Reading Log: The Real Story, Prey

Recently we talked about books with guys at work and I was recommended a whole bunch of authors and stories I’d never heard of before (and among other things I discovered that one of my co-workers is extremely well-read). I decided that “why not” and read two novels suggested by two colleagues =)

“The Real Story” is the first book in “The Gap Cycle” written by Stephen R. Donaldson. Apparently, later on the series becomes darker and deeper but “The Real Story” is a very easy-to-read piratical adventure about two space pirates and a woman who’s captured by one of them. The book doesn’t contain any new ideas and doesn’t even describe the world it takes place in. However, Donaldson is a very effective author — the plot flows smoothly and it’s very easy to get hooked. He explained that his idea was to show how characters involved into the famous triangle “a Victim – a Villain – a Rescuer” all change their roles — and that indeed happens but you’ll pay attention to this only if you’re aware of the author’s grand plan. The funny thing is that we observe everything mostly from the Villain’s point of view and even though logically you understand that he’s a bad guy it’s kind of difficult to _not_ sympathize with him when finally his plans ruined and his life is on the verge of destruction. Going to buy the second book — and look forward to finally meet aliens there, I was told that they’re completely inhuman.

“Prey” is a child of Michael Crichton’s imagination, whose the most famous work is “Jurassic Park”. There’s an opinion that Crichton is a “pop scifi” writer and I’d say that “Prey” confirms that. As far as I understood his books follow the scenario where we see some technological and/or biological advancement, then something goes wrong and then the main characters save the day. In the “Prey”‘s case this advancement is nanomachines. The main character is a former programmer (but currently he has to be a stay-at-home dad) and whose spouse is in charge of an unbelievably important project. But the wife’s becoming acting more and more weirdly. Is she cheating on him? Is she on drugs? This part, when the normal life of an average guy is disturbed but disturbed by something relatively ordinary is the best one of the book. Then things become more action-packed and more stupid. Swarms of nanomachines on the wild, their evolution, the attempts of the main character to destroy those swarms (and the main hero is a 40-years old programmer and accompanied by other programmers — a squad less than ideal to destroy whatever, except maybe a couple canisters of beer) — it felt unnatural and, frankly, boring. Also, Crichton was a smart guy and he added a lot of real-life facts in his book. But unfortunately he _added_ and not wove them. It looked as if he had a list of “Things I must mention” while working on the book, which he’s going to use without any consideration how well they’d be integrated. So, as the Warden Twins in Persona 5 usually said “Not terrible but not impressive”.

 

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Reading log: Brave New World

I wouldn’t say that dystopia is my favorite book genre, however after I had already read the other two most famous representatives of dystopian fiction — 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 — I had no other choice but to compare them with the Huxley’s book.

Long story short, the world shown in Brave New World isn’t as grim as Orwell’s and, in general, looks like a nice place to live and I’m not going to declare pretentiously that it’s impossible to survive in a place where humanity doesn’t have fiction, religious or philosophic books and where it’s impossible to find an art-house movie. I wouldn’t blame anyone who wanted to move into such a world. No diseases, no wars, no struggles, no poverty. Soma =) Even those who revolt against the existing society do not get killed, just exiled.  This world is not ideal — “everyone belongs to everyone” is too much to my taste, as well as constantly being surrounded by other people. Yes, the idea of predetermination looks sort of ugly and inhumane; yes, you have to choose (if you’re a lucky Alpha) between your vocation and your stable life; yes, from our perspective the life in the Brave New World’s 25th century may seem rather dull. But it puts the depressing society of 1984 on its back in no time and lucky we are if in the future we’re going to have a choice between these two levels of being controlled.

A couple of words about characters. As usual, I didn’t like any of them. I sympathized with Lenina a bit (because “Mr.Savage” was acting like, you know, a savage) and I enjoyed how rationally and calmly European World Controller (Mond) explained everything to The Savage, Marx and Helmholtz. The trio of main characters left virtually no emotions, except some disgust towards Marx’ indecision and his attempts to clear his name at all costs.

P.S. At least now I know the roots of this “O Brave New World” expression. Also was kind of surprised that the phrase “I went and ask if I mightn’t go with you” actually meant that the guy asked if he might go with them.

The Big Over Easy

Finished a book written by Jasper Fforde “The Big Over Easy”. I’d read few Fforde’s books before, but all of them had been about Thursday Next, so this one was a complete new experience. Hmm, probably it should’ve been a complete new experience, but this author is kind of set in his ways. “The Big Over Easy” (I still have troubles with the name and, to be honest, can’t understand how to translate it) is also vigorously uses the same tricks and the same style as books about the famous Literary Detective. Alternative reality, puns and, of course, tons of references to other books. And nursery rhymes in this case, because two main characters of the book works as Nursery Crimes Detectives.

What does such a police department do? Well, it tries to convince the jury, for example, that Three Pigs was boiling Mr Wolf  for several hours deliberately. Or they need to investigate crimes committed by a maniac Gingerbreadman. And so on, and so forth. Doesn’t sound like a serious work, does it? You’re right. Nursery Crimes Department is the least prestigious department in Reading Police, not only because the very existence of characters they have to deal with is rather questionable but also because their crimes are simple, brutal and won’t make a new story for the Amazing Crime Stories magazine. Yep, public should enjoy reading about crimes, it shouldn’t be a routine but something elaborate, thrilling and with unexpected outcome.

Humpty Dumpty had been an ordinary egg. He had been suffering from salmonella for many years, didn’t like Easter and was involved in various shady stories. And one night he had a great fall. Deadly fall. Clearly it was another case under the NCD jurisdiction and it should’ve been a fast and easy work – either suicide or accident. Unfortunately (for, apparently, all involved) everything happened to be not so easy.

On a bright side – Fforde knows how to write books. Even for me, with my poor English knowledge, his prose is a pure joy. As I already mentioned, the book is full of jokes and puns. Without those it would’ve been a grim crime story but all that grimness is hidden under piles and piles of absurd stuff that’s going on. I liked the main characters – detective Jack Spratt, sergeant Mary Mary (although, she’s rather bland) but the supporting staff is absolutely amazing!

As a one downside I’d say that the last 10 pages or so were not so entertaining and I wouldn’t mind if Fforde ended his book a bit earlier… but he is the Creator and he knows better, right?

Neverwhere

I wouldn’t say that I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. Before “Neverwhere” I had read only 2 of his books, “American Gods” (such shame, I barely can remember what this story was about, need to re-read it) and “The Graveyard Book”. The book I want to say a couple of words about hasn’t significantly changed my opinion.

Richard lives in London and his future is clear. His is going to get married soon, he has a steady job, his life is normal. But one day he acts like a Good Samaritan and helps out a girls who dropped on him and his girlfriend all of a sudden on the street. The girlfriend is disappointed – this act of good will is interfering with her plans, she breaks up with Richard soon but for him the real problems are just beginning. It seems that somehow he has become invisible for everyone. Taxis don’t stop, no one pays attention to him at work and his apartment is already being estimated by new tenants! “All this madness started after that girl I helped out, so she must be the only key to getting everything back!”,  Richard was thinking such way, I suppose =) He embarks on a journey to find that girl.

From this point the book shows us the plot as simple as ABC. Our characters move from point A to point B, then someone tells them that they should go to point C, then they find a thing that clearly shows that the next point is D and so on. This is my main problem with the “Neverwhere” – the absolute linearity of the book. It’s interesting to follow, Gaiman is a great author when it comes to describing locations of inventing strange creatures, but I wish there were moments when the heroes show themselves from a different perspective, demonstrate that they’re not just tokens moved by the author’s hand from one area to another.

About heroes. They are.. okay. Richard wants his ordinary life back and he doesn’t become a superhero who can crash any obstacle that dared stand on his way. His companions are more or less normal, considering the fantasy genre. But two villains here – they’re brilliant. Totally. First of all – they’re maniacs. Second – there’re many jokes related to them, quite dark ones, though.

The second disappointing thing for me is the end of the story. Richard has come back and I really thought that there wouldn’t be any typical reflections like “Oh, this world is so boring, I want back!”. Unfortunately, it turned out to be exactly like that.

P.S. I started looking for a movie based on the book and found that, actually, the novel is the adaptation of the TV series Neverwhere. Haven’t decided yet whether it should change anything in my attitude towards this story but the fact is interesting.