Sunday, May 30, 2010

James Bond: The Union Trilogy, by Raymond Benson

James Bond: The Union Trilogy: Three 007 Novels: High Time to Kill, Doubleshot, Never Dream of Dying, by Raymond Benson

I’d read a few of Benson’s James Bond novels before (most notably The Facts of Death where 007 visits Austin and has dinner at Chuy’s) so when I found this compilation of High Time to Kill, Doubleshot, and Never Dream of Dying on a bargain table, how could I resist? I do think Bond stories come off better on the big screen than on paper (unlike Ludlum), but these three form a loose trilogy that fit well together. The Union is a terrorist organization that MI6 fights throughout, taking the place of SMERSH and SPECTRE in the Fleming novels. Bond fights them with his usual humor and ruthlessness, teaming up with Rene Mathis and his father-in-law from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Marc-Ange Draco. The main antagonist was typically over the top, possessing a Daredevil-like ESP, but entertaining as only a Bond villain can be. Of course 007 prevails in the end, but not without leaving a trail of sex and death in his wake.

There is also a satisfying short story, “Blast From the Past” included in this book, telling the ultimate fate of Irma Bunt from the novels On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Often I think Bond is more effective when seen in a short story rather than a full novel, and this was no exception. I can’t shake the feeling I’d read this before somewhere, but still loved it.

First Sentence of High Time to Kill:
The barracuda surprised them by opening its jaws to an angle of ninety degrees, revealing the sharp rows of teeth that were capable of tearing out chunks of flesh in an instant.
First Sentence of Doubleshot:
The Convent’s Security Officer gasped when he saw what came up on the computer screen.
First Sentence of Never Dream of Dying:
A tiny bead of sweat appeared at the commandant’s right temple and lingered there, waiting for the moment when it would drop off and trickle down the man’s high, scarred cheekbone.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Careless in Red, by Elizabeth George

Careless in Red, by Elizabeth George

Inspector Lynley is back! After the disappointing last outing I had low expectations for this one. Luckily, George is back to her old self here, with her popular characters Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers in the middle of a twisty murder investigation. Detective Inspector Bea Hannaford is a new voice in the mix and a welcome addition. George deftly avoids the trap of having Hannaford be the third stooge to Lynley and Havers, instead having the three at odds throughout the novel at the same time as being allies. The story is solid, and while I figured out what was happening before the end I was still surprised at the ultimate result. While not my favorite novel in the series, Careless in Red is much better than the previous few.

First Sentence:
He found the body on the forty-third day of his walk.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gone Tomorrow, by Lee Child

Gone Tomorrow, by Lee Child

On a nearly deserted New York City subway car at 2am, Jack Reacher spots a suicide bomber. Reacher prevents the bomb from detonating but not the suicide; the resulting investigation uncovers dozens of people that all seem to be lying. And Reacher hates lies—let the mayhem begin!

Reacher has become one of my favorite characters in recent memory. The settings veer wildly between Reacher in the middle of nowhere to the middle of NYC, but they all seem to work. Pure escapist fiction, but perfect for an airplane ride or for a lazy weekend afternoon.

First Sentence:
Suicide bombers are easy to spot.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Why We Do It, by Niles Eldredge

Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene, by Niles Eldredge

In 1976 Richard Dawson penned The Selfish Gene which expounded on a popular theory in evolution theory saying that genes whose attributes successfully promote their own duplication will be selected in favor of their competitors. More simply, evolution works at a genetic level rather than at at a sexual level; it is our genes that drive reproductive behavior rather than the desire for the prettiest women to mate with the most virile men. Eldredge is highly critical of this theory, and Why We Do It lays out his argument.

Reproduction doesn’t drive all aspects of our culture today; economics and society has a much bigger influence. To Eldredge this means that genes can’t be actually driving behavior but instead simply carrying information. This information is used to build larger organisms which then choose if and when to reproduce. The drive to eat and survive is stronger than the drive to procreate, and sex has become largely decoupled from simple reproduction—humans do not go into heat (Spring Break not withstanding) and choose our mates on features other than proximity. Sex exists for its own sake in society as recreational; Viagra doesn’t exist to help couples have children, and birth control certainly doesn’t either. Our genes don’t drive us to reproduce, and sex happens for fun much more often than for baby-making.

This is an interesting book, but Eldredge vacillates wildly between science and opinions, often losing his point in snark. He often castigates his intellectual opponents, calling their theories absurd or astonishing. He dislikes media as well, complaining they are “besotted with genes.” While I tend to agree with many of his theories, I found this level of disdain more appropriate for a religious or political text rather than a scientific one.

First Sentence:
Why do people have sex?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bad Luck and Trouble, by Lee Child

Bad Luck and Trouble, by Lee Child

I’d mentioned earlier that I was looking forward to a time that some of the secondary characters returned and teamed up. In Bad Luck and Trouble I got my wish! Reacher reunites with half his former MP unit to investigate the disappearance of the other half. The team is as quirky and brilliant as Reacher, but each member unique in his or her own right. You really got the feel this was a group of old friends reuniting, with a rich history only hinted at.

Coupled with the interesting mystery and fantastic personalities, Child’s humor was in rare form. My favorite passage:

“You tell a lot of lies, Ms. Berenson,” he said.
Neagley said, “She’s Human Resources. It’s what they do.”
It is funny because it is true! :) Escapist fiction of the best kind, Child continues to deliver high quality entertainment.

First Sentence:
The man was called Calvin Franz and the helicopter was a Bell 222.

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