book review: colorless tsukuru tazaki and his years of pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the new novel by Haruki Murakami. It was more in the realm of Sputnik Sweetheart or South of the Border, West of the Sun than it was a 1Q84 or Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Really, that’s probably all the review this needs. I love Murakami novels (even the ones I have issues with) and this is very definitely a Murakami novel.

In this one, the protagonist Tsukuru Tazaki is trying to reconnect with his tight group of friends from when they were young. There’d been five of them and he was the only one who didn’t have a colour in his name. He lost contact when they all abruptly cut him off one day, out of nowhere. Tazaki is pushed into this task by a girlfriend and it involves a lot of reflection and listening to Liszt.

It didn’t get very weird. It echoed the dream responsibilities and other worlds of some of his other books, and there’s speculation about what could have happened and Tazaki’s responsibility for what a nonexistent version of himself was capable of.

I liked it. Not set on fire by it, but Murakami is my comfort reading now, so I’m okay with my brain being set aflame elsewhere.

book review: the lathe of heaven

Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven is an awesome bit of science fiction. There’s a man named Orr who sometimes changes reality in his dreams. No one else knows that anything has happened, but the guilt over the responsibility of shifting reality is too much for him, so he does too many drugs to stop sleeping, is caught and put into therapy. This is in the first few chapters. Then it gets interesting.

His therapist has a machine that makes Orr’s dreaming more regularized and controllable and then starts using him to radically reshape the world to better fit his idea of what would be better.

It’s an amazing Dickian conceit but less madly written. I don’t know how I’ve missed reading this for so long. I found a trove of Le Guin paperbacks at a recent used book sale so I’m hoping to find a few more such gems in the heap (and am not reading anything about any of them ahead of time).

book review: the gone-away world

Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World is kind of a gonzo post-apocalyptic novel. One of the main characters is, in fact named Gonzo. But it’s also the story of how the world came to be this way, through the use of Go Away bombs that destroyed the world with no pesky fallout. Except for making the planet a place where nightmares become real.

The story starts with the narrator and Gonzo’s company of truckers and general bad-asses being called in to do a job, put out a fire, save the world. There’s a cataloguing of the various kinds of pencil-necks one finds in the world, ranked according to their dangerousness, and the idea that resonates through the book is introduced: being a professional means giving up your personhood to be part of a machine.

Can you see why I liked this one?

But then the first chapter is over and the trucks are rolling towards doom and glory and we drop back to childhood. We learn about being trained to fight ninjas by a daft elderly man, and having lots of sex as a political student, and absurd stupid wars featuring absurd terrible soldiers (and fearsomely brilliant ones) and terror and friendship. It’s awesome. And funny. And there are mimes.

I liked this better than Angelmaker, but that might be because I wasn’t trying to figure out how seriously to take it the whole time. It was the kind of crazy awesome book the world needs more of.

book review: everybody sees the ants

Everybody Sees The Ants is a YA book about a kid named Lucky Linderman who gets bullied and goes to Arizona with his mom to recuperate. Put like that it doesn’t sound too exciting. But because this is A.S. King writing the story things aren’t that straight-forward. She uses a fragmented storytelling technique to show us scenes from the present, from Lucky’s freshman year at school, from his childhood, and most importantly from his dreams where he tries to rescue his grandfather from a Vietnamese POW camp.

The story features adults being idiots and perfect lives being not so perfect. The relationship between Lucky and his dad is really interesting and a big part of the story. It’s interesting because his dad is kind of an absentee father, spending all his time at his fancy restaurant and caring more about cooking than anything else. By the end of the book, his dad hasn’t changed, but everyone has a bit more perspective and tolerance for why people act the way they do. The same goes for Lucky and his mom. King is really good at setting up situations where characters seem unreasonable and then showing us a key to understanding them (even if we don’t have to like them).

It’s a really good book. Probably the best I’ve read that’s expressly about bullying since it never ends up in a clichéd place. Kudos to King on another great read.

book review: club zero-g

Douglas Rushkoff and Steph Dumais made Club Zero-G, a graphic novel about consensus reality and a shared dreamland dance club that the kids (young adults) don’t remember when they wake up. There are people in the future who are being hunted for daring to defy the consensus reality and they come back to the early 21st century in this dream club. Except that Zeke remembers it when he wakes up. He’s being used by the military to catch the mutant interlopers from the future and is trying to convince people in the waking world that Club Zero-G is real.

The best parts are dealing with the disjunction between the waking characters and the club characters, who are embarrassed about what assholes their waking versions are. It name checks Foucault and the collective unconscious in the way that makes this book probably work okay for a YA audience. I really liked the rough and colourful art, but I don’t think the story was as revolutionary as I get the feeling Rushkoff thought it was.

book review: ax (vol.1)

Ax is an anthology of alternative manga stories. I don’t really read enough manga, so I figure anthologies are a good way to help me find new things. There were a bunch of stories I didn’t like, because they were too crudely drawn or too much florid art/language (which might have been better in Japanese). But there were a few I did like.

Love’s Bride by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: A guy gets possessive about a girl he knows so she tells him to fuck off and he goes to the zoo and falls in love with an ape who truly understands him. I’ve read a bunch of Yoshihiro Tatsumi books before so maybe it’s just familiarity with his straightforward style, but the story was well-done.

Conch of the Sky by Imiri Sakabashira: This one was way more metaphorical and weird, with squids crawling into the sick guy’s futon and then going off on a chase through the dark. The narration and the sinuous but not overdone art really sold it for me. It felt like a fever dream. In a good way.

A Broken Soul by Nishioka Brosis: The art in this story was what I really liked. It felt kind of cubist as the main character discovered his soul was broken.

Enrique Kobayahsi’s Eldorado by Toranusuke Shimada: This is the story of an Eldorado motorcycle found in an uncle’s garage. Toranusuke Shimada draws in a style reminiscent of Joe Sacco and tells the history of these Brazilian motorcycle manufacturers who turned out to have gotten their skills from Nazis. This one probably felt the least like what I think of as manga of the book.

book review: entropy in the uk (the invisibles vol 3)

I’ve slowly been reading Grant Morrison’s Invisibles series, and I feel like Entropy in the U.K. is where the plot is starting to pick up. King Mob is being held by the terrible people (who are barely people) and the rest of the Invisibles have to rescue him. Jack Frost starts to come into his own after being a reluctant participant in the previous books and the dream battles and real battles are less random and weird for their own sake. You really start to get a sense of Morrison’s madness going somewhere here, which I can’t say I got as much from the character-introducing stories.