The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

The Books I Read: January – February 2018

bookshelf books

The Elven by Bernhard Hennen

It took me two months of dedicated reading to complete this. Of course, I took breaks along the way, but still, I feel stories can wear out their welcome. We’re not in the era of television-less-ness anymore. We don’t need War and Peace to keep us occupied. And this is a callback to those kinds of books. It’s a saga rooted in high fantasy and Norse/Germanic myths (like elves and dwarves).

We’ve got three main characters. Two are elves who have been rivals for a girl elf’s love for whatever thousands of years elves live. The last is a viking who gets treated like the comic relief throughout the book. Seriously, you think he’s going to be a badass, but the elves treat him like Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies. Every place they go, the elves cluck their tongues at him for drinking, fighting, and being crude (although no more than any normal viking) and go “look at this boorish human, ha ha”. They’re like Legolas in every way–eagle vision, can do magic, nimble, skilled warrior, and so on. Very few female parts that don’t involve a queen or someone more important’s daughter, so don’t look here for any diversity.

It is well-written, it’s just so damn long. You forget who characters are, what places are. There’s a map in the beginning but it only covers a small portion of the world. Maybe I’m a dummy, but if you’re going to make a novel this big and sprawling, add a few cheat sheets in there.

And as a result, I don’t think I can recommend this book. It’s good enough for a normal size novel, but not for something this long. It took me eighteen hours–I could have read three or four other books in that time. I can’t help but think I’d have been better off continuing The Expanse.

futuristic violence and fancy suits david wong

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

I found a few books recommended for people who liked “Ready Player One”. And I needed it after finishing some long fantasy sagas. I wanted something funny and contemporary. I’d read David Wong before and liked it so I thought this would hit the spot.

And it did. Wong’s not good at titles (or is he too good?) but it’s exactly what’s on the tin–fast action and men-in-black doing gratuitous violence. It’s a big that stew that combines cyberassasins, superheroes, horror movies, anime, future dystopia. Much of them reflect (but aren’t directly coded as) eighties weirdness like “Rock and Rule” and MTV’s bizarro years.

It’s not a story that holds up to scrutiny. The plot moves so fast you don’t have much chance to learn character backstories or reflect on anything. You’re onto something new before you can digest the old. Characters turncoat from bad to good without explanation. Plot coupons come from nowhere. Chapters are short and action-packed. The character is dragged through events by the seat of her pants, rather than making decisions for herself. And none of the cast is likable. It’s like a Jason Statham movie.

So this should only be used for amusement and entertainment. It won’t give you anything profound. It won’t be taught in high school. But it is a great book for a reader who likes Marvel movies and video games. It’s a trip and a joke and an action movie.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

This is the story of a twelve-year-old girl coming to terms with the absence of her mom. It’s told in two parallel narratives. One is in present-time, on a road trip with her grandparents. The other is the story she tells to her grandparents that involve her mom and what happened with her and her dad after she left.

The classic trifecta ensues: 1) they move somewhere she doesn’t like 2) Dad starts seeing another woman 3) No one in school likes her. In the process, she befriends another girl, and HER mother leaves. This is the interesting part, as our main character gets a taste of what a pill she was, having to console someone in the same situation.

It’s a good story, especially if you know what a broken home is like. And the style, full of odd quaint country expressions and quirky humor. It’s not a cheesy Hallmark story. It reminds me of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie or “Holes” by Louis Sachar or “I Am the Cheese” by Robert Cormier. All of these have an unreliable narrator and implication of something sinister going on below the surface.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I was nervous about reading this at first. John Green highly recommended it, dedicated a whole vlog to it. But in the past, he’d recommended Kendra by Coe Booth, which I didn’t like. And The Boy in the Black Suit was only so-so. So I thought this genre wasn’t for me, because I couldn’t be more white and it’s a big leap to sympathize with… what are we calling them now? Underprivileged minorities? Then I saw it on a bunch of Year End Top Ten lists and thought I’d give it a try.

Days later, I was still thinking about it. Yes, it’s an “issue” book, but it’s more about the aftermath of what someone goes through. Other issue books miss the point entirely, skipping over roots & causes and capitalizing on a hot button to sell books (like 13 Reasons Why or This Is Where It Ends).

Our main character is split between two worlds. By day she goes to school in a white neighborhood full of preppies, thanks to a school voucher. By night, she’s back in the ghetto, with her family of half-siblings and Dad who’s done time and now runs a grocery store. She never lets either side know of her other life because she’d be called a traitor or ostracized for some other reason.

That all changes when she witnesses a cop shoot her friend and can’t toe the line anymore. But it’s more about what her neighborhood goes through, how they react, from gang leaders to barbers, and the whites & lawyers reactions. It’s about what it means to be “ghetto” when that’s your life, not just a thirty-minute sitcom. Even when you live among gangs and broken families, a young black teenage girl can still want daddy snuggles. No one is a one-note or ghetto caricature. It’s modern life and helps a great deal with empathizing and sympathizing and, most of all, understanding the POV of “Black Lives Matter”.

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

It’s a solid C. The main character lacks a “Save the Cat” moment, so he’s not very sympathetic. And women won’t find anything for themselves here. The only female in the book is the person the main character is trying to ask out. She’s a prize to be won. Also there’s no plot, no bad guy, no goal (either inner or outer) besides “learn a thing”. So it’s a little like Disney’s The Sword in the Stone in that way. But at least in that movie, Merlin was grooming Arthur to be king. Here, the wizards’ objective is to live easy bachelor lives, geek wish fulfillment, and to conjure burritos whenever they want.

After that, you’d think I’d give it a low rating. But despite its flaws, I realized, halfway through, that I still wanted to know how it ended. This is what I wanted Wizard’s Bane to be–a computer programmer in medieval times using programming to do magic.

This is a book for people who like comic strips, not characters. It’s light-hearted, fun, and humorous. But keep in mind that means the plot is going to be held by shoestrings. So don’t come in with expectations of Harry Potter.

Also, the cover is bupkiss. There’s no video games here.

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

This was way better than I thought it would be. King’s known for horror, not high fantasy. Before this point, the only other fantasy he wrote (if you don’t count The Gunslinger, which goes beyond genres) was The Talisman. And after this point, he didn’t go back to it for a long time. So I thought it would be a disaster. When an author writes outside their wheelhouse, you get wary. But it was also written in 1987, around the same time as It, Misery, and Skeleton Crew. And before he got sober.

The whole book has a fun storyteller vibe, like an old man in a tavern telling you the saga of King What’s-his-face. And since it’s a secondary world, you don’t have to worry about those Stephen King cliches.

However, the weird thing is the story never seems to start. It keeps describing characters, giving anecdotes, showing the history of the kingdom, etc. but you’re halfway through the book and the inciting incident hasn’t occurred. The narration consistently feels like it’s building towards something all throughout, which is disconcerting.

But overall, yes, I recommend it. It’s a good book even for the non-Stephen King fan and I plan on reading the sequel.

John Dies at the End by David Wong

I remember reading this when it was free online, many many years ago. At the time, it felt like a life-changing work. So many books consist of dull introspective characters, plodding plots. This was a story for the MTV generation, with creative monsters, gross-out moments, and complete rejection of post-modern literary crap.

But it’s a flawed narrative. Many scenes take up space and reflect what you’d see in a movie. They don’t drive plot, reveal character, or restate theme. Also, all the events happen without being tied together, so it gets long and boring when the characters don’t want anything except to survive.

It’s like a Transformers movie: every scene is framed as MAXIMUM importance… which means nothing is important.Things happen, but you don’t care. It’s not a character-based story, it’s event, then event, then event. There’s no quiet scenes where we get a chance to absorb the impact. There’s sort of a beginning but there’s no middle or ending. The imagery provides information that isn’t necessary, like reading a book while listening to a different one. It’s all spectacle and no information.

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View by various authors

This is an anthology of short stories that tells the story of Star Wars, but from the point-of-view of all the little characters that don’t matter. Like the Jawa that finds R2-D2, the Tusken Raider that cold-cocks Luke, various droids and rebels, even the stormtrooper that bonks his head on the doorway. All the parts that didn’t even earn scale.

It’s actually one of the better short story collections I’ve read. Maybe because A) there’s one unifying element tying them all together and leading to a conclusion and B) it’s Star Wars. It was enjoyable, but not pull-you-in enjoyable. There is a LOT of time spent on Tatooine. I think there’s a story for every character in Mos Eisley. If you like Star Wars, this is definitely worth looking into.

The Books I Read: November – December 2013 (Part 1)

bookshelf books

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

It’s definitely unlike the movie. I’ve complained before about Blade Runner, and that it’s all style and lacking cohesion. The book feels a little more satirical, a little more biting, and not so concerned about looking and feeling cool. It’s really steeped in allegory and metaphor and THE MESSAGE. It’s interesting how the director saw a movie in this. The portion that made it into the film is quite minimal. He probably could have saved some money by filing off the serial numbers.

The book itself? Well, it’s hard to put an opinion on it. It’s a novel to be appreciated for its place in history. It’s almost like a Wes Anderson science fiction story, with the quirkiness and the focus on people over tech. I guess the problem with classic science fiction is that everyone wants to say they’ve read it, but no one actually wants to do the reading. The ideas inside are nominal.  But everyone else has done more current variations on them, with characters one can better sympathize with. I read my books for emotional connections, and this doesn’t have them so much.

Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi

When I read The Big Idea piece on it, it sounded interesting, but I didn’t intend to pick it up. Except I saw it on my library’s eBook catalog, so I thought, what the heck. It sounded like a fun book.

Paolo says he wrote the book as a fun thing without much pressure. There aren’t any literary techniques.  He just tried to make a fun book for boys about zombie fighting, without many themes and motifs. In fact, I think the themes are actually more prevalent than he makes light of. There’s a prominent thread of foreigners/bigotry in here. Moreso than the zombies, which are actually lacking. Those expecting something like World War Z or David Wolverton will be disappointed.

That being said, the novel does achieve what it seeks out to. It’s a beach read, not too heavy except for the racism themes, and some fun gross-outs.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

When I read Eleanor & Park I decided to check out more of this Rainbow Rowell person. Delightedly, I my library had her latest, newly-released novel available. This is about Cath, one of twin girls, going to college freshman year. The primary conflict is that she’s forced to live an independent life and come out of her shell. She’s used to retreating into her computer and writing fan fiction.

I guess I’d categorize this book as a romance. There aren’t a lot of plot twists or problems or obstacles. The main character is simply trying to cope with her severe introversion and reaching an adult identity. It was a subject I could easily identify with — I was very scared as a freshman, and frequently stayed in my dorm. The stakes are not epic, but character-focused. Which is fine. If you loved Eleanor & Park, but thought it was too depressing, this one is not.

Rage by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

I’ve wanted to read this one for a long time, but could never find it. Stephen King let it fall out of print and called it “a good thing”. Personally, I found that hypocritical. This is the guy who says “you can have my books when you pry them from my cold dead hands.”

The book itself shows those shades of early King, before he became too wordy. It’s not horror or supernatural, it’s dark satire (and some author venting). The kid goes into school and holds a classroom hostage. The problem is what happens there. While we get flashbacks of the killer’s life, he plays around with his power on the students. Like resolving an argument between girls with a fight.

Eventually, they start revealing that they’re not happy, they’re not the perfect choir girls parents think they are. They get pretty comfortable with a madman with the gun in the room. So much, it only takes 2 hours for them to get Stockholm syndrome and side with the madman.

The plot is implausible. It has that 70’s style-over-realism thing going on. King is famous for that in the Bachman books. The ending has earmarks of 80’s horror movie cheesiness. If you want to complete your King collection or have a jones for stories about school rebellion, this is a fine read. But otherwise, I think it can be passed.

Breath by Jackie Morse Kessler

When I got this book, I left the library thinking “how is she going to screw this one up?” This is the last book of the series, dealing with Death, who Kessler has portrayed as Kurt Cobain.

And of course, it’s all exposition. Talking, talking, talking. Explaining, more talking, and then existential nonsense which has nothing to do with the protagonist. Nobody wants anything. I’m shouting at the book DO SOMETHING. There’s no conflict. The big plot twist for the protagonist, where what he thought was wasn’t (a la A Beautiful Mind) happens in the last five pages.  THE LAST FIVE PAGES.

That’s the kind of shit that happens in Act 1. It’s the crux of your story, and it doesn’t happen until the end. And of course, there’s no consequences for it. It takes one hundred pages in for any sort of turn to happen. Besides that it’s people living, making bad jokes, and NOTHING HAPPENS.

Oh, and it’s transparent that she’s trying to hide gender. Kessler, you are not John Scalzi. I am so glad to be done with you.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Also one I was surprised to see in my library’s eCatalog. But I snatched it up. However, I think this works better as a paper book. There are some nice illustrations that go along with it, that are really too small in eBook form to be appreciated.

The story is one Neil Gaiman is famous for — an ordinary schlub gets caught up in whimsical adventures with weird, funny stuff. This time it takes a page from Roald Dahl.  And while it’s got plenty of funny bits, I don’t feel it’s destined to become a classic. Also, I’m not sure some of the more complex subjects (time travel and quantum mechanics figure heavily into the plot) will go under the heads of the target audience. I would never want someone to dumb things down for kids, but I feel like only a small portion of its readers will appreciate it.  But that’s no reason not to try.

They Should Remake Blade Runner

blade runner poster

This may force them to revoke my sci-fi card, but I have to say it. I am not very fond of Blade Runner, and I think it would benefit from a remake.

I really can’t watch it. It’s just so boring. It’s a good movie… as an art film. It’s great for the film noir + cyberpunk mood. But as a story with characters and plot, it’s so thin. It’s a better movie to have on the background — all style. Just about everything interesting happens off-screen. It’s a good concept, but concept doesn’t translate to a linear progression of events. Can I admire a movie without liking it?

There’s not enough time spent on any character to get a sense — screen time is distributed between Deckard, Batty, and all the other side characters (including Not-Harley-Quinn). There’s a whole lot of awesome backstory, but just takes a sliver of that. And what is a “blade runner”? Where did that name come from? Things like that stay unexplored, that leave the movie feeling empty. The cyberpunk noir is what attracts people, but there’s no main story to hold it together. The ending, memorable as it is, doesn’t support the theme of mortality (and skips over themes like enslavement and playing Creator).

Wook at dose puppy dog eyes

There’s a villain and hero, sure, but they never meet until the end. It’s not an adventure, it’s a bunch of disconnected situations. It needs to be more like A.I. or Bicentennial Man, but not sucking. Harrison Ford, lovable as he is, seems wrong for the role. He acts bland and uninterested in the subject matter (maybe that’s the point). You don’t have to be a likable or charismatic character in a movie, but you have to be interesting to watch. And who cares if he’s a replicant or not. If he is, that leaves a host of even more unanswered questions.

I know there’s a good story here, but it’s laid underneath so much scenery porn and the weight of genres that it can’t poke through. Ridley Scott’s made a whole bunch of movies, but all anyone remembers is Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Alien (and Prometheus, but I think people only looked forward to that because of Alien). Stop giving Ridley Scott so much credit and hand the reins to someone new.