20 December 2010

Snow and technical difficulties

I don't think I have ever seen so much snow as I have in the past 3 days.

Well actually that's probably not totally true. On a family holiday I did go to the top of the tallest mountain in Europe for a few hours. Of course they had a glacier, which is probably cheating. Also it was hard to appreciate how much snow you were seeing as the entire view was mountains, snow, hillocks (which were actually slightly smaller mountains), and blue fog at the horizon.

It's the most snow I have been in for any length of time. I'm actually quite glad I don't have a car, walking is far quicker though it feels much more strenuous than usual.

Snow is actually not the cause of my current technical difficulties. My laptop's power supply has gone, meaning that I'm currently writing this on my husband's computer. This is fine, however the keyboard is unfamiliar and it does mean I have to remember all my passwords and bookmarked sites whenever I'm online.
Not sure how much I'll be posting until I get a new power supply, which hopefully won't be too long.

13 December 2010

Tales of the City (again)

After reading Tales of the City last month, a colleague lent me his copy of the 4 episode mini-series made in the 90s. I've been watching it over the last couple of weeks.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first episode more or less is the start of the book. Obviously being television there is less inner monologue, so the thoughts of the characters aren't as obvious. However the actors very quickly came to inhabit the blurry-faced spaces that Armistead Maupin's characters occupy in my mind. I soon got over my 'Look it's Laura Linney' or 'Oh, it's that guy from Dharma and Greg' reactions.
There were large sections of dialogue and whole scenes that came straight from the book, making it a very faithful adaptation. I had expected that certain parts of the plot would get streamlined or certain scenes might be pruned, but there was only a little of that. The beginning of the book is mostly made up of encounters between both major and minor characters, which means that the plot doesn't seem to get going right away. It would have been easy to drop some of these scenes, but clearly the makers appreciated their importance in introducing the cast to the viewers.

Subsequent episodes changed a few things, though the bulk of the scenes were familiar, and much of the dialogue was the same. There were times when I couldn't quite remember what order certain scenes were in, and whether that bit actually had been in the book. After all I read the novel about a month ago, and it's not like I memorised it.

The most useful thing about seeing the TV version was that it helped me get more of a feel for the setting. As I said here after reading the book, I don't know much about 1970s San Francisco. The novel was very contemporary and contained a lot of references to things that I'm not familiar with. While I could generally infer the tone being used, I found that it was the main niggle I had about the story. On television I could see what the bars, clubs and houses looked like, and I could hear the disco music and the street noise. I could see the clip-on ties, the lacoste shirts with the tiny alligators (or are they crocodiles?), and the sideburns. It all helped me understand the time and setting, without me feeling distanced from it.

The events in the book and series are the same, however due to the difference in medium I think there were times when the character motivations were less obvious. The viewer doesn't have the same intimate relationship with characters as the reader does. However I don't think there are any barriers for viewers who haven't read the book. There isn't much direct exposition in the novel, and with the programme so close to the original there are no real gaps to fill in.
I'm told that the same cannot be said for a certain boy-wizard film franchise.

The series does give away something that isn't revealed in the book -that scene was definitely added in. Of course it would have been unfair on audiences to finish a TV show without giving away what a whole part of the plot was about. Actually it wasn't that fair on readers either, but at least I know I can get the next book. In fact now I think I have to.

6 December 2010

Wicked Lovely

I read two books in a row with 'Wicked' in the title. If I was clever I could have posted at a different time and had a nice 'wicked' theme going. Although the two books are otherwise unconnected, so it might have been a little tenuous.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
Aislinn (shortened to Ash in case, like me, you aren't sure how it's pronounced) can see the cruel antics of invisible faeries. It's a family curse and Aislinn has been brought up strictly by her grandmother to ignore the faeries at all times, as attracting their attention is too dangerous. However powerful faeries are suddenly following her and she needs to listen to the whispers she normally ignores, because now they're about her.

I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the sequels. It's part of the current surge of supernatural romances for teens, but I found that it bucked certain (annoying) trends. The faeries in this book are varied, but generally inhuman-looking and often rather nasty, I felt that the supernatural elements were well-used. Aislinn's fear and distrust of them is understandable and this attitude prevales even in the face of a handsome and mysterious stranger (let's face it, those guys are always trouble). The supernatural is not sprung on her as an amazing new world, it contains all the horrors she's witnessed in her life. The challenge in the book is not resisting the beguiling temptation of the supernatural, but working to try and accept it.

One thing I found very refreshing was the romantic plotline. The centuries-old, faery king Keenan does not successfully seduce the mortal girl (though it's something he's done numerous times in the past). In fact Aislinn can't stand Keenan, who follows her and hangs around her school, and she treats him with suspicion. This is understandable, there's really no good reason for anyone over a century old to hang around a school. It's also refreshing to read a story in which becoming a faery queen is actually the protagonist's idea of a complete nightmare. Melissa Marr cleverly twists fictional expectations with the situation and characters she has created.
The actual romantic lead is much more realistic and likeable. Seth is Aislinn's friend, but unknown to her -and completely out of character- he's interested in a serious relationship. I'm sure most female readers are impressed by the character's loyalty, concern, respect, caring and patience, I certainly was. And I've met other readers who feel similarly. It's wonderful to read a book for young women in which the ideal male is loving and respectful and sees the female lead as an equal partner. Seth is pulled into Aislinn's supernatural world, he helps her with her problems, and he trusts her to know her situation best and look after herself, even if he worries about her. This is the sort of relationship I think more people should be aiming for (but without the faeries, obviously).

Tangential note: For ages I thought I'd read this book already. Whenever someone mentioned it I'd be all 'yeah, yeah, I've read that'. What I actually read was Wondrous Strange, a different book with a similar premise -dangerous, ancient faeries causing havoc in modern day US cities. Also they both start with W, so you can understand my confusion.

1 December 2010

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I've been meaning to read this book for a while. It's being reviewed by Dan Abnett as part of the SFX Book Club next month, so I thought I'd read it before Issue 204 is out.

The book starts in late October with a lightening rod salesman racing through a small-town in advance of a storm. He meets two 13 year old boys -neighbours, best friends, born a few minutes apart, totally different. Will Halloway - blond, pale, patient and uncertain about the world, and Jim Nightshade - dark in complexion, impetuous and impatient with life. The salesman, with his years of experience, predicts a storm will strike Jim's house. But what arrives is not rain or thunder, but a supernatural torrent in the form of a sinister carnival. Arriving in the dead of night, in the wake of eerie calliope music, it brings rides and freak-filled side shows. Only the boys, spying from bushes and trees, see the true nature of the carnival freaks and their unnatural rides. While the townsfolk enjoy the rides and entertainment there are those among them that will be forever changed.

Age is a major theme of the story, and is the subject of the only blatant supernatural element. The journey from childhood to adulthood is exemplified by the two boys, while an adult's nostalgia for childhood is embodied by Will's father, Charles Halloway.
The book was written in the 60s when 13 year olds were probably expected to behave more childishly than today. The boys race each other down the streets and sneak out at night to steal fruit or explore the town. They are on the cusp of adulthood, something that is hinted at as both promising and scary. The sinister side of adulthood is seen in the Theatre. A house a few streets away where the boys peer through the window to see naked performances of animal nature. Jim is enthralled by this, but Will unsure about these illicit sights.
Charles Halloway is described as being a particularly old father, although again I reckon this is a standard that's changed in the decades since the book was published. As far as I can tell he's 41 years older than his son, which is not unheard of nowadays.While Will and Jim are divided over whether childhood is something to be enjoyed or endured, Mr. Halloway feels regret for his lost youth and for starting a family later in life. There's a definite sense of distance between father and son, the age gap has become the excuse for a gap in understanding between them. Jim is keen to cast off childish things, and could be tempted by what the supernatural has to offer. However when they have to face the mysterious and elusive 'autumn people' all three unite and must put away their regrets, fears and temptations to triumph.

This book is gothic, melodic and lyrical. Written almost like poetry the book describes how places, characters and events feel rather than exactly how they are. It's writing that goes straight for your emotions spending little time in the logical part of your brain. There is a lot of symbolism here -age is a more obvious theme- most of which I probably missed as this was my first reading. The pace is not particularly quick and the plot -in terms of action- can be summed up fairly quickly. That said, there are some pretty cool moments (including a boy killing a hot air balloon and a witch being attacked by laughter), but the story is about a sense of place, the feelings of the characters (their hopes, fears and regrets), and the creeping fear that comes when the sinister invades the mundane.
I recommend this book for its sense of atmosphere and Bradbury's ability to bring out the hidden qualities -both sinister and hopeful- in everyday life.