Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Brief Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

The Three Stigmata of Palmer EldritchThe Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this book, Dick deals desperately with some of his favorite topics, specifically drugs and philosophy. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch follows a few main characters who become less and less rooted in reality and more and more engulfed in a struggle to save humanity, possibly from themselves. The text tackles topics from religion to addiction, solipsism to exorcism, action to reaction, and reaction to inaction. The sometimes labored language quickly fades from the mind as the raw ideas of the book reach out and grab you.

I've waited too long to read more Philip K. works and I'm finally getting around to fixing that. I've always found his ideas enthralling and his philosophy somewhat horrifying, but resonant with my own. I'm glad that I chose this one to start back up on as it was fast paced, and like many of his works, left me dizzy with the implications of the situations he invents. The best authors don't just give you the story, they plant a seed of curiosity in your mind as they work, and that's what Dick's writing does for me.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to do more exploration of their own reality.

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Amazon Link: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Brief Review: Pyongyang by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North KoreaPyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting look inside an enigmatic country. In the tradition of Sacco and Satrapi, Delisle (known as Mr. Guy to his guides and translators) paints the picture of a fascist North Korea with an outsider's brush. The art is good, but where this book really shines is the story. As an animator working with a team in Pyongyang, Delisle introduces us to his many overseers, employees, and foreign friends who turn out to be great windows into the workings of the city.

The book is short enough to read in an hour or two, and I would have loved to learn more about the trip, but it did seem as though everything about Mr. Guy's time in the country was kept pretty tightly controlled. Not to mention the fact that most of his stay was spent working on his animation project probably led to some long dull spells.

There is an issue with Delisle being kind of a dick, which I suppose I should touch on. He certainly looks down on the North Koreans and infantilizes them a bit. I don't think he is as bad as some other reviews have stated, however, he definitely doesn't look at other cultures as equal. He's also weirdly sexist. There was an obvious innuendo that involved torture. I'm sure he meant it to be a compliment... but as I said earlier, it seems like he's kind of a dick. Who knows, maybe he's a great guy in person, but there was some phrasing in this book that really should have been heavily edited.

Anyway, it is definitely worth a look for anyone interested in learning more about North Korea. Short, easy read, and interesting stuff.

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Brief Review: That Weird City by C. Brian Hickey and Aaron Jacobs

That Weird CityThat Weird City by C. Brian Hickey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got around to reading this book and I'm sorry it took me so long. I've encountered Hickey via a message board that we both used to frequent and posted this message shortly after the book came out:

"steevo Mar 14th 2012 (10550.5)

Will review when I finish. Exciting stuff, gentlemen, congratulations."

True to my word, here I am, having just yesterday finished reading. This was a book that created worlds. It was a book that made them feel lived in. Hickey and Jacobs each take their stories to places I didn't expect and I'm glad they did.

Some stand outs in the collection:

Inner City Life, Inner City Pressure (Soul Invictus Mix) - This short starts the collection off right, really grounding the audience in the urban rhythm of the city.

Magitechnical Support - I really liked the idea of a spirit hunting IT guy.

Last Night: A Triptych and its sequel Afterparty - Both really fun shorts, both on their very own plane of weird.

Of Grim Dealings by Nightlight - The scariest things are always under the bed.

The rest of the stories were fantastic too and well worth reading, but these are the ones that stood out to me.

Give this one a read if you're looking for something to satisfy your strange quota.

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Amazon Link: That Weird City

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Brief Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The beautifully told story of Mark Watney, NASA astronaut. The Martian addresses science like nothing I've ever read before. I could not stop reading this book. I would think about getting home from work to read. I would feel like I was wasting precious Martian time whenever the TV was on.

The Martian gave me a new outlook on the term hard Sci-Fi and is easily the best thing I have read from that (admittedly underexplored) genre. The amount of raw data crunching that author Andy Weir must have done for this book is astonishing. I'd be really interested in learning how accurate the math and looney-tunes ideas for surviving really were.

On top of that, not only were all the pages from Mark's journal terrific, but the ever changing looks at what was going on in the outside world were fantastic too. While we only ever saw the world through Mark's eyes via his journal, the other narration (whether it was the NASA chiefs, the crew of the mission, or even the plastic made to provide shelter and protection on Mars) kept me guessing. I never knew how Weir was going to approach a section, but I was never disappointed.

A standout in a sea of good reads for me lately.

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Amazon Link: The Martian

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Brief Review: The King in Yellow by R. W. Chambers

The King In YellowThe King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The King in Yellow, a book of offputting (in a good way) short stories, is a fun read, plain and simple. As many others have said, the first half of the book (four stories) is more along the lines of what most expect going into this collection. Short stories of normal humans beset by an elusive madness, difficult to understand and seemingly impossible to cure. The source of this madness is a book, which holds the play, "The King in Yellow." Anyone foolish enough to read the tome seems to fall into an irreversible trance. Those stories felt very much akin to a turn of the century Twilight Zone and I sped through them happily.

The second half of the book seems to focus a lot more on that emotion I understand humans call 'love'. These stories are by no means bad. In fact, they are beautifully written, perhaps even more so than the previous four. Several times I found myself stopping and thanking whatever book deities there are that I got this on my Kindle, as a simple point and drag captured the language for my future perusal. The main issue with these stories was, well, they were about the mooshy stuff. Which is all well and good, but I got into reading this book for the occult references and unnatural madnesses.

I found myself wondering what it would have been like to write this. Living in an age of burgeoning progress and knowledge and still so little information about illness, mental or otherwise. People die. People break down. People change and go mad and get sick. But this book was written right at the turn. When people still believed in magical things. But they also began hailing science and technology as new gods. People still weren't sure which side would win. Throw in the uncertainty of the world at the time (at least one thing has remained the same), and you have an entrancing book about unexplainable things like madness and plays and love. It is recommended reading, and I'm fairly sure I haven't lost my mind from it, which is a bonus. I need that.

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Amazon Link: The King in Yellow