Friday, April 29, 2016

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Title: The Laughing Policeman
Author: Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Publisher: P.A. Norstedt & Soners Forlag (1968)
English Translation: Alan Blair (Vintage Books)


Here we are, back to our translations and still riding the international theme train. However, this is a first for me in that I've previously not read any "scandy" crime fiction. Yeah, that's right, I'm already in with the lingo which I learned from my local second hand bookseller. When I called up to ask about this title he said, "No sorry I don't have that one. The scandy crime is so popular these days I can't keep the titles in." If you're a scandy crime lover, feel free to comment below with your favorite.

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 Laughing Policeman 
at It Rains... You Get Wet


Premise:
On a rainy night in Stockholm a protest has descended into riot when the police over-police. At the same time, a gunman kills nine people on a bus. When one of those victims turns out to be a cop, his fellow detectives aren't convinced the standard random act of a madman explanation will serve to solve this crime.

Unlike us, the American psychologists have no lack of material to work on.
 
Title:
The title, much like the novel, is a piss-take while, at the same time, it's clear the authors never lose sight of the fact that they are taking pokes at a genre they love.

He held out his hand with some hesitation and for safety's sake kept his glove on. 

What works:
The tone, the jibes, the POV, the dialogue, the character descriptions, it all works. Despite the gruesome nature of what is definitely a procedural, humor rolls off the page. I laughed out loud multiple times, and up through the very end. There's no point at which a corner is turned and the authors are like: ok, time to get serious. It's all serious. It's just that it's all funny, too. I don't want to imply that this is in any way the masterpiece that Galaxy Quest is but it's obvious that the authors have full love and appreciation for the genre which has granted them the expertise to highlight the foibles of the genre (and this is easily picked up by me, a lightweight in the detective genre so I assume seasoned readers will get even more).

Sadly, it must be described as unfortunate that another spot-on aspect of the book is its topicality. It's not exactly contemporary with a 1968 pub date (no cell phones, no computers finding faces, no PCR, no digital records to cross-check, no CCTV) but it was chilling that some lines seemed word for word from the mouths of many citizens and police forces currently grappling with community policing and gun violence. Let's hope it doesn't take another 50 years to solve some of these problems.

But even to someone with Ronn's uncomplicated outlook, this Ullholm stood out as a monster of nagging tedium and reactionary stupidity. 

And while I don't have any specific comment to make in regards to crime psychology I love how it seems to be a universal feature of detective novels of the late 60s and 70s.  

What doesn't:
It's actually a bit boring. Once the crime is established not much happens until almost the halfway point. While not a long book it's not short either at 250+ pages so having what felt like a third of it meander along revealing not much got a bit boring. Thankfully there were still some laughs in that part.

For all the beautifully executed satire it was sorely lacking in any subversion of the role of women in detective novels. The women were almost wholly used as naggers and receptacles. Bit of a missed opportunity there I would say. 

And don't get me started on how we ended up here:

...born at some unpronounceable place the name of which I've forgotten.

While seemingly business as usual with the other jokes, it's not actually. I'm reading a translation and am not familiar at all with the Swedish language so while I see all the Swedish names as unpronounceable babble the above line and attitude isn't a joke for the book's original audience. 

And, finally, a nitpicky PSA for authors everywhere: it's easier for dogs to track scents in wet environments. I happen to know this because I have a friend who trains tracking dogs but also it's easy to find on the internet (and probably would have been easy to find with a little research in a library back in 1968). I see the raining = dogs-no-good mistake all the time. Why doesn't anyone look this up? 

Overall: 
Solid plot and loads of laughs for detective novel fans but a few things that'll make you go hmmm.

(format h/t: AW)



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

 
rating: 3 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
Deliverance by James Dickey


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Science is Cool!


The seething star forming this nebula is 45 times more massive than our sun. Gas on the star gets so hot that it escapes away into space as a "stellar wind" moving at over 4 million miles per hour. This outflow sweeps up the cold, interstellar gas in front of it, forming the outer edge of the bubble much like a snowplow piles up snow in front of it as it moves forward.

Read more and see the amazing video here.

The seething star forming this nebula is 45 times more massive than our sun. Gas on the star gets so hot that it escapes away into space as a "stellar wind" moving at over 4 million miles per hour. This outflow sweeps up the cold, interstellar gas in front of it, forming the outer edge of the bubble much like a snowplow piles up snow in front of it as it moves forward.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-04-hubble-star-inflating-giant.html#jCp
The seething star forming this nebula is 45 times more massive than our sun. Gas on the star gets so hot that it escapes away into space as a "stellar wind" moving at over 4 million miles per hour. This outflow sweeps up the cold, interstellar gas in front of it, forming the outer edge of the bubble much like a snowplow piles up snow in front of it as it moves forward.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-04-hubble-star-inflating-giant.html#jCp
The seething star forming this nebula is 45 times more massive than our sun. Gas on the star gets so hot that it escapes away into space as a "stellar wind" moving at over 4 million miles per hour. This outflow sweeps up the cold, interstellar gas in front of it, forming the outer edge of the bubble much like a snowplow piles up snow in front of it as it moves forward.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-04-hubble-star-inflating-giant.html#jCp

Sunday, April 17, 2016

There is no gene for the human spirit

One way to think about this is simply as a reflection of the fact that, to date, we have found no limitations to the improvements that can be made with particular types of practice. As training techniques are improved and new heights of achievement are discovered, people in every area of human endeavor are constantly finding ways to get better, to raise the bar on what was thought to be possible, and there is no sign that this will stop. The horizons of human potential are expanding with each new generation.

Full article here.


Strangely, rather than making me want to go out and get my practice on it just makes me want to watch Gattaca again. ;-) 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Kate Elliott Unboxing

I had some inkling of the glorious and shiny awesomeness in store for me as my mom was kind enough to not only act as my international postal service (read: enabler) but she also did a wee Skype session with me before forwarding on my books. However, nothing can compare to having gorgeous, beloved books in your own two hands. Thus, a photographic love letter.



Behold, the Unboxed!


When you realize getting them singly from the library does not at all do justice to the sheer amount of BOOK!


Never fear, Volume 3, one day I will find you!


Found consolation almost immediately when I discovered...



omg, omg, omg easter eggs on the signed title pages?!?!?!?!?




Joy, joy, joy, more easter eggs!



And then, of course, further consolation in gazing at what I would argue is the best cover set of all time:


btw, the outer seeming matches the inner heart, best trilogy ever!



Speaking of covers, my faves from CoS:


Where can I get that shield?


My mom, continuing her reign as best mom ever, flipped through The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal via Skype for me and, besides loving the artwork, made this comment: There sure is a lot of kissing! I about fell over when I saw this on closer inspection:

My mom agrees with Cat


And is anything better than new books settled into their new home?



Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Good Point

Check out this great article about Tay and women in tech.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Title: The Joy Luck Club
Author: Amy Tan
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons (1989)


In a last minute switch we won't be starting our year off with three translations (never fear, our original plan for this is only slightly delayed so the translation fun will continue next month) but since this book explores the lives and relationships of four women who move country, I'm going to say it fits in well with the international theme we've got going so far. 

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 Joy Luck Club
at It Rains... You Get Wet


Jing-mei "June" Woo is asked to fill her mother's spot at the mah jong table her mom and friends have going at the Joy Luck Club. The first Joy Luck Club her mom started was in China before she immigrated to the US. The club was started again with new friends in San Fransisco. June has been asked to fill the spot due to her mother's death. The first night she goes she learns that her mother has been secretly searching for the twin daughters she lost during WWII in China. This revelation is the thread that binds the narrative and makes June realize:

In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America.

From here, the reader is taken through a series of vignettes that tie the history of the mothers to the present of the daughters.

There's a lot about this type of book that's going to hook me right away: mothers and daughters, history, multiple POVs, multi-generational stories, and character insight at various ages. All of these structural elements really draw me in as a reader. Add to that the fluid writing style and I found this a quick, easy read. Several lines made me laugh out loud and many moments made me happy to be there with the characters. I defy anyone to resist this moment with Lindo Jong:

So you can imagine how happy she was when they forced her to tell the truth about her imperial ancestry.

One aspect of the style never clicked with me and that was the choice to do every POV in the first person. Again, this is a multi-generational story and it includes 8 POVs. Now, I'm a sucker for multiple perspectives as I love how a character begins to take shape in your mind and then a new perspective comes along and just might demolish what you were building. However, when you have 8 people telling stories that include a least 3 generations it can get very hard to tell characters apart. When most of what you are reading is "I, Mama, or Auntie" and no one's name you don't have an anchor to bring that story back to. I was often flipping back to remind myself of which childhood went with which adult.

Interestingly, I got as much out of reading about The Joy Luck Club as I did actually reading The Joy Luck Club. It's a book that's always been on my list since it (and its movie adaptation) is super famous and tons of people have read it. I really didn't know any details other than that it was about immigrant mothers and their daughters. While I was reading it, I found much to enjoy. I loved the subtle humor and the small ways the moms would catch out their kids with far more perceptiveness than they were given credit for (who can't relate to that moment when we have to look at our parents and realize they probably understand a bit more about our lives than we'd like them to?). Also, as someone who has spent a fair bit of time in San Fransisco I really liked the neighborhood details and various descriptions.

However, while I was reading I also found much to give me pause. As an outsider to this experience, I don't come from an immigrant or Chinese family, I think that if you, dear reader, have any curiosity as to why this novel is hugely popular but not universally admired a few google searches will be more illuminating than anything I can write here.

I'm gonna leave this one as recommended but with reservations. I'm reminded of "the danger of a single story.


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

 
rating: 3 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
The Laughing Policeman by Sjowall and Wahloo


Monday, February 29, 2016

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Title: Life Water for Chocolate
Author: Laura Esquivel
Publisher: 7th Dimension Entertainment Co (1989)
English Translation: Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen (Doubleday)


It's only coincidence that our second title of the year (and the next one coming) are translations but I'm enjoying the very international flair with which Michael and I are starting the year. There's more of that to come, we're spanning the globe throughout the year, though, interestingly, we've yet to hit on a book from my country of residence. But I can't get sidetracked, it's too early to think of next 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 Like Water for Chocolate
at It Rains... You Get Wet


Tita discovers young that she has a knack for cooking and a limiting destiny. When first love comes to call she discovers a tradition in her family of the youngest daughter staying home and unmarried to care for Mom until the day she dies. Her reaction to this unfairness spills over into her cooking which starts a lifetime of hidden surprises in some of her meals (told, of course, "in monthly installments with recipes, romances and home remedies").


For one thing, she wanted to know who started this family tradition. It would be nice if she could let that genius know about one little flaw in this perfect plan for taking care of women in their old age. If Tita couldn't marry and have children, who would take care of her when she got old?


And thus begins our narrator's delightful sense of playfulness as regards the absurdities, hypocrisies, and contradictions of life. I quite adored Tita but I think the structure and tone of the novel were a close second if I had to list my favorite thing about the book. The recipes and remedies are perfectly entwined with the story; always including enough reality to tempt you to try them and enough unreality to make sure you proceed with caution (if at all). 

The book chapters are set up in months but the story is far from linear. Information from the past, present, and future is sometimes jumbled together in the telling of one particular story and it's wonderfully done. Rather than being confusing it actually feels like the backbone of the very even and snappy pacing. I was also super relieved that, despite getting info that clearly referred to the future, I wasn't getting all the details and so many characters cropped up again. I'm mainly thinking of Gertrudis here. The cast of characters is so intriguing and fun and she was a favorite. I was super bummed when it looked like she was lost to the family forever. Not so! She just had some adventuring to do.

So it's playful with pacing that pulls you along quickly enough that you almost don't notice how shitty so many of the things that are happening are. There's quite a bit of family drama playing itself out over the years (like, whoa, Mama Elena and Pedro!) and also what seems to be a civil war in progress (I wish my Mexican history was better. Were these true events being depicted? Partially true? I need to do some googling.) The many moments of joy are interspersed with hellish events but seen through the narrator's eyes it never seems as horrible as it really is. 

Speaking of, Mama Elena was pretty horrible (look what she did to Tita!) but I loved that her character wasn't just an over-bearing, screamy, controlling parent. She's written in such a way that it's easy to imagine her being your best friend because you were never in the path of her wrath. In the right circumstances (and by right I mean controlled and approved by her) she'd be loyal, supportive and faithful in friendship.

But (there's always a but isn't there?) I actually didn't end up liking this book as much as it might seem I did. There's a lot about it that's so wonderful but at the end of the day I didn't AT ALL ship Tita/Pedro and so really had a hard time with their love (if you can call it that) being the driving force of the book's plot. I mean, this asshole married her sister (not Gertrudis obv) amongst many other things that really irked me. I really dug Tita so how am I supposed to believe Pedro is good for her? Spoiler alert: he's not! So there I am constantly wanting to shake Tita for not realizing he's lame and definitely not having any interest in what is arguably one of the most important aspects of the book. Blech, Pedro!

So, come for Tita, Gertrudis, the writing style, the recipes, not to mention Chencha and rebels being dispatched at gun point, and stay despite Pedro because otherwise it's a lot of fun. 


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

 
rating: 3 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
The Laughing Policeman by Sjowall and Wahloo


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Nature is Cool!

Kudos to this particularly well lived albatross!

Heheh

My favorite game of gender swap in scientists' bios form: click here.

h/t Beth

Friday, January 29, 2016

All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Title: All You Need Is Kill
Author: Hiroshi Sakurazaka
Publisher: Shueisha (2004)
English Translation: Alexander O. Smith (Viz Media, LLC)


Happy New Year and welcome back to all those joining Michael and me as we approach the end of our sixth year of reviewing books and movies together (just a few months away). We obviously loves us some SF as that is where we started and we keep re-visiting. This time, though, we were directed to this title by our readers' poll. You'll hear no complaints from me when the result is trying out new SF.

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 Edge of Tomorrow
at It Rains... You Get Wet


Private Kiriya saw the military as the place to do something meaningful with his life. The reality of enlistment and his first battle experience serve to alter his innocent dreams. However, when he finds himself living that first battle over and over again, he begins to think maybe he was right in the first place.

Earth has been invaded by an alien race's colonizing vanguard. These so-called Mimics consume everything in sight and, despite being pretty pitiful in and of themselves, constantly overwhelm human soldiers/strategy with their numbers and tactics. Keiji Kiriya is a Japanese soldier who is part of the United Defense Force protecting Japan from a horde of Mimics. These hapless souls strap into Jackets and hit the field of battle with snark and bravado and are humanity's last hope. Kiriya dies not long into his first battle but wakes up the previous morning with his place still held in his detective novel. The day repeats and he's on to his first battle for the second time... and the third... and the fourth... Live. Die. Repeat.

As he lives his last 24hrs over and over again he becomes more and more interested in an American soldier who seems to have this whole Mimic fighting business figured out. Her name is Rita Vrataski and she's the most famous soldier in the UDF. Eventually he discovers they have one very important thing in common and it just might be the thing that allows them to turn the tide of war in Earth's favor. 

Reading this book was a series of ups and downs. One moment you're up, enjoying the Jackets, the battle, the pacing, the tone and the next moment you're down, getting really pissed at the ridiculous comments about women, the inconsistencies in the rules of the world and the fact that if you think too hard about the Mimic time management business it just doesn't hold together. 

For example, despite Rita developing into a layered individual who just happens to have a natural talent for soldiering, the reader is treated to this gem:
Of the three types of women the human race boasted-the pretty, the homely, and the gorillas you couldn't do anything with save ship 'em off to the army-I'd put her in the... 
And no matter how a woman fitted into the plot or tactics, there's never any doubt about how she looks, whether it's relevant or not (surprise, surprise: it never was). 

Weirdly, the Jackets used in battle (which are awesome, btw) are specifically described as being best controlled by someone with body control not brute strength. (And neither is Rita, the UDF's most successful Mimic killer, anything like a gorilla.) So why the tired old trope of athletic/militaristic women being She-Hulks when compared to their peers?

But then there's the great running gag about the book he still hasn't finished despite repeating the same day 150+ times. His memories are intact and it's obvious he's still reading it so he could finish but, you know, so hard to get to the end when so much is going on. The bond he and Rita form is influenced heavily by the isolation imposed on each of them in their turn. It's touching and, more importantly, exactly where the story and plot take you.

And how can you not be impressed with an author who manages to make a broadsword type weapon the most useful way to tally kills when actual guns and futuristic battle armor exist?

One of my favorite aspects of the story is a bit spoilerish so BE WARNED. BEGIN SPOILERS:
Kiriya eventually jumps ahead in his loop and so his day is not exactly the same as every day has been for almost half a year. The book can be a bit single-minded in its focus so the repercussions of events are sometimes unrealistically limited. However, I appreciated the nod to how difficult it would be to have something different happen when you've become accustomed to every day being the same.
 
*****END SPOILERS*****      


It was disappointing that the English translation doesn't include the illustrations from the original Japanese edition. I highly recommend looking these up as they are very cool. Having seen the movie first I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around how different the Mimics were and so was especially enjoying the illustrations of them. Plus, isn't that cover wonderful?

On a side note, don't skip the author's note at the end. His inspiration and brief commentary on heroes is pretty interesting.


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

 
rating: 3 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel