Scariest Book I’ve Read So Far

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank only very recently entered my radar. Not that I’d learn all there is to learn about the giants of SF, but given the subject matter of the book I was surprised this did not come to my attention sooner. It’s an apocalyptic book, not post-apocalyptic like The Road by McCarthy, but I think marketed similarly in that neither would appear in any SF lists. But it is by far the scariest book I’ve read, and I’m reading Shining by King at the moment, and even that I’m not feeling too much yet.

I think it’s frightening because it’s so close to home. It’s frightening because it’s so possible, a reality oh so real. A post-apocalyptic world, imagined time and again in various pop-culture tropes like the zombie plague, or far future post-apocalyptic earths like in The Canticle for Leibowitz or The Book of the Long Sun, is something that seems so far away. But reading a story where nuclear destruction actually happens, and an unfolding story which deals with the fears and concerns of citizens after a disaster is truly chilling. I’ve learned about the breakdown of how our transportation systems will be tilted out of balance during a worldwide pandemic, and this one is very close in its estimation of the impact. The financial systems collapsing, the value of the dollar gone overnight, the economic equilibrium thrown out of the window with the rule of supply and demand completely overturned. Then comes the war of attrition, survival instincts kick in, martial law, every man for himself. It exposes the terrible truth of how inadequately prepared we are as a species in this modernized world, indeed how I’m inadequately prepared, to handle such a catastrophe, be it pandemic or nuclear holocaust.

Need to finish it quickly.

Quickie: Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut

One of the best books I’ve read. Fantastic. I had such a hard time trying to pick a book to read in my list of Audible titles after finishing Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and I thought I wanted something a little light. I hesitated over Vonnegut because he’s not exactly light, but I eventually chose Bend Sinister by Nabokov. That proved short-lived because I found that I had actually finished Bend Sinister before and *forgot about it*! Gasp!

So I thought since I took up Bend Sinister, I might as well sink into Mother Night. And what a decision that was.

I really like serendipitous reads. Something that I know I want to read, but don’t know what the book’s about, and hoping at the back of my head to be blown away with something magical, something truly amazing. All my exploits with classics are in the same vein. And it’s just a joy to discover this one.

I’m not writing a review for this now. I will on my journal, obviously, but not now. Now my laptop’s due for a reboot, and after that, back to work.

But I cannot resist saying that Mother Night proved to be something that is heart-breaking, morally ambiguous, challenging. Something that will stay with you when it’s done. I prefer this one over Slaughter-house Five, myself.

Currently Reading: Tarnsman of Gor

This book comes with a formidable reputation, it is shrouded in mystique, danger and a slight whiff of naughty things.

Almost done, and it is, uhm, a little over the top. More later. Maybe. Because I write my journals by hand. I don’t retype them here. And when I do type them here, I don’t write them down into my reading journal. It’s like I’m torn between two lovers. Uhm, no, bad analogy. I want to write there, but I also want to write here. I want to exhibit my poor writing here, a medium that encourages me to write a little differently when I’m not constantly experiencing some mild pain through the physical sensation of putting pen on paper. But I want to write there too, because it’s comforting.

So anyway. Gor. More covers, because I think it’s a little saucy.

Big Bad Wolf 2013

Much smaller haul than my previous years. It’s buying fatigue, I suppose, due to my burgeoning library and growing list of Kindle books, Audible and Comixology buys. Can’t keep up with the consumption, so I’m limiting myself to just the ones I really like.

Review of Battle Royale, by Koushun Takami & Masayuki Taguchi

I learned about Battle Royale many years ago, but was in a sense put off by the premise of having schoolchildren kidnapped and isolated on an island somewhere, and forced to kill each other to survive. Sounded interesting, but didn’t really like the idea of bloodbaths with children.

A quick exchange elsewhere in a book forum made me turn my eye on the work again, and decided I will take the plunge after all, although I cheated in a sense. Instead of turning to the novel, I turned to the manga adaptation. I was intrigued, and it was literally a quick series of taps away on my iPad.

The story is set in an alternative timeline where a totalitarian regime gripped Japan. As a means to control the population, and as an outlet of entertainment, the military conceived what is known as the Program, where every season a group of 42 kids are kidnapped at random, placed in an island, and whatever, I said it already at the top. And it’s broadcasted nationally on a state-sponsored TV channel. It’s kinda reminds me of the gladiator battles in ancient Rome – violent spectator sport.

The story follows the current season’s group of kids, and we watch as the dynamic of the different individuals play out in a violent fashion. The violence you’d expect are present, but what surprised me is the detailed backgrounds for some of the kids, and you get a sense of their motivation when faced with such odds and situation. There’s a kid though whose idealism started to grate after the first 20 pages, The word tinderbox was playing on my mind as the story developed, especially in scenes where groups of students who’ve taken to an alliance, and that was well done.The diverse cast and the genuinely different outlooks that each of the characters brought to the table showed the many facets of the human condition, not just in the immediacy of the situation but a reflection of the totalitarian society as a whole. Fight the system and face the potential consequences in the face of overwhelming odds, or fly high and reap the rewards of conforming and playing to the rules of the game? Not a completely mindless bloodbath, this.

Overall it was enjoyable.

There’s this series of books by Suzanne Collins called the Hunger Games which is apparently quite popular nowadays. I don’t know much about it, but the plot involves young children being isolated and they have to fight each other to survive. And apparently Collins denies ever knowing about the Battle Royale until after she submitted her manuscript. Uh.

Review of Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

My word, this book is dull. I had high hopes for this one, seeing that it appears in so many best-of lists. Even a Jeremy Irons performance on the audiobook (who was pretty awesome, I must say) could not detract from the extremely plodding storyline.

In summary, there’s this chap, Charles Ryder, who whilst studying in Oxford, befriended Sebastian Flyte, and then spends the novel basking in his friendship with Sebastian, meeting Sebastian’s rich, upperclass and staunchly Roman Catholic family and the goings in and out of the Flyte family mansion, Brideshead. The novel recounts Charles life as it revolves around Sebastian’s family, a story of reflection on family ties, expectations, religion and memories. In fact, the whole book is a retrospection of Ryder’s earlier life, as the novel starts with him, a middle-aged military man who in the course of his duties with his tour came across Brideshead almost inadvertently.

The writing is crisp, and the dialogue can be pretty funny in parts. The best part I have to say is the dry wit of Charles’s father, who spends some effort in tormenting Charles when he returns home to stay with father when he exhausted his funds during his study break.

Of course I’m simplifying the novel. There are parts of the novel that are complex, the relationships that are explored are complex, the sentimentality that’s evident throughout the book and the motivations of the characters, particularly between Charles and Sebastian’s sister Julia, are complex. But the story doesn’t move me in a way that generates excitement or urgency. This reminds me of a sequence in Robin Hobbs’s Farseer Trilogy, where in the second book, Royal Assassin, the bloody book seemed to roll along *but nothing bloody hell happens*!

(There, try to find another review that compares Waugh with a fantasy trilogy!)

If I’m pressed to find something to say about the book that’s intriguing, it’s the ambiguity in the exact nature of the relations between the main characters, Charles and Sebastian. This isn’t something that I considered while reading the book – in fact this because interesting after I was looking at reviews of the novels after I finished it. There were some odd (misplaced, I thought) passages where I raised an eyebrow, but nothing that explicitly said they were more than platonic. There was a scene where Charles was spending the summer in Brideshead with Sebastian, but their frolicking involved some stage of undress. At one point Sebastian calls out to Cordelia, his younger sister, to refrain from entering the area of the house where they were apparently lazing about without their shirts on. Like I said, I did not think much about this during the reading, but I was surprised and fascinated that this was so much in the front and centre in discussions of the book.

I considered for a time whether knowing if they really were physically getting it on affected my feelings about the book, and I decided in the end that this does not change anything at all. The book was still dull, the story did not burst forth in new understanding for me. The physical relationship between them, even if it were true, evidently wasn’t something Waugh wanted to dwell on, since Sebastian pretty much all but disappears from the story somewhere in the middle of the novel, and flitting in and out as Charles began to be described and defined by his relationship with first his wife, then with Julia.

Here’s another perspective from an Asian reader – the name Evelyn normally has been more associated with the fairer sex for the longest time. I’ve heard of Waugh for a long time, of course, but I’ve only within the last few years realized that Waugh was actually a man. I was just watching an episode of Downton Abbey where the love interest of the eldest daughter of the patriarch in the drama is named Evelyn, and I thought ‘how very English this name is’.