Thursday, March 5, 2015

Remember when Noah Wyle WAS The Librarian?

Yeah, the Librarian movies were silly, but they were cheekily poking fun at the whole Tomb Raider / Indiana Jones action genre, and I loved them.  I also have always found Noah Wyle to be much more attractive than George Clooney.

*ducks*

Ahem.  Well, remember that scene in the first movie, when Noah Wyle's character speaks a lost bird language?  It's hilarious.  Possibly the language of the archeopteryx, the "First Bird" of the title of Greig Beck's omnibus about linguist Matt Kearns.  Everything that The Librarian has going for it: wit, charm, humor, well, that's missing in The First Bird.  Also missing: a coherent plot, likable characters, and any world/timeline continuity within Beck's work.


So, The First Bird is actually an omnibus of three shortish-stories that would have been pretty decent had he stopped after the first two.  The third one, is, to be blunt, a hot mess.  The main character was in (I believe) two out of the three earlier Arcadian books, although I don't much remember him.

Matt Kearns is a rock-star college professor who thinks it's perfectly acceptable to sleep with his students.

Um.  No.

That was one giant, inky black mark against him right from the get-go.  One of his "job perks" is having an undergraduate paramour du jour.  Matt and Megan are having teh sexiest times evah in the pool (she ends up "kneading his groin" like pizza dough) when he's irritatingly called away to do that adult thing called Work.  A mysterious woman named Carla Nero calls ... from the CDC, and begs for his help.  For, as you know, Matt is the best and most brilliant paleolinguist on the face of the earth.  He is the only one who can decipher a mysterious language used by a "Lost Tribe" of the Amazon.  But why the rush?

Well, the last guy to visit that tribe?  His skin ... fell off.

The CDC figures it's some sort of throwback scabies mite, except instead of being embarrassing, this little scabies guy shuts down your pain receptors and then liquifies your flesh, so you start going all Wicked Witch of the West.  Death, obviously, inevitably follows.  (Except for in the last third of the book but let's just ignore that now, mmkay?)

Unfortunately, the Brazilian government, alerted to a possible source of pandemic emanating from deep within the Heart of Darkness (whoops, sorry, wrong continent, wrong genre), has declared a quarantine.  Even the CDC can't get in to help.  But!  Convenient plot device alert!  A big-shot Hollywood director/producer named Evil Stephen Spielberg Max Steinberg charters one of his private jets, allowing the CDC team to tag along with his own group on scientists.  You see, the chappie who started this whole business, Jorghanson (melted-skin man), sold the "rights" to the archeopteryx to Steinberg.  Not quite sure how that works, but whatever.  It conveniently means that Steinberg wants to go get another bird for a film to make gabajillions of dollars.

So, Steinberg, his team of Redshirt scientists, plus Matt, Megan, and Carla, zip down into the Scariest Jungle on Earth: "the Gran Chaco ... to its very heart--the Boreal--one of the last secretive, primordial areas in the world."  Here, they boast such attractions as "two-foot long centipedes or the Brazilian Wandering Spider." It's basically like Jurassic Park for scary bugs.  Except, instead of worrying about venomous snakes, dehydration, or, you know, the flesh-liquifying Scabies of Doom, Matt gets all peeved that Megan seems to be flirty-flirty with a buff dude on the expedition named Kurt.  I mean, doesn't "Kurt" just scream "muscular manly-man"?

Unfortunately, they're soon set upon by Mesothelae spiders, giant and deadly, who kill a wee little horse ancestor and suck its bodily fluids out, kind of like an arachnid chupacabra with a more varied diet.  And things only get worse from there.

History repeats itself in that they find the "lost tribe" completely wiped out because Captain Amazing (i.e. Jorghanson of the Liquified Skin) was a measles carrier.  The bodies, however, are all gone, and I don't think that that is ever fully explained.  Matt and Megan magically translate the ancient pictograms and learn that the water inside this Special Area of the jungle nullifies the effects of the Scabies of Doom.  Whilst in there, they encounter even more animals that should have died out millions of years ago, all of which are homicidal.

Anyway, long story short (jeez, this review is massive already), they get the cure, which is a vial of the *magical water* at the cost of pretty much everyone's lives except Matt and Megan (duh), Carla of the CDC, Kurt the Muscle Man, and a random Norseman (I think?) who is a scientist.  They return to the US only to find that the pathogen has spread and basically completely wiped out life as we know it.  There are roving bands of people with no flesh (wait, I thought once your skin fell off, you died.  Isn't that how this usually works?  Then how are these people alive???) who dress somewhat akin to Tuskan Raiders and murder, loot, pillage, and rampage (the cornerstones of any good downfall of civilization).


There's one particularly nasty subgroup who is under the control of a former preacher, and who has adopted REM's classic "It's the End of the World"* as their anthem, only with slightly changed words.  Behold:
"This is the end of days. This is the end of your life.
Say goodbye to your husband
Say goodbye to your wife
You caused all this when you took our skins.  
Now all off to hell, for your terrible sins...
This is the end of your world-ddd"

I'm sorry, but that does not scan AT ALL.  And although I had nothing to do with it, I would like to apologize to Michael Stipe.

They also worship "the great goddess Angelina Jolie, may her name be forever blessed."


Sooo, in the last third of the book (I'm talking the last novella here), the tone totally changes from Quest in the Jungle/Surviving Anachronistic Beasts to Apocalyptic End-Times with Bonus Deadly Diseases.  I guess now somehow the mite is airborne so you can't go anywhere unless you're doused with chemicals, and yet Matt, Megan, and Carla are prancing around and making generally Poor Decisions.  The last sequences had me praying for the end of the book because it just made no sense.

I really question the 90-degree turn that this story made after books 1 and 2.  Sure, the first two novellas were silly, but they were at least readable.  Book 3 was just ... no.  I mean, so much no in that one.  If I had to give an example of everything that was ridiculous this review would take me another three weeks to write.  I also don't know why Beck chose to use a character from his Arcadian universe and then create this wholly incompatible universe at the end of The First Bird.  The world is totally destroyed.  I haven't read Gorgon yet, but I'm pretty sure it's Alex Hunter as usual (thank you thank you thank you).  How does one reconcile the two series?

Bottom line: Skip this for the love of Cthulhu and all other Old Ones.  If you like the Alex Hunter/Arcadian books, you really don't need to read this.  I promise.

*Fun fact: The only words I know to this song other than the title are "Leonard Bernstein!" which I yell out à la Homer Simpson.

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