Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Reading Report

Having finished up Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn, I decided to move on to Anderson's single Conan pastiche, Conan the Rebel. I've had this one for a while but never gotten around to reading it. Rebel is a lot of fun as a sword & sorcery novel, but Anderson has little understanding of the character of Conan. Like most writers attempting to follow Robert E. Howard, Anderson doesn't seem to quite 'get' Conan. Anderson's take on the character is more like one of his Viking heroes. A rough and ready man of action to be sure, but not the volatile, unpredictable Conan, especially since this book takes place when Conan is barely twenty. Read Rogues in the House or The God in the Bowl for an idea of what the big Cimmerian was like in his early days in civilization.
Still, the story is good and the jungle scenes well realized. Anderson has a real talent for descriptions of nature. His battle scenes are first rate and his vast knowledge of history is put to good use in his descriptive passages about ancient cities, ships, towns, and such. Conan the Rebel is certainly worth reading. It's just not really about Robert E. Howard's Conan.
After that I read James Patterson's Third Degree, which is one of his Women's Murder Club series. Unlike the Alex Cross books, which I read mostly to see what all the hubbub was about, I actually ended up liking the WMC books. The primary protagonist, San Francisco homicide detective Lindsay Boxer is a much more believable character than FBI agent Cross. The plots are more down to earth as well, usually centering on serial killings, where Cross has lately come up against what I can only describe as super villains.
In fact, I was thinking last night that Patterson and his legion of ghost writers would have been very comfortable in the days of the pulp magazines. The Alex Cross books remind me of Norvell Page's Spider pulps in many ways. Cross often comes up against world threatening menaces like The Wolf, who threatened to destroy and entire American city, or the vampire brothers who used a tiger as a murder weapon. Most of his villains have names like The Story Teller or the Weasel or the Three Blind Mice. They often enjoy murder and mutilation with a zest that would do the old Nick Carter villain, Doctor Quartz proud. Very over the top stuff.
Anyway, Third Degree is the last of the Women's Murder Club books written with Andrew Gross. Gross has gone on to write his own suspense novels and Patterson's collaborator on the next three books in the series is Maxine Paetro. I've read two of the latter ones and I prefer the Paetro books to those written with Gross.
At the moment, I'm reading Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead, which is Crichton's take on Beowulf. It's also the basis for the Antonio Banderas movie, The 13th Warrior. Basically it's the story of a Muslim ambassador who, through a series of coincidences, ends up accompanying a group of Norsemen to save a Norse village from what appear to be a tribe of savage monsters. I enjoyed the movie and I'm having fun with the book. I'd bought it a while back and noticed it on the shelf last night when I was culling some paperbacks. Decided to read it on the spot.
In a lot of ways, the structure of the book reminds me on an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. Crichton includes a long introduction in which he explains that he is not the author of the book, but rather the translator and editor of an existing historical test. Burroughs included such introductions in most of his books about Mars, Venus, and Pellucidar. Thing is, Crichton is only partially kidding. The narrator, one Ibn Fadlan, is a real historical figure and did write an account of his travels. He gives one of the earliest first hand accounts of the Norsemen in the eastern world. The first three chapters of Eaters are more or less a transcription from Fadlan's memoir. After that it's all Crichton, though he continues to supply scholarly footnotes all the way through the book. He even winks at informed readers with a 'quote' from that famous Arab, Abdul Alhazred.
Next up is probably Robert B. Parker's Spare Change or Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman, but you never know. My reading is not only eclectic, but mercurial.

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