pondělí 15. srpna 2011

China Miéville: Un Lun Dun (Un Lun Dun)

    I was in the Municipal Library with Awaris once and I found one of Miéville’s books. I told her it looked quite interesting and she replied that she has already read most of his work. Well, I don’t understand when she found the time for it but OK (it’s obvious she has a time machine and is too mean to share her secret with humanity). I really wanted to read some of his books and I finally had time for it and I loved it.
   It’s kind of Alice in Wonderland but modern and in urban settings. Two girls – Deeba and Zanna – accidentally enter UnLondon – a weird version of London where all things that become moil (mildly obsolete in London) or broken come and continue their lives. Unfortunately, UnLondon is threatened by the Smog – a cloud of effluvia (effluvia…that’s a cool word) which gradually gained consciousness. Zanna finds out that she’s the Schwazzy which is English transcription of choisi – chosen one (I will overcome my urge to correct everyone and do as if I have overlooked the fact that it should be choisie). The two girls are told to go to the Propheseers who should tell them what to do and help the Schwazzy to beat the Smog. When they arrive to the Propheseers’ bridge (after a trip in a flying bus and jumping across 2 metre high roofs) they meet the Book (basically, a big talking volume with inclination to deep depressions) and Brokkenbroll – the master of broken umbrellas. He and Benjamin Unstible – a Propheseers who everyone thought was dead – change old broken umbreallas into unbrellas – weapons against the Smog. But it doesn’t take long before things go very differently from what the prophecies say and it slowly turns out that unLondon might be rather in need of an unchosen one rather than the chosen (who will also need help – the too much talkative book, a half-ghost and a cuddly milk box).
   One thing I liked about this book is Miéville’s language. He is probably one of a few authors whose description didn’t bore me to death (it is quite difficult to be boring when you create a world where houses are built from old writing machines…but anyway). He uses a little difficult or less known words (not sure why, maybe it’s like Lemony Snicket who always puts in a definition of the word…Miéville is just for a little older readers…it’s a YA book). And he makes up his own words. Like binjas. I liked binjas. They are bins but also ninjas. Binjas kick ass. Language and language games are one of things which makes is so much like Alice in Wonderland. For example, the heroes enter the land of Mr Speaker who is the only one allowed to speak in Talklands. And every word he pronounces takes on physical existence (and crawls out of his mouth…yuk). He is complete control over them until…well, until Deeba says this:

“Well,” said Deeba, “don’t think word do what anyone tells them all the time.”
Hemi was looking at her with at least as much bewilderment on his face as Mr Speaker had.
“What are you on about?” Hemi said.
Deeba paused to admire about, an utterling like a living spiderweb.
“Words don’t always mean what we want them to,” she said. “None of us Not even you.” The room was quiet. Al the people and things in it were listening.
“Like…if someone shouts, “Hey, you!” at someone in the street, but someone else turns around. The words misbehaved. They didn’t call the person they were meant to. Or if you see someone at a party and they’re wearing something mad, and you say, “That’s some outfit!” and they think you’re being rude, u you meant it really.”
“Or…like if someone says something’s bad and people think they mean bad bad and they mean good bad. Or…” Deeba giggled, remembering one of the Blyton books her mother gave had given her, saying she had enjoyed it when she was Deeba’s age. “Or like that old book wit a girl’s name that just sounds rude now.”
The utterlings were twitching and staring at her. Mr Speaker was flinching. He looked sick.
(Unfortunately, Enid Blyton wrote like zillion books, so I didn’t find out which one Deeba speaks about).

   Another great thing about this books how imaginative it is. Mr Speaker is an example of it but there are piles and piles of great ideas (yeah, just like in Carroll). Well, long story short, it is a very good book if you’re looking for something funny and witty and you are in no mood for discovering the dark corners of human soul. I rest my case, just read it.
   Oh…one more thing. If you meet a giraffe…in night…and there are no bars between you and it…just run.

čtvrtek 11. srpna 2011

Paul Murray: Skippy Dies

   I have no idea how I cam across this book, I guess I must have read about it somewhere on the Internet. Than I asked my Dad to get it for me for Xmas and it was only now that I finally got to read it.
   There is not much of a story, at least there is no clear story line to follow (although the book has 660 pages). It’s more of a mixture of characters who are trying to somehow lead a worthy life (in which most of them…if not all of them…fail) or at least survive (in which some of them fail too). The story takes place in Seabrook – a prestigious Catholic boarding school in Dublin (it actually doesn’t exist but it is based on a school the author attended). The book presents us with POVs of several characters – mainly Skippy, Ruprecht, Carl and Howard. There are some other minor narrators, like Greg, the headmaster and evil incarnated; Father Green (aka Père Vert), a French teacher who hates French people and language, he hates teaching and most of all...he hates teaching French; and Lori, Skippy’s and Carl’s dream girl.
   Skippy is a student at the school, he’s 14 year old and for some unknown reason (later it is known, of course) he is so depressed he has to swallow handfuls of pills. He gradually falls deeper and deeper into depression until one day, he sees Lori and helplessly falls in love. Ruprecht is his friend and room-mate, a overweighed genius whose best entertainment is to sit in basement, trying to contact other intelligent species in Space. He tries to prove the string theory but after Skippy dies, he kind of loses it and tries make a contact with the beyond. Carl is same old as Skippy and Ruprecht but he’s a big, strong guy, a bully and a drug dealer and drug addict in one person. And Howard is their History teacher with a girlfriend whom he no longer loves who falls in love with a super-hot bitchy substitute teacher Miss McIntyre.
   The over-all feeling you’ll get from this book is a super-deep depression because this world is just fucked up beyond repair. All the characters try to deal somehow with this fact…mostly by getting high or drunk…or, in Ruprecht’s case, by eating piles of doughnuts. Sometimes, they get almost philosophical and reflect about life and world and Universe and Love and stuff and there are some really interesting ideas. The book mixes all kinds of moods – it’s funny, tragic, cynical and in a way brutal and disgusting in the same time. Sometimes it might be a little bit too much (one of Lori’s chapters will change your attitude to oral sex forever).
   But besides great characters and ideas, there is Murray’s excellent style. If you happen to teach about direct, indirect and all-those-between-direct-and-indirect speeches in English, use this book as your source text. On the other hand, it sometimes get a little confusing (especially Carl’s chapters lack quotations marks and sometimes they lack diacritics completely). He uses unbelievably wide range of similes – from biblical visions (used in really funny way – like when he describes Ruprecht putting his robot on floor as Moses’ mother letting her baby float in basket) to contemporary movies and computer games. He also has wonderfully imaginative, almost poetic language – mostly in the part when people are affected by drugs (I doubt there is any other book in which someone would describe eyes of someone on drugs in so many different ways).
   I really loved this book and if it weren’t so long, I would be sure to read it again sometime later. Hard to say if I’ll ever make myself re-read the whole novel but it is worth it. It was longlisted for Booker Prize 2010 so I really wonder what the awarded book is like because it should be frelling awesome if it beat Skippy… Anyway, there will be a movie next year so there should be a trailer soon. 

neděle 7. srpna 2011

42 Sci-Fi Challenge

The rules of 42 SF Challenge are simple:

Your mission--if you choose to accept it--is to read, watch, listen, and (possibly) review 42 sci-fi related items.

What counts? Short stories, novellas, novels, radio show episodes, television show episodes, movies, graphic novels, comic books, audio books, essays about science fiction, biographies about sci-fi authors, etc. Adapted or abridged works are okay as well.

Keep an ongoing list of your 42 either here on this site (just leave your email address in the comments) or on your own site (just leave a link to your list in the comments). Your list doesn't have to include links to your reviews. But it can if you like. Reviews are not required.

If you wanna join in, the wbsite to do so is here.

I will make a list of SF stuff I have seen and read this year and I'll try to add some reviews. Unlike in A to Z Challenge, I will probably write some of it in Czech. So, enjoy, here is my list so far:

1) Michel Houellebecq: Les Particules élémantaires (CZ review)
2) Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev: Daredevil, vol. 1 (CZ Review)
3) Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five (CZ Review)
4) Slaughterhouse Five (1972)
5) Dark City (1998)
6) Towrchwood, Season 4 (2011)
7) Never Let Me Go (2010) (CZ Review)
8) Metropia (2009) (CZ Review)
9) Thor (2011)
10) Zombieland (2009)
11)  I'm Cyborg, But That's Ok (2006)
12)  Event Horizon (1997)
13) X-Men: First Class (2011)
14) Farscape, Season 1 (1999)
15) Alphas, season 1 (2011)
16) Haven, pilot (2010)
17) Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (2008)
18) Sucker Punch (2011)
19) The Day of the Triffids (2009)
20) Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
21) Doctor Who, Season 6 (2011)
22) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
23) Douglas Adams: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (EN review)
24) Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009)
25) Farscape, Season 2
26) The Rise of the Planet of Apes (2011)
27) Farscape, Season 3
28) Arthur C. Clarke: 2001: Vesmírná Odysea (CZ review)
29) Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)
30) Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conquerors of Shamballa (2005)
31) Kit Whitfield: Bareback (EN Review)
32) Farscape, Season 4
33) The Fades, Season 1
34) Nikkarin: 130 - Odysea (CZ review)
35) Anthony Burgess: Clockwork Orange
36) Nikkarin: 130 - H.Z.O. (CZ review)
37) The Fades, Season 1
38) Super Eruption (2011)
39) Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars (2004)
40) Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)

středa 3. srpna 2011

Beryl Bainbrige: Zachraň se, kdo můžeš (Every Man for Himself)

   We read the first chapter of this book at a literary seminar and than I chose to read it at our Reading Club. Nevertheless, there was a last minute change of plan and we will read something else.
  I wrote the fist paragraph of this review few days ago and I have to say I have been a little bit lost about what to write about this book since. I also forgot all the interesting things I noted when reading it (those I didn’t write down because they were all so clear and easy to remember…I’ll never learn). Anyway, I’m gonna do my best.
   Few interesting facts – it won the Whitbread Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize and was a nominee of The Booker Prize. It treats the Titanic disaster and it was published the same year the movie Titanic went out. Many people probably believed the movie was based on this book and the success was great…I don’t think Bainbridge calculated like this when she was writing the book but still…lucky girl.
   The narrator’s name is Morgan and he’s a young, rich American. The story begins on the day of Titanic’s departure when a man, completely unknown to Morgan, dies on the street and gives him a photo of a Japanese girl. The reader doesn’t know from the beginning that the mentioned ship is Titanic but…there’s hardly anyone who has ever taken this book into his hands without knowing what it is about (and for those few who really did not know…the cover spoils the surprise anyway). The way Bainbridge reveals the name of the ship is one of the things I appreciated about this book. She feels no urge to dramatize new revelations. The name is mentioned only by the way and as if the reader was supposed to already have guessed it (he probably is). She doesn’t put it at the end of a paragraph or a chapter…the name just appears and you tell yourself: “OK, so I was right.” Nice change…
   There is not much of a story to tell. Morgan meets with bunch of rich people who all know each other…the world of wealthy is small. There are quite many characters and it might be a little difficult to get who is who at the beginning (ok, it’s not such a challenge but most of them turn up in one scene). A series of shorter episodes follows and it’s rather a mosaic of people and their characters than an epic story. Of course, the ship sinks but I felt like it wasn’t such a big deal for the author. It seemed to me that she used the catastrophe to make a morbid atmosphere rather than anything else.
   So, the book focuses rather on Morgan than on the story. He seems quite detached from the rest of his friends. One of the things is that his childhood wasn’t particularly easy one. His father died before Morgan was born and his mother followed few years after that. He spent some time in an orphanage and later his family found him and his aunt and uncle raised him. I am not absolutely sure but I believe that when they took him to their home he was old enough to remember it so he feels different from people who have always lived in wealth. The aunt and uncle didn’t really make it easier to him – for example, Morgan recollects that once he travelled with them on a ship but they were in the first class and he was in the third…quite clearly so that people didn’t know about him.
   But he is quite a likeable characters. Yes, he is detached and sometimes behaves oddly (he stole a picture of his mother from his uncle’s study) but he’s very ironical and pretty fun. Bainbridge’s style is another thing why this worth reading. You feel the whole time like nothing serious is actually happening. Titanic goes down. People die. Yeah, well. What’s next? She makes kind of morbid atmosphere from the very beginning – a man dies on the very first page of the book and the way she (or rather Morgan) describes it is quite cruel (the dying man holds on a fence and Bainbridge/Morgan makes a simile with an old scarecrow). There are also many moments when a character says something like “Yeah, but this ship is unsinkable” and everyone laughs. It’s not some extremely innovative idea but yet…it gives you the shivers.
   There is also kind of a detective story, because Morgan a bit by bit discovers some facts from is childhood. There are also different interconnected characters and events, sometimes rather implied than really said, so that’s interesting too.
    To summarize it, Every Man for Himself is an interesting book – it probably won’t sweep you off your feet but it’s still a good reading.