Well, I linked to this from my review of Kafka on the Shore what I just wrote, so I guess I should write a review for this now (August 2013.)
I reallyWell, I linked to this from my review of Kafka on the Shore what I just wrote, so I guess I should write a review for this now (August 2013.)
I really liked this book. It was quiet and boring and LONG and took forever and I was so sorry when it was over.
I listened to the audiobook and there are two narrators, one for each uh narrator. The female narrator spoke very precisely and enunciates each letter of every word and it drove me a little crazy. But she was okay I guess. If I recall correctly, I mostly liked the dude but not when he did the girl's voice? I think that was it. It's been a while. (view spoiler)[At the end of the book, the two protagonists finally meet and speak to each other, and each narrator voices their dialogue. It's kind of jarring (they don't sound like they were in the same studio at the same time) and awkward and I wouldn't have liked it for an entire book, but for the last tiny bit of an enormous awkward book, it worked for me. (hide spoiler)]
So this is a book about a chick and a dude (told from their respective perspectives) and when the story starts out it doesn't seem like they have anything to do with each other, but then of course gradually their stories begin to circle each other, to eventually meet. There's weird stuff in it almost straight from the get-go. It's super-long and somewhat repetitive and there are lengthy descriptions of people preparing and eating simple meals. There are lengthy descriptions of a lot of stuff.
I liked it when he talked about books, like Kafka. After finishing this book, I immediately added a bunch of Kafka and other stuff (also other Murakami) to my "to read" list. I liked it when he talked about how there were two moons, and when he said "the number of moons had increased." I dunno, that phrasing is just funny to me. Oh, and speaking of phrasing, at the end of the book there was an interview with the translators that was very interesting. They said that he talks very awkwardly, almost using American phrasing, though he's writing in Japanese. So rather than using the same phrasing (which then wouldn't sound awkward to us,) they make it awkward and stilted. This was something I had been wondering about (is this supposed to be weird, or is this just Japanese?) so I was glad to hear about it straight from the translators.
Anyway, yeah. I liked this a lot but wouldn't necessarily recommend it to everybody because I could see people getting bored. But I really liked living here for six weeks.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Okay, first just the narration: the narrator does "accents." It didn't bother me when she was doing all these African-American people, but when she buOkay, first just the narration: the narrator does "accents." It didn't bother me when she was doing all these African-American people, but when she busted out the Asian-American "ah so" thing, I was sort of horrified. Does that make me a racist? I'm not sure. Anyway, she was fine with everything else.
I originally gave this three stars but busted it down to two (that means "It was OK.") It's not a bad book, per se, I'm just a little bewildered at how successful it apparently was. There are two parts, intertwined: there's the part about how the HeLa cells affected scientific research, and some things that came out of it. Then there is the story of the family of the woman from whom the HeLa cells were taken.
The science part is . . . interesting, but not fascinating. Like, it's okay, and I'm glad I read it. It was magazine-article interesting.
The Lacks family part . . . it's only sort of interesting as well. Poor black family from the south, and some of the members of the later generations clearly have mental issues. (Which may or may not be related to the fact that cousins married cousins. I thought it was determined that cousin-on-cousin love is actually not that big a deal? No? I was not as appalled as I apparently was supposed to be.) Hardworking mother who has a jillion kids! Dad who drinks and slaps the wife around! Molesting uncle! It's like a Toni Morrison novel without the poetry.
I don't mean to make light of their situation -- it's compelling to them, and to the author, who came to be so personally embroiled in their lives. But narratively speaking, I don't think their story is actually too interesting. And when you come down to it, their troubles had NOTHING to do with the HeLa cells. Nothing whatsoever. They thought they were -- because they're ignorant and uneducated (I don't intend either of those descriptors to be insulting, it's not actually their fault that they are uneducated and ignorant,) and because they have been screwed by the system in general, being poor and black. But whether or not their mother's cancer cells had turned out to be immortal, their lives would not have been different.
Lacks's sons are convinced that they are owed money because of these cells, but the original researcher charged nothing for their distribution; he was just super-hyped that he had found these things. Later, other labs produced HeLa cells on a massive scale, and you can purchase them for research -- but is the Lacks family entitled to any of that profit? The author doesn't seem to think so, as sympathetic as she is to the family, because she didn't try to convince me. So, sorry, guys. I do think that you are entitled to health care, but that has nothing to do with the fact that your mother changed scientific research as we know it; it has to do with the fact that you are human beings.
One last thought, and that's regarding the mental issues I mentioned above -- clearly, Deborah and Zakariyya [oh man, I wanted to KILL the narrator for pronouncing it "za-KAH-ree-yah" until it was explained, 3/4 of the way through, that that's the way he pronounces it] [she did keep pronouncing in situ incorrectly, though, as far as I know, and that made drove me crazy as well] are mentally ill to some degree, and whenever that was made clear, it made me feel . . . uncomfortable. As though they were being exploited for their entertainment value. The author tries to treat them with respect, and I'm not sure what she should have done differently, I just . . . I dunno. It made me feel dirty.
Anyway. There you have it. I didn't NOT like it, I just didn't see what all the fuss was about....more
I like Iaian M. Banks, and this one is no exception. I don't think they ever quite make it to "love," though. There's just . . . something missing, soI like Iaian M. Banks, and this one is no exception. I don't think they ever quite make it to "love," though. There's just . . . something missing, some hook that isn't there.
It was good when it was science fiction and it was tedious when he was trying to be all deep and poetic. "Who am I?? Oh, shut up and make with the plasma guns.
I read this one right after I read Surface Detail, which is his most recent Culture novel. As this one began I thought "finally, a perspective which thinks that the Culture is not really all that!" It turns out that this is his first Culture novel. So this is where he started out. Interesting.
And, once again again, I should be an editor. What's with the mountainclimbing chick who is smarter than a Mind? She had like three scenes total and turned out to be completely ineffective. The only explanation is that she is in a future novel.
So, yeah. Good.
(Oh and once again the narrator does a fantastic job.)...more
I have never noticed Stephen King to be so sentimental, but man, he really is in this book. Aside from racism, he thinks America in 1958-63 is a freakI have never noticed Stephen King to be so sentimental, but man, he really is in this book. Aside from racism, he thinks America in 1958-63 is a freaking paradise. Everything tastes better! Everyone is nicer! Everything is so cheap! I never understand the "everything is so cheap" thing. It's all relative, man.
The main character is a Mary Sue if ever there were one. Stephen King wishes he could go back to 1963 and fall in love and save the president. He wants it so hard it's kind of gross. But then of course at the end he has to have a stupid complicated explanation for everything that doesn't really make sense.
I recommend reading this in print form, rather than listening to the audiobook. Narrator Peter Kenney does a great job (as he has done with all the otI recommend reading this in print form, rather than listening to the audiobook. Narrator Peter Kenney does a great job (as he has done with all the other Banks books) but the narrative jumps around a lot and I think it's easier to follow if you can flip back from time to time to make sure you're remembering things correctly.
I will write a longer review later, I hope....more
It took me over two freaking months to read/listen to this thing.
Here we go:
Narration: fantastic as always, Mr. Guidall. I'm not as familiar with whatIt took me over two freaking months to read/listen to this thing.
Here we go:
Narration: fantastic as always, Mr. Guidall. I'm not as familiar with what French should sound like as, say, German, but to my ears he knew what he was doing.
Love: ugh, so trite and contrived! I hate that shit. He did write some awesome stuff about love itself, actually (and if I had read this before I got married, I may have mined it for a reading,) but Marius and Cosette are madly in love just because they are. I hate that shit. I was hoping that the book would have more (any) reason for them to be in love than the musical, but not really.
All the asides: were fine to read once, but if I ever decide to read this again (I won't,) I'd read the print version so that I could skip most of the asides. Sorry, Vic! There's just too much. Every time I posted an update I felt like I was saying "he just finished a two-hour long digression about such-and-such."
The Bishop: man, I totally loved that guy. The book opens up with 2.5 hours of description of this bishop dude, and he is the nicest guy ever. He is compassionate and kind and gives everything he has (and everything he can get from the rich people in his parish) to the poor. This is of course the Bishop of Digne who is the one who purchases Valjean's soul for the price of silver plate and candlesticks. Though he doesn't appear again for the rest of the book, his presence remains. Every time Valjean makes a decision, you feel him. The Bishop rules. (Although I can't help hearing Monty Python every time I type The Bishop. "The Bishop!!"
Coincidences: too many. Ugh, Victor! I read somewhere recently that some Pixar dude said that in storytelling, a coincidence is acceptable if it results in getting your characters into trouble; but if it's helping to get them out, then it's cheating. I have to agree. Les Miserables is littered with coincidences, and it strains credulity. It's like there are five people in all of Paris, and they are constantly running into each other. Gavroche is a Thenardier, even though it never really matters that he is? The two urchins he runs into just happen to be his long-lost brothers? Come on. And Valjean and Thenardier run into each other all over the damn place, in the most dramatic of situations. And that he (Thenardier) just so happened to have "saved" Marius's dad at Waterloo? Give me a break.
Good guys and bad guys: they're too too. Thenardier is SUCH an unredeeming dick. He is not a person, he is a charicature. And (spoiler alert!) when Marius throws money at him just to get him to leave the country/continent, for some reason, he goes to America AND BECOMES A SLAVE TRADER. You have got to be kidding me.
And Valjean is the goodest of the good. Slightly more believeable because we hear about his inner wavering sometimes, but still. Such a goody two shoes.
Ladies: as in the musical, Eponine is the only interesting one, but there isn't enough of her. Cosette is a shell, she's nothing. (There's a passage at the very very end where Valjean is telling Cosette what she was like when she was younger, at the convent, and THAT sounded interesting! But we never got to see that Cosette.) Mother Thenardier is just a version of her husband, only she's compliant to him. Fantine is lame and wishy-washy and naive. That's about it for major female characters. I would have liked to have seen the inside of Eponine's head more.
Grandpa: without a doubt, the most interesting character that was left out of the musical (though to be honest, there weren't many left out, which is sort of impressive actually) was ol' Grandpa whatshisname. Marius's grandpa. That dude cracked my shit up. Kind of a dick also, but he's old, old people are crotchety. He had some nice things to say about being in love as well. He was stubborn and then, when broken by Marius's near-death, was sentimental. An interesting dude.
Mabouf: I am probably spelling that wrong (occupational hazard of listening to the audiobook.) Oh lawd what a tragic figure. I liked that guy. As a wise man once said, a sure-fire way to make a literary character sympathetic is to make him a reader. He likes books! And flowers! When a coin purse falls from the heavens, instead of using it to make rent, he takes it to the police!! (Or maybe he gives it to the poor, I forget.) And then he decides to go out in a blaze of glory with the young cats! That guy. He was great.
So . . . yes. This review is all over the place but it's tough, man, I've beeen listening to this thing for two whole months (that is the longest ever; the ASOIAF books take me about a month, at 30-40 hours a piece) and not taking notes or anything. My final verdict is . . . that I liked it. I liked Valjean, I understood Javert even though he was a dick. I wasn't crazy about the two kids in love. But I liked a lot of the secondary characters (usually old men) as mentioned above. And I cried a couple of times! So I guess 3.5 stars....more
I was surprisingly unimpressed with Mr. Cumming's narration. I didn't buy his accents. He's an actual British person though, so . . . I dunno. What doI was surprisingly unimpressed with Mr. Cumming's narration. I didn't buy his accents. He's an actual British person though, so . . . I dunno. What do I know.
Also the mystery itself was trite. I'm not a big fan of mysteries actually, but this was free, so I listened to it....more
I think I'm giving up on this. The narration is too weird and I'm just SO BORED and I don't pay attention to it at all. I tried to listen to too manyI think I'm giving up on this. The narration is too weird and I'm just SO BORED and I don't pay attention to it at all. I tried to listen to too many classics in a row and I am all classic'ed out....more
So, the most fun thing about the world that Iain M. Banks has created is the ship mind. Minds are hyper-intelligent AIs, onlI love the Culture series.
So, the most fun thing about the world that Iain M. Banks has created is the ship mind. Minds are hyper-intelligent AIs, only they don't want to kill us, they want to just zip around doing things that interest them (which may be sitting around staring into stars, the ship equivalent of staring into a fire) and helping us out. (They also have awesome names.) In The Hydrogen Sonata there are a BUNCH of ships and they all, like, hang around talking to each other! Trying to figure stuff out! If you haven't read any Banks before that might not sound awesome, but trust me, it is. The most cleverest minds in the galaxy, shooting the shit? Come on!!
I enjoy reading these books so much that I'm tempted to give this one five stars, but it's just FUN and never makes my heart hurt, really, you know? So just 4.5.
By the way, a month or two ago Mr. Banks let us know that he is dying of cancer and probably won't live out the year. (That makes my heart hurt.) This is incredibly sad, and I hope that when he goes he leaves to us, his readers, his long master list of ship names. Because you just KNOW he has one squirreled away somewhere.
[Oh wait, I forgot to review the narrator!] Peter Kenny does all of the Banks audiobooks to which I've listened, and I think he's great. He uses different (actual, existing) accents for different alien species, which works well. He makes me think of ships as male instead of . . . neutral, but he's a dude so I guess that's not his fault. Also his "American" accent isn't quite right (in an effort to pronounce all of his R's, he adds some in at the end of words, like my mom does) but it tickles me rather than annoys me.
Listening to Banks books can be a little confusing, however. If I were reading them in print I'd be flipping back every once in a while, and I can't really do that with an audiobook. This was less of a problem here than it was with Transition though, and I think it'll be good in the long run because then I can re-listen to stuff and still be interested. (Especially important now that we know that there are probably no more Culture novels coming.) Also one interesting thing about an audiobook, which came to light a few times here: there were several chapters/sections that began with just dialogue. So, if you're reading the book, you have to look for clues to figure out who's speaking; but if you're listening to the audiobook, you can just recognize the speakers' voices. Neat....more
Eh. This is like a 2.5, I think. I mostly read it because I like Tom Stechschulte's narration.
I'd seen the movie, so I remembered the "twist" or whereEh. This is like a 2.5, I think. I mostly read it because I like Tom Stechschulte's narration.
I'd seen the movie, so I remembered the "twist" or wherever, but not how we go there. So that was entertaining.
But so much of the story rests on the "love story" between Teddy and his wife, and it's so stupid, it's irritating to me. If someone is stupid and shitty then you don't LOVE them anymore, why would you? So whatever. But everything else was fine....more
I did not care for this book. It was super-boring and predictable (and yet overly complex and confusing!) and he uses a lot of similes and metaphors aI did not care for this book. It was super-boring and predictable (and yet overly complex and confusing!) and he uses a lot of similes and metaphors and they are mostly pretty terrible. "It shone like sunlight through trees." Seriously?
So there are potentially interesting things about the worldbuilding here, but I'll never know because it all takes place in San Francisco on boring old Earth. People can be "sleeved" into other peoples' bodies (or synthetic bodies) and those sleeves can be enhanced with "neurochem" that gives you heightened senses and responses, but that's the only new and/or interesting thing here. Everything else is just plasma guns and flying cars, aka bo-ring. And I guess this is "noir"? I fucking hate noir, if that's what this is. The hard-boiled detective meeting gorgeous dames and fucking them (with his PENIS, who says penis? The sex scenes were hot but also gross, but I guess I hate sex scenes) and working with the cops who are sort of dirty (or play by their own rules, I guess) and being tough and drinking a lot and getting in fights and killing pimps for the whores with hearts of gold and UGH give me a fucking break. It was all just so cliche. And the writing, as I say above, was no great shakes. Apparently this dude was a teacher until he wrote this and sold the film option? Fuck man I could do that! He makes it look easy.
So yeah, the only thing that was potentially interesting about this was Harlan's World, where the protagonist was from. But we only get limited flashbacks. But yeah, on the one hand the story was written with broad strokes that are predictable and familiar, but on the other it's cluttered up with too many characters I don't care about, and criss-crossing motivations and storylines that I also don't care about and don't make sense. Also I pretty much guessed the "mystery" in the first . . . hour or two. Before it was even done being presented. I mean it was cluttered up with dumb details that I couldn't have known at the time, but generally speaking, I had it figured out. I don't like to be smarter than the books I'm reading. __
The production of the audio itself was not great. It was sort of . . . muddy, not crisp, and it was hard to discern the words if you turned it up too high. I couldn't listen to it on a boom box. What good is an audiobook if you can't listen to it on a boom box, I ask you? Also the pauses between sections and chapters weren't long enough. The narrator himself was pretty good, but he didn't blow me away or anything....more
I've been having a bad run with science fiction lately, and it occurred to me that I like reading the premises of science fiction novels better than tI've been having a bad run with science fiction lately, and it occurred to me that I like reading the premises of science fiction novels better than the actual books, most times, as the books are never (rarely) executed as cleverly as I anticipate them to be.
Then the other day I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Kilgore Trout and was reminded (because surely I knew this already) that this was the genius of Trout: Vonnegut could come up with as many interesting concepts for science fiction stories as he liked, without having to actually write the things.
So it is with Wool. In Wool, a post-apocalyptic society lives in a silo underground, and has for "hundreds of years." The opening scene describes the worn treads on the steel stairs that run through the silo. It was a great image and it made me excited for the rest of the book . . . but then that was it! If you've got a self-contained society, and the only resources you have are what you can mine directly underneath the silo, wouldn't everything be worn? Re-used? Wouldn't there be a near-obsession about using things until they absolutely couldn't be used again? Wouldn't paper be insanely valuable? Wouldn't new items be rare?
In Dune, you FELT the scarcity of water. Herbert makes you not just understand, but really viscerally feel and KNOW how valuable it is. When it's tossed on the ground to waste, you flinch. In the Dark Tower series, you cringe every time Roland has to use a precious bullet. You wonder every time someone manages to have a scrap of paper. Yet you never get that sense from this book. It just sort of feels like regular old society, with regular old boring names (like Cheryl, and Lucas, and Bernard -- also, are all these people white? Why does everyone have a moustache?) and some slightly different rules and taboos. Oh and apparently there's religion too, though it's only mentioned when it's needed as a motivation.
I had so many questions about a closed society that lives underground. Where does their trash go? Where does their shit go? They're mining oil I guess -- since they make PLASTIC like it's no big deal (really??) -- so where does the smoke from using it go? What color are these people? There's a limit on procreation -- wouldn't there be a maximum age as well? Where does their clean air come from? These are all questions which seem fascinating to me, but they apparently are not to Mr. Howey, as he declined to address them at all.
His novel did raise more questions for me, though. Why is there only one staircase in the entire place? Why aren't there any technological advances, with all those nerds working in IT all the time? How are they able to make firearms in ONE DAY that apparently work fine (and they never made firearms before, supposedly) and why the hell would they make RIFLES if all battles were going to be fought in close quarters? How on earth could you have a revolution appear out of nothing, with no simmering resentments building, just, poof? Does it ever really happen that way? I don't think so. Is there really just a Mayor and . . . that's it? No council of advisers? Really? And is groundwater really still going to be at that elevation, after all those years of people tapping into it?
So . . . yes. It was really boring, and didn't talk about any of the stuff that I had thought of in my head even before I started listening. Also, the characters we meet are mostly supposed to be the smartest people in the place, but they are conveniently stupid when the plot needs it. They don't think of possibilities that seem really fucking obvious to me. At least let these things OCCUR to the characters, and then have them dismiss them for some reason, you know? When you leave things unsaid, but I think of them, it ruins my suspension of disbelief and frustrates me. I don't like being three steps ahead of everyone. I almost always felt that when somebody didn't think of something, it wasn't because it naturally wouldn't occur to them, it was because it was convenient to the plot.
Anyway, there's my review. I'm going to go read the synopses of the books of the rest of the series on Wikipedia now, since I know I'll enjoy that a lot better than slogging through the actual novels.
Oh, I almost forgot! The narration (by Amanda Sayle -- there does exist another edition with a different narrator) was pretty terrible. I listened at 1.5x the whole time, which is something I have never done before. She spoke too slowly, and almost all of the people had absurd cartoon character voices. It was ridiculous....more
This book could be labeled a quasi-fantasy (it's a stretch to say that there's real magic in it, and there are no dragons whatsoever) or historical fiThis book could be labeled a quasi-fantasy (it's a stretch to say that there's real magic in it, and there are no dragons whatsoever) or historical fiction, only it doesn't take place in Japan, it takes place somewhere and somewhen that is almost but not quite feudal Japan. It's Japan like Westeros is Western Europe. Hearn goes to great lengths to make sure that it's not actually Japan -- she never says "samurai" or "ninja" or tatami or katana or any number of things that would have been useful and descriptive. I found it irritating. Also, here are things that appeal to me about fantasy/historical fiction:
~descriptions of fancy clothing (in this case, that would be kimono;) ~description of a fancy sword that is important to a family and passed down from generation to generation; ~descriptions of the food to some extent; ~descriptions of fancy hair-dos; ~descriptions of fancy houses and/or castles (especially Japanese architecture, come on!) ~stark differences between classes of people; ~people saying one thing and meaning another; ~cool hand-to-hand fighting.
Now, I don't need ALL of these, but Christ, throw me a bone here! There was nothing! There was one fight scene that I remembered, between the kid and the girl, that was memorable. And she did describe the landscape well a few times. And she tried to describe art, but all she ever said was that the birds looked like they were about to fly off the page. There was a family sword, but I have no clue what it looked like.
That was it! There was none of that other stuff I mentioned above! Maybe that's okay with some people, but not with me. That shit is what I'm there for.
The story was pretty predictable, I guess, though I wasn't usually interested enough in the plot to try to guess what would happen next. The protagonist is terrible, I don't care one whit about him or what happens to him. Oh but he does have an incredible sense of hearing, and I did think that was interesting. I will admit that.
Also there are two people who fall in love at first sight AND I FREAKING HATE THAT SHIT. Come on people.
I don't think I was crazy about the narrator, either....more