domingo, dezembro 29, 2013

"Early Autumn" by Robert B. Parker

Early Autumn - Robert B. Parker
description

# 2013 - 90#

Funny how men dote on these Perfect Men that shoot well, cook well, have the perfect thing to say at every moment, and charm the ladies. What makes a man a Man? Is it the span of his chest, the stomach-muscles-that-are-very-well-developed framework, his towering height, bold face, calm countenance, full beard, mustache, or deep croaky voice? Spenser epitomizes all these traits...

Is this a coming-of-age story or pulp noir fiction? If genre is a type of cultural ritual, what does the combination of genres imply? Does it imply that genres in their traditional form no longer fulfill the needs of the noir fiction culture? The best examples of Noir Fiction are the ones that are able to merge several types of fiction modes, like this book here. Genre works best by using a set of literary codes that are recognized and understood by the reader and the author via shared literary devices as the faux-plot, which is clearly on display here. The classical faux-plot depicted here is the damsel in distress, who wants to protect her son from the father (with ties to the bas-fond). This is a simple way for the damsel's son and Spenser to be introduced. This device allows Parker to introduce a bit of standard private detective lore and a mini-mystery for Spenser and Paul, the son, to pursue. The mini-mystery provides more than one benefit to the young man struggling to find an adult identity.

It's not so much a detective novel as a story about a teenager's path to adulthood that utilizes pulp fiction devices (eg,faux-plot) for story progression. In that regard it works wonderfully.

NB: My last book of 2013... For 2014 I want to wish to myself that I won't care about weight gain, or be depressed about it. I also want to grow taller, but due to the fact that height-wise my genes tend to the short side, maybe that won't happen. And even if I grow bigger horizontally and vertically, I think it's just a matter of personal perspective to accept myself or not...Enough said (smile)!

sexta-feira, dezembro 27, 2013

"China Mountain Zhang" by Maureen F. McHugh

China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh
description

#89 – 2013#

“Dao ke dao, fei chang dao” = “The way that can be spoken is not the way” (page 220).

This simple aphorism exemplifies the tone of this novel. Lots of things left unsaid, but at the same time, because of that, conveying lots of meaning.

I’ve just finished this astonishing novel and I’m still trying to deal how it made feel.

One of the things that impressed me the most was McHugh’s refusal to let her secondary characters remain two dimensional pictures in the novel. It included several parallel stories apart from Zhang’s story, each one of them quite above average writing-wise.

China Mountain Zhang is a quiet, and beautiful novel. Although it’s not about heroes, it tells stories of ordinary, everyday fortitude, the kind we need to get out of bed and live our lives. McHugh impregnates each of Zhang’s decisions and actions with significance, reminding us of the momentousness of day-to-day life. 

China Mountain Zhang is a clear example of speculative fiction (SF) that particularly interests me. It’s one of the few types of SF I have much interest in reading these days, ie, the story of ordinary people doing ordinary things in an imagined world.

My love for it was due to the fact that most SF plots required heroes and villains to commit actions that affected many people, and sometimes entire worlds and universes. This has always been one of weakest characteristics for Speculative Fiction. But maybe its lack of character depth is also its strength. Truth be told at the beginning I didn’t read SF because of the characters, but because of the worlds they inhabited. That was what fascinated me. Later as grew old, my interests started to shift.

China Mountain Zhang’s main accomplishment that so impressed me was its ability to portray a sense of intimacy, of merging this reader's consciousness with the imagined consciousness of the characters (Zhang,San-xiang, Martine, Alexys, etc) and allowing me a rapport that is impossible in reality. This is certainly not the only thing that above-average-SF can do, but it is one of the few things it can do better than any other type of genre literature I know of (I’m thinking “mainstream” literature here).

What a way to finish 2013. This novel is going to be everlasting in my mind… It transcended SF and worked on many levels.

sábado, dezembro 21, 2013

"The Farthest Shore" (Earthsea Cycle) by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Farthest Shore - Ursula K. Le Guin

description 

(read originally in the 80's)

Scope Review: Earthsea Trilogy. 

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky”

Yin & Yang?

I honestly don't remember a time when I wasn't obsessed with reading and collecting books. I'd define childhood as a never-ending vacation. A weekend without a week following and reading-time everlasting. I still remember the never-ending days of my childhood. My first date. My first kiss. My first endless book infatuations. One of my favourite childhood memory was when I was twelve years old with my Grandmother Glória at home and me reading to her "O Feiticeiro de Terramar" ("A Wizard of Earthsea"). 

It was with some trepidation that I've re-read one of my childhood favourites... Forget Harry Potter and its look-alikes. This is how it all began for me.

I’ve always had a problem with Fantasy, especially with the one being produced nowadays. The usual Fantasy fodder does not stimulate me. Fantasy, like myth and dream, should assume the existence of a world of being beyond or underneath perceived, empirical reality, and it should also reproduce that other world by means of symbolism and literary prototypes: kingdoms, wizards, shadows, dragons, good, evil, and sword are some of them that should reverberate with ethical and aesthetic meaning.

I’ve never being particularly fond of coming-of-age stories. I’ve always believed that a good coming-of-age story should be a journey that it’s not only psychic, but also moral. My archtype bildungsroman, should trace the development of a young person’s awareness of self, society, and nature. Le Guin’s was able to do this by balancing all the powers in her fictionalized world, supported on the recognition that every act affects self, society, and world. 

Ged (God?), acknowledges the presence of good and evil in himself and transforms himself psychologically to fit into the Earthsea World. In the last pages of the first volume, light and shadow mingle, and there was no longer two beings but only one. That Le Guin was able to achieve this effect in only a handful of pages was quite astonishing (compare with the final chapter of the book “Blood Song” by Anthony Ryan to check on how it shouldn’t be done - My review). 

Each volume of Earthsea tells us a different story about the Erwachsenwerden process. When read together (which I didn’t in the translations in Portuguese), the trilogy gave me an overall perspective of Ged’s journey, which was also a story of the epic hero who successfully deals with the forces that threatened Earthsea.

quinta-feira, dezembro 19, 2013

"The Tombs of Atuan" (Earthsea Cycle, #2) by Ursula K. LeGuin


description 

(read originally in the 80's)

Scope Review: Earthsea Trilogy. 

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky”

Yin & Yang?

I honestly don't remember a time when I wasn't obsessed with reading and collecting books. I'd define childhood as a never-ending vacation. A weekend without a week following and reading-time everlasting. I still remember the never-ending days of my childhood. My first date. My first kiss. My first endless book infatuations. One of my favourite childhood memory was when I was twelve years old with my Grandmother Glória at home and me reading to her "O Feiticeiro de Terramar" ("A Wizard of Earthsea"). 

It was with some trepidation that I've re-read one of my childhood favourites... Forget Harry Potter and its look-alikes. This is how it all began for me.

I’ve always had a problem with Fantasy, especially with the one being produced nowadays. The usual Fantasy fodder does not stimulate me. Fantasy, like myth and dream, should assume the existence of a world of being beyond or underneath perceived, empirical reality, and it should also reproduce that other world by means of symbolism and literary prototypes: kingdoms, wizards, shadows, dragons, good, evil, and sword are some of them that should reverberate with ethical and aesthetic meaning.

I’ve never being particularly fond of coming-of-age stories. I’ve always believed that a good coming-of-age story should be a journey that it’s not only psychic, but also moral. My archtype bildungsroman, should trace the development of a young person’s awareness of self, society, and nature. Le Guin’s was able to do this by balancing all the powers in her fictionalized world, supported on the recognition that every act affects self, society, and world. 

Ged (God?), acknowledges the presence of good and evil in himself and transforms himself psychologically to fit into the Earthsea World. In the last pages of the first volume, light and shadow mingle, and there was no longer two beings but only one. That Le Guin was able to achieve this effect in only a handful of pages was quite astonishing (compare with the final chapter of the book “Blood Song” by Anthony Ryan to check on how it shouldn’t be done - My review). 

Each volume of Earthsea tells us a different story about the Erwachsenwerden process. When read together (which I didn’t in the translations in Portuguese), the trilogy gave me an overall perspective of Ged’s journey, which was also a story of the epic hero who successfully deals with the forces that threatened Earthsea. 

quarta-feira, dezembro 18, 2013

"A Wizard of Earthsea" (The Earthsea Cycle) by Ursula K. LeGuin

A Wizard of Earthsea  - Ursula K. Le Guin
description 

(read originally in the 80's)

Scope Review: Earthsea Trilogy. 

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky”

Yin & Yang?

I honestly don't remember a time when I wasn't obsessed with reading and collecting books. I'd define childhood as a never-ending vacation. A weekend without a week following and reading-time everlasting. I still remember the never-ending days of my childhood. My first date. My first kiss. My first endless book infatuations. One of my favourite childhood memory was when I was twelve years old with my Grandmother Glória at home and me reading to her "O Feiticeiro de Terramar" ("A Wizard of Earthsea"). 

It was with some trepidation that I've re-read one of my childhood favourites... Forget Harry Potter and its look-alikes. This is how it all began for me.

I’ve always had a problem with Fantasy, especially with the one being produced nowadays. The usual Fantasy fodder does not stimulate me. Fantasy, like myth and dream, should assume the existence of a world of being beyond or underneath perceived, empirical reality, and it should also reproduce that other world by means of symbolism and literary prototypes: kingdoms, wizards, shadows, dragons, good, evil, and sword are some of them that should reverberate with ethical and aesthetic meaning.

I’ve never being particularly fond of coming-of-age stories. I’ve always believed that a good coming-of-age story should be a journey that it’s not only psychic, but also moral. My archtype bildungsroman should trace the development of a young person’s awareness of self, society, and nature. Le Guin’s was able to do this by balancing all the powers in her fictionalized world, supported on the recognition that every act affects self, society, and world. 

Ged (God?), acknowledges the presence of good and evil in himself and transforms himself psychologically to fit into the Earthsea World. In the last pages of the first volume, light and shadow mingle, and there was no longer two beings but only one. That Le Guin was able to achieve this effect in only a handful of pages was quite astonishing (compare it with the final chapter of the book “Blood Song” by Anthony Ryan to check on how it shouldn’t be done - My review). 

Each volume of Earthsea tells us a different story about the Erwachsenwerden process. When read together (which I didn’t in the translations in Portuguese), the trilogy gave me an overall perspective of Ged’s journey, which was also a story of the epic hero who successfully deals with the forces that threatened Earthsea

sábado, dezembro 14, 2013

"Blood Song" (Raven's Shadow, #1) by Anthony Ryan

Blood Song (Raven's Shadow, #1) - Anthony  Ryan

description


This is just not, as people are wont to say, my thing. As John Clute would say, there’s a clear Thinning (a diminishment of the world depicted) in this novel. It’s quite beyond my grasp the way that no matter how big this world was supposed to be, everyone kept running into one another everywhere. This is a frequently encountered “no-no” for lesser quality fantasy fiction and it was disappointing to see it also here. Travels over great distances and pivotal events (like battles) were often barely portrayed and instead we, the reader, joined the “fray” after they'd already concluded (read “The Heroes” to see how it should be undertaken). This gave the world an unreal feeling and constituted a total failure of world-building.

Someone told me this novel was better than “A Name of the Wind” (a book I also detested), “A Game of Thrones” and “Red Country” by Joe Abercrombie. I don’t do book comparisons. Each book must stand on its own merits, but in this case I can’t resist. Comparing “Blood Song” with “A Game of Thrones” and “The Heroes” is like saying Martin Payne is on the same wavelength as Martin Luther King.

I’ve read Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song because it showed up in my Goodreads “recommended” list with a ton of 5-star reviews (just like “Wool” by Hugh Howey, which I didn't like as well). I’m usually suspicious, however, when the reviews so vigorously rubber-stamp the greatness of a book. Based on my experience with “Blood Song”, I was right to be suspicious.

While "Blood Song" is not really awful, I’m totally baffled as to how it earned so many 5-star reviews. I’m long past the age where I enjoy coming-of-age stories, if I ever did like them much. So maybe that’s the reason I don’t understand why “Blood Song” is getting so much praise.

There is a good story in the book somewhere. I did enjoy the parts that take place in the present. They’re just buried under all the awful writing. The dialogue isn't very realistic and the story comes across as overly outlined instead of continuous.

There is just nothing special enough about “Blood Song” to hold its own against all the other good fantasy books that are currently out there (above-mentioned just some of them). The prose is little more than utilitarian (Ryan uses far too many comma splices in his writing for my taste) and the book just doesn't live up to the fuss. There is no other way to say it.

sexta-feira, dezembro 06, 2013

"The Killing of the Tinkers" by Ken Bruen

The Killing of the Tinkers: A Novel (Jack Taylor) - Ken Bruen
description

“The Killing of the Tinkers” is a lonely book.

I used to read a fair amount of crime fiction. A lot, actually. In the last years I've found myself reading less of it, and in the last years I find that the novels I give up on the soonest are crime novels. Why? Well. For several reasons. For starters the term "noir" is being used today as something of a buzzword. It’s used with the same promiscuity as the snack food industry uses ketchup. I’ve lost count on the number of books I’ve given up on because of that. I don’t want to read an author that just likes to play a noir game. I want an author that really pays attention to reality and logic. Ken Bruen is one of the happy few that despite a few wobbles, and missteps, has been able to avoid tumbling into oblivion (I’m still reading the early Bruen. I’m still withholding judgment on the late Bruen).

After having a taste of Jack Taylor in "The Guards", I was ready for some more. Ken Bruen has a noir writing style that perfectly captures the flavour of the local underground in which the characters live, including the drugs that often exist but are rarely written about in mainstream fiction. Ken Bruen is stylistically in a class of his own. Right from the first page, Bruen hits a faultless noir mood and doesn’t let go until the very last page. The book is full of despair and it takes a special author to be able to find something beautiful and honest in such unrelenting despair, and Bruen is the guy to do it.

If Jack Taylor is your run-of-the-mill detective, what isn’t definitely standard, is Bruen's prose. Not only are you hammered on the head with the Queen’s English, but Bruen has a unique writing style in which he sometimes uses poetry that fits the prose pitch-perfect, even in the middle of a paragraph, or when using a list. Raw poetical prose at its finest.

“The Killing of the Tinkers” isn’t overly concerned with detailing the detection process, and the mysteries are actually easily solved, but that's beside the point. Noir is all-pervasive throughout the book. And maybe that’s why Jack Taylor drinks so much, maybe to stop himself from seeing, not only the worst parts of the world around him, but also himself.

As I said in another review, Bruen is an acquired taste.

domingo, dezembro 01, 2013

"Lights Out" by Jason Starr

Lights Out - Jason Starr
description

"Lights Out" is not so much a thriller as it is a dark, brooding character study. Starr's narrative has an adjacency (to use a noun that became very dear to me after reading "The Adjacency" by Christopher Priest...) that simultaneously unsettles and drives the story forward. Reading it is like walking pell-mell and slightly drunk through a strange locale with the only certain certainty being that each step takes you further away and closer to inimical territory. You trust your ministering angel to protect you, even as you know it has flown the cage long ago. 
Starr has given also his secondary players their moments, portray their places in the neighborhood's impenetrable structure. 

The novel has several stories to tell. Its multiple-POV layout provides the story with a omniscient perspective, while affording Starr the opportunity to display his wonderful ear for internal monologue. The problem was that at times I felt as if Starr was also a central character in the book.

Having read this novel in tandem with "Hard Feelings" (vide my review), I got the feeling Jason Starr is attaining a place in the noir realist tradition that says happy endings don't exist in places such as Brooklyn.