28 October 2017

Nothing Like A Good Zombie Book - A Review of World War Z, Max Brooks

In less than forty minutes, my house will be engulfed with the sounds of banging, snarling and foundational shifting bumps that could easily be the zombie apocalypse we all have been waiting for, or a pre-arranged little boys' playdate. 

Motherless, smoking gleefully as I taught English deep in the heart of rural Japan, I would sneer fabulously at the state of child rearing. Playdate I would exclaim, are for parents without lives, attempting to pander to the fear of the unknown, the proverbial bogeyman that haunted the bushes. This was the early 2000’s; I had soaked up enough X-File conspiracies to slightly jade my naivety as I boarded a plane for a job that I was completely unqualified for. The life of an overseas English language teacher is a complex pattern of terrorized moments of grammatical uncertainties, couched in a westernized, idolized bravado. I had no business teaching. Every child under the age of 6 who walked through my classroom door was adeptly aware of this fact, taking full advantage of the language barrier to barrage me with insults. It was a wonderful time. 

And so, as the mindless horde of an afternoon playdate begins to unfold around me, I reconcile with my younger self. Arranged play is completely deranged. Gathering like-minded maniacs into an enclosed space leads to tears, drinking and silent swearing. The solemn nod of the parental collective grieves with me, as I circumnavigate my dilemma. Short-sighted decisions that align child whims to adult time-lines will only breed the zombie armies. 

It's true; World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks has seeped into my mundane perspective. I walk autumnal streets, unhinged with ghoulish daydreams of macabre fingers snatching at my ankles while I skip through the fallen leaves. A composite diary of the human condition, World War Z documents a global war for survival. Imagine, a zombie shuffling down your street, now blossom this slightly horrific image to millions of infected, animated undead, relentless in their individualized search for flesh. 

With zombies dragging through my dreams, I wake speculating if humanity's drive for modernity has unhinged our global future. Heady stuff for a zombie book I admit, but any true dystopian story-line should fester our fantasies, spawning layers of unease. War Z effectuates all that we fear. 

World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War lives up to this girl's idea of a zombie book. 

16 October 2017

Forever Books: A Review of Summerlong, Peter S. Beagle

Eighty-nine dollars of credit at the local science fiction bookstore, and this girl has no idea what to buy. Heart-wrenchingly annoying, my inability to commit to book-buying has brought me to this rather frazzled day. A library soul, the concept of a forever-book seems a tad sinful. What if I bring home something I hate, or worse, never read again. That 'never to be read again' tagline beats deep down in my reading-heart, sighing for every sentence lost in time, and memory. 

My home library has some duds - annoying hard-covers that have bullied themselves onto the shelves, smugly gathering dust, showcasing lack of purpose. I stare them down monthly, ready to trek them all off to the second-hand bookstore to retract, overwhelmed with ownership guilt. And so they sit, as do I, contemplating readable-worthy book purchasing while the sun slowly glints through the fall foliage and the winds gather momentum.   

I am longing for Summerlong by Peter S Beagle. This is a book I had no intention of walking home with, but having surmised that the clerk may indeed be someone of merit, I bought it based on her recommendations. The walk home from the bookstore was grey. Spring had yet to bud, and my reading inclinations swayed to more science fiction hearty fair than Summerlong's fantastical promises. And yet I brought this little bound beauty home, to be promptly forgotten until this September. 

Situated on small island outside of Seattle, Abe and Joanna live their quiet lives, happily unmarried, weathering life's problems together. Until that day, walking into their favourite restaurant they meet Lioness and waltz into a fairy-tale. As with fairy-tales there is the light and the dark - what we hold dear, can be lost and from that loss, creation. 

Peter S. Beagle wrote the most acclaimed fantasy novel of our times, The Last Unicorn in 1968. Not a fantasy reader, my curiosity had me summoning the book through the library system to sit down one afternoon, to be thoroughly stunned. There are few first chapters written that attain a level of wonder found in The Last Unicorn. But this is my ode to Summerlong, a book forgotten, that brought me great joy as the Toronto September temperatures soared, and my summer seemed to last forever.  

Summerlong, Beagle's most recent and more accessible novel is perfection. Every word has purpose, each tangled detail sculpts the characters into being, each chapter reflects the complexity of life. There are few authors who can properly assimilate the world of myth and gods into present day fiction without the story becoming overwhelmingly supernatural. The unimaginative becomes real - that what modern civilization has lost is summoned forth in Summerlong. 

A gem, something to be cherished, re-read and shared, Peter S. Beagle's Summerlong proudly sits on my book-shelf. 

9 October 2017

What goes well with turkey: Review of Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel

Facing a second turkey dinner at 3 this afternoon, my perspective towards life is rather tilted. Dare I admit that the very last thing I wish to do is trundle off in a car for 2 hrs to eat said bird? Even more accurate do I dare admit that in fact, I will gladly sit in said car for those very 2 hrs, just so I can eat another turkey dinner. What is worse, showcasing gluttony or restraint? Like so many Canadians on this weekend, we buck up the courage, find semi-decent comfy pants and pull the dining chair up to a highly orchestrated dinner, circumnavigating familial undercurrents and  (un) necessary glasses of wine.  Yes, Thanksgiving Monday is upon me. What the hell am I going to read?

This past September has been a fury of reading activity. Having spent the summer nose deep in whodunits, I gleefully jumped into my geeky persona, reading all the sci-fi things. A friend recently asked me as a non-science fiction reader, where should she start? Enduringly difficult, I stumbled trying to dissimulate the genre into a tightly bound reference guide that she could dip her reading toes into without feeling sullied by the experience. Seriously, when she dropped Phillip K Dick as a starting point, I almost walked into a tree from dismay - of all the places to start, start current, I say, or at least with Herbert. 

Looking for a fully engaging, fast-paced science fiction story that takes place on present day Earth, try Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants. A young girl falls into a hole in the forest to wake nestled in the palm of an enormous glowing hand. Exploring the classic aliens-as-gods science fiction trope, Neuvel's The Themis Files left me anxiously waiting for May, 2018 when the final novel in the trilogy is to be released. 

The story reveals itself dramatically through interviews and press releases. The ability to literally tear through a book in a day is highly probable and somewhat satisfying. If there is ever a book to disengage from the turkey doldrums it is this. Whether I like this trilogy is debated, as there are key elements to the plot and characters that have left me unhappy. Yet, I leave my final review to the third book, gladly basking in the manic reading fury that captured my imagination. Not every book needs to be Dune, sometimes being entertained is enough.