2017-06-22

juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
2017-06-22 03:57 pm

Reviews: More Happy Than Not, Silvera; Brown Girl in the Ring, Hopkinson; Sutphin Boulevard, Hassell

Title: More Happy Than Not
Author: Adam Silvera
Published: Soho Teen, 2015
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 300
Total Page Count: 218,205
Text Number: 690
Read Because: multiple recommendations, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A teenage boy attempts to erase his knowledge of his homosexual orientation. This is more contemporary than speculative, although speculative elements fuel the plot. The local, social details of the protagonist's life are repetitive but fairly convincing; the speculative elements and the major plot developments they dictate are predictable, which isn't a deal-breaker because the heart of this book is an inevitable, tragic grief. It begins in larger society, but becomes intrinsically tied to the protagonist; it's an exploration of the social role of sexual orientation and the effect of internalized homophobia. I think it has the potential to be productive as a thought experiment and an expression of rage and sorrow, but the genre and emotional appeal didn't work for me personally. Consider this a mild recommendation, as I trust it to appeal more to other readers.


Title: Brown Girl in the Ring
Author: Nalo Hopkinson
Narrator: Peter Jay Fernandez
Published: Recorded Books, 2001 (1998)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 250
Total Page Count: 218,455
Text Number: 691
Read Because: reading people of color, audiobook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: After Toronto's collapse, a young mother's otherworldy visions presage her involvement in violence within the city's remaining community. I liked this better than Sister Mine; it has fewer sideplots and more direction, making it a more satisfying experience. There's a lot going on in the combination dystopic/magical premise, and the use of Caribbean dialect brings the voice and cultural aspects to life. Yet it never captured me. The action is contrived, the antagonists simplistic; the flawed family dynamics have potential, but none of the characters are especially engaging—unfortunately including the protagonist. Good intent, mediocre execution; I don't recommend it.


Title: Sutphin Boulevard (Five Boroughs Book 1)
Author: Santino Hassell
Published: Dreamspinner Press, 2015
Rating: 2 of 5
Page Count: 265
Total Page Count: 218,720
Text Number: 692
Read Because: reading more by the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A gay man's one-time threesome with his best friend complicates their relationship at the same time that family troubles disrupt his life. The combination of erotica/romance and family drama/alcoholism didn't work for me: it's a mishmash of wish fulfillment and gritty, depressing, triggering content (and eliding recovery with the romantic relationship struck me the wrong way). The two halves are effectively written, and the overall quality is better here than in Stygian, the other book I've read by Hassell; the erotica is idealized and exaggerated, within genre tolerances and to great effect; the personal drama engages race, class, and sexuality, possesses nuance and mostly refuses easy answers, but I still couldn't tolerate it. This is especially strange for me as it's a combination I've had no issue with elsewhere, and I'm not sure what makes Sutphin Boulevard different—the relative division between the halves, or the way it effects pacing? the particular substance abuse depicted? the resolution?—and, regardless, it means my reaction should be taken with a grain of salt. But I would have done better to DNF this, and won't read the sequels, and don't recommend it.


(Sutphin Boulevard reminds distinctly of Elliot Wake's novels, especially Cam Girl, which I loved; they both capitalize on the aroused, heightened atmosphere of half erotica/half drama narratives, both involve substance abuse and coping mechanisms ... so it surprised me that I had such a visceral negative reaction to Sutphin Boulevard—"accidental panic attack"-style negative reaction. Wake works for me, I think, because the interpersonal aspects are tied into the negative aspects—all parts of that book function at that high-intensity level, all have an idealized-but-problematic push/pull, so the substance abuse etc. isn't grindingly awful and the sexy bits don't feel removed and over-idealized; and Wake's characters deal more directly with mental health issues, and their recovery is slower and carries more caveats.... I don't know. Sutphin Boulevard fucked me up but good, and I really wasn't expecting that; and I'm sensitive to alcohol use, even in fiction, but in this context I thought it would be fine; it was not fine, it was a devastating reading experience and I shouldn't've subjected myself to it.)
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
2017-06-22 10:58 pm

Book Reviews: ZOO, Otsuichi; 1Q84, Murakami; Stories of Your Life and Others, Chiang

Title: ZOO
Author: Otsuichi
Translator: Terry Gallagher
Published: San Francisco: Haikusoru, 2006
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 255
Total Page Count: 218,975
Text Number: 693
Read Because: reread for review purposes, from my personal library
Review: Eleven stories which consistently establish Otuichi's common narrative techniques, themes, and tone. His premises are frequently high-concept, sometimes to the extent of thought experiment (exacerbated here by the workman-like translation) and he has a penchant for unreliable narration and a twist in the denouement, which works more often than not—sometimes purely as narrative payoff, but at best these tricks are inextricably tied to the story's themes and character growth, as in "Song of the Sunny Spot." He writes about outsiders, about flawed and abusive interpersonal dynamics; his tone is morbid and, especially here, darkly humorous. I prefer the morbidity (as in the short, creepy "In the Park") to the humor, which can be caricatured or simply off-putting; these characters are frequently awful and unlikable, which keeps me at a distance from this collection especially when compared to the more cerebral Goth or more emotional Calling You. That makes ZOO my least favorite publication from one of my favorite authors—it lacks the profound appeal I find in his other work, but it's consistently satisfying and provides the style and content I look for from Otuichi.


Title: 1Q84
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel
Published: Knopf, 2011 (2009)
Rating: 1 of 5
Page Count: 200 of 1040
Total Page Count: 219,175
Text Number: 694
Read Because: co-read with Teja, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: DNF at ~20%, which was about 200 pages, and as such a sign that my time is more valuable than this book. Murakami possesses an almost hypnotic style, offering surprising flow despite the length and relative mundanity of individual scenes—but this is nonetheless unforgivably long and overwritten (contrasting hilariously with scenes where Tengo obsessively rewrites and edits Air Chrysalis to stubborn perfection—a punishing attention to detail which seems entirely absent in 1Q84). The narrative is slow and padded by graceless infodumping that defies suspension of disbelief; the characters are caricatured, the dialog stiff; a distasteful veil of misogyny shades depictions of female characters and gendered violence such that they're tasteless at best, problematic at worst. This wasn't for me, and doesn't compel me to try any of Murakami's other novels; I don't recommend it.


Title: Stories of Your Life and Others
Author: Ted Chiang
Published: Small Beer Press, 2010 (2002)
Rating: 4 of 5
Page Count: 280
Total Page Count: 219,455
Text Number: 695
Read Because: multiple recommendations/having watched Arrival, the film adaptation of "Story of Your Life," ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: A collection of only eight stories, many of them on the longer side. It's an idea-based collection; the stories feel like thought experiments and the narrative voices are comparatively understated, even absent. This works best when the concepts are particularly strong, like the evocative, surreal, science fictional take on "Tower of Babylon," or the plot developments are particularly substantial, as in the narrative evolution of "Story of your Life;" elsewise, they can come across as distant or even didactic. But even the second-rate stories are engaging; the concepts may be one-note or implausible, but the explorations of them are expansive. I didn't love this—I find I want a stronger voice, or maybe some characterization—but I consistently enjoyed it; it's substantial, intelligent, and satisfies that high-concept speculative fiction itch.