I want to talk about If I Stay, the young adult book by Gayle Forman. All 231 pages rest on one questioOriginally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages:
I want to talk about If I Stay, the young adult book by Gayle Forman. All 231 pages rest on one question: What would you do if you had to choose?
As in, if you found yourself looking down on your comatose body after surviving a terrible car crash that kills your parents and only brother, would you want to stick around for all the ensuing pain or hightail it out of there?
When I saw a commercial for If I Stay (out Aug. 22) and Chloë Grace Moretz’s (one of my favorite young actresses) character got all weepy saying, “He wrote me a song,” my heart didn’t flutter. I thought it looked dumb and badly acted:
But maybe the book is good, I thought. OK. Nope. Not any better.
If I Stay has the potential to be good, but it's a hugely overrated book. While wandering the hospital all corporeal and watching her loved ones talk to her broken body, the character Mia debates whether she wants to stay (and live without her family) or let herself die. You figure the author isn't going to write a book where the message is "life isn't that worth living," so you know she'll probably choose to live -- but the point is more to explore the decision and all its implications. After all, who really gets to choose? Probably doesn't happen all that often.
So she does a lot of thinking, mostly about music and her boyfriend. Her parents were rockers in their day, and her boyfriend has his own band that's gaining popularity, but she plays the cello. Lame -- or at least she thinks so. Most of her recollections deal with her doubts, not about whether her boyfriend Adam loves her but why he loves her. She can't believe someone so cool would care about someone as plain as her. She doesn't feel like she even belongs in her own family.
Then Adam shows up at the hospital (back to real time now), and she's a mess. Seeing him makes her want to live, and that complicates her decision to call it quits. Because romance.
If I Stay is a pretty easy read -- and it ends so abruptly you'll be disappointed (I didn't realize the 100 pages at the end of my version was all authory, previewy stuff). I wanted Forman to dig deeper into the question of why someone would stay (and what it means not to), but she never did. She never ventured beyond the obvious or connected all the stuff Mia thought about -- music, love, family belonging, friendship -- back to her final decision in a way that felt like it actually meant something.
And what about the movie line where Moretz's character cries and smiles and says, "He wrote me a song"? Yeah, that never even happens.
So I don't know about you, but I'm chalking this one up as another overrated YA book and skipping the theaters....more
I haven’t sat down and read some good, thick fantasy in a while. Tigana was an excellent homecomReview originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages:
I haven’t sat down and read some good, thick fantasy in a while. Tigana was an excellent homecoming — rich in lore without being too fanciful, and hundreds of pages long without being indulgent.
Summarizing Tigana is difficult without revealing the heart of it, and perhaps that’s what gives Guy Gavriel Kay’s language, his story, its magic: Two tyrants, both sorcerers, are vying for domination of the world, but those who have been wronged by them — who have fallen from the grace of their beloved Tigana, a land now cursed so that none can hear its name except those born there (or with magic in their blood) — are gathering together to kill not only he who cast the spell but the other tyrant as well, so that neither shall rule.
This mutinous group, led by the dethroned prince of Tigana, does more sneaking and meddling than war-making, gathering their forces in secret and manipulating the tyrants from afar. Felling one tyrant is difficult enough, so I was eager to see how Kay would go about having them do away with two in a plausible, believable way. I wasn’t disappointed.
The novel isn’t riveting, but it is deeply enjoyable in that simmering old way of classic fantasy. Read the language carefully, and you can appreciate the fine craftsmanship that Kay put into it. Tigana is full of lengthy chapters but never lingers on one perspective for too long a time; it keeps the tension taut by introducing strange new characters and interweaving them into the plot, mounting ever higher the grand and fragile house of cards that Kay is building, all centered around the tyrant Brandin who cursed Tigana and the future of the lands.
The characters surprise you. One who stands for all that is hate and vengeance becomes a symbol of good and redemption; another who vows to destroy her enemy comes to love him. Moreover, a controversial scene in the opening chapters left me uncertain of my feelings about one of the central protagonists and caused me to wonder whether the author was mistreating another character for the sake of scandal, but Kay never let that event tarnish the respectability of either or let it govern their fates.
I only thought one character was done injustice: the tyrant Alberico, who is little more than a two-dimensional, exaggerated villain whose ill deeds and manner lack the complexities of the fellow tyrant Brandin’s.
The others, despite their role in the story — a hindrance or a help to the freeing of Tigana — I cared for equally. The ending is bittersweet: both happy and tragic, with a reveal of a secret that was brilliantly concealed and saved for the final moments. The story ends how you suppose it will, but not how you hoped or predicted.
Kay weaves together many small stories, consequential or seemingly trivial, without losing sight of their place in the conflict that’s brewing or forgetting to convey the sense of time it took for it all to come together — years and years, with the ache of centuries and an unmistakable weariness hanging on each word.
The magic here is old, and trembling, and monstrous. It’s used carefully, for fear of repercussion, which always comes. And it’s not restricted to one form but to many: to wizards who hide their power to save their life, to those who walk in a dream realm at night, to those who heal and others who torment and are crippled by their own sorcery.
That magic is never quite enough to fill you. Tigana leaves you yearning....more
I found this series after watching an episode of Geek & Sundry’s web series “Talkin’ Comics,” and IOriginally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages:
I found this series after watching an episode of Geek & Sundry’s web series “Talkin’ Comics,” and I think it may be my favorite manga ever. Seriously, it’s that good.
My experience with manga is limited (I’m more of an American comics kind of girl), but over the years, I’ve added collections like Fruits Basket and Cardcaptor Sakura to my library. Ranma 1/2 reminds me a bit of the former (both feature humans shape-shifting into animals and are overall endearing), but it stands out for a few noteworthy reasons:
This is an unusually progressive manga. Chinese martial arts wonder Ranma is a boy who becomes cursed so that whenever he touches cold water, he turns into a girl. Vice versa with hot water. His father is similarly afflicted, only he turns into a giant panda. (Aww.) So the romance that ensues between the betrothed Ranma and a dojo owner’s third daughter Akane is interesting because it addresses issues of sexual and gender identity in a very insightful way.
I’m only two volumes in (there are 38 total), but I admire how deep and intelligent the commentary here is even though Ranma 1/2 is also one of the genuinely funniest comics I’ve read. Though Ranma experiences life as both genders, he identifies more with being a boy. Akane is a tomboy herself, so while she’s endlessly pursued by the boys at her school, she’s often the object of criticisms like, “Aren’t you supposed to have more grace?” — often from the brash Ranma, who has no room to talk. The societal rules of the sexes are rigidly upheld by these gender-bending characters just as they’re called into conflict.
Akane and Ranma struggle against the feelings of affection they feel for each other. Some situations are made awkward and strained by the gender Ranma is at the time, but in scenarios where their gender is the same, they feel more comfortable with the events that occur (like seeing each other naked). But both characters understood the worlds of male and female, and that’s what makes their relationship special despite their difficulties relating to each other.
To me, all of us have a little of the opposite gender inside us, and though we might clash with the opposite sex, it’s when we’re able to find a common ground between us on a mental and emotional level that we can communicate and get along.
VIZ Media just started releasing the 2-in-1 Editions (that’s two volumes in one book) of Ranma 1/2 in March, and there are three volumes out now, with a fourth arriving in early September (so each a couple months apart). Although the series itself ended in 1996, I’m excited to follow along with it as each 2-in-1 Edition is released....more
Saga is one of those rare comics that comes along and blows your mind.
I’m three volumes into this serieOriginally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages:
Saga is one of those rare comics that comes along and blows your mind.
I’m three volumes into this series now, and I’m not sure that there’s a more creatively illustrated or tenderly told sci-fi comic out there than this. Husband and wife Marko and Alana are traveling the stars as fugitives — both have abandoned their posts in the war, and both have come together to conceive a child despite the fact that their planets are engaged in a war that seems destined never to end. Now they’re running with an infant in tow, and the “freelancers” paid to kill them are relentless in their hunt.
Saga has suffered censorship for its sometimes pornographic content (there’s a whole planet named Sextillion and a robot prince whose television head sometimes displays genitalia), but at its core, this is a comic about protecting your family and finding peace amidst bloodshed and violence. Not a page is wasted. Every volume has gripped me, and volume three brought me to tears with a touching moment in its opening pages.
Like Ranma, Saga isn’t afraid to tackle controversial issues of sex (including homosexuality and the sexual enslavement of children) head-on — and its female characters are just as capable as its male ones. It’s funny, gross, tactful, and shocking all in one swoop....more
I fell in love with Superior Spider-Man when I read a hilarious comic where Doc Ock’s mind ended up inOriginally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages:
I fell in love with Superior Spider-Man when I read a hilarious comic where Doc Ock’s mind ended up in Peter Parker’s body to prove he could be the better superhero. My boyfriend gave me The Superior Foes of Spider-Man Vol. 1 as a birthday gift this month, and while it’s more about the “Superior” Spider-Man’s enemies than Spidey himself, it’s just as enjoyable.
This is a villain’s comic. They’re not bad guys who look good from their side of the story. They’re bad guys who do bad things to their fellow crew members and aren’t ashamed about it. You won’t be rooting for them, but you will find getting inside their heads an exotic invitation that’s hard to resist.
A villain’s life isn’t glamorous. The five members of the new Sinister Six (yep, their name is a point of contention) spend more time debating whether to have separate or unisex bathrooms at their hideout than successfully executing criminal heists. And intercrew betrayal is only a group vote away.
The leader of the Sinister Six is Boomerang, a guy who’s had it rough because, well, he goes around wearing a boomerang on his head, fearing the wrath of merciless antiheroes like the Punisher, and meeting the bare minimum requirements of his parole. While Superior Foes is a comedic book — the Sinister Six attempt to steal the rumored living, talking head of a gangster named Silvio Silvermane for most of the first volume — it has its grave moments. Just about every time you think Boomerang has it in him to do a good deed, you’re let down big time.
That’s what makes the series so morbidly fascinating: The Sinister Six are on rails to a train wreck, and it’s hard to look away from the destruction that they cause and the beatings and humiliations that they take. Because maybe — just maybe — they can turn their lives around.
Either that, or finally score that big, devastating win on the side of evil....more
I’ve never been the biggest fan of poetry. I think it’s beautiful, but I’m not a big reader of it, an(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
I’ve never been the biggest fan of poetry. I think it’s beautiful, but I’m not a big reader of it, and I don’t write it. Sharp Teeth is that wonderful exception.
Written in free verse, Toby Barlow’s debut novel combines the mysteries, passion, and eloquence of poetry with the accessible storytelling of prose. The Wall Street Journal likened it to “Romeo and Juliet, werewolf-style,” which is partly accurate. The different lycanthrope packs of Los Angeles are like the familial houses that rule the city, the members brothers and sisters, bound by the magic in their blood and the secrets of their transformation. Between them are a pair of unlikely, star-crossed lovers: the dogcatcher and the wolf. Only he doesn’t know what she is, and that ignorance rubs against her bottled-up knowledge and heats the friction between them.
There’s tragedy, like with Romeo and Juliet, though not all is lost. The book is part modern crime drama. A cop named Peabody investigates a murder: the evidence a river of blood and the unmistakable trail of red paw prints that leads him into the heart of gang rivalries that are only human some of the time. An old pack, a wild pack, and a rebel pack. All three with different outlooks on life but one insatiable hunger to own the town, to devour it.
These werewolves don’t change by the cycle of the moon: “That’s as ancient and ignorant as any myth.” Rather:
The blood just quickens with a thought a discipline develops so that one can self-ignite reshaping form, becoming something rather more canine still conscious, a little hungrier. It’s a raw muscular power, a rich sexual energy and the food tastes a whole lot better.
That’s Sharp Teeth in a nutshell. These people have reasons for turning wolf. They were recruited because of their strength and loneliness, the sense that the world had wronged them, abandoned them, and now is the time to rip its throat out. That desire turns to blood lust, as primal as the sexual drive that burns with it. Sex and love. Canine and human. Almost one and the same, and the beauty is how they flirt and intermingle, that violence and passion spilling out like guts on the page.
It’s a dog’s world. Barlow ponders the tameness of man’s best friend as much as he does the wolves those mutts might be as they wait and watch with knowing, human eyes. Blending in as regular dogs is how these packs stalk the town, how they get away with murder, how they infiltrate the enemy’s forces and convert and initiate or betray. They operate by animal rules and live by human needs for revenge and companionship and possession. Barlow weaves these two sides together with grace and sadness and a just a lick of happy-ever-after.
You’ll never look at your dog the same way again....more
I knew people had complaints about Mockingjay, the third and final Hunger Games book, but wow. What a(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
I knew people had complaints about Mockingjay, the third and final Hunger Games book, but wow. What a way to let down your readers.
Recently, when I reviewed the previous book, Catching Fire, I discussed who I wanted Katniss to end up with. Well, I got my wish, but it wasn’t the story that I hoped for.
Catching Fire was all about gathering the strength to fight back against the Capitol. The rebellion, for Katniss at least, began as soon as she heard that District 12 had been destroyed. But that energy and hope is washed away in Mockingjay, in which author Suzanne Collins reduces Katniss to a shadow of her former self — with no chance of repair.
I feel like Collins kept writing horrible things until she reached a point where she didn’t know how to stop — how to save her main character from the total destruction of her soul and ideals. Katniss, for most of the book, is traumatized. Peeta’s in the Capitol’s grasp, and her home is gone. And District 13 is no heaven. Things get worse from there.
Let me take a minute to talk about what I did like. Katniss forges new, closer friendships with Finnick, once so abrasive and now so sensitive and caring and lost without his Annie, and even Johanna, who was tortured in President Snow’s care, finds understanding and strength in Katniss, who receives the same from her. Mockingjay isn’t about rebellion as much as it’s about recovery — hanging on even when the present and future are dire, and you’re not sure how to survive.
What bothers me about Mockingjay isn’t the countless deaths or (view spoiler)[the unfortunate turn of events involving Peeta (at first I thought Collins was going to use that twist as a way to push him out of the picture and force Gale on Katniss, but thankfully, she didn’t stoop to that). (hide spoiler)] This is war. Horrible things happen. No, what upsets me is that Katniss is never given a true chance to recover: She’s broken at the beginning of the book and even more damaged by the end.
But — and I’m about to reveal a huge spoiler here — what really irks me is (view spoiler)[how hypocritical it was of Katniss to agree to another Games played by the Capitol’s children. In Prim’s name. Prim would never want that. She’s a healer. And I can’t believe that Katniss, who blames herself for every life lost because of what she did with those berries, would want more death after everything that’s happened. After she chewed out Gale for devising what she saw as heartless traps and plans that blurred the difference between them and the Capitol. And for believing that Peeta was right: that humans are horrible because we use children to settle our differences. Isn’t that what she’s doing?
I believed Snow, too, when he said that it wasn’t his bomb that killed the children and ended the war — that took Prim away from Katniss. And Gale’s admission afterward all but confirmed it. But still, Katniss chose to punish more children, more families, for no reason but revenge against those who didn’t ever deserve it. (hide spoiler)]
That’s the only moment where I felt Katniss did something out of character, or that what happened shouldn’t have. (view spoiler)[Because even Prim’s death made a strange sort of sense: Protecting her is what set everything in motion, and losing her is what stopped it. In a way, that was the end of Katniss’s world. For everyone else, it was the beginning of a new era. But Katniss isn’t part of it.
It’s fitting, then, that I felt like the whole world abandoned her and Peeta and Haymitch after the war. That they thanked their Mockingjay and their heroes by sending them into exile — into the graveyard of District 12, where their nightmares live. The old world. It was wrong of them. Even Haymitch and Katniss’s mother seemed to abandon her in the end. Only Peeta came back. And together, they did the only thing there was to: rebuild. Try to survive. Because life goes on.
So I got the ending I wanted, in a sense: Katniss and Peeta together. She knew she couldn’t survive without him because of the gift he gave her every day. Of joy. Of optimism. Of believing things can be better. (hide spoiler)]
Collins is, as always, the master of cliffhangers and gripping prose. But I think she failed Katniss — and, ultimately, failed us. Katniss deserved better. We deserved more.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I’m already well into reading Mockingjay, but I wanted to stop and discuss Catching Fire (spoilers!),(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
I’m already well into reading Mockingjay, but I wanted to stop and discuss Catching Fire (spoilers!), the middle novel of The Hunger Games, which came to movie theaters this winter.
(view spoiler)[I always expect second books in trilogies to be the weakest. In Catching Fire, author Suzanne Collins turns the story in a predictable direction: a budding rebellion against the Capitol. The plot lacks as much substance as the first book, but Collins manages to surprise me by throwing main character Katniss Everdeen back in the Hunger Games with a bunch of old people and young, lethal victors from the past annual “celebrations.”
Katniss will always have a place in the Games now, but I didn’t expect to see her back in costume so soon. It’s a good twist, but not everyone will approve: The Games segment of the book is short and too similar to events we’ve already seen, and the first half to two-thirds are plodding. (hide spoiler)] The romance, fake or otherwise, between Katniss and Peeta — the boy with the bread and her star-crossed “lover” — and Katniss and Gale — her childhood friend and fellow hunter — is more prominent in this novel (that’s good or bad, depending on what you were hoping for) although Collins thankfully grounds it in the grim reality of their situation. In the Games or in District 12, every move Katniss makes still puts her life and the lives of others in jeopardy.
So Catching Fire is lighter on content than the first book. There are some beautiful or dramatic moments involving a (view spoiler)[wedding gown (hide spoiler)], Katniss’s lead stylist (Cinna), and her competitors — and supposed allies — in the Games. I found the story absorbing though maybe that was because the romance was so juicy, but I also liked Katniss’s opponents more this time around. They’re a lot more striking: Johanna, who strips and trains naked (the actress for her in the movie, Jena Malone, is perfect); Finnick, charming and arrogant and deadly in the water and on land, who becomes one of my favorite new characters; and the intelligent and weird “Nuts” and “Volts,” to name a few. I also liked all the environmental traps in the arena even if they felt contrived (view spoiler)[(monkeys, blood rain, etc.) (hide spoiler)], like Collins was just dropping obstacles in there to pad out the Games (not that the wall of fire from book one was ever particularly clever or original). The characters’ interactions are what make the battle royale interesting, not anything the Gamemakers throw at them — although I did think the jungle and clock theme were fun.
I spent a good amount of time during my read-through thinking about Peeta and Gale and whom, if either, Katniss is better off with. I don’t think it’s fair that she should be forced into a romance when marriage and kids and love are the last things on her mind. But for her, these relationships are still happening — unwillingly and as much out of necessity as natural desire. Her survival in the Games depends on how well she and Peeta can put on a “show” for the audience, but they’re also thrust together privately through their mutual situation. (view spoiler)[They comfort each other when they’re tormented by nightmares; (hide spoiler)] their trust in each other is strong because of the Games — and that bond, formed through the preservation of their own mortality, is much more intense than that between her and Gale. Those two only tasted a small measure of danger in the woods outside District 12. Their reading of each other’s body language is much more intimate as hunters, and perhaps their world view is more similar, but Katniss never expressed a love for Gale whereas with Peeta, she feels gratitude and admiration — for the eloquence of his words, for his optimism. For saving her life time and again. For understanding what it’s like to survive the Games because he was there with her.
I don’t know how the trilogy will end, but I’m hoping Katniss gets to be with Peeta. (view spoiler)[What started as distrust and confusion and a sickly sweet performance has morphed into genuine affection, friendship, and more. They sleep soundly next to one another. She notices his hands as they work on a painting or drawing, like a lover would. (hide spoiler)] And that’s all because of the nightmare they went through in their first Hunger Games. Sometimes, life is funny that way.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I didn’t enjoy Divergent as much as I thought I would. I don’t even like the main character, Beatrice(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
I didn’t enjoy Divergent as much as I thought I would. I don’t even like the main character, Beatrice, all that much. But I do like how author Veronica Roth plays around with themes such as bravery, cowardice, and honesty.
Divergent splits its world into factions and forces everyone, at a young age, to choose which one they want to spend the rest of their lives a part of. That sometimes means joining a completely different group of people and never seeing your family again because you’re supposed to obey the mantra “faction before blood.” It sucks.
Beatrice grew up in Abnegation (which means “self-denial”), a faction that teaches selflessness above all else. But the problem with the factions, which were created to prevent war and violence by adhering to a set of ideals, is that if you commit yourself to the qualities that you think would guard against those things, you end up leading an extremist lifestyle. Most of us find it OK to be selfish sometimes, or dishonest, or reckless, or smart, but no one in Divergent gets that luxury.
That’s why people change factions — a chance at freedom, at identity. But those words don’t mean much when you’re simply trading one rigid way of life for another. It’s a flawed system that leads to a lot of political problems that boil over later in the book.
So Beatrice leaves her faction of total strictness and charity (people call the Abnegation “Stiffs”) and chooses its very opposite: the Dauntless. They’re everything the Abnegation are not supposed to be. But before initiation, even before you choose, you take a test that’s meant to guide you. Beatrice’s results, which are supposed to reveal the faction where she best belongs, are inconclusive. They are wrong. Divergent.
For most of the novel, Beatrice — or “Tris,” as she chooses to be called — has no idea what that means. She just tries her best to survive initiation, which with the Dauntless means jumping onto moving trains and onto rooftops, climbing to ridiculous heights, getting tattoos, showing skin, shooting guns, and fighting. It’s supposed to teach her to be brave, but not everyone has the same idea of what that is. She has to figure that out for herself, and that’s what I loved most about Divergent. The concept of bravery (or any of the other faction ideals) becomes confusing when you’re trying to define it — when you apply it to different situations the same way or try to live by its compass alone. A lot of what bravery means to Tris depends on how she connects to whatever she’s feeling. Brave one moments means a gun in her hand and the next, stepping away, being vulnerable.
That also makes her unlikable in a lot of ways. Tris can be completely selfless when she follows old habits or protects her friends, but inside, she can be petty. She can be angry. Selfish. And it’s hard to admire someone who listens to a fellow initiate sob during the night and ignores him because it disgusts her.
None of us is perfect, though, and maybe Tris’s character is just an honest one. Heroes don’t always have to be good. I’m not sure Tris is. She’s smart and moral, and she feels guilt or pain when others are wronged, but she’s not above committing cruel deeds herself.
Maybe that’s why Divergent gets more interesting later on because for the first half or so, the pace is kind of slow. I wasn’t even sure I cared about any of the characters. It took awhile for me to warm up to or feel convinced by them. And a lot of that had to do with betrayal, friendship, and romance — and most importantly, the thing that makes Tris an outcast from the world: not that she’s Dauntless but that she’s Divergent.
She’s stubborn and a little crazy. When others call her weak or small or a “Stiff,” she fights back. She tries harder. And as much as I don’t know that she’s the best model for anyone to look up to, I do think that’s worth something. We can be anything we want to be in a world where we’re supposed to think and act like everyone else. We can be Divergent; we can be nameless.
William Gibson, one of the early movers of cyberpunk, wrote a novel in 1996 about cyberspace love. Id(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
William Gibson, one of the early movers of cyberpunk, wrote a novel in 1996 about cyberspace love. Idoru, which I didn’t even realize was the second book in a trilogy called Bridge when I bought it (and that doesn’t matter), is about virtual avatars and worlds that have become so real that they cross dimensions and enter into existence.
As a gamer, that’s not an unthinkable concept to me. That future is all but here, with virtual reality and technology like Google Glass. Even with our many phones and computers and televisions, we’re constantly plugged in. Our lives are as much online as they are physical.
In Idoru, those realities intersect. The lead member of the popular band Lo/Rez plans to marry a synthetic personality called Rei Toei, the titular idoru — only their love and such a union is impossible. She’s not real, merely a conscious hologram projected by a machine, and everyone around Rez is wondering what’s going on in his head.
Enter Laney, who’s good at figuring out that sort of thing. So good that when he worked at SlitScan, a company obsessed with the ratings roller coaster of making and breaking celebrities, exposing and destroying their lives for entertainment, he predicted that a wannabe-famous young woman would kill herself. Nobody believed him, but he’s good at reading the signs — discerning the “nodal points,” like seeing faces in the clouds. Too good.
Those are skills that could be put to better use — use with Lo/Rez, or at least the people who protect them. Laney’s hired to get inside Rez’s head, so to speak. That’s the idea, anyway. The data isn’t there in the way it should be, and the mysterious idoru plays her own part in it, as does an innocent girl named Chia who travels to Japan to learn if there’s truth to the rumor about Rez’s proposal on behalf of the Lo/Rez fan club she’s part of. Only, she becomes involved in a dangerous sort of business, all accidental, that changes her perception of life, with its many planes, and of her own idol, Rez.
It’s a bizarre plot for sure, but Gibson’s writing has captivated and stuck with me since Neuromancer, and it’s just as absorbing here. Gibson shifts verb tenses and sentence constructions as easily as the characters do realities. His writing is plain, stark on the page, yet totally imaginative in the way that brings you to this whole other state of being, this completely new future. Tokyo. The Walled City. A love hotel. Beautiful and ugly have a way of mixing up together.
Idoru seems to search for a sense of its own meaning toward the later chapters, all switching between Chia’s and Laney’s perspectives even when they inevitably intertwine, but the message to me is one we’re more familiar with each day: the union of technology and nature that’s so pure, so invisible as to be untraceable — to be as one. “Porting” — logging on — is a commonplace phenomenon, no different than walking down the street. The idoru and Rez’s love is real even though she exists only as embodied information. And some people, like the shut-in otaku Masahiko, live more in data spaces like the Walled City than in the real world.
This is a future where anyone’s identity can be fabricated, can be replicated or falsified, as avatars or doppelgangers on video — your face on someone else’s body, incriminating. Or how you want to be seen. The new real you.
Gibson is clever to pair this exploration of a new nature with the widespread, cult-like indulgence in the celebrity. Like the real to the virtual, the digital version to the truth, the images don’t quite match up. They’re slightly off, almost imperceptibly. Rez and the idoru can’t be accepted. Their relationship is too controversial. But they will be. We’re getting there — one reality infiltrating another....more
Ahem. That outburst accurately sums up my feelings about Su(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG TO READ THIS BOOK?!
Ahem. That outburst accurately sums up my feelings about Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and I ought to leave it at that. But because this is a review, let me explain my enthusiasm.
The eponymous Hunger Games is a Battle Royale for children — a televised sporting tournament that throws the rich and the poor, the untrained and the athletic, together in an open arena where they must survive against the elements and each other in a fight to the death. It’s also the biggest reminder of the Capitol’s power and how much control it wields over the twelve districts of Panem.
The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (yes, it’s a weird name, but there’s a reason for it), comes from an incredibly poor area called the Seam. Through memories and recollections that feel organic to the story (they’re woven in), Collins shows us how capable and battle-hardened the character is before she even enters the arena. Katniss watched her father die, cared for her innocent little sister when her mother’s mind and body succumbed to depression, and started hunting outside the district limits, beyond the fence — a pursuit that’s forbidden but so essential to the simplest human survival in Panem. Hunger is their oppression.
Life is a little easier when Katniss meets with her hunting partner, Gale, but their relationship is strictly business and friendship. At least, it was. A trace of romance seeps into their talks in the woods just as the next annual Hunger Games are about to begin, and not Katniss or Gale but her little sister Prim is chosen, with a single odd against her. That’s when Katniss volunteers to take her place and her entire perspective on life changes — mainly, that she won’t have one for much longer.
That’s the most fascinating part about The Hunger Games to me: the meanings of words. Survival, romance, killing, mercy. At first, survival is making it through another day of gnawing hunger in the Seam, and then it’s outsmarting your enemies and the ravages of nature in the Games. It’s owing someone and living for them, or being owed.
Romance is thinking of love in terms of practicality — raising a child in a world where hunger is law — or putting on a show to give the citizens of Panem, the “audience,” the drama and excitement they crave, all to better ensure survival (popularity means sponsorship, which means more gifts during the Games). Murder (dare she use the word when the Capitol treats the Games as national celebrations) is the difference between killing an animal and killing a person, someone who could easily be a friend, and sometimes is. Or it’s ending a life when a quick death is preferable.
Collins plays with these dualities and more, and she does it in a way that’s natural and perfectly paced, that’s ever urgent and deeply affecting, with a protagonist who’s both likeable for her strength and moral values yet hopelessly graceless in times of social need. For once of such talent and intelligence, Katniss is clumsy with words, clueless near boys, and faithless about her own abilities. But these flaws only make her more impressive — more real. Every time I was on the verge of tears (which was pretty often), I held them back because I knew Katniss would do the same. She had to. Perceived weakness is death in the Games.
Some vulnerability is okay — that of love. Much of the Games veers toward Katniss’s fabricated romance with the boy tribute from her district, Peeta. To win the favor of the audience, they play the roles of star-crossed lovers, partners and teammates all while knowing one of their fates must be cut short, possibly by the other’s hand. There can only be one victor. Their relationship is always reminiscent of this pull and tug: enemies or friends, lovers or actors, Katniss is never quite sure. And at home, watching them onscreen, is Gale.
Our curiosity about what Gale, her loyal and trusted friend, must be thinking is never answered. That awkwardness is tangible with each kiss or smile Katniss and Peeta share, but at times, when the moment is right, it vanishes completely. They experience a whole lifetime in that arena, and that’s something Gale can never match. But he and the Seam promise normalcy, or close enough to it, and Peeta is everything but.
The second book, Catching Fire, should parse the truth from the fabrication, the genuine feelings from the ones born out of the instinct to survive. And I can’t wait to read it....more
Whatever I was expecting when I picked up Dan Simmons’ 1989 sci-fi novel Hyperion, it wasn’t a versio(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
Whatever I was expecting when I picked up Dan Simmons’ 1989 sci-fi novel Hyperion, it wasn’t a version of The Canterbury Tales set in space.
Think about it: A bunch of strangers embark on a pilgrimage together and make a game out of telling stories. A couple small parts even mirror Chaucer’s Middle English prose. The characters follow a randomly determined sequence to decide who speaks when, and each narrative differs not only in theme but also in structure. The contents of these tales are supposed to better prepare them for the hardship ahead and reveal which of them is a spy.
General unease about their journey, which may not come to fruition, and the deadly creature known as the Shrike pervades their recollections. Each pilgrim has joined because of a specific spiritual calling — an obligation to the future of humanity, which is under threat from several sides.
Piecing together the larger significance of these tales takes time, but eventually, new details illuminate the characters whom readers and the other travelers know nothing about and each of whom brings a token of their past or troubles with them. These possessions of value take different forms and are in plain sight for the entire novel, but readers don’t realize their importance until each person tells his or her tale. It’s amazing how powerful these moments of clarity can be — with some characters more than others.
Indeed, some stories, like the Priest’s, are riveting. His in particular is weird, disturbing, and hard to forget. It puts a perverse twist on Christianity and religion in general. Others, like the Soldier’s, are dull and uninspiring, with little thought to bolster the action. It’s in this segment that a passionate sexual relationship with a woman ends in a cliche expression of masculine fear, which is explored through a sci-fi lens — you know, the vagina is a mouth of metal teeth — and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Hard. It read like a bad porno.
Hyperion contains several polarized looks at sex, though, including a few that are meaningful. It’s the diversity between them that’s important — a reflection of how these remarkably different characters see the world and a reminder that they’ve met on this pilgrimage for a common reason.
Simmons’ writing is often haunting and, in rare moments, quite beautiful in description. The strength of the book rests with its depth and interplay of ideas and the variety of its stories (an Asimov-esque detective thriller, a devastated romance, a familial tragedy, and so on) but that also serves as its major weakness. I got bored of Hyperion once I hit a tale I didn’t like, and any renewed interest from that point on died with every new section that failed to appeal to me....more
Earlier this year, I expressed skepticism toward The She-Hulk Diaries and Rogue Touch — specifically,(Originally posted on my blog, Misprinted Pages.)
Earlier this year, I expressed skepticism toward The She-Hulk Diaries and Rogue Touch — specifically, about authors scribbling down superhero adventures without the pretty pictures to match and, more importantly, with what seemed like a “romantic” spin (that turned out to be false).
I love comics, and removing their visual element would be like neutering them. The physical prowess of female superheroes, especially, is what grabs your attention; it’s the artist’s job to convey that. Then the writer steps in and uses that moment to communicate their emotional and mental strength as well. These three traits complement one another. I wondered if a novel could properly re-create that power. Since so much of a superhero’s identity is rooted in action and visuals — perhaps even more than words — would these characters even translate well into novel protagonists? Or would She-Hulk and Rogue become shallow versions of themselves?
The answer is different than what I expected — at least in She-Hulk’s case (I have yet to get around to Rogue). After reading Marta Acosta’s fun and very juicy The She-Hulk Diaries, I decided that a) yes, superheroes have enough thoughts buzzing around in their heads to fill a novel but b) the whole superhero action thing is what comes across poorly.
Acosta takes She-Hulk, aka Jennifer Walters (although, in this book, they’re two separate characters who cohabit the same body) and makes her a character worth knowing outside of comic books. I’m a nerd and stickler for accuracy and faithful portrayals, but she pulls it off.
But as someone who doesn’t write for comics, Acosta loses stride when delivering big action. She restricts most of She-Hulk’s crime-fighting efforts to trashing petty thugs who are also cartoonish — and not in a good way. In a cheesy, ’60s comics kind of way.
It half works with the story. The Avengers have ostracized She-Hulk, and she’s not getting all the cool, intergalactic gigs anymore. So she’s stuck picking loser bad guys off the streets.
However, the whole time, I was waiting for at least one super-villain showdown. Acosta does include one — sort of. To leave one out would have disappointed a lot of readers, but what she ends up with isn’t handled with the same finesse and drama as what you’d see in comics today. It’s a little outdated and campy. I found this to be the weakest part of the book.
I’m reluctant to put a label on The She-Hulk Diaries, but this very much does seem like chick-lit to me. (Marta can fight me in the comments if she’d like.) But that’s good news because I find chick-lit to be very fun, and hey — it’s definitely not romance.
What’s most impressive is how Acosta writes Jen/She-Hulk in a way that would make any modern, feminist-minded woman proud. Jennifer stands up for herself. She doesn’t jump into a relationship (or bed) although she courts some very different suitors. She doesn’t have the best history with men, either. She’s normal, but at the same time, she’s a little wiser than some of us.
She isn’t a flawless character, though. Pretty much anywhere outside the courtroom (Jen’s a lawyer), she struggles with self-confidence. She’s got some anger issues, deep down. But I love her for being honest and so dedicated to her work, which is all about doing good. I love her for treating her friends with just as much importance and care as her career — and while finding a relationship is important, she doesn’t degrade herself to get there. She’s not going to change who she is.
To say that’s an important message for young women and girls today would be an understatement.
By the end, I wanted more of Acosta’s writing because it was so enjoyable, but she does leave readers hanging about a few minor plot threads: the circumstances surrounding She-Hulk’s split from the Avengers, for example, and how Jen feels about her mother’s death.
At the same time, the overarching story — which connects the “antagonists” (I’m lumping them in a very general group) together and keeps She-Hulk (and lawyer Jen) rather busy — isn’t as compelling as the little details: the everyday thoughts and actions of these two characters.
The book pours on the romance more heavily later on, when Jen has to choose between several love interests. And I can’t help but feel like her union with Mr. Right was a little mushy.
Complaints aside, The She-Hulk Diaries is a light, funny, and emotionally cathartic read that breaks expectations....more