Origins (Spinward Fringe)

Cover shot of the book orgins spinward fringe by Lalonde

Origins spinward fringe was a very interesting diversion. Not what I expected at all.

Randolph LaLonde
2008

When I was reading Origins (Spinward Fringe) it reminded me that sometimes you find yourself reading a book that you dislike, then hate, then kinda like, then like a lot.

This was my experience with this book.

It’s a story about a guy who has a dead-end job at a space station. He likes playing video games, er, combat simulations, and he’s hacked into the defense system’s combat simulation programs and, with his friends, are beating all the professionals at space combat simulations. He gets caught, and things get interesting from there on.

First, this was LaLonde’s first effort, and I believe it was written as a serial, in other words, in little pieces published on the web. So it doesn’t read, and shouldn’t be judged, like other books. For instance, I’m not really sure LaLonde had any idea whatsoever where he was going with his characters or his plot.

To a guy used to reading “pro” fiction, this got really annoying! At the beginning, there were parts where one of the characters gave long speeches. There was a lot of dialog. “Get on with it!” I wanted to yell at the author, and I suppose his fans did exactly that, because a little later we’re deep into the action. Then there was too much action, then back to too much dialog.

You get the picture.

I hated that. I mean really. Got under my skin. But before you think I am not recommending the book, let me tell you why I like it.

First, it was free. As in zilcho. Bupkis. $0.00 Just clicked on the little button on Amazon and there it was on my Kindle. Can’t beat that.

Second, it had a lot of great reviews. People really loved the guy. I figured it was worth a shot.

But what happened about 3/4ths of the way through the novel was that I started identifying with the author. Instead of a book series, to me this became something more like an extended series of fictional blogs — I got to watch his style improve, his characters deepen, and the plot thicken. By the end, hey, the guy was almost a pretty good author. I’ve always enjoyed good space opera from time-to-time, but watching not only the storyline grow but the author get better too? That was pretty cool.

So I ordered the next five books, which are $2.99 each. Something tells me Amazon is nobody’s fool! :)

If you like space opera, want a fun little diversion with space combat, adventure, a little bit of all the sci-fi you’ve seen in your life, and making friends with a new author? Origins (Spinward Side) is a pretty good place to start.


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    Divine Justice

    cover shot to the book divine justice by david baldacci

    Baldacci does a workman's job in this latest in his Camel Club series

    David Baldacci
    2008

    I got Divine Justice as a birthday present. I don’t think I’ve ever read Baldacci before, so I was looking forward to the experience. After all, he was lauded on the cover as a “#1 New York Times Bestselling Author!”

    After finishing it, I have very mixed feelings about the book.

    First, I liked that it was set in Virginia, seeing as how I live here. All the places struck chords with me and the color and background of the book was wonderful to absorb. Baldacci knows how to write quick portraits of people and places around the state.

    I also liked the fact that the book was a thriller. There’s nothing like the fast turns and quick plot changes in a good thriller to keep you reading. And this book really kept be reading! Good job.

    However the book itself — and I’m not sure exactly how to say this — was trivial. It was a great airplane or beach book because little or no thinking on the reader’s part was required at all. Parts of the book reminded me of a Scooby Do episode, complete with the characters driving around in a van. The bad guys were comically bad and the good guys were always saving orphans from drowning. It was a bit trite and one-dimensional.

    But pop fiction is like that. And if I sighed several times at the lameness of the depth, the book did it’s job: it kept me reading it. I managed to finish in just a day or two. Reading books like this is a great way to put your brain in neutral for a spell.

    The only other bad part was that this was book #3 in a series about some group called “The Camel Club”. Perhaps if I had read the earlier books this one would have seemed more deep. I don’t know. What I do know is that Baldacci was able to pull me along even though I hadn’t read any of the other books.

    The plot is basically a cat-and-mouse, chase book wrapped around a murder mystery. I won’t go into details — after all, the fun part is reading it yourself — but it delivers on the action, suspense, and thrills.

    I might pick up another Camel Club book — I think Baldacci has already written another. Reading Divine Justice reminded me that there’s nothing like a nice summer book to help you relax.

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      The Girl Next Door

      Poster for the movie The Girl Next Door

      The Girl Next Door is an emotionally-powerful kick in the teeth

      This was the first Jack Ketchum book I ever read, and wow, did it make an impression.

      Since then I’ve read a few Ketchum books. He has a talent for gore and disgust. By way of analogy, I love watching “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” where great comedians ad-lib various funny situations. But over time I’ve found that if they can’t make you laugh because it’s funny, they’ll just do something that embarrasses you. Laughing because you’re embarrassed to them is just the same as laughing because you think something is funny. It’s kind of a cheap trick (but one many comedians use, and to great effect).

      Likewise, some horror writers try to disgust you instead of scaring you. They try to think of the most awful and insensate acts of evil, then play them out for you on the page. Ketchum to me is one of these guys. That’s not saying he’s a bad writer, just that his style is like that. If you like that thing, you’ll probabaly like all of his books.

      But every now and then the writer’s style and the material move together such that the writer’s character and the character of the story merge. In The Girl Next Door, this is what happens. It’s a story about a typical suburban neighborhood around 1958. Ketchum does a great job of describing this world. It made me feel like I grew up in the 50s. Due to an accident, a couple of girls move in with the family next door. At this point the story slowly drifts from being a slice-of-life story to something much, much darker. It becomes a meditation on how people treat each other, especially how people treat outsiders. The Other. Basing it on a true story only adds to the punch.

      I won’t go into details. I don’t want to, even if you’ll never read the book. I find them disturbing to recall. The entire book moves from a warm, lighthearted suburban drama to a dark tale of vile horror. In short, it was a great book! Left me thinking about it a month later, and that’s always a sign of a good read. Many of the books I read and review here I have to review right after I read them, otherwise I forget a lot. Not The Girl Next Door — it stays with you a long, long time after you’ve finished.

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        Gone For Good

        A picture from the cover of the book gone for good

        Gone for good is great, page-turning intrigue

        It’s gotten so that anytime people use the word “intrigue” you think of boring spy novels or something involving complicated plots. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Gone For Good is a great little page-turning novel where as each secret is exhumed and decisions made, the universe shifts into a new way of looking at things. Massive changes in the reader’s model of reality can easily be overdone, though. Coben doesn’t go too far.

        Starting off sounding a lot like a crime novel, we begin with the death of a next-door neighbor that is pinned on our protagonist’s brother. The brother was never found, though, and our guy lives day-to-day wondering whether his brother is alive and knowing in his heart that he didn’t commit the crime. The plot gets moving with the death of a close relative that causes our hero to begin a search, and a mission, that can only end in a big old bucket of suspense and surprise.

        I enjoyed this book a lot, especially after reading some splatterpunk horror. It’s nicely told, and the author doesn’t miss a beat. It would have been easy to make a book like this too complicated, or too busy, but Coben balances the story-telling just right. To me a sign of a good book is when you are reading a part and thinking “Why the heck am I reading this? Is it important?” only to later realize “Wow! That was really important!” Very cool when it’s done well. He also nails dialogue. There were a few times when characters made snarky remarks where I caught myself laughing out loud, which I rarely do. And several other times characters said things as I nodded, thinking, yep, that’s exactly what he’d say.

        As I understand it, Coben usually writes in a serial format. You know, the same hero doing something a little different each time at bat. I don’t blame modern authors for doing this — it seems to be the only way to make a buck at writing. But I’m glad he took some time out to write Gone for Good; it’s a wonderful little book.

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          The Traveling Vampire Show

          the 2001 horror novel by richard laymon titled the traveling vampire show

          A nice, easy, scary-as-hell horror story. Just like they should be.

          Some of the best scary stories are told over campfires. The storyteller stands up, or leans forward, and with his voice and emotions takes the entire group on a trip through fear. There’s no rushing these stories — the best storytellers take their time, make sure you get a real, nice feel for the characters and the situation, then slowly knit up the story.

          This is the first Richard Laymon book I’ve ever read. Looking at the reviews, it seems he did a lot of sex and gore in the past. I didn’t know that starting this book, and I think it made for a better read. A bunch of teenagers? Some kind of traveling vampire show? What was this, a Scooby Do episode? And like a great storyteller, Laymon takes his time, showing us each character and slowly building the suspense until the heart-pounding ending.

          I don’t want to give too much away in this review, but it’s fair to say it’s about an experience one summer that changes the lives of our main teenage characters forever. Laymon has a way with character development. Over the course of this book I really felt like I got to know the major players very well. It made me want to read another book with those same characters in it!

          It does build slowly, however, and I had to buckle down a bit to read it. The last 25% or so is when things really heat up, and by the time I finished I was impressed at the great story I had just been told.

          I’m not sure I’d call it a horror novel, at least not in the sense most horror novels are today. This one was much more subtle — and because of that will leave a longer-lasting impact. If you’ve got some time on a trip or vacation and want a nice scary campfire story to read, The Traveling Vampire Show is a sure bet.

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            Off Season

            a picture of the book cover for the book off season

            Off Season was Jack Ketchum's first novel

            This was my third Ketchum book to read, although it was his first to write. Last week I read “The Girl Next Door”, followed by “The Woman”

            Ketchum has a way with readers. He doesn’t like them. Or rather, he enjoys setting up situations where his characters can be tortured, raped, mutilated, and generally overwhelmed with the futility of life, then he takes us on a slow tour through hell.

            It’s not that Ketchum is a bad writer. Far from it. He knows his craft and takes his time setting up his stories. And I think if you have a taste for this sort of genre, you’ll like him a lot. Personally, I was amazed at first with his work but then became slowly dulled to it. After so much disgust, it all kind of runs together. I guess Ketchum was doing torture porn long before Saw came around? I must say he does it a lot better.

            Off season is a good read if you have the stomach for it.

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