Book Review: The Green God

Book Review: The Green God by L. Ron Hubbard

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

The Green God

This is another in the line of pulp reprints put out by Galaxy Press, and continues their tradition of excellent physical quality.  I should also give a shout-out to GP’s distinctive shipping materials.  This time, the focus is on adventures in the exotic land of China.

“The Green God” is an exciting tale of Lieutenant Bill Mahone of Naval Intelligence.  It seems someone has stolen a jade idol, and the city of Tientsin has erupted in riots.    There’s a minimum of exposition, and the lieutenant is in constant danger from the first sentence.  Among other things, he is buried alive according to the customs of the local Chinese.

Bill takes quite a beating over the course of the story, and it eventually becomes a bit much for him still to be moving, even by pulp standards.  There’s some on-screen torture, so be advised.

“Five Mex for a Million” is novella length, and requires a bit of explanation for the title.  A “Mex” was a Mexican peso, which was used as a trade coin with and in China from 1732-1949.  As it happens, Captain Royal F. Sterling has five Mex and a small silver coin in his pockets at the beginning of the story.

That’s not very much money for a man on the lam for murder (it was self-defense) from the Chinese military.   He goes to the Thieves’ Market in Peking to buy local clothes for a disguise, but sees a mysterious chest and purchases it on a whim.  The chest carries the ideograms for “Good luck”, “Long life” and “Happiness.”  The contents of the chest?  That would be a spoiler, but it leads Captain Sterling on an adventure to Outer Mongolia.

This story has a bit of romance, rushed though it may be.  Sandra Kolita starts the story as a damsel in distress, but pulls her own weight quite well once Royal gets her out of the initial fix.  Just don’t ask for realistic character development for anyone involved.

Both stories treat the Chinese as superstitious at best, and expendable fanatics at worst.  This was typical of pulp stories of the time, but is still jarring to modern readers.

There is also a preview of “Spy Killer”, the lead story in the next volume.  Violent sailor Kurt Reid jumps ship when he’s falsely accused of murder, but on land he may be in more danger from Varinka Savischna, sultry Russian spy.

There is a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar to 21st Century readers, which should be helpful to most.  As with all volumes in the set, the book is fitted out with the stock prologue and author biography.  Because the book is such a fast read, and the repeated material makes it even shorter than it looks, casual readers may want to check their library or used book stores.

Still, this is exciting stuff, with non-stop action–great for a night’s escape from the everyday world.

Manga Review: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

Manga Review: Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit by Motoro Mase

In an alternate-history Japan, the government immunizes all children as they enter first grade.  But one in every thousand injection also contains a nanocapsule that lodges in the child’s heart.  and somewhere between age 18 and 24, will activate and stop that heart.  There’s a triple-blind system in place to prevent anyone from knowing just which injections contain the lethal capsules.

Ikigami

But just before the capsule is due to detonate, the name of the person is revealed to a government agency that delivers death notices known as ikigami to the victim twenty-four hours in advance.  One such deliveryman is a bureaucrat named Kengo Fujimoto.

The frame story follows Fujimoto as he joins the Ministry, gets his basic training, and delivers the ikigami.   He’s a bland character, which is deliberate.  He’s drifted through his early life without any particular direction, and wound up in this job more or less through inertia.  Each volume covers two deliveries.

This is where most of the action is, as the actual stories are asking the question, “What would you do if you only have twenty-four hours to live?”  The answers are as different as the victims, who range from brilliant creative types who had their whole future ahead of them through average kids to criminals with nothing left to lose.  There is, of course, a part of the law that punishes your family if you take the opportunity to go on a crime spree, but not everyone is deterred by that.

In the volume at hand, #9, the cases are:

“National Welfare Immunization”  A young woman who became a nurse specializing in neonatal care because she was born prematurely and had to struggle for life, discovers that she is one of the Chosen.  She infiltrates a school where the children are being immunized, and takes one hostage so she can confront their parents about the unfairness of the system.  The doctor doing the immunizations is dealing with his own guilt, as he had personally injected one of the Chosen at the beginning of his career and was his personal physician for years.  Can the situation be defused with only one death?

“Two Fallen In War”  Many years ago, two men met in World War Two, and a series of incidents bound them together.  Now, are those same circumstances repeating with their grandsons?  Questions of fate and intention intertwine.   Surprisingly, incontinence is a key point.

In the frame story, war threatens, and the Thought Bureau is finally concluding their investigation.  Fujimoto must finally confront his misgivings about the National Prosperity Law and the injustice inherent in the system.  He makes a decision, but what will that decision be?

One of the  interesting aspects of the series is that other than the dystopian aspects, the alternate Japan’s culture is virtually identical to our world’s, with the same social ills and crime rate.   In other words, the supposed benefits of the ikigami system are in fact pointless.

This series is marketed to the seinen (young men) demographic in Japan and has some intense violent scenes and generally mature readers subject matter.  One chapter contains an attempted rape.  Parents should heed the “mature readers” label.

Many of the cases presented are tear-jerkers, and intensely dramatic.  The art style is suited for the subject matter.  The final volume is due out in August 2014, but tentatively I recommend this series for fans of dramatic fiction.

Book Review: Wounded Tiger

Book Review: Wounded Tiger by T. Martin Bennett

Disclosure:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

Wounded Tiger

Mitsuo Fuchida was the flight leader in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Jacob DeShazer was a bombardier who participated in the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.  The Covell family were missionaries.  This book weaves together their stories.  The author bills this as “a nonfiction novel,” recreating conversations and thoughts as much as possible from the real life records and memories of those involved.

As a top pilot for the Japanese Navy, and later a leading officer, Fuchida participated in many important events of the Pacific Theater of World War Two.   But the reason this book is about him is that after the war, he learned of a Christian’s forgiveness and service even though she had every reason to seek vengeance instead.  Fuchida was shocked and intrigued by this news, and eventually converted to Christianity.

Jake DeShazer spent most of the war in Japanese prisoner of war camps after the raid on Tokyo.  He was severely mistreated and some of his fellow prisoners were killed.  But in the darkness of his cell, the Bible came to Jake and he fully embraced religion, Christ’s words of forgiveness and mercy.

The Covells were missionaries in Japan until the government made that unhealthy, then moved to the Philippines to teach, while their daughter Peggy went to college in America.  When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, they eventually hunted down and killed the older Covells as supposed spies.  But Peggy did not let this crush her or her faith, and worked to help Japanese POWs, the news of which eventually reached Fuchida.

The author originally wrote this material as a screenplay, and this shows in the very short chapters, and scene-setting date and place “intertitles.”   There are scattered footnotes explaining some foreign words (or in some cases revealing the Japanese phrase translated in the text.)  They’re inconsistently used, and i spotted a couple of typos.

There’s no bibliography as such, but the acknowledgements do mention published works of people the author consulted.

As the majority of this story takes place during a war, there is some disturbing subject matter, particularly in Jake’s prison experiences and the chapters on Hiroshima.  As a result, I recommend parents review the book before giving it to junior high or younger teens to read.  The book also touches on racism between the Japanese and Americans, which was exacerbated by the run-up to the war.

Real life is messier than we like, and some sins are more difficult to make a good story out of than others.  Fuchida’s long-term marital infidelity is only mentioned in the chapter in which he ends it, which means that his mistress and their child are shuffled off the stage immediately after we learn they exist, with no explanation of how this happened or what became of them.  One suspects that if the movie ever gets made, this is one of the scenes that will be cut.

The writing is okay, but some of the dialogue looks a bit “cleaned up” from how soldiers and sailors normally talk.

I’d recommend this book to World War Two buffs interested in the Japanese side of the conflict, and those interested in reading the life stories of Christian converts.

Comic Book Review: The Sixth Gun Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers

Comic Book Review: The Sixth Gun Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers written by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Brian Hurtt

Becky Montcrief’s stepfather is dying.  But the men who’ve come to their remote homestead aren’t willing to wait for him to finish.  It seems he’s been hiding a gun all these years, and they want it enough to kill for it.   In the heat of the moment after her Pa’s death, Becky grabs the gun and uses it.  This means the owlhoots now can’t take it until she’s dead, so they take her to their boss.

The Sixth Gun Book 1

Meanwhile, a man named Drake Sinclair is also looking for that gun, and he is no saint either.  He’s a step behind the owlhoots, and has to enter the enemy’s lair to retrieve the gun, and while he’s at it Becky.  It turns out her gun is one of a set of six, each with an eerie power,  which used to be owned by an insane Confederate general and his henchmen.  General Hume is dead, but he’s getting better, and he wants his gun back, no matter who stands in the way.

Soon Becky, Drake and Drake’s partner, gambler Billjohn O’Henry, are being chased down by Hume’s ghastly army.  But Becky’s gun is showing her things she’d rather not see, such as Drake’s dark past, and General Hume’s plans once he gets all six guns.

This series is a hybrid of Western action and horror, which meshes pretty well, all things considered.  The various powers of the guns, and the other supernatural occurrences, make for some great visuals.  The immediate threat is dealt with by the end of this volume, but enough plot threads are kept dangling to keep the story going strong.  (The artist told me the final volume should be out sometime next year.)

Becky is a bit naive at the beginning of the story, but soon becomes a survivor (it helps that her Pa taught her how to shoot.)  Drake’s character development is told mostly in flashback, he once willingly served Hume, but is a somewhat better man these days.  The bad guys are perhaps a little one-note, but part of the theme of the story is that they have been warped by their weapons, losing the parts of their original personalities that don’t involve killing people.

Given the genres, there’s a lot of gruesome violence and body horror.  At one point, there’s a technically naked woman, but she’s so drenched in blood that nothing shows.  Surprisingly little cussing, and some mild period sexism.  I’d say suitable for senior high students and up, maybe a bit younger for fans with morbid tastes.

Fans of the Jonah Hex series (especially the more outre storylines) and the works of Joe R. Lansdale should find this entertaining.

 

Comic Book Review: Whiteout / Whiteout: Melt

Comic Book Review: Whiteout/Whiteout: Melt written by Greg Rucka, illustrated by Steve Lieber

Carrie Stetko is a U.S. Marshal who’s been reassigned to Antarctica after an…incident at work and the death of her husband.  It’s been a fairly quiet duty post, and Marshal Stetko is getting to feel at home on the Ice.  Then a drilling expedition disappears, leaving only a badly mangled, nearly unidentifiable corpse at the site.

Whiteout

There is murder afoot, and soon Carrie is fighting for her life, not without losses.  She’s no longer sure who she can trust, especially British investigator Lily Sharpe, who most assuredly has her own agenda.  Worse, the investigation must be completed before the mass evacuation of personnel as winter approaches

Melt is a sequel.  Marshal Stetko is called back to the Antarctic from her first vacation in years when a Russian science station explodes.  Certain government agencies want to know if there was anything…against treaty…going on at the station.  Carrie quickly learns the explosion was no accident, and must team up with Russian agent Captain Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuchin.  It seems there might have been something illegal at the station after all, and Carrie must decide between her priorities.

Melt

Assuming the Ice lets anyone survive the chase.

These thrillers are written by Greg Rucka, who is known for his research and attention to detail,   The first volume is a bit more of a mystery than the latter, which is much more about survival.  Art is by Steve Lieber, who took the challenge of a black and white series where white is the dominant color, and used a variety of inking tools to great effect.

This is exciting stuff.  Antarctica is one of the most hostile places on Earth even in good weather.  Add bad weather and human murderousness, and Carrie is fighting for her life most of the time.

The first volume has an attempted rape, and several closeups of Marshal Stetko’s mangled hand.  Melt has some nudity and a (non-explicit, consensual) sex scene.  Both volumes have some harsh language.  As such, parents should heed the “Older Audiences” rating Oni Press has given the books.

There was a Whiteout movie made which takes much of its plot from the first volume.  Marshal Stetko was prettied up quite a bit, Lily Sharpe was replaced by a more conventional male investigative partner, and Carrie’s competence level was lowered somewhat to allow the male heroic characters more to do.  This is believed to have contributed to a relatively poor critical reception.

I recommend this series for thriller fans, lovers of ice and snow, and people who saw the movie.

Movie Review: South Pacific

It is World War Two, somewhere in the South Pacific.  Marine Lieutenant Joe Cable (John Kerr) has been assigned to infiltrate a Japanese-held island and report on their military movements in preparation for an American offensive.  He wants to recruit French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi), who is very familiar with the island in question.

South Pacific

M. de Becque is not keen on this idea, as he is courting young and pretty nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor).  His mission stalled for the time being, Lieutenant Cable accompanies rough Seabee NCO Luther Billis (Ray Walston) to the nearby island of Bali Hai.  There Cable starts a romance of his own with native girl Liat (France Nuyen) under the watchful eye of her mother Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall).

But there is a war on, and the Americans are not so free of prejudice as they would like to imagine.  Before the story is over, there will be heartbreak and loss.

South Pacific is a 1958 film based on the extremely popular 1949 musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein, itself based on stories by James Michener.  Outdoor locations were shot in Hawaii, standing in for the far away islands.

First off, the music is great.  Almost every song is a winner.  The dancing is good, and the acting is fairly high quality (some of the dialogue is a bit much.)  And Hawaii is very pretty.

The anti-racism message comes through loud and clear, despite the limitations imposed by the Hays Code (which was pretty strict about portrayals of miscegenation.)  Nellie in particular struggles with her prejudices.  She likes to think of herself as open-minded, as opposed to her mother back in Little Rock, Arkansas.  She’s okay with Emile being twice her age, and having killed a man once (as long as it was for a good reason.)  But him marrying a Polynesian woman and having children with her…that Nellie has a lot more trouble accepting.

I was also amused by something related to my current course in Economics–Bloody Mary is an entrepreneur.  The influx of American military personnel to the island has created a boom market for native handicrafts.  Bloody Mary has hired a bunch of her fellow islanders to make these items, at what are to American standards ridiculously low wages.  But they’re double the wages the French planters were paying for laborers and servants.  This has caused a labor shortage on the plantations.  But rather than raise the wages they pay, the planters complain to the U.S. military about the unfair competition!

The most glaring problem the movie has is the overuse of soft focus and “mood lighting” through the use of color filters.  During the first “Bali Hai” number it kind of works to convey the mystical nature of the island,   But it soon gets out of hand.  The director, Joshua Logan, actually apologized in public; he hadn’t realized how garish the color filters were going to look up on the big screen.

There’s also a pacing issue with the big lump of war movie that shows up in the second half of the film, which is jarring after the rest of the movie has been almost non-stop musical.

Speaking of which, the movie shows its stage play roots by having several minutes of black screen at the beginning while the overture plays, more of this as an intermission,  and at the end with the postlude.   If you are watching this with children who have never seen formal theater before, you may want to explain the idea to them.  Perhaps rig up a little curtain on your TV to be lifted to echo the experience.

As the story is set on a tropical island, there are a lot of shirtless men and some bathing costumes that are risque by 1940s standards.   There’s also brief long-shot backside nudity at the beginning of the movie, apparently allowed by the Code under some sort of National Geographic exemption.  Some viewers may find Bloody Mary’s matchmaking of her daughter to the lieutenant very uncomfortable.  I know I did, the fact that it makes sense in the local culture notwithstanding.

Overall, a flawed film, but well worth seeing for the music and the beautiful scenery (when it isn’t being obscured by the color filters), with a message that is still relevant today.

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