Monday, 12 December 2011


The Snatch is a very early Bill Pronzini novel and the very first of his long running Nameless Detective series. And it's a very decent beginning. Pronzini may have been just starting out on his longer form career but he'd already gone some way to developing his skills through his short stories. Don't be fooled by the pedestrian seeming set up to the plot, what looks like a routine kidnapping and ransom soon manages to throw a few curve balls. It's all cleanly written and constructed, playing to its pulp noir influences, the most commendable aspect being the character development of our unconventional hero. He's a very engaging character, a devotee to the pulps himself which engenders a neat homage within homage dynamic that blurs the boundaries between Pronzini himself and his nameless protagonist. Within the first few pages, Nameless has already compared someone to Doc Savage and greater props to the author for allowing an image of Lester Leith, Erle Stanley Gardener's crafty pulp creation, to jolt Nameless from a blue funk onto a hotter trail. Nameless's obsession with the pulps is a major aspect of the series, in this first book it highlights the cracks in his already crumbling and damaged relationship with his current girlfriend. Her judgement being," I want a man. Not a stubborn and self-deluding adolescent trying to live the life of a fictional hero." This isn't just fan fiction though, Pronzini just happens to be a very fine storyteller, mastering the art of hard-boiled dialogue and first person stream of consciousness that wouldn't sit uncomfortably next to the 30's pulp maestros both he and Nameless idolises.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Jacinto's Remnant

Jacinto's Remnant is the second book in the Gears of War series following on directly after the events portrayed in Gears of War 2 the popular Xbox 360 game. The humans of Sera have destroyed their last major stronghold Jacinto in a desperate attempt to flood the underground lair of the Locust. The survivors flee in search of a new refuge, hoping that the monsters from below have been all but wiped out. The book documents the Gears and the civilians of Jacinto scouting for a new island home - an old CoG Naval Base at Vectes. Like the first book it periodically looks back at an earlier historic moment in the conflict. This time it shines a light onto the dark days when Prescott authorises Hammer Strikes to obliterate all but one human enclave on the planet of Sera. The CoG government has come to the conclusion that they are doomed - unless they do the unthinkable. It still seems unthinkable to me, even knowing that saving a few is better than saving none, to press a button and wipe out 99% of your own people seems like the sort of scenario that sits more comfortably among the back story of a computer game, but in a book it has to pass closer scrutiny and even though I love Gears I tend to think ordered societies would be much more likely to go down fighting rather than resort , even in desperation, to such tactics. Mores and attitudes are very much to the fore within these books, with many of the characters, particularly Hoffman and Mataki, struggling to shift perspectives when society shifts to and from a war footing and to and from fighting a completely different and unfathomable monstrous species to fighting their own, sometimes hardly less monstrous and unfathomable.
I get the feeling Traviss really has a soft spot for Hoffman and that some of the careless characterisation from the game doesn't sit well with her. Hoffman's decision to leave Fenix, a decorated war hero, to die in an abandoned prison, overrun with Locust, being the standout bump in the road. Following on from Gears 2 the book also has to deal with the aftermath of Dom Santiago finding his long lost wife and the terrible choice he had to make. It's perhaps the key note emotional event from the sometimes quite thin plotting that the game achieved and Karen Traviss does well in painting a more detailed account of the consequences to Dom and those around him.
For a book standing squarely in the military sci-fi genre there's a severe shortage of actual action, no large Aspho Fields style battles, just some fairly routine skirmishes. It wasn't a problem for me, I enjoyed the post apocalyptic scenario focusing on rebooting society from a bare remnant. Despite the lack of action there's still plenty of drama, spot on characterisation, a sort of cosiness that come from spending time with well loved and time worn Gears and mystery lurking in the dark and the deeps.