Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Vampire Hunter D: The Stuff of Dreams - Hideyuki Kikuchi, Kevin Leahy (trans)

Lookit'im. Look at that face. What a prissy boy.

This book contained the sentence of ZOMGWTFBBQ, only two men hitting on D, and NO THREAT OF RAPE TO THE MAIN GIRLY.

I feel I must state that again; the 17 year old girl in this book was never under threat of rape. By anyone. At all. Ever.

I was amazed, and pleased. It made the book more fun, less infuriating. But I still don't think there was a point to fighting the giant chickens or the floating blood bubbles that appeared after them. Methinks Hideyuki realised that unless he forced the issue, there weren't going to be any big scary weird monsters slain in the book.

Here, D dreams, and when he wakes, finds the village he visited in the dream. Everyone is expecting him - they all dreamed about him in return. No one knows why he has been called, or what he is supposed to do. The only hint he has is in the keeping of a sleeping girl, who has slept for thirty odd years after being bitten by a vampire.

It is about dreams, various sorts of dreams, and dreams within dreams, and after a little while becomes terribly confusing, until the end - one of those lucid moments dreams occasionally grant you, when everything becomes clear.

This is definitly one of the better D books so far. It poses an interesting question; if vampires dream, what do they dream of?

Verdict: If anyone actually reads these things, then you already know what I think about these books.
Passage - Connie Willis

Willis is one of those authors I've been meaning to read for a long time, but never quite got there. After hearing her read an except of her current project at worldcon, I went and grabbed the first copy of this I found in the dealer's room. What a mind! What amusement! What amazing dialogue!

I started reading it while standing in line for her signing. Very nearly ignored the author in favour of her own book.

Joanna Lander and Richard Wright work at the Mercy General Hospital, researching the phenomenon of near-death experiences (NDEs). Their investigation is geared towards what an NDE actually is, in terms of the human body's functions, and thus they spend a significant amount of time reproducing the brain-state in others. Mandrake, another working in the field, looks after all the angels and golden light and departed dear ones.

Their research isn't going well, however, and Joanna finds herself volunteering to go under and experience and NDE for herself, with strange and not altogether pleasant consequences.

Although the majority of the book consists of Joanna powering from one part of the hospital to another, asking questions and not quite getting answers, this book turned out to be one of those dangerously addictive books. I kept sneaking it out to read at work, every couple of minutes I'd grab it and dip in for just a little more. It was such a different idea, NDEs, and something I knew nothing about. The characters were incredibly engaging and with such depth, especially Maisey. At once a remarkable simple and gob-smackingly complex book.

Despite the intensely distracting story, I couldn't help but spend time pondering Willis's writing technique. This book is, for the most part, talking heads. Nothing but talking heads tossing theories at each other, questions, answers, pushing the story and reader onward, always onward, with nothing but a couple of people standing around arranging and organising and discussing. With all the criting and editing I've done and had done, and all the workshops I've attended, it's been standard to be warned away from talking head stories. Why, I wonder? Perhaps they're easy to to badly. Willis makes them look easy and intriguing and fascinating.

Another interesting aspect was the utter dread and fear she managed to inspire in me. Having not read much on horror, I'm not sure what it is the horror genre tries to provoke in a reader - fear, horror, or a romp with the gruesome and ghastly that has little to do with either. This book scared me something fierce until I figured out what was going on, by careful application of fear. Fear is contagious. If a character is afraid, truly afraid, the reader can and will pick up on that. Lovecraft uses the same technique, only he uses it like a sledgehammer; "YOU ARE AFRAID AND AGHAST AND HORRIFIED." Willis is far more insidious.

I found the ending satisfying, although I've yet to conclude on exactly what it is that Willis is trying to say. I drew my own conclusions, and that appears to be enough.

Verdict: The general consensus is that Connie Willis is a brilliant writer, and everyone should read her. I agree.

Monday, October 09, 2006

So Yesterday - Scott Westerfeld

Another piece of worldcon booty. In reality, I should have bought it ages ago, as it's available out here, and has been for ages.

Hunter is a Cool Hunter; his job is to go out, sus out what the next cool thing will be, and the big companies out there pay him for it. This is a legitimate job, just in case you were wondering.

He meets Jen, a rather awesome girl, takes her to a cool tasting, and after finding his boss's phone (but not his boss) in an empty warehouse along with some hot shoes, thing start getting interesting.

Jen and Hunter make a good team, with a great dynamic that is easy to get caught up in. Suprisingly, for a story about cool, what really hooked me in was how very geeky it was. All the fiddling with features on phones, wifi, wizz computers - it made me giggle. Nerds will always be considered nerds, but the territory is slipping more and more to the front, rather than the back, of fashion.

That said, the geekery didn't stop at the technology. While there is nothing geeky about Jen, Hunter smacks of nothing but geek. It isn't the trappings of his life, but the person he is. It's part of being a cool hunter, I suppose. A watcher, an observer, at the edge, not the centre. That slight rumpling around the edges which means he'll never quite fit in properly, because he's not that comfortable in his own skin.

I'm inclined to think that is the only prerequist for 'cool'. Being comfortable in your head.

This is a great fun book - you know how I'm a sucker for fun - and surprisingly touching at the same time. Image, fashion, style; they're all a big deal these days, and with the amount of money involved, it's a big corporate industry and a big deal of superficialness, if you let it be. While Jen and Hunter are running around playing at being private eye (which is where the fun is) there's a thoughtful look at what trends and images, our images, can mean. This book could have been shallow, and it isn't. It's honest. We all tailor our images; clothes, speech, music, how we laugh. It's about what we try to show, how much we really show, how much control we let others have over what we show, and perhaps most importantly, what we don't show. There is a lot that Hunter thinks he doesn't show, the key word there being 'thinks'.

...and as a slight tangent: it is great to see a mystery/crime book understand the incredible phenomenon that is the mobile phone, and pump it for all it is worth. Yes! Score many many points!

Verdict: This is a great book. It's fun, engaging, warm, and will make you think. And if you use the 'young adult' tag as a reason to pass this book over, you're an idiot. And a dweeb. And totally not cool.
Dragon America - Mike Resnick

Spoilers. But not really.

I bought this at Worldcon. I have the vague feeling I'd heard of it sometime before, because when I saw it I had an 'oh yeah,' moment. Alternative history with red coats and dragons, why don't mind if I do.

I came at it with some high expectations; Resnick seemed to be all over worldcon. Everywhere. Mile long queues for his signings. Too many Hugo nominations. He was a happening man.

Alas, his book wasn't.

The story is set during the War of Independence, witn Washington sending Daniel Boone of into the wild west to find some way of winning the war, be it by recruiting natives or taming dragons. Boone decides to tame dragons.

And that's what he does.

And Washington holds the English off just long enough.

And the day is saved.

And that really is it.

I scrummaged around looking for a sense of depth, a message, a point, anything to make this book other than 'this happened, then this happened, then this happened', and I couldn't find anything.

The writing was simple to the point of being boring, although the banter between characters was fun. And...that really is it.

It probably didn't go in the book's favour that I started reading it at LAX, terminally exhausted and with 20 hours of flight looming over me. That said, the fact that it didn't distract me from my circumstances says something as well.

Still, I wish I hadn't ripped the cover. That's how tired I was. Careless with my books. And too tired to care as well.

Verdict: This is a nice light bit of fluff, but there is better fluff to be had.