Monday, March 08, 2004

Three book weekend

I just finished three very different books this weekend: Harvey Pekar's "American Splendor" collection, Roger Zelazny's "Damnation Alley," and Nicholson Baker's "Vox."
Pekar's graphic novel was released as part of the publicity for the "American Splendor" movie. For $16, it's a great bargain. And it's a great book. Pekar captures the details of everyday life, yet is never boring. It helps that he knows interesting people. The only problem I have with the book is that Pekar sometimes lets words run away with him. He will have pages where images of his face are buried under huge word balloons. It makes me wonder why he doesn't write prose. In his best stuff, he lets the pictures tell the story and he concentrates on the dialogue.
The Zelazny book was a lot of fun. It was recently rereleased by iBooks in mass market paperback. It's about a post-holocaust future in which the plague has stricken the nation of Boston. The nation of California offers Hell Tanner, a former Hell's Angel, a pardon for his crimes if he can cross Damnation Alley (the bombed out center of the country) to bring a vaccine to Boston. As an adventure novel, it works great. There's giant monsters, cataclysmic weather, biker gangs and all kinds of other problems Tanner must face. Plus, he has the coolest "car" ever. It's a mini-tank covered in weapons, a flame thrower and grenade launcher among them. It's strange because the novel wasn't what I was expecting. Zelazny is known as one of the New Wave science fiction writers of the '60s. So I was expecting a deep thinking, incredibly inventive experimental novel. Nope. It was a fun, pulpy adventure novel (outside of a couple of wild chapters near the end). And there's nothing wrong with that.
By the way, "Damnation Alley" was made into a TV movie. I've never seen it, but the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls it a "travesty" and says they've changed all the characters and didn't come through with many of the scenes from the book. So beware of that.
"American Splendor," the movie, however, was terrific. Rent at soon as you can.
The third book, "Vox," is about a conversation between two people on a phone sex line. The whole book is told in dialogue. It's sexy and it's smart.

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