Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

September 1988, West Texas and the Parmian High School Football team, the Permian Panthers is preparing for yet another assault on the Texas State Championship. Joining them for the four months they embark on their odyssey is former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, H.G. Bissinger.

Bissinger left his job to travel to the Texan town of Odessa to cover the journey of the football team and record its relationship to the town’s residents. At the time of H.G. Bissinger’s arrival Odessa was enduring a recession caused by a fall in the price of oil. A few years previously the town had been the epicentre of a boom with the price of oil was going through the roof accompanied by near full employment. Now all had changed, unemployment had risen while oil prices plummeted.

For the town’s residents the Permian Tigers represent their values and desires; hard work, a sense of togetherness and a never die Texan spirit. The economy has let them down, their marriages are breaking up and money is hard to come by. They transfer all their hopes and desires onto the shoulders of the eighteen year old members of the high school football team. Young and old adore them and for this one season team members are treated as gladiatorial heroes by Odessa residents.

While Bissinger was in Odessa the1988 Presidential Election between former resident, Republican George Bush Snr and Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis was taking. Bissinger puts Bush’s electoral success down to his ability to connect with the citizens in towns like Odessa which he describes as being tight fisted, blue collared and conservative.

Bissinger unveils the racism, sexism and class divisions that run through the country personified in Odessa. He paints a warts and all picture of Permian High School where it seems more emphasis is placed on Football then on ensuring students pass examinations.

The season ends and life for the players resumes, their status as heroes over. Next year another batch of eighteen year olds will replace them and the magic will continue. Compelling and thought provoking but never boring (even if you don’t understand the rules of American Football) Friday Night Lights casts light on a corner of America often ignored and derided.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flow My Tears the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.

Imagine you are the presenter of a midweek talent show with a world wide audience of thirty million viewers. You have the world at your feet, your every whim is taken as gospel and your word can make or break a career.

This is the life of Jason Taverner presenter of the popular Jason Taverner Show. He lives on the right side of Los Angeles and associates with the beautiful people of that silicone town. His face is known throughout the length and breath of the planet. Women swoon over him, men envy him. Heather Hart with whom he has an on off romance wants to marry him. Taverner albums sell by the millions and his tv ratings soar through the roof.

Jason Taverner is also a six, a government genetic creation forty years previously. Sixes are creative, intelligent and highly sought after.

One evening he is attacked by a disgruntled talentless starlet. He collapses and looses consciousness only to wake up the next day in a grubby hotel room in a part of town he has never been. Confused Taverner phones his agent only to be told that the agent, who is also his best friend, doesn’t recall ever having heard of Jason Taverner.

Very quickly Taverner discovers that his identity cards have been stolen and that all records of him have been erased from the government data banks. His fame is worthless and through the help of a clerk in the hotel he enters a clandestine world of subterfuge and identity falsification.

His survival in this new world where race politics, drugs and a highly addictive communications system based on the phone grid depends on his ability to adjust to his new existence.

Set against the backdrop of a post civil war America where police surround university campus’s and dissenters are placed in forced labour camps in a whim Flow My Tears the Policeman Said is a nightmarish sci-fi journey through alienation, loss of identity and the dangers of drug addiction.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

The novel opens with when game warden Will Jensen is found dead in his home in Jackson Wyoming. The result apparently of an apparent suicide. Joe Pickett a fellow game warden is sent to replace Will. Knowing Jensen as he does Joe remains convinced that there’s more to the game wardens death than meets the eye!

Unlike most protagonists of private detective novels Joe Pickett is a mild mannered, happily married, apparently problem free individual with two daughters who only wants to live a quiet life. He has no vices and goes to bed by 10.30.

While many may find this ordinariness boring it is the one ingredient which makes us root for the protagonist. Joe is faithful to friends and family and has never strayed from his wife, though when he meets the alluring Stella Ennis he is tempted.

In the past he has fallen foul of his superiors and one of them Randy Pope sets out to deliberately make life as difficult as possible for Pickett.

Joe Pickett is the quintessential small government employee, underpaid and underappreciated. He is up against rich and powerful men who will stop at nothing developing and despoiling the Wyoming countryside to further their own profit.

Throw into the mix militant ecological protestors and hunters who feel that they can no longer operate in the countryside without getting tied up in red tape and you have an extremely explosive environment for Joe to operate in.

Pickett has sympathy for the hunters some of whom have operated in Wyoming for generations but understands the necessity of policing the area to ensure that government regulations are adhered to.

Like his creator CJ Box, Joe Pickett has a tremendous love of the mid-western countryside. His descriptions of the Teton mountains are amazing without going overboard.

Out of Range by C.J. Box is the fifth in the series of Joe Pickett novels.


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