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review 2019-11-06 20:53
Beware the Black Ice!
The Black Ice - Michael Connelly

Notwithstanding the glamour normally associated with Hollywood, Los Angeles and the advertising hype surrounding California more widely, the unvarnished description favoured by Michael Connelly remains curiously fascinating. Whilst Harry Bosch can look down from his hillside home and appreciate the distant grandeur of tinsel town, through his main character, the author also takes us onto the streets for a microscopic probe of an altogether darker and dangerous place. A place where drug dealers seek to dominate a lucrative market and casual violence and corruption are simply a means to an end.

‘Black ice’ is the latest export from Mexico, a mixture of coke, heroin and PCP and its manufacturers are aiming to displace the hitherto dominant Hawaiian variant. However, when the body of a police sergeant from the narcotics squad is found in a cheap hotel with gunshot wounds to his face, Bosch isn’t necessarily buying the suicide explanation, still less the desire of the LAPD hierarchy for a sanitising investigation that potentially draws a veil over officers that may have ‘crossed over’.

For me, the abiding interest of the book concerns the respective journeys of its key characters and the contrasting outcomes. The contrast too between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of LA, but also cross border, in the portrayal of Calexico and Mexicali, towns with shared origins, but with very different prospects for their respective inhabitants, located on either side of the US/Mexico border. In a sense, part of the fascination with Bosch and his investigations certainly lies in his seamless traversing of these different worlds and the insight he offers to the voyeuristic reader, peering into unfamiliar places and lives.

Once again, in this novel, the rancorous detective is simultaneously fending off the internal politics of the LAPD that threatens to fetter his ability to root out the truth. But, in a departure from the lone, maverick investigator narrative, we also learn something about how Bosch’s work seeps into his private life. That he should be attracted to the widow of the murdered colleague and the attendant complex challenges, is just somehow very Bosch. And yet, it is the latent complexity of the character and his slow reveal that I suspect deliberately seeks to intrigue the reader, every bit as much as the capacity of Harry Bosch to solve the immediate puzzle, the arc of the detective’s private story, peeled like layers of an onion, whilst straddling episodic criminal investigations. For example, in this novel, Bosch recalls his only meeting with his dying father, but also signals the prospect of siblings and the discovery of a family, albeit they were unaware of his existence.

Clearly the author is very adept at meshing such detail, both in terms of the case at hand, as well as the broader canvas of his creation’s life. But, Connelly also weaves into his writing interesting asides, such as the existence of the border towns (both are real) and an ‘insect eradication programme’, which in this case is used as a front for the infiltration of ‘black ice’. Such details seem to be a feature of the series so far, but they keep the storytelling fresh and interesting and the same is true of the main character. Bosch is familiar with the violence and deprivation that characterize survival on the streets and the lure of gang culture and though he doesn’t excuse it, he understands and deplores the exploitation of the desperate, through the greed of the strong. His mission of holding those who misappropriate the lives of others to account is inherently satisfying, with a moral dimension, but it is focused unashamedly on the perpetrators rather than the unfortunate victims. And so to book three…

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review 2018-12-17 13:47
Iberian Peninsula: "Land Without Evil" by Richard Gott
Land Without Evil: Utopian Journeys Across the South American Watershed - Richard Gott

(Original Review, 1993-05-31)

It gives me a lot of pleasure to mention Richard Gott's work "Land Without Evil - Utopian Journey Across the South American Watershed."

Whilst I did not intend to get mixed up with the Watershed on account of its complexity, his endeavor to go up the Amazon all the way to (probably) the Pacific, in the 1970s, was almost as much of an adventure then as it was for the 16th C Conquistadores.




If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-11-17 10:03
Sexual Mores: "Podkayne of Mars" by Robert A. Heinlein
Podkayne of Mars - Robert A. Heinlein

(Original Review, 1980-08-06)

I was not a Heinlein fan before. I've probably read most of his work, but there are only 3 of his books I've kept to enjoy reading again. I've kept more than 3 of a LOT of other authors, such as Leinster, McCaffrey, Dickson, James White, and even Philip E. High. Nor did I "cut my teeth" on RAH, so I've no sentimental associations or long-standing loyalties. To me, he's just another SF-writer, though more competent than most.



If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-11-09 13:27
SF Ghetto: "Canopus in Argos: Archives" by Doris Lessing
Canopus in Argos: Archives - Doris Lessing

(Original Review, 1980-09-29)

League for the purity of what?

An admittedly less-than-thorough examination of Lessing's work leads me to conclude that her primary faults are bad (i.e., clumsy, awkward, [difficult without the extra levels that make Joyce, etc. difficult]) writing, excessive moralizing, and trite plotting with no refreshing elements (SHIKASTA in particular strongly resembles what Bova called the "tomato surprise story"). On the other hand, I admit that I've never been very impressed with Stapledon, either; I'll acknowledge that this may be a matter of taste while observing that various mundane reviewers also seem unimpressed with the Canopus Archives. In fact, I expect that most "hardcore SF fans" (however few of them are left) will simply ignore Lessing.

This review was changed from 2 stars (1980) to 5 stars (1993).



If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-10-26 20:10
Literacy Gradients: "Web of Angels" by John M. Ford
Web of Angels - John M. Ford

(Original Review, 1993)

"Web of Angels" by John M. Ford is an interesting new book, sort of a mixture of Samuel Delany's style and the subject of "Shockwave Rider". A future galactic civilization has FTL ships, anti-gravity, life-prolonging treatments etc., but the greatest of their tools is the Web, a universal communication and processing system that can reach any part of the Galaxy instantaneously. As a result, people are graded by their ability to use the system.
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.


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