Sunday, October 26, 2008


I had heard or read about Octavia E. Butler, (I don’t remember which, information comes from everywhere), and about her award-winning status as one of the few prominent African-American science-fiction writers. Unfortunately, “Fledgling” was her last novel before she passed away on 2/24/2006, and I think she was using this novel to set the groundwork for more intricate, plot-driven stories that would take place in that same world later on. But Butler did not get a chance to expand. This novel started off intriguingly, but ultimately goes downhill and doesn’t really resurrect itself. There is entirely too much “feel-good” and not enough conflict.

A little girl wakes up in the deep blackness of a cave. She has no memory of how she got there or who she is. After wandering into a nearby town and meeting Wright, a construction worker, she begins to remember basic things and pieces together that she is actually a 53-year-old vampire. They encounter a set of burned-down houses, which Shori theorizes she used to live in with her family, the charred corpses of whom she also finds amongst the baked debris. Shori and Wright then set out to find the beings responsible for the fire and her amnesia, and start to discover that the murderous plot runs much deeper than they thought.

After Shori wakes up, the plot weaved its tale by piecing together disparate elements, such as the relationship between Wright and Shori and her particular effect on him, her past, her existence as a vampire and the difference between her and the synonymously named creatures of old novels and films. Following this gave the book a fun, interesting Harry Potter-like effect. But, after Shori encounters Iosif, her father, the book goes into unnecessarily long explanations of history and less and less conflict. There becomes a point where almost everyone Shori meets likes her, and that feeling of encountering new mysterious characters and situations that make the story a toss-up go out the window.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on Butler’s books altogether (see Amy Tan). As I’ve said, I’m guessing that this novel served to open up the world of the Ina to the public, so that later novels could be more action-packed. I enjoyed Butler’s writing style and still wish to read some of her earlier works.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Clocks

I am a fan of the master mystery writer Agatha Christie. This is after reading "Murder in the Orient Express" and "And Then There Were None". "Murder..." is more strictly mystery logic while there's more drama in "And Then...". I've also attempted a third book right after those two. Those first two novels are fun, intellectual and evenly-paced. The detective Hercule Poirot is a quirky, energetic and sagacious character, and I bought "The Clocks" because it's advertised as a Poirot mystery. So, please keep this in mind as I say that it was awful. (Don't worry: no spoilers)

In "The Clocks", Inspector Hardcastle and Special Agent Colin Lamb investigate the murder of a man whose body is found at 19 Wilbraham Crescent, the house of a blind teacher named Ms. Pebmarsh. The only identification on the body is the card of an insurance agent named Curry, and it is surrounded by a bunch of clocks all set at 4:15. The body is discovered by Sheila Webb, a typist-for-hire at a Secretarial Bureau where her boss, Ms. Martindale, says that someone saying they were Ms. Pebmarsh called the bureau and asked for Sheila Webb specifically to come to that house. Ms. Pebmarsh denies ever making the call. The story begins.

Note that I did not mention Poirot.

I did not like this book for 2 reasons:

1) Although it is advertised as a Poirot mystery, Hercule Poirot himself actually shows up or is mentioned in, at best, 20 - 30 pages out of 253. I doubt if it's even that much. Perhaps it's my fault for not knowing what I was getting into; I like to just know the very basic bones of the story before entering it. Inspector Hardcastle started the investigation and I thought, at some early point, the perspective would switch to Poirot. The thing is, I waited almost the whole book for him to come and take over the investigation and he didn't. He spoke about his armchair solution ability to Colin Lamb: if given all the actual facts of the crime, he can solve it right from his living room armchair.............which he does.

2) They interviewed all of the people who lived next to 19 Wilbraham Crescent, and they all give the same testimony: what time Ms. Pebmarsh (who lives there) usually leaves and comes to her house. This is fine, except I have to read it over and over again per interview. Nothing ever changes or progresses. No one ever says "That's not true, I seen her come back at 3:40 and walk out with a bag!" or some variable of the sort. I mean, the interviews also served the purpose of showing and describing each of the suspects, but I'm pretty sure there was some way around that as well.

I like for there to be drama in my art as well as action. Neither one can overlap. A little while ago, the third book I attempted to read was "Nemesis", which was a Miss Marple mystery, and was bored to tears by pg. 55 or so. I just know now that I have to look up a bit of information about whose handling the Agatha Christie case prior to reading it.