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I am the Bitter Guy! Watch Iron Chef!

J.J. Mohareb April 7, 2000

Hey. I'm glad to see you came back. I feared that the recent aspersion cast upon the otherwise spotless character of the Bitter Guy (i.e. that I am a racist, or sexist, or possibly a neo-nazi) might drive away my loyal bitter-ites. Rest assured, these rumors are groundless, and likely spread by feminazi Zionists. [Ed. note: This is your new moderate tone? Yikes.]

First off, I'd like to reinstate my annual groveling for The Bitter Guide to be made an Aurora Nominee. Basically, it comes down to this. For the price of a stamp & a printout (and an envelope, if you insist) you can help the Bitter Guide achieve recognition. Go visit the Aurora page, print out the form, and nominate to your hearts content. Mrs. Bitter is also eligible for a nomination.

Now, the books!

Only You Can Save Mankind & Johnny and the Dead are two of the Johnny Maxwell books from Terry Pratchett. After reading them, my main reaction is "Dang, wish he'd stuck to zany fantasy." The Johnny Maxwell books (pt. 1 & 2 of a trilogy) are modern fantasy, telling the story of (is that your final answer?) Johnny Maxwell, a young boy in Britain who lives in a housing project. But a good enough housing project that he has a computer. The books, which jump up, scream "Young readers!" and kick you in the groin, tell how Johnny deals with being chosen to lead an alien Armada in a videogame to safety when the aliens surrender, and how he saves a graveyard from being demolished (saving the local ghosts from a fate worse than death, which is the only kind of fate you have to worry about when you're dead). The books don't suck (and will be put on the "little Justin" pile), but aren't quite as high class as, say, Good Omens. Pratchett's ongoing white-guy guilt over the Gulf war is still good to see, and the presence of non-white characters is always a nice change. The fact they're given as much dignity and class (that is to say, not a whole lot) as the rest of the characters is also good to see.

I like Orson Scott Card. Hell, in a recent interview, he managed to make a Jewish lesbian radical cry. Man. He is the wind beneath my wings. Anyway, he recently released another book, Ender's Shadow. It's not a sequel to EG. It's a book set at the same time, with some of the same characters. It's the story of Bean, Ender's sidekick/aide de camp, who's quite brilliant. It tells the story of his life from a street urchin, where he helps forge a group of pre-school street toughs into a family, to a member of Ender's team of inter-galactic warfare. If you thought Ender was kinda messed up, you should see Bean. Four years old at the beginning of the book, and he's advocating murder to make a point (to be honest, he was making the right call). Of course, there's a reason for his less than toasty personality, and we get filled in on it (although I don't think he does). If you enjoyed the first Ender book, you'll like ES. If you didn't, your taste meter is busted so bad you should be someplace else.

Final Reckoning: The Fate of Bester, is the third book in the Psi Corps trilogy by Gregory Keyes. This book scared me. Not because of any issues; it was actually pretty good. The bad pacing and spotty characterization that plagued the first book is well banished. The story of how Bester snatches damnation from the jaws of redemption is well done. Michael Garibaldi's obsessive hunt for his foe is okay, but given the limitations placed upon it (it's reduced to a subplot, the literary equivalent to a 'meanwhile...' in a comic book) it doesn't read as interestingly as the main story, which it could have been (Bester's Shadow?). What scared me is the possibility that the author juuuuuust might be reading this review. Why, you ask? Well, let me tell you. In Final Reckoning, Bester meets a compatriot of his from his concentration camp managing days. To spoil a minor plot point, Bester kills him by shooting him in the head. The victim's name? Justin. He's from Toronto. Okay, now call me paranoid, but the similarities are a bit too much. I mean, nobody in the B5 universe comes from Toronto. Just doesn't happen. Maybe I'm paranoid. But maybe not. Either way, I'm getting a restraining order.

Peter David has graced us with another B5 novel, Legions of Fire. It tells us the tales of the reign of emperor Londo the second. It's not a nice one. Basically, Londo Mollari has fought his way up the ladder of Centauri aristocracy to the Big Chair, and now he's in the position of puppet (more with arm up his butt than the more comfortable on a string variety). The arms in question belong to the Drakh, a race of scaly shadow servants (oh, yeah: if you didn't watch B5, you'll be lost). It's interesting, even if the plot does seem to be resting a bit too much on Londo's Minister of Night & Fog, Lord Durla. Durla's machinations to get into the pantaloons (vest?) of his one true love, who just happens to be Londo's ex-wife, are amusing. And then, just when the big L is about to get himself a little tentacle action, his evil overlords jump up and say "No bootie for you! Get Out!" which, given Londo, is another fate worse than death. Thankfully, they let him keep his liqueur (hmmm... sweet, sweet Brevari...).

The Last Human is the third (I think. Is there a fourth? Is this it? Am I capable of caring?) book in the Red Dwarf series, which is based on the British SF sitcom (of course, the sit in this series is "The last man in the universe travels with his annoying dead roommate, an anal-retentive android, and a creature evolved from his cat; wackiness ensues!" The differences from Friends are not readily apparent). It's written solely by half of the original writing team of Mssrs. Grant & Naylor (and, no, I don't remember which one). It's not as good as the others, deviating a LOT from the direction the show took, and not in the most interesting of ways. I prefer the 'Odd Couple in space' feel to the goofy adventure SF w/ Evil Twin motif in this book. The sole redeeming feature is Rimmer's long lost son, raised on tales of the heroic greatness that is his pop. Heh. Did HE get a surprise.

Mucho Mojo by Joel Lansdale is a book that was supposed to be SF, or at least fantasy. After all, I bought it at Bakka, the local SF store. The term Mojo means magic, right? So, here I go, expecting a nice serial killer/magic thriller. Well, I was only half disappointed, and in that respect I was satisfied. It's a great book, don't get me wrong. It's the story of Hap Collins and his friend Leonard. When Leonard's uncle dies, he inherits his home. When he & Hap start to renovate, they find a child's skeleton wrapped in porno magazines. The mystery starts from there. The story is a well-structured horror/mystery tale, with a likeable pair of characters (they come across as schleps, but schleps with interesting backgrounds. And Kung Fu!). Of course, the fact this is the second book in a series was something I learned only after reading the book, which explains a lot of things, like the vague references to things that happened before.

All Things Burn in Hell, by Philip Jose Farmer (great old man of SF; understand he wrote great porn too) is another standard mystery book. I thought it would be with-a-twist because A) it's by Philip Jose Farmer & B) ON THE COVER, Norman Spinrad calls it "magical realist", which is code for 'fantasy'. But, No. It is a standard pulp detective story. It wasn't as good as Mucho Mojo, which had a lot of style & atmosphere going for it. Farmer seems to be willing to substitute cataloging the setting for evoking atmosphere, describing an dingy shack in excruciating detail instead of just setting the scene. The plots divide down the middle, meeting at the end with a Deus Ex Machina in the form of a 90-year-old grandmother. In the end, I sped towards the finish, not because I wanted to, but because it was close. When it was over, my only relief was in having completed it. The sole redeeming factor was the interesting names given to law firms. While I want to read the prequel to Mucho Mojo, I can easily skip over any siblings to All Things Burn.

And, as I see a blue sky beckoning me outside, I must go. Take care, loyal readers, and share the love. Next month, new Pratchett. And it doesn't suck yet!

I remain ever yours,
JJ Mohareb, the Bitter Guy

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