Eight even-briefer-than-usual reviews as I do some catching up: Peter Haining's The Hero, The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer, Libba Bray's Beauty Queens, Max Brand's The Streak, Sue Kaufman's Diary of a Mad Housewife, Pat Cadigan's Chalk, Patrick Ness' The Ask and the Answer and Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three.
Cold War thrillers, domestic fiction, horror, young adult fantasies, Westerns and... everything else. A genre pick n' mix.
Peter Haining's The Hero (1975) was terrible. I mean, I was expecting 'bad', but this was terrible. A Cold War thriller, it posits a world filled with peace-and-love-for-all except for the evil Chinese. An ordinary English civil servant is chosen to run an impossible mission behind the 'bamboo curtain': to photograph a doomsday device before the Chinese use it to level the West. A parallel narrative follows a group of film-makers as they make a movie of our hero's adventures. Neither are particularly appealing, and the conclusion is both senseless and distasteful. Oh, also racist. And filled with plotholes and paranoid conspiracy theories. If I were the type to give stars, here's an instance where I wouldn't.
The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer (1967) was my first experience of the man's work. I'm still going to plow on, as I'm extraordinarily interested in "New Journalism" as it applies to, well, blogging. A few stories fell flat with me - "The Time of Her Life", "Advertisements for Myself on The Way Out", "Truth and Being, Nothing and Time", "The Notebook"... all seemed, well, either overly deliberate or too linked to the mores of the time. Others, say, "The Patron Saint of Macdougal Alley", "The Paper House", "A Calculus at Heaven", "The Killer" are some of the best I've read. I suppose any survey of a career this diverse is going to have its ups and down, but I'm pleased that some were so good.
Libba Bray's Beauty Queens (2011) made me laugh out loud a half-dozen times. A dark, slapstick comedy about teenage pageant competitors stranded on a desert island while a bumbling Evil Corporation does Evil Stuff in the background. Ms. Bray takes wonderful pokes at reality television, consumer culture, nepotism, television, the South,... pretty much everything. But beneath it, there's a really lovely positive message about doing what you love and being yourself - whoever you are. Very highly recommended, both as a charmingly progressive book and a hilarious one.