The Windup Girl: Way Too Wound Up

Another book post, originally for my Recent Sci Fi and Fantasy class. I toned the snark, though I really have it in spades for this book.

Oh, and spoilers.

This is one of those cases where, even though my personal feelings may get in the way, I am going to try really hard to be constructive in my comments about this book.

The world-building in The Windup Girl is extremely detailed, building a futuristic-yet-old-fashioned Bangkok from the ground up. You get a deep sense right away about what has happened to this world to make them rely on methane gas and deal in calories as well as money. The problem for me personally was that this wasn’t a world that I really wanted to visit. Normally I love visions of real places twisted and reimagined for a certain future or an alternative past. That is part of the escapism that comes with reading books, after all. But Bacigalupi’s Bangkok was not a welcoming place to escape to. I mean, of course the places in books aren’t always pleasant. I wouldn’t want to visit Panem or Divergent’s Chicago any time soon. But even though the settings were foreboding, the stories of the people that lived there were rich and enticing enough to draw you in. I suppose that I really didn’t want to visit Bangkok because I didn’t want to spend time with the people that lived there.

I didn’t form connections to any of the characters. To me it just seemed like most of them were there to propel the politics of the story forward, and that was it. I don’t feel like Emiko, for being the title character, was featured nearly enough. And Anderson, who you would think would also be more important, doesn’t get enough page time either. I didn’t care to read about Jaidee and Kanya, though I know that they were necessary to forward the political plot of the book. And I also didn’t care about Hock Seng, who also I believe features in the short story “The Yellow Card Man”. In fact, I kind of wanted him to die at the end. Not too fond of Hock Seng. In the end I wanted this book to be more character-driven and not agenda-driven, to be more about the actual windup girl and her struggles, and the calorie man and his struggles. I didn’t quite buy Anderson’s weird interest in Emiko, then writing her off so quick, going back and forth between looking like he actually cares and then throwing her out with the trash, only to be nice to her again when presented with the opportunity. I could write a whole separate post on that one, but I’m choosing not to.

While I can appreciate the time and craft that went into the intricate world of The Windup Girl, after finishing the book I was just left with a vague impression of “what just happened” combined with “did I miss something?” I didn’t care that Bangkok was ruined. I didn’t care about the government change or the multiple slaughters and past genocides. To me all of this was so vague, combined with too many foreign words and different historical references that I just felt lost the entire time reading. And that is not something that I like to feel when reading a book.

(I think I tried to be constructive here. Really I tried.)

The Name of the Wind: Yeah, My Life DOES Deserve a Song.

wind cover

So for this semester in my pursuit of the F for my M.A., I don’t have to post my thoughts in my blog. But since I also have to be slightly more analytical and formal, I thought I’d post here as well, with my original essay but extra fun bits thrown in just for the blog crowd. This time around we’re tackling Recent Science Fiction and Fantasy. Our first victim: a little ditty called The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.

The Name of the Wind was always one of those books that I would pick up, turn it around in my hands a few times, read the back cover, and put back down. It incessantly caught my eye when I worked at Borders and would shelve in the Fantasy section. But I never got around to actually giving it a try. I always enjoy a great epic fantasy, especially one like this that is told in such a lyrical, dramatic way, a bard’s tale if you will. But I am also a fan of the humble, and while Kvothe is definitely human and makes many, many human mistakes, he is also (and maybe rightfully so) a bit on the arrogant side. And people like that usually turn me off, both in fiction and in real life. In fact, this book may be a great example of what not to put on the back as a snippet. On the back of the version I have (the big trade paperback from the library), in between the blurbs from other writers, is part of what Kvothe says to Chronicler to start out his story:

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me. (53)

Reading this always instantly turned me off to the main character. Now that I’ve read it, I understand more, but I can also see why people may get turned off by Kvothe at the same time.

Was surprised at all the fan art! Here's one I really like by Marc Simonetti. Find it here: http://marcsimonetti.deviantart.com/art/The-Name-of-the-Wind-123640928

Was surprised at all the fan art! Here’s one I really like by Marc Simonetti. Find it here: http://marcsimonetti.deviantart.com/art/The-Name-of-the-Wind-123640928

What I appreciated most about this book was the style. I’ve always been a fan of the more lyrical, song-like language and descriptions (dare I even say, a little purple prose thrown in here and there). I tend to write like this sometimes, so I appreciate it when it is well-done in other places. The format the Rothfuss uses, that of a story within a story, also lends itself to the style. For all the things that Kvothe has become, he is, in his core and blood, a performer. If he were telling a tale about any other hero it would have the same tone and slight exaggerations. But he is telling it about himself, which puts the performing qualities into a bit of a different light. Most people, when telling a story about themselves, may embellish a little, but I feel that most of us usually try to cast ourselves in more of a humble light. Not so with Kvothe, but when you are born to do great things, I suppose that comes with the territory. You can tell that he’s trying not to brag, but when someone talks about doing fantastical things in more of a matter-of-fact way, you still get a degree of awe mixed with disbelief. Kvothe realizes that he is no ordinary man, and tries to tell his story the way a more ordinary man might tell the story of his life. But it still comes across with enough nonchalance to possibly make the reader not like him very much.

The format of story-within-story is clever because it makes you wonder some about the overall narrator. Kvothe is telling the story of his past to Chronicler, but who is telling the story of present-day Kvothe telling his story?

On a personal note, there is one thing I really enjoyed about The Name of the Wind, and that was how Rothfuss wrote music, and the playing of music, and the feeling of music swelling within Kvothe. In scenes like after his parents’ deaths, when Kvothe is wandering around the forest on his own, with music as his only solace, the descriptions of how he plays was very natural and organic: “I began to play something other than songs. When the sun warms the grass and the breeze cools you, it feels a certain way. I would play until I got the feelings right. I would play until it sounded like Warm Grass and Cool Breeze” (128). Since my current WIP is centered around music, it showed me a great example of how to describe music when it is so important to the character.

*Okay, here is some extra snark and love just for blog readers. One thing that personally annoyed me about this book was Kvothe’s name. I just couldn’t say it in my head, and stumbled every time I saw it. He even says in the book how to pronounce it (supposedly it sounds just like the word “quothe”, but I still had a hard time with it. If you have to put in the book itself how to pronounce your main character’s name, I kinda feel like it’s a little too much of a mouthful. Or at least give the poor guy a nickname. I mean, when I first read about Daenerys in Game of Thrones, yeah it’s a little hard to get around. But she often becomes Dani, so that even when you see the name Daenerys, you think Dani. I do that in my book Blood and Ambrosia (not it’s not out, still working on that part!): my main character is Larkeyae, which no one I’ve met can every say. But she’s really just Larke for most of the book, so it’s okay. Not sure what kind of nickname you can make from Kvothe though. He’s just stuck.

One other thing that super tickled me about this book, and this is for all the gamers out there. Right in the beginning, when Kvothe is trying to pretend that he’s just an innkeep named Kote, someone thinks they recognize him. Kvothe suddenly almost falls, and then tells them that he once took an arrow to the knee… Now this was published a few years before Skyrim, so there’s not really any correlation. But come on, you know you really can’t hear “arrow to the knee” anymore without thinking of a Skyrim joke.

Okay, back to the more formal!*

I am glad I have finally gotten to read this book, and definitely want to read the next one. The Name of the Wind has all the qualities that good epic fantasy should have: sweeping landscapes, a compelling hero, a robust mythology, and a threatening, lurking Evil. Couple this with a style that seems both new and familiar at the same time and you get a book that manages to stand on its own next to the greats.

 

Yeah I would do this too.

Yeah I would do this too.

Works Cited—Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind. New York: DAW Books, 2007. Print.

Snow: NOT a Winter Wonderland

snow

I’ve gone through a complete cycle of emotions after reading Snow, by Ronald Malfi. At first I couldn’t stop comparing it to one of the earlier selections I’ve had to read for my Monsters course, that being Breeding Ground. Since I wasn’t really fond of Breeding Ground, I decided that I didn’t like Snow. Then, while pondering my dislike of Snow, I realized that Snow really wasn’t that bad. Then it started to snow for real around here (just a spit, but still) and I decided that I don’t like real snow, but that Snow the book was growing on me. I’ve now concluded that Snow was a decent one-time read, with characters that I actually liked somewhat, a unique monster, and enough shooting and explosions to keep me moving toward the somewhat satisfactory ending.

I don’t really like recapping the story in my posts: these are really supposed to be all about the monsters, but I also realize that not everyone who’s reading this has read the book, so here’s the tiny recap: Main dude down on his luck is stuck at the airport over Christmas because of a terrible storm in the Midwest. He meets up with a woman who is also stuck, and together with another random couple (read: CANNON FODDER) they rent a four-wheel-drive and attempt to drive from O’Hare to DeMoines, Iowa. Of course they can’t see, the roads suck, they almost hit a creepy dude in the road and end up stuck in this town, that they quickly find out has been taken over by translucent snow-creatures with sickle-hands that turn humans into pod-people-puppets or eat them. Survival ensues.

The monsters Malfi created in Snow I thought were pretty unique. You kind of infer by the end of the novel that they’re either some sort of alien or from another dimension (there’s a weird electric-eye-cloud-possibly-portal that floats around that I’ll get to in a minute). The monsters are hard to see on their own; they appear as drifts of snow, with maybe a weird shimmer here and there, and they don’t always behave like snow. Mainly, they move. Normal snow usually only falls, not move and swirl independently. Mutant snow would be terrifying on its own ( I think about how bad East TN is about snow, even when it’s not even an inch. These guys would shit their pants around mutant snow); but the truly scary part is when the snow gets close. It can concentrate just enough to solidify its arms which have nasty sickle blades as hands. They hook these into your shoulders and move you out, then they move in. In the book they’re described as “skin-suits” or “puppets”. That would scare the bejebus out of me. So you have mutant snow tornadoes, puppet people, oh and the beasties can band together and make a giant snow monster. Eat your heart out, Abominable Snow Man!

Now I have to talk about the similarities between Snow and Breeding Ground. Weird monsters, plucky band of survivors, funky weather, and a weird fascination with sex. But Snow does all these things in a much more believable, not as weird way. I liked the characters a lot better in Snow. The main guy, Todd, fully admitted to being a bit of a douchebag, but was trying to make things right by his son. He had a lot more depth than Matt did. And when Todd finds himself attracted to Kate, the woman he meets at the airport and hitches a ride with, he questions his emotions and calls himself out for being dumb and thinking with his lower regions in the middle of a catastrophe. At least he’s unattached and isn’t mourning his pregnant girlfriend that just died the day before. Stupid Matt.

At least the funky weather makes a lot more sense in here. You KNOW the creatures need it to be cold; the book is called SNOW for Pete’s sake. When the clouds started to look funky I was worried that it would never get more than a nod like the weird weather in Breeding Ground. But then we see the electrical-storm-cloud thing, that tends to move. You find out that it acts like a portal, and is most likely communicating directions to the puppet people. It also has rendered all the electronics in the town useless. Good thing Todd brings his trusty laptop!

My phone works Bro!

My phone works Bro!

Finally, what the heck is it with people in terrible situations thinking about their past sexual relationships? Is it the fear of death that makes us think of the act of creation? I have never been in a situation where I’m about to be eaten by a giant spider or ridden by a snow ghost, so I can’t say that isn’t what I would be thinking about. But I just found it jarring in this book, and whenever one of these sections popped up, it took me out of the story. Trying to relieve the tension maybe? I don’t think that’s a good way to do it.

Oh, and I forgot to mention. The snow makes kids’ faces implode so they are completely just a bubble of skin. Creepy and gross. More so than anything else in the book.

So Snow has pretty creepy monsters that are definitely unique enough to stand on their own, even if the actual premise of people surviving against crazy creatures wanting to end the world isn’t all that original. I will never look at snowdrifts or kids in those huge bubble parkas in the same way ever again.

Towns across the Midwest all saw something similar.

Towns across the Midwest all saw something similar.

Relic: Plants Make You Craaaaazzzyy!!!

The Relic by David Moscati

Relic seems like such a classic kind of story, it should be done more often. You get a touch of Indiana Jones, mixed with Theseus and the Minotaur, to equal Night at the Museum. With body parts. Sounds good to me! ( Oh and there are SPOILERS!)

I love stories having to do with mysterious cultures and their monsters/gods. Relic’s monster comes from a thought-to-be extinct tribe in the Amazon, a curse centered around an old idol discovered and shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History. The monster comes along with it, a beast that could be ape-like, lizard-like, or big cat-like (the book including the cover hints at something like a pissed-off gorilla with raptor claws, while the movie has this apey-lizardy thing that looks badass). It makes its home in the labyrinthine tunnels under the museum, stalking its prey. This giant scary ape-lizard hunts you, rips you apart and then noses around in your brain to eat this tiny little delicate part that is almost like a drug to it. It’s like a chocoholic with preternatural strength going nuts in a Godiva store and ripping everything apart just to get to the cherry cheesecake truffles, because they’re addicted to them. Only there’s not as much human carnage.

Relic2

The book never gives a great description of the monster itself, almost pulling a movie trick of keeping the beast in the shadows. Even when Margo finally confronts it in the end she doesn’t get a good look at it. I really enjoyed the way the monster looked in the movie (though the movie itself isn’t all the great). It looks truly horrifying, and can definitely rip you in half without batting an eye. The fact that there is almost human intelligence behind all that power and hunger, and you can see why everyone in the museum would be terrified. All of the science behind the monster’s creation lost me a little bit though. It has to do with these specific plants that grew in the area where the tribe was from, and the enzymes from the plant were like a virus that mutated the tissue, or something crazy like that. And that enzyme was similar to the hormone secreted by the hypothalamus that the monster needs to nosh on in order to survive. Basically, the plants mutate animal tissue. Or human tissue. In the book, none of the brilliant scientists ever figure that out, except for one guy that of course wants to use it (enter Book Two). I liked in the movie at least they figure out at the end that the monster used to actually be a person.

The setting itself is great too: a huge, old museum, built on top of an even older structure full of twisty tunnels is the perfect setting for a more modern monster story. It reminds me of the old monster story of the Minotaur, roaming around his maze, stalking his meals while they haphazardly wander around getting more lost by the minute. The monster is obviously not lost. It’s not until Pendergrast produces blueprints that the monster loses some of its power.

All in all I enjoyed Relic. While I am not rushing out to read Reliquary, I think the book stands on its own as a different take of the monster in the maze story, with an actually unique monster in the middle.

The Wolfman: Still Better Than the Movie

wolfman 2

You’ve heard it a million times before: the book is always better than the movie. I wasn’t quite sure if the same held true for a movie novelization book, based on the actual screenplay of the movie. In the case of The Wolfman, novelized by Jonathan Maberry, the old adage still holds true. And to make sure I could actually say that, after I read the book, I watched the movie.

Let me start with the book, and of course the monster, our dear old friend the Wolfman. The idea of the werewolf is one of the instantly-known monsters, right up there with vampires and witches. The story is set in the late 1800s, giving it that distinct Gothic feel that classic monster stories deserve, at least in my opinion. I felt that Maberry really tried to make the story feel older, and give it that decidedly Gothic air. The language he used for the most part felt right for the time period, but still simple enough and not too flowery for modern readers. There was only a phrase here or there that made me stop and think, “Hmm, that doesn’t sound like something he would say.”

Lawrence Talbot’s transformation into the monster was painful to read, and rightfully so. When the man’s bones break and reform, his limbs and mouth elongate, I was squirming in my seat trying not to picture it in my head or hear the sounds that must have made. And once the transformation was complete, there really isn’t a shred of human left. He turns into a giant wolfy monster man that is as comfortable on two legs as he is on four, that is made to slash and kill and feed and not give a damn who or what he’s slashing and killing. And I am glad for that. Werewolves should be that way, not just giant versions of what’s in the wild. I don’t always agree when the lycanthrope can still think semi-rationally. They are killing machines, working for a cruel mistress in the moon, and they really shouldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything except blood and food. Now I have to mention the movie here for a minute. I loved how they portrayed Lawrence’s transformations, especially when he’s in the asylum strapped in the chair. You hear those nasty popping sounds, see the stuff crawling under his skin, and the blood that comes out when his jaw reforms and his claws pop out. But once he’s fully transformed…I don’t know, I thought his face would be more terrifying. I guess this is another nod toward the original, but I didn’t think with all our moderness that in the end the Wolfman’s face would still kind of look like a guy in wolf makeup. And I thought Anthony Hopkins’ makeup was better, but maybe it was because he was grey and not black. I don’t know. I will stick with my own imagination on this one, because that is a much scarier version.

wolfman meme

In the end, I think the idea is there, and the story really pays homage to the classic, and captures all the scary elements that you think of when you think of werewolves. It’s dark and bleak in that classic Gothic way, and delightfully gory to boot. But don’t bother with the movie. Read the book, and let your own mental images of the Wolfman color your dreams.

P.S. Fun fact for those who have seen the movie: Talbot Hall was filmed at the same location they used for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. Maybe instead of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies it should have been Pride and Prejudice and Werewolves. Darcy as the Wolfman? Food for thought 🙂

Now picture this all busted and dark and gloomy.

Now picture this all busted and dark and gloomy.

World War Z: A Monster Book?

 

Z cover

I’ve had to sit on this one a few days and chew on it before attempting to write this post. First of all, this book is awesome. The sometimes-correct Natty Ultra has been begging me to read this for ever, since it’s his favorite book, and I just never quite got around to it. I was sure it was pretty good; he usually has excellent taste, but I’m just not really into zombies. He tells me, “It’s not really about zombies; it’s about the human factor.” And after reading it, I found he was absolutely right. Which brings me to my conundrum when writing about this book for a class on Monsters: are the monsters the stars of this book, enough for it to qualify being part of a class on Monsters?

Yes. And no.

(LOOK OUT! SPOILERS!)

I think the format of the book what was threw me at first, about whether this book was indeed, for lack of a better term, monster-y enough. It’s set up as a series of interviews of some key and not so key people that made it through World War Z. In his intro Max Brooks clearly states that his interviews were more about “the human factor” than anything else. It’s about the kinds of stories people want to hear about wars. And this is most definitely about a war. It’s a war not against other countries, but against people that we knew at one moment, changed forever into a danger that you cannot reason with, just destroy. But it’s still a war. And to me at least, it reads like a war novel.

Maybe part of the other problem I had is that with a lot of monster tales, often you get into the head of the monster. Of course with the trend of human-type monsters like vampires, the monster has enough of a brain for us to get into . Not so with zombies. Unless you have a unique case like Warm Bodies, you’re just not getting into the head of a zombie. And a lot of the survivors’ tales have to deal with the human “monsters” that inevitably crop up in this kind of scenario, just as much as the actual zombies. So you instantly ask yourself, “is this book about zombie monsters, or humans as monsters, or both?” And which monster features more prevalently?

The zombies in World War Z have enough classic elements to make them instantly familiar, but the setting in which they’re placed, and they way that they are used make them terrifying. These zombies are the slower kind, with some interviews talking about exploiting their slowness in order to get away. Essentially, you can outrun or even out walk a zombie (though I swear I read about them running somewhere in the beginning of the book, but I can’t seem to find it, so maybe I was hallucinating it. I did read much of it during the wee hours of the morning.). I think sheer numbers, and surprise, is what allowed the zombies to take over so drastically in the beginning. They were everywhere before people knew it. And if you live in a bustling metropolitan or even suburban area, how likely are you to be able to avoid all those dead people? It makes me actually be thankful for currently living where I do in East TN. I think about DE, and the stretch of 95 from Baltimore to NYC that is pretty much entirely civilization, shopping malls, towns and smaller cities all interconnected into the bigger pulsing cities, and I think why it would be apt for those places to be the first to be lost. You just couldn’t sneak through that many. And when one gets a whiff of you, it moans loud enough for the dead to hear, pun intended. There’s no running from the swarm.

"Let me in to  WalMart!"

Maybe I’m being a little controversial in saying that I don’t think this book is a monster book, or just only a monster book. It doesn’t need to be solely about the monsters in order to still be scary. I am not completely convinced that World War Z is enough of a monster book to be included next to stories that are completely, obviously about the monsters. World War Z, to me, is several kinds of books in one: a war novel, alternate history, survival horror, and yes, a monster book too. Whatever it is to you, you should still read it. In the end, whatever kind of book you think it is, it’s just a great read.

P.S. I purposely chose not to mention the movie in here, which is so drastically different from the book it really is its own creature. I think there are several good points to be made when comparing the two, and I would even go so far to say that the movie was more about the monsters than the book. But we’re talking about the book, so I’ll leave the movie for another post.

 

z pitt 2

I’m not afraid o’ no zombie!

P.P.S. Brad Pitt is good at fighting zombies. He can be on my survival team.

The Yattering and Jack: Dance Turkey Dance!

So The Yattering and Jack was the first thing I actually read by Clive Barker, and I have to say this was what made me really appreciate his way with words. There was still that crazy head-hopping that I mentioned in Rawhead Rex, but he totally made up for it with the turkey. More on that later, and if you don’t want any more spoilers, STOP READING. For now, anyway.

The Yattering is one of my favorite kinds of demon portrayals. Poor little Yattering just wants to please his masters and drive his target, one Jack J. Polo, completely insane. Easy, right? Throw a few things, toast a cat or two, whisper nastiness in his ear. What the little demon doesn’t know is that Polo is completely on to him, and is playing a game of his own.

I really felt bad for the little thing. Once again we get a story from the monster’s POV, but this time the monster is the demonic equivalent of a child, who doesn’t even know what Heaven really is, or why he’s really doing what he’s doing. He was bred for purpose, and that was it. But the Yattering has a child’s curiosity and wants to know why why why. Instead he just gets boredom. And man, I would go crazy too if all I had to do all day was putter around the house, wait for the mailman, torture the cat, and leer at the naked lady across the street. What I want to know is, why didn’t the Yattering watch TV while he waited for Polo to come home after work? He obviously could touch things since he broke most of Polo’s belongings. If I were a little demon stuck in that situation, I’d be watching daytime talk shows. It would have been funny if the Yattering got addicted to soaps or Oprah.

Anyway I have to talk about the turkey scene, which to me was the hands-down best scene in the story. The Yattering is at its wits’ end and is launching a full scale assault on Polo and his daughters during Christmas. His brilliant idea is to make the Christmas turkey escape from the oven and try to fly away. I absolutely love the imagery of this delectable looking turkey, complete with a coating of bacon, stumbling around clumsy and headless as it launches toward the family. The words that Barker uses to describe it are at once grotesque and delectable, making the reader not sure whether they want to run from the turkey or eat it. It’s the one image that sticks in my head whenever I think about this story. The turkey certainly isn’t the monster, but it is a little terrifying. And delicious.

Well the poor Yattering doesn’t win in the end. Polo ends up incensing the creature to the point where it breaks all its rules and comes out side to squish Polo’s head. As soon as it does that the creature is now bound to Polo. Polo effectively beats Hell at its own game, and the Yattering becomes the prize. The reader certainly empathizes with the Yattering, even though you feel like you should route for Polo. I can’t quite decide if Polo is actually evil, or just trying to live his life in peace. You get the sense that he’s done his research and knows quite a bit more about Hell and its denizens than he ever lets on in the story. So is the Yattering actually the protagonist who meets a tragic end? I guess that’s up to you to decide. I think so. I rooted for the little guy.

***I am posting this from my iPad, so I don’t have the funny pics that I’d like to include with this post, but I will most likely update it later with some gems 🙂