Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From Hell

From HellFrom Hell by Alan Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a graphic novel about Jack the Ripper, speculating as to his identity. Specifically, it posits that the murders were done by a doctor to cover up the infidelity of one of the royal family. The doctor is a bit off his rocker, hence the brutality of the murders.

This novel is for mature readers only, as both the violence and the sex are quite explicit. Given the nature of the story, it's appropriate, but, nevertheless, I would caution prospective readers.

I found it somewhat hard to get through, due to the subject matter. The author and illustrator are exploring the darkest of human emotions and actions, and this made for uncomfortable reading. The artwork adds to this ambiance, being very harsh and somewhat frenzied feeling. The whole experience is unsettling, as I'm sure they intended.

The author also wrote V for Vendetta, which is one of my favorite graphic novels (and a favorite movie!), which is why I picked up this book. But while V was violent, it wasn't to the extent of this book, nor was it as emotionally unsettling. As I said, this book goes to some pretty ugly places.

This edition has comments and notations by the author, which is interesting. I always enjoy a glimpse at the creative process: learning how and why things ended up in the finished product.

But, if you're not a student of graphic novels, or a Jack the Ripper junkie, you may find this book just a little too dark to be enjoyable.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millennium, #3)The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the 3rd book in what is known (in the US) as the Millenium Trilogy. The first book is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the second is The Girl who Played with Fire. I have now read all three, and must say this set of books is one of the most powerful books I've ever read. I can't talk about this 3rd book alone - it's really just part of a whole.

The series follows Lisbeth Salander, a Goth, anti-social genius computer hacker, and Mikael Blomquist, a magazine reporter. They are drawn together at first in a mystery about a disappearance of a young girl, and end up exposing the Swedish underworld, corrupt government officials and human trafficking. The Swedish title of the series (the author is Swedish) is "Men Who Hate Women", so that should tell you what this series is really about - violence against women, and what that does to the victims and what it does to society.

These are riveting books - absolute page turners! But they are also full of very violent scenes, which are hard to read, and you will end up thinking about them for a long time.

Neither of the main characters is really heroic. Both are very flawed people, and often aren't even very likable. But I found myself really rooting for them, nonetheless, and celebrating when Lisbeth manages to put one over on someone (who usually deserves it!)

You can certainly enjoy these as nothing more than thrillers (a la Dan Brown's work) but there is much more to these books than just entertainment. Larsson wanted to expose the hidden side of Sweden's idyllic nation, often viewed as a model country, and show us the cruelty and violence that is still perpetrated on women by men in positions of power.

These are very powerful books, but also just plain good reads!

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman's Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" by Mike Carey

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Nverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Like a movie adaptation of a novel, it has been pared down to the bare essentials. But they kept the most important parts, and didn't seem to make any wild changes from the original story. The illustrations were quite good and seemed true to the descriptions in the original novel. Again, as with a movie adaptation, not all of the visuals were as I had imagined them, but it was fun to get another viewpoint.

This is a good introduction to the novel, but anyone who reads this first MUST read the novel to get the full impact of the story. The novel is one of my favorites - so if you're only going to read one of these versions, I recommend the novel. But if you've read the novel and want an alternate visualization, this version is absolutely worth it!


KrakenKraken by China Miéville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was good, but not great. Really probably 3.5 stars - it did seem to get better as it went on.

Kraken is set in modern-day London, but a London full of all kinds of para-normal places & people. It is a sprawling story of the end of the world and those who are trying to prevent it (including squid worshippers) and those trying to make it happen (a living tattoo and a dead magician). Several 'normal' folks get caught up in the goings-on, but, as is usual with Mieville's work, there are more oddities per page than most authors have in an entire book! One must certainly be willing to 'think outside the box' to enjoy Mieville's work - and in this book, he doesn't disappoint. Even his prose is full of wonderful oddments: " bit at him like a rooftop would..." Um, yeah. :-)

But,despite all this, it didn't quite grab me as much as his other books have (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, two name 2). I never quite felt compelled to read it, as I usually am with his books. It was only in the last 75 pages or so that I didn't want to put the book down. Mind you, it wasn't that I didn't enjoy the book, but it never really gripped me until the end.

Still, this is a book chock-full of stuff you'll never read anywhere else. Mieville's way of looking at things just is not normal! But it IS intriguing, unique and makes you want to come back for more - there's really nothing like it. His books are very "baroque", if you will: full of lots of curlicues and intricate designs and nooks and crannies. There is nothing 'plain' anywhere - and though this isn't my favorite of his books, it is still a fine example of his unmatched creativity and weirdness!

I also find it interesting that this is the 2nd book I've read this summer having to do with multiple gods and an apocalypse (the other being American Gods by Neil Gaiman). These 2 books are quite different in style, yet have some similar themes (gods, worship, belief, faith). And Gaiman is the only other author I know that writes books that are just as full of weird and creative ideas. I find it interesting to think about these books in light of each other.

Anyway, this was a good book, and certainly worth reading if you enjoy speculative fiction. If it is your introduction to Mieville, it may make you go "wow!" - perhaps I'm just too used to being wowed by him!

The Calculating Passion of Ada Byron

The Calculating Passion of Ada ByronThe Calculating Passion of Ada Byron by Joan Baum

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was disappointed with this book. Considering that the title was "The Calculating Passion..." there was very little passion to be found in the book. It was a rather dry read, mostly a series of quotes from letters by, to and about Ada. (For the uninformed, Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace is considered the world's first computer programmer, as she devised algorithms for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine - an early computer prototype.) After reading this book I really don't know much more about Ada and her life - certainly there are no insights into the person of Ada, herself. The book read as if it were an extended version of some history major's MA thesis or something. Very disappointing. Read it only if you are desperate for anything Ada-related.