Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MBQ Volume 1 (2005)

Author: Felipe Smith | Page Count: 220
"Something personal is original. Doing what everyone else is doing is not... Instead of trying to create the next original hit, they merely imitate past hits. The result is a lame, uniform, unvarying, unchanging industry. I'm not gonna do that. That's why I don't have a job."
Omario is a struggling artist trying to make ends meet in the City of Angels. While he is passionate about his chosen profession, that passion hasn't translated into success. He is encouraged on by his gentle giant roommate Jeff, an employee at McBurger Queen. While trying to make his share of the rent Omario runs afoul of some of the worst Los Angeles has to offer including drug dealers, cops and violence.

Given Felipe Smith's experience as a starving artist, this is probably at least semi-autobiographical. It explains why Omario's character and motivations are so clear since he is at least partially an insertion of Smith himself. The other characters don't get nearly as much development, but it is still a good story with a bit of action mixed with tragic comedy. This mixture is a strange one, but it is inline with the above quote where Omario vents his frustration at the state of modern comics and manga. Not perfect, but good and entertaining. I don't regret buying it just for the coupon for a free In-N-Out Double Double that came with it.

4 Ball Chomping Chihuahuas out of 5

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Star Wars Republic Commando: Hard Contact (2004)

Author: Karen Traviss | Page Count: 293
"You want to know how clones tell each other apart? Who cares? They're here to fight, not to socialize."
The first book in a series following the commandos of Omega Squad during the Clone Wars. Better trained and equipped then regular clone troopers, commandos are sent on high risk, top secret missions. Omega is sent to capture a scientist on an enemy-held planet where 2 Jedi have already been lost. As a "mongrel" squad made up of survivors of other squads, they will have to re-learn to work as a unit to accomplish their mission.

A Star Wars story not told from the perspective of Jedi is quite refreshing. Karen Traviss uses her experience as a defense correspondent to write an account from a soldier's point of view that feels somewhat authentic despite being fiction. Readers will also see the Jedi in a different light as other characters give their opinions on them which isn't always inline with how the Jedi see themselves. Their usage of clones and the ethical problems and hypocrisy involved is a recurring theme of the book. So readers get cool Star Wars action and a story with a bit of depth. Not high class literature, but good and worth some of your time.

3½ shape-shifting spies out of 5

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1793)

Author: William Blake | Page Count: approx 48

"As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible."

Marriage… is William Blake’s romantic (in the poetic sense) and satiric attack on orthodox religious beliefs presented as a kind of biblical passage, with a socio-political and historical binding holding it together. It describes the poet’s visit to hell and the knowledge and assumptions he receives whilst there. It's a short book but one of the most complex pieces of literature I've ever read. I've read it three or four times a year for about five years now and I still feel like I've barely scratched the surface of its esoteric, complex and iconoclastic mysteries.

Blake reverses the traditional standings of good and evil and the beauty and hideousness of heaven and hell, blurring the line between what is perceived good and proper and what is believed to be controlling and bad for the individual. It’s the poet-prophet ideal in its most scathing and reverential form, told from a number of perspectives and in more than one voice. He references Dante and even playfully(?) mocks Milton.

The Proverbs of Hell passage is perhaps the most visceral and misunderstood element of the work and is the part that vexes and intrigues me the most.

A number of beautifully crafted full colour illustrations complement the prose; they were etched in relief directly onto plates by Blake himself and initially printed at his own expense.

The work is freely available online to read for free, both from the William Blake Archive and other places if you prefer not to install the required plug-in, but I would urge you to seek out a site that also reproduces the illustrations, because not all of them do.

5 apple trees and tarot totems out of 5

EDIT: The University of Adelaide has an attractive ebook edition that contains the original illustrations followed by an easier to read text. You can see it HERE.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Green Eggs and Ham (1960)

Author: Dr. Seuss | Illustrator: Dr. Seuss | Page Count: 62

"I will not eat them in a box I will not eat them with a fox...."

The epic clash of Bravery and cowardice, Open Mindedness and stubbornness, Experimentation and Playing things safe, Peer Pressure and Standing true to your convictions plays out in this, one of Dr. Seuss’ most popular works in the form of an ever increasing list of rhymes of objects and dining partners that might make the titular meal more pleasurable to the man that Sam-I-Am relentlessly chases through the wonderfully illustrated pages that are sparse on heavy details and colors  but not on personality.

Looking at it from a whipper snapper’s point of view the style of the book is a great way to get into reading with the repetition of each sentence so that familiarity of the words will be beaten into your tiny little mind and that its very comic book in its writing style how there’s no descriptive or expositive text, just the character’s dialogue. This was done intentionally by Dr. Seuss after a bet was made that he couldn’t write a complete book using only 50 different words.   
I absolutely recommend this book as part of any little one’s step into literature and a gateway drug into becoming a right good bibliophile.

4 rancid eggs & molded hams out of 5

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Dream Eater (1978)

Author: Christian Garrison | Illustrator: Diane Goode

“Just as the demon was about to devour him, Yukio woke from his sleep.”

This was one of my favorite books that I remember from childhood. It tells the tale of a boy and his nightmare ridden village and the wondrous beast known as a Baku that just might be able to solve their nocturnal torment.

This was practically my 1st “Japanese” thing I ever encountered with pretty artwork that illustrates some of the everyday life goings on of a long ago period from a far off land in a dreamy fantasy style that’s reminiscent of the paintings & etching of that era with a bit children’s books cartoon style added to it.     

Having said that now that I’m an adult going back to it I am somewhat disappointed that both the author and illustrator are as far as I know both westerners and don’t seem to be too exceedingly versed in Japanese culture.   But I do still feel that this is a good book that isn’t exploitative or insulting to the culture it uses and about the only thing western snuck into it is the use of a dragon as a threatening force.

All in all this is a good children’s story book that introduces the wild world of Japanese Yokai (spirits, demons, & monsters) and just might help with getting over any bad dreams kids might have.

4 nightmares out of 5   

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear (2011)

Author: Patrick Rothfuss | Page Count: 994
“I am trying to wake your sleeping mind to the subtle language the world is whispering. I am trying to seduce you into understanding. I am trying to teach you.” He leaned forward until his face was almost touching mine. “Quit grabbing at my tits.” - Elodin

The second book of the Kingkiller Chronicle, Wise Man’s Fear is the second day of Kvothe’s narration to Chronicler. Events at the University drive Kvothe to take a break from academia and so he enters the service of a nobleman. With the time and money the noble’s support affords him, he begins to investigate events linked to his past that he had put aside at school. This leads him on quests that add to his growing fame, skillset and maturity. Unfolding events then beg the question of how he went from great adventurer to lowly innkeeper and if his story has any connection to the current state of affairs in the present.

Rothfuss continues his streak of crisp fantasy writing with a story and characters that are detailed and developed, but this large amount of character growth and story detail is accomplished with an equally large amount of text. This book is looooooooooooong. Rothfuss is clearly setting the stage for big things that don’t come to fruition in this book’s 150+ chapters. Complaining that there is too much of such great writing isn’t much of a gripe, but when it causes a 3 year delay in release someone needs to take the pen or keyboard away. Damn.

4½ knocked over chamber pots out of 5

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Planet of the Apes (1963)

Author: Pierre Boulle | Page Count: 128
“Ape is of course the only rational creature, the only one possessing a mind as well as a body. The most materialistic of our scientists recognize the supernatural essence of the simian mind.”
Two space travelers find a message in a bottle floating in space and inside is a manuscript containing the account of one Ulysse Merou. Ulysse recounts how Professor Antelle, assistant Arthur Levain and himself traveled to a new star system to a planet they name Soror. There they find a habitable planet with a thriving civilization. Too bad the inhabitants are intelligent apes and the humans they do find are primitive animals. Ulysse must now deal with the strangely different reality as he maneuvers through the sometimes dangerous idiosyncrasies of an ape civilization.
What follows is a great science fiction story with an ironic subtext aimed at humanity’s vain belief in its own superiority. Even without the underlying satire, which was laid on a little thick in later chapters, it is still a cool “what if” scenario that makes an entertaining read. And it gave a better appreciation for the Tim Burton version of the movie which was more faithful to the source material than I thought. (The super jumps were still a little ridiculous)

4 Extremely well made space-faring bottles out of 5

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson | Page Count: 114
“Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him.”

A literary essential about a lawyer, Mr. Utterson, trying to unravel the connection between his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll and the mysterious new benefactor of his will, Mr. Edward Hyde. Even though Jekyll urges him not to, Utterson persists in his investigation of Hyde. He discovers that those who know Hyde find him strangely repugnant even with no outward reason to think so, something Utterson agrees with upon meeting Hyde for the first time. Utterson must discover why Jekyll has allowed Hyde into his life and if he is connected to Jekyll’s increasingly odd behavior.

Robert Louis Stevenson writes a fascinating novella filled with mystery, allegory and a dash of science fiction. It can feel a bit simplistic and its themes are so overt they can barely be called subtext, but it is a quick and interesting read. An avid reader can probably finish it in a day. Still, it is a prototypical science fiction and a Victorian classic.

3½ Freshman year reading assignments out of 5

Monday, November 21, 2011

Haunted (2005)

Author: Chuck Palahniuk | Page Count: 411 Pages

"So, my friend, he buys milk and eggs and sugar and a carrot, all the ingredients for a carrot cake. And Vaseline.

Like he's going home to stick a carrot cake up his butt."

Chuck Palahniuk is, for me, an author who becomes less impressive the more you read of him. When I first discovered him as a teenager, I was enthralled. I copied quotes from his novels onto the back of notebooks, and I read his stories over and over. But the more of his work I consumed, the more obvious his formulas became, and the less I enjoyed his stories. There are Palahniuk novels I still thoroughly enjoy to this day- Invisible Monsters is a favorite- but I can't shake the feeling that he's been writing the same book over and over again for years.

This is why I was so interested and excited by Haunted. A short story collection would force him to break away from his usual form and would let me appreciate the black humor and colorful characters that lead me to enjoy his work in the first place. However, none of the stories were particularly impressive, and the story that connected each tale together was fairly poor. There are poems to compliment each chapter of the book, but they come across as tacked on and, much like Palahniuk's novels, feel like he's writing the same thing over and over again.

The most famous story in this collection is "Guts", which gained attention after repeated incidents of vomiting at public readings. Read "Guts" here, go throw up on something, and give this book a pass.

1.5 skinny Saint Gut-Frees out of 5.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors (2004)

Author: James D. Hornfischer | Page Count: 427
“In no engagement in its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts and gumption than in those two morning hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar.” - Samuel Eliot Morison.
Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors recounts the events of October 25, 1944 in the Battle off Samar; one of the greatest military mismatches in naval history. Read how the tiny US task unit Taffy 3 came to face the powerful Japanese Center Force including the famous Yamato; the largest battleship ever put to sea and larger than all the American ships combined. The sailors of Taffy 3 fought a desperate battle using anything and everything at their disposal to keep the Japanese from reaching their objective which was to disrupt the invasion forces at Leyte Gulf. As part of a larger strategy, this would keep the US from taking the strategically important and resource-rich Philippines.

James D. Hornfischer writes a narrative that is crisp and engrossing which is a nice change from some other military histories that are often too rigid for their own good. Pictures and diagrams give a clear picture of the larger battle while the story provides a more personal point of view from various sailors. One stand out example is two sailors going down a hallway when an explosion rocks the ship. One looks over to his shipmate he was speaking to only moments ago… and sees his headless body walk several paces before collapsing. One of many things that sailors experienced.

If military history is your thing, you can’t do much better than this tale of courage in the face of hopeless odds.

4 torpedoed cruisers out of 5

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)

Author: Susanna Clark | Page Count: 846 Pages

"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Wellington asked Strange.
Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. "I suppose a magician might," he admitted, "but a gentleman never could."

These days, any story involving a wizard will inevitably be compared to Harry Potter, but Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell reminds me more of the whimsical works of Diana Wynne Jones than anything else. One part alternative history novel, one part realistic magic tale, Jonathan Strange is frustrating and incredibly satisfying at the same time. It's a long book and an extremely slow read- many times, when the story starts to pick up, you're distracted by a barrage of foot notes. But for me, that doesn't really matter. Clark's prose is wonderfully witty, and the world she creates is incredibly immersive.

It's not the sort of book I can read over and over. At times, it feels more like a very well written text book than a piece of fictions. But on the right days, it hits the spot like nothing else. It's just pitch perfect world building, and funny in a way few books these days are. If you enjoy the works of authors like Mervyn Peake and are a reasonably patient person, then Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell is a must read.

4 girls with fanciful names getting married out of 5.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Name of the Wind (2007)

Author: Patrick Rothfuss | Page Count: 722
“Congratulations. That was the stupidest thing I've ever seen. Ever.” - Elodin

The first book in the larger trilogy The Kingkiller Chronicle, The Name of the Wind tells the story of Kvothe; a mysterious innkeeper as he recounts his story to the king’s historian. The story takes him from his childhood in a traveling performers troupe to the hard streets of the city to the grounds of the University (there is only one) in his pursuit of the titular name of the wind. All this while strange events unfold in the present. Are they related to his past?

Comparisons to Harry Potter abound, the similarities are superficial and Name of the Wind has the advantage of not being aimed at a younger audience which author Patrick Rothfuss makes full use of. The characters are well-developed and the story is engaging with adventure, mystery, excitement and Sympathy i.e. magic as Kvothe overcomes trials and tribulations and a prick called Ambrose.

5 sympathetic links out of 5

Short enough yet Doc?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ghost in the Shell : S.A.C : The Lost Memory (2004)

Author: Junichi Fujisaku | Page Count: 212 Pages

“We still don’t know what their purpose is but I sense they have an aim of some kind, something different from that of the Laughing Man phenomenon.”

The first in a trilogy of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex tie-in novels. A group of revolutionaries calling themselves the Good Morning Terrorists are hacking cyberbrains and forcing the hapless victim to carry out acts of terrorism against the State. Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team of experts in Public Security Section 9 intervene to find the perpetrators.

Junichi Fujisaku had previously penned a number of episodes of the TV series, so was a good choice to carry the series into a different medium. However, despite giving a list of characters on page one with a brief description of their role, the text offers little in the way of characterisation, so it helps if you’re already familiar with the series. (If you're not, you're missing out.) Readers new to the franchise may well be left scratching themselves.

Fujisaku gets overly technical when describing hardware, so unless you’re a weapons tech junkie it can get tedious to read. The prose was very rigid and clinical, but is translated from Japanese, so I'm unsure if that was due to the translation or simply Junichi Fujisaku’s style. Strip away all the tech-talk and make allowances for the translation and the main story is interesting. If it was filmed it would easily fit the twenty-five minutes template of the show, so can be thought of as a standalone episode without the visuals.

If you want another GitS: SAC adventure and like me are impatient for Kenji Kamiyama to make a third season then it’s worth a read.

2½ sexy cyberbrain augmentations out of 5

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Dain Curse (1929)

Author: Dashiell Hammett | Page Count: 240 Pages

"You're old enough to know that everybody except very crazy people and very stupid people suspect themselves now and then- or whenever they happen to think about it- of not being exactly sane. Evidence of goofiness is easily found: the more you dig into yourself, the more you turn up. Nobody's mind could stand the sort of examination you've been giving yours. Going around trying to prove yourself cuckoo! It's a wonder you haven't driven yourself nuts."

The Dain Curse is one of Dashiell Hammett's weaker books, but it's still a pretty great story in its own right. The Continental Op is one of my favorite Hammett characters, and he's used very effectively here, paired up with the quintessential troubled dame with legs that just won't quit. Gabrielle Leggett isn't the easiest character to like for a good chunk of the book, but Hammett does a terrific job developing her over the course of the novel, and she and the Op have some wonderful moments together.

The book is violent, sometimes brutally so, but there's a sweetness to it in spite of that that makes it very charming. Even though Hammett is willing to take the characters to dark places, he doesn't come at them from a cynical point of view. The mystery itself is never as interesting as the characters who are a part of it, but it has a delightfully satisfying and interesting conclusion. If you like detective novels, then any Hammett is worth reading, even if it's not his best stuff.

3.5 ghost biting detectives out of 5.