Cloud Atlas

10/24/2017 at 11:21 PM (Books, Movies, Science Fiction, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

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I don’t think I’ve read a novel so surprisingly excellent since Jonathan Strange Mr Norell. Actually, I have. What I meant to say is that I’ve read nothing as epic. My attempts to explain Cloud Atlas to people have met with changed subjects.  Let me try: the book is like 6 perfect little novellas, arranged as Russian dolls, and as you read, you bore in, and bore back out. Each doll is a different period in time, the outermost being in the early 19th century, the latest being somewhere around 2200. Four of the six are genre pieces: historical maritime fiction, crime novel, dystopian sci-fi, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi, with all their tropes rendered with loving affection. But they are just written so well that they are irresistible. The pieces placed in the 1930s and the present day are also wonderful, but certainly aren’t the type of fare I normally seek out. I am far from being a fan of science fiction.

But yes, exceedingly well written. What’s it about? Well, there’s the journal of an American notary returning home from the Chatham Islands aboard a suspect ship in the 1830s; a young composer cuckolding an older colleague while helping him write new works, who documents his affairs and foibles in letters to his former lover; there’s a true-story thriller about a Californian journalist in the 1970s planning to out a corrupt and deadly energy company for concealing a safety report damning their new nuclear energy plant; the soon-to-be-filmed chronicles of a publisher in the present day whose attempts to escape the extortionist cronies of his gangster star author land him in a Draconian nursing home reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest from which he cannot escape; there’s the future testimony of a Korean clone bred for service in a fast food joint but who, via the machinations of forces many and penumbral, gains full consciousness; and finally “the Huck Finnish tale of a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian ‘primitive’ and the ‘civilized’ researcher sent to study his society”. Whew! The characters of each story find themselves reading their predecessor, and sometimes characters overlap a little. Each story features a character with the same birthmark, and they all seem to experience deja vu from characters in other stories. Now it sounds corny. But my promise to you, is that it is cool.

I guess the book is primarily about the will to power. Slavery and subjugation, small personal cruelties, corporate greed. Its premise is something I still don’t know.  Please read this book so, at the very least, you can explain it to me. A movie might be easier to watch than reading Cloud Atlas.

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Ice Station

10/12/2017 at 6:32 AM (Books, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Ice Station is Australian thriller writer Matthew Reilly’s second novel, released in 1999.

When a diving team at Wilkes Ice Station is killed, the ice station sends out a distress signal. A team of United States Recon Marines led by Shane Schofield, under the code name of Scarecrow, arrives at the station. At the station, he finds lots of French scientists have arrived, and several more arrive after the Marines’ join them. The French reveal them to be soldiers and a fight ensues at the station, claiming the lives of Scarecrow’s men along with several scientists and most of the French soldiers. Mother loses her leg, Samurai is badly injured, and two French scientists are captured.

Schofield decides to send a team down to find an object below the ice where the diving team was going. Later, Samurai is found strangled, leaving the only people he trusts to be one of the scientists, Sarah Hensleigh and another soldier named Montana as he was with them at the time of Samurai’s death. Hensleigh, Montana and two other Marines, Gant and Santa Cruz, are sent down to where the diving team vanished. While alone, Schofield is shot and killed. He later wakes up, found to have been accidentally resurrected by his attacker, and is in the care of scientist James Renshaw, the believed killer of one of the other scientists at Wilkes. Watching a video of Schofield’s death, they view the attacker and discover it to be Snake, one of Schofield’s men. The two capture Snake before he is able to kill the wounded Mother.

Meanwhile in the United States, Andrew Trent and Pete Cameron meet; Cameron is a news reporter and Trent was a former Marine using the alias Andrew Wilcox to avoid being found by the U.S military who had tried to kill him a few years back. They hear the distress call from Schofield and Trent realises what happened to him was duplicating itself in regards to Schofield.

The team learns of an impending attack by the SAS and decide to flee the station. During the escape via stolen vehicles, Schofield and Renshaw’s is pushed off a cliff, Schofield’s close friend Book and the step-daughter of Sarah Hensleigh, Kirsty, are captured, while Rebound escapes with four of the scientists. Schofield manages to destroy a French submarine and he and Renshaw begin their journey back towards it. Meanwhile, the SAS Brigadier Trevor Barnaby kills the two remaining French scientists and feeds Book to a pod of killer whales. Schofield returns to the station and manages to kill all of the SAS and Snake, and save Kirsty. Schofield receives a message from Trent with a list of members of a secret service known as the Intelligence Convergence Group (ICG) which includes Snake and Montana.

Gant and her team find what appears to be an alien ship, but which turns out to be a spy ship. Montana kills Santa Cruz, but is killed by mutated elephant seals. Schofield and the two others arrive and Hensleigh reveals herself to be an ICG agent, but is soon killed by a wounded Gant. Remembering the station is about to be destroyed, Schofield, Gant, Renshaw, Kirsty and her pet fur seal named Wendy escape on the spy plane and land on the USS Wasp. They later destroy the plane using a guided missile fired earlier. It is revealed Mother escaped Wilkes before its destruction and was luckily saved by US forces.

The survivors get to Hawaii where they are nearly killed by an ICG agent before being saved by Andrew Trent, Pete and Allison Cameron, and the captain of the USS Wasp. Renshaw assumes custody of Kirsty since he is her godfather, and Schofield doesn’t leave Gant’s side until she recovers.




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The Sign

09/09/2011 at 12:36 PM (Adventure, Books, Environment, Mystery, Politics, Religion, Thriller) (, , , , , )

The Sign, the third book written by author Raymond Khoury, combines a tale of politics gone awry and the realities about the impact of global warming into the plot of a thriller. In the modern world depicted by the writer, the joint forces of pollution of the earth and arising political upheaval gives rise to big arguments between those who believe in evolution and those who believe in creationism. The sign which appears over Antarctica, during the collapse of an ice shelf, as a shape-shifting globe and then vanishes are claimed by the latter group as a divine sign from God. The sign itself was able to arouse my curiosity but all the squabbles regarding its “divinity” put me off. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think this a Bible-thumping book at all but which way you lean politically is likely to effect how you perceive the book. The Sign seemed too technical and science focused for me to like it at first until the thriller part came into play with scientist Danny Sherwood’s escape attempt.

This sign’s appearance is witnessed by Gracie Logan, a science reporter who’s at the right place at the right time. She is boarded on a scientific vessel to cover the breakage of the ice shelf. Deciding to follow the story of the sign and investigate what it means, she is led to Egypt after a tip-off from a priest called Brother Ameen. Her crew sees the sign drawn in a Coptic cave inhabited by a Catholic priest called Father Jerome who is widely regarded as a Saint. The catch is that these images were drawn seven months earlier before the appearance of the sign in Antarctica. In regard to Gracie and her TV crew, I feel the descriptions were just too long and the debates on creationism versus evolution were too much on the preachy side to be enjoyable. Those characters became marginally of interest only after the death of a main crew member in Egypt in shady circumstances.

The Sign Book Cover

Image from: booksellers.penguin.com

Once Boston’s Matt Sherwood, reformed car thief, was added to the equation after learning about the possibility that his brother’s death was a murder from his best friend, the plot becomes more action-packed and the pace begins to accelerate significantly. The short chapters and simple to read prose keeps you turning pages more because you are interested in where the plot will lead rather than because the characters arouse your sympathies. This is a plot-driven novel which doesn’t really care much to endear the characters to you. This is all about the characters going from Point A to Point B and to Point C in pursuit of the ending. Perhaps this is because of the writer’s credentials as a screenwriter – it is a lot easier to imagine this as a blockbuster with a lot of action. This book may have the pace of an adventure written by Dan Brown but because it considers much deeper subject matter such as global warming and environmentalism in almost lecture mode, I feel it’s more of a science fiction about corruption in religion and politics rather than the plot of a religious thriller featuring religious figures from myths and legends of the past. It almost feels like you’re reading something academical when reading bits of the book not involving Matt’s physical encounters with the Bullet as he tries to find out what really happened to Danny Sherwood, his kid brother.

This book will bring enjoyment for a fan of quickly moving adventure thrillers if you don’t mind lectures with an agenda sneaking into your fiction. For me, this detracted from having a wholesome reading experience. If a book claims to be a thriller, I have different expectations of content rather than politics and the possible dangers to humanity through global warming. This is not a religion-bashing book either as the final solution to the corrupt plans by the state and the military who are at odds with each other seems open-minded. But while I didn’t dislike this book, I believe it could have been written a lot better.

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Campaign Ruby

03/24/2011 at 1:02 AM (Books, Politics, Romance) (, , , , )

My recent fling with chick lit has made me succumb to more of it. In this case, it was Campaign Ruby written by Jessica Rudd, the daughter of the ex PM of Australia.

It starts out with the protagonist Ruby getting fired from her job as an investment banker in London. Used to being financially well off, she is devastated when her Louboutins – towering high-heeled pumps with signature red soles –  arrive on that very day and she is forced to return them. Snubbed by the email sent by the HR staff, she creates a cutting reply and without thinking of the consequences hits send. By the next day her email has gone viral even to the extent of The Financial Times. To drown her sorrows, she indulges in a case of Australian Pinot Noir. On waking up the next day, she realises in a drunken stupor she has booked a flight to Melbourne departing on that night.

Campaign Ruby Book Cover

With the assistance of her efficient sister, Fran, Ruby is sent to stay with her lesbian aunt in the Yarra Valley. Although she gets off on the wrong foot with Debs, her aunt’s partner who happens to be a lawyer with a good sense of style, they ultimately resolve their differences. Despite not having a working visa, Ruby is offered a job as a financial policy advisor to the Federal Leader of the Opposition by the Chief of Staff during an impromptu visit to a political fundraiser. So upon accepting despite having no background on party views and economic policies, she finds herself enmeshed in the election campaign trail and dubbed Roo.

Thrown headfirst into the field of Australian politics, she finds herself enjoying the hectic pace despite suffering wardrobe malfunctions, numerous media related faux pas and relationship mishaps with men of dubious character. Despite her rookie status, Ruby makes suggestions which work well when the Treasurer overthrows the current PM and calls an early election. This is eerie and reminiscent of the K -Rudd situation but the strangest thing is that this book was written prior to that. It gives meaning to life imitating art certainly!

While Campaign Ruby is humorous and uses brand names to a suffocating extent, it is still enjoyable. Just watch out for the peppering of clichés. But as political chick lit spin, it’s a great read.

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Mao’s Last Dancer

08/05/2010 at 4:59 PM (Books, Fable, Inspired) (, , , , , , )

Having finally received the overwhelmingly popular Mao’s Last Dancer from the Port Phillip Library in St. Kilda, I started to read it and having gone in with optimistic expectations (although this is a practice I tend to avoid with a writer/director unfamiliar to me in most situations) ended up rather underwhelmed despite its obvious merits. Even the movie of the same name by Bruce Beresford seemed to lack the fanfare it could have had even though both the autiobiography of Li Cunxin and film adaptation were compelling and heartwarming.

It just seemed to touch on things that seemed to be unnecessary waffle since it could have been more engaging than it already is if it had not drifted from new topic to another so fast but considering the sales figures of global success and print runs, all’s well that ends well.

Source: Penguin

Source: Penguin

Perhaps the story was not exotic enough to me. I used to take ballet until I hit puberty and grew a generous-sized bust (Have you ever seen a ballerina with an ample chest – I didn’t think so) .Meanwhile I also grew up in a country full of poverty, political conflict and corruption so even though my homeland had nothing to do with communism, the story of the boy plucked from obscurity to be a ballet star that then found an escape in the world of te West touched on common themes and should have resonated but while i enjoyed the recollections and fables, I didn’t even shed a tear since I was not emotionally moved as I’d be by any Thomas Hardy classic.

Maybe they broke the mould when I was born or maybe its the fact I’m far too familiar with  government systems of leadership which claim to be democratic but are manipulative enough to control and confine the lives of citizens to achieve their own ends.

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