Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Neverending Story

The Neverending StoryThe Neverending Story, can we consider this one a classic? Written in 1979 by Michael Ende, it became an instant classic and the inspiration for three movies - one remembered as excellent and two with dubious results. I also found out, with a little research, that there was a short lived TV or Mini-series based on the book. From the reviews, it seemed best to stay very far away from that one. If you're interested in the movie, go ahead and click on this The Neverending Story [Blu-ray] link(Yes, I have a Blu-Ray player and use the power of my will to force readers to purchase one as well... you need it!). But, if you want to see a movie with an actor that committed suicide later in life click on this The NeverEnding Story / The NeverEnding Story II link. The sequel was one of the creepiest movies that I saw as a child. The actor, Jonathan Brandis, has really freaky eyes! But I've talked about that already - HERE.

Back to the book, The Neverending Story is about a child whose attempt to hide from the school bullies sends him on a journey through the alternate world of Fantastica. Bastian, the boy, steals a book out of the shop that he hid himself in and then hides up in the school attic. As he starts reading, the world seems magically alive and in dire need of help. I'm sure that everyone has seen the movie, so why give you the entire plot?

For those that have seen the movie and not read the book, let's just say the movie really takes place in about the first 120 pages of the novel. The rest of the Neverending story is a continuation of where the movie sort of left off. I guess you have to take certain liberties to create a movie from a book. For instance, Atreyu happens to be a green human-like creature and not just a tanned boy! I did learn that I've been spelling Falkor wrong all this time. My first and only cat was named Falcore, after the luckdragon in the movie. After 20+ years it's good to know that I had it wrong all this time.

But what a book! It's a little lengthy at points, but the story flows well. Think Arabian Nights meets Aesop's Fables meets Grimm's Fairy Tales. It's an adventure through one world with many themes. That happens to be the point of Fantastica - dreams of the human world make up the realm of Fantastica. It's not as dark as Grimm's, but there are some points that are eerie, some that are sad, and some that are life lessons (e.g. Aesop's Fables). It definitely reminded me of my childhood, but I would recommend to all ages. I'll be watching the movie soon to see how much they actually got right.

Rating: 7.5 CBs - I won't be reading it again soon, but it was a good novel to add to the list. I got the Penguin version of the paperback and like the look just a little more than the image on top. It also doesn't appear that Ende wrote a sequel to The Neverending Story or, if he did, it was never translated from the original German. And it's tough to write a review without giving the story and most of my opinions.... that are based on the differences between the book and the movie, or major plot points. =\


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

American Creation

So, I fully realize that this will not be one of the most popular posts on this blog; but I am an unabashed history buff, so bear with me. 

American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the RepublicMy most recent read was American Creation by Joseph J. Ellis.  Of course Ellis is the famous historian and author of Founding Brothers.  I haven't read Founding Brothers, but I may put it on the list for a much later read.  American Creation follows the major events of the American Revolution period (defined as the years of 1775-1803).  Thus the book is not what anyone would call exhaustive.  Rather, it skims the surface of the revolution, touching down on of the year 1776, the winter at Valley Forge, the Treaty of Paris, the Federalist/Anti-Federalist fights, and the Louisiana Purchase. 

From the outset, Ellis bothered me as a historian and a history writer.  In the prologue, he points out that our history has been boiled down to a fairy story of good vs. evil, heroes vs. villians.  That we have created demigods of the founders, the facades of which have only recently begun to crumble as historians have chipped away at the legends to reveal truth.  As such he introduces the reader to Douglass Adair, Gordon Wood, and Bernard Bailyn (as well as himself) - historians who have decided to analyze the mindset of the founders (through the extensive written records) to draw conclusions about their motivation, the impetus for their participation, and (to some degree) their success.  He argues these historians' various points of view "contribute to a discernably adult conversation about the sources and causes of the American founding as a significant political triumph." 

What bothers me about this is the psycho-analysis approach to history writing.  It smacks of judgment and not fact-telling.  As the reader later discovers in the book, Ellis uses the last half of the points of focus as a none-too-subtle attack on the character of Thomas Jefferson.  This approach to history writing leans heavily on hindsight as the "judge" instead of a just the facts ma'am approach I prefer.  Perhaps, it is easier to begin judging the subjects of one's  history when one is fully immersed in the time period. so to speak.  It is not the lack of facts and stories Ellis suffers, it is the over-abundance.  He has so reanimated these characters in his mind, it is almost as if he is living alongside them.  Thus the attacks Hamilton throws at Jefferson, are almost audibly followed by a hearty "here! here!" by Ellis. 

This type of history writing also feels disconnected.  The reader just gets to the "good stuff" and is snapped back to present day by the mention of "hindsight being 20/20" and lessons on what impact the events of the revolution had on the later American narrative.  I would have preferred a simple story-telling narrative, with any footnotes to history properly footnoted (I think that is why they call them that). 

Overall, interesting read.  Not a reread.

Rating: 3.5 out of 7


Monday, August 9, 2010

Best Served Cold

My wife found the author, Joe Abercrombie, while making a Border's run one day. She picked up The Blade Itself (The First Law: Book One) while I ended up purchasing Orcs. Let's just say that Orcs is still sitting on the library shelf while I've read through Abercrombie's first trilogy and semi-sequel. He's an excellent newish author in the fantasy realm. If you're trying to source him, I'd maybe put him somewhere near George Martin - opinion based on what I've read and heard about Martin and not because I've read any of his novels. Now let's take a quick look at my latest read book.

Best Served ColdBest Served Cold is a sequel, of sorts, to The First Law trilogy. It takes place in the same world with a few of the same characters and a lot of name dropping from the trilogy. It's not a true sequel, but I felt that by the end of the book. I'm almost expecting to see the next book take us back North and follow the Bloody Nine(one of the main characters from The First Law). The story follows a general of the greatest mercenary group in Styria, The Thousand Swords. After all the help given by General Murcatto to secure the throne to Duke Orso, he attempts to kill her and her brother as payment for her loyalty to the cause. With her brother now dead, her body broken, and no army behind her, Murcatto vows to take revenge on the men that ruined her life. That's where the book starts and the story takes off.

Having read four books by Joe Abercrombie, I can definitely say that he's a great author. The books are well-written and the story very engaging. That's not to say that all is right with the - Abercrombie - world. The books tend to have some very perverse sections. I'm not here to read a sleazy romance novel and, up to this point, the majority of my Fantasy/Sci-Fi experience hasn't included a lot of sex. I think that Joe might have gotten more descriptive in this novel than he was in his first three. He also cusses more than the other authors that I tend to frequent - Robert Jordan, Modesitt, Cook, etc. Does it detract from the story? It does a bit, for me personally. I would prefer to not have to shade over a section of the book to get back to the meat of it. It also limits what I might recommend to other readers that share some of the same ideals.

Rating: 7 CBs - The storyline was good albeit pretty similar character stylings as the first trilogy. I can't recommended this to everyone. I would stay away from the book if you don't like cussing or have a huge problem with sex stuff. It's lewd and descriptive. This novel is a bit like the last Stephen King novel I finished. The story is fascinating; captivating, but with some big distractions.