Archive for the ‘Book of the Month’ Category

EG’s Review: World War Z

October 23, 2009

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Alright, peoples, you’ve waited long enough to hear about this one! The Steve Austin Book Club is back, and more extreme than ever! Or, perhaps that is Xtreme! Mayhaps we should rename ourselves The Xteve AuXtin BooX Club, as an indicator of our new hip and happenin’ ways!

Or, not.

Anyway, this is the review of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. This review is apt to spoil the book, so if you haven’t read it and want to, you may want to skip this. There will be SPOILERS-A-PLENTY! If you have read the book, feel free to leave a comment!

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Now with the preliminaries out of the way, sit back and enjoy!

World War Z is a collection of the post-Zombie War rememberances of indidual survivors throughout the world. It is ten years after the official end of the war… a time to look back. The book is presented in a series of personal stories/interviews with individuals discussing their roles and reactions as the world was plunged into a panic and near extinction of the human race. Using these personal stories, the audience follows as the events of the Zombie War are revealed in pieces, from its start within the borders of China, to the various steps taken by governments throughout the world in attempts to protect their borders, through battlefields where traditional tactics are found lacking, to the eventual steps toward survival, which rely on plans for each nation to virtually abandon most of their citizens. The stories come from average individuals, politicians, military personnel, corporate leaders, slackers, etc., etc., etc.

And… that’s about the sum of it.

Let me start this by saying that the concept of this book is genius. I loved the premise and the style used. As an avid fan of the History Channel, I could really see this story being told through the account of eye witnesses just as much of their programming does. If there is any downside to that, it is that I think that this is one of those few occassions where the upcoming film based on this book may surpass the book in effectiveness. Why? Because the biggest complaint I have about the book seems to be a near universal complaint about it – while we are told that the stories come from various individuals, the vast majority of the stories are very much in the same voice, seemingly from the same individual. That is why I think the movie has the advantage. The various actors will lend their own spin to each vignette, allowing the audience to see a greater variance than what was afforded in the book.

I did appreciate the fact that the author knew his audience. Very little time was spent dwelling on what zombies are and trying to explain them away. Instead, he worked from a standpoint of “the people that pick this book up know what these creatures are.” It was nice to not have the lodestone of origin dragging the book down.

Now, the downside. Without an establishing of the specifics of the zombie of this book, we don’t have a firm enough idea of what these zombies are really like. And, it seems that the author forgets as well. There are times when we are told that zombies eventually decompose, and yet we are confronted with zombies in several instances that seem to have survived locked up in abandoned homes for years, no worse for wear. We are told that frozen weather will freeze zombies, yet they can walk unencumbered along the ocean floor, which rests at right about 32 degrees. (Fun science fact: the ocean, being salty, doesn’t freeze until the water hits about 28.5 degrees. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.)

There also seems to be a real lack of knowledge about military weaponry. The idea that modern weapons would be less than effective against the undead is really hard to believe. The shrapnel described in the book always somehow managed to avoid hitting the zombies in the head. There is a reason that the militaries of the world issue metal helmets to their soldiers.

I can go along, to some extent, with the laughable actions of government during a situation like this, but the overall political commentary in the book is hack-kneed and blunt to the point of near rhetoric. Everything is too surface, no depth.

I was also unimpressed with the two types of people that we were presented with in the book: the noble hero and the scummy opportunist. There didn’t seem to be any other degrees of personality. I understand that a tragedy can be a polarizing event, but there are more shades to people than this, and not having those shades made almost all the characters boring and relatively two-dimensional.

Which, now that I think about it and re-read my last complaint, is the problem I have with the book as a whole. For all the supposed individuals “interviewed” in the book, there just isn’t enough to any of them. The characters are flat, which is really what makes them all sound the same. Perhaps if the author had focused on fewer stories, we could have had a more in depth character study of each. People aren’t simply noble or evil… they are far more complicated than that.

The book wasn’t terrible, but I expected and wanted so much more from it. As I mentioned, I’m really hoping that the actors in the planned film are able to bring that little extra to this project that is sorely missing in the book. For the potential of this book and the concept, I’m giving it two and a half Running Steves.

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And, here’s to hoping that the film gets moving from development limbo and into actual production!

BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: DUNE by FRANK HERBERT

July 15, 2008

Howdy there, folks, and welcome once again to the Book Club Discussion. 

Today, we look at Dune by Frank Herbert.  As always, this will be a SPOILERIFIC look at the novel, so if you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read this!!!  If you have read the novel, feel free to add your thoughts by commenting at the bottom.  Now, prepare yourselves…

SYNOPSIS:
In the far distant future, humanity has spread throughout the universe. Planets are ruled by various Houses, held together under the ruler of an Emperor. 

Among the Houses are the Harkonnens (a despicable group that rule by deception, oppression, and force) under Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, and the Atreides (a group of true nobility and just ways) led by Duke Leto. As you might guess, there is no love lost between the two Houses.

Unfortunately for Leto and his people, the Emperor sees Leto as a threat to his power, and he hatches a plan with the Harkonnens

Leto is instructed by the Emperor to leave his planet and take control of Arrakis, a desert planet that is nearly unlivable. Arrakis has one resource, though, that is precious – Spice Melange. The Spice is mined in the sands of the desert. Ingesting the spice allows one the ability to see possible paths into the future. And, it is very addictive. As such, it is highly valuable and much sought after. 

By taking Leto from his home planet and moving him to the unfamiliar and inhospitable wasteland that is Arrakis, his enemies hope to make an opportunity to destroy him and his house. The Emperor eliminates a threat to his power, and the Harkonnens eliminate a rival House.

Though Leto senses the trap, he is obligated to follow through. Along with his military force, he is joined by his concubine, Jessica, a Bene Gesserit (an religious order of women who serve as advisers, being somewhat prescient and able to control the actions of others verbally), and their son, Paul.

Unbeknownst to anyone save the Bene Gesserit, breeding has been manipulated to bring forth a prophesied leader, the Kwisatz Haderach, a male trained in the ways of the Bene Gesserit. Jessica believes that Paul is that leader.

The Atreides move to Arrakis and take control of the planet. On arriving, Leto is introduced to the “natives” of the planet, a group called the Fremen. Through constant exposure to the Spice, the Fremen’s eyes are blue on blue, with no whites. While the Harkonnens saw the Fremen as merely uncivilized desert dwellers, Leto sees them as the key to Arrakis – a force of people that have learned the ways of the desert planet and adapted.

Before long, the House of Atreides is attacked from within. The action ignites accusations of betrayal, causing an atmosphere of mistrust to form. Unknown to any is that the betrayer is actually Dr. Yueh, a trusted confidant to the family. His betrayal, though, is not so simple – he loves the Atreides and hates the Harkonnen. As we learn later, his reasoning for the betrayal is actually an attempt to destroy the Baron Vladimir.

Essentially, Yueh delivers the Duke into the hands of the Baron, while the forces of the Harkonnen (along with the disguised forces of the Emperor, the Sardaukar) attack and scatter the Atreides forces.

Paul and his mother manage to escape, thanks to Dr. Yueh, and eventually take refuge with the Fremen, thanks in no small part to their fighting abilities, which the Fremen refer to as the “weirding”.

Paul thrives in the new environment, to the point that the Fremen begin to wonder if he is actually the Lisan alGaib (or Voice from the Outer World), the Mahdi (Messiah) that will transform Arrakis into a paradise. Paul takes on his Fremen name of Paul Muad’Dib (a mouse native to Arrakis) and quickly is seen as a great leader. His mother, Jessica, takes on the role of the Reverend Mother to the Fremen.

Years pass and under the leadership of Paul Muad’Dib, the Fremen grow stronger, until the moment comes when Paul Muad’Dib decides the time has come to retake his rightful position of Duke of the House of Atriedes, ruler of the planet of Arrakis.

An all encompassing, well planned out attack is made and Paul Muad’Dib and the Fremen are victorious. In a final blow to the Emperor, Paul threatens to destroy all of the Spice on the planet, a move that not only secures his position as Duke and ruler, but also leads to a marriage to the Emporer’s daughter, making him next in line to ascend to the throne.

DISCUSSION:

OG: Well, this one’s a whopper; and, not just because it’s a big book with lots of them pesky words to read, but more so because of all of the even peskier ideas Herbert packs into it. Huge, important ideas and themes piled on top of the already massive amounts of plot, intrigue, character development and world, nay, universe building he shoves between the covers.

EG:  It is quite the layered novel.

OG:  Indeed.  So, where to begin discussing this thing? I had a lot of trouble deciding until I remembered reading this 1979 quote by Frank Herbert in which he said:

“The bottom line of the Dune trilogy is: beware of heroes. Much better rely on your own judgment, and your own mistakes.”

I read this quote directly after finishing the book and it really opened up my understanding of what I had just been through. After some more digging around, I then located where Herbert expanded on this thought in his essay “Dune Genesis” (found here: http://www.dunenovels.com/news/genesis.html) in which he basically lays out the short story of how and why he came to write this series in the first place. Here’s a couple more choice quotes from there that give you the flavor, but I’d recommend anyone who read this book to read the whole essay when they have the time…

“…superheroes are disastrous for humankind. Even if we find a real hero (whatever-or whoever-that may be), eventually fallible mortals take over the power structure that always comes into being around such a leader.” 

And…

“Don’t give over all of your critical faculties to people in power, no matter how admirable those people may appear to be. Beneath the hero’s facade you will find a human being who makes human mistakes. Enormous problems arise when human mistakes are made on the grand scale available to a superhero.”

I think the reason I want to start off here and why this idea resonates with me so much is that as I read “Dune” I read it under the penumbra of all the other stories out there about heroes rising to their rightful place as savior of their people/land/world/universe. I mean, you can’t get through this book without thinking that Herbert is riffing on the thousands year old tradition of the “heroes journey.” Even if one hasn’t read any Joseph Campbell, they’ve at least seen “Star Wars” and can probably fill in the major beats the story hits along the way. (Heck, EG, didn’t you, like me, think at many point, “Man, George Lucas totally read Dune before he wrote a word of Star Wars and just ripped it off all over the place!” I can just hear his thoughts, “Hmm, two moons, huh? I’ll just make it two suns and nobody’ll notice.”)

EG:  Um… actually, Star Wars didn’t come to MY mind… but the different view of the heroic journey did.  But, please, go on.

OG:  I suppose my hatred of the prequels (and Indy IV, to boot) have got me looking for other things to accuse George Lucas of.  Maybe plagiarism isn’t one of them.  Anyway, that said, reading the above quotes and getting into Herbert’s motivations here, made me realize that though he was using the basic skeleton or formula of the heroes journey, unlike Star Wars, he was using it as a means of, if not tearing it down (at least not in the first book), then definitely scrutinizing it and calling it into question.

On the one hand, you read about the horrors of the Harkonnen rule over Arakkis and the scheming of the Emperor within that, and you recognize that the Fremen and the rest of the universe absolutely need a savior to come. A Kwisatz Haderach or Lisan alGaib has to rise to stop this great evil and bring peace and tranquility to the world. But, while that’s true, rarely in these types of stories do we reckon with the flip side of that. And, Dune magnificently explores that side of things. This person is a human being. This man (well, child really), Paul Muad’Dib has loves and hates and flaws and all those things that great power and authority can only eventually tarnish and inflate.

And, as he journey’s along to find his place of power, the inner struggle that he goes through, the conflict with his mother over her place in that journey, and the feeling of inescapable doom and anxiety that outlines his prescience is what separates this story from the rest.

So, I’ve just kicked us off with a big, fat mouthful. What do you think about this EG? Did you finish this book thinking that the day had been saved and all was right with the world, which is how I initially put it down before more thought and more insight from the author. Or, did you, ever wiser than I, flip the last page and say, “Yeah, things are okay now, but there’s a dark moon on the rise?”

EG:  Actually, the flashing visions of the future that Paul could see did clue me in.  You said the word “inescapable.”  That is what really turns the heroic journey on its ear.  Paul, through his own prescience, quite literally “sees” the problems with him assuming the role of the Kwisatz Haderach and the Lisan alGaib, and yet, despite that knowledge, he finds himself locked into that path.  He was bred for it, he was trained for it, and even with his own misgivings, at each turn he finds himself falling into or even embracing those positions.  His reluctance in thought helps give us a nice reminder that despite outward appearances, things are probably not going to be coming up roses later on down the path.  It is really quite a contradiction, because through Paul’s eyes, we see that what he’s doing is leading up to, among other things, a holy war, and Paul, in thought, is desperate to prevent that, yet instead of avoiding the decisions that will lead to that, he runs toward them.  In theory, Paul could have joined the Fremen and then merely lived out his life among them, with his wife, Chani, and their children.  In actuality, though, the person we come to know as Paul really would not, possibly could not, take that passive route. 

OG: Okay, so putting all that high-falutin‘ talk about heroes journeys and the greater themes of Dune aside, what did you think of the book just as a reader? Were you entertained? Did it make you want to read more?

EG: I enjoyed the book, overall.  It was very slow going at first, but after a time, I was able to really get into the story.  Knowing that the book was set up from the outset to be a trilogy, I knew that there was going to be a lot of groundwork laid that would only really come into play in later books… which is something I found that I had to remind myself of on several occasions.  What I mean is, toward the end of the book, I’d think, “Nothing was done with _____?  Why did they bring it in at all?  Oh.  Yeah.  Trilogy.”

OG: Well, as you already know, I already read the second book, “Dune Messiah” immediately after finishing this one. So, I guess that’s as good an indication as any about how much I enjoyed “Dune” purely as a reader. And, I must say, it’s quite a contrast to how I was feeling early in the book. I am often quite disoriented when thrown head-first into a universe with no warning. I appreciate the author’s intention in doing that and admire it from a storytelling standpoint, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I often want to be talked down to at the start of a book. It’s sad, but true. I’m often too lazy to do the work that’s required for keeping up with this kind of writing. The text from Princess Irulan’s writings and the usage of words, alien languages, and concepts that aren’t immediately explained made me a bit foggy in the first chapters and I struggled to find my footing.

EG:  Oh, let me interject here!  I ABSOLUTELY understand what you are saying!  The start of this book reminded me a lot of something my father said after he read Frank E. Peretti’s This Present Darkness.  I had read and enjoyed the book, so I loaned it to him, lo those many years ago.  After he read it, I asked what he thought, and he said, “Well, it was okay.  I don’t know why the angels had to have bizarre names, though.  TalGuiloArmoth?  Why couldn’t they just have normal names?  In the Bible, the angels had names like Michael and Gabrielle.”  I don’t think I fully appreciated that statement until Dune.  Slogging through those first pages… my mind kept searching for anything familiar, which was a bit of a distraction.  It was a huge relief once I got to “Paul” and “Jessica.”

OG:  Amen to that, brother.  So, once I did find that footing and had a sense of this universe and it’s history, then I was off to the races and ripping the pages aside as fast as I could. Though it was definitely a challenging read and one where I wasn’t always clear on what was happening, I still would call this book a page-turner.

EG: I don’t know that I’d go quite that far.  I probably didn’t get that feeling until maybe the last 100 pages of the book or so – once Paul was prepping to ride the maker.  At that point, the action seemed to shift gears for me.  You asked, earlier, if I would be interested in reading more of the Dune novels in the future, and, yeah, I will, but not right away.  Some time away will do me good.

I did find what I consider to be two glaring shortcomings in the book, aspects that I don’t see being resolved to my satisfaction in future books.  You, having read the second book though, can correct me if I’m wrong.

First, the death of Paul’s son, Leto.  For me, it registered almost zero impact.  Leto was an entirely off camera character – we, as readers, never met him, never saw any interaction between him and his father, and then his death was something we only heard about.  Mind you, not that I wanted a gripping tale of how the Harkonnens came in and killed a child, but I did need something to give the character a little substance.  Especially since Paul is so in control of his emotions, saving his grief for another time on repeated occasions.  The whole thing was dealt with in a way that completely disconnected me, and so I didn’t “feel” the death.

OG:  I’m with you there.  Come to think of it, I can’t imagine what kept Herbert from including more of Paul’s family life.  It’s not like he was afraid of making the book too long.  It’s down right strange, now that you mention it.  The final showdown is what so much of the book builds towards and since nothing short of the fate of the universe is hanging in the balance, the added weight that that death brought to it and Paul’s decisions couldn’t have been overdone.  Definitely a missed opportunity.

EG:  The second shortcoming I’d note is the upstaging of Thufir Hawat.  Baron Vladimir Harkonnen came up with the plan to enlist Thufir Hawat as his own Mentat, despite the fact that Thufir was loyal to the House of Atreides.  The Baron cultivated the deception in Thufir’s mind that the betrayer of the House of Atreides was none other than Jessica, Concubine to Leto, Mother to Paul, and Bene Gesserit witch.  Thufir accepts the position of Mentat for Vladimir, with the idea that one day he could finally gain his vengeance on her.  For what seemed like hundreds of pages, I waited, wondering, is he going to kill her, forcing Paul to kill him?  Is he going to find out too late that it was all a Harkonnen trick and be driven mad by his actions?  I waited and waited, anticipating this moment…

…and when the moment came, Thufir Hawat wasn’t even in the room.  Come to think of it, I’m not sure he was even on the planet, yet.  What happens instead of the confrontation I was looking forward to is the reintroduction of Gurney Halleck, who has taken a position aboard a smuggler’s ship, and felt the same way about Jessica that Thufir Hawat did.  The scene comes where Gurney takes Jessica and threatens her life in front of Paul, who explains the truth to him, and Gurney is so grieved at his own actions that he offers his life to both of them.  They forgive him, and the story moves forward.  At that point, I thought, “That whole scene should have been with Thufir Hawat instead.”  At the very least, I thought that having that scene occur really took the wind out of the sails of a forthcoming scene of confrontation that did include Thufir Hawat.  But, then, it didn’t matter, because at the end of the book, again, off screen, someone had explained the truth to Thufir Hawat and that was that.  It was very anticlimactic to me.

 OG:  Well, just as I’m starting to think of this book as this perfect, smooth block of marbled cheese, aged to perfection, you blast a couple significant holes through it and suddenly I’m dealing with plain ole’ Swiss!   Well, I shouldn’t overdo it.  I still adore Dune, but this second shortcoming you’ve noted is a pretty big stumble plot-wise.  I think I did have the thought in the back of my head that Hawat would be a bigger player at the end.  I think that’s a seed that Herbert planted early on and sort of lost track of as he lost the plot.  Then, when it became more expedient to bring Gurney back into things in the last act, I think he transferred that motivation to him.  Ultimately, while a misstep, I think it doesn’t undo the drama completely.  I mean, what that plot development led to, for me, was the most emotionally satisfying moment in the book – where Jessica fully realizes the damage that the Bene Gesserit meddling has done to Paulas and her part in it.  It was the closest that Jessica and Paul came to healing between them and I really felt the impact of that, despite the fact that it should have been Hawat holding a knife to her throat.  

Regardless, I’m quite willing to forgive those two incidents of narrative sloppiness.  Dune has greatness to burn in it’s pages which, for me, cover a multitude of sins.  So, I’m gonna do it.  I’m giving this book a full 5 Running Steves, EG.  How about you?

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EG:  Wow, you sure do like to throw around those Running Steves, don’t ya?  

OG:  Sure do!  As long as Steve Austin has nothing to do with the book, that is.

EG:  Well, for me, Dune really does land somewhere between 3 1/2 Running Steves and 4 Running Steves.  The two major shortcomings are gonna cost this one.  I’m giving it 3 1/2 Running Steves.

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OG:  Well, that’s just something you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life!!!!  Well, I guess that about does it.  Honestly, there’s a lot more I thought I’d get to in this discussion, but it being mid-July already and my fingers being tired, I think we should cut this puppy down.  If I get the energy up, I might bring up a couple more points in the comments section.  That is, unless that section is so flooded by our many readers that I can’t get a word in edge-wise.  Tee-hee.

Oh, and speaking of July, we’ve made no announcement of the book of the month because there isn’t one.  This is turning out to be a pretty busy Summer in anticipation of EG and OG’s great hajj to the San Diego International Comic Con!  

So, look forward to the next book in August.  Max Brooks’ “WORLD WAR Z.”

BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: CYBORG by MARTIN CAIDIN

June 4, 2008

It’s finally here! Herein is contained the Book of the Month review of Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, much delayed, and sent out with the heartfelt apologies of the two tardy losers who post this blog, EG and OG.  As always, beware! There are SPOILERS within! If you haven’t read the book and want to and don’t want to know anything about it yet, now is the time to bale! 

 

If you’ve read the book and want to participate, we’d love it if you left a comment or 12 at the bottom of the post. Now, if we are all set, please settle down, sit a spell, kick your shoes off, and let’s take a look at Cyborg! 

 

SYNOPSIS:

 

“Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive.  Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.  We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.” 

 

And, so goes the original opening of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” the TV series based on this month’s book, Cyborg by Martin CaidinCyborg is indeed the tale of Steve Austin, but a different one than most of us who watched the series are used to. Not completely different… but different enough. 

 

Air Force Colonel Steve Austin is a former astronaut who had become a test pilot. During a test flight, there is a catastrophic accident, leaving Steve Austin barely alive. As a result of the accident, he loses his left arm, both legs, and his left eye.  But he survives. 

 

Dr. Rudy Wells, Austin’s physician and friend, is approached by Oscar Goldman of the Office of Strategic Operations (OSO), with a proposition. Using the cybernetic breakthroughs of leading researcher Dr. Killian, Steve Austin could return to a relatively normal existence, not a crippled shell of the former man.  Wells, knowing that Austin would rather die than live in his condition, decides to allow the procedures.  We follow as Austin is implanted with his cybernetics and given a great amount of detail about how they work, their advantages, and their limitations, as Steve Austin becomes the first true Cybernetic Organism (or Cyborg). 

 

As Austin recovers from the procedures, we also follow his mental state, from his feelings of less than a man, to freak, moving toward acceptance of his state, and even to a place of gratitude for the advantages he has.  The reader is treated to the testing of the cybernetics of Austin, as he learns his abilities and limitations.  Before long, the OSO decides that it is time for Austin and his new cybernetics to serve their country, and begin sending him out on missions. This first is simply a recon mission, but an amazingly dangerous one, infiltrating a secret Russian base near the southeastern perimeter of the United States. 

 

Shortly after a successful completion of that mission, Austin is sent into the Middle East to steal a Russian MiG-27. 

 

On with the discussion! 

  

DISCUSSION:

 

EG: This is the first book we’ve taken a look at that has some “hard” science fiction elements to it. That is, it has really in-depth scientific description and explanation, focusing on theoretically accurate possibilities for the future of real science. Not simply, “Yeah, we gave him robot legs!” OG, I’m really interested in your reaction to this book, since you’ve admitted to having less experience with science fiction in book form. 

 

OG: You’re right, I have.  And I’ve really been looking forward to bringing some hard sci-fi into my diet. I love reading about new developments in technology and other futurist type writing, so I think I’d enjoy that stuff within the context of a greater work of fiction. That said, in a novel, I think I can only truly enjoy it if it’s been woven seamlessly into the narrative. My problem with Cyborg was that it didn’t handle that balance properly. My understanding is that before writing fiction Martin Caidin was an aviator or aeronautics engineer of some sort. That doesn’t surprise me in the least because many of his science-based passages were so dry that they chapped my lips.

 

That difficult reading (and, as short as this book is, I really did have a hard time slogging through it) only had a real payoff in terms of narrative as Steve began to deal with the psychological implications of what he’s become and his upgraded body. And, while that character stuff was much darker than I expected from the source material for “The Six Million Dollar Man,” (at least I don’t recall any scenes where Lee Majors attempts suicide!!!) it made the earlier stuff worthwhile because Caidin really forces you as the reader to understand how the “bionics” would work in conjunction with the body and therefore puts you squarely inside Austin’s head. 

 

EG:  That is true.  As for the character, no, in the TV show, Steve Austin never attempted suicide.  I’ve read some articles that refer to the Steve Austin in the book as “bloodthirsty,” but I don’t think of the character in that way.  To me, he is what I would call more “militaristic.”  He has a job to do, he has been trained and prepared to do that job, and he does that job.  In that frame of mind, in those situations, moral debate is left for a later time, perhaps by other people entirely.  And, the description of the cybernetics, to me, actually helps fill out Steve Austin as a character a bit.  Instead of seeing the cybernetics as an arm and legs, they very much became more “tools” in my head.  For example, when they talked about the limitations of the legs in side to side movement, or when they described the arm as a piston-like sort of battering ram, I saw them more clearly as tools of the man, rather than a part of the man himself.  Steve Austin was being equipped.  Modifications are even made from mission to mission.  The science-based passages helped cement that in my mind. 

 

OG:  Well, I can see that.  I did like all of that stuff, but it could have been done so much more fluidly by another writer. Caidin, to me, seems like the prototype for Michael Crichton, someone I feel does a better job of mixing the sciency exposition with the story and character. Well, from what little I’ve read from him, that is. 

 

EG:  I can’t argue with that.  It was infinitely easier to read through, for example, Jurassic Park (you did know that was a book before it was a movie, right OG?) than it was to get through Cyborg.  I gotta warn you though, my friend – a lot of hard science fiction suffers from this same problem. 

 

OG:  Well, yes, Mr. Smarty Pants, Jurassic Park and The Lost World happen to be two of the Crichton books that I have read. 

 

Anyway, what might have worked better from a storytelling point of view would be to start the novel in first person following the surgery as Steve begins to deal with what has happened and then, through third person flashbacks (better) or through conversations with one of the three exposition-mad characters in this book (worse), we could slowly learn about the accident and the technology that was integrated into his body. That way you dole out the science in bite-sized chunks that also serve the greater story. Instead of what you have now, which is kind of like drinking a gallon of NyQuil prior to eating a delicious piece of cake. 

 

EG:  Yeah, I went in expecting something closer to the TV show, but instead I got a hard science fiction book that turned into a spy thriller.  And, being totally honest, I’ll admit – I was very happy once we moved beyond the hard science fiction and into the spy stuff. I didn’t dislike the hard SF, it is just that, as you mentioned, long sections of pseudo-science technical explanation and testing can become…tedious. Getting to the application of Steve Austin’s cybernetic enhancements was much more interesting.  Perhaps Caidin could have focused on each of the cybernetics as they were about to be used, giving the explanation, and then immediately going into an application. 

 

OG: I think so.  And, I too welcomed the fact that this wasn’t just a big hunk of American cheese with dubious “science” on top.  I mean, the TV show is cool for what it was, but had that been all the book was, it might have been easier for me to get through, but wouldn’t have been as interesting. That said, I wouldn’t have minded in the slightest if Caidin had dropped the dusty realism just long enough to give our boy that cool telescoping eye from the show. A camera is fine and all and perhaps more plausible. But, come on! We’d all gladly suspend some disbelief in favor of a telescoping eye!  By the way, do you recall Steve Austin having a dart-shooting finger in the show? 

 

EG: No, Steve didn’t have the dart-shooting finger.  I also found the science-based book version of Steve Austin more interesting than the Steve Austin of TV.  I liked that  he couldn’t run at super speed or bend steel girders.  I was even fascinated by the explanation of his endurance abilities – that the heart and lungs that supported him when he was all man actually supplied much more for him after his accident, since they didn’t have to “feed” one arm and two legs.  I honestly didn’t miss the telescopic eye at all. 

 

OG: You didn’t miss the telescopic eye!?!?  Oh man, I don’t think there’s a single book I’ve read in my life that wouldn’t benefit from a telescopic eye or two.  I mean, imagine if Atticus Finch had had one.  Well, I don’t know what he would have done with it, but it probably would’ve come in handy when he had to shoot the rabid dog.  Of course, he did all right in that regard without it.  But still.

 

Okay, so I majorly digressed. 

 

Anyway, yeah, I also started to turn the pages at a faster clip once it became the spy thriller that it became. Again, it reminds me of another writer and, based on the characterization of Steve Austin that Caidin gives us, it’s a writer I wouldn’t be surprised to find he was an avid reader of. That would be Ian Fleming. And, this is not just because of the obvious comparisons to James Bond in terms of secret missions, cool gadgets, etc. Fleming also began as a technician in the field he later wrote fiction about and also wrote about a dark, manly man character that dispenses with human life without passion and views his employer with more than a smidgen of cynicism; a character who seems to hate himself while being simultaneously confident in his ability to do the job at hand. I will risk beating the proverbial dead horse here to point out that the primary difference between Fleming and Caidin is that Fleming made the transition from practitioner of spy-craft to fiction writer much more smoothly and entertainingly than Caidin did from aviator to sci-fi novelist. 

 

My hunch is that Caidin’s following three Steve Austin novels improve without having to do all the heavy lifting that’s taken care of in this one. Do you have any interest in reading any of those? 

 

EG:  I think we can plan on putting those on a list for a future date. 

 

OG:  Shonuff!

 

EG:  Maybe we’ll get through one in less than two and half months! 

 

OG:  ‘Nuff said.

 

EG:  For this book, though, despite the dry portions of theoretical science, I enjoyed it.  And, though it seems somehow a sacrilege to give the inspiration of this little club a less than 5 Running Steves rating, I’m gonna have to go with 3 1/2 out of 5 Running Steves

 

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OG: Yes, it does seem like a sin, but I’m gonna go just a bit lower and give it 3 Running Steves

 

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Hey, I don’t know if you caught any of NBC’s “Bionic Woman” re-tread debacle, but I kind of wonder if the makers of that show read Cyborg prior to putting it together. Now, they were hampered by some bad writing and not great casting. Also, they went a little too “Battlestar” on the thing and basically drained any fun out of what should be a little fun on principle alone. That said, they did try their hand at injecting some of the melancholy and moral quandary of becoming a cyborg (against your will) that you only really get from this book and not from the previous TV incarnations of these characters. And, while they failed completely, I can see better what they might have been attempting and it makes me wonder if it couldn’t have worked, or if a “Six Million Dollar Man” remake would be worth a thought. NBC certainly won’t be trying that any time soon. But, it makes me wonder.  Maybe some day. 

 

EG:  I did see the first four episodes of that series.  I don’t know if the book inspired it at all; I would say it was just the writing staff infusing a common “angst” into the show for the purposes of conflict.  (Get ready, because I’m about to go all geeky trivia here!)  I would say that the issue of melancholy and moral quandary was actually handled pretty well in the TV film “The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman,” in which Steve Austin’s estranged son was in a similar crash to his father, and his father asks OSO to implant bionics in him. 

 

Afterwards, he deals with the issues of not wanting the bionics, particularly because of his feelings toward his father.  He even has to be counseled about it.  I remember liking the movie… but it has been 20 years since I saw it.  To further my geeky cred, though, there was another reunion movie a couple of years later called “Bionic Showdown,” and it starred a bionic Sandra Bullock.  I remember it stunk though, a lot, in spite of my crush on Sandra Bullock.  And, I don’t think the near 20 years since my last viewing will change THAT opinion at all. 

 

OG:  Wow.  “Return of…” sounds like a Netflix candidate for me.  Awesome. 

 

In that vein, I must say I’m excited at the forthcoming “$40,000 Man” about an astronaut involved in a terrible accident and is then rebuilt by the government on a shoe-string budget. Could be some comedy gold in there and maybe distract Jack Black away from any Green Lantern project he may have been thinking of in the past. 

 

EG: Uh… yeah.  You know, I have not been thrilled at the thought of any of these comedies that have been proposed over the years, be it the Jim Carrey “Six Million Dollar Man” or this one.  Then again, there haven’t been all that many comedies that have looked good to me in recent years.  But, if it keeps Jack Black away from Green Lantern, well, I’m all for it. 

 

OG:  Well, I think that just about does it.  Onward and upward.  And, dear readers, you should know that we here at the SABC are working feverishly to make sure we get “Dune” read and discussed in time for the end of June, beginning of July. 

 

We look forward to that and hope to see you in the comments section on this one or the next!

  

Events and a Free Gift from The Steve Austin Book Club

April 29, 2008

It has begun.

Almost like clockwork, Marvel and DC roll out their annual “events.”  This year, Marvel has Secret Invasion and DC has Final Crisis.

I’m not really going to talk about the events.  Not really.

See, I figure they don’t really need a publicity push from me.  By this point, you are either going to buy them or not.

Me?  I’m buying the main series of each, a total of 16 comics (if you include DC Universe 0 with Final Crisis – which I do), eight from each company.

But, if I wanted, I could go broke buying all of the various tie-ins for the two main events.

As of my most recent count, start to end, Final Crisis, if one were to purchase every one of the tie-in books along with the main series, the total jumps from eight up to a shocking (or, maybe not so much anymore) 26 issues.  And, that does not include what Dan Didio refers to as “Sightings” issues – which are signposts, marking important storybeats and moments throughout the DC Universe.  These will relate to Final Crisis, but not directly tie-in.  Even if all of the books were only $2.99 (which they won’t all be – I’m reasonably sure the main issues are $3.99 each), that is over a $75.00 investment!

But, if you wanna really talk about breaking the bank, then hats off to Marvel.  If you were to gather all of the tie-in issues along with the main series for Secret Invasion (NOT including issues referred to as “Infiltration” issues, which lead into the series), you are gonna pick up a jaw-dropping 58 issues before it is all done.  Again, even if all the issues were only $2.99 each (and, again, they aren’t), you are looking at over $170.00!!!

Yeah, I’m buying the main book, but if the story isn’t complete in those issues, too bad.  I’m not handing any more of my disposable income over for these events.  I just won’t do it.

In that spirit, we here at The Steve Austin Book Club would like to offer this:

 
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(Ah, signature banners.  Gotta love them.  For those of you unfamiliar with them, they are images that appear at the bottom of an individuals postings on various message boards.) 

That signature banner pretty much sums up my feelings about events designed to empty your wallet with superfluous issues light on content and heavy in price.  Feel free to click on it and save the full size version and use it at your leisure on the various message boards you enjoy!

And, just a quick note that the Book of the Month review for April, Cyborg by Martin Caidin, is going to be delayed.  OG and EG sincerely apologize for this delay (and, well, the lack of content in general).  With any luck, we’ll have it up by mid-May, so keep an eye out for it.  In the meantime, we will (hopefully) be putting out some more consistent postings. 

Thank you for your patience!

BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: ENDER’S GAME

April 3, 2008

Folks, it’s that time once again.  So, sit a spell, kick your shoes off, and get to reading!  Oh, and as always, our review/conversation is filled with SPOILERS.  If you haven’t read the book and want to, don’t read this.  If you have read the book, jump in to the discussion via our all too seldom used comments section!  Without further ado… 

THE SYNOPSIS:

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card is the story of a young child on whom the fate of humanity rests.  In this futuristic tale, the Earth has come under attack twice by the devastating “buggers.”  United by the shared threat, the world government of Earth tasks itself with finding the one person that can lead humanity to victory in the next battle.  That government looks to its children to find that leader.  Andrew Wiggin, aka Ender, is the third and youngest child in his family.  Most families are only allowed to have two children, but the government found both of Ender’s siblings (ruthless Peter and compassionate Valentine) to be so close to the type of leader that they were looking for that they allowed a third child hoping that one would be a cross between the two.  (There is a subplot in the book of how Ender’s siblings rise to political prominence on Earth, and it is pretty good, but a lot to go into right here). 

After monitoring young Ender from the age of three to the age of six, the International Fleet decides that it is time to begin training Ender for his life’s mission.  Ender is removed from his family and sent to Battle School.  At Battle School, children are trained for war using games, both computer and physical scenarios, that only get progressively harder.  Ender is surrounded by other elite children but, in an effort to make him into the leader he needs to be by his instructors, Ender is systematically isolated socially from his fellow students in obviously cruel yet (to the instructors, at any rate) necessary ways. 

Despite these measures and the pressure and stress of the environment, Ender excels, advancing quickly, moving from shunned child to awe-inspiring leader.  It is a path that makes enemies and repeatedly Ender finds himself having to defend himself from violent attacks.   Throughout the novel, Ender and the situations he is placed in are manipulated by his instructors.  Despite realizing this, Ender continues his training for a greater purpose.  The manipulation comes to a dramatic conclusion when Ender discovers that the latest series of “games” he has been training with are actual remote battles near the Buggers’ home world, and he is responsible for the genocide of that race of beings.  The book ends with Ender coming to learn about his enemies and, in fact, becoming their hope for a future existence.  But, that is another book altogether.   

THE DISCUSSION: 

OG:  As referenced in on of my recent blog postings of shame, “Ender’s Game” is on that list of revered sci-fi books that I’ve regretted never having read.  And, to be honest, until the idea of the book club came about it was one that I think I never would have gotten around to.  Something about seeing the letters YA on the spine of it at the library made me think that the time for this book in my life had passed.  I assumed (very, very wrongly) that it must be geared towards kids only, wouldn’t resonate with me anymore, and would perhaps be too simplistic due to its designated audience. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong on all counts.  This is a challenging, complex, and heady novel in all the right ways.  In fact, I’m gonna drop this little hyperbole bomb early in my reaction here so as to make it clear what direction I’m going to go:  “Ender’s Game” is a masterpiece. 

There, I said it.  And, before I go any deeper into that sentiment, I suppose I should give you the equal opportunity to make any similar or contrary declarations at the outset here… 

EG:  Ender’s Game blew chunks!!!  It was horrible!  It was…actually, all that is a lie.  I just wanted to find some way to disagree with you about this, but I can’t.  I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite the unconscionable acts of the adults within, the obvious child abuse, and the systematic destruction of a kid’s psyche.  The book is one of the best science fiction novels I’ve ever read.  My copy didn’t have the “juvenile fiction” stigma emblazoned on its spine, so I went in without any thoughts that this could be a book for the younger set.  Of course, now having read it, I can see the definite youth appeal of the book. 

OG:  I agree that it totally works for guys our advanced age, but I will say, my biggest regret having not read this until now is that I sure could have used this book back in middles school or high school.  Granted, the character of Ender Wiggin is a remarkable child, one far smarter than I was then or am even now, but the alienation and distress he experiences in the battle school is drawn so effectively by Card that I can’t imagine many children who wouldn’t respond to it in some deeply personal way.  But, not only that, I would wager that over the past two decades this book has probably given a lot of kids the insight into the bullies and thugs in their lives which helped them to cope with and endure the special kind of cruelty that kids can visit upon one and other. 

EG:  Exactly.  I mean, when I was a kid I was stuck in some advanced programs (not bragging her – those things only breed social retardation – nothing to be proud of there), so I immediately related to the main character.  But, as you said, virtually any early teen could relate to the alienation factor.  Which, actually, while I’m thinking about it, is my one gripe about the book.  There was one aspect of the whole novel that I simply couldn’t suspend disbelief on – the ages.  A six year old going through all of this?  Even granting it being the future and the advanced intelligence of the characters, I could not resolve that in my mind.  What I ended up doing a lot of the time was moving the age up by about four years in my head.  Somehow that was enough to overcome my disbelief…until the text mentioned the ages again, and I was momentarily taken out of the story by those speed bumps.  But, if that is my only gripe about a book, I’m thankful.  

OG:  I’m really glad you brought the age issue up.  Much as I loved this book, I had the same trouble you did.  It was really off-putting at first.  Somehow I was eventually able to suspend disbelief sufficiently enough, but I still can’t imagine why Card chose to make the kids in the story this young.  After reading this I even looked up a lot of interviews with Card and commentary on the novel trying to find this out and never found anything where this was addressed.  I think I only ultimately made peace with it while reading because I kept assuming that the story would leap ahead a few years at some point and make my concerns moot.  Even though it never did, I think that that false assumption coupled with the strong distraction of a really well-told story got me to a point where I wasn’t even thinking about Ender’s age anymore.  Like you, it only flooded back into my thoughts and became a distraction whenever the author made a point to bring it up. 

Actually, if anything, the character’s ages had me thinking a lot of another book along the way.  And, again, it’s a book that I didn’t get around to reading until quite recently – “The Lord of the Flies.”  In many ways, “Ender’s Game” seems very much like the complete inverse of that premise, but I could only focus on the obvious similarities.  The biggest difference between the two is that of the presence and influence of adults.  While authority figures are completely absent in “Lord of the Flies,” they are critically influential on the events and overall plot of “Ender’s Game.”  But, despite that, the adults at the Battle School are hardly seen and never intervene overtly.  So, ultimately, both books end up being about boys left to their own devices and what happens in that situation.  And, if Card is to be believed, it doesn’t matter if there is chaos (as on the island of “Flies”) or order (as in the Battle School) boys will be boys and that can be a very bad, very devastating thing.   

EG:  Actually, I think the difference is that the behavior of the boys in Battle School were not the simple result of their own tribal de-civilization, but rather the organized and reasoned manipulation by the adults.  In that way, I see it really much more along the lines of “Anna to the Infinite Power” or “The Boys from Brazil.” 

OG:  Curse you EG!  Always reminding me of more things that I haven’t read.  Go on. 

EG:  Mind you, both of those dealt with cloning, but they also dealt with manipulating the cloned children so that they would grow up a certain way.  And, since I brought up “The Boys from Brazil,” which deals with the cloning of Hitler, I’ll throw in my Nazi reference here as well.  The manipulation of Ender by Graff seems very Mengele-esque to me…he fully realizes that what he is doing is destroying Ender, yet continues to do it for the greater ideal.  And, there is no real guarantee any of it will work – it is all an experiment, one which we are given indications has not worked on other children, causing them to commit suicide.  In the case of Ender, there are camps that would say that the greater good is served, but there are also camps that would say that losing one’s soul in the process negates the greater good. 

OG:  Well, I definitely want to delve into the Nazi comparison because I have some thoughts on that.  But first, regarding “Lord of the Flies,” I would say you’re absolutely correct about the difference between the two, but I think there is still something in both books that wants to explore the inherent cruelty of children and how they deal with it in social groups.  The biggest difference between the two really is how the different heroes of the books deal with it.  Ralph in “Flies” is unable to keep control or keep the chaos and cruelty at bay.  Ender, in contrast, fulfills his role as leader and overcomes all obstacles, bringing many of the boys with him as he does so. 

But, that comparison isn’t as interesting a conversation as the Nazi thing.  As I said, I read a lot of reviews and articles after finishing the book and came across one that was apparently a big deal right after Ender first came out.  It’s an essay by Elaine Radford entitled “Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman” and can be found here: 

http://peachfront.diaryland.com/enderhitlte.html 

To boil it down, her argument is that “Ender’s Game” is a defense for Hitler and other perpetrators of genocide because it makes the argument that Hitler, like Ender, can be excused for his actions because of a rough upbringing and because he thought what he was doing was right.  I think her argument completely misses the point of the book.  You can’t even argue that Ender is engaging in the faulty “I was just following orders” Nuremburg defense because he was completely in the dark the whole time.  He was hoodwinked and the real comparison to the Nazis, if one is to be made, is the one you made to Graff.  He’s the one making the “genocide for the greater good” excuses.  And, while Card tries to portray Graff’s struggle in human terms I don’t think he ultimately lets him off the hook or gives him an easy excuse. 

EG:  Yeah, I’m going to have to call that comparison faulty.  There is a big difference between having a rough upbringing and being purposefully manipulated.  (A quick aside – The Boys from Brazil focuses on the idea of trying to place clones in similar situations to the original person to get them to develop in the same way – and raises the same sorts of questions about whether a person is condemned by circumstance or able to rise above.)  I would even argue that Hitler could’ve risen above his circumstances, but that Ender, as long as he was seen as the “great hope,” never had that chance because they were not going to stop manipulating him into their ideal military commander until he succeeded or lost his mind or died.  We are talking about a teenager who has been tricked into committing genocide, something he might have figured out on his own if their measures had not deprived him of sleep and rest for such an extended period of time.  And to finally reach the completion of your “training,” only to be told it was all real?  That your orders and actions and plans had resulted in not only the death of your own forces, but the obliteration of an entire alien race?  If Ender is to be considered a monster, then how much more so are those that “created” him? 

I suppose, if I had a second gripe with the book, it would related to how quickly Ender recovers (or, at least, manages to cope) with discovering he has committed genocide.  And, then the kicker – discovering that the first two attacks from the Buggers was a mistake, that they had no clue humans were intelligent life?  Top that with the fact that the Buggers realized they were going to be destroyed and left their legacy to the architect of their destruction?  I don’t know.  I mean, I think I wanted something more from Ender.  I guess I could be wrong here, now that I think about it.  I was thinking I wanted a more fiery and fierce righteous indignation against the people that manipulated him, maybe more grief over what he had done to the Buggers…but by that point in the story, his head had been played with so much that maybe all that was left was what we were given. 

OG:  True.  And, I see where you’re coming from in your wanting more from him in the way of rage at that moment.  It’s certainly what we feel as the reader.  But, since we know how incredibly intuitive Ender is in his understanding of his opponents every stop along the way, I think we can infer that he immediately realized that righteous indignation or any outburst would be fruitless.  At the moment the truth is revealed to him, he can see right away that the whole system is rigged so completely and he knows that there is no benefit to striking out at that point.  Instead, he bides his time, gets to the bottom of things, and once he has the egg-sac he plots to renew the Bugger race to try and counterbalance what has been done and redeem it in some way. 

Of course, there’s no way to truly make it right, but it’s all he can do at that point.  And, that’s why I think the criticism I pointed to above is so off the mark.  It’s as if the writer of that essay just didn’t read the last part of the book.  Clearly, Ender is deeply troubled by the part he played in the Bugger genocide, knows how he was manipulated, understands that it was morally wrong, and seeks to make it right.  In that way, the message of this book is extremely moral. 

EG:  But that does give me a thought.  What if the story had not included the “redemption” of Ender?  Suppose, we get to the end, after the Buggers have been destroyed, and we merely see Ender leave Earth with Valentine?  I mean, yeah, it is a moot point since the Bugger legacy is left with Ender and obviously future books deal with that, but I have to admit, I would still have sympathy for the tragic figure of Ender even without him coming to discover the truth about the Buggers and taking on the role of “Speaker For the Dead” for them.   

OG:  I hadn’t considered that but it’s true that as I was reading it I was completely sympathetic to him before I even had read the concluding portions detailing Ender’s discoveries.  That’s a very good point. 

So, one final thing I wanted to address concerning the major reveal of the book (that the battle simulator is not really that at all and that Ender is in fact really killing Buggers) is how it works narratively.  I believe I effectively demonstrated in our “American Gods” discussion that I am quite dense.  Not getting the obvious Low-Key/Loki clues and the like.  But, I have to say that I remarkably knew exactly what was up once Ender and his compatriots were in the simulator.  And, not because I’m especially smart (I have to believe that you weren’t fooled by this at all EG), but because I read the back cover of the book prior to reading it.  The blurb on the back begins… “Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin thinks he is playing computer simulated war games at the Battle School; he is, in fact, engaged in something far more desperate.”  Just the words “thinks he is playing” was enough to reveal it all to me. 

How obvious is that!?!?!  I’d see that blurb every time I picked up the book to read and the phrasing never left my head.  And, once we got into the simulator room, the words were banging me in the forehead saying “SEE!  SEE! He only THINKS he’s playing a game!” Stupid blurb.  It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book really, but just really irritated me.  Of course, you’re probably about to tell me that this should have been obvious to anyone just reading the words from left to right.  Go ahead. 

EG:  Okay…well, I wasn’t going to mention it.  I mean, seriously, I made doubly sure not to say, “You know, I figured out that the ‘simulations’ were actual battles relatively soon after the introduction of Mazer Rackham,” but since you brought it up…yeah, I figured it out  But, to make you feel better, I think you would’ve figured it out as well just from straight reading.   Since you talked about reading the back of the book and receiving a bit of a spoiler, let me just say I’ve stopped reading the backs of books, the prefaces, the introductions…even most reviews.  I was spoiled pretty badly in the intro of a book about a year ago, which blatantly revealed the “twist” of the book, and it completely ruined the book for me.  So, I now wait until I’ve already read the book before I read any of those things.   

OG:  I think I’ll be adopting that practice myself from here on out. 

EG:  But, that is really neither here nor there.  Back to the topic at hand! 

OG:  You know, the best thing I can say about how good this book was is that I’m dying to read “Speaker for the Dead” now.  I want more of this world and want to see what Ender does next.  Knowing that “Speaker” was actually conceived of first and is considered by many to be the superior of the two only amps up my excitement.  How about you?  Any concluding thoughts? 

EG:  Actually, while I was aware of the sequels to this book, I hadn’t heard that “Speaker” was supposed to be superior.  Hmm.  We’ll have to keep that in mind for the future.  Oh, and one more thing:  Knowing you are the third born in your household, I feel compelled to refer to you as Third from now on. 

OG:  I shall wear the title with pride!  (And, while neither of my older brother’s skinned any squirrels alive, I did witness them shooting frogs with BB guns, so that probably counts.)  Oh, by the way, I’m busting out the full 5 Running Steves for this one.  Easily. 

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EG:  Well, Third, I’m going to give this one 4.5 Running Steves.  I might’ve gone up to a 4.75, but I don’t want to fool with making a new graphic for that, so this book will have to settle for next best thing from me. 

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OG:  Cool.  You know, I heard there’s a movie in development for this one.  You think they’re really gonna keep the characters the ages they are?  I can’t imagine.  I mean, he does a good enough job making it work in the book, but there’s no way a modern movie audience will be able to get on board with that. 

EG:  Honestly?  Even advancing the kids by four or five years wouldn’t work.  I don’t think a screen adaptation of this book would remotely work.  I mean, if people wanted to sit in a darkened theater watching kids playing video games for a couple of hours, the long-form commercial known as The Wizard (starring TV’s Fred Savage) would have been a blockbuster. 


OG:  HA!  Well, I won’t argue with that.  Instead, I’ll let this clip from The Wizard do the arguing for me…
 
 OG:  And, I guess that’s as great a place to stop as anywhere.  We’ll meet up again in a month for a conversation about Martin Caidin’s “Cyborg.”  Until then, I’ll hopefully be posting a little more regularly and EG will soon be regaling us with his promised, but much-delayed review of 1998’s “Lost in Space.”

ENDER DISCUSSION – DELAYED

April 1, 2008

Hey kids,

 Obviously, we’re a day late for the “Ender’s Game” book club discussion.  And, we’ll probably be another day or two more. 

 If you need someone to hold accountable, please send all your blame to me, OG.  It’s all my fault.

In the meantime, now’s a good time to announce that we’re moving the reading of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” to the month of May.  For April, we’ll be reading Steve Austin’s origin story…

 CYBORG by Martin Caidin

This book was adapted into the TV series “Six Million Dollar Man” and we thought it’d be fun and fitting to have a discussion on this one since neither of us have  actually read it. 

Unfortunately, it’s currently out of print, but is still available at many libraries and second hand book outlets. 

Again, my apologies for the delay on March’s discussion.  If you are a regular reader of this blog (which is technically not possible since there would have to be regular posts in order for it to be regularly read) than you’re already well aware of how lame I am.

 Now you have one more thing to add to that list.

 Love you,

OG

BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

February 27, 2008

 

Welcome back, everyone! 

February’s Book of the Month was Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” which we will now look at in a no-holds-barred, spoilerific form right here.  As such, remember, we will be SPOILING the book left and right.  If you haven’t read the book and want to be surprised, then don’t read this blog.  If you have read the book feel free to chime in with the conversation via the comments section.  If everyone is ready, lets grab our seats and get started, okay? 

THE SYNOPSIS:

  

In “American Gods,” we follow the bizarre events surrounding an ex-con that goes by the name of Shadow.  Shadow, in prison for a crime that is never really detailed, is about to be released from prison when we first meet him.  Shortly before his scheduled release his wife dies in a car accident, prompting an early release. Just out of prison, jobless, and rudderless, Shadow encounters a mysterious man that goes by the name Wednesday, who hires him to become a bodyguard and escort.  In due time, we learn that Wednesday is not merely an eccentric old man, but in fact, Odin, the chief god of the Norse myths. 

In the book it is explained that the gods of various lands are carried from the homelands of the people who have moved to America but, over generations, the belief in these gods faded, weakening the gods.  The gods still exist, depowered to a great extent, but they can be killed. Wednesday decides that it is time for the older gods to face the new gods of America (which derive from the “worship” of media, the internet, even cars), to keep from losing all of their power. 

What follows is the visitation to various gods by Wednesday and Shadow, to convince them to join this battle.  The older gods are, for the most part, less than excited at the prospect of this war. 

That is, until the gods murder Wednesday, broadcasting it for all the older gods to see. The older gods reclaim the body of Wednesday and prepare for battle. 

In the meantime, Shadow fulfills his duty to Wednesday by holding vigil over his body.  Essentially, the vigil recreated how Odin gained his power – by being hung from a tree for nine days. After a time, Shadow died and was judged, then brought back to life by the goddess Easter.  During the time he was dead, Shadow learned that he was actually Wednesday’s son, and came to realize that his birth was actually all part of a plan by Wednesday. Wednesday was working with the leader of the new gods, who went by the name Mr. World.  In actuality, Mr. World was Loki, the trickster god of Norse mythology.  The two came up with the plan for the battle.  The battle of the gods, dedicated to Odin, would empower Wednesday, while the chaos that resulted from the battle would empower Loki. 

After reviving, Shadow travels to the battle, and basically explains the plan to all of the gods, how they were to be merely pawns in the power-grab.  The gods, realizing they had been duped, end the battle and go their separate ways. 

THE DISCUSSION: 

EG:  Phew!  Glad I’m through with that.  I tell you, OG, trying to sum up a 600+ page book in a few paragraphs isn’t easy.  And, you’ll notice I left out a huge amount of peripheral story as well. 

OG:  Yeah, there’s so much that happens between each of the lines of the above synopsis, but you’ve given the structure of the overall story here.  As with all epic novels there are a multitude of digressions, flashbacks, episodes there only for fleshing out character, and all manner of minor asides.  The only main thing I’d add, since it’s significant in what I took away from the book, is that between Shadow and Wednesday’s many trips around the country visiting various gods prior to the war, Shadow spends significant downtime in the idyllic town of “Lakeside, Wisconsin” under an assumed name.  His cover is eventually blown as are many of the relationships he develops there.  But, I have a feeling we’ll discuss that more below so I’ll leave it there for now.  Overall, a heroic effort with the synopsis my brother.  I didn’t envy you that. 

EG:  Thanks.  And, yeah, Lakeside…well, we’ll get to that.  So, I suppose I should start with some initial thoughts on the book.

Well…it was a book and I read it.  I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t anything spectacular either.  I found that the book desperately needed some editing.  The story that filled 600+ pages could likely have been put into a much tighter, arguably better 350 to 400 page book.  The book seemed “patchy” at times to me because of the various other aspects thrown in beyond the main story.  I didn’t even mention these in the synopsis, but there were several diversionary “short stories” within the novel that merely focused on single gods that were barely mentioned (if mentioned at all) in the main story.  Sometimes these just took me completely out of the book.  Removing those would have helped the flow of the story. 

OG:  Well, let me take your last point first.  The asides were certainly diversionary and for at least half of the book seemed completely unnecessary to me.  At one point I even emailed you in a panic over one particular vignette that threw me right out of the book but you assured me that that particular section would not be revisited.  (Thank you for that.) 

But, I have to say, as the story progressed and built I began to appreciate the overall structure of the book and how those asides didn’t just serve to populate this universe with other gods that just didn’t make the main story but each actually commented on the story as a whole and forced me, at least, to read things more metaphorically than I had been.   

Which brings me to your main reaction which was ultimately different than mine.  I gotta be honest.  I hated this book for the first half.  Couldn’t get into it and thought it was sort of a mess.  But, it really started to come together for me as I slogged through and I suddenly found myself quite surprised to be flipping the pages at a faster clip.  In that way it reminded me of another epically metaphorical novel, “Moby Dick.” Although it is in no way that level of masterpiece, it’s similar in how it takes a really long time to build the world and the characters in that world before kicking off the plot proper.  For me, it began as really frustrating and ended up being pretty satisfying. 

EG:  Oooh, our first major disagreement.  That’s okay, I still love you OG, even if you are completely wrong.  Just kidding!  I just found that the aside stories broke momentum for me, in a book that was already sauntering along at a slow pace.  And, since we are talking about aside stories, it seems a good time to bring up the issue of Lakeside.   I could have done completely without the obvious and transparent “mystery” of Lakeside.  I don’t know about you, but the second a child disappeared in that quaint little town I knew exactly what happened. 

OG:  Okay, not it’s time for true confessions.  As much as it pains me to admit it, I am dumb.  With movies, TV, comics, and especially books, I am really the best possible audience member – easily misled and completely gullible.  Unlike you, I haven’t read a whole lot of mysteries in my day and wouldn’t know the first thing to do with a Rubik’s Cube.  When I read a story or watch a movie I plunge right in and remain pretty passive.  For whatever reason, I don’t turn things over in my mind and don’t catch the most obvious clues until their “Well, duh!” revelations.  I can certainly see how this fundamental difference between us as readers colored the way we felt about the book.  Also, it’s about expectation.  I had no idea this was a mystery novel.  Part of that is because it danced around a lot of different genres throughout it’s massive page count I think. All that to say, I didn’t see it coming.  And, looking back at it, it’s a pretty rudimentary mystery and one I should have easily figured out.  I have seen a handful of episodes of “Law & Order” after all. 

EG:  Now, see, you mentioned that part of the reason you didn’t suspect anything was that the novel took in a lot of different genres.  That is exactly why my mind went directly to the mystery.  The various genres made me open to thinking there could, in fact, be a mystery.  And, when it was presented, especially as simplistic as it was, with what I thought were glaringly obvious clues, I immediately went there.  You were probably better off, though, being open and not presuming.  Likely made the whole thing more enjoyable. 

OG:  But, I have to say, I kind of think that’s all beside the point.  The whole Lakeside portion of the book is not a Maguffin I don’t think.  It’s meant, I believe, to portray the falsehood of the American dream.  It’s meant as a Norman Rockwell trap to keep our hero from the truth and from realizing his true power and potential.  The revelation of what has been happening there and how the townsfolk have been keeping things the way they are is there mainly to illustrate that main myth and ultimately the need to explode that myth.  Of course, I know that even that seems pretty rudimentary and hit-you-over-the-head didactic, but as I said, I’m dumb.  I’m sure that if the mystery had been more expertly weaved and revealed that you would have had an easier time accepting the Lakeside episodes as part of the greater story.   

EG:  Wow…you read a lot more into the Lakeside story than I did.  I can go along with it being the portrayal of the falsehood of the American dream, how this one town can flourish independently of all the areas around it, and what the townspeople are willing to let happen to keep it that way, and the need to overcome that.  But, in regards to Shadow, I don’t believe that the trap is there for him – I would say it is for the gods.  The town doesn’t keep Shadow from the truth.  I think it is part of the con.  Wednesday puts Shadow in this little town, protecting him from the new gods.  The new gods suddenly “buy” into the idea that Shadow is somehow more important than he really is.  Their focus for a lot of the book is to get Shadow.  It is like the coin tricks – Wednesday diverts attention from himself and his plan to fool ALL the gods by making everyone look at Shadow.  Resources are diverted by the newer gods to get Shadow, and diverted by the older gods to help Shadow.  All the while, the gods are distracted from the real plan.  If the game was chess, Shadow was a pawn that Wednesday treated like a King, just to convince everyone else that Shadow was that important. 

OG:  Point taken.  I guess it’s not really a trap in terms of the plot mechanics, but perhaps more of a trap for his character keeping him from pulling the wool off of his eyes, seeing things for what they really are, and choosing at great cost and the loss of this paradise to really, truly live for once.  But, yeah, that really is more a trap for Shadow’s growth as a character and not really a trap for him in Wednesday’s grand plan. 

EG:  I also had a big problem with the number of gods in the book.  Or, rather, how so many were touched on, but not really elaborated on at all.  Which, in my mind, made them unnecessary to the story.  Plus, some of the clues as to what gods they were just weren’t enough.  I used to read about all sorts of mythology, so I picked up some pretty easily.  Wednesday as Odin was easy.  I know the origin of Wednesday to be Woden’s Day, or Odin’s Day.  And, the blatant prison mate by the nickname of “Low Key” – that was kind of insulting.  The rest though…I’m not familiar with them, and would have liked a little more blatant “This is this god.” 

A lot of times, I would want to know more about a particular god mentioned, but I wasn’t at a computer to look it up, and by the time I got to a computer, I had forgotten about it.  I don’t know about your copy of the book, OG, but mine came with a “Discussion Question” section in it.  I would have gladly and happily exchanged that for a nice little appendix telling me about the major gods that were brought up in the book. 

OG:  Yeah, I had the “Discussion Question” section too.  Pretty useless.  I would have much preferred annotation or footnotes.  Perhaps that would have made this too academic for readers, but I genuinely wanted to know the back-story on a bunch of these gods  At least you had the mythology background to help you out a little bit.  I felt at a real disadvantage here.  And, I’d say that can’t really be all my fault.  I think you’re right.  Gaiman really missed the opportunity to give the reader a more enriching experience.   

But, I would like to take issue with your point about there being too many gods.  I didn’t mind that at all.  I went on this journey with Shadow and was as clueless to the world of the gods as he was.  That was part of the fun.  In a lot of ways it’s like Mark Millar’s “Wanted” when the lead (I hesitate to call him the hero) is shown the true world of forgotten superheroes and all-controlling super-villains it is all a bit overwhelming and there’s no way to fill in all of those back stories without grinding the narrative to a halt.  It’s just world-building and making the universe more diverse and full.  Also, you really get the sense that Gaiman is planning to flesh this out more in other books and that some of the minor figures may become major figures in other stories. 

As for the Low-Key/Loki revelation, this is probably the height of my stupidity as a passive reader.  I just didn’t catch it.  It couldn’t be more obvious and I would think that having caught on to that from the very beginning you were probably suspicious of certain things a heckuva lot sooner than I. 

Yeah, I really am dumb. 

EG:  Beyond all of that, though, I found that the biggest shortcoming of the book was the lack of elaboration on the Native American concept of the “Land.”  I mean, the whole idea in the book was that America wasn’t a good growing place for gods, and by the end of the book, it looked, to me, like the “Land” was supposed to be a key player, that, in fact, Shadow was the unknowing agent of the Land, given the increase in the amount of Native American symbolism toward the end.  Yet, this idea wasn’t really brought across clearly.  I was especially confused, near the end of the book, when Shadow fell through the ice.  The Native American “presence” within the book seemed to turn their backs on him and leave him at that point…for no apparent reason that I can figure out. 

OG:  I hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re dead right.  (Geez, how many times am I gonna tell you you’re right?  This has got to be inflating your ego)  That stuff just suddenly blows up in importance at the end with no real warning.  The sequence with Whiskey Jack and the others earlier on is done in such a way that you can’t distinguish it from the other visits to the other gods.  It doesn’t seem to have any more or less dramatic weight than any other aside.  I think if Gaiman had put more into the import of that section and that mythos he would have earned a lot more of the “Land” stuff at the end.  That’s a shame and a missed opportunity. 

EG:  I’m also left wondering about the unresolved questions of who Shadow is. We learn he is the son of Odin (or, at least, the American version of Odin).  Given that we learn that Thor committed suicide in the book, and how Shadow brought peace to the gods, I’m guessing that he is actually Balder.  As such, does Shadow now live like the gods, as an immortal of sorts?  We know he had some ability to affect things with his mind…but the end of the book, when he “removes” part of the sheriff’s memory, seemed to suggest that was a power he no longer had.  I guess my biggest problem is with the fact that, though the center of the entire book, at the end, I’m left without having any real knowledge of Shadow.  He changed throughout the book, I suppose…or, at least, we are told he changes that he moves from not caring about his own life to caring a lot…but I don’t feel that he changed.  I think of him as the same, relatively passive, static character from beginning to end.  His wife dies, but comes back to life, but he isn’t really fazed.  He hangs naked from a tree, but it doesn’t really faze him.  He even learns he’s the son of a god, but that doesn’t even faze him.  I don’t know.  Maybe I missed something. 

OG:  Again, your insights are starting to turn me against this book, man.  As I read your comments about the character of Shadow it became more clear to me why the first half of this book was originally so frustrating for me.  Perhaps it wasn’t the slow, deliberate world-building so much as it was how static a character the lead was.  After all, it is Shadow’s story and he is our entree into this world.  The fact that he’s borderline stupid and sort of a blunt instrument of a character makes it really hard to access the story from anything but the most surface of levels.  But, it’s a corner that Gaiman has painted himself into. 

The point of Shadow’s journey is him coming to life for the first time; really living after 30-odd years.  And, while that’s a compelling concept and, for me, ended the novel on a high note, it does mean that you have to spend the majority of the time with someone that is sort of a dullard. But, my understanding is that there’s a follow-up novella called “Monarch of the Glen” that takes off from where this one ends up and follows Shadow on his travels abroad.  I don’t know about you but I’d feel a little cheated to find that a lot of salient details about Shadow’s godhood and past life were included there and not in “American Gods.” 

EG:  Darn tootin’.  I have also heard there is more that is explored in “Monarch of the Glen,” but I wasn’t reading THAT book.  I was reading “American Gods” and if the author wants me to search out future works with the same character, then he really needs to give me that desire to know the character on a deeper level in the first outing.  Otherwise, why would I make that effort? 

Anyway, the book was the literary equivalent of Chinese food for me.  I read it, and I came away still “hungry.”  I’ll give it 2 ½ Running Steves. 

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OG:  If we’re ending on food metaphors I’d say that for me it was more the equivalent of “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”  An enjoyable and satisfying meal that ultimately ends badly once someone smarter comes along and explains to you what you’ve actually been eating.  Okay, my metaphor’s not as good, but it’ll have to do.  3 out of 5 Running Steves for me. 

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(NEXT MONTH:  We’ll be reading the classic sci-fi novel “ENDER’S GAME” by Orson Scott Card in the month of March.  Please feel free to join in the journey and meet us again at month’s end to discuss the book!) 

BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: ASTRONAUT DAD, VOL. 1

February 1, 2008

 

Welcome to the book club! 

If everyone can pour themselves a cup of coffee, grab a Danish, and have a seat we’ll get started.  This past month we read the first volume of the graphic novel “Astronaut Dad.”  We’ll begin with a synopsis and go right into the discussion.  And please feel free to join us afterwards in the comments section. 

THE SET-UP:

(Note:  Keep in mind that spoilers are inherent below as we will be discussing the book in-depth.  If at all possible, we here at the Steve Austin Book Club would encourage you to pick up and read this story before following and hopefully joining in the below discussion.  That said, knowing the plot mechanics and developments of this particular book shouldn’t limit your enjoyment of it in any way as it’s a character piece first and foremost.) 

“Astronaut Dad, Vol. 1” is the first half of a graphic novel by writer David Hopkins and illustrator Brent Schoonover (shame on the editor for not reading the back cover text closely enough which lists Mr. Schoonover as an “illustratow.”  Even if that is how OG’s 4-year-old son would pronounce that word, it’s still no excuse!) 

This slim volume tells the story of NASA reservists living in Texas in the early 60’s as seen through the eyes of their oldest children.  Said children, pre-teens Jimmy Norton and Vanessa Kelly, view their fathers in completely opposite ways.  While Vanessa is fiercely proud of her dad, Jimmy (our narrator) is embarrassed by his father’s reservist status.  What they come to find as Vanessa forces Jimmy reluctantly into friendship is that their dad’s aren’t just sitting around “all day waiting for Alan Shepherd to break his ankle” as Jimmy speculates. 

In fact, as they investigate the fallout shelter hidden by the shed in the Norton’s backyard, they find that the men are actually active astronauts participating in secret launches and orbital flights over the Soviet Union.   

This revelation understandably rocks Jimmy’s world.  The jaundiced eye he had been viewing his father with as well as the emotional remove that had grown between them all gets confused amidst the rumbling and steam of a night-time rocket launch. 

Other threads running through the story explore the minefield of early-60’s housewife politics, the Kennedy assassination’s shadow over America’s ascendancy in the space race, the mixed bag of camaraderie and loneliness that comes with the astronauts training and the fact that most kids born in the 50’s and 60’s probably came from a cigarette-smoke-filled womb and somehow still managed to be born without 2 heads! 

Volume 2 of “Astronaut Dad” is due this summer and will see the completion of the story. 

THE DISCUSSION: 

OG:  My Dad, as you know, was not an astronaut; far from it, in fact.  For 20-odd years he worked for the Ford Motor Company on one of its many Michigan assembly lines until his retirement a few years ago.  Due to circumstances of my parents divorce and the fact that he typically worked midnights and weekends I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked growing up. 

EG:  Well, you know that my father also worked at Ford, albeit, a different plant, for 25 years.  I certainly understand not getting to see him as I was growing up.  There were many times his job hindered us spending time together. 

OG:  Don’t get me wrong, he’s been a great dad.  In fact, saying that either of our dads spent 20-odd years on an assembly line already makes them pretty good dads in my mind.  It’s not like men sign up for that work for the fun of it.  No, they do it for their families.  They do it so their kids, hopefully, don’t have to. 

EG:  Absolutely.  As adults now, we can understand the notion of responsibility that they took on.  Our fathers knew what they had to do and they did it.  I’m positive that they would’ve liked to have gone on every camping, sporting, or whatever opportunity with us as we grew up, but that would have been short-sighted.  They were the providers and did what they needed to for the family. 

OG:  Quick story:  I remember around the time I was starting to drive I had to drop my Dad off at work so I could borrow his truck.  It was dark as we rolled past the vast fields of Milan, Michigan and I could see two clusters of blinding lights on either side of the road up ahead.  My dad said, “See those lights on the left there?  That’s a prison.”  I replied, “And the other lights are the plant?”  “The other lights are a prison too,” he said.  I then made the reasonable, if bone-headed assumption that we had further to drive.  But, of course, the other lights were the factory.  We had a good chuckle over that but I often wonder if it was as bittersweet a joke for him as it was for me. 

EG:  You know, thinking about that and also the idea of our father’s doing the job so we didn’t have to, I remember a time when I wanted to go to work at the factory just after college.  It seemed a good option, pay-wise, over the other options I had.  My father absolutely wouldn’t hear of it.  I believe he was afraid I’d get “trapped” there, after he worked so hard to make sure I wouldn’t have to.  Hmm…a bit of a tangent there… 

OG:  Yeah, a huge tangent.  Sorry about that.  Believe it or not, I actually do want to discuss the book.  I only bring all of this stuff up to show that we always bring some baggage to any story we read and that this was the particular baggage I was carrying when reading the phenomenal “Astronaut Dad.”  The baggage of a son who was dying for more time with his dad growing up.  The baggage of being proud of him at the same time as I was envious of other kid’s dads who had more interesting, cooler-sounding jobs.  And, the baggage of a kid that was obsessed with the space program, had even gone to Space Camp, and then had those dreams cast aside by the Challenger tragedy. 

Needless to say, in order to hit me right in my sweet spot this book didn’t have to bother with a deftly told, economically written script; nor did it have to have deceptively simple, emotionally evocative illustrations.  The fact that it did pummel me with that particular one-two punch of startling quality just made this experience all the richer. 

EG:  Yeah, the story as a whole already had an in with…well, not just us, but I’d bet with just about every son out there. 

OG:  Definitely. 

EG:  And, I also appreciate that it didn’t rest on the laurels of that but that it was a good read regardless of personal experience. 

OG:  I agree.  Simply put (and I know we’re really burying our reviews deep down the page here) I loved this book.  As a struggling writer myself I can only marvel and turn green at how swiftly and effectively Hopkins is able to develop character; small moments or scenes that tell you with very little dialogue or description who people are and the unspoken things that are standing between them. 

EG:  I was really impressed at how quickly each of the characters got their own “voice.”  Each character seemed distinct to me, and fitting, not only the story, but for the era itself. 

OG:  And, as a struggling artist, I can only imagine that you probably find yourself turning a similar shade of green when you see how seemingly easy Schoonover is able to carry across Hopkins story. 

EG:  Oh yeah.  Brent is just an amazing artist.  Though, I try not to compare my meager talents to others, for fear that I’d never pick up a pencil again. 

OG:  Myself, I’m terrible at describing art styles, but the illustrations are slightly reminiscent of Archie comics to me, at least the characterizations.  But, I don’t want that to come off as a slight at all. 

EG:  I can see that, especially with this story.  A lot of Brent’s art is very evocative of an animated style, along the lines of Bruce Timm or Darwyn Cooke.  This, though, does seem a little different, with a more cartoonish bent. 

OG:  But, I think that our way into this story is found it this cartooning style that immediately feels specific to the era and simple on its face.  But, as it draws you in with that light touch, you suddenly can see all the shades and heartbreak hidden in the lines.   I mean, for my money, that one page shot of Stan Norton sitting in his space-suit in shadows tells me volumes about him and about the story I’m reading.

  

EG:  Exactly.  The emotion comes through so clearly by way of the expressive, simplistic art.  And, in this case, simplistic is in no way a bad thing.  It is the productive use of each line, without the need for excessive filler.  I know that you weren’t into comics in the 90’s, OG, so you only have a historical knowledge of the overuse of lines and scratches, meant to make art more “dynamic.”  I lived through that era.   Give me a nice, clean page of art over that any day! 

OG:  Amen to that, brother!  You know, my biggest gripe, and I suppose it is a big one, is that this thing is too dang short.  I know there’s another 80 pages of story coming this summer, but I can’t imagine that’s going to satisfy me completely.  There’s so much more about these characters and interpersonal relationships that I’d like to delve into that it seems unfair to leave us hanging in this way.  I mean, I could read 80 pages alone just on the relationship of the astronauts’ wives.  (WHAT!?!?!  You mean that Charlize Theron/Johnny Depp movie didn’t give you enough?!?!)  I suppose that that has as much to do with my recent obsessive love for the TV show “Mad Men” which also deeply investigates the same emotional landscape of married life in early-60’s America.  (And is also another showcase of irresponsible pre-natal cigarette and alcohol consumption) 

EG:  I have to admit, I also wonder if another 80 pages will be enough.  Though, I can understand, as I’m reading, this is the story of a boy and how he sees his father, and how that perception changes.  The other aspects of the story could definitely be mined for rich stories.  But, with the focus of the story being what it is, I’m going to say that the “less is more” aspect is being followed.  This is a chunk of Jimmy’s life and even though other things happen around it, this is the focus.  I can respect that even if I’d like to see some follow up books. 

OG:  You’re definitely right about the story staying focused.  And, obviously, on a practical level I understand that this book, like all small-press outings, is a labor of love by two super-talented guys that need to pay the bills.  So, believe me, I’ll take what I can get here.  This was easily better than the seven issues of Marvel/DC product I consumed the day before I read it. 

To its credit, the brevity of the piece renders the story as more of a fable and that’s not a bad thing either.  If it’s a fable it’s a fantastic one and cuts right to the core, speaking to the relationships of fathers and sons and how hard it is to make that inevitable break into adulthood when your dad suddenly morphs from superhero into working stiff. Really, I’m just greedy.  I want more of this thing.  And, that’s probably the best review you can give to a book.  Plenty of graphic novels overstay their welcome.  I’m sure you and I could have a stirring battle about “Blankets” right here, but we won’t re-litigate that masterpiece.  I say “tomato” you say “pretentious piece of naval-gazing crap.” 

EG:  Actually, I believe I called it a “pretentious piece of masturbatory self-pity.”  Either way, though. 

OG:  Right, either way it’s sort of refreshing that Hopkins and Schoonover got in there, told their story with charm and economy, and got out leaving the reader wanting more.  Yep, that’s a good book right there. 

EG:  Ooh, what a turn of phrase!  “They told their story with charm and economy and got out leaving the reader wanting more.”  Wow.  How long did it take you to come up with that? 

OG:  I often spend a couple hours a day dreaming up pull quotes for things I read.   

EG:  Well, it was a very good book and I’m definitely looking forward to the remainder of the story.  For the first volume, I give it a solid 4 “Running Steves” out of five.
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 And you, mon petit fromage? 

OG:  I’m right there with ya. 4 “Running Steves” for me too.
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 And, that’ll close this month’s book club discussion on “Astronaut Dad.” For February, we’re going to be reading Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods.”  We’ll be posting that discussion on Saturday, February 29th.  We hope you’ll join us!