Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book review - "Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles"

Here is my Goodreads review of "Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles" by J.M. Sullivan.

This was a wonderful book, and highly recommended.

That said, I have discussed my ratings philosophy before - how I reserve five stars for those books exceptional in their field, the best of the best.  On this scale, "Alice" is four stars - which is very high praise from me.

Like every book ever written, there are problems with it.  And further, there are things about it that I didn't connect with (but are not necessarily inherent problems with the text).  Overall, though, this was a great book, an easy read, and I expect most people would get the same high level of enjoyment out of it that I did.

So what is it?

Ostensibly a retelling of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", this book recasts Alice as a young woman in the midst of a world post-zombie-apocalypse, forced to venture out into Phoenix (now called "Wanderland") in search of a cure for her sister.

Pairing "Alice in Wonderland" with zombies is not unique.  I'm not sure where it started - Alice vs the Red Queen in Resident Evil perhaps?  Regardless, we have since (of course) had the successful "White Rabbit Chronicles" series by Gena Showalter (which I really enjoy) starting with "Alice in Zombieland".

This book is different, though.  Those stories use some symbolism or iconography from "Alice" to reflect certain themes or motifs in the work.  "Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles" is explicitly using the story of Lewis Carroll's book - the characters, the ideas, the general progression - to tell a zombie story.  And that is something that "Alice in Zombieland" does not do.

(For that matter, the 'zombies' in "Alice in Zombieland" aren't even that - more like ghosts - so there is little common ground between that series and this one, have no fear.)

As with Carroll's novel, this one begins with Alice leaving both her sister and Dinah (here one and the same person) behind to follow a white rabbit into a frightening world.  Wanderland, of course, is not a separate universe, but its nature as a place abandoned to the Momerath (zombies) and the foreign agencies aggressively pursuing their agendas make it a far cry from Alice's little town where one can at least live one's life only occasionally interrupted by the 'Rath.

And the white rabbit she follows is a man - burdened with the only failed reference to the original novel
as a name.  Most of the references in this book work amazingly well, but "Dr Waite R Abbott" is torturous.  (I would have gone with something more obscure and less instantly recognizable like "Dr Albin Lapin" - but then there's a reason I do not pen runaway successes and JM Sullivan does.)

Why does Alice follow Dr Abbott into Wanderland?  Rumor has it that he has secretly devised a cure for the Momerath virus, which Alice needs to save her sister.  This leads her into a series of encounters with various individuals that will help or hinder (or both!) her quest.

"Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles" is a fast, breezy read.  It is always entertaining, sometimes intriguing, and presents us with many fascinating characters.

Are they all well-rounded and deep?  No, not at all.  Nor, quite frankly, are they intended to be.  There is a great deal more subtlety and depth to the characters here than in Lewis Carroll's source text, but this is still a fast-moving "road movie"-type story which cannot pause for lengthy character interaction.  It is all about moving forward - onto the next event, the next location, the next revelation.

Like the original, there is so much to see and do that we cannot dwell on anything long enough for the people to present themselves as fully three-dimensional (barring a few of the leads).  This is a feature and not a bug.  The characters are as fantastical and hyper-realized as Carroll's were, a bizarre menagerie for Alice to freak out over as she progresses along her path.

They are designed to be colorful and frightening, rather than realistic and recognizable.  Again, where the author intends otherwise, the characters do indeed show levels of reality to themselves.  This is a very well-constructed book, and everything it does is obviously purposeful.

As much as this book draws from the original, however, it is equally indebted to both popular Disney movie adaptations.  A famous exchange between Alice and the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's movie (for example) is referenced twice (one more... hidden than the other).  Like that movie, this one also chooses to conflate the Queen of Hearts with the Red Queen from the sequel book.  And the appearance of the Mome Raths as dangerous creatures (rather than nonsensical words in a poem) appears first in the animated movie.  (For that matter, the term doesn't appear in the original book at all, only surfacing in "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There".)

This is quite right, as the pop-culture vision of "Alice in Wonderland" is at least as important to any retelling as the actual text of the book ("Alice's Adventures in Wonderland") is.  Sullivan knows when to use the book's ideas, and when to draw on our cultural consciousness' ideas about the story for proper effect.

So does this all mean that there is nothing original in "The Wanderland Chronicles"?  Goodness me, of course not.  I have described it as a "nominal retelling" in part because, as much as it strives to follow a certain template and include many analogs and references, this is a wholly original story being told.

Alice's predicament and what she is forced to do to resolve it bears no resemblance whatsoever to Lewis Carroll's heroine, who merely glides through Wonderland as a curious observer with no real agency.  (It was, after all, only a dream.)  Here, Alice is driven by her need to cure her sick sister, and her own abilities & innate nature define her actions, her choice of path.

Along the way are intense events, dramatic revelations, and exciting encounters that I will not spoil in the slightest way here.  You won't want to put the book down, as it all unspools swiftly and entertainingly, driving to a specific end that is indeed reached by the time the book is closed.

Of course, this is the first in a series, so the situation is not "resolved" as such.  But the narrative drive of the novel concludes in a satisfactory manner.  There is much left to cover in further volumes, but the story being told in this one is fully complete.  If the story ended here, it would be far from satisfactory - but as sequels have been promised, the resolution in this book works 100%.

I mentioned earlier that characters can be somewhat shallow.  As I stated then, this is deliberate due to the colorful and exaggerated nature of the "Alice" story.  The most prominent characters, however, are well-shaded and we get to know them as well as can be expected for such a story as this one.

Some will balk at the supposed "love triangle" (which is a staple of fiction, but has become a mandate for YA) but really there is nothing of the sort here.  Are there two young men Alice is even vaguely romantically interested in, or at least finds attractive?  Yes, indeed there are.

But not only is this not a focus, it's not in any way "content".  A young woman would find interesting and good-looking boys and men of an age similar to hers attractive.  This is just the way people work.  This book gives no more attention to that aspect than that, merely describing the ways in which Alice happens to find more than one person appealing.

No love triangle - no love whatsoever, in point of fact.  There's no time for such things here.  Anyone put off by Alice happening to be attracted to more than one handsome man in her travels is being affected by other (lower quality) novels and not engaging with what is actually being presented in this book.

In summary, then, "Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles" is a very successful book that accomplishes its goals almost flawlessly.  It does not dwell on the action and gore inherent in zombie stories, but neither does it shy away from them.  It presents simple characters, colorful and variegated, but ones with enough depth where it counts to come across as fully complete.

It is fun, engaging, easy to read, and always entertaining.  If it doesn't hit five stars for me, that is mostly a consequence of its aiming for a lower bar.  The book easily clears the standard it sets for itself, which is more than good enough for me.

"Alice" is not aiming to be a literary classic.  It accomplishes its goals and then some.

Strongly recommended for... let's face it, just about everyone, really.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Book review: "The Beast of Talesend"

Beaumont & Beasley, Book 1

Some people will call this a "Beauty & the Beast" retelling, which it definitely isn't.  (Indeed, that tale is specifically referenced as a story within the text.)

Instead, it's a wonderful fantasy adventure that uses elements and iconography from that classic fairytale (among others) to tell a fun and whimsical new adventure.

Like one of my favorite TV miniseries (The Tenth Kingdom) this first in a new series of books is set in the fairytale kingdoms many years after the famous events.  Except in this case, thousands of years have passed, causing the tales to become legends many no longer believe in.

One such skeptic is Nick Beasley: a so-called "magical detective" who makes it his business to debunk instances of supposed supernatural occurrences.

And he barely gets paid for his efforts.

"The Beast of Talesend" describes what happens when Beasley gets caught up in events that prove to him the existence of magic without any room for doubt, and places him firmly in the role of sorting out some of these mystical dangers.

While the inciting "twist" comes later than might perhaps be optimal to set up the real story, and is easily guessable by most, I shan't spoil it here for fear of upsetting those who might not have anticipated it.  Suffice to say that a certain occurrence forces Beasley to become part of this magical world despite his natural lack of desire.

What makes this book so entertaining is not simply the "updated fairytale" nature of it (which we've seen before - if not specifically in this form) but rather the pace, the wit, and the loveable characters.

The setting itself is vaguely described - being a sort of "timeless modern" in nature - in a part of the Afterlands transparently modeled after the United Kingdom (with Wales being habitually overlooked again) that clearly expects us to imagine something classic and yet contemporary at the same time.

This follows through to the tone, where Beasley's dry acerbic nature clashes with Cordelia's Jane Austeny plucky-yet-occasionally-proper adventurous spirit.  The dialogue and the first-person narration are easy to read without feeling as though the text has been too modernized for our ears.

The plot is fairly basic, and the villain archetypal rather than layered, but this is all in the service of setting up a fairytale-based world and Beaumont and Beasley's place in it, while moving through a rollicking adventure quest.

Might I have preferred a more complex story worthy of telling in itself?  Perhaps (though future installments may yet provide such a creature) but for a book intended to set up a world, a tone, and designed to emphasize the roles and functions of a specific set of characters, it does its job pretty much exactly right.

And yet because of this book's (deliberately) shallow nature and slight story, I find myself unable to give it the full five stars some might imagine it deserves.  Being something of a stingy mark-giver, I reserve five stars (usually!) for the most exceptional writings, or those that affect me the most deeply.

"The Beast of Talesend" is not striving for such a target, so to not achieve it is a success rather than a failure, in a way.  Four stars without reservation, then, for something so entertaining and breezy to read.

Looking forward to more from these characters!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Close third - the cheating POV

Writing is tough.

Even when you've got your plot figured out, your characters, the arcs, all that good stuff.  How do you actually tell the story?

First person?  Third person?  The rarely-used second person?

And beyond that: past tense?  Present tense?

These things can greatly affect the way in which your text is received, the way the human brain processes and interprets the words.  The way the reader experiences them.

And if you're like me, you fall back on the easy one.  Close third.

Actually, I'll admit that I'm exaggerating here for effect.  Someone a while back wanted me to write this blog post, and I finally am getting around to it now.  If I get any comments below, they are sure to be angry ones!  But let me explain.

Third person is more... removed.  Obviously.  You - the writer - are not sitting in the character's head the way you are in first person, where everything is a direct translation of the character's thoughts.  Instead, you are the narrator, describing what the character sees, thinks and feels.

But "close" third: that is somewhat different.  In this POV, the writer is close enough to the character's head that he/she almost conveys it in first person - but not quite.

In essence, it's a way to get the benefits of first person POV without actually having to mess with the
headache that brings with it.  It's cheating.

No, no it's not really cheating.  It's my favorite POV to use - and usually to read, truth be told.  But it sure is easier than being restricted to first person, and can convey more immediacy and relatability than a strict third can.

Plus (and here's where I really rely on the crutch) it allows me the freedom (which I abuse mercilessly) to use my natural tendency toward lengthy, wordy sentences in my role as narrator - while also writing punchy, snappy text in character as the protagonist!

Best of both worlds!

Except in rewrites I always have to tone down this disparity.  At times I can even tell on reading back when I stopped writing for one day and took it up again the next.  One day I may have been extra flowery, the next super-slangy.  Editing is partially about fixing this.

But I still have that leeway.  That flexibility to incorporate my writerly inclinations with my character's more off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness way of thinking.

Is that a cheat?  It is the way I do it.

And then I have to fix it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Book Review: "Ink and Bone" by Rachel Caine

Hey.  Been a while.

I have been so busy writing (or, at times, avoiding writing) that I have ignored this blog.  Shame on me.

I have several topics in mind, but for now: here's my Goodreads book review for "Ink and Bone".

Happy reading!

That I didn't give this book 5 stars is no slight on the novel.  For me, those are (and ought to be) rare.  "Ink and Bone" gets a solid 4.25 stars, and is very, very good.

One of the things I liked most about it is the thing that may be causing the (very few) detractors to have a hard time: this book cares very little about plot.

It's true.  There's barely any actual plot in this book.  And it's all the better for it.

One of the books "Ink and Bone" is being compared to all over the map is "Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone", which is ridiculous on the face of it.  Neither the tone nor the content is at all similar, and apart from the rather vague alchemical machinations behind the scenes, the characters in this book neither see nor perform 'magic'.

And yet, like "The Philosopher's Stone", this book uses the 'year at school' setting as a tool to drag the reader along.  In the Harry Potter book, besides a vague sense that Voldemort is up to something and his scheme will need to be defeated, the only real plot structure is: Harry goes to school.  The incidents that occur, the real 'plot', is just Harry going to classes.  And then there's a big end-piece.

Sort-of similarly, "Ink and Bone" uses the fact that the characters are attending a class to earn a spot working for The Library as a way for the reader to infer a kind of forward momentum.  The 'plot' only drives forward insofar as time moves ahead to a certain destination.  There is no villain as such (debatable, but give me this one for now) nor is there a goal to achieve or set obstacles to overcome.  There is no overarching narrative in the sense that the reader can understand an endpoint that needs to be achieved, and what the hero is required to do to attain it, what hurdles he must jump to win the day.

There is a timeline set out before Jess (the protagonist) and us.  And the book moves ever closer to that point.  This is the only sense of momentum author Rachel Caine feels the need to give us.

And quite right she is, too.

This sort of 'false momentum' is all the rope the story needs to drag itself along, to give it a sense of driving forward narratively.  Then all the real work can be done with the characters, which is what 'story' essentially is.

Jess, you see, is something of a smuggler.  In an alternate history where the Library of Alexandria runs the world, and has supreme authority over all collective knowledge, the black market has a keen interest in original books.  And Jess' father is one of those black marketeers.

So when Jess winds up having to apply for a position working for the very Library he has been taught to oppose, an intriguing moral conflict is posed.

Setting him and his ideals against a cast of diverse characters with their own agendas and viewpoints adds even more fuel to the (Greek) fire, and this is where the actual story takes place.  The story is Jess and his instructor and his fellow students learning to deal with one another, to respect one another, and the various interesting ways they interact and grow as a result.

Events certainly take place - big, important ones.  Life-threatening and enthralling ones.  But nothing that I'd call a 'plot', because they stand alone as incidents that do not essentially contribute to any overarching narrative.  They are simply things that happen - but what those 'things that happen' do is affect the characters in fascinating ways that reveal (and change) who they are at their cores.

Are there flaws in the book?  Of course there are.  (Show me a book without them.)  For my money, the opening segments setting up Jess' world are too far removed from the setting of the rest of the book, and would be better excised.  They set up an expectation for a certain type of story that we learn some time later is not to be the case.

I would also postulate that the reason some readers give up early on, feeling that the book is 'slow' or 'dry', is simply down to extremely long chapters!  Later on, the book is divided into easier-to-swallow segments, but the interminable length of those early portions leads one to feel that the book is dragging on and leading nowhere - when simple chapter divides would kick up the pace by themselves.

As, of course, would not wasting quite so much time setting up Jess' life in London which will not bear much relation to the rest of the novel at all.  But I've talked about that already...

Jess is a well-defined character, with certain notions inbuilt thanks to his upbringing which are challenged by his own experiences as a student.  While he's neither the wise-cracking, fun-loving rogue you instantly fall in love with, nor the wide-eyed ingenue the reader can put themselves in the shoes of, Jess is likeable and interesting in his own right.

The other students are less dimensional, but diverse and entertaining enough.  There's not quite time in a book of this length to get fully into the heads of so many players, but the author very quickly lets us know who these people from around the world are, what their biases are, and how they will relate to one another.

She then spends the book picking that apart and letting the characters grow and develop based on their interactions.

More interesting (at least to me) was the instructor: Christopher Wolfe.  A hard-nosed, by-the-book teacher at first glance, as we read more and more, as Jess' experiences teach us more, we see something else entirely.  We understand the man, where he comes from, what has made him this way, and that the surface is a poor source to make one's judgments based upon.

I look forward to the later books in the series.  Seeing more of Jess, more of Morgan.  But mostly, I want to see what becomes of Wolfe - because he is the aspect of this book I became most intrigued by.

The alternate reality this is based upon uses some hocus-pocus that I feel could have best been replaced by something less obviously mystical, but I admit this is a matter of taste.  Some major developments rest upon it, but I think something more ambiguous and more technologically-justifiable would suit the 'alternative history' angle better, as what is here removes itself just a little too far from our world.

The sentry machines I can buy into.  The 'magic'?  Less so, in this context - though I'm a big fantasy fan in general.

More to my taste was the political flavor to the whole endeavor.  The Library, the cutters, the Burners.  You may begin the novel feeling one way about these people/organizations, and yet feel quite different by the end.  Indeed, I should be much surprised if you did not.

Will you know exactly how to feel about every group by the conclusion of this book?  I should hope not; it is nothing so black-and-white as that.  And this is the ingredient that (I feel) really makes the book soar.

Who is in the right?  Who is in the wrong?  As in real life, it is not cut and dried, and everyone seems to have a little of both mixed in.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: "Weapons Grade Snake Oil"

It's been a few weeks since I read this book, and time constraints have not allowed me to write this review any sooner.

For this reason, some of the specific things I may have wished to comment upon while reading the book may have slipped my mind.  Nonetheless, here are my thoughts on the book as a whole.

The Faction Paradox universe has fostered some truly wonderful pieces of fiction.  In fact, the quality level is so high for the series that when I label "Weapons Grade Snake Oil" as middle-of-the-pack for this property, it is in no way a dismissal.

If this book is more "Head of State"/"Warring States" than "Newtons Sleep"/"Brakespeare Voyage" it only means that it is a very good book and doesn't quite hit the heights of those in the Faction Paradox universe that I feel are among the best novels I have ever read.

Like the best Faction fiction, it is full of ideas.  Possibly too many, in that there are so many notions tossed out that I wish would be explored more fully and I often found myself wanting the book to be about some of those ideas rather than the story we were getting.

But then the next great idea would happen, and I'd want to follow that one.  And so on, and so on.

Somewhat unusually for the Faction (though hardly unprecedented) this book focuses mainly on fun.  It is in nature a 'heist' story, though a unique take on one.  Rebellious Faction member Father Christémas has a plan to steal a relic of the time before the anchoring of the thread - an item called the "2nd Second".

To do this, he puts together an unlikely team that includes Faction runaway Sojourner Hooper-Agogo, his own servant Cousin Chaz, and the Time LordHouseworlder called The Hussar with his own assistant Anne Bonny.  There's a lot of double-crossing and conflicting agendas at play, which allows for some very nice character interplay that doesn't unfold as you might expect.

The neatest ideas are not the vaguely-defined concepts like the 2nd Second or Blue Praxis, but concepts behind entire cultures like the cymbiotes [sic - and for a reason] where Sojo comes from, or the gambling society of the Chance Coteries.

My favorites, though, are related to The Hussar and his assistant, real-life pirate Anne Bonny.  This
estranged Houseworlder has gone through elective semantectomy to have his given name removed - leaving only the title of The Hussar.  The implications for the series which Faction Paradox spun off of are quite intriguing.

Also, his relationship with his timeship, the Kraken, is... interesting.  Sadly Anne Bonny isn't as good as the red-headed historical character from another Faction novel (the incomparable "Newtons Sleep") but she is interesting enough in her own way.  She certainly doesn't get as much exposure as Aphra Behn did in the other book, as she is not as central a character.

Each (short) chapter is given a "Dune"-style quotation at the beginning.  Some of these are fascinating; some have the feel of later "Dune" books where Frank Herbert was clearly long grown weary of the necessity he had given himself of coming up with this stuff every few pages.  As there are even some real excerpts among the fake ones (I think?) it lends a real authenticity to the world(s) being created.

If there's a particular failure with the book then it is sadly with the heist plot itself - which is central to the book's narrative.  The rules are vague, the destination unclear, and the resolution abrupt and deliberately confusing.

I get that this is Faction Paradox and there are things we simply will not understand.  But the way it plays out is unsatisfying, underwhelming, and as far as I can tell, not actually set up in any way.  (Though I'm happy to be proven wrong on this in subsequent rereads.)

That this bathetic resolution does not damage the book as a whole is a testament to the fact that everything else is not only done well, but is engaging enough that the plot basically is of little interest anyway.  I do dearly wish we could have spent some more time with the Bankside crew.  I haven't even talked here about Cousin Haribeaux (whose cybernetic nature and nomenclature could lead one to associate him with the Kandyman!) or Cousin Rupert and what they get up to together.

Nor the politics of the Eleven Day Empire, and what Godmother Antigone has planned for Father Christémas.  For that matter, Sojo herself and the future of her society would be enough for a complex and satisfactory novel.

All of this stuff being lumped in together means that none of it gets developed fully, but feels instead like existing realities we get a mere taste of before necessarily moving on.  "Weapons Grade Snake Oil" is a cruise ship where we barely go on shore before it's time for the next leg of the trip.  Sure, we miss the exciting locale we just visited, but there's something just as inviting around the bend.

And I loved all of it.

(3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 if we ignore the distracting typos throughout)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Killing Your Babies With the Bathwater

For writers, the phrase "kill your babies" is something we are used to hearing over and over.

No, not because we're part of some freaky, Manson-like cult.  This piece of advice is to remind us that sometimes an idea, a character, a sub-plot, can be holding back the work as a whole but we are too fond of it to (as Elsa would urge us) let it go.

A lot of the time you have to "kill your babies".  Throw out the trash that's hurting your fiction, regardless of how much you might have grown attached to it.

And yet, a part of me resists that advice with all of my strength.  Is it just my petty attachment to my (obviously wonderful) ideas getting in my way?  Or is there something wrong with the famous advice?

Probably the former, I'll admit, but allow me to explore this idea somewhat on the page here.  You see, if a writer is unduly attached to a particular aspect of his or her writing, perhaps that "baby" is not holding the story back but is the one part giving it life.

Look, I understand the aphorism.  And I'm sure most of the time it's right.  But sometimes - just sometimes - we might find ourselves throwing out that baby with the bathwater.  What was intended to save the story, by cutting out the parts fighting against it, instead gets rid of the very heart that beat at the center.

A (possibly poor) example, if you will.  Many years ago I was (for the sake of writing practice) attempting to condense five books of David Eddings' "The Belgariad" into one screenplay of 120 pages.

Madness, sure, but it was an exercise.  As I pared it down, and down, and down, it resembled the source material less and less.  Fine then, I said, let's change it to an original work instead, if I'm altering it to that extent anyway.

So I turned this into that, nipping and tucking and snipping until I had a story that resembled "The Belgariad" no more than, say, "The Lord of the Rings".

And yet.  And yet...  One scene remained.  The part where Garion and Ce'Nedra bathe together in the stream.  I couldn't get rid of it, I loved it too much.  But with that piece intact, it was very clearly a "rip-off" of "the Belgariad".  No matter the name changes, the source material shone through.

So the scene had to go.  But I couldn't.  That one scene (small as it is) in one of the 5 books was everything to me.  The lynchpin, the centerpiece, the pivot on which the entire story turned.  To remove that was to pluck the heart from its chest Temple of Doom style, and I could not do it.

Thus I abandoned the screenplay entirely.  Leaving in the bathing scene would make it too reliant on the source material, taking it out killed the entire story stone dead.

For me, in that instance, the baby that needed killing was the story.  It couldn't be done.

I faced a similar issue with "Straw Soldiers" - my first novel.  A mistake (I'll admit it) early on hampered the experience of the book.  And yet getting rid of it would destroy the presentation and development of the main character in the book.

So vital was this element (an element which held back the book quite obviously) that I strongly considered changing the entire premise of the six-book series to accommodate it, to make it no longer a flaw.

When I realized just what I was proposing, I decided this was a baby that could not be killed.  Yes, keeping it in hampered the impact of the novel - I know it did - but taking it out would be worse.  So much worse.

Is killing your babies a good piece of advice?  I'm sure it is.  Just, when you're working on that, make sure that what you're excising is not the heart and soul of your book, your screenplay, your poem.  Maybe sometimes, it's the bathwater that needs changing instead.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: "Captain Hawklin and the Skyhook Pirates"

Could also be called:

Sky Captain and the Temple of Doom.

I love a good pulp novel - and a good pulp movie serial as well. Here I get something of both.

For while this book is a tribute to the old pulp works, to me it reads more as a pastiche of the cinematic pulp adventures than the written ones. Indeed, the author seems to say as much in the book itself.

Furthermore, I catch more than a hint of the modern tributes to the pulp classics. For example, it feels more like Sky Captain than it does Sky Raiders. More The Rocketeer than The King of the Rocket-Men.

And that's not a bad thing. A modern sensibility to the period-pastiche is a nice touch which I appreciate. And while it does a good job emulating a 1930s environment (I was able to picture the whole thing in black and white) I personally think it has elements of a more contemporary storytelling style that help it remain relevant to today's reader.

It's not too deep, I'll tell you that. Nor is it trying to be. What this book wants (and what it succeeds at) is to be a rollicking adventure drenched in the spirit of 1930s pulp sensibilities. It is pretty steadily-paced with a plethora of cliffhangers, and it never flags.

Some storytelling problems include very uneven chapter lengths (which disrupt the pacey flow a tad) and a very swift ending which follows a late plot revelation that could have fueled much more story beyond that point.

In addition (and this is the only thing that knocks the rating down a peg) there are frequent (and I mean ubiquitous) typos and punctuation errors. If these bug you too much (and they usually do for me) then prepare yourself because they are impossible to ignore. A lot of word repetition finds its way in as well, though this is a stylistic criticism rather than a technical one.

I don't want to seem down on this work as I enjoyed it a lot (and look forward to reading the sequels which this initial book leaves room to improve upon) but the flaws have to be noted. And they do detract - even if less than they might have.

"The Skyhook Pirates" is intentionally derivative. Don't expect much innovation here. The skill involved here was stitching together various elements to achieve a surprisingly cohesive whole. It ought not to be as good as it is with so many disparate ideas masquerading as one story, but it works dammit. The diversity helps make the plot seem fresh as the story unfolds - like each new chapter of the movie serial has its own character, but is telling one overarching story.

So, yeah. Get it if you like old pulp stories. Avoid it if you don't, because it makes no pretense to be anything other than what it is - and rightfully so.

Very entertaining.