Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A book, a short story, a comic, a movie

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North


This book is perfect.

There is a very high tier that only a few really brilliant stories can ever reach. Ready Player One, for instance. The Name of the Wind, of course. Among Others. Fire by Kristin Cashore. More recently, The Humans. The Feed trilogy by Mira Grant. These books have perfect pacing, a voice that has me thoroughly convinced it is the characters telling the story, and a plot that unfolds carefully and naturally and keeps me dying to know what happens even while I am pacing myself so I can make the book last as long as possible, all the while forgetting that I am reading the words of an author's imagination and not actually seeing the events unfold.

This is one of those books. Harry August is so vividly fleshed out he is a person, not a character. His many lives proceed logically: In his first life he goes with the flow. In his second he thinks he's crazy. In his third he looks for answers. Each life proceeds, and he learns more, does more, is more.

It isn't an easy read. It's paced like an interesting history book, as opposed to an interesting speculative fiction book (and you have to admit those are two very different styles of reading). But I never once wanted to stop reading or pick up something else. I settled in and took my time. The dense writing meant the pages turned slowly, and I am just fine with that. It lasted longer. When I only get through 25 pages per train ride, it's going to take quite a few train rides to get through a 400 page book. It was perfect. It let me savor every chapter.

Because of the dense writing, the chapters are short. They skip around, giving an overall picture of his entire existence. This is better and gives us the best of both worlds: we get to read about the interesting, badass stuff right away, but we also get the full emotional effect of realizing that he is an ouroboros, destined to be born again and again. This book does not skimp on anything, and it is stronger for that.

Don't let the time-travel aspect turn you off. The book isn't about time travel, much in the way Feed isn't about zombies. I really can't recommend it enough. It always takes something special to pull me out of a book slump, and this one did it. It will likely be reread a time or two in the next few years.

Claire North is the penname for Catherine Webb/Kate Griffin, who wrote A Madness of Angels and the following books in that series, which I have heard neverending praise for and yet still have not managed to read (I even own them!) After reading TFFLHA, AMoA is definitely higher on my list.

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Polynia, by China MiƩville


A short story, that I enjoyed?!? Well, it happened. Read it here. It's short, it makes you think, it's less weird than the other MiƩville stuff I've read (arguably, the weird stuff), but still has his unique stamp. Of course, it suffers from what I think all short stories suffer from: it isn't fleshed out enough, the characters don't stand out enough, it didn't really have an ending, it more just ends. But I recommend it all the same.

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Ms. Marvel #1-3, written by G. Willow Wilson


Image from themarysue. That's the cover on the left, and Kamala trying to get a hold of her new powers on the right.
I haven't read many comics, and I don't know much of anything about how comics work or how often they come out or what I'll like. But every once in a while something catches my eye, and I try it out.

I am absolutely loving the new Ms. Marvel series. (Do comics come out in series? I don't even know!) Written by G. Willow Wilson (author of Alif the Unseen), it's about a young Muslim teen inheriting (??) Ms. Marvel's powers. I love all the culture, and Kamala Khan is so easy to relate to (she is just a girl trying to balance family and school and LIFE), and on several occasions I was cracking up while reading it. I need to get back to the comic shop to pick up issues four and five!

So how DO comics work? I read somewhere that this was going to be a five-issue series, so does that mean Kamala Khan is done after that? Or is this first mini-storyline done after five? I sure hope there are lots more.

Also on my reading list because of this comic: Persepolis and Alif the Unseen. And I will be checking out the new female Thor comic once that comes out (sometime this fall).

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Snowpiercer


When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it looked dumb. Even Chris Evans didn't make it worthwhile. We rented it because it was late and had thrown dinner together at 9:30 after all kinds of housework and yardwork and didn't feel like thinking. But we were extremely surprised—it was great! The whole time I kept expecting it to devolve into full-on cheese, but it always sidestepped the cheese carefully and was instead genuinely heartbreaking. It is based on a short story (according to Wikipedia, the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige (1982) by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette), and you can tell the plot doesn't quite support a two-hour movie, but it never felt too long which I guess is saying something. Also, take a look at rest of the cast: John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, and Ed Harris. None of those actors are likely to be in a cheesy post-apocalypse movie. I'm not familiar with the Korean actors, but I liked them both. Give it a shot.


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