For this literary update, I #amreading The Dark Tower. It’s time again to revisit King.
I say that as though I read Stephen King frequently, but in truth my King checklist amounts only to Riding the Bullet, The Dead Zone, Blaze (written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman), bits of On Writing, and an unfinished copy of The Stand which lays in a 1,000 page hardcover heap in my closet. Anyway, Ma was a pretty big fan of King, even if I was not, and his TV movies IT and TheLangoliers scared just about all the shit clean out of me as a kid.
So, needless to say, respect. (And, that Joe Hill sounds like a real chip off the ole’ block, by the way. NOS4A2 has been on my reading list for a while.)
Why this book?
I can honestly say that The Dark Tower is the series that comes up most often in conversations with reader and writer friends, when those conversations are positive. My discriminating friends delight in panning lousy teen romance, and groan with a wide range of opinions when it comes to something like the 15 books of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Believe it or not, not everyone has read Harry Potter, and the same goes for The Hunger Games. I think the only series I have got around to openly praising is The Hyperion Cantos.
This would seem to be the series everyone can agree on, and I have high hopes for it myself. And if not the novels, then maybe the comics that came later.
Anyway, we may not get a chance to read every great series that comes along in our lifetimes, but let us begin. That is the point. Let’s educate ourselves. Let’s experience the craze.
If there is anyone out there who feels these two–reader and book–should not be wed, please speak now or forever hold your peace. Or, in other words, does everyone like The Dark Tower?
In between reading, in between celebrities and heroes dying, and before diving into a review for my writing group, I thought about that holiday that gets no respect whatsoever. I thought I’d offer a proper tribute to Earth Day, which snuck up on all of us yesterday, April 22.
If you’re a Godzilla, or cult movie fan, then you may already know where this is going. If you aren’t much for the King of the Monsters, then this won’t take up too much of your time.
In 1971, Toho released Godzilla vs. Hedorah. Considering that Godzilla himself may be interpreted as a metaphor for nuclear weapons (or as I tend to think, as the muddy consequences of using them) then this movie, which was presented as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster to Americans in 1972, could do the same for the dangers of pollution. And it had a groovy soundtrack.
Before you ask, this was the film where Godzilla flew by tucking his tail in and breathing fire like rocket exhaust. Also, I had this T-shirt.
Now, please, on this Earth Day, save the Earth with me! It’s what Godzilla would do.
American version, “Save the Earth”.
And the original Japanese, “Return the Sun”.
Happy listening, happy nostalgia, and take a moment to thank the YouTuber who uploaded this time capsule!
To do a Slaughterhouse-Five review is to do your own ‘duty-dance with death.’ So it was when I read Kurt Vonnegut’s classic about, among other things, the bombings of Dresden and a man moving backward and forward through time. I read it about two years ago, but the most powerful reads feel like you read them yesterday.
Some books, as you know, do more than take you away, or inform you. Some books change you just a little bit, and help you to find your own voice. The late author connected so easily with me. If you are new to Vonnegut, or his black humor, or if you intend to read based on a review such as this, you might be surprised just how easily he connects with you.
My first experience with Vonnegut was the novel Cat’s Cradle, which my friend Joe probably lost in the sands of Afghanistan soon after I lent it out to him. This is very Vonnegut. To lose a book warning about the perils of a doomsday weapon, and war, in the midst of a war where it might have been useful, is the kind of unfortunate thing that might have made him smile just a little.
Next came his short story, “2 B R 0 2 B” which we (my WYRM cohorts and I) used as the basis for a round of The Gauntlet some years ago. This, too, yielded some hilarious results, as it led to a copypasta job (I hesitate to say plagiarism) from Wikipedia, and then one entrant deciding to ascribe some curious, and very conservative, political viewpoints to the author, which he did not hold. Why?
None of this made sense, yet, that is what Vonnegut is always telling us in his work. Life often doesn’t make sense. There may be nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, but there is something quite intelligent to say about Vonnegut. And along the way, he might make you laugh inappropriately. Without further ado, this was my experience with Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death.
I wondered what a ‘Children’s Crusade’ might be a reference to when I first picked this up, or what one might look like. Evidently, it would look a lot like World War II.
Vonnegut himself was an American soldier during the war, who witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany as a POW. He noted just how many of the soldiers were youngsters, from both the Allies, and their enemies, and how much was riding on youth. Is that because so many more seasoned men had already been killed, or because the young are inevitably the ones who get sent off to war? Picture something so significant and grim acted out by mainly children. Makes one speculate about the rest of history.
No one I know, not me, my soldier-friend Joe, nor Vonnegut himself, can really compare to Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of this novel. He is the utterly hapless American soldier who begins to relive the events of his life after he becomes ‘unstuck in time.’ These events include the war, his career as an eye doctor, his unhappy marriage, later career as a conspiracy theorist, his death, and of course time spent with the Tralfamadorians.
This book can be classified as science fiction. The Tralfamadorians are the aliens who take notice of Pilgrim’s time traveling. This moving backward and forward through the years is not done in a machine, or in any way we’ve become accustomed to in sci-fi. Pilgrim’s traveling is more personal; he simply wakes up at different points in his life.
Though they abduct him, and place him in an alien zoo, these aliens also endeavor to teach Billy something. The substance of this lesson could be taken two ways, either as serious philosophy, or more gallows humor. Perhaps it is both.
When one begins to see things the way they do on Tralfamadore, one asks if there is any point in trying to change anything. Does anything we do matter? Is this nihilism? That’s up for debate, but if you read with an open mind, you may begin to look at your own life differently, and no matter what terrible things befall you, you may think twice before you despair.
On Tralfamadore, they can see how things really happen. Events in time occur simultaneously. My duty-dance went like this: even though I will die, I was quite alive in the past. I guess I shouldn’t fret, huh? I am always alive.
Or, maybe like this: I will read this book. I have read this book. I have always been reading this book.
When are you going to dance?
Slaughterhouse-Five was made into a movie in 1972. Next on my Vonnegut reading list is Mother Night.
(For anyone deeply concerned over whether or not I get my copy of Cat’s Cradle back, do note that I myself lost soldier-friend Joe’s copy of The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac in the depths of my closet. Even Steven.)
It’s my first Genrethon, or as I saw it on Twitter, ‘#genrethon’, and for those who don’t know, this is the readathon when one tackles three different genres in one week (April 10-16). Sound daunting? Well, it is, if you’re a slow reader with any plans to finish the books.
I’ll wait ‘til Saturday to see how I do. Write-a-thons I know I can do; Readathons make me dig down pretty deep. But I’ve always been a firm believer that readers or writers who wish to have any idea what they’re talking about should read it all. As much as you can in as many genres as you can. So, whether you finish or not, this is a good habit.
(That’s right. I’m already hedging my bets.)
Anyhow, I think I first owe some thanks to the people who brought this to my attention by blogging, booktubing, tweeting, or reviewing. It’s much appreciated, SFF180 and Reader Rayna! Following the links will bring you their three choices.
Where am I going with my own Genrethon? The first place I’m going is Hell.
Genre #1: Epic Poetry, Paradise Lost by John Milton
The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can we make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. / What matter where, if I still be the same, / And what I should be, all but less than He / Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least / We shall be free.
Christopher Hitchens once said that Paradise Lost was not in fact John Milton’s greatest poem. However, a lot of other fine scholars disagree, and we’ll see what I think. This work of course details the fall of many of the angels from the Christian Heaven. It is considered by many to be a must-read of the English language.
These next two (one, two) you know, but I’ll freshen it up a bit with different photos and quotes, and hope that it’s not considered cheating that I began these books a bit before Genrethon week.
Genre #2: General Fiction, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Ah feel thit ah love thum aw. Matty, Spud, Sick Boy and Lesley. Ah want tae tell thum. Ah try, but it comes oot as: — Ah’m cookin. They look at us, fuckin scoobied. – That’s me, ah shrug ma shooders, in self-justification. Ah go ben the livingroom.
Genre #3: Graphic Novel, Star Wars Infinities edited by Mark D. Beazley
Play “What if?” with the original trilogy in a series of tales exploring the endless possibilities of Star Wars. How would A New Hope have gone if Luke Skywalker had missed the target in his attack on the Death Star? What would have become of the Rebel Alliance if Luke perished in the icy wastelands of Hoth during The Empire Strikes Back? What if Return of the Jedi’s rescue of Han Solo had gone wrong?
I’ll see you Saturday with my update/excuses, as it were. Are you taking part? If not, what other readathons are you missing out on?
Tonight, we venture out of genre. I #amreading Trainspotting, the classic novel by Irvine Welsh, at last.
The wait is nobody’s fault but my own. I spend probably three-quarters of my time in genre, but you may be surprised to learn that I once called the film adaptation of this book my favorite all-time movie. To let you in on a little secret, though, I think it helped that I saw it well after the Star Wars prequels came out. My familiarity with Ewan McGreggor, and fondness of young Obi-Wan Kenobi was already well established. In any event, it always feels like everyone else has read this but me.
I am about seventy pages in. It’s hilarious and sad, and the Scottish slang does not apologize. Ye cunt, ye. So, am I crazy, or has everyone read this? Because I know everyone’s seen the movie.
So, I hope you didn’t think I just gave reading updates around here. I still review books, too.
I read this one late last year. What did I think of Startide Rising by David Brin? Let us dive into that question, into an off-world ocean filled with sentient dolphins, with unique spacecraft, and with what some have called bad poetry.
For starters, I don’t call it bad poetry. I don’t because I myself know little about crafting good poetry; Mister Brin at this moment is a finer poet than I, as I’m sure he was in 1983, before my birth.
True, the ‘trinary’ poems of characters like Hikahi and Creideiki are not on the level of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by S.T. Colridge or “Dover Beach” by Mathew Arnold, two of my favorite poems, but let’s not forget we’re talking about dolphins here. Dolphins who have not mastered sentience, let alone the finer points of iambic pentameter. Perhaps they’re not supposed to be good poets. But, to look at some of these goodreads reviews, you’d think these verses were crimes against humanity, making the book impossible to enjoy.
Actually, I appreciated a bit of trinary, especially some that came later in the novel from Keepiru, which served to reveal a side plot about secret genetic engineering:
* Cold water boils
When you scream
* Red-jawed hunger
Fills your dream
* Harpoons slew
* The nets of Iki
* Yet you, alone
We feared at night
* You alone—
. . . Orca.
It made me a little frightened of killer whales.
Anyway, I guess this review has begun in the middle of a story. Let’s catch up.
Startide Rising is the second book in David Brin’s Uplift saga. ‘Uplift’ is the process of elevating other animal species to human-level sentience and intelligence. In the novel, species such as chimpanzees and dolphins have been uplifted by human beings through genetic manipulation. A number of these creatures form the crew of the deep space vessel, Streaker.
They are of course accompanied by a few respected humans, who are veterans of this sort of thing. However, technical rank belongs to the dolphins, and with a character I grew fond of, Captain Creideiki. He will bring much needed wisdom and Zen to the crew, as many of them show signs of succumbing to the Whale Dream, a primal state of madness brought on by the stresses of the mission.
Their mission? To report back to Earth about their discovery of an ancient fleet of alien vessels, which are rumored to belong to the species that uplifted humans.
What stresses could this mission bring on, you ask? Well, we’ve got a few.
Galactics hunting the dolphin/human crew, as they want the information for themselves.
A full-blown mutiny aboard Streaker, instigated by both human and dolphin collaborators.
Getting marooned on an ocean planet saturated with heavy metals.
Indigenous, pre-uplift creatures who are put in danger by these shenanigans.
One traitorous chimpanzee.
I believe I liked the dolphins best, especially Creideiki, Akki, and Keepiru. They are the finest examples of humanity in this novel, though Gillian and Toshio, the humans, are okay, too. Tomas Orley on the other hand struck me as very much a superman who could do everything well. While he undertook a dangerous mission, I did not ever really fear for his safety. I found him too perfect for me to like, and I could not really consider him the hero of the novel. To me, that will always be Akki, who, if you read his desperate underwater fight scene, might just make a believer out of you.
As for the galactics, while they could be entertaining, and they make great use of some unique psychic abilities, many of them come across as cheesy in their design and behavior. They are brutal in their beliefs and mentalities, making me wish I never run across one. To galactics, to provide uplift means getting indentured servitude in return. The humans are, well, more humanitarian.
The book’s habitual scene breaks, and just as many shifts in point of view, made reading sluggish for me, like other readers, but I cannot deny the payoffs, nor the unexpected mysticism, I was finally treated to. It may not be for everyone, but the concept alone for Startide Rising is so strong, and along with the story’s excitement, I can safely say it deserves respect.
Startide Rising won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for best novel in 1984. It is followed by The Uplift War, and preceded by Sundiver. I do wish the books were more connected than they appear to be—apart from the obvious connection of uplift—or that the characters I’ve gotten to know appear in the other books, as I would read the rest of this first trilogy.
There is a novel set in the Uplift universe that came out years later, Brightness Reef, that I’d like to check out, though. It would be interesting to see how Brin’s characters or writing style have changed.
After reading the highly entertaining “Lila the Werewolf” from Beagle’s collection, it’s time to cavort with some popular science fiction. Of a sort. This week’s #amreading update was a gift, a comic collection:
The cover artist is Nick Runge. These comics are re-imagined stories based upon the original Star Wars trilogy.
Back cover artists are Tony Harris and Chris Blythe. I am intrigued by Star Wars: Infinities, since it conjures another old trilogy graphic novel I read as a kid, The Early Adventures. I’m of course wary of the many things being re-imagined these days, but I cannot say I have never played what-if with these characters myself.
Anybody out there read this one? I now flip to the very first page…