Archive for July, 2012

I’m not much of a sci-fi reader, even though I do enjoy the genre of films. Or at least certain science fiction movies (like the Alien trilogy, the Terminator and Planet of the Apes movies, etc.) So when I met fellow writer Michael R. Hicks, a science-fiction novelist, I thought, “Nice guy, but I don’t know if I’ll read him or not.”

But when I got a chance to download a copy of his Season the Harvest for free, I took a shot. I figured the price was right, at least, and I’d have something to read while I was on vacation in Mississippi.

Turns out, Hicks spins a hell of a good yarn. Season of the Harvest is by any definition a sci-fi story, but the kind you can enjoy without being a Star Wars nerd or a Comic-Con regular.

From the book description:
“At a genetics lab where a revolutionary strain of wonder food crops is being developed, FBI Special Agent Jack Dawson’s best friend and fellow agent, Sheldon Crane, is brutally murdered. The killer was looking for very special seeds that Jack’s friend had taken from the lab, and tore his body apart trying to find them…

“Jack is convinced that Naomi Perrault, the beautiful geneticist who leads a group of suspected eco-terrorists, is behind the murder. But when FBI agents who aren’t quite who they claim to be show up on Jack’s doorstep after a bomb devastates the FBI lab in Quantico, destroying the evidence from his friend’s murder, Naomi becomes Jack’s only hope of survival.

“Framed for murder and confronted by the terrifying truth of what the genetically engineered seeds stolen by his friend are truly for, Jack joins Naomi in a desperate battle across half the globe to save humanity from extermination … “

Hicks tells this story as part X-Files, part CSI and part Jason Bourne. And it works. A sci-fi story (sorry, no spoilers here) that is approachable and even plausible, you get wrapped into Jack Dawson’s challenges and death-defying escapades without getting bogged down in the tedious exposition of most sci-fi novels (at least the ones I’ve read). Dawson is character with depth and motivation and a comfortable protagonist.

Hicks does have a tendency, when it comes to death-defying escapades, to throw the kitchen sink at you, with so much action and sub-plots that you’ll sometimes get a headache or get lost in the plot, but Hicks never wanders too far from the central story. The denouement is a tad tidy, but the ride there is a thrilling page-turner.

Sci-fi fans, Hicks is the real deal. If you’re looking for a great summer read, check him out on Amazon. (And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out A Simple Murder.)

Advertisements

Yes, I watched Deliverance again … not intentionally; it just happened to be on. But since James Dickey’s masterpiece of Southern fiction is (again) on my summer reading list, I wanted to catch it on the screen. Especially after recently reading a piece on Dickey’s complicated (I refuse to call it tragic) life as described in this piece in the The Atlantic, a review of the book written by Dickey’s son, about his life with the poet and writer.

I wrote a post a while back about why Clint Eastwood still matters. Dickey still matters, too. Deliverance is, by far, his legacy more than anything else he wrote, but it’s not so much the novel as it is the imprint it left. As Faulkner was nearly impenetrably dense, Dickey was near-lyrical in his prose. Both wrote with a rawness — at times, a savagery — that requires an enormous amount of courage and vulnerability at the same time. And much the way Flannery O’Connor’s characters were bizarre, even grotesque, and extraordinarily violent, Dickey’s characters aren’t merely violent outsiders — or perverted rednecks. His characters threatened and frightened, the way prophets of old did when delivering a message that, if not needed to be heard, certainly deserved to be.

That the movie version got made is a minor miracle in itself. Dickey’s turn as a screenwriter was nearly a disaster — and a tale of caution for all novelists (myself included). There’s a great account of his struggles here, no doubt complicated by an overdeveloped ego, a fondness for alcohol and the zealot’s belief in the purity of his story — both the written version and the one still in his head (a common affliction among writers).

In the end, though, American cinema gained one of its best movies. Sadly, it’s been reduced to one scene — the one with “You shore got a purty mouth.” The movie is so much more than that, though, as any serious viewing reveals. Four superb actors, in their prime, carrying a morality tale for the ages, set against the inevitable forces of nature, change and culture. Burt Reynolds — before he became a caricature of himself — towers in  the movie as a sort of Redneck Everyman whose character lives the message of the movie.

As Reynolds’ Lewis Medlocke says in the movie, “Sometime you have to lose yourself before you can find anything.”

That’s really why I watched it again.