Thursday, 10 August 2017

Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley

On Robertson Boulevard a block and a half north of Pico, just south of Whitworth Drive, on the eastern side of the street, there once stood a three-story turquoise building that had been a posh home in the thirties.

This sentence hooks how only a GPS device can, so nothing special to see here; blink and you'll miss most of it if you're lucky. Actually, this opening is what I like to call a twofer, a one-two punch. The first line sets up the hook, which comes in the second line:

But the owner died, leaving his real-estate-rich, cash-poor relatives to turn the domicile into a commercial property.

Actually, there's no hook there either, just the remnants of conflict from some other story that might very well get packaged and sold as a prequel. Page 1 goes on about the history of the building. I would have said droned on, but the building has some engaging history, so it's okay to read. But I didn't open this book to read about a building, no matter how charismatic it is. I came for characters I can care about and the stories that put them through the wringer. I didn't open this for a list of names on page 1.

It's openings like this that make me wonder: Why don't writers (like the rest of us who daily tell our friends the stories of what just shockingly happened to us or how cruel the world has been to us) start at the beginning, that is, with a character confronted with or confronting a problem? It's so simple, yet writer's insist on screwing around with the very concept of: In the beginning; they forget or ignore that the traits of starting are universal: it always begins with a bang, an act, an emotion or all of the above. The moment a biological conception becomes inevitable would be a great analogy.

Maybe writers think readers want to inch into a story like into cold water? Maybe writers think readers will short circuit if the story's too intense too soon? And by intense I, by no means, mean with violence. Or maybe writers think there's more than one way to hook a brain and compel them to buy it and into it?

Well, there isn't. Character+conflict=hook. The weirder, and further from the opiatic mundane reality that's slowly choking us readers to death, the better.

First thing said:

"Good Morning, Mr. Rawlins."

I was considering to give this a pass (but as close to a fail as the plaque is to your teeth) since some conflict is introduced. But after much thought, I can't because I've not been given a reason to care, which is essential in hooking my brain. However, it might not be that way for others; you know the type, the ones who'll eat rancid, stale food rather than 'let it go to waste.' But for my twitter-damaged brain, this one failed to get off at the starting line, and because so many books are tempting me to pick them up, that's all the time a writer gets to waste my time, before I move on to the next story.

It's a desolate, unsatisfying journey, jumping from book to flirting book like some lonely tease afraid of being taken advantage of. I slog on anyway in tentative hopefulness, trusting this quest will happily end eventually once I stumble upon a story that will hook me and compel me to read to the end.

Is it worth it? Sometimes I wonder. With so many books to choose from, it feels overwhelming at times, but eventually, I'll find it--I always do. I have lots of time to browse.

Verdict:  Fail

Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Slaughtermatic by Steve Aylett

Beerlight was a blown circuit, where to kill a man was less a murder than a mannerism.

This is a prologue of sorts. I say of sorts because there isn't really a plot to this page of two paragraphs. It's more reminiscent of the intro to Star Wars with backstory rolling off into the cosmos. In this case, this bit of text introduces the story's setting.

It's pretty cool with lots of ideas: bulletproof babies, bomb zombies, pincushions of snipers, and crime as the new art form. It sounds like a warning of what's to come, preparing the reader for a gluttony of violence. So if you read on and are disturbed by what you're reading and wish you never picked this book up, you have only yourself to blame.

Chapter 1

Dante Cubit pushed into the bank, thinking about A.A. Milne.

I like the name of the character. It's cool when characters are given names that probably no one in the world has. This opening line needs the next to be effective, or perhaps the second needs the first to be effective or perhaps they're just well woven like good writing is supposed to be.

The next line:

Why didn't he ever write Now We Are Dead?

So this character goes into a bank armed to the nips with a view of robbing it. So even though there's the gun cliche, it isn't what you think: there are no Glocks or chicks.

First thing said:

"Hands up, granddad, and no sudden moves--it's a money or your life paradigm."

Dialogue that moves plot forward and reveals something of character. The implication being that because Dante doesn't necessarily want to kill the old guy, he's a good guy doing bad things (bad things in our world, but not necessarily in his). Plus, let's face it, the guy sounds smarter than your average Walmart shopper. Even with the great strides TV shows like The Big Bang Theory has made to increase the average shopper's vocabulary, most people, I suspect, do not comfortably know what paradigm means or how to pronounce it. Here's an idea: pa-ra-dig-em may or may not be right. And certainly the average shopper wouldn't use the word in their day-to-day affairs, like when they go into a bank with nefarious intent. If I were ever held at gunpoint, it would set my mind at ease if the gunman used the word paradigm.

Overall, this opening pulls readers in even if this is not a favorite genre.

That's no small feat.

Verdict: 3.5 Stars (Definite Pass)

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Fade to Black by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus

Any minute now a hooded man will come barreling out of nowhere and kill me.

There is a hook here, at least on the surface. People sometimes think that a person being killed hooks readers. I don't think it does in itself. In real life, we stop and watch and in movies it can be hypnotizing, but it's still fiction we've become desensitized to, but in a book and at the very first line it rarely works for a couple reasons. One: we have no idea who the victim is and have no reason to care. And two: reading about death is not the same thing as seeing it, hearing it and smelling it. However, what sets this opening line of death apart from others is the fact that the narrator is saying it, so this does make it more interesting. Then tone in the next sentence:

So that sucks.

But the third line is where the death of this unknown character takes an interesting turn. 

I know this because it has happened six times before.

Then this loop of a situation is explained. The narrator awakes to find himself in an ally hanging upside down. A guy in a black-hooded robe comes along and kills him and then he wakes up in the ally hanging upside down again. Only this time, the narrator, with some experience, hopes to break the cycle. It is a fast paced narrative guaranteed to keep you turning the pages.

First thing said:


This does not impress me. Imagine meeting a person for the first time and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is cursing. Not a great first impression. In this case, as this is a first-person narrative, swearing isn't really the first impression we get of the character, plus the situation probably warrants some expletives, but so soon betrays a lack of creativity and it is rarely (if ever) paramount to a narrative despite the legion of writers who insist it is. First thing said could be so much more, like moving the plot forward. Of course, dialogue can also be used to reveal character, and some will argue that swearing reveals character, but everyone swears in their lives at some point, so it's hardly something that reveals a uniqueness of character; it rarely establishes identity. Here all it does is reinforce the narrative voice.

Anyway, I have to write something like what's above or this review could have fit into a tweet.

Nevertheless, the reader is thrown into a scene that is bizarre, surreal, and filled with suspense and conflict. It would be impossible to put this down after reading only a couple of pages.

Verdict: Cool

Theodore Moracht