Category Archives: Fiction

Anything fictional (from the classics to Saramago to any kind of novel or story) apart from sci-fi which gets its own category.

REVIEW: MORT

Mort (Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, I’d like to mention that this particular edition of the book is pure, distilled class. I found it in Гринуич (Greenwich, written “green witch”), one of Sofia’s largest bookstores. Happily, there’s also “Guards! Guards!” from the same line of beautiful 2014 hardcover editions of the Discworld series on that rotating shelf waiting for me to get my hands on it… All I have to do is swallow shelling out another seemingly-cheap-but-it’s-what-I-should-be-paying-for-my-nourishment-with 20 лв so soon after I did it for Mort with this particular expression on my face.

Anyway, I wanted to include quotes from Mort in my review to yet again share just how witty, pertinent and, well, funny Pratchett’s writing has proved itself to be, but I decided to just put links to lists becase this would grow out of any sort of proportion and my reviews in general need more words like my back needs more hair. The lists of quotes: [1] [2].

Many discheads count Mort as one of the best books in the whole series, and I remember my friend Garret pestering me to read this book in particular for years. My time did come, now that my disc is spinning – you may interpret that analogy at will, by the way. I would say that, compared to Small Gods, the Discworld entry I read before this one, Mort was funnier but lacked part of the punch; Small Gods made me think “hey, Pratchett’s onto something here”, but no such internal exclamations were had with Mort, and rather missed they were. However, I did have to think (relatively) long and hard to decide whether or not I should give Mort 5 stars all the same as a reward for it managing to crack me up so systematically. The end result of that painful procedure you can see before you; nevertheless, let it be known that Mort is funny and that you should read it, even if you’ve never read a Discworld novel before.

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REVIEW: SMALL GODS

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A quick note before the review: my friend Garret got this book for me as a gift for my last nameday, and he was also the guy who first introduced me to Terry Pratchett years ago, so here’s a double “thank you” for him.

Now, the review.

I definitely should be paying more attention to Terry Pratchett. All four books of his I’ve read I have greatly enjoyed, and this one not only had as much Pratchettesque humour as I could ask for, it had a very serious and significant message to share as well. That’s probably the reason why my mentor here in Bulgaria, Boris, who I yesterday learned has read ALL of the books in the series, some of them twice, called it “one of the heavier books” set in the Discworld universe. It’s an opinion which I understand but can’t completely agree with. To clarify: it’s not that it wasn’t heavy compared to the other Discworld novels I’ve read, but to me this contrast just made the whole thing tastier. What can I say, I suppose that, myself being a man of contrasts, it feels more… balanced? Natural? Complete in a paradoxical way that makes perfect sense?

It just feels right.

So, what’s next? I will continue to crawl my way through the series like a turtle, of course, but now, with renewed motivation from Boris, maybe I can do it with less of Om’s slugishness and more of The Great A’Tuin’s grace(?).

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REVIEW: DOLPHIN MUSIC

Dolphin Music (Cambridge English Readers Level 5)Dolphin Music by Antoinette Moses

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The year is 2051. CONTROL, the government of Europe, keeps everyone happy in a virtual reality. This is a world where it is too hot to go out, and where wonderful music made by dolphins gives everyone pleasure. It’s a world which is changed forever when music critic Saul Grant discovers what makes dolphins sing and sets out to free them.”

Wouldn’t this back-cover tidbit catch your attention immediately if you stumbled upon it while browsing through used books? I know it caught mine. It was in the open-air book market in front of Sofia City Library, where I’m doing my EVS. If anything with either 1) dolphins, 2) the Web or 3) dystopian sci-fi is easy enough to pique my interest on its own, imagine my face seeing them combined.

The book itself is only 96 pages long and, regardless of the simple language because the book was written specifically for EFL students of around FCE level, I found it to be quite enjoyable and engaging; not pretentious yet interesting; simplified in language but not messages, and quite relevant ones, too.

To tell you the truth, I find telling a story in the easiest words possible quite charming. Something in the style just makes my heart softer, like ice cream with warm cookies. It’s like watching children’s cartoons and being able to appreciate the simple beauty of it just because you’re an adult. If a universal truth were spoken, I’m sure it would be closer to such language than to the kind reserved for high philosophy. They say that life is complicated; that’s true, but it’s also fantastically simple.

For what it is, Dolphin Music is really good. I started off by giving this book three stars but writing about it made me happier. I can’t see what should stop me from giving it four.

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REVIEW: Η ΚΟΜΨΟΤΗΤΑ ΤΟΥ ΣΚΑΝΤΖΟΧΟΙΡΟΥ

Η κομψότητα του σκαντζόχοιρουΗ κομψότητα του σκαντζόχοιρου by Muriel Barbery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aν και μου άρεσε γενικά πολύ, περίμενα να αγαπήσω τον Σκαντζόχοιρο περισσότερο απ’όσο συνέβη, μάλλον από τα λόγια της Δάφνης. Κατ’αρχάς, η Παλομά και η Ρενέ δεν φέρονται σαν πραγματικοί άνθρωποι αλλά είναι εκεί για να προβάλλουν τις απόψεις της συγγραφέως για τους πλούσιους και ρηχούς ανθρώπους που φαίνεται πως έχει γνωρίσει πολύ στην ζωή της χωμένη στους φιλοσοφικούς κύκλους της Γαλλίας. Το ότι η κα. Barbery είναι καθηγήτρια φιλοσοφίας φαίνεται πολύ σε μερικούς -ακαταλαβίστικους από μένα- μονολόγους, ειδικά απ’τη Ρενέ, η οποία αναλύει το τί σημαίνει ένας πίνακας του Ολλανδικού χρυσού αιώνα ή οι σημύδες στην Άννα Καρένινα πολύ περισσότερο όπως θα το έκανε μια καθηγήτρια φιλοσοφίας και πολύ λιγότερο μια καλλιεργημένη θυρωρός.

Aν εξαιρέσουμε αυτά τα κομμάτια που πάντα με κάνουν και νιώθω χαζός, ίσως επειδή δεν μου αρέσει η κλασική τέχνη όπως αρέσει στη Ρενέ (γενικότερα απολάμβανα περισσότερο τις σκέψεις της Παλομά, βέβαια το πώς ένα 12χρονο μπορεί να είναι τόσο μπροστά είναι μια άλλη ιστορία), το βιβλίο είναι πλούσιο με αιχμηρά και ταυτόχρονα εύθυμα αποσπάσματα που αξίζουν το χρωματιστό μολύβι που θα υπογραμμίσει τη σελίδα ή την παράγραφο, όπως το εξής κορυφαίο και αγαπημένο μου, ήδη από τότε που είδα την ταινία που βασίστηκε στο βιβλίο (η οποία πολύ μου άρεσε και μάλλον περισσότερο απ’το ίδιο το βιβλίο):

(για τις διαφορές γκο και σκακιού)

…δεν είναι το γιαπωνέζικο σκάκι. Πέραν του ότι είναι παιχνίδι, που παίζετα σε τετράγωνη βάση και οι δύο αντίπαλοι έχουν μαύρα και λευκά πιόνια, διαφέρει από το σκάκι όσο ο σκύλος από τη γάτα. Στο σκάκι πρέπει να σκοτώσεις για να κερδίσεις. Στο γκο πρέπει να δημιουργήσεις για να επιβιώσεις.

Μάλλον η ταινία μου άρεσε περισσότερο τελικά γιατί αυτά τα κουραστικά φιλοσοφικά λογύδρια έπρεπε να κοπούν ή κάπως να σουλουπωθούν. Επίσης, γιατί λόγω του οπτικού μέσου υπήρχε μεγαλύτερη άνεση για να βγει το χιουμοριστικό και καλλιτεχνικό της ιστορίας και της διάδρασης χαρακτήρων, ακόμα και μεταξύ των υπόλοιπων ένοικων της πολυκατοικίας, οι οποίοι στο βιβλίο είναι απλά ονόματα αλλά στην ταινία έχουν σάρκα και οστά.

Τέλος, παίζει πολλή ιαπωνοφιλία εδώ πέρα, στα όρια ή και στην υπερβολή του κλισέ, αλλά γουστάρουμε οπότε στα τέτοια μας!

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REVIEW: THE ART OF DREAMING

The Art Of DreamingThe Art Of Dreaming by Carlos Castaneda

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carlos Castaneda is certainly considered required reading for any person even slightly interested in the occult, ancient practices, magic, dreams, altered states of existence or completely different planes thereof. This one was the first book by him I finished, if you exclude The Teachings of Don Juan which I began reading in Spanish but never finished because my Spanish just isn’t as good as I’d like it to be yet.

Contrary to other of his works, this one he wrote many years after the events he describes therein had come to pass: apparently they had been buried into his subconscious because of the altered state, the second attention, he had (mostly) been in at the time. Only almost 20 years after his apprenticeship into understanding and navigating the world of dreams by Don Juan was he able to bring what he learned to the forefront of his consciousness and then put it on paper.

I liked The Art of Dreaming, especially the first half. I read that when I was in the coach from Athens to Sofia and it helped make the journey much more dreamy; it made me feel that it was a passage in more ways than one: in the physical sense -travelling from one point of the Balkans to another- but also in this transcendental sense, this thing you get when you learn about the details of a profound truth. I came into The Art of Dreaming expecting something practical -Castaneda’s “Lucid Dreaming for Dummies” handbook- especially after learning that it was he who popularised the technique of looking at your hands as a reality check, something I picked up and have used successfully numerous times. The beginning of the book was entirely like that: it was him learning about the different methods of dreaming consciously and going through the “gates of dreaming”, as well as finding out about the complicated intricacies of the assemblage point and its manipulation. That link is a good summary of the book’s most interesting “academic” part.

But, like Castaneda himself in the book, or at least the person Castaneda wrote himself to be, I too need my objectivity, for that’s the way I was taught to perceive the world, as Don Juan would have said. Therefore, as the book became weirder and weirder and Castaneda strayed farther and farther away from what my dream reality -even in my most successful endeavours in lucidity- has looked like and started going into the dimension of inorganic beings, alien energy scouts and the like, I started losing my point of reference and ultimately my interest. By the end of the book his narrative had become so convoluted that I couldn’t figure out any part of what was happening – perhaps an apt representation of Castaneda’s own recollection of his strange experiences.

What however made things more interesting for me was this article I came across shortly before finishing the book which uncovers Castaneda as a complete fraud. Apparently after the success of his first few books, which, it is implied, were also figments of his imagination, Castaneda became a sort of cult-leader figure; when he was exposed he disappeared from public view by secluding himself in a villa together with three of his female companion sorcerers. The story is complicated in many levels; I can only say that the narrative of his books and what happened in real life is difficult to tell apart. In fact I’m sure that even if Castaneda proved to be okay after all (a possibility we still can’t discount since, from where I’m standing, the revelation of the hoax can be a hoax as much as the supposed hoax itself) the automatic reaction from a scientific and rationalist status quo seeking to disprove just to confirm its dominance would have been no different.

At this point several possibilities and parallel narratives have arisen: the story of the book itself; the real events which inspired Castaneda if we are to accept that his books are only adaptations of what really transpired; the reality of his life undescribed in the books – what we would see in a Castaneda behind-the-scenes; and the dirt that has come out that Castaneda was a complete hoax, which is 100% in line with “skeptic” views. All these interpretations exist simultaneously in a sort of entangled limbo: any one of them could be true and the fact wouldn’t negate the veracity of the other versions – they could all be true simultaneously. Additionally, on a meta level each one of these stories has something different to tell: about the human willingness to believe and the power of belief itself, about the unfathomability of the universe, about the dogmatism of contemporary intellect, about how powerful your fictional story can be to be able to ultimately convince even yourself that it’s the truth – especially if millions of others already believe it to be so.

In another interpretation, you could see how these are all just different layers of meaning, just like Don Juan described reality as an onion consisting of layers of universes. The hoax coexists with the book’s story and it’s only a matter of intent, a matter of the position of your assemblage point what it is that you’ll end up keeping from the whole affair.

Even if Castaneda hallucinated everything he ever wrote about, this book has made me think in ways I’m sure were not intentional but have arisen anyway as part of the complexity of being a thinking but chiefly intuitive feeling person alive in 2014. If this book is a valuable collection of techniques that -as far as I can tell- really work and a story of them being put to use, where does the fiction begin?

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REVIEW: LORD OF THE FLIES

Lord of the FliesLord of the Flies by William Golding

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Listened to this in audiobook format read by the superb Martin Jarvis. I kind of regretted it because the book is rich with detailed descriptions a lot of which I missed because I’d sometimes get distracted while listening. Maybe I’m not accustomed to audiobooks with more difficult language, or perhaps it’s just that I need to train my concentration skills.

All that said, I liked the book but, you know, not that much. I wonder whether its message is absolutely pro-civilization; if it’s really saying what it seems to be saying, that if you remove civilized society from humanity, all that’s left is savagery. I don’t like this take and would like to have more knowledge of anthropology to back my feelings with research that humans are better than that.

Then again, there’s this… Rather, I hold true that neither the “noble savage” nor the “civilization über alles!” tropes are absolute truths and that a whole lot of varying parameters will influence whether a community will destroy itself or flourish to form a different culture.

As a final note, I think reading this properly could get it to 3.5 stars. Its subtle, sometimes tender descriptions sat well with me.

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REVIEW: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: HYRULE HISTORIA

The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule HistoriaThe Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia by Shigeru Miyamoto

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first heard of the existence of Hyrule Historia and its inevitable translation and release in Western markets I was as ecstatic as any fan could be. To give you an idea, scanlations from the original Japanese edition were unleashed to the thirsty hordes of Zelda enthusiasts within a matter of hours after release in Nipponia. Finally! A Zelda tribute to end Zelda tributes; a book strictly for the fans; an official behind-the-scenes, anthology, retrospective, together with the manga prelude to Skyward Sword, all presented with high quality illustrations, colour and printing and, perhaps most importantly, THE TIMELINE!

Now that eyebrows have had the time to be lowered and discussion on the three timeline theory, which like it or not is now obviously canon, has subsided, it’s time for the admission part: the part where I look into the cold, hard facts of being a maturing Zelda fan. I hope you’re ready.

In the last pages of the book there’s a Thank You note from Eiji Aonuma, director and designer of many of the most recent additions to the series and to many the visionary and overseer of the Zelda franchise as a whole ever since Majora’s Mask was released. This is part of what he had to say:

“The History of Hyrule” allows players to determine where each Zelda game is positioned in the chronology of the series. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that the question the developers of the Legend of Zelda series asked themselves before starting on a game was, “What kind of game play should we focus on?” rather than “What kind of story should we write?” For example, the theme of Ocarina of Time , the first Zelda game I was involved with, was, “What kind of responsive game play will we be able to create in a 3-D environment? […]

“Because the games were developed in such a manner, it could be said that Zelda‘s story lines were afterthoughts. As a result, I feel that even the story of “The Legend Begins” in Skyward Sword was something that simply came about by chance.

“Flipping through the pages of “The History of Hyrule“, you may even find a few inconsistencies. However, peoples such as the Mogma tribe and items such as the Beetle that appear in Skyward Sword may show up again in other eras. Thus, it is my hope that the fans will be broad minded enough to take into consideration that this is simply how Zelda is made.”

I remember reading years ago that the official timeline of the series was a confidential document kept deep inside the Nintendo headquarters in Kyoto… As the years passed and new titles that made little sense when put in the big picture were added to the chronology, such as Twilight Princess, the connecting story started looking like either a lie too disappointing to reveal, or if it really was there, just a little bit too simplistic, i.e. is the great overarching story of the Legend of Zelda just a tale of many Links, many Zeldas, many Ganons and a terribly uninteresting tale of a prophecy never fulfilled? I slowly joined the disappointed doubters, those that questioned the relevancy of the timeline or even the very existence of it.

This confirmation by Aonuma sealed the deal: it was Nintendo’s way of saying “you wanted it so badly, so here it is, but you’re looking too much into it; go out more would you, you buncha nerds!” and I think it would indeed be sound advice for people still arguing on forums whether the official timeline is in fact real or not, suggesting that their own version of the timeline makes a lot more sense! The denial there is in the world…

I must admit that expecting a big closure from Skyward Sword, the “aha!” moment that would put every little piece of the puzzle in its place and it never really coming but instead getting the much-advertised prelude to Ocarina of Time with more unresolved new directions, brand new deities (as if there weren’t enough already), characters and hint-dropping, left me with a sour taste in my mouth. It is obvious that if you really want to enjoy Zelda and avoid such disappointments it would be a good idea to be “broad-minded enough” as Aonuma-san suggested, to turn your thinking brain off and take it as Nintendo delivers it. Willing as I am, I just can’t do that. I can’t create connection between the stories when the connective links (get it?) are so vague, each time raise more questions than they answer–for sequels’ sake– and often feel as arbitrary as Star Wars Episode III.

As Zelda games are changing to cater for new audience and are at least trying to get with the times, I feel more and more that they’re just not for me, that Nintendo has long stopped trying to cater for my ilk and that in reality they can’t even do it anymore. I can already see with my mind’s eye Nintendo fanboys who never broke away listing the “hardcore” games Nintendo has released in recent years that would supposedly dispute my argument. What they don’t realise themselves is that Nintendo of old, the Nintendo that dominated my childhood, was revolutionary, it wasn’t just the franchises and the games. It was innovative, it created demand, it didn’t just respond to fans. Now it’s like Fidel Castro or Chavez – only the blind and misled still see revolution where there’s nothing left but allusion to and revering of the good ole days.

Maybe it’s the gaming culture I’ve grown out of, or even a gaming culture I can’t grow into anymore. Maybe it’s just the simple fact that people change, or, as I’ve observed time and time again, that people heavily tend to single out the Zelda title they first played as the pinnacle of the series that can never be bested, and what of course follows is unrealistic expectations of newer games that they will finally be the ones that emulate the feelings they had when they played their first Zelda when they were 9. Is it possible that when a game becomes an enduring legend, the greatest enemy it has to face is its own legacy? Newer players seem to love games such as Spirit Tracks or the new Link Between Worlds, games I really can’t see myself getting into for the simple reason that I just grew up differently. It’s a pity, but so is the nature of the world: as series reach their maturity and endure for more than 25 years in a field which is barely older than that itself, so do players. Funny how people don’t have similar expectations from other media, such as fairytales or children’s animation movies.

Nevertheless, Hyrule Historia is safe from all the above because it’s made for my own personal nostalgia, it only exists in the past. It’s like a photo album with pictures from your childhood: it remains valuable no matter what. Apart from the older ones like me, I can also see the young ones taking an interest in it, those who love Spirit Tracks and Wind Waker HD and who never had the chance to grow up with the older games (same with me and the original NES Zelda) but are still interested in the series as a whole and think I’m a snob hipster 20-something gamer elitist, the very same feelings I had for those who thought Ocarina of Time was crap because according to them Link to the Past was the best. Don’t worry kids, you’re up next.

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REVIEW: FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS

Fear and Loathing in Las VegasFear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m quite amazed that these guys managed to stay alive after all these drugs! Seriously, with a book like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which you can’t tell what’s true, what’s not and what true event inspired what slight exaggeration, one of the key facts is that, knowing at the very least my own sensitivity to mind- and mood-altering substances, the duos adventure (especially their eating mescaline as if it was Tic-Tac), lookd completely surreal; I wouldn’t have lasted half as much, not by a longshot! What also disappointed me was that a lot of the little background details won’t make sense to anyone who: 1) didn’t live through the ’60s and ’70s, 2) isn’t from the US and 3) both 1) & 2). Of course, you could say that about any work that acts a reflection and representation of its zeitgeist.

fear_and_loathing_ink_blot
Looking at that ink blot while reading the book made me question my own sanity. Well played.

 

Still, Fear and Loathing was a fun read. I could listen to the protagonist’s internal dialogue, something which wasn’t as pronounced as in the film. On the other hand, the film was also decent if only because of the visual aspect of it, which was good food for flighty and trippy thought on its own.

All in all, I’d suggest watching the film first and then, maybe, trying the book, if only just to see the different perspective.

Have a look: would you believe that is Johnny Depp? Holy shiat.

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REVIEW: NINE PRINCES IN AMBER

Nine Princes in Amber (Amber Chronicles, #1)Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered Roger Zelazny from Ran Prieur’s recommended books list (scroll all the way to the bottom). Basically, our Earth and reality is one of many, one of countless Shadow worlds. The one true world is Amber, and there are 9 princes who all claim the throne to it. If this smells like Game of Thrones with a hearty dose of The Dark Tower to you, you have an excellent nose.

The story was simple and straightforward, without too many descriptions which would have made me turn the pages in frustration as I had done with The Lord of the Rings. The characters aren’t very well fleshed out, apart from Corwin (the protagoinst), but honestly I didn’t really care: the action and the scope were so grand and the plot development centered around Corwin, with his own very lucid and personalable narration, so engaging from the very first pages to the very last, that I didn’t miss not finding out too much about the rest of the princes. The problem is that the plot isn’t limited to those very last pages. The first book was a good introduction to the world of Amber and Corwin’s story, the internal plot was resolved, a round and bubbly sigh of optimism was left, but the huge events the book basically hints at are barely even put into motion. I suppose that’s a problem with any series in any medium.

Perhaps the thing I liked the most about Zelazny’s writing was his edge, his cheekiness and willingness to play around with expectations. If the rest of the books set in Amber are in a similar style, I’m in for a treat!

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REVIEW: KOKO BE GOOD

Koko Be GoodKoko Be Good by Jen Wang

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another addition to my Daphne-induced comic experiences, one more tasty slice of life from her rich suggestion list. I liked the art, enjoyed the story but I don’t feel as if it left me with something valuable. Koko was annoying and I wasn’t interested in what she was doing at all, apart from giving me some ideas for being more spontaneous myself; I sympathised much more with Jon and the decisions he had to make in life, i.e, whether he would follow what he thought would be a step forward (going with his long-distance girlfriend to Peru for humanitarian work) or do what he had convinced himself was beneath him but deep down (?) would rather be doing.

Enjoyable, quick summer read that took me places; nothing too earthshaking – thank goodness not everything is earthshaking.

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