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

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Dark Tower: The Little Sisters of Eluria (1998)

Author: Stephen King | Page Count: 66

'She might be a good nurse, and fair, but Roland thought her a poor liar. He was glad. Good liars were common. Honesty, on the other hand, came dear.'

Before beginning the Dark Tower books King was primarily known as a horror writer. The Dark Tower was a departure from that. It's essentially a Western wedded to a traditional Tolkien-esque fantasy, wherein the journey is of more importance than the destination. The reason I mention all of that is because the horror that he used to do so well can be strongly felt in this short piece. It creeps in tentatively at first but takes hold quickly. It's a fantasy-western-horror novella, and it works. It feels like an experiment that really paid off. It's perhaps the freshest instalment he's delivered since the very first book.

I'm not going to bother with a synopsis because if you've read previous Dark Tower books then you'll already know if you want to read more. Nothing will change that. But if you're new to Mid World, it'd be best not to start your journey here. It's primarily for readers with an existing knowledge of the series.

It starts out like a choose-your-own-adventure book that has had all the choices already made by someone else, but that's simply to get gunslinger Roland Deschain to where King needs him to be; the shorter format necessitates it. It also forces him to trim the waffle he usually spews, making this work a fast-paced adventure that left me wanting more.

NOTE: The short was released one year after Vol IV: Wizard and Glass (1997) but takes place before Vol I: The Gunslinger (1982). Does that make it the earliest of Roland's adventures chronologically? No, because it also confusingly takes place sometime after the events in Mejis, mentioned in Wizard and Glass. That places it prior the formation of the ka-tet, but after the Susan Delgado time period.

3½ thoughtful houses out of 5

Thursday, October 25, 2012

God Save the Queen (2007)

Author: Mike Carey | Illustrator: John Bolton | Page Count: 96

Every girl’s meant to fantasize about being Alice.
But I think it’s mainly guys that get all hot about rabbit holes.”

God Save the Queen is an adult tale full of visceral imagery and harsh realities that merge the aesthetic of British Punk with the magical but equally fearful nature of the cautionary tale / fairy story.  Those two things on the surface would seem to have nothing in common but Carey makes it work.
You’ll meet characters from other well-known Vertigo titles, namely The Sandman, The Dreaming, and The Books of Magic, but the book exists on the fringes of all three titles so you don’t need to have read any of them prior to reading this.

The story revolves around Linda, a bored, alienated, self-absorbed and self-destructive young adult.  If trouble doesn't find her, she’ll actively seek out and embrace it.  The rebellion of the individual against society and family is concurrent with the catastrophic repercussions that follow when Titania, the Queen of Faerie, receives an unwelcome visitor to her realm.

It’s a joy to see Carey get to write some strong female protagonists because he’s so very good at it.  On the flip side, the depth of many of the lesser characters is sacrificed due to the short page count.

It feels directionless for a time but pay attention to the small things because the strands weave beautifully as it gets nearer the ending.

The book once more teams Carey with artist John Bolton.  Bolton’s art is a good fit for the dark themes on display.  His panelling is traditional but he’ll occasionally break out with a full page piece that teems with life; it’s clear he enjoys the freedom that brings.  His history of horror illustration brings an elegant darkness to the visuals which highlight the grimy and terrible nature of the environments, and the people.

3½ Midsummer ‘Red Horse’ Nightmares out of 5

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012)

Author: Stephen King | Page Count: 335

"I won't kill him, but you shall be there when he swings, and with my own hand I'll give you the bread to scatter beneath his dead feet."

Stephen King calls it book 4.5 of The Dark Tower series because it's set chronologically between Book IV: Wizard and Glass (1997) and Book V: Wolves of the Calla (2003). He also suggests that you can read it without having read any of the previous works, but I would strongly advise against doing that. It would nullify one of the most dramatic and defining moments in the early books. I feel it's best if you start at the series beginning or not at all.

The Wind Through the Keyhole uses the story within a story (within another story) literary device. The bulk of the book is taken up by gunslinger Roland Deschain telling his ka-tet self-contained stories from his past. The interpolated frame narrative used is so very brief that it draws attention to itself; it serves little purpose other than to enable King to slip the book into the existing continuity without upsetting it further. In doing so, it offered him the perfect opportunity to remedy the dramatic shift the reader experienced between Books IV and V (he had a near death accident in the interim—it clearly influenced the direction the narrative took in Book V), but there's no real attempt to smooth that transition. I'd hoped that distance and hindsight would've offered a renewed perspective.

Ultimately, I think a collection of shorts, removing the unnecessary frame and the three-tiered structure, would've been a better approach. Telling of Roland's youth and expanding upon his relationship with his family and his peers would've been preferable. It could've better explored the reasons for his actions in later books and offered a deeper insight into why he allows himself to be so utterly consumed by his obsessions. It could even have been the beginning of a series of prequels, offering King the opportunity to do the same for the other members of the ka-tet prior to their meeting Roland, enabling him to tell a different kind of story, one removed from the fantasy setting but still a part of it.

To his credit, though, he's crafted a story about storytelling and about the power of the imagination to create horrors or to stave them off. It's the written word but it captures a style of verbal storytelling that's almost dead now, and for a short time it comes alive once more. That kept me reading.

Ironically, the best part of the book is the story most removed from the Dark Tower mythos and its 4000+ pages of fictional but rigidly dogmatic continuity.

The author's addiction to Midworld makes me suspect this won't be the last time he journeys there. I sincerely hope he makes the next one less awkward, because I'm a sucker for Roland’s way and I'll surely buy into it.

2½ throckets of bumblers out of 5

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender The Promise Part 2

Author: Gene Luen Yang | Illustrator: Gurihiru | Page Count:76
Who you choose to defend deserves to be defended simply because you chose them.
Aang is working to towards a peaceful resolution to the failure of the Harmony Restoration Movement while Sokka joins Toph in an effort to motivate her students and keep her new school from being usurped; two similar situations that may end up being resolved the same way just on different scales. Zuko takes the opportunity to learn how to be an effective Fire Lord from the only person he knows who has experience and regular citizens prepare for the clash that may be unavoidable as cooler heads may not prevail.

The characters introduced and then ignored in the first volume are now fleshed out and made interesting and my desire for more Toph was given and it is great. Her plot-line provides the most in character growth, humor and the action. The action is scarce in this volume as it is setting up for the concluding 3rd part, but if you actually like these characters then there is plenty going on to make up for it. The art is still crisp and vibrant and seems to be closer to the character models of the show though Zuko still looks off. Maybe it's just me.

More fleshed out characters and some little teases for long time fans are what fill this volume.

4 Immovable hats made of spears out of 5

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence: After the Long Goodbye (2007)

Author: Masaki Yamada | Translators: Yuji Oniki & Carl Gustav Horn
Page Count: 197 

"I'm not all that popular. At the same time, I hardly ever meet someone I like. In that sense, my life is balanced out."

A prequel to the second Ghost in the Shell feature film, Innocence (2004). Unlike most TV and film tie-in novels this one is actually good—damn good. It creates a singular narrative that doesn't rely heavily on the film but remains referential and respectful to it. Knowledge of the characters is obviously necessary to fully appreciate the small intricacies, but the text also manages to stand on its own two feet admirably.

It,s told first person, from the cyborg Batou's perspective  Batou isn't the most intelligent or passionate of individuals, so it may come as a surprise to find that his sensitive side, a secretive part of himself that he reserves for mostly one person in the films, could be so well-developed without compromising the integrity of the character. It gets deep into the mind of the man, the only part of him that's still human, to explore the themes of self that René Descartes popularised. That self-analysis is the novel's greatest strength, and what Ghost in the Shell is perfectly suited to.

If you want an action-packed Section 9 novel you'll be disappointed. After the Long Goodbye is a Batou book from beginning to end. It expands upon the feelings he was left to nurture at the end of the first film, and further develops the philosophical questions that were a large part of the second. It embraces the personal in an impersonal world. It's sci-fi with heart that doesn't shy away from the bigger questions. I only wish it had been longer.

With regards the translation, the prose flows beautifully, never feeling clunky or awkward. It's one of the most successful translations from such a difficult language that I've ever encountered.

Included at the end is a transcript of a short talk between author Yamada and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence director, Mamoru Oshii. It's fascinating, but, unless you want spoilers, don't read until you've viewed both films.

4 specific brands of dog food out of 5