Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher (book review)

Happy Tuesday!

Okay guys, I admit that things got a bit weird last week with my Valentine’s Day post (The Golden Ass: A Valentine’s with Something for Everyone) but to your, very likely, welcoming this week I don’t have anything nearly as topical nor as weird (but if you like weird, trust me there is plenty of weird left in the tank).  No this week I have something fairly pedestrian in comparison to last week’s book, something more fantastical but in the traditional way.

This book, Furies of Calderon(1), is another series from the wonderful and imaginative Jim Butcher (best known for The Dresden Files books, I wrote a review of the first book in the series and can be seen here: Storm Front by Jim Butcher and my friend wrote a review on the comic omnibus which covers the events of the first three books here: Spoiler Free Book Review Dresden Files Graphic Novel Omnibus One).  I got this book as a xmas present from my best friend Evan and was extremely excited when my other reader friend Marc told me the backstory to the conception of this series:

How did you come up with the original idea for CODEX ALERA? We’ve heard rumours that it involved a bet on whether you could combine the Roman empire and Pokémon… is that true?

The bet was actually centered around writing craft discussions being held on the then-new Del Rey Online Writers’ Workshop, I believe. The issue at hand was central story concepts. One side of the argument claimed that a good enough central premise would make a great book, even if you were a lousy writer. The other side contended that the central concept was far less important than the execution of the story, and that the most overused central concept in the world could have life breathed into by a skilled writer.

It raged back and forth in an ALL CAPITAL LETTERS FLAMEWAR between a bunch of unpublished writers, and finally some guy dared me to put my money where my mouth was, by letting him give me a cheesy central story concept, which I would then use in an original novel.

Me being an arrogant kid, I wrote him back saying, “Why don’t you give me TWO terrible ideas for a story, and I’ll use them BOTH.”

The core ideas he gave me were Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon… Thus was Alera formed.”

(Source: “Jim Butcher chats about Pokemon, responsibility, and Changes” by Beth Johnson, guest reviewer for fantasyliterature.com)

See this series hit a golden triad of nerd-topia for me: Jim Butcher style fantasy, anime, and action/adventure.  Plus after being recommended by two different reader friends who’s tastes I trust to be closely calibrated to mine (but both of their tastes are heavier on the fantasy side, I’m more of a realism/so-fucking-weird-it-leaves-you-wondering-what-you’re-doing-with-your-life kinda freak(2)), I knew I was in for a treat.

Furies of Calderon is an early Jim Butcher work, or at least it feels like it.  Being published in 2004 he had a few Dresden Files under his belt and his experience shows in this book however that’s not to say there are no flaws with the inaugural piece in his 6 book series(3).  This book has some imperfections which doesn’t hold it back from being an excellent fantasy adventure by it self but does keep me from being driven towards the 2640 page commitment that entails the rest of the series.

So O.K. Corral style here is my thoughts on the book: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly style.

The Good:

Even this early in Butcher’s career he’s really good at misdirection or leading this reader to think that things are more grim than they are but still leaving clues to the observant to keep it fair. Let’s take an example from the second chapter after Alera and her mentor Fidelius are captured by the enemy and in a compromising position:

Aldrick drew his sword and said, “The old man [Fidelius] isn’t necessary.” He went outside the tent.

A moment later, there was a sound not unlike a knife sinking into a melon.”

(Furies of Calderon, 24)

At this point we as the readers have developed a 1.5 chapter (24 pages) bond with Almara and Fidelius and then we are lead to believe he was executed stage left however we later discover that he was faking his death and there was a literal melon being stabbed to simulate the sound of a man being cut through the gut.  It’s small details like this that make me appreciate an author more because they’re thinking about the reader’s experience reading the book a second time.

Butcher also does a good job at inciting curiosity such as only partly explaining how the “Fury magic system” works, who some characters are like (Fade? Aldrick? The fucking furies mapentire Marat “species”[are they even human?!]) and locations like most of the map beyond “Vallis Calderon” specifically what lies beyond “The Shield Wall” (okay, I admit to being a “Game of Thrones” fan(4) and I guess I’m conditioned to have curiosities about a mysterious northerly wall).

The Bad:

Okay so Jim is capable of bad writing, as I learned from this 650+ page novel.  Thankfully the bad isn’t concentrated in parts like books I could mention(5) however the mercy is spread among hundreds of too many pages in a couple of paragraphs segments:

[Pirellus] was lean with hard, fat muscle, and bore a slender, curved sword of metal blacker than mourning velvet in his hand.”

(Furies, 477)

Goddamn that’s a deadly sexy description of a serious swordsman.  This is our introduction to one of the most deadly swordsman in the cannon (as far as we know) and he was challenged by one of our main characters, Almara (as we have met from chapter one) however Butcher kind of ruins the sexy tight writing he showed us with spoon-feeding the reader exactly how deadly this Pirellus is

Pirellus was a master metalcrafter, one of the finest swordsmen alive. If he chose to engage in the duel, he could kill [Almara], and there would be little she could do to stop him. And yet it was necessary. Necessary to convince him of her sincerity, necessary for  him to know that she was willing to die to get him to act, that she would sooner die than fail in her duty to Alera, to Gaius. She stared at his eyse and focused on the task before her and refused to give in to her fear or to let it make the sword tremble at all.

(Furies, 480)

Notice this isn’t the beginning of a paragraph nor even close to the last page where we got a very distinct description of the swordsman and his prowess. It’s three pages later of sword-waving (in the metaphorical sense, Amara is a biological woman after all) and a very long paragraph of describing how deadly this Pirellus is, we are FINALLY granted some action (a page later mind) and that’s not even between her and her perceived adversary.

This nicely segues into my final and main complaint about the book which is a general complaint across most of the book but becomes most evident after page 490: the book is too long and accomplishes too little.  I’m inclined to believe Butcher was paid by the page/word for this novel because the “climax” of the book was about 150 pages and the falling action was around 20 pages). In almost 700 pages, Butcher accomplished what could have been finished (with some tight editing) in around 400 pages (give or take, I didn’t count strictly but even given space for world building, there’s still a significant amount of purple text even for a fantasy novel(6)).

The Ugly:

Thankfully there’s not much of this here.  Butcher does make some minor mistakes that did bother me (such as using too many similar names in the same story arc IE Aldrick grrm diesand Asturak, having some flat characters on both the “good” and “bad” side such as Bernard and Kord respectively, having places mentioned by name in the narrative but not appear on the map, etc) however the worst of the lot was at the end of the 150 page climax Butcher pulls a a GRRM and kills just about every character we’ve been following in this  book including my personal favourie, Fade (for the mystery mostly but also he has the best name in this  book) which is a pretty bold move.  Except that it wasn’t.  As the magic system works in this series there are healers who are capable of reviving people from the dead but it’s only available to extremely strong and experienced healers which even then it’s risky to both the healer and the patient.  So after this  long drawn out battle which has left everyone injured, dead, or otherwise indisposed, somehow there’s a healer available who can revive like 6 people (I don’t have the book in front of me but I can think of at least 3 people who are “killed”) which effectively tells me as a reader: THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES! DON’T WORRY NO ONE REALLY DIES!

Final Verdict:

This is a solid, if long, fantasy book.  I have read much worse and I have read much better.  The problem I have is that, like a blog post series, the interest nose-dives after the first installment and I won’t say I fully understand the loss of interest in every case but I can say I understand my personal loss of interest in this series beyond the beginning and that’s largely to do with the pacing of the novel and the ability for watercrafters (the healers of this magic system) to be able to reverse the condition of death even with seemingly-dire-canonical-implied-risks which ends up in being a Chekhov’s Gun full of blanks.  It’s almost like a GRRM book except remove the lasting implications of tragedy.

Overall:

I in no way regret reading this novel regardless of my apathy to continue with the series in general.  If you like high fantasy and like Jim Butcher’s works you’ll very likely like this book however if you’re like me and kinda borderline on fantasy or generally a slow reader (my main reason for not reading more fantasy novels) you might be best off renting it from the library or generally passing on this novel.  It’s an interesting world with some interesting characters but Butcher wasn’t able to cut enough fat for me to remain interested for the remainder of this series.
-fin

 

Footnotes:

  1. I keep mis-reading/mis-typing this title as “Furries of Calderon” which has an entirely different connotation. furry test
  2. A good example of the realism I like is the “dirty realism” of Bukowski (see my reveiws of Bukowski’s “Post Office” and “Notes of a Dirty Old Man”) and a good example of “o-fucking-weird-it-leaves-you-wondering-what-you’re-doing-with-your-life” is Infinite Jest by the late David Foster Wallace).
  3. I am sorry to disappoint however I will not be reviewing all 6 books in this series, which is to assume I will finish all six books.  I very likely will not for reasons that will be outlined.
  4. I specify “Game of Thrones”(GoT) versus “A Song of Ice and Fire”(ASoI&F) because as I’ve read and deeply enjoyed the first two ASoI&F books, I was warned of way way too much purple text (filler content) come book 4 and 5 whilst when I just finished ASoI&F book 2 was when GoT season 2 was ending and it seemed like a good point to segue between the book series and the HBO series.
  5. See The Pesthouse by Jim Crace book review
  6. I appreciate that due to the nature of the fantasy genre, more time and text needs to be invested in developing the world however that does not give license for the author to be redundant in descriptions nor to drop 200+ word interior monologue thought processes of the characters we are following. Let there be some blanks that my imagination can fill, please.
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The Golden Ass: A Valentine’s Day Novel with Something for Everyone

Happy Tuesday!

Okay so Valentines day is tomorrow.  I have expressed how seriously I take this “holiday”(1) in the past.

However as a shameless self-promoter and a young writer/artist desperate for ever more attention as a form of validation (for a struggling artist, everyday is like being single and drunk on Valentine’s day: an emotional fucking roller coaster), I always try to jump on whatever will grab me more traffic without completely whoring out my “talents”.  Which this time of year means writing something about Valentine’s day.

This post started out as a simple etymological exploration of the English word “love”(2) and myth of Eros and Psyche, particularly inspired from the brilliant video from Overly Sarcastic Productions: Miscellaneous Myths: Eros and Psyche.

Then I remembered: this is OBOP what’s so offbeat about writing about “love” during valentines week? It’s onpoint but not offbeat.  So I. Dug. DEEPER. And what I found was…really interesting.

the golden ass

The book in question this week is one that, like the word “love”, has a few different faces and lacks the simplicity that a four letter word seems to promise.

NOTE: I haven’t read this book in it’s entirety yet.  I’m working on it but I couldn’t finish it in time however I promise this will not be the last time I visit t his unique piece of literature.  I have big plans for this rare volume.

There are more than a few interesting(3) things about this novel other than it’s rather lewd title.  The first being is that the original title was “Metamorphosis”, which as far as I can tell has very little to do with the Kafka novel of the same name, but then was renamed by St Augustine of Hippo to the more appropriate “The Golden Ass”(4) and the second is that this is the only novel from the Grecco-Roman to survive in it’s entirety.  Some one cared to make sure that this piece of literature survived the fall of the Roman empire.

As promised, The Golden Ass is about an Ass or more specifically about a man who is driven by curiosity and the desire to learn about magic and accidentally turns himself into a donkey and then goes on adventures.  These adventures include adultery, witches rasing a familyreplacing a man’s heart with a sponge, golden showers, murder, necromancy, , thievery, kidnapping, anonymous sex with an invisible being, animal cruelty, catamite priests, cuckolding, incest, and bestiality.  These are just the highlights, folks.  Truly something for everyone.

Now if you’re still with me, you might be wondering “Fin: what does this lewd and strangely appropriately titled piece of ancient literature have to do with Eros and Psyche?”

One of the inset stories in The Golden Ass is Eros and Psyche. I feel like the entirety of The Golden Ass, rather than one hand-picked and relatively tame piece, does a better job of reflecting the complexity, beauty, and occasionally taboo aspects of love.  Love, for me, in every capacity from romantic to platonic has many different forms and facets.  Sometimes love is beautiful, other times it’s gross, but most often love much more complex than just a couple of star-crossed lovers who get a lovely ending or the loyalty between individuals who have grown together and die together.

Happy Valentine’s day.

-fin

STAY TUNED: The next comic in The Adventures of Fin and Louie is coming soon (probably this week), it’ll be the second to last comic before the end of the “Looking for a Friend/Count Rubber’s Keep” story arc.

Footnotes:

  1. Valentine’s day started out as a guilt trip from a Saint named Valentinus (there are two, no one knows who it was about originally) who, according to legend, was marrying Roman soldiers illegally, they took vows not to be married, and then healed the judges blind daughter.  The judge ruled to against the Saint and the Saint wrote a farewell note reading “Farewell, your Valentine”.  At best, being someone’s “Valentine” is like a passive aggressive death curse or something.

2. Which does have an interesting and complicated history which reflects it’s relatively sloppy application because of how ambiguously it can be used from sports (Tennis) to phrases like “for love or money” roughly meaning “for anything” which it self has revealing implications of motivations.  If you’re interested, read more here: “love” etymology online dictionary

  1. I recognise that one of my weaknesses as a writer is the over-use (I prefer “liberal”) of the word “interesting” however this is one of those posts where “interesting” might be the best word to use liberally to talk about this ancient novel.

  2. I understand that St Augustine of Hippo was not, publicly, a fan of Metamorphosis and likely nicknamed the book a less polite title as a way to smear the reputation of the book.  I think the title is an improvement because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have looked into this book in the first place.

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson (Book Rev)

Happy Monday!

If you’re reading this that means I am still, in fact, alive.  I haven’t posted much in the last month because November(1) but I have been reading some good stuff or rather more accurately what I’ve read has been about as good as a bag of mix nuts: about half the total are peanuts and the rest are unique and really nice.  If The Bootlegger was a pedestrian peanut (I’ll be fair, it was consistently good but nothing exciting or surprising), The Rum Diary was a strange shaped and richly flavoured Brazil nut.

20171129_093631-1

The Rum Diary is considered Hunter’s “lost novel” but actually it was the second novel he wrote and didn’t publish until later, the first one being Prince Jellyfish which still remains unpublished.

The Rum Diary’s narrative focuses on a young American journalist, Paul Kemp, on assignment in Puerto Rico’s capital city San Juan.  Kemp is worried, or in a martyr type way, romanticizes, about the notion of  being “over the hill” whilst living a wet and transient existence traveling the world over as a “vagrant journalist”.

[Vagrant journalists] were professionally deviant, but they had a few things in common. They depended, mostly from habit, on newspapers and magazines for the bulk of their income; their lives were geared to long chances and sudden movement; and they claimed no allegiance to any flag and valued no currency but luck and good contacts.

The book opens with some background to the narrative, outlining the steady success of an ex-jockey named named Al who opened a bar out of his backyard called (wait for it…) “Al’s Backyard”.

“At first he served nothing but beer, at twenty cents a bottle, and rum, at a dime a shot or fifteen cents with ice.  After several months he began serving hamburgers, which he made himself.

Al’s backyard will serve as one of the main stages for the drama of the news staff to unfold as it serves as a place for, as it seems, almost exclusively the cast of characters working at the Daily News, the American news paper.  Having the introduction chapter outline the humble history of this establishment, one which was there before the characters and maybe also before the Daily News, helps to establish a couple of themes which become prominent through  the story: the primary theme being one of establishing the sense that despite the characters feelings, they and their actions are ultimately insignificant because the world they’re operating in is older and better connected then they are and the more subtle theme that authentic work is much less likely to get you beaten, killed, or become an accessory to murder.

ford24a-2-web

Relevant example of the US – Puerto Rico Relationship

As I’ve mentioned there are many motifs that could be explored in this novel, one of particular interest to me is the relationship of the dog, the character Moberg, and the Puerto Rican children in the narrative, but what stuck with me was the dynamic between Yeamon, Kemp, and Sala.

All manner of men came to work for the News: everything from wild young Turks who wanted to rip the world in half and star all over again — to tired, beer-bellied old hacks who wanted nothing more than to live our their days in peace before a bunch of lunatics ripped the world in half.

Yeamon is the young Turk whilst Sala is the beer-bellied hack which leaves Kemp in a grey “teetering on  the edge of over the hill”  area thematically and literally, being between the ages of the young Yeamon and the over 40 Sala.

This is an interesting technique of building Kemp’s character by contrasting him with two other characters who represent a possible past and a possible future.  This definition by contrast emphasizes Kemp’s journey of self exploration which gives a cathartic context of absolution to a seemingly unusual scene towards the end of the book depicting Kemp throwing him self into the surf and letting himself be washed ashore.

“The surf was high and I felt a combination of fear and eagerness as I took off my clothes and walked towards it.  In the backlash of a huge wave I plunged in and let it suck me out to sea. Moments later I was hurtling back toward the beach on top of a long white breaker that carried me along like a torpedo. Then it spun me around like a dead fish and slammed me on the sand so hard that my back was raw for days afterwards.” 192-3

The significance of this scene seems to be that Kemp desires to transcend the trappings of an idealized past and seeming inevitability of beer fueled burn out via an impromptu performance of a cleansing ritual traditionally preformed in June called “La Noche de San Juan”

On the island of Puerto Rico, which had been named San Juan Bautista, after the saint, by Christopher Columbus, a night-long celebration, called “La Noche de San Juan” is held. After sunset, people travel to a beach or any accessible body of water (e.g. river, lake or even bathtub) and, at midnight, fall backwards into it three, seven or twelve times. This is done to cleanse the body from bad luck and give good luck for the following year. wiki

There’s so much more to this book that I haven’t time to explore but I implore you to get a copy of The Rum Diary and see what speaks to you.

-fin
AUTHORS NOTE:

Life has been very good but busy for me and I am not sure if I can commit to a regular posting schedule for a while.  I’m in the process of moving and my job in in a transitional period also (both improvements) but because of this, I haven’t had much time left over for non-work/non-home stuff.  The next post will be a comic, maybe the next few honestly.

 

Footnotes:

  1. I don’t know, November is one of my least favourite months and looking back last November was similar in posting schedule, as in almost none, so maybe I’ll just be taking November off each year.  Wouldn’t that be something?

The Pesthouse by Jim Crace (book review)

Happy Monday!

As I mentioned last week I have for you today a very spirited book review of The Pesthouse by Jim Crace, another one of those books that “…the kind of book that when you finish it, you want to toss it against a wall” however in this context that’s not a particularly good thing and it disappoints me to say that.

The Pesthouse, a post-apocalyptic story set in the United States, opens up with some of the strongest writing in the entire book. Consider the opening paragraph:

“Everybody died at night. Most were sleeping at the time, the lucky ones who were too tired or drunk or deaf or wrapped too tightly in their spreads to hear the hillside, destabilized by the rain, collapse and slip beneath the waters of the lake. So these sleepers (six or seven hundred, at a guess; no one ever came to count or claim the dead) breathed their last in passive company, unwarned and unexpectedly, without any fear. Their final moments, dormant in America.” (1)

However this is from the preface from a character named Nash, who is never revisited and very loosely related to the story in a rather irrelevant way which is a shame as he might have been a more interesting or likable character than the lot Crace has cast for us. Once the narrative proper starts with chapter one page eight, the quality of writing

the pest house

Instead of ‘The Pesthouse’ this book should be renamed ‘The Passivehouse because almost the ENTIRE novel is written in the passive past tense voice.

goes down for me because nearly the rest of the book is written in this slow dead-paced passive voice

“Franklin Lopez had not been sleeping in Ferrytown, though [he had] wanted to. [He had] not been sleeping anywhere, in fact. [Could not] sleep. [He had] weathered such pain the day before that [he had] been forced to consider…” (8) italics for emphasis

Notice in 3.5 sentences Crace uses “had” 5 times (I count conjunctions ie the original quote reads “he’d” and I extrapolated it for emphasis as [he had]) and another passive past tense word “could” once. I’ve had creative writing teachers who would not accept your story if it was written entirely in the passive voice unless it was used for specific reasons (an example that comes to mind is the story format of the frame story where a character, usually a lead is remembering back and telling us [both the reader and the audience in the context of the story] their story complete with

pat rothfuss

Patrick Rothfuss can grow a sexy beard

foreshadowing because of hindsight insight, an excellent example of this story structure executed masterfully is The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss and The Pesthouse does not present a reason for this stylistic choice.

Without giving spoilers, I found the story to generally drag on until about the final act when the story converges with a strange religious sect when both the story and writing quality improved enough to help me push through to the rather anticlimactic ending.

Overall I really didn’t like this novel because it felt like a first draft of something that could have been much more interesting rather than a cash grab at the Post-apocalyptic America-land trend(1). If this was Crace’s first novel, I’d be much more lenient because this novel does have potential to be something more interesting however it’s his 10th novel in 20 years and not only but he’s an award winning author and a member of the Royal Society of Literature. I haven’t read Crace’s other novels but if after 20 years this is what he can produce, I am not impressed.

Footnotes:

  1. Whilst in the UK and talking with one of my friends on the subject of post-apocalyptic stories, she pointed out to me a distinct lack of non-american set post-apocalyptic stories particularly none she could think of taking place in the UK [I failed to remember, somehow, that Children of Men takes place in the UK] and whilst on the subject of the post-apocalyptic trend in media I do want to note that I would really like to see more stories set in places that are not america for a change or maybe more interesting types of apocalyptic events like H.P. Lovecraftian monsters enslave the human race or aliens visit the planet, unbenounced to humans, and grant all the octopi super high tech helmets that allow them to build structures and complex tools which leads them to creating an alien atlantis which then leads them to land excursions and demanding rights leading to interspecies civil war (they create helmets for dogs and pickles and things too), or maybe all the water on the planet turns to jell-o (or jelly for my UK readers) and it’s like a science thriller race against time to figure out a way to turn the jell-o into water again or something fucking original (zombies are cool and I will likely never get my proper fill of zombie media but seriously there are other interesting crisis to subject fictional humans to).

SPOILERS BELOW

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Who I Am and What I’m Here For

Hey guys! Welcome to my Tuesday column on Offbeat On Point! This is my first post and I’m on somewhat shaky ground here, so bear with me.

My name is Brad Evans. Well, actually, no it isn’t, but that’s the moniker I’ll be using here. I am a long-time friend of Fin Louie; we’ve been kicking it off and on for the last 10 years. We share a lot of common interests, but our personalities are like Yin and Yang. Where I am casual he can get intense, and vice-versa. Where he is actively bold, I am passively reserved; but don’t let that fool you, there’s a lot going on in my head.

yinyang

I’ve been keeping up with his posts here for a while now and asked about a month ago if he could use a co-editor. The rest, as they say, is history.

A few things about me:

  1. I am a young man in my twenties living in St. Louis, and a student of Creative Writing at Webster University.
  2. When I was eighteen, I took a break from school, and didn’t go back for quite some time. While I was out I had a variety of adventures. I went to music festivals. I had two apartments and Fin and I even shared a house at one point. I quarreled with friends, lost some and made some more. I was a General Manager of a restaurant, and various other adventures.
  3. I am a voracious consumer of fantasy and science fiction.
  4. I play video games on Xbox One; currently I’m on Fifa 17 and OverWatch. They are like crack to me.

That’s just for starters. I feel like this is also a good representation of who I am as a person: recently I had a birthday, and what I did for fun was to go see the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie (which was phenomenal by the way) and then read about 100 pages of a graphic novel. I also spent a lot of time with friends and family, but the peaceful nerdy stuff is what I really liked. To me, that was an excellent birthday.

Here’s what I’m going to be bringing to this blog:

Tuesdays I will be posting thoughts about literature I have consumed.

Saturdays I will be posting literature I have created. Short stories and poetry and the like.

I doubt if either of these columns will be regular events. Sporadic, at best, really. But for the immediate future I have a few poems to share on Saturdays, and a whole list of books to read/review this summer. A few months ago I discovered a love for audiobooks, and I will be reviewing those as well: not just for the content but for the ability of the narrator to do it justice.

We have plans in the works for a “Sunday Round-up” type of post, conveniently summarizing all the week’s new material. This is still a tentative plan, though, so don’t look for it right away.

Here’s some of the material I have lined up to review:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This book comes highly recommended by just about everyone and I’m looking forward to getting into it.

The Road

The Dresden Files graphic novels. DF has been a favorite book series for a long time; I have read every book at least three times, and recently laid hands on an omnibus of the first two books in graphic novel form. So far, it’s amazing, but also flawed and I’ll get into that in a future review.dresden graphic novel

The audiobooks of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Two books I consider modern classics, in audiobook form.

the_kingkiller_chronicle_one_and_two-600x459

The audiobook of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Less classic and less artfully written, but still a fun read: does the audiobook hold up?

Ready Player One

The audiobook of American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Widely considered a modern classic, this book is now being made into a television series being broadcast on Starz in America and Amazon Prime in the UK. I’ve read it before, but the audiobook is FULLY CASTED – meaning a different voice actor for each character. That’s different than any other book I’ve listened to so far, and I’m intrigued at that prospect.

American Gods

Novels from an author I have not read before but who comes highly recommended by a professor at my university: China Mieville. I have Embassy Town, The City and the City, and Perdido Street Station lined up for summer reading. May as well talk about them, too, right?

And that’s just what I’ve come up with so far, but like I said my posts might be sporadic. I’m doing this for the enjoyment of it and don’t want this to become like a job with deadlines that I’m racing to meet. All the same, I’m looking forward to getting started around here.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

-Brad Evans

 

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (book review)

Happy Monday!

ANNOUNCEMENT: Don’t forget to check in tomorrow for Brad Evan’s introductory post to his Tuesday column.

After reading Davacallaro’s Cyberpunk and Cyberculture I was in the mood for something post-modern.  What I found was The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster whichny trilogy  is a set of three mystery stories, the volume I have has all three stories in one book: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room.  

 

City of Glass: The protagonist, an author William Wilson, gets repeated phone calls from a wrong number that insists to speak with the detective Paul Auster.  Eventually Wilson, who already writes under a pen name of Daniel Quinn, finally accepts the identity of Private Eye Paul Auster and takes a very strange and challenging case.  

Ghosts: Blue is a Private Eye who was trained Brown, then hired by White to spy on Black.  Blue takes the case because he needs the work but the seemingly easy job becomes much larger than anticipated.  

The Locked Room: The protagonist, the nameless Narrator, is a writer who can’t write fiction but when he gets a letter from his childhood best friend’s wife about Fanshawe’s death, Fanshawe was the Narrator’s childhood friend, and instructions to judge whether the late writer’s works were worth posthumous publishing he agrees to a task that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

 

Conclusion: It’s a fair warning to say that it’s best to go into this book blind as it has potential to be an extremely memorable detective fiction experience as the mysteries are as likely to surprise the reader as they do the protagonists.  Besides, what’s  the fun of reading detective fiction if you already know the mysteries?

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

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cyberpunk and cyberculture by Dani Cavallaro (book review)

Happy Monday!

 

I was at the library a few weeks ago and I found this book and was sold from the colourful cover and funky title “cyberpunk and cyberculture”(picture of book).  As per the back cover, “Dani Cavallaro is a researcher at the University of Westminster and a freelance writer specalising in contemporary Literature, aesthetics and critical theory.”  


cyberpunk and cyberculture is a literary analysis on science fiction and the first six cyberpunk and culturebooks of William Gibson including, Neromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), The Difference Engine (1990), Virtual Light (1993), and Idoru (1996).  

 

Synopsis:

Davallaro explores the motifs of SF lit and the subgenre cyberpunk in a variety of different respects rooting the genres in mythology, explores how the cyberbody is presented in the works and how it relates to contemporary issues pertaining to the body, gender and sexuality.  Most interesting and surprising to me is the convincing arguments Davallaro makes linking the genres SF lit and cyberpunk to the gothic, modifying my understanding of the gothic from a genre in itself to more of a meta-tag genre that can be used to better understand the place of SF lit in cannon.  

 

Conclusion:

FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t read any William Gibson.  Sorry, please don’t shoot me! Neromancer has been on my list for almost 10 years and I didn’t realise this book was about those works when I got it and now it’s been moved up near the top of my “to read list”.

 

However, that being said, if you have an interest in Gibson’s books or an interest in lit crit I cannot recommend it enough. As a reader it has given me an additional lens not only to dissect my favourite genre but also a framework to approach troubling questions that are becoming increasingly hard to not consider in our changing society.   

 

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On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Spoiler Free)

Happy Monday!

 

On the Road and Jack Kerouac were for me, growing up, one of the quintessential travel stories written by the archetype of the traveler. Or so I believed, because I hadn’t read it for the first time until this year.  I’ve spent a lot of the last eight or so years traveling, and in doing so I would read through peoples’ libraries, hoping someone would have copies of books I wanted to read.  However I never did find On the Road until I got a library card again(1) here at Lancaster.  Taking advantage of my library privileges I’ve gotten my hands on three books I’ve been wanting to read for ages but never gotten around to until now: Slaughterhouse Five, The Fault in Our Stars, and On the Road.  The other two books lived up to my expectations.  Did On the Road? Let’s find out.  

Image result for on the road movie

Apparently it’s a movie now, but it only got 6.1 stars on IMDB. I plan to view it at some time.  Review pending.

On the Road is a semi-autobiographical work about a character named Sal Paradise and loose cast of characters all of whom were influential beat authors, including the St Louis native William S. Burrows as Old Bull Lee(2)  The book is split up into five distinct parts which tell a story of Sal Paradise working, loving, running with friends, getting his heart broken, but in the end Kerouac gives Sal an optimistic ending and Dean gets a semi-romanticised ending.

On the Road, like a long-term trip, has some unforgettably beautiful passages that will stick with you long after moving on. But, also like a long-term trip, it gets tough to slog through in parts (and I have faith enough in Kerouac’s style to believe it was structured that way for pacing purposes).  Overall, I’d say the book is worth the read, but it’s likely to be a slow read, because also like a long term holiday, no matter how you try, some things can’t be rushed. And those things tell you when it ends and begins.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Most of the places I’ve lived require “proof of address” to get a library card and because I moved around so much, I’ve had a hard time getting one.    
  2. Allen Ginsberg as Carlo Marx and Neal Cassidy as Dean Moriarty are the other notables. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Road)

 

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The Fault in Our Stars By John Green (spoiler free review)

Happy Tuesday!

Announcements

I apologize for the late post, I had a midterm paper due yesterday and I was sweating all weekend and yesterday morning finishing it. Also, lectures started again yesterday after spring holiday and uggh it’s a mess over here. I’m ready for summer.

There are some changes coming down the tubes, I’m not quite at liberty to talk about them yet but it’s all good news.  However I am EXCITED to announce that I have a new writer coming on board to write poetry, short stories, and more on Tuesdays.

If you want to submit pieces of poetry, short fiction, fan art, or if you’re a band who wants to do a press release for your new music video or album, or a young author looking for a new reader, or whatever feel free to get in touch with me. Here’s a link to my contact page.

I’ll tell you more when I have more details worked out.

End announcements

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Fault in Our Stars is a book by the wonderful John Green, well known for the YouTube series Crash Course (Crash Course Literature being one of my favourtes, tied with Crash Course Philosophy with his equally wonderful brother Hank Green).  If you’re as late to the party as I am on this one, published in 2012 and movie adaptation released in 2014, you are in luck, my friend, because this is probably the best romance story you’ve missed. (1)  The Fault in Our Stars.jpg

The Fault in Our Stars is a Shakespearean style love story, as the title implies. “The fault in our stars” is a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, between Hazel Grace, a 16 year old girl with cancer that has spread to her lungs, and Augustus, a boy she meets in a support group,

After some awkward teenage conversation, Hazel and Augustus exchange favourite books to read. They bond over the cliff hanger end to Hazel’s beloved book The Price of Dawn.  Augustus gets in touch with the author of Hazel’s favourite book and puts the two in touch (for those taking notes, this is an EXCELLENT move; get me a personal meeting with Mark Z. Danielewski and I think that might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.)

The story goes on develop the arc of young love, but what sets it apart from other teenage love is that going into this story we have a game of Russian Roulette being played with Chekhov’s Revolver. The three main characters, Hazel, Augustus, and their mutual-friend Isaac, have advanced stages of cancer. The whole time I was, sometimes literally, in tears with anticipation of seeing who was going to die, and wishing the whole time that somehow no one would and that they could all go into remission and live long, wonderful lives together.  However, as per the rules of great fiction: characters have to get hurt.  In this case for me, the pain was worth the pay off.

 

Footnotes:

  1. If you’re into that kind of thing, romance stories that is.  See me? I may have a cold black heart but I’m a sappy sod for a good love story.  Speaking of I’m a HUGE pumping-blood-bleeding-heart for a good real life love story,  so if you have a good story about how you met your lovely partner or former partner and want to share, send me a message.

 

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The Things They Carried (book review **SPOILER FREE**)

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Happy Monday!

I’m trying to read more shorter length books, 200-300 pages, because the last several months, almost a year now, I keep getting invested in these epic 1000+ page books which are generally rewarding do take me so very long not only to read but to digest (I’m looking at you Infinite Jest). In a means towards that end, I restarted and finished a book I started for a class in October, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

things

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

The Things They Carried (TTTC) is a war novel but it’s not about war.  TTTC is a piece of non-fiction where the author blatantly tells you “In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical…In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story.  Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.” (70) The Things They Carried is less about a war or about the validity of the stories inside the covers but at it’s heart it’s a story about the things these men carried with them before, during, and after the war.  The literal things they each carried, from the stockings of a sweetheart to a fully illustrated New testament bible or simply a big bag of dope, to the memories and guilt and ultimately stories they tell themselves and anyone who will listen.

Generally set in the 1970’s the novel loosely follows Tim O’Brien and his company of fellow soldiers in a non-linear story line.  The stories that take place before and after the war are the minority leaving a strange and confusing amalgamation of funny and brutal stories about their experiences over there.  The non-linear story structure really works with the content of the story in that O’Brien “[Wants] you to feel what I felt. [O’Brien wants] you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” (179) and in this way I believe his choice of a non-linear narrative structure has helped convey this feeling that when you’re reading TTTC you are entering a shadowy and crowded room full of ghosts chattering, all vying for your attention but only a few voices come out clearly.  Ghosts and memories have no use for time as we understand it.  TTTC is a short novel at 236 pages however if you liked it, like I did, there are at least three more books about his experiences in Vietnam (Northern Lights, If I Die in a Combat Zone, and Going After Cacciato).

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