29 October 2014

To Eat Your Own: A Review of Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton

It would be remiss of me not to review at least one book this year about dragons. Late to the Jo Walton party, having only earlier this year discovered her acclaimed novel Among Others, I have spent the rest of 2014 reading through her catalog of work. I should say, most of, a voracious contributor to Tor, Walton recently published a collection of blog posts she wrote for the site that at this point in my life is of no interest to me. I know rather crappy of me, being a blogger, not reading other blog posts but Walton's talents for composing a tale is far more exciting than her opinions. Funny how fickle we are as readers, although my adoration for Herbert is a little past the ridiculous, I have not read nor interested in reading any of his other books. Please do not chastise me, in my defence I am what I am when it comes to my reading pursuits and at the best of times it makes little to no logical sense. My husband to this day has yet to resolve to the fact that he married someone who spent the holidays of 2004 happily reading a 800 bound, brooding, dark biography on the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen

What can I say, the playwright not only is fascinating but a relative. One should always keep up with the goings-on with family, you never know what aspect to your character is genetic instead of that 'odd thing you tend to do'.  Thus it is so with the dragons in Tooth and Claw. Tooth and Claw, an earlier work of Walton's which not surprisingly won the World Fantasy Book award the year of it's release is about dragons eating each other. I kid you not, as I have literally stolen that which Walton herself has opened her summation of the conception of Tooth and Claw. Click here if you missed the last link to Jo's site where she talks about herself. You know folks, all my links have a purpose, okay maybe not this link, but most do. 

Apparently, Tooth and Claw has been stylistically compared to Jane Austen if Jane were to interpose her humans with dragons. Walton insists that there is little to no Austen in it and rather the inception is thanks to Trollope. Having not read any Trollope, a travesty that must be addressed, I cannot attest to that, but since authors know best when it comes to their own work, I would be inclined to agree. 

Beyond the Victorian sensibilities, what I did manage to discern was that the world-building was multi-layered, complex and wonderfully disturbing. No society is without it's tragic flaws. Walton's dragons have a habit of consuming each other; so much that Church and State have strong dictates of what is considered lawful and/or sinful. The climax of the novel is the civil suit against the son-in-law of a patriarch dragon who is deemed to have eaten too much of his dead father-in-law. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to type that sentence out! Can you imagine how hilarious it was to actually write this book?  Not that this book is funny, it is not at all, taking itself as seriously as any upper-class English nobility from the 19th century would have tended to do. Tooth and Claw is brimming with simply glorious teeny tiny details that entertained me to no end. I love when the tried and true version of fantasy or myth are reinvented or simply explored more thoroughly resulting in an almost anthropological study. 

I highly recommend this book simply for the sheer pleasure of discovering what is deemed an acceptable amount of dead dragon that a son, daughter and son-in-law are allowed to eat. 

21 October 2014

Spinosaurus aegyptiacus: A Review of Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton

At a recent dinner party a guest shockingly proclaimed that there was a dinosaur to be had in every room in my house. Pondering on this, I quickly concurred as the owner of those very objects breezed into the dining room donning T-Rex jammies, looking for a goodnight kiss and someone to read him a bedtime story. Many a friend inaccurately assume that because of my personal attachment to Star Wars and Dune that I nourish my child on all things sci-fi.  And while I did have a weak moment at 9 months insisting on dressing him up as Darth Baby for Halloween (yellow duckling won out over the dark lord of the sith) I have allowed him to develop his own weird propensities.

Not all kids are into dinosaurs. My brother and I could care less with our attention solely focused on barbies and action figures. Do not misconstrue, I am enraptured with the three geological ages when these beasts walked the Earth but my interest was more finely honed only when my son started accumulating Tyrannosaurus's faster than my brother used to collect hot rods. This seemingly random tendency came as rather a shock to my husband and I as neither of us were whispering sweet dino tales to him at night.  Like all parents, we quickly rebounded, proceeding to fill up our house with nightmarish clawed and fanged figurines that should have scared the average toddler but in our house were kissed, cuddled and tucked into bed like they were soft puppies instead of ferocious velociraptors.  To this day, we cannot comprehend how dinosaurs became such a large part of our lives. One day our son was a little baby, the next a dino-loving maniac.

To each his own, they say, to each his dino-crazy own.  

And so with dinosaurs constantly on my brain I finally read Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park just this past week. Truth be told, I am not a big film person, even less into reading a book after watching the film adaptation. I will resist the urge to rant on about the poorly executed variations of Dune and say only this, it takes a talented screen writer and thoroughly knowledgeable director to really pull off a good SF adaptation.  Jurassic Park the film comes very close to being not all that bad now that I have experienced both artistic versions of the story. Back in 1993, I was one of the millions sitting in the theatre freaking thoroughly out over the raptor sisters and surprisingly cheering on the T-REX. Even though the movie was awesome it never occurred to me to read the novel. In fact, the idea did not cross my mind until a blogger friend drew my attention to Jurassic Park while I was creating a list of SF books for SF non-readers.

And man, am I glad he did. It is difficult not to compare the book to the film as my reluctance to read the book solely rested with my notion that I already knew the story. How wrong I was and how telling it is of my presumptive nature that two forms of medium could actually portray the same essence of a story-line effectively. Dune television and cinematic interpretations have really jaded me.  As I began to read Jurassic Park, it took four chapters in before I seized to compare the film to the book and started to enjoy myself. I could not get past what was missing or what was exaggerated or what was altered, finding myself writing mini comparative essays in my mind as I moved from page to page.  Gradually the plot enveloped me and I forgot to think and instead became consumed with the action that Crichton was so good at writing.

There is a lot to this book, a lot that if added would have pushed the film into a darker less marketable cinematic money maker. The characters are thankfully more developed and three-dimensional. Alan Grant is not in love with Ellie Satler, nor does he have a fear of children or a school boy infatuation with dinosaurs. John Hammond is not a nice, frumpy, harmless Grandpa wanting to bring dinosaurs back to life to enrich the lives of children everywhere. Muldoon, the safari/animal expert, Genarro, the lawyer and Wu, the chief geneticist play much larger roles in the book, each having a healthy dose of dread for the Park and it's dinosaurs. The software nerd dies a spectacularly disgusting death and the island itself is far more intimidating than the film version depicts. 

Chaos theory is strung through-out the plot which simply would have been impossible for the film to relay. This is the magic of novels, the ability to string an allegory, linking and defining the action without boring the audience or sounding trite.  A little dated at times, scientific discovery stops for no writer, and what was true back in the 90's has theoretically developed and expanded in scope today. All in all though, the novel holds up and would be perfect if you are looking for a quick thriller to pass your time with.