Category Archives: Wordy Review

Wordy Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I’ve mentioned before that my review method leans heavily on the critical aspects of things, mainly because I just tend to have much more to say about the stuff I don’t like compared to relatively brief views on the stuff I do, which I realise is about as balanced as a seesaw with a walrus on it but whoever said I had to be balanced? I’ve previously called this method of critique ‘praise by exception’, basically if I think a book, game or movie is good I’ll just say so whereas if I think it sucks I will have a long speech about why it sucks locked and ready to fire at people because I generally stand by the idea that the only wrong opinion is the one you can’t justify. If being bad was a terminal illness then consider my reviews like an autopsy, pulling out its guts out to be weighed and measured so I can accurately doctor House the thing, whereas if it’s good I’ll pretty much leave it intact.
With that in mind, Never Let Me Go gets to keep all its innards inward as it’s good, petty damn good actually, which is why this intro is more heavily padded than an American football player on their period.

Much like A Scanner Darkly I’d already seen the movie version of this novel before picking it up for book club and it was a movie I really liked. The film is one of the few pieces of media that nearly drew tears from my hardened cybernetic eyes and for those of you playing at home other members of that exclusive club include Y: The Last Man, Red Dead Redemption, MASH: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, The Lion King and maybe the end of Terminator 2. So while I knew what was coming I was still keen to see how it played out in the novels greater detail and if it too could make my eyes wetter than a whale at orgasm.

Plot wise Never Let Me Go follows three lifelong friends who were specifically born to be spare parts for other people, clones who embody the old adage ‘life is just nature’s way of keeping meat fresh’. We follow the three, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy from childhood all the way to their donations as adults, all told through Kathy’s perspective from growing up in an English boarding school to life beyond and caring for others as they make their donations. Basically it’s the same principal set up as The Island only with a heavy dose English sensibility and not being shit. There’s a line from a Pink Floyd song that came to mind while reading this, as Pink Floyd lyrics tend to do: ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’ and by gum is that ever true here. Here the clones don’t rise up or rebel or even really question or fight their lot in life, just sort of accept it as the hand they were dealt, which might be a tough pill for some to swallow, the notion that those built for harvest would just go along with it, but its presented as such a norm for these kids it’s kind of hard not to see it in the same way everyone accepts some kind of inevitability in their own lives simply because it is, like income tax or having to live under the law of a political leader with the intelligence and personality of a boiled cauliflower.

As I said before, it’s all pretty good, the writings good, the characters, dialogue, prose, over arching narrative, character arcs, sentimental references to the title, all good gooey goody good. A standout piece of good is how the book encapsulates the sense of how school friendships and social standing work in adolescence. As Kathy grows up describing her close but often dualistic friendship with Ruth and Tommythere’s a genuine feel of authenticity, like it could be the life of any teenage girl, and yes I would know because I was one briefly in the 70’s.

If I have one complaint it’s that the novel often has Kathy reference a part of the story she hasn’t explained yet, using it as a sort of cliff-hanger. It’s sort of like talking to that one guy at work who’ll end a conversation with something irritatingly leading, like ‘but that was nothing compared to what happen on new years even in Chinatown.’ Leaving a gaping hole in his exposition, casually whistling while waiting for you to bite and ask what exactly he means by that just so he appears interesting. You don’t need to be coy book, I’ve already bought you and intend to finish no matter what so you can stop making flirty eyes at me to get me to keep reading.
But ultimately I can’t get too mad at that, it is the way people talk after all, unravelling a complex relationship means occasionally crossing threads and as I’ve said repeatedly, Never Let Me Go is good, well constructed, painfully human hitting you right in the feels especially on its last few pages. Even though I already knew how it ended, drawing emotion from a robot is a lot like getting blood from a stone, even if that stone is now thinking about the end of Y: The Last Man and pretending there’s something in its eye.
Written by B.T. ‘I know now why you cry’ Calloway


Wordy Review: HorrorstÖr by Grady Hendrix

I’m going to make this one short because I feel I said my peace during the audio in which I was the sole commenter on this book, it being my intended Secret Santa which never left my hands due to missing yet another club meeting due to my work being, well, not Nazis but at least the sturmabteilung. As for the other books I’ve missed, you can put Metal Fatigue, The Demolished Man and The Satanic Verses on my ‘To Do’ list under ‘learn proper use of the comma’ and ‘yo momma’ although plenty of things have been under her, amiright? Zing, I’ll just add those bonus points for a perfectly executed yo momma joke myself.

Anyway HorrorstÖr, a good concept drowned in its own clichés. Well, that was easy and surprisingly concise, maybe I could cut this entire page down to a Twitter account or at least some kind of haiku review process.

For those not into brevity the story takes place in an ORSK store, a pseudo IKEA, which is what drew me to the book initially. An IKEA showroom seemed like it would be the antithesis of the typical horror setting of old, abandoned and run down locations. Horror set in what’s new and clean is usually reserved for taking Jason Voorhees into space so it’s a shame that unique setting quickly falls into old patterns without a single hint of freshness, like the underwear of somebody’s momma, specifically yours. We’re pretty quickly introduced to the same old same old of omens, séances, the harbinger who bears grave warning, helpless characters fumbling through the dark, and ghosts of the restless dead. A few brief moments of originality shine through but are quickly lost and forgotten, like a toddler at an actual IKEA. For all the reasons for a storage solutions warehouse to be haunted, having it being built on an old prison is pretty damn weak. How about OSRK furniture is manufactured from the trees of a forest inhabited by Swedish demon pixies who travelled in the mulched wood and now seek revenge for their homes being turned into convenient storage units? Is that a great plot, no, but you haven’t seen it before, have you?

Still, I’m sure I’ve said before that predictability is not synonymous with being bad and there’s some entertainment to be had here if you have an afternoon for a light, easy read, it’s just that beyond that there’s no saving grace, no great characters or gripping dialogue, no real humour or horror of either the visceral or unnerving kind. It’s a book about a place that’s haunted, which is easy if unremarkable, just like yo momma. Mic drop, credits.

Written by B.T. CallÖway, who would like to apologise to momma’s everywhere.

Wordy Review: House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Every now and then I read a book that reinvigorates my interest in reading in general, that exemplifies the written word as the highest form of storytelling and on the darkside of that sentiment are the kind of books that makes me wonder why I read at all when there’s a whole world of gaming, movies, and car doors out there, with which playing, seeing or jamming my fingers inside of would be a better use of my time, time which is a precious resource that’s impossible to get back once spent and anything that wastes time is truly guilty of a crime society is yet to recognise or have designed sufficient punishment for and can you see where this is going yet?

I am, of course, being a touch melodramatic, but after nearly 500 pages of underwhelming uneventfulness I feel I’m entitled to a bit of drama to amuse myself for man cannot live on tequila alone. All I got out of House of the Spirits was the potential name of a liquor store and the most bored I’ve been in this book club thus far. Say what you like about previous books where people eat stillborns, at least it can’t be accused of being the resident dullard, at least Eleven Minutes had the mercy to boring but brief, at least Confederacy of Dunces could appeal to someone who had never heard of comedy before and had recently suffered a stroke, House of the Spirits is just one long march along an uneventful road, a road that occasionally looks like it might have some nice scenery coming up but when you get a little closer is all made of balsawood held together with spit.
To give an early idea of just how I felt about this book I actually wrote most of this review while only about 75% of the way through the story, pressing on only because my commitment to journalistic integrity is what drives all the ladies wild. Now complete, I could have posted that review unedited and am only rewriting it to add more complaints, because I’m a completionist like that.

Anyway, to the review itself, and if you’re wondering what the plot is then spoiler alert there isn’t one, instead House of the Spirits is basically and very long list of births, deaths and marriages as we trudge through three generations of a family living in an unnamed Latin American country.

It took a while to come to realise how useless a book this is because at first I was quite enjoying things. It wasn’t until around about the time the eighth character had been introduced by giving their exact details to their history, personality, aspirations, favourite colour and preferred starting Pokémon that I began to suspect that this might be the kind of book that tends to go on and on, my suspicions confirmed a few pages later when the book continued to go on and on. But plenty of novels ramble on before things truly start happening, you’ve got to get through a few dozen pages of songs and suppers before Tolkien will let you have dragons so I was happy to march through the long roads of character set-up to get to the parts where things actually happen, only to have those established characters give birth to a new generations of character set-ups who would in turn birth characters for the books closing chapters. Is this your only bit House of the Spirits, pulling one character out of another like a babushka doll?

What truly confuses me is the number of times potentially interesting plots arise but get cast aside. A young woman is poisoned but no one ever tries to find her killer, someone murders the beloved family dog but we never find out who or why, two brothers form a love triangle but it’s hardly ever mentioned and just sort of goes away, the youngest daughter is telekinetic so she settles down, has a family and does as little with her powers as possible. Either the author has a crippling allergy to excitement or this book was written in a bizzaro universe where mundane activities are immortalised in song and script and a thrilling afternoon consists of visiting the Museum of Discarded Tax Receipts.

I will say the writing is decent, though if Allende is allergic to excitement then she must go into full anaphylactic shock if she uses the ‘entre’ key more than once a page. We often go entire pages without a paragraph break, filling every inch of paper with block text. Still, that block text forms a realistic world and creates some well filled out characters and while going through the long explanation of why they chose Charmander over Squirtle you actually get to know them as though they were real people, which makes the fact that nothing ever happens all the more irritating. I was totally invested in the life and times of several characters but by the time page 250 rolled around I realised that all this wasn’t a set up for a plot that would happen later but rather the ‘plot’ had been happening the entire time and was just too boring to be noticed. You could argue that this is a story about characters, not events, and that the lineage itself and the lives within it is the novels story arc. You could argue that but then you’d be defending a novel that doesn’t do that particular bit very well. Shirley Jackson pulls the same character-based plot-was-happening-while-you-were-waiting-for-it trick and I really like her books, so don’t try that “it’s not me, it’s you” bit here, book.

Two unusual things do stand out about the novels writing. Firstly an occasional chapter will switch to a first person perspective, usually to the books main male character/serial rapist/general asshole Esteban Trueba, who sometimes recounts the events relative to their occurrence and at other times seems to be recounting those times from years after the fact, which is sort of jarring, similarly there are the times when the first person narration will be unidentified, which is even more jarring. Eventually you discover who this mystery narrator is which opens up some more irritations for all the times when neither of the narrators were present when something happened or somehow manage to explaine another characters personal thoughts and feelings without ever having been told.
Secondly sometimes the third person narration will give away future events, which at first I found engaging but soon became annoying, removing any surprise or drama by basically telling you a characters eventual fate, just in case you began to feel a tinge of excitement and needed to put the book down before you broke out in hives.

In conclusion I struggled to even finish reading this one, both out of a lack of motivation and from the sudden urge to nap it often gave me. Bland and bloated, House of the Spirits gives you detailed interesting characters then stubbornly refuses to do anything with them for more than a few pages and is about as much fun as reading 1 Chronicles 1:34 during a lecture on the history of the paint. I’m going to describe this one as a time thief and natural sleep aid so put me down as not a fan and lets be done because I’m getting the sense I’m wasting my time just talking about it.

Written by B.T. “House of the Irrits” Calloway

Wordy Review: In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

And so, as it was foretold at the dawn of all things, it fell unto me to wield the the power and responsibility of selecting a book and soon the circle will be complete only open once more. Truly this is how God must feel when he selects a book. With such a heavy task I weighed on my shoulders I wasted no time in lazily Googling ‘best horror novels of 2013’ because I am nothing if not behind the times or ‘retro’ as the kids call it. What made the shortlist was In the ‘House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods’ and ‘The Orange Eats Creeps’, that is until I found out the latter was about vampires so that immediately removed it from consideration because vampires aren’t scary, because it’s impossible to be scared of something that can be defeated with a seasoning and whose pale complexion, archaic vernacular and aversion to sunlight give it more in common with the average Warcraft player than it does nightmares from the deepest recesses of the frail human psyche.
So in a house upon the ground between the road and another road I announced my selection and was immediately accused of selecting a book based on the length of its title which is a hard criticism to ignore when said title sounds less like that of a novel and more like vague directions to some guys house. At any rate for the purposes of brevity over the following review and to save my delicate fingers for more important things, like performing surgery while hammering out a bitchin’ guitar solo, I’m going to just call the book a much simpler name, like Jerry. I would just use acronym but even then ITHUTDBTLATW is more than a handful so I’m sticking with Jerry.

Jerry is a difficult novel to describe, I originally said that it was about a husband and wife who moved into the woods to begin a family and then shit gets weird but I suppose that isn’t pretentious enough for the literati so instead I’ll say it’s a stylistic fairy tale-esk surrealist introspective pseudo-horror story soaked in recursion and the guilt and darkness cast by the shadow of the highest hopes of those newlywed and wanting parents and given how wankish that last sentence was here’s a video of a panda sneezing. Panda sneezes aside that’s probably the most apt description I can give and given that surrealist introspective horror is my bag, baby, I’ll say that I ended up quite liking this one.

Not that there aren’t a few hurdles along the way in reading Jerry. About four pages in the narrator swallows a stillborn foetus, which is really less of a hurdle and more a well constructed brick wall, and shortly after we find out that the wife character can pull stars from the sky and sing objects into existence, so in a few short pages of reading it’s like finding out that Stephen King and Salvador Dali had a bastard lovechild that was then eaten by the Brothers Grimm. That’s the surreal fable side of things and I can’t really blame anyone for wanting to exit at that point, and that’s before we get to talking bears, transforming squids and decade long labyrinths. You see what we’re dealing with here in terms of plot is that perusing the ideals of love, marriage and children each places a strain on both the others and getting that balance right is like one of those chicken, fox, grain puzzles where you want all three but each damages the other like scissors paper rock and now I’m just double dipping metaphors.

The writing style is a big plus for me, a sort of first person folklore that never deals in specifics like names and locations but prefers symbols and feeling. I described The Luminaries writing style as polished to a mirror shine and while Jerry has also been carefully refined it’s style is more of an intricate woodcarving, something done with attention to the grain of its themes rather than smoothed over and no I’m not really sure what I’m talking about I just know that I mean it.
The horror aspects are less blood and darkness and more about the kinds of things people do to and for each other when something as delicate as love is involved. At its peak Jerry had me hooked when the husband realises just how misconceived his perception of his wife was and is cast into an abyss of dread and guilt for the wasted time and his own blindness, so definitely not your typical ‘man with a hook-hand’ kind of horror. Maybe the comparison to Stephen King 287 words earlier was ill-conceived, perhaps Lovecraft is the better fit, only instead of eldritch elements from beyond time being the unknowable source of your undoing it’s the people next to you who you’ve fooled yourself into believing you love and understand, that two people will never be one and thus imbalance and hurt will always be constants and bloody hell this is getting bleak, where’s that video of otters holding hands?
Ok, that’s better.

Bottom line here though is does Jerry get my rubber stamp of approval or my rubber stamp of boot heel? Much like A Scanner Darkly before it this is an acquired taste though a little easier to chew due to its carefully carved writing style. The oddity here is the story itself, full of hope, grief and jealousy, magic moons and the ghosts of swallowed children, all of which I quite liked in the end. If I was to retroactively insert it into the Mid-Year Retrospective Hoedown it’d probably slot in at #3 so it’s a pretty solid recommendation. Now that’s done I’m going to watch that otter video again because adorable animal videos are also my bag (it’s a big bag).

Huh, usually I aim to hit about a thousand words with these things but seem to have come up short on this one, either because I managed to be concise for once or because explaining this novel is hard and I’m lazy (‘¿porque no los dos?’), so to bow out let me summarise in limerick:

There’s a house between the lake and wood
Where everything is not as it should
There’s a talking bear
but the writings quite fair
so all told I think it’s quite good


Written by B.T. Calloway, in a House upon a Hill, in a Room in my Underpants

Wordy Mid-Year Retrospective Hoedown

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention and while I feel that’s true I maintain that Boredom is easily Necessities slightly younger and probably much kinkier sister, because no one ever invented the flying lotus position out of necessity. Since practically everything I do is done to light a candle in the shire to her great goddess Boredom I’ve decided to hold a half-yearly retrospective, counting down the first six books of the year and how, if at all, have my feelings on them have changed with the ever persistent march of time. Will they be remembered fondly in the soft hue of rose petals like the first tender kiss of a former love or will they be pushed into the darkest corners of the conscious mind like the first stubbly gin-soaked kiss of a gym teacher?

#6. Eleven Minutes – Paulo Coelho

If I’ve learned one thing while looking back it’s that I should have been meaner to this book at the time I wrote it’s review. In the months since I keep thinking I must have forgotten something about this book because what I remember is as thin and unappealing as a vanilla wafer under Rosie O’Donnell’s bum. But no, it turns out that I remember it quite accurately and the whole thing is just unimpressive, posing with pretention claiming to be about the sanctity of sacred sex and the diminishing effect on the spirit its absence has but practically has nothing to say about it, less a journey through a young woman’s awakening and more the story about a girl who gets feelings for anyone who gives her an orgasm and even that makes it sound more interesting than it deserves. When cunnilingus could solve your plots major complication you have a stupid plot unless you’re writing Fifty Shades More: Even Shadier.

#5. The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie

Maybe it doesn’t belong this far down the list but while I didn’t actually dislike my first outing with Mrs. Christie I still come back to the point that it’s most noteworthy attribute is its big plot reveal which basically ruins it as a mystery to begin with. It’s one thing to misdirect by sleight of hand it’s another entirely to misdirect by misinformation and then yell ‘gotcha’. Afterward I found that the twist reveal was really the only thing I thought about, the rest a stock standard mystery that quickly faded away like time on a summer’s afternoon or a fart in a wind tunnel and if all I have to think about is a plot twist I didn’t much care for then maybe MRA does deserve it’s #5 rank after all.

#4. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

I’ve put this at the midway point because that’s honestly how I feel about it, not that it’s better than The Murder of Rodger Ackroyd but that I feel totally neutral about it. I neither loved nor hated it, like nor dislike, I feel the same towards ACoD as I do towards Adelaide or a child’s laughter. The only real feeling associated with it is the fact that I think my review of it is the worst one I’ve done here. In it I tried to rationalise that the humour may have been lost on me because while the ‘hilariously inappropriate man does hilariously inappropriate things’ motif might have been new and exciting at its time it’s something I’ve seen quite a few times before and thus I don’t find much humour in Ignatius’ supposedly shocking shenanigans (dibs on the a band name). Maybe it’s me and I’m missing something but I’m pretty certain that it’s just everyone else, because it usually is.
Actually if I have any other feelings on this book it’s good ol’ contempt towards all those fans who pretend they’ve actually read Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy upon which the book is based.
Because they didn’t.
No, you didn’t.

#3. A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick

Gaining buckets of hate from Shayna and saucepans full of like from me A Scanner Darkly is easily the most unusual and contested books at this halfway point. Its thick and murky writing style makes it the jawbreaker of fiction; difficult but satisfying, ungainly but engaging which is exactly how the story of a stoned undercover narcotics agent losing his identity and sanity should be. It’s a novel that creates character connection with immersion and confusion rather than empathy, even if that immersion is difficult. Sure it’s not for everyone but then again what is?
The Muppets, I guess, everyone loves the Muppets. And Batman.

#2. The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton

I may rip on our inaugural book The Luminaries a lot but it’s only because its few shitty bits stand out like drops of bird poop on an otherwise superb diamond sculpture of a nude Milla Jovovich. Actually that might be too high a praise for anything, let alone something I’m giving the runner-up prize so let’s change that to a sapphire sculpture of a bikini clad Anna Kendrick, its writing polished to a mirror shine which is tarnished only by the stains of a pointless and constrictive narrative device and the sudden use of magic in an otherwise excellent period drama mystery which set the high benchmark for every other book to follow and was only surpassed by…

Honourable Mention: The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

This is currently the best book I’ve read independently of the book club this year, unless you count the series Locke & Key which concluded this year. The sole reason I didn’t chose something else by Shirley Jackson for my selection is because none of her books are more than a few hundred pages. Haunting of Hill House is eerie, immersive and thankfully having little in common with its movie adaptation this is character driven horror with just the right kind of ambiguity to make me want to stop an unrelated article to mention it. Anyway…

#1 Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

And so we come to Orange and Cake, a classic post apocalypse story told with a great deal of humanity with which I only have some minor issues and is otherwise a great read. I still stand by what I said in my original review though, the third acts a bit rushed and there are certain elements that never felt fleshed out but consider everything else praise by exception and thus makes Oryx and Crake the winner of this half-year round-up, so basically winner of half a trophy, let’s say the base half with the ruby statue of Eva Green in a negligee to come, assuming that it’s still at the top of the pile at the end of the year and I can find a sculptor who specialises in pagan idols of Hollywood actresses.

Written by lead guitarist of Shocking Shenanigans, B.T. Calloway

Wordy Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

Well we nearly did it, we nearly made it through a second book without the appearance of prostitutes and/or pornography. What started as a joking jab in the ribs of fellow book clubbers has turned into an almost defining feature of this book club and I for one am for it. We’ve selected literature written by men and women from all sides of the globe, all walks of life, various literary styles and eras of time and yet they all have the oldest profession in common in their writing. Bravo, clap-clap it’s a small world after all and that world is all about vagina.

I suppose I should mention the fact that I’ve seen the film adaptation of A Scanner Darkly which I remember as being pretty good and while any other details of the movie have been lost to time and alcohol I did still remember that Donna ends up being a nark too which may skew my opinions on how everything fits together when taking on its novel form, but even with the previous experience with the story I still felt compelled upon finishing the book to go back and start over to see if I truly had grasped what the hell had just happened.
This is what you might call a bit of a cerebral fornicator of a story and it’s nice to know there’s a book on my shelf now in the event my brain needs a booty call, though in reflection there isn’t exactly a lot of foreplay, the book starts off with a junkie who sees bugs constantly crawling all over his skin, and you have just enough time to say ‘what a poor unfortunate degenerate’ while casually pretending you yourself don’t suddenly feel itchy and before long someone else is helping him collect jars full of bugs, switching the thought process from sympathetic contempt to ‘so are the bugs real? Substance D, scramble suit, should I be writing any of this down?’ an effect that I’ll say left me chuffed as chips because while A Scanner Darkly is difficult to get into I found it to be totally worth it, sort of like a swimming pool on an absurdly hot day that’s being inexplicably guarded by a giant scorpion.

A brief summary, stopping short of having to hide spoilers in white again, Robert Arctor is a narcotics agent monitoring a house of junkies hooked on Substance D, a popular new psychoactive drug. The house is actually his house that he’s living in undercover, a cover so deep Arctor is equally hooked on the mysterious Substance D as those he’s been hired to monitor. In order to protect his identity outside of his cover Bob wears a special scramble suit whenever he’s in the office which has two major effects: no one in his department knows who he outside of the alias ‘Fred’ and water cooler conversations are rendered virtually impossible. So no one is aware that Bob is Fred while he pops tabs of a drug that causes hallucinations and for the two halves of the brain to stop being such BFF’s, a clearly foolproof plan that truly just tested the amount of sarcasm my laptop can take. Essentially it’s like smashing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas into The Wire and Frankensteining a narrative from the twitching remains in the wreckage.

The biggest problem with the book is really more of a hurdle, albeit an unusually high hurdle that’s on fire, covered with spikes and patrolled by ninjas on the backs of velociraptors (who are also on fire) and that’s the writing style, which is densely layered and disarticulate, every page packed with lines with few paragraph breaks and formed by a narrator who switches between completely losing his mind and being as high as an elephants eye, sort of exactly like these reviews. It took some getting used to but damn it if I didn’t end up happily chewing through it like the extra thick sticky fudge of crazy it is. I did have the habit of losing which character was which though, partially because they’re never really given any description or defining characteristics and partially because I kept trying to remember which one Robert Downey Jr. played in the movie. Also the high Substance D gives the user is never properly explained, and like being stuck in a conversation with your dealer you will be subjected to a bunch of junkies talking a bunch of repetitive junkie nonsense, but it all pays to the overall effect of the story because while books like Eleven Minutes and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd each gave a slight nod to the fourth wall A Scanner Darkly is the kind of book that would rather set up shop inside your skull and erase the part of the brain that know what a wall is altogether. Immersion really is my bag, baby and given the protagonists plight of cerebral disassociation the parts where Arctor is losing his mind feel exactly the way they should, paranoid and confusing and occasionally in German.

By this point of his life the prolific Mr. Dick (the real substance D, amiright ladies? *wink*) who would go on to have his work adapted into multiple sci-fi movies you didn’t even know where adaptations of decades old material was getting a pretty decent dose of the crazies himself, Scanner being reflective of his days living with junkies and dropping amphetamines, resulting in his writing 65 complete pages a day, take that anti-drug campaigners. Given its semi-biographical content the book hands down neither praise nor condemnation for drug culture, just a voice saying ‘here are some things that happened, some of them were weird, some of them involved large insects crawling on every surface and there are a few in your hair right now’ and it’s that firsthand experience talking that really helps get inside your head. Making someone itchy through paranoia is easy, I literally just did it to myself writing the previous sentence, but a novel that makes you paranoid through its protagonists distorted portrayal of his own confused, wobbly reality is the kind of trick on par with that of a dynamic duo of a master magician and thousand dollar hooker.

Honestly as much as I liked it a recommendation comes down to whether or not you can clear the aforementioned large flaming spiked hurdle that is Scanner Darklys writing style. It certainly took me a few attempts to clear it but once I did its scattered thoughts, cognitive disassociation and odd existential observations sucked me in like a Hoover at the event horizon. So call it an acquired taste, sort of like lime thick shakes, which I also love and both are getting a recommendation here and both aren’t for everyone so try at least one of them. One’s about $20 and will give you 5-7 hours in return the others about $3.80 and will give you about ten minutes and both are better value than your average prostitute, according to the numerous books I’ve now read on the subject.

Written by a man with A Manner Snarky, B.T. Calloway

Wordy Review: Oryx and Crake by Margret Atwood

Ah Post Apocalyptica, the holiday destination of dreams, where there are no lines, no traffic and you can throw your dirty towels anywhere you please. I can’t be the only antisocialite who reads through something like The Stand or I Am Legend and daydreams of living in that place of serene quiet and optional clothing etiquettes, where I can finally stand up in a pub and shout the words ‘Cold Chisel are overrated’ without being beaten to death again. There really should be a resort made into a faux post apocalypse world where everything can be bought for the price of a brick through a shopwindow and ample parking abounds in splendid isolation.

And so we come to Oryx and Crake, a title that every time I asked for it at a bookstore I sounded like a Scottish person asking for Oreos and Crack, which as far as misunderstandings go was pretty fun. So after dusting the cookies crumbs off my crack pipe it was onto the book, which sees us following a man called Snowman, last surviving human and somewhat unwitting caretaker to a species of vibrantly coloured perfect humanoids called Crakers. The story follows days-in-the-life-of Snowman as he lives in a world where every other human has gone the way of popular Game of Thrones characters, punctuated with a steady stream of flashbacks to a time when the population outnumbered the current number of crack references, slowly revealing just how everything went tits up, pear shaped, shit the bed then hit the fan with the shit.
In this instance the answer to ‘how did all the peoples die?’ and ‘what the frak is a Craker?’ is intricately woven through the entire book, the flashbacks and Snowman’s narrative forming the careful stepping stones of exposition throughout as we play catch-up, which I initially I found kind of irritating because it’s often the technique of a boring narrative to put the timeline in a blender in order to create an artificial air or mystery about the proceedings and keep people interested, like when the office dullard says ‘boy, did I had a crazy weekend’ and then stops, goading someone to ask what happened then launching into a twenty minute story about how he thought his cat had run away but was really just asleep behind the sofa again. Thankfully what’s on offer here actually becomes interesting and holds a lot of depth as we delve into Snowman’s past all the way back to when he was a toddler called Jimmy right up to the how and when the world became a shit sandwich with only him around to eat it.

After my initial wariness abated things got pretty damn good, Atwood has a strong handle on her characters, especially the progression on Jimmy’s life from neglected toddler through uncomfortable adolescence and unremarkable adulthood, his friendship with Crake an eventually Oryx and his relationships with his parents feel genuine while the world surrounding him of genetic engineering and science dancing on the edge of an ethical knife is detailed and real, balanced between philanthropic ideals and monetary gain, veering frighteningly close to home is written in a way that you can feel the hopes and plight of people trying to build a Brave New World on the deck of a sinking ship.

So if all that’s good it must be perfection right? Not quite, you see much like building a life size sculpture of David Hasselhoff out of jelly cubes things get a bit wobbly once you’ve put all the pieces together. Atwood has described the novel as speculative fiction, which is getting to be sort of a buzz word these days, and an “adventure romance’ instead of strict science fiction and I can only really agree with about half of that. While a dedicated sci-fi writer like Philip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clark could have knocked a concept like this out over lunch they might have missed all the character depth and complicated relationships that form at the heart of the story which makes the title ‘adventure romance’ seem totally apt, however there’s a certain lack of emotion at times which seems to treat that description as more of a suggestion. For instance Snowman recollects Oryx as his great love even hearing her speak in his solitude, the back story being Jimmy first sees Oryx on a kiddie porn site (giving our book club exactly one book that doesn’t contain either hookers or porn) after which he keeps a photo print out for the next couple of decades, but then when Jimmy finally meets her not much really goes on between them before mass extinction kicks in and that brevity of it doesn’t do quite enough to tie Flashback Jimmy to Snowman the Lastman which takes away some of that emotional character grounding. Despite having built up to their meeting over 300 odd pages it’s almost like Atwood had no interest in their relationship, content with the impression that; ‘yes he dreamed of her for years then found her now they’re in love or maybe not anyway shut up I’ve got shit to break’ and much of the third act seems to go by pretty quickly. You could call that a re-contextualising of the narrative now that you have all the jelly cubes of story if you want to but as the old saying goes, don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining, and as long as you’re doing me favours don’t piss on me at all.
Then there are also some unexplained elements, such as Snowman’s vulnerability to the midday sun or why it always rains every afternoon. I checked Wikipedia and this is meant to be due to climate change but I don’t remember that ever getting a mention in the book proper. The ambiguity does certainly work elsewhere though and suffice to say you’ll learn ‘how’ eventually but ‘why’ is largely left to your own interpretation and how closely you’ve been paying attention so I mostly let it all slide.

Perhaps my biggest problem here isn’t with the book itself but in the fact that this is the first in a trilogy, which annoys me somewhat because I enjoyed the ambiguity of it all and the idea of that ambiguity being expanded and explained washes away that ‘only Crake knows for sure’ vibe that made things mysterious and interesting. In the right hands the lack of clarity can make things bigger as you fill in the gaps yourself with no limitations whereas additions to the series will only add boarders. The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam may be great books and I’ll probably end up reading them but under a slightly begrudged cloud of gloom because the stories I’ve told myself in the wake of having read Orxy and Crake will have less room to live.
But really that’s speculative criticism, the guts of it is that Oryx and Crake is good, possibly great and as we approach the half year mark and I plan my retrospective of the first six books we’ve covered O&C is easily vying for the #1 space. Occasional lapses in character and a somewhat truncated third act hardly ruin what is a well crafted, thought provoking and strangely endearing in its protagonists affection for the people that left him all alone in a post apocalyptic nightmare, or paradise depending on your perspective.

With that in mind I’m off to visit my travel agent, I hear Prypiat is lovely this time of year.

Written By B.T. ‘Omelettes and Crepe’ Calloway