Sunday, March 25, 2012

Desolation Island

Desolation Island (Aubrey/Maturin, #5)Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every once in a while, Hollywood tries to put together a nautical tale of courage and danger. White Squall, The Perfect Storm, even a movie based on this series of books -- Master and Commander. There is something about the sailor's life that is compelling. Months at sea, close quarters, the variable morality of those before the mast(the enlisted men) and those abaft the mast(the officers) cause a certain social tension.

In a book such as this, the discussion of pintels, forecastles, orlop decks, hawsers can either turn you off the book, turn you to a dictionary, or turn you into a willingly ignorant, but bedazzled spectator, as the intricacies of managing a ship are described in details that allow you to understand only the broad strokes of the action. I actually feel a lot like Dr. Maturin in the novels. I somehow feel like a knowledgeable amateur, when in fact, I only kind of know the difference between a wear and a tack(wearing is a slower way of turning to catch the wind when it's not blowing in the direction you want to go).

Somehow, above these details, the action in this entry in the series is particularly riveting. Sea chases, monster storms, and antarctic shipwrecks make for exciting reading, aside from the spy intrigue and shifting loyalties of the crew which a careful reader can get much satisfaction from. Patrick O'Brian is never one to point out the subtleties. An example is a midshipman, nervous of heights, takes one trip up the main topmast with his captain. We're never explicitly told, but his name is mentioned later, and we know his continued presence speaks of his loyalty to Lucky Jack Aubrey.

The movie made from these books is kind of a conglomerate of the novels, and it seems a few of the elements were pulled from this one. If you liked that movie, there's a good chance you'd like these books.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Kingdom of Gods (The Inheritance Trilogy, #3)The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In elementary school, we read stories about Icarus, Hercules, Midas and Zeus. We learned that Hermes was fast, and a messenger. And maybe he towed the Sun across the sky in a chariot? Neptune was kind of a jerk, and Hades was evil, but not? And of course, our Greek mythology was confused with Roman names, and there was something about the titans who wanted to swallow the world. Anyway, it was cool. Everyone likes mythology when they're little. Even if it's just for the pegasi, or the medusa.

N.K. Jemisin has tapped into that same sense of delight at a world where the powers that be are personified. These mythological characters spend most of their time loving, betraying, holding grudges, and considering the value of keeping mortals around. Then, sometimes they have to keep the world from being torn apart by crazed, ambitious, or vengeful siblings and/or offspring.

This isn't the kind of book(series of books, this is the third) I would normally like, but something about the prose, or about the characters kept me really interested. There was just enough political maneuvering, mystical action, and metaphorical adventure.

I have to mention that there was a lot of morality bending in this book. The gods' genders are malleable, and their attitude towards sex is that it is never a shallow thing, but monogamy is for mortals. I was never very comfortable with the author's treatment of all things sexual. There were two things that made it bearable. Sex was always described in spiritual terms, and almost never physical. The morality of gods was distinct from the morality of mortals. I never felt like a certain idea was being pushed. It was just that they were entirely different things.

View all my reviews

Friday, March 9, 2012

Simon of Space

Simon of SpaceSimon of Space by Cheeseburger Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 2005, just before Episode III of Star Wars came out, there was a story on about a blog, The Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster, which was fan fiction, written as if from the journal of Darth Vader. At times it was funny, at times human. It was well timed for all those eagerly waiting(despite the disappointments of Episode I and II) for the birth of Darth Vader. And I think it did prepare me in some way, it made the movie seem deeper. Soon after reading the Darth Side, I saw that he had written a novel, in blog form, called Simon of Space. I began reading, and found a very compelling story and world. Melinda is wary, she doesn't like Space novels. But this is a very human story.

Simon is an amnesiac. He lost his memory in a hyperspace travel accident. Sounds like a bad sci-fi movie? That's what everybody tells him. What makes this book so enjoyable is Simon's optimism, decency, and friendliness. That and the unconventional prose. Matthew Hemming (more commonly known as CheeseBurger Brown), has a way of approaching things from a different angle. Comparing the first moments of memory to the first day of an infant's life is but one way we are able to inhabit Simon's head. The absurdity of his life encompasses the basest, crudest functions and interactions: bowel movements, hot nurses, and farting dogs, as well as the deep, complicated things: trust and fatherhood.

As Simon takes his tour, trying to find his purpose, the imagination, and preparation of Mr. Brown becomes evident in the variation and beauty of the worlds. There is obviously an entire universe with its own history to explore, and we're only seeing parts of it. He's written more stories in this universe, and if you enjoy this book, they're well worth visiting.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 5, 2012

March Violets

March Violets (Bernard Gunther, #1)March Violets by Philip Kerr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This hardboiled detective novel was set in 1936 Nazi Germany. Melinda immediately asked if he was after Nazi treasure, because she was just expecting the cliche. The novel doesn't fit in that cliche, though it probably follows the film noir detective plot pretty closely.

The little bits of life under a Nazi regime are fascinating, with associations for ex-convicts, secret police, unsecret police, the non-military military uniforms, propaganda, and the olympics. These setting details don't get in the way of the story, though I sometimes wish they did. I find the details of governing through fear fascinatingly horrifying.

Unfortunately, I don't think the hardboiled genre is for me. Up until the last 3/4 of the novel, it was amusing to read the similes and metaphors that drive the point home, this guy is tough, bitter, and cynical. In the last 1/4 of the novel, it just got too dark. And it wasn't the Nazis, but the treatment of women. This just wasn't the right book for that content. I'm sure that sometimes our literature needs to expose the injustices of the world, and that sometimes means including scenes that are dark and evil. But this wasn't that book. And I'm not sure I want to read those books. I guess I'm judging a little harshly for what was probably one page of the whole book. But I didn't like that page. And it kind of ruined the book.

View all my reviews