The Passage by Justin Cronin (book review *SPOILERS*)

Happy Monday!

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

This book should come with a warning: “Buckle up, this book will grab you by the FUCKING throat. Read at your peril.”

I read a lot(1) however it’s not often when I pick up a book that gives me problems, as in when I start reading the book I have such a strong compulsion to continue reading that I start stealing time from other things like sleeping or coursework(2).  That being said, I should say that this book is less of a page burner from page 1 but more of a shadow slowly stalking up on you until about page 241.  At the time, I didn’t realize it until about page 315 that I was screwed.

the passage

Cronin isn’t messing around with the “Something is coming.” subtitle.

At 963 pages, The Passage by Justin Cronin is a physically daunting book and it’s ambitious. The story takes place over the course of 97-1008 years depending on how you count, the setting spans most of the United States west of the Mississippi from New Orleans LA to Southern Oregon, and there are about 9 core characters.  This both works for and against the passage.

It can be exhausting keeping track of that many characters and the first and last part of the book has several separate story lines to keep straight.  Some of the characters and story lines I found more interesting and while nothing in the book is boring, some story lines felt jarringly interrupted by switching gears to other story lines.  However for the majority of the book when all the character arcs are plaited together it transforms into a tour de force of action, drama, intrigue, science fiction, fantasy, Gothic horror.  Highly recommended.

Footnotes:

  1. I average a book a week/300 pages.
  2. I lost 2 solid days reading 648 pages.

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

Continue reading

Me Talk Pretty One Day (Book Review)

Happy Monday!

I hate Valentine’s day.  It’s a dumb holiday made to make couples feel bad by not being able to do something over the top wonderful and single people feel desperately alone while the rest of the world seemingly flourishes with love and acceptance.

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Generally sums up my feelings on the whole affair.

That being said, plus my general dislike for February: the worst month is not a sentiment I alone carry.  However I’m here to help you feel less bad about the dismal political situation and the increasingly bleak global climate change crisis with a very funny book by American humourist David Sedaris called “Me Talk Pretty One Day”.

me-talk

This is the colour blind version.

This is a book of memoir essays set roughly in a chronological order about Sedaris and friends, maybe “friend and family” since the reoccuring cast is composed of his boyfriend Hugh and some family members.  The book is split into two parts: “One” which contains  13 essays set in the United States and “Deux” which contains 14 essays set in France.

What I really liked about this book, other than it’s ability to wring tears from alternating twists of hilarity and sentiment, is how easy it is to pick it up and read an essay(1) and put it back down.

Particular essays of note are:

Go Carolina – This being the first essay opens up with a story from Sedaris’s childhood about being place in speech therapy for his lisp and the stigma that comes with it.  This essay struck home with me being that when I was in primary school, I too was forced to take speech therapy for a similar lisp on account of my “s” sounding like “th”.  One of the marks of subtle genius was in the essay every time Sedaris has dialogue for his speech therapist, the “s” are initialized emphasizing her slithering exacting of the sadistic sound.

“I’m trying to help you, but the longer you play these games the longer thiigoing to take.”

-Agent Samson, p. 7

Another quote that rings beyond the story is the idea of therapy.

“…with the exception of my mother, I discussed [the therapy sessions] with no one. The word therapy suggested a profound failure on my part.”  (p. 7)

This talks to a deep seeded view, particularly in the American mind set that therapy is something for deeply broken or crazy people.

“Despite the woman’s best efforts, no one seemed to make any significant improvement. The only difference was that we were all a little quieter.” (p.12)

This is one reason why I was always quite in school until going off to university because twice a week I was made painfully aware that I talk differently and that somehow that is improper.  Not only was I made painfully aware of there was this idea that there was something painfully wrong with me to all my peers when I would be mysteriously summoned  from class  to attend my sessions.

The Learning Curve – this essay is about one of Sedaris’s earliest teaching positions for a creative writing workshop.  This was the first essay  I read, since this book was assigned for class some essays were picked for reading and this was one of them, and it made an excellent first impression of the book.

This essay, like so many of Sedaris’s others, playfully pokes deep insecurities that I imagine (hope) that I am not alone in harboring with poignant quotes:

The position was offered at the last minute, when the scheduled professor found a better-paying job delivering pizza.

p. 84

As Mr. Sedaris I lived in constatnt fear. There was the perfectly understandable fear of being exposed as a fraud, and then there was the deeper fear that my students might hate me.

p.86

Or the dreaded angry-but-clever student

“Let me get this straight,” one student said. “You’re telling me that if I say something out loud, it’s me saying it, but if I write the exact same thing on paper, it’s somebody else, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “And we’re calling that fiction.”

The student pulled out his notebook, wrote something down, and handed me a sheet of paper that read, “That’s the stupidest fucking thing I ever heard in my life.”

p.93

Before reading this and before the state of student teachers plummeted (2) I wanted to be a teacher.  Now? Who knows, maybe I’ll secure a job as a professional dust collector.

scruffy

Scruffy leads a simple life. Scruffy sweeps. Scruffy sleeps. Scruffy does it again.

 

The Late Show – This essay is about sleep.  Or rather the lack of and coping strategies.  Sedaris describes that a normal sleep schedule involves laying down around 11pm and laying awake until 5:48am in between letting his mind be occupied by various day (night?) dreams of various levels of fantastic complexity from the “Mr. Science” fantasy about being a scientist who invents “the perfect idea” and lives wildly comfortable, to “The Knockout” about being a boxer but contains some of my absolute favourite descriptions of hair I’ve ever read:

…my inky black hair, which weighs in midway between curly and wavy, and calls for the invention of a new word.

“It’s…cravy,” you’ll say. “Like a storm at sea if the ocean were made out of hair instead of water.”

p.256

Overall this is a book I have re read in part a few times mostly in part because of it’s format but also because there are some essays that really gross me out like the last one “I’ll have what he’s wearing” which I’ll leave it up to you to read and form your own opinions on.  This is the kind of book that I love to have on hand because it’s low commitment, when studying English Literature and trying to finish Infinite Jest (second swipe) reading time becomes hard to come by.

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I’m a little past page 500, total page count is 1057 (if I remember right). R.I.P. Antitoi brothers. 😥

Footnotes:

  1. Range: 3-20 pages per essay and average: 8.81 pages per essay
  2. Okay this is a pretty serious issue not only in the UK but also in the US with horrifying things like this “[The University and College Union (UCU)] says that higher education has become one of the most casualised sectors in the UK – second only to the hospitality industry.” The ENTIRE reason I got back into school was to get OUT of the hospitality industry, not only to get out of the minimum wage spiral but to also secure a job in a field that I could find security.  This is no longer the case and when I’m pushing 30, facing a mountain of student debt, and dependent on a government that does not value the the financial aid program or generally public education to pay for a higher education, I’m in a pretty hot situation where I cannot plan a future beyond “what am I going to eat for dinner the next 6 months?”

    rice

    2 meals a day because 3 meals feels indulgent.

All the Pretty Horses (book review)

Happy Monday!

all-the-pretty-horses

I have been looking forward to this review for a while now.  My first taste of McCarthy was when I saw the deeply disturbing but fantastic 2009 movie The Road staring Viggo Mortensen previously known for playing Aragorn in Lord of the Rings and the star role in A History of Violence.  It would be years before I actually picked up my first two McCarthy books, two for one deal at a second hand book shop got The Road and All the Pretty Horses, and what excellent purchases they were.  Sadly I may have to re-buy my book collection since I’m in the process of beginning the naturalisation process so I can be a full UK citizen and I did not realise how steep the shipping and handling over seas is!  However I did bring some of my books, All the Pretty Horses being one of them.

Setting: 1949, San Angelo, Texas => Mexico

Three Sentence Summary:

  1. John Grady, our main character, has lost his grandfather and the novel opens with a viewing of the body and the news that the ranch he lives on will be sold.
  2. John and his friend Lacey decide to ride their horses south into Mexico in search of fun and work and pick up another companion, reluctantly, a young outlaw calling him self Jimmy Belivins.
  3. John and Lacey loose Belivins at some point and ride further south in to the Mexican landscape eventually finding work but the trouble Belivins got into catches up to John and Lacey who are put into prison and narrowly survive long enough to be bailed out when Lacey decides to ride back to Texas and John tries to find the girl he fell in love with on the ranch but ultimately gets revenge on the corrupt officials who imprisoned him and his friends, reunites with Lacey, and then rides off into the sunset.

Review:

This story is a seriously sad one.  Some main themes include isolation, loneliness, being “the stranger in a strange land”, and loss.  John Cole Grady, over the course of the book looses his grandfather in the beginning which also means that his family is selling off the ranch something he was deeply attached to, later John Grady falls in love with a young woman living on the ranch, Alejandra, whom he will later be forced to never see again, after him and Lacey are arrested they reunite with Belivins only to witness him being walked off and executed off the record, by the end of the novel John Grady’s father dies along with the longtime family caregiver (his mother has been out of the picture for a long time), and it’s somewhat implied by the ending that the strain of the journey on the friendship between John Grady and Lacey ultimately breaks them up leaving John Grady with no more ties and no home to ride off alone into the sunset with his horse and Belivins bay horse.

Continue reading

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Book Review)

Happy Halloween!

ocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_cover

For the record, Halloween is my favourite holiday and in celebration of the creepy-crawly holiday I’m reviewing a book about children, deities, and monsters: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  (WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS)

Three Sentence Summary

  1. A man drives around in the rain in England going to a funeral but instead takes a detour to the farm house at the end of the lane from his childhood home and begins remembering back to his childhood about the residents of the farmhouse and the strange events revolving them.

  2. The main body of the narrative takes place in the narrator’s childhood memory about how a miner came to rent a room in his parents house and ends up committing suicide over money issues which allows a monster thing to come into the world and gift people with money in unpleasant ways, one of those unpleasant ways happens to the narrator when he wakes up with a coin lodged deep in his throat and tells his neighbors, three ladies of sliding scale ages, about this which then results in a hunt to banish the monster however by happenstance the monster is able to make a wormhole in the boy’s foot and the next day manifests as the boy’s new awful nanny.

  3. The monster turned nanny does a lot of weird and bad things to the family but mostly directs her malevolence towards they boy who is the only one who can sense that there’s something wrong with this woman-like-thing and tries to confine him to his room in order to keep him safe/alive because he serves as a doorway back to the other world if she needs it however ultimately the boy escapes and runs to the sanctuary of the farmhouse and the three ladies extract the worm hole from the boy and summon carrion bird-monsters who eat other monsters and…existence, apparently…and they want to eat they boy’s heart as well since it still contains some of the nanny-monster-thing still however the youngest of the three ladies sacrifices her self to save the boy and takes a long nap in the ocean at the end of the lane.

Thoughts and Analysis

This is my third Gaiman book.  The first one I read was Neverwhere, the second was American Gods, and now this one.  I have to say up front: I’m not in the Gaiman cult fan club.  I’ve generally enjoyed his books in the same way I enjoyed taking calculus: I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t do it again.

One thing I really enjoy about Gaiman novels is how rich they are with mythology and mystery, frequently he blends a mix of gods and monsters borrowed from history and imagination and creates a backdrop that feels like a dark modern fairy tale.  However what I don’t enjoy about Gaiman’s style is everyone of his main character protagonists feel so flat and forgettable almost to the point where I feel like the narrator is more a vessel in which to deliver the story rather than pushing the plot along. However given how the book ends, it is heavily implied that the carrion birds ate most of the boy’s heart, the emotionless blithe that composes the boy grown up personality makes sense.  The guy’s missing a heart, of course he’s nonchalant, bland, and ultimately boring.  This emotionlessness in the narrator makes it really hard for me to care about the protagonist (I feel like that’s almost too strong of a word to describe the narrator, he’s not a good guy or a bad guy or lovable or hate-able he’s just a place holder) and the really sad things that happen to him.

 

Favourite Quotes

“As we age, we become our parents; live long enough and we see faces repeat in time.” p6

“I helped her put the flowers into the vases, and she asked my opinion on where to put the vases in the kitchen. We placed the vases where I suggested, and I felt wonderfully important.” p33

“My bed was pushed up hard against the wall just below the window. I loved to sleep with the windows open. Rainy nights were the best of all: I would open my windows and put my head on my pillow and close my eyes  and feel the wind on my face and listen to the trees sway and creak. There would be raindrops blown onto my face, too, if I was lucky, and I would imagine that I was in my boat on the ocean and it was swaying with the swell of the sea.” p60 (1)

“It was the kind of cloudy night where the clouds seem to gather up light from distant streetlights and houses below, and throw it back at the earth.” p79

“Oh, monsters are scared…That’s why they’re monsters.” p112

“If you have something specific and visible to fear, rather than something that could be anything, it is easier.” p138

“A story matters…to the extent that people in the story change…[but] I was the same person at the end of it that I was at the beginning.” p170 (2)

Overall score

The brevity of the story, under 200 pages including epilogue, and the mythology tidbits helps the score however ultimately the flat characters and plot driven story cancel out the bonus.  Since I didn’t mind reading the book but wouldn’t re-read it (I might end up donating it before leaving for England) nor do I feel comfortable recommending it to anyone who’s not already a Gaiman fan I can only give this book a middle of the road 3 out of 5.

Footnotes:

  1. In one of my old apartments I used to have this massive walk-in closet that had a window and I would sleep in the closet under the window and it was really wonderful when it was raining because the rain would blow in but because of the blinds and the bug screen the rain drops wouldn’t ever be more than mist.  I miss that room sometimes, the closet.  I named that room “tallow” after reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things.
  2. I think this is one of the axiomatic reasons I generally have no desire to re-read Gaiman books: his characters don’t change. Like at all.  They’re just listless people at the beginning where some pretty awful things happen to and they experience some otherworldly struggles however they them selves are the same exact people at the end as the beginning which makes me feel like there wasn’t a reason to tell the story in the first place.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide Series Review

Happy Monday!

hitchhikers guide to the galaxy book cover2

Here we are at the end of the review series and also the end of reviews of series via individual books. It takes too much time and I honestly don’t read many series, mostly just trilogies if that.

The first thing to address is I personally view this series complete in the first four books.  The Zaphod story and Mostly harmless I only read because they’re in the omnibus.  This being said I will not touch “…and another thing.” for free.  It’s a Zaphod, Trillian, Random, story involving the immortal from Life, the Universe and Everything who made it’s own purpose for eternal existence to insult everything in existence.

Overall the series seems to have a solid foundation established by the first two books and the third floundered however I’m not entirely sure how much the process is different but I can give slack since it was the first in the series that wasn’t first a radio special.

I wish Adams didn’t introduce Trillian’s character. Like at all.  He portrays him self as a writer with no understanding of female character at best or a male supremist at worst.  Really really blundered that one up.  Over and Over again.

A classic in the genre and good for a laugh.  It’s pretty cheap at 20$ (new) for the omnibus and worth checking out.

I’m sure you’re about as happy as I am to be finished with this series and beginning something else.  Tune in next week for my  Halloween special Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”.

 

Mostly Harmless (book review)

Happy Monday!

Did you like the ending to the last book review? I did too.  I was trying to convey my disappointment when I learned that there was another book in the series when I got my first omnibus.   Results may vary.

The good news is that Zaphod and Marvin are gone and there’s a couple of solid laughs.  And then it gets weird.  I have no emotional connection to this book, but like a step-relative I feel semi-obligated to acknowledge it but I’m in no way obligated to be nice to it just because it’s related in name to the rest of the series.  I will say that its not good but at least the fin-cap scene isn’t bad.

Three Sentence Summary:

  1. Arthur and Fenchurch are galaxy hopping along happily when Fenchurch, the only character other than Aruthur that I’ve really liked in this entire series, DISAPPEARS into a cloud of improbability (deep breath of frustration) leaving Arthur heartbroken and wandering the cosmos and living off donating his bodily fluids until he gets stranded on a planet that has never invented sandwiches and he becomes a sandwich master.
  2. Meanwhile Ford has been tangling with the Volgon’s hostile takeover of the guide headquarters and after throwing him self out a few windows eventually runs into Arthur on the planet Lamuella, mean while there are two alternative universe Trillans being followed in this book, Trillian A (the one we know) and Trillian B (the one who doesn’t go off with Zaphod at the party); Trillian A becomes an interchronological reporter reporting stories in the future before they happen and then reporting on the alternative histories that happen as a result and some such but she reveals how mechanically Adam’s treats female characters and says “I wanted a baby and I couldn’t resist my biological urges in favour of a logical decision since I’ll be a single mother trying to raise a child alone traveling through time in and out of hostile situations knowingly so I’m going to pass off my child, that I couldn’t be bothered to give a fucking proper name to, to the only other human in existence who happens to be her father because I don’t give a crap about her or the father (I’m serious, this all happens).
  3. Arthur Dent being the good guy he is does his best to be a surprise father to a cantankerous 16 year old girl who is coping with being abandoned by her mother but ultimately cannot control bigger cogs of events conspiring to put Random (Trillian A’s Daughter’s name) in touch with the second version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but designed with impressively brilliant Volgon interdimential technology which was created with a singular purpose: to destroy every single earth in every single multiverse.

 

Thoughts:

Alright folks, were at the end of the reviews here(1) and I’m personally happier about this than about the quality of this book.  As mentioned above, Adams seems to have a bend towards really terrible characterization of the female figure.  Trillian A is portrayed as a emotionless robot reporter who is burdened with this child by-product of HER OWN BIOLOGICAL CLOCK. She CHOSE to have this child on her own terms despite already having a challenging job and knowing she does not have a support network in raising this kid.  So the logical move in Trillian A’s mind is to find Arthur, talk sweet memories to him, and say “surprise! You’re a father. Now I’m never coming back to visit or help raise her because I’m already way too swamped with my obviously more important reporting job.  Good luck guys. Or you know…whatever.”  and poor Trillian B is so completely forgettable that her entire side story is completely inconsequential.  Regardless of whether she took the job with the Grebulons or not, the Volgons were already in works to destroy this planet and it’s implied that they even used the guide MKII to manipulate events so that this happened. Fenchurch was proof Adams could do better.  Why? Adams.

Adam’s second attempt at the end wasn’t as good as the first but it’s okay

He wondered what he should do, but he only wondered it idly.  Around him people were beginning to rush and shout a lot, but it was suddenly very clear to him that there was nothing to be done, not now or ever. Through the new strangeness of noise and light he could just make out the shape of Ford Prefect sitting back and laughing wildly.

A tremendous feeling of peace came over him. He knew that at last, for once and forever, it was now all, finally, over.

p. 814

That’s it.  The end.  It carries on for another half page but that’s where it all ends. Tune in next week for the closing thoughts and what it all meant.

 

Footnotes:

  1. There will be a cap piece, one place for me to put all my thoughts on the series and addressing “…and another thing.”

*SHORT STORY REVIEW SPECIAL* Young Zaphod Plays it Safe (a prequel story to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

Happy Monday!

Hey you know what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy “trilogy” in four books, with one meh one and 3 very solid books and a great ending I might add, reeeally needs? A ZAPHOD Prequel!

ಠ_ಠ 

Let’s get started!

Three Sentence Summary:

  1. Zaphod is driving another funny shaped space ship, this time a filling cabinet, on a ocean/tropical area of a planet for The Beeblebrox Salvage and Really Wild Stuff Corp and  he’s following a lead that takes him deep under the water to a ship with “questionable content.”
  2. Zaphod talks about lobster.
  3. Big reveal? Were hinted that the “questionable content” were designer personalities (among other things) which are highly dangerous blah blah exposition and one of them escapes to where Earth is located and happens to be Ronald Reagan.

Really not much to say about this story.  I didn’t like Zaphod’s character, I felt like his personality was pretty much the same pre and post brain op.  The story was too short to develop any good jokes and with an already weak character it was a complete flop for me. This is the one piece in the series I almost don’t recommend reading but it’s only nine pages (however I’ve read those stupid nine pages 4 times now, once today for this and I’m not re reading this if/when I revisit).

Sorry folks. I promise, my taste in books doesn’t get this low often but I felt obligated to cover it for completion satisfaction.  Tune in next week though, Trillian has a kid!

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish Book Review

Happy Monday!

so-long-and-thanks-for-all-the-fish

I like this book.  Like a lot. After Adam’s last first final book in the trilogy(1), like every time I’ve read this series, I think “Cheese…I don’t remember if the rest is more of the same or what”, and then I’m always pleasantly surprised. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish feels like Adam’s second attempt to end the series and in a way it is what I accepted as the end of the series until I got my first omnibus version.  If this book ended the series, like for good (no more prequels, no more post-humorously published volumes, please just let the series die a dignified death), I would have been extremely satisfied.  Maktub.

Three Sentence Summary:

  1. Arthur has been hitching across the galaxy after the events of the last book and is inadvertently and curiously dropped off on Earth in England where he gets a ride with a jerk who introduces Arthur to his medicinally sedated “mentally unstable” sister, Fenchurch, the first human woman Arthur has seen in who knows how long(2) and naturally falls obsessively in love with her however after calling several hospitals asking after her, after arriving home to an eight year pile of junk mail, and generally being super hardcore creepy he notices a fish bowl that has an inscription on it reading “So Long and Thanks” which prompts him to sleep on the events of the rainy evening.

  2. Arthur decides he wants to find the cave in which he used to live in on prehistoric Earth and discovers that Fenchurch lives in a flat that was constructed precisely on top of Arthur’s cave in prehistoric Earth which is the second time he’s seen her now (he picked her up hitchhiking sometime between the fishbowl thing and showing up on her door step) which firmly establishes this story as a romantic comedy science fiction, maybe a first of its kind, and so following the formula Fenchurch makes a big reveal about her “mental instability”, as it turns out Fenchurch is the girl mentioned in the first book who had received the question for life, the universe, and everything moments before the Earth was destroyed,  which is code for she floats inches off the ground all the time constantly (literally) and when Arthur notices this he teaches her to fly and they have lots and lots of flying sex.

  3. Eventually Arthur and Fenchurch receive a lead onto an enigmatic scientist, John Watson aka Wonko the Sane who looked like…I’ll just have to quote it:

If you took a couple of David Bowies and stuck one of the David Bowies on top of the other David Bowie, then attached another David Bowie to the end of each of the arms of the upper of the first two David Bowies and wrapped the whole business up in a dirty beach robe you would then have something which didn’t exactly look like John Watson, but which those who knew him would find hauntingly familiar.

P. 583

…and with all this David Bowie power combine Arthur and Fenchurch are shown that if they hold the fish bowl they got up to their ear they can hear the dolphins explaining to humanity about the impending Volgon demolition and that they tried to warn us however they (the dolphins) are off to another dimension before this Earth is destroyed so they can create a new Earth for the Humans and then a wild Ford Prefect appears via a giant robot shaped spaceship that causes mass mayhem and however dunk Ford is he explains…nothing(3) but there are some cut away Ford POV chapters showing where he was when he discovered that his copy of the Guide has the full version of his entry on the Earth and how he got from there to the Earth and after finishing his surprisingly accurate drunken rehash of his POV chapters(4) they decide to hijack the same robot-spaceship that Ford arrived on to go see where God’s Last Message to his Creation is and read it but on the way they meet Marvin who explains that due to continuity (errors?) that he is now about 37 times older than the universe it self which has made him almost nonfunctional however Arthur and Fenchurch help Marvin to the destination where God’s Last Message to his Creation can be read and after reading it: (get ready for the feels)

 “I think,” he murmured at last from deep within his corroding, rattling, thorax, “I feel good about it.”

The lights went out in his eyes for absolutely the very last time ever.

p. 610

Thoughts:

This book is closest to my heart in the series.  I love Fenchurch.  Finally Arthur has a love interest AND this woman isn’t an insulting gender-genre cliche AND she actually is a fairly interesting character.  I’m not generally crazy for romances in literature(5) but after growing with Arthur over the last few books it feels so satisfying to give him his home back and someone to love and be loved.

Take this thought from Arthur’s head:

“Perhaps we ought to first sort out,” said Arthur, “where I’m taking you.”

fenchurch

arthur-dent-says

Very close, he hoped, or a long way. Close would mean she live near him, a long way would mean he could drive her there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See? It’s crap like THIS that makes me really makes me peel with “aww”.

I did not like Marvin.  Like at all.  I wanted him to die the entire series.  This death is simultaneously satisfying and heartbreaking and every time I read it I feel those heart strings.

Above points are all in favour of this book making a strong cannidate for the end of the series but an subtle absence is felt with out Zaphod or Trillian in this book as much as their characters were 100% throw-away(6) in the overall series (including the prequel short story) and their stories were pretty much resolved(?7) after the events of Life, the Universe and Everything however I just kind of wanted to see them…or have mention of the heart of gold finding god or something improbable like that.  Would have been a much stronger ending than the “seriously? WTF, man.  What is your deal INTRODUCING A BRAND NEW CHARACTER IN THE EPILOGUE THAT SERVES NO PURPOSE?! Seriously, can’t have any nice moments here…” (drops mic, walks out, turns off light switch on way out)

 

Footnotes:

  1. Go ahead and re-read it.  It makes sense in the context of this series.
  2. Given the time traveling and dimensional travel, I’m pretty sure there is no right answer.
  3. He kind of rambles on for a few pages while the giant robot does giant robot things.
  4. His drunken rambling makes about as much sense as some of his chapters, like the one where he keeps listening to the “Tick Tick Tock Tock”ing and giggles about it.  I think Adams was getting paid by the word by this book because there are much easier plot devices to get Arthur and Fenchurch a ride off planet.
  5. Unless it’s something silent and complex like John Grady and Alejandra in All The Pretty Horses by McCarthy  and I’ll just read it over and over and over…or really anything Cormic decides he wants to write about I’ll read because his prose is just so so lyrical and violent like broken church stain glass sparkling in the morning sun.
  6. I can think of a much more amusing scenario where in Zaphod’s causal absence, Ford steals the Heart of Gold and abducts Arthur and they go have space adventures and Trillian only exists because of the phone number joke in the first book which could have been replaced with Fenchurch and hell I think we’re on our way to an interesting reboot of the series, eh?
  7. ? Honestly I care so little about their character arcs that I won’t check the source text (sitting right in front of me).

Life, the Universe, and Everything Review

Happy Monday!

life-the-universe-and-everything

Welcome back to the review series of Adams’s most well known science fiction comedy series The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy.  Today I’ll be sharing with you my thoughts on the third book in the series.  Which is…tough and I’m prepared to loose some followers over my views but if you decide to unfollow because I cannot praise easily the weakest book in the series…well so long and thanks for all the fish (haha get it? that’s the next book in the series).  Alienating (hahaha) jokes and bad puns aside, lets get in to it.

Three Sentence Summary

  1. Arthur is still on prehistoric Earth, generally loosing his mind when Ford comes out of nowhere and explains how he’s spent the time being a lemon jumping into a glass of gin then proceed go skipping after an anachronistic couch floating by which happens to be a time anomaly that transports Arthur, Ford, and it self on to the field of Lord’s Cricket Ground two days before the Earth was destroyed by Volgons however a spaceship full of murderous robots from the planet Krikkit come destroying things until they steal the ashes(1) and leave a scene of chaos while Slartibartfast comes in and recruits Arthur and Ford to help him save existence from the Krikkit bots.
  2. Zaphod is hungover and depressed somewhere and Trillian leaves or something meanwhile Slartibartfast explains to Arthur and Ford the strange history of the Krikkit wars and what caused this once peaceful race of robots to go on a galaxy wide quest to destroy everything and what stopped the Krikkit wars in the first place but why they’re still floating around and what their plan is while en route to a multi-generational party however because Arthur is a bloke who is just made to be hated (for some reason, I find him to be the best character in the series by a long shot) he somehow is transported to a cathedral of hate created by a reincarnating being, Agrajag, who claims that Arthur has killed him/her/it in every single one of his incarnations and is now looking for revenge however through it’s bad guy monologue it’s revealed that Agrajag has pulled Arthur too early from his respective timeline because he hasn’t yet been to Stavromula Beta yet and killing Arthur would create a paradox but Agrajag has no fucks left to give and tries to kill Arthur anyway causing the Cathedral to collapse and Arthur to fly away until the multi-generational party strikes him in the small of the back and he’s reunited with his friends.
  3. There’s an anit-climatic and fairly confusing resolution to the Krikkit wars involving another warmongering race and another super computer named Hactor who created an ultimate destroy everything in existence bomb but after talking to Hactor for a while the Krikkit bots return home and Arthur and the gang go back in time again to just moments after the Krikkit bots arrive on Earth originally to return the Ashes and Arthur almost ends existence by bowling a bomb at…I don’t get cricket so I’m just gonna call the robot with a bat ready to be pitched to a “batsman” because I can’t figure out if that guy is the wicket or the defender of the gate (is the gate the wicket?) or what the stumps are or what role they play with out much more research than I’m willing to do for this book review, but instead does something pretty bad ass and then they head towards a quiet and idyllic planet when they find a crazed journalist who tells them about a guy who got way too much truth serum and was exiled to a court room somewhere to protect everyone from going mad from all the truth he’s spitting and the gang figure that if anyone knows the question to life, the universe, and everything it would be this guy however he is done and has forgotten and with his dying words he tries to tell Arthur where God’s last message to His creation is but dies in frustration and Arthur is left on the Krikkit planet to master flying and where he decides to learn bird language.

“Where to begin?” is what I’m asking my self in writing this review and I’m guessing Adams was asking himself when beginning this book since it was the first in the series to be a book first rather than an adaptation from the radio series and it shows but that’s not entirely a good or bad thing.

I want to like this book as much as the first two.  He, Adams, made some really excellent decisions such as almost completely cutting out Marvin, Trillian, and Zaphod which have at this point become a loathsome, cliche, and whiny (respectively) trio who couldn’t even seem to stand each other and how they made it into the final cut must have been at someone’s instance because they really offer nothing to the story other than being in ownership of the heart of gold which, frankly, at this point Adam’s could insert some other deus ex machina ship (like say a second one from a parallel dimension or from an alternate timeline) and it would be an improvement as long as we didn’t have to see the miserable three anymore.

Adam’s had some really solid jokes in the first couple of books and a generally kind of quirky fun approach to the absurdity of significance, the state of the universe, saviour figures, ethical meat consumption, the ecological price of technological progress, and generally just kind of had a way of saying “hey look at this, its pretty funny right? Now keep thinking…” which was great.  However I feel like he was running out of material by this point in the series or he really needed a break because aside from the immortal character born with out the capacity to handle the existential weight of immorality and therefore created his own purpose of insulting everyone and everything through space and time, I just didn’t see much of that sarcastic philosopher voice that was holding together this series.

Not to say that this book is all bad or not worth reading because there are some of my absolute favourite scenes and lines in this book.

“I’ve seen that one before,” he said. His eyes wandered slowly up to the date, which Ford was idly tapping at. His face froze for a second or two and then began to do that terribly slow crashing trick that Arctic ice floes do spectacularly in the spring.

P. 330

This is just after Arthur and Ford are transported back to modern Earth and Arthur is finally home.  For some reason I’ve always imagined the world ending on a Thursday in spring, probably April I could never get the hang of April, which ties the season bit to current time, his word choice for “froze” reinforces the horrible cold terror you can almost feel vicariously as his eyes shift up and his face falls just like the ice floes.

And suddenly he tripped again and was hurled forward by his considerable momentum. But just at the last moment he was about to hit the ground astoundingly hard he saw lying directly in front of him a small navy blue tote bag that he knew for a fact he had lost in the baggage retrieval system at the Athens airport some ten years previously in his personal time scale, and in his astonishment he missed the ground completely and bobbed off into the air with his brain singing.

What he was doing was this: he was flying.

This is the first time Arthur flies and it’s as the Cathedral of Hate is collapsing around him.  I love every single flying scene in the series from this point out but this first one is so chilling to me.  I guess maybe it’s more a personal bend, I would day dream as a kid staring at birds flying so free and floating on currents.  The way he describes flying in this book I guess it kind of reminds me of what I’ve read is called a “living prayer” in Buddhist literature where after mastering the art of meditation a disciplined individual can exist wholly in the moment, like in between heart beats, where the mind is completely quiet. No interior monologue, no thoughts, just being.  Though it’s not entirely accurate, since Arthur frequently thinks about anything other than his proximity to the ground, but something about it makes me feel something similar to the “living prayer”.  Like I said at the outset of this review series, I have a long and complicated bookmance with these books and I guess like any other relationship there will be things that only make sense to those in the relationship.

At the end of the day, if I re-read the series or recommend it to someone, I will say Life, the Universe, and Everything deserves a read. Life, the Universe, and Everything is like this friend you have that makes you cringe sometimes but you still love them because of that adorkable joke they just cracked.  I guess that can apply to both the book and…the titular abstractions.

 

Footnotes:

  1. I needed to look this up because I’m an American and not into sports at that (except football is pretty cool, like real football, the one you play with your feet not the popular American sport Handegg Ball or more commonly known as “football”.  The Ashes are basically a more humourus version of the Stanley Cup but only once every 4 years instead of every year and only between the English and the Australians. Honestly it’s a lot more involved and pretty funny to read about and I recommend following the link.    This does not count towards the three sentences.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe Book Review

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Cover Image – Following through with my intention to post all the old school cover art I remember reading the series for the first time in, this is the second in the series.

Happy Monday everyone!

Today we’re continuing with my review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series with the second book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe(1).  Without further ado.

Three Sentence Summary:

  1. The Vogons come and attack the ship with Zaphod and company leading while at the same time Arthur accidentally jams up the computer with a request for a cup of tea placing the crew in a situation where the inert ship is unable to defend it self nor take evasive action thereby the most logical solution is to have a seance to summon Zaphod Beeblebrox’s great-grandfather, Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth, who decides the best line of action is to create a circular plot hole that will lead Zaphod Beeblebrox to discover that he is the most important being in this universe however discovers he inhabits an artificial universe that was created by Zarniwoop, a man whom Zaphod worked in collaboration with but does not remember because that is a part of the piece of his brain Zaphod had removed/blocked.
  2. Zaphod, Arthur, Trillian, Ford and Zarniwoop head to the closest place to eat which because of the improbability drive picking at it’s mathematical will how to fill that request ends up being Milliway’s the closest place in space (to where they were parked) but they had to travel “five hundred and seventy-six thousand million years” into the future to a restaurant created independent of time that continually exists for several hours before the climatic end of existence providing an existentially fun and terrifying experience but Zaphod and company decide to leave early to beat traffic which leads them to stealing a famous rock-star’s friction-less pure black ship which they later discover is only a spare prop made for destruction and never intended for manual piloting which gives the characters the necessary gumption to discover a teleporter that A) requires someone to sacrifice themselves to press the “teleport” button and B) has no directional systems installed so it spits the characters off into two convenient groups: Zaphod, Trillian, Zarniwoop; and Arthur/ Ford.
  3. Zaphod, Trillian, Zarniwoop are transported back to the Heart of Gold where Zarniwoop commandeers the ship to complete his mission to find the ruler of the universe which bores the hell our of Zaphod and Trillian so they leave Zarniwoop trapped behind in the space time anomaly that the ruler of everything occupies meanwhile Arthur and Ford are transported to a ship of fools who are rejects from the humanoid species, the Golgafrinchans, who end up crash landing on prehistoric Earth and discover that the Golgafrinchans will eliminate the native hominoid species who were the final piece in the “computer known as Earth” algorithm and because of this view of events in time there chance for ever finding the ultimate question.

Thoughts:

The second book in the series keeps with the existential absurdist themes from the first book and if I remember right, “Adams himself considered Restaurant to be his best novel of the five”.  In the second installment Adams continues getting more experimental with switching POVs(2) and unusual perspectives as seen in chapter 17, p. 222, behind the curtain at Milliway’s with the host Max checking on oblivion, switching between first person perspectives of both things one a cosmic dinner host and the other is a gaunt hallow personification of oblivion and with expanding on articles from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (as in the device in the book, not in reference to the first book of the series) like chapter 19 p. 243 which serve a solid foundation for strong jokes

The Universe — some information to help you live in it. 

1 AREA: Infinite

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy offers this definition of the word “Infinite”. 

Infinite: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real “wow, that’s bit,” time. Infinity is just so big that, by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is sort of the concept we’re trying to get across here.

However there’s an exchange between Arthur and Zahpod that sort of sums up my general feeling about the second book

“Look Earthman,” he said angrily, “you’ve got a job to do, right? The Question to the Ultimate Answer, right?”

“What, that thing?” said Arthur. “I thought we’d forgotten about that.”

I felt like the series intended not to have a purpose but introduced the idea of an ultimate question and ultimate answer but then it decided that it’s bored with that and tries to forward story lines with the disappointing, and the disappointment grows with time, female character(3), Trillian, the annoyingly depressed, the annoying grows with time too, robot, Marvin, and the flat, he doesn’t get any dimension so he can’t get any more flat with time, Zaphod.  Thankfully though Arthur and Ford, and mostly just Arthur, still have fun and funny story lines.

Speaking of Arthur and Ford, there’s this one scene just after they get transported from Hotblack Desiato’s ship onto the Golgafrinchan’s Ark (p. 259)

“That noise. That stomping throb. Pounding feet. Listen!”

Arthur listened.  The noise echoed round the corridor at them from an indeterminate distance. It was the muffled sound of pounding footsteps, and it was noticeably louder.

“Let’s move,” said Ford sharply. They both moved — in opposite directions.

The scene goes on but this reminds me of this story where something similar happened to me and a friend in high school.  We were both there after classes for something and it was a rainy day so the wrestlers would run up and down the halls and stairs instead of on the track.  My friend and I didn’t know any of this.

Her and I were in a hallway and we here a throbbing pounding in the ground, like vibrating through the ground into our shoes and we kind of look at each other and from both directions come this herd of meaty athletes.  She grabbed my hand and pulled us into a class room a the last moment (or at least that’s how my memory of it is, the moment was already so cinematic that I’m sure that’s how it had to have happened).

The scene I want to close out on is the one when Zaphod and company are at Milliways and the talking cow comes out to show it self off to the table before it kills it self for butchery (p. 224).  Sometimes I wonder about these things, like what the future of meat and food is going to look like. We’ve developed the first lab grown burger (haha I almost called it a “hamburger”) which seems like a step in the right direction however I wonder how things like that will change our evolutionary psychology. On the one hand, we have the Adam’s extreme where we are intimately familiar with where the meat comes from and have the consent and even the desire from the animal but the price is you have to recognize that you’re ending the life of one thing for your culinary entertainment but is somewhat closer to the nature of eating and the life-death cycle than ground meat cultures grown in an artificial environment however the grown meat not only never was a sentient being, thereby no killing is involved, which changes the nature of sustained survival: nothing has to die to become food.  It’s something to consider, as the nature of food and life and death changes with the advent of bleeding edge science non-fiction technologies, which I believe was Adam’s primary objective as a story teller, to give the reader something to consider.

Don’t forget to check in Friday for Fin’s Special Birthday Comic!

Footnotes:

  1. Milliways, is the name of the restaurant at the end of the universe, to be specific.
  2. Point of View
  3. I wanted to say protagonist but Trillian does so little and what little she does do is non-important or is somewhat questionable.