Friday, June 14, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 10

Ship of Fools, Richard Paul Russo

I’m pretty sure nobody saw this one coming, and in all honesty, I tried more than once to scratch it off the list for something that would make more sense.  The problem is, I can’t.

This book is not great science fiction.  It’s not great horror.  It’s not an epic adventure.  And it’s not a great discourse on humanity and religion either.  But when I stack it up against other books that are, this is the one I remember.  This is the one that keeps popping its head back up, daring me to ask questions and refusing to give the answers.

There is an “aloneness” to the story that’s hard to describe.  The characters are out in the middle of deep space with centuries of travel behind them and centuries presumably yet to come with no known destination to hope for.  And then they come across a huge ship;  blacker than night, drifting and abandoned.  At least that’s what they think.

It’s interesting to read other people’s reviews of this book.  Most are receptive if not a little cool, but others are adamantly negative.  I think the main reason why is that Ship of Fools doesn’t tie things up in nice neat little bows.  It’s a narrative, and it shows you what happens during a specific period of time, but it doesn’t tell you what any of it means.  And it leaves you like that;  simply left to wonder, with more questions than answers.  A lot of people don’t like that.  I don’t mind.

(also:  Pretty much anything by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, and Arthur C. Clarke)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 9

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

I know that LOTR borders closer to the “classic” label than not, which means that it shouldn’t be on my list.  But seriously, how can I not include Lord of the Rings?

Peter Jackson did a great job with the films and I have watched all three of them about half a dozen times (directors cut, of course), but as is almost always the case, the movies cannot truly capture the written word, even with over 11 hours of running time.

I’ve only read LOTR twice, with the last time being over 10 years ago, so I’m due for another tour of Middle Earth.  It’s a very long book, and yes, those Elvish songs can sometimes feel like hurdles testing your patience, but if you can devote the time and embrace your inner Sheldon, you’ll see what all the fuss is about.

(also:  The Hobbit, Chronicles of Narnia)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 8

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

I liked The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so much that it inspired me to write my first book, Clash of the Figments, which was supposed to usher me into my own Douglas Adams prime-time era.  It didn’t work out that way, but not because of anything the Guide did wrong.

What makes HHGTTG so odd is that it’s a truly funny novel, and that’s no small feat.  The problem with comedy is that when it’s done well it looks effortless, so people tend to think that it is effortless and don’t give it the credit it’s due.  I would suggest that it’s a whole lot easier writing good drama than good comedy, which makes what Douglas Adams did that much more remarkable.

If Ford Prefect’s conversation with the bulldozer driver at the beginning of the book seems totally logical to you, keep going.  If not, walk away.  My guess is you’ll keep going.  Most people do.  Just stay away from the movie;  it was terrible.

And when you finish it, Don’t Panic! – there are three sequels that are almost as good.

(also:  the rest of the 4-book trilogy;  Tobacco Road;  God’s Little Acre, Catch-22)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 7

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

I realize it may mean that I’m a little bigoted, but I just don’t like hot, dusty, dry locales.  I mean no offense by that;  I respect the beauty of desert regions, it’s just that I prefer green, cool, hilly, and wet.  As such, I’m not a big fan of most books or movies dealing with the American Southwest, Northern Africa, or the Middle East.  It all just looks really hot and dusty to me.

But I like Lonesome Dove.  I took a shine to Gus & Call right off the bat, even with their wildly different personalities, and when you throw in the rest of their band of flawed characters – including a horse affectionately called the Hell Bitch – some not entirely law abiding antics, a misplaced beauty, and a dream that you know in your heart will always be more of a journey than a true destination, you’ve got a story to remember.

Why does it work for me?  Again, I don’t know, but my guess is that reading about Gus and Call reminds me of some of the qualities that I wish I had.  Qualities that I do have when I travel along the trail with them to Montana.   Yippee Ki-Yay!

Full disclosure:  The nest of Water Moccasins still give me the willies.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 6

Spares, Michael Marshall Smith

One day about 15 years ago I picked up a battered paperback copy of this book at a branch library in Seminole County, FL.  Then I put it back down since it didn’t look very promising.  It was, however, pretty slim pickings at the library that day so I picked it back up again and checked it out.  Now it’s in my top 10.

It starts out, as you might be able to guess, as a story about clones used for spare parts, but that storyline, while continuing throughout the rest of the novel, really takes a backseat to a host of other plotlines and a really weird & nasty parallel world that’s spilling over into the real one.  It gets confusing, and you may need to read it twice to catch everything and sort it all out.  I’ve read it three times.  So far.

Be warned, it is weird.  It’s sublimely hilarious at one turn and brutally violent in the next.  Crime, distorted reality, flying shopping malls, side-slipping, cats, a drug called Rapt, and a main character intent on avenging the past make for a really wild ride.  Even so, I probably wouldn’t be such a fan except for the fact that I just really like how the author writes.  There’s a cleverness to his writing that I can’t help but appreciate.

A few years ago I found a limited edition hardback copy of Spares signed by the author (#106 of 500) at our Friends of the Library book store here in little old Liberty, KY.  I got it for $1.  Giddiness ensued.

(also: One of Us;  Only Forward both also by MMS, both also very weird)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 5

Shōgun, James Clavell

Desert island time.  My one food?  Cheesecake and original Gardetto’s  (Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know that’s two, but it’s my island.  Sue me.)  My one book?  Shōgun.

Shōgun is just simply my all-time #1 favorite book.  I’ve read it four times – I don’t read anything four times – and I fully plan on reading it once or twice more before I die if things work out that way.

Why?  It has just about everything you could possibly want in a story:  Kings & peasants, soldiers & priests.  True love, impossible beauty, sex, hope, and heartbreak.  Unbelievable bravery, incredible deceit.  Planning, scheming, warring, building, destroying, & backstabbing.  Interesting characters, an exotic location, and a mesmerizing time period all set within one of the most fascinating cultures on the planet.

Whenever I read this book, I walk around for days afterward in what I can only describe as a literary hangover.  The beauty and violence keep spinning around my head in a delicate ballet.  Samurai swords continue their lethal flashing.  And Mariko won’t let me go.

Is it great fiction?  I don’t know.  Is it historically accurate?  I don’t care.  When you love something, facts don’t really matter.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 4

Animal Farm, George Orwell

I know, I know, right?  There are only 10 books on the list and Orwell has two of them? 
Well, . . . yes.
The thing about Animal Farm is that it’s so simple a child can read it, and – better yet – understand it.  And yet, it’s absolutely an “adult” book.

I can’t think of any other story that so clearly shows the decay and bastardization of a good idea.  You see it coming, you know it’s going to go bad, and yet it still surprises you.  No other book has made me actually want to call out and warn the characters of what’s happening, and the fact that you can’t do anything to stop it is what stays with you long after you put it down.

Animal Farm may have been written to depict the Russian revolution and subsequent installation of communism, but it just as easily applies to any and all governments today, regardless of ideology.  All books about human nature are equal, but this one is more equal than others.

(also:  Lord of the Flies)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 3

Lost Star of Myth & Time, Walter Cruttenden

This book, while not a novel, isn’t “non-fiction” either – it’s more along the lines of “speculative theory” – and it’s on the list because it quite simply blew my mind.

It all centers on a very simple idea that, to me, makes so much sense it has to be true.  The premise?  Our sun is in a binary orbit around another star.  Seriously, why would our sun just be sitting still?  And if it’s moving, why wouldn’t it be in an orbit around something?  Everything else is.  To elaborate just a little more, as our sun travels around this 24,000 year orbit, it pulls our entire solar system with it through space that we have actually already been through before. 

What was the Golden Age?  How could ancient civilizations know so much about astronomy?  What is precession and what’s the real purpose of the signs of the Zodiac?  For that matter, what’s the real story with the Mayan calendar?  Why do we measure time in a 24 hour cycle, with 12 hours ascending and 12 hours descending?  What if the written word is actually a product of a lower intelligence?  What if most of what we thought we knew about the past was wrong?  What if, what if, what if . . .

This book changed how I look at almost everything, and it provided possible answers to many questions while also generating scores of other questions that I had never even thought to ask before.  Interestingly, it doesn’t conflict with Biblical history;  it simply requires in some instances that we re-evaluate what we thought it meant.  And we have to do that since the premise also pretty much debunks the entire theory of evolution, which is maybe the real reason why nobody seems to want to talk much about the possibility of our sun being in an orbit around another star.

Mind food.  And yummy at that.

(also:  any of Graham Hancock’s books)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 2

The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk

Maybe you have to be ex-military for military books to really appeal, but I have to believe that this one would easily cross into the mainstream readership of any civilian bibliophile.  As a former sailor myself, The Caine Mutiny was easy to relate to, and the concept of incompetent leadership – and the untouchable dream of maybe actually being able to do something about it – is certainly nothing new to anyone who has ever put on a uniform.

The problem with The Caine Mutiny is that it seems like it’s going to be a totally justifying ride;  you see the incompetence – bordering on what appears to be insanity – and you can’t help but smile and nod when comeuppance finally walks in the door.  And then, just when you’re ready to close the book in self-righteous completion, Wouk does something really dirty.  And as much as you hate it, you know he’s right.  I won’t elaborate any more than that;  read the book and find out.

(also:  Das Boot;  Run Silent, Run Deep;  The Circle;  The Hunt for Red October;  Sand in the Wind;  Fields of Fire;  All Quiet on the Western Front;  The Thin Red Line)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Blaine's Top 10 Books - Day 1

1984, George Orwell
Wow, was this a “gimme” or what?  If you know anything about me at all, you knew this one would be on the list. 
Almost everybody is familiar with 1984 and its all-aware concept of “Big Brother” which is bandied about more than ever these days, but most people have never actually read the book.  That’s a shame, because if there is one piece of fiction that everyone should read, it’s 1984.  I’ve read it three times, and I’m still amazed at how many things Orwell nailed, and how many other things appear to still be in the process of being hammered as we speak.

From the slogans and the Ministries to Thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Doublethink, perpetual war, instigated hate, memory holes and more, the parallels between this quirky little book and the modern day world we live in today are incredible.
Thirty years ago it all still seemed a little silly.  Now?  Not so much.

(also:  Brave New World;  Fahrenheit 451;  Alas, Babylon;  One Second After;  The Road;  The Giver;  Gathering Blue;  Life as We Knew It;  Anthem, On the Beach)