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Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. The concept is something right up my alley, both interesting and enthralling, and featuring strong characters, but the pacing is too slow and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. There are some great action and suspense sequences throughout the book, places where I could feel my heart pounding and goosebumps forming, but the ending left me feeling adrift.

Annihilation is the first in the Southern Reach trilogy, but I’m not motivate to read the next two books. I watched the movie and have mixed feelings about it, too. Have you read or seen Annihilation? What did you think? Does the rest of the trilogy flesh out the story some more? Is it worth reading?

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Review: Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Brief synopsis (back cover): When prototype models for a dream-invading device go missing at the Institute for Psychiatric Research, employees soon learn that someone is using these new machines to drive them all insane. Brilliant psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba—whose alter ego is a dream detective named Paprika—realizes she is in danger. She must venture into the dream world in order to fight her mysterious opponents. Soon nightmares begin to leak into daily life and the borderline between dream and reality grows unclear. The future of the waking world is at stake.

Rating: ✈ Travel companion

Long story short: Science fiction and mystery are two of my favorite genres, and I really enjoyed the way they intersect in this book. Other things this book does well:

  • It is convincing. The new technology that allows people to enter each other’s dreams is legitimized in the book in the form of buy-in from the scientific community. Even without their endorsement, the concept is weird and “out there” enough to be believable. Also, considering the book was first published in 1993, it has aged well.
  • The plot moves along. Though a little slow at first, it picks up about a quarter of the way in and is a thrilling ride till the end.
  • It offers some social commentary. While it focuses on the challenges of scientific research, asking questions like Who is research for? and Can you have research for research’s sake?, it also explores the way in which we treat mental illness and therapy.

Some minor critiques:

  • There is some sexual exploitation and violence. However, it is not necessarily gratuitous; that is, it speaks to characters’ mindsets and serves as an explanation for their motivations.
  • There are a lot of characters. Not quite Game of Thrones style, but at times still distracting.

My next step is to watch the anime movie based on this book that came out in 2006. Have you read the book or watched the movie? What did you think?

Update: books bought in the last three days!

The wonderful thing about having your boyfriend in town is that every day becomes a “treat yo’ self” kind of day, or in my case, a “treat yo’ shelf” kind of day.

Two cities, three days, four bookstores, and thirteen books later, I present to you: my recent loot.

Powell’s City of Books (Portland, OR)

On Sunday I spent a good chunk of time exploring the many lovely floors of Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon (I would be lying if I said the distance to Powell’s didn’t factor in my decision to attend school in Washington).

This bookstore is fantastic in more ways than one, but I especially appreciated how they tagged books written by Writers of Color (WOC) throughout the store. Given my reading goals this year, it made it easier to head for the content I was really interested in.

Continue reading “Update: books bought in the last three days!”

Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Brief synopsis (Goodreads):When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

Rating🏡  Left behind

Long story short (no spoilers): Imagine if Facebook, Google, and Apple merged into one conglomerate and become Big Brother; that is what The Circle is: a huge tech company slowly taking over all public and private services in the name of open-access and efficiency.

The premise is intriguing because the themes hit close to home—over the last century we have often supported transparency over personal freedoms—but the execution is poorly done and overall the novel is disappointing.

For one, Mae’s character lacks substance. She is a pushover, easily persuaded, completely lacks a spine, and the only thing she wants is to be liked by those she works with and for. Every single decision she makes is an attempt to increase her social standing at the Circle, and she learns nothing from her mistakes. This makes it difficult to care about her and to put ourselves in her shoes, which is a wasted opportunity in a book commenting on individual vs. collective identity. What’s more, as a female protagonist in a largely male-dominated field, Mae’s character does a disservice to women in STEM, and Eggers proves he has no idea how to write a female character. From awkward sex scenes where he says things like “She could think only of a campfire, one small log, all of it doused in milk” to describe premature ejaculation, to creating a persona that encompasses nearly every negative female stereotype (easily manipulated, always worried about what other people think of her, has two men trying to sleep with her (spoiler: they both do), thinks that the 3% of people who gave her low ratings want her dead, has a doe-eyed naivety about everything and willfully swallows BS) make me so angry.

Second, for a “heart-racing novel of suspense”, the setup is weak and the climax predictable. The entire novel focuses solely on all the good things that come from the Circle’s work, such as preventing child abduction, creating a more transparent government, and consolidating medical records. Only in passing (and by that I mean a couple of phrases by Circle employees and one or two monologues by secondary characters) does it mention what could go wrong when one company has access to everybody’s most intimate details. So when Mae is inevitably confronted by the contending idea that what the Circle is doing may not be a good thing, she (and the reader) have no reason to believe it’s true or that it matters, which makes the entire dilemma irrelevant.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 01.00.05

Lastly, the novel does not add anything new to a conversation most of us are already having about the limits of technology and social media.We realize that technology is quickly outpacing public policy, and that innovation requires sufficient oversight to prevent privacy and ethical breaches. The Circle, however, breezes through calamitous issues without giving them the consideration they deserve, and provides no serviceable solution or warning for where we are headed. What’s the point of telling us what we already know?

Have you read The Circle or do you plan to watch the movie? Let me know what you thought in the comments below. If you want to know more, keep reading for a spoiler review.

Continue reading “Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers”

New books!

Now that Spring Break is here, I have more time to read for fun, yay! Finished up my seventh book today (The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat by Enid Blyton), and will be choosing the next one soon.

Have you read either The Circle or Dear Ijeawele? What did you think?

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (spoiler-free)

This blog has primarily been for my book reading adventures, however for the past few months I’ve been considering publishing the occasional movie, TV show, or video game review. The reason is simple: it’s fun to apply literary analysis skills to different media. Since I’m an avid movie- and TV-watcher, and gamer, it’s right up my alley.

My first non-book review is going to be on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I haven’t quite decided how to format these yet, but I’m going to start with a non-spoiler review and publish a spoiler review in a week to give people time to watch the movie.

I wasn’t around when the original Star Wars trilogy was released, but that didn’t stop me from becoming a massive fan of the saga. As you can imagine, it was an incredible treat to be able to see The Force Awakens (TFA) in theaters last year and Rogue One (RO) a few days ago. I experienced, for the first time in my life, the magic of seeing Star Wars in theaters (prequel movies don’t count because they were garbage and had 0 Star Wars magic). It’s a little hard to convey in words what it was like, but imagine being able to relive the moments that made childhood so special: the excitement, curiosity, imagination and hope.

Before we talk about the details, let’s start with a quick recap. Rogue One takes place between Revenge of the Sith (Episode III—the prequel trilogy) and A New Hope (Episode IV—the original trilogy). The Death Star has been built by the Empire and a group of Rebels is tasked with retrieving the plans that will lead to its destruction.

Rogue One is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars universe. It’s not without its faults, but what it does right more than makes up for the things it doesn’t (which aren’t even that many).

First, we get to meet some wonderful new characters, each with their own emotional baggage and unique quirks. The leads—Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna)—have great chemistry and are given a chance to grow throughout the film. Unlike Phantom Menace, where Qui-Gon Jinn, Padmé, Jar Jar Binks, and Anakin come together because the script calls for it, the group in Rogue One comes together organically, out of actual need, making their mission compelling. There are relationships I would have liked to see more and less of, and at times the first half especially feels overwhelming, but overall I enjoyed getting to know new people.

Second, the story is coherent and even fills in some Episode IV plot holes. The pacing in the first half is a bit fast and jarring since you’re introduced to new faces and new places fairly quickly, however, the first half of the movie does a good job preparing you for the second half, which is where most of the tension and action are. That being said, there are several scenes I’d have cut out because they take up precious time and don’t really add anything to the story (I’ll get to these in my spoiler review). Rogue One is also a much darker and grittier tale than we’re used to, even toeing the line between PG-13 and R in some places, which is refreshing and exactly the type of tone this story needs. This goes hand-in-hand with a bit more world-building, where we really get to see, for the first time, the Empire’s reach throughout the galaxy and the scale of their forces (something the original trilogy doesn’t do as well).

Third, I thought there was a good balance between the new and the familiar. A huge criticism of The Force Awakens was that it played it too safe by rehashing parts of the original trilogy and littering the film with way too many homages and throwback references. If that bothered you, know that Rogue One does do that too, but on a much more subtle level. There are a few easter eggs and hints of the events to come (Episodes IV-VI), but it doesn’t beat you over the head with them.

And finally, perhaps the most impressive feat Rogue One achieves is how seamlessly it sets up Episode IV; it makes the good movies better. There are a few surprises here that I won’t spoil, but I’m pretty sure you’ll feel like driving home from the theater only to watch the original trilogy (I did).

For those of you on the fence about seeing Rogue One, I hope I’ve convinced you to go for it. My next review will have full spoilers and will get into some critique-debunking. Hope you enjoyed following along, and may the force be with you!

Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war—and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): Last week my brother persuaded me to watch the Amazon original series The Man in the High Castle. I didn’t know until about five episodes in that the show is based on a book by Philip K. Dick (who has had other film adaptations of his books, most notably Blade RunnerMinority Report, and Total Recall), and then obviously I had to read it.

The book and the show differ a bit when it comes to characters and plot, but the main premise is that the story takes place in an alternate reality in which the U.S. lost World War 2 and has been taken over by the Germans and the Japanese, who are in a sort of arms/technology race with each other. In this different reality there is a book (film reels in the show) written by “the man in the high castle” which offers a glimpse into a world in which the U.S. won the war (i.e., our current reality).

The web series adaptation didn’t mirror the book 100% (I didn’t expect it to), yet both were fascinating in their own ways. I liked the novel for its insights into characters’ psyches, and the way it laid the social and cultural foundations for this different reality; I liked the show for its exciting plot, character development, and satisfying ending.

Continue reading “Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick”

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