[REVIEW] Point of Impact

Point of Impact, by Stephen HunterNot too long ago, my wife received a Kindle Paperwhite as a prize from a company she deals with. Since she has an iPad, she much see the point of owning the device, so she passed it on to me. I had a couple of things I could put on it, but largely I had nothing to read. For better or ill, you can shop directly from your Kindle‘s interface, so I noodled around and selected Stephen Hunter’s Point of Impact as my first Kindle purchase. I’d tried to read the book before, checking it out of the library, but I thought maybe having my own copy would spur me to finish it this time. It did.

With my current work tending toward series fiction, specifically the Camaro Espinoza novels, I’ve grown more and more interested in how successful authors deal with their own series characters. I’ve already started reading my way through the eighteen-volume Jack Reacher series, and I recently dipped into the well of bestselling self-publisher Russell Blake’s JET books. You’ve read my John Rain reviews already, I assume. I’m not quite done with those yet.

That’s a lot of series to read and some of them are pretty darned long — Jack Reacher, I’m looking at you — so I’ll be busy knocking these books out over the next year or so. It might even be a little crazy of me to add still more books onto this pile, but now I’m reading the Bob Lee Swagger novels and won’t stop until I’ve consumed them all.

Point of Impact is a little different than the first volumes of those other series, largely because it reads as though Stephen Hunter, the author, only had a one-and-done story in mind. Point of Impact is entirely complete unto itself and invites no sequels, which is probably why Hunter hasn’t been as prolific as some of his contemporaries. His hero, Bob Lee Swagger, is not one who lends himself well to episodic adventures, and I’m extremely curious to know how things proceed from here.

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JET, by Russell BlakeA few months back a friend of mine shared a Wall Street Journal article about an author working under the name Russell Blake. In the article, Blake was profiled and interviewed about his prodigious self-publishing output and the success that’s come with it. He released 25 books in 32 months, some of which sold better than others, but enough collectively that he’d moved over 400,000 copies in that stretch. This is nothing to sneeze at.

My friend and some of his friends denigrated Blake for obviously being a hack, because of course writing quickly is a sign of a slipshod author. The fact that I’m one of those authors who writes constantly and at speed, and despite that I’d earned two Dagger nominations, appeared to be lost on them. Fast equaled bad and Russell Blake must be very bad indeed.

In the article, Blake said the key to the whole enterprise was the writing. If you read a sample of his stuff and don’t like it, there are plenty of alternatives for your reading pleasure. He was proud to say that most people did like what they saw, and he had the sales to prove it. He’d even managed to work his way into a lucrative “co-author” deal with bestselling novelist Clive Cussler. Cussler doesn’t write his own books anymore, and hasn’t for years, but he’s happy to put his name on the cover of books written by others, thus guaranteeing bestseller status. Russell Blake is definitely on the fast track to somewhere good.

I decided to take Blake’s advice and try one of his books. Just the sample, of course. I wasn’t going to drop real money on his writing if it was terrible. I looked over the selection he had available and chose JET (all-caps required), an action-espionage story that was meant to evoke the Bourne films, but with a heroine instead of a stalwart male in the lead. You know from my own writing that I’m a sucker for that.

Anyway, I read the first couple chapters of JET and was engaged in the storytelling, so I plunked down my cash and downloaded the rest to my Kindle. Over the course of a week or so, I read the whole thing. Shortly thereafter I bought the next book in the series. That should give you a decent idea of my feelings on the initial volume.

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Pulling the plug

And don’t be pulling any plugs on me, either. Here’s another bunch of macho asshole bulls— floating around this country. People talking about, “Aw, pull the plug on me if I’m ever like that. If I’m comatose. If I’m like a vegetable. Pull the plug on me.”

F— you, leave my plug alone! Get an extension cord for my plug! I want everything you got, tubes, cords, plugs, probes, electrodes, IVs. You got something, stick it in me, man. You find out I got a hole I didn’t know I had, put a f—in’ plug in it.

~~ George Carlin

I was sitting in front of my computer over the weekend and thinking about where my writing career has been and where it might be going in the future. This is not something I spend a lot of time fretting over, largely because to do so is to invite paralysis. If I think too hard on the incredible luck that’s gotten me this far, and how that luck can falter, I start wondering if the whole thing is worth pursuing.

Right now I have it pretty good. My latest, Missing, is coming out in the UK in September, and before that I have the US release of Tequila Sunset in June. I’m currently represented by super-agent Oli Munson of AM Heath, and he’s busily stirring the pot on the Camaro Espinoza series, looking to nab the best opportunity that floats to the surface. I am not rolling in cash, but finances are stable. I’m doing better than most, writing during the week and spending time with my family on the weekends. There’s not a whole lot more I could ask for except a massive bestseller that’ll let me buy my own, private helicopter.

So when I think of things in these terms, I’m not unhappy. Sure, I could always be happier, but isn’t that the case with everyone? There’s no such thing as perfect authorial bliss, though Dan Brown and James Patterson may come closer to it than the rest of us. But then I start looking at the bookends — the past and future — and I wonder exactly what lessons I should draw from what I see.

I won’t lie and tell you 2013 was a good year for me. It wasn’t. I made no advance money in 2013 and, for the first time in a while, I knew the sting of rejection. I was happy to get my second consecutive Dagger nomination, but in terms of reeling in the dough I wasn’t making it the way I wanted to or needed to. I also discovered, when I returned to the working world, that I’m completely unable to combine a “real” job with my writing job. It’s either one or the other, and never the twain shall meet.

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[REVIEW] The Terminator: 2029-1984

The Terminator: 2029-1984It’s been a long time (nearly four years) since I last reviewed a Terminator comic from Dark Horse Comics. But that’s nothing compared to the amount of time that elapsed from the publication of the last Terminator comic and The Terminator: 2029-1984. That gap was nearly twenty years wide. People might have been forgiven for not even remembering Dark Horse did Terminator comics in the first place. I did, but that’s because I’m as old as the hills.

For whatever reason, 2029-1984 escaped my notice upon its initial release, and it was only when browsing the shelves at the local library that I chanced upon the collection. A trade paperback containing six issues — the original The Terminator: 2029 miniseries, followed by the companion series, The Terminator: 19842029-1984 promised a new take on a classic. I had to check it out.

You may or may not recall from reading my previous Terminator reviews that Dark Horse did not have the rights to any Terminator sequels when they started doing the comics in 1990. In fact, there were no sequels in 1990, as Terminator 2: Judgment Day wouldn’t see release until the following year. The comics never did acknowledge the existence of a filmic canon beyond the progenitor film, even as the years rolled by, which made for some interesting storytelling choices. Unable to take advantage of any of the new continuity, the Dark Horse comics made their own continuity, and this worked for a time.

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[REVIEW] Smiley

SmileyDespite everything, I can’t bring myself to hate 1996′s Scream. By all rights I should, because Scream completely reinvented horror movies not as vehicles for terror and/or revulsion, but as ironically detached commentaries on themselves. We’re only just now starting to climb out of this hole, with the better part of 20 years spent watching horror films poke fun at the genre instead of doing what they’re supposed to do, which is scare us. But Scream, despite its assault on the fundamentals of horror cinema, remains a good film. Smiley, from 2012, made 16 years after Scream, is a throwback to the Scream-authored trend and is just about as disappointing as you can imagine.

I probably never even would have heard of Smiley if it hadn’t been for all the movie channels we were getting until recently. While perusing the listings for a channel devoted to such entertainments, I saw the description of the film, about a serial killer who chooses his victims through the internet, and figured what the hell. I recorded it. I watched it. I was not happy.

To start with, the summary of the film was incorrect. It had some elements in common with the actual story, but for the most part it was entirely different. In Smiley it is posited that somewhere in the bowels of the internet there is a murderous being who, like Bloody Mary, can be summoned with a simple ritual. When engaged in a chat with someone, a nasty-minded individual need type, “I did it for the lulz,” three times and the eponymous Smiley will immediately appear and butcher the other party.

Of course, this has maximum effect if you’re using something like Skype or, as the film initially shows us, a Chatroulette knockoff. If someone were to be killed while using Facebook Messenger, they would simply stop typing. Not very dramatic. Add a webcam into the mix and everyone can see the bizarre, smiley-faced murderer killing his victim in full color. High-def, too, if you have the equipment.

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