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Old 01-05-2015, 11:59 PM   #1
Jett Rink Jett Rink is offline
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Old 01-06-2015, 12:18 AM   #2
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I like this idea and hope this thread keeps afloat even though this site is more for electronics and movies / TV than literature.

My last three recent reads:

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

Short, incredible and memorable. My third Steinbeck of the year (East of Eden and The Winter of Our Discontent) and it was better than I remember it being from almost a decade ago when I read it. Lennie and George are pretty iconic characters even within the 100+ pages of the novel.

Atonement - Ian McEwan

Such a fantastic read. My first McEwan novel and it made me want to look into more of his work. I love the writing style he uses here, and while the characters themselves are not individually memorable, the story definitely is. A bold choice to break the novel up into three different 'acts', but it works.

Women - Charles Bukowski

Bukowski has always made me laugh and made mundane, daily life come across as the boring yet puzzling oddity that it is. Women gets a bit old after awhile as it kind of is "rinse and repeat" after the first 100 pages, but it was a quick read and anyone who's had women problems (who hasn't) will find a lot of humor and reality in these characters.
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Old 01-08-2015, 08:03 AM   #3
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The Addams Family: An Evilution - H. Kevin Miserocchi & Charles Addams

Excellent hardcover collection of the original Addams Family comics by Charles Addams, organized by character with text from both Addams (the original character guidelines he wrote for the TV producers) and Miserocchi (general overviews detailing the evolution of the characters over the years).
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Old 01-18-2015, 11:57 PM   #4
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Pet Sematary - Stephen King

King says that of all his work, this is the story that creeps him out the most. While this is only the third work of his that I have read, I have to agree. The Shining? Good, but not consistently scary. Pet Sematary? Oh definitely. Very creepy, very great atmosphere and visuals that come off the page. I look forward to watching the film sometime soon. I finished this 550+ page book in about three days, I just couldn't put it down.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick

The influence of Blade Runner, and much better than the film, in my opinion. While Dick's writing for conversations is quite lacking at times (at least in this novel) the story, ideas and pace of the story is all quite terrific. Less than 300 pages and tells a coherent story that holds up well.
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Old 02-15-2015, 08:23 PM   #5
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The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America by Thurston Clarke.

Fantastic read and one of the better books on Bobby Kennedy that I have read as far as research, information from those that were actually in his inner circle, etc.
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Old 02-17-2015, 02:08 PM   #6
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Talking The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, Book 1) by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, Book 1) by Brandon Sanderson

This one took a while for me to read. At 1009 pages, it's got a lot to process.
However, it feels as if not a single word has been wasted. Of note, I read the Kindle version.

Book Description via Amazon
Quote:
In The Way of Kings, #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson introduces readers to the fascinating world of Roshar, a world of stone and storms.

It has been centuries since the fall of the Knights Radiant, but their mystical swords and armor remain, transforming ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for them. Wars are fought for them and won by them.

One such war rages on the Shattered Plains where Kaladin, son of a surgeon, has been reduced to slavery, and Dalinar, commander of the armies, is plagued by dreams of ancient times, doubting his own sanity.

Across the ocean, Shallan, a na´ve but brave and brilliant young woman, plans a daring theft to save her impoverished noble house from ruin.

The result of over ten years of planning, writing, and world-building, The Way of Kings is Book 1 of The Stormlight Archive, an epic fantasy masterpiece in the making.

THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE series
Book 1: The Way of Kings
Book 2: Words of Radiance
I don't know what I'm most impressed with, as far as this story goes. The story itself is very, very good. The characters are fully fleshed out (Kaladin, most so, having learned about his history as dedicated by a few chapters). The pace is excellent. It feels less like a marathon, and more like a jog through the country without feeling winded or tired, and without caring of anything aside from the world around you.

To me, the stars of this book are both the world that Sanderson created and describes so well, and the prose. Sanderson's writing is so perfect, that you almost forget you're reading a book. As bizarre as that sounds, it's seemingly true.

I loved every minute of this book, and am already into the next one!

(5/5)
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Old 04-04-2015, 01:34 AM   #7
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Landline - Rainbow Rowell

Landline is about a married woman's life with her husband, kids, and best friend. And a magic phone that lets her call her 13 years in the past husband and talk to him. It's also set around Christmas. This book feels very, VERY much like you're watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. That isn't a bad thing. It's a light, quick read. If you like made-for-TV Christmas movies, this is right up your alley. It's not a fantastic book, but it would probably be one of the better Hallmark movies. If you want fluff at Christmas with a timey twist, go read Landline. It wont take you long.
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Old 10-22-2015, 12:54 AM   #8
Al_The_Strange Al_The_Strange is offline
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Battle Royale (Koushun Takami)

You may have heard of The Running Man and The Hunger Games - disturbing tales of the future in which human lives are put on the line in bloodsport entertainment. From Japan, Battle Royale is another horrific vision of the future: 42 junior high school students rounded up on an island and forced to fight to the death under the eyes of an authoritarian government.

The harrowing premise is what initially hooked me into the BR films, and finally into this novel. It has aspects that are familiar to the genre (which is not that big to begin with - just like The Running Man and Escape From New York, characters are coerced into action with explosive collars. The survivalist struggle and the game-like nature of the whole affair will bring The Hunger Games to mind - I've seen many people accusing it of ripping off BR). While the set-up and concepts used are neat, they are actually the low points of the book. Some of the things that makes this perfectly readable are its agreeable pacing, its harrowing action scenes and violence, and the dynamic ways in which characters clash and band together. The only bad thing is that this is a long book that chronicles every single student - it's not confusing, thankfully, but it can feel like a daunting read because of its sheer length and the level of detail Takami went into.

Fortunately, it is the characters that keeps this whole story glued together. The three main characters are a likable bunch, whose struggles comprise the bulk of the novel and all its more thrilling parts. What's really surprising is that the other 40+ characters receive a good amount of treatment too - even if they have short-lived parts, the author gives you just enough to understand them as people. Thus, all the death in the book carries substantial weight. Having to track all these characters, the plot moves around at a good rate, but it doesn't amount to much more than a struggle for survival (and possibly escape) on one island. Background is given on the type of government that runs the BR program, and the characters often vow to tear the system down, but it's all left as a mere cliffhanger.

This novel is written with plenty of flair. It does a great job of getting into each characters' thoughts and feelings. There are some parts that come off as a little odd, such as in how specific it gets with certain details (like character height and weight) and general wording. Dialogue appears realistic, but it can be rather melodramatic, especially when characters talk about their love lives and crushes (in this respect, it almost comes off as very anime-like). Chances are that some of these aspects are just inherent cultural traits to Japanese literature that I might be ignorant of.

Battle Royale is a perfectly enjoyable and juicy read. It's not always the best story or prose, but it is uncompromising in its vision, and compelling with its characters.

Comparatively, the novel is a grade better than the movie - the film does have good moments in its own right, but it always came off as rather stiff and drab to me. However, I do prefer the Hunger Games a little more, thanks to its pacing and worldbuilding.

4/5 (Experience: Good | Story: Pretty Good | Book: Pretty Good)

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Old 12-10-2015, 04:41 AM   #9
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Sorry Jett Rink, I know you said you liked this one, but I was rather underwhelmed.

Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)

Catch-22. Noun. A singular term signifying a paradoxical situation that one cannot escape from. Pretty much the same as "damned if you do and damned if you don't." Catch-22 is also a very bizarre war novel by war veteran Joseph Heller, in which he therapeutically channeled all his experiences and turned it into poignant satire.

To be fair, Catch-22 is quite the funny book at times. It is loaded with kooky characters, who often speak in funny circles and engage in some totally random shenanigans. The humor, especially in the form of circular logic, becomes a common thread that weaves through the whole book. Eventually, it builds up to a rather darker, bleaker portrayal of madness in the time of war. It doesn't get more bittersweet than this.

Despite its strengths, I personally found the book to be a bit of a chore. In between the sharp dialogue and humor, there are pages and pages of prose that drone on. What bothers me the most is that the plot offers little forward momentum - entire chapters go on where little actually seems to happen and characters don't really say anything of relevance. The matter is further exacerbated by the mixed-up narrative and the way it goes back and forth through time. After the first few chapters, I felt the book became tiresome, and were it not for providing a more grounded viewpoint through the protagonist, I probably wouldn't have cared for anything that happened.

Joseph Heller's writing can be quite wordy and meaty, but it is pretty easy to digest. Dialogue shows a lot of character. Characters are quite uniquely described and detailed (who wouldn't love people like Major Major or Col. Scheisskopf?). What stands out the best will be the quirky way words are manipulated circularly and paradoxically to coincide with the central concept behind the book's title - it can be rather ingenious.

This book is worth reading for its notoriety alone - it is considered one of the great modern classics, and there is value in the humor and the terror the book portrays. I just wish it could have been trimmer, more to-the-point, have more to the plot.

3/5
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Old 12-10-2015, 04:42 AM   #10
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Logan's Run (William F Nolan / George Clayton Johnson)

The Logan's Run film has been a seminal staple of sci-fi cinema my whole life. It's a film that presents its unique premise with plenty of flair and adventure. It seemed essential that I had to read the original book to see where this marvelous movie came from, and how it compared.

The book is as short, breezy, and pulpy as they come. It wastes no time in establishing the funky world Logan 5 lives in, and the madcap quest he embarks on. It's a sprawling adventure that goes all over the place, from one perilous situation to another. There are definitely unique ideas and vivid settings to behold, and it is quite a wonderful sci-fi adventure at times.

Unfortunately, I did find some things to be rather wonky. Strange as it may seem, I thought the plot of the movie adaptation was handled better - it made more sense to me that Logan would be put on a mission, rather than how it is in the book, where on his very last day of living he decides to try and find Sanctuary on his own initiative. Mort importantly, the events of the book are so tightly-packed, it's almost dizzying. Logan goes from one city to another, through canyons and glaciers, confronting Sandmen and killer robots and a crazy nursery and everything. Little time is spent in between the peril to settle down and get to know the characters and their world (world-building is effectively shown, but it still feels like a lot condensed into a very small space). In the end, the actual plot and sequence of events is very random. It's exciting at times, but not always compelling.

As far as characters go, surprisingly little is said about them. Despite all his strength and determination, I didn't think Logan's motivation was that strong, and there wasn't much for the reader to relate to. Other characters are quite flat.

Ideas and the world-building are immense, but once again, I felt the movie handled them better. The book details multiple cities worldwide, rather than just one. I can't say I can comprehend how the world as a whole could condone and conform to the system that's described, but the whole idea of controlling population by limiting age is a naturally compelling one (even if limiting it to 21 seems rather young).

The prose is pretty trim, tight, and easy to read. It might even come off as rather brusque in style. Descriptions are minimal, and most details about the world and the premise behind it are more shown rather than told. Action is always moving, dialogue is not bad, and the book overall gets the job done fine and dandy.

It is a fairly enjoyable piece of pulp sci-fi, but I personally value the movie more - its plotting is hammered out better, and its pacing much more even, whereas the book is tight and nonstop. I feel it's a little too fast and loose, and it doesn't quite capitalize on characters, concepts, and plotting as well as the movie does. It's worthwhile for sci-fi fans, but this is one rare case where I believe the movie is better.

3.5/5
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:26 AM   #11
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The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)

The teenage years can be a weird time for anybody. Many stories seek to capture the feelings of loneliness, confusion, angst, depression, and restlessness that everybody feels in these uncertain phases of life. The Catcher in the Rye stands as one of the best and most successful, because it captures all of this in one tight, punchy package, and the experience of reading it is quite the trip.

Through the narrative eyes of Holden Caulfield, the story can come off as totally random. It's all about Holden's wanderings from Pencey Preparatory school to the streets of New York City, where he sees and experiences a number of things that continuously alienates him. It's a pretty bizarre series of encounters, which includes a lot of horseplay, bar-hopping, and interactions with particularly seedy areas of the city. It might seem like a weird, plotless mess, but the characters and themes keep it all glued together as a cohesive plot: this is not so much about "plot" as it is about Holden reflecting, and ultimately discovering, his own place in the world. Through all the flashbacks and all the people he meets, he eventually finds something that inspires happiness in a world full of "phonies." The journey to discover what it means to be the "catcher in the rye" is what this story is all about.

Even though the book covers a lot of ground between covering Holden's past, present, and future, it is a short and incredibly characteristic. The whole thing is written in a very casual style, using Holden's voice and all his mannerisms and colloquialisms to place the reader in his shoes and make us understand all his thoughts and feelings on an intuitive level. Because of this, the book is not only consistently entertaining, it's also highly immersive and it succeeds at eliciting sympathy for the character. It's just as evocative as it is easy to read.

In spite of everything, JD Salinger's prose is quite brilliant in its own ways. He makes great use of language - the best and worst of it - to bring the character and story to life, and to make sure we can follow it to its end. The book entails some intriguing metaphors (especially in its title). Dialogue seems quite authentic. The language overall can be rather uncompromising, especially in the liberal way it uses curse words, but it fits the character and story pretty aptly.

The Catcher in the Rye is an interesting, bittersweet classic full of character and themes that are worth reading. It deserves to be read at least once.

4.5/5
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Old 12-14-2015, 03:27 AM   #12
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Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)

"It was a pleasure to burn." - Ray Bradbury
--------------------
In the future, firemen don't put out fires, they start them. They raid people's home, collect their books, and set them ablaze. It is a terrifying, oppressive world where literature is forbidden. By extension, it's a world where intellect, free-thinking, and questioning authority are forbidden. This is the world of Fahrenheit 451, and this is the story about one fireman whose eyes are opened and he becomes the very enemy he was trained to hate and destroy.

Ray Bradbury's debut novel is short, pointed, and surprisingly elegant. It can be rather wordy, especially with so much flowery language, but it's hardly a chore to read. It is a book full of evocative ideas, tension, and compelling characters. At the same time, there is a huge amount of depth and detail to it that gives the book a unique voice and a lot of heart.

The story is quite fundamental - the characters, story, and themes resonate universally, and have been influential in other sci-fi works. The book's plot and conflict are subtle at first, slowly burning until the third acts hits with a tense, action-packed confrontation and chase. Through the eyes of Guy Montag, readers are immersed in a world full of mechanical animals and wall-sized interactive TVs. People are kept ignorant and happy through technology. Montag's journey is one of intellectual discover, which eventually leads to rebellion. The revelations of the characters and their celebration of intellect underscore the importance of art and literature, and suggest that in their absence, something important will be missing from people's lives and souls.

It's actually shocking to see how accurate Bradbury was in predicting certain things. We do live in a world of information overdrive, with massive TVs streaming media at us all the time. We are always distracted by music and information blasted directly into our ears with headphones. What's most shocking is how people react and behave in their environments, so displaced and distanced on personal levels by technology. It's as if Bradbury must have glimpsed into the future and saw an apathetic world full of selfish people with feelings of entitlement. There's also some interesting observations about knowledge and happiness - people in this book are sheltered from intellect and knowledge because it's said to make them unhappy, while TV and loud music are figurative opiates. It's widespread censorship, depriving all so that nobody would be offended or made unhappy by something. It very much reminded me of modern trends, where political correctness and censorship are alive and well. It all adds up to a terrifying warning about totalitarianism, where the government controls free thought, and nobody thinks to question them. In a world without books, nobody thinks at all.

This book is very distinctive, thanks to Bradbury's precision with language. He doesn't shy away from detailing some nasty details (leading to the book itself being censored on a few occasions), but for the most part it's beautifully written. Characters show some very lively dialogue and plenty of heart. The chief tends to lecture Montag relentlessly. Descriptions are full and lively, and often metaphorical. It can be a bit challenging to fully understand what Bradbury is saying with some of his metaphors, but it definitely evokes phenomenal imagery, imagination, and emotion.

Fahrenheit 451 remains one of the biggest and best classics in sci-fi for a lot of great reasons. It was a pleasure to read.

5/5
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Old 05-25-2016, 02:01 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Al_The_Strange View Post
Will you post a review of this when you finish it?
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Old 05-26-2016, 05:35 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C. Anton View Post
Will you post a review of this when you finish it?
I've been slacking on my book reviews. I finished this one and rated it a 3.5/5 (same grade I'd give to The World Jones Made). To review it briefly, I thought Flow My Tears... started off great but then the plot became rather random, losing tension as it went on. Characters weren't particularly likable. I can see how sci-fi fans would love the book, given the concepts about the dystopian police state and such.

PKD was a good writer, but the more I read the less I like his work. I loved Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Ubik, and A Scanner Darkly. Flow My Tears... and The World Jones Made were a hit and a miss for me, still pretty cool. The others I've read, I could not stand--Martian Time Slip, Dr. Bloodmoney, and Man in the High Castle were way too random and bland for my taste. Still have a couple of his books to read in my collection, will read 'em after a break.

Other books I've recently read:

Dan Well's Bluescreen: 3.5/5 (got this autographed by the man in person, so I can't knock the book too much. It was fairly cool, but was surprised to find it's more YA than cyberpunk)

Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes: 3.5/5 (from the library: well-written and a neat, imaginative story. Very dark and fantastic. But, I find Bradbury's style can be very exhausting in this)

Road Rage: 3.5/5 (the graphic novel by Stephen King and Joe Hill, based on Richard Matteson's stories. From the library. Nice artwork, and Joe's version of Duel is decent. Wasn't a fan of King's story as much though)

Don Hertzfeldt's The End of the World: 4/5 (got it signed after backing the kickstarter for Hertzfeldt's cartoons on BD--this graphic novel is random, but it does have the guy's signature artwork and signature absurdist humor, and it is effective most of the time)

Christopher Yorst and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game graphic novel: 3/5 (from the library: I love the original book, but I find myself disliking this version and how disjointed the plot is and how unlikable all the characters are. This book seems to focus more on all of Ender's enemies more than his friends, so the character never seems to catch a break and I find it frustrating that way. But, at least it looks pretty)
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Old 02-20-2017, 06:06 PM   #15
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Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)

“See, the world is full of things more powerful than us. But if you know how to catch a ride, you can go places."--Neal Stephenson
----------------------------------------
When early Macintosh computers broke down, they puked up a bitmap of gibberish that vaguely resembled static on a broken TV. This is a "snow crash," at least according to Stephenson in his essays. In his cyberpunk novel, he spins an incredible, twisty, epic yarn suggesting that some day, the entire human race could become scrambled by a massive "snow crash."

From page one onwards, this book is crammed with detail. It is an insane future unlike any other--the world Stephenson depicts is fractured into tiny little pieces, each occupied by cultural, corporate, and racial niches that seem to always be at war with each other. The best, craziest, and most entertaining slice of this bizarre life is evident in the first chapter--pizza delivery, run by the Cosa Nostra (that's right, the Italian mafia). This first chapter caught my attention precisely because a simple, innocuous profession is blown out of proportion, and it's a hoot. The pizza guy is now the "Deliverator." He wields samurai swords and delivers pizza within 30 minutes or else he faces the mafia's wrath. Then he's "pooned" by a kourier--a chick on a skateboard. One thing leads to another, and this is how our two protagonists meet (and of all things, the main hero is named Hiro Protagonist--I can't make this stuff up). Something about this opening was charming. It was awesome. It was hilarious and hyperbolic.

Problem is, there's another 450 pages to this book, and somehow it looses all its charm as it drags on and on. I believe most of the issue revolves around the sheer amount of prose the author indulges in--page after page is spent describing how things work in this world. It is interesting in bursts, and it's at its best when it's extreme, strange, and brimming with personality. And it often is. But it is exposition in the end, and it's delivered relentlessly in the author's voice. Reading huge chunks of this became quite a chore. Big pieces of expository dialogue in the middle--where a librarian explains the whole history of Sumerian culture and a neuro-linguistic virus latent in mankind--is especially tedious.

But it's not all a bore, necessarily. The characters are quite well-drawn, especially the two mains. Hiro and Y.T. (short for "Yours Truly") definitely put the "punk" in cyberpunk. Their attitudes and spunk consistently pushes their zany adventures in the real world and the Metaverse. In some parts, the character voice comes through and delivers the book's punchiest scenes.

The story as a whole--I couldn't even tell what was happening. Snow Crash is presented as the thing that kicks off the story--it turns out to be a drug. And it works by interfacing with something latent in human genes--ancient Sumerian language was able to program the human brain like a computer, and language was a virus that could take control or damage it. Thus, a major power wanted to use the Snow Crash drug to seize control of mankind in a way that was both virtual and biological.

Fascinating concepts, but I could only grasp them by reading the synopsis after the fact. Scene-by-scene, the book is laid out in vignettes that's interesting in parts, but hard to connect as a whole. Part of the problem is that the characters acted without much indication of what they wanted or what direction they were heading. I never really understood their motivations. A few personal stakes keep the characters glued to the action, but it's very easy to forget about them.

Biggest issues may be the aforementioned exposition, which comes off as objective most of the time. In a few spots, the book assumes the POV of "rat things," which is awesome. Other times, it's more interested in describing the world rather than immersing the reader in it or the character thoughts. Then there's action--tons of it. When you have bullets and rockets flying and people on skateboards all over the place and sword-swinging and countless crazy inventions and everything else, the book becomes exhausting, especially when it consistently remains detached from the characters.

It all could have been trimmer in the end. Fewer words to describe the world and how it worked. Fewer words to describe the action. A more to-the-point exploration of the Sumerian stuff. Some scenes could have been removed entirely--they seemed to have no bearing on the main plot at all.

It's a shame, because the book has some moments of brilliance, hilarity, insanity, and intelligence. There's a lot of cool stuff in there and chances are sci-fi readers will soak it all in regardless of the issues I've griped about. Much like the Neuromancer, this is one of those books that's worthwhile reading, but I can't say I necessarily liked the experience of it much.

2.5/5
----------------------------------------
I read somewhere that the film adaptation is finally gaining traction and might come out in a few years. It'll probably be really cool as a film, I'll gladly watch it.
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Old 03-05-2017, 02:23 AM   #16
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Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Jack Finney)

When we think of the possibility of alien invasions, our first thought is usually what H.G. Wells originally conceived: a full-blown war. But what if they're already here? In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a classic premise is explored in a taut and thrilling manner: what if extraterrestrial spores land on Earth and systematically start swapping human bodies with their own eerie duplicates? It's a scary and unique idea that spawned several film adaptations and influenced other stories.

The original book is a short, simple, breezy read, and it's closer to the 1956 film than any of the others (although certain parts of the book would carry over to the 1978 and 1993 versions implicitly). As such, it's structured as a mystery thriller--a doctor keeps hearing about townspeople not acting the same, and once he uncovers the truth, sheer paranoia sets in when he realizes he can't trust anyone. It's up to him and his girlfriend to escape the compromised town and signal the authorities. Unless the invasion has spread further than they realize...

The story's rather slow to start, but builds up to quite a thrilling climax full of tension. The text does a superb job of underscoring some key themes that keeps this story grounded as good sci-fi: the idea that life will do anything and everything to sustain itself, even crossing the gulf of space and assimilating other life forms to prolong its own species. Without ideas like this, it would have been just a schlocky creature thriller of some kind.

However, the story does require a huge suspension of disbelief when the end actually happens. Even though the reasons for the ending are made clear, it's pretty nutty. There's also one or two loose ends that aren't really tied up.

This book was written in a very plain, straightforward language. Since it's in first-person POV, the character voice narrates the story, and it does an okay job at it. The main character has enough personality to make the text readable. But there's little going on with the character, with little relevant backstory or traits to latch on to, so it comes off as a little bland, in both prose and character.

Sci-fi fans ought to give this story a shot--as a book, it's not a bad read at all and it's worth it for fans to see where it all came from. But the movies (especially the '59 and '78 versions) breathe a lot more life into the characters and plot to cement this as an essential sci-fi tale.

3/5
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Old 09-15-2017, 05:01 AM   #17
Jett Rink Jett Rink is offline
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The Three-Body Problem - Liu Cixin
The Dark Forest - Liu Cixin

Bought these with high hopes of a good series. The actual story is no where near as exciting at the synopsis makes it out to me. Between these two books, there are only brief moments of good writing, the rest is long and boring exposition. I could not bring myself to read the third book in the series, Death's End.

Overall, it could have been better. 1/5.
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Old 05-14-2020, 02:16 PM   #18
Al_The_Strange Al_The_Strange is offline
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Fan-Tan (Marlon Brando and Donald Cammell)

I don't know what caught my eye first--the exotic cover art, or Marlon Brando's name. Yes, Marlon Brando, the Hollywood legend, co-wrote a book with struggling filmmaker Donald Cammell. My curiosity compelled me to read their adventure for myself.

Anatole Annie Doultry is a convict in a Hong Kong prison, who bets everything he has on cockroach races. When he saves the life of another prisoner, he inevitably finds a way out and crosses paths with Madame Lai Choi San--a sultry and mean gangster. When these characters team up, they take to the high seas with a plan to a ship-load of silver and treasure.

What's more interesting than the actual novel may be the history of its inception and writing. As far back as the 70s, Brando and Cammell hit it off well and brainstormed potential movie ideas together. There is likely an alternate universe where Fan-Tan exists as a gritty 70s thriller (they try to sell this as a "swashbuckling adventure," but I get more of a film noir vibe out of this). They decided to try their luck penning the story as a book first, then maybe adapting it to film. A series of disagreements and conflict inevitably caused the project to remain shelved until 2004, just after Brando's passing. What's printed now is a patchwork made from Cammell's and Brando's unfinished drafts, but pieced together by the editor. I have a feeling the actual text is mostly Cammell's work, with Brando supplying the ideas (especially behind the character, for whom Brando could have easily been typecast).

The slapdash quality of the text may not help much, but I have a stronger feeling that Cammell and Brando never invested much time in honing their novel-writing or editing skills. The result is a 230-something page tome that feels like 230,000 pages. Most pages are spent effusing detail and purple prose on the reader--so much that it kills narrative momentum. When action actually happens, it's presented very dryly in long passages of unengaging commentary. Personality exists in bursts, but the book's overall voice is stiff and distant. The book even jumps between points-of-view without breaks (headhopping).

What little story exists is made even less palatable with the characters. Maybe they'd be more likable on a big screen, but on paper they just come off as mean, angst-ridden, manipulative, selfish, and racist. The main character comes off as misogynist, especially given what happens in the end (and yet, it also comes off as wish-fulfillment--I'm not sure if it's disgusting or laughable). There are moments where Annie just starts raging out and cursing people out, and I never really understood where it all came from--it's like, chill out dude. Moments like those, all the sex and womanizing, the gritty tone, and the run-down settings betray the authors' intents to be edgelords, but it all falls flat given that I can't really root for any of these characters, and their overall adventure amounts to little more than a gross punchline.

It's a shame, because there are moments that work. I just don't feel that the book was refined enough to work--the text bored me, and the story it tells is a stale, shallow one populated with unlikable characters. Don't let Brando's name (or ego) fool you, this is a pretty droll affair. It's a shame given the amount of collaborative passion (and research, they really went all out) that was poured into the work. Some things probably need to remain buried for a reason, although less-picky readers might consider this buried treasure.

3/10
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