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I Miss Crichton

We don't have anybody like Michael Crichton anymore. People will tell you to try Brown (Dan) if you say that too loudly, but it is true.

Sure you can read Brown, but only if you consider dumbed-down pseudo-science and poorly researched historical conspiracies presented as fact 'the exact same', then maybe.

I suppose Dan Brown is Michael Crichton for the masses; he draws normally uninterested readers in with socially controversial topics and makes them feel like they have some ridiculous new insight into them. Dan Brown writes basically the exact same kind of books Michael Crichton does.

The big difference is that with Dan Brown books he throws in cliffhangers at the end of every chapter.

I have yet to find any other author that matches Michael Crichton's dedication to proper research for a novel nor one that understands the topics he writes about as well as he did.

Read some of his older books (Terminal Man, Congo) and nothing in them seems all the extraordinary because today all of that technology is commonplace. Apply that to his newer books (Prey, Jurassic Park, etc. even aspects of Timeline) and consider that he might able to give a very real view of the future and problems we might want to contemplate before it's too late.

If we're able to produce enough anti-matter to blow up the Vatican (or do anything useful), measure the weight of someone's soul, or even create a practical rifle that can compress/heat snow/sand into ice/glass bullets in the next 40 years, I'll come back here for my public shaming.

As far as I know, there's currently no replacement for Michael Crichton.

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Lathe of Heaven

Lathe of Heaven is a very cerebral book and an equally rewarding film. It has a non existent budget, being filmed for WNET in 1979, but it hides it well. It's a great idea and there are some pretty great twists and turns. This is a movie that I can't believe hasn't been remade with a massive budget.

But this version is very well written and just omits expensive scenes as best as possible. the budget is not a distraction at all, and it's a great story.

The Lathe of Heaven is a 1980 film adaptation of the 1971 science fiction novel The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. It was produced in 1979 as part of New York City public television station WNET's Experimental TV Lab project, and directed by David Loxton and Fred Barzyk. Le Guin, by her own account, was involved in the casting, script planning, re-writing, and filming of the production.
The film stars Bruce Davison as protagonist George Orr, Kevin Conway as Dr. William Haber, and Margaret Avery as lawyer Heather LeLache.

It is the story of a young man who has the ability to change the future when he dreams. His doctor, Haber begins to use Orr's "effective dreams" to first create a prestigious, well-funded institute run by himself, then to attempt to solve various social problems.

These solutions unravel quickly: Haber suggests that Orr dream of a solution to overpopulation. This results in a plague which wipes out three-fourths of the human population. The end to all conflict on Earth, which results in an alien invasion uniting mankind, and an end to racism. This has the effect of a world where everyone's skin becomes a uniform shade of gray.

It is immensely satisfying and Ursula K. Le Guin is rarely a disappointment.

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New to Koontz

I know that Dean Koontz is popular, and I have seen his books in the bookstore, yet I never had the desire to pick one up. "It isn't my genre" I would say and walk past them. For some reason that changed earlier in the year. The reason for the transition was "The Silent Corner" and "The Whispering Room" the first two books in the Jane Hawk series and from there the Odd Thomas series. The first two "Odd Thomas" books were really good. And what I have noticed is that the Odd Thomas series is very different from his other books.

After that I picked up "Phantoms" which was great. And I was creeped out all the way through the book. The idea to use fungus/gigantic organism under the earth as the monster was an interesting idea. While it was good all of the way through I figured it out about half way in, still it's a nightmarish page turner.

I stayed up all night reading it, though I doubt that I could have slept afterwards. It's apparently one of Koontz's least favorite books of his, go figure. I think he didn't like it because, despite it's success, it un-intentionally placed him in the horror genre, when he is actually more of a mystery/sci-fi writer.

Something that I have noticed about a couple of the other books.

Unfortunately, writing endings seems to be his weakness.

I feel like he writes the beginning, then the end, and fills in the blanks later. Though I have been told that Velocity is one of his tightest books with a great ending and some Koontz fans have recommend because it "truly keeps you on the edge of your seat." As well as being "a masterfully written suspense novel." So it is on my list. Koontz really works in nice biblical references into his books and stories so I am happy about that.

I think he's better at character when he lets himself write longer books or series. A lot of times it's like the plot drives him faster than his potential for good dialog. That being said, the guy comes up with great ideas and paces his stories well.

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That’s Odd Thomas

I really love the Odd Thomas series and after finishing the last book I haven’t been able to pick up another book. I am really interested in all the other characters that Odd encounters along the way. His powers and the responsibility that goes with them are immense but he just takes it in stride and acts as if saving lives is the most mundane thing in the world. When I got to that twist ending in the first book it was like getting punched in the face. I still remember putting the book down and just thinking on it. And realizing the foreshadowing leading up to it. I’m normally not caught off guard with twist endings, that one definitely got me. If you want to get the most out of it the only hint that I will say is pay attention to all the little aspects of the book because they call back to them through out the series. If you do that the ending is beautiful. The atmosphere and characters that Koontz brings to life have just always enthralled me since picking up the Jane Hawk books. You could try and read them out of order; the books in the Odd Thomas series stand alone well, but if you want to really carry the overall tone the books carry with them I’d start at the beginning. There is a sense of foreboding that builds through the series and Odd does go through a series of realizations that build upon each other. In a very real sense the entire idea that Stormy (Odd’s true love from book one) put forth about life being a boot camp plays kind of a big underlying role in the underlying themes of the series. Skipping around may lose some of that effect.

The Movie

As a big fan of the books I was skeptical before watching the movie. I was not disappointed. I thought it was a fantastic movie, and I think I’ve watched it 4 times already. I think this is a new and interesting take on the genre. This is something of a love story combined supernatural thriller. The best part about movies like this is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. They do inject a bit of humor. Anton Yelchin plays a clairvoyant short order cook. But not clairvoyant in the palm reading, Taro card sense. He has a gift for communicating with the murdered victims that allows him to help solve their case. At the same time, he is in no sense a detective. He likes the quiet life of a short order cook. But dark forces have other ideas. There is no way I can describe it in a way that would give you a good sense of the movie. If you like independent films, you will like this. If you are remotely into the horror genre, you will like this. If you like good suspense and mystery, you will like this. However, if you are entrenched in Hollywood Blockbuster fair, then you will still like the movie, just not as well. I think I would easily rate it 4 out of 5 stars.
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Michael Connely’s Bosch

I am brushing up on my Bosch after watching the show of the same name by novelist Michael Connelly who was a crime reporter in LA, which makes his work seems very authentic. There is nothing world changing but there are many stories and many reoccurring characters, and you can see them grow and change though their lives because the stories take place over many years of their lives. The early ones are the best (Black Ice, Black Echo, The Concrete Blond). Definitely read them chronologically. The later ones are good too, but the first 3 or 4 Bosch books are my favorite. It’s said in introductory journalism classes that the best writing is that which doesn’t call attention to itself, and that’s the case here. Connelly isn’t flashy prose-wise, but his characters are three-dimensional, his pacing is impeccable and has that infectious thing where you end up reading far later into the night than you initially intended, and his plots (and associated plot twists) are legitimately surprising and intriguing. Bosch is not a warm character, though he cares in his own way. Rather he is cold, abrupt, judgmental and the ultimate pessimist. Harry Bosch sees Los Angeles the same way that his namesake Hieronymus Bosch saw The Garden of Earthly Delights – a human stew of crime and degradation. And it is role, his identity, to find and bring to justice the worst of worst, the ones who commit murder. All victims matter. Equally. Either everyone matters or no one matters, that is the conclusion he came to after the police failed to investigate the murder of Bosch’s mother because she was only a prostitute. A cop show is a cop show. There’s only so much that can be done to vary things up, but its’ an above average cop shop. Yet, the show seems to be working hard to stay true to the books. Connelly wrote the character so as to age ‘in real time’ – as a consequence the Harry in the first books is a good twenty years younger than the Harry in the more recent ones. As such, the way the character reacts to certain events / situations will change, as he himself changes. They’re not ground breaking – Connelly is no Dashiell Hammett, nor is Bosch a Sam Spade for modern times. That said, they’re perfectly enjoyable, fast, reads. As it is the series is fun for light reading, yet they still have compelling narratives. Fans of the books going to the show, they’ve made Harry more likable – though I found him hard to get over at first when I started reading the books. ~XO
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Warriors Re-read

When I was about 14-16 I read all of the current Warrior books. That would be:
  • Warriors: The Prophecies Begin (2003–2004)
  • Warriors: The New Prophecy (2005–2006)
Each series had six books (six from six authors). I would say that I found them great at the time, I was a huge fan at first. I have since read all of the books in the different Warriors series. But my fandom level has dropped and I find them tedious, though the The Prophecies Begin and The New Prophecy were held in my memory, cherished as only a teen could. I skip all the “traveling” chapters now. Journeys were boring even before they became an overused plot device. Even early on in The New Prophecy when it was a new thing, I remember being really disappointed that they still hadn’t made it back to the Clans by the end of Moonrise after nearly two books of being on a journey. When I get to one I just roll my eyes because they are all so similar. There are a lot of reused plot devices in the series a couple that I recognized when I first read the books were:
  • Flirting between cats from different clans
  • “Can Starclan see me so far from home?”
  • Catching rats in a barn
  • Riverclan cat teaches others to fish
  • Older cat makes some reference to the Great Journey
  • Sheep, cows, or horses
And yet the book series seems to have so many of these obligatory plot devices to fill pages. Here are some of the obligatory elements that I have encountered:
  1. filler pages describing the environment
  2. trek into a twoleg place where you are guaranteed to meet: dogs, hostile rogues/kittypets, or kittypet/loner
  3. 2 pages dedicated to every instance in which the characters are trying to cross a Thunderpath (at one point, one of the characters will just barely avoid being hit by a monster)
  4. a conversation with a loner/kittypet/rogue in which said loner/kittypet/rogue asks a question or makes a remark which prompts the character/s to explain what clans are, explain that they are clan cats, etc., usually resulting in the loner/kittypet/rogue expressing wonder, confusion, fear, or wariness
  5. encounter with a friendly kittypet/loner
    • The encounter is often used to save the characters from some sort of threat, thus acting like a Deus Ex Machina tool that is employed. Though the kittypet/loner trope is one of the series’ biggest McGuffens.
  6. encounter with hostile rogues/kittypets
    • The encounter is usually as a simple means to progress the story. It can either happen as a result of or be the result of one of the characters speaking with a rogue/kittypet. They will either need directions or hints as to the whereabouts of x or y that is or is not important to the core plot.
  7. the characters get temporarily separated by a threat
  8. encounter with a dog/dogs
  9. encounter with a fox
  10. eagle attack when they go into the mountains
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My Favorite Crichton Book

I really enjoyed The Andromeda Strain, which is one of his earlier books. I wish that I could go back and read it for the first time again. It has all of the exceptional things that you want out of a Crichton book. Including dangerous science fiction tech issue, the unlikeable characters that die and you’re happy about it, and people making mistakes that make the problem bigger. In fact, one of the things that still stands out to me after all these years is the part where Crichton is describing someone’s actions and basically states that this is the point where he made a mistake. If he did the other thing, it would have ended. But he didn’t and it all gets out of hand. Jurassic Park is an epic classic of course. I also liked Congo and Sphere. Congo was one of his books that freaked me out. ~XO
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Agatha Christie’s Poirot

I love Agatha Christie, I have been reading since I was a kid. Not that they came out when I was a kid mind you! For me, Poirot will always be number 1 because of his heart, and his flaws. He’s extremely observant and has a profound understanding of human behavior but he’s also immensely compassionate. Sherlock Holmes was brilliant at interpreting physical and materialistic evidence but Poirot was a master at understanding people’s thought processes using astute psychology and intuition. He can interact with victims, suspects and murderers in a way that probably wouldn’t occur to e.g. Holmes. No offence to Sherlock, but Poirot’s game is to not just catch the culprit but to clear and support the ones who are innocent and who have to go on living with what’s happened. He never hesitates to talk about hope, faith and redemption, and that sets him apart to me. And it’s remarkable how he manages to be so kind and so (often comically) arrogant at the same time. Poirot makes for a much more engaging and stimulating murder mystery for me. And for fans of the series it is always rewarding when Poirot explains how he made progress in the investigation at the conclusion of each book spot on. I haven’t read the books in a very long time but I think Agatha Christie’s Poirot relied heavily on characters to solve the murder and thus we were often left in awe of how well Poirot understood what went on in people’s mind, an arduous task to say the least, and how he sometimes used what he knew to artfully extract information instead of any scientific knowledge be it by: chemistry, anatomy, or any of his other abilities. I also like how he is an outsider in more than one respect. He is obviously very much alone “at the top” with his cognitive abilities but it’s interesting how he is originally also a refugee of WW1 and how he subsequently sets up his practice in London. How he approaches English society. The language, the customs, the laws, and how he befriends Hastings, Lemon, Japp and Ariadne. It’s very much a success story and he’s a perfect character to drop into vastly different contexts. David Suchet is my favorite actor in this role, by the way. I think he nails both Poirot’s stern and warm sides, and he can convincingly play him as both passionate and subtle. I also love the humor and relationships between him, Japp and Hastings. Poirot often worked without evidence, clues, patterns, and tracks and also solved crimes without visiting the crime scene and I can’t say the same for Holmes. Also, I personally don’t believe any of Sherlock’s best plots were nearly as intricate as Poirot’s best. But this is probably a personal bias. ~XO  
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Dean Koontz To Read

The idea that a single author can turn out as many books as Koontz and make them perfect every time is hard to imagine. The reason, simple improbability, such a feat can never be achieved across books and audiences. I don’t think he’s a terrible author. But many people do. You hear them say formulaic, religious and stale. I often hate bestsellers because they don’t have what I would call character. All of DK’s books have character, possibly a bad ending, and lots of fun to be had. I have been told time and time again that his older books are better. Some of the books that I would like to try include:
  • Strangers
  • Watchers
  • The Bad Place
  • From the Corner of His Eye
  • Fear Nothing/Seize the Night
  • Dark Rivers of the Heart
  • False Memory
People have called his work, hackish, akin to bad B-movie horror. Well number one on my list of terrible authors is Stephen King for the simple reason that his books bore me silly and don’t captivate me at all. He has good ideas but just pulls the whole work down with his style. I’ve always hated the way in which King depicts conversations. I am a religious person and his books are consistently dirty and filled with swear words. And while I know that people swear in real life, only try-hards feel the need to cuss in every mundane conversation they ever have. For that reason I don’t like Game of Thrones either. Though everybody has different tastes in books.
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The Alienist by Caleb Carr

When I first meet the Alienist it was in the form of previews for the Netflix show that was running on TNT. I thought to myself: Looks good. Victorian. Creepy. Good cast. Good looking sets. And no doubt in 4k too. So I have yet to see the series, but I decided to pick up the book. I am arriving at the conclusion that I am no longer reading this book because I enjoy it, but because I have sunk enough time into it so I may as well finish it. Alright, don’t get me wrong, it is a page turner and the time flies when I am reading it, but I just have way too many problems with it to completely suspend my belief and immerse myself into the world of the book. If you don’t want to read through a post where I complain about things, turn back now. If you do, then without any more delay let me jump right into the three things that stood out to me the most while I have been reading The Alienist: First, considering this book’s premise is deductive psychological work being used to find a killer it is really fishy that the big break comes from a random occurrence. This is usually a sign that the author did not know how to believably move the story forward with the chosen method. It is a gimmick, as if fate, or in this case the author, had decided to toss the detectives a bone. And when the author needs to go about setting things up, just so that the protagonist could get a random piece of information that just points to the killer like a giant billboard sized arrow you know that you have a problem with your logic. There is an attempt to make it sound like they were using their skills to decide if this was a real break, by contacting their detective friends, but those detective friends gave no reason why they thought this specific piece of data was important. So in essence neither the location of the break nor the subsequent justification for the break being deemed valid, has much to do with serious deducting work we were previously exposed to. Second, and this may be because this topic has been a popular one on some of the places I get my book news, is violence against women. We have two prominent female characters and both of them have a history of sexual abuse, and one is even killed to push a male protagonist’s story forward. I have written about my dislike of Sara being a strange emotionally volatile character that jumps to anger if her gender is insulted, but what is her real purpose in the narrative? This becomes more of a problem when she offers advice to Lazlo. Lazlo said he wanted her ‘female perspective’ yet he ignores the information she provides. And the other woman is a love interest that is later killed for the sake of dramatic value. Are the female characters in this book independent individuals or stage decorations for the men who are the real actors? I would say that it is the latter. Which is very unfortunate. Third, although this is tightly tied with the previous section, is the treatment of side characters who are women. I won’t speak of the mother of one of the victims or the madam at one of the whorehouses, but I will point out the mother of our murderer. There is a very long info dump on the abuse that the killer experienced from his mother when he was a child. This is the the abuse that had made him the monster that he is. It is the driving force behind his actions. And you could argue that it is use in part as justification. Yet the abuse that the mother suffered at the hands of her husband, is swept under the rug. If we are supposed to feel empathy towards the killer, because he was denied a human upbringing, where is the call for empathy for his mother? You won’t find it. At this point I am certain that I will not continue the series. The bottom line is that what I wanted from this book has turned out to be stage decorations, rather than the main focus, and I really do not care to read any more stories set in this world. There are other authors I want to try, and be disappointed by. ~XO