Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Last Olympian

My son and I recently finished reading RICK RIORDAN's PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS series. The fifth and final book was THE LAST OLYMPIAN, in which Percy Jackson has his final showdown with Kronos, the super-villain introduced in the first book.

This book was an enjoyable read on its own and very satisfying conclusion to the series. Some of the events were predictable, but there were also a number of surprises. The characters evolve, the story has lots of action in it, and the plot is pleasantly free of cheats or contrived moments.

I would highly recommend this as a series to interest young people in reading. I have mentioned before that it borrows a lot from the J. K. ROWLING formula, but it definitely doesn't read like a cheap knock-off. Riordan infuses the stories with a style and theme all his own.

Battle for the Labyrinth

I just finished BATTLE FOR THE LABYRINTH, the fourth book in RICK RIORDAN's PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS SERIES. My son is wrapping up the fifth and final book right now, and I'm looking forward to wrapping it up too, though I can't quite imagine how Riordan plans to pay off all the developing plot lines in one book.

In Battle for the Labyrinth Luke and his band of evil monsters continue their quest to raise Kronos. This time they intend to also exploit the labyrinth, a continent-spanning underground maze, in order to attack Camp Halfblood.

It sounds silly, but it was quite enjoyable. One of Riordan's conceits for the series is that the major locations in the Greek myths migrate with the center of Western Civilization. (And in typical U.S.-centric thinking, that means they are here in the states.) Mount Olympus, for instance, is reached by going to the top of the Empire State Building. In this book we discover that the labyrinth built by Daedalus underlies and has entrances all over the U.S.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Roller Ball Murder

ROLLERBALL (1975) contains a dozen short stories by WILLIAM HARRISON. The handful of people who have picked up this book over the years probably did it for the same reason I did, because of the now-infamous ROLLER BALL MURDER story which was the inspiration for the original movie (ROLLERBALL 1975) and a sequel (ROLLERBALL 2002). Just from flipping through the book I sort of figured out that the book was a collection of short stories, and that few or none of them were related to Roller Ball Murder. Still, I had hopes, and I was definitely surprised to discover that most of the stories aren't even science fiction.

Setting aside my disappointment that this book wasn't fully of cheesy, savage stories about retro-future, 1970's style, made-up blood sports, I was fairly impressed with the writing overall. One reviewer at likened Harrison to a cross between Ray Bradbury and Roald Dahl, with a bit of Stephen King thrown in. This is a perfect characterization, actually.

The stories grow progressively darker as they move toward the terminal Roller Ball Murder story. The tales were written between 1968 and 1973, the earliest featuring more nostalgic or redemptive themes (THE PINBALL MACHINES and THE HERMIT).

The somewhat loose threads that bind the stories together are the characters. Most are seekers, chasing after some form of meaning which forever eludes them. Some of the characters chuck it and go for self-immolation or turn into predators who exploit those around them. Mostly though, the search for something "real" is honest. The title character of Roller Ball Murder, Jonathan E, is a good example. Despite the glory and thrill of the game his life is increasingly burdened with weariness and disappointment. He is a self-deluding hamster churning out his life on a wire wheel (albeit a bloody one with 300 mph cannonballs).

Of course, the grim vision of the future in Roller Ball Murder is enough reason on its own to read the story, especially for fans of dystopian fiction.