Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And now for something different, Diversity in YA literature

Hopefully one or two people here remember that when I reviewed Huntress (YA novel by Malinda Lo) that I linked to a contest of sorts that some YA authors had set up for the summer. The goal was to get more people reading books with more diversity in them (which I'll define in a second) and then to do a short write-up on what they read in a public place for a chance to win quite a few books. I like contests and I like books, plus I was going to spend my entire summer reading anyway, so I decided why not try this out and just be more aware of what I was reading. For the contest they defined the word "diversity" as meaning:

(1) main characters or major secondary characters (e.g., a love interest or best friend kind of character) who are of color or are LGBT; or (2) written by a person of color or LGBT author.
LGTB stands for a character who is lesbian, gay, transsexual or bisexual (and even within that group of characters you're far more likely to find a character who is a gay or lesbian versues one who is trannsexual, between everything I've ever read or seen I can't think of more than ten trans characters) and I'll also be using the short hand "PoC" which stands for Person of Color (basically anyone who isn't of predominately white European ancestry, I counted biracial or Hispanic characters as PoC). 

So, to start, I'll admit that I didn't go out and look specifically for authors with names that made me think that might fit in one of those above categories since, well, the only time I ever look up an author's name is to write a review here actually (that or if the writing is bad I check to see if it's their first book). That and the fact that when this contest was announced in late June I already had a super tall stack of books to read, some of which I've finished but haven't gotten around to reviewing yet. I will link to the reviews I've already written and I'll add in more links as I finish them up although that probably won't be for another three weeks at this rate.

To start with, the book that best fit the contest's description was Malinda Lo's Huntress which not only centers around two lesbians (without gay angst! they have real reasons that being in love is a problem!) in an Asian-inspired setting (as reflected by the book's cover, this also applies to her earlier book Ash) but the Ms. Lo is from China originally and is also a lesbian. This book was also one of the strongest books I read this summer which is a great, slightly darker take on the quest story archetype with (literal) young adult characters, both of which are things that I don't find in YA literature that much and would love to see more of. I think I still prefer her earlier book Ash just a little more (re-telling of Cinderella except the protagonist is also a lesbian, it's set in the same world as Huntress but a few centuries later) but that's just personal preference, both of the books are great and I'm really happy that I found these in libraries (ie, more people have a chance to read them as well) and plan on getting my own copy as soon as I can.

Next up is two different works by Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel and The City of Fallen Angels, two different series about a hundred years apart but with some overlapping cast members and similar villains. One thing that bugged me about Clockwork Angel is that it seemed like how everyone was talking about how Magnus Bane (a bi warlock, who is I believe part Asian) was coming back to this prequel series so I was expecting him to have a good sized role but he appears in very few scenes and didn't really seem to be needed in them. This being the first book in a new trilogy it's highly likely that he will play a larger role later on (his role in the first series certainly got bigger as the story went on) but I'm still miffed that one of only two diverse characters in the series is being billed as an important character when they only have a bit role. As for the other diverse character, well, there's a problem or two there as well. This character is Jem (a shadowhunter, think magical police made up of only the beautiful people) who is half Chinese half British and an interesting character but he comes off feeling a bit, flat. First off, it's strange that he identifies as half Chinese half British (shadowhunters hate anyone who isn't a shadowhunter, including "mundanes" so why they would choose to identify themselves with mundane words is strange), plus, for plot reasons, it sounds like Jem doesn't look Chinese at all, which also bugs me, and finally, Jem is living in a time period where British people didn't like Chinese people yet he experiences no discrimination at any point in the book. I'm not saying that someone who is LGBT/PoC has to be discriminated against in a book for it to feel realistic but here it seems to go against the setting since it didn't happen, it really makes it feel like Jem is a token minority who is needed for the "exotic" angle of the love-triangle being set up in the book.
Thankfully I had fewer issues with City of Fallen Angels, perhaps because all the characters were ones from the earlier books in the series. Magnus is back, with a slightly larger role, as is Alec (a shadowhunter who is now in a relationship with Magnus) and Maria, a biracial werewolf (who's also a gamer girl) whom I adore, probably since she comes off to me as one of the more rounded characters in the series. So I think that City of Fallen Angels does a little better in the diversity aspect than Clockwork Angel but neither are series that I would recommend based on the diversity alone.

A bit after these two books I read A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner (the review for that should be up Saturday) which I initially picked up because of the title, read the inside flap and then did a double take when I realized that the main character was a lesbian, being a bit cynical I hadn't expected to find two books this summer with lesbian protagonists and, while I probably would have read this book on my own anyway, the diversity challenge made me hesitate less about reading it and it ended up being my favorite book this whole summer. This story focuses so much on the relationships between the characters (platonic and romantic alike) and they were all done in such a down to earth and realistic way that I couldn't help but love this book. I'll write more about all of this in my full review but there was just something about the way the characters were written that made them feel like late high school kids who are starting to become adults that really made me love this book, it's another that's on my to-buy list for sure.

Another book that I haven't had a chance to review yet is Rosebush by Michele Jaffe which I had some, issues with, but one of the important supporting characters is a lesbian so the book gets a mention on the list. In fact, there was one section in the book about that I really liked, the main character (Jane) did some experimenting with her friend the summer before the book starts and later on in the book she regrets it since she knows that their relationship meant so much more to her friend than it did to her and that she was just using her friend. I didn't like most of the characters in this book but I did like this moment (probably because it was one of Jane's most self-aware moments) quite a bit.

And the last YA book I got to this summer that fit the challenge's requirements (I think) was Revolution (review) by Jennifer Donnelly. Like A Love Story, the story opens with a protagonist who is deep in grief over a dead loved one (in this case, a younger brother) but Andi and her mother are not dealing with this grief nearly as well so Andi ends up in Paris over her winter break where her father can keep an eye on her as she writes her senior thesis. Intially when I was putting together this list in my head I was wondering whether or not Andi's brother had been gay (there's a little line about him having a crush on Magneto but he's only ten at the time so it could easily have been non-romantic). And then I remembered Virgil, one of the people whom she meets in France whose parents are both from Tunisia. Not long after she meets him Andi asks if his whole family is-French he interrupts (she was going to say musicians) which sets an interesting tone. It doesn't feel like he resents his heritage but it does cause problems in his life (it sounds like he lives in a poor neighborhood, he mentions hate crimes at least once) and he's terrified that because of this he'll be stuck working as a cab driver forever. Basically his problems were the kind I expected to see with Jem in Clockwork Angel but never came up, his setting really had an effect on his life yet it didn't dominate who he was, a tricky juxtoposition but I thought Ms. Donnelly pulled it off well.

Finally, I was reading Anything But Typical by Nora Raliegh Baskin when the challenge was announced and I asked if disabled characters would also count. The answer was yes, although don't let that be all you read, and I honestly think they should count since I can think of about as many disabled characters in fiction (who are more than just a few cliches thrown together) as I can think of transsexual characters. Back to the story, Jason has a variant of autism and this is possibly the most sympathetic book about someone with that disorder that you will find in MG or YA literature. Jason is also the narrator and this let's the audience understand exactly what he's thinking and going through yet it's still easy to see how his actions seem strange and weird to the people around him. It's an amazing feat and incredibly well-written, thank goodness since I would hate to have a book about an autistic character and then not have the book be good enough to be worth recommending, that would be worse than not having any books to recommend at all.

Before I finish up this entry, comics! I know that the challenge didn't say anything about any other kind of media but this was some of the other stuff I read this summer. Plus, there has been a huge kerfuffle recently concerning women in comics (both as creators and characters) and, if comics are having trouble representing 50+% of the population then you can guess that things look hardly any better for minorities.

So I'm going to start off with a bit of an odd one, Fagin the Jew by Will Eisner which may have raised a few eyebrows. A couple of months back I saw a short article somewhere on the internet that called Jews "the invisible minority" which I thought was an apt description and I was thinking of that when I read the introduction to this book. Eisner says that he wrote this book because when he was a kid, all the Jews in the stories were bad (heck, I remember stories one of my religion teacher's told me about how Anti-Semitic Catholics, and I will assume some other Christian groups as well, were even a couple of decades ago) and he mentions in the afterword that Charles Dicken's even revised Oliver Twist later on to be less anti-Semitic (which is the story this one is a retelling of) but most copies today are based on the first edition. Because of that I think that yes, this is a story about someone who is a minority and written because the creator felt like this minority is being under-represented and discriminated against in all the stories they appear in, this counts in my book!

Continuing with Jewish characters I also read both volumes of The Rabbi's Cat by Joaan Sfar. Nearly every character in these books are Jewish (I do recall one or two Christian characters and a few more Muslim characters but it's a predominately Jewish cast) and many of the characters are Algerian as well (since the story is set in Algeria, some characters aren't given a nationality but it's clear that they are also African or Middle Eastern). Surprisingly enough there isn't tons of discrimination in this book (which surprised me since it's also set in the 1930s) but a lot of the story takes place in a predominately-Jewish community so it makes sense. I don't have much else to say since my favorite character was the titular cat but it was certainly an interesting read, everything willing a complete review should be up in the next couple of days.

Finally, I finished up an anthology of Native American tales (Trickster: Native American Tales) in the last few days of summer which I think also merits a mention. Given the nature of the book (and from an afterword that says how the book came about), I suspect that most, if not all, of the storytellers who worked on this anthology are Native American (I'll be looking up more about them once I get to writing a review) so that would fulfill the second requirement of the challenge. Some of the stories feature people but many more feature animals as their main characters so I'm not sure if it fulfills the character requirement but since it fulfills the other one it doesn't matter. Honestly I didn't enjoy this anthology as much as I had hoped but it's another title I'm glad that I found at a library since that means other people have a chance to read it and get exposed to different cultures (perhaps it might be better suited for the children's comic section instead of the teen section though).
Finally, a few shout-outs to some books I didn't get to this summer but plan on as soon as I have the time. Continuing with the comics, the manga Wandering Son by Shimura Takako just got it's first volume released in English this summer (I've seen the anime but held off from reading the manga since I knew this was coming) which I'm saving up to get. The story revolves around two transsexual kids growing up and trying to find their place in the world with some other LGTB side characters involved as well. I still prefer her other work better (Aoi Hana or Sweet Blue Flowers) but I can't wait to see the beginning of this story, especially since the anime started at a later point. Also on the list is Luna by Julie Anne Peters which I read years ago (early high school I believe, I didn't even know what a transexual person was so I knew I was missing something in the story but couldn't figure out what) which I recently discovered under my roommate's bed. I've been meaning to re-read it for a while (ever since Tamora Pierce's book Bloodhound came out which featured the only other trans character I had seen at that point) so I will certainly be borrowing that once they're done with it. Finally, if Hispanic characters count then Kit and Carmela from Wizards at War/A Wizard of Mars count for sure (one being a co-protagonist, the other being one of the best badass normal characters ever) which I've just gotten around to re-reading/on my to-read list, both of which are several years over due for it. Carmela is one of my favorite characters ever for the same reason I like Maria in City of Fallen Angels, they're closer to normal than most of the cast yet still manage to simply be very human and realistic characters which makes them interesting and incredibly likable. 

Whew, if you can believe it, this is only part one of my Diversity in YA post. I'm sure that some people, upon glancing at my "most popular posts" list on the sidebar wondered if I reviewed books at all (answer: yes, they're just my least popular reviews by far, happens when you hang out on anime forums mostly) and the fact is that books are only one kind of fiction I consume on a regular basis. So, to cover everything else (anime/manga/movies/tv shows/webcomics) I plan on posting a second post either later tonight or tomorrow. I know that if it goes up tomorrow it probably won't be eligible for the challenge (which is fine) and if it goes up tomorrow I am going to have to push my review schedule back by a day but I can make that work. The fact is that we don't just need diversity in literature, we need diversity in EV-REY-THING since this is a diverse planet, it's stupid not to reflect that. Once I get the second post up I'll link here, just check back in the evening tomorrow (EST) and it should be up by then for sure.   

EDIT 9/28: Howdy folks, time for an update! Since the deadline for the contest got pushed back a month I've taken advantage of that to read some more and let a few anime/movies play out that I hadn't had a chance to see/finish and that's why the second part of the review isn't up yet (it will be up in a day or two however). And I have a few things to add on here since I've done a good bit of reading in a month so here's a quick add on:
I did get a chance to reread Wizards at War and, as mentioned above, co-protagonist Kit is Hispanic and his sister Mela is a supporting character and a nice example of a supporting character that has become a little more important with each book they're in. Darryl, a young African-American kid who was at the center of the sixth book, returns for a quick cameo as well as two kids who I hope become more important in a later book, wizarding twins, whose names I can't seem to find at this moment, whose names suggest that they're from South-East Asia. I know this isn't a lot of characters and it might seem strange to even include the book but honestly it's hard to complain when half the cast are non-humanoid animals/aliens, makes it just a little trickier to have (Earth) diversity in there. 
Also read What I Saw And How I Lied which features a few Jewish characters in supporting roles and, since the book is set in 1947, that ends up being an important part in how the world perceives them. I won't name the characters, since it is a surprise, but I thought that since being Jewish wasn't something that was causally mentioned but something that colored all the other characters perceptions of them that they were worth mentioning here. Also, since the story is set right after WWII there are a few veterans and there was a line from one of them that I really liked. He says that he thought things would be different after the war, after all the Jews and others were horribly persecuted and their deaths had shocked the world, but yet nothing seems to be and that really reminded me of how I felt back in middle school at times. You go through world history, learn about all these terrible things and you (or at least I did) think to yourself "well clearly this all was wrong and we're not doing it now so everything is better" and it's so painful to learn that no, many things haven't been fixed even if people have known they were wrong for years and so I just really liked that line, it made the character human to me.
Had a chance to read some more manga as well and found another Jewish character (I am slightly spooked by just how often they are showing up on this list) in Adolf by Osamu Tezuka. I've only had the chance to read the first volume but the story starts off by saying it's the story of three Adolfs, clearly the first is the dictator of Germany but the other two are two boys living in Japan, one who is half Japanese half German (whose German father is a member of the Nazi party and forbids him from playing it), the other is a Jewish boy who is all German and resents his classmates for treating him differently even though he is born and raised in Japan. Since the half German Adolf is about to be sent off to Germany to join Hitler's Youth I wonder if his biracial nature is going to come into play later on, I expect it to and I'm curious about how some other Japanese characters will continue to be important once the story changes locations again.  
Finally, I've also had a chance to read Journey Into Mohawk Country which is a comic book which takes all it's text from the journals of Van den Bogaert, a Dutchman in New York in the 1600 or 1700s who is exploring the countryside and attempting to create new trade agreements with the local Native Americans. I was rather glad for my fifth grade history class so I recognized the names of the various tribes (abet I had to pronounce all of them to figure out what they were, the spelling is quite different from the way they are today, he deals with members from some of the Iroquois League) and honestly I think it would be a book that fifth graders would be interested to read after their history class. While all the main cast are Dutch (Bogaert and his two companions, they were traveling through so many territories none of the Native Americans were with them the whole time) all of the supporting characters were Native American and Bogaert portrays them in a very honest manner, he seemed to be very interested in the way they lived their everyday lives.

THAT should cover all the books and comic books then, here's what I have written so far for part two (only had enough time to cover the anime section since I wrote a lot about each title) but I hope to finish the rest, erm, soon, think I need to deal with homework first.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Anime Review: Noein: To Your Other Self

Back when the summer started I had a list of anime titles that I was going to get out of the local college library and get through in their entirety. The list went Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop and then Trigun. Later I found that Trigun was streaming on Netflix (and then it got removed but the dub is still streaming on Hulu, very strange) so I took that off the list and added on another title I had seen which I was interested in, Noein. I had seen the first two or three episodes at my anime club sometime in the past year but honestly it was the bloopers I saw on youtube that really made me want to try out the series. Not the strangest reason I've checked out a series, although I did glance over the tvtropes page as well and thought it sounded interesting, and I'm really glad that I had just enough time to finish it before I went back to school.

Noein: To Your Other Self

Summary: Haruko and her friends were living rather normal lives in their last summer before middle school when people from another dimension (La'Cryma) begin to appear with the intention to kidnap Haruko in order to save their world from the encroaching dimension of Shangri-la.

The Good: A fellow anime blogger has said that Noein is a lot like Denno Coil in some ways and the two shows really feel similar in the way that they construct their plot. It's clear from both shows early on that there is a larger plot lurking beneath the surface and the characters are partially aware of it but the character's aren't immediately drawn into it so the show takes it's time to let things unfold and give the characters development in the mean time. It's not quite the "first half unconnected, second half plot heavy" set-up that many shows use but it does work very well with a cast of kids to get them to the point where they can deal with the problems from the main plot. This also let some subplots get resolved rather quickly (such as Yuu's troubles with his mother, something a regular anime would have dealt with much later in the plot) and that made the show very put together. A big difference between these two shows is how Noein has an adult cast that is even bigger than it's cast of children, competent adult characters even, which also provides an interesting dynamic that many shows don't have and the adults get character development as well. The characters make and hold this show even when things are getting strange and very few of them don't feel well fleshed out by the end of the show.  

The Bad: At some point the writers must have realized that, for the show to have a really good climax, there needed to simultaneously be problems going on on Earth and La'Cryma and the villain of sorts for the Earth problems is a very unsatisfying one. All of his actions seem to be "for the luz" (or evulz) which was a cheap way to introduce drama and to bring Haruko's father into the plot (and then not really do anything important in the end). A few other details weren't very well explained in the series (how exactly Atori had a personality change for one) and I don't think that quantum physics works quite the way the show makes it out to be (a bit of a problem since the show revolves around quantum physics).

The Audio: For one reason or another I just didn't like the ending music that well and fast-forwarded through it after almost every episode. I liked the opening music better but at times it felt too light-hearted for the episode in question which lead to my interesting discovery of an "official" alternate opening (which would better with some episodes for sure). The background music worked fine, although some people may find the ominous chanting music a tad annoying, and thankfully here the more light-hearted music was used appropriately. Feeling a bit lazy I watched the dub which, like the show, is a bit earlier than most of what I watch and the dub is a bit weaker compared to dubs produced in the past few years. Most of the adult characters were fine but the kid's voices sounded more forced and, while they certainly got better by the end of the series, they were never quite as good as a dub made this year. Some lines were changed, or left out all together, in the dub which made me glad I was watching subtitles but thankfully it was never too major. Finally, the dub made the gender ambigous character Tobi (whom characters address with -kun in the sub) a girl which I didn't mind at all but might bother some people*.  

The Visuals: Noein looks a bit strange since there are two very distinct sets of character designs: those from Earth, who looks a bit more like standard anime designs, and those from La'Cryma who look more like characters from an indie comic. It's a bit jarring at first to see the two groups of characters interact with each other (and even more jarring to cut from a scene featuring the Earth characters to a stylized fight sequence involving the La'Cryma characters) and either you get used to it or you don't. There are one, maybe two fight scenes were there is a lot of CGI is incorperated as well and some other sequences in the show that use CGI (which, since the show is from 2005, are the most jarring bits of all**). The art style is going to turn some people away from the series, there are no cutesy designs here, but for the way it's done it's done well and the fight scenes are interesting to watch if you like the looser style of animation favored by some people.  

I really ended up enjoying this show and probably will buy a copy of it in the future (the fact that it's dead cheap online certainly helps me out there). It's a show that's slightly different from the way that other shows are paced/plotted out but it's because of those differences that I really liked it, although writing about it's similarities with Denno Coil makes me want to go and re-watch that show as well....

*IMO, the only thing more awesome than one lady talking about quantum physics is two ladies discussing quantum physics as equals, I did actually squee there so I liked that slight change.
**or maybe that's the part when the back of the DVD proclaims it to have great CGI, the best yet! 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Movie Review: Eden of the East, Paradise Lost

It's been pretty close to a year since I first saw the tv series for Eden of the East and, while I would have loved to see the movies right after I saw the series, that's actually a fairly fast turn around and kudos to Funimation for doing that. As a quick note, I try not to put spoilers in my reviews but the fact is that this movie is the direct sequel to another movie which is the direct sequel to the original tv series, it's nigh-impossible to say what's going on without mentioning something, possibly spoliery, that happened in one of the earlier installments. So, here's my review on the tv series, here's the review for the first movie and read carefully if you haven't seen either of those before (and my footnote gets a bit spoilery so read that at your own risk). 

Eden of the East: Paradise Lost

Summary: Starting up mere hours after The King of Eden concluded, Takizawa and Saki have returned to Japan where the Selecao game is about to wrap up and all the players are making their final moves. Takizawa has a plan but he's going to need the help of the Eden of the East group to pull it all off.

The Good: While some people have complained about how much screen time the other people in Eden of the East (the company Saki and her friends started) I've always liked how the show had quite a few people who were completely unconnected to the game but who play important supporting roles, it provides a nice bit of grounding. Also, considering that a main theme of the series is the role of NEETs/what should the NEETs really be doing with their lives it makes a lot of sense to see characters who are actually in this situation and simply struggling through young adult life. Yes the movie could exist with those characters having less screen time, the other selecaos would make their moves, there would be confrontations, all the lingering secrets from the show would be answered (all of  which were done well) but I just really sympathized with those characters and was happy that they were in the show. There was also a nice conclusion to Saki and Takizawa's sorta-kinda romance which also worked well with the mood of the whole series which left me feeling satisfied. 

The Bad: Before I saw the movies, some people were suggesting that the movies be watched back to back so that the action in the second movie balances out all the talking in the first movie. The thing is, there isn't a ton of action in the second movie either which is how all of Eden of the East has been, it's a show that has some action but for people to complain by this point that it doesn't have enough action is a tad ridiculous. I'm surprised I haven't heard that much complaining about Takizawa's plan to save Japan since it was a bit confusing and not action-y at all*, although perhaps the audience has realized by this point that there is a limit to how great any of the selecao's plans can be in a realistic setting.

The Audio: Like the previous movie, Paradise Lost has it's own opening song (which is visually very similar to the opening of the tv series) but it's performed by School Food Punishment instead of Oasis (who did the tv series, the show's most well-known song). School Food Punishment has already done the ending songs for the other two installments (and does the ending song here) so it's a nice touch to use the same performers and it adds extra continuity between them. The song is softer than the other theme songs, a bit odd since the show is reaching its climax, but thanks to that continuity the music doesn't feel out of place. 

The Visuals: Many of the cars are still conspicuous CGI (is this one of Production IG's weak points?) but other than that nitpicky detail the show still looks just fine. The new character designs fit in well with the existing ones (even though some of the characters still look a bit too young), the characters look distinct, and there's plenty of details. This is a show I watch more for the plot, not the visuals, but nothing on screen drew me out of the story which means that everything was working fine.

So, I really did enjoy this whole series, not entirely sure why people thought that the movies were such bad endings (maybe they wanted more action? Guys, I know that the first episode was action filled but this isn't actually that kind of action show, y'all should've realized that by this point) although I can see where the people who wish this had been a second season (instead of two movies) are coming from. But the reason I really loved this franchise (other than the politics, I was literally squeeing at points because of that) was because the characters are my age/a few years older and I could sympathize with them, that's just a really rare thing. I WANT more shows (/stories in general) that deal with these "new adults" who are coming into the world and realizing that they don't understand everything, no one understands everything, and they aren't thrilled with some of the things they do get, basically I want more shows that are like the original noitaminA shows. And that's why I went ahead and bought both of these movies before I saw them, something that I very rarely do, because I'm happy that these shows do exist and dammit, I want more and not just in anime! 

*in fact, I didn't get Takizawa's plan until about a day later when I was watching the news with my mom and ranting about how it didn't seem fair that the generation before me was doing more and more stupid stuff that I didn't agree with but yet would have to live with it and clean it up later on and then Takizawa's plan finally clicked with me. I was a expecting a grander plan than "let younger people have more of a say in their country," considering this is Takizawa, so I think this will disappoint a lot of people (even though I agreed with it and found the eventual outcome to be rather realistic).

Book Review: Brain Jack

Earlier this summer I came across this book at the local Barnes & Noble and thought the premise for the book rounded really cool and a bit unique so when I came across it again at the local library I picked it up without a second thought. From the summary on the jacket flap, it sounded like it was set in a future so advanced that people simply plugged in their minds to use the internet but other people took advantage of holes in the firewalls to steal their minds, something I've never seen before. I did read a webcomic earlier this summer (Anatta which died in 2010 sadly) that involved people using technology to sell/switch bodies, which isn't the newest concept but it was the most thematically similar idea to the jacket description. Of course the book wasn't like that at all so in the end it doesn't really matter.

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner
 A nice snazzy cover, even though I have no idea why they choose the color green (usually when I think of technology I think more of silvers and blues, maybe purple but certainly not green). The cover is also shiny in real life so it does an excellent job at attracting the viewers eye, no problems here!

Summary: In the near future, a near future where terrorism appears to be even more rampart, Sam is a teenager who fancies himself to be a great hacker and pulls off one of the greatest hacks in American history. When the government catches wind of what he did he's given two choices, work for us or go to prison for life and it turns out there is even more exciting stuff to come, stuff that only Sam has a shot at preventing.

The Good: Some people lately have been complaining that not enough teenaged boys are reading because "there are no books for them" (among various other reasons) and this is a book I would recommend to a teenaged boy without a second thought. It's got action, a girl who inexplicably ends up liking the main character, a chance to save the world or die trying, guys like this kind of stuff right?* The government/military in this story is more competent than they are in many stories which was rather nice (they were also pretty nice people) and the character that was the "villain" was an interesting choice (I've seen that kind of character used before, such as in Code Geass R2 but it's a less common kind of character). 

The Bad: The book comes off so differently from the way it's described, basically it's a summer blockbuster movie in book form which isn't so bad in and of itself  but I did not want to read an action film when I checked this out. Some of the earlier bits, such as Sam escaping from the kiddie prison reminded me heavily of the Alex Rider spy books (another series that will certainly appeal to male readers) but, while I thought those books were okay, the events here felt horribly contrived and simplified. Those two words also describe the hacking which plays a huge role in the book, hacking is something that's a lot easier to show than to describe (unless you want to put in a ton of technobabble) and Falkner tried to describe how the hacking would look in a Hollywood film, meaning that the way Sam interacted with the computer sounded nothing like the way people really use them. This book honestly would have worked much better as a made-for-tv Disney movie than a book and don't want to read the author's other books now in case they have the same problems.

I should mention that the book also takes a long time to get going, I think it takes about a hundred pages to cover everything I posted in the summary (which I hate to do but that you do need to give a basic set-up of the plot to summarize a story). It also had an incredibly pretentious opening** and managed to pull a "character becomes Jesus, uses deus ex machina and tells us a moral" while doing the exact same thing the story's "villain" did all in the last chapter which is actually a bit impressive. So, one of my least favorite books I've read this summer, partially because it was nothing like I was hoping for and partially because it just wasn't that interesting as a book, good thing the book I read after it was much more awesome.  

*yes I'm being sarcastic, I know sarcasm doesn't come across in print as well but I'm being very snarky about all of this, here's a great rebuttal to the earlier article. 
**paraphrasing: I know who you are, when you bought this book, look I got it from the library, I used your credit card number to hack into your computer and found those files that you don't want anyone knowing about .....are you telling me there's porn on my computer I don't know about? Don't worry, I won't actually use any of it so it's blackmail, not pr0nz? None of this was very hard, the security on your PC is a joke ....dude, I use a Mac, at least get that right! You can actually read the first few pages on Amazon, if you want a good laugh go do it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Comic Review: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: the last career guide you'll ever need

I feel like some people just face palmed at seeing the title for this review and I honestly should have when I saw it in the library, complete with "in manga form!" advertising. Honestly I checked it out to see just how bad it could be with the vain hope that it might be halfway decent. I wasn't expecting it to be a good book, I was expecting it to be pretty awful (since, as a general rule of thumb, anything that's advertised as having a "manga art style!" isn't very good) but this ended up being more boring than anything else.

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need by Daniel H. Pink
Summary: Johnny Bunko is not happy with his job nor is he any good at it. Thankfully he got some magic chopsticks from a local ramen shop and every time he snaps them apart a fairy like girl appears and gives him advice for how he can make his life better. 

The Good: I can't think of any other "what should I do with my life?" self-help book that uses a fictional story to do it so it gets points for originality. This medium also probably allows it to reach a bigger audience than a regular career guide would and it's a quick read as well. The pacing and organization of the book was logical and it moves at a quick pace so it's not a big time investment either.

The Bad: While the advice didn't seem bad (or good to be honest but those are opinions) the plot felt incredibly forced/clunky in order to get to those bits of advice. Johnny felt more like a high school kid than a post-college adult, his lack of maturity in some situations left me going "well of COURSE he's having trouble!" and it was just hard to take this book seriously. It could be because I'm not the target audience but I've enjoyed plenty of other works where I wasn't the target audience.

The Art: When the back cover advertised this story as having "manga style artwork" they meant "generic looking cartoon artwork that looks kinda Japanese-ish" since, as everyone here knows, manga has just as wide a range of art styles as any other art medium. The art is really dull, there are no special quirks, attention to details or anything that would give personality to the art style, practically anyone could imitate it. This book wouldn't have worked the way it did if it wasn't in comic book form, this did give it the freedom to be a piece of fiction talking about a non-fiction topic, but it does hit home just how strange of an idea it was. 

Sorry that tonight's review is a little short but there isn't really much to elaborate on. I thought the book was rather meh, didn't make me want to recommend it to anyone or give me a different outlook on life. Yet it didn't do anything wrong enough to make it bad, it simply exists at my public library and I hope that the next person who picks it up gets more out of it than me. Also, you can't really call it "manga style" if the book reads Western style, just saying. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Anime Review: Rideback

Earlier in the summer I had caught up with all my simulcast shows but still had a little bit of free time to watch something so I randomly asked one of my friends what I should watch, my options were I think "K-ON but art school or politics with motorcycles", and my friend actually recognized that I was talking about Rideback and told me to go ahead and watch it. I had been meaning to get to the series a little earlier actually (Funimation just released it and I was wondering if I would like it enough to get the LE set, even though that's a bit pricey) and was happy to see that they were still streaming it on their youtube account. 


Summary: Rin Ogata is a former ballerina who quit after a career ending injury and isn't quite sure what to do with herself as she enters college. But, one runaway motorcycle-mecha ride later, it becomes clear to everyone around her that she has a talent for riding ridebacks, a talent that could get her in trouble with the global military regime who are starting to tighten their grip on Japan.

The Good:  The show starts off with an interesting premise, both in terms of setting and in the ridebacks themselves, and it's quick to grab your interest. The series also neatly averts having a complete newbie be a great rideback rider from the start, Rin's dance background gives her the balance and reflexes needed to ride and there is some technobabble later on about ridebacks choosing their riders (which also works surprisingly well in context). The show has a nice sized cast that covers all the various factions (the rideback club at the college, the police, the reporters, the rebels, the government) and manages to flesh out all of the good guys. The reporter and police characters in particular become more and more interesting as the show goes on and the larger plot they're part of starts to eclipse Rin's part in the story.   

The Bad: While this story understands just how important the setting is to the shaping of a story, this setting makes no sense. The story takes place in the 2020s, before which the world had been taken over by a terrorist organization and, from what I gathered, they did it by taking over the American government which had already taken over the world. None of that seems particularly logical or doable and it's insane that there haven't been any large scale revolution attempts before this story*. Another big problem that happens later in the story is that Rin becomes less likable than she first was. She actually doesn't have much influence on all the events going on around her, the rebels would have started acting up against the government no matter what, yet she becomes very emo and spends several episodes not sure of what she can do or convinced it's all her fault. It's frustrating to watch one episode like this let alone several, thank goodness the anime focuses on the rest of the cast as well at this time or it would have been even harder to get through.

The Audio: For some odd reason Funimation has left the opening song untranslated even though it's only partially in English, I'm rather curious why they made that decision. The ending song is fully translated but the lyrics don't make much sense in relation to the rest of the story (it seems to be a love song of sorts but Rin is never interested in anyone romantically, unless the song was actually about the Fuego....). Other than that, nothing seemed out of place and the voice acting (the Japanese voices) went well, the visuals on the other hand were more hit or miss. 

The Visuals: This is a show from studio Madhouse who are well-known for doing good looking shows (including the recent movie Redline). Not surprisingly all of the ridebacks are done in CGI but the CGI works fairly well with all of the traditionally drawn items. The CGI is far from perfect but anime studios have made a lot of progress in just a few years at making it look better. The characters designs however didn't look as nice. Rin has permanent helmet hair, Shouko's hair simply looks awkward (and there is no way her hair ribbons would have stayed on like that) and none of the characters look attractive in the slightest. The art isn't exactly unattractive, although one or two designs are downright ugly, but aside from the racing or ballet scenes I didn't find this show to be ascetically pleasing which is a bad thing since this is a visual medium.

For me, the show started off really strong and interesting and slowly made me lose interest as it went on, I don't know how many times I ranted about the setting but it was a lot. What frustrates me about the show however is that it could have worked so much better if it was different. If the story was more about the rideback club pushing to make ridebacks street legal while dealing with an increasingly military government (of Japan) and having to win over the general public that these aren't just weapons of war. I saw someone comment on youtube that this show is about America's military occupation of Japan which would make a lot of sense, i just have no idea if that was the original manga-ka's intention or not. I am curious with how this holds up to the original manga, which was 10 volumes long compared to the show's 12 episodes, especially since it seems that the anime started right when the manga was ending. Sadly it appears that the manga has been neither licensed nor scanlated so I haven't been able to compare the two yet, if anyone knows of any detailed summaries for the manga (or scanlatiosn I overlooked) please comment and tell me!

*it doesn't seem like there have been any small-scale attempts either which is even stranger. There appear to be no restrictions on twitter/facebook/social media that is so great for organizing get t0gethers at all (although the original manga was published from 2003-2009 when this was less common) and it's simply a fact that humans in general really don't like being taken over. Heck, some don't like their legitimate governments so I'm supposed to go along with the idea that these people just went along with BOTH take overs? As of writing this, Libya is currently trying to overthrow it's dictator and since the year started there have been attempts in other countries as well (and possibly a successful one in Egypt, time will tell there) so I just could not take this part seriously at all. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

TV Series REview: Doctor Who (Earthshock)

Wow, sorry for forgetting to post yesterday guys, was moving back into my dorm so I completely forgot to get this up. Hopefully once I get used to the new schedule that won't happen again (but then again, not sure when tomorrow's review will be up, hmmmmm).

Since Doctor Who is starting up again next Saturday it's only appropriate that I review yet another classic serial now. This one is from the Fifth Doctor's era, Peter Davidson who is actually an actor my mom was familiar with since he also did Tristan in All Creatures Great and Small (she was unhappy to see how he's aged over the years when I showed her a screenshot from Time Crash clip though). This serial is well-known in the Who fandom for doing something which has happened surprisingly infrequently (I won't say what for the few who don't know it) but I was sadly spoiled in advance thanks to tvtropes, oh well.

Doctor Who: Earthshock

Summary: The Doctor continues his travels through time and space with the various companions he has picked up along the way, this time with Adric, Nyssa and Tegan (the lone human of the group, definitely an oddity for NuWho fans). They become involved with a military group of people inthe 26th century who are investigating why a bunch of paleontologists have gone missing and uncover a sinister plot by some of the Doctor's old enemies. 

The Good: Once again it's nice to see a serial where the Doctor has more than one companion (especially since it's a mixed gender group) and, despite the fact that the serial was only four episodes, Nyssa and Teagan both got enough screentime to show off what they were like (with Adric getting more since this episode was meant to focus on him). Also nice is how there is a good mix of male and female secondary characters, both in the military group the Doctor and co run into but on the spaceship as well. I'm so used to seeing large male casts with a couple of token female characters that I'm always pleasantly surprised when a series bucks the trend and Doctor Who seems to do it rather consistently. David Tennant, the actor who played the tenth Doctor, says that Peter Davidson was his Doctor growing up and it's very easy to see why in this episode. Early on Adric and the Doctor are talking and the way he reacts, even the way he moves his head are very reminiscent of how the tenth Doctor acted, a neat little detail (on Tennants part). 

The Bad: As mentioned earlier, the two good twists in this serial have already been completely spoiled for the modern viewer which is rather unfortunate since neither of them were leaked before the original broadcast. Another problem for a viewer like myself, who isn't very familiar with the classic Doctors and their companions/reoccurring characters is that sometimes you just don't connect to them the way you're meant to which was a little bit of a problem as well. As for the episode itself, the ending feels a bit forced, as if the writers knew what they wanted to end the serial on but didn't exactly figure out how to make things progress to that point. It works but it's not as good as it could be which seems to sum up this whole serial.

The Audio: Once again the theme song has slightly changed (although sadly not the slightly creepy opening credits that go along with it) and the cybermen's voices also sound a bit different from their NuWho counterparts. Nothing else caught my ear when I was watching so onto the visuals.

The Visuals: It's not a Doctor Who episode without aliens and this time around it's the cybermen. Their designs here are certainly better than their earlier incarnations but compared to the NuWho designs it's hard not to wince. The costume department really needed to make the outfits out of thicker/less form-fitting material (it's hard to take them seriously when all the contours look like the shape of a regular human) and someone needed to coach the actors into walking more like robots (again, it's hard to take them seriously when they move the way a human does instead of the way a less mobile robot would). Other than that, the settings seemed fine (not perfect but certainly passable) and not overly ambitious.

While I would recommend this serial over all, it's got pretty good writing and pacing, I don't think I would recommend it if you're completely unfamiliar with the Fifth Doctor like I was. I just feel like this serial would have worked better if I was a bit more emotionally connected to the characters, although considering how shrill Tegan was in these four episodes alone I'm not sure how much more of her I want to see.....  

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Annoucement, changing my schedule!

Quick announcement here, next week (ie, tomorrow) I won't be posting anything since I'll be out of town for a good chunk of the week and once I get home I have to finish packing to get back to school. The week after that school starts and, since I have five straight hours of class on Mondays and Wednesdays (plus even more classes and then clubs on Monday, gaaaaah) so I'm changing my update schedule a bit. Sunday is still movie/tv show day, Tuesday will be anime day (same night my anime club meets funny enough), Thursday will be comic day and Saturday is book day. If I do post any specials (which, aside from the Diversity in YA post, I'm not currently planning on, see again "school is kicking my ass five different ways this semester") they will go up on Fridays since I don't have as many classes on that day.
Hope this won't cause anyone too much trouble and I will try to update as regularly as I can. I do have a bit of a backlog so I won't be scrambling for content any time soon and hopefully I won't go insane trying to balance this in with everything else I have to do. See everyone on the 21st!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Review: Spacer and Rat

I already mentioned this title a couple of weeks ago when I did that post about problems in science fiction and if anyone is wondering no, this isn't the last sci-fi title I have left to review this summer (which hopefully won't be seen as a bad thing). I think this story is supposed to very loosely use the theme of Treasure Island (one character is named John, another Silver, they team up at one point to find a treasure of sorts) which really made me roll my eyes, first The Seven Samurai on Mars and now Treasure Island on a space station? Especially since this was the example from that list where one of the characters had no idea you could have bodies of water larger than a hydroponics tank.....

Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard

 I found the title really hard to read on the cover (it's a bit easier to read on the spine) which just isn't a good thing. I think the design should have been simpler to avoid this problem although I did like how the title was both horizontal and vertical (betting that a real graphic designer would hate the idea however).

Summary: Jack has lived on the space station Freedom his whole life and he's eager to be leaving it soon to see the rest of space and maybe find out more about his family. And since it never hurts to have as much money as you can, he takes a job from a patron at the bar where he works to track down a special droid, one who seems to be in the possession of an Earth "rat" that he keeps running into (Kit). 

The Good: It's unusual to see a soft science-fiction title take place entirely in space, especially on a space station instead of a privately owned space ship, and the characters certainly made use of their setting. They were running all around the station, from the hardly used chapel down to the bowels of the place, and the author even remembered to have the gravity be stronger or weaker at various places in the station, a nice touch since so many science-fiction titles just include artificial gravity in their settings. 

The Bad: While Jack and Kit have certainly had enough adventures together to have a close relationship by the end of the book something about it just felt forced to me. Maybe it was because of Jack's ultimate decision about what he wants to do* but it also didn't seem like much had changed by the end of the book. The characters are a bit more developed but they haven't changed their situations and don't seem to have any plans for what they want to do next, is that a good thing?  The book was also a bit short and, while it's length worked well for the story it told, I find myself wishing that it had told a slightly different story that had taken a bit longer to do, one that could have really worked with the setting the story had and tie up Jack's family subplot.

 Neither Jack or Kit weren't really likable characters for me (there was one character I did like but that would be a spoiler) and this book just played out a bit too predictably/safely for my taste. Guess this means I need to keep hunting around for sci-fi I actually like, I don't suppose anyone here has any really good (preferably YA but I won't be picky) sci-fi suggestions?

*which reminds me, there are enough stories where the female love interest gives up on her interests in life so she can remain close to the love interest (which people have pointed out isn't really a good message to be sending) this is the first time I've seen the positions reversed and it still seems to send the same bad message.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Manga Review: Palette of 12 Secret Colors (volume 1-3)

Earlier this summer I started reading one of  Kusakawa's other works, Two Flowers for the Dragon, and heard that her other works weren't too bad either. I actually remember shelving this title when I worked at one of the branch libraries a few summers back* and when I checked the catalog I discovered that sadly that volume (number two) hadn't been returned to the library after it was checked out last October^ but the system did have volumes one and three and I was able to find scans for volume two online (literal scans, someone took the CMX copy and didn't even bother to clean up/separate the spreads into individual pages). The series is more than three volumes long (6 total) but again these were the only volumes my library had, I've heard that the rest of the series isn't terribly expensive online as well.

Palette of 12 Secret Colors by Nari Kusakawa

 Summary: Cello lives on the island of Opal where some of it's inhabitants have the magical ablilty to move color from one object to another, called palettes. They are paired with the island's native birds to train to use this ablitly but poor Cello has trouble controlling hers, will she ever become a full palette?

The Good: It's a cute little story without anything offensive in it with a laid back pace, I almost wish this was in the children's section in the library instead of the teens since I could see myself recommending it to girls in late elementary school/early middle school who want to try reading manga but aren't sure where to start. Cute really is the best word to describe the story, it's light-hearted, the problems aren't dark and gritty (there still is conflict, it wouldn't be a story without a conflict of some sorts) and it works well as lazy summer afternoon reading.

The Bad: Is there a rule that all shojo manga must include a completely different one-shot manga in nearly every volume? The one included in volume three was a whopping 30 pages long, longer than some of the chapters, and this trend just really bothers me. The story doesn't have much of a central plot so this isn't as big a deal as it could be but it does feel a bit disrespectful, as if the manga-ka/editor/publisher didn't care enough about the story to give it more time to make things work. Not that every chapter in this story is good, some are certainly weaker than others and it could use a bit more continuity between chapters as well, it just feels a little too disconnected at this point.

The Art: From the author notes in the back, it sounds like Kusakawa was drawing this manga at the same time she was drawing Two Flowers for the Dragon so the art from both series looks very similar. Her characters don't look very different from each other and the adult characters all look rather young (Dr. Guell looks incredibly young in his first appearance, more like he's Cello's classmate than a teacher at her school). Personally I would have loved to see this comic in full color instead of just black and white since it's a story that's all about color and the covers are really pretty to look at. I can't think of any manga that are in full color (I have heard of a few but only in passing) so this might be an unreasonable request but I honestly do think that having the manga in color would have given it a little more charm.

So, the manga isn't bad but it felt a little young to me and I just like Two Flowers better, I want to post a review of that soon but I'm going to try a little harder to see if I can find a summary for what happened in the final volume first. As mentioned earlier, Palette was published by CMX so it is out of print now but the prices are still fairly reasonable online (except for the last volume which is sadly the case with out of print series). 

*specifically, I remember that about once a week I would have to pull out all the manga in the teen section and reshelve them since they would get so out of order.
^I personally believe there is a special place in whatever afterlife you believe in for people who don't return library books, especially out of print ones. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Anime Review: The Third: Girl With the Blue Eye

Recently Nozomi has been putting up some of their older titles on their youtube channel for streaming (dubbed only sadly) so I've been trying out a few things but the only show I've finished so far is this one, partially because of said dubs. I've seen this series for sale on TRSI's site a few times (the box art is rather pretty, although it looks like it uses art from the original novel instead of the anime) and was wondering if the show was as good as it's packaging.

The Third: Girl With The Blue Eye

Summary: Honoka is a jack of all trades who lives and works by a great desert in Earth's future, a future where much of the planet was destroyed by war and advanced technology is strictly controlled by The Third. Most of the time this doesn't affect her life but sometimes her odd jobs take her to some very interesting people and places. 

The Good: While it's easy to see that the series is based off a light novel series (with how separate each adventure feels) and none of the individual stories were something so original I hadn't seen them before a lot of them were alright or even good. The series isn't a drag to watch either one a weekly basis or when marathoning the episodes and the desert setting is less common in anime than it is in say Western science-fiction* so that makes for a nice change.

The Bad: It seems that this story tried to create a myth arc in the end to connect a lot of the other stories in the series but it just doesn't quite work. For one reason or another it just feels silly and didn't logically work for me and it was frustrating to see the show not end on it's highest note. There's nothing really bad about this show per-say but in the end it just doesn't do anything that I haven't seen before and would recommend people to watch it for. Perhaps there was something in the original books that made this a really special series but here it just doesn't really stand out.  

The Audio: For some reason this show decided that it needed a voice over to explain what Honoka is thinking IN EVERY SCENE and every time this happened I had the urge to throw something at my screen. Thankfully this mysterious narrator shows up less as the show goes on but it's still an utterly bizarre and pointless choice, internal narration works well in the printed word and plays but almost never in television. As mentioned earlier, I saw the dub and it seems to be one of Nozomi's better dubs, possibly their best one, but it's not a great dub. To their credit, the voice actors do better as the show goes on but the early episodes sound just so awkward. I really can't recommend watching the dub at all and, from a quick look around, it seems like the sub was fine. One final note is that while the show uses the same openers and closers as the Japanese version did, the ending songs play over the image up top (with the credits scrolling in English) instead of the more sketchy pictures of the characters used in the Japanese version. It's an odd change (maybe they couldn't get a clean version of the closers?) but since the songs are subtitled it's not really a problem.

The Visuals: As Erin Finnegan said on Shelf Life once, the character designs in this show just aren't that interesting most of the time and sometimes are downright strange (such as one characters huge breasts and a wolf with tentacles). The designs aren't bad per-say, it's just obvious that this is from a light novel instead of a manga where the outfits would have more detail and the art style would look less generic. There is at least one, possibly two episodes where everyone is drawn off model (for the entire episode, not just a few scenes) and there just weren't any really high-budget fight scenes elsewhere in the series to justify why those episodes looked so crappy.

In short, this series just felt average and, well, why watch something average when you could be watching something great? Maybe someone who hasn't spent their entire summer watching/reading science fiction *cough* would like this more, or maybe someone who just hasn't seen as much anime would also enjoy this a lot but I don't feel the need to buy this or rewatch the series, guess the box art really was better than the show itself.

*although at times it did remind me of one of Yen Press's light novel/manga series, Kieli. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

TV Series Review: Doctor Who (Genesis of the Daleks)

In case people were wondering, no I got sidetracked and haven't done my write-up about the author event yet, honestly I'm just not sure how interesting it would be to most people. Of course, I'm not sure how many people are interested in seeing me explore even more Classic Doctor Who but I suspect that it's at least a few more people. This time around I tried out one of the Fourth Doctor's adventures (with Sarah Jane and Harry as companions, Sarah Jane should be familiar to fans of the new series since she's appeared in a few episodes, got a spin-off show and her actress, Elizabeth Sladen, died this past spring), one that dealt with the origins of the Dalek's themselves. Russel T. Davis has said that this is where the Time War that would eventually wipe out the Time Lords started (ie, the meddling in the Dalek's creation) and even without knowing that it's a rather depressing episode, clearly the Dalek's are still around in the current series so it's everyone knows how this is all going to end.

Doctor Who- The Genesis of the Daleks

Summary: The Doctor and company have been pulled from the Tardis mid-flight to undertake a secret mission from the Time Lords, go back in time to Sakro and either manipulate the newly created Dalek's so they become a more peaceful race or destroy one of the universes' greatest menaces at their birth.

The Good: Despite the serial's foregone conclusion this story has a pretty tight plot, good pacing and suspense, exactly what it needs to hold people's attention for six, half-hour episodes. Once again the companions prove that they're perfectly capable of getting in and out of trouble all by themselves (although Sarah Jane isn't quite as capable as she was in NuWho) and it's interesting to see that the Doctor doesn't worry quite as much when his companions go missing, compared to NuWho anyway, and simply seems confident that they'll do alright. Tom Baker plays an interesting Doctor where it's always easy to remember that he is an alien, not human, which is something other actors sometimes seem to forget. There's just something about the way he acts that makes him seem different, it's no wonder that for so many people Tom Baker is "their Doctor."

The Bad: If you hadn't already guessed that Daleks were supposed to be alien Nazis then this serial really beats you over the head with the idea. Barely any of the characters other than the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry are remotely likable which gets a little frustrating, the war on Sakro that starts everything also seems to have Black and Black Mortality, really it's a wonder that the Time Lords didn't tell the Doctor to blow up everything from the start. Sometimes it seems like the characters are too trusting of Davros or not doing enough to prevent his plans but honestly, wouldn't the viewers have felt the same way the characters did if they didn't already know how the Daleks acted?

The Audio: The opening theme seems to have changed a little bit again and other than that there isn't a lot of memorable music from the serial. One interesting bit however, and I don't know if this was on purpose or not (I suspect it probably was), was seeing how similar the Daleks' voices were to Davros' own voice, as if he tried to make the Daleks in his image. It's not obvious every time he speaks but when he gets angry and starts yelling or drawing out his words like the Daleks do his voice becomes more and more synthesized which I thought was a rather clever little detail.

The Visuals: When the show doesn't have to rely on crazy special effects it's a lot easier to take the story seriously and thankfully this serial doesn't need a lot of special effects. By this point any Doctor Who fan is going to be used to the design of the Daleks, although Davros looks a little different from his later appearances, and combine that with rather generic looking sets (wastelands, small rooms that could have any number of purposes, a sanitary looking lab) and there's nothing to distract the viewer or to draw them out of the viewing experience.

I enjoyed this serial quite a bit as well and I really like having stories were there is more than one companion in the Tardis, for some reason it just seems that having three or more people means that the characters get to develop and act more as they bounce off of each other and it's a pleasent change from NuWho where the majority of the time it's one girl and the Doctor in the Tardis (and yes this means that I love having Amy and Rory together in the Tardis and Jack or River Song appearing for a few episodes always seemed to make things more interesting as well).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book Review: Dust of 100 Dogs

Aka, the book my mom kept trying to steal from me when we were on vacation, no idea why she found this book so interesting based on the blurb on it's back cover. Then again, I don't know why I was interested by this book either, I remember coming across it in a bookstore years ago, thought it looked interesting and just now found it at my local library. I suppose part of the interest for me was because the blurb seems to give away the entire plot of the book so I was wondering what was left to tell.

Dust of a Thousand Dogs by A.S. King
Part of the reason I was initially attracted to this book (in the bookstore) was because of it's cool design. It's only three colors, very graphic and really fits the book well, plus that's a pretty neat font used for the title (also a little unusual to see the title placed in the lower right hand corner of the cover, usually it's right at the top). So the cover itself is eye-grabbing and really stands out compared to other YA titles.

Summary: Emer was originally born in Ireland at the time of Cromwell and saw her family home destroyed while she escaped and eventually became a pirate terrorizing the Caribbean. However, right after burying some treasure, she was killed and cursed to live the lives of 100 dogs before being reborn again as a human. It’s now the 1970s and she has finally been reborn as a human (named Saffron) who remembering every single life she’s had before and determined to escape her deadbeat family and reclaim her treasure.

The Good: It seems that the book gives away it’s entire plot on the back cover but proves that knowing what happened (the facts) isn’t the same as knowing how it happened (the reason), in a way it shows that you can still enjoy a story even if you know almost all of what is going to happen. The book uses a lot of flashbacks to tell the story and, in an unexpected twist, shows that Emer and Saffron are not the same person unlike most stories where a reincarnated person is exactly the same. Emer is certainly a part of Saffron but they are still two separate people, Saffron doesn’t mind her visitor/former self living with her and seems to have simply accepted that she knows all the things that Emer does. Because of all the flasbacks this story is more of a historical fiction work which covers two very different time periods, 17th century Ireland and the Caribbean and 1970s through early 1990s America which is an unusual combination for a book written only a few years ago*. Emer and Saffron carry the story so well that book is a really interesting and engaging read.

The Bad: A few things about the ending seem unexpected or just a bit too convenient for some of the characters (almost an inverse deus ex machina since it makes things harder for Saffron/Emer ). It also provides a much needed climax for the story since in the current timeline the story is already in the 1990s and most of Saffron's problems have been (at least temporarily) taken care of yet something still needs to happen at the end to wrap everything up. It’s not a plot heavy book, it’s very much a character book instead and at times it feels more like a very strange slice of life story. The interludes the include dog training advice/snippets from Emer's 100 lives as various dogs sometimes felt rather strange and out of place, the story would have functioned perfectly without them. 

I ended up liking this book more than I thought I would (just because I had no idea how much I would like it) and wouldn't mind buying a copy of it someday for an e-reader or such. Makes me wish I had more historical fiction to read as well, for some reason that genre just isn't as popular in young adult (or if it is it's something more along the lines of ROMANCE, INTRIGUE.... in the 1800s!), although it is entirely possible that in my years of wandering through bookstores and libraries that I've just missed all the historical fiction they have.

*by which I mean, it's rare to see what is technically historical fiction books that are only set a few decades ago (instead of some more "romantic" era).