atolnon: (Default)
( Sep. 9th, 2013 10:23 am)
I finished Atwood's Oryx and Crake the other day, but I don't understand the hype. I know what Atwood was doing, because it was patently obvious and her pacing is okay. Her individual sentences and paragraphs and chapters are all very well, but sadly for me, they never come together in a narrative I care about at all. Very mild spoilers (in that I refer to what's basically the point of the book, obvious from the very beginning but, still) here...

I mean, she's got an unreliable narrator in Jimmy aka Snowman, and the book's basically Jimmy's life from childhood until middle age, when the book starts. He lives his life in proximity to Crake, who's the person who does things - Jimmy never really does. His purpose is to be a citizen who's just close enough to the major movers and shakers for you to get an idea of what life is like for a percentage of the population (and Atwood's somewhat lazy nomenclature for branding, which I found to be a combination of amusing and lazy - everything is literally named something like MissppelledCorpoBrand-DE-lux) as well as getting something of an inside look about why everything turned to shit. Crake's the guy that does things. Oryx is a beautiful plot-via-being sexually abused beautiful manic pixie dream sex slave, and she only shows up in the last 20% of the narrative as the bare-bones sexy lamp that she's presented as.

Just like Hunger Games, I read the book in good time and was mildly interested in it as it went by quickly, then when I put it down I just kind of felt, "Whelp, that was a book." Isn't that going to be most books, though? Even good books? I don't mind, I just don't have anything else to say about it besides that. It came initially well recommended and I read it for my book club, so.
atolnon: (Default)
( Sep. 1st, 2013 10:03 am)
Halfway through the workweek for me - I get a full 8 hours for Labor Day and because Labor Day's tomorrow and Sunday isn't the end of the week, I get an extra hour today, too. That's what Labor Day means, right? Out upper management doesn't understand the irony, so my amused chortling was lost on them.

I've gotten two letters in! It's a new month, so that's a good time to start writing back. I don't know how I feel about Syria, yet, [ profile] writer_lynn. I know I'm the kind of person who should have an informed opinion already for you, but I'm deeply burnt out these days on stuff like that. I'll read up a little bit and I'll give you the full scoop on paper. I don't feel obligated to get cool stationary for writing letters, I just think it'd be fun. On the scale of things that cost money, it's not especially high, anyhow.

I'm finishing up my list of stuff I'm supposed to do before I make another ambitious list of stuff I'm supposed to do, but it's going well. I've done most of the easy stuff, in any case, so now we're to the parts that have been a long time in the making - re-arranging several rooms of the house, finishing some writing bits. I once made a promise that I'd write fan fiction for Kay of all things to promise. It's for Scott Pilgrim, and the prompt I have is really not safe for work, and it's really likely it's never making it out of this house, but it's a writing project between 2k and 5k words depending on how I feel about it.

I finished up my old reading list except for Oryx and Crake which recently came back to the library here in Belleville. I'm reading the Euthanatos book for Mage, O&C, and just finished Good Omens. I have a lot of opinions about Mage, and I'm not going to do the WIR again, but if anyone wants to hear them, I'll post some (after I finish the splat book).

My notes for running a D&D/Pathfinder game are looking more positive. I have two people who might want to play, I promised a third way back that I'd talk to them if I was going to run one so I owe her a call (or message, as the case may be). I'd like between 4 and 6 people if I can get it going, but there's been some unpleasant drama lately. I've talked to Frank about gaming events, but he's said he's really busy. I know he's running at least one Exalted gaming session on occasion, and I don't know if he's playing, but I suppose that would do it. It's a shame, really. I was playing in two and suddenly they're not being run anymore, and I can't for the life of me think of why. Honestly, though, that level of gaming plus work is probably going to mean he doesn't have time for another sessions, and he's never been much for the whole rules suite, anyhow. Mikey, what do you think about you and Megan? I don't know if you're still reading these or how busy you two already are. I might have to buzz you about it, sometime.
I've moved on to Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, but I still stop to think about Cat's Cradle now and again. I just didn't say all that much about it last time, so I guess I'll elaborate on it a little bit here.

There are some spoilers, but everything I'm saying is basically the premise of the novel, so I don't think that they're too bad.

I think what frustrated me the most about it was that it really wasn't bad, but the finish was weak where the beginning was strong. It started with what appeared to be a series of vignettes, in a chronological order, from a disaffected journalist. The journalist is writing a book about a scientist, and then the end of the world happens, and that's the end. Bokononism is the deliberately fake religion chosen for the purposes of the story, and the story itself seems to be largely a meditation on religion, deliberate religious constructs, the nature of truth, the ethics of science, and the nature of fate. As themes, they're classics. Stated in the middle of the Cold War, they're probably very potent. Vonnegut's writing is cynical, wry, but not without humor, and what he has to say is interesting.

Since the story is short, and all of the above is true, I recommend reading Cat's Cradle on those premises alone. I guess I would probably call the book 'good', if that's useful to you, but it left me dissatisfied as a reader and I spent a little while trying to determine why. I felt like it was probably too long, that there were probably too many characters we simply didn't need (or that I didn't want), that the protagonist wasn't very interesting (or sympathetic, which is actually not that great an issue for me), and that the book read as almost intolerably smug, though that might simply be projection.

The protagonist is a novelist, and goes here and there looking for interviews for his upcoming work. I feel like, as he gets deeper into his research and discovers more interesting and odd individuals and phenomenon, then perhaps that could drive him. Whim and total coverage were enough for Hunter S. Thompson, after all, but despite the odd occurrences, he seems bored and a little put out. He possesses a deep and abiding lack of curiosity, and attributes his direction to the most paper thin other reasons. There's nothing explicitly wrong with this. It just felt a little weak. I could (and did) abide it as I continued towards the conclusion of the novel. Near towards the end, events look like they'll unfold one way - an interesting way, really - and suddenly go in a totally different direction. The protagonist has no agency in the development of the plot. I understand why, narratively, that Vonnegut did this, and I understand that this can (and does) happen in real life. But in a novel, I find it to be incredibly dull and, while there may be a point to it, when you're actually reading it, it feels extremely lazy. It is almost literally a Deus ex Machina ending.

In order to facilitate direction, Vonnegut fills his novel with a colorful cast of characters that do nothing, don't really say anything, and exist purely as window dressing. The revelations they enable are red herrings. Nothing in the first few hundred pages matters at all. Literally nothing. The book could easily be cut to 20 pages and half the cast banished to the oblivion of never-been-imagined, and the story would lose no punch. The story reads like Vonnegut has something in mind and gets rushed at the very end, finishing the story in a different way almost out of spite. I honestly can't tell if this is intentional or if it's just weak writing. If I can't tell, I don't care. If you've wasted my time for art, my time is still wasted. Thanks, Vonnegut.

It's smug. It reads like the guy who just declared he's an atheist, and filled with disdain for those who still cling to what he considers to be an outmoded system of belief, writes a tract that flirts with nihilism, but is too scared to follow through. It's a proud, but sad and fragile work from an excellent writer who, when I observe carefully, feels like he copped out right there at the very end, too scared to commit fully to the page. This isn't saying anything about Vonnegut himself, of course, since I don't know (and it doesn't matter). Perhaps I'll read it again sometime, but probably not. Whatever secrets I've missed in this novel aren't sufficiently compelling for me to indulge its bleak pages more than once.

Now, Murakami is personally one of my favorite writers. His own protagonists are known by some reviewers I've read for being especially languid and without momentum of their own, and in the past I've disputed that. (I feel like the direction they're trying to go is simply not the direction that events eventually lead them in, but that's a discussion for another time.)  I'll be reading Kafka on the Shore for the second time, though, and I'll be more critical this time than the first, so I'm interested to see what my new take is on the work. I've also been thumbing through the soft-cover version of Wraith lately, which I think I've mentioned, but I haven't gotten further than about page 30. I do have some things to say about it, though, so if you're interested in my analysis of older White Wolf products, you may have come to the right place.
atolnon: (Default)
( Apr. 23rd, 2013 09:07 pm)

Books read so far this week are a little odd. I finished "The Man Who Invented Hitler", an odd book Katie had bought some time ago about the therapist who might have, sorta, kind of caused the mental leap from timid-but-weird Hitler to flip-out-and-murder Hitler. I don't know that I agree with the premise, but there was a lot of interesting historical what-have-you in it. I read a cookbook called "Korean Cooking for Everyone", which I've often flipped through and learned a good way to press tofu before frying. It was worth it if only for that.

I joined a book club started by a friend of Katie's, and the first book is "Cat's Cradle" by Vonnegut. I haven't read it yet, but I'm about 50 pages in and I've found it to be intriguing. Since it's for a discussion group, I'm taking notes and hopefully I'll be finished by Wednesday. I'm also reading "Starting Out With C++", which was not the book I was using for my own studies in high school or college (my mother stole my programming book, but to what end I will never understand), so I figured there was little use in reading it without learning to code again. I went out and downloaded a free compiler that Katie's used in the past, but that'll probably take some time to properly work through.

Next month is Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore". The library in Belleville didn't have "Cat's Cradle", so Katie just bought it for the Kindle app, which I don't enjoy as much but, well, I don't have time to waste waiting for the library to get it in before the end of the month and it was only 3 bucks this way. I own "Kafka", already, which is something like cheating but, well, I didn't vote for it so those are the rules of the club. Majority wins.

Michel Pollen just released a new book called "Cooked" and, I swear to god, the only reason I asked the library to order it for me is because it bases its chapters off of the classical western elements in terms of its discussion on food preparation and it gave me an idea for Dragon Blooded cooking Charms. I've liked Pollen's other stuff, though, so I'm excited to read it on general terms.

Work is normal, the convention is over, my tire is fixed, my suit is in, Katie's suit is being hand-tailored and I'm totally gonna get shown up in terms of awesome suit quality (I'm excited to see what comes in!), but mine is still fairly nice. Our food raising charity, Can Town St Louis raised over 300 dollars in cash from our auction and over 250 in the value for canned goods, so this month ended up being about 600 in cash and value to the Collinsville area food pantry. We're practically ecstatic - I think this is a new record, and I'm amazingly proud of not just Katie, but everyone who donated and helped with the events.

I'm going to be selling or giving away a fair amount of my own book collection - both role-playing and otherwise. I'll post a list when I know what I'm getting rid of. It's not that I don't like it, but we're desperately trying to cut back on our possessions in order to tidy up our material lives, here. Books and media are my greatest weakness, and I'm trying to set a good example and get better about possessions and collecting, myself. It's good stuff, though, most of it. You might want some.

We're very busy; that's not everything, just a snap-shot. Money is very tight, but we're feeling pretty good in between bits of financial-based anxiety. Cheers!

I've finally gotten through Dark Souls and Focault's Pendulum. For the record, I enjoyed both, but they were pretty arduous experiences.

I've actually talked about Dark Souls before, and I'm not sure that I have a whole lot to add since I'm not typically in the business of doing full game reviews (though I think I'd be pretty good at it if I put my mind towards it). It was long, but I made it much longer than it had to be because I brought my past gaming experiences with me. I didn't need them, it turned out. Dark Souls is very much its own thing. I wasn't impressed with its much-vaunted difficulty level, either, but I grew up with Nintendo games. If you want the full review, leave a comment, otherwise I'll assume you're not concerned.

Pendulum's something like 530 pages, and for a rusty reader like myself, it was a little daunting. Like a lot of former students who took their education pretty seriously*, I got pretty good at reading and writing. A 10 page rough draft got done in a night, and 500+ pages is a weekend of serious reading. Not so, anymore, and it took me a pretty long time to get through it.

Umberto Eco's a professor of semiotics. I've read The Name of the Rose and a collection of his essays, and he's really quite interesting but, for better or worse, you can really see the effects of it in his fiction. I think that being in the middle of academia for so long eventually leads to a writing that's as cynical about the cyclical, self-feeding nature of some types of research, and Pendulum really reads to me as a deeply interested but cynical manuscript.

Three academics and researchers work for a publication company - one legitimate publisher and one that's basically a confidence game. They've got a lot of self-financed writers on their rolls for the scam company (whos' inner workings are explained in fairly good detail in the depths of the book), and in order to draw them back in, they begin to publish and re-publish documents relating to the Knights Templar and other occult shenanigans. The information released is ostensibly bullshit but the researchers, as a game, make a habit of tying one piece of bullshit to another to fabricate a whole cloth of occult history. For a certain reason (as pertinent to the plot), the story is released to the public, and it gets far, far ahead of the researchers themselves.

Dangerous shenanigans result.

If I want to be critical (but not particularly bright), I'd probably say that you could cut about 100-200 pages without too much difficulty in order to tighten up the plot and better the pacing, but I'm not really sure that's the type of text that Prof. Eco wanted to produce. For me, it was interesting but not snappy. I didn't fall in to the pages like I've done with other books I've been interested in. First, I don't speak French, Portugese, Spanish, Italian, or Latin, and my lack of education in the Romance languages hurt my ability to understand the nuances in certain passages, quotes, and chapter headers. Second, I must admit that the bulk of the pages scattered clues as trees shed autumn leaves; in the detritus of the protagonists' personal history, we have clues to his inner workings. Do we need them? Possibly not. I say that the book is larger than the sum of its plot points, but the beginning goes on too long.

Where The Name of the Rose reads like an excellently researched adventure game from the player's perspective, Focault's Pendulum reads like it were almost the narrative of the storytellers making the game. The protagonists enthusiastically pen a secret history full of sorcerers, thaumaturges, assassins, knights, and harlots fit for any World of Darkness campaign. When it's leaked, it's convincing to those who have already lost their grip on reality. Like Mulder, they want to believe, but unlike The X-Files, there never were any aliens. The conspiracy is a lie fabricated by three con artists who got too wrapped up in their games.

Once again, the plot is fair, but the book only becomes a page turner at the 300 pg. mark. The exposition is probably the key. Prof. Eco provides page after page of fake information for the reader to wade through, making one feel that there is a story-in-a-story that one is reading, as if the writer couldn't decide which story he would rather tell, and so he puts one in the other so he doesn't need to decide. At one point, I nearly lost patience  because the information provided wasn't of any real use to me, before I realized that neither was the book I had opened in the first place.

If books were Russian nesting dolls, I suppose. I can set Foucault's Pendulum next to House of Leaves.

Personally I liked it. It's a good book, but here's my suggestion; this is a book for someone who actually enjoys their academic reading and is willing to read an extensive and dense piece of fiction about someone doing a lot of academic reading and the effect of that on their personal lives. If I knew a little better, I'd say that it has a fair amount to do with the nasty politics of academia, but that's speculation. I can think of a few people who read this journal that this book is relevant to, but I think my warnings are the same as the warnings one receives upon asking if one ought to pursue graduate studies. The very thing designed to warn you away beckons you closer, providing you're into that kind of thing.

* for an 18-20 year old, which is really not 'adult' seriously like I've come to understand it.


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