Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

About those red shells... So, yeah; I'm kinda playing video games again: not by a 'gamers' definition, but way more than I have in the past five years.  It's fun and a great time killer.  Surprisingly, it hasn't taken away from my reading; which I guess means that I haven't been working a lot this past month.

I did read four books this month and even though I'm back up to my norm after an abysmal January I'm still not excited about reading.  No longer in a rut, but still rather apathetic.   I finished The Windup Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi, A model World by Michael Chabon, DawnThief by James Barclay and West African Folktales by Stephen H. Gale.  Chabon was expectantly brilliant though there were a few that made me scratch my head.  The book of folktales was more familiar than I was hoping for and adding to the repetition of familiarity was the simplicity of the stories presentation.  Not the author's fault by any means, but when you read a lot of fiction you come to expect some substantial development to make meager material really standout. 

Much like last month I've been doing a lot of writing lately which is a good thing but it certainly does take away from my time to read. 

As far as my reading goals for March go I've already started Daniel Martin by John Fowles, which is odd thus far considering my past reading of Fowles.  Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake has been staring me down since December and NoonShade by James Barclay is due back to the library in a twelve days.  I'll find something else soft and fluffy to read and aim high with three doorstoppers this month.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The WindUp Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi

In all seriousness, this book may be the most original bit of fiction ever set to paper.  Bacigalupi is absolutely overflowing with ideas and concepts that haven't been touched on before yet remain a distinct possibility in our not too distant future.  It's not so much a book that I would call dense: the prose isn't overwhelming or spectacular in a sense that demands a slower reading pace; The Windup Girl does present an over abundance of new views and unexplored courses of action that you won't be flying through the reading experience.  In short, 'experience' is the best word I can think of for this book.  The Windup Girl is unlike anything else and I'm glad to have taken part.  

The planet--and all of it's inhabitants: animals, plants, people--have suffered some horrific set backs.  The Age of Expansion, is a term used by people to refer to our times of right now.  What has changed is nearly every facet of organic life.  There are diseases that affect planet life; some of which can't be overcome.  There are new illnesses that threaten human life, plagues that can't be tamed or put down until they run their course.  Worst of all and most prominent in the book are the conditions in which food is grown, dispersed and valued.  There are genetic food companies that vie for monopolies in global food distribution.  They offer foods that are safe, government approved, and very expensive.  These food companies are some of the most powerful organizations in the world.  Copyright protection, patenting of certain food procedures and the need for control produce a host of spies, double spies, rampant corruption, and distrust.

The Windup Girl is set in the Thai Kingdom, one that came out of the old expansion era much better than most.  The city that Bacigalupi creates is stunning in its complexity, diversity, hierarchy of political powers.  Not only is the cast huge, but Bacigalupi also has a lot of say about a host of topics in this book.  He never once overstepped his powers as a writer in dealing with too many characters or drawing lame conclusions from the ideas he presented.  That said, it wasn't until the last thirty pages or so that I had any idea as to what was going on in this book.

Perhaps even more odd than not being able to identify any central plot elements that drove the book forward was the fact that I didn't mind.  It's difficult to explain exactly how bizarre (said in the best of ways) the world that the reader is dropped into really is.  Things make sense and they flow; there is some allegory here; some social commentary there; only there isn't a catalyst to keep things moving forward or bring all events together. 

The Windup Girl, Emiko, and others like her are a human creation; an attempt at improvement on human life though with limitations.  She is immune to the illnesses that plague the population.  Her only concern is overheating and a penchant for ice, which is a precious commodity itself.  Emiko offers a different point of view than all other characters in the novel concerning the world, oddly her's is the most readily understandable for a reader even if she is programmed into her genes to obey and only think of others and not indulge her own interest or thoughts.  When not being humiliated for the entertainment and profit of others, she thinks about independence and freedom with others of her kind, rather than the base desires of seemingly everyone else around her. 

As I said earlier this is not a book that I ever felt I had a firm grasp on, but pacing is not an issue; it works.  I'm not even sure if I would recommend it to anyone else to read.  It lacks the intimacy of characters and the interaction among people that I generally crave or define as a universal in what I could call, 'books I like to read.'  It's not a plot driven book where story events hurl the action along.  The Windup Girl is unique in that it creates a world that can hold readers attention based of sheer detail and convincing believability on all the Bacigalupi outlines.  I really don't feel that books like this are published everyday, perhaps just once a generation.  Perhaps it is because of the book's strengths that my enjoyment felt stunted as trying to appreciate all Bacigalupi offered upon first reading is such a rare and monumental task.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

DawnThief by James Barclay

It's like reading a video game.  It's a good video game; a fantasy RPG where a close knit band of warriors comes together to save the world.  DawnThief is also as cliched as the previous sentence. 

The Raven is a mercenary group that is known for always getting the job done; no matter the odds.  They damn near guarantee their work from castle defense to bizarre infiltration and escort task.  They are comprised of a 'mage',  several 'warriors,' and a few 'barbarians.'  For ten years they have been rocking out on what felt like their farewell tour, but before they can disband, live peaceful lives and count their money there is one more job to do: Save the World.  With that, I'll try to go easy on the melodrama.  

The first things that struck me about The Raven is the book's first fifty or so pages begins with an astounding amount of them dying: as in perma-death a la Fire Emblem.*  They don't even get the typical heroic fantasy heroe's death where the characters' passing becomes and 'event' taking up multiple pages and really investing the reader in their struggle.  Barclay just straight up kills his main characters, like, all the time, shrugs his shoulders and moves on.  It's actually kinda refreshing.  Considering how many of The Raven he kills in the book's beginning this could have become very repetitious quickly had he gone another way.  
*Their is one who broke the perma-death rule in spectacular fashion but I don't do spoilers.  

So the remainder of the party must find some new, qualified recruits, prepare for the impossible and set out to assemble the three catalyst that will enable them to cast DawnThief a spell so powerful that it will tame the Wytch Lord's power and save the world.  They also must work hand in hand with their eniemies and learn to fully trust their new allies.  

The dialogue is painful.  All of the backstory is explained in dialogue for the reader's benefit to other characters who should already know what is being said.  The setting is familiar perhaps even bland: all the heroes are one dimensional save Denser, and the bad guys are bad for reasons that are never explained, they are merely bad and called 'Wesman.'  Kinda like 'Easterlings,' or 'Southrons...'  Worst of all is the threat to the world concerning a conflict that only encompasses one of an unidentified number of continents.  DawnThief is so strong that it could literally snuff out the sun, but at one point in time a character mentioned just running away to the lands south of them to find safety.  The power struggle was never made clear on the big scale and overall it wasn't convincing that the world was at stake.  Oh, yeah there is also a dragon and two elves.  They are arbitrary at best; tacked on with no meaning at all at worst.    

So now you're asking, "How did you finish this book?  What kept you reading?"  The bad parts were bad, but the good parts were strong.  There are multiple beat-downs that only epic fantasy and video game cut scenes can adequately capture.  The politics on the one continent we do see were begging to the fleshed out.  The powers, and rules that governed Barclay's magic were convincing.  The plot as a whole, and this is a plot driven book, felt right; all the pieces are there and they work well together.  There is some bad sex, a wholly unbelievable female character, and like every other fantasy novel I've read it could have been one hundred pages shorter; but who has time to play a forty to sixty hour RPG?  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

This year ain't working... And the Remedy.

The year's first defeat has happened.  I'm pretty sure it happened in February last year too.  This particular defeat is worth explaining as opposed to mentioning and then moving on.  Laird Barron is a really, really good writer.  He's also kinda creepy, but then again he's branded as 'horror fiction.'  I read a little more than half of The Imago Sequence, five of the nine short stories in the collection.  Barron reminds me of the subscription to The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy that I had a few years ago: solid writing and standout stories that are of no particular interest to me.  

I'm a firm believer in reading the wrong book at the wrong time, it's happened to me before, most recently with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The General in his Labyrinth.  It's possible that I'm not mentally in a place that I need to be into enjoy a given book.  With that in mind, The Imago Sequence is not going to used book store to be traded in, but neither am I in a hurry to further explore it at the present.  

I'm not having a lot of fun reading lately.  Breakable You, kinda started it, much as I loved BADASS it's not a book that encourages extended reading, The Windup Girl (as I've said before) may end up being the best thing I read this year--if I can get through it--and now Barron.  I like challenging stuff, and I also like trying new to me stuff (like horror) and new to me authors (like Barron) but for whatever reasons, with the exception of BADASS, I haven't been picking up books that are very 'fun.' this year.  Leave it to the lovely Terri Wenna to straighten me out.  "I don't know too many people who can read a steady diet of Moby-Dick and Middlemarch, or even, for that matter, Mieville, Crowley and Egan."     I was never that ambitious  and if you ever catch me reading Middlemarch call a doctor, but for me, her points make a lot of sense.  

I have found the fun.  Looking back, it was actually very obvious and easy to do; I've said I was going to do it for a while.  James Barclay's Dawnthief.  It's not just that the pages are flying by--which certainly is welcome considering my reading of late--but I'm enjoying everything going on.  It's fun.  I wish I could say my 'comfort food' weren't so firmly rooted in Western European styled fantasy with all of it's cliches and single colored ethnic palette's but David Gemmell's got the cover blurb and how could I resist that from the guy who first sparked my interest in reading?  

The Imago Sequence is probably amazing, sadly I won't be reading it.  I will conquer The Windup Girl, not because I'm stubborn--I've never thought of putting it down--but because no matter how hard it is for me to read, I am enjoying it.  Dawnthief and Barclay's other stories of The Raven are currently occupying my reading time because they have made me remember why I enjoyed reading in the first place.  It's fun.