reviews

Sleepy Hollow – The Beginning

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Towards the end of last year I found my mum watching a new show on TV. I caught a glimpse of a headless dude in period costume rising out of dark waters, and a white gangly monster somewhat reminiscent of the eyeless child-eating freak from Pan’s Labyrinth.

I asked her, “What show is this?”

And she said, “Sleepy Hollow.”

And I made a mental note to check it out.

Since then I’ve watched episodes 1-9…there are four more to go to complete the first season. The start-up has been a general success, and the show has been renewed by Fox for a second season.

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Sleepy Hollow is supernatural but not particularly scary. It’s a modern-day reimagining of the 1820 short story, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ by Washington Irving, which tells of a Headless Horseman spiriting away a man from a settlement in the glen of Sleepy Hollow. The TV show takes place in twenty-first century Sleepy Hollow, with an expanded plot and mythos. Ichabod Crane, our long-haired revolutionary hero, and his archenemy, the Headless Horseman, awaken in the present day after 200 years of bespelled sleep. The Horseman goes on a rampage of decapitation whilst trying to recover his lost head. Ichabod, meanwhile, falls in with our other protagonist, Abbie Mills, a smart police officer who has had her own past encounters with the supernatural. Abbie and Crane set about trying to thwart the supernatural evils that plague their town.

Ichabod soon discovers that his life is linked with the Horseman’s because of their blood mingling and other magicky stuff, so when Ichabod’s witchy wife Katrina put him under a spell to keep him alive, the Horseman also went into suspended animation.

I very much enjoy the gothic feel of the whole show–a haunted town, old churches and buildings, ancient dusty books, tattoos and sects, wailing ghosts and ephemeral monsters, shadows and storms, spells of binding. The opening montage and theme music, with simple shots of the main characters interspersed with spooky shots of Sleepy Hollow transforming throughout the years, is refreshingly straightforward and atmospheric.

I lament that society no longer dictates that men should have long hair.

I lament that society no longer dictates that men should have long hair.

The show is held together by strong performances from the two leads, Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie. There are times when the story could have come off as cheesy or over-the-top, but I felt that their acting kept things authentic. The writers throw in a good mix of jokes, most of which spring from Crane trying to adjust to the twenty-first century. Some of these moments are hilarious–for instance, Crane’s first encounter with the Internet and pop up porn ads. Mison and Beharie have great on-screen chemistry and are likeable and engaging. The supporting characters (Capt. Frank Irving, Jenny Mills, Katrina Crane) are equally interesting, with the potential to have expanded, complex personalities and back stories.

The created mythology of the series is already quite large in scope. We’ve got the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an evil ringleader, an impending apocalypse, and two “witnesses” who are destined to save the earth. It’s all getting very prophetic and end-of-the-world-y, which I’m not sure I like, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. So far, the adventures have been fun and just scary enough to make you keep the night-light on. There are some pretty kick-ass action scenes too, especially the ones involving the Horseman. I’m looking forward to seeing what the season finale has in store. I’m also on the edge of my seat waiting for Ichabod to have a costume change.

Ramble.

I am a doctor. Yes, I am.

A doctor with provisional registration, at the very least, who must still run most of her decisions past a superior, and whose main areas of expertise are, summarily: inserting drips, writing discharge letters, and looking for folders. If, by the time the end of this year rolls around, we haven’t accidentally prescribed someone 100 units of insulin, or ignored a head injury after a fall, we are rewarded with a full registration. (Which, of course, we need to fork out several hundred dollars for.)

The way things work in Australia is that junior doctors must re-apply to hospitals every year; we are employed as “temporary full time” workers, on a contract that only lasts for 12 months. It’s a bit sucky. You spend a couple of months celebrating the fact that you survived interviews and got a job, only to realise that you have to do the whole thing over again. And again.

I recently submitted an application to do a six-month job next year, hopefully as a psychiatry resident. I’m planning to take six months off to do something totally silly and wonderful: write. I’m really excited. And a bit scared. (A little of becoming poor, but more of failure.)

This is how the rest of my year is looking:

– a couple more interviews, maybe

– hepatobiliary surgical rotation

– emergency department rotation

– trip to China and Hong Kong, yayz!

– three weeks break in January 2014

– work, if I have a job

:)

I think I’m feeling optimistic.

My day is looking not too shoddy either. I’ve got work 4-10pm, which is manageable, but I’ll be grumpy because I’ve got a cold. In the meantime, I have plenty to occupy myself with. For the past year I have been struggling to finish the Bitterbynde Trilogy by Cecilia Dart-Thornton–an Australian fantasy author, with wonderful writing ability, but LORDY. There came a point in the third book where I felt like I was just being constantly slapped in the face by purple prose. Her turns of phrase are lovely, but really, does she need to spend three lines describing how beautiful the inside of a strawberry is? We all know what a strawberry looks like.

Paragraph about strawberry.

Paragraph about strawberry.

Normally I have a rule that I give up on a book if it’s really struggling to hold my attention, but the Bitterbynde Trilogy admittedly is very beautiful. It’s sweeping and bursting with Celtic mythology and it’s got Faeran folk in it. It’s well planned out and elegant. I’ve just had enough of fantasy tropes, Mary Sue characters and dizzying descriptions of heartbreakingly handsome Faeran heroes. I’m sure the trilogy could have been one book shorter. Anyway, I’ve only got about 80 pages to go so I may as well skim through it.

Ten dolla! I picked up this trilogy from an amazing little bookstore in Morwell, Victoria called "The Nook and Cranny". If you're ever in Gippsland and you're a book nerd, you have to step inside this place. It's so unpretentiously rad.

Ten dolla! I picked up this trilogy from an amazing little bookstore in Morwell, Victoria called “The Nook and Cranny”. If you’re ever in Gippsland and you’re a book nerd, you have to step inside this place. It’s so unpretentiously rad.

I recently also read The Mind of a Mnemonist, by the Russian neuropsychologist Alexander Luria, who lived and worked in the early-mid 1900s. I heard about Luria whilst listening to a podcast featuring Oliver Sacks (Sacks cites Luria as one of his key inspirations). Mnemonist is a detailed case study about a dude who can remember everything. He also has intense five-sense synaesthesia, which is bizarre and fascinating to explore. Luria really delves into the guy’s mind, how his thought processes work, how his gift affects his personality, and what his weaknesses are.

In the TV world, I’ve just finished the season 2 finale of Battlestar Galactica–several years too late, I know–which, as usual, keeps blowing my mind. I can’t believe I didn’t listen sooner to my friends (looking at you, Mookxi!) who told me to watch this. Spaceships plus Greek mythology plus intense character study. HOW COULD ANYTHING BE MORE AWESOME?

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Speaking of ancient Greek myth, I highly recommend the Greek and Roman Mythology course over at Coursera.org for anyone looking for an intro into ancient mythology. The readings can be a bit intensive on top of full time work or study but I found it totally worthwhile. It’s a very well taught course and a great starting point for beginners like me!

Oh no, work looms in four hours. Time to work on my novel. Wish me luck! Have an excellent week, readers. Don’t forget to smile unexpectedly and creepily at someone to brighten up their day.

x

Grace

PS. Can’t help it, but toaster Cylons just remind me of Cybermen. I think they used the same sound effects :P

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A quiet week

We ate at Rich Mahal (Burwood Highway, Vermont South) last Thursday night. It took a great deal of persistence to get the BF to try this place for a second time: the first time we ate there, about three years ago, we suffered some, ah, ill effects–the details of which I won’t lavish upon you.

Anyway, fortifying our stomachs, we rocked up in the pouring rain and stepped inside to be greeted by the wonderful aromas of Indian and Malaysian cooking. Warm spicy fumes shot straight up my nostrils; I inhaled in delight. Tantalising trays of curry sat on heated, glass-paned counters. Mere metres away, chefs stood in front of large stoves tossing things in woks. I was drooling.

We ordered our usual meal for trying out Indian restaurants: butter chicken, biryani rice, naan bread and mango lassi. Probably the equivalent of white folk walking into an authentic Chinese restaurant and ordering fried rice, sweet and sour pork and sweet corn soup.

I wish I could post up pictures of the food, but I always forget. It’s not so much about not wanting to draw attention (“Oh look, another Asian girl taking a picture of her food, whaddya expect”) but more that when the food arrives at the table, I get so excited that by the time I remember that I’m supposed to take a pic, the plate is half-demolished.

The naan bread with dahl turned out to be roti canai, which I love. The butter chicken was creamy through and through and absolutely delicious. The lamb biryani was a touch dry but went well with the curry. Warning: if you don’t do well with spicy food, you should probably ask for mild variations. We did not, and ended up slurping desperately at the mango lassi.

Later that night we watched Star Trek: Into Darkness, which I struggled to enjoy, mainly because I was wearing 3D glasses over my usual glasses and was pushing them up literally every 30 seconds. Eventually I sort of had to keep one hand on my cheek to prop them up. 3D does not agree with me. Also, you’re probably laughing at me because I wear two pairs of glasses to watch 3D movies. I do not care. I spurn your laughter.

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Oh, the movie itself was enjoyable. Sherlock Holmes in space?! How much more awesome can you get? ;P Sadly, I was born several years after the best decades (comic book, Star Wars movies, parachute pants). Partly because of that, I never became a Trekkie; I don’t groan at the new-fangled blockbuster movies the way the diehard fans do. I’ve only seen two old Star Trek movies ever and though I can appreciate the huge difference in style, I’ve never submerged myself in the universe. It’s a little intimidating.

As is this.

As is this.

If there are any Star Trek fans reading this: what would  you recommend to the uninitiated as the best introduction into the Star Trek Universe?

*

the office

Warning: Moderate Spoilers Ahead

After nine wonderful seasons, The Office (US) has come to a timely end. This show has grown on me like a barnacle ever since I started watching it about three years ago. I have come to believe that Dwight Howard is the most hilarious character ever created for TV. I am also genuinely puzzled as to how Rainn Wilson keeps his real-life beard so sparsely scruffy whilst Dwight’s cheeks are persistently as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

The 50-minute final episode was sweet, emotional, hilarious and pretty much perfect. Steve Carell appears for some killer lines but all in all says very little–it’s not his finale, but everyone else’s. Pam surprising Jim predictably but in a thoroughly touching way, Dwight and Angela–clearly perfect for each other–get married, Oscar goes into politics, Kevin gets fired and buys a bar…everyone reaches some sort of satisfying closure (Creed’s ending is surely the best). Erin’s surprise reunion was extremely random. The fourth wall is transcended as the directors/producers celebrate in the warehouse with the cast of their “reality show”.

There’s also a short documentary about the journey of the cast, well worth watching. I’d love to watch some behind the scenes filming of the Office, with bloopers and improvisation. Maybe I’ll have to get my hands on a box set.

Doctor Who Season 7 also finished last week, with a classic twisty Moffat episode. It was definitely the best episode of the second half of this season (I was starting to have my doubts during The Rings of Akhaten). It was just the right amount of twisty, too. Twisty enough to make me go “Oooh, that’s clever!” but not too twisty that I’m sitting there shovelling popcorn into my mouth in dismay and confusion. Clara’s leap into the Doctor’s time-scar explained the Impossible Girl in a satisfying and thrilling way, though he really shouldn’t have gone in and rescued her. That bit made no sense. Clara Oswald–or versions of her–could still have been the Doctor’s companion in many more adventures. That would have been more interesting.

Doctor Who - Series 7B

Clara’s an intriguing character but I’m still not entirely convinced by Jenna-Louise Coleman’s perky, super-speedy delivery and almost automaton-like mannerisms. And the way the Doctor tugs her around like a little doll–cute, but it makes her seem unassertive and patronised. I’m waiting for her to sprout more character in the next season.

 

Til next time,

GLF

A Mish-Mash of Highlights: Doctor Who, Cloud Atlas, Eddings, etc.

Beanie of the year.

Beanie of the year.

It’s getting towards winter down here in the southern hemisphere of the world.

Last week the weather took a welcome dip from the thirties into the low twenties, and we all started layering extra blankets onto our beds and pulling out scarves, beanies, brollies and boots. For me, this time of year is marked by the transition from pyjama shorts to pyjama pants, and the resumption of a continuous intake of hot tea. It’s quite blissful.

Important events of this week included:

1. Neil Gaiman’s wonderfully well-timed and encouraging post on, amongst other things, writing: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2013/03/princess-and-some-thoughts-on-writing.html

doctor who the bells of saint john

2. The return of Doctor Who; more specifically Doctor Who Season 7 Episode 6: “The Bells of St. John.”

Five-line review…

A modern-London adventure, penned by Moffat, with lively new companion Clara ‘Oswin’ Oswald, that also oddly comes across as a warning against being too connected to wifi/social media, just in case malicious aliens want to eat your mind through the interwebs. Chemistry between Smith and Coleman felt less forced. Plot was well-paced and easy to follow with neat twists. Great half-season kick-off that continues the mystery of the girl with multiple lives.

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3. Season 3 of Game of Thrones. You know it’s getting big when you see a GoT ad at the local bus stop. To be watched.

4. Finishing David Eddings The Elenium Book 2 (The Ruby Knight). Recommended by the beloved BF, who read it in the early days of his youth, the Elenium is a grand swords-and-sorcery style fantasy epic largely revolving around politics. There is a severe deficiency of cool female characters in this story, as Sparhawk and the other heroes are mostly big buff knights with even bigger swords/axes who deliver awesome one-liners before and after they behead their foes. The only key females are Sephrenia, an ageless sorceress, and Flute, a mysterious little girl with powers–interesting, but not entirely unique. Most of the book involves riding back and forth across the countries of Eosia chasing the Bhelliom (a precious gem). Eddings’ writing is unpretentious, lively and straightforward. An easy series to read, though long, and it keeps you turning the pages.

5. Watching Cloud Atlas.

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Cloud Atlas is an insane compendium of story fragments–6 different narratives, each taking place at a different point in time–piled on top of one another. Some of the narratives are fascinating (I liked the futuristic Neo-Seoul story best) and others are boring (Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in the post-apocalyptic distant future. It was impossible to engage with their characters given almost no context and zero background about their motivations and situation). Jim Broadbent’s imprisonment and dramatic escape from an English nursing home is also a gem, as is Jim Wishaw’s portrayal of composer/musician Robert Frobisher.

I was hoping that there would be more of a sense of interconnection between the 6 timezones, but apart from using the same actors and a few pieces of prose floating from period to period (journals, documents), it lacked for substance. The narratives were largely entertaining, but at the end of the Wachowski’s masterpiece I wasn’t sure what message I was supposed to get from it all.

The structure of the book, however, sounds intriguing: a sort of concertina of stories, travelling from 1849AD, through to 2321AD, and back again. Elegant. Perhaps I’ll get my grubby hands on it one day.

Off to work.

x,

GLF

2012-2013: Summer Reading List: Part Three – Wells, Gaiman, Stroud

1. The Time Machine – H.G. Wells

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Why not kick off Part 3 with a classic?

Years ago, I read an abridged version of the Time Machine without realising it was an abridged version until I finished it and thought, that was really short. (Hey, I’m clever.)

To be honest, the complete text didn’t add a whole lot more. It’s a short book; my copy was just over a hundred pages. Wells’s story is an elegantly penned tale about a mysterious scientist, referred to only as ‘the Time Traveller’, who regales his disbelieving peers with a story of his voyage into the far distant future.

The Time Machine has a decidedly steampunk feel, particularly with all the levers and clockwork machinery (the machine itself is ‘squat, ugly, and askew, a thing of brass, ebony, ivory and translucent glimmering quartz’), and that I enjoyed. The scope of Wells’s narrative is also impressive–his protagonist travels 500,000 years into the future to discover that mankind has devolved into two very different species, the Eloi and the Morlocks. He then goes further still, to witness the fate of the dying Earth. Wells’ ideas are so far-fetched that I struggled to find them even remotely believable, though I supposed believability isn’t at all the point of the story.

Wells’s writing puts me somewhat in mind of C.S. Lewis in this instant: eloquent, not overly fanciful, as easy to follow as a bobbing tide. I liked the choice of using a nameless point of view character, listening to the Time Traveller’s story. The ending is also a treat.

2. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

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A very enjoyable Gaiman read. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to TGB. I can’t say much more about this book that hasn’t already been said. It’s written for children and that definitely shows, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty for us full-grown kids to sink our teeth into.

Nobody Owens is an immensely likeable protagonist, and Silas, the witch-girl Liz, Bod’s adoptive parents and Miss Lupescu are all equally fun to encounter. Divided into eight parts that function as short stories to create a chronological novel, The Graveyard Book is well-paced and is a balanced mixture of adventure and poignancy. Favourite parts include Bod’s escape from the greedy pawn-shop owner with Liz’s help, and Scarlett and Bod’s exploration of the Sleer’s cave.

Gaiman’s play on names is quite delightful and his prose is as lively as ever. A surprisingly fun read, despite the fact that the opening scenes involve the attempted murder of a baby o_O

3. The Ring of Solomon – Jonathan Stroud

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As I am a huge fan of the Bartimaeus trilogy, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got around to reading the sequel–or rather, the prequel.

In Ring of Solomon, we are transported into a pseudo-Biblical period Jerusalem overrun by magicians and spirits. A slightly younger Bartimaeus is a slave of one of King Solomon’s many magicians. Solomon himself rules Israel and surrounding submissive kingdoms with the help of an Uberly Powerful Ring that can raise armies of demons at a single touch.

Bartimaeus’s wit is by no means diminished, and his POV chapters are a romp. Asmira, the female protagonist and a super loyal member of the Queen of Sheba’s guard, on a suicidal mission to kill Solomon, provides the more boring half of the book. For most of the story she isn’t much more than a one-dimensional, annoying character with zero sense of humour. I was somewhat disappointed.

The reappearance of Farquarl and the rapport between Farquarl and Bartimaeus are a hoot, and the character of Solomon is unexpectedly intriguing. I thought this book would be uniformly predictable but I was proven wrong. Though Ring of Solomon doesn’t have the scope of the original trilogy, Stroud has not lost his ability to tell an awesome tale (moreover, he actually does action scenes well, which is a rare talent in my opinion). If we’re in luck there’ll be lots more Barty adventures to come.

PS. Can someone please make this into a movie, stat?!?

As summer’s coming to an end in my corner of the world, that brings my reading list to a close. Hope you enjoyed the science fiction flavour this year and maybe discovered something that you’d like to read or re-read. Do stay tuned for many more reads throughout 2013 :)

2012-2013 Summer Reading List: Part Two – Dick, Moorcock, Howey

Part Two of my Summer Reading List has unintentionally given me a title that in turn gives me the giggles. Immaturity aside, on to the reviews!

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick

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This is a funny little book with a funny long title. I think I fell in love with the title, first, which bumped it up on my to-read list. And I love how as you read the book the title begins to make the most perfect, lucid sense.

Dick’s vision of a post-apocalyptic future is stifling in its desolation. Earth has been ravaged by some sort of nuclear war, the detritus of which will gradually turn any terran-bound human into an imbecile. To escape the fallout, all but a few humans have fled to other planets. It’s an interesting backdrop to explore the social, moral and economic implications of android technology in human society.

If you’ve seen Blade Runner, you know the story. Rick Deckard, a middle-aged bounty hunter, is tasked with destroying six runaway Nexus-6 (ie, top of the range) androids. As he hunts down and kills the androids, who are remarkably human in almost every aspect, Deckard has to come to terms with what qualities separate humans from androids and ends up questioning his own humanity (and lack of empathy…).

It’s a short book; the plot is far from complex. What really struck me about DADOES were the elements of Dick’s bleak world. The mood organ, the consumerist social stratification based around owning increasingly rare animals, the creepy empathy box and the religion of Mercerism, the shallowness of Buster Friendly’s TV show (which put me in mind of the message of Fahrenheit 451) — these were never fully explained, preached about or used more than as an unsettling backdrop for the action. Which made their inclusion more profound and thought-provoking.

I think everyone will get a different message from this book. There are probably a hundred thoughts I could expand upon, but I won’t ramble. The main thing I learnt is that, on paper, androids are ridiculously easy to kill. At least Harrison Ford got beat up a bit before he succeeded.

2. Blood: A Southern Fantasy – Michael Moorcock

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moorcock

Not only have I heard Michael Moorcock’s name raised on the winds of many science-fiction/fantasy circles with great respect, his Wikipedia page is fascinating and Neil Gaiman cites him as an early influence. So I knew I had to get around to reading his stuff. I bought a whole stack of his books at a criminal price off a second-hand book store online. Unfortunately they didn’t have any Elric of Melnibone, so I picked Blood at random and plunged right in.

Blood is the first in a trilogy. I’ll try to describe the plot. It’s a delirious romantic-adventure set in an alternate southern America where the world is being torn apart by the appearance of “colour spots” — portals, or leaks, of pure wild paranormal energy. It follows four main characters with gloriously luscious names (Jack Karaquazian, Colinda Dovero, Sam Oakenhurst and the Rose — who is actually half human, half flora) who are jugaderos, or gamblers, by profession and by soul. They gamble their livelihoods on a strange supernatural game that involves creating and destroying worlds in other dimensions. Interspersed in all this are chapters set in the Second Ether, an alternate level of reality where a war is being waged in its formless seas between the Chaos Engineers and the Singularity.

When I said ‘delirious,’ I wasn’t kidding.

The calibre of Moorcock’s prose blows my hat off (well, it would, if I wore a hat). He’s really good. Somehow, despite being utterly befuddled, he kept me reading and reading. I was lost but I didn’t feel lost. This book is packed with fantastical ideas of a frightening complexity (multiple dimensions, inhabiting another persona) and yet somehow he manages it without totally losing the reader.

I felt like this book was a bit of a colour spot in itself — pure, unbridled exploration of the fantasy genre, pushing the boundaries of storytelling and of the reader. I’m not sure whether I enjoyed this book, and I don’t think it was the best introduction to Moorcock. I’ll see if I can hunt down an Elric. Perhaps that will offer something a tad more traditional. I’m still not sure exactly what I read in Blood.

3. Wool Omnibus (Books 1-5) – Hugh Howey

wool cover

Hugh Howey. Hugh, Hugh, Hugh. The success story. The one who hit it big. Just like that. All of us aspiring writers are insanely jealous of you, and rightly so.

In 2011, Howey self-published a short story called “Wool” through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing System. I think he priced it at a few dollars. It got so popular that readers demanded more. From there he wrote Wool Books 1-7, all set in the same post-apocalyptic universe, and is working on 8 and 9. He recently signed a very lucrative book deal with Simon & Schuster while maintaining his rights to his work. Oh, and did I mention that Twentieth Century Fox has bought the film rights?

Wool Omnibus is a collected publication of Books 1-5 in the series. Book 1 is the original short story; 2-5 are much longer and form the continuous substance of the novel, with a couple of character POV shifts.

It’s easy to see what made Wool such a hit. It’s the characters. Lovable/relatable qualities + difficult circumstances = readers rooting for them with all their hearts. I like his decision to spend a whole segment on the tentatively blossoming romance between two sixty-something-year-olds. I like his feisty female mechanic-sheriff, Juliette. Who wouldn’t?

Howey’s writing style isn’t amazing but it’s unpretentious and because of that it works. The setting is well-researched and he has surprising twists in all the right places. The mystery of the subterranean silos — excellent. The poorly thought-out battle between the down-deeps and IT? Terrible — why and how did they think that violence would solve things? That bit was rushed and didn’t convince me at all.

Nevertheless, overall, a worthy work of science-fiction that focuses as heavily on characters as it does on plot. Jealous as I am, I recommend it. The only other thing I can gripe about is that the names are all so bland. Is everyone white and English? Surely in the future you’d see some multiculturalism in the silo? Or did all the countries segregate in the wake of the war? EXPLANATION PLEASE. It reminds me of the stories I wrote in primary school when my characters were Smith and Jones and Black. Even though I am Asian.

Wool

Stay Tuned for Part III: The Time Machine, The Graveyard Book, The Ring of Solomon, Puberty Blues…

2012-2013 Summer Reading List: Part One – Bradbury, Asimov, Mieville

So I thought I’d carry on my one-year-long tradition of reviewing the books I’ve read over the summer. Last year, while travelling around Malaysia, Hong Kong and Samoa, I read my first China Mieville and Chuck Palahniuk, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mothertwo books on the brain (Ramachandran and John Medina), the delightful Wicked by Gregory Maguire, and the disturbing  Bell Jar Sylvia Plath. A haphazard book selection at best. This year, I believe my summer reading theme was a little more cohesive…! Stay tuned for Parts Two and Three.

1. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

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After discovering the magic of The Martian Chronicles I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Bradbury’s most famous work. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper catches fire and burns; Montag is the Guy (quite literally, heh heh) whose job it is to burn books. He’s a firefighter. In this dystopian future America, firefighters no longer put out fires — they start them. Emergency calls to the station send firefighters charging out to houses where residents are harbouring those illegal tomes of pure evil: books. These dissentious, madness-spreading texts are quickly lit on fire and charred to dust, sometimes along with the house and its occupants. Yikes.

Bradbury said that contrary to wide review, his is not a story about censorship. It is by his intentions “a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.” The characters who watch TV in the novel, particularly Montag’s wife, are frightening in their addiction. Their attachment to invented characters and meaningless game shows resonates sickeningly with the modern reader.

An elegant, short novel. I wish it were longer; I closed the book feeling like Bradbury had only scratched the surface of his themes.

PS. Did you know that Bradbury pounded out Fahrenheit in the basement of a library on a rented typewriter, under pressure? I guess when you gotta write, it can really make you write well.

PPS. Extra points if you can figure out where else you can find the names Montag and Faber.

2. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov

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Have you seen the movie? Whether you have or not, GO READ THIS BOOK. It’s almost completely different from the movie and 100x better. I know people always say the book is better than the movie, but this time it’s exponentially more so. I, Robot was a decent movie; the book is a mind-blower.

A collection of nine connected short stories, roughly continuous, featuring recurring characters who are almost as fascinating as the robots that form the crux of the book’s intrigue. The stories are told by Dr. Susan Calvin, a psychologist who studies the robots’ minds, to a reporter, some time in the 21st century. Most of the stories revolve around morality: the moral code of robots and the moral code of humans.

After I got used to Asimov’s extremely simple, straightforward style of writing, the narrator’s voice sank into the background and allowed the plot to take centre stage. The best parts of I, Robot are definitely the many mysteries. How do we prove that a rising world leader is a human and not a robot without violating his rights? How do we find a robot with murderous intent hiding in a crowd of hundreds of other nearly identical robots? Oh my goodness, Asimov! You had me on the edge of my seat!!!

After you’ve read it you’ll never forget the Three Laws of Robots. Also, you could pick up the sequal, Robots and Empire, which is a continuous novel with a more traditional, adventure-type plot. On my to-read list.

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3. Kraken – China Mieville

Mieville's covers are damn enviable.

Mieville’s covers are damn enviable.

Well, goodness me. I can’t believe it’s taken me an entire year to get around to my next Mieville book. Time does fly. Tut tut.

Kraken is a book, unsurprisingly, about a Kraken. What is surprising is that it takes about three-quarters of this hefty volume to actually encounter his glorious squiddishness. The blurb sounded promising. Ordinary bumbling 30-something museum curator, of the slightly-geeky sort, gets sucked into a London underground of spells, really really wacky religious cults, creepy assassins that will swallow you like a snake, and more gods than the Greek and Hindu pantheons put together.

Unfortunately I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped. Mieville’s writing is bizarre and fantastic as usual but his pacing was slow and the plot felt messy. A lot of the time I felt lost in all the allusions, slangs, swearing and subtly hinted references. Some of the cults and spells were wonderfully creative (the Londonmancers reading the entrails of the city) but some of it went over my poor little head.

The denouement was also a bit of a let down. The City and the City was a tighter, more restrained and more rewarding story. Kraken is weird and wonderful but I’m not sure it was worth 500 pages of my time. Perhaps it would have been better as a 300 page book. Nevertheless, Mieville’s writing is still amazing and I’ll keep reading his stuff.

To come in Part Two: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blood: A Southern Fantasy, Wool, The Time Machine…