Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas is a novel divided into six stories, each told in a different narrative style, that take place in historically progressive settings.

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing: Follows an American notary who has been shipwrecked in the Chatham Islands. While waiting for the ships repairs he befriends a British doctor who may have a rather shocking dark side. Told in the form of a dairy.

Letters from Zedelghem: Follows a young, disowned aristocratic composer who concocts a plan to be the hands of an ailing composer living in Belgium. Told in the form of a one-sided telegram correspondence

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery: Luisa Rey a journalist for a minor magazine is tipped off that a nuclear power plant may be unsafe. The cooperation in charge will do anything to prevent that knowledge being made public. Told in a traditional novel format.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish: A modern-day publisher suddenly finds unexpected success when one of his authors murders a critic. The author's brothers want a cut of the profits leading the protagonist to high tale it out of London. Things take a turn for the worse when he is confined against his will in a nursing home. Told as a first-person narrative

An Orison of Sonmi~451: Sent in a dystopian future where genetically manufactured clones leave a life of servitude. One of the clones develops a state of awareness and is pulled into a plot to overhaul society. Told in the form of an interview

Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After: In a post-apocalyptic Hawaii Zachary, who lives a life as a simple herdsman, life is turned upside down when a member of the last remnant of a technologically advanced civilization comes to visit. Told as fire-side narrative.

Each story, baring the final one, is interrupted midway through and is viewed in some form by their 'successor'. The majority of the protagonists, again baring the final one, are the reincarnation of the same soul. I did enjoy the different narratives styles and the author does demonstrate some real skill in this department. The differing quirks of language in each narrative introduced a genuine authenticity, for example anyone who has ever read an early explorers dairy will recognize the common spelling mistakes that occur and are mirrored in the Ewing narrative. The world building in the two sci-fi pieces was impressive. In the Orison story common objects are simply described as brand names, for example fords are cars and electronic equipment are Sony’s, an interesting twist on consumerism indeed.

The central theme throughout the stories seems to be man's inhumanity to fellow man but contrasted with both societies and the individual’s ability to rise above this. This is ably carried through in most of the stories baring Letters and The Ghastly Ordeal where perhaps the author is trying too hard for humour.

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Overall Cloud Atlas is an immersive read and a clever way of structuring a collection of stories. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: Legion by Brandon Sanderson

Stephen Leeds is a man who suffers from a unique medical condition; he is able to generate hallucinatory entities that grant him access to specialized knowledge and skills. Each aspect has a unique personality and Leeds is well aware that only he can see them. Leeds has used his condition to become something of a problem-solver/detective which has generated him a small fortune. One day Leeds is approached by a woman named Monica who represents a powerful cooperation and they want Leeds help in securing a prototype camera that can take pictures of the past.

Despite being best known for his sprawling door-stop sized novels Sanderson has produced a decent amount of shorter works and Legion could be the best to date. Sanderson's humour can be a bit hit and miss at times (specifically in his Infinity Blade novella) but it works very well here and did not distract from the plot. The novel is well-paced resolving the central plotline about the camera and building an interest in the wider storylines introduced. The story is told first person from Leed's perspective who is an intriguing character in his own right, Sanderson also does an excellent job in creating interesting and believable personalities for the various aspects in a very limited space. There is a surprising depth to this piece with questions of the nature of faith and how people with mental illness are classified considered.

Overall Legion has an intriguing concept, an interesting lead and is well-placed. It is Sanderson’s best novella to date. 8.25/10.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review:Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a small Denver radio station who has adjusted to life as a werewolf. However her life changes drastically when she inadvertently changes her show into a late-night advice show for the paranormal. This causes all sorts of problems when members of her own pack and the local vampire family believe she has overstepped her bounds and decide to do something about it. A local police officer also decides to enlist Kitty's help after a string of murders. Has Kitty bitten off more than she can chew?

At the crux this is a book about juxtapositions. As a character Kitty is at a point in her life when she is willing to risk striking out on her own but isn't sure if she wants to lose her position in her pack. She is also trying to balance her human nature with the beast within. This makes an interesting dynamic for Kitty as a character and is mirrored in a lot of the support characters, for example Kitty's friend TJ is often torn between his loyalty to the pack and his loyalty to Kitty and within wider concerns that are introduced such as whether  pack or family disputes should be dealt with by local law enforcement.

The world Norville introduces is interesting and she certainly includes a number of issues that will be resolved in later books while ensuring that there is enough closure for a few plotlines in this volume. The pacing is quick but well controlled throughout. Though the speed of some things like the acceptance that the wider community has for the paranormal and Kitty's relationship with were-wolf hunter Cormac felt too rushed to be believable.

Overall Kitty is an interesting and complex character backed up strong backup cast. The pacing is strong though the speed introduces a few minor issues. 8/10.