Category: grenades

Arrival – Part One

Arrival is one of those strange movies that you hear a lot about despite that fact that no one really talks about the movie itself. Now that I’ve seen it, I understand why. On the one hand, any discussion of the film’s critical plot points necessitates spoilers. On the other hand, any discussion of the underlying ideas beyond, “OMG, so smart”, would betray the fundamental stupidity of this movie.

I’m going to dissent from the closed mouth analysis of this movie and ruin both the plot and the precepts that underlie this movie. That can’t be done without copious spoilers, which I’m laying out on the table in the supreme hopes that I can dissuade you, dear reader, from wasting your time on this dullard in philosopher’s clothing. The hard part is not talking about the elephant in the room, it’s picking which of the three elephants to start with.

(And I’m not even including the elephant of Forest Whitaker’s presence making the film actively worse. The man is a charisma black hole, and how he continues to appear in big budget films is a mystery for the ages.)

First, the basic plot rundown. Aliens come to earth and hang out until Amy Adams deciphers their written language which grants her the ability to see through time. She uses that ability to stop the Russians, Chinese, and Pakistani’s from attacking the clearly superior tech of the aliens, who are called Heptopods because they have seven hand/feet/mouth/tentacle appendages. The gift of the magic aliens carries with it a curse, as it shows Amy that her marriage to Hawkeye will end in divorce and that their daughter will die of cancer, a fate she accepts because ‘tis better to have lived and lost etc.. Brilliant visuals combine with long, lingering wide shots and intensely personal close-ups of actors emoting so hard they almost break the camera to produce a film that allows the audience plenty of time to:

  1. consider the deep and multi-layered meaning of the ideas presented in Arrival,
  2. to huff their own farts and feel smug about how much better they are, as people, than the dullards in the next theater enjoying giant robots punching themselves amid an unfollowable storm of motion and noise.
  3. both of the above.

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Needs More Bender

“None of this makes any sense,” says the latest bargain bin Ripley in this year’s Alien: Covenant. Truer words were never spoken.

What is it about the Alien franchise that makes it so susceptible to climbing up its own butt? The last several movies have tried to be both exciting, suspenseful thrillers and deep, thoughtful commentaries on mankind’s place in the universe. In each case the film-makers wind up with a movie that is neither fish nor fowl and suffers greatly for the lack of clear vision.

To save time, let’s just run down the usual obvious blunders:

  • No clear rules for the aliens. Sometimes they are bulletproof, and sometimes not.
  • No clear rules for the aliens. Groups can be chased away with a little light flare, but a single one is willing to attack a ship alone in broad daylight.
  • No clear rules for the aliens. They can reproduce in new, magical ways that defy sense.  In the space of 20 minutes, alien spores consume and transform 30% of a grown man’s mass.
  • Yes, I said that one three times.  You can’t have suspense if the rules of the game are not clear.  Telling the audience that the aliens change in unpredictable ways tells the audience not to anticipate what comes next.  Anticipation is the whole point of suspense.
  • The people tasked with protecting 2000 colonists and 1400 test tube babies are clearly not the best and brightest. They make the usual stupid mistakes, running headlong into danger for no clear purpose.
  • The cast is shown to be stupid and incompetent and unlikable. From the very beginning. The audience is expected to like them because…well, here they are, what else are you going to do?
  • The second in command, forced into the captain’s chair early in the film, doesn’t have the leadership fit to lead the local McDonald’s franchise, let alone a ship carrying 3400 colonists halfway across creation.
  • The film lacks all romance, despite the frequent first act references to, “muh wife,” and “muh husband”. The closest thing shown is a sudden late-game shower sex scene between two characters who we’ve been given no reason to expect are an item. This literally feels like a case of, “Well, we need a sex scene, and you two are the only ones left alive to serve as monster chow. Get naked and vulnerable, the plot needs you!”
  • Hiding the ‘sudden reveal’ of which robo-twin survived the fight with all the subtlety of a knife to the eye.

These glaring missteps are first order mistakes. Digging deeper, one finds a more structural flaw. Even if one fixed the above items – made the aliens more consistent and the cast more likeable and smarter – the huge disconnect between the film’s desire for cheap thrills delivered in the middle of a cerebral commentary on what it means to be human cannot be resolved.

It can be done. Nolan has some success splitting that baby. The Joker uses the Prisoner’s Dilemma to deliver heart wrenching suspense. Interstellar plays with the effects of time-dilation on relationships while bringing some gut wrenching actions. Heck, the original Total Recall gives viewers a stupid action film set on a Mars where people aren’t smart enough to plant a few trees in their habs while simultaneously asking profound questions about how large a role our memories play in making us who we are.

Alien: Covenant wants to ask those high-minded questions. It sets them up in the initial scene between a deranged genius billionaire and his genocidal Pinocchio creation. The Fassbender twins have repeated conversations about creativity versus duty, (nevermind that those two things are hardly mutually exclusive,) that go nowhere and serve no purpose. Then the movie throws its hands up and gives us a couple of fun action sequences, the latter of which is completely negated by the underlying questions about why the clearly evil robot is helping the last two survivors kill the xenomorph – questions that the film never answers.

The biggest disappointment of all though? If you’re going to have a robot that wants to kill all humans, you should really just cast Bender and have done with it. David lacks Bender’s charm, charisma, and shiny metal ass, three things that all would vastly improved this terrible film.

Hugo Novelette: Touring with the Alien

Tomas Diaz beat me to the punch on this review, and more power to him for that. My review was written without peeking at his.  As you’ll see, he takes a far more cerebral approach to his review, and I highly recommend giving his blog a read. Where I deal with the brass tacks of this story’s inherent contradictions, he delves into the actual philosophical conundrum that arises whenever a nihilist starts flapping their gums.

Onwards and up(?)wards!

Carolyn Ives Gilman takes a stab at Lovecraftian fiction with Touring with the Alien.  Like the alien-human-road-trip film that likely inspired this short story (see left), while the tradesmanship is fine, the pointlessness and meaninglessness of the tale result in nothing more than a few fleeting moments of enjoyment that as forgettable as the story itself.

Reading Touring with the Alien was a much more pleasant experience than my last foray into Hugo territory.  Unlike Alyssa Wong, Gilman sticks to tried and true prose and narrative structures that work.  Her descriptions of a cross country tour evoke the drifting way that time seems to expand as the miles fly by, the terrain outside the window changes, and the towns stay the same, and then contract for the memorable slices of Americana like a downtown café or a county fair.

Her descriptions of a mother’s grief at the loss of a child are strong and poignant, with every aspect of the story from the gray weather to the wet grass to the broken terra-cotta angel left on her daughter’s grave lending itself to instilling a feeling of sorrow in the reader.  This aspect of Avery, the point-of-view character, humanizes her with a fullness that you don’t see all that often in today’s ‘female bad ass secret agent’ characters.

It’s tight and compelling writing.  Shame its wasted on such a pointless story.  Carolyn Ives Gilman continues the Hugo Award trend of failing to understand the difference between a trade and an art.  Gilman masterfully strings together sentences that pile up into a pointless heap of garbage the way a master carpenter might lend his talents to this monstrosity:

The phrase “point-of-view character” used to describe Avery sounds clunky, but it’s as good as it gets.  For all that she is presented as a sympathetic victim of fate, she is no hero.  She consigns humanity to the dustbin of history, regretful only that she wasn’t given the free choice to do so, but was tricked into it by the slave of the alien slavers come to conquer the earth:
Gilman knows which side of the Hugo bread is buttered, and right out of the gate, she checks that all important box without which no story can be considered for the silver rocket:

With that passage, as pointless as the rest of the story, we are two for two in the 2017 Novelette category for tacked-on virtue signaling.  Gilman stops the narrative before it has even begun in order to wave a red flag of GoodThink around the arena to distract the ever-present bulls of the thought police.  She knows full well that without this signal the rest of the story becomes as pointless as, well, as the rest of the story.  She knows that without the first sentence of that paragraph, this story would not have been a Hugo Contender.   Of course, given the SJW penchant for quoting out of context and utter lack of reading comprehension, every sentence of this paragraph after the first will be ignored by them, but the struggle is the glory.  Once again, the objection here is not the inclusion of a homosexual character, but the hamfistedness manner in which its done.  The character of Lionel is expressly written as Hispanic, an important check mark in the racial inclusivity box, but unlike Blake and Jeff, the fact of Lionel’s race is presented seamlessly and organically.

There is a second passage that once again showcases Gilman’s insular provinciality.  This is a woman so steeped in her own culture that she paints the Other with a brush that reveals more about herself than those whom she writes:

The complete and utter lack of self-awareness of these authors never ceases to amaze.  Desperate to signal her GoodThink and inclusivity, she writes off whole swathes of people with whom she has only the most passing familiarity.  Her egotistic vie of herself as an urbane and sophisticated auteur dispensing deeper truths stands on a foundation of utter ignorance and profoundly crude assumptions about rural Americans. 

And that sort of shallowness of thought doesn’t limit itself to descriptions of ‘flyover country’, it that permeates Touring with the Alien.  Avery is presented as a smart and tough operator who outwits the CIA, but who then gets fooled by her boss and the inexperienced and naïve alien slave, Lionel.  Avery bounces from caring sister to hard case to grieving mother to indifferent genocidal maniac with head snapping speed.  The aliens are presented as all-wise, then know-nothing – eating raw cats makes you sick, bro – with the same sort of disregard for continuity or sense.

Then there’s the complete disconnect between the story’s main theme of “Nothing really matters,” and the constant reminders that we are surrounded by big deals.  All of these disconnects slowly pile up the thoughtful reader’s mind, making this story a complete and utter hash.

It’s well written hash, and it’s hash that the empty headed will enjoy, but in the end, Touring with the Alien is as pointless as the worldview it illustrates.

You’ll Surely Drown

You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay by Alyssa Wong has been nominated for a Hugo Award, and since the online conversation about the Hugo Awards is driven primarily by what authors look like, it might be nice to take a moment to do something very, very different – read the work in question and talk about the story itself.  Nutty, I know, but as a literary critic par excellent, it’s just the sort of nuttiness that churns my butter.

The good news is that you can read the Hugo Nominated novelette* online for free right here.  The even better news is that you don’t even have to read it!  If you’re curious about, here’s everything you need to know:

A witch-man goes off into the desert, marries her, and sires a were-desert named Ellis.  The local miners, fearful of such creatures do what comes natural and put that witch-man in the ground.  Their decision is proved wise when the desert buries the lot of them at the bottom of a silver mine in retaliation.  After a bit of literary faffing about, the story proper starts off with up with two tenderfoot businessmen and their Preacher-man guide meeting Ellis.  This story was nominated for a Hugo, so you can already guess that as businessmen, these are the villains of the piece, and that one of them harbors latent homosexual feelings for the other.  Gotta check those boxes, baby!

The two men, William and Samuel, might just be Ellis’ uncles on his father’s side – like so much in this story, it isn’t entirely clear.  They deffo sing the same lullaby that Ellis’ father used to sing to him.  At any rate, they work for a mining outfit, and if William can get to the mine, he can use his own witch-man powers to use an animated army of dead to do the mining.  That would save labor costs, save lives, and make him rich all at the same time.  What a bastard.  When Ellis realizes the full import of William’s vile plan he attempts to kill the lot of them.  But Samuel skins his hog and gives Ellis a case of lead poisoning before Ellis can go full Tasmanian Devil on them.

What the two evil businessmen (but I repeat myself) don’t realize is that the Preacher-man is Ellis’ uncle on his mother’s side, and like Ellis, can bring things back from the dead.  The Preacher-man does that voodoo that he do so well on Ellis, and Ellis takes the bones of all the people his mother killed back to town for a good old fashioned hootenanny complete with a lynching of the two men who killed Ellis in self-defense.  You know, one of those mean old men loves the same girl as Ellis, and offers to take her out of the whore-house and give her a life of ease back east?  The bastard surely deserved to die.

Ellis then turns the love of his life loose to go find a man to love who isn’t Ellis…because when you love some one, you first kill anyone who loves her, then tell her to go find somebody else to love?  Then Ellis skips off to take his rightful place as the king of the dead lands.

Brace yourself for an extended metaphor here.  The Harlem Globetrotters have some astounding technical basketball skills.  They can do things with a basketball that make your head spin.  They dribble like monsters, dunk like beasts, and shoot the lights out.  It’s incredible to watch.  Even as you marvel at their mastery of the game’s tricks and fundamentals, you understand that what they are doing isn’t really basketball.  In a straight up game with any NBA team, they’d get killed.  All of those tricks and all of that showmanship just doesn’t translate to the actual game of basketball.

I think you know where I’m going with this:

Sweet Georgia Brown, It’s Alyssa Wong!

Alyssa Wong is a writer who knows all the tricks, and can pull every single one of them off flawlessly.  The problem with You’ll Surely Drown is that she uses them all to terrible effect.

The story is told in second person format.  A bold choice that makes perfect sense for instilling a sense of urgency and discomfort in the reader.  It can also be used to lend additional sympathy for the primary point-of-view character.  It’s a great trick, but it just doesn’t work in a story like this.  Putting the reader into the shoes of a wild child necromancer stretches things past the breaking point.  The additional cognitive dissonance created by translating the narrative from the second person serves as a constant distraction.  This story has layers of background that are gradually revealed throughout the course of the tale – background that would have been more naturally revealed through the use of more traditional framing devices.

This story is rife with payoff moments.  They happen over and over and over.  The reader goes through a constant cycle of wondering what the heck is going on one moment, only to be told that something else was going on the whole time the next.  Again and again and again.  Used sparingly, this style of story telling can hammer away at a reader and draw forth sudden reactions of delight.  Used repeatedly, they numb the reader, leaving each additional revelation no more special and no more magical than any other passage.

This series of writing exercises masquerading as a story is deliberately designed to be largely opaque.  Wong’s writing is evocative, but dense, and her plotting and slow-drip information reveal demand constant attention on the part of the reader.  The resulting narrative reads more like a textbook than a proper story.  These can be a lot of fun to read – they are the basis of the entire mystery genre, after all!  But one of the biggest failings of Wong is that reading the story too closely destroys the narrative.  Everything the reader sees, he sees through Ellis’s eyes, but Ellis’ narration is one of the most unreliable ever sent to digital print.  He is utterly untrustworthy, and reading the story with the attention it demands exposes the reader to all of the cheap tricks and plot holes that ruin Wong’s approach to the story.

Make no mistake about it, Wong has solid writing chops.  She knows how to use tempo, rhythm, word choice, and description to draw a reader in.  She knows how to layer detail and time those character beats to bring things to a riveting climax.  She has clearly spent years honing her craft.

It’s a shame she squanders her skills on cheap tricks instead of genuine sportsmanship.

There’s a great story here about an orphaned witch boy struggling to come to terms with himself and his power, and about how fear and retribution always rebound onto those who act out of a misplaced desire for vengeance over justice.  There’s a story about impossible love and the conflict between civilization and nature.  There’s a story about a girl forced to choose between the boy who loves her and the man who can care for her.  But Wong is too enamored of all her pretty little writing tricks and her misplaced faith in nature over man and cleverness over wisdom to write that story.  So instead we get the usual sort of ivory tower bouncing balls that make the fans of showmanship guffaw, rather than the workmanlike attention to story-telling and human nature that results in entertainment at its highest level. 

* Is anyone else amused that the name of the category whose nominations were swept by the fairer sex ends with the female diminutive suffix?  That kind of literary humor writes itself.

The Elfs Control Hollywood

Skip the film, play the game.

The title to this post hit me like a brick while reading John C. Wright’s The Swan Knight’s Son. Given that elfs serve as the primary antagonists in a world where they represent the primary threat to Christendom, it’s a throwaway line meant to serve as red meat for the faithful.  Yet it serves as a throwaway line that gives the reader pause…it’s just plausible enough to make you wonder how fictional the book really is.

Case in point, the recent Hollywood version of Ben Hur.  There are all kinds of problems with this film.  The secular problems are easy:

  • They paid for Morgan Freeman to be in it, so of course they have to get their money’s worth by having him narrate the opening scene.  It may be the most superfluous narration I’ve ever seen.  Freeman literally tells us what we are watching, right now.
  • The characters are unlikable. The mother is so obnoxious, I enjoyed seeing her arrested by the Romans and didn’t care about her fate. The protagonist dooms his family for the sake of a stranger who never receives his comeuppance for all the trouble he causes.
  • The sister and love interest are pretty much indistinguishable. That makes for some really confusing make-out sessions.
  • The Roman empire is painted as a wonderfully diverse realm where everyone lives and works and trades together in peace and harmony.  Every single crowd scene was carefully crafted to show people of all races and colors and creeds and dress.  Okay, fine, but you’re doing this to me right after telling me the Roman Empire was totes xenophobics, guys, ’cause the only reason Rome invaded her neighbors was because they were different.  Does. Not. Compute.

The religious problems were infinitely worse.

  • One of the two main leads responds to Hippy Jesus’ call for love with the words, “How progressive of you.”  Nice and subtle, Hollywood.
  • The jerk that caused Ben Hur’s downfall and all the pain and suffering in Act One by failing to assassinate Pontius Pilate re-appears in Act Three. Instead of his just desserts, he is revealed to be the crucified thief Jesus promises will sit at his side in Heaven.  You can’t paint a character that unsympathetically and then reward him at the end without some serious character growth or character beats.
  • The most unforgiveable deviation from scripture occurs when Pontius Pilate identifies Jesus as the real threat to Roman control over Israel. Apparently the writers aren’t familiar with Pilate trying on multiple occasions to avoid crucifying Jesus.  Apparently, the writers are familiar with the fact that Christianity worked to preserve the Roman Empire (and the subsequent Eastern Empire in particular) for centuries.

The whole thing, top to bottom, was just dreadful.  You can give them some credit for a great galley-slave battle scene and a great chariot race scene, but without the emotional investment in the characters those are hollow stage-pieces.  Compare the weight of any arena scene in Gladiator.  The fact that Maximus is so much more heroic, wise, and likeable imbues those scenes with a deeper impact than the herky-jerky visuals could ever achieve on their own.

In short, Ben Hur, wins my award for ‘worst movie I saw in 2016’, right at the final turn.  Congratulations on butchering film-making and the story of Christ both, Hollywood.  You’ve made the elfs proud once more.

Dipping a Toe in the #NewPulp Waters

You may have noticed that I talk a big game.  Well, over on twitter, Barry Reese called me out. 

When I opined in 140 characters or less that the New Pulp writers trade on the term pulp by slapping on the chrome while the Pulp Revolution focusses on the horsepower under the engine Reese wanted to know what New Pulp stories I was talking about, because he could name check two authors that he considered to be the best of the New Pulp writers working today.
Challenge accepted!

Within minutes I had bought a copy of Four Bullets for Dillon, by Derrick Ferguson.

Just to be clear, the conversation was civil, and even if Mr. Reese and I have different tastes, he’s a good guy that I’d gladly sit down  with and talk books for hours.  We’re going to bypass the subject of which modern pulp writers soured me on ‘pulp’ as a term any more indicative of quality than ‘punk’.  Instead, we’re going to look at a pair of modern action stories from Derrick Ferguson.

This review was difficult to write.  Reviews in the one star and five star range are easy.  These middle-of-the-road reviews of works that show so much potential but just miss the mark mean that I can’t just rant or rave, but have to really analyze and understand where the problems lie.  And Four Bullets for Dillon has a few problems.  It’s not a bad work, but it’s go issues.

The first story in the book, Dillon and the Bad-Ass Belt Buckle, features the eponymous hero and his sidekick Eli rescuing an Oscar winning actress from the jungles of Cambodia.  It starts with the duo having already rescued the actress from the clutches of the kidnappers and – wait, what?  Go back, Derrick, that sounds like a great story.  How did they get her out?  The dynamic duo mention lots of bullets and action…can I read that?  Perhaps that is another story in the Dillon-verse, but if so, the reader is given no indication – even editorially – of that. 

For my money, in cinema res serves as the gold standard for opening up action heavy stories. In any media.  This story opens at least twenty minutes after the cinema is done res-ing.  Which forces an early-story pause in the already limited action to provide the reader with an awkward information dump.  “Here’s what you missed out on,” paired with a blunt recitation of the damsel in distress’s resume, and a dry explanation that our hero is a soldier of fortune hired by outside agents to save her.  The whole opening section of this purported action story chooses exposition over action.

Compare that to my own ‘rescuing the damsel’ story.  In Bring Back Our Girls, the action starts just as the hero is on the cusp of breaking into the compound of the bad guys.  The first line of the story features the hero slitting the throat of one of the sentries.  The backstory leading up to that point is only slowly introduced over the first half of the story.  Thatset-up is wedged into the spaces between action, with only the goal, save kidnapped girls from vaguely Boko Haram-esque terrorists, mentioned in the first few parargraphs.  And that was crammed in just to ensure that the reader knew where their sympathies should lie – that the guy they just saw commit murder was the good guy killing a modern day slaver.

Speaking of opening, the introduction to Derrick features him climbing out from under the shot-up getaway Jeep and beating it with a wrench, frustrated that he cannot repair it.  He explicitly says if it was a horse, he’d shoot it.  Even granting that as the hyperbole it clearly is, following the “show, don’t tell” pattern, Ferguson shows us the hero is a petulant man-child for whom violence isn’t a last resort, but a means of expressing himself.  That doesn’t sound very heroic.  You might get away with that scene if Dillon has already been established as a hero in other ways, or if this was the last of a dozen bad breaks, but it’s a strange choice for setting up reader expectations.

Then you have the damsel in distress.  She is a fierce and independent successful modern woman who doesn’t need no man…except when it comes to being rescued.  Even that can be forgiven.  A high value hero needs a high value damsel, and although this seems to be the only kind of woman we see in media these days, they exist, they add drama, and my weariness of the trope amounts to mere personal preference.  What cannot be forgiven is that for all that we are told how great she is, we are shown a rather stupid woman.  Stupid or unbelievable.  Neither is flattering.

Let me explain.  The trio leaves their broken Jeep and sets out through the jungle on foot.  They come upon a new asphalt road and follow it to a small bandit settlement surrounded by log walls topped by sharp wire and broken glass.  With little choice, they decide to enter the settlement.  This provides an excuse for an important character moment.  The hero must explain to the damsel, Jenise, that this is serious.  There is danger here.  If she doesn’t listen to him, she could get badly hurt.  She resists at first, not understanding that she is out of her element, and that his words are not patronizing, but are driven by legitimate concern.  Did you notice what just happened there?  Having been kidnapped by a gang of violent men seeking to ransom her back to her benefactors, and rescued by a pair of violent men in a manner we are reliably informed was most violent, she doesn’t understand how high the stakes are at this moment. 

I can’t stress how damaging this is to the narrative of the story.  We’ve been told how smart and fierce she is.  Now we’re being told that getting kidnapped, shot at, and stranded in a jungle miles from civilization wasn’t enough evidence for her to understand.  We are expected to believe in a contradiction.  That sucks all the wind out of the sails.

Finally, about a third of the way into the story we have some real tension as Jenise is essentially kidnapped by the leader of the bandit camp.  We have a threat and some tension and we’re starting to get invested when…it turns out Jenise has seduced the bandit leader and is going to be fine without the hero after all.  So the ensuing action is driven entirely by Dillon’s ego with a touch of greed and envy on his part for a minor MacGuffin.  That’s it.  There are no outside stakes involved at all.  It’s just action for the sake of pew-pew-pew. 

I’m going to stop here.  These are all problems, and they get repeated throughout the book.  Rather than list them off in great detail, let’s look at the positives for a bit.

But before we do, I’m going to throw in one last complaint.  The book has for stories… and no Table of Contents.  That’s an editorial comment, but a valid complaint.  Self-publishers, you’ve got to do the little things to make your reader’s lives easier.  If you don’t take care of the little things, readers have no reason to think you’ll take care of the big ones.

I’m done, seriously this time.  Back to the positives.

Ferguson’s descriptions are great, and his writing just plain works.  His prose is solid without un-necessary touches or flash.  Some of his descriptions are tight from a word count, but really fire the imagination in ways that I found impressive.

Ferguson’s action is ferocious.  The man knows how to write fast and fun action scenes.  He knows how to ratchet up the physical tension.  He knows how to pace the action with those all-important breaks to catch your breath, and he throws in enough twists and turns to keep the reader just off-kilter enough that they can’t possibly guess what’s around the next bend.  Dillon’s skills at swinging away from bad guys Tarzan-style was a nice nod to the old pulps and much appreciated by this reader.

The twists in the plot are well executed.  The good guy and bad guy are forced to work together, and the way that happens is…if not believable, at least understandable.  This is a pulp story we’re talking about here.

Ferguson himself is fearless in the settings of his stories.  He pays just enough attention to the real world to keep them grounded, but doesn’t let overly complex rationales interfere with a good story.  The lost bandit camp city in the heart of Cambodia was a brilliant setting.  It’s preposterous and over the top from a real world standpoint, but that shouldn’t stop an action writer from using it anyway. It’s just the sort of setting that you should expect – nay, demand! – in a pulp story.  That goes double for the characters who are without exception distinct and personable.  Even the bit players are provided with enough character to draw the reader in.

In the final analysis, I can’t recommend this book.  Ferguson’s writing is solid, his descriptions great, but it’s all surface detail.  There’s no depth to this work.  There’s nothing to hook the reader into the protagonist except for the protagonist himself.  Everything he does is for him, and we don’t have any real reason to care what happens to him outside of the fact that he is the central character in the story.  Dillon could have walked away from any of these stories at multiple moments with no affect on anyone in the world but himself.  An arrogant narcissist can make for a fine protagonist, but the pulps that excite me don’t just have protagonists – they have heroes.

You might like this book.  You might like empty action, and you don’t need actual heroics done by a hero.  In which case, go crazy.  Enjoy.  Who am I to judge your tastes.  I just need more that that.  I need a reason to root for the good guy other than that he is really handsome and cool.  I need him to struggle and take risks and sacrifice himself for others.  I need him to fight for something bigger than himself, and Four Bullets for Dillon just doesn’t meet that need.

Reading these stories just confirmed my complaint about so much of the new pulp fiction on the market today.  There’s a lot of flash and chrome, but there’s no heart and soul to it.