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Search tags: charismatic-criminals
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review 2019-12-09 22:00
The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues / Harry Harrison
The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues - Harry Harrison

The 25th century's most outrageous outlaw is back. When a heist goes terribly wrong, Slippery Jim DiGriz, thief, conman, is allowed to cut a deal with the Galactic League. In return for his life, he must rerieve an alien artifact from a crazed prison planet.

 

I’m glad that it has been a while since I last read a Stainless Steel Rat book. They are best consumed with considerable space between them, otherwise the sameness of the adventures and the humour becomes a drag.

But there are a few treats in store in each book. In this one, Slippery Jim must visit a prison planet to find a stolen archeological artifact, undercover as part of a band. Their first encounter with unwashed nomads sends up organized religion. Next, they encounter a society where men and women live separately, a comic rewrite of Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Women's Country. Most of the men don’t even know that women exist, giving Harrison the chance to thumb his nose at the whole Iron John: A Book About Men concept and the men’s movement.

These are short and that’s a good thing. Especially as I have two more of them on the horizon for 2020!

Book number 341 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2016-12-15 17:57
Taltos / Steven Brust
Taltos - Steven Brust

Journey to the land of the dead. All expenses paid!

Not my idea of an ideal vacation, but this was work. After all, even an assassin has to earn a living.

The trouble is, everyone knows that a living human cannot walk the Paths of the Dead, and return, alive, to the land of men.

But being an Easterner is not exactly like being human, by Dragaeran standards anyway. Thus, the rule doesn't apply to me... I hope.

 

Another prequel, as we learn both how Vlad came to the be ruthless assassin that he is and how he got involved in/survived one of his old war stories. Brust must not have figured out yet how to move on after book 3, in which Vlad and his wife, Cawti, find themselves in conflict over a resistance movement.

A return to the past gives us the old Vladimir, who is cheerfully amoral and who only experiences twinges of conscience from time to time. The wise-cracking Loiosh (his familiar, a flying lizard) provides some comic relief, as do Vlad’s wry comments. I am sure that Brust must have been familiar with Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series—he created another charismatic criminal in Vlad, though maybe not quite so conscience-free as Slippery Jim DiGriz. Giving Vlad magical talents was an inspired addition.

Because there are two stories involved, there is a fair bit of shifting back and forth between the two. This can be a bit confusing until you get into the rhythm of it. Once you are aware of what to expect, things go smoothly.

Series like this one foreshadow the snarky, smart-cracking main characters that I currently enjoy in urban fantasy. Vlad’s weakness (teleportation makes him nauseous) humanizes him a bit. He also builds a group of people around himself—perhaps not friends, but at least co-operative allies. Those are perhaps some of the reasons why Vlad’s stories appeal to me as much as they do.  I can see Vlad as the predecessor of characters like Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files) and Atticus O'Sullivan (The Iron Druid).

 

Book 234 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

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review 2016-05-24 18:01
Hidden Bodies / Caroline Kepnes
Hidden Bodies - Caroline Kepnes

Joe Goldberg is no stranger to hiding bodies. In the past ten years, this thirty-something has buried four of them, collateral damage in his quest for love. Now he’s heading west to Los Angeles, the city of second chances, determined to put his past behind him.

In Hollywood, Joe blends in effortlessly with the other young upstarts. He eats guac, works in a bookstore, and flirts with a journalist neighbor. But while others seem fixated on their own reflections, Joe can’t stop looking over his shoulder. The problem with hidden bodies is that they don’t always stay that way. They re-emerge, like dark thoughts, multiplying and threatening to destroy what Joe wants most: true love. And when he finds it in a darkened room in Soho House, he’s more desperate than ever to keep his secrets buried. He doesn’t want to hurt his new girlfriend—he wants to be with her forever. But if she ever finds out what he’s done, he may not have a choice...

 

This book is every bit as well written & fast paced as the first one—so I have no idea why I had such a hard time to stay focused on it. I didn’t find it quite as enjoyable as You. Maybe because I already knew Joe Goldberg, so there was no “getting to know you” phase. I was just plunged back into his creepy, murderous world. This sounds twisted to say, but I think I liked Joe better as a stalker than as a serial killer.

There were some moments for sure. When Joe says things like, “God, I love her brain, all pink and mushy and suspicious.” Or when he recounts his string of murders, but says that since no one else knows, it’s “a when-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest” thing.

I assume from the ending of book 2 that there is a book 3 in the offing. I will most likely read it.

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review 2016-05-18 19:30
The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted / Harry Harrison
The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted - Harry Harrison
Jim was left in the custody of the League Navy, this story opens with him escaping from his prison cell on the League base on Steren-Gwandra, where he is awaiting deportation back to his home world. He has discovered that Bibs, a crew girl from Captain Garth's ship, is also a prisoner. Jim holds Garth responsible for the Bishop's death, and plans to hunt him down, with Bibs' help. Garth is really the crazed Captain Zennor, head of an army which continually defies League peace treaties, and now plans to invade and conquer the planet Chojecki. The people of Chojecki are pacifists, having no armies and no police. But Garth's generals decide to attack anyway, since there are no medals for "generals who bring back the troops intact." Jim must save the people of Chojecki before he can face Garth.
 
The Stainless Steel Rat series is definitely an iconic one in the scifi community—it played with the idea of the charismatic criminal in that genre. It seems to me that Harrison’s SSR proved that science fiction didn’t need to just be space ships and ray-guns, it could also involve elements of the thriller and of comedy. In some ways, Jim diGriz reminds me of a more competent, less up-standing version of Maxwell Smart (of the Get Smart TV show) in the way he bumps along from problem to problem.

These books are light and fluffy. They are great when you need an easy read that will make you smile. As a female reader, you will have to put up with a certain amount of sexism, but at least to my mind it is sexism light. By this point in the SSR franchise, the ideas are quite tired and well worn. This volume is another prequel, dealing with Jim’s early life, but the ideas are basically the same—Jim must think his way out of various scrapes and problems quickly and often in extremely unlikely ways.

The basis of this book is making fun of the military, a rather easy target in many ways. Everyone “knows” that the food is awful, that recruits are worked to exhaustion and yelled at, and that the older men at the top stay safely behind while they send the younger men into battle. Harrison pokes fun at all of these ideas.

If you have found the previous books to be entertaining, you will probably enjoy this one too. If you were bored or disappointed by the previous volume, I would suggest quitting while you are ahead. These books are not getting better and might be arguably considered of lesser quality than the earliest ones.

Book 222 of my science fiction & fantasy project.
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review 2016-05-05 22:35
Lullabies for Little Criminals / Heather O'Neill
Lullabies for Little Criminals - Heather O'Neill

Heather O'Neill dazzles with a first novel of extraordinary prescience and power, a subtly understated yet searingly effective story of a young life on the streets—and the strength, wits, and luck necessary for survival.

At thirteen, Baby vacillates between childhood comforts and adult temptation: still young enough to drag her dolls around in a vinyl suitcase yet old enough to know more than she should about urban cruelties. Motherless, she lives with her father, Jules, who takes better care of his heroin habit than he does of his daughter. Baby's gift is a genius for spinning stories and for cherishing the small crumbs of happiness that fall into her lap. But her blossoming beauty has captured the attention of a charismatic and dangerous local pimp who runs an army of sad, slavishly devoted girls—a volatile situation even the normally oblivious Jules cannot ignore. And when an escape disguised as betrayal threatens to crush Baby's spirit, she will ultimately realize that the power of salvation rests in her hands alone.

 

If you want to get a child to love you, then you should just go hide in the closet for three or four hours. They get down on their knees and pray for you to return. That child will turn you into God. Lonely children probably wrote the Bible.

We forget, as we get older, how vulnerable it feels to be a child. To not be in charge. Not responsible for where you live, what you eat, or where your money comes from. In fact, we tend to idealize those days, thinking wouldn’t it be wonderful to go back to the worry-free existence of a child? We forget that children have worries too, especially if they don’t have responsible adults in their lives.

This book also reminded me of lessons learned when I was old enough to go stay at friends’ houses: whatever you have grown up with is normal for you. Doesn’t matter how chaotic your own home is, you don’t realize it until you have a calmer home to compare it to (or vice versa). Your family’s regular foods will seem odd to others, your mom’s way of slicing a sandwich may even seem idiosyncratic to some. The “normal” routine may seem very exotic to those children who have no routine to speak of.

I was distinctly reminded of the memoir by Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle, where she and her siblings just accepted the way life was with their alcoholic father and dysfunctional mother. They learned early to take care of themselves, because their parents weren’t going to do it. And let’s face it, every family has their own dysfunctions—no matter how stable, there’s some weird thing that every family does that make it “unhappy in its own way.” (Thanks, Tolstoy).

Many lovely turns of phrase, lots of laugh-out-loud moments, plus that last sentence lifted my spirits with hope!

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