BladeRunner 3: Replicant Night – KW Jeter

“Wake up…”

I think the best thing I can say about this book is that it’s very worthwhile to read something a bit rubbish once in a while to make the good stuff look good! o_O

Not having been too impressed with the previous volume, Edge of Human, I had hoped that a second sequel (to the movie, Blade Runner, rather than the source book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) would move further away from the film and have a more interesting plot. Which it almost does, but not before we land slap bang in the middle of the movie – literally, as Deckard advises on a dramatisation of his hunt for the missing (5? 6? ;)) replicants. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but there are a lot of references to visuals in the movie that seem like trying-too-hard in-‘jokes’ for a book. Yes, Mr Writer, we’ve seen it too, thank you very much.

There is quite a lot of repetition here. I suppose some of the ‘real life’ turned to fiction is merited, but then it just keeps happening, constant little dropped references to “oh that bit that only real fans like me would remember”, and it gets really grating, really fast.

Which is a shame, as by the halfway point, there is a really quite fascinating new story line introduced, which had me glued to a large chunk of the book wanting to know what was going on. Alas, I’d have to suggest that the whole thing is handled less than well, and what could have been vastly interesting is turned into another superficial layer on the same-old that we’ve had more than enough of already.

The last book in the series has, like this one, been on my shelf for over a decade, so morbid curiosity will get me to the end, I’m sure. I’m not offering any recommendation, however.

Paperback: 309 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 1996
Series: BladeRunner book 3 (of 4)
Read from 3rd-10th January 2017

My rating: 4/10

BladeRunner 2: The Edge of Human – KW Jeter

“When every murder seems the same, it’s time to quit.”

I reread Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? last year, and was yet again amazed at just how different it is to the film it inspired: BladeRunner. Given both are feted parts of sci-fi culture, the surprise here isn’t that someone decided to try and come up with a sequel (to the movie), it’s that they make so much of an effort to bridge the gap between the two formats.

The central premise of this book comes from a mistake: a mention of six escaped replicants, when the movie then only deals with five. Of course, director Ridley Scott offered his own answers to this with several director’s cuts, so the mystery is already obsolete. Then again, if you weren’t so keen on the shift in direction there, this might offer a different view.

There’s also great scope in the main theme here: what is it that makes us human, and can artificial intelligence get so close to ‘real’ that it is indeed life?

Alas, it all descends into something of a messy sprawl. Too desperate to join book, film, and grander concepts, none felt satisfactorily handled. Instead, we get something of a rehash of the movie: the same replicants, the same BladeRunners, the same issues. Throw in those attempts to paper over some of the gaps between movie and source material – I mean, did anyone really care if J.F. Sebastian was John Isidore renamed, or a separate character? – and… yeah o_O

There is something quite visual in the story telling –  I can see the strain to describe scenes that would have played out better on screen – but ultimately there’s just too much reliance on trying to picture Harrison Ford delivering the lines, rather than developing the character.

This is actual my second read of Edge of Human, but I wouldn’t have noticed from the reread – it left that much of an impact, clearly! However, I’ve had the other two instalments on my shelf for about a decade, and an urge to finally (!) get around to them, particularly before the new BladeRunner 2049 movie hits the cinema later this year. I highly doubt any of these books will have influenced that sequel, but curiosity remains.

Paperback: 340 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 1995
Series: BladeRunner book 2 (of 4)
Read from 21st December 2016 – 14th January 2017 (reread, previously Nov 2007)

My rating: 4/10

The Gradual – Christopher Priest

“I grew up in a world of music, in a time of war.”

Being a musician in the midst of war is a tough thing. Alesandro’s muse is the chain of mysterious neutral islands known as the Dream Archipelago, a few of which are visible from his coastal home in a dismal, military dictatorship. The exotic lure of the islands is to shape, destroy, and eventually remake his life, as he follows the pull of the music into the strangest journey through time.

Having recently enjoyed the first book in the Dream Archipelago series, The Affirmation, I jumped at the chance to try the fourth – The Gradual – when NetGalley offered a free ARC copy. Perhaps I should have tried the intermediate volumes first: I ended up quite disliking this book. Not enough to give up, but it was more than a bit of a slog, mainly driven by curiosity to find out what was going on – and the disappointment at the weakness of the reveal is what turned to a large dose of ‘meh’.

The main problem for me was the pace. Between the title and the opening chapter talking about music, I thought the ‘gradual’ being referred to was probably a clever (ahem) reference to a musical chanted response. But no, I can attest that ‘gradual’ is very much about how slow the story is! It was fully a third of the way through the (not short!) book that something finally happened. But hold your excitement, it doesn’t last, and there’s another interminable trudge through the main character’s doleful thoughts until anything particularly interesting happens again.

Even then I might have forgiven the pace if the narrator hadn’t irritated me quite a bit, or if the actually interesting ‘what’s going on’ had been handled better. Crammed into the last several chapters, the ‘reveal’ sort of stutters out, almost telling you something, then not quite, then… hang on, you’re introducing what now? And what about..?! I frequently reread parts, trying to grasp the sudden jumps and looking for a proper explanation that I either missed or wasn’t actually there. Again – perhaps if I’d read books 2 and 3, or if music was something I felt as passionately about as I do writing – which is what carried me through the first volume?

Those more into their literary fiction than me might rave about all of this pacing and slow building of a character’s inner thoughts. Personally, though, I’d rather have had a better story.

Netgalley eARC: ~400 pages / 79 chapters
First published: September 2016
Series: The Dream Archipelago book 4
Read from 29th August – 19th September 2016 (yes, I kept moving onto more interesting reads!)

My rating: 4/10 – just not for me, ymmv

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

If you’re going to binge 4 trips to the cinema in 3 days, picking a very light and silly one to finish on seems like a good idea – a bit of a mental break on the viewing! And really, they don’t come much dafter than Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

The Stangle brothers (Zac Efron and Adam Devine) have a long history of ruining parties by letting their life-of-the antics get out of control. Blowing up RVs, pulling half a roof (plus occupant) down – the mayhem never ends. So when the pair’s little sister is getting married, the warning goes out: no disasters, no acting up – in fact, bring some dates to keep you calm.

We already know the pair are dumb, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they think it’s a good idea to advertise online for some ‘nice girls’ to have a free holiday in Hawaii. A queue of ‘hilarious’ poor choices are offered for our amusement, before Anna Kendrick (playing rather against type) and Aubrey Plaza weasel their way into the trip – and the scope for utter mayhem is doubled!

There’s a fine line between dumb fun and just dumb, and MaDNWD rarely stays on the right side of it. The humour relies far too much on shock value, imo, and what could have been a really amusing set up is pushed into stupidity. Just keeping it a little more realistic would actually have been funnier.

Oh, and Zac Efron only takes his shirt off once 😉

Released: 10th August 2016
Viewed: 28th August 2016
Running time: 98 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 4/10

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

Okay, I confess: trashy action movies are my guilty pleasure. You know going in that you aren’t about to get Shakespeare, but there is a good chance of a whole lot of butt-kicking fun! And in the list of action heroes, Jason Statham generally amuses me, neither taking himself too seriously (or at all, in the marvellous Spy) or crossing the line into silly, and generally looking believable with the kicking and punching and the overall meanness.

I have only vague recollections of the first Mechanic movie (it had Ben Foster in it, and a record player) but it really doesn’t matter. M:R is just A.N.Other action flick, maybe a touch of backstory from the previous installment, but it’s all laid out for you anyway and largely irrelevant.

What we’re left with is: old frenemy turns up and using his not-real-but-sort-of-real affection for Jessica Alba, manoeuvres the Stath into carrying out three ‘impossible’ assassinations, each having to look like an accident. But hey, it’s okay: pains are taken to point out how morally unpleasant the victims are. Cue the MacGyver-ish assembling of nifty tools of destruction, some gravity-defying stunts, and a lot of behind kicking.

There’s not a lot else, apart from the huge disappointment that Jessica Alba is clearly there only for the lingering shots of her behind walking into the sea. Her character is former military, and yet manages to need rescued repeatedly, being too delicate not to be easily overpowered by every bloke who grabs her wrists. Hmm. Tommy Lee Jones gets a nice just-more-than cameo role, but otherwise this is The Stath doing what The Stath does – churlish to complain about that, but the framework is just a bit too flawed for me.

Released: 26th August 2016
Viewed: 27th August 2016
Running time: 98 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 4/10 – Stath doing what Stath does, but the woeful female character loses it big points

Central Intelligence (2016)

The best bit about this movie is either the tagline – “Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson”, riffing perfectly on the actors’ names and relative heights – or the outtake scene shown over the closing credits where Hart makes a joke about ‘stupid made up names, like The Rock’.

Between those, we have a not-entirely-original story about the bullied fat kid in high school growing up to be Dwayne Johnson and joining the CIA. Meanwhile, school hero Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) has entirely failed to live up to his own potential, now bored and dissatisfied as an accountant. On the day he’s passed over for promotion again, he accepts a random friend request on Facebook, and suddenly finds himself sucked into the world of international espionage. The question is, is friend Bob the good guy or not?!

As I said, it’s not a new idea, but quite a fun one. And I think the reason I ended up not really liking this movie was that it just wasn’t as fun as I think it could/should have been, given the set up.

Two reasons this didn’t work for me: first, I just didn’t find Kevin Hart funny. I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything before, but the fart jokes weren’t amusing to begin with and too often he was allowed to just keep talking past even a vague sense of humour. His character is terribly whiny, too: all that potential, wasted. Yes, the life lesson over the course of the movie is part of the point, but still – guy needed a bigger slap from the get-go.

Secondly, the spy character of Bob was just too idiotic. At first I assumed it was an in-film act – well, unicorn t-shirts and ‘fanny packs’, c’mon! – and kept waiting for the overly-long set up scenes to play out, but the over eager puppy voice continued way passed the point where it wasn’t like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Again, there’s a character arc over the movie, but it was just ridiculous thinking someone that lacking in confidence could be an international spy, tbh. It reminded me a bit of Tom Cruise’s character in Knight and Day – again, just can’t take trained killers being quite so dippit.

Central Intelligence is an out-and-out wanting to have fun movie, and from reviews I think a lot of people enjoyed just that. Alas, I think I was maybe just expecting a more usual ‘Dwayne the Rock Johnson’ badass role, and the slightly soppy diversion from that didn’t appeal to me so much. It feels dangerous to be left wanting to slap some sense into a character with quite so many bulging muscles… o_O

Shout out, though, to some fab cameos from Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman.

Released: 29th June 2016
Viewed: 1st July 2016
Running time: 107 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 4/10 – harsh, but when you want to slap both lead characters it’s not going to do well with the ratings!

The Quarry – Iain Banks

“Most people are insecure, and with good reason. Not me.”

I held off on reading this book, for several reasons. For one, I’m meting out the last few unread Banks’ books on my shelves, saddened by the knowledge that there will be no more. And, even less happily, because I’d heard less than good things about this one, his last. Unfortunately, those things are largely true, and I was pretty disappointed with this, Banks’ last, book.

It feels incredibly mean to criticise a book like this, which was allegedly rushed out to make it into print before the author died. I’m also amazed to read that it was supposedly written before Banks received his cancer diagnosis, in which case it would be eerily precogniscent: in it, a character is facing his final days/weeks/months, slowly wasting away from the disease and losing every dignity along the way. His last times are spent ranting about the woes of the world, and it’s hard not to see those character-rants as author-rants, too, and in horribly all-too-similar circumstances.

The book describes a gathering of old university housemates around their dying friend. A less likeable bunch is hard to imagine: idealists turned yuppies (I found it hard to read these characters as 1990s students in 2013, as they were meant to be, and not from a decade or so earlier), grand visions turned to mundane existences. Two ‘McGuffins’ spice the plot: first, the hunt for a home-made video whose contents threatens the cosy little lives of all involved. Secondly, the narrator – Kit, son of the dying Guy and ‘on the spectrum’ – hopes to discover the identity of his mother. Is it one of the gathered group? And what awful secrets are on the missing tape?

The set up has promise, but sadly I felt it lived up to none of it. No spoilers to say both of the above issues are wrapped up, but with disappointing lack of ‘Ah-ha!’ feelings. Instead, we have a long weekend of this merry band drinking, doing drugs, and whining about the world, all the while revealing increasingly unlikeable aspects to their personalities.

Other than the main character, Kit, who just didn’t gel as ‘real’ or consistent in his voice, as a character study the book is actually very good, if not in an overly enjoyable way. As a story – well, not so much. Perhaps with time for another draft… but then, that in itself is a chilling take-away from the book, both in story and in reality. Urm.

On the plus side, I didn’t leave it ’til last in my reading of Banks’ books, so this doesn’t have to be my enduring memory of a body of work that has sometimes puzzled but more often amazed and entertained me.

Hardback: 326 pages / 8 chapters
First published: 2013
Series: none
Read from 6th – 13th March 2016

My rating: 4/10 – not a cheery read, in any regard