Free men are not equal, equal men are not free.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Review: Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge (or, The Last Paladin of Shadows of MHI)

Before writing this I made the mistake of looking at the existing reviews. Heh. There was a lot of hate for Ringo in the comments. I also get it - Ringo's sense of humor and story complements Larrys, but it's different. I know people who can't stand the Grimnoir books but love MHI. Go figure.

So I'll tackle complaints first:

  • "Mary Sue" - my first hint you don't read John Ringo, especially when you claim to like his other stuff. Have you ever met his characters? I don't mean in the books - I mean the real-life people many of his characters are based on. Over the top, exceedingly competent, scary smart, sometimes to the point of I'm not sure they can tie their shoelaces. Except they can, and likely have a black belt. John brought this trend up regarding a review of the first Looking Glass book - "the guy I based him on does all those things, and already knows how to shoot."
  • "But - he's too smart." - OK , almost a point here. Yes, Chad learns Aramaic at nine. His dad is 140+ IQ, his mom likely far higher, and so is Chad. Prodigies like this are rare, but believe me, they DO exist. That said, it says something about standards in America when we've fallen from 16 year old professional surveyors in the wilderness, and thirteen year olds commanding prize crews, to not even believing such people can exist, much less taught to function without the magical tome of a teaching degree and a certified acolyte of the teachers union to wield it.
  • "But - he's still too smart" - and FWIW - John hangs a lampshade on it. Early in the book, he discovers that he was granted this gift for a purpose, and if he choses the path of duty, that purpose will bring him suffering and pain as well. He's also almost autistically focused on immersing himself on whatever he's learning, something I've seen before in real life, in people who learn quickly.
  • For the idiot who compared this to "Name of the Wind" - 
    1. If you liked that book, you are never going to be a Ringo fan. One writes men, no matter how over the top, the other writes a whiny perpetual victim, no matter how pretty the prose.
    2. "Name of the Wind" is one of the few books in my entire life I've never finished - almost entirely due to the whiny "I'm so special" snowflake protagonist. A list that includes the Wheel of Time series, but not hundreds of SF books, the Anabasis or Kagans book on the Peloponnesian war.
  • "My Misogyny" - yep - Chad sleeps around. Get over it. I know SJW types and liberals have a problem with this concept, but there are multiple tiers of good and bad, and multiple value axes. Guys who constantly have women hanging over them exist, and they're not forcing the women into anything. Get over it. Sure, some are jerks (women have a hard time differentiating between "asshole" and "guy who says no because he has priorities and self respect"), but most aren't. Chad's excuse may be paper-thin, but his life will cause pain to those he loves one way or the other. It may not be as good in the long run for civilization as family, but he's fighting for it in other ways. Also, if Chad got their panties in a wad, they should look up "Oh John Ringo No" on his Paladin of Shadows books. Their heads will truly explode. And given the anti-heroes I've seen praised, I'd rather have Chad at my side than John Wayne Cleaver of the excellent, but disturbing, "I Am Not A Serial Killer" by Dan Wells. (Also - another sign they never read Ringo.....)
  • "Liberal bashing." Yes, John has politics. They are, more or less, in your face. Despite that, he is also a fantastic weaver of stories and characters. I've known an ardent feminist to cry at the death of Sergeant Ellsworthy, a minor character in A Hymn Before Battle, after earlier bitching how she was sexualized at the beginning. That said, in this book, they are much more in your face. This is a memoir - I take it most of the snowflakes with this complaint have never listened to soldiers, or most conservatives discuss politics. Chad is hardly the most blunt I've heard, and one would be hard pressed to contradict the facts behind a position Ringo takes, even if you could argue how they should be interpreted. Please step outside of your bubble - part of the purpose of stories is to discover something new.
  • "Two dimensional characters" - do you need it laid out with cheat codes, or in some other equally obvious way? John doesn't write for stupid people. He is an expert at sketching out a character in a few brush strokes, such that you feel for them, and when they die (hey, it's John), you feel the loss. If you think his characters are cardboard cutouts, you're not paying attention. His descriptions of Japanese culture as demonstrated by the behavior of various chracters, for example, were spot on.
  • "Show Don't Tell" - It's a fucking memoir with a number of technical discussions to help future monster hunters - or did you miss the opening segment? With this comment you tell me that you're either too ignorant the implications of the term "memoir" or you didn't read the book. Or both.
  • "Oppositional" - you actually have a point here. Given the abusive upbringing Chad was subject to, his nearly reflexive oppositional defiance was understandable, but I think overplayed. 
This book is the first of several memoirs written by a presumed - dead hunter that, between hints in the first couple chapters and a knowledge of the background of the core MHI books, likely died in the "Christmas Party" well before the core series starts up.

Chad was raised by abusive academics, with most of the faults they are subject to, and a few more because of a surplus in IQ, and a surfeit of compassion or real world experience. This has resulted in an over-the-top rebellious streak ("Do you know how hard it is to get perfect 'C's'"), and an understandable desire to be the opposite of what his parents wanted.

So he joins the Marines.

He enjoys his career up to the point that a minor miracle saves him from the Beirut barracks bombing, and he gets a one-on-one conversation with St peter, discovering that his gifts, especially his intelligence, are there for a purpose. And he's given a choice: go to heaven, or return, alive, to a life of duty in the service of God, a path that was almost guaranteed to include much personal suffering. And a sign to look for. 57. Not Heinz.

Yes, Chad is on a mission from God. And so, after going through intensely painful rehab and rebuilding, he is discharged, and sets off to find out why he should be on the lookout for "57". This being the MHI-verse, it's little surprise zombies are involved in the answer.

And then things really get started.

If I had to give a one - line description, it's that a (only) slightly nicer Mike Harmon from the Kildar books narrates a memoir similar in tone to the Last Centurion, about hunting zombies, Werewolves, and worse within Larry's MHI universe. 

In structure - the book is a memoir. As such, while there is still a narrative thread and a climax, with one vignette mercilessly setting the foundation for the next, it's more of a series of vignettes, important moments in his background and career, and tips for fellow hunters. So yes, like Centurion, a lot of "tell don't show", asides,  and personal rants.

Since I know people who are otherwise Ringo fans who hate the Kildar and Centurion books, I'm not going to say "If you like MHI", or even "if you like Ringo and MHI", then buy the book. On the other hand, if my one - line elevator pitch already has you twitchily reaching for your wallet, even if you've never read Larry's books (what's wrong with you?), go ahead and spend that money.

P.S. - Oliver Wyman is the narrator on this, much like Larry's other MHI books. Fantastic narration job.

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