Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I Love You, Beth Cooper - Larry Doyle

I Love You, Beth Cooper is the textbook definition of painfully funny. The story of Denis Cooverman; valedictorian, geek, punching bag; is full of those high school land mines that most awkward teenagers stumble into endlessly. The difference for Denis, is that he uses his graduation speech to take a chance and throw off the anonymity that intelligence and studiousness has brought him thus far. From a pool of sweat rapidly forming in his shoes, Denis has shakily spoken the five words that may change his life and could bring him everything he's ever wanted.

Too bad Denis threw in all that other stuff about his (thinly veiled) classmates' secrets and failings. And, is now really the time to proclaim your acceptance of your best friend's homosexuality? Oh, and did he totally overlook Beth Cooper's commando-trained, meathead boyfriend? Looks that way. Probably not smart. So, trashing your classmates, outing your only friend (though they protest to the contrary) and evoking the homicidal rage of a trained killer. You've got to wonder if that speech was such a good idea.

I Love You, Beth Cooper is a book filled with humor and cringing in equal measure. A book for anyone who has tilted at social windmills or gathered their courage in a last-ditch attempt to speak up for themselves. Or, for anyone savagely pummeled by a commando for pledging his love to a cheerleader.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Terror - Dan Simmons

If you've written a complex, period-accurate adventure set in the arctic, you'd probably have a read for 'hardcore' fans only. Add to that the fact that the book is over seven hundred pages long, spans years in the telling, and follows a half dozen major characters, and you've got an intractable manuscript fit only for the diehards, right? Wrong! I'd read Simmons before, but would hardly call myself a completist. In some cases the sheer volume of his work was enough to make my eyes dart elsewhere on the bookshelf. I am now ready to admit what a mistake avoiding this fantastic author was. If he went on for another seven hundred pages I'd devour those too.

Set among the crews of two ships trying to force a northwest passage through arctic ice, The Terror drags you in with tantalizing whispers of what could go wrong. It's not enough having to navigate through tons of ice in experimental ships loaded with sailors of all stripes. It's not enough that the expedition's leader is jovially unaware at least and criminally incompetent at worst. It's not enough that all of the great arctic explorers back home called it lunacy to make the attempt. No, those warning signs should have been enough, but a combination of greed, ego and desperation have conspired to throw these considerations aside. There is however, one consideration no one thought to explore. This is where the whispers of what could go wrong turn to screams. This place is uncharted for a reason owing less to nature and more to evil. There was no accounting for the possibility that at the top of the world existed a force alien to 'civilization', malevolent in intent, and more than a match for anything human minds and hands could bring to bear against it.

If the only people to pick up this book are the author's sizable (but not nearly big enough) contingent of fans, that would be the real terror. This book is essential to any reader who loves action, adventure, iconic characters pulled from the mythic tradition and the feeling on the back of their necks as the hair raises.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Soon I Will Be Invincible - Austin Grossman

I have to say, my expectations going in to Soon I Will Be Invincible were pretty high. As a comic collector of 18 years, I know what I like, and more importantly, what I don't about the genre. Austin Grossman fulfilled and then exceeded my expectations, much to my surprise and enjoyment. The pitch-perfect evocation of time-tested comic book archetypes in a novel setting was feat enough to win my praise, but Grossman took the opportunity to explore the concepts further, fleshing out what most would see as stereotypes on first glance. In letting the villainous Dr. Impossible tell his own story to the reader, Soon I Will Be Invincible portrays the character as the underdog (albeit a maniacally fiendish and amazingly intelligent one) who just won't quit. Sure, most comic heroes have that quality in spades (it seems to come with the spandex); but when was the last time you got the sense that the villain worked harder to prevail?

This book knocks some conventional comic book ideas on their ears, while preserving the spirit of the four-color adventures that only the bravest will admit to reading. For those still in the dark about just what comic books can be, this novel should be a wake-up call that there is a new mythology for those who care to study it, and it's been around for close to seventy years. Austin Grossman joins the ranks of Alan Moore, Kurt Busiek and Grant Morrison as explorers, preservers (and when needed, challengers) of the traditions of the comic story. If Soon I Will Be Invincible is the vanguard of superhero fiction, I think the genre is off to a great start.

Comic book novel? Yes. Full of strange people, strange powers, strange ideas? Yes. The treatment that some of fiction's most-underrated concepts and creators sorely deserve? By all means.

Crooked Little Vein - Warren Ellis

So, as a bookseller, there are some perks. The best, of course, is seeing cool books long before they are released. But, with great power yadda yadda yadda. That in mind, it's expected that if I see something good, I let people know. Here you go...

If Chuck Palahniuk was kidnapped, Raymond Chandler was resurrected, their DNA was spliced together, and the mad scientists responsible for those events wanted something to read on lonely nights in the lab, Crooked Little Vein would be the result.

Fans of Warren Ellis's comic book work know that he deconstructs genres as a function of breathing, and now he's brought his particular insanity to the literary establishment. This book flouts conventions long held sacred in noir stories. There is no square-jawed stoic gumshoe. Our hero is a dead-end detective whose defining feature is his impossibly bad luck. Corruption is not so much railed against as resigned to. To say Ellis forgoes understatement would be an understatement. It's all there in front of you, pulsing with strangeness and testing your stomach's resolve. Crooked Little Vein is vintage Warren Ellis, and it's time more people know just what that means.