Monday, 16th April, 2012 § 1 Comment
(Disclosure: Scholastic Malaysia recently mailed me a whole stack of books for me to read and review including the first four books of the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi. I love it when people send me free books, especially if those books are kick ass awesome)
Amulet revolves around Emily and Navin who, with their widowed mother, move to an old family home out in the woods. The huge derelict house once belonged to an eccentric ancestor who mysteriously disappeared and was never heard or seen from again. The children soon discover a strange amulet that grants its bearer powerful magic but before Emily can begin to understand on how to handle the strange artifact, their mother is kidnapped by a tentacled spider-like monster. In pursuit of the monster, Emily and Navin find themselves in a parallel world filled with strange creatures both good and evil. And wouldn’t you know it, someone else wants the amulet for himself. Isn’t that always the case?
Part steampunk, part fantasy, part science-fiction, Amulet reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated features especially Spirited Away which has a somewhat similar concept. Amulet however does not bother to shield its target audience from the horrors of life. I mentioned above that Emily and Navin’s father is dead. Yeah, we get to see that in the opening pages of the book. Swerving to avoid a broken down car, Emily and her mom could only watch in horror as the family car rolls down the cliff with Emily’s dad still in the car (he couldn’t get out in time). Some parents may find that too dark for children to read but I applaud series creator Kazu Kibuishi for being honest about it. He could have avoided the death scene and just stated that Karen was a single parent with two kids, but no. Mr. Kibuishi actually gave us the back-story as to what made her a single parent with two kids. Death happens, kids. Suck it up.
Once Emily and Navin enters the strange realm, the story shifts to high gear. I could not wait to turn the page to see what happens next to the point that I missed one glaring question that I only asked upon a second reading: how do we know the titular amulet Emily is wearing around her neck is a force for good?
Sure, it saved her a couple of times but all she knows about it is from her great-great grandfather who literally dies as soon as he delivers his final message to Emily. A man whom she never met until she enters the strange magical world, a man whom according to her mother mysteriously disappeared decades ago, tells her the amulet can help Emily find her mother and bestow powers beyond her wildest dreams and then conveniently dies is not exactly a person whose word a teenage girl should take at face value. Plus, during the climactic battle against the Elf prince, the amulet persuades Emily to strike down the prince without so much as a “hello” and only Emily’s innocence or her ability to look beyond revenge saved the Elf prince. There is something sinister about this amulet but Book One: The Stonekeeper delivers no answers.
I for one enjoy the idea of a morally complex universe where nothing is black and white. Again I applaud Kazu Kibuishi for not talking down to his young readers. Apart from the great storytelling, the artwork is also very good. The colours and the setting combine to create a world at once mythical but at the same time realistic if that makes sense. It’s the clever use of the colour palette that made this book pop out. It felt like watching an animated movie.
A great story and great artwork and lots of questions in Book One make me excited to continue the journey in the second book. There are already four books out so far with the fifth one scheduled for later this year.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good adventure story. But if you don’t like to read graphic novels, then you’re dead to me. Dead!
Wednesday, 15th February, 2012 § 1 Comment
Two years ago Star Wars fan went all sweaty when the Jedi Path book was released. Not only was there an obvious effort to make the book look cool to read but the entire presentation itself was amazing (see my review here) . With the Jedi book out, the fans figured it was only a matter of time before the Sith version with the same high, if not higher, quality of contents and casing was released. That time has arrived.
I was going to write a review but since this thing with its bells and whistles is best viewed, I decided to make a review on this blog via VideoPress.
MARVEL as the Sith holocron buzzes and whirs to reveal the book!
ASTONISH as I proudly claim that I hardly pay any attention to the Expanded Universe (EU) books and still claim to be a huge Star Wars fan!
GASP as I manhandle the extras in the Sith book without gloves!
WINCE as I refer to the footnotes in the book as “from Luke (or Sidious or whoever)” instead of “by Luke (or Sidious or whoever)!
Monday, 13th February, 2012 § 2 Comments
Well, this one’s a downer. Written in 1956, Death of Grass tells the story of a world gripped by starvation when a virus strain that kills rice has mutated and begins to eradicate all other crops like wheat and barley. Our British protagonists weren’t too concerned when only East Asians were dying (one character quipped,”There’s an awful lot of Chinks in China. They’ll breed ‘em back again in a couple of generations”) but when the virus arrives in Albion, all of a sudden it’s the end of civilisation as we know it.
It starts slow but the horror really picks up when John Custance decides to flee London with his family and travel to his brother’s farm in the north. Along the way they encounter the swift decline towards violence among the British people who justify it as the only way to survive seeing as how Law and Order had given up and left everyone to their own devices. Soon enough, even the protagonist and his family succumb to the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’. It’s a pretty grim, pessimistic, post-apocalyptic story that pits moral dilemmas at the protagonists again and again and the outcome is always the same: morality loses all the time. Even when the group reaches the safe haven of the farm, they are faced with an issue because John’s brother refuses to admit all of them in. It’s not a spoiler to say that it didn’t end well for everyone.
The problem is Death of Grass isn’t very well written. The early chapters are one big info dump and the protagonists seemed all too willing (at least to me) to turn to savagery when the chips are down. No hesitation, no second thoughts. Perhaps it was the author’s way of saying that when released from the confines of law, man will go back to his caveman roots. John Christopher (who died February 6th by the way) must have had a low regard for his fellow man.
It’s a slim novel with just under 200 pages and it’s a gripping read but some patience may be required to go through the clunky 1950s dialogue.
Monday, 23rd January, 2012 § 3 Comments
Yeah, comparisons to Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale are inevitable (and when that one first came out, it was compared to Golding’s Lord of the Flies, so you know, the premise isn’t actually original) but since I’ve only heard of Battle Royale and its many adaptations and have not actually bothered to read the darn thing, I won’t say which one is better. As young adult novels go, Hunger Games is tightly plotted enough for this ‘old’ guy to read it all the way to the end. It’s set in a dystopian future where the 13 Districts of North America are ruled by the Capitol and when the Districts were defeated in a failed rebellion (with District 13 reduced to ashes), the remaining 12 have to send a pair of teens every year to the Capitol so these kids can compete in a televised match to the death in the Games. All in the name of entertainment and to remind everyone not to ever mess with the Capitol ever again.
The violence is competently written, something that I did not expect from a modern young adult novel, and impressed this reader enough to make him want to read the rest of the series.
Sunday, 2nd October, 2011 Comments Off
Okay, here’s the deal. Theodore Sturgeon’s novella is basically about a small group of contractors out on an island somewhere in the Pacific during World War II. They are there to build a runway (presumably for military purposes). They have lots of earth moving equipment including a bulldozer nicknamed Daisy Etta, which early on in the story went batshit crazy after it was possessed by an ancient alien made up of energy which then proceeded to use the bulldozer to kill the contractors one by one for no reason other than the fact that they were humans and must be killed.
Think about it. A bulldozer. Possessed by an alien gas-spirit. Goes on a murder rampage on an isolated Pacific island. This…this is why I read classic science fiction. But it is not particularly scary or even that exciting to read by today’s standards. For one thing, it has passages and passages of how heavy machinery works which interests me not at all (Sturgeon worked with heavy machinery so he knew what he was writing about…but still, me not interested. Just get to the killing). No, Killdozer tickles my imagination because of its absurdity which only science-fiction horror can manage to deliver with a totally straight face.
Arguably Theodore Sturgeon’s most famous novella, it is collected in Volume III: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. The publishers even named the collection, KILLDOZER!, with the ‘Volume III’ as a mere subtitle as if to say, “The other stories in this book? Who cares? You know you want to read about the possessed bulldozer story, right?“
The collection, along with 12 other collections of Sturgeon’s work (collect them all), is available from Amazon.
Marvel Comics adapted it into a comic book in the 1970s and it was also made into a TV-movie. But of the two adaptations, the Marvel comic book was the most loyal to the source material.
Wednesday, 25th May, 2011 § 6 Comments
As I have stated before, today is the 34th anniversary of the best ever space opera movie in the history of space opera movies. Since this is a blog primarily about my books, I thought I’d feature my collection of Star Wars related books that I have so far (it’s an ongoing process). Here’s the shelf in longshot.
Now let’s go through them section by section…(click on the pictures to embiggen)
The Timothy Zahn paperback novels were the ones that re-started the craze for Star Wars in general during the period known to fans as “the Dark Times”. There were no toys, no books, nothing. Zahn’s trilogy wasn’t any good but fans were so desperate for anything Star Wars we snapped them all up. Next…
Now we come to the more expensive books. Dressing A Galaxy and Sculpting A Galaxy were about the costumes and the model making process that went into making Star Wars. These are the regular editions. The special limited edition included actual fabric used and actual pieces of ship models used in the movie but they were too expensive for my blood. Some space reserved between Making of Empire Strikes Back and The Star Wars Vault for the Making of Return of the Jedi book in 2013. Here’s hoping. Hey, what’s Indiana Jones doing there?
The one volume encyclopedia on the left is the outdated version and the three volume set next to it is the definitive one for now. I wrote a little about it in my old blog. The seven volume books with the colourful spines are the entire Star Wars comics when Marvel held the license back in the 1980s (today Dark Horse owns the license). Those comics were so bad they were actually good.
Some more Star Wars trade collections from Dark Horse. None of them are very readable except for the Star Wars Tales and Star Wars: Clone Wars series. I regard ‘Tales’ as the best Star Wars-related comic series ever simply because they never bothered with continuity and all the baggage that came with it. They just had fun. They had laugh-out-loud funny stories, some poignant ones, a few scary ones as well. It goes to show the amazing things writers can do when they are not encumbered with decades worth of continuity. It was fun, it was exciting and I loved it. So of course it was cancelled. Hey, what are the Indiana Jones Omnibus doing there?
And that’s it. The remaining sections are filled with some collectibles like this 3D poster of Episoe IV. Also, that metallic thing on the left is the container for the Jedi Vault book. The shelves below are also filled with 3D posters.
I wasn’t going to show my other non-book Star Wars collectibles since this is a book blog after all but it’s an anniversary so what the heck. I’ll just show one small section of my collection of overpriced Star Wars memorabilia. Or as my wife calls it, “Star Wars crap” but she’s a woman so what does she know, AMIRITE?
These are some of the lighstaber hilts that were featured in the movies. They are actual size and no, they don’t light up. They’re just there for display. If you’re not a fan you will never understand. My personal favourite is this one:
Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine’s lightsaber. Ostentatious and deadly. A perfect weapon worthy of a Dark Lord of the Sith.
Master Replicas, the company that had the license to make those hilts also made light-up sabers complete with sound effects. And as usual, the bad guy’s sabers are my favourite. Here are Vader’s from the various movies:
Switch them on at night or in the dark and pretend you’re hacking off pieces of Jedi limbs. Also the movie accurate sound effects these things make are perfect for scaring pesky neighbourhood kids and their dogs.
Star Wars, not just a movie franchise.
Wednesday, 16th February, 2011 Comments Off
After giving away the three irregularly-sized Paxman books recently, I’ve received the new, they-are-all-the-same-size editions from Amazon UK today. Also received the SF Masterworks edition of Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. In glorious hardcover, you all! I’m so easy to please. I’m late hopping onto the Heinlein bandwagon but better late than never.
Monday, 24th January, 2011 § 3 Comments
Last month I read a Robert Heinlein book for the first time. In this case it was, Starship Troopers. Never saw the movie but was aware of the negative reception from Heinlein fans. They claimed that the movie adaptation took out everything that made the book a joy to read and filmed what was left. Oh, and added some nudity.
With that in mind, I read ‘Troopers’ and it was one of the most enjoyable sci-fi novels I’ve ever read. At first instance, it may look like Heinlein was glorifying war and the military but a closer reading would reveal that he actually glorified the individual soldier, the grunt in the foxhole who gets thrown onto some God-forsaken rock to fight for the glory of the human race or die trying. At least that’s what an anti-war pinko liberal pacifist scum like me understood from reading ‘Troopers’.
So now I’m jonesing for more Robert Heinlein. Any suggestions? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
I keep receiving The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as the next suggested Heinlein to read. Widely praised, not only as the best work Heinlein wrote but as one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Whoa. Other suggestions include Double Star, Podkayne of Mars or any of his juvenile books (Have Spacesuit Will Travel, Tunnel Road, Space Cadet et al.)
Also Number of the Beast has been roundly suggested as a book to avoid. So there’s that.
Friday, 1st October, 2010 § 4 Comments
This is the latest must-have item for all Jedi Master wannabes, The Jedi Path: A Manual for Students of the Force [Vault Edition] by Daniel Wallace and Todd Rider who designed the vault. Written in the style of a training manual for Padawans encompassing everything from the history of Jedis to how to kick ass using the Force. Supposedly only one copy survived the purge of the Jedis during the Clone Wars and this copy is precious because it has handwritten annotations by Obi-Wan, Yoda, Anakin, Luke and even Darth Sidious. It is probably the ‘funnest’ book on Star Wars since the three volume set of The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia came out two years ago.
This here is the box it came in:
The vault containing the book, The Jedi Path.
You can’t see and hear it here obviously but when the button is pressed, the vault ‘doors’ open with a hiss and blue lights and some beeps and whistles that are supposed to make you think, “this is so awesome“. It’s not that awesome, really, but when you’ve spent USD$61.49 (not including shipping and handling) you need to justify the purchase by declaring it with containing at least some awesomeness.
Lightsaber techniques. Y’know, my Master Replicas FX lightsabers have been gathering dust for a few years now. Maybe I should take them out and act like a maniac in the front lawn again. What do you guys think?
Torn pages, presumably by Palpatine/Sidious/The Emperor. Nice touch. This book has deckled pages which used to bother me but I know better now. It’s supposed to make the book look old and classy and stuff.
History of the Sith with notes by Sidious in the margins. He no like what he read.
The book also contains several removable features such as a Padawan braid, a Jedi starfighter patch, a burned poster of the Jedi Code, a map of the Jedi Temple, a lightsaber diagram sketched on the back of a napkin from Dex’s Diner and a couple of other cool knick knacks.
Star Wars. Who needs women, huh?
Thursday, 19th August, 2010 § 2 Comments
Reading The Invisible Man today before I’ll re-read the other two books. I thought I had read Invisible Man before but I must have read the abridged version. Personally, I see it as a mildly comic novel with science-fiction undertones. Wells makes fun of the inhabitants of the villagers with their paranoia and penchant to jump to conclusions. With an invisible body, the stranger should be able to run circles around these people and he does at first.
If this was written by a Malay, it would have involved black magic.
Not to be confused with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man which is a story about being a stereotype.