Archive for February, 2011
What do I say about this book?
The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest the Return of the King of exceedingly trashy thriller novels. Conspiracy! Fraud! Illegal Wire Tapping! Chase scenes! More chase scenes! Good cops! Bad cops! Evil cops! Hacking! Hot heroic women! And, of course… MURDER. Oh, and don’t forget the sex, the yugoslavian mafia guys, the biker gangs, the evil government officials, and the Heroics of Mikhael Blomqvist and Lisbeth Salander and the Millennium crew! When I say "trashy" I don’t mean it in a bad way. Trashy is good. Trashy is often great! But art it is not and boy is this novel trashy. It transcends cheese and right out the other side into glorious, glorious trash.
The story is 600 pages of chase novel. It opens with Lisbeth Salander in the hospital after being shot in the head (!!) and then the quest to clear her of All Wrongs and her eeeevil father, the ex-Soviet military spy and defector to Sweden, just down the hall plotting her horrible demise. Meanwhile, a super secret government group called the Section comes out of retirement to deal with their wayward spy, cover all their tracks, destroy Millennium before evidence is published, and bury Lisbeth Salander forever in a mental institution. No one is going to keep Mikhael Blomqvist from getting the story — and along the way a girl — about something as scandalous as a bunch of old Cold Warriors who will do anything to keep an old Soviet Spy who has moved into sex trafficking a secret.
And then everyone runs all over Sweden — except Lisbeth, who spends 80% of the novel lying in bed in a hospital hacking. The Girl who Kicks the Hornet’s Nest is the book where Stieg Larsson figured out how to write. The scenes are short and breathless. The chapters are laid out day by day so while Horrible Things happen one day you just have to know what happens on the next. Despite having an enormous cast, the plot moves along at breakneck pace. It’s a fun read! And surprisingly, fairly well plotted.
Most of Lisbeth’s hacking actually manages to pass the smell test. It’s a little exaggerated in places simply through time compression but otherwise its likely plausible enough. My only true quibble with this book is the Erika Berger B plot which seems to serve no purpose other than for Erika to leave, run around, whine, and then return to Millennium older and wiser and having learned a Valuable Lesson. Perhaps I simply do not like the Erika Berger character, but I found the B plot to be a little tedious and pointless. Otherwise, I enjoyed most of the second fiddle characters — the Milton Security guys (and gal), the Constitutional Protection Police in SIS, the regular cops, and, overall, the bad guys who, to their credit, are immensely bad.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest firmly earns its 5 star rating by bringing the story to a complete conclusion. The very end is a tad rushed but it ends. The trilogy concludes. I feel comfortable walking away from Lisbeth Salander and Mikhael Blomqvist and all their friends and enemies. The story has been told.
I feel comfortable recommending the series after the conclusion of the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I know, you’re probably looking at the books and going: "Man, these books are everywhere. Should I really read them?" My answer: yep. The third book is all payoff, baby.
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I don’t believe this has to be said but I have discovered that it has to be said:
If you are hosting a huge party for a whole bunch of random people, you should have your DJs mix up 80s pop music, preferably 80s top 40. Sure, playing the newest techno and trance out of Ibiza is hot and edgy and cyberpunky, and I openly admit I own some of said newest techno and trance from the clubs in Ibiza, but no one is going to dance. What is the point of having a dance floor when no one is going to dance to the throbbing techno? Geeks don’t pack Ecstasy and they don’t flop around to Gabriel and Dresden, but I guarantee they know the words to Bon Jovi songs. Everyone who owns Rock Band knows the words to Bon Jovi songs!
This is the Route to Nirvana. Even off Nevermind.
Come on, guys. This is the secret to the success of Glee. The hits of the 80s. And Queen. Some Bowie. It should be obvious.
I just had to get that off my chest. I thought it was clear to all and sundry but apparently it needs to be said.
"The Girl who Played with Fire" has middle book of a trilogy syndrome. It doesn’t have all the setup and introductions and background and exploration of character that the first book has and it doesn’t have the resolution of a final book. It is the Empire Strikes Back of the Millennium Trilogy — neither an opener nor a closer, but with plenty of "I am your father, Luke" moments. This leaves the book feeling a little bit at loose ends.
My biggest issue with "The Girl who Played with Fire" is that nothing of plot consequence happens for the first full third of the book. It opens with a big "meanwhile" where Lisbeth Salandar does stuff for a while and Mikhael Blomqvist does stuff for a while and the magazine does stuff for a while and really, people do stuff for a while. There’s some good old fashioned lesbian sex, some regular straight sex, and lots of people sitting around drinking and talking. Then people get shot up real good and blood splatters and the book becomes enjoyable. We demand blood splatters! Give us dead bodies or go home!
The book tosses in characters who are so numerous it gets hard to follow after a while: cops, bikers, a professional boxer, the staff at Millennium magazine, the people at Milton Security, some dude named Zala, a big blond giant who goes around hitting people with his fists, government flunkies… and they all have names that end in "… berg." It becomes an exercise in being cross-eyed after a while. The story becomes /super/ exciting when it involves Lisbeth Salandar (our autistic heroine) or Mikael Blomqvist (our intrepid reporter) but then stalls a bit when it flashes to this secondary character or that secondary character. Well, I guess those characters need to have lives, too. Then there are fights — one thing I can say about Stieg Larsson books is the guy knew how to write an exciting fight scene — and implacable villains who are implacable and villainous and an absolutely amazing final 10% of the book full of, to put it bluntly, Empire Strikes Back moments with Big! Gasping! Revelations! GASP! Read that passage again! GASP!!!!
Except Lisbeth Salander gets to keep her hand. Sort of.
For the final 10% I bumped my review from three stars to four simply because the payoff is worth the slog at the beginning. For the most part, "The Girl who Played with Fire" is a three and a half star book. It plods in the beginning and bogs in places where the cops run around coming to incorrect conclusions. It is not as tightly plotted or as cleanly written as "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." It isn’t as enjoyably trashy, either — sure, it has a lesbian sex scene but it is a bit on the tame side and Blomqvist doesn’t sleep with /everyone/. It is trashy, sure, but it is not quite as trashy as the first book. In places it even feels a little conservative. The closing scenes, though, are worth the price of admission.
It also has no resolution. It’s a middle series book. No opening and no closing. Luckily one can get "the Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest" from Amazon and it downloads right to the Kindle…
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David Plotz on last week’s Slate Political Podcast quoted this section of Ulysses S Grant’s memoirs as a bit of random trivia. This quote is a minor reminder that in American politics all that is old is eventually new again and the same few arguments come up again and again. If the telegraph is such a world-changing marvel in 1885, what is the Internet?
“The framers were wise in their generation and wanted to do the very best possible to secure their own liberty and independence, and that also of their descendants to the latest days. It is preposterous to suppose that the people of one generation can lay down the best and only rules of government for all who are to come after them, and under unforeseen contingencies. At the time of the framing of our constitution the only physical forces that had been subdued and made to serve man and do his labor, were the currents in the streams and in the air we breathe. Rude machinery, propelled by water power, had been invented; sails to propel ships upon the waters had been set to catch the passing breeze—but the application of stream to propel vessels against both wind and current, and machinery to do all manner of work had not been thought of. The instantaneous transmission of messages around the world by means of electricity would probably at that day have been attributed to witchcraft or a league with the Devil. Immaterial circumstances had changed as greatly as material ones. We could not and ought not to be rigidly bound by the rules laid down under circumstances so different for emergencies so utterly unanticipated. The fathers themselves would have been the first to declare that their prerogatives were not irrevocable.”
- Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs, Chapter XVI, Section 14
Now we are edging to the world of meta:
CNN’s Anderson Cooper and his camera crew were attacked and repeatedly punched by pro-government forces near Tahrir Square in Cairo today. “My team were set upon by the crowd,” Cooper said on CNN this morning via telephone from the safety of a hotel balcony. “There was no rhyme or reason to it—it was just people looking for a fight, looking to make a point, and punching us.” According to a Twitter post from George Hale, the English editor of the Ma’an news agency, who cited a CNN “manager,” Cooper was punched “10 times in the head.”