Sunday, September 27, 2015

REVIEW: THE MARTIAN

INTRODUCTION
Science Fiction is a genre full of possibilities. It can be as wild or as grounded as an author wants their work to be. You can even see traces of it in sub-genres like Dystopic YA books and Super Hero fiction. There's just a lot of variety to enjoy as a SciFi fan and it's books like Andy Weir's THE MARTIAN that really drive that point home.

HOW I CAME UPON IT
I'd heard about THE MARTIAN from a number of sources on Goodreads and BookTube (YouTube). Ultimately, I picked it up for the BookTubeSFF readalong which ran during August. I wound up finishing it a little later than I wanted to so I am just now getting around to the review. The book itself has a really interesting story in that it was first indie published online, chapter by chapter, then was put up as a cheap Kindle book and recently got picked up by a publisher AND there is now a movie soon to be released based on it starring Matt Damon. Needless to say I was very excited to dive into this one.

HOW I RATED IT

4/5 It's not a perfect book, nor is it one I'd count among my absolute favorites, but it offers such a uniquely entertaining experience, that it's hard not to recommend it. From the harsh setting to the charming characters, there's just an awful lot to love here.

CHARACTERS
Perhaps the strongest selling point on this entire novel is it's qurikily irreverent, yet fiercely intelligent main protagonist, Mark Watney.  Right from the opening line of the novel, I knew I'd love Mark. He finds himself in a dire situation where he is separated from the rest of his crew during a NASA sponsored mission to Mars and they are forced to take off without him or else risk their own ability to leave the planet. We get to see this tragic incident play out through several different perspectives over the course of the novel which does help illustrate just how freakish of an accident this really was. Right away, Mark realizes he doesn't have time to dwell on that moment or even to sulk at the severity of his circumstances. He needs to find a way to let NASA know he's still alive and then he must contrive a means to survive long enough for an extraction. He's left with the HAB (a sort of inflatable command center), two rovers, and what's left of the departure shuttle's parts. He's only stocked with enough food to last a little while and he's forced to survive all of this without the company of any other human beings.

Though his situation is grim, Mark is anything but. He's chirpy and weird in a way that feels quite admirable considering what he's up against. He's the sort of person that finds humor in situations where few others would even conceive of cracking a joke to themselves. He's also an engineer/botanist so his skillet is certainly among the most interesting of science fiction heroes. Even during points where the book slows down a little, it was Mark's humor and infallible scientific wit that kept me engaged.

Although Mark spends his time on Mars in solitude, we as readers actually get to follow members of his crew aboard their shuttle as well as people over at NASA who have to face the consequences of a man being left behind on Mars. These may not be the most entertaining sequences in the novel, but it was definitely nice to have the perspective shift from Mark's inner thoughts to a third person perspective that focused on the people affected by Mark's survival. Of these side characters, I preferred Mark's crew to the folks over in NASA. The crew just felt a bit more varied and were easier to relate to. There are a couple of standouts with the NASA team, but their personalities are far less distinct and it was mostly just interesting to see how Mark's struggle had impacts back on Earth.

WORLD/SETTING
As the title indicates, this story takes place on the red planet. Though like I said above, certain sequences also bring readers to Earth and to the crew's space shuttle. In spite of how barren it is, Mars takes on quite a life to it since the harsh climate appears to be hellbent on killing Mark in one way or another. It is also a bit more interesting in this book than it would be in real life because this is not NASA's first mission to Mars. The process of how landing zones are set up is quite interesting and the other research bases do play an important part in Mark's survival.

The cramped space shuttle presents a far more serene atmosphere but it soon becomes heavier once the crew realize that their comrade is alive. This location serves as an interesting side locale in between sequences of Mark's struggle against Mars. The tech on this ship is pretty cool, but it's nothing so out there that it felt out of place with the more grounded resources that Mark had to work with on Mars. To be clear, there's certainly some made-up technology to be found in both places, but nothing seemed so far fetched that NASA could never come up with something like it.

Rounding out the setting is the NASA command center on earth. While it's mostly just a series of governmental offices and corporate meeting rooms, the constant hustle and bustle that goes on here kept it a lively point of action. As things heat up for Mark on Mars, the chaos back on Earth accelerates as well and it was very cool to jump back and forth between these two simultaneous conflicts.

PLOT/TONE
As I've already stated, this story is as funny as it is gripping. Weir has offered us a survival story unlike any other and he truly makes the most out of it. Unfortunately, while the characters and settings are all fantastic, I found the overall plot and tone of this piece to be a bit of a mixed bag. This largely stems from how science-heavy the book is. While I do enjoy science and thought that the technical aspects of the narrative were described in an accessible  way, it also felt like a bit much. First and foremost, this is a novel about a man's survival against the most extreme of odds. While explaining each and every scientific trick that Mark employs is certainly interesting and does go a long way to fleshing out his character, I also felt that it distracted from the main story-line a bit. Parts that should have been faster paced were slowed down by lengthy explanations of how or why something happened and then the subsequent actions toward establishing a resolution were equally bogged down by a lot of text that wasn't entirely necessary toward actually telling the story. The science parts do feel quite well thought out and theoretically legitimate so it's hard to knock Weir for the contents at their face value. Readers should just be aware that having all this wonderfully written science (fiction) comes at the price of a somewhat slower pacing and less intense action.

CONCLUSION
Because each moment and every piece of technology is so thoroughly explained, THE MARTIAN is a book that literally anyone can enjoy regardless of their prior experience with the science fiction genre. It's also great fun to read a piece that is so grounded in reality. It's not "gritty" science fiction, but it does feel entirely plausible and starkly human. Even though there are parts where Weir seems a little too concerned with proving that all of this actually could happen, the story is still very strong thanks to a compelling supporting cast, an all-star main character, and a setting which I will likely not forget any time soon. If you haven't read this yet, then you really should find out what you've been missing out on.

THE MARTIAN can be found in basically every edition your little bookworm heart could hope for on Amazon.

MINI REVIEW: THE MEEKER AND THE ALL-SEEING EYE

INTRODUCTION 
Every now and then, I come across something that resonates with me in an unexpected way. Sometimes this is due to a plot unlike any other, a particular narration technique that  would only work for that specific story, or perhaps just a nice twist at the end. In any case, I really enjoy being surprised by works of fiction and Matthew Kressel's short story, "THE MEEKER AND THE ALL-SEEING EYE" is certainly a story that gave me that sort of satisfying bewilderment which I look for in science fiction and fantasy.


HOW I CAME UPON IT 
This is one of the stories up for the Best Short Fiction award in the BookTubeSFF Awards. I've been putting it off since I knew that it would be a short read, but since September is nearly at its end, I figured it would be best to finally experience the phenomenon that is "THE MEEKER AND THE ALL-SEEING EYE."

HOW I RATED IT 

4/5 I would not go so far as to say this is the best short story ever, nor is entirely original in some of its core concepts or techniques. Once you finish the last few lines, though, you will realize that this is certainly one of the more fulfilling stories you have probably read in a good long while.

CHARACTERS
Kressel has smartly kept the cast of this sprawling space fantasy very tight. There are really only three characters to speak of, though others show up in one of the character's memories. Without dipping too deep into spoilers, The Meeker and The All-Seeing Eye are both alien characters which belong to two different species. The most distinct of the two in terms of both appearance and personality is The All-Seeing Eye who is described as a creature which consists only of an eye and has an amorphous body which can seemingly change shape and may or may not be made of some kind of gaseous substance. It's also a curious creature with an obsessive passion for obtaining new knowlege. The Meeker, as his name might suggest, is not as awesome as The All-Seeing Eye. He is less so that she can be more, or so the character explains to the third figure in this book who provides the human presence for readers to connect with. My one problem with the Meeker is that I never got a very clear picture of what he actually looks like. From the limited descriptions of his various body parts, he appears to be a solid sort of being, but the imagery was never concrete enough for me to really formulate a lasting image. As I just mentioned, the third principal character is human and she is remarkably well described, largely because of The Meeker's shock and awe at what she looks like. All in all, the cast is solid and their interactions with one another were compelling. I also found that The Meeker became an increasingly interesting character who I had an easier time relating to the further the story neared its end.

WORLD/SETTING 
What is most interesting about the world in this story is that there is no world. The only life worth speaking of exists on the Bulb which is what the spaceship that The Meeker and The Eye pilot is called. The rest of the story space is nothing more than...well space. The Bulb flies through the galaxies collecting fragments of what is left of things that existed before, but are no longer real in the sense that you and I might understand. The human character is reconstructed in a tubular device from a space fragment found during the ship's endless journey. Those who've seen The Fifth Element will probably have a very clear image of what I mean by "reconstructed." Overall though, the world is largely centered around the characters as well as places that are no longer in existence. I thought this was a very cool and unique take on a sort of post-apocalyptic theme since in that genre of science fiction, there is usually SOMETHING left of the world. This is not to say that the overall tone of the story is entirely hopeless though.

PLOT/TONE 
The plot might seem a bit trivial and weird at the onset. It is indeed a VERY alien tale that takes place in a setting unlike anything you're probably familiar with. It is for this reason that the story might turn away a good deal of its reader base early on. It doesn't help matters that there are some techniques used which are generally considered lazy by most readers. The first is exposition dumping. This could really just be named, "Exposition Dump: The Story." I'll admit that this initially turned me off, but I was happy that I stuck with it because I soon realized that this is one context in which heavy exposition actually makes sense. So much of the story is focused on what was rather than what is which makes retelling the past so integral to the plot. There is even a method to the madness of how Kressel makes use of the "As you know, but I'm gonna tell you anyway," fiction trope which dominates the opening portion of the narrative. In time, all of the weirdness starts to become clearer and all of the annoying tricks that Kressel employs make sense in a sudden face-palming moment. All of this probably sounds very vague, but in the interest of keeping things spoiler-free, I don't dare say any more other than that the ending paragraphs of this work make it all very worthwhile.  

CONCLUSION 
In spite of the initial gripes many readers might have with this piece, it is actually one of the more accessible pieces of short science fiction out there. Because there is such a uniquely ethereal setting, readers don't have to deal with constant name-dropping of fictional technology. In fact, this work requires absolutely no experience with other science fiction in order to enjoy, which is something truly special in a genre where so many works build upon one another in terms of their vocabulary. It is a very short read (it is a short story after all) so I'd certainly recommend that anyone and everyone give it a try. It was thoughtful in ways I didn't expect and entertaining in a manner which felt unique to this particular work.

Furthermore, this story can be read for free on Clarkesworld Magazine's website. Subscribing to the magazine is surely encouraged if you like the content that they produce, but it is not mandatory for reading this work. The issue in which this story appeared can also be picked up in print and eBook formats from Amazon.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

REVIEW: THE STRANGE LIBRARY

INTRODUCTION
I like trying new things. New foods, different videogames, new TV shows, new ways of doing things. You get the idea. This is also true of my approach to reading and writing. I've always been one to want to delve into something that's unique or different in some way. One of the ways I've been doing that is by participating in the BookTube SFF Awards where I've been reading some of the nominees in different categories. One such book was Haruki Murukami's THE STRANGE LIBRARY. I didn't really know what to expect other than that this would be a weird one and I was excited to see just what this book had in store.

HOW I CAME UPON IT
Like I mentioned before, this is one of the BookTube SFF nominees. Prior to seeing this book on the shortlist, I'd never really heard about either this book or even the author in general. The only other thing worth noting is that I bought this as an eBook since I kind of waited till the last minute to make my purchase.

HOW I RATED IT 
3/5 I think I'm going to be a bit in the minority on this one, but I truly just did not care for this book as much as I thought I would. I found it lacking in a number of different ways and am actually hurrying to write this review because I find myself forgetting this story's details already.

VISUAL PRESENTATION
While not normally something that I'd put in a review, the visuals for THE STRANGE LIBRARY are actually very important to one's enjoyment of the piece. Additionally, it is critical that you buy the "correct" edition of this book and avoid my mistake of purchasing the rather pricey eBook (it costs almost as much as the paperback). This story is filled with trippy artwork and when reading this on an eReader app, those images do funky things with the way the text appears. Pages won't be filled all the way, sometimes there will be a couple sentences below the image and there is just an awful lot of white space around said images. In short, this is clearly something that the publisher had no business turning into an eBook, especially if they were going to do such a sloppy job with it. That said, I really should have looked into the contents of this book a bit more like I normally do before making a purchase, but because I wanted to get this bought and read right away for the readalong, I sort of just hastily got the lackluster Kindle version.

I don't know that buying the hard copy edition of this work would have solved all of my problems with it though, because I didn't care for the artwork very much. It's not bad, so much as that I didn't find it aesthetically pleasing. But, after checking out videos of people who have the hard copy, I can say that the way the book is put together is definitely weirdly unique and well worth the couple extra dollars plus shipping. If you are going to read this, it really needs to be read on paper.

CHARACTERS
The characters in this story are a bit of a double edged sword for me. On one hand I really loved how exotically colorful and paranormally weird they were, but on the  other, they felt like empty shells of characters that could have been interesting. They were effectively both my favorite and least favorite part of this story.

The main character is a polite, young boy. I can't quite remember what his name was or if he even had a name at all. Could I look in the book and find the answer to that? Yes, but there really isn't any point because he could be anybody. He's one of those characters that isn't quite a Mary Sue since he does have a tiny bit of character development, but he's also generic to the point of his name being entirely irrelevant.

The same is true for pretty much everyone in the supporting cast. The Sheep Man and the Old Man are by far the most distinct personalities in this story, but even they just don't feel complex enough for me to have really found them compelling in any way. I think a good analogy for this cast is that they feel like people you might meet in a dream. They are wild, wacky, and sometimes a little twisted, but they're so out there that by the time you wake up, you realize they aren't even close to an actual person in real life. This was effectively the sensation I had upon finishing the book. After "waking up" I just had an overwhelming sense that all of these personalities felt too wispy to be truly memorable.

WORLD/SETTING
This world is a regular rabbit hole if there ever was one. What starts off as a normal library quickly turns into a horrific dungeon of strangeness and woe. Like the characters, the setting is very dreamy, but is far more distinct. If I had to pick one aspect of the book that I liked consistently the best, I would say it was this very strange library. Murukami vividly describes each section and I rarely felt wanting for more detail in this area. I'd like to go a little deeper with this particular element, but because this is such a short story, it would be difficult to do so without getting into heavy spoilers.

PLOT/TONE
Like I just mentioned, this is a VERY short piece of fiction. I don't know what the exact word count is or anything, but I would be very shocked it it was anything more than what most generally consider a short story (15,000 words or less). It could be within the novelette range, but I'd be shocked if it was in the novella category. Page-wise, I think it will probably fill the same space as your typical novella, but half of that is really just pictures.

To be clear, I have NO issues with short stories. In fact I love them. The main issue here is that since this is being given the full book treatment, I think I wanted more from it. More content, more character development, more substance in general. I really just felt like plot seemed rushed or somehow abrupt at every turn. The world is intriguing and the characters show promise, but Murukami seems bent on rushing readers in and out of this tale as quickly as he can. Now obviously, that is not Murukami's intent here. Despite all of my criticism so far, I actually think that Murukami is an author of exceptional talent.

Where I believe the story might be tripping me up is in the fact that everything in this book appears to be a symbol for something else. I'm the type of reader that likes a bit of symbolism or open endedness. I think books that leave a little room for a reader's own thoughts to enter into the story space are those that resonate the most with readers that like interacting with the fiction they read. I suppose I've just never run into a story where there is so much empty space, that the work seemed a little empty. I simply wanted more substance with which to draw conclusions and come up with different interpretations.

CONCLUSION
I wanted that little bit of space at the top of the coffee cup with which to put my cream and sugar, but what I got in this case was a cup half full. There's just too much negative space here for the story to feel truly worthwhile. I know the elements are purposeful and representative of much larger ideas and I have several interpretations of my own regarding what all of this strangeness really means. It's just that I wanted a story with a little more depth in terms of the main narrative. I think I'd be open to trying something else by this author later on and I certainly didn't hate this book. I'm just not understanding where all the love and praise is coming from for this work (maybe there's something I missed) and it's very likely that the details of this story will fade from my memory at a rapid pace.

Because of it's short length, this can be easily read within a single sitting and I'd recommend that anyone reading does in fact consume this all at once in order to potentially get the most out of it's contents. It is a curious read that's (kind of) unlike any other that I've read before and any who are entertaining the thought of picking it up should definitely do so and see if it resonates with them a bit more than it did with me.

THE STRANGE LIBRARY can be purchased in eBook, Audio-Book and Paperback editions on Amazon, though like I said before, I'd really recommend not going the eBook route with this one nor do I think the audio version would be particularly worthwhile either.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

BOOK TALK: GRIM'S FAIRY STORIES

Fairy Tales are basically synonymous with childhood. I grew up with them being told to me, seeing them re-imagined in Disney movies, and read re-written versions of these classic tales. But much later in life, I realized that I didn't actually know the original versions of the tales that filled the early years of my life.

I think what was most interesting about reading these is that I am of the opinion that retold or otherwise modernized versions are just so much better than the Grimm Brothers' original iterations. Am I aware that this is an entirely unfair and liberally subjective statement? Yes, yes I am, that's why this is a Book Talk and not a Book Review.

I think some works of fiction fall into such a classic status that they truly are beyond reproach. This work is one of them, but I am still allowed to have certain feelings towards it. I think that fiction like this should be read by everyone, especially if you have fond memories of the more recent works that it inspired. It's fun for me to look at the origins of where certain things came from and it was certainly a real treat to delve into these classic stories. I think my main issue with them is that the characterization of these versions isn't as complete as newer ones and that the messages are a lot thinner than I expected. I think I was anticipating something more akin to Aesop's Fables, but that wasn't the case. That's not to say these stories are meaningless, because there are little lessons and morals that can be taken from them, but they are a bit generic and harder to draw out, especially for younger audiences. These stories are also very very dark and are definitely NOT something I'd read to a really small boy or girl.

I also listened to this as an audio-book which worked out quite well since these stories are written in such a way that they sound like they are being told to you out loud anyway. The audio quality was pretty decent especially for the $0.99 price tag. It was nothing special, but good enough for it to be an enjoyable experience.

So overall, I'm really glad that I can finally say that I know these original tales. They didn't blow me away or change my life or anything, but were a great study into work that inspired the stories that enchanted me as a child.

Monday, September 7, 2015

UPDATE: AND THE WINNER IS...


With a few months left to go in 2015, I am very happy that I have already completed my 2015 Reading Challenge on Goodreads. Most people probably won't be impressed that I only had a goal of twenty books (especially those who can read that many in 1-2 months), but for me that seemed like a rather daunting challenge. See, I've had sort of a sour taste for reading for a long time. This is largely because of large quantities of required, academic reading. While I won't go into a deeper criticism of the education system, I will say that school, both at High School and University levels really killed my passion for reading. I'd come to think of reading as a sort of chore or burden and that's something I wanted to try and overcome.

Having recently struggled with a bit of a reading slump, I think I may have had a bit of a relapse in this mentality, but I pulled through and can now happily state that my goal has been met and I can look forward to pushing myself to see how many I can read by year's end.

In a previous post I discussed my four current reads and that I wasn't sure which one would make it as my twentieth both, thereby being the book that completed the challenge. While I have actually finished three out of the four mentioned, the winner of this contest of whim is Brooding City by Tom Shutt. The review for which is now up on this blog. I was really happy to wrap up the challenge with this one since it is an indie book and a rather good one at that.



It's been a really fantastic year of reading so far and there have been some really good books that I've read so far. The highlights for me (books I gave five star ratings to) have been:












The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins







Already I have also finished Grim's Fairy Stories which will be getting a book talk very soon and Unstable Prototypes (Big Sigma Book 2) which I will be reviewing shortly. I also mowed through Haruki Murukami's The Strange Library (one of the BookTubeSFF Award nominees) so I have that on the review-writing backlog as well. Unfortunately, I do have one spill-over from August, that being Andy Wier's The Martian. I just finished that one up today so hopefully I can get to writing that review without much delay. Then I may be reading "Meeker and the All Seeing Eye" (another BookTubeSFF nominee). I've already bought the Stone Giant and have the audio file so I think that will be my next audiobook, then I'd like to wrap up The Hunger Games trilogy, get to a couple other books I already have paperbacks for and eventually buy the next installment in Kristoff's Lotus War trilogy.

In short, its been a great challenge to complete with 5 out of 20 being books that I now count among my favorites and not a single book being something I rated at less than a 3. It's been a good mix of indie, small press, and mainstream literature and I am grateful for all the books I received for free either in exchange for an honest review or from a giveaway. I'm looking forward to enjoying even more books between now and the end of 2015.

REVIEW: BROODING CITY

INTRODUCTION 
Mysteries have always been a bit of a love/hate deal with me. When done well, I find myself in a world of conspiracy, intrigue, lies, and carefully crafted investigations that navigate the webs of deception which are spun by a host of parties with different secrets to hide. Unfortunately, the mystery genre is also a rather saturated one. Between all the crime dramas on television and the large quantities of murder mystery literature that are readily available, I tend to find mystery stories to be a bit predictable and a tad formulaic. There are certainly a lot of ways to mix it up though and one method is to throw in a bit of the paranormal. That is largely what Tom Shutt has done with his debut novel BROODING CITY

HOW I CAME UPON IT
Tom Shutt is an indie author who offered ARC copies of this novel prior to it's launch. I already rated and left a temporary review of it on Goodreads and now I have composed my complete thoughts on what was fun about this paranormal suspense novel. For clarity's sake let me state plainly that I received a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest, unbiased thoughts. 

HOW I RATED IT
4/5 It's not genre-defining nor was it anything that left me particularly astounded by the end, but it is a solid and enjoyable read that builds up a world of paranormal intrigue and suspense.

CHARACTERS
The cast of Brooding City is largely a collection of enjoyably familiar archetypes. While none are particularly interesting or compelling on their own, they do mesh nicely into the overarching world in which the story takes place. There are two key persons in this story. One is Detective Brennan, a grizzled officer who also secretly used to be what is known as a Sleeper (more to come on that in a moment). Technically, Brennan still belongs to this underworld of mythic individuals and much of his character development has to do with how his past refuses to release its grip on him. Then there's the adolescent Jeremy who is only just beginning learn the truth about who and what he is. The chapters switch off between the two of them as their stories develop parallel to one another. 

Each of these main characters has their own narrative and set of supporting characters. Brennan and his colleagues at the police station are investigating a strange murder which leads to the unveiling of a dangerous gang/cartel/mob. In a separate section of the world, Jeremy and his family confront more domestic and personal issues. Out of the two, Jeremy is certainly the most enjoyable and his family feels far more colorful than the folks over in Brennan's neck of the woods. 

For me, a lot of the sequences relating to Brennan's side of the story felt a bit too much like an episode of Castle where all the characters are kind of mean. Neither Brennan, nor his partner Bishop, nor his buddy Sam were particularly likable and I didn't really feel like they were particularly true to life. I think Sam and Brennan were supposed to be funny and maybe Bishop was supposed to be a bit sassy, but I read all three of them as angry, conceited individuals that lacked any of the charm that marked the characters that they reminded me of. All that said, I did feel quite a bit more attached to them by the novel's end, but even then did not consider them characters that I was completely invested in.

The main attraction here for me was Jeremy and his family. It's here that a  lot more of the world building takes place since Jeremy is just being introduced to the world of the Sleepers whereas Brennan has already run away from it (or tried to). The characters here also seemed a lot more personable. There are plenty of interpersonal problems to keep things tense, but the interactions between these characters felt a lot more authentic. Jeremy's sister and uncle are the real standouts when it comes to strong supporting characters and serve as a big part of why this side of the story was so compelling for me. Then there's Benjamin who I really still didn't know too much about by the end, but he's a character with a lot of mystique and one I definitely want to know more about. 

WORLD/SETTING
Like I mentioned before, the world itself is divided into two distinct parts. There is the bustling urban area in which Brennan and his fellow officers do their investigative work and then there is the remote estate in which Jeremy's family resides. It was honestly kind of nice to have a story swap between such strongly contrasted backdrops. Both areas are expansive in their own way yet also fit the story like a glove. 

The events take place in present day, so these two spaces are approximately what you would expect. the main differences here have to do with the existence of "Sleepers" and "Patches."  Sleepers are bedtime story monsters. They are allegedly fictional beings that have the ability to travel into other people's dreams and even harm them to such an extent that they become "fractured" which seems to describe a catatonic mental state that people slip into either due to a Sleeper assault or a Patches overdose. This condition is also fatal as it shuts down all bodily functions. Patches are something that sounds similar to a nicotine patch, but have some other medicinal purpose. When these patches are doused with a large quantity of a pharmaceutical chemical, they become a hallucinogenic drug used by many, including two members of Brennan's extended family. The introduction of these major differences felt a little bit matter-of-fact and left me guessing at what they actually were. In the case of the Sleepers, this is a very good thing especially since by the end, I still wasn't quite sure whether Sleepers are actually bad or not. So far as the patches are concerned though, I would have preferred a tiny bit more explanation upfront since I made them out to be a lot more than they actually ended up being. 

It's also worth noting that there is a third section of the world that is explored in conservative portions. That is the world of the Sleepers. Both Jeremy and Brennan show us what the world of dreams is like and those sequences were by far the most compelling chapters in the novel. 

PLOT/TONE
Overall this story does strike a nice balance between the real and the supernatural. It was nice that the narrative spent so much time trying to make readers believe in these characters as real people, but I found that the novel was at it's best when delving into its more supernatural components. The characters aren't bad or anything, but some of the quieter moments between them just didn't resonate with me as much. This is especially true for the detectives, but I felt it across the board. Interactions between Jeremy and Benjamin and Jeremy and his uncle were moments that I lived for in this book and are largely what stuck with me after I turned over the final page. 

Fortunately the crime thriller elements take backseat to the mystery of the Sleepers on both sides of the story since the murder mystery is (somewhat) standard fare. The story also doesn't waste too much time trying to keep readers guessing about who committed the murder. In fact, this story really doesn't drag it's heels too much at all. Every moment seems to be used to its maximum potential and the pacing is, for the most part, very well done. It's a relatively quick read overall, but still felt satisfying to get through. That said, this is book DOES feel like only the start of something far more interesting. Brennan and Jeremy's stories happen beside each other but are never interwoven until the very end. They seem to be introducing readers to two sides of the same coin, but I think readers will have to wait until book two in this series before they get to see it flip. 

CONCLUSION
BROODING CITY promises to be the start of a complex and ever-unfolding story that dives into the secret world of Sleepers and how these all-too-real creatures can have serious consequence on the world as we know it. While it is true that the story starts to get really good right as this novel ends, it didn't feel like a manipulative or cheap cliff-hanger ending. The story that is told within this entry wraps up in a satisfying way while also paving the way for more interesting stories ahead. I'm intrigued to see where the larger narrative will go and am glad that I was introduced to this world, even if I don't know it as well as I'd like to. I also found that you don't have to be really up on all things paranormal to enjoy this story. It's rules are simple and it's immediately accessible, but it also has room to delve deeper into the ideas that are introduced. I'm certainly looking forward to the release of the next book in this series! 

BROODING CITY can be picked up in eBook and Paperback editions on Amazon

Thursday, September 3, 2015

BOOK TALKS: AN INTRODUCTION

What is a Book Talk? Why do one? Why not just stick with standard reviews? To be totally clear, reviews won't be going anywhere. They will continue to be the major attraction of this blog and my favorite part of running it.

Book Talks are a new feature coming up because there are certain books I'd like to post about but might not feel comfortable or inclined to do a full review for. These might include books that are considered classics, books I read a while back and may not remember all of the details on, or books that I didn't care for due to my own preferences rather than by any fault of the work itself.

Ultimately these will just be a less formal sort of post about my reactions to Fiction that would feel weird to review. The first of these will be on Grim's Fairy Stories. While I may still post a short review of this on Amazon and Goodreads in regards to the audio book edition, it definitely feels rather bold to write a full review on these beloved and classic tales.

Keep an eye out for that post and more to come like it!

UPDATE: FILLING A VOID


It's been a while since I made a post of any kind regarding books. It might seem strange then that this post will actually be about a computer game. It may even seem blasphemous to post about such a thing on a book blog, but I've discovered some things about myself as a reader during my time with this game and so I figured I'd make a post about it.


Before jumping into the wild world of Guild Wars 2, an online fantasy MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game) I found myself falling into a bit of a reading slump. At the time I really couldn't say why. I've had a fantastic reading year so far, maybe the best I've ever had. And as a previous post stated, I was very nearly done with the Goodreads 2015 Reading Challenge. I felt extremely excited to wrap this up and had four books already in the works, but I just stopped feeling compelled to read and suddenly downloaded Guild Wars 2 which I had purchased and played a good while ago, but really didn't think about for a long time. It was a game that kind of dropped from my interest after a while. I'd played through with a character and tested out a couple others, but I'd never finished my play-through with my main avatar. It felt really random then that I'd suddenly just download and play this game again, but once I had it reinstalled and booted it up once again, I realized something that's either quite profound or remarkably stupid.


A look at my main avatar, Denacten
See when playing a game like Guild Wars 2, players make a character to represent them within the space of the game world. This character is called an avatar, a toon, or basically whatever you feel like calling him/her. Depending on what the game's story is like, a player might feel more or less attached to the character(s) they have made. This particular MMORPG strikes a nice balance between giving players an entertaining story told through private instances (portions of the game that are just for you) while also offering a wide open world in which you and countless other players can hunt monsters, look for treasure, take on missions, participate in random events, craft new gear, and all sorts of other fun activities. This constructs an environment in which an avatar does get to have a sort of personality which is shaped by certain decisions that the player makes both during the character creation stage and throughout their personal story quests. The character I primarily play as is a young human man who belongs to the Thief class which is all about stealth, speed, and carefully executed tricks. He uses a pistol and dagger as his primary weapon set, but also wields a short-bow when things get a bit heavy and he needs to put some space between him and his enemies.

A scene from Denacten's personal story
What does any of this have to do with books? Well aside from the fact that this game has a reasonably well-done story mode, there aren't a whole lot of connections. But within the space of this game is where I found what I'd been sorely missing from my current reads. In a game like Guild Wars 2, I have an entertainment experience that  feels like it belongs to me. I control the actions of characters I make. I get wrapped up in their personal story and become attached to them as a fully fleshed out character. At each turn I have to think about what objective they should take on next, what kind of gear I want to find or make and equip them with. I get to choose what these characters look like, what they wear, and what they do. It certainly helps that Guild Wars 2 is a very pretty game and has aching orchestral music filling the backdrop. It's not a perfect game, but it was giving me something that I'd been craving for a long time, something I wish more books would give to me.

At this point you might be worried that I'm going to criticize literature as a medium, but that's really not what any of this is about. It's true that comparing video games to books is akin to comparing apples with oranges, but if you've read for this long, do try and hear me out. See I'm the sort of person that wants to always feel engaged in anything and everything that I do. I also want to feel some sort of progression, improvement, or general sensation of accomplishment. Good books can give me all of these things. I got all of this when reading Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, and even Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy (technically I still need to read the third one, but you get the idea). When I read these books, I read them as an active reader. I felt that my experience was customized to me. Maybe not in the way that a video game is, but certainly by a means that felt special, memorable, and rewarding. There are some other great titles that came to my mind as well, but all of them have a common theme.

I've always been a symbolic, interpretive reader. Some of this comes from going to a high school where teachers encouraged me to dig deeper into the texts we studied, but I think the other piece is something else entirely. Fictional literature is a potent form of entertainment when it is well done. For me what seems to set books apart is when there is something that can be found within the story space. It's this little extra something that lies beneath the main narrative being told. It's all the things between the lines that are up for interpretation. Things that make the story feel as though it belongs to me, that is is somehow my story once I have read it. In Tolkien's The Hobbit, I read the same story as everyone else about an unlikely hero that wound up on a crazy adventure where he accomplished great things and returned home a changed hobbit. Stuffy academic folks call this "The Hero's Tale" and would claim this is a classic  no-fail formula that is present in every story told. I won't get into challenging this assertion, mostly because I don't really care to. The alleged formula behind The Hobbit and stories like it isn't what makes me love them. It is the space between the lines where my own thoughts fill the void that I find to be most engrossing about a book. To me, The Hobbit was not only about a young hobbit's grand adventure, but also a story about answering a call to do something bigger than yourself. I read it as a tale of personal growth, of faith, and of fulfilling one's duty to those around us. This isn't really the basis for a well crafted argument, more of an opinion that any are welcome to agree or disagree with. The point here being that The Hobbit was a story that spoke to my own life experiences and connected with me as a reader in a way that is somewhat exclusive to me. Someone else who's read the book might have read and enjoyed this work on a more literal level while another maybe picked up on figurative subtexts, but took on an entirely different interpretation from my own. THIS to me is what makes a book engaging. It's also what I think might have been missing from a lot of my reading, at least as of late.

While all four of my books from August were enjoyable and entertaining and creative in their own ways, they were also all very literal and straightforward. There simply wasn't a lot of room for me to make connections, anticipate what would come next, apply moments of the text to my own life, or even really become fully connected with most of the main characters. Unstable Prototypes is a fun scifi adventure that I'm very nearly done with, but it's very familiar to anyone who's had experience with 90's science fiction and most of the characters, while colorful, are also pretty static. Brooding City was a solid paranormal mystery as well, but again, neither the characters nor the world itself had the sort of symbolic depth that I've been craving. The Martian is perhaps the most science heavy science fiction I have ever read and Mark is one of the most splendid characters in literature, but due to it being so focused on being a grounded piece of fiction, I also had no room here to make this story my own. Then there was the Grim Brother's classic fairy tales which do have some underlying messages, but they are much thinner than what you'd find in say a fable or parable. All in all, I just didn't have room to live within the stories that I've read this month. They belonged to other people and while they were all quite good, these stories were just too full for me to put anything of my own into them. It's kind of like getting a coffee, but then the person serving you doesn't leave any room for you to put what you want into it. I love coffee, but I also want to have it with cream and sugar. If I don't have room to put those things in then the coffee just isn't the same for me.

An alternate character that I sometimes mess around with to try a different character class. 
Mainly, I've just been playing through her personal story since I had a free boost to level 20

Does this mean I'm done with reading as a form of entertainment? Absolutely not! I think I'll just try and be more selective in making sure that I have at least one book in my current reads that delivers the level of engagement that I'm looking for. Perhaps I'll also try to alternate a bit more between gaming and reading since I do like games very much and part of the reason I got so hooked  on Guild Wars 2 was that it had been so long since I'd really say down to play a game. Another element is that because Guild Wars 2 is a multiplayer game, I was able to meet up with one of my friends online and share my experience in the game with someone. I've never really been one for book clubs or buddy reads, but I do feel like books are meant to be talked about or at least referred to. I achieve some of this through this blog, but writing about books that really changed the way I think or feel about things is far more rewarding to post about than books that were just good stories.

I do realize that what I'm saying I want out of books is a tall order and I'm not saying I need for every book I ever read to be the most profound piece of fiction I have ever laid eyes on. I think the key for me moving forward will just be to try and strike a balance so that I am allowing time to read things that are more prescriptive alongside books that beg for deeper thought as well as some time to indulge in other forms of entertainment like games and television dramas that I enjoy.

Now that I'm back, it hopefully won't take too long for me to catch up with all of the posts I have to make before diving into a new reading cycle. I'll be making my reading choices a little more carefully, taking on fewer books at a time, and leaving room for other things and hope that I don't get burnt out like I did recently. I'd also like to know how other people feel about this topic. Do you prefer to shut your brain down and just enjoy a story or are you more interested in having an interactive relationship with Fiction?

I'll try to keep the posts coming over the next few days. In the meantime, you can check out some other screenshots of my time in the world of Guild Wars 2:

An episode from my main character's personal story

Nothing like a nice swim after some water combat
Running through the world with a friend as one of my secondary characters 
A sweet shot of mine and my friend's characters in action
Who  me? No I didn't slaughter all of those monsters...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

UPDATE: IT'S BEEN A LITTLE WHILE

It has been a very long time since my last post. I've fallen into a bit of a reading slump in addition to having things that have absorbed a lot of my time. Family stuff, a recent trip, and general busyness have slowed down my reading progress a bit, but there will be a number of posts coming up very soon.

If you ever follow me on Goodreads then you'll know that I did recently complete my 2015 Reading Challenge so the review of that book will be coming up shortly along with a short reflection on my experiences with the challenge. I also have a brand new type of post coming up where I will be giving a Book Talk rather than a Review. Before I post that I might just deliver a short entry explaining the difference between the two within the context of this specific blog so that there isn't too much confusion. I also have a rather lengthy post explaining how I fell into my reading slump, things I learned while in it, and how I hope to bounce back a little from it.

All this to come soon!