61. Fforde, Jasper. The Fourth Bear (378 p.)
62. Smith, Evelyn E. Unpopular Planet (335 p.)
December total: 993 pages
YTD total: 18,538 pages
Whew! What a year--54 books and 18,000 pages, despite having much less time than I used to to read. When I started tracking my reading back in January, I didn't think I'd make it anywhere near either of those marks.
I'm probably not going to continue doing monthly capsule reviews in 2009, as they take me far too much time to write up, but I'll probably continue doing brief summaries/reviews of a lot of what I read, as I finish each book.
Curtain is the last case of Hercule Poirot, though it is far from the last Poirot novel Agatha Christie wrote. It takes place at Styles, the same location as his first case, though the estate has since changed hands and the only repeating characters are Poirot and his good friend, Hastings (the narrator).
Poirot is deathly ill with a heart condition, and is trying to catch a "murderer" who is Poirot's opposite in that he commits the perfect crime every time--by using his charisma and innate sneakiness to convince someone else that murdering a third party is the only possible option. Hastings himself falls under the spell at one point, and Poirot just manages to prevent his good friend from being a murderer.
The book ends with Poirot's death and a final letter from Poirot to Hastings, explaining everything. In a twist on the usual formula, there is not one death through the course of the story, but three, and the person who personally commits pre-meditated murder is the one person who absolutely, positively could not--would not--do it. (And, though that murderer's identity is relatively immediately obvious to the reader, how and why it was done--rather than who did it--is where the final mystery lies.)
The book is somewhat bittersweet, in that it depicts Poirot as an invalid, with his still-prodigious brain trapped in a formerly robust body that is rapidly failing him. While it can be read alone, because it is intended as the final chapter in the overarching story of Hercule Poirot, it is best read after having read at least The Mysterious Affair at Styles and perhaps a few other mysteries featuring Poirot.
The Fourth Bear is the second in Fforde's Nursery Crime series, though it stands well enough on its own. I so easily followed the story here that I didn't even realize there was a previous book until I came across a mention of it somewhere else.
Detective Jack Spratt heads the Nursery Crime Division of the Reading Police Department. His chief nemesis is the Gingerbread Man, a 7-foot tall super-human spree-killer, but in the past he has worked the Humpty Dumpty case, tried to save Red Riding Hood and her grandmother from the wolf, and keeps tabs on any bears selling black market porridge and honey.
In short, the Nursery Crime stories incorporate characters and settings from nursery rhymes, folklore, and fairy tales the way Fforde's Thursday Next novels incorporate literary classics. There's even a scientific explanation for why the three bears' bowls of porridge are three different temperatures.
And something to do with giant cucumbers, mini-nuclear fission bombs, and a theme park that "safely" immerses visitors in the harsh realities of World War I trench warfare.
Highly recommended, whether or not you've read the first Nursery Crime novel (The Big Over Easy, a.k.a. the Humpty Dumpty case) or the Thursday Next novels. Especially recommended if you like Terry Pratchett's or Douglas Adams' novels.
I picked up Unpopular Planet from a paperback exchange on a whim, based on the cover copy: "An act of violence trapped him... An act of love betrayed him... And suddenly he was the rogue stud of the universe!"
First things first: If anyone ever makes a movie of this story, it would likely have to be rated at least NC-17 to do the story justice because of the sheer volume of sex the main character has as he traipses across the galaxy. (The book makes it obvious what's happening without ever getting explicit, though, which is probably for the best, given the number of alien races (and copulation methods) involved. That approach also makes it sellable outside of "Adult" bookstores)
The basic story starts on a utopian Earth where computers & robots have absolute rule. Nicholas Piggot is a musician (and gigolo), who ends up in trouble and escapes with the help of an alien "dragon" to a secret underground colony. When he causes trouble there by shacking up with another man's woman, he ends up being shipped off to another colony planet, named "Paradise". Within a few years there, he works himself up to being planetary Emperor, only to be kidnapped and sold off at an interplanetary slave market. He slowly works his way back to Paradise, making music and having sex with aliens along the way, and from there back to Earth, where the life-extending effects of interplanetary travel catch up with him. He eventually grows old and forgetful, and must cope with the consequences of having repopulated the Earth (and a good chunk of the cosmos) with his progeny, most of whom don't exactly enjoy his company. It's technically science fiction, in that there are space ships, aliens, and lots of planet-hopping, but large portions of it function as fantasy--especially the sections set on Paradise (where magic works) and the final section on Earth (which is fundamentally a post-apocalyptic fantasy).
This book reads a lot like a bad fanfic, even down to having most Nouns capitalized for Emphasis (there seems to be a logic to it, but it's done so much here that comes of as an annoying affectation that kicks the reader out of the story), and having the main character hook up with just about everyone (and everything) he can, regardless of race, gender, or anatomical feasibility--Emperor Nick makes Captain Kirk look like a piker. However, since the sex scenes are mostly just skimmed past at high speed, the book also lacks the potential appeal of soft-core pornography, so it mostly falls in between the stools.
I'm still trying to make up my mind how I feel about this book. Overall, I didn't think it was all that good, but there are some very interesting elements to the basic story. I find myself alternating between hating it for being little different from mediocre fanfic, and enjoying those interesting elements (especially the underlying story of the blue dragons, several of the fantastical sci-fi locales, and the highly successful single-minded, massively ego-centric, self-delusional characterization of Nick Piggot).
If you enjoy reading fanfic for fanfic's sake, or if you find cracktasticly bad science fiction or fantasy to be a guilty pleasure, then this will probably be right up your alley. If you don't, then I'd recommend giving this one a wide berth.
Feudalism: Serf & Turf