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: 



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bleh! Winter sucks!!!!

arghhhhhh

arrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhh!

Winter go away! Why are you still here???? Go away!!!!!

Winter has sapped my will to live. To do anything but sit in front of my fire and read books (which, of course, is always good) is apparently beyond my abilities. I become the worst version of myself in winter (truly, ask anyone who knows me). Bleh!

Must figure out what career will keep me in perennial summer by annually switching hemispheres.

blleeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh



Friday, July 31, 2015

Watchmen created by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, John Higgins


Title: Watchmen
Writer: Alan Moore
Illustrator/Letterer: Dave Gibbons
Colorist: John Higgins
Publisher: DC Comics (1986)


It's a constant delight to me that despite Michael and I being at this joint posting thing for over five years, we still record a fair number of firsts. Thanks to the reader suggestion poll hosted at the end of last year by Michael, we had two reader suggestions for this year (which, btw, was a first). We did the first suggestion back in Jan and this month sees the second. However, it's also a first in that we haven't before used a comic/graphic novel for our source material. In the days of studios having tri-phasic superhero movie plans that might come as a bit of a surprise but what can we say? Sometimes you need an outsider to help you shake things up. 

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 Watchmen
at It Rains... You Get Wet




It's 1985 and someone is targeting costumed adventurers. These self-styled saviors of humanity have either retired voluntarily or submitted to decommission after the Keene Act. Despite being almost wholly inactive, someone wants these crime fighters dead. As Rorschach tries to rally the troops, so to speak, lives are at stake and obligatory back stories commence. But as we delve deeper into the mystery we're forced to ask: is something far larger afoot?

I was seven years old when this first came out and even though I found it in the youth section at the library I would not consider this a book for kids. And, in fact, I didn't read it as a kid. The comics I remember reading were lots of standalones for kids, Batman, and some old Disney and WB comics I found in a relative's garage. I never lost my love for Batman, but I didn't stick with comics for long. I started reading more books and preferred them as a medium for stories (as I do to this day, books still beat out all other forms of story telling for me). In a funny coincidence with Watchmen coming up now, I delved back into comics last year because someone I knew could not shut up about how great Planet Hulk was (btw, they were right, it's great!). Here's a quick snapshot of where comics and I live right now:

recently read (on the left) and to be read (on the right)

I mention all this to make it clear that I feel like an outsider to both the 80s paranoia/fear complex and to critical analyses of comics. I also think both of the above are inseparable from Watchmen. As a casual reader, a lot of what Watchmen had to offer was pretty exciting. There were also points at which it fell short of my expectations (and if you pay any attention at all to comics or the book world it's very hard to not have Great Expectations going into this one).

Watchmen is set in an alternate history in which the US won the Vietnam War, the Cold War is still a thing (including HUAC), and a certain blue fellow has changed the face of technology. This tech seems to be mostly focused on military and energy needs as most people are still living typical 80s lives whilst being paranoid as shit because the world (which, in Watchmen, seems to refer solely to NYC and Russia with Vietnam and Afghanistan as war props) is devolving into one giant criminal hot bed under the constant threat of nuclear war with moral decay added on for funsies. The absolute horribleness of the world is a relentless theme throughout the 12 chapters.

The aspect of Watchmen I found most appealing was its structure. There are several story threads woven throughout which run, for lack of a better term, at various speeds in relation to each other. The reader is bumped between current events (sometimes several happening simultaneously), past events and an in-universe pirate comic with creative abandon. Actually, that's probably unfair, there is a very specific direction that Alan Moore is taking his readers and those jumps are all leading to the finish. Alright, that pirate thing is wholly symbolic but it still tied in with the larger themes of the story. (No, I did not care for the pirate story or find it all that necessary but I still admire the craft its inclusion displayed.)

There were several character arcs that also quite drew me in though I think there was definite room for improvement there. A few of the arcs were pretty shallow and even the best of them had at least one major hiccup. Rorschach gets my vote as the best developed and most consistent but I'd sure be interested in the perspective of longtime fans.

I don't know if there's a name for it but the building of the character world was quite rich. These characters didn't exist previous to Watchmen and yet they feel like characters that have made the rounds. The intersecting time points and backstories, along with the supplemental materials at the end of each chapter (memoir excerpts, articles, ad campaigns, company memos) lent a depth of reality to the costumed heroes that is necessary to the epic scope of the book.

For all that there's a lot to love, I found myself bored at times. The themes aren't exactly subtle and the "world is total shit" aspect was a dead horse that could have used far fewer hits. I think if this had been tightened into 8 chapters it would have been an absolute page turner. 

There are several panel sequences that are a joy to follow. I can flip through and find several action sets that I'm happy to peruse over and over. The last two pages of Chapter VIII, though, have to have been the most affecting for me. You've just come off a couple pages that have you following events from three perspectives - which are additionally overlaid with the pirate comic - and then you narrow down to one event that, over the course of 16 panels, still includes three perspectives but it's only in one room, watching the horrific fate of one person. It's amazing. It's like looking at those 3D posters, one moment I'm looking at the stunning artistry of the moment I have been drawn into, and the next I'm getting choked up all over again because it's a heartbreaking scene. I dare you to finish that chapter without tearing up a bit.

I happened to come by an interesting article regarding innovation in story-telling while reading Watchmen that got my brain working overtime. Its relevance here is a bit outside the scope of this review - and would include many spoilers for this title - but I hope to post about it in the coming days so if you want more of my thoughts on Watchmen I hope you'll come back by.


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

 
rating: 3 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre



Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Alan Rickman Reel: Dogma


My household are big fans of Alan Rickman. As such, we decided to review his films from start to finish. Using IMDb, that put us starting with Die Hard (Die Hard!!!!) and we knew Dogma and Galaxy Quest would be in there, too. Not to mention all our other favorite Alan Rickman films. Plus, you know, we thought we'd discover so many more fun movies. That is probably still true but we've been discovering some real duds in our journey and it's sucking the fun out of this activity. As such, we've decided to keep going in chronological order but to focus on the ones we like or what sounds good to us.

If we skip one of your favorites feel free to make a case for it in the comments. Links to previous reviews can be found below, under the cut.

sgwordy: Even though this movie is awesome, it's hard for me to think anything other than, "Galaxy Quest is next! Squeeeee!"
Dr Musacha: Squee indeed!






Dr Musacha: I feel like this is the movie where Alan Rickman really started to perfect my favorite version of Alan Rickman. Snarky, mostly good-natured, with lots of sarcastic side comments.

sgwordy: He's so low key and deadpan you almost miss what great comedic timing he has. He's super funny but never in a scene stealing kind of way. Or, if he does steal the scene, he does it so subtly (and wonderfully) that I would guess his fellow actors simply say thanks and go on with the next one.

Dr Musacha: I totally agree. He's almost made for ensemble comedy. He doesn't need to be the actor everyone is reacting to. He's really good at complementing the scene and whoever is in it.

sgwordy: Speaking of ensemble comedy, what do think of this movie's ensemble cast?

Dr Musacha: I like it a lot. I think it's a well-acted movie with a lot of funny people. I remember the first time I saw this movie and being really impressed with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. I thought they were standouts in the midst of some very experienced comedians.

sgwordy: Yes, whenever I watch this movie I'm always struck again at how much I wished they had made more movies together.

Dr Musacha: If we're going to mention the ensemble and standouts, then we'd better mention the weak link. Jay is so obnoxious and he's so out of place in this movie.

sgwordy: Wouldn't it be amazing if they sold a special edition with Jay completely edited out? Because I get tired of having to do it myself. I loathe Jay. I really fucking loathe Jay. Oh wait, maybe one of those angels could smash him right out of existence and then there would never be another movie with Jay ever again.

Dr Musacha: Yeah, so, about Alan Rickman... it would have been cool if Rickman had been Bethany's guide/guardian/prophet. Then we could have had more of his snarky comments.

sgwordy: Any increase in Rickman snark is a good thing.

Dr Musacha: Speaking of, can't wait for our next movie!



Summary:
Rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 10:
Dr Musacha –8
sgwordy –8
Was Rickman the best thing about this movie?
Dr Musacha – Yes, but great ensemble.
sgwordy – No, he's got stiff competition from too many other cast members.

In the context of his body of work, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Rickman as Rickman?
Dr Musacha –8
sgwordy –9

Favorite Rickman quote from this movie?
Dr Musacha: Take sex for example, there's nothing funnier than the ridiculous faces you people make mid-coitus.
sgwordy: I hate it when people need it spelled out for them.



Previous films under the cut


Alan Rickman Reel: Judas Kiss


My household are big fans of Alan Rickman. As such, we decided to review his films from start to finish. Using IMDb, that put us starting with Die Hard (Die Hard!!!!) and we knew Dogma and Galaxy Quest would be in there, too. Not to mention all our other favorite Alan Rickman films. Plus, you know, we thought we'd discover so many more fun movies. That is probably still true but we've been discovering some real duds in our journey and it's sucking the fun out of this activity. As such, we've decided to keep going in chronological order but to focus on the ones we like or what sounds good to us.

If we skip one of your favorites feel free to make a case for it in the comments. Links to previous reviews can be found below, under the cut.


sgwordy: How's it seriously been a year since our last AR Reel?






sgwordy: Always nice to see the now classic Rickman/Thompson pairing.

Dr Musacha: Yeah, but it felt more like the movie belonged to the criminals rather than to them. Carla Gugino seemed like the main character.

sgwordy: I agree, but how many movies that Alan Rickman is in, could you say he's the lead character?

Dr Musacha: Not nearly enough.

sgwordy laughs

sgwordy: Did you think his South Louisiana accent was better than his Irish accent (from Michael Collins)?

Dr Musacha: Yes, but everyone was laying on badly affected southern accents so maybe he just sounded better than his peers. You're from Louisiana, what did you think?

sgwordy: I think I have yet to hear what sounds like an authentic South Louisiana accent on screen. Rickman could have been worse, though, so that's something.

We are finally seeing him in modern clothing. It's been a while.

Dr Musacha: Yeah, and even his schlubby suits were definitely better than his Robin Hood get-up.




Summary:
Rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 10:
Dr Musacha –7
sgwordy –6
Was Rickman the best thing about this movie?
Dr Musacha – No, Gugino's character was the best.
sgwordy – No, he was tied with Thompson. :-)

In the context of his body of work, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Rickman as Rickman?
Dr Musacha –5
sgwordy –5

Favorite Rickman quote from this movie?
Dr Musacha: You're a better driver but I'm too proud to admit it.
sgwordy: I understand that this isn't personal because you're not a person.


Previous films under the cut


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hello Kobo!

I've decided it's time to say goodbye to Amazon as a bookseller and so I'm shifting over to Kobo. So far it's easy as pie. Easy to set up a new account, easy to use the App, and they have Awards!!!! Squeeeeee!!! Like I needed any more motivation to read but I'll take Awards for reading achievements any day!


So here's my shout out and recommendation for Kobo. Kick the Amazon habit (if you have it) and find yourself a new eReader/Book provider.

Great article for writers

Make conscious choices rather than default choices.


Click here for full article

Sunday, July 12, 2015

History is cool!

I think I need to visit Denmark and Turkey.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Shining by Stephen King

Title: The Shining
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday (1977)


If winter (for those of us in the Southern hemisphere) needed something else to make it even worse it was getting a cold. Me, who never gets colds (ok, obviously, practically never). Ugh! How do some people manage getting a couple of these a year? Perhaps by curling up with a good book? Or, if your brain hurts too much, curling up with a good movie?

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 Shining
at It Rains... You Get Wet




Jack Torrance is hanging on by a very thin thread. Poor life decisions have led him to a last ditch effort to hold onto a job (given to him courtesy of a friend) and keeping his family is not a foregone conclusion either. Between his drinking and his temper he's got one last chance as the winter caretaker of the Overlook. This historical Colorado resort hotel gets snowed in every winter and he will be the one to keep it up and running. Taking his wife and 5yo son will be a chance for them to reconnect as a family (oh, and he just might finish that play he's been working on for years). One slight problem with this grand plan is that the Overlook is one helluva haunted hotel and it's going to use all of Jack's weaknesses against him.

I must admit I started this book from a place of false remembrance. Lemme 'splain. I thought I remembered this movie. It used to show on HBO when I was a kid and I am absolutely positive I saw it. I must face facts as an adult and realize that I remember nothing of it other than that one iconic scene with Jack Nicholson. However, I had all this story in my head and sort of assumed the book would be similar. As it turns out, even if I had remembered the correct story, the book is not all that much like the movie. So what does all this mean for me? I started reading this book with a very specific set of expectations and boy was I wrong! That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when I kept thinking to myself "where's the hotel already?" it was becoming quite clear that I was a little bored with this book.

As it turns out, Jack's one of those raging assholes who doesn't seem to have any clue he's an asshole. I'm not overly keen on spending 300+ pages with an asshole. But, ok, his kid Danny is cool (and his particular special ability, his shining, is really awesome) and I can certainly sympathize with what Wendy is going through as his wife but I still didn't think the creepy hotel could come fast enough. 

And it is creepy! It's a great haunted house. If you like a scary house that can drive people mad in various, insidious ways this is going to be the novel for you. It's a bit hard as you're watching a family (with a 5yo!!!) get it from the hotel but at least it's one damned scary ride. 

I'm more miss than hit with King's novels but I can always appreciate his evocative writing. He doesn't slam you over the head with it but you'll never be in doubt as to just what kind of creepy crawlies or emotional roller coasters his characters are experiencing. He also uses a great device in this book. With a deft touch he uses paragraph construction and parenthetical statements to keep the reader smoothly along the path of his characters' thoughts. While trying to maintain a reasoned response to heightened emotions - or the hotel - their doubts, fears, or the all-too-real voices in their heads will interject. I particularly like when the family was hearing party noises and Wendy kept thinking
(WHAT MASKS??). It was a beautifully crafted scene. 

As is also typical of King's writing he can be a little retrograde. He'll use phrases like "the investors and their women." Um, ew! Or make a very poor decision to thread through a part of the narrative something called "Can you find all the Indians?" And if you only explicitly describe one of your characters as black and that character also happens to be special you might want to check your TV tropes (not to mention the kind of "default" you set up by only describing an "other"). 

So, awesomely creepy haunted house? Check! Interesting characters? YMMV. Good writing? Mostly check. Super cool gotcha for one of the characters to figure out at the end? Double check! It's spoilerly so highlight if interested: I just loved watching the hotel, via Jack, lose its shit when Danny mentioned the boiler. That was just the perfect ending!


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

 
rating: 3 of 5 stars
 


Coming up next:  
Watchmen created by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins



Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 



Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hello, Pluto!


Quotable

Yet, at the same time, I have to be able to hear and to listen to voices that challenge my understanding of received wisdom. I feel I must continually work to be aware of the assumptions and defaults that shape and distort and illuminate my ways of thinking.

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: