Afterparty Review – Crude Fun, Surprisingly Deep

Afterparty, the latest game by Oxenfree developers Night School Studio, swaps suspense for crude, crude humour, while holding onto the good old-fashioned interpersonal drama that might be familiar to you from their previous title!

Does it work? You’d be surprised. Several factors help Afterparty along, foremost among which is the fact that Milo and Lila are a pair of really likable protagonists. The sharp dialogue and its delivery by a stellar cast don’t hurt none, either. Overall, this is an excellent game and I am happy to recommend it…but don’t take my written word for it, watch the video! Go on, you know you wanna.

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin – Book Review/Essay

Originally posted over at booknest.eu.

Published by: Gollancz, SF Masterworks Series
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 128
Format: Paperback

Here is a work of speculative fiction worthy of the “Masterworks” label. The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin has plenty of meat on the bone despite the short number of pages its text occupies. It’s thematically rich, a novel of memorable ideas and characters both. Le Guin problematises the ethic of exploitation in her signature style, poignant and deeply thoughtful.

“…it was becoming clear that the ethic which approved the defoliation of forests and grainlands and the murder of non-combatants in the name of “peace” was only a corollary of the ethic which permits the despoliation of natural resources for private profit or the GNP, and the murder of the creatures of the Earth in the name of “man”. The victory of the ethic of exploitation, in all societies, seemed as inevitable as it was disastrous.” (from Le Guin’s Introduction).

This realisation is the initial push that gave birth to The Word for World is Forest. The theme of exploitation is joined by the equally relevant subject of colonialism: our very own human race, now travelling along the stars, has promulgated across different planets; central for The Word is the so-called world of “New Tahiti,” dominated by oceans and lush green forests, where a little over two thousand men are working to deforest the world one island at a time, in order to sate the unquenchable thirst of an Earth that has exhausted all its natural resources of wood.

New Tahiti isn’t a world devoid of life, however – it teems with small green humanoids, as short as human children (or ewoks, if you, like me, have an unhealthy Star Wars obsession and measure everything according to ewok size). The earthling conquerors call these native cousins of theirs ‘creechies’. They think of themselves as human – and indeed, they’re an off-shoot of the human race, just one branch in many throughout the galaxy, as Le Guinn’s narrative tells us. They do not know violence towards one another, except for those few among them who grow insane, and they inhabit the world of dreams in the same way that they inhabit the waking world. To them, there is no difference between what we would describe as ‘real’ and ‘unreal’. The message is clear – reality is more nuanced than our understanding of it.

The humans of the world that is forest are the vessel of the third major theme of this novel – the collective loss of innocence of a whole race. Because while they never could take lives before the coming of the humans, after three years of what is called “voluntary service” and is in fact slavery, and the horrific brutality of one particular man, Captain Davidson, the “dumb, simple, harmless creechies” change. The catalyst for their change is one native of the planet, Selver. Put through a horrible gauntlet, Selver changes, becomes a god to his own people. “We may have dreamed of Selver these last few years, but we shall no longer; he has left the dream time. In the forest, through the forest he comes, where leaves fall, where trees fall, a god that knows death, a god that kills and is not himself reborn.” Selver is nothing like our own gods, for the word carries a different context – it stands to mean someone who brings change along with them.

As for Davidson? He is, in Le Guin’s own words, “pure evil.” The spirit of the militaristic, exploitative imperialist is imbued in his image, a man whose implacable certainty in the fact that he knows best is nothing short of horrifying, a man who would describe himself as “a world-tamer. He wasn’t a boastful man, but he knew his own size. It just happened to be the way he was made. He knew what he wanted, and how to get it. And he always got it.” Davidson is a scathing critique whose Point of View speaks more loudly about the sickness of imperialist policy and thought than I ever could.

The short novel is an art form in itself and The Word for World is Forest shows, once again, Ursula K. Le Guin’s mastery to the fullest extent. I give this novel a 5/5 and my absolute recommendation – this is a must-read for any fan of science fiction and for anyone whose interests involve any of these three major themes. The way Le Guinn examines them leaves awe and awakens deep reflection in the reader – and the ultimate fate of the natives of the world is tragic, for as Selver says, “You cannot take things that exist in the world and try to drive them back to the dream, to hold them inside the dream with walls and pretenses.”

Pretenses, after all, are one thing Le Guinn has never allowed her readers to hold onto.

Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett – Book Review

Ah, literary realism, how thou mildly interests me.

Arnold Bennett’s Anna of the Five Towns is a painfully middle-class English novel, with all that entails. What’s that, I hear you ask — and I’m all too happy to provide as long-winded an explanation as some of the descriptions within the novel. Before that, however, I feel the need to point out one fact:
Despite this novel seeking to present the perfectly ordinary everyday happenings of a small Victorian community, I wasn’t bored. I read it mainly in two sittings for my university course, Researching Literature, and I. Was. Not. Bored.

I enjoyed, as always, the view of Victorian society, the break-down between the social classes (as always, never shown but always hinted at). It’s all very prim and proper until you get to the English Potteries where the genteel mask of our middle-class characters slips away with such remarkable ease. Except, of course, for Ephram Tellwright, father of the eponymous Anna. Ephram is one of those interesting literary characters, easy to despise but also remarkable for the fact that they hold onto no pretenses of their own nature. Ephram’s nature is ugly – devilishly ugly…but he is honest about it, at least.

Now, then. What’re the major issues I take with this novel?

Anna’s meekness: here is a character so perfectly, painfully innocent that you can’t help feeling that she’s a cardboard cutout on which Bennett projects his vision of womanhood. It fits so well, my theory! Anna is the model of the Victorian woman, a dutiful mistress of the household who lives and dies by the responsibilities resting on her shoulders.

The way Willy Price is presented: Oh look at the poor people, they’re so meek and unfortunate! Yeah, no. That’s something I take issue with. Someone in Willy’s position wouldn’t be this accepting and timid – they’d be angry, they’d be pissed!

Really, it all boils down to the overuse of stereotypes. Bennett can’t step outside his I can’t blame him for this – it’s a marking of the time he lived and wrote in. But it makes the ‘realism’ label suspect.

And can I take a minute to disect the blurb on Goodreads for a minute? Listen ‘ere:

Anna, a woman of reserve and integrity, lives with her tyrannical and selfish father. Courted for her money by the handsome and successful Henry Mynors, Anna defies her father’s wrath–with tragic results. Set in the Potteries against a background of dour Wesleyan Methodism, Anna of the Five Towns is a brilliantly perceptive novel of provincial life in Victorian England.

Time and again, we readers are told by Bennett that Mynors is courting Anna because he truly loves her and money doesn’t even come into his considerations — there’s a scene, about 90% into the book, in which money enters into Henry’s considerations, in fact, and it’s very obvious how it affects him.

And “Anna defies her father’s wrath – with tragic results.” What?! Who wrote this?! She defies her father, aye, true enough – but only after tragedy has striken. And “defies her father’s wrath” isn’t correct, either; it’s her defying his will that causes old Ephram’s wrath – but the man is a sexist tyrant and a miser, everything causes his wrath!

Whoever wrote this blurb needs to be severely mocked, is my pronouncement. As for the book? Three stars, thank you very much. Maybe slightly less? 2.95/5? 2.75? Ah, well.

It’s an okay read – and if you’re in love with Victorian England and its middle class, you will just LOVE this. My professional interest in this novels extends no further than…mild enjoyment, however.

Make of that what you will.

The Dragon’s Banker by Scott Warren – Book Review

Originally posted over at booknest.eu! The review below is an annotated version.

Published by: Scott Warren (Self-Published)
Genre: Fantasy (Economic Adventure!)
Pages: 255
Format: e-book
Review/Purchased Copy: Provided through NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

Sailor Kestern is a fine banker in an unenviable position. His former client, a nobleman by the name of Brackwaldt, has it out for him and that’s made business difficult. So difficult in fact, Sailor’s prospects in the capital of Borreos are looking increasingly forlorn. Gates are shut in his face, trade routes are blocked for him, human shipmasters refuse to work with businesses that so much as associate themselves with the Kestern banking house.

Even with this one major issue at hand, it’s an exciting time to be a financier and Sailor isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. The Royal Mint is driving a major initiative on behalf of the Crown, introducing paper currency and hammering it into the economy with all the strength an institution has in wielding hardcore monetary policy. Adam Smith’s invisible hand?  Pfft, please, Borreos has one Darrez Issa, financier extraordinaire, who looks over the interests of the Crown with an eye sharp enough to make even an eagle jealous. A man like Sailor has a healthy dose of awe for the queen’s financial advisor, and the good sense to stay away from him after the last time the two crossed paths.

As a reader with a bachelor’s degree in economics, I was the perfect audience for The Dragon’s Banker. The economics made sense and Warren seems to have a good grasp of how demand and supply work; he’s thought through all sorts of issues that the reader could’ve picked up on and works them in the story seamlessly and just at the right time. Some of Sailor’s most minor actions, at first, see great pay-off by the end of this 255-page read and in ways I didn’t necessarily expect.

One aspect of this novel won me over, and it’s a specific reading of the novel that I will now expand on:

At one level of The Dragon’s Banker, there’s a critique of capitalism’s ceaseless chase of profit maximization. Though avaricious, Sailor never has the amassing of riches as his personal goal. For him, money is most valuable for what it can do for people. In that way, what could’ve been a cynical take on banking is instead a subversive work of fantasy well worth the read for that angle alone.

Sailor Kestern is a humanist – and that, I think, is the greatest triumph of The Dragon’s Banker. This banker, the only one worthy of representing the interests of the most avaricious creature of all, the dragon, ultimately differs from his cold-blooded patron in the following way – money isn’t an end goal for him. It is merely a tool.

To me, The Dragon’s Banker is a 4.5/5 star read. I enjoyed it immensely, partially because of my background, partially because of my reading of it as a critique on some of the woes of capitalism. It’s my firm belief that you’ll find plenty to love within these pages.

As for me, I am curious to see what else Scott Warren is capable of.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I’m happy with the progress I’ve made with Haruki Murakami’s books over these last few months. Kafka on the Shore in May, Norwegian Wood in September and just this last week, What I Talk About when I talk About Running. The last is freshest in my mind but I’ll contain myself and instead turn to Norwegian Wood, the title inspired by the Beatles song of the same name. It also happens to be the work that really shot Haruki Murakami to fame first in Japan and later internationally.

Norwegian Wood is a love story and it’s about overcoming grief, and it’s about those first coming of age years after you leave home, quite uncertain about what comes next, the direction you’re supposed to take as the world begins to mold and pressure you in ways outside of your control. It’s easy to lose yourself — something that main character Watanabe manages at one point in this novel.

Let’s look at it as a love story first, shall we? It’s sweet and sexy and tragic enough that you might just tear up by the end of it. Bittersweet but hopeful – that’s how I’d describe it in three words, were I forced to do so.

As a side-note, I would ride on the bus, listening to the audiobook more than once, when a ridiculous, steamy sex scene started up. You know, these are the moments when you’re not quite certain whether you should be grinning or blushing or pressing ‘Pause’. Say one thing about that, say it was funny.

What about dealing with grief?

Toru Watanabe, the protagonist from whose PoV the novel is told, loses his best friend Kizuki. Kizuki kills himself on his 17th birthday and this marks Watanabe for life — as it would most of us. Another, Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko, is as affected by his suicide as Watanabe; perhaps more. Years later, Naoko and Watanabe reconnect and fall for each other but Kizuki’s shadow never fully clears between the two. Unable to cope, Naoko eventually ends up in a sanatorium, doing her finest to piece herself back together.

Some of the characters are unforgettable. Maybe not their names – I forget names easy enough – but the personalities will stay with me. Nagasawa is Watanabe’s exact opposite — driven and ambitious, and far more cynical than our protagonist, Nagasawa is in many ways Toru’s foil. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, the two become close friends…although Watanabe never allows Nagasawa into his heart the way he let Kizuki in.

I was partial to Midori, an older woman in the same sanatorium as Naoko. As Nagasawa is to Watanabe, Midori is a foil to Naoko — though burdened by her own demons (her story is perhaps the highlight of Norwegian Wood for me) Midori has strength, the presence of character necessary to survive and perhaps overcome all that placed her in the sanatorium. Midori’s a guitar player, a concert pianist and totally the coolest, yo! Very flirty, too, which gives rise to some hilarious exchanges between her, Watanabe and Naoko, who also happens to be her roommate and dear friend.

This isn’t the best Murakami book I’ve read, nor is it my favourite. I’d live these honours to Kafka on the Shore and Dance, Dance, Dance, respectively. But it has a certain appeal to those who know a little of loss and pain and love, and I am certain some of you will be well-served by reading it.

I straightened up and looked out the plane window at the dark clouds hanging over the North Sea, thinking of what I had lost in the course of my life: times gone forever, friends who had died or disappeared, feelings I would never know again.

The opening paragraph of Norwegian Wood.

My score for this novel is 4 stars. There’s plenty you can get out of it — but it’s not a book for everyone. Stay away if you can’t handle suicide and depression in your fiction – leave me a comment down below with your preferences, and I’ll point you to another one of Murakami’s novels, instead. If you’ve read any of his previous novels, there’s a chance this one’ll surprise you — it lacks many of the eery, magical realism and even surrealism that’s typical for most of his other works.

The audiobook narration by John Chancer was enjoyable – no complaints there, he distinguished between the characters and delivered an excellent performance.