[ Book Review ] Lions and Tigers and Zombies, oh my!

Kat’s Review: Hollowland by Amanda Hocking

In Hollowland by Amanda Hocking, hardcore teenager chic Remy travels with a Canadian, a rock-star, and a fashionista teenybopper through a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ravaged landscape on a quest to find the military quarantine holding her brother. Romantic subplots are plentiful, but for a post-apocalyptic tale of horror and adventure, there aren’t enough zombies to fertilize a garden. The true monsters the companions encounter are their fellow man (in the form of polygamous cults, armies of psychopaths, and military law). But while these subplots are tense and suspenseful, it was a downer that the slow-moving zombies never made me fear for the character’s lives or health. In part, this was because they had a lion in their car.

Wait, what? Is that a typo?

Nope. It’s a lion. Lioness, to be precise.

Though Hollowland starts out with a modified T.S. Eliot quote, and the title is a nod to his melancholic poem “The Hollow Men,”  I would have pulled a more tonally appropriate title and quote from Old Possum’s Practical Cats.

Ripley (the aforementioned lion) is a very practical, zombie-eating feline. When Remy (the teenager) takes pity on a chained-up lion, the cat ends joins their party rather than eating it, and then goes on to display a remarkable preference for rotting, undead flesh. The tigers show up later, but they seem to prefer to make friends with evil humans.

This entire Lion-Tiger thing may have caused some fatal suspension of disbelief issues, but that’s a chirp for another day.

Let’s shift back to the reading experience: Continue reading

[ Best and Worst ] The Desert Gem, and One Steaming Pile

The Best: Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert is the best book of all time. I know this to be true, because reading the saga of the desert planet left me dehydrated and sleep deprived. For a couple days one summer, as my mouth grew dry and my skin shrank against my bones, I felt sure I was on Arrakis without a Stillsuit. But what are basic needs next to uncovering the political machinations of an intergalactic struggle?

Let me be clear: I do not often step into a science fiction book and leave my suspension of disbelief behind. Dune was different – disbelief was never an option.  I could feel the desert, and the story has a symbiotic relationship with the environment. No other book has quite so thoroughly created a rich ecology and political hellscape. It’s great. Every conversation is full of lies. There are assassins on both sides of the battle. There are badass females who do mind control with their voices. Nothing is safe in the book – even walking normally can summon monsters of the deep sands.

In brief, the House Atreides is appointed to rule the Spice-rich planet Arrakis. But when the House settles into the desiccated, sandworm-ridden dustbowl, chaos ensues. Clashing cultures, politics, betrayal, religion, and assassination attempts bring violence and awesome. Paul, the heir, rises to become the least annoying messianic figure in sci-fi/fantasy literature. Think Avatar, but less Pocahontas and more desert perfection. And way more awesome. How awesome? You’ll pass out from dehydration before it occurs to you to put the book down and get a glass of water.

So. Awesome.

And then there’s Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck P. is one of those writers. You love him or hate him. I loved Fight Club. I loved the thriller aspects, the antisocial and dissociative identity disorder bit (though psychologically dubious), and the casual mayhem. The book was easy to connect with. Counterculture, slick, and disillusioned. The 99 Percent who want to punch someone in the face. So I was thrilled when Anchor Books gifted me a copy of Choke. The back blurb looked promising. A sex addict med school dropout turns historical interpreter and moonlights as a con artist. All to pay for his mom’s elder care.

Little did I know that the book would be horrendously boring. My prior exposure to Chuck P. was limited to Fight Club and ‘Guts,’ the flinchworthy story from Haunted, which Jessica Jonas called out for its disgust and shock value in her best/worst post. For me, it was a brilliantly executed piece of transgressive fiction.

Choke attempts to follow in this tradition, using shock value to make up for a whiny and unpleasant narrator, a lack of suspense, and predictably unrealistic plot twists. Around the point that the narrator’s three-days-stuck anal beads and backed up organic matter are exploding all over the interrogation room, I yawned. Chuck tries to shock new readers while amusing jaded ones, but he has been too successful in the past to get by with this approach. Choke is all cough and no asphyxiation.

It all comes down to suspension of disbelief. Dune is a marvellous example of sci-fi transcending the genre norms and spawning a fully realized and habitable world. Whereas Choke takes the real world and makes it utterly unconvincing, ugly, and boring. Dune creates a realistic ecology, politics, and intergalactic drama so filled with tension you can’t put it down. And the impact each has on pop culture is telling: Choke was turned into a barely noticed movie.  Dune has had a pervasive pop cultural influence with a movie, miniseries, massive number of sequels, and enthusiasm that continues long after it was published. Everyone, including Christopher Walken, knows that one must walk without rhythm and it won’t attract the worm. Instant win.

That’s my best and worst—now what about you? What book suspended your disbelief and refused to let go?


[ Book Review ] Indie Series: The Gamble of the Godless

The Gamble of the Godless by David Maine

Normally, you can’t throw a stone in the fantasy aisle without hitting elves, dwarves, and orcs. But David Maine, an author who had made his debut in literary fiction, steers The Gamble of the Godless clear of fantasy staples. Here is a world where animals talk and your head can explode if someone looks at you funny. Avin de Bors dreams of an ambush of wolves-on-men and, when he wakes, finds that an entire army has been demolished on the Free Plains by his house.

Avin does not set out to become a hero–he’s merely looking to keep his brother from being killed in a misguided war. In the process, he becomes the center of a ragtag group of creatures on a quest. What begins as a day trip with a suspiciously eloquent footsoldier named Ax becomes an epic journey to discover more about the mysterious force that is drawing on weak-willed discontents all across the land.

While The Gamble of the Godlessby David Maine follows our friendly Avin (who performs his role as budding hero well, without the excessive angst that drapes many coming-of-age novels), he is not the reason to read the book. His animal companions are.

The characters that join Avin’s quest are impressive in their variety: a horse with a past, an explosives-wielding raccoon, and a tiny owl. Though not taking center stage, the female characters do their best to steal the show. I took an immediate liking to the feisty, one-armed sorceress, and the most charming creature award has to go to Summon-the-Wind, a drug-addled cheetah. Continue reading