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Genre: Science fiction

[Review] Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

[Review] Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

[Review] Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey CranorWelcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink, Jeffrey Cranor
Published by Harper Perennial on October 20, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, LGBT+, Science fiction
Pages: 401
ISBN: 9780062351425

Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Let me begin by saying I adore Welcome to Night Vale… the podcast, that is. It is wacky, and cute, and warm, and creepy, and I love it. And if you aren’t listening to it yet you should give it a try. Last year the WTNV crew also did a live tour and visited Amsterdam, and I went. And it’s hard to describe how much that night meant to me. Before that, I was going through a period where I had trouble connecting to the world. But that night gave my life a little bit of shine and (although I don’t think WTNV was single-handedly responsible for this) after that everything got sort of better as far as the disconnectedness goes.

So yes, I love WTNV, and as a result I was really looking forward to this book. Preordered it the moment I heard about it. Went so far as to get a signed edition from the US.

And… ah. I won’t say the book is a disappointment, but it also didn’t live up to expectations. I hate it when that happens.

The book isn’t great, but it also isn’t bad. It was just sort of meh? I know the book had big boots to fill what with the podcast being a piece of perfection, and it seems Fink and Cranor might have overestimated their abilities. Now I sound mean, I don’t mean it in a bad way, the book wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t the podcast. Ouch.

I had two three problems with this book: Firstly, it was unnecessarily slow. I don’t need the book to be a wild roller coaster ride and move too fast, but the story and descriptions just went on and on. Getting through the first 300-or-so pages felt like a big task. This brings me to my second problem: the style that works for the podcast just doesn’t work for a book. The beginning was too random, too quirky, and all that is fun, fantastic, in the podcast, but apparently not for a 400-page book. If anything its quirkiness made the book feel kind of unfinished? And then my third problem (which was also a cause for my first problem?) is that I didn’t care about the characters all that much. I just didn’t care about their problems, and the book also didn’t make me feel curious to find out how they were going to fix everything. This got better in the last 100 pages, and I ended up liking the characters quite a bit by the time I finished the book. But still, that’s not good enough.

I guess I was secretly hoping to learn more about the characters that we know from the podcast. Cecil, Dana, Carlos, Steve… but they all play minor roles. I think the book at least managed to introduce some sort-of-new characters and now that I finished the book I am happy to have gotten to know these characters. So yes, for most of the book I was considering giving it three stars, but it deserves an extra half star for the fact that I ended up caring for the characters after all. Hope to see them back in the podcast, I suppose?

[Review] きまぐれロボット by Shin’ichi Hoshi

[Review] きまぐれロボット by Shin’ichi Hoshi

[Review] きまぐれロボット by Shin’ichi Hoshiきまぐれロボット (The Whimsical Robot) by Shin'ichi Hoshi
Published by Kadokawa on 2006 (first published 1972)
Genres: Science fiction
Pages: 215

Shin’ichi Hoshi (1926-1997) is considered to be one of Japan’s most influential science fiction writers of all time… but he’s not very well known among western readers, I think. A few of his works have been translated and are available as e-book, including this little book. You can find out more about Hoshi here.

Kimagure Robotto, or, The Whimsical Robot, is a fun little book containing ‘short shorts’: short stories of no more than 5 pages each. Each of the stories is about an invention, whether it’s a device to tame wild animals, a potion that enables you to distinguish good from bad people, or a robot that has everyone wondering about its use. There are some characters that appear in many of the stories, like professor R who makes medicine, the rich Mr. N., and professor K who specialises in animals. Then there are a few stories about interaction with aliens. The stories are aimed at children but are quite enjoyable for adults too. Some of the stories are really funny, some leave you wondering, some leave you shaking your head, and some are (I have to admit) a bit boring.

I do have a few favourite stories. Coincidentally the stories I most enjoyed were near the back of the book: ネコ(The cat), 花とひみつ(Flowers and secrets), and とりひき(The deal). It’s hard to say something about stories that are this short, so I won’t say anything to avoid spoiling.

As for its readability, this book was a really easy read. This is the first Japanese book I’ve ever read that felt like I was reading English or Dutch, which essentially means that the level of Japanese was probably too low for me. I finished most of the stories in 5-10 minutes (during commercial breaks when I was watching television haha) and I only had a to look up a few recurring words such as ‘telescope’. I think this book is very suitable as practice material for those at JLPT N3 level.

Would I recommend this book? If you want to gain some confidence in your Japanese skills: hell yes. But if you’re looking for a captivating read, probably not. I personally really enjoy short stories in Japanese, mostly because I tend to find full books a bit hard to swallow, but the stories in this collection got a bit repetitive. There simply wasn’t much incentive to keep reading, which is the main reason this book took me such a long time. On the other hand, if you decide to read one or two stories now and then (with decent breaks in between), it’s certainly a fun read.

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Halfway there

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Halfway there

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Halfway thereMarina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on September 26th, 2013 (first published 1999)
Genres: Young Adult, Historical fiction
Pages: 299
ISBN: 9780297856474

In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in the old quarter of Barcelona. For seven days and nights no one knows his whereabouts...

Against all odds, I’m halfway there with the TBR Pile Challenge! I’ve read 6 books out of 12, and I’m almost starting to believe I will make it this year haha.

Book number five for the challenge was Zafón’s Marina. This was actually the last of Zafón’s translated books that I hadn’t read yet, so in a way I feel a bit sad about having finished it. It’s not my favourite of his YA books (that honour still goes to the brilliantly creepy The Midnight Palace) but really enjoyed it, and on the whole it was a steady 4 stars for me… until the ending, which was a killer 5 stars. Very, very good.

If you enjoy Zafón’s writing and especially his descriptions of Barcelona, you have to read this. This book (like the others) has pushed Barcelona higher up my travel wishlist.

* * *

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Halfway thereBattle Royale by Koushun Takami
Published by Gollancz on May 2007 (first published 1999)
Genres: Dystopian, Science fiction
Pages: 617
ISBN: 9780575080492

A class of 42 junior high school students are taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided with weapons and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing.

Book six was Battle Royale, a book that has also been on my TBR for a really long time. Well, I finally read it and I have strong feelings about it. Before I start this review: Battle Royale the movie is one of my favourite movies ever. But I am also one of the first to say ‘the book is better than the movie!’

Well, I was looking forward to reading this book for a long time and I hate disappointments.

/start rant
The English translation of this book is cringeworthy. Easily one of the worst professionally published translations I’ve ever read. I am a Japanese major and had you asked us to translate this book during our second university year, this is what you would’ve gotten to a T. Which is not a good thing. Things that work in Japanese do not necessarily work in English. The translation is too literal, which makes it ugly and downright childish at many points.

The translation nearly ruined the book for me, but I kept reading. The concept is awesome and I love the structure of the book. We follow the game through the
2015 TBR Pile Challengeeyes of different characters, some with more background story than others. Some of the personal stories are a bit meh, but on the whole the book is awesome. Would have given it more than three stars (probably even five) if it weren’t for the awful translation.

So… want to read a book with a good story? Read this. Want to read a well written book? … Curse the translator and watch the movie.

[Review] Genocide of One, by Kazuaki Takano

[Review] Genocide of One, by Kazuaki Takano

[Review] Genocide of One, by Kazuaki Takano

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Genocide of One by Kazuaki Takano
Published by Mulholland Books on December 2, 2014 (first published 2011)
Genres: Japanese literature, Science fiction, Thriller
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley

What if one day, the next - hyperintelligent - step in human evolution is born?

What if more than three decades earlier, the existence of precisely such a new human evolution was predicted as a potential scenario for the end of the human race as we know it?

Without spoiling too much: this book simultaneously takes place in the US, Japan and the Congo. We’ve got the US President and those directly surrounding him. We’ve got four mercenaries sent on a mission. We’ve got children born with a deathly illness. We’ve got a Japanese student whose father just passed away. And most of all, we’ve got a three-year-old child named Akili: the next step in human evolution.

This book is pretty damn brilliant. When I just started reading, I was afraid this was not going to be my type of book. It starts out sounding a lot like a military thriller, but it is in fact a dareIsayit perfect piece of science fiction.

The plot of the book is extremely intricate and it all fits and works. By the end we’ve got not a single loose end, and yet it never feels forced. Again without spoiling too much: to me the plot was extremely satisfying, from the beginning to the end.

And the plot is also extremely realistic. You can imagine every aspect of it becoming reality. In fact, much of this book is either describing actual events or heavily based on actual events. The book is so convincing that you will even believe in the portrayed consequences of the birth of this evolved hyperintelligent human being.
(To illustrate: Only near the end there was one tiny thing that made me go “oh really” View Spoiler » but guess what. I Googled it and it actually exists. So I hereby take back my “oh really”. Also other parts that sounded very random ended up being 100% real or based on 100% real events.)

The book really is three things: both thrilling and unpredictable, and also very philosophical. The first two will make you want to keep reading. The last one will creep you out. Because just like the plot, the philosophy is real. The book is full of what-ifs, and Takano manages to hand them to you without it ever becoming tiresome.

Now, this book also uses a lot of jargon. I’m convinced Takano is a genius, not just because he convinces me with the science, the military and the political aspects, but also because he still manages to write it down in such a way that my poor Humanities-oriented brain understands (sort of). Again without it ever becoming tiresome.

So yes. Read this.

[Review] Harmony, by Project Itoh

[Review] Harmony, by Project Itoh

[Review] Harmony, by Project ItohHarmony by Project Itoh
Published by Haikasoru, VIZ Media on 2010 (first published 2008)
Genres: Dystopian, Japanese literature, Science fiction
Pages: 252

The world is in a state of 'perfect healthcare' and 'harmony'. Life is precious, and WatchMe is constantly monitoring your physical and mental wellbeing. Moreover, it is socially unacceptable to be unfriendly and uncaring toward other human beings - crime is practically unheard of. Utopia has been achieved, or has it? There's only one way to game the system.

We all know there’s no such thing as Utopia. Utopia is always Dystopia. And oh boy do I love a good dystopian novel.

Harmony is told from the perspective of Tuan Kirie. As a teenager she is troubled, attempting to escape the pressure this ‘perfect’ society puts on her. And while her friend Miach finds a way out, Tuan grows up to become a member of the World Health Organization.

This book is typically the kind of novel that one should just shut up about and read. I don’t want to go into the plot too much because it’s so easy to spoil and take away the fun of reading and also the plot is too harmonyimgcomplicated to write down properly. But I encourage fans of hard sci-fi, as well as readers who enjoy dystopia and its social implications, to give this book a try. It raises a lot of interesting questions about humanity, and while I’m sure sci-fi fans are familiar with these questions, the novel doesn’t feel like a cliché.

The first thing you notice when you open this book is the coding. Initially it doesn’t seem to have much of a function, and I was afraid I’d get tired of it. But it’s clever and I’ll leave it at that. In case you’re worried, it’s not overpowering the ‘normal’ text (unlike what the photo of the first page would suggest).

In 2009 this book won both the Seiun award for speculative fiction and the Japan SF award. The book was put in a different perspective when I got to the end and read that the author, ‘Project Itoh’, aka Keikaku Itō (born as Satoshi Itō), revised this book while in the hospital receiving cancer treatment. Sadly Itō passed away in 2009, Harmony was his second and final novel.

I originally read Harmony for January in Japan and decided to pen down a review after all. Better late than never!