Monday, June 20, 2011

Once Upon A Time V

I cannot believe that Once Upon A Time V is finished already. It seems like I just made my original post with potential books to read. While I have not been good about posting reviews throughout the challenge, I have been reading.

I signed up for the Journey because I really appreciate the flexibility and lack of stress. I also said that I was going to watch Midsummer's Night Dream on DVD and do some short story weekends with Jorge Luis Borges. I didn't do the short stories and I just totally forgot about the DVD but I did read five books.

The Alchemist & Executioness by Paulo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell
The City and the City by China Mieville
The Castle by Franz Kafka
Finch by Jeff Vandermeer
The Library by Zoran Zivkovic

I would have to say that my favorite was clearly The City & the City closely followed by Finch. I also enjoyed The Library and the Alchemist & Executioness. I am currently reading the Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry which I am enjoying very very much. (Oddly I am finding it more "Kafkaesque" then I did The Castle.) It is giving Finch a run for its money for second place.

I don't know if this really counts or not but I also just finished watching season one of Game of Thrones on HBO which is based upon George R.R. Martin's books. I have not read any of the books but I absolutely loved the series and cannot wait for season two next year. The world of the Seven Kingdoms was fascinating and beautifully depicted, the plot twists kept you guessing, the photography and special effects amazing and the acting superb. I highly recommend it.

Thanks Carl for once again hosting a wonderful, pressure free challenge.

The Library

by Zoran Zivkovic

I ran across an interesting review of Serbian writer Zoran Zivkovic's The Last Book. Searching for a copy of that book which I eventually ordered used through ABE, I discovered that Amazon had new copies of The Library by that author available. While there isn't much on the Amazon page about the book, its short blurb pretty much describes the Library.

A cycle of six thematically linked stories, droll renditions of the nightmares ensuing upon misplaced, or (of course) excessive, bibliophilia. A writer encounters a website where all his possible future books are on display; a lonely man faces an infinite flow of hardback books through his mailbox; an ordinary library turns by night into an archive of souls; the Devil sets about raising standards of infernal literacy; one book houses all books; a connoisseur of hardcovers strives to expel a lone paperback from his collection.
I always love books about books and libraries so thought I would give it a shot. Looking more into this author I discovered that he has his own web site (in English) and has contributed to Jeff Vandermeer's (the author of Finch) Leviathan series.

The Library, comprised of six short stories, is very short. I did enjoy the collection but I must say that I was not blown away. My favorite library story is still The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. I generally prefer novels instead of short stories, so I am looking forward to reading The Last Book by this author.


by Jeff Vandermeer

I had this for last year's Once Upon A Time Challenge but after reading Shriek, which I enjoyed, I decided to save this one for this year. While I know that others have read this without having read the City of Saints and the Madmen and Shriek, I enjoyed the background knowledge they provided.

Unlike the prior books set in Ambergris, this one is styled a detective story. The grey caps, strange fungal entities, have taken over the city of Ambergris and detective Finch, a human who works for the grey caps, is assigned a very unusual murder case involving a dead human and a dead grey cap. His investigation plunges the reader into a fascinating world of rebel insurgents as the grey caps race to complete the building of two mysterious towers. I don't want to give away too much about the plot or the characters as it is such a joy to discover this new story set in Ambergris. Carl V gave a great review of it last year.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend that you read all the Ambergris novels. I know that I intend to keep reading more Jeff Vandermeer, perhaps Veniss Underground, his first novel, next.

The Castle

by Franz Kafka

I read Franz Kafka's the Trial several years ago and absolutely loved it. I thought it was so funny and found frightening parallels with our current criminal justice system. The Trial is one of my favorite novels. So I was really looking forward to reading the Castle for the Once Upon A Time Challenge.

The Castle is the story of a land surveyor, K. who is summoned to a village by the Castle authorities to be its new land surveyor. The entire story is that of K. trying to deal with the Castle bureaucracy and begin his work as the land surveyor, which he never achieves. The story line certainly had potential.

Unfortunately, I didn't really enjoy it. While like the Trial it dealt with the nightmare of bureaucracy, it totally lacked the humor of the Trial. And while it was dark, it was more depressing then truly dark. The characters were also uninteresting and I didn't really care what happened to K.

Obviously this is a highly acclaimed work and some people absolutely love it. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it was unfinished, but then again so was the Trial. I really wanted to love it as I usually enjoy reading about the absurdity of bureaucracy. The Trial was magnificent. Another one of my favorites is All the Names by Jose Saramago about a clerk in the registry of births, marriages and deaths.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The City and the City

by China Meiville

I purchased this book for my Kindle as soon as it came out but didn't get around to reading it until now for the Once Upon A Time Challenge. I absolutely loved it and have been recommending it to everyone I know. Even people that say they won't like fantasy will enjoy this one.

The story is cloaked as a hard-boiled police procedural with a Detective investigating a murder. What makes the story unique is that it is set in two cities, Beszel a decaying and run down city and Ul Qoma, a modern bustling booming metropolis. Detective Tyodor lives and works in Beszel but an unusual murder case takes him to the city of Ul Qoma. I don't want to give too much away as it is such a pleasure to figure out the connection between these two cities and what exactly is going on as you read the book. The real mystery for the reader isn't the murder, it is the city and the city.

I absolutely loved this book. It is completely original and yet so well realized. The characters were interesting but the cities were by far the most engrossing. Read it, you will enjoy it.

The Alchemist and Executioness

by Paulo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell

I cannot believe that the Once Upon A Time Challenge is almost over. Although I have not been posting, I have been reading. The first book I "read" for the challenge was actually an original audio book produced by I so enjoyed the Windup Girl by Paulo Bachigalupi that when I read about this new project involving Bacigalupi created just for audio, I thought I would give it a try, especially as it was fantasy and perfect for this challenge. I had read a really interesting interview by the two authors about how they created this work but I cannot find it at the moment. Essentially it is two separate short stories but both set in the same fantasy world. Khaim is a world where magic was once widely used but unfortunately with every use deadly bramble is created. Magic is now banned and punishable by death as the citizens try to battle the bramble back before it swallows the last of the cities.

In the Alchemist by Bacigalupi an alchemist has dedicated his life to creating a machine, the balanthast, which can destroy bramble. He works in secret because his experiments require he bring bramble into the city and for fear his alchemy might be mistaken for magic.

In the Executioness Buckell tells the story of a women who is forced to take her father's place as an executioner and sets off on an adventure to save her children kidnapped by raiders.

These two stories are far more traditional fantasy then I usually read but I enjoyed them both. I also found it an interesting project as there is not a lot of works created specifically for audio. I do note however that it appears that limited editions of these stories have since been published as books by Subterranean Press, although I strongly recommend you try them as they were intended as audio. Both the audio narrators of these stories were wonderful.