Every time I think that it’s impossible for movie adaptations to become even worse and yet every time I’m proven wrong. Last year or maybe two years ago I’d read that we’re going to get a TV show The Watch based on Pratchett’s series of books about, well, the city watch. It’s my personal favorite Discworld cycle and I was even a bit optimistic, because the Discworld movies I watched before were surprisingly fine. Then I saw the cast… and ugh, it became quite obvious that we’re about to witness something that’s very far from being a Pratchett’s work and something very close to being utter trash. No one will be able to convince me that it might be a good idea to change what characters look like or who they are. It never works. And still, the movie makers feel some kind of moral obligation to slaughter people (or dwarves! or werewolves!) we know and care about and turn them into something resembling the original only in name.

Anyway, after that cast announcement I hadn’t heard about this project for a while and kind of assumed that it’d been cancelled. God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world. I wish. Turned out that BBC put that abomination out after all. The trailer looks atrocious and I feel terrible for anyone who’s willing to spend his or her time on this garbage. How?! How do they manage to ruin everything every time?!

Joe Abercrombie stole my heart with “The First Law” trilogy, which might be the best fantasy story I’ve ever read — dark, with great characters, perfectly written. And finished! (Yeah, it’s a big thing in the modern world!) Recently, I sort of got tired of the genre and was more inclined towards finding a sci-fi, horror or even non-fiction book to read but the magic of Abercrombie’s name and the generosity of amazon, that was selling “Half a King” for just $3, made the decision to pick up this book much easier.

Sooo… okay, it’s really, really well written and very cinematographic. I don’t have a livid imagination and usually when I’m reading a book it’s just about flipping the damn pages and consuming the information about dragons and spaceships — there are no particular images in my mind. But it’s easy, even more me, to see what’s happening in the first book of “The Shattered Sea” series. The problem is that despite being fast-paced and catchy the Yarvi’s adventure is predictable and, fairly, quite ordinary. All what-a-twist moments are obvious and can be spotted from a mile off and all the character behave exactly like you’d expect them to. The characters themselves are bland at best, annoying at worst. Yarvi, yeah, I got that one of your hands is dysfunctional, would you please shut the fuck up stop mentioning it all the time?

At the end of the day, “Half a King” is not a bad book but unfortunately it didn’t live up to my expectations. Luckily though, the first novel of a new trilogy “The Age of Madness”, which is a direct continuation of “The First Law”, came out just recently, so, fingers crossed, it’ll be as smart and fierce as the books I liked =)

All of a sudden remembered about one of my favorite detective books, “The Black Spectacles” by John Carr, and bought another novel from the same series, about Doctor Fell. While was reading about the title character learned of the old nursery rhyme “I do no like thee Doctor Fell” and now the moment in “The Black Spectacles”, when they’re figuring out that a dude on the video was saying (as I thought before, because I read only the Russian edition) “I don’t like you, Doctor Fell” — this moment kind of changes the tone and becomes almost a mockery. It’s good to learn something new and useless once in a while =) The book I bought, “The Mad Hatter Mystery”, is also decent by the way, maybe not as strong and creepy as the one about the poisoner but logical and well-written (although I must admit that not everyone is going to like Dr Fell, he’s a peculiar character).

After having finished the book of short stories “Stories of Your Life” (for posterity, it has one great novelette, “Hell is the Absence of God” and one very good “Story of Your Life”, which was made into a movie, Arrival) I realized that despite enjoying almost every collection of shorts, there have been only two, which I binged and which conjured up all emotions I was capable of. The first one was “The Newford Stories”. Maybe it was just such a period of time but the only think I could think of after reading de Lint’s tales was playing guitar and telling stories in a forest, sitting by a bonfire with others. Magic desu.

Another, hm, inspirational example was “The Books of Blood” by Clive Barker. That was some horrendous shit. A book that I wouldn’t suggest read up on before going to sleep. The movie was pretty bad but Barker’s writing is top notch and there are plenty of stories to choose from.

Bad Monkeys (a novel)

I remembered Matt Ruff’s wonderful “Sewer, Gas and Electric” recently, convinced one of my colleagues to read it and, riding that wave of success, decided to check out something else written by this guy.

Bad Monkeys is pretty awesome and a page-turner for 4/5 of its length. It’s well constructed, easy to read and — it has that detective or thriller vibe when you’re super curious what’s actually is going on. The secret organization fighting evil and using Natural Causes guns, does it actually exist? Even fantastic elements aside — should we believe the story Jane’s telling us? For every contradiction between her words and the evidence, whether it’s a text document or a video, she has a perfect explanation — that one of the departments of the Organization cleaned that up. And if her story is true — then yeah, that might have happened. If it’s true. Following the interrogation, looking at how she’s slowly being cornered, caught on discrepancies that can’t be explained by any external interference — I almost started praying to Takhisis, pleading to avoid the typical damn what-a-twist final, hoping that everything she said was a lie and Jane was half crazy.

Not only did we get a what-a-twist final (multiple twists actually) but the last part of the book is chaotic and much weaker than the rest of the story. Fighting scenes, Bad Jane, “I’m actually on your side but no I’m an enemy agent under cover”, rinse-repeat — it felt forced and unnecessary. I’d prefer that the story finished without any explanation, that readers would have to choose the side on their own. Because a great story was ruined by those 30-40 pages.

The Dosadi Experiment

Dune may be my favorite book ever. There are other novels which I also typically name the best of the best:the Hyperion saga, for instance, or not-so-well-known “Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy” but the Frank Herbert’s monumental story is in the league of its own. However, I’d never thought about reading any other of his books and, to be honest, I hadn’t even been sure that those other books exist. They do though and “The Dosadi Experiment” is one of them.

I have mixed feeling after finishing this Herbert’s novel. “The Dosadi Experiment” is well written and actually fantastical. Aliens in the book, for example, are indeed alien and not just cocroach-shaped humans who have a different way of breeding. Courtarena is quite a peculiar way of determining whether someone is guilty or innocent. And, of course, Dosadi itself. Arrakis was a desert planet. It was one of the Dune’s pillars — how would people live if they didn’t have enough water? The turtle the world of Dosadi is placed on is — what would happen if we had an extremely dangerous planet with millions humans and Gowachin living in a single city, who didn’t have enough resources and couldn’t leave the planet? Survival of the fittest at its best. A piquant details here is that this situation, all the conditions — everything was created artificially.

Honestly, all those ideas and concepts are fascinating. The first half of the novel, introducing not only the characters but what’s more important in Herbert’s books the world, finishes in no time and here comes the actual plot, you’re anticipating that the second part is going to be even better… But, unfortunately, there are too many ideas in “The Dosadi Experiments” and not enough time or desire to explain them. The story feels rushed and demonstrates a lot of scenes on the level of “he was smart because he has to be but I’m not going to prove that”. The book’s climax, the courtarena battle deciding Dosadi’s fate is the best example of maybe way too clever and over-complicated nature of the story. What’s going on, why are they doing this, what’s the meaning of that? Even having finished almost the entire novel I had tons of questions and even if there had been answers — the way the plot is built didn’t conjure up enough curiosity to look them up.

Reading log: Ender’s Game

When I first learned about this book, I got an impression that it’s something like a sci-fi version of Harry Potter, a book oriented mainly toward young adults. So I didn’t have any regrets putting it off =) Last year, at work, we began discussing books once in a while during our lunch break and quite a few of my co-workers recommended Ender’s Game, although, knowing me, they said they looked forward to hear me crashing their feelings and explaining why actually it’s a terrible story. A challenge, eh? So I bought the book, swallowed it in a couple of day and, apparently, going to disappoint my colleagues.

I knew the main plot twist from the very beginning and some warned me that it might make the reading not so exciting. Card proved them wrong. Ender’s Game is well written and, even knowing how everything is going to end, it’s fascinating to observe the story of Ender Wiggin’s manning up. It was like “ok, it’s time to sleep but I think I’m gonna finish one more chapter”, a thing I hadn’t done for some time. Maybe not the story itself but the way it’s delivered is great. Speaking of things I didn’t know — it was a very powerful moment when it’s casually disclosed at some point that Ender’d killed two guys.

Surprisingly, though, (or maybe not) Ender’s game’s characters are not appealing. All of them. Initially, I kind of liked Valentine but as the plot was moving on as she’s getting older — she’s becoming more annoying.

Card himself said that the second book is this series is stronger, so I think I don’t have any other choice but to buy and read it =) Also, now I’m curious how bad the movie based on the novel is, despite the fact that I’ll probably curse my curiosity later.

Reading log: The Three-Body Problem

What can be better in the morning than whining how bad everything is and that literature isn’t what it used to be? Right, nothing — so there we go.

After a few not very successful attempts to enjoy a book from the Hugo- or Nebula-winner list I became incredibly suspicious of the modernĀ standards these awards want authors to follow. A recent example of such a story is “Hominids”, which is not only boring but also constantly pokes you with its ideas of right and wrong directly in the face, without any preludes. Maybe I’m just a terrible insensitive bastard but all those “our civilization must stop destroying the Earth” or “this is so amazing that people of all countries live together here and this is the only right thing to do” or “look, look! this woman is soo strong that all others don’t even deserve to be closer than 100 ft to her — and don’t forget that right now it’s impossible because our awful patriarchal society hates strong women”, despite maybe being correct, feel like a red rag for a bull and give a clear warning that this book is going to moralize and teach you all the way.

So, this introduction was only to say that the Chinese sci-fi book “The Three-Body Problem” won both Hugo and Nebula. Did it really deserve the praise it got? I mentioned that I’m going to whine, so the answer is kind of obvious =)

Some people, mostly elite, both intellectual and political, who’d gotten tired of stupid mankind doing stupid things (wars, pollution — you name it) and who luckily had caught a signal from an alien civilization, decided that the only way to fix everything is to invite those aliens here. Burn it all! But — it’ll take more than 400 years for our saviours to get to Earth and during this time stupid humans can improve their technologies to the point when it’ll become impossible to invade the planet. So, thanks to the traitors on Earth, the aliens come up with an insidious plan (or, those insidious plans are so insidious) — we just need to stop studies in some particular fields. That’s basically the whole plot of the book, without the “sci-” part.

I omitted many things — that the book starts at the Chinese Cultural Revolution times, that there’s a game, that was created in order to recruit new people to that secret society, that the home planet of those aliens is on the verge of destruction because it has 3 suns, which turn life there into chaos due to the unpredictable changes of the planet’s trajectory (hence “The Three Body problem”).

Good things about this book. Well, considering that some moments at the beginning feel like a King’s novel I’m happy that eventually we get all explanations. Not sure how realistic these explanations are but, at least, the author didn’t forget to make up something. The second good thing is that the book is easy to read. The last but not least comes the fact that one of the main “villains” of the book went through a lot of terrible things during the Cultural Revolution, the time when the Red Guards genuinely believed that they had the right to decide what’s good for other people and sincerely thought that by killing and destroying everything that opposes their ideals they’re making the world a better place. Ironical, isn’t it, that after seeing all this Ye (that villain) didn’t hesitate to do the same on the scale of the entire planet. I hope that the author wanted to show that “I know better than those uneducated masses” and, in general, “holier than thou” attitude shouldn’t be the way everything works. But maybe I’m just imagining things trying to make the book slightly better.

Because, to be honest, “The Three-Body Problem” is pretty average. If we throw away the scientific component and check it out from the fiction perspective it’ll become just a weak, poorly written novel. Characters are not impressive, bland and serve a single purpose — to demonstrate another idea. Some of them are introduced and immediately forgotten — like Dr. Wang’s wife and son. Some conveniently turn out to be multi-billionaires. All this idea of secret society is laughable, considering how easily Dr. Wang helped to destroy this organization, without doing anything special. No, even more — the idea of the global betrayal of humanity looks quite doubtful to me, because people are at the same time selfish and not so ready to give up. Especially, people who’ve done a lot in their life to get to the top in society. I’m not a physicist but the idea of how aliens quickly figure out a way to communicate almost momentarily with the Earth although seems …too convenient — just a couple of pages before it took 8 years to deliver a message.

So… let’s just say that it was an interesting experiment but “The Three-Body problem” is definitely not the best sci-fi book around and, frankly, I don’t know why it received so much attention.

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”.