Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Books: Ender Saga

February 24th, 2012

Remember how at the end of this meme I promised to catch up “in the next year or so” on some of the yet-unread books on that list? Well, I am happy to announce that six months in, I managed to check off one single entry.

Of course, me being me, I could not just go in and read a single book when it happened to be part of a series. So, after reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, I proceeded to reading the other three books in the original Ender tetralogy, and then the Shadow tetralogy for good measure. So, it’s eight books in six months, not one. Considering how little time I set aside for book-reading these days, it is not a bad return, if I say so myself.

I planned to pen a review of the series since around the second book. What I ended up with is a whole bunch of gripes and a few things that I distinctly liked. So, I think of this post more as “assorted reflections” rather than a true book(s) review. If interested, feel free to read below the fold.
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Perrault who?

December 27th, 2011

After a family viewing of one of Becky’s favorite childhood flicks, worldly person that she is, she made a whimsical reference to her high-school friends about being fond of a Russian dub of a Japanese take on a French fairly tale. When the name of the story came up, Puss in Boots, most of her friends reacted with, “You mean, the one from Shrek?” Nobody had ever heard of Charles Perrault.

After so many years of living in America, I still cringe when a fellow émigré would ridicule an average American’s view of world culture as being encompassed entirely by the American pop culture. Yet time and again I come across relatively unremarkable nuggets of proof that such ridicule is largely deserved. Being familiar with an iconic literary character solely on the basis of its latter-day appearance in a Hollywood movie speaks volumes about these kids’ – and, unfortunately, their parents’ – awareness of the world, culture and history beyond the American borders. Upsetting.


SF/F books meme

August 15th, 2011

A number of people whose blogs I read did this meme, where they took the recently compiled NPR list of Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books and marked those they’ve read (or at least attempted to read at some point in their lives). At first, I just scanned through the list with a mild competitive interest, just to see how well I stack up against others, but then I figured that I might as well make a blog post about it, given how few of those I do lately.

I recognize that no such “best of genre” compilation can be entirely definitive, and as others before me, I have several issues with omissions, inclusions, or choices of individual books versus series that are present herein. Most importantly, I don’t recognize some of the authors’ names, let alone their books’, while titles that I would consider world-known veritable classics are missing from this list in non-trivial numbers. But I have to admit, I am almost tempted to load up my e-reader with a good portion of these entries.

I’ll bold titles that I’ve read, as per this meme guidelines, but I will not italicize those that I started but could not finish for the simple reason that I can think of only a couple of books in my entire life that I did not finish reading. Instead, I will italicize those titles which I’ve never read but watched big-screen versions of. For most of those, I can’t see myself picking up the book now that I’ve seen the movie, but I am nonetheless familiar with the work, and that should count somehow.

Read below the cut for the actual list.
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A book meme

November 21st, 2008

I know that you are all craving for more of these meme thingies from me, and I figured, Why not do two in a row? Especially, since this is a completely different type of meme, dealing with my literary tastes. I picked it up a few days back at Jason’s, my usual source.
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Jabbing at America

May 20th, 2008
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I have just finished reading Merde Happens, which is the third installment in Stephen Clarke’s series about a young Englishman’s experiences with foreign cultures. Unlike the first two installments, A Year in the Merde and Merde Actually (I skipped over the latter by pure coincidence of it not being sold at the Eurostar terminal bookshop when I was in need of a new book), this book is not about France, but about good ol’ U. S. of A. instead.

Our protagonist, Paul West, an Englishman who now permanently lives in Paris, finds himself in a dire financial situation related to his tearoom business. In order to get the money he needs, he signs up for a wackily-organized campaign in the States to promote UK as a tourist destination. He takes his French girlfriend along for the trip, and proceeds by car, train and plane from New York to Boston and back, then to Miami, New Orleans and Las Vegas, ending up in Los Angeles, all the while getting in and out of silly, sticky, and occasionally downright dangerous, circumstance.

I wasn’t planning to write a review at all. While the author continues to exhibit considerable wit and mastery of comical situations, the plot gets too ludicrous for my taste, the situations too grotesque and the jabs towards American culture too gratuitous. The latter, however, are based on outsider observations that echo my own “reverse” observations of Britain through the eyes of an American.

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Books, European living

Booklist meme

May 15th, 2008
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By the simplest gauge, I have already had a handful of posts devoted to the tried subject of British weather, so I can hardly expound on it any more without truly approximating a broken gramophone record. Yet, that particular topic remains – as it would be in any civilized discourse – the only one that can inexhaustibly feed a conversation. For instance, the glorious week and a half of sun and warmth has now seemingly been replaced with the more customary drizzle and chill…

Oops, here I go again. Sorry!

Instead, let me heap a new meme thingie on you, courtesy of my friend Jason, who himself picked it up elsewhere.

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Book review: The Amber Spyglass

April 27th, 2008
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Oh man! I feel pretty let down by how the trilogy ended! I don’t exactly agree with Becky, since her view is more specific towards the last scene, but I am rather dismayed with how the overall story and all of its plotlines ended.

And the sadly ironic thing is, the third part of His Dark Materials trilogy finally rises to the level of engaging storytelling that I like to see in epic books. Landscapes are painted in detail, not briefly passed through. Things happen not just for the sole purpose of advancing the plot, but to make the world alive and substantial. Characters develop, even though most of it is due to revelations, as opposed to steady emotional progress.

I cannot avoid spoilers in this not-exactly-review, including events up to the very end of the story. If you plan to read the book yourself and are sensitive to the idea of discovering the plot on your own, please do not click on the link to the rest of the article.

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Book review: The Subtle Knife

April 9th, 2008

I certainly went through The Subtle Knife much faster than through Northern Lights, which is partly of function of having more spare time on my hands in the absence of the rest of the family, but also a function of the second book being better than the first. The things that are important to me in a large-sized book all improved: The dialogues became conversations and not a vehicle to briefly state an important fact before moving on; the descriptions of places became multi-dimensional; and the action morphed from following a single main character obsessed with a single idea to following several undoubtedly converging plot lines and focusing on multiple characters along the way.

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Book review: Northern Lights

April 3rd, 2008

I finally finished reading the first book of His Dark Materials trilogy – yes, I know, two months for a single book is pathetic! – and it left me with ambivalent feelings.

The feelings are probably influenced by the fact that I saw the movie before I read the book, so I already had a few preconceptions and visualizations that were hard to shake faced with the slightly different narrative. But while the book certainly went to appreciable lengths to explain and set up the universe – compared to all the gaps that left me bewildered after watching the movie – it stopped well short of convincing me that the universe was fleshed out, and not just a fancy random flight of fantasy.

To put it bluntly, the characterizations were trifling, the emotions occurred quite suddenly and were discernible for only brief stretches, and the narration ambled from one event to the next without dispensing much effort on making the characters and the world they inhabit truly come to life.

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Book review: A Year in the Merde

February 6th, 2008
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I finished reading Stephen Clarke’s A Year in the Merde the other day, and I must say that it was a fun read.

The book that seemingly aims to ridicule the deserving bits of French way of life, succeeds in that, and more. It actually does a good job of exploring insecurities of a person suddenly faced with a world heretofore foreign to him. (And it heaps considerable ridicule on the Anglo-Saxon behavioral patterns, as well.)

The circumstances are habitually exaggerated and the stereotypes, subsequently, get decidedly grotesque and overblown treatment. The story is terribly over-libidinous as well. But anybody who has ever been to Paris will readily recognize many familiar and uncomfortable situations – and laugh at their own recollections as much as at the story.

Since the author is British, some of the stereotypes explored in his account would make less sense to an American. I obviously have an advantage of being already familiar with some British specifics, but I do not believe that an American reader without the additional insight that I possess would be much disadvantaged.

I suppose I can only recommend this book to people who have generally positive feelings about France. The book’s protagonist does warm up to several aspects of Parisian life towards the end, so that derision gradually lets appreciation to participate in the proceedings. French-haters will be repulsed, I am sure.


On Hitchhiker’s Guide and fantasy genre in general

January 14th, 2008

I consider myself a well-versed fan of the fantasy literary genre (which I know sounds shallow compared to all of you Coelho-worshipping crowd). I’ve read Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, The Wheel of Time and Discworld series, the best currently continuing epic The Song of Ice and Fire and scores of lesser luminaries.

It was a bit overdue, though, that I read Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy “trilogy” (there are five books in total).

What this series clearly illustrated to me is why I no longer like any whiff of interstellar branch of science fiction. Or, rather, let’s put it this way: I still cherish the old favorites – and can occasionally revisit them – but that feeling is purely sentimental. My natural wanderlust always attracts me to stories of exotic places and amazing experiences, but when the imagination of the author starts stretching the coherence of his creation (which often happens with any book whose boundaries in inventing fantastic societies and races are, well, as wide as the universe), I tend to lose interest. Give me a homogenous world whose cultures can be identified with those found on Earth, sprinkle some magic (preferably, in place of technology), and then use your imagination to invent engaging plot lines – that’s the recipe.

That is not to say that I have never come across an awful fantasy book, one built broadly within the blueprint set forth by Tolkien, but in which peoples, events and magical powers are constantly invented on the spot for the convenience of progressing the narrative, leaving monumental loose ends and incongruities for the sake of grandiose storytelling. Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth comes to mind in that category.

If you have read all seven of the Harry Potter books, think back to any place in the series where you felt baffled by an event or somebody’s behavior. I bet that by the end of the seventh book you were no longer mystified by that seeming peculiarity. Every loose end has acquired a logical and fitting explanation by the end, to no detriment of the main plot. That’s masterful storytelling for you.

But back to Adams. While a couple of fairly important characters disappear from the narrative for no discernible reason, he does tie some of the loose ends in the finale, propped up by an ultra-scientific time-space-continuum construct. The endless stream of quasi-commonplace observations and unexpected turns of phrase is extremely witty and enjoyable all in itself. But it is as if they are the whole purpose of the book (and, likely, they are!) – each scene feels no more than a background for the next joke. The book is supposed to be full of satire, but it’s stand-up comedy satire – a string of anecdotes loosely connected with an overall theme and some recurring characters.

Some zany inventions help the book in its task of grotesque satirical exaggeration, but continuing casual references to various planets, whose names often appear to be made up by random letter generators, quickly become bothersome. And while in the first couple of books the events seem to be somewhat naturally unfolding, the latter ones are not above committing the sin of suddenly introducing something or someone that conveniently pushes the plot towards the next anecdote topic.

All in all, not an entirely bad read, but far from the genius kind.

If anyone who’s read these books cares to express their opinions, I’ll be happy to compare impressions.