Thursday, November 21, 2013

Week 13 - Oryx and Crake

Over the last two weeks, I chose to read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.  I think this is one of the first novels in the last few weeks that I've found really fascinating because it has a combination of elements that make it different from science fiction or fantasy, but it is not the type of pure distopian literature that I am used to.  This novel felt like it had a lot of history to it... it felt very personal like I knew each of the character's and their motivations.  I guess Oryx and Crake was just really something that made me want to know where exactly things would end up because it had everything I love - it had a really cool backstory, mulitple converging plotlines, and I don't know, I just loved getting to go back and discover how the world ended up as it did.  I think I was really fascinated to by Jimmy (Snowman's) life growing up because as odd as it was, it felt very familiar to my own.  I particularly loved how well both his parents were painted - Jimmy's mother, odd, obsessive, controlling, especially when Jimmy brings home the rakunk after his mother had refused to get him a cat or a baby brother.  The characters just all felt so nostalgic... down to how Jimmy acts at his new school or when Jimmy's mother ulitimately gets rid of the rakunk.  Though I haven't quite finished... I'm really excited as to where the novel keeps going, and I'll continue to post as I finish it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Week 8 - Ocean at the End of the Lane

While this wasn't my first read by Neil Gaiman, Ocean at the End of the Lane felt especially fresh and new from Gaiman's American Gods.  I loved the fact that the novel felt completely full and fleshed out even though it was a quick read, and I was able to read it all in one night.  For me, it was hard to tell if this was a children's tale or more in the adult realm like American Gods.  Perhaps that made it kind of better somehow that you have this adult-narrator telling a rather scary tale of what happened to him as a child.  Another interesting thing is how many interesting little thoughts Gaiman is able to weave into the narrative, it's almost like a stream of consciousness or at least as if you were having him sit next to you and read you a bedtime story.  It was almost impossible not to hear Gaiman's voice as I read this story, it felt so much as if he were reading it to me.  The book was extremely personal but I think something we can all relate to - childhood ostracism, loneliness, "evil" babysitters.  There is also something that feels greatly nostalgic about this novel, and I guess I'm not quite sure if this was the way in which Gaiman tells it or just the overall themes themselves.  I suppose that's part of the mystery that makes books like this and The Graveyard book so powerful, that they are almost a subgenre in themselves.  I think as we become adults it is hard for us to look back at childhood in the same way that Gaiman is able to communicate, but then it becomes so obvious how these memories are almost universal.  For me, it was easy to get caught up in the world that Gaiman creates, but then it was also hard to put it down and move on with reality.

Week 7 - Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern's Night Circus has perhaps been one of my favorite reads in this semester.  I think there was definitely something special in how Morgenstern discribes the magic and mystery that surround the circus, and I loved how she showed the passage of time in short sections that kept jumping back and forth and kept me guessing as to what exactly would happen next.  I really felt completely pulled into the setting of this novel, the time period and the way that she describes the world around you - I particularly enjoyed the short 1-2 page vignettes where she just zooms in on the sights and sounds of the circus.  As for the rest of the novel, I did have trouble keeping up with the slight nuances of the game that Marco and Celia are pulled into and I wasn't particularly a fan of the climax to the novel (where they duel from afar).
However, I was always rooting for Celia's abilities, and I loved how her character was the one who was  brought up to be the more "physically" magical that Marco, which made it a great contrast between the two characters and flipped the gender roles. I couldn't help but feel that Isobel's story oftentimes got in the way of the supposed fated love that binds Celia and Marco together.  I'm not sure exactly, but I felt this part wasn't entirely as fleshed out as the actual world itself.  Nevertheless, I still loved the world itself, and I especially loved many of the side characters - Widget and Poppet, Bailey, and Tsukiko all had interesting and important places in the novel as well.

Also, reading this week's novel was interesting because it really inspired me to do a "circus-themed" piece in my digital painting class... the piece I created, I feel was based much off the imagery and how much I loved reading "Night Circus".

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Week 6- The Hobbit

I really enjoyed re-reading The Hobbit for the second time around (having been about 8 or so years since I last read it), because I noticed so many more subtleties and really appreciated the description of the world so much more than when I read it as a child.  The first time that I read it I never was able to really soak in and appreciate the wholeness of the different backstories and narratives that give so much more meaning to The Hobbit.  Re-reading this time, I was really able to pick up on these small facts, like Bilbo's adventurous spirit and his ancestry from the line of 'Tooks'.  I also felt like I more deeply appreciated how each of the characters truly felt unique and specific and always acted true to their character.  Bilbo is young and still learning his way as an underappreciated hobbit in a rag-tag team of stubborn dwarves.  Gandalf is always wise and appears almost always at exactly the time he is needed the most, such as when he helps Bilbo and the dwarves escape from being eaten by the trolls, or when he calls upon the eagles to help save the group from the Wargs.  There is definitely something special about  the Hobbit and the complete Lord of The Rings that is different from most other works of fantasy.  It's just so easy to get lost in the "realness" of the world that Tolkien creates, and it really feels like he understands his own world better than we may ever understand as the reader.  There are just so many layers and languages and underpinnings to the story that it feels almost impossible to comprehend the scale of the world, and this is why I think that Tolkien's world is so effective... because it cannot be completely covered in one novel, much less the prequel, three novels, and various companion books (like the Simarillion) that have been published.  I feel as if it would be hard for any contemporary fantasy author to walk in the shoes of Tolkien... they would almost have to be so engrossed in their own fantasy that they could not find their way out.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Week 5 - Witches and the role of Women in Fantasy/Horror

For this weeks reading assignment, I chose to read Black Maria or Aunt Maria.  I really enjoyed how Aunt Maria was portrayed as a female character in the book.  She never felt flat or uninteresting as a character, and I felt myself getting more and more angry with her demeanor as the book progressed.  Mig herself is also a very well-written character, and I really enjoyed the sibling bond and the character development that occurs for Mig after her brother is transformed.  Mig herself reminded me somewhat of Gaiman's Coraline.  She was kind of strong, but utterly helpless at convincing her mother and is oppressed by her Aunt, or as she calls her, the "Queen Bee".  It's easy to identify with a character like Mig, because I think we all have a relative or know someone who is an "Aunt Maria", a sort of mean-spirited person who is somehow able to charm everyone around her, and yet those people seem as impervious as zombies to her true nature.  I didn't start liking the character of Mig's mom until she sees Antony Green's ghost and "wakes up" in a way to Aunt Maria's evil plans.  I really enjoyed her character after that, and felt like she acted more like a mother, especially when they both transform into cats and time travel back to Antony's burial.  I think it's impossible to not feel for the other women who at least try to help Mig... I enjoyed Mrs. Phelps especially because she seemed to want to help Mig learn the truth about Aunt Maria and help get Chris back and learn the truth about her father.  Aunt Maria, herself is just no ordinary witch.  She was sweetly cruel and vindictive, and the reveal of Naomi's transformation really spoke about the cruel nature of her character, the type of vengeance and grudges that a person as mean-spirited as Aunt Maria could hold.  All-in-all, I really enjoyed the twists and turns of Black Maria.  I also enjoyed how the witches were not generic but more caricatured versions of women that have extraordinary powers.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The "Weird" - Week 4 (Switch w/week 3)

After reading China Mieville's King Rat, I think I can safely say the novel definitely fits under the definition of "weird" fiction.  King Rat is a blend of both horror aspects as well as fantasy.  I guess I would say that the environment and plot are more fantasy-based (sort of like Gaiman's American Gods), while the language and certain plot details become more horror-based.  This combination of genres is what makes Mieville's novel "weird".  It isn't quite in the vein of pure Tolkein fantasy, nor is it a complete horror novel.  I feel like the novel really capitalizes upon this aspect and uses the horrific aspects to enhance the fantasy plot -- the character of the Pied Piper, for example becomes only so much more sadistic and descriptive when he decides to kill Kay, as Mieville writes "... Kay could see the whites of the other man's eyes.... the glass front of the train burst open like a vast bloodblister."  The locations though, the aspect of the sewers opening up to these anthropomorphized rats, is definitely more fitting to a fantasy genre.  Cabin in The Woods is also a "weird" film, in that it breaks the typical horror genre and adds an element of comedy- it is essentially a spoof on the horror genre that takes the typical horror tropes and makes them obvious in order to poke fun at them.  I think Cabin in the Woods is really successful because it actually goes as far as to tell you exactly which tropes they are mocking - essentially the nerd, the dumb blonde, the athlete, the virgin, and the fool.  Then we the "audience" having all the information, essentially watch as a group of scientists and corporate bigwigs go about killing them off one by one, as "dictated" by a higher power.  It's technically a horror in the graphic nature (verging towards extremely graphic by the end of the film), but comedic because we have a sense of knowing exactly what will happen by the end of the film, and how each character will die.  Essentially, the "weird" defines a mix of horror, science fiction, comedy and/or fantasy and combines them to create something new that changes how we view the genre.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Vampiric Relationships - Week 2

I think the relationships portrayed in both Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire and Matt Reeve's "Let me In", both bring an interesting dynamic to the genre.  The concept of having any type of "moral" vampire is an ironic and fun twist to our normal view of a vampire.  Louis is the kind of vampire protagonist that we can identify with and almost feel sorry for.  He begins as a character that is initially seeking some kind of escape from the reality of his brother's death, and the concept of vampirism is a welcome escape, and yet over the course of the novel we see how the "gift" of vampirism soon becomes a curse.  Even more threatening is Lestat, the older and more experienced vampire, who can't seem to help but bully Louis into becoming "what he should be" and by doing so in the most gruesome and heart-wrenching ways for poor Louis.  By the end of the novel, I felt I was really able to identify with Louis, because I think we all have a friend who might try to convince us that we should do things just because that is the way things are, but Louis really struggles to try and control himself.  Even more disturbing is the relationship that forms when Lestat makes Claudia into a vampire so that Louis will not attempt to leave him.  Claudia was a really interesting character because she was so different from Louis in that she did not have the same moral reservations as him, and because her worldview was so different having been changed as a child and forced to stay in that physical body while still growing both mentally and emotionally.  I feel like Claudia and Abby's character from "Let me In" might have had at least a few things in common, at least in their knowledge and quickness of wit and ability to appear to their victims as cute innocent children before they devour them.  I think Claudia and Abby are also alike in how quick both characters were to anger - Claudia when she takes the life of the mother and daughter servant in response to Lestat and Abby as she attempts to defend Owen from his bullies.  Claudia's relationship to her vampiric "parents" is particularly interesting I think because she does question (often violently) her origins and her relationship to Lestat and Louis.  She is a very dynamic character because she goes from a helpless 5-year old into a very independent and dangerous young vampire.  It's interesting to think that while Louis resents his vampirism and does try to control it, Claudia feels more trapped and angered by it, unleashing this anger in a manner of different ways.  Overall, the characters are interesting I think mostly in how each responds to their vampirism.  As humans trapped in an undying body, the idea of having a conscious and morally reprehensible vampire is an interesting one, because we can really watch how they respond to situations that we too can identify with - Louis as he tries to choose whether to eat humans or abstain, Claudia as she struggles to determine her origins and find where she belongs, and even Lestat's somewhat jaded view of vampirism - each has it's own interesting potential for character development.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Gothic in Contemporary Culture - Week 1

I feel as if recently the gothic has had a resurgence in contemporary media.  From the popularity of such books as Shiver or a twist on the Jane Austen classic, Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies, I can't seem to walk into a bookstore without seeing a section now completely dedicated to a genre labeled 'Teen Paranormal Romance'.  Such a section did not exist when I was growing up as an avid reader of the young adult section, but I can see where the elements of the gothic- dark themes, distant lands, and forbidden love can be easily marketed towards a young and extremely impressionable audience.  While the classics haven't completely disappeared off the shelves yet, these books can now be so much more easily targeted to their market audience.  I guess what I like about classic novels like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is that the idea of the Gothic can stand on it's own without needing to be a blanket statement to give the main character a 'meaning' or 'purpose' in the novel.  In a novel like Twilight, the character is virtually nondescipt, until she finds herself in a gothic world and she is given a unique purpose in the novel.  Though there are many contemporary gothic books that I dislike, there are many that I do enjoy.  Young adult books like Harry Potter have proven that elements of the gothic can be utilized in a way that only helps tell the story.  The location of the castle, the elements of magic and mystery are all used to create a world that we understand and furthermore believe to be possible.  So, while I am not a fan of many contemporary gothic novels, I believe they are here to stay for a while and as long as teenage girls still believe their werewolf boyfriend is out there looking for them.  Though every once and a while, we get novels like Harry Potter which really restores my faith that good contemporary Gothic novels do still exist.