Monday, August 24, 2009

Interlude - Whatever happened to Clive Cussler?

In lieu of a regular book review, I decided instead to ask a simple question: What happened to you, Clive Cussler? You used to be so cool, now your books are better used as sun protection on the beach then as beach reads. It did not always go like this; as I posted a little while ago, you've written some of the most fantastically entertaining novels around. Sahara is a personal favourite of mine and has been for a long time. Most of your Dirk Pitt books have been thrilling, adventurous reads that I have torn through with reckless abandon. However, times have certainly changed my old friend. Take for example your most recent "Clive Cussler" Dirk Pitt novel. Most of it, is, in fact written by your son Dirk whom I am sure is a nice fellow. He is not, on the other hand, a novelist of your caliber. The book will go along at a tight pace, then hit a patch which appears to have been written by a slightly imaginative fourth grader. I know you want your son to carry on your legacy Clive, and for sure it is easy money, but your readers deserve better.
Another problem has become the recycling of plots which is not surprising given the fact you are writing five or six ongoing series. All written with collaborators who do not share your prosaic gifts. Clive you used to make the incredible possible and somewhat plausible. Now, you've just given up trying to write semi-three dimensional characters. Let's compare your villians from a couple of books shall we? In Shock Wave (one of your better efforts) the bad guy is played by Arthur Dorsett, a man shrewdly intent on collapsing the diamond industry to propagate his fortune with rare gems. The murderous effects of his mining technology are unintentional but he ultimately views them as necessary to make his profits. In another of your efforts, the first with your son, Black Wind, the villain is named Kang - a man who intends to fire biological weapons at Los Angeles and blame Japan. In order to unify Korea. Okay...
I used to look forward to a new Cussler like I looked forward to Christmas. It was always my favourite book of the year. I tore through them and re-read each with eager anticipation of discovering a new avenue of thought I had previously missed. Now, I glance at them in the bestseller section and wonder who is still putting them there.
The essential Cussler begins at Raise the Titanic and ends with Atlantis Found (barely squeaks through). These 12 books are Cussler writing with imaginative history woven with action. These 12 books are about a man who saves the world...a lot. These 12 books take place before Dirk Pitt's grown children show up, which was a very regrettable plot point.
I read my first Cussler in some time, The Chase and halfway through I realized why I was enjoying it so much: he wrote it solo. No interruptions from other authors. When it ended I was happy he wrote a solid one - off book. Alas, I saw on that he intends to continue working with the character in new adventures, and with a writing partner.
Clive, when did you become the James Patterson of adventure fiction? Please Clive, come back to writing good books that actually make sense. Here's an idea, very hot, very edgy: start at the beginning. Look at all the reinventions of old characters that have breathed life into dying series: Bond, Star Trek, Batman... Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino still have life left in them, and adventures to endure with stoic humor. Maybe you cut back to one book a year and trim some unecessary characters, but at least it will be one book worth reading. Quality Clive, not quantity. I know the money is crazy, but give the fans who wait breathlessly for your work a treat: a Dirk Pitt book just written by Clive Cussler and set in the early 90's. Otherwise you may as well just kill off the character and start over, but please, do it on your own.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book #8

It is the rare book that entertains as well as it informs but The Stand by Stephen King succeeds where many others have failed. Originally, I bought this book because it seemed like a great travel book: long, heavy, thematic and epic in scope. After looking at it on my shelf for nearly nine months, I could not put it off any longer and reached for it since I have some time this summer. I was not disappointed - in fact I should have started it sooner.
I only recently began reading Stephen King and have enjoyed several other novels he has written including IT which can also rightly be called a masterpiece. However, that said, I have never read a novel that can properly stand up (pardon the pun) to The Stand. It is a post-apocalyptic tale that does not ever really cross into the fantasy realm. The novel is classified as horror fiction and the vision of a world devestated by a superflu is chilling, terrifying and at times downright awful. King has succeed in making the book more than just the simple elements of a great story. There are powerful themes and allegory at work here, in addition to an epic struggle between good and evil (probably the finest yet crafted in print); the writing is fluid and brilliant.
In the course of reading a long novel (this one clocks in at 1141 pages) there are always spots which drag and King had a few...that said, they were countable on one hand (name another thousand page book you can say that about!). King's forte has always been his characters and they are so well drawn here the reader finds themself living in the same, devestated world for the duration.
Yes, the book is long, but remains the most fascinating vision of a world completely destroyed. King's reconstruction of the world and his social commentary are spot on and haunting in their shattering reality.
Bonus: Never has this book been as topical as it is right now with the threat of a major outbreak of H1N1 virus looming next fall. At one point in the novel King mentions swine flu - once again ahead of his time. This is not a simple read, but it is a rewarding one and the pages fly at a clip. One of the rare books I dreaded finishing, as I knew it would probably be some time before I read anything this good again.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book (s) # 7

The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk are the quintessentially classic American novel. However, simply classifying these books as an American saga undermines the true thematic value and presence the story has in our world. They tell the tale of an epic romance, a world devestated by war, and characters who evolve and measure the ultimate theme the author has staked them too: we must stop war not through fear of war, but through love of peace. Wouk's twin tales are long - get ready to tuck in to two-thousand plus pages - but worth every sentence.
The epic tale is about the Henry family and those who come in and out of their orbit. The family is led by pugnacious navel officer "Pug" Henry; his wayward son Byron; shining star Warren; sister Madeline and mother Rhoda. Other characters cycle through the text particularly Natalie, the great love of Byron and her family Aaron and Berel Jastrow.
The Winds of War covers the rise of war in Europe and concludes dramatically with Pearl Harbor. War and Remembrance works through most of the war in the Pacific contrasted with the Holocaust at Aushwitz and across Europe.
However, that is quite simply, too simple a summary. The level of detail within the text is incredible. The main story is interladen with both commentary from a book by Pug Henry in addition to the memoirs of a fictious German General named Armin von Roon. No battle from the Russian saga to the battle of Guadalcanal is omitted and the details are powerful and illuminating. Fictional characters also interweave with historical ones as Churchill, FDR, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Goring, Himmler etc. all make appearences. Wouk handles these characters as deftly as the ones he has created and they never seem hokey or placed in the text under any fake pretenses.
However...the true triumph of the novels is in their description of the Holocaust. No book before or since has really captured in such exquisite detail the excrutiating depravity of the Nazi death machine. Not one horrifying moment is spared. The portrayls of the Nazi extermination system are sparse, taut and harrowing. Again, though, there is more than simply meets the eye.
Take, for example, the character of Berel Jastrow. His brother Aaron, while in a concentration camp in Czechslovakia, tells a group of youngsters the tale of Job from the bible. He discusses his opinions on why Job suffered ultimately for the greater good of his people. Berel is the Job of this story. The story of the Nazi extermination of the Jewish people is mostly told through his stunned eyes. His character experiences every significant event in that terrible oddessey and shies away from none of it.
When I was reading this book, it struck me at the end to make the connection between the story told by Aaron and the character of Berel. I went back and reread several pages - keep in mind I had already thoroughly enjoyed the entire fourteen hundred page book - and suddenly the story made sense in a whole new, exhilerating way.
I cannot recommend these books more highly, for years I was told to read them and demurred. When I developed an interest in World War Two I could not put it off any longer. One gets a true sense of the world being ripped apart in these books. The prose is incredible, the sentences are a beautifully constructed ballet that comes together as well as any other novel I have read. In particular, the final sentences and ending are indelible, fascinating and heart-breaking. As we draw farther and farther from the defining war of our lifetimes, it is important to look back and remember. Wouk's message is as powerful today as it was in his time. If you wish to read books which give an overarching illumination of the second world war, these are for you. If you want to read an incredible story of love, triumph and war - these books are for you. In all truth, Wouk was absolutely correct in his assumptions: we cannot stop war through fear of war, but only, truly, through love of peace.