Saturday, May 28, 2011

New Michael Crichton Novel

I heard the news today that there will be another posthumous Michael Crichton novel published this fall.  Crichton wrote one-third of a book called Micro and left extensive notes behind for it before he died.  Richard Preston, who wrote about the Ebola virus in The Hot Zone, has finished the book.  The Hot Zone was a fantastic book.  (I can still remember where I was when I first read the New Yorker article The Hot Zone was based on - in the Newark airport, waiting for a connecting flight to Chicago.  And I still have a fat folder of newspaper clippings from the first big Ebola outbreak in Zaire in the mid-90s.  Who has files of newspaper clippings about anything anymore?)  Normally, I think finishing and publishing uncompleted posthumously novels is a bad idea.  But Preston is a pretty good writer and his interests mesh nicely with Crichton's.  So this could be a good book.  (And since the book is about scientists lost in the jungle, it is so up my alley that I would make an exception for it even if some anonymous hack finished the manuscript.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

Inexplicably, I keep getting drawn in by books about people trapped in jungles.  Or stranded on islands.  Or lost in the wild.  I have no idea why this is so but it has been going on for years now.  (I have never been lost in the jungle.  I avoid jungles.  And wilderness.  Or any place in which I may become lost and/or trapped.  I  live an almost entirely urban existence - the only real danger for me is the possibility getting trapped in a Concrete Island scenario.)  And somehow, over the past few days, I have acquired a slew of books, many of which are of the lost-in-the-jungle sort.

Lost in Shangri-La I bought new from Amazon - I just had to have it.  It is the story of the survivors of a US Army plane crash in the jungles of Papua New Guinea near the end of WWII.  Papua New Guinea is probably the worst place in the world to get lost and I just had to have this book right away.  [Side Note:  Though this book just came out, I didn't order it soon enough to get a first edition.  A minor disappoint but I'll live.  I don't care as much about editions for nonfiction.  What is remarkable about this book is the texture of the dust jacket - its sort of rubbery.  I think there is a new material being used in some dust jackets that give it this feel - and its quite wonderful.  My UK first edition of Ian McEwan's Solar has a similar feel - but the American edition just uses whatever generic dust jacket material all publishers use.  What is this new stuff?  Normally I will remove a dust jacket when I read a book but this one I want to leave on.]

Ghost Soldiers is the story of an American Army mission to rescues American POWs held by the Japanese in the jungles of the Philippines in WWII.
It seems to me that everyone has read Lord of the Flies.  But I haven't.  How this came to be I do not know.  But I am to rectify the situation this summer.  Children stranded on an island - what could be better?

The True Deceiver is one of those wonderful New York Review of Books trade paperbacks.  I only started paying close attention to comics a few years ago and in my research into what comics I should read, I kept coming across some Moomin thing that everyone seemed to know and love from a long time ago that I had never heard of and couldn't quite grasp.  I had no idea who or what Tove Jansson was.  But I'm learning and she seems quite remarkable.  The True Deceiver looks to be Swedish Patricia Highsmith novel concerning a woman who inveigles (what a great word - the LA Times review of the book uses it) herself into the life a famous writer.
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America held their convention here in Washington last weekend and Connie Willis won the Nebula Award for best novel (for Blackout and All Clear).  I've been wanting to read good science fiction and I was persuaded that she would be a good choice - so I picked up a copy of her novel the Doomsday Book.  She seems to have this thing for time-traveling historians - I think I could go for that.

Part two of this post will include David Lodge, Peter De Vries, Richard Laymon, Charlaine Harris, and James McGrath Morris.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Template for Parker?

I just picked up a copy of something called The Professional Thief by a professional thief.   It was published in 1937 by the University of Chicago Press.  The book is a monograph by a professional thief known as Chic Conwell and was annotated and 'interpreted' for publication by Edwin Sutherland, an important sociologist.

I've only skimmed it but the book has Parker written all over it.  Donald Westlake/Richard Stark has this trick of explaining how professional thieves live and work that makes it seem as if he is letting us in on their secret rules - peering into how their guild operates.  I have no idea how thieves operate but the way Parker operates feels like it has to be real and true. It is utterly convincing.  (And really - other than what we learn from books, movies and televsion, what do most of us know about crime?) Turns out, according to this book, Westlake nailed it.  The only significant difference is how Parker is so anti-social/always puts himself first.  But that just makes him a better character.