Thursday, June 14, 2012

REVIEW: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora is funnily enough the first book I have read without owning a physical copy since I was 18. I had it on my Kindle as a part of a huge bundle of books that I downloaded, and because of all the hype and references to it I keep seeing, I decided to give it a go.

I'm still undecided as to whether or not I agree with the punters.

Right off the bat I am going to say this; skipping backwards and forwards between Locke's adolescence and his present is not clever, or mysterious, or even helpful in any way shape or form. What it is, is god damn annoying - and not in the "it's-frustratingly-good" kind of way, but more like the "... really?" variety. I thought this for two reasons; one, it totally breaks up the story and left me struggling to engage with either past or present Locke; and two, it seemingly turns into a way for Lynch to throw in large chunks of exposition, which is then immediately exploited in the following pages. Subtle Scott, really subtle. Something tells me he did this on purpose because he thought it would be clever and original. Something also tells me that the captain of the Titanic thought he could just plow on through the iceberg.

I really think that if this book had followed a much simpler more linear narrative I would have enjoyed it so much more. Locke's childhood and in particular his introduction to Chains and the other Gentlemen Bastards was fantastic, and having it delivered while interspersed with the incredibly tedious business with Don Salvara killed it off a lot. I also think that if I were able to follow Locke's life from beginning to end in sequential order, I would sympathise with him and his compatriots ten fold to what I did. Not only this, but I think it really hampered what was in essence, some excellent world building by Lynch.

In saying all this, one of my favourite parts of the book was the small tale about the uprising of the whores towards the end.

In terms of the writing itself, The Lies of Locke Lamora was beautifully crafted, with some beautiful (if often overly lengthy) descriptions and some great, honest prose. Characterisation waxed and waned for me ... The Gentleman Bastards were a definite highlight, Locke off course wearing the crown. However, most of the other secondary characters seem to be quite shallow in comparison, including first and foremost the Salvaras. This obviously has to do with the fact that 95% of the narrative comes from Locke's perspective, but I felt there were other contributing factors. Some key and potentially interesting characters like the Countess Vorchenza, the Falconer, and the Grey King come to the story quite late, whereas I felt they could have contributed a lot more. Lynch does tease us with a small chapter from Vorchenza's perspective (probably unavoidable on his behalf) which left me feeling he could have used more of from the start. I also questioned the motives of the Grey King in the end ... it all just seemed to come out of nowhere.

One thing I did respect was Locke as a protagonist. He is excellently delivered as a vivacious and entertaining young villain, one with many talents, but not so many as to get him access to the boy-wonder trope of the fantasy genre. In fact, I found him to be quite balanced and realistic.

I questioned the flow and content of the story itself. I appreciate that Lynch has nicely fused several story strands together and created something that is somewhat more complex than the everyday narrative - but I thought it lacked a certain drive or passion towards one goal. I didn't really care about the success of the Salvara job, or who the Grey King was, or how they were going to get out of it all because the story was trying to drive me in too many directions.

All in all I felt that The Lies of Locke Lamora was extremely middle ground in every aspect; not great, but not bad. Usually I find that when fantasy novels are not epically amazing like the works of George R. R. Martin or Brandon Sanderson, they are at least fast and exciting in their simplicity like Stephen Deas, Kristin Cashore, Cinda Williams Chima, et. al. This book, while an enjoyable story and with some great strong points, fails to excel in any one area to make it truly great.

I may get around to reading Red Seas Under Red Skies one day, but it will have to be one where I have little else to read.

I am thinking that now I will return to A Song of Ice and Fire, although there are a few books floating around on my Kindle which are tempting me such as City of Dreams and Nightmare and His Majesty's Dragon. I think I'll end up with A Storm of Swords as I do leave for Europe in just under four weeks and would like to get through it!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

REVIEW: The Star Wars Saga by George Lucas

Over the last week I have watched all six Star Wars movies. Now obviously I'm not going to write some illuminating and comprehensive review of the entire Star Wars saga ... however I want to share some of the thoughts I found wandering around in my head while watching them.

I was a massive Star Wars fan as a kid and had a gold, collector's edition VHS set of Episodes 4, 5 and 6, which I watched on a regular basis. I knew everyone's names, what planet they were from and what kind of ship they flew. As this was over 12 years ago, I now remember very little (even of the movies themselves). I watched Episode 1 at the cinemas, 2 on DVD and am a little ashamed to say I had never seen Episode 3 before today. I just lost interest really.

Apologies if I seem to tear the series to shreds ... just to clarify I do love and respect them completely - these are just my semi-comical criticisms. Also ... SPOILERS!

So let's start with Episode 1. Right of the bat I want to say that anyone who can hunt down and kill the person who is responsible for Jar Jar Binks deserves a medal. I'm all for comic relief, but that character is the most annoying, obnoxious thing to ever mar a timeless series. Then there is walking plot device/Boring McSnorealot Darth Maul. All he gets to do is appear, look menacing, fight for a bit and die - he doesn't even get to speak. Why was he even there? He should have just stayed home that day. Methinks they needed a cool looking character for the poster. I mean, they could have at least given him some kind of back story or, I don't know, lines! Anakin's mother must have been a ring in and delivers a performance that rivals that of a pumpkin. Honey, if looking blank and mumbling your lines in monotone is 'acting' (even if you're character is a slave to a flying blue aardvark) then I'm Liza Minnelli.

Other than that, I approved. Little Anakin in cute and likeable, I love faux-Amidala's get up, speed racer's are great, bla bla bla.

Episode 2. Anakin grows up (just a little) and miraculously becomes the biggest fucktard of all time. I don't know what the hell they did to him in Jedi school, but somehow he is now impatient, rude, arrogant and as sleezy as a fat guy in a hot dog stand. It's like the George thought, 'Oh yeah, he's meant to become evil soon, better make people hate him real quick'. This would work, if Padme wasn't meant to fall in love with him, and how she manages to do that is anyone's guess. "Oh Anakin, I love how stupid you are, how you're a bastard to everyone you meet and most of all, I love how you make inappropriate, suggestive comments and leer at me even when I'm looking right at you'. Apparently this is what the ladies go for on Naboo, because somehow, a few days later, she professes her undying love, even though the only thing Anakin has done to procure such a reaction is sleeze on her and then profess how he loves her so much that it causes him pain and that if she doesn't love him back, he will die. Maybe she does it out of guilt?

This is the movie where giant force-sized plot holes start coming into play. I spent every battle yelling at my screen, 'PUSH THEM ALL AWAY WITH YOUR PUSHY-FORCE-ABILITY-THING!'. I don't know about you, but if I could make any object or being move with my mind, I wouldn't be dicking around with a shiny light sword! Blow the god damn guns out of the hands, knock them over and drop a mountain on them! No wonder they get wiped out in Episode 3! There is also a huge amount of idiotic swordplay that happens here. Running at your opponent with your light saber above your head, summer-saulting over them or twirling it like a cheer leading baton are all completely impractical and are 100% likely to make you look awesome get killed. It therefore staggers me that these masters can not only overlook these weaknesses in some fights, but in others are slaughtered because they stood there like drunk pigeons.

Count Dooku puzzled me. First, why was he a Count? My guess would be because it sounded cool and gave him a point of difference from the repetitive, droll 'master'. Is this a good enough reason? Definitely not - get your shit together George. Then I got endlessly confused as the role of the Separatists and the Trade Federation got bandied around like a common whore. Why the hell does Count Dooku actually volunteer to Obi Wan that a Sith Lord is controlling the Senate, when he is working for said Sith? At first I was like, 'OK, so Dooku is actually good and along with the Separatists is trying to save the Republic - but if so ... why doesn't he just tell the Jedi?'. Turns out that whole scene was there just to confuse the shit out of us, because actually Palpatine is running the Senate, the Republic, the Separatists, the Trade Federation and a cute little gardening store downtown. 

We learn some dead Jedi Council member ordered a clone army and didn't tell anyone, but then somehow Palpatine is in control of that too ... Unfortunately he was dumb enough to try and kill Padme with the same bounty hunter that was used to clone the army, making an oh so convenient way for Obi Wan to track him there, find the army, tell the Jedi, hand it over to Palpatine and then unwittingly have them wipe the Jedi out in the next movie.

The only thing I can conclude from this is that either Palpatine is the smartest mofo in the Universe, or this plot is held together with the power of prayer. In summary, Anakin is woefully annoying and the plot has more holes than in it than Osama Bin Laden. The shining beacon in this movie is R2-D2, who has more personality and likeability than the rest of the cast combined.

Episode 3. So now a droid named General Grievous is running the Separatists, even though we established last movie that droids cannot think as complexly as humans etc etc. This is vaguely explained by a passing observation that Grievous has human eyes and a beating heart ... or something. Anakin becomes slightly less annoying, oh no wait, false alarm, he gets worse. It is now clear that Anakin has the brain and emotional capacity of a garden gnome and somehow thinks that killing everyone he has ever met and turning the galaxy into a dictatorship on vague promises for the safety of Padme is a great idea. One would think that seeing as the Jedi Council can practically READ MINDS (!!!) SOMEONE would have noticed that Anakin was a little unhinged, or had a secret baby, or was betraying the Jedi, or was you know, a homicidal maniac.

Award for the coolest creature of the whole saga goes to the thing Obi Wan was riding was pursuing Grievous. I could google it's name but I can't ... oh what the heck. Apparently it's called a Varactyl - head of a bird, body of a gecko.

Yoda is a great character across all first three episodes ... cute, wise and totally kick ass. His battles against Dooku and Palpatine are spectacular.

The ending of this movie is so great, both action wise and in terms of tying up the plot and leading back into Episode 4. Anakin finally drops the ball completely and I was more than a little satisfied to see him burn. Unfortunately his stupidity gets one last stand ... Palpatine tell him he killed Padme and he is like, 'Noooooo, I'm going to crush a few things!". Ummm ... Hello? Any normal person would have been, 'Bitch, you lied to me and screwed me over big time, Ima kill you now!'. Padme dies ... of a broken heart? Lame! Been there, done that, bought the shirt. We see how Obi Wan, Luke, Leia, R2D2 and C3P0 end up - yes, good, satisfaction, A+.

Episode 4. I swear I watched this at least 5 times a week as a child. Even though the effects (in this case, mostly puppets) are extremely dated, the story itself is far, far better than the newer prequels. It's all a little more grounded and a little less Hollywood. And it is a classic, so I don't have too much bagging out to do.

Other than this. Do you think everyone in that decade were bad actors, or was that just how it was done back then? There are a few over dramatic gazing into each others eyes moments, which were a little too Mills and Boon for me. We'll put it down to era.

There are some points when suspension of disbelief is stretched to capacity. For instance, if you can travel the galaxy at light speed, why does it take you half an hour to orbit a small planet? And are you really telling me that three men and some robots can sneak into a planet sized space ship and then get away again? There must be at least THREE BILLION PEOPLE manning that thing!?!

Chewbacca is intensely annoying and howls loudly at inappropriate times and yet everyone pretends not to notice. 'Uh, was that a Wookiee I just heard on board your Imperial space cruiser?'.

Episode 5. This one is a little bla in my opinion. I had totally forgotten the plot since my childhood and to be honest I'm having trouble remembering it now. I do enjoy the whole Hoth part - we get to see more Imperial techno-goodies and sleeping inside a dead alpaca thing is always fun.

Swamp. Yoda. Asteroids. Cloud City. Lando. Betrayal. Carbonite. All good things.

Of course we get the famous KUUU-Luke-I-Am-Your-Father-KUUUU moment, which I have to admit it a lot less dramatic than it's played out to be. Apart from Luke's 'NOOOOOOO', which is enough drama for the entire movie.

Episode 6. Ah Return of the Jedi. In my opinion the best movie of all six. The whole beginning with Jabba is fantastic and is filled with images that have stuck with me for my whole life. Leia strangling Jabba - GOLD! Han shooting to save Lando while blind - genius! Simple and effective was this movie, especially in comparison to the prequels.

One thing that is a little irritating is the Death Star. Even if it kind of makes sense for the Empire to rebuild it, why would you make the movie about it? Let's be honest, it seems like George ran out of imagination and just said, 'What the hell, just use the Death Star again'.

Best thing about this movie ... Ewoks! SO CUTE!!! I love the Ewok battle with their little inventive weapons and traps.

Anakin/Vader turns good (about freaking time), everyone is reunited and lives happily every after. The end.

So that turned about to be a very long post. I may investigate some of the Star Wars books I read as a teenager and give them a reread ... at some point!