Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Review of Daniel Silva's The Unlikely Spy

I'm a big fan of Daniel Silva's books. I heartily enjoy them.

This, his first novel, is more uneven than his previous books, as first novels often are (On the Road, for example,) but it's a fun WWII spy vs. spy suspense with great, deep characterization.

Arthur Vicary, a professor, is somewhat impressed into service in intelligence by his friend, Winston Churchill. His enemy, though he does not know who she is or even, at first, that she exists, is Catherine Blake, a deep-cover mole who has been inactive since the beginning of the war. She's also been coerced to serve, though with the ruthlessness one would expect from the Nazis. This makes her an ambivalent villainess, which makes for a far more interesting book than if she were merely a Mauser-toting, stiff-arm-flapping, knee-jerk honey trap.

Here, Silva begins his explorations into the damage that a human psyche must acquire before the person can truly become a spy and a murderer. It's an interesting question more fully explored in Silva's later books about Gabriel Allon.

The plot is a basic one: can the Axis discover whether the D-Day invasion will be at Calais or Normandy, and can the Allies stop them from discovering it? No one ever went wrong with a strong plot.

Because this is not billed as alternate history (like *The Plot Against America* by Roth,) you can kinda figure out the ending. Luckily, this book is about the ride, not about the end point.

Highly recommended.

TK Kenyon Author of Rabid: A Novel and Callous: A Novel

Friday, August 22, 2008

Contest: Review the Reviewers


Over at my author blog, I'm holding a contest for the best mock review that mocks book reviews. Enter by leaving your own mock review in the comments.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Writer's Review: American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

When I was researching material for my next novel, which has a serial killer/psychopath in it, I read other novels with Sk/psychos as major characters so I know what has been done.

Ellis has obviously done his research, and did it shockingly well, on what it is like to live inside the head of a serial killer. He has perfect pitch for characterization, even for this cacophony of a character. Patrick, Ellis's POV character, is a psychopathic serial killer living in 1980s NYC.

The book opens with an absolutely fabulous first page: Patrick riding in a cab with a friend, listening to his shallow friend, and noticing the scenery in NYC, including a quote from Dante's Inferno spray-painted on a wall. It's one of the best first pages I've ever read, and I've read a lot of novels. It perfectly painted the scene and dropped us into the head of the character. I could have forgiven a lot after that first page, but I didn't need to.

Patrick Bateman is a psychopath and a high-functioning paranoid schizophrenic. Less than half of serial killers who are caught are later diagnosed with (or, perhaps, falsely display) schizophrenia. (That was a statistical note. I think the book is better for Patrick's schizo disorder.) Ellis paints a perfect portrait of a psychopath: paint-deep. That's all the deeper that psychopaths are. Inside, they're just an imperturbable deep blue hole of sterile water. There's nothing alive in there. Ellis uses materialism and fashion-consciousness as Patrick's cover for his deep hole of nothingness. The ephemera of brand names and fashion clothes and shoes and jewelry and fashionable restaurants and fashionable foodstuffs (endive!) and quippy comebacks and one-up-man's-ship concerning hipness and coolness were exhausting, which were exactly how they were meant to be.

The sadistic violence, at first, was almost a respite from the banality of Patrick's life, until it, too, became repetitive and boring, which is exactly how Patrick sees it. That's the brilliance of this book. It's a deep, deep portrait of what it's like to feel nothing. Ellis is Jane Austen, delving into the lack of soul.

The note that I found absolutely rang true was when Ellis's POV character, Patrick, has a rare event: an adrenaline rush. Recent research into psychopathic personalities indicates that they have very low arousal levels. Nothing scares them. That's the problem. The fact that Patrick has it when he's trying to get reservations as a trendy restaurant highlights Patrick's inane, shallow character.

One caveat: I can't watch Sex & The City anymore, because all 4 characters now seem as shallow as Patrick Bateman with their shoe and restaurant preoccupations. Or eat endive.

TK Kenyon
Author of Rabid: A Novel and Callous

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Kunati Book Publishers Wins Enormous Award

The book publisher publishes my two novels, RABID and CALLOUS, has won one of the largest awards for indie publishers.

Kunati Book Publishers was honored with INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR AWARD at BookExpo America in Los Angeles, California on May 30, 2008, by FOREWORD MAGAZINE, one of the five dominant trade magazines in the book publishing field. Joshua Corin, a Kunati author, accepted at BEA on Kunati's behalf.

The new honor was created to celebrate ForeWord's tenth anniversary and to recognize Kunati's innovation and fearlessness.

Kunati, a year-old publisher, produces book trailers for every new release, maintains a blog, and encourages its authors to blog and actively participate in marketing their books. The publisher currently has several movie deals in the works, and its roster of authors includes Pulitzer Prize winner John E. Mack.

Read all of Kunati's "fearless" books at http://www.kunati.com/kunati-bookshelf-main/ .

Monday, April 28, 2008

Amazon Jumps Pub Date!

Amazon jumped the ol' gun and is offering my new novel, CALLOUS, for sale ahead of its May publication date ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640226 ) . When RABID was released last year, Amazon sold out and even sucked dry its wholesaler, so they had to backorder the book from the distributer and it took a couple weeks to get the fresh meat.

If you want to read CALLOUS any time soon, muscle your way to the head of the line and snatch a copy from some milquetoast's virtual shopping cart now!

TK Kenyon

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Philip Roth: The Plot Against America

This well-written book is an interesting diversion in the course of the 20th century in America.

In Roth's alternate history (though I'm sure he would despise that genre term as much as TC Boyle rails against "science fiction" in his preface to "A Friend of the Earth,) Roth imagines what if Charles Lindbergh had run for and won the presidency in 1940. Lindbergh was reputed to be a vicious anti-Semite, and in this piece of fiction, Lindbergh subtly sets out to assimilate the Jews into pork-eating, Saturday-working Americana.

The story is told from the POV of young Phil Roth, the author's doppelganger. Roth has done this in other books, and it's an interesting conceit. It certainly answers that question that all writers occasionally get, "Is {insert a character's name here} really *you*?"

The only thing that it obfuscates is that Roth is, of course, *all* the characters. All characters require, as Marge Piercy so nicely put it, a "blood sacrifice" to bring them to life.

The end of the book is, IMHO, problematic. While there may be some historical support for the tactic Roth imagines, I found it a too convenient motivations to explain away some of the preceding events. And, while it might explain the imagined actions of a fictionalized character, it does not explain why people (fictionally) followed him. I don't find it startling that Hitler was a murderous anti-Semite and conceived the Final Solution, but I find it horrifying that so many Germans blithely allowed it to happen. I think the end of the book could have delved a little deeper into Lindbergh's Willing Collaborators.

TK Kenyon
Author of Rabid: A Novel and Callous: A Novel

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Review of New Journal "Neuroethics"

There is a marvelous new online, free, open-access journal that everyone should read: Neuroethics.

The first issue includes an unflinching look at the field of neuroethics (as distinct from Bioethics,) and the way that the brain determines ethics and morality.


In the first issue, editor Dr. Neil Levy has written an elegent overview of the field, including a neuroethicist's view of the notorious Trolley Problem, namely, if a trolley is hurtling toward five people on a track, and you hold a lever that will change the track so that the trolley is shuttled onto a track where it kills only one person, should you pull the lever.

Most ethicists and ordinary folks say "yes," for the greater welfare is at stake.

However, if the problem is changed subtly so that your choice is between allowing the trolley to crush the five people or pushing a large, beefy man onto the track to obstruct and stop the trolley, most ethicists and ordinary people will say no, that this violates the man's rights, and you should allow the trolley to slaughter the five people.

Neuroethicists have identified where the real problem is: the difference between these two scenarios is not merely “action,” as the Kantian folks dissemble, but emotion. We do not want to be actively responsible for the death of a human being, and a particular human being (the large, beefy man) at that.

The real problem is: since it is emotion that informs our ethical choices, ethical choices are not rational.

The journal also has a lovely article on “The Popular New Genre of Neurosexism” by Dr. Cordelia Fine, comparing recent mommy-brain books to the painfully terrible science of the 1800’s, in which eminent scientists actually promulgated that women’s education should not be too rigorous because it would divert energy to their brains and away from their ovaries, rendering them sterile. (Testicles, apparently, had an independent energy source.)

This excellent new journal deserves bookmarking. Do it now to avoid the rush.

TK Kenyon

Author of RABID: A Novel and CALLOUS: A Novel, where neuroscience, morality, and murder intersect.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hari Kunzru -- Raj, Bohemian

Hari Kunzru (My Revolutions) has written an intellectual but ultimately dry short story for The New Yorker (March 10, 2008.)

His main character is a first-person, nameless New York trend setter, a la Patrick Bateman, but without the interesting killing sprees of American Psycho. The character discovers that many of the people in his consumer-driven, shallow, trendy lifestyle are actually something like Buzz Agents who "monetize their social networks" because they are "early adopters," and spout buzz lines to their friends whenever appropriate.

Protag feels betrayed because he thought he was hip. He takes a knife to go kill Raj, the first person who he figured out was a buzzer in his social circle, but when he gets there, ennui overcomes him, and he instead succumbs to habitual trendiness.

This is ultimately unsatisfying because Kunzru ends his story with The Shrug. The story falls into numb and mindless violence, or violent and mindless numbness, or whatever.

While I'm no fan of epiphanic fiction, where a story's climax can be summarized as "And then I realized...," or "And everything was blue feathers," a story must end; it cannot merely peter out.

"Raj, Bohemian" is interesting, but essentially numbing. It does not shake you with emotion, which is what the best stories do.

TK Kenyon
Author of RABID: A Novel and CALLOUS: A Novel