Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Loose Ends by D. D. VanDyke

I'd heard good things about David VanDyke, an independent writer who's sold millions of copies, mostly of military sci-fi.  But as a free sampler, he offers on Amazon Loose Ends, an apparently atypical work; a modern(ish) day hard-boiled detective novel featuring California "Cal" Corwin, a part-Asian gal who's supposedly a Chandler or Hammet like tough PI.

While certainly competently written in most respects, this is an odd choice of a free sampler.  I find the entire premise of the main character a little odd and even off-putting.  On top of that, the novel lives up to its title with a strange, anti-climatic conclusion that does, indeed, leave a number of loose ends unresolved.

Of course, maybe there's a reason for this.  It's the first in a series, after all.  I also got—either very cheap, or they were free when I got them as a promotion—a megapack of the first three Plague Wars novels, which are probably more up my alley, which seem to have been better received, and which probably is a better introduction to VanDyke.  All in all, I found Loose Ends to be a good sampler in the sense that it highlighted his skill at writing-craft, certainly, but an odd choice because it's an odd novel with a dubious protagonist main character and a dubious structure and resolution of the plot.

One cute angle, though, was the fact that it takes place a few years ago, and computer geek Mickey, who works for Cal, gets to talk about all kinds of upcoming trends like Facebook, smart-phone navigation, etc. that Cal gets to think skeptically about because it seems to unlikely to her.

Last year, I had a goal of reading more of my collection.  50 books was my goal, but I didn't quite get to 30 when all was said and done.  And I added so many free ebooks to my Kindle that I'm fairly certain that at best I broke even, more likely I ended up with a longer to-read list than I started the year with.  This year I'm hoping to improve that performance.  I've already wrapped up a number of books, especially utilizing my phone (either to listen to a book as an audiobook, or to read it on my Kindle app.)  This is convenient, of course, because I almost always have my phone with me, but it's not the same.  Sigh.  I want to make some more progress in my "actual book" to-read list as well as my digital to-read list.  But I'm also enjoying so far discovering a lot of the independent authors on Kindle.  Most of what I've read isn't necessarily great—although it isn't necessarily any worse than what's been published by actual publishers, and much of it is among the best stuff I've read in several years.  The takeaway, if you need it, is that the publishers as quality gate-keepers is a myth.  They don't do anything that I can perceive to filter books for quality.  In fact, it's frequently the opposite, as they filter books for ideology which quite often severely impacts the books quality for the worse.


David VanDyke said...

That's an incisive analysis, and unsurprising for someone a lot like me I imagine--growing up on gaming and SF/F. But I also grew up on mysteries, probably because the local library simply didn't have enough SF/F to feed my youthful book-a-day habit.

(As you say, I make most of my living off Science Fiction--21 SF books to date).

And you're right, some folks find Loose Ends to be a little odd--but some love it. It was my first stab at a mystery-thriller, and my first stab at first person point of view (written as "I," from within the protagonist's head) and I freely admit I've written better. The next two books are tighter, as is the Cal Corwin novelette "Off the Leash." A writer simply gets better as he plies his craft, and rather like TV shows where the second season is usually better than the first, it takes a book or two to hit a stride.

I also wrote myself into a corner, to a certain extent, by creating a chronological series rather than one that could easily be read in any order. It's hard to read book 2 or 3 without knowing something of the events of book 1, so I couldn't put forward those books as entry points.

But for those who can make it past an imperfect but engaging book 1, the sequels should pay off. And I have a 4th in the works that I hope will prove even better.



Deplorable Gaiseric said...

Curiously, one of the reasons that Cal didn't work for me as a protagonist character was that she was so masculine. She thought, and acted, and behaved, and had expectations that make perfect sense if she was a man, but not as a woman. A bit of the classic "man with boobs" archetype.

Of course, to counter this, I was amused to see her repeatedly pining over an ephemeral ideal of a man who never called her back, or even made any appearance at all...

David VanDyke said...

Given that we're two men, I'm not sure that either of us is qualified to judge what a woman might be thinking--or at least, a typical woman, whatever that is.

However, I based Cal on military women I've known and cops I've researched, and ran her past a number of beta readers, including my wife. None of them said "man with boobs." Some of them said "atypical, but understandable for a woman in a man's world."

Given that I'm unlikely to be able to write a "typical" woman without extensive help from a female co-author, I deliberately chose as a protagonist a woman with some masculine attributes, one who idolized her father and disdained her hyper-feminine mother and presumably absorbed all the lessons of copdom with a young enthusiast's usual intellectual commitment to the archetype.

I also deliberately stayed away from adding in any sort of major physical competence. She's not a kick-ass warrior in the mode of modern SFF heroines, perhaps with the exception of her driving skills. It's her doggedness and her intellect that make her effective in her chosen role, quite different from another protagonist in my SFF books, Jill "Reaper" Repeth (who's a real warrior's warrior, and based directly on a military woman I knew, one that put most men to shame when it came to physicality).

But ultimately, a writer can only write what s/he feels to write. The work will endear itself to some and repel others. That's the beauty of art: there's something for everyone.

Deplorable Gaiseric said...

Indeed; although the more one strays from the typical, and what our experience is, the harder it is to accept—even though we can see that such atypical characters probably do exist (in small numbers) in real life. While I don't doubt that real life prototypes for Cal can be found, they (and her) were too far removed from my experiences to work for me. While I don't recall any action scenes to speak of (other than the car chases, which you mention) I do recall several times her referencing the likelihood of one. Every time she did, I remember thinking to myself; "waitaminute; wasn't she described as rather small and feminine? What in the world is she doing walking into a potential fight scene with big, athletic, violent men?"

Now, if she were overconfident in her physical abilities, that would have been an interesting, albeit very unlikely, character flaw.

Anyway, I'm not trying to argue with you about your choice of character. It just didn't work for me as well as I'd hoped. To me, she struck me as a character that you would expect to be a man and who acted mostly like a man. And in my case, I'm very wary of such. Although I like playing as Chun-Li or Lara Croft as much as the next guy, lacking an overtly superheroic setting, I break out in a literary rash at the hint of waif fu pixie ninjas. I just can't buy them anymore.