Book Recommendation: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

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I enjoyed my time with Annihilation.

The plot of the novel takes place in Area X, a self-contained environment quite capable of winning the 2015 Nebula award for science fiction. More important, Area X is home to a mysterious tower that goes not up, but down into the ground. This tower houses unusual, even alien life. . . and other mysteries, besides.

Characters: Our lead is the biologist, a woman detached from the world. She is one part of a four-woman expedition into Area X, the twelfth known expedition so far. The previous expeditions all ended in failure.  The three other members of the team are the psychologist, the surveyor and the anthropologist.

No pressure.

The biologist is an unreliable narrator. Her actions are the drive of the story, and her descent into greater and greater isolation makes for a thrilling character journey. In a place that defies a person’s entire life, the biologist desperately needs a ‘slice of reality’, as someone on Goodreads said, to use as a bridge to understand just what the hell is going on.

Atmosphere: There really isn’t much I can tell you about this book without spoiling it. Then again, I’m not sure that to spoil it would take away from the tension. A lot of people who’ve posted opinions and reviews about Annihilation have called the title ‘horror’. I was never once scared. Rather, I’d make the argument that Vandermeer’s novel is a venture into the unsettling.

What this reminded me of, in a very peculiar way, was Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. That, too, wasn’t scary as much as it was profoundly weird and deeply fascinating.

The prose is wonderful, flowing easily and creating suspense with a masterful stroke. This is my first Vandermeer novel but his prose would be reason enough to investigate his titles further, even if I hadn’t liked this particular one (which I did).

Closing thoughts:

Annihilation is a very atmospheric novel, and the opening act to a trilogy which, I hear, doesn’t close quite as strong as it opens. Perhaps I’ll see. Truth be told, though, I’m not entirely sure I want to delve further into the mysteries of Area X. I quite like them as they are.

P.S. I just solved one of the mysteries the book offers, while writing this. You have to love books that offer you clues to a given question but don’t spell out the solution.

Thank you, friend who gave me this book, for giving me this book. It was a fun read. This one lies somewhere between sci-fi and mystery, in my opinion. You might also find it in the horror section, if your librarian looks like he scares easy.

 

Saturday Night Gaming: Talking about Narrative in a Life is Strange, Before the Storm Review

Oh, look! I’m going to talk about talking about games! Bit redundant, if you ask me, but I ain’t the one who decides what goes up on the blog, am I?

What do you mean I am? I-I am?

Welp. There goes that excuse.

Anyway, I’m hard at work at a video review for Before the Storm, the prequel to the excellent Life is Strange(2015), and I’ve been wondering whether the way I decided to go about making the video is right and proper.

How did I go about writing the video?

I spilled the beans about what happens during the game. Step by step, I do my best to present the thread of the story, along with my take on it, what impression major choices left me with, and the like.

I could’ve gone another direction — like most review sites, I could’ve chosen to keep mum about the details of the story, could’ve talked about how the general lack of fantastic elements and the time travel mechanic grounds the story in reality and whether that’s a good thing, or a bad one; I could’ve probably spent a good five-ten minutes on that, while keeping generally vague on any significant plot points.

The thing is, I want to talk about the story. With what the narrative does right, with that one topic it handles wrong. I want to give my viewers — all fourteen of them — concrete, honest thoughts.

That’ll probably eat in whatever tiny number of people would consider watching a 30+ minute video by a no one on YouTube, and that’s alright. I don’t make these videos to please anyone but myself.

If anyone ends up watching along the way — brilliant!

If not…That’s alright, too!

Thank you for reading. Before the Storm is brilliant, by the way, even if the post ended up being less about the game and more about my review-to-be about the game! Hope you’ll check it out when I post it on Monday! 

 

Book Recommendation: So, Anyway. . .

Autobiographies haven’t always agreed with me.

Granted, I have attempted to read a very limited number of books in this particular genre, and have finished considerably less than I’ve started. So, why…So, Anyway…?

I’ll share a secret with you — I really am quite fond of John Cleese. He’s a brilliant comedian, a part of some of the funniest British comedy troupes — and Monty Python, most of all. He is terribly clever, he’s intelligent, introspective and insightful. Most of all — and that, you’ll learn, is what matters most to him — he is funny!

So, Anyway… is not the kind of autobiography the author uses as a way to inform his readers of numerous slights and affronts they’ve suffered through, nor is it an unchecked ego trip. Lucky for me, since I’m no fan of digging for old dirt.  John Cleese chooses to go at this whole autobiographical business from a much more pleasant angle, and even when he’s critical towards old acquaintances and friends, he does it with such absurdity and good humor that it’s difficult to fault.

Who is this book for?

  • If you’ve ever loved anything John Cleese has had a hand in writing, you will enjoy witnessing his growth, from a pampered little daddy’s boy with a ‘precious thumb’  to a clumsy young man, to someone who eventually grows comfortable with success. Mostly.
  • Are you interested in, or already writing comedy? You’ll find a lot to learn, parts of the book can be read, or listened to, as a master class in comedy.
  • Do you enjoy humour that doesn’t ask you to lock your intelligence away somewhere in order to get the full experience?

The audiobook version

Is voiced by John Cleese himself, and excellent. He cracks up multiple times, which is hilarious. The fact that he enjoys recalling, reliving these memories is nothing short of contagious. If you enjoy audiobooks, you simply must get it!

Quotes

Don’t take my words for any of it, read these here quotes from a couple of humorous remembrances of John’s:

“Mother told me once that some Westonians privately criticised Dad for retreating so soon. They apparently felt it would have been more dignified to have waited a week or so before running away. I think this view misses the essential point of running away, which is to do it the moment the idea has occurred to you. Only an obsessional procrastinator would cry, “Let’s run for our lives, but not till Wednesday afternoon.”

“The Germans were a people famous for their efficiency, so why would they drop perfectly good bombs on Weston-super-Mare, when there was nothing in Weston that a bomb could destroy that could possibly be as valuable as the bomb that destroyed it?
The Germans did return, however, and several times, which mystified everyone. Nevertheless I can’t help thinking that Westonians actually quite liked being bombed: it gave them a significance that was otherwise lacking from their lives. But that still leaves the question why would the Hun have bothered? Was it just Teutonic joi de vivre? Did the pilots mistake the Weston seafront for the Western Front? I have heard it quite seriously put forward by older Westonians that it was done at the behest of William Joyce, the infamous “Lord Haw-Haw”, who was hanged as a traitor in 1944 by the British for making Nazi propaganda broadcasts to Britain during the war. When I asked these amateur historians why a man of Irish descent who was born in Brooklyn would have such an animus against Weston that he would buttonhole Hitler on the matter, they fell silent. I prefer to believe that it was because of a grudge held by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering on account of an unsavoury incident on Weston pier in the 1920s, probably involving Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan.
My father’s explanation, however, makes the most sense: he said the Germans bombed Weston to show that they really do have a sense of humour.”

“British journalists tend to believe that people who become good at something do so because they seek fame and fortune. This is because these are the sole motives of people who become British journalists. But some people, operating at higher levels of mental health, pursue activities because they actually love them.”

“Yes, I know it’s easy to make fun of the organised churches, but has it occurred to anyone to wonder why it’s so easy?”

“I found Toronto an immensely likeable city, spacious and gentle and slightly dignified, but in a low-key, friendly way. The only people who didn’t seem to think much of it were its inhabitants, who could hardly wait for you to ask directions, because that gave them the perfect opportunity to apologise for it. What they were apologising for I never understood. I think they felt uninteresting, compared with America. I took the opposite view; I remember reading about the doctrine of American “Exceptionalism” and thinking that what I liked so much about Canadians was that they consider themselves unexceptional. This modest, unthreatening attitude seems to produce a nation that is stable, safe, decent and well respected. It’s just a shame that for seven months of the year it’s so cold that only Canadians would put up with it.”

“One minute, I was saying, “Hello, Mr. Bunny!” and smiling at its sweet little face and funny floppy ears. The next, the fucker savaged me.”

My apologies, I might’ve slightly overdone it with the quotes. There’s so many more I would like to share with you all, but the quotes are already quite a bit longer than my own review, and so I will resist the impulse.

Conclusion

What a wonderful autobiography. Filled with self-depreciation, a healthy dose of dislike for overt political correctness and a genuine love for comedy, ‘So, Anyway. . . ‘ is a funny, compelling look at a portion of John Cleese’s life.

If I had any complaints, they would have to do with the somewhat abrupt ending and the fact that a fairly large period between Monty Python and the reunion tour is left blank. The hope remains for a second book, then!

The Score

Five out of Five Black Stars.

Thank you for reading!

 

The Unintentionally Helpful Villain #16: Musings

Diary Entry #220

Catch up to what’s happening with the Unintentionally Helpful Villain by checking out The Unintentionally Helpful Villain #15!

Sven, mine Prime Librarian, is a self-made man! I know that to be true, for I saw him rise from the dirt and mud and turn most humanoid. How he hath accomplished such a task, I couldn’t possibly imagine.

My newly appointed Head Librarian is a kind young man, begging me to show mercy to Sven, to use instead this great wrath that so beats inside this unknowable female chest against mine ex-wife. He even tells me Sven was the one who sent him to aid me in my time of grave need.

Poppycock.

A Head Librarian need must be made of harder stuff, as Sven was.

Hmmmm. It would appear I need must do a rather unfortunate something when mine original body is returned me.

Diary Entry #222

Long has the Head Librarian ridden on mine were-rabbit back, and longer yet have I ran, but at last the stench of several dozens of moldy Librarians is felt within the air. At long last, I shall close mine mitts betwixt the throat of the vile body-snitching ex!

Strange how this entire journey has changed me. I have learned much — sometimes, turning the enemy to ash between your boot need not be seen as the only move left to a man of action.

Turns out, tearing throats when shifting into a rabbit is even better for that! ‘S all about that personal touch, you see.

Now, I sleep. Tomorrow, I face the wife, kill Sven, and destroy this wretched piss-hole of a country.

Or at least all the rabbit hunters in it.

Book Recommendation: The Foundation by Isaac Asimov

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The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. However, it IS fascinating to read about in The Foundation, arguably the most monumental work of science fiction.

Isaac Asimov’s works in the field of science fiction are widely accepted as required reading; one of the starting points of our collective understanding of the best about the genre. The Foundation manages to look at the past, draw from its mistakes — Asimov was inspired by The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire(a text of huge historical importance I plan on tackling over 2018). More importantly, Asimov’s crowning masterpiece is of such cultural significance because of the sheer realism of his speculation.

Psychohistory in the Foundation is a science of mathematics as much as behavior. It is the foundation, if you’ll pardon the pun, of the entire series — Hari Seldon, The Galactic Empire’s foremost psychologist and psychohistorian, sees the dissolution of this Millenia-old galaxy-spanning construct, and so takes it upon himself to limit the ensuing chaos to only a thousand years, instead of the thirty thousand it would’ve been.

But how does he knows this? Psychohistory is a science which allows one skilled enough to distinguish how trends through centuries and millennia past will disentangle in the future, by accepting that the actions of any one individual within the norm have virtually no impact on the mechanism of a society of quadrillions of humans across the galaxy. Yes, individuals play roles in the Foundation’s setting up and survival, but these roles aren’t of their own volition or because of their exceptional talents; rather, these individuals are demanded by this juggernaut of a social mechanism.

This may sound complex, but every page of the Foundation is read with an ease and deep sense of pleasure, Asimov’s prose presents complicated ideas without an issue, and his Foundation is a place you could lose yourself for days, weeks, months.

Foundation is the story of an infinitesimally small corner of the galaxy keeping the flame of knowledge and progress alive in a time when the whole of humanity descends into barbarism. A story which plots the course of civilization through the rule of secular power, religion, trade.

That such complex topics are explored in such depth in less than 200 pages is not just impressive, it’s breathtaking.

It’s science fiction at its grandest, most fatalistic and somehow, most hopeful too. 

My Top Ten New Year Resolutions!

Happy New Year to all you lovely people! May it bring you good cheer, brilliant books and more experiences worth remembering than not.

If you’ve followed my blog, you might know by now that I love making Top Ten lists.

This time, I thought I’d make a post exclusive to the New Year!

Here goes:

  1. Finish my book. Last year gave form to an amazing world of the fantastic, a world I want nothing more than to share with everyone willing to read it. It’s a world I’m proud of, and one which I can’t wait to show my friends and family, and anyone else who’d be willing to go on a brand new journey.
  2. Get back to drawing. I used to draw up until a few years ago. Loved it! The attention to detail, the patience required, the sheer amount of dedication, they are breathtaking. I’d love to find the time.
  3. Read more. I read over a hundred books, comic books and the like over 2017. Still, it’s never enough. I want to do better.
  4. Write more. Writing is somehow the most difficult and easiest activity in the world for me. I’ve learned so much in the last year, thanks in no small part to a few fantastic, supporting individuals, who went through some messy drafts of my short stories and showed me weak spots. Thank you, Amy, Vasi, if you’re reading this. You’ve done me a great service, one I can’t easily repay.
  5. Be less of an ass. Snigger. Yeah, right.
  6. Dare to get out of my comfort zone.
  7. Grow my audience, both on the blog and on YouTube. I love writing on my blog, and I love making videos about games on YouTube. I also realize that my schedule for both has been sporadic and chaotic, to say the least. I need to do better, and I’ll try not to fall into a hole of despair and self-pity as I sometimes do. Those are bad for both these platforms.
  8. Be more active, in many, many ways.
  9. Pick up a sport, or learn to dance. Or both. I used to do fencing a few years ago, and I loved it. Got into a fight with my coach, though. Perhaps it’s time to bury the hatchet. In his head. Cackle. 
  10. Stop being a bloody lazy bum, you bum! 

Aye, that’s it! My first post for 2018! May this year be better than 2017, whether the last year was good for you, or not. I love you all.

Yes, even you, Mr. Guy-who-stopped-reading-back-at-the-beginning. You evil arse.