Just last night I read no less than three books! It was a time paradoxitive record of grammar-digesting brilliance. And not little Goosebumps nonsense books, bit old fat novels full of texts. These things had so many words they will spilling on the floor and on my good pants. Which reminds me: any of you ladies or gentlemen got a mop? My house is completely cluttered with words, some quite long and very hard to scrub out.
So what I have here are three shorter reviews of the three books I read, none of them altogether connected in any way. I considering writing out singular reviews for all three, but I decided that I didn't want to get as deep and involved as my film work. I've read so many good books in just the years I've done this blog, and there's so much to talk about, I could spend a month just detailing the material I have, which is always expanding. So from now on, I'll make a post like this: "What I've Been Reading". It will pull back and give a shorter but hopefully still extensive overview of the products, and hopefully you'll realize, like I have, how much genius are inside these tomes. (Be careful though, because the genius gets on your pants sometimes, and that doesn't wash out.) Really though, I don't want to write a post for every book I read like I do for movies and video games. It would be too exhausting, and mediocre books are so much more tragic, considering the time and energy you have to invest in order to experience them. I want to just review the best of the best, so you Space Monkeys can see what you're missing.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman
"Sandman" is, unlike the other books, here, actually a series of trade paperbacks that were originally published by DC comics back in the early 90s. The character "Sandman" is very loose adaptation of a 1940s Golden Age Superhero of the same name, who is only very vaguely referenced in this universe. There are ten volumes to the main series telling the story of Morpheus, the Dream of the Endless, a top-tier God entity that is the ruler of the realm of dreams for all creatures, deities, and even stars across the entire DC multiverse. So when Batman sleeps and dreams of "My Little Pony" or whatever he imagines, he's actually stepping forth into the realm of Morpheus, a being of such mighty power that his adventures are well-beyond the scope of those silly superheroes, whom he mostly ignores. Though one would think that a cosmic entity that hung out with our Sun when it was just a child would probably have larger more intergalactic business to take care of, Dream is oddly Earth-bound, with the fates of gods, reality, and the universe all consistently wrapped-up with a small cast of recurring human characters.
Every 'book' in the "Sandman" series has its own look and feel, usually involving either a single sustained storyline or a collection of short stories involving Dream or his Dreaming. The depth and scope of this series is virtually unlimited, thanks to Morpheus being the master of the entire universe's collective subconscious imagination, and also having existed since virtually the beginning of time. This expands even the art style, which jumps all over the place from artist to artist, even including one Yoshitaka Amano, the art designer of early Final Fantasy. Early on the comic had an overarching plot involving Dream recovering his lost sigils and artifacts to regain his place as ruler of the Dreaming, but once this is accomplished, the story branches out to different arcs and in many cases self-contained stories. This is a character who has lived a very long life, and has met many many people, including gods, angels, the Devil, and has Cain and Abel and Eve working for him. No character is minor though, no incident can be just brushed off as insignificant, because everything in this story is beautifully structure towards an overall goal. I don't think Neil Gaiman had the entire series planned in advance, but it definitely feels like a story with a mission moving towards a final climax. And unlike so many other comics DC has created, this one does have a very definitive end - though stories in this universe are still being written even today.
Morpheus is a very sullen, strict character, probably the most Puritan creature in this story... so thus the entire universe. His demeanor and dress (when viewed from modern human eyes) appears to be a dead-ringer for Neil Gaiman himself, only with two huge black holes where eyes should be. Its ironic that such a chaotic and ever-changing place such as Dreaming would be ruled by a hard-working self-denying taskmaster, with duty and stability his ever-present concern. Dream does not fall in love easily, and it seems every romance he falls into leads him ever closer towards destruction. The rest of his siblings are very different figures: Death, for example, a is a perky warm young lady, the kindest person you could ever meet and exactly the one you'd want looking after your dead loved-ones. While Desire is a sexually ambiguous, cruel, destroyer. And one of these Endless simply left his job and went off to parts unknown.
You can see pretty much the entire underpinning of Neil Gaiman's career within "Sandman". Many of the characters walking are basically a beta test for "American Gods". Its a smart fusion of supernatural storylines, the occult, and truly frightening moments, along with the very emotional and very brilliant. The conclusion to Vol. 5, "A Game of You", might be one of the best-structured endings to any story I've ever read, ending with no battle between the heroes and villains, only Dream acting as the voice of reason. Then an early story featuring a maniac mind-controlling and torturing poor innocent victims in a regular American diner is easily the most frightening moment of my whole year. "Sandman" is a little bit of everything, but its entirely brilliant.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
"Snow Crash" is a 1992 novel written by one of the hardest-working and most meticulous writers working today in modern SciFi, Neal Stephenson. While some authors leave their universes vague to let the readers fill in the details, the details are everything to Stephenson. One of his more recent novels, "Anatham", comes with an entire alternate universe history, culture, religious foundation, and even a partial language, based upon the worship of mathematics and reason. "Snow Crash" is not nearly as ambitious or long, but just as impressive in many ways. Its a pre-Internet cyberpunk story set in the days when SciFi authors could sit around and imagine what the Internet would be like. Stephenson imagines it as a giant virtual reality theme park, which is slightly off-course, but never in a laughably archaic way.
The central idea is that twenty years into the future, the United States has ceased to exist, having been eaten apart by increasingly dominant and eventually autonomous corporations, which now rule a patchwork of independent self-governing suburbs. This is a world where the mafia now is one of the major powers in the former US, and runs the pizza industry, which is considerably more intense now that a simple delivery of a pie involves crossing several international borders and the chaos that is our nation. But its not exactly a dystopian novel - Stephenson's post-America, post-nation state creation is a society that works, with its own rules, and its people do not seem to particularly miss the old world. The world and the people continue to tick on by, living out their lives any way they can. Of course, there's also an ancient conspiracy involving re-programming human beings into slaves using Sumerian goddesses and magical tablets mixed in with a dangerous new virus sweeping the Internet called "Snow Crash".
The main character is rather explicitly labeled out as "Hiro Protagonist", a Korean-American programmer, who on the Internet is a superstar, but in real life lives in a storage unit - with a Russian rockstar roommate. Hiro is both a genius programmer* and a master swordsman, using a katana his father brought back from WWII. The other protagonist is Y.T., a teenaged skater who works as a Courier, and Hiro's partner working to uncover the aforementioned memetic conspiracy. The narrative jumps back and forth between Hiro and Y.T., as they move rapidly through the novel's extremely dense and fascinating plot.
My only issue with "Snow Crash" is that it is almost too condensed. Neal Stephenson has at least 10,000 ideas involving everything from an Aleut biker nuclear terrorist who fights with spears, a floating city of immigrants traveling across the Pacific tethered to a former US aircraft carrier, massive bike battles within the Internet, the mafia going to war against right-wing lunatic preachers, and robot dogs, all within a relatively short stream of book. If you read through it and do not pay attention to every single word, you might completely lose the narrative, because in ten pages, the plot will have jumped very far. Its a very exciting and fast-paced book featuring some of the coolest action scenes ever imagined - it would make for a fantastic movie if it weren't so complex that filming would be impossible. But if you want a book where proto-Biblical dieties and theoretical language philosophy exists in the same world as cyberpunk, and anime, "Snow Crash" is a must-read.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
"House of Leaves" is definitely the most unusual book of the three. It comes in a simply massive paperback, featuring a unique and bizarre printing, where words and structure can float around in any possible orientation. Its partially a novel detailing the life of an LA slacker, Johnny Trout, slowly going insane (while still getting what can only be called mountains of pussy) who is reading the story-within-a-story, that story is a very badly and horribly-pretentious written academic critique of a horror movie, which Johnny found within his new apartment. That apartment and the atrociously silly academic critique
belongs to an elderly blind man named Zampano, whose origins are unknown.
What's funny is that this book is ultimately centered around one of my favorite films, "The Navidson Record", a very obscure found-footage movie released around the same time as "The Blair Witch Project". Reading the Zampano portion of "House of Leaves" is like reading the very worst summary of "The Navidson Record", and its actually more self-parody than true academic critique. "The Navidson Record" is a very frightening movie, which is unfortunate since most readers of "House of Leaves" get the mistaken impression it was completely made-up by Mark Z. Danielewski or even Zampano. Its the story of a professional photographer and his family moving into a nice country house in West Virginia, and then slowly discovering their house is haunted. Not by ghosts or demons or traditional nightmares of the dark, but rather by a mysterious door that forms on its own, leading into an alternate dimension of massive black voids. Its a constantly-changing universe where insanely massive caverns and structures form, within impossible geometry. You'd think just a house that grows a weird new wing would not make for a very scary movie, perhaps even a comedy. You are wrong. "The Navidson Records" is beautifully-shot, impressively paced, and easily the best found footage movie ever made.
As a kid, I thought the movie was real and it terrified me. I sometimes wouldn't even get up from the bathroom at night, afraid my closed bedroom door would evolve into a portal into the black void that was the Navidson home.
Sorry if this post transformed into yet another film review, but you have to understand that "The Navidson Record" really does form the core of "House of Leaves". Zampano might be a terrible author - who at one point spends a ridiculous number pages just naming things that aren't inside the Navidson House and architectural styles that do not correspond with its supernatural layout, but his description of the movie is very compelling, even to me, who has seen the movie. The way "House of Leaves" is written, every page the layout seems to change radically, mirroring the evolution and the insanity of Casa Navidson. There aren't many books with extremely striking visuals, but this is definitely one of the few that pulls it off.
Interestingly, "House of Leaves" continues even past the Zampano episode, and even when Johnny's frame
story has concluded. It then expands into a large coda of poems, assorted writings involving "The
Navidson Record", and most strikingly, a number of letters written by Johnny's mother to him when she
was in a mental institution.
Its a terribly
and awfully depressing conclusion to the book, which has nothing to do with "The Navidson Record" or Zampano. Johnny's mother tries desperately to reach him, even when you can clearly see she is a terribly sick woman full of delusions. But she still hopes beyond all hope that she can connect with her child, even when there is the gulf of sanity and insanity. This part brought me to--
--missing the point. I really do have to say that this video game does an excellent job with its environments and music to really build the player into the world of the Disney films its adapting. But those worlds are so small and so simply-constructed. They are basically nothing but collections of enemies and large dungeons, possibly mangling the original movies which they created. Is it too much to ask for a Kingdom Hearts game where you get a more organic connection with the Disney portions than just by bashing monsters over the head with a metal key? Atlantica in "Kingdom Hearts II" attempted something different and we all hated it, but at least it was not another tragically empty environment, so lovingly rendered but filled with nothing but Heartless and other--
--tears because you can still so clearly see the tragedy and love for her son housed within this woman's heart.
"House of Leaves" looks nothing like any other book you will ever find. Just flip through the pages and you can see this is a literary work with a very unique construction. But that's just how the sentences are written, just which orientation the paragraphs are created. You have to look beyond the maze and the weird review to really find the book's soul. And unfortunately... I have no idea what this is supposed to be. I just see a review of a horror movie I really liked, a very creepy frame story within much conclusion, and some very emotional tangentially related stuff. Its one of those post-modern collages that are beyond definition. It is just something that has to be read, something that cannot be ignored.
* If I were reviewing this book back in the early 90s, I might have used the term "hacker". But please, we're well beyond such utterly trite nonsense now.