Sunday, January 10, 2010


Watchers by Dean Koontz

It's a been a while since I've written a review here, life has taken me all sorts of crazy directions the past few months. I hadn't been reading a whole lot, but I'm picking it up again.

To break my hiatus, I went with Watchers by Dean Koontz. I've read a couple books by Kean Koontz, the most memorable being Tick Tock. I haven't written about that book here, but I will in the not to distant future because I do want to read it again.

Anyway, Watchers was a great read. I haven't read a whole lot by Dean Koontz, but it seems his stories are usually straight fiction. This one takes cues from Michael Crichton in that there is some science behind the fiction. It's a little far-fetched, but plausible.

The protagonist is Travis, a man down on himself, and on his life due to a tragic loss of his family. In the throes of despair, he happens upon a dog he names Einstein. He soon realizes that Einstein is no ordinary pooch. The dog saves his life on two levels. First from a physical threat, and second from emotional oblivion by leading him to the beautiful recluse, Nora.

The truth behind Einstein's unprecedented abilities is soon brought to light, and there is another creature out there that shares Einstein's origins, but with a malevolence to equal Einstein's benevolence. Now it is Travis' turn to protect Einstein from both this evil kin and from those that brought them into this world.

Like any good science fiction story, this one uses the science and fiction as props to tell the underlying story of relationship. Here, it is a heartwarming story of love, friendship, and loyalty between Travis, Nora, and a unique being named Einstein.

Not as fun as Koontz' Tick Tock, and not as scientifically rigorous as Crichton, but a solid feel-good read non-the-less.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


My wife picked this movie out at the library, knowing nothing about it, but thinking the DVD case looked interesting.

Turns out it's a movie produced by JJ Abrams (of 'Lost' fame), though I missed this in the opening of the movie so I didn't know it while watching the movie.

The opening scene is at a going away party for some guy, Rob Hawkins (the protagonist). It's shot (as is the whole movie) from a handheld video camera (or it's supposed to be). The opening scene drags on and on... and on.... and on. I actually got so bored I started reading a book that was laying near the couch. Finally, the action started. I thought the finally we'd get some normal cinematic shots, but no, the handheld camera theme continues on, Blairwitch Project style.

So the story is about some alien creature that lands in Manhattan. It starts wreaking havoc in the city, and then the military comes and the battle causes even more havoc. Rob Hawkins' friends wander around trying to figure out what to do. They die off or disappear one way or another. They wander around Manhattan trying to rescue Rob's main squeeze. In the end, everyone dies, and you're left wondering, "WTF was that about?"

You never find out anything about the monster like, what is it? where did it come from? what does it want? do they kill it? WTF happens?!?!?!?!?! They tried very hard to make you care about the characters, but I never did. I just wanted a building to fall on them to get them out of the story's way.

It was terribly disappointing because it seemed to have some great potential. A good and interesting premise and great special effects, and the actors were actually good as well, but the one person POV was a disaster. Especially because that one person knew nothing about what was going on.

Don't waste your time. I heard there's a sequel coming out, perhaps that will be better.

Them Old Cowboy Songs

So I was driving home one day and tuned to the local public radio station. It was a reading of some story, but I really didn't like the voice talent but I lingered a little longer.

It turned out to be a stunning short story titled Them Old Cowboy Songs by Annie Proulx. I had no idea who Annie Proulx was until I got home searching for more info on the story. Turns out she was the author of another short story, Brokeback Mountain. I neither read that nor saw the movie, so I can't comment on it.

Them Old Cowboy Songs is a short story that ran in the May 5th, 2008 New Yorker magazine.

The story is set in 1885 and like most (or all?) of Annie Proulx' stories, in Wyoming. A young man named Archie marries a young woman named Rose. They set up a homestead out in the prairie. Archie goes out in search of ranch-hand work leaving Rose at home pregnant.

Here's the spoiler: Rose has a difficult premature labor, the baby dies and she dies alone in the little house in the prairie. No one finds out until the next spring. Archie, while working on a ranch, also dies in a blizzard. And being a nobody cowpoke, no one really takes note.

That's it. It's a story of two people, about to make a start in the world... they die, and no one cares... and the world goes on.

It's horrifying because it makes one look at the truly insignificant nature of our lives. We are truly of almost no value in the grand scheme of things. The only value is to us and those close to us. How depressing.

Despite the depressing nature of the story, I was moved by how effective the short story was, how it perfectly captured these two people, how it made the reader sympathize with them, yet how it cast no negative light on the 'way things are.' I did not mourn for either character, but I was compelled to look at myself and my own little life.

A must read.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Protect and Defend

Now, I'm trying to catch up on all my reading, so I'm writing these posts out of order. Along with this Vince Flynn novel, I've recently read a couple John Nance books, a Jonathan Damien book, and Richard Marcinko books. All these books relate in some fashion to the military, or at least to the the Intelligence branches of the military or FBI in some fashion. I must compliment these authors on their meticulous research. It doesn't hurt that these guys are real-life participants (Nance, Damien, and Marcinko) in the fields they hash out in their novels. I don't know what Vince Flynn's background is, the book jacket says nothing other than that he went to college, but his characterization of the CIA falls right in line with these other authors, so I take it Flynn did his homework.

The protagonist is Mitch Rapp, a top CIA operative thrust into a middle-east political cauldron. The book has a 2007 copyright and you can tell, because it encapsulates the present-day, real-life political and military tensions in the middle east.

The novel goes behind the scenes into Iran, where the government leaders are in deep disagreement about engaging the U.S. in war. A covert Israeli operation that destroys a secret Iranian facility gets pinned on the U.S. by the the Iranians, though the U.S. had nothing to do with it.

As with Jonathan Damien's Catchers in the Sky (a fictional novel about the present day conflicts on the Korean peninsula), ne'er-do-wells take the opportunity to drag the U.S. into military conflict. Enter Mitch Rapp who is tasked with saving the kidnapped CIA Director and keeping the U.S. out of war with Iran.

Mitch Rapp is a very cool operative. Like Dick Marcinko, he is a brutal, merciless killer who luckily is on our side. Unlike Marcinko, Flynn is masterful in his prose and story-telling. Liberals beware, you'll be steaming half-way through the novel. Otherwise, read on!

Rogue Warrior

Oh this was a guilty pleasure, indeed. Let me give a little background on the Rogue Warrior:

Richard Marcinko was a real-life Navy SEAL grunt-cum-officer. Rogue Warrior has become a bit of a franchise and the rest of the books are supposedly fictional, but this first one is supposedly autobiographical. I've done no research on this, so I can't say how truly biographical it is.

I'll say that it's a tall tale he tells. And his writing style is, well, the closest I can compare it to would be Kinky Friedman. Think Kinky Friedman with less style (if that's possible) and about twice as much vulgarity. None-the-less, I couldn't stop reading it. But you know, I make it sound like Rogue Warrior is as baseless as Kinky's work, but this is not quite accurate. There is a good bit of wisdom in Rogue Warrior, but the writing style is simply awful... yet engaging!

Now, I simultaneously read three Rogue Warrior books (Rogue Warrior, Rogue Warrior: Detachment Bravo, and Rogue Warrior: SEAL Force Alpha) and because the 'sequels', though fiction, follow the same vein as the autobiography, it all gets a bit confusing. I did start with Rogue Warrior and shortly after began one of the other books, and I distinctly remember thinking that the autobiography was a much better read. But in the end, it all blends together because it's the same thing over and over, so I won't bother making separate entries for the other Rogue Warrior novels.

Again, I'm making it sound like this is trash, but it's not... but it is! Were this total fiction, I don't think I would be so interested, but because Richard Marcinko was the real-deal, and I imagine the stories somewhat reflect some of his misadventures while in the Navy, I was very engaged.

If you've ever been associated with the military in any fashion, I think you would enjoy at least the first Rogue Warrior. In fact, if you can tolerate gratuitous profanity, I think anybody would enjoy Rogue Warrior. On a recent roadtrip, to keep me awake, my wife started reading one of the three books to me, and she got hooked... and she's the type that reads Karen Kingsbury and watches Gilmore Girls.

So anyway, I wouldn't say this is a must read, but if you like a little bit of Kinky Friedman-type junk with a bite, go for it!

Terra Incognita

So wifey heads to the library again and returns with a this gem. Never heard of the author before, but wow is this fantastic.

I am not a student of history and even if I had been at one point, my memory does not serve me well, so I have no idea if the period setting is at all accurate, but it sure felt right to me.

So the novel is set in the early 2nd century a.d., in Britannia (which is, I take it, present day Great Britain). A Roman doctor accompanies his Roman Legion on a visit to some distant part of the Roman Empire in Britannia and there he falls into a murder investigation.

It's a wonderful story of mystery and treachery and even a little bit of mushy romance of sorts.

Apparently this is the second book in a series starring Dr. Gaius Petreius Ruso, the first being Medicus. The novel is engaging, funny, and tight. It is full of memorable quotes, sheathed in humor. I started noting some quotes, and I have a bunch of pages earmarked, but alas I believe the book must return to the library before I'll have a chance to write them down. Oh well.

This series, I believe, would make a simply marvelous movie or even a cable television series. I don't believe this true of all good books. VI Warshawski, for example. I very much enjoy VI novels, but I don't think it would make a good transition to the screen. I know there was a movie somewhere in the 80's starring Kathleen Turner about VI Warshawski, but I never saw it, nor do I want to, as I just can't see it doing the print VI any justice. But again, I do think Dr. Ruso would make a marvelous transition. Oh if only I were a producer!

A Passage to India

I was so profoundly moved and excited by EM Forster's book that I looked for the supposedly best film adaptation of the book. Enter David Lean's 1984 version. I hungrily awaited its turn on the netflix queue (it takes some time when you're competing with kids' movies and Gilmore Girls for the wife)... and it arrived! ... and I was sorely dissapointed.

I thought surely with all the awards and nominations it received that it would be, well, at least good... but it was not. I couldn't even finish watching it. Where was my beloved story? Where were my beloved characters? The screenplay was a painful, laborious, tedious regurgitation of the book. The writers and actors tried to stick to the book, but it just didn't work. The book is just way too long and deep to be faithfully portrayed in a movie.

They truly should have made an adaptation based on the book that captured the essence of the book instead of ridiculously trying to reproduce every scene in the book. The result was that the movie utterly failed. Sad, so sad. Don't waste your time. Read the book or listen to in on CD.