blogalog

Friday, July 18, 2014

Not an Easy Ride (or an Easy Read!) for me!

Resist (Breathe, #2)Resist by Sarah Crossan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


     At the end of Sarah Crossan's first novel in this duo I was left breathless, excited and looking forward to finding out how the tale concluded. The destruction of the 'The Grove' — another domed area where trees were now flourishing, and people were at last living away from the tyrannous Air Tax — had left me feeling shattered and sad. I was looking forward with great expectation, to reading about the Resistance as it built slowly and steadily.
   

I was also gripped by the fact that the novel read from first person perspectives. But unfortunately those perspectives which held me in the first novel had begun to lose their grip: Bea, Jude, Quinn, Ronan, Alina — oh dear, the trouble was there were too many ‘I’-s, and I ended up becoming thoroughly confused. I thought that by this volume I would have settled down as to which   ‘I’ was which, but sadly no. The ‘I’-s were too much of a muchness whereas interesting characters such as Maude, Jazz and Vanya and even the thug Maks did not get the chance to tell their own story.


Added to the profusion of ‘I’-s, we have the position of all the various masks and air tanks in the story. All characters need them, even if some have been trained to breathe thinner air, but if this is the situation you’ve set up, you do need to remember which air cylinder is where, and how much oxygen is left in each. It can be done, but it makes hard work for the author and even harder work for the reader to remember where all these devices are, and how much oxygen —full  half or empty—  each one has.


     A fragile setup was created with the set-up in the first volume and it takes a lot of skill and finessing to hold this together, and hopefully strengthen it more. I was prepared to stick with it, looking forward to seeing it all gelling together, but the addition of the ticking time bomb towards the end added to the already hackneyed flavour of the narrative. Yet it was anything but exciting.  And the solar respirator stinking? Dear, they stunk from the very beginning, and that would have been a good time to bring in a device to deal with it.


In a word, the story didn’t work out well for this reader although I held out high hopes for it. The concept of the clunky solar respirators ease the problem a little. Still, the inquiring mind is bound to wonder how these contraptions work. They couldn't possibly of course, yet the tale might have been redeemed a bit if the author had at least gone through the motions of an explanation!



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Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Perfect City. Where I Melted.



I went to see a separate drama
I went to see another show
The drama lost its otherness and
It was at that point I began to know
That 'I' and 'you' aren't different — No Way!
There is no line 'twixt 'you' and 'me'
If 'I' and 'you' have meaning — Do we?
It's not for you or me to say.
So it was for me, as these lines circled round that I had trouble focusing on the difference between a watcher and watched as the debut performance of 'The Perfect City' unfolded before me in the Friends Meeting House in Cambridge. Although truly speaking they came in from the side, gesticulating in conversation one with another, singing and bewailing about what might happen next in they were found to be holding an illegal Meeting. From all sides they came, backward and forward and round about ↻. I was greeted by the beautiful face of Timothy Benjamin, a Peter Pan of an actor. Together with Jamie Noar, who plays William Penn singing their heartfelt dreams of the inner spirit reflected in the beauty of this seeming external world in front of us. Their dreams resonated with my own youthful aspirations, their love was my love and when Máirín Miller came on, the dewy moisture in her eyes caused mine to well up too and holding back the tears wasn't an easy matter.
The actors sang in stereo, the actors' voices were quadraphonic, playing and dancing behind you, in front of you, sitting beside you and falling on the ground at your feet. And in true Greek tragedic manner, the beatings, whippings and hanging of Quakers were performed off-stage, in this case in the room adjoining the main Meeting Hall upstairs. Vocal indeed were the sounds of the wailings and sufferings, and many a head was turned.
When I slept that night, the story and lyrics were floating in my dreams and as this week progresses the story is seldom far from my mind and it has roosted to take up place in my heart. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Heaven's Shadow left me in the Doldrums

Heaven's Shadow (Heaven's Shadow, #1)Heaven's Shadow by David S. Goyer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


It makes a wonderful and frightening tale to think that if aliens wanted to attack and cripple us it wouldn't be that hard: all you'd have to do was put a few rocks 50 km or so on a trajectory for our major cities, then sit back and watch the fun begin. The idea certainly has a lot going for it. That's a pretty 'primitive' way of achieving your goal, but at least it should work. Still when you think about it these aliens can't be expected to possess this aim of : "If it moves, shoot it! If it's stationary, keep it in your sights!" Extraterrestrial life would surely have far more subtle ways of going about this. Still, even this chucking missiles idea does have a lot going for it, and it can make an engrossing read, especially if their real intentions are far more subtle, and far more disturbing than a gang warfare in space.

    And yet engrossment was the last thing I found with this book. In fact I struggled like anything to get through it. To start with, the cast of characters is huge. Most of them are quite unmemorable in fact, and I found I had to keep referring to the dramatis personae to remind myself who was who. Already I was sighing and giving it the nick name of Heaven’s Flaming Shadow before picking it up and wading through another chunk. I really struggled with it and had to push myself to finish it because the sight of it lying around was just too irritating.

As I said, a wonderful idea but such a shame it was executed this way. It muddled and it lumbered, and really I felt this collaboration just wasn't really thought out. For one example, take Harley, the ex-astronaut. Around page 45 we learn that Harley uses a wheelchair, which is fine. But the Wheelchair is an important prop in a story, and the reader, who can only work on words - not visuals- does need the occasional reminder of this important logistic. Yet  we're not reminded about this until we're into the final 100 pages, and the last lap is in sight. Add to this the fact that the book could do with a good proofread - I kept on having to decode ‛wed’ as ‛we'd’ and ‛shed’ as ‛she'd’ - and I found I had a cluttered tale that I'm now really glad to see the back of.



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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Anushti

Anushti ~ A Hard Working Girl

Two days ago I had no idea who or what Anushti was. Yesterday I knew. And tomorrow, and in the coming days I'll continue to remember her, just when others in the village are starting to forget her. I can't remember anything about her because I never knew or saw anything of her apart from her playing over my wall; so what I have to remember is just little scraps of other people's memories. And what people remember is this.
      Anushti was a very independent and rather clever little miss. As soon as she'd grasped the essentials of things like walking and speaking simple words, she had set her eye to watching Mum and copying simple tasks. Anushti noticed that Water was about the first and foremost necessity of family life. After watching her Mum and other elders trooping daily to the village tank and filling their pitchers, she must have started calculating in her small, exquisite mind, that there was some way she could help. Her tiny, practical life must have realised that it would be a very long time indeed before she could carry a water pot as heavy as Mum's, yet the other end of "Can't" is "Can" and Anushti's business-like way of going about things made her realise that she could help by carrying her own load. She called for a small water pot and as soon as it came to her hand she began to queue when the water was switched on. The grown-up women, immediately charmed by the independence of the little mite, allowed her straight to the front. So in no time at all, the lass was back home, tidying and folding up her clothes. Tidiness was Anushti, and a bright and industrious future awaited her.
      This was her problem : the little girl became so independent and capable that parents, aunties and uncles left her to what she enjoyed, and was so very good at. Warnings not to go near the underground water tank may not have been given. It's not my place to inquire. Perhaps a day came when it was raining, or perhaps for some other reason the mind of Anushti had decided not to go all the way to the village pump. Perhaps she thought she could figure out a way of getting water from the family underground tank. In any case, she had tried something, which caused her to fall in. With full confidence in her capabilities, aunties had been indoors, watching a soap-opera on the telly.
      Anushti was about three years old. She was drowned yesterday, buried at noon today, and all I hear from my veranda now is the occasional stifled sob.
               Good-bye, little girl.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


There's a man here called Sambath who fifty years ago would have to live some distance away from this village in the out-caste settlement. He would have only been allowed onto these lands for his labouring skills and for hard-grafting in general. His pay would have been pitifully inadequate, and medical skills would only have been available from his own people, illiterate folks who nonetheless had some remarkable internal healing skills. These days things are happily different. Sambath still lived in what is now called the 'Colony' settlement until very recently, but now he has a little house on the edge of the village, and many people holla and hi to him in passing and if he's at home he'll greet them back with a wave and a smile. In the three-score plus years that I've been fiddling around with the inhabitants of this planet, I've met many hominids who have been described as the Salt of the Earth and rightly so. Yet no-one has ever told me that the phrase could easily have been used to describe our Sambath. I can't say 'mine' because Sambath is too big a man to belong to any body. When he greets you he is so often fresh and sweaty from toiling in the fields. I know. I have tasted him. It's a thing I can do here where nobody minds. When he puts out his hand for me to shake, I take it to my mouth and have a little sniff and lick, ever so gently with the end of my tongue. Straight away I am flooded with images of the Earth, and with my sensations of earthiness and elements I fancy I can taste a selenium rush and a molybdenum tang. Here my imagery expires and all I can recommend is that the reader reads the ingredients of her favourite bottle of multivitamins. The sort with plenty of trace elements in it. Apart from the worship of muscle and rude strength, that is the limit of my measure of this man.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Moving in Frozen Frames

Such Fine BoysSuch Fine Boys by Les Brookes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I felt myself pulled into this story right away. So many of the scenes and situations resonated with similar events which had occurred in my own life. It was, for me,  a painting which moved when looked at closely, or it or at least it appeared to. Or was what I saw just the flicker of shadow seen from the corner of my eye? Stretched on the frame of the 1960’s, the canvas so tight you can see the strands and colours of daylight peeping through the pin-prick holes, the author has then painted a broad wash of faun across the hempen fibres and without letting it dry out fully he’s gone on to apply a broad coat of the ’seventies with its yellows and golden browns. On top of all this, Brookes has laid the pattern of the ’eighties with its greedy shades of green, profit and spite.

    Because he hasn’t let the colours completely dry, the chemistry of the picture is still active, or so it seems, because it’s one of those pictures where you stare fascinated at one corner of colour and activity and see the Pub, the Black Horse, with its northern bon homie and mateyness. Billy the cheerful young barman is one of the main attractions with his banter and his nimble pulling of pints and halves, his smile and his sexy bum. Move your eye to another area of the painting, and the colours look twisted and Gothic; what started as a skilled attempt at the pointy noses and ears of hobgoblins has melted and run into a sickly dark smudge. That’s Arthur.

    Billy and Matt strike up a relationship, which seems to work, in different ways depending on whose point of view you’re considering. Matt comes over to me as pushy and selfish, verging at times into the mind-set of a spoilt brat, with poorly educated Billy tagging along behind as the sexy victim. It was at the beginning of Part Two, seen through Billy’s eyes, that I shouted with joy, realising that I was being given a dose of the Rashomon effect. This had become my favourite literary form when I first viewed it in the TV Series Talking to a Stranger, way back in 1966. Sad it is that this form has suffered so much neglect. So my spirits rose as further I realised, leafing my way through the pages of Part Two that I now found myself drawing parallels with the classic tale A Case of Knives by Candia McWilliam, fine mistress and purveyor of matters literary that she is.

A Case of Knives, however, is a Rashomon work which winds you up in an ever-tightening spring, whereas Such Fine Boys coils you up in Part One and Part Two before releasing its tension and letting its latent energy bleed and wash back into the picture. It’s as if the artist had decided that something wasn’t quite right with the painting yet, so he’d sprayed it with a fine mist to encourage the hues to blend some more. Part Three tells the tale from another point of view, from someone we hardly know. Another of Matt’s pick-ups, he’s lucky that he’s even had the mention of a name. He ends up feeling used, feeling that Matt is a complete shit in his handling of matters of the heart, and here I have to agree with Clint (that’s his name!). If the tale is seen as driven by narrative, then it slowly starts to run out of steam in this section, and if judged on those criteria the story would deflate.

    Yet for me, it was deeper than that. Even though the story had almost petered to a complete halt (and I must confess I was hoping that things were going to tighten up from now on), the book was seen in yet a different light by Part Four. From an individual's perspective, we had moved to becoming the all-seeing eye. If the novel has been freshly sprayed with water mist in Part Three to slow the drying, in Part Four, in sunny Greece, we see the entire painting put out to dry and harden, to freeze the frames and the cameos of the characters. We can see that Billy really is beautiful and despite his promiscuous actions he’s little more than an innocent boy at heart who didn’t, and shouldn’t grow up to be a man. The canvas is hardening nicely now. The murky smudge in the corner is all that remains of Arthur, the wet character of Matt is starting to gain grain and substance as he leaves his brattish traits in the past. As it dries to a hard nail-tapping finish, the author has frozen time. Nothing can happen now, and we are glad, knowing what the end would be, were the story to continue to run.

   I found the synopsis  disappointing: it told me too much of what I'd rather have found out for myself yet left unsaid the factors which would entice me into a book which turned out to be a fascinating and unusual experience. It would be great if the author had another story in him, waiting to break out.




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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Some Are Different. Some Are More Different than Others.


Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought DifferentSteve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These days if someone told you to “Think Different” you'd probably get no raised eyebrows, but if you'd said the same thing ten or twelve years ago you'd have raised quite a flock, and probably gained a few admonishments as well. It was bad grammar in those days because you were supposed to think different-ly.
Yet this article isn't about grammar books or anything like that : It's the advertising slogan launched by a computer company called Apple. And it was in Autumn 1997. The educationalists threw up their hands at the incorrectness of it all, never once pausing to take a closer look at how cute and clever the phrase was.

I didn’t know this, and now I know it I’m really glad I do, along with all the other factoids about Steve Jobs and his Apple Company. I have never owned any Apple product, and after reading this book I think I’m less inclined to go in for one than I was before starting it. Chiefly because almost every one of his products had some glaring fault, each of which happened to work against me — and my disability — in a direct way.

For some reason Mr Jobs hated the CD drawer on computers, so he removed it, to outcries from Apple owners. The same had happened earlier with the floppy disc drive (at that time users were heavily dependent on them). Then later on he then decided that he didn’t like cursor keys (arrow keys) on Apple keyboards. They are the keys which enable you to nudge your cursor up or down the lines, or left and right within the line so you can position it exactly where you want. They were removed without so much as a ‘by your leave’ with even greater outcries from faithful users, all on Mr Jobs’s whim. So far all the things he detested have been things which make my life far easier.

So why did a man’s products, which went so much against the grain against much of what customers wanted become the owner of one of the wealthiest corporations in the world with a customer loyalty base which verged and often over-tipped into the devotional?* And why did I find the Steve Jobs story so riveting, to the extent that I completely lost track of time?

As the tale moved on, my own and Jobs's visions drifted further and further apart. Jobs envisaged phones and electronic gadgets becoming intimately interwoven into our personal lives until their presence separate from the body-mind complex lost all distinction. The final step was his conviction that Apple gadgets should be built with no on/off switch. As the gadgets should be woven into the warp and woof of our life pattern, so too should their 'consciousness' never fall deeper than slumber.

Steve Jobs developed symptoms of pancreatic cancer which he initially tried to bully away in typical autocratic style, (initially with a shot of pethidine in the bum). At one point he'd lie about his condition by informing share holders that it had been cured, a story which aficionados and the markets must have swallowed whole. Certainly the lie prevented Apple stock from taking a nose-dive. The tiny Islets of Langerhans are, however, immune to bluster, genius and deception. Despite the best which modern medicine can do, carcinogenic spores infiltrated every cell of this phenomenal, maddening and brilliant billionaire. In the final weeks of his life, Steve receives a visit from his old friend and colleague Bill Gates and the two spend 3 hours reminiscing on old times.

Towards the end Mr Steve debated, deep within the labyrinth of his madcap genius mind, whether God existed or not, deciding that the odds must be 50:50. On balance though he thought it was more likely that it was like an on/off switch and that at the end we simply winked out of existence just as we’d once winked in. Maybe that’s why I never wanted an off-on switch on any of my devices, he chortled, and I had a little laugh too, even if it wasn’t for quite the same reason.

I found this a rivetting read, without being sure why.


*Because Windows' operating system is so awful?

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