you know, start with the low hanging fruit.
  • Ray’s creator Thornton. This one caught me by surprise. I read most of the novel before looking Chandler up on wikipedia to see if there were any other obvious allusions. Turns out Thornton is Chandler’s middle name. Learn something new every day.
  • Ray’s control computer / secretary is named Ada. I think this might be a call back to Ada Lovelace, who is credited with writing some of the first analytical algorithms and generally thought of as one of the first, if not the first, computer programmer. Well done there.
  • Rico Spillane is one of the A-list actors Ray comes across in his detection. I believe this is likely a call back to Mickey Spillane, another detective novelist.
  • Finally, and this one is a bit of a stretch. The Daily News is brought up a few times through out the book. Apparently Chandler wrote for a paper titled The Daily Express. I mean, Daily News is probably the name of a thousand papers so it might not have anything to do with Chandler, but maybe it does.

I’m sure there are many more to be found if I’d spent some more time researching / knew more about detective fiction, but that was all I came up with on a first read through. Oooh and if you like a little innuendo in your detective fiction, my personal favorite was a character named Touch Daley. A government agent. lols.

Nostalgia

Raymond Chandler writing? Reading? Solving the case!

Raymond Chandler writing? Reading? Solving the case!

As I’m going along, living my life, consuming more and more culture, I’ve realized we’re in a very nostalgic moment right now. I think Made to Kill is a great example of this. I think the most basic premise here is simply: Robot detective. So why set this story in the 1965? Of course, I’m thinking about Mad Men (note: this book is nothing like Mad Men). In a way, I think the success of Mad Men has garnered a legion of fiction set during the 50’s and into the 60’s which in essence don’t belong there. Consequently the quality of shows like Mad Men also have set the bar super high for any fiction that’s even remotely similar. Made to Kill strikes me as a story best written in a modern or even future setting. While atomic technology, radiation, Gieger Counters, etc. all were prominent fears in the 50’s and 60’s, they’re still things that we need to worry about now, or will have to worry about when it’s more likely that a robot will be investigating it.

But, I think right now, much of our culture is looking back at the elegance and abundance that was the 50’s and 60’s and romanticizing it. Shows like Mad Men are successful because they present that elegance and abundance as a facade, with the harsh reality of that time (racism, sexism, elitism etc.) just underneath. It resonates with us because we still have those issues today. Unfortunately, Made to Kill seems to only provide the romance of the 50’s / 60’s but doesn’t touch any modern concerns. However, if you’d like to just read a story about a robot detective in the hard-boiled mode, then Made to Kill has you covered and does a fantastic job with the form of hard-boiled detective fiction.

Personality of Computers

Ray and Ada aren’t computers they’re people. We’re constantly reminded that while Ray might hear the squeak of Ada’s chair or a pause in her speech while as she draws back on her cigarette, there is no reason for her to do these things. Just as there is no reason for Ray to bother with a trench coat, or even pants for that matter. Lots of little signals, that in the past told readers they were reading a detective story, seem completely erroneous. Almost vestigial considering that our two main leads are computers. I suspect that it could be read as a comment on the future of this type of tech. As we rush towards ever increasing sophistication in our computers, there might be little ‘human’ elements to their ‘personality’ (computernality?) that are random or even programmed so that we as people can better interact with them.  I’m not really sure. Food for thought . . .

Well that’s all for now folks. Please leave comments if you have any. Also, send me some hints about other detective fiction allusions that I missed. Now get detecting!

I Hope Anthony Horrowitz Writes a Better ‘Trigger Mortis’ Than Frank Kane!

Cool cover though!

Cool cover though!

I don’t like to post negative reviews on A&A, but I was pretty disappointed by this one. After all, the first sentence reads: “She was stacked.” I don’t suppose that it is obvious what the role of women will be within this novel? And I further suppose I should have guessed what I was in for based on the title of work. I chose to ignore it.

I picked this one up after hearing it shared the title with upcoming 007 novel by Anthony Horrowitz. The 007 franchise is somewhat renowned for their bad puns, wordplay, and quips and I’m still genuinely excited for it to come out. I had hoped that maybe the same type of ‘knowing humor’ was being used here. After reading Trigger Mortis, I’m not sure it was. Whatever was going on, I sincerely hope that what I’ve read here (by Frank Kane I mean), is nothing like what I’ll be reading on September 8th.

First, Kane does spend some time describing his characters physically, but the problem is, they all look the same. I think I read about 50 pgs, before I was consciously aware of a character that doesn’t have red hair (except Liddell although I don’t know if we ever get a good description of him).

Pretty much all of the women characters exist as sex symbols. Celeste Pierce (just let that name sink in) is the only woman with any motivations in the novel (indeed, she gives the call to action) but she is perfectly happy to let Johnny do all of the work. Celeste does so little it hurts.

The book was published back in 1958, so perhaps we can chalk some of this up to a different era with different sensibilities. Still it was disappointing. I suppose I should give some credit to Kane though. I did not figure out ‘who dunnit’ until the last chapter. I probably enjoyed the last chapter the most as its reliance on mystery convention (Liddell gathers all the suspects together before revealing who the killer is) felt ‘right’.

Even so, a quick google search shows me that there are 28 other Johnny Liddell mysteries. I don’t think I’ll be reading any of the others.

Deadman’s Hand: Not Your Average Case

Aww yea . . . She's dead alright

Aww yea . . . She’s dead alright

It’s not my first night working the beat. I’ve experienced a lot of detectives solving a lot of crimes. Of course I’ve read the greats. Poe & Doyle. Agatha Christie and Dorthy Sayers (ugh I should do a whole post on Wimbsey alone). I can’t think of any modern authors right now but I think I’ve watched enough Law & Order (and NCIS . . . and CSI . . . You get my drift?) to know a Police Procedural when I see one.

Needless to say, most detective fiction fails to impress. However, I still seem to have a ‘soft spot’ for ‘hard boiled’ detective fiction. Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler will always be my go to guys when it’s time to start handing out recommendations (unless you like fantasy and sci-fi, then it’s a whole different list). There’s something about a guy who has every chance to take the easy way out but doesn’t. Something about a man who stays by his principles (even if they’re screwed up principles) and does the right thing (even if it’s for the wrong reasons) . . .

Well let’s just say I’d like to buy that guy a drink. Maybe I’m a Romantic. Or maybe that guy would have great taste in drinks. Not sure which (what’d I just say about doing things for the wrong reasons?). That being said, sometimes even my precious hard-boiled detective fiction can run a little dry. After all, formula is formula and lord knows there are hundreds if not thousands of imitators out there (will the real slim shady please stand up?)

Dress like me and solve crimes like me and wait . . . what?

Dress like me and solve crimes like me and wait . . . what?

What was the title of this post again?

Ah yes. Not your average case. Well in the case of Richard Levesque’s Dead Man’s Hand (Ace Stubble), imitators need not apply. When I say Ace isn’t your average detective, I mean it. He’s actually not a detective at all. He’s a lawyer who defends less than normal clientele . . . Oh and did I mention zombies? That should give you at least a hint as to what’s going on here. Should at least give an idea of the world we’re inhabiting.

Basically, Ace Stubble defends vampires, werewolves and any other sort of paranormal crook who ends up on the wrong side of the law. He’s going about his business, drinking (ah yes the true staple of a hard boiled detective) and needing a vacation, when he’s attacked by a werewolf on a full moon. He’s able to walk away with his neck (mostly intact) because of a young, seductive hacker (possibly a vampire?) who happens to have some silver. Ace does the gentlemanly thing to do and accompanies her back to her flat. Turns out she has an abundance of problems and when Ace offers a helping hand, our vixen (name pixel) pulls one (a hand) out of the refrigerator. You’ll have to read the rest yourself, and I recommend that you do.

Incase you’re skimming . . .

What I love about this book is the way the author mixes two genres that I don’t think normally mix together. The whole ‘Vampires, Werewolves, & Zombies’ thing seems pretty trendy right now and there is a lot of content being produced in this vein. However, I wouldn’t say there is a lot of quality work out there (I’m sorry that you love Vampire Diaries but really?).

And ‘Hard-boiled’ detective fiction?

Well it died around the same time Kennedy got hitched. So essentially, Levesque takes one dead genre mixed with a dying (or perhaps undying?) genre of fiction and creates something that is refreshing and quite comical at some points (oops forgot to mention the humor until now).

But enough of me prattling along. Just go and read it already!

Hello Red.

Hello Red.

Guards! Guards!

Gaurds! Gaurds! Go now and arrest Terry Pratchett. He’s made a mockery of the Fantasy Genre! But in all seriousness what’s not to laugh at. Guards! Guards! brings together a bunch of old stuff we know but mashes it all up together into something seemingly new a different (at least to me). I’ll admit, I haven’t read much Terry Pratchett prior to this. Truth be told, Good Omens was the only other thing of his that I had read, and he didn’t even write all of that one (although I’m betting he did the funny parts). So I can tell you now that I wasn’t  the least bit prepared for what I was about to experience. First of all Discworld? . . . Ankh-Morpork?

What is this crazy world in which thieves are regulated and must maintain a monthly quota. Where even beggars have unionized (laughably, the head beggar is worse off than the rest because no one is willing to give up the extremely high price he’s entitled to). And of course, the Assassin’s guild is almost completely legitimate. This Patrician guy seems to have thought of everything. Certainly, he’s solved every problem, if not in the most traditional of senses (I think I heard someone say that he turns every problem into the solution for another problem. Seems about accurate. Also, heard him compared to Machiavelli’s Prince. Somehow did both high school and college and never had to read that). Although, I suppose I should have known what to expect by the dedication. But in reality, I feel the dedication was another false trail as well. We did get the perspective of a guard. The City Watch to be specific. However, they still seemed like heroes, albeit extremely incompetent heroes. And despite their often hilarious incompetence, they seem to get the job done (Eh I suppose this could be debated as really the problem gets solved by a dragon, not the City Watch but who’s counting).

Needless to say, Captain Vimes and crew live to drink . . . I mean fight another day. However, the interesting parts of this book had less to do with the actual plot and characters (together they both seemed quite whimsical), and more to do with those false trails I mentioned earlier. Pretty much everything within this novel seemed to involve some sort of misdirection. Nearly everything played off your expectations, building you up to believe you were about to go one place with the story, and instead going somewhere completely different. The English Major in me wants to start raving on about satire and about how Pratchett is using Parody to make a statement about the different conventions of fantasy. My English Major self also wants to say that the statement is: these old tropes and cliches are worn out and over done, and there needs to be some innovation in the fantasy genre. And maybe back in 1989, when this novel was first published (wow this book is actually older than me!) that was the case. Unfortunately, I haven’t the slightest thing to compare it with as my knowledge of fantasy during the 80’s is effectively nil. Sorry for that huge build up for nothing.

I was intrigued with Captain Vimes’ as a caricature of the detective. I seem to remember Raymond Chandler describing the detective as ” . . . a common man, and yet an unusual man . . . He must be the best man in his world, and a good enough man for any world . . .” (The Art of Murder). Now compare that to Captain Vimes, and it seems like what he should have said was: a common man if an unusual man . . . It must be the best world for this man because he’s not good enough for any other world . . . Ok, maybe that is a little harsh, but I think we understand that the humor in Vimes’ character comes from his inability. He wouldn’t be right for any other story. However, when we consider the type of city represented by Ankh-Morpork (strip away all the humor and see what we are really dealing with. Ankh-Morpork is a pretty grim place), it seems that everything Chandler describes is true about Vimes. It also seems like the type of detective Chandler is imagining would not last a second on Discworld no matter how fit he was for adventure. Vimes on the other hand belongs in this world. It is the world he lives in.

In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that I enjoyed Guards! Guards! The pacing was perhaps a little slow but the jokes and style of Pratchett’s writing were worth the time even if I’m still not sure what to make of the plot. I know there are more Discworld books out there and I believe Guards! Guards! was 8th in the series so I’m not sure what possessed me to start there (ahem BSFS book club ahem) but I’m certainly glad that I did. I suppose now the only question is, where to go next?

Any comments would be greatly appreciated. Not sure whether to start at the beginning of the Discworld books or just read the next City Watch book. I guess time will tell.

Oh and Pratchett needs to do a series set in L-space if that isn’t already a thing. Seemed like too good of a set up to not go anywhere. Alright, until next time . . . Laters!