Friday, July 31, 2009

Two films worth putting a book down for

Neither of these films are new but I've either just watched or rewatched them and think they're really rather good, and they fit in with my dystopian challenge. Just.

The first is Deep Impact. You probably all saw this back in the day, but some of you younger ones might have missed it. It's a rather good asteroid apocalypse film, far better than the woeful Armageddon. Unfortunately, it's the latter that I paid good money at the cinema for. But even on the small screen Deep Impact holds its own because it has a story. I don't have a lot of patience for directors who stuff a load of special effects or beautiful shots into a film and expect that to be enough to make it fly. (Did you see Let the right one in, the Swedish vampire movie? Beautifully shot. Boring as hell.) I won't go into the plot here, but you get the idea: big thing hitting the Earth! Oh no, life as we knew it, etc etc. Not brilliant, but watchable. Watchable films are thin on the ground right now.

The second film is Watchmen. I really should have seen this at the cinema when it came out but a) money and b) annoying crowds of people. I prefer watching films with my boyfriend so we can drink red wine and show off to each other how clever we are at interpreting plot points and character flaws. A far superior viewing experience. We both agreed that this film ROCKS, but gets a little shaky towards the end. The pacing goes a bit off in the last third, like it's not sure if it wants to end yet (a little like Baz Lurman's Australia, which really should have ended at several points but just kept going and making embarrassing historical errors.) It's beautifully shot and anally precise, and the opening scene (sort of the opening scene) at least is absolutely faithful to the comic book. (Better than Sin City, and I loved Sin City. Where the bloody hell is the sequel?)

I'm also in love with Dr Manhattan. That's him on the left. Three of him in fact. I wish my boyfriend glowed blue and floated around in the nuddy and could make me relive my worst memories in minute detail. He's just so freaking cool and tortured. He can never have a proper human relationship which makes the zealous healing female in me sit up and say "I'LL FIX HIM!" The bit where Mr Physics Nerd realises (on Mars, no less) how awesome biology is and falls right out of his ivory tower has to be one of the best scenes in the whole film. He's also sculpted like a Greek statue, except in one area that the Greeks would never have made so, ahem, eye-catching.

Oh yeah and there's the threat of nuclear apocalypse and a superhero utopia gone wrong. Dystopian? TICK!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #14: Obernewtyn, Isobelle Carmody

Obernewtyn (1987) is the first book in Isobelle Carmody's fantasy/sci-fi series The Obernewtyn Chronicles. It depicts a world struggling back from the brink of destruction, a nuclear holocaust known as the Great White. Elspeth Gordie's parents were burnt at the stake for sedition by the Council who rule the people with an iron fist. Any deviation (mutation) in the population is not tolerated. Misfits, as the mutants are known, are sent to Council farms to work until they die, or to an institution called Obernewtyn, across the Badlands and high in the mountains. When Elspeth is denounced, she is sent there and must hide the true extent of her powerful psychic ability, or risk being subjected to batteries of strange "treatments" that could see her mind broken forever. There's also prophecies, talking animals (and not in a cheesy way), rebels, and an even more fanatical faction known as the Herders; they're like the Gestapo if the Council is the Nazi party.

Obernewtyn is a reread for me, and bugger me if it's not even better the second time around, and from an "older and wiser" perspective. It's like the Goldilocks of books: everything is juuuuuuuuuust right. The pacing makes me want to weep. It's perfect. The heroine isn't "stubborn" or "clumsy" or "shy"; she just is Elspeth. Scared, strong, sensible, sensitive Elspeth. There's something about the writing that I want to call "unisex". It lacks floral adornment and rising passions; there's nothing aggressively female about Elspeth, though she is undeniably feminine. I can't decide whether Carmody did this on purpose to attract boys to her story as well as the inevitable girls, or whether it is just her style. I must say that what ever the reason it's refreshing to read writing like this.

You'll see from my review of The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955) that I promised a comparison between the two books. If you don't know much about the The Chrysalids, read my review here. It's a fantastic semi-YA dystopian novel set, like Obernewtyn, after a nuclear apocalypse. Society has regressed into a pseudo-Dark Ages. Both books deal with intolerance and prejudice. Both have Badlands (areas of lands too irradiated to inhabit) a fanatical religious faction in power and a group of kiddies trying desperately to conceal their psychic powers and escape persecution. There's an interesting parallel between a trio of characters in each work: a brother and a sister, and the brother's lover. By birth or sheer hard work the brother has a significant place in the religious order; he also has moderate psychic powers. The sister is the most powerful psychic to ever exist. The brother's lover is of secondary importance in both books. In The Chrysalids they are David, Petra and Rosalind. In Obernewtyn they are Jes, Elspeth and Rosamunde.

This exercise isn't to demonstrate that Carmody has plagiarised Wyndham or anything ghastly like that--merely to demonstrate that great books aren't written in a vacuum. I'm guessing that Carmody, when she was fifteen and started writing Obernewtyn, had just read The Chrysalids and saw an opportunity to extrapolate the society in Labrador. Or maybe she didn't and the whole thing is a huge coincidence and she thought it up all by herself. Either way, read both of these books. They're brilliant.

While the world and characters in each book have parallels, their trajectories are very different. Dystopian novels often end with the hero either escaping society or overthrowing it. The Chrysalids is a stand-alone novel and opts for the former; Obernewtyn is a series that seems to be heading into infinity and beyond (final book tipped for release early next year, page extent a million??) and has the scope for a really good overthrowing.

Did I mention that Carmody is Australian? *bursts into patriotic song*

Lastly, I don't want to see this series made into a film. There aren't enough "things" to give the audience a focus, like a golden compass or bow and arrows or a sparkly vampire. Movie-gods: I know this is the time to cash in on what's good and popular in YA, but leave this one on the page!

Last of all: I rather like these new covers. They feel cold and mysterious and while Elspeth looks a touch too knowing and predatory, its a vast improvement on earlier editions. The last book better be done by the same designer so it doesn't muck up my set!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #13: The Time Machine, H. G. Wells

The bulk of this story takes place at a dinner party at which the protagonist, the Time Traveller (TT), relates for his guests the last eight days of his life which have been spent in the year 802,701. It is told to the reader several years after the fact by someone who was at the party.

In the future TT has found that humankind has reached a seemingly golden age in which there is no war, disease or famine. Without grit and hardship humans have evolved into small-statured beings who frolic and giggle and do very little else. Technology has conquered nature. But there's something below ground, something that makes the sweet, carefree Eloi squeak and shudder with dread.

Not long after TT "lands" in the future he makes confident inferences about what he sees, based on very little. After theorising for several lengthy paragraphs he cheerfully tells his listeners that, after all, he is wrong. He does this, rather irritatingly, over and over again, revealing more about the assumptions and values of the 1890s than anything else.

The Time Machine is an enjoyable and charmingly flawed read. A mere ninety pages in length, those ninety pages are rather dense, all description and very little dialogue, and I found myself having to read it in short bursts as I easily became distracted. But there is humour to it, and I enjoyed TT's self-deprecating style. It is also quite chilling in the end, making grave predictions about class and industrialised societies. The science of time travel was fleshed out just enough (for me at least) to allow the reader to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the story.

I've heard this book being referred to as the first dystopian novel. Published in 1895, it seems to have been penned early enough to be considered so. Overall I found it to be worthy of the appellation.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pre-order excitement

I just pre-ordered my copy of Catching Fire! I don't like the Australian edition at all. I want the hardback with the gorgeous red cover so have just paid a small fortune to have it shipped over from the US with the a hardcover copy of The Hunger Games. Plus I don't trust an online store to pack it properly--I've received too many bent books through the post recently so bookshop prices it is. I don't care that it's a quarter of a week's pay, IT'S WORTH IT.

Six weeks to go. (The Australian release date is September 7, not 1, so I guess my shipped edition will arrive about the time the soft-covers hit the stores.)

Dystopia Challenge Review #12: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

An asteroid knocks the moon closer to the Earth and causes chaos: volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, extreme weather patterns and wild storms. Miranda's life as a teenager in Pennsylvania with her family becomes a struggle for survival. The supermarkets are empty and the authorities have disappeared.

Told through diary entries written by Miranda over the course of a year, Pfeffer paints a grim and uncaring world in which modern-day Americans are thrust back into the dark ages.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had some reservations at the beginning: as the book uses a diary format the world is shrunk to the size of the thoughts of one person. I wanted space to breathe, to see the destruction, the drama, instead of just the impressions of one self-centred teenager. Miranda doesn't seem to want to know what has happened to the outside world, even at the beginning of the book when the television and radio still work.

But as I read on, I found that there was plenty of drama and destruction to contend with. I expected the same hysterical looting and violence of The Death of Grass, say, but instead people's attitudes to each other became wary and distant as the population is thinned to ghost-town proportions. Miranda's voice is beautifully realised, now tight and angry, now despairing, now humorous. Pfeffer has captured the language of a teenager with intelligence and a richness of expression.

Familial relationships become stretched to breaking point. I've never imagined what it would be like to be trapped in a clutch of rooms with my family, faced with the grim reality of starvation, but thanks to Pfeffer I have a pretty darn good idea of how it might pan out.

Heart-breaking, saddening, fist-clenchingly gripping, this book deserves all the praise that has been heaped on it. As the back cover warned, I did shed a number of tears, and had one of those rare experiences in which I could not guess how things were going to end. It's so far the best YA book of the challenge. I thank the Book Smugglers for the recommendation.

Book design: Could use less copy on the front and back covers, but otherwise superb. Typesetting and page design complementary and a pleasure to read. Props for the moon-inspired imprint page.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Library Haul (4) Plus a bit about Green Angel by Alice Hoffman

In lieu of actually writing a review (see posts below--I'll be with you shortly) here are the books I got from the library today. Even though I have a ton to read already these items are reservations that all happened to come in together. And they're just so pretty!

Graceling by Kristen Cashore has been all over the bloggy-verse and it sounds pretty darn cool. Tamora Pierce gives it a big wow, and seeing as I want to be just like her when I grow up I have to read it.

The Time Traveller by H. G. Wells. Picked as the first dystopian novel ever written and published in 1895. At only ninety pages you should see a review from me very soon.

Over coffee with the the lovely publicist and publisher of Melbourne-based feminist Spinifex Press (just down the street from me at Australian Scholarly) , the three of us shared our mutual love for YA lit. It's rather amazing how passionate we are considering we all work in non-fiction publishing! I was heavily berated for not having read any Margo Lanagan. As I detest short stories (and short coffee, short men, short sleeps) I picked up her novel, Tender Morsels.

So I HATE Lucas and Bianca isn't shy and the first half of Evernight read exactly like Twilight, but for some reason I just have to read Stargazer. It must be the atmosphere and the flipping gorgeous covers. Stargazer is pretty, but did you look really closely at the typography on Evernight, with the little gravestones and blood spots? SO COOL. A beautifully designed book. And the spot varnish! I could go on and on about the spot varnish. I adore a good spot varnish. But if Bianca goes all passive and sappy I will be writing a very severe review of this!

The Billionaire's Curse by Richard Newsome won last year's inaugural Text Prize (for YA lit) and is just about to be released. It just arrived in the post today and I'm reviewing it for the Australian Book Review.

Poo! I was just outbid on eBay for the first three book's in Tammy's Immortals series. Have I told you how much I love this series? How much I love Numair? Geeks are hot! I swear, as well, that Pierce modeled him on Giles. Angel's hot, Spike's sexy in an angry British way, but now that I'm nearly middle-aged (the big 2-5 in November!) I see the error of my ways: I'm Giles all the way now baby.

Lastly, a few words about Green Angel. Nice book. Not my thing. Too airy-fairy. Too repetitive. Too much like a poet trying to write prose. I just can't respect a book in which sparrows weave a fishing net out of the heroine's hacked off hair. It reeks of the Brothers Grimm, and I loath fairy tales in their original form. I prefer them after Mercedes Lackey or Sherri S. Tepper has put them through the wringer and given them a bit of goddamn GRIT.

This book could almost be slipped into my dystopian challenge if you all looked away while I bent the rules, but as I really don't feel like writing three hundred words about it, I won't.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Things are looking up

I have sucessfully grown my thick skin, hurrah! Rejections, I laugh at you! I also have a warm fuzzy glow knowing that out there, there are real live agents reading my work. More than one! How cool is that? I haven't posted much as I've been doing rewrites, and have even managed to write more of book two after weeks of "I hate you book two! You'll never see the light of day book two! No one loves book one, so no one's EVER going to love you!" Way harsh, I know. But don't worry, I love book two again. I am nearly 24,000 words into a 60,000 word manuscript, so will have a sizable chunk for agents/editors if they want it.

I can't read Oryx & Crake. I don't think I can read Children of Men either. Green Angel is pissing me off. And I think I'm the only person in the world who doesn't want to crown Scott Westerfeld king of bloody everything. It's probably my current mood (highly frigging strung!!).

I LOVED Life As We Knew It and will have a review up shortly, but I'm too strung out to write that now as well. I think it's time for a reread of an old favourite. Seeing as I'm falling behind in my dystopia challenge it will have to be Obernewtyn. I love Obernewtyn, and Rushton was one of my favourite book-boys when I was younger. Until he went mad.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My life right now

I don't know what's more depressing, the generic rejection or the personalised "I'm taking time out of my day to reject you personally" rejection.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Library Haul (3) and Christmas for Grown-ups (2)

Another good haul this week, from both the library, purchases and presents from friends.

Green Angel, Alice Hoffman (Bookmooch). This is one to add to my dystopian list. It's barely over 100 pages, but despite its shortness the production manager still skimped on the layout!

Children of Men, P. D. James (library). Loved the movie and looking forward to an extrapolation of the world in the book. How creepy is this cover? The baby looks like Mini-me!

The Handmaid's Tale (Bookmooch). For a re-read, and because I had to own it. Love this book.

I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith). The YA group on Goodreads that I'm a member of is reading this for July.

Life as We Knew It (library). Recommended by the Book Smugglers. It's YA and dystopian, yay!

The Shock Doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism, Naomi Klein (present). A "must read" from my friend Ben. My reading priorities won't allow me to read it for a little while, but the BF loves his non-fic, and Klein's other book No Logo.

What did you get?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #11: The Chrysalids

Over dinner one night I was explaining how much I love Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody to my father and boyfriend. After a minute or two both chimed in to ask if I had read The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. I hadn't even heard of it, so soon after I picked up a copy from the library. I'm very interested in literary pedigrees; as in, which book inspired another.

Published in 1955, The Chrysalids is set a few thousand years in the future on the remote island of Labrador, post-nuclear apocalypse. Because of nuclear fall-out genetic mutations are common, and in the fundamentalist Christian society that has developed since the Tribulation, invariance is close to Godliness and mutations are punished by death or exile.

While this isn't strictly YA, the protagonists are first children then teenagers and the style is highly accessible. David is the son of a religious patriarch, and despite his upbringing he befriends Sophie, a girl with six toes on each foot. If this blasphemy is discovered she will be exiled to the Badlands, a place on the fringes of society where mutants are cast after sterilisation. David and a number of his contemporaries are hiding their own mutations, which are telepathic abilities. Naturally, it becomes impossible for these teenagers to exist in such a society.

I enjoyed this novel more than Day of The Triffids (also written by Wyndham) as the characters were far more believable. As I remarked in my review, Wyndham's characters can wax didactic, something that is both irritating and unnatural. People just don't (all) speak that way. In The Chrysalids, the New Sealand (New Zealand*) woman indulges in one of these speeches, but it is in character, and one of the other characters actually remarks on her annoying rhetorical style.

But what a world that Wyndham has created! In an age that was terrified of the nuclear holocaust this book must have created quite a stir. Born in the eighties I was blissfully unaware of the Cold War, but my father and partner (who is ten years older than me) have told me their childhood fears of "the bomb". Carmody, born in 1958 and who released Obernewtyn in 1987, must have grown up with similar fears, and undoubtedly read The Chrysalids. I'll be reviewing Obernewtyn shortly and examining the parallels between the two novels further.

I enjoy Wyndham's supernatural tendencies and his imagination. His dystopic versions of the future can't necessarily come into being, but his warnings about tolerance and eugenics are extremely relevant for this world.

Side note: Don't you just love these Penguin Modern Classic covers? I can't decide which I love more, this one, or the ones that grace The Death of Grass and Day of the Triffids.

*My partner is a Kiwi and he enjoyed crowing to me that "the New Zealanders save the day!" It's probably mandatory reading over the ditch.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #10: Brave New World

In the year of Our Ford 632 (2540 A.D), unhappiness has been abolished through reproductive technology, conditioning and drugs, resulting in a "utopian" society that favours stability above all else.

But viewed from the outside (that is, how we the reader sees it), the The World State is a horrifying place to live. The reproductive technology enables manipulation of foetuses to create a caste system: Alphas and Betas, who are smart, physically large and attractive, down to Gammas and Epsilons, who are small, ugly and moronic. Each caste is conditioned to be happy with their lot in life. Outside working ours the people are encouraged to be "as a babe in a bottle", i.e. indulge in gratification and pleasure-seeking behaviour, including rampant consumerism and promiscuity.

There are areas of the world deemed too poverty-stricken or savage to "stabilise", and a Native American reservation is one of these. From here comes the Savage, a Caucasian man born and raised on the reservation. It is from the Savage that we hear Miranda's words from Shakespeare's The Tempest, which gives this novel it's title:

O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in't!

The Savage is initially pleased by this society, so clean and wondrous compared to his own upbringing, but as he learns more his wonder turns to disgust.

Brave New World can be viewed as both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist. It rejects the loss of identity through mass-production and social interventionalism. Characters are given names that are conjunctions of famous persons at the time of writing, including socialist philosophers and leaders; industrial engineers and American presidents. Our Ford is Henry Ford, and his principles of unification through mass production have replaced religion.

Brave New World is so very unlike any other book I have ever read. Huxley's style and voice are unique. Such wit! Such invention! I was expecting a sort of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but where that book was dismal and horrifying, this one is funny and horrifying. Not only that, but its predictions about the opiates of the masses are spot-on. Society is over-sexed and over-spending, and always on the lookout for a quick-fix. (What is missing, however, is the cult of celebrity, though perhaps the Savage comes to represent this.) I have heard this book described as anti-Utopian, and perhaps it is. It could be that whenever humankind strives for social perfection things will go awry. Certainly a whole branch of literature is devoted to just this: dystopianism.

Published in 1932, the themes in Brave New World are still so relevant today, making it a true classic. Probably one of the best and most important books I have ever read, and so far my favourite of the dystopia challenge. I recommend it to everyone.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #9: Battle Royale (Film Review)

This movie is a load of fun! I started out by reading the book but was dizzy by the fourth page: all forty or so students are introduced, by name and defining characteristics. I don't cope well with a lot of names and things straight of the bat. Now that I've got everyone straight in my head I might give it another go.

For those of you who haven't seen it, Battle Royale is a lot like The Hunger Games. Like, a lot. The government's gone a bit mad over young people and forces them into an arena, gives them weapons and orders them to fight to the death. Last one standing wins, and gets to keep their life.

There's heaps of blood and guts and swishing noises when someone swipes a blade through the air. Plenty of tears and promises of being BFFs, about three seconds before the bullets start flying. Old rivalries and broken hearts come to the fore. (And aren't there times when you wish it could be you, the class bitch, a stun-gun and a hand axe?) Plus a touching romance. And did I mention blood? Heaps of blood. Gushing, spraying fountains of it--in that humorous "It's just a flesh wound!" Monty Python sort of way. Even though it has a R18+ rating, squeamish me didn't find much to get me peering between my fingers.

There's a double-cross towards the end. I think. The screen went black and there were gunshots, and Keiko may or may not exist. I'm not entirely sure. Which is quite frustrating because the movie was so easy to follow right up until then and now I'm left with a big "huh?" Oh, and the prologue? The girl with the braces? She never appears again. Not really sure what that was about.

So apart from the beginning and the end (which some people think are integral parts of a dramatic structure), Battle Royale is one film you should be asking your local DVD rental shop for, if only to do a compare/contrast with The Hunger Games. And to wonder what the movie adaptation is going to be like. And how they're going to swing a rating low enough for actual teenagers to go see it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #8: The Hunger Games

As you read this I will be trotting around our nation's capital, Canberra, a.k.a. The 'Bra. It's the home of our illustrious politicians, the only land-locked state or territory in Australia, and the most boring place to travel to. I'm going for work.

Yesterday in class I gave a presentation on The Hunger Games. Part of our mark consists of an oral presentation but I would have been happy either way to stand up and blather about this fabulous book for ten minutes.

What shocked me was that none of them had read it, and I believe no one had even heard of it! Including the teacher. And the name of the subject? Writing for Young Adults. Gasp! To be fair most of them aren't fans of paranormal, fantasy and dystopian (*sob*), but they should have at least heard of it. I had to set them straight.

This is what I told them.

"The Hunger Games is by Suzanne Collins, author of a series of middle-grade fantasy books. This is her first YA novel, and the first in a trilogy. I did not know it was a trilogy when I first picked it up, and subsequently when I got to the last page and saw End of Book One I had a hissy-fit and hurled the damned thing across the room. You have been warned.

"Sometime in the not-too-distant future, North America has become Panem, ruled by a totalitarian government who have set up the Hunger Games in order to show everyone just who's boss. The country is split into twelve military districts, 1 being the poorest and 12 being the richest. Every year by ballot, two names are drawn from a barrel in each district, one girl and one boy between the ages of 12 and 18. These children must then compete in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death, where there is only one winner.

"The story follows Katniss, a teenaged girl who nominates herself for the Hunger Games after her twelve-year-old sisters name is drawn. The first half of the book is Katniss's preparations for the games, and to me this part contained some of the most harrowing moments. I became so angry at a government who could treat its own people in such a way. It was the social structure and Katniss's character that I found most interesting. The fighting itself is gripping and Katniss is deliciously clever. To make things palatable, Collins eases the reader in with a few anonymous deaths. Later, she casts the other competitors as villains, allowing the reader to feel glad for their deaths rather than sorrowed.

While clever with a bow and arrow, Katniss is profoundly stupid when it comes to boys. I found the love triangle to be less than satisfactory. But then again, I am eagerly awaiting Catching Fire, out this September, so it must have done something for me..."

During question time, one of my classmates asked me how America became Panem, and I had to tell him I didn't know. I don't believe Collins goes into details. Another girl asked me, when I mentioned The Hunger Games was being made into a movie, if I thought there was a spate of YA movies coming out--and I had to say yes. Thanks to "The Big T", we're being graced with The Hunger Games, Tomorrow, When the War Began, and If I Stay. And probably more that I'm forgetting. Not to mention the TV series The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl. And I bet you a twenty that Evernight is gonna appear on our screens at some point.

So I know it's difficult to add anything new to a review of The Hunger Games. It's probably the last year's most blogged about book, at least in my circles. But I hope you enjoyed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dystopia Challenge Review #7: Day of the Triffids

There's nothing like the end of the world, and there's nothing like it happening in London. It was the setting for recently reviewed The Death of Grass, and also the most awesome zombie movie 28 Days Later and the even better 28 Weeks Later*. Now, in Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham, 1951), the population of London (and the rest of the world) has been blinded and the triffids are closing in.

Bill has been hospitalised and his eyes bandaged after a run-in with a triffid, a monstrous walking plant with a deadly stinger. He wakes to find that (almost) everyone has gone blind and is wandering around like despairing, clumsy zombies (without the flesh-eating thing). He and another seeing girl, Josella, are faced with a dilemma: stay and help the blind population as best they can, or escape the putrefying city and form an enclave with other seeing people.

The themes in Day of the Triffids are similar to those in The Death of Grass: civilisation is much more fragile than you think. Sitting here with my indoor heating and patent leather handbag and feminist ideals in a first-world country, it's hard to believe that anything could disrupt my way of life. Barbarism and savagery are a distant concept, something to be read about in history books. But really, how long would civil order and social niceties really last in the event that the world as we know it ends? Natural disasters can, and have, caused mass extinctions. The comet that causes blindness in The Day of the Triffids echoes the extinction of the dinosaurs: the beasts that ruled the Earth are wiped out by a catastrophic event, and the creatures who have been waiting in the wings emerge and take over the world. After the dinosaurs, mammals reigned supreme; after humans it is triffids.

I find gender roles especially interesting in post-apocalyptic literature. I don't take for granted that I will be safe walking the street at night, but doing so doesn't evoke any great sense of fear. At twenty-four I don't see children in my near future either, if at all. These "luxuries", in the event of a triffid-like disaster, are taken away from women almost immediately. Men just as quickly assume the roles of protector or marauder. This is especially true of mid-twentieth century dystopian fiction. But now that we've had feminism's third wave (and this isn't the bimbo, stripper-pole "feminism" as reported in the media; rather it is the feminism that we all take for granted while at the same time shun the moniker feminist as a dirty word) would a thoughtful writer portray gender roles in this same way? In The Forest of Hands and Teeth and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale it is the women who govern society; similarly, in The Declaration and Obernewtyn the protagonists are both female and strong. Interestingly, however, these last four books are all written by women. P. D. James is also a woman, and I look forward to reading how women are portrayed in Children of Men.

I just realised how off-topic I'm getting. I think a further discussion of gender roles warrants a separate post!

Back to Triffids--reading this book I could really see London falling to pieces; the sense of hopelessness that comes from universal blindness. John Wyndham can sketch a myriad of authentic secondary characters with a few well-chosen words. Bill is a sensible and likable protagonist with a sense of humour and a realistic outlook. The conveniently attractive love-interest, Josella, has something of the Everest about her: Bill seems to fall in love with her merely because she is there. Their conversations I found false and pretentious. A good part of the book he is searching for her and I found myself wondering why he was bothering. Also, Wyndham's characters tend to lapse into irritatingly didactic soliloquies, posing endless rhetorical questions to their audience. It was the same in The Chrysalids, but nowhere near to the same degree. Dialogue is not one of Wyndham's strengths.

Day of the Triffids isn't YA as The Chrysalids is, but it is an interesting addition to the genre, and a gripping read.

*28 Months Later is coming soon. I just watched the trailer on YouTube and I'm sorry to say that it looks like it's been actionofied to the MAX: guns, guns, guns, and that annoying British actress whose only talent is looking angry and horny at the same time. Lets hope there's still a story and the odd foibled character present.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chistmas for Grown-ups and My Library Haul (3)

Receiving books in the mail is just the best--and this week I've scored majorly parcel-wise. It really was like Christmas because I've ordered and mooched so many books recently that I'd forgotten what is coming when. Here's what's turned up so far... (sorry the pics are a bit dark!)

The Claidi Collection by Tanith Lee (Better World Books) , The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (mooched), Touch the Dark by Karen Chance (fishpond) and Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien (Better World Books). I've read all except Touch the Dark. Lately I've felt the need to have copies of my favourite books on hand, and try to stop DUI-ing them: donating under the influence! Sometimes I get too enthusiastic about encouraging people to read...

The Secret Circle Trilogy by L. J. Smith (eBay). I loved these in high school and have made it my quest to obtain all Smith's books with their original covers. They're just so kitsch, especially the Night World ones!

This was a real score--the first four Obernewtyn Chronicles titles by Isobelle Carmody (eBay) in near perfect condition, and they only cost me $50 including postage. I must say I really like these new covers, and felt no real attachment to the ones that were on the originals. I'll be re-reading Obernewtyn shortly for my dystopian challenge.

From the library I got The Hunger Games (for a re-read), Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (loving it--review shortly) and How to Ditch your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier, after a commenter here recommended it.

My tummy's rumbling and I can smell the spinach and ricotta lasagne cooking in the oven, so must fly!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

REVIEW: Wake, by Lisa McMann

OK, so I was meant to be reading The Blue Sword, but after such a big weekend Robin McKinley's style was just too much for me--there's barely any dialogue and all the places names were getting jumbled in my brain. So I switched to Wake, something a little easier to get my head around. It has just three main characters and is set in this world. In fact it was just so easy to read I ate it up in just one afternoon. I also needed a break from all this end-of-the-world stuff. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but between my reading material and the new, death-filled writing project I'm working on, things were getting a little bleak!

I'm going to do what a good reviewer should never do (but is done a lot on blogs) and grab the blurb off Amazon. I know, slack huh? I feel it's important for a reviewer to summarise a book in their review, because often the publisher's blurb doesn't accurately reflect what's actually in the book. But this time it does, and I'm feeling slightly numb in the membrane, so here goes:

For seventeen-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people's dreams is getting old. Especially the falling dreams, the naked-but-nobody-notices dreams, and the sex-crazed dreams. Janie's seen enough fantasy booty to last her a lifetime. She can't tell anybody about what she does -- they'd never believe her, or worse, they'd think she's a freak. So Janie lives on the fringe, cursed with an ability she doesn't want and can't control. Then she falls into a gruesome nightmare, one that chills her to the bone. For the first time, Janie is more than a witness to someone else's twisted psyche. She is a participant..

This is another one of those books that have a deceptively naive style but go on to have some major impact, like The Forest of Hands and Teeth. It has a highly original premise. Written in bite-sized chunks, this is an easy book to get sucked into and devour. I was worried that there would be too much focus on nightmares and this would turn into a horror novel, but the scary bits are scattered thinly for maximum impact. Janie provides amusing commentary on some of the more prosaic dreams, and the ones of a more "personal" variety. The romance and the obstacles to the relationship have a real sense of tension and reality. You know how sometimes an author keeps her characters fighting just to drag out the inevitable? And the reason for the fighting is so flimsy and if one character would just shut up and listen for two-and-a-half seconds everything will be okay? Well, it's not like this in Wake. McMann's created a juicy side-plot to go alongside Janie's story, and that's when things start to get nicely complicated.

I'm going to get Fade, the sequel. I wonder if McMann's written any more? I'm having a bit of a dalliance with some Loretta Chase right now, and then I think I'll get stuck into Day of the Triffids. It's too soon for Brave New World as I'm not discussing it with my book club until July 19 and I want to be fresh for it.

Still no more news about agents beyond one manuscript request. *sigh* I'm gonna hit some more this weekend I think.