The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR5 Review #42: They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?

Hmmm…do I plug my own blog or do I make a dumb joke…what kind of an obvious question is that?

What’s the difference between a blogger and Kim Jong Un? Bloggers have the good sense to hide their bad hair cuts.

They Eat Puppies Don’t They?

It had been a while between sharp witted political satires for Christopher Buckley. Blame it on the irrational expectations after the film release of Thanking you for Smoking, or the general difficulty in satirizing Barack Obama without verging into “SOCIALIST HITLER” quackery, but it’s good to have him back.

His latest adventure in the annals of ethically questionable PR protagonists tracks a defense industry lobbyist charged with whipping up anti-Chinese sentiment in America. Once we have an enemy again, the thinking goes, we’ll feel a much greater need for a bright shiny missile defense technology. In the process of adding some vigor to our vitriol, we run into a couple of beautiful/amoral talking heads, a civil war re-enactor, a besieged communist party leader, a woebegone national security advisor, an aspiring equestrienne and the Dali Llama, all slammed into each other through surreal political machinations that would be laughable if they weren’t so oddly believable.

Surprisingly, Buckley’s usual passion for exposing the power behind the throne is underwhelming, the PR’tagonist “Bird McIntire” seems, in a classic Buckley-ism, just to “be in it for the mortgage”, making him a rather bland hero for most of his chapters. The real connection comes with the beleaguered Chinese President Fa, who seems to have genuine patriotism, intelligence and compassion on his side, even though none of those traits seems particularly helpful amongst the swooping war hawks and oblivious ostriches in the rest of the novel. (Just how accurate Buckley’s observations of Chinese political culture are is questionable, but his sense of people is still strong).

To be sure there’s plenty to appreciate in Buckley’s ever-present sharp eye and clever repurposing of political vanity here, but the imbalance in characters leaves it a few strides short of his best offerings. I only hope that he’ll have a new offering sooner rather than later.

 

Teresaelectro’s #CBR5 Review #6 – Red, White & Blood by Christopher Farnsworth

Red, White and Blood continues the adventures of Nathaniel Cade, undead vampire protector of President and his human partner, Zach Barrows. This third outing sees them fighting an ancient enemy – The Boogeyman. Cade and this monster have faced off before with Cade ending out on top. But as the myth goes, he’s never really dead, is he? A political enemy resurrects the monster to hunt down Cade and the President while on the re-election bus campaign trail.  

I would recommend this novel for lovers of horror, political thrillers and satire. I bet the Daily Show & Stephen Colbert writers would get a right kick out of it. 

Read the full review on my blog.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #68: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

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This is one of those books that I felt, as a fan of both sci-fi and 20th century American fiction, I should read. That feeling of obligation is perhaps what kept it on my ‘to read’ shelf for so long, as often these must-read seminal novels turn out to be disappointing. I am delighted to say that Slaughterhouse-Five is not one of those books. It’s bleak and shocking, but it’s also very funny. What’s more, it’s witty and clever, without being smart-arse. I liked this book, a lot.

The story, told un-chronologically due to a mix of flashback and time travel, is of Billy Pilgrim. Born in Ilium New York, Billy enlists in the army during World War Two, and finds himself captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. He and his fellow prisoners are held in Dresden in the fifth block of an unused abattoir, and so Billy survives and witnesses the aftermath of the fire-bombing of that city in February 1945. On his return from Europe, he qualifies as an optometrist, marries the boss’ obese daughter and has two children, has a PTSD-fuelled breakdown, survives a plane crash, discovers he is a time traveller and is kidnapped by aliens and kept in a zoo on their home planet, where he has a baby with a fellow-abductee, an American film star. None of this is explained, or revealed to you in any particular order, but that doesn’t matter. You just to go with it, and have fun. Boy do you have fun.

The novel is full of remarkable, ordinary characters (failed science fiction novelist Kilgore Trout was a favourite of mine), and the writing is a delight, as the destruction of Dresden is described in the same matter of fact way as the eating habits of Pilgrim’s gargantuan wife. Terrible things happen to people, and one of the things Billy (and you along with him) learns along the way is that while death is just around the corner, but might not be the end. So it goes.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #94: The Tailor of Panama by John le Carre

A wry political satire and thriller rolled into one, this departure from the usual le Carre fare had me laughing and wincing in equal turns. The story revolves around Harry Pendel, a British ex-pat and tailor living in Panama in 1999, just prior to the end of American occupation of the Canal, who is blackmailed by Andy Osnard, a newly-arrived agent of Britain’s intelligence service, into spying on the post-Noriega Panamanian ruling elites that he services. The fundamentally racist and imperialist British plot behind Osnard’s deployment is to fake a “democratic opposition” to a “corrupt government” in Panama, and thereby force the Americans to retake control of the geopolitically crucial Canal rather than allow the “slothful” Panamanians—or even worse, the “power-hungry” Japanese—to capture it.

Our tailor in Panama isn’t all that he appears to be, however, but an “ex”-con who did time back in England, and he fabricates intelligence on a scale that even he didn’t think possible.  Osnard isn’t what he appears to be either, but the corrupt tail end of a played-out line of British gentry who is primarily interested in rapidly accruing a personal fortune under cover of his deployment. In fact, Le Carre depicts the entire British diplomatic corps in Panama as mostly incompetent and venal fools, which Osnard and Pendel  both strive to take full advantage of, ultimately at the expense of the innocents around them. Le Carre’s skewering of the old boy network in British intelligence with their imperial aspirations, and his depiction of such parasitical newcomers to the foreign intelligence service as Osnard, is brutal and unforgiving, deservedly so. His presentation of the Panamanian ruling elites as mostly corrupt, with a few exceptions, is equally brutal. The Americans are treated with less fury by le Carre, but perhaps only because he hardly deals with them at all except as the manipulable chess pieces of the British.

The only ones who get a pass from le Carre are the victims of the imperial games:  the workers, the students, the farmers, the fisherman, the ordinary people who end up paying the ultimate price, time and again.  Le Carre’s writing is sarcastic, biting, angry, and sometimes howlingly funny, but behind his black humor is the painful political truth about the self-righteous shits who run our world, or want to.

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #26: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

masterandmargarita4

The Master and Margarita is biting satire beautifully written.  The Devil and his entourage turn Soviet Moscow upside down and inside out.  Lives are ruined, lives are saved.  Two women throw off their clothes and discover their power.  Jesus is tried and crucified.  There is a theatrical spectacular and a grand ball.  Shots are fired.  Buildings burn down.  Love wins. Continue reading

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #15: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen

NextwaveTarget: Warren Ellis’ Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.  Art by Stuart Immonen. Collecting Issues 1-12

Profile: Comics, Action, Comedy

After Action Report:

Nextwave is a great comic.  It’s not deep.  It doesn’t challenge your expectations.  It doesn’t change the paradigm for what a comic book is supposed to be, but it’s still a good comic.  It’s also somewhat hard to access.  Nextwave is a parody/satire written for and by a certain cross-section of the geek population who enjoy a broad spectrum of geeky entertainment.  In the first issue alone, Nextwavereferences: Japanese monster movies, 90s television, pretty much every major team-up comic series ever, and itself for good measure. All of this means that if you aren’t conversant in these genres some of the comedy of Nextwave might go right over your head.  There is still a fair amount of generally accessible comic moments in the vein of slap-stick, crude language and the funny scenario.  And we are fortunate enough to live in a world where S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers and comics in general have become common conversation topics.

For all of its almost reverential nods to the geek community, Nextwave is definitely making fun of the comic book establishment.  Author Warren Ellis is well known for his distaste for the directions that mainstream comics have been moving since the late 80s.  Here, that distain is transmuted into irreverent comedy that still manages to twist the knife every so often, particularly if you’re more up-to-speed on the state of Marvel Comics circa 2006.  I am not, so I had to get most of this stuff off of TVTropes but that research really enhanced a re-reading of the book.

Read the rest of the review…

loulamac’s #CBRV review #15: Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga

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Before I’d even got started, I resented this book. I’d bought it on a Kindle Daily Deal whim, and then it sat glowering at me from the top of my Kindle’s homepage. I did my best to ignore it, for some reason resistant to reading it, but alphabetical order was not my friend. Eventually, to my great relief, I gave in and read it. Relief because the glowering was no more, and relief because I quite enjoyed it.

The tower of the title is Vishram Society Tower A, a once proudly pink housing development that is now a ‘rain-water stained, fungus-licked grey’. With the slums of Vakola eddying around its feet and planes heading to Mumbai’s airport roaring overhead, Tower A is most decidedly past its best. Which is also true of its residents, such as the chippy social worker Georgina Rego, the snobbish Mrs Puri and (the ‘last man’ himself) retired schoolteacher Masterji . Fearsomely proud of their own respectability and middle class status, the motley group have little but past glories and disdain for each other to cling to. And it is this sense (or lack) of community that is threatened when a ruthless property developer tries to buy them out in order to fulfil his dream of building luxury flats. One by one, the residents accept his offer, until only Masterji is left, queering the deal for everyone with his resistance.

Through the Vishram Society, Adiga presents a bleak picture of modern Mumbai, where economic expansion sees ordinary people suffer. All of the characters are monstrous and sympathetic at the same time, all motivated by greed that could be interpreted as an understandable desire to have their situations improve.  The dark humour in the book is at its most stark, and successful as each resident justifies turning on Masterji, their treatment of him degenerating from criticism, to ostracism and ultimately physical assault. The novel poses uncomfortable questions about the tensions between ‘society’ and individualism, and leaves you wondering how you would react if unexpected wealth was within your grasp. Would it bring out the best in you? Last Man in Tower would suggest not.