Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this intensely unsatisfying. I love dystopias, and I love post-apocalyptic worlds, and I found the worldbuilding in this to be wonderfully imaginative and intriguing, but somehow it managed to be incredibly dull and plodding at the same time.

I think the problem is that nothing happened in this entire book. I was fully halfway through it when Jimmy finally decided to leave his tree, and I thought “aha, finally there will be some plot”, and then his adventure simply served as the prelude to more flashbacks which still only served to build the world, not have anything happen within it. I would have much rather learned about the disaster from a present-day perspective than the hackneyed flashback structure used here. The characters weren’t likable, and they did nothing of note for me to care about, which made the entire thing fall flat on its face. Which is a shame, because the world is a fascinating backdrop.

I see it is a series, so I assume this serves as the introductory paragraph and there will be plot in the later books, but it’s already lost me. I might read a synopsis of the rest of them, I guess.

Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on AirLate Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I greatly disliked this book at first, but it ended strong enough that I tacked an extra star onto it, almost out of pity. I ENJOYED reading it (mostly), but it annoyed me enough that it really should only have 3 stars. But then a sentence would float past and I would think “That was a really good sentence. I enjoyed that.” and then I would lament not having it on my kindle to highlight in order to go back and look at those sentences again later. There were enough of those moments that I do not regret offering the 4th star.

This book was far too in love with its setting. I’ve been to Yellowknife and hiked around a bit in the summer, so I enjoyed reading the descriptions, but I’ve always had this stubborn notion that books should have a setting and a plot, and it kept letting me down on the second part.

There was no plot for the first half of the book. It was all setting. Setting that characters talked to each other in, but each of the characters had the exact same voice (the voice of the author, I imagine), and I had to keep checking the names in the sentences to figure out who was saying what. The characters have backstories that are all painstakingly laid out for you in the first 100 pages of the novel in an awful display of telling instead of showing, but their personalities fail to come through until the very end. I could tell them apart by name, but they did not convey any of their personality through dialogue. I hated every single one of them except Gwen for a full 2/3s of the novel, and never really did warm up to anyone else by the end.

I did not care for the writing at all for most of the book. It was fragmented and rambling, constantly bringing up little threads of plot that abruptly end or just get dropped into nothing. I was continually annoyed by flowery descriptive moments where the writing dropped into an almost pretentious tone. I’ve never been a big poetry fan, and a lot of the descriptive passages twigged the same dislike in me that poetry does. And then the incredibly annoying habit of ending a section with something like “They didn’t know it yet, but this would be important later.” Stop telling me things. ESPECIALLY stop telling me things you haven’t even gotten around to writing yet. SHOW me things.

But then there were the good moments. A turn of phrase that strikes you as particularly beautiful or apt, or a character moment that makes you nod. The characters, for all their flat dialogue, were REAL. I loved that they all had flaws and behaved realistically. Some of the interactions were things I could really identify with, such as when Gwen is flabbergasted at being accused of being too proud or arrogant about her skills, when (to her own perception) she was barely stumbling along and hanging in there. It’s so true.

But at its heart, the book feels like a sappy romance, because that’s all there is for plot. This character is in love with that character but shouldn’t be. That character is in love with this character but doesn’t know it yet (but hey at least they will in the future! Look the author says so right here at the end of this paragraph.) Those characters are in love but it was never meant to be. Or was it? That’s really the entire plot. I was intrigued by the jacket cover description of a trek through the barrens, but it takes you 200 pages to even start talking about that trek, and then it’s over long before the book ends. I feel like the jacket should be sued for false advertising, but to be fair, what else would you advertise as a plot?

The barrens trek was by far my favourite part of the book because the characters finally had a purpose and a goal beyond just interacting with each other, and suddenly all the descriptions and character interactions held so much more meaning. That’s when the extra star got tacked on. If only the first 2/3rds of the book had been edited down a bit to have more direction, I might have enjoyed it that much more.

Harbinger Down

Harbinger Down appeared on Netflix and twigged something in my memory.  ‘Wasn’t I really looking forward to that for some reason?’ I thought to myself, and spent a few minutes googling it while the opening screens played through.  I had definitely clicked on the IMDB link at some point in the past!

It took a bit of hunting but I finally discovered that I had been interested in it because it promised full practical effects – a throwback to the horror/suspense movies of our childhood.  One of the very first lines says something like “In the style of classics like Alien and The Thing…” and my husband said “I was just going to say it really has an Alien vibe so far.  Those are both very good movies.  I’m looking forward to this.”

If you grew up watching 80’s suspense/horror movies with 80’s special effects, you might even be tempted to say that the writing isn’t as important as the visuals.  I mean, all those movies have the same damn plot anyway, right?  As long as it looks cool, who cares!  Well, Harbinger Down is here to show you that you are wrong.  It turns out the writing is, in fact, pretty important.  Because hoo boy does this movie have some bad writing.  I mean, it does hit a lot of the same ol’ tropes you’d expect to see, but it also does some about-faces in its plot that make no god damn sense whatsoever, which just reveal how threadbare the writing actually is.  They slapped together the template and filled it with special effects and didn’t put much more thought into it.  “Oh no there are explosives on the ship!  We need to save the ship!  Whew thank goodness we saved it; now we can get down to the business of properly destroying this ship…”  /facepalm.  And the ending… sigh.

Though I will say the steps leading up to biological contamination at least made more sense than the whole “Hey let’s just turn off this sterile forcefield and expose this alien head to our air supply just for shits and giggles!” plot point in Prometheus.

The effects were great though.  It really felt like an Aliens era movie, and that’s something you just don’t feel that much nowadays.  I’m not a big fan of the heavy handed leaning on CGI nowadays, although I’m not sure that 100% practical is the best way to go either.  I feel like CGI enhanced practical effects lead to the best results, but you just have to appreciate the awesomeness of a well executed practical effect and I hope movies like this keep the art alive.

Rebel Heart

Rebel Heart (Dust Lands, #2)Rebel Heart by Moira Young

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I merely wanted this book to be adequate. I didn’t want something deep or meaningful, all it had to do was entertain me for the couple of hours it would take to burn through it.

It failed.

I enjoyed Blood Red Road enough that I sought out the next of the series instead of moving on to the next book in the pile. The first book had its issues, but I thought there was enough potential in the characterization and potential for interesting worldbuilding that I wanted to see where it would go next.

Full disclosure time: I am only halfway through Rebel Heart at the time of writing this. Not a god damn thing has happened yet and I’m seriously fed up. I want to finish it and see where it goes, but I’ve also avoided reading anything all weekend because I just can’t be bothered. That’s about where I usually give up on a book and move on to something that actually entertains me. I’m not sure what will happen… I may edit this review if I do slog on. We will see.

The first book impressed me by not making the romance the focal point. It didn’t get distracted with it like so many books do – the romance was just a thing that happened during the course of the adventure. In Rebel Heart, we start out with a little intro chapter starring Jack, who is carrying out his business as quickly as possible so he can get back to Saba as quickly as possible.
So now we know Jack’s inner thoughts and intentions, and we know 100% that he loves Saba and that’s his only real goal right now. Alrighty then.

Then we get punted back to Saba and company (and god awful first person again… The writing was so much better in Jack’s chapter where it used third person. It’s a shame, but I guess you have to experiment sometimes). Saba thinks about Jack. Saba wishes to see Jack again. Saba loves Jack. Saba briefly worries that Jack won’t return to her. Saba thinks about Jack. Saba wishes to see Jack. Tommo falls in love with Saba (WHAT. Oh of course he does because she is so amazing how silly of me. Ugh. Isn’t he like 9? I can’t tell if this is a failure to adequately describe a character in the first book, so we just assume he’s around Emmi’s age when he’s actually supposed to be ~15, or if it just means the series continues to completely fail at consistency in time passage and scale…). Saba continues to wish to see Jack. Saba loves Jack. Word gets back to them that Jack is running around with a group of bad guys. Saba’s world ends.

The whole thing was an infuriating waste of my time. Nothing happens for the whole first part of the book except thinking about Jack. There is no other plot. Then the “shocking news” comes along and we spend entirely too much time watching Saba wrestle with the news. Is Jack a traitor?? Does he not love her?? How could he?!? Saba refuses to believe it despite all the characters saying “I told you he couldn’t be trusted”, despite those characters agreeing that the “threat” Jack sent along to Saba just doesn’t sound like something he would say hmmmmm gosh I guess we really misjudged him we could never believe he’d say things like that! Saba makes the startling leap of logic that it is actually a coded message.
This is all a total waste of time because we, the readers, knew from the fucking prologue that Jack’s only real goal is to survive to see Saba again. You just wasted half a book to have Saba figure out something we already knew while everyone around her argues about it. It’s the worst kind of telling instead of showing… But I said that about Blood Red Road too didn’t I… Hmm.

I’m not even done bitching. We now have a plot (sort of… I mean its still the same plot of “must see Jack again”) so now Saba sets off to find him. We’ve spent half the book with no plot, and now the plot is pretty much exactly the same as Blood Red Road: an arbitrary time limit to travel an immense distance to find someone, except this time it’s less interesting. Saba even veers off deeper into Mary Sue territory by acquiring more animal companions and super abilities. I was almost really interested when she set off down the wraithway because the landscape was interesting, but it rehashes Blood Red Road again by pulling the trope of “I will sneak off when my friends are not looking because I do not want them to be put at risk because of me” and then oops all the animals she so carefully tied up just show up shortly thereafter and help protect her, and then there’s a whole sequence where she is running for her life and has a near escape only to realize what she escaped from was actually all of her friends who followed her. It would be fine, if it hadn’t happened in almost exactly the same way about four times over a book and a half. I’m not certain I can think of a near escape in this series that actually turned out to be something threatening.

And every time Lugh says anything I want to strangle him. Every line of dialogue he has makes me regret spending all that time reading the first book to save his negative ass. I think Nero is the only character I don’t hate right now. Oh I know it’s all going to turn into some sort of moral lesson about friendship and supportive relationships near the end of the book, and I’m actually interested to see how it unfolds (in terms of will it be done well or will it be a schadenfreude-laden trainwreck of writing mistakes?) but I might need to wait until I’m in a better mood to attempt to get there.

And there’s still no real plot.

I feel like I’m just about to get to a point where SOMETHING fucking happens, so I want to keep going, but… I don’t think I care anymore. Disappointing.

[edit] So yeah.  I woke up this morning and read some spoilers for the second half of the book.  She sleeps with the bad guy and has a pregnancy scare?  Holy what the fuck are you fucking kidding me?  I am retroactively regretting reading the first one, now.  I want post-apocalyptic dystopia, not “After School Special” soap opera.  A whirlwind of angst and melodrama and this is AFTER she was magically “cured” of her conveniently Hunger-Games-Like PTSD thanks to some shamanism.  I think I’m done with this :/

Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of dystopian fiction, survival fiction, to some extent military fiction, and I loved The Hunger Games which Divergent gets a lot of crap for copying. I actually saw the trailer for the movie (which I wasn’t really interested in, to be honest) and saw the magical words “based on the best selling novel” and was like “hmm. I should look that one up.” Even if it was just a cash-in ripoff of the success of Hunger Games, I should probably still enjoy it right?

I’m going to put a bottom line up front here: teen and “tweens” will love this book. For the rest of us, it’s just too god damn dumbed down to extract any real entertainment out of. I may have rolled my eyes here and there during Hunger Games, but I never felt like it was actively insulting my intelligence. Divergent… oh my god I felt like I was losing IQ at points.

One of the things I love the most about dystopian fiction is the worldbuilding. What is this world? Why is it dystopian? How did it get this way? Was there a purpose behind making it this way? How are the people coping with their circumstances?
Divergent has almost no worldbuilding. This is the first book in a trilogy (another glaring sign of cashing in… does it need to be a trilogy or are we just hoping to sell 3x the books?) but even if the rest of the series builds the most amazing world, it’s TOO LATE. That shit needs to go in book one, people. The civilization is broken into several factions, and it never explains why. Why do we have these factions? Why were they formed? What is the purpose? There’s a sniff here and there that, hey, maybe there IS actually a plot reason for these factions and it’s not just all pulled out of an ass, but the book doesn’t bother to explain anything to you until a couple of snippets near the end. The main character even explicitly states that she never paid attention in history, to give us a convenient out for not explaining anything.

Speaking of which, the book is in first person present tense, which is a point of view that I loathe. I hated it in Hunger Games and it’s one of the few things I feel really limited the ability to tell the story of that series. In a surprise twist, the POV is probably one of the things that didn’t irritate me about Divergent. I didn’t detect any sloppy mixed tense, and it was effectively used to ramp up the action scenes without losing too many opportunities to advance the plot due to the awkwardness of needing the main character to be present to show the reader every single development.

The problem is, it was probably effective because this book has no god damn plot to advance. The entire plot is “Tris switches factions and goes through hazing rituals for 400 pages”. Then there’s actually a bit of plot in the 10 pages of a war at the end, which is supposed to get you to buy in to the rest of the series. There’s no real background, no worldbuilding, and no real character development either. It’s just Tris going through ordeal after ordeal and trying to survive to make it to the next one, with no clear indication as to why. And also heavy allusions to High School social bullshit (with very one-dimensional bullies), to make sure the kids can relate to her.

The character development was a real issue. We see each and every thought Tris has, and she becomes more and more unlikeable with each one. She comes from the selfless faction, so she’s constantly beating herself over the head with how selfish she’s being now that she’s in a new faction and if she was back home she’d be doing all these selfless acts instead and prostrating herself in front of everyone instead of trying to advance herself. When I say constantly, I mean constantly. She does not shut up about it. Just shut up. Augh. But then she has dizzying bi-polar flips to completely different personalities. She’s flipping between self-loathing to angst to spite to psychopathic rage and then right back to self-loathing (and then incredulousness when she scores first place in everything. How could this be when she’s so bad at stuff?!?). And she’s as thick as molasses in winter, unless the situation dictates that she out-smart everyone by being super clever all of a sudden. Then she will be super clever and amaze everyone. Then she will wonder why everyone is so amazed because she’s so awful at everything how could be they be impressed!??

At one point she asks a stupid question about what’s going on and the reply is “I can’t wait until you finally catch on”. I wrote a note next to it saying “Me too.”  If you ever find yourself reading a book and the main character says “I open my mouth to object, but I can’t.  He’s right.”, and you find yourself yelling “OF COURSE HE IS RIGHT YOU STUPID BITCH”, the character might not be well written.

The characters are all one-dimensional and feel unnatural because they only display character traits when it is necessary to advance the scene (whether or not it makes ANY GOD DAMN SENSE based on past scenes involving that character.  Al?  What the fuck was that, besides a transparent attempt at subverting the expected to elicit shock). The book attempts to use the same “hook” the Maze Runner did of trying to not tell the reader anything about what’s going on, in the hopes it keeps you curious enough to keep reading to find out. What that means is, Tris flips between being completely oblivious and missing the obvious when they want to tell the reader something without “telling” Tris… and asking very pointed and clever questions to try to get to the heart of things, only to be told “I’ll explain later.” It’s infuriating, and it feels completely contrived from start to finish.

And then there’s the romance. The rating of this book plummeted so much during those pages, let me tell you. Before that it was a mediocre but at least sort of interesting attempt at a story that I could see the younger readers really enjoying. The romance heated up and it became porn for 12 year olds. Oh they’ll love it, because it’s perfectly and very pointedly targetted at that age where they’re desperate to know anything about sex and this is a likely parentally-approved route to reading about it (no sex takes place oh goodness no they just cuddle and kiss no sex nope). But it suffers from the same character development flaws as the rest of the book. These characters are not acting naturally, they’re acting in a way that is carefully designed to appeal to a younger audience. Add to that Tris’s ABSOLUTELY INFURIATING obliviousness every single time her boyfriend is on screen (gosh they kissed last night and now he’s ignoring her at breakfast how could this be she thought he loved her he must actually hate her she wants to cry this is so awful because there couldn’t possibly be any other explanation for him not wanting to reveal to everyone in the military compound that they’re in love since you know he’s kind of the leader of the group and boy I don’t see any problems with this news getting out do you? Nope he must hate her now well fine then she hates him too. Oh wait he was acting that way to hide that fact that he loves her because if everyone else found out they might think there was bias going on oh my god he’s soooooo smart she loves him so much for being so smart ~*~dreamy sigh~*~)
… okay I got carried away but ugh. ugh. I don’t even care if this is an accurate portrayal of how teens think. It was tedious.

It gets a lot of crap for copying Hunger Games, but I actually didn’t feel it was much of a rip-off for most of the story… but at the end it veered down a path which is dangerously close to copying plot points word for word. I’m not sure what I think of that, and I’m not sure I will bother delving into book two to find out how Divergent (heh heh heh) it is, because I cannot stand the thought of sitting through another book of Tris’s tortured thoughts and self-flagellation over her lover boy.

In short (yes I know it’s too late for short): I feel like it’s a carefully engineered attempt at cashing in on popular-genre-of-the-week. It doesn’t feel genuine to me. This book was not written to entertain, it was written to sell. It’s unfortunate.

[edit] Now having finished reading, I read some more stuff on the internet and it seems like the author is actually quite young.  I could be wrong about it being deliberately written to appeal to a juvenile audience… it might just be working out that way due to the age of the author.  I bet if young adult dystopia wasn’t “the thing” right now, though, no publisher would have come within a mile of it, much less the movie deals.  But thanks to genre-of-the-week they were all over it like ants in a pop can on a hot day…

Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies is labelled “Comedy/Drama”.  This is a lie.  Absolutely nothing funny happens in this movie.  It’s an hour and a half of people drinking beer and whining about relationships, with no interesting plot to speak of.

The thing I enjoyed most about this movie was that my husband picked it, so I got to make fun of him for 90 minutes.

Childhood’s End

Childhood's EndChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is hard to write a review for. I don’t know if it’s because I was only able to read snippets on lunch breaks for the last few months or what, but it’s just not grabbing me. This is my first Clarke novel I believe, and don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed his writing, but something about the story just isn’t clicking. It’s like there’s too much premise and not enough plot, and I’m already halfway through.

It’s too bad because I thought I would really enjoy it. Maybe I will try it again when I have more time.

View all my reviews