Born to Kill

[3.5 stars] Born to Kill (1947) on IMDb

[Amazon Link]

True fact: this nasty little 1947 noir was directed by Robert Wise, the same guy who directed The Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He got around.

Susan Brent (played by Claire Trevor) is in Reno finishing up her quickie divorce. (That was how you worked things back in 1947, kids.) She's staying at Mrs. Kraft's boarding house; she's acquainted with a neighbor, Laury Palmer, who's self-admittedly promiscuous. Laury's going out with Sam Wild, but in order to make him jealous she decides to date someone else.

Bad idea! Unfortunately for Laury, Sam is not only jealous, he's psychotic. Soon there are a couple of corpses, which Susan discovers. Instead of doing the right thing, reporting the find to the police, Susan hops the next train home to San Francisco. But, in one of those Dickensian coincidences, on-the-lam Sam is taking the same train. They strike up a relationship, and…

Well, I've probably already said too much. As film noir goes, this is the real deal, exploring the seedy underbelly of society, where outwardly respectable characters are revealed to have a cold, dark interior. Acting is pretty good. Lawrence Tierney pretty much coasts through the movie with menacing glares and petulant scowls. The story is told with marvelous economy, and the climax is—whoa, didn't see that coming.

Last Modified 2014-11-30 1:57 PM EST

Altered Carbon

[Amazon Link]

Another book I picked up due to its appearance on this io9 list of the "Top 10 Greatest Science Fiction Detective Novels Of All Time". It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2003. It got glowing reviews, including one in the New York Times ("If you've ever wondered what kind of science fiction Raymond Chandler might have written for a futuristic Philip Marlowe, check out …")

All that, and it wasn't my cup of tea. Might be yours. I compulsively finish books I've started reading, but I was sorely tempted to give up on this one. 526 pages, and from about page 50 forward, I was pleading: please shut up now.

It's set in the 25th century. Bodies die, but people don't have to: most have "stacks" implanted in their spines that encapsulate their personality and memories, and they can be transplanted into another body, or "sleeve", when that's necessary. IT types will appreciate that there is also a remote backup option available for some, as well as cloning technology, so your new body can even look like your old one.

The hero, Takeshi Kovacs, is been killed on a remote planet as the book begins. But he's reincarnated on Earth, in order to solve a puzzle: a rich guy was murdered, his stack destroyed, but he was regenerated from backup into a clone, so all that was missing was a few hours memory. Why did this happen, and whodunit?

Intriguing premise, but it's dragged out. (To repeat: 526 painful pages.) Overwritten, with scenes described to a level of detail that don't advance the plot, illuminate character, or even add much atmosphere; it's as if the author really wanted to write a shoot-'em-up video game instead of a novel, and tediously describes each screen he's designed in his head.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 5:27 AM EST