Thursday, 29 November 2012

Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog Episodes #31 - 35



Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
Episodes #31 - 35

Monday, 19 November 2012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever




Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever
Jeff Kinney

I’ve kind of missed the boat on this series, it’s been immensely popular, spawning seven books, three films, toys, games and various other spin off thingamajigs. I have also broken my rule of only starting with the first in a series, instead my introduction to the Wimpy Kid is the sixth title in the series.

Obviously this is a book aimed at eight to ten year olds and, as such, is unlikely to satisfy your literary cravings but you know what? It’s really funny.
I read this in one go, (no mean feat, it’s quite short) and I loved it. It’s a very funny book, written well, with a suitable amount of jokes both for kids and adults. Children’s books that try to appeal to grown ups always run the risk of not providing content for the true audience, the children. Not so here, the jokes are for kids but with a wry nod towards adults, more a smirk out of the corner of the mouth than an outright punchline. Children will laugh at Greg’s virtual pet, and parents will emphasise with his poor mum, constantly forking out cash for clothes for a dog that doesn’t exist.

The plot is light and delightfully all over the place. A book about being trapped in a house during a snow storm could be clichéd but it’s touched upon only very briefly towards the end with the majority of the book reading more like a series of quick sketches, none of which are long enough to outstay their welcome or too short to be entertaining.

I really enjoyed this book, to the point that I will be actively ncouraging my girlfriend’s little sister (from whom I stole this copy) to buy more of them so I can steal them away for myself.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Pyramids



Pyramids
Terry Pratchett

Over the past couple of years I have been engaged in the mammoth challenge of reading the entire Discworld Series in order. No easy task for a series which currently sits at thirty seven titles (over forty if you include the science books and other various titles).  So far in my quest I have managed to get through the first seven books in the series, the most recent of which is Pyramids.

Pyramids is quite a different book from the six previous. For the most part the other titles have stayed located around the same general area, the city of Ankh-Morpork and the surrounding country, while the city does make an appearance the majority of the novel is spent in on the other side of the disc in a dessert culture named Djelebeybi.

Djelebeybi is the Discworld equivalent of ancient Egypt and we are introduced to many amusing parodies on the Egyptian way of life (mummifying kings inside gigantic  pyramids even though building these monoliths is bankrupting the country) and an overall mockery of the notion of pyramid power.
However, I don’t feel this book works as well as previous instalments in the series, it’s still a very funny book but I didn’t get as many belly laughs as I had reading the last book in the series (Wyrd Sisters). The plot rambles a little and the book could stand to be slightly shorter overall.

There are still a wealth of funny moments, the idea that camels are great mathematicians but keep the knowledge secret so humans won’t kill them to find how their brains work, just not a wealth on par with the other books that came before it.

It’s hard really to recommend a Discworld book anyway, the whole series should be viewed intact, taking a single book  out of the large body of work seems wrong somehow.
If you are reading the series as  a whole, you’ll find this a weaker entry but one that does a great job of expanding the disc and fleshing out a world that so far we’ve seen quite little of.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Black Box



Black Box
Jennifer Egan

Black Box is an e-book only release from Jennifer Egan, the author of A Visit from the goon squad. It tells the story of an unnamed female (possibly one of the characters from Goon Squad), a civilian, forced to become a spy. Throughout the story we are given little to no information on her mission.

I thoroughly enjoyed Egan’s A visit from the goon squad, a rich blend of different characters and writing styles. And though many chastised it as a short story collection masquerading as a novel I found the book a wonderful, fresh piece of writing and consumed it over the course of two or three days.
 Black Box is her follow-up, not a novel this time but a single stand alone short story available on E-readers exclusively.
The book garnered attention due to its format. Looking at your kindle screen the book appears as a collection of sentences, each one to it’s own paragraph. In actual fact the book is a succession of Tweets, published on the New Yorker’s twitter feed over the course of nine days earlier this year.
It would be easy to write this Twitter-novel off as a publicity stunt but Egan has defended it, saying that the tradition of using real world mediums in writing is as old aswriting itself. This is indeed true, Dracula takes the form of Diary entries, characters learning of other characters movements by reading each others journals. We need to talk about Kevin is written as a series of letters. Salmon fishing in the Yemen, a collection of leaked government documents, emails and magazine interviews. The problem with slotting Twitter into this tradition however is that twitter heavily dictates the story, allowing only 140 characters at a time.

Despite these constraints though, Egan manages to weave a very well considered story. I found myself reading the book slowly, savouring every sentence as there is so little text to devour. Some of these tweets ring with true beauty though I must admit it does occasionally feel like you’re reading a teenagers pretentious twitter feed.. After a while however I stopped thinking of the story surrounding the story and was able to enjoy the book, not as an exercise in a new medium but as a really great story on it’s own merits. Readers who like a dense piece of writing will be left wanting here, little information is given away, we never learn the characters name, never really discern her location or ever fully understand what the mission she has been tasked with actually is. Instead we are given snapshots of the story, brief windows or dialogue or introspection.

I massively enjoyed this story and look forward to reading Egan’s other works. Overall, though it’s obviously an experiment, Spartan and you’ll finish it in one sitting, I heartily recommend you seek this one out.

Monkey



Monkey
Wu Ch’eng-en
Translated by Arthur Waley

"Also known as Journey to the West, Wu Ch'êng-ên's Monkey is one of the Four Great Classical Novels in Chinese literature, translated by Arthur Waley in Penguin Classics.

Monkey depicts the adventures of Prince Tripitaka, a young Buddhist priest on a dangerous pilgrimage to India to retrieve sacred scriptures accompanied by his three unruly disciples: the greedy pig creature Pipsy, the river monster Sandy - and Monkey. Hatched from a stone egg and given the secrets of heaven and earth, the irrepressible trickster Monkey can ride on the clouds, become invisible and transform into other shapes - skills that prove very useful when the four travellers come up against the dragons, bandits, demons and evil wizards that threaten to prevent them in their quest. Wu Ch'êng-ên wrote Monkey in the mid-sixteenth century, adding his own distinctive style to an ancient Chinese legend, and in so doing created a dazzling combination of nonsense with profundity, slapstick comedy with spiritual wisdom".

My first experience of Journey to the west was the 1970’s TV show monkey, a Japanese take on the tale starring Masaaki Saki in the titular role. The show, when translated into English was done with a self aware, self parodying style. It knew it was over the top kung fu nonsense and it was proud of it.
The original novel from which it came however, is considered one of the great classical novels of China and has survived since the 16th century.

The story is of Tripitaka, a young Buddhist priest charged with travelling to India to find scriptures of Buddhist teachings. Along the way he picks up three disciples, Monkey, the ruler of the kingdom of the water curtain cave who was imprisoned under a rock after causing trouble in heaven, Pigsy a pig demon who has been kicked out of heaven and Sandy, a fish demon of similar predicament. They are also joined by a dragon who turns into a horse.

The book is  highly episodic, every chapter or so Tripitaka is captured by demons or the group meet a stranger with some sort of demonic problem and it is up to monkey to save the day.
Occasionally these chapters feature human foes but more often than not the fiend is some form of animal demon. Some of the chapters featuring humans feel rather like episodes of propaganda, the chapter, for example, where the four come upon a land ruled by a Taoist king who has made slaves of the Buddhists. Tripitaka must then prove Buddhism’s superiority over Taoism in a series of tests (all of which it is perhaps worth noting, monkey cheat in).
The story dates from a time where written novels and the rules of story telling were still somewhat in their infancy, therefore the straight forward style of writing feels incredibly dated, there are none of the flourishes of prose we expect of such novels and the characterisation is occasionally laughable. During a scene were Monkey first learns to fly on the clouds, the students ion his class show no real amazment at this impossible skill, remarking only,
“Monkey is in luck, - one way or another he will always be able to pick up a living”

The main problem with this book was the translation I picked up. Arthur Waley’s interpretation (which features a name change from “Journey to the west” to “Monkey, perhaps to associate itself more with the TV show) is a drastically shortened version of the original tale. In fact the one hundred chapters that make up the book are chopped down to thirty, excising over half the story. This is done to cut down on the repetitious chapters in the middle of the book but even the chapters that remain are heavily altered too, removing much of the descriptive passages.
I was also disappointed to find Sandy, my favourite character from the TV show, practically non-existent in this version, only occasionally piping up with a sentence or two before falling silent for chapter upon chapter.

It is a wonderful story though, albeit one which feels a little barebones in places. It has stood the test of time and while it is not as famous as other classical works like the Iliad and odyssey, I would recommend it. I would love to read it again in an unabridged form and may one day return to review this book as it was meant to be read.