Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Ok, so after I read Battle Royale, I knew I couldn’t just not read the other famous “teenagers in a death game” book. So despite not being in the demographic, despite having little interest in it when it first came out, and despite so much else, I read through Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

What’s interesting is that it’s flawed in the exact opposite way of Battle Royale. That was too broad, focusing on the adventures of countless doomed students away from the main characters. This is too narrow, focused entirely on a first-person narrative from protagonist Katniss.

Especially because, to be frank, she comes across as a dullard. The kind of person who’d be bland trailer trash in anything but the post-apocalyptic semi-sci fi setting she’s written in. I’ve long thought that first person is one of the hardest perspectives to write action novels in, and this did not exactly convince me otherwise.

I don’t want to be too hard on this, since I’m obviously not really the target audience. It’s written well for what it is, but it’s an orange read by someone who likes apples.

Review: Lavi

Lavi

Engineer John Golan decides to tell the story of the IAI Lavi fighter in the book of the same name. It’s a very frustrating, “mean 51%” book. First, the good part. The aeronautical engineering stuff (which takes up an understandably large portion of the book) is well done (if over my head mostly). Likewise, the story of its development and cancellation, with tumult and controversy in both America and Israel, is also well told.

The problem comes from the slant of the book. In terms of bias towards the Lavi, Golan feels the same way about it as Arrian did about Alexander the Great. It’s understandable for an engineer to feel that way: The Lavi being a clean-sheet design meant that there was more it could with less size in the strike role than the adapted F-16. But this also leads to tunnel vision and avoiding the context. Which is that an expensive toy may not have been the best option overall for a country with a reduced conventional threat and in an economic collapse at the time (inflation in Israel was reaching near-Weimar levels).

There are also a few “brown M&Ms” (oversights that raise some eyebrows for me). Golan speaks of the Osirak raid as “setting Saddam’s nuclear program back a decade” (if anything, it accelerated it), and takes the 10-1 kill rate in the Korean War at face value. More annoyingly, it falls too much for the “Pentagon Reformer” arguments.

Finally, relying on fighter pilots gave me the exact opposite thought than Golan intended. His impression of the Yom Kippur War veteran pilots leaning so hard on the Lavi was that of pragmatists who’d been through the worst of war. My impression was of them (understandably) wanting a gold-plated plane while not being able to see the forest for the trees. As Bill James put it “The trees really are not, when you think about it, in a very good position to evaluate the issue.” It gets to the point where you probably wouldn’t know from this book alone that the Bekaa Valley air battle was the squash it was with the “worse” aircraft.

Still, this is an interesting book on an interesting plane. For aviation enthusiasts, it’s well worth a read.

Review: Funland

Funland

Horror legend Richard Laymon’s Funland is a tale of terror at an amusement park. Or at least it supposedly is. What it actually is is a story of a war between crazed hobos known as “trolls” and a gang of teenage delinquents fighting them. Oh, and love triangles.

The only real “horror action” occurs very late in the book. Other than that, it’s just a conflict between groups of totally unsympathetic people. That the small spurts of action are indeed good is what makes this a slightly better horror novel than the last one I reviewed. But only slightly.

Would it really hurt to have people who you can actually support? Even conventional horror story victims would be better than the waves of creeps and vigilantes that we got.

Review: Teacher’s Pet

It’s October, so I figured I’d do some more horror novels on Fuldapocalypse. I also figure I’d start at the bottom. Because Andrew Niederman’s Teacher’s Pet is definitely down there. And not in a good way.

The plot is simple. Mysterious tutor Mr. Adam Lucy (Hmm, do those first three letters remind you of anything else?) arrives in a town and mysterious creepy stuff happens. Mr. Lucy could be the Antichrist, a mere demon, or an alien (or a combination?). The book goes for the “what you don’t know is creepy” approach, which I could respect more if it wasn’t so shallow.

See, there really isn’t much gore or excess. There is, however, a large quantity of the dreaded activity that sends a shudder down every reader’s spine when a book uses it. Although not in a “that’s scary or chilling”, more like an “oh, no, the author really did that ‘literary’ trope again?” I speak of the infamous middle class adultery.

This is not a good book. It’s not a good horror book, and it’s not even that good a book to mock. It’s just-weirdly mundanely bad.

Review: Primary Target (Jack Mars)

Primary Target: The Forging Of Luke Stone

A prequel to the Luke Stone adventure novel series, Primary Target is one of those books that somehow manages to hit every single genre cliche and then some. Reading this gets the most cookie-cutter action hero imaginable, almost literally every single type of cheap thriller villain showing up at some point, and 51% action.

In other words, I loved it. This is the best kind of 51% book, and it’s the perfect type of novel to relax one’s mind in between deeper and more fulfilling books. I recommend this as silly fun.

Review: Albatross

Albatross

The progressive rock band Albatross appeared, released one self-titled album in 1976, and then disappeared. Listening to this album, it’s very easy to see why. The album is dominated by a fourteen-minute track called “Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse”, which contains lots of crude synthesizers, lyrics about the Book of Revelation, and a segment of seemingly random notes that’s reminiscent of the Crazybus Theme.

Progressive rock is frequently referred to as “70s rock by bands who acted innovative and pretentious but in truth just copied Yes.” And this describes Albatross perfectly. Every single prog rock cliche is present in this album. Every gimmick and mess.

Dare I say that Albatross is the New Deal Coalition Retained of progressive rock? Yes, I do. But unlike that, it’s not creepy or mean-spirited (well, except maybe for “Humpback Whales”, the track that glorifies whaling to the tune of what one listener called ‘Dancing Gnome Music’). In fact, from time to time, this album is actually fun in a so bad it’s good way.

Review: Friday The 13th

Friday The 13th

Film tie-in novelizations do not have a good reputation. The tie-in for the first Friday The 13th movie is no exception. Granted, it has a shallow film as a base (the movie is a stilted, aged terribly movie that doesn’t even have most of the sleaze/exploitation elements of its sequels). But author Simon Hawke didn’t even try very hard.

There is one exception. That would be the doomed lovebirds Jack and Marcie, whose shallow sleazy character in the actual movie gets stretched out to a long piece of angsty exposition. But that amusing bit of padding can’t make up for the rest of the book. Especially because, having been released several years (!) after the movie, you can’t even use the justification of being rushed!

It’s one of those things that’s basically just sort of… there.

Review: Gaming The Game

Gaming The Game

Sean Patrick Griffin’s Gaming the Game is about the gambling scandal centered around NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Its main “character” is now former pro gambler Jimmy Battista, who handled the actual betting side of things (oversimplified of course). I generally don’t like true crime books, but heard good things about this and the subject matter of sports betting was a naturally interesting one to me.

This is one of the best true crime books I’ve read.

The narrative (most of which centers around Battista, not Donaghy), is well-written and soundly researched at the same time. It really helped fill a gap in a part of the sports betting world I hadn’t really had to look up before-genuine sharps. (Touts are mentioned once dismissively, as they should be). You get to read about a lot of people, some of whom I could guess who their true identities were (Griffin rightfully uses pseudonyms).

The icing on the cake is an appendix where Griffin delves into line movements to see what effect the Donaghy actions -regardless of the man’s claims- had on the games he reffed and bet on. By giving it its own section, he can be extremely detailed and technical while not interfering with the flow of the rest of the book. The analysis could easily be a book unto itself.

If you have the slightest interest in sports betting or sleaze, get this book.

Review: Will To Fight

Will To Fight

In the Will To Fight study/book, RAND analysts tried to take a look at one of the most important yet hard to study parts of war-the will of the soldiers to fight. It’s a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s sincere in trying to tackle something essential, and its detail is excellent.

On the other, it’s centered around a chart that resembles what you see in the dreaded DoD Powerpoints of Doom. This is not the most surprising thing, but it is still a little too awkward. And beyond the well done simulations and descriptions of games with morale factors and how they affect outcomes, it still has the feeling to trying to directly quantify what’s admitted in the study itself as not directly quantifiable.

Nonetheless, the topic is well-cited and well handled, and is important enough that “mixed” quality still makes it well worth a read.

Review: The Last Great Death Stunt

The Last Great Death Stunt

Clark Howard’s The Last Great Death Stunt is perhaps the strangest and most bizarre book about a man deciding to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge imaginable. Written in the 1970s, it’s basically to Evel Knievel-style feats what the movie Rollerball was to football and other physical sports. It’s a future where the world is so peaceful that conventional sports with winners and losers are so boring and out of focus, they’ve gone under.

Instead, the public’s eye is on ever-crazier “Death Stunts”. However, there is a backlash against even this, and the book begins with the government planning to outlaw them. Before they do, legendary Death Stuntman Nick Bell aims to do one mega-stunt on the final day of legality-leap off the Golden Gate Bridge and survive! The book centers around him, rival Jerry Fallon, and the authorities trying to stop the stunt from taking place.

The execution is only adequate, with prose and plotting worthy of a 51% cheap thriller. There are sleazy secenes you’d expect from a 1970s mass market novel. There are a few too many padding infodumps in a short book.

But the concept, taken completely seriously, is so great that adequate execution still makes for an excellent, if weird book. But I like weird. So I loved The Last Great Death Stunt.