Archive for August, 2008

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Stardust

August 24, 2008

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Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Greetings all.

I found my way to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ via a circuitous route. My wife read a review of ‘Good Omens’ – which Gaiman wrote in collaboration with Terry Pratchett – it sounded interesting, so I grabbed a copy, read it and liked it.
Not too long after that we put the film adaptation of ‘Stardust’ on the Netflix queue. We both like it a lot, so I promised myself that the next time there was an opening in the reading list I’d pick up a copy of the book.
I took a trip to ye olde book barn and headed over to the ‘sci-fi/fantasy’ aisle to look for the Neil Gaiman section. Gaiman has been very prolific, writing novels, graphic novels (the acclaimed ‘Sandman’ series) and even childrens books. When I saw Gaiman’s name on the shelf I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were still stocking copies of the movie tie-in paperback of ‘Stardust’. It was sitting directly adjacent to the “quality paperback” version of the book, which was almost twice as expensive as the corny looking book with the pictures of Robert DeNiro and Michele Pfeiffer on the cover.
Naturally, I grabbed the cheap copy.
I’m always a little cautious when it comes to reading a book when I’ve already seen a film adaptation. Though most of these films manage to corrupt the books horribly, occasionally you run across one (like the novel ‘Last Orders’) where the film was a scrupulously faithful adaptation and the book hold no surprises whatsoever.
Happily this was not the case with ‘Stardust’. The film was a substantial departure from the book, with some characters/events amplified (substantially), others cut from whole cloth and others diminished.
The novel ‘Stardust’ contained a lot more story than the film (a good thing) and in the end I found that I had enjoyed the book a lot as well as having a newfound respect for the film adaptation, in which the spirit of the book was kept intact and deviations from the novel didn’t dishonor the original material.
‘Stardust’ was a quick read, and managed to be a ‘fantasy’ novel that was almost entirely devoid of the kind of clichés that usually cause me to roll my eyes.
Recommended.
Now reading – non-pleasure reading…

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Escapement / Watchmen

August 15, 2008

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Escapement By Jay Lake

Greetings all.
It’s been a while since I posted, but this is another one of those whipped through one book dove right into the next (and then again into another) things.
When I posted my review of ‘Mainspring’ I had already begun reading its sequel ‘Escapement’.
Though at the point that I wrote that post it seemed that Jay Lake had conquered some of the pacing problems from ‘Mainspring’, once I completed the second book it was obvious that instead of going away, the problems had merely come into sharper focus.
‘Escapement’ continues the story of the alternate, clock driven, orrery-esque earth. Though the hero of the first book is present only in a few peripheral mentions, two of the three main characters in ‘Escapement’ are carried over from ‘Mainspring’.
The main problem with these books is ironically also their greatest asset, that being the world that Lake has created. This alternate universe and the warring religio-philosophical factions that attempt to control it are a truly amazing invention.
Perhaps too amazing.
Lake spends a tremendous time on exposition/explanation, and the detail is wonderful, but I finished ‘Escapement’ wishing he’d spent less time on minutae and more time actually plotting the book.
My main issue with ‘Mainspring’ – that the story moved in fits and starts, with long periods of slow unwinding (no pun intended) followed by inorganic jumps in the story and changes in tone – was continued in ‘Escapement’. I found myself with less than 50 pages left wondering when and how the story was going to be resolved, and arrived at the end unsure that it had. Though there was an “ending” of sorts, the book concluded as if I had just purchased not a full novel, but the first half of one.
I’m not a huge consumer of series, but one that I’ve been reading for the last few years, and enjoying a great deal is the Temeraire books by Naomi Novik. Though the books cover a finite period, and the adventures of the dragon and its master continued from book to book, these stories (and the word story is crucial) have a beginning, middle and, here’s the catch, and ENDING. Each book, though connected to the ones before and after, has it’s own distinct plot.
‘Escapement’ has a number of loose ends, one of them unforgivably huge. The ending of the book points directly to a sequel, but ends not like a self-contained novel, but more like the first half of a larger book.
I’m not exactly a prodigious consumer of fantasy literature, so maybe this is par for the course (I doubt it), but I’m not sure I’m going to want to read the next book in the series.

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Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

On a more positive note, I finally got with the program and grabbed a copy of ‘Watchmen’ by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (20 years late…I know). Though I knew about the series (now collected into a single volume), my lack of interest in superhero comics kept me away. My interest was piqued by a recent review (and an endorsement by a friend), so I grabbed a copy at ye olde book barn, and I’m glad I did.
I know that the whole “turning comics clichés on their head” thing is pretty much a cliché itself, but Moore and Gibbons were  – in 1987  – at the vanguard of this movement.
‘Watchmen’ is, like the best of the genre truly a graphic novel (as opposed to a swollen comic book). The characters are complex (as is the plot), and the story is told in a manner that still seems innovative. There are sequences in ‘Watchmen’ that are absolute masterworks of the combination of text and visual storytelling.
While I can’t wait to see the movie, I wonder of there’s any way to bring the story to the screen without doing it a great injustice.
A good friend of mine – a huge comics fan with a serious grip on the history of the genre – tells me that Moore and Gibbons have steadfastly refused to expand upon ‘Watchmen’ with spin-offs, prequels or sequels. This is both cool – in that they feel the story is strong enough to stand on its own without elaboration (and it is) – and a huge drag because several of the characters, especially Dr, Manhattan are ripe for expansion.
Either way, if you’ve been avoiding graphic novels because you thought them lacking in depth, go out and get yourself a copy of ‘Watchmen’.

Now reading – Stardust by Neil Gaiman

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Mainspring

August 7, 2008

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Mainspring by Jay Lake

Greetings all.

The book I bring you today is yet another tome that I was turned on to by a post over at BoingBoing.
While I wouldn’t call myself an aficionado of steampunk/clockpunk (and PLEASE spare me a corrective post delineating the subtle but important differences between the two), but I do like what I’ve read and seen.
Thus, when I read about Jay Lake’s ‘Mainspring’ I filed it away for future reference.
A few weeks later the wife and I happened to make an unscheduled visit to the local Barnes and Noble (to avail ourselves of the restrooms, if you must know) and, in the kind of coincidence that seers and conspiracy theorists lay awake at night pondering, there, next to the bathroom door, was the sci fi/fantasy section of the store.
I was almost done with whatever it was I was reading at the time, so I figured I take advantage of the timing and see if ‘Mainspring’ were available. At first all I could find was Lake’s current novel (‘Escapement’, which I’m reading now), but then I decided to check out the ‘new in paperback’ shelf, and there it was.
The coolest (and simultaneously the most difficult) thing about ‘Mainspring’ is navigating the alternative universe Lake has created for his characters. Though the time period is the beginning of the 20th century, and the locale New Haven, Connecticut, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The vast majority of the western world (including all of North America) is dominated by the British Empire, the rest ruled by the Chinese.
The equator of the earth is marked by a huge wall, the top of which serves as the seat for the gears on which the world turns. Everything south of the equator is pretty much terra incognita and the cause for much speculation, as well as the target for possible empire building by both of the major powers.
The hero of the book, a clockmaker’s apprentice named Hethor Jacques is sent on a quest by the angel Gabriel (the world in ‘Mainspring’ turns on a fanciful reinterpretation of Christian dogma, which in itself is cause for all kinds of conflict between warring forces).
Lake does a fairly good job of establishing, and elaborating upon his remarkable framing device. There are points in the book where the tone of the book ‘stutters’ a little bit, but he has a lot to establish here, so a little bit of unevenness is certainly better than another three-hundred pages of exposition. I especially like Lake’s ability to maintain suspense using a kind of motivational ambiguity about many of the characters.
I won’t spoil anything, but I’m about halfway into ‘Escapement’ and I’ll say that things have evened out considerably (especially since two of the three major characters in ‘Escapement’ were introduced in ‘Mainspring’).
Recommended.
Now reading – Escapement by Jay Lake.