Quick Retrospective: “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

The next step in my thoroughly enjoyable journey through the Miyazaki oeuvre is “Kiki’s Delivery Service”.

This one will be quick because, in a lot of ways, it’s very similar to “My Neighbor Totoro”, a supernatural slice of life film for preteen girls.

The movie can best be described as “Incredibly charming”. Everything is very fluffy and low stakes. Outside of one scene at the end, nobody is in any real danger. The conflict is all internal – Kiki needs to gain the self-confidence and skills to navigate through life on her own, and how she goes about doing this is told in what is essentially a series of vignettes that make up the plot of the movie.

“Kiki’s” is – and I don’t really know how else to say this – very sweet, even more so than “Totoro”. There isn’t even that underlying sense of dread like in that film. As the TVTropes article on the film points out, that’s more laughing with joy in this film than anything else I can think of (this is a Miyazaki thing, apparently, as there was quite a lot of laughing for joy in “Totoro” and even “Castle in the Sky”).

At the same time, the world isn’t quite as friendly as “Totoro”, though nobody ever actually gets TOO mean. An interestingly subtle trick that Miyazaki plays is that even when Kiki has trouble with other people, the problem is actually mostly with her. Tombo, the boy who obviously has a crush on her, is actually very polite to her throughout the film, but Kiki rebuffs him (she says for bad manners, but more obviously because she’s still nervous about meeting new people at this point in the story). When Tombo’s friends show up and Kiki runs away in tears, they never actually do anything wrong; Kiki is just overly self-conscious of her lack of money, and it’s when she accepts her own skills and limitations that she is finally able to open up to new people in her life.

The finale of the film was controversial with the author of the book the movie was based on, but for the film itself it is perfect. The story asks the question: Why is it so important that Kiki can fly, or more fundamentally, that she is a witch?  And the finale gives the answer: Because it helps her connect with and help the people around her. It is a skill not only to be used for work and enjoyment, but for friendship and to better the world, something implied from the very beginning of the story but that Kiki only truly understands during the climax. A rather noble message for such a relaxed, low-key film!

It is also worth noting that the flying scenes themselves are spectacular; unlike the typical Harry Potter/traditional view of witches on broomsticks, Miyazaki portrays flying as wonderfully capricious and unstable, at the mercy of the wind and difficult to control. Scenes where Kiki is simply flying through the town avoiding the people, buildings, and vehicles rank among the best in the whole film.

You knew, I’d recommend this, right? Well, you were right. I do. As always, it’s yet another home run from Miyazaki, probably the “worst” of the films so far for certain values of that word but still a wonderfully fun low-key charmer if that’s what you’re in the mood for.

And who isn’t sometimes, right?

Retrospective: “My Neighbor Totoro”, Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

My journey through the Miyazaki oeuvre continues with “My Neighbor Totoro”.

“My Neighbor Totoro” is a movie so utterly different from both “Spirited Away” and “Castle in the Sky” it almost feels like a work from a different director.

“My Neighbor Totoro” is more or less in the vein of his film “Kiki’s Delivery Service” as a sort of supernatural slice of life, but for little girls. Miyazaki’s work can be categorized in a few ways. One way to look at it is that he has his adventure films (examples being “Castle in the Sky”, “Porco Rosso”, and “Howl’s Moving Castle”), his epics (“Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind”, “Princess Mononoke”), and his children’s films (“My Neighbor Totoro”, “Ponyo”, and “Spirited Away”).

This classification isn’t perfect (it becomes very hard to fit in “The Wind Rises”, for one thing, and while “Spirited Away” is most definitely a children’s film it also feels like something much more than that), but using it we can successfully classify “My Neighbor Totoro” in the children’s category.

This is a movie that western animation simply cannot make. I don’t think anybody has even TRIED to. It’s a movie directed at TODDLERS, but instead of being frenetic and didactic it’s a very graceful film, with a slow build, little real conflict for the majority of it, and an idyllic setting. It doesn’t talk down to its viewers at all; everybody and everything that happens feels very natural and real, even the supernatural parts.

The movie is more a series of vignettes than a coherent story. It shines in little moments that burst through out of nowhere and suddenly leave you filled with emotion. There is a scene midway in the film where little four year old Mei shows up at her sister Satsuki’s school. She’s in tears but won’t speak, and her current babysitter (an old woman called Granny) said she wouldn’t stop crying unless she promised to take her to Satsuki. When Satsuki asks what’s wrong, Mei simply runs forward and clings to Satsuki’s legs.

It’s a very powerful moment that comes almost randomly, but it’s incredibly effective because Miyazaki did the legwork developing the relationship between the sisters. Earlier scenes that have no obvious point besides making you smile are important for establishing characters and relationships that pay off in big ways throughout the film, getting you emotionally invested in the little family before there are even any real stakes.

It works in exactly the opposite way as “Castle in the Sky”, which dropped you directly into the middle of action and expected you to keep up.

Despite the gentle nature of the film there is a very real and very serious sense of dread underlying it – once again, something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in a western film. The main conflict is that the girls’ mother is very sick. Throughout the movie they are looking forward to her visit home for a weekend while she recovers, but are informed by the doctor that due to a relapse the visit will have to be postponed. When Satsuki finally voices their main fear out loud – what if their mother actually dies? – it’s heartbreaking and genuinely frightening, because what do you say to that? It’s a possibility. Sick people DO die. There’s no escaping or defeating it, like you can with a typical enemy. The threat is powerful because it’s real.

Satsuki’s terror when Mei goes missing at the end of the film is also palpable. There’s an absolutely terrifying scene where Satsuki is informed that they think they found Mei’s sandal in a pond. Satsuki’s fear that Mei might have drowned is heartbreaking, less because of any real threat (Do you think they’d REALLY kill off a four year old girl in a film like this?*) and more that you just ache for Satsuki, who’s clearly going through a personal Hell.

I’ve barely mentioned the supernatural creatures that are the most famous part of the film. The truth is that they’re really not even the appeal of the movie. It’s the sisters who are the heart and soul of the film, and they manage to be compelling all by themselves.

This isn’t to say, mind, that forest spirits aren’t wonderful additions to the movie. Totoro himself is a marvelous creation, the Japanese version of a big fluffy teddy bear. When Satsuki, as a last resort, begs Totoro for help, the giant grin he gives fills you with the sort of desperate hope and excitement that Satsuki surely must be feeling. Miyazaki, master that he is, is playing with your emotions like a fiddle and you don’t even realize it until the movie is over.

“My Neighbor Totoro” is a film that doesn’t have any moments of true transcendence like “Castle in the Sky”, and it isn’t as wildly imaginative as Miyazaki’s masterpiece, “Spirited Away”, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever smiled so much during the film. There’s a lot to love here, and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that Miyazaki can take on pretty much any concept or genre he wants to and knock it out of the park. So far I’ve seen an all-time great adventure film, an all-time great family movie, and generally one of the greatest and most imaginative films of all time, period. Is it even possible for this guy to make a false move?

We shall see.

If you’re in the mood to sit back with a feel-good film and smile, “My Neighbor Totoro” can’t be beat. Highly recommended.

*I originally just said “Do you think they’d REALLY kill off a four year old girl?”, and then I remembered that “Grave of the Fireflies” was the double billing and decided to add the addendum.

Review: Iron Chamber of Memory

John C Wright has pulled off an amazing trick with his novel, Iron Chamber of Memory What started out as a Nora Roberts style romantic comedy ended in an epic battle on the scale of Mary Stewart and her books of King Arthur and Merlin. Okay, call it a fantasy romance. Quick! Where’s the soundtrack for Excalibur! I need O Fortuna to accompany the knights charging out of the mists!

Trust me, when I say it was epic, I mean EPIC.

You can kind of guess it from the cover.

Eye catching enough?

The description is as follows.

The small island of Sark in the English Channel is the last feudal government in Europe. By law, no motor vehicles run on the road, and no lights burn at night. Only the lord of the island may keep hounds.Into the strange, high house of Wrongerwood wanders Hal Landfall, penniless graduate student at Magdalen College, looking for his missing friend Manfred Hathaway, who has just inherited the lordship, the house, and the island. What he finds instead is the lovely, green-eyed Laurel, a beautiful girl from Cornwall who is Manfred’s wife-to-be.

 

There is said to be a haunted chamber in the house, erected by Merlin in ancient days, where a man who enters remembers his true and forgotten self. When Hal and Laurel step in, they remember, with fear and wonder, a terrible truth they must forget again when they step outside.

I wish I could go more into this story without given things away.

This book has haunted Wright for over a decade. The island it takes place on is real, even though it sounds like a fantasy construction, for it is a fantastic place.

The first 25% of the book is a romantic farce (like Bringing Up Baby, but actually funny). The next 25% is an epic romance. The third quarter …. transitions nicely into the last 25%, in which the fecal matter hits the air impeller, and we’re in for one heck of a ride.

Wright is in a level all of his own, wherein he brings together so many myths and legends, there were moments I paused and went “How did I not see this?” His dissertation director at Oxford is a Dr. Vodonoy. If you don’t see it, don’t worry, I didn’t either. You will be amused by a Mister Drake. He doesn’t actually have any lines of dialogue, but trust me, when Wright reveals the joke, you’ll enjoy it.
And in all of those elements of epicness and mythology clashing, good against evil, we have a bit like this.

“I am the son of The Grail Knight. My father showed me the cup when I was a boy, still with heaven’s innocence in me, so that the shining rays were visible to me: and in the Blood of the Grail he anointed me.”

“And after…”

“We moved to New York, and he opened a used bookstore.”

The unexpectedness of that line was … well, I was glad I didn’t wake the neighbors, laughing my tuchas off.
Or:

“Are you suffering from cutlery dysfunction?”

It’s times like those where I’m wondering if I’m reading Mary Stewart or Peter David. Either way, it works.
This is what, in my family, is called a “Novel novel.” There is more in common with Victor Hugo than James Patterson. I spent a lot of time admiring the crafting of story, words and phrasing. And I usually don’t note that sort of thing.
Humor? Check. Fantasy? Triple checked. Romance? Double checked in two different meanings of the world. Also, if you want a plot twist that makes Jeffery Deaver look like amateur hour? Quadruple checked (yes, really, four, I counted. Maybe 6).
Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Review: The Big Sheep

Rob Kroese’s The Big Sheep makes me want to go out and buy everything else the author has written. Dang it, have you even seen how many novels this guy has out? They’d have my book collection bury me alive if they were collected in physical format.This book was quite a shock. I was expecting something over the top and insane. This was more like if Jasper Fforde, Tom Holt, or Terry Pratchett went out and wrote a Raymond Chandler novel.

As the back of the cover says,

Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call.

 

But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her – and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected – and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.

Despite the opening paragraph, I would not even consider slandering this book with the label of dystopia. In this future, there was a problem, everything fell apart for a while, it was never entirely fixed, and government, being government, just walled off the problem area and declared it fixed. There’s a reason it’s called the DZ.

But, in short, the bad parts of LA still suck. No one is surprised.

This was incredibly well put together. The city itself was even a character. Hell, the DZ is a character before you even get to the wretched place.

The jokes are sly without being overly cute. The sheep they’re trying to find is called “Mary.” So of course, they suspect that there’s …. wait for it … something about Mary, and part of the problem is that she doesn’t have a little lamb.

We won’t even get into the titanium shoulder and the crematorium. You have to experience that one for yourself.

Part of the nice thing about this story is that Kroese knows what the reader will conclude as they work through the mystery. And of course, like any good mystery writer, he cuts ahead of them, and pushes the reader down a flight of stairs. Not only does he offer what the reader is thinking as the solution, he also debunks it within five pages after that.

So this was fun. And how can you not enjoy someone named Erasmus Keane?

Keane and Fowler follow the Holmes and Watson school of detective work. Or perhaps Doctor Who. Every great detective in literature seems to need a handler, and Keane is no exception. Unlike needing Archie Goodwin to make Nero Wolfe work, or Watson to tell the stories that Holmes couldn’t narrate to save his life, Keane almost needs Fowler to keep him tethered to the planet. They make for an interesting team. Though unlike Arthur Conan Doyle, Kroese doesn’t cheat. Fowler sees everything Keane sees, just doesn’t see the big picture, which Kroese puts together quite well.

Just do yourself a favor and buy a copy of The Big Sheep

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award and Planetary award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.. 

Review: Murder in the Vatican, the Church Mysteries of Sherlock Homes

Reviewing Murder in the Vatican requires a bit of backstory. When I was 13, I started reading through the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes. I made it about halfway through. stopped dead by “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott”—the first time Holmes was the narrator.  Even G.K. Chesterton noted that it showed why Watson was relevant: because Holmes was a terrible storyteller.

Since then, I have been critical of anything about Sherlock Holmes written after the death of Arthur Conan Doyle.
When Robert Downey Jr. starred in Sherlock Holmes, I crossed my fingers and hoped it didn’t suck … instead, I got a checklist of what they did right.

When they created Sherlock, I also crossed my fingers. It was surprisingly awesome.

Then I heard about Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. It had an interesting premise: author Ann Margaret Lewis takes Watson’s offhand references of Holmes working on cases for the Pope, or involving religious figures, and turns them into entire stories.

I experienced the same feeling of dread. How off would the narration be? Would someone try converting Holmes? How lost would a detective from Victorian, Anglican England be in Catholic Rome? How many different ways were there to screw this up?

I stopped worrying when I read the first sentence. And, oh my God, this book is awesome! I loved this book…

Lewis caught the voice of Dr. John Watson as though she had taken it, trapped in a bottle, and used it to refill her pen into as she wrote. I liked the voice. I liked Watson, the doctor, trying to diagnose an ailing Leo XIII (85 at the time of the events of the first story). I like the brief sketch of the political situation between the Vatican and Italy. I even enjoy Watson’s discomfort at the Pope slipping into “The Royal We” when he speaks of himself as the Pope.

Even the artwork was as though it had been lifted from issues of The Strand magazine. Someone had fun here.

Thankfully, there is no overt attempt to convert Holmes, evangelize or proselytize him. There is only enough theology in the entire novel that explains to the casual reader exactly what the heck the Pope is doing. The closest the book comes to exposing Holmes to theology is a page-long sequence that ends with Leo saying, “Perhaps you should spend some of your inactive time pondering that conundrum [of Jesus] instead of indulging in whatever narcotic it is with which you choose to entertain yourself.”

That is the best zinger I’ve ever seen a character use on Holmes regarding his drug use. Even the most secular person I know can appreciate a page of theology for one of the better one-liners I’ve ever seen.

Also, the little things were entertaining for a nerd like me. For example, the casual mention of John Cardinal Newman, referred to as “a recent convert.” The political situation at the time is given just enough of a sketch to explain what’s going on, but nothing obtrusive; history nerds like me can be satisfied, but you don’t have to have a degree in it to comprehend what’s going on.

There are truly parts where the novel seems to merge all the best qualities of Sherlock Holmes with those of G.K. Chesterton’s Fr. Brown short stories …

At this point, I must make a small confession. I write reviews as I read the book. There is plenty of backtracking, filling the blanks, and rewrite the review as the book goes. I wrote the Father Brown line when I finished the first tale. In fact, the interview questions I sent to Ann Margaret Lewis were written before I even received a review copy of the book.

I then read “The Vatican Cameos,” and discover a Deacon, named Brown …

I swear I didn’t see that coming.


The first story in this collection is “The Death of Cardinal Tosca.”

In this memorable year ’95 a curious and incongruous succession of cases had engaged his attention, ranging from his famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca — an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope . . . .

—Dr. John H. Watson, “The Adventure of Black Peter”

Imagine Sherlock Holmes on vacation … if you see that vacation turning out like an episode of Murder, She Wrote, with a body hitting the floor at some point, you pretty much have the setup. It has a poison pen letter, with real poison, some Masons, references to two different cases in the space of two paragraphs, and a Papal commando raid with a real pontiff. This story is so delightfully odd and over-the-top, but still preserves as much reality as any other Holmes tale. I enjoyed every moment of it. And I can’t argue with any story where the pope gets most of the amusing one-liners.

Heck, even the murderer gets in a good line. When confronted, our first killer sneers. “Let me guess. You’re going to explain, to the amazement of your friends, how I did the deed?” Holmes replies, “I’ve already told them that. It would be old news. They already know you blundered badly.”

I think the story concludes on a nice, solid note. As Holmes tells Watson, “[Leo XIII] is genuinely pious. He is also imperious, but in a most endearing way.”

Watson merely replies, “Yes, well. I’m used to that.”

Let’s see Martin Freeman deliver that line.


“I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases.”

—Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles

The second tale, “The Vatican Cameos,” is a bit of a flashback episode to when Holmes first met Pope Leo XIII. A collection of cameos is sent to Queen Victoria, secured tightly in the box, but upon their arrival in London, the box is empty. The Queen simply sends Sherlock Holmes. Watson is busy with a medical emergency, so he wasn’t around.

When Watson asks Sherlock about the incident, Holmes says, quite clearly “Watson, I am incapable of spinning a tale in the way you do. The narrative would read like a scientific treatise.” Thus, there is only one person left who to narrate this tale … Leo XIII. This was the story that truly showed that the author did her research, assembling little details of Leo XIII’s interests and hobbies and putting them together into a rich, vibrant character. He is shown here as witty, humorous, and bright.

The byplay between Leo XIII and Holmes in this story was marvelously entertaining. The Pope is shown to be about as smart as Watson … maybe a little smarter. When Holmes first meets the Pontiff, and rattles off conclusions in his usual rapid-fire manner, the Pope takes a minute, and deduces how Holmes came to most of them. Not all, but most. Making Leo this smart only serves to make Holmes as impressive as he should be—yes, everyone else may be smart, but Holmes is smarter.

Also, having Leo XIII using Thomas Aquinas to talk with Holmes of reason and science … it works for me.

And the scene with Holmes, the Pope, and the gunman was fun, too.


“You know that I am preoccupied with this case of the two Coptic Patriarchs, which should come to a head to-day.”

Sherlock Holmes, “The Retired Colourman”

“The Second Coptic Patriarch”: The third and final tale is from yet another throwaway line of Arthur Conan Doyle’s.

In this case, a former criminal comes to Holmes to solicit his services; the priest who converted him away from his life of crime is in jail for murder. A bookstore owner has been murdered with a book (“The Rule of Oliver Cromwell–weighty subject, no doubt,” Holmes quips), and the priest will only say that the victim was dead when he arrived.

It’s almost Sherlock Holmes meets Alfred Hitchcock … I didn’t know someone could do I Confess like this. It’s a fun little read, and possibly the most traditional of the Holmes stories — it’s a good tale. From the perspective of the overall book, it’s a perfect cap to the character arc.

Now, after reading Murder in the Vatican, I think I’m going to go back and finish the Sherlock Holmes series — and keep Murder in the Vatican handy, so I can read them all in chronological order.

Ann Lewis said that the book was “meant to be fun and lift your heart for a short time. I had a blast writing it, and I hope you have a blast reading it.”

Mission accomplished.

Frankly, between Cumberbatch, RDJ, or Elementary, if you had to live with only one expansion of Holmes works, you buy Ann Lewis. Period.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Tom Stranger: International Insurance Agent

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Welcome to Larry Correia’s audio book, The Adventures of Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance AgentThe Adventures of Tom Stranger: Interdimensional Insurance Agent, narrated by Adam Baldwin.

Yes. Really. I’m not making this one up.

Have you ever seen a planet invaded by rampaging space mutants from another dimension or Nazi dinosaurs from the future?

Don’t let this happen to you!

 

Rifts happen, so you should be ready when universes collide. A policy with Stranger & Stranger can cover all of your interdimensional insurance needs. Rated “Number One in Customer Satisfaction” for three years running, no claim is too big or too weird for Tom Stranger to handle.

 

But now Tom faces his greatest challenge yet. Despite being assigned the wrong – and woefully inadequate – intern, Tom must still provide quality customer service to multiple alternate Earths, all while battling tentacle monsters, legions of the damned, an evil call center in Nebraska, and his archnemesis, Jeff Conundrum. Armed with his Combat Wombat and a sense of fair play, can Tom survive? And will Jimmy the Intern ever discover his inner insurance agent?

 

It’s time to kick ass and adjust claims.

Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck) performs Larry Correia’s madcap interdimensional tale of underwriting and space travel, where the only thing scarier than tentacle monsters is a high deductible.


My first response? “Oh good God, what the sweet heck is this?”

But it’s by Larry, and it was free at the time, and I am both cheap and a fan of Correia’s, so why not?

I decided to play it while on a trip into Manhattan.

Happily, I didn’t crash the car.

Chapter 1: “Tom’s 9am meeting,” takes place in a dimension in which the star of the five-season libertarian space cowboy show (and three blockbuster movies) has become President Adam Baldwin. SecDef is R. Lee Ermey. They are being invaded by the attack of the flying purple people eaters on meth, steroids and rocket fuel. But, thankfully, they have coverage with Stranger and Stranger.

Also, Adam Baldwin does a great Ermey impersonation.

Chapter 2: “The Mediation”

The mediator is Chuck Norris. The awesome is hilarious, as is Baldwin’s impersonation of Norris. Just bask in the awesome.

Chapter 3: “Hell Comes to Nebraska”

This might be the best bit of the book. Not only because it blows up an SF convention, but because it stars Larry Correia and Wendell the Manatee as CFO of CorreiaTech, creator of the Combat Wombat. There are also legions of Hell invading Nebraska.

Then there’s the Balrog…

Yes.

Chapter 4: The book gets a plot!

Just when you thought that this was just a string of vignettes from a day in the life of Tom Stranger, surprise, we have a plot.

For the record, we also make fun of Kung Fu Panda.

I won’t continue with the chapter breakdown, because spoilers would happen, but the short version is that this is off the wall insane and hilarious. Granted, a lot of the humor is of the off the wall variety, but it was hilarious.

However, if you dislike having your sacred cows made into hamburger, you might have some problems. Here, Larry takes shots at Obama (Adam Baldwin does a terrifyingly good Obama), Joe Biden (or “the alcoholic clown”) call centers, squishy degrees, and even nerds to some degree, because Larry’s been to conventions where not all nerds are interesting.

But, yeah, this was a wonderful ball of strange … no pun intended.  Much.

For the record: Tom Stranger will return.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.

Review of Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge

What happens when you bring together one of the best SF&F writers into one of the best fantasy worlds in books today? Grunge.

At LibertyCon, John Ringo mentioned that he had been reading Monster Hunter International because it’s not the sort of thing he would write, so he wouldn’t be stealing anything from it by accident.
Instead, Ringo ended up writing three books for the world Larry Correia invented.
The premise behind this one is … interesting.

 

When Marine Private Oliver Chadwick Gardenier is killed in the Marine barrack bombing in Beirut, somebody who might be Saint Peter gives him a choice: Go to Heaven, which while nice might be a little boring, or return to Earth. The Boss has a mission for him and he’s to look for a sign. He’s a Marine: He’ll choose the mission.

 

Unfortunately, the sign he’s to look for is “57.” Which, given the food services contract in Bethesda Hospital, creates some difficulty. Eventually, it appears that God’s will is for Chad to join a group called “Monster Hunters International” and protect people from things that go bump in the night. From there, things trend downhill.

 

Monster Hunter Memoirs is the (mostly) true story of the life and times of one of MHI’s most effective—and flamboyant—hunters. Pro-tips for up and coming hunters range from how to dress appropriately for jogging (low-profile body armor and multiple weapons) to how to develop contacts among the Japanese yakuza, to why it’s not a good idea to make billy goat jokes to trolls.

 

Grunge harkens back to the Golden Days of Monster Hunting when Reagan was in office, Ray and Susan Shackleford were top hunters and Seattle sushi was authentic.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge has everything that I’ve come to expect from Ringo: a smart character (in this case, super-genius) taking over-the-top situations, and responding to them very pragmatically. Swarm of zombies? Shoot them in the head. And shoot faster. Have a dream about a mission from God? Well, it could be a dream, or it could be a vision. We’ll see.

Also, “57.” And “do the whole village!”

Heh. You’ll have to read the book to get that one.

One of nice bits of business I liked was the interaction with Agent Franks, where one is fairly certain that our hero was given access codes to a secret handshake between himself and a creature like Franks.

However, if you’re reading this work looking for the John Ringo of Ghost … don’t. First, I never thought the first novel was representative of his work (even representative of the rest of that series). Second, Grunge feels a little bit more like my personal favorite of Ringo’s series: Special Circumstances. And I swear that Ringo immersed himself in Japanese culture and has come back to his Catholic roots — there’s a lot of both in there.

Ringo also brings in politics to the realities of monster hunting. While Larry Correia goes for a more laissez faire attitude between government and private enterprise (“Seriously, federal government, leave us alone”), Ringo has a more intricate view of this. This is due to the fact that Larry’s books are nonstop action pieces that largely take place over the matter of days, while Ringo’s is a look at years of service in a particular region (in this case, Seattle). And even most of the politics boils down to “This is the nuts and bolts of how things get done …. poorly and with plenty of cash.”

From what I can gather, the series will be broken down by region, Grunge is Seattle, Sinners will be New Orleans, and I presume the third one will take place in MHI’s home base of Cazador. But that last one is just a guess.

Due to the way Ringo has this book set up, we get a detailed look at the day to day operations of an MHI outpost — dealing with MCB agents that aren’t running the whole bureau into the ground; occasionally making deals with things and people you’d rather see shot dead, but the sausage has to get made. This doesn’t happen with the main series all that often, because those novels usually start with them up to their neck it, with a truck backing up with another load.

Grunge is a little more laid back. Granted, Chad, our narrator, is … okay, I don’t know why he sleeps with everything that moves, but thankfully, if it’s off-putting to you, you don’t have to worry about it. There’s nothing graphic …. usually, barely anything suggestive …. and doesn’t drastically impact the story a lot.

And everything fits together.  There are plots for this book, and an overarching plot that will spill over into the final book. And while Ringo even tells you who the ultimate bad guy is (and it’s not difficult to deduce), it doesn’t change anything.

Obviously, there are cameos from some of the supporting characters in the series, and I suspect they will play a larger role as Ringo’s series continues.

Overall, I recommend this one. It deals with the politics of monster hunting, how the boots on the ground MHI personnel interact with local law enforcement, and even how locals interact with the feds and the MHI alike. Also, let’s just say that the politics of an otherworldly fashion come into play. And boy, do you want a lawyer for them. Heh.

I suspect the rest of the series will be just plain fun.

Declan Finn is a Dragon Award nominated author. His “Catholic Vampire romance novels” can be found on his personal website. As well as all the other strange things he does.