Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book Reviews: The Colorado Kid & Variable Star

The Colorado Kid, by Stephen King

After the last Stephen King book I read, I swore I was done with Stephen King forever. Dr. Sleep wasn't horrible so much as boring, not scary, too profane, and massively overwritten. But with a limited # of years on Planet Earth, I'd decided there was better literature I could be reading instead. 

However, one of my favorite shows that's still on the air (the list is extremely short these days), Haven, was apparently based on The Colorado Kid novella written by Stephen King. When I came across the audio book at the library, I wanted to make one last exception to see how well the TV show translated the book. 

The Colorado Kid, in a nutshell, is a story told by two newspaper editors to their new reporter as an example of a mystery that no one could figure out. It's about a guy who is found dead on an island in Maine in 1980 or so, and no one knew who he was or how he got there. There are few leads, but all they know is he had dinner nearby at 6 pm - a waitress remembered him.

Over the course of the story, the newspaper guys explain how they tracked the guy back to Colorado based on some cigarettes he had in his pocket (there was a Colorado tax stamp on them) and eventually found his identity. However, based on witnesses who last saw him, it would be almost physically impossible for him to have flown from Colorado to Maine in time to be seen having dinner at 6:00 pm. 

The reporter marvels at the story.....aaaaand then the book ends. No ending for you. That's it. The point is that 'some stories don't have endings,' I guess. So he was doing something kind of meta. The Colorado Kid story didn't have an ending, so neither does the book The Colorado Kid

And it's a shame, too, since the mystery was really interesting, the characters were pretty good and spoke in decently realistic dialogue, and it was building to something really unique. 

What if at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis steal the ark from Indy and disappear into the night and the credits roll? What if at the end of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker flies his X-Wing in the opposite direction of the death star, never to return? What if...well, you get the picture. Stories need endings. It's a cheat to do otherwise. It's immensely unsatisfying. It's extremely frustrating.

No, Stephen King, I'm not going to 'write my own ending in my head.' That's your job. That's why I invested like a week in listening to this stupid audio CD. If I could make up cool mysteries in my head and end them in a clever and interesting way, I 1) wouldn't be blogging about other people's books, and 2) wouldn't have read yours. You're supposed to fill in the ending for me. Books have endings. It's like buying a car and finding out that the engine is sold separately. 

So I'm done with Stephen King. Again. The only exception I declare that I'll ever make is if he ever finishes the story and writes The Colorado Kid 2. Until then, I'll find some other hack to fill my pop-horror novel quota.

As for how the book integrates with Haven, it doesn't. About 2% of the book has anything to do with the Haven TV show at all. So Haven fans, don't read the book looking for an interesting back story on Haven or its characters or plot. At best, it shares a few character names and one or two extremely minor details. And that's it. I just hope that Stephen King doesn't get any royalties from Haven ever. That would be like if I wrote a book called Jurassic Park about a panda who likes snow cones but its name is Sam Neil. 

-0 stars out of 100 million stars

And speaking of stars...

Variable Star, by Spider Robinson and Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein is one of my favorite authors (my version of Ray Bradbury, pace my Cousin Robin) - a cool retro sci fi writer who kept it clean and always had some interesting ideas. Unfortunately, he died several years back.

However, he left a detailed outline for a book that he never wrote. He was friends with an author named Spider Robinson, and many years after his passing, Spider wrote the book. 

To keep it brief, a guy is dating a girl and the year is something like 2400 AD or so. As soon as the guy proposes, the girl reveals herself to be the grand daughter of the richest and most powerful man in the galaxy. Joel, the guy, asks the rich guy for permission to marry Jinny, the girl, and the rich guy, Conrad (stay with me now), tells him yes but that doing so will result in Joel having to take over the family business and sacrifice his every life plan in favor of being a powerful businessman.

He doesn't like that plan and runs away, so Conrad cancels his music scholarship and Joel is forced off the planet and onto a rocket that is on a 20-year trip to a distant planet to colonize it. 

If the book is about 400 pages or so (I had the audio CD), then everything I just described was in pages 1-40 or so. In pages 41-350 or so, absolutely nothing happens. Joel gets better at the saxophone, gets a job on a dirt farm on the ship, dates some women, hangs out with his friends, and so on. In the last 50 pages, someone makes an insanely clumsy and dumb and insulting and ridiculous speech about how the Iraq war led to 'hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths' and led to the downfall of civilization because the US 'could not forgive.' And then it has a really good but very rushed ending.

But apart from the Iraq thing, I'd almost pretty much recommend it, or at least the audio cd of it, because Spider Robinson is an excellent narrator and the book is hilarious. Almost every line is clever or funny in some way. It's really enjoyable. He wrote it in about 2005 or so so I guess he had the war on his mind and decided to do something stupid with that. But it's his editor's fault for not deleting that entire section, not his for writing it. It's poorly written, takes you out of the book entirely, and even worse, has absolutely no bearing on the overall plot of the story whatsoever. The guy makes a speech, everyone slow claps, and you never hear from the guy or of the revenge story line ever ever again. Pointless. Poor editing. 

And that's the only thing (other than too much language, again. Heinlein would have never loaded the book with profanity like that) that I didn't like about the book. I didn't even mind its languid pace or lack of a plot, because the writing was so enjoyable. 

I don't get why people (mainly liberals) feel like they have to make up reality if actual reality doesn't conform to their expectations. Why else would you write up a false future in which the political outcome you didn't prefer leads inexorably to the collapse of civilization? It's like a Jeff Goldstein quote I love:

[Obama is] most like Matt Damon: his genius, such as it is, comes from having written a script in which he gets to play the role of a genius...
Anyway, good book, uneven, get the audio cd version if you're going to read it!...