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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2061: Odyssey Three (1987)

Author: Arthur C. Clarke | Page Count: 256

'He found it both sad and fascinating that only through an artificial universe of video images could she establish contact with the real world.'

The third instalment in Clarke's Space Odyssey series isn't a direct sequel to either the previous novel or the film and should instead be considered a ‘variation on a theme’ so that he can incorporate actual scientific discoveries into the work without compromising any kind of set-in-stone history.

The first third of the book follows Heywood Floyd, now aged 103, as he returns to space after an extended stay of recovery in hospital.  When put into context, neither the journey nor the destination has anything to do with the remainder of the novel.  It exists solely for Clarke to speculate and postulate about the aforementioned scientific discoveries made by NASA prior to writing.

Once he’s finished that (about 100 pages in) he gets back to the story he should’ve written from the onset, but even then the writing is as cold and empty as the space he sets out to document.  Ironically, his enthusiasm for doing just that, for describing space and celestial bodies, is much better realised than his characters.

It’s only in the last 50+ pages of the book that I felt like I’d set aside the science journal and was now reading science fiction, but it's all too brief.

There's almost no advancement of the Monolith story; it even manages to make a mockery of what came before.  There's an infuriating conspiracy that goes nowhere and is never fully exposed.  There's no sense of danger.  There's no heart.  The boredom that the crew feel was similarly felt by me.

The final chapter, all one page of it, sets up events for the next book in the series and was the only part of the novel that felt like it deserved to be there.

1½ rotten eggs out of 5

Sunday, January 27, 2013

.hack//Legend of the Twilight: Volume Three (2004)

Author: Tatsuya Hamazaki | Illustrator: Rei Izumi | Page Count: 278

"It's a black box no one should look into."

The events of four years ago are still felt by the system administrators; their fear of a reoccurrence forces them to halt Shugo and Rena’s progress, but in doing so they place themselves at the very centre of something far beyond their control.

Tatsuya Hamazaki didn't just hold the best for last, he held about ninety percent of everything for last.  The third volume is packed with story, shining so bright that it causes the previous volume to throw an even darker shadow of shame.  That extra depth required an extra page count, making it much longer.

Friendship and awakening are themes central to the coming of age story that's the backbone of the trilogy, and they come to the fore at last.  It also throws in commentary on ideals, nostalgia, duty, limitations, family and honour.  Some of them sit quietly in the subtext, but are there should you choose to look for them.
There's still occasional filler that’s clearly fan-service, but it’s forgivable given that it's structured as a further step along the path of realisation.

3½ legendary right hooks out of 5

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Time Machine (1895)

Author: H.G. Wells | Page Count: 120
"And you cannot move at all in Time, you cannot get away from the present moment."
"My dear sir, that is just where you are wrong. That is just where the whole world has gone wrong."
The nameless time traveler recounts his adventures of almost a million years in the future to a gathered group of acquaintances, made possible by his invention of the titular time machine. He tells a great tale of adventure and exploration with a smattering of commentary on social classes and the dangers of complacency.
One of the forefathers of modern science fiction is a title often bestowed on this novella and rightly so. The pseudoscience behind the premise is so enticing, I found myself wishing it was real. The idea that Time is just a fourth dimension that we simply haven't explored enough was an incredibly original idea. Exciting ideas being exactly what was lacking from most of the the film adaptations.

The writing itself is crisp and despite the story's short length, much is crammed inside without feeling rushed or short on time. It is very straightforward and easy to understand even with some deeper subtext. And it could  also be argued that it is still surprisingly relevant today with its depictions of class warfare and societal degeneration with a hint of socialist politics. A lot to get out of so few pages. Exciting, deep, and no wasted time on filler. Everything a great sci-fi book, or any book for that matter, should be.

5 Don't forget to actually bring supplies on an adventure out of 5

Available for free, Here. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

.hack//Legend of the Twilight: Volume Two (2003)

Author: Tatsuya Hamazaki | Illustrator: Rei Izumi | Page Count: 177

The only ones that can protect this world are the players that live in it…” 

If you go to THIS POST, read the first paragraph and then return here, it’ll save me from exhausting my word count a second time.  Although, I have very little to say about the second volume, so some filler would help me out; it certainly worked for the book’s author.  The trilogy was originally a two-part adventure, and it was decided during the writing process that it should be expanded beyond that.

Volume Two of Three has Shugo, Rena and their ramshackle party hunting for clues to a mystery that isn't very mysterious at all.  Nor do they have to hunt for very long, as all answers are conveniently sign-posted, which robs the mystery of any weight it would've had, and the journey of any drama it could've had.  I’d have accepted a lazy montage of dead ends and empty roads, but we got zip.
Along the way the twins get into a situation that briefly offers a glimpse of how much they care about each other, but it didn't develop into anything deep.

Thankfully, the latter half of the book throws up a surprise or two, so don’t toss it in the corner too quickly.  It ends on a pretty big cliff-hanger, so make sure you have Volume Three close to hand.

2½ instances of overwhelming chibi cuteness out of 5

Friday, January 11, 2013

20th Century Ghosts (2005)

Author: Joe Hill | Page Count: 304

“You know someone for a while and then one day a hole opens underneath them, and they fall out of your world.”

20th Century Ghosts was billed as a horror collection even before the truth of Joe Hill's lineage was revealed. However, not a collection of spooky tales as much as a book of stories, some of which might scare you. Several of the stories fall short of their potential, and a few are simply lackluster, but the ones that shine are so good they make the whole book worth reading.

The best of the bunch is Pop Art, a story about the friendship between an ordinary boy and an inflatable one.    There's so much about the story that could be problematic - the obvious metaphors or the strange premise it asks you to swallow - but it's incredibly effecting from start to finish. I knew I was going to love this story before I finished the first page, and I was in tears by the time it ended. It's among the greatest shorts I've read in years, and I can recommend the collection on the strength of this story alone.

Also impressive is My Father's Mask. The tale it tells is vague enough that it can be frustrating, but it's all the creepier for it. As I read it, Lynch-esque imagery popped into my brain, and it left me feeling both haunted and fascinated long after I'd put the book aside. This story isn't as satisfying as Pop Art, but it's both chilling and intriguing, which is a potent combination.

The rest of the stories offer enough variety to keep the interest of most readers. The titular tale does indeed involve ghosts, but is more of a love story than a scream fest. Stories like The Black Phone and Abraham's Boys have a cinematic thriller quality that help pick up the pace after slower moving tales, and the final stories wind things down nicely. Whether you're a fan of Stephen King's short stories or you just appreciate a good short in general, 20th Century Ghosts is a book worth reading.

4 dead girls who love movies out of 5

Thursday, January 3, 2013

.hack//Legend of the Twilight: Volume One (2003)

Author: Tatsuya Hamazaki | Illustrator: Rei Izumi | Page Count: 176

I’d watch my back if I were you.  Your friend has returned.”

.hack//Legend of the Twilight is a manga trilogy that forms a part of the Project .hack series, the first generation of the .hack universe.  It’s set chronologically after the first four games (//Infection //Mutation //Outbreak //Quarantine) that appeared on the Playstation 2 console.  If you’re new to THE WORLD, you’ll lack the necessary background and will encounter minor spoilers of events that unfolded in the games.  It's not necessary to have played them first, but it's certainly recommended.  The book makes some allowances for new fans, but space is limited so the catch-up is brief.  If you've a working knowledge of what has gone before, then read on.  Otherwise, you might want to skip this review.

Shugo (male) and Rena (female) are fourteen-year-old twins.  Rena wins a contest that enables her and Shugo to play the long-running MMO with chibi versions of the avatars used originally by the fabled hackers, Kite and BlackRose.  Having prior knowledge of the game's history means Rena is naturally excited.  Shugo, a newbie, is understandably less enthusiastic.

When a low-level field breaks in-game protocols the twins are drawn in a dangerous direction for which they're completely unprepared.

The story benefits from having the two characters already familiar with each other’s mannerisms and failings in the offline world.  Actions performed in-game can then be used to reveal each sibling's inner-feelings, creating some hilariously awkward moments.  The comedy increases with each successive chapter, which was a pleasant surprise as the .hack world can sometimes be too serious.

3 rare items out of 5