21 October 2012

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (2010 -- 2012 US edition)

Jasper Fforde has spent the last decade writing about literary detective Thursday Next. He’s also started another trilogy detailing a dystopian future where color is more important than anything else. Now he’s turned his particular style of alternate universe and goofy sense of humor to a young adult trilogy called The Dragonslayer. The first novel, released over two years ago in England and finally available here, is The Last Dragonslayer.

We meet 15-year-old Jennifer Strange, who is filling in for Zambini, the missing manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians. But the magic is drying up across Ununited Kingdom and there are prophecies about a last dragon will soon die, meaning that the dragon's territory will be up for grabs. Trying to find the truth of the matter, she finds the official Dragonslayer and is pushed into becoming his apprentice. Because Big Magic is at work and like it or not Jennifer Strange is a player in a story that began 400 years before she was born.

While the book is written for young adults, it will be also enjoyed by adults as well. Mostly, because like his Thursday Next series, The Last Dragonslayer has elements that make that other series so fun: a bit of slapstick, some irony and dry humor as he pokes fun at reality TV and corporations.  It’s amazing that his charming absurdism takes him so far.

19 October 2012

Books: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)

A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization -- the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

I will admit, for the first time in a very long time, I struggled with the narrative of all six stories. Mitchell’s use of language, tone and prose is something I’ve not crossed paths with when reading popular fiction. Each story, while connected in some way, all have a different sort of language to them, and this drastic change can be difficult. I’ve never been a huge fan of short stories or even novellas –which these stories resemble. Part of the reason is I know the story is limited, and feel that the author is cheating me by writing these briefer stories. It’s a bit lame explanation, but it’s the best I can come up with.

The thread through Cloud Atlas, of course, is we are all connected and, probably, reincarnated again and again. It should be interesting to see how siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski translate the novel to the screen. The trailer look’s fabulous, but while the stories are not that complicated, it’s all going to be about tone and casting. 

Would I read this again? Perhaps, as I admit I might’ve wanted now to watch the movie before I have read the book. I don’t usually do that. Still, linguistically, the novel is brilliant, and Mitchell is well versed in creating sentences that deify creation to begin with. But I also felt, at times, I was not smart enough to finish reading it, and I sort of trudged through it seeking an end.

Maybe, somewhere, sometime in a few months, after seeing the movie, digesting its content, I’ll pick up Cloud Atlas again and see if I get something different out of it the second time.  Maybe.