A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle In Time (Time Series, #1)A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Published: 1962
Length: 211

I remember occasionally coming across this in my father’s book collection when I was young. I nearly picked it up to read a dozen times, but I always chose something else. It has a really pulpy cover, so I just assumed it was an old generic fantasy novel. I mean, there’s a Zardoz-esque floating head and a winged centaur on the front, what was I supposed to think? It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties that I discovered this is a young adult science fiction classic and is apparently beloved by many.

It’s a shame actually, because I think I would have really liked this growing up. Its protagonists are essentially genius children, which is something I always dug as a kid. One of the characters is a five year-old who speaks as if he’s thirty. The adventure begins as two siblings and a friend are whisked away in the night by three angel-hobo-witches in order to find their father. He went away years prior for a secretive government job and had lost contact with the family. They discover that he was experimenting with interstellar travel by way of tesseract, which in this novel is a phenomenon that allows the space-time continuum to be bent in a way that allows instantaneous transportation across the universe, known more popularly as a wormhole in our world, and is described to be structured like the mathematical tesseract (which I’ll pretend I totally knew about already).

It’s interesting reading young adult novels from this era. Have Space Suit—Will Travel was written a few years before this, and it had similarly advanced concepts and science in it. Maybe I just haven’t read recent young adult science fiction, but it feels like they expected more out of kids back then. A kid could read this without understanding the concepts and still enjoy it for the adventure, but would they even attempting to describe the science these days? Would that be removed if it was deemed to be a risk to sales? When I initially considered this, I was comparing these novels with the likes of Twilight, but maybe that’s not fair. I’m sure there were young adult novels similar to Twilight back then, and there are probably novels similar to this now, but they don’t seem to be what’s popular.

L’Engle shoehorned a lot of religion in this little book. It’s not just in there allegorically, characters are sharing bible quotes and asking to have the Book of Genesis read as a bedtime story. She doesn’t hide it in the text as some might. It’s just kind of peppered in, and the characters don’t tend to harp on about it too much. I’m curious if she starts to preach more in the later books, though.

She does start the novel with “it was a dark and stormy night”, which I was pretty excited to see. It’s one of those clichés that you don’t actually come across in the wild very often. I enjoyed her style of writing, and the plot and concepts were fun, but I’m not sure if I’d read the whole series. I have the next one on the shelf, so I might read that and see from there.

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Chew: Omnivore Edition, Volume 4

Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Volume 4Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Volume 4 by John Layman
Illustrated By: Rob Guillory
Format: Hardcover Comic
Collects: Chew #31-40
Published: 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Length: 272 pages

Finally, the fourth omnibus of Chew has been released. The wait between these editions can be torturous, but at least there’s no chance of getting burnt out on them. Not the ideal way to read through a series, but I actually don’t mind too much. I like having an annual release to anticipate, and these oversized editions are just too nice to ignore.

I’ve really liked the last couple of books for the humour and the creative ideas, particularly around the invention of new powers, but the plot was all over the place. They were a series of fun cases and subplots, but there wasn’t an obvious main thread to follow, no end goals. I have a hard time getting through any media that is too aimless – open-world games, short story collections, monster-of-the-week television series. Even if they’re well done, I tend to lose interest if it doesn’t feel like I’m progressing through a story.

Layman has taken all of the elements built up in the first volumes and has started to piece them together. There is an obvious end goal, an inevitable showdown, in sight now. The humour is still there, although mixed with some tragedy, and the stakes are building higher and higher.

This is still a great series and it looks to be getting even better.

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Trouble With Lichen

Trouble With LichenTrouble With Lichen by John Wyndham
Published: 1960
Length: 204 pages

John Wyndham is one of my favourite writers. His novels are beautifully written, and his stories feel fresh and innovative, despite being written half a century ago in a genre that is always building and expanding on itself. Unfortunately, Trouble With Lichen wasn’t my favourite of his. I still enjoyed it, but it didn’t hold my attention the way his novels typically do. I am making my way through the entirety of his bibliography, so I guess it’s inevitable that I’ll come across a few of his novels that fall a bit short for me.

The premise is fascinating. Biochemist Diana Brackley finds, by accident, that traces of the lichen she was studying was able to prevent some milk from spoiling. Upon further investigation, she is able to extract from it a drug that slows the aging process. What’s really interesting is the implications that arise from this discovery.

To begin with, there is a limited amount of the specific species needed to produce the drug, so the treatment could only go to those able to pay the premium price. So now society is faced the threat of even greater class boundaries, the rich living three times as long as the poor. What if everyone was able to access the drug? How would the world fare if everyone suddenly lived for two and a half centuries? How much unemployment would there be if no one was retiring and freeing up jobs? How would we deal with sudden overpopulation and everything that comes with that – feeding them, providing them timely healthcare, educating them, cleaning up after them? It would be such a quick and unanticipated change that it could very well leave the world in ruin.

Knowing that releasing the drug to the public could cause havoc, Diana Brackley decides to start administering the drug in secret to powerful women in the community to try and build a group that could someday inspire a feminist movement, the thought being that they’d be able to accomplish and learn so much more in their lifetimes. This would allow them more time to make a difference once they were in a position to do so. A strong sympathetic feminist as a point-of-view character in a 1960 science-fiction novel is somewhat unexpected and a nice surprise, and while her plan is morally unnerving and a little off the wall, it does come across as well-intentioned.

Wyndham poses the questions in this novel, but he doesn’t really try to answer them. The story takes place when all of this change is just beginning, which makes it feel like an introduction to a larger story. It’s a great start, and I appreciate how he leaves the reader to puzzle out the potential outcomes to the possibilities he presents, but it left me a bit unsatisfied.

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The Scar

The ScarThe Scar by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
Published: 1996 (2012 translation)
Translated By: Elinor Huntington
Narrated By: Jonathan Davis
Audio Length: 15:17

I started listening to this just after I had finished playing The Witcher 2. It’s a game in a series based on The Witcher books by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski and developed by CD Projekt RED, a Polish game studio. It was a great game, but the main character is a uncharismatic misogynistic bore that women inexplicably throw themselves at. The main character in The Scar, Egert Soll, is very similar to this at the beginning of the novel. I, rather narrow-mindedly, was beginning to think this was an eastern European hero trope, but I’m happy to say that Egert ends up being a much more interesting and complicated character.

At the beginning of the novel, Egert is brash and unlikable. A high-ranking member of the city guard, and the best in town with his sword and throwing knives, he can essentially do no wrong. He has the respect of the men in the city and the lust of the women. This all changes when a scholarly woman comes to town and fails to be impressed with him, a small hit to his ego that sends him on an unfortunate path that ends with a scar across his face and a curse that renders him a complete coward.

The story takes place in a fully realized fantasy world, and has some great bits of action, but is mainly a story of a man trying to overcome and live with crippling anxiety. It’s somewhat slowly paced, but I never felt impatient with it. There are also some improbable plot developments, but they always felt natural. The characters really grow and change while you read. It’s a personal story in a traditionally epic genre, and it’s just really good story-telling.

I was surprised with how much I enjoyed this. I found the writing, and Jonathon Davis’ reading of it, really beautiful. There’s always the worry of a bad translation when picking up a novel from another language, but I thought this was translated from its original Russian brilliantly. I unfortunately didn’t keep track of the passages that really stood out for me, but the writing throughout the novel was both succinct and lyrical, and I was mesmerized from the very beginning. There was something new (to me) in the style, and I wonder if it’s a common rhythm found in Russian literature. I have shied away from The Russians so far in my reading, so I unfortunately wouldn’t know yet.

Marina and Sergey Dyachenko are a married Ukrainian writing couple, which boggles the mind somewhat. I think the only other co-operative novel I’ve read was Good Omens, and I don’t think Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman were married at the time. The Dyachenkos have written dozens of novels together, so it seems to really be working for them. I’m not sure how many are translated to English, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for them. This book is apparently the second in their Wanderers series, but it felt like a standalone novel. If I had to guess from the series title, the only thing connecting the two books is a mysterious stranger referred to as the wanderer who plays a key role in the story but isn’t involved much in it.

Recommended for anyone looking for an atmospheric and psychological fantasy story.

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September in Review

Books Acquired:
None!

Books Read:
The Scar by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
Trouble With Lichen by John Wyndham
Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Volume 4 by John Layman

September was not a very bookish month for me – two novels and one graphic novel. I’m not breaking any records right now. Meanwhile my girlfriend is burning through those chunky Diana Gabaldon novels like she’s planning to head back in time herself soon. She should probably be the one with the book blog.

I held off buying any new books for the month, which is a small victory I think.

Movies watched:
Welcome Aboard – Sometimes you just want to watch a French film with somewhat unlikable people not really doing anything, and this one scratched that itch. It has that tried and true combination of midlife-crisis older man and coming-of-age younger woman in a non-sexual relationship figuring life out together, which may seem very specific but is surprisingly widely used.

The Lorax – We watched this at my girlfriend’s behest. She loves it, but it missed the mark a bit for me. There were some genuinely funny lines, but the persistent Cute Wacky Moments kept trampling them.

The Lego Movie – This was just great. My expectations were high going in, after the reviews, but I was not at all disappointed. The casting was great, and the story was a perfect fit. It’s amazing what Lego has done in the past decade with their video games and this movie. My initial reaction was that it’s absurd product pushing, may as well have a movie based on Hungry Hungry Hippos, but it not a phoned-in money grab (Battleship?) and really works.

The Princess Bride – My girlfriend hadn’t seen this, so I had to put it on. I still love it. She fell asleep. I’m trying to not let this affect our relationship.

TV watched:
Orange is the New Black, Season 2 – This season started off slow, but it really picked up by the end. I’m not head over heals in love with it, but it’s a fun show.

Games played:
Shadowrun (PC) – I usually only mention games here that I feel I’ve finished, whether that means actually finishing them or just moving on, but I’m still somewhat undecided on whether I’ll return to this. This was one of my favourite games as a kid, so it’s been a blast to revisit, but I’m a few hours in and feel like the nostalgia high has worn off.

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Terry Pratchett isn’t Jolly

A friend sent me this great article that Neil Gaiman wrote for The Guardian. He discusses the common misconception that it’s simply the humour that drives Terry Pratchett’s writing when it’s really much more.

Still, by the top of the hour it was all over. We went back to our hotel, and this time we took a taxi. Terry was silently furious: with himself, mostly, I suspect, and with the world that had not told him that the distance from the bookshop to the radio station was much further than it had looked on our itinerary. He sat in the back of the cab beside me white with anger, a non-directional ball of fury. I said something, hoping to placate him. Perhaps I said that, ah well, it had all worked out in the end, and it hadn’t been the end of the world, and suggested it was time to not be angry any more.

Terry looked at me. He said: “Do not underestimate this anger. This anger was the engine that powered Good Omens.” I thought of the driven way that Terry wrote, and of the way that he drove the rest of us with him, and I knew that he was right.

It’s a great peek into the relationship of two of the world’s most beloved authors, an examination of what fuels Pratchett’s fiction, as well as a sort of living obituary from one friend to another as his time sadly draws nearer and nearer to the end.

There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.

Neil Gaiman: ‘Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry’

It turns out this is the forward to Pratchett’s next book, A Slip of the Keyboard, which is a collection of his non-fiction writing. This is the first I’ve heard of it, but I’m now very excited to read it.

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Seconds

SecondsSeconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Format: Original Graphic Novel
Originally Published: 2014
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Length: 336 pages

I’m a huge fan of Scott Pilgrim, so when I saw that Bryan Lee O’Malley had released a new stand-alone graphic novel I had to pick it up. It’s also loosely about food and I love food. I’m what’s referred to as an easy sell.

Seconds-Katie-1

Katie is in a frightening, exciting, and stressful point in her life. She’s transitioning from being head chef at a popular restaurant that she helped open four years ago to opening and co-owning a new restaurant. Her partner and her had to decide between two locations, and she choose the one in a less popular area because the building had a lot of potential, but now the renovations are running long and costing more than expected. In the midst of the stress, a creepy girl shows up in her bedroom at night with a set of instructions:

  1. Write your mistake
  2. Ingest one mushroom
  3. Go to sleep
  4. Wake anew

And with that, she now had a way to correct her mistakes in life, but this is also when things begin to really get out of control. This is a power that’s hard not to abuse.

This has similar humour to the Scott Pilgim series, although it’s focused a bit more on the narrative than the laughs. I would have liked a few more pages like the sample I included here, but overall I thought he did a great job of mixing the humour with the drama and keeping a consistent tone throughout the graphic novel. O’Malley is at his best in the little moments, adding life to simple conversations and mundane events in a way that makes every page interesting.

This is a no-brainer if you enjoyed his other work. It’s not on the same scale as Scott Pilgrim might be, but it’s worth checking out.

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Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park, #1)Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Published: 1990
Length: 400 pages

Jurassic Park stands as one of my all-time favourite movies. I saw it in the theatre three times, and again last year when it was released in 3D, and I’ve seen it countless times on video since. I just love it. It’s just as good today as it was back then, and the special effects really stand up, unlike any of the horrible sequels.

I was mainly reading fantasy as a teenager, so I never picked up the novel, despite the endless recommendations to do so. In the last decade, with unfortunate snobbery on my part, I wrote Crichton off as the science-fiction Dan Brown of the 90s. I actually read his autobiography a few years back and really enjoyed it, but I never paid his fiction much mind. That was definitely an error on my part, because this was a joy to read.

He struck a great mix of science and adventure. although the science should be taken with a grain of salt and the adventure without too much consideration for reality. The first quarter of the book might be a bit slow, if the reader didn’t know what was coming, but it lays the groundwork well. He focuses more on introducing the science than he does the characters during this, and I wonder how strong they’d be in my mind if I didn’t have the movie to draw from. It’s hard to say. The public relations office for the Park, Ed Regis, was really the only main character who was completely absent from the film, and he felt fairly fleshed out. He didn’t go through any great arcs of character development, but I felt like I had a pretty decent understanding of him.

Since most people know the film, I thought I’d just list some key character differences (for really no good reason):

Ed Regis’ character was merged into the lawyer, Donald Gennaro, for the film. Gennaro was actually fairly courageous in most of the novel. A lot of his film cowardice was taken from Ed Regis. He’s even against the park being opened, and sides entirely with Malcolm.

– The kids were shuffled a bit for the movie. Tim still knows everything about dinosaurs, but he’s also the computer whiz in this. Lex is only eight and as such is utterly useless. As a bonus she’s also quite annoying. I get why she’s there, which is essentially to add the tension of unpredictability, but ugh. She fills her role almost too well. I was starting to root for the dinosaurs in parts.

Ian Malcolm is similar to his movie portrayal, but is used almost exclusively to spout exposition as arrogantly as possible. Every time I got to a scene with him, it was a bit of a bummer, as I knew the pace was about to come to a crawl. I enjoyed what he was saying at times, it was interesting, I just wish Crichton found a more elegant way to deliver it.

Ellie Sattler is maybe the closest the movie got to sticking to the novel. She’s just as smart and strong-willed, but in the novel she’s in her early twenties, which is interesting I thought. If the movie was made today, I wonder if they’d still make the character older.

John Hammond is almost frightfully mad with his vision for the park. The film paints him in a much more sympathetic light. In the novel, he just doesn’t see reality, even when everything’s falling down around him.

– The warden, Robert Muldoon, is a bit more interesting in the novel. He’s a thinly veiled Hemingway – a man in his 50s with a sweet grey mustache, brought on staff after living life as a hunter in Africa and working in Hammond’s wildlife park in Kenya. He turns out to be a drunk, and is ultimately a bit useless, but he’s still fun to have in there.

– The lead biologist Henry Wu actually has a part in the novel, with backstory and everything. Hopefully the actor who played him in the film hadn’t read the novel first, because getting that script would have been a bummer. It does completely make sense to remove him mostly from the movie, though, for time constraints.

Dennis Nedry and John Arnold were quite similar in both versions. Arnold never tells everyone to hold on to their butts, though, and Nedry’s motive is explained a bit better.

Alan Grant is still pretty awesome, but a series of scenes involving him had me scratching my head. After the jeep attack with the Tyrannosaurus, which was very similar to the movie version, he gathers the kids and makes his way through the park, stopping to sleep in a maintenance shed for the night. They wake up quite early and walk out into a field, where almost immediately they get caught up in a Hadrosaur stampede brought on by the attacking Tyrannosaurus. They climb a tree to avoid being trampled and Grant falls asleep while they’re up there. When he awakes, they climb down, find a raft and a river and set out. The Tyrannosaurus finds them again and swims after them like a freakin’ giant crocodile before getting distracted and leaving them unharmed. Grant then falls asleep again. On a river, with kids on the raft, and who knows what trying to eat them from all sides.

I thought I had trouble functioning without coffee. Does he have adrenaline-induced narcolepsy? What’s going on here?

I really enjoyed both the novel and the film and the differences between the two, but the ending of the novel is just idiotic. Essentially everyone who’s alive and still safe decides to crawl into a velociraptor nest to count the eggs. Gennaro, who is still alive in the novel, is frightened to enter and as such is painted as a coward. He’s even forced to enter by Muldoon, whose main conversation topic throughout the novel is how deadly velociraptor are. It’s like his main deal. They needed to count the hatched eggs to compare with the computer’s tally of how many of the animals currently existed on the island (which we already learned was flawed). The whole scene is there to give an exciting ending, but it feels so tacked on and goes against everything we learned about the characters.

The nice thing about the novel was that characters like Robert Muldoon and Dr. Henry Wu, who had to be made minor supporting characters in the film, had much more interesting roles. There was also an overarching threat of the animals leaving the island that made everything even more tense in the book. Apart from his tendency to close scenes with someone falling asleep, and his use of exclamation points and ‘then suddenly’, I wasn’t bothered by Crichton’s writing. It’s not amazing, but it’s serviceable. I somehow expected worse the way some people went on about him. He can really write an action scene, at the very least.

I’ll read more of his books, I think. I have Timeline sitting on my shelf, so I’ll probably start with that, but I’ll be sure to also pick up The Lost World.

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Saga, Volume 3

Saga, Volume 3Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by: Fiona Staples
Published: 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Length: 144 pages
Collects: issues #13-18

This series has been consistently fantastic since the first issue. That makes for excellent reading but also boring blogging, so I’ll keep this fairly brief. It’s just great, plain and simple, so I’m afraid this will mainly be gushing.

saga15_p1

In this trade, Vaughan went back and explained what was happening behind the scenes during the end of the last story arc – the same scene but expanded and following other characters. Similar in concept to the time overlap that George R.R. Martin used in book four and five of A Song of Ice and Fire, except it didn’t suck. Vaughan is great at controlling the pace of the plot. He’ll jump around time, giving a taste here and a longer scene there, without it feeling gimmicky or tiresome, which I think is harder to manage than it seems. He also introduces new characters quite well. He doesn’t let them get in the way too long before we’ve had time to start caring about them, which is again all about pacing.

I’m all caught up on the series now, so I get to start the waiting game. It looks like the next issue will be out in December, so I won’t have to wait too long at least. If you like adventure and raunchy humour, and are at all interested in comics, this is worth checking out. It’s Joss Whedon mixed with Terry Gilliam, with a bit of Seth Rogen thrown in.

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August in Review

Books Acquired:
Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Chew: The Omnivore Edition, Volume 4 by John Layman

Books Read:
Slam by Nick Hornby
Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

My two purchases this month were comics despite having told myself I wasn’t going to buy any more until I finished the ones I already own, as I really have to start conserving shelf space. I had to order the new Bryan Lee O’Malley book, however, almost purely out of curiosity to see what he’d come up with now that the Scott Pilgrim madness has died down. The other is Chew, which I just love. The last Omnivore edition came out almost a year and a half ago, so I’m giving myself a free pass for that one.

Movies watched:
Guardians of the Galaxy – I loved everything about this – the story was fun, the humour really worked, the music was a blast, and the casting was perfect. Great summer action movie.

Good Morning Vietnam – Robin Williams’ death actually hit me a little harder than I would have expected, for someone I never met, but he was such a part of my childhood and his life ended in such a sad way. Also it happened on my birthday, which was already going poorly, so it was an overall bummer of a day. As a tribute, I re-watched one of his classics that I hadn’t seen in years. Really like this one.

TV watched:
Wallander, Season 3 – I love this series, as I’ve mentioned in the last couple of monthly reviews. The last two seasons haven’t really stood up to the first, but they’re still great. I’ve read that they’re apparently filming the fourth season, to be released in 2015, so I will be eagerly awaiting that. They’re based on a series of novels, so maybe I should pick those up.

Games played:
The Walking Dead, Season 2 / The Wolf Among Us (PC) – I finished both of these this month and loved them. If you haven’t played any of the new Telltale games, you really should. They’re interactive stories, and the gameplay is essentially just making story choices. There’s no winning or losing, you just see how the story plays out with the choices you make. If you’re the sort of person who will read a book blog, you’re likely the sort of person who would love these games. Start with The Walking Dead series, which are fantastic. The Wolf Among Us is really good as well. The art direction was the highlight for me, while the story was interesting but not quite as gripping.

The Blackwell Legacy / Blackwell Unbound / Blackwell Convergence / Blackwell Deception (PC) – This is a series of adventure games in which you play as mediums acting as detectives, helping spirits stuck in this world cross over. They’re really well written, the puzzles are interesting but not impossible (as with some point and click adventure games), and each game changes just enough to keep the gameplay feeling fresh. They’re all just a few hours long each, but I got the pack of them on Steam for under five dollars during a sale, and the length is perfect for telling a story without any unnecessary filler. There’s a fifth in the series that I’ll be picking up soon.

Anomaly Warzone Earth (PC) – I spent a week in my hometown for a visit at the beginning of the month and decided to try this game out. I picked it up a few years ago during another Steam sale (I have a problem with those), and didn’t pay it much mind after that. It’s a twist on the tower defense genre, where the player controls the attackers instead of the defenders. It’s not really my type of game, but I had a lot of fun with it. The graphics are beautiful too, especially for a small game released a few years ago.

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