For a book written so sparsely, Death Sentences is a dizzying experience chockfull of ideas, blending the hard-boiled with the surreal and shifting seFor a book written so sparsely, Death Sentences is a dizzying experience chockfull of ideas, blending the hard-boiled with the surreal and shifting seamlessly from psychological horror to grand metaphysical statements. The resolution is perhaps a little underwhelming, though to Kawamata's credit this is because he builds a concept up so well that I found myself disappointed that it ended before going even further (perhaps he's unlocked a Who May mastery of language himself). It's ultimately a tightly wound tale, neatly told; an idea with limitless possibilities and the potential to become a sprawling beast that Kawamata instead fashions into a taut but nevertheless mind-bending thriller.
It's especially interesting for this to surface in English almost three decades after its initial Japanese release as Genshi-gari (something like 'Hunting the magic poems', or 'Poetic vision hunting'), as in the interim the motif of harmful sensation has been further popularised in SFF and horror, and it's done really well here, feeling like an insidious plague or revelatory cult of transformative words and ideas, with characters alternately addicted to it and intent on destroying it (it clearly owes something to classic word-policing and book-burning sci-fi tales).
Also of note: University of Minnesota Press have made a really handsome book and I'm grateful to see Kawamata's work in translation (hopefully more will follow, though it appears his subsequent work has veered more into military SF and straight-up military fiction), but the blurb perhaps gives away far too much. Womp womp....more
Like a Murakami protagonist, dreams and alternate universes and psychic projection allow me to have read this book as two people.
One of the Andrews waLike a Murakami protagonist, dreams and alternate universes and psychic projection allow me to have read this book as two people.
One of the Andrews was spellbound, loved the typical Murakami nonsense, and found the feeling of emptiness and of being adrift but endlessly staying afloat relatable. This Andrew enjoyed the Venn diagram of colourful people who splashed translucent residue on colourless Tsukuru.
The other Andrew found the characterisation unsurprisingly nothingy and the story reliant on women who are mysterious, beautiful, advice-dispensing machines or mentally plagued by the past and an innate destructiveness with no apparent source. This Andrew wanted to slap some colour into Tsukuru's face and remind him that it's possible to miss the last train.
In the end, coincidentally, Andrew finished the book the morning after a stranger struck up a conversation with him in the street, at night, in the city. The stranger went home at the weekends, to Andrew's birthplace, and was also called Andrew. After they shook hands and parted ways, Andrew felt that the other man was following him, could hear his name at his back. When he turned around on the curbside, the street was empty.
"There are so many fragile things", Gaiman muses in his introduction, and collections of short stories and poetry rank chiefly among them.
When it's go"There are so many fragile things", Gaiman muses in his introduction, and collections of short stories and poetry rank chiefly among them.
When it's good, it's very good: the depth of flavour and complexity offered by 'Bitter Grounds', the modern Harlequinade of 'Harlequin Valentine', the disgustingly sumptuous exoticism and wry humour of 'Sunbird', the charm of having the months as characters or having images move between certain stories. Even the overdone exercise in quashing genre naysayers (the barmy gothic romanticism of 'Forbidden Brides...') passes by without overstaying its welcome to the point of its bluntness becoming distasteful.
But when it's bad, it's unremarkable, or worse, it feels like someone aping Gaiman. Some of the poems and shorter stories feel very pat, the kind of warm-up exercises that didn't need sharing or needed more time to percolate and expand, and there's something uncomfortably jarring about (an otherwise very effective) Gaiman story that apparently takes place in the Matrix universe. And perhaps I'm just burnt out from years of listening to her music, but the Tori Amos crossover works feel entirely out of place here.
It's not that it's a poor collection by any means, and there are coherent themes and strands throughout - the growing ignorance of many of the characters in the face of the absurd, frightening and phantasmagorical remains potent to the last - but as a singular reading experience the collection exposes certain dull repetitions and weaknesses in the (admittedly voluminous) output of a typically bright imagination. Do read if you want to recapture the childhood experience of wonderful and nasty little stories that build reliably to discomforting twists, but don't read it as your introduction to Gaiman or if you're not fussed about reading everything he's done (you could happily cherry-pick the important and more talked about stories out of this)....more
From aeroplane ailerons that are "straight up like Paula Abdul" to Felix no longer being Felix but "a vampire motherfucker", The Strain clunks its wayFrom aeroplane ailerons that are "straight up like Paula Abdul" to Felix no longer being Felix but "a vampire motherfucker", The Strain clunks its way through the night like a gore-soaked Furby taught repetitive speech by lowest common denominator TV. Gone is any sense of stylistic flair or masterful storytelling one might expect from Del Toro, and even the horror descends into the repeated bludgeoning of the reader with the same dull action sequences over and over and over again. People are repeatedly described as staring into the middle distance and sequences are interrupted for dry descriptions of medical tools used as weapons - it is ultimately very, very apparent that this should have been fast-tracked to the visual media where its creators can engage their audience more effectively rather than just insult them.
It's not irredeemable (though I'd be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone). There are plenty of good ideas here - even if there are zero interesting characters - and the epidemiological slant it aims for is novel and allows it to build a sense of chaos quite well. But just as NYC falls apart at the seams, so does The Strain, cod epidemiology giving way to tedious action-horror cliché while maintaining the pretence that the same old tropes are being subverted or given a reasonable explanation. Towards the end of the book this descent into hokey crud is reflected in a reliably blunt aside where we're told that our protagonist has "turned from healer to slayer", and it's that kind of sloppy signposting of developments that turns the reader from merely bemused to painfully bored....more