14

1414 by Peter Clines
Published: 2012
Narrated by: Ray Porter
Length: 12:38

I hadn’t really heard anything about this novel before reading it. It kept popping up on my Audible Recommendations, and I was in the mood for some fun science fiction. The reviews were positive and I liked the cover (yes, I judge books by their covers), so I took a chance.

I’m glad I did! This was a lot of fun. It’s a difficult plot to describe without giving anything away, but essentially it’s about a man moving into a new apartment, one with unbelievable rent and included utilities, and he begins to notice a lot of strange things – mutant bugs, perpetually unrented units, abnormal layouts. He learns, after befriending a few neighbours, that his is not the only apartment to have bizarre problems. He then leads some of the building’s residents on an investigation.

This is a great mix of mystery, science fiction, humour, and horror that really kept me interested until the very end. He paces the story perfectly, answering questions without drawing them out too long and having that natural lead to new questions. The way they investigated seemed very natural to me. The characters were just as eager to find answers as I was, which I think is important in this kind of novel. It can be exasperating to have the characters skirt around the portion of the plot you’re interesting in.

There’s a good mix of characters in this, although a few were forgettable. They also seemed a little too convenient for the plot. Everyone’s specialized skill was put to use throughout the story. No matter the problem, someone in the group would luckily be able to cover it, and it all seemed a bit transparent. The novel definitely had some lazy cliché storytelling, to the point where the main characters, multiple times, remarked that what they were doing would be cliché if they were in a bad science fiction movie. You can maybe make that joke once, but if it’s happening multiple times in the novel you need to reconsider a few things.

I’m still not sure I like his writing. It got pretty cheesy a few times, and a lot of the plot elements begin to crumble if you think about them too much, but I found it really entertaining all the way through. I’ll most likely try another of his novels in the future.

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The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

The Moon Is A Harsh MistressThe Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Published: 1966
Narrated by: Lloyd James
Length: 14:12

This is one of Heinlein’s most popular novels and the third of his I’ve read. It’s political science fiction that covers the span of a revolution. The year is 2075 and the moon (Luna) is now a penal colony for the criminals of Earth. The inhabitants live in underground cities, and once exiled it’s not just a life sentence for them, but for the generations that follow as well. Once someone’s on Luna for too long, their bodies have too much trouble adapting to earth’s gravity to return for long periods, so after their sentence is finished they live forever as free men and women on the moon.

I will accept any rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

It’s a culture without written laws, following the philosophy of ‘there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’. A perfect case Libertarian society. There are no signed contracts; if you are untrustworthy people just stop working with you. If you cause problems, you’ll find yourself thrown out of an airlock. There are twice as many men as women on Luna, which has resulted in polyandry group marriages and given women a lot of power, so if you treat a woman poorly it’s also an airlock sentence. It’s the wild west in space, in a way.

Don’t explain computers to laymen. Simpler to explain sex to a virgin.

The main protagonist is Manual, a native Loonie (Lunar resident) of Russian heritage. He works as a computer technician after having lost his arm in a drilling accident, giving him the awesome ability to switch his prosthetic arm out for specialty arms when the need arises, and one of his jobs is to maintain the Lunar Authority’s master computer, the HOLMES IV. He is the only one trusted with this maintenance, and therefore becomes the only one to discover that the computer has become sentient. He nicknames him Mike, after Mycroft Holmes.

The Lunar Authority is an exploitative controlling force from Earth that pushes arbitrary regulations to keep the Loonies impoverished. An apposing group had been meeting in secret for some time, but now with control of the moon’s super computer, Manual and two friends decide to head a revolution.

The thing to do with a spy is to let him breathe, encyst him with loyal comrades, and feed him harmless information to please his employers. These creatures will be taken into our organization. Don’t be shocked; they will be in very special cells. ‘Cages’ is a better word. But it would be the greatest waste to eliminate them—not only would each spy be replaced with someone new but also killing these traitors would tell the Warden that we have penetrated his secrets.

Once the revolution starts, the books jumps out to a high-level overview that covers the course of a year or two, and novels always tend to lose me a bit at that stage. I felt the same about Earth Abides, thrown off by the shift in pace and focus. The novel shifts from being a personal story about these three revolutionaries to a thought project on where this would lead, which was interesting as an essay but less so as fiction. I enjoyed reading about how to approach a revolution, how to organize covert cells, and the steps they were taking, but I would have also liked more personal conflict.

Spoiler
That might be the main problem with this – it’s a novel about a revolution that has no real conflict. It never feels like anything is at stake, or that anything is going to go wrong. The biggest surprise in the novel is that there isn’t really a surprise. Everything goes well. There are a couple sad deaths in what is essentially the epilogue, but no one important dies during the revolution. Nothing wrong ever really happens. The sentient super computer that controls the moon and the entire revolution, and has just discovered its sense of humour, somehow doesn’t go evil. It doesn’t even blue screen or have, like, network connectivity issues. Nothing!
/Spoiler

Overall I did really enjoy this, but I found I didn’t care about the outcome as much as I wanted to. It was interesting, but it didn’t grab me in any emotional way.

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Disgrace

DisgraceDisgrace by J.M. Coetzee
Published: 1999
Length: 220

This was assigned reading in a literature course I took in my first year of university. I eventually became quite a good student by the time I graduated, but that year I was still in high school mode and as a result never finished this. I’m slowly redeeming myself for the reading sins of my past.

This tells the story of an aging university poetry instructor, David Lurie, who falls into disgrace after having an affair with a student. He ends up leaving his life in Cape Town temporarily to live with his daughter at her small farm in the country. He hopes to take a break from the pain in his life, but he only finds more of it when he leaves the city.

Because a woman’s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is a part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it.

Lurie is misogynistic and racist and borderline sociopathic, but you still want to see things turn out well for him and, more so, his daughter, which is both a testament to Coetzee’s writing and to the extreme difficulties these characters suffer. It can be an infuriating read at times, as characters often act against their own interest in ways that don’t immediately make sense to the reader, usually a major pet peeve of mine, but at least here I can see the characters’ reasoning even if I don’t necessarily agree.

In some ways, Lurie reminding me a lot of Meursault in The Stranger. Both characters live by their own idea of morality, committing horrible acts without regret, and both stand trial and refuse to defend themselves. However, in Meursault’s case, he sees it as immoral to lie about feeling shame. In Lurie’s case, I think publicly apologizing and working with the prosecutors would make him have to face the shame he actually does feel, which he refuses to do even if it means the end of his career. He doesn’t even fully acknowledge his crime in his own head, twisting words to justify it.

Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core. As though she had decided to go slack, die within herself for the duration, like a rabbit when the jaws of the fox close on its neck. So that everything done to her might be done, as it were, far away.

This tackles a lot, with a focus on sexual violence and post-apartheid racism. Coetzee really takes the title to heart. It feels like every page of this deals with disgrace in some way. This story could have been a disaster in a lesser writer’s hands, but his writing is fantastic and really pulls you in. It left me with a lot to think about, and the more I do think about it the more layers I notice.

This actually would have been a really interesting book to discuss in a class setting, so I probably screwed up not reading it the first time around. I picked up Life and Times of Michael K at a book sale earlier in the year, so I think I’ll read that one fairly soon.

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Walking on Glass

Walking on GlassWalking on Glass by Iain Banks
Published: 1985
Narrated by: Peter Kenny
Length: 08:08

This is Iain Banks’ second novel and the second of his I’ve read. He published this under his mainstream name, rather than his science fiction name of Iain M. Banks, which is odd as this is very much in that genre, but maybe he hadn’t adapted that naming scheme yet at this point.

This is three seemingly distinct storylines that are linked together at the end of the story. One follows Graham Park, a man in his early twenties who is newly in love. Another follows Steven Grout, a hyper-paranoid man newly fired from yet another job. The third story is of Quiss and Ajayi, two people confined by law to a mystical castle for past crimes, where they will remain indefinitely until they solve the nearly-impossible games presented to them.

The three storylines in this felt a little too disparate. They come together in the end, but not really in a satisfying way, and it came off feeling like an experiment in writing that just didn’t pan out. Each story had pieces that I enjoyed. The story taking place in the castle in particular felt like it really deserved a full novel. It was such an interesting setting and circumstance that I just wanted to read more.

Steven Grout was a fun story to follow as well, mainly because Iain Banks is great at writing crazy, as seen in his first book The Wasp Factory. I loved that whenever he got anxious he thought ‘they’ were cooking him with a microwave gun.

Of course, he had known they would use the Microwave Gun on him; they always did when he was up in front of somebody, whenever he was at a disadvantage anyway and needed all the help he could get, whenever he was going for an interview for a job, or being asked things by the Social Security people or even clerks in the Post Office. That was when they used it on him.

What we get here are the first acts of multiple interesting stories that don’t mix all that well, the literary equivalent of fusion cooking gone wrong. I really like Iain Banks’ writing, though, and I like that he seemed willing to take chances and explore a bit, so I’ll definitely keep making my way through his books. This is one that probably would have been best left until later.

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July in Review

Books Acquired:
Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory
Sex Criminals, Vol. 2 by Matt Fraction

Books Read:
14 by Peter Clines
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Sex Criminals, Vol. 2 by Matt Fraction
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’m not sure where this month went. I feel like I jumped forward in time a few weeks somewhere. For a good chunk of the time we were dealing with exciting dog issues. Paisley had a hot spot on her tail, so we had to have her in a cone until it healed. Unfortunately, since the injury was on her tail, she could still reach it with a standard cone, so she ended up with this monstrosity:

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You can see how impressed she is with it. Her tail made a fairly swift recovery, and just as we were ready to remove the sadness collar we brought her back to the vet to get spayed. Her external wounds are healing up nicely, but there are deep emotional cuts that may fester for years to come.

Someone left a copy of Le Morte d’Arthur on the coffee table in the lobby of our building. I’m pretty sure it was left out to be taken for free, but there was no note, so there’s a little part of me that feels I’ve stolen this. I nonchalantly snatched it up as I strolled past whistling and took off in a sprint. I plan to plea ignorance should I be tracked.

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It’s bloody huge, with many many words in it, so I’m finding it a little daunting. I’ve always wanted to read it, but I have a feeling I’ll lose interest midway in, so I’m thinking I’ll read it in chunks over a year. It’s divided into eight ‘books’, so I’ll maybe break it into two-book pieces to get through. I figure if I decide I’m not into it, I can just donate it at next year’s book fair.

Movies watched:
None.

TV watched:
None.

Games played:
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) (PC) – I thought I’d finish this by now, but nope still going. It may have something to do with those few weeks missing from my memory. I’m charging for the end now, though, and skipping (or at least postponing) the side content. I’ve been playing this for two and a half months now, and it just needs to end.

Electronic Super Joy (2013) (PC) – A very short game that was good fun. It’s a tough platformer fueled by Euro-pop dubstep, which is awful in the best possible way.

Rocket League (2015) (PS4) – Soccer with rocket-propelled cars. It sounds stupid, but it’s pretty much the greatest thing ever. An absolute blast to play with friends.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

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The Lost World

The Lost World (Jurassic Park, #2)The Lost World by Michael Crichton
Published: 1995
Length: 430 pages

I just read the first Jurassic Park novel last year and loved it. I watched the original film adaptation in theatre four times and was mildly obsessed with it for years after, and I was reminded of my love for it last year when the 3D edition was released. With all of this, and the new movie in the news (which I still haven’t seen), I’m an easy sell for a dinosaur adventure.

I was sad to see Alan Grant excluded from this. I thought someone had told me that this is what differs from the second film, that Grant is actually in the book, but unfortunately it isn’t so. It makes sense that he isn’t, because he wasn’t stupid enough to return to that island, but it was a little disappointing.

Instead, the main protagonist is now Ian Malcolm, which seems an odd choice to me. In the first book he was an arrogant, exposition-spewing bore that killed the pace of every scene he was in. He also died, which in other novels is usually a more permanent condition, but in this sequel he’s made a miraculous recovery and now lectures on chaos theory with a sexy limp. He also used his recovery time to seemingly learn all there is to know about dinosaurs, despite having hated dinosaurs before and vowing to have nothing to do with them ever again. I suppose he secretly became obsessed with them after the trauma on the island. Thankfully, the events of the last book have changed Ian Malcolm to be a much more likable person overall. Unfortunately, the other main protagonist, Richard Levine, is even more insufferable than original Ian Malcolm ever was. He’s a pompous, childish, know-it-all lunatic who I wished death upon for the entire novel.

The main problem I had with this was the characters acting in ways that just didn’t ring true, be that true to their character or just true to any member of the human race. Why are you chasing that Tyrannosaurus Rex on a bicycle, I found myself asking. Why aren’t you mentioning to anyone that someone just tried to murder you and that they’re currently on this island? Why are you punching that Velociraptor in its face?

I picked this up at a used book sale, and found that it was a signed first edition when I got home. I’m going to assume a Michael Crichton probably isn’t a huge collector item, particularly this one, but it was still a neat surprise.

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This novel is completely unnecessary and a little ridiculous, a less believable re-hash of the original, but I found myself really enjoying it, against all reason. I gave it four stars on Goodreads, which seems almost silly after what I just wrote, but I still found it to be a lot of fun. I guess this is what would be considered a guilty pleasure, although I feel no guilt in liking it. I would, however, only recommend it to others after a healthy disclaimer. It’s stupid, but I like it.

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The Nerdist Way

The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life)The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level by Chris Hardwick
Published: 2011
Narrated by: Chris Hardwick
Length: 06:14

I love The Nerdist podcast and Chris Hardwick is great, so I knew I’d eventually have to pick up this up. It’s essentially a nerdy self-help book, more in the ‘life-hack’ sense than the ‘find yourself’ sense, and he narrates the audiobook himself.

This is split into three parts – mind, body and time. Mind focuses a lot on anxiety and addiction, something that Hardwick has had to overcome personally. More generally, the section is about mindfulness and focusing obsessive thoughts (that are common to most nerds) on positive, creative things rather than toxic, self-restricting things. Body discusses how he started working out, after never doing so before, and gives detailed workout plans aimed at gym newbies. Time discusses project management, finances, the importance of saying no, and how to be an evil genius.

This is self-help through a nerd lens. At the beginning, he has you build a D&D-esque character sheet that you work on and develop throughout the book. Different tasks will give you experience and you can level your character up to see your progress. You begin by having to be honest about your own abilities and attributes, knowing that your goal will be to improve the areas that need it. It’s a fun way to motivate yourself. I didn’t do any of this because I was listening to the audiobook and I’m lazy (that would be a trait on my sheet, had I made one), but it still serves the book well to illustrate the points he’s making.

I choose the audiobook for this because I’ve listened to countless hours of The Nerdist Podcast and like Hardwick’s comedic delivery. Any chance to listen to a comedian narrate their own work, I’m there, but this would probably work a lot better in book form. Obviously if you want to follow along with the character sheet, that will work better if you don’t have to pause, and the gym section doesn’t make sense in audio. He describes multiple workouts, with detailed descriptions of the exercises and how many repetitions, and it’s quite a long list. It’s a great resource, but it’s the sort of section that should be scanned and returned to for reference, so it really makes no sense in this format. Have you ever been in conversation with someone who was describing their workout in detail to you? Did you spend the time imagining different ways to harm them with gym equipment? Twenty minutes of this audiobook is that.

This is a fun book. It’s interesting while being full of fun references and Hardwick’s humour. It probably won’t change your life, it’s fairly short and lacks major substance, but it might provide the motivation to start down the right path. Most importantly, to me, it’s entertaining.

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Earth Abides

Earth AbidesEarth Abides by George R. Stewart
Published: 1949
Narrated by: Jonathan Davis
Length: 15:04

I love a good apocalypse story. There’s something about wandering the remnants of civilization as we know it, with everything we think of as permanent out of reach, that is just so eery and interesting. Obviously I’m not alone in this, as it’s an incredibly popular genre in all forms of media, one that has only gotten more and more popular in recent years. It’s something that we all seem to daydream about, for whatever reason.

As an aside, a few years ago I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. It’s something that I’m thankfully able to, for the most part, control with medication, but while I was still coming to terms with the whole thing, it occurred to me that no matter how much I prepared for an apocalypse, having a chronic illness like this means I wouldn’t make it. I could have incredible survival skills, expertise in all forms of combat, stores of food and the means to rebuild, and I’ll still likely just die pooping in a bush. It was a surprisingly depressing thought at the time, and I had to modify all daydreams to incorporate a sudden cure for the disease.

This is the story of a small group of people, all of whom have properly working immune systems, facing the aftermath of an apocalypse and having to start again. We follow Isherwood Williams as he awakes from an illness, a rattlesnake bite, and finds himself basically alone in the world. He sets out to travel across America to find survivors. The beginning of this was my favourite, as that’s exactly the kind of novel I was in the mood for – searching for others, scavenging for supplies, and piecing together the mystery of what happened. He even has a dog companion!

The rest of the book shifts and becomes more of a higher level view of what was happening year by year. We still follow Ish Williams in specific scenes, but the story skips vast amounts of time and spans over half a century. This is probably the more interesting and unique part of the book, to be honest, but I think my problem was that I was digging the beginning so much. It can be difficult when the tone of a book shifts as dramatically as this, but it was really interesting to see the long-term effects of the apocalypse. So many stories show the immediate struggle to survive, or they’re set in a world that went through this in the past and have now settled, but it’s not often we get to see that journey. How does the near-extinction of humankind affect other species? What food do you try to grow when none of you are farmers? How do you deal with childbirth when none of you are doctors? How do you pass on old-world knowledge to children, and how will the children think of the pre-apocalypse world? He brings up a lot of questions and really takes time to explore them.

Men go and come, but earth abides.

I think one of the most frustrating parts of this was Ish trying to teach the children to read and no one being behind him on it. They had two libraries nearby, lost worlds of knowledge, and society was losing the ability to read. Of all the adults, Ish was the only one who could understand why this was such a travesty. I don’t know if these people were just particularly stupid or if, with the Internet and the immediacy of information we have these days, written knowledge is more revered, but it was so painful to watch that slip away from them. He was considering this from a survival point of view, those books contained farming and medical information for example, but even from just a cultural point of view it would be such a shame to have thousands of books and no ability to read them. I guess the moral of this near the end of the book was that humankind would find ways of adapting, but just no. Learn to read, you imbeciles.

There were several scenes in this that I found a bit bewildering, where people just didn’t act in ways that made sense to me. Near the beginning, one of the first people Ish finds is a man drinking himself to death, and instead of trying to help him for even a moment, he is just an immediate asshole to him. Sure, he’s not the sort of person you want at your side in this scenario, and it was a way to show how some people wouldn’t cope mentally even if they survived physically, but at this point Ish wasn’t sure if they were the last two people on earth of not, so it seemed a bit rash. Another example was near the end of the novel. Ish was an old man who the tribe relied on for advice, a wise man held in an almost religious light, and when he wouldn’t answer them right away or started to drift off, they would keep pinching him. Is this a thing we used to do to the elderly in the 40’s? Or something an adult would do to anyone, ever? Has pinching just gone out of style now?

Overall I really enjoyed this. There were bits that dragged a little, but I think they served their purpose for the story as a whole, so I’ll give them a pass there. Like The Time Machine, this is another case of a novel influencing an entire genre but managing to have more substance than most of the derivative works. I always assume novels like this will be simpler than their contemporary counterparts. for some reason, but that seems often to not be the case.

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June in Review

Books Acquired:
None.

Books Read:
The Lost World by Michael Crichton
Walking on Glass by Iain Banks
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

This wasn’t the best blogging month (three posts, where did the time go?), but it was an enjoyable reading month. It’s been incredibly sunny here, the hottest June we’ve had since I moved here actually, so I’ve had a great time walking Paisley and listening to audiobooks. They’re a life-saver for dog walking.

There was a Steam sale at the beginning of the month, so I’ve sunk a lot of my free time into gaming these last few weeks. I don’t buy much in the sales anymore, but they do still get me really excited to play some games. Unfortunately that does cut into my reading and blogging time. I just have too many competing hobbies sometimes.

Movies watched:
For No Good Reason (2012) – Documentary on Ralph Steadman, the artist who did the illustrations in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I didn’t know anything about him, so this was a great introduction. I’d like to seek out some more of his work.

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012) – I love Bill Murray, and his performance was great. Everyone’s was. The plot was a bit dull, but it was still an enjoyable watch.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) – I knew this was going to be bad, but I figured what the hell. It was actually a tiny bit worse than I had anticipated. It was fun revisiting the franchise, as I was a rabid Turtles fan as a kid, but it was overall forgettable.

TV watched:
Chef’s Table: Season 1 (2015) – I loved this so much. Produced by the guy who did Jiro Dreams of Sushi (also amazing), it’s a really interesting look into the lives of six of the top chefs in the world. It’s more about their personal approaches to cooking and the choices that got them to where they are than the food itself. The music and camera work make it oddly epic.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season 2 (2014/2015) – Season 2 was even better than season 1. I did not expect to like this as much as I do, but it really won me over.

Games played:
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) (PC) – Still playing this and will likely finish it this month. Very long game, and I thought I’d lose interest by this point, but the more I play the more I’m into it. Amazing game.

10000000 (2012) (iOS)You Must Buy a Boat, by the same studio, was released this month, so I decided to try their previous game first. Loved 10000000. It’s perfect for playing a minute here and there, which is what I like in a mobile game. I lost interest halfway through You Must Buy a Boat, though.

Dreamfall Chapters: Book Two – I loved the first two games and want to love this so much, but there were some noticeable issues in this chapter. I love the world still, but this felt rushed and not put together. Book Three is already out, so hopefully it begins to pick up again.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

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The Big Sleep

The Big SleepThe Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Published: 1939
Length: 231 pages

With each novel I read, I become more and more a fan of Raymond Chandler. He has such a great way with words, his character descriptions are brilliant, and his novels are a blast to read.

I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Writing a synopsis of one of these novels is tough. The plots tend to twist all over and are difficult to keep track of, but this one begins with the our detective Philip Marlowe being hired by a rich dying man to find a blackmailer. As with all of these novels, the investigation leads to much more than that (including pornography, which is fun in a 30’s novel).

This is the first Philip Marlowe novel, but it interestingly feels like it could be any book in the series. None of the novels I had previously read started with a real introduction to the character or any backstory at all, and I always thought that was because I was in the middle of the series, but this novel did the same thing. We’re given the bare basics and you learn about the character through his actions and dialogue, which is great. He isn’t the most complex character in fiction, but it’s nice that you get to be surprised by his actions occasionally. Not in a ‘this is out of character’ way, but in a ‘oh, that’s the kind of person he is’ way.

As honest as you can expect a man to be in a world where its going out of style.

There are some issues, of course. Chandler’s writing doesn’t really have a lot of emotional depth, and at times the plot seems a bit unstructured, so you really have to be taken in by the wit and fun writing.

This also has a gay character that is spoken to in a pretty abusive way. In reading a lot of classics, I’ve become somewhat used to the casual racist terms, prejudice, and misogyny that can be attributed to being a reflection of the those times, but Philip Marlowe was openly hostile to the character in a way that was a little gross to read.

Other than that scene, the book was a fun read. The writing did feel a bit less developed than his later books, but still worth reading.

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