Snuff

Chuck Palahniuk is probably the weirdest author I’ve ever read a book from.  He writes stories about strange people in very strange situations.  All of his books are very disturbing on multiple levels.  I hope he never quits writing.  Snuff is the latest book I’ve read from Palahniuk, and it is yet another story where you read the idea for the novel and the first question you come up with is “who thinks to write a book about that?”

Book Stats

197 pages

Stand alone

Let’s call it Drama, although the book has some very funny moments and could easily be considered a comedy

Characters

The book follows four characters, #600, #72, #137, and Sheila.  The first three characters are men waiting to take part in an adult film and Sheila is the person organizing everything in the film.

Setting

The book takes place backstage at a porn shoot, yeah, you read that right.

Plot

The best synopsis of the plot I can give without spoiling too much about the story is what the back of the book says.  Porn star Cassie Wright wants to end her career with a bang, by breaking the record for serial fornication by having sex with 600 men, one of whom may want to kill her.  The book follows three of those men as they wait their turns to “perform.”  This is a very weird idea that could really only have come from Palahniuk.

Enjoyment

This book is weird, disturbing, and at times very funny with the names of porn titles Palahniuk mentions as well as some other quips that characters make throughout the book.

Overall Grade

A very strange read that fans of Palahniuk should enjoy.

7/10

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.  I heard about this book a while ago, and like many other books that I’ve read I bought it because it sounded intriguing.  The book had some interesting aspects, but it didn’t work out for me all that well.

Book Stats

359 pages

Stand Alone book

Science-Fiction

Characters

The book follows 4 different characters: Anderson Lake, a man who manages a factory while searching for sources of genetic material, Hock Seng, a refugee and secretary who works behind the scenes, Emiko, the windup girl for who the book is named, and Jaidee, a well known and very well respected member of the military.  I think the most interesting character was Emiko, but it was in many ways less due to her character and more to what she is being a windup.  A windup is a genetically engineered human.  In Emiko’s case, she is engineered to be a servant and she originally worked for a Japanese businessman but was then abandoned.  Overall I didn’t care much for the characters in this book, they were well developed but were fairly static throughout the book.

Setting

The most interesting part of the book.  The book is set in a future Thailand.  Most of the plants in the world are no longer capable of growing because of several genetically engineered viruses that attack the plants.  Because of this, there are far fewer people in the world and the main power in the world outside of Thailand is that of several companies who produce genetically engineered food that is immune to the diseases.  As scientists have begun to genetically engineer food, they also genetically engineer animals such as the megodonts (essentially elephants that are used for labor) and different humans called windups.

Plot

The four characters that we follow are mostly separate throughout the book.  They are all working for their own separate causes and in many cases work behind the scenes from what the others see.  My problem with the plot was that the characters do very little to cause the overall events.  Most of the characters actions are reactions to what is happening around them.  The single biggest action for the plot committed by a viewpoint character is not planned and is essentially a reaction to being pushed around.

Enjoyment

I really tried to, but I just could not get into this book.  The worldbuilding is very well done and the high point of the book, but the setting cannot drive a story.

Overall Grade

I rarely put books down without finishing them, but this book came close.  I can’t suggest this book too highly.

3/10

The First Draft

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post saying that I hit 5,000 words for a short story that I was writing.  Well, today I just finished what I wanted to accomplish for the overall draft of the story.  I wasn’t looking for a specific word count, I just had an idea of where I wanted the story to go, and I got most of what I wanted in the story into the story.

This is by no means a finished product, even as I was still writing it I was thinking about things that I wanted to change about parts that I had written previously.  I’m also going to add some more omniscient viewpoints before each scene that will add to the overall idea that I based the story off of.

I didn’t try to write a specific length of story, I just kept typing till I was done, and I finished up the first draft at 8220 words, which according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America technically makes this a novelette.  I don’t care, I just have a draft done, and I’ll start working on a revision and finishing up in the next couple of days.

Podcast & Quotes

I wrote about a week ago that I was listening to some short stories via EscapePod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod.  I was out walking for a while and I listened to the story Angry Rose’s Lament.  The story was interesting, it’s a science fiction story about a person arranging a contract with a newly discovered sentient race.  While the main character is dealing with this he is reminiscing about his previous drug addiction.  It’s an interesting story, not the best short story that I’ve listened to on the podcast, but a pretty good one.

There were two parts of the podcast that I found entertaining though, the first was part of the podcast, a litany spoken by the narrator to help with the withdrawal symptoms he has:

“What has happened I cannot change, what will happen I cannot decide, I am only responsible for the here and now.”

The second thing I really enjoyed was the quote they gave at the end of the podcast, by Chuck Palahniuk, who is a very quirky writer whose work I’m starting to read more of and really enjoy:

“I admire addicts, in a world where everyone is waiting for some, blind random disaster or some sudden disease, the addict has the comfort of knowing what will most likely wait for him down the road.  He’s taken some control over his ultimate fate and his addiction keeps the cause of death from being a total surprise.”

Slaughterhouse Five

I read a lot of popular fiction.  I love fantasy books, and I enjoy science fiction books a lot.  I also try, from time to time, to read some of the books that are highly regarded by many people.  Some of these books I’ve enjoyed, some of the books I can understand why they are classics, even if I didn’t personally care for them, and some books I really don’t understand why they are so highly regarded.  Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is considered one of the most highly regarded books, appearing on several lists of the best English language books of all time.  Having read it today, I just don’t get it.

Book Stats

215 pages (paperback)

Science Fiction? Satire? I’ve seen it called both of those, Amazon calls it Science Fiction, I’m labeling it under Classic and Science Fiction

Stand alone book

Characters

The book is told from the perspective of the author of the book, and the book is well aware that it is a book.  The central character of the book is Billy Pilgrim, a man who lived through WW2 and the book tracks his life before and after the war.  The book also talks about several other characters that Billy meets throughout the book, none of the characters are terribly deep.

Setting

The book takes place during WW2 in Germany, on the alien planet Tralfamadore, where the aliens see all of time at once, it’s weird sounding, and it’s even weirder in the book.

Plot

When Billy is abducted by the aliens of Tralfamadore, he learns to go through time and experience the events of his life out of order.  The book talks a lot about war, and how horrible it can be.

Enjoyment

I guess I just didn’t get it.  This book is regarded as a great antiwar book, and I can see that it pokes fun at war, but it just didn’t work for me.  The humor in the book was there the whole time, but it just wasn’t all that funny to me.  There was also something in the book that drove me crazy as I kept reading it.  It seemed like every other page (if not more often) Vonnegut would punctuate a scene by typing the sentence “So it goes.”  We’ve all been in classes where you have to give presentations to the rest of the class.  Many times, people would say “um” constantly throughout their presentations.  I was originally an education major, and I was told to watch my speech to avoid saying “um” as it becomes distracting.  “So it goes.” became distracting to me in this book.  My paperback copy of the book was 215 pages long, I would bet that Vonnegut wrote “So it goes.” at least 100 times in this book, probably more.

Overall Grade

I can’t recommend this book to anyone, the humor didn’t work for me all that well, and the book irritated me by the end of it.  So it goes.

2/10

Outliers: The Story of Success

I wrote in my review of What the Dog Saw that Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite non-fiction writers and probably the best non-fiction writers I’ve ever read.  This book further shows why Gladwell is the best person writing non-fiction in the world.

Outliers is another full book by Gladwell focusing on one subject.  While the subtitle of the book is The Story of Success, this is a fairly minor point as it pertains to the book as a whole.  The early parts of the book deal with several very successful people throughout the world.  It begins by discussing hockey and soccer players and some of the factors that may lead to their success in their field.  While we may originally think that these people may have natural talent, or maybe they just worked harder, Gladwell looks at something that most people never think about, when they were born.

Psychology studies have shown that for many athletes, the date for the age cutoff has a large effect on which people succeed in that sport.  For example, in Canada the cutoff date for joining youth hockey is January 1, you have to be 10 years old by that date to join.  The child who turns 10 on January 2 has another year before he is able to join.  While 11 months of growth might not be much when you’re in your 20’s, when you’re 10 those 11 months are a huge difference.

This is just one example where Gladwell shows that the situation that you find yourself in has a larger effect on your success than anyone ever thinks about.  He uses different examples relating to the time of the year athlete’s were born, the era that different lawyers were born, how your culture can affect the way you relate to superiors, and other fun topics.

I have a BA in Psychology, and I’ve heard of several of the studies that Gladwell uses to support his arguments throughout the book.  Gladwell’s gift is to write about complicated scientific and psychological topics in a way that makes them easy to understand.  He also focuses on the individual people within the stories that he talks about and makes you appreciate their stories.

Gladwell is a wonderful writer who focuses on topics that most people never consider, his books are all wonderful and I suggest them to anyone who ever wants to know more about how the world works.

10/10

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish

The fourth book by Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker’s Trilogy.  I was a little disappointed by the third book, but I really enjoyed this one.

Book Stats

214 Pages

Science Fiction/Satire

The 4th book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy.

Characters

This book focuses primary on Arthur Dent from the previous books, but Ford Prefect also plays a role in the story.  The book also introduces a love interest for Arthur with the character Fenchurch.

Setting

We return to Earth for this planet, minus the dolphins.

Plot

Arthur finds himself back on Earth for some reason that is never really explained all that well in this book.  Early on he meets Fenchurch and immediately falls for her.  Fenchurch feels like she forgot something when everyone else was hallucinating and they thought they saw the Vogon ships.  Arthur helps her to find the final message that God left for the universe.

Enjoyment

The third book was a bit of a disappointment, this one I enjoyed a lot more.  The humor was still there, but the plot was more focused.  There were some very nice moments in the book as well.  As I said earlier, Arthur finally being competent in dealing with another person was nice, and there was also a nice moment for Marvin towards the end of the book.

Overall Grade

Some of the funniest lines in the series, and a more focused plot make this the second best book of the series thus far.

8/10

Never Let Me Go

I heard about this book while trolling through random blogs on wordpress.  I came upon this blog post about the book and it sounded very interesting.  I checked out the book and it was an interesting read.

Book Stats

288 pages (paperback)

Genre is weird, I almost want to call it literary fiction.  Amazon calls it a psychological thriller.  I’m going to call it drama because I think that’s the most fitting genre for it.  There is a science fiction element to the book, but I think the drama element outweighs it.

Stand alone book.

Characters

The book is told from the first person view of Kathy, who is remembering her life growing up at the Hailsham boarding school in England.  The book revolves around Kathy and her two best friends from the school, Ruth and Tommy.  Kathy is in many ways an average student (most of the book takes place during their school years) and I could identify with her greatly.  She in many ways deferred to the more outgoing Ruth and in some ways was on the outskirts of the most popular groups in the school.  I enjoyed her character and I thought that the way her character was written was one of the high points of the book.

Setting

Most of the spoilers of this book are related to the setting, and I don’t want to spoil the books in my reviews, so I won’t go too far into it.  But the book is set in England from the 1970’s or so to the late 1990’s.

Plot

The book is essentially told as a flashback with Kathy talking about her life.  The way that the book unfolds is very natural.  She will start talking about one subject, and it will remind her of something else, and she’ll go back and forth a little between the two subjects.  The book seemed to stretch on a little bit from time to time, but looking back I don’t think I can see anything that you would be able to cut without losing something from the story.

Enjoyment

The book starts out fairly cheerfully, but throughout the book there is an increasing tension and the feeling that something is wrong with the way that the world works for these characters.  The book is never rushed in its pacing, it takes its time to get where its going, and the book is very well done.  The book also raises some interesting moral questions that we may eventually have to deal with.  I try to review all of my books with the standard Character/Setting/Plot topics as a template, but this book is more than just the combination of those three, the theme and moral questions that it raises are more important.

Overall Grade

This would be a wonderful book to read with a thought provoking reading group, but it’s still a good book to read, although it may not be for everyone.

7/10

Murder on the Orient Express

As much as I love the fact that Amazon has thousands upon thousands of  books, I still like going to my local Barnes & Noble to buy most of my books.  This book is a perfect example of why.  I usually have a list of books that I’m looking for when I go there, but I also walk throughout the bookstore and look at what else they have.  I’ve picked up several books that I hadn’t planned on buying by doing this, one of those books was this one.  I was looking at a table that they had set up with required reading lists for high school english programs and saw it.  I’ve only read one other Agatha Christie novel (And Then There Were None) but I really enjoyed it.  So I picked this one up.

Book Stats

315 pages (paperback)

Mystery

Although the detective main character of the book was the main character in a number of Agatha Christie novels you don’t need to have read any of them to enjoy this book.

Characters

The main character in this book is Hercule Poirot, a detective who is on a journey back to England.  There are also two other characters he works with throughout the book, but they are mostly there to ask questions of Poirot so he can show his brilliance (a la Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes).

Setting

The book takes place on the train the Orient Express.  The story occurs during a 2 day stretch where the train is stopped because of a snowstorm.

Plot

The train is stopped during a snowstorm.  When they wake up they find that a man has been murdered, and his room was locked from the inside.  Naturally with no other options, they turn to Poirot to solve the mystery of who killed Ratchett.  From here the story expands like a typical mystery, with Poirot investigating all of the other passengers.

Enjoyment

Most of this book seems fairly contrived.  The investigation part was interesting, but not overwhelming.  Poirot is an interesting character, but there weren’t any traits about him that really stood out.  Although it wasn’t the most original plot structure, it was very well done and I was both surprised and a little disturbed by parts of the ending.

Overall Grade

The book was solid if not especially groundbreaking, but the ending is very good (and after reading this I’ve decided that I need to repent of having only read 2 of her books).

7/10

1,000 hits & 50 posts (almost)

I made a small post when I hit 500 hits, and early this morning my blog reached 1,000 hits.

This is also my 47th post on my blog.  I don’t want to put up another post saying when I hit 50 posts, so I’ll just say here that I’m getting very close.

Thank you all for visiting my blog, I hope that you enjoyed what you found here and I hope that you’ll keep stopping by in the future.