I’ve recommended James Dashner’s 2009 novel The Maze Runner to a number of tweens and teens who have enjoyed it. I’m glad they kids are loving it because I did not. You can read the reasons in the review I wrote for a grad school class in YA literature.

The flaws in The Maze Runner kept me from picking up the second book. Recently, I was thinking, maybe I’ll give the series a second chance when I came across Pink Me‘s review of The Maze Runner.

Pink Me pointed out that exposition was dribbled throughout the story, slowing the action. I think she nailed why I felt so disconnected from the protagonist Thomas. She also indicated that it was bad SF but didn’t detail her Flying Snowman moment (the point when she stopped believing the premise) for the book.

I wish she had. It would have been interesting to compare notes. I had a lot of moments when my disbelief failed to suspend. The killer was the sunspot rational for the zombies and scorched earth — very, very bad science that any fifth-grader with a search engine could figure out.

I’m also still annoyed that Dashner’s only female character was cross between a damsel in distress and a magical negro. Nothing says “Girls keep out of the boys clubhouse” like drugging the only female character so comatose throughout most of the book. The Maze Runner definitely fails The Bechdel Test.


Elections and zombies

Mira Grant’s FEED packs the punch of a shotgun.
Reading Mira Grant’s “FEED” during the last week of the presidential election was fabulous. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel about Georgia and Shaun Mason, a pair of sister and brother bloggers covering a presidential election 20 years after two viruses created zombies.

Grant writes journalists with the same raw reality and stark impact as an Edward R. Murrow broadcast during The Blitz of London. She captures the intensity of lives focused on pursuit of truth and she drops her readers into the thick of the deadline adrenaline addiction. In the fictional post-Uprising, journalists in the field are in a war zone, a war against highly contagious viruses.(The Masons’ checklists  reads something like: hidden camera, recorder, live feed, notebook, body armor, trusty .40-caliber, extra amo and if your Shaun, a hockey stick to poke the dead with.) I want to drink cokes with the Masons and compare deadline war stories

Grant’s also pretty damn good with the action thriller plot and balancing an ensemble of characters and making them people you care about. One scene when a key character might be infected reminded me of the suspense of the scene in John W. Campbell’s classic novella Who Goes There? (For geeks, it’s the scene when the researchers are testing to see who is the alien. Check out John Carpenter’s 1982 adaptation “The Thing.”)

Unlike Who Goes There? the surprise in FEED wasn’t the reveal of the villain but the price that had to be paid to unmask him. I’ll just say this: Brutal. Loved it.
I generally don’t seek out zombie movies or books. However, I’ve been enjoying watching Grant/AKA Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye urban fantasy series evolve into an incredibly twisted police procedural with the fae, politics, and other delightfully nastiness. I also a ton of good laughs with the first in her InCryptid urban fantasy series (all the fun of a grade-B man in rubber suit monster movie including creepy lizardmen and a freaky religious cult with ballroom dancing, what’s not to enjoy.) So I decided to give FEED a read.
I’m wishing I could get the chapters of Deadline on RSS. Since I can’t, I’ve now put the next two books in the NewsFlesh series, Deadline and Blackout, on hold at my library. I’m fourth and sixth in line.

A caution, FEED may not be to everyone’s taste. If you like brutal choices — like George RR Martin Game of Thrones, etc. choices — you’ll like this.

I have no clue if Grant/McGuire ever served time as one of the ink-stained or pixel-stained, but with three series (InCryptid) at a time, she must write as fast as a journalist with an editor shouting and cussing for copy 15 minutes ago.

Dresden at the crossroads

Ghost Story

By Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher and his character Harry Dresden wowed me again. Ghost Story,  (Roc, 2011, pp 481) the 13th installment in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, (not counting a collection of shorter works), opens sixth months after Changes with Harry Dresden at the crossroads and he is asked (again) to risk it all, this time his very soul, to solve a crime and help his friends.

The Dresden universe resembles contemporary Chicago complete with gangs and gangsters and the addition of magic and monsters; however, most people in Butcher’s Chicago don’t know that magic exists. Harry is the only wizard in the phone book and many of the books read like the hard-boiled PI novels they really are. The more-recent books are about Harry and his friends’ battles in a supernatural war.

A staple of this series has been Harry risking it all for his friends or innocents caught in the crossfire of various magical turfwars, as well as all out wars. The first installment Storm Front was published in 2000. It’s a solid start but the writing really takes off around books three and four. Butcher’s Dresden Files just gets and better.

While high stakes drive the plots forward in most of the Dresden Files books (and Ghost Story is no exception,) what sets this series apart from other urban fantasies is Butcher’s unique twists on the problems that complicate his characters’ lives and the extremely interesting solutions. For example: How many wizards do you know who would re-animate a T-Rex as a battle steed? Just saying.

This time around Harry is handicapped by circumstances that occurred at the end of Changes have made it almost impossible for him to tap into his powers. (I am purposely being vague because I don’t want to use the four-letter verb that will spoil Changes for those who have not read the Dresden Files.) Let’s just say, Harry must risk his soul or at least three of his friends will die. At least that’s what he’s told by someone he has cause to trust. Though maybe he should have asked more questions and looked at the fine print, but I love those flaws in Harry.

At the opening of Ghost Story, the defeat of the Red Court vampires (in Changes) created a power vacuum. Now, a new Big Bad (to borrow Buffy the Vampire Slayer jargon) and moderately-sized bads are trying to take over the world, Chicago, or just their little corner, er, sewer, of the Windy City.

These threats have caused Karrin Murphy, (Harry’s sidekick who is a former police detective and holder of two Swords of the Cross,) and their friends and allies to form an uneasy alliance with Chicago’s top crime lord Gentleman John Marcone and the White Court vampires, who could teach Machiavellian methods to old Niccolò.

To make matters worse, Harry’s friends are starting to distrust his apprentice Molly Carpenter, who was severely wounded both physically and emotionally during the final battle against the Red Court. It also doesn’t help matters that her new magical tutor is Harry’s godmother, Leanansidhe, who is pretty crazy on her good days and missed out on such progressive modern education techniques like not throwing the kid wizards in the deep end of the pool. All in all, Molly got some great excuses for PTSD.

Aside from Harry’s condition that stems from that spoiler verb that I’m not using, what sets Ghost Story apart from the other Dresden Files books is: Harry got introspection.

Harry’s always been the sort of guy to shoot fire and bullets and ask questions later. But in Ghost Story, his powers are severely reduced and his soul is on the line so he’s actually got to think things through. Like in Changes, he must face the consequences of his actions. Because of limitations on his powers, he has to take time outs and this forces him to take time and think, not something Harry has spent much of the past 13 books and several short stories doing.

Some things I missed in Ghost Story were Toot-toot and the other pixies (perhaps, no one was buying them pizza), Thomas, Dresden’s halfbrother and a White Court vampire, and Ebenezar McCoy, another wizard and Harry’s former mentor. However, I was pleased to see that Butters, the medical examiner who serves as Team Dresden’s battle medic, and Bob, a romance-novel-loving spirit trapped in a skull, returned and have grown as characters, especially Butters.

In spite of the introspection, Butcher delivers plenty of action and his own quirky brand of humor. Star Trek vs. Wars jokes abound as does fast pacing and high stakes. Yum! Molly’s mindset during a magical battle is a replica of the bridge of the Enterprise (Star Trek original series.) It’s a total riot. Though Butcher never explains how electronically challenged wizards managed to not accidentally destroy televisions and watch so much old school SF.

I’m looking forward to the 14th book, reportedly called Cold Days.