Sam Reviews Whatever He Feels Like

Just because.

Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie

Sharp Ends - Joe Abercrombie

When I was younger, I went through a phase of reading nothing but Fantasy novels. I devoured them ferociously, Sanderson, Rothfuss, Brett, Lynch, Martin. I became blood-drunk on fantasy, gorging my young mind and tossing the ravaged paperback carcasses onto the ever growing charnel heap. I look back on those days with no small amount of fondness. The red haze cleared eventually as I desired to leave my literary comfort zone. Now, when I return to some of those books I read as a teenager, they can seem clichéd or dull. However, the best authors from my those days stand tall in my mind still, as shining paragons, masters of the fantastic. Authors like Joe Abercrombie.  

 

His writing is grim, but relatable. His characters witty and entertaining. His books don’t focus on epic deeds or intricate world building, but that’s the point. Abercrombie avoids the cliche that so much fantasy falls into by playing with it, twisting it with an irony and black humour that’s all his own.The young hero with a great destiny is also a self-serving little shit. The wise old wizard may appear kindly, but secretly he’s a scheming and manipulative villian. Deeply cynical and dripping with wit and irony, Abercrombie’s work is always a pleasure to read. As an example, let me quote this description of Union Military Officer Glokta from the beginning of Sharp Ends:

 

“Glokta had everything, and what he didn’t have, no-one could stop him from taking. Women adored him, and men envied him. Women envied him and men adored him, for that matter. One would have thought, with all the good fortune showered upon him, he would have to be the most pleasant man alive.

But Glokta was an utter bastard. A beautiful, spiteful, masterful, horrible bastard, simultaneously the best and worst man in the Union. He was a tower of self-centered obsession. An impenetrable fortress of arrogance. His ability was exceeded only by his belief in his own ability. Other people were pieces to be played, points to be scored, props to be arranged in the glorious tableaux of which he made himself the centerpiece. Glokta was a veritable tornado of bastardy, leaving a trail of battered friendships, crushed reputations and mangled reputations in his wake.

His ego was so powerful it shone from him like a strange light, distorting the personalities of everyone around him at least halfway into being bastards themselves. Superiors became snivelling accomplices. Experts deferred to his ignorance. Decent men were reduced to sycophantic shits. Ladies of judgement to giggling cyphers.

Rews once heard the most committed followers of the Gurkish religion were expected to make the pilgrimage to Sarkant. In the same way, the most committed bastards might be expected to make a pilgrimage to Glokta.”

 

Sharp Ends is a collection of short stories, and Abercrombie’s seventh work of fiction set in the world of the First Law. If you haven’t read any of his previous First Law novels, don’t let that put you off. Sharps Ends works well as both an entry point and a continuation for the setting. The focus remains on character rather than world-building, so anyone can jump right in without needing to read up on any backstory unless they want to. For long time readers such as myself, there’s still a plethora of references to previous work, returning characters and important historical events scattered throughout the book, but all are handled with care, none feeling forced or clumsy.

 

For anyone interested in giving it a try, one of the best stories from the collection is available to read for free here on TOR: http://www.tor.com/2016/01/12/twos-company-joe-abercrombie/

Essentially, Sharp Ends is a collection of stories about futility. Characters are swept up in the current of grand events, carried away into adventure they never fully understand. But this isn’t frustrating. I’ve always believed that the best works of Fantasy use magic and extraordinary situations as a cipher through which to view our own humanity. Though he may be king or beggar, every man answers to someone or something greater than himself, and Abercrombie writes the struggle of life in a way that is joyously cathartic.

The Buried Giant - Review

The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro

“Who knows what will come when quick-tongued men make ancient grievances rhyme with fresh desire for land and conquest?”

 

Recently, I attended an Author talk given by David Mitchell and Kazuo Ishiguro at the Southbank Center. I’ll admit that I had no idea who Ishiguro was. I was only there for Mitchell, who I adore as the author who opened my mind in my late teens. While I was there I got him to sign my battered old copies of ‘Number 9 Dream’, and ‘Cloud Atlas’ (AAAAH! :D).

 

They gave an informal talk, sitting side by side, playing clips from movies and talking about ghosts. Both are modern fiction writers who incorporate fantastical elements into their writing, yet both are wildly different in personality and approach to writing.

 

David Mitchell was the less charismatic of the two. He spent his childhood mostly without friends, heavily influenced by pop culture. As a general writing methodology, he comes up with a situation and characters, then writes his plot as he goes along, allowing the story to play out naturally until it reaches a conclusion.  

 

Kazuo Ishiguro on the other hand was the more confident of the pair. Well spoken and deliberate, he came across as the wise scholar to Mitchell’s fevered genius. Born in Japan, though with no hint of an accent, Ishiguro spent his childhood re-enacting Samurai movies with his friends. When he writes, he visualises an emotion, message or end point, and imagines the feeling he wants to leave his reader with. Then, methodically, he works in reverse to build his plot and characters up to this point.

 

Intrigued, I wanted to compare how these contrasting personalities would translate into each man’s writing. And so, I picked up Ishiguro’s latest, The Buried Giant.

 

Set in a magical Medieval England where trolls, dragons and other supernatural beasts still roam the land, Britons and Saxons share the country in uneasy peace. Though King Arthur may be long in his grave, his legacy still lies heavy upon the land. Our protagonists are Beatrice and Axl, an elderly couple who gradually become aware that a strange curse of forgetfulness lies upon the land. Upon realising that they have forgotten even the face of their own son, the two embark upon a journey to find his village.

 

At it’s face, The Buried Giant is a touching and personal tale that asks what it means to have abiding love. When two people have are together for a very long time, they build a lasting relationship on a foundation of shared experience. Once you remove this memory, what’s left?

 

“I'm wondering if without our memories, there's nothing for it but for our love to fade and die.”

 

The story of Axl and Beatrice is a personal one, but this narrative lies encompassed within a greater circle, one that raises discussion on collective social memory and cultural identity. What does it take to end a war when it asks that people must become neighbours with the ones who slaughtered their family? How can conditions for lasting peace ever arise after the bitterness of ongoing conflict? This idea is ever relevant in our world, resonating with the hatred we see bred through war that lasts for generations, such as with the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

 

“When it was too late for rescue, it was still early enough for revenge.”


Despite the setting, The Buried Giant is not a fantasy book, nor is it historical one. In many ways it’s a metaphorical setting crafted by Ishiguro to serve as a vessel to carry his message of memory, love and war. I thought it was succinct and cleverly written. Ishiguro wrote exactly as he said he would. The book finished on a note that drove home the themes running throughout the book in a meaningful way. It was not a cinematic exploration of myth and history, but rather a moving and thoughtful exploration of human psychology told through an abstract environment.

I'm not dead, I'm reading 'Against the Day'

Against the Day - Thomas Pynchon

Greetings! I don't usually make posts unless I've got a book review, however, today I'm making an exception because it's been a while. Four months I believe. Why no book reviews?

 

Well, firstly, I've been busy. Bad excuse, but there you go. Moving flat, new job, teaching abroad, all sorts. 

 

Secondly... I've been reading Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. Anybody who's read this behemoth will understand why it's taking me so long. But I shall persevere.

 

So, that's it for now. Happy reading.


Sam

Welcome To Night Vale: A Novel

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel - Jeffrey Cranor, Joseph Fink

“A friendly desert community, where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Nightvale.”

 

First, a little background. Welcome to Nightvale: A Novel, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor is a book based on an incredibly successful podcast that started in 2012. Told in the style of a community radio broadcast for a small city, the Welcome to Nightvale podcast is weird. So weird. It’s a horror-comedy where conspiracy theories, life-threatening events and supernatural occurrences are completely normal. Time doesn’t work as it should, and science is a kind of ritualistic magic involving connecting things with wires to machines and writing down complex-looking equations.

 

This is a review of the novel adaptation, but it’s worth pointing out that I’m a big fan of the podcast. A huge fan. A GARGANTUAN FAN. So yea, I’m coming into this with a fair amount of bias.

 

Whereas the podcast uses the format of a radio broadcast, the novel is told from a third-person perspective, but one that’s playful in tone, and infused with warmth and familiarity. The book doesn’t necessarily require the reader to have listened to the podcast, but it is crammed full of references that will only make sense to long-time listeners. So if you haven’t, I’d approach with significant caution unless you’re happy having ideas go straight over your head like helicopters from a vague, yet menacing, government agency.

 

The writing style of the authors succeeds in capturing the essence of Nightvale. It is strange, dark and beautiful. The authors play with storytelling cliches and language in a way similar to Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, giving the book a voice that is at times laugh-out-loud funny, and at others touching and poetic.

 

However, it’s got problems. The plot centers around two women, Jackie and Diane. Jackie runs a pawn shop, and finds herself displaced from her life and her routine when she’s visited by a mysterious man wearing a tan jacket, carrying a suitcase full of flies. Diane is treasurer to the Nightvale Parent-Teachers Association. Her shapeshifting teenage son, Josh, has a growing interest in his estranged father, who has recently begun to appear all over Nightvale. Eventually, the two women cross paths in their mission to discover what exactly is going on.

 

The plot is far from perfect. There are too many cameos and visits to locations familiar to listeners of the podcast. While it’s nice to see the town of Night Vale from an alternate perspective, these sections don’t really advance the plot in significant enough ways. As a result, the entire midsection of the book slows down to a crawl as we tick names and places off the list. If the book hadn’t leant so heavily on these familiar elements like a crutch, then it could have been a great piece of fiction in it’s own right, rather than a mere companion to the podcast.

 

It can also be difficult to sift through the piles of weird to determine what’s important and what’s not. Is the waitress who bleeds a lot and grows fruit from her limbs important to the plot? Is she some kind of metaphor? Or is she just a joke, part of the scenery? As a result, I decided that the best way to enjoy the book was just to go with the flow, as if I were listening to the podcast, not overthink it, and wait to see how things turn out. Things pick up again towards the end, with the authors leading the plot to a creepy and inventive conclusion, writing at their best once more.


At it’s heart, WTNV:TN is a book that asks, ‘what does it means to grow older,’ as we see Jackie contemplating entering adulthood, Josh torn between his own desire and loving respect for his mother, and Diane struggling to empathise with young characters whom she still sees as children. The book is disjointed, yet funny, weird, sweet and contemplative. To all Nightvale fans, I recommend this book. To all others, listen to the podcast first.

Neuromancer - Breaking the ICE.

Neuromancer - William Gibson

Neuromancer was the first masterpiece of cyberpunk. It invented the Matrix, and coined the term 'cyberspace'. Unfortunately, I kind of hated reading it.

 

The novel, by William Gibson, follows the exploits of a cyber-cowboy by the name of Case. Cut-off from his life as a super-hacker by a vengeful ex-employer, he’s on a self-destructive spiral that can only end with his own demise. However, before this can happen he’s half-convinced, half press-ganged into employment by a mysterious AI. The AI restores his ability to enter the cyberspace, sending him on a perilous adventure of Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics, mega-corporations and street-samurai.

 

I loved Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash even more. When I was a kid, the The Matrix blew my tiny mind. I was primed and ready for the book that influenced all of these and more. What I found was far from what I’d hoped. I’m sure that Neuromancer has leagues of fans who’d disagree with me vehemently, so I’m going to try and briefly explain just why I didn’t enjoy this book.

 

I’ll start by trying to explain why Neuromancer is so well regarded. It’s undeniably visionary; William Gibson isn’t trying to translate the ideas or language presented in his setting into a form familiar to the reader. He’s telling his story from the point of view of characters born and raised in his cyberpunk world. The main character, Case, is no newbie who needs his world explaining to him, and also therefore to the reader. If I found the characters flat and soulless, it’s because Gibson envisioned a future where technology has alienated us from each other as well as from our own emotions. If I didn’t understand what anyone was saying, well that it only makes sense; after all, nobody stops to explain slang or neologisms to those in their own social environment. The difference is that in this case, the author isn’t going to explain them either.

 

So, William Gibson’s novel is a brave imagining, and an amazingly forward-thinking work. However, the reasons I disliked it are are bound to the same reasons mentioned above. It’s boring to read something I can’t understand without deconstructing a pile of jargon every paragraph. I’m not interested in characters who are so detached that they seem like barely cognizant passengers in their own lives. I can’t get excited about events that I can’t make sense of until they reach their conclusion.


Neuromancer is somewhat comparable to Orwell’s 1984. It’s startling in the accuracy of its predictions, and it carries a grave warning of a dystopian society that may be closer than we think. However, it differs from Orwell’s novel in a very important way; it’s just not a very good story.

The Vorrh

The Vorrh (Vintage Original) - Brian Catling

I must write this review quickly, for I have been to the Vorrh, and my memory fades further each moment since my trek into it’s dark heart.

 

The Vorrh, by B. Catling, is the story of the oldest forest in the world. Laying somewhere in the heart of Africa, it’s a forest that is mythical, mysterious and unknowable. It is home to angels and daemons, stories both true and untrue, and at it’s heart, supposedly, lies the Garden of Eden itself.

 

It’s also one of the most original fantasy novels that I’ve read. The meandering narrative follows a handful of bizarre and fascinating characters, whose strange stories and their experiences with the Vorrh cross and entwine. There’s a foppish Frenchman with cruel tastes. A mysterious hunter who wields a living bow made from the spinal column of his dead lover. A haughty and troubled photographer, a cyclops raised by artificial beings made of bakelite, an inquisitive and headstrong Heiress, and more besides.

 

Sounds weird, and it is, but The Vorrh is a book that writes it’s own rules. The method of writing and storytelling is magical and hyper-real; every word and sentence has been carefully crafted and imbued with meaning. It’s poetic, beautiful and at the risk of sounding pretentious, it’s art.

 

I’ve been steadily mulling over the ideas presented by the book, trying to unravel the various meanings and mysteries. It’s difficult to describe succinctly what the plot is actually about; a bunch of things are happening all at once, sometimes crossing over, sometimes separate, but it all feels somehow cohesive. It’s definitely a book that raises a lot of questions, but in the case of The Vorrh, this is a strength. The world it presents is one of unknown magic and strange occurrences, so it seems fitting that the book should leave me feeling somewhat mystified.

 

This isn’t to say that the book left me unsatisfied. All of the characters and plots were interesting to read about, even if they do twist about like angry weasels in a chicken coop. The book focuses on themes of colonialism, colonization and control, in a mental and physical sense as well as an historical one. However, readers who like a book to be bound by more knowable rules and structure may feel a little lost at sea with no compass. I have been informed by the internet that The Vorrh is in fact the first in a trilogy, so I’d imagine we’ll see this grand tale unfold its mysteries more in the future.


In case you can’t tell, I loved The Vorrh. It’s simply one of the most imaginative novels I’ve ever read, and it’s a beautiful example of the Fantasy genre’s potential to expand modern storytelling into brave new ground.

 

It

It - Stephen King

As I sat reading in the park today, basking in the glorious sunshine of one of London’s fabled hot summer days, I suddenly realised that I was in the wrong environment. Stephen King’s gargantuan horror epic, It, is not a book for blue skies and warm weather. It’s a book for grey, oppressive stormy skies and sewers filled with our worst nightmares. I left the park, went home, shut the curtains, and settled in for the climactic finale.

 

It is the second Stephen King novel I’ve read after The Stand. Anyone who’s read my review of that novel will know that I loved it completely, ranking it among my favourite books of all time; as a result, it was always going to be a hard act to follow.

 

The plot of the It takes place in the fictional American city of Derry, and concerns the terrible child-killing monster that lives there, and seven friends (calling themselves The Losers Club) who come together to fight it. The monster, known as It, is a shape shifting being that takes the form of its victim’s worst fears (Like a more terrible version of the Boggart from Harry Potter). It most often takes the form of a malicious wisecracking clown called Pennywise. The story is split between two timelines; that of the seven characters returning to Derry as adults, and another in the form of flashbacks to their childhoods.

 

 

The theme of the story revolves primarily around the divide between childhood and adulthood. It’s about parental relationships, blossoming sexuality and the power of imagination. I find it difficult to remember what life was like as a child without lense of adulthood distorting it. I tend to remember experiences or sensations; I’d struggle to remember any complete conversations that I had with my friends when I was 11. Stephen King generally does a good job in It, though the children sometimes seem a little too charismatic and self-aware. The morality of most of the characters is also very black and white. As a result, I never felt as attached to anyone here in the same way I did with The Stand.

 

It is a long, big book. So big I may even have developed back problems from lugging it to and from work every day. It’s length is a weakness as well as a strength. On the positive side, there’s plenty of space interesting subplots and backstory that add richness and depth to the mythology of the book. King brings the township of Derry expertly to life. The writing is heavy with symbolism, and I thoroughly enjoy watching as beautiful little details in the writing led (eventually) to worthwhile conclusions later in the novel.

 

On the negative side, the plot seems to fall into a repeating pattern that becomes a little tedious. Because there are seven main characters of equal importance, the book takes it in turns to give them all their own sections for backstory, and their own encounters with It. After a while, especially during the midsection of the novel, I felt a little like I was just going through the motions. The writing picks up considerably in the final act.


Overall, the book is a mixed bag. It’s sad, it’s kind of grim, and it goes on too long. However the overarching plot is great, entwining Alien threat with the struggles of childhood in a way that’s both beautifully nostalgic and original. It is a powerful, if inconsistent read that requires patience to complete, but it’s one that rewards in the end.

The Wasp Factory

The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks is a messed up, twisted little horror of a book. Delightfully so.

 

This brisk tale takes us into the world of Frank Cauldhame, a sixteen year old Scottish boy who might be described as troubled, if gross understatement is your thing. Told from his perspective, Frank lives with his ex-hippie Father on a remote island in Scotland. Owing partly to an accident when he was a child, and to the isolated nature of his Father's home-schooling, Frank's active yet cruel adolescent imagination has lead to the creation of his own private mythology surrounding his life, his island home and his extended family.

 

The book draws readers inexorably deeper into a world of animal cruelty, homebrew religion and murder, and the results are enthralling. I've always been fascinated by fiction that delves into the human psyche to explore the line between sanity and madness, and Iain Banks does a fantastic job of presenting the bizarre logic of his book's protagonist in a way that the reader can perfectly understands his motivation, whilst being simultaneously horrified by his actions.

 

This book is not for the faint hearted. If you shy away from animal and human cruelty (as you should) then you'll find this a difficult read in places. If you find these things intolerable, then you'd best turn back at the gate. However, though the subject matter of the book is fire, torture and death, it's also very funny. The author's dark humour often had me laughing despite my best intentions.

 

The greatest strength of The Wasp Factory is in my opinion it's originality. It's darkly entertaining, humorously macabre, and brutally imaginative, and I recommend it to anyone who's got the balls.

The World of Ice and Fire - I knew nothing.

The World of Ice and Fire: The Official History of Westeros and The World of A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin, Linda Antonsson, Elio M. Garcia jr.

 

 

Have you read every book in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic, a Song of Ice and Fire? Have you seen every episode of it’s incredibly popular television adaptation, A Game of Thrones? Are you drinking out of an official House Targaryen glass stein, with a map of Westeros on your bedroom wall and the series 2 soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi playing in the background? All whilst waiting for winter to come?

 

Well, if you match these specific criteria, as I do, then you’re probably in the target audience for the giant wikipedia entry that is A World of Ice and Fire, the Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones.

 

I compare the book to a wikipedia entry because that’s how the book reads. It’s a historical encyclopedia and anthropology text, with it’s subject being the setting of a series of fantasy novels rather than the real world, thereby making it a lot less useful for pub quizzes. The book begins with a broad ancient history of the world, followed by a detailed description of the reigns of each of the Targaryen kings. It then moves onto the histories and customs of the various realms and houses of Westeros and beyond, broken down by region.

 

 

My urge to read this book was primarily spurred by the an obsessive need to fill the infamously lengthy void between Ice and Fire book releases. It’s written by the big man himself, George R.R. Martin, in collaboration with Elio M. García, Jr. and Linda Antonsson, founders of the fansite Westeros.org.

 

It’s a book for truly dedicated ASOIAF fans only. Getting through the whole thing was quite an undertaking; more than once I felt like a literary wildling climbing a gigantic ice-wall of words. Personally, I loved it. Presented as though written by a Maester of the Citadel, it’s full of glorious little tid-bits, intriguing mysteries and flavourful descriptions of far-flung places never mentioned in the book series. All this new content makes The World of Ice and Fire much more than just a cataloguing of the information presented to us in the book series.

 

The book does require patience. If you ever tried and gave up with Tolkien’s similarly encyclopedic Silmarillion, then this isn’t the book for you. The good news is that as well as being a trove of information, The World of Ice and Fire is also a fantastic art book. Each page is adorned with beautiful art depicting the various locales and famous faces of Westeros. Ever wondered what the ancient city of Valyria looked like before the Doom? Or how it looks when a Triarch of Volantis is pulled apart by war elephants? Then you’re in luck. In my opinion there could be a few more dedicated full-page artworks, but even so I’d say that this gorgeous book is worth the price for its art and design alone.

 


Now I’ve finished the book, I truly feel like a Game of Thrones master. I literally can’t wait to go outside and impress girls with my detailed knowledge of Targaryen lineage and Dothraki history. If you’ve got the patience, and a wildfire-like desire to consume all things Game of Thrones, then this is the book may just tide you over until The Winds of Winter sees a release. If not, then turn your ship around, because here be dragons. 326 Pages-worth of the fiery bastards.

 

The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling

The Jungle Book has been on my to-read list for a long time. The Disney film adaptation has always been one of my favourites owing to its unique setting, excellent cast of characters and great soundtrack, (I’m the king of the swingers, oh, the jungle VIP!) and with not one but two new film adaptations currently in the works, now seemed like the perfect time to stop monkeying around and get down to some reading.

 

The book is a collection of short stories set in India during the rule of the British Empire. I’ve always been fascinated by this setting historically, and the author, having grown up as an English child in India during that time period, is uniquely positioned to write about the it with insight. Kipling was obviously fascinated with animals and the natural world, and his observations are evocative and beautiful.

 

The tales describe the adventures of a wide cast of people and anthropomorphized animals, the most famous of which are the three short stories revolving around Mowgli, an Indian child who is raised by wolves after his parents are killed by a tiger. There are also stories revolving around a young elephant-handler, a white seal, a group of parade animals, and a plucky mongoose named Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

 

Each story aims to teach the reader a set of moral values. The leading characters are usually brave, dutiful, and altruistic. As an ex-boy scout, I can see why they chose to use the world presented in this book to set an example to the boys.   

 

I found the books to be incredibly enjoyable, with a sense of heroic naivete to them that I found highly refreshing. However, that isn’t to say that the books sidestep difficult subjects. In one chapter, a young seal watches a group of his friends herded away, clubbed to death and skinned; an act that sparks a quest to find a new home for the seals, away from human influence. Anyone expecting a tale that matches the whitewashed Disney adaptation will probably be somewhat shocked by scenes like this, however, I feel that the books serve to tell a much more thought-provoking tale than the Disney film. The negative impact that humans have on the planet’s natural ecosystems is an even more relevant theme today than when the book was written over a hundred years ago.

 

Each chapter is also bookended by delightful verses relating to the preceding story, and the only criticism I have of the book is concerning its last chapter. It’s told from the point of view of a soldier eavesdropping on a conversation between parade animals who are discussing and comparing who has the most important role in the army. While clever, it’s also just a bit boring.


However, this is a small quarrel to have with an overall excellent collection of stories that deserve their status as a classic. Trust in me when I say that you should read it.

 

Sex Criminals Vol.1 - One Weird Trick

Sex Criminals, Volume 1 - Chip Zdarsky, Matt Fraction

 

Ever had an orgasm so powerful time seems to stand still? How about one that causes time to literally stand still?

 

Sex Criminals is a comic about a couple who discover just they can do just that. So they decide to do what anyone would do. Have sex, freeze time and rob banks. Sex Criminals is a successful and wonderfully candid comedy which succeeded in tickling my funny bone (no pun intended).

 

Volume 1 makes a good introduction to the series and it’s protagonists, Suzie and Jon. The narrative switches back and forth between the story of how the two meet and the story of how, as adolescents, they discovered their strange orgasmic powers. The theme tends to revolve around the familiar dramas and difficulties associated with hitting adolescence and discovering your sexuality.

 

It’s narrated in first person by Suzie, who often addresses the reader directly. The dialogue is generally very witty and amusing, and I’d like to give a special mention to the excellent posters and adverts in the background of certain scenes, particularly those in ‘Cumworld’, the porno shop. “Mistress Galpractice - She will punish you, break your bones, and set them poorly!”, “Gay Men fucking Lesbians - Everyone’s having a horrible time!” and more.

 

The comic generally gives a very positive view on sex, though it often walks the fine line between humour and bad-taste. Though it usually succeeds, though there was one instance where the humour rubbed me the wrong way (pun intended). When looking up Jon’s favourite pornstar, Jazmine St. Cocaine, on wikipedia Suzie comments that, ‘It doesn’t say which of her uncles touched her’, which is problematic in its assumption on behalf of that character that sex workers must have some sort of psychological damage. The harsh comment is addressed in the dialogue straight away, but the subject is  eventually dismissed with ‘You called yourself Jazmine St. Cocaine. Taking a little shit was inevitable’.


The series is definitely still in it’s infancy, so it’s difficult to make a complete opinion, but what I've read so far is funny enough for me to recommend it, and I’ll definitely be checking out volume two soon.

 

Everything is Illuminated - A Very Premium Book

Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

“I’m looking for a book.” He told the Librarian, who had cared for the Trachimbrod novels since she was a girl, and was the only citizen to have read them all. “My Great-Grandfather wrote it.”

“What was his name?”

“Safranbrod, but I think he wrote it under a pseudonym.”

“What was the name of his book?”

“I can’t remember the name. He used to talk about it all the time. He’d tell me stories from it to put me to sleep.”

“What’s it about?” She asked.

“It’s about love.”

She laughed. “They’re all about love.”

 

Everything is Illuminated is a beautiful book. It’s told with such humour, wisdom and ingenuity that it rates as one of the best books I’ve ever read. Let me explain why.

 

Everything is Illuminated is told in three styles. The first is the account of a Ukrainian boy (Alex), describing himself and his grandfather working as translators/tour guides for a visiting Jewish author (Jonathan). Jonathan is looking for a legend within his family, the woman who helped his Grandfather escape the Nazis during the second world war.

 

The second is the story being written by the Jewish author describing the lives of his various ancestors and the small town they lived in.

 

The third takes the form of reaction letters written from Alex to Jonathan in response to Jonathan’s story.

 

The chapters written by Alex are told with an artful level of mistranslation that manages to be linguistically inventive and simultaneously entertaining and witty. He uses the English thesaurus without any true understanding of when different words are appropriate, and so often uses words that appear overly dramatic or unnecessarily precise. To quote Alex during one scene,

"I observed that the hero had small rivers descending his face, and I wanted to put my hand on his face, to be architecture for him."

These chapters become increasingly sincere and heartfelt as the book goes on, leading up to a satisfying conclusion. They also work as a wonderful compliment to the rest of the story.

 

The tale of the Shtetl is equal parts whimsy, tragedy, sadness, wisdom, humour, seriousness, love and not-love. The author mixes these elements together into a formula that’s powerful and deeply moving. These sections take on a certain magical-realism that gives the proceedings an almost metaphorical, fairy-tale like quality. This style plays meaningfully with the often tough subject matter of the plot. Depression, marital infidelity, the nature of love and the Jewish holocaust are all approached with a humorous, almost irreverent attitude; however instead of diminishing them, the intelligent manner of the writing does them justice in a way that will leave me thinking about this book and remembering passages from it for a long time.

 

As a whole, the plot is excellently constructed. The story elements aren’t all told in a strict chronology, but are told in a way that helps the book to build a world of it’s own. By the end, I was chuckling at in-jokes from earlier in the book, or noticing repeating elements and themes that took on more and more meaning. The prose was beautiful, and to be honest, I’m slightly awed at just how clever this book is.

 

Everything is Illuminated is a book I think everyone should read in their life. It works on so many levels that it literally made me laugh and cry. Get it, it’s a masterpiece, and I hope it affects you the way it affected me.

SPOILER ALERT!

Dune - Fear is the Mind Killer

Dune - Frank Herbert

Dune is the story of a young man who is introduced as the chosen one, then proceeds to use cold logic to prove to various people over and over that he’s the chosen one in every other chapter, until he does a Chosen One Thing.

 

Dune is often hailed as a sci-fi classic, and I was very excited to read it. It always galls me when I don’t enjoy a classic, because I feel as though I ought to, but I just found Dune kind of… boring.

 

It’s perfectly acceptable. I’m sure that the ‘young man with a great destiny’ trope was much less of a cliché in 1965 when the book was first released, but I can only look upon it with the spoilt and jaded eyes of my own experience. However, I HATE being negative, so if you’ll excuse that paradox I’m going to jump into what’s good about Dune.

 

The setting is fantastic. Frank Herbert has created a rich world filled with ecosystems that succeed at being both interesting and relevant to the plot. It’s also easy to see the influence the book has had on pop culture, with elements like giant sand worms and moisture farms having a direct influence on Star Wars. The level of imagination that’s gone into the setting is inspiring; each inventive description of various locales, the clothing worn by characters, and their strange customs are all genuinely interesting to learn about.

 

The conflict of the plot revolves around a valuable resource located on the planet Dune known as ‘Spice’. House Atreides and House Harkonnen are mortal enemies, and now they have been pitted against each other for control of the Spice on Dune.

 

Unfortunately, the problem I have with the book is the plot. Which is a pretty big problem to have with a book. The main character is a young man called Paul, who unfortunately doesn’t have much of a personality, and ultimately feels like a tool of destiny. Maybe this is the point, but the book goes to great lengths to drive home how Paul has a great destiny ahead of him, and then due to a strange quirk of the book’s pacing about two thirds of the way in, we go straight from coming-of-age to accomplished leader without much in-between.

 

It doesn’t help that Paul and many of the supporting characters are so emotionally detached and logical. It may have been that the theme of the book was how someone thrust into greatness can lose their humanity, but I felt that there wasn’t enough real depth of emotion present to form an interesting contrast.

 

Another problem I had was the way the plot would often introduce an interesting plot thread or conflict, only to have it either very quickly resolved or end up not mattering much. As a result the book felt a little disjointed to me. I felt that things were very easy for the protagonists. Paul, his mother and the others never really seemed in over their heads or out of control. Most of the time they’d just use their mental calculation powers to work out the most efficient way over each obstacle, successfully carry out their plan and move onto the next thing, which I felt didn’t build much tension over the course of the novel.

 

I was also never sure why the Atreides and Harkonnens hated each other so much in the first place. It seemed a little arbitrary and I think some more exposition into to why the Harkonnens were so evil would have helped them feel less one-dimensional as antagonists.


Overall, I think Dune was ok… it had some interesting ideas and some colourful characters, who sometimes did and sometimes didn’t live up to their potential (Thufir Hawat, I’m looking at your feeble plotline). I’d very tentatively recommend this to someone new to the genre, or someone curious to make their own mind up on a classic. However, there are a multitude of more interesting sci-fi and fantasy books out there for the taking.

The Princess Bride - “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”

The Princess Bride - William Goldman

The Princess Bride is very funny. That’s my review. If you want a chuckle go read it. If you want more details, read on.

 

Probably more famous for the 80’s film adaptation, I found the book to be something of a pallet cleanser for me, a real lemon sorbet of a book. I squeezed it in between some pretty dense fantasy volumes, and found it utterly charming.

 

The Princess Bride is a story written as if it were an abridgment to a fictional, much longer version of the The Princess Bride, by a fictional author. The real author, William Goldman, tells the tale whilst interrupting occasionally for some amusing side-notes. It’s a wittily written swashbuckling fantasy-comedy-romance with a short but sweet plot.

 

The colourful cast of characters are presented with enough background to make them interesting, the style of the writing tending more towards fairytale-like simplicity. This isn’t a bad thing at all. The story is short, moves at a quick pace, and with plenty of action.


I’m not going to waffle on about this one because I really can’t say anything other than ‘it’s a great, fun book’. It’s got sword fighting, death, life, good guys, bad guys, monsters, giants, and most importantly, True Love. It’s full of fantastic lines, such as “Cynics are simply thwarted romantics,” and “Life isn't fair, it's just fairer than death.” So just go and read it. If not:  

 

"The Bone Clocks" - Psychosoterica ate my baby.

The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell

If you had asked me who my favorite author was anytime in the last 10 years, I would have said David Mitchell. You will understand then, oh, dear reader, how it pains me to give this book such an average score.

 

I've always been taken with the way Mitchell writes. His beautiful prose which often sounds like poetry, the barely glimpsed mysteries hiding just beyond the edge of his plots, and his wonderfully realized characters.

 

The Bone Clocks tells a story in sections, roughly following the life of a woman called Holly Sykes. Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of a different character. Two of Mitchell's previous books, Ghostwritten & Cloud Atlas, told their stories in a similar way. However, whereas in those two books we could delight in working out the subtle links that bound the different characters together across time and distance, in The Bone Clocks, the binding subplot jumps in around the end of every chapter and sort of brutally clubs us over the head for a short time until it disappears again.

 

Imagine, say, a story about a fisherman. We learn all about how the fisherman likes to catch fish, how he sells them, what his wife is like, blah blah blah. Then a WIZARD jumps out of a MAGIC PORTAL, and says 'QUICK FISHERMAN! WE'RE ALL UNDER ATTACK FROM THE EVIL WARLOCK OF GARBLASHNABLAH!' Then, the wizard disappears back into the portal. In the next chapter, we learn about the shitty life of say, an out of work jazz musician. Maybe he fondly remembers when he once bought fish from the fisherman. Then, the WIZARD comes BACK and has a BATTLE in front of the jazz musician with the WARLOCK. Then he disappears. That is how The Bone Clocks do. 

 

Now, this isn't to say it was a bad book at all. I really enjoyed each chapter, with Hugo Lamb, the suave but elitist jerk who narrated the second chapter, being a particular highlight. The book was generally beautifully written, and the characters were interesting to read about, showing great depth. Occasionally the book went a little self-referential and 'meta', and if I didn't love David Mitchell so much then I would have said it almost came across as pretentious in places. 

 

I just thought the overarching plot was sub-par, I guess. After a while I realized I was letting a sort of mental sigh out each time the Horologists or Anchorites with their Psychosoterica appeared.

 

To summarize, this is a good book, but I must recommend it only once you've read all of David Mitchell's other books. Start with Number 9 Dream, Ghostwritten or Cloud Atlas. God damn I love those books. Also, never watch the film of Cloud Atlas. You've been warned.

The Stand - M-O-O-N, that spells Stand, laws yes!

The Stand - Stephen King

It's very likely that I have a new favourite book. Yes, you heard me god-damn it! 

 

The stand was something of an epic undertaking for me. Wanting to squeeze some value out of my audible subscription before I clicked cancel, I decided to download one of the longest audio-books I could find. The Stand was the winner, with a running time of 47 hours and 47 minutes. It took me about 6 months to find time to listen to the whole thing.

 

The choice wasn't totally random; one of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman, referenced Steven King as inspiration, and Stephen King had referenced Lovecraft (another favourite) as an influence on him. So I figured I'd probably get something out of it.

 

Boy, was I in for a treat. Mind = blown.

 

The Stand is the story of a post-apocalyptic battle for the human soul. That description sounds kind of cheesy, but it's a pretty succinct one, so I'll stick to it. 

 

"But why do you like it so much Sam? Why is it the best book you've read all year?", I hear you ask, probably. Well, I'll tell you, with the help of our old friend, the bullet point.

 

  • Apocalyptic scenario
  • Fantastic characterization
  • Great villain
  • Supernatural elements
  • Enthralling plot
  • Actually scary
  • Had to bite back tears on multiple occasions

 

I don't want to go into an overly detailed description of the plot. It's such a joy to experience the narrative as it slowly unravels that I'm desperate not to spoil even the slightest thing. However, I do want to convince you to read it, so I'll give you a brief one.

 

Set in the U.S. during the year 1990, we follow several characters as they face the outbreak of a mortally infectious super-flu, a pandemic capable of wiping out 99.4% of the entire population.

 

 

As if this wasn't enough, the survivors begin to have strange and often terrible dreams, some of a dark man, a wandering stranger. If I may, I'd like to quote a brief description of this faceless man, because it's a beautiful piece of horror writing:

 

  "He looks like anybody you see on the street. But when he grins, birds fall dead off telephone lines...the grass yellows up and dies where he spits. He's always outside. He came out of time...He has the name of a thousand demons. Jesus knocked him into a herd of pigs once. His name is Legion. He's afraid of us...He knows magic. He can call the wolves and live in the crows...He's the king of nowhere."

 

The plot certainly takes it's time, and while the impatient might wish it moved a little faster, or complain of self-indulgence on the authors part, I personally revelled in the unhurried way the narrative gives you time to really stop and smell the roses. The result is a story with incredible depth. Many undercurrents, subplots and themes run concurrently, mixing and weaving together into a true masterpiece of storytelling.

 

The sheer range of thought and feeling this book conjured in me was awesome. The Stand is one of those books that I'll take with me for the rest of my life, and I encourage anyone in search of a novel with substance to give it a go.