A Thousand Words: Scanners

Scanners

The 1981 David Cronenberg film Scanners, about people with psychic powers, is a perfect movie to review in October. It’s also an underappreciated movie. See, it has Cronenberg’s trademark twisted body horror done in a way that’s suspenseful and not overexaggerated. It also manages to be excellently paced and creepy.

However, most people only know Scanners for the scene where a man’s head explodes. While that is well-done, there’s so much more to the movie than that. It’s well worth a watch.

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: Kill Shot

Kill Shot

Every so often, I dip back into the Mack Bolan pool, with Kill Shot being my latest attempt. And I always come back to the realization that most of the Gold Eagle ones aren’t worth checking out when so many other, better cheap thrillers exist. And this was no exception.

Not only does Kill Shot do nothing to separate itself from the “Twinkies of literature” pack, but it’s worse than the norm due to its setup. As a “SuperBolan”, it’s longer than the normal throwaway Executioners. However, length does not equal substance or any other advantage in this case.

Even readers of action thrillers can do a lot better than Zombie Bolans like this.

Review: Battle Royale

Battle Royale

Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale is a classic horror novel about high school students being thrown onto an island by a totalitarian government and forced to kill each other until only one is left. I knew I had to read it. Although I think the timing is off. After this, the similar Hunger Games (whose author believably said that the similarities were a coincidence), and an entire popular genre of “one shall survive” video games like Fortnite and PUBG, it’s not as out-there as it would have been at the time.

One area that did not slow the gory book down is the translation, which is at the very least sufficient. The writing style, regardless of language, conveys the action very well.

However, the book is still kind of flawed. And I’d argue that there’s two main reasons. The first is that the setting is so dark that it’s hard to care about anyone, since even if their class had avoided “The Program” in the first place, it would be unlikely that they’d come to a happy end in such a ruthless state. The second is that the book is just too long for its premise.

It has the substance of a fairly short cheap thriller, which it still is in spite of its pretensions-which are a little too prominent. I had to groan at the main characters suddenly dipping into “As you know, Bob…” setting exposition at the worst possible moments. Not the book’s finest hour. Anyway, there’s a good 200 page novel there, but it’s 600 pages. And the bulk of those pages consist of kills that probably should have happened offscreen, so we could focus on the real protagonists.

That being said, I’m still glad I read this book. But it’s very much a “mean 51%”. And that’s fine!

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.

A Thousand Words: SpringSharp

SpringSharp

Want to design a physically capable steam-age (1850-1950) warship? Then Springsharp is the game/program for you! Designing anything from coast defense ironclads with low freeboard to ridiculous twenty turret monsters, it works very well for any alternate shipbuilder.

Some caveats are in order. First, it’s just a weight simulator. This is why it doesn’t really work for volume-dependent missile age ships. Second, it works better for large (by the standards of the time) ships than small ones. Third, you have to know the basics of naval design and ship dimensions to really put in the right numbers for a viable ship.

But with this in mind, it’s an excellent simulation that can create the fleets of your dreams.

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.