In October of 2005, two books of the same genre were released. Both dealt with vampires and romance. Only one achieved worldwide fame and launched a phenomena yet to be matched since. The other book was Octavia E. Butler's final story to the world, Fledgling, which deserves far more critical recognition and fans than the tepid uninspired Twilight series.
The main character of Fledgling, Shori, is no regular run of the mill vampire. She is an successful experiment in making vampires who can walk around during the day and even in the sun, albeit bundled up with skin covered. She may be fifty-plus years but she looks like a child, has dark skin and although at first is unsure of the world around her due to her amnesia is revealed to be someone who is a fast learner and proud but not to the point of arrogance. Straddling the parallel worlds of humankind and Inakind, Shori is forced to learn more about her past and her people's ways as she searches for protection from those who want her dead. In order to survive, Shori must take in symbionts that she can feed on - a good deal of them, in fact, six to seven humans that can give her their blood and create connections with her through the venom in her fangs.
As our eyes and ears through this strange new world, Shori's own lack of knowledge about her fellow Ina serves as a clever storytelling device so that Butler can show us as readers the stark contrasts between our own culture and the culture of the vampiric Ina. The Ina's ways and ideals will unsettle the reader in their alienness: they live in communities and gather up humans to be both their symbionts and protectors while they sleep; make major decisions through their council that is made up of the old Ina families who have managed to survive over the years; they do not mind giving up their sons and daughters for bonding if it means more Ina will be born; no one is concerned about women Ina having same-sex symbionts but the presence of the genetically modified dark-skinned Shori raises the heckles of some of the more old school members of the community. It is an intriguing and frightening world that sadly will never be further explored in any following novels due to the author's passing - but you can see that there were many stories still left to be told in this verse that would have been simply wonderful to read.
The novel Fledgling is not only a vampire novel, but a startling look at the world of humans and how it responds when it interacts with the more supernatural elements like the Ina. Butler's writing is rich and colorful and draws the reader in like no other. It would be hard to read this book and not be pulled into the world of the Ina, into Shori's struggle and the trouble that always seems to follow her wherever she goes. Every character is fleshed out and become real in Butler's masterful hands; the world of Fledgling is not black and white, there are no clear-cut villains or heroes, and definitely no easy answers.
Why does Fledgling qualify as a book for the LGBT Challenge? Because of Shori. She engages in several lesbian relationships through her symbionts and feels for them like she feels for her male symbionts including Wright, her first. Not only that, but the Ina community as a whole does not seem to have any problems with same-sex symbiotic relationships. The relations between Ina and their symbionts are complicated indeed, but issues as sex and gender certainly do not present themselves as issues. If Shori were to be labeled with a sexuality, she would be a bisexual, as she has fallen in love with both men and women. Shori seems to fall in love without realizing it at first, probably because she is still so "new" at heart and still adapting to the ways of society. (It also doesn't hurt that the novel was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award in 2005.)
If you are looking for a vampire story that is both compelling and intelligent and overall a beautifully crafted read, please consider picking up Fledgling and giving it a try. You won't be disappointed.
There are novels. And then there is "A Prayer For Owen Meany". It's spirit and scope is so large that it is almost inconceivable that Iriving was able to encompass so many things in one novel - but he did. And wow, what a wonderful novel it is. I could go on for pages and pages on the fantastic writing, the wit and the heartbreak, the character that is Owen Meany - but honestly, if you haven't read "A Prayer For Owen Meany" yet, it would be better to go in as fresh as possible, knowing as little as possible of the story. It was a bit difficult just to find a synopsis that wasn't terribly spoiler-filed (avoid both Amazon and Barnes & Noble if you wish to remain spoiler-free as both reveal a Very Big Plot Event in their summaries).
This book is wildly acclaimed by critics all around. Its so dangerously thought-provoking that, as Banned Books Challenge points out, it was banned/censored around the U.S. for its stances on religion and warfare. If you want a great story with equally great characters and a wonderful writing style - just do yourself a favor and pick up "A Prayer For Owen Meany" and read it. Then read it again. And keep it close to your heart. I cannot recommend this book enough.
(Note: Although I have not seen the "adaptation" of the book that is Simon Birch . . . I have the feeling that it is probably better to avoid watching it. As you read the book, you'll see why it was deemed pretty much unfilmable for so long.)(less)
On occasion, you come along novels that are so startling fresh and outspoken that they leave you thinking long after the last page. For most readers, The Unit is - or will be - one of those novels. It is a science-fiction premise but it is presented in a fashion most unlike the sci-fi we normally read: it is human and intimate in scope, yet approaches revolutionary ideas with an open-minded narrative that it's impossible to really put this book in one genre or another.
Our protagonist, Dorrit Weger, has been deemed by society expendable, so she is sent to a facility where she will be taken care of as they experiment on her person and eventually give away all her major organs away, leading to her death. She enters, perfectly resigned, but that doesn't make a good story, does it? So naturally, something happens to make her realize how terribly wrong this all is: she falls in love. And it is through this new relationship - and the memories she falls back on from time to time - that brings this character around in a new light, makes us question the novel's brave new world which we are thrust into from page one.
Like many novels of its ilk, The Unit has a controversial ending. Obviously, I won't say what happens, but it is the kind of ending to divide readers and have them question both Miss Holmqvist's motives as well as the true meaning of the story. The main question of the novel is never really answered by either Dorrit, the rest of the cast, or the narrative: is the world of the Unit wrong? That is a question better answered by the individual reader, to promote discussion over the touchy subjects brought up by Holmqvist's writing - and rightly so. Stories like 1984 and The Giver are classics because they bring up questions and leave their audience to provide their own answers. Only time will tell if The Unit will join their ranks. (less)
There are probably few readers of this blog who are not at least halfway familiar with the story of Hamlet, but for those whose memory may be a bit murky, here's a recap: Hamlet's father, the king is dead. The king's ghost tells Hamlet that his killer is his brother, now the current king and new husband of Hamlet's mum. Hamlet vows to have his revenge, and goes freaking nuts in the process. Also, Ophelia, who is by far the craziest of them all (no one out-crazies Ophelia!).
So, how well did Neil Babra actually do? I mean, he did not have an easy task: to take a work of the Bard and turn it into a graphic novel that is both true to the original source and still entertain reluctant readers. (No Fear Shakespeare is a whole line of like-minded GNs created by Sparknotes, which is a company well acquainted with the minds of lazy and unwilling students.)
This GN version of Hamlet is startling close in spirit to the original play. Even as the language is simplified for a modern and young audience, a good deal of the most memorable lines are kept intact as they are timeless enough that anyone could understand them. It is not "dumbing down" in the least bit; all the humor and heartache from the original is still there in the dialogue and the story does not suffer at all from this treatment.
The art is deeply intertwined with the story, even more so that a typical graphic novel. As Shakespeare was fond of wordplay and vivid imagery in his writing, so the artist makes great strides to incorporate these things into each and every panel. When Hamlet is off and running on one of his famous soliloquies, you can clearly see in the scene what he is illustrating with his words. In a way, the dialogue becomes the background for many scenes.
And then there is Hamlet. Of all the cast, he is the best thing about this adaptation. His facial expressions show such emotion, whether he is deliriously happy or in another maniacal fit, that you cannot look away whenever he appears on page. From the way he is drawn to the pure power behind every movement and action, this is a most memorable Hamlet for the printed page.
For both reluctant readers and avid Shakespeare fans, I honestly believe that this one is a winner. I greatly enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to anyone looking to dip into the world of the Bard but is intimidated by his legacy and his language. (less)
This book is truly a miracle. The man, trapped in his own body, managed to write this using his left eye only - well, his eye and someone patient enough to transcribe the story, which took several months to do. The fact that Bauby did not fall into a dark depression and lose the will to live is by itself a powerful testament to his will.
As for the book itself, the prose is lyrical at moments, the mood differing between the dream-like state that exists in his mind and something set heavily in the maudlin reality, complete with macabre turns of phrases on his condition. You can't blame Bauby for being depressed at times, but this is not a depressing novel overall. It is a testament to living despite all odds, powerful and lifting, and his story is a lesson for all of us who take life for granted.
There is a movie version of this starring Mathieu Almaric that looks very well-made. I hope it did the source material justice.(less)
When the Columbine tragedy occurred, I was only nine years old and still in elementary school. I barely recall what happened but I remember somewhat the coverage afterward about the TCM and the shooters. The repercussions from the events of April 20 will never go away, even in the wake of similar events like the Virginia Tech shooting - which was described as another Columbine. Reading this book, I am struck by the piece of history I lived through unknowingly, like small children who lived during 9/11 or the Iranian Revolution, peripherally aware but not really.
The book itself is an unnerving and thought-provoking take on the day of the Columbine shooting by combining several streams of narrative into one: Harris and Klebold's lives leading up to that day; the lives of those involved before the shooting; the day itself in detail; the aftermath from then to now - pretty much up to when the book was published. Pretty much every myth surrounding April 20 is touched upon, from the story of Cassie Bernall confessing her belief in God to the reasoning behind the shooting itself. It valiantly attempts to be neutral, but it is hard to stay neutral on such an emotional topic, and sometimes dips dangerously into the waters of preaching to pull at the readers' emotions. There is also the fact that some of the details within have been contested by officials and other writers, but to be completely fair, the author does not present his work as the definitive work on the Columbine shooting - although time may soon prove that it is. It is certainly a lot more unbiased and detailed than the loosely-connected documentary Bowling For Columbine, which not only sets itself up on the false myth that the boys bowled before the shooting but also uses the shooting itself as a springboard for the rest of the film, which is very much pro-gun control and anti-NRA.
There are no answers to be found in this book regarding whether or not Klebold and Harris were horrible people or whether or not Columbine still deserves to be "the" school shooting that defines all others. In his narrative, Cullen refuses to judge one way or another, leaving this heavy and personal burden on the reader. By the end of the book, you may have already made up your minds or not, but the stories on the pages just closed will settle into your mind and stay there for a very long time, leaving you to look back upon them on occasion and wonder what may have been. A good deal of "what if" scenarios present themselves while reading the story of the two shooters: What if someone had taken action earlier? What if they had better friends or more attentive family? What if the two boys had never met? But "what ifs" are simply things we think about when its too late and we want to placate ourselves by imagining differing scenarios with happier outcomes. There are many things you can take from reading this account of Columbine, and one of them is a lesson we all need to learn: how to prevent another similar incident so that more families are not forced to grieve over the loss of loved ones and wonder nothing but "what ifs" forever.(less)
Like many readers, I feel like I've been severely let down by Philip Roth's latest novel, The Humbling. The premise is remarkably simple: sixty-something actor goes through a slump, needs help, meets woman and falls in love. Well, there's more to it, of course, like a stay as a psychiatric hospital and the fact that the woman he falls in love with is a lesbian. Ex-lesbian? Recovering lesbian? Bicurious lesbian? The novel never really says. But there are so many ways in this novel in which Roth uses his narrative to paint lesbians as a manly, butch section of women who don't care about looking pretty or wearing expensive clothing. Simon Axler, the protag of The Humbling, takes it upon himself to go all out for Pegeen, his lesbian lover. He buys her new clothes ("flattering new coats", "luxurious lingerie to replace the sports bras and the gray briefs"), necklaces and earrings, even a new haircut at an expensive salon - all to make her into, in Axler's words, "a woman he would want instead of a woman another woman would want". Because, of course, lesbians all wear flannel and have short hair cuts and never look feminine at all. Don't forget that Pegeen's ex-girlfriends include a psycho stalker dean and someone who turns into a man and may have turned Pegeen straight. Roth has never been a great writer of women characters, but this is the first time I've been offended by his portrayal of a whole section of women due to their chosen sexuality.
But for all of its dubious fail on sexuality, The Humbling is not without its good bits. For instance, the description of Pegeen losing her lesbian lover to the enthralling pull of the Internet must certainly ring true with many readers who have lost loved ones to the very real problem of Internet addiction. And then there is the first part of the book, before Axler meets Pegeen, in which Axler's descent into depression and severe performance anxiety is laid out for all to see, including his stay at the psychiatric hospital and his interactions with the the patients within. But they do not redeem the dreck that comes afterwards, nor its cop-out of an ending. As someone who deeply enjoyed his previous novel, Indignation, this new book is severely disappointing and casts a heavy shadow on Roth's works so far. Let us hope that his next book, Nemesis (which is due for release later this year) is of higher quality and hopefully less damaging to his body of work's reputation.(less)
As someone who loves the anime Spice and Wolf - so much that it was on my top ten list of anime from the past decade - I had high expectations for the source material. I was also very curious to see if there were any major changes from the transition from the written word to animation cel. What I found was a book that was complimented greatly by its anime version but also rose above it with its surprising moments of depth and detail.
The story centers around Lawrence Kraft the merchant and his companion Horor the Wise Wolf of the North. Their first book of travels has them locking horns with a merchant company looking to con the naive Lawrence out of a profit with promises of a moneymaking scheme surrounding a drop in silver purity in Trenni coins. When Lawrence realizes the thing is a scam, he reaches out to another company for help, but in the process Horo is kidnapped and held as ransom because of her being the goddess of the harvest and therefore an abomination against the Holy Church. Storywise, where can you go wrong? You've got elements of supernatural and dramatic action, not to mention a very interesting lesson on macro and microeconomics.
Lawrence is the audience's guide to the world within the series, a clearly old time European-based society in which the Church's word is law and merchants can make or break the market. His lectures to Horo on things like silver purity in coins and bartering with a company that is situated in multiple towns is not only educational for her but for the audience. It is understanding these lectures that will make the story more enjoyable for the audience; you can't understand what is going on unless you understand how the coin system works. Lawrence is also the straight man to Horo's magnificently magical self; his reactions to her hijinks and wolf tendencies reflect the audience's reactions to seeing Horo do what she does. Lawrence is the Everyman who never expected to be paired up with a harvest god, someone who would never expect to be swindled until it almost happens. He's not naive so much as he is rather easy to trust, experienced but wanting to believe that all people are inherently good despite the efforts of those like Zheren to teach him otherwise.
And then there is the character of Horo, parts haughty and demanding, lonely and afraid, feral and angry. As the self-proclaimed Wise Wolf of the series, she often spouts off little wise sayings at Lawrence, using her clever ways learned from living hundreds of years around merchants and farmers to help Lawrence in his trade - there is no better example than the scene in which Horo's crafty methods help to sell some furs at a higher price than Lawrence thought he'd sell for. But she is also vulnerable despite the front she puts up at times: she is enraged that Lawrence does not personally lead the charge to save her and feels embarrassed. Horo is not ashamed of her wolf nature, but when she transforms, she often asks Lawrence to look away: she wants Lawrence to see her as a human not an animal; she does not want Lawrence to be afraid of her and run away like so many other humans did before.
That is what's so interesting about the relationship between Lawrence and Horo: they both depend on each other, even if they'd be loathe to admit it aloud. Lawrence depends on Horo for her quick thinking and to keep him company during his travel - not to mention the contract between them that he take Horo to her homelands in the north. Horo depends on Lawrence for keeping her grounded and amusing her, as well as being her transport, buying her food and clothes (there's a running tab, though) and keeping her around with the pouch of grain. There is also an undeniable attraction between the two of them; they dance around it with their actions and words, but for better or for worse Holo and Lawrence are connected by this attraction, wherever it may take them. Remember, Horo is a demon and a sinful thing in the eyes of the Church, whose influence could very well see to it that Lawrence loses his job due to his connections with the wolf girl. The fact that he puts his own life on the line for someone he barely knows and takes up space in his wagon says that he cares for her, despite their occasional back and forth sniping on the most trivial things like apples and wine.
Comparing the light novel to the anime, some changes and irregularities do pop up. Yarei, for example, is a character in the novel who is from Pasloe Village and is a good friend of Lawrence through his comings and goings through the small town. He is replaced in the anime by Chloe, a young woman who sees Lawrence as her mentor and has a crush on him. The anime added an unnecessary romantic subplot for some reason; I would not be surprised if the herder later on in the anime does not exist in the novel or her attraction to Lawrence not as prominent in the original text. There is also the fact that actually taking the time to sit down and read the material makes Lawrence's lessons on microeconomics make more sense; in fact, a lot of things that happen in the anime are explained a lot better in the novel, especially the end of the silver purity arc. That's not to say the light novel is anyway superior to the anime; they both have ways in which they are better than the other, but one version does not completely overshadow the other. People interested in the story should check both of them out as they greatly compliment each other - in fact, I would say that seeing the anime beforehand greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the original novel.
All in all, this is a great introduction to the world of Horo and Lawrence and an entertaining mix of humor and excitement not to mention some great pages of art that highlight the more important scenes in the story. Spice and Wolf is the kind of light novel if you are just getting interested in the world of anime and manga and need a sort of stepping stone between reading prose and reading manga. I'd also recommend it to any fan of fantasy books that are both fun and educational.(less)
Note: Don't expect me to be unbiased. I love Colin Baker with the heat of a thousand exploding suns, okay? He is my absolute favorite actor and plays my absolute favorite Doctor (who is, in turn, my absolute most favorite fictional character ever). I can never imagine saying anything negative about the guy. I mean, how can you? He's so cool. He's smart and witty and a total friggin' geek to boot. Did I mention he's the SIXTH DOCTOR, guys? Because that's important, too!
Having said all of that, Look Who's Talking is a gem of a book. It's an eclectic collection of his best articles, strung together by topic and each receiving a small foreword by Mister Baker himself (I mean, come on, most collections of anything is just the original source material thrown between two covers with rarely any original input by the author). If you enjoy reading his material in the pages of Bucks Free Press, you'd be a darn fool not to pick this up. There is no piece in this book I don't at least like, if not love - from running into celebrities on the streets of California to continuous car troubles to mowing some very sexy lawns. No, really. And yes, he does talk a little about Doctor Who; I'm not crying over the fact that it doesn't dominate the book's subject matter cos his writing on everything else is so freaking interesting that there's no loss of entertainment in every piece, Who-related or not.
A reviewer said that if Colin Baker ever gets tired of acting, he shoulder consider writing full time. Consider this my love letter for that very opinion. I would love to read more of his writing in print for years to come, whether it be more compilations of his articles or original fiction (be still, my fast-beating fangirl heart!). But seriously, read this book. It is awesome and you won't regret it.(less)