The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Metro 2033Metro 2033: Dmitry Glukhovsky

Glukhovsky, Dmitry (translated by Natasha Randall)

Gollancz, 2009 (originally published 2007)

ISBN: 978 0575086241

I gotta say, I’m lovin’ the sheer Russian-ness of this book.  You remember when I was trying to read that Solzhenitsyn book The Cancer Ward, and it kept defeating me?  Well, this was something else entirely.  Seriously cublings, it’s so good!  Admittedly, it’s taken me a while to read it, but that’s more me than it is the book.  There’s a lot of stuff going down in Mama Wolf’s world at the moment, but instead of boring you with that, I’ll suffice to say that this book has been a nice little break from reality.

Just a note here – I decided not to make this review into a Word vs. Image challenge, even though this is kind of a special circumstance.  As far as I’m aware, Metro 2033 hasn’t been made into a movie, but it has been made into a game; the game came out a few years ago now, but I still remember watching my Lad play it (I don’t possess the manual dexterity or nerves of steel for FPS-type games – hacking madly with a sword from a distance is about my limit).  It was certainly true to the books claustrophobic, terrifying feel; beasties leaping out at you from all angles.  If you’re keen to read about the novel as a game, you can do so here.

Getting back to the ‘break from reality’ thing, I think that that’s mainly because it’s so bleak.  I’d really challenge anyone with a skerrick of imagination to think that they’d had a bad day after reading about daily life in the Moscow subways after the Nuclear Apocalypse as Glukhovsky imagines it.  You feel tired just thinking about it.  And as much as I love pork and mushrooms, I think that I’d be weeping after a few months of only eating that – let alone years.   Read the rest of this entry

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Always Pay your Debts

A Song of Ice and Fire series

Martin, George R. R.

Published: HarperVoyager

Eddard Stark from Game of Thrones series

Series comprises: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords (part 1: Steel and Snow, part 2: Blood and Gold), A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons

It’s been a long time since I read any fantasy.  Like, proper fantasy.  And I gotta say, A Song of Ice and Fire definitely comes under the category of ‘proper fantasy’ – anyone who’s been watching the Game of Thrones series on HBO knows what I’m talking about, however vaguely.  Because when it comes to screen adaption, the movies are okay (that’s being generous a lot of the time – usually there’s either too much padding out or too little detail), the television series is better (again, not always, but recently it’s been the case), but the book is best.

Speaking about detail, my word, these books go to town with it.  Usually I steer clear of this kind of fantasy book, all the castles and horses and dragons and shit like that gives me hives.  It’s mostly because to a lot of authors (and probably, readers, which is why they do it) don’t bother to call a big, f***-off horse you’d ride into battle on a destrier.  That’s what it is though, a destrier.  Also, all the bits and pieces of the armour – the greaves and gorgets and pauldrons that you just don’t read about in other books.  I think that was what sold me on A Song of Ice and Fire, it was a moment of “Aww, George, you had me at hauberk”.

So, okay, we’ve established that there has been some kick ass researching done for this book.  Being a library type person, I respect a healthy dose of research.  Not only does it lend a tone of realism to a work like this (however lost that realism might be on a general audience), I also feel that it makes the author seem more respectful of the intelligence of their audience.  If that seems a little odd, allow me an explanation.  Because Martin has decided that he’s going to tell us which particular bits of the armour that they’re wearing are rusting on the knights, and he’s going to use the proper names for bits of castles and also words like prate and corsair without any hint of explanation, that to me speaks of a respect for readers that they either know what those things are already or they will damn well go and look them up if they have a mind to.  What’s not to love about that?  Hang on, in the next bit, I’m gonna talk a little about what the story is actually about, so don’t read anymore if you’re reading them and aren’t up to Dance yet, or if you’re watching the TV show and just don’t want to know any more.  Fair warning – here be spoilers.

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A Sea of Hatred

GrotesqueGrotesque cover image

Kirino, Natsuo (translated by Rebecca Copeland)

Vintage, 2003

ISBN: 978 0 099 52083

I’d like to think I’m a pretty patient individual.  I’m okay with working slowly toward things, as long as I feel like the rewards are either incrementally increasing as I go through my task, or that the eventual reward is going to be worth the effort.  This book has taken me a stonkingly long time to finish, nearly six months for 467 pages.  That’s pretty shabby by anyone’s standards.

I mean, you can tell that a book called Grotesque is going to be pretty much up my alley, right?  Pretty promising, lots of references to murder and prostitution and stuff like that.  But the going got tough when I realised that the characters were all pretty much entirely obtuse, which I think is why I had such a hard time getting into it.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, the obtuseness is actually part of the characters, self-indulgent little trollops they are too, but for the most part it was like being talked at by a fourteen year old girl who is yet to realise that the Earth doesn’t actually revolve around her.

This may be made worse by the fact that it’s told in the first person for the first half.  Usually I really like this, when you’ve got two characters squaring off with each other about which version of the truth is the correct one.  This one is a little weird though, because you’ve got two sisters telling you their stories.  One sister, the elder, is embittered, angry – but it’s not a good rage-y kind of anger, more like it comes off as being slightly pathetic.  She’s always moaning on about how horrid (and yet, beautiful) her younger sister Yuriko is, which I have to say, gets a little tedious.  Yuriko is the other voice; she’s just as pathetic, but has this kind of veneer of intractability and stubbornness.  Yuriko is determined to use her sexuality in this really twisted way, which seemingly why she becomes a prostitute in the first place – she sees it as the only way that she can have power over men.

So far, so boring right?

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Guest Post: Ngaio Simpson on ‘Among Others’

Hmn, looks like I’m not such a lone wolf any more.  Here is a guest post from my friend, the very talented Ngaio Simpson, lacemaker, artiste and fantasy fan.  I’m currently working on a piece on texture in writing which I hope to have finished… sometime in the near future for her blog.  But without further ado, take it away, Ngaio:

Among Others Among Others cover

Walton, Jo
2010
ISBN: 9780765321534

The story is a bit magical realism, a little fantasy and a bit of teenage angst.  But not in the twilight way.  More of a higher intelligence angst. Now, I know what you are thinking, “That makes no sense…”, but I think if you read the book you might understand. One of the most delightful things about this book has to be all of the book talk. If you like SF and fantasy and you’re looking for a new book for after this one, you could easily get one through reading this book.  I think I’ll be Googling the book list from this book straight after writing this.

The main character is Mor, her father, mother and various other family members and school “friends”… Yeah I wasn’t that sure you could really call them friends. Mor has an unknown past muddled in with her crazy mother and twin sister and her injured leg. Some of these facts become clearer as the story goes on and some stay a little grey which I think is okay. We follow Mor as she attends a new school and tries to fit in and find some people who are interested in the same things she is. You will have to read it to find out how that pans out. Oh, and there are fairies and magical beings around so look out for them, they give the story it’s difference. I really wanted to believe that she was completely in her own mind but I have to say sometimes I wasn’t 100% sure if everything that was happening wasn’t just happening in her head. Read the rest of this entry

You’re scaring yourself, child.

Needful ThingsNeedful Things cover image

King, Stephen

Hodder and Stoughton, 1991

ISBN: 0 450 57458 X

Hey cublings – after quite the hiatus, I’m back to the blogging, and badderer than ever.  Suffice to say, I thought I’d start gentle and then work my way up (or down, as the case may be) to the other stuff that I’ve been reading over the past… oooh.  That long, huh?

Needful Things is a weird one.  It’s part of Steven King’s Castle Rock oevre, that famously infamous township in Maine which is an amalgam of Rockwellian imagery, Orwellian politicing, and Lovecraftian beasties lurking just below the surface.  In true King style, most of the beasties are lurking in human form, but Needful Things has a few notable exceptions to  this rule.

Being part of the Castle Rock group there are certain recurrances that pop up – actually that’s not even just true of the Castle Rock novels, but of King’s work in general.  I’d like to think that I’ve read enough of his stuff by now (a fact that this blog will attest to) to see the seams on the monster suit.  Alan Pangbourne is referenced in other places, and also references in his turn, events in Cujo and in The Dark Half as well.  Alan Pangborne is such a godamn likeable character, its always one of those moments which makes the teeny writer inside of me shrivel up and die a little bit inside, just marvelling at the creation.  But I digress – it’s not just Alan who is showing up like a bad penny; Leland Gaunt has more than a passing resemblance to that bad-guy-to-beat-all-bad-guys Randall Flagg from The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon, and ol’ Buster Keaton also resembles “Big” Jim Rennie from Under the Dome.  Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, as well – there have got to be more out there.

Brian Rusk is the first character who sets foot in the new store in town, Needful Things (“Funny name for a store” one of the characters remarks – suspicious name for a store, says I); he’s a young lad with a slight speech impediment, a little-kid crush on his speech therapy teacher, and an avid collector of baseball cards.  Baseball is one of those things that keeps cropping up in King’s work, much like the little towns in Maine.  He’s written a whole book on baseball – I haven’t read it, given that I have little understanding and less interest in the sport, but I hear it’s pretty good.

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Booksluts Reading Challenge #3.2: Cancer Ward

Cancer Ward

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr

Bodley Head, London

ISBN: 0370006569

 

Jeez Louise, there’s impenetrable Russian literature, and then there’s this book.

What was I thinking?  My brain is fried enough as it is these days without trying to wade through this kind of thing.  It seems to be the problem that I constantly have with literary fiction, right?  That I just can’t seem to do it, to enjoy it, to not wallow in the fact that what I’m reading is supposed to be hard, to feel martyred (and secretly pleased with myself) because of this wodgey fortress of a book.  To give you an idea, the edition that I got out of the library was the first time that Cancer Ward had been published as a single volume.  A single volume, that’s right cublings – it used to be two books!  It weighs nearly two kilograms! Okay, so I made that up, but it gave me wrist cramp just getting through the first chapter, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This was meant to count towards the Full-Frontal Challenge, because Solzhenitsyn was a Nobel laureate, but damnit, I didn’t read enough of it to even fake having read it.  I did learn some interesting stuff about Solhenitsyn (though, not how to say his name quickly) in the course of researching my next read for the Booksluts Award-Winning Challenge.   But really, I’d just be padding out the post, and it’s nothing that you couldn’t find out for yourselves on Wikipedia.  And I love you cublings too much to fry your brains, so I’ll just content myself to steering dinner party conversations onto gulag’d Russian authors of the 2oth Century to show off my retention skills.

I might start off a bit slower next time and read The Gulag Archipelago instead.

Of Godzilla, saline and other perversions

Crooked Little Vein'Crooked Little Vein' by Warren Ellis

Ellis, Warren

Harper Perennial

ISBN 978 0 06 125205 1

This book is just kind of beautiful.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s no classic of literature or anything, it’s not even really culty enough to be a cult classic.  But that’s almost part of the charm.  I mean, I only had an inkling that it might be good because of Ellis’ comic writing, and the fact that I read his blog and he had been banging on about his second novel, Gun Machine, for a while there.  Now, I know that being asked back to do another one is no guarantee of quality when it comes to writing… sometimes just the opposite.  But after reading this one, I can see why they asked him back.

It’s pretty compelling.  Okay, yes, I know, I have a weakness for the gross out, and there are bits in this book which are terminal gross out.  Weirdly, it’s been compared to the Chuck Palahniuk story Guts, but I can’t really see it.  I mean, Guts is almost medical-porn in its level of detail, and while there is a little of that in here, the whole motivation feels entirely different.  It’s almost like, Ellis is faking a world-weariness through the character of Michael McGill that is just a thin veneer over something romantically, comically unpleasant. Read the rest of this entry

Booksluts Challenge Read #3: Baby No-Eyes

Baby No-eyesBaby No-Eyes cover

Grace, Patricia

University of Hawai’i Press

ISBN: 978-0824821616

This is another of the Bookslut’s Full Frontal challenge reads, and a kind of personal challenge to myself.  I have been guilty for a long time of a bit of a hating of New Zealand fiction – we have this thing called the cultural cringe, where New Zealanders (generally, anyway) used to be horribly embarrassed of anything that came out of here.  Things have improved in a major way since I was little (in a far off, distant time known as “the Eighties”) but I guess as a nation, we’re still a little screwed up about it.  I liken it to middle child syndrome – not that I know what I’m talking about in the slightest, of course, being an eldest child.

Anyway, enough pop psychology.  Grace is a New Zealander, and is so local, that if I drive up the coast about an hour, I could probably go visit her if that wouldn’t be weird or creepy.  Which it would.  So I won’t be doing that any time soon.  The story isn’t really regionally grounded, but is definitely a story based in New Zealand.  It’s incredibly good; human, interesting, seemingly personal but not too horribly (i.e, obviously) autobiographical.  However, I do wonder how much someone who isn’t very familiar with the politics of race in New Zealand would get from it.  I mean, obviously, it’s not that hard to fathom out – I mean, this book did win the Neustadt International prize in 2008. Read the rest of this entry

Versus Battle!: McIver v. Mullen

Weighing in at 305 pages, in the pink and green trunks with the corset,

Whores: an oral biography of Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction

Mullen, Brendan (2005, Da Capo Press)

…aaand in the red and black trunks, weighing in at 171 pages,

No One Knows: the Queens of the Stone Age Story

McIver, Joel (2005, Omnibus Press)

Introduction:

These two fighters are around the same age, though one has the distinct disadvantage of being noticably shorter on reach than the other.  This could be due to the fact that McIver’s subjects are well known for being far more reticent in interviews than Mullen’s, even to the point of refusing to talk about their equipment (Joshua Homme finally broke his silence on that, but it was a long time coming).  Both of these stories are told in a chronological vein, with both of them going back to the early days of their frontmen’s careers (Psi Com for Perry Farrell and Kyuss for Joshua Homme).

Ding! Ding! Read the rest of this entry

Danger is Out There, Not in Here.

Defiance: The Bielski Partisans

Tec, Nechama  (directed by Edward Zwick)

1993, Oxford University Press  (2008, Paramount Vantage)

ISBN 0 195075951

History is a bitch.  So is memory.  And when you get down to it, memory often has to serve as our personal history, and the way that we relate that personal history to others (if we ever do) can reflect in interesting ways on the actions we took during the course of our life.  Tuvia Bielski and his brothers led an otriad comprised of Jews who had escaped the cities of occupied Belorussia during World War II, and managed to keep so many of them safe while also contributing to the undermining of the German forces.  This wasn’t such a weird thing – there are other examples of Jewish otriads and resistances during the Second World War, but the main difference in the Bielski otriad was that Tuvia’s stated aim was to keep people safe, no matter if they could fight or not.

I had read this book before, but not before I’d seen the movie of the same name.  The movie is pretty damn fancy, Daniel Craig plays Tuvia Bielski, which is pretty cool.  The recollections of Tuvia that the survivors of the Bielski otriad made this a pretty good casting choice, at least in my opinion (not in the looks department though – Daniel Craig is, as ever, sans moustache).  There are a few instances in the book where the survivors recollect how inspiring Tuvia was, which seemed to give Daniel Craig a lot of opportunity to do some manly horse riding and gun shooting and frowning.  Plus he seemed to be pretty good with the ladies too – slightly heartless sometimes, but you know, treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen, I guess.  Tuvia was the undisputed leader of the group, but the movie makes quite a bit of the relationships between him and his brothers, Asael (played by Jaime Bell) and Zus (played by Lieb Schrieber – I must have watched too many X-Men movies though, because in my head he’s always going to be Sabretooth).  Particularly the relationship with Zus, who was a bit of a hot-head, and eventually left the group to join up with a different Russian partisan group.

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