Sunday, August 30, 2015

water knife

Paolo Bacigalupi's new book is called The Water Knife and I read this one while I was on vacation last week, just after reading Cloud Atlas. I was thinking about this story while I was writing about Cloud Atlas because they share some elements, so they made great back-to-back reads.

Bacigalupi's last book was also set in a future that isn't as warm and fuzzy as our current era, but it is certainly a possible future if we aren't more careful about global warming and natural resource management. Message received Paolo.

I wasn't sure what I was going to be reading about, as I didn't even read the jacket when I picked this up. I recognized the writer's name from The Wind-up Girl from a few years ago, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The Water Knife didn't disappoint. I didn't put this one down very much and finished it pretty quickly.

Bacigalupi looks at the potential future of the western states after the water crisis has gotten so bad that states rights and water rights begin to trump federal mandates and the west gets wild again. Just like his last book, Bacigalupi has clearly spent some time thinking through his scenarios from all the angles so that the story he's built doesn't have any holes. From the violence people are willing to commit to get or just maintain their water supply, to the government mismanagement, to the day-to-day people who don't look at waste water the same any more, the desert takes on a new meaning, and the tragedy of an artificial desert oasis like Las Vegas or Phoenix takes on an ominous, if not perverse, aspect.

This book walks a careful line between novel and soft SciFi. My advice? Keep an eye on Paolo Bacigalupi. And read this book.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

cloud atlas

Cloud Atlas is probably fairly well known as a movie--I'm sure I've seen bits of it but after reading the book I'm sure I didn't see the movie. I'm also not sure how you'd make a movie from this story but I can see how some of the confusing parts might be simplified with the addition of visual clues.

Cloud Atlas is almost a short story collection, held together by more than a common theme. It's more of a story arc--maybe story loop is s better term--that runs though time connecting up various characters from each along the way. Characters that can almost feel these other characters from afar.

What was fun was Mitchell's shifts in style and language according to the time and place these segments occur, from the past out into the dystopian future. A future that I think helped lay the groundwork for The Bone Clocks. A future that I can see similarities in in Paolo Bacagalupi's work, incidentally. What I think they share is a keen awareness of the state we are currently in and they both are forecasting bleak futures of our own making. 30 years ago dystopian futures were made of nuclear winters or planetary subjugation by aliens. A younger breed of writers sees environmental disaster as our undoing. These two see more specific losses at the hands of corporate mismanagement of the environment and our natural resources.  Death by mega-corp, now with 100% less calories. I made a little joke

Cloud Atlas is an engaging blend of novel and soft-SF. It's not a lazy read, it takes some attention and I like that. A friend who's also read it suggested I see the movie now, so I'll look for it at the library.

I borrowed a few books fro the library for vacation this past week, so I have one or two more books coming up soon.

Monday, August 10, 2015

wicked

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

I didn't read this when it was all the rage, and I may not have read it all if a copy hadn't showed up in the library book sale. I'm glad it did; this book was great. Funny, exciting, well thought out, and really entertaining.

The Wizard of Oz is such a huge part of pop culture now, that I wasn't sure where there was to go with a story like this, and then go on and write more of them. There are a few more of these stories Maguire wrote as follow ups to this, right? I think I heard on the radio some time in the last year or so that he's written the last one. Its called Get me out of here! or something,* which makes it pretty clear that he needs to write something else before he hangs himself.

What I loved about this story is how Maguire took the bombast from the movie and used it as a stepping off point. The characters are larger than life, and just packed with personality and personality traits--no one does, or thinks, anything thing small. They are all either in or out, and when they're in, they're in all the way. He also put a lot of thought into the little idiosyncrasies in the film, and gave them real, fully flushed-out reasons for being. They're so convincing that I found myself saying, oh, that's why.

Maguire also looks at what the definition of good and evil is; and what it means to different people. The right vs. wrong, good vs. evil plot line in the movie is taken apart and put back together through the eyes of various people in the story, and it quickly became evident that its not so black and white.

Illustrated by Douglas Smith.

Read this book.


* Its called Out of Oz

Sunday, August 9, 2015

bone clocks

The Bone Clocks is a novel by David Mitchell, the guy who wrote Cloud Atlas. I say that like I read Cloud Atlas, but I didn't. I think I saw the movie however, or maybe parts of it. This book was in the quick picks section at my library and it looked like it was right up my alley. Yeah, it was.

I liked this book from the first page, and I enjoyed right through. I stayed up at night reading; I stopped what I was doing on the weekends and took this book and a coffee out to the yard; I lingered over breakfast for too long each morning. I'm not a fast reader, and this is a dense book.

What I especially liked about it, is the in depth examinations of the characters. Many writers would give a few paragraphs, or even a few lines to set up a character and then plow ahead with the storyline, infilling bits about the character as they go. Good writers show us what the character is like, rather than tell us. Mitchell shows us by taking the time to write the story from each character's perspective, and through their eyes we see the multiple facets of the story as well as get a much better feel for that characters themselves, and in the end its what the story is about; these people.

There is a Fantastic aspect to this story, but its not overwhelming. Its the axis about which the plot revolves, but its just the axis, and not the entire storyline. Mitchell has take the time to think about what life would be like in a world like the one he's created, and we get to inhabit it with him. It runs parallel to are, and maybe just 20 feet to the left of us. Its like many stories of this ilk that imagine another world, or even a secret society within our own, that moves along with us without our knowledge. I'll keep my eye out for more David Mitchell.

Read this book.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

miso soup

In the Miso Soup is the book I picked up at the library thinking that it was by Haruki Murakami, but its not. It was right next to his work on the shelf because this author is named Ryu Murakami. After reading Haruki, I was ready for something different but I was surprised in ways I wasn't expecting. Ryu is pretty well known for his thrillers and horror writing, I was in the Soup alright.

First off, some similarities to After Dark: this story also takes place in an urban Japanese center, over a very short time period (two days vs. one), this story is also character driven, also with two main characters, who ended up doing and seeing lots of different things in the city in a very short time. In both stories, the city night and its people swirl around the two main characters, and create a shimmering and brightly lit, or dull, grey backdrop.

Where Miso departs happened pretty quickly as one of the two begins to suspect that the other may be up to no good.

That's an understatement.

Miso is fast, jarring, creepy, violent, a little crazed, and very readable. As the tension builds in the story, the tension between the two characters builds as well. Its as if they are both stuck on a ride and they can't get off. I don't know that I would have picked this one out but I ended up glad that I read it.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

skim

This is one of the pile of books I picked up from the library to take on vacation with me a few weeks ago. I have a little backlog of books that I've finished that I need to get my thoughts down about, before they fade away. I've had Skim on my list for a while. I originally wrote it down after hearing about it somewhere and thinking my daughter may enjoy it. She had already read it, and did enjoy it, so I left it on my list.

Skim is a graphic novel. The cover says "Words by Mariko Tamaki, Drawings by Jillian Tamaki." I understand that these two are cousins, and that this is their first venture. Nice work.

It had been so long, I had forgotten what I had heard about this book, and when I saw the cover art, I was reminded of old Japanese paintings of samurai and thought that maybe it was a historic novel. No. Its a story of a confused teen, dealing with the day-to-day life of being on the outside looking in. Skim--a not-so-nice nickname for the main character, Kim--follows her through the effort she has to constantly put forth just to deal with the crap that being outside of the cool group at school puts on a middle school girl. Skim is just slightly outside the norms: shes a little Asian, a little overweight, a little romantically experimental, a little quiet, and a little lonely.

Its not the first time these tropes have been examined, but Skim does it with a thoughtfulness and respect for Skim's right to think and feel as an individual. Skim takes us into how Skim feels, what she dreams of, with glimpses at her diary entries, and follows her closely so that we can feel her disappointments, anguish, and frustrations as the things that seem to happen so effortlessly for others, continually pass her by.

Impressive.

Friday, July 31, 2015

after dark

After Dark is a novel by Haruki Murakami, whose work was suggested by my daughter. After reading this, I went to the library and took out a few more from Murakami to take on vacation. Turns out that I picked one off the shelf by another writer with a similar name, AND one from Haruki Murakami from the quick pick table, but quick pick is limited to two weeks with new renewal so I didn't get to that one. Maybe next time.

After Dark is a short, taunt novel which follows two characters who meet after recognizing one another as having mutual acquaintances, and end up spending parts of one long night together in the city.

With side trips to surrealism-town.

After dark reads like any hip, urban, character driven novel, but it seems a little sharper to me. I think that may be the altered perspective, but Murakami doesn't waste word either. And then--inexplicably--there are these chapters that slide away from the main plot to sub-plots, which are tied to the story, they just sort of... slide off the edge.

An' I'm all, wha?

But Murakami brings it all back, and the ending is satisfying, but leaves me knowing that the author has told me more than just a story. Given me more than just some interesting character studies of urban Japanese youth. More than just a glimpse at Japanese counter-culture.

What exactly, I'm not that sure. I'm not much of a deep reader I guess. I do know when I've been entertained, however. And I'm sure there are places you can read a review that will spell all that out for you; here its more about notes to myself about what I've read in the past, mainly so I don't buy the same book at a used book sale too often.

After Dark was translated by Jay Rubin.

Read this book.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

serpent of venice

Christopher Moore is a hoot. Funny, irreverent, smart, and dedicated to producing a great, wild story. I get the feeling that underneath his comic interior, he worries about the details of his books. The plotting, the characters, the continuity, all of it. He may even be a little neurotic at heart. He's the Woody Allen of Shakespearean, historic comedy novels. yeah, I said it

The Serpent of Venice: A Novel, by Christopher Moore returns us to the adventures of Pocket, the harlequin clad protagonist from Fool. I get the feeling when reading, that Pocket most nearly speaks as Moore wishes that he--or any of us--could; with absolute impunity to power.

The Serpent, as it sounds, is a riff on Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, with some other Shakespearean characters and plots thrown in to keep it interesting, along with some Edgar Allan Poe. Why, you might ask, does this story include not only multiple Shakespeare plays, but a dash of Poe, from a completely different era, as well? Why not?

Moore's willingness to look beyond the boundaries of a single inspiration, and combine these multiple sources with a storyline of his own devising is what, I think, sets him apart from other writers in the genre. Tom Robbins is the only other I can think of that I enjoy as much. Robbins doesn't seem to suffer like Moore does, but he has his own problems.

Read this book.

Friday, July 3, 2015

the heist

My wife is an endless source of joy. Not least of her wonders is her ability to crank through a novel in record time, so I almost always have stream of recently read books around to choose from, and she loves the spy novel. Because of this, I've read a bunch of Daniel Silva's books about Gabriel Allon, the hardened but thoughtful agent of Israel's secret service.

I haven't read everything in the Gabriel Allon series, but I have read a few of them. Silva doesn't shrink from using his novels as a soapbox to poke his finger in the eye of what he sees as the bad things in this world, and if anything, he seems to be poking a little harder as he gets older. Not only does the Syrian regime get some pretty heavy poking, but he's also thrown some others in there for good measure including Russia's burgeoning tsar. I get the feeling he'll get some more attention in an upcoming story (poke)

Silva takes us on a familiar romp. The story arc he favors has Allon reaching operational climax at about the mid-point of the book, so you know thing won't go as planned. The never do. Allon is first one to tell us that. What works so well is that well laid plans should work; seem like they will work, but then something unexpected happens and then its time to regroup and replan.

It was a fun one.