And now the books of August.
Star Wars: The Lost Tribe of the Sith – John Jackson Miller. These sucked. They were actually four small mini-books strung together to tell another story in the endless Star Wars novel world. They were free, so I figured what the hell. Sometimes you get what you pay for. There was nothing compelling about this series.
Peculiar, MO – Robert Williams. I selected this largely because of its title. Peculiar is just outside Kansas City. It ended up being a dandy little sci-fi/horror/thriller.
Something streaks through the sky and lands near an abandoned dairy farm just outside Peculiar. Soon strangeness begins to happen. There are some very odd, intelligent, and belligerent cats running around. Government agents and troops sneaking around the woods. Eventually the fate of the planet is at stake. It gets resolved in a rather pleasing manner. A surprisingly good read.
New Life Incorporated – Maria Rachel Hooley. And then there’s this, perhaps the worst book I’ve ever read. Had I borrowed this from the library rather than bought it, I probably would have given up. And still, at only $0.89, it was tempting to chuck it.
The dialog was stilted, cliched, and horribly repetitive. The plot predictable. It violates many rules of sci-fi, like giving your reader a clear understanding of the world the characters live in. There is even one big twist that is ruined because the author gives it away with sloppy editing early in the book.
At a certain point, to maintain interest, I replaced the characters in the book with personas from Boogie Nights. The horrible dialog was easier to digest when I imagined Dirk Diggler and Chest Rockwell saying the words. At least then I laughed instead of shaking my head in exasperation.
No Sunlight Singing – Joe Walker. Thank goodness for this book, which renewed my faith in free titles. Originally published in 1960, it had been out-of-print for some time. The author’s son, though, just rereleased it as a free ebook.
The book, based on Walker’s experiences traveling in the Australian Outback in the middle-20th Century, follows Mary, an Aboriginal woman from her childhood to adulthood. As a child, she watches her mother die after being attacked by white ranchworkers and hears her final words, Marry a white man and turn your back on the black world. Mary, who is light skinned and speaks perfect English thanks to her white father, takes the message to heart and aims at making her way from the mission she grows up on to Darwin, a city where rumor has it an Aboriginal woman can marry a white man and improve her status and rights.
It’s a long, difficult path. Although her skin tone and language skills set her apart, she still faces many hardships. To some whites, Aboriginals are viewed as free labor. In fact, the rare rancher who gives his native workers even a modest wage is viewed with disdain by many other whites. Worse for Mary, the woman are expected to serve as willing partners to both their masters and ranch hands who need a sexual outlet. Mary learns, from older women, that, as the advances can not be ignored, that the best strategy is to exchange sex for better living conditions.
Mary eventually gets what she wants, but it isn’t without a price.
I don’t know what to compare this to in American literature, but this is an amazing read. It is hard to believe how Aboriginals were treated in their own country, treatment that until quite recently was accepted. Their land was taken and their culture destroyed, as with American Indians, and they were forced into labor, as with African slaves. Australians even instituted official policies aimed at breeding out the color from Aboriginals and removing children from their homes in hopes of hiding their people’s ways from them.
The usual cliches apply: this book is heart breaking, infuriating, shocking, yet still hopeful. The writing is wonderful, especially the easy shift from proper English to Aussie English to Pidgin English. Well worth finding a way to read.
Looking Glass – James R. Strickland. This was a solid cyberpunk novel in the mold of William Gibson’s work. The author wrote it during National Novel Writing Month, threw it into ePub, and got it listed on Amazon. Unlike New Life Incorporated, this piece works nicely.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I needed to throw one classic in, and went with this. I had read some of these before; I believe I have the complete works of Doyle on a bookshelf somewhere, although I never made it through the entire thing. They’re fine tales, for the most part, and certainly important for the genre. But some of the stories don’t hold up that well after 140 years or so.
A Nail Through the Heart – Timothy Hallinan. And finally, a published work that was made available for free to promote Hallinan’s latest book.
A Nail Through the Heart is the first in a series that revolves around Phillip Poke Rafferty, an American writer living in Bangkok. In this edition, Poke is asked to help track down a missing Australian man. During his search, Poke gets sucked into the seedy Thai underworld, crossing child pornographers, war criminals from Cambodia, and corrupt Bangkok cops. It’s a pretty standard mystery/thriller, but well written and engaging.
Most of all, the free edition worked. I’ll be reading some more of the Poke Rafferty mysteries.