Friday, 25 July 2014

Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorised Biography



Sherlock Holmes The Unauthorised Biography
Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorised Biography
Nick Rennison

   This book was an odd one. Presenting itself as a biography of the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, it takes the point of view that Holmes, Watson and his nemesis Moriarty were real people and that Watson handed over his accounts of Sherlock’s adventures to author, Arthur Conan Doyle for publication.

   Over the book, the author attempts to fill in the blanks in Watson’s version of the story. Watson himself admits in several of the stories that there are multiple cases that he has not documented, owing either to the need to keep the case secret, or the uninteresting result, when the crime is solved. There were sixty Sherlock Holmes mysteries published and the author suggests the man himself was involved with anything up to a thousand over his career.
   The author attempts to fill in these blanks by creating a fictional account of Holmes’ upbringing on a country estate, his education and some notable cases, undocumented by Watson, that the detective could possibly have been involved with. These range from things like the Jack the Ripper case, a secret involvement in the war in Ireland (under the request of his brother Mycroft) to a variety of less famous murders that plagued the Victorian era. These cases are backed up by hints to other cases within the actual Sherlock Holmes stories as well as “newly discovered evidence” created by the author.

   It’s an interesting premise and the cases, stories and fun facts that Rennison digs up from the Victorian era are interesting to read about. That said however, it’s hard to tell who exactly this book is written for. It’s not written for those interested in the Victorian era or true crime, because, while the cases detailed here were all seemingly true occurrences, their telling is rendered fictional by the inclusion of Sherlock Holmes, at the same time, it’s not really of any use to Holmes fans either, while it does offer a detailed history of the character, the new material supplied by the author has little to do with Doyle’s original stories, it's really just fan fiction, interesting, well researched fan fiction, but fan fiction nonetheless.

   Despite that though, I did enjoy this book. It’s well written and well paced. Long enough to provide a decent amount of information but not so long that the novelty wears thin. I did enjoy learning about the mysteries that the author dredges up from the past and there are several humorous facts and stories from the era that stop the book from lingering too much on the dark side.

   If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes, this is an enjoyable piece of alternate history for the character. Nothing in it is canon by any means but as a, what might have been, look at the character it’s pretty interesting.
   One mainly for the hardcore fans perhaps, but a book worthy of a place on your shelf.

Sherlock Holmes
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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Sonic X Part 2 - Episodes #06 - 10



Sonic x Logo
Sonic X
Part 2 - Episodes #06 - 10

Ep 06: Techno-Teacher
   Eggman sends a robot teacher to Chris’ school in order to indoctrinate his class and make them love Dr Eggman…it’s weird…

   Not your average robot of the week episode, this one’s a lot slower paced. There are a lot of really strange things in this episode, the robot just walks into class and takes over and the school principle just accepts this. He even encourages Mr Stewart to sit in and take notes, there’s also a weird running joke about Mr Stewart stealing a burger from a police man.
   The robot keeps the whole class back for detention, a problem for Chris as his parents are in town for one night and he has to get home to see them.

   If this is all sounding like a bit of a jumble, there’s a reason for that. This episode is a mess. It’s a blatant filler episode, nothing of any real value is present and you could skip the episode entirely without missing anything, hell, even Sonic seemingly couldn’t be arsed with it and makes only the briefest of appearances towards the end.
   I’d give it a miss.

Ep 07: Party Hardly
   Chris’ mum decides to host a party which Mr Stewart decides to attend.

   This is a pretty slow one, Eggman doesn’t even make an appearance. This is a good thing though as the change of pace allows for a little bit of character building. We get to see how much Cream is missing her mother back home as well as getting some info on how Chris’ mum feels about leaving home all the time.
   Despite the much needed time with the characters, this isn’t a great episode. It still feels a bit like filler and feels really slow. That said, the character development is incredibly welcome.

Ep 08: Satellite Swindle
  Eggman uses a massive robot to rob satellites from the Earth’s orbit to use to build new machines. When the Tornado is damaged during an initial assault with the robot, Tails is forced to make some adjustments.

Dizzy Eggman

   Again, this one feels like filler (how long ‘til that Sonic Adventure adaptation?), yet another robot of the week episode and given that the robot is little more than a giant vacuum it’s not even much of a dramatic battle.
   Sadly it’s another one I’d say to skip unless you’re desperate to watch the whole series.

Ep 09: The Last Resort
   Chris attends a swanky opening for a new beach resort while Amy, Cream and Tails enjoy a break at a nearby cove. Things go awry however, when Eggman attacks the gala.

   A surprisingly good episode, this one offers up a little glimpse of Amy’s character. We see her love for Sonic played out in more detail and we also get a few hints that Sonic might actually care for her two. When Amy gives Sonic the bracelet she has made for him, the two share a sweet little moment (which is of course promptly interrupted by an attacking robot, what can you do?)
   It’s more bot of the week rubbish, but the time dedicated to the characters is very welcome and very enjoyable.

Ep 10: Unfair Ball
   When Tails finds a chaos emerald in a sports stadium, Eggman challenges the gang to a game of baseball with the emeralds as the prize.

Baseball Eggman
 
   You guessed it, another filler episode but at least this is a fun one, the best thing about this episode is probably Knuckles. While the rest of the group are engaged in a plotline that wouldn’t seem out of place in AoStH, Knuckles is the only one who pipes up and makes a point of how ridiculous the idea of playing Eggman at baseball really is. It’s a fun little moment and a piece of logic that you wouldn’t expect from an episode like this.
   Couple that with some enjoyable (if predictable) cheating from Eggman’s team and you’ve got a pretty decent episode. 

Sonic says



Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Colour of Magic: The Graphic Novel



The colour of magic: The Graphic Novel
Terry Pratchett’s
The Colour of Magic: The Graphic Novel
Steven Ross, Scott Rockwell, Vickie Williams & David Campiti

   The Discworld series seems the perfect series to adapt into a comic book, the whole world feels like one already. Bursting at the seams with interesting characters spurred on by ridiculous plots with laugh out loud gags every two sentences; it seems like a no brainer, all anyone would have to do is add pictures to the words Pratchett had already laid down. All of this just makes it all the odder that the team behind this graphic novel got it so spectacularly wrong…

   The Colour of Magic is Pratchett’s first novel in the series and sees the useless wizard Rincewind tasked with protecting Twoflower, a tourist in Rincewind’s town of Ankh-Morpork who hails from a powerful nation that the Ankh council want to keep on their good side.
   Over the course of the book Rincewind and Twoflower find themselves in multiple dangerous scenarios including finding themselves lost in the temple of an ancient demon and battling a clan of dragon riding warriors.

   The original book isn’t the best in the series, it still feels like Pratchett is finding his voice, trying out a bunch of different stuff to see what works for him, but the key ingredients of the Discworld series are here, loving parodies of the clichés of the fantasy genre, clever word play and jokes and an underlying sense of the absurd throughout…all of which are missing from the comic.

   That’s the main problem with this book, it just isn’t funny. There are jokes, don’t get me wrong, but they seem to come once every ten pages instead of every two sentences and when they do appear, they fall flat, failing completely at capturing Pratchett’s style of humour.
   The characters all suffer terribly, Rincewind’s cowardly persona, when sapped of its humour, comes across very poorly, he just has no personality at all.
   That said, at least the underlying joke that Rincewind is a coward still rears its head, at least slightly, other characters don’t even get that. A good example is Liessa, the leader of the dragon riders. In the original novel, she is a parody of women in the fantasy genre. She “armours” herself in a remarkably impractical chainmail bikini which is useless at containing her buxom physique let alone providing any actual protection.
   She’s a satire of the sexist cliché running through the fantasy genre of women as little more that set decoration, dressed in skimpy outfits for no reason other than titillation.
   Here, all of that is removed, there’s no joke about her outfit or its impracticality, she makes no mention of it herself nor do any of the other characters, she’s just a woman in a chainmail bikini. Instead of offering some satire of the cliché, she just becomes another example of it, there to do nothing but titillate.

Colour of magic interior art.

   So the writing does a poor job at capturing Pratchett’s style, but surely some of it remains in the artwork? ….not so much.
   Taking a quick glance at the original cover illustrations for the Discworld series by Josh Kirby you immediately get a sense of what the novels will be like. They burst with colour and are cluttered with characters and minute background detail. They’re overly busy, riotous and anarchic, exactly what the Discworld series is like to read. Here, artist Steven Ross’ work is far too stiff, the colours too washed out. He attempts to populate the world with that same anarchy, scenes in Ankh-morpork often feature small background details of people engaged in fights and things like that, but none of the panels ever feel alive.
   Not only that, but often, they don’t even do their job of helping tell the story. There were several moments while reading this book where, during a page turn, there was a scene jump with no real explanation as to why.
   One example was a scene where a demon attacks Rincewind and Twoflower on the road. Rincewind dispatches of it and in the very next panel under a text box that reads “Sometime later…” Twoflower sits alone on a rock revealing that he is lost, having been separated from Rincewind for several hours. Immediately I checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally skipped over a few pages but no…in the panel that sees Rincewind kill the demon, there is a tiny background detail of Twoflower’s horse (or, more precisely, the horses head) seemingly bucking up at the threat of the demon. The reader was apparently to read this easily missed detail as evidence that Twoflower’s horse gets startled and carries Twoflower off into the woods for miles until he is totally separated from Rincewind.
   This, on its own wouldn’t be an issue but this exact same thing happened at least five times while I read the book, with details linking scenes either minute or missing entirely.

   This comic is a sadly missed opportunity. What should have been an easy transition seems to miss the point of the Discworld series entirely, presenting an utterly humourless version of the story that feels like a third-rate generic fantasy tale with nothing to offer. Fans of the novels will be disappointed and newcomers to the series risk being put off continuing. Avoid it. 

Terry Pratchett
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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Sonic X Part 1 - Episodes #01 - 05



Sonic X Logo
Sonic X
Part 1 - Episodes #01 - 05

   It’s that time again, time to go through a cartoon series and analyse is episode by episode.
   Sonic X is the fourth (and up until the recent announcement of Sonic Boom, the final) series made based on the Sonic the Hedgehog video game series and is one that divides the fans a great deal. Many praise the series for its action and several long story arcs based heavily on the games themselves, like the impressive Sonic Adventure adaptation, others however, bemoaned the inconsistent animation style which is occasionally brilliant but frequently sees characters going grotesquely off model, and the new characters, most notably Chris Thorndyke who has gone on to become one of the most hated characters in the entire Sonic multiverse.

   Personally I can see both sides of the arguments and, while there’s a lot about Sonic X I do like, I find myself falling more on the side of those who dislike the series.
   Nevertheless, while I’m going to give you my opinions on each episode, I’d highly encourage you to seek the series out for yourself and make up your own mind.

   Okay, enough with the intro, with nearly eighty episodes to talk about we’ve got a lot to get through so lets dive right in…

Ep 01: Chaos Control Freaks
   This episode is a really great intro to the series, starting with an attack on Eggman’s HQ we are introduced to each of the main characters fairly naturally. When Eggman activates one his his machines it goes aywire and sonic is transported to earth where he immediately has to escape the authorities who chase him across the city. We are also introduced to Sam Speed, leader of a group of race car driving police officers, who hates anyone who can travel faster than him (wonder where that’s headed…) before running off the highway and landing in a swimming pool where he is rescued by everyone’s favourite character Chris.

Sonic Meets Chris

   The episode is high on action and speed and sets the premise up perfectly. While you could say a little more time spent on Sonic’s home planet would be welcome (a whole series maybe?), if you just accept the show’s premise, this is about as good an intro to the series as you could hope for and leaves you wanting more.

Ep 02: Sonic to the rescue
   Along with Chris and his grandfather, Sonic mounts a rescue mission to retrieve Cream & Cheese from a military base. Along the way he is also reunited with Tails and we learn that Dr Eggman has indeed been transported to earth as well.

   We’re still in the introductory phase of the series so once again, action is the main focus. Those looking for more character orientated stories (A group I count myself amongst) will have to wait a while longer.
   That aside, this is another good episode without much to complain about. It’s still pretty shallow, but it does its job.

Ep 03: Missile Wrist Rampage
   Eggman launches his first attack on the city using a robot called Missile Wrist. The gang attempt to take it down and are reunited with Amy and Knuckles.

Knuckles & Amy

   Once again, action over character development. This episode is the first in a the horribly tedious and repetitive series of episodes which see Eggman unleash robot after robot to destroy the city with Sonic and co fending them off. It’s a dull arc which thankfully doesn’t keep up for the duration of the series, but one which lasts more than long enough to leave a sour taste in your mouth.
   When I first seen this series, when it was first broadcast on UK TV, this episodic formula at the beginning really put me off watching. I went from watching them live, to taping them to watch later to giving up on the series entirely within the space of just a few weeks. It wasn’t until I reluctantly picked the series up on DVD that I got much further than the opening episodes.

Ep 04: Chaos Emerald Chaos
   A chaos emerald is discovered in a building site and the race is on to grab it. Meanwhile the government send an agent to pose as Chris’ teacher to learn more about Sonic and his friends.

   This is the first truely bad episode of the series. There’s a lot going on here.  First, there’s the emerald both Sonic and Eggman are hunting, then there’s Eggman’s robot that needs dealt with, the spy posing as Chris’ teacher and also a small side plot about the government sending spies to Eggman’s island. There’s just too much going on and the result is an episode that’s just a mess.
   Not to mention, the robot of the week gimmick is already feeling repetitive after only its second incarnation (not helped by the fact that the scene where Eggman loads his robot cards into the sorter uses the exact same animation as the previous episode). The plot just feels like it’s been cut and pasted from the last episode. Not a good sign.

Ep 05: Cracking Knuckles
   Eggman tricks Knuckles into thinking Sonic is keeping a chaos emerald to himself so the gang can’t return home.

Sonic vs Knuckles

   A good old fashioned gullible Knuckles story. Who doesn’t love those? This is a pretty good one, worth a watch just for the great battle between Sonic and Knuckles, Knux aggressively trying to take Sonic down and Sonic playfully evading Knuckles’  attacks. It’s a lot of fun.
   Sadly, the plot once again devolves into another Robot of the week battle as Eggman captures Amy, Chris and Tails and keeps them hostage. Even this isn’t too bad though as Knuckles’ takedown of Eggman’s bot is pretty epic.

   All in all though, this is a good one, well worth a watch. 

Sonic Says

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Knife of Never Letting Go



The knife of never letting go
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Patrick Ness

   The Knife of Never Letting Go takes place in a world where everyone can hear the thoughts of those around them, where no thought is private, where the cluttered noise of people thoughts is a constant hum in the air.
   The book is set twenty years after humanity (or at least we’re supposed to think it’s humanity) has left Earth (or at least we’re supposed to think it’s Earth) to start over on a distant planet, some seventy years travel by spaceship if you’re planning on visiting. Shortly after landing, the humans find themselves engaged in a war with the Spackle, the natives of the planet who unleash the “noise germ”, the germ which causes the men to be able to hear each others thoughts and kills all of the women.
   The story follows Todd Hewitt, a twelve year old boy in the small settlement of Prentisstown, several days removed from his thirteenth birthday where he will become a man. While out exploring the swamp that surrounds his town he comes across something unusual, a break in the noise, one area of pure silence, the discovery of which leads him to uncover a web of lies and the dark secrets of Prentisstown.

   It took me a while to get into this book. Ness takes his time explaining the setup and it’s almost a hundred pages in before we get an explanation of the noise germ and the history behind the war. This is perfectly fine, it lets the exposition feel natural instead of being forced down the readers throat for the sake of world building, but it means that the reader is left more than a little confused for some time while trying to work out for themselves what is going on.
   When I finally did get into the book however I found it to be a dark, brutal, intriguing tale. Todd’s world is not a safe place at all and the more we learn of it, the more dangerous we discover it is. Ness does a great job of drip feeding the reveals about the true history of Prentisstown which only serve to build the mystery more and more as the reader progresses.

   I will say however, that once the truth was revealed, I found it a little disappointing. While the truth behind Prentisstown is certainly dark, it’s also a little predictable. After so much building to the reveal, it kind of felt like the book had left me with an expectation that it couldn’t possibly live up to, leaving the climax a feeling a little damp.

   One thing the novel gets absolutely spot on is it’s depiction of animals. Another side effect of the noise germ is that it gives the animals the ability to speak and their characters are just perfect. The crocodiles swim along, their noise constantly talking of ripping and killing, the birds’ noise is a constant chirp of fear.
   The best example is Manchee, Todd’s faithful dog who’s dialogue is just a delight to read. He is constantly questioning, constantly happy, fairly simple minded in the way you’d expect a dog to be. It might soundlike an odd comparison but he constantly reminded me of Dug from the movie Up. Their depictions of what a talking dog might sound like are very similar and are both very loveable.

   There’s a couple of plot holes throughout the novel, mostly to do with the noise itself. Once the truth is revealed it doesn’t really make any sense that Todd wouldn’t have already known about Mayor Prentiss’ plan. In his twelve years did nobody in Prentisstown ever think back to the events before the book? As Todd’s birthday approaches, the final part of the puzzle, did nobody ever think about the fact that it was almost time to put into action the plan they’d been hatching for years? It doesn’t really make sense.

   Overall I’m not too sure about how I felt about this one, while I really enjoyed it in parts, the confusing opening ad disappointing finale left me a little deflated. Its part of a trilogy (which YA book isn’t?) so it’s maybe a story which reads better as a whole, but I’m not sure how desperate I am to continue on with the next two in the series. 

Patrick Ness
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Friday, 11 July 2014

200: Cerebus - An Overview



200th post

   Before we get on with today's post, a quick announcement. Today marks the 200th post on this blog so I'd just like to extend a quick thank you to everyone who takes the time out of their day to read whatever's posted here. Your support means a lot to me, thank you all so much.

   I'd debated a lot about what to write about for this post, it had to be something special, something epic. Luckily, as the deadline approached, I finished a series I had been reading for the last three years. Dave Sim's mammoth comic book Cerebus.
   It's a series I adore, but one I have a lot of problems with. The joy I take from it often diminished by the outlandish politics of it's creator.
    I fully intend to reread the series fairly soon (probably next year) and review each individual volume, but for now, here's an overview of the whole saga. I hope you enjoy.
Jake


Cerebus: An Overview
Dave Sim & Gerhard

   When it comes to talking about Cerebus, where do you start? Three hundred issues in comic form, sixteen phonebook sized volumes when collected in trade paperbacks, over six thousand pages released over twenty seven years, every one written and illustrated by Dave Sim himself with backgrounds drawn by his collaborator Gerhard.
   The longest running narrative by one single team in comics history, it’s a remarkable achievement, but looking back at its humble origins, I doubt many would have ever imagined the series would gain such lofty ambitions.

   When Cerebus debuted in1977 it was a fairly dull parody of sword and sorcery comics. A cliché ridden Conan-a-like story with the six foot tall, muscle bound barbarian replaced with Cerebus, a three foot tall, anthropomorphic Aardvark.
   The premise was amusing and the character was interesting enough that the series was able to continue on for several issues before the tone started to change dramatically.
   Over time, Cerebus became a much more serious comic. The humour was still there, in fact it grew and grew, with multiple pop culture parodies and references being woven into the narrative, but the plot became much deeper. The story began to veer from simple Sword and Sorcery parody to a dense, well plotted political and religious satire.

   The series began to be divided into separate “novels”, individual long running stories which all tied together within the narrative. The first major novel was High Society, in which Cerebus found himself being manipulated into becoming president, this was followed by Church & State which saw him reach to the level of Pope.
  
   From these two satirical novels the series began to change again, becoming more experimental, allowing Dave Sim to tackle really any topic he saw fit to cover. The style of the books themselves began to change too. Some story arcs maintained a traditional comic book setup with the story told over multiple panels while other arcs almost dropped the comic format entirely, being presented as nothing but huge walls of text with the occasional illustration to break them up.

   It was around this point that many fans became weary of the series. Many felt that Dave Sim’s experiments with the format often went too far, to the point where they were unpleasant to read. Sim began to conceive the story arcs, not as the individual issues in which they were released, but as the final finished phonebooks they would eventually be collected as. This led to some problems as the original prints in the twenty page comic books often ended mid scene, with no real start or end points within the issues.
   When I read Cerebus I did so with the phonebooks, so this wasn’t a problem for me, but I can’t begin to imagine how frustrating it must have been to those people reading the story in the original format, having to wait until next months issue, not to see where the story goes next, but just to see how a sentence ends.

Reads: Probably the most controversial entry in the series 

   During the sixth novel in the series, Mothers & Daughters, the series became even more controversial amongst the fans. The arc, which saw Cerebus go up against a Matriarchal dictatorship, ran by Cirin, another Aardvark, began to be overran by Dave Sim’s personal philosophies and political opinions.


   The novel introduced the character Viktor Davis, a fictional author, obviously intended to be an analogue for Sim himself. In a lengthy text piece, Davis denounces Feminism and makes some very misogynistic claims that many found offensive. The piece turned many away from Cerebus for good and led several of Sim’s friends and colleagues to distance themselves from the author, some even suggesting that Sim’s drug use may have led to some form of mental illness.

   Controversy would continue to plague Cerebus from then until the end of the series in 2004. While the story returned to a more traditional comic format for the most part, there were still occasional returns to the ideology that Sim described in Mothers & Daughters. Most notable in Latter Days, where Sim spent over a year of the comic’s run with a lengthy text piece in which Cerebus attempts to come up with an interpretation of the Torah that falls in line with Sim’s views.

   For many, the act of reading Cerebus is the act of separating the art from the artist, attempting to look beyond Sim’s personal views and the moments when they invade the text, and follow the adventures of Cerebus himself, to take enjoyment from the actual story and not the baggage that Sim weighs it down with.
  
   Sim’s artwork is stunning, arguably some of the best sequential artwork the industry has ever seen. While the early issues are fairly crude, as the series runs on the reader is given the rare chance to see an artists work evolving on the page. Comparing the art from the first and last issues you’d struggle to believe they were even drawn by the same person. It’s a genuine treat to be able to see Sim’s style evolve, to see him become more comfortable with posing characters and designing unique facial expressions.
   One thing Sim does brilliantly, is to make use of the comic book itself in his artwork. I remember a scene in which Cerebus fell down a flight of stairs. As he tumbled, the text boxes began to spin around too, forcing the reader to “tumble” the comic along with Cerebus. He also drew some incredibly dream sequences which see Cerebus’ location, dress and appearance change from panel to panel without warning, very similar to the way things change randomly in dreams in real life.
   This sophisticated style, accompanied by Gerhard’s highly detailed background art, make for one of the most visually stunning comic books ever made.

Dave Sim surrounded by his work
   Cerebus is a mammoth undertaking, readers taking their first steps into the series have a huge journey ahead of them. A journey which will take them through amazing landscapes populated by wonderful, imaginative characters. The humour will keep them laughing throughout and the storylines will keep them engaged. It is not always an easy journey to take. I myself had several moments where the ability to separate art and artist proved a little too difficult, several moments where I didn’t know whether to continue on through the mire of Sim’s appalling views in the hope there would be light at the end of the tunnel or abandon the series for good. Every time though, I was glad I continued on, even when hitting another roadblock, there was always something good just around the corner, as if Sim had returned to lucidity and went back to writing the proper series.
   In the end, when Sim’s personal opinions bogged down the narrative, I stayed on for Cerebus himself. I couldn’t care less what Sim thought, or what bile he would spew next. I loved Cerebus and wanted to know what happened to him next.

   Cerebus isn’t an easy story to read, but for those willing to make that distinction between the art and the artist it’s a magnificent accomplishment, the kind of which we’re unlikely to ever see again.
   The journey the reader takes with Cerebus may not always be easy, and it may not end on sunny shores, but, for my money, it was most certainly worth it. 

Cerebus has had it up to here with talk...

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Fault in Our Stars Double Bill



The Fault in Our Stars cover
The Fault in Our Stars
John Green

   I have a confession to make, one that might be a little controversial. Both times that I’ve read this book, I’ve started off really hating Augustus Waters. During his initial introduction, where he describes his fear of “oblivion” and the metaphorical resonance of his non-smoking, holding an unlit cigarette in his mouth “putting the killing thing between his lips but not giving it the power to do the killing”. I hated him.
   I found him incredibly smug and pretentious, the kind of teaspoon deep, handsome boy intended to make girls swoon and nothing more.
   Not long into the book though, when his true personality begins to become a bit more apparent, I ended up really liking him. He’s a pretentious prick at times but he’s also caring, funny, smart and a really enjoyable character.

   That’s what makes John Green’s writing so great to read. Each of his characters are very realistic. They’re never just good or bad, likeable or intolerable. Like real people, they each have their good qualities and bad. There are moments where you love them and moments where you want to slap them.
   Hazel, the novel’s protagonist is the same. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, she’s not the typical “not going down without a fight” cancer patient we’re used to seeing in books and films. She’s a scared teenager, who pretty much shuts herself off completely from the rest of the world in an attempt to minimise the damage that her inevitable death will cause.
   She too, is funny, smart and loving but on multiple occasions throughout the novel, let’s her frustrations get the better of her, lashing out at either her parents or Augustus for no real reason, just as you might expect a real person in her position to do.

John Green

   While I can’t claim to have any real world experience of the subject matter, the treatment of cancer in the novel feels very true to life too. The sufferers live in constant fear and acknowledgement of death and it’s clear that these feelings still hang over those who have gotten the all clear. It’s permanently in the back of each characters mind, not so much a battle to be fought as an inevitability to be faced.
   It’s a heartbreaking but refreshing thing to see. We’re so used to seeing characters in fiction react to cancer with affirmative action, as if the disease can be overcome by sheer willpower. The reality of the situation is not that, cancer in the real world is as it’s presented here, outside of anyone’s control.

   The book is also offers a refreshing take on romance, so often open to cliché in fiction. Here the romance proceeds at a fairly realistic pace. Hazel and Gus don’t meet and instantly fall in love, instead they become friends and their romance evolves pretty naturally from there. In fact, for a long time, Hazel refuses to get in a relationship at all, again wanting to minimalise the casualties of her death.
   Even when the relationship finally does become official it’s never unbelievably romantic. In particular, when they finally consummate their relationship it’s done without much eroticism, it’s as awkward as you’d expect a first sexual encounter between an oxygen dependent cancer patient and one legged virgin to be.

   The Fault in our Stars is John Green’s best work to date. It’s a refreshingly realistic take on life with cancer, romance and teenage life in general. The characters and plot suck you in and refuse to let go. It’s a book that I’m certain I’ll return to again and again in the future and if you haven’t read it yet, you owe it to yourself to do so.


The Fault in Our Stars movie poster
The Fault in Our Stars
Dir: Josh Boone

   The Fault in Our Stars was never going to be an easy film to adapt for the screen. A book which prides itself on a realistic, cliché and glossless telling of life with cancer put into the Hollywood machine, a machine custom built to deliver unrealistic, cliché and gloss ridden stories.
   It’s a wonder therefore, that the movie survives this process and fares very well, even when held up alongside the book.

   It hasn’t escaped Hollwoodisation completely, many of the slower scenes of the book have escaped the final cut and make the romance between Gus and Hazel feel a lot faster, much more like love at first sight, versus the slow burn it receives in the novel.
   There’s also a fair bit of glamorisation, both Gus and Hazel’s home lives feel a little too idyllic. They live in large, well kept houses and there’s never really a feeling that these families are living with the expense of a terminally ill child.
   Each of the characters too, feel a little less realistic than their novel counterparts, as if their faults and edges have been sanded off, though only very slightly.

   I want to get these criticisms out of the way because I feel they’re pretty inconsequential over all. The film is incredibly faithful to the original novel and, aside from the odd tweak and slight upping of the cheesiness manages to get across everything John Green had to say in an entertaining and heartfelt way.  
   In fact, the only scenes I had any real problem with were actually moments taken straight from the book. Pieces of dialogue lifted direct from the page that, while fine in their original context, feel a little odd when you hear them coming from a real person’s mouth. There’s also the kiss in Anne Frank’s attic that, while touching in the book, feels a little inappropriate and uncomfortable here.
   Again however, these are minor niggles and scenes like this are few and far between.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are the perfect choices for their roles, managing to capture both the humour and gravitas of their characters perfectly.

   The cast are fantastic, both Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort are the perfect choices for their roles, managing to capture both the humour and gravitas of their characters perfectly. They have great chemistry on screen and are completely believable as a couple.
   Sam Trammell and Laura Dern are great as Hazel’s parents, though Dern suffers perhaps the worst translation from the book the movie has to offer as Hazel’s mum becomes very watered down, rarely given much to do on screen other than smile supportingly and tell Hazel how proud of her she is.
    Willem Dafoe also gives an impressive supporting performance as the alcoholic author Van Houten and while he gives a different take on the character than that I had in my head while reading the book, he chews scenery with glee and steals every scene he’s in.

   The tone of the story survives the transition brilliantly. It’s a fine line to walk, and while the film never truly lives up to the promise of telling the story without sugar-coating, what little sugar it does offer, with the exception of one or two scenes, never feels overwhelming. The film still does away with many traditional “cancer movie” tropes and presents a realistic depiction of what life is actually like to suffers of the disease. These harsher elements of the story are presented well too and never come across as preachy or over bearing. It’s a very impressive accomplishment.

   The Fault in Our Stars was an adaptation that many, including myself, feared for when it was announced. There was so much that could go wrong. In the end though, the final product gets so much right. It’s a fantastic adaptation of a brilliant story that will delight, entertain and break the hearts of old and new fans alike.  

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