Scarface Claw – Too Serious

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Scarface Claw: The Toughest Tom In Town.

This time last year (2017) my family and I attended the book launch of the latest instalment in the Hairy Maclary (from Donaldson’s Dairy) series by Lynley Dodd. Hairy Maclary and his friends have been entertaining people, particularly younger people with an as yet undeveloped world-weariness, for 30 years. The latest book in the series is titled Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! and I’m left with some very important questions.

For those who aren’t aware, Scarface Claw is the toughest tomcat in the town where Hairy Maclary and his friends live. Which town this happens to be and the relative toughness of the other tomcats living there is not explored in any detail in the series, which could be regarded as an oversight. Scarface Claw has, on more than one occasion, threatened or utilised violence against the cats and dogs in town. This has seen scatters of paws and clatters of claws from Schnitzel von Krumm with a very low tum, Bitzer Maloney all skinny and bony, Muffin McClay like a bundle of hay, Bottomley Potts covered in spots, Hercules Morse as big as a horse, and Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy.

Obviously, this nasty, violent, and abusive cat makes for an ideal protagonist in a children’s book. Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! marks the tomcat’s second outing as the hero.

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This adventure sees our cranky and crotchety hero sunning himself on top of Tom’s car. Somehow, Tom manages to not see the rather large black tomcat sprawled on the roof of his red car and hurries off to somewhere very important – another detail unexplored by the narrative. Since this is the inciting incident of the story, you would expect it to be more believable. Are we to seriously believe that Tom doesn’t notice old Scarface? As we soon discover, literally everyone else in the town notices Scarface Claw clinging to the roof of the car, so either Tom should be required to acquire prescription lenses for driving or he knew Scarface Claw was there all along.

That Tom knowingly drove around town with a cat on his roof is not inconceivable. Scarface Claw has a long and infamous history, particularly amongst the resident town pets, so mistreatment of the tomcat may be a common occurrence. It may be that this mistreatment is what makes Scarface Claw the nasty cat he is. Maybe with extensive therapy, Scarface Claw could become a lovable and friendly cat who would be invited to Slinky Malinky’s house in a tail waving line. We can only hope.

We also have to question why everyone in town noticed Scarface Claw clinging to the roof and wanted to “rescue that cat”. Presumably, the townfolk recognised Scarface Claw, so either they are more kind and caring than Tom – plausible given my previous points about potential mistreatment – or they are starved for excitement such that waving a sock at a driver with a cat on his car roof would make it into a lifetime highlights list. But that doesn’t excuse the next issue.

I know that many animal lovers would support the use of police and fire and rescue for animal emergencies, but you have to question Constable Chrissie’s response. Did the Constable honestly have nothing better to do with her time than pull Tom over? What laws has he broken? If Tom has broken some laws, why wasn’t he charged with an offence? And why didn’t she call for a licensed animal controller, such as the Ranger, instead of relying on the ever conveniently helpful Miss Plum?* Does Constable Chrissie suspect that Tom is an abusive pet owner and is wanting to compile a list for a potential animal welfare case?**

There are so many questions left unanswered, so many details not covered, that I am left at a loose end. I can only hope that future books in the series will address these issues in some way.

*Miss Plum has a long habit of helping the town pets out of their adventurous mishaps. She seems to always conveniently arrive in the nick of time. A more suspicious person would suspect that something more sinister is at play here. Is Miss Plum stalking the town pets? Is she behind the pets’ misadventures? Hopefully, these questions will be addressed in later instalments in the series.

**Or at least intervene where possible to stop animal abuse events.***

***And it is possible that Constable Chrissie keeps an eye on Tom and his activities – possibly Miss Plum does as well – because she suspects Tom’s animal abuse may morph into something more serious. Best to catch a killer early.

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Book review: Bleak Harbor by Bryan Gruley

Bleak Harbor: A NovelBleak Harbor: A Novel by Bryan Gruley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you received a dollar for everytime someone said “X business is a license to print money” you’d have the first instance of that statement being true.

On the day before the Dragonfly Festival in Bleak Harbor, Danny Peters goes missing. Pete Peters, his stepdad, is having a quick beer after work at his medicinal marijuana shop before he and Danny go fishing when he receives a strange text message. Carey Peters is halfway through her long commute, thinking of her work problems, when she receives the message. At first, they aren’t sure if Danny has run off again or if something more sinister has happened until they receive the photo. But which of their secrets has gotten Danny in trouble?

From the very start, we see that this mystery will be built upon the layers of secrets Danny’s parents have been keeping. The twists and turns this gives us are tightly woven together. Pete and Carey feel like painfully human characters stumbling through life and now stumbling through the disappearance of their son. Danny is a refreshing and interesting portrayal of someone with autism, steering clear of the usual cliches and errors.

But I really did find it hard to engage with this novel. I liked Danny, but Pete and Carey weren’t particularly interesting or charismatic. It is hard to follow along with their trials and tribulations when you just want to slap them and tell them to talk to one another. As a result, it was hard to give this more than three stars despite how well the mystery was structured and the book was written.

I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

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Book review: Choke by Stuart Woods

ChokeChoke by Stuart Woods

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Given the title, you’d think at least one person would be strangled in this story.

Former Wimbledon contender and now tennis club pro, Chuck Chandler, has moved to Key West after sleeping with the wrong person’s wife. Learning from his recent lesson, he starts sleeping with someone else’s wife. This does not end well and he’s soon in the frame for murder. A retired NYC homicide detective, Tommy Sculley, is seeing out his days as the Key West detective training a local rookie. He thinks there is more to this murder than Chuck’s philandering would suggest. A lot more.

In my efforts to explore my local library’s offerings, I came across NYT Bestselling Author Stuart Woods. I didn’t really have any expectations and was rewarded with as much. The twist was something I figured out before the first murder. Admittedly, I didn’t pick the entirety of the finale, but those extra details were window dressing. Figuring out the twist that early would have been fine if the rest of the novel was more compelling, but it just wasn’t. An example of this is that the two main characters – Chuck and Tommy – aren’t particularly interesting. How can you make a philandering tennis pro boring?

To summarise, Choke was only okay. It was just interesting enough to keep you reading but once you’ve finished you can’t think of anything noteworthy about it. Well, except that the local tennis pro is probably trying to have sex with your wife.

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Book Review: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The chief said, ‘I’m going to need your badge, your gun, and your ability to turn into a werewolf.’

Harry Dresden is living on the memory of ramen noodles and hasn’t heard from his contact at the Chicago Police in ages. But with the full moon dawning, a spate of murders leads Lieutenant Murphy to call on his wizard skills. With the FBI sticking their nose in, Murphy under investigation, and a pack of werewolves on the prowl, Harry is up to his neck in trouble before the moon has risen.

Jim Butcher really does love to make Harry suffer. He is obviously a big believer in creating a large stack of insurmountable odds for each of Dresden’s adventures. This is both entertaining and frustrating. Entertaining because it keeps the suspense up. Frustrating because you kinda want there to be fewer fires layered under the frypan Dresden falls out of. Or to put it another way, you start asking, ‘Isn’t it time to kill the bad guys yet?’ Or to put it another way, the damned suspense nearly killed me.

This was another enjoyable Dresden adventure. I’m looking forward to my next one.

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Book vs Movie: Dracula – What’s the Difference?

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Since the annual American lolly festival is almost upon us, Cinefix is covering one of the classics. Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Francis Coppola’s 1992 Dracula.

Time for some straight talk. I don’t know how you discuss this particular adaptation without mentioning just how bad Keanu Reeves is in this film. Embarrassingly bad.

I actually tried to rewatch Dracula a couple of years ago and just couldn’t bring myself to sit through it all. Despite it being a bit of a who’s who of actors in the cast – and people like Tom Waits – it all feels so camp and silly. Even when I first saw it in high school, I remember Dracula being only average – with possibly the best visual explanation of the link between Dracula and Vlad the Impaler ever.

It is harder for me to talk about the book as I read it so long ago. And, let’s be honest here, I’ve since read way too many Anne Rice novels to not get the details confused. I read Dracula and Frankenstein at roughly the same time; because gothic horror novels are what pre-teen kids should be reading. Neither stood out for me as novels, but it is amazing how influential they have both been to genre fiction.

I wonder if there will be any modern equivalent. A novel that establishes an entire genre that is continuously reimagined, refined, and redefined such that we get analogues ranging from True Blood (coming out of the closet analogy) to Buffy (girl power).

Book review: The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

The Carpet PeopleThe Carpet People by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Don’t do that! You’ll disturb the carpet people.’

The Munrungs have just had their village destroyed by fray, a natural phenomenon from above The Carpet. In the aftermath, Glurk and Snibril try to help their village flee the attacking Mouls, a people who regard all others as animals and rather good eating. It is then they realise that fray is pushing a path of destruction through The Carpet and that the Mouls are attacking every city and town in its wake. Can they save civilisation so that people don’t go back to hitting each other?

While I was reading this novel I kept having to remind myself that it was the heavily revised edition written by the 40-something Pratchett, not the 20-something of the original edition. This was Pratchett’s first novel and as an ode to fantasy fiction had just the right amounts of absurdism and humour, which I can’t see a 20-something nailing. If Pratchett was this good out of the gate then every other author would be left weeping into the keyboard. Hopefully, someone who has read both versions can point out the differences.

This is, of course, not a Discworld novel. Apparently, all reviewers have to point this out for some reason. As such, Pratchett’s style, particularly his satire, is less pronounced here. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Carpet People, for long-time Discworld fans this may feel a little light or insubstantial. Or maybe they just feel guilty about having vacuumed their house.

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Book Review: Humans Need Not Apply by Jerry Kaplan

Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial IntelligenceHumans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

ABS brakes were the first step. The last will be us humans in observation cages next to the monkeys.

Jerry Kaplan is an expert in Artificial Intelligence and Computational Linguistics and attempts to guide the reader through what impacts AI and Robots will have on our future. In doing so, he raises many of the economic, ethical, and societal problems we are going to have to start addressing.

I first became aware of this book via CGP Grey’s short documentary of the same name (see below). To say there is a storm coming is an understatement. Kaplan guides us through the technological aspects of this topic with knowledge and skill. Where this book falls down is in his blind adherence to free-market solutions – ironically whilst pointing out several examples of where the free-market has failed in the past.

For example, some of his ideas about education are problematic. What he proposes with “job mortgages” is essentially traineeships and cadetships* that in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations were paid for by employers, with his modern twist being that employees should take out a job mortgage for. In other words, all of the cost and risk is moved from employers to employees.** How can anyone suggest that sort of thing as though they aren’t talking about slavery or indentured servitude?*** Sci-fi has been imagining that sort of scenario for decades and they weren’t calling it a good idea.

His comments about how rich people being in charge isn’t all bad, like back in ancient Eygpt… Because monarchies worked so well for everyone, who was a monarch.

Another gem was the idea that the free market could be in charge of wealth redistribution… Because it does such a great job of that right now. Now, in fairness, his plan was actually pretty good, but there were built in assumptions he didn’t really question despite laying out the framework with his discussion of automation taking our jobs.

Kaplan spent most of his book outlining what amounts to a post-scarcity world, a world where human “work” would essentially cease to exist, and thus cost, value and products become meaningless. How can you maintain our current economic system in that world? Don’t we need to be rethinking about what utopia we wish to design and the machines that will make that happen?

The final chapter has some interesting questions and ideas about what role humans can play in a world that the robots run and own. Whilst the ideas aren’t new, since science fiction has been prodding that topic for the best part of 70 years, he has grounded them in reality. If there is one takeaway from this book, it is that we all need to start planning the future now.

Overall, this was a fascinating book that is well worth reading.

* A point he acknowledges he is updating to be free-market and more “beneficial”
** It could be argued that this has already happened and Kaplan is just taking it one step further.
*** Again, a point he acknowledges with reference to AIs becoming free of ownership.

https://www.reddit.com/r/Futurology/c…
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2…

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