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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Books I Read: January - March 2011

 

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The final book of the Hunger Games trilogy (see Hunger Games first & second and Catching Fire reviews). There are things I liked about the book and things I didn't. I liked Katniss's role as figurehead of propaganda -- how she both embraces and rejects the role. I like that the ending is like another Hunger Games, but where Catching Fire just repeated it, Collins did it a little different with the infiltration.

My biggest problem were the parts in-between all these exciting bits. The constant question of Peeta hangs over everyone's head. I'm sure some readers liked that, but I got sick of it. It stopped the story for me, like there had to be pause to give the girly-girls a Twilight-esque romance to fawn over.

I'll never understand how girls get on this Team This or Team That mentality. They must like to argue about boys they can't have, I guess. I think the trilogy is worse for it, but really, that's a small part of the book. I think it's an excellent end to the trilogy, and I like that Collins didn't cop out on the conclusion, that it finishes the way it began (spoilers!).


How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

I saw the movie on Netflix and thought it was pretty awesome. The book? Eh... not so much. I know the scriptwriters chopped up the series to make the final movie, but the book reminded me of a Nicktoon -- one of the bad ones that was just gross-out humor and bad Korean animation, trying to be Ren & Stimpy. The book is in the form of journal/account of the protagonist, complete with crude sketches, ink splotches, and the occasional full-page joke meant to increase page count. It has shades of Roald Dahl, but it's a poor imitator. See the movie instead.


Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

For book club, and one of the few books I was glad I read afterwards. The problem is it's really hard to understand because the world is so different. A lot of times, it's hard to tell if the book is trying to be a comedy or not.

For example, the social structure for the entire world is based on how much color you can see, because an individual can only see one color at a time (reds, blues, oranges, etc.) due to some unnamed cataclysm. People who can see 70% red or so are strong candidates as community leaders and thus, people are very concerned about who to marry in order to produce offspring that can see a lot of color. People who can't see much (greys) are considered lower class, like slaves. And no one can see in the dark. You get home before it gets dark, or you get killed.

If you thought that was silly, consider that spoons are a rare treasure. You must always keep your spoon, and I guess it's tied to your postal code, so if you don't have a spoon, you may as well not exist. Add to that a naked man who everyone ignores because the social rules say he doesn't exist, a giant puzzle everyone works on, colors that can kill, and the last rabbit, and you've got a "different" novel.

But if you can get past the learning curve of world-building, it's quite a good novel. The story keeps you going, as you want to find out more why, why, why. There are whys here -- the spoons and the colors aren't just arbitrary, even though they're not explained. It's not for casual readers -- you will be tested -- but it's worth the drive.


Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

This has been on my "to-read" list for a long time, ever since I heard about it on Boing Boing and read Butcher Bird/Blind Shrike. Plus the summary intrigued me. It's just a guy who escaped from Hell with the intention of killing everyone who put him there. Simple as that. There's no reluctant hero, no romance, no quest, no internal struggle, no touchy-feely. Just a guy who's going to kill you all. The best part is that the novel delivers what it promises, but then it delivers more. So much more.

I'm not sure if I'm going to read the other books in the sequence. But if I do have time, it sure would be nice to.


Roll the Bones edited by Ignatius Umlaut and Del Beaudry

Hey, look it's me! Why, yes, I am in this book. Which means I'm a registered author. Granted, I'm part of a large anthology, but it's a start. At least I get my own Goodreads profile and a link in Amazon. Hopefully, I'll be able to capitalize on that once I'm published with a real book.

I wanted to get a feel for my contemporaries, so I read the rest of the stories therein. I was surprised how many of them had the same flavor, and that flavor wasn't the same as my story. Makes me wonder how I got picked in the first place. There are a lot of dungeons, a lot of Red Sonja women, a lot of magicians and dagger-carrying rogues. I hesitate to make any judgements on the book, because I'm in it, I don't think I could be impartial.


The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

Another book for book club, this one chosen by the only other guy in it. But he's a guy after my own heart, and he picked the very first Hugo award winner. There are telepaths/psychics and since they can read your mind, murder has mostly become a thing of the past (a la Minority Report). Unless you're Ben Reich, CEO of one of the world's two biggest companies. The owner of the other is your rival, and you want to kill him for obvious reasons. How do you do it with all these telepaths watching? Well, that's the question, and it becomes a thrilling cat-and-dog game between the guy who may have committed the perfect crime and the telepath detective pursuing him.

At least it would be more thrilling if it wasn't so antiquated. Alfred Bester wrote radio serials and it shows. I kept hearing old episodes of The Shadow in my head during the dialogue. There are definite signs of its age -- a lot of the sci-fi tropes like common space travel that we know are implausible today are in place, and the storyline starts getting scrambled as you get further in the book. Suddenly everyone is someone's relative a la Star Wars. It reminds me of when I started to write, I was trying to get all artsy by making the page into a canvas and playing with word shapes. Not that I'm comparing myself to Alfred Bester.
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