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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Books I Read: November - December 2013 (Part 1)


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

It's definitely unlike the movie. I've complained before about Blade Runner, and that it's all style and lacking cohesion. The book feels a little more satirical, a little more biting, and not so concerned about looking and feeling cool. It's really steeped in allegory and metaphor and THE MESSAGE. It's interesting how the director saw a movie in this. The portion that made it into the film is quite minimal. He probably could have saved some money by filing off the serial numbers.

The book itself? Well, it's hard to put an opinion on it. It's a novel to be appreciated for its place in history. It's almost like a Wes Anderson science fiction story, with the quirkiness and the focus on people over tech. I guess the problem with classic science fiction is that everyone wants to say they've read it, but no one actually wants to do the reading. The ideas inside are nominal.  But everyone else has done more current variations on them, with characters one can better sympathize with. I read my books for emotional connections, and this doesn't have them so much.


Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi

When I read The Big Idea piece on it, it sounded interesting, but I didn't intend to pick it up. Except I saw it on my library's eBook catalog, so I thought, what the heck. It sounded like a fun book.

Paolo says he wrote the book as a fun thing without much pressure. There aren't any literary techniques.  He just tried to make a fun book for boys about zombie fighting, without many themes and motifs. In fact, I think the themes are actually more prevalent than he makes light of. There's a prominent thread of foreigners/bigotry in here. Moreso than the zombies, which are actually lacking. Those expecting something like World War Z or David Wolverton will be disappointed.

That being said, the novel does achieve what it seeks out to. It's a beach read, not too heavy except for the racism themes, and some fun gross-outs.


Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

When I read Eleanor & Park I decided to check out more of this Rainbow Rowell person. Delightedly, I my library had her latest, newly-released novel available. This is about Cath, one of twin girls, going to college freshman year. The primary conflict is that she's forced to live an independent life and come out of her shell. She's used to retreating into her computer and writing fan fiction.

I guess I'd categorize this book as a romance. There aren't a lot of plot twists or problems or obstacles. The main character is simply trying to cope with her severe introversion and reaching an adult identity. It was a subject I could easily identify with -- I was very scared as a freshman, and frequently stayed in my dorm. The stakes are not epic, but character-focused. Which is fine. If you loved Eleanor & Park, but thought it was too depressing, this one is not.


Rage by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

I've wanted to read this one for a long time, but could never find it. Stephen King let it fall out of print and called it "a good thing". Personally, I found that hypocritical. This is the guy who says "you can have my books when you pry them from my cold dead hands."

The book itself shows those shades of early King, before he became too wordy. It's not horror or supernatural, it's dark satire (and some author venting). The kid goes into school and holds a classroom hostage. The problem is what happens there. While we get flashbacks of the killer's life, he plays around with his power on the students. Like resolving an argument between girls with a fight.

Eventually, they start revealing that they're not happy, they're not the perfect choir girls parents think they are. They get pretty comfortable with a madman with the gun in the room. So much, it only takes 2 hours for them to get Stockholm syndrome and side with the madman.

The plot is implausible. It has that 70's style-over-realism thing going on. King is famous for that in the Bachman books. The ending has earmarks of 80's horror movie cheesiness. If you want to complete your King collection or have a jones for stories about school rebellion, this is a fine read. But otherwise, I think it can be passed.


Breath by Jackie Morse Kessler

When I got this book, I left the library thinking "how is she going to screw this one up?" This is the last book of the series, dealing with Death, who Kessler has portrayed as Kurt Cobain.

And of course, it's all exposition. Talking, talking, talking. Explaining, more talking, and then existential nonsense which has nothing to do with the protagonist. Nobody wants anything. I'm shouting at the book DO SOMETHING. There's no conflict. The big plot twist for the protagonist, where what he thought was wasn't (a la A Beautiful Mind) happens in the last five pages.  THE LAST FIVE PAGES.

That's the kind of shit that happens in Act 1. It's the crux of your story, and it doesn't happen until the end. And of course, there's no consequences for it. It takes one hundred pages in for any sort of turn to happen. Besides that it's people living, making bad jokes, and NOTHING HAPPENS.

Oh, and it's transparent that she's trying to hide gender. Kessler, you are not John Scalzi. I am so glad to be done with you.


Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Also one I was surprised to see in my library's eCatalog. But I snatched it up. However, I think this works better as a paper book. There are some nice illustrations that go along with it, that are really too small in eBook form to be appreciated.

The story is one Neil Gaiman is famous for -- an ordinary schlub gets caught up in whimsical adventures with weird, funny stuff. This time it takes a page from Roald Dahl.  And while it's got plenty of funny bits, I don't feel it's destined to become a classic. Also, I'm not sure some of the more complex subjects (time travel and quantum mechanics figure heavily into the plot) will go under the heads of the target audience. I would never want someone to dumb things down for kids, but I feel like only a small portion of its readers will appreciate it.  But that's no reason not to try.
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