Film 101: The Princess and the Frog (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2009)
Friday Five: 5 Classic Space-faring YA Science Fiction Stories

Review Round-up: The Rig, Stadium Beyond the Stars, Resort Girl

Three quick reviews of books with pretty much nothing in common.

The RigThe Rig (Joe Ducie, 2013) - Will Drake is a 15 year old prisoner, a victim of the corporate dystopian evil future state. The Rig is his third prison - a converted oil rig in the middle of the North Sea, where all the naughtiest teenage culprits spend their days. The setting of the Rig - a sort of anti-Hogwarts - is the best part: a methodically mercenary system wherein the kids are charged for ‘room and board’ and have to earn it back through demeaning labor (mostly crawling around in icky pipes). There’s even a sport called “Rigball” that’s the anti-Quidditch, with decidedly not-flying children whacking one another with magnetised lacrosse sticks.

Drake finds, as one might expect, some friends (a geeky sidekick and a spunky girl), and some dark secrets. The Rig isn’t just a prison, it is also home to sinister experiments! Perhaps our evil corporate dystopian overlords are... up to something? The best parts of The Rig are the trails and tribulations of Will Drake’s daily existence in a hellish prison, and when things escalate to an over-the-top comic book battle, the book loses its way somewhat. Still, a fun read, and I suspect that some will enjoy the unexpectedly epic conclusion more than I did.

After the jump - vintage SF YA from Milton Lesser and some properly pulpy sleaze with Resort Girl!

Stadium Beyond the Stars (Milton Lesser, 1960) - Milton Lesser is also Stephen Marlowe, one of my favourite action/private eye novelists, the author of the Chester Drum series. As Lesser, well, in the words of many a cat photo: meh.

Stadium stars Steve Frazer, one of the members of Earth’s (which is all pretty much America) Olympic team for the very first interstellar Games. Earth isn’t the center of the (human, white) universe but is still very important due to its role as the birthplace of human civilisation. Earth becomes more important when its ship o’ athletes runs into a weirdly abandoned spaceship - and the reason for that abandonment is explained as ALIENS.

Poor Steve. Being a square-jawed, white-skinned, American Earthboy, he can’t tell a lie, and when his story about the ALIENS gets out, he becomes caught in a messy political situation. The other humans n’ stuff are unhappy about ALIENS and Steve has to... I don’t know. Run around a lot and champion truth, justice and the Earthling way. Blah blah blah. Boring. In a post-Red Rising mood, I was looking for more young-adults-in-future-combat-sport-action, only to find that Stadium, despite the name, contains absolutely nothing of the sort. The closest we get to action is a rather scientifically-described dash through a meteor swarm, which, as above: meh.

Resort GirlResort Girl (Peggy Tyrell, 1960) - Andy Benson is an executive, like all of his successful executive friends. What makes him different? He got there through his looks, not his talent - married the boss’ daughter and everything. When his wife goes on holiday, leaving Andy with the scintillating company of his toddler child, Skippy, he is initially relieved... and then very bored.

Things soon heat up on two fronts. First, the local babysitter, Jolie Brennan, turns out to be HAWT. "Even from among a bevy of beauty contestants, she would've stood out like a lily - the tall, sinuous girl with the flaxen hair and the cornflower-blue eyes" (she also "fills out her bodice", which is important). Second, one of his sleazy businessman friends is expert at finding HAWT ladies to play with. And Andy plays.

A lot.

In fact, the bulk of the book is spent with Andy romping amongst his friend's blithe tourist ladies (sometimes two at a time). Between bouts with them, he wrestles with his fantasies - his ever-increasing lust for the "innocent" Jolie. Eventually whatever fragile moral barrier there is between "cheating on your wife with multiple partners" and "cheating on your wife with the baby-sitter" snaps, and Andy begins a campaign of seduction. (Basically, he buys her stuff and paws at her boobs.)

Jolie is quickly revealed to be - gasp - an evil sex-vixen, only feigning innocence, as she's keen to pick up a rich older man. Andy falls for the trap, but when Jolie throws him over for an even richer prospect, he flips out. That's when things get really dark. 

In fact, most of Resort Girl is not about the titular girl - Jolie has a few short point of view scenes, but that's it. Instead, this is a "character study" (in the loosest possible definition thereof) of Andy and his fall from grace. Never strong to begin with, he descends quickly into debauchery, obsession and crime. For a novel of ostensibly prurient excitement, it is actually a chronicle of self-loathing. I'd go so far as to label it a sort of pornographic noir. (Pornoirgraphy?)

Broadly, and generously, Resort Girl is a tale of the post-WWII surburban lifestyle gone awry. Quite a few vintage 'sleaze' titles make hay with the supposedly orgiastic behaviours of the new and 'decadent' middle class, and Resort Girl is no exception. The book's focus on the bleakness over the wantonness, however, is unusual. Hell, if squint, it might even resemble a slightly more literary novel - something like John McPartland's No Down Payment. Except with more boob-pawing and threesomes.

Resort Girl was certainly not the sort of entertainment I was expecting - the nice people at "Bedtime Books" have packaged a soul-destroying morality tale as pornographic sleaze. I can only imagine the period reader that picked this up looking for escapist titillation. (Could you get a refund on a "Bedtime Book"?) That said, as unexpected as it was, that only goes so far. Resort Girl was definitely surprising. But good? Not really.