Not to sound crass or anything, but this is perfect for the bathroom.
A series of one-to-two page portraits, each one focused on a new fantastical cit...moreNot to sound crass or anything, but this is perfect for the bathroom.
A series of one-to-two page portraits, each one focused on a new fantastical city. Like Escher drawings, each city is impossible, yet reflects our real-world perception of cities we've been to. It's more a meditation on the city as a concept than on any of the cities actually discussed. Also, in some ways it feels more like the experience of reading a book of poetry than a novel. Although a theme holds this all together, every chapter can be taken in isolation. Thus, one loses nothing if they read this gradually, one chapter at a time. Like if they read it while pooping, for instance.
The story, if you want to call it that, is about Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. At the twilight of Khan's empire, Polo arrives and tells him stories of the cities he has been to. The evolution of their relationship, and the evolution of how they communicate, is interspersed with chapters on surreal cities. This structure doesn't really create a linear tale. Fortunately, the book doesn't need one to be fascinating.
When a man rides a long time through wild regions he feels the desire for a city. Finally he comes to Isidora, a city where the buildings have spiral staircases encrusted with spiral seashells, where perfect telescopes and violins are made, where the foreigner hesitating between two women always encounters a third, where cockfights degenerate into bloody brawls among the bettors. He was thinking of all these things when he desired a city. Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. The dreamed-of city contained him as a young man; he arrives at Isidora in his old age. In the square there is a wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories.
Many of the chapters end with a sudden revelation that throws the entire city into a new light. Unfortunately, a lot of these revelations don't quite make sense, and one gets the feeling something was lost in the translation from Italian to English. Roughly half the stories had fascinating conclusions; most of the others had endings that felt like something was lost in translation; and a handful just felt like weak entries. Because so many chapters end with supercool revelations, the cities that turn out to be nothing more than fanciful and interesting to think about seem like let-downs. It's like if you think someone is setting up an elaborate joke, and the punch line is about to hit you in the gut, and then they say, "Cool, huh?" and you realize they're done and it was just a story, no punchline or conclusion.
But despite the unevenness, I really enjoyed this, and plan on tracking down more of Calvino's books this summer. I'm especially hoping to find If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, which I started reading in a book store months ago and had to tear myself away from. Calvino is experimental in a fun and non-snobby way, which is my favorite kind of experimental. This could be the beginning of a brilliant relationship.
And I promise the whole relationship won't revolve around bathroom trysts, Calvino. I know you're too good for that. (less)
The past is a fiction we make up continually. We're essentially living in the movie Memento: generations pass, we forget what we were capable of in th...moreThe past is a fiction we make up continually. We're essentially living in the movie Memento: generations pass, we forget what we were capable of in the past, we have a sense that things have always been this way, then we do something horrible again and we find a way of denying it. Those soldiers who took the fucked up pictures of captives weren't acting on anyone's orders. It was purely an anomaly, right? Guantanimo Bay, that doesn't count because it's not TECHNICALLY within the U.S. border.
I'm going to defend this book to a certain extent, but first I have to tell you why it's irrelevant. I mean, take one fucking look at this cover. Look at the title. This book is thirty seven years old, and YOU KNOW it is politically incorrect without even opening the cover. This book is ALL ABOUT the Noble Savage, an idealized and fantastic understanding of the Native American tribes, who communed with nature and did mysterious dances and dressed in skins and furs. Courageous and on the verge of extinction, like the panda.
Now, we still have blanket terms we try to apply to all of these separate tribes, but they've evolved. Native Americans for a while, then American Indians for a while, and I think that Native American has again become the PC term. I dunno. But, my point is that, in academic circles, we now realize it's more appropriate to call these people by the tribe they come from than to try and find a blanket term that will sum them all up. We're also slowly realizing that it's more appropriate to call them by the names they called THEMSELVES, not the insulting names placed upon them by neighboring tribes. Some tribes, like the Indiana branch of the Miami tribe, are going through the process of trying to bring their language back into use, since so much of one's world view is created by the filter of language.
I've had a lot of espresso, and I just keep going and going, and still haven't made the first point I was planning on making! Bear with me. I'm focusing now.
I'm saying that we have become much more understanding of who Native Americans are (and were) since this book was published. In 2010, many people understand that the stereotype of the Noble Savage is just as destructive and insulting as the Insane Bloodthirsty Redskin stereotype. Well, maybe not JUST as destructive, but ALSO destructive. In either case, we are taking a simplified understanding of someone else that WE CREATED, and labeling another (set of) culture(s) with this.
In feminist rhetoric nowadays, there's a growing understanding that if you want to let someone who is underpriviledged speak, it is best to do this by actually LETTING THEM SPEAK, not interviewing them and reinterpreting their ideas, thoughts and world views through your own lens. This book is a highly outdated text because it fails to do any of this: the subject does not speak for his/herself, and some stereotypes are reinforced by the perspective this book was written from.
That said, for the time the book was written, I think the author did a fairly good job of being fair to the subject. The view of the Native American tribes was never outwardly negative, and I shouldn't expect writing from the past to live up to the values we have in the present. So, I appreciated a lot of the information in this book, and DID find it fascinating. But, from my forty-years-later perspective, this book sits quite comfortably in a patriarchal, self-serving historical tradition that I believe needs to be (and is being) overthrown. (less)
I have a confession to make, goodreads. You might want to sit down.
I've been seeing other literary social cataloguing websites.
No, wait, put that plate down. It wasn't because I really wanted to see anyone else. . . it was for my grade. *dodges plate* Wait, wait, let me explain! The thing is, I'm doing a big project on book reviews.
I'm analyzing the rhetorical differences between online book reviews and those published in print.
From meta-reviews to highly negative reviews, to reviews that are discussing the process of reading the book instead of the actual book itself, I'm searching for every kind of trend that's developing. Including the brilliant one-sentence reviews.
How many have I been seeing? Uh, like four. Probably six by the end of the week. *dodges a lamp* But I'm not reviewing with them, goodreads! I'm just there for the . . . well, you know . . . if I want my project to say anything, I need to know the lay of the land, don't I?
But, more than just literary social cataloguing websites, I'm also looking at other parts of the internet: online-only reviewers, amazon.com book reviews, and on and on. The project itself will be specifically about reviews on goodreads, but I'm going to do some comparisons to see why our reviews are better than theirs. Because they are, and I love you the best.
I'm saying all this because it would just be the cat's pajamas if anyone knows a website I should check out, article I should read, or even a specific review that you think of as a "must read."
And I raise the question: is it even a book review if the book is never mentioned, nor any issue about the book's subject matter raised?
My review just got completely deleted. I'm starting over, and it will be EVEN BETTER maybe.
There's a creek that winds along behind my parents house i...moreMy review just got completely deleted. I'm starting over, and it will be EVEN BETTER maybe.
There's a creek that winds along behind my parents house in downtown Indianapolis. It's barely more than a trickle, barely enough to get your feet wet when you're wearing shoes with thick soles. It was just wide enough that my ten year old self had to jump to make it across. But it was the wildest, most natural thing I'd known at that age, and I followed that son of a bitch.
I walked down one direction to where it reached a sewage pipe. (This review will get gross. Let me warn you now.) Not to be deterred, I bought a flashlight from the grocery store and walked through the pipe for a long time, finally coming out on the other side of a busy road. Feeling accomplished, I walked back overground, knowing where my next adventure along the creek would start.
That was the pattern: I'd bike to the last place where I'd followed the creek, hide my bike, and then continue following. It became more and more time consuming as it wound farther and farther from our backyard. It became wider, wilder, as it went. One day, I came to an old tool box buried in the dirt. I dug it up, hoping to find some buried treasure, or at least some forgotten toys some other kid had buried. All I found inside was water and dirt, but I returned awhile later to put some treasure in the box: some old toys I didn't play with anymore.
Eventually, I wandered down that creek far enough to reach the end in one direction. The narrow creek had gradually expanded by that point to ten or eleven feet across, but now it blossomed into a tremendous lake. Or so it seemed at the time. This small lake was surrounded by high grass, trees, some weed-like flowers, and a light dusting of garbage from downstream and from the nearest roads. You could see two busy roads far in the distance, but I wanted some private piece of nature bad enough that it felt to me like a nature preserve. I spent about half of the day exploring around the lake, and got in a shitstorm of trouble when I got back home. According to Mom, that wasn't a "lake" I'd been exploring; it was a "gravel pit," which was very "dangerous," and I should never go back.
I went back.
If I had to explain my love for McCarthy's writing, I don't know that I could. I could tell you that, ever since childhood, I've prefered the cracked and broken to the new and shiny. I could tell you I've written dozens of poems about moss and gravestones, and am uninterested in writing about anything much more complicated. It's an ingrained aesthetic, and I don't know what childhood trauma or early experience lies behind it, but it carries over into the books I read, the colors I like, and just about everything.
Anyway, to conclude my review of the book: Cormac McCarthy is me. Lester Ballard, his protagonist, is the river. Lester has gravel pits and leaves a nasty taste in your mouth, and he's not there to make you happy, but McCarthy pursues his dark character so perfectly that you kind of end up feeling for the backwoods pervert by the end of it all. (The river/Ballard is the pervert, not McCarthy/me.)
This is yet another terrific book by McCarthy, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading about depraved backwoods hilljacks who do just about everything gross imaginable. (less)
No, it would be no problem at all! I'd be happy to respond to the first draft of your new fantasy novel.
Lets start with the good: I enjoyed you...moreRoger,
No, it would be no problem at all! I'd be happy to respond to the first draft of your new fantasy novel.
Lets start with the good: I enjoyed your method of immersing the reader in your fantasy world. The protagonist's case of amnesia makes it so he must learn all the same things the reader needs to know. Protagonist Corwin regains his memory gradually, creating a sense of mystery throughout the first hundred pages that is quite entertaining.
Then. . . well, you lost me. I mean, it's so esoteric. SHADOW REALMS, one for every combination of things that could be. Nine princes who can travel at will between these Shadow Realms. But there's really only ONE REAL WORLD, the world of Amber, of which all the other worlds are shadows. All of these princes want to be the king of Amber, and they struggle against each other for the throne . . .
Well, one issue I have is that I'm not sure why I should side with Corwin. I'm not entirely convinced he's the "good guy." It's sort of like voting for Zeus instead of Hera. They're all egomaniacal wackjobs.
And then you tell us, most of the way through the novel, each one of these brothers could technically make their own perfect reproduction of the original world of Amber, and ALL be kings of identical territories, AND COMPLETELY BYPASS ALL OF THIS FIGHTING TO THE DEATH?! So WHY. The FUCK. Should your reader care? As Tim Gunn would say, "This part has me worried."
Before attempting to get this published, I HIGHLY recommend reconsidering how omnipotent this set-up will make your protagonist. At the very least, don't point out to your reader how ludicrous this whole war is.
Another big issue I had was with your voice in this novel. I mean, sometimes you're all "If thou will help me to smote down ye evyl brother Eric, your noble brother Corwin shall be beholden to you." Then, a scene later, you're all, "I snuck out of the prison because I'm just that good. Dig? Solid." Are we casual? Are we not casual? Let's just decide. Either could work, but both don't.
Also, you should know my interest tapered off drastically at the exact moment when things should've started getting exciting. The actual battle over Amber seemed . . . well, dull. First off, it's narrated kind of like an eight-year-old would narrate an action figure battle: "seven of the big furry red guys were killed. Three of their soldiers died. Seventy of the goodguys got blown off the snowy mountain. I stabbed some guy in the neck." You start a hell of a lot of sentences with "I did this." I was distracted by this. I could not visualize much of anything. I was tempted to skim.
I'm sure this is your rough draft, despite the artificially yellowed pages and cool imitation 70's cover, mostly because of the excessive typos. My personal favorite: "the doors of good food." Did you mean Odors? I think so. I would fix that, and also doublecheck your punctuation. Commas seem like an unpredictable force in this book, happening sporadically and without logic. So, as I tell all my writing students, allways proofread. By the way, I loved the ironic quip on the front about "Hugo and Nebula Winning." After a few more drafts, that may become a reality, but remember my mantra: revise, revise, revise!
Best friggin' Golden Book EVAH. If you haven't read it, put down the bollocks you're reading right now and go get it. It's Grover, bitch! I rest my ca...moreBest friggin' Golden Book EVAH. If you haven't read it, put down the bollocks you're reading right now and go get it. It's Grover, bitch! I rest my case. (less)
Gigantic, evil crabs are on the loose. Bullets cannot penetrate their seemingly indestructible shells. They have very mean faces. They hack people to...moreGigantic, evil crabs are on the loose. Bullets cannot penetrate their seemingly indestructible shells. They have very mean faces. They hack people to bits, leaving heads bobbing along the shore. They're hidden somewhere in the reef, and only fire can destroy them. They shall breed during the full moon, which is approaching fast! And they have very mean faces. I mean really mean.
Look at the cover of this book. If you chuckle, you should read it. If not, you're going to think it's the tackiest, most tasteless asswipe of a book you've ever come across. I thought it was marvelous!
In so many ways, Smith sticks to classic monster movie tropes: fleeting glances of the giant crabs lurking below the water, gratuitous and constant sex, and some hair-brained way of killing the crabs that seems even more implausible when you see how they pull it off. In all of these aspects of the book, it could've been some masked Jason knockoff lurking in the background. But it wasn't. It was big crustaceans.
Most of the time, books with cheesy titles like "Bride of the Bat Monster" are bound to disappoint because they are written by hacks who make things just too silly. But, Smith is a capable writer of horror, and these crabs are pretty creepy sometimes. Then, something ridiculous happens: the crabs attack in battle formations, or another sex scene happens (where the one female character is fucking one of the few men left in the story who she HASN'T fucked), or the doctor has a great corny one-liner. SOMETHING to shatter the momentary illusion that the author is really trying to build suspense. This straddling of the line between horror and total goofiness is what makes this book an exceptionally good time.
But, there is enough goofy in here to keep this entertaining all the way through its 150 pages: among the male characters, the ones least skilled in bed are clearly the badguys, while the fisherman who can fuck like a beast is the guy you're supposed to root for. The first time the only female character is described, Smith describes her breasts first, her genitalia second, and that's the end of his physical description of her. And, the crabs have really mean faces, and evil eyes. They aren't just crabs defending their reef, and they aren't being angered by a disease or anything: even the scientists are aware that THE CRABS ARE EVIL, and WILL TAKE OVER THE WORLD, and MUST BE COMPLETELY DESTROYED.
I thought this book was a whole lot of fun, and I plan on tracking down as many books in the series as I can.
So, why the three star rating? Well, uh, it's called "Killer Crabs." And that's what it's about. It's not exactly "The Grapes of Wrath." (less)
Homeboy gets transported to a new time, and he KNOWS that he's hanging around with the goodguys. Then, he gets captured by t...moreThis is more of the same.
Homeboy gets transported to a new time, and he KNOWS that he's hanging around with the goodguys. Then, he gets captured by the other side, and he's belligerent--but wait! Then, he realizes that NOW he's with the REAL goodguys! Until he's stolen by someone else, and he's belligerent again, until he realizes that THIS TIME he's with the goodguys! And so on.
I think this process happens about five times over the 340 pages of the first two volumes of this series. It gets tedious.
Alright, plot synopsis: Michael Moorcock's grandfather (also named Michael Moorcock) travels to China in the attempt to find the time traveler Oswald Bastable, who told him about his first adventures (printed in The Warlord of The Air) years ago before disappearing. Moorcock doesn't manage to find Bastable, but he DOES stumble across a second manuscript written by Bastable, chronicling another of his adventures. (This whole goofy framing of the story takes up a third of the book, and doesn't add anything to the story. Nor does it seem the least bit plausible.)
Bastable's actual adventure begins with his return to the temple that originally caused him to be thrown into the time stream. Once again, the temple sends him through time. However, to his dismay, it doesn't send him back to his own time, but sends him to yet another world ravaged by war.
In this world, an especially brilliant scientist has invented all sorts of complicated weapons and bombs, and then dedicated himself to designing machines to improve life for the people of Earth, and make everyone's life leisurely and relatively comfortable. But, with all the free time this gave the less wealthy, they began demanding real equality. Then, things get ugly. War breaks out, and diseases ravage the land. The world is a wasteland, and most everyone wants to be on the sea to avoid plagues that have broken out everywhere, and the Afro Samurai...I'm sorry, the 'Black Atilla'...is leading a crusade across the world, conquering areas and enslaving the Caucasians! Bastable ends up in a small Utopia-like country which is ran by President Gandhi, but then Gandhi sends him as a diplomat to work with the Black Atilla. The Black Atilla has decided to take over the USA, using his gigantic digging machine, The Land Leviathan. Of course, once Bastable is with this dude, Bastable learns that he isn't such a bad guy after all, and that he isn't really enslaving people, he's simply giving the Black People positions of slightly greater power and putting White Guys in more menial of tasks. In effect, he is simply switching the power around as a bit of revenge for all the sufferings his people went through.
It all ends with a big war and stuff. Bastable is fine, and so is the Black Atilla. And Gandhi is just fine, and charming as ever.
If all of this sounds remarkably silly, then I've done a good job of capturing the feeling of the book. I don't know how intentional the silliness is, and perhaps in a much longer book, the storyline could be made more plausible. But the storyline and characters are way, WAY less interesting than the strange world Bastable is stuck in.
Superficially, the book seems to be about issues of race. As far as what the book is actually SAYING about race, I don't know. One never gets the feeling that Moorcock condones the actions of Attila--he seems to find this racism less awful than the more extreme racism being exacted by the Caucasians still in the USA (they have reverted to slavery, forcing the Blacks to toil to the point of death). So, apparently, cruel racism is worse than more tolerant racism. Thanks, Moorcock. You really pulled out the philosophy degree for that one.
Perhaps I'm being overly harsh on this book. But, despite the short investment of time I made in reading it, I feel like I got ripped off. I put back a copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora to buy this, and now it's going on the Craptastic shelf. Damn you, Moorcock! (less)
The Warlord of the Air is an early example of steampunkery, written in the early seventies. I've never read Michael Moorcock before, nor have I read m...moreThe Warlord of the Air is an early example of steampunkery, written in the early seventies. I've never read Michael Moorcock before, nor have I read much SF from the seventies. In fact, I haven't read much steampunk, either. So, that combination of factors may color my response to the book.
The story: guy goes to temple in India in 1902, gets transported to the same temple in the seventies. Gets picked up by an airship, and starts to realize where he is--well, WHEN he is, I guess. He discovers that England, Japan and some other places are 'utopia'-esque, and he thinks it's frickin AWESOME, and he becomes an airship pilot! No wars since a long long time ago? No real violence other than the occasional revolutionary? AWESOME!
But are things really as ideal as they seem? Or are things NOT so ideal for someone, somewhere...perhaps all those colonized countries following the rule of the more powerful nations....
You bet. Things suck in those nations. And, slowly but surely, our hero converts from a soldier of England to a rebel himself!
Well, actually, it's not so slowly; nor is it so surely. This book moves FAAST, and it moves so fast that it seems a bit superficial. Our hero buys into the utopia too quickly, and then converts to a radical too quickly, and doesn't end up with any interesting personality, really. It all feels just a bit Nancy Drew. You know...this happens, which causes this to happen, which knocks over the next domino, and then the DAY IS SAVED! YAAAY!
Clearly, I didn't like the pacing, or the characters. But, Warlord of the Air is partially redeemed by the fact that it was still a fun read, and it at least ATTEMPTED to wrestle with some important social issues. Some of the passages toward the ending were a little philosophical even. I really wish this book had only been elaborated upon, and made into a 250-page book instead of a mediocre 170-pager. Then, it could've been a very good read.
But I also have the feeling that, this far after the book's writing, a lot of the ideas that were creative in the seventies just feel 'ho-hum' now.
Regardless, I enjoyed it enough to continue the trilogy, and hope I enjoy the later volumes more. This book is followed by The Land Leviathan and The Steel Tsar. (less)
My favorite Brautigan novel, based in large part on the detective's corny one-liners. Example: Detective walks in to find a dead prostitute who has be...moreMy favorite Brautigan novel, based in large part on the detective's corny one-liners. Example: Detective walks in to find a dead prostitute who has been stabbed to death with a letter-opener.
Detective says, "Somebody needs to teach this guy the difference between an envelope and a whore."
Hilarious, right? Read it. Read Brautigan. He's awesome.(less)
With this one, Rand really jumped the shark for me.
I was willing to try her philosophical essays in The Virtue of Selfishness, and I read a couple of...moreWith this one, Rand really jumped the shark for me.
I was willing to try her philosophical essays in The Virtue of Selfishness, and I read a couple of her novels as well. But, the zealous condemning of whole branches of art and literature, because it didn't fit with her idea of what art should do? Condemning Dostoyevski and embracing James Bond? Not that there's anything wrong with Ian Flemming, but still.
To make it clear what I'm arguing AGAINST, let me tell you the thesis Rand is arguing in this one: Art should glorify mankind and relish in his good qualities. It shouldn't attempt to make us empathetic towards those who aren't righteous, because the dregs of society aren't a worthy subject of literature.
If that's what she wants to read, I am fine with that. But I like the dregs! The dregs are so much more interesting! Because it is the imperfect characters that make us work as readers and as writers. Through meditating on imperfection, we are forced to confront our own. And, we are forced to be empathetic (at least a little bit) to characters like Humbert Humbert and Raskolnikov (however you spell his name). So, while we can all look up to that bitter, womanizing 007 for his pimpjuice and his manliness (they may be synonyms, but I'm not going to ask the O.E.D. or Nelly to find out), we can ALSO read about less idealized characters and be reminded that people are complex and most have a combination of good and bad in them.
In sum, I believe that different sorts of art speak to different sorts of people, and equally intelligent people can read for very different reasons. (I know, I know. I've made fun of Twilight in at least five book reviews. But, that's just because it's inconsistent, sappy and perverse . . damn! There I go again. What I meant to say is, it's all in good fun.) So, I think it is remarkably silly for anyone to spend a whole book arguing why one aesthetic sensibility is more valid or morally sound than another.
Says the guy who recommended Killer Crabs. . . . (less)
A gigantic spaceship floats into the Milky Way, and the people of Earth, Mercury, Mars and Venus send a capable crew to investigate it. Inside, they f...moreA gigantic spaceship floats into the Milky Way, and the people of Earth, Mercury, Mars and Venus send a capable crew to investigate it. Inside, they find a strange, self-sustaining environment with lots of surprises in store for them.
Rendezvous with Rama is well-written and entertaining, with no "Oh fuck" moments (moments that surprise and awe me) and no "Oh, hell" moments (moments where the writing is cringingly bad). The characters aren't especially complex, but their lack of complexity is never a distraction or an annoyance. The climax is...well, I was hoping for more. Clocking in at 200-some pages, R.W.R. is some science-fictiony entertainment for a few hours.
The most exceptional thing about this book is how excessively standard it is. Even its title screams "generic SF," and Clarke delivers. Rama seems kind of like "And the Cradle Will Rock" for SF books: any SF book better than this one rocks, any book less rockin' than this one doesn't. This book is a perfect measuring stick.
I am surprised that this is considered a classic of the genre, but what do I know? At the time, it must've been groundbreaking. Arthur C Clarke is a capable writer, and I enjoyed this one enough to read more of his work.
P.S. Thank you, Chuck Klosterman, for unknowingly letting me borrow your "And the Cradle Will Rock" theory. (less)
This one covers the topic of how to have a "just" war, and follows the assumption that wars can be carried out ethically. It's an interesting book wit...moreThis one covers the topic of how to have a "just" war, and follows the assumption that wars can be carried out ethically. It's an interesting book with lots of examples pulled from history. I can't remember Walzer ever asking the question of whether war is EVER ethical, but perhaps he did. I read this one a long time ago.(less)
Highly informative and as comprehensive as a single book can be, this history of the samurai covers everything from the political situation in Japan d...moreHighly informative and as comprehensive as a single book can be, this history of the samurai covers everything from the political situation in Japan during their reign to the curriculum samurais were expected to learn. With pictures depicting each part of the samurai armor, discussions of the poetry composed by the samurai, and also an interesting look at zen archery, this book taught me an incredible amount of knowledge, some of which I can even REMEMBER.(less)