All You Need is Kill, Hiroshi Sakurazaka

As is often the way with me, I got this book because of a podcast. Specifically Pop Culture Happy Hour were reviewing Edge of Tomorrow, the Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt movie this got made into, and one of the contributors – Glen Weldon I believe – said that it was worth reading this book as it was short and he implied it had a different ending.

So I bought the book, read a few chapters, set it aside and didn’t pick it up again until after I’d seen the movie – which was last week. I enjoyed the movie and so decided to read the book, and did.

A couple of decades or so into a global war with an invading alien race called the “Mimics”* Keiji Kiriya is a newish recruit in the United Defence Force (UDF). He’s a “jacket jockey” which is an infantry soldier in a powered exo-skeleton suit called, you guessed it, a jacket. We see him go through his day from waking up, through training, preparing for battle, fighting and subsequently dying in what seems to be a futile attempt to hold the Mimics back on the coastline of Japan. Did I say dying? Did I just give away a spoiler? Not really, as this is the premise of the book and film – we discover very early on that something is different about Kiriya, after that first death on the battle field he keeps going back, re-living the day over and over. So it’s a kind of Groundhog Day with aliens and war. We follow Kiriya as he tries to work out what’s going on, how to get out of the time loop, how to defeat the Mimics and what all this has to do with the near-mythic UDF soldier who crosses his path, Rita Vrataski, the so-called “Full Metal Bitch”.

OK. So first off I can say that both the movie and the book are fun and are different enough that if you’ve experienced only one (or neither) then it’s definitely checking out the other (or both). That said this is not a review of the movie, and I won’t be listing the differences between the two.

All You Need is Kill is a fun, pacy, quick read. It has a certain tone to the language which is almost noirish in its grimy, toughness that I liked. It suited the story. It’s not deep but we skid along on the surface so quickly that that doesn’t matter. The time loop business was not over-used – that is to say, it didn’t become overly convoluted in a way that made my brain hurt (yes Primer I’m looking at you!) but served the purpose of the story. It’s particularly effective that what we end up with is a battle-hardened, war-weary veteran in the body of what the rest of the world sees as a raw recruit.

Like a lot of SciFi at this level the logic of it all doesn’t bear too close a scrutiny but that’s not what you’re interested in. And if you are this is probably not the book for you. If you want a fun little romp with aliens and fighting and so on then it may be.

I’d have like to have seen a slightly more nuanced view of women in this book, which you could argue is misogynistic. I think it’s mostly not but in a teenage boy’s naive, “it can’t be sexist if the women are kick-ass fighters too” kinda way. Then again nuance of any sort isn’t really that much in evidence here.

7/10 – all you need is a better title.

(*not really sure what they’re mimicking)

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2014 Reading Reviews Redux

resists the powerful urge to apologise for lack of blog post, at the top of a new blog post

except I guess I just did…

I wrote on Facebook a while back that I was all set to write a blog post, a book review, when having looked up what the last review I did was I found that I haven’t done one this year! (2014 at the time)

Which is odd. I have read less in 2014, but not nothing. I have felt like I have had less to say, but, again, not nothing.

So here is my catch-up, catch-all review blog post for everything I’ve read in 2014.

I’m basing the below on my memory and my records – which means calibre, which is why the rating is out of five.

Foreplay, Jill Myles, 2 stars – A free short story which is a prequel to the Succubus Diaries. I’d like to say that there was more involved in choosing this than titilation. And there might have been but it was definitely a component. Which is a shame because it’s not (titilating). However it wasn’t much else either. I recall thinking it might work if you knew the characters already. As a teaser for the book it didn’t.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion, 4 stars – A comic novel about an autistic man’s search for a wife. I enjoyed it at the time but was aware that the portrayal of autism wasn’t necessarily accurate. It’s faded somewhat now and I was a little surprised at giving it 4 stars.

Save Yourself, Mammal!, Zach Weiner, 3 stars – A collection of comic strips that I got as part of a Humble Bundle of ebooks. I remember finishing it in order to have something to cross off as read. Amusing.

xkcd: volume 0, Randall Munroe, 4 stars – part of the same bundle I think. Much wittier and cleverer.

The Most Dangerous Game, Zach Weiner, 3 stars – see above.

Quiet the Mind, Matthew Johnstone, 4 stars – a short (picture) book about meditation and using it to tackle anxiety and depression. Helpful even if I’ve only used it a couple of times.

A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift, 3 stars – read this after listening to an In Our Time episode on it I think. Clever and witty but one to read to say I’ve read it more than I read it to enjoy it.

The Black Sheep, Julie Cohen, 3 stars – another freebie story that’s an adjunct/teaser to a novel. Can’t remember why I downloaded this. I occasionally get moods where I like the idea of reading a romance novel. This was OK, but as with Foreplay didn’t make me want to pick up the book itself.

Maybe Next Time, Michael Marshall Smith, 3 stars – MMS is one of Melissa’s favourite writers, so I’ve read a few of his books. This is a short story. I honestly can’t remember what it’s about. *goes to check* Ah. Yes a supernatural-ish tale. Vaguely eerie. Not amongst my favourites of his.

Unnatural Time, Julio Angel Ortiz, 2 stars – I downloaded this when the idea of a free ebook was still a novelty for me. Another short story. Can’t really remember it either. I dimly recall a surreal and disorganised tone. Not motivated to go look it up.

Death of a Spaceman, Walter M. Miller Jr., 3 stars – downloaded from Project Gutneberg IIRC. Another short story. I thought it would be a SciFi tale but it’s mostly about a man’s last hours and how he feels about his life. Not bad.

The Disintegration Machine, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 3 stars – part of a “Professor Challenger” Anthology. I was working my way up from the shortest (this) to get to at least The Lost World (2nd longest). Anyhow, this is not bad. The twist was a little predicatable but demonstrates something of the character and personality of Challenger.

Dying, MMS, 3 stars – short story. Again fuzzy is my memory but I’m getting something about a SciFi future and animals.

The Elephant in the Room, Paul Cornell, 3 stars – short story. I read this because a) it’s from the “Wild Cards” universe and I’ve got a book of short stories from that to read (this is not from that) and b) it’s Paul Cornell who’s written one of my favourite Dr Who episodes and a novel I really enjoyed. This wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. It depicted a relationship between two characters with gifts but, as I recall, not much happens.

The Handover, MMS, 3 stars – short story. Better than some of the other 3 star stories. This was atmospheric, not-quite ghost story about an almost ghost town. I enjoyed the build up but the ending left me a little flat I recall.

The Stronger, August Strindberg, 2 stars – play. I read this because I was re-watching Studio 60 at the time and in one episode a character mentions The Father, and that play, this and two others were part of a collection I downloaded. This was the shortest so I read it first. Can’t remember much – a conversation between two women in a coffee shop?

Heaven and Mel, Joe Ezterhas, 4 stars – allegedly true story about the time this Hollywood writer was going to write a move with Mel Gibson. Well written and gripping. A “kindle single” this was the length of a novella.

Alien Landing: Beppe Grillo, 3 stars – intriguing story of a stand-up comedian/political activist in Italy. My Italian co-worker is a fan so that partly sparked my interest. Another kindle single but shorter.

The Martian, Andy Weir, 3 stars – a novel. Sword and Laser book club pick for May. It was a good read but sagged a bit in the middle. Very science-y fiction about a lone survivor of a manned Mars mission. A little too much technical detail in places. I enjoyed the ending though, it picked up pace there.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Claire North, 4 stars – novel. Story of a man who lives his life over and over and each time remembers his previous lives. An intriguing premise developed well. Humourous in places and good fun.

The Intruders, MMS, 4 stars – a novel. An MMS book I’ve had for a while – since I read Bad Things at least. Galvanised to read it by knowing a TV adaptation was on the way. Enjoyed it a lot. Not quite as much as Bad Things but still good. TV show so far not as good as the book.

Babysitting, Elizabeth Day, 3 stars – a literary short story (I suppose, never quite sure what literary is). Piqued my interest when I was browsing Kindle singles. Not bad, guessed the ending.

Guns, Stephen King, 3 stars – a kindle single. Political essay about American gun culture.

The Playground, Ray Bradbury, 3 stars – a short story. Feels like it should have been an episode of The Twilight Zone (perhaps it was!). Probably fairly ground breaking in its day, felt well-worn to me.

The Rover, Drew Magary, 3 stars – odd little SciFi, humour story about a visitor from another planet. Or is it? Curious tale, strange tone.

Missed Connection, MMS, 3 stars – another MMS short story with a supernatural-ish tone. Always felt like it was about to be better than it was. Not terrible but not of his best, for me.

The Understudy, David Nicholls, 3 stars – a novel about the understudy to a big theatre (and soon to be movie-) star. Amusing and pleasant without being laugh-out-loud funny. I mostly listened to this as an audiobook on a long car journey and it helped the motorway miles be less boring.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, 4 stars – the book of the film of the book. Bought this when it was recommended on the PCHH podcast a few years ago. Read it now because of the movie (see above re: Intruders). Pleasingly gripping and increasingly bonkers thriller.

Floor Games, H.G. Wells, 1 star – from a collection of his works I bought ages ago and split into separate ebooks myself. Read this to cross off another short piece (<7000 words). It’s a series of thoughts on games to play on the floor with your kids (toy soldiers etc). Of historical or biographical interest only.

Glitch, Hugh Howey, 3 stars – short story. Picked this up even though I struggled a bit with Wool. Wool was OK but not amazing and this was similar though at least it was shorter. A near-future tale of fighting robots and the people who make, maintain them. Some nice character stuff.

Seconds, Brian Lee O’Malley, 4 stars – graphic novel from the author of the Scott Pilgrim series. Not as good as that (which I also re-read this year) but fun, and beautifully drawn.

Speaking of graphic novels, I’ve also been reading various comic-book subscriptions – Saga, Alex and Ada, Sex Criminals, Satellite Sam, Lazarus and Miracle Man – though looking at that list makes me realise that I’m behind on almost all and may cull a couple unless/until I catch up.

And that’s it. A lot of shorter stuff but a few novels. More of a single author, MMS, than I would have thought. A couple of embarassing choices. Shocking how little has stayed with me – but that’s more about my memory these days. Overall though, pleasing that I have actually read quite a bit.

Oh – nearly forgot:

Expecting Someone Taller, Tom Holt, 5 stars – read this on a duvet day when I was feeling down. I was encouraged that I read most of it in a day, and that I really enjoyed it. So that feeling/worry I get sometimes that I’m too jaded and foggy-minded and short attention-spanned to be able to read and enjoy books these days is clearly wrong. I just need to find the right ones. It helps that this is an old favourite – despite being, well I won’t call it a guilty pleasure because I don’t feel guilt – let’s say it’s a book that I enjoy despite recognising its objective quality is not as high as the pleasure it brings me might suggest.

Actually on that realisation – that this was in fact one of my favourite books on the unarguable metric that I can pick it up, re-read it (quickly) and get a lot of comfort joy from it – made me think how few other books are in that category. I briefly thought of re-reading some of the highest scoring books from the last few years, but not many immediately appeal, even though I enjoyed them at the time. Others that do fit this category would be A World Out of Time and High Fidelity.

In terms of reading goals I patently failed at the Triple Dog Dare challenge. I also failed at my Goodreads challenge of 40 books – even with GR counting some of the short works above as a single “book” I only managed 28. I’ve set the 2015 challenge to 25, which given my current reading rate should be a stretch but then it is a challenge. I think I’ll try to go back to blogging reviews because I think it’s helpful for the challenge and frankly, helpful for me in feeling I’ve achieved something. Whether I’ll think about cutting back TBRs etc I’m not sure. I have bought more and read less this last year which is not the best (though as vices go, buying ebooks you don’t read isn’t the worst I could have).

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Typical Saturday Morning

06:27[1] – wake up to alarm. Takes me a minute to realise that it’s not a running day. Switch off the alarm, start to head back to bed[2], turn around, go back and switch off the second alarm (7:36) as it’s not a work day either.

08:00 – wake up after disturbing dream. Not a nightmare exactly just weird and offputting. Decide to try to re-enter sleep and “fix” situation with a “better dream”. (This logic demonstrates how awake I really was)

08:30 – second, more disturbing dream. Try again with the “fix”.

09:00 – a couple more attempts at the above.

09:50 – wake from most disturbing dream yet[3] Starting to try to fall asleep again when I realise I’ve crossed that threshold where I’m now awake. Pick up the tablet.

10:00 – read my email. Got one from Quora with an article about whether to choose Python as a programming language. Follow the link, read a couple of interesting responses, one links to a Youtube video from 2008 of Steve Yegge discussing Dynamic Programming languages. I can’t quite see from the embedded player how long it is but obviously I’m not going to watch it all.

11:20 – Watched the whole thing – was 1:10ish. (extra time is for starting, stopping a couple of times whilst looking up stuff he said)

11:30 – Look up Steve Yegge for more recent videos or other info. Find an infamous G+ blog post he wrote in Oct 2011 about What Amazon gets right that Google doesn’t. Quickly realise I’ve seen this before, continue anway. Partly watch this on youtube – until I realise watch a video of digital voices read scrolling text is stupid[4] and find the “original” online and read it.

12:00 – Put the tablet down and get out of bed. Shower etc and get coffee.

12:15 – Sit down at my desk and turn on my main PC. Do a “round” of the usual sites – check email, Facebook, G+, Shipoffools, Serial sub-reddit.

12:45 – Remember that I’d wanted to look up a reference Yegge had made to Stallman creating a controversey over Tcl. Look it up and read.

12:50 – Look up Wikipedia entry on Stallman.

13:10 – Look up Wikipedia entry on Linus Torvalds.

13:30 – Wikipedia rabbit-hole, following links from the above articles to various old controversies, terms I don’t quite recognise, other things of interest.

14:00 – Close several tabs about systemd and wonder how I always end up doing this. Decide it would make a good topic for a tweet.

14:05 – check Twitter

14:23 – Remembering that I’m not concise enough for Twitter, start writing this post.

14:46 – talk to friend briefly on FB. Hi Andy!!

14:54 – Finished draft of this post

15:23 – Finished formatting this post.[5]

Point of this – nothing really. Just observing how easily time goes by.

[1] All times that end in 5 or 0 are estimates, others are precise because I looked at the clock or whatever.
[2] Because my alarm is the other side of the room otherwise I’d slap it with a flailing arm, turn over and go back to sleep.
[3]discovered a secret room in my house that’s always been there and is full of dirty washing up from previous occupant. Surprisingly discarded food has not rotted but has given rise to a plague of bright green lizards. Person from property management company (cos in this dream apparently I rent) looks on disapprovingly.
[4] Seriously what’s that about? Using text-to-speech is one thing, using a rotating series of voices… and how about matching the scroll speed to the voice speed rather than inserting long spaces every so often??
[5] Including finding the links, which were of course tabs I had had open and have closed so now have to go search for! 
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RIP Robin Williams

Sitting here, thinking about my reaction to the sad Robin Williams news. I “heard” first thing this morning when I checked my phone for new podcasts and saw the latest episode of Marc Maron’s WTF was called “Remembering Robin Williams”. Another first for me as I’ve never found something out that way before. 

I was going to compile a list of my favourite Williams’ movies. And there are a few – I think Moscow on the Hudson is underrated, I see why Toys was a disaster but I kinda like it anyway, Jumanji is a whole lot of fun and he gives the central role warmth and pathos, Insomnia and One Hour Photo (among others) show his ability to just be really creepy. Then there’s Dead Poets’ Society. It seems fashionable these days to look down on that movie and I guess I can see why – it’s idealistic and sentimentally manipulative – but actually I still love it. I think maybe I just saw it at the right age – around about the same as the characters. To be inspired, to think you could be different and make a difference, to see that language itself could be an adventure, that was something that really made sense.

Anyway, as I said I could talk about several movies. But really, for me, there is only one:

The Fisher King.

This is an incredible movie. It mixes myth and fairy tale with a story of the harsh realities of modern life, mental illness and love. It’s funny but dark, endearing and scary, bracing and thoughtful. A lot of that comes from the script, a boatload of course from Terry Gilliam but a lot comes from Robin Williams’ performance. In other films he gets to be funny or dramatic – here he gets to show his full range. There are a couple of moments where the “crazy” acting is just his stand-up schtick but you even forgive that because, well, it is Robin Williams and he is charming as well as funny. 

And the story is one of terrible loss and ultimate redemption. I have found it not only moving but genuinely comforting at various times in my life. Great movies can actually do that. 

Here’s the scene that gives the story of the title:

Story Of The Fisher King

the story of a fool who brought healing. 

RIP

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500

So…* I was going to publish my review of the book wot I read and then I noticed something. My last post was number 499. I decided I had to make post 500 count. I decided I had to think of something cool. Then I decided I had to do a sort of review of my blog since it began and look at what’s changed – maybe in my life as well as my blog. And I actually started to write it.

But it was depressing :(

So then I thought…* Well I didn’t think I just sort of left it. Which is very typical of me and this blog really. 

I started this as a LiveJournal blog back in February 2003. It was the result of a casual comment by someone in a Buffy newsgroup where I spent a lot of my online time (i.e. a lot of my time). “I find most of my Buffy conversations are on LiveJournal these days” they’d said. “Hmm” thought I, and opened an LJ account to join the conversation. 

And the funny thing is that this blog has been many things but it’s never really been part of a conversation. I envy those that can do it but I lack something – some writing style, some persistence, some self-marketing – needed to make this a blog with an active following. (It has a following just not one where people tend to comment)

So instead it’s become the place where I talk mostly about either books or my diet. My diet – when I’m still doing it – is on MFP these days, and I haven’t read much this year. Which is why I was excited by having completed that book. (I’ve read yet another since!)

So my blog has become quiet. But that’s OK. It’s been quiet before and got busy again. I have thoughts about what I might do with it in the future. Maybe more personal stuff – the return of flubbage! (but not under that name), more faith stuff, more random rambling on topics that just come to me. I’ll see.

These days I think a lot about whether something’s appropriate for my blog, Facebook, Google+ or other places. So that’ll enter in to it too. I may even move the blog again. Still pondering that.

The only thing I know for sure is I’m going to keep it and I’ll write it when I feel like putting something out into the world. Whether I get something back or not…*

Anyway – thanks for reading!

*I use ellipses far too much. 

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Hurray!

A book!

Was Read!!

By ME!!!

Yep. I finished The Martian by Andy Weir and I’m pleased that I did. I may even review it.

Or maybe I’ll read another one.

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A New Start

Er hello.

Been a while. Again.

I’ve been thinking about this blog and how I’ve not posted for a while and how that’s because I’ve not read much and am unsure what else, if anything, I want to post here.

I thought I’d catch you up a bit on the reading. Not completely because I’m still not up for that really.

Since January, according to my Calibre library, I’ve read 21 items but only one was a full length novel (The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which I enjoyed). The rest were short stories, comic book issues and comic strip collections, a couple of non-fiction Kindle Singles and a play. However in that time I have bought/acquired 47 new items costing a total of £159.77, which I must admit I’m embarrassed by, only because I haven’t taken advantage of those books yet so it seems wasteful.

It’s starting to get to the point where I’m worrying that if I get out of the habit of reading longer works then I’ll lose my concentration span completely. So I’m going to start a new book tonight. I had planned to make a new-to-me book too – because that tends to engender more initial enthusiasm – but that was before I calculated that total spend for the year figure. What the heck, I may do it anyway.

I’ll see if I can finish the book in a week or two and then I’ll report back – maybe not with a full review but at least noting I’ve completed it.

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