What I Liked:
Stanger has a very easy writing style that calls to mind sitting with your best friend while they tell the most salacious tale they’d just had the pleasure of experiencing and can’t resist watching you react as they spin one shocking reveal after another. Very readable. He also knows how to wield humor. The dialogue is funny. The characters are funny. The situations are funny times three. That is a refreshing reward especially for readers who are looking for a good dose of humor. Quick is a likable main character. The Indiana Jones of sports memorabilia.
I appreciated the efficient writing style. You don’t get wasted wordy passages that cause you to want to skip or wonder what the writer was trying to accomplish. Stanger says what he means and means what he says. You are brought into the world of baseball with appropriate descriptions that move the story along, not an easy task. It’s one that causes more than a few authors to stumble, not Stanger.
What I didn’t like:
I confess that I am very much a baseball guy. So I can’t criticize the baseball and memorabilia laden story. My guess is that from an impartial or non baseball point of view you might not have any interest at all in the subject matter and therefore you wouldn’t enjoy the story. That is a guess. I could be wrong. If you are open to the idea, try a few chapters and see for yourself.
This is a wild story. The wilder it got, the less I liked it. Why? I found the baseball story interesting, the drug story not so much. I rarely read stories about drug crimes, and when I do it isn’t because of the subject. I did not think it added to the book so it didn’t seem necessary.
What you should know:
The Fungo Society is a group of retired Major League Baseball players. They have a relationship with a baseball memorabilia dealer named Jonathan Quick. Quick is a 30 something bachelor with a penchant for trysts with random women who gravitates towards dangerous encounters. This is a baseball story. Memorabilia is featured in detail throughout the story. There are good guys, bad guys, not so good guys and not so bad guys. Nobody takes themselves too seriously. Think of it as the jock’s version of cozy mystery.
Recommendation: A Maybe Read
Let’s look beyond the message of Star Trek and see where it finds us. First I’ll argue that this is an entertaining blockbuster with mediocre aspirations as a science fiction standard bearer. Will you enjoy it as time and money well spent? Yes. Will you think twice about it as you leave the theater? No. If you accept the premise of mediocrity then ask me, why need we look further?
My answer takes the form of a postulated question. Did you hear the message that mankind is its own worst enemy?
SPOILER ALERT GALORE
ICYMI: Idris Elba aka Krall embodies the role of the villain as a human, albeit one who’s enhanced far beyond mortal man. You might say he’s kind of a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and scifi Dracula. My complements to the script makers. There’s nothing like mining the best, most often copied material for another bite at the apple, or the neck, or the box office. With the dollars at stake (2013’s Into Darkness more than $450 million in revenue- Beyond budget ~$185 million) would you risk original work when you can trot out tried and true formula?
And when our esteemed thespian, see Beasts of No Nation, asks as to his motivation, director Justin Lin’s reply; why you’re a disgruntled employee! Talk about going postal. And Krall delivers the mail with a rare combination. Can you say spider and bee fetish? His base of operations is a planet surrounded by nebula where spaceships maroon while their crews become entangled in a web-like comatose state which he uses to extract from them what he needs. The product here is not honey but hate. His forces, however, do swarm like no hive you’d ever want to stumble across. The Federation is nonplussed to wield any technology that can withstand Krall’s weaponry.
Here I suggest is where the message digs it’s foundation. When we lift the lid on his coffin we discover Krall was heretofore our model citizen, warrior, officer and gentleman. What happened was that the Federation took the highly trained and experienced combat veteran and gave him a civilian job, having ended all wars and the need for his old ways. It has been thirteen years since numbered American soldiers have faced a two front war; one in Iraq and another in the minds of those afflicted with PTSD and other related issues. Whether or not American combat veterans have experienced being more prone to violence once returned home, the message on screen was clear. Captain Edison struggled with the loss of his military identity. He faced a consequence of being rewarded for his sacrifice and bravery with being lost in space. He was left behind. Forgotten. Edison was ultimately left for dead with little or no sign that his employers cared about either him, his subordinates, or his service. As time passed his mental state deteriorated, eventually creating the fertile soil from which Krall emerged.
The direct line conclusion from the path laid out by Beyond is that societies bare the risks associated with placing soldiers in harms way. The results could reveal themselves long after the damage has been done.
I, or shall I say the filmmakers, offer you more messages than these.
The story’s overall theme that is revisited throughout hammers home one mantra. Families and friends who commit to unite will strive together and reach their potential to overcome whatever obstacles arise.
The danger that often occurs is when we forget this belief and sabotage it through self destructive decisions. Chris Pine’s Kirk does just that when the unending, unconquerable, infinite space defeats his sense of adventure, his desire to be challenged, and his dream of achievement. The subject of his failure: purpose. Zachary Quinto’s Spock takes a different route to reach the same end. Grief, perhaps the strongest manifestation of what causes us to question ourselves, to the point we completely derail, is this half human’s Achilles heel as well. He chooses to abandon his celestial family to serve what he thinks is his ethnic responsibility to the fatherland, or what’s left of it.
The biggest reason why 13 films and 37 years of the Star Trek saga resonate with moviegoers is the bond that built the original Gene Roddenberry TV creation. Beyond is on target with this piece and Karl Urban’s McCoy delivers the glue gun. The series explored not outer space so much as it did the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Their journey through the ups and downs of complex and conflicted emotions had more to do with their survival than any technological techniques they mastered.
McCoy reminds Spock why they mean so much to each other and why it matters. When they bring that message back to Kirk, he takes his exercise of trust, inspiration, and leadership to another level seeing Uhura, Scott, Sulu and Chekov prove once again that their place is on the Enterprise and his home is with them.
This is the best part of the science fiction Beyond offers. There is nothing new here. That is the basis for my grade of C. Star Trek gets a pass from me because it is a production that keeps the genre alive though it falls short of advancing it. I hail science fiction because I see it as the best genre for bringing together the moral and ethical dilemmas within the human condition as they intersect with apocalyptic aspects of advanced technology. The more we role play these hypothetical scenarios the more time we will have to consider them before we have to deal with them in our reality. Are we ready to face global warming?
So I salute Star Trek Beyond. Beyond’s success bridges the gap between great science fiction movies of the past…Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix…and the next great scifi story which will take a rightful place in cinematic history. As for the Star Trek franchise I offer only these words: Live long and prosper.
The writing is top notch. An interesting story about interesting people told in a very interesting fashion. What more could one ask for? There are so many things to like about the main character Josie Tucker. This is an important aspect for me in most novels. It is paramount for me in the mystery genre. I have to care about the people involved if I’m going to spend any time with them. I need to care most about the protagonist if I’m going to identify with him or her. So I was all in with Josie.
What I didn’t like.
To say that Josie treats herself in a less than healthy way is a major understatement. This is a character flaw that defies the instinct of self preservation. I’d describe her as practicing the virtue of self denial like a Tibetan monk. She has the career planning of a compulsive gambler in Vegas, and combines that with the health maintenance planning of Evel Knievel. Let’s hope that her palm shows such a long lifeline that she’ll be around for many books to come.
What you should know.
The second book is available now if you like the first one, and you’ll like the first one. Dim Sum Dead Some. If you devour that morsel don’t dispair Dead Man on Campusarrives August 15th.
Both sides of my family migrated to Detroit in the first half of the 20th Century. Both of my parents were born there. It is the place where our history, our culture, our collective memory, the proof of our existence to the physical world emanates from. Some have left, many have died. Others have remained to witness the horror, the transformation of a great community.
There are newcomers, such as Liana, who’s home is here because of Write A House. Here is her blog about her experience in Detroit.
I now do most of my writing from an upstairs room that overlooks most of my street. The room is stark, with freshly painted white walls (Thanks Write A House crew), a wooden desk and an aluminum folding chair. I’ve kept it bare to minimize distraction and maximize output. I am easily distracted. I lose focus. I am not one of those writers who can write comfortably anywhere, at any time. To get a place of pure, magical focus and creativity, I have to expend so much energy. But even a minimally decorated, quiet room has not stopped my mind from wandering elsewhere.