Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

41E4+fttDjLIn case you are wondering why I should read such a very Snow Falling on Cedars type of book, and nevermind that I haven’t read comics in ages or that there’s a new Stephen King book in the world? Book club.

So, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. There’s this Japanese guy, living in a house with a wife and a secret alley that wanders through the neighborhood and a missing cat and some fortune tellers and a Lolita neighbor, all of which are also Japanese[1]. And…. okay, I have no idea where to start or end this review, spoilers-wise, because very little of what actually happens is the point, and I’m going to spoil the hell out of the themes of the story, because that’s what I usually do, except this time if you take away the themes there’s actually nearly nothing to discover, so I may be doing it wrong. If you’re worried about that kind of thing or this particular book, you should skip the rest of this, only then you’d have no review at all. So here’s what I’ll do.

Before all the despoiling of the fecund thematic territory I am about to perpetrate, I will say that I did not particularly like the book, and mainly it was because of a probably cultural difference between myself and the author that leads me to strongly disagree with the points his book is making. (I am not so sure he himself is making them, but it’s hard to explain why. Hopefully I succeeded below, in the spoiler part you aren’t reading? Still, it seemed like I ought to say so, in case.) However, and this may strongly tie into the recent parenthetical distinction, the way it wrapped up was pretty satisfying, so at least I don’t resent the whole endeavor.

Anyway, though, themes. Well, theme. Toru Okada (the Japanese man I mentioned earlier), as he wanders through his world, growing more and more confused by the ever stranger events and people he comes into contact with, is presented with one unifying message from every single character, except possibly the cat: “there is no way to control fate, not yours, not mine, not anyone’s.” And I mean, the name of the book itself: there’s this bird that nobody can see, up in a tree somewhere, winding up the world every morning, and then the world goes off on its preordained path until it winds down again. And while that’s an interesting thought exercise, it makes for a pretty horrible world. Nobody can fight for happiness. Nobody can feel good about any accomplishment, nor feel regret about any shortcoming. It all just is, and that’s the end. My ability to maintain interest in characters for whom I don’t feel the slightest shred of empathy? Turns out to be vanishingly small.

The one good thing about all that is that I’m pretty sure the pivot on which the story swings is Toru’s decision whether to accept that message or not. If you are saying to yourself, “He can’t decide that or it undermines the entire premise!”, well, a) that’s what makes me feel a little better about things but also b) that’s why I’m not sure if I read the book correctly. Because, seriously, if I’m right, it’s 95% “everything is outside your control” and 1% “I disagree”, and that’s a weird proportion when you are arguing the converse. So I may really just be inserting what I wanted to happen instead.

(The remaining four percent is Japanese history lessons, ca. World War II.)

[1] I point this out repetitively because it will be important later. I pointed it out with one repetition instead of one per noun because that would have been as horrible to type as it was going to be to read.

Latitude Zero

517LqnCryCL._SY346_Here are the important lessons I have learned from reading two Deathlands books in a row[1]:

1) Yep, they are able to catch me by surprise still, and even better, do it by meeting my expectations on one hand while utterly subverting them on another.
2) It is a bad idea to read two of them in a row. It’s not that popcorn isn’t still delicious every time you get a tub of it, it’s that you fail to get the proper impact if you have it daily.
3) Man, life really is nasty, brutish, and short. These are the good guys, and they usually try their best to help the most people, but noble self-sacrifice? Playing long odds in the hopes of saving a few more? None of that. They help when they can, but if they decide they can’t, that help ain’t coming. On the bright side, they do a pretty good job of staying alive, and they’re almost never the aggressors. But heroes? Nope.

Also, though I didn’t learn this from the specific two-in-a-row circumstances, Latitude Zero taught me that this author and/or stable of authors is really quite good at recycling villains. And getting me to empathize with them, no matter how minimally. I know I keep praising this series, so I should make a point of explaining that it’s not that they’re objectively good. It’s that they’re a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series that so dramatically transcends the limitations of the men’s adventure shelf, and in so many literary and social ways, that they are objectively Not Bad. Which is wildly unusual if not unique in the annals of that shelf, and results in my getting to read a never-ending series that is dialed into my specific proclivities.

It’s like that time when the soap opera I randomly chose to watch from the beginning as my first ever soap opera turned out to have witches, talking dolls, and portals to hell opening up under peoples’ homes. Nobody could have predicted that something so perfectly aimed at me would ever exist! Much less that I would trip over it.

[1] Because I was camping in the desert and didn’t want to a) run out of books[2] nor b) destroy my delicate electronic devices[2] nor c) bring a book whose physical form I would be worried about[2].
[2] I did not. So that worked out pretty well!

Time Nomads

51o+C5jhCvL._SY346_The good news for me is, I read more than one book while camping in the desert a couple weeks ago, and Time Nomads was every bit as solid as any book I’ve read in the Deathlands series. Which, okay, I understand that these books are first and foremost pulpy romance novels for men who prefer that most of the mushy bits be replaced by guns and also the shootings of said guns into people. But they’re apocalytic sci-fi with female characters who have many qualities other than victim and a cast that is not safe from harm at any moment. Which is to say, in some ways they’re better than many books I’ve read that are of objectively higher quality.

The book starts out on its standard, with the merry band of not-quite do-gooders teleporting into a new hidden government installation somewhere in the nuke-ravaged America of the 22nd century. But then the author proves he’s not afraid to mess with his formula by sending one of his main characters on a botulism-fueled flashback to the days before they found all the hidden teleporter pads, robots with laser guns, cryogenic pods and and towns in need of rescuing that have made the series such a delight. And okay, I admit that “flashback” doesn’t sound like that much of a formula-buster, but that’s because I’m leaving out the drastic changes that occur as the book ends.

The changes may not take, and I won’t be offended if they don’t, but the fact that I can’t be sure? That’s what impresses me about this series. Well, and also the post-apocalyptic setting, but I think everyone already knew that part.

Skin Trade

51nHng3hYnLSee, I even sort of have a couple of things to say about Skin Trade, but then I think to myself, I could not begin to guess what the title actually means[1]. It has no bearing on anything I read, none at all.

And then I think, fuck it, how can anyone else possibly still care anymore? Even the good ones are so terrible.

So. Terrible.

[1] Also, the saw blades on the cover? Equally random and meaningless. Perhaps title and cover are a metaphor for what lies within. There’s a kind of sadistic irony in the fact that it would be impossible to comprehend such a literally superficial metaphor without having read the book.

The World’s End

I made the mistake of watching a movie the day before I vanished from the internet for a week and a half, and I made the further mistake of not writing the damned review before said vanishment. So, um, sorry about that.

On the bright side, the movie I saw was The World’s End, a movie which you no doubt already knew you wanted to see because of its links to the brilliant Shaun of the Dead and the pretty okay Hot Fuzz. The formula is not precisely the same as before, I guess? Where the other two movies were parodies of the zombie and action genre, this is less parody and more mash-up. In the unlikely event that you aren’t spoiled for the mash-up by previews, I will leave out one of the genres, but the other is…. well, okay, hard to qualify. It’s not precisely coming of age, because although Simon Pegg plays an uncomfortably old-looking man-child, all of his friends have clearly grown up[1]. It’s not precisely whatever genre The Big Chill is, if only because the mood isn’t nearly as solemn as all that.

But anyway, whatever it is, it’s funny and well-acted and building towards something meaningful and fellowshippy, when suddenly…. but, y’know, that’s why you should go see it.

On an unrelated note, I am sad that I do not have a bar named The World’s End to go to. And not only because of books Neil Gaiman wrote once upon a time.

[1] If anything, that’s the point.