Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book log 24: Ice Station Zebra

by Alistair MacLean
For as long as I’ve been a Flynn and before (so a very, very long time), I’ve heard how this book was a favorite for my late mother-in-law. One of these days I should read this book, I thought to myself, and the years went by and the MIL passed away, and the movie that was based on the book was on, so we watched it.

I was not impressed at all. She liked the book this was based on? I asked the hub, incredulous. This is really boring! The movie is just okay, I was told. The book is a LOT better.

And that turns out to be true. Not the first time the book is better, and not the last (although there have been the rare occasions that the movie is better than the book; Bridget Jones’ Diary comes to mind). I was reminded of a more recent work about espionage and intrigue involving a submarine, HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, but the differences between the two works are many (and notable, considering how the political landscape changed between novels). The first that came to mind as I was reading this was style. While both books have elements in common (among others, they are both heavy on the info dumps), you can tell that it’s not just the political situation that’s changed between the books. ICE STATION ZEBRA is heavy on plot and not so much on characterization. Part of this is because it’s told in first person, with the narrator not forthcoming on his actual motives. Part of it is because the reading public isn’t as interested in heavy plotting; otherwise, too much thinking would be involved (I hope I’m being facetious, but we’re living in an age of the dull-witted but very rich Kardashians as the royalty of the boob tube). ZEBRA’s info dump is necessary to understand the workings of the submarine, while I got the impression, certainly after reading this, that a lot of the info dump in RED OCTOBER was for the love of the info dump. Which I can understand; there’s a certain soaring glory in the imparting of information, but a line must be drawn between imparting information that stops the story altogether and information that shoves the story forward. I was grateful for the movie version of RED OCTOBER because all that info dump got condensed into Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery jabbering at each other.

Anyway, ZEBRA is a Cold War story. And it even takes place in the Arctic. It is plot heavy so it must be read carefully, much like a very good mystery, which this is; the characters have motives that may or may not shift or even be duplicitous in the extreme. I can recommend this book, because they really don’t write thrillers like this any more. It was a best-seller in its day, and I can see why. Bring back the heavy plotting, I say!

COMING UP: The Sons of the Profits, and more!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book log 23: Any Other Name

by Craig Johnson
In ANY OTHER NAME, the latest in the Walt Longmire series (on which was based the Longmire TV series, both of which I can recommend), we visit Wyoming during the week between Christmas and New Year's, but not in the usual Absaroka County. He's in another county by request of his friend, mentor, and old boss, Lucian Connally, to look into a suicide of the husband of an old friend. But he's got other challenges: he's on a deadline (his daughter's about to give birth, and he's got to get to Philadelphia), the snow just keeps falling, screwing up not only the roads but communications as well, and the way that Walt and his crew do, they not only wander off their own county, they wander into other states to find out what exactly the man was investigating before he decided to off himself.

Originally, I found myself liking this series because it offers a little bit of everything: mystery, paranormal, romance, comedy, tragedy—seriously, a little bit of everything. Add to that he's a sheriff in the new West, so there's that Western component to boot. The paranormal bit is often connected to the Native American cultures that Longmire often encounters, and this time it comes in the form of a couple of American icons and a buffalo. And there's also a trained raccoon that comes into the story, reminding me of Rocket Raccoon, so hey! I have to say there really IS a little bit of something for everyone. This is easy, enjoyable reading, just the right thing for summer perusal. (Of course, by the time you read this, that summer of which I write is almost over, so this may end up being your late summer/early autumn reading, or even the week between Christmas and New Year’s!)

COMING UP: Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean. Hope your summer has been a good one and filled with fun reading!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Book log 22: Asian Tales and Tellers

Asian Tales and Tellers
by Cathy Spagnoli
This book was recommended to me in a forum interested in Asian-set and related books, and considering the number of workshops I’ve presented dealing with Asian mythologies, it was a natural. My good friend Jacquie Rogers and I present a series of workshops about myths and legends along the Silk Road and around the world, and particularly about how similar legends shift and change as you travel along the Silk Road. Sometimes, finding the stories got tricky for me, because I was the one tracking down stories in Asia. If I had been able to have this book around, things might have been a little easier! After I found out about it, I quickly hied over to the local library (again, very lucky I have one nearby) and reserved it.

It was actually recommended to me because the original person who mentioned it referred to the Asian stories and the variations of a single story, but it wasn’t until I actually got hold of the book that I realized that it’s basically an ethnography. Having been an anthropology major, I nearly squealed at that. Fun! At least for me. It's an overview of storytelling around Asia, and it was even better than what I had expected. The stories were insightful and fun and they gave a true idea of how they would have been told by the storyteller in question, complete with onomatopoeic effects, a nice touch, since the Japanese stories made me remember how I would have heard them as a kid. And if you're not an anthropologist, you'll like the book just because the stories are fun and will inform your knowledge of what you may or may not know about the culture in question.

Cathy Spagnoli, it turns out, is a Seattle-area local, so I will have to keep an eye out for any appearances she may have planned. I liked this book, and you will too.

COMING UP: Any Other Name, the latest Walt Longmire mystery by Craig Johnson, and then Ice Station Zebra, a golden oldie I’d never read, by Alistair MacLean. Hope your summer is a joyous one and filled with good reading!