WWW Wednesday – 2017/08/16

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

HellboyOddJobsI recently started reading Hellboy: Odd Jobs, an anthology of short stories edited by Christopher Golden. I’d been focusing on getting some other books read, so I’ve only read one story so far. It captured the spirit of a single-issue Hellboy case quite well, though for a large chunk of it the story felt rather unremarkable. What did work well was how it dealt with its monster, Medusa, integrating more obscure aspects of her mythology into where she comes from. I also really liked how it depicted being petrified by her, and the subsequent reversal of stone back to flesh and blood. The visual evoked by worn and broken statues returning to what they once were was unsettling.

Recently Finished

PyramidsI finished reading Pyramids by Terry Pratchett a few days ago, which I posted a review of yesterday. This novel was much more interesting than I expected it to be, though admittedly that stems from knowing almost nothing about it. Unlike others in the series that I’m looking forward to, I read this one because it was next. Nevertheless, it tells a thoughtful tale of belief, ritual, identity, and how becoming too engrossed in accompanying traditions can prevent us from moving forward.

 

GuardiansOfTheGalaxyAngelaCoverI also finished Guardians of the Galaxy: Angela, the second volume in the series that ran from 2013 to 2015. Unlike the first volume, this was rather disappointing thanks to Marvel’s unfortunate tendency to tie independent series to their yearly events in half-assed ways. I had to look up information for their Age of Ultron event series as well as Infinity to have a frame of reference for what was going on. Angela was an interesting addition to the team, but I’m soured that I couldn’t just get an extensive Guardians of the Galaxy story instead of dealing with the leftovers and sidelines of other storylines.

Reading Next

DarkDiscipleI’ve finished watching The Clone Wars, so Star Wars: Dark Disciple looms in my near future. The only thing that makes me hesitate is my desire to watch the unfinished episode arcs available on the Star Wars website. I’m on a kick with this franchise right now, and knowing there’s more story (even if the animation is horrifically incomplete) is actually alluring to me right now.

Otherwise, I’ve been thinking more about the classics I wanted to get through this year like The Golden Ass by Apuleius and The Aeneid by Virgil. I especially need to get the latter of the two read so I can finish the connected trio of epics, even if The Aeneid was written far later and was basically propaganda to help legitimize the Roman Empire.

Book Review – Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

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‘Look after the dead’, said the priests, ‘and the dead will look after you.’

Wise words in all probability, but a tall order when, like Teppic, you have just become the pharaoh of a small and penniless country rather earlier than expected, and your treasury is unlikely to stretch to the building of a monumental pyramid to honour your dead father.

He’d had the best education money could buy of course, but unfortunately the syllabus at the Assassin’s Guild in Ankh-Morpork did not cover running a kingdom and basic financial acumen…

Pyramids

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett is the seventh novel in his comic Fantasy series Discworld, telling a standalone story this time around. It takes place in the old kingdom of Djelibeybi (jelly-baby), which is based on the cultures and mythology of Ancient Egypt. In my progress through the series, this book was admittedly one I wasn’t particularly looking forward to. There are only a few books in this massive series that are actually standalone tales, involving characters who will not, as far as I know, be appearing in any meaningful way again. Regardless of this, I was pleasantly surprised with this novel.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again, there are elements in Pratchett’s Discworld novels that do become a tad repetitive, and this book doesn’t quite escape that. In this case our protagonist Teppic is to blame, our assassin turned Pharaoh, who feels a lot like a Pratchett-styled stock main character. Though he’s more skilled than some previous leading men, he’s still awkward and insecure in ways that feel a little too familiar. I did, however, like his status of stranger in a familiar land. A lot of his formative years were spent in Ankh-Morpork, getting a rather detailed education from the Assassins’ Guild, so his return home from a more open and ever-changing society is jarring to say the least.

This return home to the Old Kingdom, resulting in a rather typical calamitous situation our hero must find a way to reverse, also reveals deeper elements that made the story much more substantive than I anticipated. Using ancient Egyptian mythology — and some touches of ancient Greek philosophy — Pratchett plays with societies’ obsessions with tradition and religion, as well as the effects belief has on people and the roles they inhabit. This is highlighted by the fact that while there is an antagonistic character, there isn’t really an individual villain that Teppic must face to save his kingdom. The traditions and beliefs of this society, enforced so adamantly and taken too far, are what turns the kingdom on its head. The people are forced to literally confront their beliefs, and only in overcoming this are they capable of moving forward and bringing about change.

The supporting cast was particularly interesting in this book, focusing on a number of parties that don’t interact with one another that much, but all have importance. There are the pyramid builders Ptaclusp and his two sons, Ptaclusp IIa and Ptaclusp IIb, as well as the master embalmer, Dil, and his apprentice, Gern. Each party adds some extra comic relief as they frantically try to deal with the demands from on high, but each are also tied to the physical embodiments of the kingdom’s grip on the past. While others demonstrate a figurative anchor to the old ways, the pyramids (and the mummies they’re built for) contribute to the literal one. It is through the builders that we learn the workings of pyramids on the Discworld, which plays with the idea of “Pyramid power,” as well as the thoughts of the dead on being mummified, since the recently deceased king is tied to his corpse and watches the embalmers at their work. These different angles to the story allow for a richer approach to the situation at hand, and also help illustrate that there is more to it than a hero stopping a crisis.

All in all, Pyramids was a fine entry in to the Discworld. From appearances, much of the series has its legs thanks to the numerous sub-series within, but it’s nice to see that a standalone novel can be as strong as this. It’s also worth noting that while I’m reading the whole series in order, by no means are they written in a way that you’d have to. This could be your first, or even only Discworld novel, and I don’t think that you’d be lost. Though steeped in mythological parody, at its heart is a rather good story about identity, for the person and the place, and learning how to move on from what you’ve always known and become something new.

Movie Review – The Dark Tower

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Spoiler Warning: I do reveal some key plot points in as vague a way as I can. I normally would work to avoid this more, but in this case, I needed to bring these things up.

IMDB Summary

The last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, has been locked in an eternal battle with Walter O’Dim, also known as the Man in Black, determined to prevent him from toppling the Dark Tower, which holds the universe together. With the fate of the worlds at stake, good and evil will collide in the ultimate battle as only Roland can defend the Tower from the Man in Black.

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The Dark Tower, directed and co-written by Nikolaj Arcel, is an American science fantasy Western based on the novel series of the same name by Stephen King. The film stars Idris Elba as Roland Deschain of Gilead, the last gunslinger, Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers, and Matthew McConaughey as Walter aka The Man in Black. This is a film I have been highly anticipating for the last year. I’d been a Dark Tower fan for a number of years, but in the summer of 2016, when I was only halfway through the series, I resolved to finish it before this film released. In April of this year I completed The Dark Tower, my resolution completed. For a lot of personal build up it amounted to something sadly anti-climactic.

Up until very recently it was my understanding that this film was going to adapt the first novel, The Gunslinger, with elements adapted from the third book The Waste Lands. In my mind, this would work quite well, especially considering the context this movie is supposed to take place in for fans of the books (Mayhap this time will be different). This movie actually condenses precise plot points from across the series, glossing over and omitting a lot of things along the way, and wraps them up. For a film that I could only assume is/was supposed to be the first in a series, this was quite baffling. The Dark Tower novels are full of rich characters and mythology to flesh out, yet this movie seemed only interested in a small percentage of it all. It presents a boiled down version of the series.

TheDarkTowerMovieRolandAndJake

A particular change I have trouble with is Roland himself, for all intents and purposes the protagonist of the novels. While he is still a main character, it doesn’t really feel like his story. While it makes sense to make Jake Chambers a vehicle for the audience to learn about Mid-World, he he is essentially the protagonist as well, making it more a story about him than Roland. This change I did not like, since it is supposed to be his companions that get caught up in helping fulfill his quest. Key aspects of Roland’s characterization and motivations are different too. He pursues Walter here not because of his quest for the Tower, but because he desires retribution for the murder of his father. In the books Walter was an enemy, but also a means to an end. Roland’s obsession with reaching the Tower, requiring him to save it to do so, is integral in the novels, yet completely absent here. At points he says he doesn’t even care about the Tower and whether or not it falls.

To give some credit where it is due, casting is an area this film does deserve particular praise. Elba does a good job of bringing Roland to life despite the issues with how the gunslinger is written. I believed I was watching Roland Deschain, whether he was gunning down foes, mentoring Jake, or a fish out of water on Earth. McConaughey was also deliciously evil as The Man in Black. He traverses worlds sowing cruelty, discord, and death and loves every minute of it, just as I would expect from old Walter O’Dim that was. The locations where the Mid-World settings were shot were chosen well too, capturing some of the desolation of that world nicely. I also enjoyed the depiction of the Can-Toi, though their garish outfits were a little missed.

Ultimately, I don’t really know who The Dark Tower is for. It’s disappointing as a fan because it wraps up one of the major plot lines of a seven book series, boiled down to a 95 minute film plot. However, there are a number of meaningful references I understand and appreciate because I am a fan, which someone new could easily overlook. I want to think it tells a more palatable, complete little story to someone with no prior experience, but I’m honestly not sure if my knowledge of the books makes me blind to what could be incomprehensible or confusing to those out of the know. In an age of sometimes tiringly long movies, I think this film could have afforded even an extra half hour to expand on the characters of Roland and Jake, as well as the history and mythos of Mid-World. The universe gets weird in a lot of great ways that the movie never really indulges in. To keep it from being a blur of references new audiences may not understand and will soon forget these things should have been fleshed out more. Seemingly a one-and-done situation, yet open-ended to allow a sequel, I’m bemused at what could come next.

 

WWW Wednesday – 2017/08/09

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

PyramidsAt the moment I am only reading Pyramids by Terry Pratchett. It’s a welcome change of pace from the other novels of his I’ve read this year. I liked Sourcery and Wyrd Sisters, but it’s fun to see him working from a clean slate again with a novel’s characters and setting. The story is focused on a region of the Discworld based on Ancient Egypt, specifically a parody of the West’s interpretation of that period in history. The main character, Teppic, is the King’s son who was sent away at a young age to the city Ankh-Morpork to learn at the Assassin’s Guild. Upon his father’s passing he returns to to the Old Kingdom to take upon his rightful place as King, a position that his rich education as an assassin makes him ill prepared for.

Recently Finished

GuardiansOfTheGalaxyCosmicAvengersCoverI finished reading Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers, and I’m a little disappointed with how it turned out. The character establishment was great, as was the art, but it’s only three issues long in terms of story, telling a very basic plotline to introduce the characters, followed by a series of vignettes that flesh out each member a little further. It serves as a great introduction for new readers, I’ll give it that, but I wanted a little more meat to this book. Hopefully volume two will be more substantial.

Reading Next

HellboyOddJobsAs I come closer to finishing watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars I also come closer to reading Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden. Can’t really say how soon that will be, except that I will likely start it before August is completed. In the mean time, I want to start reading Hellboy: Odd Jobs, a collection of short stories edited by Christopher Golden (that’s an oddly similar name. Apparently no relation to Christie?), who was tasked with assembling horror writers to contribute to this anthology of prose about Mike Mignola’s iconic demonic character. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Hellboy translates to prose, specifically how these writers go about portraying an inhuman character, which I hope to learn from for my own creative endeavours.

Movie Review – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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IMDB Summary

A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a 2017 French science fiction action/adventure film, written and directed by Luc Besson. It stars Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as his partner Laureline. It is based on the French comic book series Valérian and Laureline, which was first published in 1967, with a final installment released in 2010. A decorated and influential series in European pop culture, its impact can be felt here as well, where echoes of the series’ ideas can apparently be found in other science fiction films and franchises such as Star Wars.

At the onset, I was pretty on board with this film. Beginning only a few years into our future, we see space stations forming together in orbit around Earth, with peoples from two different nations shaking hands in celebration of this union. What follows is a montage of further and further points in history with humanity shaking hands with new and strange species from across the galaxy, adding themselves to this ever-growing conglomerate of worlds. This concludes with the station so large that it must propel itself from the orbit of Earth to parts unknown in the galaxy, lest it threaten to crash into the planet. Thus Alpha, the titular city of a thousand planets as we come to know it, is born. I liked this setup for its quirky simplicity. The story is set in the 28th century, and while there is a lot of history left unsaid, I found it a nicely concise way to establish what becomes the setting for much of the film.

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The film went drastically downhill from here on out. Between the flat, bothersome characters and the constant loss of focus on the plot, it was an utter mess. Possibly the most egregious thing about it for me is the core plot could have been quite good if executed effectively. It had the potential to be a great story about the consequences of Galactic war and of civilizations of this scale being negligent to species less technologically developed. The villain, though barely featured, had strong motivations that make actual sense, whether or not you agree with him, which could have been used to flesh him out into a more compelling character.

Besson seemed to be bored with constructing a storyline that weaves itself artfully around such a plot, however. At numerous points plot devices are introduced out of nowhere, character motivations and actions contradict themselves without consequence, and the second act literally contains filler (you’ll find Rihanna here). This entire chunk of story — taking place between events trying to be concerned with the core plot — literally has no effect nor offers anything of difference to the final act. Its purpose seems to be to showcase Alpha a little more, which could have been integrated into the plot in any number of ways, and otherwise just pads out the runtime.

Valerian himself is an obnoxiously one-note character. He is another Kirk-esque womanizing space captain, which the dialogue goes through great pains to tell us, but we never see. The majority of the time when communicating with Laureline, if not engaged in action, he excessively flirts with her and grandiosely expresses his love. Their dialogue together is usually as follows:

Valerian: “I really love you lots. I definitely don’t just want to get into your pants. Flirty remark. Let’s get married.”

Laureline: “I’m dubious about your sincerity. The mission, Major. Sarcastic dismissal [secret longing].”

ValerianLaureline

It hits the ground running with this too, doing nothing to establish a baseline for their relationship (unless I’m to assume he’s always harassed her like this), nor does it earn where they end up. Thanks to DeHaan’s adolescent appearance and often petulant demeanor he comes across as someone desperately trying to look like something he’s not. This would be interesting for an insecure yet competent character, but here it’s taken as read. Laureline and the world around him stress his reputation as legitimate, despite how performative it all appears, and I just couldn’t buy into it. Why he loves Laureline and why she isn’t just another co-worker he wants to sleep with is never made clear either, nor is the reason for her feelings for him, impatient and sarcastic with him all the while. I know I’m leaning hard on the romance angle between the two, but that’s not my fault. Aside from the generic idea that they’re good at what they do, this is pretty much all there is to them for the duration of the film.

The one thing I will give the film credit for is the art direction and visual effects. The people responsible for imagining and creating it all did a fantastic job. While dissenters of CGI may feel differently, I thought the effects were of spectacular quality. The various alien races are really interesting to look at, as are their unique locales within Alpha. There are also numerous cute and horrifying beasts to behold over the course of the film. Though less of a visual matter, there are also neat concepts explored, such as a tourist market found in an alternate dimension that one needs a special visor and gloves to interact with.

If you’re into vibrant, futuristic sci-fi worlds represented beautifully on screen, check out Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Otherwise, don’t expect to get much from this in terms of character or story. Some of the supporting characters are neat and/or fun, but I found the weakness of the two leads and the blunder of a story overshadowed any other positive things in that area of the film.

WWW Wednesday – 2017/08/02

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

GuardiansOfTheGalaxyCosmicAvengersCoverHaving just finished a number of books I’m taking things a little lighter with some Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis et al before I get back to some lovely walls of text. I’m only a couple of issues into the volume but I’m liking it a lot so far. I have to keep reminding myself character backstories are different from the movies, but the two interpretations are rather close to each other so it doesn’t throw things too much. I especially like that it has started to confront how insanely frequent cosmic threats are on Earth, and in turn shows how uncanny and even dangerous the planet looks to Galactic community.

Recently Finished

AssaultOnNewOlympusI finished reading the final two Incredible Hercules volumes I had, The Mighty Thorcules and Assault on New Olympus by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente et al. The former was a fun romp with Hercules along with meaningful plot development from Amadeus Cho. The latter was a worthy conclusion (though it’s not quite the last volume as it turns out) with everything that’s been building throughout the series finally coming together into a showdown of Olympic proportions.

I also finally concluded Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones and posted a review yesterday if you want to check out my thoughts in depth. It became a bit of a chore to read so much of it at once, but Jones’s insight was utterly valuable nonetheless. Though some details are repeated a lot, her history is fascinating as well. I only regret that I’m not yet a bigger fan of her work.

TheOldManAndTheSeaCoverLastly, within a span of eight hours I read through The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I know that’s no spectacular feat, it’s only 100 pages long, but I was proud of myself for sticking with that personal challenge all the same. The dialogue at the start felt a little rigid to me, but once it gets into Santiago’s struggle with the marlin things really pick up. I especially admire his determination to succeed mixed with reverence for nature and the animal itself, as well as the regret that can come with pursuing something so formidable to its death.

Reading Next

PyramidsI’m determined to get through the six volumes of Guardians of the Galaxy I picked up, so expect to see those here in the future. I’ve also decided to continue onward through Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. The next book shall be Pyramids, the seventh novel in the series. I’m interested to see how he produces a more standalone novel, unlike those previous which are parts of sub-series that continue throughout Discworld. I won’t be surprised if this novel has it’s connections and Easter eggs too, though.

Book Review – Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones

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Summary

This collection of more than twenty-five critical essays, speeches, and biographical pieces chosen by Diana Wynne Jones before her death in 2011 is essential reading for the author’s many fans and for students and teachers of the fantasy genre and creative writing in general. The volume includes insightful literary criticism alongside autobiographical anecdotes, revelations about the origins of the author’s books, and reflections about the life of an author and the value of writing for young people.

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I find it regrettable that I hadn’t read more of Diana Wynne Jones’ novels before reading Reflections: On the Magic of Writing. I’m a fan of hers, but perhaps not that good at being one. I’ve read Howl’s Moving Castle twice — which I find superior to the Studio Ghibli film — and about half of the sequel Castle in the Air, which I did not finish for reasons separate from the book itself. I’m also familiar with her book The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land, which I love for its jabs against the clichés and overused tropes found in the Fantasy genre. It’s a small amount of her work, but her writing always drew me in and I got a good sense of her style. This is what inspired me to pick up this collection, which I came across in a Dollar Tree of all places.

Going in I didn’t fully realize or appreciate just how big her bibliography is. There are a number of books she repeatedly references in her various speeches and essays, such as Eight Days of Luke and Fire and Hemlock, that I wish I had more intimate knowledge of to appreciate the points being made. Despite this, she still does a good job of contextualizing each reference, so by no means was I ever lost. You could go into this book without having read any of her novels and still find value in it.

The collection brings together writings from throughout her life, as a speaker, presenter, and contributor to publications. Some entries are essays that are many pages long, while others are letters or articles that span only a couple. There is a raw quality to this, in that we get these more or less as they were presented/published, rather than cultivated specifically for this book. This did have its drawbacks, however, as there are numerous personal anecdotes and examples that are repeatedly brought up in different essays and speeches that made the reading too repetitive at times. For what it’s worth this also cemented these facts into my brain, but it got tiresome as familiar ground got tread upon a number of times. It made getting through this book more of a chore than I would have liked.

Her insight into the experience of writing, understanding her audience, responsibility, and the workings of the genre are nothing short of sagely and valuable, despite my complaints. Her essays are full of insight, but not lacking a strong personality and conversational tone. Her sense of responsibility toward the craft and her audience is respectable as well. She wrote primarily for children, after all, and while still particular about their needs, she gave them far more credit as a reading audience than even the industry did during much of her time. I come away from it having learned a little more about the craft and for that I am grateful.

Aside from her talking about writing and storytelling, there are also some entries about herself and her life, such as experiences she had on speaking tours, a rather brief yet captivating autobiographical section, or a story from her distant childhood. The short autobiography is the one exception where her reiteration on points did not feel at all repetitive. Funnily enough this was the last point many of them were brought up, yet strung all together in greater detail in this context did make them enjoyable to read over again.

Reflections: On the Magic of Writing is not a guide on how to write, per se, but contains many great insights into her experience writing, storytelling structure, world building, and peppered throughout with direct pieces of advice for young writers wanting to get started. More than this, however, it is an insight into the mind of the author, her life, quirks, and beliefs as a writer in both the creative and professional spheres. If you’re a fan of hers in anyway you owe yourself a read. Otherwise, there is still plenty of value to be found, even if, like me, you find the format of the collection more tiresome than you’d like.

WWW Wednesday – 2017/07/26

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

Regrettably, I have not made any progress on Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones. I just didn’t really make time for it over the last week, so I’m resolving to finish with it by next week. I like having supplemental readings, but it does reach a point where I feel I’ve been on them for too long and I must push through.

TheMightyThorculesOtherwise, I just started reading The Incredible Hercules: The Mighty Thorcules by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, et al. I’m only a couple of issues into the volume, which have only introduced the different stories going on. Hercules, along with Zeus who is now a child with no memory, is tricked into pretending to be Thor to help fight dark elves (it has yet to be revealed why) and Amadeus Cho is in a strange small town taken over by what appear to be glowing space brains. The series has been a lot of fun thus far and this volume doesn’t look like it’ll disappoint. I especially like how petty Herc is when comparing himself to Thor.

Recently Finished

SistersBrothersCoverI finished reading The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt over the weekend and posted a review yesterday. I think I still like Undermajordomo Minor best of his novels, though this one is definitely close behind it. It ended up being much more of an odyssey than I expected, with the duo’s story being a lot more about the strange people, turns of fortune, and encounters they have on their way from Oregon City to Sacramento. Going in I expected it to be more about the developments that take place after they find their mark, but that’s really more of a chapter in the journey.

Reading Next

DarkDiscipleI still intend to read The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway over the next week, and I will probably read the final Incredible Hercules volume I own as well so I can shelve that series finally. I’ve also realized it would be a good idea for me to read Star Wars: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden relatively soon. I bought it a while ago just to have it, but I’ve actually restarted watching the series The Clone Wars (after I got frustrated with its donkus chronology last year). As it turns out this novel was meant to be an eight episode story arc before the series was cancelled, so once I finish the series I’m going to dig right into this book, which I’m much more enthusiastic about now.

Book Review – The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

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Summary

Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living – and whom he does it for.

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The Sisters Brothers is a novel that quite surprised me. It demonstrated that Patrick deWitt has a substantial versatility to his writing style. This novel is the first of his I ever acquired, but the last one I have read. The book and deWitt as its author were cemented in my memory thanks to the wordplay of the title and the fantastic cover art by Dan Stiles, leading me to read his first book Ablutions and his latest book Undermajordomo Minor before finally getting to this one. Having last read the latter of the two I expected The Sisters Brothers to be written with similar quirk and colour, but the difference in tone was dramatic.

This novel is an homage to the classic Western genre, but this feels more to me like it flavours the story rather than defines it through and through. There are standoffs, robberies, and drunken debauchery, but its all told in a more grounded, harsh way. This is especially the case when characters find themselves confronted with illness or injury, as well as the destructive effects of the frontier and the gold rush on people and the environment. It’s a historical novel, dressed in the trappings of a Western. Nevertheless, the brothers do embark on a strange odyssey to California, encountering many fortunes, ailments, oddities, and adversaries along the way, including a brief brush with the occult.

The story is told from the first-person perspective of Eli Sisters, the younger of the two brothers. Though of the two he is the one tired with the lifestyle and vocation of a paid killer, deWitt does a good job of balancing perspectives. It’s easy to see Eli as the more sympathetic at first, since Charlie legitimately enjoys the life of a rogue, but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s got his own issues, which perhaps cast Charlie as worse than he is thanks to Eli’s narration. Eli can be naively sentimental at times, for instance, often over-eagerly, making Charlie’s more pragmatic views seem cold at first. He also frequently hurts Eli’s feelings, and while he is quite a heel sometimes, it’s apparent to me Charlie cares for him despite the friction that often arises between them. Their relationship is complex in all the ways you would expect close brothers to be; sometimes a little exploitative or inconsiderate, but still caring and looking out for one another.

The only real complaint I have about the story is I wish at some point the stakes felt a little higher than they ever do. Eli narrates in the past tense, and while that isn’t inherently a problem, there are a few times where he tips his hand a little in terms of their fate after the story has concluded. I understand the story is about much more than these two gunman taking down a mark, but I’d rather not have been given a vague yet clear hint as to their fate, before the actual conclusion takes place. Even as they reach their destination and circumstances have them changing their plans, the story doesn’t reach any sort of crescendo that I was hoping for.

The Sisters Brothers is a great book, issues or not, and I’m happy I read it. It’s very poignant and compelling tale of violence, brotherhood, and the strange bonds hold people together. It doesn’t get too caught up in its grimmer and gritty aspects of the frontier to stop some levity and colour from entering the story as well, even if these aspects are still a little dark. It’s compelling from beginning to end, even without the mounting tension I would have hoped for. Whether you’re a fan of Westerns or not, definitely check it out.

WWW Wednesday – 2017/07/19

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WWW Wednesday is a book meme run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading

ReflectionsI’ve made a small amount of progress with Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones. I’m starting to notice information getting repeated, such as her being forbidden from reading “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” from The Wind in the Willows. It’s a collection of speeches and essays from over the course of her career, though, so I don’t fault it. The last three chapters I read actually delved deeper into writing advice and her approach to it. I’m happy to find yet another big-name author discouraging the creation of massive outlines for novels, in favour of a more flowing creativity, as the idea of crafting one myself sounds a bit agonizing.

SistersBrothersCoverI’ve been reading The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt as well, which I had actually hoped to finish by now, but life got a little in the way. Nevertheless, I’m enjoyed the book quite well. While very much a Western, it feels literary too. The story of these two brothers so far has been a strange odyssey of violence and quirky encounters. The one brother, Charlie, seems more deplorable, but at times Eli (the other brother and narrator) seems more unstable than he lets on. At just over halfway through, I’m excited to see where the story is heading.

Recently Finished

PrincessLeiaCoverOver the weekend I read Star Wars: Princess Leia, the Marvel Comics miniseries by Mark Waid and Terry Dodson. It takes place just after the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope, telling the story of Leia rallying together surviving Alderaanians from around the Galaxy in an effort to preserve the legacy of her destroyed world. It was a fun little side-story that wasn’t really needed, but gave another opportunity to see the iconic princess in action. There’s also a nice little moment of Force-sensitivity on her part that nods to her true heritage.

DeathCoverI also read Death by Neil Gaiman et al, the spin-off from The Sandman series also by Gaiman. The book collects various one-shot issues about the character Death, as well as the two previously separate miniseries about her. They tell wonderfully poignant and sentimental stories about life and death, as well as continuing to show the lives of some of the characters that appeared in The Sandman: A Game of You, a surprise that made it all the better.

Reading Next

TheOldManAndTheSeaCoverI’ve definitely got a lot of comic books lined up for reading, such as some digital volumes of Guardians of the Galaxy, a couple more Star Wars volumes, Paper Girls, and Incredible Hercules. Can’t really say which I will read next, but I want to get through all of these and more this summer.

Otherwise, on a trip to the bookstore the other week I got some classic novels, 3 for $10, one of which was The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Since it’s rather short I might knock that out sometime soon, so at least one of these books doesn’t gather dust after being impulsively purchased.