Book Review: Cloud Atlas

I picked this book up based on its recommendations. A friend at work had read and suggested it. The movie was big in theatres and, according to another friend, it was ‘weird but interesting.’ Also, my mom got it for christmas! With it so easily within my grasp, I figured it was worth checking out.

Cloud Atlas was authored by David Mitchell, who has written two novels (number9dream and Cloud Atlas) that were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Even though I picked up this book at the recommendation of others, I knew very little about it. For those that know me well, they know I absolutely dislike spoilers. I do not like to know what is going to happen in a book/movie/show before I read/see it. While I enjoy seeing ‘teasers’ for movies, I do not like trailers because trailers reveal FAR too much about the movie. When I go to the movies, I’ll go so far as to close my eyes and plug my ears during previews of movies that I really want to see. Crazy? Maybe. But I like to be surprised. It is such ‘the norm’ nowadays that you know most of it before you see it/read it. What happened to the days of not knowing? Of walking into a movie you’d never heard of? That pleasant surprise of a story line you weren’t expecting? That is what I seek my friends. And the main reason I jumped on Cloud Atlas was because it offered me that rare chance to read something I knew nothing about. All I knew was that it was ‘weird but interesting,’ and a ‘collection of short stories.’ Perfect.*

2013-03-30 18.12.03So before I move on, for those that are like me, there are some spoilers below. Fairly warned be ye, says I. Cloud Atlas is hard to nail down into one genre. But if I had to, I’d call it a fantasy novel. Let me explain.

The book is comprised of 6 different story lines, with 6 different main characters, spread across 6 different epochs of human history, beginning in the 1800’s and extending to the (possibly) far future. Each story line is interrupted by the other. Meaning, you read the first half of the first story, then the first half of the second story, then the third, etc. After you’ve read the first half of each, you then are given the last half of each in reverse order. As you read through the different stories, you find that the main characters are some how connected through time. Each sharing a similar birthmark and subtly playing out small roles in each other’s story lines. You find that the multiple characters in the book are actually one character reincarnated through time. Fantasy? Each of the individual story lines has their own genre. One is south pacific travel log, one is a corporate conspiracy, another deals with dystopian futures.
I really enjoyed the post-apocalyptic story line, as it reached out to my love of astronomy. That story takes place in Hawaii after some global catastrophe (human made, it appears) has reduced humanity to a more prehistoric reality. In this story, the characters make a trek to the top of Mauna Kea. In our time, this summit is home to some of the most advanced research telescopes in the world (one of which I have used for my PhD research). As an astronomer, I enjoyed following the characters to the summit; I enjoyed watching as they inspected the ruins of civilizations passed, and conjecture on what these buildings/domes were for. The role the summit of Mauna Kea played in this story line was very interesting as well, but I won’t spoil it. This actually reminded very much of the short story By the Waters of Babylon by Stephen Vincent Benet. Check that out too, it’s a great read.

My feeling after reading Cloud Atlas is less that I was blown away by the rise and fall of each individual story, and more a sense of enjoyment from the structure of the book. The individual stories weren’t necessarily remarkable on their own, but the way they were interwoven is what satisfied by literary interests. I didn’t have the normal feeling of sadness when finishing this book (usually I get this when I really connect with the story or characters, or themes resonate strongly); this time I felt happy for having had my mind bent a little.

One last thing. The author also made many subtle, and not so subtle, references to his own writing throughout the book. I enjoyed this very much. It felt like not only were the characters reincarnated versions of each other connected through time, but that I was connected through the pages. As if the author and the reader are just more layers of interconnectedness. I almost wanted to check myself for birthmarks!
If you’ve made it this far, I fear I’ve ruined the book for you. I’m sorry. But I still think it worth your time. There is a lot more to discover in Cloud Atlas than what I am able to (poorly) articulate here.
I suppose I should go watch the movie now? It was produced by the Andy and Lana Wachowski! The brains behind The Matrix. Should be very good.

Happy Reading!
*Notable movies/books I knew nothing about before seeing/reading: Inception, The Matrix, Sandman, Fifth Business, and others

Book Review: First Among Sequels

The 5th in the Thursday Next series, First Among Sequels does not disappoint. Jasper Fforde is a very creative and unique writer; I highly recommend getting on the band wagon and reading The Eyre Affair.

In the last installment, we left Thursday in 1988 right after winning the superhoop. Fast forward 15 years and Thursday now has quite a large family. Friday (Landon and Thursday’s son) was two in the last book, and is now a teenage. They also have a daughter named Tuesday, and another daughter named Jenny (though – this daughter is not real). We’re now in a world of internet, cell phones, rock bands, and bad politics.
Since the last book, the SpecOps have been dissolved, and Thursday is now part of one of the leading floor companies in swindon. Though that doesn’t stop her from doing some off the books Literary and Jurisfiction work. This time Thursday finds herself battling for the fate of the world’s timeline. Friday, her son, is supposed to be one of the best Chronoguard’s ever, but he can’t seem to get out of bed.
I don’t have much to say about this book that I haven’t said in my reviews of the other 4 in the series. I love reading these, and will continue…with the next novel to come out sometime this year.
Keep in mind Jasper Fforde also writes Nursery Crimes, which is a series treating standard nursery rhymes as detective novels, and another series Shades of Grey.
happy reading!

Book Review: Flatland

I finally got around to reading Flatland by Edwin Abbott. Actually when Abbott first wrote this book back in 1884 it was published under the name A Square. This book is a very exciting journey through the world of Flatland.

What’s Flatland you ask? This is the 2-Dimensional world in which Square lives. Where you and I live in a world with three dimensions (i.e. x, y, and z), Square lives in a world with no ‘height.’ Only the x and y directions. In this reality, everything you would see is a line segment. Imagine a square sitting on table. If you were to lower your eyeline closer and closer to the edge of the table, the square would eventually become a line, who’s length is the length of one edge of the square. All shapes are then lines: circles, triangles, polygons.
In this book, the author is recounting his story of being shown the 3rd dimension. A being, named Sphere, pulls Square out of his 2 dimensions and into the 3rd.
An interesting part of this book is the its commentary on the world in which Abbott lived. In describing the culture and lives of the people of Flatland, you learn more about Abbott’s views of his own. For instance, all women are lines. The men are divided into many classes depending on their shape. Isoceles triangles are the lowest class, then equilateral, then squares, then polygons, and circles are considered to be the ‘priests.’
I hope I’ve enticed you enough to go check this book it out. It’s a very unique book; not much like anything else I’ve ever read. The best part is this book is free because the copyright licences is over and is now in the public domain! Go check it out. it’s an amazing book.
happy reading!

Book Review: Something Rotten

This is the fourth installment in the Thursday Next series written by Jasper Fforde and he continues to surprise me. I’ve written a bit on the other three I’ve read already, so I won’t go over the basic plot.

In this iteration, Thursday is finally back in the real world, though she’s still needed to help fix the Book world problems quite frequently during the story. In the real world she now sets herself on getting her life back together. Her young son Friday is now 2 and a half, she has no job, no husband, and a massive debt.
On top of all that, Hamlet is being re-written from the inside, a fictional character from a Daphne Farquitt novel is trying to take over the world with the Goliath corporation behind it, and the world is going to end if the Swindon Mallets don’t win the superhoop! It sounds crazy I know. What I really like about these books is the freedom they posses. Fforde is able to write whatever he wants, however he wants. He can use footnotes, or different fonts along very humorous plot devices. His fictional England is a very open one. Makes reading a very different experience.
My favourite part of this book is Thursday getting her husband back. In an attempt to force Thursday into doing what they wanted, the Goliath corporation eradicated her husband (went back in time and killed him). This occurred in an earlier iteration of the series, and Thursday has been husbandless since (not to mention Friday being fatherless). In this book, Landen comes back. Very happy to read that!
I’m off to the next one, called First Among Sequels. And I believe Fforde is penning a 6th book in the series as we speak…
happy reading!

Book Review: The Well of Lost Plots

The Well of Lost Plots is the third book in the Thursday Next series written by Jasper Fforde. I’ve reviewed the previous two books, The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book so check those out to see what I thought.

If you’ve read those posts then you’ll see that I am quite impressed. Fforde has done something very original with this series and I highly recommend the whole series.
A quick recap: Thursday Next is a SpecOps agent in swindon england in the year 1985. She lives in a fictional england where she is a literatec , or a person who hunts down literary perpetrators. What’s really original about these novels is that the lines between the book world and the real world are not firm. Thursday is able to cross over INTO novels and be IN the story.
In this installment, Fforde has really delved into his BookWorld. This is the world of books wherein all characters from all novels ever written reside. Thursday has taken leave from her real life in swindon to live in the book world while she is pregnant with her kid, and figures out how to deal with her husband, Landen being eradicated. She becomes a trainee Jurisfiction agent, basically the policing body within the bookworld. These are the people who keep the characters following the rules.
A lot happens in this one and it would be impossible to describe it here. The basic plot is that Thursday must battle the younger sister of Achron Hades, her nemesis from the first novel. The sister, Aornis, is a mneumonomorph, meaning she is able to erase the memory of her victims.
Thursday also becomes acquainted with the Great Library, a HUGE library that holds every piece of literature ever written. The library is curated by the Cat from Alice in Wonderland, and has 26 floors, one for each letter of the alphabet (author last name). She also learns about the well of lost plots, another 26 floors below the great library where books that were written but never completed are stored. The underbelly of the great library.
Thursday goes in and out of MANY stories, meets many characters, and thwarts evil. Fforde’s quirky and quick witted style of writing does not disappoint, and you’ll be happily surprised with all the fun things he does with the written word.
I HIGHLY recommend.
I have it on good authority that the fourth book is the best in the series (of 5 at the moment). So I’m on to read that one now.