Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Stars My Destination

Although I didn't read this novel for the week it was assigned, Cassidy managed to convince me to read it for the next week, for which I am grateful. The Stars My Destination was not only an exciting, high adventure (in space) story, but it was set in an interesting, new world that I enjoyed reading about almost more than I did the (usually horrible) actions of Gully Foyle on his quest for revenge.

The one thing that is the center of Foyle's new world is the ability to jaunte, or teleport. The entire world, in fact, is entirely believable as being our own, with only this and a few years difference. Jaunting affected the economy of Foyle's world, eventually bringing about war. Jaunting affected the interactions of peoples from around the Earth, leading to the near destruction of recognizable races as well as the explosion of diseases around the world. Jaunting affected the lives of the wealthy and the working class, the status of women, and the way people socialize. The ability of this single, small change in the world to lead to an entirely different universe from our own is amazing to read about. From this alteration, Bester creates a world that is completely immersive and believable and, still being a sucker for fictional worlds, I loved reading about it.

It was stated during the discussion in this class that this book felt like a believable, modern depiction of the future, even though it was written half a century ago. I have to agree with this: there were only a few times during this reading that I stopped and reminded myself of when the book was written. Bester created a world so foreign that it remained so even fifty years in the future, but that still manages to be recognizable as our own world.

The Stars My Destination also happened to contain a very good story with compelling characters and some completely crazy scenes. In the end, though, I found myself just as interested, if not more so, in the politics and technicalities of Bester's fictional world as the story itself.

Sci-Fi Short Stories

For this week, I chose to read two short stories: “Star Light, Star Bright”, by Alfred Bester, and “The Tenants”, by William Tenn. Both were interesting, a bit slow but with an ending that really made me go “OH!” (which probably confused my roommate at the time).

Star Light, Star Bright” introduced the characters, and then dragged me around there arguing for a while before introducing the actual plot, and then dragged me around even more before finally explaining everything in the conclusion. The concept of the genius children, in retrospect, is only mildly cool. What made the story work for me, though, was the way it lead me to the final realization of just what was going on with this wishing boy. It very successfully pulled me in, lead me around, and then made me think that I was clever for reaching the conclusion.

The Tenants” played out in a very similar way. It started off by introducing something very odd in an otherwise normal world, and then let me read for several pages, just as confused as the main character about what was going on. When he finally gained access to the room, and the two tenants left it, I was once again hit with the “oh, I get it!” feeling, immediately followed by an audible “Oh no!” when the character realized he was trapped in the room forever. Despite being short, both of these stories played my emotions exactly how they were intended to.

After listening to the discussion in class about The Stars My Destination, I wasn't entirely sure how the short stories I read fit into this topic of “the final frontier”. I did, however, see how they were a great lead-in to the genre of sci-fi. Even without robots, aliens, or even a mention of outer space, these stories still did what sci-fi should do: took a normal world and made it weird and new.


In addition to reading Anansi Boys, I also finally got the chance to watch “Coraline”. I was happy, not only that I finally got to watch this movie I had wanted to see for ages, but because it was quite good as well. I was fascinated by the art which, even though it had the inherent creepiness that all stop-motion animation, I still found absolutely beautiful. Also, I rather liked all the characters, which is always a plus.

Coraline” addressed a similar theme as Gaiman did in Anansi Boys; a mysterious, magical world existing parallel to the real one, which the main characters discover throughout the story. Like Charlie, Coraline found a magical world completely unlike the one she was familiar with. Unlike Charlie, she embraced the new world and, in fact, almost became a part of it. In fact, Coraline is about as different of a character from Charlie as she could be. Of course, in the way of a true (even modern) fairy tale, they both manage to learn a lesson by the end of their stories. Gaiman, also relied heavily on ancient mythology as a theme for his novel. “Coraline” was a much newer, more modern-feeling film. Obviously, the two stories had very different feels, but at their root they shared a common, basic theme: that of the modern fantasy.

Coraline” has been sitting near the top of my list of movies I must see for a while now, and I am very satisfied to have finally watched it. And, though I somewhat regret missing out on seeing it earlier, especially in theaters, at the same time I found it interesting to watch within the context of what had been discussed in class about the film earlier that week.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Anansi Boys

I really do regret that I did not get enough chances to finish Anansi Boys this week, because I was really starting to enjoy it. I found the idea of the novel, as well as the style of writing Neil Gaiman used to convey it, very cool. In fact, one of the only things I disliked about the novel was a majority of the characters. They each had flaws, as any character with even some depth should, but I seemed to find personal offense in every single one of these flaws and grew to hate the characters for them. While, to some extent, this is probably what Gaiman intended, I really had trouble at parts of the book, where I was forced to flip between Fat Charlie's insecurity, Spider's narcissism, and all the lesser characters' weaknesses. However, things finally started to turn around as I neared the end of the novel (which, of course, was when started running out of time to read).

When reading Anansi Boys this week, after having watched Gaiman's speech as well as discussed him in class, I found myself remembering something he had mentioned about his adult fiction, and how it was considerably lighter than his dark children's stories. I have read Gaiman's children's novel The Graveyard Book, which he described as having one of the darkest first chapters he had ever written, and I began comparing it to Anansi Boys and finding that he was completely right. Anansi Boys plays with myths as well as modern themes, and combines them in a generally lighthearted and goofy way. In this book, this could perhaps be a continued reflection of who I would consider the novel's central character, the joker Anansi and his many stories. Silly situations occurred that generally left Fat Charlie in unpleasant situations, and he faced them with a sort of dejected sarcasm that made it hard to read without at least a little humor present. Compared to The Graveyard Book, which managed to have a serious and dark feel to it while still definitely reading like a children's book, Anansi Boys seemed to be much more humorous. I'm not sure if that necessarily makes it better, but it's definitely different.

Nonetheless, I am completely into Anansi Boys now. I will try my best to finish this novel, because it is a good read, but mostly because I am right at the climax of it and want to know what happens!

His Dark Materials

I have read all of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy a couple of times, and was particularly excited to get a chance to listen to a discussion about it for this class. These books contain several things that I enjoy in my fiction, like massive alternate worlds and an excess of symbolism. My interest in Phillip Pullman's critique probably doesn't hurt, either.

A few years ago, a friend of mine and I completely ripped through these books, highlighting and underlining the hell out of them in the interest of fitting all the metaphors and ideas together. The theme of original sin was so interesting to discover, as well as the roles played in the stories of Adam and Eve as well as God and Satan. More recently, I read a statement by Pullman that the “His Dark Materials” trilogy were intended as a sort of “rewrite” of John Milton's “Paradise Lost”, with the slight difference being placing Satan as the hero and God as the villain. Of course, Pullman wrote not only about these conflicts but also about the importance of human emotions and the soul. In all, he managed to evoke a mess of emotions from me as I read.

As I started to think about it more generally, I noticed that a story like this, with the intent of educating the reader on certain morals or values, differs a lot from a book which is meant to entertain or, like The Hobbit, provide an escape for the reader. In a novel of spiritual education, I feel, there aren't characters. Instead, there are ideas which are simply represented through individuals (or events or places or objects). This difference between a “story” and an “education” is an idea that is still kind of floating around in my head, making me think about what I read.

Phillip Pullman's novels are probably among my favorites. With a wonderful collection of likable characters, a hugely creative and intriguing universe, and a clear and very interesting central idea, this is the kind of book I can read multiple times and still enjoy. In fact, I think I'm going to make a point of rereading this trilogy once I'm home for the summer.