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2.9 out of 5 stars
The Graduate Student
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A young anthropology student comes to do research experiments in L.A. after spending long months in the Amazon gaining hunting skills and a suitcase full of medicinal weeds and shoots. Blackwell finds life very different indeed: On the first encounter with a young woman, he finds that she would be more interested in him if he were connected to Columbia Studios rather than the university. He is introduced to businessmen who might help further his career if he'd only introduce them to the contents of his suitcase. Perhaps it's not just who you know anymore; rather it's how high you can get them!

New and often peculiar new acquaintances quickly immerse Blackwell into the crazy, baffling L.A. life. It becomes hard for the newcomer to differentiate between ambitious reality and drug-fuelled fantasy, especially when those experiencing it with him are equally vulnerable. Blackwell's life becomes sexually and chemically driven, while the two chimpanzees in the laboratory view the humans running disorganised experiments on them as worthy of only their deep suspicion.

This is a fascinating story with a welcome line of wit running through, but I often found it difficult to tell which scenes were hallucinations and which were played out in cold sobriety. The story became almost 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' trapped in a lab and various nightclubs rather than on a road-trip. It's confusing but hugely entertaining and never dull.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've met people in my life you seem to stroll along from incident to incident with little regard for direction. I have rarely seen this in book form as most authors want to set up a coherent narrative for the reader to follow. `The Graduate Student' is a ramble of a novel that touches on Hollywood farce, science fiction, academic text and crime thriller. The book is all these things and none. When graduate student Blackwell James returns from a trip into the deep jungle he brings with him a bag full of psychotropic roots and no money. Grasping for a job he takes the post of a researcher in California were he is soon mixed up in the movie business. Can Blackwell keep his mind on his studies?

There is no doubting that I enjoyed reading `The Graduate Student'. It is a breezy novel that flies by with a series of flawed, yet interesting, characters. Blackwell himself is a bit of a chancer, but nothing he does is malicious and instead he is a slave to fortune (`Some Mothers Do Have Them' but with added naughtiness). The issues with book are all down the eclectic nature of James Polster's writing that passes through several diverse genres and back again. I enjoyed the Hollywood expo sections of the book, but other areas fell flat. The academic nature of some sections seemed a little naïve and ultimately pointless, whilst the sudden side run into fantasy ended up confused.

By the time the book concludes there is some semblance of plot and you just about have a grip on events. The final section is plays out like a crime thriller and is well written, if not particularly in keeping with the rest of the book. In the end `The Graduate Student' becomes a curio that highlights Polster's mastery of some genres and stumbling in others. An interestingly confusing read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'The Graduate Student' is a frustrating novel. At points, the story flows at an exciting pace, driven by well-written dialogue. On the whole, though, the plot lacks coherence, coming across as distinctly chaotic. The seeds of good ideas are present: graduate student Blackwell James brings psychotropic roots back to the US from his anthropological studies in South America; a 'fish out of water' situation follows in which he is sent to LA on a supposedly academic quest; he finds himself helplessly drawn into an unfamiliar world of corrupt Hollywood producers, laboratory chimpanzees, identity-stealing psychopaths and preposterous film scripts written by computer. The book's disparate strands - despite being often humorous and occasionally insightful - aren't tied together with any degree of precision. As a result, 'The Graduate Student', despite having promise in spades, suffers from a lack of clarity and readability.
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Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
James Blackwell returns from a Phd field trip not much further in his dissertation than when he left, but he does bring back a mind-altering drug - of which he has very good first hand knowledge - which turns out might save his bacon when his (very accommodating) university supervisor lands him a last minute position in Los Angeles as his new supervisor there will need the drugs to try and speed up the studies he and his wife are doing using primates as robotics models.

If Blackwell is completely honest, he doesn't quite undestand the topic of research and certainly doesn't understand the rules and behaviour of his new colleagues and environment, but the new title gives him easy access to fast cars, women and Hollywood, so he decides to plunge head-first into this very different world from his hammock-lounging days of the field trip.

The idea is good and there are some funny moments, but this is an anti-hero whose real life writer's alter ego is too big to make it a really funny story as he always seems to be the "good" guy or on the winning side and there are no real awkward funny moments which I would have expected from the publisher's description.

Don't expect a laugh-out-loud story, but it is entertaining enough to qualify as a good holiday read.

3.5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 10 October 2012
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Graduate Student by James Polster is a fast paced, entertaining and enjoyable read.

The story is made up of three parts, and follows Blackwell James, a graduate student who returns to New England with no proper results and a suitcase filled with unknown hallucinogenic herbs after spending months carrying out field work in the Amazon jungle. Blackwell's supervisor ships him off to California to take up a research position in a field that has nothing to do with anthropology. Once in L.A, Blackwell swiftly dives into the corrupt and crazy world of Hollywood and needs to balance his academic commitments with movie production.

The story is interesting and twisted, not being at all what I expected when I ordered the book. I however found the parts where drug induced hallucinations and reality were mixed up a bit muddled to the extent that I was unable to distinguish between the two, diminishing the overall enjoyment due this frustration.

Overall, a good read yet the storyline was somewhat confusing and felt a little incomplete, some good editing and refinement could easily have made this a 4 star review rather than the 3 it receives.
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on 24 July 2012
I was immediately interested in the character of Blackwell James and his studies in the Amazon had me expecting more when he returned home and landed a promising job in anthropology. However, this interest very quickly waned. The other central characters were no more than bit players and the links between them were tenuous. For some reason Hollywood stars names were dropped into the story without actually bringing anything to it, I think it was the author's attempt to inject some humour into an otherwise dull development. I often found myself drifting off and losing concentration, reading half a dozen pages or so without remembering what it was I had just read, maybe I was involved in the drug induced shared hallucinations of the characters. I put the fact that I completed this book down to maybe developing a touch of OCD!! All in all I was not inspired by this story and was disappointed in the ending but not disappointed to finish it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2011
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Hapless anthropologist Blackwell James, fresh from a mind-blowing sojourn hanging out with an Amazonian tribe and bearing a suitcase full of apparently mind-altering wild roots, finds himself in Hollywood, ostensibly doing anthropological studies with a pair of chimps. Instead he finds himself mixed up in the weird if somewhat cliched doings of the film industry, several nasty if slightly comic book villains and an old college friend he loathes.
It is comedy, though not laugh-aloud to any great extent. It is eventful, though the wildest chases are hallucinatory, with Blackwell first chasing through another character's mind courtesy of the mind-altering drugs and later having the tables turned on himself. The chimps, Ronald and Njombe, win through in a splendidly violent denouement and a small mystery remains at the end.
I haven't read this author's previous books but I enjoyed this one. 'Outrageous'? Yes, but I thought given the subject matter it could have been even more so.
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Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
After being a directionless student and graduate student, Blackwell James is returning from the depths of South America with a sample of the local tribes mind altering drug. And now our hero, Blackwell James, is now heading for Hollywood, a place just as dangerous but without venomous snakes. Originally the assignment is for working with primates, but quickly we find out that all is not as it seems, and this is just the start of Blackwell's adventures.

This is another cracking story by James Polster, who also wrote Brown, both fun and original. The story moves on at a quick pace and you never quite know where it is going. This is definitely worth a read. As an alternative twist on Hollywood it reminds me of the film Swimming With Sharks [DVD] [1996].

Read this now!
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Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I enjoyed this light-hearted romp through the insanity of Hollywood. Well-written, but not even slightly serious. It's thriller, adventure, and corruption, with a little bit of fantasy thrown in.

It starts off in the Amazon with our hero returning to New England from his year of Phd fieldwork research with almost no research and a trunk full of mind-altering drugs previously unknown to science. In order to rescue his Phd he is sent to California where the research sponsors have been led to believe he is a robotics expert, rather than an anthropologist. He somehow ends up in charge of the project and becomes a film producer simultaneously.

This is light-hearted reading, but with some depth and exploration of interesting ideas - and meaty enough to last me several days.
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on 26 October 2013
This is science fiction without any attempt to see the future. It brings preposterous theories of using hallucinogenic drugs to a story that moves quickly and is also very amusing. As a person who used to earn my living in the pharmaceutical industry I did not recognise any of the science or manufacturing of drugs which this story built its core on. However putting the disbelief to one side it is a hilarious read well told.
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