Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Report #88 - The Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins

Book 12 of 52
Page count - 201

Now this was more like it!  A fun a quick read; I read it in two sittings.  Max Allan Collins is the kind of author who continually publishes novels at an incredible pace.  I've found, if an author can produce this much, he doesn't waste time describing the colour of the paint on the walls.

Quarry is a retired hit man, enjoying a quiet, secluded life in Minnesota lake country.  On a sleepless night Quarry drives to the local convenience store for a snack run.  There he notices a man he knows, an enforcer for the Mob.  Curiously the enforcer is buying a box of Tampax.  This arouses Quarry's curiosity and he decides to follow him.  He quickly learns the enforcer is holding a young woman for ransom.

Quarry could well have left things alone but doesn't because, for one thing, he just doesn't like the enforcer.

There are some wonderful twist in the story that really grabbed my attention.  You find out quickly that Quarry is no one you want to mess with but you also discover that he has a soft spot for women.

The narration is crisp and personal, like he's talking directly to the reader.

I've pulled all the Quarry books in my Hard Case Crime collection and will be reading them very soon. 

Collins' website is HERE.
Max Allan Collins

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Report #87 - Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean

Book 11 of 52
Page count - 254

After the revalations from Command and Control, I thought I'd give Alistair MacLean one more try. 

I didn't doubt the plot; the operations of the fictional US Navy nuclear submarine Dolphin, the plausibility of Dirft Ice Station Zebra and the downing of a satellite payload.  According to Wikipedia many very similar events actually took place, so the book was definitely a pretty accurate description of the times. (Go HERE to read about the actual events.)

I just found the writing to be stiff and tiring to read.  I found myself putting the book down for days at a time and dreading picking it up again. The narrarator, Dr. Carpenter came off as incredibly arrogant and I simply did not like him.  The Commander of the Sub, Swanson, however was great; I kept seeing Scott Glenn, the sub commander in the movie, The Hunt for Red October, and that pleased me very much.
Scott Glenn - The Hunt for Red October

Overall, I found the book tedious.  Probably, to a person living in 2014, nothing here is new.  When this was published, 1963, it would have been as earth shattering as some of Tom Clancy's novels were in the 80's.

However, I believe, that if a book is well written it will stand the test of time.  Unfortunately, for me, MacLean's writing does nothing for me.

I have some other of his titles on my bookshelf, I don't think I'll be reading them any time soon.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Report #86 - Wheelworld by Harry Harrison

Book 10 of 52
Page count - 149 pages

Well, this was a very different book from the first.  Gone is the oppressive, Cold War type, 1984-esque first world society.  Jan Kulozik has been banished to an agricultural world light years away from Earth.  It is a strange world with four-year-long seasons; forcing the colonists to migrate from one polar region to the opposite in order to avoid the hellish summers.  They grow a specially developed corn that is needed for the other worlds under Earth's rule.

Even though Jan is now in an agrarian society there is still plenty of oppression brought on by the family elders.  Equality does not exist; men and women have their roles to play and a man's standing is determined by the job he does and what family he comes from. 

Jan is the head of maintenance; responsible for maintaining the farming and irrigation equipment.  He also keeps the atomic power plants working.  These generators are also, cleverly, converted into massive wheeled locomotives.  Nearly everything in the colony is designed to be moved and linked together into enormous trains. 

The bulk of the story takes place during the migration from the north to the south.  The colonists have been on the planet for generations; the original inhabitants designed and built a 27,000 KM road for the migrations to take place.  Along the way they face all kinds of hardships and obstacles causing friction among the elders and those in charge of the trains.  This particular migration is hindered by absence of the ships that normally come to collect the crops; they are weeks late and every day the colonists stay on site to wait brings summer closer.

The trains themselves made for some interesting story telling but even with this short page count it did tend to drag on.  Missing from the narrative was Jan's past and the rebellion he tried to start on Earth.  It was that complex society from Earth that caught my attention in the first place.  Jan has repeated conflicts with the ruling elders which he cleverly wins each time.  His last brush with authority is particularly scary and brutal.

The last 10 pages will either make you cheer or groan.  It felt like Harrison wrote himself into a corner and felt he had to create a surprise twist to make the story compelling.  It did not work for me and I kind of wish he'd kept Jan on Earth instead of banishing him.  A whole world was developed in the previous novel and then abandoned in the second.  I just hope the author can tie them both together in the last book.
Original book cover

Harry Harrison

Monday, April 7, 2014

Book Report #85 - Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

Book 9 of 52
Page count - 17 CDs, 20 hours 40 minutes

I struggled with whether I should include this in my challenge since I did not "read" it.  However, it was far too important a book not to include.  Plus, this audiobook was unabridged and took over 20 hours of my time to consume.

I grew up during the Cold War and there were times that I was very scared my life would end in a thermonuclear flash.  According to Eric Schlosser there was more to be scared of than Geo-political tension between the super powers.  There were countless accidents, mishaps, losses, crashes, fires and human errors with atomic and thermonuclear weapons that it is a wonder we are all still alive today.

The book was chilling.  It scared me to my core.  I found the level of paranoia of the first two decades of the Cold War to be nearly incomprehensible.  How could men of power be so foolish?

The book itself followed a terrible accident that happened at one missile silo in the United States.  The author explained just how dangerous the Titan II missile system was on it's own, never mind that one of the most powerful warheads sat on top of it.  From the moment a technician accidentally drops a socket down the silo and damages the missile Schlosser takes us on a journey of just how that weapon was developed and the history behind the cold war as well.

It was an enormous subject that could have branched off into the Space Race, espionage, satellite development and submarine warfare.  I would have gladly listened to more.  But limits must be put on to the scope of a book and there was a lot of material to ponder here.

There were a couple of times in the history of the arms race that fiction played a powerful role in it's direction.  The first was the 1958 book called Red Alert by Peter George (published under the pen name Peter Bryant) which told the story of a rouge USAF general launching a first strike against the USSR.  The novel was so profoundly plausible that it was distributed among the decision makers in the US military and influenced readiness and safety policy for decades.  It was also the book that was the basis of Stanley Kubrick's movie Dr. Strangelove.

Red Alert is in the public domain and I've downloaded a copy which I will review here in the future.

The other bit of fiction was the Jason Robards TV movie The Day After, which showed how a nuclear war affected the residence of Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.  This show had such a profound effect on President Ronald Ragan that after watching it, he began to negotiate with the USSR to stop nuclear testing and reduce the arsenal.

I once reviewed the book Seawitch by Alistair MacLean -( ) and blasted it for the unbelievable lack of security surrounding a military weapon storage facility.  Well, I was wrong about the security; there were many instances in Command and Control that illustrated incredibly lax measures taken to prevent the theft of atomic weapons.  Fiction may be fiction but it can be spot on.


NOTE - Be ready to have the shit scared out of you at the end.  Just saying.

Eric Schlosser