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Saturday, June 24, 2017

American Static: San Francisco Noir

I'm usually a neophile who enjoys exploring places I've never been through books.  Yet sometimes I read fiction that takes place in a city that I know.  I'm originally a New Yorker, but I've now lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than thirty years.  Noir is not in accordance with my preferences as I've mentioned before on this blog, but I thought I might like a noir novel that takes place amidst neighborhoods, streets and landmarks that are familiar to me. That's why I accepted a free review copy of American Static by Tom Pitts from the publisher through publicist Wiley Saichek.


As I've indicated I'm not an ideal reader for this book and I probably shouldn't have chosen to read a noir crime thriller that takes place in a city that I love.  A city is multi-faceted like a human being.  It can't be summed up in one phrase.   San Francisco isn't just a tourist mecca.  It isn't just a refuge for aging hippies from the sixties either, though you can certainly find them.   It isn't a multicultural utopia as some would like to portray it, but neither is it sin city awash with lawlessness, sleaze, drugs and corruption as it appears to be in American Static.  That side of San Francisco does exist.  I've been there.  So I can vouch for its authenticity, but it makes me queasy to acknowledge it.  I wouldn't feel that way if Tom Pitts were writing about a city to which I have no connection like Baltimore or Detroit.

 I  originally thought that "static" was a rather ironic descriptor for this novel.  A static plot is one in which nothing is happening.   People just sit around talking about past events, and there's no action.  American Static is the opposite of that sort of narrative.   Violence is ubiquitous, and almost constant.  One of the viewpoint characters is a serial killer.   There is also another character who turns out to be a serial killer.  I tend to avoid serial killer novels because I prefer complex characters.   Serial killers seem shallower than people with a moral compass because there really is a missing dimension in their personalities.  They are fixated on themselves, and don't view other people as human beings.  So empathy or compassion are impossible for them.   They won't have any doubts about their decisions, inner conflict or guilt.  People who aren't serial killers may put their empathy aside temporarily during an emergency when they are fighting for their survival,   but the serial killer is in a permanent state of anomie, lacking connection to the rest of humanity.  Some readers may find this difference interesting or unexpected.   I have seen this personality often enough in crime novels that I find them predictable.  They can't grow as characters which makes them "static".  A static character is one who doesn't change.   So "static" in the title could be referring to serial killers.

I consider American Static a fairly typical noir novel.   So if the noir experience is what you wanted from this book, you should be satisfied with it.  It isn't the deepest darkest noir possible which has left me with the horrifying feeling that justice doesn't exist.   There is justice in the resolution of this novel.   There is even a possibility that HEA (Happily Ever After) might exist.   That's pretty upbeat for noir.   I wasn't left with a warm and fuzzy glow that you might expect from a book at the cozier end of the spectrum, but Tom Pitts does provide us with an ending on a relatively hopeful note.





Friday, June 23, 2017

Love, Murder and Mayhem: Blog Tour and Review

 Description from Publisher:

Love science fiction stories that all include elements of Love, Murder & Mayhem?
Then welcome to the latest anthology from Crazy 8 Press! This amazing collection from 15 all-star authors will delight you with superheros and supervillains, AIs, off-worlders, and space cruisers. We’ve also got private eyes, sleep surrogates, time travelers, aliens and monsters—and one DuckBob!
With tales ranging from wild and wacky to dark and gritty to heartbreaking and fun, take the deadly leap with authors Meriah Crawford, Paige Daniels, Peter David, Mary Fan, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman Paul Kupperberg, Karissa Laurel, Kelly Meding, Aaron Rosenberg, Hildy Silverman, Lois Spangler, Patrick Thomas, and editor Russ Colchamiro.
You’ll never look at Love, Murder & Mayhem the same way again—and that’s just the way we like it.


 For the sake of clarification, this is a crossover anthology that combines science fiction and mystery.   Although there are romantic relationships, readers looking for conventional Romance genre elements will be disappointed. Love can be found in these stories, but HEA is optional.  Expect the unexpected.  

I received a free copy of Love, Murder and Mayhem edited by Russ Colchamiro in return for this review.  I recognized a few author names such as Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman and Robert Greenberger from the covers of professional Star Trek novels, but their stories are very different from Star Trek. This is an original anthology.  None of the stories have appeared anywhere before.

I usually like only a few stories in any given anthology.  I want to assure readers that in the case of this anthology, it's a matter of taste.  It's not due to any deficiencies in the quality of the writing.   Some stories were too dark for me.  There were some protagonists that didn't interest me.   Other stories were obviously intended to be humorous, but didn't hit my funny bone.  There will undoubtedly be readers with different preferences.

My personal favorite of these stories was "The Note on the Blue Screen" by Mary Fan.  This is a highly unusual Sherlock Holmes story.   I need to mention that I have never been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, but contemporary twists on the Sherlock Holmes character can engage my attention.  Mary Fan gives us an AI (Artificial Intelligence) named Sherlock who is a detective  with a loyal female Watson who repairs the AI when it can't repair itself.  I thought the st0ry was clever and original.  I also loved the relationship between this Sherlock and Watson.  I am an instant fan of Mary Fan, who I've never read before.   I will definitely want to read more of her work.  She also co-edits the Brave New Girls anthologies which are YA science fiction stories that are intended to encourage girls' interest in scientific fields.  

I also liked "The Reboot of Jennis Viatorem" by Karissa Laurel. The spaceship captain protagonist is also a mother and she wants to heal her relationship with her adult son who has been accused of murdering his wife.  The plot and characterization are both complex and moving. In addition, I'd like to mention "Speedeth All" by Meriah L. Crawford for its strong but disturbing portrayal of a war on an alien planet where humans are dying for mineral wealth.  That's certainly a theme that could speak to contemporary readers. 

The stories that I featured in this review made this anthology worth reading, and the discovery of author Mary Fan made it notable.