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 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Upcoming in 2016

Michael and I are, of course, queued up for another year of the joint post series (our picks and readers' poll results here) but I'm also going to join in on reading The Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings. Details on that here.

2015 Favorites

I posted a summary screen cap from Goodreads the other day but here's my full Goodreads Read in 2015 list. I also decided that the longest book I read last year had to have been The Luminaries (vs. The Gathering Storm) but when I double checked (did the former in audio so never saw page numbers) I was wrong. Well played, Kate Elliott, well played.

Favorite fiction: The Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott

Favorite non-fiction: Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger

Favorite mystery/thriller: Complicity by Iain Banks
Perhaps not a conventional mystery but my pick all the same.

Favorite historical fiction: Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin

Favorite fantasy: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Favorite Sci-fi: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
This title had been on my TBR since before its release date. I'm in a reading community full of fans of a particular series (they shall remain nameless here) and it took me a while to realize that while we all love this same series it's almost all I have in common with them reading-wise. Neglecting this title is just another example of that. I can't believe I let this sit and sit due to a slightly rubbish review from that community. Ah well, it was wonderful even if I was late to the party.

Favorite Romance: Tie!
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
The King's Man by Elizabeth Kingston

Favorite Short Stories: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Kate Elliott's collection was a very close second.

Surprise hit: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Surprise blunder: Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh
I think it's time for me to finally accept that despite almost universal praise C.J. Cherryh and I just don't click.

Favorite author discovered in 2015: Kate Elliott
Technically I didn't first read Kate Elliott in 2015 but if I ever get around to posting about sgwordy's Great Reading Love Affair of 2015 it'll become clear that I did, in fact, discover KE in 2015. :) 

Most re-read book first read in 2015: Jaran

Most re-read author in 2015: Kate Elliott

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

Favorite - The Dressmaker
Surprise hit - The Dressmaker (the ad campaign for this film is so misleading)
Surprise blunder - Inside Out

Video games:
Favorite - Gone Home
SW:ToR and I had a bad break-up. Let's not speak of EA ever again.

Honorable mention to Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries as I'm having so much fun with that TV show

Past Editions: 
2014 Favorites
2013 Favorites
2012 (Half-year) Favorites
2011 Favorites
2010 Favorites

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Friday, October 30, 2015

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

Title: Zodiac
Author: Robert Graysmith
Publisher: St. Martin's/Marek (1986)

As is usual for the last post of the year, we like to pick something appropriate to the month. Unusually, this month's title can't be found on the horror shelf but instead on the true crime shelf. You could argue that this makes it the scariest title Michael and I have reviewed.

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 Zodiac
at It Rains... You Get Wet

Robert Graysmith was a political cartoonist for the San Fransisco Chronicle when the Zodiac killings started in 1968. The murders were carried out in the bay area and the killer sent letters and ciphers to several local papers. Graysmith became obsessed with the case and with compiling all the disparate evidence and testimony from the various jurisdictions in which the crimes were committed. This book, the result of 10 years of work, is a comprehensive look at the killer who terrorized the region for over a decade.

Despite the horrific contents, Graysmith puts the events of 15 years together seamlessly. It's an odd statement to make but this book is very easy to read. Not content-wise obviously (and, of course, there will be readers who have personal connections to the events and for them these statements are probably spurious) but for pacing and information assimilation it's very well organized. And while it becomes abundantly clear that Graysmith becomes intimately connected with the case (so much so that he is the one to make a few key connections regarding evidence/ciphers), Zodiac never falls into the trap of being about Graysmith and the Zodiac killer. This is clearly one man's passion to bring all possible information to light in hopes of the case being solved.

I found that the book dates itself in an interesting way. At the time of publication, every other show on television wasn't a police procedural. There are pages spent explaining things that would probably go unremarked in a book written now. Just as the general population is much more science literate than ever before (ignoring anti-voxxers and climate change deniers) folks are much more informed regarding forensics and police procedure. Obviously not everything on TV is true (shocking, I know!) but there is a certain level of familiarity that people now have which probably makes certain non-fiction topics easier to communicate these days. 

...made certain that the seminar was a meeting of police professionals only. No psychics, mystics or astrologists were in attendance, as they sometimes were. 

On that note, though, I was personally stunned at some of the things detectives and departments would try in search of the murderer. They literally seemed stolen right out of bad TV plots. I can sympathize when I think they must not have wanted to let even one tiny chance pass by, no matter how ludicrous it might seem to an outsider, if it might close the case and stop a killer.

I also found myself extremely curious as to whether or not the psych profiles from the 70s would still hold true today. I won't go into detail (and obviously don't have the expertise to judge anyway) but if you should read the book and find yourself a little skeptical of the expert in chapter 17 you won't be alone. I assume profiling, as with any field of study, will change as more opportunities are found to scrutinize previous hypotheses.

For those seeking closure this book will not give it. The Zodiac killer has still not been identified. Graysmith ends with the suspect he is most convinced committed the crimes but out of 2500 suspects in the case many detectives associated with the investigation have their favorites. However, I do think he accomplished what he set out to do which was bring together as much information as possible in the hopes that it might one day help someone to finally bring this killer to justice. 

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

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
Annual holiday break. Enjoy and happy new year!

Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Socialization is a powerful thing

And we would do well to remember that. It's amazing to me how often people refuse to accept that most behaviors are learned.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

Title: Eaters of the Dead
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Knopf (1976)

Okay, now I can say it: btw, Michael, last day before The Slide, are you ready? :-)

In my part of the world the weather is finally (finally!) changing, along with the clocks, and I am ready to welcome summer with open arms and long horse rides. In the meantime, I must admit that this month's review might be a little askew. You see, I could not find this book anywhere in town! I mean, anywhere (and yes, I did wait too long so shipping was not an option)! And then, sadly, its eBook availability is nil for NZ (wtf???). That meant my only option was to load up my US Amazon account and get the Kindle book. However, I have said my goodbyes to Amazon due to their lame book selling practices and I just could not bring myself to give them any money. So, my strategy was to do some online reading and refresh my recollection: it's been a few years since I read this one. (Previous visitors will probably have twigged to the fact that we're Crichton fans here. This is our second this year and fourth overall.)

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 13th Warrior
at It Rains... You Get Wet

From the author's website:
The story behind this novel appears in an essay in the paperback edition. The short version is, I wrote Eaters of the Dead on a bet that I could make an entertaining story out of Beowulf.

It’s an unusual book. Readers either like it, or they don’t. I’m quite pleased with the movie (13th Warrior), which I think captures the feeling of the novel very well.

I very much recommend visiting the above webpage as I thought a lot of cool information was available for the book. I actually haven't read Beowulf so can't comment on how well Eaters of the Dead does as an "entertaining" retelling (or if, in fact, the original is not entertaining) but I quite clearly remember thinking it was unlike anything else of his I had read. At the time of reading I wasn't quite the connoisseur of historical fiction that I am now so I think a re-read with that new aspect of my personal taste could be interesting. I do quite clearly remember enjoying the POV of a non-European as, again at the time, so much of my reading would have American or European POVs.

That being said, the narrator, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, consistently struck me as a little too quick to sympathize with his Viking compatriots. He was coerced into a quest he didn't seem to have much interest in and was often slightly appalled at the cultural norms. Yet still these men and, by extension, their societal mores became more and more something ibn Fadlan could readily sympathize with. This even included his participation in pre-battle frenzy rape!

The narration is very much of the observational variety. The main character is an ambassador for his country and thus has a vested interest in recording what he sees of other peoples and countries. His personal reactions are an integral part of the narrative and really what holds the entire thing together. Straight observation would have been a tad dry but if Crichton had used his usual suspenseful style that too would probably have short-changed the intent of this book.

The greater part of Crichton's work is science fiction but I would put this one in the fantasy camp due to the adversaries in the quest of the 13 warriors. I won't include details as I can't remember how soon they come up in the book (don't want to do any spoilers) but suffice to say they are not quite like one would expect from a straight real world scenario. Any Beowulf readers want to let me know if that is their origin? 

I'd recommend this one to historical or fantasy readers who like something a little off the beaten path but it is one that I know many have not finished despite its compact size.

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

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre

Title: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Author: John le Carre
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton (1974)

Fun discovery: winter doldrums can be cured by puppies. But! Suspense novels can be slightly chopped up by puppy distractions. Yep, it’s that time again. When Michael and I post up our book/movie pairing. This is a title I found hard to get into at first but the slow build finally pulled me in. Course that’s when the new puppy entered my household...

(btw, Michael, last day before The Slide, are you ready?)

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 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
at It Rains... You Get Wet

Like last month, we're skipping back in time but, unlike last month, this is not a first. We've done le Carre before however this was, for me, the first time I've read one of his traditional spy thrillers (fictionally, I sure do miss the USSR). Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (holy damn what a great title!) is one of several novels featuring George Smiley. British Intelligence, or The Circus as its lovingly(!?) known, has been dealt a serious blow which, not incidentally, forced Smiley into retirement. However, a select few of his old colleagues need his help to ferret out what appears to be a serious leak. Commence the reconstruction of past events and the stealing of files. (And the jargon.)

John le Carre (a non de plume) was employed by the British Foreign Service and his insider knowledge is on display and immerses the reader quite quickly into the British spy game. I found it a little difficult at first as the book is equally filled with 1970s British slang and context will only get you so far in a sentence wherein you only understand the connecting words. Truthfully, I probably would have stopped reading if not for it being a part of this series. (There are just so many great books out this year!) The slow start combined with the language was making it easy to put down and it wasn’t until the halfway point that I was fully interested.

Not only is this one a bit slow to start but there isn’t a steady build towards a climax. I spent a goodly part of my teen years reading Tom Clancy’s novels and those doorstoppers were usually all over the place with many twists, turns, pauses and climaxes. I found TTSS to use that same sort of pacing, but in a much shorter book it was losing my attention rather than shifting it. Much of the action has already occurred and Smiley is piecing it together. My level of engagement was directly related to who, at that particular moment, was the narrator of the backstory. It makes me think of following along a spiral to the inside and periodically you come by an extremely juicy tid bit before continuing on. You know you're headed there but ymmv on the way.

I've mentioned before that I like a book that gives me something to do. I enjoy it when my attention is required to figure out just where we are in time, who it is that has become the relevant party, and what the subtext of the dialogue is supposed to convey. TTSS certainly succeeds in that realm and, I think, most obviously with the dialogue. There is so much history between the characters (both those in conversation and those to whom others refer) that any exchange is layered with that history and with what the characters are not comfortable saying (it is a spy novel, after all:). 

Nothing is worth the destruction of another human being. Somewhere the path of pain and betrayal must end. Until that happened, there was no future: there was only a continued slide into still more terrifying versions of the present.

For all that this one caught my attention (I would say became a page turner but that darned puppy distracted me too much) and directly hit my target for meaty layers and suchlike, I found that I didn't particularly care all that much about what happened to the characters. This is not one of those spy thrillers that relies on situational outcomes for a satisfactory ending. It's almost entirely about the characters and if you get to the end not overly affected by their outcomes it's a bit of a letdown. My detachment from the characters is a bit spoilerish so highlight if interested: while reading I'm following all these different threads - past and present - that all end up leading to Haydon. I do get to know a little about him, his expertise, his charm, his attractiveness, his ability to befriend and betray equally; but I don't ever get to see the close ties between him and the other characters. So when we get down to the end and everyone's anger flames out I'm not able to stay with them. I'm not able to draw on those friendships to see how conflicted everyone is. It becomes more of an academic appreciation rather than an emotional one.

This is all apart from Jim, who ended up being one of those secondary characters that stealthily takes over the whole until you can't imagine the story without him. I might read this one again someday just to make sure I pay extra close attention to him from the very beginning.

My interest is piqued on le Carre spy thrillers so now I need to know the best one to read next. Anyone have suggestions?

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

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

Links to previous joint posts under the cut: