Friday, January 27, 2017

Twin Peeks

Two Reviews:

The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neill

There is something about science fiction which lends itself to blending with detective fiction. Many of the big name scifi authors have offered up cocktails of the two. Even I have tried mixing them once or twice (see my short story site at Richard’s Mirror). Anthony O’Neill does a particularly good job of it in his 2016 novel The Dark Side.

Narcissist magnate Fletcher Brass has taken advantage of the muddled jurisdictional status of the Moon to create his own fiefdom on the far side out of direct line of sight communication with earth. In his city of Purgatory, the lunar vice capital, criminals fleeing earth authorities are welcome, but they had better understand that Brass is the law. Brass has elucidated his governing principles in a popular book of psychopathic maxims called the Brass Code.
Never bang your head against the wall. Bang someone else’s.
Shake hands in public. Decapitate in private.
What’s the point of walking in another man’s shoes? Unless his shoes are better than yours?
Find Oz. Be the Wizard.
If you can’t cover your tracks, cover those who see them.

A succession crisis is in progress as the book opens. Fletcher Brass plans to join a Martian expedition that will keep him away from the Moon for years. Will he leave governance of Purgatory to his equally ambitious daughter QT Brass, with whom he has philosophical differences, or to someone else?

Even Purgatory needs a police force, and newly hired detective Damien Justus, formerly of Las Vegas, is brought in to investigate murders that might have political implications. As an outsider he presumably is not corrupted (yet) and his perspective is fresh. The question immediately arises of whether the murders are related to the succession issue. Was his own hire (apparently by QT) part of the maneuverings? How reliable is the rest of the police force? And what is the connection of the murders to a homicidal android robot that wasn’t present in Purgatory at the time of them?

It’s unlikely that any detective novel at this late date can be entirely original even if set on the Moon, but this one is well crafted. The physical setting is nicely detailed and nowhere are physical laws suspended. O’Neil successfully delivers a gritty noir in low gravity.

Thumbs up.

**** ****

The Monster (2016)

Though, as in childhood, I still enjoy the occasional monster movie for its own sake, this is not why The Monster made an appearance on my home screen a few days ago. The reason was the appealing Yale-educated actress Zoe Kazan (Elia Kazan’s granddaughter) who brings something worth watching to every part she plays. She most often is found in indie flicks such as the dark comedy The Pretty One, Joss Whedon’s paranormal romance In Your Eyes, and the award-winning Ruby Sparks for which she wrote the script. Her characters are always vulnerable but never helpless. The Monster is her cheesiest film choice to date. That is not by itself a reproach: cheese has a place on the menu.

We are reminded early in The Monster that most of the monsters we face in life are not literal, but nonetheless real. There are more reminders in flashbacks throughout the movie. Kathy (Zoe Kazan) is a troubled, alcoholic, addicted, divorced young mother of tween Lizzy (Ella Ballentine). In the opening scene Lizzy cleans up booze bottles from the night before while her mother is sleeping it off; Kathy’s latest loser boyfriend already has left. Kathy does care about her daughter, but she is just not up to the job of being a mother and she knows it. In consequence, Lizzy in many ways has grown up too fast while compensating for this by holding much too tightly onto a handful of childish behaviors. Soon, however, Kathy and Lizzy will face the kind of monster with actual claws and fangs. It seems cryptozoologists have missed the existence of one very large and nasty creature of the deep woods – unsurprisingly, since any who encountered it in its natural habitat wouldn’t have survived to tell the tale.

Kathy takes Lizzy on a long drive to visit Lizzy’s father. Kathy suspects Lizzy will not ever want to return to her. They are detoured onto a back road through a forested area where the car is disabled by a collision with a wolf. You know what happens next. Not a single monster movie trope is forgotten from the jump scares to the false rescue. But that’s okay. The tropes are handled competently, so they work well enough. It’s an old-fashioned plot with a newfangled backstory. Can Lizzy survive her monsters – and not just the one in the woods? Can Kathy? We hope so, but aren’t sure until the end.

Thumbs modestly up.


  1. Both sound pretty good. The moon detective may not be an original plot nor the monster in the wood tropes, but if it constructed well and hold one's attention it succeeds. They both sound like something I'd enjoy. I'll queue The Monster, thanks.

    1. From Asimov's "Caves of Steel" to F. Paul Wilson's "Dydeetown World" the detective-scifi mashup has been a fruitful one. This one works, too. As for "The Monster," it hasn't changed my mind about liking Zoe.

  2. I always liked Niven's The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton. I heard J. D. Robb's series of books starting with Naked in Death were good too, but I've not read any of them.

    1. One seldom goes wrong with Niven. I haven't read Robb either, but I'll keep him in mind.

  3. That novel sounds really interesting. I wrote a short story about a murder mystery on a space station. It was a fun exercise but the final result was lacking. The big finally occurred with the artificial gravity being disabled and the hero trying to catch the villain. I did like my main character. He was the "wrong man in the wrong place" Hitchcock variety hero. Had a lot of fun with that guy.

    1. Interesting. I had a go of space station CSI, too: "Return of the Judi" and a sequel of sorts "Sky Wheels (or Old Derby Girls Never Die)" over at the Richard’s Mirror site. Send a link if you like or an attachment. (You can message me on FB for an email address if you prefer.)