A considerable denouement from volume 3 of the Fables deluxe editions, this volume four is a disjointed collection of back stories of the various prim...moreA considerable denouement from volume 3 of the Fables deluxe editions, this volume four is a disjointed collection of back stories of the various primary and tertiary characters. This is made the more jarring by the wildly variable artwork of the various guest illustrators featured in the issues collected here: from the beginning (a story of Bigby Wolf assisting a commando unit in World War 2) the characters are hard to distinguish from one another, and it gets worse from there. The stories remain fun, however, even if ultimately the entire collection is disposable to the larger plot of the series. One could skip this whole volume and not be at a disadvantage when the story continues, but one would miss some genuinely nice bits, such as the story that shows King Cole in a noble light (hearkening back to "Life is Beautiful" or "Red Noses," which goes a long way to explain his long popularity in Fabletown), or the story of Reynard's escape from the Homelands.(less)
Whoops! I see now, going to write this review, that I skipped book 3 and went straight to this, book 4 of the "Bone" series. Interestingly, "Bone" is...moreWhoops! I see now, going to write this review, that I skipped book 3 and went straight to this, book 4 of the "Bone" series. Interestingly, "Bone" is a bit like a beloved sitcom TV show in that I didn't miss skipping an entire volume at all. It's like nothing happened in book 3...
Book 4 is about Phoney Bone's swindling the townsfolk into believing that dragons are a danger, and so they exalt him and pay his exorbitant fees to "protect" them from the non-existent threat. Meanwhile, Thorn begins to Turn and we find out a bit more about the Locust and their motivations. Lots of humor, a smidge of teenage romance, and gradual reveals of a larger fantasy story continue to ensure my enjoyment of this series.(less)
I really wish that I hadn't read Rose, because it tells everything that the "Bone" series is showing. Of course, I had no idea that they were in any w...moreI really wish that I hadn't read Rose, because it tells everything that the "Bone" series is showing. Of course, I had no idea that they were in any way related when I picked up the book - I hadn't read any "Bone" at the time, didn't know the author, and nothing on the "Rose" book indicated it was related to "Bone." Still, I'm enjoying the "Bone" series even with that extensive spoiler.
"Bone" is funny, as well as being an interesting fantasy story, with slapstick, sarcasm and irony in enjoyable amounts. In this one, Fone Bone pines for Thorn, who is having nightmares as her "turning" approaches and the Locust's agents draw near. Phoney Bone continues to swindle the villagers (a scam to fix the annual Great Cow Race), and Smiley Bone provides a light comic touch throughout - he's the Harpo of the group.
This comic was first published when I was finishing my stint at university, and I remember dismissing it because I didn't care for the Shmoo-looking art style. It's a good lesson that I should not go with my gut, or at least not judge books by my first impression of their art style. I'm thoroughly enjoying this as a break from my reading of novels. Of course, it helps that at the moment I'm trying to slog through Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," which is getting tiresome for all the pages devoted to explaining the virtues of polygamy...(less)
Having misplaced my copy of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, I picked up a bunch of comics I'd set aside for just such an occasion. That's OK, because I...moreHaving misplaced my copy of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, I picked up a bunch of comics I'd set aside for just such an occasion. That's OK, because I was getting pretty tired of Heinlein's social philosophy. "Fables" is the perfect break.
This is the third deluxe edition, which combines books 5 and 6 of the "Fables" graphic novels, which are themselves collections of the monthly comic issues. So this is a spread of issues, something like issue 18 - issue 29. It's hard to say for sure, as both the graphic novels and these deluxe editions switch some of the one-shot stories around a bit, as they don't really advance the main story.
This one is primarily the "March of the Wooden Soldiers" plot, in which (view spoiler)['The Adversary' sends an initial invasion of wooden soldiers built by Geppetto to assault Fabletown and The Farm, the two real-world enclaves for fairy-tale characters in New York. (hide spoiler)] I continue to like this series and wish that I'd paid attention to it when it was first published. That was sort of a comics Dark Ages for me, though, so I'm glad that I've at least found this now.
An aside: I've finally been watching the anime Bleach, and I can't help but be struck by the plot similarities between the two. (view spoiler)[In both, there's an awesomely powerful enemy in another dimension. All the protagonists know that the enemy is planning to invade, and live in dread preparation for the day when the invasion happens at last. The difference is that in Bleach, they sort of know that the invasion will use Arrancar, and in "Fables," they don't know what the Adversary will use. So they're surprised when the Pinocchio clones show up to attack. (I liked the artwork, that each 'wooden soldier' actually has Pinocchio's head, implying either that Geppetto is a one-trick pony, or that he misses his son so much that he keeps trying to make him anew out of an obsessive love) (hide spoiler)]
This is not revealing too much to say that, in this story arc, the tale turns a bit darker, with many supporting characters being killed. The invasion has begun!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This deluxe edition book combines books 3 and 4 in the Fables series, and continues the entertaining story of the fairy tale characters taking refuge...moreThis deluxe edition book combines books 3 and 4 in the Fables series, and continues the entertaining story of the fairy tale characters taking refuge from the multi-dimensional tyrant/conqueror "The Adversary" in New York City.
The story is fine on its own - I really enjoyed it - but writing the above summary, I can't help think it would be hilarious to have a "What If?" crossover with the Fantastic Four...
Anyway, this series inspires people so much they've turned it into a video game ("The Wolf Among Us"), much as has been done with "The Walking Dead." Of the two titles, I prefer "Fables" as a comic: the characters are more developed and, while awful stuff does happen, it has light moments as well.
In books 3 and 4, Bigby Wolf continues to be an important character (book 2 had him taking a back seat to developing many of the other characters), and we find a bit more about his history, (view spoiler)[including the revelation that Snow White has been a big motivation for him to ally with the human Fables since the beginning - her smell is irresistible to him - and that he smokes incessantly to deaden his sense of smell so that he can live so close to others and not tear them apart. (hide spoiler)]
A comic for adults, "Fables" never particularly feels gratuitous to me in foul language, graphic violence, or sex, though all are present in small amounts. This is in stark contrast to many of the other comics for adults I've been reading, such as all the Brian K Vaughan comics I've read in the past few years: "Y: The Last Man," "Saga," and "Ex-Machina" all throw those in apparently using some formula of frequency. Said another way, I find the writing particularly appealing. Willingham's style reminds me of Grant Morrison more than a little.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
It's interesting reading Heinlein again, after a break of a couple of decades. He's definitely an "American"...moreMy first draft of this review. INCOMPLETE
It's interesting reading Heinlein again, after a break of a couple of decades. He's definitely an "American" author, in the way that British SF authors use the term so dismissively: Heinlein writes stories that are unabashedly positive about Science and Engineering (and how both, as representatives of Human Knowledge in general, are our future). This one is also about Space, written as it was right after the Soviets launched Sputnik into orbit - the start of the twelve-years of the Space Race. So it is filled with enthusiasm about space travel, but to me it doesn't come across as propaganda exactly; it's more like a reflection of the times in which Heinlein was writing this. I get the feeling that society as a whole had the space bug, and that everyone was gung-ho and eager to explore the furthest reaches of the solar system.
But Heinlein has always written interesting stories, too. This one takes a George Bailey-type character, Clifford "Kip" Russell, who has no particular talent for anything - he's a middling student in a middle-class family in a podunk town - but who has a passion for travel...specifically, travel to the Moon. When it comes to the Moon, he can apply himself to whatever needs to be done. So he teaches himself engineering and math, as well as calculating what are the best careers to give him a chance of a trip to the Moon. He works hard at raising enough money for college tuition, but realizes that he's going to have to work for years to get there.
An aside here: in looking for a copy of this book, I discovered that American libraries have mysteriously cataloged this as juvenile fiction - yet another instance of bad cataloging. The book starts off with a reminiscence of Kip as a child, when he first discovered his passion for the Moon. There's also a girl who features prominently in the second half of the book as a supporting character...but neither of these make this a book for children, or even about children. It's a book about self-discovery of a young, college-age adult. You might be able to argue it as appropriate for YA readers, but it's not a children's book at all. Grrr.
I've always enjoyed this series, but I'd only ever read volume 1, which I bought probably twenty years ago. So I was delighted to see this in the libr...moreI've always enjoyed this series, but I'd only ever read volume 1, which I bought probably twenty years ago. So I was delighted to see this in the library and checked it out on impulse.
My reaction with this volume - as we get into more of the history of nations than the first volume - is that it would have greatly benefited from a different format. It is limited by the fact that it was published first as separate issues in a series; possibly more than any other conversion of a comic series to a "graphic novel" format. This is because each issue presents one culture's development over a certain period. It's very well done and funny, as usual, but I found myself really wanting to be able to more easily compare what was happening at the same time in other parts of the world. While I was reading this, I was bothered by this again and again - there's no easy way to cross-reference what was happening simultaneously in the other realms the book follows. In particular, I wanted to compare what was happening in Greece with what was happening in China with what was happening in India.
Now that I write that, however, I realize that the narratives that Gonick created would have been completely destroyed by a simultaneous or side-by-side telling of each society. If anything, the collected volume makes it easier to jump back and forth between cultures (not easy, just easier) to figure out what was happening in parallel.
Given my reading of Cartoon History of the United States, I know to take Gonick's interpretation of facts with a grain of salt, but in most cases, the facts can speak for themselves, and I really enjoyed this volume. Any reading of history should be done through a filter of skepticism, but as an overview of both Western and Eastern history, this is pretty delightful.(less)
Simply put, this is a NASA version of Robinson Crusoe. An astronaut is stranded on Mars and has to survive until he can be rescued.
Of all the retellin...moreSimply put, this is a NASA version of Robinson Crusoe. An astronaut is stranded on Mars and has to survive until he can be rescued.
Of all the retellings of the basic Robinson Crusoe story, in some regards this one is the most like the original. It tells the character's story chronologically, moving from despair at certain death through resolve to survive to reaching the actual equilibrium of survival, isolated in a hostile environment. There's a reason this story gets told over and over again: as tool users, we human just love scenarios in which someone uses their wits to create their own tools to control their own destinies. I mean, we love that. For many, it's pure wish-fulfillment: that we are capable of Doing It - whatever it is - Completely On Our Own. So this is a book for problem-solvers, engineers, survival nuts, and/or aficionados of real-life space exploration.
In another regard, it's very different from Robinson Crusoe, though. It completely lacks any philosophical consideration, and that was absolutely central to Defoe's work. The character's journey makes no sense if you subtract his wrestling with the meaning of existence and God, which ultimately suggests that Robinson was not Doing It On His Own. On that level, The Martian fails to show protagonist Mark Watney's existential angst at all. He's presented as a quintessential loner - in fact he has been psych-profiled and tested to ensure that he thrives as a loner before he was selected for the mission - and as an easygoing joker, always ready with a smile and a laugh. The conceit of the book is that it is transcripts of Watney's journal/mission log entries, which he continues to enter on the off-chance that future missions to Mars would retrieve the record long after he's died. That conceit distances us from Watney's emotional state, as he never enters anything despairing or hopeless. Sometimes he suggests that he was feeling that way earlier, but he manages to get a grip on it before coming back to write another log entry. So we never really see any insight into his internal processing of what's happened and is happening to him. Instead, we get a series of decisions and task descriptions. The closest we thing to any emotional state is frequent expletives Watney uses to convey his reaction to some setback or another.
And there are a LOT of setbacks. Weir seems to be following the screenwriter's mantra of "Raise The Stakes," because he never misses an opportunity to push things closer to the brink of disaster. You have to take it all as science fantasy for engineers, however, because Watney never describes how he maintains physical health through the whole ordeal. (view spoiler)[The initial set-up has him impaled by a piece of flying debris, but there is never any mention at all of how he treated himself for the gaping wound, much less how he recovered without infection or fever or really any downtime at all. I read the whole book expecting that it was actually the obvious "Brazil" ending: that he was, in fact, dreaming all of it as he slowly died from blood poisoning. But no, it wasn't the obvious: it was just a big Plot Hole. Watney is apparently a cyborg, because nothing physical affects him. He liberally uses his own shit to fertilize his food, but never experiences any deleterious health effects of all those bacteria flying around in his closed environment. The closest thing to any malady that the astronaut has is some muscle soreness, which he magics away with painkiller drugs. I suspect that health problems - being as they are outside of our control - did not interest Weir and would have detracted from the whole "if you're clever enough, you can do anything" vibe that the book presents. (hide spoiler)]
Rather than finding support through faith or philosophy, astronaut Mark Watney has the support of NASA (and, eventually, most of Earth) to assist him, once they discover that he's not yet dead. This is, of course, the other huge difference between The Martian and Robinson Crusoe: others know exactly where he is and care about where he is. They actively work to get him back to safety. This actually enlivens the book a great deal, as it allows for the introduction of many other characters, from the wry Mission Control lead Venkat Kapoor to the coprolalic NASA PR honcho Annie, as well as five other astronauts. Some of these work better than others - Venkat and Annie are particularly fun - while others, such as the German astronaut, are cartoonish caricatures. But they serve two important purposes: further opportunities for exposition, and more opportunities for jokes.
The book is funny. It's kind of a popcorn read, but the jokes had me chuckling and occasionally guffawing with delight. Mostly it's Mark Watney. Remember how I said he was an easygoing joker? Well, he's constantly being irreverent, both in his log and in his interactions with the people on Earth. At times he's flippant, sometimes he engages in hyperbole, and at other times he's sarcastic. I'd probably recommend the book just for the jokes alone.
In the end, I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to DIY, is an introvert, has an appreciation for sarcasm, or is a survivalist. I would not recommend it to anyone who is an extrovert or a people person; I described the book to such a friend recently, and she shuddered with loathing at the very idea, as the book would just be setting her up for several weeks' worth of nightmares.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This is one of the better disaster novels I've read in a long time. In fact, it is this novel's resemblance to Robinson Crusoe, the prototype of all d...moreThis is one of the better disaster novels I've read in a long time. In fact, it is this novel's resemblance to Robinson Crusoe, the prototype of all disaster novels, that is the greatest aspect of World War Z. The conceit that sets it apart from other disaster novels like The Stand, Lucifer's Hammer, or The Rift is that this is an oral history compiled after the fact by the survivors. So there is none of the tension of whether the characters will survive - you know because you're reading the story that they did survive - it's simply an engrossing journey finding out how they survived. In essence, World War Z is a collection of short stories - each one detailing a different way that people at first survived and, in some of them, conquered a plague of undead.
The book is set up as a series of interviews conducted by a war correspondent hired by the United Nations to create a comprehensive factual history of "what happened during the war" as told by significant figures in the worldwide conflict. The factual report is not included - the novel is the compilation of notes and interviews the journalist gathered as background material for the report, over the course of the decade after "VA" (Victory America) day. This conceit sets up an interesting situation that is unusual in the apocalyptic genre, because it requires that global infrastructure remain intact. The journalist has to travel all over the world to interview dozens of people in dozens of countries, and that requires that global transportation and all the industries that support that remain largely intact or restored after the war. So in that sense, it is an unusually cheery apocalypse novel, and a stark contrast to things like Y: the Last Man, with which it otherwise has some common elements (astronauts stuck in orbit, for one).
(view spoiler)[The implication is that the zombie apocalypse started as an ancient Chinese curse, uncovered by culturally-insensitive flooding of river valleys that destroyed temples containing Things Best Left Alone. The plague is effectively viral, transmitted into the bloodstream by bites, other punctures, or, most disastrously, through operations. An infected person may have several days without showing signs of infection, during which he can move an interact normally (also potentially infecting others), but then the virus overcomes him, his health quickly deteriorates, and, on death, the body reanimates as a George Romero zombie: a shambling animate corpse that hungers for flesh to devour which can only be stopped by destroying the remnants of the brain.
It is at this point that I should mention that the film of the same name has nothing to do with the novel. That is apparent from the very beginning of the film, in which zombies are shown in the first couple of minutes as exactly opposite of how they are portrayed in the novel. This has no bearing on the novel, but I have to say I was disappointed with the film because it doesn't present ANY of the survivors' stories from the novel. Serves me right - one is always disappointed to see a film AFTER reading the book.
Back to the novel: the communist Chinese government fails to acknowledge the threat when it first appears, and so infected end up being distributed all over the world through air travel and, more damningly, through transport of organs for transplants. Hospitals and clinics all over the world are suddenly sources of outbreaks, and the plague spreads outward from medical facilities all over the planet. Most of the rest of the book involves accounts of the spread of the zombie hordes, as well as measures different countries took to contain and protect uninfected survivors. At least two thirds of the world's population is lost to the zombies before the tide turns and humanity begins exterminating the plague carriers (two hundred million zombies in the United States, with the US as one of the least destroyed nations in the world. Iceland is repeatedly referenced as the most destroyed, with fully 100% loss of human life).
Like most disaster stories, World War Z presents us a pastiche of stories, blending both the sacrificial nobility and horrible savagery of which humanity is capable. People are shown to be clever and stupid, brutal and kind, compassionate and heartless. (hide spoiler)]
While I really liked the conceit, it did limit the book in some respects. Most obviously, the tension of who would survive and who wouldn't is absent. The first-person narrative wears me out a little after three hundred pages; as generally a fan of disaster novels, I like to see some third person narrative so that characters I come to enjoy are seen to interact with each other. But the narrative conceit here doesn't allow for character interaction at all. So stories are vaguely related to one another at best. Finally, the idea that the author was able to travel all over the world to these dozens of countries stretches credulity a great deal, but the idea that he was able to find all these people to get their stories is even less believable!
For the most part, I didn't dwell on these issues. They're all drawbacks to the central conceit of the novel, and that conceit - interviews with survivors - was refreshingly different enough that I could mostly overlook the problems it presented. I really enjoyed this book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This is probably the most memoir of all the memoirs I've read. That is to say, this memoir of a Iowa librarian who found, nurtured and was in turn nur...moreThis is probably the most memoir of all the memoirs I've read. That is to say, this memoir of a Iowa librarian who found, nurtured and was in turn nurtured by a alley kitten is a collection of memories that jumps around chronologically the way a person actually remembers things: not really in the order they happened, but in the order they happen to be recalled. That makes for an engaging picture of a cat and a country that loved it, but it also made it a slightly more difficult narrative to follow - like the difference between a David Lean movie and a Tarantino film.
It's interesting in large part because Myron is telling three stories simultaneously: the story of Iowa (specifically the town of Spencer), her own biography, and the story of the cat, Dewey. (view spoiler)[In 1988, someone callously drops a young kitten into the library's book return slot, and the librarians find him half-dead in the morning. They nurture him back to health and the cat imprints on Myron and on her workplace, where he lives for the next eighteen years, brightening people's lives and charming the world. Myron is the latest in a long line of doughty farmwomen whose big personalities and indomitable wills shape the world around them through closely-knit families, but her life doesn't work exactly that way. Married very young, her loving husband turns to drink more and more, until she is left with no way out but divorce. With a single child and on her own, Myron builds friendships to supplant the missing husband, and she comes to rely on friends and family to help raise her daughter as her career grows and her health worsens. Her daughter Jodi grows into a stranger and it is largely the foundling cat, which they name Dewey Readmore Books (along with distance once Jodi is an adult and moves away) that helps them grow back together, as he loves them both unconditionally and they love him, too. Life on the plains changes over the course of three generations: small farmers give way, over the course of several depressions and recessions, to large farming conglomerates, some towns dry up and are leveled into the corn, and Spencer struggles to survive. Dewey is one aspect that helps, as his story grows and grows, until it is told all over the northern hemisphere, attracting visitors to come to Spencer from at least three continents. (hide spoiler)]
The book is emotionally engaging, as I have loved cats in my life. The people of the library spoil that cat rotten, and they get unending love in return. It makes me somewhat regretful that I'd never heard of Dewey before my wife asked me to check out this book for our kids. It turns out, though, that I think this isn't a book for kids: it contains a large amount of sophisticated and adult subject matter - not violence or sex, which is what people generally mean when they say "adult," but rather addiction, cancer, pettiness, death, change, estrangement and vindictiveness in great measure. The book certainly wasn't written for kids, and quite possibly we're the only people who considered having their kids read it, so it may not be an issue for you. It's not that kids should be shielded from these, but that they aren't concerned with them: they haven't been touched by them, and so they can't relate to them. Their inability to relate to the hard stuff makes it difficult for them to appreciate how Dewey's affection balanced those things, and thus to them the book seems like an endless repetition of the idea that "Dewey was so loving, he was the glue that kept us together," which is an idea that doesn't take nearly 200 pages to convey. I liked the book, but I think only people who have experienced a bit more of life will appreciate it themselves.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
A manga-style comic adaptation of the Shyamalan film, "The Last Airbender," this is enjoyable primarily as a way to evoke nostalgia for the great stor...moreA manga-style comic adaptation of the Shyamalan film, "The Last Airbender," this is enjoyable primarily as a way to evoke nostalgia for the great story of the original TV series.(less)
Well-written, Best Served Cold kept me engaged despite the one-note revenge plot (it is essentially a fantasy version of "Kill Bill"). Like "Kill Bill...moreWell-written, Best Served Cold kept me engaged despite the one-note revenge plot (it is essentially a fantasy version of "Kill Bill"). Like "Kill Bill," the story unfolds as a series of elaborate assassination scenarios, as the protagonist stops at nothing to wreak vengeance on the cabal of allies & employers who betrayed her. It's written a bit like George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire," except without all the warm fuzzy bits, which isn't surprising when you realize that Abercrombie is from the northern UK, a region known in modern SF and fantasy to produce authors specializing in stories of brutality and hopelessness. A number of times while I read the book, I asked myself "Why am I reading this, when the plot has no redeeming value? Do I really want to steep myself in unforgiving, unrelenting revenge?" Each time, I decided that the writing's quality was worth it. And in the end, a few of the characters do demonstrate some positive qualities.
Aside from the gory descriptions of violence and death in every chapter, I found myself irritated by only one thing: the repeated telling that "vengeance solves nothing," said again and again by different characters in many different ways. That really wasn't necessary at all, given that the story more than adequately shows us this again and again.
But the characters really make the story interesting. Yes, they're broadly drawn, but they're well-realized despite all that. You have the sarcastic assassin, the dumb warrior who's trying to turn a new leaf, the flamboyantly vain poisoner and his vapid apprentice, the charismatic fast-talking mercenary captain, and the laconic ex-con with no moral compass but plenty of OCD, in addition to the main protagonist, who was left for dead and has lost everything...and only the thought of revenge keeps her going. These are all characters we've seen before in books, TV and film, but they still play off of each other well.
Mentioning "A Song of Ice and Fire," this book has even less of the fantastical in it. In fact, for three-fifths of the book, there is nothing supernatural at all, and it could be read as an imagined early Renaissance story of mercenaries, murder and madness. So if you need magic in your fantasy, you're probably going to be disappointed with this one. But, abruptly, more than halfway through, the assassin Shenkt is introduced, as he is hired to hunt down and kill the protagonists. Shenkt is straight out of Logan's Run or "The Continuing Time" series with his time-bending abilities that effectively give him frightening superpowers. He also adds a fair bit of tension, as you know that nothing can stop him (and this is repeatedly demonstrated each time his story continues, as he tracks down the avenging mercenaries) and it's only a matter of time before he catches up to the protagonists and settles their hash. I found Shenkt to be a welcome addition and a needed foil for the protagonists, as by then it was beginning to seem like their revenge was inevitable.
I'm also glad that this is a stand-alone volume, not part of a series.(less)
I think it’s hard for modern readers to imagine the cultural landscape back before fantasy became commonplace and widely accepted. Back when McCaffrey...moreI think it’s hard for modern readers to imagine the cultural landscape back before fantasy became commonplace and widely accepted. Back when McCaffrey wrote this, before Star Wars, there was very little presence of fantasy in pop culture. Sure, there was plenty of good fantasy to read if you knew where to look, but for most of the general populace, awareness of fantasy was limited to The Lord of the Rings, which had been published twenty years earlier. So when McCaffrey published her Pern novels, they took the world by storm. Each book lived on the bestseller lists; every home had a copy; the Pern novels were used to launch the kind of marketing juggernaut that’s expected today but which was astonishing at the time. Everywhere I went, growing up, Pern and Lord of the Rings merchandise abounded. Calendars, atlases, video games, lunch boxes, T-shirts, posters, costumes, toys, stuffed animals: there seemed no amount of the stuff that could satisfy the public appetite for Pern materials. I have to admit, I was turned off and intimidated by all the hype, and so it was this long before I got around to reading them.
I’m glad I did, at last. It is a good read, even if the break between the first and second books seems arbitrary. I’ve said many times in the past that the best way to appreciate books in a series is to space them out with plenty of time between one book/episode/installment/issue and the next. Reading series installments back-to-back can often lead to dissatisfaction with voice, style, and even thematic changes, as the author has changed in the time it took between writing different volumes. That said, it’s always interesting to read a book that begins immediately where the last book left off, without any break at all. I’m left wondering whether the books were actually written as a single volume that was then split into parts by the publisher, as with Hyperion and The Lord of the Rings. So it is here: Dragonsinger picks up the narrative of Dragonsong without any pause more than a paragraph break. I actually found this a bit refreshing, as it also means that the book makes no attempt to present “our story so far:” if you haven’t read Dragonsong before this, you’re out of luck. There are no explanations of setting, background, personality or appearance of characters from the first book, or anything else. I loved that.
The break between novels does make some sense, if you can accept the premise that a break was needed at all. Our heroine, Menolly, was isolated and on her own in the first book. It was almost a Robinson Crusoe story of survival against the elements, ending with her joyous acceptance back into society. This book is about school, and as such it somewhat feels like a precursor to Harry Potter and all its imitators, if they were set in a music college in a medieval setting...essentially a school for bards. While there is no prophecy presaging Menolly’s arrival (hallelujah!), she is possessed of preternatural gifts: both an amazing musician and a tamer of fire lizards. But this is not a story about magic: it’s a story about Menolly coming to accept her gifts despite the intense prejudice and criticism she has experienced for those gifts up until this point. She is exceptionally talented as a musician, lyricist, and composer, but it takes quite some time for her to first recognize that these things are important and praiseworthy. That’s really what the story arc in the book is: it’s very internal, and not a lot happens externally in the book, which takes place over the course of one week (though I did cheer when (view spoiler)[Menolly hauled off and clocked the Lord Holder’s son after everyone was a jerk to her (hide spoiler)]). She moves from self-doubt to self-confidence, makes some enemies and makes some friends. That’s about it, though there were some events ((view spoiler)[the dragonrider warping to another planet to try to destroy the source of the Thread! Good grief! What an idiot! (hide spoiler)]) that I assume foreshadow future developments. It’ll seem sparse and the main character may even seem obtuse to fans of heroic fantasy (“Why doesn’t she get how great she is??”), but I enjoyed it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Awesome. I'd read this a decade or so ago, and I recalled being very impressed with it, but not much else. So I re-read it, today. I'm very, very impr...moreAwesome. I'd read this a decade or so ago, and I recalled being very impressed with it, but not much else. So I re-read it, today. I'm very, very impressed with Sachar's writing, particularly his plotting, and how every tangled detail ends up being relevant to the story...it's up there with Jones and Kingsolver and McDonald in terms of the sheer craft that went into this book. By the end, I was laughing out loud just as I did with The Bean Trees, which is to say out of sheer delight for the artistry I was witnessing. I'm selling it too high, I know, but I am very, very impressed.
I'd love to read this aloud to my kids, but I hesitate. Some books benefit from being read aloud, and some are best read aloud - Keillor's works spring to mind - but many books are so perfectly crafted for the printed word that they lose something in just hearing them. This, I think, is one of those.
On one level, the book is about a boy named Stanley who is convicted of a theft he didn't commit, and given the choice to work at a penal camp or go to prison. Thinking it would be preferable, he and his family choose the camp, Camp Green Lake. On another level, the book is about the history of several immigrant families, the reasons they left their homes, and the history of the Texas community where they arrived in the United States.
A blend of whimsy, melancholy, and dull allegory translated from the French, The Little Prince is probably more interesting for the story of the autho...moreA blend of whimsy, melancholy, and dull allegory translated from the French, The Little Prince is probably more interesting for the story of the author than for its actual content . I've tried reading this book at least a single dozen times (and maybe more dozens) in my lifetime, and had never managed to get through it until now. There are certainly things that stick with you: the narrator's amusing anecdote about drawing a boa constrictor eating an elephant, his petulant analysis of how the inability of adults to understand this childhood drawing kept him from what could have been a glorious career as a painter, the plane crash in the Sahara, the boy who lived on an asteroid a few meters in diameter, and the problem with baobabs.
But what I forget each time - until I try reading it again - is the tedious weird stuff, like the boy falling madly in love with a Scarlett O'Hara-level manipulative and vain talking flower, how he's so miserable in his besotted state that he must leave his home rather than spend another minute not living up to her expectations, and the dopey filler allegorical material as the boy visits various other asteroids and the author indulges himself in ham-handed social criticism. Usually I have set the book down after the first ten pages of the boy dealing with the codependent flower, but other times I've managed to make it to the Greedy Businessman, or perhaps the Drunkard, before putting the book down in despair of finding any enjoyment.
Reading it this time, determined to push through, I realized that I cannot stand obvious allegory in children's books. As distasteful as I found the horrible shrew of a flower, the succession of caricatures that the boy encounters as he travels from "planet" to "planet" really exasperated me. Once the prince finally gets to Earth, however, the story improves again, regaining a focus on universal concepts like what it means to love and how to appreciate what one has rather than clumsy social commentary. It still isn't particularly graceful in this, but at least it's easier to stomach.
Harold and the Purple Crayon also takes a page from The Little Prince (many books seem to either pay tribute to, or are inspired by, this 1942 book), in that the drawings that the narrator makes will become reality, at least in the boy's mind. The narrator engages in a funny couple of pages, trying to draw a satisfactory sheep for the boy, which the boy plans to take back to his planet with him.
(view spoiler)[Beyond love, the book also discusses the metaphysical, with death implied as being the form of travel that the boy employs (if you're like me, the method of travel between planets was a nagging question for most of the book): you could read it that he dies on each planet, so that his spirit can race to his next destination unencumbered...and then somehow incarnates again. Or it could just be that he traveled in some other fashion, and that he chooses death in the end to escape the pain and loneliness. So the book also comes out as pretty positive about suicide. The boy befriends a poisonous sand snake - he can talk to anything - who represents Death, and promises him that "I can carry you farther than any ship could take you." Then, inevitably, the boy chooses to die by poison on the anniversary of his arrival on Earth. This selfish act is presented as noble and glamorized further by the disappearance of the boy's body overnight (could be his method of travel, could be jackals). John Steakley's Armor ends in a similar way, with the narrator wondering "Are you out there, somewhere?"
The book actually steps up the metaphysical even further, after the boy dies, with a meandering Schrödinger's cat-like supposition about the muzzle that the author drew for the boy. Will it be enough to keep the sheep from eating the flower? Due to a failure in the narrator's artistry, the muzzle might fail at any moment, or it might not, so the narrator belabors the point, prompting us readers to consider for ourselves whether the flower is eaten or not, at any particular moment. And it is supposed to be tragic if the flower has been eaten, or just tense with the potential for tragedy if it hasn't...yet. (hide spoiler)]
There's both a lot to like and a lot to dislike in this book. I'm glad I stuck it through and forced myself to slog through it this time, because some of the later material is much improved over the allegorical fluff in the middle, and because I've finally read another entry in the English-language canon.
1 - The author drew upon his own life a great deal for his narrator; he was a lifelong aviator and daredevil, and did at one point in his life crash his plane in the Sahara (during an air race). He was depressed and outraged at the fate of France in World War 2, and traveled to the US to agitate for intervention in the war. It was while in the US that he wrote "The Little Prince" partly as a response to the great success of "Mary Poppins." His health failing, his marriage dissolving, he decided to enlist in the air force late in the war. Even though he was too old and infirm for active duty, the French armed forces couldn't refuse the request of such a national celebrity, and so he was able to fly a bunch of reconnaissance missions before his plane disappeared one day. The French were left dramatically wondering "Are you out there, Antoine? Are you out there?" for decades, until the wreckage of his plane was found 200 miles and 90 degrees removed from his official flight path. The official belief is that he was heroically shot down, but to my mind, it's not hard to imagine that he wanted to end it all.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
A very funny, quick read, Roderick Rules continues the "Malcolm in the Middle" adventures of Greg Heffley that began in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with a p...moreA very funny, quick read, Roderick Rules continues the "Malcolm in the Middle" adventures of Greg Heffley that began in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with a particular emphasis on Greg's interactions with his jerky older brother Roderick. Make no mistake - this is a series of vignettes about people behaving badly and being vindictive to one another, but it is often surprisingly clever, and I laughed long and loud at the sequence where Greg writes a parable about his brother and then gets Roderick's feedback. Greg is himself such a louse that you don't have too much pity for him when his plots consistently turn awry and bite him. In this volume, we also see a bit more of Greg's parents, and what tools they are as well. In all, this book was like slapstick: it was cathartic, but good in small doses. If you read too much of this sort of stuff at once, the mean-spirited conniving and embittered resentment might wear on you a bit.(less)