Edward Hopper & the 1930s

A fascinating analysis on Edward Hopper’s stylistic 1930s artwork which makes me want to check out Rules of Civility by Amor Towles all the more. I admit that I’ve always had a fascination with this time period, from the fedora hats to the obsession with martinis. And the fact that Towles knows his artwork so well reflects that he has an excellent understanding of the time period too. It means he’s put a lot of thought into it, and although I’m not sure about the main character Katie Kontent, I think the atmosphere alone will make this book worth a look!

“Put on some Billie Holiday, pour a dry martini and immerse yourself in the eventful life of Katey Kontent…[Towles] clearly knows the privileged world he’s writing about, as well as the vivid, sometimes reckless characters who inhabit it.”

People

1938 Manhattan – Rules of Civility

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Embedded by Dan Abnett

Military Science Fiction was the first genre I categorized this book when I read over the summary and signed up for the giveaway. I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting since I’ve never really read much on the genre. But I’m always willing to try new books, even if I’m a bit uncertain at first. And in retrospect, I’m incredibly glad I gave this book a shot!

I. The Pros

Lex Falk Plucked from Film Noir

The genre isn’t wide enough for this flexible storyline. When it starts out you’re following Lex Falk, an award-winning journalist known for finding a story regardless of the trouble. A rugged, take-no-crap attitude and a penchant for young women, Falk feels as though he was picked up from a film noir and dropped onto another planet. He’s grumpy at bars, has problems trusting anyone, and ends up referring to an upstart new reporter (who he inevitably has sex with) as “green hiker girl”. In short, he’s incredibly entertaining, sympathetic, and mostly likable. You see where he’s coming from, understand how perceptive he is at spotting the truth beneath the bullshit, and understand why he ultimately makes the choice he does to get “embedded”. I’ve always been a fan of film noir, so seeing these traits dropped into a science fiction piece was an amazing spark of genius that transfers over quite well.

(35 mm) Film Noir by drp

Look it's where Lex Falk lives! (But in Space)

Sweet Action

From about mid-way through and on, there are back-to-back action scenes that paint the most invigorating and involving world. The characters grow on you, and you can practically smell the battlefield and bodies at every turn. All the while Falk is keeping his little secret and trying to put on his show as successfully as he can. You watch as the troop he goes in with is taken out around him, and Bloom and Falk’s lives suddenly depend on one another. I don’t want to give too much away here, but I found it incredibly difficult to put the book down in the middle of these scenes. Just too much fun!

The Merging of Minds

***WARNING – SPOILERS TO THE PLOT***SKIP***

I have a fascination with cognition and how the mind perceives the world, so it was an unexpected treat to see the process by which Falk gets embedded in Bloom. Abnett does an incredible job in explaining the strange sense of being in another person’s body and looking out through their eyes as a paralyzed onlooker. It reminded me of Roland’s reaction in Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three, but Falk is certainly not even remotely trained for this experience. He has panic attacks which bleed over into Bloom, causing much mirror yelling (which was indeed quite amusing!) and threats to himself. Bloom also has no idea how to handle it, but he’s not allowed to back out now. Perhaps the most fascinating scene as far as cognition was when Bloom was shot in the head. Falk is suddenly remembering someone else’s memories, and yes it’s just as creepy as it sounds. Bloom reverts to the back of his mind and Falk is suddenly left there with a hole in his head and a pile of corpses. That scene is pretty intense not to mention horrific. Abnett carries it along quite expertly.

II. The Cons

Drop Off

The main downfall was the ending in my opinion. Everything wrapped up, but a little too quickly for my tastes. I wanted to find out more about how his group reacted to Falk revealing that he was actually the mind controlling Bloom’s body after Bloom was incapacitated. In a way, I felt like not including this information made the characters in essence written off. Did he ever tell them? Did they believe them? And what about human resources — did they allow the rest of them to survive? And whatever happened to Bigmouse? These things were never really settled, and the empty felt a bit hollow because of it.

And what was the giant item they found embedded in the bedrock of the planet? I assumed it was some type of alien machinery but I would’ve greatly preferred more explanation here. As much details as Falk had on so many other areas, I felt that this final discovery deserved more attention and description.

Silly Plot Points

Kind of a pet peeve of mine here, but I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the impromptu patching Cleesh did at the end to Falk’s translator. Suddenly speaking the language of the enemy and not even realizing it seems like a horrible way to make friends with the allies. In a way it kind of spoke to how unprepared Cleesh and her group had been, but it also made the other military units seem incredibly dumb. I know this is one of the first times they are confronted with true combat and against well trained units, but I was disappointed with how relatively easy they believed him. They simply assumed he talked to himself. A lot. After a while they were the ones offering the excuse for him, and Falk didn’t even have to mention it after a while.

Typos and Grammar Issues

Now this is a topic I’m not sure if I can comment on here, since my copy was printed before the final one. However some of the edits and typos and words lacking proper spacing just got on my nerves after a while. Sometimes entire chunks of dialog weren’t separated properly and I really found it distracting to the storyline. Especially when it happened at the end of a chapter on a cliffhanger. I won’t be including this in the final rating I give, but I thought it was worth mentioning. If these problems *are* on the final edition, I’ll definitely be lowering my score. They were mostly simple fixes after all.

III. Final Rating

Sorry for all the spoilers, but it’s quite difficult to discuss this book at length without mentioning them. It’s very difficult making a decision on this piece, and even while writing this review I was straddling the fence between a 4 or 5. But then I have to remind myself of what indeed makes a level 5 book:

  1. Is it a fun read? Yes, very much so! I looked forward to picking up this book and each new plot twist was heart-pounding and attention-grabbing. A regular joy ride.
  2. Would you recommend it to others? Absolutely! I’ve already piqued the interest of a few friends who will be reading this after me. They all read way faster than I do, so no worries there! The detailed machinery alone in this book (which goes right over my head) will have them loving it, I’m sure.
  3. Would you re-read it? Probably not the whole book, I rarely do that. But I’d likely pick up bits and pieces to review later on.
  4. Does it stick with you? Very much. Every time I finished putting a section down, my mind was stuck with Fak and crew trekking through the jungle or fighting to survive.

All in all, I think this book makes up for its flaws and then some. Although the ending isn’t that great, you still have a blast getting there. And some scenes I think will always be stuck with me, like Lex Falk sitting in a bar with large glass windows overlooking outer space. At least, that’s how I imagined it. The genre for this piece kept growing as I read. I think in the end I was referring to it as a: Military Noir Horror Science Fiction. A lone journalist fighting to find the truth in an unappreciative and sickly world. Do yourself a favor and give this book a try!