Thursday, March 18, 2010

MUSE (with infographic!)

Bear with me -- I rarely post about Muse.

I love Muse. I also love that Muse can distract me from logarithms and other unpleasantness. In two weeks I will see them live for the first time, and I'm a little excited about it.

Here's an infographic I made in my spare time over the last few weeks, where each symbol represents one song in which the theme occurs. Click to enlarge it for the full effect.
(It was inspired by this.)

A Muse game that's been eating up too much of my time

And some of my favorite YouTube clips:

Uprising - with the entire crowd singing along.
Blackout - with amazing balloon dancers.
Plug In Baby - one of their best songs, and incredible live.
Citizen Erased - Epic song, 9 minutes long, with a Take a Bow outro - not for the fainthearted.

OK, glurge over. I'll make up for it by posting some cute pictures of my kids.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Blindness" Review

Book 10 of 20 for the Dystopian Challenge

Another book made into a disappointing film -- and, like "Children of Men," also features Julianne Moore. I'm sure that's coincidental. The problem with both is the poor adaptation.

José Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. This book, written in 1995, was translated from its original Portuguese, but I would not suppose, from how well the storytelling flowed and the gorgeous language used, that it lost anything through its translation.

Actually, I listened to the audiobook, and I am somewhat regretting it. The narrative performance was excellent, but then I read this on Wikipedia:
Like most works by Saramago, the novel contains many long, breathless sentences in which commas take the place of periods. The lack of quotation marks around dialogue means that the speakers' identities (or the fact that dialogue is occurring) may not be immediately apparent to the reader.
I missed it. The lack of punctuation, no quotation marks, something like Cormac McCarthy, I'm guessing, would add to the tone of the book. But in listening to it, there was no ambiguity about who was speaking or when. I missed out.

None of the characters are ever named. They are distinguished by short descriptions, such as "the doctor's wife" and "the girl with dark glasses." It took me about an hour to realize that this was the case, since all characters are so well distinguished that it wasn't apparent at first, and was not impersonal, that they all lacked names.

The dystopia occurs when the entire population becomes blind through a very contagious illness. At first the government tries to isolate the afflicted, but eventually none are spared and the government services break down completely. People must figure out new ways to survive, must procure food even though all are blind. Priorities shift and change. One person, who seems to be immune to the blindness, witnesses all the ugliness of the societal adjustments, the desperation and filth (since no one is running public services, toilets become hopelessly clogged, no one bathes or cleans anything, etc).

The Wikipedia article also mentions that the book received some condemnation for its negative portrayal of blind people. Hogwash. It's about humans, not about the blind. It shows very convincingly what happens if people are stripped of all etiquette (both the need and the ability to have any sense of decorum) and are reduced to scrounging for food to survive. There are deeply good and deeply bad aspects of people shown here.

"Blindness" gives no easy answers, doesn't pretend to be making a statement or preaching a point of view. Since I enjoyed "The Road" so much, I think it helped me appreciate this book a great deal as well. Society gone awry, excellent storytelling -- but in its utter bleakness, it's certainly not for everyone.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"The Children of Men" Review

Book 9 of 20 for the Dystopian Challenge

Nunc Dimittis

These are some of the words I learned from reading "The Children of Men." The use of language alone made this a worthwhile read; PD James writes with such a lovely talent that the book was a rare pleasure to read through.

More than vocabulary, though, the climax of the book was a reverently handled birth. It's as if the book was written just for me, with my interests in mind.

It serves as a counter reflection of "The Declaration," in which people opt out of procreation because they have found a way to stop the aging process. In "The Children of Men," people have lost the ability to procreate and are facing the extinction of the human species. It is told primarily from the perspective of a history professor, Theo Faron. He's reserved, intelligent, reflective, and he's definitely not Clive Owen.

It must be said. The movie version failed the book, miserably. The events and characters were changed inexplicably for the worse in the process of bringing this lovely piece of literature to the screen. Mr. Cuarón wanted to make a specific kind of film, I guess, and it wasn't really the same story that this book presented, so all kinds of liberties were taken, to its detriment. Sure, there are a few similarities, but not really very many. The book plays out much, much better, is more hopeful, and far less dramatic.

And the unfolding of the birth is so well written that it became firmly entrenched in my high estimation. Here's one of my favorite lines: seemed to him that midwife and patient were one woman and that he, too, was part of the pain and the labouring, not really needed but graciously accepted, and yet excluded from the heart of the mystery.
Reading that makes me miss the book. It isn't even the best example of the language used, but it's plenty impressive.

The dystopia was entirely believable, too, with the resistance against it being also well portrayed. Nothing was beyond belief here. I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it, and so far, without a doubt, this is my favorite book from this challenge.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Never Let Me Go" Review

Book 8 of 20 for the Dystopian Challenge

It's a definite departure from the other books I've been reading. The dystopia is present, but it's woven into the backdrop and is never directly confronted.

That does not detract from this beautiful story, though. The hints of what is wrong with the society blend in with the rest of the events, which take place largely at a boarding school in England. The majority of the book is the recollection of a "carer" (sort of like a nurse, but with a slightly darker role) and her time from early childhood to young adulthood.

The pain of adolescence and the forging and breaking of friendships, the realization of missed opportunities, is as fresh and stinging as an adhesive bandage ripped from unwilling skin. If you've ever felt awkward, uncertain, or lonely while growing up, this brings it all back. Starkly. But with enough distance that it isn't unbearable to read, just very, very recognizable.

I loved this book. It is beautifully written and haunting. And, of all the books I've read that are part of trilogies, this one isn't, and I wish it were.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"How I Live Now" Review

Book 7 of 20 for the Dystopian Challenge

I eat books like this for breakfast.

It has so many elements I revel in, the darkness, the difficulty, and an author who (huzzah!) was not overly protective of her characters; they suffer all manner of hardships.

I thought it was a little morsel of delight. I blazed through it in a couple of well-spent hours.

Told entirely in the first-person by a young girl, it describes her living through war-torn Europe, what she needs to go through to survive, and what she loses. The narration is perfect, youthful without being annoying, nothing hamfisted about the meanings or messages, when they exist. And the characters were strong, occasionally mystical, and the knowledge that we were seeing it all through another person's eyes was ever-present without being overwrought.

It was a lovely, dark breath of fresh air. And, finally, an ending worth reading towards! I loved it.

I wondered about the dystopian nature of the book, but then I made a decision.

I'm working by the definition of 'dystopian' given by Wikipedia, which says: "Dystopia is defined as a society characterized by poverty, squalor, or oppression. Dystopias usually extrapolate elements of contemporary society and function as a warning against some modern trend, often the threat of oppressive regimes in one form or another. It often features different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and a state of constant warfare or violence."

Alright then. It certainly qualifies.

This is Meg Rosoff's first novel, and it's very impressive. She has since written other books and, dystopian or not, I'm excited to read them as well.