Friday, May 29, 2015

Sphere by Michael Crichton



Title: Sphere
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Knopf  (1987)


In a few short hours I will be wending my way back to the US for the first time in over two years. I'll even be sharing the coast with Michael, albeit much farther north. To wax a little poetic, reading Sphere was a trip back, as well. I'm pretty sure I read this for the first time in high school and, though I read it more than once, it's still been quite some years since I perused the pages of this novel. I enjoyed the re-visit as I'm sure I'll enjoy re-visiting the other Crichton novel on our list this year.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 


Click here for Michael's film review of Sphere
at It Rains... You Get Wet


Norman, a psychologist, gets a call in the middle of the night to respond to what he assumes is a crash site. After being ferried to somewhere in the Pacific, he quickly realizes it's not a typical crash. At the site, he meets with the other members of the team to discover they have been called to join the investigation of an unidentified craft buried beneath several feet of coral.


Norman is the last to arrive but quickly surmises that the team assembled was one of his making. Years ago, he'd been asked by the US government to create a report regarding contact with alien life forms. It was an easy money job and he scouted a team that would be appropriate (according to his made up parameters, cuz you know, aliens!). It becomes apparent that he's now a part of that team and they are about to relocate to an underwater habitat to investigate the craft.


Naval Captain Hal Barnes heads the team of 4 and the habitat support crew. Not long after gaining the ocean floor, they are able to enter the spaceship. It's here that they encounter the sphere. The mathematician eventually works out how to enter the sphere and the team makes first contact. "Jerry" is not exactly what one might expect from an alien.


I must admit I'm a sucker for Crichton's formula. I'd say up through The Lost World I lapped up his work with avid, page-turning glee. His plots were fun, his science was always topical - the gadgets just pushing the edge of believability - and his characters were usually hard workers just trying to figure things out. What's not to love?

Sphere combines all these great elements with a heavy dose of psychology. (And giant squid, can't forget to mention those!) I did, at times, find Norman's assessments tedious (and, on the whole, the characters are all just a bit too typical, too on the nose as archetypes) but it was undeniably an essential part of the first contact theme of high stress and how that affects group dynamics.

"How much memory have you got?"
"Fair amount. Ten giga, something like that."
 

While the nature of Crichton's work necessarily dates it, his books do have a certain timelessness to them. I think it's that his plots can be inserted into any time, and hardworking folk trying to solve a problem almost never goes out of style. Also, they're easy to read page turners that make you feel smart while you're enjoying yourself.

I definitely recommend this one to anyone with an interest in scifi or techno-thrillers. And that little smile on the last page is just a killer way to end this one.  



Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

 
rating: 3 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
The Shining by Stephen King



Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 



Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler


Title: The Accidental Tourist 
Author: Anne Tyler
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf  (1985)


All the news I'm reading makes me feel I should send some of NZ's wet, Fall weather to Michael over in California. I'd sure love to share. I'm not ready for rain and cold. However, I do hope the coming summer isn't too dry for folks on the West Coast. We had a very dry summer here and I know many of the farmers were not pleased. But, oh yeah, I'm supposed to be reviewing a book. Repeat visitors will recognize right off that the format of this review probably means this wasn't exactly my favorite read... however, let's just get on with it.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 


Click here for Michael's film review of The Accidental Tourist
at It Rains... You Get Wet


Cover/Title: 
Being a not new book of some repute, this novel has many covers. I chose the one I like best even if it wasn't the one on the book I read (couldn't even find that one!). I think the above cover is ideal and the title has got to be one of the best, most apt I have come by in a while. Delightful.

What Works:
The writing style is efficient and observant with wonderful pacing. And what is unsaid is just as provocative as what is. The insular world built by Macon is an impressive black hole of world building by the author. By that I mean you will be sucked in completely with very little chance of not absolutely seeing what kind of life Macon has made for himself. One does not soon forget a character who builds his own sheet cocoons and washes clothes underfoot in the shower.


Julian and Macon’s relationship. Every time they were together I was laughing out loud. Julian was great and a perfect addition to the family dynamic.

 

...Julian said... "Want to know something? I've never even slept with her [Macon's sis]."
"Well, I don't care to hear about that," Macon said hastily.

 
What Doesn't: 
I had a classic sgwordy This is Spinal Tap experience with this book. The loveable, hapless protag surrounded by loveable, quirky secondary characters is a very well-worn path in the book world these days, and I may well be too late to Tyler’s party to really enjoy the set-up. Just when you need to be fixed* in life isn’t it grand that all these convenient weirdos show up to do it? For all I know Tyler blazed this path, but coming at it 30 years later left me impatient rather than intrigued.

*I'm actually not even going to touch this theme of "fixing" people which is heavily employed as regards Macon and Alexander. It's not very palatable to me as a reader and always feels unrealistic and trite.


Even more detrimental to the reading experience, though, is that I didn’t believe the main characters’ endings. For Macon, Sarah and Muriel the character establishment was quite good but not one of their respective endings worked for me. (Rose and Julian were great, though. Loved and, more importantly, believed their ending.)

Overall: 
Heh. Your mileage may vary. If this style of book is to your taste, you're going to love it. However, if you’re not enjoying it by page 75 you probably won’t at all. And look out for that ending!



Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

 
rating: 3 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
Sphere by Michael Crichton



Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 



Monday, April 20, 2015

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lost Moon by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger

Title: Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13
Author: Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger
Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Co (1994)


I’m always happy to see anything about astronomy or space exploration in our line-up but I think this pick of Michael’s was even more fun because, with Lost Moon, we were able to check in on advancements in the space program since the original seven Mercury astronauts. Just over a year ago we included The Right Stuff in our series. I think next we'll have to find a combo to include about the shuttle program.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 


Click here for Michael's film review of Apollo 13
at It Rains... You Get Wet


Apollo 13 would have been NASA’s third expedition to the surface of the moon but a malfunction in the service module turned it into a rescue mission. Lost Moon is written by the mission’s commander, Jim Lovell, and Jeffrey Kluger. The perspective of Lovell allows the reader an intimate look at events as they occurred in the lunar and command modules. The authors’ combined research efforts show the work of the hundreds of people on the ground who were part of the mission to get the astronauts home safe.

Without any intention of short-changing this book, this is going to be a pretty short review as I basically just want to say: it’s really good, go read it! Ok, it won’t be that short of a review - But, honestly, it’s really good, go read it! – however it almost could be. It’s about an interesting event in the history of space travel and an enormous engineering and intellectual effort; and it’s all bundled up in a palatable narrative style. It hardly needs my recommendation to make it an easy reading decision.


The technical stuff is there but it’s not going to overwhelm a casual reader. It might not be enough for a tech head but those with a modicum of engineering prowess will probably still be satisfied. The background of the astronauts and the Apollo program is almost seamlessly interwoven with the events of April 1970 which illuminates the wider cultural and scientific environment that encapsulated the seven harrowing days of Apollo 13's flight. 

So, basically, it's really good! Go read it! :) 


Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

 
rating: 4 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler



Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 



Sunday, March 29, 2015

When you want to sleep under a table...

but it's only big enough for your head.


Friday, March 27, 2015

13 years and 23,000+ miles strong

It was with great sadness that our pack said goodbye to Chang O in February.  She had just turned 13. Her health problems were being managed easily but the hip dysplasia that manifested in the last 6 months was too much for her. Previous visitors might remember this post detailing the many miles she traveled in her life. She was quite a trooper. And, on a personal note, she joined me throughout quite a few of my milestones: grad school, meeting my partner, my first "real" job, my first horse, living abroad, several highs and lows best left off the internet, and, finally, settling in New Zealand.

2002

2014

2015

Awesome redesigns, great art!

Have a look at this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Quotable

For Leduc, literature, like life, was a place where some people damage us and some people save our lives—and then it is lunchtime.
 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Good article

I'm one of those that just doesn't get all the hullabaloo about Neill Blomkamp movies. With Chappie coming up, someone else who it seems is also left a little disappointed by his films has written a really nice article. It's a bit long but worth it if you have an interest in films and or sci/fi.

The one thing I do quite admire about Blomkamp?

The original sci-fi movie not based on a preexisting intellectual property is an endangered species, but Blomkamp has made three in a row.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Quotable

There’s a profound insecurity at the heart of any agenda that presumes that if kids aren’t spoon fed a black and white fairy tale of our national greatness, they’ll have no pride or loyalty. Arrogance isn’t patriotism, and education isn’t indoctrination. And anyone who doesn’t comprehend that difference doesn’t just need a history lesson, he needs a dictionary.

 By Oklahoma’s demented fight against AP US history.

 

 h/t

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Title: Close Range: Wyoming Stories (includes Brokeback Mountain)
Author: Annie Proulx
Publisher:  Fourth Estate (1999)


I really enjoyed starting our year of posts with a reader suggested title (thanks again for spearheading that new twist, Michael). This month starts our picks and Brokeback Mountain is one of mine. I did the audio on this a few years back; this time I read it with my very own eyes and it only gets better with more reads. And at the risk stepping outside the author's intentions, I plan to fangirl all over this short story. Note: I attempted some of the other stories but none could hold my interest - I'm not much of a short story person - so this review does not include the entire collection.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 


Click here for Michael's film review of Brokeback Mountain
at It Rains... You Get Wet



They were respectful of each other's opinions, each glad to have a companion where none had been expected. Ennis, riding against the wind back to the sheep in the treacherous, drunken light, thought he'd never had such a good time, felt he could paw the white out of the moon.

Ennis and Jack, the summer they are both about 19, end up herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain in 1960s Wyoming. Their friendship develops almost immediately and later progresses to intimacy. Their passionate summer spent together begins a decades long covert relationship.

...they shook hands, hit each other on the shoulder, then there was forty feet of distance between them and nothing to do but drive away in opposite directions. Within a mile Ennis felt like someone was pulling his guts out hand over hand a yard at a time.

The two men do not live near each other and don't see each other for four years after that first summer. When they finally connect again, both having married and started families, their feelings for each other have not diminished in the slightest.

It ain't goin a be that way. We can't. ... Can't get out of it. Jack, I don't want a be like them guys you see around sometimes. And I don't want a be dead.

They are both caught by a time and a community that won't tolerate an open relationship between two men. Ennis copes with this by living the life expected of him; his relationship with Jack the only exception. Jack copes through dreams and affairs that the reader usually has to infer rather than experience. However they manage alone, it is with each other that they find solace through annual vacations.

Years on years they worked their way through the high meadows and mountain drainages... but never returning to Brokeback.


One thing never changed: the brilliant charge of their infrequent couplings was darkened by the sense of time flying, never enough time, never enough.

It's difficult to go too deeply into a short story without revealing everything of it. Perhaps this story has become so famous that many folks know it anyway. However, even if you're familiar with it from the movie (or media coverage) I can't stress enough how worth it it is to read the story. The breadth of character and experience conveyed by Proulx in 37 pages is wonderful, absorbing and heartbreaking. I struggle to think of a more magnificent and touching love story.


Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

 
rating: 5 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
Lost Moon by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger



Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 



Thursday, February 5, 2015

Nice interview

Check out this very nice interview with David Oyelowo. I saw Selma last weekend and it's the best movie I've seen in I don't know how long. Can't recommend it enough.

Quotable

Everyday is for the thief, but one day is for the owner.

English translation of Yoruba proverb included at the beginning of Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

Friday, January 30, 2015

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote


Title: Breakfast at Tiffany's
Author: Truman Capote
Publisher:  Random House (1958)


I'm really excited to start the year (perhaps moving into our sixth year of doing this??? Michael, can you remember?) with one of the titles gleaned from Michael's poll results. It was a fantastic idea that Michael had to allow interested readers to make suggestions for our book/movie postings; and then for everyone to vote on them. One of the winning titles, this one, I haven't read/watched for over a decade. It's been cool to re-visit.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 


Click here for Michael's film review of Breakfast at Tiffany's
at It Rains... You Get Wet



From an indeterminate point in the future, the narrator in Breakfast at Tiffany's recounts his friendship with Miss Holiday Golightly, Travelling. We know at the outset that he hasn’t seen her in the intervening years. He even mentions he never thought to write about her until an acquaintance calls him up to see a remarkable photograph of a piece of artwork resembling Holly. Both men, in remembering Holly, exhibit the melancholia that pervades this novella. Even in scenes when Holly and the narrator are pulling larks in their neighborhood, having drinks, and shooting the shit there is an ever present sense of sadness. The narrator, who is never named, meets Holly after moving into a room in the same boarding house. Holly keeps forgetting her key and ringing his bell. They don't actually meet until a night hiding in his apartment from a john (windows make such handy exits) but then she stops ringing his bell. After writing a polite note to her the next week, she invites him to a party.

It feels melodramatic to describe the narrator as obsessed with Holly but it’s difficult to find another word for it. He’s one of those people that is never quite comfortable being friends on the terms that are offered. Holly is described multiple times as ‘a fake but a real one’ which mostly seems like a superficial alternative to noticing that Holly wasn’t given the life she wanted so she’s attempting to take it. The narrator is relentless in trying to get at what he thinks is real about her and almost equally relentless at rejecting what he sees as fake. (Or, at the very least, judging it.)

Breakfast at Tiffany's is an interestingly crafted book as the reader is never outside of the narrator’s very strong view of things yet it’s still easiest to know more about Holly than him. I get Holly. I get her fears, insecurities, ambitions, and frustrations. I get her charm, guardedness and managing nature. I don’t get very much about the narrator. It’s possible that’s a pretty personal reading of it, though. I’m not a call girl living in 1940s New York but I get the challenges that were present for women flying solo in that time period. The narrator, despite only hinting at his non-Holly life, seems to have one; but readers only see him through the lens of his obsession with Holly. For me, that’s a limiting view of a character. 

(For a counterpoint, see this article by someone who connected deeply with the narrator. I was struck particularly by this line: "Capote doesn't claim his alter ego's sexual identity, but it's clear that Tru [narrator] is gay from his infatuation with Holly." It was illuminating for me to read that as it's a perceptiveness that my experience has not yet brought to me.)

The narrator and Holly have a lot of good times together (and some full-on quarrels, as well) but a sense of menace is never far below the surface. It’s not just the narrator’s structure that makes it feel like an hourglass is running down for Holly. It’s the edge she’s always pushing to get the life she’s decided is the one that will cure the 'mean reds.'

I’d be remiss to not mention that this can be a difficult read due to the racist attitudes of many of the characters. A lot of slurs are bandied about - in addition to a questionable decision on the author’s part - which makes this a very white-centered NYC story. (And I’d love the chance to ask Capote about Holly’s assessment of gay women. I'd like to know what inspired him to make that choice.)



Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

 
rating: 3 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx



Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Love at second sight

Watching this video this morning I felt a special glow of warmth for Marshawn Lynch:



Watching this video this evening I knew it was love:


Quotable

Because we come to the world fresh we foolishly suppose that with our new lives new possibilities are born. It isn't true. The short range of possibilities are already worked out. We can change nothing, we can expect nothing. However long it takes the world will teach us our places, by preaching itself against ourselves...


After Z-hour by Elizabeth Knox

Amazing!


Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Favorites

I'm a bit slow to get this up (and a bit MIA from the internet these days, gorgeous weather ya know) but it's time to skim over the books read this year and see what it was I liked best. This year I didn't keep up my spreadsheet so I only have this Goodreads link to include for all books read this year.


Favorite fiction: The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox

Favorite non-fiction: Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

Favorite mystery/thriller: Devices and Desires by P.D. James
(Didn't read a lot of these this year so this wins by default; really didn't like the last third of the book.)
Woops!!! How could I forget a book I just read last month and was definitely better than the above?!?
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Favorite historical fiction: Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard

Favorite fantasy: Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox

Favorite Sci-fi: Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

Favorite Romance: Laura Kinsale audio releases
(Didn't read a lot of this genre either and didn't come by anything new that I liked.)

Surprise hit: The Sword and the Dagger by Ardath Mayhar

Surprise blunder: Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
Heard lots of good stuff about this one but couldn't even get past the second chapter

Favorite author discovered in 2014: Elizabeth Knox
(h/t Ingrid!)

Most re-read book first read in 2014: None for 2014 so instead...
Most re-read author in 2014: Laura Kinsale audiobooks. Ah, bliss!

And since I do occasionally do something other than read...

Movies:
Favorite - The Edge of Tomorrow
Surprise hit - The English Teacher
Surprise blunder - Guardians of the Galaxy

Video games:
Favorite - Bejewelled 3


Honorable mention to Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D as I'm having so much fun with that TV show





Past Editions: 
2013 Favorites
2012 (Half-year) Favorites
2011 Favorites
2010 Favorites