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T Galazka (no longer NYC, NY USA)

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Crook Factory, The
Crook Factory, The
by Dan Simmons
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Such a fine book with such a flaw..., July 23 2003
I really liked the novel. It moves FAST, the personae are detailed and lifelike, the settings ring true... The only problem I had was that Simmons decided to go the easy way and poke some fun at Hoover's obsession with Communist spies. The sad fact is that, far from overreacting, the FBI in Hoover's time did nowhere nearly enough to counter that threat. The declassified Soviet and US files are damning enough, and good historical books were already available when Mr. Simmons was writing his novel. I'd recommend "Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America" by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and "The Secret World of American Communism (Annals of Communism Series)" by Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes (Contributor), Fridrikh I. Firsov, Timothy D. Sergay (both volumes from Yale Books) to set the record straight.
As I said, this is a very good novel of its kind. It just suffers from a perspective defect.

The Forge of Mars
The Forge of Mars
by Bruce Balfour
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly average shelf filler..., July 22 2003
...writing-by-numbers, in other words. The plot is fairly straightforward, the combat scenes work quite well, especially when the machines join the fray, but the whole novel didn't quite work for me.
Why writing-by-numbers? Let's start with the protagonist. Tau Wolfsinger is supposedly a brilliant scientist - the problem with this sort of declarations is that we should be shown some of that brilliance somewhere, to substantiate the claim (which, for instance, Kim Robinson did in creating Sax Russell). Nope. He's another event-propelled cardboard hero. The Navajo bit is transparently thrown in to make the guy different in some way (just the way it's done in most mass-produced thrillers today), and it never really works out. Sadly it's the machines who are the most "natural" and fresh personae in the novel, but we only see them for a short while, which is too bad. I just hope that this doesn't reflect the author's private life - the fact that machines are more "lifelike" than humans in his novel is somewhat worrisome...
Other than Tau and the machines, we get Tau's significant other, his mentor (who - of course - gets offed), a Mad Russian (a very comic-book style villain, somewhat enjoyable), and a generic plot that didn't really engage this reader at any time. Good for a long bus ride, but I hope nobody bought the movie rights...
PS. According to author's bio, he was previously involved in computer game development. This might explain some things...

Monstrum
Monstrum
by Donald James
Edition: Paperback
4 used & new from CDN$ 21.87

2.0 out of 5 stars C for effort, E for content, July 22 2003
This review is from: Monstrum (Paperback)
I bought this book together with Russell Andrews' "Gideon". I still rue the day.
Constantin Vadim is the sort of cardboard decective who would be unable to find his own nose even equipped with a map and a flashlight. For this he is promoted and sent to Moscow, to work on the case of a serial killer (the "Monstrum" of the title) so well-connected that the only way to keep everybody happy is to assign a moron to the case.
Vadim has a drinking problem, a women problem and a general thinking problem (as in, he doesn't think at all). The man is so utterly brainwashed that I found it very hard to relate to him - which hampered the reading experience, as the novel is narrated in first person singular, from Vadim's viewpoint. His life is a perfect example of Henry Rollins' jibe on the genders: "All women are evil. All men are stupid", none stupider than Vadim, either.
One reviewer mentioned a set of improbable coincidences required to set the plot rolling. In addition, Vadim has about as much initiative as the ball in a pinball machine - events hurl him into other events and people. Actions he undertakes of his own volition are limited to getting drunk, that's about it.
The other personae appearing in this book are either sketchy or cliched, so that there's no relief for the pummelled reader - not much fun even in supposedly humoristic situations (the groan-inducing office cat storyline, for instance). The people in the book live supposedly in 2015, and the adults' historical awareness reaches back at most to 2010 (somebody did a mass mindwipe on the poor Russian people... again...). Sad beyond words.
The C for effort is for the "Russianization" of certain sentences - Vadim's hungover ruminations and some dialogues sound really good. That's what made me give an extra star.

Darwin's Blade: A Novel of Suspense
Darwin's Blade: A Novel of Suspense
by Dan Simmons
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
28 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Below average from Mr. Simmons, June 9 2003
Sadly, in my opinion this is an example of wasted premise. This could be a great book, one of the quality novels Dan Simmons got us hooked on. However, there are quite a few things that did not make it work in this reader's opinion.
First of all, the protagonist. He never quite connected with me, for several reasons. For one, a guy with several thousand books only reaches for Marcus Aurelius and (if I remember correctly) Euripides in the whole months of time the plot encompasses - either he got slow on reading in his middle age, or he was buying the stuff as thermal isolation. And the shelving system is somewhat extreme even for me (ask my wife - she claims mine is wholly irrational).
Secondly, the Dalat passage is rife with editorial/fact-checking mistakes. One of NVA tanks mysteriously morphes from a T-55 into T-72 (as far as I know, the NVA never had any of the latter), and those tanks are supposedly armed with 73-milimeter cannon (now that calibre weapon was mounted only on the early Soviet AFVs, the BMP-1 model). A quick check with Jane's Fighting Vehicles would avoid the unpleasantness. Apparently, only Jane's handbook on firearms was consulted.
Thirdly, some of the accidents recalled by protagonist (barn-roofing tale and one other) are lifted from a previous Simmons story, I can't recall the title right now, but it was in the "Lovedeath" collection. And that's a bit cheap (as are, in all, the constant references to the Darwin Award. Having the protagonist also named Darwin did not help there).
In all, I'd rather have Mr. Simmons doing fine stuff like "Hardcase", and leaving sniper thrillers in the capable hands of Stephen Hunter. Dixi (I do too have some Latin)

The Apocalypse Door
The Apocalypse Door
by James D. Macdonald
Edition: Hardcover
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Good thing I persisted, May 15 2003
This review is from: The Apocalypse Door (Hardcover)
After reading the first dozen pages, I was rather disappointed. I kept telling myself, "Oh, well, at least I bought it used," but even so I was tempted to bawl out the reviewer from "Analog", I think, who'd gushed about the book. And then it clicked. And after that I was almost wholly happy. The gags, the one-liners, the action scenes - they all work nicely, even if the mushroom men make strangely low-powered enemies (I mean, falling apart because of shotgun recoil? Hardly brilliant...).
All in all, a nice fast read with a good premise and decent writing. Hopefully, if there are sequels, they would improve on this.

The Beast That Was Max
The Beast That Was Max
by Gerard Houarner
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars So what if it's uneven - IT ROCKS!, April 14 2003
When Houarner is firing on all the cylinders, this just blows you away. Kind of like the best "Hitman" comic books, only more "serious" and "X-filey" at the same time - which can be even more hilarious. The whole last section, with Max in an "altered" state and everybody else either after him or defending his bloated bod, is simply awesome. However, the publisher could spend some time and money on proofreading - there are a coule mistakes, and that kind of thing really bugs the hell out of me... And the cover picture could really be replaced by ANTYHING ELSE.

Red Moon
Red Moon
by Michael Cassutt
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 3.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top notch job, April 14 2003
This review is from: Red Moon (Mass Market Paperback)
I was actually surprised - the only notion I'd had before of Mr. Cassutt's work was that he co-edited a so-so SF anthology "Sacred Visions" (his story was okay, but not the best one in the collection), and here he hits me with an awesome book. Truly - hats off, stand up and applaud. And it wasn't only that the story he presented was an engrossing, detailed and pleasing one - though this is a model thriller per se and should serve as a yardstick for the guys who think they can write. No, I was impressed by something else, something that an American author doesn't pull off all that often. The reality of being Russian in those days. Rybko is so real I was strongly tempted to believe in his existence, warts and all. At once fairly intelligent and helpless in coping with Soviet multi-layered reality, with plots within plots and official smokescreens at every step, with family secrets even more sinister, he just pulled me into the book and didn't let go until the last page. A pity there's no six-star award...

Headcrash
Headcrash
by Bruce Bethke
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars Stuff so lame should be pilloried, not rewarded, April 14 2003
This review is from: Headcrash (Mass Market Paperback)
Bruce Bethke managed to write a mostly unfunny novelization of three or four Dilbert strips. The book was relevant for some two weeks, I guess, and they were gone before the hardcover edition saw the light of day (perhaps the reviewers at the publishing house read the manuscript at that time?). The protagonist is an unmitigated, weapons-grade J.E.R.K. with the declared IQ of two million and the tested one around minus ten. Other characters rustle when moving around - they're paper, not even cardboard. The "reality" of 2005 is more like June 3, 1994, with snazzy car names. All in all, forget you saw this book. Buy something else, a Coke, a burger, anything would be healthier - even a pack of untipped Gauloises. The environmental impact would be smaller, too.

Signal To Noise
Signal To Noise
by E Nylund
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
57 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars an uneven ride, Dec 9 2002
First of all, the guys at Avon Eos definitely DO need a new editor for Nylund - in my paperback there were some spelling errors, and some words omitted (I guess they were omitted, as the grammar did not quite make sense). Plus, there was a part of the novel repeated at the end of the book, in the "teaser" section (as if some brain-dead body would run and buy another copy), with excerpts from some other novels - and the criteria for selecting those were totally beyond me. I mean, a fantasy game novelization (Feist's "Krondor. The Betrayal")? Spare me.
The novel itself has logical holes - our supposedly adult hero is more like a babe in the woods, actually, he knows nothing about the world he lives in. His friend from outside the US, the Zero character, does not let on that the Great Wall (ask the author) is cutting off the US, and not China, from the outside world, and so on, and so forth. However, when the action gets quick and dirty, I was tempted to forgive Nylund a lot, even his jejune concepts of world politics. Hence the 4 stars (never 5, though).

Gideon
Gideon
by Russell Andrews
Edition: Hardcover

1.0 out of 5 stars Stale formula and a ton of cliches, Nov. 14 2002
This review is from: Gideon (Hardcover)
Got this book second-hand and it is about the only good thing I can say about it - didn't have to pay the full price. It IS a fast read - because there's nothing to read, actually: it's like watching a movie on fast forward.
The plot... well, some of Ludlum's novels featured pretty [bad]conspiracies, but this is far worse. The bad guys kill a ton of people, though the simplest solution would be to send somebody into the boonies with a spade and a can of gas, to dig out the body and burn it. Which would leave us without this sorry excuse for a novel, though. The cast? The writer, whose only qualification that I noticed was that he was handsome. His girlfriend with much-declared brains (left'em with luggage at the bus depot, I guess), and her "hacker" co-worker (now that's sidesplitting - and so cliche!). The bad guys? A chameleon (now babe, now hunk, now dead, now alive), a bad cop (down to K-Mart clothes and bad breath) and the American Hercules with penchant for male bonding.
Avoid this book.
For health reasons.

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