I liked it for what it was and how it tied things in the wider Cosmere closer, but I also feel it takes away a bunch of the characters' agency, especiI liked it for what it was and how it tied things in the wider Cosmere closer, but I also feel it takes away a bunch of the characters' agency, especially during The Hero of Ages. It seems too.. directed, having some outside force meddle in allll the right situations at the exact times it was needed....more
Bakemonogatari is an odd one for certain. Well, I guess that is actually a given for any one of NisiOisiN's works. He isReview also published here
Bakemonogatari is an odd one for certain. Well, I guess that is actually a given for any one of NisiOisiN's works. He is a strange writer at the best of times, and the Monogatari series could be considered his magnum opus in terms of peak strangeness. The series is as divisive as I can see any piece of media with a cult following getting. Some love it to bits, others will hate it to their very core. Some may appreciate the witty wordplay with little moving parts beyond metaphors and rolled eyes, while others will be floored by how little actually happens in the included stories.
To dial back a little, this is part one of Bakemonogatari only. Unlike the japanese original, which was split into two volumes, the english release is a three-parter. As a result, this one here only includes the stories "Hitagi Crab" and "Mayoi Snail", but not "Suruga Monkey" as well like in Japan. To cross-reference the highly popular anime adaptation from 2009-10, this release covers episodes 1 through 5 only. I'll also have to say that, if you've already watched that particular anime adaptation, you can mostly skip reading this book, because unlike with Kizumonogatari (which got a dreadful 3-part movie adaptation), most scenes are copied pretty accurately, despite some liberties the animation studio took with scenery and keeping it visually busy.
However, taken on its own, I enjoyed this first volume. It was a good way to refresh my memory of the series which I watched many years ago, and some things are a little less mindboggling than in the anime, due to giving the reader more introspective sections and time to piece things together without the dramatic visualizations, flashing screens and rapid-fire of dialogue lines. Watching the anime in japanese with english subtitles is certainly entertaining, but can get quite overwhelming with how much information it conveys. The book is easier to digest in that regard. It also helps that the translator tried to localize some wordplay and references to the point where they'd be understandable to an english-speaking audience - there are still a few japanese language-related subjects in here, like the way you could interpret and read certain character combinations and how the meaning of a name can change drastically depending on perspective and circumstance, but I felt it was well-handled here. So kudos to the translating and editing staff at Vertical for the solid job here, as with Kizumonogatari, which frankly wasn't nearly as tough in this way.
Looking at the stories, "Hitagi Crab" explores the traumatic life of Senjougahara Hitagi, who had her "weight" stolen by a Crab a few years earlier and lives an isolated life trying to hide the fact. Araragi happens to find out and offers his help in solving the oddity. Senjougahara is a difficult, sharp-tongued person with more thorns than petals, and her relationship with Araragi borders almost on abusive. In "Mayoi Snail", Araragi comes across a lost grade schooler on Mother's Day, while he is reluctant to return home himself, and together with Senjougahara they attempt to take the kid to its destination. The child, Hachikuji Mayoi, is funny to read about and offers a neat counterbalance to Hitagi's sharpness. Both stories are rooted in family-related drama for all involved, straddling the line between comedy and touchy subjects.
Either way, if you expect action, you'll be disappointed. Sorely so. Unlike with Kizumonogatari, where the protagonist Araragi had to fend off three vampire hunters and the vampire Kiss-shot Accerola-Orion Heart-under-Blade, this is a more passive pair of stories that relies much more on dialogue and simple character interaction. In fact, large sections of "Mayoi Snail" take place sitting on a park bench, or walking around looking for a certain address, before returning to the park bench.
The focus is squarely on the dialogue, the banter, the wordplay and tension between the characters. Environments and outside descriptions are mostly absent, unless they directly concern the characters in some way. You'll be unlikely to get lost in the setting, like you could with many western fantasy authors. Instead the author aims to get you into the characters' heads, and develop an understanding of their circumstances. A lot of the dialogue and Araragi's inner monologues aim to elaborate on those points specifically, putting them into various different contexts and deliberating back and forth. And as convoluted as the chatter can be here, the prose itself, the style of the narrative, is very straightforward and often simplistic.
To me, this is an interesting thing to read about, but it is also plain to see that it will not be enough for a lot of readers. If you don't enjoy the characters for what they are and represent, your enjoyment will suffer greatly.
And let me get one more thing out of the way: This isn't a book for children. The cover may be inviting and anime/manga still have a reputation of being "for kids" in the West, but this is anything but a kids' story. Bakemonogatari deals with the characters' traumatic experiences and their reactions to them, and while there's always a sense of comedy and tongue-in-cheek writing here, some subjects can be pretty sobering when they surface. Beyond that, there is also a degree of sexual topics in here; while Senjougahara's story deals with those in a rather frank manner, it may seem too much to some readers, and downright offensive to others. It makes certain cultural differences between the West and Japan stand out quite strongly. Even accounting for that, I feel that NisiOisiN elaborates a little too much on these touchy subjects here, though they still serve to underline the characters here and there.
Despite a bunch of points in my review seeming negative, I do want to stress that I enjoyed the book. I'm hoping the second part will be with me next week. The close-up on weird, eastern folklore-inspired abberations and very personal dramatic experiences is very appealing to me, even with all its quirks. There's neat trivia in here that I didn't know before, and the squabbling between Araragi and the rest is entertaining and can even shift your perspective on your own past actions at times. The witty dialogues are often refreshing, easy to visualize and made me laugh more often than they made me cringe. I still enjoyed the more directed nature of Kizumonogatari more, having a real sense of danger that didn't really exist here, but for as different as they may be, both Kizu- and Bakemonogatari share three important aspects: They are engaging, entertaining and introspective. If that's your thing, like it is mine, then you'll be in for a treat!...more
Will Save the Galaxy for Food is an incredibly enjoyable science fiction satire novel. I enjoyed my time with it immenseReview also published here
Will Save the Galaxy for Food is an incredibly enjoyable science fiction satire novel. I enjoyed my time with it immensely. Not only did it drip with sarcasm and just plain ridiculous ideas, but it also had some very interesting points to make about the dangers of finding oneself obsolete. While it seems like just a comedic sci-fi romp, it actually offers a lot more depth than is immediately apparent.
The protagonist (and first-person narrator) is a down-on-his-luck pilot. During the Golden Age of space adventures, he liberated planets, along with many other pilots. Some turned excentric, adopting the cultures of "their" planets for themselves, others just stand at the space ports waving signs for tourism jobs, just to foot their bills. The development of stargate-esque portal technology has made space pilots pretty much obsolete, and put almost all of the old heroes onto the street with little more than nostalgia to keep them going.
But amidst it all, there is a "traitorous" pilot making his fortune off the backs of his colleagues: Jacques McKeown, a highly popular novelist stealing the adventures of his peers for his books. Nobody knows who he is, however. So it just happens that our unnamed protagonist gets roped into imitating McKeown in a dangerous job for a big-time crime boss (who is very much orange skinned!), and shit hits the fan from then on out. With the syndicate boss's son being a massive Jacques McKeown fanboy and wanting to impress his crush by going on a space trip piloted by his idol, and kept in line by the stiff personal assistant Warden, things are just going downhill from here.
The story takes us to a lot of places. From fending off crime lords over pirates to even other pilots trying to scalp Jacques McKeown, or oddly-cute-but-bloody-dangerous mascots-turned-cannibal, and even cyborg hiveminds and the dangers of teenage hormones, Will Save the Galaxy for Food is chock-full of action, room for sly comments and characters expressing their distaste for one another. I was surprised by how much Yahtzee was able to cram in here will still supporting the nostalgia and end of an era themes. The characters are surprisingly well-developed for a satire piece too, with miss Warden slowly cracking up a little (while still being a psycho-div through and through) and heroes and villains of the old times seeking simple job opportunities. Our protagonist also turns from seeming like a sleazeball into a reliable hero figure with just slight brain damage as things move along.
I apologize if this review is a bit sparse on details, but you'll really have to see for yourselves just what troubles "Jacques McKeown" gets himself into here. The story follows a neat from-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire style, one thing leading to another and another, and I'd rather not unravel it all. While some developments might appear a bit out of the blue, I never thought that was a bad thing. It is just the kind of weird space adventure I was hoping for it to be. In a way, I got reminded of the movie Galaxy Quest in a few places.
Most importantly, though: It is a genuinely funny book. The amount of lines I ended up quoting to friends while reading this was just silly. Most of it are sarcastic remarks, situational humor and oh-god-I-want-to-bash-my-head-in-is-this-stupid moments, so quoting them here is a bit tricky. The humor won't work for everyone. Yahtzee's dark and dry british sarcastic yet somehow over the top style works very well for me, but as with his previous books, or Zero Punctuation itself, I know a bunch of people who aren't partial to it. My best recommendation here is to read the sample of the ebook on Amazon or listening to the Audible sample and seeing for yourself. That's the nature of comedy, I'm afraid.
One little thing that stretches through the entire book I enjoyed was that Yahtzee decided to use mathematical terms as a curse and insult dictionary.
In “Pilot Math”, the word multiply (shortened to ply) replaces the most popular swear word, with subtraction (or trac) filling in as an all-purpose noun with scatological leanings. Bracket became a common insult, as did decimal point (or doint) and division (div), which also came to mean male and female genitalia, respectively.
While this may seem a little thing of search&replace all swear words, it helped the world building for me. It was also quite funny to see the characters swear like this, and I'm sure I'll make personal use of some of these in the future. It is such a simple idea yet it carried part of the comedy for me.
Either way, I was surprised by what Yahtzee got going for him here. Jam was ridiculous on so many levels (I mean, it was about man-eating strawberry jam and the fall of human society amidst the jampocalypse...) and Mogworld was very nerdy and video gamey by design. Will Save the Galaxy for Food seems like a great mix of both. It is easily approachable while undeniably nerdy, yet also offers multiple points in regards to real world issues like automation, a shrinking job market, corruption, surveilance states and so on. While it never stood in the way of the entertainment factor, having those snippets of witty commentary made the book a great deal better. I'd urge you to give it a try. If you in any way enjoy audiobooks, go for it for the (in my opinion) best experience. Will Save the Galaxy for Food is an intelligent amusement park visit with a lot of attractions to show for itself....more
Disclaimer: The author contacted me back in early February to offer me a review copy of the book. I liked the premise andReview also published here
Disclaimer: The author contacted me back in early February to offer me a review copy of the book. I liked the premise and sample I got on Amazon, and agreed to read & review it. I've also ordered a paperback copy on my own.
The Promise of the Child is a tough book to judge. As a debut novel, it does a lot of things right, some things wrong, but it is so utterly inventive and refreshing, trusting the reader to piece things together on their own rather than over-explaining every single factoid, that for the most part I enjoyed my time with the book a lot. There are just some things left dangling that I'd have liked to see addressed in this book rather than the next.
The big thing to say about this book right off the bat is that it is difficult. It is by no means a quick and easy read. Clocking in at around 550 pages as a paperback (including glossary), this will take time to get through, and moreso because you'll often find yourself checking earlier chapters for things you might have missed, or clues that are being put into new light as the story progresses. It really doesn't hold your hand and expects you to take a wild plunge into the Amaranthine Firmament and its peculiarities.
For the first 100 or so pages you'll probably feel lost and like you are missing something - and you are, because Toner holds back a lot at first. The setting he presents is incredibly complex and in parts convoluted, giving a lot of strange vibes that I'll wager make more sense on a re-read of the novel or the series as a whole. But little by little, mysteries are being peeled back and small explanations offered to the reader. Suddenly your perspective shifts and appreciation grows.
By the end, though, I still felt a little lost in the universe. There are dangling plotlines that are obviously going to come to a head in the sequel(s), which I am determined to read as well, but they made me wait for continuations that just didn't happen in this book, or were still very opaque to me. I have my suspicions, but clear answers on many aspects still elude me - by design, but it does make me worry a bit that I'm simply missing something, or should have re-read a few more chapters after the fact. A little more context and explanation wouldn't have gone amiss, in my opinion, as much as I love it when authors trust their readers to make their own connections. As inventive and exciting as this debut novel is, I cannot deny that it appears somewhat daunting.
Beneath all the complexity, there lies a lot charme, however. Once you start getting the hang of it, you'll find yourself deeply invested in the Melius Lycaste's somewhat reclusive life, his struggles with romance, model house building and his eventual fall from grace. Lycaste's plotline serves to reinforce the strangeness of the world 12,000 years into the future, with its trees growing materials and food, an odd class system and abhuman servants. Lycaste's progression through his home province and outside allows the reader to cling to something relatable while increasing the scope of the book as the character experiences new things and slowly loses more and more of his youthful innocence. He grew up rather sheltered and most of the world is beyond his understanding. Toner found a great way to gradually introduce the reader to technologies, the wider intrigue and events unfolding.
To me, Lycaste's almost tragic tale was the strongest part of the book, in terms of plot points. His unrequited love, being introduced to outside influences and discovering things he never paid attention to before all made for a dramatic tale. Where a lot of the other plotlines are mysterious and led by characters far from regular humanity, Lycaste just works out to be a relatable point of view character.
On the other hand we have Sotiris, a Perennial Amaranthine, an immortal human of old, getting invariably involved in a fierce play for the crown of Most Venerable emperor of the Amaranthine Firmament. The old leader has seemingly given up and a pretender to the throne is manipulating pieces and people to get what he wants - although what exactly that may be is a mystery for most of the book, and even beyond. Aaron the Long-Life, said pretender, is an enigma. Undeniably powerful, he is stranger than strange, invades the Amaranthines' dreams and Sotiris is hard-pressed to make his choices throughout the book. I quite liked Sotiris, his personal tragedies and role in showcasing glimpses of our present day, and his reflections on the changes wrought upon the world since.
Besides these two central plotlines, there are others, of course. I have to admit though that, looking back, I am not quite sure they needed to be as elaborate as they ended up being. While the book kicks off with the various Prism-species fighting over a mysterious invention of the Vulgar Corphuso, I wasn't quite sold on how much time was spent on having them chased by the point of view character of a second plotline, some skirmishes and spacefaring. It was great to see some corners of the galaxy and get a broader understanding of how the Amaranthines' rule works and what rivalries exist between the Prism - a collection of various human-descended species, most of which appear to be dwarfish - but in the end little of it all had an immediate effect on the book.
Toner really managed to weave an intriguing and dense net of viewpoints and characters, but it did introduce a few pacing problems to hop around so much. I personally enjoy the switching perspectives in books, but here I was really eager to get back to the most intriguing characters. Though, admittedly, without these plotlines there'd be little enough space travel and void warfare to make things seem a bit awkward.
I know this review is sounding nitpicky, or even negative. But I really didn't get a negative feeling from the book. I liked it a lot, and wish I had the time to go straight to the sequel, The Weight of the World, partially because I really enjoyed Toner's style and courage, but also because I am hoping for more answers to what is going on in the Firmament. There are entire chapters in the book hinting at something even bigger going on, yet these bigger factors barely materialize until the very end, and even then just briefly. There is a lot to the Amaranthine Spectrum, and The Promise of the Child makes me think that I have barely seen the tip of the iceberg.
This is a highly unconventional novel, which does a lot of things I appreciate about good space opera stories. It is a book that demands a lot of attention and thinking on the reader's part, which can be problematic if you feel stressed and want to unwind with a good novel. The Promise of the Child is so full of intricate details that a slip of attention can cost you, especially as this debut focuses a lot on worldbuilding aspects over direct plot movements. I'd advise against reading it in stressful environments like public transportation or waiting rooms - you'd do yourself and the novel a disservice getting distracted. But if you decide to take the plunge and stick with it through the early sections filled with confusing ideas and wondrous concepts, you'll find a rewarding and intelligent adventure with great twists and a promising future.
Despite my gripes, I want to stress that I had a good time with it. It was not an easy read, but all the more rewarding for it. It is a flawed gem with many breathtaking ideas. I am excited for The Weight of the World and exploring more of this setting. Now that I've gotten to grips with what Toner is doing with his debut universe, I'm ready for more....more