Friday, November 09, 2012

Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson, by Jann S. Wenner and Corey Seymour

Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson: An Oral Biography, by Jann S. Wenner and Corey Seymour

Hunter S. Thompson was a very strange person. A writer of undeniable talent, but strange nonetheless. This book is a collection of interviews stitched together in a single narrative. Hunter's life brought him into contact with a wide slice of life, so while many accounts are told by the expected family and friends, people as varied as Jimmy Buffett, Jimmy Carter, Jack Nicholson, and James Carville contributed as well. Considering that one of the authors, Jann Wenner, was Hunter's editor for over thirty years, the overall attitude towards Hunter was surprisingly negative. Admittedly Hunter was a lifelong drug and alcohol abuser which rarely makes for pleasant personalities, but I'd always thought he was more of a lovable character like Doonesbury's Uncle Duke for whom Hunter was the inspiration. Looks like that isn't so. "The thing about those unpleasant nights is that they didn't end. The unpleasantness wasn't a quick outburst." "For those of us who worked with him, it was essentially a really abusive relationship." "He demanded such an extraordinary amount of loyalty, commitment, and energy, and although he paid back a lot of that, he just sucked people dry." But basically he just comes off as crazy. "My first job was to get Hunter up in the morning. I knocked on his door, and there was a long, loud eruption of curses. ... It was just the life force announcing itself through Hunter's early-morning self." "And damn if he didn't raise the gun and fire from the hip and blow the door frame out that I was standing about six inches from my side." "When I had left the year before, Hunter had thrown my clothes out onto the driveway and set fire to them." This does not sound like someone with whom I'd want to spend a lot of time.

I'll never be a huge Hunter S. Thompson fan, but I did enjoy reading about him.

First Sentence:
We had guns in our cars.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Scholar, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Scholar: A Novel in the Imager Portfolio, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Scholar takes place in the Imager universe but is set centuries before Modesitt's first trilogy. Here the art of imaging is feared worldwide and people who possess the talent are often killed outright—but the seeds for the Collegium are planted. A recognizable world, but a very different society—I look forward to seeing the evolution of this environment through future novels.

One of the key points in the first trilogy was that an imager is a huge danger to himself, to the point of sleeping alone in a lead-lined room to prevent creating dangerous items via dreams. In Scholar, however, this doesn't seem to be an issue with the lead being a powerful imager and yet living on crowded boats, dormitories, and castles. Not sure if this is by design and will feature into future novels, or simply an oversight or writer's remorse. Time will tell!

First Sentence:
"You'd think the Tilborans would have more sense," snapped Bhayar.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Floodmarkers, by Nic Brown

Floodmarkers, by Nic Brown

Set in North Carolina when Hurricane Hugo came ashore, Floodmarkers is a collection of loosely connected character studies. What sets it apart from other similarly structured works like Winesburg, Ohio or Our Town is seeing how the stress of the hurricane affects everyone: as the flood rises, so do tensions. A pedophile whose secret is exposed by the water and a grandfather robbed by a gypsy are only two of the unique characters found within. Both disturbing and funny at the same time, this book isn't always upbeat but well-suited for a rainy afternoon.

First Sentence:
The lights were off but the glass door was unlocked and Cliff followed Matthew into the tanning salon.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain

I like to take longer novels when I travel overseas as I haven't yet been sucked into the cult of the Nook and prefer a physical book. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court fits the bill (the edition I read clocked in at just shy of 500 pages) and having all the action set in the country to which I was traveling made it a perfect fit. I'd seen variations of this in other media—Bing Crosby's movie is probably my favorite quickly followed by the Looney Tunes version—but had never read the book. I knew the movie and especially the cartoon weren't exactly faithful to the source material going more for humor than satire, but I've always been interested in the original. While not as funny (hard to beat Bugs Bunny!) and surprisingly dark, I quite enjoyed it.

The basic plot has been rehashed by many writers since Twain's archetype (probably best by Leo Frankowski): a modern mechanic gets sent back in time to the Middle Ages and uses technology to attempt to change the world. Twain's hero, Hank Morgan, being a stereotypical American of the 19th century despises hereditary classes like the monarchy and slavery. He also believes in his heart that science can be used to improve society; when he discovers himself suddenly in King Arthur's Britain he immediately uses his training and experience to both modernize and moralize the past. Advancement in technology used to bring about social change is clearly possible, but as Twain plots and history proves, the result is rarely predictable.

While society itself is the main antagonist, the Church is painted as the single biggest threat. People can learn and adapt, especially when the benefits of change are made plain, but religion is always happiest with the status quo—especially when that status quo keeps the Church in control. "I was afraid of a united Church; it makes a mighty power, the mightiest conceivable, and then when it by and by gets into selfish hands, as it is always bound to do, it means death to human liberty, and paralysis to human thought." Sadly, over a century after Twain wrote those words their truth is still evident in our culture. If we've learned anything since 1889 it is that our government can be just as smothering as religion when it comes to our natural evolution as a society.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is a complex story and far from the simple children's classic I expected. On the surface is a sometimes funny tale about a man trapped in the past. Underneath that is a critical look at the way the world worked in ancient times, but below that lurks the inherent dichotomy of "the ends justify the means." Hank wants the common outlook of the people to rise above superstition and religious fervor and embrace the credo "all men are created equal," but then exploits this same superstition to gain power and control. I often found myself asking what I'd do in various situations, and not always liking the answers. If you want an enjoyable tale with humor and adventure or a deeper novel that challenges your beliefs, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court fits the bill.

First Sentence:
It was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger whom I am going to to talk about.

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