Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A bittersweet ending to a brutal trilogy

Note:  Mockingjay is the sequel to Chasing Fire.  Therefore, this review WILL contain spoilers for both  The Hunger Games and Chasing Fire.  If you haven’t read it already, check out my review of The Hunger Games here and Chasing Fire here.  Otherwise, read on!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Manga Monday: A classic manga author plays with Death.

Rumiko Takahashi is a name that’s almost forgotten among anime fans in the US.  A few of the fans that started watching in the last five years followed Inu Yasha, but they probably never watched old VHS tapes of Ranma 1/2, Urusei Yatsura, or Maison Ikkoku.  Older anime and manga fans know the name, and know the consistent quality that she produces.

Rin-ne is the story of a half-shinigami (a death deity), half human who is trying to pay back the debt of his grandmother by helping to bring ghosts over to the Wheel of Reincarnation.  Of course, since it’s a Rumiko Takahashi story, it’s not nearly as dark as it sounds.

This GN also stars Sakura Mamiya, a girl who disappeared for a week when she was a little girl.  She doesn’t quite remember what happened, but she recognizes the Wheel of Reincarnation when she sees it later.

Oh, and she can see ghosts.  And Rinne.  Who sits next to her at her new high school.

The story runs along quickly, just as any other Rumiko Takahashi story does.  Rinne resents having to work to make up the debt of his grandmother, so he refuses to live with her, or take any help from her.  Ever since his father died, he’s been living on school grounds, making do as he can.  So he has no problem asking the people at the school for convenience food and pocket change to make the ghosts in their lives go away.

Rin-ne moves a bit more slowly than Takahashi’s other, more popular works, but it’s rather appreciated in the world of Death Note and Naruto.  Older manga and anime fans will certainly appreciate it, and the newer fans might find  an author that they never really knew existed.

Highs:  The interaction between Sakura and Rinne, which is innocent and very amusing

Lows:  The pacing will be very slow to readers of most contemporary manga

Verdict:  A great start, which leaves a lot of room to grow

Further Reading:  Maison Ikkoku, Honey and Clover

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

**automated response program**

I'm currently in the land of Mockingjay, so for now, check out John Ringo's A Hymn Before Battle.  A review should be out fairly soon, but get ahead of the game and read the book free here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

This is what happens when you challenge evil dictators...

Note:  Chasing Fire is the sequel to The Hunger Games.  Therefore, this review WILL contain spoilers for The Hunger Games.  If you haven’t read it already, check out my review here.  Otherwise, read on!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Manga Monday: Cute kitten manga isn't always for kids

Slice of life manga is becoming a more popular genre, especially as the manga reading population has more understanding of life in Japan.  Manga readers also don’t seem to ‘outgrow’ slice of life manga as quickly as magical girl or shonen.  Because of this, publishers are finally starting to bring more titles over to the US, and Chi’s Sweet Home is a welcome addition.

Even though the point of view for this story is a kitten, the target audience isn’t children.  The story is certainly simple enough for a grade-schooler, but the dry humor more aims at adults.  Of course, in Japan, the idea of  a grown person reading a comic book about a kitten isn’t as strange as it is here.

One of the fun parts of the book is that Chi sees the world like a kitten.  She mostly doesn’t understand what the humans are saying (eventually she starts to learn words like ‘yummy’ and such, just like a dog learns ‘walk'), and the humans have to guess at what Chi’s trying to get across.  One of the cutest stories revolves around the litter pan, which Chi finds very fun to play in, and doesn’t want to make messy by peeing in it.

What’s also nice is that the family is realistic.  Youhei, the young son, is very well behaved, but can be brought to tears when he thinks something is unfair.  Mom stays home with the young boy, who acts like a (well-behaved) youngster.  He probably understands Chi the best, since he’s young, and some of their fiascoes run parallel.  The father works from home, as some kind of artist (a lot of manga seem to have characters who are manga artists, don’t they?), and perhaps becomes the most attached to Chi in the family, because she’s someone to keep him company during the day.  

Another sign that the book is aimed at an older audience is what’s going on with the family.  Most children of the ‘read a comic about a kitten’ age wouldn’t really care that the family might be evicted because of the cat, and about all of the problems that occur because of this.

Chi’s Sweet Home is a very sweet story about a real family, who ends up with two children instead of one.  It’s certainly a slice of life, or at least a slice of a kitten’s life.

Highs:  Interaction between Chi and Youhei.  Chi finally deciding that this can be home too.

Lows:  A little simple and repetitive at times

Verdict:  Certainly not high literature, but a fun, relaxing read.

Further Reading:  Azumanga Daioh, Honey and Clover

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dystopian Teens...Are There Any Other Kind?

Dystopian stories seem to hit a special chord with teens.  At that age, it feels like you can’t make any real difference in the world, against rules that aren’t always fair.  the difference between adult dystopian novels and teen dystopian novels, however, is the ending.  In Brave New World or 1984, there is a bleak outlook, and the establishment always wins.  In YA or Teen novels, however, there tends to be a ray of hope.

Such is the case in The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  This book is one of a trend of new YA and teen books with a strong female main character.  Like the girl in Graceling, Katniss has no interest in settling down and having a family.  On the contrary, she dreads the idea of having a child that would be a victim of the Hunger Games.  Her father died years ago, and as main provider and protector for the family, she had to grow up fast to take care of her younger sister Prim.  And when Prim is selected for the Games, she goes in her place.

Like many other books, this story shows what people will do when forced into terrible situations.  While some of the other children in the games train for this, and see it as a point of pride to go, many others are just as scared and unprepared as Katniss and her fellow tribute Peeta.  Alliances are forged, and broken, as the tributes are eliminated.

What this book also has, though, is a very interesting view on how the media changes the perceptions of the people watching it.  Katness and Peeta’s guides through all of this choose their dress, coach them on their interactions with each other, and do everything they can to get the audience to like them, and send them little bits of help along the way.  It’s a fairly interesting little look into the world of spin doctors, image consultants, and public perception.

In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Collins revealed that her idea for the world came from a late night channel surfing.  She was flipping between war coverage and a reality show:  “I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way.”  This book certainly shows how the media and creative editing can change perceptions of a live televised event, and perhaps shows the readers to look closer at what they’re being shown.

Highs:  The interaction between the main characters and the supporting cast; strong female characters

Lows:  long internal monologues could be tedious for some

Verdict:  Very much worth the read, and great setup for the rest of the series

Further Reading:  Catching Fire, Battle Royale

Monday, August 16, 2010

When is Time Travel not Science Fiction?

There’s only one literary ghetto worse than science fiction, and that’s gender or race-specific fiction.  Just the appellation ‘african-american fiction’ or ‘glbt fiction’ is enough to guarantee that the general population will avoid it like the plague, while not necessarily describing the contents of the book all that well.

Thankfully, Octavia E Butler was able to keep herself in the science-fiction genre.  Someday, hopefully, a plot device as simple as time travel won’t automatically relegate the book to the SF section (The Time-Traveller’s Wife is a good example of mainstream fiction with time jumping involved).  But for now, Kindred is destined to be genre fiction.

For those of us who have no problem reading genre, however, Kindred is a fantastic look at slavery through the eyes of at 1970s.  Dana herself is a very liberated, forward-thinking woman in her 20s (dealing with an interracial relationship in her own time, etc), but like anyone born in the 20th century, she is completely unprepared to be transported back to the times of slavery in the deep South.  The fact that she seems destined to save her slavemaster over and over does nothing to help her deal with the emotional scars being inflicted on her.

As the story goes on, we learn more and more about the world she keeps visiting; a world in which she has no basic human rights, but still has to learn to live-or survive-within family units that have no chance of staying together, and since her time jumps span a lifetime, she has to learn to live with the changes that happen without her.

Having grown up in a very integrated school system, I’ve been forced to read a lot of books like this.  Eventually, as sad as it is, you start to become desensitized to story after story about slavery, and the Holocaust, and genocides throughout Asia.  So many of the fictional stories just come across trite and preachy, and the firsthand accounts just blur together eventually.  When written by such a masterful author, and with such a clear frame of reference, this brings forth the horrors of slavery in a way that very few stories have for me.

Highs: Fantastic writing, compelling storylines

Lows: Slightly overdone genre, although the best of the group

Verdict: A fantastic story, and ought to be assigned reading in high schools

Further Reading: Parable of the Sower, The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Magical Realism meets Teen Fantasy

Of course, since I've declared this blog to be mainly fantasy and science fiction, I would start with a book that doesn't quite fit into that category.  But Ruiz Zafon's The Prince of Mist should satisfy most fans of the fantastic, even though the story is grounded in reality.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a Spanish author who mainly writes books that fall into the 'magical realism' category.  While some authors (Atwood) use this label to keep their books from falling into the ghetto of 'fantasy.'  In Ruiz Zafon's case, however, this label fits best, and it's his familiarity with the genre, as well as his fantastic skill as a writer, that keeps this from being just another teen fantasy novel.

At it's core, this is a fairly straightforward ghost story romance, mainly from the point of view of a preteen boy.  There are other ghost-type beings in the story, but no magic-wand-wizard and warlock-style magic.

The story, barring a few twists, is nothing I haven't read before, but the skill with which Ruiz Zafon writes makes any story a pleasure to read.

Highs:  Writing quality

Lows:  Fairly generic story premise

Verdict:  A quick read, but a pleasure the whole way

Further Reading: Shadow of the Wind, Enchanted Glass


Hello to everyone, and welcome to Geek Lit Etc.  Mainly a book review blog, other things will invariably appear here, but mostly of a science fiction/fantasy/tech/general geekery bent.  Since there's such a huge backlog of amazing books out there, don't expect every book to be a new release, or even particularly recent.  Same goes for any movie/anime/tv reviews that make it up here.

And with that, enjoy!