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Posted by Inverarity

Not one, not two, but three Final Girls.

Final Girls

Ebury Press, 2017, 352 pages

Ten years ago college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie-scale massacre. In an instant she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to - a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout's knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them and, with that, one another. Despite the media's attempts, they never meet.

Now Quincy is doing well - maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won't even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy's doorstep. Blowing through Quincy's life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa's death come to light, Quincy's life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam's truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started 10 years ago is finished.

But somehow we screamed louder, ran faster, fought harder. We survived.

Any fan of horror movies knows what a "Final Girl" is - she's the one who makes it to the end, after the hockey mask-wearing chainsaw-wielding undead cannibal serial killer has carved his way through an entire sorority, a football team, and half the local police department.

Final Girls gives a nod to 80s slasher movies, but it's actually a more or less down to earth thriller. Oh sure, there are Final Girls - three of them, in fact. Quincy Carpenter survived the horror at Pine Cottage. Lisa Milner was the sole survivor of her sorority. Samantha Boyd survived the Sack Man, who slaughtered his way through the motel where she was working until she stabbed him with his own drill.

Years later, Quincy has a nice life as a baking blogger, living with a sweet, dull boyfriend in Manhattan. She's blanked out the critical events of that night, and other than constant anxiety, a prescription for Xanax, and kleptomania, she considers herself to be living a well-adjusted normal life.

Then Lisa commits suicide, and Sam suddenly shows up at her apartment in Manhattan. Sam is not nearly as well-adjusted as Quincy - in fact, it's pretty clear her life is a mess. While she's trying to make a mess of Quincy's life too, the two of them learn that Lisa was actually murdered, Quincy begins unwillingly digging into what really happened, which, in true horror movie style, will of course inevitably lead her back to Pine Cottage.

Aside from the conceit of three "Final Girls" all sharing such similar experiences, this is a more or less realistic psychological thriller. The killers, in all three cases, were not supernatural, and had no special abilities - they were just psychos. Final Girls is more like Scream than Friday the 13th, and not even as cinematic as that.

But there are twists, and double-crosses, and then more twists, and of course, a climactic bloody confrontation with a killer.

Like the best thrillers, Final Girls is more about the tension and the suspense than blood and gore. The author knows you're going to be trying to guess who the real killer is, and does a very good job of laying false clues and misdirection and then executing some big twists to keep you uncertain. Of course the suspect list is still finite, so I give myself a B for the actual killer being my second guess.

This isn't a particularly scary book - it's more mystery than horror novel. But if you are a fan of horror movies, you'll probably enjoy it.

My complete list of book reviews.
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Posted by Inverarity

The Moon blows up. Humanity splits into seven tribes.


Harper Collins, 2015, 867 pages

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain....

Five thousand years later, their progeny - seven distinct races now three billion strong - embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown...to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

A writer of dazzling genius and imaginative vision, Neal Stephenson combines science, philosophy, technology, psychology, and literature in a magnificent work of speculative fiction that offers a portrait of a future that is both extraordinary and eerily recognizable. As he did in Anathem, Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle, and Reamde, Stephenson explores some of our biggest ideas and perplexing challenges in a breathtaking saga that is daring, engrossing, and altogether brilliant.

A lot of SF authors get compared to Heinlein. John Scalzi, for instance - who is at best a watered-down milquetoast version of Heinlein. Charles Stross wrote a credible homage/send-up of Heinlein with Saturn's Children. But to me, the most viable heir to the Heinleinian throne is an author who's been one of my very favorites for years, even if I haven't kept up with all of his most recent novels - Neal Stephenson.

Stephenson writes hard SF with a minimum of handwaving. There may be some handwaving, but his orbital physics and genetic science is more accurate than Heinlein's, though in Heinlein's defense, Stephenson has access to several decades of further research in those fields. In Seveneves, the biggest handwave is the premise that begins the story - the moon blows up.

No one ever really knows why or how it blows up. The mysterious cause is only referred to as "The Agent" and the best guess is that some sort of miniature black hole occurred, but the moon suddenly disintegrates into billions and billions of pieces. Observing actual, believable physics, "blowing up" does not mean the moon disappears in a cloud of dust. Instead, the mass of the moon remains more or less where it was, held in place by gravity, so the Earth is not devastated by runaway tidal waves or anything Hollywoodish like that.

Until a little later, when for complicated reasons explained by the Neil Tyson Degrasse character, some of those pieces of the moon begin colliding and setting up a chain reaction that results in a "hard rain" falling on Earth - basically devastating the surface of the planet and rendering it uninhabitable for about five thousand years.

So the first thing to know about Seveneves is that it is really two stories in one. Stephenson writes huge books, so this could easily have been two novels, the story of the events immediately after the Agent, and the sequel, taking place five thousand years later. The first half of the book is about how Earth deals with the realization that they are doomed. All the nations cooperate (more or less) to launch enough citizens into orbital "space arks" to keep humanity alive. There are politics and complications and a lot of interpersonal drama, but its mostly a hard SF adventure about surviving the coming apocalypse.

Stephenson, as I said, is a Heinleinian sort of author, so he has Heinleinian characters - super smart, super competent, and while not necessarily as hypersexed as some of Heinlein's more egregious creations, there is a lot of talk about attraction, reproduction, and people getting it on. Stephenson is a modern author who's aware of modern audiences - which is to say, he doesn't make it as creepy as Heinlein sometimes did, and his female characters tend to have as much or more agency than the men. (This is particularly true in the segue between part one and part two of Seveneves - the part that gives the book its title, in fact.)

The part that I found alternately amusing and annoying in Seveneves (and in his previous novel, Reamde) is how blatantly he inserts real-world figures into the story.

"Doc" Dubois Harris, for example, is a very obvious stand-in for Neil Tyson Degrasse. Stephenson elevates him to hero and (contributing)) savior of the human race. He's the first one to figure out that the "hard rain" is going to fall, and helps create the space arks.

Neil Tyson Degrasse

Then there is Camila, a Muslim teenager whose backstory is essentially identical to Malala Yousafzai, and who becomes one of the book's "Seven Eves."

Malala Yousafzai

The "villain" of the novel is Julia Bliss Flaherty ("JBF"), former President of the United States. A manipulative, narcissistic, driven politician who's both admirable and despicable by turns, I could not quite decide whether she was supposed to be Hillary Clinton or Laura Roslin. Maybe a little of both.

Hillary Clinton
Laura Roslin

The first half of the book ends with the human race in space having been reduced to seven survivors - all women. These becomes the "Seveneves" who, thanks to genetic manipulation, are able to give birth to enough descendants to repopulate the species.

Five thousand years later... There are seven "races" of humanity, all descended from one of the Seveneves and having distinct characteristics that were partly chosen, and partly occurred over the millenia due to normal genetic drift. They have formed societies out in space, but as the "hard rain" on Earth has ended, they begin returning to the homeworld... where they find that some humans survived the millenia of meteor strikes by hiding underground or underwater.

The second half of Seveneves actually lost my attention for a bit. I listened to it on audio, and while I should have found the ways in which mankind had evolved and changed and produced these eugenically cultivated survivor races interesting, it wasn't really until they ran into the survivors on Earth that I felt like the story picked up again, and that was almost at the end. The first half of Seveneves is a dramatic apocalyptic adventure, with some infodumping but still briskly paced, while the second half was more like traditional SF with a bit of dystopian fiction thrown in, but a heck of a lot of exposition about the last five thousand years of post-apocalypse civilization.

I liked Seveneves better than Reamde (which was still good), but it doesn't quite live up to my favorite Stephenson classics like Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, or Diamond Age. It's a great read, flawed only in that it seems like Stephenson had too many ideas that he wanted to cram into a single book.

Also by Neal Stephenson: My review of Reamde.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: Ubik, by Philip K. Dick

Jul. 15th, 2017 06:04 pm
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Posted by Inverarity

Paranoia, psychic powers, and afterlives.


Gollancz, 1969, 208 pages

Glen Runciter runs a lucrative business - deploying his teams of anti-psychics to corporate clients who want privacy and security from psychic spies. But when he and his top team are ambushed by a rival, he is gravely injured and placed in "half-life," a dreamlike state of suspended animation. Soon, though, the surviving members of the team begin experiencing some strange phenomena, such as Runciter's face appearing on coins and the world seeming to move backward in time. As consumables deteriorate and technology gets ever more primitive, the group needs to find out what is causing the shifts and what a mysterious product called Ubik has to do with it all.

Okay, I am going to refrain from "first Dick" jokes, but this was my first time reading Philip K. Dick. Ubik probably wasn't the best introduction.

It's a weird book. I understand most of Dick's books are weird, but I frankly had trouble following the plot.

Ubik takes place in the future - 1992! - where mankind has colonized the solar system, and psionic powers are relatively commonplace. Employees of a man named Glen Runciter are hired to protect a corporation from rival psychics, but are set up in a bomb blast that kills Runciter. Then the survivors start noticing strange phenomenon. They, and their environment, keep fading, deteriorating. Their surroundings, everything from the objects to the world itself, seems to be regressing back in time. And they keep getting strange messages from the deceased Runciter, on televisions, in notes left mysteriously in cigarette cases, and so on.

There's a mystery here, with a lot of twists and turns and betrayals, and each chapter begins with advertisements for the strange substance called "Ubik" that is everything from a hair conditioner to a vitamin to a coffee supplement. The novel sometimes seems like a SF adventure, sometimes conspiracy thriller, sometimes existential horror, sometimes noir mystery. By the time the story wended its way to its conclusion, I was still a bit befuzzled. Dick is certainly an imaginative author, but this one didn't leave me wanting to run back for more right away.

My complete list of book reviews.


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July 2017


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