And after a few interruptions we are back to the Discworld theme. In fact now we come to Moving Pictures. The movie buff in me absolutely loved it, the reader in me… not so much. Oh, it was still hilarious, don’t get me wrong, and I loved all the little nods at the history of film, but there was still a level at which somehow I felt that this book failed to connect, the problem is that I am not exactly sure why.
Maybe it is the fact that there are some rather superfluous subplots that I found somewhat distracting (like the whole thousand elephants thing), or maybe it is the fact that the ‘almost mirroring our world’ jokes were repeated once too often for my liking (‘banged grains’ anyone?), I’m not really sure. In fact it may just be due to the fact that, with the exception of Rincewind and the Librarian, I have always had a little trouble relating to the wizards as a whole, and at times I feel like they are one running joke that has been kept running for a bit too long. Sure, they are entertaining enough, but there is only so much you can do with slapstick comedy, and compared with the other characters in this particular universe I feel that they lack a certain depth. They are the wizards, but in a way that’s all they are, they don’t really contribute anything. The City Watch is a link to the city of Ankh-Morpork as a whole and a mosaic that offers us a glimpse into its different cultures in microcosm, the Witches and Tiffany Aching are a link to the folklore of the Discworld and Death is death… even the couple of stories in the Moist von Lipwig series have a clearly defined aim, but at times the wizards come across as little more than a source of comic relief. The problem is that to be able to provide that comic relief there has to be something bigger than they are –something for them to provide comic relief from– and if that something is missing they can easily wind up dragging a whole story down. That is what I suspect happened in Moving Pictures. If it had remained as a mostly standalone story with the character of Victor, and maybe the Librarian, as the only links to Unseen University this would almost certainly have been one of the best books in the whole series, instead it ends up falling somewhat flat, and that is particularly frustrating because the first half of this thing was great.
Of course, I realize that my not-quite-dislike of the wizards is a matter of personal preference that may well say more about me than it does about the books and characters, but it is an issue that does play a role in how I perceive this series, and seeing how this is supposed to be my blog, well, my personal preferences are bound to come into play.
And now for the second installment of ‘the flatland chronicles’. As I mentioned the last time around, I am currently rereading the Discworld series, and a couple of days ago I finished ‘Guards! Guards!’ Seeing how this is the first book in the whole ‘City Watch’ series it is also probably among the best suited to serve as an introduction to the Discworld universe as a whole. Yes, the members of the watch still have some growing up left to do (Carrot’s commas are almost invariably in the wrong place in this one), but at least the characters that are actually there are clearly recognizable, and the Discworld itself comes across as being more fully fleshed than it was in ‘The Colour of Magic’.
As for the book itself, one of the things that caught my attention was how Monty Pythonesque some scenes actually were. A perfect example of this would be the first secret society scene, which I felt would have been right at home in either ‘The Life of Brian’ or in ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. Yes, it can be said that Monty Python is one of Pratchett’s most obvious influences throughout the series anyway, but in addition to that there is something about the Watch’s storylines themselves that makes them particularly well suited for such treatment (or at least that was the case at first, though even as the book progressed and the author grew more comfortable with his own characters that influence seemed to become a little more nuanced).
Oh, the fact that an author will grow more comfortable with a book’s characters as s/he becomes more acquainted with them is not really all that unusual, but the sheer extent of the Discworld series, and the fact that there wasn’t a single overarching story that the author wanted to tell when he set out to write this whole thing in the first place, combined to give him an unusual degree of freedom, and it also provided the rest of us with a particularly interesting case study in character maturation. That is, as far as I am concerned, one of the things you can get out of rereading this series (in case you need an excuse beyond the obvious entertainment value of the books themselves, that is).
After thinking it over for a while I decided to go back to the beginning and reread at least the first few books of the Discworld series… though I’m not ruling out the possibility of going over the whole thing again (in case you were wondering, I am currently in book 7, Pyramids). So far I have to say that it has been a very revealing experience, one that has given me an interesting perspective to how that particular universe has developed. One of the most interesting details that jumps out on a second reading is how vague Terry Pratchett’s idea seems to have been when The Colour of Magic was first published (or rather how far has his original idea come since then). Oh, there are some familiar elements. The Luggage is there, as is a prototypical Rincewind, who at times is barely recognizable… okay, he is not quite irrecognizable but he is clearly different from the character he will eventually become (in fact it could be argued that it is not until we get to Sourcery that he becomes the wizzard we know and love). As for Ankh-Morpork, the city is barely outlined, if at that… but then again, even though Ankh-Morpork serves as a starting point, it is not the main stage for this one.
On the other hand, while Rincewind and Ankh-Morpork are embryonic at best, the nature of the Discworld as such is front and center in a way it is not in later books. This is not surprising considering that the nature of that world is the starting point of the whole thing, and I suspect that one of the best decisions the author ever made was precisely the one allowing that nature to fade into the background. Sure, that nature never really goes away, and it remains a critical element of the story throughout –the series is called, after all, Discworld— but as amusing as the basic premise happens to be, by itself it probably wouldn’t have been enough to carry an almost forty book series. It was only when the disc was set aside that the world as such, with all of its assorted characters, was allowed to flourish.
I just finished reading China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun and over all I have to say that I really liked it. Sure, at times I found it a little too childish, but then again kids are the intended audience. In fact the biggest problem I may have had to do with the fact that this book came too highly recommended. Funny how often that turns into a problem when someone recommends a book. What I mean is that I was expecting to be completely blown away so somehow that ‘I really liked it’ seems mild… and it also leaves me wondering whether or not a less enthusiastic recommendation would have led me to enjoy it more (or if it would have caused me to send it to the pile of books I intend to read ‘someday’).
So to begin with let me say that I had never read anything by China Miéville before, but I had come across a review that described Un Lun Dun as a cross between Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Seeing how those are two of my all time favorites I couldn’t resist. The thing is that while the influence of both of these works is apparent throughout the book, I find it lacking some of their depth, and it also has a far more explicit message that at times is a little too ‘in your face’ for comfort, a fact that marks a pretty stark difference.
On a more positive note, I liked the characters and some of the concepts. I loved Hemi and how Deeba grew up as the plot unfolded, I liked the concepts of the unchosen one, the utterlings and the unGun… and how can you go wrong with a book with a reference to A Wasp in a Wig? (and if you are wondering what this wasp in a wig thing happens to be, you can find it here). Anyway, while some points did come across as a little too overdrawn for my liking, I realize I am not part of the book’s target audience, so that may be a problem that has more to do with my own perspective than with the book itself.
In other words, even though this review is coming across as a little too negative for my liking, I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book a four stars rating. As I said, I definitely enjoyed it and I would most definitely recommend it, just don’t go in expecting to fall in love with it… who knows, maybe if you don’t expect to fall in love with it you actually will!
Okay, I’ve had this one written for a while, but up until now I hadn’t dared to post it. You see, I am about to confess to what amounts to a sin for a fan of fantasy literature, are you ready: I am not a big fan of The Lord of the Rings (and by that I mean the books, not the movies). Oh, I’m not denying their importance as one of the foundational works of the whole genre. In fact I freely acknowledge that it is probably the most influential work of the twentieth century. I know that without it I probably wouldn’t be here, or rather that I would not be writing the things I write, and I realize that it is very well crafted, but even though I have read it a couple of times hoping to develop a taste for it, I just can’t seem to get in the spirit of things. I enjoyed The Hobbit, but when it comes to its big brother I have a number of problems: Continue reading The Sins of a Fan of Fantasy Lit→
Yes, I usually talk about books, but this is about one of my favorite films of all times, one chances are you have never heard of: Strings, a 2005 movie directed by Anders Rønnow Klarlund. I first saw it with no expectations whatsoever. Someone just handed me the DVD without a word (and without the box). Within five minutes I was hooked. The movie is an unusual one to say the least, and even though the ending came as a bit of a disappointment (I felt like the director had tried to force in an ending that was consistent with the story he had set out to tell without realizing that the film had soared so far above it that it no longer fit), it just took my breath away. It is beautiful, shocking and haunting. An epic tale of war, peace, love and hate that had me from the opening scene. Yes, the performances can best be described as ‘wooden’ but that is what makes them absolutely unforgettable, and in a world in which CGI plays an ever increasing role in film production this one does serve as a sort of wake up call. Five stars, and that is just because most review systems don’t allow me to give it six.
I just finished reading Diana Wynne Jones’s Archer’s Goon. Over all it was a pleasant read, and the story was well told, though there is one spot in the middle that comes across as a little heavy-handed (one of those instances in which the author seems to have gone to such lengths to ensure that an unexpected twist comes as a surprise that it doesn’t quite seem to fit in the story as a whole). The one thing that stayed with me, however, was not so much the plot as the concept of the Everything-But drawer. That is one of those concepts that describe an everyday reality that is so plain and ever-present that when you come across it for the first time you find yourself wondering how come you’d never heard of it before. The everything-but drawer –of which I suspect there is at least one example in each and every house as a matter of law– is that drawer in which you can find everything… except whatever it is that you are actually looking for. Continue reading Everything-But→
A few months ago I decided to sit down and read Harry Potter from beginning to end. Seeing how those books have been analyzed to death, and then some, I won’t go into too many details, but I was reminded of one thing that has been bugging me since I first came across the first book. Throughout the series we have Lord Voldermort as the ruthless supervillain, doing everything within his power to kill our noble hero… and yet in book one he squandered what was the most obvious chance he had to get rid of the brat once and for all by being, out of all things, too freaking decent. What I mean is that when Harry and Hermione come to Snape’s challenge they are confronted with a number of flasks, each containing a different potion. One of these allows you to go forward, one allows you to go back, two are harmless and three are downright deadly… so why didn’t Quirrell just rearrange the bottles so that by solving the riddle Harry and Hermione would just have ended up poisoning themselves? Any ideas?
Okay, so in these past few days I have been spending too much time reading and too little time blogging about it. In fact since my last post I finished The Long Earth (a Pratchett/Baxter collaboration) and The Homeward Bounders (by Diana Wynne Jones). Both books are worth reading and, against all odds, they make for an interesting combination since, in spite of their rather obvious differences, they do share a number of common elements, starting with the fact that both deal with the subject of parallel worlds. Sure, one deals mostly with what the sudden availability of a countless number of Earths would mean for human society as a whole while the other is a fantasy novel that deals with the adventures of a group of kids who become pawns in a sort of cosmic game that spans a multitude of worlds, but at least there is a common element that can serve as a connecting point, while painting two completely different pictures.
Needing a breather from the pile of manure that The Land of Mist seems to be at times (er… no, I’m not enjoying that one), and taking full advantage of what seemed like a perfectly timed release, yesterday I turned my attention to Terry Pratchett’s latest opus: The World of Poo. The contrast was remarkable. No, this little gem does not pretend to be a masterpiece, though Young Sam Vimes wouldn’t hesitate to label it as such, and it is certainly not for everyone… in fact a good rule of thumb would be that, if you don’t know who young Sam happens to be, you may as well steer clear from this one.
For the uninitiated, please keep in mind that there is no ‘h’ at the end of the title. In other words, if you are looking for a cute teddy bear you are likely to be disappointed. The book is exactly what it sounds like: a tale of a boy’s inquiries into everything pertaining to one of those activities that are common to both kings and beggars as he assembles a collection that he hopes to turn into a rather unique museum… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
As you can probably guess, this is a mock-children’s book. It is also a tie-in to the Discworld series, especially Snuff. No, it is not a must-read, not even for Discworld fans (in fact at times it feels like an attempt to milk hardcore fans for everything they are worth), but it is certainly enjoyable… if you are in the right frame of mind.
Title: Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind
Author: Clea Saal
Genre: Fantasy/Pseudo Young Adult
Page count: 372 pages
Chapter 1: Wish upon a Star
The night was more than a little chilly as Sylvia made her way home after a long day at work. Her day had been particularly unremarkable and, seeing how all of her days were, almost by definition, quite unremarkable, that was saying something. She got up every morning at exactly the same time, got dressed, had a cup of coffee and two slices of toast for breakfast as she listened to the day’s forecast, went to work and then, after eight very long and boring hours, she went home, always walking the same streets and seeing the same people at exactly the same time. Continue reading Citlalli on the Edge of the Wind (excerpt)→