Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: The Fall

This is the second "part two of three" book I've read in the past couple of months, and, sadly, it fell into the well-established category where the follow-up book is not quite as spectacular as the first. I finished The Strain all in a rush, because it was that good. Sadly, The Fall, DelToro and Hogan's follow-up, was only finished quickly because it was short, and because I checked two books out at once and so needed to get through it to move onto the other one.

After the phenomenal pace and plot of The Strain, this one felt kind of rushed. There were scenes where it took me a bit to understand what was going on, and that kills any edge-of-your-seat momentum that might be building. I won't spoil any plot points, but there was a needless macguffin introduced early on - one that wasn't even hinted at in the first book. It felt too much like a "let's throw this in to move the plot along" kind of thing, and while done right that might have worked, here it was just cliche and rather ham-fisted. Not to mention that it put up not one but two major plot holes that weren't addressed by much more than a hand-wave.

It was also short, too short really for me to understand why this is a trilogy instead of just one big book (unless I want to be cynical). If this second volume had been fleshed out better, then perhaps having three separate books would make more sense. And if the authors had taken the time to flesh things out, it might have made for a better book.

Bottom line, while I liked The Fall, and liked it well enough to both finish this book and move on to the last one in the trilogy, it's raised the stakes a lot for that third book. I'm hoping that one will be more like the first, so I don't find myself wishing they'd just stuck to one book only.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fill In the Blank

There's an entry here, half-started at the moment, that I began on the topic of the "Artist's Statement." Said statement is supposedly the answer to "Why do I [insert whatever it is you do here]?" While I do plan on answering that, eventually, if only because I don't like leaving things half-written - longer than a decade anyway - it did get me thinking. When I go to fill in the blank, it will be with "write" because, as far as artistic endeavors go, that's all I've got, despite ideas I had otherwise once upon a time and my parents' willingness to frame and hang those efforts.

But lately, I've had good cause to question that. Do I get to fill in the blank anymore?

Now, don't worry, this isn't going to turn into some morose rambling about writer's block or how I have no time or am out of ideas or some such. Especially not the latter. Ideas are still aplenty. I just haven't written much over the past year or so. Longer, if I'm being honest about things. The "last worked on" dates my laptop are downright discouraging.

Some of that is personal. I know some writers turn to the craft in times of struggle, and find solace in what they put on the page. Others don't. I am clearly in the latter category, and it's been a rough year. Rough couple of years, actually.

I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say I was not hit by a van.

At any rate, the only thing I've written in the past six months was a single short story. A couple of thousand words. I'd puttered around with other stories, and the current WIP, but that's the extent of things.

Which doesn't seem like enough.

And yet... and yet it was something new. Not something I had lying around that I fixed up. It was an idea that I'd had percolating for a long time. An idea that I finally found cause to do something with, prompted by a contest. (Which I did not win, but no matter.) So I wrote it, in a fairly short space, and though it needs a little bit more polishing, it was finished. Something new and complete.

Is one short story in six months a lot of output? No. Do I need to be writing more than I am? Definitely yes. I know I need to get back into the routine of things. I need to find a time that I can set aside and stick to it. Which is mostly a matter of deliberately doing so, because I do have the time in my schedule. Maybe not a lot each day, but that's not the point. (I also need to be doing the same thing with my exercise routine, but that seems a little bit easier to get back into somehow.)

But, it is output. And I still have the impulse to write. And I still have ideas. And until those things stop, I think I can still fill in the blank.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: The Strain

Let me first say that I don't read "end of the world" books. Prior to this first book in Guillermo DelToro and Chuck Hogan's trilogy, that category was largely comprised of The Stand and The Road. Actually, come to think of it, that might be the entirety of the category. Nor do I watch a whole lot of movies in that genre. I could count those using my fingers, and still have some left over. I might even get away with just one hand if I exclude movies based on books, because that would eliminate the television and film versions, respectively, of both books. Nor am I really sure the Mad Max trilogy counts in that genre. And while I do have two end of the world books on my "want to read" list, one of them is mostly on that list for the novelty of it. The other is on the list because I know the author - a little - and it is, by all accounts, really, really good. (That would be Alex Adams' White Horse.)

But I haven't read those yet.

I have read The Strain.

Technically, the book took me weeks to finish. I even had to renew it from the library. Ignore that. The sad truth is, I cracked it open, and then other things got in my way, and the book sat on my kitchen table for weeks through no fault of it's own. I take the blame for those first weeks. Whereas all credit is due to the book itself for the last four days. Because that's how long it took me to go through three quarters of the book. If there hadn't been pesky things like my having to work during the day, I probably would have finished it in half that time. It's that good.

I immediately went to the library and picked up books two and three of the trilogy.

It's that good.

To steal from a professional review blurbed on the inside cover: it's like crossing King with Stoker with Crichton. Two of whom are authors I like, and the other one wrote Dracula which pretty much set the tone for the entire vampire genre. Although you should know that already. Come to think on it, seeing as King wrote his own vampire book, I could probably take Stoker off the list. And it owes more to King and Crichton anyway in terms of it's scope and characters and pacing.

"Owes to" is not the same as "steals from," however, as this is it's own work and not simply a cut and paste from other books. Del Toro and Hogan make the genre - or genres, as it is end of the world by vampires - their own. There's just enough science in it to ground it in modern times. There's just enough supernatural to make you turn on all the lights. And while the book isn't perfect - the description of the vampires will seem very familiar to anyone who saw Del Toro's Blade II - it was enough of a ride to overlook the occasional jostle.

I won't give away any plot points, other than to say it ends on the kind of cliffhanger that makes me glad I can get books two and three from the library. It also sets things up so that if the series doesn't end happily for all involved, I'm not going to be surprised.

All involved excluding the reader, of course, as I have already started The Fall, and so far it is living up to the expectations set by The Strain.