creative [kree-ey-tiv]: adjective. Synonyms: clever, cool, innovative, inspired, prolific, stimulating.

criticism [krit-uh-siz-uhm]: noun. The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

30 May 2010

Blogging Notes From Underground (Part 2: 1)

Now that Part One is over, on to Part Two: a plot appears!
Narrator uses Misanthropy: it's not very effective...
Enemy plot uses Exposition!

Part 2: A Story of the Falling Sleet
The narrator - I'll call him "Frodoy" from now on, ok? Anyways, Frodoy was a real antisocial loner when he was 24 years old; and he was also very egocentric. He thought he was the only person paranoid about what other people thought of him, and if that word had existed in the 1840s, he would have called his coworkers "sheeple" (eurgh, that word is terrible. I'll never use it ever again, I promise!).
He was listless, restless, and inclined to what he called "debauchery", even though he never tells the reader what he specifically means by that. In any case, at one point he wanted to take part in a brawl, but didn't not because he was afraid of pain, but because he was afraid that nobody would understand why he wanted to fight, and that they'd laugh at him. He was afraid of humiliation.
So he started stalking this officer, who he would have fought with but hadn't, and Frodoy was really obsessed with him for several years. He even wrote a satire, a caricature of this policeman, and sent it to get published, but it never was. Then, he wrote the officer a letter asking him to either apologize to him for something that didn't happen 2 years before, or to agree to a duel with the narrator - but Frodoy never sent this letter.
Now, Frodoy often saw the officer when he'd take a walk on the Nevsky Prospect; they would both get out of the way of more "important" people when they'd walk there, but the narrator usually moved out of the officer's way. Frodoy saw this as an act of subservience, a symbol of the officer's victory, and hated himself for it. So he had an idea: what if he didn't step aside? He obsessed about it, went often to the Nevsky Prospect to visualize it and psych himself up. He also planned it: he would be well-dressed to make a better impression on by-standers, and even borrowed money to get his outfit (this was a source of anxiety and insomnia).
Frodoy chickened out a few times, decided to give up on his quest and went for a walk on the Nevsky Prospect for the last time. Lo and behold: the officer was there! And Frody stood his ground: their shoulders collided! He had done it!

And yes, this counts as a plot point for this novel.

29 May 2010

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

"How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference". This book explores  what causes epidemics - may they be of syphilis, or fashion epidemics, or crime epidemics, or what causes young people to start smoking, or epidemics of ideas that make people take action (such as Paul Revere's "The British are coming!").
It's non-fiction, and according to the Dewey decimal system it's a book on social science, more specifically social interaction; and it was very well-written. Which shouldn't be a surprise, since Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer for The New Yorker - or at least he was in 2000.
Essentially, this book talks about how concentrating resources on key people, key messages (and mediums for these messages), and key contexts can cause dramatic changes in the social landscape, and man was it interesting. It is also somewhat related to this article that I recently read (woooh, linking! Go read that!), and it raises interesting questions.
A particularly good point that stuck with me from The Tipping Point was about cigarette use and drug experimentation: teens who experiment with drugs won't be deterred by public health statements, and will actually find motivation to rebel against the authority figures in their lives by going counter to their instructions (by smoking, for example). Also, a very negligible percentage of people who have experimented with drugs will actually become addicted (ex: only 0.9% of people who have ever tried cocaine are regular users), so "what we should be doing instead of fighting experimentation is making sure that experimentation doesn't have serious consequences." Argument that could be used to support the legalization of drugs, anyone?
So yeah. This was a really interesting read; check it out!

28 May 2010

Blogging Notes From Underground (Part 1: 8-11)

To clarify for the people who are mildly interested about such things, I am reading a version of the book with this blue cover on the left. Which looks good and interesting, but not as much as this awesome-looking red cover on the right. In my opinion, the cover art is as much a part of the reading experience as the prose itself, and I just don't understand the people who don't like the new red covers (other Penguin classics have also been re-covered) - as someone who fits the "young consumer" demographic, I do find that they look very intriguing and "maybe I could buy it?"-worthy.
Enough rant, on to existentialism!

First, the narrator interrupts himself (rudely) in his own writing. Then, he goes no the talk about how reason is good for the intellect, while volition ("making up your mind") will include both a person's reason and their speculations.
Then, the word "rubbishy" is used!
A person's capacity for living goes beyond their reason, which is only their conscious mind; a person's will also includes their unconscious mind. The narrator then defines "man" as "a creature that has two legs and no sense of gratitude".
Finally, since people HATE the idea of being predictable according to known "laws of nature", they will also willfully do irrational, harmful things, just to convince themselves that they cannot be predicted.

Narrator: "I'm joking, and terrible at it!" Can't say I disagree.
Man loves to build, and roads are a particular favorite, and mankind's propensity to destruction and chaos stems from the fear of ever attaining the end of their road, of finishing what they've begun. The process is, to man, more important that the final product; this is parallel to our attitude about life and death.
What is good for man? Not just what is normal and positive; suffering is as important as prosperity. Smashing things can be pleasant. "Consciousness is infinitely greater than [...] two and two make four."

Some talk about the "Palace of Crystal", an idealization that is eternally perfect and inviolable. The narrator rejects it for these very reasons. He then states that to live is to want - for food when you're hungry, for example.
After skipping over a bit about desire, we get to the point where the narrator expresses his certainty that "underground people" like him, able to keep silent for 40 years, should be kept in check lest they be loosed upon the world, whence they will talk and talk and talk. What does he mean by "underground people"? People who bury themselves under their facade of respectability and clam, people who, instead of expressing themselves, opt for a more "normal" act?

Conscious inertia is the best! And even though he is envious of them, the narrator would never want to be a normal man. He then states that he doesn't believe a word that he's written down so far (I've just read 42 pages of lies?!), and he wants to say something, but lacks the resolution to express it. The narrator then asks himself why he writes as though he had an audience, since he has no desire to get his manuscript published.
He muses on the fact that everyone lies to themselves, and that the more respectable a man is, the more things about himself he is afraid of becoming aware of - for that reason, truthful autobiographies are an impossibility.
To conclude this part, the narrator says he writes because there's something about written words that make the concepts they express more awe-inspiring than remembered words alone. Also, writing could be good therapy for him. Plus, he's dreadfully bored and it's something to do.

26 May 2010

The Carbon Diaries 2015 - Saci Lloyd

Don't mind the weird and spoiler-riffic cover; it's a book that's well worth the read. Here's why:
The year is 2015; the place, London. The UK is the first (and so far only) country to implement carbon rationing, a system that aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by giving its citizens a limited amount of "carbon points" that will "pay" for everything, from their heating to their electricity to what food they buy. It's the kind of radical action that's needed - because countries haven't really done anything about global warming/climate change/carbon consumerism, but this does cramp everyone's style. Including Laura Brown's, a punk rock 16-year-old who plays bass for her band, whose family is pretty much breaking apart, and that pretty much gives voice to the frustration, angst, wit and sassiness of her generation. (I like her!)
This book is her diary for the year, and through it we learn about the various disasters that she must endure through: the winter cold with limited heating allowed, the drama surrounding the boy she likes who also happens to live next door, the droughts, her father's unemployment and subsequent depression, her repeated exam flunkage, the drama and excitement surrounding her band, and of course the HUGE disaster that happens in December and that wipes out London and Londoners alike.
I really enjoyed this book and was (figuratively) glued to its 320 pages; the British slang was a bit weird at first, but I quickly figured out what the terms meant - and eventually saw that a glossary was provided at the end of the book. Nice. Also, the end of the book features a little explanation about the British school system (useful for non-Brits like myself), as well as a Celsius-to-Fahrenheit temperature conversion thing (useful for non-Celsius-using people), a glossary of "ecoterms" (useful for people who don't know that much about environmental jargon), and a bunch of URLs to sites for people who "Want to learn more about living green". Woooh, it's not a bibliography but close enough!
So yeah, this is a really enjoyable book, that deals with subjects such as environmentalism, and various social issues such as have/have not tensions, feminism, activism, governmental hypocrisy, the whole mafia/black market phenomenon, how people cope, how cults are started, youth rebellion and others. And it wasn't preachy about it.
Read it!

24 May 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - That Wii Game

This game took me about 48 hours of game time to beat. And I haven't completed most of the side-quests (such as the "find glowing bugs!" and "destroy ghosts!" and "find all the heart pieces!" things) - I have mostly stuck to the story, and played to beat the Boss.
And man, is the Boss unkillable. You have to beat him four times before he finally decides to die; and that's after you've collected all three IMPORTANT ITEMS, and then had them stolen and had to collect three more IMPORTANT ITEMS. All of which were protected by other bosses - and that was only after you had collected all seventy+ PLOT DEVICE THINGYS, some of which were protected by pretty tough sub-bosses.
Plus, there were quite a few puzzling puzzles to puzzle over.
But still, I found this game very enjoyable, and would recommend it to anyone who can handle the enemies popping out of nowhere, the sometimes challenging swordfights (the ridiculously armored and be-weaponed guy was gooooood), the puzzles, the frustration of it all, and the weird character design for most NPCs.
Seriously, the kids' faces will crack you up or creep you out. Or both.

23 May 2010

A Mankind Witch - Dave Freer

It seems to be missing from this picture of the cover, but my copy had "A feast for sword and sorcery fans - Publishers Weekly" right where the arrow's pointing, and considering this novel's 499 pages long, I think it doesn't quite qualify as a feast, but rather a big lunch. With lots of fibre.
Since we're marginally on the subject of the cover, let me say that it has NOTHING to do with the story. At all. Who's that girl? Who knows. And that archer? I don't think he's in the story. The wolf makes no sense, and the ghoulish face could possibly have something to do with the antagonists, but I don't think it's all that likely. The only relevant element is the snow. And maybe the rocks?
Despite the cover art's irrelevance, I still managed to enjoy this book. It drew many elements from Norse mythology (woooot, mythology!), and it features Manfred and Erik, two characters who appeared in the previous Shadow of the Lion, which was co-written by Freer, Flint and Lackey. Also, a new character was introduced: Cair, a corsair who got shipwrecked off the coast of Norway, was enslaved, and is an ardent skeptic and a skilled chemist. (Wooot, skepticism! Science!)
I found that the main (female) protagonist, Signy, wasn't a very interesting character, and the whole "she's a princess and she has an EVIL half-brother and an EVEN MORE EVIL stepmother" to be pretty clichéd and predictable. Oh well.
But overall,  I still found this novel to be okay. Not super-duper enjoyable, not boring, not really mediocre; just okay.

22 May 2010

Blogging Notes From Underground (Part 1: 4-7)

This is a pretty crappy analysis, but I don't want to think about this novel further than the first (or maybe sometimes the second) degree.

Part 1. The Underground (continued)
The groans (and the complaints?) that people do when they have a toothache is an expression of their pleasure, or else they wouldn't bother groaning about it. It's an expression of the pointlessness of a pain that nobody has inflicted on them, and of the realization that they are at the mercy of their teeth. They know the groans are useless and only serve to irritate everybody else solely for the groaner's pleasure.
(This reminds me of the people that ask for me to either (1) fornicate with their lives or (2) shove a red-hot poker up their life's arse, depending on which meaning of "fuck" you're working with)

So now the narrator talks about how, out of boredom, he would indulge in his fancy for the dramatic and work himself up into offense/remorse/rage, just because he was bored of the tedium of his life.
So people of action usually attack secondary causes when they take their revenge; they attack a symptom, and not its cause. Meanwhile, thinkers such as the narrator want to affect the true root of their problems, but every cause has itself a cause, and that one another, ad infinitum; since the primary cause can't be found, the thinking man can only seek revenge out of resentment, and not justice. And so, in all justice, affronts should be let go - to be, like a toothache, a pain without tangible cause.

Essentially, people who are defined by one of their negative traits have the boon of being identifiable.

Even if being virtuous is in one's self-interest, it can't be enough to guarantee that they WILL be virtuous; after all, there are countless people acting AGAINST their own best interests to follow their convictions. Also, self-interest is almost impossible to define, much less measure and give weight and compare in a rational manner.
Logically, civilization should make people milder, less bloodthirsty, and less addicted to warfare; but in reality, the civilized world is bloodier than ever. "Before, he saw justice in bloodshed and massacred, if he had to, with a quiet conscience; now, although we consider bloodshed an abomination, we engage in it more than ever."
To conclude, the idea that human behavior can someday be perfectly predicted through a complete understanding of the "laws of nature" is deemed to be bullshit, since the narrator predicts that out of the boredom of knowing all the problems that are predicted to happen, human ingenuity will get productive and start popping out new complications to life. How nice.

20 May 2010

Blogging Notes From Underground (Part 1: 1-3)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Whose name I keep reading (thanks selective dyslexia!) into "Dostoyvesky".
Anyways, so far I have just started to read Notes From Underground, and MAN am I confused. I've even started taking notes as I read, which is pretty crazy when you consider that I'm only reading it "for fun". Oh well, I want to sort-of understand what's going on; and I'm sure I'm not alone in this confusion, so here is the spoiler-riffic (if such a thing can be said about an existentialist book) and what-the-heck-is-going-on first post in this miniseries of confusion.

Part 1. The Underground.
So the narrator is a 40-year-old sick man, who refuses treatment for whatever his condition is out of pigheadedness. So far so good: he talks about what he used to do with his life. He was a civil servant, and was rude to people on purpose, for no reason really, and he did this indifferently, without a real passion for anger.
He doesn't like the idea of anyone living over forty years old.
Also, he lives in St Petersburg, even though it is bad for his health and he can only live shabbily there (thanks to the 6000 rubles he inherited, which prompted him to leave the civil service. Bear in mind, this was during the late 19th century; but 6000 rubles does NOT sound like a lot of money. At all.). He feels that leaving the city won't make a difference in any way.

To think too much is a disease, and men of action are not men of intellectual activity. Men of education, meanwhile, have four times their level of consciousness, and to think too much is a disease (ok, we got it): the more the narrator was aware of what was right, the more he did the opposite. This he was ashamed of, but he'd take pleasure from his own "degradation" and his knowledge of the fact that even if he could, he would not want to change. Consolation is knowing how much of a scoundrel you are, and you can find pleasure in despair.
The narrator always thought of himself as cleverer than everyone else, and has felt quite ashamed of it. He's also against the whole "forgive and forget" attitude, because you can't forgive the laws of nature (they don't care), and you can't forget an affront.

This begins with bemusement about people who manage to stand up for themselves, for their rights. There are two kinds of people in the world: men of action, who do things and go straight for their goals and STOP when there's a "wall"; and men of thought, who think about stuff, don't do anything and see "walls" as challenges. Perhaps everyone ought to be stupid, and be doers instead of thinkers?
Doers, when slighted, will immediately and passionately seek revenge; thinkers, in the same situation, will be filled with fury but won't do anything, and their outrage at this affront will stay with them and fester. Doers consider their revenge to be justice, while thinkers can see that there is no justice in their seeking revenge. Perhaps the pleasure derived from shame begins with a desire for revenge that comes from the festering resentment of the thinking man who never takes action to ease his desire for revenge?
There is no point in arguing against facts of nature, such as "that you are descended from an ape" (DarWIN!), and "twice two is mathematics; twice two is four".

19 May 2010

Burning Water - Mercedes Lackey

A sexy witch who writes romances and a police detective who sees more than mortal man team up to battle an ancient Aztec god!
I lifted this from the back cover of this book, and it sums it up pretty nicely. The "sexy witch" is Diana Tregarde (the girl on the cover with the floating see-though Van der Graaff generator), a really kick-ass character who can not only magically pwn pretty much anyone, but is also a karate black belt and all-around awesome.
This 330-pages novel is really good, not only because of the general kickassery that takes place, but also because there's a bibliography at the back, for people who want to learn more about Aztec civilization and mythology; of course, it's not 10 pages long as a Michael Chricton bibliography would be (I kid you not: State of Fear had a longer bibliography than some reference manuals.), but it seems pretty comprehensive. Yay for authors doing research to write awesome novels!
Also, this novel raised some ethical issues regarding the murders that take place: mostly for the first ones, the murder victims were, to be honest, some pretty horrible people - I was especially pissed off at the jerkface who not only refused to help his wife raise his own spawn because it was "woman's work. He hadn't married her just so he could become a babysitter," but also bullied his employees at work and took all the credit for their work. I really did NOT like him; but did that mean that he deserved the gruesome death that he got? Surely not. Right?
Now, this novel was written and set in the late eighties, and predictably enough I got a bit of a laugh from some blasts from the past, such as:

  1. When sushi is treated as this strange, exotic food thing. (What's up with being awed by sushi in the 80's? Was it just introduced to the US or something?)
  2. The "tofu is weeeeeeeeird" attitude. (Really? I consider it a basic foodstuff, on the same level as peanut butter or chicken.)
  3. Diskettes!
  4. Modems; the newest computer invention.
  5. A quarter = a phone call, using a public phone. In a booth.
So yes, this novel was really good. And made me want to learn more about Aztec, Mayan, Incan and Toltec civilizations (I want to see the pyramids! And not those in Egypt!).

18 May 2010

The Emperor's Babe - Bernardine Evaristo

I had previously read Blonde Roots, by the same author, and this novel is just as interesting, enjoyable and heartbreaking.
The Emperor's Babe is the story of Zuleika; she's the daughter of Sudanese immigrants who have moved to Londinium (now called London) years prior to the beginning of the story. It all begins in the early third century when Zuleika, at 11, is married to Felix, a fat Roman merchant three times her age. This is actually not that surprising, since the legal age of marriage for Roman citizen-status girls was twelve years old, but I still think it's really gross that a child be married to a 33 year-old rich Roman (which was considered really old at that time), but hey, that's one of the messed-up things that happened in those times.
Anyways, she is obviously very unhappy in her marriage - I mean, for one thing it was a transaction between her father and Felix, and for another it was sexually messed up. Seriously, she was ELEVEN YEARS OLD, and as she said at one point in the novel, she had "discovered sex before desire". :(
So, unhappy and bored in her passionless marriage, she met a very sexy man who also thought she was very sexy; his name was Septimius Severus. Yep, that Roman emperor who essentially walked all over the Empire (to deal with usurpers and the Scots and the Parthians and such), and founded the Severan dynasty. So, at eighteen, in AD 211, Zuleika was the emperor's mistress for a summer - and as everyone who has studied Roman history knows, Septimius Severus died in Britain during his campaign for Roman expansion into Scotland. So she also had to deal with this heartbreak.
Apart from the historical accuracy (most of the time) that makes this novel really interesting, the characters were also pretty well done and interesting; among others, I really liked the fact that one of Zuleika's best friends, Venus, was actually a trans woman, and that the complicated relationship between slaves and their masters was part of the story. Because seriously, in the Roman times everyone had slaves, and rich people (like Zuleika's husband) were guaranteed to have a ton of them.
Furthermore, another thing that made this novel interesting was the way in which it is presented: at first glance, I thought it was a big poem (and, I'll admit, I was kind of disappointed), but it reads exactly like a regular novel with full paragraphs. To be cynical, I'd say that it was formatted in verse so that it could fill  250 pages - but I find that this format really fit the story well, and permitted it to flow quickly.
Finally, I just really enjoyed the mix of historical accuracy and modern references - for example, everyone wore what they would wear in those times (women wore chitons, men wore togas, etc), but they'd have been designed by famous Romans with names like Valentino, Armani and Gucci. Also, there was a mention of the Emperor's concubine, called Camilla, who was mocked as being no "Helen of Troy", and resembling rather the "Horse of Troy" - British royal family scandals, anyone?
Ok, I'll stop now: I really really really liked this novel. It's set in the Roman Empire (woooot, Roman civilization!), it features characters not usually associated with Great Events in History (woooot, women! Of colour! Or trans!), and it really makes you feel the heartbreak the characters go through (woooot, relating to the characters! Comedy that morphs into drama! Emotion!).

16 May 2010

World War Z - Max Brooks

He's the author of The Zombie Survival Guide, so you know Max Brooks knows what he's talking about when it comes to zombies. In this 342-page novel, he tells the story of the Zombie War: its initial warning signs, the general denial and blame game that followed, the Great Panic when everyone realized what was happening, the "Turn of the Tide" where humanity started to get organized and strike back against the undead menace, tales from the USA and around the world (and above it), the Total War, and some of what happened afterwards. All of this was told from the perspective of random people all over the world, who had survived the zombie war and, twelve years later, had agreed to conduct an interview to tell of their experiences. Most narrators only appear once, except for a few who told a bit about what happened afterwards.
It is a very good, thought-provoking, paranoia-inducing dystopian novel. It makes you wonder what you could do in the narrators' situation; what would you be willing or able to do? Furthermore, I very much appreciated the fact that not all the narrators were able-bodied, young, sane, American, ethical or even likable.
I recommend this novel if you like(d):

  • Anything with zombies
  • Post-apocalyptic tales
  • War stories
  • Novels that can freak you out and make you paranoid
All I can say, really, is that I enjoyed it.

12 May 2010

The Outstretched Shadow - Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory

This book is awesome, entertaining, enjoyable and something that, if I could, I would make everyone read because it is. that. good. But I do realize that its 604 pages thick brick-ness is huge, so I can understand if you're intimidated. But really, there's no need to be; it's a good book to not read through all at once, since there is a fair bit of repetition while the characters think and re-think and re-consider and re-phrase everything that happened. But still, it's great!
The story begins in the totalitarian city-state of Armethalieh, which is also called the Golden City. This is the centre of human civilization, a mighty "city of bells" that has this name because of its numerous bell-towers that ring in an intricate pattern to tell the time. This works thanks to the High Magic, a tool of the Mages who rule the city.
Now, this is a totalitarian state because not only is the system ruled exclusively by a single class of people (the Mages, who are all male because of the institutionalized sexism of the place), but also because censorship is rampant: books, musical instruments, and even every single kind of spice or ribbon design (for ladies' adornment) must be approved by the ruling Mage Council. Their logic is thus: change is forbidden, because the minutest change can breed discontent, and discontent leads people to want to leave the city. Which is a BAD THING that cannot possibly be allowed! (Read the novel for a better explanation)
Soon enough, though, things happen and the main character leaves the city - and eventually reaches the Elven Lands. But I don't want to give everything away (seriously, read this novel!), so let's leave it at that.

As its first installment, this novel serves to introduce most of the major protagonists of The Obsidian Trilogy: 
  1. Kellen, the main character and the guy with the wavy blond hair on the cover (he's supposed to have curly brown hair, and he's 17 - but I guess the cover artist can be forgiven)
  2. Idalia, his older sister; she's a very skilled Wildmage, and a pretty strong character (I like her, even though she isn't on the cover)
  3. Shalkan, the sarcastic unicorn (on the cover)
  4. Jermayan, the Elven Knight (on the cover, on the horse; notice his pointy ears!)
  5. Vestakia. She's not on the cover and is only introduced near the end of the novel, so I'll leave it at that.
There's also a bunch of antagonists:
  1. Arch-Mage Lycaelon, Kellen's and Idalia's power-tripping, corrupt, bigoted father who practically rules the human city of Armethalieh
  2. Undermage Anigrel, during the course of the novel he grows from Kellen's tutor to something far more sinister
  3. Queen Savilla, Queen of the Endarkened (aka "Demons"). Very very evil.
  4. Prince Zyperis, Savilla's son and lover. Yeah, the Endarkened are messed up.
This is a very, very good book, from a very very good trilogy, and I highly recommend it to anyone who liked 
  1. Any other Mercedes Lackey novel (she's great!)
  2. The Lord of the Rings
  3. Eragon (this is a WAY better written series)
  4. Any book that involves elves
  5. Any other fantasy novel
Seriously. I don't care if you have to take two months and a bunch of book renewals (if you took it from a library), read this book.

7 May 2010

The Breakfast Club - That movie

Five WASP-y kids are stuck in detention all day, on a Saturday. They are the embodiments of the high school stereotypes that would plague all later depictions of secondary school education: the nerd, the jock, the troublemaker, the popular girl (that the troublemaker's attracted to), and the silent girl that wears black and is pretty weird (to be replaced by the emo in post-2000 high school stereotypes).
Before I saw the movie I expected it to be an overrated disappointment - but I was pleasantly surprised. Despite the appearance that their high school targets twenty-year-olds (seriously, that guy has grey in his hair!), the over-sadistic principal and the cheezy ending, I actually really enjoyed this movie.
Among my favorite moments are:

  • The part where sushi is treated like this super weird gross-sounding never-before-heard-of foreign food
  • The exact second you realize all the characters' hair is parted in a straight line (it looks so weird!)
  • Smoking up in the library
The first 2 are attributable to the fact that this movie is straight from the eighties, and the last one... was just odd. Still, it made for a pretty entertaining movie.

5 May 2010

Pygmy - Chuck Palahniuk

This book features: rape (anal), graphic violence, scenes of psychological torture and brainwashing, as well as an almost continuous hate-spew against American culture, as told from the perspective of a supposedly thirteen-year-old agent from a totalitarian state. He, agent number 67, along with several other agents of the same supposed age are posing as exchange students in the same American community, all the while planning an "unspecified act of massive terrorism" (as read on the inside book cover).
Not suitable for younger readers; reader discretion is advised.
This book is divided into 36 chapters, presented as dispatches from agent number 67. Now, let me be honest: I gave up at chapter 14. This book was just too annoying.
Chuck Palahniuk can be a compelling author, as anyone who's read his memorable short story Guts can confirm: he can write so that you are pulled into the story, where you can't put down the book despite the graphic grossness of it - but really, you don't want to stop reading, because you want to know what happens next, and the narrator's style and tempo beautifully incite you to keep reading until the end.
However, in Pygmy, instead of making the story readable, he decided to really make it sound as though a spy (or terrorist, what the hell) with a somewhat shaky yet precise grasp of the English language narrated the story. During the first few "dispatches" this made for an interesting narrative device, but it quickly lost its appeal; essentially, you have to mentally translate the text, written in definitions-only English, into somewhat-comprehensible English. Here's a quick example of this novel's style, lifted from page 47:
Force compelled to sing how yearning for location on top arched spectrum of light wavelengths created by precipitate. Exact song expressed Judy Garland, woeful martyr, slaughtered pawn of capitalist entertainment machine combined pharmaceutical complex.
Translation: "We had to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". It's the same song that Judy Garland, the actress, sang - before she died of drug overdose."You can still understand what the narrator's saying, but it gets mighty annoying after more than ten pages, and there's 240 pages' worth of it to slug through.
Apart from the sheer annoyance of it, this style also has the side-effect of making all the scenes of violence and turmoil seem grotesque and their impact is lessened on the reader.
Can you really blame me for giving up?

3 May 2010

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

Science fiction! Space! Aliens! War! Dystopia!
This novel won a Nebula award and a Hugo award, which are pretty BIG THINGS in the world of science fiction literature. For once, I agree with the bestowment of awards; this was a very good, heart-wrenching novel. I was (figuratively) glued to this book's 226 pages.
It follows the life of this boy, Ender, who is a Third, a third-born child. Now, this takes place in (where else?) a dystopian future, where overpopulation has made it necessary to limit the number of children allowed; two children per pair of parents is the limit. Ender, however, was allowed to be conceived because Earth needs a military genius, and through unexplained genetic modification two people who were almost good enough were made: Ender's older brother, Peter (too sadistic), and his older sister, Valentine (not violent enough).
When he is six years old, Ender is taken to the Battle School, where gifted children are essentially taught and conditioned to be the soldiers Earth needs. There, he proves to be a tactical genius, and after five years of training and growth, he commands Earth's starship force and destroys the alien menace. However, he did so without knowing he was commanding actual spaceships against the actual alien enemy; he was manipulated to believe it was a big simulation, a big game.
Now that almost all the spoilers have been revealed (not gonna apologize), let's look at a few things that bothered me about his novel, shall we?
First, there were very few girls at the Battle School, because "centuries of evolution" were "working against them" (p.17). Part of it is true; we do have centuries of social conditioning that have instilled the idea that girls are "mild" and "soft" and "meek" - but evolution itself has nothing to do with it. In fact, how do you think girls can be so cruel, psychological-, emotional- and social-bullies, especially when they have a little posse to support them? It's because girls are even more severely punished than boys when they resort to physical violence, aggressiveness needs an outlet, and psychological and emotional bullying are much more "acceptable" ways in which girls can be total assholes.
Second, all the kids at the Battle Academy did not sound like children; those were adults, or at least teenagers speaking, but the characters were all under twelve years old. But I guess this was the point; these children, training to be soldiers since they were six years old, could not possibly have had any childhood... Which is what made this novel so heartbreaking.