These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
That is all.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions
by Kurt Vonnegut
(4/5 stars)

In modern parlance, "Breakfast of Champions" is what would be called a meta-novel. It's largely a novel about writing a novel. Though since this is Vonnegut it's not about a guy sitting at a typewriter or anything that boring. It's more like in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" when characters would go to the holodeck to interact with holographic representations of stories like Sherlock Holmes or noir detective Dixon Hill.

In this case the author is Philboyd Studge (a stand-in for Kurt Vonnegut) and the holodeck is set to Midland City, Indiana in 1972. The town is hosting a Festival of the Arts and the wealthy Eliot Rosewater (of the previous novel God Bless You Mr. Rosewater) contacts his favorite sci-fi author Kilgore Trout, featured in many other Vonnegut books. Trout is shocked anyone's actually read any of his books as his stories are mostly published in porno magazines as filler with the titles often changed. So Trout decides to go to New York City and then hitchhike to Indiana.

Meanwhile in Midland City is Dwayne Hoover, who owns a Pontiac dealership and several other businesses. By all accounts Dwayne has it pretty good, except his wife "ate" some Drano and died while his gay son works as a pianist in the Holiday Inn Hoover partially owns.

The lounge of the Holiday Inn is where Hoover and Trout are destined to meet and where Hoover is destined to lose what's left of his mind. Also in that lounge is Philboyd Studge, who has gathered his creations together to create a sort of creative Big Bang that will wipe out the old Philboyd Studge universe and create a new one.

In the preface, Studge writes about how now that he's turned 50 he wants to sort of clear the air and empty out all these old ideas and characters so that he can create new ones. Ironically though many of these same characters like Kilgore Trout appear in future novels by Vonnegut like "Deadeye Dick," "Bluebeard," and "Timequake." So if the point was to reboot the Vonnegut universe (to use modern comic book/movie slang) it didn't really succeed.

Like many Vonnegut novels, the characters are in no way realistic. Vonnegut via Trout actually takes "realistic" novels to task, claiming that we already know about real life, so why would we want fiction to duplicate that? (I agree in part with that idea. I mean, most of life is pretty boring, so why would I want that in a novel?) Like my colleague Ethan Cooper, I would agree that the characters are largely cartoonish throughout the novel. That didn't bother me too much, maybe because I watch too many cartoons on Fox and Adult Swim.

Throughout the novel Vonnegut includes silly drawing of everything from an anus to a bucket of fried chicken to the abbreviation ETC. The intent of these seems to be to serve as flashcards for a future audience where Earth no longer has apples or fried chicken, though you'd have to think they would still know what an anus looks like unless humanity has evolved beyond that point or superintelligent robots or cockroaches have taken over. Like Ethan Cooper, I found this device tiresome after a while as it didn't really seem to contribute much to the actual story.

Another thing is that this novel frequently uses the "N-word" and the depiction of most of the black characters in the book is pretty demeaning, especially the ex-con Wayne Hoobler. Though I like to think of it not as racist but as a satire to protest the economic segregation that is still largely prevalent in the 21st Century.

Overall, while the end may be a little disappointing, it is a heck of a ride to get there.

That is all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cobra Gamble

Cobra Gamble (Cobra War #3)
by Timothy Zahn
(3/5 stars)

Before I read this I wanted to go and read the first two books in the series.  This was much easier said than done, since apparently the first two are not in print, nor are they available in ereader format.  I eventually had to buy one used and the other I lucked out and found at a discount store.  An even bigger problem is that this trilogy--or what right now is a trilogy--is the sequel to a previous trilogy that went out of print about 20 years ago.  I only read the last two books of that series a few years ago.

Unfortunately if you aren't familiar with all those previous, out-of-print books then you're kind of luck.  You really won't have much idea what the Cobras are or the Cobra Worlds or the Trofts or Qasama, let alone know what happened on Qasama in those books from over 20 years ago.  Maybe you can look on Wikipedia for a plot summary or something.

Anyway, this book picks up where the two before it left off.  The Trofts have invaded the Cobra Worlds and Qasama to conquer the humans on those planets.  The heroic Moreau-Broom clan has taken some equipment to Qasama to help the rival Qasamans train Cobras of their own.  They believe that the Trofts have abandoned the place only to get there and find out the Trofts have returned in even greater numbers.

From there it's a battle to rid Qasama of the Trofts once and for all.  The end promises that there could be at least one more book, if not another trilogy or so.

Anyway, I've read a lot of Zahns books and found all three of these Cobra War books to be disappointing.  They definitely aren't as good as his original Star Wars books or even the Conqueror's trilogy that shares some similarities with this in the Cobra War books in that both feature a family caught in the middle of everything.

I think what bothered me the most was most of the characters seemed interchangeable.  If the names had been blacked out I couldn't have told you which one was Lorne or Merrick or Paul or even Jasmine and Jody.  They're all the same bland, capable characters.  And strangely they all figure only minorly in the ending.  I really expected more of a contribution from them since they were the focal point of the series.

Maybe it was just with all the effort it took to get these I expected a little more.  At any rate I was disappointed.  They are OK light sci-fi but the author has a lot better to read.

That is all.