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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Garden of Words (2014)

Author: Makoto Shinkai  |  Illustrator: Midori Motohashi  |  Page Count: 194

"It's not like we had a promise or anything.  But still..."

Every one of Shinkai’s anime works to date is an emotional tour de force that connects to something malleable inside of me.  Each part is carefully orchestrated to elicit that kind of response in a mass audience, but he somehow makes it feel deeply personal.  In the case of TGoW, when presented as a manga it loses not just the fluidity and the precise, measured silences, but something more significant, something soul-stirring that’s almost indefinable.  It’s still an enjoyable read but to really appreciate the subtleties throughout I’d recommend viewing the anime too, before or after, depending on your preference.

It's the story of Takao, a Kyushu high school student with a dream and the drive to realise it.  On rainy mornings he shelters in a wooden gazebo, and works on his skills.  It’s there that he has a chance encounter with an individual who changes his life forever.  (It makes me wonder what lengths the universe goes to to make the simplicity of a ‘chance’ encounter happen.)  Over time their self-confidence grows and they begin to flourish like flowers after a sun-shower.

There’s a Tanka poem deeply embedded in the narrative.  If you can spare the time, some research into the form and history of the style will enrich the work.

There's a danger I'll unwittingly turn this review into a series of wispy musings on self-indulgent concerns, so I'll end it after saying one thing more: with regards the Tanka device, I believe there’s a poem for everyone but not everyone has found theirs yet, or is brave enough to attempt to write it themselves.

3 cautious steps out of 5

Note: You can find spoiler-free, mini-reviews of some of Makoto Shinkai’s films, including The Garden of Words, at our sister site, In a Nutshell.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Star Trek: The Return (1996)

Authors: William Shatner / Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens  | Page Count: 371

For a silent moment after, even the rain stopped.
When it began again, it felt gentle.  Warm.  Slow as tears.

Like The Ashes of Eden (1995) did before it, The Return opens on Veridian III and continues the story of the Star Trek: Generations (1994) film.  It’s not a flashback narrative this time; it’s the real deal, an actual continuation of events.

It engineers a ridiculous scenario that brings together aspects and crew of TOS, TNG and DS9 for a ret-conning adventure that’s thick with melodrama and action movie clichés.  Some of the connections made are mind-blowing and will either have fans happy-clapping or furiously fighting.  Either way, some of the reveals in the last quarter are extremely memorable.  It’s unfortunate that a large portion of the remainder of the book is such a chore to get through.

If you're drawn to the novel because it claims that Shatner is the author, you ought to know that he admitted in a filmed interview years later that he’d not watched even a single episode of TNG.  That makes me wonder how much input he had in the writing of a story that’s primarily about the Enterprise D crew.  I'm guessing we have Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens to thank for the majority of it.  But who’s to blame for repeatedly misquoting a famous speech from ST II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)?  And it'll sound finicky but Data casually using contractions in everyday speech irks me, even when acknowledging events in 'The Offspring' episode.

It's a brave attempt at creating a novel for Trek fans who have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the franchise, but the application of that same knowledge to the behaviour of certain characters will leave many a discerning reader unhappy.

The next book in the Shatnerverse series is a direct sequel titled Avenger (1997), but I don't think I can take any more of the pulp-hero, bravado bullshit.

2½ forgotten skills out of 5

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Star Trek: The Ashes of Eden (1995)

Authors: William Shatner / Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens  |  Page Count: 309

He gulped a mouthful of Scotch.  Felt it burn his throat—ice cold and fire hot at the same time.  That was his poetry.  Sensation.  Being alive.

TAoE begins just a few hours after the ending of the Star Trek: Generations (1994) movie, so you’ll need to have seen it first.  But to really get the most from the book, you’ll need to have seen all the TOS movies too, because the story is one of reflection on what’s passed as well as a look to the future.  Even though it’s technically set post-Generations, ninety-nine percent of it is a flashback to an era before Kirk stepped aboard the Enterprise-B, shortly after the political upheaval that occurred at Camp Khitimer (ST VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)).

Didn't you wonder what happened to the Enterprise-A?  Without a ship to command, Kirk is a little lost—it’s as if his very reason for living has been suspended—and daily Starfleet duties do little to assuage the feelings.  He’s secretly hungering for adventure, and more often than not someone with that goal will either find what he’s looking for or set it in motion himself.

It was co-written by Shatner, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that Kirk is not just a man’s man within its pages, he’s the hero’s hero.  He's the lover, fighter, tactical thinker, master of combat, etc.  Parts of it do feel like an exercise in ego-stroking, but some of the conclusions made by the character parallel Shatner’s own public life, so at least he’s writing about what he knows.

Beyond that, how do you make a great man even more amazing?  Have him be humble in the presence of simplicity and beauty, but just enough to make him relatable to the common man, lest it detract from the active role he played in his own accomplishments.  Alternatively, don’t make an issue of his legendary status, and by so doing you’ll reaffirm his legendary status.  It’s win-win for Kirk, and an occasionally sickening, self-indulgent bore for the reader.

The book is the first part of what’s become known as the ‘Shatnerverse’ series of novels.  There were nine books in all, three trilogies, by the same authors.  The events in each draw from the rich Trek history but are a separate continuity as the ongoing Pocket Books series.  The next entry was called The Return (1996).

2½ game-changing rules out of 5

Monday, November 3, 2014

Scar Tissue (2004)

Author: Anthony Kiedis, Larry Sloman | Page Count: 465
"I was still high out of my mind and trying not to lose an eyeball or tuft of hair, so I started running through the halls. Jennifer chased me. For some reason, I had a bag of cookies, so I started throwing the cookies at her, to keep her far enough away that she couldn't connect with any of her punches."
Scar Tissue chronicles the life of Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, from his birth and childhood in Michigan to his adolescence in Southern California to the formation of the band and his trials and tribulations with fame, love, and drug addiction all the way to his sober present while living a life that was totally untethered and impulsive.

The text reads as if Keidis is telling the story right to the reader which is pretty much how it was written since it was transcribed by Sloman as it was told to him with surprising recollection and detail by Keidis. The window it opens into the world of music and fame is fascinating as well as the change in culture that would allow a prepubescent kid to skateboard around a city unmonitored just exploring and experiencing. That isn't unheard of nowadays, but parents are sometimes arrested for that lack of chaperoning. Keidis' own personal journey is a running theme throughout from his self described egomania to his much healthier and calmer "life of service" which is equally fascinating. There are also several photos presented offering a visual look into his life that are interesting. An absorbing read punctuated with some insights and peeks into the hollywood behind-the-scenes.

4 Nothing drops the panties faster than music out of 5

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Shining (1977)

Author: Stephen King |  Page Count: 512

'A shaft of light coming from another room, the bathroom, harsh white light and a word flickering on and off in the medicine cabinet mirror like a red eye, REDRUM, REDRUM, REDRUM— '

The Overlook Hotel, aptly named in more ways than one, has an attic filled with memories and a basement filled with recorded history, printed and imprinted, waiting to be rediscovered. Sandwiched between the two catalysts are the guest rooms, impersonal spaces haunted by deeds more permanent than the people that temporarily occupied them. They say every hotel has its ghosts, but the ones in the Overlook are more active than most other places.

As struggling writer Jack Torrance receives the details of his winter assignment at the Overlook, the reader gets a detailed rundown of the building, albeit from a biased perspective. It's an efficient device that also gives us our first insight into Jack's thought process. He's a quick-tempered, ex-alcoholic who's seriously lacking in paternal skills. Even when he's trying to be pleasant and caring it's hard to like him because his inner-bastard is always present, waiting for an opportunity to gain the upper hand. More often than not, if he does a good deed it's in the hope that it'll be noticed and go toward balancing out his meanness, not for any inherent sense of rightness for its own sake.

Time-bomb Jack's five-year-old son, Danny, is the most fascinating character. He wants to ease the tension that exists between his parents. He takes the weight of responsibility for their happiness onto his young shoulders and won't do anything to upset it, even if it traumatises him. He's a mirror opposite to Jack's selfishness.

Danny has a level of intelligence not often found in someone his age, but what sets him apart even more from the norm is his special insight into what people are thinking. Unfortunately for the boy, the feelings he receives must share space with childhood fears and a very fertile imagination.

The conflict of the already broken family unit trying to hold together while their environment tries to tear them apart is the main focus, but there's horror elements, too, internal and externalised, that are more chilling than terrifying.

It's a long book with a lengthy build-up period. I admit I got bored more than once with some of the superfluous aspects of the many backstories, but each time was short-lived because King's fluidic prose pulled me back into the action when he returned the story to the present. Also, I'd hoped for an ending more memorable than the one given. It wasn't a letdown, but it didn't outclass what preceded it. It's one of those 'the journey is better than the destination' novels.

3½ unquiet guests out of 5