First up is Return of the Kings. There's several reasons why I feel weird about reviewing it, even though I wanted to mention it:
- Once upon a time, I used to know a lot of the authors because I was in a writing group with them--so I'm biased.
- This was a present created for one fellow in writing group's birthday. They wrote a story that imitates his style amazingly well--and I can say that as someone who read enough of his work to get that. They did this REALLY WELL, which is something I can appreciate, but random strangers online will not necessarily get. But hell, I couldn't have copied his style myself, so I'm impressed.
- This is a book in which each person wrote a different chapter of it, a la The Floating Admiral. This makes it kind of hard to judge a book by how the story is written and how the author chose to shape it, when, uh, a lot of people shaped it. You can't really say things like, "I liked how this character started out, but then they kind of drift out of focus for the rest of the book," because, well... It's just hard to comment on how "the author" developed the plot in that way, you know?
What I can say about this book is that if you're the sort who likes Cthulhu mythos stories, this will be your jam. This is a world in which corporations are at war, travel is limited, and one of our main characters is friends with a handicapped dragon who's willing to assist her when she finds out that her ex-boyfriend....well, he works under the sea watching squids, and they're Up To Something. Of course, that's Bad News Rising. There's a odd assortment of bad guys, including shapeshifting swinging Tourists, there's alien porn, and, well... Elvis's reanimated singing colon. (Honestly, I somehow always was brushing my teeth when I got to reading about this, and...well, ughhhhhhhhhh, damn.) It's all about the weirdness. If you like weird, this is up your alley. But it's not the usual sort of novel, so read on with a grain of salt.
And then there's Fair Game, by ex-spy Valerie Plame Wilson. Even after getting forcibly outed as a spy, i.e. cat's kinda out of the bag already, the CIA gave her some shit for trying to publish a memoir. Which is to say that they went through the manuscript and bleeped out a lot of it. We're told it's mostly related to her terms of service, which is something that's pretty well discoverable by anyone and everyone by now. But just because someone else outed her doesn't mean that SHE is allowed to out herself on this information, apparently.
The author and the publisher did the best they could with a manuscript in which full on pages are blacked out. They include a 100+ page afterword by another writer in which she recounts what happened to Valerie by using public sources--i.e. all the stuff that we already know and could find out by searching through the media stories. They even include some documentation--the original paperwork saying that she not only can't tell how long she was in service, she can't refer to personal events like meeting her husband because they might pinpoint those things in time. paperwork about Valerie's difficulties with getting an annuity (Valerie herself is not allowed to mention that even though she served for 20 years, she's still too young to get her annuity until she's 56 years old. But hey, the paperwork saying so isn't classified....but the Agency bitches anyway....), her lawsuits about this, etc.
In the end after reading it, I'm debating rereading it after having read the afterword, just so I can place things in time better. As well as one can under the circumstances, anyway. The Amazon page says to read the afterword first, and I think I will concur with them on that one.
Here's the thing about reading this: the author is a good writer. She describes her experiences well and I'd love to read more about it, especially the sexism issues she dealt with and juggling life in two worlds. However....there's the deleted scenes. There's some areas where entire pages are deleted--for example, you don't get to hear a lick of how Valerie ended up with Joe Wilson and the narrative now skips from the "Island of Misfit Toys" org she worked at to suddenly having twins. And then there's plenty of moments where only one word is deleted. I understand having paragraphs and pages and the occasional sentence bleeped out. But sometimes whatever they bleeped out just looks...weird. Like, what was so offensive about describing a meal had during training, other than apparently saying it was southern cooking was ok? Then there's the hilarious sentence about one of her potential recruits, Nicholas.
"First of all, his enormous ego, already quite developed--since most ______ males from birth are led to believe by their mothers that they are precious beyond words--needed some ___ stroking."
OH MY. MY BRAIN WENT TO BAD PLACES WITH THAT.
I'm going to take a whopping guess from a later meal mentioning that eating yogurt at it was traditional that Valerie was probably stashed in Greece. And I knew jack shit about any of that. (According to the afterword, I am correct in that guess.)
Mostly I found myself being frequently distracted by the bleeping. I found myself playing CIA Mad Libs and making up words that could possibly go in the deleted spots.It kind of made it hard to follow and concentrate on the awesome-to-nightmare story in between awkward bleepings, you know?
Other CIA Mad Libs:
- "It was just damn embarrassing to the CIA ______________________________________________"
- "Of particular note was Joe's book, The Politics of Truth, published in early 2004 and itself sent through the Agency's PRB process and approved for publication. Joe writes about when we met in 1997 _____________________________________________________________" Uh...seriously, THIS HAS ALREADY BEEN MENTIONED IN A BOOK, YOU GUYS.
So...I don't feel like I can fairly review it, per se, given the issues that this book has had put upon it. One can't comment on how the author chose to shape her tale when you're not allowed to read a good chunk of how she meant to do it. I can understand the CIA wanting to have first bleep on it, but it seems fairly clear that even by 2007, the author is getting weirdly punished on some level for shit that was not her doing whatsoever. Sheesh. What you can find out about her tale is done well, and you feel sorry for her having to go through this shit.