Monday, January 29, 2007

A fantastic action-thriller

"Hunters of the Dark Sea" (2003) is a fantastic action-thriller. The War of 1812 rages on land and sea. The dark seas of the world are full of hunters of every sort. Some of them hunt whales, some of them hunt merchant ships, some of them hunt scientific truth, but one of them, a great infected whale, hunts human flesh. First Mate Ethan Swain's hunt becomes a quest that leads the whaling ship Reliant halfway around the world to a forsaken point in the deep Pacific Ocean. There he discovers that the difference between the hunter and the hunted is razor thin.

This story isn't "Moby Dick". Here the seas are real and the seamanship authentic. Rather than a chapter on the symbolic nature of the color white, "Hunters of the Dark Sea" has pitching wooden decks, the smoke of broadside cannons fired in volleys, white capped waves and wind-filled canvas sails. Metaphor, madness and allegory are traded for a fast read of action, adventure and discovery. "Hunters of the Dark Sea" is more akin to the 1924 Newbery Medal winner "The Dark Frigate" by Charles Boardman Hawes. "Hunters of the Dark Sea" might have been a competitor for that very award if not for the graphic depiction of naval combat, medical gore, and the seventy nine years separating them.

The only shortcoming of this fine story is that it has no mythic theme, no symbolic restatement of a fundamental truth - might does not make right. The point it does make is powerful, but stated so subtly that it almost passes without notice. That is, might makes monstrous rather than right. The scale up of violence from simple fishing to whale killing, to killing a person, to killing a ship full of people is so natural that its logical progression merely depends upon the order of arrival of the hunters of the dark seas. Maybe that's too similar to a story being told in the evening news to be commercial. Then again, maybe not.

The greatest strength of this story is in its telling. It's a very good read, fantastically entertaining, and so filled with wet salt air that you'll need a towel before the final page. Plot a course with "Hunters of the Dark Sea" and log the journey. Find the (hidden secret?) latitude and longitude waypoints along the way. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, January 26, 2007

An old fashioned highball

"Rogue Angel: The Spider Stone" is an old fashioned highball. It's a big shot of action in an ice cold world, lightning fast pacing to fill and garnished with a sacred stone from the heart of Africa. It's intoxicating and fun.

The action in this story is positively breathtaking. An experienced hand wrote this book and it shows. That hand has been in the dojo, doubled into a fist and smashed through some bricks. That hand recognizes the feel of steel, has cradled a blade and known a sword as weapon and a friend. That brings an edgy reality to the action sequences that pop right off the page.

Annja Creed is a heroine with a mission from the highest power. She's definitely not one of Alcott's little women "taught by weal and woe to love and labor ..." She's on the other end of the pendulum's arc with Laura Croft and Electra. She is a hero in the ultramodern sense, and that is the story's only flaw. She is unshackled by uncertainty, romantic interest, or existential introspection. I missed the depth that would have brought to her character. But this isn't a tea and crumpets romance, it is an unapologetic action thriller, and it earns its chops.

"Rogue Angel: The Spider Stone" stays true to its theme rooted deep in a constant opposition of light and shadow. Alex Archer's commitment to plain prose makes this story read fast and sure.
Annja Creed has the avenging sword and social compass of Saint Joan of Arc. And that's just for starters. This story takes Annja Creed across the world on a quest to protect a sacred stone. Yes, the trail is bumpy, dangerous and littered with plenty of bad guys. I'm glad I went Annja on this adventure. You will be glad too. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Brilliant! Milk coming out of your nose funny.

"The Pop-up Book of Sex" is kinetic brilliance! It's so funny, milk coming out of your nose kind of funny, that it's got to be illegal somewhere.

What pops up in this book is naughty, but nice. It's missionary when the mood is right. It yodels in the canyon. It spanks with a feather duster. It even does it a mile high.

The illustrations by Balvis Rubess are wonderful, but the real magic of this book are the pop-ups by Kees Moerbeek. The feather duster spanking pop up really spanks! It was so loud that shoppers in the bookstore came over for a look. The next thing you know, there was a crowd laughing right out loud to a doggy-style pop up popping like a pan of Jiffy Pop on the surface of the Sun.* This is going to be the best twelve page coffee table book ever!

This pop-up book is not for kids. It includes content, images and themes of an adult, sexual, or controversial nature.

* P's o'plenty, if you please, and I do, thank you very much.