Sunday, October 10, 2010

Marathon Man, Day 3

11:38 am. ...And that's the end of Invitation to the Game. I realize that if I read the entire book in between posts, I'm sort of making a lie out of the whole "live blogging" thing, but... eh. Anyway, the Game's big plot is that a group of 10 newly graduated/unemployed teenagers have been invited to the Game, an idyllic VR world that quickly becomes more important to them than their actual reality. One day, though, it stops being idyllic, and the Game stops turning off. That's when they realize that the government has decided to overcome its unemployment problem by shipping their extras off to start new colonies on new planets.
Popular wisdom has it that the measure of a sci-fi book is how plausible it is that we'll get to that future from our current trajectory. In the Game's case, I have three quibbles. 1) The new colonists are shipped to the planet with literally nothing but the clothes on their back. No tools, no equipment, just the knowledge in their heads. Commendably, they still manage to progress from the Stone Age to their first application of written language, but it does seem a bit much to expect them to re-invent the wheel. On the other hand, I do like the idea that a government has decided to shanghai new colonists out and then sets out to do it in the manner that involves the absolute minimal amount of resources on the part of said government.
2) This is more of a human nature observation than a sci-fi quibble: The narrator tells us the ten 10 people--5 women, 5 men, all around 19 years old--had to find another stranded band of colonists to mate with, because they were all too close to family. And, um, no. I recognize that there's certain sexual things you can't traditionally get into in a 90s YA book, but you're not going to tell me that ten teenagers can be put into an enclosed, stressful environment for weeks without anyone, to put it colloquially, hooking up.
3) Much as I like the idea of the government acting with minimal amounts of altruism--sending the unemployed off to their own planet, training or no training is still technically better than mass sterilization and euthanasia-- I don't see it likely that this is how the event would play out. Mostly, I don't think those in control--government, corporation, or what have you--would give a brand new, resource filled planet to their own powerless castes. Some sort of effort would made to ensure that those in power in Earth would retain the upper hand. ...all right, that's a very pessimistic view, but there it is. Anyway, I liked the book--it was a definite step up from the Sleator stuff.

Next up: my remaining three books are all genre thrillers by Richard Stark. That should switch thing up a little. But first: daily exercise routine.

1:09 pm. Haven't done the run yet; waiting for the inhaler to kick in and the ipod to charge. In the meantime, I'm on p 26 of Stark's The Score. The plot so far is a stock heist story: Parker and a crew are planning to invade a small mining town to steal the payroll. For a genre-based story, atmosphere is everything, and Stark's hitting all the right points for a gritty noir story--by ten pages in Parker has already killed the first of his teammates. Ain't he a stinker?

2:54 pm. And we're back! Good run.

4:01 pm. "You're a young man, you can still learn. Pay attention to this. You can steal in this country, you can rape and murder, you can bribe public officials, you can pollute the morals of the young, you can burn your place of business down for the insurance money, you can do almost anything you want, and if you act with just a little caution and common sense you'll never be indicted. But if you don't pay your income tax, Grofield, you'll go to jail." (56)
"Every time they stopped, Edgars had to go buy her another bottle. 'Gold-star mother,' she said to Parker once, and started to cry. But she cried silently and didn't bother him. She was only about thirty, so the gold-star mother stuff was crap. Probably meant a boy friend killed in the army. Every tramp has an excuse." (71)
I love noir. It's so over-the-top flamboyant about being mean and gritty.

4:57 pm. P 157, and that's it for this book. Of particular note was the switch in perspective in Part 4. Up to that point, the book was a 3rd person limited perspective from Parker, but in Part 4, during the actual heist, it switches between other robbers and their hostages. Each one has their own foible that makes them likely to snap; Paulus is obsessed with watching it unfold himself, Kerwin feels more affinity for machines than people, and the best case is Grofield, an actor turned thief who constantly cites Shakespeare and mentally composes a soundtrack to accompany his life. The shifting perspective really emphasizes through his absence how much Parker is separate from everyone else. He's completely at one with the machine that is the plot/heist, and everyone else is a deviation from his ideal.

That said, I wasn't too overly thrilled with the book. It was good, and for its length, it did what it needed to do, but it was a little too mechanical. Heist stories generally follow a basic pattern: there's an ideal plan, and then there's the deviations, the things that go wrong after. If things go too wrong, the story derails because the perpetrators have been caught too flatfooted to be sympathetic. In this, things went a little too according to plan, and the necessary alterations needed to respond to the minor problems were mostly taken care of by happenstance and the dedication to the original plan rather than any special ability or effort made on the part of the crooks.

Anyway, let's start on the next Stark book. It's The Dame, which is a great noir title, and also, according to the jacket, Stark's "first Cock Robin thriller featuring Alan Grofield," the actor from the Parker book. Seriously, Cock Robin. Oh, British folk culture. What crimes you must answer for.

6:04 pm. p35. Still in the set-up stages; the woman who was attempting to hire Grofield as body guard has been killed in her bedroom--with Grofield serving as number one suspect. I'm not sure about Grofield as a main character; he has more personality than Parker, yes, but so does the squirrel that just passed by the window outside. It's the actor shtick I'm uneasy with; as second in command, it makes him an interesting wink at the genre, but as lead man, it's a little too much metacommentary for my tastes. Plus, my evaluation of his competence is entirely jaded from the middling to low opinion Parker had of him in "The Score"--which means that Stark was certainly doing his job there.

11:07 pm. Just got back from a Thanksgiving feast. That was good stuff, man. I could eat mashed potatoes all day. They're so good, with the runny bit, and the soft bit, and a bit of pepper, and... right, the book thing. ...let's go back to that.

12:00 am. Oh my stars, I just completed Dead Rising 2. It was a big, super-annoying fight, but I finally, finally did it! In your face, horribly stereotyped African American evil end boss! Oh, right, the book. Well, the plot has turned into a typical detective story, with a twist: Grofield is the number one suspect, so it's less about finding who killed "The Dame" and more about blaming someone else for it. And it's very obviously a fish out of water type story, as Grofield himself makes clear: "here he was in the middle of somebody else's story. To take a simile from his second profession, he had been miscast. Not only that, he'd been thrust onstage without knowing his lines." Some how, it's better now that he actually came out and said it. (Yeah, I know that contradicts what I said earlier. To paraphrase Whitman, Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, for I am fan, and thus have prerogative to be fickle. It's also clear what Grofield affords the story that Parker couldn't; Parker would never be in this situation, Parker wouldn't be using either pop culture or high literature to talk his way out the situation, and he wouldn't be analysing people either, because he really doesn't care.

1:04 am. P101 I gotta admit, the video game is taking more attention than the book at this particular moment. All right, what struck me the most at this point is how all the characters are inscribing their own values onto the dead woman's body--and how each inscription, save the African businessman--is about her as sex object. Even the other two women are accused of murdering her purely out of jealousy for stealing their own significant others. What happens to the standard noir mystery when the femme fatale dies in the first chapter? (And yes, that's overstating, as it is neither first chapter nor the only female fatale, but work with me.)

2:02 am. P121. Not much changing, plot-wise. Grofield's getting close to one of the female suspects, so it probably means she did it. Bonus: I just watched the most recent Venture Bros episode, and they've got Nathan Fillion playing a Spider-Man knock-off, the Brown Widow. Great stuff.

Oh, and done for the night. And 350 pages left for the final day.

Later Days.

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