Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Monday, July 20, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Flashfire (a Parker Novel)

As much as the folks write the introductions in these books want to say otherwise, when Stark came back to Parker after decades of being away, it's pretty clear his worldview had changed a bit, what he could and wanted to do in a heist book had altered.  But, you know, you're talking about the 15th or so book of the Parker series, and, if you include the 4 Grofield novels, this is the 19th written under the nom de plume of Richard Stark rather than Donald Westlake.



It's an oddly silly Parker novel, a pretty far cry from The Seventh or The Sour Lemon Score, and after however many years of writing Dortmunder novels, I have to assume it all bleeds together for the writer.  Also, as in the return novels, a lot relies on coincidence and hoping the reader isn't thinking too hard about possible holes in the plot.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Ape Watch: Tarzan The Ape Man (1932)

As you may recall, I recently read Tarzan of the Apes.   I don't tend to believe the cosmos is telling me anything, but I also try not to ignore coincidence.  Because, hey, serendipity counts for something.



TCM featured "Ape Day", I believe, the other day, with all sorts of simian cinema, with everything from King Kong to Planet of the Apes to Every Which Way But Loose, and, of course, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), the first Johnny Weissmuller/ Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzan movie.

I have seen this movie in bits and pieces, but I don't think I'd seen it straight through until now.  And, people, it's pretty amazing.  In fact, we're going to roll out our new feature... the Stefon.  So you'll know when:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Tarzan of the Apes (1912) - audiobook

I have no idea if kids today even know the name Tarzan, and I suspect that if they do, its as one of the lesser Disney animated features.  As a product of the 70's and 80's, I was exposed to televised reruns of Johnny Weismuller films, comics, cartoons, and a general presence of Tarzan as a still-kinda-relevant pop-culture figure.  Swinging from a rope meant you had to give the Weismuller yell, climbing a tree might lead to visions of swinging from branch to branch, and being a bit rambunctious could lead to your mother calling you "Tarzan".

I also had this comic magazine, Marvel Super Special #29.


It turns out, this was a pretty much direct adaptation of the original novel, including captions from the book, but only the first 1/2- 1/3rd of the book, choosing a solid ending point when Tarzan asserts himself as King of the Apes.  Mark Evanier is listed as the writer, but he mostly reframed the original novel into a graphic novel form, and that cover seemed absolutely amazing to me when I was a kid.  It also meant that, as the book went along, I had more or less already read the first 1/3rd.

I haven't read much in the way of Edgar Rice Burroughs, just the first three John Carter-Barsoom novels, but I certainly grew up knowing Burroughs' name.  I just...  I dunno, I never read the book or books (there are about 20 of them, I think).  But, we're in a reading pattern right now that's about making up for old sins and checking in on some of these old-school favorites, and I'd put off reading Tarzan for long enough.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Signal Reads: Superman - The High Flying History of the Man of Steel (audiobook)

When I was driving between Indianapolis and Metropolis, Illinois, I cooked up a plan to listen to the audiobook of the fairly recent Larry Tye book Superman: The High Flying History of the Man of Steel.  I've read a few comic and Superman histories before, and still hold of the Les Daniels book as the gold standard, with Gerald Jones' Men of Tomorrow:  Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book as absolute and required reading.  But it'd been a while since I read either and there's been a lot of history since then.



The book is very well researched and is a fairly complete and comprehensive but detached history of the character as a property, focusing on the origins and multiple iterations of the character from the influences on Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to the multiple forms of media the character has taken on and arguably conquered, to the ever-changing nature of Superman and the societal factors at play.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (audiobook)

This isn't the first time I have read Red Harvest (1929) by noted crime and detective author Dashiell Hammett.  In fact, it was the first Hammett I ever read, but it was about fifteen years ago and over the course of a few plane rides, and after reading my fair share of Hammett since, I could only remember snippets here and there and the general plot and tone.  But with Hammett's birthday recently passed, I decided that was my cue to revisit the book.



It would seem this novel inspired a whole lot of other stuff from general tone to dialog to whole films, but to my knowledge it has never been translated into a movie of the same name with the same characters.  And it's just as likely the things the book inspired were, in turn, the inspiration for other works.  There are certainly similarities to the book in the Kurosawa movie Yojimbo (but Kurosawa states he was inspired by The Glass Key, a different Hammet book turned into a movie with similar themes - and the movie has Veronica Lake, natch), which in turn would have inspired A Fistful of Dollars and the mediocre as hell Last Man Standing.

I'd argue that the Coen Bros. were obviously nuts for Hammett, and Miller's Crossing is essentially a particularly strong blend and distillation of Red Harvest and The Glass Key, in everything from plot similarities to character archetypes to Hammett's very specific dialog and use of slang.  Further, the term "Blood Simple" is used more than once in the book, and is - not coincidentally - the title of their debut film.

Hammett had a favorite character, a detective who refused to name himself (cough... Man With No Name... cough) in his narratives.  The character appeared in what must have been dozens of short works published in magazines like Black Mask and which are known as The Continental Op stories.  A private detective employed by The Continental Detective Agency usually solves crimes around the Bay Area during the 1920's - the period during which Hammett was writing (and drinking, one assumes).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dashiell Hammett


May 27th marks the 121st birthday of author Dashiell Hammett, a writer who's impact on the modern culture is nigh-incalculable.

I'm actually currently re-reading Red Harvest for the first time in fifteen years and will make my way back through The Maltese Falcon, The Dain Curse and a few more.  And you really can't beat the short fiction of the Continental Op short stories.

And, of course, he was responsible for The Thin Man novel and assisted with the production of the movie.

Hammett had been a Pinkerton Detective, a career not so readily available in this era, but it set the stage for both the material of his fiction as well as the approach his detectives took.  he served in both World Wars, drank too much, was a terrible husband and absentee father and a left-winger from jump.  And he had a 30 year romance with Lillian Hellman.  Like you do.

I'll be honest, I love this guy's work.  His characters feel real and lived in, perhaps world warn and weary, but believably so, and his plots are just haphazard enough as the detectives sort through the mess they've stumbled into to feel believable when one is surrounded by liars with agendas.  And he's got a snappy prose style.

Here's to Mr. Hammett on his birthday.  Here's to one of the father's of American modern fiction in all its forms.

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Old Green World" by Walter Basho - now available on Amazon

A former co-worker & co-blogger, current pal, and all around great guy, Walter Basho, has released his first novel today to the Amazon Kindle.



If you've got $3, I highly recommend picking up his debut book, a sci-fi novel set in THE FUTURE.

Here's the description as per Amazon:

The apocalypse happened 4000 years ago. A forest now covers the world. In its shadow, Albert, an immigrant military prodigy, falls in love with Thomas, a boy he can never marry.  
Their island nation flourishes, led by strange monks called the Adepts—who have power over matter and the mind—and their holy figures, the mysterious Old People. The Adepts are building an army to storm the wild continent of Terra Baixa. They plan to tame the forest and rebuild civilization.  
The forest doesn't care. It is patient and vast. This is what happens. 
Walter Basho's first novel is a science fantasy adventure, a coming-of-age story, a romance, and a meditation on what it means for the world to end.


Everyone give Walter $3.  He deserves it.

Order the book here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (audiobook - read by Stephen Fry)

First of all, don't panic.

I'll start by saying - I enjoyed this reading experience, and you can all go about your business, secure in the knowledge that I will not be disrupting your very fond memories of what is now considered a modern classic.


Like all of you, I read the book when I was in middle school, and I believe I got through three of the four books before I forgot to buy the fourth, and here we are, 27 years later.  Oddly, I do think I read this one more than once, but I couldn't reconstruct the plot in my head at all.  Just details.  42.  Something about a sperm whale.  Mice.  Zaphod.  Laying in front of bulldozers.  Babel fish.  Earth as a computer.  Improbability.

But, again... no idea what the book actually did.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Backflash - a Parker Novel (1998)


The second of the "Parker is back" novels of the 1990's, and by this time it's pretty clear heists are a damn hard thing to plot even in a pre-cell-phone era, but an era in which money is mostly moved about electronically.

Parker is called at his home by someone he doesn't know, someone already out of their depth, pitching a heist.  The score is a gambling cruise ship working the Hudson River on a trial basis, all cash for the night's take, a locked down money room floating in a river.  He calls in old favorites of the Parker novels, Sternberg, Dan Wycza and Mike Carlow as support, and a character a I didn't really remember from Plunder Squad.  More than one other party gets a whiff of the heist and try to deal themselves in, and, meanwhile, nothing about the guy setting up the heist makes sense.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

SW Reads: The Comeback (a Parker novel)

Author Richard Stark took off a couple of decades between Butcher's Moon (1974) and The Comeback (1997),  bringing master-thief back out of retirement.  But, oddly, it doesn't really feel like much time has passed between the two novels, updates in technology, etc... aside.  Stark's voice is much the same as it was when he left off in 1974, but the year is now 1997.  We're in the age of the personal computer, but everyone having a cell phone is still maybe 1-3 years in the future, depending on your demographic.



The 80's and 90's also saw the boom of televangelists in a way I'm not sure kids today would understand.  Every cable package came with the PTL Network and a few others, and while you never knew the names of most of the figures, they were so omnipresent, you knew who most of them were (a personal favorite of mine was Brother Bob Tilton*), and it was always a matter of time before most of these folks tripped up and showed their true colors, crashing and burning and teaching a young me the meaning of schadenfreude.  But not until after bilking a herd of retirees out of their fixed incomes.

Parker books always feel tied to the real world.  He's not a super-crook, he's not out using futuristic technology, but this one definitely feels of the zeitgeist of the era, as much as the 60's and 70's novels did from time to time worrying about the pop art scene or crazed hippies.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Ready Player One

Welcome to The House of Unpopular Opinions, in which I attempt to alienate all of my longtime readers, many of whom I consider good pals.

It's not that Ready Player One won't make a decent enough movie when Steven Spielberg supposedly brings it to the big screen in the next couple of years.  I think it will be a visual spectacle of a movie, and I'll pay good money to see it.  It's just that when The Hunger Games feels like deep, societal commentary and introspection in comparison to your book, I kind of wonder what I'm reading.



The story:

Wade Owen Watts is a kid living in "the stacks", a sort of slum comprised of towers of mobile homes erected tens of stories high outside of Oklahoma City.  He's grown up poor in a near-future America dealing with an energy crisis of crippling proportions, and a state that's given over significant power to corporate interests right up to the point of re-starting indentured servitude in place of debtors prisons.

Almost everyone in America, and, indeed, on Earth, uses the OASIS, a virtual reality gaming system that has grown to undreamed of proportions and become a way of life.  While the world falls apart around them, humanity wears visors and haptic gloves (and suits, and immerses themselves in full rigs) to role-play their lives in the OASIS in whatever setting they like, moving between worlds created and custom built, largely around 20th Century ideals of science fiction and fantasy.

The creator of the OASIS - a cult figure that's part Steve Jobs, part Bill Gates, part Gary Gygax, part John Hughes, part Howard Hughes - has passed.  His obsessions with the ephemera of the late 70's - early 90's, the period of James Halliday's own youth, are integral to the OASIS.  In the wake of his passing, a contest is announced - whomever can find three keys hidden on the OASIS and find the final "Easter Egg", will become heir to Halliday's interest in his company and rule the OASIS.  The trick being, one must become utterly familiar with 1980's pop-culture, and more specifically, geek pop culture, in order to complete the quest.

This creates a subculture of users, Egg Hunter/ Gunters, who seek the egg, as well as nefarious, well-funded corporate types who set up a virtual army in order t capture the prize and basically own the internet.  All are consumed with 1980's pop-culture, an artifact now 60 years out of date but extremely well-documented and a source of never ending fascination and compulsive study by the Gunters.

Got all that?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Mother Night

Between longer audio books, I'll sometimes do a Vonnegut book.  After finishing a 37 hour book-listen, taking on a decent audiobook that's at a mere 6 hours can feel like a downright vacation.  Sure, I know I'm missing a lot by not seeing Vonnegut's doodles and intentional use of the page, but, I figure, better this than the fact I'd never get around to it as a sit-down read.

Mother Night (1961) was released a few years prior to Slaughterhouse Five, and also deals with the lives of participants in World War II during and after the war.



Told as an account by Campbell himself, as evidence to present at his coming trial in Israel, the book makes interesting use of time, assuming the audience will not be surprised by many aspects presented and revealing many things immediately rather than at key points to create surprise, were the story a straight chronology. It certainly has the matter-of-fact quality I've come to recognize in Vonnegut's work.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

SW Reads: The Bully Pulpit - Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and The Golden Age of Journalism

I think Picky Girl recommended this one.  I dunno.  She'll have to chime in.

He's talking about Roosevelt and Taft again.  Safe to close the post and move on,

At some point in college on a lark I picked up the Henry Pringle biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and - like a lot of folks who happened to read something about TR - ever since I've found no end to the interest in reading not just about the man, but about his times.  His political career is astounding, complete with stumbling backward into the presidency, where his reputation grew to such proportions that the US included his face on Mt. Rushmore with Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington.

I read a few reviews before putting finger to keyboard for this post, because I knew a Doris Kearns Goodwin book would have already generated plenty of bits in the press.  As evidence of the vitality of the material covered, I almost laughed when I saw what a big percentage of both reviews was dedicated not to discussing the book, but to discussing what the book covers, like a little mini-historical synopsis.

So, I'll keep it brief.

Friday, January 30, 2015

SW Reads: Mystic River

blogger's note:  For some reason, this post gets a lot of traffic.  Can someone tell me how you got to this page?  I find the hit count on this post perplexing.

I just finished the audiobook of the Dennis Lehane novel Mystic River, the basis for the 2003 film which drew plum nominations and won a few Academy Awards (and which earned a bucketload of other awards).

Frankly, I never saw the movie, and I really had no idea what either the book or movie were about.  No, I have no recollection of 2003 and what I was doing.  Working, I guess.

There's a guy who works security sometimes in the building where I show up every day, and I think his story is that he does security as his day job (because he can sit there and read), and he goes home and works on his own crime novels.  I admire the hell out of that, and he recommended the book to me about two years ago, and so I finally got around to reading/ listening to Mystic River this year.



Audiobooks are a strange experience.  You're dealing with an actor's interpretation of how this should be read, and sometimes I just feel like maybe the reader missed the mark.  And, this may have been one of those times.  I think he went for "overwrought" and melodramatic when, maybe, he could have pulled it back a bit for a different impact.  I believe I listened to Scott Brick, who also read The Devil in the White City, which I listened to last year, and which I felt was fine, if memory serves.  But this book required a lot more acting and interpretation.

I don't know how I felt about the book.  I guess I'm a little surprised this particular story was thought of so well as to earn Oscar nominations, so I'd like to see the movie soon to see how it worked as Oscar bair.  And it certainly is not the first time a book that maybe wasn't the most inspiring source material worked stunningly well as a movie.  This was certainly nowhere near my favorite book, but what it did, it did well.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream Merges With The Infinite

As noted in the title, we lost a musical pioneer this week.  Edgar Froese has merged with The Infinite.  (Thanks to Cavender for the link.)

My first exposure to Tangerine Dream was, oddly, as a reference in cult sci-fi book The Architect of Sleep that I read at summer camp when I was a kid.  The hero of the book was a Tangerine Dream fan who accidentally made his way to a parallel Earth where apes had not evolved to be the bipedal species.  Instead, raccoons were living in a sort of feudal, dark-ages-like society.  I dunno.  It's been almost 30 years.*

My take away was the hero was kind of a slacker-stoner who was into stuff even more mellow than Dark Side of the Moon's second half.  At some point in my youth, then, I was buying Tangerine Dream on vinyl and cassette and chilling out like a champ under my Captain America and Michael Jordan posters.

I also recall, not too long after reading the book - and I can't remember if it was before or after I owned any Tangerine Dream, this movie came on the local UHF station, and it was directed by Michael Mann and had a score by Tangerine Dream.  Thief?  you ask.  Ha.  NO.  The Keep, one of the most unjustly hidden gems of the 1980's.  (edit: this is now available on Amazon Instant!  holy cats!)



Anyway, after that I noticed Tangerine Dream did a lot of scores.  The aforementioned Thief, Sorcerer, Risky Business**, Near Dark.  Legend, anybody?

Yeah, Tangerine Dream can sound dated, but I put that up to how much they stamped a certain period of music, the massive influence they had and the army of imitators who flooded movie scores - never quite hitting the same level.

But we're not going to do this post and then not give you some examples.

So, here we go.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A few Richard Stark Books - The Dame, The Black Ice Score and The Sour Lemon Score

I've been plowing through more of the Parker and Allan Grofield novels by Richard Stark.  As much as I write here, I can't imagine how much time that guy must have spent in front of the typewriter.  Keep in mind, Richard Stark was just one pen name of Donald Westlake, who was usually out writing kind of wacky crime and mystery stories.  The three books I just finished, originally pulpy paperbacks, all came out between 1968 and 1969, and the next one I'm going to pick up also was released in 1969.



But in writing that much, it's interesting to see Stark second guess himself, realize maybe he went a little off formula and come back to correct himself, especially with Parker.  It makes me wonder if he'd gone back and re-read the first Parker novels and seen how far afield The Black Ice Score truly was from The Hunter and The Man with the Getaway Face (still a great book title), and that, maybe The Black Ice Score felt a little, almost, cozy for Parker.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

No Post Thursday - what I've been doing (class, books, end of the yearly cycle)

This evening I went to the gym, watched an episode of Mad Men Season 5, did some pre-ordering of comics, and got pretty far along with the first unit of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I've started through Canvas.

When I get through the first week, I'll post some personal and professional observations as someone who (a) has read comics for a long, long time - including a good chunk of the assigned reading, (b) who actually does care about gender representations in media - but maybe not in a particularly prescribed way, and (c) who worked in distance education for a decade before moving on to digital libraries.  As bonus featurea (d) I already went through five years of undergraduate education in narrative media studies, and (d) I sort of have my opinions regarding scholarly writing when it comes to social criticism, so...  it's turning out to be an interesting experience already.

It's going to be a long post, and only, likely, I will care about it, so...  look for THAT.

Speaking of gender in comics and pop-culture, yesterdays post on why it's okay for Power Girl to have a "boob window" got a fair number of hits.  By that, I mean, we were around 95 last I checked, which is, like, HUGE for this site.  I never know what's going to get traffic.  I fully expected upwards of 18 clicks.

I am making a commitment to just admit I am going to just read all the Richard Stark novels and nothing else that is not a comic until I finish the Parker and Grofield series.  And then I have, literally, ten books to get through.


  • I'm about a quarter way through the Larry Tye Superman book Nathan gave me, so that might get read while I work through the Stark novels.
  • Dark City Dames by Eddie Muller - a book with bios of a handful of noir sirens, including sections on Audrey Totter and Marie Windsor
  • Altered Carbon - as recommended by Steven
  • the next three Barsoom novels starting with Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  • Doc Savage, Man of Bronze - personally recommended by no less than Chris Roberson
  • The Big Screen  - a non-fiction book on the history of cinema
  • The Killer Inside Me and After Dark, My Sweet, that I've been putting off for, literally, almost twenty years
  • the new Glenn Wheldon Superman book  
  • a Dashiell Hammett collection


As I said on the Facebooks today, I need more time to read.

So, no recommendations for a bit.  My plate is full.

Jamie's birthday is passed, and mine is next Friday, so if you're around and want a cocktail, email me.  We may be doing something about drinks on the 13th.

We have a yearly cycle that starts at Halloween and ends with my birthday.  Really, from Halloween, it's something every few weeks, including Valentine's Day, then March - the months of birthdays, etc...  And, of course, Easter and Mother's Day take us into May.  At this point I'm used to it, but it does seem like it compresses time into the various observances.  Summer has become my holiday from holidays, except for July 4th, which includes explosions and hamburgers and is thus becoming one of my favorite holidays.

My folks are headed back to Kenya for missionary work/ putting eyeglasses on Kenyans.  Always proud of them in their volunteer efforts.

Mad Men Season 6 starts Sunday night, so, leave a brother alone while he does his thing.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Signal Reads: The Green Eagle Score (a Parker Novel)

This is what I like about a Parker novel.  On Saturday I had a rainy day, and while I'd started the book at the doctor's office on Tuesday (I'm fine.  Just getting the annual inspection.), I read all but those first 23 pages today.



Like other Parker novels, it's difficult to imagine the heist pulled off in the modern era of paranoid security, electric systems everywhere, etc...  But people don't really change all that much, and so the stories still work very, very well.

Since The Jugger - but really, starting with The Score, Stark wisely began fanning out his narrative attention a bit more on the other characters in the books.  Probably the closest I'd point to in something you'd be immediately familiar is some of the feel of the "let's check in with our villain" of the Ocean's 11 franchise.  The characters don't have to be right next to Parker throughout the novel - the narrative eye wanders and gives us some background on some of these characters, some of whom then proceed to die just a few pages later and without much attention paid to their fate.

It's an interesting narrative trick as you definitely get a complete picture of the story, but you also know that Stark's narrative in invested in the story and isn't going to get sentimental about  a character just because we spent two or three pages with that person, learning their inner thoughts.

The Green Eagle Score is about the payroll heist of an Air Force base in upstate New York.  Parker leaves Claire, whom he picked up in the last book, The Rare Coin Score, in Puerto Rico, to chase down a haul put in front of him by an old comrade whose ex-wife is shacked up with a clerk in the finance office on the base.

The book takes a telegraphed but no-less fascinating left turn into the usual complications of a Parker heist, but it's so wildly different from the complications of The Seventh or even The Handle, that it doesn't feel like old hat, even in the 10th Parker novel.

Good, fun read.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Adapting "Parker" for the big screen and changing the rules

"Civilized people need to follow rules.  These are mine:
I don't steal from people who can't afford it and I don't hurt people who don't deserve it.  Most importantly, you say you'll do something and you don't, I'll make sure you regret it."

I'm not an expert on Richard Stark's character Parker, but I have read several of the books in the Parker crime-novel series.  They're short, easy to read, good airplane stuff.  I'm not even sure there's an arc to Parker's character development until around the seventh book.  That's, as we say, a feature, not a bug.

I really like Parker novels in part not because I relate to Parker as a master-thief, but because I think in some ways I relate to Parker as someone who spends a lot of time planning things out, enough so to improvise if things go poorly, but I also become fairly irritated when people's quirks and personalities get in the way of the plan when - darn it - we all knew the plan.

However, I am just slightly less inclined than Parker to actually straight up blow up my co-workers if I feel they messed up a project.

There's a movie coming out based on one of the later books in the Parker series. Hollywood being the clever folks they are have named the movie Parker, and are not starting at the beginning of the series. You've likely seen ads with Jason Statham and (yes, people are still hiring her) Jennifer Lopez.

I find it fascinating that J-Lo actually has fans in 2013

The quote above is from the Parker trailer.  If the trailer looks like a standard, inexpensive Jason Statham action movie, I am guessing you are not far off.  The critics at Rottentomatoes certainly seem to feel that way.

The quote of Parker's rules - the thing that gets you to know the character and makes you interested in the character - is not from the books and, really, if casting Jason Statham wasn't a weird enough choice, this little good-guy-thief code has nothing to do with Parker's rules or the purpose of those rules in the series of books.