Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review: Art of Darkness by Sara K. Schneider

I got this book about six months ago courtesy of LibraryThing and Cuneiform Books (which seems to have only published this one book... odd). I was pretty frantic with worry about something else entirely, and I read the whole thing in one day because I was desperate for distractions. That aside, I'd recommend reading it slowly to remember the details.

Art of Darkness is a very interesting nonfiction book on a topic that I've never seen addressed before--the art and science of false identities. It looks at how false identities are created, from fake IDs to real-time performance on the street, from con men to undercover police. The history of false identities is intermixed with descriptions of methods and discussions of the various issues associated with having one, including the criminal aspects and the problems some undercover cops have disengaging themselves from their deep cover identity.

It was very understandable from the point of view of someone who only knows about crime and crimefighting from TV. It did drag and get repetitive in some chapters, but like I said I've never seen a book about this subject before, so she doesn't get too specialized and tries to stay general. There are a lot of different viewpoints and plenty of firsthand information from interviews Schneider conducted.

I recommend this book for people interested in true crime. It's also a great writing resource, not just for those writing crime fiction but for anyone writing something involving a fake ID or an impersonation. However, it's not really light reading or reading-for-pleasure material.

Buy Art of Darkness

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: The Host by Stephenie Meyer

If you like Stephenie Meyer's writing but the Twilight series puts a bad taste in your mouth, The Host is for you. It was written for adults, and the complexity and realism reflect that.

The plot is taken from your basic bodysnatcher sci-fi story, but in this book, it's not about resisting the takeover. The takeover has already happened, and the protagonist, Wanderer, is one of the bodysnatchers. Unfortunately, the body she snatched, Melanie, is not happy with her. Then, to make things worse, Wanderer starts falling in love with the memories of Melanie's lover... and he may still be out there to find if they can work together.

The characters here have much more depth than in Meyer's young adult fiction. They have a certain intrinsicness, like they would exist without the framework of the story, and the breadth of the work allows for a deeper exploration of themes like sibling love and romantic rivalry. I also loved how both sides of almost every argument are totally understandable, and Meyer doesn't shy away from shades of gray. Each story question involved me totally.

At first the science fiction elements of the story were a bit eclipsed, but by the end I had the same sci-fi feeling I mentioned in my last review. The feeling that there are things out there that are totally other, but fascinating. And while many of the themes are stock sci-fi themes, they're treated with appropriate sobriety. The ending is amazing.

I like Twilight, but I have a lot of problems with Stephenie Meyer's work (or lack thereof). I've heard from some Twilight fans that they had trouble getting into The Host, which I take to mean that it is indeed a more rewarding read. It is her best work by far.

One of the best bodysnatcher movies I've seen is the 2007 release The Invasion, but no books are coming to mind. Recommendations, anyone?

Buy The Host

Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: Singularity by William Sleator

To borrow from the back of the book: They were twins, but they were different as night and day. Harry was quiet and easygoing. His brother, Barry, was outgoing, arrogant, and sometimes even cruel. But when they went to explore the abandoned farmhouse of their eccentric uncle Ambrose, all that changed. At the farmhouse--where things mysteriously disappeared and animals suddenly aged and died--time seemed to go mad, hours rushing by like seconds.

Singularity is a science fiction book written for older kids, bordering on YA. It was originally published in 1985. It may be a little obscure and old, may seem like just kids sci-fi... but it's every reason I've ever read a book. It was ABOUT something, but something so hard to describe... the only thing I could say when I finished the book (in one sitting of four or five hours, as I recall) was "Oh, my God."

Barry is like every fantasy/sci-fi villain, only back when they were sixteen. He's cruel, self-centered, reckless, power-hungry, and he can charm or coerce anyone into doing whatever he wants. He's frightening. Harry, his twin, takes a little longer to understand, and by the time you do understand him you realize you might not have understood Barry as well as you thought.

The book is tightly written, only necessary things are included. A lot of the plot is internal and it may seem slow, but it is crucial to understanding the point. By the end, you have that painful and yet exultant feeling of understanding everything in the world, simply because you can't put any of it into words. Singularity gives me the feeling sci-fi always did when I was a kid... the feeling that the universe is so much bigger and so much more magnificent than I could ever hope for. The feeling that there is still something to strive for, and that there are things so beautiful they make you feel like crying.

I hope someone else will pick this book up and discover that same feeling while they read it. (But then, isn't that the point of every book we recommend? The hope that someone else will be touched in the same way?)

I've loved every book of William Sleator's that I've read, most acutely this one and Interstellar Pig, and I will continue to search more of them out.

Buy Singularity

Friday, April 3, 2009

Review - Jumper: Griffin's Story by Steven Gould

In 1992, the book Jumper was published. In 2004, a sequel called Reflex followed, and quickly after in 2008, the movie of Jumper. It was only loosely based on the books and reimagined the "Jumper universe" and changed the atmosphere of the story considerably. Jumper: Griffin's Story was published along with the movie, using the reimagined universe and the character Griffin, who was created for the movie.

The basic idea is that some people, "jumpers," can teleport, and "paladins" are trying to kill them all.

My first experience with the whole thing was the movie. LOVED it. It was both quick and interesting, and original while dealing with old themes. Griffin was my favorite character.

I wasn't thrilled when I found it had been a book, but I read the first book first. I was glad I didn't have high expectations, because it was miserable. It dragged on for over 300 pages, nothing but abuse and misery and terrorists and whining teenagers.

I was interested in reading this one afterward, because of the reboot. Unfortunately, it was almost exactly like the first Jumper book. The plot was exactly the same... kid learns how to teleport, a bunch of terrible things happen to kid, kid makes lair for self, kid finds a girlfriend, more terrible things, ends in tears. I couldn't tell any difference between Griffin and David from the first book. They had the same voice and responses even though they're ostensibly from different backgrounds.

Also, this book doesn't ADD anything to the movie. No new revelations are made, no insight is gained on Griffin's life. The Griffin I knew from the movie was very different, more self-assured and angrier. More interesting and dynamic. I would've been a lot more interested in seeing how Griffin got to that point, or even a novelization of the movie from his perspective, rather than a story of how Griffin started that's basically the old book with the names changed.

What I'm trying to say is this: Watch the movie. Don't read the books. I realize this is backward from what a lot of people are saying, but it's the truth. The books Are Not Good. The movie Is Very Good. A better option for a book about teleportation might be the classic The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, although I haven't read it yet.

Buy Jumper: Griffin's Story