Sunday, September 19, 2010

CBRII: Undercover by MaryJanice Davidson

This is a collection of three romance novellas. As I said earlier, I’m currently working my way through a long-term study that means I have to keep an eye on the mice three times a day. With the other eye, I read novels. Since these are just short bursts, I figured novellas by an author whose work I usually enjoy was a great choice.

‘Sweet strangers’ (gag), the first novella, has a complex plot. I’m going to explain it in dot points.

  1. Theo Forster, head researcher at a biotech firm called Androdyne has developed ‘modified cells that they can inject into the heart. The cells do the job of the pacemaker’ (direct quote). These cells are called PaceIC.
  2. The head of Androdyne, Jekell, made a deal with the chinese manufacturer of existing pacemakers to bury PaceIC for ten years in exchange for six billion dollars (which, probably due to poor editing, later becomes sixty billion).
  3. Theo slips a sample of PaceIC into the bag of Renee Jardin. Jekell loses his shit and puts a bounty on her head.
  4. Wacky shenanigans ensue. Renee runs into a private detective. Blah, blah, blah, sex on the office floor, mix-up leading to betrayal, usual romance shit.
  5. Renee goes to the FDA, who tell Renee that Androdyne was required by law to register with them before manufacturing PaceIC, and they got suspicious when he suddenly pulled it out.
  6. For some stupid reason, Renee and the private eye head back to Androdyne, where they run into Theo, who tells them to take PaceIC back to the FDA chick who can ‘reverse engineer it and see that an appropriate company –ah- finds it and puts out their own version within a year’.
  7. Blah, blah, gun fight, Jekell is arrested, Renee and the PI go have sex and propose and shit.

Convoluted, hey? I bet Davidson spent hours thinking that one up. I almost feel bad, since one word will tear the whole thing down.


Presuming Androdyne owns the rights to PaceIC (which there’s no way in hell they wouldn’t), it wouldn’t matter how many ‘appropriate’ companies reverse engineered it, Androdyne still owns it. They still decide if it’s sold or not. Hell, they can give it out for free, bury it in a vault, whatever the fuck they like until that patent runs out.

Actually, the whole thing is a mess. Let’s go through each point.

1. Cells that ‘do the job of the pacemaker’ already exist. We’re born with them. There’s a patch of them on our heart that send an electrical signal at regular intervals to induce the chain-reaction of a beating heart. Pacemakers are inserted into people when their ‘pacemaker cells’ (yes, that’s what they’re called) get screwed up, and stop regularly firing. I know this partly because my mother has this problem. If PaceIC really existed, it wouldn’t replace the existing cells, it would regulate them. And seriously, inject cells into the heart? Yeah, let’s just put a random assortment of cells into one of our most vital organs and hope it sticks. No fear of immune reaction or anything.

2. Aside from the aforementioned ‘I have the patent, I can do whatever the fuck I like with it’ factor, nobody, at any point in this storyline, mentions a little thing called Clinical Trials, without which, the product cannot be sold. This is done to determine the efficacy, correct dosing regime and side effects, and takes (because these sort of things are considered important) about ten years. So, either Androdyne haven’t done them yet, in which case, the product’s not going to be on the market for ten years anyway, or they have, and everybody knows about it, so there’s no point trying to hide it. Also, if Jekell owns the company, and this product works half as well as those breathless characters make out, he'll rake in well over 6 billion dollars, and earn himself a shitload of lovely publicity in the process.

3. Whatever.

4. See above.

5. Ooh, the FDA ‘had to be informed’. NO SHIT!! Seriously, do people actually believe scientists can go around injecting whatever the fuck they like into hearts and nobody’s going to even question it? *headdesk*

6. See the rant directly under Patent.

7. See item 3.

Unfortunately, these points meant that I read the remaining novellas in a high snit, constantly muttering choice phrases about the author’s inability to do even a basic Google search. The second novella was much more enjoyable (although I’m now wondering what a banking expert would say about the plot). The third novella involved more shitting all over the reality of science – so you’ve now made a compound that speeds up skin regeneration, Theo? That’s nice. What about the nerves? Sweat glands? You know, all the other stuff that’s replaced alongside the skin with grafts. And hey, know what we call cells that grow faster than they should? CANCER! And there’s NO WAY YOU’LL HAVE THAT SHIT TO MARKET BY THE END OF THE YEAR!!! FOR FUCK’S SAKE!! WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF FUCKING REALITY DO YOU LIVE IN?!?!!


This is why the ITGeek won’t let me watch certain movies with him anymore.

CBRII: Feet of Clay and Thud by Terry Pratchett.

I’ve got most of the discworld books, but not Feet of Clay, so it’s been years since I’ve read it.  It’s a Watch book, which is my favourite series.  Instead of the pure satire of the Rincewind books, these are mysteries, set in Discworld.  Occasionally, the ‘mystery’ spans entire countries and involves intricate political maneuvering, but, for the head of the Watch in Ankh-Morpork (Discworld’s largest city), Sam Vimes, it’s all about solving the murder.  That’s not to say that he doesn’t recognise the larger crimes - he’s been known to arrest entire armies because they were about to start a war.

In the first Watch book, Sam Vimes was the alcoholic Captain of the Night Watch, which consisted of three other people.  A dozen or so books later, he’s Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh-Morpork, and Commander of an enormous Watch (so well regarded, in fact, that officers do the training, serve a year or two, and relocate to other Discworld cities, where they are instantly promoted.  ‘Sammies’, these officers are known as).  He’s happily married to Sybil, who just happens to be the richest woman in the city, and the devoted father of Sam Jnr, lover of that fine piece of literature, ‘Where’s my cow?’.

Sam Vimes is my favourite character in Discworld.  He’s not a genius, but he’s tenacious.  One of his nicknames has been ‘Vetrinari’s Terrier’, Vetrinari being the deliciously manipulative Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.  He grew up in the slums of the city, and still has ‘feelings of gilt’ about being a duke, well aware of his good fortune.  He keeps his Beast chained up, and Watches his Watchman.   He rises up.

Feet of Clay is one of the earlier Watch books, not long after Sam and Sybil married.  In earlier books, Sybil was much more in the background.  She was certainly part of Sam’s motivations and the power and privilege her position afforded often came in handy, but beyond that, she could have been anybody.  Later on, her character was developed (and as a side note, I love that, instead of ignoring her ‘blue blood’ history, Pratchett uses it to explain a core of strength that comes to the fore whenever things get difficult.  Sybil’s ancestors gave birth on camels or arranged tea-parties while war raged around them, so she’s more than capable of defending her family with a coal-stuffed dragon, negotiating international agreements or singing dwarf opera to win over a crowd).

But for now, she’s background.  For now, the only reference to Sam’s personal life is his difficulty adjusting to being ‘the master’ and the occasional home-front battle with a member of the Assassins guild.  With that out of the way, we move directly onto the mystery at the heart of the novel, the brutal murder of two elderly men, one a priest, the other the head of the dwarf bread museum.  Oh, and Vetrinari has fallen victim to poison.

Tied into all of this are the Golums, enormous ceramic ‘men’ who are bought and sold amongst the factories to do all the dirty work.  Aside from tackling the obvious questions about the Value of Man (even ceramic ones), Pratchett also touches on bigotry.  Corporal Angua, the beautiful woman and occasional werewolf, despises the Golums, even though she knows that it’s unfair.  Meanwhile, she’s formed a friendship with the Watch’s newest member, Cherry Littlebottom, who has been brought up to fear werewolves, even going so far as to wear a silver vest.  Cherry, a dwarf, is from a culture that does not allow men and women to physically distinguish themselves.  Awkwardly, Cheri, as she renames herself, starts wearing earrings and make up, to the horror of many of her fellow dwarfs (and the desire of others to follow suit).

Comparing this book to later one, I get the feeling Pratchett’s just getting a grip on his characters and their world.  The confidence that defines his later works is here, but it’s just a little wobbly around the edges.  He’s exploring topics like gender and slavery, in unexpected ways.  Secondary characters have vitally important roles.  Here’s where Pratchett decides that yes, he may have a glorious returned king in the mould of Aragorn walking the streets of Ankh-Morpork, but he’s not the hero, and neither is Vimes.  It’s nice to be able to share your admiration with the main character.

There’s so many elements of Feet of Clay that form vertebrae of later books that I couldn’t resist reading one of those books, Thud.  A lot has changed.  Dorfl, the golum of Feet of Clay, is a respected member of the Watch (along with several other Golums).  Nobby Nobs and Fred Colon, are considered dinosaurs, but, to Sam, they are ‘old street monsters’ still deserving of respect.  The changes to Sam and Sybil, I’ve already mentioned. 

If Discworld is just a fractured mirror of our world, in Thud we find the reflection of the endless battle between the Muslims and the Jews, played out as Trolls versus Dwarfs.  Tied into that story is the battle between old traditions and modern life.   Cheri’s innocent attempts to be feminine have not impressed everybody; although the ‘Low King’ of the dwarfs has indicated support, there are others who find it utterly offensive.  City Dwarfs are caught between their way of life and being a ‘true dwarf’.  The Trolls, meanwhile, are experiencing their own political change.  Trolls are, essentially, sentient rock, and every thousand years or so, one comes along who is, not the regular sandstone and basalt, but diamond.  This troll is, automatically, their king. And then, the battle of ‘Koom Valley’, happens all over again.   

Unless, with lots of tongue-in-cheek references to The DaVinci Code, the secret of Koom Valley is revealed, giving a Low King and a Diamond King who believe that keeping your own people alive is more important than killing your enemy, the power to preserve peace.

Friday, September 10, 2010

CBRII Book 35: Finger-licking Fifteen by Janet Evanovich.

Am I right in assuming that the Stephanie Plum series started the whole 'Chick mystery Lit' genre? It was certainly the first one I read that included all the staples: barely competent but plucky and intuitive lead, minimum of one hot man, a grisly death or two, and a metric fuckload of Wacky Characters.
In Finger-licking Fifteen we have:
Stephanie Plum, who became a Bounty hunter way back in One for the Dough, is completely inept at the actual physicality of being a bounty hunter, but she makes up for it with sheer luck and intuition. She is a complete disaster, always getting her cars blown up and something disgusting stuck to her. This book has four cars lost (a VW and one of Ranger's Porches to a firebug, Lula's Firebird and another one of Ranger's Porches to a bomb), and she ends up covered in paint (twice, or was it three times?) and flour.
The hot men are Joe Morelli, who used to be a bad boy when he and Stephanie went to high school together, but turned himself into a homicide cop. Their on-off relationship is currently off. Which clears the playing field (although he's never shown signs of caring anyway) for the super-mysterious Ranger, who was in the special forces, and then an amazing bounty hunter, but now owns and runs his own security firm. This love triangle has been going on for the past 15 books. At this stage, I'm about ready for Ranger and Joe to declare their love for EACH OTHER and leave Stephanie alone and hopefully a little wiser about making a damn decision and sticking to it, already.
The wacky friends: First, there's Lula, an ex-hooker. She's enormous and brash and she witnessed a man getting his head cut off, so now the killers are after her. Then there's Stephanie's grandmother; scrawny and curious and with no regard for any of society's conventions. Lula's started dating an enormous fireman who used to be a wrestler and likes dressing in women's clothes. There's an assortment of people who skipped bail, including an old man who pulled a gun on his dentist's snippy assistant and a flasher with an enormous penis who apparently is something of a highlight for all the housewives in the area.

Evanovich knows how to write. She knows how to write humour and create endearing characters. She knows she's on a good thing here and what to give the fans. I thoroughly enjoyed Finger-Licking Fifteen.
But after fifteen books (and at least three holiday-themed novellas), it's beginning to stagnate. Actually, Stephanie is beginning to stagnate. Ranger, for instance, has gone from a bounty hunter with a vacant lot as his listed address to the owner of a decent-sized security firm in its own seven-storey building. And, by the looks of it, a never-ending supply of Cayennes. Joe has, possibly surprising even himself, settled into a suburban home with his endearingly mad dog. Lula's constantly got a new scheme. Everybody else, if not entirely happy where they are in life, are actively headed in a direction they believe will take them there.
Except Stephanie. She's still wrestling bail-evaders in garbage. It's not like she hasn't been offered opportunities, she even quit bounty-hunting and worked for Ranger in an earlier book. And, like I said earlier, she's still vacillating between Ranger and Morelli. She's still getting her cars blown up, and her apartment set on fire, or whatever disaster Evanovich will have befall her.
Ultimately, I think this book works best if you think of it as a sitcom. But unfortunately, it's becoming one of those sitcoms that are so afraid of jumping the shark that they end up wearing out their viewer's patience.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

CBRII Book 34: The Case of the Imaginary Detective by Karen Joy Fowler

There's nothing wrong with this book, there's just not much right about it. Rima Lanisell is the goddaughter of famous mystery writer Addison Early. Following the death of her father (several years after the brother, and many years after the death of her mother), Rima goes to live with Addison.
Rima is supposed to be 29, but there's something incredibly child-like about her. She drifts, and although you might be able to put that down to her understandable grief, it slows the story and sucks all the personality right out of her, an almost unforgivable sin in the central character. Like a ten year old looking for entertainment, she decides she's going to unravel the 'mystery' of her father's relationship with Addison, but she's so inert that in some scenes, she forces herself to take on the characterisitics of her dead brother, and these are the few times the plot actually advances.
There's some cute moments, mostly centred around misunderstandings between the (mostly) female characters, and the ubiquitous role of the internet in everything from modern literature to social interactions.
But overall?