Thursday, December 24, 2009
It took nearly a week, but I finally finished Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol." I would have read faster -- it's hard not to, considering Brown's breakneck pacing and three-page chapters -- but beautiful weather kept me outside over the weekend.
I'll say upfront that I enjoy the codes and puzzles that move the plot in Brown's books, even if they are fairly simple. I'm also a fan of historical novels, or those that draw heavily on historical information. And there is plenty of both -- puzzles and history -- in "The Lost Symbol." Professor Robert Langdon moves through some of Washington, D.C.'s most prominent buildings, including the Capitol and the U.S. Botanic Garden, as he pursues an ancient mystery -- and is pursued by a tattooed madman. At every step, he encounters encoded clues related to Freemasonry, a social order that has included many prominent Washingtonians, including Washington himself.
Brown is at his best when he simply focuses on plot: the madman's quest and the physical dangers faced by Langdon and mentor Peter Solomon, who heads the Smithsonian Institution. Or when Langdon confronts another ingenious puzzle. As in "The Da Vinci Code," the puzzles refer to distant religions, artists and scientists. Brown gives the book some depth by developing Solomon's family backstory -- we learn much more about Solomon's feelings than Langdon's, in fact. But that backstory and some drawn-out historical anecdotes periodically slowed the pace.
What the story really lacks is a powerful, over-arching conspiracy. The Masons seem a likely target, but Brown quickly explains away claims that they hold secret power over the government. The CIA, which interferes with Langdon's mission, is another convenient target for conspiracy theorists, but I was let down by the resolution of that conflict. All in all, it seems to be a kinder, gentler Dan Brown, aiming for a more inspirational message.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Monday, December 21, 2009
One fine October day, the town of Chester’s Mill is cut off from the world by a transparent and unbreakable dome. I was initially reminded of The Simpsons Movie, in which President Schwarzenegger orders a similar dome to be placed over Springfield after Homer pollutes its lake; and so were others on the internet. “I have never seen the movie,” King replies on his website, “and the similarity came as a complete surprise to me.” But it doesn’t matter, he argues, because unless there is outright plagiarism, “stories can no more be alike than snowflakes. The reason is simple: no two imaginations are exactly alike.”
Just so. Like Springfield, Chester’s Mill has dozens of memorable characters, including a town drunk, feckless young stoners and corrupt police – and like Grampa Simpson, some of the characters experience precognitive visions. But though he is by no means averse to jokes, King’s intentions are quite different. What interests him, as always, is evil and cruelty, which he explores step by squelching step, wading ever deeper until the reader is fully immersed.
Evil in Chester’s Mill is personified by “Big Jim” Rennie, used-car salesman, crystal-meth manufacturer and sanctimonious fascist, who uses murder, riot and arson to turn the town into a police state, with himself as dictator. As with Annie Wilkes, the nurse/torturer in Misery, who says such things as “the cock-a-doodie car”, one immediately knows Big Jim is a baddy by his euphemistic style of cursing, which somehow sounds more obscene than the real thing.
The chief goody is Dale Barbara (“Barbie”), short-order cook at the Sweetbriar Rose, who knows about evil from his military service in Iraq. When the dome descends, Barbie is promoted to colonel and given command of the town by a concerned President Obama, but Big Jim (a Palin supporter) frames him and throws him in jail, where he is threatened with waterboarding: “it was how these things went; how they went in Fallujah, Tikrit, Hilla, Mosul and Baghdad. How they also now went in Chester’s Mill, it seemed.”
The sci-fi aspect of the story – the origin and purpose of the mysterious dome – is kept for the most part on the back burner, which was a disappointment to me, as I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief in such stuff, but when it does emerge it has an ingeniously metaphysical plausibility. The focus remains mainly on the human element, the “little lives” of characters engaged in an epic moral battle.
“I have tried,” explains King in an author’s note, “to write a book that would keep the pedal consistently to the metal.” Whenever he faltered, he recalls, his editor “jammed her foot down on top of mine and yelled (in the margins, as editors are wont to do), ‘Faster, Steve! Faster!’” Author and editor have succeeded, and Under the Dome has terrific pace, whizzing from one cliffhanger to the next on narrative wires strung to an admirable tension. Which I think acknowledges that audiences are less interested in reading for depth and more interested in Michael Bay movies in book form.
Critics are likely to dismiss the literary quality of King’s work. This strikes me as unfair. He is certainly no Proust, but nor is he a Dan Brown, possibly a Shakespeare, crude but popular. Besides his evident ability to create compelling plots and monstrous characters, he can turn a good simile (seen from inside, the blue of the dome “has a yellowish cast, like a film of cataract on an old man’s eye”). And he can write consistently good sentences, such as these, which sum up the spirit of his work: “When dawn was still long hours away, bad thoughts took on flesh and began to walk. In the middle of night thoughts became zombies.”
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Alex Cross has never managed to find the perfect balance between family life and his big serial cases but this time he's determined to put his family life first. He's managed to find a woman he loves in the form of Bree who has more than settled in to family life. It's his birthday and they're about to cut the cake when the house phone rings - not his pager or his mobile so he assumes it isn't work and answers it.
Time for the devastating news that his niece has been brutally murdered and her "remains" have been found. "Remains"? A harsh way to describe a body of such a beautiful young woman but Cross can't give up this case, after all it's family. Cross begins his trail and is soon uncovering evidence that points to the impossible. Could it really be? What secret has Cross uncovered that will rock the entire world? Will the secret be out or will Cross finally meet his match?
I, Alex Cross is a fantastic title for this book as it totally centers around him. His books usually include a character or two or pages from the killer without revealing the identity but this one seemed to have very little of that. There were a few pages from people at the White House but for some reason my brain couldn't figure out who was who and I kept having to refer back to the start of the book. This could have been sheer tiredness on my part or it could have been confusing on purpose, I just don't know.
Patterson has still included Alex's family in the book and you quite simply couldn't have the same book without it. There's a slight change in the family this time though as one of them battles for their life. What will Cross do? Someone he loves is possibly dying but his niece is already dead. Who do you get justice for? Any normal man would probably sit at the hospital bed day and night but Cross doesn't have that in his nature and instead combines the two. But can he possibly do that?
With so much going on his life it starts to get even more complicated. The FBI are shutting him out and people are trying to take his case away - why? Then comes the mysterious call from the White House that alerts Alex Cross even more to the possibilities of what he has uncovered. Sounds thrilling right? Well, I found myself disappointed as the big killer scenes that Patterson is renowned for were missing. There were no real big chases and I never actually felt that Cross' life was at risk. Definitely a disappointment for me as I love that danger feeling that Patterson usually manages to put in his book. It's a slightly different feeling this time of a cover up of something that would change the entire world. It felt as if he wanted to get away from the murder mystery genre and explore the conspiracy thriller.
His style of writing stayed the same throughout this one though with his short chapters that make you keep on reading when really you should put the book down and get back into real life. It took about 3 hours to read the book with a little break in between as I kept looking for the real excitement to start. Was it similar to other story lines? Not really. Repetitive in parts? Not at all. Something I'd read again? Definitely!
Whilst I've described feeling slightly let down by the book this time round, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Cross' emotions came out more than ever with his family member in danger and the case of his nieces murder to solve. My only real criticism is that the amount of usual danger was missing and it did leave me feeling a bit disappointed. Little warning if you intend to read this - it can be graphic at times so be prepared!! So if your looking for a fun weekend read, this is a good one for you.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Buy Moving Pictures Now at Amazon.com
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Legend is the story of two men, Regnak and Druss, warriors embroiled in war, whether they want to or not. Regnak in an officer who resigned his commission when he saw the war coming,who tries to leave the violence and death behind but finds himself once more in the midst of battle against the Nadir. His battle is made all the harder by his own inner turmoil, his feelings that he will fold and run. But there's more to Regnak than he believes.
Druss is a soldier. Always has been, always will be, even in retirement. The strongest axeman in the legion, when word comes that the Nadir are marching, united for the first time, Druss takes up his ax once more to fight. But time affects us all, from the least to the greatest, and Druss can't help but wonder if he has the strength to make it through one more fight. If the choice is between dying in battle and dying old, Druss knows how he wants to go, and he knows there's more than one type of power. Every man in the legion has heard the name of Druss, and it may be possible for one man to help turn the tide of battle.
On the surface, this seems like just another war story, all about how people react when their homes and lives are threatened and what they do when pushed to the corner. But Gemmell is also able to humanize his characters, to capture the inner battles that rage in soldiers between the desire to protect oneself and to protect ones home, and how we first have to fight our inner fears before we can face the outer ones. And while the stories may not be the most soul-searching, but the message is there, and so well incorporated into the story it adds a bit of thought to a fun read. If you like the rousing action adventure genre, a bit of heroic fantasy, from the view of age rather than youth, this is a great book.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
In Enders's Game, originally written by Orson Scott Card as a novelette in 1977, we catch a glimpse of one possible way such a future could unfold. And we follow the story of one young man, a Third, as he makes his way from his home to the forefront of battle, all before he turns 18.
The Story of Ender.
See, mankind is under attack by the Buggers, and the military knows that to find the right leader, they need to start with someone young that can be molded and developed into the leader they really need. And through testing and observation, they believe they have seen something in young Ender that will fit their needs. But just finding the right person isn't enough, they have to be in the right environment. So the Battle School is built in orbit, away from the distractions of the world and the prying eyes of the politicians. With all the best that the military can offer, young men and women from around the world are brought to the school, trained and tested, before going out to lead the military's fleet.
And Ender is the best there ever was, no doubt. A genius who is the best hope to save humanity. And so the military designs a special program for him, one designed to test him to the fullest, and if necessary, break him, before he can break while leading the fleet. They isolate him, not just from his family, but from his men, from his comrades, from anyone who might keep him from reaching his fullest potential. And Ender survives. Every day he improves. But everyone has their limits and eventually Ender reaches his, and when he does, his decision will leave a lasting impression on a world, and a race.
A Family Affair.
It seems that Peter is one of the few people who have seen that the worldwide alliance is a fragile peace, at best, and that once the external threat is gone, the alliance will begin to crumble. By appealing to the masses, and building support from the common man, Peter begins to build his base of support so that when the threat passes, and the peace fails, he can be there to hold things together.But he finds he can't do it alone.
Valentine was always there to protect Ender when Peter sought to torment him. Now, with Ender a thousand miles above her, she finds herself in an unforeseen, and unhappy, alliance with Peter. She has seen what Peter has seen, and recognizes the danger. And what at first was a playful way to distract Peter from his more destructive tendencies becomes a far more serious development of ideas that will help Peter take charge of a world.
A Deeper Meaning
The relationship between Ender and Valentine that pulls him back from his despair to return for the fight. Enders relationship with his team, the way he molds and drives them, and the way that when he needs them the most, they rise up to give back. The relationship between Peter and Valentine and how they find a way to use each other to get what they need. The relationship between Ender and the Bugger's. How he develops empathy for his enemy, and uses that to destroy them . Between Peter and Ender, and how the relationship between family members shapes us and molds us in ways we never expect, and how in the long run we can use it and turn even the worst things to good.
I think it's the way Card develops and uses these relationships, shows how one person can be so strongly affected and influenced by the people around them, that they lose track of what their own limits are and can be pushed to any length. This is, to me the real point of the story.
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| ||Xenocide (Ender, Book 3) (Ender Quartet) |
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| ||Children of the Mind (Ender, Book 4) (Ender Quartet) |
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Ender as Hitler *Spoiler alert*I recently came across the article "Creating the Innocent Killer:Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality" by John Kessel, and thought it was an interesting look at the Ender story. I disagree with it entirely, but still interesting.The basis for his argument is in the morality of Ender and the death's of some of the boys that Ender fights throughout the book, culminating in an act of genocide, and the fact that Card demonstrates a morality based on intention rather than act: "we are urged many times to judge a character’s actions not on their effect (even when that effect is fatal) but on the motives of the person performing the action."
Kessel cites an essay by Elaine Radford that was published by Fantasy Review in 1987. This essay makes a comparison between Adolf Hitler and the character Ender and states that Ender's Game is an apologia for Hitler. And Card himself has responded in his own defense, pointing out that the actions of the two are significantly different.
I would point out that the intention of the two people are wildly different. Hitler intended to destruction of the Jewish race. Ended intended to end a game. One vital point that both Kessel and Radford seem to have missed is that until the end, Ender was the only person who didn't know that he was being manipulated and that he was commanding real people. Hitler can't say that. Would Ender have made those same choices if he knew? The same basic idea applies to the deaths before: Ender never learned that the boys were killed, only that he never encountered them again.
And how did he react when he learned that he was responsible for genocide? There was no gloating, there was no pleasure at defeating the enemy. He was deeply distraught and upset by what he had inadvertently done. Knowing that he had acted in ignorance, yet still feeling the burden of genocide, he took upon himself the task of bring the Bugger queen t a place where she could live once more. Would Hitler have brought the last Jewish baby to a place of safety to grow?
Intention is everything. A driver that swerves to avoid a kid, and kills an adult, obviously he is accountable for his actions, but would we compare him with the drunk or distracted driver that hits a pedestrian? The doctor who tries to save a life but accidentally cuts a patient, is he as culpable as a man who draws a knife in a bar? How do you judge any action as good or evil without looking at the intention of the actor, as part of the act?
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
"The three rules of the Librarians of Time and Space are: 1) Silence; 2) Books must be returned no later than the date last shown; and 3) Do not interfere with the nature of causality."
Unfortunately, the watch isn't what it once was. Captain Vimes, their leader, has found his way to the bottom of the bottle with no way out. Sergeant Colon is a career watchman, more comfortable behind the desk than in the field. And of course Corporal Nobby Nobbs, one of the dirtiest, smelliest, if somewhat criminal, characters on the Disc, who carries a certificate from the Patrician to prove he's human. But they also have a new recruit who's ready to raise the bar for everyone.
Carrot Ironfoundersson, a human raised among dwarves, has been sent to Ankh-Morpork by his adopted family to learn to become a man, and they decide the best job to accomplish this is the City Watch. At six feet, six inches, packed with pure muscle and a tendency to take every instruction literally, he may already be as much man as the city can handle (his first living arrangement is in a bordello). His first act on arrival is to arrest the head of the Thieves Guild, who promptly complains to the Lord Patrician of the city. But his enthusiasm for the law sparks a dying flame in the men of the watch.
But how do you find a dragon in the middle of a city? You find an expert, of course. Enter Lady Sybil Ramkin, an expert on swamp dragons. The Lady Sybil is the last of the line of Ramkins, the highest bred family in the city. Captain Vimes finds himself somewhat out of his depth as he gets to know Sybil, and finds himself swept up in a wholly unexpected adventure that has little to do with law or dragons. And when the dragon finally takes charge of the city, and requires a high-born virgin sacrifice, the lady Sybil finds herself chained to a rock and its up to Vimes to save a life.
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Some ThoughtsThe first of the Night Watch novels, and the first Discworld novel I read, today it remains my favorite. The men of the Watch have their faults but are still some of the best the city has to offer. The core of steel that is revealed in even Nobby's heart is amazing. Mr. Pratchett does a great job of developing his characters while writing one of his funniest stories. Those new to the Discworld will find they fall into the story easily. Those who have read earlier stories will love the development and expansion of Ankh-Morpork, and get a better idea of its place in the world.
The story is a classic hero adventure, with a twist. Mr. Pratchett has said that when he wrote it he was thinking about how the hero tends to ride into town and woe be to the poor watchman who got in his way! He wondered what the story might look like from the perspective of the men on the other end of the pike, the ones who wake up everyday and put on the armor and, for a few piddling coins, try hard to protect and serve. It turns out that even in Ankh, the guards can have pride and rise to meet a challenge.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Once more Terry Pratchett has taken a literary classic, run it through the Disc and made it his own. This time the story is Faust, you know the tale, the man who sells his soul to the devil. Only here Faust takes the form of a fourteen year-old boy who tries to get his three basic wishes filled. Nothing too fancy, thank you, just immortality, rulership of the world and a beautiful woman at his side. But what he actually gets with his spell casting is a rather ragged, spell-shocked wizzard who's totally incapable of magic!
Yes, Rincewind is back . As you'll surely recall, we last saw Rincewind he was defending against the demons of the Dungeon Dimension so Coin, the Sourcerer, could get back to Unseen University to close the rift. And so again we have a story that, while it may not require you to read the last book, certainly benefits from the telling.
So we have Eric with Rincewind trapped in a spell, commanding his three wishes. Now history tells us that Rincewind could find good luck before he could cast a spell, so imagine everyone's surprise when, with a snap of his fingers, he and Eric find themselves before the Discworld version of the Aztecs, who are prepared to crown Eric as Ruler of the World. Of course there's some serious downsides, like a short life expectancy in order to make the worlds wrongs right again. When Rincewind snaps his fingers again, they find themselves transported to meet the most beautiful woman, Elenor, the Disc version of Helen of Troy. Of course, with their luck, naturally they end up in the middle of the war.
With one last snap of the fingers, Eric learns that to live forever means having to live, well, forever, that is start to finish, and they find they've been transported to the beginning of time, right to the creators doorstep. (A hint: Rincewind may be single-handedly responsible for humanity, scary isn't it?) I guess there's only one way to escape from that, so its once more to Hell, only to find the source of power that has been granting the wishes. A rebellion is brewing in Hell and Eric and Rincewind are right in the middle of it.
This is certainly one of my favorites. I love the way Mr. Pratchett takes each story, holds the form of them and then meshes them so wonderfully into his own world. Truly, he is a writer on par with all the classicists. I also see (*warning*) why eventually he puts Rincewind away. The eternal coward and incompetent wizard can only run away from so many fights, you can only have him stumble through so many adventures and still have it seem fresh and funny. But Eric really shows the best of Rincewind. There's still a few stories to be told, and this will certainly hold a top place among them.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
"It's not generally realized that camels have a natural aptitude for advanced mathematics, particularly where they involve ballistics."
– Terry Pratchett, Pyramids
One of the things I enjoy in Terry Pratchett's books is the consistency of the characters. Death, Rincewind, Granny, Samuel Vimes, they are very much part of the Discworld and show up frequently. But every once in a while Mr. Pratchett throws a new character out there, rather a one time thing. The novel, Pyramids, is the first of them.
Djelibeybi, yes, pronounced jelly-baby, is the Discworld's version of ancient Egypt. Ruled by pharaohs and tradition, the kingdom has maintained its sense of identity for years. Unfortunately when Pteppic, the kings son, is sent to Ankh-Morpork to be educated as an assassin, his eyes are opened to new ideas and new ways to do things. While taking his final exam, he learns that his father has died and its time to return him and take the throne.
Upon returning home, the head priest, Dios, is ready to help Pteppic take on the challenges of kingship. Of course much of the challenge involves following the variety of traditions that govern every moment of his life, "The king likes chicken on Wednesday." And when Pteppic tries to change things, the fight with Dios begins. The battle comes to a head when Dios begins work on the largest pyramid ever for the dead king, despite the protests of both Pteppic and the dead king, who is forced to stick around to watch the proceedings.
The building of the great pyramid causes serious problems, a build-up of magic in the kingdom that brings the variety of gods to wander the streets, and actually twists reality to the point that when Pteppic leaves the boundaries of the kingdom, he can't get back in! After consulting with the philosophers in Ephebe, Pteppic finds his way back into the kingdom, confronts Dios and destroys the pyramids.
One of the funniest books in the series, in places, it does contain some dreadful puns, but still contains enough true laughs to balance it out. The camel, for instance, I love the camel. The story starts strong, and finishes strong, but somewhere in the middle it seems to hit a snag. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it loses something for a while, then regains it near the end. Of course I still highly recommend it, there's not a Discworld I wouldn't recommend. I hope you enjoy.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
When the king of Lancre, Verence I, is murdered by his cousin, Duke Fermat, well, that's just succession by a different means. But a loyal servant escapes with the kings infant son, and the last thing the Duke wants is a rightful heir wandering the world, waiting for his chance to return, and the chase is on, right into the arms of the coven of Lancre.
We met Granny Weatherwax in the story Equal Rites, so we know that she's a hard woman who won't tolerate foolishness, let alone disrespect. When the leader of the Duke's men starts showing the least bit of disrespect, Granny takes it upon herself to show him the error of his ways. The survivors are quick learners, who are forced to report failure to the Duke. This leaves Granny and her partners, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick in a bit of a bind, holding the heir to a throne. What to do, what to do? Send him off with a passing troupe of actors, that's what, and let him grow a bit before coming back to reclaim his throne. The only problem is that the land of Lancre is tied closely to the king, so when the Duke proves to be a poor steward of the kingdom, the land itself gets angry and it's on Granny, Nanny and Magrat to set things right.
Wait, did I say that was the only problem? Silly me. There is one last problem to overcome. The heir doesn't want to be the king. Turns out he has a knack for the acting biz and doesn't want to leave it. It may just be that the clown becomes king.
I've mentioned before, I like Granny Weatherwax. One thing that differentiates the wizards from the witches is that the witches on the Discworld seem to have an intuitive understanding of the need for balance. Here you have one of the most powerful witches on the Disc,and yet she is very reluctant to meddle in the affairs of the kingdom, knowing that she could and knowing that crossing the line once would forever tempt her to do so again.
The other side of the coin is Nanny Ogg. The matriarch of the Ogg family, her family roots stretch far and wide. Ruling over her daughter-in-laws with a iron fist and doting over her grandchildren with all the love one little old lady can muster, she plays the human foil to Granny. Her understanding of people frequently allows her to smooth feathers, but she can also use it as the lever to open people up. Perhaps less powerful than her friend, her power with people is often more effective.Nanny is also the companion, I can't say owner - I just can't - of the most evil cat in the world, the smelly, one-eyed Greebo. Single-pawingly responsible for most of the feline population in Lancre, even wolves give him a wide berth. Not even elves are up for dealing with him.
The third witch in the group, Magrat Garlick, would fit right in at a local New Age shop. With her ceremonial knives and silver jewelry, she tries so hard to be what she thinks a witch should be, always looking to learn something new, much to the consternation of the others. Still when the chips are down, the core of steel, tempered in the fires of Granny, comes out hard.
The story itself is a story about words. About propaganda and the way truth can be used and twisted to the speakers ends. Granny, for instance, hates the theater, hated the the lies it tells and the way they use the truth to tell a whole new lie. The Duke finds a use for his Fool, who shows him how to "spin" words to make reality a little more palatable.And of course, its words, a play, that finally pushes the Duke over the edge.
As the first novel to really focus on the witches, though thankfully not the last, it's great fun. I was never a big fan of Macbeth until I read this version. Mr. Pratchett's characters are everything I've come to expect, vibrant and real. The way he continues to expand the Disc, to blend details and explore new territory, that's what keeps me coming back for more.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
In the future, humanity has come together in a fragile alliance to hold off the threat of alien invaders. The threat of the Formics, more commonly called the Buggers, has done what no end of earthly wars has managed, it has brought peace. There has been a price: religious freedom is a memory and families are limited to two children. And every child tests to see if they can become leaders in the International Fleet, the mighty armada that stands between our fragile planet and the dealy Buggers.
Originally a novella that Card expanded, this story is of a young Third named Andrew "Ender" Wiggen who turns out to have a unique leadership skill that the International Fleet wants to develop. So Ender is taken from home and family to the Battle School, an orbiting dormitory for the training of potential officers, where he learns leadership, strategy, strength and sorrow. But he knows that when the Buggers come, he'll be ready.
The starting point of a great series, Ender's Game is a must read.
Written by Neil Gaiman, 1996.
It's the people who really make the story, the lady Door, the Marquis de Carabas, the assassins Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar and of course the esteemed Hunter. Character's out of your darkest nightmares doing battle over an angel. While at times the dialogue is a little too "television" for my taste, overall the story, the characters, the sparks of humor and wit make up for it. While the story certainly is concluded well, it would be nice to see a sequel, I'm curious to learn what happens next. And that's the mark of a great story.
What is a "beta-male"? How do you raise a baby who can kill with the word "kitty"? How exactly do souls move to their next life? What are the karmic implications of shagging a monk? These and so many other vexing life questions are answered in "A Dirty Job", an absurdist tale about death and the netherworlds.
When Charlie Asher's wife dies, Charlie finds himself in deep despair, trying to run his second-hand goods shop, raise his infant daughter, and control his lesbian sister. When he starts seeing objects glowing red and hearing strange voices from the sewers, he figures he's losing his mind. No,no, it turns out he's just become a minion of Death, maybe more than a minion! And when the forces of darkness begin to rise and threaten the city of San Francisco, Charlie is there, sword cane in hand, and an army of reanimated, 6" creations at his back, to fight on the side of light.
One thing that stays with me is the Beta-male idea that Moore developed for the story. Every guy who is not an alpha male will recognize and feel better knowing that he's not alone, someone else understands.
Another title originally written as a series for the BBC, this is truly a classic of science fiction and humor. It's hard to think of anyone who could spin the universe in quite the same way that Adams did, may he reset in peace. The original is certainly the best, a fun rollicking romp through the galaxy. My mother introduced me to it in the late 80's and I have read it again a thousand times. It has been adapted, or twisted, to a variety of media versions, from the radio show to the big screen, computer games to comics. And while the spirit is there, you can't beat the book.
From the moment Arthur sits in front of the large yellow bulldozer to the flight from Magrathea, his one long panicked run makes a great story. How many of us learned our most important life lesson from this book? Never hitch a ride with Vogon's. No, not that one -- Don't Panic. Great advice.
Alright, you knew it would be a Pratchett novel, the only question was which. And I have to admit, I could have done 8 of 10 as Pratchett stories. I tried to restrain myself. But this novel has stuck with me. Is it Death taking a break and filling the role of the jolly fat man? Is it Susan questioning her role in life? Is it the oh-god of hangovers? Yes, all the above.
The quick outline: Someone has hired the Assassins Guild to eliminate the Hogfather, the Discworld version of Santa Claus. When Death finds out, he knows he has to intervene or all humanity will be lost, so he steps out of his black robes and into the red, and instead of riding out to deliver death, he goes forth to deliver gifts. HO, HO, HO! But even Death can't do it all himself, so he makes a quick stop at his granddaughters house to set her on the trail of the Hogfather. While Death is playing Santa to the kids at the Maul, Susan is off visiting the Tooth Fairy, looking for answers.
One of the more thoughtful, metaphysical stories to come out of the Disc, Hogfather examines the role that dreams and stories play in making humans more than what we might normally be, to be as Pratchett puts it the "place where the fallen angel meets the rising ape." He looks at the way we define ourselves by the folktales and legends of our culture and society. And still manages to be a hilarious read.
Thank you for coming
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
In many ways a fairly typical story of a young man destined for greater things. But I love the story and the characters, McKillip has a way of developing both through the trilogy. The hero, unlike many in fantasy, is strongly conflicted about the role he's being led into and the past he's being forced to give up, and the theme of growing up and having to move away from what we've known and love is a powerful one.The use of riddles, not the type you get from the sphinx, but more a question and answer about the history and lessons of the lands, adds a dimension to the story that resonates within the reader to, a unique way to make her lessons touch us. It is certainly one story I enjoy reading again every few years.
Mr. Friedman was a reporter for the UPI and New York Times in Beirut from 1979 to 1984, and in Lebanon from 1984 to 1989, and his stories about his experiences there are riveting. A Pulitzer Prize winner, he talks about many of the most famous names on both sides of the conflict, but also looks at how the average person lived through one of the most intense conflicts of the Middle East. An amazingly balanced view that doesn't really place blame, but looks fairly at the mistakes of all sides.
An exploration of mythology, both ancient and modern, with a great cast of characters. The basic idea is that gods exist based on belief, the greater the belief, the stronger the god. The book follows the path of Shadow, an ex-convict released from jail early due to the death of his wife, who finds himself a pawn in the hands of Mr. Wednesday. Because the gods exist on the basis of belief, the gods that populate this world are the ones brought over by the variety of immigrants to America, and so the story is very much about how we reconcile our past with the potential of our future.
Hilarious. A twist on the fantasy hero stories, the tale of an incompetent apprentice wizard who finds his master dead one day and is forced to team up with a demon to survive. Of course the demon is large and scaly, and because of the dead wizards sense of humor, powerless. The story is fun, and you really can't look for anything more than that in it. It's a different twist on the genre, and the beginning of a series that, I have to admit, got old. But the first few are laugh out loud funny.
Two of my favorite authors collaborating to end the world. Two of the strangest angels working together to save it. The end of the world is approaching, the four horsemen are riding forth, and the antichrist is an eleven-year-old boy. The angel, Aziraphale, and Crowley, the demon who tempted Eve, decide the world is too entertaining to let be destroyed and focus all their attention to save it. A great story, great characters, the funniest book about the end of the world you'll ever read. I wish the two of them would do it again someday.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
In many ways, I feel bad for wizards. What good is all that power if you can't get chicks? On the other hand, I suppose that if your children have the potential to destroy the world, then maybe procreation isn't such a hot idea. In the fifth Discworld novel, we revisit both the wizard Rincewind and the reasons why wizards are discouraged from having children.
As we know the eighth son of an eighth son is destined to be a powerful wizard, even if she's a she, not a he (see Equal Rites). What happens when that child has eight sons? The wizard Iplsore finds out you get a sorcerer squared, a sourcerer. A sourcerer is a source of magic, more powerful than anything else on the Discworld. When Death comes for the wizard, Ipslore finds a way to escape the chill grasp of Death by placing himself in his staff, to be passed along to his son. And eventually the son grows up.
As Coin, the sourcerer, makes his way to the halls of magic at the Unseen University, the wizards are engaged in a long standing tradition, electing the new Archchancellor. Things go awry when the chosen wizard is attacked and disappears. It is into this leadership vacuum that Coin makes his entrance. Of course wizards are unlikely to accept the leadership of an untried boy, so they put him to the test. After a few top wizards are soundly defeated, the others soon accept, with fear if not grace, Coin's ascension to the top spot. The only problem is teh Archchancellors Hat seems to have gone missing.
Enter Rincewind, coward and wizard, master of no spell, but with a great turn of speed. He and the University Librarian are taking the evening to enjoy a pint at the pub when Conina, the daughter of the great barbarian hero Cohen, appears. It seems that the Hat has gained a degree of sentience from sitting atop the heads of so many wizards and it at least realizes the peril that they face in the form of Coin. The Hat implores Rincewind to take it and do what he does best: run. And run they do, straight to the Al Khali, away from the power building up in Ankh-Morpork. When they are all captured by the Grand Vizier, things look grim.
And sure enough they are. Coin has convinced the wizards that they need neither restraint nor the University, so they destroy both. With the power unleashed, they realize that only the gods can stop them. Easily taken care of, the gods of the disc are a jovial and lazy lot, so capturing them in a separate dimension is no challenge. Of course, THAT unleashes the Ice Giants, who have long been held in check until the end of the world. So, I guess its that time. And the four horsemen ride forth.
Rincewind, joined by Creosote, Conina and Nijel the barbarian head back to Ankh-Morpork to confront Coin. I would hate to give away the ending but the line "It's going to look pretty good, then, isn't it," said War testily, "the One Horseman and Three Pedestrians of the Apocralypse." is too good not to mention.
Once again, its the characters that make the story. Conina, the daughter of the aging barbarian hero, who really prefers hair to blood. Nijel, who answers the question of how hero's get started in the first place. And Rincewind, the eternal coward. The way Mr. Pratchett can shape characters that show us our worst traits as well as show how they can be used for good is inspiring, really. The way the wizards react when given the least bit of release raises the question of how we would respond in the same situation, a question that we have seen answered, horribly, so many times in the past.
Another great story by a great author. Read it, enjoy it, then read it again.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
- NO-ONE GETS PARDONED FOR LIVING. -- (Terry Pratchett, Mort)
Take a moment to imagine with me. Let's imagine that you are the personification of a natural force, say for instance, death. Let us imagine that for untold millenia you have been existing for nothing but bringing an end to the lives of all creatures, from the least significant to the mightiest. Can you imagine even a glimmer of the loneliness that would build up? Neither could Death, right up until he decided to take in a young girl rather than kill her. And when He decides to take on an apprentice to keep her company, the Discworld better watch out.
Until this fourth novel, the character Death plays a minor recurring role, but now its time for him to take center stage. When Rincewind makes his brief appearance in Death's domain in the book The Light Fantastic, he meets Death's adopted daughter Ysabell. This book picks up the story of Ysabell and a young man named Mort. Mort is your typical teen who just doesn't quite seem suited to the family farm, and his father decides that Mort would do well to find a new field of study. When the young boy is unable to find a suitable employer, at the stroke of midnight he encounters a blacked robe figure on a white horse, who offers to teach him to help move souls into the next realm. While dad thinks that being an undertaker would be a great career move for the boy, it soon becomes clear that this is a little more involved. While out learning the job, Mort makes the mistake of saving a girl who was supposed to die, and reality itself moves against him. This certainly puts a damper on Death's vacation plans!
It's the characters that really set this book up. Getting away from the mocking of heroic fantasy, Mr.Pratchett moved onto mocking love stories, by setting up a familiar, if unconventional romance between Mort and Ysabell. Death playing matchmaker for his adopted daughter is just the first step to finding the spark of humanity that lies within Ultimate Reality. The feelings that Mort develops for the girl he saves, mirrored by the feelings that Ysabell feels for Mort, and capped off with the feelings that the princess has with dying, are a familiar triangle to anyone who's ever been a teenager.
The character of Death, forever conflicted between Duty and his curiosity with the human's he services, is the first step down the road that leads to one of the most popular and well developed characters on the Disc. For all those that have hit middle age, and asked the question "Is this all there is?", who have looked at their life and careers and said "I need a change!", the issues that Death faces will ring true.So, pick this one up and get to know one of my favorite characters. Death makes a few more star appearances including Reaper Man and Hogfather, which continue to explore the themes of death and humanity. And then there's Susan, Death's granddaughter. Turns out some things are inherited through the bones...
Friday, September 18, 2009
"There's no such thing as a female wizard!"
There is a legend. The seventh son of the seventh son is truly a man of special powers. On the Discworld, the number eight holds even greater power (the eight spells in the Octavio, for instance, or octarine, the eighth color that only wizards can see.) So when the eighth son of the eighth son is born, a world of magic trembles. And when a dying wizard wants his staff to pass along to this child, prophesying that the child will be the greatest wizard ever, even Death feels unnerved. Imagine everyone's surprise then when the eighth son is actually a daughter!
In this third visit to the Discworld, the daughter of this foolish, foolish wizard inherits a staff of power with a mind of its own, and the strength of will to put it too use. But there are no female wizards, and this young lady, named Esk falls under the tutelage of one Granny Weatherwax, the most powerful witch in the Ramtops. In time Granny realizes that the power in this girl is far beyond what she's ever seen and decides that the girl should be educated among her fellow wizards, so its off to the Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork.
What I like about this story isn't the question of gender roles, sexism and equal rights for women, though Mr. Pratchett does a great job of addressing them in a serious, yet humorous way. For me the pleasure is in meeting Granny Weatherwax. A hard as nails woman who is powerful, yet rarely needs to use that power, she is described in another story as having "pride you can wrap a horseshoe around." Very much a believer in the ideas of equal treatment, she also clearly sees that she is above most people. And while she may get on your nerves, you know you won't dare to cross her. In Equal Rites, she isn't as full force as she will become, playing a relatively secondary role. But we do get a glimmer of the character that will take charge in future novels.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
"He moved in a way that suggested he was attempting the world speed record for the nonchalant walk." -- (Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic)
Terry Pratchett's Discworld series continues with one of the few stories that is a direct sequel. The Light Fantastic takes up where The Colour of Magic left off, with Rincewind the wizard and Twoflower the tourist falling off the edge of the world. While certain death seems imminent, the powerful eighth spell of the Octavio, currently locked in Rincewinds' head, come forth to rescue Rincewind (and as a by-product, itself). Of course it's never that simple. When the spell surfaces, it also informs us that the destination of Great A'Tuin is rapidly approaching and it the eight great spells aren't spoken, the world will end. And here Rincewind was just coming to terms with Death (and Deaths adopted daughter, Ysabell).
As you can expect, as news of the approaching doom spreads, the population panics and religious chaos reigns. And to make matters worse, the wizard Trymon decides the time is right for him to gain the ultimate power. He decides to read the Octavio, and absorb the seven remaining great spells himself, and take charge of the Disc. You'll have to find out for yourself how this works out.
The movie I mentioned in the last post, The Colour of Magic (2008), by Sky One, combines the two novels into one movie, relating the full story in one sitting. Some of the smaller adventures get cut out, while building up on the character of Trymon.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Begin at the beginning.
A world on the back of a group of elephants, riding a turtle, who swims through space. On a world like that anything can happen. And in the Discworld, anything does happen.
The first book in the hugely successful Discworld series introduces the Great A'Tuin as a backdrop for Terry Pratchett's mockery of the fantasy genre. Yes, there is a powerful wizard. Yes, there is a mighty barbarian hero. Yes, there is a damsel to be rescued. And if that was the end of it, it would be like a thousand other fantasy novels that no one will ever read. But the powerful wizard, Rincewind, knows one spell, that he doesn't control and is abysmal at performing any other magic. The mighty barbarian hero, Cohen the Barbarian, is older than my grandmother, and ten times as mean. And the damsel to be rescued is more than capable of handling things herself if the need arises. Wait, I'm missing something. Oh yes, the tourist. The world's first tourist, who keeps his rose colored glasses clean through out each misadventure.
Admittedly, this is not my favorite Discworld novel. Others have a more polished feel, with greater depth of character and world-building. But it is a wonderful introduction and a read in conjunction with The Light Fantastic, it makes a fun adventure.
A small British studio, The Mob, with Sky One, took a shot at a two part TV movie in 2008. While it received mixed reviews by critics, the fans, myself included, loved it. It was great to see the world I had read so much of come to life in such a vivid and realistic way.
Monday, September 14, 2009
"As far as I'm aware I'm not specifically banned anywhere in the USA, and am rather depressed about it. Surely some of you guys can do something?" -- Terry Pratchett, alt.books.pratchett
Terry Pratchett is one of the funniest authors on the shelves today. He takes a very skewed look at the fantasy genre, as well as Shakespeare and politics and casts it through a kaleidoscope of chaos. With a dry and cynical sense of humor, he takes on current events and twists them to make you see both the humor and the tragedy. He does to fantasy what Douglass Adams did for Science Fiction, so if you've read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series you'll know what I mean. While He is best known for his Discworld series, you don't want to miss out on Good Omens, his collaboration with Neil Gaiman or Johnny and The Bomb.
Discworld is a flat world carried on the backs of four elephants standing on the turtle known as the Great A'Tuin, who swims through space to a destination only he can imagine, where magic is part of life and the laws of the universe are just a little bit different, even while the fundamentals of truth and greed and human venality remain the same. The series is 36 books with three more in the works. Certainly the characters and stories become intertwined over time, and the timeline does advance as the books get newer, but start anywhere in the series and you'll find your way down the path with ease. . And whatever you do, make sure you read the footnotes. They're much better than what you'd find in an academic text.
Who will you meet along the way? Granny Weatherwax, the most powerful witch in the Ramtop Mountains? Sir Samuel Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch? Perhaps Archchancellor Ridcully of the Unseen University. Or the newest citizen of the Disc, Moist Von Lipwig. All will keep you coming back for more. In future posts, I'll look closer at individual books. I can't tell you how excited I am to see the newest, Unseen Academicals hitting bookshelves in October.Stay Tuned.