Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book 15: This Is A Review Of A Book In Which Stuff Happened.

I had this thought today. I thought There are two kinds of people in this world: those who finish their sentences, and

Then I decided that was too clever and I must have heard it somewhere, so I googled it, and found out that while maybe I hadn't heard of it somewhere, other people had had similar thoughts to that, so while my clever joke may or may not be my original work, it wasn't unique.

I was thinking about that just now because I just finished Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, a book which was also clever, but not particularly unique.

David Wong is the author of one of my favorite books of all time, John Dies At The End, and its sequel This Book Is Full Of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It.  Those two books both explore the adventures of two guys in a town where strange, world-threatening things happen, and only they can see it.  They're inventive, weird, funny, memorable, great books.

Futuristic Violence is not. It's not even really close to how good Wong's first two books are. His first two books were 4 or 5-star books, really really good. Futuristic Violence is I'd say about 2, maybe 3, stars: solid effort, not a terrible book, but not particularly memorable.

I think the biggest flaw here is that the story seems so typical.  I don't know, really, why I say that, except that as I read this book I kept thinking I'd read the same story, or watched the same movie, or seen the same thing, a thousand times before.

The basic plot is this: Zoey, a trailer-trash girl, gets set upon by a strange, psycho killer with mechanical jaws.  She is mysteriously rescued -- or not! -- by some guys who intervene, and within a day or so she's off to "Tabula Rasa," a city where billionaires live essentially without law.  She finds her dad was a billionaire himself, and that he is also dead. She hated her dad, who she'd only met twice in her life, but is [SPOILER ALERT] left his entire estate. The only problem is, there is a crazy thug named "Molech" who  wants her dead, for reasons that ultimately are sort of ill-explained.  Zoey eventually decides to work with her dad's inner circle, a gang of toughs called "The Suits" to fight Molech.

It all felt very cookie-cutterish and, for the first part of the book, somewhat annoying.  Zoey is not a particularly likeable character.  Wong has her spend about the first 1/3 whining, complaining, and generally saying she can't believe it and must be dreaming -- that latter one being a pet peeve of mine.  Maybe I'm different than other people, but if I woke up tomorrow and learned that some relative of mine had left me billions of dollars, not for one second would I think I must be dreaming.  As I've said before, I don't know anyone who has ever thought anything happening to them, good or bad, was happening in a dream.  People don't work that way, and authors should knock it off. Just have people accept that life is real, okay? It doesn't add to the drama or fun or excitement of a book to have a character repeatedly say I must be dreaming.

Zoey's characterization isn't the only more-or-less-stock character. "The Suits" include an actual Asian woman who wears tight sexy clothes and is a computer genius, a large flamboyant black guy who is all muscle but also all heart, a Texan type who basically is described as a real-life Yosemite Sam, and "Will," who wears suits everywhere he goes, is always drinking scotch, and is the type of guy who is always three steps ahead of everyone else. Again, this all feels incredibly recycled.

The same goes for the villains, the side characters, all the rest of it: it feels like it's been done a million times before. Everything happens about as it's supposed to, with few surprises along the way. (One surprise was that Wong didn't fall into the usual trope of introducing a seemingly random character only to have that person save the day: at one point, Zoey is rescued, sort of, by a construction crew, and the episode felt so purposefully set up that I assumed at the end the construction crew would somehow save her or help her out. They never showed up again.  Even with that Wong couldn't avoid temptation at every turn: a pair of white tigers mentioned frequently throughout the book show up at the very end at exactly where they're supposed to.)

Even though it's been done before, the book is written and paced to keep it moving. A generic action book with well-written action sequences and good pacing isn't the worst thing in the world. But it was a letdown after the comic excellence of Wong's first two books.  Those books felt far more creative, fresh, and unique than this one.

I really wanted to like this book.  I've been trying, in this review, to come up with some reason to recommend it or rate it higher than I should. I think, though, that's just residual good feeling from Wong's earlier work. I don't feel ripped off or like I wasted my time reading this one, but it's not like I'll recommend it to anyone, either.

In the end, it seems like the purposely generic title is, in fact, fitting: this is a book that you can in fact judge by its cover.

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