3 Stars

One Rough Man

12092971I really do not like the title of this novel because it just seems, in 2019, to be something one would find in the romance novel section, full of cliches.  Instead, One Rough Man by Brad Taylor is totally an action-thriller pseudo-pulp novel full of gunfire and operators. There are terrorists and government officials and Navy SEALs all over the place. Its also the first novel by the author; published 2011. I read the mass market paperback that I think I picked up used somewhere.

I do not read a lot of modern genre fiction like this. This year I have tried to clean off some of my tbr-list and I have found a number of novels like this one in the stacks. These novels are tasty treats; good for down-time and relaxed afternoons.  This one actually surprised me a little because it was a little lengthy. I feel like maybe it should have ended 50-100 pages sooner. Not that the story is bad, but one can only have just so many firefights in one novel. 104 chapters are inside with about two to four pages per chapter.

Good things first:  the author’s realism on most points. A lot of novels like this can get over-the-top quickly with unbelieveable situations and heroics. However, if readers are being honest, these books are not read for their perfect reasonability. Part of their charm is their ability to present a hero that really does exceed expectations and maybe is a little better at everything that he ought to be. Sure, some elements here are a little exaggerated, but I was actually surprised at how realistic the author played it.  Do not get me wrong, the main character/hero is Pike Logan and bullets just miss him. He is ridiculously good at what he does, but he does seem to have a helluva lot of luck on his side. But, good for the author on this one, the character recognizes it and marvels over it. He knows when his luck is unbelieveably good.

I liked the lack of sex in the novel. Usually the thing with action novels is that they tend to this tedious stereotyping of characters and their demeanors. I would not have been surprised to read about the hero rescuing a young lass from a building that was exploding, surviving a firefight with a country’s entire infantry forces, and then having sex in a rundown, hotel outside of town. This is what action movies have shown us happens! Its absurd and idiotic. In this novel, however, the fight scenes are relatively realistic – and I like how the author presents the main character’s decision making when entering these fights and making in-operation choices. I like how the author makes the operators in this novel realistic in their actions and opinions – for the most part. That is, the soldiers are not all flamboyant donkeys and the bad guys are not outlandish and comical.  The reactions of the characters are realistic, particularly when they make a mistake or when they are uncomfortable.

The thing that the author excels at is letting the reader see how situations develop, how events are monitored and evaluated, and how small groups plan and enact their battles. Time and again I was under the impression that the author had a lot of first-hand knowledge of directing these operations. His expertise really added to the quality of the story. Without it, the story surely would have been just another action splatter.

The supporting cast were all well written. I mean, sure, there is a lot of “coincidence” and luck. Some of that is tough to believe. However, this is a novel and its to be read for entertainment. Things that are mundane and typical are really rarely entertaining. So, okay, deal with the fact that the female main character, Jennifer, has the physical abilities of a parkour/circus expert. How handy for this sort of storyline!

Jennifer is also pleasantly snarky, too. I say pleasantly because I mean that she was realistic and her sarcasm did not seem “scripted” and stilted.

“What do we do now? Are we still going to D.C., or are we headed to Mexico to find a cheap house to spead the rest of our lives?” – pg. 321, chapter 63

Overall the dialogue was very good. I am finding, as I read more contemporary books, that the dialogue often seems unnatural or stilted or just plain stupid. Dialogue has to be convincing for the whole book to work. A character can be described and I can get a play-by-play, but if their conversation seems like an overlay put on the skeleton, it ruins the whole book and I’m an unconvinced, disappointed reader.

As I met the bad guys and the opportunists in the book I did feel angry and fretted over the well-being of our heroes. I guess this is to say that I was invested reading the story and I really do dislike the devious, evil bad guys.

My concern for this series is that I wonder if the main character gets tedious? He is likeable and definitely highly-skilled. But does the reader tire of hearing his thoughts and reading about his emotional struggles? Will readers get bored with seeing just how awesome Pike Logan is? What is the mileage on characters like this?

Anyway, more or less, I can recommend this to all readers. It is kind of a long read, but I think it is a solid entertainment, particularly for fans of action-thrillers and gear-geeks. In reality, this is somewhere between three and four stars.

3 stars

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Pale Fire

Pale FirePale Fire was first published in 1962. This is the fifth novel by Vladimir Nabokov (1899 – 1977) that I have read.  I know that most literary experts (take this term however you will) believe that Pale Fire is a special work that needs to be endlessly dissected and/or venerated. Anyone disagreeing with that will definitely be told that such disagreement proves their idoicy. (Cp. my thoughts and experiences reading Kafka). I share this upfront because I want the reader to be aware that I think Nabokov is a great writer, but that I think his best novels are not the ones usually spoken of in hushed-tones by tweed-wearing, eyeglass shuffling, affected personalities haunting insular literary meetings. Nabokov is undoubtedly and indisputably one of the greatest writers.  Nabokov was a great wordsmith, artist, poet, and writer. He wrote literature with skill, wit, and a unique style. Unrivaled, really.

But sometimes I suspect his awesome skill was wasted on the most uninteresting and tedious plots/stories. As with Despair, I feel this novel has wordplay par excellence and style and the tone is incredibly effective – but all in service to a plot/storyline that, were it not Nabokov, I would not have even bothered whatsoever.

Sure, at the end of this novel, the reader is left to (that is, if they care about reflecting on what they consume) wrestle with the psychology and existence of the main characters. Even, really, suggesting surprising psychological ideas like multiple-personality disorder and calling the story magical-realism, since the line between reality and fantasy is blurry as heck. All over the internet and (before there was a ‘net’) literary criticism texts one will find reference to the unreliable narrator as if this gimmick explains everything. And it very well might! But do we really feel comfortable thinking that the genius Nabokov is gimmicky?

My thoughts on this novel are nearly the same as on Despair:  I did not care at all about any character. Some parts of the text were really tedious and I struggled to not skip over them (e.g. lengthy sections that allowed Kinbote to ramble endlessly – long after the reader gets the gist of it all). I did not mind not knowing which storyline was the real one… I also did not mind the format (poem, notes, commentary, etc.).

But somehow, though sections of the wordsmithing are utterly brilliant and the novel as a whole is mighty – I’m not going to save this one in the proverbial fire, nor am I taking it to the hypothetical island. It is definitely worth reading and knowing about. What an amazing method to share a very robust fictional biography of a character I could not care any less about!

(By the way, Bend Sinister) IS indeed coming to the island and I am toasting my fingers to snatch it from a fire.)

Pale Fire can be read on all sorts of experimental and meta— levels. Nabokov was an academic, so he knew exactly how the literary world would approach his novel. I also think he enjoyed mocking such institutions when he could, if only because he could. Some of that is part of, I think, the value of his wit on display in the “commentary” to Line 949:  and all the time.  This lengthy section is really a culminatory segment to what has been a slowly developing and meandering monlogue by an unreliable narrator. And it is one of the best shows of comic relief I have seen in literature. I could not help but roar [see all epitaphs to Shade, John] with laughter as I read this part. If I had more time alloted me in life, I would scour the endless literary criticism available, because I am certain somewhere, some bright mind has decided to interpret the “symbolism” of Gradus’ distress.

The narrator of the work is installed as an academic at university – so he is surrounded by academics, scholars, and students. Not unlike Nabokov’s career. The narrator introduces us to John Shade with high praise:

Here he is, I would say to myself, that is his head, containing a brain of a different brand than that of the synthetic jellies perserved in the skulls around him. – pg. 27 (Forward)

Tell me honestly that you do not think Nabokov would poke fun at academia.  At the same time, I really appreciated the cantankerous discussion found in Line 172:  books and people:

“That’s where the broom should begin to sweep.  A child should have thirty specialists to teach him thirty subjects, and not one harassed schoolmarm to show him a picture of a rice field and tell him this is China because she knows nothing about China, or anything else, and cannot tell the difference between logitude and latitude.” Kinbote: “Yes. I agree.” – pg. 156 (Commentary)

Those of us old enough to do so – honestly look back on your education and wonder how many times you were subjected to, or knew of this situation, in which inadequate education was given to students that then resulted in students cheated of knowledge unbeknowst to themselves? Nabokov at the heart of it all was an educated man and valued education.

Part of being educated and faculty and an academic means dinner parties with tedious people. And I laughed quite a bit at the little rant by Kinbote in Line 579: the other

Every time I had but one additional guest to entertain Mrs. Shade (Who, if you please — thinning my voice to a feminine pitch — was allergic to artichokes, avocado pears, African acorns — in fact to everything beginning with an “a”).  I find nothing more conducive to the blunting of one’s appetite than to have none by elderly persons sitting around one at table, fouling their napkins with the disintegration of their make-up, and surrpetitiously trying, behind noncommittal smiles, to dislodge the red-hot torture point of a raspbery seed from between false gum and dead gum. – pg. 230 (Commentary)

The whole novel is not wit and frivolity. Indeed, one of the main threads in this novel is the concern and study of religion/afterlife/morality.

The more lucid and overwhelming one’s belief in Providence, the greater the temptation to get it over with, this business of life, but the greater too one’s fear of the terribe sin implicit in self-destruction. – pg. 219 (Commentary)

Indeed, this paradoxical sentiment is a sobering moment for the reader. Especially after realizing that the entire 999-line poem “by John Shade” is a musing on life and death. This includes the massively famous section depicting a “near death experience” in Canto three of the poem, which has been utilized so magnificently in Blade Runner. Cells. Interlinked. Dreadfully distinct. (If you know, you know…..)

In any case, the reader who opens the cover of this book needs to know this is a rewarding experience, but he should modulate his expectations. It helps to be familiar with Pope and Johnson and Shakespeare – but its not necessary at all. It is a study of literary tomfoolery, satire, gimmicks, wordplay, and also sorrow, loss, and exile. Just getting through the Foreward and the Poem will sift out any reader who is unprepared ability-wise for this novel. Readers should not shy from this one, but I think they should also not believe the hype that this is inarguably Nabokov’s greatest work.

I hardly know if I should read PKD or Albert Camus next…..

3 stars

Irredeemable vol. 1

Irredeemable volume 1Irredeemable is a graphic novel by Mark Waid and Peter Krause. The credits list colorist Andrew Dalhouse, letterer Ed Dukeshire, editor Matt Gagnon, and designer Paul Azaceta. It was originally published in thirty-seven single-issue “comics” from April 2009 to May 2012.  Volume 1 collects issues 1-4 and was released in October of 2009. Boom! Studios published the series.

“When the Plutonian, the world’s greatest hero, snaps and turns into the world’s greatest villain, only his former teammates have a chance at stopping his rampage.  But while on the run from the world’s most powerful and angry being, will these former teammates discover his secrets in time? How did he come to this? What became of the hope and promise once inside of him? What happens to the world when its savior betrays it? What makes a hero irredeemable?” — from the back cover

Lately, I have been carefully turning the blood-splattered and dark pages of a few graphic novel volumes that all explore some darker and badder themes. (i.e. Kill or be Killed, The Boys, etc.)  Irredeemable is, for me, the most gripping. I am engaged in the story and enjoy reading the volume. This is different than when I read The Boys or Kill or be Killed, because with those I feel I am turning a more critical, clinical, analytical eye on them. But they do not engage me; at most, I think I am repulsed or disgusted. I’m kind of splashing around in the murk currently. That being said, there is plenty of comparison between these three works in that they all delve into the worst of the worst.

Irredeemable has a storyline that has been toyed with here and there in many places in any number of comics. However, Waid really takes the idea to the extreme in this series. The Plutonian is designed as a blonde-haired white chap who wears a red and white or, later, red and black superhero outfit. (You know what I mean by “outfit.” The usual onesie!)

The series starts off with the Plutonian seemingly cruelly terrorizing a superhero/supervillain’s home. The first few pages deliver the feeling of frantic, desperate attempts to flee and the deadpan cruelty of a super-powered individual. I like that the series starts in media res without any heads up warning.  And these first few pages set the tone for the whole volume generally – a scrabbling, scrambling by everyone contrasted with the suddenness of the Plutonian.

Horribly shocking – emotionally, rather than just gore and splatter – in places. The abject helplessness of the citizens, the confusion and scattered attempts by the heroes, the suddenness and sourness of the Plutonian’s actions…all serve to make this work very gripping. The reader knows not much less than the participants of the story – why is this happening, what is going on? In chapter two, we are given a little more backstory – hints that a failed relationship with a female co-worker might be a catalyst for Plutonian’s rage. Secretly, though, I was (and am) hoping this is not the sole driving force in the story. It seems too pathetic for this level of character exploration. Even as chapter three begins, Waid complicates the former failed relationship even more – hinting at a situation involving Bette Noir (fellow hero teammate).

I like how Waid surprises the reader.  For example, the Singapore event is sudden and layered in surprising actions by the characters. Even when the reader knows how much of a bad dude the Plutonian is, still Waid is able to surprise the reader – that’s some mighty good writing in any genre.

I also am intrigued by the character Qubit. He is interesting and seems to be a good juxtaposition against the Plutonian’s over-powered skillset. Lastly, Waid keeps a key element to the storyline teased, but never presented – whomever Modeus is and whatever their relevance is, readers will have to keep reading to find out. Qubit really seems to be desperate for locating Modeus, so it must be vital.

Not for the sensitive or faint of heart. There are acts here that one would call “massive evil.”  The story is not one of happiness and even if good manages, somehow, to triumph like we all are comfortable with – too much destruction has occurred to call it a triumph.

3 stars

Kill Or Be Killed

Kill or Be Killed volume 1Kill Or Be Killed is a “graphic novel” series that began in August 2016 and ended in June 2018.  This work was originally published in twenty “comic issues” 40+ pages each. I read The tradeback version of volume 1 that was released in 2017. The series is a collaboration between creators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  Creator Elizabeth Breitweiser’s work was nominated for the industry’s Eisner Award for best coloring.  Volume one contains the first four issues of the series.

I have read and owned many comics and graphic novels – not as many as some folks, more than others. I have been a comics addict since I was in single digits; I began as a solid follower of the DC universe (specifically, Superboy and the Legion of Superhereos, of all things).  After years of DC-focus, I did also read the G.I. JOE series by Marvel, and eventually things like Ghost Rider etc. I still very much prefer superhero comics.

However, I will, on occasion, read something a little less fantastic; for example Jason Aaron’s Scalped series or Matt Kindt’s Dept. H. I usually do not go for the bloodiest, goriest, or most depraved stuff. However, I am currently working my way (carefully, with goggles and gloves on) through Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson’s The Boys as-well-as Mark Waid’s Irredeemable.  It takes me awhile to read things like this because I do not love being soaked in the murk and mire.  Anyway, Kill Or Be Killed runs right along with these other series. Lots of grit and gore and dark.

Brubaker wanted to take the state of the world to the extreme, allegedly. Still, in a book filled with less than saintly situations – this seems to be far from amoral. Indeed, the volume seems more like an exploration of the far ends of extreme morality. This amuses me a bit…. ethics as extreme sport.

The main character, Dylan, is an upper-twenties graduate student. This guy has so many issues and problems that it is quite absurd.  I am well aware that there are people in this world with tons of “issues.” I understand that many people are a mess.  Brubaker has to start off with a character stuff with problems and twists in order to make the result – the effects – even more disturbed and wild. I think that if he selected a completely legit generally put-together individual, it would not seem plausible. While Brubaker is taking this concept to the extreme, he still wants have it feel highly plausible.

The storyline has a thread that develops from Dylan’s father:  he committed suicide and had latent anger regarding how “….life screws over everybody somehow…”  So many characters with so many major issues. Is this realistic? Is this showing how troubles get passed onward or envelop people within various spheres of influence?  Or is it too much madness in one storyline? I reckon we will find out in future volumes.

This plausibility becomes sketchy with the introduction of the ultimatum that the main character is given.  A demon basically tells Dylan to “kill or be killed.”  Now, the introduction of this shadowy creature changes the story a bit. Adding a supernatural element to the story now makes it seem like Brubaker is cheating a bit. However, we can redeem Brubaker if need be, by making several arguments:  1. Dylan is a fellow with lots of issues – severe mental issues are present and may be expanded by any drug usage he may partake in; 2. If the demon is not a figment of Dylan’s mind nor a product of drug usage, it could still be metaphorical; 3. it could be illness-induced especially from lack of sleep or high fever.

Or it could be a demon, I guess. However, I dislike this last option for one reason. At one point the demon sort of “explains” why he is making this ultimatum and he says because Dylan survived a suicide attempt. Therefore, he has to “pay up” in a sense for having his own life saved. This feels….. too contrived for a real demon. Yeah, I know that sounds a bit ridiculous. My thought is that an entity that is making this sort of ultimatum is not one that I would easily believe resorts to tally-sheet style behaviors. It just does not seem nuanced enough. More believable is the idea that the surviving of the suicide attempt has induced a twisted reasoning process in an already disturbed mind – that also may have suffered untreated physical head trauma.

The best parts of the story, for me, are most of the explorations of morality “questions.” I am also interested in how this grad student becomes proficient at his new task. Right, wrong, or indifferent, I like how all of this is really a derivation of The Shadow. (I have an enduring interest in The Shadow.)  Indeed, I felt, as I read along, that I should eventually come upon some paraphrase of:  “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”  

The worst parts of the story, for me, are any of the parts with Kira. I really dislike her. I understand that she is a key ingredient in Dylan’s mental soup, which brings about some of the tragedy. But I really cannot fathom anyone putting up with her shenanigans. I know Brubaker gives us a few glimpses into her past, which has its own set of depraved situations, as a sort of explanation for her current behaviors. I am not sold on this, though. The segments with Kira are tedious for me.

One thing that I would like to praise is how perfectly the artwork works with the storyline. The art is actually very good. Anyway, this is not a story for the faint. No children. No innocent hearts. No readers who dislike the abyss, noir, depravity, questionable morality, or demons. R-rated and slamming into a whole mess of those bad topics.

3 stars

The Demolished Man

the demolished manIts Vintage Science Fiction Month 2019! I see a lot more participation this year from readers and I am happy about it. I, so far, have only read one novel. I actually cannot guarantee that this is the first time I have read the novel. Its hard to know with some of the more famous older ones. Anyway, I read The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (1913 – 1987).  The novel was originally published in periodicals in 1952. One of its biggest claims to fame is that it won the first Hugo Award. Now, in the last decade or so, I have read a lot of dissent regarding the Hugo Awards. I have read a few. Some seemed quite deserving of a prized award, others not so much. Having read several novels from the 1950s, I think that this novel is a reasonable and worthy selection for the award. I can see vintage-sf-badgehow it was selected.

I read the 1996 hardcover edition by Vintage. I also own the 1970 Signet paperback. Looking at the various covers this novel has seen through the years, I gotta say there is not yet one that really appeals to me.

So the story takes place in the future, but a future that is not marvelously different from our current world.  The biggest element is that there are espers – peepers; telepaths who are known to exist and are employed in a variety of jobs in the governmental and corporate worlds.  In fact, there is some effort to produce these espers – for example, a peeper has to marry a peeper. There are grooming places where potential peepers are farmed.

This telepathic society is probably what Bester is most known for. It helped that Babylon 5 (TV series, 1993 – 1998) showcase a Psi Corps in which Walter Koenig (Cp. the character Chekhov in Star Trek) plays a Psi Corps commander named “Bester”.  In any case, while Alfred Bester did not write a large number of novels, this is the one people seem at ease in recalling.

The storyline is interesting – until its not.  It’s good when it’s a page-turning game of cat-and-mouse between two slick characters. Detective versus murderer. But when it moves into the very pseudo-psychological-trippin’ territory, I got bored and uninterested and, frankly, a little lost.  And the motive for the killing….well, it was there all along, but I was hoping it wasn’t true because it’s rather lame and unsatisfactory, anyway.  Because FREUD.  I am thoroughly sick of Freud. But I do wonder a little bit how nifty and edgy authors thought of themselves when they decided to use Freudian concepts in their works.  Now it seems ridiculously overdone and tedious and, sometimes, ridiculous.  However, its 2019 – I am sure when it was first done it was fresh and novel or a little bit edgy.

The thing is, authors tend to cherry-pick their Freud when it suits their stories. Which is fine, but if they get too in-depth with it all, like in this story, it gets blurry and muddy.  It harms their stories – turning them from unique and interesting into sketchy inexact mush. Novelists might like to borrow from Freud, but few of them actually are Freudian, I guess.

Anyway, what is good:  I really think the first half of the novel is good stuff. Its fast-paced, there are guns, men-of-action, and cool cats who smooth talk like noir kings.  I like the way the game pits the wealthy Reich versus the telepaths. Can money beat “omniscience”? Can telepaths always play by the rules even when it might seem the end justifies any means? Can one man outwit the masses?  Can a crime that has allegedly been extinct be committed and gotten away with?  These are super fun questions the first half of the book brings us.

The canvassing the scene of the crime is one of my favorite sections in the book. I like the way the telepath detective works with and upon the witnesses/suspects and his fellow investigators. Its well-written and fun.

The bad is when the game of chase changes into a weird Freudian exploration. See, when Freud comes in, it gets bad. So, there are some quite rough parts here where it is really heavy-handed in the psychology arena. And at this point, so much Freudian stuff makes the novel seem really dated and not well-kept.

Also there is hideous love-interest business. Its really awful. I mean, I tried to look at it as optimistically and kindly as I could – I mean, if you speak in Klingon, stand on your head, close one eye, and spin tops – then you may be able to see the small ounce of romanticism in this scenario.  However, nowadays and without all that effort, it just comes across as majorly uncomfortable and very weird. In defense of it all – this whole love-arc is couched [sic!] [I had to…sorry!] in a hugely Freudian architecture. So, maybe its not as bad from that perspective.

There’s some good fun science fiction in here. Concepts and methods writers needed to have and build on. But I don’t see a big need for us to return to it. Recommended for the strong readers of vintage science fiction. Readers who dig psychological focus may find something here to enjoy.

3 stars

Under the Green Star

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“Under the Green Sky” – Lin Carter; DAW 1972 (cover: Tim Kirk)

Under the Green Star by Lin Carter was first published in 1972.  It is the first of five novels in the Green Star series.  I think this is the first thing that I have read by Carter, but it is really hard to know for certain.  Anyway, the key fact about this novel is that it is Carter’s attempt to emulate the style and subject of the so-called Burroughs tradition.  This, of course, refers to Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875 – 1950).  Burroughs is the creator of the super famous archetype-level characters:  Tarzan and John Carter. In any case, even the title of this book refers to Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars, which was originally (in some form) entitled Under the Moons of Mars. So, Lin Carter gives us an excellent homage to this sort of sword & planet tradition.

I enjoyed reading this novel because I am always entertained by adventure-pulp stories. There is something wonderfully raw about them and their constant headlong rush into constant adventure.  It is sometimes a relief how authors of this style usually hand-wave and shrug regarding all the tedious details.  They and their characters are not omniscient and all of that is besides the point.  The point is to have adventures and be heroic and carry a sword.

Which is real – the fantastic adventure I feel compelled to relate – or the world beyond my windows?  Have I only dreamed that I have stood where no man of my race has ever set foot before, or is this dull world of tax returns and ball-point pens, of air pollution and TV talk shows, itself by a dream? Are both worlds real? – pg. 7

Carter did a very good job of matching the original form that he was trying to homage.  He clearly has a fondness for and a sharp understanding of that former style.  The vocabulary is just ever-so-slightly less archaic.  Really only people who care a lot about words would notice that his word-choice is not exactly Robert E. Howard’s or H. P. Lovecraft’s.  The descriptions are just barely not quite Burroughs’ descriptions.  But only to those who read a great deal and, as I said, love words.  The style, the milieu, the storyline, the characters, all seem to solidly come from the Burroughs tradition.  And perhaps, even Burroughs himself, if you did not know better.

Similarly with John Carter, the main character in this novel manages to end up on a different planet.  Of course, here is a referential sequence of the nameless main character:

To walk the surface of another planet – to go where no man of my world had yet been in all the ages of infinite time!  Vague thoughts of the books I had read with such fascination in my boyhood came back to me – memories of old Edgar Rice Burroughs and his unforgettable Martian adventure classics – now I, too, like John Carter, could stride the dead sea bottoms of mysteries and romantic Barsoom! – pg. 15, chapter two

But, in the end, Lin Carter knows enough that he cannot duel on Burroughs’ home turf, so to speak.  He knows he has to take us somewhere new. So, the main character manages to get himself to the planet under the green star.

And the setting is actually interesting. I mean, I have to admit that I was reminded a lot of the 2013 children’s animated movie Epic (which was itself based on the story by William Joyce:  The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs).  I do not think it spoils too much to say that on this planet of the Green Star, the people are miniaturized and the flora and fauna is gigantic.  Now, like the nameless narrator, I have no idea if the people are truly miniaturized (Cp. sizing in Lilliput of Jonathan Swift’s work. The people there are about one-twelfth the size we are used to.) or if the people are normally-sized and the trees and insects are just outrageously large.  Imagine huge trees such that their branches are like four-lane highways!  Imagine the peril from things like spiders and lizards!

One does not, however, look for stones in the upper branches of a tree. – pg. 74

And the entirely of the novel is spent within the trees of this world. The ground, if there is one, is not seen and remains an unknown.  Imagine a world with trees so large, that one could live their entire lives without seeing the earth below.  And this food for the imagination is partially why adventure-pulp novels are so much fun.  Now, it is no good if a reader just blazes over the words in the novel and does not actually allow his imagination to enjoy these items.  In fact, without imagination or fun, this is a super-fast and extremely silly read.

We could have done with a bit of tomato sauce, or a twist of lemon, but I suppose Crusoes cannot be choosy. – pg. 77

That is my favorite line in the entire novel. It really amuses me and I feel like I should incorporate it into my daily speech.  Remember that, fans of swords & planets – you take adventure as it comes and you do not act all picky about it!

Well, this is immensely readable especially if you enjoy the Burroughs tradition.  However, even if you have not read all that much Burroughs and/or Howard, this is enjoyable. Sure, it is a pastiche of a time gone by and maybe of authors who were not perfect, but it is excellent escape reading.  Only the hardest-hearted reader would, I think, not find this enjoyable. I’m so glad I own book two, because like our main character also feels, there is something magical about that planet under the Green Sun.

3 stars

Thousand Cranes

Thousand CranesThousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (1899 – 1972) was published in 1952 and in English in 1958. It is the second Yasunari Kawabata novel that I have read. I disliked his main characters, however, in this novel they do seem to possess a measure of realism. I felt that the characters in Snow Country were not realistic. While this is a speedy read, one can finish it in a day, it is not really an easy story to penetrate. There is a great deal of native culture within that can keep non-Japanese readers at bay. Further, this entire novel is very much focused on human interrelationships and their responses to each other. For some readers, this could be challenging.

Wikipedia’s entry, in very forthright style, explains precisely what this book is about. This means this, that means that. And while some of that is probably true, I think there are deeper and more complex interpretations possible.

The storyline, the characters, and the other general dimensions of the novel were not anything I was particularly drawn to. It is quite a dramatic work and does not immediately appeal to any of my major interests. As I mentioned above, this work is very heavily focused on human relationships. The defect is in me, clearly, because I am usually disinterested and bored and even confused by novels like this. Autistic. Russian. I have a hard time with some aspects of stuff in this genre. All of this being said, though, I will admit wholeheartedly and very profusely that in this novel, Kawabata’s skills are on showcase. In a sense, I feel this is almost a brag novel – Kawabata knows he is that good of a writer and he is showing off. He is an excellent novelist and even if this particular storyline does not appeal to everyone – the skill with which it is written is undeniable.

Do not suppose, however, that this novel is arrogant or that it is over-the-top with writerly flourishes.  Perhaps in its minimalist oh-so-Tanizaki/Japanese manner, it is precisely what it needs to be:  no more and no less; and Kawabata deserves all the praise he gets for it.  He proves himself an acutely aware, highly sensitive, perfectly edited, writer. He is a master-writer.

Layered upon the story are tea ceremony items and elements of Japanese aesthetics, specifically pottery. This would be best understood by someone with familiarization with such topics. To some readers, the frivolous and fastidious obsession with which tea bowl to use, which vase, what tokonoma flower, may seem massively tedious. I was able to assimilate my personal cultural experiences fairly easily and completely empathize with the discussions of the tea items etc. To some people, such concerns seem “petty” or “decorative” as opposed to practical. The tea ceremony is such a THING, though, that I hardly know what to say about it. From its origins, to all of its iterations throughout history, and from the praises of it, to those who scorn it… whatever one thinks of it, it is not something to merely hand wave at.  Yet, I struggle to discuss it.  Regardless, if someone were to ask me about the tea ceremony, I do think I would recommend that they read this book. It sort of provides a situation for the whole process without directly confronting it.

Like the back of book says: “a luminous story of desire, regret, and the almost sensual nostalgia that binds the living to the dead.” Again, this is going to be felt more by a reader who can assimilate certain cultural/religious aspects. This blurb accurately describes the novel. But I liked all the smaller points, symbolism of water, of mould, of the thousand cranes. And more than anything, the very subtle presentation of old Japan crashing with modern Japan.

The symbolism in this work is significant and excellently written. And while I dislike the main character, Kikuji Mitani, even I could not help but be caught up in some of the sensitivities Mitani faces and is caught up in.  The dispositions and inheritances (both in objects and relationships) that befall him from his deceased father are mighty and certainly not pristine “black and white” dichotomies.

This is a very good novel. I think I took it for granted as I was reading it and only afterwards was I able to process how good a work it is. I think it is a written by a master writer, but the storyline itself does not interest me at all. Three stars is a very good rating for a plot that I was uninterested in…….  Recommended for all fans of Japanese literature, students of the tea ceremony, ikebana scholars, and readers of quality literature.

3 stars