Today marks the inauguration of a new recurring segment here at The Wilderness, fondly titled “Literal Daze“. In it, I’ll discuss the most recent book, movie, and/or audio book that I’ve consumed. It’s not a review, as I have no desire to place some kind of subjective value on how good or bad a piece of work might be. Instead, it will simply serve as a discussion about what I liked and didn’t like, and that’s basically it. At the end, I’ll also preview upcoming stuff. Now, let’s do this!
The Terror (Dan Simmons)
This kind of felt like reading two different books at the same time. On the one hand, it was a historical portrayal of the British Navy’s search for the Northwest Passage, and all of the trials and tribulations that had to be endured in doing so. On the other hand, it was a straightforward horror read, where characters are picked off one-by-one by some unspeakable horror lurking in the frozen arctic.
Both succeeded on some level, but also failed on another. The historical part of it (which was actually an account of the real Sir John Franklin’s voyage) portrayed the brutality of exploring the northern arctic. It’s quite fascinating seeing how they were able to manage such expeditions. Under those conditions, where temperatures could reach 100 below zero, it’s amazing anyone was able to survive in the first place, much less keep going back time and again. Finding the northwest passage was a pretty big deal it seems. The only issue here was that it sort of read like a history textbook at times, which can certainly be quite interesting, but doesn’t always work in novel form. Long lists of supplies don’t exactly make for a page-turning read. On the plus side though, the writing itself was quite good. The author shifts between several different points of view, from omniscient third-person to first person, to limited third-person and even a little present tense. It doesn’t change things dramatically, but it does mix things up a bit, which is nice.
The other part of it, the horror part (which was obviously the more fictionalized part, since no one really knows what happened to Franklin’s expedition), got off to a fantastic start. With these two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror frozen in place out in open sea ice, the crews have to deal with what appears to be an unusually large polar bear regularly attacking them that they eventually also dub as The Terror. However, it’s unlike any bear they’ve ever come across, as it’s 12 foot tall and tends to return body parts of its victims back to the scene of the crime. As things get worse and worse, and the ice refuses to thaw, the crews have to make some tough decisions about what they need to do in order to survive. The main issue I had with this part of the book is that the main climax seems to come about halfway through the book, and the last half we’re left basically trudging through with them as they struggle to survive. The urgency and horror of the first half completely falters, and we’re left with a sort of meandering plot until it reaches its fairly obvious conclusion.
I will say this – I would have liked this book much better if not for the completely mystical, stupid ending that came out of left field. One section, which basically describes the nature of the monster and all of the mythology surrounding it, read like a badly edited wikipedia article. I was expecting a “citation needed” after every other sentence. And it was basically shoved in an awkward place right in between two narrative chapters. Very strange. I can’t talk about the ending too much without giving it away, just let it be known that it bugged me. We’ll leave it at that.
Overall, if you’re into historical fiction, I’d say it’s worth a read. I’m usually not that much into this kind of thing, but I enjoyed it for the most part.
Blindness (José Saramago)
(1) Blind people are apparently less-then-human.
(2) This applies double to blind women.
(3) Names for some reason become unimportant when you’re blind, I guess?
(4)Writing a book using nothing but understatement and sarcasm is the way to win a Nobel Prize.
Okay, so as you can guess, I wasn’t a big fan of this book. The premise is interesting, and I think the author did a great job showing what would likely realistically happen if the entire world were plunged into blindness. That said, many of the things that happen in the story, and the way the characters react to them, are baffling to me. Most of all, the Doctor’s wife who can see throughout their entire internment at the asylum. I understand her hesitation in telling everyone this fact, but… she can see! Why not actually use that ability to some extent? Instead, she practically leads them all willingly into the most horrible and vile situations they can imagine, when all the while she could have easily put a stop to much of it. There are many more, but I just don’t have the energy to get into them.
Also, the writing style made me want to scoop my brain out through my ears. Saramago writes in the style that I probably would have used in my 8th Grade English class if I thought I was trying to be clever. I guess I should be thankful I listened to this one on Audio Book too, because apparently old José is not much of a fan of good grammar and punctuation. Small blessings. But then again, the voice actor that did this audio book had a terrible voice, so I guess it’s a wash.
Yes, I went to see this with my daughter. Beforehand, I was expecting the worst. I’d seen the commercials. It looked to be yet another Computer Animated kid’s movie, with special voices like Jamie Foxx, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, and Will.I.Am.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The plot, about a rare blue macaw that is taken down to Rio de Janeiro to mate with a female (necessary because they are the last two of their kind), is more original and moving than I thought it would be. I especially liked the little sub-plot about his owner meeting the scientist who brought them to Brazil, and how they slowly come to fall for each other. Cliche maybe, but they pulled it off well.
And of course, the best endorsement I can give is that Claire loved it. What else could you want?
That’s it for this episode, but be sure to come back next time as I brave the digital frontier of William Gibson’s Neuromancer and try to stay grounded with Patrick Rothfuss’ heroic fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind.