15 October 2017

Audiobook Review: The X-Files: Stolen Lives



And we continue our Halloween Special, with a new review. 

If you have been following me for some time now, you know that I am a die-hard fan of The X-Files.  

The X-Files is an American sci fi/horror show that was created by Chris Carter, and stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Its original run was from 1993 to 2002. 

The X-Files is a paranormal drama set in a dark and gory universe. The plot centers around FBI agents Dana Scully - the skeptic, and Fox Mulder - the believer, who run the so-called X-Files division, where they work on cases the FBI has deemed unsolvable. Cases that involve ritual sacrifice, homocidal mutants, and, of course, 

                                       

The show's episodes are divided in two categories: there is the main mythology that centers around extra-terrestrials, government conspiracies and illegal experiments on human subjects. And then there's the so-called "monster of the week" episodes - the standalone stories, that are unrelated to the main arc. 

The paranormal and the supernatural elements are excellent, and the show does a fantastic job blending sci fi with character-driven drama. The otherworldly cases allow the characters to ask difficult questions about science, faith, politics, morality, and family. With all the monsters, mutants, and cigarette-smoking government operatives the show is about people.  

The X-Files inspired a whole generation of "dark and gritty" science fiction shows, and set a new standard for television drama. It gave us some of the best episodes of television, and some of the scariest monsters. It gave us a theme song that still sends chills down the viewers' spines, and of course, aliens. 

What started off as a small TV-show soon turned into a massive franchise, spawning two movies, countless books, comic books, and novelizations. Not to mention video games, board games, and a porn parody.

Hitting its prime in the mid-90's, The X-Files was the first TV-show to have a strong, and vocal online fanbase. And legend goes, the writers actually listened to what the fans had to say, and incorporated some of the fan ideas into the show (for better or for worse).  The show was cancelled in 2002, after a nine season run. After the disappointment that was the feature length movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the fans campaigned strongly for a third movie. 

Once again, our voices had been heard, and in 2016, Fox announced that it would revive the original show with a six-episodes event series. It may not have been the movie that we wanted, but The X-Files always works best on the small screen. Despite mixed reviews (I liked it!), the event series - or, season ten, as it's now called - got great ratings, and it was only a matter of time before Fox green-lit a new season of this paranormally paranoid drama. The production for season eleven began this summer, and a few days ago, Fox dropped the official trailer (and it's awesome!). 

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, The X-Files lives on in audio form.   

The X-Files: Cold Cases is an audio drama, produced by Audible Studios. It's based on the graphic novels by Joe Harris. The novels were adapted to audio by Dirk Maggs, and starred most of the original cast. The audio drama was a big success, so the conspiracies live on, as Audible released the sequel to Cold Cases, titled, The X-Files: Stolen Lives. Also based on Harris' graphic novels, and starring most of the original cast. 

The release lined up perfectly with my series of Halloween-related reviews. And now, I give you my review of The X-Files: Stolen Lives

You can also read my review for The X-Files: Cold Cases

Title: The X-Files: Stolen Lives

Author: Joe Harris
Adapted to audio by: Dirk Maggs
Date of publishing: October 3, 2017

Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, William B. Davis, Mitch Pileggi, Tom Bradwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Harwood.


The division has been reopened, but nothing is as it seems in this electrifying follow-up to The X-Files: Cold Cases, starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and a full cast.

"In a world filled with shades of gray, we have to carefully choose which cloak we wear...."

Out of the ashes of the Syndicate, a new, more powerful threat has emerged. Resurrected members of this fallen group - now shadows of their former selves - seemingly bend to the will of someone, or something, with unmatched abilities and an unknown purpose. As those believed to be enemies become unlikely allies and trusted friends turn into terrifying foes, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully become unknowing participants in a deadly game of deception and retribution, the stakes of which amount to the preservation of humankind. Based upon the graphic novels by Joe Harris - with creative direction from series creator Chris Carter -adapted specifically for the audio format by aural auteur Dirk Maggs (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Alien: Out of the Shadows), and directed by William Dufris of AudioComics, Stolen Lives further explores the sonic landscape of Mulder and Scully's paranormal investigations while continuing the epic storyline begun in Cold Cases.

Demonic possession. Flesh-eating swarms. Mind-altering hallucinogenic trips. Listeners experience it all alongside Mulder and Scully in this original dramatization that reunites Duchovny and Anderson once more with fan-favorite characters: Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), Cigarette Smoking Ma
n (William B. Davis), and the Lone Gunmen (Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Harwood). 


"No! Why did it have to end? And why did it have to end so soon? Another frustrating cliffhanger, and a pile of unanswered questions. Not fair.


Oh, well, I'll just read the rest of the Season Eleven comics then."


Stolen Lives consists of five episodes - two "monster of the week", and three mythology episodes. The new conspiracy that was hinted at in Cold Cases, gets further explored in this audio drama. Also, we get a new Big Bad. 

Breaking with tradition, the creators decided to open the new season with a standalone episode, something they shouldn't have done because the standalone episodes in Stolen Lives are not very good. For instance, the season opener centers around the bombing of an abortion clinic. The topic is painfully relevant, and there is real potential to tell an interesting story, and ask some serious questions, but the story doesn't go anywhere, and the issue is never discussed. Understandably, the writers don't want to get into a serious discussion about something this sensitive. So why bring it up in the first place, if you won't follow through?

While the standalone episodes are quite disappointing, it's the mythology that makes Stolen Lives worth listening to. Firstly, we find out what happened to agents Doggett and Reyes, who went missing in Cold Cases. Secondly, the Big Bad of this new mythology finally reveals himself. And it ain't the Cigarette Smoking Man! We're talking about a nearly unstoppable evil genius, with an unlimited amount of resources, and a big chip on his shoulder. This villain is someone we already know from the original series, which makes him so much more interesting.

The mythology episodes are great, and for the first time I think that they could have done without the standalones. Mostly, it's because these particular standalones aren't that good. But also, it's because the main storyline isn't given enough time to develop. It's fast-paced, and suspenseful, but just as its starts gaining momentum, the cliffhanger happens, and the end credits roll. 

What both the new TV-season, and these audiobooks do very well, is ask how Mulder and Scully's work fits in our day and age. This isn't the 1990's anymore. The political climate has changed, the world itself has changed (#waronterror, #wikileaks, #youtubeconspiracytheories). How fitting is it then that at one point in this series, Mulder finds himself at Guantanamo Bay.

The performances are all great. I love hearing the original cast again, especially Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis as Walter Skinner and The Cigarette Smoking Man respectively. The supporting cast deserves a lot of props as well. These voice actors give it their all. They bring life into the story, and they do a great job creating this high-strung, paranoid world around our heroes. This time, I started paying attention to all the sound effects, and the little details, that make the story more lifelike, and make this a more enjoyable experience.

Audiobooks are demanding, because they literally demand your full attention. And audio drama is more demanding still, because there is a lot that remains unsaid, and you have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks, and try and picture the scene in your head. Which is perfect for me, given how I have the attention span of a five-week-old kitten. These audiobooks help me work on my concentration. They challenge me, and I like a challenge.

So, another X-Files audiobook. I'm still not sure how this new storyline fits in the official X-Files canon, if it fits there at all. I like to think that these comics and audiobooks take place in some alternate reality. I like to think that I Want to Believe was so boring, that it literally made the X-Files universe split, creating two different timelines, where in one, Mulder and Scully meet the were-monster, while in the other, Mulder goes to Guantanamo Bay. 

Stolen Lives is not the "non-stop thrill ride" that Cold Cases was. However, it's still a very entertaining, and damn well-executed audio drama. It's suspenseful, and chilling. Plus, there's one episode with all those bugs, and just thinking about it now, makes my skin crawl. Between this Audible original series, and the new TV-seasons, it's not a bad time to be an X-phile.

My Rating

Plot: 4 stars
Story: 4 stars
Writing: 4 stars
Delivery: 5 stars

Average: 4,25 stars 












9 October 2017

The Horror on My Shelf


It's Halloween the whole month of October here on my blog. I'm kicking off this week with a list. I rummaged my shelves to find all the horror and horror-related titles I own, and then, I took pictures, Bookstagram style. Speaking of which you can follow me on Instagram on @dinaratengri. 

Now, to the books!




Urban horror (in Swedish)




Creepypasta: Spökhistorier från Internet: by Jack Werner is a collection of the most famous creepypastas with commentaries by the author. You can read my review to find out more. 

 Udda Verklighet is the debut novel by author Nene Ormes. I don't know anything about it other than it's set in my hometown, Malmö.  


Mad Scientists



Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson? Not many people know that. It's a great book, and I don't think all those movies do it justice.  

Frankenstein by Marry Shelley is a book I read many years ago, and it's time for a revisit. 


Spooky Classics




Complete Ghost Stories by Charles Dickens is something one might enjoy on a cold October night. 

Skräckens Dal (Valley of Fear) by Arthur Conan-Doyle - I don't remember what it's about, but I'm sure it's great.  

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving is one odd short story collection. You can read my review of the titular story on my Goodreads page.


Ray Bradbury




These are two of my favourite books from my favourite author ever. Halloween is not Halloween without good old Mr. Bradbury. 


Stephen King


The Shining - I love this book so much I lost count of how many times I read it.

Väckelse (Revival) - haven't read this one yet. It's on my TBR, I promise!

The Shining - the Swedish version.


 I guess that was all of them.  


5 October 2017

Audiobook Review: Stephen King's "It"



Here at Reading My Way Through Life we love Halloween. Well, I love Halloween. And I always want to do something special for Halloween. Last year, it was Halloween Week  where I was reviewing books and TV shows for a whole week. This year, I'm dedicating the whole month of October to this spooky pseudo-holiday.

To start off, I'm reviewing Stephen King's It, the audio version. I started listening to this audiobook way back in July, and I had no idea I would be reviewing It for Halloween. It was just a lucky coincidence.

So, let's get to the book that took me a good three months to get through.




Title: It
Author: Stephen King
Year of publishing: 1986
Audiobook adaptation published  in 2010 by Penguin Audiobooks.
Narrated by: Steven Weber

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they were grown-up men and women who had gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But none of them could withstand the force that drew them back to Derry, Maine to face the nightmare without an end, and the evil without a name. What was it? Read It and find out...if you dare!
44 hrs and 57 mins


That's right, ladies and gentleguys, this book is forty five hours long. And I listened to every hour of this small town horror epic. It took me three months to get through this book, but not because I wasn't enjoying it. It's just so freaking long. 


When you have a book that is a good quarter of a week long, narration is everything


Actor Steven Weber is narrating this soap opera of a horror book, and he does a phenomenal job. I knew he was a good actor, ever since The Shining. In this case, he doesn't just narrate, he acts. The list of characters in It reaches Homerian proportions, and they all have distinct and colourful personalities, and Weber plays them all. I even got eerie Jack Torrance vibes from some of his less sympathetic characters.   


I imagine that narrating a forty five hours long book with so many diverse characters, and with so much tension must have been a daunting task, and I applaud the man's level of commitment. 

Yes, I could easily say that the narration made this book for me.


Oh, and the story isn't half bad either. 


I think most of you already know what It is about, even if you haven't read the book. In short, It is about Derry, a small town in Maine, USA, and the demon clown that goes by the name Pennywise that wakes up every twenty seven years to terrorise the town, and prey on small children.


Pennywise is considered one of the most iconic book/movie monsters (especially, if you want to believe Instagram). Pennywise certainly deserves to be up there with the other A-list villains. He's a terrifying monster who can take on any shape he wants, and he can possess weak-minded and violent individuals. He feeds on the fears and hate of everyone in Derry. He is the sum of all the townspeople's sins, and crimes. Or as one of the characters put it, Derry is It. 

Pennywise's only weakness is a group of prepubescent social outcasts who call themselves the Losers. These vulnerable but resilient children band together to defeat the clown, or die trying. 


And now we have a plot. 

But the story is not just about Pennywise, and the many creative ways he can kill you. It's about the people. It's about the Losers club, and their friendship. It's about Derry, and its very human, and very flawed inhabitants. Oddly enough, if you eliminate the clown and the supernatural, you still end up with a scary, and suspenseful story that is grounded in reality. Because to me, it's not Pennywise who is the most interesting, and terrifying of the villains. Don't get me wrong, Pennywise is awesome (in a horrible, nightmare-inducing kind of way), but it's the human villains that I find the most interesting, mostly because all the horrible things that they do (like beating their children, and killing innocent animals) are all the things we see people do in real life. 

Every character has a rich backstory, and King makes sure that we learn all of their stories. There are multiple POV's, and flashbacks, and sometimes it gets too much, and the story tends to get unfocused at times. Nevertheless, this is also what I like about this book the most - the characters, and their stories. All of the Losers are wonderful characters that will grow on you because they're so loyal, and resilient. King is one of the few authors that I know who knows how to write children, especially children that have to deal with a lot of crap, natural and supernatural. 


As someone who has studied psychology, and social work, I'm very fascinated with the way these children cope with violence, and tragedy. Why don't they become violent and cynical in the end? What is it that makes them resilient?

It has believable, relateable characters, and a strong story. But is it scary? The thing is, I don't scare easily, So I didn't find It very scary. But, boy is it suspenseful! It's full of tension, and heart stopping moments. The violence is brutal, and the gore is very colourful. As a rule, I don't like gore, and gratuitous violence, but the violence in books like It isn't gratuitous. Here, the violence has a purpose. Violence is a part of Derry. It's a part of the Losers' reality, bloated corpses and all.   


So this is It. A tragic and suspenseful story about small children fighting evil. It's a great book that needs to be read more than once. 

I finished the book just in time to see the newest movie adaptations (which is getting great reviews). 


My rating

Plot: 4 stars

Story: 4 stars
Characters: 5 stars 
Language: 5 stars
Narration: 5 stars 


Average: 5 stars 

---
This was the first part of my Halloween Special. Stay tuned for more reviews ;)

27 September 2017

Book Review: Among Others

Title: Among Others
Author: Jo Walton
Published in 2011 by Tor Books

Source: Malmö city library 


Startling, unusual, and yet irresistibly readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled--and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination in the manner of novels like Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, this is potentially a breakout book for an author whose genius has already been hailed by peers like Kelly Link, Sarah Weinman, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
 


Mori is a fifteen-year-old girl who, together with her twin sister talks to fairies, and practices magic. When her sister is killed in an accident caused by her insane mother, Mori runs away, and moves in with her estranged father, who immediately ships her off to a boarding school. There, she becomes ostracized, and spends most of her free time in the school library reading sci fi, and writing in her journal. 

By reading her journal, we get to dive deep into this traumatized but resilient girl's mind, and watch her deal with depression, loneliness, and the threat of dark magic.  

Among Others is a fantasy that falls into the magical realism territory. The magic element is present and it's strong but it's secondary to the story and the character development. There's also an element of uncertainty, as for the most part you don't know if the magic is real or if Mori is making it all up as a coping strategy to deal with her grief, and social isolation. This uncertainty is frustrating at times, but it's also clever because you can see it either way. Magic doesn't play a big part in the story itself but it plays an important part in Mori's life, and it keeps affecting her actions. 

The thing with Among Others is that there isn't any plot per se. What this book does have is a story. It's a story of a young girl who is trying to deal with her loss, overcome her crippling injury, and survive in the merciless jungle that is an all-girls boarding school.  

Because we get to read Mori's own journal we get to follow her whole process from her darkest place to a place where she finally starts feeling hopeful about the future. She has a fantastic arc from beginning to the end, and this development is reflected in her writing. The first third or so of her journal is kind of messy and confusing, but her writing gets clearer and more defined towards the end. 

This is a very smart and nuanced coming-of-age story, and Mori is a very relatable character. I may not be a witch or have a twin sister, but I too once went to a school where nobody would speak to me, and the social stress she's experiencing is something that all of us can relate to. Plus, I too love sci fi. 

Speaking of which, there is a lot of sci fi in this story. Mori loves sci fi literature. At first, sci fi is her refuge from the world, but later, it becomes a way for her to connect with other people. I love that but I don't know if you can fully enjoy this book if you're not a fan of sci fi. While reading it, I had a feeling that his book was written for sci fi fans as the target audience. And I was not wrong, as Walton herself calls this book a "love letter to science fiction fandom".

I have to say, it's nice having a whole book dedicated to a fandom that you are a part of. But it was a lucky coincidence that I had finished Cat's Cradle right before starting this book, because Cat's Cradle plays a big part in Mori's journey. Specifically, the concept of karass.  

In Cat's Cradle, a karass is a group of people with whom you share a special bond, even if it seems like you don't have anything in common with them. And throughout most of the story, Mori is searching for her own karass

Among Others reminds me of another book that I reviewed a couple of years ago. Rarity from the Hollow by Robert Eggleton is a science fiction story about Lacy Dawn, a girl who is dealing with an abusive father, and a neglectful mother in a poverty-stricken town. And where Mori has her magic and fairies to help her cope with the harsh reality, Lacy Dawn has her magical forest and her alien boyfriend. Both girls are told by their otherworldly friends that they serve a higher purpose in the world, and both girls must eventually find an inner strength to overcome adversity, with or without magic. There is this element of uncertainty is both stories, but where in RFTH the aliens and magic turn out to be real, when it comes to Among Others, I'm still not sure.

Another thing that the two books have in common is the issue of incest and sexual abuse. But where RFTH does a good job really dealing with this issue, Among Others has one weird scene that comes out of nowhere. Nothing happens (that much needs to be said), but this "incident" isn't even acknowledged or mentioned anywhere else in the book. I don't understand the purpose of this scene. 

This one weird and confusing detail aside, I really like Among Others


I like the idea of magic and science fiction serving as a coping mechanism for a protagonist, especially a younger protagonist. Among Others does it very well. It's a smart and touching story that does a good job balancing fantasy with realism. Oh, and sci fi is the best genre ever, and anyone who disagrees with me just hasn't found a sci fi book that's right for them. 


My rating
Plot: 3 stars
Story: 5 stars
Characters: 4 stars
Language: 4 stars 

Average: 4 stars 


Ps. Check out this article from The Guardian, where Walton talks about Among Others winning the British Fantasy Award in 2012. 


20 September 2017

An Exclusive FREEBIE and GIVEAWAY: Silent Fear by Lance and James Morcan

"When you can't hear... death comes suddenly."


So goes the tagline for the new suspense novel, Silent Fear by Lance Morcan and James Morcan - a father and son author team from New Zealand. Now all my awesome readers have a chance to get a free advanced readers copy of Silent Fear, and an opportunity to win a physical copy! 




Silent Fear is dedicated to the many millions of deaf people around the world. This novel was inspired by the murders of deaf students at Gallaudet University, one of the world’s most prestigious learning institutions for the deaf, between 1980 and the early 2000’s. The investigating authorities didn’t know if the killings were ‘inside jobs’ and for a time nearly everyone connected to Gallaudet was under suspicion. 


Synopsis


Scotland Yard detective Valerie Crowther is assigned to investigate the murder of a student at a university for the Deaf in London, England. The murder investigation coincides with a deadly flu virus outbreak, resulting in the university being quarantined from the outside world. 

When more Deaf students are murdered, it becomes clear there is a serial killer operating within the sealed-off university. A chilling cat-and-mouse game evolves as the unknown killer targets Valerie and the virus claims more lives. 

A stunning, claustrophobic, "whodunit" murder mystery with shades of horror, sci-fi and romance, Silent Fear (A novel inspired by true crimes) is the eighth novel by the father-and-son writing team Lance & James Morcan. Included is a commentary by Deaf filmmaker Brent Macpherson on the unique aspects of Deaf culture the story covers. Together, the Morcans and Macpherson are currently developing a feature film adaptation of Silent Fear



Detective Valerie Crowther - concept art

The unique premise, and the early reviews make me very excited to read this novel myself.  

Silent Fear will be available on October 31, but you can pre-order it right now on Amazon: 


https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075HRYTVC/


Buzz about Silent Fear


In the meantime, you can read the early reviews of Silent Fear on Goodreads: 



https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35626239-silent-fear

"What a great story! I didn't figure out who the killer was until the last chapter, and it still had a surprising twist! I had to read the book in one sitting!" - Beth. Goodreads reviewer 

"Very suspenseful from beginning to end. The characters are very well written. The story moves along very nicely. I've recommended this book to many of my friends already... it's a MUST-READ" 
-Troy, Goodreads reviewer  

You can also join the discussion group for Silent Fear on Goodreads: 




The best part is that you can sign up right now to get a FREE advanced readers copy of Silent Fear!  It's a gift to all of us book lovers from the authors of the novel. There's no catch. No string attached. Just submit your name and your e-mail address to receive your very own ARC of Silent Fear!  

NOTE that this book is COPYRIGHT protected, and cannot be shared. It's for private use only!




About the authors


Lance

New Zealand novelist, screenwriter and film producer Lance Morcan is a prolific writer with various published books and released movies to his credit. His novels include the international thriller series THE ORPHAN TRILOGY (The Ninth Orphan / The Orphan Factory / The Orphan Uprising) and the historical adventure series THE WORLD DUOLOGY (World Odyssey / Fiji: A Novel). All five novels were co-written with his son James Morcan and published by Sterling Gate Books. The Morcans' first non-fiction title, THE ORPHAN CONSPIRACIES, was published recently. Their production company, Morcan Motion Pictures, is developing The Ninth Orphan and Fiji into feature films. 


A former journalist and newspaper editor, Lance divides his time these days between novel writing, film producing and screenwriting. Numerous screenplays he has written are in active development as movies and as a producer his feature films have screened at cinemas in Australia, Italy and Cannes.

Lance is currently perfecting his solo-written 'New Zealand' - an epic adventure novel covering 500 years of South Pacific and Polynesian history. Including research, writing (and life's distractions!), this novel has been over a decade in the making.


James


New Zealand-born actor/writer/producer James Morcan resides in Sydney, Australia. His books include
the international thriller series THE ORPHAN TRILOGY (The Ninth Orphan / The Orphan Factory / The Orphan Uprising) and the historical adventure series THE WORLD DUOLOGY (World Odyssey / Fiji: A Novel) and the controversial non-fiction UNDERGROUND KNOWLEDGE SERIES (Genius Intelligence / Antigravity Propulsion etc). These books were all co-written with his father Lance Morcan and published by Sterling Gate Books. Their production company, Morcan Motion Pictures, is developing The Ninth Orphan and Fiji into feature films.

James' most recent acting performance was a leading role in the post-Apocalyptic feature film 'After Armageddon' which he also wrote. The dystopian adventure film was shot in rural Australia in early 2015 and Morcan co-starred with Berynn Schwerdt ('Wyrmwood').


Other recent leading roles include the OZ-Bollywood productions 'My Cornerstone' and 'Love You Krishna'. Morcan also wrote the screenplays for both features which were filmed in Sydney and Mumbai and incorporated English and Hindi languages.


Additional productions he has performed in include a BBC TV series, several indie features and a live stadium production of Ben Hur headlined by Academy Award winner Russell Crowe. To date, his feature films have screened at cinemas in New Zealand, India, Australia, Italy and Cannes.



The exclusive giveaway


You think the ARC freebie is cool? Well, you can also win your very own physical copy of Silent Fear by filling out the form below. You contact info is private, and the winner will be chosen at random. 




Entry-Form


So enter now for a chance to win a copy of this exciting new thriller!




13 September 2017

Rainy TBR: Autumn Reading

Autumn is officially here. Wet, and grey, and wonderful. Autumn is the season of bad colds. It's the season of diving headfirst into a new school semester. And, most importantly, it's the season of books.

For me, autumn is the best reading season. It has the perfect weather conditions for staying inside, with a good book, and hot cup of coffee/tee/coco. The thing about this season, is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing your book. You can fully immerse yourself into the dark, and read a good old Stephen King horror. Or you can dream yourself away to a warmer and sunnier place like, say, Ray Bradbury's Green Town, or Mars.

In my anticipation for this reading season, I've been outlining my autumn TBR, and this is what I have come up with. Some of these books have followed me from the summer TBR. There are some re-reads, too. Nothing  is, of course, written in stone. The TBR is more of a guideline, than a fixed to-do list.





Currently reading

1. Among Others 

by Jo Walton 



2. It

by Stephen King 





NetGalley requests 

3. Glenn Miller Declassified

by Dennis M. Spragg




4. Charmed: A Thousand Deaths

by Erica Schultz 



Nanowrimo 2017

5. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft 

by Stephen King 




6. Zen in the Art of Writing

by Ray Bradbury




For fun 

7. Frankenstein

by Mary Shelley



8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

by Philip K. Dick




9. "Deny All Knowledge": Reading The X-Files

by David Lavery and Angela Hague (editors)



10. Leviathan Wakes

by James A. Corey 



11. Two Serpents Rise 

by Max Gladstone


In other news, I passed the re-exams (more relieved than happy), and now I'm doing something completely different, like studying dental anatomy, and making tooth models out of wax (it sounds more fun than it is). 

Nanowrimo is coming soon. I still haven't decided what project I'm going to tackle this year, Perhaps, I'm going to do something different altogether, and finish all my short stories. Or, maybe, I'll write a worldbuilding bible for a my new YA fantasy project.   

6 September 2017

Book Review: Cat's Cradle

Title: Cats' Cradle
Author: Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
First published in 1963 by

I read the SF Masterworks edition by Orion Group Publishing.

Source: Malmö City Library


"Told with deadpan humour & bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut's cult tale of global destruction preys on our deepest fears of witnessing Armageddon &, worse still, surviving it ...

Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding 'fathers' of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to the world. For he's the inventor of 'ice-nine', a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. The search for its whereabouts leads to Hoenikker's three eccentric children, to a crazed dictator in the Caribbean, to madness. Felix Hoenikker's Death Wish comes true when his last, fatal gift to humankind brings about the end, that for all of us, is nigh..." 




"
Don't be a fool! Close this book at once! It is nothing but foma!"

Cat's Cradle is a classic, and after hearing so much about it, I was expecting something in line with Nineteen Eighty Four, Fahrenheit 451, or The Man in the High Castle. You know, a grim look at a dystopian/apocalyptic world. Cat's Cradle is none of those things. It's apocalyptic alright, but not in the way I expected it to be.

In Cat's Cradle we follow a man named Jonah, who wants to write a book about what important Americans were doing on the day that Hiroshima was bombed. One of those important Americans is Dr. Felix Hoenikker, aka. one of the fathers of the atomic bomb.

Jonah's research eventually takes him to the impoverished republic of San Lorenzo, ruled by an ailing dictator, and where everybody practises Bokononism, a pseudo-religion named after its founder. 

It's on San Lorenzo that things start spinning out of control, and Jonah becomes less concerned with his writing project and more concerned with Ice-9 - a deadly substance created by Hoenikker, as well as Bokononism, and the leadership of San Lorenzo.

In short, Cat's Cradle is satire. Here, Vonnegut rips at religion, science, politics, and at mankind itself. The characters here are mostly caricatures. Parodies of... well, real life people.

The book is cynical, and it basically claims that life is meaningless. That nothing matters. That there is no grand scheme, no purpose to us being here. Things just happen. Take the main hero, Jonah, who starts out with a clear goal but is instead swept up in the events that lie outside of his control, and that eventually lead to him writing this story instead. Things happen to him, and he just reacts to them.

Then there's Bokononism, the bogus religion that Bokonon made up as an ironic joke. Or, foma, as he calls it, which means a "harmless untruth". This foma is nonetheless adapted by the entire population of San Lorenzo, and ultimately, by Jonah himself. But even though Bokonon explicitly states hat he just trolled everyone with his made-up religion, the people of San Lorenzo take it seriously, and practise it even under the threat of death. Bokonon's so-called teachings, which he commemorates in The Books of Bokonon, are one of the best parts of the book. 

But the most ironic thing about this pseudo-religion is that, when shit hits the fan, and the people of San Lorenzo are in dire need of comfort, and guidance, Bokononism offers them neither. Ultimately, The Books of Bokonon don't have anything of importance to say about anything, and this very elaborate prank has no pay-off. Which is, kind of, the point.

I posted a link to the complete Books of Bokonon at the end of this review, but I want to post a few verses here, just to give you a taste.

Upon discovering Bokononism, Jonah becomes convinced that some of the people he meets on his journey belong to his karass:

"If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons that person may be a member of your karass."

And no karass is complete without a shared purpose, the so-called wampeter:

"No karass is without a wampeter, just as no wheel is without a hub."

And then there's the granfallon, which can be described the "false karass". For instance, in the story, Jonah, who is originally from Indiana, meets another Hosier couple. These people immediately assume that just because they all come from the same state, they share a special bond, and must be loyal to each other. That is the perfect example of a granfalloon.    

Or,

"If you wish to study a granfalloon,
Just remove the skin of a toy balloon."

Cat's Cradle goes further into committing to its claim about the randomness and absurdity of life by not having a coherent plot structure. Instead, it consists of separate, short vignettes. There is the main story with Jonah, San Lorenzo, and the Ice-9, but some of these vignettes don't have any direct ties to the main story, and are instead just random anecdotes about Felix Hoenikker, Bokonon, and the other characters. And the most amazing thing is that it all comes together almost seamlessly. At the very least, these anecdotes help us understand the characters, and the crazy hyper-reality that they inhabit. For instance, did I need to know that Dr. Hoenikker kept potted plants in his car? No, but that little factoid contributes so much to understanding what kind of man Dr. Hoenikker was, and why he developed Ice-9 in the first place that I'm glad it's there.

Let's talk about Dr. Hoenikker, as he is the engine that drives the story. In an interview (link below), Vonnegut said that he was once a firm believer in the technological and scientific progress but that he became very disillusioned with science, and with scientists in particular when Hiroshima was bombed.

And what Vonnegut wanted with Cat's Cradle was to write about the apathetic scientists who didn't care how they their research was being used. In fact, Dr. Hoenikker was based on a real scientist that Vonnegut had once worked with.

Hoenikker himself isn't portrayed as the "mad scientist", but as a man who is completely apathetic to anything that doesn't directly concern his research. Even his own family exists in the background, and in those rare instances when he does interact with his children, he ends up frightening them with his eccentric behaviour.

"Sometimes I wonder if he wasn't born dead. I never met a man who was less interested in the living. Sometimes I think that's the trouble with the world: too many people in high places who are stone-cold dead." 


And this is why the "absent-minded, apathetic scientist" is a much more interesting character than the classic frizzle-haired, bug-eyed "mad scientist" (I'm not sure if the latter was ever interesting). Hoenikker is apathetic to the world around him, but he isn't evil. What makes him dangerous is not that he's ambitious, or that he's only "doing science for the sake of science", not caring if his inventions will fall into the wrong hands. He's dangerous because he lacks empathy. Because he's so oblivious to the people around him, he doesn't stop to think that his work can potentially hurt billions of people. Hence, the atom bomb and the much more terrifying Ice-9.


So, nothing matters. Life is meaningless, and the Universe is indifferent to the plight of the human race. Irresponsible science leads to disastrous consequences, and religion offers no answers. In other words: life's a bitch, and then you die. 

When you put it like that, Cat's Cradle seems like a real downer of a book. And maybe there is some truth to that. This isn't an optimistic book. And yet, this is one of the funniest books I have ever read, ever. I was laughing hard almost the whole time I was reading it. And that doesn't happen often. 

Cat's Cradle's cynicism is hard to miss, and I can't say that this book has a heart. In fact, I don't think that any book where the cat and the dog get killed can have a heart, even if the deaths are only mentioned. But it definitely has the humour. This humour many not be for everybody. The thing with Cat's Cradle is that you either buy Vonnegut's absurdity or you don't. I personally like the absurd humour, and the non-traditional storytelling, so Cat's Cradle was an easy sell to me. 

And yet, with all the jokes, and all the goofiness, you can still read Vonnegut's disappointment between the lines. Especially towards the end, when he drops all the pretences, and all the forced optimism (if there was any to begin with), and just gives up on the human race. And even though for the most part, I don't agree with his ideas in this book, I certainly understand where he's coming from.

Well, this was my review of Cat's Cradle. It's a book that really appeals to my cynical, darker side, and it's definitely one of those books that demands at least one re-read. It's funny how such a short book can have so many layers, and hidden messages to be discovered.  

My rating

Plot: 5 stars
Story: 5 stars
Characters: 4 stars
Language: 5 stars 

Average: 4,75 stars

Minus 1 star for killing both the cat and the dog.

Final rating: 3.75 stars. 


Here are the links that I promised:

The Kurt Vonnegut Interview


In other news, I'm still listening to Stephen King's It, because I really want to see the movie. Oh, and because the book is very interesting. So now, I bid you adieu because, as Bokonon says, 

"It's never a mistake to say goodbye."