The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy By Douglas Adams

I liked this!

This is gonna be an itty bitty one because I’m not really sure what to say about this other than that. Everybody and their mom looooooves these books. There’s so much universal love and acclaim for them that when I finished this one and just liked it, I felt a little…weird about it. I felt like I’d missed something. Was it because I’ve read all the other books that have been inspired by this, the ones that have turned original thought and humour into tropes? Was it because absurdist, madcap humour and scifi don’t really mix that well with me? Or maybe it’s just one of those things, where something that works for almost everybody in the known universe just didn’t quite hit it for me.
Who knows?

Either way, I did still enjoy myself. There’s humour here, and originality, and fun. I definitely didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time or anything, it’s just not something that’s going to leave a big impression on me or my reading life.

Recommended for those who are looking for something light and easy, something to make them laugh, and anybody that’s in the mood for a spot of fun.

VBR

Advertisements

Thor: Ragnarok

Hidyho there readerinos!

I’m gonna preface this review by saying, right off the bat, I have a huge case of the superhero movie fatigues. I know this is a thing that people have been saying for a while, so it’s not an original or interesting perspective, and it shouldn’t really be relevant when it comes to reviewing an individual piece of art (“judge it on it’s own merits!”), but it’s the truth. I’m tired of them. Tired of watching them, yeah, but also tired of getting excited and then, inevitably, disappointed by them. I made the mistaken claim after watching Spiderman: Homecoming (which was the dopest dope, in case you were wondering) that I was cured of it forever, but honestly? I think that was just a lucky shot.

Take this new Thor movie for example. I had really high hopes for it. It looked wacky and wild and colourful, different in a way that I’m so, so ready for. The posters were weird, hyper-saturated pieces of scifi art, the pre-release positive hype was there, the trailer was incredible. Everything was lined up to get me excited for this movie, to get me off my couch and into a theatre to see it. And then…*shrugs*.

Okay, let’s talk first about all the good bits (and there is a bunch of them!). Everything about Thor’s far off space adventure was amazing. The world was wonderful and odd and specific, the humor was great (this is probably the funniest marvel so far, which I think is helped a little by the Thor mythos. The campyness and spectacle of it really suits comedy a lotttttt better than self-serious drama), the costumes were top notch, the updated and translated Hulk was better and more interesting than he’s ever been. JEFF. MOTHERFUCKING. GOLDBLUM. Ugh, and that score you gals. This might just be the first time that I’ve been aware of a score in a Marvel movie, and it’s definitely the first time I loved one. So much good stuff! (Also, I’m going to insert a shoutout to Korg here, before people get mad at me for not mentioning him. Yes, he was the best. Yes, his weirdness and sense of humour perfectly personified everything that was great and good about this movie. Yes, I too, loved him).

And now the bad bits. Everything to do with Asgard. I felt like this film’s connection to Asgard and the previous Thor movies was a huge, cumbersome chain wrapped around its neck. Whenever I began to forget that this was just another Thor movie with another Big Bad who was trying to do Big Bad Things, we’d flash back to Hela and all the stuff I just could not give a shit about. I mean, you have a serious boring villain problem when even CATE BLANCHETT (who ate scenery for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and did a great job of it) can’t make them interesting. Listen, I get it, part of the theme of the movie was moving away from Asgard and the old Thor films, and in order to do that they had to go back and burn it all down. I just…I dunno. I guess I just didn’t care. I was having a really good time with this movie, and then the last twenty minutes of it turned into big explosions and magic and CGI fights and Karl Urban giving the cheesiest death performance outside of an anime. And because that was the end of the movie, the freshest part of it when I left the theatre, I ended up feeling like I liked this movie a lot less than I think I actually did (if that convoluted sentence made sense to you, you win ten points! And a hug!).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this movie had a lot of promise and, even though it did deliver in a bunch of ways, I still left feeling kinda meh about it. And that’s so disappointing! If anything I wanted this to be the type of movie that you couldn’t shrug at, so weird and out there that you either loved or hated it. And I saw glimpses of that, yeah, but they were wrapped up in that same old marvel movie safeness, that feeling that I knew what was going to happen, I knew who was going to survive, I knew that Thor and all his friends would be victorious. I know that’s just the price of admission for a movie like this, but I guess it’s one I’m getting tired of paying.

Anywho! You should go out and see this movie. It’s fun, and your dollars will help Taika Waititi gain the power he needs within Marvel to really lean into his weirdness and (hopefully) provide us with a superhero movie that isn’t as anchored down by its own tropes, restrained by the industry’s impulse to meet our expectations, instead of exceeding them.

VBR

 

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Good day my beautiful peoples!

I’ve been writing a lot over the last little bit, but I feel like I haven’t checked in enough with you lately. How are you? How’s your life? What’s new?

*Insert what’s new and/or what’s happening in your life here*

REALLY?!

(Select appropriate response from the following)

1) How dare they!

2) Go on and get it girl!

3) That’s fucking disgusting

4) Congratulations!

5) I know I’m not your mom or whatever, but I really think you should stop reading this and go see a doctor.

Whew! What a rollercoaster. Now on to the book!

I have some mixed feelings about this one.

First off, the setting and world building really worked for me. I’ve always been a fan of books that are set in really specific and underutilized (at least in the fiction that I’ve been reading) times/places and Shawl really hooked me with this one. It probably didn’t hurt that the history/social studies curriculum at my highschool was fucking gaaaaarrrrrrrbage (we basically did four consecutive years of in depth study about Canada’s contribution to the second world war) so I went into this book pig-ignorant about the Congo and all the terrible things the Belgians did there. I had a very slight idea about the horrors of the rubber industry at this point in history (thanks to David Grann’s amazing The Lost City of Z), but I wasn’t aware that the Congo was a part of that, and I had no idea the depth of the damage done to the region. Learning about the Congo (sort of, I know this isn’t a historically accurate depiction) really fascinated me and it hooked me enough that I’m currently in the market for a nonfiction history of the area (holler at me if you have any recommendations).

Unfortunately, everything else just didn’t really hit it for me. I respect the ambition of the story, it’s sprawling and huge and complicated, but I never felt overly invested in it. Part of that probably has to do with the writing, which I found a little stiff (to be fair there were moments of lyricism and beauty, though few and far between), and obviously the structure didn’t help (the chapters were told in short bursts that hopped perspectives and significant portions of time, never really allowing you to sink into or get familiar with any individual characters POV) but I think most of it had to do with the characters themselves. I never really found one I could invest in, never really connected with or cared about any of the people in this, and because of that I just felt removed and uninvolved in the story in a way that left me feeling pretty unsatisfied with it as a whole.

Listen, the concept of this was great (building a steam-punky utopian society based on moral ideals in the middle of colonial Africa is just…such a good idea. Seriously, Nisi, A++), but I think I just ended up wanting to like this a lot more than I actually liked it. I respected it, but, if I’m being honest, I didn’t really enjoy reading it. SO! If you’re planning on giving this one a go, keep that in mind.

Anywhooooodle, happy reading!

VBR

 

 

 

Frantic Scramble to Catch Up

Hello my lovelies!

It’s been so long! How are all ya’ll doing? Anything new and exciting happening?

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything. I have been reading, just not a ton, and for a little while it was a lot of stuff that I either didn’t like or felt kinda meh about. I didn’t really have anything to say about any of them and I didn’t want to waste your time with a bunch of “this was pretty good I guess! You might have fun reading it maybe”. So instead of writing a bunch of middling posts I just decided to give it a rest for a week or so, and then a week or so become two weeks or so, and then that became a month. And here we are!

So there’s a bunch of stuff that I’ve read over the last week or two that I did actually like, and instead of writing one article for each of them I’m going to give you a quick run down of some of them. There’s one I LOVED, which I’m saving for an article for later (I’ll give you a hint, it’s a Historical Supernatural Mystery/Gay Romance novel and it’s also the best thing), but we’ll get to that when we get to it.

Okay! Here goes!

The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales

I haven’t read anything this fast and fun and fucked up since The Library at Mount Char.  But whereas the Library starts out weird and then amps up into actual insanity, this one kind of goes the other way around. It starts out at 11, a Torchwood/Buffy the Vampire Slayer hybrid on a bad meth high, with tons of big action and the big bad boss fight over and done with in the first chunk of the book. And then it shifts. The book doesn’t get less weird, there’s still semi-robot ladies/assassins/super-powered young girla/people who get magic powers from maybe a meteor or a radioactive accident, but it does slow down a bit, get a little more human. The end of this book is insightful and touching in a way I wasn’t expecting, and it changed the way I felt about all the bits that came before it. It’s like eating a bunch of rich, delicious chocolate cake, and then finding out that the whole thing was made from vegetables. It doesn’t change how much you enjoyed the cake part, but it does make you look back on it and go “huh”.

As a side note before I hop on to the next thing, this was the book that pulled me out of my slump. If you’re in that spot right now, it might pull you out of yours too.

 

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

I’d heard a lot about this one before I picked it up. Tons of people were talking about how crazy and all over the place and fun it was, and since that had worked so well for me with the last book (and, if we’re being honest, always works so well for me. The weirder the better!) I thought I’d continue the streak. And they weren’t wrong about the banana-pants part of it. I don’t normally do lots of plot stuff, but let me set this up for you: (*takes deep breath*) This book is about a South African Demi-Goddess who works in a nail salon that decides to go back to her fear and pain eating ways, a girl from a small rural village who’s also a Demi-Goddess, a young gay couple with some father issues who discover they have psychic powers, a pre-transition politician/singer with the power to persuade people (and who’s mother also might be a tree?), and a famous singer who discovers she has a rather strong appetite for pain (but not in the same way as the evil demi-goddess from before. Hers is a good thing, and also it helps her sing?). While I  didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Regional Office (and I know, it’s not really fair to compare the two. They’re their own thing. But I read them back to back, so what can you do?) I still really liked it. I had fun with it, I loved the imagination of it, the setting, the world. I just thought it was a little more…haphazard in it’s frenzy. Like maybe it was trying to do one too many things. There were a few weird bits of side character storyline that easily could’ve been cut and wouldn’t have effected the story at all (the part where the politician murders one of their campaign managers and then he just comes back to life and they forget it ever happened. Or when the singer is kidnapped by her crazy father and then escapes with no consequences or impact on the story). Also, everybody who was singing the praises of this book was talking about how much they loved the main villain, Sydney, and I just thought…I dunno, she was okay. Maybe the people talking about how much they loved her raised my expectations to unfair levels, but really I didn’t find anything particularly memorable or fresh about her. She wasn’t a bad villain, I liked her well enough, she’s just not going to stick with me.

 

Head Lopper by Andrew Maclean

Yet another fast and fun fantasy book. This one is a graphic novel send-up (and also a bit of a love letter) to Beowulf, Conan the Barbarian, Dungeons and Dragons, and all the other campy major fantasy epics. This is going to be the shortest of these write-ups, because I don’t have a ton to say about this other than that I really liked it. It’s not deep, or introspective, or surprising. It doesn’t have much to say about the human condition or what it is that separates man from monster. It’s about a dude called the Head Lopper who chops off a bunch of heads. The art is great, the monsters are cool, the writing is fun, and the story goes just about exactly how you’d expect. If that sounds like your thing, you’re gonna have a blast.

 

Anywho, that’s not all the books that I’ve read over the last little while, but that’s a few of them. You’ll get a post with a couple more in a day or two. Hope ya’ll have been well.

VBR

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

This book holds such a weird and conflicted place in my heart.

I read it when I was really, really young. Probably too young, but I watched Silence of the Lambs when I was like nine and read A Game of Thrones when I was around eleven, so that ship had pretty much sailed (and just as a by the by, nothing to do with my parents. I was a particularly determined and underhanded kid, and though they were pretty liberal with the art they allowed me to consume, there were a few things I never gave them the opportunity to object to).

This novel (and the series that followed) had a bunch of firsts for me. It was the first hard scifi book I’d ever read. The first to treat intelligent children not just like they matter, but like they’re useful, dangerous even (which seems a little strange to frame as a positive, I know, but treating somebody like a threat is, in a weird way, an acknowledgement of their capability. I was a clever kid who was tired of being treated like a child, and something about this really got to me). It was also the first genre book series I’d encountered with themes of pacifism and anti-warmongering at its core, along with some pretty strong messages about the dangers of othering people you don’t understand, how much fear that can generate, and how easily that fear can turn to hate. This series helped to shape not only my taste in fiction and art, but also my idea of the adult that I wanted to grow up to be.

One of the perks of getting at this so young was that I was able to read it and love it, the whole series, without having much of a chance to encounter or care about the author’s personal politics. At that point I didn’t even know what my own were, and if you’d asked me I wouldn’t have really understood what you meant. Besides, I’d never been the type who worships the maker of the art. It’s the art itself that I’d always been interested in. That’s where all the swords and laser beams and forbidden, sweaty love is. Author’s names weren’t much more than a helpful reference tool for me to find more books that I wanted to read.

It was only years later (like a decade and a half actually), after several rereads of the series and numerous recommendations to people, that I heard anything about it. It was just an offhand comment on a podcast of some kind, and I didn’t really think anything of it. Then I heard something else. Then again. And eventually I was compelled to do something that, up until that point, I hadn’t really ever done. I turned to Lord Google (All Hail its Knowledge and Supreme Benevolence) for some info on a guy I had kind of assumed was a collection of monkeys and typewriters. And it broke my heart.

How could somebody that wrote about peace and compassion, about overcoming prejudice by trying to understand the things you fear, support such hateful, awful garbage? He was one of the first people to teach me that love and life is complicated, but that compassion and community, relationships, are the things that make life worth living, and we should take them where we can. Unless you’re gay and you want to get married, I guess. A man can love a female voiced A.I. (which…it’s a computer program. You can name it Jane and give it a lady’s voice and that still doesn’t mean it’s a woman), but he can’t love another man, another human being? I don’t get it.

At first learning this didn’t really change the way I interacted with the series itself. Death of the author, right?* No matter what he espoused in his personal life, it didn’t change the message that I got from his book, the lessons it taught me, the positive impact it had. And most of the people I know who read it got a lot of the same things from it that I did, so the book itself is a net good, right? Even if the man isn’t.

But…it’s not that simple. It would be great if we could interact with the art we love without having to worry about the person who made it, but we can’t. By purchasing the book (I’ve repurchased it at least three or four times), and reading it, raving about it, telling people in my life to do the same, I’m contributing to something. Yes, the book itself has a positive message, but the money that I, and all the people I convinced to buy it, spent isn’t getting thrown down a well. That money, or a portion of it anyways, is going to Orson Scott Card, and he’s using it to fight against people like me being able to get married. That’s super fucked up.

When you buy art you’re not just supporting the creation of more art like it (although you are doing that), you’re providing power and a platform to the person who’s creating it. I know you can’t be checking every single thing that you consume (is every actor in every television show I watch a good person? Is the CEO of the company that makes the plastic that houses the grape tomatoes I like a SJW?), but I think it’s well past the time where we acknowledge that who we give our money to matters. So let’s try our best not to give it to dick bags like this, okay?

Recommended for sexually confused, politcally oblivious pre-teens with low self-esteem, and…um…people who didn’t read the review I just wrote, I guess?

VBR

Ps. Honestly, if you decide to just keep ignoring authors (or musicians or directors or whatever) and reading books, I really don’t blame you. I still don’t look into every author that I read (I would never get ANYTHING done. I mean…I don’t really get that much done now. But even less. I would get EVEN LESS STUFF DONE), and anybody that says that they do is either lying or doesn’t read as much as we do. Just know that if you’re not careful, you might one day realize you’ve been contributing to something that really doesn’t sit well with you and that’s (trust me) a really ooky feeling.

 

*For those of you who haven’t  heard this saying before, this isn’t me threatening to kill Orson Scott Card. It’s just a saying among readers which means that what the author thinks about his work, what he was trying to convey, isn’t as important as the message that you pulled out of it while reading it. Once they put their art out into the world, their opinion about what it means becomes irrelevant.

 

 

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others

Alright, time for our first ever review! I’m excited! I’m nervous! I’m unprepared! Am I doing it right? It doesn’t feel like I’m doing it right.

Whew. Ok. Deep breaths. Let’s do it.

I just…don’t even know what to say. I’ve spent a very long time trying to figure out how to properly convey how much I enjoyed this collection, while also making you understand that I’m a smart and educated gentleman. But that hasn’t really been working, so instead I’m just going to say what I feel.

I fucking loved this book.

Oh my God did I ever love this book. Peoples, this collection holds within it what might very well be my favourite short story of all time. Considering the fact that you could probably circle the earth by laying every short story I’ve read down page to page, that’s saying something.

Even the ones that aren’t my favourite are so, so good. They’re smart, unique, emotionally affecting, and beautifully written stories. My favourite of the bunch, Story of Your Life, made me ugly cry in public. On the seabus. And I didn’t give a shit who saw me. That’s how great it was. I don’t want to tell you too much about it, because I wouldn’t want to ruin or colour your first experience of it, but even if you don’t buy the book seek this story out. It’s well worth it.

Another gem, Understand, is the only time I’ve ever read a story about an experiment or drug raising somebody up to crazy super-intelligence that I actually bought. Most of the time when you read or see something along those lines (I’m staring you right in those beautiful baby blues, Mr. Cooper) it’s the material itself that tells you that the person is a genius, not their actions. Sure, they’re depicted doing some things we know would require a full sack of smarts (counting cards, writing long, complicated novels, gaining the upper hand over foes, etc.) but they don’t really change their behaviour in any meaningful way. It’s the old problem of having writers try and write characters who punch above their own intellectual weight. It almost always ends up coming off as false at best, ridiculous at worst. Not so in Understand. Ted Chiang writes about super intelligence as if he’s lived it. The *very mild spoilers* two super intelligent characters, their actions, their conflict, the reasoning behind their conflict, and finally its resolution, all play as both believable and the inevitable consequence of their super intelligence. So great. Crazy fucking great.

Are all of them master pieces? No. But even the worst of them is pretty damn good. Tower of Babylon is inventive and well done, but a little emotionally flat, and not particularly gripping. Division by Zero, my least favourite story, might appeal more to people who have a greater love of math than I do, but I found the characters mostly uninteresting and unappealing, and the revelation at the heart of the story lacked impact. Having said that, there’s still some emotional insight there, and the relationship between the two main characters was subtle and well drawn.

Ok, so this went a lot longer than I was actually planning, and I promise in the future most reviews won’t be quite so lengthy. It’s just not very often that you get a collection of science fiction stories that are this consistently interesting and intelligent, and I felt the need to do it some sort of justice by giving it a little more space. I didn’t even get to talk about all the stories! Like the one where people can get a part of their brain altered so they no longer notice physical beauty, an act of rebellion against a media that constantly uses sexual impulse to manipulate them (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’m trying my best to paraphrase). Or a weird, steampunkian story about golems and homunculi and classicism.

Basically what I’m trying to say is buy this book. Or borrow it. Or steal it (not from me though, I’ll hunt your ass down). Doesn’t matter. Just get your hands on a copy.

You’ll be glad you did.

VeryBiasedCritic

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑