Monday, 13 October 2014

Mini Reviews #1: Retribution Falls, Embassytown, Veronica Mars

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I've been working a lot lately and also trying to squeeze in as much reading as possible, which unfortunately, has not left much time for writing reviews. The only reason I'm even posting today is because it is a stat holiday and I finally have a day off. Truth be told, I've been lacking in the motivational department and can't seem to focus on writing anything at all, endlessly frustrated with my own incompetence. I'm burnt out. I think it might be time to take a vacation, perhaps go someplace warm and try to relax. Better yet, I ought to quit my perfunctory and mind-numbing job which is surely causing my brain cells to deteriorate at a rapid rate. Not to mention the unnecessary stress. I have even detected a few gray hairs! After coming home from a grueling and laborious shift, I tend to be in a foul mood where only alcohol and sleep is at the forefront of my mind. Reading offers a slight reprieve from my woes but I can't even enjoy my favorite past time very long before passing out due to exhaustion. 

On those rare occasions when I'm able to muster enough energy to sit down and attempt to hash out a review, my mind goes blank. I really hope this is just a dry-spell and I'll be back to writing more reviews on a regular basis but as my previous track record has shown, I tend to be rather inconsistent in updating this blog with new content. Therefore, I hope to make these "mini reviews" more of a common feature. Besides, my reviews tend to be quite lengthy and not many people read them anyways, so perhaps I will be inspired to write more if I keep my reviews nice and short. 

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

I can see the similarities to Firefly but Chris Wooding ain't no Joss Whedon. He pays homage to his predecessor, mixes in some steam-punk, a bit of Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, blends all of these elements together and presto! You get Retribution Falls. Except, I think the author forgot to add the necessary ingredient to hold everything together: good writing. The story starts off promisingly enough with a great action sequence but soon loses momentum and becomes silly, contrived, all too predictable--a flimsy rehash of its pop-culture influences. Although the novel doesn't pretend to be anything but entertaining fiction, the story never fully develops into an exciting adventure as I was lead to believe by the synopsis or the high praise bestowed by other readers. The narrative drags along at a sluggish pace and I found myself bored, anxious to be done with it. Often disjointed and clumsily written, the story has so much potential but is poorly executed. The characters are flat and the world-building is underdeveloped. The writing lacks polish and a certain level of finesse where everything comes across as amateurish. Perhaps Chris Wooding intends to expand on these narrative deficiencies with the next books in the series but I'm not in any hurry to find out.

Embassytown by China Mieville

I'm left with mixed feelings on this one. Embassytown marks my first foray into the surreal, nightmarish and bizarro world of China Mieville. Although I enjoyed my stay, it might be a while before I visit again. He's clearly an intelligent fellow, an erudite word-smith (be sure to have a dictionary handy) and a talented writer with a wild imagination. This story is unlike anything I have ever encountered before--seriously, some of the stuff he comes up with is totally insane--floaking, biorigging, bladderwrackish, polyps, aeoli (breaking apparatus), amniotic fluids and pabulum (food sources) just to name a few of the crazy aspects of this world--but I'm not sure this was the best starting place for me to experience his unique brand of weirdness. 

My lukewarm impression stems more from my own personal taste rather than faults with the author or the actual novel itself. Stepping back and viewing the novel objectively, Mieville has written an intelligent and absorbing piece of hard science-fiction. Cognitive estrangement is one of the defining characteristics of the genre and Mieville is able to take this concept and put his own unconventional spin on it. However, I tend to enjoy a novel a lot more if I able to connect with the characters or the actual story on some emotional level and found it difficult to do so here. Then again, Mieville deliberately uses narrative distance to emphasize themes of otherness and alienation that connect to the larger ideas of cognitive estrangement.

I adore Science-Fiction and Mieville certainly pushes the limits of the genre in a new direction, subverting many of the familiar tropes that have become all too commonplace in a human/alien contact narrative.  By focusing on semantics and the complexities of  "Language" in relation to understanding culture and others (humans or otherwise) makes this novel wholly unique.

 Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

A long time ago, we used to be friends...

That song still gets me super-excited and brings back so many fond memories. Pure nostalgia. I'm an unabashed Veronica Mars fan, not going to lie. I have a huge crush on Kristen Bell. I've seen the television series many times including the disappointing season 3, even contributed to the kick-starter movie campaign and went to see it on opening night. As a fellow marshmallow (fans of the show will understand the label), I can't get enough of Veronica Mars and when I found out that there was going to be book series that will continue the story of our favorite private detective, I was all over it like white on rice. A quick and entertaining read, I burned through this novel in a few days. This also marks the first time I have read anything by two collaborative authors. I am still unsure if Rob Thomas, the creator of the show, wrote anything that made its way into the novel or just provided the  idea and left it up to Jennifer Graham to work her magic. Either way, I am more than satisfied with the end result and so happy to see that the awesomeness of Veronica Mars will live on in book form. Boo-ya.

It's difficult to review this novel without any personal bias since I can overlook some of its minor flaws. The mystery aspect of the story isn't particular exciting and is a tad predictable in the end but it is still manages to deliver a few unexpected surprises that is sure to delight fans and create anticipation for the next installment. Both authors should be commended for successfully transporting the television show into a novel. I had my doubts at first but it didn't take long to realize that they were equal to the task. The show comes to life on the pages. The quality of writing is adequate enough to suit the material and the story moves along at a brisk pace. The most striking aspect is that the authors do such an excellent job of capturing the voices and personalities of the characters. Veronica's sharp wit and sarcastic sense of humor is spot-on. A common feature of the show is Veronica's internal monologues and the novel form provides more liberty to get inside her head. Also, where would Veronica be without help from her dad Keith or best friends Mac and Wallace? What about her relationship with Logan? The authors manage do justice to these fabulous supporting characters and its hard not to see the actual actors in their respective roles.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line takes place soon after the events of the movie so be sure watch that first before picking up this novel to avoid huge spoilers. In fact, if you haven't seen the show before, do yourself a favor and acquire the first three seasons and then the movie. You can thank me later.  

Logan: I thought our story was epic, you know, you and me.
Veronica: Epic how?
Logan: Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined, bloodshed. EPIC. But summer's almost here, and we won't see each other at all. And then you leave town... and then it's over.



  1. Hey, I read all your reviews!

    I do sympathize with your burn-out; I'm feeling it a little myself too. Writing is not coming as easily as it usually does. Not that I don't struggle with a review here and there, but I seem to be fighting with them all. I know it's because I'm too busy and I need to slow down. It will happen, but not for a month or so. In any case, I really try to see my blog as something I do for myself. Not that I don't love people dropping in and commenting and reading it and the on-line friends I make through it, but if I think of writing for them, it puts too much pressure on myself. If I think of it as mine, as documenting my thoughts as a benefit to myself only, I seem to get over those humps much better.

    It sounds like you REALLY need a vacation. I'd just go. I did a really nutty thing one year and left for France and Italy for 5 weeks. At the time I wondered what on earth I was doing, but it was truly one of the best experiences of my life and I did come back renewed. Can you quit your job? I had a job once that completely frustrated me and when I left it, I really didn't like people anymore. Struggles and frustrations can be character-building, but when your situation starts to affect who you are as a person in a negative way, perhaps it's time to say good-bye. Companies tend to like to over-overwork their employees, leaving no time for reflection, leisure or community. It's a sick way to run a country and you're always having to fight against this mentality. It can get exhausting.

    Don't allow yourself to get reliant on alcohol or you may find it's just another thing that controls you along with life and your boss. In any case, I really hope you can find a way to free yourself from that dungeon of life that we all find ourselves in at some time or another. Sending you positive thoughts and wishes!

    As for books, I've had MiƩville on my list and was actually looking forward to reading him (are you surprised, given my aversion to modern books?). I'm not sure what to think now. Like you, I don't mind weirdness, but I do have to connect with the characters in some way. This is one of the problems that I'm having with Infinite Jest. I do not care about one character in the novel and, honestly, it is so odd, I can't even convince myself that they could exist. :-P

    Okay, now that I've written a letter here, I must rush off and make a Gooey Spiced Latte Pumpkin Chocolate Pudding Cake. I just hope it works out or it could be ***** embarrassing ***** !! Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Turns out my response is too long and it has to split up into two separate comments. Sorry if it is a bit long winded...

    You are one of the few people who actually does read my reviews and I greatly appreciate your time doing so. Really, it means a lot. You make astute arguments that I am inclined to agree with pertaining the nature of blogging and getting over those moments of self-doubt or pressure that comes with writing reviews. It's not a popularity contest and I have no intention of seeking validation from others on the inter-web to be recognized as some kind of respectable literary critic. Of course, any feedback is always gratifying but meeting other like-minded individuals who share similar interests (like yourself) is even more rewarding. Like most book bloggers, I started this as a personal project, a way to express my thoughts on literature and hopefully improve my writing and reading comprehension skills along the way. Having this mindset is something that will certainly help me to write more instead of getting hung up on what other people might think.

    Oh yes, I could definitely go for a change of scenery; more to the point, I find myself yearning to travel abroad, to get out of this rut and explore the world. If only it was that simple...

    Wow, your travels to France sound like it was quite the eye-opening experience. So much history there and wonderful sites to see: Notre dame, the museums, did you get a chance to check out the famous bookstore "Shakespeare & Company whilst there? It might sound cliche, but I always wanted to sit at one of those cafes with a good book, maybe something by Hemingway or Flaubert, smoking a cigarette and just observing this completely different culture.

  3. I should have quit my job years ago but it would only put me in an even worse situation. As much as I hate it with every fiber of my being, I made too many bad decisions in the past--dropping out of school being one of them--and now I am stuck here in a service position. There are no opportunities to grow in this company, I'm just another name on the payroll. I'm like a ghost, invisible to my employers. The frustration and anxiety that comes with having wasted so much time here has definitely taken a toll on my psyche. I just work to pay the bills. All I have to show for it is a broken back. Slaving away until I drop. What kind of life is this? I could go back to school but again, money is an issue. Besides, it seems too late at this point. The obvious answer to my problem would be to quit and find a new job but without proper work experience or an education, I'll just end up in the same line of work. It's a Catch-22! Trust me, I'd like nothing more than to throw away the bottle but its been the only way I know how to cope with my shitty situation. Weird, i don't feel embarrassed opening up about this kind of stuff with you but I don't want to burden you with my problems or bore you to tears with it. I appreciate your kind words of encouragement, which have boosted my spirits. Thanks.

    Back to book discussion. Right, sorry. Got a little sidetracked. Indeed, I am surprised you have even heard of Mieville. Hehe, Just teasin.' I remember reading some lecture notes by Nabokov (forgive me, I'm paraphrasing) where he said that looking for an emotional connection to the characters or towards the story is one of the lowest forms of reading comprehension. I always found this argument to be rather high-brow and couldn't disagree more. Everyone approaches novels differently, bringing their own set of beliefs, knowledge and experiences. To make this claim as fact seems rather prudish to me. The characters don't have to be sympathetic for me to like a novel but I do enjoy it a lot more if there are characters to root for. It's just a personal preference.

    You seem to be having a rotten time with Infinite Jest. Why read it if it is giving you so much grief? I actually tried reading it again last night and made it to page 3 this time before tossing it aside. Progress!

    Mmmmm...Spiced Latte Pumpking Chocolate Pudding Cake. Never had it but it sounds amazing. *drools*

    Sorry for my rambling response and thanks for stopping by again. I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving!

    1. Argh! And you think that you're long-winded?! I can't get my comment to behave itself, so I think I'm going to e-mail it to you, if that's alright. I wonder what the definition of "comment" is? I suppose blogger is trying to tell us that "comment" is not interchangeable with "letter". :-Z