Category Archives: Books – 3 stars

John Sandford – Dark Of The Moon

Virgil Flowers, an interesting but minor character from Sandford’s Prey, investigates a series of murders in rural Minnesota. I’m inclined to like Sandford’s books, but this isn’t one of his best. Flowers comes across as implausibly heroic, and the small town inhabitants seems too eager to trust and accept him. The plot is entertaining enough, but it all felt a bit glib.

Tom Fraser, Adam Banks – Designers Color Manual

Not really a manual, and I’m not sure how much experienced designers will learn from it. I bought it because I have not formal design training, and wanted an introduction to colour theory. This book covers a lot of ground, from colour in paintings and print, to use of Photoshop and the web, but it’s not very deep. With its many short, easily digestible sections, it has highlighted plenty of areas that interest me and that I’d like to know more about, and has given me starting points for when I have time to examine these areas in more depth.

Richard D. Harroch, Lou Krieger – Poker For Dummies

Not as basic an introduction to the game as the authors would like you to believe. Yes, it does give a plain description of the fundamental rules of poker in general, and the specifics of the most popular games (Texas Hold’em, 7-Card stud, Omaha), but it does make some assumptions about your knowledge of cards and betting in general. The first few chapters can be quite confusing if you don’t know how a “betting round” works, because they never explain it. The “rah-rah!” Dummies-style of cheerleading also gets tiresome after a while, especially when you just know that if you step up to a table armed purely with the knowledge in this book, you’re going to get fleeced all the way to Nebraska. As quick-start guide, though, it does the job of setting you on your way.

John Sandford – Naked Prey

The latest Lucas Davenport novel is a relatively weak addition to the series, I felt. The web of criminal behaviour on show is more complicated than previous Prey books. The killer doesn’t feel so dangerous and deranged as other villains in the series–he comes across more as an ordinary criminal who has just gone a few steps too far over the line. Davenport himself is less edgy and intense, and he and Del Capslock do an oddly nonchalant buddy act throughout the book. The danger just isn’t personal. Most of the book takes place in the far North of Minnesota, well outside of Davenport’s normal stomping grounds, and it made me wonder why this was a Davenport novel at all, and didn’t feature a local, more story-appropriate detective as the hero. Oh well.

Peter F. Hamilton – Misspent Youth

After spending some quality time with space opera, Peter F Hamilton returns to the near future for Misspent Youth. It’s 2027, and the bio-sciences have advanced to the point where it’s possible to completely rejuvenate someone–but only one person, and at enormous expense. Jeff Baker is the 80-year old scientist chosen to undergo the pioneering treatment. He spends eighteen months unconscious as his body is rebuilt cell by cell, and awakens as a young man. Hamilton builds on this premise by giving Jeff a wife, Sue, forty years his junior, and a son, Tim, who at eighteen is only a few years younger than Jeff’s new biological age. In addition to the personal issues Jeff has to face, he also has to deal with being a celebrity and a figurehead for the policies of a prime minister with ambitions to become president of Europe.

I found Misspent Youth a suprisingly bleak novel. The personal story deals with a broken family that never gets fixed, and with the inevitable victory of base human impulses over rational thought. The future society Hamilton paints is filled with glorious technological advances, but also with desperately unhappy and fearful people. Domestic political violence and terrorism is rife. Europe has pulled away from an insular and impoverished USA, but despite increasingly close political ties, European cultural and fraternal unity is further away than ever. The book ends with twin climaxes that resolve superficial crises, but signal no more than a temporary ceasefire on the battlefield of the underlying political and personal issues. It’s an interesting read, but far from an uplifting or inspirational one.

Eric Garcia – Casual Rex

Entertaining but not spectacular follow-up to his debut novel Anonymous Rex. It takes place before the events in the first book, so we get to see Vincent Rubio and Ernie Watson working a case together. A case involving a suspicious cult called the “Progressives,” which encourages dinosaurs to embrace their primitive side, throw off millennia of human oppression, and return to their ancestral roots. (Oh yeah, in case you didn’t know, the Rex series is set in a world where dinosaurs still exist, but wear human suits to make the monkeys think they’re still extinct. It’s a science fiction/detective crossover, or “Dino Noir” as the cover blurb puts it.) Ernie’s ex-wife’s brother has been absorbed by the cult. Ernie and Vincent extract him and get him deprogrammed, only to find him dead a few days later. There was a suicide note, but did he really kill himself?

The story is interesting, and provides another glimpse into dinosaur life, but it lacks the sparkle of surprise that Anonymous Rex had. Although at first glance the dinosaur world plays a bigger role in this book than in the first one, the story plays out much more like a simple detective story with funny masks. While riffing on the (flashy, cinematic) superficial differences between the species, Garcia has neglected the more subtle aspects that Anonymous Rex played to: the furtive need for secrecy, the ingrained mores and taboos of such a parallel society, and the cognitive dissonance of knowing that dinosaurs still walk the earth…in business suits.