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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Review

“Don’t panic,” “Life, the Universe and Everything” and “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish” are ingrained in people’s minds because of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy  by Douglas Adams. Of course, many people only know the book from the movie (isn’t that always the case?) I’m one of those people, but I haven’t pick up any of the books until recently. I have had people say “why haven’t you read them yet?” I’m one of those people with a large pile of books that I want to read and this one was on the bottom.

With that I can say I was thoroughly surprised.

The story is about Arthur Dent, a normal earthling living a normal life and he likes it that way. That, until one day his house is getting bulldozed. His buddy, Ford Prefect, takes him away from his house to have a few drinks at the pub. That’s when an intergalactic wrecking crew comes to Earth and destroys it in one fell swoop. Now Arthur and Ford go on a little misadventure with the  two headed  President of the Universe, an old flame and a super paranoid android.

I have no idea why I have never bothered to read this series years ago. This book is awesome! People have told that if I liked Terry Pratchett I’d like this. They were right.

First, the plot of this book is something else. It’s about as out there as yo can get. And I like out there. Thing is, out there has be done right. Here,it is done right. Everything about it from the universe, to the characters, to the plot has that right amount to keep you entertained.  I in fact, this is the first book in  along while that I couldn’t put down.

The characters are well written too. Terry Pratchett said there’s a difference between funny characters and well written characters that are funny. These guys are the later. They have unique personalities that define who they are with the added bonus of them saying funny things. It’s these types of characters that you want instead of one note, one joke characters that so many people have come up with. The best character has to be Zaphod Beeblebrox. This guy is the typical dick who gets thing done by screwing people over. And he’s the President of the Universe. That right there is funny.

Speaking of funny, the humor is this dry English Monty Python type humor. Some people will not get most of it, but if you think about what was said you’ll be laughing for a while. My favorite joke is the answer to life, universe and everything is 42. It doesn’t seem funny on its own, but the line that says they didn’t ask the right question makes it funnier.

This book’s historical significance cannot be ignored. You see, a lot of scifi/fantasy before this was pretty straightforward. There was very little comic scifi/fantasy. Adams and Pratchett created a genre that though not many people have tried their hand at, it still has people reading these stories.

In all, I’m glad I read this book. So much so that I bought The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This book has great characters, plot, world building and humor. Highly recommended to everyone.

 

 

 

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Another (Novel) Review

From Japan comes one of the strangest titles for anything ever. Our subject for today is a novel by Yukito Ayatsuji called Another. “Another what?” people may say when seeing the title. When you actually read the book you’ll understand why the title actually makes sense. You’ll also experience one of the the more interesting Japanese YA horror novels to ever be written.

15 year old Yoichi Sakakibara has moved to the small town of Yomiyama to live with his grandparents for a year due to his dad needing to work in India. While staying in a hospital getting a collapsed lung treated he comes across a mysterious girl, Mei Misaki, in the hospital with an eyepatch. When he starts school at North Yomi Middle he notices that everyone in his class completely ignores Meil so he decides to be the only nice person. Little does he know that by doing so he starts a string of gruesome accidental deaths associated with a curse in his class.

This book is pretty much a YA horror novel. Unlike a lot of YA horror novels this is pretty gory and disturbing. The gory parts are some of the deaths (a girl falling down a flight of steps and landing on the pointy bit of her umbrella.) They’re not there just to be shocking or gory; they actually fit with the person’s situation. They are pretty clever, come to think of it except for one (a heart attack.)

As for the story itself, it’s a lot more mystery than horror. The mystery is that the book keeps you guessing why everyone ignores Mei and if she is alive or even real. It’s doe pretty well; nothing’s forced, the build up is there and it will keep you turning the pages.

One of the things that make a good book is the characters. Ayatsuji makes it easy to like both Yoichi and Mei. Their interactions together are absolutely spot on. The things they say to each other, the way they interact, is about as close as literary chemistry as you can get. One good thing is that this relationship is more like solving a big mystery than a romance. Of course, of this was written in America there would be some kind of unneeded romantic subplot between the, The story works just fine without one.

There are a few problems though. The ending is kind of a letdown and will leave you scratching your head. Also, you have to admit that all of this bad stuff would’ve been easily avoided if the characters actually told Yoichi about the curse and not make him socialize with Mei. It may sound like a minor nitpick and there wouldn’t be a story if they did that, but it’s one of those things that kinda bothers some people.

Another may have an odd name, but the story, characters and excellent execution make this a must read. Just don’t expect a great ending.

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Raising Steam Review

Yes, this is yet another Terry Pratchett post. This is the last one for a long while, I swear.

Raising Steam is the second to last Discworld novel that is part of the Moist Von Lipwig storyline. Here moist is once again tasked by Lord Vetinari to take on another job: Bring the railroad to the Discworld after some country bumpkin has figured out how to make a steam engine. The problem is a bunch of drarves called the Grags want to make sure the rail road comes nowhere near their mountain.

That’s right, it’s Moist Von Lipwig VS a bunch of terrorist dwarves.

This is not Discworld. Discworld stories are a lot more complex than this, plus the old Terry Pratchett would’ve made fun of this type of story. The Grags are boring. They are nothing more than evil dwarves that you’d find in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. The old  Discworld “villains” had a lot more going for them. Look at Teatime: he was manipulative, calculating and he had a brilliant plan. He was complex to the point where people love the character.

Let’s also look at the main leads. Moist is not the same character that Pratchett would’ve written. Here he reads like he was written by a fan fiction writer. His plans are basic, he is not charming and he is missing his usual sarcastic wit. This goes for every character in the book. Vetinari acts like a genric villain, Adora Belle is boring and…

Actually, this entire book was boring.

The story plods on for pages without anything interesting happens. Seriously, ask anyone what happens in this book and they won’t even remember.

The new characters are also forgettable. Harry King does nothing but complain about the cost of the rail road, and Dick Simnel is nothing but a poor man’s Carrot if he decided to become a engineer instead of a watchman.

I have never been so disappointed in a Discworld. Humorless, poorly written, boring and uninteresting characters. It’s like this was not written by Sir. Terry but by a fan who only had an basic idea of how to write a novel. This goes to show that every novelist has at least one bad book in them.

 

 

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Brave New World Review

So I finally got around to reading Brave New World. The only thing I knew about the book was that some people say Huxley was right in his prediction of what our society would be like and not Orwell and there’s an argument over whether this or 1984 is the better book. So after reading it my opinion is, well, the Nostalgia Critic put my opinion of the book nicely here.

Now for the long version:

Brave New World is about a futuristic society where everyone is a test tube baby and are sorted into five castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. In this world we meet Bernard Marx, an Alpha Plus who is starting to show signs of him not fitting into his cast. In time his boss send him on an assignment, along with another Alpha Lenina Crowne, to “the Savage Lands” in New Mexico. It’s here they meet and take back a savage who was born from one of the test tube babies.

That’s about as far as I got into the book. Here’s the thing: Huxley had some great ideas for this dystopian society. The idea that everyone is a test tube baby designed to fit perfectly into their caste, no religion, no families, promiscuity is accepted and there are no such things as families. Then there are those “savages” who live outside this society who do the opposite. It’s a great idea to show how these two different societies deal with each other and how they clash.

The major problem here is that the story is just so damn boring. I’m sorry, I really dd not like the book. The writing was dull, didn’t flow nicely and was drier than a bone in the Sahara. The characters themselves had zero personality. All they did was further Huxley’s view of what each of them would do in the situations given to them without any emotion or original thought to them. Bernard is nothing more than a walking zombie with no direction and and just nods at everything. Lenina is the typical whiny woman who just wants to have fun and almost faints when she saw the Savage Land.

As an FYI, in the edition I have ( Perennial Library, 1998) it took them 110 pages just to get to the Savage Lands. Seriously, NOTHING HAPPENS IN THE FIRST 100 PAGES OF THE BOOK! I understand establishing the setting and world building, but Terry Pratchett is able to do that perfectly in THIRTY pages.

For those who are saying this book is supposed to be a political satire of the 1920s/30s, great. I like political satires if done well. It was not done well in this book. The edition I have also says that many critics at the time bashed the book for being ” weak in plot and characterization, shallow, mechanical in structure and monotonous in tone.” I totally agree with those critics. These same critics were also bashed for “not getting” this book. Me, along with those critics, get what Huxley is trying to say; It’s just everything that makes a good book is absent.

If you want a good dystopian novel, read 1984, Animal Farm, The Running Man, Fahrenheit 451 or The Giver. They’re so much better than this book.

 

 

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The Invention of Hugo Cabret Review

There comes a time once every blue moon when a novelist comes out with something so original that there really isn’t anything to compare it to. One of those rare books is The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

When I first encountered this book the thing that surprised me was how thick it is. This is supposed to be a young adult book and it is about as thick as a sci-fi/fantasy novel. But hey, the last four Harry Potter books are about that thick and five year olds can read them in a day, right? When I opened the book up for the first time I was greeted with ten pages of pencil drawings followed by two pages of text.

That’s essentially the entire book. Pencil drawings and then text. Either many pages of drawings and two pages of text or vice versa. This is actually a really unique and well done technique. The pictures are not just random pictures put in there just to look nice. They are sequential so they tell a narrative. The text is there to enhance what is going on with the characters and for character development.

The story itself is about an orphan named Hugo Cabret who lives in the clock tower of a train station in 1930s France. It is here that he spends most of his time trying to fix his father’s life work: An automaton. His life takes a strange turn when his father’s notebook is taken by a toy shop owner (it’s to teach Hugo a lesson to not steal from him.) The book is also split into two parts. The first part is about fixing the automaton and the second is finding answers to what the automaton did, which also leads to Hugo finding out about his father’s past.

The story is actually quite enjoyable. It’s a simple story, yes, but it is written in such an engaging way that it grabs you from the start and never lets go. The pencil drawings also help a lot, too. The drawings bring this world to life, shows a lot of detail and are much better done than many comic book artists can dream of.

Of course, some people will say that this is an easy way out of writing out details and character emotion. On the contrary, this book needs these drawings for two reasons. The first is because a character’s facial expression is very important to the story. The second is because, as you read further, movies are a big important part of the characters’ lives. To go into detail will just bring about spoilers.

Of course, there is one black cloud to the story. That is the real identity of the toy shop owner. His true identity is so out of left field that it feels very phoned in. It makes sense in story, but once you think about it it does bring up ton of questions.

Despite that one black cloud, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is one of the most original and best books this decade. The story is entertaining with strong visuals and writing. That Caldecott Medal was well deserved.

 

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The Diaries of Adam and Eve Review

First off, happy new year all. I hope your year started off on the right foot. For our first blog post of 2015 we’ll be looking at a rather strange little book called The Diaries of Adam and Eve which is “translated” by Mark Twain.

Yes, Mark Twain is saying that he translated diaries that Adam and Eve wrote despite a whole slew of things that point out that that would’ve been impossible. Well, literature and all that.

As the tittle says, these are diary entries “written” by Adam and Eve. Mostly Eve because Adam apparently didn’t have much to say. This may have to do with the fact that Twain wrote a whole bunch of entries from both and this edition (FairOaks Press) only has a select few. The few that are included here are, sadly, not very interesting.

You see, there are plenty of books written in diary form that are worth reading. Dracula and Go Ask Alice are  the most obvious examples. Hell, if you want a non-fiction example, The Diary of Anne Frank. These are great examples because what happens to the people writing them are interesting. Hell, Anne writing about what amounts to her dirty thoughts is fun to read.

That’s what Twain fails to do here. Eve reads like the typical 19th century not very bright woman. Hell, Twain even makes her say that she is not very strong or smart for that matter. This is despite the fact that Eve names all the animals and things. If Twain was going for childish curiosity them, in a way, he did succeed.

Adam on the other hand is the typical male brute. He thinks more with his muscles than with his brain. And that’s all we know about him.

That’s another problem: Yes, these are characters based on biblical icons, but you can still give them more personality than a wet noodle. Both characters are just boring and uninteresting.

There are some crazy things that Twain puts in that are obviously his beliefs. One, he agrees with the biblical scholars who say that Adam and Eve had more than two kids. In fact, he says they had nine kids. He also bashes the bible saying that there was no way for Adam and Eve to know that eating the apple would’ve had bad results. He claims that if God gave them that knowledge first they wouldn’t have done it. It’s like telling a little kid not to do something because it’s bad without telling him why.

Oh, and Twain believes that Adam is still alive today despite the fact that the bible says he died at around 900.

Does this book have any literary merit to it besides being written by Mark Twain? Not really. Yes, it is one of the first Adam and Eve stories, but it reads more like 19th century fan fiction than anything else. In fact, this has to quite possibly be the worst thing Twain has ever written.

Yes, I said it: Twain wrote a book that sucked. Hate me all you want, but the fact of the matter is you’re better reading the required school reading Twain books ( Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.) Hell, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court  is worth looking at.

In all, skip this book and read Twain’s other books. It’s not even worth looking at if you’re a religious scholar or even a Twain fan.

 

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A Vampire Christmas Carol Review

Allow me to repeat what I said about A Vampire Christmas Carol by Sarah Gray years ago in this rant:

PIECE! OF! SHIT!

No, seriously. This book deserves to be called that. Now, I have nothing against parodies or adding vampires, zombies or anything like that as long as it is pulled off well. That’s the key phrase here, pulled off well. There is nothing well, good, great, funny or anything positive about this book. I’ll try my best to make this version of the rant much more cohesive and calm.

First, why put vampires in A Christmas Carol? It’s an odd choice of literature. Yes, there are ghosts but these ghosts represent certain aspects of humanity. Marley,  Past, Present and Future show how a person can be evil and suffering, young and innocent, an adult who loves life and then it all ends in death (yes, that’s why the Ghost of Christmas Future is pretty much death.) Putting vampires really makes no sense except “they’re cool.”

As for the book itself, all you have to do pick up a normal copy of A Christmas Carol and add vampires every now and then. Yup, Gray basically copy and pasted the entire book while making some minor changes here and there. I did call it lazy in my rant, but the more I think about it it’s more along the lines of being a bad fan fiction writer.

In fact, the few original scenes Gray does put in read like bad fan fiction. First off, there’s one scene where Isabelle (Scrooge’s girlfriend who left him) asks Marley to help Scrooge. Yup, and this is despite the fact that Marley tried for years to talk to Scrooge and it only worked this one day because he was dying.  Gray says the reason Marley can help Scrooge is due to, get this, the power of love. Many of you are probably gagging right now.

The other scene she has is when the Ghost of Christmas Past sends Scrooge back to the day he was born. Gray makes it so that he and his younger sister are actually twins and are born on Christmas Eve (yes.) Oh, and their wet nurse is one of the evil vampires. And instead of milk this wet nurse feeds them vampire blood which makes his sister sick and Scrooge evil. I hear wrists getting slit now.

Some other things Gray added were vampire minions cleverly called minions, Cratchet and Scrooge’s nephew are vampire hunters and Scrooge is some kind of vampire slaying messiah called “The Scion of the Great Culling.” I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean.

Let’s talk about the villains. Yes, Gray felt this story needed a villain. The are the king and queen of the vampires Wahltraud and Griselda. All we know about them is that they’re the king and queen of the vampires and they’re evil. That’s it. They are about as generic evil as you can get. There is a way to make evil characters with a lot of character development and a reason for them doing what they’re doing. This case, they’re just something for readers to boo.

There are also two characters that serve no purpose to the story. There’s Disgut who we’re told has been Scrooge’s Clerk one week after Marley dies. He’s also a minion, something the reader can figure out the second he is introduced. Also generic evil. Then there’s Cratchet’s sister who replaces Mrs. Cratchet because she was killed by vampires. She’s EXACTLY like Mrs. Cratchett. There’s really no reason for the change except for a reason for Cratchet to be a vampire hunter. It’s a bad and lazy reason at that.

Now, I don’t mind taking classics and adding supernatural monsters to them. It can be great if it’s done correctly and, preferably, as a comedy. A Vampire Christmas is done seriously and reads like very poorly written fan fiction. Charles Dickens must have doing cartwheels in his grave when this book was published. This book should be boiled in its own pudding and buried with a stake of holy through its heart.

Oh, and have a wonderful whatever holiday you celebrate this December and a happy new year.

 

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All You Need is Kill Review

Do you remember that movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? Do you also remember all those crappy ripoffs of that movie but take place during Christmas? Well, get ready for another ripoff but this time it’s a sci-fi version. From Japan!

Don’t worry, it’s actually rather interesting and MUCH better than all those “Christmas every day” ripoffs. Say hello to All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

Keiji Kiriya is a normal grunt in the United Defense Force. On only his first battle he is killed by an unknown alien creature called a Mimic. He’s not dead, though He finds out he is repeating the day before and the day of the battle over and over again. He’s now trying to figure out a way to get out of that loop.

For a sci-fi ripoff of Groundhog day this is pretty entertaining. The events that transpire in the novel and how Keiji tries to get out are all pretty imaginative. Unlike those *ahem* other ripoffs the ways he’s trying to fix everything make sense even if they all boil down to “more training.” Another thing that makes this book stand out is that the characters are actually interesting. You care about Keiji getting out of the loop. You care about the Full Metal Bitch and why she’s so bloody awesome.

That all boils down to solid writing. One of the hardest things to do is to translate anything and still keep the essence of why people love it in the first place. Joseph Reeder and Alexander O. Smith have managed to do just that. Normally Japanese light novels and sci-fi novels read like they were translated by someone more concerned with translating than making the text interesting. Here is one of those rare instances where both have been achieved.

Not all is daisies and butterflies, though. Chapter three switches from first person to third person. This chapter is meant to give Rita Vrataski’s backstory.The thing is it brings the pacing of the entire novel to a screeching halt. This chapter makes it seem like Sakurazaka is adept at writing in the first person, but suffers from writing like a bored college professor when it comes to third person.

If you’re looking for a Groundhog Day ripoff that does not suck and does not take place during Christmas, then look into All You Need is Kill.The writing is solid, the characters are interesting and the events that transpire will keep you interested until the end. Don’t let the weak third chapter make you want to stop reading. The fun comes back in full force quickly. Also, at 200 pages you’ll finish this book in a weekend.

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The Halloween Tree Review

My absolute favorite holiday of all time is Halloween. One thing that people equate Halloween with is horror anything. There are some Halloween themed stories out there, but the majority of them are catered toward little kids and most are about as bad as you’d expect. For every It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown there’s a million crappy Halloween episodes of Disney Channel shows.

One of the rare gems of this genre is The Halloween Tree by legendary writer Ray Bradbury. Yes, it is young adult but it’s brilliant young adult.

It’s Halloween so of course a group of friends are out trick or treating. They decide to meet their friend Pipkin who is waiting for them outside a haunted house. As the get there they meet a mysterious figure named Mr. Moundshroud and Pipkin gets carried away by a dark something. Now Mr. Moundshroud takes these kids on a journey through time and space to find their friend.

This may sound like a corny Halloween special, but when you read it Bradbury’s genius shines through. It’s not corny in the least. What many Halloween specials lack is hear and character. The story here puts you into the mindset of the boys and you do get a sense of danger of their situation. Their friend can die.

That’s another point where this story excels. The kid was taken by something that looked like it came from hell and can potentially kill him. Other stories may have some evil that is more like some idiot in a Halloween costume than an actual threat.

What this culminates in the end is rather interesting. It’s almost like a Christmas message but it’s from the view of Halloween. That’s rare in every medium. They take Halloween as if it’s a horror movie when in fact all the Halloweens are more about mischief, candy, costumes and having one hell of time with your buds while getting scared out of your ass by some decoration.

The illustrations in the books are the scariest part of the book. We see witches, gargoyles, insects of plenty of things that will give even adults nightmares. There’s one that shows a Forrest getting burned down. It looks like something out of a horror movie. Each chapter has a mask to accompany its number. These masks look like they were thought up by some sick, sadistic freak. Hell, the cover is simply amazing. It looks like a skull, but when you look closely it’s actually all the characters posing really close together. It’s an amazing optical illusion if I do say so myself.

If you’re looking for a Halloween theme book that does not suck, look no further than Ray Bradbury’s Halloween Tree. It’s well written, has that sense of danger and adventure to it and has some seriously scary illustrations. Hell, give this book out as a prize for best Halloween costume if you want.

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The Carpet People Review

Here’s a fact you need to know about me: I’m a fan of Sir. Terry Pratchett. For those of you who have no idea who Sir. Terry Pratchett is, the hell’s wrong with you? Kidding aside, he’s the author of the Discworld novels, the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy and the Bromeliad Trilogy. He also co-wrote Good Omens with Neil Gaiman and The Long Earth Trilogy with Stephen Baxter.

Now that you know who he is, here’s something many people don’t talk about: His first novel The Carpet People. One reason could be because it was not available in America until last year (it was originally published in 1971 when Pratchett was 17.) Another reason could be it’s not a very good novel. In the forward of the 1992 UK edition (the one I decided to buy because I’m a fan. A US special edition was announced four months after I bought it) Pratchett says that at 44 this is not a book he’d write now or ever again. Basically, hates it. If you read it you can see why.

The story is about a tribe called the Munrungs whose entire village was destroyed by a force called the Fray. They now must cross the carpet (the entire world is an actual carpet) to find a new home.

The only real positive thing about this book that you can see traces of Pratchett’s style that has made him a huge award winning novelist. His dry humor is apparent from the first word to the last. It may not be as quotable or as funny as his later books, but you can see it.

The world itself is also creative. How many worlds can you name that take place on a carpet? This is just a precursor to the Discworld which is also a flat world. Only the Discworld has a lot more going for it and has four elephants holding it up and are riding a turtle (shut up, it’s awesome.)

Other than that, this book reeks of firstnovelitis. It’s not memorable at all, the characters aren’t well developed and forgettable, and the story is pretty cliche. A group of nobodies fighting against an empire has been done before so many times that any shmuck in our world can do it. Though the fight is not as epic as others in its genre (no Helm’s Deep style battle here people) they’re not interesting in the. I’m not saying there are a ton of battles (they are few and far between) but the ones here don’t last long.

In fact, I just finished the book and I don’t remember any characters or what happened. It took me a year on and off to finish this book. You may say that is the main reason for it, but I say it’s the book being underwhelming is the cause. It’s not a bad book in any sense of the word, but I don’t recommend it.

Of course, if you’re a Pratchett fan you’ll hunt down this book and read it to say you read all of Pratchett’s book. If you do, get it from the library. Or if you buy it, bring it to one of Pratchett’s signings and see what his reaction is. That’ll be a bit hard seeing as how he’s rarely doing signings now, especially US signings.

 

 

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