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 Jun 2010

Sati - Christopher Pike

Once upon a time, when I was eleven years old, I read The Midnight Club. And Chain Letter, and its sequel. All of which were written by an author whose pseudonym is the name of that guy from Star Trek. But I digress.
Sati, by the same author, is a novel marketed towards adults, but to be honest I could have read it at the same time as the above-mentioned YA novels without too much difficulty. The premise is rather simple: God decides to play on Earth, in L.A. of all places, and took the form of a blonde, blue-eyed girl who calls herself Sati. She talks to some people, makes delicious cookies, borrows elements from Hinduism, reminds everyone that the whole point of life is to enjoy yourself and find your "inner silence", and then leaves. All of this is narrated by the guy who found her in the desert, brought her back to his apartment and skeptically watched while she proceeded to enlighten pretty much everyone around him.
That's it, really. I've left out the predictable twist! at the end of the novel, and the many and various subplots, but really, that's it. 217 pages of calm and spirituality and cherry cookies. It was okay.

Sex Drugs Rock & Roll - Eric Bogosian

One day, as I wandered in the rows of the North American literature section of my university's library, I saw a thin volume wedged in between the usual musty, academic bricks. This thin volume (only 98 pages long!) was all the more attractive because it sported a bright green cover with a chunky typeface and a rather clichéd title - so I read it.
This is actually a collection of monologues by Eric Bogosian (or should I say, BOGOSIAN), which were presented on stage in the mid-90s, I think. It was a bit boring, though.
Don't take me wrong, it was a good time-killer, and the characters were pretty varied, but it was still a book full of monologues by conceited, stupid, unpleasant or downright asshole-caliber guys. And while the blurb on the back cover is partially true:

"He is a born storyteller with perfect pitch for the voices of various ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds" - Frank Rich, New York Times
...So long as the voice comes from a heterosexual male.
Verdict: time-killer. On the same level as reading inane celebrity news, in a more dated way.

26 Jun 2010

The Island - Aldous Huxley

Have you read Brave New World, the hugely dystopic novel by the same strangely-named author? Well, The Island (or, more specifically, its setting on the fictional island of Pala) is the complete opposite: it's a society that fosters and makes entire human beings, with all their psychological, physical, sexual, spiritual and social needs.
This depiction of an utopic society mixes Buddhist-like spirituality with a through education in the biological sciences (yay! Interdisciplinary education!), sexual liberty allied with the intrinsic right to autonomy (it's "you belong to yourself, do what you really want" and not "you belong to everyone else" like in BNW), a very interesting concept for child-rearing ("Mutual Adoption Clubs" where several families kind of adopt each other; it takes a village to raise a child, and should there be conflict with the biological parents the child can go live with one of their other parents, thereby avoiding potentially toxic living arrangements), and plenty of other interesting things that I would love to see implemented - or at least tried - in society.
This is an Aldous Huxley novel, though, so of course dystopic elements have to be present and ruin everything (uh, spoiler? sorry) - which, by contrast, only makes you root for the idealized tanned shirtless people even more.
This novel was a bit preachy at times, a bit boring at times, but very interesting overall - I would definitely recommend it. It's a welcome rebuke to the prudes who only see the sexual aspects of Brave New World as being problematic (and who ignore the whole class thing) - and it contains some very interesting ideas (free contraception and Mutual Adoption Clubs, anyone?). An enjoyable read indeed.

23 Jun 2010

Blogging Notes From Underground (Part 2: 5-end)

For all of you who were impatiently waiting for this, here is what passes for the rising action immediately before the climax in this classic existential mess of a novel.

So after the other guys ditch his drunk rude self, Frodoy decides to follow them because he's sure they've gone to a particular brothel. On the way, he talks to himself and - EURGH I GIVE UP. Read the Sparknotes if you don't want to read the book yourself or if you want to make sense of it.

Essentially, Frodoy meets Liza, a prostitute; after the act, the talks to her about how she should get out of sex work as soon as she can (he even rants at her for 5 full pages!), and is generally all-around annoying. And rude. And a total twat, a cruel man even, and an unpleasant character on all counts. To quote the back of my library's copy of the book:
The underground man had always felt like an outsider. He doesn't want to be like other people, working in the 'ant-hill' of society. So he decides to withdraw from the world, scrawling a series of darkly sarcastic notes about the torments he is suffering. Angry and alienated, his only comfort is the humiliation of others. 
Is he going mad?
Or is it the world around him that's insane?
He's definitely mad. And his torments, may I add, are mostly self-inflicted.
If you want to read a book written in the first person from the perspective of a character you will not feel empathy for, and that you will detest before the last of the 151 pages are done, read this book. Or don't.

19 Jun 2010

The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman

This is a youth/YA novel that tells the tale of Nobody Owens, a boy who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard somewhere in England. It spans from his toddler years (when he was able to escape his family's murderer by crawling to the graveyard and being rescued by the local ghosts and vampire) to the time he turns fifteen years old, and follows Bod through his explorations of the graveyard and his forays into the world outside.
This novel started pretty slowly, but the momentum built up pretty quickly once the first chapter was done. I thought it was very similar to Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, not only because of its premise (bad guy kills boy's family, boy survives despite being a toddler, bad guy comes back again to try to finish the job, bad guy connected to a very sinister organization that dabbles in BAD magic), but also because of its storytelling style; each chapter introduces a new character, concept or element central to the story's universe, and the Big Battle at the end ties up the loose strings. The Big Battle, in this novel, is much less epic than Deathly Hallows's, but this might be attributed to the fact that this is one novel, and not a seven-book series.
But yes, this was a good novel. I also noticed that it borrowed elements, leitmotifs and other things from various wide-read novels, such as:

  1. the Harry Potter series (obviously)
  2. George Orwell's 1984 ("Here comes a candle to light you to bed/Here comes a chopper to chop off your head!")
  3. The Lord of the Flies (something about islands and pigs)
  4. Freddy Krueger (somewhat; I might be stretching things here)
  5. Anything with vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and witches.
Yes, I would recommend it to anyone in the 11-to-15 years old bracket, but adults can also enjoy this novel by Neil Gaiman.

16 Jun 2010

Blogging Notes from Underground (Part 2: 4)

On the bright side of things; at least for this part of his novel, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was nice enough to number the chapters. This makes for an all-around easier labeling process. Especially when one is reluctantly summarizing it for some blog somewhere.
So Frodoy goes to the restaurant, where he gets told that the reservation was for 6, and not for 5 as he was told; he was 26 minutes early. So he just sat there, wretched, and was even thankful when the rest of the guys finally arrived.
Awkward, rude social interaction ensues.
The dialogue was pretty well-written, if a bit on the verbose side - but the entire book is verbose, so it fits wonderfully and even pops out. Then, for a while, the narrator stops paying attention to his dinner companions to mope around, be unhappy and wallow in his self-pity. He also gets quite drunk
Really, he has no social skills, and he's terribly rude. Frodoy's a 24-year-old man, acting like a spoiled brat a third of his age; he's annoying. Also, crazy.

When Darkness Falls - Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory

In this final installment of The Obsidian Trilogy, things come to an end; and, like most good magical war novels, pretty much EVERYONE dies. Have you read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Yeah, the secondary character death rate is pretty similar here. And (SPOILER ALERT!) there is a similar deus ex machina-like resurrection that happens.
Also, a warning: the hundred or so pages that pertain to the Big Battle at the end are very engrossing; don't start chapter 16 if you don't have an hour or two to read.
Now that my inadequate mini-synopsis is out of the way, let's address the issue of the cover art: I really don't like it. The faces look all wrong; the figure in the foreground is supposed to be Idalia but she doesn't look quite... right. And in the background, next to Ancaladar, I assume we're supposed to see Jermayan (lucky Elf, to be on all three covers!), but his face really doesn't match with the other covers' depiction. I mean, he looks like he's wearing a brass mask here!
Alright, so now that this 496-page novel is over, I've finished the 1956-page trilogy. Crazy, right? But I must confess that as far as limiting the variables goes, I did a pretty crappy job of it; I read the first and the last novel in hardcover format, while the second one was in softcover format (hence its ridiculously high number of pages). So, depending on which format you prefer, this trilogy should be something in between 1400 and 3000 pages long. Hours and hours of entertainment!
As far as choosing favorites goes, I definitely prefer the third installment to the first; the first was a bit too slow-paced, and although the beginning of the third was a bit slow (augh, Elves in all their formality!), the pace definitely picked up and reached a peak during the Final Battle. Which makes sense, since we're talking about the climax of the story right there.
The second installment was also very good, and provided the reader with plenty of dramatic irony; and in terms of the pacing of the story, it was the most evenly fast-paced one. But still, it didn't have the Final Battle, and one character in particular was a bit annoying (augh, Cilarnen! Stop whining already!), so it takes a second place to When Darkness Falls.
All and all, I strongly recommend this highly enjoyable trilogy. This is what Tolkien could have written, if he had decided to focus on his writing skills more than on his map-making.

12 Jun 2010

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Oh look, there's a movie. But why watch a movie can you can read a book? For the cost:hours of entertainment ratio, movies usually offer a 5:1 ratio, whereas a 241-page book such as this one offers a 0:3 ratio. Public libraries: making books a more cost-effective source of entertainment since forever.
This random blurb having been taken care of, let's take a look at this novel: it's set in a post-apocalyptic world (Yay, dystopia!), and follows a man and his son, who travel, survive as they can, and shuffle on through the ashes of the world.
Who are they? I don't know, they never get a name.
What are they doing? Traveling, following the roads and hiding from everyone. Also, surviving, but barely; due to the ash that's everywhere, nothing grows and the only real food options are non-perishable goods (which will run out eventually) and cannibalism (ditto).
Why did the entire world burn? Who knows.
Where are they, exactly? No idea, but I suspect it might be somewhere close to the east coast of America.
When is this novel set? Again, no idea; but I suspect the world burnage might have gone on 4-6 years prior, since the son was born during that time. But nothing concrete is ever shown or explained.
I haven't read any of Cormac McCarthy's other novels (which includes No Country For Old Men, by the way), but insofar as you can figure out an author's style with only one of their novels, here is what I figured out about this author:

  1. He doesn't like to put apostrophes in words that have a contracted "not". Or rather, he "doesnt" like to do that.
  2. He has never found out about quotation marks. Especially not about their use for dialogue.
  3. He thinks that you should figure everything out on your own. Explaining the basic Who/What/Where/When/Why/How is beneath him.
  4. Clear sections in a novel? Chapters?! NEVER!
Overall, I judge this novel to be bleak, a good read albeit a somewhat repetitive and semi-descriptive one, that might lack in explanation but makes up for it in realism. It was okay; it was heartbreaking at times, but it mostly left me indifferent.

9 Jun 2010

Blogging Notes From Underground (Part 2: 2&3)

Reading a book where the main character (and narrator) remains unnamed is ANNOYING. So I took the author's first name (Fyodor) and re-arranged its letters so that the main character could finally have a name. That's it.

Our narrator, Frodoy, started to feel some remorse for his debauchery (which he apparently indulged in often), but he pushed it away, got used to feel guilty. He's great at getting used to stuff.
He would daydream endlessly - he lost himself in his dreams for three months, and was content. They were pretty grandiose dreams. Eventually they incited him to socialize with people, but he was really awkward with everyone.
Then we're treated to a bit of exposition about how a bloke called Simonov was one of Frodoy's peers in school, and one of the rare people he could stand. Also, Frodoy wasn't 100% sure if Simonov despised him or not.

So Frodoy went to Simonov's place and - lo and behold! - two other guys he knew from school were there, and they all ignored him. This depressed our narrator a bit, and he sat down to listen to their conversation.
They were planning a farewell dinner for Zverkov, another guy that went to their school, and that Frodoy hated and was jealous of. In his defense, Zverk sounded like a jerk once we learned about his behaviour in school.
Now, we finally learn about the other guys in the room: there's Ferfichkin, Frodoy's enemy from childhood; and Trudolyubov (I'll call him "Trudy"), a guy who only talked about army and promotions and was indifferent to Frodoy.
So the group have the supper all planned out, and Frodoy decides to invite himself. The other guys don't want him to, everyone knows he and Zverk were never friends, but Frodoy insists and pig-heads his way into inviting himself. Now, he knew he didn't give a damn about Zverk, and he didn't even have enough money for it, but because it was so inappropriate he knew he'd go.
That night, he suffered nightmares about his time in school. He had never fit in, had been isolated, and had always seen his peers as his inferiors. He was actually pretty smart; at the top of his class, he read books far more advanced than anyone else's. But he was also a cruel guy, and had driven his only friend to tears and "nervous convulsions"; he had just used him to get his submission.
The next morning, he was sure that his life would take a radical turn. He was really nervous about the dinner, that evening - he could already imagine Zverk's condescension, Trudy's contempt, Ferfich's sniggers. But still, he was determined to go, and at five sharp he left for the dinner, ignoring his servant whose wages were due but that he could not afford to pay and still go to the dinner.

6 Jun 2010

The Anubis Gates - Tim Powers

A time travel fantasy that begins in 1984 (the year following the novel's publication, by the way), then mostly takes place in 1810 with a brief stint in the 17th century. If you like Egyptian mythology, time travel fiction, stuff involving magic!, 19th century English literature (poetry mostly) and a read that's a seemingly unstopped stream of action scenes, you'll probably enjoy this novel.
It was probably considered to be a ground-breaking, super imaginative piece of fiction in 1983; after all, the only other piece of time traveling fun that existed at the time is Doctor Who (since 1963, people!), and maybe some science-fiction goodness. Hey, Back to the Future came out in 1985!
Personally, though, as a reader from the freaking 21st century, I found the story pretty obvious and predictable. But then again, I am also a fan of entertainment that mucks about with time (Doctor Who!), so my previous experience with the genre probably gave me an advantage over someone who has no previous experience trying to figure out time paradoxes and the like.
Also, I did not really like the fact that a particular chunk (the whole werewolf-thing-that-switches-bodies-with-his-victims-so-that-when-people-think-they-are-killing-the-werewolf-they-are-actually-killing-the-personhood-of-someone-else-while-the-werewolf-lives-on-in-his-victim's-body) of the plot relied on the mind-body dualism thing being real. Which I found a bit annoying. But I also thought that the author dealt with it in an interesting way; since the whole thing was caused by MAGIC!, you could argue that the persons' consciousnesses were switched, and that the nightmares and fragments of information that their body's new occupant received came from the memories, still intact, that were still stored in their brains. And that the reason why they couldn't recognize and know everyone their new body's occupant used to recognize and know is because the new consciousness doesn't quite know yet how to retrieve memories from their new brain.
So yeah, this was an entertaining read indeed.

5 Jun 2010

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

The author of the massively successful novel The Kite Runner has done it again: he has weaved a heartbreaking tale of life and sorrow and hope set in Afghanistan, Kabul mostly. This novel, too, spans decades, from the monarchy to 2003, through the Soviet invasion and the civil war (I don't care if they called it a jihad: you had various factions of the populace fighting each other. It's a civil war.), through the rise of the Taliban and the reconstruction of a country ravaged by decades of bombs and guns and death. This time, though, the story is told from two women's perspective; first from Mariam's, then from Laila's, and then from their shared experience.
Honestly, this book makes a powerful case in favor of the UN's involvement in Afghanistan. Especially when it comes to the human rights of, look at that, half the population: this novel isn't shy to point out that as soon as Afghanistan wasn't part of the USSR anymore, the rights of women were dramatically shrunk. And that abusive husbands in particular (yes, there is such a recurring character in the novel, and I guarantee that you will hate him before the end of the first part) had the leeway to do pretty much anything they wanted to their wives, no matter if they wanted to beat them, starve them, rape them, and generally abuse them.
So yes, reading this book was an emotionally turbulent experience; I wanted to cry, I wanted to rage, I wanted to scream, I wanted to read as fast as I could so that I'd know what came next, I wanted to laugh, I felt a considerable outpouring of hope, I wanted to help, I wanted to reassure the characters that everything would be all right...
It was great. Read it.

3 Jun 2010

To Light A Candle - Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory

The second volume in The Obsidian Trilogy is, on all counts, even better than the first one: the pace picks up considerably, the overlong adjectives-filled scenes with the Demon Queen are fewer and further between (which also helps with the pacing), the characters grow and develop and learn to adapt to their circumstances, and the story becomes the epic tale of war between Good and Really Really Evil that it is supposed to be. All in only 856 pages!
Again, don't worry that you won't be able to read it all in one setting; there's still some recaps sprinkled through the novel, but quite a few less than in the first installment of the trilogy.
Now, a few more important characters are (finally!) introduced to the reader during this novel:

  1. Ancaladar the black dragon (the scaly thing with wings on the cover). A cool dude, from the dragon species, who shirked his obligation during the last Great War against the Demons - feeling guilty about this, he finally accepted to Bond with a mortal, which gave said mortal magic powers that would otherwise always have eluded him. Ok, he Bonded with Jermayan the elf; yes, that elf's lucky, he's on two covers!
  2. Cilarnen the High Mage (not on the cover). Well, technically he's only an Entered Apprentice in the hierarchy of the High Mages, but anyways, he tries to start a rebellion against the Mage Council of Armetalieh, and since the Golden City is a totalitarian state, guess what happens? The plot thickens!
Apart from that, the same protagonists and antagonists come back. And for those curious about such things, Vestakia's the girl on the cover; she appears to be a Demon, but she really isn't, and read the book to get their explanation of what happened for her to look as she does.
My primary complaint about it, though, is that there's no map  to show how the ocean, Armetalieh, the Elven Lands and such relate geographically to each other - and the authors are a bit inconsistent. At one point, Armetalieh is east of the Elven Lands, and then a few chapters later it's west of the Elves. It's a bit minor, but being able to visualize everyone's travels would be nice.
Anyways, this novel is just as enjoyable as its prequel, if not more, and I would definitely recommend it to everyone who liked Lord of The Rings (some plot elements are a bit reminiscent of Tolkien's mythology. Hardcore LoTR fans will see it). Be warned, though; you will likely get a craving for tea. It's discussed at length.

2 Jun 2010

Or Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

Companionship, loneliness; malice, ignorance; strength, helplessness; a tale of coping and heartbreak, where the narrator never enters the characters' minds but still makes their emotions your own.
Honestly, if I weren't reading this novel on the bus, I would have cried at the end. It was powerful.