A Nod to Creepiness

There is only one person in the world who can properly buy a book for me, and that is my friend Mia Sara Moreno.

(Sorry, Boyfriend and Sister, but you know it to be true.)

I know, technically, anyone can buy me a book.

But I’m talking about someone who can browse a book store and find a book that they think I will like.

It’s one thing for someone to know you’ve been wanting a specific book for a while so they go out and get it for you; it’s another thing entirely for someone to choose a book for you.

You get what I’m saying here? (Book lovers, come on, you know what I’m talking about, right?)

Mia and I know each other intimately when it comes to literature. We know our favorite authors, genres, and styles. For Mia’s birthday this year, I bought her Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. For my birthday this year, she bought me Nod by Adrian Barnes.

She knew what she was doing when she bought me this book.

Mia knows I love nearly everything Stephen King, and Nod is a definite dalliance with King-ness.

Anyone who reads Nod will fall in love with it if they’re a King enthusiast simply based on the subject matter alone. The entire world, except for a select few individuals, loses the ability to go to sleep. Have you ever heard that factoid about people being able to go 21 days without food, 7 days without water, but only 3 days without sleep before seriously adverse effects begin to show their ugly face? Nod tells a horror story about what would happen to those world if those three days were not met.

Nod will tickle your intellectual side too. Its pages contain more than just sentences; you’re reading poetic prose. (Does that make sense?) When I understood a particularly nuanced metaphor that Barnes used, I felt like I passed some random intelligentsia test. It irritated as well as pleased me, but I enjoyed the reading experience regardless.

Isn’t it funny how often those two emotions coincide?

But don’t think that Nod is just intellectualism run rampant. It is downright creepy. The denizens of Earth lose their minds over lack of sleep, and it sucks for those sane Sleepers left with their minds intact. The Awakened are filled with resentment for the people who can still catch a few Z’s, so they actually hunt them down and slaughter them. (Or they torture them to keep them awake 24/7.)

Plus, Nod shoves in your face how little you can really know a person, which is something that plagues me even when more than half the world isn’t losing their goddamn minds. Have you never wondered whether your girlfriend is secretly disgusted by you? Have you ever been secretly disgusted with her?

There isn’t much to spoil about Nod aside from a few key moments that occur before the ending, which I’ll let you discover for yourself if you want to. The book slumps toward its finale like a relentless zombie. No one is there to save the day or to explain why this freak experience is happening. Society just slowly devolves, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The end.

But it makes for one hell of a nighttime read.


A Buttload of Cats

Any avid reader will tell you that there is no shame in reading books that are technically below your age level. A good story is a good story regardless of how simply it is told.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m not embarrassed to admit that I still re-read the Warriors series to this day.

What is the Warriors series, you might ask.

I’d like to tell you that it’s a young adult series about epic soldiers who fight glorious battles in space, you know, something that would make me sound like I have really good taste in children’s literature.

But it’s actually about cats.

Warriors collection
via: deviantart.com (GreenFeline777)

The Warriors series is written by Erin Hunter, and it’s about a large group of cats that live in the forest. These stray cats have separated themselves into four Clans, and each Clan lives by a set of noble rules called the Warrior Code. Each Clan also has their own territory which they guard against other Clans or even rogue cats, dogs, or badgers. The series follows the life of a young house cat named Firepaw who joins ThunderClan and learns the ways of the forest.

This might sound terribly lame, but I can’t help getting engrossed in the action-packed lives of these cats.

I was first introduced to the series by my friend Mia. My sister, Mia, and I were hanging out in the local high school’s gym because her father was there coaching the girls’ basketball team. We were slightly bored, and since all three of us were the reading types, we had brought books to entertain ourselves with. Mia showed me the cover of hers, which showed snarling cats clawing at each other, and I immediately knew this would be the kind of story I could love.

And I was not wrong.

The Warriors series is an epic saga of small proportions. If you’ve ever read anything by Brian Jacques, like Redwall or Marlfox, you will have a clearer understanding about what I’m talking about. Seeing a story from an animal’s perspective but coupled with human emotions makes for a powerful experience. Plus, the kinds of verbs you can use when describing an animal’s actions are diverse and interesting. Why “speak” when you can “mew,” “yowl,” or “hiss?”

However, unlike Jacques’ work, the Warriors series is more clearly geared toward kids. The books are less dense as a result. But that doesn’t stop them from covering harrowing experiences. Vicious wounds are inflicted on the cats by dogs, rats, badgers, snakes, and other cats, and no details are spared.

It’s awesome.

Mia and I once made a list of all the cats who ever died in the series, and the list is quite hefty. I doubt a Warriors book has gone by where a cat does not perish.

It touches upon morality as well, presenting children with ideas like responsibility for others’ safety, loyalty to family and friends, and commitment to your duty above all else.

Pretty heavy stuff for a book about cats, am I right?

The books themselves are a short read, so if you want to give one of them a try, it shouldn’t take you long.

Be warned though! These books can suck you in, and there are quite a few books in the series now. If you pick up one at the book store, the next thing you know, you’ll be spending all your money completing the series.

For those of you who have read the series (I wonder how many of you there are), my favorite character is Leafpool, my favorite Clan is RiverClan, and I think Tigerclaw was one of the greatest villains of all time.

A Saga To Recommend

It is a stereotypical scene, where a kid who is supposed to be reading a thick novel for class has a comic book hidden within its pages and is actually flipping through that.

I always kind of hated that caricature.

It makes it seem like reading the comic book doesn’t count as real reading. It’s as if whoever came up with that thinks that the stories you can glean from the pages of a comic book are not as meaningful as what you would find in a great literary work.

If you’ve read my stuff before (goddammit, Hurych, just say blog posts already), you know that I love to read books. In fact, I love reading of all sorts.

But I have to admit, comics hold a special place in my heart.

Right now, I’m particularly in love with the comic book series Saga. It is currently still being printed, and it is awesome as fuck! (Pardon my French.)

It is written by Brian K. Vaughan (a fantastic writer) and drawn by Fiona Staples. It tells the story (the saga, if you will) of two soldiers who come from warring planets. These soldiers fall in love with each other and start a family, but they have to be on the run constantly because there are people out in the universe who don’t want it to be known that such a relationship can exist.

I’m doing a piss-poor job of summarizing the plot as I know it, but I seriously don’t want to give too much away just in case someone reads this and decides to check Saga out. It’s that good.

The story of Saga is nothing we haven’t seen before. In fact, I’d say it’s a bit of a classic tale. But that’s not what sets it apart. The setting and the characters are so delightful and diverse; they’re the real draw of the series. There’s a man who can use magic to deal deathly damage to people, but refuses to do so because he believes in nonviolence. There’s a large pet cat that can tell when people lie. There’s the disembodied ghost of a teenage girl who connects her soul to that of a newborn baby.

My favorite character is a bipedal baby seal named Ghüs. He has a pet walrus named Friendo. What more do I need to say about him?

Saga poster with Ghus and Friendo

I have seriously gone out of my way to own every item of Ghüs memorabilia that I can find. (Danny has lovingly gifted me some of them. Most of them, actually.) The sight of him makes me squeal; he is just too damn cute.

Ghus plushie

But Ghüs is more than an adorable face. He has a down-to-earth personality, and he always tries to do right by his friends, even if it means putting his own life in danger. He’s a tough little guy. He’s not afraid of going up against characters who are way bigger than him, including dangerous Freelancers.

I cannot recommend Saga highly enough. Saga is the kind of comic book that transcends the concept of a comic book. It exceeds expectations without becoming snotty. It’s engaging, endearing, and exciting.

If you feel like you can’t approach comic books without having to read a million issues of back history before understanding characters, don’t worry about that with Saga. It is its own self-contained story.

And it is by far the best thing I am reading right now.

My First Literary Sin: Howards End

I have a list of books I haven’t read yet, and I call each and every one of them my literary sins. These books are the kinds of books that any person who calls themselves an avid reader should have read. They’re typically noteworthy classics.

Unfortunately, there are some pretty embarrassing titles on my list. I have yet to read some really great books (purportedly). Luckily for me, this means I get to spend a lot of my time experiencing these stories for the first time. And you guys get to come along with me for the ride! (Yay!)

Howards End was written by E.M. Forster. Forster also wrote A Passage to India, a soulfully moving book that I have read. While A Passage to India dealt with the numerous issues of Britain’s occupation of India, Howards End dealt with issues closer to home, namely the discord arising from Britain’s strict class system.

I’ve used “low-class” and “high-class” as simple adjectives before, describing movies, shoes, or doorknobs, but after reading Howard’s End, I actually feel uneasy using those words to describe things.

The story mainly revolves around the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen. The two are striving to find a deeper meaning to life by studying art, nature, and poetry. You know, the finer things in life. They meet two families on their somewhat snotty, but still admirable, quest for enlightenment that are on opposing sides of the class spectrum. The Wilcoxes are a rich family, but despite the money that is at their disposal, they aren’t as appreciative of meaningful moments as their riches could allow them to be. The Basts are considered poor people, and they don’t have the means to engage themselves in stoic contemplation like more well-to-do families (the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes specifically).

Howards End immersed me in a world I could never hope to reach, which is weird, because at some point in time, this setting actually existed. I related to Leonard Bast’s situation more than anyone else’s because he’s the only person we meet who seems to work for his income. Everyone else’s profession was being wealthy; they just went to operas and worked on “improving themselves.”

Even though Leonard Bast is the most relatable, the hero of the novel is Margaret Schlegel. She befriends Mrs. Wilcox, the matriarch of the Wilcox family, when they meet each other spontaneously one day. They’re both fond of deeper meanings without being pushy about it. They also share a love for the Wilcoxes’ old home, Howards End. (I always thought it was so cool how some people in British novels have houses that have names.) They form a pretty random friendship quickly, but their sedate and wise natures made it seem natural to do so.

Things get a little weird when Mrs. Wilcox dies, and then later, Mr. Wilcox decides to marry Margaret. I get that they were similar, but yikes. While this is definitely odd, the novel makes it seem like this union was meant to be. And who am I to judge, right?

The women in the novel are treated rather ickily. Their opinions, choices, and bodies are totally dismissed by their male counterparts. In the end, the women of the novel succeed in achieving the peace they desire, but the journey there was rough sailing through the waters of sexism.

Howards End was a fantastic read, just like a A Passage to India. The class disagreements seem foreign to me, and yet, the underlying vibe they produce feel eerily familiar. I know no one who lives like the Wilcoxes. But I can understand how people with more can look down on people with less.

I won’t spoil how the book ends. Just know that the house, Howards End, is really important to the story (duh, it’s in the title), the Schlegel sisters make pretty…unique decisions when it comes to the Wilcoxes and Basts, and that hitting someone with the flat of a sword is just as dangerous as piercing them with the tip.

If you like stodgy British novels (which I ADORE), Howards End might be the book for you. I give it a buy-at-a-used-bookstore-with-a sweet-hardcover-edition-at-a-really-good-price-and-then-keep-it-forever.

Good Book, Bad Video Game: Inferno Squad Book Review

Inferno Squad book cover

Last summer, I went to San Diego Comic Con, and while I was roaming the huge convention center, I noticed there was a booth close to the Star Wars section that was offering books. Ever the avid book reader and always the largest Star Wars fan, I went to investigate what they were selling.

Displayed on the table were copies of Battlefront II: Inferno Squad. Since I follow gaming news, I had of course heard of the latest Battlefront game EA was dumping on our doorsteps. The first Battlefront game they had churned out was a total disaster. I did not have high hopes for Battlefront II, even though they were actually including a story campaign for the game this time around.

Still, it wouldn’t be fair to this book, a prequel to Battlefront II, to extend my doubts about the game onto it. After a small moment staring at the cover, I purchased Inferno Squad and took it home.

Since I have a humongous reading list (books awaiting my perusal), I have not gotten around to finishing up Inferno Squad until now. So here is my review for the book. I will not bring up the events that happened in the video game (even though it was a sucky game) in my critique of the book.

It should be noted that a lot of what goes on in my review and in the book itself involves Star Wars stuff. If you don’t know Star Wars, you may feel a tad out of the loop.


Inferno Squad was…interesting?

The book tells of the events that occur immediately after the destruction of the first Death Star. Whereas most Star Wars stories revolve around the heroes of the Jedi, Rebellion, or Resistance, Inferno Squad is centered on an elite team of Imperials who are tasked with undermining the Rebellion.

If that initial premise does not pique your interest, you, sir, are no Star Wars fan.

The main character is the leader of Inferno Squad, this team of bad-asses from the Empire. She’s called Iden Versio, and she’s the daughter of one of the head honchos of the Empire. Even though she totally believes in everything the Empire stands for, author Christie Golden makes her very likable. She’s driven by a desire to prove herself, to the world and to her father. She’s working for the bad guys, but she comes across as noble.

She and her squad are given an undercover assignment. They are sent to infiltrate a radical group of rebels known as the Dreamers. Once secure in their positions, they are to dismantle the Dreamers from the inside out. The real struggle occurs when Iden and her team start feeling sympathetic toward the people they are trying to destroy.

Iden’s squad all sound like diverse people, but they feel like cookie-cutter characters. Once you know their motivations, that’s kind of…it. There’s this one guy who’s the “nice guy” of the Squad. He has a knack for dealing with machinery. He’s the one who feels the most pity for the Dreamers, but nothing ever occurs that would put him on the spot in that regard. He never has to make a tough decision about his chosen morals. His character ends up feeling like a bit of a cop out.

Each chapter of Inferno Squad is engaging, even for a non-Star Wars fan. You know that feeling you can get when you’re reading, the feeling that a chapter is just dragging on? (Hey now, I’m a book lover too, but I can experience boredom and disinterest when reading a book just like anyone.) That never happened to me while I was reading Inferno Squad. Each page I turned actively led me on to the next one. I wanted to know what happened next, and Golden’s writing style helped me want to want to know what happened next.

Unfortunately, while each chapter separately holds up, the entire story ends up feeling a bit weak. Huge changes happen in Iden’s life when she agrees to infiltrate the Dreamers. The experience should change her. But since every chapter gears you to read on ahead, there’s never really a moment where you’re allowed to let events sink in. Neither Iden nor the reader are given the space to process the changes that have occurred.

However, despite the complaints I have made, Inferno Squad still makes for a good read.

I rate Battlefront II: Inferno Squad a Borrow-Once-From-A-Friend-And-Actually-Read-All-The-Way-Through-Before-Giving-It-Back. 

The King and The Koontz

Ah, the good old Stephen King versus Dean Koontz debate.

There’s no debate.

Stephen King is the better writer.

Perhaps I’m biased. (But this is a blog, so sue me for being completely subjective about what I write about. [Please don’t sue me.])

I read Stephen King before I read Dean Koontz. I was in middle school, browsing through the paltry offering of books our library had. During my careful examination of every shelf for something I’d like to read, The Dark Half caught my eye. I picked it up, read the first chapter, and I was completely hooked.

My first Dean Koontz book was From the Corner of His Eye. It was engaging. That’s…about it.

Both King and Koontz come up with great concepts. That was one of the fantastic things about From the Corner of His Eye. In fact, concept-wise, From the Corner of His Eye beats The Dark Half. 

It’s their respective styles of writing that sets King apart from Koontz though.

King has a style that delves, while Koontz’s style just polishes the surface.

I recently finished reading Koontz’s Life Expectancy, and despite the story involving killer clowns, I rarely felt on edge. In fact, the plot and the characters felt all around hunky dory compared to my usual King fare. Life Expectancy read like a romantic comedy (almost). That’s not the only Koontz book I’ve read, so don’t think that’s my only point of reference.

In another Koontz book, Intensity, a spider-eating serial killer relentlessly pursues a young woman after brutally murdering her friend (and her friend’s parents). Even though that sounds plenty terrifying, it never reached the pinnacles of unease that Stephen King has set.

Stephen King could write a book about furniture, and it would probably frighten me more than a Dean Koontz book about a supernatural murderer.

There’s a deep grittiness that layers King’s words. At times, it feels as if he’s writing in a stream-of-consciousness style when he describes what a character is thinking. You get to know their hidden recesses, their flaws. It’s like he has no hesitation about facing the darker sides of humanity, reality, and fantasy.

The reason King is king of horror is because he’s able to craft immersion the way a tree can sprout leaves. Creepiness just spews out of him naturally. (That’s supposed to be a compliment.)

Koontz isn’t bad. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read a lot of his books as well. And I bet he’s sick and tired of being compared to Stephen King.

But Stephen King grabs me into his novels until I’m truly lost, and no other writer has been able to do that for me half as well as he can.

But the Book Is Totally Better

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard myself say that after stepping out of a theater.

But come on, it’s totally true 99.99% of the time.

The majority of movie adaptations based on books would have been better off left as words on a page. For a number of reasons, these attempts to capture the complexity and goshdarned wonderful-ness of the original books simply fail to captivate me.

My number one example of this phenomenon is the Harry Potter series.

No collection of books is so beloved as J.K. Rowling’s magical masterpiece. The world she crafted was impeccably alluring, and her characters were relatable (well, as relatable as teenage wizards could be). And while it was nice to see Harry’s world brought to life through the prowess of different filmmakers, the films still left much to be desired.

I’m okay with the first three films. I was practically a child when I saw The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. I went to go see the movies on a class field trip. (Isn’t that neat? We saw a movie for our class field trip.) I had read the books, and the movies were more or less as enjoyable as the books were.

By the time the fourth Harry Potter movie came along, I was spotting flaws right and left. The vast and detailed plot of The Goblet of Fire did not fit well into two hours and thirty-seven minutes. Contradictions began to run rampant with no explanation offered for them, and the lack of development for some secondary characters (and even some primary ones) physically hurt me.

That is what happens when books are made into movies. It’s like playing Russian Roulette. Occasionally you’re lucky, and the movie ends up being everything you hoped for. Other times…

There are three movies I love (technically five, but I’ll get to that later) that equaled or exceeded the books they were based on.

  • The Lord of the Rings (made up of three movies)
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Jurassic Park

I was very young when I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think I was about six years old (I liked to read, sue me). However, my parents did not think it was appropriate for me to see a PG-13 fantasy movie at such a young age. So they waited until The Fellowship of the Ring came out on DVD, and then my father watched it alongside my sister and me, supervising us to make sure we were not unduly influenced by fantasy violence. (We had so much fun; we pretended to be Ringwraiths for the next couple of days. We’d grab the pillows from our living room couch and imagine they were our horses. Then we would shriek the highest note we could reach and run around the house. Just like the Nazgûl, get it?)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s incredible work of fantasy was a deeply written collection of lore. As such, the descriptions of places and events were extremely wordy. Entire chapters could have been devoted to describing the city of Minas Tirith. Tolkien gave every race a history, and those histories went back generations. I believe that the movie captured that fantastical history and made it engrossing as hell. Instead of reading paragraphs about, say, the customs of the Rohirrim, we got to observe them in action and learn their customs through their wardrobe and behavior. Not every person could pick up the books and get into them. But the movie delivered the same content, while making it easy to understand and enjoy.

The story of how I got into Cloud Atlas is hilarious. Well, to me, at least. I was in my college computer lab working on a paper. I was listening to music through Youtube, and the trailer for Cloud Atlas came on before one of the videos . Intrigued, I paused my essay-writing to watch it. And just the initial concept of the trailer floored me. It was so cool! It’s almost indescribable. Don’t believe me? Check it out here.

Upon finding out that it was also a novel, I went to Barnes & Noble first thing that weekend and got myself a copy of the book. It was fantastic. I then only had a couple of months to wait before I could see if the movie lived up to its progenitor’s greatness.

And it did.

Some people may not agree with me. I know that a lot of film critics did not look too kindly on the movie. But I’m no film critic. I loved the book, and I loved the movie.

The interesting thing about the book version and movie version of Cloud Atlas is that they feel like different animals. The book is a ziggurat. You climbed up the first half of the story, with each timeline representing a step forward. Then you climbed down the ziggurat, each story-line getting resolved into a graceful denouement. The movie version was more like a tapestry. We got to visit each timeline one after the other, like threads interwoven together to make an intricate weave. The story feels kind of spiritual without being overly preachy. It stimulated my heart and my mind at the same time.

So, while the book and the movie feel dissimilar, they’re both equally enjoyable and, more importantly, equally meaningful. I would highly recommend both to anybody.

I was a total dinosaur kid (and am now a dinosaur adult), so it’s no wonder that Jurassic Park made it onto my list of favorite books turned into movies as well. I have nothing against the Michael Crichton novel. I think he’s a great sci-fi writer with the ability to ramp up tension like nobody’s business. But Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park had what Crichton’s book didn’t: heart.

That movie was made for people who loved dinosaurs. While the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the raptors may have been the antagonists of the movie, they were what made me sit straight in my seat with my eyes glued to the screen. Hell, anytime a dinosaur appeared, my heart skipped a beat. Alan Grant’s face when he rests his body on the triceratops is mine every time I decide to re-watch Jurassic Park. 

And that theme music! My soul sings that melody every time I go to a dinosaur museum. (Or whenever I’m doing something super majestic, which is, sadly, not often.)

So, it is possible to make a great movie based on a book. It’s just not something you see every day. If you have any recommendations for movies based on books that you like, let me know! I’m always on the look-out for fresh attempts.

What can I say? I’m a closet optimist.